Posts Tagged ‘rant’

bed sheet phantom

Boo.

What follows is an article I wrote for a skeptic journal a dozen years ago. I re-discovered it a couple of days ago, brushed it off and prettied it up, and present it here. Enjoy.
Physicist Costas Efthimiou, a professor at the University of Central Florida, offers a theoretical glimpse that purports to put to rest the notion that the dead walk among us in spirit form: According to the laws laid down by Sir Isaac Newton, it is impossible for a non-physical entity to simultaneously walk upon surfaces and pass through solid objects, such as doors and walls; if a being is applying force to the ground in order to propel themselves, they therefore can’t pass through other solids without also falling through the floor. As a physical being, I know for a fact that I cannot pass through a floor, and I have walked into enough walls and doors to assume that I will have no chance of ever passing through, even if I were approaching Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross Station.
There are, however, several issues with his theories, foremost the idea that Newtonian laws pertaining to the physical world somehow apply to entities that do not exist in the corporeal realm. If ghosts are, as often hypothesized, beings constructed of memory, energy, and/or other non-physical materials, how then can we reasonably expect them to be bound by the same laws that us mere mortals by nature must adhere to?
The article then abruptly takes a sharp turn and notes that, according to a 2005 Gallup poll, approximately 1 in 3 Americans believe that houses can be haunted, and that it is possible to communicate with the dead. The impression I was left with, as a reader, was that the writer of the article really wanted to make the point that individuals who believe in the paranormal are rubes; an act of pseudo-intellectual elitism that served no good purpose at all.
Nearly every culture on Earth embraces some sort of belief system about the afterlife; why is this so? My guess, and it’s only a guess, is that no matter how technologically advanced we become, no matter how much science advances our understanding of the Universe and our place within it, no one as yet has been able to answer the biggest of all questions: Where do we go when we die? I think the question for most people is so staggering, so terrifying, that the average mind can’t comprehend the notion of our consciousness simply ceasing to exist. I certainly can’t, and believe me, I’ve tried. Or is it all just a matter of ego – is it a way of saying, “Hey, it’s ME we’re talking about here. I simply can’t accept the fact that when I die, that’s the end of the story.” Unable to accept the idea that the world keeps turning without them, many people need to believe that there is something amazing, something special, that was built just for them to ride out eternity.
So we create afterlife archetypes that conform to our particular sets of sensibilities, primarily that good people go on to a place full of happiness and joy, where they can spend eternity with all the people they loved on Earth, and the bad people move on to eternal punishment in the burning lake of fire, or something equally nasty. Is it possible that the ideas of Heaven and Hell are natural, physical constructs? It’s highly doubtful; history has proven time and again that good and evil are often highly subjective views of morality, and that nature rarely, if ever, makes a judgment call based on the moral qualities of an individual’s personality.
I believe that we, as humans, build our own ideas of existence beyond death from the twin factors of fear and justice. Not knowing what happens after we leave this physical realm, we still attempt to control our destinies and in this attempt, we create afterlives we can accept, that make sense to us. Also, we all want to be rewarded and remembered for the good things we have done, but we also desire that the guilty be punished, if only for the fact that by comparison, we look that much better. Never underestimate the power of humans to sandbag the next guy, especially when the possibility of eternal damnation is at stake.
And then there’s ghosts. The world in which we live is often a difficult and dangerous one; it can also seem quite unfair although that is again assuming that nature understands or even cares about the complexities of fair and unfair, of right and wrong. Many people die before we believe it is their time, and many good people often die in horrible and senseless ways; conversely, lots of truly awful people live long lives. In our uniquely human sense of cosmic justice, is it unreasonable to think that for those people, their earthly journey is not quite over? Not really. As moral creatures, we by nature feel that every person’s life has to have meaning and purpose and we are not very adept at accepting the idea that sometimes bad things just happen. I think that for many of us, it is more comforting to believe that the person who was taken by bad circumstance has been able to linger and exact some sort of spiritual revenge on those who were responsible for their misery, or even that since it wasn’t their time, they have nowhere to go and are stuck here on Earth in some sort of limbo. We take comfort in the idea that those who have left us are still around, that they’re watching over us or guiding us from beyond, that they miss us and still think about us.
It has been suggested that some ghosts and hauntings are the manifestation of guilt and anxiety; in Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, the story’s protagonist is not taunted by the person he murdered; rather, it is his guilt for the murder that haunts him and eats away at his sanity until he confesses his crime. Perhaps the only thing that is truly haunted is the mind and imagination of the individual who experiences the phenomena. If enough people are empathetic to the idea of the spiritual manifestation of the dead, particularly in a place where one could logically conclude that many people died horrible and unnatural deaths (battlefields, prisons, hospitals, sanitariums, mental institutions, etc.), it is entirely possible that there may exist a sort of shared psychological experience. However, this idea is by no means all-encompassing when attempting to explain the widespread reports and experiences of such phenomena.
Studies have indicated that people who are inclined to believe in ghosts stand a better chance of encountering one than people who don’t believe and if a person visits a location that is known for paranormal activity, then they already have a set of preconceived expectations before they even enter the area. Many years ago, I spent a summer working at a toy store in Northern California that had achieved a large amount of notoriety for having been haunted and in knowing this, I experienced a number of events that I immediately ascribed to the ghost which was said to be in residence. However, my mindset was not entirely objective: I like to believe that spirits do exist and since I was already aware of the alleged haunting, I was predisposed to believe that anything weird that happened was automatically due to the ghost and nothing more conventionally explainable.
And now, ghosts are big money: several cable networks run documentary series that show paranormal investigators plying their trade in places that, as previously mentioned, should be rife with paranormal activity. These shows run the gamut from earnestly sincere to the downright goofy, and I’m sure each have their devoted followers. That said, we faithfully watch them all, week after week, in hope of that one piece of evidence that will answer the question, once and for all. Maybe next week.
Many towns, at least the more touristy ones, offer local ‘ghost tours’ which, depending on the area, can be sort of fun, in a kitsch way, and you might even learn some history. As for ghostly encounters…individual results may vary. The demand for otherworldly thrills has also impacted the venerable Winchester Mystery House; again, in my early days, I worked briefly as a tour guide at the house. In those days, we were strictly forbidden to even suggest that  there might be spooks about; however, the attitude seems to have changed, because now the house hosts midnight tours, seances, and proudly proclaims itself to be haunted. And maybe it is, but I never experienced anything more than a freezing, drafty old house in San Jose in February.
Whatever the case, the chances are strong that we will probably never really know the answer of what happens until we actually die and so far, no one has come back to tell us about it. Harry Houdini, arguably the greatest illusionist and skeptic there ever was, on his deathbed, promised to make a spiritual return if it was at all possible, to prove once and for all if there is existence beyond our physical world, and this is a man who made passionate sport of exposing and debunking mediums, spiritualists, and cold readers.
For the sake of transparency, my wife and I live in a house where things happen, and the community in which we live is next door to a large Catholic cemetery. We have each been grabbed or touched, shadows have passed in front of light sources, unseen weights have settled down on our bed at night, and we often hear footsteps – heavy, human, footsteps. Something plays with one of our cats, in much the way that a child would. We had a team of paranormal investigators visit our home for two overnight sessions, and they produced evidence that can’t be readily explained away. One evening, the team dropped by to go over evidence from the weekend’s investigation, and during that conversation, footsteps directly overhead resulted in an impromptu investigation.
So, here we are, at the end of this, and I have no answers. The skeptic in me says that every bit of evidence has to be rigorously examined, while the believer in me wants to, well, believe. If you’ve read this far, thank you. I’m sorry to have left this unresolved, but perhaps in the next life we’ll see a conclusion to the story.
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happiness-07All along the boardwalk, happy people and happy families wandered, enjoying the warm late summer sunshine that carried with it the faint but unmistakable light of the approaching autumn. The air was saturated with the smell of corn dogs and soft pretzels, and children scampered around their parents, playfully shrieking with the sense of unfettered freedom that only comes with the very young, a freedom that would be lost soon enough to the vagaries of adulthood. The parents knew this, as all adults do, and quietly mourned the loss of innocence that would one day fall upon their children, as surely as it had fallen upon them.

