Sunday, February 27, 2022

Hot, Cold, Hot, Cold, Hot....

The sad conflict in Ukraine, and its potential global ramifications, has overshadowed almost everything this weekend. Here, just as COVID-19, at least as it currently stands, has finally become less a complication in our daily lives, here comes the Amazing Pootin to throw a monkey wrench into the worldworks. Today, we hear Pootin has upped the ante with his nuclear deterrent force. Just what we need to escalate a volatile situation.

In this little corner of the world, Ms. B. and I are doing our best to get through each day with as much positive energy as we can generate, for ourselves and our sphere of influence, such as it is.

My second week of retirement was not quite as relaxing as the first. Things pile up, things fall apart. Such is the way of things. Mostly, I've been spending my regular day job hours writing. Progress has been pretty good; I've certainly been more productive than over the past year, certainly within comparable time periods.

Friday, I took my usual trip to Martinsville, fit in quite a bit of work, and entertained myself with Godzilla vs. Gigan, which is far from my favorite daikaiju flick, but it sure enough features some fun monster scenes. Saturday, I hiked a ways on the Dick & Willie Trail to do maintenance one of my old geocaches. It netted me a couple of miles on the trail. Once back in Greensboro, more writing, and Ms. B. and I continued our Game of Thrones binge. Today, it was cold and wet, but that didn't stop friend Scott (a.k.a. Diefenbaker) and me from going after several new caches in town. We got first-to-find on two of them (after I DNF'd one earlier this morning on a quick solo outing). For lunch, we visited Fisher's Grille, which, once upon a time, was very much a favorite dining/drinking establishment. I hadn't been there in years, though. It's gratifying to find that virtually nothing there has changed. The cajun chicken wings were as awesome as ever. And in the men's bathroom, the same framed newspaper spreads about the 1984 World Series that adorned the walls the first time I visited Fisher's in 1988 are still hanging there. Somehow, that's kind of satisfying.

Another stint writing this afternoon, and then I decided to try my hand at making some hot sauce from the kit that Brugger gave me for Christmas. I went with the smoky chipotle ingredients provided, but added some extra hot red chilis we brought back from Italy. It was my first attempt, and I've gotta say, it's a winner. Delicious flavor and quite hot — though not so hot that Brugger can't tolerate it. I'm about to go roast a chicken breast and try the sauce on it.

Wish the old dude luck. Peace out.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Georgia: The Haunting of Tate’s Mill Cover Art Reveal

It’s not the finished version, but here’s the cover design for my upcoming Ameri-Scares novel, Georgia: The Haunting of Tate’s Mill

In the mid-1950s, the US Army Corps of Engineers built the Buford Dam on the Chattahoochee River and created Lake Sidney Lanier, which covers portions of Hall, Forsyth, Dawson, Gwinnett, and Lumpkin counties. Upon the dam’s completion, 625 billion gallons — give or take an ounce or two — of water submerged 56,000 acres of land, which consisted of several small communities, hundreds of farms, an auto racetrack, and innumerable graveyards. No one knows for sure how many dead bodies lie in those dark depths. In the intervening years, hundreds of people have drowned, died in boating accidents, or simply vanished in Lake Lanier’s waters. In 1958, a car plunged off a bridge into the lake, killing two young women. Since then, a ghostly apparition, known as “The Lady of the Lake” — supposedly, one of the women who died — has frequently been sighted wandering the roadways and bridges along the lake (although I never saw her). In its six and a half decades of existence, Lake Lanier has earned its reputation as the setting for grim happenings.

