Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Never Tempt the Gods


So, after I allowed as how I couldn't wait to try the muscle-up, it appears that I will be able to wait after all. How long, I dunno, but after tossing my grandson, a well-appointed boy who is probably seventy pounds and tall for his age, into the air a few times, it appears that my failure to warm up properly has come back to haunt me.

I pulled something in my upper back.

Not fighting off nine ninjas whilst out walking the dogs; not even in silat class doing legwork. Hoisting my grandson up for "wheee!" Worse, while I was hoping it was the trap, I don't think it is, because of where the pain is, how much it hurts, and a couple of tests one can do to narrow down which muscles might be involved. That's the curse of having a little knowledge, you can't be blissfully ignorant of some things.

What I fear is that I tore my rotator-cuff on the left side. Just a partial, and probably in the supraspinatus, one of four itty-bitty muscles you can't get to from the outside -- infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis being the other three. For years, I've done shoulder exercises to prevent just this.

I hope not. I hope I am out-of-practice in diagnosing such things, that's is just referred pain from a few strained fibers in the trapezius, and in a week, why, I'll be right as rain.

But: ice, eating ibuprofen like M&Ms, rest, and wishing it into the cornfield have thus far done little to make it ease off, so I expect that I'll be calling my doctor tomorrow and seeing if she can see me any time in the next eight or ten years.

And if'n it is what I hope it ain't, the options of doing what I'm already doing, cortisone injections, or surgery will be bandied about. None of which appeal, thank you.

Ick. Ick.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Best Rings Routine Ever

You gotta love this -- especially the dismount ...

Looking for an Upper Body Exercise?

Pound-for-pound, I've always thought gymnasts were high among those with useful strength. You must be strong and flexible to do gymnastics, and you can develop this kind of power using only your own bodyweight, no iron pumping necessary. (Though strength-training with weights can help, and some do that.)

There's a strong element of gymnastics in parkour, or free-running. I think this is an activity mostly suited for the young and bulletproof -- fun to watch -- but not something a man my age is going to take up and do well. It does, however, have some good training exercises I might be able to learn, one of which is called the muscle-up. You see this in ring competition in gymnastics, and it is a lot harder than it looks.

My chinning bar at home is in a doorway, and if I could manage this, I'd punch a hole in the ceiling with my head, but it's something I am going to try at the gym next time I go ...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Theology and Politics


So, I watched Bill Moyers' Journal tonight on PBS. Barack Obama's former minister, the Reverend Wright, was on for the full hour. When you hear him speak, and see more than just the soundbites cut from his sermons -- PBS ran longer excerpts -- you get different picture than you do via YouTube and Fox News.

Wright might be abrasive and maybe he gets a tad hyperbolic, but -- unfortunately -- a lot of what he was pissed off about, he had -- still has -- good reason to be that way.

I can see why Obama didn't cut him entirely loose. The Rev calls it like he sees it.

Context makes a helluva difference. This was a man who spent six years in the Marine Corps. Between that and growing up black in fifties America, he earned the right to do a little bitching.
And a lot of what he had to say made sense to me, and I'm lily white and a redneck cracker.

Looking for Place to Spend Your Tax Rebate?




Other than maybe filling your gas tank?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Technology Flops Again

And the same vid, via YouTube. Runs slower, but a lot more artifacts.

So much for seamless flow along the information corridor ...

This is a Test

A vid I shot last year, playing with a kerambit. Just looking to see if I can upload directly to blogger instead of going through YouTube. (Still has a few glitches -- like, am I that fast ? Uh huh, sure I am ... I went back in, slowed the speed by half, and reposted it, and this is what I got. Still buggy.)



video

Write Faster


I generally have a stack of books by the bed. I read less than I used to, but I'm still getting through maybe two hundred books a year, plus assorted 'zines, not counting the daily newspaper, blogs, and all like that.

As a reader, I have a gripe with my favorite writers -- they need to write faster.

If I find a book by somebody and I like it, I look to see what else they've done. If they have a series, I collect as many as I can find. Problem is, even if they have twenty books in print, I can read them all before they can get too far ahead of me. Pretty soon, I catch up, and then I have to wait on them.

There are a handful of writers that I will buy in hardback. With some of those in the $25-35 range, I can't afford too many on that list. So I go to the bookstore and prowl the aisles, waiting for one of them to come out with a new novel. Generally, this doesn't happen but once a year, sometimes longer. Sometimes way longer -- fans of George R.R. Martin's fantasy series have been drumming their fingers impatiently for several years now waiting on him.

It took two decades for Roger Zelazny to finish his Amber series.

Me, I have a dozen guys I'm waiting on at any given time.

One example: I got hooked on Robert Parker's Spencer books years ago. He now has three characters with whom he plays -- Spencer, Jesse Stone, and Sunny Randall. They are all variations on the same guy, even though Sunny is a woman, she is a lot like Spencer in a skirt. Parker is faster than most, so those characters show up more frequently, but since, if Dianne drives, I can almost finish one on the way home -- lotta dialog -- the novels are like fast-food -- quick, easy, over in a hurry.

(Gotta love that Hawk, who is the coolest dude in modern mystery novels. Bobby Crais's Elvis Cole novels give us the west coast version of the Bostonian Spencer, and his sidekick, Joe Pike, is the white trash version of Hawk. I'd love to see them in a book together. Hawk and Pike ...)

Um I digress, I digress, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers pressed ...

My gripe is that the writers I like need to write faster -- and today, I got an email from one of my fans, and, of a moment, found myself on the other side of the looking glass. You, he said, need to write faster ...

Huh. What goes around comes around. One more manifestation of karma.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

F*ck 'Em If They Can't Take a Joke ...


Okay, I've never hidden it that my ethical and political suasion is mostly to the left of center.

Pigeon-holing somebody as a conservative or liberal is tricky, however, since a lot of folks don't fall completely into either category. Among my more liberal friends when I start talking about guns, their eyes go wide in horror; amongst my more conservative friends, the idea that I would pack up the American troops in Iraq and fly 'em home tomorrow gets the same kind of bug-eyed stare. Drives people crazy if you don't follow the party line unswervingly. They don't know what to do with you.

Want to screw with people's heads? Join the NRA and the ACLU at the same time ...

