Friday, August 31, 2007

Chop and Slash

Got an email from a writer I know, not a martial artist, who said, "Yeah, okay, I can understand how you might want to know some hand to hand fighting. Maybe even how to use a pocketknife. But why would you want to spend any kind of time learning to fight with swords, as you mentioned? "

How often, he went on, is it likely you'll get into a sword duel with anybody?

Probably less often than I'll be struck by lightning. Or win the lottery. Dodge a falling meteorite ...

It is true. Not a lot of folks pack swords around these days. I do have one leaning by the door of my office. Were somebody to kick in the front door right now ... nah, probably I'd just use the gun.

And there's a big ole machete out in the garage I use to clear blackberry bushes by the back fence. Though I'd have to wonder at the sanity of anybody who'd attack me while I'm clearing brush with that two-foot-long machete in hand.

This why-do-it? question comes from somebody whose primary hobby is golf. And while I have nothing against folks who want to hammer a defenseless little white ball hither and yon over a well-trimmed, giant lawn, attempting to land the sucker in a series of holes, that's not me.

Chances are I won't ever need a sword to defend myself. But if that once-in-a-lifetime event should occur, better to have the skill than not. And in the meantime, it's fun to play, and, more importantly, it helps in the understanding of the root movements. Waving a sword around, cutting, stabbing, or blocking, comes from the same actions that you use if you don't have a sword. To do the bladework right, you have to have the basic moves right.

The ability to pick up something longer than it is wide and use it for self-defense -- book-fu, anyone? -- is just another skill notch on the old smoke-wagon's grips ...

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Almost a Six Pack ...

Turn Off the Light

You know how you can be out walking at night and you pass a streetlight that suddenly blinks off? Sometimes, it's burned out; sometimes, it's overheated, and a sensor shuts it down, circuit-breaker, like that.

If it happens that a light blinks off when you pass by, it kind of makes you wonder.
Something about your energy?

Coincidence explains it, of course, but sometimes that seems to get stretched a bit.

Tonight, whilst walking the dogs for a short loop, only three or four blocks, the light-blinking-off thing happened.

Not once. Not twice.

Five times.

On the street, in the drugstore parking lot, in the pocket park.

I can't recall that ever happening that many times before.

It's the eve of my birthday. I wonder if it means something ...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Real Man's Gun

Somebody got around to posting this one. Just watch ...

Speaking of Guitar Music

According to a survey done by Acoustic Guitar Magazine, hereunder the top twenty-five pieces guitarists play (or want to learn how to play) in the USA. At one time or another, I could manage about ten of them.

Acoustic Guitar’s Top 25 Songs

1. “Blackbird” The Beatles
2. “Tears in Heaven” Eric Clapton
3. “Aerial Boundaries” Michael Hedges
4. “Layla” Eric Clapton
5. “Classical Gas” Mason Williams
6. “Fire and Rain” James Taylor
7. “Here Comes the Sun” The Beatles
8. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” Bob Dylan
9. “Embryonic Journey” Jorma Kaukonen
10. “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” Richard Thompson
11. “Daughters” John Mayer
12. “County Down” Phil Keaggy
13. “Little Martha” The Allman Brothers
14. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” Crosby, Stills, and Nash
15. “The Boxer” Simon and Garfunkel
16. “Windy and Warm” Chet Atkins
17. “Crash” Dave Matthews
18. “When Will I” Monte Montgomery
19. “Candy Man” Reverend Gary Davis
20. “Stairway to Heaven” Led Zeppelin
21. “Tangled Up in Blue” Bob Dylan
22. “Wish You Were Here” Pink Floyd
23. “Black Mountain Rag” Doc Watson
24. “Harvest Moon” Neil Young
25. “Hotel California” The Eagles

Don't Play it Again Sam

When guitar players go into music stores, they tend to want to pick up the axes and play a few riffs. The more popular a song is, the more likely it is that -- if you are a clerk in a guitar store -- you will quickly get real sick of hearing it, because every Clapton wanna-be who comes in will sure as hell play it.

Recall the sign on the guitar store wall in Wayne's World -- No Stairway to Heaven ... ?

Now it's all Green Day and Prince, but back in my day, it was Deep Purple and Led Zepplin and Beatles, and for the acoustic guys, Mason Williams.

I thought it would be fun to put together a little parody of this, so I came up with something called "Guitar Clerk's Bane, 1969. These are some of the Oh-crap-not-again! pieces the guys behind the counter at Music City were hearing in the late sixties ...

And, of Course, There's This ...

Stairway to Gilligan ...


This is burn-'em-at-the-stake wrong, but for a fan of either the Beatles or Led Zep, entirely too funny.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bad Moon Risin'

So, early this morning, there was a total eclipse of the moon visible in our part of the world.

I confess I did not stay up to watch it all, though I did set my mental alarm to rouse me around totality, went out and had a look.

Conditions were perfect here -- clear skies, and at three a.m., the city glow was as dim as it gets locally.

Very impressive, it was, a creepy orange.

Must have terrified primitive societies, this kind of celestial event, until they realized it was a regular phenomenon.

I always wondered -- does a werewolf revert to human form during a full eclipse? Might be an interesting story there, if somebody hasn't already written it ...

Monday, August 27, 2007

How, uh, Old Are You ... ?

I found this amusing:

Your real age.

The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself

The title is from Franklin D. Roosevelt's first inaugural speech, in 1933. It a great quote -- but it doesn't really mean anything. The speech itself is wonderful, however, go read it.

Over on Dan Moran's blog, there is a thread on the foolishness of martial arts that is also worth reading. It sparked some thoughts about fear and how to deal with it. I started there, and decided to offer a couple more ideas here.

(To martial artists: Don't read Dan's posting with a knee-jerk reaction to the word "foolishness," that's not the point he's making.)

Um. Anyway, back to fear.

People have different ways of reacting when fear peeps through their widow late at night. Some pull the covers over their heads. Some get up and reach for the phone. Some go to the window. How I learned to handle many of my basic hair-raisers and stomach-clutchers was a process sometimes referred to as Napoleonic Compensation -- because he was a short and slight fellow, ole Boney conquered most of his world to make up for it ...

One can run. One can hide. One can go forth to meet it -- head-on, or at an angle.

When faced with something for which I felt some level of real worry, shading sometimes into full-blown terror, my personal process evolved. First, I learned as much about the subject as I could intellectually. Then I looked for some study that would allow me to master, or at least fight to a draw, with my fear. This wasn't consciously, until much later in life. It was just what I did.

I was terrified of the water as a child. My father's method of teaching us how to swim was to show us the strokes in shallow water, and then toss us into the deep end. At eight, I managed to thrash my way to the side. My little brother, six, sank like a brick, and my father had to dive in and fish him out. So, yes, I could swim, after a fashion, but I was afraid that I would drown. Somebody pushed my head under during Marco Polo, I panicked.

So I took all the Boy Scout lifesaving classes, the junior, the senior. I took the Water Safety Instructor course from the Red Cross, and I got a job as a lifeguard where I spent several summers around and in the water. I taught swimming classes, swam a mile a day, and the summer I was seventeen, could hold my breath underwater for four minutes. I turned myself into a porpoise, got so comfortable in the water that one day, I looked up and there was absolutely no more fear connected to it. I might drown, but I was as waterproof as I could be. I loved the pool. D0n't swim much now, but I still love it.

Same deal with getting beaten up. I didn't really get thumped much as a little boy, but I was a scrawny, smallish kid until well into high school, and I worried about being bullied. I was afraid of it. Truth was, I gave as good as I got, and out of a handful of fights, I won more than I lost. But fear lives in a deep cave, and you have to shine a bright light in there to see well enough to shoo it out.

So, martial arts. Karate. Okinawa-te. Kung fu. Tai chi. Aikido. Kendo. Finally, Silat. I did it for a time before I stopped dying a thousand deaths, and by then, I had found something much more than just being able to defend myself, I had found a Path. Been on it since.

These days, the question is not whether I can defend myself or family against a threat, but how to do it the most efficiently, with the least amount of effort and damage ...

I used to get stage fright pretty good. So I took speech classes, did plays, strummed my guitar in public, and even did stand-up at a couple of science fiction conventions. Steve Barnes and I once did a "Whose Line is it Anyway?" routine at a con, off the cuff, winging it, and if comedy is hard, improv comedy is a tightrope act.

How well did we do? Pretty well, actually, but it doesn't matter. We got up and did it.

The fight isn't under the glove. It's under the hat.

Fear of assorted deadly diseases got me into medicine, where, after nursing school, I taught myself enough to challenge and pass the PA-C exam. I was for some years a PA at a Family Clinic.

