Sunday, September 23, 2018

Best of Summer’s End 2018, Part 2: The Monte Vista Potato Festival

The difference two years makes in a small farming town in Colorado’s central San Luis Valley.

It was another age altogether when my wife and I, fleeing the depredations of Colorado Springs, took possession of Big Pink on the near east side of Monte Vista in July 2016. I remember my first walks about town in the evenings, noting all the empty houses and storefronts, wondering if someone would ever get around to fixing the clock/temperature sign outside of Sunflower Bank on the corner of Adams St. and First Ave., the blown bulbs of which were flashing alien hieroglyphics to all who passed by.

Fortunately, that much got fixed in time for that year’s Potato Festival, which at the time was not much more than a food truck from Denver and some stuff going on under the main pavilion at Chapman Park. It got much bigger in 2017. It was even bigger this year. These photos are from the last couple of hours, and the remaining booths and people seemed to be doing quite well for themselves even as the day wound down.

I enjoyed looking at these fine specimens of transportation engineering on the way in.

The way these tractors were lined up made for a nice shot.

I was impressed by the pull of this standard-size yard tractor, as it was towing quite a few of those barrels, each with a small child inside.

From a small gathering on a square of grass to nearly the entire park taken up by vendors and exhibitors and food trucks, that’s how much the Festival has grown. We were happy just to get out into the last of the summer sun, sample boutique potato chips, and soak up the vibe of so many people having a good time on a fine Saturday afternoon.

One of the main things that impressed me about this year’s Potato Festival were the numerous activities for the children.

Human hamster balls. Yep. It’s a big park; they could do anything here.

Lots of vendors vending stuff, thangs.

This wasn’t the only vendor selling home-raised honey, but he had the most booth.

Oh, to have the funds and dedicated shelf space to buy every jar I see of this whenever I come across it. Fun fact: honey doesn’t spoil. Ever. Keep a lid on it, and it will never go bad. You could ferment it for mead and drink like a real Viking. I prefer to pour it over big heapin’ tablespoons of raw peanut butter, the kind you have to stir the oil into. Kings of old never ate this good.

I thought of my now-grown daughter, and how she would have reacted to the “Invite a pony to your party!” sign as a nine-year-old girl, and tried not to choke up. Again, it was so good to see so many activities for the children.

As we walked out we saw a man and a woman in a cart deliver sacks of potatoes to the vendors as thank-you for participating. We had come just as the festival in the park was coming to a close, but it looked as if it might have gone an hour longer. This is so much better than many other things I’ve attended in which everything goes dead after lunch.

I had to take more photos of the trucks and equipment on the way out. I was surprised by my visceral reaction to the sight of these, feeling that thrill of wonder a five-year-old boy might for these magnificent machines.

I’ve photographed this beauty before in the Ski-Hi Stampede Rodeo parade. It was nice to be able to walk around and see how much work went into preserving this rolling work of art.

Sometimes I wonder if I didn’t miss a calling somewhere. I’ve always regretted never learning how to work on cars aside from changing the oil and gapping spark plugs. I think what I might have really gotten into was paint and body work, being able to bring old beasts back to life, and mod others out into fun custom designs. 

For now, I can only be grateful others do. 

I got this photo just as they were backing this classic beauty out. The driver and passenger waved at me after I got the shot. Which reminds me of something else that was a lot different from 2016, namely, that the vibe was a lot friendlier among vendors and the public alike. People seemed actually happy to be here. Imagine!

My wife and I left in good spirits, and not just for a happy Potato Festival, but for a small town that’s come a long way with the improving economy. A lot of the empty storefronts are re-opening for business, for one thing—which, when you think about it, is the main thing. The Main Street thing, where the economic rubber meets the road.

This means more traffic, of course. By the way, the bank sign at right works just fine, thank you. I happened to snap this in between flashes.

Two years later it’s another age entirely, and a far better one than what we started out with. Civic decay is not irreversible. Sometimes things do get better. What marvelously counter-intuitive concepts! Who knew?

Photographs Copyright © 2018 by Lawrence Roy Aiken. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Best of Summer’s End 2018, Part 1: Around and About the central San Luis Valley of Colorado.

I was out of action for most of the summer, making this the third summer in a row in Monte Vista in which I had to say “maybe next year” to throwing myself into things like the Ski Hi Stampede Rodeo, the San Luis Valley Fair, and the concert and motocross bike show sponsored by the Potato Festival. At least I did make it out to get some new photos.

We’ll start in a light-purple mood. Purple alpine asters representing for the purple alpine aster-colored house on the corner:

Now, for a study in gilded yellows, greens and browns, with dashes of pale blue through the gray strata overhead.

