Friday, June 29, 2018

Chance the Gardener Lives.

I cannot stand group-think and the selling of mass market crap. One of the people who pretty much embodies everything that I hate about politics, religion, and propaganda is the man everyone knows as "the Dalai Lama". His very existence as a person of so-called 'importance' grinds on my every last nerve. He says nothing of lasting value, and each of those things are obvious and to varying degrees of either practicality or of nonsense. The Hoi polloi eat that crap with a ladle.

At any rate, whenever anyone mentions him or presents me with one of his quotes or asks me to watch a snippet of video of him droning, this is what I see and hear. He is, in effect, the Chauncey Gardener of philosophy. The absolute worst.

(I got yer Dalai Lama right here!)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

And Ellison...

I went to see Harlan Ellison speak a couple of times. I never met him face to face, but over the years he surprised me with phone calls on three occasions. It was always nice to hear from him. The first time he made me guess who the stranger was who had phoned me. At that time I did not know his voice, having never heard him and not thinking for an instant that Harlan Ellison would bother to phone me. Exasperated, he finally had to tell me who he was and that, of course, struck me dumb.
He was a great American writer. His work has influenced most writers of my generation and he helped fuel and direct the righteous anger of many a young person. His stories have amazed and will continue to do so in years to come. We can miss him, but we still have his vast body of work.

The first time I saw this photo from an interview with Jason Brock, the words that popped into my head were "Jeffty is Five". Go look for that story. Read it.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Summer Cleaning!

Carole and I have two camping trips planned for later this year. One at the end of summer, and one in late October. We've already reserved our spaces, both in campgrounds we've stayed before, but haven't seen in years. We visited the first one in 2004, and the other in 2011.

We just had a new water pump put on the Casita and the furnace needed a slight repair (only a simple gasket). We'll need the furnace for the trip in October, I'm sure.

At any rate, I'll post details of the trips once we've returned. I hope to do a lot of hiking and hit some nice waterfalls on both trips. We're very much looking forward to the trips because we haven't really had time to go on any decent camping trips at all this year.

While I scrubbed up the outside of the Casita, Carole did the inside. Casita Girl will go back under the cover and wait until we head out later this summer.

It was hot today! 95 degrees. I tried to park the Casita in the shade!

Carole used the pressure washer on a couple of the rugs we keep inside the Casita.

She was cleaning up good!

I had to use the ladder to scrub the roof and the AC shroud.
On Tuesday I'll give the trailer a wax job, weather permitting.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

A Child of the 60s.

One morning when I was a kid--maybe nine years old--I was in our back yard with a pal of mine when another kid we knew came walking toward us from the property line at the very rear of my parents' yard. It was actually misty that morning and he appeared from the fog like a figure from a spy movie. The kid was wearing a trench coat tied at the waist. No one I knew had a fucking trench coat and it looked cool as shit. And he had that goddamned fog--like it was tailor-fucking-made. My pal, Britt and I just gawked. The

other kid walked right up to us. He had a briefcase in his hand to go along with that damned trench coat. He even had a hat.

"Look what I got for Christmas," he told us.

He held out the briefcase. A Man From U.N.C.L.E. briefcase.

He opened it up. It was packed with cool-ass secret agent shit. It had a gun with a silencer. A snub-nosed revolver. A goddamned grenade. Walkie-talkie. An U.N.C.L.E. badge...other cool-ass shit.

"Damn,' we said.

After letting us stare at that shit for a while the kid closed the briefcase.

"Let me borrow it," I said.

"Yeah, let us borrow it," Britt added. "We'll just play with it and give it back to you."

The truth was we barely knew the other kid. He lived one street over and we rarely even saw the guy. He was just trolling the neighborhood to rub in what a cool-ass score he'd gotten for Christmas.

"No," he said.

"Aw, Come ON! Loan it to us!"

"Yeah," said Britt.

The other kid eyed us nervously and backed away with his hat and trench coat and briefcase. Several steps and he turned on his heel and made his way back the same route he'd walked in on. The London fog had burned off--it was just Atlanta January mist baked into a figment of our imagination by the sun.

I considered tackling him from behind and taking that goddamned briefcase. Maybe even the fucking trench coat, too. But I didn't.

To my memory, neither I nor Britt ever saw that lucky bastard again. He doesn't know how close he came to losing it all. Or maybe he did.

Damn, it was a sweet score.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

I Went Hiking

I went hiking today in a part of South Carolina where I haven't been in a long time. I logged six hours driving (round trip) and eight hours hiking. I hit a number of waterfalls I wanted to see, but to me the most impressive thing were the forests I hiked through. I had forgotten that this area of Sumter National Forest has some amazing stands of hardwoods.

At first I thought this was a buckeye tree when I spotted it from the trail. But when I got down to the base of the trunk and looked up I could see that it's a Tulip tree.

I stitched this shot from four photos of the tree's trunk. One thing about Tulip trees is their tendency not to taper as much as other hardwoods.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Mad Ones.

My new book BEAUTIFUL BOY is coming out some time this year. I'm not sure of the exact release date, but the principal edits are done.

Working on the edits made me start thinking of my writing career. When I was a young man all I wanted to do was write. Almost everything else took a back seat to my desire and need to write. If there were other things to do, the act of creating a short story or a novel took precedence and so that is what I would do instead of anything else.

