Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Okay, Internet, That's Just Mean.


Greetings, WYMOP fans!
If you’ve spent any time on the internet (and right now kind of proves that you do, don’t deny it), then you’ve probably been to Amazon.com, and have at least seen Facebook. There are other shopping sites and social media platforms out there, and what I’m about to say applies to them as well, but for simplicity’s sake (and because I mostly just deal with these two) I’m only going to talk about Amazon and Facebook here. Now, in going to these two sites, I’ve noticed something: they’re watching me. Oh, I know what you’re saying. “Oh, Rob, you’re just being paranoid.” But I’m not paranoid: the internet is watching me. I see it all the time in the advertising—advertising that’s being tailor-made, and then remade for me, constantly, by tracking programs and algorithms I never even see . . . until they throw it right in my face.
When I go to Amazon, their landing page is covered with “suggestions”—stuff I’ve looked at in the past, as well as stuff like what I’ve looked at; just in case I’ve forgotten the kind of thing I like, they’re keeping a file on me. I understand that, any good shopkeeper does that, especially for a frequent customer. But it gets worse. More invasive. And requires just a bit of internet teamwork.
I pause on Amazon to casually look at something that caught my eye, and the next time I check my Facebook page, I see a trend in the “Sponsored Ads” column on the screen. Suddenly, all the ads lean heavily toward whatever I was looking at—and if I peruse several things over on Amazon, they somehow choose, by means I cannot fathom, just what they think I’m interested in, and shoot me advertising for that alone.
Sometimes this is all well and good: I looked up roof rack systems for my car on Amazon, and found several options I’d not yet seen in the ads that followed on Facebook. There was, however, the time I was talking to someone about what’s selling with regard to books these days, and they told me that Bigfoot porn was a thing. A thing that’s selling. “Not possible!” said I. “You must be joking!” And I went straight to Amazon . . .
 . . . where I found that yes, Bigfoot porn is a thing! I used to laugh at the old Weekly World News story about a woman marrying Bigfoot, but someone out there apparently said “Oh, hell, I can do better than that!” And they did do better. And worse. Much worse. It was terrible, and shocking—and I honestly laughed my ass off just scrolling down the page and looking at the titles they’d come up with. One of the “Look Inside” functions let me know more than I ever wanted to know about sasqutatchian anatomy (also a huge laugh, if a slightly wide-eyed one), and that was that. I went back to the person I’d been talking with and told them they were right, and I was wrong; Bigfoot erotica was a thing
Then, a couple of days later, I was showing my son a video on Facebook when I realized just what was in that “Sponsored Ads” column: Bigfoot books. Right there on the screen, just beside the video of  the Houston Astros mascot in a dance-off with a security guard, was a series of book ads with titles like Lusty Bigfoot Runs Amok, Bigfoot and the Barely Legal Blonde, and My Mom Married a Horny Bigfoot. The video ended and the boy walked away, and I had no idea whether he’d been too engrossed in the video to see the ads, of if he too had been frozen in absolute horror, wondering just what the hell his dad was into.
