Thursday, September 29, 2022
Wednesday, September 28, 2022
TIME FOR TOKUSATSU!
Looky, looky! On the heels of his phenomenal Dark Shadows retrospective, Running Home to Shadows, editor Jim Beard and publisher Becky Books are back with Rising Sun Reruns, a new volume dedicated to those Japanese television imports from the mid-to-late Twentieth Century that glued so many of us to our small screens.
“From the 1960s to the 1990s children in the West were gifted with a bounty of amazing TV shows to watch and enjoy—but it wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy their voracious appetites for adventure! It took an intriguing immigration of imported shows from the East to fill their afternoons with all the fun and fantasy they craved!
“Grab a TV tray and hunker down in the family den with a group of grown-up kids as they reminisce about their favorite exotic Japanese TV shows of yore! In these pages, you will find glowing memories of flights of fancy such as Ultraman, Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot, Astro Boy, Battle of the Planets, Space Giants, Speed Racer, Robotech, and many, many more—including a few you may never even heard of!
“Writer-editor Jim Beard adds to his Memories from Today's Grown-Up Kids series of pop culture nostalgia books with Rising Sun Reruns, a tantalizing trip into the past when discovering a strange show from Japan alongside your other favorite series was not a weird thing at all… it was downright wonderful!”
My essay, “Bacon, Eggs, Toast, & Ultraman,” showcases — you guessed it! — the original Ultraman TV series. Actor David J. Fielding, from the Power Rangers series, provides the foreword. Cover art is by Adam Benet Shaw. Available in paperback and ebook.
Monday, September 26, 2022
Chills That Span Generations
The book opens with “Vice,” a story in which death comes for its victims based on their personal vices — in this case, smoking. As with most of these tales, its ending is essentially inevitable, yet the narrator’s engaging style and vivid imagery overcome its predictability. Thus, the book takes off on a high note. Several more stories follow a similar path. Although it’s certainly unintentional, “Burglar Man” takes a cue from Manly Wade Wellman’s “The Desrick on Yandro,” in that greed motivates the antagonist, and, in the end, his reward could hardly be more fitting. “Cries from the Attic” is a genuine ghost story, compelling due to its creepy atmosphere. Conversely, “Up All Night” may be the tale most deeply rooted in “real-life” terror. Again, no great surprises here, but plenty of tension due to the emotional urgency Miller evokes.
I would have to call “Fiery Eyes and Bloody Bones” my favorite piece in the book. Although tales of vile cretins receiving their just deserts tend to become tiresome, once in a while, they turn out to be just the ticket. Such is the case here. It’s lengthier than most in the collection, and the characters — even young Zeke, the troublemaker in the cast — are perhaps the best drawn. “Fiery Eyes” makes for a perfect Halloween yarn, with vivid seasonal atmosphere and that gripping sense of impending doom (a dramatic aspect at which Miller again proves herself adept). As the unlikeable Zeke continually misbehaves, lies, and sets himself up for his inevitable fall, a terrifying something takes notice of him. This is just the kind of tale that scared the crap out of me at summer camp when I was a kid, when our counselors told us scary tales around the campfire at night. As the story creeps toward its conclusion — a literal countdown to doom — it’s hard not to feel sorry even for Zeke the reprobate.
Yes indeed, the best tale in the book.
“The Cold Man” also offers rich Halloween atmosphere, with a menace not too far removed from Freddy Krueger. “Beneath the Bed” shares a few “real-life” elements with “Burglar Man,” but with a bit more creepy color. And in “The Creature That Drains the Blood From the Sheep,” Miller explores the effects of fear — on individuals as well as a community — by way of a hideous critter. It’s another fairly lengthy tale, set in New Mexico. It takes its time getting to its fearsome crux; maybe a little too much time. Still, as the climax draws near, it manages to pack a fair wallop.
In “Two Heads Are Better Than One,” we have what might — or might not — be a bloody chronicle of a psychotic break. The story’s apt, nightmarish coda elevates this one beyond the inevitability of its climax.
Another favorite in the book, “Safe House” tells the story of the main character inheriting her grandparents’ house — as well as a frightening entity within. Miller gives her protagonist a strong emotional tie to the place (an aspect with which I readily identify) as well as a vague fear of it. Dread of darkness and that which lurks within plays a large part in the tale’s unfolding.
The last story in the volume, “Crybaby Bridge,” engagingly told in the first person, might be considered autobiographical, as Miller bases it on her personal history. At the story’s heart, we find a common trope, but the author’s compelling voice provides a sense of immediacy and authenticity. Again, the Halloween atmosphere permeates the tale — and rightly, as Halloween plays a crucial narrative role. At the end of the story, after a fashion, Miller reveals the origin of her proclivity for writing.
With Tales My Grandmother Told Me, author Miller bundles numerous previously told tales and makes them her own. While not all of them work on every level, certain stories hit on all cylinders — sometimes hard enough to blow the engine. With her appealing authorial voice, Ms. Miller, like the raconteur at a campfire gathering, offers the reader a passel of fearsome fun.