The New York Times hasn't been considered anything close to conservative for a long time, and I am more often in agreement with their stances than not, but, you have to give the Devil his due. Whoever came up with this one? S/he is funny:

A man is walking in the New York zoo when he sees a little girl leaning close to the lion's cage. Suddenly, the lion reaches out through the bars, grabs her by the cuff of her jacket, and tries to pull her inside!

Her parents scream, but are paralyzed. Nobody can seem to move --

The walker sprints to the cage, and without hesitation, reaches in and hits the lion square on the nose with a powerful punch.

The lion jumps back, roars, releases the girl, and the man grabs her. He delivers her to her terrified parents, who can't thank him enough.

A reporter nearby has seen the whole scene, and he comes over: "Sir, this was the most gallant and brave thing I have ever seen!"

"Why, it was nothing," the man said. "Really, I mean, the lion was behind bars, and I saw the child in danger, what else could I have done? Not like I had to have the faith of Daniel to actually walk into the cage."

"I notice a Bible in your pocket," said the journalist.

"Yes, I'm a Christian and was on my way to a Bible study group."

"Well, I'll make sure this won't go unnoticed. I'm a journalist, you know, and tomorrow's papers will have this on the front page."

The journalist leaves.

The following morning the rescuer buys the New York Times, to see if it indeed has news of his actions, and sure enough, it does, right there on the front page:

"Right Wing Christian Fundamentalist Assaults African Immigrant and Steals his Lunch ..."


Want to See Who I'm Supporting for Senate?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Kitchen Skulduggery


Sometimes on a lazy weekend afternoon, especially if it is raining and we can't do yard work, we watch cooking shows on the Food Channel. This requires little brainpower, and is amusing, and now and then, we are inspired to try a new dish we've seen presented.

One of the shows we like is called Dinner: Impossible. In it a chef, a big, bodybuilder Brit named Robert Irvine, is brought somewhere and told of this week's challenge, which involves cooking a meal from anywhere from a few to a few hundred people, given a theme he must follow, and time limit. In the past, Chef has been taken to Pixar and told he has to feed six hundred animators, and the theme is to use the Pixar movies, like Finding Nemo, Cars, and Ratatoullie. Or in Williamsburg, making a meal using only 17th century tools. Or at Hershey, PA, making a five-course meal for a hundred and fifty, each course of which had to feature chocolate ...

Silly stuff, but the chef seems a good-natured fellow, and he and his crew, mostly taken from the group he has to feed, run around like chickens with their heads cut off while trying to come up with dishes whilst missing half the ingredients they need.

Imagine my horror when -- only today! -- I found out that Irvine has been canned for lying about his resume. A month ago, he was outed, and today, his replacement announced. Hidden and murky depths in the chef ...

Oh, the humanity! Is there nothing sacred ... ?

Another Separated at Birth ... ?



My collaborator and the jester ...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Shiva Ki's Kerambits


Somebody asked for a picture of these ...

I Don't Care Who You Are, That There is Funny ...


Thanks to Larry the Cable Guy for the title.

Humor, as I have pointed out before, and I'm not the first to do so, is almost always at somebody's -- or some thing's expense. Almost always, somebody is the butt of the joke.

You don't think so, go over the ones that made you laugh out loud. Got one that wasn't making fun of somebody, pass it along. I collect them. (They'll all fit on the head of a pin, with room left over for a bunch of angels to dance ...)

Best stuff for me is when the teller makes fun of himself. Thus, a southern comedian talking about driving and getting pulled over by the Louisiana State Police: Cop swaggers up, looks at the guy. "You in a lot of trouble, boy. Here, take this ticket, and you write what I tell you ..."

Or the guy going to register to vote in Mississippi. Signs his name: X xx. Registrar says, "Well, okay, I know what X stands for, but what's with the two little xx's?"

And the guys says, "That stands for "M.D."

My best lawyer jokes come from lawyers; best doctor jokes from doctors; best actor, agent, producer jokes from among their number, too.

Politically-incorrect humor can be stretched too far, and when it steps over the line and is simply cruel, it commits the cardinal sin in comedy: It isn't funny. But one of my favorite panel cartoons, in, I recall Writer's Digest, is from years back. It was the last of three in a series, a racist toon, a sexist one, and a racist/sexist toon combo. This was the title over the toon -- a"A Racist, Sexist Cartoon."

This last one shows a white man in black face makeup kneeling on a stage, hands clutched to his belly, in obvious pain. And the caption is:

"Pre-minstrel cramps ..."

It was less a truly racist or sexist dig than it was a play on words. I laughed, what can I say?

(I don't watch South Park because for me, it's puerile. But I do like Futurama. Anybody can do fart jokes, but clever writing gets me every time. But, it's different strokes for different folks ...)

Armed Response


Another true childhood tale:

Summer I was nine -- I think, I'll speak to that later -- there was a strike at The Plant. This was a generic term for any of the companies in the petrochemical complex that sits next to the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge. This included the Esso Refinery (now Exxon-Mobil); Ethyl Corp., and Kaiser Aluminum, among others, and at the time, one of the three largest such complexes in the world. (We were #3 on the Russian's atomic bomb list, behind Washington, D.C. and New York City, and proud of it.)

Back then, the flare-stacks burned constantly, and on days when the rain was particularly heavy and they thought nobody would notice, they'd open the suckers up and pour crap into the heavens that would turn the clouds green ...

My father worked at Ethyl Corp., as an engineer, so he wasn't in the union, but considered management.

There was no way they were going to shut the plant down, and not going to hire scabs, so management decided to run things themselves. To this end, they set up cots and kitchens and everybody who wasn't in the union essentially moved into the plant and went into a rotation of twelve hours on, twelve off, for the duration. My father got to come home every few days, but then he had to go back. I don't remember exactly how long the strike lasted -- seemed like a long time.

But even then, I read the newspaper every evening -- we got the State Times, not the Morning Advocate -- and I came across an article that frightened me. Seems that some of the homes belonging to Ethyl managers had been vandalized -- rocks thrown through windows, paint sloshed on them, like that, almost certainly by disgruntled workers on strike.

Lotta kids had fathers who worked at The Plant, but on our end of the street, none of them at Ethyl Corp. save mine. So I organized a vigilante patrol. I, and several other boys my age, armed with our Daisy BB guns, marched up and down the street, or skulked in the ditches and azalea bushes, to guard against vandals, or worse.

