What 4?

Toy Story 4 is out, and I don’t mean available for viewing in your local theaters … which it is … but ‘out’ in the sense that I’m not going to go see it, not even  when it eventually shows up on Netflix. Why? Well, for one, I’ve already seen it, back when it was called Toy Story without even a “1” to designate it from the follow-ups. Woody has to convince Buzz Lightyear that he is not Buzz Lightyear but a toy. In #4, both Buzz AND Woody have to convince some new toy that it is, indeed, a toy. At least, that’s what I gather from the previews and maybe I have it wrong. Maybe. But I don’t care because it’s close enough to be of no difference and besides, the whole Toy Story story ended perfectly, just perfectly, in #3. There’s simply no reason for another chapter. So, why’d they do it?


The execs and managers and actuaries and sheet-and-ledger people at Disney cast their louped and green-shaded eyes at accounts receivable and concluded there was even more filthy lucre available from this most recent class of children now reaching movie-going age, and since they had not seen Toy 1-3, at least in theaters, then let’s invite them to the party. After the party is over, of course, but, hey, the kids don’t know that. And by the time they’re old enough to figure out how ripped off they were, Toy Stories 5-7 will be floating around, aimed at the subsequent sets of hatchlings and will, no doubt, like the recent spate of Star Wars movies, be regarded as the main franchise.


I don’t have anything against making money, cold hearted capitalist that I am, and if Disney statisticians have figured on a quick buck this way, fine. But at what point do you trade bucks for soul? Because 1-3 were soul, were art. This latest iteration is like painting a Dayglo version of the Mona Lisa, turning a masterpiece into parody.

And all three movies were masterful…well, maybe not 2 so much, but it had its moments. And 3 had the most perfect ending of a trilogy ever, yes, even better than Lord of the Rings and especially Star Wars (the real Star Wars, not the silly crap before and after). The last ten minutes of 3 was the closest a cartoon…er, animated feature…brought me to tears. The passing of the torch, the putting away of childish things for the dreary numbness of adulthood and isn’t it nice to know that, a few streets over, your childhood still lives? The circle of life, the seasons go round and round, and fade into the sunset. End of story. End of Toy Story. How many other movies do you know that ended so perfectly?  Phoenix is one. Avenger’s End Game another, not for what happened to Cap, but for how it closed the Marvel Universe. 

And yeah, yeah, I know, Spiderman and Black Widow are coming and yeah, yeah, I am going to go see them but that’s because they deal with Marvel sideshows, where things haven’t quite ended yet. They tidy up loose ends. They don’t sell out.

Like 4 does.

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Not better, different

I moseyed over to the Gaylord Convention Center last Saturday to do my traditional one day attendance of Escape Velocity, the best little sci-con out there. ‘Mosey’ best describes it ‘cause I didn’t get there until about noon. Slowing down in my old age. Dagnabit, you young whippersnappers, get off my lawn.

I stumbled into the ends of a presentation called The Quantum Revolution, which may as well have been held in Klingon for all I understood of it. Guess I shouldn’t have missed the first 55 minutes or so. I did learn that quantum computers are not better computers, they’re just different computers. Good to know, especially since I have no idea what a quantum computer is. They are a tool for certain purposes, much like using a saw instead of a hammer to cut things. You can cut things with a hammer but the saw is much easier. See?

That certainly clears things up.

The next full presentation, the one I was most looking forward to, was from Dominique Tipper.

You know her as Naomi Nagata from the Expanse and I figured this would be along the lines of Cas Anvar’s presentation a couple of years ago, a discussion of how the show incorporates  science and the techniques for so doing. Well, no. This was more a Q&A, with the enthusiastic Tipper taking questions from the audience the whole time. Of course, you know what that means: several members of the audience vying to prove which of them are the smartest, with long preambles designed to establish credentials and/or superiority before getting to an actual question. We had an hour, and I think a total of six questions got asked, along the lines of “What scenes from the Expanse best illustrates my cutting edge, highly advanced and rather enlightened view of (pick your favorite social or physical science)?” Much virtue signaling, there was.

But it wasn’t a complete eye roll fest. Tipper announced that yes, indeed, there will be a Season Four, something which everyone but me already knew and which everyone dutifully applauded but I dunno. I think Season 3 ended on a good note and maybe it’s best to go into the long good night before the desperate need to keep the franchise going causes Holden to jump some protomolecule shark.

Yeah, I’m gonna watch it.

Tipper has been acting for only three years. Before that, she was a backup dancer in London and, yes, that is a genyoowine Cockney accent ‘cause she’s from East London.  Which gave her an empathy for the Belters, because she knows what it’s like to be the underclass. And no, she does not speak Belter so stop walking up to her and asking for a demonstration. A linguist created Belter and they have a language coach on set but she doesn’t speak it. She goes full on Cockney when she’s with her Mom or drunk, so watch it.

She was working some bit parts in Australia when she heard about the Expanse auditions, and was like, “What’s this shit?” but sent in a tape anyway. A job is a job. She had to tape it again and again and did some tests and what’s this shit and surprise, she got the part. “Honestly, I took the job for the money,” but now it’s turned into something bigger than she expected.

