Saturday, February 28, 2015


For some reason a lot of people make fun of Walter Matthau. As if he was not a very good actor. I honestly don't know why this is, because I always quite admired his abilities as a performer and can't figure out why so much good work is discounted.

Most people know him, of course, from his role in the film version (and the Broadway play) of THE ODD COUPLE. And then later in life he did some films with Jack Lemmon that were popular (which is probably why I don't particularly like those films). And he did some things on TV toward the end of his career which were not that good; but I reckon you take what you can get when you are an aging actor and choices are limited.

However, he sometimes did movies that I have always figured were against type and which I thoroughly admire, partly because he was indeed cast against type in such films. These movies were also directed by people I quite admire and seem to be rather forgotten these days, but I like to recommend them to folk looking for a good movie to watch.

One of these films is A NEW LEAF. It was written and directed (and co-starred) Elaine May. Matthau portrays Henry Graham, a playboy who has realized that he has burned through his inherited millions and is facing poverty. He talks a hateful uncle into advancing him some money so that he can continue to pretend to be rich for a few more weeks so that he can find and marry a millionairess (the idea of marriage having heretofore been an idea repulsive to him).

Pretty much everyone in the film turns in amazing performances, including James Coco as the vengeful uncle who does extend the loan but who does so only because he thinks Henry will fail. Elaine May cast herself as the heiress he finally lands and she, too, turns in a priceless performance. In no time, Henry (who has no intent to remain married) begins to plot his wife's murder. Will he go through with it, or will some shadow of conscience cross his mind?

It's a great movie. Give it a shot. (In a day or so I'll list another such fine Matthau film that remains obscure.)

"Don't let 'em out!"

Friday, February 27, 2015

Gettin' Old!

Yes, getting old is not all fun. But as I have always said, the only other option is not an attractive alternative. The aging body just can't do the things it used to do. I get tired faster. I'm not as strong or as fast or as durable as I used to be. As a laborer, this particularly sucks because I have to walk so very many miles per day while lugging a heavy load on my shoulder. My goal right now is merely to make it to retirement in good enough shape so that I can enjoy my time in the outdoors tramping on trails (yes, I realize how ironic that sounds) and seeing Mother Nature before She's killed off by stupid, greedy humans.

A few weeks ago I had to have an out-patient procedure for which I had to be put under sedation. (No, nothing serious.) They used Propofol to knock me out. That's the shit Michael Jackson was using to go to sleep every night. Holy crap, that stuff is magic! Carole was sitting by my gurney as I woke up and snapped my photo when my eyes crept open. I don't quite recall saying it, but she said that the first words out of me were:

"Damn. Propofol rocks! Now I know why Michael Jackson liked that stuff!"

"Propofol rocks!"

Thursday, February 26, 2015

What Is a Kindle Good For?

As long-time readers here will recall, I am not a fan of ebooks and I am absolutely and irrevocably disgusted by the self-publishing scene. About a year after I got my Kindle as a Christmas gift I stopped using it to such an extent that I lost track of it. I didn't even know where the goddamned thing was and really didn't care, except for the fact that it was a gift from my wife, and that I sometimes used it as a tablet to access the Internet when I was traveling.

So, what was it for, really?

I wasn't getting any real use out of it. I admit to occasionally buying ebooks that were written by friends, but after a solid year of reading self-published novels that ALL (yes, every single one of them) turned out to be utter shit, there was no way that I was ever going to use the Kindle for buying such trash again. Why was I keeping it?

Yeah, it makes for a half-assed decent tablet for Internet content if I can find wifi service while on the road.

But was that it?


Finally, after having the damned thing for a couple of years, I did discover a good use for it, and one for which the form is uniquely suited:

Classic literature and otherwise out of print books. I have now downloaded many hundreds of such texts. Essays, novels, old news items, political tracts from the past, and such. And--I mentioned this long ago--it's a good way for authors who have regained ownership of older novels to get works back into circulation once their lives with traditional publishers are over. There is a tremendous amount of great work now easily at hand that I would otherwise be unable to locate or only find after months or years of searching in second-hand bookshops and library sales.

So, for that, the ebook format is good. I still don't prefer it as a method of reading, but I will take it to get my hands on Turgenev, or M.R. James, or some of Mark Twain's forgotten essays, amusing science fiction from past decades, and the list is vast and growing.

Best of all, this stuff all seems to be completely free. All I have to do is locate it online in the correct format and push a button. Zing! It's mine.

But, to paraphrase a now-famous article, 'No, I will not read your fucking self-published novel'.