I still don’t know. And just in case you’re wondering, yes, those are all real book titles, available on Amazon.
You’re probably sitting back and shaking your heads right about now. “It’s just directed advertising, you idiot!” you’re saying. “Who do you think sponsors those stupid ads on Facebook, anyway?” And yes, that sort of thing is pretty obvious—but that’s how clever they are: they use the obvious to cover up the subtle.
This is how obvious they can be. I’m a writer, and I go to Amazon to buy  books. We all do. But one of the things I also go to Amazon for is to track books. For instance: last year I edited a book called Demonic Visions, Book 5, and it’s doing pretty well. It was my first editing job, with my name on the book cover and everything, and it’s been hanging about in the list of the top 100 best-selling horror anthologies in the Kindle store. It made it as high as number three on the list, spent a while on the Top Ten list, and has been bee-bopping around to various positions in this top 100 for about eight months now, and I have to admit I’ve been tracking its movements with childlike glee the whole time. As I write this, I can tell you it’s currently number seventy-four on the list—and in a field of thousands, I have to say that feels pretty damned good.
However.
Every Friday, without fail, Amazon sends me an email. This email starts off “Rob, based on your recent visit, we thought you might be interested in these items,” and then they try to sell me Demonic Visions 5! Like I don’t already have about ten . . . okay, exactly eleven copies of that book on the shelf in my room? How many copies of this thing do they think I need? And I did buy one from Amazon when it first came out—I was just so excited to see my name on the cover—so somewhere in their great big thinking machines there is a record saying I’ve already bought the damn thing! What the hell, Amazon? Are you too busy tracking me to keep an eye on yourself?
But that is them being pushy. That is them being obvious, like a good magician calling your attention to their left hand while the right performs the trick. Now, this is where the subtle comes in.
A couple of weeks ago, you may recall I posted a blog called “Forty-Six-And-A-Half,” about playing basketball with my son, and what it was doing to my physically aging body. As I do every week, I posted a link to my blog on Facebook. Some people read the post, and a few of them commented, and commiserated, and we had some laughs.
Then, last Tuesday, my son didn’t want to play basketball, so instead I went for a run. Sort of. When I got back in the house (wheezing and wobbling), I threw a little status post onto Facebook:
Just got back from trying to go for a run, and it's official:
I am in the worst shape of my entire life.
feeling disgusted.
Again, a few people commented, and commiserated, and we had some laughs. There was no shopping, there were no links, just a couple of conversational posts on Blogspot and Facebook—nothing to do with Amazon. And then . . .
Friday I awoke expecting my weekly sales push from Amazon. They usually send it sometime between three and four in the morning, when internet traffic is low. But this past Friday, I woke up, checked my email . . . and found not a thing from Amazon. Nothing! I was surprised, to say the least—amazed is more like it—and I zeroed in on the correct time slot in my incoming mail box, just to be sure . . . and rather than my usual book-pushing Amazon email, I found this:

