Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013 After-Action Report

I’m rethinking a lot of traditions, and one in particular is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC. Granted, I was never really into it until my late 20s, when I wrote a play-by-play for my zine in 1989. After that, I caught the parade when I could. Which really wasn’t all that often, come to think of it. It’s only been in the last ten years or so.

My latter-day tradition has been to get up, get caffeinated, turn on the set, and, upon the first commercial after the start of the parade, go out to the shed and bring in the Christmas boxes, including our artificial tree and its many, decades-spanning ornaments.

The commercial nature of it was part of the appeal—commercialism is an element of Christmas, after all. I’ve always enjoyed watching the high school marching bands and cheerleaders, savoring the poignancy of knowing that this is the highlight of many a career, if not the entire lives of some of these young worthies. That was the year I went to New York! My school’s band marched in the Macy’s Parade! 

I’ll never say no to a decent, all-female dance squad. The Rockettes once again proved themselves as a national treasure. Before getting to the Rockettes at the tail end of the first hour, though, we had to endure one awful Broadway set piece after another. 

The Broadway segment of the first hour was so horrible I don’t even want to mention the names of the shows featured. They were excruciating to watch, nauseating to hear. The Rockettes weren’t on for nearly long enough compared to so much of the crap they lingered over. That goes for the rest, come to think of it. The high school bands don’t get nearly as much time as the celebs singing on the floats.

Alas, the years have not been kind. 
And poor Joan Jett! I never found her boyish, scrawny self sexy in her best days, but now she looks like someone’s perpetually pissed-off mom. I'll give the producer of the show credit for not giving her much face time. That little bit went a long way, lemme tell ya.

I remembered feeling this way last year. So another trend is trending here. Maybe it’s just me, but there was something rather forced about the whole affair. Overall, it was depressing. I should put some distance between me and this thing next year. Make a new tradition.

Seriously, this really works.
Dinner was great, and all the more special as it was cooked by my wife, who went vegan this year. She roasted up a king-hell turkey, though, using the Alton Brown method of putting a tin foil mask across the breast and making sure the temperature in the breast didn’t go above 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The breast meat ends up juicier than the thighs and drumsticks. Every bit of the turkey is a prime piece. No one gets stuck with the dry stuff.

According to my wife, pumpkin pie out of the can cost three dollars a can so she got two small pie pumpkins, roasted them in the oven until their skins slid off, and whipped up a world-beating pie using pecans and such for a gluten-free crust. Her homemade giblet gravy was an all-time personal best. The mashed potatoes were honest to God potatoes that got mashed, and drowned in said gravy.

Welcome to Monsters, Inc.!.
We had cranberries—the real berries, not that jellied goop in a can. There’s also some fruit salad I need to finish up for breakfast tomorrow. By the way of Thanksgiving miracle, both children joined us at the table. We’ve never got the hang of eating as a family. But we made a game attempt at it.

I regret we never made a real tradition out of Thanksgiving. By “real,” I mean visiting with other family and sharing the meal with them. In many ways, I find myself desperately trying to fill the holes left by the tradition I grew up with in the 1970s. But that’s another post.

Bottom line: this year’s Thanksgiving went well. We’re tossing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (I might tune in at the 50-minute mark and see if I can catch the Rockettes) but we need to get something a little more personal going anyway. Next year promises more changes, with my daughter being 21, and my son’s last year of high school. Meanwhile, Christmas 2013 is on. Ready or not!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Last Sunday in November 2013

In which we talk of preternaturally cold weather, electronic music, and the very short, very impecunious Christmas season ahead.

Normally I make a point of going out for an extra-long walk on the last Sunday of the month, using the time to brood over what went right over the previous weeks, and what I can do to make the next month better.

This isn’t normal. Unless I still lived in Alaska, that is, or if it was already February here in Colorado Springs. It was 25 degrees Fahrenheit at half-past noon when I got down to my office. It’s up to a balmy 29 now, just before sunset. I might hazard it if it wasn’t for all the ice and snow on the sidewalks. Even then, I’m certain the only thing I’d get out of the walk is, “Holy smokes, it’s cold out here!” and a raw, runny nose.

