Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Aged Like Fine Wine

Above: Florence, Oregon; base of a small sand dune, near the Port campground

Current weather conditions in Beautiful Beaverton.

Tahkenitch Dune, 1982

So, another year, another birthday. It's cool here for an August day -- sixty-three F. at the moment, which, through a bit of coincidence, is the same as my age in years ...

We had a fine birthday trip to the coast -- my wife's BD is two days before mine -- ate good food, walked, read, and enjoyed a mostly sunny weekend, though we woke up Monday to a steady rain in Florence, which precluded any more tromping around the dunes.

Twenty-five or so years ago on our birthdays, we had a private re-marriage ceremony at Tahkenitch Dune, which is a couple miles hike from Hwy 101, a place we discovered shortly after we moved to Oregon. That time, we hiked in, read re-dedication vows, exchanged small gifts, drank a bottle of champagne, and tried not to get sand in places that are better left unsandy.

In the middle of the ceremony it started raining and my ink-on-notepaper vows turned into an blurry blotch. Got us laughing something fierce, standing there in the rain. Late August, in Oregon: You never know what the skies will do.

Hard to tell from the center image how big Tahkenitch Dune is, nothing to scale it by, but it's about a quarter-mile away from where I shot the picture with a 1x lens. Probably about fifty feet or so high in this picture. Doesn't look quite like that today -- there has been some more plant growth, and the winds have shapeshifted it a bit. Some of the dunes are quite a bit higher, going on for miles. If you ever get down that way, you should check it out. Quite amazing to see what looks like the middle of the Sahara Desert plunked down on the Oregon coast that way.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Burt Lancaster: An American Life

(Nick Cravat and Burt Lancaster - photo from Cravat's family collection)

Just finished Kate Burford's bio of Burt Lancaster, a fascinating read. For those of you too young to recall him, Lancaster was an actor who arrived with the noir movies in the late 1940's, and was the hottest thing onscreen for the next twenty-five or so years, worked right up until a major stroke crippled him late in 1990. He died four years later, never able to come back from it.

If you haven't seen The Crimson Pirate, Elmer Gantry, or Atlantic City, you missed some great movies. He won the Oscar™ for Elmer Gantry, and rightly so. Was in maybe sixty-five or seventy others, and the list includes some great roles.

Lancaster brought a fluid, powerful grace to his roles, he was very strong. This was because he and his childhood buddy Nick Cuccia (screen name "Nick Cravat,") learned gymnastics as teenagers, ran off to join the circus, and spent several years with various tent shows as acrobats, doing a bar act. They worked together on and off for the rest of their lives.

When Lancaster hit it big, he called up his old buddy and convinced him to come to Hollywood to help him get into shape, and to act in several movies with him. Apparently Nick had to be talked into it -- Cravat had such a thick New York accent he seldom spoke in his movie roles, and played Lancaster's sidekick in The Crimson Pirate as a mute, something he did in several other movies.

Cigarettes, booze, women, and daily gallons of cholesterol aside, Lancaster was reportedly still able to do a giant swing on the high bar in his sixties, run five miles on a reconstructed knee, and when a passenger on a cross-country airline flight had a heart attack, reputedly reached over two seats and plucked the stricken man out into the aisle with one hand ...

Cravat was a short man, five-two as an adult, but he had the same kind of acrobatic moves and power that Lancaster did, and if you haven't seen The Crimson Pirate, you really should, the two of them just tear up the scenery. It was a throwback to the old Douglas Fairbanks/Errol Flynn movies, funny, and as they did throughout most of their careers, Lancaster and Cravat did their own stunts. That gave the movie an instant credibility -- no cuts to stuntmen, and it showed.

(Even if you don't remember seeing Cravat in anything, you almost certainly did. Remember the gremlin on the wing outside William Shatner's window on that episode of The Twilight Zone, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet? Yeah. That was him ...)

Note on the photo: Cravat and Lancaster, training. Lancaster chain-smoked unfiltered Camels, drank martinis by the pitcher, and ate steaks piled high with butter. But he also ran three times a week and worked out, and when in his mid-seventies he had a stroke, the admitting doctor, who didn't recognize him, observed that the patient looked to be a man about sixty.

And note the footgear. Must have been one of the first minimalist-shoe guys -- those look like ballet slippers Lancaster is sporting ...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Yum, Yum

Near our birthdays -- just around the corner -- my wife and I will sometimes go to the dunes, on the Oregon coast, around Florence. We camp at the port RV grounds, walk into town, shop, read, hang out, and eat. Two years back, we discovered Crave's, which had food to die for.

Just as good last year.

This year, however, when I got online to make reservations, Crave's was ... gone ...

Well ... crap!

But wait -- Now the same spot is occupied by Feast, and happily -- the only thing that changed was the name. Same chefs, same food.

So we ate. Oh, man! If there was any justice, we wouldn't have been able to get in; fortunately, though it was busy, we did get a reservation.

My wife had for her appetizer a beet salad. I had onion rings, though the onions were amazingly thin. Dianne's entree was linguini with mushrooms, I had duck breast with cherry sauce. Dessert was a baby cake -- caramelized hazelnuts in a vanilla cream sauce. Best meal in a restaurant I've had since, well, the last time we ate there.

I also had a beer.

Total cost? $54. Can't beat that, truly.

If you are on the Oregon coast and you are any kind of foodie, you gotta go there. Really.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Writing: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Now and again, I get interviewed for this and that. Most recently, for somebody's webzine, and they asked some questions that, odd as it may seem, nobody had ever asked me before:

What are the best things about being a writer? The worst things?

The good first: I make up stories. I get to sit in my office at home, whatever hours I want to keep, dressed however I want, and I tell tales and now and again, somebody sends me money for this. You can't beat that with a stick.

I get to entertain people, and occasionally, inspire them. I love hearing from readers about how they stayed up half the night because they couldn't put down one of my books without finishing it.

Sometimes, I hear from somebody who says my stuff inspired them to do something. I got a great note from a bouncer once, told me he used some of the material I had my bouncers using in the Matador books. Had a couple folks say they got into writing because of a book I wrote.
Had martial artists name things after my made-up arts or characters.

I had a multimillionaire New York Times Bestselling writer gush over my Batman animation episodes. I've had women tell me that my strong female protagonists were role models.

I've gotten nasty letters taking me to task for killing off a favorite character. And that's good -- if somebody cares enough about a fictional character to get upset when they die? You're doing your job. Unless that turns them into stalkers, of course -- remember Misery ...