Ivan Turgenev
(And, yes, I produce this expression when someone asks me to read their fucking self-published novel.)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Another Kirby in the Wall

I bought a copy of FANTASTIC FOUR #18 for my collection. The list is getting narrower. I'm about to get into mega-expensive territory (unless I can land some bargains).

This was one of my favorite early issues when I was a kid. The introduction of the Super Skrull. As all Fantastic Four fans know, the Skrulls were an alien race who first appeared in the second issue of Fantastic Four and would reappear now and again. This time, though, they brought along their big bruddah, the Super Skrull. Not only could he shape-shift (as all Skrulls can), but he had been given the powers of all of the Fantastic Four, but in spades. He was stronger than Ben Grimm (by several factors), could stretch farther than Mr. Fantastic, could burn hotter than the Human Torch, and could become invisible like Susan Storm.

How can they possibly defeat him?!! You'll have to read this issue to find out! But get your own. This copy is mine, and I ain't sharin'!

My copy of FANTASTIC FOUR #18.

Sunday, February 22, 2015


My favorite animal is the bear. I have encountered them relatively often on my hikes and backpacking trips. The species I'm most familiar with is the black bear (Ursus americanus). This animal ranges all over the North American continent and I can tell you from personal experience that there are a lot more of them these days than there were when I was a kid.

Back in the days when I first started traveling in wilderness and park locales, I would rarely see them. About the only place I could be assured of spotting a black bear in those days (mid 1970s) was in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And even there you were not always assured of seeing one, even though they were habituated to human food sources back then.

In modern times, because of improved habitat protection and the enforcement of hunting laws, the black bear has made an impressive comeback. I now see them in places where they were just rumors, or where they were present but genuinely rare.

The other species that I've seen while hiking is the Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilus). The griz has a reputation for belligerence and aggression. Although the truth of the matter is that most bear attacks are by black bears due to the sheer numbers of black bears as compared with grizzly bears. Still, you stand a much higher chance of being struck my lightning than you do of being menaced by any kind of bear.

In all of my years of tramping about in wild places, the only spot where I've been that had grizzly bears in any number is Yellowstone National Park. And I saw exactly two griz in that Park, both being at some distance, which is the way I think we would both prefer it. If a grizzly is far away then there is not likely to be any misunderstanding about my presence in his world.

In just a few short months I'll be heading to griz country again: Glacier National Park. That spot has just about the highest density of grizzly bears in the lower 48 states. I am hoping to see them there, although I do know one guy who visited Glacier and never saw a single grizzly. Hopefully I will see them while we're visiting, and hopefully it will be at a respectful distance.

A young black bear Carole and I encountered in Beartown State Park in West Virginia.

A black bear I saw this year in Douthat State Park.
The only grizzly I have ever encountered while hiking. Just before I started my trek to the summit of Avalanche Peak in Yellowstone National Park. As you can see, it had no interest in me and seemed keen only on moving far away from me.
I spotted this grizzly sleeping in a bed it had scooped out for itself on the banks of the Lamar River in Yellowstone National Park. He was very, very far away. This is a cropped photo that I took with my most powerful telephoto lens.
This is the only brown phase black bear I have seen. I spotted it in Grand Teton National Park. It was so interested in feeding that it never raised its face from the brush. I have no idea what it was eating, but it was moving along the forest grazing on something. Here in the east, one almost never sees any other coloration of the black bear but the darkest of black.

A bear in Beartown!

Friday, February 20, 2015


When I was a kid I began to recognize the writing and art of what I came to conclude were the "best" creators in the comics that I was reading. In the superhero genre it was Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko who were creating, writing, and illustrating my favorites. But at the same time I was also reading a lot of funny animal and cartoon-inspired comics. And my two favorite creators there (and I didn't know their names at that point, only how to recognize their styles) were Carl Barks (doing the Disney Duck comics), and John Stanley, who did a host of amazing titles and characters, mainly working for Dell Comics.

Among my favorite John Stanley books were Little Lulu and the various spinoff and associated titles. These were comics that I found to be genuinely engaging and actually funny. So I kept going back to them, searching for issues that I had not read. Most of the John Stanley comics in my dad's warehouse were older than I was, but as I entered the late 60s, Stanley was still creating new books for Western Publishing.

One of the titles I quite liked was TUBBY. He was one of the major characters from LITTLE LULU and the stories of the various rivalries and friendship between the pair always kept me entertained. Because there was little continuity in the tales, you never knew what was going to come from Stanley next.

