Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Hornet was a Total ASSHOLE!

When I was 15 years old my parents were building a house on the 120 acres they had bought in the mountains of north Georgia. One day I was sitting at the picnic table my dad had built (everyone else was town to pick up building supplies I think)...and I was just chilling out, meditating. All of the sudden this GIGANTIC fucking hornet landed on my right forearm. Just came out of nowhere and landed on my arm. This bitch was HUGE! Emotionally, she looked about as big as my fist.

Okay, I thought. She's sitting there. I'm sitting here. If I just old still she won't sting me. There's no reason for her to sting me. I'll just hold still and wait for her to fly away.

And that is the precise moment she stung the FUCKING SHIT out of me!!!

Now, let me say right off that most stings don't bother me. All of my life I have spent a lot of time outdoors because that's where I like to be. Subsequently, I have been stung by everything you can think of: honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees, yellowjackets, dirt daubers, red wasps, scorpions, you name it. And because I have been stung so many times by so many critters I have built up something akin to a dull acceptance of being stung. I don't stress out when it happens and I deal with the pain easily--so easily that stings generally only hurt me for a few seconds before the pain fades.

But this hornet...oh. my. fucking. god.

IT HURT!!! Great Humping Jove, it hurt! When she stung me she immediately took flight so that I couldn't have killed her no matter how much I'd have wanted to. But that wasn't foremost on my mind. What I was worrying about was the pain!!! I cannot describe it. As I said, most stings don't bother me that much--red wasps really hurt, but even that was nothing like this.

Pain shot through my entire arm. From my forearm where she stung me all the way to my shoulder and down into my fingers. I mean, she really laid that stinger deep into my flesh. The entry point was livid with an almost blood-red target right at the center where the stinger had plunged through the skin. I ran onto the screened-in porch and found a jug of cool water and poured it over my arm, which began to swell until it looked like a ping-pong ball had been lodged under my flesh.

I didn't know what kind of hornet that was, but I have been happy in the intervening 45 years that I have never encountered another one.

This is likely the species of hornet that stung me. There is only one native species that lives in Georgia: the Bald faced hornet. From my 45-year-old memory, this looks about right. From what I've read, they're usually rather docile when compared to things like yellowjackets, but the one that got me was anything but docile.

(For a story about the time I did get a nasty scorpion sting you can go HERE.)

Friday, September 22, 2017

Morrow Mountain Hike

Yesterday I went on a short hike at Morrow Mountain State Park. I sometimes visit that park when I can't get away to the real mountains. It's less than sixty miles away and I can be there in about an hour if traffic is light getting out of the Charlotte metro area.

The small mountain range there is called The Uwharries. Practically speaking, they are not mountains at all, but rather a range of low hills that persist due to a resistant layer of cap rock consisting of rhyolite and quartz. The range is considered one of the oldest on the planet at over 500 million years. Morrow Mountain, around which the park is set, was an important site to the Native American tribes that settled here thousands of years ago. Rhyolite fractures in a manner similar to flint and is excellent for making edged tools such as arrowheads, knives, axes, scrapers, drills, and the like. If you go to the summit of Morrow Mountain today you will find that it is covered in flakes of rhyolite, each and every one of them the result of tool production long, long ago.

The hike I took was one I had skipped in the past--a 4.1 mile loop called the Fall Mountain Trail. It takes you from the shores of Lake Tillery and over the top of Fall Mountain. It's an interesting hike with a change in vegetation--the flood-plain at the lake shore up to the rocky mountaintop with forests of oak and beech. A number of fires have run through the forest over the past few years and you get the impression of walking through a mature forest because all of the understory has removed through fire, wind, and ice storms. The forest is actually not old or even mature, at all. But because of the fires and storms it is wide and open.

In years past I would encounter a lot of wildlife in the park, but my last few trips there have been rather barren affairs when it comes to wildlife. In fact, I didn't see so much as a butterfly. I heard some locusts in the trees, and a woodpecker was having his way with a tree somewhere nearby, but I saw absolutely nothing living. I think I heard a lizard scurrying away at one point, but didn't see it. I suppose the forest floor has been scoured clean of food and so no wildlife. The oaks were, however, dropping vast numbers of acorns, so if there are any deer, squirrels, or bear still around they will have plenty to eat this season.

My original plan was to hike the Fall Mountain Trail and then go do a couple of other, shorter trails. But the heat became oppressive and I ended up only doing the one trail. One interesting thing that I noted as I climbed the mountain was that the lower and intermediate slopes were rich with quartz, but the highest ridges and summits were full of rhyolite. Some kind of layering there, but I don't know the reason for it.

