Monday, May 31, 2010

Weather or Not

My sister-in-law, back down in Baton Rouge, is having a backyard swimming pool installed this week. Already hitting ninety-degrees plus, and you can see how such an item is less a luxury than a necessity ...

Here, we had our first May in fifteen years without even an eighty-degree day. Been raining all week -- something like twice the amount of rain we usually get this time of year --and lucky to hit seventy degrees today during a brief lull. The forecast is for more rain. Local weather guy isn't even using "partly sunny" these days, he's saying "brightened," as in, "It brightened for a few minutes this morning ..."

So I sent a picture to my sister-in-law, (above) and a note telling her how I hope she enjoys her new pool as much as we enjoy ours ...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Rule of Three

Gary Coleman -- Whatchu talkin' 'bout, Willis? -- Dennis Hopper -- Oh, wow, what the hell was that, man? -- have both passed away. Coleman, never in good health, from long-time problems stemming from dialysis and steroids, Hopper, from prostate cancer.

Both men were much lower on the celebrity chain than once they had been.

Coleman, whose growth was stunted early because of treatment for kidney failure, played young, and then faded after his TV turn in Diff'rent Strokes, about two black kids adopted by a rich white guy. He fell upon hard times and never really recovered.

Hopper, best known for Easy Rider and being a bad boy, had a long body of work, going back to Rebel Without a Cause.

They always seem to come in threes, celebrity deaths. I'm wondering who will be next ...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Civilization and Its Discontents

I had to run to the store to get some cold medicine -- my wife and I have caught the current viral URI going around in our family, sneezing, coughing, so I figured, what the heck, I'll pick up a spare battery for my new cell phone since I have to go out anyhow. Switch 'em and batteries last longer when it comes to recharging, so the story goes.

Been a while since I went looking for cell phone batteries. Things have changed.

First, Best Buy and Office Depot not only didn't have the battery for which I was looking, they didn't have any cell phone batteries at all.

The AT&T store would order it for me. The Battery Store didn't have any in stock, but they'd order it for me, too -- for $38.00


Not a prayer, I told the clerk.

What happened here?

I came home and got on the web and found prices all over the map, but the battery I need I can get from for $7.77, plus about three bucks for delivery. New in the package.

Want to guess where I buy my back-up battery?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Good Work Week

Managed to get a draft done on a project, as well as three chapters and an outline on a second one, both of them out the door this week.

There comes now that brief interlude when the ball is not in my court. They might hate what I did, but between the time I send it out and I get the responses, it's like buying a lottery ticket -- the possibilities are gravid with delicious maybes. They could hate it -- but maybe they'll love it. It's still possible.

Managed, too, to get our new cell phones more or less programmed. Numbers moved over, my flintphone ring tone blue-toothed in, and my wife's choice for her ring, the opening for "Let it Be."

Never thought I'd have the wherewithal to create a sound file, upload it into my computer, then send it to my phone -- and actually make it work.

I could, if I were ambitious, create a separate ring tone for everybody in my phonebook, but if I hear the thing, it's only going to take a few seconds to figure that out anyhow, when I open the clamshell and see the caller ID. Or just answer it. I can stand the suspense that long. Besides which, if I pass out ten ring tones to ten different people, I won't remember which one I gave to whom anyhow.

They are just phones, and I won't be spending much time talking, nor on the net trying to tap anything in using the alpha-numeric keys and cycling through each one for a choice of letters. I still see an iPad in my future ...

I'll recycle the old one, the new company will send part of the proceeds for such to a local children's hospital, so I'll strip out the SIM card and ship it off in the prepaid envelope. Three years old, it's an antique, maybe they'll put it next to one of those crank-operated wooden-cased jobs from the old party line days: Harold? Is that you listening in on my call? Git!

Still raining on and off, been doing so all week. I look for breaks to hurry out and walk the dogs. They don't mind walking in the rain, but it's easier if I don't have to chase them around when we get home to towel them dry.

My wife has pulled the plug on her job. Told her boss she is going to retire, and now it's just a matter of scheduling it. Probably around the end of the summer, to tie up loose ends on her projects. That drive to the airport to the new office building has been a killer, given Portland traffic, and while that's not the only reason, it was one more brick on the load. She's served her time, she's ready to move on.

I expect she'll take maybe a whole day off before she fills up her dance card. Her list of things she wants to do goes round the block.

Me, I intend to keep cranking out words until I fall over.

Well, I guess I need to get back to Siblings while the other stuff percolates. My editor at Ace hasn't exactly been pounding on the door demanding to see it, but if I get it done, I'm gonna show it to somebody ...

And so, as Vonnegut was wont to say, it goes ...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Lost Finale

So, the finale of the TV series Lost aired last night, and already what it all means is being hotly debated on the interweb.

I wasn't a fan, and was watching basketball and then Saving Grace, another show that is about to be cancelled, and a real shame, because it is absolutely brilliant, with the worst bad-girl cop ever. Holly Hunter, playing way against type.

Lost was woo-woo all the way through, but the ending, as I understand it from just hearing about it via reviews and the web, doesn't seem to be a patch on the ending of a TV show of which I was a big fan, back in the early-to-mid eighties, St. Elsewhere.

This was a medical show, about a second-rate teaching hospital in Boston, St. Eligius, and among other things, a springboard for the acting careers of several well-known stars in TV and movies, including Helen Hunt, Alfre Wooddard Howie Mandel, Mark Harmon, Ed Begley, Jr., and Denzel Washington. Well-written, well-acted, a great soap opera dramady I used to love. No other medical show ever came close, save ER, and that only in the first couple of years.

St. Elsewhere was sometimes referred to as Hill Street Blues in a hospital, another great ensemble show of the period, and won like thirteen Emmys. There were a lot of story lines, many of them continuing, and they sometimes killed off characters, and always kept you guessing.

The series lasted for six years, and the final episode of St. Elsewhere went into one of the hoariest, shaggiest, worst science fiction and fantasy cliches of all, stopping to offer homage to all kinds of major TV shows along the way. There was a doctor hunting for a mysterious one-armed patient, ala The Fugitive; the group hug from the Mary Tyler Moore Show; references to M*A*S*H and The Andy Griffith Show -- Henry Blake and Floyd the Barber; and a fat lady who sang; along with a nod to the Who's Tommy.

In the final scene, the camera pulls back from a view of a snow globe in the hands of an autistic boy, and when you see his father and grandfather, you realize ...

... it was all a dream ...

(Bob Newhart did that at the end of his second series, in which he played the owner of a New England inn. This was a killer-hilarious scene that made the entire series naught but a dream by Bob the psychologist in his first show, but that one was really funny. The St. Elsewhere finale made me want to scream and hunt down the writer and producer to slap them and call them many bad words ...)

Monday, May 24, 2010

If You Haven't Seen This Yet, You Must

Work Ethic

I am reading an article about Norteño, a kind of northern Mexican border music that deals with heartache and lamentation, and, according to the writer is, by rhythm, almost a kind of polka.

Mexican polka. The mind boggles.

I didn't know the music, but it sounds interesting, and the article focuses on the best-known and most successful group playing it, Los Tigres del Norte. Who, since getting together in the early 1970s, have sold thirty-four million records.

What I found most fascinating was the comment that they might be the only arena act in the world without a set-list. Apparently, they have maybe three songs in mind when they arrive. People in the audience write titles on slips of paper and pass those to the front, where they are tossed onto the stage. The band collects them as they go, and the concert is over when the stage is clean.

Or the promoter throws them out, because of local curfew laws. Apparently an eight-hour set is not uncommon. And the band doesn't leave until everybody else does.

That is a work-ethic, friends.

The Magical Mastery Tour

This is a subject I have spoken to before, but now and then, I get a notion that is either new to me, or comes at the subject slightly aslant of where I was before, so ...

In any serious activity in your life, sooner or later you might want to think about what your goals involving it are. You might have a vague idea when you get into it; it might not get sharper or clearer for a long time, but eventually, I think it helps to consider it in the light of short- or long-term goals, or both. Least that has been my experience.

This most often comes up for me in those activities in which I have invested the most time -- writing, music, martial arts. I have, in all of those, set short-term goals and achieved many of them. I have a pretty good idea of where I want to go with them long-term and work toward those. My ambitions are measured, based on what time I have to spend on them, and what joy they bring, and on reality. Time narrows one's choices in some arenas.

For instance, my most recent art of silat began with a much different desire than the first karate class I took. Then, I was strictly looking for self-confidence and self-defense. Now, I am much more interested in mastering -- or however close I can come to that -- a system. I started late and don't have the time I'd like, but it is what it is. Candles. Cursing, Darkness, etc.

