Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Random 4 AM Thoughts A Week Before Christmas

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

Some of you may be aware that I don't usually sleep all that much. Sometimes, though, I do try to get a little more shuteye; it just doesn't usually work very well. The following is some of what was running through my head while I was trying to get an extra hour in this past Sunday morning. It's not all of what I was thinking―I wasn't taking notes or anything―but I think I have most of the high points.

Ready? Welcome to my mind.


Okay. The clock says it’s 4:03 am, but the alarm’s set for 5:00. I mean, I have stuff to do, but I was trying to sleep in, at least a little. I can get back to sleep for another hour, right? That’d be a good thing, right?

I wouldn’t feel like I had so much to do this morning if I’d just gotten some done last night. Christ, why did I watch the ending—okay, the last hour and ten minutes—of Let The Right One In again, instead of working? I just watched the damned thing, well, most of it . . . okay the last hour, I think, the night before. Shit, has Right One turned into one of those films I have to watch the end of, no matter where or when I walk in on them, like The Princess Bride, or The Highlander? I mean, it is a fantastic vampire movie, but because it’s more about Oskar than Eli, and—

No, no, don’t do that. I’m trying to go back to sleep. Sleep, sleep, sleep. Sheep, sheep, sheep. Counting sheep. One-two-three-four-five-six-seven—and, God, just don’t think about Christmas.

Yeah, Christmas. Wheee . . .

What was that blog post I read the other day about people not really hating Christmas? That stressing about the season is kind of bullshit because everyone’s just naturally good at buying gifts? Yeah, talk about bullshit. And everyone’s really friendly and confident, and there’s no way social anxiety—shit, I hate labels like that, and here I am using one—shyness, or not being a people person, or whatever you want to call it, could translate into freaking out over whether someone’s going to like what you give them, or worrying that you’re going to look stupid, even to your own family, or—

What’s that sound? Is that . . . is that my heartbeat? Holy shot of adrenaline, Batman, that’s beating pretty hard there. This isn’t the way to get back to sleep. Where did all those sheep run off to? Ha-ha. All right, nestle into the pillow like so, adjust the legs like so, and the arms . . . Comfy? Yep. Okay, the sheep are gone—how about counting backward? One thousand, nine hundred ninety-nine, nine hundred ninety-eight—

I mean at least I wasn’t watching Clowntergeist again. The story and writing in Right One are beautiful, but Clowntergeist is just . . . the best thing about that film is the kids. Kids, ha! They’re probably in their twenties. God I feel old.

You think God feels old?

Okay, no, can’t do this to myself. I haven’t finished writing the Clowntergeist review because I actually get angry whenever I start going over it, and that’s not going to help me sleep. It’s like the old corner guy said in that boxing movie with Cuba Gooding Junior and Brian Dennehy and that kid from Twin Peaks. . . what was it called? Gladiator? “Anger is the enemy.” Yeah, the enemy. I can do this. I just have to relax. Relax. Think of something relaxing. Picture a pretty field, with tall grass, and goldenrod . . . okay, I wouldn’t actually know goldenrod if it bit me on the ass. Tall, sticky-uppy-outa-the-grassy flower thingies. They’re probably weeds. Whatever. Pretty. A pretty field with flower thingies here and there, and maybe a stream flowing past, or a river, maybe part of the Ipswich. Just sitting there, feeling the sun on my face, listening to the wind in the weeds and the soft murmur of the nearby water . . .

I have to pee.

Dammit! I have to pee pretty bad, too! Where the hell did this come from? I didn’t have to pee at all thirty seconds ago, was lying here just as comfy as could be, not even thinking I might have to pee or anything. Well this is—I don’t—wow, I guess I really am getting old, if this is the kind of—

You think God ever has to pee?

No. No, this is bullshit. This is because I was thinking about that water running by. Nothing but the power of suggestion. I don’t really have to pee. If I ignore it, it’ll go away. Happens all the time at work, when I can’t get to a bathroom for a while. Besides, it’s—let me just stick my hand out from under the—yup, it’s cold as a well digger’s ass out there. I’m not putting a toe out from under this blanket. I’m ignoring the pee.

There is no pee.

No pee.