I saw this and immediately thought of Paul McCartney’s first solo album cover. The cherries were out in force this season. This is from the walkway in front of Monte Vista’s City Hall and Police Department.

I used to fancy myself the urbane sort who would be happier living in the city with all the Cool Smart People. Fortunately, I turned out smarter than that. Looking across U.S. 160 from the part to the pasture, I saw a cowboy at work roping a stray calf. It certainly beats hanging out in a mall parking lot watching thugs break into cars.

I'd like to take the hardtop off of the Jeep and ride out to one  of these places one fine autumn day just to say I did. I'm not as high on the idea of riding around for the sake of it like I used to be, though.

There are no sunsets like those of late summer. None. Submitted as evidence:

All photographs Copyright © 2018 by Lawrence Roy Aiken. All rights reserved. Like what you see? Buy me a tasty and wholesome beverage via PayPal!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Spoiler Alerts for Stuff I Haven’t Written Yet, Part 2

I’m on track to have the weakest posting schedule since I started this blog in 2011.  Yet, somehow, by the magic of Google, I’ve not only enjoyed an unusually prolonged superspike of viewership, I’ve been doing very well on the averages for three days straight so far. 

I should come out and say something, make this place look a little less abandoned. I’ve got a blogpost on a runaway cat started and another on what it means to turn 25 in 2018, from the perspective of my old and fading self, but I’ve been lucky to squeeze out a one-line paragraph a day sometimes. As news goes, they’re weeks old. If I abandon them after a meandering thousand words or so, they won’t be the first. That’s the way this gig works sometimes.

Anyway, to those who have found and are actually reading these posts, welcome to my corner. As you can see from the bar above, I have a little something for everyone. I’ve endeavored to remove profanity from everything except my zombie fiction, as I’ve noted there is a growing market of people who like a break from it, given how even the major newspapers employ “writers” who write like precocious, albeit bitter and vulgar 11-year-old girls talk. Even the men. It’s a post for another time. A podcast? Maybe that, too.

Might as well. I can’t go outside. Kittycats will get me.

It occurs to me I could read these posts for a quick and dirty ‘cast. I’m stacking up the scripts. I can’t say when, but I expect to throw myself at it before fall gives way to winter.

...which won’t be long, if this rapid transformation from green to blood red on the vines is any indication.

My main priority, aside from surviving a radical prostatectomy with as much of my dignity as I could salvage, is finishing the final novel in my SAGA OF THE DEAD SILENCER series. For all I know this may be the last bit of fiction I’ll ever write, and it’s got to be the best, or bust. 

I’ve been hung up on making the world-building plausible. Most critically, I have to make these blocks of narrative look as natural as possible, not like a lecture on, “This is how this works, from top government on down to the town council level (although I need to understand that for myself).”  If there’s a flaw in the exhaust port that will allow us to blow up the entire Death Star with a single kill shot, we need to get to that right away. 

Except there isn’t. I’ve got an evolving undead elite supported by embittered living survivors who run the day-to-day logistics of a moving zombie horde while making sure the important undead get their feast. I’ve got a black-ops colonel whose recent specialty is the ability to destroy every square inch of land for thousands of square miles, using warehouses full of conventional weapons on the edge of their expiration dates. He’s angry, he’s gone rogue, and he’s taken as many pilots and mechanics as he could with him. Like the undead hordes, when his squadrons darken the sky, everyone dies. 

For either one, that could be anytime now. And that doesn’t cover Derek Grace and company’s most immediate threat, a survivor’s government and population that regards Grace and his people as great unwashed who can serve no purpose in the new world that’s being built. A new world that can come to an end at any time. Escape is not as easy as it sounds, and our heroes will have to make one sooner than later.

The buzzards aren’t the only things waiting for you out there.

I’m working at getting more out there, though. The recordings are already in progress. I might put out a bunch of small pieces, then put those all together with bonus material for a weekly hour show. I don’t know.

They’re all problems I’m happy to have.  If nothing else, I’m invested if only to see what happens next.

It’s just over that next horizon.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

NovelRank, R.I.P.

All this site did was track how many actual copies of books were sold on Amazon. Someone at Amazon murdered it.

It’s been a lollapalooza of a summer in a year of changes and adjustments. Post-Labor Day Weekend, the changes keep coming. Yes, it’s feeling very much like that old Smashmouth song here. (No, I won’t embed or link to that. I love my readers.)

The biggest news for me, other than surviving a radical prostatectomy and coming out the other end cancer-free, was that, as of the end of August, was kaput. The website I’d used to track my books since I was first published in 2013 met death by misadventure courtesy of a site it supported with links to purchase pages. The following is a cropped screenshot of the last message:

Click on this caption to donate to Mr. Lurig’s PayPal.