This does not speak to simply being able to beat people up or slice and dice them like rump roast, though those abilities are useful skills. It's that, over the years, I tried wide and shallow and while that has its uses and I'm not denigrating the path eclectic, I never learned deep and narrow, and I want to give that a shot. The goals of the eighteen-year-old Steve are different than those of the sixty-two-year-old Steve. (And how sad would my life be if my goals hadn't shifted at least a little along the way?)

Yes, basics are are what you are most likely to use, come the need, but still, I short-stopped myself plenty of times over the years when I thought I knew enough, and that doesn't call to me any more. And I didn't know as much as I thought I did, which was somewhat sobering later.

As I expect it will be sobering again. Been around long enough, you start to see patterns in how things work. Mark Twain's story about how, when he was sixteen, he thought his father was the stupidest man alive. And how, when we was twenty, he was amazed at how much his old man had learned in just four short years ...

Basics are necessary -- but for me, basics are no longer enough.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you have a sudden burning desire to learn how to play the cello. Never touched one before, but it washes over you like a firestorm, and you gotta do it. And also for the sake of argument, let's say that Yo Yo Ma has an opening in his schedule and is willing to take you on as a student. He's a world-class player, and from what I've heard, also a world-class masterclass teacher, so you are set.

After a relatively short time, I imagine Yo Yo would have given you the basics of the instrument. Tuning, how to finger the strings, music theory, bowing, like that. There aren't that many notes, are there? This isn't a chordal instrument, so you are mostly playing single notes, and if you are willing to put in a couple-three hours of hard practice a day, in a year or so, I'd expect you'd have some decent skills. Drop round the local pub and if there happened to be a cello propped against a wall, you might be able to play some tunes well enough to get somebody to buy you a beer. Maybe do the bass line in a small band well enough to do paying gigs at local venues.

After a year or so, you figure you could stand up on the stage at Carnegie Hall with Yo Yo and play a two-hour dueling Bach concert?

Not even in your dreams, Bubba. That situation, the basics just ain't gonna cut it. No way you are going to look like anything but a dweeb playing cello next to Yo Yo Ma.

Some things are better fresh: Potato chips. Coffee. Some things are better aged: Cheese. Wine. Some skills take time to ingrain enough to use well. You can probably learn everything you are apt need in a bar fight in a few days, but you won't have the ability to use it. No real value without an investment of sweat-equity.

You can learn the rules and moves for chess in a few minutes, too, but you won't be able to play with anybody who has any skill at it without feeling the fool. The game requires training and practice. Basics aren't enough.

There's a man I greatly respect who teaches fighting, but he sometimes says things that make me scratch my head in wonder. Recently, he allowed as how once you got the basics from a teacher you were better off moving along, because part of your brain didn't light up unless you started working on something without a teacher's voice in your ear.

I could hear that.

But then he said, if he were teaching a student how to fight and that student couldn't hurt him after a year, he'd be disappointed.

Straight up? With him paying attention, seeing the guy coming?

As a teacher, I can understand the desire -- your goal is to produce students who are better than you are. But as a player? Sheeit. I'd be passing unhappy if a newbie could come back a year later and kick my ass using what I showed him. This is not simply ego, though certainly that's in there, but what that would say about my own practical ability? That would be depressing. Either I stood still and he leapt ahead in seven league boots, or I regressed. Nothing about that speaks well of me as a player, though it might make me at the top of the charts as a teacher.

Mastery is an inexact term, insofar as most skill sets. You can be the best there is and considered a master, but you will probably believe that there is so much more you don't know. Stop, and the moss will start to grow on you.

Unless you are talking about some kind of musical genius, a cellist with a year's experience isn't going to be able to hold a candle to Yo Yo Ma's sun-mastery of his instrument, no way, no how, un uh, don't believe it. Like getting into a marathon race and the guy you are running against has a twenty-two-mile head start. Good luck catching him. A guy that far ahead is likely to always have something he can teach you, if you know how to listen and how to absorb it ...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cell Phonery

Last time we got cell phones was three years or so ago. Got a pair of Motorola Razrs via AT&T Cellular -- though I think it was still called Cingular at the time.

Contract was for two years.

The contract expired a year or so back but we just kept paying on a monthly basis. I was kinda holding out for an iPhone, but my wife got me an iPod Touch for Christmas, and pretty much, that does what an iPhone does -- except for the camera and the, um, phone parts. (Does WiFi.) And since my Razr has a cam and a phone, I carried two things on my belt, but couldn't see getting the iPhone for the extra cost.

Last week my wife lost her phone. She called and had it deactivated, and we started looking around for a new phone. This morning, in the paper, there was an article about a small cell service provider that is associated with AAA and AARP, centered in Tigard, Oregon. Consumer Cellular. (It seems to be aimed at retirees, since half of the members are apparently in that category. They even have an old lady phone with big keys and a help-I've-fallen-and-I-can't-get-up panic button.)

No contracts necessary. Bills are month-to-month, the rate for basic phone and web service is half as much as we are currently paying, and we can get two of their relatively-smart phones for just over a third what we paid for one of our old phones. Bluetooth, MP3 player, camera, speakerphone, web access, and an FM radio, made by Motorola, same folks what made the Razr. Compatible with hearing aids. And the amusing part is, the company subcontracts with AT&T Cellular, so the coverage area is exactly the same.

They aim their marketing at old people, and service is highly-rated, which is why AAA and AARP went with them and not one of the big companies.

Though you can get their phones at Sears, you can also sign up online, get a small discount on bells and whistles if you are an AARP or AAA member, and they'll transfer your numbers and ship you the phone within 3-5 working days.

What's not to like?

More Map vs Territory

This might sound goofy on the face of it, but bear with me: Training is not fighting, I think we can agree. But: Fighting is not training, either ...

I sometimes get taken to task by reality folks when I talk about preparation for training. I switch to my old glasses, tape up my hands, sometimes put on a knee brace or two, and if we are getting fairly active, wear a mouthpiece. I also warm up, stretch, and wear an old T-shirt and jeans or shorts, weather permitting. And we don't use real knives, either.

You won't get to do any of that in a streetfight, the hardcore reality guys sometimes say. You have to be ready to go as you stand, badda boom!

Absolutely true. If I have to run home and put on my gi and do ten minutes of stretching and warm-up, I probably don't have a useful fighting art, unless the duels are arranged.

Then again, while there might be a lot of energy expended in a short time, a streetfight isn't going to last long. What you do there in ten or fifteen seconds isn't apt to damage you nearly as much (assuming you know what you are doing) as a year's worth of hour-and-a-half training sessions will, vis a vis your joints, muscles, and such.

The old ideal two-hit fight -- I hit you, you hit the ground -- will be over in a few heartbeats. And chances are, if you are paying attention and trying to avoid such encounters, you won't have too many of them. Whereas if you train regularly, you will expose yourself to strains, bruises, breaks, contusions, and the like. You'll also do damage to your clothes, and having to replace your eyeglasses because a punch slipped through and broke 'em gets spendy in a hurry. I speak from experience.

So you prepare for the "reality "of training. It might not be a real fight, but chances are that you are more likely to get hurt training than fighting, and using some basic precautions can spare you some of that.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Writer's Risk

Avram Davidson

There is in our society a tendency to conflate an artist with his or her art, i.e., an actor with his role; an artist with her subject; a writer with his novel. The kindly doctor on that medical show you love -- or the nasty doctor on the other medical show who is a know-it-all asshole? may be nothing at all like their screen personas. The guy who plays the axe-murderer villain might be vegetarian who sidesteps to avoid crushing an ant; the one who plays the noble hero might be a wife-beater and dope fiend.

There are many actors who won't play weak -- they will play a scene-chewing villain, but they won't play a wimp, on the notion that even if their audience sees them as bad guys and loves to hate them, that's better than being despised because they are cravens.

Being identified with a role can be good and bad; actors are wary of the Superman Curse, and of being pigeon-holed even in a role people love. Shatner is Kirk. Leonard Nimoy is Spock. David Suchet is Poirot. They've all done tons of other stuff, but when they die, those are the roles that will be mentioned first.

Some actors come to terms with this: Better to be beloved for one thing than not at all.

As a writer, you run the risk of being identified with the books you author. Partly this is because a lot of people know the dictum, "Write what you know." Partly it's because of that reader-wonder -- how could s/he write this stuff so well if s/he didn't know about it first-hand?

And partly because it sometimes is true, though writers can fool you. Heinlein wrote Stranger in a Strange Land about the same time he was writing Starship Troopers. If you read only the former, you might think he was a proto-hippie; he wasn't. He was much closer to the latter in his attitude and philosophy, but even that wasn't all he was.

Writers are in the business of making stuff up and offering fantasies. We are professional liars.

