Friday, November 30, 2007

Ho, Ho, Ho ...

Ordinarily, I refrain from putting up the outside Christmas lights until about mid-December.

I like the holiday okay, but there is something irritating about watching my neighbors hanging Christmas lights while I am carving my Hallowe'en jack 'o lantern. Christmas for me is two, maybe three days before the 25th. My personal ritual is pretty much sitting up late Christmas Even and watching the movie about Ralphie and his lust for a Daisy Red Ryder air rifle. That's what Christmas felt like when I was a kid, albeit Ralphie's was a few years before my memories kick in. They bought their tree on Christmas Eve, set it up, and went to bed early.

This year, being as how it's getting dark at four o'clock in the evening, and given that -- according to the weatherman, we are about to get snow, followed by leftover cyclones, and possibly hurricane force winds in the valley, and we also shouldn't be surprised to see an ark full of animals floating past our house -- I decided to go ahead and string the lights. Earliest I've ever done it.

We don't do Peacock Lane here at Steve's house. No lawn Santa or animatronic reindeer or giant balloon elves kept inflated by power fans. Just a couple of strings of colored lights around the eaves to help keep the dark winter at bay, and some of those are already burned out ...

Ho, ho, ho ...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Interesting Question about Writing

Edwin made a comment about the snippet of the fantasy novel I posted that was thought-provoking, so I thought I'd share it.

Essentially, his comment was that he was pulled out of the story by the use of Indonesian terms in Djani's practice session with Guru Bruj: Keris, djuru, Guru, etc. For him, they didn't work in a fantasy world.

It was a fair comment.

My response was that he was a very specialized audience, and that the number of folks like him in the U.S. wouldn't fill up a high school auditorium -- 99.9% of readers who might chance to read the novel, when and if it gets published, won't know those terms, and so using them won't matter. They will think I made them up. And since foreign cultures on Earth have all manner of interesting material most outlanders don't know, I get a chance to use the knowledge. Many Indonesians do believe their black steel blades are magic, and there are books written on the patterns in the metal, the length and width and curvature of the keris, and what magicks those combinations can effect.

Outside of handful of silat players and knife collectors, (and people who read my stuff) how many people outside Indonesia know this?

Even some of those who do know I didn't make it all up won't object -- they'll be tickled, because they will be in on the secret ...

I tend to do this kind of thing to amuse myself when I write. Use a word or term that means something in a language most readers won't know. Spetsdod, say, or Teras Kasi. Sometimes my translations are a bit iffy, but those who know the language can usually make out what I meant, and they get the joke.

I pointed out that the matador novels I wrote had a fair number of terms taken from swahili, and that I wasn't worried overmuch when I wrote those that I'd get flak from anybody.

Tiel, who knows that language, did point out some of the inexact terminlogy I'd used in a draft of the most recent matador book, and I fixed that -- only to have my editor use an earlier draft that didn't incorporate the changes. Shit happens; even so, I haven't gotten one fan letter or email taking me to task for my bad swahili. Might be that, like Spanish from Cuba doesn't use exactly the same terms as Spanish from Mexico or Spain, Swahili from Mozambique is not exactly like that spoken in Kenya or Mayotte.

Often for me, it's the sound, the tone, of the language for which I am looking, rather than any precision in meaning. The swahili term tumbo la kuhara shows up somewhere in one of my books. I like the way it sounds when spoken aloud. What does it mean in English?

Diarrhea ...

One writes for a certain audience, and mine is largely people for whom English is a first, and generally, only language. There is a suspension of disbelief that is basic to reading any fantasy novel set on another planet -- that the locals will speak something that uses mostly terran language. If I have my fantasy race using "guns," it's hardly likely that they'd have come up with that precise word to describe such weapons. Even here on Earth, there are many words for such a tool, most languages have their own -- fusil, Gewehr, fucile, arma de fuego, bossa, biks ... and I could use one of those instead. Or make up my own language entirely, and use it now and then for flavor.

Flavor in fantasy or science fiction is like idiomatic dialog -- too much spoils the broth. It's always a part of the process to figure out the correct amount. Kipling has some English soldiers speak who are almost impossible to understand, the language is so thickly accented. If you are an American who has never seen British television, keeping up with some of the actors who have accents other than RP (received pronounciation) or posh, can be difficult.

Better, as a writer, I think, to suggest than to overwhelm.

As a fantasy writer, you have to project Earth onto your world to a large degree. They might ride therlupes instead of horses, but your aliens have to be, on some level, people to whom a human reader can relate. If you create a truly alien species that behaves in ways, well, truly alien to the way we do? Keeping a reader's interest will be a difficult chore.

So I'm leaving the silat terms in, because I want to evoke in my Jalimatrans people who are akin to the Javanese; just as my Stahlrogians are more or less patterned on Germans; and my Isbaani are pretty much Arabic.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Doorstop Fantasy Preview

Just for fun, and bearing in mind this is only a draft, I thought I'd post a little bit of the ongoing fantasy collaboration that Reaves and I are writing. We're not even through the first draft yet, probably be the first of the year before we get there, but I've been talking about it so much ...

The series is called -- working title -- The Chronicles of Eilandia, and the first volume is: The Dreadnaught. We have eleven players who will be the viewpoint characters in this one. The prologue introduces a couple, and the steam warship around which the book is cast. The first chapter takes us to the tropics and into the head of another player ...


