Monday, January 29, 2018

"Smoothpicks" by Elizabeth Massie

"Oh. There is blud..."
It was relatively early in Deathrealm's ten-year history that I became acquainted with Elizabeth Massie's short fiction, and not long afterward that I became acquainted with Ms. Massie herself. At the time, her work had been published in numerous reputable small press publications, such as 2AM, Grue, The Horror Show, and Space & Time, and when I met her at the 1987 World Fantasy Convention in Nashville, TN, I confess I was a fanboy. On a personal level, we pretty much hit it off, especially when we discovered we had attended the same college, though some years apart (I will be a wretched man here and tell you that she preceded me there by a few years, though I will not reveal how many). The fact that Ms. Massie [and her hubby Cortney] later took up geocaching proved she was a human of appealingly deviant character.

When Ms.Massie submitted a story to Deathrealm a couple of months or so after our first meeting, I truly was over the moon, especially because, unlike a select number of "name" authors at the time, she did not send me a trunk story*, but a first-rate piece of fiction, which was at once horrifying, heartwarming, funny, and tragic. It was called "Smoothpicks," and it became one of Deathrealm's most acclaimed published works, for very good reason. It read as both a spontaneous graphic narrative as well as a stylized fable. Based on reader feedback, for some, it tiptoed into the "I-Can't-Suspend-My-Disbelief" zone, but if one read it as this editor believed it was intended, the more far-fetched aspects of the story were an absolute non-issue.

The story is a "jernal," penned by an inmate in a home for "mental dessectives." Mary is her name, known to some as "Hary Mary," not because she is a hairy girl but because "she so hary to be wit." Mary's best friend in the institution is a gentleman who goes by the name "Buggy," incarcerated after a personally devastating tour of duty in Vietnam. Although Buggy brought back memories of untold horrors from the Far East, he also returned with certain esoteric knowledge, which some modern medical practitioners might describe as a form of acupuncture, but which Mary merely calls "smooth stiks to help the hurt"—a.k.a. "Smoothpicks."

Buggy is occasionally taken with violent, destructive fits, yet when one of the inmates is in pain, he is the one who selflessly alleviates their suffering, by way of his "smoothpicks." After Buggy reaches a point of crisis, where he can only kill his personal demons by using a "big" smoothpick—a butcher knife—he leaves Mary with a special gift: an application of smoothpicks that brings her a clarity of mind she has never before known.

At this point, Mary faces an unimaginable choice. Whatever her choice, it is horror. It is tragedy. It is unbearable.

For her choice to have meaning, the reader must willfully suspend his or her disbelief; however, in the context of the story, such suspension is not just simple but natural. Over the course of the tale, Ms. Massie has drawn us into the realm of the impossible. And because her storytelling has captured most of us fully and without reservation, in context, the impossible no longer seems even implausible. At once, we both want and dread the final, nerve-shattering revelation. Without it, there is no catharsis. And in a story such as this—the kind of story at which Ms. Massie excels—we desire catharsis. Even if it hurts.
Elizabeth Massie, or emvirginia, as
she is known in geocaching circles

Though it springs from very early in Ms. Massie's long, varied career as an author, "Smoothpicks" displays the hallmarks of an expert storyteller: engaging, memorable characters; a distinctive voice; critical conflicts, both internal and external; and imagery that haunts the mind long after the reading is done. Over the years, I've read countless of Ms. Massie's stories and novels—I've even co-written two novels with her—and while she has gone on to explore endless new avenues in fiction, "Smoothpicks" remains a landmark work, both for her and for Deathrealm.

Copies of Deathrealm #7 are difficult, though probably not impossible, to find. "Smoothpicks" was reprinted in the anthology Deathrealms (Delirium Books, 2004) which may be marginally easier to acquire. You might check with eBay or to find available copies.

