Wednesday, October 31, 2007
So, All Hallows Even, Hallowe'en, tomorrow being All Hallows (or All Saints) Day, and a time when the spirits stir and the little children are out guising and collecting tooth decay.
They come to the door saying "Trick or treat!" but the smaller ones don't know what that means. If you say "Trick!" I'm guessing they wouldn't have any idea why. Not that I would say that. They might cry. We hit Costco for the good stuff and give it all away, lest we wind up eating it ourselves ...
Big holiday for me, as I have said. And for the last dozen years or so, I've carved a pumpkin for the door stoop, lit it up with either candles or glow sticks, and waited for the patter of little feet, along with those of their parents, who stand behind the half-pints encouragingly. Starts at dark, is generally over by eight. Now and then, a couple of older children show up past that.
At midnight, I'll be writing my annual entry into the Hallowe'en journal and looking for Houdini to drop round and say hello ...
Above, a montage of some of the previous jacks 'o the lantern. Soon as I get today's sliced into shape, I'll put an image of it up.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
So the High Sheriff next county over -- Multnomah, which includes Portland, OR -- is under fire. If I had to bet, I'd say that pretty soon, he'll be losing his badge. In this case, this isn't the same as being fired or recalled; state law is kinda strange about such things -- you can't run for the office if you aren't state-certified as a law enforcement officer, but once you have the gig, there's no law says you have to stay certified. He could lose his badge and technically continue on as sheriff, though probably he'd resign.
The sheriff, call him Bernie, has obviously run afoul of some folks with clout, and it sure seems to me from reading between the lines that somebody set out to get him big-time -- and all but has.
Work as an elected official, you are going to piss some folks off, and since you live under a microscope, if they want to find some dirt, chances are they can. Everybody I know has a few skeletons in their closet they wouldn't want dragged out into the cold light of day.
Bernie is under siege for rather interesting reasons. There was a laundry list of complaints, most of which were quickly dismissed. The two most important ones seem to be these: A few years back, the former governor of the state, let's call him ... Neil ... went public with a nasty revelation (only because a local weekly muckraking rag was about to put it into print): Seems that when Neil was the mayor of Portland, back in the early 1970's, he had a sexual relationship with someone not his wife.
That someone was a fourteen-year-old girl, the daughter of a campaign worker.
By general accounts, the girl was advanced for her age and already sexually active, but still -- she was fourteen.
Not the smartest move for a politician, statutory rape.
This was mostly kept hushed up, but when Fred, a speechwriter for the governor who seemed to feel as if he had not gotten proper respect during the administration came forward to indicate that the secret wasn't entirely so, the shit hit the fan. Lots of it, blades whirling on high speed, and anybody remotely connected to it ducked and ran for cover.
Legally, there was nothing to be done: after thirty years, the statute of limitations was long-expired. Neil had provided a certain amount of financial support for the girl/woman over the years, for counseling and such, and while the new knowledge put a major tarnish on his halo, he wasn't going to go to jail. He might be disbarred as a lawyer, but he was retired anyhow.
The questions then became: Who knew what? and When did they know it? Lotta folks being tarred with that brush at the moment, including the current governor of the state.
The local Portland paper, scooped and beaten to the punch by the weekly and in high dudgeon because of it, unleashed the hounds. People talked, complaints were lodged, and as is now coming to light, Bernie's assertations that he only found out about the affair at a late date seem to have been less than forthcoming.
See, Bernie was the Guv's driver/bodyguard when he was in the Oregon State Police, and privy to information most folks didn't hear. It was his job to protect the Guv, and one of the threats would have been a young woman stepping up and allowing as how the Guv had been her lover when she was in junior high. And since she apparently called from time-to-time, it was a real worry. At least as much trouble as getting caught toe-tapping in the airport toilet stall. Oregonians aren't bothered overmuch by gay folks; sleeping with the children by adults is frowned upon.
Apparently there was some chance of this all coming to light, and the Guv bowed out of a second term election, ostensibly to spend time working on his failing marriage.
To complicate things more, Bernie was also spending a lot of time with the Guv's then-wife, Margie, shuttling her back and forth and what-not, and the what-not eventually became what-ho ...
Bernie allows as how he did have an affair with Margie, but only after she and her husband split up. Bernie was unmarried.
Other sources have indicated that the affair began well before the Neil/Margie split. Margie refuses to address it, saying it is nobody's business.
At some point, these rumors got back to Bernie's boss in the state police, and when called on the carpet and asked about it, he denied it. Nope. Not shagging the boss's wife, nossir. And that was the end of that, far as OSP were concerned.
Because my wife used to be a lobbyist and worked for the Guv, I met and talked to all these folks at one time or another back in the late eighties when Neil was running the state.
Bernie and I used to stand around and talk handgun ballistics at various state functions when he was working and I was arm-candy for my wife.
I didn't know about the Guv's previous affair at the time, of course, not being close to any of the players. And stuff like this goes right over my wife's head -- she was stunned when she found out about the Guv when it hit the papers. Most of his staff never had a clue.
It's a shame how all this old karma slouches round to ensnare folks long after the deeds. Bernie didn't have anything to do with the original crime; nor was he required to say anything once he found out, because the statute had expired; however, when asked about it, he apparently said he didn't know, and it is now coming to light that he did. The certification board holds LEO's to a higher standard, and they frown upon lying to investigators.
So it looks as if it's gonna cost him his job. Too bad. I liked the guy. He was sharp, ambitious, and knew his handguns. And once again, the chickens came home to roost.
Karma, like rust, never sleeps.
Punkin - BeforeTomorrow is Hallowe'en, which I have always considered my holiday. There are several things that tend to re-enforce the meaning of this date, not the least of which is that is my son's birthday and my daughter's wedding anniversary. I'll carve my jack-o-lantern, stand by for the few trick-or-treaters we'll get, and get into the spirit -- so to speak -- of the day.
As a boy, going trick or treating was probably at its acme of popularity -- come Hallowe'en night, the streets of our town turned into a giant party -- every child who could walk was out. It lasted until nine or ten p.m. Nearly every house participated, and those who turned off their lights and refused to open the doors generally had their screens soaped.