Sunday, September 25, 2022
I haven't missed any of the previous reunions, and although I've remained close friends with only a handful of my old classmates, it's always a joy to see the entire lot on these occasions. Gathering with old friends from the classes of '75 and '76 was an added bonus this year, particularly since I haven't seen some of them since high school. The only sadness that comes from these class events is that, at each, the crowd is smaller than at the last. Our class in particular has lost what seems to be a disproportionately large number of alumni. One of our classmates passed away just days before the event. To start off the reunion, friend and fellow author, Dr. Stan Gravely, offered a moving tribute to our friends who have gone before us.
|Old dude and pretty young lady.|
|Classmates Ellen, Rick, Sally, Mary, Margaret, and Rich.|
|Friends Yvonne & Bob|
|Let this train keep on riding on through.|
|Nothing to see here.|
|Mavahi Class of 1977|
Thursday, September 22, 2022
Here you see a somewhat frazzled damned old dude with a Damned Bloody Mary, the traditional anti-frazzling airport beverage. Autumn is traditionally the time that Brugger and I take a trip somewhere. Last year, we made it to France and Italy. This year, we opted for a slightly less ambitious venture: a few days in Michigan visiting her parents and then a few more in the Upper Peninsula at a secluded cabin along Portage Lake, where we might catch a view of the Northern Lights. For this trip, our frequent traveling companions, Terry and Beth, planned to join us after an extended outing of their own in New York.
Now, just prior to all this, both Kimberly and I had each been dealing with some severe health stressors. Without going into detail, we both had cancer scares. After several tests each, both of us — much to our relief — received clean bills of health, at least on the cancer front. So, we made our travel arrangements, and everything seemed good to go.
As a tangentially related aside, for several months now, Ms. B. and I had planned to attend the Dark Shadows Halloween gathering at Seaview Terrace (Collinwood in the TV series) in late October. However, a while back, the gathering was canceled due to scheduling conflicts with HBO, which has been planning to film a series on the estate. Then, a few days ago, those plans flip-flopped, and the Halloween event was back on. Things looked fairly good for Ms. B. and me to attend as originally planned.
A couple of weeks ago. Terry and Beth had set out on their adventure with plans to meet us in Michigan once we arrived. Things started out on the right foot, but then Terry got hit with gout, which damn near crippled him for a few days. Just as that ugly situation began to improve... enter COVID-19. Terry and Beth both got sick midway through their trip and, with a bleak outlook for the duration, they opted to turn around and head home. Naturally, we were sad about this, but for their part, it seemed the only prudent course of action. Brugger and I opted to stay the course with our Michigan plans. For us, this meant we would need to rent a car rather than rely on Terry and Beth for our transportation.
|The Bradley Mansion at the Herbert H. Doan Midland Historical Center|
A massive hornet's nest on the window
of the Bradley mansion.
Ms. B. and I started the day on a somewhat later-than-usual note since we had been up until the wee hours the night before. Our first order of business was to grab coffee and a light breakfast at Live Oak Coffeehouse, which has been among our regular destinations on trips here over the years. From there, we headed after a few geocaches at the nearby Herbert D. Doan Midland History Center. Mission accomplished, we headed to Casa di Brugger and spent a fair portion of the afternoon hanging out on the back porch, where we figured germs would be least likely to get the upper hand on us. Even after all this time, Fern remained symptom-free, and Del appeared up to his usual snuff, as he went out to mow the lawn on his big ol' riding mower.
During the afternoon, we entertained ourselves hand-feeding peanuts to a remarkably domesticated, exceedingly tubby squirrel the Bruggers had named Stubby (due to his unnaturally abbreviated tail). Stubby is exceptionally polite, and he enjoyed the treats we offered him. I don't imagine he will have any issues weathering the winter months, given the excessive bulk he gained just today, thanks to the generosity (read gullibility) of several humans smitten by cuteness.
For dinner, Ms. B. and I went to Villa D'Alessandro, a nearby Italian restaurant we had enjoyed a few years back. It was a lovely evening, so we sat out on their Italian-style terrace. For dinner, we ordered a bottle of Campofiorin Masi, a dry red from Veneto; Ravioli Formaggio for the nice lady; and Lamb Osso Bucco per me. All quite delicious. For an after-dinner diversion, we drove to downtown Midland, which turned out to be hopping: live music, food trucks, and all the shops and restaurants doing a booming business. We decided to visit Grape Beginnings Winery, since we had been there once before, a few years ago. At that time, the wine was so-so, but I'd say they've really come up in the world. Brugger's Merlot and my Italian-style red blend both proved excellent.
