LeBron is just not that into you, and neither are most other celebrities

LeBron James was caught on camera the other day, shoving away a fan who approached him at an Usher concert.

The fan, a schlumpy twentysomething man or teenage boy, certainly couldn’t have been a threat to the 6’9’’ James. Ask yourself, though: How often does LeBron James get mobbed by fans when he ventures out in public? Probably every time.

LeBron James just dispelled a fan’s fantasy image of him

Online reactions to the incident have been mixed, as is my own reaction. LeBron James has generally proven himself to be an entitled jackass in recent years. And no, I’m not talking about his leftwing politics. I’m talking about incidents like this—when he interrupted a youth basketball game to confront a PA announcer, just a few weeks ago.

Well, if y’all keep kissing his ass, he’s going to feel entitled…

But there is another side to this, as well: our weird obsession with celebrities and celebrity culture. Most Americans spend far too much time absorbed in electronic screens. There are many of us who have built vast imaginary worlds revolving around LeBron, Taylor, etc.

As a matter of fact, I know one 28-year-old woman who has (in my view, anyway) a very odd obsession with Taylor Swift. She is one of the so-called “Swifties”. She not only goes to every Taylor Swift concert she can afford, images of Taylor Swift also fill her social media profiles.

In case you were wondering, then, rabid Taylor Swift fandom really is a thing. I know at least one follower of the cult.

On the darker side, Swift has also attracted numerous male stalkers, including men who imagine themselves married to her. But that’s a whole other bag of nuts.

Get a life, kids!

The reality is that most celebrities just aren’t that into you, even if you are their Number One Fan and can prove it. They don’t want to talk to you, sign an autograph for you, or take a selfie with you. The only exception would be a scheduled public relations event. And even then, most of them just aren’t that into you, on an individual level.

A celebrity, it has been said, is someone who spends half her life trying to become famous, and the other half trying to avoid the downsides of fame.

Downsides like you, and your over-eagerness to approach them in public.

*** 

I’m not a snob who doesn’t like popular culture or mass-market pursuits. I enjoy the output of actors, musicians, and professional athletes as much as anyone else.

(Note: The NBA is not my thing. I had to run a Google search to ascertain which NBA team LeBron James plays for. But I do follow Major League Baseball.)

Since I am not a real person to most celebrities, however, I have made it my policy to repeat the favor of studied indifference.

And yes, I have a story to prove this: the time I ignored Molly Ringwald, more than 30 years ago.

My hometown of Cincinnati is not a place that draws many celebrities. Some do wander in from time-to-time, though. Over the years, Cincinnati has become a destination for filmmakers who want a Midwestern location that doesn’t look like New York or Los Angeles. The best-known movie to be filmed in Cincinnati was Rain Man (1988). There have been a handful of others.

The “toothpick scene” from Rain Man, filmed in a Cincinnati-area Italian restaurant

I was a student at the University of Cincinnati in 1988, when some scenes from the movie Fresh Horses were filmed on campus. The star of the film, Molly Ringwald, was then in her youthful prime. (As was I; Ringwald and I are the same age). For about a week, Molly Ringwald and the other members of the cast, including Andrew McCarthy and Ben Stiller, made some appearances on campus.

I did catch one glimpse of Molly Ringwald from a short distance away. Her red locks—particularly when she was sporting 1980s-style “big hair”—are quite distinctive. She was standing at the edge of one of UC’s quadrangles. She had just arrived, apparently, and hadn’t yet been mobbed with autograph seekers.

‘Fresh Horses’ vintage trailer.

I could have talked to her, I suppose. She was right there, and shyness has never been one of my problems. And while not exactly her Number One Fan, I had seen most of her movies. She made movies for teenagers in the 1980s, after all; and I was a teenager in the 1980s.

I didn’t approach her, though. What was I going to do…ask her on a date?

I did say to myself, “Hey, that’s Molly Ringwald over there. Huh.” Then I kept walking. I had a class to get to.

That’s my rule of thumb: If you see a celebrity in the wild, take a look—that much is probably unavoidable—and then leave him or her alone. Keep walking, and let them do the same.

They just aren’t that into you; and if you’re that into them, then…well, you might want to ask yourself what’s missing in your life, in your version of the real world.

Music from the summer of ’88

It remains one of my missions here to remind readers (especially those too young to remember), that our culture wasn’t always as angry, self-destructive, and generally mucked up as it currently is.

Music reflects cultural mores, as noted in my previous post.

But the summer of 1988 was a happy time. Ronald Reagan was in the White House, the US economy was booming, and the dominant mood was one of optimism. (You sure could use a bit of optimism nowadays, couldn’t you?)