*More than one well-known author did this early in Deathrealm's run, for the professed purpose of "testing" my editorial prowess. I've never understood such a mindset, but apparently it exists. Submissions that struck me as being trunk stories always got bounced, no matter who they came from.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Star Trek Continues

Are you a Star Trek fan? Me, I have always been fond of the original series (mostly) as well as the movies (mostly) and several of the spin-off series (somewhat). Until recently, it had been decades since I've seen any of the original series' episodes—probably the mid 1980s, when the show was still in regular syndication. However, when I discovered a year or so ago that the original episodes had been remastered and were available on Amazon Prime, I decided to give them a look. Once again, I enjoyed watching them (mostly), particularly the digital upgrading of the old special effects, which were primitive even in their time and disappointed me as far back as I can remember. Unlike some significant percentage of Star Trek fans, I'm not such a purist that I would stand by some unwritten law to the effect of "thou shalt not tamper."

I believe it was on Facebook that I recently caught wind of the existence of Star Trek Continues: a fan-made production that continues the timeline of the original series (1966–1969), made to resemble the show to an uncanny degree. Produced by Vic Mignogna, who also stars as Captain Kirk, the series of eleven episodes purports to complete the USS Enterprise's five-year mission, leading up to where Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) begins. A week or so ago, with most of Star Trek's original series episodes fresh in mind, I took it to heart to watch Star Trek Continues in full over a period of several days.

And I really, really enjoyed it (mostly).

Indeed, the most striking aspect of the show is its resemblance to the familar Star Trek of old, down to the sets, the costumes, the camera angles, the four-act structure of the episodes—including fade-outs at the ends of scenes, where one might expect to see commercials. The majority of the music comes directly from the original series, with some additional compositions contributed by the ubiquitous Vic Mignogna. The special effects, courtesy of Emmy-award-winning SPFX artist Doug Drexler, are very much in keeping with the digital effects in the remastered episodes, so if you have watched those, the visuals prove gratifyingly consistent across the properties, and if not, the new effects work is many steps up from the old.
The USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) as rendered for Star Trek Continues by SPFX artist Doug Drexler
While the improved digital special effects work in the new series' favor, perhaps paradoxically, so do the the full-size interior and exterior sets, by way of their resemblance to the original's less-than-budget-busting constructs. The interior of the Enterprise—including the bridge, corridors, crew quarters, the shuttlecraft and bays—as well as planetary surfaces and structures, all match the appearance of the original series' sets to the detail. Indeed, the look, sound, and feel of Star Trek Continues makes it almost difficult believe one is not watching a licensed extension of the show.

But it really isn't. The new series was made as an unlicensed, non-profit fan production that CBS and Paramount Pictures, as well as Gene Roddenberry's estate, could have squashed before it began. But they didn't. In fact, Gene Roddenberry's son, Rod, has been quoted as saying, "I'm sure my dad would consider this canon, and as far as I am concerned, it is canon." I personally would go so far as to say I absolutely accept Star Trek Continues as canon. Given its serious, thoughtful scripts and performances, not to mention its near-flawless continuity, it would seem rather silly not to.

For the most part, it's the members of the main cast that represent the greatest departure from the feel of the original series. Few of them come as close to resembling the original characters, in either appearance or personality, as those in the J.J. Abrams reboot film series from the past few years. Regardless, once one becomes accustomed to the strange faces in the familiar roles, it's not difficult to accept these actors as the characters they portray. Although his tenor voice doesn't sound like William Shatner's, as Captain Kirk, Vic Mignogna captures many of Shatner's mannerisms and vocal rhythms such that, in no time, he becomes, for all intents and purposes, the real Captain Kirk. The same might be said for Todd Haberkorn, who neither looks nor sounds much like Leonard Nimoy, but whose earnest portrayal of Mr. Spock becomes easy enough to accept.
Todd Haberkorn (L) as Mr. Spock and Vic Mignogna (R) as Captain Kirk
The ladies of Star Trek Continues: Kim Stinger at Lt. Uhura, Kipleigh Brown as Lt. Smith,
Michele Specht as Dr. McKennah, and Cat Roberts as Lt. Palmer
If you close your eyes and listen, you would swear that the voice of Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott is none other than the late James Doohan, and you would be incorrect, but only just. Mr. Scott comes to life courtesy of Jimmy Doohan's son Chris, who seems as tailor-made for the role as his dad. And while his physical appearance doesn't much match Walter Koenig's, actor Wyatt Lenhart has captured Mr. Chekhov's voice and personality with striking precision.

