Monday, May 30, 2016

Hello, Dolly!

Greetings, WYMOP readers!
I deliver the mail to the office park in town. It’s a whole bunch of businesses, and if their mail is too late they tend to call the office to ask what the hell is going on. Because my boss doesn’t like taking these calls, and because I try to give good service, the office park is scheduled quite early on my route. I drop off the mail and take any outgoing stuff the businesses may have.
Boxes 1.jpgThere is one gentleman out there—for the purposes of today’s blog, I’ll call him “the gentleman”—who occasionally leaves his hallway filled with boxes and things for me to take as outgoing mail. That early in the day I usually can’t take them with me because my truck is still full of, well, the mail, so I call for a pickup—someone else comes out to bring the gentleman’s stuff to the post office for me.
This past Thursday, though, there wasn’t a whole lot of mail, and when I saw the stuff he’d left out I figured I had room. I grabbed one of the bigger boxes and hiked out to my truck. And I do mean hiked. From the parking lot to their door is about a 40-yard jaunt along a paved walkway, and from the look of what was in the hall it was going to take four trips. That’s okay, I thought as I slid the first box into my cargo area. I get paid to walk. Besided, this is good for me.
Dolly transparancy.jpgWhen I got back to the hallway there was a new addition to the scene: a red 2-wheeled dolly stood beside the stacks of stuff. I took a quick look at the stacks, determined that, what with the size and shapes of what was left, the dolly wasn’t going to save me any trips—thus no time—and grabbed the other big box. As I swung it to my shoulder a voice came through the open office door.
“I left you the two-wheeler, right there!”
“Thanks,” I called back. “But I think I’m good.”
Eighty yards and a second parcel in the truck later, I was back in the hall. I scooped up the three smaller boxes, all in a stack, and butt-bumped the door open so I could back out.
“The two-wheeler is right there,” called the voice. “I put it out there.”
“I see it,” I replied, a little louder this time, thinking he hadn’t heard my first response. “Thank you, but I don’t think I need it.”
Forty yards, three boxes in the truck, forty more yards, and I was back in the hall. All I had left was a pair of shrink-wrapped bundles, one with, basically, two 6-foot rake handles in it, the other with three: tall, skinny things with not a lot of weight to them. I grabbed them, turned toward the door—and the gentleman appeared like the he was an animated leprechaun and the children were threatening his Lucky Charms. He put a hand on the dolly and gazed at me with a sad expression, but curiously blank eyes.
“I left you the two-wheeler.” His voice seemed worried, too. No, maybe not worried. Baffled?
“I saw that,” I said. “Thanks.”
“But you didn’t use it,” he said.
“I know,” I said. “I didn’t need it. Thanks.”
“But the other guys use it.”
“ . . . Okay . . . but I’m not the other guys.”
The conversation was taking on a somewhat Twilight Zone feel, and the blank look in his eyes had me wondering if he was about to peel off his human mask and start telling me about the mother ship and their invasion plan.
“All the other guys use it.”
“I’m still not the other guys,” I said, moving toward the door. To be perfectly honest, the guy was weirding me out a bit: he had that flat, emotionless stare, though his tone and posture said he was actually hurt that I hadn’t used his dolly.
“But”—he picked the dolly up and sort of waggled it at me—”aren’t you going to use it?”
That stopped me. I held up the tall, skinny bundles—skinny enough that I could just wrap a hand about each one—and said “For these? I don’t even know how I’d use a dolly for these.”
“No,” he said, as if I was just being silly now, then dialed his voice down to that sort of wonder-filled convincing tone usually reserved for televangelists right before they flash the number across the screen so you can donate from the comfort of your easy chair. “For the boxes. Don’t you want to use it for the boxes?
I looked around at the now-empty hallway. “You mean the boxes that are already in the truck?”
His blank eyes also took in the empty hallway, and his shoulders slumped as he apparently saw the logical fault in his argument. By the time he looked my way again, though, the hallway truly was empty, my “Have a nice day!” floating back to him through the slowly closing door. I was ten yards down the path and gaining speed, just wanting to get in my truck . . . and also, yes, wanting to get away from the creepy box guy—and also yes, for the purposes of today’s blog I’m changing his name to the creepy box guy.
Anyway, that was Thursday. And after Thursday comes . . . Friday.
Boxes 2.jpgDolly transparancy.jpgFriday morning I had even less mail in the truck, which was good, because there were even more boxes waiting in that hallway . . . along with the red, two-wheeled dolly.
Eschewing the dolly once more—I was actually rather frightened to use it by then—I scooped up some boxes and started the forty-yard-ferrying process. Though I never looked directly through the open office door (some species take eye contact as a sign of aggression), I was very aware, via my peripheral vision, of the creepy box guy watching me. He didn’t come out to talk this time, didn’t even shout through the door. But he also didn’t work the whole time. Having placed a chair where he could keep an eye on me and his dolly, I caught corner-of-the-eye glimpses of him as I moved in and out of the hallway, sitting there, silently staring at me.

No. Not staring. Glaring.       eyes2.jpg

It’s the weekend now, and I’ve not been back out there yet. I’m good with that. I’m not looking forward to it. But because I will be going back out there, I’ve decided to write the following:
To Whom it May Concern—
If someday I fail to return from my route, or otherwise go missing, please ask my office to check with the creepy box guy. Tell them to specifically check his closets, as they’ll probably find what’s left of me hanging in a garment bag, sewn into a mailman suit for CBG to wear to costume parties.
Thank you.


So . . . uh . . . talk to you later? I hope?

~ ~ * * ~ ~

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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 PepĂ© 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?