Sunday, March 27, 2022

Bad George and Other Blasts From the Past

A busy week it was. Hardly unexpectedly, I received a call from my former boss, asking if I would care to put in a few hours per month freelancing, since, without me, they're pretty much up to their ears in alligators. It's actually a welcome opportunity to keep doing a job I know and enjoy. Plus there's the extra bucks, which can't hurt. I also made considerable progress on Georgia: The Haunting of Tate's Mill. I can see the light at the end of this one.

A few new, local geocaches came out this past week, so I put in a couple of rigorous cache hunts — one in the dumping rain that so waterlogged me that I still have water in my shoes. Friend Old Rob and I shared in the first-to-find, so that made us both smile real big.

In Martinsville over the weekend, I discovered a couple of folders that contained scads of school papers and artwork by both my brother and me, which my mom had saved. I had no idea these existed. Some went back as far as kindergarten. The image you see upstairs there is a pen & ink rendering of my great-uncle Herbert's place in Gainesville, GA, which I drew sometime in the 1980s. My aunt Dot made it into the cover of a greeting card. Perhaps my favorite discovery among these treasures was an unfinished class drawing from second grade. Written on it was the following exchange between my teacher, Ms. Jackson, and me:

Mark: "Sorry I did not get throu. Goarge botherd me."
Ms. Jackson: "Please try to finish your work in the morning. You do not need to talk to George."

I remember George well. I haven't seen him since early in elementary school, but I did find him online. He is apparently an attorney over in Winston-Salem.

Many of my old drawings were plenty violent, with Indian massacres, knights battling on castle towers, dinosaurs and other monsters chowing down on innocent passersby. Some were a bit nicer. There were drawings of my family traveling in an airplane; a pretty decent rendering of my dog, Patty; and a number of reasonably well-rendered space rockets. Below is a drawing I made in third grade, which I thought was actually pretty cool.
On Saturday, I rode up to Rocky Mount to hunt a few caches. It was pretty chilly and very windy for most of the time I was out and about. The couple of hides I found at the Franklin County Parks & Recreation Center on Sontag Road proved simple enough. But at Waid Park, I turned a medium difficulty hike into a rugged and fairly risky venture by doing what I tend to do best: plow straight ahead from point A to point B, damning the torpedoes in the process. I ended up skirting a lengthy portion of the Pigg River, the banks of which were steep and treacherous, and from which a bad step would have had disastrous consequences. Fortunately, I managed to maintain my footing. Once past that little obstacle, I found myself negotiating some hairy inclines and dense, difficult woods. But again, I prevailed, and, soon enough, had the cache in hand. As one might surmise, I felt the effects of this little outing pretty severely a little later. However, once back at home, a fine dinner and some wine with Ms. B. made for a comfortable, relaxing evening.

This morning, friend Natalie (a.k.a. Fishdownthestairs) and I headed down to Siler City, where we knocked out a few entertaining caches we both still needed.

Ms. B. and I are currently working our way through Twin Peaks again, from start to finish. The craving was upon both of us, and it's been quite the treat, since I haven't watched it with her for about a decade. And she'd never seen the third season (The Return), which we just started this evening. She's not the devoted David Lynch fan that I am, but she's been enjoying it so far.

For the coming week, I'm hoping to reach the end of Georgia: The Haunting of Tate's Mill. I'm definitely ready to get this one out to the publisher and into the hands of readers.

All righty then. Get on with you. Peace out.
My first-grade rendering of a United DC-8, circa 1966
Cowboys and Indians having a bad time of it, from my kindergarten days
Fire at Camelot! One of my third-grade drawings