I can't cure cancer, but at least I know the ways to fight it, if it should come to call.

Knowledge is truly power. Even a single candle is better than cursing the darkness.

This is not to say that I am particularly brave or adept. Being an autodidact works for me, but it tends to leave gaps in one's education. And not everything is amenable to study and training.

How to overcome the worry that your teenager might die in a traffic accident on Saturday night is a tough one. Lying awake after midnight listening for the front door to open was in my past, and I expect for those of you with children not yet teens, it will be in your future.

The Buddhists have something called The Four Noble Truths. The essence of these are:

1. Life involves suffering.
2. There's a reason for suffering, and the reason is attachment.
3. There is a way to deal with attachment, and you can learn it.
4. The way is the Eightfold Path.

I'm not a Buddhist, but the first three truths resonate fully with me, and I'll stipulate that the fourth has a lot of good material in it. It's not a religion, it's an ethical system, and it does offer answers. I don't accept them all, but a lot of the man I have come to be involved figuring out who I didn't want to be, and how best to avoid that. Living in fear was high on that list of things I didn't want to be.

Sometimes knowing which path you don't want to take is the way to get headed in the direction you do.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

So yesterday Dianne and I went to a gathering at the home of some old friends -- old in the sense that we have known them for twenty-five years and some. And, well, okay, old as in getting up there, too ...

All of the other folks who showed up, we've known that long or almost so. Among them are artists, poets, writers, teachers, a physicist, and people who had long careers in business.
Several of whom are most those things.

It is so relaxing to sit among a group of liberal folk and talk about politics, religion, sex, growing older, telling dirty jokes, whatever comes up, and have a free-wheeling and spirited conversation bound only by our abilities to keep up.

We drank wine, ate good food -- a potluck -- and laughed and got angry at the state of the country, and had a fine, fine, visit. Offhand, casual, and important in ways hard to explain to folks who don't have such a wonderful luxury.

We count it as one of our blessings.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Tell 'Em Groucho Sent You

Channel surfing last night and I came across an old episode of the quiz show You Bet Your Life, starring Groucho Marx. This one was from the mid-fifties, which is the period I remember seeing them, even though the show started on radio before I was born, and stayed on TV into the early sixties.

It was interesting how well it help up. And how much better it was than today's rock-'em-sock-'em neon-and strobe-light fake-excitement quiz shows.

Who wants to be a millionaire? All of us. Who cares about the idiot who gets to take a shot on the tube? Not me.

The old format was simple: Groucho Marx, one of the sharpest and quickest wits ever to grace a stage, sat in a chair behind a small table, smoking a big cigar. His announcer, and very often stooge, George Fenneman would come out with a couple to play the game. Sometimes they were pre-selected before the show, and sometimes they had been put forth from the audience only moments before they stepped on stage.

The game itself consist of several questions, with values from ten to a hundred dollars. The contestants started out with a hundred dollars and added or subtracted to their total by answering correctly or missing it. This was done with three sets of players, and whoever won the most got to come back at the end to try for the big jackpot, a thousand bucks.

There was a secret word, held in the mouth of a duck puppet painted to look like Groucho and if a contestant said it aloud, the duck would drop down and they'd win an extra hundred.

The most a contestant could come away with in the preliminary round was something under four hundred dollars, plus a hundred if they said the "secret woid." Not so much today, but in 1955, the average family income was $3400, so the players could leave with a nice chunk of change even if they didn't hit the jackpot. (The money got bigger in the late fifties when the high-priced game shows like The $64,000 Question arrived.)

The categories were varied, the questions ranged from too-easy to pretty hard, and when Groucho was feeling feisty, he'd steer the conversation so that the contestants would say the secret word.

The show was presented by DeSoto/Plymouth, and the end, Groucho would appear behind a round window in DeSoto sign, tell the viewer to go see their dealer, and tell 'em Groucho sent you, before closing the porthole. The commercials were an integral part of the show, with Fenneman or Groucho or both doing them as they went.

The biggest part of the experience was watching and listening to Groucho, who was in his mid-sixties by then, crack wise. The contestants were seldom polished, they stammered or got embarrassed, and some of them had no stage presence whatsoever. Doctors, lawyers, dance teachers, sailors, housewives -- there was a wide spectrum of players. One I saw last night was a veterinarian who specialized in cats-only. In L.A., in 1955. Looked to be fifty, but was only thirty-two.

People looked a lot older back then.

Another pair were a Marine lieutenant and a young woman who organized elephant-hunting safaris. Neither were married. Groucho had them kissing before he was done ...

Now and then, a contestant would throw out some snappy comebacks, and Groucho loved that. But if you wanted to fence with Groucho, best you bring your sharp blade, cause he might be old, but de mahn, he be a steppin' razor, yah ...

There's a story, mostly likely apocryphal, I always loved: Interviewing one contestant in the radio days, he asked her how many children she had.

Nineteen, she said.

Nineteen? Why so many?"

I like children.

Well, I like my cigar, too, but I take it out of my mouth once in a while.

The story is that NBC quickly cut that before it went out, but that for years, they used the recorded laugh track after the audience heard it on other shows when they wanted to show that something had been really hilarious. Supposedly right up there with Ed Ames's tomahawk throw on the Carson Show years later.

(Those of you who missed that episode of The Tonight Show: Ames played the character "Mingo," on the Fess Parker Daniel Boone show. He learned how to throw a tomahawk, and one night on Carson, set they set up a board with a cowboy chalked on it. He threw, hit the cowboy square on the crotch, and Carson did a take and milked it until the audience was peeing themselves laughing. Some line about not knowing Ames was Jewish did me in. Supposedly the longest laugh in TV history.)

Both Groucho and Fenneman denied the cigar exchange ever happened, and there's no tape of it, but still, you never let truth stand in the way of a good story.

I think Drew Carey is funny, but ... he's not in Groucho's league. Offhand, I can't think of anybody who is ...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Technical Difficulties, Please Stand By ...

So, Blogger put up a new feature, a video button. Supposedly, you can click on it, upload a vid directly from your computer without having to go through YouTube or Google.

Cool. So, I gave it a shot, a guitar practice session featuring Canon in D. Well, what I can do with one guitar on a piece that requires more than one instrument if it is going to be a canon.

Sound came through okay, but the images ran at triple speed, which made for something of an amusing disconnect ...

The Eilandia Chronicles: The Dreadnaught

Been cranking away on this sucker, our fat fantasy, for a while. Coming up this week on four hundred pages in manuscript form. We're shooting for about seven hundred pages total for the first draft. Hoping to get it done this fall.

Book One of the Chronicles, of course ...

Above is a cartoon sketch I did so we (my collaborator Reaves and I) would remember the general layout of the ship. Its not huge, but it's the only steam warship on our made-up planet, and also the only vessel with real guns -- air-powered -- so none of the other countries navies will be sinking her in a sea battle.

Most of our world's technology is late Eighteenth or early Nineteeth Century -- sailing ships, horse-carriages, coal oil lamps, like that. Small magicks exist, but nothing major.

One country, Stahlrogia, has gotten a jump on the rest of the planet, they've got steam-power, trains, DC electricity, and big ambitions ...

Stay tuned. Once we get a draft ready, I'll put up some preview scenes. We think that folks who like Reaves' stuff, or mine -- or both together -- are gonna love this one.

I'm Ready for My Long Shot, Mr. DeMille ...

So, the world premiere of the Star Trek New Voyages episode, "World Enough, and Time," was yesterday in L.A. I haven't heard how the theatrical event went, but the concomitant streaming video of the actual showing apparently did not come to pass -- a software problem.

In any event, the episode should be available for viewing at the New Voyages site, although it is apt to be busy for a time as fans log on to watch it. If you are a Trek fan, you should find it interesting.

(NOTE: Apparently there is a problem here -- the old site keeps coming up 404, and I don't know if that's because it's overwhelmed with hits or they scuttled it. So maybe you won't get to see this after all ...)

My five seconds of fame as the V.O. of the Shuttle Pilot has arrived but you can't hear it ...

If they do the remake of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I'm going to audition for the voice of the HAL Nine Thousand ...

"I'm sorry, Dave, but you don't get foreign residuals for this role ..."

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Cover Art

So, I was digging around for the article I wrote on the SCA -- couldn't find it, I expect it is in the garage, I'll go check later. But I did come across the acme of my career as an artist -- such that it was: The cover of the University of Montana's 'zine, being edited at the time by buddy and sometime collaborator, George Guthridge.