I must have been at least nine, since I didn't get my first BB gun until the Christmas after I was eight, and the gun I carried wasn't the Daisy Pump or the blond-stock with the scope, which I didn't get until I was older ...

This was back in the day when boys wandering around a neighborhood could carry BB guns and nobody thought anything of it, as long as we didn't shoot the birds in their yards. Which, of course, we did at every opportunity.

That part of the summer passed, the strike was settled, and my father started coming home in the evenings again. We never did get visits from the angry strikers at my house, though I had secretly hoped we would so that our militia could lay them low.

Hey, we were nine. Way more guts than brains ...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Wooden Instruments


So we went to the show at Marylhurst. Lotta instrument makers there. Being a classical guitar guy, those are the makers I notice the most, and a bunch of really good ones showed up: Robert Ruck was one table down from Jeff Elliott. Woodley White, George Smith, Craig Wilson, Salvador Morales, Alan Perlman, Cyndy Burton, Keith Rhodes. Mike Doolin had his harp guitars there, others I probably missed.

Violin makers, mandolins, harps, even a marimba; flutes, lutes, wood, wax, the place smelled great, and if you like stringed instruments, you would have had a fine ole time just walking around and inhaling.

The mini-concerts this year were held in a different venue -- school was working on the grounds and the usual place was hard to get to, so it was in Flavia Hall. Not as nice a room, but you could hear everybody okay. We saw people do short stints: Mary Flower (steel-string and classical guitar); Peter Zisa and Dina Fergurgur, (classical guitar duet); Scot Mueller and Joe Majors played electric guitar and electric bass. Travis Johnson, who looked like he was all of thirteen, played an Elliot classical and did a fine job. David Franzen played a George Smith blackwood classical, after a touching story about a phone call from the wife of his guitar teacher, who is apparently dying, and who was listening to one of Franzen's CDs. Jeff Ashton did what he called his "chestnut set" on a classical by Woodley White -- started with Romanza.

Franzen used his own guitar, which was several years old, and you can really hear the difference between a spruce top that has been played and opened up, and one that is a couple weeks old.

The Morales family had a few nick-nacks on their table. My wife bought me a clock ...

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Gorilla My Dreams


I may have told this story before. If not, I should have ...

Back in my childhood, exotic pets were more common than they are now. There were plenty of dogs -- most of them running loose and apt to bite -- cats, birds, of course, but you could also buy what were called tea-cup monkeys -- tiny little things advertised in the back of comic books, along with snakes, lizards, and various large cats -- I had a friend who had an ocelot. We knew a guy who had a bobcat, and one who had a panther kitten.

No licenses necessary, save for the dogs.

One bright spring day, my friend Bobby Harrison and I decided to go and steal plums. I have mentioned that such an activity was common amongst the nine- and ten-year-old boys where I lived. We located various trees, watched them from afar, and then when the fruit was just the right shade of green-turning-to-yellow, we'd hop the back yard fence -- most of the plum trees were in back yards and most of those were fenced -- fill our pillowcases, and haul ass.

What passed for crime in our day and neighborhood.

So, Bobby had found a tree not far from his house -- on Enterprise, two streets over from mine -- that we had somehow missed. We rolled by on our bikes, and it was full of just-right plums.
No time like the present, we parked the bikes, climbed the fence, and started stuffing plums into a brown paper sack, when, all of a sudden --

King Kong dropped out of the tree in front of us.

Well, okay, not really King Kong. It was, I later found out, a young chimpanzee. Wearing -- though I didn't notice it at the time -- a collar and chain that was connected to the tree.

But, picture it: Two scrawny little boys, going maybe sixty pounds each, and of a moment, beset by a swings-with-Tarzan furry monster as big as we were.

You have never seen, nor will you likely ever see, anybody move so fast. Bobby and I screamed and flew -- flew -- over the fence. I don't remember the trip home, only the end when I skidded my little Huffy into the front yard, still terrified and hardly able to breathe.

My mother was waiting at the front door. She glared at me.

"What have you been doing?"

A knee-jerk response:"Me? Nothing!"

"A woman just called me and said you were in her back yard, scaring her monkey."

I was astounded.

For two reasons: One, that anybody could possibly think that I was scaring that great ape who, I was dead certain, would have torn off my limbs had it been able to grab me.

Scaring her monkey?! Me?! It would have killed me!

And two, and more importantly -- how had that woman known who I was? How could she have called my mother in the time I tore up the streets racing home? That was the mystery.

Later, when I talked to Bobby, he swore he hadn't ratted me out, and I believed him. But to this day, I recall that event with great puzzlement. What kind of person keeps an ape in her backyard plum tree? How had she known who I was and managed to phone my mother in the five minutes it took me to flee home? Even if Bobby's mother had gotten it out of him -- and how would she have even known to ask? -- it would have taken a while to get my name and number to the woman so she could call my mother.

I didn't know the woman. Nor her monkey. But maybe she knew who I was.

One of life's unanswered questions. More proof that the universe is strange.

Over the Hill



Well, it seems that Todd is having a birthday today. Officially having crossed into middle age and now beset with forty-five years.

Happy Birthday, Todd.

They say that forty-five is the new forty-three, but it's all downhill from here ...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Art




While I'm here, a bit more about Mike Byers's art: I'm fortunate enough to own five glass pieces by him. Three are fused; one is etched and edged with neon; and the last is stained glass. (Oh, and there is a textile, Hmong, I think.)

Here are three of those pieces: Dirisha, Chromatic Sequence, and the etched/neon piece is a stylized version of our silat logo. (Fuhoni-te and In the Dreamtime are the other fused pieces.)

Dirisha is a bit weathered -- for several years, she dangled under the eaves overlooking the hot tub out back. When we re-did the deck, we had to move her inside.

High Quality Steel

One more, for those of you who missed it. If you are considering getting one of those reasonably priced -- read cheap -- "practice" katanas you see for sale? Have a look ...

P.S. You gotta love Odell ...

The Difference Between a Good Day and a Bad Day ...




Lee Barden, a master of the nunchaku -- Okinawan rice flail -- aka nunchucks, or just chux. The video is of him doing a demo with a pair of these, one end of each which is soaked in gasoline and set ablaze.

The still is what happens when you kick the pan full of gasoline you left on the floor after you soaked your chux and fired 'em up -- and the volatile fluid sloshes up onto you and turns you into the Human Torch ...

