Tuesday, May 24, 2016

It's Pronounced Frankensteen!

Greetings, WYMOP readers!
Yes, another late post, but this time it wasn’t simply that I forgot, I swear. There was a bit of important family stuff happening, and posting my blog just got squeezed out. Not to worry, though—I got this thing out just as soon as I could. And now . . .

~ ~ * * ~ ~

The lawnmower was dead.
It was fine when I tucked it in for the winter, I swear to God—but then, when I went to break it out last week, it just wouldn’t wake up. Not even a sputter. Not a spark. Doornails would look at my lawnmower and say, “Dude, you are so dead!” Disco was looking at my lawnmower and feeling superior.
I mean, this thing was dead.
But I’m a follower of the esoteric. I’m a fan of secret knowledge. I’m a seeker of the unknown and a student of things man was not meant to know. I delved into dark tomes, and sought out truths God had hidden from man since the beginning of time. I found my way to the greatest repository of the bizarre and arcane, the largest collection of the unfathomable the world has ever seen!
That’s right: I logged into YouTube.
A couple of videos later I believed I had diagnosed the problem and was ready to operate—but I would need parts: one part in particular. But where would I get this part, the heart of my dead machine? For that was what I had to replace: the heart of the mower, its source, its very spark of life! I would have to find it a new heart, maybe one from a different lawnmower, and put it into this cold, Toro corpse. I would cobble together a patchwork monster to stand by my side and help me cut the rising grasses beneath its whirling blade! I removed the failed organ, tore it loose from its foundations within the body, and went looking for a replacement.
“Hi, welcome to Maestranzi Brothers. Can I help you?”
“God, I hope so. What I really need is one of these”—I held up the lifeless ignition coil by its spark plug wire like I was holding a rat by its tail—“but one that works.”
“Do you have a part number? Or maybe the model number on your machine?”
“I didn’t think I needed that stuff, since I brought in this.” I waggled the beatless heart at him, thinking of all the idiot drivers (i.e., not me) I’d just battled my way through (there were backups on Route 128) and hoping to see a glimmer of yes in his eyes.
“No,” he said, the stone cold bastard. “We can’t really tell a lot from that. We just need the model number from the back of your machine.”
“I see,” I said, then whirled and lurched, weeping, out into the storm . . . of cars. It was actually a beautiful, sunny day, though traffic was a bitch. I copied the model number from my cold and lifeless Toro and fought my way through the swelling tide of vehicles on the road—rush hour was fast approaching—and returned to my small engine resurrection man.
When I finally stumbled out of his lair, it was with a new heart . . . excuse me, part in hand, one smaller and more efficient than the one that had so recently given up the ghost. I got in my Mini and drove through the pouring sunshine—look, the damn weather really isn’t helping me set the tone I’m going for here—to my house, and carried my prize out back to the shed, where a dead thing waited for new life. Choosing my instruments carefully, looking about to ensure I wasn’t being observed, I got to work.

The feel of this post has been a direct result of my pulling the starter cord that afternoon, and while the old Toro sputtered, coughed, and then roared, staggering about as if drunk and screaming “It’s alive! It’s alive! Alive! Alive!” before throwing back my head and laughing maniacally up into the warm spring sky. Another direct result may be the For Sale sign now planted in the front lawn of the house next door.

Some people. No sense of humor.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go cut the grass.

Talk to you later!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Judge Me by My Size, Do You?

