Saturday, June 30, 2012

Five TV Shows I Liked

I am one of those folk who doesn't watch TV very much. It just doesn't appeal to me, mainly. It's not that I'm a snob about it, but I just can't stand most television shows.

However, there have been a few things that I like. I'll list them.

FRANK'S PLACE. This was a show that got cancelled. I'm not sure if it even lasted an entire season. It was well written and had wonderful performances and starred Tim Reid (best known these days as a semi-regular from THAT 70s SHOW). I wish it had caught on. One episode still haunts me--the show was technically a comedy (and it was indeed very funny) but the best episode dealt with a young person on the show descending into drug use and then climbing back out. That one was spectacularly effective and was pure drama.

Tim Reid

DEXTER. I don't subscribe to premium TV channels. However, we once got Showtime as part of a promotional cable pitch. So for two years I got to watch DEXTER as each episode premiered. To me, it was the best "real" superhero done as cinema. Because to me, that's what the character Dexter really is. He's a superhero with secret identity and everything. Nifty. Of course I haven't seen it in a few years. I'll pick up the DVDs as they get cheap.

Dexter. Everyone's favorite serial killer.

THE SOPRANOS. See above. I only saw these on DVD. I still haven't seen the sixth and final season. It's on my Christmas list. Great acting, superlative writing, only rarely falling off the tracks into soap opera land.

The Boss.

BREAKING BAD. To my way of thinking, this is the best writing I've ever watched on television. It's just good on every level. I've seen most of the episodes (there are a few I haven't seen), and it's rare that I have any quibbles with the logic of the scripts. And of course the performances by every single actor on the show is just flawless. I really, really love this series!

Walter White, anti-hero of BREAKING BAD.

THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW. This is one that I would catch when I was on the road. Usually the hotels where I'd stay in those days had cable and I could catch this series. The writing here was the best! And it was generally so funny that my stomach would hurt from laughing so hard. And of course peppered with enough drama to keep things interesting. It's probably the best comedy show I've ever seen.

Two of the funniest actors I've ever seen on TV: Garry Shandling and Rip Torn.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Short Story Collection

Many years ago there was going to be a collection of my short stories. The publisher who initiated the project turned out to be a flake and never went to press. So I pulled the book from his outfit and shopped it elsewhere.

Over the years it was picked up by one small press or another, every one of whom went out of business before the book could see the light of day.

This is a low-grade file of what was to have been the cover for A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS. It was done by the late Harry Fassl. He had also done a number of interior illustrations for the book. I still miss Harry.

This year has been a busy one for possible publication. In the past twelve months three different outfits have expressed interest, but remain silent on final word. I'd really like to see the book come out. Perhaps 2012 will see an actual contract for the collection arrive in the mail.

Stay tuned....

Some of the interiors that Harry had completed.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Skies of Blue

Today is my birthday. I am 55 years old!

The previous two days we had a cold front move through. The cool air squeezed all of the humidity out of the atmosphere Monday night and I was lulled to sleep by the sound of thunder and the drum of rain against the bedroom windows. And so when I awoke on Tuesday the sky was cobalt blue and the air was cool and dry. I don't think it cracked much over 80 degrees that day. Walking was a wonder.

Blue Sky over Montana, two years ago.

And I was able to look up at that blue sky for two solid days. And that's the point--the sky was blue. And I don't mean clear, but blue. Most people I talk to don't understand that our sky is supposed to be blue. Some of them even think that metallic gray photochemical haze that we live with is "blue". It isn't. For two days we had the kind of sky Mother Nature intended us to have. Before we wrecked the Heavens with smog.

But when I go back to work tomorrow I'll be dealing with triple-digit temperatures, and I can guarantee that the sky will not be blue, no matter the cloud cover. The sky will be a metallic gray, and few will acknowledge that something is terribly amiss.

What passes for "blue sky" here in the eastern USA.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Today I am exhausted beyond my ability to convey.

Here are some very, very old photos that Carole found of me. They were taken on a backpacking trip in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 1980, I think. The amazing thing about that trip was that I expected some cool temperatures (the second day of the trip was May 1st), but I was not expecting very deep snow. Which is exactly what we encountered. On the way up Mount LeConte the snow was over knee-deep and we never made the summit. Ended up pitching a tent on a random spot on a ridge.

Still hoping to get to the summit. Had to give up some time later.
 And sleeping on hard-packed snow is about the most miserable surface I can imagine for trying to get a good night's rest. The stuff compacted beneath me and dug into my body, even through the foam pad I was sleeping on. I woke up at first light feeling horrible. You can even see by my expression in that initial photo (taken on Charlie's Bunion) that I was feeling the fatigue. The fact of the matter was that I had not been backpacking in about two years when I took that trip, and I was woefully out of shape. And really out of shape to have to tackle hiking through snow almost three feet deep on the ridges of some of the highest mountains in the eastern USA.