Music rang out softly from cleverly concealed speakers; 70s pop from bands whose names few remembered, but lyrics everyone knew, their contagious catchiness declaring with anthemic earnestness that happiness was only a heartbeat away, just one more kiss away, that her magical spell was working so well, and that all would be right on a Saturday night. A slight breeze off the ocean wafted past the revelers as they took in the sights and the sounds of one last weekend before the weather turned.

The town’s autumns were its best kept secret; known locally as “Second Summer,” it was the delicate span of two to three weeks after labor day, when all the tourists had gone back home, and the town again belonged to those who lived and worked there. The pace slowed, rules relaxed a bit, and a cheerful glow enveloped the strand along the beach. This was the time in which, as if by communal agreement, nothing happened, as per the unwritten code of the tourist towns across the country. In the absence of Them, all that remained was Us.

Hands held, arms around waists, moving at a pace that spoke of neither hurry nor worry, everyone just happy and content to be here, to be sharing the quiet joy of Fall, and even if something was lightly fouling the air, a faint whiff of what, decay maybe, it would pass soon enough and be as quickly forgotten. Except that to some, the smell was growing stronger, more pungent. More wrong.

A gasp arose from somewhere in the crowd, the sound repeating as others turned to see, a susurration of shock whose echo grew louder, instead of diminishing. Children cried, their mothers and fathers drawing them close with iron-gripped hands, shielding their eyes from what they had already seen, could never un-see, their childhoods crashing down around them like milk bottles in a rigged carnival game. The throng of people parted, not unlike the Red Sea, at the sight of the woman among them.

The woman, if she could even be called that anymore.