Those of you who didn't grow up in mosquito-ridden place where every house had door and window screens, such covers were fine wire mesh, usually steel. Soaping a screen involved taking a bar of soap and dragging it back and forth over the mesh. Such an act left a visible mark like chalk, and if you then washed the screens, the mark would be cleaner than the rest, so you couldn't get rid of the mark without scrubbing the hell out of the whole thing.
No treat? Here's your trick.
Um. Anyway, when I got to be a little older, I had a buddy, and he and I, at some point when we moved to different cities, started a correspondence, and on Hallowe'en, we'd each sit down at midnight and write a spook-inspired letter to the other. Silly stuff, but we were young and full of ourselves.
In the early seventies, my buddy and I had a falling out, and stopped talking to each other. By then, the Hallowe'en letter tradition had become firmly established in my mind, and I decided to continue it, after a fashion. I bought a journal, and come the witching hour on the eve'n of All Hallows, I wrote my letter -- I just didn't send it.
From 1973 until now, I have done an entry each year.
Mostly these are ruminations on old memories, a quick sketch of what is happening in my life, viz: family, work, and play; a few reality tags -- I can tell you what the weather was like where I was every Hallowe'en for the last thirty-odd years.
Sometimes the jottings are only a page or so long, most of them handwritten. Sometimes they run longer, and couple of them were done on a keyboard and printed out, then stapled into the book
On some level, I think I had a vision of my old ex-friend reading the journal and understanding how deeply the loss of our friendship had scored me. But he died a couple years back, so that won't happen.
I write the entry at midnight. Usually, I then go for a walk around whatever neighborhood I'm in, generally that's at home. I open myself up for anything paranormal that might happen. A couple times, I have taken a drive to a graveyard or a mortuary, in an attempt to see if any haunting will take place. (Thus far, contact with the spiritual realms has been less than successful. A couple of years ago, after my buddy died, I walked to the duck pond. "Okay, I said to myself, "I've been waiting for a call from spook central for a long time. If you are out there, give me a sign."
At which point there was a huge splash from the pond, as if somebody had dropped a refrigerator into it from a great height --
Holy shit! I grabbed my flashlight and lit it ...
There was a beaver in the water, and it had apparently decided to smack its tail upon the surface at just that moment.
Coincidence? Probably, but I can understand how somebody looking for such things might be convinced. Not a full-blown ectoplasmic manifestation, but ...)
Some years I have been away from home, but I've taken my book, written my entry, and strolled, looking.
Come tomorrow, if I am still here, I'll do it once again.
As Vonnegut liked to say, and so it goes ...
Monday, October 29, 2007
So, when the new Aliens versus Predator: Requiem movie comes out, there will eventually be a DVD/BlueRay of it. As you most likely know, on the expanded versions of these things, there are sometimes bonus features: outtakes, director's comments, and interviews with assorted folks connected to the project -- actors, producers, writers, all like that.
As it happens, in theory, I'm supposed to be interviewed for this project, as one of the writers in the Aliens, Predator, and Aliens versus Predator universes. (All of which are tradmarked and copyrighted, by the by.)
My contribution here is tiny. My daughter, who writes under several names, (mostly "S.D. Perry,") and I did the novelization of the AvP graphic novel(s) for the first AvP book, in 1994.
What this means is, we translated the comics into book form. The credit mostly goes to the artists, writers, editors, and publisher at Dark Horse Comics -- guys like Chris Warner, who came up with the idea, Randy Stradley, and Mike Richardson. They did the heavy lifting.
The one thing that we added of which we were proud was the first interior look at the Predator culture. We wanted one of the viewpoint characters to be a Predator, and in order to make that work, we had to get inside his head.
The powers-that-were at the time didn't want us to do that, but we did it anyway, and it turned out they liked it, and the fans liked it, so we didn't get fired. (That's happened on other projects, they didn't't want something, but once they saw how it played, decided it was worth keeping. Remind me to tell you the Shadows of the Empire story about the droids flying the Falcon.)
The Predator revelations spawned some controversy at the time, but eventually came to be accepted and used by other writers. Not movie canon -- yet, anyhow -- but if you goggle "yautja," which is the name we came up with for the Predator species, you get more than 82,000 links, so it's definitely out there now.
We tried to come up with a background that used what had been shown in the movies and comics, to make the Predators characters to whom readers could relate. And my daughter did most of the work.
We were pleased with the results, and it seemed to work. Last time I looked, the first AvP novelization -- Aliens Versus Predator: Prey was up to twenty-something printings ...
Friday, October 26, 2007
Had a small discussion going on Dan'l's blog recently about bars and booze, and he allowed as how he'd be uncomfortable owning or running a bar, because of some moral qualms about serving alcohol to drunks.
Fair enough. I'd have trouble working in a butcher shop, or driving a truck for Phillip Morris.
My contention is that the guy who bellies up and asks for a cold one is solely responsible for his own actions. Assuming he's not a child, mentally-impaired, or a criminal, nobody should be allowed to tell him what he can or cannot do as long as he isn't transgressing against the rights of others.
Laws, in my mind, should be designed to protect people from each other; not to protect sane adults from themselves.
Read: If somebody drives drunk or stoned and puts somebody else at risk or actually causes them injury or death, then he should get nailed for it. I got nothing against the laws that are designed to keep the inebriated from getting behind the wheel.
This is a big can of worms vis a vis personal responsibility. In my view, if you are an adult in our society, you are on the hook for your actions. You have to take care of your own business, and if it slops over onto somebody else and causes them problems, unless they volunteered to clean up after you, then you have to do it.
The Frankenstein Concept: You create it, you take care of it. If you have a big rock to roll up the hill, you can hope for aid, you can ask for it, but your neighbor down the street doesn't owe it to you to add a shoulder, it's his option.
You don't get to make your problem into my problem unless I offer.
And there are different places to draw the lines. This doesn't mean that you can't help your neighbor if he falls in a hole. Nor that as a functional member of society, you don't have some dues to pony up to enjoy the benefits. Yeah, I hate taxes, but I pay 'em -- that's part of the deal. And yes, we need national health insurance, because it is criminal to have people who can't afford medical care sick or dying when they could be helped. Our country is too rich to be shoving folks off the sled for the wolves.