James S. A. Corey is in the writers room during every shoot, but she doesn’t really want to know what’s going to happen because she wants to be surprised. She has no idea what the plans are, if any, for Seasons 5 and 6. After all, the show was canceled once already.

She regards the show as a cautionary tale, that human behavior repeats itself, no matter where we go and what we try to do. Quite validating, that. One of the show’s main authenticities is its willingness to throw hard punches at the silly scifi trope that we’re all getting better and better as science advances. The Belter, Martian, and Earth societies in the Expanse are as venal, cruel and ruthless as any prior medieval group you’d like to mention. Because of that, she has no enthusiasm for going into space herself. Things don’t really change, so why add the complication of space survival? There’s a real effort to not “pretty up” the show, and she doesn’t mean in the special effects department. Human behavior remains as crappy as it ever was.

Dance training helped a lot with the zero g scenes because she could pose her limbs in float position without a lot of discomfort or distraction. They use a lot of green screen devices, like a chair that makes it look like someone’s floating. The special effects guys paint the chair and wires and whatnot out later. She admits to being a bit “particular” when taking direction and others may call her difficult, but she wants to get it right. And be true to Naomi, who is the moral compass of the group. So we all took group photos with her and I got to say, she’s quite personable, Down to earth, if you’ll forgive me.

I then stumbled into the Mars as a Home for Past or Present Life seminar, put on by NASA peoples who know what they’re talking about. We earthlings have a soft spot for Mars because any backyard telescope can bring up its features and we see dark and light and things moving and it’s gotta be like here, with oceans  and canals and Deeja Thoris running around. So a lot of the science history involving Mars has been filled with wishful thinking, right up to 1964 when Mariner IV showed us that Mars was deader than a doornail, a lot like the moon, at least that portion of Mars that Mariner photographed, which turned out to be a crater strewn area and not really representative of the topography.

Still dead, though. Even then, we could not let go of the myths: Carl Sagan thought Mars went through periods of being wet. It doesn’t. It’s dead. No Deeja Thoris.


Because they’re gonna go look. There’s all kinds of Mars missions planned for 2020, and not just NASA: the Euro Space Agency, the Chinese, even the UAE has got something in the works. Is that because we still can’t let go of the myths? No.

It’s because there might be something there.

We know a lot more about life, its possible forms and developments and conditions. You need water and nutrients and a form of energy. Not that the presence of all three means you’ll find life, but when milk and flour and an egg beater are sitting on the counter, there’s a potential for pancakes. Water flowed on Mars before: one of the Rovers shows rocks that have been moved by water. There’s sedimentary levels and river deltas, and there is the sun, although a weak sister of itself at this distance. Nutrients? Well…maybe. There’s perchlorate in the soil which is toxic to plants as we know them. Besides that problem, nutrients have to be biologically available and, on Mars, they ain’t. But, still, something’s there. Could be Deeja Thoris.

And it’s not like we’ve done the whole place yet and know for sure. There’s a lot of Mars to look at. Mars has no plate tectonics so the soil doesn’t go through the sifting and mixing that it does on Earth. Martian rocks are older than the ones we can find on Earth so they contain a clearer snapshot of what was going on in the solar system 3.5 million years ago, when life on Earth started. We can see things in them we can’t here, and since there was water and nutrients and energy on Mars back then, who knows what awaits? A Deeja Thoris skeleton,perhaps?

Yes, yes, I know, let go of the myths.

They designed Curiosity to assess a local region as a potential habitat, which gives us a backhanded way of assessing any past habitats but that isn’t the main mission. Other Rovers are necessary, including one extraordinary project where they intend to drill core samples, launch them back into orbit, retrieve them and bring them back to Earth. Wow.

I love the 21st Century. Everything that enthralled me as a kid is coming true.

I then moved onto Space Opera, arriving about fifteen minute late because a technical glitch in the Mars show held us over. I wish I hadn’t missed the beginning because apparently they had outlined a definition of Space Opera to which I do not subscribe. Has to have aliens and melodrama. What? As one very astute audience member said to me, what about Foundation? Yes, Space Opera mavens, what about it? Nary hide nor hair of aliens yet it’s space opera at its finest. The panel included Stargate under the category, if you can believe it. So let me help you out: Space Opera is galactic wide movement and intrigues of empires and civilizations, not necessarily alien ones, and not necessarily melodramatic. Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series is a good example. Stargate isn’t. How ‘bout The Expanse? Well, given the most recent events, it is now.

I then went through the displays:

Look at this: Deckard’s gun.

Star Trek stuff:

A stillsuit, among other stuff:

Had a sudden hankering to smack people with a jawbone.

And that pretty much ended it. There was another panel about the supernatural in scifi but I had misread the description and thought N. K. Jemison was going to be ON the panel and was all atwitter and had brought some books for her to sign but, no, it was a panel ABOUT N. K. Jemison, among others. Never mind. And, speaking of stillsuits, there was a chance to play the original Dune game against the original designers but I’d have to stay later, like a whole day later,  and I was too tired.