Park entrance.

I'm pretty sure this building was constructed by the CCC. I do know they had a camp here and built a quarry to harvest local stone for building materials. It's vacant now and the park office is now in the interior of the park.

Along the shore of Lake Tillery near the start of the trail.

Just after I left the flood plain and began to climb the slopes.

You vant rhyolite? Ve got rhyolite.

I had to detour around a number of big trees like this on the trail. Some were victims, I think, of the remnants of Hurricane Harvey, Irma both of which created some windstorms through this area.

This is the only spot I have found in the Uwharries that makes me feel like I'm actually in the mountains.

I stopped for a quick peek at the overlook on the summit of Morrow Mountain before I left the park.

A brief video overview of the hike.

Monday, September 18, 2017

In the Short Term.

There is one thing for which I can thank ebooks and self-published writers:

Real books are stupidly cheap right now! Not only have independent bookstores been shutting down, not only are chain bookstores vanishing, but even used bookstores are going under. And the few used bookstores that are left won't even buy books anymore. So, guess what? People donate the shit out of books! They're in every donation shop you see, and packed into every flea market you stumble upon.

I discovered some time back, as traditional publishers began to wilt and fade at the assault from Amazon and Smashwords, etc., that I can walk into any second-hand shop and buy used books for next to nothing. I'm talking cheap. Cheaper than ever before. Yes, you could always find good books at a discount in such places, but not like this!

Last week when Carole and I were on a jaunt we stopped at an antique mall. Back in the day whenever I would find used books in one of these joints they would be prohibitively expensive for my cheapskate ass. But not now! I found an enormous selection of fantasy and science-fiction books from the 60s through the late 80s that ranged between 25 cents to a buck. Yes, I loaded up.

Today we visited a Goodwill store and I located more good stuff, nothing over a dollar.

So, for now, the self-published assholes and the emerging monopoly of Amazon have handed me a vast treasure of extremely cheap reading material. Cheaper by far than I could find online. Less expensive than anyone could purchase in even the most economy-driven used bookshop.

As you creeps destroy English literature you have given me cheap access to more books and more reading material than I could possibly read within a lifetime.

Thanks, you filthy, no-talent fucks (and your grinning monopolistic creep of a master). As you destroy literature, you have done something of value in the short term.

"Self-publishin' ferever!"

Friday, September 15, 2017

Comic Books are Doomed.

Ever since I was a child comic books have been a part of my life. Even during the periods when I wasn't so much as looking at a comic book they were still with me, the tens of thousands of them that I had read floating around in my mind.

Back in those days there were all kinds of comic books and they were inexpensive and readily available to children and their parents in all manner of places where people could buy them. They were in newsstands, grocery stores, convenience stores, at the druggists, bookshops, and so on. These days, not so much. Sometimes you can find a very limited selection of comic books in chain bookstores, but mainly you have to go into a comic book shop to locate them. Yeah, ever since around the 1980s or so, shops catering specifically to comic book fans have been the go-to spot to buy comic books.

At any rate, I'm not writing this to talk about why the comics industry is dying or how it happened. I'm just here to say that it is doomed and to explain, succinctly, how that's a foregone conclusion.

The two biggest comic book companies are Marvel Comics and DC Comics. Even the most non-nerdy of people generally know this fact. Both companies are owned by media conglomerates who make a huge amount of money producing feature films and TV shows. The reason they wanted to own Marvel and DC is because what they desired about the two publishing concerns was to get their corporate mitts on the intellectual property represented in Marvel and DC.

That is, Warner and Disney don't possess DC and Marvel to see the regular release of four-color periodicals. To the men who run those outfits, what they want are the grist that they use to make movies that produce billions of dollars in profits. In Disney's case they wanted the sweat of Jack Kirby's brow. Again, I'm not here to belabor the obvious fact that a corporate shill (Stan Lee) never created anything but was just the trigger that allowed Marvel to steal Jack Kirby's creations. That's an important part of the process of course, but it's not how the comics industry doomed itself.

The sad fact is that Disney and Warner no longer care one damned bit about comic books. What they want is the intellectual property that fuels the movies and cartoons that they make that, in turn, spawn toy sales and video game sales and infuse their coffers with the rentals of DVDs and streaming video. Fuck actual comic books. These guys don't give shit-one about the comic book and its place as one of the few uniquely American art forms.