Starting wars for fun and profit is evil. Evil.
Guy who sells cigarettes, knowing they are poison? Not as evil, because that includes every checkout clerk in nearly every corner grocery, supermarket and 7-Eleven in the country. Do I blame them for death by cancer or emphysema? No. They didn't go out and pull a gun on people and force them to light up.
Guy who buys and tokes on coffin nails these days? He doesn't get to bitch about it if he gets sick from smoke -- it says right on the package the things are going to kill him, anybody with the brain of a turnip knows this, and if he is willing to risk that they won't? It's on him. I'll be sorry that he didn't get that, but it's not my fault.
Guy with heart-disease wants to chow down every day on a couple Triple Whoppers with Cheese and Bacon, that's his choice. If he does so knowing the risks and falls over with a plugged-up coronary artery? Whose fault is it? Not the kid flipping burgers for minimum wage, and not the Burger King Himself. We live in the information age -- if you want to know about what is in your food, you can find out. If you don't care, that's a choice, too.
Like Baretta used to say, "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime."
(And yeah, yeah, I know that Blake got off ...)
Thursday, October 25, 2007
So, a note from our editor Shelly, at Del Rey: Star Wars: Death Star will hit the New York Times Bestseller List on 11/4 in the #15 hardback slot, with an asterisk (*) -- which means sales of it and the one just above it are essentially the same.
Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. We'll take it.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
So, the book signing last night at Powell's went well. We talked, answered questions, autographed a bunch of books, and then the science fiction guy at Powell's, Peter, and members of our honor guard, from the 501st Stormtrooper Legion (Cloud City) took us to dinner. My son shot a few pictures, including the bookstore crew and our escort ...
Sunday, October 21, 2007
So, Michael Reaves, my sometime-collaborator and long-time friend, is coming up from L.A. for a short visit. We have a book-signing on the Star Wars novel at the local Powell's next week, and will hang out for a few days bracketing that.
Reaves and I go back almost thirty years. We have collaborated on several novels, short stories, and a bunch of kidvid animation for the tube. Currently, we are working on a fat fantasy novel, the first draft of which I hope to have done by Christmas. (Since this book is being written on- spec and not on a deadline, we may do something with it we haven't done in a while -- have people read it and offer comments we can use for the rewrite. More on that as it develops.)
Kicking around with an old pal for a few days will disrupt my home-alone-hermit-routine a bit, but is not that much of a challenge to an introvert.
Last night, Dianne and I went to a birthday party for a woman we know, a real sweetheart, Nancy. She and her husband Bob are great to sit down and visit with, smart, funny, talented, but in a house full of people, most of whom Dianne and I didn't know, we realized once again how tiring that small-talk party experience can be. Bright folks -- lawyers, doctors, singers, musicians, artists, teachers, but above our critical mass.
After a while, it starts to become for us a Phil Spector production: A wall of sound ...
Highlight of the gathering was when Bob gave Nancy a kitten; last year, they lost both their cats on the same day. One was terminally ill and had to be put down. The other was hit by a car while they were at the vet's. New kitty is nine weeks old, adorable, and named "Ella," after the jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald.
Um. Anyway, what I find is that I am much better talking to folks one-on-one, or in small groups, and especially with folks who share likes or values. Talking to writers. Discussing current event with somebody who keeps up. Having a beer with the silat gang. At science fiction conventions when I have what they call Small Group sessions.
At a gathering full of strangers, I tend to become a wallflower ...
Friday, October 19, 2007
Though I pick on the kid now and again, Bobbe Edmonds, a silat teacher up in Washington state, now and again, like the blind pig, finds an acorn. He's made an arrangement with an Indonesian bladesmith, and soon will begin importing and offering for sale some quality knives of special interest to silat players.
I had a chance to see and handle a few of these, and they will be well-worth the cost.
Go have a look -- scroll down to Weapons of Indonesia.
For various reasons, we have been unable to make it to the gym in recent times. Months, actually. I've been making do at home, with the climbing rope, chins, push ups, silat, walking the dogs, like that. Every now and then, a few squats with the light barbell behind the house. Other than that, no iron.
Last evening, we gathered our forces and hit the weight room at the local parks and rec place, in Cedar Hills. This is an old primary school converted by the Tualatin Hills Park and Recrecation District. (THPRD.) Got a gym for basketball, classrooms to teach everything from crochet to yoga to bead-stringing, and a pretty good weight room -- lot of freeweights, cam/cable-machines, like that. Down the hall is an aerobics room, with stair climbers, stationary bikes, treadmills, and rowers.
Two surprising things about the visit:
First, I hadn't lost any strength. I was able to warm back into my usual amount of weight and sets. In fact, on the pull-down stuff, like the lat machine, I was a bit stronger. That last by itself didn't surprise me, given the rope and chins, but that my leg-press was no weaker did.
Second thing was, we now qualify for the senior discount ...
On the one hand, that's ... well, not-so-thrilling. On the other hand, I'm gonna be this old anyhow, so getting the discount saves some money.
And, by the way, the parks & rec gym is the way to to go. It's not sexy, people tend to wear old sweats or raggy shorts, but it's seldom crowded, close by, and cheap. Since we live in the district and our tax dollars are already going to support the park system, that gets us the in-district rate. With the senior discount, that drops it into the sub-basement.
L.A. Fitness, just up the road from the place where we go, costs an arm and a leg. Light, airy, full of buff twenty-somethings all dressed in a couple hundred bucks worth of spandex or designer gear, it has cutting-edge machines -- and that let's-hook-up meat market feel. They want an initiation fee, then a fairly stiff monthly rate for the two of us.
To use the weight room at the park and recreation club? Five bucks a months each. Five. Beat that one.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
A while back, doing some research for an article on reading, I came across some interesting facts. The question had come up about whether the book publishing business was going the way of buggy whips and the dodo, and here's what I found:
If you are, say, forty years old, and if you read a book a day, every day, for the rest of your life, and if you live to be a hundred and fifty years old?
You won't be able to read all the books that were published in the United States last year ...
