And our cat Solstice sits in her cauldron awaiting eye of newt and wing of bat.
Category Archives: Silly stuff
It is not often that I have had the chance to put out a man on fire in my previous occupations. When I worked for a neighbor in Tennessee, acting as the ditch-digger assistant to his backhoe service, there were no chances at all for life-saving. I did get to play with jackhammers and dynamite. He taught me the frightful synergy of tamping a blast hole with diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate long before Oklahoma City.
Subsequent jobs had few chances for heroics, though I did learn concrete-forming, burger-flipping, photo-processing, and waste water lab testing. The one time a rack of super-heated test tubes full of grey water and sulfuric acid exploded all over my lab manager, he pretty much saved himself by diving into the safety shower. He sustained no serious injuries, but we all learned a valuable lesson about saying the phrase “things can’t get any worse” out loud.
Now, when I worked as a balloon delivery driver, that was my biggest opportunity to be a hero. Along with wrangling a dozen helium balloons at a time in high winds, I got to make deliveries to birthday parties, massage parlors, and gross anatomy classes. One time, I even got a chance to put out a flaming handyman.
The balloon service was preparing to move from its quaint but cramped quarters in German Village to Main St. in Bexley, the Beverly Hills of Columbus. (Say that to yourself a couple of times: the Beverly Hills of Columbus. Savor the cognitive dissonance.) A few of us twenty-somethings were painting and prepping the walls while the owner’s handyman was stripping the old wooden desks.
Now, this handyman was a curmudgeon and a proud graduate of the School of Hard Knocks. It sounded like he had been the keynote speaker and valedictorian of the class of ’32 as he shared the highlights of his speech. The theme was Common Sense and how “you college boys” don’t know anything about the real world and surviving in it. It wasn’t an overly complicated topic, but he expanded upon it with anecdotes and examples to make it clearer for those of us that were reality-impaired.
We really didn’t engage with him, but he just kept talking as he slapped the noxious chemicals on the varnished wood, scraped it off, and discarded the flammable gel on the canvas drop cloth. A fairly even coat got spattered on the legs of his jumpsuit, too.
Eventually, he took a break.
A smoking break.
He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a book of matches. Right there, in the middle of the furniture stripping project, he did this. With a cigarette in his mouth, he lit one of the matches. I reconstruct the next few steps from the explanations he had to give to several people afterwards.
He struck the match.
He realized that he was in the midst of a large amount of open and flammable chemicals. Being a worldly man, he knew that this was a dangerous situation and he should really take this outside.
Because he wasn’t some snot-nosed college kid, he was smart enough to not set himself on fire. He stood there silently congratulating himself on his exceptional Common Sense. I don’t know how he did this, but it was a fraction of a second too long.
The match singed his fingers and he dropped it. It set the gel on the drop cloth around him to a small but steady flame. The legs of his grey-pinstripe coveralls caught fire in less than a second.
A good deal of shouting, flailing, and stomping ensued. I don’t know if it was just good planning or I had seriously expected this to happen, but I knew exactly where the fire extinguisher was. I hurried the ten to twenty feet to the big red cylinder on the floor. I popped the cotter key off that sucker and dowsed everything that was burning with a thick cloud of fire suppressants.
The handyman looked crestfallen, but no longer aflame. The atmosphere, previously tainted with blather and contempt, was now filling up with smoke, toxic fumes, and the bitter taste of the extinguisher. Formic acid settled onto the back of my tongue and stuck. My coworkers rushed to throw open both the front and back doors. It was a short contest between the evening breeze blowing through and the steady cloud rising from the smoldering goo on the floor. Eventually, clean air tipped the balance.
That’s about the time the fire alarms went off.
This was a new building to us. No-one had mentioned a built-in alarm system or how to turn it off. We rushed to the circuit box and started throwing switches until the noise finally stopped. We chuckled among ourselves, relieved that we were all alive and hadn’t burned down the building. I said something along the lines of: “Wouldn’t it be embarrassing if the lines were still connected to the fire department?”
That’s when we heard the approaching sirens.
Four or five firefighters in full gear came in the front door. The owner returned from his errands through the back door. It was a very uncomfortable fifteen minutes for the handyman.
When asked, I gave a fairly neutral version of the facts, even though the “stupid college kid” in me wanted to rub his nose in smoldering furniture stripping gel. I had done plenty of stupid things before. I have done a few stupid things since. I’ve been lucky that after the flames were out, nobody ever threw me under the bus.
As the country is wrapping up National Mental Health Awareness Month, it seems to be appropriate to share some of my relatively minor struggles.