Comic book publishing barely makes a profit mark on the logs of Warner and Disney. And that fine line of black on the yearly books keeps getting thinner and thinner. As far back as 1960 that profit margin was so small for a man named Martin Goodman who owned what later became known as Marvel Comics that he was going to abolish the company. Only the arrival of Jack Kirby and his talent put off that decision and created the basis for a billions-of-dollars company. But there aren't any more Jack Kirbys out there; and no champion with a gleaming mind and talent to illustrate is going to put off the demise of comic books.

Some years back I heard that the owners of comic book shops, and their customers, had begun referring to monthly comic books as "floppies". It's not a nice term and shows the contempt for comic books that both the sellers and buyers of them felt for the medium. Even at that point I realized that there was no way the industry could be resurrected. When the very people who sold them, and the "fans" themselves were using an epithet to label the books...well...that's just about the end of the line. To the big guys at Disney and Warner Communications floppies ain't something they want to deal with.

And here, then, is the bottom line:

DC and Marvel really aren't making a profit for Warner and Disney. At first, it was just a bothersome gnat for them. "These ants don't make us any money. But we gotta live with it 'cause we want the characters that we use for the movies and video games. What ya gonna do? Eh."

But it's only a small step from there to realizing that you can just as easily hire some hack writers to sit at a desk in an office somewhere and come up with more stupid superhero characters. You don't have to tend to a failing company like DC and Marvel rupturing cash and causing you momentary angst. Just close them down and have those low-paid hacks create for you and fuck the goddamned comic books.

It's coming. Hell...Warner came to the same conclusion long ago concerning real books when they shut down Warner Books and sold it off to a French corporation. If they can do it to a company that was making hardbacks and paperback books then they can (and will) certainly do the same with Marvel. These suits at the top of the heap will roll Marvel and DC up into the bigger corporation and shut down that annoying office full of incompetent editors and mouthpieces in New York. They can (and will) pay some clueless schmucks in Hollywood to make up silly superheroes for them without all of the cost and hassle of running offices on the other side of the continent.

Comic books are doomed. Soon, the only place you'll be able to find your "floppies" will be at the fan gatherings where nerds go to dress up as superheroes and fairies. For a while there will be some guys there selling moldy bits of limp pulp paper called "comic books". There will be some aging rubes there buying them for a decade or so, and then those rubes will die with their collections of acid-infused pulp decaying into flaking dust. There's a term for that kind of thing: Dead People's Toys.

And that will be the end of comic books.

"Gimme $100,000! Such a deal!"

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Two More Films.

I watched two more films this week: "The Master" (Paul Thomas Anderson) and "It" (Andy Muschietti).

"The Master" is a classic instance of when one should ignore the critics. When it came out in 2012 I heard absolutely nothing good about it and decided to avoid it. Based on what? The opinions of people I don't know, who don't know me. I need to stop listening to critical opinions. (But not you. You should listen to my critical opinions. Because I am the most critical guy you will ever meet.)

A lot of people were looking forward to "The Master" for many reasons. It is a Paul Thomas Anderson film and--I would not kid you here--he does have a track record for making some really excellent films. His movie "There Will Be Blood" remains one of my all-time favorite movies. And many folk were anxious to see Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance. Also, of course, lots of folk were curious to see what Anderson had to say about Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard which, although the names were changed and all that, is what the film was supposed to deliver.

It's hard to say, though, what the film was really about. I watched it and I am not sure. Yes, the role of Lancaster Dodd was a thinly-veiled version of L. Ron Hubbard. The producers didn't even really hide that fact, save for perhaps some legal reasons. Hoffman does a commendable job of portraying a truly parasitic con man creating a religion. But I've seen films of L. Ron Hubbard and Hoffman didn't even try to do anything approaching a mimicry of Hubbard, opting for a largely unformed monstrous liar doing his best to sucker anyone he can convince so that he can fleece them. I did see glimpses of an actual historical person in the performance, but it was not the faker Hubbard. It was, in fact, the actual ego-mad polymath Orson Welles. I don't think it was my imagination that I kept picking out bits of Welles' game more often than I did of Hubbard's. Hoffman was a decent actor, but he was no John C. Reilly, nor a Daniel Day Lewis, so he relied on doing a passable imitation of Orson Welles.

The thrust of the story, though, comes from the writer's foil seen in the person of Freddie Quell, played wonderfully by Joaquin Phoenix. Not sure what sources Pheonix used to conjure Quell, but it was an almost brilliant performance. The true protagonist of the film is a suffering, loony, alcoholic madman in some very serious need of psychiatric, emotional, and medical help. The off-putting and almost ape-like Quell somehow--and for some reason never mentioned--becomes friend and confidant to Lancaster Dodd; he's a kind of personal project of the Master. Perhaps it was their shared history of the US Navy, or maybe it's pity on Dodd's part, or perhaps even just one more piece of a religious structure being conjured by Dodd. It's never made clear and I cannot fathom the reason for it.