The Tropics of Jalimatra

Djani dodged -- and the watered-steel ensorceled dagger that would have pierced his liver missed his belly by no more than the width of a hair.
Feke -- !
Djani whipped his own dagger in and up and thrust at his attacker's throat, but even as he did, he knew it was too slow --
Guru had already slid to his left, a quarter-span out of range. Not even close.
The old man lowered his blade, and shook his head.
"Pitiful!" Guru Bruj said. "Execrable! My dead grandfather in his grave moves more lively when the worms crawl through his bones!"
Guru touched the steel to his forehead, then sheathed his formal dueling dagger in the boat-prow wooden scabbard tucked into his sash. The weapon's carved tulgywood handle was a seven-plane "fever" man, so stylized it was almost not recognizable as a human figure. The blade, as long as a tall man's forearm, was of pattern-welded steel, the pamor of it being buntel mayit -- the death shroud. The twisted and angled white-metal whorl in the black steel was the most powerful of all warrior designs, having come from a giant sky stone that had fallen more than five hundred years past. Any man less adept than Guru would be corroded and corrupted by the energies trapped in that blade; indeed, should a lesser man somehow manage to touch Guru's knife -- unlikely in the extreme while Guru lived, save by the razored edge slicing open his flesh or by being skewered upon its point -- that touch would burn like lava. It took a master empu a year to make such a weapon, since he could only work on it during the dark of the moon.
Even as Djani thought this, Guru stepped in, and slapped him upside the head. Not hard, just enough to knock a bit of the sour-smelling sweat from his face -- and the ideas from his skull. An hour short of midmorning, and already the air was as hot as a man's skin, even with the shore of the Sulh Sea a mere league away and the wind from that direction. When the sun was up in east Jalimatra, sweat was a given -- at least until it rained, which it generally did at least once a day in the summer season.
"Put your blade away," Guru said, "before you hurt yourself. Because you certainly aren't going to do anybody else harm with it."
Djani did the ritual forehead touch, catching a whiff of the pungent bindlewood oil coating the dagger, then sheathed his steel. The magic in his blade was much less than that of Guru's, the pattern of unthuk banyu -- foam bubbles -- and also five-waves. It was more than sufficient for the needs of a man who was neither a soldier nor a bodyguard.
Djani stared at the tops of his sandals and shook his head slowly. "I am sorry, Guru."
"That you are, boy. I have seen few sorrier." Guru paced for a moment, his bare feet leaving hardly any imprints in the red clay before his house. "I have promised your father that I would teach you enough to keep you alive, and I may end my days in the executioner's chair for lying. You won't be around to see that, more's the pity; but if you are the cause, I hope it gives you pain in the Long Cold."
Djani nodded. There was no excuse; he had been web-gathering, his mind a thousand spans away. Something was happening in the Crimson Palace; there was much excitement vibrating the perfumed air of the many patios, courtyards and sahns -- but as yet, none of his spies had been able to ascertain the cause. Djani was most curious about this.
Guru Bruj continued his excoriation. "It is fortunate indeed that the Rajheem has four other sons who can defend themselves, because if the Kingdom of Maluz depended on your abilities, it would fall faster than a dead sparrow tied to a big rock."
"Yes, Guru."
The old man leveled a wizened finger at him. "How old are you now? Twenty-two? Only a miracle will allow you to see twenty-three, and I don't expect you've attended well enough to your prayers to merit that."
Djani suppressed an urge to grin, which he knew would earn him another slap -- but a single moment of inattention did not mean that he was completely helpless when he did pay proper attention. The old man -- Guru Bruj was at least forty-seven summers of age, some said forty-eight -- did dearly love to rant and carry on; he had done so as long as Djani could remember, and he'd never let Djani start to feel even a little puffed up about his abilities. Truth be told, the fifth and youngest in-line son of the Rajeem of Maluz was able to keep up with any of his brothers, with bare hands, daggers, or sticks -- well, save for Tarmani the Eldest, who was, in these parts, second only to Guru in fighting skill. Even so, he could give his older brother a few lumps even when he lost, and in a serious contests with steel, Tarmani would bleed enough to remember it a long time. In a serious fight with two well-trained men, the loser would be ashes -- but even the winner would be charcoal.
Without being immodest, Djani knew he could best, or at worst hold his ground, with any man his age, and do equally well against many older fighters who came to dance in the gelanggangs. At least he had been able to so far. Of course, Jalimatra was not the world; still ...
A dead sparrow tied to a big rock? Such an image.
Guru was fond of these colorful sayings. It seemed that he had one for every instance. "The stake that stands tall gets hammered down." Or, "The fattest worm attracts the hungriest bird." Or "The slowest tiger beats the fastest man." Or any of nine hundred and ninety-nine others Djani had heard more than nine hundred and ninety-nine times each ...
Guru gave him another quick slap on the other side, producing another fine spray of sweat.
"What was that for?"
"Thinking," Guru said. "You think too much, Djani, that is your problem. You need to stop that -- especially in combat."
"Yes, Guru."
"'Yes, Guru,'" the old man mocked. "So you say, but where is the evidence that you understand anything?" He shrugged, as if acknowledging the utter and total futility of all this. "All right. Let's go back to Djuru One, since Djuru Eighteen is apparently entirely too advanced for you."
But before they could begin the sparring sequence, a flash of iridescent azure and purple hurtled by them. Ljees, the blue-crowned parrot who carried the Rajeem's summons, landed on the roof of Guru's wattle-and-daub hut. Both men stopped, for when the messenger bird came, attention had best be paid.
"Aal's Blessings," the bird said. It scuttled back and forth, turning its head from side to side so as to view them with both eyes.
"Aal's Blessings to you as well," Guru said.
"Come at once, milord Prince. Come at once." The bird preened for a moment.
"Lucky for you," Guru said to Djani. "Else you would be spending your afternoon applying balur to your many bruises. Even if I gave you one for every hundred sins, you would be black and blue from hair to toes." He made a dismissive gesture. "Go. We will continue this another -- "
"Guru comes too," the bird said, its voice eerily reminiscent of its trainer, the shapannon Arrinjes Darvet. Ljees repeated the message, then took to the air again, quickly disappearing over the trees.
The two men watched it vanish into the bronze sky, toward the bright morning sun. Then Guru Bruj looked at the Prince and said, "All right, let's go. The day is not growing any cooler, nor I any younger."
Or any more even-tempered, Djani thought, suppressing another smile.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Links of Note

A few words about my list of links, for those who might be curious:

For the musically inclined, especially those interested in classical or acoustic guitars, we have Allan Carruth, a luthier of great skill and talent; also there is Jack Bogdanovich, another maker of like ability.

Guitarists El McMeen and Michael Chapdelaine are always worth listening to for their stylings. Both are working pros, and offer CDs, DVDs, and arrangements of their material, and both are most evocative players.

My own humble attempts at the guitar may be heard on Blind Whitebread Perry's SoundClick! link.

Those of you interested in toys somewhat more martial might find things worthy of your attention on Shiva Ki's knife site, or Gary Reeder's gun pages. Both men make these things, and no one does such gear better. (You can get a link to Mushtaq Ali and Chuck's knifework via Mushtaq's blog, Traceless Warrior, and Bobbe's Indonesian imports via his blog Thick as Thieves or the Edmonds silat page.)

Best source of genuine Indonesia black steel I've found comes from Alan Maisey, an Aussie who is an empu who can -- and does -- clean and restore the old blades so that they can breathe properly.

Maha Guru Stevan Plinck's page explains the basics about the art of Silat Sera, which he teaches, both explanation of which and teaching thereof are almost surely done better by him than anybody else in the country.

Also on the wetware side of arts martial, Bobbe, Mushtaq, Rory (at Chiron Realistic Fighting Blog) have things to say I find both interesting and useful.

Material on writing, poetry, and general observations about the state of the world and one's place in it are available on Bobbe's blog (Thick as Thieves) Tiel's blog, Todd's Toad Abode, Mike Byers's blog, Steve Barnes's blog, Mushtaq's, and not the least, only the last in the alliterative list, Dan Moran's blog.

If you are looking for workout tips, try Tom Furman's blog. (And though it isn't listed, if you want to know about flashlights and stale beer, check out Todd Erven's blog.

And if you want to buy my books, go to Buy My Books ...

(I would have had a link to my collaborator's blog, but he seems to have given it up -- no new postings there for five or six months, and the link I have is, at the moment, dead. On the blogs I read, there are a bunch of links you might find interesting -- too many to put here, but check them out and see where they take you.)

Winter Draws Nigh

Woke up this morning to a brisk thirty-three degrees and rain. The gumball trees out front still have most of their leaves, bad if we get snow or a freeze because that will break branches.

The general forecast from here until spring will be: Forty degrees and drizzly ...

It stopped raining a few minutes ago and the sun came out, creating a nice fog of evaporating water vapor coming off the sidewalk and roof.

And back to work on the doorstop fantasy ...

Monday, November 26, 2007

You Eat It, You Catch It ...

So, it seems my wife's "stomach flu" of last week has an identifiable cause. Apparently the restaurant where she dined the day before sent out a questionnaire to its patrons, and the upshot of it seemed to be that a whole bunch of folks who ate there had sudden onsets of the same symtoms at about the same time. They suspect norovirus, which is kind of a wastebasket diagnosis, since that causes somewhere around half of so-called "food poisoning" with associated stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhea around the world.