From : Burial Insurance Options
Subject : Burial Life Insurance could save you money
Sent: Fri, Aug 28, 2015 03:14 AM


Okay, Internet, that’s just mean.

Talk to you later!
. . . maybe.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Pain in the Grass


Greetings, WYMOP fans!


So it’s finally happened, like a dream come true—the dream of every father whose spawn comes out with the stem on the apple:
My son is big and old enough to help cutting the grass.
I remember when I was old enough to help my father with the grass. It was a different time then, with different tools. I was out there with my dad, using a hand-trimmer—that’s right, boys and girls, no gasoline or electrical cords, I was down on my little hands and knees with what amounts to a pair of scissors, making my way around the bottom of the fence—when my father asked me to give the mower a try. This was a proud moment for me, one of those “today, I am a man,” moments, since if he wanted me to try the lawn mower, my father must have thought I was big enough to push the damn thing.
Oh, I know there are some younger folks out there thinking I mean I just had to drag the machine around because the motor only drove the blade, not the wheels, but I’m even older than that. This was a push mower, no motor involved. The blade was driven by gears attached to the wheels, and the wheels only moved if I got the thing rolling, and back then,
Who needs a gym?
though we did have plastic, we didn’t
trust it. We had fiberglass, too, but that was for Commies and boats (yeah, I don’t get the connection either), so this machine was made of  bolted-together cast iron, and weighed almost as much as I did. But I was game. I stepped up to that iron age grass cutter, gripped the handle, and threw my weight into the thing, straining my mighty thews . . . okay, back then I had maybe one thew, and a small one at that, but I strained the hell out of it, and got the mower moving.  I cut a row alongside the row my father had already cut, humps in the ground and tussocks of grass sending the mower swerving this way and that, while I concentrated on just keeping the damn thing moving.
When I reached the end of the row, I let the mower bump to a halt and turned to survey what I’d done. There, next to my father’s nice, straight row, was a path across the lawn akin to the skidmarks left behind after a really bad car crash, when the driver had lots of time to stop, but not the ability. There were graceful curves. There were sudden right angle turns. There was even a figure nine—it would have been a figure eight, but a low spot in the yard kept me from completing one loop. I turned to where my father had watched the entire process, my little heart heavy, anticipating—dreading—his disapproval. But he wasn’t there.
Where he had stood hung a dust cloud, like a silhouette of smoke, just like I saw every Saturday morning when the Coyote chased the Road Runner. Drifting on the wind came my father's faint voice, a message sent winging my way as Dad ran for the hills . . . or possibly the television. “Come in when you’re done, and try not to miss any spots!” I turned back to the mower and started jockeying it into position to take another winding swipe out of the lawn, because on that day I’d taken a great step on my way to becoming a man.
A very stupid man.
That was then; this is now. Today would be a vastly different experience, because I was on the other side of it. But I wouldn’t abuse my fatherly power, and have the boy mow the whole yard. The yard at Handsome’s house isn’t like the yard I had growing up. That yard was flat, and relatively level, with just a house and fence to trim. Though the tools are different now, the technology better, with all its electrical cords and gasoline, the yard at the house today has hills. Barely any of it is actually flat and portions of it are fairly steep—and for trimming, there is the house and fence, as when I was a boy, but there is also a rock wall, trees, a stump, a shed, another rock wall, the driveway, another rock wall, stairs, another hill . . . it is not the same job I had as a boy.
So I gave my son a choice: gas-powered mower or electric trimmer. Either way, he was doing half the job. He chose the trimmer and got to work. I strode up and down the various yards around the house—front, side, upper back, lower back—carving paths through the grass as straight and true as I remember my father’s being those many years ago, while Handsome buzzed along fences, walls, and foundations with a speed and ease I’d only dreamed about as a boy his age.
Just as I was finishing the upper back yard, he appeared beside me, trimmer in hand. “It’s out of line,” he said. “But I think I’m done anyway.” He flipped a hand toward various parts of the property, a finger pointing almost too fast to see. “I got over there, and there, and there and there and down there. So,”—he raised an eyebrow—“can I go?”
I was looking at the trimmer, having taken it and flipped it over to check the cutting line feed. I’d popped it open while he talked, and, sure enough, it was empty. “I guess,” I said, pushing the feeder head closed once more. “But why don’t you—”
I looked up to find I was talking to a strangely familiar cloud of dust, like a boy shaped from smoke. I peered about the yard, but he was gone; this time, not even words hung in the air to explain the disappearance.
I shrugged and carried the trimmer into the garage to refill the line feeder. While I was winding the cutting string onto the spool, I noticed a tall tuft of grass, sticking up from a spot along the top of the retaining wall like a stubborn cowlick. When I’d filled the feeder and snapped the trimmer head back together, I went and cut off that cowlick. On the way over to it I spotted another. On the way to that second one, I spotted a third. Then a fourth. Just to be sure, I buzzed along the top of the retaining wall, making sure to get every remaining blade of grass. The wall led me to a tree whose base needed doing. Beyond the tree was a low wall with a few stalks he’d missed. This led me to the house. Which led me to the fence.
I was actually working on the third rock wall when I realized I’d done nearly all the trimming over again—in some cases for the first time that day—while once again, someone had run for the hills. Or, and in this case it was much more likely, the television. A passer-by at that moment might have heard the words “Son of a bitch!” roll out across the lawn, as I realized that my dream hadn’t come true. Instead, I’d simply taken, at forty-six, yet another step on my road to becoming a man.
A very stupid man.
Some things don’t change.
Where can I get a dust cloud?

Talk to you later!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Forty-Six-And-A-Half






Greetings, WYMOP fans!

