Sunday, February 28, 2021

High Haw, High Haw

A few new geocaches along the Haw River, just north of Burlington, came out this week, so the Haw River Trail looked like the perfect destination for a relatively lengthy hike today. Sadly, of the Socially Distant No-Dead-Weight Irregulars, only friend Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott) was available, though he did bring his faithful cache hound Tink with him. After ungodly amounts of water dumping from the sky for two weeks or more, the trail might have been a little muddy. Tink particularly enjoyed the myriad temporary pools and ponds; by the time we were done for the day, the Diefenbaker duo was in need of a good scrubbing.

The morning started out foggy and chilly, but in short order, the fog broke and the temperature rose. There are several older caches along the trail, which I had already found but Scott had not, so we stopped for those as well as the new. As is often the case along the Haw, the cache hunts took us to some cool locations, including a set of massive concrete supports for a couple of long-gone propane tanks, now overtaken by woods. That is the kind of stuff I love finding in the woods. Along the way, we ran into friend tbbiker (a.k.a. Todd) heading in the opposite direction, so we enjoyed chatting for a spell before going our separate ways. Then — shades of last Sunday at the Cane Creek Mountains (see “Rusty Wreck & Others”) — as we made our way back to our vehicles, friends David & Diana (a.k.a. David & Diana) came along, intent on hitting the trail themselves.
At the end of it all, we found four caches (a handful of extras for Scott), put in a good four miles in messy, mucky terrain, and burned a few hundred calories. Plus I did a good deed and repaired one of friend Yoda Rob’s caches, which needed some serious TLC.

Not at all a bad day’s effort.
The morning started out foggy and chilly. It didn’t stay that way very long.
Concrete supports for old propane tanks, now swallowed by woods
Clearly, this is an antique Confederate rocketship, all set to take off for the moon.
It doesn’t pay to go speeding through the woods in one of these things!
Scott trying not to be seen
Tink, the very muddy cache hound
Old Rodan and the very muddy Haw

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Darrell, the Bigfoot of Eden

Behind me. THAT is Darrell the Bigfoot. I do not have the big feetz. Nor am I so two-dimensional. Well, that’s what I say, anyway.

Darrell resides in the town of Eden, the outskirts of which I pass through regularly when traveling between Greensboro and Martinsville.. I rarely go into Eden’s downtown (it actually has three, but that’s whole ’nuther story), but geocaching led me there today. A recently published Adventure Lab cache sends hunters to five separate locations in Eden that feature noteworthy works by local artists. Last night, I had to head to the old hometown for an appointment this morning, so on my way up — despite a torrential rainstorm — I stopped at three of the cache’s five stages (yes, I got wet; yes, I had fun). The weather turned out considerably better this morning, so on my way back home, I stopped at Darrell’s place — a shop called Sophisticated Rubbish — to make his acquaintance.

Previous caches have drawn me to this location, but those were prior to Darrell taking up residence. He is, indeed, flat — a near-life-size piece of sheet metal attached to a mural on the side of the shop building. This little corner of Eden has really undergone an agreeable transition, with numerous shops and places to dine. The pandemic certainly does not have impacted local businesses too negatively.

Any town that welcomes Bigfoot as a resident is all right by me. Thanks, Eden.
Just across the way from Darrell’s residence, you will find a little park with a mural promoting the town. There have been a handful of different caches placed here over the years.  An earlier mural here, called “River Boat Men: Dan River Trading, 1792–1892,” depicted black men rowing batteaux on the Dan River. It was changed in 2020, when some members of the community objected to it for glorifying of a part of history they felt best relegated to the past.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Coming Soon: Ameri-Scares: New Hampshire: Ghosts from the Skies

A little while back, I finished my newest Ameri-Scares novel — New Hampshire: Ghosts from the Skies — and turned it in to Crossroad Press. Since I have provided images for the covers of each of my novels in the series to date, I’ve been toying with a few visuals that felt appropriate for this book. Last night, I made up a composite image, which you can see here. I reckon it might make a striking cover image, should Crossroad wish to use it.

New Hampshire: Ghosts from the Skies goes something like this....

Thirteen-year-old Heath Sutton invites his friend Patrick Brady over for a sleepover at his house in Exeter, NH. In the middle of the night, they wake up to see a cluster of brilliant lights hovering above the nearby woods. To their shock, the boys realize the lights are part of some gigantic flying object, which appears to leave something in the woods before it zooms away into the star-filled sky.