Besides, getting up to go to the bathroom runs contrary to the idea of getting back to sleep, and that’s what I’m going to do, go back to sleep. I know! I’ll think of a peaceful desert. That’ll help me get to sleep and fight the phantom full bladder. Dry, dry, bone-ass dry. Sun and wind and sand and me.

I wonder if this’ll make me thirsty instead?


Okay, I think I peed a little.


Talk to you later!

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Laughter of the Gremlins

Hey there, WYMOP readers!
So there are these gremlins, and they . . .
Wait. Let me backtrack for the uninformed. There are little creatures out there in the world called gremlins, and they’re real. Did you just Google it? You did, I saw you. Well, I’m not talking about those things in the 1984 family horror movie, cute little moppets with demonic acid reflux (“Don’t feed them at night . . .”). I’m talking about gremlins, the homicidally destructive little Luddites from the forties, who either delight in the destruction and malfunction of anything mechanical or else feed on it, depending who you’re talking to.
I’m not going to go into them in detail (I have other blog posts explaining about them HERE and HERE), but I will point out that they seem to hate me—or maybe this is just the way they show their love?—and, at least where I’m concerned, have seriously expanded their repertoire from airplanes to include anything technological. They’ve messed with my cars, computers, mobile phones, MP3 players, digital cameras—even online servers and services that I’m physically nowhere near. Many people who know me, friends and folks who’ve dealt with me in the (ever more technological) writing world, have learned that to work alongside of me is to work alongside those techno-hating little asshats. Some have even learned to fear them.
But planes. It all started with planes. Sometimes I think they miss those planes.
So anyway, I was going to take a plane, was going to fly out to Colorado. The tickets had been purchased weeks ago, and I was going to ride through the skies on Southwest Airline. Southwest, in case you didn’t know, doesn’t assign seating with tickets. What you can get upon check-in is a boarding assignment: you board in order, and can sit anywhere you like. How this works out is that the first folks on the plane have their choice of seats, while the last two get to duke it out as to who gets the half-seat beside the bathroom door that doesn’t close all the way and who gets to sit beside the mother with the screaming child who smells strongly of poo.
I try to check in early and get myself a bit of wiggle room.
You can check in twenty-four hours in advance of departure time, and that meant I’d be at work and checking in on my phone. No worries! I set a reminder alarm, and right when I hit the twenty-four-hour-early mark, I hit the CHECK IN button. Bang, got myself an online boarding pass with a boarding assignment about halfway through the lot. Not bad! I downloaded the boarding pass into my phone, then went so far as to save the pass’s image in my photo gallery. I even tried downloading it again, just to be sure, but was told I’d already downloaded it. Would I like to download it again? No, I thought, start messing around and redoing stuff and it’s just a chance for things to go wrong.
Sound thinking, right? Yeah, but I’d forgotten something . . .
I woke the next morning—the day of the flight—and my first thought was to check on that boarding pass—just make sure everything was good to go, and that I had easy access to it so I wouldn’t cause a holdup at the airport.
Writing that makes me chuckle now. But I digress.
I opened my phone and looked for the boarding pass.
And I looked.
And I looked.
There was no record of a boarding pass anywhere in my phone. Nothing in documents, images, or downloads. Since I’d manually saved the image, I checked the SD card, in case it’d been shunted over there. Nope, not as far as I could tell.
Okay, I thought. It’s got to be in here somewhere. I’m just not looking in the right place. I decided to check the download history; no matter what strange place the phone had stored it, the download history would offer up a little map leading me right there.
The download history had no record of any electronic transactions taking place at all the previous day. That’s not possible, I thought. When I tried to do it again, the damn system told me I’d already downloaded it! I saved the stupid thing as a picture, just to make sure! I . . . oh, shit.
I’d remembered the gremlins.
Okay, I thought, listen to Douglas Adams: don’t panic. There are redundancies built into the system just for boneheads like me. And there were. I knew (from past, sad experience), that Southwest stores records of all these transactions on their own mainframe. All I had to do was log into my customer account with Southwest and I could download the boarding pass again—better yet, now that I was home I could just print the damn thing off and put the hard copy in my pocket; no more surprises.
I sat at my desk and brought up Southwest’s homepage, moused over to the login box—username and password fields already filled, since I’m lazy and took Chrome up on its offer to remember them for me—and clicked sign in.
We’re sorry, but we cannot complete that function at this time.
Please try again later.
Seriously? I waited five minutes, and tried again.
We’re sorry, but we cannot complete that function . . .
I tried—with mounting distress—every five minutes, for about a half hour. Then, the message changed:
Username and/or password incorrect.
“That can’t be,” I said aloud. “It’s saved—it’s the same username and password that worked yesterday!”
Username and/or password incorrect.
Username and/or password incorrect.
I was at this, becoming more agitated and vocal the whole while, for more than another half hour before the message changed again:
We’re sorry, but we cannot complete that function at this time.
Please try again later.
In a panic now (sorry, Douglas), I Googled issues with Southwest login boarding pass. Right at the top of the list was a link to a Southwest complaints page, last updated that morning. Fantastic! I clicked in and found . . . about a hundred people, from all over the country, all complaining that they couldn’t download their boarding passes, and couldn’t even log into their Southwest accounts—and the first complaint had been lodged shortly after I’d attempted to check in from work the previous day.
“Oh, shit,” I said, staring at the screen. “I broke Southwest!”
Somewhere, off in the distance, I heard gremlins . . . laughing.

