Thursday, December 27, 2012

Oysters? Oh yeah.

I like to read and do so most every evening, usually at bedtime, in bed. Time was when I could read two maybe three hours before calling it a day. Nowadays, I’m lucky if I get twenty minutes in before the Sandman comes around and drops the book on my chest.
At the present time, I’m nearly though a mystery/thriller novel titled Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke. The protagonist, a fella by the name of  Dave Robicheaux, works for the New Iberia, Louisiana  Sheriff’s department and along with his sidekick, Clete Purcell , are quite the entertaining characters. How people like James Lee Burke spin such fascinating yarns both inspires and depresses a wannbe writer such as myself. But that’s not my point today.
In last night’s chapter, Dave and his wife go fishing for crappie out of a flat bottom boat in the bayou.  Seems that his wife has packed them a few snacks for their time on the water, among which are fried oyster sandwiches. Now, I’ve never tasted a fried oyster sandwich, but it sounded interesting. The last time I’d slurped a few of the slime balls was in an open air bar on South Padre Island, Texas. You bought ‘em on the half shell, a dozen at a time. Or a half dozen if you wanted to be wimpy about it. The weather was perfect with a slight breeze coming in off the Gulf carrying all those smells that you get around the coastal water, completely foreign to an Okie. The waitress was a cute little thing, having just arrived from Baton Rouge, and with an accent so heavy you could weigh it on the scales. Now eatin’ oysters off the half shell is not for the faint of heart and in no way should be attempted without fortification from a few spookers. Let’s just say that on this occasion, I was well prepared.
But a fried oyster sandwich? I had to try it. I suppose that somewhere in Tulsa, one can buy oysters on the half shell, but for this experiment, and knowing full well it wouldn’t be the same as fresh oysters, I opted for a can of ‘em from the shelf of the local Wal-Mart. Dave’s wife didn’t reveal her recipe in the book, but I was confident the Internet would share the secret. Sho nuff. All you had to do was drain ‘em, soak ‘em in a couple beaten eggs, roll ‘em in bread crumbs, add salt and pepper, and drop ‘em in the skillet. Did I mention that I’m quite talented at cracking eggs? Learned the skill in the good ‘ol U.S. N., the United States Navy. I could grab two eggs with both hands, crack all four of them, and drop ‘em on a sizzling  grill before you could scratch an itch on your behind.  But I digress.
To be honest, my concoction didn’t look all that appetizing. A spooker was in order, maybe a couple. But once those little jewels hit the hot oil, Oh Mama! My delight with my culinary excellence caught the attention of the Missus who was watching yet another Spencer Tracy movie in the bedroom.  

“What’s that smell?”
“Oysters. Want some?”
“Yech. Shut the door.”
Expecting the response, I giggled. All for me. I tossed those babies down like hot buttered popcorn, savoring the moment.
There was no Gulf breeze, nor any waitresses in tight fitting jeans, and yes, the oysters did come from a can, but for Oklahoma in December, it wasn’t all that bad, Baby. Go ahead. Try it. I double dog dare ya.






Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Whitlock and Guns

By now most of you have heard or read about the Kansas City Chiefs football player that murdered the mother of his child and then took his own life in the parking lot of Arrowhead Stadium. Sportscaster Bob Costas spoke of the incident on Sunday Night Football and referenced the well known columnist Jason Whitlock, a frequent contributor to the Kansas City Star.
Whitlock wrote, “What I believe is, if he didn’t possess/own a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.”

Uh, oh. Gun control nut! The web site where Whitlock’s column appeared was flooded with comments by everyone who had ever pulled a trigger. When I last checked, there were over 1500 and were coming in so fast you couldn’t read them before the page refreshed. Most were along these lines: When things get ugly, you’ll be the kind of people that will be hiding behind people like us. And that was a nice one.

But I think the point Whitlock was trying to make is that if guns were not so readily available, killings from impulse, hot tempers, and street gangs may not be as prevalent as they are today. Every red-blooded gun-toting American out there jumped on Whitlock with the logic that the football player could have committed his murders with a knife or a club or even a rock. True, but then how many drive-by stoning incidents do you read about? Truth is, guns are just so damn handy and easy to use. The best part is that you don’t even have to be close to your victim to do him in. Put a scope on a rifle and you can take him out without him knowing you were even in the neighborhood. I think we can agree that pulling a trigger takes a lot less energy and is much quicker than say… a baseball bat, a tire iron, or a chainsaw.

Problem is, it’s a hypothetical. Guns, like drugs, are out there and always will be. The government is not going to take away our guns any more than they can win the war on drugs. That fear generated and encouraged by the weapons manufacturers, the NRA, and the dealers is purely profit driven. Just look at the sales stats after the winner of the recent election was known.

Think about it. Do you honestly believe any elected politician would so much as hint of confiscating the millions of weapons out there today? The key word here is elected, not like the dictatorship of Hitler and Nazi Germany. And no, despite the rants of some, Obama is not a dictator.

Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that owning a gun and having the means to defend one’s self is one of our country’s most precious rights. Any logical thinking citizen understands that the responsibility of protecting yourself and your family falls directly on you and not some local police force that may or may not show up and far too late if they do. The old adage that says if you take away the guns, only criminals will have guns, is absolutely true.

And yet, wouldn’t it be nice if the United States wasn’t in the top ten countries with the most firearms-related death rates? Places like Columbia, El Salvador, and our next door neighbor, Mexico where they regularly find bodies piled up in ditches. Doesn’t exactly give you a warm fuzzy does it?

Nice idea Mr. Whitlock, just ain’t gonna happen.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Ad Nauseas

All together now, what's the one thing we all hate when it comes to watching TV? COMMERCIALS! Yeah, I know, we’re told commercials are a necessary evil. It’s what keeps so called “free” TV free. Advertising pays the bills for the networks to buy the talent and book the programs (no matter how lousy) so that we can all turn into obese couch potatoes and stare at a big screen filled with moving blobs of color until we morph into Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest right after he’s had his lobotomy.
But here’s the thing. Have you noticed the steady increase in advertising over the past year or so? Didn’t think so.  The sneaky bastards have incrementally been stealing our precious mind-numbing program time and using it to further imprint their products deep in our cerebral cortex (or wherever imprints are stored).

Let me demonstrate with the following data gathered by my painstaking research so that you don’t have to. I saw it as my duty as well as a public service. I think few other programs reveal the covert advertising plot for what is as well as the Discovery Channel. Here’s the breakdown of a random one hour show.
00:00 Opening credits and promo lasting until 01:43 into the hour.

01:43 to 11:11 Program
11:11 to 15:55 Commercial
15:55 to 25:36 Program
25:36 to 29:15 Commercial
29:15 to 36:35 Program
36:35 to 40:20 Commercial
40:20 to 46:36 Program
46:36 to 49:45 Commercial

49:45 to 50:32 Program HOLD IT! Look again at that time.  Programming was on for only 47 seconds before going right back to commercial. This has become a common practice. Sons a bitches.
50:32 to 54:00 More commercials
54:00 to 59:59 Program, but then, pay attention now, the DVR QUIT RECORDING!

 Yes, the machine stopped recording at the top of the hour just as it was supposed to, based on the program times listed on the guide, but the program wasn’t over! No, it ran for another two or three minutes past the hour, thereby cheating you out of the last three minutes of drivel. An anomaly? I think not. More like a plot to discourage you, dear zombie, from recording your favorite foolishness and forced to make the choice of missing the ending or sit through the commercials. How cold hearted is that?
And let’s not forget those annoying little icon ads tucked away in the corners of the screen, or worse, the distracting, scrolling promos across the bottom , or how about the little human figures that jump out with a sign saying “watch me?” OMG, where’s the gun?