Behold, the Michaelangelo of Port Townsend in all his artistic glory ...

Time Passes By, Things Change, Worlds Move

Carolyn and Jim
Around Christmas, 1972

So I had dinner last night with Jim. Thirty-some-odd years we haven't seen each other, and since I knew it was him, I could see the young man in the older one, but had I passed him on the street in other circumstances, I'd not have recognized him. The beard is gone, the glasses thinner, his hair, like mine, is shorter and gray. He's put on a few pounds, but he still had his sense of humor.

Like Paul Simon said in Still Crazy After All These Years, "we talked about some old times and we had ourselves some beer ..."

Both of us have lost track of most of the people we had in common, but we passed what we knew back and forth:

Kid Ford left for Alabama. Took my .22 rifle with him.

Michael and Connie split after their daughter, Shanti, was born. (After their big hippie wedding on the levee the summer we lived on the farm, Connie spent their honeymoon night in a tent sleeping not with Michael, but with John, who had planted some primo marijuana plants down the levee on the edge of some woods.)

Uncle Jay finished restoring the 40-foot sailboat in the backyard, had it towed to the river, and sailed it down the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico, then all the way to Miami, keeping land in sight and to his port side all the way. He sold the boat, conned his way into a computer job with Boeing in Marietta, quit, went back to school, and eventually become a medical doctor in Oklahoma.

Nobody knew what happened to his first wife, Cheryl.

My sister-in-law Judy passed away from breast cancer a dozen years ago.

BB runs a medical caseworking company in Baton Rouge, married to Jackie, the girl whose parents were deeply into Silva Mind Control.

Jan moved to Florida and went to work as a shrimper. She died in the eighties.

Little Mike is an EMT in Atlanta and a blues singer.

Meg moved to Denver and is a school psychologist at a local college.

Jim has been married thrice, and Carolyn? Last time he saw her was sometime in the eighties. Ran into her in the library, of all places. No idea where she is now.

Digging through the old pictures, I couldn't find any we took while on the farm. We didn't own a camera then, and some of the faces on pictures other people must have taken, I can't remember at all. What was the lawyer's name, who got the bust on BB and Jan's thrown out? Chip Duchein? Yes, Charles Duchein III -- he'd been an attorney in the military, kick-ass-take-names, and he walked into court and bam! blew the prosecutor out of the water.

Chip did yoga. Had a house in ... Zachary? Baker? He later got into hang-gliding. Eventually, he had his office in a converted house on Napoleon Street -- the same house Dianne and I lived in right after we got married ...

Nobody from B.R. ever made it up to live on the property in Arkansas. We realized that wasn't going to happen. Nobody was putting any green energy into it except Dianne and me, and it didn't take a weatherman to see how that wind was gonna blow. After Jim and I drove up there and scoped out the place, I came home absolutely certain it wasn't going to fly, and we pulled out before it crashed. Cost us some good will amongst the families, but that's what we had to do.

I remember swimming naked in the Arkansas pond with the other hippies who came to visit; I remember having to unroll my sleeping bag on the hard ground. And being waked up in the middle of the night to move my old Volvo, which was blocking somebody in. Eating from a pot of stew that had been simmering, with stuff added to it every so often, for more than six months. The good old country boy who lived in the cabin with the stew, it turned out, had a Ph.D in English from Harvard ...

Jim went off to New Orleans, then Tennessee, eventually to Denver. Had two boys, has two granddaughters, enjoys his work in the engineering department of the big construction company for which he works. Has done a lot of research and backgrounding on the book he hasn't got around to writing yet. Back in the day, we exchanged a couple of short stories, but it was before I got serious about writing fiction.

The first piece of writing for which I was ever paid was due to Jim. He was a member of the SCA -- the folks who get dressed up as knights and ladies and lords and all. One Sunday morning, he invited me to go along. I took my camera, shot some pictures before they ran me off for not being in costume, and went home and wrote a short piece for the local paper. The article and a few of the pictures showed up in the Sunday Morning Advocate a few weeks later, and I earned fifty bucks for it. I had turned pro.

The SCA folks playing at sword-and-shield at the time didn't impress me. I was pretty sure I could take my bo (staff) and clean house with it, if they would allow Japanese samurai to attend their gatherings. I understand they have gotten much better.

Anyway, that's my nostalgia hit for this week. Stay tuned. Never know when I might start flashing the peace sign and saying, "Groovy. Faaar ooout, man ..."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Let the Sun Shine In

So I got an email from a guy I ran with back in the days when were were all gonna move to the acreage in Arkansas and live on the land in peace and harmony, far out, dude.

It was toward the end of the sixties. (Actually the Sixties ran from JFK's assassination until Nixon resigned, way I count 'em, so there was some overlap into the seventies. Especially in Louisiana, where things got there later than they did in, say, California. Or anywhere, save Mississippi ...)

Take the WayBack Machine: Nixon was gone, the war was lost and winding down. The hippies, without that focus, were growing up, looking for jobs, raising kids, and being at least partially-absorbed back into the mainstream. Our wild oats were sown, and it was time to make sure the kids had shoes and a reliable roof.

We met when we were living on the farm next to the Mississippi levee, in Brusly, Louisiana. We were next door neighbors: one set of hippies, a second set of hippies, extended families, then there was the dairy farm past us ....

My buddy and his wife, who eventually came to live with us for a few months after we got kicked out of the River Road house, had split. He moved off to New Orleans. His ex- eventually headed out west somewhere, and we lost touch, since we also took off for Oregon.

Been thirty years since I heard from him. I googled his name a couple times, and his ex-wife's, too, but couldn't find them.

A lot of folks I'm still curious about what happened to them, but sometimes, I worry that the past is better left in fond memory. I'd hate to find out that the woman who first showed us yoga and once lived in a cave for a year grew up to be a Republican ...

Then, out of the blue, a note: Ole Jim was coming to town for a conference, and would I be interested in getting together?

Oh, you bet. I know what thirty years has done to my face. I'm really interested to see what is has done to his.

Like that old Dave Mason song:

Been away/ Haven't seen you in a while/ How've you been?/ Have you changed your style?/And do you think/ That we've grown up differently ... ?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Wow, the Colors, Man, the Colors ...

Throughout all of human history, people have sought -- and found -- all manner of ways to alter their consciousness. Pick a place and time, and, bet the farm -- somebody there was getting stoned.

These ways range from beer and wine and distilled spirits to all manner of plants that provide a width swath of mind-altering chems, to exercise, fasting, breathing, you name it. The default mindset isn't enough for some folks, and they want to enhance it.

Among these brainchangers is a class of chems come to be known as psychedelics.

LSD, discovered by accident by a German chemist looking for something else entirely, is among the more recent mind-benders. Long before there was Sandoz, there were morning glory seeds, cacti, and assorted fungi.

In some cases where the original mushroom was more dangerous and there was a risk of serious medical injury or death, users would sometimes pick somebody to give it go, and then drink their urine, which would get them off without offering the same dangers.

You really have to want to trip to go that route ...

Among the fungi, the effects vary, but the magic mushroom, chiefly those of the psilocybe variety, has been sending folks on trips that are close-to-home-but-waaay-far-ranging for centuries.

One of the functions of government, it seems, is to make sure nobody has any unregulated fun, so the psychedelics as a class of drugs generally get made illegal as soon as somebody can get around to it, especially in societies with puritan ethics, such as our own. Unless you belong to certain indigenous tribes in the USA, pretty much all of the ones the government knows about are forbidden, even though some of them were legal until the government finally figured it out.

You could get pharmaceutical-grade LSD legally in the states until the early sixties, and designer drugs like MDA or MMDA popped up after that and were legal until somebody made them otherwise. Somebody is always looking for the next streetcar named Far Out ...

There is a certain obvious hypocrisy in our society about chemcially adjusting one's mind-set:

If you want to eat a magic mushroom and sit in your room grooving upon the complex patterns on your ceiling, and pretty colors, and you get caught with the fungus in hand, that will land you in jail.

If you want to have a few glasses of Southern Comfort while smoking a fat cigar, why, that's perfectly okay. Booze and tobacco make the government money, so no problem, even though both of those will kill you. (Of course, the wrong kind of mushrooms will destroy your liver, too, but not the ones that give you the nice innerspace voyage.)

It is the nature of these things that the law has to come at them crookedly. If you have a herd of dairy cows out in the back forty and some of these 'shrooms pop up on the old cow pies -- which is often where they grow -- then the law won't bother you. They can't.

The law recognizes that these things sprout wild where they will, and you cannot control the wind. Half the population would be in jail, elsewise, and that would include police, judges, preachers, and presidents.