She staggered along the promenade, this ruined wreck of a human being, oblivious to the multitude staring at her. Barefoot, shambling toward an unknown destination, each step leaving a bloody smear on the ground, gangrenous toes the dark purple-green of putrefaction, the hem of her tattered sweatpants as filthy as the feet beneath them, the knees torn through and crusted with dried blood, suggesting a lifetime spent on her knees; a torn, sleeveless cardigan hung open, making no secret of the nakedness behind it, the awful, shameless bruising and open sores weeping sickly yellow pus and blood, and the arms, the terrible arms with countless scratches and scars, suggesting that she might have been a cutter, but even worse, much worse than that, were the blackened track marks that flowed down from the crooks of each arm, the wounds that had never closed, homemade tattoos unidentifiable now but staining the flesh for ever more.

But the left arm, it must have been a trick of the light, certainly that if nothing else, because the left forearm…the skin was rotting away, the radius and ulna brownish-white and exposed like a dirty secret for all the world to see, ragged flaps of desiccated skin and tendons hanging loosely, hardly any meat to cling to, just empty air, the hand, if indeed it was a hand, flopping limply at her side and wrapped in a towel soiled and dripping, no tissue to give it life, to give it motion. As the horror of the arm attempted to lodge itself in the minds of those who saw it, they were powerless as their eyes went to her face, which was perhaps the worst of all.

Her hair, which may once have been strawberry blond, was a dirty, matted mess, hanging in her face, but not enough to cover it, not nearly enough, for her face was a tattered roadmap of self-hatred and abuse of many types. Blood vessels had bust like fireworks in one eye, leaving the sclera red and angry, while the other eye, its pupil dilated, wandered about, searching everything, focusing on nothing, blood leaking like awful tears from the depths of a hell beyond comprehension, her nose partially eaten away, scarcely more than a diseased crater in the middle of her face, yellow-green snot hanging in thick ropes, her occasional sniffles doing nothing to stem the tide of mucus running into and out of the hole where once had been a mouth, where once had been strong, white teeth, but now was home to rotting, ragged stumps of black and brown, lips chewed to shreds as though incredible pain had been sustained.

Her shoulders slumped, betraying any sense of height, and such was her appearance that her own mother, had she been there that day, would have failed to recognize her. The woman’s ruination was so complete, so absolute, that nothing of her humanity remained. Dragging a leprous foot behind her, she slouched onward, humming a song to herself, a discordant but familiar tune, so quietly that none of those nearest her, who cleared a broad path, could have heard it. Had they chanced approaching this malignant, walking nightmare, they might have learned something about her, but none there on that awful day were willing to cross the line between caution and foolishness which, as it turned out, made no difference whatsoever.

The sniffling got louder and she stopped in her tracks, body shuddering and trembling as though current was passing through it. Suddenly, explosively, she sneezed, the force of it doubling her over and as phlegm spattered the horrified faces around her, the sneeze caused her to violently void her bowels, a vile torrent of toxic shit staining her pants and cascading down her leg.

Screams erupted as those covered in her mess caught the smell, as though all they had seen had been abstract until they were spattered in her filth, that they were shocked back into reality. As the people scattered and ran, frantically clutching their children, the woman coughed slightly and pitched forward, her swollen, distended abdomen disgorging an impossible amount of black bile onto the ground, her face landing in the puddle of vomit. With death, the last of her muscles gave way, and a reeking lake of dark waste soon surrounded her, her wretched destruction complete.

In the distance, a siren wailed. By the time paramedics arrived on the scene, the woman’s purpose had been served; the poison that had exploded from her orifices and leaked from her pores, had reached nearly every soul on the boardwalk with absolute efficiency.

It had begun.

storyWell, here we are again. Another year over and done, and a brand, spankin’ new one just ripe and ready for the plucking. Or so it would seem. Honestly, I’m just happy to see 2015 in the rear view mirror. It wasn’t a terrible year, but it was overstaying its welcome by around September. And now we prepare to take another trip around the sun, 2016 promises to be a good year, to eat all its vegetables, and to not make too much of a stink over an upcoming, dreaded milestone.

So yeah, I took a few months off, because I found myself at a point in which I felt I had little of value to say. Do I now? I dunno, but I feel like writing again so, you know, there’s that. And there’s also a renewed sense of purpose and direction, fueled by encouragement. Who’d have thought?

I was looking at my overall sales for Unworthy, and found that it’s doing some business. I’ve sold copies in the UK and Australia, which just has me shaking my head in disbelief and happiness. For such a uniquely American story, I guess there are some themes and ideas that cross the various cultures. And while neither Mr Fincher nor Mr Zombie have yet reached out for the film rights, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time, yeah?

I digress.

I’ve begun work on a new novel, and I’m pretty stoked about it. While I’m far too superstitious to give up the title or what it’s about just yet, I will say that this will be a far more personal story, and I can already see that we’re going to be swimming in some very dark waters (sorry Mom, I’m just wired this way).

So stick around, won’t ya? I promise I’ll be better at keeping in touch (like we’ve never heard that before), have some updates along the way, an excerpt or two, and maybe even some awesome news.