These days, though, this is not the case. I am an outdoorsman and enjoy kayaking, hiking, camping, and (especially) backpacking. Now when faced with a choice of working on a new novel or plotting a short story, or planning and executing a backpacking trip or a jaunt to go kayaking on a lake, I will choose to be outdoors, out in the sun, or climbing a forested mountain, or taking photos of waterfalls and wildlife.

When I was a kid I would look at the careers of many of the authors I admired in those days. And one thing generally struck me: their careers seemed to end well before they got old and died. I began to wonder if there was a burst of creative energy that lasted only so long and no longer. Yes, there were exceptions--folk who wrote for many decades. But most writers seemed to be active for only ten to fifteen years and then...nothin'.

I haven't, by any means, stopped writing. But I sure as Hell don't write obsessively as I did as a young man. When I do write I take my time and budget the hours and work with all due consideration. I used to think of myself as one of those "mad" folk that Jack Kerouac talked about:

“[...]the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

― Jack KerouacOn the Road

That's the way I was when I was writing. Mad and burning and obsessed by the world around me and focused on the fantasy of characters and situations whirling around in me ol' brain.

Maybe that fire is burning out. I don't know. All I can say is that often I would much rather be standing on the summit of a mountain that I labored to climb instead of sitting in front of the white screen putting down the words that once drove me crazy with desire to transfer to paper.

I think that I'm still one of the mad ones. But in a different space.

Yeah...I know where I'd rather be.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Fort Frederica

The USA has never done anything of more value than the establishment of National Parks and Forests and their accompanying wilderness areas, monuments, refuges, and associated sites. I have spent my life wandering around and exploring these places. There is actually nothing I like more than visiting what we have preserved and restored for everyone to enjoy.

Among these places are National Historical Monuments. My family and I rarely miss an opportunity to visit one when we find them. One that I have been visiting since I was a child is the Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simons Island along the coast of Georgia.

In fact, some of my earliest memories are of walking around this well-preserved and protected historical site that was once a thriving military town of over 1500 people. It was established by the British to protect this part of the southeast from incursions from the Spanish who were, at that time, still competing for territory in what is now the USA.

The British, though, finally defeated the Spanish in the well-named Battle of Bloody Marsh and their foes retreated, never again to threaten the British colonies with invasion. After that, the military town began to lose its funding from the Crown and since it basically had only one reason for existing, the village population dwindled until no one was left and the maritime forests of pines and oak and palmetto covered it all and hid it from us.

Today the former town and fort have been carefully excavated and partially restored. The grounds are now immaculately kept and adorned with information signs with an excellent modern visitors center and museum attached.

My parents thought the monument was so beautiful that they requested that their combined ashes be scattered there, at the verge of the marsh. And so they were. This is one more reason I try to stop to visit the place whenever we travel near it.

Part of the fort with old cannon at the edge of the marsh.

Carole took this photo of me with this gigantic Live oak.

These old foundations have been excavated along the various streets of the almost vanished military village.

The grounds are beautiful and well maintained.

Bits of the old village cemetery.

Vines and Spanish moss adorn the big oaks.

A short video of part of our exploration of the Monument.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Life

I've lost close friends in the past, but no friend as close and as decent a man as my pal, Bill Gronroos. This past weekend I drove down to my hometown of Brunswick, Georgia to deliver the eulogy for him at his memorial service at the Palmetto Cemetery.

I cannot imagine ever having a more depressing thing to do. It was very hard and the entire time I was traveling to and from my hometown a cloud hung over me which has yet to dissipate.

Here, then, is the eulogy that I delivered, and some photos from the service and from a series of displays that were set up by his cousin, Mauri, to celebrate his life.

Bill as a radio DJ and from about the time he was the Voice of Woolworth's.

Bill's favorite Superman actor was George Reeves, but his cousins found this pen sketch he tossed off from memory of Kirk Alyn as Superman.

Me, delivering the eulogy.

One of the many displays of photos and memories of Bill's life. Created by his cousin, Mauri Lazaro.

One of Bill's Superman collectibles.

“Never Ending”
A Eulogy for Edward William Gronroos, Jr.

I knew Bill for most of my life. Since I met him when I was 18 and I’m now almost 61—that’s over 42 years--it is easy to say that he was the closest friend that I’ve had for the longest time. We knew one another well.

One thing that I want to mention today is the fact that Bill and I occasionally talked about sensitive subjects that lots of friends avoid because they want to stay friends. I think that says a lot for our friendship. You know the two subjects—religion and politics. Specifically, though, I think of what Bill had to say about the human soul.

Because Bill did believe in the soul and that it was ever-lasting. He thought that it was created, that it was here for the duration of his time on Earth, and that when he died it would continue on. Ever-lasting, as he insisted.

Another thing about Bill came from almost the first day I met him--he sincerely took to heart something that we both had heard and read as children and it went straight to the core of who he was.

You’ll recognize it if you ever spent much time around him. It originated with his favorite bit of pop literature—Superman, and it meant as much to Bill as anything can mean to anyone.

He believed in the never-ending battle.

He felt that a person was in for a never-ending battle as long as they were alive. And I saw it every day that I spent in Bill’s company. People gave him a hard time. Even his friends sometimes were less than charitable to him. But Bill persevered. It was all part of his eternal struggle. Not for truth and justice, maybe. But for as much of dignity as he could find and grasp while he was with us.