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End of the Game

No, this is not a movie review. No spoilers, so relax. This is a eulogy. Because, with Marvel’s Infinity War: Endgame, a long and wonderful relationship comes to an end, and I give it a fond, sad, farewell.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off in 2008 with Iron Man, but my Marvel universe started way before that, in 1961. I was a pointy headed kid living in Lawton, Oklahoma when I bought my very first Marvel title, The Fantastic Four #1. It wasn’t my first comic book purchase: I already owned several issues of Our Army At War featuring Sergeant Rock, GI Combat with The Haunted Tank, some assorted DCs like Batman and Green Lantern, but all those were random purchases prompted by the cover or the opportunity, except for the Haunted Tank, which was sort of an ongoing series so I picked it up whenever it appeared on the spinning rack o’ comics in Carl’s Drug Store (which appears to now be Carl’s Military Supply). Buying comics and bubble gum baseball cards was standard early-60s kid behavior. But Marvel changed things.

See, Marvel was different. DC ruled the comic book world with Superman and Justice League and Wonder Woman, but there was something a bit off about them. Take Superman: despite DC’s strenuous efforts to put some drama in his stories, he was Superman. No one’s going to beat him. And Batman was always going to win and Robin was interesting but looked more like he got in the way than anything. Actually, I preferred lesser DC titles like Blackhawk and Tales of the Unexpected and the aforementioned war comics. But the Fantastic Four…they didn’t WANT to be super heroes! And they bickered with each other and screwed things up and, what the heck? They were, like, real people.

So I bought Marvel from that point on almost exclusively, with exceptions here and there like those quirky Charleton Comics. Besides Fantastic Four, I collected Two Gun Kid, the Rawhide Kid, Ghost Rider (the cowboy, not the motorcycle flame head), and Sergeant Fury and His  Howling Commandos. Cowboys and war, yep, that was my thing. And then Captain America showed up.

I knew who he was. Every Marvel kid in the 60s knew him because he was referenced here and there, but we didn’t actually see him until Avengers #4, where he unthaws and joins the team. [NOTE: I may have seen him earlier in the November 1963 Strange Tales, but I can’t remember]. And then he showed up in various Howling Commandos titles and I was gobsmacked. This guy, this Steve Rogers was pure of heart and filled with angst and a man out of his time and a hero. He became my favorite character and the Avengers became my favorite team. Yes, I loved X-Men and Daredevil and Thor and everything else Marvel, too, but Cap and the Avengers were the gold standard.

Throughout my rather traumatic 60’s childhood, Cap and the Avengers and Marvel were my refuge. When things got bad, I had my trusty pile of comics buried deep in the closet and I could get lost. Heroes had problems, too, heroes suffered; Spiderman lost Gwen Stacy and Cap lost his entire team and had to put up with smart alec Hawkeye and former enemies Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. If he can put up with stuff like that, then I’d be alright. But at the end of 1969, my family blew up and, over one very bad day and night, I lost all my comics. Among a lot of other things. I was right in the middle of an Avengers arc involving Namor kidnapping the Wasp and Powerman invading Avengers HQ.  I never finished that story. To this day.

Then it was the 70s and I was in a completely new place and lost interest in galactic level heroes like the Avengers and turned to street level fighters like Shang Chi and Iron Fist and that wondrous Tomb of Dracula, until it was time to put away childish things and I no longer read comics. With exceptions. I did Cloak and Dagger and the entire Adam Warlock Infinity Gauntlet series, but the 80’s was different and that Marvel wasn’t mine anymore. Move on.

And then it’s 2008 and Iron Man and the rest of the movies start, and I was six years old again.

Sure, the movies were vastly different from the 1960s storylines and characters, but that was okay. The directors and the writers gave props to tradition, like Tony’s first bulky iron suit, Thor slipping on the Donald Blake coat, SpiderMan’s wrestling career, and I was thrilled. Look at this, my entire childhood revived in spectacular CGI color and glory. I loved it, even the Ben Affleck Daredevil. I could forgive much for the pleasure of reliving past joys.

But it was all heading somewhere, and when Doctor Strange said, “We’re in the endgame now,” he meant a lot more than you know. The 1960s was turning into the 70s and 80s again, culminating in this last movie, this last Marvel gasp. Captain America is gone. So is Tony. My original beloved Marvel characters have become dust. Move on.

Oh, sure, there’s still Spiderman. The next movie has Mysterio, and there’s hints of the Sinister Six at some future point. Guardians of the Galaxy still has Adam Warlock bundled away somewhere, and the next Doctor Strange and animation Shang Chi looks good. But those are all novelties, like visiting your hometown forty years after leaving. Things just ain’t the same.

So rest in peace, boys and girls. Excelsior.

Posted in lesser mediums, Merry Marvel Marching Society | Comments Off on End of the Game

Status Update

1. The last, final, almost-ready-to-go draft is back with Genghis Jayne for final bleed-outs.

2. The first, editor-ready draft is also with Genghis Jayne. Let the bleeding commence.

3. I opened this file on a whim and started reading and it’s dreck. Dreck. So I’m re-writing it. Genghis Jayne, get ready.