Looks like it’s going to be a harder than usual winter. All I ask is that it not be 60 degrees (or higher) and sunny on Christmas. I did move here for the snow. Let’s have some more of that, too, if we’re not climbing much above freezing for so many days in a row.

The highlight of my week, aside from watching my blog stats break all kinds of records after I made a 1 a.m. post last night, was sitting at the stoplight with my son on our way from school. A song came on the radio. This one had a heavy, synth-augmented, bass-thumping beat, with lots of high-end synth drama on the build. My 17 year old son was banging his head to it.

I knew this song, so I knew what would happen next: Steve Perry opened his mouth to contribute his vocal part to “Separate Ways,” and my son’s head-banging morphed into a look of abject horror: what nightmare horror was I just suckered into grooving to?

My son loves classic rock, but like most right-thinking people (his father, for instance), he has a natural aversion to Journey. After we had our laugh—and I expressed my usual caveat not to throw out guitarist/musical arranger Neil Schon with the histrionic singing, stupid lyrics, etc.—my son started talking about his fascination with electronic music. Not EDM*, per se, but the stuff people like Deadmau5 do.

That my son talks to me at all is one of those miracles I will once again give thanks for this Thursday. That my son is anxious to talk to me about music cheers me up even more. He spoke to me about the Ten Thousand Names of Electronic Music and how each was defined by the beats per minute (BPM), and how he didn’t care for that. He just wants a groove he can get behind and nod his head to.

I sat there nodding, thinking how I really need to get him a new graphics card and extra memory sticks for his computer. It’s not the kind of thing I can surprise him with under the Christmas tree. It’s not the thing I can necessarily afford, either. Oh, well. Put it on the card. 

If nothing else, I’ll need him and his improved rig to make Web commercials to promote my books. Overall, though, if he can teach himself how to make his own electronic music as he’s taught himself guitar, and he likely will...well, that settles it. It’s got to be done. It will be done.

It’s going to be another tough Christmas season. Maybe the toughest yet. I’m strategizing how I can make it work without a pile of presents under the tree.

I’m reasonably certain I can pull this off. If nothing else, it will give me something to write about. Of course, if any of you lurkers have any ideas, drop me a line. I know I’m not the only one struggling here.

* EDM: Electronic Dance Music. Formerly known as “electronica” when all the music and youth culture magazines were trying to shove it down our throats in the late 1990s: “You should throw away your Beatles and Led Zeppelin and guitar-based and verse-chorus-verse stuff and EMBRACE THE FUTURE like all the cool rich club kids we hang out with are doing!” Yes, they really published stuff like that, so much so they angered that silent majority of people who liked to going to clubs to dance, but weren’t giving up the other music they liked. Moral of story: when in doubt, rebrand.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Dr. Seuss vs. The Living Dead

From the sticky-red pages of Grace Among the Dead

With a loud hiss Russ releases the brake and we plunge into motion down the tall, terraced hill of Baptist Road towards the Interstate. Down towards a wall of dead attracted by the rattle of a big diesel engine that’s been idling for far longer than it had to.

The cab of the eighteen-wheeler dips into the grade, then bobs up on the level terrace. The way the cab is bouncing on its shocks I can make out the vast shape of the pale mob below, if not their precise numbers. I can only imagine what it feels like in the big silver pickup truck we’ve got lashed and blocked on the flatbed.

I’m about to tell Russ to slow down but there’s another wash of static on the radio: “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish! Archer Squad One, Interference Pattern Alpha, engage.”

Russ downshifts as two large white pickups roar out ahead of us from either side, followed by a red truck and a blue truck racing past left and right. They make their way down to within 40 yards or so ahead of the horde. Then they cut their wheels and point out and away from either side of us.

Russ slows to a stop. We watch as the men in the flatbeds of either truck arise, crossbows at the ready. With a choreographed precision they one-arm vault off either side of their trucks and form a tight line, crossbows raised in front.

You can hear the hungry roar of the white-eyed, scab-faced mob over our idling diesel as they sight the living flesh before them. The men from the trucks calmly form a line even as the surging mass of walking cadavers parts like the Red Sea before us as the walkers gravitate to the lines of fresh meat-on-the-bones closest to them.