Google "Pentjak silat in fiction" and five of the first six links lead to something I wrote. I can brag that the Tom Clancy Net Force series probably exposed more readers to the Javanese version of our art in this country than any other novels, before or since. I know people who took up the art because they read about it there.

I've gotten to play in shared universes and create backstories for characters I loved reading about or seeing onscreen: From Bruce Wayne, to Conan, the Ghostbusters, Ellen Ripley, Luke, Leia, Han, Darth, and Chewy. I know from Indiana Jones's hat and handgun.

I've gotten to meet writers I've admired and talk to them as peers. I did an autographing at Disneyland. Was once picked up in a limo for an autograph session. Sat in a projection room on a major Hollywood studio lot and had a private screening of a movie-in-progress so I could do the book tie-in.

Those are perks.

Bad stuff? Well, rejections, of course. You labor over a story or a book or script, polish it up, and ship it out, and it falls short. Doesn't work for editors or producers, and while they often will tell you why it doesn't work for them, sometimes they can't, or it's something you can't fix. Those go into a drawer -- never throw anything away, because what goes around sometimes comes around. I know a guy came up with the general idea for YouTube -- had streaming videos and all, but it was in the dial-up days. Sometimes there's nothing wrong with a piece save that it is ahead of its time.

And cash flow can be iffy. Nobody in the book biz ever issues paperwork on time -- if you are due a royalty and the statement is supposed to be out in June, you are lucky to see a check or statement until September. Money comes in chunks, and a big piece of it right off the bat has to be stashed for taxes. Whatever your bracket.

When you work in a shared universe, you have to remember that it is their toy, and even if you are sure your way is better -- cleverer, or funnier, or whatever -- they get the final thumb-up or down. I've had a couple of great scenes in books I had to cut that I was certain would have made the books better. You can argue, but in the end, it's up to them, and you have to go with that.

You have no objectivity about your own stuff. Sometimes books you think will bowl everybody over don't take off. They hit the racks and disappear. And sometimes books you don't expect anything from will sell better than you thought, so this one is mixed.

The ugly ...

Well, there are always things you can't control, and maybe the worst of these is dead air. An acceptance is great. A rejection is bad. But when you send something out and nobody responds? That doesn't help at all. Did they hate it? Or did they like it but for some reason couldn't accept it? Is it me? Them? What? What?

When Stephen King talks about creating scary monsters, he allows that the one you don't see is always scarier than the one you do see. If a ten-foot-tall monster pops up, a reader or viewer might say, "Oh, yeah, well, but I was expecting a hundred-foot-tall monster, so it's not so bad."

Give them a hundred-foot-tall one? They were looking for an even bigger one.

Give them one they can't see? You partner with their imagination and that can be much scarier.

Dead air works on your imagination ...

In Hollywood, such is SOP. You work on a script, everybody loves it, they love you, everything is beautiful, you turn in the draft, and --

-- the phone stops ringing. Your email announcer doesn't chime. Might as well have stuck the script in a bottle and tossed it into the ocean. The default position is, of course, that they didn't like it. Because if they did, they'd still be calling to talk about it. But if they don't like it, nobody wants to say that, maybe hurt your feelings, and get cast as the bad guy, so they just don't speak to it at all. Doesn't do any good to call or email to check, because they won't answer those, either. It's frustrating, but it's part of the biz.

Usually in the magazine or book circles, it doesn't happen that way, though I've been hearing through the grapevine from other writers that such a thing is becoming more common. Having had a little brush with that myself, I find it unsettling: Hey, here's an idea, whaddya think?

Dead air ...

There are other ugly things, ranging from defaults on contracts, to outright scams, and you have to be aware of these. If you sign a book deal, don't go out and start looking for that new car until the check clears -- especially in Hollywood. No matter how enthusiastic an editor, publisher, or producer is, no matter how much they wax about how the project is a go, here is the bottom line: It ain't a done deal until your check clears. Don't spend a dime of that theoretical money until it is in your hot little hand. Trust me. I've been there, and I know other writers who have, too. The contract is signed, the money is practically on its way, and oops, here's a problem, um ... the deal is, alas, off, sorry ...

I could go on, but that's enough. These are the big highs and lows for me, and they happen to every writer I know at one time or another, so if you are experiencing the good, congratulations. If you are dealing with the bad or the ugly, don't take it personally. As long as you are buying a ticket, you have a shot at winning the lottery, no matter how small.

If you quit, you can't win. Don't give up.

Magic Ring

Got an email from somebody who remembered seeing a short vid on my blog with a ring trick, wondering where it was. Since I have a habit of so cleverly entitling things that a search sometimes won't find them, I had to dig around and figure out what I called it to point at the link. Goes back to last November. Here it is. (Called "Nothing Up My Sleeve.")

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Writer on Fire


I read through the second Matador trilogy, made a few notes, and cleared the decks.

For ready reference, I have an e-book pirate to thank. A couple years ago, somebody sent me a link to a pirate site that had a bunch of SF novels up as torrents. This included most of the Matador novels, scanned into PDFs, so I downloaded them. Shortly thereafter, a writer with some clout -- not me -- got his publisher to shut the site down. The PDFs aren't perfect, but they are easily searchable.

You need to remember that I started writing these books more than twenty-five years ago, and the most recent ones dealing with the original crew at all go back eighteen years, to 1992. Time fogs the memory, so if I need to recall what color Geneva's eyes are -- icy gray -- I can go find it much faster on the computer than I can looking for where I put that in the original novel.

So, I sat down and started into it, and after two days, have drafted a couple chapters and a couple scenes to be plugged in later. Moving right along.

I'm thinking this one will write faster than Siblings was going. Might not, can't ever tell until you get there, but there are clues: When you sit down at nine a.m. and start writing, then look up at two p.m. and realize you have drunk the whole pot of coffee and haven't had lunch because you haven't left the chair except to pee for five hours, that's a good sign.

Whereas Siblings has been going along in fits and starts and some days I didn't seem to have an idea of what needed to come next, Churl seems to be laid out in my thoughts in pretty good detail. Yes, it's the kids and grandkids who will mostly be featured, but the old crew is still alive and will play some part.

Odd bits pop up and surprise me as I'm writing: Dirisha and Geneva have a son, whom they took turns carrying through the pregnancy. Sleel still makes swords, and he and Kee get a quarter-million stads each for them. Bork's son is as big and strong as Bork was, and he's half Albino Exotic, so he's got the looks and the hormones to go with that ...

Chapter Eleven Writer Bankruptcy is still in the future; and nothing since TMWNM has lit up white hot and roaring as much as that one did; still, this one is calling more than Sibs, and the squeaky wheel gets the oil, so ...