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

I just spent a week in Colorado, visiting someone. Now I hadn’t been to visit in a while, and since I’d last been out there had been a little addition to the family. Little Cat—not her name, but close enough—was just that: a little cat. There are other cats about (it is a five feline family), including Big Cat. Also not his name, but also close enough. Big Cat had always been a little bit of a bully, stalking and casually terrorizing the others: Jumpy Cat, Happy Cat, and Jet Black Cat.
No. Not their names. Are we seeing trend?
Anyway, that had always been the social pyramid: Big Cat on top, everyone else—including any humans, resident or visitor—piled higgledy-piggledy below. And then . . .
I hadn’t been there ten minutes—just time to say hi to all the feline folk living in the house—when I heard the rolling thunder of a tiny stampede. I looked up just in time to see Big Cat come rumbling down the hall under a full head of steam, eyes a bit wild. Loping easily along after him came Little Cat, looking just a bit like Pepé Le Pew skipping after his reluctant amour.
What the hell? I thought, then was shocked to see a scene straight out of Animal Planet: the smaller, quicker hunter reached out with two little paws to grip the larger prey’s haunches and give a quick twist, turning flight into a fall, retreat into a roll, and a tear into a tumble. In an instant, the chase degenerated into a ball of hissing, spitting, feline fury—with Big Cat on his back, trying to defend himself from the flurry of lightning-fast slaps Little Cat was raining down like the other fuzzball had called her mother a rude name!
They separated after about a second and a half of faster fighting than I could make out with the naked eye, and I realized that the noise—the aforementioned hissing and spitting—had all come from Big Cat. Little Cat had gone about the beatdown with an intimidating amount of silent intensity. Big Cat sat there making a low rumble you never hear cats make in cartoons—think panther in a 1940’s Tarzan flick—while Little Cat simply stared back from a foot and a half away, unfazed, unimpressed, and definitely unintimidated.
“What the hell, Big Cat,” I said, managing to get their attention off each other for the moment. “You’re like four times her size. Why don’t you just swat her down?”
His only response was to stalk slowly away, head and tail high—the latter, undoubtedly, to show me exactly what he thought of me. Little Cat just stared up at me, her great big kitten eyes offering a “Who, me?” expression that almost convinced me I‘d been mistaken and hadn’t seen what I thought I’d seen.
“What the hell?” I said again.
The next morning I was cleaning up after breakfast, and collected all the cat dishes from the floor to give them a good washing: five ceramic salvers in one short stack. The stack clanked with each new addition, and as I straightened to take them to the kitchen I saw Little Cat coming at a trot. Obviously responding to the sound of food, her eyes were fixed on the plates in my hands.
“No second breakfast today,” I said, and stepped across the hall to the kitchen.
At least, that was my intention.
“No second breakfast tod—” I said, as Little Cat, deciding instead to swerve right past me, darted under my foot in a gray-and-white blur. I saw where she was going and tried to compensate, just as she saw where I was stepping and tried to duck. Individually we may have been right, but together we were very wrong: my bare foot came down on a warm, squishy package with all of my weight.
There was a squeal of pain as I tried to shift my weight from that foot, lifting it before the other was planted and staggering sideways. It is a scientific fact that repeatedly shouting the F-word helps in this situations, and believe me, I took full advantage of that help. I fetched my elbow a sharp whack against the counter, then used said counter to brace myself as the stagger tried to upgrade to a sprawl. I managed to get the plate stack onto the counter . . . then looked at my foot.
“Oh, what the . . .”
13233325_10207921522334522_1034658061_n.jpgIt turned out that squeal of pain I mentioned above had been all mine as Little Cat somehow managed, in much less than a second, to claw my foot open from ankle to toe. As I squatted in the kitchen, trying to clean my new wound and wipe the blood off the floor, Little Cat strolled into the doorway and took a seat, offering me the now-familiar “Who, me?” expression.
“What the hell, Little Cat?” I said, then caught a pair of eyes watching me from over her shoulder. Behind her, just as prim and proper as you please, sat Big Cat, and he wore an expression that gave me pause. You see, I’m more of a dog person. Dogs may smile, and dogs may look ashamed, and some may even have a “Who, me?” expression to rival that of the tiny terror sitting innocently before me; but no one—and I mean no one—can look as smug as a cat.