While still "acceptable" in their parts, none of the other main cast members quite hit the right notes for their characters. Chuck Huber looks and sounds not so unlike Dr. McCoy as played by the late, great DeForest Kelley, but his rather wooden, by-the-numbers performance lacks assurance and, most crucially, a strong chemistry with Mr. Spock. And unfortunately, neither Grant Imahara as Mr. Sulu or Kim Stinger as Lt. Uhura offer performances matching the caliber of Mignogna, Haberkorn, or Doohan, although both actors do manage to shine at various moments.

As a favorable balance, Kipleigh Brown plays a strong Lt. Smith, whose character first appeared in the original series episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before," and who offers a few dramatic surprises, particularly during the last few episodes of the new series. Michele Specht comes aboard the Enterprise as Ship's Counselor Dr. Elise McKennah, whose character paves the way for future ships' counselors on board Starfleet spacecraft, the primary example being Counselor Deana Troy in Star Trek: The Next Generation, played by Marina Sirtis—who also provides the ship's computer voice in Star Trek Continues.
Mother and daughter play the same role. Joanne Linville (L) from the
original series, and daughter Amy Rydell (R) from Star Trek Continues

Several veteran Star Trek players, as well as other noteworthy actors, make appearances in the show, such as Michael Forest (who reprises his role as Apollo from the original series episode "Who Mourns for Adonais?"); John DeLancie (Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation, though here he plays an unrelated character); Colin Baker; Jamie Bamber; Lou Ferrigno; Anne Lockhart; and many others. Perhaps most notably, actress Amy Rydell appears as a Romulan Commander, the same role played by her mother, Joanne Linville, in the original series episode "The Enterprise Incident." In character, Rydell is a spitting image of her mother, as you may notice in the photo above.

Happily, for the most part, the new series' scripts are patterned after the best of the old and, with a few exceptions, deal admirably with non-fluffy topics, such as discrimination, personal ethics, and self-sacrifice. Many of the episodes relate directly to events from the original series, such as the aforementioned "Who Mourns for Adonais?", "Mirror, Mirror," "The Tholian Web," "The Enterprise Incident," and "Where No Man Has Gone Before." It is, in fact, the latter episode—the "second" pilot for the original series, and the first to star William Shatner as Captain Kirk—that provides the basis for the final two-part episode of Star Trek Continues ("To Boldly Go"), thus bringing the two series full circle. "To Boldly Go" also addresses and settles major plot points that have developed over the course of the series, as well as opening the door for the events to come in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, making it the most satisfying and all-around best episode of the new series.

Is Star Trek Continues a worthy successor to the original series? Apart from the generally less-accomplished cast, I'd call it far superior to the J.J. Abrams reboot films, and possibly go as far as saying it is equal to or better than most of the myriad Star Trek spinoff series. As a labor of love, it stands out far beyond any fan-made production that I have ever encountered. To say that it is sincere is an understatement; it is an expression of rarely matched creative integrity, succeeding on multiple levels—thematically, artistically, and dramatically.

If you are even a casual Star Trek fan, do yourself the service of checking out Star Trek Continues. It's not perfect—sometimes far from it—but in general it embodies the best of what Star Trek stood for from the beginning, sometimes in ways that exceed the original.

You can watch all the episodes for free, as well as find additional information about the production, at Star Trek Continues. Also visit Star Trek Continues on Facebook.
Vic Mignona as Captain Kirk
Michele Specht as Counselor Dr. Elise McKennah
Chris Doohan as Mr. Scott
Kim Stinger at Lt. Uhura
There's trouble in Engineering in "Come Not Between the Dragons"
Mess not with these gentlemen!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Another Crossroad

Dave and Trish, lurking in the dark, as usual!
I met author/editor/publisher David Niall Wilson for the first time in the late 1980s—most likely 1989—at Necon in Bristol, RI. At the time, Dave was in the U.S. Navy, and in addition to writing his own fiction, he had recently started editing and publishing The Tome magazine. My first exposure to his work was a vampire story that had appeared in After Hours magazine, and I was so taken with it, I actually wrote him a fan letter—not something I have been known to do with any frequency. When we did get together face-to-face, we had such a blast that it became a regular thing. Our respective families would gather either at Chez Wilson—in Norfolk, VA, in the early days; later in Hertford, NC—or here in Greensboro.