Stay sick, and keep reading scary stories. And hey, if you’re reading this and happen to have read Unworthy, drop me a line or leave a review, would ya? We’d sure appreciate it.

Hope you guessed my name. Let’s party!

Ebola. The name’s Ebola, and the mere mention of it sends the mind into paroxysms of fear. For good reason: Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever is a particularly nasty illness, with symptoms straight out of a horror story. The mysterious disease that may have come from a cave in deepest, darkest Africa, which causes uncontrolled bleeding through all orifices, through the pores, the eventual liquefaction of internal organs, resulting in a painful, violent death aren’t symptoms that typically lend themselves to romantic notions; it is a mean, dirty way to go. It conjures up images of Richard Preston’s terrifying 1994 book The Hot Zone and its portrayals of the Reston, Zaire, and Marburg strains of the virus. Ebola is real, and it is a threat.

And now, it’s landed here in the US. To briefly recap, two volunteers from a Christian organization, working in Sierra Leone with Ebola victims, contracted the disease, which is a risk one takes with this sort of work (one could also snarkily note that as missionaries, coming down with the disease must be a rather ironic expression of God’s will, and who are any of us to question it?). Rather than leave them there, however, like everyone else in the area who has the disease, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta have brought these two people home to treat them. Needless to say, there is a bit of outrage over this: a seeming majority of Americans, doubtlessly educated by the movie Outbreak and quacks like Drs Mercola and Oz, are up in arms that our government would be so reckless as to transport people we know are infected and showing symptoms of the most terrifying sickness yet discovered, via airplane, to a continent with no known instances of the disease. It just seems like an awful lot of bad decisions are being made, and we don’t have any say in the matter. And I kinda thing we should.

I don’t begrudge the worries many people feel about this; after all our government, if we’re being brutally honest about it, hasn’t shown a lot of skill at keeping sensitive things under wraps and, this time, it could be the end of all of us. The fanatics are busily dusting off their “End is Nigh” signs, the preppers are at Costco stocking up for life underground, the conspiracy fantasists are choking the internets with “I Told You So” posts blaming the Knights Templar, Trilateral Commission, the Illuminati, chemtrails, the “Kenyan President” and who knows what else for this sorry state of affairs while not-so-secretly hoping a mass extinction event will happen, if for no other reason than to substantiate the lives that they’ve wasted while looking between the lines for their beloved, invisible boogeymen. Add to that the ever-increasing number of people who just want a ringside seat to watch the world burn, and you’ve got quite a party on your hands.

The latest additions to the conspiracy brigade is the army of Mommies who believe that childhood vaccinations cause autism, simply because the idiot known as Jenny McCarthy, whose only claim to fame is getting naked for money in Playboy magazine, told them so. The theory that vaccines cause autism has been roundly stomped out, no proof whatsoever that this actually happens, but the idiocy remains. If a vaccine for Ebola is ever developed, be assured that these folks will have no part of it.

The truth of the matter is that Ebola isn’t all that easy to catch. The primary vector for transmission appears to be via bodily fluids or blood, so avoidance is rather simple. Those in contact with infected persons need to exercise extreme caution when in the presence of them. The disease itself is not airborne but, since coughs and sneezes usually eject fluids, there is a possibility that this type of transmission can occur. Essentially, quarantine even those suspected of carrying the virus, treat them as Level Four contagions, burn the bodies of the dead, and all will be well.

And yet, there’s the still, small part of me that worries. What if there’s an accident? What if someone catches it by mistake and in a moment of hysterical selfishness, runs? What if the ventilation system is compromised, as it was with the 1979 Sverdlovsk accident? What if there’s a rogue researcher deep in the bowels of the CDC, just waiting for the time to be ripe to launch their Doomsday vendetta against the world? What if a shadowy somebody makes a researcher an offer they can’t refuse for the contents of the candy jar? And why on earth do they take samples of every awful pathogen known to man and keep them in storage? I want to believe that it’s in the name of stalwart research and working to eradicate disease, but as long as there are people involved, accidents will happen. Personal fears and prejudices will dominate and those on the raggedy edge between genius and madness will follow agendas the rest of us can only guess at.

What it comes to, as it always does, is for all of us, for it is in our best interest, is for us to educate ourselves responsibly, take whatever precautions that make you feel comfortable, discard fantastical or conspiratorial thinking for the garbage it is, and to respectfully demand transparency and accountability from the organizations that work for us, and to trust them until or unless they give us real, sufficient reason not to. Facebook groups won’t change it. Internet forums and bulletin boards only feed the crazies. Do not pay attention to Jenny McCarthy, who is an idiot.

Read and absorb the excellent information that the Centers for Disease Control is making available, and understand it’s bad business to allow the entire population to be wiped out. After this scare is over, we’ll all go out for a pint and have a laugh about all of this. Or we’ll all be dead and none of it will matter anyway. Either way, won’t you feel silly for not having read my book?

 

Recently, I became aware that Colin Hay (formerly of Men At Work and the Land Down Under), now a resident of Los Angeles, has had a rather prolific solo career and a rather good one at that. The music and accompanying lyrics tend toward the introspective, and speak of a man who has found his place in life and discovered that most elusive of treasures: contentment. While many of his songs strike a chord with me, the one that stands out the most is that for which this post is titled.