Talk to you later!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

My Great Big Lie

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

You may have noticed this post came out a day late; I usually post on Monday, and it’s Tuesday . . . unless, of course, you’re reading this in Australia. But if you are in Australia, I assume you have bigger things to worry about than what day it is, like keeping one of the bazillion intrinsically deadly forms of life there (including a species of dirt, if one particular internet meme is to be believed) from killing you.
Good luck with that! Stay sharp, move fast, make good decisions!
But I digress. I’m late, but it’s because I’m on vacation and have come to Colorado for a visit and . . . I just forgot. I was getting into bed last night and suddenly thought, Oh, shit! It’s . . . was Monday! I need to write a blog post, right now! I should . . .zzzzz . . . zzz . . . zzzzzzzz . . .
What you should be paying attention to—and long time readers will know this—is that I came to Colorado. That means I got on a  plane—and that means I got to deal with the TSA! If you’ve read of my travels in the past, you’ll know that I’m almost always pulled aside at the security checkpoint. I’ve been wanded to within an inch of my life. I’ve been patted down and felt up for such extended periods they count as relationships. I’ve been checked for explosives residue so often you’d think I work in a firework factory. I’ve had my bags completely unpacked by hard-eyed individuals who don’t seem to understand that yes, I like—and travel with—books. I’ve had my laptop and Chromebook pulled out, opened, turned on, turned off, and inspected by something that looked suspiciously like the Official Dr. McCoy Tri-Corder I got in exchange for fifty-gajillion box tops back in 1974.
I’ve stood by and watched five TSA agents going through my things like I owed them money and they thought I was holding out on them, while a woman wearing chunky jewelry and an over-sized hat, a man still wearing his cowboy boots and a Texas belt buckle—and by that I mean it was the SIZE of TEXAS—and a 20-year-old carrying a canvas shoulder bag with the words NOT DRUGZ Sharpied onto the side, simply strolled through security unchallenged.
My relationship with the TSA could be described as rocky. At best.
Through all this, though, I’ve tried to just smile (though the smile was a bit strained when Mr. NOT DRUGZ shot me with a forefinger as he sauntered past) and understand that these people have a job to do, and they’re going to do it, so I might as well make it easy on everyone involved.
This brings us to Sunday.
It’s a good thing I got to Logan early, I thought, as I stepped into the pre-line for the security checkpoint. This isn’t the line for the checkpoint, you understand, but the line to have a TSA agent look at your boarding pass, check your ID, and decide if you’re worthy to step forward and line up to go through the scanning machines at the actual checkpoint. This was just the line to get in line, and there had to be fifty to sixty people ahead of me. I felt a touch on my arm.
“Are you traveling alone today, sir?”
It was a tall man in TSA blues, with shiny buttons aplenty.
“Yes,” I said. “I am.”
He unhooked one of the ropes shaping the line to get in line, a pick-a-path maze apparently designed by a drunken E.M. Escher, and waved me through the gap.
“Would you care to step out of line and come with me, sir?” His eyes narrowed. “Why are you laughing?”
“Because believe it or not, officer,” I said, following along behind him. “This happens a lot. You guys usually wait until I’m at least at the checkpoint, though.”
“Oh, we’re expediting the process, sir. Right over here, sir.”
I followed him to a bank of machines off against the wall, and when he stopped I did what comes naturally after all this time: I dropped my bag and starfished. Chin up, arms out, legs spread wide, you wouldn’t have been surprised to see me wearing loud bermuda shorts or being accompanied by a bucktoothed sponge.
The agent turned to face me, saw I had assumed the pose, paused, then shook his head. He held up a plastic stick with a flat cloth swab at one end. “No, sir, I just need to run this pad over your hands and fingers to—”
I said it with him.
“Check for explosives residue.”
He swabbed and tested, and in a matter of seconds I had a green light. “That’s it, sir,” he said. I thanked him, grabbed my bag, and started back to the end of the line to get in line—which hadn’t moved appreciatively—and there were easily seventy-five people there now.
“No, sir,” said the agent again. “Up here.”
He walked me past the line to get in line and right up to the bored-looking agent who was checking boarding passes and IDs. “You’re next, sir. Have a nice flight.”
Okay, are you ready for the great big lie I mentioned in the title of this post?
I turned to look back at the people still in the line to get in line—the vast majority of whom had been in line ahead of me when I was pulled aside, and were currently glaring at me—gave a huge, theatrical shrug, and clearly mouthed the words “I’m sorry!”
BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA . . . (deep breath)  . . . HA!

Talk to you later!

Author’s Note:
To all of the gullible people who may have believed me about that Australian dirt: sorry, I made that up. It’s not a species of dirt, but a subspecies.

Talk to you later

Monday, May 2, 2016

Hi Mom!