In the summer of 1988, I was in college. During that summer, I worked as a bagger at Thriftway, a now defunct grocery store chain in the Cincinnati area. (I also did stints in produce and seafood, if you want to get technical about it.)

That was a summer of some great music. No protest music to speak of, just songs about falling in love, getting on a roll, or going for a drive with your girl (or guy) on a summer night. 

Below are some of my favorite songs from that long-ago summer of 1988. These are songs that take me back…and might take you back, too, if you were around then.

Should you attend your high school reunion?

A 1986 high school reunion song from Eddie Money: “I Want to Go Back”

A young woman in my extended social circle (I’ll call her Brittany, because that’s her name), attended her 10-year high school reunion last weekend.

That brought back memories, of my own 10-year high school reunion…in 1996.

For those of you too young to remember, 1996 was just before the Internet As We Know It really took off. And as for social media? Well, Mark Zuckerberg was still in junior high in 1996.

I enjoyed that 10-year reunion. By that point, my high school years were far enough in the past, that there was a real sense of nostalgia. Even at my current age of 53, a decade is a long time. At the age of 28, though, a decade is more than one-third of your life.

But that 10-year reunion was also close enough to my actual high school years, that the connections and memories of actual high school still seemed relevant.

Roughly half of the class was married by that time, and a few people had young children. (Several of the married women were visibly pregnant at our 10-year-reunion.) But in 1996, real adulthood was all still very new, for practically all of my classmates.

***

I attended the 15-year reunion, too, as well as the 20-year. (My class has them every five years.)

Something began to change around the 20-year reunion in 2006. By that point, people had solidified into lives that were distantly removed from our school days. For many, this was the full immersion of helicopter parenting, and soccer-momming and -dadding. For a few others, it was immersion in demanding careers.

I remember one young man, who in high school had been extremely bright, but also happy-go-lucky, known for his sense of humor. In 2006, he had become a humorless, harried corporate attorney. A different person, really.

By 2006, we had been out of high school for two full decades, and those old memories, and old relationships, simply weren’t as relevant anymore.

***

But I didn’t swear off high school reunions. Not yet. Unlike many people drawn to writing and storytelling, I had a happy childhood and a basically positive high school experience. Looking back on it, my youth—my adolescence—were pretty close to idyllic, compared to what many people have to go through.

Did I want to hold on to all that….even as I sensed that it was slipping away? Heck, yeah, I did.

Then, by the 25-year reunion (in 2011) pretty much everyone was on Facebook. I was no longer curious about people from high school, because I saw them on my Facebook feed every morning and every evening. I knew many of their kids’ names and ages, and what sports they played.

I also realized that by the quarter-century mark, high school was really far in the background. Many people had changed, some to the point of being unrecognizable. It was at the 25-year reunion that the reunion committee made everyone wear name tags for the first time.

***

I did not attend the 2016 (30-year) reunion, for reasons that had nothing to do with the reunion itself. I therefore can’t say much about that. But like I mentioned, they’re every five years for my class.

The 35-year reunion is coming up, and…guess what? Half the class is mad at the other half.

Over the 2020 election, of course. And conflicting interpretations of the 2020 Black Lives Matter riots, and the January 6 Capitol Hill protest that became a riot.

Oh, and vaccines, too. I have classmates who call the deliberately unvaccinated “selfish assholes” on Facebook. I also have classmates who are anti-vaxxers.

This year and the last one saw a wave of unfriending on Facebook among my classmates. At least two people unfriended me. I didn’t unfriend anyone myself. (But I lose my temper far less often than I make other people lose their tempers.)

***

And to think that when we were in high school, Donald Trump was a tabloid magazine real estate tycoon. America was locked into the prosperous, stable, center-right consensus of the 1980s.

I don’t remember anyone arguing about politics in high school. What were we going to argue about? Vietnam? We were all too young to remember Vietnam. There were no culture wars in the 1980s, as we know them today. The main issues of the 1980s were the Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation. These matters were so big that they were beyond the ken and concern of suburban high school students.

But the 21st-century culture wars have invaded every corner of American life…even high school reunions.

***

My 35-year reunion is coming up in October. I am leaning toward not attending. I’m not mad at anyone about politics, or Facebook shenanigans. But the political squabbles and unfriending of the last eighteen months may have been the proverbial last straws.

When I graduated from high school, Ronald Reagan was POTUS, there was still a Soviet Union, and the fax machine was cutting-edge technology. Whitney Houston, Madonna, Journey, Heart and Van Halen dominated the Billboard Hot 100.

The world is different today, and so are we. My classmates aren’t the only ones who are not the same people they were in 1986, or even 1996. I have changed, too. Somewhere deep down, I’m still the same person that I was 35 years ago. But I’ve settled into a different, older version of myself.