Waiting For My Real Life to Begin is about a guy who believes that “Any minute now, my ship is coming in,” who spends his time checking the horizon and waiting for life to come rushing to him which, of course, it never does. There is a second voice to the song, that of the woman who loves him, telling him to “Just be here now, forget about the past, your mask is wearing thin.” She knows what he is too terrified to admit: that he is mired in a swamp of regret, bent and broken by the past, and uncertain of the future.

For most of my adult life I was that guy. I drifted aimlessly, waiting for life to come knocking at my door which, of course, it never did. I bounced from one job to another with no plan, endured a bad marriage and survived a bad divorce, all the while waiting for my ship to come in which, not surprisingly, never happened. Somehow, I managed to grudgingly learn a thing or two along the way and met someone who saw my potential, inspired me to lay claim to my own life, and advised me to forget about the past because, apparently, my own mask was wearing thin.

Which is all so easy to say; so easy, in fact, that it sounds more than a little trite. Those years of drifting were sometimes fun and sometimes terrible, but the thing is, what no one tells you, is that time passes so damn quickly, you really will miss it if you blink. When I was young, older people (friends, co-workers, etc) would tell me things like “Don’t worry, you’ve got all the time in the world,” and “You have so much time to figure it out.” The rub is, however, that these statements are absolutely, positively, completely, horseshit.

Go to sleep one night at the age of eighteen, and wake up to find you’re twenty-seven. Celebrate your thirtieth birthday, and you’re blowing out forty-two candles. That’s how fast is happens, and once those years are gone, they are not coming back. Your friends become parents and then grandparents; people you knew from childhood die of cancer and AIDS and car crashes and some commit suicide because life can be awfully damned hard and not everyone can take the pressures of it and then one day you’re burying a parent and wondering how in the hell everyone got so old, so fast, head spinning in disbelief at the absolute ridiculousness of it, and waking up with stiff knees and a sore back, deciding against going on the fun rides at the county fair, and not understanding the music these kids listen to nowadays, and what the hell is the deal with those sagging pants anyway, and why don’t I have a proper career and when exactly did I become so broken, so defective, so caught completely unaware of this grownup world around me?

That is how quickly it happens. Sitting there, waiting for something to happen, and nothing ever did. Because I didn’t have focus, didn’t have a plan, didn’t have a goal, didn’t have a direction, didn’t have faith in myself, something, anything. Don’t wait for tomorrow, because it comes way too soon. So into this madness comes The One Who Makes It All Make Sense, and it’s as though the light came on for the first time and it’s so beautiful and so brilliant that one can barely stand to look at it, but I look at it, I look at it constantly, and I begin to see, really see, and it’s all so amazing, so wonderful, that I can’t help but be here now, for now and for ever, because this is here and now is when and it all just falls together. Turns out I needed someone to gently point me in the right direction, and she did just that, because sometimes some of us need that simple thing, that push, that nudge, that one little thing that changes everything and makes everything wonderful.

And now, having found the wherewithal to not be broken, to not be defective or inert, I have found my path, my calling, and it finally, I can see a ship on the horizon. My real life has finally begun.

Click on Colin for a nice surprise!

See, here’s the thing, the thing that really means this is happening. I just uploaded my book to the formatter who will then, you know, format the story and then, it’s ready to go. Ready to go. Ready. To. Go.

Up until around right now, it’s all been rather abstract. Yes, I started and finished writing a story, although I still hesitate calling myself a writer because, well, I don’t know why. The polite small talk, the “Ah, I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” and “Oh, I have such a great story idea,” all of that stuff, it really didn’t impact me much. Kinda felt like I was pretending, especially when I have had trouble accurately describing the story to people. And finishing things isn’t exactly my strong suit, so there is that.

But now, now dammit, it’s real. It’s real because I started and finished it. It’s real because it’s finally out of my hands and in the system and after that, it will be available for people, strangers even, to buy and read. It’s real because eight years after he said it, my father’s suggestion (that I try writing for a living) is actually happening and damn, I wish I’d gotten there sooner so he could have seen it.  So, in a large sense, it’s over. All the planning and plotting, the scheming and scribbling, the whining and the yelling, is over. Over.

And now people I know and people I don’t know will be able to read it and judge me and my story and the way I chose to tell it. If that’s not reasonable grounds for a proper freakout, then I don’t know the meaning of the word.

As I’ve mentioned in previous writings, I grew up in California; born in the mid-60s, my cultural awareness started in the early 70s. By the time I reached junior high school in 1978, I was familiar with a wide variety of music. Mom was into the Stones, Janis Joplin and classical, while Dad loved jazz and country – not the bullshit that’s passing for country today – the real stuff, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Don Williams. In the car, most of the non-Spanish language stations were AM pop which, for my money, was the Golden Age of pop music. So, I’m pretty well rounded when it comes to music.