Greetings, WYMOP readers!
Some of you may have seen the message I posted to my Facebook writer’s page this afternoon. Just in case you missed it, it looked a lot like this:
Blog post Ack.jpg
Yup, as of this afternoon I had absolutely no idea what I’d be blogging about tonight. I thought about putting out a general call, you know, kind of a “Hey, out there on the Internet! What should I blog about today?” Then I took a look at the Internet, and quickly changed my mind: unless I wanted to post about cute kitties, whether or not Trump’s hair was feelin’ the Bern, or the strange petition going around trying to ban cute kitty posts, I wasn’t going to get a lot of help there.
Then I mentioned to a friend that I was stuck for a blog topic. “Well, Mother’s Day is coming up. Why not post something about your mom?”
“Ah,” I said, “everyone will be blogging about their moms this week! Thanks anyway, but I’ll think of something else.”
This brings us to today’s blog topic: Mom!
Back in February and March I did a couple of interviews about the book I had coming out, and at one point both interviewers asked me basically the same question: You write all this creepy stuff. How does your mother feel about all this?
—I just ran to the small office outside my room and took a look at the bookcases out there. I see Grisham, Lehane, and George R.R. Martin. There’s some Amy Tan, Steve Martini, Thomas Harlan, Stuart Woods, John Irving. There are lots of names I didn’t catch— it was just a quick scan. But one thing I did notice was the shelf where you can find Anne Rice, Dean Koontz, H.P. Lovecraft, and lots and lots of Stephen King.
These are not my books.
Someone must have bought and read them.
So yes, my mom has read just about everything I’ve ever written (there are a few things that no one shall ever see, and it’s a kindness for you all, trust me), and in fact there’s a shelf downstairs in her dining room with a dozen books featuring my work. It’s not every anthology I’ve ever had a story in, but she does have a couple down there that even I don’t have on the shelf. So as far as I know, my mommy is fine with what I write—with one somewhat notable exception.
I have a short story titled “Mutes,” which was released a few years ago, that I updated slightly and re-released back in February in my new book, Echoes of Darkness. When it originally came out it garnered a pretty strong response from some readers—for at least one or two, it’s their favorite thing I’ve ever written. But there’s one part . . .  let’s see, how to go about this without being gross or having spoilers . . .
Okay, I usually don’t write gory gross stuff, but the main character in “Mutes” is an EMT—it’s kind of integral to the story—and so stuff happens at his job. He responds to an apartment house fire. Things happen.
We’ll leave it at that.
So I gave my mom “Mutes” to beta read—to read it over, looking for weaknesses before shopping it around to try to sell it—and after she read it she walked into my room.
“You read ‘Mutes’?” I said.
“Well? What did you think?”
“It’s good, but . . .”
“But what?”
“Well . . .” She made a face. I tried to prepare for my mommy telling me the suckitude was high. “Well,” she said, finally. “You know the part with the fire?”
“Yes,” I said.
“And the part with the little girl?”
“And her ear?”
“Yes,” I somehow managed not to scream.
“That right there,” she said, wincing a bit, “I think you went a little too far there. A little beyond reasonable bounds.” She handed the manuscript back to me with a tight little nod. “Yeah. A little far with that one.”
I waited until she’d walked of the room before shooting a double fist pump into the air. Woohoo! I screamed, in the vaults of my mind. I finally grossed out Mom!
So, for those who were wondering, yes, my mother reads my work. And yes, she’s okay with it—for the most part. And Mom (you know she’s going to read this, she’s my Mom for Christ’s sake!), I’m working on a novella at the moment I think you might like. I’ll talk to you about it when I’m done with it—I think I’m going just far enough with this one. But until thenand I know it's a little early, but:
Happy Mother’s Day!
I love you, Mom.

Talk to you later!

P.S. If you really want to see if I’m her fault or not, I’ll have to tell you about the first time I ever saw the movie version of Stephen King’s Carrie. What do you think, Mom?