Monday, March 21, 2022

Little Mountain Falls, Cane Creek Mountain, and More

I don't think my knees — and possibly the rest of me — have been this worn out for a while. At least not since I went up Grassy Hill Ridge in Rocky Mount, VA, for a geocache several weeks ago (“Oh, My Achin Feetz,” Feb. 21, 2022). On Friday, I departed Greensboro early in the day, bound for Fairy Stone Park, VA, where a couple of newish caches — one traditional (A Bench with a View #4GC9PFKB) and one EarthCache (Little Mountain FallsGC9EDWH) — lay in wait for me. The steep and sometimes rugged terrain at Fairy Stone has many times both done me a world of good and damn near done me in. The hike on Friday afternoon was far from the longest I’ve undertaken there, but the elevation changes along the way presented both my legs and my lungs with a healthy challenge. There’s a plenty of up and down both ways, but for the most part, the outbound journey was primarily downhill, leaving the rigorous uphill trek for the return. The scenery in this particular corner of the world is gorgeous, even between seasons as we are. Give it a couple of weeks, and these woods will be as green and lush as a rain forest. In autumn, the colors, as I can testify from considerable experience, are stunning. Little Mountain Falls isn’t especially huge, but the stream trickles down numerous tiers from a significant height — considerably higher than the photograph on the left can capture.

Happily, I found the caches I sought and lived to hike another day. Indeed, I was soon back at it, this time on a regular Sunday geocaching outing with a pair of old farts (friends Diefenbaker, a.k.a. Scott, and Old Rob, a.k.a. Old Rob) at the Cane Creek Mountain Preserve in Alamance County. The hike here, while quite pleasant, was not as strenuous as the one at Fairy Stone. Mind you, it could have been, had we dragged Robert up the mountain to find a number of caches he had not yet claimed. However, since Scott and I both had already found those, Rob declined, ostensibly to save us from undertaking a rugged hike for caches we had already found. When it comes down to it, I’m reasonably certain Old Rob simply didn’t cotton to the idea of having cardiac arrest until he had found all the other caches we had targeted for this trip. At Cane Creek, we found one cache relatively quickly, while the other required an inordinate amount of time searching due to mercilessly bouncing coordinates. In the end, though... happily... we prevailed.

Once done at Cane Creek, we zipped over to the nearby community of Swepsonville, where a relatively short trek on the trail took us to another newish cache. Here, our quarry was easily found and required no hairy terrain stunts to reach. However, I kind of wanted to undertake a hairy terrain stunt, and since the the opportunity was there, with Mr. Scott’s assistance, I availed myself to it (see the photo at right). And then, on to nearby Mebane we went, where we found a couple of more relatively easy hides and then busted the hell out of some lunch at the excellent Catrina's Mexican Restaurant, which Ms. B. had recommended following a visit during one of her artsy-fartsy-craftsy retreats in that area. Ms. B. done good with her recommendation.

Next week... believe it or not, I foresee more hiking and caching. Until then, this is your host, Damned Rodan, saying—

Three Old Farts — Old Rodan, Old Rob, Old Diefenbaker — at the Haw River in Swepsonville

Friday, March 18, 2022

Recalling The Monster Times


After posting yesterday about actor Akira Takarada’s passing, I ended up browsing the internets for all kinds of old Toho monster stuff online. One thing led to another, and I discovered (or actually rediscovered, since I had happened upon it some time back) a site that features full issues, by way of JPGs, of The Monster Times, a tabloid-style publication that ran for several years in the 1970s. My first published work, for which I was actually paid — a filmbook of Godzilla vs. the Thing — appeared in issue #42 of TMT (July 1975). I remember discovering TMT at a bookstore in Atlanta when I was a young teen and being blown away that such a publication existed. It was printed on cheap newsprint, featured tons of articles and photos from my favorite monster movies (especially Godzilla and other daikaiju flicks), and leaned distinctly toward humor. Not necessarily good humor, but humor nonetheless. Eventually, issues of TMT began appearing at our local newsstand in Martinsville, VA, which delighted me no end.