But that was a long time ago. While we've remained close with each other online, until last night, it had been far too many years since we actually got together. Since our first meeting, we've shared too many life experiences to count, some together, some roughly paralleling. Both of us have divorced and found the life partners we were meant to be with (a special shout-out here to author/editor Patricia Lee Macomber, a.k.a. Mrs. Wilson, who has been the one to put Dave right where he needs to be—take that however you wish!). We've both gone all kinds of places with our respective writing careers, some fantastic, some bloody awful. Perhaps most noteworthy, Dave is founder and CEO of Crossroad Press, which has gone from its relatively meager beginning as a specialty e-book publisher to an influential publishing house boasting thousands of titles and many bestselling authors, publishing not only e-books but paperbacks, hardbacks, and audio books (not to mention being publisher of my novels The Lebo Coven, The Nightmare Frontier, Blue Devil Island, and The Monarchs).
A spot of delicious not-terribly-dead fish
(and tamago) at Sushi Republic

This weekend, Dave and Trish's daughter is taking part in a First Lego League competition here in Greensboro, so it was preordained that our wayward souls should, at long last, meet face-to-face again. With this week's major snowfall, things were starting to look a bit dicey, but in the end, it happened: after setting daughter Katie loose at the competition, Dave and Trish found themselves being abducted by Ms. Brugger and me for a night of Japanese food, wine, and general debauchery*. Dinner was at the always excellent Sushi Republic on Tate Street. I believe Dave can thank me for setting him on the sushi road back in the day, and in fact, for this service, the man should be paying me royally for perpetuity; Trish and Brugger, on the other hand, have never been bitten by the raw fish bug, poor souls. We followed up dinner with some top-notch spirits at Rioja! A Wine Bar, one of our favorite local establishments. As with many true friends, even after quite a few years apart, the four of us can fall right into our comfortable, familiar roles (Dave and Trish bowing to our superior character and moral fiber) and enjoy ourselves as if virtually no time had passed.

Today, the Wilsons are supporting their daughter in her competition, and will soon enough be returning to Hertford. We shall have to ensure that, next time, so many years do not pass between our gatherings. Frankly, I don't know how they've stood it this long.

Visit David Niall Wilson's website. Visit Crossroad Press. Visit Patricia Lee Macomber at Fantastic Fiction.

*Sitting around bitching about the creaking and moaning of our respective aging bodies.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Godzilla: Planet of Monsters

For decades, GODZILLA and other daikaiju have ravaged the earth. In the year 2048, the surviving members of the human race—along with members of two alien races that had also attempted to battle Godzilla—take to outer space to search for a suitable new home. For twenty years, their interstellar vessel, the Aratrum, has searched unsuccessfully for a habitable planet, and having exhausted supplies and morale, the crew make the fateful decision to return to Earth and attempt once again to battle Godzilla for domination of the planet.

Shortly after the release of Shin Godzilla (a.k.a. Godzilla Resurgence) in 2016, Toho Co. Ltd. announced their plans to make an anime version of Godzilla, to be animated by Polygon Pictures, written by novelist/anime screenwriter Gen Orubuchi, directed by Kobun Shizuno (the Detective Conan series) and Hiroyuki Seshita (Symbol, Blame, Knights of Sedonia), and featuring a musical score by veteran anime/Godzilla film composer Takayuki Hattori (Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla, Godzilla 2000). In March 2017, Toho announced that the new film, titled Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, would be the first part of a trilogy and, in November 2017, released it to theaters in Japan. It made a relatively strong showing at the box office and was thus slated for worldwide release on Netflix on January 17, 2018.

Being one of the planet's most enthusiastic daikaiju (and, at one time, anime) freaks, since I became aware of Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, however many moons ago, I figured I could be persuaded to actually give this one a look, maybe even without the promise of excessive wine. Now, my initial reactions to the trailers I watched and the synopses I read were none too positive, but I figured I could remain guardedly optimistic. Today being the release date, and being snowbound at home, I judged it the perfect time to give the film a look. And so I did.
Was it worth it?
Why, yes. Yes, indeed. That said, it was far, far from perfect, but on the whole, it was an enjoyable Godzilla experience. I cannot say I'm overly fond of the Godzilla design—it's cloned from the 2014 Legendary Godzilla, which is better than, say, the Godzilla vs. Megalon or Son of Godzilla Godzilla, but it remains, in my book, anything but the most desirable (I could spend way too much time on this individual topic). All things considered, I was far more taken with Toho's Shin Godzilla design, which is essentially a variant of the original 1954 Godzilla maquette on steroids. Still, in the context of the film, this Godzilla presents itself as a massive elemental force, which, at the end of the day, is a fine way for Godzilla to be presented.