Did you watch the OSU-OU football game last Saturday? Did you see the big net that came up behind the goal posts for the extra points and field goals? I saw it. It had a monster logo of the Allstate Insurance Company on it. These guys don’t miss a trick.

Now for the program to commercial comparison:  it came to roughly 25 minutes of commercials for every 35 minutes of programming, plus or minus a few seconds. This is a depressing change from the previous 20 minutes to 40 minutes ratio. You can see where this is heading.

There is one thing. Remember the 2012 Doomsday prediction, approaching fast, less than a month from now if you buy the date 12/21/2012 as the big cataclysm? And then…no more TV commercials. There’s that.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Another Cat Crisis

The Missus burst into the man-cave, eyes wide in fright. It was the horror of horrors.  “Blue cat just shot past me and ran up the stairs to the attic. She’ll smother in all that insulation or get stuck behind a wall, I just know it. I can’t catch her. What should I do?”

My first move was to utter a silent prayer, “Thank you God, that it wasn’t me to commit the sin of all sins and let a cat into the attic.” Sensing the extreme anxiety in the room, I saw this as an opportunity to gain favorable points, to nullify a few of my prior wrongdoings, and agreed to help.

I found a flashlight, ascended the stairs, and, like a prison searchlight scanning the grounds for an escapee, I began to sweep the attic with light, poking the beam in every niche and corner I could see, at the same time being wary of falling through  the ceiling at any moment. Then, from atop an air duct, glowing yellow eyes. The Missus calls out.

“Oh, there she is. Blue. Blue, Kitty, kitty, kitty. Come here, baby.”

Blue was having none of it. After dozens of failed attempts to finally, finally, get to the attic and all of its mysterious boxes and places to climb, responding to a mundane come-here-kitty request wasn’t going to cut it. In fact, she turned and disappeared even deeper into the cavernous blackness. For a few minutes, we could hear her moving around, doing whatever cats do in an attic, but then…silence.

“She’s buried under all that foam and has suffocated. My cat is dead,” the Missus wailed.

I suggested to my bride that she pour herself a spooker to calm down, maybe watch a little TV, or read a book. “I have a hunch your cat is still alive, possibly taking a catnap, and will come out when she’s good and ready.” The suggestion was ignored.

“I know. I’ll open a can of cat food, “ she said. ”The sound of the pop-off lid usually brings her running.”  Placing the other cats outdoors so as not to compound the problem, a can of shredded tuna in sauce is opened and placed at the bottom of the stairs. I return to the man-cave where I occasionally hear the sound of a spoon banging against the cat dish in a futile attempt to coax kitty-kitty down from the rafters.

Patience, especially when it comes to cat safety, is not the forte of the Missus. Back to the attic she goes, clumping around, moving boxes, calling, “Kitty? Blue? Where are you sweetheart? Come to mama.” Then: “I see her!”

A moment later, “Gotcha, you little shit.”

I smile. In mere minutes, Blue has gone from All That is Precious to You Little Shit. Cats are like that. It’s in their nature.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Broken Promises

Lately, with alarming and increasing regularity, my computer has been yelling at me. Things like, “What did you just try to do?” Sorry, but there is insufficient internal memory for things like that. Put on your big boy pants, if you have any, and come back when you grow a pair."

With the huge photo file sizes that today’s digital cameras are capable of producing, and at 12 frames a second no less, the strain on the present computer was becoming more than the old boy could handle. Clearly, it was time for an upgrade. But how much computer horsepower did I really need? How much RAM? What kind of graphics card? A consult with number one son, an expert in the field, was in order. We hook up on the phone and do some virtual on-line shopping together at Best Buy, a store that I’ve had some problems with in the past.

We decided on a Dell. It was like Christmas coming early. I want one of those and one of those and oh, throw in an extra hard drive while you’re at it. Before long, my cart was full and Best Buy was grinning. The icing on the cake, the toy in the stocking, the stairway to heaven, was something called a 256 gigabyte solid state hard drive. This in addition to the run-of-the-mill old fashioned, tried and true, hard drive. The son explains that this little 256GB dynamo will add amazing speed to the processing system, allowing me to power up in something like ten seconds. Ooooohhh. That sounded really, really good. With the present model, I can hit reboot, take a nap, and still catch the last of the icons lighting up.

I click Checkout, do a double gulp at the price, but went ahead and clicked Continue. Within seconds, I was looking at a rather speedy delivery, only 5 days away. Hoo Boy!

I spend the first four days backing up the present data on an external drive. On the fifth day, I’m in the street watching for Big Brown, the UPS truck. But the driver doesn’t stop, passes by with barely a wave of the hand.  Back inside, I find a message from Best Buy.

“Your order has been cancelled per your request. Thank you for shopping Best Buy.”

WHAT? I can’t dial the 888 number fast enough.

“What do you guys mean, cancelled per my request? I didn’t cancel anything!”

“Hmm,” the man says. “Let me check into that.” Click. The carpet grew soggy with tears before he returned to the phone. “I’m very sorry, Sir, but the model with those options has been discontinued and is no longer available.” Oh no! I call the son.

“I’ll look at some other brands and get back to you.”

Hours pass. Not being of the patient sort, I get on the Dell website. Sure nuff, right there under desktops, is the exact model denied to be in existence by Best Buy. Obviously, I need to talk to the folks at Dell. However, and as you may know, I am as deaf as a fencepost. Even with the aid of a closed caption telephone converting voice to text, my communication with the hearing world is pathetic at best. It’s a big problem at times like this. Around the house, with the Missus, not so much. Then I see a button for Chat. Aha. I can’t hear, but I can type.

The Chat Lady says her name is Hazel. I immediately think of that commercial about a customer support department featuring a scruffy bearded guy in a shack claiming to be “Peggy.” Might be the same guy. No matter. I explain the situation to Hazel. Hazel is more than happy to configure my new system but without the crown jewel, the 256GB Solid State kick-Photoshop’s-ass hard drive. I tell Hazel I’ll have to think about it. She’ll call me she says.

Frantically, I try to reach the son for advice. Do I settle for less? What can I live without?  But the kid with the online-all-the-time latest in portable devices, is like the elusive hard drive, unavailable. I don’t know why. I must admit, there are times when I forget that there are still people out there that work and have actual lives to live and do not have the luxury of excessive spare time that I seem to be blessed with these days.

An hour later and still uninformed, I get a call from Dell, but it's not Hazel. This time it’s Abdul or Ahab, or Ahmadinejad, something like that. Not only can I not hear him, I can’t begin to understand the strong accent. I try to explain that I’m not quite ready to place my order and once again inquire about the model that is “no longer available.” Ahmed states, “This is true. No have.” At least I think that’s what he said. The caption phone reads “speaker unintelligible.”

It’s late afternoon before the son who can’t seem to get his priorities straight, gets a moment away from his job and calls me. I replay the latest from Hazel and Akram. The son sums it up succinctly.


“But they keep saying..”

“Bullshit. Hang on. Let me get to a computer.” Moments later: “I’m on the Dell site. I have the model we want in my Cart" he says. “All I have to do is hit Buy.”

“Hold that place,” I say. “I’ll meet you at the checkout line.”