The film actually has a number of very fine actors in it. However, people like Amy Adams, Jesse Plemons, Laura Dern, and Kevin J. O'Connor just become set pieces in a film that focuses like a laser on Phoenix and Hoffman.

In the end, I have to admit that I enjoyed the movie and I'm glad I saw it. I did not consider it a waste of time and I will continue to dwell on the movie and its performers for a while. That's about as good as a film is going to get from me. It's rare that I will donate more praise than that.

Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell in "The Master".

"It" from director Andy Muschietti and adapted from the novel by Stephen King is, as I like to say, a piece of shit. I don't even want to waste too many of my words on it. What can I possibly add? It's a tired collection of shock takes and traditional monster images. And its all wrapped up in the kind of cinematic tale that uses the worst of faux-Spielberg tropes combined with uninspired direction, crappy acting, and cinematography that fails to show us anything of much worth.

In addition, the movie drags horribly and suffers from loopy dialog, campy drama, and totally unrealistic situations that prevented me from taking any of it seriously. One thing that bugged the shit out of me is that someone needed to either have had the kids enunciate more clearly, or have had the final print re-dubbed so that we could understand what the kids were goddamned saying half the time.

And where the hell were the adults?! Grownups make only the most brief of appearances, in order to fill in some insipid characterization points for the kids, and then vanish to some other dimension where people over 12 years old are banished when it comes to this story about Derry, Maine.

And, yes, if you've heard it's not a complete movie--only the first half a two-movie sucker deal, then you are right. When the final credits roll, we are met with "End of Part One".

Thank Jove for that, I figure. My two hours and fifteen minutes of torture were over and I know now that I will never pay to see "Part Two".

PS: Pennywise, as I like to say, sucked High Holy Ass. The monster's portrayal here was as flat and unimaginative as the rest of the movie. Unintentional humor. Cue the Curly Shuffle.

Fuck "IT".
"IT" floats. Like a turd!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Pop Music.

These days I cannot abide pop music. What passes for hits these days grate on my every nerve whenever I am stuck in a place where I cannot avoid having my ears and my mind assaulted by this rubbish.

Of course I do have positive feelings for much of the pop music that was around in my youth and during those years when I was disposed to not only listening to it, but celebrating it. There is always room for hypocrisy and chauvinism when it comes to one's own nostalgia. So I will admit to that up front.

Thus, I do whatever I can to avoid modern pop music. I don't intentionally listen to radio at any point, and I don't allow it to be played in any car that I am driving. If I'm behind the wheel, then by Jove I will dictate the state of the radio and the speakers assaulting my ears. If you have your own device with earphones...go at it. Just as long as I don't have to hear it.

But sometimes I do enjoy listening to the pop music of my youth--which covers a lot of ground. I did listen and follow pop trends from about the time I was six or seven--when the Beatles were leading the British Invasion of the US pop scene--up until about 1990 when I completely stopped listening to pop. Typically, if anyone brings up a group or so-called "artist" who appeared after 1990 I have no idea who, or what, they are talking about.

One of the pop groups from my youth that I would only grudgingly listen to was the Bee Gees. Today most people dismiss them as some kind of twisted aberration of the US and British music scene, discounting that they were almost constantly charting hits from the '60s and for the next four decades. But those same people were glued to the radio and buying Bee Gees records for all that time. I never bought a Bee Gees record, but I did sometimes listen to them.

The reason I even mention them now is because of Robin Gibb who was the sometimes lead singer, but often stuck in a supporting role as vocalist. For decades I had supposed that his voice was electronically enhanced in some way, and that most of his vocals were, in fact, the trio singing in tandem as harmony while he led.

But this was a misconception. That really was Robin Gibb singing solo. And, no, his voice was not being artificially enhanced, nor was it some kind of spliced-in harmony with his two brothers. It really was his voice.

Yeah. I was surprised. I've heard his voice referred to as an acquired taste, and I admit that it can be annoying. But there is something unreal about it--almost, I would say--supernatural. When I finally read that his voice was not being twisted in some electronic way I wondered how this was so. For a while I refused to believe that it was one person singing and that it was not, at least, being looped with multiple tracks.