Of course, this number includes non-fiction, and a whole lot of drek; however, the publishing industry isn't about to go belly up just yet ...
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Writers generally are better served, in my opinion, if they pay no attention to book reviews, good or bad. Too late to do you any good anyhow, and you'll either get depressed or puffed up if you buy into whatever anybody offers in print.
That said, this one, I enjoyed. On a discussion board, somebody wrote in that he didn't like the Death Star book. Got this for his trouble:
"So you didn't like the book, waist (sic) of paper eh! You must read HARLEQUIN novels in a candle lit room while listening to LIonel Ritchie ballads. You must be one of those people that thinks THE CRYSTAL STAR was an amazing read (YUCK, HACK , PUKE). Get real man, DEATH STAR is the single most important book in the series since REVENGE OF THE SITH. Dude if you feel you can do any bettter than I implore you to rise to the challenge even if your vocabulary is limited to one sentence at a time(thats okay we can't all be literate like me), and write a short story about the Death Star worthy of praise and maybe I will admit you were right. Until then I don't think you read the book or maybe you would have given us an opinion instead of a shed tear. This is the gospel according to DARTH PIGLET, kneel and tremble before me HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!! "
I mean, how can you argue with that ... ?
So, I read Clapton's autobiography. Given what I already knew about him, much of it didn't come as a surprise -- it's the standard VH-1 Behind the Music arc:
Young Eric had a weird childhood -- grew up in a family believing that his grandmother was his mother. (And learned eventually that his older sister was, in fact, his real mother. Never knew his real father at all.)
He was a poor and rowdy kid -- smoked, shoplifted, vandalized train cars.
He learned how to play guitar, got into the blues, became rich and famous. Got stoned, addicted to alcohol, smoked too much, screwed up his relationships, cut a wide swath through groupies and high-profile beautiful women, and was a self-centered boob.
Eventually, after much heartache, Clapton got clean and sober. He settled down, married, had kids, and is by his own lights, finally a happy man, though it took him forty of his sixty-two years to get there.
Redemption, as it were, and better late than not at all.
Along the way, Clapton was in the Yardbirds, the Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Derek and the Dominos, Bonnie & Delaney, not to mention a pretty stellar solo career and playing on friends's albums. Got tagged with the name "Slowhand," for a reason I never knew. Saw graffiti on London buildings that said "Clapton is God!" when he was still in his twenties.
Given that I named one of my dogs after my favorite Clapton tune, I figured it was worth reading the book for that alone. And to hear his version of what happened to his son, Conor, who was the inspiration for "Tears in Heaven," a heartbreaker of a song for anybody who has ever lost a child or worried about it happening.
A few things I didn't know. He's apparently a pretty good fisherman and a bird hunter. The storybook tale of his romance with George Harrison's first wife, Pattie, was anything but hearts and flowers. (He wrote "Wonderful Tonight," for her, a lovely song. How he came to do so was because he was dressed and ready to go out and she kept changing her clothes, and he was pissed off about it. Hey, you look wonderful -- let's go! I love that one.)
On the one hand, Clapton always claimed that the music was the thing, and that he didn't care about having hit records if the music wasn't pure. On the other hand, he was unhappy when his records didn't do as well as he thought they should. No surprise he was conflicted by that.
And probably most interesting to me is that, throughout the book, he downplays his ability as a guitarist, over and over. Doesn't lay claim to any real skill, and in any comparison he makes with serious blues players, always ranks them higher than himself. He is lavish with such praise, from the old delta guys to Jimi Hendrix. By his lights, everybody could play better than he could, even when he was sober.
Before he was kicked out of school, he was studying to be an artist. His signature on the book's cover looks to me like a stylized guitar, and I wonder if he did that on purpose.
Worth a read if you are a Clapton fan -- he doesn't spare himself much, and it's a warts-and-all portrait.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Once upon a time, I had a friend. He was, I thought, the kind of guy who would come help me bury a body, no questions asked. A guy I would give up my right arm to save, if he needed it.
As these things sometimes happen, I came to realize that I was his friend, but he wasn't mine.
It was a long and painful and expensive lesson.
I won't bore you with the lurid details, but the gist of it was, he lied, cheated, stole, and put me and my family into legal jeopardy, and when push came to shove, left us holding the bag and ran like a rabbit. Brave Sir Robin ...
Eventually, he came back, but by then, I had stopped taking his calls. He pretended that he didn't understand why, and I smiled, was bland, and went on with my life, leaving him to cook in his own juices. Win some, lose some, and I had -- in a fashion -- won that one by bailing before I got burned any worse.
There came a point a few months later when I was passing his house one night and happened to notice a shiny new motorcycle parked in his driveway. He didn't have a job at the time, so I figured it was a visitor.
Nope. It was his, I discovered soon enough.
Man owed me money I had borrowed to lend to him, and was not paying it back -- never did. Every month when I wrote a check to the finance company, I got royally pissed off all over again.
Thinking about him riding his new motorcycle around did not help my calmness of thought in the least. He could afford a fucking Sportster and he couldn't pay me back? Oh, that was not a fun mindset for me, nosiree.
So. Another late evening, and I crouched in the bushes next to the driveway of my ex-friend's house, seriously considering whether or not I was going to dump half a pound of sugar into the bike's gas tank. (For those of you who don't know, this is supposed to be bad. It won't kill the engine immediately, but the story goes, once you shut the sucker off, the sugar'll crystallize all over everything, and required a complete take down to scrape off. Turns out, this is an urban legend: sugar doesn't dissolve in gasoline, and while it might clog the fuel lines like, say, sand would, it won't cause major problems. Not that I knew that at the time.)
I considered it. I could have done it easily without being detected.
But, after no small amount of consideration crouched in the bushes out there in the warm night, I decided not to do it. Turned and walked away.
In some religions, the thought is as bad as the deed, but I don't believe that, even though I do believe that bad thoughts don't help anything.
Why didn't I screw up the bike? It would have been justifiable payback in my mind for all the shit he had done. But I didn't, because our bonds had already unraveled, and I didn't want to do anything to connect us back together. I figured that he would self-destruct eventually, and when that happened, I did not want him to be able to point a finger at me and blame me for any of it.