What I need is for somebody to start a Facebook group for fans of the Matadors, get about ten thousand members, and then I'll have something to wave at the editor and publisher when I get this one ready to market ...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Good Deed for the Day

Out walking the dogs when a young dog ran over to see us. No sign of an owner.

Dog was medium-sized, part-AmStaff and part something else, and wanted to play. Had a collar and tags.

A woman came out of the house we were in front of and said she'd seen the dog running around in her back yard, but she didn't know who he belonged to.

I would have started knocking on doors, but since the dog could have come from anywhere, I figured it would be better to get home and have my hands free when I started trying to track the owner down.

So, off the belt and looped around the collar, and home, my dogs carrying on because they didn't want to share their owner/home/water/air ...

Got mine inside, the stray in the front yard, and found both an Avid number and WA country rabies tag, phone numbers for each. Avid is a tracking/recovery service, and they sell microchip implants, so the dog was chipped and I figured that was the fastest way to find out who owned him.

After waiting on the phone tree for a time, I got through. Sure enough, he had an implant, but the owner hadn't gotten around to filling in the information on it, so all they had was was the WA county shelter number where the chip was put in.

So I called the pound, gave them the tag number, and got the dog's name -- Dietrich -- and the owner's name -- George -- and an address, which happened to be across the street and down six or so houses. Leashed Dietrich up and walked him down there. The owner, an older man with somewhat limited mobility, had missed the dog, who apparently slipped out the back gate into the park behind the house and vanished.

(As it happened, the dog lived next door to the woman who said she didn't know whose it was. Interesting.)

I turned the pup over to George, and all's well that ends well.

I had seen this guy with a dog before, but it was an older one, so Dietrich must be new. If you get your dog chipped, best to fill out that information ASAP -- if s/he gets loose without a collar, it's going to be harder to track you down.

And from a public records/security aspect, if somebody finds your tagged dog running loose and bothers, they can get the dog's name, your name, your phone number and address, if they just ask ...

Alternate Reality

Movie posters from an alternative reality ...


I have a cold -- got that foghorn voice and attendant URI symptoms, no need to recount them. We had our nephew and my ... niece-in-law? -- here visiting the past few days -- 'twas a lovely visit, by the by -- and so I haven't gotten any work done. Work, for writers, consists of many things, but the only one that counts is how many pages you produce. However, as part of the research on Churl, I went back and re-read the second trilogy of Matador books. Well, two of them so far, and halfway into the third: The Albino Knife, Black Steel, Brother Death.

These books came out in 1991 and 1992, and while I looked up some stuff in them when I started Siblings, I haven't read them since they were published. (I've pointed this out before -- by the time one of my books comes out, I've read it five times -- a couple of drafts, the CE ms, the galleys, and the published novel, at which point, I'm pretty much done with it.)

Two things struck me upon re-reading these: First, it had been long enough that I didn't remember the stories particularly well. In places, I was turning pages, wondering what was going to happen in the next scene. Second was, I kept thinking, "Huh. That's not too bad." I mean, the stories moved right along, and actually had plots and all.)

There's a lot of material in these I can use as b.g. in Churl, since it is going to pick up a few years after Black Steel (and Brother Death) end.

There are some kids I can round up: Little Saval (Veate and Bork's son); Little Mayli (Sleel and Killdee Wu's daughter); Chel (Tazzimi and Ruul's daughter); and, of course Gerard (Sleel and Dirisha and Geneva's son.) And to keep it interesting, the villain is going to be the grandchild of a character from one of the old books, too.

The old crew is getting up there, but since life expectancy is in the 140+ range T.S., they can still be fairly spry in their sixties and seventies. Probably get to see most of them -- Khadaji, Juete, Dirisha, Geneva, Bork, Sleel, and associated spouses and families. (And thanks to Dan's timeline, I can nail down the ages of the characters.) For readers who recall it, the longevity drug being developed in The Brambles, via the Bindodo vine and Uzima edmondia, won't have ripened yet. At the end of Black Steel, we were still about eighty-five years away from that, if I recall correctly.)

And we're off to see the Wizard ...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Expendables

My son, oldest grandson, and nephew -- visiting from San Francisco with his lovely wife for a few days -- and I went yesterday to see The Expendables.

Boys going to see a man-flick. I was really looking forward to this one.

No two ways to say it: the movie wasn't very good. Paint-by-numbers, no surprises, nothing really memorable, give it a "C."

I had high hopes for it; Stallone wrote and directed it, and he's a good writer -- he wrote Rocky, recall. But if it hadn't had all the old action stars in it, it would have been totally forgettable. Well, except that I don't need to shoot anybody nor blow anything up for a while, having gotten my fill of that ...

What worked did so because the audience knew the actors and allowed a certain amount of warm nostalgia to make us grin. Wow, look what good shape he's in! How cool is it that a guy older than I am can roll around and smack into walls like that! (And get a broken vertebrae in the doing of it ...)

There they were, including cameos from Schwarzenegger and Willis, with Eric Roberts as the bad guy, and a couple token good-looking hot girls. It didn't lack for testosterone, and they blew through a truckload of ammo and bombs, but there wasn't any sense of joy or surprise: Action scene, ass-kicking, and here's the really clever dialog showing how cool everybody is -- can I get a rim-shot -- baddah boom! Over and over, bigger and bigger.

Yeah, there were some references to movies we knew. A few funny lines. And yes, the old guys still having a little life in them was a good premise, but they really didn't make use of it. I didn't expect Seven Samurai, but it could have been Butch and Sundance, or even The Wild Bunch; instead, it was Generic A-Team. No depth, no real character development. No sex, and the only twist they delivered made you shake your head at the end and go, "Aw, crap! Spare me!"

I wanted to see it and I did. And anybody who grew up with these guys onscreen will want to see it, and should -- just don't expect anything special.

Too bad.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

For a Limited Time Only, Yet Another Teaser ...


Something Wicked This Way Comes ...

I dunno if you've heard of this, but I have to put it right up there with Nilsson's "You're Breakin' My Heart," and "Take 54" (I sang my ball off for you, baby!)

If the f-word bothers you, don't click on the the play button. And close your eyes when you look at the title of the video below. (And obviously if the f-word bothers you, you don't read my books ...)

I'm surprised it's still up on YouTube, but here you go. Rated R for language, and you probably don't want to play it at work. You've been warned.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Been having a fun discussion on a site with a fellow who is an expert in the language. As we chatted, I recalled the expression "Gardyloo!" A term, I must admit, that I learned from a Frank Yerby novel long ago and far away. Jarret's Jade, if I remember correctly. Probably about 1960 or '61 when I read it.