Man, I was already tired with many more miles to go that day.
So now, thinking of that trip, I go off to sleep. No writing tonight. The novel will have to wait.

This was very close to the time when we realized we weren't going to make the summit of LeConte.
My birthday is on Thursday. I have that day off and will definitely sleep in.

The sun greeted us. I was sick from sleeping on snow that had compacted to solid ice.

Looking at my trail guide as we descended LeConte and headed down to Newfound Gap.

Monday, June 25, 2012


At work a few of us were having a discussion. It turned somehow to the Druids of what is today Great Britain. And of how they were eventually suppressed and exterminated by the Romans. I mentioned the fact that Romans used the excuse of their loathing of human sacrifice as a reason to destroy the traditional Druid religion of Britain. This was one of the few instances of which I'm aware of the Pagan Romans expunging a religion. The Christian Romans were notorious for doing so, but not the more philosophically tolerant Pagan Romans.

Popular image of the Druid priest.

Someone else thought that was a strange and hypocritical thing for the Romans to curse another society for human sacrifice since the Romans often sacrificed Christians in the Games. (I didn't mention that the extermination of the Druid cults took place before Christianity was much more than an idea in the head of Saul of Tarsus.)

But I pointed out that such so-called sacrifice is largely just post-Christian propaganda. And even so, if it happened thus, it wasn't the sacrifice of humans to a god, but was instead a punishment.

"In the absence of an electric chair," I said, "I suppose a lion would serve the same purpose." (Plus keep the masses entertained.)

We didn't get into the little details of how the early Christian cults refused to take part in Pagan celebrations which were in turn used as an opportunity for certain governmental proceedings. If you weren't enjoying the polytheistic celebrations, then you were more likely to not pay taxes, take part in a census, etc. Thus, the Christians were becoming something of an irritant and logically became suspected of disloyalty. And, of course, their intolerance of other religions was already of note to those who paid attention to such things.

Early in the cult's growth, priests of the traditional religions were worried what would happen to Rome's society should the Christian death cult take hold in a big way. Of course their worries were well founded when, tables turned, the Christians plundered the temples of Rome's ancient religion, de
stroying utterly what they could, and converting what they could not destroy toward Christian purposes.

The Pantheon, one of the greatest structures of Pagan Rome. The alcoves visible along the walls once held statues of the great Greek/Roman gods. Theodosius and his Imperial heirs recognized the importance of places like the Pantheon, even as they forgot how to build such things and the empire and its society slid into superstitious science-hating ignorance which, eventually, shattered and became a bitter memory in the minds of folk who recalled it at all.

You gotta love the Brits. They wouldn't allow anything like this to be posed in this way on USA television:

Fuck Ayn Rand. Robin Hood would have put an arrow right through that ho'.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Swearing, by Jove!

My pals often ask me why I will swear "by Jove". Some of them quite honestly have never even heard the name "Jove". So I have to explain it all to them.

For thousands of years, when one swore at all, it was generally to the great gods. And in the western world, the greatest god of them all was Jove, who is also known as Jupiter, and also known as Zeus.

Today, when one swears, then it's generally by the name of one of the (supposedly) monotheistic deities. Either God, or Allah, or Jesus, etc.

Since I don't buy into the hateful, intolerant monotheism currently running this world's civilizations into the muck, I harken back to older times. Therefore, "Jove".

From Shakespeare (All's Well that Ends Well):

'Tis not the many oaths that makes the truth, But the plain single vow that is vow'd true. What is not holy, that we swear not by, But take the Highest to witness: then, pray you, tell me, If I should swear by Jove's great attributes I lov'd you dearly, would you believe my oaths When I did love you ill? This has no holding, To swear by him whom I protest to love That I will work against him: therefore your oaths Are words and poor conditions; but unseal'd,-- At least in my opinion.

Bear up, my child, bear up; Zeus who oversees and directs all things is still mighty in heaven.

It is not possible either to trick or escape the mind of Zeus.

Open your mouth and shut your eyes and see what Zeus will send you.

For about one thousand years there was a mighty temple to Zeus in Greece at Olympia. When the Christian emperor Theodosius in a reflection of his hateful, intolerant religion decided to outlaw the Olympic games, he also had the temple burned--thus, one of the great works of art of the ancient world was destroyed, and thousands of years of traditional culture and native worship was eliminated in the name of hatred.

Steering Clear of the Appalachian Trail

When I was a kid in my late teens, the thing that I most wanted to do was to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. Life being what it is, I never got the chance to accomplish this feat. I did end up hiking pieces of the old AT, but only completed one entire section--that being all of the Trail that lies within Georgia. Then it was about 83 miles or so. The Trail has had a couple of minor re-routes since those times, so I'm not sure how many miles lie within Georgia these days.