Talk to you later.

P.S. Southwest, it turns out, is fine. I actually wrote this in Colorado. Friggin' gremlin sense of humor . . .

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Scene From Writing Life: Well Rested?

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

I took October off from work. The whole damn month, just whoosh, I was gone. I had the vacation time, and I had stuff to do, so I took it.
But I didn’t keep it. I know: dumb, right?
For whatever reason, I went to my bosses early last month and told them I’d give back the weeks. I just needed the weekends—I had events to go to every Saturday and Sunday (and some Fridays) in October. Since my office is chronically (and stupidly, but you didn’t hear that from me) short-staffed, they jumped at the chance to have another warm body in the building. Which begs the question: how many cold bodies do they have in the building?
But that’s another story, one that might require one of those I have a letter with my lawyer, to be opened if I disappear or turn up dead scenarios. My point today is, I don’t think they understood what I meant by the words I have events.
The first weekend was a bit of a mess, and I didn’t wind up doing anything I’d intended, events or work-wise.
The second weekend was Rock & Shock, a three-day horror/music extravaganza held in Worcester at both the DCU Center and the Palladium (yup, it’s pretty big). I commuted to it (90 minutes each way, barring traffic) and when I wasn’t sitting on a panel answering writing questions from the audience, I spent all three days standing on a solid cement floor helping man the New England Horror Writers’ booth, trying to sell books to the thousands of people walking by—many of them cosplaying everything from zombies to death gods, or carrying fairly real-looking severed heads they just bought at the movie special-effects booth down the way.
Sometimes funny, sometimes surreal, but always the opposite of relaxing. I spent the week back at work recovering.
This past Friday I ran around doing things I hadn’t gotten done while I was at Rock & Shock and wouldn’t have a chance to do any other time soon: shopping, cleaning, and laundry, culminating in cutting the grass until it was too dark to see, pushing a lawnmower that, though once self-propelled, is now Rob-propelled (thank you, broken gearbox!). I’ll replace the mower someday, but for the moment I’m just calling it a workout and saying it’s good for me. Some people might (and have) said I’m not replacing the mower because I’m cheap, but I say . . . okay, yeah, I’m cheap. But it is a workout, so Friday night I was exhausted.
I wasn’t much better Saturday morning, when I drove out to the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival in Haverhill, MA, to try to sell books again. It was a terrific event at the Haverhill Public Library, with writers like Brian Keene, Mary SanGiovanni, Tim Lebbon, and Joe Hill. Even with that competition, I managed to sell books . . . but I bought books, too. In fact, I bought $1 more worth of books than I sold.
I don’t have a problem. I can stop buying books whenever I want. Really.
Yesterday, after selling and buying my way through Saturday, I got up, dragged my ass into the car, and drove it off to Marlborough, to the second day of Super MegaFest. When I wasn’t sitting on a panel titled “So, You Want to be a Writer?” I was standing on another solid cement floor, helping man the NEHW booth again. I was worried I’d begun hallucinating by then, but I was assured there really was someone there dressed as Deadpool riding a unicorn, and the tall, skinny Spider-Man walking around probably wasn’t wearing underwear. Yeesh!
When I got home last night all I wanted was to curl up and go to sleep. Instead, I moved furniture to make room for the bookcases that I then assembled, all to make a place to put the books I’d bought in Haverhill on Saturday. And the books piled on the floor in front of the old bookcases. And the books in the big box keeping me from opening my closet door.
Don’t look at me like that. I could stop if I wanted to. Seriously.
So this morning, when I walked into work already thinking about the reading in Maine I’m driving to this Friday evening and the Saturday/Sunday tent sale I’m doing with the NEHW in downtown Salem (because everyone in the world will be in Salem for Halloween weekend), my boss didn’t get the response he’d hoped for when he said:
“Lots of mail today, and a couple of sick calls, so it’s a good thing you’re all well rested from your weekends off, huh?”