Caveat consumere ...

Looks Can Be Deceiving ...

The picture atop the post just before this one -- the balding little pot-bellied fellow shooting the double-bird at the camera? Pendekar Paul de Thouars. In his heyday, probably one of the deadliest close-combat guys walking around. In his seventies now, he's still not somebody you want to mess with. Look at him, he's a little bald old man. That could get you in real trouble if you thought that's all he was and stepped crooked in his direction ...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Getting Specific

Been having an interesting exchange of ideas regarding amateurs versus professionals, and what constitutes reason -- whether it is a weak way of dealing with adversity or not -- on Rory and Steve Barnes's blogs. (Links in the list on this page.)

A few years ago, while doing research on "muscle memory," I contacted Professor K. Anders Ericsson, who was then in the psychology department at Florida State U, and considered an expert in the field of cognitive and perceptual motor-skills. We exchanged some email, and he sent me copies of some of his articles; other books containing his materials, I was able to find, and as a result, I garnered a fair amount about how people learn how to move in various disciplines.

The upshots were these: A) It takes a fair amount of practice to get really good at anything, and B) the more specific you are in your training, the better it works when you go out and do the real thing.

You move like you train. You want to be a great basketball player, you don't spend most of your practice time swimming. Yeah, it'll help you get fit generally, but it won't work the specific skills you need for round ball.

Well, duh ...

Science is like that, though; it takes those things that everybody knows and tests them to see if what everybody knows is true or not. Sometimes, common knowledge is dead-0n. Sometimes, it's dead-wrong.

Insofar as martial arts are concerned, the obvious connection is simple: If you want to use the stuff on the street, then you need to get closer in your training to what you might actually run into on the street. Traditional martial arts don't always do this. If you have to put on your gi, or your sarong, slip into your cup, take off your shoes, and then bow to your opponent, and if you do all your training on a nice padded mat, you might not be able to take all your skills with you when you are in street clothes, on concrete or uneven ground, and your opponent doesn't show proper respect to the dojo and then you before he attacks.

If you work out in what you are apt to wear out in public most of the time, and if the surface is sometimes this, other times that, then it's more likely that the moves you can do will be there when you reach for them. No guarantee, but more likely.

Scenario training is even better. You set up situations you might expect to run into, and practice those, amidst distractions -- noise, lights, like that. If you shoot IPSC or IDPA, you are still plinking targets, but they are generally scenario-based -- that target is a hostage, shoot it, you lose; this one over here wears body armor, you have to make a head shot or it doesn't count; the whole situation is in a store or bank or school, and you have to be mindful of your position, cover, concealment.

Another way is to use real people, but with paintball or airsoft guns. A training blade with a marking edge -- chalk or ink or even lipstick -- shows you right away where you would have gotten cut had the knife been sharp.

And don't kid yourself, adrenaline makes a difference. Stuff you can do easily when you are relaxed sometimes just goes away when your heart is going like a punk drummer on crank and epinepherine is coming out your pores. I saw video once of a state trooper in a shootout with a guy he stopped: both emptied their weapons --- and both missed each other from fifteen feet away.

What will serve you generally is not always what you need for specifics. If you are a street cop or a corrections officer, your skills will have to be of a somewhat different order than if you are a civilian. LEO's have different constraints, and its generally considered bad form if you shoot somebody, or break open a skull on every shift. Pretty much, you have to be better at it in such situations: It's much easier to protect yourself if you don't care what happens to your attacker than if you have to bring him in alive and relatively whole.

If you are a master of kickass-fu, your three-year-old jumping on your crotch feet-first is more likely to damage you than somebody your size who wants to take a poke at you. You don't want to hurt the child, and the less damage you allow yourself to inflict, the harder it is to control an attack without risk to yourself. An elbow to the temple is safer for the thrower than a wristlock come-along.

Dealing with a drunk who wants to take a swing at you in a bar is not the same as dealing with a convicted murderer serving life who is in a cell who doesn't want to come out. The skill-set you need is different.

Then again, the murderer is probably less likely to have a gun or a serious knife in his cell than the drunk in the bar, even if his attitude is apt to be nastier. (Never know but that the drunk in the bar is a convicted murderer who just made parole, is breaking it, and isn't planning on going back inside, no matter what ...)

This is the basic conundrum with martial arts, and why the better ones offer way to escalate or dial down a response -- you sometimes won't know what you are dealing with until it happens. Best to assume the worst, be prepared for that, and then if it is less, survive and be happy. Assume the best and you are wrong? It can be fatal.

Guy wants to take my head off in line at the bank? I assume he at least has a knife he can get to. If I'm wrong, no big deal. If I don't consider it and he does have a blade? That would be bad.

Point of all this is that if you fight like you train, then you should train for how you believe you will need to fight, push comes to shove. That is where your time is best spent. Me, I don't plan on spending any time in an MMA ring. Nor much time on the mean streets and lowlife bars, nor as an officer in Sing Sing, so I'm not going to work those scenarios all that much.

Attacked with leashed dogs in one hand, walking along a suburban street at noon? Somebody coming through the window while I'm at my word processor? Those I need to know how to deal with ...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Another Good One On Me ...

I was gonna write a post about this obnoxious, pretentious, know-it-all fantasy writer I met at Orycon, but instead, let me tell you about my camera ...

We zipped over to the coast with the in-laws, who really wanted to go, pouring rain and all. Had a fine ole time, packed up, came home.

We emptied the camper, and I drove it back to where we store it, which is about five miles from my house. Dumped the tanks, put some air in the tires, parked it, came home.

I got here, took off my jacket, and realized I'd left my camera in the camper.


So I headed back to he storage site. Got behind Sister Mary Margaret in her slowmobile. Going twelve miles an hour in a thirty-five zone.


There are seven traffic signals between my house and the storage place. Caught every one of them red. The loons were on the road in force, none of them in any hurry to get anywhere, save the ones who ran the lights and nearly got me.

Halfway there, I began to steam from the ears.

Finally, finally -- I got there. And guess what ... ?

I had left my camper keys in my jacket pocket.

At home.

I could have blown a gasket, I felt the rage rising ... but what happened instead was that I started laughing. It was nobody's fault but mine and being pissed off wouldn't have helped anything.

Ho! Another good one on me ...

So I drove home, collected my keys, went back, got the camera, and drove home again. It was a cold, crisp, sunshiny autumn day, and I put the top down and let people wonder why I was grinning ...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Busy Boy


So: Dianne has the flu; her sister and my brother-in-law and their two children are here visiting for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday; and Orycon 29, the local science fiction convention is this weekend, at which I am fairly well-booked to do panels and autographing and all like that.

Never a dull moment.

I've been to all the Orycons, save one, which we missed whilst living out of state, due to an early snowstorm that blocked the roads. (But: I was at the Symposium, so I figure that balances it out.)

Fine con, medium-sized, run by good local folks, and some top-flight guests usually show up. Today, I was on several panels, including one with Steve Barnes and Ursula Le Guin. Got to bring your A-game to keep up with folks like that, they don't cut you any slack.