I have been depressed most of my adult life. I could go into grim medical descriptions or personal anecdotes, but that should be saved for another blog. Suffice it to say my brain doesn’t produce all the neurotransmitters needed to operate the machinery smoothly. That results in dark moods, generalized pain, muddled thinking, fatigue, and irritability. Depression: it’s not just for moping around anymore!
My GP and I have worked through a variety of pharmaceuticals, alone and in combination, over the last few years. We’ve discovered any number of annoying and embarrassing side effects, but recently my wife and I have had to deal with Vivid Dreams and acting out. I referenced earlier the time I dreamed somebody had been set on fire and I was frantically try to swat out the flames with my bare hands. We both awoke to my slapping my wife’s butt repeatedly. She did not find it stimulating.
My dreams wind up being involved versions of the stories I write, full of action, horror, and ass-kicking. The cats now sleep on Kit’s side of the bed to avoid being launched into space. (catapult)
So, I try to program my dreams. Instead of internalizing all the frustrations of my life and the terror of current events, I focus on happy things. And there is nothing happier than a Quokka. In case you haven’t heard about them, they are cat-sized marsupials that live on a single island off the coast of Australia. They look to be constantly smiling and gleefully pose for selfies with tourists, no matter what PETA and Australian Fish & Game might have to say.
I now have a picture of two Quokkas taped to my wall near my bed. I have named them Graeme and Oista. Each night, I say good night to them, and their cousin Saltine. I tell them to leave the Club and go back to their Townhouse.
Sometimes, I elaborate to get into the happy Quokka groove:
In my best Shirley Temple voice I sing a few bars of “Animal Quokkas in My Soup”.
1980’s marsupial singing sensation: Quokka Khan.
Wallaby-like creature that realigns your spine: a Quokka-practor.
Jason Momoa leading the marsupials in a Maori war chant: An Aquaman Quokka haka.
I’m lucky that my wife hasn’t smothered me with a pillow yet.
It’s that time of the year when the adorable sugar-addled tots bite the ears off of chocolate bunnies, cats ingest long strands of cellophane grass, and pagans and Christians argue that whole Eostara thing. Whatever your situations, nom responsibly, play nice with all your relatives at Easter dinner, and remember the true meaning of this time of year: the prelude to massive 50% off chocolate sales!
I know you folks have been waiting for a while, but the time is here. I have signed a contract with Hydra Publishing for my next book: Squirrel Apocalypse. It is a profound rumination on how a shattered man cannot return to his idyllic childhood retreat, and when he tries, it winds up being overrun by killer GMO squirrels.
Set in the halcyon days before marijuana went legal in Northern California, it is a maniacal romp with geriatric pot farmers, drug cartels, dairy cows, a radio voice like sex on buttered toast, and squirrels. Lots and lots of squirrels.
I have no definite publication date yet, but it should be some time this summer. Catch it upon its release and finally learn the answer to the question: “How is karma like a squirrel in a blender?”
And now for a slightly related musical interlude:
What happens when you watch four episodes of Marie Kondo and the American Godzilla (the good one with Heisenberg, Kickass, and Scarlet Witch)? You go through the kitchen like Sherman marching through Georgia. Ten bags of trash later, the kitchen was tidy and the liquor closet was in our sights.
Many quaint, but undrinkable, bottles were discarded and three half bottles of gin were uncovered. Those were remnants of my last mother’s visits. She died in 2010. The mix of hours of dust inhalation and bittersweet memories inspired me to drink. The mash-up of the welcome home scene of the younger Brody returning from deployment and a tidying hangover was born.
“Daddy’s Home. Gin Every Night.”
I’m sure we’re not the first couple driven to drink by that Japanese tidiness leprechaun.
This is not vaguebooking; this is a placemarker for vaguebooking. In a little while, I will have some news, but I can’t tell you about it for fear of jinxing the deal/spoiling the surprise/getting hit really hard.
In a few weeks, I will be prepared to actually vaguebook. At that time, I will intimate something very good for me. Or something really bad for someone else. Or I will assassinate the character of someone no-one knows, at least not from the vague clues provided.
Stay tuned to this spot for the next few weeks for possible discrete celebration, veiled threats or just a simple lack of communication. Thanx!
It is the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year, and oddly enough the day after my birthday. I present two little tidbits here. The first is a lovely song by S.J. Tucker titled “Solstice Night”. The second is a short and somewhat grisly bulletin from the front lines of the War Against Christmas.