The next morning, Heath goes out to the woods to see if he can find what the mysterious object might have left behind. He discovers a weird, metal rod jutting from the trunk of a broken tree. Suddenly, the rod emits a strange musical sound, and Heath feels as if insects are crawling all over his body. In terror, he runs out of the woods, convinced that the weird sound must have been some kind of alien signal.

Heath tells Patrick about what has happened, and the boys decide to learn all they can about Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs). Heath recalls that, in 1965, large numbers of people—including Heath’s Grandpa Dan, then a young boy—reported seeing flying saucers in and around Exeter. In fact, on that same night, Grandpa Dan’s younger brother, Gene, disappeared without a trace. Heath feels certain that, all these years later, there must be some connection to that tragic event. Hoping to learn what that connection might be, he goes to see his grandfather. While there, he glimpses a shadowy figure lurking around the house, seemingly spying on them. Nervous about this strange visitor, he returns home, only to find his parents and sister gone for the day.

However, he quickly discovers is not alone in the house. He hears footsteps coming down the stairs from the second floor. And to his shock and horror, the figure that appears to him turns out to be something unexpected. Something not human.

An alien.

To his relief, Patrick appears at the door, and the weird, alien figure vanishes. But Heath’s relief is short-lived, for something about Patrick seems different. It takes only a short time for Heath to realize that his friend is no longer his friend. In fact, Patrick, it appears, is no longer even human....

To get the rest, you’ll need to get the book. It’ll be coming soon from Crossroad Press, and you can be certain that I will announce it to the high heavens as soon as it’s here.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Last Night, the Stars Fell All Apart

Although my brother didn’t professionally record many of his tunes, he did release a few songs on vinyl, CD, and MP3. His best-known song would probably be “Orange Kid,” which goes back to his Industrial Soldier days, mid- to late-1980s. In the early 1990s, he recorded it and released it as an orange vinyl 45 rpm record, with a superb tune on side B called “A Smash” (the lyrics to which I shall endeavor to transcribe when I can). In more recent years, he recorded and most frequently performed “Last Night, the Stars Fell All Apart,” another moody, melodic ballad that speaks of his personal experiences and feelings. His vocals on this one are particularly heart-rending.

You can listen to the audio file of “Last Night, the Stars Fell All Apart” here.

Last Night, the Stars Fell All Apart
©Phred Rainey/Joe the Fireman

Honeysuckle came and went
Faraway evenings spent
In my castle without a moat
Smelled just like May-times do
And midnight lovers do
When they’re lucky enough to have and hold

Couldn't send a message far enough
Just waiting around for you to call my bluff

Last night, the stars fell all apart
It means a man don’t dream
It means man will cry
For stars to fill an evening sky
If only just to break your heart

Back then when pigs could fly
I rose above that other guy
I was willing to flash and burn
Like Red River fireworks fly
I stole a kiss and let it ride
Before I lost my nerve and lost my turn

There’s no better time to feel like a winning man
Could it be to cheat myself was part of my plan?

That night, the stars fell all apart
It means a man don’t dream
It means man will cry
For stars to fill an evening sky
If only just to break your heart

Then on the beach your pleasant hand
Told me that I’m the man
To make or break or take you home
Then I sang a September song
But the names and dates were wrong
Too much, too soon, and all alone

There’s no more waiting now, my cover’s blown
Twelve hundred miles away, I guess you're on your own

Last night, the stars fell all apart
It means a man don’t dream
It means man will cry
For stars to fill an evening sky
If only just to break your heart

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Rusty Wreck & Others

It’s almost a pity the geocache wasn’t way up yonder on that fire tower. Well, emphasis on “almost.” I’m always keen on a good physical challenge, and I’ve been up a rickety-ass fire tower before (see “Beating the Devil and Haw, Haw, Haw,” 12/22/2013), but with four flights of stairs missing and only a bit of rust holding the girders together, this one might have been a little dangerous.

With the weather blessedly again conducive to a geocaching outing (a tad warmer than yesterday, at that), the Socially Distant No-Dead-Weight IrregularsDiefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), and I — decided to go after three relatively new geocaches at the Cane Creek Mountains Natural Area, not far south of Burlington. We rendezvoused at the parking area at 10:00 this morning, where we discovered friends David & Diana (a.k.a. David & Diana), NCBiscuit (a.k.a. Linda), and Ms. Biscuit’s cache hound Dotty on site. Their caching plans turned out to be identical to ours, so we resolved to combine forces and attack the trail with guns a-blazing. At two of the three caches, all those guns came in handy. Sadly, not at the first of them, which has, by all indications, flown the coop. Happily, we did find the other two, and those, at least, took us to a couple of interesting locations. See the fire tower image above.

