Archive for October, 2007

Happy Halloween and Celtic New Year. Since it’s hulla-boo-loo time, here’s a teaser page for you from my book.

Talk about doomsville city at the garden. We had a frost finally in late October, after having a record hot month. The majority of plants left all seem to have taken a major blow. Even the weeds are getting nervous. The bees are gone, and the general insect population seems to have cleared out. The birds are still around, but not to the degree they were a month ago. K and I were busy scavenging up what we could in the way of herbs, but hoo boy it was brutal out there in the trenches.

Tomatoes go bye-bye. The only thing left is the lettuce, which we harvested gratefully and had a small salad with our dinner, hooray! Pretty soon it’ll be time to dig up the horseradish, I can’t wait! Unfortunately, half my seeds haven’t dried out right, and have grown horrible molds. Still, not bad for my first try. I harvested the last of the basil, and some oregano for a Pizza of Doom I’m making for work. But it looks like the garden goodies have hit the bed and are passing out of time and space until next time folks.

Since it’s Halloweenie, I need my costume. I dug into my enormous bookshelf of tricks and pulled out a 1976 copy of Make-Up Monsters by Marcia Lynn Cox. Oh, I gots ideas galore thanks to this book. Hopefully, with the make-up stuff I have acquired, things will come out neat. Some of these, I haven’t tried out since I went trick or treating with my cousins or my elementary school friends. Oh yes, and I scored a pumpkin, though I’m guessing I’ll be my usual unskilled self and create a rather mundane jack-o-lantern. I don’t know. I just haven’t got the right touch for doing a pumpkin right. Maybe I need a kung fu master to show me what I’m missing. And of course the bowl is filled with candy for the screaming brats. Hopefully K won’t eat all the Mr. Goodbars.

My friend, Dr. C, called me up the other day and we rapped about what he’s been up to. I’m totally psyched for him to be doing what he’s doing. He’s been busting his buns through med school and his residency, and now he’s finally at the point where the powering up starts. Basically, he’s getting to write his own ticket for the hospital he’s going to be working at, and he’ll be living in a fabulous area for his family (and dog). I’m very happy for him, because there were some times where his life was pretty bleak and I was very worried for him.

That brings up another old friend from way back, someone whom I haven’t spoken with in a long time and only hear of through the astrosending, but I was thinking about a lot in the last week. Mainly in the terms of some spiritual connections we made back in the day, which still resonate with me now. Looks like she’ll be getting a website soon, which I’ll shamelessly plug here, but it’s not up yet. So get kraken, Xtine!

Going even further in the wayback machine on YouTube, I found someone posted a copy of The Frog Prince, with Kermit the Frog and Robin the Brave, plus Sweetums the Ogre before he was made safe for work consumption. Oh, wow, this takes me back a ways. I had this on vinyl, along with many other records, and played it often as a kid. But now it’s unavailable on DVD, and only rarely can you catch it on cable (when I was still mooching off my folks). That’s a shame, because the musical numbers are fantastic, and the story itself is both charming and wholesome. I still have the record, but it’s in rough shape. I’d love to get my paws on this one. Still, to see it on YouTube brings me to a deep place inside full of happy feelings and warm thoughts.

This weekend Lush came out with some new products, so K hinted that we ought to go to the nearest store and check them out. Since I was out of bath bombs and shampoo bars, I thought today is the day we replenish our ammunition or perish. Pricey luxury stuff, but its on my top list of bath goodies so we had to go. I stocked up on my usual array of nice things and she got herself some hair treatment prizes. K then proceeded to cut her hair, change it into a nice cerise color, and pamper it with wonderful hair-treatment goodness. Me, I’m set for the next alchemical treatment. I started using a new flavor of shampoo bar and so far its got good value. I was getting annoyed with the generic soup du jour of shampoo you can get at any supermarket, anywhere in crumbsville.

And I worked on my book. I finally decided on a teaser page to show you all. One that doesn’t reveal too much, but gives some good thoughts on what I’m about. I just have to turn it into a PDF and post it, which given the Halloweenie whackiness, might be a few days. I’m 70% through the revisions, so I’m getting closer to my current goal. I’ve accumulated a list of things that will have to be addressed in the polish stage, but I think most of it is minor work. It may be that my work will have only just begun after I finish my revisions, but it’s a major goal just the same. I’m still considering my cover. What color it will be, what the picture and text will consist of, and the spine. I’m not satisfied with my notes, so I predict I’ll have to spend more time on this when I’m not distracted.

I hung out with my gamer friends, and it was a blast. We watched the unimaginably horrible Universal Soldier: The Return and had a lot of fun mocking it. The game we played was a nice little gem called Arkham Horror, which is based on the H.P. Lovecraft Cthulhu mythos. In a nutshell, it’s the 1930s, and alien horrors are coming into the town of Arkham as precursors to the outright monster apocalypse of a randomly generated Elder God of Evil. Players take the part of archetypes from the era (Flapper, Gangster, Archaeologist, etc.) and try to gain the knowledge and power to kill the monsters and defeat the ultimate bad monster before the town is destroyed.

It’s one of those games with tokens for every single thing in the game, and it’s a long game, but the mechanics seemed solid and the setting was hard not to get into. Everyone cooperates to stop the monsters instead of competing against each other. And the artwork and production values are very high. It was a blast walking around with my researcher and checking out all the various spooky places for clues and fighting off ghouls and alien fungi with my pistols.

I’ve been trying to record my dreams this October, but something about them has not wanted to be put down on paper. The messages from the unconscious haven’t wanted any photographs taken at their press conference, I suppose. As the Celtic New Year draws to a close, I’ve got a lot to ruminate on from this last year. A lot has happened, both in the external world and the internal.

Earlier I mentioned an enigmatic prize table. The prize table is a metaphysical concept expressed in real time and space as a collection of junk gifts. Whether or not there is an actual table is beside the point, what matters is the collection point. A box, a closet corner, whatever. Yes, you too can have your very own prize table. And the contents of the prize table are limited only by your cheapness and audacity.