Since then, I've heard it described as a kind of unique vibrato, or a strange kind of tremulous warbling. Whatever it was, it was singular, and now and again I'll find myself intentionally listening to tunes where he was the lead vocalist, or singing without the benefit of his brothers.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Hallow's Eve is Waiting

I woke up this morning and it was really nice and chilly out. As I write this it is September 11th. Back in the days of my childhood, this is when the season began to turn from hot days and warm mornings to mild weather with cool temperatures at dawn. Recent years have put lie to that old standard but when the muted sunlight filtered through thick clouds to wake me it was nice to see the weather doing the right thing.

In the mountains on Saturday Carole and I saw a few trees just beginning to change from green to the burnished hues of approaching Autumn. Out in the yard this morning I noticed that the dogwoods are already going that way, too. They're always the first to take that trip.

So I know that Halloween is coming. That day when the trees are conspiring to give us a show of golds and reds and orange and all manner of fantastic hues. And the winds will begin to drift mildly out of the north to cool the skin and dry the perspiration from my brow. The nights will be not-quite-frigid and the days will be crisp. Gardens will give up the last of the crops while we humans ascend into a series of celebrations as we enjoy this season in wait of the frozen embrace of winter.

The days and evenings of ghosts and brittle leaves, of heavy fruit lying in the soil, of glorious lights and shadows; the winds whispering to us of exciting portents and the cold yet to come.

Hallow's Eve.

We'll all soon be there. It's been waiting for us.

Stone Mountain State Park, North Carolina.

Kumbrabow State Forest, West Virginia.

Kumbrabow, WV.

San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

Rocky Face Recreation Area, NC.

The view from Mount Craig, second highest summit in the eastern USA in Autumn. It doesn't get any better.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

A Short Hike Day.

Carole wanted to go to Skyland Orchards to pick apples today. So we did that. I had not expected the crowds! Thousands! Who knew so many city folk liked to go to apple orchards to pick apples??!!

After that we stopped in Hendersonville where we toured downtown and bought lunch at a burger joint that looked really cool but which served just barely average food.

After that we headed up to the Blue Ridge Parkway to take in the views and where I was able to take one brief hike of a little less than 1.5 miles. I climbed to the top of Craggy Pinnacle where I took about a hundred photos and shot about five minutes of video, some of which you can view and watch below.

Craggy Dome, taken from the slopes of Craggy Pinnacle. I used to want to bag Craggy Dome--one of the state's 6000-foot summits. But I really don't have that old urge to bag summits any more.

The famous gnarly birch along the trail where everyone must stop.

Mountains, baby!

Monday, September 04, 2017


After 18 episodes of the new TWIN PEAKS, I have to say that I was underwhelmed. I went into the series with an open mind and knowing that Lynch was not going to tell a traditional story in a traditionally cinematic way. And on that I was right. However, while I was hoping to see something that I would find both artistically pleasing and challenging, I was left with a true mess--a situation in which I was actually hoping that an outside hand had stepped in and filed down the hard edges of Lynch's unsettling vision. 

To give you an example of this--I was thinking that I would like to see a work that might challenge me the way MULLHOLLAND DRIVE did, but without the confusing excesses of INLAND EMPIRE.

That's really about the gist of what I want to say about this series. I'm glad it was produced and I'm happy that a lot of my friends got a big kick out of it, but ultimately I did not enjoy it and I am not completely happy that I invested so much of my leisure time watching it. Maybe that will change, later. There have been works by artists that I initially disliked and later came to enjoy. But I rather doubt that will ever happen with this (hopefully) final series of TWIN PEAKS. 

Lynch does not tell linear stories. Also, he is obsessed with the idea of alternate reality and enjoys plucking at the threads of reality and our perception of consciousness. He is the cinematic equivalent of a jazz musician. He gives you glimpses of notes that your square ass can follow, and then intersperses those lines of notes with a litany of discordant melodies.  Lynch has given us inconceivable puzzles, but he has also failed to give us the keys to solving them. If there is meaning in the stories that he has chosen to tell the past few years, then the explanations for them reside only with him, and he isn't willing to share the answers within the body of those works. He even has told us as much.

You either get it, or you don't.

I get it...but just as I'm not a big jazz fan, I have grown weary of Lynch's shtick. I just doesn't work for me.

The ending was a moment of classic horror, though. I'll give it that much.

"My cow is not pretty, but it's pretty to me."-- David Lych.

"It makes me uncomfortable to talk about meanings and things. It is better not to know so much about what things mean. Because the meaning, it's a very personal thing and the meaning for me is different than the meaning for someone else." -- David Lynch.

The author of the confusion.

The puppet.