I knew that Bill suffered from depression. He told me about it from time to time, and what a burden it was for him. It was especially hard in the face of cruelty, and in the wake of all manner of personal disappointments and broken plans and dreams. But Bill was true to the creed that he’d first heard as a kid. It was important for him to keep up that never-ending battle because only a coward would do otherwise. More than anything, it was Bill’s job to be as strong as possible against whatever adversary the world chose to throw his way.

And now Bill is gone. Now he doesn’t have to struggle against the cruelty and harshness that sometimes found him. I often saw Bill create a solid wall of stoicism through things that would have reduced me to tears or rage or even violence. I watched Bill deflect hardship and callousness with humor, humility, and compassion. Bill was far and away a better man than I am.

This was because he displayed a kind of courage that I know I could never match. I could try for another forty years to do it and I’d never measure up.

And I know that Bill was right, that his soul is ever-lasting because of everyone who is here. If you knew Bill then a little of his personality is present in your hearts. When you hear music you will hear Bill’s voice. If a person is being bullied and responds with a smile you will see Bill. Someday when you are passing a bookshelf and spot a kid reading a superhero comic, you’ll know that Bill just gave you a wink. And if you are sometimes lonely you can think of Bill’s voice and his tendency for reason and his cool response with love in the face of difficulty, and you will be better for it.

Bill Gronroos fought that never-ending battle to the last beat of his heart, and his kind soul is certainly ever-lasting because I have felt it and heard it almost every day since he left this place where the rest of us still reside.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Bruce Campbell, Our Hero.

One thing my son and I agree on--well, there are actually shitloads of things we agree on--but one of them is that we freaking love Bruce Campbell. He makes us laugh. He always has.

Years and years ago we were in a big bookstore (remember those things...BOOKSTORES? Man, those were the days!). Anyway we descended the stairs from the top floor to the lower level (Yeah, I know, right?!! Two-story bookstores were actually a THING, man!) On a big table at the bottom of the stairs they had an entire display devoted to this book called MAKE LOVE THE BRUCE CAMPBELL WAY. We were just laughing at the title and cover. That alone had us going. So we picked one up and I started reading it out loud and after a few lines I was laughing so hard it was difficult to continue. But we kept reading it and it only got funnier.

After a while we put it down and left because clerks and customers were staring at us, plus I couldn't afford that damn book!

But it sure was funny.

Bruce Campbell--a man who carved a career out of corn. What a brilliant fucker.

Just the cover had us laughing.

PS: Sean Penn should have read this to learn how it's done.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Spring Wildlife

I love encountering wildlife when I go hiking and backpacking and kayaking. Those are the activities that most often put me in a situation where I can get photographs of wild animals. When I can't go hiking or backpacking I find that it's very easy for me to go kayaking in Mountain Island Lake which is just a couple of miles from my house. There I can see all sorts of critters from raccoons, deer, snakes and turtles, and dragonflies, to a staggering array of birds.

One of my favorite birds is the Great blue heron. For one thing, it's an animal that does not seem to be in any way under threat from pressure from humans. I see them all over the place. From wild open lakes in swamps and bayous when I'm kayaking, to rivers, to creeks in suburban neighborhoods, to Mountain Island Lake where I take my kayak (and camera).

One year one of my close friends (who is also, like me, a dinosaur buff) insisted that he had spotted a pterodactyl. No, he was not kidding. He was completely convinced that he had spotted one in the sky above his house. I tried to tell him that he had likely seen a Great blue heron, but he was having none of that. It was a pterodactyl, by God! Finally, a few days later he saw the same bird land in a neighborhood pond and called to tell me that I'd been right.

Still, they sort of are theropod dinosaurs (even if pterosaurs were not dinosaurs).

I was digging through old photos from a kayak trip I took on the lake last summer and enhanced some photos I took of what I think is the heaviest Great blue heron I have ever encountered. He did not like me one little bit because I interrupted his fishing trip and he had to fly across the lake to get away from me, croaking loudly about the inconvenience as he passed in front of my kayak. Screw you, human!

So here are the photos that I fiddled with to darken because it was a terribly bright, hot day and the raw photos are frankly not that impressive.

This was shot soon after I accidentally disturbed him. Initially he moved into the brush from the lake shore hoping I'd paddle on by.

Finally he got angry and took wing.

And he let me know what an asshole I was. "GRAK!" They sound about like you'd think a giant predator bird would sound.

He headed away.

Just before he got too far away for me to effectively photograph. 

You can kind of understand why my old pal could think it was a pterosaur.

Friday, March 30, 2018

They Call Me Jeeg

A movie doesn't have to be slickly produced to make me happy. And it doesn't have to make an awful lot of sense, and it certainly is not required that it have a big budget and a cast of superstars. All that I need for a good movie experience is an honest effort with a clever script , and fine performances.

Thus, with that in mind, I have to admit that I quite enjoyed the Italian superhero movie, "They Call Me Jeeg" ("Jeeg Robot" upon release in Italy).

Here we have the story of a loser schmuck who ends up getting doused in, apparently, a toxic soup of radioactive chemicals. Initially making him very sick, he eventually discovers that his bath in the concoction has given him two superhuman powers: amazing strength, and the ability to heal at an unbelievably accelerated rate.