Today, though, while I love to hike and backpack, I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. In fact, I have almost no desire to hike any stretch of that trail at all. There are a number of reasons for this, but first and foremost is that the goddamned thing is just way the fuck overcrowded.
Blaze Marker.

Yeah, there are sections of it that you can backpack and not bump into a lot of folk. And there are times when you can backpack it and not meet up with lines of humans marching in either direction. But by and large, the thing is just way the hell too populated for me to even consider backpacking there any more. I go backpacking to find solitude and try to witness a little bit of nature in its purest state. Spending time with dozens, sometimes literally hundreds of other human beings jammed into a small space is the opposite of what I try to achieve when I go backpacking.
An empty shelter! Wait a couple of hours and humans will be spilling out of it.

The system of sleeping shelters on the Appalachian Trail are the worst. This is where most of the people who travel the Trail go to sleep at the end of a tough day of hiking. In my experience there is rarely enough space inside these shelters for all who wish to use them. They get so crowded that the grounds around each shelter end up being packed cheek by jowl with tents of the late-comers who thought they were going to spend the night under a roof.

And then there are the privies. The AT has become so popular that now there are toilets built at most of the shelters. And, of course, these toilets are very primitive and are so overused that the stench can be smelled sometimes from more than one hundred feet away. Forget about using them. Plug your noses and take your chances. I don't want to think of the cat-holes that have to be dug all along the Trail corridor for the multitudes of humans having to do like the bears and shit in the woods. It goes without saying that you very damned well better boil your drinking water.

DON'T GO IN THERE! We could smell this one from about 100 feet away. But I had to get a photo of it.

And worse than just the presence of the crowds is that they're all, it seems these days, a bunch of morons and idiots. The unwashed herds tramping up and down the Appalachian Trail are like the worst of geeky comic book and science-fiction movie fans. In days gone by, when you met someone on the Trail and asked their name you'd get a straight answer. Not so, now. It has become--in the years since I began backpacking--a sick tradition to have a "trail name". These are silly, stupid, ridiculous names that the backpackers choose and which become their "names" while they're backpacking. Don't expect to hear someone's actual name on the AT if you should bother to ask. You'll get some stupid response like "Slow Walk" or "Flower Girl" or "Dirt Man" or some silly fucking shit like that. "Idiot Bonehead Fuckwads" the lot of them.

Typical stone shelter, complete with fecal stench.

Me, I tend to steer well clear of the Appalachian Trail these days. I don't want to step in a pile of human fecal matter if I can avoid it, and so my backpacking and hiking is done elsewhere. I travel to National Forests, Wilderness Areas, and even National Parks where it's less crowded than the pitiful freaking Appalachian Trail.

Yes, it's all very sad.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Kirby Monsters Hate Row Boats!

I'm very busy working on a novel today, so no time for any kind of an essay. So for now here's the cover to TALES TO ASTONISH #11. This one is a really cool comic book for me, because it has so many of the Silver Age art for which I collect comics from this era. Cover by Jack Kirby. First story by Kirby, of course, which is the cover feature. But also included is a nifty Don Heck yarn, another Kirby story, and a superlative effort from Steve Ditko.

The nice thing about the second Kirby story is that it was inked by Ditko, so I get a two-fer on this one. I always liked the results when Ditko inked Kirby. Ditko was one of those artists whose inks could totally overpower the pencil artist, but of course Kirby was almost impossible for any inker to bury. In fact, the only time I ever noticed Ditko's ink tending to overpower Kirby's pencils was for FANTASTIC FOUR #13, and I suspect that Kirby probably turned in very rough and basic pencils for that one, leaving Ditko a lot of space to reinterpret the action.

I'll try to post some interior photos tomorrow.

TALES TO ASTONISH #11. Kirby monster capsizes another row boat!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

28th Anniversary

My beautiful wife as we got ready to head out for the evening.

Carole and I went out to eat at Chima Brazillian Restaurant tonight to celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary. We had a great time!

I didn't get any writing done today, but that's okay. I need to take a day off now and again.

At the building where we parked (Hearst Towers).

The lovely couple.

Yeah, Charlotte has a real downtown.

We even have street musicians these days!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ditko Charlton Books

I've been collecting Steve Ditko comics for a number of years, now. I try to get at least representative work from as many parts of his very long career as I can. He worked for so many of the comics publishers that there is quite a lot of material to choose from. He may not have ever been as productive as Jack Kirby, but he was still amazingly prolific.