When I was in junior high, I also began attending a Christian church, a precursor to the so-called mega churches of today, and in the special junior high Sunday School group, they counseled us endlessly on the evils of secular music, how KISS was an acronym for Knights In Satan’s Service, how Santana was just another way of saying Satan, and that Supertramp was going to Hell for that passage in Goodbye Stranger where the singer says the Devil is his savior, never mind that the lyrics are taken completely out of context and the real meaning of the song is entirely different.

In other words, us impressionable kids were being taught about the evils of the world, via pop music, by a bunch of fucking idiots.

However, no band was held in lower regard for their wholesale embracing of darkness and evil than…The Eagles. Because Hotel California is totally about Hell and what an awesome place it is, and also because of the infamous back cover photo and the ultimate evil it beheld: the shadowy visage of Satan and/or Anton LaVey, the legendary eccentric and founder of the Church of Satan, and with whom I coincidentally share a birthday.

Seriously.

Seriously.

I want to add that many years later, I actually met Anton LaVey at a gun show in San Francisco, and for what it’s worth, he was a cordial, nice, and genuinely funny guy. The thing is, when you forbid a bunch of pre-teen boys something that’s so bloody evil, that’s exactly where they’re going to end up. So we listened to the album, basking in the glow of all that evil, much to the consternation of our Sunday School teachers who were, as I’ve previously mentioned, a bunch of fucking idiots.

This was also a source of serious concern.

The upshot is that the very people who were trying to condemn The Eagles were the ones responsible for my knowing of them. Being the 1970s, in California, The Eagles were exceedingly popular. They were all over the radio, with their kickback songs of about takin’ it to the limit while takin’ it easy, having a Tequila Sunrise with the New Kid in Town, while livin’ in the fast lane with a Desperado who was a Victim of Love and thought it all might be Wasted Time. The Eagles’ Greatest Hits is the third best-selling album in music history, beaten only by Thriller and Dark Side of the Moon.

So…I was an Eagles fan. I owned The Long Run and their live album, and as time went on, their music became a staple of the local rock and classic rock stations, sowing their seeds of cynicism and the deep bummer of being globetrotting, cocaine-fueled rock stars. I never really thought much about it; my buddies liked The Eagles (I bailed on the church thing pretty quickly), and I gave the matter little thought.

Except that years later, I realized that I was switching channels whenever an Eagles song came on the radio. When Hotel California started playing somewhere, I mentally counted back the number of days that had passed since the last time I’d heard Hotel California (a number which rarely went into double digits). Obviously something was amiss, but then something miraculous happened. But first, a digression.

By the late 1990s, the Coen Brothers had solidly established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the film industry. Since Blood Simple, their 1984 debut, they had given audiences Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, and Fargo. My love for their work and their highly stylized filmmaking marked them as true originals. In 1998, however, they released The Big Lebowski, a movie which, I admit, I just didn’t get at the time. Truth be told, I don’t understand the enormity of its cult following, except perhaps the stoners out there find a hero of sorts in Jeff Lebowski, a man-child who lives in a dumpy LA apartment, flakes on his rent, and has to bounce a check for a carton of milk. Whatever; I’m not judging. In the years since, I’ve warmed to the film considerably, seeing it as a sort of existentialist mystery, an LA story, and a meditation on weed, bowling, and whatever else; possibly nothing at all. However, what stuck with me from the start was one line in the movie. One line.

With that, my mind was blown. Somehow, I had never realized that, despite all the airplay, despite the record sales, that there might actually be people who didn’t like The Eagles, that it was even possible. Somehow, I just figured it was part of living here; that we were all fans by default. It simply never dawned on me that we had any choice in the matter. I realize this makes me look not terribly bright, but that’s the truth of it. It took The Dude for me to see the light.

I hate The Eagles. I hate their tepid, mediocre, soulless country-rock, I hate their world-weariness, their intellectual posturing, their gutless riding of Gram Parsons’ coattails, the idiot disco of One of These Nights, their cover of Tom Waits’ Ol’ 55 (how dare they!), the pissy infighting of spoiled millionaire rock stars that led to the breakup, Glenn Frey’s entire shitheaded solo career, and their inevitable reunion tours. But mostly, it’s the music: an coworker recently told me that the reason I don’t like The Eagles is because musically, they’re just not challenging. “You hear a song of theirs once, and you’ve heard everything there is to hear,” she told me. “There’s nothing beneath the surface, no subtext, no deeper meaning.”

And thus The Dude showed me the truth. Hell, I don’t even have to have a reason to hate the Eagles; I can hate them like I hate Foreigner and U2 for the simple reason that they just suck.

That’s my story.