For those who can’t see the image, I’ve transcribed the text with emphasis from the original:

On August 21st Amazon decided that after 9 years, without warning, NovelRank violated their Terms of Use. On August 31st they followed up all appeals by closing the final domain:, effectively killing NovelRank.
Please export any data you want to keep as soon as possible.
If any publisher or other entity is interested in purchasing the valuable NovelRank doman please email me a reasonable offer:
I was NovelRank’s biggest fan. I made it for authors like me who barely sold any books, but it still felt good to know that someone found your writing valuable. It grew to be valuable to so many others. I’m sorry this has happened and I have to now focus on my new wife (married for the 1st time Aug. 3) and what my future can be now that my income is gone.
Mario LurigFounder, Developer, Advocate:
If you found this free service useful in the last 9 years, please consider supporting me directly: [Donate button.]

No explanation. None. They said, “You violated our Terms of Service” and killed it. Whatcha gonna do?

Aside from the fact that this was an all-numbers, no opinions kind of site, NovelRank did nothing to take away from Amazon. It linked to their pages, and helped people understand the ratings system a little better. It did so much for the authors whose books were exclusive to Amazon’s CreateSpace and Kindle services.

Perhaps Amazon is coming up with its own service. One that can be utilized for a nominal fee. It’s the only explanation that makes any sense.

Still, what happened to Mr. Lurig is a disgrace. His income depended on this. A ratings and sales count site. No opinions, only numbers. That’s all. 

I don’t know what else to say. Here’s a nice picture. 

Sunshine slipping beneath the storm clouds, for what it’s worth.

Enjoy all of this while it lasts.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Observations on a Haunted Summer's Evening

In the late afternoon light
Slouching regally
Upon the hard gray faces of the trees
I see the end of everything.

The dry brown sorrow of the grass
Reddens in tune
Before glowing
Once more golden in love
with every sunset I have ever known.

Brassy as newfound faith
Or a missed lover’s smile
Before fading
one last time
from my life.

One last time
Like every other last time
I spoke to that face
Went along with that laugh
Knew the smell inside that car
I junked years ago.

I see them all
Loving me with their eyes
My ghosts a-bloom in bright youth
Slowing darkening among the trees
Fading with the last silent shriek
Of light on this late summer’s day.

From the forthcoming collection Nymphomagic Electroshock and Other Middle-Aged Complaints.
Copyright © 1994, 2018 by Lawrence Roy Aiken.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Spoiler Alerts for Stuff I Haven't Written Yet, Part 1

...and may or may not get around to writing, because writing about my cancer, surgery, and recovery isn’t something I enjoy. I didn’t like going through it the first time, so let’s talk about where I’m at now.

So far, on this cool, curiously damp (for a Colorado high valley) morning in August, I don’t know if I’m cancer-free. I’ve done a final PSA blood draw, from which I’ll get the verdict on next week when I have what I hope is my last face-to-face with the urologist. Chances are good all should be settled until the next scare—prostate cancer is generally a lot easier to deal with than most when caught soon enough—but I’ve learned the hard way not to make these kinds of presumptions.

Meanwhile, it’s been a matter of re-learning how to rise from chairs and walk across the room without leaking from a urethra that no longer has the double-stop action provided by a working prostate. For some reason, this is only a problem around sundown. That I’ve been able to sleep through the night without incident since my catheter has been removed is something I’m very grateful for.

I’m out of cats and cars for now, so let’s do food porn. Yes, I have a folder full of photos of Great Plates I Have Known, and this jewel of a breakfast sandwich, featuring a perfect storm of scrambled egg, shredded cheese, diced onions and jalapeño, is from the morning of 5 June 2016, making it one of the last breakfasts I would enjoy in my old basement office in north Colorado Springs. 

I can cough and sneeze with full force, with no ill effects on either one of my five surgical wounds or my underwear, so there’s that. It’s something I couldn’t do two weeks ago. Another thing I’ve learned, to my great physical and psychic discomfort, is it’s best to consolidate my victories before moving on. The most painful implementation of this lesson came to me shortly after I got my catheter taken out on 19 June.

This double sausage patty under a slab of cheesy scrambled egg and sliced jalapeños goes all the way back to 25 July 2014. I’m glad the memory of this culinary delight didn’t wash away with the tears in the rain or whatever.

It’s important to understand that I had this tube sticking out of me for two weeks after my surgery. Two weeks. It made going out awkward, so I didn’t. I’d walk around the yard with my outboard bladder in hand, mindful of not catching the long tube on something, look wistfully up and down the street, and that was it. For two weeks.