What about the past, though? I would still tell you: I enjoyed my adolescent years, including high school. I am leaning toward not attending my class reunion in October not because I’m mad about high school, but because it was such an idyllic period for me.

The present, however, is not so idyllic.

***

While I maintain regular contact with a few of my classmates, most of them I see only at reunions…and on Facebook. Based on what I saw on Facebook this past year, I might prefer to remember some of them as the adolescents they were, without worrying too much about the adults they’ve become, and what they now believe.

And yes, I’m sure there are at least a few of them who would say the same about me, if asked.

I don’t want the messy, contentious present to pollute the purer, simpler past. That’s a very self-indulgent and dreamy way to assess the matter, I realize. But hey, this is high school we’re talking about. Let it remain what it was, when it was perfectly okay to be self-indulgent and dreamy.

The Olympics, quitting, and what people tell us when we quit

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics, to put it mildly, have not gone well.

To begin with, the 2020 Olympics are being held in 2021 instead of 2020, because of the COVID pandemic. But only about 14% of the Japanese public is fully vaccinated at the time of this writing. Many Japanese aren’t happy about holding an international spectator event under these conditions, and there are signs that the Tokyo Olympics may be turning into a super-spreader event. There were news reports of Japanese citizens protesting their own Olympics.

For Americans, one of biggest disappointments came when champion gymnast Simone Biles dropped out of the competition. Biles did not drop out due to a physical injury, but for (in her words) “mental health” reasons.

This generated a controversy, along the now usual lines. On one hand, Jayson Tatum, a forward on the Team USA Olympic basketball team, called Biles a “hero” for prioritizing her mental health over competition. Charlie Kirk, a conservative activist, called Biles “weak” and “a shame to the country.” Folks on both sides have been making similar arguments on social media, especially on Twitter.

Biles, Tatum, and Kirk are all much younger than me. Simone Biles was born in 1997, Jayson Tatum was born in 1998, and even Charlie Kirk was born in 1993. Kirk is a Millennial; while Tatum and Biles are Zoomers.

I’m a bit older than that—a member of so-called Generation X.

Perhaps these three are arguing about what competition and perseverance will mean to the next generation. Perhaps that is an argument for the younger generations to work out among themselves.

***

Likewise, we should all acknowledge that whatever her success—or lack thereof—as an Olympic competitor, Simone Biles is a world-class gymnast who has worked hard to get where she is, even if she moves no farther. Furthermore, gymnastics is a sport that requires extreme mental concentration. A gymnast who is not mentally present could potentially harm herself, given the heights and aerial acrobatics that gymnastics involves.

This is my way of saying that I don’t know enough about what Simone Biles does to pass judgment on her, one way or the other. What I can tell you is what happened to me, when I dropped out of a competition, more than 35 years ago.

***

It was September 1985. I was a senior in high school, and also a member of my school’s cross country team. I was a good runner, if I say so myself. That season, I would qualify for the Ohio state championships. The previous spring, I had done well in the 1-mile and 2-mile events in track. One of my 2-mile runs from the 1985 season would remain a school record until 1993.

But on the particular day in question, the weather was unseasonably warm. Early September in southern Ohio can be as brutal as the dog days of July or August. That day, the mercury soared to perhaps 90 degrees Fahrenheit. There was no breeze, and a high level of humidity.

A high school cross country race is 3.1 miles long. Under competitive conditions, that is not an all-out sprint, but it’s fast. To keep up, let alone place, you aim for 6-minute miles.

I was about halfway through my run when I felt the full impact of the heat and humidity. I had run in the heat and humidity many times before—all during that previous summer, in fact. But there was something about the heat and humidity that day that had a particularly potent effect on me.

I began to feel light-headed, even as I was falling behind. I lost my mental edge. I choked.

And I dropped out. I exited the path where everyone else was running, and I walked back to the starting point.

***

I apologized to my teammates and my coach. Cross country is both an individual sport and a team sport. What the individual competitor does—or doesn’t—accomplish affects the placing of the entire team.

The captain of the team was another senior. His name was George. When I told George what had happened, he said simply: “You should have finished.”

George did not berate me, he did not go on and on about how I had failed. He didn’t call me a quitter or a loser. He let it go at that: “You should have finished.”

***

Nothing more was said that day about my performance—or my failure to perform. I remember thinking, in the days after the race, that I had let my teammates down that day.

Not that I hadn’t wanted to complete the race. I had. But to complete the race would have required me to dig deeper into my mental and physical reserves. The simple truth was: I hadn’t wanted to dig that deep.

I might also have been guilty of resting on my laurels. After all, I was a good runner; and by this time I had a reputation as a good runner. What was the big deal, I figured, in choking in one race, and dropping out?

