Friday, August 23, 2019

Pleasant Hill

My view from Pleasant Hill. Little has changed here in sixty years.
I've never thought of the house where I grew up in Martinsville as "Pleasant Hill," but my Mom always has. Some years ago, she had a plaque made that bears the name, which she affixed to the outside wall next to the front door. Thus, when visitors came round, which they once did frequently, they knew then and there they had arrived on Pleasant Hill.

This is one of those very personal blogs I am sometimes compelled to write. I'm all about sharing my blog entries, and I hope those of you who visit do enjoy them; however, I do often go into details that surely mean little or nothing to you. But they do to me, and I can't count how many times I've looked back at events I've recorded here and thanked the lord I posted what might appear to be the most trivial day-to-day events. I will tell you, I treasure my memories, especially since for the last few years I've been watching, up close and personal, what it's like to lose everything that has defined a beloved individual, established her identity, made that person who she is — or was — over the course of a lifetime. My mom is a walking ghost, a caricature of the unique person she was. Having lived with this steady decline since 2015, I've come to dread more than anything else losing such vital components of who I am. To become a hollow shell, devoid of all the little details and nuances that define my existence. The tenets of my soul, if you will.
The front porch

I'm here with Mom several times a month to look after her, to handle her affairs, to make sure she's safe when her regular nurses are off. I essentially manage two lives, mine and hers, and yes, there are times it is overwhelming. I cannot deny that I have on occasion utterly lost my shit over the whole business, and I suspect that any of you who have dealt with a loved one suffering from Alzheimers/Dementia can relate. While my dad's long, slow physical decline was horrific enough, until the end, Dad was still Dad. He was never a stranger, an imposter. A ghost. Not like my mom.

On these occasions when I'm here at Pleasant Hill, I often take some time to reflect on life, my family's past, the experiences I've had here over the past sixty years. To remember, even relive, what was mostly joy at this place. Certainly, no home, no life, is perfect, but I was fortunate enough to have the most loving parents a person could hope for, to grow up in a beautiful home, provided by my dad and nurtured by my mom. There was never a more gentle, loving, intelligent, empathetic soul than my mom. The person upstairs bears a superficial resemblance to her, but so little remains of who she truly was. Her body is still functioning, and may yet for some time, but I couldn't have grieved more for her than if she had already passed away.

When she was of sound mind, Mom requested that I write her obituary. She felt I would do her life justice. I had considered writing it tonight, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it, and so I sat down to write this instead.

Once Mom is gone, Pleasant Hill is supposed to pass on to me, should circumstances permit. Who knows if they actually will. Whether the place does or doesn't, right now, I have a lifetime of memories here, and I fervently desire to retain them. Of course, we don't always have a choice in such matters. If offered the choice, I know Mom would never have chosen the place life has taken her, and thus those of us who love her so.

When I am here in Martinsville, I never fail to have a drink or two to Pleasant Hill. Before life is over and done with, I imagine I will have drunk a few more.

Bless you all.
My view as I write.
A pleasant little corner of the kitchen with the wine bottle lamp Ms. B. and I made for Mom a few years ago.
A bit of history on the family room wall

Thursday, August 22, 2019


It's been a busy, busy month, writing-wise and life-wise. A couple of tight deadlines for short stories have kept my schnozz to the grindstone for most of the past month. Both tales are now finished, the second one sent off to the editors as of this afternoon. Even geocaching time has been sparse these past few weeks, although I have managed a handful of decent outings. Blogging, for better or for worse, has been right out. Next up, I have my third Ameri-Scares novel — set in Ohio — to write. It'll be about the Ohio Grassman — basically, the Ohio version of Bigfoot. I've always been keen on the idea of writing a Bigfoot book, so here it comes, and you people better watch out.