Prior to viewing the film, I felt some skepticism regarding the storyline, what little I knew of it. Since I had intentionally avoided learning any plot details, my only real knowledge of it was that the film's events would take place on Earth 20,000 years in the future—which, for at least partially subjective reasons, didn't sit right with me as, too often, such a significant distance in time results in diminished relatability to people, places, and things in a story. However, the plot, as it unfolded, followed a strong, agreeable internal logic and, over the film's running time, allayed most of my fears regarding its setting. I'll also mention that the character drama being at the forefront, with a long absence on the part of the title monster, began to worry me a bit because the character drama never hit on all cylinders (in fact, at times, quite the opposite). However, when Godzilla did make its appearance, it ended up being worth the wait. Some spectacular, tension-filled moments ensued during the man-v-monster confrontation, and it was here, in that last third, that the movie all came together.

And the climax... it worked. Oh, yes, it worked.
"Fantastic and Exciting!"
The film's CG animation is engaging from start to finish, featuring many of the hallmarks of classic anime along with many superb visuals—particularly in the outer space scenes—that put to shame the CGI in any number of big-budget live-action movies. Given the high achievement of sheer audio-visual spectacle in this film, there's no question that Godzilla can and does work as an animated entity—and I say this as one of the world's foremost proponents of "suit-a-mation," the traditional man-in-suit method of bringing Godzilla to life since its first film in 1954.

The film's mecha is classic anime, with hardware designs that hearken back to Macross, Mobile Suit Gundam, Orguss, Dougram, and countless other anime series from the 1980s and beyond. Most notably, the film pays more than the usual attention to physics, at least cinematic physics, which adds some sense of believability absent from too many SF spectacle films—Godzilla films not the least of them. From the design and execution of the space vehicles, to scenes of combat aerobatics, to the convincing conveyance of scale of Godzilla and the other monsters, the film excels.

Takayuki Hattori's musical score, while reasonably effective scene-by-scene, is unmemorable, a charge frequently leveled against his prior two Godzilla scores, though I find those on the upper side of satisfactory. Perhaps another listen to this soundtrack might give me a little more to chew on, but virtually nothing about the score stood out as exemplary during my first viewing.
Shut the Fuck Up, Already
As I have insinuated, the film's most serious shortcoming is its reliance on character drama for the first half to two-thirds of its running time. While there are, without doubt, some tense, engaging moments, the focus on protagonist Haruo Sakaki, a young military officer who lost his family to Godzilla in his childhood, could hardly be more tedious (one more "I'll kill you, you bastaaaaaaaaard!", screamed at Godzilla with all kinds of melodramatic venom, and I'd have probably shut off the film). Now, toward the end, some of the focus on Sakaki finally pays off, but prior to that, the overwrought portrayal of his personal grudge against Godzilla reaches the point of ridiculousness. Toho has presented such a character, played much, much better, with Admiral Tachibana in Godzilla - Mothra - King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (a.k.a. GMK, 2001). In Tachibana's case, his rage at the monster is tempered by thoughtfulness, wisdom, and excellent, understated acting; in contrast, Sakaki, portrayed as youthful, reckless, and outspoken, is nothing more than a trope, and as such, his desire for personal retribution never rings true.

Balancing Sakaki's too-exaggerated character, some of the secondary characters do play far more convincingly and interestingly, most notably the alien, androgynous, soft-spoken, Mr.-Spock-cum-metaphysical priest, Metphies; the alien, Mr.-Spock-goes-macho engineer, Mulu-elu Galu-gu; Sakaki's junior officers, Lt. Adam Binewald and Major Martin Lizzari, whose understated courage help balance their CO's incessant blathering; and a young, brave but sensitive female officer named Yuko Tani, who could represent a love interest for Sakaki, though this possibility is left mostly unexplored, likely to the film's benefit.
What's Next?
Later in 2018, we should expect to see the second part of the trilogy: Gojira: Kessen Kidō Zōshoku Toshi, which, from what I have read, may be translated as something like Godzilla: The City Mechanized for the Final Battle, and is reputed to feature Mechagodzilla, an incarnation of which is briefly shown in this film.