Posted in Writing itself | Comments Off on Status Update

Turn it Up to 11

Lost Weekend 11, that is, which was held from the evening of 21 March through the evening of 24 March. Evening and beyond, more accurately. We left the Alamo each night about 0200, and returned by 0800 for the next movie onslaught. Taking into account travel time, feeding the cats, feeding ourselves, that works out to about three-to-four hours sleep between movie marathons of about ten-to-fifteen flicks in a row. Let’s see you runners do that.

And this time, I hung in there. ‘Course it had its effects:

Our intrepid host:

The beets came in early this year.

Our intrepid manager:

If you see a farm theme going here, that’s due to the opening movie, The Biggest Little Farm, which is a rather stark, unromantic look at organic farming today. Farming is tough, cupcakes, and it’s not for the faint hearted. Me, I would have wiped the coyotes out to the last kit. They are not our friends.

After the inauguration, the party started. Get comfortable, settle in:

And let’s go:

Thursday night:

1. Sicilian Ghost Story. Based on true events, this is a very sad tale, very light on the ghosts, but you don’t care because it’s not that kind of ghost story. Your hope builds and builds as Luna gets closer and closer to finding Giuseppe, then, doesn’t.

2. Us. I have not seen Jordan Peele’s Get Out yet, but I’ve heard good things so I was really looking forward to this one and, it, bombed. Just bombed. It started out with a great premise, that our shadows are cruelly and inexorably tied to us, and they want out. And then it wasn’t about that. It exploded from a local family to the world and then completely changed premises and what the hell? I get a feeling a bunch of executive types panicked and forced Peele to throw the entire kitchen, sink and all, into this thing. They don’t understand that real horror is small. Take your movie back, Mr. Peele, and do it right.


3. Out of Blue. A holy mess of a whodunnit with the right-out-of-central-casting troubled, maverick, fighting-demons detective (played by Patricia Clarkson) attempting to solve the murder of an astrophysicist. Schrodinger’s cat makes an appearance. Or does it?

4. Island of Hungry Ghosts. An even bigger holy mess of a quasi documentary attempting to link the yearly migration of red crabs across Christmas Island to social workers helping refugees in a detention camp. And failing miserably. Don’t waste your time.

So, over a twelve hour period, I had seen two good and  three sucky movies on four hours sleep. The next one playing was Bisbee ‘17 and I wasn’t particularly interested in it so this was a good time to catch up on Z’s. To the Nap Van!

Refreshed, I resumed:

5. One Cut of the Dead. This is my favorite movie of the entire festival, heck, maybe of the last few years. A film crew making a zombie movie gets attacked by real zombies…at least, during the first thirty minutes. Then, everything changes. It is sheer friggin’ genius. I was falling out of my chair laughing so hard. Incidentally, somebody pirated this movie and sold it on Amazon while the producers were still negotiating with several distribution companies. The companies dropped out, leaving the producers holding the bag.  People suck, don’t they?

6. Woman at War. A much, much better movie than I expected. I thought this would be eco-terrorist Eurowoman-hear-me-roar nonsense, and there’s some measure of that, but not in any preachy self-righteous manner. Halla, the eco-terrorist in question, effs up a lot of things, including her and her sister’s lives, in a misguided and frankly unnecessary attempt to shut down the local aluminum industry. Those guys aren’t that bad. This is quite a fun movie, well written and beautifully filmed (man, Iceland is pretty), with a running gag involving an odd Icelandic band.

7. Keep the Change. Asperger’s ( or pick your social deficiency) in love, and delightedly so. Very funny and interesting movie about how difficult it is for those with mental or emotional issues to build relationships with each other, much less get along with the straights. Outstanding performances.

8. Department Q, The Purity of Vengeance. The fourth movie in the Department Q series, and as much as a doozy as the others. My God, what is going on in Denmark? In this one, the ever-popular Detective Assad is in his last week working for the less-than-popular Carl, a detective cursed with the most unfortunate of personalities. A grisly discovery behind the wall of an apartment building launches the two of them into one of the most bizarre Dept Q cases to date. And if you’re familiar with the series, that’s saying something. Henbane, anyone?

9. The Wind. A post-modernist, post-horror horror  movie set in the West that really can’t decide what it is.  Dreadful.


10. The Wedding Guest. A very exciting, action packed and superb thriller…until the last twenty seconds, when you go, “What the HELL?” The ending ruins the movie, just ruins it. Dev Patel plays Jay, a mercenary with a particular skill set who is hired to kidnap Samira, the girlfriend of a rich college boy (nastily portrayed by Jim Sarbh) before she is forced into a marriage she does not want. Things get out of hand, and things are not what they seem. Especially with Jay who, in the last twenty seconds, completely changes his character. Irritating.

11. A Breath Away.  A French scifi end-of-the-world saga that also manages to screw itself up in the last twenty seconds. An earthquake releases a poison gas across Paris, forcing Mathieu and Anna to abandon their daughter and flee above it to a fourth floor apartment of an old couple, who are a real delight. Best characters in the movie. Why abandon daughter Sarah? Because she has Stimsberg, or something like that, syndrome which forces her to live in a massive sealed sterile chamber. It’s engulfed by the gas but she’s alright, until the batteries run out. The movie is Mathieu and Sara’s efforts to recharge/replace those batteries and, ultimately, find a way to extract Sarah from the chamber. Everybody (except the old couple) makes really, REALLY dumb decisions and you wonder if natural selection is at work. The last twenty seconds is deus ex breathing maquina.