Can't remember what I had for dinner on Saturday, but I can remember learning a word in a novel I read fifty years ago.

Yerby was the first black writer to became a best-selling author with sales to the movies. His stuff was not all that deep, but I found it entertaining. Multi-generational stories, I recall, and page-turners. Oddly enough, he caught a lot of crap for not having sympathetic black characters -- and most people in the day didn't know he was black. Go figure.

But, Gardyloo! Back in the old days before indoor plumbing, there were sometimes jars or tubs kept in the night chamber so that the occupants might use those instead of having to traipse along to the outhouse in the middle of the cold night. In the morning, the maid, or perhaps the lady of the house, were she poor, would wish to toss those slops outside. If, say, one were on the third or fourth floor and heaved the contaminated fluids through the window and onto the street below, it was considered polite to warn passersby.

"Gardyloo!" was the cry to let them know they'd best move their arse elsewhere: Piss and possibly scat was about to rain down.

The origin of the term is unclear, but it is most likely from the French -- Garde à l'eau! -- which allegedly means "watch out for the water!"

Ah, the good old days. Horse dung piled two feet deep, dead cows in the river, and best you beware on your morning stroll ...

Bad News/Good News - The Matadors

Okay, for those of you who are Matador fans, the bad news is, I'm taking a little time off from working on The Siblings of the Shroud while I do something on another book.

What's that? No, I'm a married man, but thanks for offering.

The good news is that the other book is also a Matador novel, working title of which is Churl. (That word -- like "matador," -- doesn't always mean what folks think it means. From Old English "ceorl," a churl was the lowest rank of freeman, between serf and thane. But of course, you knew that, right?)

I mentioned this in passing a while back, and I think the timing of it will be about twenty years or so after Black Steel, plus or minus a bit.

Got some plot things to work out first and I'll have to re-read the second trilogy -- Albino, Steel, Brother Death, to make sure I don't get crosswise with myself.

Usually I have a primary work-in-progress and a back-burner project going at the same time, though it's been a while since I had three or four cooking. I don't really have time to be fiddling with one more, but I've learned that when the idea pops up and stares you in the eye, if you don't deal with it when it is fresh, you might not get back to it.

Stay tuned.

New TV Show

History Channel has a new one coming out next week, Swamp People. Set in the Atchafalaya ("Chaff-uh-lie-uh") swamps, it's got gators, skeeters, moccasins, and guys missing teeth.

I saw the promos during Top Shot, the b.g. music being Creedence's swamp-rock classic, "Born on the Bayou ..."

I'm gonna have to watch at least one of these. Tony Joe White. Jerry Reed. "Poke Salad Annie." "Amos Moses ..."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


When I was a kid, if you needed to go pee while you were watching TV, you waited for a commercial and then you hurried. If you didn't need to go too bad, you could just make it.

Tonight, while watching the tube, I got up when the commercial came on, went and broke ice from a tray, poured a Sprite over it in a big glass, made microwave popcorn, did ten chin ups, and went pee -- and still got back before the show came on.

And next commercial, I wrote this. And edited it on the next commercial.


Little Egypt

The version of this I most remember was done by the Coasters, in the late 1950s. Ray Stevens later covered it. I thought I saw all of Elvis's movies back in the day, but that dendrite must have short-circuited and died, because I didn't remember that he'd taken a stab at it.

Everybody loved that down and dirty sax to fill at the end of the verses.

And you gotta love that straight-up-the-neck chord progression over the talky -- for want of a better term -- bridge. It's written in D, I play it with C-shapes, and it jumps up a half-step everywhere you see a backslash below:

"She /did a triple somersault and /when she hit the ground she /winked at the audience and /then she turned around she had a /picture of a cowboy/ tattooed on her spine saying /Phoenix, Arizona, nineteen forty-nine!

Yeah ...

Time is Money ...

I had to add this picture, above. The speeder bike from Star Wars ...

I recall I posted something about this a while back, but I can't find it on my blog; no doubt I gave it some clever title I can't remember. However, through the miracle of YouTube, there are videos now, so an update ...

Behold the ROM. A honkin' flywheel exercise machine that gives you a full upper body workout in four minutes. (Also four minutes for the lower body, but you have to do those on alternate days. Look at the picture of the guy's face above. Doesn't that seem like the expression of a man having a heart attack to you?)

Sounds pretty amazing, doesn't it? Four minutes a day and you get everything you need, aerobics, muscles, the whole package. What's not to like?

Ah, but I hear you saying things. Like "What's the catch?" And "Bullshit!"

Well, the first catch is that the beast is a tad more expensive than the home gym on the Chuck Norris infomercial. What, um, does a tad equal?

How about US $14,615?

No, that comma is in the right place. That's fourteen thousand, right enough. Not, of course, including crating and shipping ...

You can get a free DVD about it from the maker, though, and it comes with another DVD on how to put it together once it arrives.

Americans being like we are, there are -- ahem -- similar machines now available for a third as much. Five grand is still a bit pricey, but, hey, it is a knockoff.

As for how good it is?

You can check out a couple of the videos online here, or here, and see that you can really work up a sweat doing push-pull against resistance really quick.

As to the claims made on their site -- look here -- there is some spirited discussion about that. Here's a place to get a little back and forth.

Or this review, which is not at all impressed -- a rowing machine, squats, a few free weights and dumbbells will give you the same effect. Yep, it will take longer. But it will be a whooole lot cheaper.

I understand there are some rich folks and well-known actors and such who have this toy, based on the idea that their time is worth a lot more than most, so if they can cut their workout from thirty or forty minutes to four minutes, the thing pays for itself pretty quick.

If I were making ten million a movie, I could justify this device, no problem.

My time, alas, isn't worth that much ...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sweat Equity

I've been trying to up my aerobics a bit here of late -- in the spring when I had a cold go down into my chest and had to go to the doctor, my lung capacity wasn't as good as I wanted -- just a hair above "normal."

Normal? The hell you say!

That won't do. I've gotten my resting pulse down to 58, but I'd like to expand the Oxy/CO2 exchangers a bit. Blowing up eight or ten balloons every morning seems to help, but it's not enough.

Want to see how little air is generally in your lungs? Take as deep a breath as you can, use your diaphragm, pull it way down, then exhale it all into a twelve-inch balloon. In my case, that makes a ball a little bigger than a cantaloupe -- and smaller than a bowling ball. I can do better.

Thing is, when it's 97º outside as it currently is here, working up a sweat doesn't take any more than walking out the door, and the huffing and puffing starts a lot quicker ...