The reason the prize table exists is because you need a source of readymade gifts for all occasions. Need to bring something over to a friend’s party? Forgot your nephew’s birthday? Co-worker you can’t stand coming back from the hospital and you have to look good in front of the office? No problem! With a fully stocked prize table, you just select whatever piece of junk you feel the twerp deserves, wrap it up, and voila! No fuss, no muss.

This isn’t to say you must always use the prize table. Save your valuable time and money for the moments and people that really matter to you. Some more generous souls may never need to call upon the power of the prize table at all. It’s just a slight reassurance in a Terminator robot-infested world to know you have a backup in the gift department. One must carry sacrifices at all times in case of ambush by chthonic beings and their minions!

So how do you stock the prize table? Well, estate sales are one way to populate the prize table. You’ll find things suitable for the prize table that don’t quite make the grade for your own personal use. Another source is gifts given to you by other people! Yes, you can take the horrible, tacky yellow rug from Aunt May and give it along to Uncle Buck. A further source of material is whatever you have gotten tired of and would like to get rid of. But keep in mind that the older and more broken down it looks, the less likely it will pass inspection. You must always tailor your choices by what you believe you can get away with.

That’s about all there is too it.  Start collecting your misfit toys now, because sooner or later you too might need the prize table!

This weekend, K and I made our way over to the Maryland Rennaisance Festival to go and see Albannach, the celtic battle music band mentioned earlier. We hadn’t been there since the time we went with Liephus and GuitarCJ, something like five years ago. It’s hard to believe I’ve been going to this thing, on and off, since 1993. As the larger than I remember crowds jostled us about and we stood in line for 20 minutes to grab a cafeteria-level packet of fish and chips, I reflected back to the first time I came here and how things have changed for me.

Mind you, this place is something of a local institution now. It’s run very efficiently and the number of “stuff” to play, buy, watch, and consume is enormous. The consistency of quality has remained at a high level the whole time, which is amazing. I’m hard pressed to think of too many other venues where people can dress up, get bombed, and generally be themselves in large numbers. It’s that last part, the “large numbers” one, that gets on my nerves. Both K and I felt we had outgrown this place, and perhaps the squalid crowd of drones and walk-ons is getting a little too authentic for our tastes.

Albannach was outstanding. Their energy and enthusiasm were at a high level, and the crowd was into it. I think the decision to place them on the Market Stage was probably not the best one. Although it probably can accomodate more people, it’s too flat and structured. I think there were several other stages they could have been placed on which would have allowed more freedom of movement and a better view. Listening to these people made you want to dance. I can only wonder what the drones sitting on the benches must have thought, surrounded by a mass of people dancing and blowing horns like maniacs.

There’s a place where you can buy coin medallions. You choose a design for each side, and the artisans use a large weight to stamp them into the metal. K bought herself a bronze coin with a black leather strap. The strap technology has improved since I first got mine, as she had a bead to adjust the front length with, and a tie to allow for a larger loop around the neck. She chose a tree-of-life on one side and a hummingbird on the other.

Seeing her wear it made me want to get mine out. Back in 1993 I bought one in silver with a black cord, with the face of medusa on one one side and the moon on the other. So when we got home I dug mine out and we compared, and wore our medallions together. I had to use some polish on mine, because I hadn’t worn it much since I put away my altar works back in the late nineties.

It turns out I spent the same amount of money on this visit as I did the first time, which brings back memories of when I got my medallion. K getting her medallion so that both of us have one feels like a meaningful coincidence, because I think this is the last time I’m going to go to the Maryland Rennfest. “The Carnival is Over”, to make a Dead Can Dance reference.

My first visit to the rennfest was a giddy and deeply meaningful adventure. I dressed as a fool, with a jester’s hat and bright colors. This last time, I looked like all the other drones, even though I could have dressed up like all the other walk-ons (having invested the requisite several hundred dollars for basic costume and accesories). K and I didn’t feel like standing in line for 20 minutes to get a drink, so we passed on the inebriation factor. That struck me as another change in the equation, as the drinking is one of the highlights. Oh well, the booze money went into the prize fund, and we bought some wonderful beeswax candles to burn while we do our various crafting activities at home.

What’s the next step in evolution for a young fool? Old dope? Looking back, it’s nice that this place has been a rock of dependability when so many other fun places turn sour. Good times. When I think back to the young man wearing the image of medusa and compare him to the person wearing it now, there is sorrow for me in leaving the place behind. I’m just uninterested in going back now, which has an unexplainable sense of the inevitable to it I never would have guessed at the start.

If it’s a story, it resolves. So what comes next, right? A door closes, a door opens. I bring my new Albannach CD home (I support artists I like with the cash on general principle) and K and I listen up. The stuff with the vocals blow, but the other two-thirds with the rumbling drums and the piercing bagpipe is pure chewing satisfaction. I’ll tell you what time it is! Time to get up and dance like a stupid fool. Because at the end of every story the fool shows up again to get you going on another madcap adventure.

I’m in a real slump right now when it comes to the television shows currently playing. The tube is going down the tubes, so to speak. It’s not that you can’t find something to watch. Just head off the main highway and drive the back roads until you encounter the fresh stuff sold at a fly-by-night farmer stand. Know what I mean, bean? But some days the mindless actions of the networks that ruin anything good, in all violation of the iron rule of making money, gets me down.

I cancelled my cable a few years back, because I’m sick of paying sixty bucks a month to watch two or three channels that sometimes have something entertaining on. Come on, TNT, I’ve got all the good James Bond movies on DVD and can watch them whenever I feel like. Are crummy “Bond marathons” the best you got? Cartoon network makes me ralph my cookies. I can get just about all my fave cartoons on DVD now (save for a few minor gems, like Marine Boy or Prince Planet), and adult swim can jump the shark already. All the good stuff will be there, eventually.