Recently I read a book by Earl Emerson, of whose work I am a long-time fan. He has three mystery series, one featuring a Seattle private eye, and two with firemen as the protagonists.
His firemen are much more convincing than his private eye. First, because he's a lieutenant in the Seattle FD; second, because I was a private eye and I sometimes notice when he slips up there.

The book I read was his Thomas Black character, the Washington P.I., and it is laced with conspiracy theory -- from the 9/11 disaster to the secret cabal that really runs the world, and this is all expounded by a character who is a former spook and supposedly has reason to know.

Black's character is caught up in this, and comes to believe stuff he never would have believed before.

(People love conspiracies, and you can almost never go wrong as a writer playing to that, there's a big audience that will follow you down the narrowest rabbit hole without a second thought.)

Does Emerson believe all this? I have no idea, but just because he can write about a character who does doesn't make it so.

Like an actor, a writer takes on roles to make a story work. You must get inside the head of a serial killer, an assassin, an alien and make them convincing. Doesn't mean you are any of those things in real life, but the better writer you are, the more likely it is that people are going to wonder if you mayhaps have more experience in these arenas than you are letting on.

People love the notion that Stephen King looks under his bed at night before he climbs into it.

Some readers can separate the writer from the characters, but many cannot. Something you need to know. I have been told on occasion that I must be 1) black 2) female 3) gay 4) ex-military or 5) politically conservative, because I must be to have written some of the stuff they read.

Bill Gibson told a story once about how he was doing a signing. If you've read his books, you might have an expectation about him that doesn't jibe with his looks. He's tall, skinny, and looks like he might have had a long career in, oh, library science.

So, at the signing, he looks up to see a pair of big Harleys pull into the lot outside the window and a couple of very macho hog dykes climb off the bike and swagger into the book store.

They looked at him. You're William Gibson?

Afraid so.

Hmmp. Well, okay. I guess you can sign our books ...

I can recall meeting but one writer whose work I admired who looked exactly as I thought he would look: Avram Davidson.

So, if you are going to be a writer, it's something about which you should know: If you portray a murderous torturer in a work and the character is really chilling and spooks people? You are going to get some funny looks.

Be prepared.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Namesake Missing

Stephen Perry, Thundercats writer

(I had to change the picture -- that Thundercat character with a big sword suddenly seemed really inappropriate for this subject.)

Got a note from agent about this -- apparently, the Steve Perry who wrote for Thundercats and comics around the same time I was writing kidvid, thus confusing fans, has disappeared from his home in Zephyrhills, Florida, along with his two roommates.

For the record, I never wrote any episodes of Thundercats.

The police aren't saying much, but they have, according to a rumor in the story, found some body parts and Perry's van in the next county over ...

Somebody called my agent to see if he was me.

The Thundercats Perry has been in poor health, had cancer, and somebody had recently stepped up to help him out.

It's a strange story, and it has that ring of something-not-quite-right about it. Morbid curiosity compels me to follow this one ...

Update: The reason two of the three disappeared wasn't because they were dead or kidnapped: Allegedly, the roomates did him in -- at least they have been found and are in police custody.

I didn't really know the guy -- we exchanged emails once when he dropped me a line talking about us being mixed up. Never met him, but how terrible is it that his passing is going to have "grisly murder" and "dismembered corpse" connected to it.

New Blog

I've put up a new blog dedicated to Maha Guru Stevan, since his page is offline due to a dead server. It's a placeholder for people who might plug in the name looking for information, and has some of the basics articles that senior Sera students Todd Ellner and Tiel Ansari wrote for the official site, along with a version of the art's history that I did.

Once the official site goes back up I'll dump it, but in the meantime, folks looking for background or contact info, where to buy vids and such, have a place to do so.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Saw my massage therapist yesterday for my back. After an hour of iron palm/steel fingers, sharp elbows, and what felt like a jackhammer, my back is doing better.

Problem with an injury like this is that it isn't just a pulled muscle in the low back you have to deal with, it's the skewed mechanics that result as your body tries to compensate. That spasm causes other muscles to step up, to splint or shift the functions, so it's rather like tossing a rock into a pond -- you get ripples everywhere.

You might not realize it, but stand in front of a mirror, and you can see that one hip might be angled slightly higher than the other, your upper body canted or twisted, your spine slightly concave or convex sideways ...

If you believe in trigger-point theory, wherein there are areas that knot and are really irritable when a muscle goes into spasm, when the therapist digs into one of these, you sometimes feel it all the way from your toes to your hairline, and the sensation is not -- how shall we say? -- pleasant.

Like rubbing balur or jow into a bruise, it helps heal things, but in the moment, it's an owie.

I think the treatment is worth it, but it ain't pain free ...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cover Artist Humor

I think I put this up here a while back, but bad cover art came up on another site, and I thought it would be fun to do a reprise.

Observe the two covers.

Upon the first, we have a Jedi, Barriss Offee, cutting into a battledroid with her light saber, from Star Wars: Medstar I: Battle Surgeons. You needn't look very closely at all to see what appears to be, um, a rampant, ribbed penis jutting up the thing's belly as our intrepid heroine slices the robot, and said member is about to be, sorry -- well, no, not really sorry -- whacked off ...

And then there is the cover illo from Conan the Indomitable. Our brawny thew-boy is menaced by a woman sitting wide-legged astride a creature whose mouth between her thighs looks like -- no two ways about this, either -- like a giant, toothed, vagina.

Ah, them cover artists, they do like their little jokes ...


The first house my wife and I bought, thirty-odd years ago in Baton Rouge, belonged to an old lady who'd recently passed away. When her family was showing the place, it still had her furniture in it.

Among those items of furniture were two things after which we lusted: An Underwood manual upright typewriter, probably from the 1930's; and a Singer treadle-sewing machine, circa the early 1920's. This latter was run by foot-power, pumping the treadle plate in order to sew.

The real estate agent suggested that we include those two pieces in our offer -- maybe the family didn't care about them -- so we did.

We got the house -- and they threw in the typewriter and sewing machine.

The sewing machine and its cabinet were in poor repair, and eventually we passed them along to somebody, but kept the heavy, wrought-iron treadle base. We painted it a couple times and had various tops on it -- glass for a time, then wood -- and for the last few years, it served as a table out back for hot tub supplies.

Saturday, while my wife was working in the front garden, she decided she need a new plant stand by the front door. So we hied ourselves to the rock store off 217, and found a 40-pound slab of ragged-edge stone, quarried somewhere near Mt. St. Helens, and brought that home to sit atop the old treadle base. My wife plans to paint the base a dark chocolate, and to get a big cascading plant to sit upon it.

Makes a pretty good plant stand for twelve bucks, which is what the stone cost.

Finely Tuned Machine

When I worked in the clinic, I used to hear some interesting stories about injuries. I remember that the ones I found the most fascinating about things like back injuries used to come from big, burly guys who could squat with a Volvo on their shoulders, but who managed to injure themselves doing something that sounded totally innocuous.

Guy looked like a powerlifter who strained his low back by picking up his twenty-pound toddler.

Another one who was sitting in a chair and reached down to scratch an itch on his shin.

One who was jogging and who bent to re-tie his shoe. (This one was me, by the way.)

These and similar injuries had a common action -- the injured men moved in two planes at the same time, i.e., they bent from the waist and twisted their torsos.

(In our version of silat we call this moving two bases at once, and it's a no-no, save for evasion, because we believe it doesn't allow for the best power generation. For example, if you need to step along a line and also rotate your body, you do one, then the other. Doesn't matter which -- step, then turn; turn, then step. You can speed 'em up so they look like one motion, but they are more efficient if you separate them. .)

All of which is to say that yesterday, I strained my low back. Not a major pull -- I can still walk around and it's only a little painful, but how I did it? One of those stories ...

The postman delivered a package, a big science fiction novel freebie for review. It was a Peter Hamilton title, and I figured I'd read it, so I took it into the bedroom. Often when I get such items, I'll step into the bedroom and just toss the volume onto my side of the bed, rather than walk a whole ten feet around to stick it on the stack of to-be-read material on the floor next to the nightstand.

In a script I would change the scene to SLOMO here:


The bedroom is dark, lit only from light filtering through the drapes. Perry steps round the corner, cocks the heavy book like a Frisbee, launches it. Just as he releases the book, however, he spots THE CAT lying on the bed -- right where the book is going to impact.

Perry's eyes widen in surprise as he realizes the book is going to smack right onto The Cat.

Noooo -- !

Perry tries to catch the book he just released, lunging after it.

He misses. Pulls his back in the attempt. Watches as the book flies s-l-o-w-l-y toward the sleeping cat.