From the 19th century until the lake’s creation, my mom’s family — the Bell family of Gainesville, GA — owned a mill, called Bell’s Mill, just outside of Gainesville. Mom spent much of her childhood at the mill and frequently told my brother and me many stories about her happy times there. And me, I experienced the best days of my youth in Gainesville at my grandparents’ place. We often went to Lake Lanier, sometimes to swim, sometimes for family reunions, and, on occasion, to visit the site of the old mill — or as close to it as we could get, since the lake had long since claimed that land. Several years ago, on a visit to Gainesville, Ms. B. and I hunted a geocache, aptly titled “Old Bell’s Mill,” close to the mill site. Plus I spent a couple of years at the University of Georgia in Athens, less than an hour from Gainesville. Indeed, I do have a long personal history in this area.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, a family named Tate lived across the street from my grandparents, and my brother and I enjoyed playing with the Tate kids whenever we visited Gainesville. They were a fun, quirky bunch, and it seems only proper that the Tate name should be woven into my upcoming novel. And thus, Tate’s Mill it is.

While the events of the book will be completely fictitious, they are very much inspired by the spooky legends that have arisen around the lake, as well as my decades of personal experience here.

Do stay tuned.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Oh, My Achin’ Feetz

It was a fine weekend for hiking and geocaching, and I put in more mileage, in rugged terrain, than I have in many moons. On my way to Martinsville on Friday afternoon, I detoured to the Knight Brown Preserve, near Belews Lake in Rockingham County, to hunt a cache that’s been awaiting my attention for months now. That hike was about a 3-mile round trip, and though the terrain is not particularly rugged, it presents the hiker with lots of elevation changes. Steep elevation changes. Speaking of elevation changes at the cache coordinates, there was a massive fallen tree over a gully, which offered a splendid vantage point from which to survey one’s kingdom. Always one to appreciate a physical challenge, I was hoping the cache might be up in its branches somewhere, but previous posted logs insinuated that it was not. Never you mind, I decided to go up in that tree anyhow, for we must get our jollies as we can. It was from that vantage point that I noticed the cache, just a few feet away, at a much lower elevation. I would have preferred to have to climb for it, but hey... I found it and signed the log so I could claim it. And I got my jollies in the big tree. That’s a good day.

Once settled at Pleasant Hill for the evening, I ordered some chicken tenders from Coach’s Neighborhood Grill via Doordash, and after the afternoon’s hike, the dead bird hit the spot. I put on This Island Earth for the evening’s entertainment, but I ended up dozing through a portion of it. It’s one of those science-fiction movies from childhood that have stood out in mind for all these years. I’ve watched it a handful of times in the intervening years, but I kind of hate that I missed part of it this time around. I can always watch it again, at least as long as it’s on YouTube. The print excellent — the best I’ve seen of it.

One of the things I adore about Pleasant Hill is the minimal light pollution at night. From the hilltop on which the house rests, the view of the sky is often spectacular. Friday night was very cold but clear, and I spent a little while outside enjoying the view. Even with my phone camera, I got a few decent shots of the constellation Orion.
“Orion, won’t you give me your star sign.”
On Saturday morning, I drove up to Rocky Mount, VA, hoping to claim a recently placed cache and a much older multi (which has been out there since before I started geocaching in 2008) called Grassy Hill Ridge (GCQXD4). The new one was a quick and easy find at a signpost; Grassy Hill Ridge is one that, a few years back, friend Natalie (a.k.a. Ms. Fishdownthestairs) and I had sought, but the first stage was missing, so we hadn’t been able to go on with the hunt. Reaching this cache requires a roughly three-mile hike up and down a rugged mountainside. For most of that hike, the ascent was steady, on a reasonably well-worn trail. However, the last few hundred feet required negotiating a very steep, rocky incline that tested the limits of my stamina. I took even more care than usual in rough terrain, since I was out there alone, a long way from help. I really did not want to fall and bust something worse than my pride. Happily, I made the find and returned to civilization with all parts intact. Aching, but intact.
Grassy Hill Ridge. Not much grass, but lots of rocks. The cache lurks way up at the top of the ridge—
several hundred feet above where I’m standing to take this photo.
Looking down from GZ, with the cache in the foreground. It’s a long, long way down!
After the hike and a late, ungodly overpriced lunch from Dairy Queen, I buzzed back to Greensboro. Ms. B. and I are back watching Game of Thrones from the beginning, so we spent most of the rest of the evening in front of the television, covered with cats.