Peter S. Beagle is a guest this year, the man kinda responsible for me buying my first motor scooter. Not a motorcycle, I had a couple of those before, but a scooter. He wrote a book, I See By My Outfit, about two guys taking scooters from New York to California, kind of my generation's On the Road, that mightily impressed me as a young man. And some other books since that have become classics, including The Last Unicorn. Very good guitar player, he is.

Oddly enough, he's hooked up professionally with an artist/writer/musician I knew back in my salad days, used to be known as "Freff," who's become an agent. I passed by their table in the dealer's room, and it took me a few seconds to realize who he was. Been almost thirty years since I've see, him, and he's put on a few pounds, but I did recognize him. What goes round comes around ...

Back again tomorrow -- unless Dianne is still feeling ill, in which case I might stay home. Got to keep our priorities straight ...

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Two years behind me in high school was a guy named Tommy. He considered himself a bad-ass. Once he got out of school, little Tommy reportedly went to work as a knee-breaker for the Teamsters. Such activity did not make him popular in some quarters, apparently.

One fine summer evening, Tommy was in a local watering hole having a beer when somebody came up and told him they'd just come from another bar wherein a fellow was allowing as how the next time he saw Tommy, he was going to shoot him dead.

Tommy finished his beer, hitched up his pants, went to his car and drove to the other bar. Walked in, spied the guy who'd made the threat, and swaggered over.

Whereupon the guy pulled a gun and shot Tommy dead.

Tommy was not carrying a piece. And he was unarmed in wit, way I see it.

And what is the moral of this story? If you choose to walk the mean streets, you need to expect there might be potholes into which you might fall.

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

This comes up on reflection about a thread on Chiron's blog -- see the link over in the list -- about violence.

I am happy to say that my experience with street violence is scant, and that most of my knowledge about what I would or would not do if faced with it is theoretical. The last time I had a knife pulled on me -- I hope it was the last -- was twenty-five years ago. The last time somebody went for a gun to wave at me -- same hope here -- was even farther back.

Me, I'm a lover, not a fighter.

But it brings up the question, how do you prepare to deal with violence, if that is your wont? I believe that the art in which I train offers some solutions. The only way to test them in the real world is to, well, try them, but since I avoid the mean streets when I can these days, it's my hope I won't ever have to do so.

There is a chance that, if I need those skills, I won't be able to pull them up.

Still and all, I feel comfortable that what I know is enough a part of the way I move that if push comes to shove, I'll be able to come up with a useful tool from the box.

One cannot prepare for every instance. If the Chinese Army comes over the hill, all the martial arts in the world aren't going to do the trick. But the Boy Scout motto is: Be Prepared, and I take that to mean that you consider the likely possibilites, and train accordingly.

Ah, yes, the knife and gun stories:

The knifer was a guy on the subway in NYC who wanted my wallet. I did all the wrong things, but walked away anyhow -- still have the knife -- and I expect it was because he was so stoned he saw three of me and couldn't figure out which one to stick.

The gun: My brother and I, back in our private eye days, were hired by another investigator, Ron, to go along with him on a process-server run. Our job was to hang back a little ways in our car -- a Volkswagen, as it happened -- and witness Ron's service of a subpoena.

The fellow to be served was the president of the local Teamster's Union. He was staying at a house near the end of a dead-end street, and when Ron drove up next to him as he was alighting from his Coup de Ville to go inside and stuck the paper out his Toyota window, the teamster was not pleased. He dropped the subpoena on the ground. He reached into Ron's car and tried to grab him; Ron pulled back.

Then the teamster ran for his Cadillac, jerked the door open, and lunged for the glove box.

By the time he re-emerged from his automobile, bearing what I identified in the rearview mirror as a chrome-plated Colt M-1911 .45 ACP, I was about to shift into third gear, hundred meters away, pedal to the floor.

About which time Ron blew past my brother and me like we were standing still ...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Black Steel Again

Alan Maisey's new catalogue (#55) is just out. Have a look. (Once things are sold, the link goes away, and they tend to get snapped up pretty quick.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

No Matter How You Slice It

This post, written by a LEO and trainer of other police officers, is one of the best I've read on knife defenses. Read it, and learn.

A while back in our silat class, we spent the better part of a year training basic knife stuff, we focused on it every session. (This on top of doing it now and again for years before that, and the fact that pentjak silat is a blade-based art.)

At the end of that intensive training we were all pretty much convinced of one thing: If you go barehanded against a guy with a blade who knows squat about how to use it, you are in deep shit. You will get cut, and only the questions are, how bad, how many times, and where. Even having a knife of your own and some expertise in its use is no guarantee you won't spend some quality time in the ER being stitched up. In fact, that is the choice you might have to make -- as opposed to being entubed in the ICU, or pushing up the daisies at Forest Lawn.

The old Javanese proverb: In a knife fight, the loser is ashes -- but the winner is charcoal ...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Dog Pictures

Jude and Layla in the camper ...

Veterans Day

This weekend, we took the camper to the coast. Parked in an RV place up high, overlooking the ocean, listened to the wind blow and the rain patter against the roof and windows, watched the surf foam and roll in.

Where there was a break, we'd take the dogs out for a walk. Nearby, there was a small cemetery. I dunno how old it was, at least a hundred years, from the graven stones I was able to see. (I stuck to the perimeter road, I didn't think it was appropriate to let the dogs pee on the graves.)

Most of the sites were old, some still relatively fresh. A lot of them were the final resting places of soldiers, sailors, marines. The earliest in this bone yard were killed in the Great War to End All Wars, dated 1918. Didn't end war, that one. Many were from WWII, the early to mid-1940's. Korea, in the early fifties. Vietnam, the sixities. Desert Storm. There was one with a pair of combat boots on it, the raw dirt still sans trimmed grass, only a month old.

I didn't see any from the Spanish American War, or the Civil War, or the Revolutionary War. None of Caesar's Legions, nor the Spartans, none from the protohumans who roamed plains or lived in caves, but it wasn't that old, the cemetery. Only the tip of the iceberg.

War has always been with us. And, no denying it, there is still a need for troops to secure our homelands. So I salute the veterans who have stood on the wall, or the decks of ships, or who flew through the air to protect and defend. Who went forth and did as they were ordered and who gave part, or all of themselves for their fellows.

I just wish there wasn't still such a need for places to bury them, their lives cut short by bombs or bullets.

I wish men would come to realize that there are better ways to live than by wholesale killing of each other. That lesson learned would honor veterans more than anything else I can imagine.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Another Badge Story

Some years ago, my collaborator wrote a novel, Darkworld Detective, kind of a magic-noir thing. So as a gift, for Christmas or his birthday, I decided to get him a spiffy badge, from the same company that had made my private eye badge when I'd been an op in L.A..

Entenmann-Rovin, in Pico Rivera, was -- still is -- the top of the line badge company.

So I sent in my request, along with a check, and decided, what-the-heck, I'd get myself a new one, too. Since I was a freelance writer, I get that one.

They wouldn't sell them to me. I needed my request to be on official police stationary from my department.

Uh, well, I wrote back, there being no Darkworld Detective Agency on Earth, nor one for Free Lances, that would be a problem. Who was I suppose to fool flashing those at anybody?
C'mon. It's a gag gift.

Nope. Sorry. Unless you can get your local police chief to vouch for you.

So, living in Port Townsend, WA at the time, and damned if I was gonna just roll over and take that, I hied myself down to the local police department, which, back then, wasn't open 24-7 -- it was closed on weekends in the off-season, the local sheriff took calls.