Yeah. I'll talk to you later. When I've recovered. Again.

Monday, September 25, 2017

35 Is The Loneliest Number

Warning: there are nasty bits ahead, dealing with both humans and animals.
You have been warned.
Greetings, WYMOP readers.
One week ago today I was at work, zipping along from door to door delivering the mail, when something happened that brought me up short. I opened a storm door—we’d been through a cool spell, and four or five flies buzzed out, the suction of the opening door jerking them rudely from where they’d been huddled into that sun-warmed space—and thrust the bundle of letters and catalogues through the slot. The spring-loaded cover snapped shut, but not before the entering bundle had displaced some of the air from inside the apartment, forcing it out in a puff directly in my face, and I smelled—
A few years ago, after striper fishing on a trestle bridge across a 4 a.m. tide, I was walking back out to my car as the sun was coming up, and found a deer on the tracks. It had either A) been hit by a train passing in the night (which I chose to believe, though I hadn’t seen the deer on the way in, and no trains had passed while I’d been there), or B) something large enough to take down a deer had been at work in the dark, maybe a hundred yards from where I’d been cutting my bait and casting my line by the bright light of a propane lantern (do you blame me for choosing to believe the phantom train option?). I was saddened at the sight (after choosing option A), but what could I do? I walked on, and the next night the deer was gone, removed by, I assume, MBTA employees.
A week later, walking in to the same spot by daylight to fish a late-night tide, I was met by a smell on the tracks. Faint at first, it grew rapidly as I walked. By the time I reached the spot where I’d found the deer the previous week, it was an eye-watering, throat-closing, stomach-churning stink, the like of which I’d never experienced, and I’d known some world-class gas-passers as a kid. I’d smelled stink bombs, hand-tossed buckets of chum out while fishing, and cleaned up after a dog getting sick from eating garbage, but I’d never encountered a stench like this. Following my nose—because I’m just as susceptible to “Hey, look at this, it’s gross!” as anyone—I moved to the side of the tracks to peer down the embankment into the bushes.
The deer lay where the MBTA people had tossed it (or, if you believe option B above, where it had been dragged to be eaten in peace), and it didn’t look good. I won’t go into the details of how the corpse had burst due to gas expansion (or, option B, something had been eating it), or how the first things to decompose were the softest bits (or, as always, option B—the more I go on, the harder it is for me to stick with option A); luckily, most of those details were obscured by the thick surrounding brush. But one thing the brush could not obscure was the odor, and that is a memory that just won’t fade. I’ll never forget the smell of—
I backed away from the door in  hurry, then went to the truck for my phone.
“Hi. This is the mailman out here at [one of the senior housing areas I deliver to]. I’m not sure what to call it, other than a wellness check, so I guess I’m calling in a wellness check on Mr. F out here at number thirty-five.”
“A wellness check at thirty-five?”
“Yes,” I said. “But it’s not a hopeful one. I, uh, I think we lost him about a week ago.”
“Excuse me?”
“There’s a smell.”
“Oh! I’m sending someone right away.”
And she was gone. I didn’t even mind that she’d hung up on me, as I’d realized by then that I could smell the hand holding the phone. I forget where I read it, but I’ve had a phrase stuck in my head for years: all smells are particulate in nature. This means if you can smell a thing, then microscopic bits of that thing are floating through the air into your nose, and if there are enough of those tiny bits, they register on your schnozz’s scent receptors—and humans, as a species, have shit for scent receptors. This told me that not only had I sucked in a good double-lungful of old Mr. F, that puff of air had coated my hand with a nice thick invisible Mr. F glove.