I'm going to do it anyway -- djurus, sambuts, maybe a bit on the punching bag, and the little strider thingee my wife uses that lets you walk in place like a demented cross-country skier. But I'd rather do it when it's seventy degrees, I have to admit ...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dog Consciousness

Weather forecasts offered mid- to high-nineties this weekend, so we packed up the camper and the pups and headed for the coast. Friday, when it was ninety-four in Portland, it was eighty in Garibaldi. Saturday, when it was pushing a hundred in Beaverton, it was seventy where we were, and we were right on the edge of a fog bank. Literally -- the back half of the camper was in shade, the front half in sun.

The place we stayed we'd been to a few times before, and it was pretty much full -- we weren't the only folks thinking the coast would be nicer. Enjoyed the visit, walked around the little town, went into the antique shop and flea market, very pleasant.

Except for the guy who was parked across from us. Call him ... Darryl. He had a dog -- looked to be half-and-half black lab and pit bull, young, female, and she barked at everything that moved. (When I googled black lab/pitbull mix, the first picture that came up looked just like her.)

There were some cats about, she didn't like that. Every person who walked past, she woofed. Every car or truck that passed, same deal.

Guy had her tethered to one of those ground spikes on a fifteen-foot lead. She had water, he fed her, and he'd scratch her behind the ears when he passed by, but he didn't walk her. She was pent. SPCA wouldn't come and collect her; what he was doing wouldn't be considered animal abuse most places.

I walked Jude and Layla over to visit with her -- Emma, her name -- and she was fine, went into play mode, and after a couple visits, she stopped barking at us. We exchanged pleasantries, Darryl and I. Hey, how are you, nice dog, etc.

Darryl -- whose knowledge of dogs fell somewhere between slim and none -- spent most of the days and much of the evenings gone. Every time he left, Emma ramped it up into full alert.

Against the park rules to do that, go off and leave your dog chained up outside, but that apparently didn't bother Darryl.

Dog Training Rule #1: A tired dog is a happy dog. (And so are the neighbors.) A dog with too much energy will find ways to get into trouble.

Every so often, I'd go over and untangle Emma's lead from whatever she'd wrapped it around, talk to her, make sure she had water, and she'd calm down. I allowed when I saw Darryl as how she she needed some exercise. He was too thick to get the hint. So I offered to walk her with my dogs.

No, thanks.

Last night, Emma started barking around eleven-thirty. After half an hour, I went to see to her. Darryl was gone, she was tangled around the water pipe. I quieted her down, untangled the lead.

Twelve-thirty, she stared up again. Continuous. Frantic. Oh-migod-it's-a-wolf! frantic.

That's it, I figured. I stepped outside. I figured I'd bring the dog into our rig and calm her.

Another camper, a woman, beat me to it. She was talking gently to the dog.

I went back inside.

One-thirty a.m., I was awakened by voices: " -- somebody put her inside," somebody said.

In my sleep haze, I figured it was Darryl and his drinking buddy coming back, and that somebody had put Emma into his trailer. Good. I fell back asleep.

Seven-thirty, dogs carrying on outside, I got up. There was Emma, running loose. I got dressed, went out to catch her.

She wasn't having any of it. She shied away. Couldn't get close enough.

Looked up, saw her owner standing in the doorway of his trailer.

"Somebody let her loose," he said.

"Wasn't me," I said. "Though I can understand why. She was barking continuously for most of an hour."

"Somebody let her loose." It wasn't about the dog, it was about him. He was royally pissed-off. Didn't matter she'd been barking like crazy half the night.

If you hadn't left her out there, asshole, she wouldn't have kept half the campground awake into the wee hours, I thought, but I didn't say it. You're lucky all they did was let her loose.

The dog wasn't coming, and Darryl just stood there looking stupid. "Can you you call her?" I asked him.

"Yeah, I can call her! But she won't come. That's the game. Once she gets loose, she doesn't come back."

Yes, there are dogs that can't be allowed to roam free. Dogs that have to be tethered or they will eat other dogs, the livestock, the neighbors. The choice is tie them up or have them put down. I know somebody who does pit bull rescue, and sometimes, that's what he has to do. That's how it has to be -- but -- Emma wasn't one of those, and anybody with the sense God gave a squashed grape could see that.

So I followed Emma around for a bit, tried to lure her closer with some raw hamburger, but she was canny. Brought my dogs out and she would dash into play with them. She got close, but not close enough.

Guy behind me, rigging his boat, not a dog person, allowed that he had been badly bitten once trying to corral a strange dog, and he wasn't going to try it. I could understand that. No problem, I said.

Emma's owner headed toward us. Emma walked over and nosed the dog-shy boat owner's hand.

"Grab her collar!" her owner yelled.

Boat-owner: "I don't think so. I got bitten last time I tried that."

Emma took off.

Owner: "You could have helped me out, whatever your excuse!"

Emma romped around.

At that moment, I decided I didn't want to grab Emma and give her back to this guy. Yeah, she was his. she had tags on her collar, was well-fed and obviously not physically mistreated, but I figured she was safe enough in the park, well-off the highway, and getting to run around for a while longer served her better. Fuck her owner. He didn't deserve a dog.

At which point Emma came over and nosed my hand.

It was as if was as if she knew I wasn't going to try to catch her any more. If not outright psychic, certainly tuned into something.

When we pulled out a short while later to head home, Emma was still roaming around, her owner following her. I hope she enjoyed every minute of it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Like many people who offer blogs or other web pages, I have a link list. Scroll down a bit, there it is. These links are a mix: Most are blogs that I read -- or in one other case, write. The breakdown at the moment as I see it: Twenty-five links, sixteen of which are blogs.

Probably people out there who don't remember that "blog," comes from "web log." Some are commercial, some offer useful information, some opinion.

Ten of the links are martial arts related. (Others are by martial artists, but this subject isn't the majority of their content.) Four are primarily for and about writing. The others are commercial, news, general opinion, and -- a nice word from crossword puzzles -- olios.

Some of the sites are attended to regularly -- postings ranging from daily to every few days. Some bloggers -- there's a word that didn't exist a few year ago -- manage a post now and then, and it might be weeks or months between them. Mostly, if a blogger stops being active, I let the link stand for a while and then remove it. I figure that if nothing has been put up for six or eight months, the writer has moved on and and isn't apt to be doing much else with this particular effort. Sometimes I leave them up because the writer will have links that are still useful. When I can, if I find another site done by the same folks, I'll link to that.

If I have a gripe about personal blogs that I offer in my list, it's that most of them don't write often enough.

You guys need to get on the stick.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Busted Flat in Baton Rouge

They finally caught the Granddad Bandit who had pulled off a series of at least twenty-five bank robberies across the south.