One of the companies he worked for the most was Charlton Comics. In fact, Charlton could easily be the company for which he produced the most pages. They did not pay very well, but the work always seemed to be there when he needed it. And toward the end of the company's existence, they pretty much gave Ditko a free hand to do as he pleased with his own characters. Thus, we had something like STATIC by Ditko when he probably could not have created that title with any other major comics publisher during that time. STATIC is right wing crazed insanity with Ditko's wacky dialog intact. (I've covered that title in at least one other essay here, so I'll move on.)

One of the nicer things about the work he did for Charlton, especially during the 1980s, is that I can find most of these books for relatively low prices, even in very high grade. Charlton was probably the last major comics company to mainly sell comic books that featured very few superhero comics. It just wasn't their bag, and they were able to maintain some respectable sales figures with the kinds of comics that the other publishers had largely abandoned. Therefore, Charlton was still creating ghost comics and monster comics and TV tie-ins and such books when these were had to find from the other large players on the newsstands.

In recent years I've been able to pick up a number of Ditko-related Charlton comic books. It's one of the few companies for which he worked that I'm still able to find for very little expense.

Later Ditko work that displays the economy of his style that he developed in the 1980s.

An earlier work from a Ditko Charlton book. You can see that at this point he was still expending quite a lot of effort for what was probably not a lot of money. He cut down on this kind of economic silliness as he got older and wiser.

Monday, June 18, 2012

My Favorite Section of Yellowstone

One of my stitched panoramas of the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park.
My very favorite section of Yellowstone National Park was the Lamar Valley. I wish we'd been able to spend more time there, but because of the schedule we had set, we only spent part of one day at that location. The next time I go to Yellowstone I hope to have my travel trailer and if that's possible we'll stay in the campground in that part of the Park.

For just sheer scenic beauty, it was the most breathtaking part of the area. The mountains are grander and the tree cover is greener. We didn't see quite as much wildlife there, but part of that was just luck (or lack of it). We saw the only pronghorn that we spotted inside the park there, so that was a bonus.

I know we'll return for another visit to Yellowstone, so Lamar Valley is at the top of the list for an extended stay.

The only pronghorn that we spotted inside the Park. We saw plenty more outside of Yellowstone, but only one while we were inside the Park.

The herds of bison in Lamar Valley were lower in number than elsewhere, also.

Extinct geyser in Lamar.

These were the kinds of mountains I was hoping to see. Real mountains!

We ended up spending a lot of time on the banks of this river enjoying the scenery and waiting for wildlife to emerge from those dense forests. We'd heard that the area was good for moose and for wolves. We saw neither.

Andy took this one of me.

Another mountain waiting to be climbed.

Supposedly good griz habitat in that direction. So I'd go the other way.

Looking upriver.

Real high country.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Second 10K-foot Peak

The second mountain that was over 10,000 feet in elevation that I climbed was Mount Washburn in Yellowstone National Park. Following is a simple photo essay of my hike to the summit via one trail and down the other side by a different trail.

It was a very nice hike and I was pretty sure by this time that I was not one of those people who is strongly affected by altitude. I know that 10,000 feet isn't much by mountaineering standards, but I've met people who get sick climbing peaks at around that elevation. I definitely am not one of them.

And, of course, I didn't see the warning signs about not hiking alone due to grizzly bear activity until I got to the end of the hike. This was because they didn't have the warnings posted where I started the hike. Only where I ended up!

This is just past the paved parking lot where Carole dropped me off for my hike.

The two main trails to the top were originally created for wheeled traffic. This one was made for automobiles and is still used for that purpose by the Park Service and other official folk.

Looking around at the real mountains. I was really stunned at the damage to the forests by the pine beetle that has reached nasty levels due to global warming.

That was my goal. The ranger station on the summit of Mount Washburn. A long way to go.

Vast wilderness.

As you can see, this "trail" is mainly for official vehicles. One maintenance truck passed me at one point. That was a buzz kill.

This was my first view of the trail that I would be taking for the way down. It was originally intended as a wagon road for visitors to access the summit.

Another view of the old wagon road.

Bob at the summit sign.

10,243 feet. To date, the second highest mountain I've ever hiked.

Looking off toward the other side of the park, toward Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Not sure why they put this pile of stones here. Stored for later stonework? Or to block the trail?

Washburn has topography unlike any eastern peak.

I could have soaked up the scenery and not moved an inch.

Looking back toward the ranger station where I had been.

Obligatory self-portrait.

Trail road back toward the parking area where Carole would pick me up.

Another view of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone off in the distance.

Bighorn sheep. Ewes and calf.

Looking back toward the massif.

Almost down to the main road! (I really wanted to climb that peak just beyond, but we had other plans.)

I think this one is called Dunraven Peak. I want to hike up to the summit next time I'm there.