RESUME NORMAL SPEED as the book lands upon the cat.

(startled meow)

The Cat levitates -- then vanishes under the bed ...

Those of you wondering, the parenthetical "MOS," means you can see the character's lips move, but you can't hear him. The story is that the term comes from the early days of movie-making when a German director would put that on a clapboard to indicate the scene was silent and supposedly stands for what a German with an accent would say aloud -- "Ve shoot dis mit out sound ..."

MOS ...

Long as I am here, my favorite multiple injury story from my medical days:

A teenaged girl and her mother are playing tennis. The girl goes after a cross-court lob, lands crooked, and turns her ankle, going down hard.

Her mother, seeing this, rushes to help, leaps over the net, but catches her toe and goes face down onto the court, spraining her wrist and knocking herself semi-conscious.

The girl's father, watching from outside the tall tennis fence, darts in through the opening to aid his injured wife and daughter, catches his hip on the gate somehow, gets tangled up and wrenches his knee ...

Nobody was seriously injured, but had I been a member of that family, I'd have figured that tennis court was cursed and found a new place to play ...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Maps and Territories in the Martial Arts

There is a long-standing discussion in the martial arts world about "reality" training. The consensus among those who know more about such things than I is that full-power, full-speed training in striking arts is, at best, difficult to teach. This is easier in grappling arts to a degree, but we are talking about whacking with intent. Full-out versions of this, so the discussion goes, are iffy to train.

There's an understatement.

Turn two fit strikers loose on each other with an all-bets-are-off, have-at-it command, and what you get real fast is injury. In a ten-second bout this might not be serious enough to warrant a trip to the ER or the ICU, but if you have a typical hour-and-a-half training session with this as the operant mode, somebody needs to call somebody and have them standing by with the am-bu-lance -- because somebody else is surely going to get a serious ass-whippin'. Broken this, torn that, smashed these other.

If you expect to do full-out over time, however big your class starts out, it is going to shrink and disappear until there is only one, who can then play with himself.

Break your toys, you don't have them to use any more.

It's a well-duh! and anybody who has ever danced in a circle against another knows it.

There are all kinds of workarounds, great drills, but like the map, they aren't the territory. Still, to be sure, a good map can help you navigate the territory. (Light up Google Earth, and you can get a street view, and while it's not the same as the real deal, it will surely help you recognize the place when you get there.)

Before there was an internet, man-made orbital satellites, television, radio, alternating current or any kind of portable photography, people were still capable of generating useful maps. Look at the illo at the top of this column. That's from about four hundred years ago. Is it to the centimeter accurate and complete? Of course not, but it is close enough so you don't have any problem figuring out what you are looking at, isn't it?

Four hundred years, but that's nothing, really -- people have been beating each other up since before they fooled around shagging the Neanderthals. And passing along how to do both.

I'm always a bit amused by folks who say you can't teach things like this. Obviously somebody figured out ways to do it.

There are some clever drills to approximate the territory, but no matter how clever, they aren't the real deal. Go really slow and limit it to one thing? Punching slow and easy does help you build a basis for punching fast and, but sooner or later, you have to punch fast and hard.

Recall the Bruce Lee story, about when he was being challenged by a master kung fu guy. "Push me, right here," the master said. Lee punched him in the face and knocked him down. "I don't push, I punch," Lee supposedly said. Probably an apocryphal story, but it doesn't matter -- the principle is there. Do it slo-mo, blindfolded, in water up to your neck, it's all good, but it's all still a drill. You use the drills to build tools, but the drills aren't what you are aiming for.

Here's a typical step-by-step for teaching a martial art skill, and the rationale for it:

Cain attacks Abel. Cain is restricted to a) one attack or defense that must be offered b) slowly and with c) little power.

Abel is likewise restricted.

Cain punches to the nose. Abel blocks. Or parries. Or ducks. Or shoots in. Doesn't matter, the restrictions are there. No power, no speed. So if Abel misses the deflection, no problem.

After a time, Cain is allowed go faster and punch harder, eventually achieving full-power and speed. The risk is still there, but mitigated because Abel knows exactly what is coming, and he has learned the tool(s) to deal with it.

So then you up the ante. Two attacks, again slow and easy. Then maybe a counter when the attacks come. But still choreographed so there aren't any surprises.

Then, if you haven't bashed each other too much, more varied attacks and defenses, starting slow and scaling up. And eventually, you get used to seeing full-power, full-speed shots coming your way, but with the limiter still in place.

Drills, to get you used to the idea of punches coming.

Yes, you'll get hit anyway, but that's not always bad. Being able to take a shot and keep going is a useful trick. Being hit by your friend who will help you up afterward is better than being hit by somebody on the street who will stomp you while you are still down.

How do you deal with the surprise factor, once the limits are off? When Cain can throw anything he has, and Abel can, too?

There is the key, the crux, the real nitty-gritty, what it is all about. When the rubber hits the road, the shit the fan, the push comes to the shove, then what?

I like the Stonewall Jackson Dictum: Get there firstest with the mostest. Abel doesn't wait on Cain, he brings his own surprise out and delivers as soon as he determines intent.

Cain says, "I am gonna kick your -- "

Nope. Too late. Abel is gone -- over, under, around, or through, as needed.

From Abel's viewpoint it doesn't matter what Cain does. What Abel does is more important. Because by the time Cain gets ready, Abel is at home, having a beer, and thank you very much, brah, give my regards to the monkeys in the land of Nod. That's the name of the game.

The training notion here is this: If Abel has seen ten thousand punches flying at his face from every conceivable angle and knows and has practiced ways to prevent those from impacting, it's not the real deal, but it's maybe not such a leap to make that last hop from lots of practice to reality than from never-seen-it-before.

I mean, if my buddy punches me and I miss the deflection and he smashes my nose, that might not be real but it sure feels real. As anybody who has ever gotten decked in a ring or on a mat knows, it doesn't matter what somebody meant if they smack you hard enough to ring your chimes, it still hurts. If I can block a hard punch from this guy, maybe it might not be too far-fetched a notion to believe I can block a hard punch from a different guy?

If you have never seen a punch approaching your nose at speed, you will have the built-in defensive software -- freeze, run, or attack. But if you have practiced a response until it is almost reflexive, then it might be there when you call on it.

Might not be, but given my limited experience in different kinds of training, it has been there for me more often than not, so I'm good with it. It's about perception -- if I don't see a threat, nah, maybe nothing kicks in. If believe that it is? I think it wakes up the critter in the cave. If it is gonna be me or him goes down? Better that it is him. No question.

There are folks who disagree with this idea, and I can see how they might. Then again, until they come up with a better map? I'm using the one I got.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Another Buggy Whip for the Rubbish Bin

When I was young, I was an inveterate letter writer. This was a habit that began long before I started writing for publication. Once I started doing stories and sending them off, I kept copies of all my submissions -- carbons , back in the day -- and that then extended to the personal correspondence. Pretty much anything that went into the typewriter got copied and put into a file.

Mail was how you communicated with folks who were afar. We had telegrams and telephones, of course, but long distance phone charges were spendy. A call on mother's day or Christmas, or to announce a birth or death had families gathered at both ends of the line, and you could take your wife and kids out for a nice dinner for what a coast-to-coast long distance call cost for more than fifteen or twenty minutes. Phones were for special cases.

At the end of each year, I'd bundle all my letters up, to and fro, stick 'em into a box, and put that into the garage or attic, depending on which had the most room.

Did that for fifteen or so years. Someday, I figured, I could go back and mine those for material. They'd be like keeping a journal. Or when I hit it big, some university could go through my letters after I croaked and some scholar could write a biography ...

Then computers came along.

Made it easier to generate copies, not having to diddle with a carbon sheet, and I would make a copy for the files that way. Did it that way for a dozen years or so.

Then the internet came along, and many of my correspondents who had computers started exchanging email with me instead of snailmail. So much easier and quicker, no postage needed, and you could jot down a graph or two instead of having to fill a whole page or two, and get it there right now.

I still copied those and stuck them into files.

Then one day, when burnable CDs got really cheap, I started dumping my email files onto those, and my correspondence with folks via the USPS dwindled to an occasional fan letter and my mother, who refuses to own a computer, even though we offered to buy it for her. And when I switched phone services, long distance charges just went away -- anything in the continental USA, free, part of the package. And Skype if you need to talk to somebody anywhere in the world who has access to the web.

A years worth of email fits onto a single CD and a couple decades of this will fit in a cigar box. I can call my mother and talk for an hour and it is cheaper than a single stamp.

I still exchange email with folks nearly every day, but I rarely ever write a snailmail letter anymore. And for this and other reasons, the post office is going bankrupt. Talking about dropping Saturday service and raising rates again.