Hell of a demo. So to speak.

He survived, but he's a lot more careful where he puts his -- expensive -- petrol these days.

Need a Conversation Piece?



Check out Mike Byers's latest creation: The Mark 24 Type 3a Trinary Hazard Emission Device.

The Mark 24 Type 3a is designed to emit three modern hazards: biologicals, radiation and smiley faces, and meets or exceeds Federal Standard UD/12336-P/14b. Revision 1299f for Devices That Do Absolutely Nothing While Appearing To Be Powerful And Dangerous ...

Gotta love an artist with that wicked of a sense of humor. Byers mostly works in glass, does fine stained and fused media, and he figured out a way to mix the oddest things -- he once created a steer skull that was chrome-plated. He sometimes picks up a pen: he sold a story about a unicorn killer ...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Democratic Debate


So, I watched the debate from Philadelphia tonight, Clinton versus Obama.

Until tonight, I was leaning toward Hillary. Not any more. It's not just that she took the low road and offered material that stopped just short of slander; it was that as somebody whose family has been subject to this kind of crap for years, she had to know what it felt like, and she did it anyway.

I was disappointed. I should know better by now, but still, I was. She's a smart, capable woman, but I didn't like what I saw and heard.

I don't think either of them particularly won the debate. But Hillary lost at least one primary vote because of how she conducted herself.

A shame.

Karma


Let's talk a little bit about karma. It's a concept that runs through most major religions and deals with the ideas that you are responsible for your actions, and that such actions have a cause-and-effect relationship.

In the Christian faith, karma is probably best expressed by Galations 6:7-8: " ... whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

In the eastern versions, it gets a little complicated, and in those that deal with reincarnation, karma can get carried over from life to the next. If you do good deeds, they pay off; if you do bad, you get payback -- but either might not happen in this lifetime.

It is a comforting concept to somebody who has been screwed over, that whoever did it is gonna get theirs someday. I confess I'd rather see that happen sooner than later. Guy runs me off the road, I will be tickled to see him two miles up the highway pulled over and getting a big fat ticket ...

Unfortunately, gloating when somebody gets theirs only makes more bad karma for you. Actions cost more than words, and words more than thoughts, but you can get dinged for thinking, too.

Back when I was in high school, I dated a girl of whom I was much enamored. Let's call her "Linda." After half a dozen dates, I asked her to the senior prom.

Alas, she was not quite as taken with me as I was her, and her answer was, "Let me think about it."

Those of you who have been in high school know immediately what this really means: "Let me see if somebody better asks me."

Rather to hear "Piss off and die!" than "Let me think about it ..."

I was not pleased, no way, no how, no sir.

Several weeks passed, with me twisting in the wind. Linda suddenly became too busy to talk to me. Her dance card filled up, no weekends were vacant. I had been given my marching papers, and like Dylan said, you don't need to be a weatherman to know which way the winds blows ...

I was bereft.

After my dark depression lifted somewhat -- nobody likes to be dumped --I resolved to cut a swath through the best-looking -- yeah, that was me, Mr. Superficial -- best-looking girls in school, to date all who would have me. I made a list of the top ten. Most of them had boyfriends who played football, but that didn't deter me.

Fortunately, I must have earned some good karma in a previous life. The first girl I picked, the best-looking and smartest one of the bunch, said yes. And that was as far as I got on the list.

We have been married for forty-one years.

But back to karma:

The young lady who put me on hold faded in memory quickly after I hooked up with the woman who would someday own me body and soul. Poof, dust in the wind. Or down in Louisiana, perhaps mud in the swamp would be more accurate.

Shortly before the senior prom Linda called me. "So, I guess you have somebody to take to the prom, huh?"

"Oh, yes."

There was a long pause. "Oh."

I was so righteous in my thought: Hey, you had your chance. What the hell did you expect?

We hung up. I had a warm glow inside.

Come the prom, Linda showed up with a guy from another school. Happened that I knew him, and found out that she had asked him. This, of course, was simply not done back in my day, the boys always asked. Oh, now I really felt smug. See? See what you get? I didn't have clue what karma was, but I liked what it was doing for me.

During the prom, Linda came over. Asked me to dance. We did. She was on the edge of tears. "I should have said yes when you asked," she said.

I said nothing. Yes, bitch, you should have. Too bad.

Seventeen-year-old boys are, by and large, fools and ne'er-do-wells, I was no exception. I was so smug. Served her right and -- snapping his fingers -- that for you, Linda! Small cruelty, not like torturing somebody, but a cruelty nonetheless.

School ended, we went out into the world, and I didn't see Linda until our 25th class reunion. She had moved off to New England somewhere, gotten married had kids, and we had a chance to visit. I didn't bear her any ill will; after all, had she accepted my invitation in 1965, I might never have asked my wife out, and boy, wouldn't that have been a different road? If anything, I owed her, big-time. But it takes experience to see such things. I can't claim to be wise, but life has knocked a few of the sharp corners off, yessir. You live long enough, you learn stuff.

I think I've paid that particular bit of smug karma off -- there are a couple events that resonate that way, and they stung. But, given what I got?

Such a deal. Such a deal ...

Lame Jokes of the Day


For no other reason other than they roiled up in my brain as I was walking the dogs today. (Once they get started, they are hard to stop, but I held it to three:)

1. Q: If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?
A: Pilgrims.

2. Q: What's white and goes up?
A. A retarded snowflake.

3. Q: How do you catch a unique rabbit?
A: Unique up on it ...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Living Well is the Best Revenge


I slept with a night light until I was ten years old. It was one of those little christmas-tree bulb things, plugged into the socket behind my little brother's bed headboard. Not much light, seven watts, I think, but I needed it.

I was afraid of the dark.

A vivid imagination is both curse and blessing. In the darkness, I could conjur up all manner of things to spook myself. If I saw a scary movie -- and I saw every one I could, sometimes doing a quadruple feature on Saturdays, riding my bike to the old Dalton Theater, a quarter for six hours of 50's paranoia flicks -- well, I would have nightmares. And even awake, I could imagine the creatures -- if the room was dark. Aliens, werewolves, vampires, shambling this, brain-sucking, oozing that, all just outside my window, waiting ...

Go to sleep, Steve ...

Eventually, I got past it. One day, I unplugged the light, and even though I still had bad dreams now and then, all I had to do was turn on my reading lamp to banish them.