|Ms. B. giving a handout to Mr. Stubby|
|Pardon me, might I trouble you for a peanut?|
|Smilin' happy again at Grape Beginnings Winery|
|Somewhat non-traditional larb gai. Damn good stuff!|
Ms. B. and I loaded up our rental Toyota SUV and hit the road early — after a quick breakfast stop at McDonald's. Nonstop and direct, it's about a five-hour drive to drive to Munising, which was our first overnight destination in the Upper Peninsula. We had enjoyed our stay at the Terrace Motel there on our first UP visit ("Midland & More in Da Moonlight, Sunday," October 5, 2014), so we decided to stay there again. It's convenient, kind of rustic, and only a little smelly. A dearth of roaches is also a distinct plus.
|Some of the fallen trees that are actually deep underwater in Kitch-iti-kipi, seen from the raft|
|View of the spring through the glass bottom of the raft|
|The raft on its way across the spring pool|
Eventually, we landed in Munising. After checking in at the Terrace, we turned around and went out to dinner at The Duck Pond Eatery & Beer Garden over in Christmas, a tiny village just west of Munising. I went for the "fresh-caught daily" whitefish and a couple of Michigan craft beers; Ms. B. had a whitefish taco. All quite delicious.
|Do you suppose there might be a geocache in there?|
|Sure is dark in here!|
|Evening view of Lake Superior from "A Walk on the Beach" (GC1HK7Z)|
|Old abandoned bridge on the way to Dead River Falls|
|Along the treacherous trail on the way to the falls|
|Standing on the precipice|
|Dead River Falls|
|The provisional Casa di Rodan along the shores of Portage Lake on Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula|
Today was a day of waterfalls, trails, and very high precipices. After a light breakfast, Ms. B. and I headed out to find a couple of noteworthy waterfalls in the area: Douglass Houghton Falls and Hungarian Falls, both a relatively short drive from our lodgings (only about twenty UP miles, which translates to about 100 nautical miles or perhaps 66 country miles). Houghton Falls was our first destination. To my surprise, when I looked at the geocaching map, I learned there was a brand new cache near the falls, as yet unclaimed. How cool is that! At the trailhead, we hiked out about half a mile, where we had to cross the creek above the waterfall — which, at 110 feet, is the highest in Michigan. Fortunately, we didn't fall in or get washed over the falls. However, once we reached the far side... holy cowz... what a view! The trail took us along a dizzying cliff, sometimes so close to a sheer drop-off of at least 150 feet or so that I was actually a little nervous — largely for Brugger's sake because, in the past, she has managed to sit down real hard in rugged terrain. Sitting down real hard here might just be the end of you.
|Ms. B. on the edge|
|View of Douglass Houghton Falls from the high precipice|
|Old dude standing on another precipice, this one overlooking Hungarian Falls|
|Ms. B. pauses on the "bridge" across the stream to get a photo of Hungarian Falls|
|A Brugger's-eye view of the waterfall|
|Old dude taking a breather in a handy little alcove above the falls|
|Smoke on the water...|
From there, we wandered around town, stopped at a few shops that Brugger wanted to check out, and grabbed a handful of caches. We found a nice little restaurant/bar called The Library, where you can eat, drink, and read in a comfy, book-themed environment. Ms. B. had a Chardonnay, and I enjoyed an exceptionally good dirty martini. This hit the spot for some mid-afternoon spirits. Before heading back to our place, we stopped at Roy's Pasties & Bakery, where we snagged a couple of pasties to take home for dinner. When you're in the UP, you eat pasties. No exceptions. These were delicious.
A "Yooperlite™": the minerals in the rock glow under the beam of a UV
flashlight. Ms B. picked up
a couple at a rock shop we visited.
|They also had dinosaurs.|
|Darkness falls over Portage Lake|
|Very old graves at Pine Grove Cemetery in Eagle Harbor, MI|
Annual snow gauge along Route 41
in the Keweenaw
Here's how differently driving works in Michigan's Upper Peninsula than in other places around the globe. From your starting point, your destination is 12 miles away. So you get on a long, relatively straight stretch of road and drive at a steady 65 to 70 mph for ten minutes. At this point, having kept a constant speed, you check to see how far your destination is. It's 10 miles away. That's just how it works.
|Brugger playing around at Jacob's Falls|
|Eagle Harbor Lighthouse|
|Abbey Cake from Jampot Bakery. Loaded with bourbon!|
|Another lovely evening on the lake|
Some future guest at our VRBO lodging
may end up having a devil of a time.
To me, the UP is a place of unparalleled natural beauty, interesting people, and, for Kimberly and me, what I'd call romantic charm. On our two trips here together, we've shared some of the best settings, best experiences, and best personal bonding of our lives. We've spent time in a few pockets of population — Marquette, Houghton, and, to a lesser extent, Munising (though none of these would qualify as more than a small town in our region of North Carolina). However, what we truly love is the generally sparse population, and, in many places, outright isolation. In the latter, we find both a sense of closeness with nature as well as an eerieness; the idea that, with just a little nudge, events could slip into the realm of a classic horror movie.
|Ms. B. on the rocks at Canyon Falls|
|Down in the canyon|
|Wicked cedar along the trail|
|Even the raptor critters like Eh, Burgers!|