I wish you Peaceful Holidays and a good laugh in the dark.
CHRISTMAS GOING SOUTH
Jingles the elf staggered away from the burning stables with Dasher and Cupid in tow. Behind them, the Secularist Militias and JW Seals fell to their butcher’s work until there was nothing left of the workshop compound but burnt meat and broken toys. As the elf and reindeer headed south across the open snow field, Santa escaped in the opposite south. Everything goes south when you live smack-dab on the North Pole and men with guns show up. The Jolly Old Elf fled on two caribou and a prayer and what looked like a sucking chest wound.
Santa was headed Reykjavik South, where he had been promised asylum, while Jingles followed a Novaya Zemlya South heading. That way led to ice pressure ridges a hundred yards out which would at least provide concealment until nightfall.
The reindeer bucked and pulled at the elf’s grasp on their bridles. The fire, noise and smoke had put them in a panic. It was practically impossible for the three-foot tall Jingles to drag them in a straight line to safety.
Atheist FSM air cover swept over the refugees on a strafing run. Bullets chewed up the snow and ice in parallel rows of destruction. One of those cut across Dasher’s mid-section. The reindeer went down as if broken in half. Jingles stopped to aid the flailing animal, but he broke and ran when he saw a detachment of commandos dashing their way with weapons blazing.
Cupid and he barely made it over the first ice ridge when the bullets started winging over their heads. They clambered down the fragile slope and were at a flat run through the fissures at the bottom.
“Happy holidays, bitch!” Somebody yelled at them from the heights above and behind even as a fragmentation grenade fell at the elf’s feet. He only had a moment to think to himself that this year the War Against Christmas was Hell.
Dystopian apocalyptic fiction has been the rage for quite some time now, especially since it started playing out on CSPAN. The End of the World seems to be running in a bit of a rut, so here are a few new things I’d like to see:
In the last few moments of civilization, all the hipsters rent those little electric scooters to flee the city centers. They zip between the gridlocked vehicles and make wide arcs around the stampedes of panicked pedestrians. True to form, they maintain that complacent, perfectly erect posture all scooter riders affect. Their ennui-filled gaze is fixed straight ahead as they either escape the blast radius or are swallowed up in roiling clouds of toxic debris and fallout.
Authors have depicted the rebuilding of society by everything from rogue militias to the Society of Creative Anachronism. I’m figuring one abuela with a flip-flop could whip everyone into shape for a radius of a mile or two.
Most apocalyptic landscapes are littered with abandoned cars. Why hasn’t anyone gotten a bunch of Bubbas to push them into a ring around their sanctuary? Once they’re in place, remove tires, fill the carcasses with earth one bushel basket at a time, and build an earthworks ramp up to the next level. Repeat as necessary. Sharpened stakes and the crucified bodies of telemarketers should dissuade invaders.
I just once want to see the guys mowing the lawns after the zombie apocalypse.
You would think there would be some enterprising person who would take over a bunch of construction equipment and bury a Walmart under six to twelve feet of reinforced dirt or concrete. A Dollar Tree if time and resources are tight. Everything needed to rebuild Suburban America would be right there, safe from alien invaders and fallout.
If you are the type that likes to see a new and entertaining End Times adventure, you could pick up my latest book “The Ren Faire at the End of the World.” I set up the ultimate battle of Good and Evil, as fought by renaissance faire performers and reanimated roadkill. If you’ve seen that already, or you break out at the sound of “Huzzah”, you could keep an eye out for my latest project “Squirrel Apocalypse”. I’ll let you know who bites on that one.
Gratitude is not a strictly Christian virtue, and even the vegan Wiccans of Arcanum like to gather their loved ones for a Thanksgiving feast. This is an excerpt from my second novel “Power Tools in the Sacred Grove” that shows Brenwyn’s Thanksgiving while Marc recuperates after being trounced by a invisible tentacle demon.
MARC LOOKED ON WITH ADMIRATION as Brenwyn laid out the complete Thanksgiving dinner across the range and counters. It totaled a dozen courses and appetizers in glittering cut glass serving dishes. He couldn’t remember all of the proposed items, but he recognized the vegetable trays, cream of pumpkin soup and vegan stuffing made with oyster mushrooms. Brenwyn even made a few vegan Mexican dishes he never heard of before, including something made of peppers and prickly pears.
It wasn’t just her prodigious cooking achievements he admired. For the last week and a half, Brenwyn had been wearing incredibly modest clothing: high neck sweaters, loose pants, and flannel PJs at night. Tonight, she was wearing a more characteristic bohemian skirt along with a tight bodice and a low-cut top worthy of a serving wench. The sight was definitely something to make him feel thankful.