Now, there is certainly nothing unique about the method by which the protagonist gets his powers of super-strength and hyper-healing. Chemicals and radioactivity combining to give a person god-like muscles and the ability to heal instantly are routine in comic books. What makes Jeeg different is the hero himself.

Before he becomes known as "Jeeg" he is Enzo Ceccotti (played by Claudio Santamaria) a common thug and purse-snatcher. We first encounter him as he is fleeing from the police on foot (he's far too poor to own either a car or a motorbike) over the theft of a nice wristwatch. The chase leads him to the river where he hides the watch on a barge and avoids the police by jumping into the river and using the hull of the barge to hide. The police leave and he climbs out, but not before puncturing a barrel of the radioactive brew that sickens him and later transforms him into a superman.

There really is not much to recommend the character of Enzo. He's just a big strong-arm thug with some muscles and a good pair of lungs for outrunning the cops. Even his intelligence is not so good and he can't even find a job with the lowest level of the local organized crime. Once he sells his goods to a fence he buys food and retires to his hovel to watch X-rated movies. There seems to be nothing there in the way of heroic substrate.

Eventually, though, after a while he discovers that his bath in the chemicals has given him super-strength so vast that he can punch through concrete and steel, bend metal bars, and that his body can heal from gunshot wounds within a few hours.

But Enzo has no intention of becoming a hero until bad fortune makes him into a reluctant guardian of a mentally deranged woman (Alessia, played by Ilenia Pastorelli) whose father was murdered in Enzo's presence. She thinks Enzo might somehow know what happened to her dad so she keeps at him like the little girl that she emotionally is until he accidentally displays his powers in front of her and she thinks that he is the human incarnation of her favorite cartoon character, Robot Jeeg.

Slowly, methodically, she convinces him to stop using his power to steal money (he initially rips an automatic teller machine out of a brick wall when he figures out that he can do it), and to instead use his power for good.

Into this mix we are introduced to a local low-level crime figure named Fabio Cannizzaro who is a total psychopath with a wealth of annoying personality and a vast streak of violence. Played brilliantly by Luca Marinelli I at first found the character so over the top that he was annoying, but soon realized that he was playing the character just about right for what eventually happens.

Fabio, obsessed with the news of the superman (no one knows who he is) eventually figures out that Jeeg is actually Enzo and he captures Alessia to make him give up the secret of his heightened strength. Without giving too much more away, the situation gets really complicated for both hero, villain, damsel, and everyone else involved with the trio.

Ultimately I found the script just clever enough to keep the project a couple of levels above even the most highly budgeted US superhero movie. The hero remains a big, powerful thug with a heart of gold and fists of steel. The villain ended up reminding me more than a little of Steve Ditko's The Creeper, and this added to the fun.

Another thing that I liked is that while the script does wrap things up in a tidy, logical bundle, it's not all happiness for all involved. In addition, the acting of the three main actors who portray Enzo, Fabio, and Allesia are excellent. The three do a great job and their performances held my attention. Hell---Luca Marinelli could probably make a career in the US, at least playing character roles.

I'd heard this was a good film, and few movies that I hear about this way pan out for me. "They Call Me Jeeg" did meet the hype. might have exceeded it. A great, simple, clever, honestly created low-budget superhero movie.

Enzo, having discovered that he can bend steel with his bare hands.

Fabio, chewing the scenery in villainous style.

Allesia, the deranged, innocent, childlike damsel.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Separate Tables

Carole and I watched a great movie last night: Separate Tables, from 1958.

The film was directed by Delbert Mann and was based on a play by Terrence Rattigan. It stars Burt Lancaster, Rita Hayworth, Rod Taylor, David Niven (who won an Oscar for his role as Major Pollock), Deborah Kerr, and Wendy Hiller in a role that won her an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress as Pat Cooper.

Often I will see a film that is adapted from plays that leaves much to be desired, generally because it's either over-directed with a heavy hand, or sometimes merely lensed in a bland way that mimics a stage (so what's the point?). This production altered the stage play somewhat, combined the two (altered) acts into a traditional screenplay, and delivers a really special movie.

Co-produced by Burt Lancaster, he portrays one of the major characters and delivers the usual performance that one expected of him, with his personality and physical presence pretty much overwhelming most of the scenes in which he appears. His character (John Malcolm) is often scruffy and confused and mildly drunk, and Lancaster seems to do his best to subvert that enormous screen presence that served him well. He obviously respected the script and the play on which it was based.

A mousy, drab woman Sibyl is played by Deborah Kerr who at this time seemed to be doing a series of roles that intentionally depressed her beauty to make her appear plain and subdued. I suppose she made a conscious effort to turn in these performances and choose these characters, because in my youth I had never thought of her as particularly attractive because I'd seen so many of them. Maybe this was the first such role she accepted and she liked being appreciated for her talent and not her striking beauty.

Sibyl is a young woman totally subjugated by her overbearing upper class mother who does not approve of her attraction to an older retired officer, Major Pollock as created for the screen by David Niven. I have always been accustomed to seeing Niven do characters larger than life and almost cartoonish in their British flourish. But here he plays a sad, deceptive man living on a pension who is not only lying about being a major (he retired as a lieutenant), but a bit of a sexual pervert in a mild sort of way. It is the discovery of Pollock's flaws and falsehoods that presents the thrust of the drama for the movie.