I pick up old LITTLE LULU and TUBBY issues when I can find them at the right price. Fortunately, in mid and lower grades they are exceptionally affordable--far less than the price of a sandwich. So I nab them when I can. And this week I picked up a small stack of them and will peruse them when I find the time.







Thursday, February 19, 2015

First Magnitude

Our next trip will be to Florida. We're going to haul our kayaks along with us so that we can explore some more first magnitude springs and the streams and runs that are fed by those springs. We always have a great time when we're kayaking those places so we're really looking forward to getting down there again.

This trip will be a return to the panhandle of Florida. We haven't been there in a while, but we've always had a good time in that part of the state. There are a lot of great state parks and National Forest campgrounds there. There will still be a lot of snowbirds using up a lot of the campsites while we'll be there, so we may have some trouble landing a good spot.

The Casita has had all of its repairs completed. We have the new awning taken care of and the new water heater has been installed, plus the bad leak that was at the intake to the freshwater tanks has been fixed. It will be great to use the trailer again. This is just about the longest we've had without a major trip in it since we first brought it home in 2005.

Kayaking a narrow spring run (The Crack).

Want to see bird life (in spades)? Visit the wild places in Florida!

Kayaking can be one of the most relaxing and peaceful outdoor activities.


Beautiful (but buggy) Florida.

Swimming through the tunnel at Seven Sisters Spring.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Small Gifts

Some years back, before I worked for the US Postal Service, one of the jobs I held was working in a merchandising crew for Best Buy. We were the guys who would show up for work at oh-dark-hundred and set up the merchandise in the store. Load the shelves, put up the display items and racks, print and place the price labels and advertising, and so on. The job sucked, but someone has to do it. It had the small benefit that I only continued to work an hour or two after the store opened so I almost never had to deal with customers.

One of the things that was torture was that the TVs were on and they played pre-recorded bits that ran in the store. Various record labels would apparently co-sponsor the tapes and so their acts would be on the TVs and audio systems. That meant that I had to endure mucho crap--things such as Britney Spears (who was just appearing on the scene). It could be really awful.

But one of the acts that didn't make me grit my teeth in pain was Jamiroquai. For some reason I thought the lead singer/dancer was a black guy from the USA...but he is, in fact, a Jewish guy from the UK. Hell if I know why I figured he was an American of African descent.

At any rate, this was one of the videos that would run in the stores in the morning that kept me from trying to find the source of the music and smashing the contraption.

A weird fact that I learned when working for Best Buy. This photo from SUMMER OF '42...the guy in the middle: Jerry Houser. He was the voice of Best Buy. He voiced all of their in-store ads and propaganda. I don't know if he still does that job--or if Best Buy even has an official "voice"...but when I worked there, he had the gig.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


When I'm hiking and backpacking in the mountains I always stop to inspect and admire the geology. And I don't just mean the obvious mountain panoramas. Yeah, that's geology, but I'm talking about the specifics.

There are always strange and interesting rock and soil formations to see along almost every hike. Everything from odd outcroppings of minerals to amazing shapes eroded out of the topography. When I see something exceptional I generally stop to take a photograph.

One of the only times I saw something unique when I also did not pause to take a photo was once in Colorado when I saw fossilized ripples in sandstone made when the rock was once underwater. The reason I didn't take a photo was that I was so ill with altitude sickness that I didn't even want to take the time to snap a picture!

So...all of the following examples are from Colorado. I'll post some from other place I've hiked later...

Landslide. Weminuche Wilderness.
I took this one because of the large dike on the right. I will assume this is some kind of large, volcanic extrusion eroded out. But I could be wrong.

These towers of stone were interspersed along a chasm wall in the Weminuche. Nothing here to give them scale...but they were really tall.
We would sometimes pass creeks where some mineral or another was forming as accretions on the rubble. A couple of streams we passed were creating white residue on the rocks. Although the water was crystal clear and appeared clean, I would not want to drink this water. It could be safe...but the Weminuche is dotted with old mining operations. No telling what's leaching out of some of those old sites.

This creek had clear water, but reddish accretions on the rocks. Iron? Again, I would not drink this water. But it could very well be safe. I don't know.
At Blue Lakes. This is a glacial lake with a "rock glacier"feeding into it. Most of the ice is gone, but it's still considered a glacier in purely technical terms. There is still movement but what ice remains is buried under the rock.

A vast glacial moraine high up on Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. This moraine was indeed vast. Those trees at its foot are not tiny.

Pink granite. Weminuche.

I have no freaking idea...