Michael and Eleazar upheld their end of Thanksgiving tradition by sitting in the living room and playing cards. Brenwyn didn’t seem to mind. She did a final mop-up around the sink and looked up at Marc.
“Tell me again that you are not horribly disappointed with a vegetarian Thanksgiving?”
She had promised him red meat, but he hadn’t delivered on his end of the bargain. He still walked with a cane, if only for the moments that his strength suddenly gave out.
“As long as it’s home-cooking,” he reassured her, “I’m thrilled.”
Eleazar called out from the living room:
“And some hapless bird is alive because of your humane actions.”
“The corporate farms set their kill quotas on projected demand.” Michael carefully studied his cards, not looking up as he popped Eleazar’s balloon. “No matter what, that turkey’s going to die.”
“At least we will not have their bad karma to bear,” Brenwyn said with a smile and a nod. She carried the first of the serving trays over to the dining room table.
“A little bad karma is good for you,” Eleazar said. “Nothing like a hint of damnation to add spice to life.”
“Then your love life must be like Szechuan cooking.” Michael looked at Eleazar with an expression that was either disgust or exasperation. “If you were shot by an angry husband today, would you go to Heaven? Or would your soul just take the express elevator to Hell?”
“Don’t talk to me about damned for your love life,” Eleazar countered. “According to the Old Testament, decent people should be throwing rocks at you.”
Brenwyn returned to the kitchen for a second trip. She raised her eyebrows in amusement as she passed Marc. He merely shook his head, having heard this argument a dozen times before.
“Good thing for me there are no decent people here,” Michael said.
“Michael,” Marc growled in a low warning tone.
Michael looked first at Marc, then at Brenwyn, and he cringed.
“At the card table,” Michael said. “Sorry, Brenwyn.”
“No need for apologies, Michael.” Brenwyn was being especially gracious today.
“Could you cut out the Judeo-Christian dogma?” Marc asked with a shudder. “Makes my skin crawl.”
“Fear not, milord,” Eleazar declaimed. “Brenwyn’s karma will run over our dogma. It was a just a stray dogma anyway.”
Brenwyn shook her head as she ferried more plates to the dining room.
“Perhaps you could finish your game and wash up?” she said. “I shall be setting out the main course shortly.”
“Excellent!” Michael said. “Oh, I almost forgot.” Michael picked up a card and laid down his hand. “Gin! I’m going to the bathroom, now.”
Michael stood and turned to leave.
“You’ve done me in again, you varlet!” Eleazar slapped down his cards in frustration. “What do I owe you now?”
“A week’s laundry,” Michael said as he turned the corner into the hall. “No reds with lights this time.”
“I told you that was an accident,” Eleazar called after him. “Besides, you look good in pink, milord.”
Brenwyn came over to Marc and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Thank you.”
“What for?” Marc didn’t think he’d done anything worthy of her gratitude, though he would take it.
“Protecting my sensibilities. Defending my honor,” she said. “It is very sweet.”
“Chivalry is not dead—it just feels that way.” Standing for several minutes, even with his cane, had his legs and back complaining. “You’re sure I can’t help with anything?”
“You can go sit down and wait for dinner.”
“I feel so useless.” Though it sounded like a great idea to his legs, he couldn’t just surrender.
“You are not useless,” she said, stroking his cheek. “You are decorative.”
“I love you too, but—”
Brenwyn cut him off short: “But your self-worth and male ego are dependent on what you can do, not who you are. Forget about it, beloved.”
“I can’t just forget.”
“Then suppress and sublimate,” she said, “as you do with your other manly impulses.”
“Good,” she said as she scooped up the vegan antipasto platter. “Now, sit down before I take away your cane.”
Brenwyn glided in with the last two trays of vegetables and set them in front of Eleazar. As she returned to the kitchen, he squeezed a black olive from the tray onto his pinkie. He waved that at Michael like a finger puppet and then sucked it off his finger with a pop. Michael looked to the heavens for guidance.
With the two ‘children’ seated to his left, it felt like a real family to Marc, with all its bad and good. Brenwyn had gone all out, decorating the table and the dining room with wheat, corn, pomegranates, and apples. Stars and Brigid’s crosses made of the wheat straw took the place of the construction paper turkeys he grew up with.
“Prepare yourselves for the guest of honor,” Brenwyn called from the kitchen.