There is, of course, a secondary storyline involving a bit of a love triangle between Malcom (Lancaster), Pat Cooper, the owner of the inn where the story unfolds (played by Wendy Hiller), and Malcolm's estranged wife Anne (created by Rita Hayworth). To me, this story was secondary and pedestrian when compared to the one focusing on Colonel Pollock and Sybil, and Niven definitely turned in the finest performance I ever saw from him, and one of the best by any actor from any movie I've watched in a last few years. I was only one year old when the movie was first-run, so I guess I can be excused for only discovering it now.

The film does address some issues that I find are more and more important to me as I get older, especially the issue of class. For one of the levers used to punish Pollock when his secrets are revealed is that he is merely from a working class family when others who reside at the inn are from the UK middle class. He is definitely not one of them when he had posed otherwise. In addition, the entire situation with Niven as accused is a metaphor for the situation of gays in that day and age and not, of course, the crime of which he is accused in the screenplay. This was, of course, 1958.

Hiller is pretty much the glue who holds the entire production together and I have to admit that I mainly watched it because of her presence. When I was a kid I watched the film adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's play "Pygmalion" when I was in my teens and fell in love with her at first sight. What a gorgeous young woman she was, so I decided to watch "Separate Tables" without knowing anything at all about it other than her presence.

Oh. I have to mention Rod Taylor and Audrey Dalton as a young unmarried couple staying at the inn back in the days when cohabitation by unmarried people was forbidden. The pair serve as comic relief and each appearance by them definitely produces a lot of humor. At the time Taylor's star was in ascendance and he only agreed to take the small role because he admired the script and the folk producing the movie.

If you can, catch the movie. Carole and I watched in on streaming video via the Filmstruck channel. I suppose it's available on other venues and DVD.

Wendy Hiller as she appeared in the 1938 film "Pygmalion" and not the 1958 movie I watched tonight. But this is what she looked like the first movie in which I saw her. Yeah, love at first sight for me when I was a teenager.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

There's Something Wrong

“There’s Something Wrong”

At one of my jobs there was a guy who worked mainly nights several times a week. His name was Oliver and he had a hard time of it. I would see him arrive at work walking down the highway sometimes just after I got there, as he either did not drive, or couldn’t afford an automobile even if he could drive.

Oliver was—to me—a completely pitiful fellow. He just was not put together right. That’s the only way I can describe him. And I’m speaking as a person who is himself not put together in perfect symmetry. I have crooked teeth, am blind in one eye, tend to go to fat; and am not, frankly, good-looking. So I’m not picking on Oliver when I say this.

He was very thin--his arms and legs were like elongated sticks. Oliver’s torso, also, seemed strangely stretched, as if formed in a kind of rectangle with no deviation from shoulders to hips, which made the addition of those fragile-looking limbs that much weirder. His face was somewhat effeminate and chinless and he wore a bit of downy beard almost as a challenge to this unfortunate situation concerning gender. There just seemed to be something intrinsically wrong with him.

Even his demeanor was somewhat annoying with a high-pitched voice and a speech impediment that tended to make the ‘sh' sound whenever he tried to form an ‘s’, which would also sometimes trail off into a whistle at the oddest moments. It didn’t help that he occasionally tried to discuss things which were not pertinent to the job at hand and he would now and then try to engage co-workers in conversations about subjects only of interest to Oliver.

His job was as a kind of janitor at the place where I worked and he did a commendable job mainly, except when some real muscle power was required and he always needed help in such situations. Fifteen or twenty pounds seemed to be the limit he could move without help. He was the picture of physical frailty. Of course I wondered if he had gotten the job in some kind of aid program, but I didn’t care about that. He worked and seemed happy to do so.

What did bug me about Oliver were some of the co-workers. It is the common wisdom that bullies vanish when high school is over and people move on into the adult world of jobs and marriage and parenthood (or life as a single person making a living for those of you among the politically correct). But this is not true. The tendency for cruelty in some continues—as near as I can tell—forever. I’m sure that there are notorious bullies in old-folks homes tottering about on their walkers and terrorizing their fellow inmates.

Oliver suffered from bullying. Often I wondered if he was even aware of it the way that I was. He would speak to someone in authority and get a cynical reply. Or he could ask for some help from those whose jobs it was to respond and they would make fun of him and answer with classic snark. For his part, Oliver seemed accustomed to it, or he had learned to let it roll off his back with a smile. I never once saw him get upset or angry or tearful. It is quite possible he didn't even notice it as cruelty.

I, on the other hand, did get angry. Many were the times when I wanted to scream at the assholes and get in their faces and maybe bash some teeth out. Finally, one day I did respond to a fellow in lower management who complained about misfit Oliver.

“I see the way people talk to Oliver,” I told him. “If Oliver ever complains, or if anyone challenges the company on his behalf, I will tell them what I have seen and heard. This place will get the shit sued out of it.”

Almost immediately I noticed that no one bothered Oliver anymore. No one said anything snide to him. No one made fun of him, or even smirked at him when his back was turned. But rather than feel a sense of victory or accomplishment I instead began to worry about him. Maybe I’d done him a disservice. It wouldn’t take any effort at all for someone in higher management to decide to get rid of him. There is no difficulty at all in the USA for a corporation to shed a part-time worker who is already dirt-poor. Especially if the company feels any kind of economic threat from them whatsoever. Perhaps I’d doomed his employment by speaking up. Maybe this was the lull before termination.