I remember picking up an issue one day — Fall of 1973, when I was 14 — and going utterly mad to find the familiar poster art of one of my favorite Godzilla movies, Destroy All Monsters (which, by the way, remains a favorite to this day). Not only that, the filmbook’s author was Tom Murdock, a pen pal I had met sometime earlier by way of the late Greg Shoemaker’s wonderful Japanese Fantasy Film Journal. I asked Tom how he’d gotten published in The Monster Times, and he said he basically asked them if they wanted a filmbook of Destroy All Monsters. They said yes, so he wrote it and sent it to them. They published it and sent him money. So, I immediately wrote The Monster Times and asked them if they wanted a filmbook of Godzilla vs. the Thing. They said yes, so I wrote it and sent it to them. They published it and sent me money (though not all that quickly or without prompting; some things never change).

In the typical way of the publishing business, it took some time between submission, acceptance, and publication. I wrote the Godzilla vs. the Thing filmbook when I was 14 going on 15. I was 16 before the issue came out. Regardless, seeing it on newsstand shelves was, at that time, so exciting that it’s something of a miracle that my teenage body didn’t shake itself apart. During that waiting period—in 1974—I had entered the publishing arena myself with the first issue of Japanese Giants, a cobbled-together fanzine that also featured a Destroy All Monsters filmbook (also by your humble narrator). I only published that one issue, but JG managed to continue for over two more decades, first by way of editor/publisher Brad Boyle and then at the hands of longtime friends Ed Godziszewki and Bill Gudmundson.

The Monster Times closed up shop in 1976, with issue #48, so it was well for me that my filmbook saw print before the publication’s time ran out. At one time, I had a sizable collection of TMT issues, but that newsprint tended to not weather the years very well, especially since I didn’t have the forethought to protect them adequately. Still, I have these two issues, and several others — mostly featuring Godzilla — and it would be kind of nice, I suppose, if they managed to outlast me.

The Monster Times #26 (featuring Destroy All Monsters) at Zombo's Closet

The Monster Times #42 (featuring Godzilla vs. the Thing) at Zombo’s Closet

Thursday, March 17, 2022

R.I.P. Akira Takarada 1934–2022

I was saddened to learn that actor Akira Takarada has passed away. He starred in numerous classic Toho films, from the original Godzilla to Godzilla: Final Wars, and dozens of others in between. Takarada-san was active at fan conventions for many years; I’m sorry I never had a chance to meet him in person. Sadly, there aren’t many of the most notable cast and crew members remaining from the days of Toho’s early classics. A wonderful talent he was, and by all accounts, a true gentleman. 

Over the past few weeks, I’ve gone on a bit of a daikaiju binge, including several that starred Takarada-san. I expect I’ll be putting on a bunch more in the coming days.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Coming Soon: Death’s Garden Revisited

Another upcoming book release featuring an article of mine is Death’s Garden Revisited, a collection of essays about particularly intriguing graveyards and cemeteries. My experience, perhaps not altogether unexpectedly, involves geocaching. Hunting caches has taken me to innumerable boneyards over the years, and many of my favorites have been in or around graveyards — especially very old ones, such as the Patrick-Watson graveyard, not far from my place in Guilford County, NC. I posted a little about it (among other happenings) in 2019 (“Anyone for Scorpion?” June 15, 2019)

Some years back, editor Loren Rhoads assembled a collection of essays for her original book, titled Death’s Garden, and it has clearly warranted a second volume.

The Kickstarter campaign for this one has just kicked off: Death’s Garden Revisited Kickstarter

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Coming Soon: Running Home to Shadows


On the heels of Bob Issel's Our Shadowed Past — a huge volume of essays from fans and the stars of legendary soap Dark Shadows (in which I had a hand in the production) — comes Running Home to Shadows, from Jim Beard and Becky Books. I also have a new essay in this volume, which features plenty of recollections about Dark Shadows from a host of writing professionals — plus a foreword by Dark Shadows's own Kathryn Leigh Scott.

From the editor: 

School is out, and Barnabas is IN!

They were a generation all their own, the army of children who ran home from school to watch Dark Shadows, TV’s very first supernatural soap. A breed apart, they set aside the worship of mundane pop stars to follow vampires, witches, and werewolves. From 1966 to 1971, they were daytime Monster Kids… and today they have stories to tell.