The big deal was that I let my team down. And I let myself down, too. More than 35 years later, I still regret not completing that run.

***

In the years since then, I have often looked back to that hot September day in 1985, and what George said to me: “You should have finished.” But what if George had called me a “hero” for dropping out? What lessons would I have learned instead?

Which brings us back to the 2020 Olympics, and the controversy over Simone Biles withdrawing from the competition. I can’t speak for Ms. Biles and I won’t attempt to. But for my part, I’m grateful that I wasn’t praised as a hero for dropping out of a race in 1985.

Listening to ‘Fevre Dream’ by George R.R. Martin

Long before he was known as the novelist behind the HBO series Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin wrote a vampire novel called Fevre Dream.

Fevre Dream is set on the Mississippi River, just before the American Civil War. Abner Marsh is a riverboat captain who is down on his luck. Joshua York is a vampire who needs a human partner for an atypical “mission”.

Originally published in 1982, Fevre Dream is one of GRRM’s best works. I understand that A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones has become a veritable force of nature in recent years. But many of Martin’s earlier works are just as good, and require much less of a time commitment. (Martin also wrote tons of short stories and novellas, many of which have been compiled into two collections that you can get on Amazon.)

The vampire of Fevre Dream is not a supernatural creature, but a separate-but-similar race of quasi-humans. This alternative interpretation of the vampire is now common, but it would have been innovative in 1982. 

The interplay between the two main characters is the best part of Fevre Dream. Abner Marsh is a gruff but good-hearted riverboat man. Joshua York is an urbane antihero who is trying to overcome his bloodthirsty nature. Abner and Joshua need each other, and yet their basic worldviews are very much in conflict. The perfect dramatic setup.

Throughout the book, there is a competing group of evil vampires in Louisiana, who will ultimately come into conflict with Abner and Joshua (who gathers other “good” vampires to him). This plot device, too, is now common. But once again, it would have been original in 1982.

The Mississippi River is also a character in the book. George R.R. Martin is originally from New Jersey. But he spent some time as an instructor at Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa during the 1970s. Dubuque is situated on the upper Mississippi. Martin would have gained a familiarity with the river during his time in Iowa, and that familiarity definitely shows up Fevre Dream.

I initially read Fevre Dream back in 2009. My rule of thumb is: If ten years have passed since I read a particular book or saw a particular movie, the story may be worth experiencing again. None of us is the same person we were a decade ago, and so a story will mean something different to us after an interval of ten years. (We’ll also, in most cases, have forgotten significant portions of the plot.)

Another difference is that this time, I’m listening to the audiobook version of Fevre Dream. As I noted in a previous post, I have developed the habit of listening to audiobooks while I mow my lawn and do other yard work. And this is July, the season for such things. 

**View George RR Martin’s Fevre Dream on Amazon**

80s rock moment: REO Speedwagon

One of the great bands of my youth was REO Speedwagon. The band’s most commercially successful albums, Hi Infidelity (1980), Wheels Are Turnin’ (1985) and Life As We Know It (1987) were all released in my adolescent/teen years.

REO Speedwagon’s ballad, “Can’t Fight This Feeling” was near the top of the charts throughout the spring of 1985, my junior year in high school.

In the above video, the band’s lead singer, Kevin Cronin, performs the song as a duet with his daughter at a music festival in 2019.

This is a song about falling in love, so nothing original about the theme. But there are a million ways to fall in love, and a million angles on it. The angle here is innocence, commitment, etc. There was something refreshing about this ballad even in the comparatively simple world of 1985. It is especially refreshing now, in these cynical, dysfunctional times of the 2o2os. 

“What started out as friendship has grown stronger…” That would be a good way to fall in love, wouldn’t it?

YouTube serial fiction updates: channel relaunch/reboot

I am giving the YouTube thing another try. 

As some of you may know, I’m not exactly a huge fan of social media. This has little to do with the current political controversies, or any beef with the personalities who dominate the tech sphere. I simply don’t like the idea of a few large corporations sucking up so much of the traffic on the Internet.

But YouTube has a lot of potential for storytelling, so I’m making an exception. (That’s one thing about getting older: accepting the inevitability of compromise with one’s heartfelt ideals.)

In the first video below, I explain my reasons for giving YouTube another chance. I’ll summarize these below:

1.) The performative aspect

Although I’m an introvert, I actually like an audience. I’m something of a ham, in fact.

When I was a teenager, I was briefly in a garage band. A few times in my life, I have been in roles/functions where it was necessary for me to give speeches. Far from suffering from stage fright, I rather like the stage.

So why not do it with storytelling? (Believe me: you do not want to hear me sing.)