Turns out, he worked for a transportation company, so he traveled at lot, and apparently found things to do to occupy his time whilst on the road.

Never used a gun, far as anybody could tell. A fat, old guy, polite, nobody you'd ever look at twice in a bank. Living in Baton Rouge, and you just know the neighbors are all going to look amazed when interviewed: Mr. Mara? You kiddin'. Nice old guy like dat?

The part I like? The old grampa is ten years younger than I am.

Excuse me while I dodder over to fetch my walker and take my Geritol ...

On This Day in History

About this time in 1965, I was three months out of high school and enrolled in my first karate class, working days as a swimming teacher and lifeguard at a country club pool. I was enrolled to attend LSU in the fall.

In SoCal, the Watts Riots were cranking up to full blast.

The reasons for the riots have been debated pro and con, hither and yon for a long time, but poverty and dissatisfaction with their treatment by police was at the root of black anger. The spark was that a CHP motorcycle cop pulled over a drunk driver, Marquette Fry. The man failed his field sobriety test, and the officer intended to impound his car, refusing to allow his brother, a passenger in the vehicle -- to drive it home.

A crowd gathered. More police came. Things got ugly. People were arrested. Bottles got thrown.

By the time the next six days were over, thirty-four people had been killed, more than a thousand injured, more than thirty-four hundred arrested, and goodly section of the town had been torched. A thousand buildings, more or less. Forty million in damage, and in 1965 dollars.

Burn, baby, burn. It was the end of a long, hot summer.

This was when William Parker was the Chief of LAPD, a man who said that he thought the rioters were "monkeys in the zoo," which revealed a great deal about his less-than-enlightened racial attitudes. Had it been up to him, according to the stories, he would have packed all the Negroes up and shipped them back to Africa.

Not the guy you want to be your Chief of Police if you are black. Or liberal, or a decent human being, or all three.

Three years later, I was living in L.A., working as a private eye, when I had occasion to be sent into Watts on a case. Only white face I saw for two days was my own reflected in storefront windows. A lot of the ruins hadn't been rebuilt. I remember making a phone call to my office, and seeing "Kill Whitey!" scratched into the phone booth's glass.

I was there for two days, disguised as a wino. I wore an old jacket I used to sop up the leaking oil from my motorcycle, didn't shave or comb my hair, and carried a brown paper bag with a bottle of 7Up in it, pretending to be drunk. I had a movie camera hidden under my jacket, which which I filmed a man who had been injured in an accident at work, but who was not nearly as hurt as he pretended to be. Turned over a cement truck, as I recall. And could have been playing for the Rams, going by what he did in public view. I got film of him running, weeding his garden, trying to talk to two women at the same time and swiveling his neck like he was watching a tennis match. Playing touch football. All this by a guy who showed up at the hearing in a wheelchair, wearing a neck brace, and saying he was completely disabled.

Nobody bothered me in the two days I was there. Nobody offered anything but pity when they saw me leaning against a wall. Nobody called the police to have me arrested. But I was more than a little nervous to be in that town during those times. And the angel who watches out for fools and children -- I was pretty much both -- must have been riding on my shoulder ...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dial it Down

I'm a music fan. I like all kinds, from classical to rock to blues to folk to country. Big band swing, jazz, ragtime, stride piano, and even hip hop and rap. It doesn't all move me the same way, but if it is well-done, I can usually appreciate some aspect of it.

Lot of music to be found out there on the internet, from YouTube to millions of sites offering choices. I even have a SoundClick gadget on my page, down there on the right at the bottom, for anybody who might want to hear some of the songs I play.

I work at home. Usually just me in my office, the dogs and cat, if they wander in, so when I sign onto a website, I don't have to worry what my co-workers think when I get a blast of ear-smiting music from my computer because somebody wants their site to be multimedia.

Still and all, what I hereby suggest to web page designers and folks who want to offer music as a b.g. for their sites when somebody logs on?

Give us a choice.

Put a gadget or applet or whatever where it's visible with a query: Play background music? At the very least, offer a volume control on the page. (There are folks who do this, and I thank them for it.) Or play it quietly enough to start that it doesn't bring the dogs running and barking and the cat scrambling off my lap in a claws-extended panic. Whatever I had in mind when I logged on, cat-claws raking my thighs and groin puts my web-page intent at the bottom of the list.

Yeah, I can go up to my sound control and pull the slider down to shut off the computer's speakers, and I do. But that sudden explosion of music, whether it's something I like or not, is disconcerting. It's as if you opened your front door to answer a knock and there's somebody standing there who starts shredding power chords on his Strat with the volume cranked up to eleven. The first response is to slam the door.

There came in my email this morning an invitation to be part of a book somebody is doing, to be interviewed as one of several genre writers. Fine. So I clicked on the editor's sig to see his website and who he is, since I didn't know him.

The site opened, and I clicked on the guy's bio. Wham! All of a sudden, I'm in the front row of a rock concert sitting too close to the guitarist's stack, and it was control-w and I'm gone.

I haven't done a survey to see how much this bothers other people. Maybe it's because I'm a fossil, but it puts me off. Whatever I had in mind when I went to the site gets disrupted. I can go for the slider, or I can shut the noisy window. Shutting the window is faster.

Lot of times, the music is fine, I have no problem in listening to it. I would just prefer that it not blare from the speaker with a volume to flag my clothes and shatter my coffee cup. Because whatever your intent -- unless that is to get me to leave your site in a hurry -- loud and unexpected music is counter-productive, and we quickly move to Cool Hand Luke's Dictum: What we have here is a failure to communicate ...

If you want it playing, dial it down, please.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Klaatu Barrada Nikto ...

Actress Patricia Neal has passed away, at age 84.

She had a long career in movies and on stage, interrupted by a series of strokes when she was in her late thirties, but from which she came back to continue working, a testament to rehab and her spirit.

She won an Oscar™ opposite Paul Newman, in Hud, and starred in a slew of movies and on Broadway. She had an infamous (at the time) affair with Gary Cooper that ran hot during the filming of The Fountainhead, in 1949, in which she played the lead female role of Dominique Francon. She was twenty-one when she met Cooper, he was forty-six. She got pregnant, but Cooper, married at the time, convinced her to have an abortion. It was quite the scandal.

She turned down the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate.

A long and illustrious career -- but I and a lot of hardcore science fiction fans will remember her most for her turn as Helen Benson in The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Adiós, Patricia.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

<--- I'm With Stupid

Somebody sent me a link to this, and remembering a discussion I had about why comic books do better when you let the pictures tell the story and use only as many words as necessary to set up the images, have a look at this one and tell me: You need anything else to get what is going on here?