So, all things considered, I'm going to give Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters an overall rating of very good, with caveats. I'll no doubt watch it a time or two prior to the release of its sequel(s) so I don't forget important details (I am old, and these things happen). And I think you should watch it too, whether you're a diehard daikaiju fan or just a casual viewer of things exciting and impressive.

A solid four out of five Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis.

Snow Day

First snowstorm of the season... and it's a-coming down. The office is open, but driving 20 miles one-way, twice, in this mess—especially after having my old Buick bashed up on just such a day a few years back—just isn't prudent. It's just snow, not ice, so theoretically, the electricity stands a better-than-average chance of staying on, but this is hoping against hope for the best.

For now, got Kats and Krankies. That's all good.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Delayed Auld Lang Syne

Somewhat wacky shot of a bunch of wacky people in hot tub
Ms. B. and I had planned to spend New Year's Eve with friends Terry and Beth in Winston-Salem (see "What Year Is This?"—Jan. 1, 2018), but things didn't work out due to illness. So this weekend, we got together for a slightly delayed celebration. I had Geocaching planned for today, so Ms. B. and I drove over separately on yesterday. As she ended up having to stop for a wine emergency on the way, I expected her to be late, but Terry had failed to leave me a map from the driveway to the back door, and I blundered about in broad daylight for some time. Thus, Brugger got into the house before I did, and I suppose I shall not hear the end of it, for she is mean that way.

Saturday turned into a day of wine tasting, shopping, and redneck tapas (visiting the sample tables at Costco). Come dinner time, we settled on a couple of appealing options, only to find the establishments in question closed for various reasons. Disheartened but determined, we decided to hit Di Lisio's, an Italian restaurant Terry and Beth are fond of, and now Kimberly and I are fond of it as well. She had baked ziti that was bigger than all of Napoli, and I had shrimp veggie, which was a concoction of shrimp, olives, lemon, garlic, red pepper, and capers over angel hair. And the wine was fine.

Back at Chez Nelson, we shed our clothes for bathing apparel, and moved ourselves to the outdoor hot tub. Now, I'm going to tell you, it was f'ing cold last night—low twenties, with a nice, constant breeze—but the scalding hot water, along with a nice bourbon-barrel red blend, kept us comfy for a good hour and half. Naturally, come time to return indoors, the scene became an intricately choreographed ballet of frenzied screaming, scrambling, and cursing, with the deck covered in black ice and certain of us shy of a towel because we are old and forget things. But survive we did, and once again happily ensconced indoors, we put on Cheech & Chong's Up in Smoke to warm us up. I hadn't seen that movie in thirty years or more, and Brugger had never seen it, so we had ourselves a good chuckle or two. Ahh, nostalgia.

This morning, we (or, more specifically, Terry) had a job separating our frozen bathing apparel from the deck, since we'd left it strewn around the place during our hurried egress last night. After a satisfying breakfast, we parted ways, and I made for Horizons Park, just a few miles north of their place, to get in some caching. As I anticipated, it was a cold, cold couple of miles of hiking, but as the trails are not what one would call flat, I worked up a good sweat. Most invigorating, and I picked up three nice caches for my effort (bringing my total find count to 9,792). As my regular blog followers may have been able to deduce, I love me some geocaching. In fact, it was ten years ago Friday that I found my first cache—"Groundhog Lane" (GCNCNX, now archived), and I've been an addict ever since.

Got a deadline, so now it's time to write. Write, write, write!
Always nice to hear some Dark Shadows on Sirius XM while in transit
A steamy hot tub scene, featuring Dr. Werner von Schwartztotten and sexy lady
Terry attempts to separate our frozen bathing apparel from the deck. It took time and ingenuity.
Frozen but happy Damned Rodan at Horizons Park

Friday, January 12, 2018

Something in the Mist...

