Friday, September 07, 2018

OZARK

One thing that I do like about modern television is the diversity of material available via cable and satellite. There are all kinds of crazy things that one could only dream about in the days when a few networks controlled the medium and social norms limited what could be created.

A series I watched last year and am currently enjoying is OZARK. A project of Jason Bateman, it's pretty darned good. It stars Bateman as Marty Byrde, an accountant who got mixed up with a Mexican drug cartel and who was plunged into a seat-of-the-pants scheme so that he could save himself and his family from execution by that same cartel. Laura Linney co-stars as his wife. I generally have not liked her performances in the past, no matter the project. But someone realized that her often false and wooden portrayals would work perfectly as Marty Byrde's wife, Wendy. And they were right--it does work. It's the first time I've actually appreciated her acting.


Bateman and Linney as the Byrdes.

But the supporting cast is what stands out to me, even shining through a largely contrived plot that often pulls tricks out of its ass (such as a minor character having the key to dealing with the Kansas City mob). It's hard to pick out which supporting cast member is turning in the finest job, and I find that I cannot play favorites on that point, so I won't even try, and will instead just go down the list.

Julia Garner is an actress of whom I had never heard. She portrays a white trash youngster who is directionless until she falls into the web spun by Marty Byrde. Under his wing she discovers that she has scheming talents she didn't realize. Uglied up beyond belief, there was something about her that I found beautiful, and when I finally saw photos of her without the horrible makeup, clothing, and hair--I have to admit that I was not surprised to discover that she is, indeed, quite beautiful. I don't know where she learned to do her southern accent, but it is spot-on perfect. Stunning, actually. Because I figured her for a born southerner.

Julia Garner as Ruth Langhorne. What a great performance!

Lisa Emery portrays Darlene Snell, a kind of monster and the co-owner of a heroin-producing outfit that she runs with her husband. Again, she comes off as a truly hideous person, both physically and (often) personally. And once more I was a bit surprised to find that underneath that bare, horrid character is another beautiful woman. She nails the creature so artfully that it has risen to the surface to hide her true self.

Lisa Emery as Darlene Snell. Don't worry, she looks at everyone that way. Whether she's marked them for death, or not.

Jason Butler Harner plays the sadistic FBI agent Roy Petty who is completely and utterly obsessed with nailing Marty Byrde as the laundry man for the drug cartel profits. I had previously seen his work in two films--The Changeling (directed by Clint Eastwood), and Kill the Irishman. In the former he was, as here, an obsessed and irredeemable monster, and turned in an unappreciated job as that vile creature. His turn as agent Petty is as a gay but totally psychotic bastard who can, and does, break all of the rules to catch his target. As in The Changeling wherein he played a pedophile serial killer, he is completely easy to hate.

Jason Butler Harner as douchebag FBI agent Petty.
Peter Mullan is an actor I must have seen previously because I have watched some of the movies in which he appeared. But in none of these was he so prominent. In Ozark he is Jacob Snell, the head man in the heroin outfit that he operates from his land holding in the wilderness on his property. A gruff, bearded, good old boy with a soul-killing gaze and the temperament to slaughter anyone who gets in his way, he is the voice and face of the wolf running point at the head of the pack. 

Peter Mullan as Jacob Snell

Pretty much all of the acting in this series is far beyond average. The scripts are excellent ,with the exceptions of reliance on fantastic chance from time to time. Still, it's classic pulp fiction, so you have to expect that kind of thing. What I did not expect was a series to be so uniformly excellent. But I find that I'm often being surprised by such developments from cable and satellite offerings these days.

Oh, yeah. You can watch this on Netflix.




Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Rock Creek Recreation Area Campground Review.

A brief review of the Rock Creek Recreation Area campground.

This was our second trip to this campground and recreation area. Located near Erwin, Tennessee, it's one of the finest National Forest campgrounds we've ever visited. The sites are room and almost all of them are surrounded by big trees and are very shady. The sites have electric, but no water hookups. You can fill your onboard tank from water spigots throughout the campground loops, or from a potable water hose near the dump station.

On this trip we were hampered by very heavy rains for the first two days. Drenching downpours of steady precipitation that dumped about four inches of rain over two days. It kept us from doing much in the way of outdoor activities so we ended up exploring nearby historical sites which is something we try to do anyway. And this area has quite a lot see in that respect. So we were not bored.