Sunday, my traditional geocaching day, usually with the No-Dead-Weight Irregulars, was indeed a caching day, but with only friend Scott (a.k.a. Diefenbaker), as none of the rest of the gang was available. And it was another day of hiking rugged terrain, this time in the Uwharrie Mountains. We planned to meet at the Eldorado Outpost, but I had stopped for a cache on my way there, and Scott happened to see my car as he was passing by. We grabbed that cache and then headed to the trading post. From there, we headed deeper into the forest. We put in a good five miles of hiking in moderate to tough terrain, claimed a slew of caches, and returned to the outpost, where we enjoyed a very good, far more reasonably priced lunch than I’d had at Dairy Queen the previous day.
Old Rodan at “Poser Rock”
Guardrails along the woodland trail. Don’t see that every day.
A couple of tired old farts
Today, Monday, is Presidents Day, but since I’m no longer forced to operate on a company schedule, remembering such days doesn’t come so readily. Ms. B. is off work, though, so she is a woman of leisure today (although she did do a spot of housecleaning this morning, which was good, since the cleaning needed to be done, and it was most definitely her turn... haha). I was all set to finish up this blog and dive into continuing work on Georgia: The Haunting of Tate’s Mill, but right about the time I settled into my office chair, I received email notifications that a couple of new caches had just been published. These were over in Graham, on the Long Meadow section of the Haw River Trail. Figuring I might be able to snag the first-to-find honors (which really aren’t a significant honor), I bolted out the door and drove out to the trail. Happily, I was able to find both caches — and, sure enough, I found them first. So, the old sore feet got an additional reason to be sore, though this hike (about 2.5 miles) was not rugged at all. But it was fun. And I got first-to-find.

NOW it’s back to work on the Ameri-Scares book. Toodles.
Passing under Interstate 40/85 on the Haw River Trail
Ground Zero: the cache is there... somewhere.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Behind the Kaiju Curtain

Norman England's Behind the Kaiju Curtain: A Journey onto Japan's Biggest Film Sets is a literal journal of the author's day-to-day experiences on and off daikaiju film sets from 1997 until 2001, initially as a feature writer for Fangoria magazine and later as the sole non-Japanese chronicler of all things behind-the-scenes on the Heisei Gamera films and Millennium series Godzilla films. Few longtime, diehard daikaiju fans (of which I am certainly one) are unfamiliar with Norman's moniker. He has covered these movies in-depth in numerous publications; conducted countless interviews with the moviemakers, soundtrack composers, and actors (including those inside the monster suits); and appeared in front of the camera in several of the films. This book offers a compelling story of his sojourn in Japan as a fan, writer, and occasional actor, related in vivid, warts-and-all, no-holds-barred fashion.

In his days working for Fangoria magazine, Norman met and interviewed Godzilla suit actors Haruo Nakajima and Kenpachiro Satsuma. His profiles of these gentlemen reveal their distinct personalities and philosophies with unprecedented candor, and it's this candid, sometimes blunt approach that defines the tone for the rest of the book.

Eventually, Norman befriended film director Shusuke Kaneko (who provides the foreword for the book), which, not altogether surprisingly, served to open doors to the Japanese film industry that had previously been closed to western writers. His on-set experiences during the filming of Gamera III: Revenge of Iris provided him with unprecedented insight into the world of Japanese moviemaking—daikaiju films in particular, but also in the greater picture. His rendering of the sights, smells, sounds, and moods of his experiences aren't just vivid; they are immersive.

From that initial serendipity, Norman's industry contacts snowballed, often with director Kaneko serving as facilitator. It wasn't long before he found himself on the sets of the Godzilla: Millennium, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, and Godzilla - Mothra - King Ghidorah, meeting such renowned industry figures as producer Shogo Tomiyama (who seemed to "politely" tolerate his presence), monster suit maker Shinichi Wakasa, director Masaaki Tezuka, and many, many others. Once again, his impressions of these individuals, as painted in his prose, are not whitewashed or glamorized; these are real people doing real jobs, sometimes brilliantly, sometimes less so.