Then the arrows fly. I watch as one fat shaft from a compound bow crashes through the head of one and into the face of another behind her. They drop, among so many others with wood in their eyes and cheeks and nasal cavities. The ones behind the fallen roar with frustration as they have to stumble through the piled cadavers to get to their food.

A few fall to their hands and knees and being crawling over the carpet of once-human remains. Their pale, dusty faces are twisted in rage, as if offended by the very idea of something alive and healthy walking their Promised Land. They will tear that life out with their teeth, gulp down the insolence that is living flesh and blood, and shit what’s left to the dirt, a spoor so foul the insects and carrion birds dare not touch it.

Grace Among the Dead: Book Two of The Saga of the Dead Silencer
Copyright © 2014, 2017 by Lawrence Roy Aiken. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 08, 2013

This Is Why We Apocalypse

Behind every apocalypse there is a sense of loss for the world that has passed. Or should be.

The following is Deacon Isaiah J. Sparks’ tale of survival as recounted in Chapter 16 of Grace Among the Dead, Book Two of The Saga of the Dead Silencerin which we learn the rise of the living, flesh-eating dead is the best thing that ever happened to some people. I’ll say it again: the reason post-apocalypses are popular is because any apocalypse beats the one we’re suffering now.

In other news, Derek Grace is still that same snarking asshole so many readers love to hate. Judge away, my esteemed critics, but he has his reasons....

Sparks smiles tightly, looking straight ahead at the road. “Look, I wonder,” he says. “Have you considered the greatest irony of the recent catastrophe?”

“There are a lot of contenders for that title.”

“Things are actually getting better. Have you considered that?”

“Every now and then. I’m torn on whether this is actually an improvement or another version of the same-old same-old.”

“Are you kidding? The job market was shrunk to half its size, the infrastructure was crumbling, the government hopelessly corrupt. If there’s one thing people throughout the political spectrum agreed upon at the end was that nothing was getting better, ever. Talk about your living death!”

My turn to laugh now. “A strapping young man like you? I can’t imagine it was that bad.”

“Mr. Grace, six weeks ago I was hiding my truck from the repo man. My wife was killing me in the divorce; I was paying her mortgage and her car payment and my rent and my own truck payment. Then my hours got cut because they didn’t want me on the health care plan. 

“The week everyone was dying and freaking out, I’m freaking out because it’s the first week of the month and I’m already overdrawn. Next thing I know it’s a Friday afternoon and there’s a banging on my front door. I peek out the curtain and it’s my neighbor, Lars. His color is all wrong and he’s got this insane look on his face. I knew he was sick, and he sure as hell doesn’t look right here. He’s not going away, either, he’s hammering on my door like he wants to break it. So I run and get my .22. 

“Yeah, I know. The way he’s yelling like something inhuman, pounding his fists bloody on my door, I had a feeling, all right? What’s crazy is I’ve got this feeling—and I’m going for a .22? I throw the door open and three shots to center mass only knock him back a little. Now he’s mad-dog crazy pissed. He’s grabbing me by the arms when my lucky shot through his eye drops him. By the force of his grip, he could have ripped my arms clean off. And would have, if I hadn’t gotten the round off right then.

“My apartment is on the second floor, so I go out on the balcony and see all these people wandering around in the parking lot. Except they’re not wandering now, they’re looking up at me. I knew looking into their faces, the whole wrongness of it all, the way their eyes were dried out and clouded over, I knew I had to get out. As if a gunshot corpse staining the carpet wasn’t enough. No chance of getting the security deposit back on the apartment now. I hated that I had to leave some of my guns behind but I made sure to throw all my ammo into my travel bag.

“Anyway, to make a mighty epic short, I caught up with some buddies from the shooting range and the MMA studio. We pooled our resources, coordinated raids for supplies. At first we figured we’d always be on the move but I said forget that, we’ll just wear ourselves out. There’s got to be some sweet strategically defensible terrain, and the more I thought about it, Black Forest was it. So we drive up, and the first person we come across is Deacon Walsh. 

“He takes us back to meet Isaac Bryce, and Zack talks to us, and don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of love for the man. He’s got a sense of mission you can catch like a cold if you listen to him long enough. Next thing I know I go from being an underemployed stiff on the run to the Deacon of Security.”

What is it the young people say? Cool story, bro. I smile. “It’s a good life if you don’t weaken.”