Don't know when I'll get to blog next, but rest assured I will return eventually. In the meantime, here's a spider.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Big Wildlife, Big Fun in Apex

Team No Dead Weight strikes again: Ye Olde Man, Diefenbaker, Fishdownthestair, and
Old Bloody One-Eyed Rob
The usual suspects — Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), Old Bloody One-Eyed Robgso (a.k.a. Rob) — gathered this morning at Casa de Fish and hit the highway in the direction of Apex, bound for geocaching. (Surprised you, didn't I? I bet you thought I was going to say we were bound for geocaching. Oh, wait....) Our primary target was the White Oak Creek Greenway, where a fair crapload of caches lay in wait for us. A considerable length of the greenway runs through the marsh around White Oak Creek on a wide wooden boardwalk, which afforded us a fine view of all kinds of critters, including Daikaiju Gamera's only slightly smaller first cousin, Eugene. When I first noticed Eugene, I thought I was a seeing a large turtle lounging in the water. Then I realized I was seeing just the head of the largest snapping turtle I've ever seen. Big. BIG-ass snapping turtle. I'm kinda glad we weren't slogging through the marsh at that point because we might have gotten snapped at.

We had already encountered one giant critter on our way to the marsh. A few miles back while stopping at a cache, we ran into Ms. Betty, a surpassing large Golden Orb Weaver (a.k.a. Garden Spider). Ms. Betty didn't seem to mind us poking around her place looking for cache, maybe because she had already signed the log. She did appear rather smug.
Not much sense of scale in these photos, but both Eugene (L—and that is just his head!)
and Ms. Betty (R) were big. BIG.

We also found a couple of trees that afforded us — well, in this case, me — an opportunity to change our vertical perspective a tad. I would consider neither of these big scary climbs, but the smaller of the two actually offered more of an adrenaline rush because the leaning trunk was so rotten I wasn't sure it would hold me for the length of time it took to go up and sign the log. Had the trunk broken, I wouldn't have fallen more than five or six feet, but that's enough to bruise one's pride if not one's backside. The other climb proved a little more challenging, but even that wasn't terribly high; I estimate no more than ten feet. Still, that was enough elevation to inspire me to keep a tight grip on the branches. All ended well, and we did get our team name (the ubiquitous moniker, Team No Dead Weight) emblazoned on the logs.
A welcome opportunity to make a change of elevation. But would someone call the fire
department please? I think I'm stuck

Lunch at Sophie's Grill & Bat in Apex made for the perfect post-hiking repast. The chicken fingers and hot sauce really hit the spot, and the fries weren't bad. Thing is, I'd burned my tongue on my super-hot coffee this morning, and that hot sauce really got a mouth fire going. It took a lot of cold beer and water to put that thing out.

On our journey home, we stopped off at a tunnel cache in Siler City that Scott and I had already claimed — "Uncle Hargis's Potato Patch" (GC38ZXD) — but since the young lady still needed it, we stopped to let her do the deed. Since it was a tunnel hide, I went on in there anyway. It seemed the thing to do at the time.

Daughter Allison is in town for a few days, so we went out for sushi at Fuji Sushi this evening. Most enjoyable, and we're planning to have dinner again tomorrow night, with Ms. B. also attending.

Is nice. All very, very nice.
View of the boardwalk and marsh at the White Oak Creek Greenway, near Apex

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Scares That Care 2019

It's been too many years since I've been to a horror convention of any size and excellent calibre, but this year's Scares That Care charity event in Williamsburg, VA, is the one that got me back. Ms. B. and I joined writer, publisher, and longtime friend David Niall Wilson, his wife Trish, and daughter Katie to work the Crossroad Press table for much of the weekend. The crowd turned out to be prodigious, and I understand the attendees this year helped raise a record amount of money for individuals and groups in specific need.

Early morning Friday, Kimberly and I set out for Williamsburg. It's generally about a four-hour trip, but this one clocked in at over six, given that we stopped for a handful of geocaches, broke for lunch at the always excellent Cul's Courthouse Grill in Charles City, VA, and ended up detouring due to an accident that had closed I-85 North south of Petersburg. That re-routing cost us a half hour or so, but it sure as hell beat sitting on the interstate for hours with absolutely nowhere to go.