I walked, in a manly fashion but with speed, to the washroom by the facility’s laundry.
The soap dispenser was empty.
I stood there with the hot water running over my hand for about a minute, parboiling my flesh and wishing someone out there would do me a favor and turn up the water heater to a higher temperature. Something appropriate for cooking lobsters would have been nice. By the time I’d stopped scalding myself and delivered my way around the complex and back to my truck, the man from the Housing Authority had arrived.
“What unit?”
“Okay, and there’s a lot of mail built up or something?”
“Dunno, it’s all inside. But there’s a smell . . .”
“Oh, no.”
“Yeah. And it’s strong . . .”
Mr. Housing Authority went to the door, but didn’t open it; he called 911 and let the responding officer do it. While the officer was there the fire department showed up. While the fire department was there, a pair of detectives arrived. The detectives pulled me aside from the crowd to talk to me, trying to find out the last time anyone had seen Mr. F. From my answer (“Had to be last Monday, I think,”) and the state of Mr. F himself, they agreed with my first assessment: he’d been in there roughly seven days. Now there was a crowd, but he’d been alone in there for about a week.
I mentioned it to a couple of people that day, and one of them responded with a single sentence that summed up exactly how I felt about it:
Such a lonely way to go.
That’s just what I was thinking while trying to sterilize my hand: what a lonely way to go. And the odd thing was, I’d recently come to the conclusion that the whole little community that was that senior housing facility was a terrific thing, that though many of them had outlived their spouses (some even their kids), they weren’t alone in the world; they were living their own lives with other folks like themselves, all of them keeping an eye on one another.
But right in the middle of all this community, Mr. F managed to disappear for a week, slowly turning into something no parent wants their child to see, to know, to have as a memory to carry with them once that parent is gone. And I remembered my son had been worried about me recently, having heard me say I have no friends. Some people reading this may become a little incensed at that, demanding that they are my friends, and I’d have to agree with them. I would also explain, as I did with my son, that I’d misspoken.
What I meant was that I don’t have anyone I hang out with, no one I see on a regular basis. I’m part of a daily work community, and an even larger writing community, but I don’t see them socially. I like some people I work with, love some of the writers I know, but if I’m not actually at work, or at a writers’ event, no one expects to see me. I understand that, and it’s just the way I am, and it doesn’t really bother me.
Until now.
I have a story coming out soon about someone afraid of growing old; the young man looks at his decrepit grandfather and asks Is that Father’s future? Is it mine? I find myself, a relatively young man from a fairly long-lived family who isolates himself within the community, looking at Mr. F, an old man dying alone, isolated within his community, and I can’t help but ask . . . is that my future?
Usually I write some kind of wrap-up, or attempt a snappy ending on these things, but not today. I can’t put an ending on it because I’m not done thinking. I liked Mr. F, and I’m glad I never actually saw him Monday, so I can simply remember him the way he always was. I’ve spoken with young Mr. F, old Mr. F’s son, and I’m glad I found his father so he didn’t have to, for exactly the same reason. Very glad. And I wonder if, someday, my own son will have a similar talk with a mailman, or meter reader, or, God forbid, a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses.
I just wonder.

Talk to you later.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Inner Strength