See, I’ve gotten into the habit of just waiting for the good stuff to come out on DVD. I don’t care about the television channels anymore because they don’t know how to manage good programming and they waste my time with 5 minutes of commercials for every 7 minutes of show. I remember when the big networks laughed at the idea that anyone would “pay” for television. Now you pay for television AND get commercials. That’s in addition to a general decline in quality of shows, with less risk taking and more franchises/re-imaginings. I can tune into my parent’s cable channel with the sound turned off and go, “oh, look, another cop show that rips off Hill Street Blues.”

I think the corporate seizing of “intellectual property” has choked off innovation. Networks are repeating themselves over and over, and nothing new is coming out. When a fresh idea comes about by accident, you get an instant glomming over to that new idea to exploit the show for cash and residual merchandizing. That’s why we get crummy programs that last two or three seasons way after the original idea was burned out.

Then there’s the Internet’s ability to grow a consensus rapidly about a show’s shortcomings. Maintaining a show’s image has become harder for networks because they can’t milk an audience as easily. The pressure on the actual creators of a show has only increased. The public relations of a show can reach ludicrous proportions, with outright lying and manipulation to keep people watching for that “one big twist” around the corner. Meanwhile, the show’s quality crumbles and crumbles.

The other day, my folks told me they’re canceling their cable. The cable company hiked the rates and they didn’t think it was worth what they are paying. I’m like, “Whoa, what are you going to watch late at night while you’re drifting off to bed?” They ask me about setting up a DVD/VCR upstairs and getting a Netflix account versus satellite versus Verizon Fi-OS. They want to watch the Best of Johnny Carson to start with, and then this list of other shows. I’m seriously doing a double take here. I don’t know what they’ll ultimately do, but I can’t help but feel it’s a sign that something is going on.

I’ve been hearing about ‘ala carte’ television for a while now, and it hasn’t happened yet. But I think the time for it can’t be far off. What happens when people can share ‘libraries’ of movies as easily as MP3s? Granted, I think that’s happening in some form or another now. I see it happening with younger folks on a limited basis. I certainly don’t mind loaning a friend, say my Buffy DVDs to watch their Star Trek DVDs. In other words, there’s a marketplace of entertainment taking shape where people exchange common interests and ideas and see what the best thing is for themselves. The television channels are all merging into a single experience – the preview channel.

Or look at this way. Most everybody I know in my various different social groups knows someone who has a tricked up home theater setup. You know, the Best Buy/Circuit City mega-destructoid system. How can you compete with people’s prime enjoyable experience of media being in their own living room, or the living room of their friend? Theaters can’t compete with the home ground advantage. It’s not that there won’t always be a place for neutral ground for dating purposes, for example. But it’s going to be a greatly reduced part of what people do to entertain themselves.

The networks are going to have to reinvent the way they do business, maybe actually generate some new material, because they are on the outskies. It’s going to be in production or nothing. You got fifty new shows? My friend has two hundred old ones in her library, and can tell me on a personal connection which ones are any good. Can your dullard entertainment reviewer on the payroll do that? Every social group will have like one or two people who watch what the “preview” companies put out, just to be able to tell us what’s going to be part of “must see” and what can go in the garbage compactor as “same old”.

So I’m glum that things right now are so boring and difficult and disappointing. But the times they are a-changin’. I’m not going to shed a tear over the cable companies or the networks. They had their chance, and, to quote Lord Summerisle, “Blew it.” I’ll be watching their demise on my friend’s super-system while we drink the beer I brought over.

Nowadays, it seems like everybody and their posse are busting a move on what used to be my secret escape on weekends. Programs such as the Antiques Road Show are to blame, giving people the mostly false hope that all they have to do is go to some garage sale and they can find a forgotten sketch by Rembrandt and make fifty thousand dollars on something they paid ten bucks for. I figure my gig is up, and I’ll just have to consent myself with people enjoying the newly appointed fad for the next ten years. So now is the time when the truth can be told!

You start by looking in the Friday paper under Estate Sales, Garage Sales, and Auctions. We’ll stick with estate sales for the purposes of this post. Look for things that are close by where you live, of course. Read the descriptions, and if something reads the right way for you, then by all means drive the extra mile. But the point isn’t necessarily the prize, but the ability to hit 2 or 3 places to maximize your chances and to get as much fun as possible out of the experience. I go on Saturdays and Sundays, but there’s no reason you couldn’t do the duty on a Friday if you hustled, or took the day off.

Descriptions can be misleading, however, so always measure how the ad reads and feels to you. “Lots of collectibles” can mean “piles of unrelated stuff we couldn’t identify”, and “Vintage furniture” can mean “broken down junk we found in the attic”. Avoid any sale that requires you to stand in line and take a number, or charges you a fee. Those are the rackets, and you won’t find squat there, maybe the occasional high priced piece of tasteless furniture selling for hundreds of dollars because the owners really don’t want to part with it.

Take cash, forty bucks is optimal, but twenty will do fine. What, you thought you were going to be getting new furniture for your apartment? That will do you for the first one or two runs, but then what? This is a regular diversion, not a bargain hunt per se. Look to do this long term, for laughs. Carry your checkbook if you want, but I never carry more than a hundred, and that only on the days I “gots me that lovin’ feeling”. Also, make sure you have a vehicle that can handle a small piece of furniture or a few boxes of junk. Ideally, it’s fun for the entire family, but make sure you can bring back the loot. My Tardis go-cart hatchback, Micro Blue, does the trick nicely.

Crack out the road maps, Google Maps, whatever you need to find the place, and go. Carry some water or a coke with you, it can be thirsty work. Make plans to stop for lunch, or carry a picnic in the back. The last thing you need is a car full of crabby patties, or a grousing driver. This is an adventure into the dungeons! Load up on supplies accordingly.

Once you get to the location, there’s always the issue of parking. Sometimes it’s easy, other times it can be tricky. Some of the places I’ve been to have had the strangest access, from one way streets into a small cul-de-sac, to a tiny dirt hill with no place to turn around and nothing but cars behind you honking for their chance to risk running over the edge to let them pass. I’ve had neighbors scream at me for parking on a public street because my car was “an abomination”. 90 percent of the time it’s not much of an issue, but you will come across the strange ways, my friend, oh yes, you will come upon them.