The most fun one was “Rusty WreckGC95K2D (which wasn’t actually the fire tower). Since I started geocaching in 2008, I have marveled at the sheer number of cars and trucks that appear to have spontaneously grown in the deep woods. The one we found today must have been there a long, long time, as it appeared to be 1950s vintage. The cache itself proved quite a challenge, but find it we did, and we loved the hunt. Nearby, there was a ramshackle shelter, no doubt for the drunken-most set, given the massive number of beer cans congregating around it. It’s literally right next to the trail, so I hope it is not regularly inhabited.

And all that made for another much-needed, very welcome outing in the woods. We put in something between four and five miles in rather rugged terrain (particularly on our way to the fire tower, which required a very long, very steep ascent), so this old not-quite-a-geezer has the sore feets and wee bit of tired.

One guess where this guy got his driver’s license....
Somewhat less than five-star accommodations here
A view from high atop the ridge
Back down in the lowlands
Still Life with Old Fart and Fire Tower

Saturday, February 20, 2021

I Axed for It!

Many days of nasty weather has about had me going stir crazy, so it was nice to have a beautiful, if cold, Saturday morning. It was just right for heading up to Fairy Stone Park to hunt a relatively new geocache. After so much rainfall, I was surprised to find the trail as dry as it was. In a few low-lying areas, it was waterlogged — or, in many places, ice-logged. The temperature hovered right at freezing, so the wind made for a very brisk walk, but I needed to get back out on the trail. The cache lurks at one of the familiar overlooks above the lake, so I didn’t need to pull out the GPS. A quick look around, and I had the cache in hand. After a helluva week, an enjoyable morning on the trail was just the ticket.

Not just the ticket was another of those annoying first-world problems that have been hitting me non-stop over the past couple of weeks. I needed to head to the old homestead in Martinsville last night, so I figured I’d just order dinner from one of the nice local restaurants and have Doordash deliver it. In most cases, in recent days, Doordash has been a godsend; I have had very few problems and some excellent experiences. Not so much last night. I placed an order, the delivery person picked it up, and the GPS map showed him approaching my (very well lit) house. So the dude drives slowly by, clearly not sure where he is. Drives past the house, turns around, comes back, drives slowly past the house again, goes down to end of road, comes back yet again. By now I’m out in the yard waving at the driver, who passes slowly by, starts checking out other houses, eventually gives up, and drives away. Pleasant Hill is not a goddamn difficult place to find — particularly when it’s lit up like a fucking Christmas tree — and if you’re working for Doordash, you hopefully have a GPS, and/or a phone by which one can communicate. Nope; this chap provided no contact info. Above and beyond my personal inconvenience, this kind of stupidity hurts Doordash, since I’m less likely to use them in the future. Pity they can’t really give the drivers a test to determine whether they are morons. Fortunately, Doordash does give immediate cash credit, which I’ve received, but for the love of god... this particular driver clearly ought not be working as a driver.

I ended up ordering dinner — an excellent ribeye steak — from The Third Bay up the street and picked it up. At least it proved fantastic. And there was enough left for me to have a trail snack this morning. Better than the typical beef jerky, I must say!

After so much rainfall, I was surprised to find the trail mostly dry. I did encounter icy patches here and there. 
One of my favorite and most familiar views of Fairy Stone Lake from the trail overlook

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Blobs, Rebels, and Rogues

It has not been a particularly cheery week, what with ice storms, power outages, tax time, technology issues, dealing with my mom’s and brother’s estates, unexpected bills (big), and being generally indoor-bound. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen this much water fall from the sky, frozen or otherwise. Whatever passed for my front yard is a partially frozen lake. Geocaching has been right out. And although I’ve been exercising like the dickens, inasmuch as I can in the house, my old body hasn’t felt altogether right after a week and some change of no hiking. Thirty-six hours of the past weekend were spent without power at home, so I took up residence at Brugger’s place (make no mistake, I count my every blessing that, at least for the moment, I had the luxury of a place of refuge as the temperature dropped). This morning, as the latest ice storm moved in, I lost power for several hours; thankfully, it was restored, though the sky is once again falling and the temperature is dropping. It ain’t over yet.

In the plus column, I finished a brand new short story for an upcoming anthology. I’m pleased with it; the plot involves an “Owl Man,” which is kind of like the Mothman’s first cousin. I sent it off to the editor last night, and now the waiting game begins. Also, the very welcome news has come down that I, and the rest of the office staff, now have the option to work at home for the long haul. It’s a far, far better option than commuting out to the badlands every day.