On my way to Mum's this evening, I passed Lake Lanier just as twilight was falling, and the mist rolling over the surface was damn near eerie. Temps have been in the 60s for the past couple of days, but it had been so cold for several days, the lake is mostly still frozen. Stopped to take several shots while I was there; a couple of more down below.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Post-Holiday Blues, Recycled

The boys are curious, for they are cats. The Joker is laughing maniacally from the Joker-Mobile!
It's been a while since I've been able to attend a local Geocaching event. For various reasons, I've had to bomb out on the past few I'd hoped to attend, so it was nice to gather again with many of The Usual Suspects this evening at The Moose Cafe in Colfax, which is quite close to my office. This was the 5th Sometimes-Annual Holiday Blues Go Green event, where we have a Dirty Santa gift exchange of mostly "recycled" gifts (read "re-gifted"), which folks just couldn't quite find a place for in their own homes.

I ended up with a Fisher-Price Joker Mobile, which the boys seemed to appreciate. Pity I wasn't able to snag a couple of other items, which would have been fantastic for cats, such as... a stuffed cat... a cat Christmas ornament... and a propeller-driven flying ball. That would have made life at Casa de Rodan quite the hoot.
Night-Hawk and Ms. Loon fight it out over a box, while Skyhawk63 and Cow look on.
L: Punkins19 can't quite process what she's seeing. R: Smashemups is confused too,
so Ranger Fox Googles it.
Lord have mercy, it's Joel Freaking Osteen and his brother. They've been GNOMED!
Night-Hawk was ready to fight someone for this. But...
...he got this instead. Don't let Night-Hawk come to your house to pee—he will leave this in your bathroom!

Monday, January 1, 2018

What Year Is This?

New Year's Eve/Day sure didn't quite turn out as we planned. Ms. Brugger and I had intended to head over to Winston-Salem last night to hang out with our friends Terry & Beth in their outdoor hot tub (in the nice 11°F chill), but they'd both come down ill this week, and getting together during the contagious stage just didn't seem prudent, especially since Ms. B. and I have suffered ugly illnesses of our own this past month. So after I enjoyed some frigid, early-evening geocaching at Greensboro's Revolution Mill, Ms. B. and I went to New Year's Eve dinner at one of our favorite Thai restaurants — Simply Thai in Elon — and then returned to her place, where we drank wine and watched the final episode of Stranger Things, followed by the double-feature of Mother and The Thing (2012). While hanging out in a hot tub with Terry & Beth would surely have been the most desirable option, our ever-so-mellow back-up plan proved nothing to sneeze at.

This morning, we slept late, drank serious coffee, had a delicious chicken sausage & egg scramble, and hung with cats. Then I returned home.

I must say, 2017 provided us with a generally fine holiday season, starting with Halloween and our trip to Gettysburg, which turned out to be one of the best things I've ever done. Thanksgiving and Christmas both proved mellow and memorable. In early December, Ms. B. and I had an excellent time at her folks' place in Midland, MI, but for those days we were down with the stomach flu. Being the eternal pessimist, though, every New Year's Day tends to find me feeling a little depressed, since it spells the end of my favorite annual holiday time.

That said, I feel little remorse leaving 2017 behind, as in so many respects it was a garbage year, with my Mom's long-term health problems overshadowing every aspect of my life, and 2018 — and likely many years beyond — promises no respite. I've never hated anything as much as I hate what has happened to her, and unfortunately, sometimes that hate spills over into my day-to-day life, which, of course, I hate. The perpetually widening political divide in our country has affected me in no small ways; it's no secret I fucking despise Donald Trump and the GOP. They're the epitome of human garbage, the lot of them, and for them the guillotine would be too kind. I suppose the less said about that, the better.

My work situation, while not so different in its day-to-day routine, is in many ways more stressful than it used to be, with a long, ugly daily commute, resulting in considerably more personal expense (and risk), and certain HR issues, including a piss-poor time-off policy, which are several steps backward from what we used to have under our local ownership. I hope to God I can retire before I'm dead, and the sooner the better. But I do not like this aging thing. Sure it's better than the alternative, but an alternative alternative would be most desirable.

Whatever its hardships, I'm sure 2018, as every year has, will offer plenty of joys and wonderful things to counter the stressors. I do hope so. Right now, I've got a couple of great writing projects happening, and it is time for me to get back to them.

May the road rise to meet your wheels.