Thursday, June 28, 2018

My Memories of Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison has passed away.

He will be remembered as a masterful, influential author for years to come. His literary achievements are a matter of record, and as an outspoken advocate for working writers getting their just due, he was admired, loved, loathed, and despised, depending on which side of his legendary ire you might be standing. Just about everyone who has been around for any length of time in this business of writing for money has his or her own Harlan Ellison anecdotes, and they will be flying around like turkey buzzards for the foreseeable future. Still, I'm going to add mine to the mix because my interactions with him were memorable and personally meaningful.

In the mid 1990s, when Deathrealm magazine was going great guns under the Malicious Press label, the late, also legendary Karl Edward Wagner, who wrote a regular column for the magazine, had picked up the rights to what, by all indications, was the last and only unpublished story by celebrated North Carolina fantasy author Manly Wade Wellman. Karl felt the story, "The Finger of Halugra," was a natural fit for Deathrealm and said that if I was interested in running it, the story was mine.

Well, what do you think? This was something of a coup for a niche magazine devoted to the weirdest of weird tales, so "The Finger of Halugra" ran in issue #23 (Spring 1995), the cover of which boasted the blurb, "The last known unpublished short story by Manly Wade Wellman."

It wasn't long afterward, as I was in the shower getting ready for work around 6:30 a.m. one morning, I heard the phone ring. My (now ex-)wife, Mrs. Death, popped into the bathroom and said, "Mark, Harlan Ellison is on the phone for you."

"He is not."

"Yes, he is."

Yes, he was. He had apparently seen an advertisement about the Manly Wade Wellman story in Deathrealm, and it had more than piqued his interest because he too had in his possession an unpublished story by Manly Wade Wellman — which he intended to run in the (also legendary for its non-existence) anthology The Last Dangerous Visions. He was concerned that he and I might be in possession of the same Wellman story, and California being three hours behind us on the east coast, he had stayed up all night that he might get in touch with me by phone before I left home for my daily routine. It was a cordial exchange, and, happily, we determined quickly that we both had different Wellman stories. Well, how intriguing is that?

All that seemed settled, but a couple of weeks later, Harlan called me again, having picked up a copy of Deathrealm #23, this time beyond peeved that the cover bore that blurb about the "last unpublished story by Manly Wade Wellman." Apparently, when Harlan called me the first time, he was under the impression the issue had yet to be published. He went off for a pretty good while, and all I could do was hold the phone away from my ear until he took a breath.

Finally, I said, "Harlan, that issue has been out for a month — since before you called the first time. I thought you knew that."



"Oh. Never mind."

And I figured that would be the extent of my interaction with Harlan. But no. It was probably at World Fantasy Con that year or the next that Mrs. Death and I ran into him, and I introduced myself as the editor of Deathrealm, and we got to having what turned out to be a fairly prolonged conversation about fiction in general. During this time, Peg was standing next to me, taking in the goings-on, and Harlan stopped, looked at her, and said, "And just who are you?"

"I'm Peg, Mark's wife."

"Oh." He smiled. "Then you can stay."

Over the next couple of years, I heard from Harlan on occasion, stunningly to me, usually about relatively trivial stuff. Then, somewhere along the line, I had mentioned on GEnie, the old online forum, something he had said to me personally, and he really, really didn't like that I had repeated it, although it never struck me as something said in confidence (and honest to Yog, I don't even remember what it was).

I had planned to run an interview with Harlan in an issue of Deathrealm, and I had received a draft from the interviewer, but Harlan wasn't happy with it. He promised to redo the interview to our mutual satisfaction, but sadly, before he could furnish it, Deathrealm reached the end of its run. I gave him a call to tell him not to bother finishing the interview, at least for me, as its venue was on the verge of pushing up daisies. He offered his condolences and expressed what his admiration for the magazine, which he had clearly given more than passing attention. In all my days as a writer-editor-publisher, I think that may have been one of the most meaningful and gratifying conversations I ever had.

A time or two, our paths crossed again at some convention or another, but to me, it was those calls out of the blue from him that have always been most memorable, mainly because I had to struggle so hard not to go all fanboy and such. Sure, I was one of a gazillion people in the business with whom he shared a wee bit of his time, but those wee bits meant the world to me then — even when he took to yelling at me — and they still do.

With Harlan Ellison, you got what you got. He didn't beat around the bush, he didn't mince words. He was basically honey badger. Now, he was getting up there and had some health problems, so his passing was not exactly unexpected. But because our respective worlds did collide those times in years past, the death of this particular legend hits me with unexpected force.