12. Wrestle. Outstanding documentary about a down-and-out high school wrestling team and their struggles to (a) reach the state championship and (b) stay alive.

13. Fiddlin’. This was GREAT! It’s a documentary about the annual Galax Old Fiddlers Convention, which I’d never heard about but, man, I’ma goin’. The music was outstanding. The film focuses on Wayne Henderson, who makes guitars for people like Eric Clapton, and thirteen-year-old Presley Barker, who won first place in the guitar category. When the movie ended, the two of them came down to the floor and gave us all a half-hour guitar concert. Out friggin’ standing.

Wayne Henderson and Presley Barker, a pickin’ and a grinnin’

14. The Public. Emilio Estevez directed and starred in this story about a group of homeless men who want to stay overnight in the Cincinnati Public Library because it’s like, ten degrees below zero outside. Makes sense, at least to me, and any halfway awake public official would say, “Yeah, sure,” in about three seconds flat. But, not here. Police and SWAT teams and prosecutors converge and it becomes defiance and revolution and the eeevil law-and-order (read ‘Republican’) racist rich guys against the pure, fun-loving, harmless homeless who just want to stay warm. Why can’t we all get along? What the hell is a prosecutor doing in all this, and why didn’t some assistant mayor tell him to shut up and go home? ‘Course that would mean an application of common sense, and that would spoil the story, wouldn’t it? A Hollywood generated non-issue that aims to highlight homelessness but misses it by a mile or so. Still, it’s a fun movie, enjoyable if unbelievable. Afterwards, the Esteves himself did a thirty minute interview with Andy. Our brush with semi-greatness.

Emilio and Andy-o

15. Cutterhead. This was a Secret Screening of a movie that could not be named until the first reel opened. Turned out to be the most claustrophobic, muddiest, gasping-for-air movie ever made and you’ll need oxygen when it’s over. And your faith in humanity restored because, geez, these are some awful people. Rie is a photojournalist hired to do a fluff piece on workers building the Copenhagen metro way, WAY underground when things start breaking. Badly. What the hell is going on in Denmark?


16. Shut Up and Play the Piano. A wild ass documentary about a wild ass entertainer named Chili Gonzales. Nevah hoid of him, but he is Big in Europe, for good reason. This guy is a genuine hoot.

17. In the Aisles. A stark quasi-comedy about a reformed thief who lands a job in a Costco warehouse on the midnight shift. A swath of quirky characters populate the story, which revolves around one of the most torrid platonic relationships ever filmed. You make your family out of what’s available.

18. Swing Kids. A delight, a gem, wonderful, I can’t praise this movie enough. The music and the dancing and the comedy, wow. During the Korean war, captured North Korean and Chinese soldiers were held at the Geoje POW camp. The North Koreans infiltrated the camp and instigated a series of attacks and riots, holding the US Army camp commander hostage for awhile. Place was out of hand. The new camp commander forces a Broadway dancer, Sgt Jackson, to put together a tap dance team from the POWs to prove that western capitalism is winning. Problem is, Sergeant Jackson’s best tap dancer is a North Korean infiltrator under orders to kill the commander. Things get out of hand again, but with style.  

19. I Trapped the Devil. This is either a monster movie or a psychological horror movie, depending on how you interpret the end. Problem was, it’s filmed so murkily and lowlit that I fell dead asleep about ten minutes in and didn’t wake up until the last five minutes. So I  don’t know.

20. Starfish. One of those deep art movies filled with symbolism and metaphor and you have no idea what’s going on. Supposedly, another monster movie. Aubrey visits the apartment of her best friend, who died a few days before, and falls asleep. When she wakes up, the world has ended. Or it hasn’t. You decide. The director, A. T. White, was there and held a Q&A and we had a lot of fun at his expense.

21. To Dust. A rather appalling movie about an Orthodox Jew’s insane obsession with his dead wife’s rotting body. You’re going to learn more about decomposition than you ever wanted. I pretty much spent the entire movie shaking my head in disbelief.

22. Wild Nights with Emily. I expected this to be some preachy story about lesbianism and the Greatness of Emily Dickinson but no: it turned out to be a Victorian comedy of manners, very entertaining, very fun. Molly Shannon did a great job playing Emily, warts and all. And if this is an accurate portrayal of Emily’s family, I can see why she stayed in her room.

See you in six months.

Posted in lesser mediums, Life in the Shenandoah Valley, Pros and Cons | Comments Off on Turn it Up to 11

Why I Don’t Do Home Repairs

I have two universal rules: everything takes longer than you think; everything is harder than you think.

Presented for your consideration: about three years ago, the bracket connecting my garage door to the garage drive train pulled right through the top door panel, so I did a temporary repair using a piece of drilled metal, two washers, and two bolts. About two weeks ago, I noticed the top bolt of the temporary repair was coming loose, so tighten it up. This is a two person job: someone has to be inside the closed garage holding the nut fast with a pair of pliers while someone else is outside tightening the bolt. So I asked my wife for help. Yesterday, she agreed. This was at 4:30 in the afternoon.