Greetings, WYMOP readers!
Ever have a craving? I did. I was driving around this afternoon running a couple of errands, doing a little food shopping, and it was while I was at the grocery store, surrounded by shelves of food, that the craving hit. But was it for anything I’d find on those shelves? Of course not!
Have you ever heard of Brothers Deli? If you live around here you have. Family-run establishments, incredible home-style food, and portions large enough to make an NFL linebacker look at the plate and say Damn! You want me to eat all that? What I was craving was their chicken pie. Brothers’ chicken pie with mashed potatoes and corn, the whole thing slathered with gravy. Would it be a lot of food? Yes. Did I plan to eat the whole thing? Hell yes!
So on my way back to the house, I stopped in at Brothers in Danvers, got in line, glanced up at the menu board—and froze.
Yankee Pot Roast.
It was right there on the board, and it looked so good. I mean, the words were right there, and the image they conjured in my mind looked fabulous. I’d had it before, of course, and it sure gave the chicken pie a run for its money. It was so good, if I hadn’t come there specifically for the chicken pie, I might have been tempted to get the pot roast. But there was the chicken pie, higher up on the board, and . . . and . . .
And I was tempted to get the pot roast instead. Dammit!
No, I’d come there for the chicken pie, and I’d stick to my guns . . . just like that delicious pot roast would stick to my ribs if I’d change my mind. Just change my mind a little. Because it wasn’t like Brothers was out of my way or anything; there was nothing stopping me from coming back tomorrow to get the chicken pie. Of course, there was nothing stopping me from coming back tomorrow and getting the pot roast either.
No, no, I’d come there specifically to get the pot roast, so if I was going to—no, wait, I meant the chicken pie. Right? The pot roast was my second choice, so if I just went with my gut and got the Yankee Chicken Pot Pie Roast I could come back for . . . no, wait a minute—

Yup, that’s right. I got both. But not to worry, there’s no way I could eat both. Not in the same sitting. I brought these bad boys in and sat them down, just as you see here. I looked them over carefully. I smelled them, felt the weight of them, and pondered. Then, showing an inner strength I’d not exhibited at the restaurant, I slapped the cover back on the chicken pie (shown in all its chickeny deliciousness on the left) and went with the pot roast (depicted in all its carroty-corny-beefy glory on the right), saving the wonders of the chicken pie for tomorrow. I manfully pushed the closed container aside, digging into the pot roast with gusto (translation: with a big pile of napkins at hand, for I am sometimes a slob) while calling up the document I was currently editing on my tablet.
I worked and ate, masticated and cogitated, dined and edited . . . and then the pot roast was gone.
I had a sad.
I pushed the empty plate to the side, opposite the full, weighty, fantastic-smelling chicken pie. With the perfect, poultry-filled pastry on my left, and the once glorious plate of now empty sadness to my right, I pulled the tablet closer in the middle and got back to work on that chicken pie. Excuse me, on the document. My inner strength had failed me while standing in line, under pressure to make a decision, but it had made a serious comeback when I’d pushed that covered plate to my left, and it wasn’t going to fail me now.
I focused on the task at hand, working on the document, scrolling almost non-stop all the way to the end.
 . . .Then I scrolled back to where I’d started when I realized I’d not read a word, so busy had I been not thinking about the chicken p—
No! No, I wouldn’t even think the name. I’d just scroll more slowly this time, focusing hard on the words on the tablet. I leaned closer—so close nothing existed for me for a time but the small screen that had become my world, my everything, my . . . my . . . hey, was it just me, or did my tablet smell like chicken pie?
Perhaps I should move the pie away from me? Put it in the fridge, where I could no longer see or smell it? But no, that would be admitting weakness. What about my vaunted inner strength? What about my vow that it wouldn’t fail me again, as it had in Brothers? That wonderful scent wouldn’t be enough to break my will. Hell, with my strength of character, the sight of the thing wouldn’t be enough to weaken me!
To prove my point, I pulled the chicken pie over in front of me and tore off the lid. See? I thought. Oh, sure, it looks fantastic, and I know it tastes out of this world, but just the sight of it isn’t enough to make me weaken, is it? Of course not! Although . . . with the lid off like this I can really smell it now . . . and it’s, like, right in my face. Wow, I guess it’s a good thing I hadn’t put any utensils with the pie. Of course, my pot roast dish is right there . . . and there’s a spoon . . .


Well, if my inner strength isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, at least I know it’s not weak from hunger, right?
Incidentally, this blog post has turned into a request for aid. I’m currently trapped at the table, unable to move. I’ve tried calling out for help, but I’m so goddamned stuffed I can’t draw a full breath, and the only noise I can make is a wheezy sort of moan that sounds just a touch like Stephen Hawking being kicked in the nuts. If there’s anyone with a tow truck, or a winch, or, hell, even just a strong back, who could drag my incredibly overfull ass off to the bathroom before things get desperate, I sure would appreciate it.

Talk to you later!