And I really beat the monsters in the end-- because by making up stuff and writing it down and getting paid for it? There's a useful victory. That's the way to beat the crap out of a fear -- put it to work for you ...

As an aside, since I started writing, my dreams have gotten better, insofar as they have better plots, and sometimes even make sense ...

Fun For All Ages


Some while back, K.W. Jeter and I did a signing at a local B.&N bookstore. Both of us had worked in George Lucas's universe, K.W. was living in Portland in those days, and we'd get together for the occasional beer or lunch; even did a spec script together that never went anywhere. (K.W. is a helluva good writer, and aside from a couple of classic works in the SF&F field, is the guy who came up with the term "steampunk ...")

As we were finishing up our session, K.W. asked the woman who had been our minder if we could have a couple of the posters they'd put up for our signing. We both thought that the line, "Fun for all Ages!" was just too good to pass up, not even to mention the "anticipatory festivities ..."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Fizzy Water


I used to be the Coca Cola Company's biggest fan and one of its faithful consumers. Grew up with the stuff in my baby bottle, drank it every day, and went from a six pack of little bottles to a liter or so a day, up until I was about forty-five. Then all that sugar and empty calories and dental caries started making me rethink my consumption. Hundred and fifty calories in a 12-ounce bottle of Coke, that starts to add up fast.

So I tried diet cola, and ick, that was awful for a guy who could tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi in a blind taste test. So I started looking around for other things.

Tried tea, plain water, and eventually, came to the realization that I could get by with club soda or seltzer. Got the bubbles, but no calories, and it tasted better than diet cola -- I don't care what anybody says, that stuff is just awful, an abomination unto the senses.

(The Mexican Coca Cola you can get at Costco these days has sugar and not corn syrup in it, and is delicious. I have one now and again. Once or twice a week.)

But since I always have a glass of something on my desk and flow the fluids all day, even Safeway club soda can get spendy at $2.5o a six pack on sale. So I found one of those siphon thingees like they used in the old days to bubble their water. Or, if you were one of the Three Stooges, shoot it down each other's pants ...

The CO2 cartridges, if you buy them in bulk, allows you to fizz your own tap water, and for about half what you pay if you buy the bottled or canned stuff, and it will keep in the bottle in the fridge for weeks without going flat, if you get a good model.

So, if you are looking for fizz without guilt, consider making your own ...

More Black Steel







If you are a fan of black steel, you need to check out Alan's Maisey's latest keris catalogue.
It won't be up long, and the blades tend to sell out very quickly, because they are incredible bargains for what you get. (Look at the detail work on the sheath. All kerises are unique, some are most unusual, such as the pamor -- pattern in the steel -- of the ones pictured above.)

Alan is a qualified empu himself; he travels to the islands from Australia, speaks the language like a native, and goes all over to find these. He cleans and refurbishes the kerises he finds as necessary -- redressing and restoring kerises are considered proper actions -- so that what you see showcases the pamor properly.

Have a look.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Me 'n' Sir Paul - The Road Not Taken

I once had a buddy who decided one fine summer day that that we -- he and I -- should become rock stars. I'd always thought of myself as a folkie, had a classical guitar and my three chords -- but he was hot to do it.

He came into some money. Well, let's be truthful here -- he got a really good deal on some stuff that he picked up, what we used to call a five-finger discount. He sold that, and took the money to the local music store. Showed up at my house with a brand new Fender strat, a Hoffner bass, and a couple of amplifiers. I was passing surprised.

Here, he said, you get to be the bass player.

All we needed was a lead guitarist -- my buddy was gonna be the rhythm player and lead singer -- and a drummer, some groupies, and we'd be all set.

Well, that, and some talent and skill, neither of which we had.

I knew exactly zip about playing bass, but, hey, if Paul McCartney could learn, I could, too, right?

Unfortunately, two days -- two days -- after I came into possession of the same kind of bass guitar that Paul had used to conquer the world with a little help from his friends, my friend fought the law, and the law won. I came up with bail, but he needed money to pay his lawyer, and alas, the guitars got sold in a big hurry. (Pretty soon, he, uh, was not in a place where he and I could practice together anyhow, and that was the end of that venture. Easy come, easy go.)

I sometimes wonder if I had held onto that bass and learned how to play it what might have happened.

I Realize It's Not That Simple, But Sometimes ...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Quicksand and Thermodynamics


A couple weeks back, I did a post on cosmology in which I quoted Ben Bova's abbreviated Laws of Thermodynamics. After watching General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker give testimony to senate sub-committees yesterday, I am moved to repost those laws and observe that they certainly seem to apply to the war in Iraq:

1) You can't win.
2) You can't break even.
3) You can't get out of the game.

Or, as one of the guys over on the acoustic guitar board posts over his sig: "Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam ..."

Sunday, April 06, 2008

What Are You Looking for in a Martial Art?



A bit more on the martial arts comment, and my experience with the fake Sifu all those years ago. As Brad and I were kicking it back and forth, I made a comment that bears, I think, repeating here.

What is important to me in a martial art teacher, at the core, comes to two things: 1) Does the teacher have that for which I am looking? and 2) Can he teach it to me?

This does not speak to the effectiveness of the art, vis a vis winning a tournament, streetfighting, getting into shape, or spiritual development -- or any of a bunch of other reasons why you might want to train. Not everybody wants to step into the octagon. Some people are looking for a cultural experience, a place to hang out socially with other folks interested in a style, or a sense of empowerment, which may or may not have anything to do with the ability to kick ass and take names. That's not what we are talking about here.

I got into a dojo originally because I was a skinny little kid who was afraid of getting beaten up. Primarily for self-defense, or maybe for the sense that I had an option and could do something if push came to shove. False confidence might be worse than no confidence, and I won't argue that, but feeling as if I could take care of myself went a long way to smoothing my path. (The few times I needed it, it did work, so I might be excused for feeling as if I got my money's worth.)

The art I wound up in, and have stayed in, called to me. I fell in love with it when I saw it. I think it offers as much as any, more than some I have played with, and I was looking for depth, of which I had none. I wanted to train and -- if not master a style -- feel as if I had taken a shot at learning it to the point that it became part of who I was.
Pukulan Pentjak Silat Sera Plinck has what I want. I am in for the long haul, or until something breaks and I can't play any more.