We need to make this a permanent fix, she said, by backing the bolt with rubber or some other substance that will grip the nut and prevent it from slipping with the motion of the garage door.

Sounds good. Do you have such a substance?

No, but we can use a piece of the double sided tape that we used to put up some insulation inside the van.

Sounds good. Where is it?

It’s in a plastic bag.

Uh oh.

Everything I own is in a plastic bag, either WalMart or Goodwill. When an item is purchased at either location, the item is extracted for its use and then put back in the bag, or other items are placed inside the bag so we won’t forget where they are. The bag is then left at the location of last use…until another identical bag containing an item related to the prior used item is placed either alongside or on top of the original bag. Two things then happen: both bags are moved to a convenient location containing other bags while the newest bag is placed within arm’s reach, and/or all the bags are moved hastily out of the way because another project has taken precedence, such as a temporary repair of a garage door. Think of it as compost mixing.

Okay, where is this particular plastic bag?

It’s in the garage, she said with great certainty.

Search begins. Forty-five minutes later, search is expanded to include the basement, the kitchen, the upstairs attic room and a room so filled with cast off and mystery plastic bags that I fear to enter it. No luck.

It is another universal rule that you can never find anything when you want it, unless you put off the repair for at least six months, when you will stumble across the needed item while searching for another needed item. The danger there is you will have forgotten what your original intention for the just-found item was, a danger made more fraught the older I get.

Drat, she said, I guess we’ll have to go out and get some more double sided tape.

This, of course, is the main reason why I have thousands of plastic bags containing hundreds of duplicates of the same item because the more immediate solution to never finding anything when you want it is to go out and buy some more double sided tape, or setting cement, or lag bolts, or whatever the eff it is I need right now. It’s like the China syndrome: the bags grow exponentially, heading for critical mass until you do something to interrupt the cycle. Like refuse to go out and buy more double sided tape.

No, I said, the heck with that, we’ll find the tape in six months and do a permanent repair then. Meanwhile, let’s just tighten the damn thing.

Now it is 5:30.

I grabbed two chairs, the headband light (think miner’s headlamp without the helmet), two different sized Philips screwdrivers, one needlenose,one regular plier. I set one chair inside near the door and pointed out which of the two bolts was the offender, gave her the headlight, stepped outside, closed the garage door, made sure we could hear each other (Can you hear me? Yes!) stepped up. Got it? What? Do you have it? Have what? The nut. What? Nut! Yeah, I got it, what are you doing?  Okay. I go at the bolt with the Philips.

Turn and turn and turn and turn and turn and…

Are you turning it?

Yes! Are you holding it?


Are you holding it?


The nut! Are you holding it with the pliers?

Yes! Why aren’t you turning it?

I am turning it! Do you have the right one?

The top one, right?



Yes! Can you see the bolt turning?


Hmm, not tightening. Must be stripped. So I stepped down and asked her…three times… to open the garage door and she did and detached my retinas with the headlight. Three times.

Examination of suspect bolt verified it was, indeed, stripped. So, into the house and down in the basement to fetch two canisters of various machine screws and bolts with their matching nuts. Haul both back out, select bolt and nut combination…hmm. It appears they are not as matched as the label indicated. After a bit of bolt and nut comparison, I found one that would fit through the drilled metal and also had a nut that fit. Okay, let’s do this again. Chairs set, tools grabbed, helpers positioned, door opened then closed, up on the chair, stick the bolt through to the waiting nut…

It’s too short.

Three more requests to open the garage door followed by three more retina detachments and pouring of the entire canister contents of bolts and allegedly matching nuts on the floor and a frantic search through them. Too short, too big for the drilled metal, stripped, no matching nut…voila! One bolt that fit all criteria, with one matching nut. I gave the nut to her. Do not, for god’s sake, drop this.

Chairs, tools, openings, closings, tightening…it works! Eureka!

It is now 7:30.

Hey look! She holds up a plastic bag. Inside is the role of double-sided tape.

I nod. Remind me in six months. And go in the house.

Posted in Life in the Shenandoah Valley | Comments Off on Why I Don’t Do Home Repairs

For Your Reading Pleasure

An unedited, raw, barely literate 1st draft chapter from the first-to-second draft of Looking for Don. Proof that it is, indeed, a work in progress. Go here.

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing itself | Comments Off on For Your Reading Pleasure


I tried. I really tried to like this game (The Road to Enlightenment). But, somewhere in the middle of Turn 2, I shook my head, put all the cards back in their decks and this puppy away. It wasn’t fun. Just wasn’t. And what’s the point of playing a game that you’re not enjoying? It’s like reading a book that bores you to tears.

Not that I found this game boring. Far from it. Playing a monarch doing everything you can to bring your people into the Enlightenment, what a great concept. The problem is, it’s unplayable as a solo game. You’ve got to have at least four people, and it’s better with six, IMHO. And they have to be six medieval history enthusiasts who speak Latin or Olde English at each other and can cite the various codexes of the Magna Carta from memory. Know people like that?