I met Chief Hinton. Explained, got a big grin, and by giving him an autographed novel to prove I really was a writer, got him to write me a letter.

ER made the badges, and all was well.

By his account, my collaborator was tickled with the badge, which he had under a little glass dome for some years. And for a time at science fiction conventions, I would flash my own shield:

Perry's the name. I'm a Free Lance ...

Can I get the musical sting from Dragnet here ... ?

Keeping It Legal

My first gig as a private eye was in L.A. in the late sixties; later I moved back to Louisiana and started my own agency, first with a buddy, then later, my brother. When I was a private op, I used to carry a badge.

The main reason for this was so as not to get shot.

Back then, both LAPD and CHP tended to approach with caution a guy sitting alone in a car where they didn't think he had any business . Sometimes, they only had their hands resting on their gun-butts; sometimes, they'd clear leather and have 'em ready to rock.

More than a couple of times in and around SoCal, guys who were twitchy, made sudden moves, or, in one memorable case, who was deaf and reaching for a card that said that, got smoked.

Never a good idea to lunge for the glove box when a police officer has a gun pointing at you and worried you might be going for a gun of your own.

Yeah, everybody was sorry and all, but to the guy pushing up the daisies, that probably didn't make them feel any better.

There were rules that P.I.'s were supposed to follow, not the least of which was, if you were going to be sitting surveillance in a neighborhood where somebody was apt to report you, you were supposed to call it in. You'd dial up the local cop-shop, get the dispatcher, and give them your ID -- your company's name, the make and model and license plate number of your car, and give them time to check you out. That way when the old lady at the end of the block called up to report there's a guy who's probably a weenie-waver parked out in front of her house, the dispatcher would assure the woman they knew who you were and it was okay that you were there.

Mostly, that meant the caller thought you were an undercover cop.

This was in the pre-cell phone days, however, and often you'd be tailing somebody and couldn't make the call, either before, or once you arrived somewhere.

Sometimes, even the courtesy call didn't help -- a man in a car cannot park near a junior high or a grammar school in sesson and expect to sit there for long before the local law rolls up on him -- they have to double check, even if it he did call in.

Having a quad of CHP guys come up to your car with loosened guns to wonder why you are parked only a half block away from where a couple of CHP guys were shot and killed a week earlier is nerve-wracking. In such cases, you move very slowly, no sudden motions. You say, "sir," a lot. You say, "My ID is above the sun visor." and you reach for it it in slo-mo with your thumb and forefinger, and you bring it down just as slowly. You keep your other hand on the wheel.

And when you open the ID case, there is your company op ID card and a bright, shiny, expensive badge from Entenmann-Rovin, in Pico Rivera, same folks who make the LAPD shields. When the sunlight hits that silver and gold and inlaid badge, everybody outside with a gun relaxes just a little. They watch TV and go to movies, and they know private eyes are mostly on their side.

Yeah, they might razz you about being Mickey Mouse Gumshoe and all, but you aren't loitering, you are working, and the less itchy their trigger fingers, the better. You do not lip off to the po-lice when you are on the job as a private op.

As a private op, you are never allowed to pretend that you are any kind of official LEO. That is highly-illegal, impersonating a cop, and you just don't do it. You don't flash that badge at civilians and pretend you are with the county, city, state, or feebs, in order to get information.
Never. Ever.


From time to time, I have carried concealed upon my person a firearm. I have licenses to do so in a couple of states, and reciprocity in fifteen or sixteen others. In all of these lands, there are fairly stringent rules regarding going about strapped -- how, when, where. Among these is one concerning "brandishing." Basically, this means you can carry a hidden gun, but you aren't allow to wave it about willy-nilly. If you have to pull a gun to use it, you have to justify it legally, and easing back your jacket to show your piece to warn off a drunk in a bar or rattle a couple of teenagers who drive by and call you names out their car windows is considered brandishing, and is illegal.

Somebody who sees you do this is apt to call the law, and at the very least, you will get hassled. They'll bust you, and then pull your license. Or, you could get shot by a nervous officer who sees you as a threat to life and limb.

If, as you are reaching for your wallet to pay the bill at a restaurant, or if the wind blows your jacket up and somebody sees your gun, this might not technically be considered illegal, but if a citizen sees it, chances are they will call it in: "Hey, there's a guy out on the sidewalk in front of my house and he's got a gun!" Serious gun-totters pay attention to this kind of thing, and usually it doesn't happen very often, but only only takes once in the wrong place to do the trick.

Man-with-a-gun! calls get the po-lice's attention. You do not want to be on the receiving end of that one. Blink funny, you could be applying for the daisy-pusher's job before you hit the ground.

So. I got a perfectly-legal badge with my handgun license number, the state seal, and the words, "Concealed Handgun License" embossed on it. It has a nice clip that allows it to ride right next to my revolver, do I feel like hauling hardware about. Nothing on it indicates it's a police badge. (Lot of folks other than police carry badges -- DA's, firemen, building inspectors, parole officers, private security, private eyes, and guys who have given a lot of money to the local sheriff's re-election campaign and have been made honorary deputies.)

If, for some reason, my coat should ride up and give people a glimpse of a gun on my belt, it will also give them a flash of that badge. Which doesn't pretend to be a police ID in any way, shape, or form, but which might cause a viewer to make an assumption: Guy's got a gun, but also a badge. Probably that means it's okay.

In my case, it is. And it might save me getting really nervous when the local po-lice come round brandishing their own guns ...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Ole Debbil Expectation

I met Greg when we were cast into junior high science purgatory by our teacher for putting the right answers on a test. We were correct, but did not agree with the science book, which liked to round things off. We argued with the teacher, produced evidence to show our numbers were more exact, and for our extra efforts, got shot down anyway. There had to be a standard, the teacher, explained, and the science book was it, never mind what the Encyclopedia Brittanica said.

Having thus met Greg in an argument with The Man, I was disposed to like him.

Greg was, by all the IQ tests used to measure such things, a certified genius.

We started to hang out. We spouted poetry, like " The Jabberwocky," and "The Raven." We became, for about fifteen minutes, socialists, then objectivists. We had a fine ole time being the two school oddballs.

Shortly after I met him, Greg revealed to me that he was in contact with a an alien girl named Ackneel Alpha, who lived on Jupiter’s seventh moon. Who was also gorgeous. (It might have been the twelfth moon. It has been more than forty-five years and I can’t recall that one item for certain. But I think it was the seventh.)

Either way, would I like to communicate with her?

As a science fiction geek I leaped at the chance: Are you kidding?

Greg invited me over to his rather dark and dank house, where he had a room to himself, and showed me his communication gear. As best I can recall, this equipment consisted of an orange juice concentrate can sans the label, with a shiny rock glued to the unopened end, a bowl full of water, a bag full of "communication powder" (which, I later ascertained, turned out to be finely-ground soda cracker crumbs,) and a piece of cardboard.

How it worked -- when conditions were right -- was this: The citric acid in the juice activated some kind of crystal in the igneous rock, which in turn sent a vibration to the water. When the powder was dropped into the liquid, the resulting ... something somehow reflected off the cardboard propped up behind it and forged a link. You could talk to and see reflected in the water Ackneel Alpha -- who was thirteen Earth-years old, by the way -- live and direct. Not even a time lag.