On my own creaky computer, I duplicate the keystrokes and soon, I too am looking at the new beauty, gleaming in the light, bulging with the coveted solid state hard drive, waiting to have its button pushed. Hmm. Could it be true? Or is it an allusion? I hit the Chat button. This time I get Ariston (a co-worker of Hazel and Ahmadinejad I presume).

“Ariston, darlin’,” I type (not caring if Ariston is male or female at this point). I am looking at my cart on your website. It has a computer in it with the features I require. Do you or do you not have the capability of sending me that bad boy so equipped?"

 “I do,” she types in reply.

“Sweet Baby Jesus! Write it up, Ariston, while I pour myself a spooker. It’s been a long and trying day.” Ariston sends me a smiley face.

Once again, I resume my vigil, quietly waiting on a lonely street for the return of Big Brown. I wish they would hurry. It’s getting a bit chilly out there at night.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Cat Tour

It’s been a while since we’ve taken the Cat Tour. Readers of my little book, Cat Consequences, may remember the highlights, but since that particular writing effort failed to make the New York Times Best Seller list, it’s about time for another go round. What this tour will show is the enormous influence that the cats have upon my life here at the humble abode as well as an effort to evoke your sympathy for one who must deal with the felines on a daily basis.

(cue violin music)

The Garage: You wouldn’t think that the cats would have much influence over a garage. You would be wrong. A ratty maroon throw-rug adorns the hood of my pickup as we speak. Why? Because the cats climb on everything out there leaving tiny claw marks in the paint. All windows on both vehicles must be up. Leave a window down and you will find a cat curled up in one of the seats leaving a pound or two of cat hair behind when you chase it off. If the overhead door is left open a crack for dog ventilation, you must check to be sure that a cat is not lying under the door before hitting the switch. Now I know what you’re thinking; how could I possibly be blamed for forgetting to look and accidently mashing a cat? Well, I can. Nuff said about that.

Then there’s the Minnie cat that likes to lie on top of my rear wheel. The same guidelines apply. Of course there’s the ubiquitous bowl of fresh water and one of dry cat foot for midnight snacks. Yes, I have stepped in that water bowl, and more than once.

Oh, almost forgot. There must also be a cat rug over the table saw so that the little dears don’t stick a foot in the slot and cut themselves. It gets worse.

The Kitchen: More water bowls and food dishes. I had no idea how much ants loved cat food until this last summer. Leave a bowl on the floor for thirty minutes and the little buggers will form a chow line that stretches from here to who knows where? Yes, I’ve stepped in those bowls as well.

The Deck. This area lies just off the kitchen and also serves as an outdoor dining area for the cats. Here, food is catered whenever the kitties can’t be bothered to stand up and walk to the kitchen. And  yes, there is yet another water bowl on the deck.

The Master Bedroom and Bath: Water bowl and food dish? Check.  Been there, stepped in both of ‘em.  But wait, there’s more. Here, next to the bathtub, lies one of the infamous litter boxes, the bane of every cat owner. The box is filled with dried cactus needles and razor sharp rocks. I know this because I step through the overflow every night on my way to the bathroom. This particular location is Minnie’s favorite, and used only between the hours of  two and three a.m. This is significant because Minnie the cat has the worse smelling poop in the entire cat kingdom. What you think is a dream where you’ve fallen into a septic tank, is actually the aftermath of a late night visit from Minnie.

Years ago, while perusing a wildlife gift catalogue, I spotted an attractive bed cover with images of Northern Cardinals. Had to have it. Moments after delivery, I had it in place, stood back, and admired how well it went with the decor. I haven’t seen it since. Reason? The cover was constructed with a loose weave, perfect for grasping and tugging by the feline claw. Estimated destruction time? About three and half minutes. Glance in the bedroom today and you’ll see the bed covered not by beautiful red birds , but by a cat sheet, one of many that we’ll discuss later. A cat sheet can be any color or condition, d├ęcor be damned.

The Family Room: More cat sheets here, lots of them; my chair, the divans, but strangely enough, there is no sheet on the Missus’s favorite chair. I don’t know why. The carpet in this room is a light beige and goes oddly well with the color of cat puke.  In a pathetic attempt to keep the little darlings from destroying the divan, a scratching box is discreetly tucked away under an end table. You’ve seen them, cheap affairs made with disposable cardboard? I could easily sell it in the next garage sale as the box remains in pristine condition with nary a mark on it. Need I mention the curtains? I didn’t  think so.

The Doll Room. This is a small area where the Missus keeps her collection of dolls. Some are Plain Jane, others are unique with homemade dresses and cute little hats. Many of them have their own personal story. Many means exactly that. What started as a few dolls sitting in a cabinet has now grown around the room into baby beds, baby desks, baby strollers, and now on to and across the floor. Can you spell h-o-a-r-d-e-r? Are the cats allowed in this room? Hell, no. Strictly off limits. No surprise there.

The Utility Room: This might come as a shock, but there’s a water bowl and a food dish just inside the door. Also, a litter box, a cat bed, and various cat toys. This room is where the gray cat named Blue, spends the night; isolated, with the door shut. Locked In solitary is not unusual for Blue. If you recall, this is the cat that goes on an occasional urine spraying rampage. Why there has been no execution date set for this cat remains a mystery.

Guest Bedroom: Cat sheets galore! One covers a chair that I’ve not seen the color of since the day it came in the door. Another sheet adorns…well, I’m not sure what it is. Yes, there is a bathroom here. Guess what’s inside. You got it! Another food bowl, water dish, and the necessary of all necessaries, another litter box.

The Office Room: The Man Cave: The Sanctuary: Actually, it’s none of those things. Here, the cats roam with the same impunity they enjoy in the rest of the house, sleeping where they want, dislodging cables from the electronics leaving me to search for hours to find the problem, and generally making pests of themselves.

A final note: During our tour, did you happen to notice the number of cat related objects hanging on walls and sitting on shelves. In case you forgot to count, the total comes to one hundred and seventeen. Can you spell o-b-s-e-s-s-i-v-e?

Well, that’s the end of the tour. Thank you for your time and attention. Sympathy cards, sent to the usual home address, are always appreciated.

(fade violin music)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Feline Fury

Over the years, several battles have been waged here at the humble abode and against a variety of adversaries. But the one that remains everlasting, eternal, perpetual, and most maddening is the war against the cats. It’s the classic unwinnable conflict, for me, not the cats. They remain victorious. It’s a little like the cockroach scenario, the bugs will live on despite everything nature can and has thrown at them. The cats will rule long after I’m gone and moldy in my grave.

I won the war against the raccoons. Oh, they’re still around. They send out scouts every now and then to see if my defenses are down or weakened. I still see them on occasion  when the dog alarm goes off and I catch their shiny little eyes in the beam of my flashlight. But I know and they know, their once devastating attacks on my bird feeders are now nothing more than a hiss of a threat. Modern technology in the form of an electrified cable stretched between two trees, protects the feeders with an invisible force. The charger that gives them a “non-fatal but memorable” jolt hasn’t been hot for several months now, but the coonies haven’t noticed. Raccoons have long memories. I’m still considering a patent. (Note: Not only did the electrified cable stop the coonies, it also lit up the squirrels, an added bonus.)

But the cats battles, that’s a different story. Unlike the coonies, the cats operate under a shield of immunity upheld and enforced by the Missus. Cats can do no wrong.