One thing is certain: whether you loved him or hated him, Harlan Ellison will be remembered long after most of us alive today have composed our final lines.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Down in the Boondocks

A lucky couple got hitched this weekend — no, silly, not Ms. B. and me, but our friends Bryon Nelson and Mary Miller — out in the wilds of Tennessee. For us, getting to the ceremony would have been prohibitive, but the reception in West Jefferson, NC, at Boondocks Brewhaus, was eminently doable, so yesterday afternoon, Brugger and I loaded up the wagon and set our sights on West Jefferson. On the way, we made a relatively brief stop at Laurel Gray Vineyards, an old favorite of ours, for a wee spot of wine. As you can see in the photo above, I opted for a white — their Chardonnay — which, if you've ever taken note of my wine preferences, is kind of like the Pope opting to sport a hijab. But Laurel Gray's Chardonnay is oaked and buttery and, for me, quite delicious. Ms. B. tends to prefer a crisper Chardonnay aged in stainless steel, but she also prefers boneless chicken to filet mignon, so that can just speak for itself.

Did I stop for a few geocaches? What a silly question.

This was our first visit to West Jefferson, and we both found ourselves taken with the place. Technically, there are two communities here — Jefferson and West Jefferson — but they are basically Siamese twins, and where one stops and the other begins, who the heck knows? Anyway, the setting, right smack in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains, near the Blue Ridge Parkway, could hardly have been more beautiful. For such a small community... er, pair of communities... there are numerous eclectic shops, pubs, restaurants, historical sites, and geocaches. Upon our arrival, we checked ourselves in at the Days Inn (in the Jefferson that's not West Jefferson) and then made haste to the Brewhaus.

An appealing, mid-size establishment, Boondocks Brewhaus makes a wide variety of beers, a couple of which I sampled. My favorite was a barrel-oaked Belgian ale called Truth Serum, which was even oakier than Laurel Gray's Chardonnay. It was kind of like drinking a tree. A damn good tree. The reception itself was appropriately festive, with damn good vittles, an excellent DJ, and lots of rocking tunes. Bryon and Mary showed the world how to dance a romantic dance, and Bryon's dad — our good friend Terry — showed the world how to do tequila shots and cut a rug with a friend. Indeed, the spirit (or spirits) had gripped just about everyone at the place, and at the end of it all Bryon summed up the evening's exuberance with "I can't even find my keys, and they're in my pocket." Of our group, though, absolutely no one who should not have driven did drive, and I'm certain a safe and happy evening was had by all.

This morning, I rose much earlier than our sleepy Ms. B. and went out to clean up most of the caches in the Jefferson/West Jefferson area. There are some fun ones to be found there, and with that bit of business taken care of, Ms. B. and I went in search of breakfast, which we hunted down and killed at The Hillbilly Grill. I went for the stuffed French toast (with strawberries & cream) and bacon, and Ms. B. had a couple of pancakes that were bigger (and probably better) than a giant barrel jellyfish. The service was a bit slow, as Sunday morning is clearly a busy time, but the food and coffee hit the spot. The decor is kind of fun — the flatware comes in little brown paper bags, and customers often doodle on the bags and pin them to the walls. I did not.

On the way home, I found a few more nice geocaches, though the relative cool of the mountains was giving way to the scorching heat of the Piedmont, so I didn't tarry at any hides that took more than a minute or so to get out and grab.

I trust Bryon and Mary are off and running in the happiest and best relationship they've ever known, and that friend Terry managed to find a suitable hangover remedy. Bonne chance to all.
Rejects from Game of Thrones? At "Don't Let the Power Get to You" (GCMYPB)
The walls at the Hillbilly Grill, decorated by customers' doodles on the paper flatware bags
Ms. B., you shameless hussy!
"We out here doing bad shit."
Don't take this road.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Inner Workings

Several years ago, I won this nice Cuisinart coffeemaker at some company function, and it has always made pretty decent coffee. It has a Thermos-style pot that keeps coffee hot for hours without requiring a heating unit. Thing is, some time ago, the top of the pot appeared to be clogged, and coffee would no longer go into the pot but spill out all over my countertop. What a mess! I cleaned the lid, scrubbed it, threaded a pipe cleaner through it, ran it through the dishwasher... all to no avail. In frustration, I slammed the lid repeatedly against the floor, until all kinds of springs, gears, and random pieces of plastic went flying.

Ever since then, the coffeemaker has been working perfectly.

The moral of this story is... simplicity in all things? Release your inner workings, for they are superfluous shit? A good beating fixes everything? Engineers are idiots? Hell if I know. At least I still get good coffee.

It makes me wonder whether the same kind of solution would work on a few people I know.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Another Fish at Lake Higgins

Since November of last year, six geocaches have lurked out on Lake Higgins in northwest Greensboro awaiting my attention, so on a scorching hot June morning, Team COGRobgso (a.k.a. Bloody Rob, a.k.a. Old Rob, a.k.a. Old Bloody Rob), fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), and Old Rodan (a.k.a. me) — set out in kayaks to turn unfound caches into found caches.