There are a lot of estate sale companies managing the things these days, and you start to know them on a first name basis. You walk in the door and you go, “Oh, I didn’t know you guys were involved, how ya doing?” And “Oh, hello dear, yes it’s us. The ad messed up and didn’t get our logo, kind of a last minute thing.” My schtick has always been, be polite and keep it loose and easy with these outfits. Yes, you can bargain with them, but if you cop an attitude they will crack the whip faster than you can say “Captain Thunderpants.” And if you offend them, well do you really want to search a house while they give you the evil eye?

I’ve seen it happen. Guy tries to haggle a pile of nice metal tools in a toolbox, tries to diddle the price down to a dollar (hey, it can be done, and for less than that!) when it’s clearly marked five. The outfit says three, and the guy cops that attitude. Starts arguing with them about ripping people off, ratcheting the tension up in a line that’s already as tense as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. I stifle a laugh. Dude! This a zero sum game, are you kidding me? Come back on Sunday when they won’t care! Snap goes the trap, and the giant clams have denied you! Guy leaves everything on the table and leaves in a defeated huff. I could only shake my head at the guy and sadly mourn his removal from the list of “almost unworthy to view the wares but if we must grant you access I suppose we must”.

Me, I used it to my advantage. Bought my stuff and didn’t haggle. I already knew the lampshade was a bargain (which surprised me, given the high prices of this outfit). I sympathized with them and chuckled at their well-played snap. Out of the blue, they say, “take that shelf, we can’t use it.” I’m like, “Whoa.” Genuine cherry wood three tier sub-shelf with original varnish and almost completely intact!? I’m there, dude. You roll the dice and sometimes you get a surprise. But you won’t get it by being a jerk. But hey, you wipe out, I’m taking your boots and leaving your corpse by the wayside. This ain’t no disco. I trust you get my point. Stay calm. You lose a lot, you sometimes make the play. That’s how it works.

Now, you should be aware of a certain kind of “estate sale” known as the “bogus estate sale.” I don’t run into them often, maybe three times in the past ten years, but you will encounter them. And when you do you will be outraged by the complete waste of time they are. The “bogus estate sale” is a tactic used by dishonest furniture dealers to sell their products under false pretenses. You’ll walk into a house, and there will be nothing in it except lots of high-priced furniture, often it’ll be covered in plastic wrap because it hasn’t even been completely unwrapped from the wholesaler. There will be a lot of “helpers” walking around asking you if they can help you, like its some kind of freakin’ store or you might walk off with their high-priced tacky junk.

Ohhh! It burns my bunions when I walk into one of those things. Just be aware they exist, and realize that no, you aren’t hallucinating. This is a scam, get out now before you waste any more time. Sometimes you’ll walk into an estate sale with nothing left, but there will still be that smell in the air, or some crud in the corners, like the Grinch has just passed through on one of his runs. The scam will be instantly recognizable by the “cleanliness” of the house and the abundance of nice furniture without the signs of anyone having actually lived in the house.

So, where’s the fun you ask? Well, there’s the excitement of not knowing what you will get, or what kind of situation you’ll find yourself in. After all the preparation and hassle of getting there, after the maneuvering of the obstacles, nothing beats the moment of truth: The moment you walk through the door. You get to explore someone else’s house and pick through their things. That’s what I call the sordid angle. And, every now and then, you come across and object that wants to come home with you. It’s like scratching lottery tickets. You’re hoping for the jackpot, but when you win that one-dollar, you feel like a million bucks. Dreams are what this is made of.

Sometimes you walk into a house and it’s full of nothing but junk. All of it is cheap and the right price, but you don’t want any of it. Other times you’ll walk into a house and it’s crowded to the gills with people fighting over piles and piles of towels, curtains, and used clothing. K once had to flee a pile of used clothes because two women were literally pushing her away to fight over who would get what scrap! Then there are the times you walk into a person’s house and you get insights into how they lived, but don’t come away with anything.

For example, I went through the books and diaries of a housewife who had passed on, and the husband had been moved to a nursing home. The woman had lived a life of constant worry over her religious devotion, her weight, and her attractiveness to her husband. She had gone from religious study, with tons of appropriate knick-knacks, to diet and nutrition with cookbooks and health regimens, and finally to ahem, more modern seventies books on “how to do it” and how to be both religious and uhm, “adventurous”. It culminated in a light interest in mysticism, with astrology books and “spiritual renewal” manuals.

The husband, meanwhile, had gone from mathematics with calculators and slide-rules for a navy engineering job of some sort, to fiddling with electronics and do-it-yourself household fixtures in the basement (I never saw so many transistors and vacuum tubes next to wiring and plumbing projects in my life), and ended up with an extreme interest in National Geographic and travel. There were countless artifacts from Asian vacations, from Thailand to New Guinea, and on into Hong Kong. It’s as if the guy had decided numbers and electricity didn’t measure up to going on expeditions to bring back the goods.

You sometimes come into the houses of specialists. People who devoted their entire waking lives to one thing. I once explored the home of a guy who had worked in the state department with literally, thousands of books in his home. Piles as high as a human being, one after the other up and down the stairs, on numerous shelves or on the floor, filling entire rooms, on every conceivable subject, though mostly having to do with economics, philosophy and ancient history.

There was the woman who had converted her entire enormous home into a yarn depository. It was like being in a store. Shelf after handcrafted shelf of patterns, balls of yarn, and knitting books. The workshop had every arsenal of knitting tool known to humanity, and it all looked used and lovingly attended to. K, being a knitting and spinning artist, had a nervous breakdown at the sight of it, and I almost never got her out of the labyrinths of knitty goodness. I think we spent over an hour lost in that place.