For last night’s entertainment, I put on the original The Blob, which I hadn’t seen in a good while. Frazier and I enjoyed it as always, though Droolie appeared nonplused, probably because he thought that, based on the title, the movie was about him. Alas, no.

So maybe I’m an even bigger Star Wars geek than I realized. A while back, just for shits and giggles, I put on the animated Clone Wars series. I can’t say I expected it to grab me, but guess what. It grabbed me. Really grabbed me. So then I went straight into Star Wars: Rebels, which — again — at its start failed to tweak the right nerves, but then suddenly it did. So I ended up compelled to watch that whole series. Tonight, having finished Rebels, I kicked back with Frazier and Droolie for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which has been among my favorite entries in the series since I first saw it. The guys enjoyed it quite a bit, as you might infer from the photo above.

I don’t anticipate a sudden turnabout of fortune or mood, but I haven’t kicked off the planet yet, so that’s something for the plus column as well. Cin-cin.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The High Life Beckons

My brother Phred was a flawed angel; some would say with an emphasis on flawed. He struggled mightily with his own foibles, and sometimes, even when he won against them, he did so only to introduce a set of unforeseen side effects. Per his custom — his drive — he described these things in his songs, bluntly and without whitewashing. He kept so much private, yet he confessed his very soul to his listeners. I knew much of what was going on in Phred’s life at any given time, but it was only after hearing him sing that I felt I could truly understand what he was going through. “The High Life Beckons” is a perfect case in point. Here are his lyrics.

“The High Life Beckons”
©Phred Rainey

Some night sharp, and some nights dull
Some half empty, some half full

If I could only drink wine
     But not all the time
And not fall from grace
     Or on my face
But that just ain’t to be
     Such is me

Sometimes I think I’d rather be in handcuffs
Strolling down the avenue in handcuffs
     Whistling a merry tune I’d be
     Wondering what it’s like to be free

Each night I let the bottle down
And every single bar in town

It’s part of the daily grind
     My body aches for wine
The comfort that it brings
     And not those other things
But that just ain’t to be
     Woe is me

You people ought to see me in my handcuffs
I’ll never get out of these handcuffs
     A wretched life awaits if I do
     So hard to believe, but it’s true

Monday, February 8, 2021

Back for Swing

I’ve long said that attempting to psychoanalyze or ascribe specific motivations to an author based on his or her work is an exercise in futility or outright mistake. Some years ago, my depiction of a character in a short story prompted a reviewer to accuse me of antisemitism — which I can only decry as a baseless and utterly foolish claim, far more revealing of the reviewer’s prejudices and preconceived notions than the author’s. However, songs — poetry in general — and straight fiction are wholly different animals. My brother, Phred, used his lyrics to reveal his deepest feelings, undisguised, vividly painted and paired with his most wistful, poignant melodies. I so hope to get some of his recordings preserved digitally, though I fear that even high-quality analog versions will prove few and far between. There is still much material to sort through.

“Back for a Swing” is one of Phred’s most revealing compositions, a brutally honest confession of his own objective glimpses of himself. This song — a beautiful ballad that rings of something between Neil Young and Tindersticks — makes me weepy every time I listen to it.

Back for a Swing
©Phred Rainey

Take a pull on that wine
And pull on my sleeve
You know that I
Would never make you leave

That’s what I want you to say
It’s what I dreamed about
It’s what I want you to say
That’s what I want to hear
All I want to hear

My clothes on the floor
A dead car in the yard
All those things that you see

It shouldn’t be so hard
To change the things that you see
And get a spark out of me

You want to change what you see
To get the most out of me

It shouldn’t be so hard
To make a man out of me

You see I don’t come across
Like a normal man
I keep too much to myself
As much as anyone can
But I can’t hide anything from you
Can’t hide anything from you

I wish I could say you’re responsible
I wish I could say you’re impossible
But it’s too easy to
And God knows it ain’t true

I took what I saw
I didn’t think you’d care
I thought of laying them back
I saw you lying there

You shouldn’t be so hard
You’ll make a man out of me

I tried to walk through a swamp
I tried to make my own way
It’s just the things that I do
That make a lie of what I say

I can’t hide anything from you
Can’t hide anything from you
I can’t hide anything from you
Can’t hide anything from you

Sunday, February 7, 2021

If I Were a Carp & Other Unpopular Opinions

It’s a song I particularly enjoy, although it is a bit fishy.

This week, I have had a regular moment (or several) of grief for my brother’s death each day, usually in the morning while I am working and listening to music. So much of what I listen to (mostly eclectic tunes on Pandora or Amazon Music) is due either directly or indirectly to my brother’s influence, or it reminds me of certain times together with him. But the feelings are not quite as raw as they were the previous week. Well, at least, most of the time they are not. I have no deadline or expectation for grieving. Grief comes as it will, and I embrace it right now. It feels...necessary.