Needless to say, a journal as personal as this one, bringing day-to-day experiences and interactions into stark focus, showcases countless moments of bizarre levity, moments where you really wish you could have stood in the author's shoes, and a few genuine "what-the-hell-were-you-thinking-Norman?" moments. One thing is certain: few, if any of us will ever be able to spend day after day on daikaiju movie sets, up close and personal with our favorite (and sometimes unfavorite) monsters and human personalities. Truly, days such as those Norman chronicles are now gone. Whatever commonalities filmmaking of 20-plus years ago might have with today's, Norman's experiences were and are unique, and his voice in this book is one that any fan of giant movie monsters (or Japanese movies in general) should desperately want to hear.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Bushwhacking, Raining, Wining, and Braining

Friday was my last day of full-time work, at least at The Mailbox. Our boss, Sharon, put together a nice Zoom presentation featuring photos of her ten favorite Mark Moments, which I think we all enjoyed. It certainly hit some of the high points from the day job over all these many years. The idea of retirement hasn't really sunk in yet, since tomorrow would have been just another day back at work, and now it won't.

Friday evening, Brugger and I rode up to Martinsville and met friends Samaire and Stephen at La Plazita, a relatively new Mexican restaurant in Uptown Martinsville. The food was pretty good, the service a little less brag-worthy. Stephen said it's been much better on their previous visits, so I'm sure I'll give the place another try before long. Afterward, we retired to Pleasant Hill, where we put our heads together to come up with some ideas for the upcoming release of my collection, Fugue Devil: Resurgence, which Samaire's company, Black Raven Books, is set to release in the spring. We didn't knock off till sometime in the wee hours, but it was both productive and enjoyable.

Yesterday, Ms. B. and I headed down to Autumn Creek Vineyards, where we met friends Terry & Beth for wine and picnicking. The new owners of Autumn Creek — David & Laura — made us feel very welcome, which we appreciated. The wine is decent; North Carolina wine, to be sure, but decent.

This morning, the usual Sunday geocaching gathering of the No-Dead-Weight Irregulars — Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), Old Rob (a.k.a. Old Rob), and Old Rodan (a.k.a. me) — appeared questionable, given an ominous weather forecast and Natalie not feeling tip-top. However, it wasn't raining at our regular meeting time, and Natalie said she felt better, so off we went, this time to several destinations in and around Winston-Salem. We sought several along the Salem Creek Greenway, all of which were fun, particularly since no rain was falling at the time. Just above, you see me at a cache called "You Shall Not Cross!" (GC9N9HQ). I did kind of want to cross, but since the remains of the old bridge are blocked off, I just opted to stand there for a while.

After that, we snagged a couple of other random caches and then headed to the Muddy Creek Greenway, a few miles west of town. By now, splatters of rain had begun, and once on the trail, it began coming down in earnest. Did this dissuade us? No, because we are tenacious (though I've heard some folks of our acquaintance use any number of other descriptors). We had a fairly long hike ahead of us — about three miles round trip — but we managed to make it somewhat longer and far more difficult. After finding two of our three target caches, we failed to look closely enough at the map to determine that bushwhacking to the next cache without backtracking to the greenway was actually a bad... BAD... idea. The river, we learned, is of considerable breadth and quite in the way. Apart from the plummeting temperature and increasing downpour, we now had dense, tangled woods and lots of deep muckity-muck to complicated our journey. This ended up adding a couple of extra miles of hiking before we could get back on the greenway and backtrack. I'm sure the extra workout in the cold and rain did us a spot of good, don't you think?

It wasn't necessarily fun, but at the end of the day, most gratifying.

This coming week, I plan to put in significant work on my current Ameri-Scares novel and, hopefully, start plotting a new novel for grown-ups. It feels like high time.