Email is easier. Long-distance is cheap and convenient. But those hand-written letters like those sent back from the war front or between lovers or old friends have, largely, dried up. And a certain ... elegance has gone with them.

Like Judy Collins said in "Both Sides Now:" Something's lost but something's gained in living every day.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Work Mode

Got into a rhythm on the current project and it ate up my time seated in front of the computer monitor this last few days. Usually I flex my hands and brain with bloggery or email or surfing the net when I first sit down, and surely I waste too much energy on those, but not so much since Thursday.

It's not like working on the chain gang and the road boss standing over you with a shotgun, but there is a certain drive to keep the pick or hammer swinging once you establish a rhythm ...

On the home front: ebook for Bristlecone is actually selling pretty well. Weather is beautiful -- pushing eighty and sunny here yesterday.

Coffee pot gave up the ghost this morning. Heater element burned out, and given the nature of such devices, cheaper to buy a new one than to locate a replacement element -- assuming they make those after six years, which they probably don't -- and take it apart to fix it. It's a nice unit, but black plastic and I'm not that much in love with it.

Probably take a break this weekend and go see Ironman II with my son and grandson.

And the beat goes on.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Turn of Phrase

Years ago, my wife and I went to see a local bodybuilding contest. It was sponsored by, and connected to, a venue associated with, of all things, a Chinese restaurant. Locals, amateurs, and back when the women still looked like women and not men in bikinis, and the men appeared human and not shaved and oiled great apes -- Kreegah! Tarzan! Bundalo!

If anybody was juicing, it was a small enough stack so it didn't show up to discerning eyes.
They looked like fitness models look today: Ripped, fit -- not bloated, yellow, no raging acne ...

Many of the contestants were nervous, this apparently their first time on a stage, and they looked skittish as they went through their poses.

One of the young women doing her routine had friends and family sitting next to us, and as is common at such events, they were calling out encouragement and directions: "Lats! Let's see those lats!" Or "Abs! Abs! Crunch 'em!"

The young woman was obviously teetering on the edge of stage fright when the guy sitting next to me, a boyfriend or brother or whomever, yelled out: "Show us some teeth!"

That got the poser to smile, and she relaxed a bit and went through the rest of her routine with a bit more confidence.

Show us some teeth. What a great line.

He could have just said, "Smile!" but in that moment, what he said was more evocative -- and it got her to do that, plus it tickled her.

Tickled me, too. My notebook came out and I scribbled that one down. As a writer, you are always listening for these little gems, a word or turn of phrase that exactly nails a feeling or action perfectly. When you hear one, grab it. You never know when it will be just the thing you need to make a line, a paragraph, maybe even a page, sing.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

From Cape Town With Love - Book Review

The next Tennyson Hardwick novel, From Cape Town With Love, presented by Blair Underwood, and written by Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes, is about to become available. Looks like the treeware and Kindle versions will be up on on May 18th.

I reviewed the two earlier novels in this series favorably: Casanegra and In the Night of the Heat, and the third book is the best of the bunch. The writing is seamless -- trying to figure out which scenes were done by which writer? Can't really -- Due and Barnes have that down. And they have gotten comfortable with the character, who has been fleshed out and made more interesting and complex. Hardwick's relationship with his father is expanded upon, and his feelings about who he is and what he does add much to the narrative.

For those of you just discovering him, "Ten" Hardwick is a B-list actor (he's moved up a bit) who does some unofficial private eye and bodyguard work on the side. Formerly a paid escort who serviced rich and beautiful women in LaLaLand, Ten this time finds himself involved in protecting a movie star, and later dealing with the kidnapping of her adopted child.

The scenario shifts from L.A. to Africa. Lots of sex, violence, derring-do, and a broad international sweep this time gives the tale an extra dimension. There are inside stories about Hollywood, and the African material is from firsthand experience.

Like the two previous books in in the series, this is a romp, and I recommend it highly.

In the interests of full disclosure, I must point out that Barnes and T and I have known each other for years, and that I read the novel in ms form with an eye toward offering my small knowledge of gun stuff where it might be needed. My vested interest is thus small, but just so you know.

They've even done a video trailer for it that looks way cool on YouTube, which, once you see it, really makes you want to see a movie version of it. I still believe that HBO is missing a major bet by not snapping this up for a series. Are you listening, HBO? If you can do crappy vampires, you can surely do something like this.

If you grab the video trailer and slow it down, you'll see in one scene Steve Barnes, playing one of the Bad Guys, getting his ass kicked; his facial expression in the sequence is great. Too bad the part where he wound up booted into the swimming pool got cut. I'd have liked to see that.

Another winner, this book.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bristlecone, a Novel

I have officially gone over to the dark side.

Well, a little bit ...

Okay, behold the official flackery for my most recent novel, the ebook Bristlecone.

The blurb:

“Old age and treachery overcomes youth and skill every time.”

When a long-retired couple of black-bag assassins are pulled back into the game, it's only a matter of hours before there's a body in their quiet back yard.

Much against their desires, Hull and Khadra find themselves facing Milos, an old nemesis from decades past whose plans could mean the deaths of millions.

Hull and Khadra have lost a few steps; but, despite being qualified for A.A.R.P. membership, they are far more experienced and still better-suited to deal with Milos than the young operatives at the secret agency known only as The Department.

In Bristlecone, Steve Perry, New York Times Bestselling co-author of Tom Clancy's Net Force series, offers a tale of spies and assassins, old grudges, and a fast-ticking clock of looming epidemic violence ...

This is going to be available as an ebook only, unless NYC hammers down my door and starts shoveling money at me.

You can get it at Smashwords, for assorted kinds of viewing -- should be something everybody with a reader or computer can view.

Apple iBooks now has it available on for the iPad, and in theory, so will B&N for the Nook, and for the Kindle.

Bristlecone, $5.99.

Buy a copy now! Baby needs a new iPad ...

Time Passages

The rhody is in full bloom, always does that around Mother's Day.

Over the years, I have bonsai-ed it a bit, and to give you an idea of how much it has grown, the first picture is of my wife and daughter, in the spring of 1983. Look at the rhododendron behind them.

Fast forward to 2010, today, and have a look at the same rhody today ...


Frank Frazetta, a man who needs no introduction to fantasy and science fiction fans, has died. He was 82.

I would have loved to have had a Frazetta cover on any of my books, but I arrived in the field too late. By the time I got here, he was dialing down his cover work and making a fortune from his originals. Some of those have sold for a million dollars.

I didn't rate. (I had a Boris cover for one of the Conan novels, and the one for Conan the Defiant done by Sean Joyce was an obvious homage to Frazetta. But there was only one Frazetta, and nobody ever touched him for that kind of work.)

Adiós, Frank.

Walk the Walk

Regular readers of ye olde blogge will recall I have mentioned from time-to-time in a favorable light the SoAfrican knife art, Piper. The most recent posting was a review of Eric Petermann's book on Piper's basics, which I found to be well-done and worth getting.

If you couldn't drop by a class in South Africa, I said, this book would be as close as you could get, and enough to get a taste of what certainly seems to me be one of the nastier knife arts out there. It gets right to the heart of sharps, and while pieces of it look passing familiar to those of us in silat or kali, it's different. The rhythms aren't the same.

There are some videos on YouTube, and if you watch them, you'll see some stuff that is very interesting in terms of movement.

Well, turns out that in my review I was right -- and wrong. The book is good, but Lloyd de Jongh, one of the system's founders, (under Nigel February), is coming to the U.S., where he will be giving at least one public seminar, and possibly others. So you will be able to see it first-hand.

This seminar is going to be in San Diego -- La Mesa -- at a dance studio, 8241 La Mesa Blvd. on Saturday, May 22nd, starting at 1 p.m.

I would love to do this, but am up to my ass in literary alligators all full of ticking clocks, and won't be able to make it -- though if I lived in SoCal, I would probably steal the time anyhow.

If you are a serious knife guy and have any interest in seeing what all the hoopla is about and you can get there? You should consider it. I can't help but believe it will be most educational.

Lloyd will post updates on his blog, and you can contact him via the link there.

Lot of folks around the country, it's a long haul, but it's only a couple hours from L.A., and Lloyd is also going to be spending a bit of time in the Simi Valley, which is an even shorter drive.

This is the first opportunity people in the U.S. will have to see a master of this art here. If you play with sharps and want to see how a culture from a different part of the world than SE Asia expresses things with their blades? Go check it out.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Slower Than a Speeding Bullet

I don't think I've posted this here before. An essay on my misspent youth ...

Slower Than a Speeding Bullet


Steve Perry

In the summer of 1961, my best friend Greg Ellison and I decided to become masked crime-fighters. We were fourteen years old. It was Greg’s idea.