Basketball.jpg


I’m forty-six years old. Going on forty-seven. I know you already understand the progression, but that’s my bid to stay youthful, like when I used to say things such as, “I’m thirteen, going on fourteen.” But it’s not the same. Back then it was kind of cute, and something all kids my age were doing, but now it’s just a little sad. I know it’s sad, and I know you know it, but I just can’t help it. Not to worry, though: soon I’ll be saying things like “I’m forty-seven and a half,” or “I’m fifty and a quarter.” Then you can really shake your heads. Does the tooth-fairy accept dentures? I’m going to have to look into that—that could be worth some money, in my retirement.
But anyway, the point is I’m getting older. I understand it—my brain comprehends it as a logical fact—but I don’t accept it. Not in my heart. Through my ears my brain hears the terrible creaking and crackling coming from my arthritic knee; it sounds like someone massaging a wad of Saran Wrap. Through my nose my brain detects the strangely burning scent of whatever the Christ liniment the physical therapist was rubbing on my arm last year, when I developed tennis elbow . . . without ever actually playing tennis. Or any other sport. Through my eyes, my brain sees the ever-growing number of gray hairs invading my beard—once just one or two, it soon became a sprinkling; now the sides are about even, and the tide is about to turn, and someday soon my brain will use my eyes to watch the colored portion of my facial hair turn and run in an all-out rout.
My heart, however, acknowledges none of this. My heart still tells me things like, “Oh, sure, you can carry all three flats of bottled water in one trip,” or, “Yes that does look like a lot of mail, but you can deliver all that in eight hours,” or, “Yup, damn, that is a big, steep hill. You should run up it!” And then, when I get to the top of the hill, and I’m bent over to catch my breath, dizzy, and my heart’s beating like Buddy Rich playing a snare solo, and my brain gives it the old “I told you so,” my heart’s still giving my brain the finger and saying “. . . beat-beat—I’ll—beat-beat—be—beat-beat—fine . . .”
So the other day, when I noticed—several times—the soft, pudgy roll I’m developing about my midsection, my brain was instantly depressed, and one step closer to telling people I’m forty-six-and-a-half. My heart, though, forked a couple of fingers in my brain’s direction and said, “Looks like we’re going running!”
There was an argument. My brain trotted out all kinds of evidence: my birth certificate, the wrinkles on my face, the fact that the retired folks I deliver the mail to don’t really look all that old to me any more. My brain called witnesses, like my acid reflux, my no-excuse bad elbow, and my strangely talkative knee. The knee, I thought, made some solid points, things like pain. And pain. And then pulled out all the stops and pointed out pain.
My heart just waved a breezy hand in the face of all this, gaily calling out “Poppycock!”
Yeah, sometimes my heart’s a douche like that.
“A compromise!” my brain said, giving up on trying to calculate the cost of the coffin I’d need if I dropped dead of a Buddy Richian heart attack after limping a mile or two from
home. “Hoops. See if the boy will go play some basketball. We can spend some quality time with our son, plus there will be a car right there, and someone to call the ambulance when we go toes up.”
“Hmm . . .” said my heart. “That actually sounds like fun. But he’ll never say yes.”
“He might,” urged my brain, though privately thinking the heart was right. Let’s face it: in an effort to one day be able to say it was fifty-one-and-a-sixth, my gray matter was grasping at straws. “I’ll ask him.”
The text went out, and a reply came back a few minutes later. My brain turned away from what it was doing—quietly trying to figure out how to trick my heart into believing that taking a nice refreshing nap was just like going for a run—and picked up my phone to read the reply.
“Son of a bitch, he said yes,” said my brain.
“Booya!” said my heart.
Crinkle-crunch-crikkk,” said my knee.
So that was how I wound up pounding around beneath the basketball hoop behind the elementary school in the neighborhood. Let me just lead off by saying it was a lot easier to play basketball against my son when I was a foot taller than him. Even a half a foot. Let me also lead off by saying we are now pretty evenly matched (meaning each of us cheats about as much as the other), and that if the two of us had the time to practice for a few hours every day, just like the professionals, then one day, maybe, we could suck. As it stands now, actually sucking at basketball is a distant dream for us, something glimpsed on the horizon: something to aspire to.
We were currently tossing the bouncy-rubbery thing back and forth—the ball, I think it’s called—occasionally lofting the “ball” toward the “basket.” The lofting was followed by much audible prayer, asking God to please reach down and guide the brown, flying orb through the hoop, or at least, for the love of Himself, into the backboard, so we wouldn’t have to go
fetch the ball from the field. God, it seemed, was busy that day. Possibly He is a sports fan, and was disgusted at what we were doing to His beloved game of basketball, so had turned His attention to watching sparrows fall, or something. At least, I hope He was doing that, and that the Lord of Creation was not hiding His mouth with one hand while pointing at me with the other, laughing as I, yet again, ran out into the field to retrieve the ball.