Now I was free of the awful thing. All I had to do was figure out how to hold my water with only the urethral sphincter to hold back the flood, as opposed to that and the prostate. It was a conscious effort, but I was willing to chance wetting myself in public just to get out and get used to walking again.

My wife’s nachos are always a lively, colorful affair. Unlike nachos you order in a restaurant, you are more likely to run out of chips before you run out of toppings. We keep the bag handy during dinner.

I started easily enough, just going around the block by my house. I did it once in the morning, and again in the evening. The next day, I went out to see how far I could go without becoming exhausted. I made it two blocks west of the town’s central intersection before I had to turn back. 

The next day, I took on one more block. Gradual enough, right?

The day after that, I went all the way to Chapman Park, which is where I like to walk laps on the perimeter. It’s seven blocks west of Monte Vista’s main intersection, on the far west side of town. I didn’t do a lap, but turned around and went back. The next day, though, I decided to try two laps before coming home.

Salmon, egg, fettuccine, with my usual sprinkling of diced onions and jalapeños. A fine breakfast from 22 September in that most transitional year that was 2016.

Like a lot of things about this blur of a cancer year—there’s a lot I’ve simply spaced on, being quite unwilling to engage with the reality—I can’t tell you when I noticed the swelling. I thought I was doing well, finally sleeping through the night and such. (I awoke every three hours to empty my bag when I had the catheter. For two weeks.)

It was that Sunday, 24 June, that I noticed I was sleeping a lot more than usual. My left side felt heavy, like something was accumulating there. A lot of something.

Whatever this was, it was draining me. I had very little energy. It was already painful to walk, or to even sit up. This was not good. Something was going to have to be done, or I was done.

We’re all going to need a drink for what happens next.

My wife called the urologist first thing Monday morning, and was told I was showing a classic case of “overdoing it” on the exercise (by walking?), and all that was needed was a hot compress put on the affected wound.

We had an electric heating pad, so I went to bed with that sprawled over the thick mass around the wound in my abdomen, not coincidentally the one of the five reported to have entertained the most remote-controlled robot-arm activity. I was a little put-out by the cavalier attitude of the urologist’s office. I figured I needed an industrial strength antibiotic, not a heating pad.

I could feel the effects, though, as I tried to fall asleep. The skin around the wound itched furiously, and I didn’t dare scratch. I could feel something being pulled up towards the incision. I rubbed some anti-itch cream around the incision site. This, and a painkiller allowed me to drift off to sleep.

The heating pad cut off by itself after a point, and by that point it had certainly done...something.

I awoke with the mass concentrated up to what looked like a weird, fleshy peak around my incision. Walking was a little easier. So was sitting, but not by much. After my usual morning browse of social media and blogs, I got into the shower. After an initial soap-and-rinse I stood and let the hot water run over my wound. It felt good, so I let it run for a while.

Toweling dry, I’d thought it a rogue stream of warm water that I somehow kept missing. It was when I looked into the full-length mirror that I saw it.

No, you really need this. DRINK NOW.

This was a long line of gray mucinous material—as the pathologists at the hospital I once worked at called it—oozing from my wound, down the crease of my abdomen and down my thigh. Suffice it to say, better out than in. If I’d had any sense at the time I would have gotten right back into that shower and rinsed as much as I could out. Instead, I dabbed at it with the towel and called for my wife, who wiped it as clean as she could before putting a bandage over it.

I figured this gas grill converted into a flower pot was a nice, absurd counterpoint. Besides, I can’t think of any food pics I can run at this point in the story.

This routine went on for a week. Heating pad at night, long rinse in the shower in the morning, wipe, clean, and bandage after. It got noticeably better each day, but sitting up straight in my chair was a problem. Aside from being very uncomfortable, I could feel the goo squeezing out of me.

For a couple of weeks after that, it was clear fluid. My wife, who was training in wound management as a U.S. Navy hospital corpsman, assured me this was normal. 

I’m still a little put out by the cavalier attitude of the urology clinic towards my condition, though. This mass stuff was closer to my heart than I’d like. Also, the frequent periods of fatigue where I had to lie down and sleep for three hours at a time were unsettling. I honestly wonder how close I was to dying of whatever this was. Not quite an infection, but not good, either.

Peaches Kitty is not amused.

Sometime along the way the surgical wound stopping weeping clear fluid. Eventually, I was able to sit up, get up, and walk around like I didn’t have five incisions in me. It was just within the last two weeks. I’m making efforts at walking again.

Next week, I find out if we’re done for this scare, or if I have to put myself through radiation therapy. Or something. I’ve had an enormous run of luck so far. Let’s hope it holds for that last PSA reading.