 

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s. As far back as I can remember, I always loved movies, of which there was never a shortage back then, even though there was just a wee handful of channels. True, there are still movies on television today, but it’s different. Back in that time, much of entertainment programming was devoted to old movies; the studios rented their catalogs for pennies, and a great number of films were public domain, meaning no one owned the title and it cost the station nothing to broadcast it. To simply run a movie, or even a string of movies, however, often wasn’t enough. In the old days (because I realize I’m starting to sound like one of those old guys who sits forlornly on a park bench, pulling a bag of bread crumbs from my Members Only jacket and feeding the pigeons that aren’t even there anymore, but in the old days there were lots of pigeons, and those pigeons were badasses, I tell you what), we had regional television, meaning that we had the Big Three (DuMont was gone by that point), and then a bunch of local stations and, come to think of it, the Big Three were really only the Big Three during prime time. The rest of the time, they were just local stations. And with those local stations came the local personalities.

I am totally not making this up.

I am totally not making this up.

Arguably the more bizarre station of the era was Channel 36 (originally KGSC, Stockton, now KICU, San Jose), whose on-air spokesperson was Carol Doda, the spectacularly knockered stripper whose home was the famous Condor Club in San Francisco’s infamous North Beach district. Dressed provocatively, her breathless declaration that we were watching “The Perfect 36” without a trace of irony remains a punchline well-remembered by all who lived in the Valley at the time, albeit usually in the form of “That really happened, right?” -type conversations, within the framework of the type of fuzzy nostalgia usually brought on by beers with old friends. That’s Santa Clara Valley, by the way, not Silicon Valley. That mess came later.

Just in case there was anyone left who wasn't offended by the stripper, the bullfights, and the Mexican wrestling.

Just in case there was anyone left who wasn’t offended by the stripper, the bullfights, and the Mexican wrestling.

Steadfastly politically incorrect, Channel 36 featured bullfights from Mexico City on Saturdays, usually followed by the unbridled awesomeness of Mexican wrestling.  And if all that weren’t enough, there was Gary Ferry, a mainstay of local television, whose niche was hosting movies, first on The Old Sourdough and Wachikanoka where, dressed in Indian attire, he would host old westerns with Andy Moore and enjoyed a degree of cult celebrity. A later show, called Race Street and Bascom Avenue featured Gary playing Race, and Andy playing Bascom, which was and, to the best of my knowledge, still is, an actual intersection in San Jose. So the gag works on two levels. The format for these hosted movie shows was that of similar shows across the country: a little banter to open the show, a few segments during the movie, and then a wrap-up at the end. Later, Gary would host Movies All Night, this time as himself, the spokesman for MMM Carpet in San Jose. A personal high-water mark for this writer would be getting permission from Mom and Dad to actually stay up all night for a Marx Brothers marathon at the tender age of ten, and a feat I came very close to pulling off, having fallen asleep around dawn during the final movie, the lamentable The Big Store. Sadly, we lost Gary back in 2009, although I did have the good fortune to have met him in the mid 1980s, and thanked him for his years of entertaining service.

You have no idea how close to tears this photo brings me.

You have no idea how close to tears this photo brings me.

As much fun as Channel 36 was, we had another channel, KTVU Channel 2 from Oakland, which had the twin powers of broadcasting giants Pat McCormick and Bob Wilkins. McCormick was the host of the local Dialing For Dollars show, which ran on weekday mornings, first with a movie and later with a two-hour block of sitcom repeats. Pat was a local television mainstay, and his greatest contribution, by his own admission, was in a series of short videos starring his puppets Charley and Humphrey, with quick lessons on such varied subjects as kittens, hostility, and boating safety. Pat also hosted the local (Oakland / San Francisco) portions of the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Labor Day Telethon, while Channel 36 handled the San Jose segments which were predictably surreal, known to feature appearances by octogenarian tap dancers and Elvis fan clubs. These were interesting times.

Bob.

Bob.

At the top of the regional television pantheon, however, stood a broadcasting legend, the host of KTVU’s Creature Features, Bob Wilkins. Bob, unlike virtually every other horror movie host, did not dress in costume, wore no strange makeup, and for the most part played it straight. With his yellow rocking chair and ever-present cigar, Bob’s non-terrifying appearance and gentle ribbing of the often terrible films he presented endeared him to every horror nerd, young and old, who watched the show. And we watched religiously, because Creature Features was also our primary source for nerd info in a pre-internets world. When Dad was working the night shift, Mom and I would stay up and wait for him, watching Creature Features to pass the time; this was when I learned that being scared can sometimes be a lot of fun. The first time I saw Night of the Living Dead, the movie that had actually freaked out my un-freakoutable father, was on Creature Features. The first time I saw clips of a new movie called Star Wars, was on Creature Features. No form of media had a greater impact on my love of horror and science fiction movies than Creature Features.