Then there are the houses that aren’t right. An ex-diplomat’s house filled with hard-to-find side passages, hidden attics, and labyrinthine basements. Regular old houses on joe-blow street that look normal on the outside, but are put together funny on the inside. Doors that go nowhere. Basements you can see but can’t get to anymore. Twisting and turning hallways that force you to always go in one direction, in a circle. And farmhouses that have layouts that allow women and men to live separate lives, with sewing and bridge club rooms with easy access to the root cellar and kitchen in one area, smoking/sitting rooms and workshops in the other, meeting only in the dining room around a large long farm table for meals.

I’m only scratching the surface, and I don’t want to make this into a manifesto. You get the idea. You usually walk into a generic place, but might find something interesting that teaches you about people. Oh yeah, the stuff. Anything’s possible. Most times, a place is cleaned out. I have a set range of things I’m looking for, mostly books and toys, and sometimes a good knick-knack for the prize table. I’ll have to explain the concept of the prize table in another post. I won’t turn down a bargain if I see it, and I’m not looking for furniture, though I might pick up a shelf or rug if the price is right. Everybody has their focus.

I was in a McMansion once, totally filled with bad taste in furniture. One thing that never fails to amaze me is how in the new big houses, say post 1980, the people who once lived in them always seem to have spent all their energy in obtaining the dream house, but never have the life-force left to actually fill it with what feeds the soul. The furniture is tacky, or out of a crummy catalog, and doesn’t look like anybody has ever used it. There’s very little clutter, just a lot of the basics such as shelf for entertainment electronics, couch to enjoy said electronics, and some accessory pieces like a lamp on a pedestal. No posters, maybe one lifeless piece of framed art, no colors in the wallpaper or bric a brac in a corner to indicate even the slightest interest in obtaining mementoes or fetishes for a healthy functioning psyche.

But I digress. House is a typical lifeless shell, when I get down to a single room in the basement, and pow. Apparently the housewife was a teacher, and clung to that part of her life tenaciously, and this was her space. She had a mobile shelf made of high quality wood and constructed to withstand long-term exposure for kids. I get it for five bucks. Holy moly. She has a box of wooden blocks of the kind you never see anymore. I pick it up for another five bucks. As a kid, I had the companion set of blocks to this set, so here I am, years later, completing the set of blocks. The one with the solid round pillars and the arches to go with the squares and rectangles of the other set. I’m out of my mind with disbelief. I buy a pile of kids books that are long out of print for a buck. Those will go on the prize table and will end up in the hands of my younger cousins, who might never get a chance to know some of the classics I grew up with. It’s a humbling experience.

Sometimes you walk out with one thing, but it’s a prize. I go into a huge old house where somebody (I can’t tell who) does a lot of cooking. The basement has every conceivable appliance, dish, pan and accessory you can imagine. Mixed in with someone else’s Matchbox Car collection of rare and expensive die-cast metal cars from the sixties and seventies. I can’t touch that stuff, it’s way too expensive for my tastes. So I look under all the tables and boxes in the basement, just to see what’s there, and I pull out a cast iron pot, complete with lid and handle. I’m stunned; this has got to be pre-fifties stuff. I can hardly lift it, but the outfit lets me have it for a buck. I hand it over to the folks, who know how to revive iron and care for it. We now have a large pot, the kind you might find in the wild west, capable of cooking a huge amount of food, say chicken and dumplings or beef stew on an open flame in the wilderness. That’s exactly what we end up using it for. Talk about cool.

You do a lot of dues paying in the form of wasted effort. A lot of times you go to three sales and they’re all a bust. For weeks you get zero return. But then the clouds part, and something gets revealed to you, making it all worthwhile. In some small way I’m paying my respects to these people who have passed on, by bearing witness to their passing and making out of the ritual a way for life to improve and move forward. Gotta drink to that!

Yup, it’s time for another dissatisfaction post. I got loads of issues with popular culture, and here comes the latest diatribe of destructoid doom! I’ve been out of the comics field for a while, when I gave up my comic box a ways back and decided I’d run out of patience with the endless storylines that never resolved, or the stupid inconsistencies that never made sense. The hero business gets mighty boring after a couple of years of waiting for things to happen that matter.

Graphic novels have allowed me to explore new avenues of coolness, and the independent comics out there, both in print and on the web, have kept the faith. There’s things out there that feed me. I should be happy. I’ll probably never buy DC or Marvel again though, and I look back at the old days of The Uncanny X-men, Alpha Flight, and Teen Titans with a fondness I know in my bones I’ll never know again. It’s like a right of passage for adolescents. One day, the power fantasies stop being fun, and the lack of fun overrides your faith in what the heroes mean to you.

I’m an apostate, then, in the comic sense of the word. I can still be marketed to. It’s called “the maturation of the industry”. Titles are darker and edgier now, to compete with the rich competition of Manga, and independent trade paperbacks. But last year, with the advent of the television show Heroes, something came to the surface that started to bother me. Good show, but I think there’s a fundamental flaw in hero comic books that has never been addressed, or if it has I’ve never run into it. I’m not sure exactly, that it can be addressed.

What I see a dearth of in comic books, particularly the mainstream ones, is the now familiar self-defeating cycle of, origin of hero, establishment of hero as righter of wrongs (or “doer of what they are supposed to do”), appearance of villain(s) to challenge hero, big dude fight to see who the big dog is, generic victory, return to “establishment” or “appearance” phase, repeat as long as sales are good. If sales are poor, instead of “victory”, hero gets rousing defeat and indefinite retirement until they can be retconned back into action to see if they are saleable again.

Funk dat! Get a new cycle, fool!

See, today’s mainstream heroes are commercial property. They can never resolve a story; they can only embody qualities dependent upon who is telling the most current version of their tale. The hero reaches a certain point, at which they never go anywhere but around the same carousel.

Look at Spider Man. K bought the complete spider man comic series (something like 400+ issues) on CD-ROM a few years back, and I managed to wander through it a little. This was during the time of the surge in popularity with Ultimate Spider Man and the Spider Man movies. What struck me was how the long-term spider-man saga in the comics was a never-ending cycle marked by certain points where an “idea”, like the black suit or the marriage of Mary Jane and Peter Parker, took hold as official changes. Meanwhile, the Ultimate Spider Man comics (a “re-invention” of the series for a modern day), and to a certain degree, the movies embodied a shocking revelation to me: You could tell the entire story of spider man (as it has been developed) very quickly because of this cycle.