And yes, I was running. Unlike my son, who, toward the end of a summer spent sleeping until noon every chance he got, under the umbrella of “Hey, man, it’s summer vacation,” was strolling about the court, I was galloping around like an energetic clown at Cirque du Soleil. We’d played a game called “Pig,” which is just like the game called “Horse,” but shorter, because did I mention we suck? Now I was merely fetching the ball, lofting it, then fetching it again, as the boy watched and laughed. I mainly just clutched the ball and ran. I understand you’re supposed to dribble while playing basketball, so every once in a while I gave that a try, though I’d always quit and wipe my lip dry before things got too embarrassing.
fool.jpgThen I discovered that if I was close enough to the basket, I could throw the ball up there, actually hit the backboard, then run over and catch it again when it came down on the other side of the hoop. Well, this was a grand improvement over having to run out into the field, so I kept at it, running a continuous figure eight before the hoop, shooting from the left, then the right, then the left again, always catching the ball as it came down, shouting “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!” as my son stood there, gawping and laughing at me. To be fair, I’m pretty sure my brain had stopped receiving oxygen about ten seconds before I made this discovery, which might explain my slight delirium.
I’d run the circuit about six or eight times when I heard a passing woman talking to her young daughter. “Look at that boy, spending time playing with that special needs man. See how much fun the man is having? What a nice boy.”
Angry mob.jpgAs they walked on, my oxygen-starved brain did a double-take at this, made a fast executive decision, and sent a quick message. My legs received this message and immediately went on strike. The ball bounced, unattended, across the court, as I did a slow somersault, winding up as predicted fourteen paragraphs ago, lying toes up in the middle of the court. My heart was apparently practicing its speed-metal double-bass routine, but took the time to urge me back to my feet and into the fray once more. I ignored it. A mob, the likes of which has not been seen since the villagers chased Frankenstein’s monster into the windmill, rolled over my heart. Comprised of my brain, knee, elbow, lungs, legs, spleen, and a whole bunch of bit players from my body, fully equipped with torches, pitchforks, baseball bats, bits of wood with nails driven through, and, in the case of my pancreas, a rusty old bicycle chain, this mob proceeded to beat the shit out of my heart as I lay there contemplating the sweet release of death. The roll about my middle, despite the seeming anatomical impossibility of the feat, kicked my heart in the balls. Twice.
My son’s grinning face suddenly loomed above me, blocking the direct path up to Heaven I was hoping to follow. “Are you okay?” he said, but I didn’t answer. I was busy looking at his wide, white smile, and wondering: Would the tooth-fairy accept someone else’s teeth from beneath my pillow, or do they have to be my own? I’m going to have to look into that—that could be worth some money, in my retirement.
I recovered, obviously, but it did take some time. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go buy a new pillow, and some good, strong pliers.
pliers.jpg

Talk to you later!


P.S. - My heart has also recovered, and wants to know if anyone wants to go for a jog?

. . . dammit.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Shih Tzu Shih Tshoe - The Conclusion

Greetings, WYMOP fans!
This is the conclusion of a two-part story. If you haven't yet read the beginning, I suggest you back up a day and read The Shih Tzu Shih Tshoe—the rest of this will make more sense.
**************************************