“Our pastor is a little sensitive to some of the ideas we have, but you know what? It’s all good. Here, let me show you something.”

He takes an abrupt left down a narrow dirt road.

Copyright © 2014, 2017 by Lawrence Roy Aiken. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Boxing Halloween

We took a little longer to do this that we’d have liked—I would have preferred to have had it all done by Sunday afternoon—but it happened. First, everything was staged on the loveseat:

Even the matching coffee mugs used throughout the month are locked away in the china cabinet.

Then it gets boxed up. I carried it all out to the shed this afternoon.

This isn’t even all of it. We only use so much of our collection every year
so the pieces don’t go “stale” on us.

Handsome Jack the Halloween Cat is happy to remain indoors.

It’s a good thing I got this done this afternoon. The temperature didn’t get out of the 40s today and it will get colder, with a chance of rain/snow mix tonight. Tomorrow will be an all-day frigid mess. Indian summer returns on Friday but I’d rather not wait that long to put away the boxes. It was a good Halloween season. Putting it to bed in a timely manner keeps it that way. 
I’m glad I got those other photos when I did last week. The aspens in the center of this photo
won’t bud again until the first week in May.

What's "sauce" for the mountains will soon be sauce for the foothills.
We're long overdue for a snowy winter here in the Pikes Peak region.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Zombie's Eye View

The good people at the comics parody site Gutters are asking, “Where are the zombie stories told from the zombie’s viewpoint? As the commentators note on their post, the notion has been played with in lesser works. 

Still, my good friend and brother in pixelated ink, James Robert Smith, wrote an entire novel from the point of view of a zombie, The New Ecology of Death. So if you’re serious about this, pick it up and have a look.

The zombies evolve in this book, too. How? Go get your own copy!

Prog Lives! Canadian Prog Metal, Anyway....

...even if you don’t like prog-anything, I have a video of Star Trek and Star Wars fans having an outdoor slapfight before Game of Thrones roleplayers charge them. You know you want to see that!

I love prog. I love the very idea behind it: “Hey, a lot of us are classically trained musicians! Let’s push the envelope as far as arrangement and instrumentation goes! Let’s do bigger themes other than, ‘You’re so pretty and I love you.’”

Album covers as actual works of art, not some
huge vanity shot of the artist. What a concept!
The people who hate prog, puling and whining about “endless guitar solos,” (actually, it’s the keyboards that do most of the hotdogging, cf. Yes, “Roundabout”), etc., speak more to the greatness of the genre than otherwise. Prog haters are, one and all, disco twinks. These are the people who won’t shut up about the latest teen skank “coming of age” as a full-fledged club slut. These are the nominally grown men who will argue the merits of Lady Gaga vs. Katy Perry. (There is an actual, serious, Onion AV Club post to this effect. You look it up. I quit reading that site after that.) The kind who will expound on the “cultural impact” of Madonna, and what her latest “reinvention” Really Means.

You get the picture. Me, I feel about teen skank pop and club music the way Frank Zappa felt about Van Halen (quote: “It has its place”) but, wowie zowie! Man, do the twinks who write for pop culture and music sites HATE prog. It’s the same intense hatred any plain-faced, socially awkward thing feels about all the pretty and talented people “shaming” her by simply existing.

Being an old-school kind of guy, prog for me begins with King Crimson’s 1969 album In the Court of the Crimson King: An Observation and ends with King Crimson’s 1974 album Red. In between you have Emerson Lake and Palmer’s best albums, culminating with 1973’s Brain Salad Surgery. Yes was finished after 1972’s Close to the Edge. Etc. 

I have a hard time thinking of Rush as a prog act, though the trail blazed by prog enabled them to create 2112, as well as many other masterworks. Some bands have played with the musical and thematic ideas of prog, and I applaud the guitar magazines that do what they can to keep the flame alive. I won’t knock a new act (too hard), but I’m a classicist at heart.

Prog metal? This is a new one on me. It’s hard for me to consider even System of a Down a “prog metal” act because they mainly riff on Frank Zappa’s vibe. Okay, fine. What we have is Protest the Hero, a Canadian prog metal act. Their song “Clarify” was praised to the skies by Mr. Disgusting of the horror site Bloody Disgusting. I’ve listened to it about three times...