In other words, the “story” of Spider Man has been in reality just one long narrative without end, in a way not dissimilar to many Dungeons and Dragons games where your Level 36 Fighter keeps going from one fight fest to the next because there’s nothing to do but fight more monsters and level up. In order for it to be a story, there has to be a resolution, an endgame. But that’s not possible because it’s an “intellectual property” that must provide “increasing profitability”.

Well, Spider Man has been around long enough now where the gig is up. The story has been told in all ways that count. You can try and “reboot” or “scorched earth” the character, but the problem is, you still tell the entire story in 11 volumes or less. You can tell the entire story in three movies and you are done, finished. That’s all there is. Talk about depressing! We’ve finally come to a point where the comic book characters have been with us long enough to cross three generations, long enough for a major paradigm shift.

If that leads to a gradual telling and retelling of the major heroes, so that Spider Man becomes a version of a modern day story akin to Gilgamesh, I’m cool with that. These stories are done, so it’s time to see what’s cooking on the pot now, in terms of what is fresh. Because that’s what I’m most interested in. I see it as a sign that something else is coming to the boil. This preoccupation with “realism” in what is really a psychic, non-real fact of inner existence means there is a need to move the hero into a different realm of development. I’m not sure fandom wants or can handle it, but I think it is happening already in the dark corners of the internets. At least I see the signs that perhaps we are ready to take another look at the hero, and our need for the still vulgar and underestimated comic book

See, the hero always appears in response to a need in society. Something is wrong, someone who can make the wrong right appears. The wrong is righted. That’s the hero’s journey in a nutshell. Departure, Initiation, Return. So if “realism” is the goal, then isn’t the next step to take the villain out of the picture by identifying what he/she/it signifies? Or to put it another way, if comics are an escapist power fantasy, why not depict the hero resolving the problem and kicking rear end?

Or to make it more clear, you will never see Superman putting a stop to the war crimes in Guantanamo, Batman defending lawfully protesting activists in New York City from police brutality, or Reed Richards of The Fantastic Four making testimony before congress on global warming. They can never be shown fighting even aliases of those kinds of problems, because it’s too controversial. They only ever fight, in dramatic fashion, some goofball named Galactus or Lex Luthor who represents a “generic threat” in terms of “every hero has their opposite”, thus Heroes are neutralized. It’s a means of neutering the heroic impulse and keeping the art form from reaching its creative, natural expression.

There’s a problem in that these kinds of heroes stand for a process in the psyche, and so how much you can take them out of their natural element and place them into more concrete realizations is problematic. The means of expression, even in a “democratic” society as ours are limited to narrow bands of discussion. But I think if comic book heroes are to mean something now, they have to start exploring the next step of creative evolution and start fighting the REAL “super” villains. An ordinary person by themselves can only do so much against centers of concentrated power, such as a sociopathic corporation. It requires a “super” human to appear and with the mask of unconscious identity fight crime where it really exists.

There are scenes in comic books where this threatens to make an appearance. I’m thinking of a scene from a particular story in The Defenders, where they are fighting a group of anti-African American extremists called The Sons of the Serpent. The SotS are ordinary humans with a funny common costume and some high tech weapons like ray guns. They are able to get the drop on The Defenders because of this high-tech advantage, and numbers. The ordinary boyfriend of Valkyrie springs forward as they are making a street demonstration and about to burn Valkyrie on an upside down cross.

The man’s heroism inspires the ordinary people on the street who are watching this show of violence. One guy says he’s got no love for black people, but you don’t burn them because you don’t like them. If that ordinary guy can do it, so can they. Time to take back the city for regular people! A riot ensues, and the onlookers overwhelm the SotS members, forcing them to flee.

During the melee, The Defenders regain the upper hand and regroup. One of the leaders of The Defenders, Nighthawk, discovers that the source of his vast wealth has been funding the SotS without his knowledge, and he freaks. It’s a rather poignant scene, complicated by a later scene that I’m not sure is a cop-out or a real statement on hate across all lines of people. But the point I take from this storyline is that heroes are supposed to inspire regular people to make changes. The hero is worthless if they do all the work all the time. They bring back that gold which is necessary for regular people to make a change in their own lives. Because it’s the public that matters, not the privileged world of heroes and villains fighting on their turf for supremacy. That smacks of aristocracy and elitism, not the power within every person to contribute to the group’s real benefit.

I’m not sure if the time has come, but the current iteration of comic book heroes has run its course. It is way past time to spawn or die, and I don’t think DC or Marvel can pull it off. If it happens, it will happen in the independent fields out there, in the wilderness of the Internets. Do it. The public needs to be inspired, because they have lost their way, and they shiver in fear because they don’t know what can be done now, in this darkest moment of greatest danger and greatest potential.

03/31/2012 Edit: Oops, the Defender’s name was Nighthawk, not Yellowjacket!

Okay, it’s Frankie time. It’s the night of February 14, three years ago. I’m going out to drop off the trash in the apartment complex compactor outside. It’s cold out, but that’s okay because it’s not a far walk so I’m only wearing a long sleeved shirt. I approach the complex and I spot a partially grown kitten. The kitten spots me, perks up, and immediately runs towards me as if she’s won the lottery. It’s almost as if she’s been waiting for me. I drop off the trash, play with her, and decide to come back with K and a handful of food. She looks awfully hungry.

Fast forward to now. Frankie healed the cut on her lip and instead of sleeping amongst the trash during a sudden snowstorm later that night, slept on my chest after purring herself to sleep. She’s got her shots, and the other cats have accepted her as a reality that isn’t going away. She got through her kitten phase, praise the maker, and gets lots of regular feedings, a warm set of feet (mine) to sleep on every night, and many toys. Pamper = To The Max.