She returned with the vegan turkey breast on a garnished tray. Six drumsticks, also synthetic, stuck out of the turkey-like object. Brenwyn set the tray down to polite applause and seated herself at Marc’s right.
“Wow, six legs,” Michael said. “You don’t get that with a farm-raised turkey.”
“Maybe a Chernobyl chicken,” Eleazar quipped.
Brenwyn pointed to the large fork and carving knife set beside Marc’s place at the table.
“Would you care to do the honors?” she asked.
“Certainly.” Marc stood to perform his Thanksgiving duties. “Dark tofu or light?”
The others started passing around serving platters and filling their plates as Marc carved.
“I hope you all like this,” Brenwyn said. “It is my own concoction. The commercial turkey replacements all taste too—artificial.”
“I’m sure it will all be most appetizing,” said Eleazar. “Pass the simulated gravy, please.”
Michael looked awkwardly around the table.
“Excuse me,” he said. “This may sound really uncool, but isn’t somebody going to say grace?”
Eleazar looked as uncomfortable as Marc felt. Brenwyn smiled, looking just the slightest bit amused.
“I don’t think I’m—” Marc started to say.
“Well, I’m not either,” Eleazar blurted.
“Well, it just seems wrong not to give thanks,” Michael said. “At least, for this terrific meal. And I’m agnostic.”
“Thank you,” Brenwyn said with a nod. “I could say a few words. If you could endure a Wiccan blessing over a vegan turkey?”
“Sounds just about right to me,” Marc said.
“Let me think for a moment.” Brenwyn put a finger to her lips in silent thought. “How about this?
‘We thank you Goddess for your world’s gifts:
the beasts, the plants, the sea.
For all dear friends and all we are
and the strength to be what we must be.’”
“You made that up just now?” Michael was openly impressed.
“Not my best work,” she said with a self-effacing shrug. “But poetry and casting spells, they are the same thing: stringing together words to get the desired effect.”
“Cooking. Poetry,” Michael said. “I never realized you had so many hidden talents.”
Marc started carving the main course rather than attend to another man’s unbridled founts of love for Brenwyn.
“You’d better keep an eye on her, milord,” Eleazar said with a wink and a verbal nudge, “or I might try to steal her away from you.”
Marc’s hand tightened unconsciously on the knife handle. He slipped the blade under a slice of faux turkey and flipped the tofu and sprout amalgam across the table to land on Eleazar’s plate.
“Here, eat up,” Marc grumbled, “so you can compliment her cooking, too.”
Marc lofted another slice farther down the table to land on Michael’s plate. Brenwyn held up her plate to discourage any more aerobatics. Marc placed the six drumsticks on a platter and offered it to her. Brenwyn nodded her approval.
“You’ve got to try the cranberries,” Eleazar said through half a mouth full. “They’re most delectable, milord.”
Eleazar quickly brought a hand up to catch the food falling from his mouth.
“No more sincere compliment than that, I guess,” Marc said.
“Is everything all right, Marc?” Michael asked after a long sideways glance at Marc. “You seem tense.”
“No,” Marc grunted. “No, I’m fine.”
“You were about to splinter that knife handle,” Eleazar pointed out. “That’s either tension, milord, or lockjaw’s setting in.”
“It’s just the holidays,” Marc replied. “Don’t worry about me.”
Brenwyn looked knowingly at Marc.
“Marc comes from a family,” Brenwyn explained, “whose every gathering starts with petty bickering and escalates to a drunken row over the pumpkin pie.”
“We must be related. I have the same family.” Michael visibly twitched, probably thinking about his own last family Thanksgiving dinner.
“Mine, too.” Eleazar seemed paler, too.
“I am surprised that you are not with your family today, Eleazar,” Brenwyn said.
“I didn’t know you could be surprised,” Eleazar said.
“Disappointed, then,” Brenwyn said. “Do you not think that Alice misses you?”
“Not in the least,” Eleazar replied. “As long as a significant portion of my paycheck appears in her accounts, she is satisfied.”
“You see,” Michael said with undisguised glee, “he gets to pay alimony without the messy paperwork of a divorce.”
“You could be free to find happiness with someone else,” Brenwyn told Eleazar. “Are you frightened by that?”
“I’m afraid of Alice,” Eleazar said. “She’s this unpleasant to me now; imagine what a divorce could be like.”
Marc could tell that all three men played out that scenario in their heads. A dreadful silence fell over the room.
“Well, don’t let your food get cold,” Brenwyn said to break the silence. “As my grandmother would say: ‘Eat, you look skinny!’”
The three men laid into the feast without another word.