You can squat down next to that turd-loving 'shroom and eyeball the fungus from six inches away with a platoon of State Po-lice circled around, and no problem. That's not against the law -- as long as you don't touch it.

Pluck it, however, you get busted on the spot.

More, the spores of this little mushroom, which even now you are probably inhaling with every breath, are perfectly legal. There is no psilocybin in these spores, and therefore they are not any more illegal than ragweed pollen. And there are places where you can buy these, either in the form of spore-prints or mixed with liquid inside a syringe.

Of course, these places do not in any way, shape, or form encourage you to take these spores, which are made available for study purposes only, and attempt to grow mushrooms with them. They warn you loudly and repeatedly against such things. Don't do it! they say.

Even though, if you are interested in how that process works in great detail, you can find it or a link to it from their websites, along with all the supplies necessary to grow any kind of, you know, legal mushroom you want.

Got to admire man's ingenuity. Somebody passes a law, somebody else will find a loophole in it before the ink is dry.

My hippie days are long past, and even though the parts I can remember I recall fondly, I have no desire to go back down that road. But it's interesting to know that the road is still there, even if I'm not ...

The Curse of Paris Hilton

Yesterday, my wife and I and our dogs attended a charity dinner at Jake's, in Portland. This is an annual event to benefit Dove Lewis Animal Hospital. The deal is, the restaurant sets up a tent in the middle of the blocked-off street, and people can bring their dogs and dine. The food is great, you can get drinks, and included in the basic price is a meal for your dog. Including, if you want it, non-alcoholic beer for the pups ...

The rain had stopped, it was pleasant, and we met a friend of ours who brought her pup. There was a pretty good turnout, and the dogs were all well-behaved, though ours ate more than they should have.

At the table next to us were two handsome young women and a girl of maybe ten or eleven, and they had brought their pomeranians. The little girl's looked to be a black mini-pom. The woman I took to be her older sister, had one that was a striking black and gray. And the third woman, a blonde, had a dog that was either palamino or white -- I couldn't tell because the poor animal had been dyed bright pink.

And the dog was not happy about it, either.

Dogs as fashion accessories.

I have to wonder what the woman was thinking. It's bad enough to put silly clothes on a dog, but to color it like an Easter chick?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Tempest in Teapots

Those of you who know something of silat, and particularly Silat Sera, know there is a fair amount of politics and no small amount of contention among the various branches.

I won't go into it here; suffice it to say that there is mucho sangre mal -- bad blood -- and no end to the old arguments in immediate view.

However, now and again, I get a note from one of the other schools offering a kind of olive branch. Usually this takes the form of them saying they aren't all insulting blow-hards over there, that some of them are willing to live and let live, and they hope that we aren't tarring them all with the same brush. The trash-talkers, they say, don't speak for them all, and they hang back because they don't want to get involved in the war of words.

I appreciate this kind of overture. But after a recent exchange from one of the more reasonable guys in another lineage of the art, I realized what will take is for that kind of position to become an official one. That if they don't agree with the strident among them, they need to say so -- otherwise it becomes the default position, and why should we believe anything else.

Burke's Dictum.

The solution, as I see it, is if you are the ranking guys, you need to step up and say the loudmouths are wrong, in public. Those yahoos got it from somewhere, and if that's not the official party line, then you need to say so.

That would go a long way to cessation of hostilities. But tacit approval by not pointing out the error of the dweeb ways is also a default position.

Of course, I don't see how this can happen until the most senior teachers pass away, since a lot of this crap comes from the very top down. And if you get crosswise with the senior teachers, they have shown a quick willingness to boot your butt out the door ...

Ah, well. Like Chas Clements says, when you get a bunch of martial artists together, why are you surprised if a fight breaks out ... ?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Thumper Rabbit's Daddy's Dictum

Which, if you don't know it, is: "If you can't say somethin' nice about somebody, don't say nothin' at all ..."

So, Bobbe Edmonds was in town yesterday visiting Todd and Tiel, and dropped round for a silat class.

To warm up, Guru decided that we needed to work on short-sword (ours is called a golok -- which is machete-length, though generally with a slightly-curved edge. The principles are more based on length, and that there usually isn't a guard between the blade and handle, which makes a big difference in how you block a cut. Though not all of them do, the most useful goloks have points, so that you may stab as well as slash.)

At the end of this dance, I was warm, except for my shoulder, which was frozen. The idea of keeping my elbow down somehow hasn't sunk in yet. It didn't help that I was working against Cotten, who has gained forty pounds of muscle over the last couple of years, most of it in his arms, shoulders and chest ...

We practice these drills with sticks instead of blades, but not using them like sticks -- there is a difference. The wood and plastic things are much lighter than steel, and even though they aren't blade-shaped, one must always be mindful of one's edge. A stick is not a blade.

Um. Anyway, I wound up working with Bobbe on the next set of exercises, which was absorbing and deflecting a punching attack, working on different aspects of timing. This drill requires that you stand mostly still as the attacker comes in, which you wouldn't do in a real dust-up, but for learning the process, is better. He punches, you help him miss, and set up for a sweep as he flies past.

Given all fun back-and-forth Bobbe and I do in blogland, I decided maybe it was time to say something nice about him.

So, okay, here it is:

For a kid not as old as my shoes, he doesn't move all that terribly bad ...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Appropriate Selections from The Book

From The Book of Assholes, Chapter 6, verses 1-4

"And so I say unto thee, if thou art driving in thine automobile and thou chancest to come upon a vessel in the slow lane traveling but slightly above the posted speed limitation, thou must passeth and immediately cut back in front of this vehicle, and slow thou down by at least ten miles per hour.

"Neither shall ye allow the passed automobile to around thee go in turn, but by use of road-hoggery and acceleration, strive to maintain thy position. For to allow overtaken vessel to passeth in return is, yea, verily a sin against the House of Assholery.

"Ignorest thou the honking of all horns; pay ye no heed to loud and vexing imprecations of other travelers; nor signals of hand and digit, for he who art accused of fellatio and pederasty and of knowing his own mother for My sake, shall have My blessing.

"And he who might therefore be slain by rage-of-road shall be deemed Martyr, and he will dwelleth in the Land of Assholery for ever and ever until the end of time.

So sayeth the Muffin."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Djuru Sepok

Been practicing this week on the exercise we call Djuru Sepok. Basically, this is a kicking form that ends in a low ground sweep. Lotta turns, level changes, and, of course, kicks.

Not that long, but it has been a couple years since we worked it, and I confess, I have not been practicing it as much as I should have been.

I think I have it, pretty much, but I'll need to check a couple moves next class.

You can't just stash this stuff in a closet and expect it to be there forever -- you gotta dust it off and twirl it now and again.

Working the Abs

Got a ways to go yet to carve the abs, but I'm making progress.

Between the rope and chins in an L-sit, plus the odd hundred crunches here and there, the old belly is getting some work.

Couple more weeks, I should be pretty close to the six-pack ...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Old Man with a Cane

So, in my copious spare time, amidst all the other books I probably won't live long enough to write, I've come up with another idea. I'm thinking of calling it The Retirees.

Here is an opening scene -- and the question: Is it compelling enough to make you want to read more?