So okay, nice trip down Memory Lane, but what does it mean? I don’t know, maybe nothing. Then again, maybe something. What we have now is nice, be it satellite or cable, but what we’re missing is a sense of community identity, an interconnectedness that was part and parcel of growing up in a time and a place that was different than others. Not better – not by a far shot – just different. A feeling that there were other movie nerds up late watching along with you, separated physically but connected through the shared experience. Moreover, the people we watched on TV weren’t necessarily professionals; the shows were extremely low-budget, the camera work was questionable, and the jokes as stale as Bob Wilkins’ cigar smoke as Saturday night became Sunday morning. These endearing qualities connected us with the hosts, like we were sitting in our weird uncle’s converted garage/rumpus room. I realize now, years later, that the late-night and all-night movie shows weren’t live, that they were recorded during the day and broadcast later, but that really doesn’t diminish the effect. None of us were in possession of VCRs yet, so even though the shows weren’t broadcast live, the audience was watching live.   When I left the Bay Area, nearly twenty years ago, KTVU was showing Will & Grace reruns in the old Creature Features time slot. Channel 36 has since merged with KTVU and both run paid programming commercials all night. Bob Wilkins and Gary Ferry both passed away in 2009, and Pat McCormick has retired, and those of us who grew up then, who came of age then, we have lost a bit of that small-town feeling we once had when life was simpler.

And that, I guess, concludes our broadcast day.

The Winter Solstice has come and gone, and the new year has yet to arrive. In a perfect world, I’d be writing this on a dark and stormy Sunday afternoon, rain pelting the windows while the cats sit on the sill, transfixed by the sight of such weather. This is not, however, a perfect world, which is why it’s an eighty-degree cloudless day here in Surf City. Despite this, the days are short and the nights long, and it’s not uncommon to find oneself in a reflective place around this time, with the chaos of Christmas over and the promise of a New Year yet to appear.

As 2013 draws to a close, I look back on the year with mixed feelings. I finished writing my first novel and did a lot of writing for a respected film site, celebrated our first year of both marriage and home ownership, and saw one of my closest friends get married. I have seen other friends become parents and grandparents, old friendships have faded and new friendships have arisen. Such is the circular nature of life; the wheel turns for all of us and so it goes for another year.

On the larger scale, we lost many great people this year, several whom were friends. In the interest of maintaining sanity and friendships, I disconnected myself from all news and political sites, which may have been the most intelligent decision I made this year. I’m not completely out of touch (I know about Edward Snowden, Obamacare, and the NSA ); it’s just that I am not interested in allowing this knowledge to influence my life and the relationships I have with people who matter to me. Human connections are far more important to me than to lose them over divisive issues.

So, rather than give in to cynicism over the year that’s passed, let’s instead look forward, with an eye on the future and hope in our hearts, and find something in each day that makes us laugh, or cheer, or think. Something that shows we’re still capable of being amazed like when we were kids, that we’re still able to believe in the impossible, the improbable, and the uncanny, and to experience the great adventure of life. Step out of the rut and onto the road and embrace awesomeness. Let’s make a resolution for the new year that we can actually achieve:

Let’s be better.

Better friends, better husbands, better wives, better fathers and mothers, better sisters and brothers, better grunts and bosses, better drivers, better writers, better whatevers…let’s be better at whatever we are, whatever we aspire to be, whatever we want to be. At the very least, let’s just try.

Halloween has come and gone, and this past weekend we set the clocks back. Now we’re in the dark half of year; short days and long nights. The Celts felt that this is when the veil between the living and the dead is at its most transparent, when the spirits find it easiest to come into our world, when we should pay respects to the ancestors and those among us who have passed. They had a whole celebration about it, one that I find fascinating good. I’ve lost three people this year; a neighbor, a co-worker, and the father of an old friend, who I’d known for about thirty-five years. Good people all, and I miss them. I hope that they are well and happy in whatever follows the life that we know.

Because I find that I am not nearly as certain as I have been about all this, which is interesting. In the last decade, I’ve been in a fairly solid place of non-belief or disbelief in things spiritual, read the appropriate books, weighed the appropriate evidence, and felt that I’d come to a reasonable conclusion. Of course, that’s the wonderful thing about making up one’s mind: things change. If one keeps their mind open, change needn’t be scary or confusing; rather, I’ve always welcomed that which causes me to reevaluate my thoughts and opinions, testing the strength of my resolve and challenging that which I hold as truth. Not fact, because fact is absolute. Truth, however, is subjective and capable of changing.

We (and by we, I mean Epic Steph and I) have had some experiences in the past year that have us thinking differently on the nature of life and the after-life. I’m not in a position to comment further, but suffice it to say that enough has happened, has been documented, to give us considerable reason to think. At first, I gave the experiences little real thought; they didn’t easily fit into my view of things, and I found it easier to deny or debunk, because that required less work, less thought. So it goes.

Anyway, awakening this morning to a sky darkened with heavy clouds, I found myself in a state of introspection and realized it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything to the site. On the book front, there’s not much news: the manuscript is still under review with the publisher, and it’ll be a few months yet before I expect to hear from them. I have ideas for new stories, but none of them felt compelled to come out to play today. Being that it’s now November, the next few weeks will be spent doing various small home improvement projects in advance of the holidays. Aside from a couple of film pieces, I’m not anticipating much writing getting done before the year turns.

Writing, to me, is heavily introspective, and that doesn’t always fit well with the whole “Think of others” vibe that the winter holiday season is supposed to be all about. So, while there will be occasional posts and probably a rant or two about hammers and appliances and stuff, I doubt any new novels will find their genesis for the next two months.