I'm not going to be a bad-ass, hard-drinkin' streetfighter; never wanted that before, don't want it now. Nor am I going to slide into the ring on oily feet in my Speedos to roll with some guy who trains six hours a day and does a steroid-stack that will let him rage with WrestleMania players or shrunken-gonad pro bodybuilders. Not going to play in the tournaments to win trophies or cash prizes. No desire to walk into a room full of bad men and deck one and all if they get frisky. Not even particularly interested in teaching it, outside helping the newbies in my class along.

But the two questions I asked, those answers I believe I have found: I got a guy who has what I want, and I'm sure he can teach it to me.

Do I believe it works? Given what I have learned over years looking in other places, yes. I do believe that if push comes to shove, I'll have an option or two. I enjoy going, learning, and practicing it, and in the end, that's all I need.

Not to gainsay anybody else's experience in what works or doesn't work for them. I believe what I'm learning works for me, and in the end, that's what matters.

Your mileage may vary.

Ducks


I know the difference between an oak tree and a fir, and I can tell a squirrel from a polar bear, but I'm not that much of a naturalist. Friday, I saw something about which I had read, but never seen.

Spring is here and the waterfowl are mostly paired. Down at the creek where the ducks and sometimes a few Canada Geese hang out, you see the males and the females sticking close together, two-by-two. In a few weeks, there will be ducklings and goslings following mama into the water, another turn on the Great Wheel of Birth.

This morning, a pair of male ducks. They were behaving just as the male/female couples, off looking for a nesting site. This is the third time I've seen them, and I'm inclined to believe that they aren't fishing buddies ...

Seems like pretty good evidence of biology over sociology vis a vis sexual orientation -- nature and not nurture ...

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Vampires are Coming!


So, we sucked it up and went to see our accountant today, to give him what he needs to do our taxes. Took both of us to carry all the paperwork in.

The advantage in being a writer is that you can deduct a lot of stuff as business expenses. The disadvantage in doing Schedule-C is that by the time we get done with that, plus our joint return, our tax form is as thick as an issue of Scientific American, and more complicated.

The Turbo-Tax software chokes and throws up, so we have to have somebody who knows numbers and the arcane ways of the IRS. (Every year, one of the local TV stations calls up the IRS to ask questions. Most of the time, the IRS agent offering advice gets it wrong. And if you take their advice and it is wrong, you are still liable. Is that a great system or what?)

I understand why George Harrison wrote that song, yessir.

The feds, state, and Tri-met all get a chunk, and with every legal deduction allowed, it still costs us a big chunk of our income to live here. Home of the brave, sure. Land of the free? Not so much ...

Friday, April 04, 2008

One in Every Crowd


My martial arts experience has been wide, but shallow. In forty-some years, I trained in Goju, Okinawa-te, Oppugnate, Chan Gen, Shin-Shin Aikido, Kendo, Kajukenbo, and finally, Pentjak Silat. Until silat, the time ranged from a year to three years in any one style, and while I managed to get a brown and black belt along the way, I had no depth in any of them.

Once upon a time, I thought a black belt meant something. The one I have, I use to tie the dog ramp to the bed's footboard to hold it steady, so it finally is useful.

For whatever they were, the places where I trained were mostly legit. My teachers were qualified to instruct in the art they were offering, save for one.

In the early 1970's, after we had moved back from L.A. to Baton Rouge, Kung Fu the TV series was on the air. There had been a made-for-TV-movie, I think, earlier, but the full impact was just hitting the martial arts community in '72 or '73. I was looking for a place to train, having split up with my former buddy and business partner, who had been teaching me Oppugnate, and who had known some kung fu, and had been showing me that, too.

I heard there was a kung-fu school just opened, and went to check it out. I figured it was all the same, and what I had learned would be what they were teaching. Hey, I was twenty-two, what did I know?

During this time, a whole bunch of karate schools suddenly discovered that they, in fact, had kung fu in their background, and signs that said "Karate School" were replaced with "Kung Fu School." There were yin-yang symbols out the, well, out the yin-yang.

The new place was in a big room in somebody's warehouse, way out Florida Blvd. There were a dozen students, and the teacher, Sifu Scheffler, maybe thirty , wore the black kung-fu suit with the white frog ties, and waved his arms in circles a lot. The class was a lot of warm-up, punching and kicking drills until we were exhausted, push-ups, crunches, and then Sifu would show us a move, generally pounding the crap out of the guy he chose to demonstrate upon. We'd practice that, and he'd walk around correcting our form.

He had a nice certificate in his office, little dragons on the parchment, and a couple of black belts from other styles, mostly TKD, would drop by and chat with him sometimes while we were busting our buns. "Northern Honan Style Kung Fu," it said. It had some Chinese writing on it, too. It looked legit, but of course, I knew zip about Chinese arts.

Sifu Scheffler was an out-and-out fraud. Why you don't see this in my training list.

It took me three or four classes to figure it out. He never did anything really martial. He would, as he lectured, run through a few moves now and then, lotta circular hands and chicken beak and tiger claws, and it looked pretty spiffy, but it didn't feel right.

He'd demo a defense, but never at full power, and they looked okay, but ... not okay.

I didn't say anything. I had a place to work out, some of the other students knew some things, and pretty quickly, I was given leave to lead the class in the warm-ups while Sifu sat in his office using the phone. I was young, in shape, I figured this was how it was done.

After a month or six weeks of this, Sifu would sometimes call me and tell me to cover the class, and he wouldn't even show up.

The guy who owned the warehouse was one of the students, as was a guy who was big into local real estate. After another month wherein I had become the de facto teacher, showing what little kung fu I knew, along with bits and pieces of the other stuff I had, the warehouse owner and the real estate guy hinted that maybe the students should be paying me to teach class instead of Sifu. I had a black belt didn't I?

Well, yes, but I wasn't hot to do that. But the next time Sifu showed up to collect the tuition, there was a moment ...

He asked one of the students, who had some training in judo, to come at him. I'm thinking the student's name was Barry, but I could be misremembering that. Barry charged in, grabbed Sifu and threw him onto the ground. As he fell, Sifu made a panicked wave at Barry's face. He got up.

"Did you see that?" he asked us.

Yeah, we did, Barry decked your worthless ass. But that's not what he meant. "Did you see that? I pretended to fall, and hooked him under the chin with my Eagle Claw!"