Big honking railroad bridge over the Salem Creek Greenway
I've not been this wet since the last time we hiked 5.4 miles in a downpour. Some call us tenacious.
Some call us other things.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Geo Chillin’

Nice view of the small lake at Fearrington Village, near Chapel Hill, NC
It was a cold weekend for geocaching, though — thankfully — a tad less bitter than last weekend. On Saturday, I headed after the second of friend Rhodorooter’s (a.k.a. Dave’s) fairly extensive multi caches in Mayodan, NC, just down the highway a few miles. This one — tbbiker 10K Tribute Multi Cache (GC9KVF9) — pays tribute to friend tbbiker (a.k.a. Todd) and takes the hunter to five locations around town, several at local cemeteries, which I always find enjoyable. The calculations necessary to acquire the coordinates to each stage are kind of a pain in the ass, especially when you’re shivering, but that’s fairly typical of this rightly evil cache owner. In the end, I solved the puzzles, made the find, and earned a smiley. That’s what it’s all about anyway.

This morning, Three Old FartsOld Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Old Rob (a.k.a. Old Rob), and Old Rodan (old me) — set out for Fearrington Village by way of Chapel Hill. Our primary target was an Adventure Lab cache called Gardens & Green Spaces of Fearrington Village, which took us to five different locations around Fearrington. A lovely little area this is, with some attractive residential areas, numerous shops, and a handful of dining establishments. Our gang had visited Fearrington a few years ago to snag the caches there at the time, so it was nice to have some newer ones to go after. We got in considerable walking, which was good thing, since we ended up having big honking burgers for lunch at a pub called Town Hall, a short distance up the road from the village. Big honking good burgers, I might add.

Coming up, I’ll be looking at my last full week of work at The Mailbox, which I expect to be bittersweet. Beyond that, a lot of unknowns, but the one thing I’m certain of is that I will not be bored.
A bit of ice atop the stream that flows through the village

Big bugs

Friday, February 4, 2022

The Next Chapter

It was definitely not my choice, but it was not the world's worst news — at least not at this stage of life. After almost 23 years of working at The Mailbox, my position is being terminated by the powers that be.

It was definitely unexpected. Especially since we began working at home at the start of the pandemic, I have devoted myself to this career beyond any of my own expectations; I have actually loved it. I have it on good authority that at least a couple of my office mates (well, mates away from the actual office) have long considered me indispensable. The lot of these folks truly are something of a second family, many of whom I've worked with for the entirety of these damn near 23 years. But the decision makers are not part of this family; they're bean counters who reside a long way away, who have no understanding of what it is we truly do — or how bloody perfectly this gang of disparate personalities has meshed and functioned harmoniously together for more years than most folks ever work at one company anymore. It's nobody's fault really; our business operates as businesses will, and when numbers are down, for whatever reason, this is just how it goes.

I can't say I wasn't hoping for at least another couple of years behind the graphic services coordinator's desk before I retired. Still, I have quite seriously considered retirement more than once since our company was bought by foreigners (well, New Yorkers, if we want to be technical). But I realized that, in the long haul, I'd be better off, financially and probably psychologically, sticking with The Mailbox as long as they'd have me.

Well, now they won't, and I reckon it's time to move on. Things will definitely be a bit tighter than I've been accustomed to, but barring a fair number of rugs being pulled out from under us all at once, Brugger and I should make out okay. In some ways, I've been dreaming of this opportunity — to be able to devote myself to writing projects that have been burning inside for some time now — and to grab that opportunity sooner rather than later.

Well, here it is.

To Sharon, Amy, Becky, Jen, Phil, Tina, Troy, and of course Brugger, who deigned to marry me: you folks have been the best bunch I could have ever hoped to work with, and I am proud to call you not just my peers but my friends and family. Well, maybe not Troy, but the rest of you... yeah. It has truly been my privilege — except for on those occasions that you've pissed me off. (Be aware that I have written some of you into stories — and you know how my stories go.) Should I ever achieve wealth beyond my wildest dreams, rest assured that I will buy The Mailbox, and all you good folks will have jobs until you wish you didn't.

And that's it. Off we go.