Maybe two weeks later I noticed that Oliver had been absent for a few days. He had not appeared in late afternoon to do the cleaning into the evening hours before walking along the highway back to wherever he lived. I asked another laborer and they didn’t know where he was.

Finally, one afternoon I saw him reenter the building, pushing a trash bin with broom and mop. “Hey, Oliver,” I said.

“Hey, Bob!”

I asked him where he’d been. And he proceeded to tell me that he’d had a bad case of the flu and had been in bed for most of a week.

“Well, you look OK now,” I told him.

“My mama always said I was really strong,” he replied. And he raised those poor stick-like arms and made a muscle pose.

And for the first time I thought not of Oliver, but of his mother, which had never occurred to me. What is a poor woman going to do if she has a kid like Oliver? A child who is imperfect physically, and not quite there mentally or socially. No money. No one who really cares or who can help. What she does, I suddenly imagined, is tell that child that he is strong. That mother informs him that he is smart and special and can do whatever he needs to do. She does that because that’s really all she can provide before she is gone and her imperfect baby has to find his own way in a society full of assholes and bullies.

“That’s great, Oliver.” And I had to make a dash for the bathroom to hide.

Later, I heard Oliver talking to someone. “I think there’s something wrong with Bob. He was crying.” 

Not put together just right.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Life of the Working Class

Semi-retired these days, I have a part-time job in a grocery store. As with almost every job before this one it is as a laborer. Similar to my previous such positions I am often placed in situations where I hear people talking, casually discussing their lives. Never in my life would I intentionally eavesdrop, but when you are quietly working and other people are talking nearby you cannot help but hear what they say.

A few days ago I was stocking shelves with produce—fresh vegetables, fruit, salads, and the like, and I heard a young woman talking to her son. The boy was about five or six years old. So his mom must have been very young when she had him because she couldn’t have been older than 23 or so.

The young woman was pushing one of the smaller grocery carts—the kind that’s about one-third the size of a normal cart. She was very carefully picking things out to put in there. I have noticed this is how people shop when they have little money and have to be sure not to put more than they can afford into the buggy. She was doing this. There was not much in it and she was not tossing things in there at random.

The boy had a small container of cut watermelon that his mom had told him he could have. He looked back at the shelf and noticed a larger container of it. He obviously liked watermelon and took down one of the larger plastic boxes. “Nanna gave us $30.00. Do you think I could get the big one?” he asked.

“I’m sorry, honey. But we already spent that money. We can’t afford that one.”

“Okay,” he said, and put it back.

After a little while they were gone, and I filed the experience there in the back of my mind with a million other such things that I would probably never recall.

About fifteen minutes later I was told I needed to go to the front of the store to a specific cash register. I did so, and as I got there I knew that it was to retrieve merchandise that someone had decided not to buy so that I could return it to the shelves. As I looked down at it, I realized that almost everything that young woman had placed into that puny shopping cart was lying on the checkout counter. Even the tiny container of cut watermelon for her little boy.

And every day people ask me why I am so angry. When they say this to me with these expressions of fat, complacent judgement on their stinking faces I want to punch them all in the teeth. This horrible thing that I saw is not rare. This nation is awash in human beings who are nearly homeless, or already so. We have more billionaires living in unimaginable luxury and greed than any nation has ever seen, and over half of our people are the barest step ahead of homelessness and starvation.

The next person who asks me why I am so angry is perhaps going to get their fucking ass kicked.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Pearson's Falls

I have done so much hiking and exploring around Saluda, North Carolina over the years that I've lost count of the number of times I've been in or close to the town. However, for one reason or another I have managed to never see Pearson's Falls located on the edges of the city limits.

Maybe it's because of the $5.00 admission charge and the fact that the property is in private hands and no part of our public lands. I can't recall why I have passed it by to visit other places in the area, but I have.

Today Carole and I visited the Pearsons Botanical Preserve and paid the $5.00 admission fee and it was certainly money well spent. Pearsons Glen is the location of the waterfall and the Garden Club that owns and administers to acreage has done a more than admirable job of providing access and infrastructure for visitors to see the land and the waterfall that is its centerpiece.

The trail that leads to the falls is excellent work worthy of the best of the CCC trails that are in our National Parks and National Forests. It follows the stream which cascades down the rocks and boulders and offers an unending music to those who visit.

And what a great waterfall! Pearson's Falls is said to be 90-feet high and it does seem to be that tall. It is an especially striking a photogenic waterfall. Carole and I hope to go back in the spring with the various wildflowers will be showing their color. I highly recommend a visit!

Hiking the short trail to Pearsons Falls.

A picnic pavilion near the parking areas.

Standing near the base of the falls. No trespassing beyond the chains! (Seriously. Don't. The owners will prosecute.)

Decaying log at the bottom of the falls, alive with moss and new growth.

Carole along the way.

A bridge across the creek.

One of the picnic spots on the way to the falls.