Friday, August 06, 2010

Readers Rule!

As a writer, I have done stuff in shared universes. Sometimes I run into readers who know way more about those universes than I do; in fact, they know way more about the book I wrote than I do. I write stuff and then forget it. Readers sometimes remember the smallest details forever.

Today, I got an email from a friend who is a writer/reader, who knows more about the timeline in my Matador series than I do. (I won't mention his name, he can post a note in the comments section if he wants to claim proper credit.)

Um. Anyway, he laid out a timeline that starts with the first colony off Earth, then hits the high spots for the next four hundred and some years, births, deaths, galactic eras, and ending with the "death" of Khadaji at the end of The Man Who Never Missed.

I had a vague idea of the timeline and events, but this impressed the hell out of me. That he could figure it out from what I said. And that he wrote it down ...


I hardly think any comment is necessary on this one ...

Lest We Forget

Today is the 65th anniversary of the first use of an atomic bomb in warfare. Monday will be the same anniversary of the second such use.

I did an essay on it a couple years back, here. And a posting about a man who was unlucky (and lucky) to have been in both cities when the bombs fell -- and lived to tell about it.

It bears remembering, what happened on this date sixty-five years ago, especially when you consider what tiny firecrackers Fat Man and Little Boy were compared to the H-bombs of today. Look at the graphic on the link. Despite the ending of the Cold War, there are still enough nukes to keep the rubble dancing and glowing in the dark for a long time.

"I am created Shiva, the Destroyer, Death, the shatterer of worlds. Who is this dog meat that challenges me?"

Bhagavad Gita

If somebody starts throwing nukes and it gets general, we are all dog meat, and it will be the roaches who run the show when the cooking is done ...


When I was a kid, we played with all manner of old weaponry -- slingshots, slings, spears, atlatls. We all had BB guns. We could throw rocks and dirt clods pretty well. We had peashooters. Drop a firecracker down a sealed-on-one-end steel pipe and a marble on top of that? A mortar. A roman candle? Yeah, you weren't supposed to hold them in your hand, in case they blew up or backfired, but we all did.

Sometimes we turned these things on each other, having mock battles, and even the commercial toys of the day were often dangerous. We had bows and crossbows that shot rubber-tipped arrows or quarrels. Dart guns with suction cup darts. You could get a Lash Larue bullwhip, and cap pistols from Mattel that would shoot spring-loaded plastic bullets. Cork guns. Spud guns. There were lawn darts ...

When somebody got beaned too hard with a dirt clod or a rock, we had to stop those wars. One kid caught a bamboo spear, with a fire-hardened point, in the neck, and we had to lay down that arm. People got hit in the eyes with the little hard berries we used in our peashooters. Even a top or a yo-yo could be made into something dangerous.

This was in the days when you could buy real guns out of the backs of magazines or from Sears and have them mailed to your house. I remember one little toy that was about the size of a 35mm film can with a rounded rubber pyramid on one end. You put a BB in it, stretched the dome back with the missile gripped between your fingertips, and you could let fly and break a window with the BB from across the room. Called, I believe, a "jonny popper," you could make one using a section of tire inner tube and a short length of pipe.Weaker versions could be constructed using the tip of a rubber glove, a condom, or even a party balloon.

I went to a museum once when I was about ten or eleven, and saw a boomerang, this back before you could find them in the U.S., then went home and cut one out of plywood. I filed and sanded the top as I remembered it, but I got the design slightly wrong -- it went out and came back, all right, but not like I thought it would. Took out the neighbor's car window with it.

It's a wonder any of us survived childhood ...

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Bang ...

Edwin and I took his young nephews -- visiting from the old country for the recent wedding -- along with Irene's son, to the gun club today to sling a little lead downrange.

Edwin can shoot, of course, even if he likes knives better, but none of the boys had ever fired a handgun, and speaking here as a now-and-then pistol instructor, those are the best students. No bad habits to unlearn.

We went to the indoor range, had a short course in safety -- always the first thing -- then some general stuff about cartridges and guns, with specifics on the two we brought to shoot. Those being pictured above -- a Colt. SA Peacemaker pattern, and an Erma Luger, both in .22 rimfire.

Neither are target handguns, both have fixed sights, but they are good plinkers. I like the single-action because it's simple, and the Luger because it is intrinsically one of the best natural pointing guns since the old flintlock dueling pistols -- the grip-to-frame angle is terrific.

.22 is my preferred caliber for teaching new students. We wear ear and eye protection, of course, but these guns don't make much of a bang and they have little recoil, so it helps with flinching.

I showed them about grip, stance, sight picture and trigger control. How to figure out which eye is dominant. The boys were all right-handed, save one, and I think everybody was right-eye dominant. We went over how to load and unload, use the safety on the one that had such, and a bit about breathing.

We dry-fired the weapons, put up large targets at fifty feet and then each boy got to get up, load the gun, and fire five rounds, me standing right behind him. We cycled through each weapon and then did another turn with the Luger, which they all seemed to like.

They did remarkably well. Nobody forgot to keep the muzzle pointed downrange, no ADs. Almost every shot was on the paper, and many were in the black. Given that the front sight on the semi-auto was a little loose, that was even more impressive. And nobody limp-wristed the Luger, so there weren't any stovepipes.

Well-behaved and polite young men, all of them, and a fine time was had by all. I have corrupted some Europeans into being shooters. I am pleased.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Old Ammo

When my wife's grandmother was unable to live alone any longer, we trooped on down to Louisiana to fetch her. Her husband had passed a few years before, and when we went in to clean up and move stuff from the house, we found that his bedroom was apparently just the way it had been the day he died. Watch and wallet and pocket change on the dresser -- looked as if Momee had just closed the door and never opened it again.

While cleaning the house out, we came across some guns and ammo in Pawpaw's closet. Nice Winchester-97 12-gauge pump open-choke duck gun, still had a hunting license from 1927 tucked into the stock behind the butt plate. There was a .22 rifle, and an old German bolt-action rifle with a broken-off trigger and the barrel sealed, probably used for drills and marching.

There was a brick of Monark .22 ammo -- a brick being ten boxes of fifty rounds each -- up on the closet shelf. I wound up with that and the guns. This .22 ammo was made in Minneapolis, probably in the late 1940's or early 1950's.

I figured the ammo, after sitting in a Louisiana closet for thirty or forty years was probably bad, so I took a box to the range to try. I think I had one dud, the rest shot just fine, so I stuck the rest of the brick in a lockbox.