Yesterday morning, I awoke to find a new geocache had been published in town — at UNCG, in one of the parking garages, which do tend to be challenging, since they frequently offer a choice of levels for hunting. Initially, I did not read the cache description as thoroughly as I should have (shameful for a writer of such ill repute!), and thus I ended up spending considerably more time and energy on the hunt than was necessary. In the end, I did find my quarry; in fact, I snagged the almost-coveted first-to-find slot. As I was logging my find, a group of geocachers I had never previously met (they were from the Raleigh area, it turned out) showed up on the scene. Sadly for them, they had missed out on the FTF, but they appeared to have an enjoyable time on the hunt. They clearly found it in far less time than it had taken me.

Later, Ms. B. came round to put in a shift working on our kitchen upgrade project. On a trip to Home Depot, we stopped for another newly published cache, which I managed to find in short order. But as with the other cache I found this day — both created by the madman known as cachecredit (a.k.a. Ken) — accessing the log required some additional time and effort (although this one proved less complicated than its brethren at UNCG).

Unpopular opinion time:

I have very little appreciation for the "classic" 1961 film, The Innocents, based on Henry James’s “Turn of the Screw.” I had never much cared for it on previous viewings from many, many years ago, but having found the recent The Haunting of Bly Manor a brilliant, masterful work, Ms. B. and I decided to revisit The Innocents and give it another look. Despite exquisite cinematography and extraordinary performances by the two kids, the film itself is one of the most unengaging, overwrought, self-conscious works ever. There are perhaps two scenes that qualify as “creepy.” The characters, to the last, remain too distant to relate to, their identities largely defined by how much noise and blather they can emit — so unlike the sensitive portrayals of emotionally traumatized individuals in Bly Manor. It’s exceedingly difficult to resist comparing The Innocents, not so much to Bly Manor, but to Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963), which is, to my mind, a classic that gives The Innocents a pounding rivaling Abigail Crain’s cane on the walls of Hill House.

Between last night and this morning, we had significant precipitation, some rain, some snow, some sleet. Mostly, it made mud. Today, I spent some time working on a new short story for an upcoming anthology. Since the sun came out midday and the temperature turned out tolerable, I took a nice break and headed out to Triad Park to hunt a trio of relatively new caches. I went, I saw, I signed logs. A fine outing, to be sure. And now it is back to the story, for our deadline, she be tight.
Despite mucho precipitation during the night and early morning, the afternoon
weather turned out perfect for geocaching.
The cache was not in “there,” but the pipe made for a nice, muggle-free environment to sign the cache log.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

That Lucky Old Moon and I

My brother, Phred, was a songwriter. He composed and performed dozens, if not hundreds, of his own compositions over the years, usually under the moniker Joe the Fireman. Sometimes Joe the Fireman was a band, comprising widely varying personnel; other times, Joe the Fireman was Phred going solo.

Phred’s songs tell his life’s story. Sometimes, they’re in cryptic code; sometimes, they spell out, in raw, graphic fashion, every struggle of his oftentimes troubled soul. Since his passing a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been reacquainting myself with his music, inasmuch as it is possible. I have a few cassette tapes of his songs, some performed solo, some with a backup band. I don’t know whether he ever wrote out lyrics, or set down chords, or left any kind of record, other than random tapes, a couple of vinyl pressings, and a few digital files that can be found here and there. I’m taking it upon myself to transcribe as many of his lyrics as I can manage, so that in some fashion, at least some of the story he related via his music may yet be preserved for posterity.

Here are the lyrics to “That Lucky Old Moon,” which rates high among my personal favorites.

That Lucky Old Moon
©Phred Rainey

I guess I might like the things she did
At least the things that I thought I saw
Rolled out the carpet, at least I think I did
Was purely open-hearted, that’s my tragic flaw

Came time to split the difference
Pared down to half a pair

I found a color to match her name
Fit her eyes like it filled the skies
Saw it brighten and I saw it fade
She wandered off and I wondered why

Came time to feel the distance
Who was I not to know the difference?

That lucky old moon and I
Get to count the stars at night
And count the reasons why

Fall in the lake
Hide in the hills

Then the spotlight became my friend
And lit the things that I turned to see
A brighter color and a brighter end
And got me off the ground that could bury me

New time to feel the difference
I found passion, no despair

Now that lucky old moon and I
Get to count the stars at night
And smile at the reasons why

Float on the lake
Make love in the hills