Reilly, who was twenty-six and who thought of himself as a real bad-ass, looked at the InFocus image the computer projected onto the conference room's screen. “This is the target? This old guy with a fucking cane?”
“That’s him,” Wilson said. “Arlo Hull, age sixty.”
“And you brought six of us in for this?” He looked around the room at the others. Most of them were like him -- young, fit, and full of self-confidence to the point of arrogance. “Sheeit, way I see it, two guys, max. One to drive the van, the other to walk over, grab the old guy and toss his ass into the back, bam! end of story.”
Not all of the other ops were young lions, there was one veteran: Hersch was in his mid-forties and had been with the organization for fifteen years. Wilson looked at Hersch, who smiled and shook his head: What are you gonna do? They are children. They are all gonna live forever.
Wilson said, “Hersch, you want to tell him?”
The man nodded. “If Hull sees you coming -- and he will -- the first couple-three to reach him, if they are barehanded, he will beat the shit out of with that walking stick. Heart of hickory, made by a martial arts master in Incline Village, Nevada.
“After he breaks it over somebody’s head and splashes brains all over the street, the next couple guys to get within range he’ll beat the shit out of with his hands, knees, and elbows, and then he’ll be heading to the van to do the same thing to the driver.”
Bullshit,” Reilly said.
“Who was your hand-to-hand instructor?”
“Could you take him unarmed?”
Reilly was still young and foolish enough so that he had to think about it for a few seconds, but at least he came up with the right answer. “No. He’s old, like forty, but he’s in shape and he’s got the moves.” He looked around. “Nobody here could dance with him and win.”
“Maybe you aren’t as stupid as you look,” Hersch said. “You know who Marlow’s combat teacher was?”
Hersch nodded at the image onscreen.
“Yeah, and go ask Marlow if he thinks he could take Hull. Or save yourself the trip, because he doesn’t think he can. Hull knows martial arts I can’t even pronounce, and he can kill you with his hands without raising a sweat.”
“And that’s if the man is in a good mood. If he isn’t, he can pull the .357 Magnum double-action revolver he has under that sport coat, strong-side, and plink you before you finish stepping out of the van onto the street.”
“Hey, I got a SIG I can shoot pretty good.”
“I’m sure you can. Who was your handgun instructor?”
“Agent Wilson here.”
“Can you outshoot him?”
“Wilson, who was your handgun teacher?”
Wilson grinned as he looked at Reilly.
“Jesus,” somebody said. In a quiet voice.
“Hull can shoot the nuts off a fly at ten paces, and you pick which one, left or right. He can pull the trigger on that wheelgun faster than your SIG can cycle automatically. I saw him knock aspirin tablets off a fence rail at five meters once, and he never scratched the wood, nor missed a shot. He can fire six rounds before you can clear your holster. Sounds like one continuous boom.
“If his primary sidearm runs out of bullets, he has a .38 Special snubbie on his left hip, and he can shoot that one as well as he does his primary weapon. And he can shoot both guns at the same time at different targets and tag all of them.
“If he runs out of rounds in his backup piece, he carries at least three knives -- a neck knife, pocket folder, and a boot knife strapped under his right sock, and he can fillet you like a trout with any of those without batting an eye.”
Hersch stopped, looked back at Wilson.
Wilson said, “Hull was our number one wetwork op for almost twenty years. He was killing bad guys when you were still a gleam in your daddy’s eye, and while somebody could snipe him at long range, we don’t want to do that, we want him alive. So you need to keep all this in mind. This guy can kill you if he wants -- he has the ability and he won’t hesitate to do it if he thinks it is necessary. He’s a better shooter, a better fighter, more experienced and -- no question -- smarter than you. Once action commences, he won’t stop until he wins or he is neutralized completely. He could take all six of you out and then go have pancakes and eggs for breakfast.
“So you might want to start thinking about ways to collect him that don’t involve you walking up and grabbing him by your lonesome. You might make a pretty good agent someday, but not if you stick your finger into a light socket or use jet fuel to light your barbecue grill.”
"Christ Jesus," Reilly said. "Why are we willing to risk taking him? Why do we need him that bad?"
Wilson shrugged. "You don't need to know that. What you do need to know is, if he kills most of you while you are collecting him, he won't suffer for it -- in this case, you are all expendable. He isn't. If you accidentally smoke him? Your career is over, and you're dead anyway."
"What are you talking about? The organization -- ?"
"Not us. Hull has a wife."
"A wife? So fucking what?"
Hersch and Wilson exchanged looks again. Some people just didn't want to learn.
Wilson said, "Whoever takes Hull out will have to deal with her. And she is every bit as deadly as he is."
"Holy shit," somebody said.

Monday, August 13, 2007

No Words Necessary

Will Work For Food

Homelessness is a problem in our country, and I would not make light of how serious it is. Truth is, most of us aren't more than a few paychecks away from the street, and a lot of folks are out there, and can't find their way home. It is sad. Especially when we are pissing away more dollars than stars in six galaxies on a war in Iraq that shouldn't have ever gotten up and running, and that cannot possibly ever be won, no matter how much money we throw at it.

That said, I sometimes find it hard to believe that the off-ramps on Hwy 217 and the Fred Meyer's all coincidentally always have a trio of panhandlers at peak traffic periods and weekends. The faces change, but there is a sameness about them, and I would not be a bit surprised to find out that the folks who stand there are organized. That a van delivers them in the morning and picks them up in the evening, and that the driver, or whoever sent him, gets a cut of the action.

Recently, I saw a transaction just ahead of me that I found interesting. Guy in a truck stopped, waved the sign-holder over, and passed him a bottle of beer. Got a great grin from the panhandler -- shoot, he cut out the middle-man.

Democracy in action ...

Remember the Corporate Motto ...

Saw this while looking for a picture of Schludwiller Beer. Great commercial when it ran here years ago.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Helloo, Zeeba Neighbah ..

Stephan Pastis's newspaper cartoon strip, "Pearls Before Swine," today comes up with a four-panel that gives us an appropriate hero for our times ...

You gotta love this guy's sense of humor, he is wicked-funny.

All in Fun

From time to time, I exchange barbs with Bobbe Edmonds, a young silat teacher in Washington state, who is also a computer guy and a writer, as well as a devotee of stale foreign beers, zombies, and curry.

Sometimes these exchanges seem, well, harsh, to people who don't know that we are just playing. A variation on doin' the dozens, in which the players rag on each other in a juvenile form of one-upsmanship.

Real men don't hug each other, they punch each other on the shoulders and make manly-jokes. Lonesome Dove tells it like it is.

I just wanted to set the record straight, for those who might not notice that the tones and tenors of these conversations are tongue-in-cheek. Bobbe really is a sweet fellow ... and here is a picture I borrowed from Jay Carstensen's site to prove it.

I believe it captures the essence of the man perfectly. That's Bobbe, on the left.

(Yo, Kid -- You should have known this was going to come back to haunt you. It was like a gift from the gods: Hey, Steve, look, we know you don't need the ammo, but, we were bored and so, well ... here you go ...)

Game, set, and match ...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Few Minutes in Granddaddy's Old House on Black Bottom Bayou

“A Few Minutes in Granddaddy’s Old House on Black Bottom Bayou”


Steve Perry

(Originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)