 Pee on the carpet? “The poor thing must have a bladder infection. I’ll take her to the vet.”

Claw the furniture? “I’ll get a scratch pad at PetSmart.”

Knock over an antique vase and watch it smash to the floor? “She didn’t mean to do it.”

Yes, all those kitty sins wear on me, but nothing like when they take down the song birds that I so faithfully feed and coax in for photographs, luring them to their death as it turns out. Faithful readers might remember the cat fence. Another laudable invention where I encircled the area beneath the feeders with chicken wire. This idea worked far beyond my wildest expectations. Not only did it stop the ferocious feline charge on ground feeding birds; the cats would not scale or jump the fence even though they were quite capable of doing so. Something about the flimsiness of it I think.

However, there was one feeder, an expensive squirrel proof model, that hung by itself, away from the protection of the cat fence, there being no room left on the cable.. It hung at a higher altitude than the other feeders, seemingly safe from assault…until yesterday.

It wasn’t the first time I’d caught the Brat Cat, aka The Problem Child, hanging around underneath that particular feeder. I wasn't all that worried, the heighth of the feeder being out of range of even the most athletic of felines. Wrong! As I watched in horror, the Brat Cat gathered her strength, coiled, and sprang, snatching a bird off the feeder with fang and claw as easily as swatting a fly. Proudly, she then ran into the woods with her trophy,  feathers flying. I couldn’t believe it. The distance of the leap, and I’m not making this up, was 58 ½ inches measured by my trusted and highly accurate, Black and Decker ruler. Clearly, a new invention was in order.

What I came up with was the Acme Cat Shield. The idea was simple; a frame of stiff wire spanned by a network of plastic mesh commonly used in gardens and such for ivy to climb on. Tie wraps were used to secure a 24 inch square of the mesh to the framework. More wire served as a hanger to place the ACS (Acme Cat Shield)  approximately one foot below the feeder. I stood back, evaluated the invention, and deemed it to be a work of genius. Of course the final test, the make or break, the safety of the feeding bird, would not be known until the Brat Cat made another attack. I didn’t have to wait long.

Only a few hours had passed before the Problem Child made one  of her perfected stealthy approaches and parked her marauding little ass under the feeder for an another ambush. Remember, this would be the second kill of the day. No telling how many others I had missed.

With the ACS in place, I waited for a bird, the cat waited for a bird. Time passed. The tension was palpable.

I saw it out of the corner of my eye, a House Finch, it’s little reddish breast flashing in the sun, descended from the trees, hovering a moment at the feeder, and then… dropping to the ground.

 “NO! NO!”I yelled, “Not the ground you dumb-ass bird.” Sho nuff, before I could move, before I could find an object to fling at the cat, before I could charge to the rescue, the Brat Cat had another victim.

“It’s just doing what comes naturally,” the Missus says, a witness to the whole bloody event.

“Yeah? Well my natural reaction is to get the .20 gauge.”

It was an idle threat of course. She knew it and I knew it. But it felt good to say it.

Of course, there’s nothing idle about the threat of another invention. This one also includes modern technology in the form of electrical current. 

There’s nothing quite like the smell of burned cat hair in the morning.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Gas. Why so much?

It’s that time again, my annual rant against gas prices. Once again, prices have soared as we near record highs of the year. As always, the question is, what the hell? Why the increase?

At least one spokesman for the American Automobile Association had the refreshingly good sense to admit, “We haven’t a clue.”

Let’s look at the excuses from the past and present:

         Hurricanes halts production in the Gulf.

Granted, Isaac shut down a few refineries for a few days and they are, as the media reports, “slow to restart.” Umm, have these people never dealt with hurricanes before? Are there no backup plans? No spare parts on the shelf?  Keep in mind, it doesn’t take an actual hurricane to slow production, a single black cloud over Cuba will do it.

         Tension in the Middle East.

Gee, that’s the first time that’s ever happened, huh? Iran and Israel are rattling sabers? Wow. Unheard of. Yet, this rerun excuse is trotted out each and every summer as the cause of higher prices. A slightly new twist blames the recent riots because some loony film maker insulted the Prophet Muhammad and given yet another excuse for every flag-burning extremist over there to riot and murder. However, I did not see where any refineries were torched.

         The refineries have to shift to a summer blend which means added costs.

Oh, poor babies. BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell—earned a combined $33.5 billion, or $368 million per day, during the first quarter of 2012. Recall that these companies made a combined record profit of $137 billion in 2011, mostly due to high oil and gasoline prices. Think they could find it in their hearts to forego a little profit in the interest of the country's economy? Hah!

      It’s Obama’s fault.

     That’s the latest one. News flash! The President does not set the price of oil.
     But we all know the real reason for the outlandish prices don’t we? It’s the boys on Wall Street and their ilk, the speculators, the pirates that bid the price up on the slightest whim or rumor.  We pay and somebody profits while these boys sit back in their chairs and try to come with unique excuses. Actually, they’re not even trying for originality anymore, they don’t have to. Any old reason will do. And if they can't think of one, raise the prices anyway. 

This just in: Tulsa World, 9-20-2012. Oil prices lower for 3rd consecutive day.
Why? What changed? Did the Mid-East sign a peace treaty? Did the lone black cloud over the Gulf dissipate? No. As one analyst explained, traders are taking profits after oil dropped below $100 a barrel.

Taking profits? Profits? Really? Suddenly, it all becomes clear.

And this: Crude inventories rose three times more than analysts expected.  

Three times? Poor judgment? I think not. Can’t we just see these bloodsuckers analysts sitting in their high rise Manhattan apartments? “Boy, we missed that one didn’t we? snicker, snicker. Sorry about that folks. Our bad.” At which point they all fall to the floor on their thousand dollar a yard carpet, spilling their drinks, and laughing hysterically.

Back in the day when I worked for Ma Bell, the Corporation Commission set the amount of profit that the company could earn because we were deemed to be a “monopoly.” Guess what. Despite the restriction, Southwestern Bell ( now AT&T... again) was and is one of the most successful companies in the United States.

 I think it’s high time we appointed a commission to set the price of oil. When one product can so drastically effect the lives of the entire population, there needs to be an oversight group than can stand up and say, “Hey, enough is enough. You can earn a fair profit, pay your employees, explore for new oil, and satisfy your stock holders, but you can not continue to hijack the American public. We are sick of your obscene profits at our expense and we’re not gonna’ take it anymore.”

Now some people may claim: you don’t understand how the oil business works. You don’t have your facts straight. Maybe, but our politicians aren’t bothered with any inconvenient truth, why should I be any different?

Until next year.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rumble at the Reunion

For as long as I can remember, probably before I was born, there has been an annual King family reunion. For years, the gathering was held in the town of Nevada, Missouri, the location being about equidistant for most Oklahoma and Missouri residents. We filled the local motels on the first weekend after Labor Day, then met at the city park. There was an old shelter house on the grounds, but with limited facilities.  It had a tiny sink, a faucet, and one electrical outlet. The lone, smelly pit bathroom was but a leisurely stroll from the shelter unless you were drinking beer and if that were the case,  the distance increased in a non-liner fashion to about three miles.

 Another problem was the lack of activities available for anyone under the age of 65 ½, (that crowd being quite content to talk for two days about the weather and their latest operations). Other than the swings­–which held the attention of the little ones for just under seven seconds–the kids could either wade in the muddy creek or chase squirrels; that was it. And the young-un population was growing rapidly. Clearly, it was time for a change of venue.