Ms. Fish had never been in a kayak before, so when she arrived at the marina, Rob showed her the ropes by handing her a bunch of rope. She was now all good to go. She kept up, steered the craft with aplomb, and scored her 1,000th cache, so I think the young lady had a decent morning on the lake. (I'm told that Natlie's geocaching handle comes from when she was a youngster and her favorite thing to do was ride a big inflatable fish down the stairs in her house, much to her parents' displeasure.)

We old dudes had a good time as well. We found caches. Didn't lose any electronic devices, didn't fall in, didn't drown. That's a fine day.

Old Bloody Rob signs the log at "78 Michael" (GC727B6)
Ms. Fishdownthestair on her maiden kayak voyage, just after finding her 1,000th geocache
Heading to "Float Your Boat" (GC727B1)
Heading into a nice, shady cove after "73 Michael"(GC727AX)
Old Rodan resting for a few in some much-needed shade at "73 Michael"(GC727AX)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Damned Rodan's Murderous Margarita Chicken Wings

It just seemed like the thing to do at the time. I'd was drinking a margarita, and I had planned to cook chicken wing drummies for dinner. So this happened.

I bake my chicken wings in the oven on a cooking grate, which is elevated an inch or so above the bottom of my baking tray, so the wings will cook evenly all the way around.

What You Need:
8–10 chicken wing drummettes
2 oz. tequila
juice from 2 limes
tsp ghost pepper sauce (I used Melinda's)
tbsp margarita salt
tbsp Old Bay seasoning
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp hot chili powder

What You Do:
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees
  2. Pour the tequila, lime juice, and ghost pepper sauce into a bowl and stir vigorously for a minute or so.
  3. Pour margarita salt, Old Bay, and black pepper into another bowl
  4. One at a time, dunk each chicken drummie in the tequila/lime juice/ghost pepper sauce to coat thorougly
  5. Roll each soaked drummie in the salt, Old Bay, black pepper, and chili powder
  6. Distribute drummies evenly on the cooking grate. Cook at 250 degrees for 30 minutes, then crank up the heat to 450 for 20 minutes.
  7. Remove from oven and let sit for 4–5 minutes before serving.
My wings turned out bang-on perfect. The outside seared crispy, the inside moist and tender. On the heat scale, Melinda's is relatively mild for a ghost pepper sauce. This is not to say it doesn't pack some heat, it's just a couple of levels down from something like Dave's Ghost Pepper sauce, which is not fooling around. While I love hot, hot stuff, I'm keen on Melinda's because it's got a nice burn without scalding your taste buds right out of your mouth.

I made a super-spicy Bloody Mary to accompany the wings, so I did get some bonus heat points.

Warning: As with any Damned Rodan recipe, Spontaneous Human Combustion may result from even careful and conscientious consumption. Do not smoke cigarettes or consume this product near any open flame, inflammable materials, children, most animals (including hedgehogs, pygmy goats, and llamas), and overly sensitive individuals.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Gay Devil

The statement this individual in this photo makes is to me a sad one. The sign in the window about refusing service to anyone who would violate this man's First Amendment rights indicates what I see as a fundamental misunderstanding of the first amendment — what I call a uniquely Christian misundertanding. And yes, I am picking on Christians because Christianity is still the majority religion in this country.

What I see is this: nowhere is this shop owner's freedom of religion or expression being infringed upon. No one is telling him he cannot worship or express himself as he pleases. No one is telling him he cannot read the Bible; or go to church on Sunday; or pray in the streets (or, more in keeping with Jesus's admonition, in his closet); or put up a sign that says “according to my religion, being gay is wrong”; or write a letter to the newspaper that says “Jesus hates gay people”; or put up any religious decorations he desires on his own property; or gather with a bunch of like-minded Christians so they can lament to their heart’s desires that people they dislike or disagree with might have the same rights they do.

The First Amendment says this man can rant to his little heart's desire that being gay is an abomination (I'm pretty sure that most would not care to have anything to do with him anyway). However, when he denies service to a person because of that person's sexual orientation, he is not protecting his "freedom" of anything. He is merely discriminating against other human beings because he dislikes them. And, like the Pharisees, he uses his religion to justify his prejudice.

Could this man substitute "black person" in place of "gay" and get away with it? Should he be able to? Or, like, so many Christians, does he think gays are possessed of the devil or some such and if he serves them, the devil will rub off on him? This man's Jesus ate with sinners, last I recall. Somehow, I get the feeling that if the gay devil rubbed off on him, he would be all the better for it.

I know many, many gay individuals, and to the last, their morality, their decency, their ethics, their priorities in life far and away superior to the man's in this photo.