The thunderstorm washed its way closer. The rain pounded on the roof, lightning flashed, thunder grumbled in the night and the dark, damp wind moaned softly at the edges of the big old two-story house.
“A f**cking frog-drowner out there,” Granddaddy Bill said.
Granddaddy Bill was sick again -- though Grandma Annabelle said it was only a hangover -- so Harold and Johnny decided to tell him a story to make him feel better.
Harold, nine, usually took the lead, while Johnny, six, mostly did chorus.
Even though it was past their bedtime, Grandma Annabelle let them stay up to visit with Granddaddy Bill because he didn’t feel good. Plus they were going back to their house on Monday, since school started in a few days.
It had been a pretty boring summer so far.
The boys perched on the foot of the old man’s musty old bed and waited for Granddaddy Bill to sip more of his toddy. Southern Comfort and lemon juice and honey, Granddaddy Bill said, good for colds, flu, consumption and the rheumatiz. Granddaddy Bill’s bedroom always smelled like pipe tobacco, Southern Comfort and Old Spice. And mold. Grandma Annabelle’s bedroom smelled like perfume.
“So, what story are you going to tell me?” he said. He put the toddy down.
“How about the Creature from Black Bottom Bayou?” Harold said.
“The Creature is o-kkkay . . .” Johnny drawled. “Though it’s not as good as Jurassic Park. Those dinosaurs were cool!”
Granddaddy Bill sneezed, used a tissue to blow his nose. Threw the soggy clump of tissue on the floor next to the bed where another dozen wads of it already lay. “Where’d you hear this Creature story?”
Johnny bounced up and down on the bed, said, “You told it to us, Granddaddy!”
The old man smiled. “So I did. But you know us old people, we forget things. Okay. How does it go?”
Harold took a deep breath and started. “Once upon a time, in Lafayette, Louisiana, in this very house, many, many, many years ago, there were two brothers who came to visit their Grandma.”
“Yeah, yeah, that was you and Great-Uncle-Richie, right, Granddaddy? And you were visiting Great-Great Grandma Phyllis.”
“Shut up, Johnny,” Harold said. “And sit still.”
“I’m gonna tell Grandma Annabelle you said ‘Shut up’!”
“Go ahead. You’ll miss the story.”
Johnny shut up.
“Anyway, they slept in the Piano Room, which had French doors that opened out on the back yard, just like they do now. The yard ran straight to Black Bottom Bayou, less than a hundred feet away, just like it does now. It was a summer night, just like it is now and it was raining, and raining and . . .”
The rain came down in waves, hard, then soft, then hard again. The wind blew and moaned softly at the edges of the house. When the lightning flashed, Billy and Richie could see Black Bottom Bayou gurgling past, oily, sluggish and as dark as its name. The frogs were going crazy. Every once in a while, Molly -- that was Grandma Phyllis’s three-legged pomeranian -- Molly would wake up and yip, but the little dog’s yappy bark didn’t make the boys feel any better. When it came down to it, Molly wouldn’t be much help. She was afraid of Cisco and Pancho and they were just parakeets.
“F**king stinking parakeets who sh*t on everything,” Granddaddy Carl had said more than a few times.
Billy clutched at his Red Ryder BB gun, the plastic stock slippery with sweat. He wasn’t supposed to load or cock it in the house but you better believe it was loaded and cocked now. A whole pack of BBs in it. Richie was too little to have a BB gun, which was too bad. Two guns would be better than one when the Monster came. And if ever it was gonna come, this was the night for it.
“I’m scared,” Richie said.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got Old Betsy here.” He patted the gun. BB’s rattled inside it. He’d named her after Davy Crockett’s rifle. “If it tries to get in, I’ll shoot its eyes out.”
“Wh-What if you miss?”
“I won’t miss. You remember that water moccasin? I hit it in the head, didn’t I? And that turtle? And those frogs? And that mockingbird? And you better not even think about telling Grandma Phyllis about the bird.”
“I won’t tell, but -- a monster is different, Billy.”
Billy nodded silently. Yeah, that was sure right. Ever since Grandma Phyllis had dropped them off last week for the double-feature at the Paramount Theater while she’d gone shopping, they’d been expecting to see it. Earth Versus the Flying Saucers hadn’t been so bad, but The Creature from the Black Lagoon, well, that was something else. The flying saucers were in Washington, that was a million miles away, but the Creature lived in a bayou. At night here in the Piano Room, where they slept on the pink-and-blue couch and matching love seat, looking straight at the bayou, they knew it was out there. A couple of nights, they were pretty sure they’d heard it splashing around, making weird noises. They’d looked for footprints during the daytime, but the thing was pretty smart, it must have covered them up. But they had found dead catfish that had been partially eaten and they knew: It had been there. Before he went back to his job on the oil rigs, Granddaddy Carl had told them it was the snapping turtles who ate the catfish but Billy didn’t believe that was true. It was the Creature.
And when it got tired of eating fish . . .
A gust of wind rattled the French doors.
“Maybe the fence will stop it,” Richie said.
“Shoot, the Creature could rip it apart like it was old rotten kite string. Or jump right over it.” The little chain link fence was just high enough to keep three-legged Molly in the yard. Even Richie could climb over it in about two seconds.
“I’m scared, Billy.”
“It’s okay. I’ll protect us.”
But he was nervous.
The lamp on the table flickered.
“What’s that?!”
“It’s okay. Just the lightning making the power . . . f**kshuate.” That’s what Granddaddy Carl had said it did when it stormed.
The light went out.
Richie squealed.
“It’s okay, it’s okay! Get out your flashlight!”
Billy dug his own light out of the couch cushion where he’d stuffed it for just such an emergency --
Suddenly he went blind.
“Jesus, Richie, get that out of my face! Point it at the door, not at me!”
The two ghostly rings of light danced across the French doors. Lightning flared, thunder rumbled right after it. Close.
“What’s that?!” Richie said.
“Outside, I saw something out there!”
Billy was trying to point his flashlight and hold the BB gun at the same time. The light would have to go, he couldn’t shoot too good with one hand. “Shine your light on it,” he whispered. He raised the BB gun and propped it on the arm of the couch, aimed at the doors. “I got it covered.”
Nothing happened for a few seconds.
All of a sudden, Billy needed to go pee, real bad.
Lightning struck the oak tree down by the fence. Thunder boomed so loud Billy thought it was gonna break the glass, but he couldn’t see, because the lightning blinded him again.
This time, Billy’s eyes took a few seconds for the purple spots to fade. When he could see again, the first thing he noticed was that the French doors were wide open.
He said the F-word.
“What? What?” Richie said. He had burrowed down in the couch cushions, but he came up to see what was going on.
“The thunder knocked the doors open! Quick, go close them.”
“Not me! You go close them!”
“I have to stand guard. Go on. I’ll cover you.”
“I’m not going.”
“Richie . . .”
“No! You go!”
Billy glared at his little brother. “Go or I’ll shoot you.” He waved the BB gun.
“I’m gonna tell Grandma Phyllis!”
“I don’t care if you tell her. Just go and shut the f**cking doors. Now!”
But before anybody could move, lightning struck again.
Outlined against the white flash in the doorway stood the creature.
Both Billy and Richie screamed.
“Why didn’t Great-Great-Grandma Phyllis wake up when the lightning struck?” Johnny asked. “Or when Billy and Richie screamed?”
“Because she was as deaf as toast,” Harold said.
“Deaf as a post,” Granddaddy Bill put in. “Although toast probably doesn’t hear too good, either, come to think of it. Go on.”
“I bet it wasn’t as scary as the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park,” Johnny said.
“Shut up, Johnny. Well, there it was. Just like from the movie. Big, green, scaly, dripping water all over Grandma Phyllis’s Persian rug . . .”
Billy, even though terrified, whipped his Daisy air rifle up and fired. In his panic, he forgot to aim for the eyes, but the thing was so close he couldn’t miss.
He didn’t miss.
“Hey! Ow!” the Creature said.
The lights came back on.
The Creature, seven-feet-tall if it was an inch, rubbed at his chest with a webbed and clawed hand. Slimy water dripped out of its gills. It looked at Billy, who sat on the couch open-mouthed. “What’d you go and do that for? That stings.”
The Creature’s voice was burbly. He coughed, hawked, and spat something onto the rug. It was a crawfish. The mudbug bounced onto its back. Righted itself, then scuttled backward under the couch. “Shoulda chewed you better,” the monster said.
“Grandma Phyllis is gonna be mad about the wet rug,” Richie said. “And she don’t let us bring crawfish into the house. Or snakes.”
“Why don’t you put that thing away,” the Creature said. He waved at Billy.
Billy had forgotten to recock his gun anyway, he was so surprised.
The Creature said, “Boy, it’s a terrible night out there. Got the gar all stirred up.”
Billy and Richie looked at each other.
“You can talk. How come you didn’t talk in the movie?” Richie asked.
“Oh, you saw that? I thought I did okay, but I’m not writing my acceptance speech, if you know what I mean. Being mute, that was for dramatic effect,” the Creature said. “Director had his own ‘vision.’ Pah. Reason I don’t do much work out there, if I can help it. They all got ‘vision.’ Okay if I sit down?”
“On Grandma’s couch? Are you crazy? You’re all wet!” Billy was horrified.
“Yeah, well, I live in a f**king bayou, now, don’t I? What’d you expect? I’ll sit on the rug. It’s already wet.”
“Grandma’s gonna be mad.”
“Hey, I’m tired here. F**k Grandma.”
“Can’t,” Richie said.
“Can’t sit down?”
“No, can’t f**k Grandma. That’s what Granddaddy Carl says. That’s why he goes to the oil rigs so much,” Richie said.
The Creature laughed. It was a wheezy, wet sound, but it was a laugh. “Ah, your Granddaddy Carl, he’s a character. So he’s gone again, huh?”
“To the oil rigs,” Richie repeated.
“Just between us, kid, he stops off at a place in New Iberia on his way to the rigs. A fancy cathouse -- not that I’ve been there myself. Guy like me doesn’t have to pay for it.”
“Pay for what?” Billy asked. “A cat?”
“Why would he do that? Granddaddy doesn’t even like cats,” Johnny added.
The Creature made that wheezy, wet sound again.
“What’s so funny?”
“Give it a few years, kid, you’ll understand when you’re older.”
The boys looked at each other. Mom and Dad said that a lot.
The Creature sat. He crossed his legs. A puddle formed around his body on the rug. “I don’t suppose either of you play chess?”
“No. But we play poker. Granddaddy Carl taught us.”
“No sh*t? Hey, great. Get the cards. Play for matches?”
“You have matches?”
“Do I look like I have a lot of use for matches, kid? We’ll use yours. I’ll give ‘em back after I win.”
“Billy. My name is Billy. This is Richie.”
“Billy. Richie. I’m Howie. I usually play chess with your Granddaddy, but poker is okay.”
“You play chess with Granddaddy Carl? He knows about you?”
“Sure. We’ve been playing for years. Usually on rainy summer nights. When lightning strikes the water out there, it gets real uncomfortable, you know? Dead fish floating around, the gar get to snapping at everything, the turtles get spastic. Tingles like hell, too. You know how nasty garfish can be when they get squirrely? Like big ole mosquitoes. Not to even mention the ‘gators. I try to avoid the place until the lightning stops. So, you want to play poker or what?”
“I’ll get the cards,” Richie said.
“That’s three matches to you,” Billy said.
“Keep your pajamas on, I’m thinking here,” Howie said. He looked at his cards. Howie had at least one ace, Billy knew, because the fish man had accidentally put a claw mark on the back of it a couple of hands back and Billy saw it. Probably had a pair of aces, since it was jacks or better to open and he’d opened.
“I think you’re bluffing,” Howie said. “I see your three and raise you two.”
He tossed five matches into the pot.
“I fold,” Richie said. He threw his cards down on the rug. “All I had was a f**king pair of threes.”
“Don’t say f**k,” Billy said.
“Howie says it. Granddaddy Carl says it. Daddy says it, you say it -- ”
“They’re grownups and I’m older than you. You can’t say f**k until you’re at least nine.”
“You said it last year when you were eight,” Richie allowed.
“Fine. When you’re eight, you can, but since you’re only six, you can’t, so shut up.” To Howie, he said, “Okay, I’ll see your two and raise you two more.”
Howie glanced down at his cards, then at Billy, then back at his cards again.
Billy kept his poker face on, just like Granddaddy Carl had taught him.
“All right. Take it.” Howie tossed his cards face down. “I had a pair of aces. What did you have?”
“You gotta pay to see ‘em,” Billy said.
“Jeezus, kid, who do you think you are? Bret Maverick? We’re playing for matches here!”
“Well, okay. I had two pair, sixes and nines.” He turned his cards over.
“Your Granddaddy teach you how to deal from the bottom when he showed you how to play this game? Gimme the cards. My deal. Five card draw, nothing is wild, jacks or better.”
Howie picked up the deck. Considering how big his hands were and his claws and all, he shuffled pretty good. He started to deal, but Billy stopped him. “Don’t I get to cut?”
Howie shook his head. He looked up at the ceiling. “Spare me. Amarillo Slim here thinks I’m cheating for matches.” The crawfish he’d coughed up earlier suddenly scuttled out from under the couch. Billy didn’t know where it thought it was going. Howie reached over, real fast, and grabbed the crawfish. It wriggled in his claws for a second before he popped it into his mouth and ate it. It crunched in his teeth as he chewed. “Gotcha this time, Houdini.” Howie said.
“Eyuuw,” Richie said.
“Tastes just like chicken, kid. Here, cut.”
Lying in bed, propped up on four pillows, Granddaddy Bill smiled. “Pass me the toddy, would you Harold?”
The old man took a big drink. “Ah. Okay. So then what happened?”
Johnny lost all his matches trying to draw to an inside straight pretty early. After Billy cleaned Howie out on a hand of showdown, Howie said, “Jeezus. Beaten by a nine-year-old kid.” He glanced at the ceiling, then outside through the French doors. “Still coming down pretty good out there. You know where your Granddaddy keeps the chess board?”
“Sure. Under the kitchen cabinet, next to the bug spray and the Old Crow and Camels.”
“Why don’t you run get it and I’ll teach you how to play. Maybe I can beat you at that. So far this evening, my ego’s getting the sh*t kicked out of it.”
“Go get it, Richie,” Billy said.
“Why do I have to go get it? It’s dark in the kitchen. I’m afraid.”
“You’re stupid, you know that? What are you afraid of? We got a monster sitting right here on the rug with us. What could be worse in the kitchen?”
“Thanks, kid. You ain’t no prize yourself, you know. Some jug must be real unhappy you swiped its handles for your ears.”
“Go on, Richie.”
Richie went and got the chess board.
“Okay, here’s the deal. These are the pawns, they only move like this . . .”
Howie won all the chess games, but that was okay. They played for a long time. Richie fell asleep on the floor and Howie put him on the couch and covered him with the sheet. A little while later, the rain stopped, and just before dawn, they heard somebody flush the toilet down the hall.
“Unless that gimpy little dog is a lot smarter than it looks, that’s your granny. I better hit the water, kid. I don’t want the old lady to find me here. Carl would never hear the end of it. Probably ought to keep this visit to yourself, too.”
He stood, pretty dry now, though the rug was still wet.
“Thank you for teaching us how to play chess, Howie.”
“No sweat, kid. Thanks for the poker game. Billy, right? See you later.”
The sun wasn’t up but it was getting light. Billy watched as Howie padded across the squishy back yard, opened the gate and closed it behind himself, then wadded into the bayou. After a second, he disappeared into the murky water.
Grandma was mad about the rug and she took away Billy’s BB gun for three days but that didn’t really matter -- he didn’t much need the gun after that.
What was going to bother them with Howie around?
“That’s a pretty good story,” Granddaddy Bill said. “You think it’s true?”
Both Harold and Johnny laughed.
“Come on, Granddaddy! A seven-foot-tall monster coming out of the bayou? No way,” Harold said.
“And not even as scary as a dinosaur,” Johnny added.
“Oh, really?” said a burbly voice from behind them.
Harold and Johnny turned as one, eyes going wide.
“I got your Jurassic Park right here, kid,” the seven-foot-tall monster said.
“F**k!” Harold and Johnny said together.
Granddaddy Carl laughed so hard that some of the toddy came out of his nose, but after that everything was just fine. Howie and Granddaddy Carl played chess.
Granddaddy Carl beat him two out of three.
“I never should have taught you this game,” the Creature said.
And, when you got right down to it, the summer turned out not to be so boring after all.