That would certainly have been a helluva science project.

Even at that tender age I was -- how shall we say? -- skeptical. My father was a ham radio operator, and I knew a bit about long range communications. And I knew an orange juice can with a rock glued to it when I saw one. But, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and if I could talk to a girl living on one of Jupiter’s moons? I was willing to be convinced, boy, howdy.

You might be ahead of that me here: Every time I went to visit Greg over the next several weeks, conditions were never right. Disturbances in the cosmos, sun spots, ion storms, whatever, and, alas, I never got to talk to the resident of Jupiter’s moon. Oh, well. Shit happens.

I quickly came to the conclusion that one of two things was true. Either Greg was A) in contact with an alien (who spoke English, apparently, and who looked very human) and foul coincidence kept me from meeting her, or b) he wasn’t.

I pretty quickly went with b). But if so, then either Greg actually believed he had made such a contact or he was flat out lying to me. He swore it was true and while I didn’t think so, I was disposed to buy it that he believed it was true.

We became friends because I gave Greg the benefit of doubt.

Why would I do that? you ask.

Well, because if Greg was crazy, if he was hallucinating the whole thing, then that just made him weirder and I could live with that. But if he was lying for no apparent reason -- and at the time, I couldn’t see any reason -- then that was another story ...

In those days at that tender age, I expected people to be more or less honest, unless they had some good reason not to be that way, I believed Greg thought he was telling the truth. Why would he lie? What was to be gained by it?

It was my first adolescent brush with expectations of a friend. I didn’t understand that expecting things to be a certain way sometimes fogs your glass so that what you see isn’t what is there. I needed a friend as smart and as oddball as I was, and if he happened to be crazy? Well, you overlook the little things ...

Years passed and I believed that Greg and I were the best of buds. Then after a traumatic series of personal events to which I have alluded here before, I became convinced that Greg had been lying, not only about his interplanetary girlfriend, but about a whole lot of other things more important to me as an adult. As a result, we stopped being friends. And, of course, I kicked myself for not seeing it earlier. When I heard the Simon and Garfunkel song, "The Boxer," the lyric "still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest." practically resonated my head off.

The lesson seems pretty apparent to me. At fourteen, I would rather have believed somebody was crazy than deliberately lying to me -- because I had an expectation about how life was. Based on how I wanted it to be ...

I mostly know better now. I've realized it is better to avoid as many expectations as you can and just see what is ...

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


My career treading the boards ended, more or less, in high school. I somehow stumbled into the theater department -- mostly because the drama teacher was young and drop-dead gorgeous, and they never could get enough boys to try out for the plays, especially the musicals. In our school, football was king, followed by basketball, baseball, and track, and past that, well, boys not involved in those stood out front in the bullpen and smoked cigarettes. They were the bad boy two per-centers.

Or rather, we were the bad boys. I ran track one season, the 880 and the mile, but was kicked off the team for telling the coach to go to hell. Somebody swiped my shoes and he wanted me to run barefoot. This was in the days when tracks were covered with cinders. I didn't much like cigarettes, but the company of non-jocks was more interesting back then.

Years later, when Coach was busted for passing bad checks, I felt no small amount of glee. Mess with Captain Karma, what goes around, comes around ...

Um. Anyway, I somehow got dragged to an audition for a play, "I Remember Mama," and got a speaking part. It was a comedy, and I got laughs -- and thus addicted ...

The senior musical was "Oklahoma," while I was a better actor than Hal, who got the male lead, he was taller and had curly hair, and for a character named "Curly," that got him the role.
He thought he sang better, too, but upon this, we disagreed.

I was Will Parker, second male lead, and I had a couple of song solos and a fair number of lines, as well as a couple of dance numbers. I borrowed some cowboy boots, loaded my personal six gun with blanks, and learned how to do Russian kicks and the two-step for my dances. The choreographer, Judy, was later to become my sister-in-law.

First night, it could not have gone better. Everybody nailed everything. We killed.

Second night, almost anything that could go wrong did -- props vanished, guns misfired, then went off after they were holstered, things fell over backstage. We were ad-libbing whole scenes. Hal's nose started bleeding between acts, and he got it stopped, but I was put on notice that if it started up again, he'd point at me and say "Take it, Will!" and I was supposed to finish the big solo he had at the end as he hurried off, stage left ...

"Ohhhhkkklahoma, where the blood comes flowing out the nose ..."

That, fortunately, didn't happen.

One of the best times of my life, that play. The boys would go out and get plastered after rehearsals. Sometimes during. Once, in Mike's VW, with him driving, he had an urgent need to pee. "Take the wheel!" he yelled. I reached over, left hand on the steering wheel, left foot on the gas pedal as he stood up, leaned out the window, and took a major whiz at sixty-five miles per hour in a forty zone on Hooper Road. No better argument against malt liquor in forty ounce bottles downed during a half hour lunch break.

God must surely look out for fools and children, and foolish children must get special priority.

Just before dress-rehearsal, we got pulled over by the po-lice on our way to buy blanks for our guns -- we were all geared up like cowboys and every one of us strapped with real hardware, nt toys. We explained what the guns were for, and ... they just let us go.

Gentler times. More trusting cops. These days, we'd probably be shot by Homeland Security and the survivors, if any, waterboarded ...

I asked my wife out on our first date while the show was being readied -- she played one of the dance hall girls, and during one scene, while she and the other girls sashayed around Will and Ado Annie, I am here to tell you that Will could have done temporary duty as a three-legged stool right there in front of God and everybody. People in the front three rows later remarked upon it to me.

Say, were you hiding a section of broom handle in your pants for some reason?

When we went collect the pianist, who was a college kid with a name you wouldn't believe -- call him Rippy Ripperson, we found out he was gay. This happened when we went around a corner and Hal, in the backseat with this guy, suddenly started babbling a mile a minute. Turned out that the piano-player had slid over and given Hal a playful little squeeze on the family jewels, and Hal was in no way ready to deal with that. Every time I looked away, he cranked up the word spew. I thought he had lost his mind.

Later, when we got to the school Hal whispered, "Listen, don't don't tell anybody, but Rippy is queer ..."

Normally, the proper response would have been to beat Rippy to a pulp, it being the redneck south; however, as theater-geeks, we were more liberal about such things. Live and let live, and Rippy could really play that piano ...

We kept it from Ann, because we didn't want to shock her. (She knew, and it came out later, but we never told her about the grope in the VW. We were seventeen, men of the world, and she was all of twenty-two; married, but the flower of southern womanhood, and it was, of course, our job to protect her from such things. At one point, the girls in the cast deputized me to tell her she was sitting with her knees apart and her skirt riding a bit high, and the boys onstage were, as we used to say, shooting her squirrel. I didn't know exactly how to say this, so I just said, "Excuse me, but you better watch yourself." Her husband, Lance, sitting next to Ann, took umbrage at this, followed me backstage with blood in his eye, wanting to know just what the hell I meant by that. When I told him, he laughed. Why didn't you just say that? What, tell my teacher to keep her knees together? That would embarrassing.)

And, of course, Paul McCartney's "Hey, Jude," -- the name -- was supposed to come from the book -- based on the character "Jud Fry ..."