Every word of what follows is as true as I can remember it. I swear. You'll see why I needed to say that soon enough.

We were about as ill-equipped to join the Legion of Superheroes as we could be: I was just over five-feet-high and a hundred pounds, and at that, both taller and heavier than Greg. I also wore gray and clear plastic-framed glasses, because I couldn’t see the big E on the eye chart without them, and neither Greg nor I could have fought our way out of a wet paper bag.

I pointed this out to my friend, using, as I recall, language that included, “You are out of your fucking mind!”

I was only the second-smartest kid at Prescott Junior High, however, and the one smarter talked me into it.

We did it, sort of, but you are unlikely to read about our crime-fighting exploits on any police blotter anywhere. Just as well, too.

Greg and I met in the back of our 8th grade science class, where we had been banished for arguing that questions our teacher had marked wrong on a test were right. We both needed the same volume of the encyclopedia to verify our claims. He had put down the exact distance from the Earth to the Sun and failed to round it off to the usual ninety-three-million; I did the same with the average surface temperature, opting for a number slightly higher than the rounded-off version, and according to the encyclopedia, we were both right. We were most pleased with ourselves.

In such matters, however, we shortly found that the eighth grade science book triumphed Encylopedia Americana.

We were outraged when our claims for redress were denied.

Later, in the hall, an irate Greg said to me, “When I get to be a nuclear physicist, do you think anybody will care what my fucking eighth grade science book said?!”

Up until then, I hadn’t had any friends who could spell “nuclear physicist,” much less plan to be one. As the bright kid who never needed to crack a book, I had mostly kept my smarts hidden under a bushel -- being a suck-up egghead was unhealthy. Now and again, my mouth would outrun my brain and cause me grief, but otherwise I kept a low profile: Being the brightest bulb in the southern school room cost you much more than you gained. Here, however, was a guy I could run with and not have to make excuses for just because I was smart.

There wasn’t any way we couldn’t have become buddies. Henceforth, our science teacher-in-common was known to us as “mean-ugly-old-hag-bag,” which appelation was largely inaccurate -- the woman might have been thirty-two or thirty-three and not particularly hideous, but there you go. Who is more judgemental than a smart-ass fourteen-year-old boy?

In those pre-home computer, pre-video-game, two-staticky channel TV days, geeks like us read science fiction books and comics and learned poetry. We liked to run the halls spouting snippets from “The Raven,” or “The Jabberwocky,” or the opening for the old black-and-white Superman TV show: “Faster than a speeding bullet ...”

For about fifteen minutes, Greg claimed to be a socialist. We started a mimeographed science fiction fanboy magazine. None of these were popular pursuits at Prescott Junior High, a solidly blue-collar school in North Baton Rouge, not far from what was generically called, “The Plant.” The Plant was actually several mega-companies -- among them Esso, (later Exxon), Ethyl, and Kaiser -- forming what was, at the time, the largest petrochemical industrial complex in the country, if not the world, and The Plant was most of our fathers worked. Greg didn’t have a father around, his parents having gone their separate ways shortly after his younger twin brothers were born. Either his father, or his mother, or both, had been in vaudeville, at the end of its days, so he told me. His mother worked somewhere downtown.

In Baton Rouge in those duck-and-cover days, we were perversely proud of the fact that if the commies ever attacked America with atomic bombs, we were #3 on their hit list, after New York City and Washington, D.C., or so we had heard, because of The Plant. When the bombs started falling, my father used to say, we would get on the road that led to Mississippi where we would be safe, because there wasn’t anything in that state worth blowing up.

At Prescott, everybody thought Greg and I were crazy, and on one level, they were right: Crime-fighters? Like ... Batman?

Yep. Just like Batman. I was the smartest person I knew until I met Greg, and together, we were smarter than any four people we were apt to bump into, with one exception. We could do it, we were sure, once we decided that we could. Who has more hubris than a bright fourteen-year-old boy?

Two bright fourteen-year-old boys.

Later, I learned that Greg was actually a year older than I, he’d somehow missed a school term along the way. That explained a lot.

Crazy, yeah, but not so much so as to tell anybody about our idea, though. That’s the whole point of a secret identity. Being a namby-pamby-casper-milquetoast was but a cover -- just like Clark Kent, or Bruce Wayne. The last people anybody would suspect of being caped crusaders would be us, we were perfect.

So, he talked me into it, and having grown up on a diet of Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and even Speedy, it wasn’t that hard a chore. I was ripe.

We did know a little gymnastics. Well, actually, Greg knew most of that. I was able to bounce a bit on the trampoline, and our gym coach -- gym class being required in those thrilling days of yesteryear -- “Vannie” Edwards, was big into the whole tumbling thing, and later, became the coach of the American Women’s Olympic Team. While he was at Prescott, he started a gymnastics program and within two or three years, had a junior high team as good as any south of the Mason-Dixon line. Greg, who was the first and probably the last kid in his age group to be able to throw eight consecutive back flips in his mat-tumbling routine, was, at one point, nationally ranked in junior high circles, though that came later. I say he was the last, because mat-tumbling, like rope-climbing, and flying rings, are no longer events in competitive gymnastics. Greg was forever irritated that he lost a meet to a local kid whose routine consisted of round-off, flip-flop, flip-flop, back-full. Any judge who couldn’t tell that eight bounding backs were ten times harder than a simple layout back somersault with a full twist should have been boiled in snot, and would have been, had Greg run things.

We got a couple of books on Japanese self-defense, one on Ju Jitsu, by Bruce Tegner, and one on something called “Ketsugo.” We practiced in my back yard, stepping in and attacking in slow-motion, to give each other plenty of time to fumble through the moves. After a couple of weeks of this, we were sure we could defeat the average crook. We, who made Arnold Stang look like Charles Atlas, considered ourselves quite deadly the weapons.

Besides, it wasn’t about brawn, it was about brains -- a smart crime fighter would out-think the bad guys and not have to fight. Made perfect sense to us.

A bit of advice for those considering the idea of becoming caped crusaders -- plan ahead. The field of crime-fighting isn’t one into which you should just jump, willy-nilly, without due consideration. Batman has it easy -- Commissioner Gordon shines the bat-signal into the night sky, and you can see it from anywhere in Gotham City, including from inside Wayne Manor, where in your secret identity, you have more money than God, which makes mansions and batmobiles and bat caves a lot easier to come by. As a beginner, you probably won’t have these luxuries, and will have to drum up criminals on your own.

You should also consider a test-run, wherein you don your costume and see how things hang, before you get into serious criminal-bashing. You will learn, for instance, that off-the-shelf eye masks do not fit very well over coke-bottle-bottom thick glasses, and that if you put the mask under the lenses, your glasses will fog up or fall off frequently. Or both, plus you will look -- not to put too fine a point on it -- stupid.

But I get ahead of myself.

We decided to put our operation into play around the middle of July, on a Saturday, which gave us a few weeks to get things up and running. We carefully hatched a plan wherein we told our mothers we would be going camping in the local three-acre wood, just a few blocks from my house. In 1961, the idea of two Boy Scout-aged pals (and, in fact, Boy Scout members) going camping alone together was still innocent and safe enough to raise no eyebrows.

We gathered our camping gear, packed it into duffel bags along with our secret costumes and anti-crime fighting supplies, and hiked off for the woods on Saturday morning. The Prescott Woods, named for the road that ran by the mini-forest as well as the junior high, was, lucky for us, on the bus line. Here, we caught a ride for downtown.

Well, okay, taking the bus was not how most caped-crime fighters got around, but we were still more than a year away from our drivers’ licenses, much less our own car; we had to make do.

Once downtown, we exited our ride near the Trailways Bus Depot, went in, and rented a large locker, wherein we stowed our duffel bags. It being Saturday, we wandered around downtown, caught a movie at the Paramount Theater, had lunch at the Picadilly Cafeteria across the street -- hamburger steak, rice and gravy, mashed potatoes and gravy, and cherry pie -- and whiled another hour after that looking at bodybuilding and judo magazines at the City News Stand. We sat on the lawn at the Old State Capitol building, across from Sears, which was across a street from the news stand, and across another street from city hall/police headquarters, all of them no more than a good left fielder’s one-bounce throw from the Mississippi River levee.

We were so excited we were in a constant state of needing to pee.

We took the ferry across the river to Port Allen, Baton Rouge’s smaller and uglier sister. Rode it back and forth twice. Eventually -- and it seemed to take years -- it grew dark.

Once night fell, we gathered in our duffel bags and hiked down Third Street toward the State Capitol grounds.