I wrote this story in memory of my grandfather, Carl Perry, (1901-1993) the man whose first and last names I bear. As a boy, I remember him as a grizzled and funny-smelling old man. He taught my brother and me how to fish, how to use a lasso like a cowboy and how to whistle a quail right up to the back door of his house. He also told us stories of his life, a life that had been more than a little colorful and more than a little adventurous -- his story of how he spent the night in a South American jail was racist, sexist, and side-splittingly funny.

The majority of incidents in this story never happened; nonetheless, they are all true.


Writers mine their own lives for material -- they have to -- in a world with only three plots, what makes my story different than yours is that I am telling it. My spin is what makes it unique. (And not "more unique" or "less unique." The word brooks no qualifier. It's like the term "complete stop." Silly -- either you stop or you don't; a thing is unique or it isn't.)

Mm. Anyway, finding old recollections among the ruins of my dwindling mind and putting them down here is one of the ways to save them against the day when I'll be competely overdrawn at the memory bank.

If I can recall where I put the files ...

Great thing about getting older is that you can finally sing all the bass parts of the old rock songs. Bad thing is, you can't remember the words to the songs ...

An aid to this self-exploration is the great, free program, Google Earth. You download this, install it, and then you have access to real-view maps of the world, and can zoom in from thousands of miles up to, in some cases, close enough to see what kind of car is parked in somebody's driveway. Big Brother is watching us all. There are spysats that are a lot sharper -- they can tell which newspaper you are reading out back in the lawn chair, see the glow of a cigarette tip when you sneak out for a smoke late at night.

Want to see what the house you grew up in looks like today? Plug in the address and go see.

One rainy afternoon when I should have been working on a book, I went instead into map-land and found all the places I have lived, from the time I was born until now. Some of them are long gone -- torn down for freeway overpasses or department stores, or in some cases, just burned, leveled, the ashes scattered and the earth salted.

It is pretty amazing to be able to fly across a virtual county and get an overhead view of the house my grandma owned on River Road in Lafayette, Louisiana in 1957, where my little brother and I took our BB guns to the bayou (the Vermilion River) and shot snakes and caught catfish and gar, as fresh-faced lads. We slept in a room with French doors, through which you could see the moonlight glint off the oily, muddy-brown water, Daisy air rifles next to us in case the Creature from the Black Lagoon decided to drop round. I used to believe that a well-placed BB from ole Betsy would actually stop the thing.

In fact, that house is the setting for a short story I once wrote about exactly that, a late night visit by the creature to a pair of young brothers: "A Few Minutes in Granddaddy's Old House on Black Bottom Bayou ..."

My tribute to Goldman's Princess Bride.

Hmm. I think I have softcopy of that somewhere. Maybe I'll put it up on the blog. It was kinda funny.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Blind Whitebread Perry

So, I took the pups out for their walk, and we went down a street we normally don't travel. Maybe a quarter, half a mile from here, just ambling along, picking a few blackberries for the dogs to munch on, like that. Cool out, cloudy,

And I happened to spot what looked like a bike path I'd never noticed before, not marked on the street, so we trundled on down it, to see where it went.

And there is a huge nature park there. At least as big as our whole neighborhood, forest, stream, winding paths, that goes on way the hell and gone.