Monday, April 25, 2016

And His Name was Russell

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

This is the story of how I almost died.
I’ll never forget it. It was a sunny day at the Magic Kingdom, one of the wonderful amusement parks that help make Disney World the place where dreams come true. It was Orlando hot, and Orlando muggy, but we were Boston hungry as we moved toward the Pirates of the Caribbean theme ride; we were looking for someplace eat.
We had an hour and a half before our FastPass would run out for Pirates, so we thought an establishment where we could actually sit down would be nice—where we could eat off plates, using forks and knives, rather than standing next to a food cart manned by a fat guy wearing glow-in-the-dark Mickey ears who smelled like raw hot dogs and baby powder, gulping down half-chewed hamburgers while a healthy Holstein calf’s body weight in grease ran down our arms.
We were in the street, squinting (okay, I was squinting—I’m old, sue me) at the menu board mounted beside the door of something called The Diamond Horseshoe, when a man stepped off the curb and met us in the gutter. Red-headed and smiling, white-shirted and arm-gartered, wearing an apron and bearing some menus, this extremely helpful man explained the three meals his menus covered, in great detail, and then pointed to the four magic words at the bottom of the page: all you can eat!
Well I was hooked, reeled in, and swimming about the live well on this fisherman’s boat, but my son looked at the menu, pulled a face, and shook his head: there was nothing there the boy liked. Sadly—oh, so sadly—I started to hand the menus back.
“I just thought I’d mention it,” said the happy, smiling bastard of a man, looking up at my five-foot-ten, 200 lb son, “but we do have a kid’s menu with chicken tenders and hot dogs and . . .”
The boy brightened: the man had had him at “chicken.” When he added, “And the kid’s menu is all you can eat too” I could see my son considering the possibility of being adopted by this man.
That was okay. So was I. We followed our new best friend out of the hot street into the cooler comfort of the Diamond Horseshoe’s dining room, and the appellation on this potential family member’s name tag was Russell.
Ah, Russell . . .
So Russell began to bring food, making it appear on the table like some street magician trying to impress a crowd. The boy had his chicken tenders while his mother and I had the roast beef with gravy and mashed potatoes with jhvbnmnfghjfxdfvgbhjhjgfdf—sorry about that! I just drooled a bit and had to wipe off the keyboard. Suffice to say it was yummy. Scrumptious. Delectable. jhvbnmnfghjfxdfvgbhjhjgfdf
So I worked through a plate, a nice, full serving. Just before I was finished, Russell slipped another plate right next to mine—a full plate, and the man had noticed I’d not touched my first helping of green beans and gone ahead and given me double mashed potatoes this time. The bastard. The devious, wonderful bastard.
So we ate. I ate my two servings, and then Russell suggested a third. “You really seemed to enjoy that last one,” he wheedled needlessly: I knew I’d enjoyed it. I’d been there. That was my gravy-soaked beard Russell was mopping with a towel (a warm towel, unbelievably soft and smelling of Downy) as he extolled the virtues of the meal. I was the one currently singing the eighteenth verse of a little song I’d written called “My God, that was Good!” The words of the song are simple: “My God that was good,” repeated until consciousness fails.
I caved. I ordered a third plate.
I continued my song.
I refused a fourth plate. I’d like to say it was due to some strength of character, or that I know when enough is enough, or even because my mom had impressed upon me the need to never make a pig of myself. There are lots of things I’d like to claim as the reason I wasn’t found dead at that table the next morning, knife in one hand, fork in the other, feed bag strapped firmly to my fat, willpowerless face. But I can’t. It was simply out of my control.
I ran out of time.
We’d wandered a bit before finding the Diamond Horseshoe, so I only had time to swill down three full-sized helpings of the most rib-stickingest food I’d ever come across before we had to move along to our appointment with the Pirates of the Caribbean. With great regret I paid the check, fighting off Russell’s suggestions of dessert, coffee, dessert, more drinks, and dessert. People stared as we made our way to the exit, the aproned and arm-gartered Russell clinging to my right ankle and weeping copiously into my sock.
I gently shook him loose and caught up with the others in the street where we set out, waddling with all speed (and with me squishing wetly every other step) toward our destination ride. We were almost halfway there when I realized I was a little out of breath. No, that wasn’t quite right: I simply couldn’t draw a full breath. There didn’t seem to be enough room left in me to allow air entry as well.
I wheezed and waddled on, listening to the other two complain about how full they were, and how they’d overeaten. I would have laughed, had I but the breath. Instead I focused on the way that, though I’d stopped actually eating, I was somehow growing more full as time went on. Pressure was mounting inside me—and not pressure to find a bathroom. That I could have handled. No, this was more the omnidirectional pressure of a blown up balloon, and it seemed that each passing minute another breath was forced into me; I was getting close to popping.
I’m pretty sure I passed out on Pirates. Yup, that’s me, life of the party: I go all the way to Disney to take a fatnap on one of the rides.
After Pirates the others wanted to go back to the hotel, and I thought this was a good thing. I
was visibly swelling, and the way I was feeling all I wanted to do was lie down and wait for the boom of a blown out tire and the splash of all my internal organs deciding to come out and check the weather at the same time. I rolled onto the shuttle bus with relief and sagged into a few of the seats and lay there moaning—the noise strategically covering the insane farting that was going on. Look, I know I wasn’t great company, but I had to relieve the pressure somehow! I was still feeling more and more full as time went by, and I was pretty sure I’d already passed the structural limits that had been set by my manufacturer.
In any case, I made it to the hotel room, where I lay on the bed in a food coma, wishing only to get the business of dying over with. I tried to ignore the cheerful people insisting that we go to the pool, but they were insistent. They were pushy. They were also of the opinion that if I was going to die, I could do it just as well poolside as lying in bed moaning—and by the way, what was that smell?
Fine. I staggered off, fully expecting to die by the pool. Then I stumbled back, fully expecting to die in the hotel room. Then I went to bed, fully expecting to die  in my sleep. Then in the morning there were these doughnuts, and I . . .
Wait—doughnuts? The chocolate-covered kind? From Entenmann's?
I was suddenly feeling a little better. It seemed the crisis had passed—but barely. I firmly believe that, had I not stuck to my guns and avoided that dessert the man was pushing so hard for, I wouldn’t have been standing there shoving a doughnut in my mou—I mean, I wouldn’t have been there the next day at all. I’d have been dead. By the pool. And it would have all been the fault of one man—and his name was Russell.

Russell: the friendly food-assassin.

Talk to you later!