Leaving the woman to try to collect the curious canines, I ran across the street to alert the pet owners that they seemed to have lost control of the situation. I let myself into their gated yard, then found myself confronted with an interior kind of “kid corral,” fenced-in area, with a tiny swing set (complete with little slide) surrounded by a knee-high fence. I stepped over the toddler/ankle-biting dog barrier and went up the stairs to the front porch . . . where I found the house unlocked and open, the front door propped wide by a couple of logs of firewood. The huge plasma TV was still on, as was the fantastic stereo, pumping quiet music into the air of the empty house. I rang the bell.
No answer.
I knocked on the open door.
No answer.
I called out “Hello!”
You can guess, right? Yup: no answer.
I began patting myself down, looking for a pen and paper with which to leave a note. I came up with three choices of message: “I have your dogs, they’re safe, come get them;” “I have your dogs, if you ever want to see them again you’ll bring cash;” and the short, but sweet, “Thanks for the TV and stereo, dudes!” Realizing the woman across the street would see me ferrying entertainment electronics down the street to my house, I gave up on the whole note idea.
I also didn’t have a pen.
I got back to the gate out to the street just as across-the-street lady was coaxing the runaways back to the proper side of the street, shaking my box of Milk Bones and judiciously
applying the word “treat” at strategic moments. The yorkie was trotting along just as happy as all get out, but the shih tzu apparently saw through the ruse. She lay down out by the street and refused to move again, no matter how hard across-the-street lady rattled that box. Eventually the woman  simply picked up the recalcitrant canine and carried her into the yard.
The whole time, the shih tzu stared at me with an expression communicating just how undignified she found the whole “picking her up” thing, and that somehow it all my fault.
*Sigh*
So we put them in the yard, and I started to follow them in toward the house, intending to let them into the kid/pet corral . . . but when I got there I saw there was no gate. I’d just stepped over the thing when I went up to ring the bell, and hadn’t even noticed. I looked at the dogs, quick-stepping about the yard like small dogs do, and shrugged. They were home, I’d done my good deed. I was done. I started to head for home.
As I went out through the gate, across-the-street lady was talking to one of the neighbors who happened to be driving by, leaning on the car roof to lean in the driver’s window.
“Well, they’re home,” I said.
“Did you put them in the little yard?”
“Uh . . .”
“Because they usually keep them in that little yard, with the swings.”
Crap. My good deed was not done. I turned around to head back into the yard . . . and the shih tzu passed me going the other way, trotting along the top of the wall with the same “I don’t care” attitude she’d shown crossing the busy street.
“Where the hell are you going?” I said.
She just turned her head away as she kept walking, the doggy equivalent of flipping me the bird.
“Right!” I said. “The little yard it is.”
Across-the-street lady had done such a good job with her highness, mistress Shih Tzu the first time, I conscripted her again. She started herding the little dog back into the yard while
This is the most savage
yorkie pic I could find!
I went back in to look for the littler dog. I found the yorkie in the corner of the yard: apparently a leaf had made a suspicious move, and the tiny terror was busy barking the detritus into submission. Though the little beast couldn’t be heard from more than five feet away, I gave her an A for effort. Then I started dismantling the little fence.
It sounds worse than it was. All I really did was pull one of the connecting rods out of a panel join and made a gate; I mean really, who the hell fences off a part of their yard without putting in a gate? This was not my fault.
Across-the-street lady arrived with the shih tzu in tow, and we hustled the two of them into the safety of their little yard. Then across-the-street stood guard as I put the fence back together—though, as always, taking it apart had been a lot easier. I had just about gotten it back together when I looked past across-the-street lady to see the savage yorkie trotting along the top of yet another wall, apparently intending to reestablish her conflict with the leaf.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake!”
I followed the wall back, and found its end abutted the front stairs, nicely level with one of the steps about halfway up, providing a kind of doggy highway out of the inner yard and right over to where they could pick up the wall that led straight out to the street. I looked about the yard, taking in the useless inner and outer fences, and the gates that were impediments only to people, and didn’t slow the pets at all.
“What are these people,” I said to across-the-street lady, “idiots?”
“Yes,” she replied, nodding sadly. “Yes they are.”
I scooped up the yorkie, braving her threatening squeaks and almost-barks, and plopped her in the inner yard. I ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time, the dogs following along as if it were all a game. “Treats,” I lied, pointing into the house. “They’re in there!” The dogs galloped through the door, on the hunt for the elusive goodies. I waved sadly at the stereo, its lights still winking at me enticingly, booted the firewood out of the way, and slammed the door behind them.
I hot-footed it back to the street, not looking back for fear of seeing a knotted bedsheet hanging from a window with a small canine form already halfway down; at that point, I wouldn’t have put it past them. I exchanged quick pleasantries with across-the-street lady, just trying to get the hell out of there before something else went wrong. My stomach had started making noise, reminding me that I’d last seen that pot-o-pasta sitting on the stove more than an hour earlier, and I was still damn hungry. I jogged back down the hill, around to the front of my house and right in through the open garage, closing the big door behind me. I went straight into the house through the laundry room—and promptly slipped in the pile of “fertilizer” still sitting in the middle of the floor.
“Son of a bitch!”



The spaghetti was quite cold by the time I got to it.

And that's the story of The Shih Tzu Shih Tshoe. 
Talk to you later!