That was so lame a boxcar full of crutches couldn't help. We were all embarrassed. We looked at our feet. Yeah, Sifu, good job.

Two weeks later, the warehouse guy and the real estate guy found another empty space, rented it, and set me up as the instructor. All but one of Sifu's students moved over with me. Sifu never said a word to me, and I confess, I was not worried about him showing up to deliver his deadly Eagle Claw.

Later, the real estate guy did some background checking, and found out that Sifu's claims as to where he studied and with whom were completely bogus. (Sifu later claimed to be a New York writer who had written and sold a big movie, and after that somehow didn't make it to the big screen, faded away. I believe Sifu was a sociopath; or maybe he just enjoyed lying.)

There was a lot of fraud going on in kung-fu circles in those days -- there's always some of that, and the flavor-of-the-month art gets the most play from the instant masters. But, far as I know, that was the only time I got stung, and in the end, it worked out pretty well for me. I had a black belt, and an instant school. I didn't really know squat about fighting, and not much about kung fu, but eventually, there was a White Crane guy, a professor at Southern U who would come to my school and swap forms with me, so I did have exposure to real stuff. Later a tai chi guy showed me a Yang form, so I had a little of that, too.

It's an ill wind indeed that blows no good ...

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Coincidence ...


Coincidence can be a funny thing. Yesterday, I went to see Mr. Audiologist to get a new "hearing instrument." This a term they use instead of "hearing aid," so as not to scare people who remember grandpa's model, which looked like a brick clipped to his shirt, with a coil of wire leading to an earplug the size of a sound-suppressor shooting headphone ...

EH? WHAT'S THAT? YOUR PIG IS A BIG ROCK?

No, Grampa, I said 'It's five o'clock ..."

I blew out an eardrum scuba diving as a boy, and have been mostly deaf on that side since. I broke down half a dozen years ago and got one of the little electronic miracles that fits all of a piece into your ear canal, and whoa! suddenly I heard things I hadn't heard in years ...

But they wear out, being fairly light and fragile and plastic, and six years is long in the tooth for one.

These days, the things are better still, digital, programmed by plugging it into a computer, and I got a new model that is spiffier than the old one. Can hear a mosquito fart across the street ...

So, today, I logged on to a music site to listen to a song, and when I listened, it sounded ... tinny. Playing the guitar yesterday and today sounded better than it did with the old hearing aid; I had to turn the TV volume down, and voices are clearer, but the computer speakers?

Enh.

Something in the electronics, I figured, the hearing aid is set to amplify certain frequencies, so you don't get that constant roaring, and okay, well, I can live with it.

Until I realized that maybe I should, you know, check the computer.

Sure enough, the speakers were unplugged, and I was hearing the song on the iMac's built-in speaker, which, not to put too fine a point on it, sucks. I plugged the external speakers in.

It's a miracle!

Me 'n' Homer Simpson: Doh!

An Autodidact in the Information Age


I consider myself an autodidact -- most of the people I know are. In fact, I agree with the saying, "Who learns, teaches himself." (Or herself). You can have a great teacher and not retain squat. You can have a lousy teacher -- or none at all -- and roll like like a juggernaut. Mostly, it's up to you.

Some things need hands-on. Hard to learn how to swim, do martial arts, or experimental high-energy particle physics without access to a pool, gym (garage, back yard), or accelerator, and somebody who knows how to show you when to duck, paddle, or which button not to push.

Formal education certainly has its pluses. These days, if you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, you have to spend years in school to be allowed to take a shot at it. Wasn't always that way -- there was a time when you could walk into the medical or legal boards tests, pay your money, and take your chance. If you passed, you were a doctor or lawyer. You had to know the material, but they didn't care how you'd learned it if you could demonstrate it properly. I believe Huey Long had three semesters of legal training when he conned the board into letting him take the exam, and he easily passed the bar to become a lawyer. Of course, they shot Huey later ...

Nowadays, you want to be an engineer and all they are hiring are folks with degrees in it, then you have to go that way. Name of the game.

I had to do a year of school to sit for the LPN exam; however, Physicians Assistant certification -- a class of medical practitioners developed largely to take advantage of medics coming home from Vietnam -- was less formal at its beginning. In the late 197o's, you could still challenge the exam, which is how I got to be a PA-C.

How I learned was to badger the doctors with whom I worked -- What's that? How do you do this? Show me ... and I read a shitload of medical books. I was shallow in some areas, but way deep in others, and I had hands-on practice. I wanted it. (Not to brag, but I passed square in the middle. Not too impressie, but there were guys with college degrees in pre-med and a year of internship in formal PA programs who flunked. The doctors I worked with expected that I wouldn't make it. I was happy to surprise them. In one case, actually astound one of 'em.)

I never graduated from college. I went to LSU for a couple years, spent most of my time at the student union or Free Speech Alley, was indifferent to grades, and probably would have flunked out if I hadn't quit first. Packed up my pregnant wife, everything we owned into three trunks, and we flew off to L.A. I wanted to train in karate, and the west coast was the best place for that. Didn't have a job, an apartment, a car. We stayed two weeks in a ratty downtown hotel, rented a VW, and went to Disneyland. And when our money ran out, I got a job. Stayed there three years, got to brown belt in Okinawa-te, and left to move back to Louisiana to start a detective agency with a buddy. I wanted a black belt, but he already had one, and offered to teach me. My own company and my own private teacher. What was not to like? (Well, the guy turned out to be crookeder than a dog leg and a back-stabbing sleazeball, but other than that, it was a good deal.)

Probably the best academic skills schools could instill into students today would be the ability to read well, and how to do research, and a desire to learn. The rest is not as important.

Formal education doesn't mean anything to a genre writer. You can be a high-school drop-out, I know a couple who make a pretty good living as writers who are. A Ph.D in English might not hurt you, but it's no guarantee. If you can tell a story, you don't need a degree. If you can't, the degree won't help. You can get more from one journalism class than you can from four years of English lit, if you want lessons in how to put it on a page.

You learn by doing. Getting it wrong, having it pointed out, fixing it, and moving on. Can you hiss the word "Damn?" No. I learned this by writing it thus: '"Damn," he hissed.' Having it get into print that way, and then getting my ass handed to me by writers who laughed their asses off at me.