When we arrived, we immediately headed to the dealer's room and stationed ourselves with the Crossroad Press gang. They had brought a huge inventory with them, and by all indications, they did well—as did just about everyone I talked to. I moved a few copies of Blue Devil Island, Ameri-Scares West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman, and Ameri-Scares Michigan: The Dragon of Lake Superior, which pleased me muchly. That was where Kimberly and I spent the majority of our time, but I did manage to take numerous breaks and explore the various chambers of the convention hall. I ran into many old friends—such as Maurice Broaddus, Chris Harding, Lynne Hansen, Nick Kaufman, Nick Mamatas, Elizabeth Massie, Cortney Skinner, Steven Shrewsbury, Mark Sieber, Jeff Strand, con organizer/writer Brian Keene, and others—as well as meet a number of folks I've known or known of over the years but had never met in the flesh, such as the guys at Tom Deady, Death's Head Press, Jonathan Maberry, Bryan Nowak, Dave Simms, Paul Tremblay, Sidney Williams, Jezzy Wolfe, and many more.
Trish and Katie Wilson at the Crossroad Press table. They only look dangerous,
they really aren't... oh, wait... yeah, they're dangerous.
Okay, so Brugger likes dudes with long legs, but this is ridiculous.
Author Paul Tremblay, looking pleasantly unpleasant.
Friday evening, the dealer's and celebrity rooms stayed open till 9:00 p.m., so rather than try to get a group together for dinner, Kimberly and I went into Williamsburg's historical district and put away a small feast at The Hound's Tale, an atmospheric little tavern that we quite enjoyed. I went for braised rabbit leg with pasta, accompanied by a fair malbec, while the lady chose smoked chicken pierogis and an interesting red blend. Perhaps not the best dinner of the weekend, but an all-around enjoyable one. Fine service bumped up the experience.
Mr. Skinner and his long-lost protegé

Without much ado, we returned to the con and the dealer's room. We hung out there till closing time, then accompanied the Wilsons back to their chambers where we—or at least a couple of us—put away some seriously good bourbon: Basil Hayden's, which I'd never tried before. We retired at a fairly reasonable hour for a big old convention. I don't know what hour that was, but I have it on good authority that it was reasonable. Kimberly and I did not have a room at the con hotel, but at the Mainstay Suites a few miles up the road. The place was spacious, clean, and convenient, so we can stamp it with our stamp of approval.

Saturday morning, we zoomed back to the con, continued the dealer's room gig for a bit, but took time out to attend readings by Dave and Ms. Massie. Both were brilliant and, for me, among the many highlights of the con. Once again, Kimberly and I settled ourselves at the table and sold some books. Kim spent much of her time producing a beautiful little piece of artwork, as she is frequently wont to do.
A very skeered Ms. Massie! (She has somehow noticed the dude behind the camera.)
Maurice Broaddus and Jonathan Maberry. The photo turned out a bit hazy, which leads me to believe these
gentlemen may have been emitting some kind of lethal radiation. Will report any unusual results later.
Ms. Massie reads her story from the anthology Freedom of Screech, while Mr. Wilson is on deck
with his tale of the Right Reverend Cletus J. Diggs.
Now, no con is complete without some scary geocaching in the mix. And not a mile from the con hotel there lay a geocache with the innocuous-sounding title of "Under a Lightpole." However, its difficulty and terrain ratings on the website gave away the fact that finding it would surely involve a terrain challenge. One of my preferred terrain challenges, in fact: delving underground into a storm drain. In this case, based on my inspection of Google aerial view images, it appeared to be a relatively short one. So, after a quick lunch from the hotel deli, I buzzed over to the cache location and scoped out the site. Sure enough, the culvert entrance was there—not far from the lightpole in question, but down an embankment covered with such thick growth that the cache's terrain rating of "4" (out of 5) might apply just to one's approach. No worries for me, though, for I had come prepared with the tools of the trade.

There be geocaching spoilers here....
The entrance to my destination.
Looking up: yep, that there is where Imma going.

I hacked my way to the stream below and found a considerable amount of water lying between the entrance and me. However, the pipe itself was elevated and appeared dry. I used a couple of small trees to swing myself over the pool, and barely even got my feet wet. Once inside the concrete tube, it was a cakewalk. Well, a stooping cakewalk.