...and I still don’t care for it. The vocals, especially the harmonies, have that whiny screamo sound to them that should have died more painfully and more finally before 2006. I kept waiting for the singer to throw in a Howard-the-Duck-ish “WAAAUUUUUGH!” as the singers were wont to do back in the day.

At best, they sound like a System of a Down cover band. For which I’d give them points for good taste and their effort to emulate a good band. Still, I’d rather listen to System of a Down.

I’m not hating. It’s just not for me. Maybe you’ll like it. Or maybe, like me, you’ll simply enjoy the funny video with the Star Trek vs. Star Wars slap fight (stay tuned for the truly evil finale). Or maybe you’ll like both.

Either way, you’re welcome. I’m all about variety and selection and making up your own mind. If that’s so wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Halloween 2013 After-Action Report

With links to further Halloween weekend reading below.

That’s our candy bowl in the middle. We gave away
a good bit, but not enough to empty the bowl.
It was a real punch to the heart that first year I found myself sitting at home handing out candy instead of escorting my children through the neighborhood. I am pleased to report that I have finally gotten over not having young children to take around trick-or-treating. Sentimental fool that I am, I have a terrible time letting go of things, but this year I can say I have finally accepted my situation. Moreover, I’ve enjoyed it.

For the second year in a row I eschewed the whole Grim Reaper/Sinister Pagan look for that of a Charming Old Man in a purple blazer and a black cowboy hat, with an orange jack o’ lantern pin on the lapel of said blazer. We’ve had a lot of small children over the last couple of years—I’m talking too young even for pre-school—so even the pumpkin face out front was a friendly one. They’ve got all the rest of their lives for gore and gross-out. While they’re still sweet, I am, too.

We didn’t get a lot of trick-or-treaters, but it wasn’t as abysmal as a couple of years ago, so I’ll take it. I have to keep reminding myself that 2007 was six years ago, and that six years is an enormous, life-changing stretch of time in the life of a child. My son was in the fifth grade that year when a group Rampart High School football players in their team jerseys were going around the neighborhood and serenading houses with song (yes, this happened). My son is now in the eleventh grade playing for that same varsity team while most of those singing football players from 2007 are already out of college and sweating their student loan debt. The swarms of children of all ages in the streets that year have moved on.

That was the last truly great year we had. I’ve been meaning to summon all my ghosts of Halloween Past and have them pass in review so I can write about them. Not now, though. I’m satisfied Halloween 2013 wasn’t a sad, lonesome bust. I enjoyed my usual observance with wine, ale, and King Crimson and other musical companions. I stayed up later than I should re-reading my favorite stories from Ray Bradbury’s The October Country, but at least I didn’t sleep the day away.

For those like me who are winding down Halloween over the weekend by way of easing themselves into the Thanksgiving/Christmas mindset, I discovered a site called Atlas Obscura which specializes in pieces on “Curious and Wondrous Travel Destinations,” and the trippy and unusual histories behind them. They just wrapped up a 31 Days of Halloween series, which covered everything from the history of candy corn to what’s behind the modern iconography of witches on their broomsticks. It gets even more macabre with the strange deaths of the nine hikers in Dyatlov Pass. I’ve only read a few of these but they’re fairly well done, with loads of great images. There are worse ways to pass the time.

Speaking of which, are you looking for an edgy literary getaway, with zombies? I wrote a zombie apocalypse novel, the first in a series. Just putting that out there. Meanwhile, I need to get back to work finishing the second book. Yeah, it was hard getting going this morning. I might yet save the day if I work past midnight. I was going to be up anyway....

My 16-year-old son and his friend drove to an affluent neighborhood near the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. According to him there weren’t a lot of trick-or-treaters there, and in some cases the houses they solicited let him and his friend clean out the entire bowl. James came home with about 15 pounds of candy, including half a dozen full-size Snickers bars. Between this and our own leftover candy we should be good clear through Christmas. Going though all that candy on the floor while watching Rob Zombie (!) perform on Jimmy Kimmel Live was a highlight of the evening.

Friendly Jack says, “Have a Happy Thanksgiving, a Merry Christmas, and a prosperous New Year! The pagans traditionally start their New Year on Halloween. Why not get a head start on those resolutions?”