K and I named her Frankie after the character Angelina Jolie plays in the movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Frankie is adorable. If you don’t agree, please report to the nearest reactor and volunteer for shielding tests! There’s a whole story about my hatred of cats that I will relate at another time. All you need to know is that I’ve had my Road To Damascus moment and really dig feline critters now.

Frankie, unlike most cats I’ve known, loves to have a leash put on her and walk around the neighborhood like a canine critter. One of her many names is “Frankie-doggins”. She gets really upset if I don’t take her out for a walk during the day, or hunting for moths at night. Its kind of weird how well behaved, and mischievous she is at the same time. When I look in her eyes, there’s an intelligence that goes beyond what I see in the other two cats, Michael and Blink.

I don’t know what it is about the time period from about 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm, but Frankie does some kind of “super-activating” and gets really rambunctious. She’ll usually be asleep in the bedroom absorbing major Slack points. Then, all of a sudden, she activates. Only it’s not the usual activation of a cat going into patrol and beg mode. Nope, she initiates what K and I can only describe as “the Frankie Tricksy Hour”. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing at the moment it begins, for the next 25-35 minutes you are in the Tricksy Hour Zone, where madness reigns supreme!

That’s right, it’s an “hour”, even though technically only 25-35 minutes pass. You’re on Tricksy time, and it’s time to pay the piper. Frankie begins jumping onto counters and shelves and knocking things over. Not big things, little things. Pens. Keys. Magazines. Papers. She’ll look at you as if it wasn’t her, but the Not Me Goblin who did that. She’ll wait until you are looking away, and do it again. You get up and chastise her, and she meows at you like you’re being mean. You put her on the ground, and a few minutes later she leaps up and starts doing it again. Frankie will then change her tactics and come up to you to begin meow bombing. Unlike Michael’s shrill and incessant artillery barrage, however, Frankie’s meow bombs are sweet and heartrendingly cute. “Please? Oh please? Won’t you do whatever it is?” Nope, she can’t tell you what it is. Good luck finding out!

Emergency thrusters engage! Frankie’s tail goes poof, like a huge raccoon brillo pad, and she runs through our home in bursts of speed, then looks to see if anyone is watching her. Random meows ensue, then she’s off again, up and down the stairs. She looks out the windows and meows some more. What? Is there a giant cheeseburger out there or something? If, at this point, you don’t get what she’s going on about, then she repeats the cycle and goes back to knocking things over. Humans can be so dense sometimes!

Yup, she wants me to grab the leash and harness, and take her out on a walk. There’s meeses, and cheeseburgeroids, and probably an ani-mani-mal or two out there. She’s got to make her patrol because it’s the moment of super-psychic fluctuations in the space time continuum. Ugh, but K and I are busy doing chores, watching the Netflix Channel, or writing/playing games on the computer. It’s your choice. Take care of business, or suffer the Tricksy Hour until you are free. Frankie comes up and rubs her head against you and starts to purr. Who knew being lazy could be so much torture?

But that’s the price you pay for having a super-cat living in your home. Duty calls, and the safety and security of the free world depend on your help! No vacations when you’re the sidekick of an animal with super-powers. Who knew I was volunteering my home’s services as a Cat-cave with high tech gadgets and neat-o costumes? Yep, just call me Leash-boy. At your service, mighty Frankie! Golly gee wilikers! Let’s go foil those meeses but good! Frankie says, “Later leash-boy. First let me roll around in these pine needles and search for booby traps.” Sigh. The glory.

It seems like every high-chair tyrant operation has got to have a number of apologists, hucksters, and self-proclaimed experts on the payroll. The purpose of these people is to waste the public’s time by distracting, misleading and deceiving them, so the public won’t get wise to what’s really going on. This is a vital function, because high-chair tyrants are understandably insecure about their positions, and need to keep the “vulgar masses” from doing anything such as thinking for themselves. God forbid!

I know them under the collective title of false prophets, the supporters of the wicked leader, whose purpose is to lead you astray and convince you that whatever they are saying is of the utmost importance. All I can say is avoid them like a plague victim. There’s no sense in listening to them, attempting to reason with them, or otherwise changing their minds. It’s highly doubtful your part in the story is to turn them from the Dark Side, and only the bravest of minds should attempt to wrestle with them, and then only when it is the dramatically appropriate time. One look in their eyes, and you will magically turn into a Scotsman and run off to Scotland like in that Monty Python skit. Meanwhile, the alien blamanges will win Wimbleton and take over the Earth!

And it seems like everywhere I turn, there are false prophets. As Bob Dylan once said, “I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken.” On the radio, on the TV, in the newspapers and magazines, you can’t escape the barrage. I’m at my folks watching some show that might as well be a Monty Python skit:

False Prophet 1: Hello, and welcome to Ethel the Frog. Tonight on Ethel the Frog, we discuss the topic of “Is There Enough Of It Around?” With me are two false prophets, one from the left and one from the right side of the business party to give us the official line. What do you think, False Prophet 2?

False Prophet 2: I think we should kill them all.

False Prophet 1: Amazing. False Prophet 3, your response?

False Prophet 3: Oh, I really don’t agree. I think we should kill them all only if it doesn’t cost too much. Remember, we’re in this to make money, not just crush people because we can.

False Prophet 2: That is just the kind of treasonous, leftist nonsense that is interfering with our God-given right to do whatever we want to…

False Prophet 3: I’m sorry, let me finish. Did I interrupt you? As I was saying, we should look at the cost analysis…

False Prophet 2: Great, there you go bringing money into it again. We have all the bullets we need. This is Atlantis, the greatest country in the world and if we want to kill them all, then that’s what we should do.

False Prophet 1: That’s a pretty tough position to refute. False Prophet 3, don’t you think you’re being too negative in your assessment of the situation, I mean, it looks like we have plenty of bullets to kill them all with. Maybe if we used bombs instead…

False Prophet 3: I’m not saying we shouldn’t push ahead with killing them all, but we need to realize that bullets and bombs cost money, and I don’t know about you, but I want to save some money for buying that yacht for my mistress.