Someone came up with the grand idea of moving the reunion to a resort near Branson, Missouri. It seemed ideal. The drive was slightly longer but hey, you got Silver Dollar City right next door for Pete’s sake. What more entertainment could the kiddies want? Plus, the lodge boasted of not one, but three swimming pools, a hot tub spa, an arcade hut, bicycles to rent, jet skies, and the latest rage, zip lining; a veritable smorgasbord of activities. Most rooms were nicely furnished and within a two minute walk of a large shelter with multiple tables and two giant grills. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, how about rain? It rained Friday evening for the hamburger dinner. It rained all day Saturday for the traditional big dinner, and it rained Sunday morning for the biscuits and gravy breakfast. It rained on the group zip line outing. It rained morning, noon, and night. The sign on the spa read: Closed Due to Weather. But the rain was only part of the problem for this particular reunion, it got worse.

The resort is so popular for group events, that the shelter house must be reserved months in advance. This was done, six months ago to be specific. But wait, even with this ridiculous time interval, we found that we couldn’t get the shelter for the traditional second weekend after Labor Day, it had all ready been spoken for we were told. Curses. Okay, we agreed to take the following weekend. 

 You folks come on down and enjoy. If you have any problems, any problems at all, just give us a call.

There was a problem, a big one. The problem was that another group began gathering at the shelter on Saturday afternoon, just hours before our family’s scheduled feast. “Who are these intruders?” we mumbled. “Surely they’ll leave soon. Did they not notice the huge banner, King Family Reunion, prominently displayed between the pillars?”

They did, and they didn’t care! Seems that this bunch was under the asinine assumption that it was they who had reserved the shelter for this date, not the King family, and we had some nerve for suggesting otherwise. It was a standoff. Both groups eyed each other, we from the rainy parking lot and they from the dry shelter.

A female envoy was dispatched to the enemy camp suggesting that if they could perhaps wind up their activities in a reasonable amount of time, say a couple hours, we could all eat, drink, and be merry. The offer was rejected, not only rejected, but dismissed with snide remarks–something along the lines of, “sending a woman to do a man’s job.” Uh oh.

Threats were muttered. Angry looks thrown. Battle lines drawn. The street between us suddenly transformed into a no-mans-land. Was it to be a family feud? Legendary perhaps? One not unlike the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s? Nope. Didn’t happen. The opposing forces called the law…the po-lice.

The boys in blue stepped from the squad car in full uniform, badges, guns, tasers, and asked what the problem was. One of our group whispered that these cops were notorious for their indiscriminate use of tasers. I quietly slid behind the biggest guy I could find.

The po-lice listened as our spokesman eloquently explained our position using a minimum of mild profanities, a feat worthy of note, especially when this particular individual is under the influence of adult beverages. The decision was made to drive to the office and talk to the folks in charge, the very ones responsible for this travesty of justice. Oh, and the cops suggested we remove the King Family Reunion banner while they watched. Seemed like a good idea.

Needless to say, the issue was not resolved at the office. The trespassers were not evicted. It was our word against theirs and the resort’s erroneous record keeping held up as the deciding factor as to who would stay dry and who would get wet. The only reasonable thing to do was have another beer and make the best of it. And we did.

A line of tables was arranged under an overhang in front of the rooms. Food was lined up, cafeteria style, with the usual goodies and all the trimmings and we packed on the obligatory pounds like we do every year. Some of the dishes might have been a little watery. There was that.

However, we did learn a lesson. Be prepared. Next year we plan to post guards and put up several strings of razor wire. Maybe a guard dog or two. We’ll draw straws for the first watch.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Cease Fire!

Last night,as I sat on the deck with my evening spooker, the tranquility was rudely interrupted by the sound of gunfire. Not only were multiple shots fired, but they sounded close, too damn close. I refresh the spooker and journey to the rear of the property. I see nothing in the way of an armed militia but the shots continue.

WHAM! WHAM! Although I didn’t actually hear the zip of bullets over my head, I was compelled to investigate. I get in the old pickup and head down Shell Creek Road, the east-west road just a hundred yards to the north of the humble abode. At the third house down from the intersection, I spot four men in a backyard with at least one rifle. I’d seen enough. Those boys were shooting waaay to close for my peace of mind. Using the non-emergency number, I call the elite Osage County Sheriff’s Department. The dispatcher lady was less than helpful.

“Sir, it is not illegal to discharge firearms outside the city limits.”

“Ma’am, this bunch is shooting in a freakin’ neighborhood with houses all around, kids in yards, pets and such.” (The Missus wanted me to point out the danger to her cats but I skipped that part.) “Legal? You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Would you like to talk to a patrolmen, sir?”

“Damn right I would!” It was about now that I began to wonder if it was the whiskey doin’ the talkin’. Too late. Within minutes, the phone rings.

“This is Deputy --------. What seems to be the problem?”

I calmly explain how I have the quite uncomfortable feeling that I’ve just stepped into a Taliban ambush and how surely there must be some mistake about it being legal.

 “Nope. It’s legal in every county in Oklahoma,” he says, “and most of the counties in the United States.”

He then suggests that I might be hearing activity at the closest firing range, a good two miles away. I assure him this is not the case, that I can tell the difference between gunshots two miles away and two blocks away.
“So you’re telling me,” I add, “that I can step out in my backyard, spray bullets all over the place, not worry about ricochets, or what might be downrange, and I’m not breaking any laws?”

“Not exactly,” he replies, now with a little testiness in his voice. “If you’re acting irresponsibly, I’ll arrest you.”

Ooooohh. The voice of legal authority comes out. Now he’s letting me know that I should stop arguing about it, shut up, and go back to watching Seinfeld. I had more to say on the subject, a lot more, but I sensed the futility of continuing our little chat. In his defense, he did promise to drive by and check it out.  My next question, of course,  would be to ask how was I to know that the guns being fired were done so by responsible adults and not some wacked out psycho high on meth or moonshine.

Picture the scene:

Here I go, trespassing on the shooter’s property, and approach an armed group of men.

“Excuse me fellas, but I’d like to know if you're acting responsibly here. Do you have an adequate backstop for your practice? If not, have you checked the area in front of where you are firing to be sure there are no rocks for the bullets to bounce off of and hit an infant in the neck on the parallel street over there? Or even worse, hit one of my wife’s cats? Everyone here have a valid NRA card?”

Let me tell you folks, in this part of Oklahoma, that dog don’t hunt.

Anyone know where I can get a deal on a Kevlar vest? Oh, and a couple that would fit a cat?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Fire

Even if you don’t live in Oklahoma, you probably heard about the recent horrific wildfire near the small town of Mannford, just west of Tulsa. It made the headlines in the Tulsa World, the local TV stations, and was even mentioned by Brian Williams on the NBC Evening News. Nearly 400 homes were destroyed. Many families had only minutes to grab their most precious belongings and dash to safety.

Before the smoke cleared, there was an outpouring of support from organizations all over the country. The Red Cross was there of course, but many others contributed their time and effort such as the Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Muscogee Creek Nation. A local motorcycle club did a run to collect money for the victims. Other individuals donated clothes, supplies, and shelter. My old fishing buddy, Arnold, jumped in and hauled his fifth-wheel to the site, allowing some lucky family to get out of a tent and into more comfortable digs.