2.) Marketing

I relate in the video how I became a super-fan of the Canadian rock band Rush in the early 1980s. 

I did not get into Rush because I saw a cleverly designed ad with a hooky tagline and a compelling “call to action”. I became a fan of Rush because I heard their music

I remember, in the fall of 1982, hearing “The Analog Kid” from Rush’s Signals album, which was then hot off the presses. I bought Signals, and all of the other Rush albums that were available at that time.

The same thing occurred with the more commercial (and more widely popular) band, Def Leppard. I heard “Photograph” on FM radio and bought Pyromania shortly thereafter…just like a gazillion other teenagers of that era.

Of course, I didn’t like all the music I heard on the radio in those days. I was no particular fan of A Flock of Seagulls, The Eurythmics, or Culture Club. 

The point is: marketing a creative product should involve sharing that product with the world, either in whole, or in part. (Jeff Goins wrote an article about this in 2016: A More Tasteful Alternative to Self-promotion: Practice in Public.)

Some people will like what you have on offer, others won’t. That’s okay; that’s part of the process.

“Practicing in public” is the way musicians and bands have been marketing themselves since time immemorial. I would like to see how it can work for me, as a storyteller. 

The first ‘Star Wars’ generation

I remember sitting in a cinema one day in the early summer of 1977. I was just shy of nine years old, so I was there with my dad.

My dad wanted to see this new movie called Star Wars.

I didn’t really know what to expect, but my dad (then barely in his thirties) was excited about it. So I went along, too. My mom had no interest the movie. (My mom liked very few movies that didn’t involve horses.)

I remember watching the opening scenes. The big spaceships on the big screen. Oh, man, I was immediately hooked.

I know: this essay has already veered into cliché. By this point, everyone has seen those scenes in the original Star Wars movie. The CGI effects in 21st-century movies like Avatar, moreover, have since surpassed our collective ability to be visually amazed.

But keep in mind: in 1977, the average feature film was a Burt Reynolds movie that relied on conventional car chases. (In fact, one such movie—Smokey and the Bandit—was released within a few weeks of Star Wars.)

Most of the available science fiction in 1977 was campy and already a decade old. There was Star Trek, of course. But Star Trek was made in the 1960s, and it showed in the production values.

There was also Lost in Space, which had its original prime-time run between 1965 and 1968. (Oh, and the first season of Lost in Space was in black and white.)

I won’t tell you about Star Wars and how it was different because well…you already know. But you might not know what it was like to be part of the first Star Wars generation.

To truly get that, you have to have been there.

America in the 1970s was an unsettled place. The country was on a hangover from Vietnam, the counterculture, the 1960s, Watergate.

Many of the Baby Boomers, then at the peak of their childbearing years, were trying to reconcile parenthood with all the Me Generation stuff.

I should note that my parents were the exception in this regard. I had wonderful parents and—on the whole—an idyllic childhood. But my childhood was the exception. This was an era of small families, divorce, and adults working in parenthood as an afterthought. The 1970s was not a child-focused decade, on the whole.

This showed up in the marketplace. Corporate America didn’t put out much entertainment for children, because the demand wasn’t there, like it was from the mid-1980s onward. For most children, circa 1976, Saturday morning cartoons (mostly reruns from the 1960s) were the highlight of the week.

But then there was Star Wars. If you were a kid in that era, Star Wars was not just a movie, but a way of life…or a way of play, anyway.

Star Wars trading card, 1977

Publishers cranked out Star Wars trading cards and comics. Toy manufacturers rushed light sabers and action figures to market. There was always something new to buy…or to beg your parents to buy.

Burger Chef, a now defunct fast food chain, issued a set of Star Wars posters in 1977. Each one was given away with the purchase of a double hamburger meal, or something like that. I talked my parents into acquiring all of them.

My bedroom became a shrine to Star Wars. My room contained not just the posters, but all the paraphernalia I could acquire.

Burger Chef Star Wars poster 1977

I’ve watched the more recent Star Wars movies. I know that the last few have been controversial among longtime fans. I’m not interested in wading into that debate. For me, the first three movies—Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983) are the only three “canonical” ones, anyway.

These three films traced the end of my childhood, effectively. I was nine when the first one came out. When Return of the Jedi hit the local cinema, I had completed a year of high school.

But this is about more than mere nostalgia. In recent years, the culture wars have invaded science fiction, superhero comics, and whatnot. There was little appetite for that in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Why? That era was already full of gloomy, abstruse movies that were overloaded with “message” and “issues”. And in the 1970s, the issue du jour was the Vietnam War, which was still very much in recent memory.