A new blossom on March 17.
Carole and I get a kick out of Saluda. It's a nice and popular village.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Shape of Manipulation

After I first encountered the work of director Guillermo del Toro I was both hypnotized and impressed. Even his commercial efforts such as the second BLADE movie, and HELLBOY were fun to watch and full of playful material. I liked his work so much that I sought out interviews with him and pretty soon decided that he was likely the most intelligent guy making fantasy films.

My favorite of his work is probably PAN'S LABYRINTH which was sparked by the experiences of his politically leftist family during the Spanish Civil War. CRONOS is also another of his movies that I admire. It didn't hurt that in addition to his obvious intelligence, he also just projected a very likable, childlike persona when interviewed. I found myself looking forward to news of any upcoming projects from him.

However, with the second HELLBOY feature film he directed I lost much of my admiration for his style and his efforts. It was the first time that one of his movies lost the blush of imagination for me. That film was all effects and noise and offered pretty much nothing else. That was okay, I figured, assuming that it was a glitch in the program and that he'd get right back to work as usual. (It did, however, completely derail the HELLBOY movie franchise.)

Then came the execrable THE STRAIN television series that he created and produced (but, apparently did not direct). Perhaps one of the single worst genre shows I have ever seen on television. Even comic book physics have to contain some kind of logic; and weird movies about things such as vampiric worms should contain realistic characterizations and decent acting, none of which were evident in this piece of shit. His TV effort lacked anything whatsoever of value and I quickly lost interest in it. His name on a project was beginning to repel rather than attract me.

After that came PACIFIC RIM (about giant robots fighting giant monsters) which managed to make Idris Elba look like a first class ham; and CRIMSON PEAK (supposedly a kind of ghost-imbued romance) with a forgettable cast. Both of these failed to inspire me at any level whatsoever, with the former actually making me rather sick. He'd gone over to trying to impress his audience with CGI and, frankly...that got old some time back.

What the hell was going on with the guy?

So. I kept hearing about his homage to THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and that it was headed for the big screen. I had not yet lost all hope for del Toro's work, so I was going to see this movie and give him one more chance. The film appeared, apparently to tepid fan response, and I kept missing opportunities to see it. Truthfully, after a number of crappy efforts, I wasn't in a hurry to view his latest movie.

Finally, though, it won the Academy Award for Best Picture so my wife actually found herself wanting to see it. As I'd heard, it was a kind of romance so I figured she might enjoy it. We drove to a nearby theater two days after the stupid Academy Awards ceremony and bought our tickets and had our seats in a mostly empty theater.

For her part, my wife adored the movie. She loathes genre films, but this one she loved. As the end credits were rolling she was actually crying at the sweetness of it all. I didn't say anything to break the moment for her.

As for me--that was it. No more Guillermo del Toro films for me. I was pretty much sickened by the spectacle. It was slick--I'll give him that. The monster was cool. Weird enough looking to be a creature from another environment, but not so disgusting that some people couldn't imagine that fucking it would be a hideous rape-y kind of experience.

Yeah, del Toro did his 'Beauty and the Beast' schtick without making any liberals feel creepy about it. In this case the heroine was with the monster by choice and not through force.

And therein lay my disgust with the movie: del Toro went out of his way, pulled out all of the stops, and rigged up every bit of neo-liberal gibberish that he could cram into a movie. How could the Academy not give him the Oscar for it? Well, apparently they couldn't resist. He played them like a fine instrument and won the popularity contest among his little clique of special people.

Here's what he did:

The heroine of the yarn was a woman. Points for that. And what they call, these days, a strong woman. Kudos. She was also not completely normal, not pretty, and had struggled to overcome not just adversity, but a major handicap. Touchdown!

The monster--also a hero--was strong and silent, sensitive and understanding, and loving. All things that, apparently, real heterosexual men are not.

And that's where we get to the true meat of the tale. What were the men like? You know...the men who are human beings and not fishmen from the depths.

They were almost all villains. First of all we had Strickland--played by the very talented character actor Michael Shannon. Boy, did del Toro deliver the liberal goods on this guy. He is everything that the groupthink informs us is horrible about males. First of all, he's white. Ding! Then he's aggressive. Dong! He's also a racist. (Aren't all non-liberals?!) He's self-centered, sadistic, cruel. Check. Check. Check. And as not to leave any doubt regarding his villainy, he's a sexual harasser! Boing!!

At least in movies like PAN'S LABYRINTH the bad guy was courageous and dedicated. No admirable traits with this one. Such Liberal fun!

All of the other guys in the movie (but one) are also evil. Next we have THE RUSSIANS!  (Oooo! The scary Russians!) As you all know, every Russian is evil! Every Russian deserves to be killed. We need to go to war with Russia according to the liberals and boy do the liberals get to have their hate-on with Russia with this one!  Guillermo del Toro gives them this, in spades! Woo HOO! Warmongering liberal wet dream! All the Russians must, die! And they do!

Hell...del Toro even makes the one black man in the entire movie into a villainous, cowardly douchebag. Heavens to Alice Walker! SCORE! Right through the uprights!

In fact, the only decent human male in the movie is Giles, the heroine's next-door-neighbor who is a closeted gay. Yeah, you have to be a gay man to be worthy in this movie. All of the heterosexual males are pernicious. Jackpot, del Toro! You win the lottery! Enjoy yer dildo-shaped statues!