I don’t. I don’t even know people willing to play any kind of game. I am cursed (or blessed) with a circle of people who think Chutes and Ladders is the bees knees of board games. And it has its charms. But so does Panzer Leader and Spartacus and WarHammer and whole bunches of other Avalon Hill and GMT games that my circle doesn’t want to play. Monopoly they know, Midway they don’t. So I play a lot of my games (and I have a lot) solo, usually with little problem. Yes, I am that schizophrenic. Or, I want to enjoy the board game experience so much I am willing to set up the partitions between my internal opponents and play like I don’t know what my right hand is doing. And sometimes my right hand does surprise me, which is why I didn’t think I would have a problem with this. But it can’t be done. See, this is a deck building game that depends on the secrecy of your deck for strategic game play. Now that shouldn’t be an issue because I have other deck building games and play them with the mental partitions intact. These cards, though, are nigh on incomprehensible. Studying them is like preparing for the bar. The rules are nigh on incomprehensible. The whole blasted game is.

Now I am not completely stupid and can grasp a board game’s mechanics with a simple rules read-through and a couple of preliminary rounds, you know, the way most of the populace learns to play a board game. Not this one. I read through the rules and went, “Huh?” So, read through them again. “Huh?” Two more times, same reaction, oh, the heck with it, let’s start playing. I’ve already reported the results of that. Not that the rules aren’t laid out and clear. It’s that I had no idea what I was supposed to do: when do you play what card and how can you play this card and what does this card do and how am I holding these cards to begin with I mean shouldn’t French luminaries be with King Louis? What are they doing with the English? Did I do this wrong?

Who knows?

So, yes, when confronted with a problematic game like this you’re supposed to look at the Youtube videos and watch a few playthroughs and then go to Board Game Geek and read some reviews and clarifications…really, you’re supposed to? Gee, I wonder what we did before there was Youtube or BGG, read the rules and understand them or something? Yeah, yeah, old guy get off my lawn, but it is a measure of these mediocre times that no one knows how to write a set of rules anymore. The rules booklet in this game suffers from a case of “I understand it so everyone else does, too,” sort of like the instructions you get with a computer program.

Don’t get me wrong, I spend time watching games on Youtube, usually WarHammer matches or Wil Wheaton having it on with Felicia Day and those guys from Vancouver are hilarious. But that’s to (a) get a feel for a game I’m considering or (b) just the fun of it, not to figure out what I’m supposed to do. And, yes, admittedly, I once watched a Star Realms video to make sure I was doing it right, but I did so already with a good idea of how the game worked. When the rules leave you completely bewildered, though, there’s not enough video to cover that.

I got the feeling this whole game was inside baseball, that the designer and his friends are the aforementioned  medieval history enthusiasts and they did this game to amuse themselves, seeking to render every obscure Enlightenment figure possible into some kind of playable character so they could one-up each other. “Aha, I see you’ve included Bartuch Spinoza but I don’t see Jean-Sylvain Bailly.” “Aha, my learned friend, you are correct, I have left him out in favor of Madame Blavatsky.” An all night session of  “ah-hah!” In iambic pentameter.

And I’m not far off. The Designer Notes strongly indicate that the personalities were the most important part of the design. That’s great, but what are you supposed to DO with these personalities? Got lost in the admiration somewhere, I think.

And there is much to admire. It’s a very pretty game. The map is gorgeous. The cards are gorgeous. It looks great.

So does a Rembrandt but you’re not going to play with it.

Posted in Game On | Comments Off on Unenlightenment

Through a Glass Darkly

If you want to know what happened during the Korean War, this is the book you should read. Yes, yes, there are more recent ones with probably better access to newly declassified records but Fehrenbach’s is more contemporary, written in 1962, when the memories, the nightmares, were fresher. And it is nightmare reading. My God, what the troops, on both sides, went through. What the South Korean people went through. It’s like Mordor.

All because, a mere five years after winning WW2, America was gone.

Oh, not in the sense of the Third Reich or Imperial Japan, ruins and death and wreckage, but spiritually, morally, its national zeitgeist. By the beginning of the 50’s, the no-nonsense, tough, realistic America that rolled up its sleeves, took up arms, and broke the back of fascism was over. Instead, we became an America of hesitation, complication, and overly sophisticated political nuance. No more good and evil, no more right and wrong and simple choices; nuclear weapons had made war unthinkable. Unfortunately for us, not everyone believed that, and we were caught in a trap of our own making. We had the nukes but not the Army, and no one, except the true crazies, were willing to irradiate the world over a border dispute. We were the victims of our own success.

Americans have never trusted nor wanted a standing Army. We don’t like armies. We don’t see them as an instrument of national policy, like the Brits did. We had a small Army that chased Apaches, and we didn’t call up young men  and march Over There unless we had to. As we had already done. Twice. That’s it, we’re finished, let the malcontents and misfits chase Apaches, we’ve got a Madison Avenue and Wall Street to build, as was our due for winning the Last Big One. So while Americans became Mad Men, safe behind our nuclear umbrella, the Army was left to rot. Here, kids, use these surplus rifles and tanks for your silly war game playing soldier exercises you like so much. And, you officers and sergeants, stop yelling at the recruits and making them feel bad about themselves. Stop all the tough training, too, because that also hurts their feelings. Be more like civilians, you warmongers.