Some crimes earn you a death sentence. Murdering a bunch of kids in a school. Blowing up buildings. Killing a cop during a robbery.
Some crimes not quite as bad can still earn a life sentence in the graybar hotel.
Fucking over your best friend might not get you stuck into a literal jail, but it does cost you.
Even so, sucker that I was, I would have forgiven the guy, if he had come to me hat in hand and apologized. For years, all it would have taken would have been, "Hey, Steve, I fucked up. I did a bunch of bad stuff to you, I know that, and I'm truly, truly sorry."
Really, that would have done it, if I had heard the ring of truth in it.
Never happened, of course, and twenty years later when he slouched round again, wondering what had gone wrong, I told him. Including the notion that an apology would have gone a long way to healing the rift. Too late at that point, of course, but even so, he still couldn't bring himself to admit that he had screwed up, and tried to lay it off on everybody he had known, including me.
Sure enough, though, my best old-ex-friend blew his own doors off. Became an alcoholic, got busted for various things, ran through four wives, fathered a bunch of children who didn't think highly of him. (And later in his life, a couple who did think that way, apparently.) Wound up working a job which was far beneath his ability, and died young, due to his own excesses. Had a strong family history of heart disease, but smoked like a chimney, and knew the risks.
Such a waste.
I skipped my personal retribution upon him because I figured his karma was so bad it would get him in this life time, and it did. And, while he had family and friends at the end who loved and respected him, he didn't earn redemption in my ledger.
I use this a cautionary tale now and again. Be careful of how you treat people, because some things you do will earn you a life sentence ...
An announcement, thanks to Todd:
Guru Stevan Plinck will be having a three-day Sera seminar, the second weekend of August, in 2008. I realize that's a long way off, but he'd like to get the word out early so that interested people can make travel plans.
It's open to Silat players in general and Sera stylists in particular.
We don't know everyone who is coming yet, but there will be participants from as far away as Italy and Scandinavia and quite a few from the Americas including (we hope) people like Guru Bob Vannata, Guru Bud Thompson and Guru Cliff Stewart. The schedule and particulars are still being worked out.
Stay tuned to this station for details ....
I'll be there, assuming I'm still around ...
EDITOR'S NOTE: An addendum, from Maha Guru Plinck:
"Hello everybody, I said specifically Sera Players and not all Silat players
at large. Of course this means everyone whom at one time I have shared my
knowledge with. So please correct this before this goes out into the main
stream. Also, the date I mentioned is not official yet because I may change my
mind due to other factors. In fact at this time the 3rd weekend of that same
month sounds better. Thanks, Stevan"
Monday, October 15, 2007
Friday, October 12, 2007
Now and then I get one of these how-it-used-to-be emails -- often from my Aunt Barbara. I thought this one was interesting -- what a difference a mere hundred years makes ...
The average life expectancy in the U.S. Was 47 years old.
14 percent of the homes in the U.S. had a bathtub.
8 percent of homes had a telephone.
A three-minute phone call from Denver to New York City cost eleven dollars.
There were only 8,000 cars in the U.S. , and only 144 miles of paved roads.
The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.
Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa, and Tennessee were each more heavily populated than California .
(With a mere 1.4 million people, California was only the 21st most populated state.)
The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.
The average wage in the U. S. was 22 cents per hour. The average U.S. worker made between $200 and $400 per year.
A competent accountant could expect to earn $2000 per year, a dentist made $2,500 per year,
a veterinarian $1,500 per year, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year.
More than 95 percent of all births in the U.S. took place at home.
Ninety percent of all U.S. Doctors had no college education -- instead, they attended medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press and the government as "substandard."
Sugar cost four cents a pound.
Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen.
Coffee was fifteen cents a pound.
Most women only washed their hair once a month, and used Borax or egg yolks for shampoo.
Canada passed a law that prohibited poor people from entering into their country for any reason.
Five leading causes of death in the U.S. were:
1. Pneumonia and influenza
4. Heart disease
The American flag had 45 stars.
Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Alaska hadn't been admitted to the Union.
The population of Las Vegas , Nevada , was only 30.
Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and iced tea hadn't been invented yet.
There was no Mother's Day or Father's Day.
Two out of every 10 U.S. adults couldn't read or write.
Only 6 percent of all Americans graduated from high school.
Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at the local corner drugstores. Back then pharmacists said:
"Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health."
There were 230 murders report in the United States that year.
Makes you wonder what it'll be like a hundred years from now, doesn't it?
Been kind of fun to watch the pre-pub sales numbers on Amazon.com for the upcoming Star Wars: Death Star, by my collaborator Reaves and Yours Truly. Month or two back, book was in the high ten-thousands, saleswise. Now it's nearing the top five hundred. We won't be rattling Stephen Colbert's cage, but with any luck, we'll sneak into the New York Times Bestseller List, which is always fun.
Were we getting a full royalty, that would be worth a nice piece of change. At our percentage, divided among us and our literary agent, we might make enough in the next couple of years to have dinner in an okay restaurant -- as long as we didn't leave the waitress too big a tip ...
Not griping here -- I don't get to do too much of that, I know people who'd kill their granny to trade places with me -- but noting that big sales number don't translate into big bucks when you work in somebody else's universe.
Once upon a time, it could. Back when nobody knew how to slice the royalty pie on tie-in books, the first Star Wars hardback novel made the writer a millionaire. Couple reasons for this: First, it was the only game in town -- so they sold a lot more copies of one title than they do today, with Star Wars books coming out each month to compete for reader dollars.
That one was #1 on the NYT List, too. The difference between the #1 book and the #2 or #3 is sometimes vast. Could be five or ten times as many copies laid down.
Second, back in the heyday, the writer got a much bigger slice of the profit. (Standard royalty on a hardback novel might be from a low of 10% to 12% up to maybe 15% of the cover price -- if you have an agent with clout. That has to be divided when the book is in a shared universe. The owner always gets a bigger chunk than the writer. Back then, the share was still in the owner's favor, but the writer did get more. As the process got rolling, the writer's number halved, then halved again, and in some universes, turned into a flat-fee, with no participation in the profit at all.)