Writer-editor Jim Beard has gathered these grown-up kids together in this tome to tell those tales. Their experiences are sometimes tragic and terrifying, yet also uplifting and inspirational, but above all, Dark Shadows touched them so deeply as to leave an indelible impression on their lives that lasts to this day.

Return to Collinwood to brave the stormy nights and rainswept days of yore to listen to this coven of writers spin yarns of childhood encounters with Barnabas, Angelique, Quentin, Vicky, Maggie, and their compatriots. Cross the threshold of the Old House, take a seat by the crackling fire, and make yourself comfortable to the strains of maudlin music issuing forth from the gramophone — the ghosts of the past are about to arise in Running Home to Shadows. Won’t you join us?

Edited by Jim Beard with Charles R. Rutledge

Cover illustration by Mark Maddox with logo design and formatting by Maggie Ryel

Foreword by Kathryn Leigh Scott

Featuring essays by Greg Cox, Kathleen O’Shea David, Mark Dawidziak, Dave Dykema, Bob Freeman, Ed Gross, Nancy Holder, Tina Hunt, Katherine Kerestman, Mark Maddox (with Ed Catto), Elizabeth Massie, Kimberly Oswald, Martin Powell, Dana Pride, Stephen Mark Rainey, Michael Rogers, Charles R. Rutledge, Chris Ryan, Frank Schildiner, Duane Spurlock, and Jeff Thompson

Afterword by Rich Handley

Stay tuned for release news and ordering information.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Sabbatical

It was something of a whim. The other day, I was working on a chapter of my upcoming Ameri-Scares series novel — Georgia: The Haunting of Tate's Mill — which is set in Gainesville, GA, my mom's hometown. I spent much of my youth visiting my grandparents here, particularly at Christmastime. The novel is set at nearby Lake Sidney Lanier, and at one point, I began thinking, "I'd sure like to eyeball some of these places I'm describing in person rather than on Google." Well, I'm retired from the day job now, and as I didn't have any crucial plans at home for this week, I decided to drive down, stay for a few days, and get all the info I needed. Plus... perhaps most importantly... I still have plenty of geocaches here to hunt.

Monday, February 28, 2022: Departures and Arrivals
At about 9:30 a.m., I hit the road, only to be halted immediately by an accident on US 29 South that had blocked the highway. Fortunately, I was able to exit and detour around it before the road became impassable. And once underway, travel proceeded generally smoothly, which has so often not been the case on trips involving Interstate 85 South. I grabbed a handful of caches along the way and arrived in Gainesville at 3:00 p.m. sharp, which was fortuitous, since that was check-in time at my hotel.

Once settled in, I headed over to my grandparents' old place, just to give it a look. As I was taking a few photos, a young lady came from within to check me out, so I told her about having spent much of my youth in that house. Rather to my surprise, she knew a lot about my family, since she had become friends with the neighbor across the street (sadly, now deceased), who was among my grandparents' best friends. The young lady was kind enough to let me come in and see the place, for which I was incredibly grateful, and we chatted about old times there for quite a while. We exchanged contact information, and I sent her some family photos I had on Google, particularly those that were taken in Gainesville. With all that's changed over the years here — so much of it, to my mind, undesirable — I found it most gratifying that this little corner of the past has been preserved to the degree that it is. After this visit, I went down to Ivey Terrace Park, very near my grandparents' old place, where my brother and I frequently played as kids. I found a couple of caches. Yes, I did. Then I returned to the hotel to freshen up a bit.