So, I found that this was easily far and away the most calculated bit of propaganda that I have seen in a major motion picture in decades. And it's not as if I can't enjoy a propaganda piece (such as PATTON), but this one was just so obvious in its pungent prostitution that the whole experience sickened me.

And then--that ending. The final scene of glorious transition. Give. Me. A. Break. Ya lost me, Guillermo. The trans bandwagon?! Lost probably forever. I'm pretty sure I've sworn off Guillermo del Toro as a filmmaker. Definitely as an honest creator, at any rate. He can whore off his mind for other people. I think I'm done with him.

Bestiality is fun!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Stupid Thing to Do

One of my earliest long-distance backpacking trips was in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It began a few days from my 16th birthday and my actual birthday occurred at a trail shelter near the summit of a 6,000-foot mountain called Big Cataloochee. I recall that it got very cold that morning--close to freezing (June 28).

This was back in the early 1970s when the Park still had chain link across the fronts of the trail shelters to protect overnight backpackers from bears. Because in those days most such folk did not practice safe bear-country habits and bears were attracted to the shelters because of the smell of food and actual food items left out where the bears could take them. Back then it was nice to be able to close and secure that chain link door and go to sleep knowing that a bear couldn't get in.

A couple of nights after that we were staying at another shelter called Peck's Corner. It got kind of crowded as this shelter was at the Appalachian Trail and lots of hikers use it. Fortunately, as things turned out, it also had the chain link barrier. Why 'fortunately'? Because one of the backpackers had brought along a can of tuna fish. For lunch he opened the can, walked out in front of the shelter, and drained all of that oil and fish juice on a large flat boulder a few feet from the chain link door. Then he came back in and prepared his meal.

In a few minutes a mother bear and three tiny cubs showed up. I suspect they smelled the tuna fish. But before the mama bear could get to the shelter she pointed her nose to the sky and seemed to be sensing something the rest of us could not. Then she rushed back to the tree where she'd stashed her tiny babies, called them down, and retreated to the deep forest.

Why? We found out.

In short order a very large, very scarred male bear appeared. A few people who'd been outside the shelter rushed in and the chain link door was closed and secured just in time, for he then came right up to it and peered in at all of us humans 'safely' inside.

Then he went to the big boulder where the idiot had drained his can of tuna fish. This boulder had about the same surface size on top as a big dining room table. Let's say four by six feet. But it was also about two feet thick. We're talking a mass amount of stone. Immovable, you might say. Here's what happened.

That big, scarred up bear began to lick the oil from the boulder. He licked it all off the top where the idiot had drained it, and then followed the streamlets of oil down the side of the boulder. Some of the oil had followed the contour of the rock and were now under the weight of it. So the bear stood to the side, hooked his claws under the lip, and lifted that mass so that he could lick the tuna fish oil from underneath the boulder. He hefted it up like it was nothing. They way you might move a dining room chair out of your way.

I kid you, not. (Keep in mind he did this with one arm while standing three-legged to do it.)

When he had gotten all of that smelly, delicious, yummy fish oil he released the boulder and it fell back into place with a thump that I felt through the soles of my boots.

At that point he turned his attention back to the shelter. He walked up to the chain link that was protecting us and he peered inside with those beady, dark, black-bear eyes. There was no humor in those eyes. There was no pity hiding in the depths. He was trying to figure out how to get to the food that he knew was in there with us. His nose was going snuff-snuff.

It was at that moment that he stood up on his back legs. I'd already realized that he was an enormous bruiser, but when you see one stand up like that you realize how big they are. The bear placed his paws on the chain link and he began to push. Yeah. He was trying to use his sheer bulk, and the power of the same muscles that had hefted that massive boulder to shove that damned chain link fence right the heck in. With every push he would give out with this little grunt.

Push! Oof! Push! Unh! Push! Grar!

After a few such efforts he seemed to realize that the steel was stronger than he was and he settled back where he sat and stared at us for a little while, those dark, black eyes smoldering with the frustration of a missed opportunity. If only he'd arrived a second or two sooner, before the door had closed in his face.

A few minutes later he was gone. Poof. Vanished back into the forest. Everyone came out of the shelter. He did not return.

I was reminded of this memory because I heard the story of a guy who backpacked into a remote part of Yellowstone National Park a couple of years ago. On the second day of his journey into the wilderness, thick with Grizzly bears who are far larger and far more aggressive than black bears, this shit-for-brains opened up his backpack to discover that the tuna fish he had brought along with him had leaked out and the liquid inside had permeated his pack and his clothing and everything in it and on it with the pungent scent of tuna fish.

To make a longer story very short, nothing happened to this idiot. No grizzly bear appeared to eat the now tuna-flavored moron. But I was reminded of the incident with the black bear. And it was all part of the lesson that I learned that day at Peck's Corner. And that lesson was never to bring any food item that is so pungent that even humans can smell it from a distance. Especially something like a can or packet of tuna fish that can leak out and turn you into a predator's target.

I mean...don't. Just don't.

See that kid inside the Laurel Gap Shelter? That was me. On June 28, 1973, the day of my 16th birthday. This was back in the days when the National Park Service had chain link on the fronts of the shelters to protect dumbass backpackers from bears. These days the chain link is gone. The Park Service has pretty much trained backpackers to not do stupid shit like get tuna fish all over the shelters, and to be sensisble and hang their food in bags away from the overnight shelters and tents.