I bring all this up because Turner Network is running the Frank Capra version of "Arsenic and Old Lace" tonight, Cary Grant and Raymond Massey, and that was one of the plays we had considered doing. As it happened, one of my best drinking buddies from a crosstown high school was into acting, and that was the play they did senior year. He had the role of the Teddy Roosevelt character. "Charge!"

Great play. Great movie, too.

Had we done "The King and I," I would have had the Yul Brynner part locked. At least that's what the music and drama teachers told me.

I think those plays are one of the reasons I'm comfortable on a stage in front of an audience. First time I ever sang in public, and it was for a full house.

Ah, those early soul-shaping experiences. Nothing like 'em ...

What You See Isn't Always What You Get, Or ...

Be Careful Jumping to Conclusions ...

I had a buddy once, a writer, with whom I got along pretty well. He was local, we did some work together. We weren't blood-brothers, but now and again we'd go hang out for a beer or lunch. If we had any kind of gathering, we'd invite him and his wife and they'd usually show up. If they had a party, we got asked to drop by. The four of us would go out for dinner now and again, and he and I would run into each other at conventions.

Nice guy, smart, clever, talented, and very funny.

I'd have said he wasn't quite at the help-me-bury-the-body level, but we were somewhat above wave-at-each-other-at-work friends.

He and his wife decided they had to move to a new town. Portland was cold and chilly, there were some health issues, so they wanted a warmer, drier climate.

I could understand that. We wished them well, and assumed that they'd stay in touch.

They moved, and far as I could tell, dropped off the face of the planet. No forwarding address, no email, no letters, phone calls, zip. Dropped off the the e-groups he'd been in that I knew about.

I sent emails to the address I had; they didn't bounce, but they didn't get answered, either. My buddy's web page went fallow. Nobody around here had heard from him.

What the hell? Maybe they got run over by a truck or caught in an avalanche or something.

After a fairly long time with no word, I put on my private eye hat and, in a couple of degrees of separation, tracked them down. They weren't hiding, they just weren't talking. So I made a call, left a message, and eventually, heard back from the wife.

Why, yes, they were fine, moving along, how are you? and all like that. In the course of the conversation, it came up as how my buddy had more or less quit writing and gotten a job teaching.

I had known he was depressed about his career. He had talked about bagging it and getting a teaching credential, but I hadn't taken him seriously. Over a long period, he produced some good books, and his most recent one had been terrific , one that impressed me. However, despite great critical reviews, the novel sank like a stone into the midlist pond, leaving hardly any ripples.

He was discouraged, and he decided to back away from it. When I heard this, I didn't expect that would last forever -- writing was too much a part of him -- but there has been a sizeable gap in there -- almost ten years since his most recent novel was published.

That call was the last we've heard from them, and since it was pretty obvious they weren't interested in continuing whatever relationship there had been, I shrugged it off and went on my way. That's how it goes, and AMF.

Still, it was troubling for a while, until I came up with what I thought was a reason. Might be wrong, my deduction, but it makes a certain sense to me. Since he had mostly quit writing and gotten a real job, he might think that other writers would look at him askance. As if he were a failure because his books hadn't hit the jackpot, and because he had walked away in disgust. I wouldn't think so, but I can see how he might feel that way.

And as long as he was corresponding with other authors, the subject of writing would naturally tend to come up, and I think he just didn't want to deal with it. Me blathering on about my books, and him steaming because his hadn't gotten the recognition they were due. (That I could surely understand -- all writers feel that way ...) Unfortunately, talent doesn't always get rewarded in this biz. Several of the best writers in the fantasy and SF field died as poor as church mice. I knew (slightly) three of the best -- Ted Sturgeon, Fritz Leiber, and Bob Sheckley. None of them had a pot to piss in when they shuffled off, and at their best, all of them could write rings around most of us; that on a bad day, using a leaky pen. Harlan Ellison once allowed as how most of us in the biz weren't fit to carry Fritz Leiber's pencil case, and he was right.

I could understand that.

Or, maybe my buddy and his wife, as some people do, just moved away and never looked back because they didn't want to leave any strings connecting them to their history. Fresh start. I know others who have done that. Packed up, left town, started over, never gave a thought to the old town and friends there. Past is prologue, and have a nice life.

I dunno for sure, but it was -- and still is -- certainly food for thought ...

Go Look, It's a Golok ...

A golok (pronounced "go-lock,") is an Indonesian blade, mostly used for chopping. They vary in size and shape -- some are blunt-tipped, some have a point, and they can be as short as a long knife or equal to a short sword. They don't have a guard. Like cane knives or machetes, they are primarily tools. Since, in rural areas, they are apt to be handy, they are useful as weapons, should the need arise. If you can lop off the end of a coconut with one, you can lop off other things.

(An aside: Once, on a visit to Hana, on Maui, Hawaii, I went to a little general store. Hasegawa's, I believe. On the wall behind the counter were dozens of cane knives of different sizes and shapes, for cutting, trimming, hollowing-out, way more than I'd ever seen before. Goloks are like that. There is a kind of general look, but many versions.)

Lately in our silat class, we have been working on attacks and defenses with the golok-style blade. We are still at the most basic level, waving our sticks at each other while standing still, learning how shift our weight. Just getting to the point of adding in footwork. For this, we use ersatz goloks, and think of them as blades and not as sticks, so we have to be mindful of our edges. (There are arts, mostly FMA, that use a stick or sticks as weapons, and speak to them as such, but a stick is not a blade.) Thanks to Edwin, several of us got heavy black plastic practice bokkens from Cold Steel and shortened them; since they have a blade-shape, these work well, and have stood up to some pretty good drills banging them against each other.

Until I got into silat, I had no love for short blades. When I reached for a non-projectile weapon to play, I favored the staff, or a Japanese katana. My only real experience with swords came from a form in Okinawa-te, and then from kendo. I spent most of a year in a kendo class, getting whacked on the head and shoulders and ribs through bogu, practice armor by a bamboo sword, a shinai. These are a bit longer even than a katana, and in bladework, length matters.

I also developed some really thick callus on the balls of both feet, since we scooted back and forth on a wood floor shoeless and the basic kendo move is less a step than a slide.

Silat Sera Plinck is a system, and it all hangs together. The principles are a through-line. The moves have to be modified somewhat, because the assumption is always that you'll be facing somebody who knows as much as you do and is as well, if not better, -armed, so you have to allow for a different distance. An attacker who is two feet short of hitting you with a punch can shave your ears off with a golok, and it behooves you to know that, and how to deal with it ...

Fascinating stuff, this close-combat business. Always something new to learn ...

Monday, November 05, 2007

Luddite Learns Leaf Form

Okay, so after years of refusing to even consider getting a leaf blower -- what, I can't use a rake? -- today I broke down and got one.

Here's my rationalization: I learned that the leaf-blower can be used to clean gutters. This is a nasty job when done by hand -- you have to glove up and dig the guck out. Top layer is nice, dry, crispy yellow and red leaves; middle layer is damp pine and fir needles. Bottom layer, is like something from the Precambrian Era, of a color and consistency between petroleum crude and road tar. Things live in it: Spiders, silverfish, trilobites ...

Mr. Leaf Blower, with his two hundred and thirty-five mile an hour tornado breath, blows the guck out like you wouldn't believe. What normally would take two hours by hand took half that and a lot less elbow grease.