It was a few days later, when suffering from a near fatal dose of cabin fever, that I grabbed a camera and drove out to the Keystone dam area to see what I could see. Due to our extreme drought conditions here, there was no water being released from the dam thus shutting down most of the bird activity. I drove through the park hoping to see a Scissortail-flycatcher that’s been hanging out there, when I came across a campsite with a tent and filled with odds and ends. An old man with a gray beard sat in a lawn chair watching the cars go by. It wasn’t until I was halfway home that it dawned on this old thick skull, that gray beard had to be one of the fire victims.

A few days passed. The more I thought about the old guy, the more guilty I felt for not stopping and offering him some money…or something. I called to the Missus, “Get your purse, we’re going to the grocery store.”
Going down the isles, I tried to think of what I would enjoy for a meal in the park, healthy eating be damned. I picked up a roll of bologna, some barbeque sauce, chips, bread, Pepsi, milk, donuts, etc. Oh, and a six pack of beer.

Upon my return to the camp site, I saw that the population had grown. Now there were three more tents and a small trailer, not Arnold’s, but a nice one. The old man was there, walking around, and I got out to talk to him.

“You get burned out?” I asked.

“We did, he said. “We got four families living here now.”

“Could you use a few groceries?”

“We sure could, let me get one of these boys to help carry them.”

“Could you use a cold beer?”

He grinned. “Well sir, I don’t drink, but I’m sure a few of these other folks would enjoy it.”

A young man approached, asked my name, and shook my hand. “God bless you,” he said.

It was a small act of kindness, a feel-good type of thing, and perhaps self serving in some ways, but I did like to think about some of those folks sipping on a cold beer that night, munching chips, and chomping on barbeque bologna sandwiches. It was a meal I would have enjoyed.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Kansas Kid on the Fourth of July

Like most country kids, the Fourth of July was a big deal for me, a highly anticipated event. Problem was, my folks couldn’t afford many fireworks. There might have been a sparkler or two and perhaps one package of poppers and I seem to remember getting a  roman candle once. But my meager stash of pyrotechnics wasn’t what got me excited about the holiday, it was the annual get-together in Willis with the Hoar Family and their sons, Kenneth and Keith. Kenneth was my age and Keith was that troublesome little brother that always wanted to tag along with us “big” boys. No telling how much grief those kids took about their last name over the years, but I can’t recall any teasing about it back then, a different era.

The Hoar’s ran the grain elevator in the little town of Willis but also sold fireworks out of the office for about a week prior to Independence Day.  Kenneth, Keith, and I had the great good fortune of having permission to light off whatever fireworks didn’t sell by the evening of the Fourth. Sometimes there weren’t many left, only the dregs, the least popular, such as assorted sparklers, smoke bombs, things we called “snakes” that made a curly black coil when you set a match to them, and the little bitty firecrackers that no self respecting kid would want called “ladyfingers”. But on one memorable occasion, we hit the jackpot. Maybe Raymond Hoar over stocked or sales were slow that year, but when I first laid eyes on the boxes of free fireworks before me, I thought I must be the luckiest kid in Kansas.

BANG! BOOM! SIZZLE! ZIP! Bottle rockets soared, cone-shaped “fountains” spewed colored sparks in all directions, tubes filled with gunpowder launched balls of exploding light over the entire town followed by deafening explosions that rattled windows and sent cats and dogs running for cover. I think I shot off fireworks for half the night. My ears rang from the multitude of loud reports. The air was filled with the rancid odor of burned paper and gunpowder while a thin layer of smoke slowly drifted over the rooftops. Just when I thought the great night was finally over, I spotted a half dozen or more of the infamous “cherry bombs,’ that little red, round firecracker that was so powerful, it could easily split cans and shatter milk bottles. I’d heard tales of vandals dropping them in porcelain toilets causing great damage.

By now, I had become quite the pro at lighting firecrackers while still in my hand and tossing them high in the air.(I still can’t believe my parents sat right behind me  in their lawn chairs and watched me do this insane act). Now I know what you’re thinking. No, the cherry bomb didn’t blow my fingers off. What happened was that the trailing sparks from a tossed bomb ignited the little pile of bombs at my feet. I’m sure all of us have seen video of exploding fireworks stands and factories and that’s exactly what happened between my ankles. KA-WHOOOM!

The next thing I remember is picking myself up off the ground with my mother hovering over me and yelling something that I could not hear a word of. My dad was checking my legs and feet while the rest watched with anxious looks of concern on their faces. It felt like my pants were on fire but that was not the case. There were no burns or damage of any kind to my lower extremities, a lucky break that I’m sure my kids are thankful for today. Then, Keith, the impish little brother, started laughing. After a minute we were all chuckling, all except my mother. The Fourth really did go out with a bang.

It was not the last time during my childhood that I would blow myself up. The outcome of the next foolish stunt was far more serious.  But that’s another story.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


Recently, Dan Cathy, CEO of the well known fast food franchise Chick-Fil-A, expressed his opinion on gay marriage and homosexuality in general.  "It's an abomination, says so in the Bible," Dan said. Next thing you know, those people will be having sex with chickens. Where will that leave us? Nobody will eat a chicken that's been, well...I'm not goin' there, but you get the picture."

The following Appreciation Day resulted in the most profitable day in Chick-Fil-A's history.

My feeling on the subject? Dan is a freakin’ genius! What we have here is an entirely new marketing strategy; using the Bible to bring in customers. Think about it. What a concept. The possibilities are endless.

Let’s take Sear’s for instance. As we all know, the once powerful chain is in serious decline, closing stores and laying off thousands of employees. Following Ray’s lead, all they need to do is buy a little ad space:

Remember Noah? Remember the Ark? We believe. Giant Tool Sale! Friday and Saturday!  Saws half off.

Voila! Business worries are over, profits are up, and the exec’s go back to making millions in bonuses again.

Home Depot could jump right in with: Lumber. Two for one on two by fours.  Come on down!

Radio Shack: Get your GPS here. Works on water OR dry land. 

Facebook: Be the first to friend Noah. 

Atwood’s: Need exotic animal feed? We got you covered.

Sherman-Williams: We believe too. Check out our MARINE PAINT special!

Bass Pro: Rain Suits! You never know when you’ll need one.

Acme Waste Removal: You poop it. We scoop it. 

Or how about Adam and Eve and the apple?  Now we’re talkin’ grocery stores (fruit), landscaping and shrubbery sales, poison ivy remedies, clothing stores (especially clothing stores), not to mention snake removal services.

Dan my man, you may have finally found a way to jump start the economy. I tip my hat to ya.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Little Help Please

As most of you know, I recently wrote a novel (my second) that I called Fraidy Hole. I didn’t write it to make money. I did it only because I enjoy writing and in the end, I was glad that I did it. It was a gratifying experience to see many months of effort culminated with an upload to Amazon, to see my book and name listed on that giant of the Internet, not to mention on my own Kindle reader. Any sales from that point was icing on the cake.

As explained in a previous blog, book sales on Amazon are driven mainly by customer feedback. A promotional giveaway also helped to stimulate a little action in that department, especially in the United Kingdom where the book received it’s share of favorable reviews. In fact, if you do a Google search with the words Fraidy Hole and my name, almost three pages of results pop up. Very cool.

But let’s be honest here. Anyone with a story, good, bad, or horrible; as long as it’s formatted to their specs, can upload to Amazon. There is no judge sitting in a cramped office somewhere that rules on the merits of your work before it’s made public. The readers are the critics. They award the book a number of stars, one to five, along with an explanation of why they did so.