And so we got turgid, barely watchable films like The Deer Hunter (1978), Taxi Driver (1976), and Apocalypse Now (1979). In 1978, I remember hearing a news story about a Vietnam vet shooting himself at a screening of The Deer Hunter. That movie is incredibly gloomy and depressing to watch, as are the other two. (And the Jodie Foster scenes in Taxi Driver, in which she plays a child prostitute, are downright bizarre by today’s standards.)

Star Wars offered a break from all that. Star Wars was a movie about a war in space that didn’t ask you to think about Vietnam. Nor did it ask you to think about the nuclear arms race—another big “issue” of that time.

The original Star Wars trilogy had a relatively diverse cast. It wasn’t all white males in the spotlight. Who can imagine Star Wars without Carrie Fisher, after all? And the third movie of the original trilogy made a major star of Billy Dee Williams.

And yet, Star Wars didn’t ask audiences to engage in endless navel-gazing about race and gender. (These matters now greatly preoccupy the fandom of science fiction publishing, but that’s another “issue” for another time.)

The original three Star Wars movies were simply fun. They weren’t controversial. They didn’t try to change your worldview or your politics. Practically everyone liked them. (Even my mother relented and saw the second and third Star Wars movies, despite their lack of horses.)

And if you were a kid in the late 1970s, Star Wars was larger than life.

I’ll close with a blunt assertion: I think it’s high time for the film and comics industries to retire the franchise. To put this in perspective: I was not quite nine when the first movie came out. I’ll soon be fifty-three, and they’re still riding the Star Wars wagon, trying to squeeze a few more million out of the original story concept.

But who cares what I think? Maybe I’ll see the next Star Wars movie, and maybe I won’t. It’s not like I’m boycotting them. But like I said: for me, the first three are the only ones that really count.

1980s music: Susanna Hoffs

I’m from the 1980s, as many of you may know. (Actually, I never really left.) I still love pop and rock music from that era. Iron Maiden, Foreigner, AC/DC, Journey…I love ‘em all.

But there were also some great all-female acts during the 1980s. My favorite, hands down, was The Bangles.

The charismatic lead singer of The Bangles was Susanna Hoffs. Here she is performing “Manic Monday” before a live audience in 2021. This version is a little different, stylistically, from the original, but it’s basically the same song.

“Manic Monday” was released in 1986, my senior year in high school. I can’t hear it without being transported back to that time, which was a happy one for me. (I had a mostly positive adolescent/high school experience.)

Nothing else to add, except that Susanna Hoffs is still lovely and talented at 62. Enjoy the video.

And if you’re too young to remember the 1980s and that decade’s music, you might investigate some of The Bangles’ other songs on YouTube. The Bangles put Taylor Swift to shame, IMO.

New iMac time, and why and when I upgrade

I last upgraded my Macs (I use an iMac and a MacBook Air) in June 2016. Which means that I was more than due for an upgrade, by any reasonable standard.

I take a conservative approach to upgrading computer equipment…just like I take a conservative approach to practically everything else. My criteria when contemplating a computer equipment upgrade are as follows:

a) Is the existing equipment starting to malfunction?

b.) Could the new equipment provide substantial benefits (as opposed to simply being “the latest thing”?)

My 2016 iMac, which actually rolled off the Apple assembly lines in 2015, was starting to have problems. The webcam had not worked for quite some time. This was preventing me from restarting my YouTube channel—something that has been on my to-do list for a while.

More recently, the mouse had gotten buggy. Last week, the mouse stopped moving laterally (in either the right or the left direction) at all.

Okay, it was time for an upgrade. So I took the plunge. And hey, Apple needs some more of my money, right?

***

I’m quite happy with the new iMac, which is shown in the photo at the top of this post. I won’t turn this into a sales pitch or a tech review, but I will elaborate on one feature that is near and dear to my heart: native dictation capabilities.

The Siri dictation functions on the Mac have improved greatly. Dictation is something that interests many writers concerned about repetitive stress injuries.

But dictation has been problematic for Mac users.

A few years ago, Nuance Communications stopped supporting its Dragon Dictate products on the Mac platform completely. That included support for people (like me) who had already bought it. Thanks, Nuance Communications!

***

Apple needed to make progress on its native dictation functionality. That seems to have happened.

I’ve been using the dictate function for composing several rough drafts. The Siri dictation is still not quite as accurate as Dragon Dictate is at its best. But Siri dictation is worlds better than it used to be.

Like I said, I’m conservative when it comes to upgrades. Not only is there the cost of the new equipment to consider, but also the hassles involved in moving everything over to the new machine(s). My 2015 MacBook Air, purchased in 2016, continues to function with relatively few problems. I’ll probably replace it by the end of the year, but I’m in no hurry just yet.

The Headless Horseman returns

How I wrote a horror novel called Revolutionary Ghosts

Or…

Can an ordinary teenager defeat the Headless Horseman, and a host of other vengeful spirits from America’s revolutionary past?