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Sledgehammer in a Scalpel World

One of my favorite tools is the sledgehammer. Since my teens I've been strong enough to use them effectively. I've always had one in my kit and there are often jobs to be done that no other chunk of wood and steel can accomplish.

These days I most often use my sledgehammer to split wood when I'm camping. I use a steel wedge or an old hand axe as the cutting edge and the heavy hammer to make my point with the firewood. It is the best way I've found to handle the chore of creating a big stack of manageable and effective fuel for our campfires.

My affection for the sledgehammer is even reflected in my fiction and essays and arguments. Often, I don't bother with the reasons and causes of a situation so much as attacking that happenstance with a handful of probability (or the inevitable). In addition, I prefer the wake of the sledgehammer in matters of reason. Yes, the application of blunt force trauma is sometimes the best tack.

This is partly due to the way I perceive the world, these days. Blacks and whites. Good and evil. Champion and villain. Society is largely made up of the fact that the bad guys won the only battles that count and every struggle in our times is the grudging surrender by the folk who do the work to the few who reap the rewards of that labor. We are given the illusion that we have won an inch, when in fact the antagonists have taken a mile. (This is why liberals sicken me.)

In such a world, why worry with details? It's a fallacy that we can use a skillfully wielded scalpel to repair the damage. What is needed is the only approach remaining: the sledgehammer.

Smash it all down and start the fuck over.

Sooner or later, it's gonna drop.

Ah, those Russian boots tromping all over shattered Berlin. Music!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Fantastic (Ditko) Giants

Today I picked up a copy of one book that should have been a part of my collection a long time ago: FANTASTIC GIANTS. Illustrated by Steve Ditko and scripted by Joe Gill, it's a Charlton Comics publication. You can see on the cover where they announce Ditko's name that the company was trying to capitalize on the artist's burgeoning reputation as a fan favorite in those days (mid-60s).

The book is mostly reprints. It features the reprinting of KONGA #1 and GORGO #1, both books based on monster movies from some years earlier which had been adapted for comics form by Ditko and Gill. I already own both of those books, but not this reprint volume joining the two yarns. In addition, you get two new monster stories from Ditko (and, I presume, Joe Gill) that are probably much harder to locate.

The two non-film stories are "With the Help of Hogar" and "The Mountain Monster". The Hogar yarn is a classic Ditko-esque story featuring a twisted leader out to exploit his position with the addition of a monster which he controls. The other one is also a moral fable with a kind of Frankenstein's monster as the sympathetic protagonist. The art in both of these stories is more modern and refined than in either the Konga or Gorgo tales, showing off the evolution of Ditko's style since he'd first illustrated the film adaptations.

One reason I think that I never got a copy before now is that my dad just had so many of them in his back issue stocks. There seemed to have always been twenty to thirty of them floating around the store or warehouse when I was a kid. So I never really looked upon it as something rare or hard to find. Thus, my disdain of having a copy for so long.

The cover of my copy of FANTASTIC GIANTS.
The splash page for the Konga story.
Splash page for the Gorgo part of the book.
Classic Ditko monster. The same kind of story that he had done for so long at Goodman's outfit before he created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange.
Ditko's maturation as an artist is on display.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Rough Job

As it says in the author description, I'm a laborer. Specifically, I deliver mail for the United States Postal Service. It's a tough job. Toughest I've ever had. But I'm reminded of a Marty Feldman quote whenever I think it can't get any worse.

Yeah, there aren't too many things more miserable than working in the cold rain. It sucks. It sucks chimp ass.

However, I arrived home to find that I'd filled in another bit in my Jack Kirby collection. My copy of FANTASTIC FOUR #19 arrived. And actually in a little nicer shape than the seller had indicated. I'm quite happy with it, and relieved to be home and out of the freaking rain.

My copy of FANTASTIC FOUR #19, written and illustrated by Jack Kirby.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Lardass, or not Lardass? That is the question...

For most of my life since my teens my weight has fluctuated in a really disturbing manner. I've been as heavy as 240+ pounds, or as light as 173 pounds. Throughout the transitions, the weird thing is that I've always stayed relatively active. Even when I'm really fat I still do a lot of outdoor activities--mainly hiking and backpacking. When I'm as fat as I've been I would still have the energy and stamina to hike up steep mountain slopes.

But when I'm thinner I feel a hell of a lot better than when I'm a lardass. So...why would I even allow myself to become a lardass? Outside of the fact that I love food and I enjoy eating, I couldn't say. Perhaps my metabolism is such that I add pounds more easily than most people do. And when I'm fat I desperately want to get back to a lower weight. But then I realize the work and torture involved (extra exercise and bothersome dieting) and continue along as I was, eating and enjoying the good life.