After looking at hundreds of reviews, it seems to me that the number of stars is based more on how much the reader enjoyed the book rather than the talents of the wordsmith. For example, Earnest Hemmingway has quite a number of four stars rather than five. Go figure. But it explains why Fraidy Hole was given a number of five star reviews because as we all know, I’m certainly no Hemmingway or Steinbeck or John Grisham or Stephen King. I’m only a rank beginner, trying to get better, doing what I like to do.

So here’s Fraidy Hole, rocking along with kind words, enjoying the spotlight, when suddenly, this shows up:

This book was not even worth 2.99! The author jumps from the main character's point of view to the sidekicks point of view to the dogs point of view on the same page. The book is very slow moving with many typos. Obviously not well researched because at one point the author talks about field irrigators making what looks like crop circles which isn't even close to what they do. The other reviewers must be either friends or family of the author because this book deserves one star and I'm being generous. 

Of course everyone is entitled to their point of view, that’s how it works. But I took special exception to this comment. Typos? Yes, there are some that did get by me. That can be fixed. Slow moving? Perhaps in places, but other reviewers disagree. What really got to me was the part about the field irrigators. I researched that before writing one word on the subject. Take a look at Google Earth and Cimarron County, Oklahoma. See the crop circles? Then there’s this from Wikipedia:

Center-pivot irrigation (sometimes called central pivot irrigation), also called circle irrigation, is a method of crop irrigation in which equipment rotates around a pivot and crops are watered with sprinklers. A circular area centered on the pivot is irrigated, often creating a circular pattern in crops when viewed from above (sometimes referred to as crop circles).[3] Most center pivots were initially water-powered, and today most are propelled by electric motors.

I know, I know,  I shouldn’t let one jerk reviewer get to me, but it did. Perhaps that was his/her intention.  I wish I were more thick skinned, but no. What really irks me is that this review will be there, prominently displayed on Amazon, for as long as the book is listed.

So here comes my plea (you saw it coming didn’t you?) If you have purchased a copy of Fraidy Hole, would you please consider posting a review? Clicking on the link will take you there. I’m not asking for five stars, four, or even three, only an honest opinion. I realize that Fraidy Hole is the kind of book that's not for everyone, some won’t like it, that’s life. I would only ask that your review be truthful. If you enjoyed the book, say so. Did you like the characters? Would you read another novel featuring  Sheriff Morrison and his deputy, Billy Ray? If the book wasn't your cup of tea, fine, that's cool too. I can take the negative comments if they're accurate, but it would be greatly appreciated that such comments be without the insults of the aforementioned “reviewer.”

Thanks a bunch,


Irrigated Crop Circles

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Small World Dept.

When a relative in Kansas City called to tell me of a new book he was reading about life in Northeast Kansas, I was thrilled. That was the part of the country where I was born and spent most of my early years..  I didn’t become an Okie until the ripe old age of 15, the time previous, as a Jayhawk. The book was titled, It’s Within, and was written by, Elizabeth (Betty) Thieme, telling of her childhood in a small corner of Kansas. I had to have this book. Who doesn’t like to read and reminisce about the good old days when they were young, before iPhones, HDTV, and, as in my case, even before indoor plumbing? My God, I’m old!

At the back of the book was an e-mail address for ordering and I promptly sent in my request. A reply came soon after.

“I remember you,” Betty wrote. “We were in the same grade school in Willis.”

Keep in mind that the population of Willis was probably never more than a hundred in the most prosperous of times (it was 38 in 2010). There was a general store, a post office, a grain elevator, two school houses, and that was about it. You had to make the five mile drive to the big city of Horton (pop. 1776) if you wanted to eat at a restaurant, buy groceries for the week, or go to a movie (Saturday matinee 15 cents).

But the small world department got even smaller. Betty wrote that her husband had once rented a room in Topeka from a woman she remembered as being my aunt Nellie. Not only did I have an aunt Nellie in Topeka at that time, but the husband’s roommate was related to me, a distant cousin.. It didn’t end there.

When I called the K.C. relative to relate this latest coincidence, he said. “I remember a boy named Thieme. We went to high school together in Goff, Kansas.” The 1990 population of Goff is listed at 156 souls. Not exactly a bustling metropolis but Goff did have a bank, a garage, a restaurant, and a car dealership with at least a half a dozen cars on the lot and maybe a tractor or two. My dad worked at the grain elevator there for a while.

Can you imagine the culture shock when I  moved to Tulsa with a high school class that had more people than the entire towns I previously lived in?

Of course Betty and I remembered some of our old classmates, her more than me, and shared a few stories. Both of us, I learned, had placed pennies (when we had them) on the local railroad track and then scrambled to find them after the train mashed them flat.

Humph! And these kids today think that playing games on an X-Box is fun.

Bank at Goff, Kansas

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Think Cool

Back in the day, my old friend and fellow Southwestern Bell employee, Ron Bennett, had a simple solution for staying cool. “Think cool thoughts,” he said. “Seriously. Do it. It’ll help.” Both of us tried our utmost to do just that as we buzzed down yet another hot Oklahoma highway in a gray-green official SWB Chevrolet Suburban with furnace like winds blasting in our faces.

Air-conditioned trucks? Oh no. Not SWB. Not back then. Upper management, you see, felt that it would project the wrong image if the public saw telephone men riding around with their windows up and cool breezes blowing from the vents.

“We’re helping to keep your telephone bill as low as possible by buying trucks without those expensive air conditioners. You’re welcome.”
Ma Bell

The sad truth (or what we always heard) was that it actually cost more to produce a special non air-conditioned model vehicle than a standard one.

But I digress. During this recent run of 100+ degree days, I was reflecting back to Ron’s advice and thinking cool, or trying to. Tough to do when even the cats come to the door with their tongues hanging out. Thinking cold. Thinking winter. Cold winter. But not too cold. Not a freeze your buns off, below zero winter, but a winter with sunshine and light jacket days with shivering, pull up the covers, nights. Something like in south Texas maybe. Yeah, that kind of winter.

I thought back to my days in the U.S. Navy, stationed in Beeville, Texas, at a naval air training facility. My rank was airman second class, the lowest of the low on the base, only one step up from recruit. I seem to remember my first duties were pushing a broom around the hanger deck and swabbing floors in the barracks and bathrooms ( or heads in navy talk). It was because of this lowly status that I was often assigned guard duty, specifically the most hated, the midnight to four tour.

Guard duty. Let’s think about that for a minute. Firstly, the only way on the base was through a sentry post manned 24 hours a day by MP’s with weapons. Second, the entire compound was ringed with fences and barbed wire, the perimeter lit up like the Texas State Prison. Guard what? From whom? This was peace time. There was no al-Qaida, no Hezbollah, no Mexican drug wars. The whole idea seemed rather pointless to me as I crawled out of my nice warm bunk, donned my heavy pea coat, stocking cap, gloves, two pair of socks, and reported to the Duty Officer. The temperature was in the low thirties, not sled dog weather by any means.  Beeville saw about three, maybe four, snowflakes a year. It was the wind, that steady north wind with nothing to block it but a barbed-wire fence, that chilled you to the bone.

The second class Petty Officer sat with his feet on the desk, a steaming cup of coffee in hand, and reading some kind of magazine. He barely glanced up as he ticked my name off a list as having shown up on time.
My watch tour was not in some toasty building somewhere, no, my place was on the flight line, out there with the aircraft on the freezing tarmac without so much as a tree to stand behind to block that awful wind. The guy I was to relieve saw me coming, jogged past me, and mumbled what sounded like, “You poor bastard,” and kept on moving.