When you get a book you came up with all on your own into the top five of the bestseller lists, you can live high on the hog. If it is a media tie-in somebody else's universe, you don't make enough to retire. I've been there with a dozen books, some of which even had my name on the cover, and alas, I am not rich, nor famous.
There is one nice perk: You do get to change your first name. After my first Star Wars novel was published, I was no longer "Steve," but "New York Times Bestselling Author Steve ... "
Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick ...
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Couple more optical thingees -- the first is just a funny reflection. The second is interesting because it demonstrates the gestalt principle of emergence: You either see it or you don't, and you don't assemble it piecemeal, spotting the parts and then mentally putting them together to make the dog. Lot of empty space that your mind fills in to get the image, but it's pretty much snap! there it is ...
I expect this partially why people can see Jesus or the Virgin Mary's image on a cookie or water-stain on the wall. They want to see it, and once they suggest that it's there, others see it, too.
Fascinating, as Mr. Spock would say ...
Some years ago, James Burke did a British television show called Connections. Showed up on PBS in the U.S., and was a fascinating exploration of the idea of gestalt, i.e., wherein the whole is viewed as more than the sum of its parts.
Above, a couple of classical optical illusions: Do you see a white vase? Or two sillhouetted faces? Easy to see both, if you look carefully.
See the old man smoking a pipe? Look a little closer ...
Burke would start with something like a flying buttress on a medieval castle, and through a series of clever links, show how it ended up in the development of television. I was always agog as I watched the show, as much for Burke's crisp and cleverly-offhand narration as the way things hooked together. This led to that; that led to those; those to these ... it was wonderfully-entertaining and never dull.
On a much smaller and more insignificant scale, my recent blog postings have been linked.
A comment on "Happy Feet," about old shoes, led me to post a picture of my oldest T-shirt, which has the sanskrit symbol om painted on it.
This brought up the .357 Magnum S&W gun grips upon which I scrimshawed the om symbol.
Which in turn brought up the rap song featuring a .357 S&W revolver. From a T-shirt to a rap song, in three steps. The six degrees of Kevin Bacon ...
Nothing major, just interesting to see my own mind work ...
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Somebody asked me recently about rap music. I got nothing against it, but, sixty-year-old white guy? Hip-hop belongs to folks with a different mind- and experience-set. I grew up with be-bop, early rock, and my music reached the high water mark with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
Still, following up on my point that a writer isn't bound by his birth, I did write a one-verse rap song once, just see if I could ...
I thought I'd died and gone to heaven/
When my bitch bought me a three-fifty-seven/
I got the Firestar, I got the Black Talon/
I shoot you one time, you gonna bleed by the gallon/
So listen to me boyz and you better learn the lesson/
'Cause I never walk alone, I walk with Smith and Wesson.
(And the girlz go: Smith and Wesson/Smith and Wesson/ dial it down, dial it down!/Smith and Wesson,)
So, you think Fiddy should be worried ... ?
Hand-painted at Casa del Gato,
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1973
Hand-painted at Casa del Gato,
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1973
I'm fond of looking at young folks who get uppity and saying, "Hey, kid -- I got shoes older than you!"
I might have some out in the garage in a box somewhere that actually are pretty ancient.
But I can change that to: "Hey, kid, "I got a T-shirt older than you are ..."
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Got an unexpected treat today -- an anthology, Wizards, Inc., from Daw Books, edited by Marty Greenberg and Loren Coleman, arrived in the mail. I have a story in it, called "Audition," a funny fantasy thing wherein a guy who works security for a big corporation has to deal with a series of magical attacks on the company.
I hadn't forgotten about the story exactly, but hadn't been tracking when it was due to be published, and lo, here it is.
The theme of the book is magic in the work place and some pretty good writers did stories for it. A fun read, not really deep or anything ...
Long ago and far away, I realized that my footwear of choice -- when I had to wear some -- was going to be sneakers. Back in the day, my mode of dress was: T-shirt, blue jeans, sneakers. In the hot part of the summer, it was T-shirt, shorts, sneakers.
I have had no reason to change those preferences since I developed them.
This was long before running shoes. There were Keds, and there were Converse, and then there were ... well, that was pretty much it.
Of course, sneakers evolved. I got my first pair of running shoes about 1975. They were racing flats, and I didn't know the difference between those and training shoes -- they were what was available at the local sporting goods store. I ran in them until the soles wore down, then I Shoe-Goo'ed 'em, and wore them some more. Kept them for probably fifteen years, knocking about in the closet, as my dirt-digging shoes, long after I quit running.
This was in the days when the Runner's World Magazine's shoe issue was one page long.
The gumshoes have evolved a lot more since, but the basic sneaker design is still pretty much a rubbery, cushion-soled thing that allows you to move about without slipping as much as you do in brogans or boots. For a time, I had jazz shoes, for kung-fu class, but you couldn't walk anywhere in them, they were no more than paper-thin leather uppers and soles, with a minimal rubber heel. I won a kata trophy wearing those once, and was the only guy on the floor wearing shoes at all ...
Now, there are specialized sneakers -- every sport you can think of, from walking, running, basketball, skateboarding, bicycling, tennis, weightlifting, mountain climbing, martial arts, to, well, you name it. If it's a sport you ever heard of that uses shoes, there are dedicated hoof-covers for it.
Generally, the more esoteric the activity, the more expensive the basic shoes. For the super-star jock signature models, we're talking a lot more, of course.
I've tried a bunch of them, looking for foot comfort. Being slightly north of two hundred pounds, I am hard on my shoes. Cross-trainers seem to be the best for me. They have more lateral support than running or walking shoes, heavier uppers, and enough padding so I can walk the dogs for a mile or two, do my martial arts dances, and like that.
However, no matter how expensive they are, my everyday shoes don't last very long. On the average, three-four months. At the end of that time, they are either coming apart at the seams, the soles are worn off, or they are beaten down inside, so the cushioning is dead. Entropy eats them.
So, a pair of nice Nike Air Whatevers that run sixty bucks on sale are good for three or four months. Top of the line basketball ego-boosters bearing the name of some guy who can play above the rim that that cost twice as much (even on sale)? Why, they last twelve to sixteen weeks ...