About thirty feet in, there was junction and a ladder leading up to a ledge above my head, with another ladder above that led to a covered manhole. I made the assumption, based on the ratings, that the cache surely resided way up there, above my head. So I made the necessary ascent and began my search in earnest.

But for naught. Are you kidding me? The thing had been found recently, and I felt certain it couldn't have disappeared in just the past few days. So, I set about searching the lower section of the junction and... for the love of Pete... here it is, way down here. I'm quite certain the difficulty rating for this one is way too high, but that's just me. Hey, I had much, much fun doing this, and I'm actually quite glad I undertook the greater terrain challenge. Always a good time.

I had barely gotten wet from my venture into the tube, but by the time I hacked my way back to the car, I had become a drippy, hot, sweaty mess from the intense heat and humidity. Fortunately, I was pretty well prepared for this as well. Once back at the con, I found myself a vacant bathroom, scrubbed myself down, and changed into the extra clothes I'd brought.
Mr. Wilson wailing out some karaoke at the hotel bar

The rest of the afternoon, we tended the Crossroad Press table. Sold a few books. We learned that Dave Simms had reserved a place for a dozen of us at the nearby Sportsmans Grille. Now, while this place might be considered a "sports bar," in reality, it offers a massive selection of entrĂ©es, burgers, sandwiches, salads, and a fine bar. Our dirty dozen—the Simms clan, the Wilson clan, Mr. Skinner, Ms. Massie, Brugger, and I—occupied a strategic area of the restaurant for conquering huge dinners. I started with a very well-made vodka martini and, for the main course, ordered a pound of steamed shrimp. They were heavenly. Very large, perfectly cooked and seasoned, with excellent cocktail sauce. It looked like everyone else chose wisely as well. I gotta give this place very high marks, and I hope to have another opportunity to drink & dine there.
Old Dude hollering out "The One I Love"

After dinner, some of us got the wacky idea we should participate in the karaoke thingummy going on in the hotel bar. Well, I sometimes play guitar and holler in public, and I've done karaoke before. Ms. B. is a helluva singer. And Mr. Wilson can more than do justice to a tune as well. So, three of us signed up to do the deed, claimed a counter in the bar for ourselves, and we waited. And we waited. And we waited. Holy shit, the karaoke dude kept putting these two fellows who sang in a band behind the mic instead of letting people who hadn't sung yet do their thing. This annoyed me no end, but a couple of hours, a beer, and a Woodford Reserve on the rocks later, our turns came. I wailed out REM's "The One I Love," Kim turned in a beautiful performance of The Indigo Girls's "Galileo," and Dave gave us a fine rendition of...a song I did not know. It was an exhausting evening after a long day of it, but this was that fun kind of exhaustion that is hardly disagreeable.

And for all practical purposes, that was the end of Scares That Care 2019 for us. This morning, Brugger and I got up, made the rounds, and said our goodbyes. Then we hit the road. Before we got very far, I snagged a nice cache, called "Colonial Redwoods," at William & Mary College—where they actually have a couple of huge redwoods—and then, a fair piece down the road, a quick park & grab cache somewhere off I-85 South.

My only real regret about this con was that, other than Dave and Beth's readings, I didn't get to see or participate in the programming. Such are the rigors of manning a dealer table. Regardless, that in itself was a task I was happy to do, and I got to meet quite a lot of folks as they passed through the room. Back in the late 1980s through the early 2000s, I frequently went to and participated in many of the big, professional cons, and Scares That Care most reminds me of Horrorfind, which used to be held in Baltimore. It has much of that same atmosphere, with so many big-name media, author, and artist guests in attendance—so many of whom used to go to Horrorfind. It's all for a worthy cause, and I'm happy to support it for that reason.

I hope to get back to Scares next year. It is most definitely an event to anticipate.
Bryan Nowack and Sidney Williams manning the HWA table. It is best not feed these gentlemen,
for I am told they are voracious and don't know when to quit.