And we did. Sergeants asked pretty please. Barracks weren’t GI’d anymore; sports days replaced marching. And trucks and transports rusted and broke. Oh sure, we had occupation duties, but the Axis was chastened and Japan was outstanding duty with houseboys (and girls) to do your bidding and shine your shoes and, really, why waste taxpayer money on all those annoying and noisy exercises?

And all that time, some rough beast slouched towards Seoul.

Fehrenbach’s description and analysis of the North Korean Army will chill you to the bone. Those guys were good. They were were well organized. They were well equipped. And they had purpose. Yeah, you say, then why’d they lose?

Who said they did?

Because, when all said and done and hundreds of thousands of Koreans were dead and their towns and villages nothing but blackened ruins, the North Koreans were still there. And still are. The US got the crap kicked out of it. There is simply no other way to put it. A peasant Army with no air support and very little armor pushed the greatest fighting force in the world almost into the sea.  What prevented that final push is something that Rommel observed: Americans are badly prepared for war, but learn quickly. And it took the destruction of Task Force Smith and tens of thousands of US casualties before we finally learned that the best way to fight, first the North, and then the Chinese, was the same way we fought the Apaches: stay in the field, live out of your saddle, and hit and run. Wear them down. Choke them off. Starve them. But it cost. Oh, did it cost. Our invincibility, and, most importantly, our reputation.

And our confidence. It’s the Forgotten War because we don’t want the reminder that maybe, just maybe, we’re not all that. TVs and refrigerators and little boxes on the hillside and Mom’s new Amana kitchen and all the fifties and sixties good life had a cancer gnawing at its bones. Bustling cities and corporations and experts and Dr. Spock and commissions replaced the common sense and homespun knowledge that defined a pioneering, self-contained, independent person…you know, the average American. This was the atomic age, the modern age, and we have no time for that quaint Pilgrim way of thinking anymore. There’s a world to govern. There’s a New Modern Man to build.

All that time I rode my Spyder bike up and down streets well past dark, running with my friends in an American neighborhood of peace and security and assurance, doors left unlocked, Swanson’s TV dinners and Ed Sullivan and everything good. And a classmate was murdered by his mother, and my family split up, and Presidents and preachers were shot and cities burned and it had to be those dirty Commies, the same ones who crashed through the 38th parallel but no, it wasn’t.

It was us.

I didn’t really know that until recently. I blamed hippies and drugs and Democrats, but all that is mere symptom. Fehrenback spotted it early on. We had forgotten who we are and what we should be and the costs of  remaining independent in the face of the envies and the lusts for power and control which are the true motives of mankind. We were Americans. Why, when those Norks find out its Task Force Smith on this ridge waiting for them, they’ll turn tail and run.

When those Cong find out it’s the Seventh Cavalry landing here in the Little Bighorn…er, Ia Drang Valley, why they’ll just turn tail and run.

We learn nothing.

Posted in Reading itself | Comments Off on Through a Glass Darkly

Doing the Math

Starting back in November, I ran a series of ads on various platforms for various books, specifically

a. Pre-order a copy of Frank Vaughn Killed by his Mom

b. Advertise the Ship trilogy

c. Giveaway signed copies of the Ship trilogy and

d. Free download of Frank Vaughn.

Here’s the breakdown:

1. Facebook:

Primarily, I boosted Facebook posts. For a, I let Facebook select worldwide demographics from 1-30 November. 20,494 people reached, 7898 engagements, 171 clicks, 5 comments, 1 share…practically all of it from various Indian states.

For c, the giveaway, I restricted it to the US because of mailing costs. From 1-15 Dec, 1344 reached, 535 engagements, 2 clicks.

For d, again letting Facebook pick the demographic, from 3-8 Dec, 725 people reached, 327 engagements, 9 links. From, you guessed it, Indian states.

I got a lot of canned questions in French as comments, like “Do you have any products?” and “Can you tell me more?” (thank God for Translate). Which is a bit baffling given that the post answers both. I simply sent an appropriate link.

2. Twitter

I only did a, the pre-order, during the 1-30 Nov timeframe, and got 13,713 impressions with 1430 link clicks for a 10.43% result. This was for the US and UK.

3. Amazon

For a, the pre-order, ran a Product Display ad from 1-30 Nov, 36,592 impressions with 129 clicks. I also ran b above, from 1-24 Dec and got 4771 impressions with 18 clicks.

4. Radio.

I ran 10 radio ads on the Dennis Prager show for the Ship trilogy from 10-22 Dec. Yes, it was expensive.

Results of everything:

4 pre-orders of Frank.

29 downloads of Frank while it was free.

Before the radio ad, 4 downloads of the first Ship book, which is free. After the radio ad ran, 40 downloads of the free book, 3 downloads of Book 2, 4 downloads of Book 3. In Smashwords, I had 10 downloads of the first book.

Obviously, nobody wants to pay for books.

I had no entries for the three-book giveaway. Not one. Zero. Since Goodreads now charges for book giveaways, I decided to run it myself. The only persons who filled out the form on my site were Russians and Chinese offering hot sex in my city, adidas jerseys, or asking me which blog platform I recommend.

So, which was the most effective? I guess the radio ads.

Posted in Writing itself | Comments Off on Doing the Math