The big idea

I love history, and I love supernatural horror tales.  “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was therefore always one of my favorite short stories. This classic tale by Washington Irving describes how a Hessian artillery officer terrorized the young American republic several decades after his death.

The Hessian was decapitated by a Continental Army cannonball at the Battle of White Plains, New York, on October 28, 1776. According to some historical accounts, a Hessian artillery officer really did meet such an end at the Battle of White Plains. I’ve read several books about warfare in the 1700s and through the Age of Napoleon. Armies in those days obviously did not have access to machine guns, flamethrowers, and the like. But those 18th-century cannons could inflict some horrific forms of death, decapitation among them.

I was first exposed to the “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” via the 1949 Disney film of the same name. The Disney adaptation was already close to 30 years old, but still popular, when I saw it as a kid sometime during the 1970s.

Headless Horsemen from around the world

While doing a bit of research for Revolutionary Ghosts, I discovered that the Headless Horseman is a folklore motif that reappears in various cultures throughout the world.

In Irish folklore, the dullahan or dulachán (“dark man”) is a headless, demonic fairy that rides a horse through the countryside at night. The dullahan carries his head under his arm. When the dullahan stops riding, someone dies.

Scottish folklore includes a tale about a headless horseman named Ewen. Ewen was  beheaded when he lost a clan battle at Glen Cainnir on the Isle of Mull. His death prevented him from becoming a chieftain. He roams the hills at night, seeking to reclaim his right to rule.

Finally, in English folklore, there is the 14th century epic poem, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”. After Gawain kills the green knight in living form (by beheading him) the knight lifts his head, rides off, and challenges Gawain to a rematch the following year.

But Revolutionary Ghosts is focused on the Headless Horseman of American lore: the headless horseman who chased Ichabod Crane through the New York countryside in the mid-1790s. 

The Headless Horseman isn’t the only historical spirit to stir up trouble in the novel. John André, the executed British spy, makes an appearance, too. (John André was a real historical figure.)

I also created the character of Marie Trumbull, a Loyalist whom the Continental Army sentenced to death for betraying her country’s secrets to the British. But Marie managed to slit her own throat while still in her cell, thereby cheating the hangman. Marie Trumbull was a dark-haired beauty in life. In death, she appears as a desiccated, reanimated corpse. She carries the blade that she used to take her own life, all those years ago.

Oh, and Revolutionary Ghosts also has an army of spectral Hessian soldiers. I had a lot of fun with them!

The Spirit of ’76

Most of the novel is set in the summer of 1976. An Ohio teenager, Steve Wagner, begins to sense that something strange is going on near his home. There are slime-covered hoofprints in the grass. There are unusual sounds on the road at night. People are disappearing.

Steve gradually comes to an awareness of what is going on….But can he convince anyone else, and stop the Headless Horseman, before it’s too late?

I decided to set the novel in 1976 for a number of reasons. First of all, this was the year of the American Bicentennial. The “Spirit of ’76 was everywhere in 1976. That created an obvious tie-in with the American Revolution.

Nineteen seventy-six was also a year in which Vietnam, Watergate, and the turmoil of the 1960s were all recent memories. The mid-1970s were a time of national anxiety and pessimism (kind of like now). The economy was not good. This was the era of energy crises and stagflation.

Reading the reader reviews of Revolutionary Ghosts, I am flattered to get appreciative remarks from people who were themselves about the same age as the main character in 1976:

“…I am 62 years old now and 1976 being the year I graduated high school, I remember it pretty well. Everything the main character mentions (except the ghostly stuff), I lived through and remember. So that was an added bonus for me.”

“I’m 2 years younger than the main character so I could really relate to almost every thing about him.”

I’m actually a bit younger than the main character. In 1976 I was eight years old. But as regular readers of this blog will know, I’m nostalgic by nature. I haven’t forgotten the 1970s or the 1980s, because I still spend a lot of time in those decades.

If you like the 1970s, you’ll find plenty of nostalgic nuggets in Revolutionary Ghosts, like Bicentennial Quarters, and the McDonald’s Arctic Orange Shakes of 1976.

***

Also, there’s something spooky about the past, just because it is the past. As L.P. Hartley said, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

For me, 1976 is a year I can clearly remember. And yet—it is shrouded in a certain haziness. There wasn’t nearly as much technology. Many aspects of daily life were more “primitive” then.

It isn’t at all difficult to believe that during that long-ago summer, the Headless Horseman might have come back from the dead to terrorize the American heartland…

View REVOLUTIONARY GHOSTS on Amazon

Goodbye to Goodreads

I’ve closed both my author and personal accounts on Goodreads. My books will still be listed there, of course; but I’ll no longer maintain an active presence there.