Each campground loop has its own bathhouse. Each house has a men's and women's section, and each section has a toilet stall, a sink, and a shower stall. The showers were good with excellent water pressure and warm water.

There is a good amphitheater where entertainment or ranger talks are sometimes held, but nothing was planned there during this stay. The last time we were there we listened to excellent bluegrass music being performed.

There is a ridiculous wealth of hiking to be done from, and around, the campground. Waterfalls seem to be almost everywhere. Even though the rain kept us from doing as much as we wanted, we still had a great time, and it remains one of the best National Forest campgrounds we've ever visited.

The campsites are very roomy and private. Lots of trees and shrubs separate you from most of your neighbors.

We opted not to use our awning because it was raining so hard the first two days we were there. The rain was so severe that we didn't want to risk damaging the awning.

We love these little kiosks. It allows us to put our camp stove under cover where we can cook, and also store items safe from the rain. We prefer to cook outside even though our Casita has a stove.

This is the last time we'll use our old-style picnic shelter. We're going to buy one of the modern Clam-type shelters this month and donate this old clunker to Goodwill. It works well, but is a pain to erect.

This is the campground bathhouse. There is one of these on each of the three loops. Each bathhouse has a men and women's restroom, each with a toilet, sink, and one shower stall.

Big bathrooms, but only one of each stall. Could be problematic when the campground is crowded.

The showers use two pressure buttons to turn on the water. The water does not stay on very long (maybe 20 seconds) before you have to press the buttons again. Two nozzles, upper and lower. The water pressure was good and the water was warm, but not hot.
When the CCC built this pond it was a bit larger. It was also much deeper--eight feet. Stream fed, with a little cascade tumbling into the pond. It also used to have a diving platform. However, later administrators decided to reduce the depth to only four feet and to remove the diving platform. Lawsuits, I suppose. It's a very nice pond where you can take the kids wading and go swimming. Lots of space to lounge on the shore and to picnic if you wish.

Not as deep as it used to be, but still a fine place to pay and relax.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Another Trip to Rock Creek!

We're just back from a trip to Rock Creek Recreation Area near Erwin, TN. It remains one of our all-time favorite National Forest campgrounds. However, this trip was tempered with torrential rainfalls, and the fact that our formerly reliable truck suffered an engine-destroying event that ended with us having to be towed back home from Tennessee.

Still, we managed to have a good time and we made more good memories than bad ones.


Easy fords became tough barriers.

Upper Rock Creek Falls, the goal of my hike.

The view at "the Beauty Spot" on Unaka Mountain Road.

Our campsite.


I had to wait a day for water levels to subside to make the hike after three days of torrential rains.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Cardinal Grateful

Years ago when I was a letter carrier for USPS I went into an old two-story apartment quad. On the second floor there was a female cardinal that had gotten trapped inside. She had been flying into the window so many times she'd worn a patch of feathers off of her head. (I noted that her skin under the feathers is black.) I carried a towel with me and was able to toss it over her. Then I carefully carried her in my hands, shouldered the door open, and released her. I recall a man walking past as I opened my hands and she took to the skies. He kind of just stood there and gawked.

For the next half an hour or so she followed me down the street, landing on twigs and tree limbs whenever I stopped. I paused a few times to talk to her. I have never had any doubt that she was thanking me.


Not the cardinal I rescued, but one in the backyard of the condo where we lived in Matthews.


Friday, July 27, 2018

Closing in on Retirement.

Eleven months until full retirement. I've been planning for this for decades. I won't be rich, but I'll be relatively comfortable. I'll be able to travel and do as much camping and hiking and backpacking as I want to do. No house payment. No large debts. I might buy a newer truck to pull the trailer. We'll see.

I just have to make it through the next eleven months.

The shorter the time gets, the more frustrating the waiting becomes.

Dang it! I can't even recall the name of this spring! I'll be doing a lot of kayaking come my 62nd birthday.
I'll be camping in the middle of the week, avoiding the crowds. Woo HOO! Also, I'll get National Park camping at half off!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

SHAZAM!

This movie looks like it could be fun. People some time back lost sight of the fact that comic book superheroes were created to entertain children. It's cool that some adults get a kick out of them, but this silly shit was made for kids.




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.