False Prophet 2: You go ahead and do that; I don’t need your bullets.

False Prophet 3: I will, but don’t come knocking on my door because you didn’t take the time to shoot each one of those people between the eyes.

False Prophet 1: I’m sorry, that’s all the time we have. Tune in next time to Ethel the Frog, when we ask the burning question, “Drop a ten ton weight, or release the tiger?”

It’s enough to make me pull my hair out. Listening to this stuff lowers your intelligence significantly, yet I know people who eat this nonsense up as if it were mother’s milk. I tell you, one look in the eye of this horror, and it’s automatic lowering of the life experience. Which is kind of the point. Hard to raise shields or maneuver on reduced power. That’s why I disengage and avoid these temporal anomalies. I’ll just get angry and upset about something that doesn’t matter at all. The only way I know of to defeat a false prophet is to not be a member of their audience. “The only winning move is not to play.”

That’s a tough one, because the false prophet pushes emotional buttons. They want you to engage them, like the ancient sirens luring sailors to the hidden rocks that will bring shipwreck and misfortune. Steer clear! The real prophets are out there where they’ve always been: In the wilderness and on the outskirts, demonized and ridiculed by the false prophets into obscurity. I know, I know, who has time to go out in the boonies searching for wisdom? You have to pick the kids up from practice, buy the groceries for tonight’s dinner and make everything before your part time job later tonight at Dump Beach Mall. There’s no time to stay current with the real problems in the kingdom when you’re working that extra hour so your car payment won’t bounce. That’s the point, though. Most people are too busy to have the time to overcome the daily propaganda.

Well, start by trusting your instincts and learning to be skeptical. That’s all it takes. That runs interference with the propaganda channel, and you get a few points of Warp Power back that were being siphoned off by the energy field modulation. Put it into your sensor and communications arrays, and catch an occasional transmission from the boonies. You’ll get a few pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, and that will help too.

Then start identifying the false prophets in your immediate life. Don’t stress the big icons out there; you can’t handle those ultra-sized dragons by yourself anyway. Tag those personal false prophets in your patrol zone with mental antibodies, and wait for the sludge-removal service to lessen their hold on you. When you get some more points back, put them into the array and keep the feedback loop going. Pay for a dodge maneuver if you can afford it now. That’s all personal stuff relative to your own problems. There’s no formula for every contingency.

What, you never heard of a sludge-removal service? You didn’t think you had allies in the kingdom, did you? The world isn’t static all the time, even though it may seem so. You aren’t alone. Yeah, you got to be responsible for your own Federation of Planets, but out there are the Elves and Dwarves, and other ancient friends of people removing themselves from the false prophet audience to get their lives back on course. Start small, and don’t give in. Don’t look those false prophets in the eye and make up your own mind. A change of mind is sometimes all it takes.

The garden continues to wither away. Each time K and I come over, we have to pull some poor plant up by the roots and deliver it unto the compost pile. K has planted some lettuce for the autumn, so this year’s garden is not quite through yet. But the end is definitely in sight, I’m afraid. Today, we actually needed to buy tomatoes from the store. That’s how bad things have gotten. The potato harvest we took hold of in early August is nearly spent. I’m making a beef-vegetable stew right now that puts us one charge from empty. The herbs are looking lean and crummy now too. I have to do a harvest soon to save most of them for winter. The sage, lemon verbena and sweet basil need to be stored stat!

It’s a communal garden we labor in, so one of my garden neighbors comes over and asks me if I’ve had some tomatoes stolen. Yup, I says. A half dozen beefstake level goodies ready to be plucked the next day, and when I show up the next day, they gone. I tell the guy everybody wants their cut – the bugs take their cut, the birds and gophers take their cut, and now the hungry people take theirs. What can you do? I can’t complain though, I says. I got 2 or 3 bushels of bounty, and that’s not considering the non-tomato cut I got. The guy laughs and gives me four Juliets, tomatoes to keep for seeds, since we’re talking about getting seeds ready for next year. We talk shop a little, and he takes off. I feel like I got the level up, it’s cool.

I finally got the pictures developed from the demolition derby of Big Blue I mentioned earlier. As you can see, Big Blue has had all windows removed and chains run through the doors to keep them from bursting open. The front hood has a hole cut into it to allow the fire department ample access to put out any engine fires that may develop. I’m sniffing, as I know Big Blue looked so good for the debut, it’s a crying shame that the glory was denied my loyal automobile.

During my book revisions, I’ve been studying numerous editing articles on the internets. I want my book to conform to grammatical standards of some kind. I don’t think I’ve found my writing “special sauce” formula, exactly, but I’m learning everything I can get my hands on and doing what I can to craft my book into a finished piece that I’m satisfied with. As a result, I’m taking out books at random from my shelves, and when I encounter them in public, to study the composition.

At the grocery store I picked up a copy of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. I’m not a fan of the books, but I figured this would be a good example to pick up and examine. Late in the series, the author should have everything about their special sauce figured out.  All the things I read about not doing are there. Passive voice, check. Heavy reliance on –ing verbs and –ly adverbs, check. Excessive use of “was” to be verb tense, check. Crumbs! This book violates just about every standard of editorial checking you could think of. Now, I’m not saying I’m any better – my own writing has needed some tough work to beat into shape. But it just goes toward proving my point that your success as a writer has much to do with luck, and little to do with standards of writing, talent, or what you write.

And, on a final note, I’ve been compiling a wish list for music to get a listen on. I’m still short two Lustmord albums, there’s that Skids album by the lead singer of Big Country, before he was the lead singer of Big Country, I’m hankering to get a hold of The Ocean Blue’s Cerulean, Concrete Blonde’s Walking In London, The Verve’s A Storm In Heaven, and of course Sia’s new album, whatever it’s called. I’m gathering soundtrack for book number 2, which will be digging deep into the ground for rocks and minerals to play with.