Since its launch in 2006, Goodreads has inspired both enthusiastic fans and detractors. There are controversies about the outdated design of the site, and whether or not Goodreads has declined since it was acquired by Amazon in 2013. I’ll leave those debates to others.

Since I first dabbled with Goodreads almost a decade ago, I have found it to be neither a uniformly good nor bad experience. Goodreads is social media. And all social media is a mixture of good and bad, best encapsulated in the acronym, YMMV.

Most of the people I interacted with on Goodreads were pleasant. I also ran across a few yahoos, of course. Once again: social media.

But it’s important to remember that Goodreads is for readers, not writers. I don’t want to be the author on Goodreads who is shouting “buy my book!” Nor is anyone served by the writer who hovers over reader-reviewers.

Nor does a Goodreads account really serve me as a reader-reviewer at this point, because I mostly don’t do that anymore. Once I started seriously publishing my own fiction, I became hesitant to review other people’s books on Amazon, etc. That’s a bit like Ford Motor Company reviewing the latest Toyota Camry, right? If I really want to say something about another author’s book (and that isn’t often), I generally say it here, on my own website.

Finally, throughout this past year I’ve been reassessing my relationship with social media. Since the whole social media thing began about fifteen years ago, I’ve been on Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, and the now defunct Google+. At least I never had a MySpace page.

I’ve really gained very little from social media, either spiritually or monetarily. (YouTube, though, is useful if you want to know how to fix a leaky toilet.)

And so it goes with Goodreads. I don’t exactly hate Goodreads, but nor do I particularly like it or need it. This is not a personal boycott or a blanket condemnation of Goodreads. If the site works for you, then by all means continue to use it. But it no longer works for me.

In the dog days of summer, “think January”

Today I mowed both my lawn and my dad’s lawn in 90-degree, near 100% humidity weather.

I sweated about two gallons. That was five hours ago, and I’m still trying to rehydrate myself. More water, please!

(Note: The only truly pleasant season in Southern Ohio is late autumn, from about mid-October through Thanksgiving. The rest of the year, the weather here swings between various disagreeable extremes. So…don’t move to Southern Ohio unless you have to. The weather here sucks.)

Today’s sweltering heat brings back a particular memory: In late August of 1982, I began my freshman year of high school. My high school had no air conditioning.

I recall taking an afternoon English class on the second floor of the school. It was hot, really hot. The entire class was sweating.

And let me be clear: this was 1982. It wasn’t as if air conditioning hadn’t been invented yet. So why wasn’t the school air-conditioned? I wondered.

Our teacher, in a wry acknowledgement of our suffering, wrote the following on the blackboard one afternoon before beginning the day’s lecture:

THINK JANUARY

That brought a laugh—or at least a chuckle—from every 14-year-old in the room. And for whatever reason, I’ve never forgotten it. Today, almost 40 years later, I shall be “thinking January” with the above photo.

(I actually took the photo on February 10th of this year; but that’s close enough.)

Wherever you are, dear reader, I hope the weather is more pleasant today in your part of the world. I repeat: don’t move to Southern Ohio unless absolutely necessary. The weather here sucks.

Two songs for Father’s Day

Today is Father’s Day, at least in the United States.

If you were fortunate enough to have a relationship with your father, and if your father is still alive, take a few minutes today to show him your appreciation.

I was blessed in this regard. I had a good relationship with my father (who is still with me) and my grandfather (who passed in 1998).

There are many memories of them both that I could relate. Perhaps I’ll get to that later in the day. For now, though, I’m going to leave you with two songs about fathers and fatherhood.

The first of these is Dan Fogelberg’s “The Leader of the Band” (1981), which explores the father-child relationship from the child’s perspective. The second is Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” (1975), which looks at fatherhood from the father’s perspective.

Both are worth listening to and reflecting upon as you begin Father’s Day, 2021.

Cincinnati cicada update

Cicadas are everywhere in Southern Ohio now. When I step out into my front yard, I am literally dodging them.

I don’t mind them too much. They’re harmless, and they only come once every 17 years. I saw my first cicada brood in 1987, when I was 19. This year I turn 53. The next time the cicadas arrive, I will be in my 70s. And who knows how many cicada outbreaks I’ll see after that?

Cicadas make you aware of their presence while you’re driving, too. If you drive through a swarm, you may have the impression that it’s raining cicadas. (Cicada collisions with windshields can also be quite messy.)

This past week, cicadas were even blamed for an automobile accident here in Cincinnati. A car went off the road and crashed into a utility pole this past Monday, when a cicada entered the vehicle and smacked the driver in the face.

Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt, but the car was totaled.