Plus the roof itself was covered with autumn's bounty, and either I'd have to rake that or watch the next rains turn it into leaf mache, and hey, no problem for El Toro Viento.

For what it would cost to have one minimum-wage guy to come out to just clean the gutters one time, I got the leaf blower, did the gutters and the roof, and then cleared the sidewalks and deck and patio. And now I have the machine. On sale at Home Depot, 15% off, already paid for itself. Such a deal.

One I got was electric, so I'm not adding to the local pollution. It will, if I am so disposed, turn into a vacuum cleaner/leaf mulcher, by adding an attachment and bag, but I'm not there yet. What, I can't pick the leaves up and put them in the yard debris bin?

I wore sound suppressor headphones, to keep from going any deafer than I am. It was a lot easier than raking, and in a compulsive-Virgo way, most satisfying, watching the leaves dance and whirl to my magic air wand. (And watching my brave little girl dog Layla charging the nozzle, unperturbed by the hurricane laying her ears back ...)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Spy/Action Movie Character Advice

1. If you are an undercover operative and somebody asks you your name, do not say, "Bond. James Bond." Everybody from the polar bears at the North Pole to the penguins in Antarctica knows you are a double-oh-agent for Her Majesty's Secret Service. Everybody. Tell them your name is "Smith." They'll still know who you are, but you won't look quite so stupid.

2. If you are the evil overlord and you have captured the secret op, shoot him in the head immediately. Do not devise some fiendishly clever way to kill him slowly and painfully. He will escape and come back to bite you on the ass. Every time.

3. Likewise, do not tell the about-to-die spy your secret plan, even if you intend to shoot him in the head an instant later. (See #2, last line.)

4. If you are a woman in the employ of the villain, never, ever sleep with the spy trying to get to your boss, no matter how hot you think he is. Jumping off the roof of a tall building onto the sidewalk head down is less likely to be fatal than getting it on with Mr. Bond.

5. If you are a criminal intending to take over a) a building b) an airport c) a freeway d) a power station, or e) anything else, and you see John McClane (aka Bruce Willis), run, do not walk, to the nearest transportation and flee the country. The man is bulletproof, made of Teflon and rubber, nothing sticks, and he bounces when he falls. Hang around, you might as well jump off a tall building head down onto the concrete now and save yourself getting all tired. You are a dead man walkin'.

6. If you think locking Derek Flint in anything will save you, think again. Not an airtight safe, not a cryogenic freezer.

7. Spies are professional liars, more so than politicians. Never ever trust anything any of them say about anything. If you think they have your back, they do, but only as a target for their knives. Exception here is the old pro Russian spy on the other side of the fence. He's your enemy, but him you can trust.

8. If you wake up one day and can't remember your past but suddenly notice you can tell the weight of everybody in the diner, which of them can handle themselves in a fight, and recall all the license numbers for every car in the parking lot, your name is Jason Bourne, that's B-o-u-r-n-e, and you are a walking death machine. If you want to save yourself a lot of grief, Jay, move to Tahiti now and forget about trying to remember your past -- you don't really want to know, and in the process, a lot of people, some of them your hot girlfriends, are gonna die.

9. If somebody from the government comes to your retirement cabin in the woods and wants you to come back to work for the spook shop for one last job of critical importance, don't do it. It will cause you no end of grief. You'll survive, but you'll get the shit beat out of you and a lot of people will die, some of them will be your new friends whose only crime is that they took up with you.

10. If you are the hero, for your own sake, buy a drugstore's supply of condoms and use them. Otherwise, all that sex will be your downfall. Nobody loves an old guy with twelve veneral diseases rotting his face -- and other parts off ...

It's a Monster!

Advice to characters in monster movies:

1. If you live next door to the graveyard and you hear a funny noise in the middle of the night, don't stroll over to the tombstones to see what it is. You will die shortly thereafter, screaming.

2. If you are a woman and you live next to the graveyard, burn all your nightgowns and switch to flannel pajamas. Many women in nightgowns have died at the fangs of monsters in graveyards, but none have ever done so in flannel pj's.

3. If there is a nine-foot-tall monster on your spaceship killing the crew and the only way to survive is to stay together, don't wander off on your own as soon as this decision is reached.
You will die shortly thereafter screaming -- and rightly so. I'll be rooting for the monster, because you are too stupid to live.

4. If you are a homicide detective called to a crime scene and you find a corpse drained of blood with two little holes on its neck? A vampire did it. What -- you never saw a fucking movie?

5. If you are a zookeeper and you find a naked man in the eland pen, surrounded by slaughtered and eviscerated elands and covered in blood? He's a werewolf. Shoot him with a silver bullet right now. (Silver bullets are hard to make, by the way, best you figure out how before the moon turns full.)

6. Nine times out of ten if something jumps out at you in a dark room when you are worried about being eaten by a monster, the something will be a cat. But: Don't relax, because the monster sent it to do just that and in a second, you will die, screaming.

7. If you shoot the monster and it falls over, it isn't anywhere close to dead. Drive a stake through its heart, cut its head off, burn it, put the ashes in a safe, and drop it into the deepest part of the ocean. It still isn't dead, but it might stay down there long enough for you to have a few good years before it comes back.

8. If Cyberdyne Systems down in Sunnyvale ever makes a family car, buy it. It will be the last one you ever need, and it will put Volvo out of business. When they come out with the Terminator robot model, buy that, too. It'll be smarter than the upgrade, and eventually will become governor of a large western state.

9. If you are looking for a new house and a voice inside one you are touring says "Get out!" do so as fast as you can and never look back.

10. If somebody offers to show you a video of something that is supposed to drive people mad and then they die? Don't watch it. The Japanese version is much better.

Saturday, November 03, 2007


Today, the first of a series of columns on rules-of-thumb for literary characters. Starting with murder mysteries:

1. If you are a detective, the first person you bring in for questioning and/or arrest, no matter how much motive, means, and opportunity he had is not the killer. Let him go.

2. If the eyewitness accounts of the fleeing killer all reflect that he wore gloves, a hat, a coat, and nobody could see any of his features, the killer is a woman.

3. If you are a detective with Scotland Yard and Sherlock Holmes offers a theory as to how the crime happened, he is right and you are wrong. Get used to it -- it will always be thus.

4a. If there are six people in the room who all had reason to slay the victim, the one everybody suspects least did it.

4b. Or all of them did it.

4c. Or somebody everybody thought was dead did it.

5. When looking for reasons why somebody was murdered, always consider the idea that there is a long lost a) son b) daughter c) spouse d) jilted lover that nobody in the family ever knew about.

6. If the psychopathic killer you finally ran down makes bail and you are a woman cop, don't go home. He'll already be there waiting for you.

7. If your family all hates you, don't eat unless somebody tastes your food first.

8. If your family hates you, don't travel by train. Or take long walks by yourself anywhere, especially along rocky points overlooking the ocean. Or let them give your your medicine.

9. If you are a gambler and owe money to shylocks and think you have come up with the perfect way to do in your rich uncle, forget it. They'll get you every time.

10. If you are a murderer and you get caught, don't say a fucking word until your lawyer gets there, and when he does listen to him. Don't try to set the record straight. Ever. Police don't have to be brilliant, just persistent. (And if you underestimate them, you are doomed. Remember Columbo?)

That's enough for now. I think I'll do monster movies next ...

Friday, November 02, 2007