I discovered over the years that I can lose a lot of weight in quick order when I put my mind to it. But if I backslide even a little, then the calories catch up with me and the lard goes back on and I find myself in the fatty section of the clothing store yet again, and must look with disappointment at the boxes of clothes that I can no longer wear stacked accusingly in the closet.

The past ten or so years have seen me repeating the same crimes of weight gain/ weight loss over and over. I would pack it on, then buckle down and get it off, only to see it return over time. My latest struggle has seen me taking the pounds off again, but this time in a much slower and more controlled manner. Over the past year I've managed to lose thirty-five pounds and get myself back below 200 for the first time since I returned from my backpacking trip to Colorado. I'm feeling pretty good and would like to knock off another ten or fifteen pounds. Will it happen? I'm not sure, but it would be nice to not have to carry that flab up the slopes in Glacier National Park.

We'll see.

The fattest I've ever been (2005). Over 240 pounds. On a backpacking trip in the Black Mountains of North Carolina.

A year later I had dropped over fifty pounds.

In 2012, after two weeks of altitude sickness in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado I was getting toward a normal weight since ballooning to about 220 during the year. By the time I got home I was down to 195.

And within six months here I was back up to almost 230 pounds again!

And now, roughly a year after that I am under 200 pounds once more. The struggle to stay healthy continues.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Two New Kirby Finds

I landed two nice Jack Kirby books for my collection. Both are books that I have never encountered, so I made sure to pick them up. Fortunately I was able to get them at a good price.

Kirby did this title in the days when Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie had become huge as TV and film characters. Every kid wanted to be like Davy Crockett (at least the Disney version as portrayed by Fess Parker). Also, this was in the days when Simon and Kirby were packaging and producing titles for a number of companies. WESTERN TALES was an effort for Harvey Comics.

I'm really pleased with this pick up.

WESTERN TALES #31. This copy is in excellent condition. I was lucky to have grabbed this one.

WESTERN TALES #33. This issue featured Jim Bowie instead of Crockett.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Ruined by Monsters!

This is the kind of thing that set me on the path to becoming a writer. And, of course, Kong specifically. I saw that movie for the first time when I was five years old...and there was no going back. I was hooked on a lifetime love of all things fantastic.

And then I saw this one!

The creators of magic films had their hooks in me. I was addicted to stop-motion dinosaurs, science fiction stories, and comic book adventures. I haven't regretted an instant of it all.

So here's to Willis O'Brien, Ray Harryhausen, Forrest Ackerman, Ray Bradbury, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko! Thanks one and all!

Kick his ass, Kong!

Monday, February 02, 2015

Pop Music

When I was young pop music was a huge part of my life, just as it is for most people of a certain age. Not long after I got married and had to buckle down to earn a living and make a home I stopped paying attention to pop music. It was as if there was absolutely no time at all to listen to it. I quite actually did not have the leisure moments to hear what my old favorites were producing, nor to discover new music. I cast it aside and I was left behind in the wake of the industry.

What time that I did have for myself since those days I have almost always used to spend with my wife and son, or to create stories and novels, or to travel to see places that I fear may not survive the coming years (National Parks and wilderness areas). To put it bluntly, music didn't just take a back seat in the current of my life, it was all but dead to me.

I will admit that I was able to catch the tail-end of the great days of Napster and was able to glom onto thousands of old tunes I recalled and to discover a few artists who had appeared on the scene since I'd stopped listening to pop. But the industry soon put a stop to that and I went back to completely ignoring popular music.

These days, from time to time I will look up a group or an artist whose work I quite enjoyed as a young man. And every now and again I will recall that for a few years I made money selling vinyl records and got a huge kick out of discovering acts I'd never heard of, or musicians whose work I had just never sampled. This made dealing retail music a lot of fun and I looked forward to finding a jewel in the midst of what generally did not appeal to me. And those memories will sometimes spur me to look back at the sounds that made me smile when I was a younger man.

One of the groups that I found in my days as a retailer was The Motors. They were, apparently, a short-lived act who appeared, cut a few records, and then vanished. They had a nice sound, good keyboards with strings and nice vocals (both in chorus and as belted-out blues style solos). I recall them with some good feelings and occasionally pull up one of their old tunes to listen while I write. Here are a couple that I played when I was a youngster in my 20s:

Sunday, February 01, 2015


I didn't know that Hippocampus Press was going to offer the ebook version of my first short story collection. But, there it is. If you're one of those folk who prefer ebooks to paper books, then you have the option!