We wandered around for almost an hour. I couldn't believe it.

Twenty-five years we've lived in this house, and less than half a mile away, this place, and I never had a clue. Amazing.

Blinded Us With Science

Had an amusing discussion with somebody recently about the -- ho, ho -- science of Star Trek and Star Wars.

To wit: There really isn't much of that in either.

I think this is akin to the old saying, "Well, if I had known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself."

Simple, really. When Roddenberry set out to do Star Trek, and Lucas Star Wars, neither of them had a clue how the franchises would burst out all over and become the roaring successes they became. In fact, ST faded before rebounding, and SW's surprised GL no end. There's a story that he was agog at the long lines waiting to get in to see the first movie.

You're kidding, right? For our movie? Really?

Who could have known?

And in both cases, there was such a rapid snowball effect that subsequent efforts to rein it all in were doomed, at least insofar as story lines and What They Were Stuck With.

Anybody remember the green pooka from Marvel? The alien Odo who could liquify himself and sleep in a milk carton if he wanted?

Think about it. If you have on your space ship a device that will, with a spoken command, produce a cup of Earl Gray tea, cup and all out of thin air -- that alone makes the rest of your ship a stone axe by comparison. If you can transport matter, including humans, by teleportation, you don't need photon torpedoes or phasers banks, all you need to do is materialize anything solid into the the hull of your enemy's ship -- a styrofoam cup will do it -- and boom ...

Unless you have a monster containment field inside your Star Destroyer, hauling an enemy vessel into your cargo hold is a good way to end the movie before it gets going. All they have to do is go boom and take you with them ...

And, and of course, there is all that sound in deep vac ...

One day, you look up and realize you have this juggernaut and maybe you'd better try to give it some kind of continuity. Adjust the star dates. Come up with a reason why the Klingons evolved major head ridgery in just a few short years.

Explain how the Imperial Storm Troopers who can shoot with pinpoint-accuracy can't hit a seven-foot-tall corridor-blocking Wookie at thirty feet with twenty guys blazing away. Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder could have taken turns hitting Chewy and the gang that close ...

There have been books and TV shows trying to explain the science of ST and SW's and good luck with that. Reverse-engineering, after years of listening to folks try to explain why it can't possibly work.

Had they known going in that there was going to be movies, TV, books, games, comics, T-shirts, lunch pails, coffee cups, bedsheets and pajamas enough to fill an oil tanker, maybe they would have tried to lay things out differently up front. Put more thought into stuff from the start.

Or, maybe not. Maybe that was -- and is -- part of their charm. After all, it's the story that matters, the characters, and all the techno-stuff isn't really that important. Kirk and Spock and McCoy and the rest are why we went there. How was the Vulcan going to pull the dammit-I'm-a-doctor-Jim!'s chain this week? Would Spock break down and show emotion?

Tell me you weren't thrilled to see Spock's grinning face after he thought he had killed Kirk in the duel on Vulcan: "Jim!" That, and Spock standing up and straghtening his tunic after he was cooked and blinded saving the Enterprise?

High points in the series. None higher.

It's Luke and Obi-wan, Darth and the Emperor, Han, Chewy, Leia, Landro, Artoo and Threepio -- they are why the movie sucked us in and made us care.

The essence of fiction is in the characters; how they live, how they die, and how they change along the way. All the rest of it runs a distant second.

Monday, August 06, 2007

It's the Real Thing

Being a child of the fifties growing up in the deep south, naturally I drank a lot of fizzy soft drinks. They started us early down there -- Coke was routinely put into baby bottles, which was probably why, at our first dentist visit, our mouths had as many cavities as we did teeth.

In those hot and muggy summers, before air conditioning was common, you drank a lot of iced drinks -- Coke, tea, lemonade, even water, if you were desperate.

As a small boy, my brother and I got half a Coke each, after supper. My mother, clever about such things, let one of us pour while the other got to choose which half he wanted; I learned exactly how much constituted half a six-ounce Coke by eyeballing it real quick. Heaven forbid that my little brother should get the least tiny bit more than I did, even a micro-ounce.

And "Coke" was the generic term for soda pop. You didn't ask somebody if he wanted a soft drink, you said, "Yon'ta Coke? What kind? Seven-Up? Dr. Pepper?"

Coca Cola was king. Still is. There were others: Seven-Up if you didn't want cola, or Dr. Pepper if you wanted it as thick as it came; Pepsi, RC, Barq's Root beer, Nehi Orange or Grape, a veritable plethora of bubbly, sugary, flavored water.

The sweet road to diabetes and rotten teeth.

I drank enough of it to float a battleship over the years. At my peak, I inhaled ten or twelve cans a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. On a bet once, I went a weekend without, and it almost killed me ...

You didn't get a sugar spike and then a letdown, because you kept it constantly flowing all day.
Full-on spike, morning to night ...

Eventually, I looked up and realized this was maybe not a good thing, healthwise, so I resolved to quit. Tapered off by doing diet Cola -- which is awful, vile stuff -- and eventually, ten or twelve years ago, I stopped -- save for a rare one now and again. They don't taste as good as they did when I have one, which is good.

Enter my son, the serpent in the Garden, who found out that Costco now sells Mexican Coca Cola, which is the old formulation, using cane sugar instead of high fructose syrup like USA Coke now does.

Down in Atlanta, where Coke is headquartered, they say you can't tell the difference, but you know they have to be smiling when they say that, fingers crossed behind their backs, 'cause you sure as hell can.

So my son, the serpent, bought several cases -- and brought one over for me.

I am limiting myself to one bottle a week.

"Hi. I'm Steve, and I'm a Cokeaholic."

"Hi, Steve ..."


So, here's the YouTube trailer for the online Star Trek: New Voyages -- "World Enough, and Time."

And here's some of what I had to say about it to my collaborator, who gave me a bit part V.O. in it -- along with a couple of explanatory asides:

Okay, so the disk got here and I watched the three-hanky episode you did ...

It looks terrific. Nice effects, great sets, sound and graphics work well. It has the feel of the old Trek series as well as the appearance: Score one for the kids who went out to the barn to put on a show.

There are places where each of the main actors captures a gesture or look or even the voice cadence of the old actors. Lim's Sulu, and Quinn's Spock do that the best; Root's Scott was a little too burred, but not far behind them; even Cawley's Kirk has his moments. I didn't see much of that with Uhuru. Kelly's McCoy had the look, but none of the voice or mannerisms.

Chekov sounded like he should be chasing Moose and Squirrel ...

Christina Moses is gorgeous, but she made the rest of them look bad, and she stole every scene she was in.

And of course, the script was ... okay ...

Here, the obligatory comment about the peak moment being when the Shuttlecraft Pilot spoke, after which it all went way down in quality ...

(This is an old joke, based on a story about an actor with a bit part as an ambulance driver in Tennessee Williams's "A Streetcar Named Desire." When somebody asked him what the play was about, he said, "Well, it's about this ambulance driver who takes a crazy woman to the asylum ...")

But you know what? It was a hoot, and I enjoyed it. Yeah, I sometimes worried that the sets were going to collapse onto the crew, what with all the scenery they were chewing, but that was part of the old show, as well, which acting was more than a few times a tad over the top.

(And save for a couple of pros, all the actors here are doing it for love -- they have other jobs, don't get paid, and even have to pay their own way to the shoot, plus hotels and food, so that needs to be kept in mind when rating their performances.)

Trek fans will, I think, enjoy this when it comes out as a streaming vid on August 23rd.

... Book by Its Cover, part two

Oh, yeah, here's another of my favorite covers, for The 97th Step. It's a full-wrap montage by Royo, and I really liked it when it came out.

A few thing about the illustration:

There isn't a guy who looks like Mel Gibson with a bandage on his hand in the book; nor, is there a girl in a jumpsuit doing a martial arts' pose.

Nary a dogfight in space between two ships.

No semi-nude dancer waving a big pink bedsheet about.

Not a burning city anywhere.

There are planets and moons and like that, but that's it.

Even so, it's a great cover. Why? Because anybody capable of reading the novel will surely get that it is a science fiction book -- if they didn't figure that out by where it was shelved -- and maybe that it is interesting enough to open it.

If I don't snag you with the first line -- "The slaver was about to buy trouble, only he didn't know it yet." so you want to read the next graph, and then after that, to turn the page, and keep reading the scene to find out what happens to the slaver, then you can't blame the cover artist, that's on me.

And if I can't keep you reading to the end, to the point where you don't think about the cover again and realize none of it is in the book? my fault, too ...