I'm sure some of those who read this blog think like this man. It does make me sad.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Old Farts Amid the Ruins

This morning, the four original Old Farts — Robgso (a.k.a. Rob), Rtmlee (a.k.a. Yoda Rob), Diefenbaker (a.k.a Scott), and yours truly (Old Rodan) — after way too long a break from each other, hit the geocaching trail, specifically the Deep River Trail in Randleman. The young woman known as The Notorious FishDownTheStair (a.k.a. Natalie) had recently put out a half-dozen new geocaches on the trail, so we took what has become too rare an opportunity to get together and go after them. I had hiked after caches on the Deep River Trail any number of times in the past, but apparently only on a limited stretch of it, for we went farther on it today than I had gone previously, and oh, this was a treat. Much of the trail is relatively level and surfaced with gravel, but the eastern end becomes rugged and at times treacherous, with lots of rocks, near-vertical climbs, sheer-drop-offs, and veritable jungles of poison ivy. That is the fun part.
Old Farts emerging from a tunnel-like passage through
the rock. Their expressions say it all.

For at least some of us, the day's highlight was the first cache we went after — GC7Q5X7 (premium members only link), "Deep River Ruins" — where we discovered the remains of an extensive factory and what might have been a water filtration plant. There are crumbling brick and stone structures; a towering smokestack; a small retention pond; several portals to the Pit of Shoggoths; and, most peculiar of all, a brand-spanking-new electric meter attached to the facade of the crumbling main building. To the delight of all, we spent about as much time exploring the ruins as we did hiking on the mile-plus trail. The cache here proved challenging, but we managed to turn it up after a pretty good hunt. Old Rob took the honors for the find, so he was off the hook as far as finding a cache went. (We had named ourselves Team No Dead Weight, on the idea that each of us would find at least one of the caches on our route today, but as it turned out, we might have carried some dead weight with us today. I won't divulge who that was, except that name starts with Yoda and ends with Rob.)
Up we go!

We did find all six of the caches on our planned route, and we had fun with the high-rated terrain along the way. None of us fell and busted his ass, although at times things looked a little iffy in that regard, given how how plain klutzy some of us actually are. For afters, we had lunch at Compadres in Randleman, which is one of our longtime favorite cantinas.

May the Old Farts not have to keep having these long spells of being unable to coordinate a get-together!

Sadly, this afternoon, Ms. Brugger, along with our friends the Albaneses and the Nelsons, attended a memorial service for Kevin Houck, who had been an honorary member of our supper club for a couple of years, and who passed away on May 21, 2018. He was way too young — only 32 years old — but he did have a host of health problems that almost certainly contributed to his death. None of us knew him that well, but he was an intelligent and engaging young man whom we will miss. Adios, young Kevin.

Until another time.
The facade to the Pit of Shoggoths, with its mysterious brand-new electric meter
Looking down into the Pit of Shoggoths. I'm pretty sure I heard some blood-curdling
screams echoing out of the depths.
Old Rodan amid the ruins. Note the admonition to "Drop bodies here."

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A Random Deathrealm Memory

True story. Years ago — back in the days of the GEnie message boards, probably 1996 or something thereabout — while I was working on an issue of Deathrealm, I decided on a whim to offer a free year's subscription to anyone who might guess whatever random music was playing on my CD player at the time. Within seconds, writer extraordinaire/good buddy/funny man/all-around-devious deviant Jeff Strand posted "ABBA." And so I owed Jeff Strand a year's subscription to Deathrealm. Life has been on a downward spiral ever since. Gee, thanks, Jeff.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

At the End of the Rainbow, There Is...a Deadpool?

Ms. Brugger was heard singing "Somewhere Over the Drive-in..."
Ms. Brugger and I had the fun night at the Eden Drive-in. Burgers! Fries! Wine! Solo! Deadpool 2! Plus a bit of water from the sky, a nice rainbow, and a gorgeous sunset. Happily, it did not rain during the movies. Sadly, the drive-in now runs 20 bloody minutes of commercials before the movie starts, which taxes my patience and makes the already late finishing time very late — as in 2:30 in the a.m. late. Regardless, going to the drive-in remains a treat, and we both really enjoyed the movies. I just don't get the hate for Solo. It's damn good fun and fits comfortably in the Star Wars canon. It is fucking entertainment, for chrissakes. Its worst moments are 10,000 times better than the best moments of The Phantom Menace, and more flat-out fun than most of the more recent Star Wars films.

Deadpool 2 was a hoot, mostly living up to its predecessor, which I also quite like. It's definitely not a kids' film, though that did not stop a score or so of the locals from bringing their young ones.

All things considered, especially considering the dearth of drive-in theaters these days, I'm mighty glad to have one reasonably nearby, and whatever its pitfalls, I'll suffer them for the overall joy of the experience.
Sunset over the drive-in