Those of you who have been to the capitol of Louisiana know what a beautful place it was, and still is. Huge, ancient oak trees lined the walks; vast lawns of St. Augustine grass were then dotted with giant azalea bushes and other huge, waxy-green shrubberies. There was an old fort, toward Capitol Lake (across which was the Catholic-run hospital, named, not-coincidentally, Our Lady of the Lake, wherein I had been born in 1947.) The fort was undergoing rennovation, and closed to the public. It was surrounded by a high stone wall with a massive iron gate in front.

In later years when I would tell the story, I would say it was my father who gave us the idea of the location for our shake-down cruise as crime-fighters. I asked him one night as he was reading the State Times, “Daddy, where is most of the crime in the city?” To which he laughed and said, “At the state capitol.” It’s a good movie-line, but it didn’t happen. What we needed was a place with plenty of cover and places we could hide, and the grounds had those in spades.

Plus we had been there a few times, and were kind of familiar with it.

So. After dark, we went down Third Street, the main drag of downtown, without being stopped by a cop who might have wondered who these two skinny little kids were hauling duffel bags along the sidewalk were; we achieved the capitol grounds, found a ring of tall and thick bushes, crawled into them, and out-of-sight, set up our camp. We unrolled our sleeping bags. I had even thought to bring an alarm clock, to wake us before dawn, so we could sneak out in the dark. A wind-up Big Ben Westclock, as I recall, with glow-in-the-dark dials and numbers.

Came then the moment of truth: We shucked our secret identity Steve and Greg adolescent-dweeb clothes and slipped into our masked crime fighter costumes.

Power practically thrummed in the night air.

Ever notice how superheroes are all accomplished tailors? Spider Man sewed his own costume and it looks great. Clark Kent’s mother knitted his, from the blanket he came wrapped in from Krypton. The rays of our yellow sun apparently also make such blankets invulnerable, and to cut the thread, Clark, aka Kal-el, aka Superman, had to use his heat vision. I always wondered about that. The cape even had a secret pouch, where Superman could put his compressed Clark Kent clothes when he went into action.

Admittedly, our costumes were not exactly this drape of sophistication.

I wore a pale gray sweatsuit with an “S” done in black Marks-a-Lot on the chest. This stood for “Shadow.” Orginally, I had planned to be the Phantom, with Greg going for “The Spectre,” but I decided that the guy who knew what evil lurked in the hearts of men was cooler than the ghost-who-walks. I wore black Keds high-top tennis shoes. I wore my mask-and-glasses -- which quickly became just the glasses because otherwise, even in the hot summer night, they fogged up. I hung the mask around my neck and decided if we spotted anybody who might see us, I’d use it. And, of course, I had my utility belt, because what was a masked crime-fighter without a utility belt?

I quickly came to regret the sweatsuit. At eighty-five degrees and ninety-five percent relative humidity, a not uncommon occurance in south Louisiana after dark in the summer, a sweat suit is exactly that.

Greg, on the other hand, wore his black eye mask, black shorts, a black T-shirt, black leather shoes, and had a calf-length black cape, salvaged from a Halloween Dracula costume.

And his utility belt, of course. Admittedly cooler than I, in more ways than one.

A brief discourse on utility belts: All crime-fighters of any salt carry the tools of their trade, but none are better-equipped than Batman, who wears a belt that transcends the laws of time and space to allow the carrying of objects that couldn’t possibly fit into the thing otherwise. Batarangs, chemical bombs, super-strong and thin batline; gas mask, lights -- you name it, Batman has it tucked away in his n-space belt. He could have a Buick V-8 in there and it wouldn’t surprise me. The man is a stone genius, of course, and richer than Midas, which help.

He can also dive off a building and catch a flag pole ten stories down and do a neat full gainer to land lightly on the sidewalk. An ordinary mortal with enough hand strength to grab that pole would have both arms ripped from his sockets, which would make driving the Batmobile home tricky, at best.

Our belts were somewhat more spartan than either the Caped Crusader’s or the Boy Wonder’s. I had a Boy Scout flashlight -- the dark green one with the bent L-shapped head -- along with a sheath knife, a coil of clothesline, a cigarette lighter, and a walkie-talkie. Unfortunately, this last did not come with a squelch control. These were all hooked to an Army surplus web belt I had bought at Steinberg’s Sport Center, upon the walls of which was on Joe Lipsey’s gun collection, one of the largest in the country, and including in it a Colt Peacemaker revolver with a twenty-peso gold piece in the butt that had belonged either to a Texas Ranger or Billy the Kid, depending on which story you believed.

Locally, however, we were, we thought, the acme of the well-dressed dynamic duo, and so clad, the Shadow and the Spectre were ready to rock and roll.

Our first order of business was to scope out the lay of the land. In that part of Louisiana, the word “flat” is usually all-inclusive, since the ground is wet, rich, alluvial soil. Shove a walking stick into the ground and it will sprout leaves in a week, so the story goes, but there actually were a couple of man-made hillocks on the capitol grounds. One overlooked the lake, and had at the top, mounted in big concrete blocks, a pair of old and rusting cannon. The old fort sat on top of the other hill.

In the dark and bug-infested evening -- we wore Six-Twelve mosquito dope, of course, and one never forgets that smell -- we roamed from bush to tree trunk, crouching low behind cover whenever a car passed.

Running around in the dark being a crime-fighter in your masked -- sort of -- crime-fighter costume? It couldn’t get any better than that.

The capitol itself was, at the time, not only the tallest building in town, it was the tallest building in the state, and in most of the south. One of Huey Long’s efforts -- Huey was thirty-odd years dead by then, killed at the capitol by a pissed-off eye doctor -- the building looks much like the Los Angeles Municipal building that was supposedly the Daily Planet in the George Reeves’s Superman television show of the early fifties. Five million and change when they built it, and years later, it cost more than that just to air condition it. The Baton Rouge building is much taller than the L.A. structure, and as phallic as anything up to the famous “Brick Dick” of Ypsilanti, Michigan. A spotlight at the top of the capitol shined down on a bronze statue of Huey Long. Over the years, the light has been turned off, then on again, for political reasons, but then, it was on, and you could see the solidified metal spirit of Huey for quite a ways. Every man a king.

I mentioned that Greg and I had been to the capitol a number of times, another reason it was a good choice for our initial foray into night-moves. We had looked for the bullet holes in the walls where Huey had been killed, but never found them. We had sat in the gallery watching legislators speak on the House floor, because Louisiana politics was then more interesting to watch than most television or movies -- still is, for that.

Years later, somebody set off a bomb in the House chamber. Didn’t kill anybody, but there was a pencil got blown off a desk and up, to stick point-first into the ceiling. They left it there.
And years later, one of our Prescott Junior High classmates and occasional running buddies, Louis “Woody” Jenkins, would be elected and re-elected to the state legislature repeatedly. Woody was the other bright light at the school -- he started a newspaper: wrote, sang, and recorded a local hit song about Billy Cannon’s famous eighty-nine yard run at L.S.U. during the 1958 championship football season: ran for the U.S. Senate once and just barely lost. Some say he didn't actually lose, but Louisiana politics are passing strange, and he didn't get the job. Great guy, Woody, even if he was a Republican.

Billy Cannon, by the way, became a dentist in Baton Rouge after he left pro football, and was eventually arrested in a big counterfeiting bust. He got caught, so the joke went, because instead of “In God We Trust” on the fake bills, it said “Go To Hell Ole Miss.”

As the Shadow and the Spectre roamed the grounds, we decided to split up to cast a wider dragnet. We turned on our walkie-talkies, instruments I had built, with my father’s help, from a Heathkit. A couple of years later, we once walked along the levee with these same walkie-talkies, making crank calls: “Help, help, this is the submarine Thresher -- we’re lost! Where are we?” we broadcast. We stopped that when we got a response from a Sheriff’s Deputy: “Where are you boys?”

Sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds are not that much brighter than fourteen- or fifteen-year-olds, if at all.

On patrol for crime, I headed for the top of Cannon Hill, while Greg went to check out the capitol’s car port, next to the rear entrance.

It was only a few moments later that I saw a pair of shadowy figures skulking their way up
Cannon Hill.


I grabbed my walkie-talkie, the volume of which was turned way down to keep the static from blasting into the night. I cranked the volume up and put in a frantic call to my partner.

“Greg! Uh, I mean, Spectre! There’s somebody going up Cannon Hill, over!

The screech and static from my walkie-talkie sounded like a bomb going off as I let go of the “send” button. Jesus! I twisted the volume button down, fast. It wouldn’t do to scare them off.

“I copy you, Shadow. Where are you?”

“In the bushes at the, uh, southwest, uh, northwest, uh, at the bottom of the hill away from the lake and toward the capitol!”