They are all made in China or Indonesia or somewhere, and the workmanship is generally pretty good, but that extra money you spend isn't for durability, it's for the look. You aren't paying for the difference between a Mercedes and a Kia, but between a stock Earl Scheib paint-job, and one by Don "Big Daddy" Gartlis. The frame and motor are the same.
For me, comfort and function are paramount, but wear and price figure in.
Lately, I have found a way to maintain happy feet at a reasonable cost:
I go to Costco, and buy their generic Court Classic. I dunno who makes them, but like the house brand shotguns used to be at Sears (J.C. Higgins), it is doubtless a major maker who does them sub rosa.
These are your basic white tennis shoe, and currently run $14.99 a pair.
Then I go the sporting goods store and buy a set of high quality insoles. These usually go about $15 to $18 a set, more than the shoes themselves, but they instantly convert the made-by-the-same-folks cheapies into shoes that feel as good and last as long as the high-end makers. So for thirty bucks or so, I can pretty much match footgear easily costing twice or thrice as much.
The only drawback, far as I can tell, is that, if you travel a lot by commercial airline, you aren't supposed to wear shoes with gel inserts, according to the TSA. If they spot 'em, they'll make you toss the insoles.
Monday, October 08, 2007
So, it came up again, the idea that a writer can't really write from any head save his -- or her own. I've had this discussion a number of times, and it still troubles me that people seem to believe this.
Here's how it goes: A writer -- or sometimes, just a serious reader -- will tell me that s/he can always recognize when somebody not of his or her group is writing a story pretending to be one of 'em.
They'll say, "Oh, so-and-so tried, but I can always tell if it's a woman writer pretending to be a man. Always."
For woman/man, you can substitute a raft of others: white guy/black guy; straight/gay; old/young; cop/civilian; military guy/non-military guy.
To which I answer: If the writer is good enough and does the research? Bullshit, you can.
If that were the case, nobody could never write from the viewpoint of anybody save his or her own sex, race, and occupation, and there'd be an awful lot of action-adventure heroes who were fat, middle-aged white guy writers.
I'm not talking about a white Jewish guy telling Robert Townsend in Hollywood Shuffle to "Make it blacker !" I'm talking about finding the common humanity we all share and using it to build a character that resonates.
Sure, there are bad writers who get caught. But there are also good ones who pass.
In science fiction circles four decades back, there was a hot new guy, James Tiptree, Jr. Ole Jim came in and blew the doors off the staidmobiles in the field. Muscular, tough fiction, won awards, got great reviews. Only thing was, ole Jim was really named Alice "Racoona" Sheldon.
She kept it hidden for ten or so years, and only was outed when she mentioned that her mother had died in Chicago and somebody tracked down the obituary and made the connection.
Brightest, most talented writers and editors in the field were fooled, and publicly caught flatfooted. Bob Silverberg went on about how Tiptree had to be a man. In an intro to an A:DV Tiptree story, Harlan said that Katie Wilhelm was the woman writer to beat that year, but that Tiptree was the guy ...
Sheldon supposedly got the name "Tiptree" off a label on a jar of marmalade ...
Me, I'm not a great writer. On my best days, on a scale of one-to-ten, I'll allow myself a six-point-five. Even so, I've been invited to speak at black writers conferences; gay writers conferences; and women writers conferences because they all thought I was one. I've been asked by professional military guys what my unit was in Vietnam, and had surgeons ask where I did my surgical residency.
For a redneck Louisiana cracker who dropped out of college in the sixties and was a hippie and against every war we've had since WWII, that indicates to me that if I can fool people into thinking I'm one of them and I'm not, and that a really good writer can do it blindfolded with one hand tied behind him.
If you are a writer and somebody lays this one on you, you can smile and nod and avoid the argument if you want, but -- don't listen to them. You do the research, and I'm not just talking about reading books, but hand-on stuff, you can convince a lot of folks you are more than you really are.
It doesn't have to be real, it only has to sound real.
So there's a big push to get out information on methamphetamine -- aka crank -- this week. A TV show about it is on, lotta coverage.
It's a nasty, nasty drug. As John Sebastian used to say, if you are going to indulge in recreational chem, you should stick with the stuff that grows from the ground.
Meth is bad shit. Even doing it once can screw up your brain chemistry. Don't go there.
I thought I'd take this opportunity to offer my song, "Methamphetamine Mama" up for any filmmaker looking for a catchy, hymn-like warning against the evils of the devil's crystal.
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Apropos of nothing, an old memory that, well, bobbed to the surface ...
As teenager in a city that in the early sixties had closed the public swimming pools to avoid racial integration, we used to go to various swimming holes. Most often, these were on a river, usually a spot where the muddy waters pooled a bit. You had to watch out for snakes and snags and tricky currents, but it was what was available, if you couldn't get out to Thunderbird Beach.
One of these spots was on the Comite River ("Ko-meet") not far from Central, LA. On one memorable occasion, four of us went there, essentially a place one could break a neck, die young, or both.
There was a high bank, about eighteen or twenty feet above the water, which was only about six feet deep in the center. The bank was angled, so that in order to reach the water, you had to back off, build up some steam, run toward the edge and leap out, a horizontal distance of maybe twelve feet or so. Not that long a broad jump, but you had to get that far, else you would either hit water that was knee-deep, or failing shorter than that, the side of the the bank, which was certainly worth a broken leg at the very least.
It was a measure of our stupidity that we were all willing to do this.
You didn't dive head-first, because the water was shallow. The mud at the bottom was very soft, so you would hit it feet-first and sink to your knees or thighs, and then paddle like hell to break free and get to the surface.
Hey, they were simplier times.
There was this guy. Call him, Jack Woodbridge. Jack was about six feet tall, maybe two-thirty, and a fullback on the football team. A little on the porky side.
So Jack is up last. He makes his run and leaps, way out. So far, so good. Only, he looked down as he was falling.
For those of you who don't know, moving one's head will alter the dynamics of a fall considerably. It's how one does somersaults, a snap of the head forward or backward. Why, when you do a swan dive, you keep your head back, eyes forward, until just before entry.
Why you don't lean a bit forward and angle your head down to get a better look.
I was in the water, near the shore as Woodbridge came down. It was like a slo-mo movie scene.