I started my walk, the entire length of a line of planes, I’m guessing about a hundred yards or so, back and forth, back and forth. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! With the wind at my back, it was barely tolerable, but going into it, well, we sailors had some language to describe that sensation but I will not repeat it here. Let’s just say it was colorful and had to do with monkeys.

Two hours down, two to go. Back and forth. My nose is running. My eyes are tearing. I can no longer feel my fingers. My ears have dropped from my head long ago and are laying somewhere along the perimeter like two blackened hunks of discarded meat.

That’s when I got this most wonderful idea! I had begun spending more and more time involved with flight operations, training to be a plane captain, noting how things were done. I watched as the pilots dropped the steps from the fighters, climbed up, and flipped a lever that actuated some compressed air to open the canopy. Can’t you just see the little light bulb over my head? If I could get in one of those airplanes, I’d be out of the wind, relatively cozy, and most importantly, able to see the entire watch area just in case any saboteurs came along, or more likely the Duty Officer, coming out to check on me.

It went off without a hitch. The canopy hissed, slid back, and I climbed in, just like a pilot. I found another lever that said canopy on it and slid it forward. Another blast of air and all was well. Ah, no more north wind and I had an excellent view of all the airplanes. This was not dereliction of duty you understand. I did not go to sleep and remained alert for the next couple of hours. America was quite safe. I want to be clear about that.

About ten minutes before my watch was over, I once again congratulated myself on my ingenious plan and hit the lever to open the canopy. Nothing happened. No blast of air, no hiss, not even a whisper. The tank was empty and the air lines drained. Uh oh.

I was trapped like a rat. Can you say court martial? Can you spell B-R-I-G? I could already hear the rattle of chains and shackles. Desperate, I wedged my fingers in a slight opening and pushed. To my great relief, the canopy moved. I hopped out, manually slid it shut, and made my way back to the duty office, whistling in the dark.

Remember, think cool.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Life and Death of a Novel

Our previous home in Tulsa had an underground tornado shelter in the back yard. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it went unnoticed and unused, but when the sirens for severe weather sounded, we suddenly became the most popular people on the block. I never actually measured the dimensions, but I’d guess the floor plan at around eight by 12 feet, roomy by most standards, but on especially scary nights when the TV had edge to edge angry red blotches, it was wall to wall people down there.

The door of the shelter lay flush to the ground. It was quite heavy, made of steel, and nearly impossible to swing open if not for the coil spring assist. On more than one occasion when I had gone down there to check for water seepage or replace a light bulb, a rather frightening thought would flicker across my imagination. If someone were to slam that door shut, stick a bolt though the hasp, and walk away, the shelter that was built to save lives would become my tomb. I would die there in the damp and dark. That cheery little thought would eventually become the premise for a novel, one that I called Fraidy Hole.

It would be my second novel. The first, No Refuge, about a wildlife photographer that happens to witness and document a murder by a hired killer, was fun but also a major struggle. The plot for that one slipped, fell, got lost, and wandered aimlessly for over a year before I finally finished it.  Never again says I. But that idea about the cellar hung around, nagging at me, growing in my head like a tumor and well, before I knew it…I was back at the computer.

The second one will be easier. That’s what I kept hearing and they were right. Unlike the early attempt with no clear idea where the story was headed, who the characters would be, or how it would end, Fraidy Hole, the outline anyway, was planned from start to finish. Except for the ending. That little twist popped up one night about 2 a.m. when the tired old brain knew that the plot needed something, some kind of surprise, something to make people say, “I didn’t see that coming.”

I enjoy writing, but It’s doesn’t come easy for me. I made C’s in English for Pete’s sake. Grammar and punctuation were invented by the Devil as far as I’m concerned, but alas, the book police have this strange obsession that both should be correct and in proper form. It takes a lot of the fun out of it.

Fraidy Hole begins with a young high school girl, living in the panhandle of Oklahoma, who opens her eyes in a storm cellar exactly like the one in my previous backyard. It’s night, absolute darkness, and she has no idea where she is. She only knows that she’s hurt, there’s something moving down there, and she’s about one minute away from going insane with fear.

Eighteen months later, the story ends. That’s real time, not fiction time. The make-believe story lasted for only a few days, but it was that many months before I finally typed The End. In between was a rough draft, research, write, rewrite, edit (with the help of a wonderfully competent and patient lady named Jane) , more edit, more rewrite, and then, final edit.

Now what? Like anyone that has ever written a novel, I’m thinking in terms of a wildly popular best seller, New York Times review, book signing parties, promotional travel, and dare we think it, a movie? The sad truth is, that’s not likely, not likely at all. Thousands and thousands of novels are cranked out every year; some very bad, some mediocre, and some extremely well written that go…nowhere. My first clue as to the competition came when I hit the upload button to an online e-book distributor called Smash Words. The popup told me I was 87th in the queue. What? There are 87 people ahead of me trying to upload their novels? Uh oh.

Luckily, the publishing trend seems to be shifting from paperback and hardcover to e-books. This was good news to me as my chances of being accepted by such giants as Random House were slim to none and Slim left town. It looked like Amazon and Kindle books were my best bet. I do the upload, everything formatted to their specs, assign a quite reasonable price of $2.99 for a download, sit back, and wait for the money to start rolling in. Oh yes, I did some self promotion. I put a link on all my outgoing e-mail. I put another link on my photo web site. I shamelessly begged everyone I knew on Facebook to spread the word. I even finagled a writer’s website called Studio 30, to put the cover on their home page and when they featured me as Member of the Week, I was sure the sales of Fraidy Hole would go through the roof. Didn’t happen.

The hard, sad facts were that the majority of sales could be traced to friends and relatives (thank you BTW). Why? Because like most readers, myself included, hesitate to spend time and money for a book authored by an unknown writer. This is where the Kindle reviews come in. A few dozen five star reader reviews give the book a far greater chance of selling than one with two or three written by friends and family of the writer: that would be me.

The minds at Amazon obviously foresaw this situation, discouraged new writers unable to get off the ground, and provided an outlet. That was to give the book away. No royalties, no income of any kind, nada. The upside, if you can call it that, was that your fresh new novel could now be downloaded by people without a monetary investment. If they read the first couple chapters and decide it’s trash, no big deal, delete it and forget it.

And so it came to pass that Fraidy Hole had reached a point with zero sales for two depressingly long months. It was time for a desperate move and I did it, clicked on the Kindle free option. Twenty-four hours later, 960 cheapskates had download my sweat and tears novel. It would be a little like an artist that worked a year and a half on an oil painting and then said here take it, it’s yours, and it’s free

At the end of the five day free period, 1997 e-book readers had jumped on the train to find out what happened to that poor girl locked in the cellar. All that ended last Friday. Here I sit on Sunday, staring at the reports. Three new sales (yes!) but not one new review, not even a bad one. There will be no book signings, no promo travel, no poster-sized cover of Fraidy Hole in the front window of Barnes & Noble, and the movie just faded to black.

I do believe the wide world of readers have sent me a message. “You should stick to photography my boy and leave the writing to people that got better than C’s in English class.”

Oh well, there’s always the blog.

Update: A brand new review has been added. This one by a complete stranger. Only four stars, but I thought it fair.

Update to the Update: Another review! This one is a gem. Fraidy Hole might not be dead after all.