Poking around on the net recently, I came across an antique ammo collector, and a little more research showed that this stuff was selling anywhere from five to twenty dollars a box, depending on the condition. Worth more if you have a whole brick in the original carton. Could be worth a couple hundred bucks that way.

Thus making that box I shot up the most expense .22 ammo I ever cooked off ...

Tuesday, August 03, 2010


I'm still working on Siblings of the Shroud. Once it is done, we are through with the history set-up, I think -- we'll have the genesis of the art, and then the school, and how they both work later is laid out in The 97th Step.

I had a thought recently. It might be amusing to revisit Dirisha and Geneva in later years, and deal with their son, when he goes to help his father with the appearance of some old/new enemies. Said father, of course, being the character Sleel, who knows that his old friends have a child -- only he doesn't know that he's the kid's father ...

How could this be? Well, I set up a bedroom sequence with Dirisha, Geneva, and Sleel at the end of The Albino Knife, and unbeknownst to Sleel, the women, thinking even then that they might someday want a child together, decided they could do a lot worse than Sleel as a donor, so they saved some of his sperm against the day they might want to use it. Stuck it into a freezer and went on about their business.

Sleel recalls his part of this carnal event fondly in Black Steel, but doesn't know about the sequel.

A few years after that, Dirisha and Geneva decided it was time to have a baby, and they flipped a coin to see who would carry the child, whose name will be "Gerard." (For those of you with gaps in your memories, "Gerard Repe" was the pseudonym Sleel used to write bestselling-novels before he became a Matador.)

A short scene:

Kee Wu opened the door and got a better look at the young man standing there.

"Fem Wu," he said. "I'm Gerard Zuri-Echt." He smiled.

She stared. "Jesu damn," she finally managed, her voice full of wonder.

From behind her, Sleel said, "What? Who is it babe?"

Wu smiled at the young man. She knew the names, of course. Knew who his mothers were. But she couldn't look at him and not know who his father was.

She laughed. "Come say hello, Sleel. Your old friends Dirisha and Geneva have sent you a surprise ..."

Be a kind of nasty trick to play on Sleel, but smoothing that out will be part of the fun. Don't even have a working title yet, but I'm going to noodle around with the notion some and see if anything else comes of it ...

Monday, August 02, 2010

Fruit of the Vine

The long wet spring has given an early blackberry crop. Walking the dogs and lo! canes with a bunch of ripe berries a couple weeks earlier than usual over at the park. I stopped and picked a few, and I'll go back later to collect more.

Fresh blackberries, for all the invasive, pain-in-the-ass of the Himalayan sort locally, taste really good. And with a few quarts stashed away in the freezer, come mid-winter they make great pies, or a kind of black-skillet oven dish we call "blackberry wheat-thing."

Also blackberry liquor, when you mix 'em with vodka, brandy, and some sugar and stuff, let it sit for a few weeks, then strain it ...


La Musica! La Musica!

Haven't been practicing the guitar enough lately -- that pesky writing stuff getting in the way --
but I have managed to add a couple new songs to the list. Cut a couple I don't play much.

Well, old songs, but new to me. An old folk song, an old fifties comedy piece, and an old Bob Dylan number.

The current set:

Bell Bottom Blues

Can’t Get Used to Losin’ You

One Toke Over the Line

Daydream Believer

Political Science


Hotel California


Walk Away Renee

We Just Disagree

Year of the Cat


Angel from Montgomery

Sail Away

Way Down in the Hole

The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down

Dixie (Instrumental)

The Weight


In My Life

Yesterday (Inst.)

Here Comes the Sun (Inst.)

Hey, Jude

Stand By Me

Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay

Brand New Key

Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)

The Water is Wide (Inst.)

Ashokan Farewell (Inst.)

Born to Run

For What It’s Worth

Telstar (Inst.)

It’s Lonely at the Top

Love and Affection

Have a Heart

Ruby Tuesday


Little Egypt

Tangled Up in Blue

Poke Salad Annie

Louisiana 1927

August Wedding

Yesterday, at a lovely botanical garden in Portland, Edwin and Irene (and Colin, aged nine) got married. A great day for it, mostly sunny but not too hot.

A lovely semi-traditional wedding -- Edwin wore a kilt -- his dress tactical knife visible in a pocket -- and Vibram Five-Finger slippers; Irene wore a vest and gown made by a costumer she met at a science fiction convention. When I asked her where her knife was, she told me it was none of my business.

Colin -- Irene's son -- wore a sport coat and slacks and a very cool fedora.

The ceremony was performed by Reverend Stevan Plinck, who also goes by the title of Maha Guru Plinck. The couple also exchanged their own vows and included Colin in them. Gorgeous gold rings with diamonds and sapphires.

Both bride and groom had family attending, his from Europe, hers from the Carolinas, and the food was better than good, with champagne and beer and punch.

As delightful an event as such things get, and we wish the newlyweds all good speed and fortune.

Juke Joints

Juke Box app

A crossroads store, bar, "juke joint," and gas station in the cotton plantation area. Melrose, Louisiana, June 1940. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

African American migratory workers by a "juke joint". Belle Glade, Florida, February 1941. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Today's lesson in history and etymology concerns the word "juke." Probably you have heard this in connection with a commercial device used for playing records, beginning with 78 rpms and evolving to 45 rpms, i.e., the jukebox.

If you are old enough, you have likely seen and used these. If you are younger, think of these as giant iPods into which you would feed coins in order to play musical selections. They started showing up in the United States around 1940, and got, some of them, quite elaborate, with neon lighting or tubes that featured bubbles in liquid. Put a nickel in, punch a button or two, and the song you wanted to hear blared from speakers. They were staples of restaurants and bars for decades, and you can still find them, though the technology has changed a bit since records mostly went away. You can buy reproductions of the classic modes that play CDs, and even itty bitty ones that play MP3s.

Not the same, though ...

The term comes from the places where they were sometimes installed, juke joints, and the origin of the word itself, though somewhat shrouded in time's murk, is likely from the Gullah word, "joog," or "juke," meaning rowdy or wicked.

Originally, juke joints were typically ramshackle places where people got together to drink and dance and gamble, listen to music, mostly blues back in the day, and get into trouble. They started as gathering places for people of color, who were generally forbidden from hanging out in the white folks' establishments, though there came to be white trash jukes soon enough.

Sometimes the jukes were at crossroads, attached to stores. Sometimes they were old buildings taken over. Sometimes, private houses.

I first heard the term "goin' jukin'" when I was a teenager in Louisiana, and by then, it meant sneaking into a bar with the other underage guys, drinking beer, listening to music, and trying to pick up girls. Not all that different from what it meant a hundred years earlier, when you think about it ...