For dinner, I wandered up to Southern Recess Gastro Pub, which Brugger and I had enjoyed on our trips here in 2012 ("Let's Do the Time Warp Again") and 2013 ("Chicken City"). The restaurant was crowded, but I was able to procure a seat outside (which was perfect, since it's tradition, and the indoors is really noisy). I went for a dirty gin martini and fish & chips. The martini was perfect, the fish & chips very good. To date, my favorite fish & chips have been found at The Celtic Fringe, in Reidsville, NC, and The Spotted Dog, in Carrboro, NC; Southern Recess makes them mighty fine, to be sure, but I don't think they're quite up to my favorites.
Footbridge over Jesse Jewell Parkway. Last time here, I found a cache there;
it's now closed for construction at either end.
A remnant of the picturesque past: the Hall County courthouse in downtown Gainesville
Dinner destination: Southern Recess Gastro Pub on Bradford Street
Martini plus fish & chips equals all kinds of happy
After dinner, on my walk back to the hotel, I stopped at a nearby parking garage to hunt a cache — "Jury Duty" (GCGKYT) — which I had sought on an earlier trip, but without success. This time, I found the little monster. I love the fact that, after all these years, the cache is still in place and in decent condition. With a fine dinner and excellent drink under under my belt, not to mention having claimed a difficult cache, I count the evening as most pleasing.
View from the parking garage while hunting "Jury Duty"
A lovely night in Gainesville, viewed from on high
Tuesday, March 1, 2022: Good Eats, Achy Feetz
Cache log with my signature—and the sigs
of some fellow cachers from back home.

Apparently, I was pretty exhausted after the previous day's rigors, for I enjoyed a near-nine-hour, unbroken night's sleep, which virtually never happens these days. Upon waking, I made myself a couple of barrels of coffee, took a shower, and ventured out into the ungodly traffic nightmare that Gainesville has become. Judas F'ing Priest, what a change from the days when I knew Gainesville best. From the time I was a very small child, all through my college days, and for some years beyond, Gainesville was serene, picturesque town with a fantastic, if relaxed, quality of life; it's now a bustling den of insanity, with traffic gridlock day in and day out, and scarcely a square foot of land that hasn't been overdeveloped. To be fair, a reasonable sampling of the town's innate loveliness remains, yet getting to any of it has become an experiment in how much burgeoning humanity a sane person's patience can stand. My god... how anyone can live in such a monstrous maze of unending gridlock is beyond me. I know that this is very subjective, but I grieve, heartily, for the loss of the singular, uplifting character that once defined this town. It's now a bedroom community of Atlanta, with a handful of the amenities but all of the nightmares of overcrowded urbania. It sickens me to my heart.

Now that I've ranted about the seven hells of overpopulation, let's get back to some happier doings. After my morning's refurbishment, out I went among the natives to the nearest Publix and picked up a few staples — mainly coffee and coffee acoutrements, which the hotel doesn't provide, at least in any sufficiency, plus lunch things, so I don't have to eat out every meal. Then... I grabbed a few geocaches, some way out Thompson Bridge Road, some close in to town. Yes, I did this thing. It was neat as can be to find, on a few of the cache logs, the signatures of some good friends and fellow geocachers from back home.

Before packing it in for the afternoon, I revisited Ivey Terrace Park and my grandparents' old place, where I scattered some of Phred's ashes. I know he desired this.
The little springhouse at Ivey Terrace Park. It's been there since my mom was a kid, and my brother
and I both played here when we were little. I scattered some of his ashes round it.
Back at the hotel, I cobbled together lunch from the goodies I'd picked up at the store. Then I paid a visit to my cousin, Mark Bell (Jr.), whom I haven't seen in many years. He and my mom were near in age and regularly kept in touch until Mom's health precluded it. It was a wonderful, revitalizing time for me — a reminder of the days when I had a relatively large, close extended family. That is, sadly, a time now gone.

A wonderful jalapeno margarita at
Tino's Mexican Restaurant

I did a little more geocaching before returning to the hotel for a bit of recuperation (the caching has been rigorous, I can tell you). For dinner, I opted to try Tino's Tex-Mex Restaurant, right here at the hotel, and it was a fine choice. I had fantastic beef brisket tacos and a right large jalapeno margarita. As it is with most Mexican restaurants, there wasn't much tequila in the drink, but that was actually fine by me, for I had plenty of high-octane drink waiting for me in my hotel room. However... prior to returning, I went out on what turned out to be a long (roughly three-mile) walk after the stages of an Adventure Lab cache. This proved both exhilarating and bloody frustrating. I found all but one of the stages, but that one...whew! I couldn't find it tonight, and I don't know whether I'll be able to tomorrow. We shall see, we shall. But I did see some cool sights, including what has to be Gainesville's most haunted house. I feel like I might have even brought a horrible ghost back with me, just from walking by it. I gotta say... I love it!