In due course, The Spectre arrived at my location. I was easy to see -- that gray sweatsuit stood out against all the greenery, even in the dark. Might as well have done my insignia in neon insofar as blending in went.

“Where are they?” he whispered.

“They went up the sidewalk, right there.”

“I don’t see them. What were they doing?”

“Just walking. I didn’t get a good look.”

“We’ll have to move in closer.”

I nodded, jittery, nervous, and sloshing with testosterone. It was almost ten o’clock. Who but criminals would be out here this late? Well, it must be said, crime-fighters -- but what were the chances of running into another set of those?

We crept up the side of the hill, which wasn’t particularly steep, staying low. It took a long time to get within range of our quarry, we didn’t want to spook them.

When finally we caught sight of the pair, we realized they weren’t, uh, criminals.

Not unless the girl was under the age of seventeen.

A couple making out. The guy looked to be at first base, but we couldn’t tell for sure, though we certainly tried. Very interesting, since neither of us had ever gotten that far with a girl, but still.

Not really what masked crime fighters were supposed to do while on patrol, was it? Be peeping toms?

The Spectre glared at the Shadow. “Criminals,” he whispered with derision.

The Shadow shrugged. What?

We slithered back down the hill.

By eleven, the smoochers were gone, and the grounds were quiet. A car went by now and then.

A few cars were parked by the lake, more couples therein “watching the submarine races” -- an activity we had yet to manage, though we certainly were willing to try, if we could but find a compliant girl.

So far, crime had been quiet in our part of town.

We decided that we needed to check out the old fort. We made our way toward it. The only way to get to the building itself was over the wall, which at the time seemed to be at least ten feet tall, or the iron gate. The fence was impossible, but we knew how to climb gates, and it was but the work of a moment to clamber up the rusty wrought iron and over.

Then we noticed two things: The door to the building was open a crack, and there was a light inside.

The Shadow’s immediate, and fortunately unacted upon, white-feather, yellow-belly, chickenshit reaction, was to zip back up and over the gate and to boogie down the hill. That would hardly have done anything good for his reputation.

The Spectre was made of sterner stuff. “A burglar,” he whispered. “We’ll catch him!”

Until that very moment, I had never actually considered the possibility of confronting a real criminal. It had all been theoretical, images on a silver screen, a fantasy. Already clammy inside the long sleeves and pants of my sodden costume, now I really began to sweat. I was hot, but also cold. I had to pee, felt a sudden urge to crap, and I was having trouble breathing without making a whistling noise. Even with the eyemask hung around my neck, my glasses started to fog over.

This crimefighting thing had suddenly become serious shit.

“How?” I whispered. My voice, to my relief, did not crack.

Sotto, Greg said, “We get on either side of the door and stretch our rope across it. Make a noise. When he comes out, we’ll trip him, grab him, tie him up! We’ll be heroes!”

The flashes of future glory and admiring nubile women were mitigated by the idea of grabbing somebody and tying him up. Had I been alone, I wouldn’t have considered such lunacy. Of course, had I been alone, I wouldn’t have been there. And as much as I didn’t want to do this, I couldn’t back down now. In a fourteen-year-old boy’s world back then, it would be better to be dead than to be thought a coward. Neither of us could back down. We were committed.
“All right,” Greg said. “I’ll peek through the door, see where he is, then we’ll do it.”

I nodded, mouth and throat dry, unable to find my voice. I grabbed my coil of clothesline, my hand slick with sweat.


No, I wasn’t, but I nodded again.

Greg moved to the door. Looked into the building.

Time stretched like saltwater taffy in the hot night.

Then Greg jerked back away from the door. In a voice filled with terror, he said, “It’s a guard! He has a gun! Run!”

A guard! A gun!

I had never in my short life heard scarier words. A guard! A gun! If he shot us, we’d be dead!

If I was dead, my mother would find out what I had been doing!

Later, when I saw Star Trek on television, I had no problem with the concept of teleportation, for I had already done it myself, without the help of a sci-fi device. One moment, I heard, “Guard!” and “Gun!” The next moment, I was deep in a stand of thick bushes eighty yards away, on the other side of a tall and locked gate. I had no memory of having made the journey, nor do I remember it now.

What must have happened was this: The Shadow and the Spectre shattered the world-record in the unassisted gate-climb. They flew up that wrought iron like winged Oz-ian monkeys on speed and hit the ground on the other side, legs churning like something from a Road Runner cartoon. The masked crimefighting team of The Shadow and The Spectre, five-feet tall and a hundred pounds or less each, then set a land speed record in the under-sixteen age group for the terrified-lawn-sprint-to-the-bushes ...

We crouched under the heavy foliage for what seemed like years. Guard! Gun!

No, “crouched” is not the word. We, the heroic scourge of the Capitol grounds criminals, cowered.

Eventually, we relearned how to breathe normally.

Ears attuned for he slightest sound of pursuit, we began to realize that the guard was not coming for us. There were no police search lights no bullhorns, no whirlybirds, nary a single bloodhound looking for us.

Sometime after one a.m., our epinephrinic tides having ebbed to leave us exhausted, we decided to change back into our street clothes and get some sleep. I set my alarm clock for five, and crawled into my sleeping bag. Four hours was plenty in those days.

At four-fifteen a.m. I woke up. The wind was blowing, the sound of rain pounding on the bushes was loud, and water had already started working its way through the leaves to drip on us.

“Greg! Wake up! It’s raining!”

From the depths of his sleeping bag, Greg mumbled something.

“Wake up! It’s raining!”

“Cover up your head. It’ll stop. Go back to sleep.”

I started gathering my gear, trying to stuff it all into the duffel bag. The sky had opened up. Lightning strobed and an almost instant boom! of thunder followed it.

The thunder did it. Greg sat up. “Fuck! It’s raining.”

Water was pouring through the bush canopy. We were getting drenched.

“No shit, Sherlock,” I said. “We gotta get outta here.”

With stuff spilling from my duffel bag, which I couldn’t zip closed, I left the bushes, Greg right behind me. As useless as they had been in stopping the water, the azaleas were a lot better than the open ground. Wind blew the rain in sheets that were practically horizonal. It was dark, it was fucking pouring, we couldn’t see shit, and didn’t know which way shelter was.

“There! There’s a light!” Greg yelled over the noise of the thunderstorm.

We waddled that way, blind save for that dim light. It seemed a long distance off, but it was all we had. We found ourselves on a slight incline. We crossed a road. We picked up speed on the downslope, headed for the light ...

We ran smack into Capitol Lake. I dropped my alarm clock, saw its glowing face disappear into the water. No crocodiles down in Louisiana, only alligators, but none of those rose to swallow it, or us, fortunately.

“Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck!” I screamed.

We turned around and lumbered toward the road. My duffel bag had gained about forty pounds by now. I dragged it on the ground.

Ahead, we finally made out the capitol building. We lurched that way. Made it under the overhang of the carport behind the rear entrance. Leaned against the wall like two half-drowned rats.

The rain kept on coming. It was a hell of a thunderstorm.

If I could have killed my friend with a hateful glance, he would have died. Dead, buried, dug-up, reanimated, killed again, and blasted into smoking atoms.

Just before dawn, a night maintenance worker dressed in khaki looked out through the glass and brass door and saw us. He unlocked the door and came out.

In a thick Cajun accent, he said, “Whatchu’ boys doin’ out dere, hah?”

“We got caught in the rain,” Mr. No-shit-Sherlock, formerly the Spectre, said.

The man shook his head. “You come on in, you kin dry off in de bat’room.”

As I said, it was a kinder, gentler age. These days, we’d have probably been talking to the F.B.I., the N.S.A, and Homeland Security.

We followed, numb, and in the bathroom, used paper towels -- lots of paper towels -- to blot up as much of the water as we could. Tired, cold, and defeated, I just looked at Greg and shook my head.

Eventually, we made it somehow to a bus stop. Eventually, home. Along the way, we saw the effects of the thunderstorm, fierce enough to have broken out store windows and to have knocked down trees. We knew exactly how those windows and trees felt.

Thus did the short-lived careers of the crime-fighting team of The Shadow and the Spectre come to their glorious ends.

Greg never did become a nuclear physicist. In our early twenties, we had some bad experiences with each other, fell out, and went our separate ways. He and I have both had interesting lives since, wives, children, grandchildren, careers, ups and downs, some regrets, and while I can’t speak for him, I am a happy man, content with my life path. But there was a moment, as the Shadow and the Spectre slipped into their costumes together for the first time in the bushes at the state capitol back in 1961 when the future was ours, anything -- anything was possible, and we could be heroes -- if only in our own minds.

Still -- not everybody can honestly say that he was, once upon a time, a costumed crime fighter.

I can.