When I was a beginning writer, I really wanted to go to Clarion. This is a science fiction writing conference, used to be held at a U in Michigan, I think, and was the place for budding skiffy writers. Intensive, six-weeks of live-in, write a bunch, workshopping stories, world-class teachers coming to lecture and show you how. I really wanted to go.

I couldn't afford it, neither in time nor money; I was working a 48-hour week, had a wife, two small children, a house and car note to support.

Later, when I could afford to take off because my writing was starting to earn some extra money, I didn't need to go, since I was doing better than most of the Clarion grads I knew ...

These days, you can learn worlds sitting in your chair at home. Want to know something? Google it -- a new verb, that. If you know what you are doing, research-wise, you can crosscheck it and likely come up with a valid set of facts.

That's both an advantage and a disadvantage, the search engines. If you can tap a few keys and read the result, that sometimes doesn't stick as well as if you had to catch a bus to the library, find the book, and make notes by hand. Me, I love the net, it's sooo much easier, but my research skills go back to the hoof-it-to-the-library days, and knowing how Mr. Dewey did decimals ...

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Footbreaker


So, what a ream and a half of paper looks like, which is how long the Eilandia ms is when printed out. Took a while with my s-l-o-w printer, too. Draft mode, Mr. Epson spews 'em out at 8 pp/min. To get clean and dark print, only 3 pp/min. Ate up a couple black ink cartridges and took most of the day whirring along ...

Off to our agents in the next day or two, though while the actual drafting process is mostly done, I do have to redo a bit of it, there's a couple misprinted pages that got fed in crookedly; plus an item or three that needs be added in before I pack it up, but it's mostly done.

Not talking George R.R. Martin length, but drop it on your foot, it will give you pause.

And soon, we cast our bread upon the waters and see what happens ...

Concrete House in the Good Old Days


Somewhere back around 1971, we lived for almost a year next to the Mississippi River levee, in Brusly, Louisiana. "We" in this case being a collection of folks, most of us related: Dianne and I and our two small children; Dianne's cousin, Uncle Jay and his bride, Aunt Cheryl. My sister-in-law, Judy, and a few others: Michael, Connie, Kid Ford. And whoever happened to be passing by and needed a place to crash.

There was another group of back-to-the-land hippies just up the road a piece: B.B. and Jan and Jim and Carolyn and a couple others, including Joe. Joe who, after explaining he had been a cowboy and bronco breaker, offered to gentle Judy's boneheaded stallion, Miso, and for his effort, was thrown and had his arm broken instead ...

You could, in the spring when the water was up, toss a rock from our front yard and hit the Mississippi River, albeit it was like a throw from the center field wall to home plate. Several acres of pasture behind the place, as I recall, twelve or seventeen, something like that. Where the horse and the goats hung out. The chickens didn't last a week.

This was the height of our hippie adventure: We had the Valhalla chickens, seven dogs, a duck (who terrified all the dogs and liked to chase my daughter around) a couple of goats, and that mean and stupid horse. We had a big organic garden, what the bugs didn't eat. Learned that you don't plant watermelon and gourds next to each other, because that can cross-pollinate, and you get watermelons that look and taste like wood pulp.

The other hippie farmers bought praying mantises to protect their truck garden. Mantises ate all the bugs, sure enough, then they ate each other, and everything above the ground was bug-infested. We had a lot of carrots and radishes with our brown rice. Apparently bugs don't much care for those, and after a while, neither did I.

We fit right in, the two houses full of hippies, being surrounded by decent country folks who all went to church on Sunday while we, ah, didn't. Eventually, the county Sheriff and BNDD (now the DEA) decided to bust us, but they picked B.B. and Jan's place first. We spotted them pretty quick -- no place to hide in the country -- and when the bust came, the house was clean, and the case was tossed out. But the writing was on the wall, and our number was in play, so we were scrupulous about Not Having Any Dope in the House. Before he found the Mahareshi, Cousin Jay sneaked some weed in, thinking obviously we had all lost our sense of smell. While he was out back working on his sailboat, I swiped it, took it into the patch of trees over the fence, and buried it and his hash pipe. I told him I did it, but he never did find the stuff. Probably some stoned squirrels somewhen later.

Our house was concrete; massive walls, and the story went, had been built by a Mr. Cooper, who, with one Negro helper and a couple of wheelbarrows, had mixed the cement himself, and slapped it onto steel poles and wire frame. There was a sun porch (called a Florida room), a big living room, three and a half bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom and a half. All in terrible shape when we moved in.

I regret that we didn't own a camera when we were there, so we don't have any pictures from that time.

Before the Corps of Engineers did major shoring on the levee, after the Great Flood of 1927, anybody who built a home within a couple-three miles of the river didn't put it on the ground, because it would get inundated come the next spring flood. The closer you were, the higher you perched your house, and six or eight feet up wasn't uncommon. (The one in the picture above is more than a mile away from the river.)

The Brusly house, built after the levee was useful, could be put on the ground, so Mr. Cooper's place, which had walls thick enough to turn siege engine missiles, was safe unless there was a break. It was hot in the summer and cold in the winter, and mold liked to grow on the concrete. But we had gone up the country, and it was, more or less, a fine experience.

We only got to live there because we were willing to work on the place, and over the course of that summer, we hung sheetrock, paneled,, re-roofed it, built a carport, and slab, and sort of tricked out the bathrooms. Toilet and tub in one, shower only in the other. I say "sorta," because while the toilet fed a septic tank, the drains for the tub and shower didn't go anywhere. We solved this by running pipes to a nearby ditch, where the graywater foamed merrily along to the larger ditch ...

Third-world plumbing, but nobody seemed to notice.

Soon as we got the work mostly done, the owner kicked us out -- bunch long-hairs were a blight on the neighborhood -- disturbed the cows at the dairy farm next door, I guess. Just as well, the cops would have come for us eventually.

Mr. Cooper, allegedly an architect who had worked on the Empire State Building, came to a sad end. His wife ran off with a traveling salesman while Mr. Cooper was away. He came home, and apparently became depressed. To the point where he hanged himself on the grape trellis out back.

Late at night, we could hear him thumping and bumping, Mr. Cooper, but none of us ever saw him.

The house is gone. Goggle Earth shows an empty lot where it used to be, and the encroaching subdivision is likely the reason why -- plenty of room to build nice houses there.

Ah, the good old days.