And then... exhaustion set in. G'night and G'bless.
Exceptional brisket tacos at Tino's Tex-Mex Restaurant in Gainesville
Do not tell me this place is not haunted. It is haunted.
"Love Freedom," a massive mural at one of the geocache stages I visited this evening
Wednesday, March 2, 2022: The Haunted Lake
If, some years ago, I hadn't read online about the legends of "haunted" Lake Sidney Lanier, I'd have never suspected the lake had such a reputation. I spent a lot of time at Lake Lanier in my youth and knew quite a few people in the vicinity; the subject of ghostly happenings out there never came up. Lake Lanier is a massive recreation area, and I suspect the majority of folks who use it aren't really aware of its dark reputation. No matter, for in Georgia: The Haunting of Tate's Mill, there will be ghostly events aplenty, and if the characters didn't know about the possibility of such otherworldly shenanigans from the start... well... that's on them.

The first thing I did this morning — after coffee and a breakfast bar — was head out Cleveland Highway to the site of Old Bell's Mill, which was quite well known in its day (I wrote a bit about Bell's Mill and how it relates to my Ameri-Scares novel here). Here, I didn't hunt geocaches, but I scoped out the precise area that I have fictionalized for the book and took a bunch of photos. This will come in handy in fine-tuning my descriptions of the setting, which I do try to paint as accurately as possible. The whole point of the books is to capture at least a modicum of local color, and I'm glad to have been able to spend quality time at three of the five locations in my series novels.
The site of Old Bell's Mill... as near as one can get to it
Afterward, I did go geocache hunting, of course. I finished up a couple of Adventure Lab caches I had begun last night, hunted their associated bonus caches, and went after a bunch of hides on Gainesville’s north and east sides — some woodland hides that required negotiating moderate to tough terrain, and some typical urban hides that required stopping the car, jumping out, and signing the cache log. I broke for lunch — a chicken salad sandwich, from the supplies I bought yesterday — and then, after logging my morning's finds, headed right back out. This afternoon, I headed south and west, out Dawsonville Highway, and found another bunch, mostly urban park & grabs. The only trail hide, near Gainesville High School, I was unable to find. I sort of suspect it's missing... or I may just have missed it. One's as likely as the other, I suppose. Being out and about and fighting the fucking Gainesville traffic just about sent me over the edge — again. Far as I'm concerned, there's just no excuse for this much goddamn humanity in a small town.

Tonight, I discovered dinner at 37 Main, a bar with fair character and lots of specials. I went early to beat the crowd (tonight is "Trivia Wednesday"), but — little did I know — it was happy hour, where everything is half price. So, I ended up with excellent chicken wings and a very fine gin martini for $10 (of course, I tipped very well, as the service was great). I've been doing my best to keep costs very low on this trip, and this bit of good luck helped quite a bit.

Tomorrow, I anticipate hitting the road as soon as I'm up and packed — after rush hour, inasmuch as rush hour actually lets up here.

This ruination of a beautiful small town by too many motherfucking people is the one thing that hurts me to my soul. All my life, I loved this town, its character, its superb quality of living — which didn't involve fighting big-city congestion in a place that was never, ever in a million years designed for this kind of population explosion. There was a time I actually considered living here. I couldn't do it now. It would literally kill me. And that really hurts.

Otherwise... I made for myself an excellent time here, and in some ways, I'm sorry I can't spend more time here. I did find several little slices of the best of life that Gainesville offered long ago. I sure hope it can hang onto those. I suspect it won't be long, though, before they are razed, and all we see is more people, more scars upon the land. Never have John Denver's lyrics hit so close to home.

Peace out.
37 Main from my table vantage point
The old football field behind Gainesville Civic Center. When I was a kid, my grandfather brought
me to many Gainesville High School football games here.