His quick look was just enough to give him a s-l-o-w quarter-rotation. I still remember the horror on his face as he realized what was going to happen: Instead of landing feet-first, he was going to land flat on his face, in what we called a belly-buster, aka belly flop. There wasn't anything he could do to stop it.
Sure enough, that's exactly what happened.
He hit the water like giant brick. Most of what liquid was in the pool splashed out. We figured people could hear it for miles. It was very impressive.
We had to haul Woodbridge out, the other three of us, and it was hard. From his face to his ankles, he was pure, slapped-face red. He was nearly unconscious, and of course, being teenaged boys, we were laughing our asses off, having absolutely no sympathy for him ...
Ah, the good old days ...
Thursday, October 04, 2007
Apparently somebody spotted a funnel cloud in the Vancouver/Camus, WA area early this evening. Didn't touch down, so it doesn't merit tornado designation.
Local weather guy had some stats to go with the report: Washington and Oregon are apparently among the least likely states to have tornados, ranking 43th and 46th, respectively, and since 1950, five people in Washington, and none in Oregon, have been killed by tornadoes.
(Apparently Hawaii, Alaska, Vermont, and Rhode Island all have fewer tornadoes than Oregon or Washington, and Washington, D.C. is down there, too, though you have to figure size matters -- not much to the District of Columbia or Rhode Island.
Not like Tornado Alley, through the plains and south. And down in Louisiana, we used to get 'em spawned by every hurricane that blew through. Get a hurricane and tornadoes at the same time. Nice ...
So, I got a license that will allow me to play El McMeen's arrangement of Jay Unger's Ashokan Farewell on my SoundClick! music page. But I've been lazy in learning it and the clock is running. (You have to renew them every year.)
I don't quite have it down yet, and my recording technique, via GarageBand is less than perfect, too, but I figured I'd post it, clams and all, to spur myself to learn and record it right. When I get a better version, I'll replace the rough version that's up now.
("Clam" is a technical term here, for a badly-hit note ...)
It's a beautiful tune. It gives me something to work toward. When I get this one, along with The Water is Wide and Dixie down, assuming I live that long, that will be a fine trio to play together.
At some point in the near future -- soon as a new class opens up -- we plan to start the dogs in agility training. Jude did it as a puppy and seemed to enjoy it.
Last night, after I turned off the light to go to sleep, both dogs were on the bed with us. A short while later, I heard a big clunk!
Seems that agility-boy Jude had rolled over and fallen off the bed. Twisted his foot, and he was gimping around this morning, though he seems to be okay now. At least it didn't seem to slow him down when he saw the squirrel out back ...
Monday, October 01, 2007
I love backstage stories -- those what-really-happened tales that shine a light into places you never expected to see.
When Simon and Garfunkel burst on the musical scene at the end of 1965, I became an instant fan the first time I heard "The Sounds of Silence."
Me and ten million other people.
Paul Simon is, in my mind, one of the best pop songwriters to come out of folk-rock. Might be a one-trick pony, as he used to say, but it is one helluva good trick. Man has chops out the wazoo, musical and compositional.
Early on, however, the road was hard. Simon had a hit single in the late fifties with Garfunkel, (singing as Tom & Jerry) and then the well went dry. Washed up at fifteen, he said later.
"The Sounds of Silence" was on a folk-acoustic album that came out in 1965, and promptly tanked.
Simon went off to England, where he was popular, and played gigs, wrote songs, did albums.
Meanwhile, back in the states, a producer at Columbia Records, Tom Wilson, noting that somebody had overdubbed electric instruments on some other folk albums and punched them up, decided to do that to "The Sounds of Silence," a cut which had gotten some air-play. He hired some session musicians, and laid in a funky guitar, bass, and some drums.
It was a brilliant idea. Boom. Instant hit, climbing the charts with a bullet, right to #1.
Nobody asked Simon and Garfunkel if they thought this was a good idea, to overdub their song, but apparently neither of them complained about it. Instead of staying one-hit wonders, they became the folk-rock duo of the period.
("Bridge Over Troubled Water," for me, is right up there next to "Hey, Jude," by the Beatles.)
Um. So, the really amusing part of the story: Simon and Garfunkel were booked on a music TV show, Hullabaloo, whereupon they were to play their new hit. Unbeknownst to them, the guy who had played the guitar overdub, Vinne Bell, was booked onto the show, to back S&G.
Bell, who was an outstanding session man, invented such things as the electric twelve-string guitar, electric sitar, and other toys, and was featured on a slew of best-selling records.
Simon didn't know the guy.
So he goes to the musical director, Peter Matz, and says he wants to show the guitar guy how to play the lead. Matz knows that Bell did the record. He says, I think he knows how. But Simon insists. He walks over, introduces himself. The guitarist does likewise. Simon says, I want to show you how this guitar riff goes, it's kind of tricky. It's on our hit record.
Bell grins. Oh, I know the record. I know just how to play it.
No, here, just watch me ...
Whereupon Bell says: Paul -- I did the record.
Okay ... um ... are you sure ... ?
Yeah. This, right? And plays the riff.
Uh, yeah ...
All in all, I'd rather have had Simon's career than Bell's, but in that situation, at that moment, I'd rather have been Vinnie Bell than Paul Simon ...
Usually, the winter storm pattern kicks in at the end of October in Portland. Starts raining -- mostly drizzle, but now and again, actual measurable precipitation -- around Hallowe'en, and keeps doing so until about July.
Started a bit early this year. There are a few sun breaks today, but most of the weekend was pretty gray. Chilly, too. Ten a.m. and still just a hair over fifty degrees (F.) out there.
Usually means I get more work done, because going out is less than exciting. Dogs don't like being cooped up, and so I gotta get damp -- because they don't care if it is raining, they just want to work their stubby little legs, and no less so than they would on a cloudless day.
We don't need to go all the way to the power lines today, do we pups? It's cold and wet.
What? Shorten our walk? Are you insane?
Ah, well. I knew the climate made rust and mold when I moved here.
I've sent out thank-you emails to all my students from the seminar, cleared the decks, and now it's time to -- sigh -- Get Back to the Novel ...