1980s Atari flashback

(The above video clip is courtesy of the Twitter account 80sThen80sNow. Check them out on Twitter if you’re into ’80s nostalgia!)

I was in junior high in the very early 1980s, just in time for the Golden Age of the Mall Arcade.

In those years, the mall arcade was the place to play video games. There were two large shopping malls in my part of Cincinnati, Ohio. Whenever I’d managed to save up some quarters, I would finagle a ride to the mall and play.

My favorite games were: Asteroids, Battlezone (see below), Space Invaders, Missile Command, and—of course–PacMan. 

By late 1980, though, Atari started selling reliable and affordable home game system consoles that hooked up to a standard color television set. My parents surprised me with one for Christmas, 1980. (Hey, I had an idyllic childhood and loving parents. I won’t deny it.)

After so many years, I can’t be certain of the exact model; but it was probably an Atari 2600, shown below.

My Atari phase lasted through the 8th grade. When I entered high school in the fall of 1982, I’d moved on to sports, rock music, and girls. (Well, I moved on to sports and rock music. I was still clueless and awkward around girls at that point; but they certainly captured my attention.)

Video games were never more than a youthful phase for me. Video gaming was different in the 1980s. There was no “gamer” culture as there is today. (Or at least there wasn’t in my environment.) And of course, the Internet as we know it was still more than a decade away.

I have never been a gamer in my adult life, either. I’ve looked at the various role-playing video games available nowadays. They’re incredible, compared to what we had in the early ’80s. But I’m happy to leave them to others. I have more than enough on my plate already.

That said, I had a lot of fun with video games for a few years in that window between childhood and early adulthood. Lots of good memories, too.

PJ O’Rourke (1947 – 2022)

I was browsing in a Barnes & Noble superstore back in the mid-90s one day, when I happened to come across a book entitled All the Trouble in the World: The Lighter Side of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague, and Poverty

The author of the book was P.J. O’Rourke. 

I was only vaguely aware of O’Rourke at that time. I knew that he was a political commentator. But a different kind of political commentator: O’Rourke brought humor to controversial issues that made most everyone else mad. 

That was his reputation, anyway. So I decided to give the above title a try.

Suffice it to say that All the Trouble in the World not only kept my attention, it also made me laugh out loud. I was instantly hooked, and I have been a fan of O’Rourke’s ever since.

The mid-1990s were more laid-back, less angry times. The culture wars were already flaring up here and there; but mostly they were on a low simmer. 

I immediately recognized O’Rourke as a man who saw things as I did. He was a conservative-leaning moderate, who had no patience for pointy-headed double-talk, and the histrionics of what is now called “wokeness”.

But at the same time, PJ O’Rourke was not mean-spirited. He sought to point out the flaws in the philosophy that had already come to be known as the New Left. Having flirted with the New Left himself in his college days, O’Rourke knew firsthand that political leftism is an  intellectual disorder, but not an incurable one. He also realized that persuasion and humor could win a lot more hearts and minds than shrill denunciations.

In more recent years, O’Rourke has been somewhat mismatched to the times: a genuinely funny man in an age that has lost its sense of humor. Nevertheless, he maintained a following… myself included.

I found out today that PJ O’Rourke has passed away at the age of 74. He was apparently suffering from some serious lung-related issues.

While by no means a young man, his output had continued at more or less the pace of a book a year. I had looked forward to reading the essays and collections that he had yet to write.

This is one literary figure whom I will sorely miss. PJ O’Rourke, age 74, RIP.

Trick-or-treat hours, HOA shenanigans, and my Halloween 2021 report

Halloween 2021 went fairly well in my part of the world, with pleasantly warm weather (and the departure of an extended pattern of rain that left the Cincinnati area just in time).

I live in a neighborhood with a homeowners association, or HOA. The HOA is a Sovietized institution that is always meddlesome, and occasionally a creative outlet for aspiring Stalins and Pol Pots. Participation in the administration of an HOA is voluntary, and tends to draw personality types who don’t like minding their own business. 

The parents in my HOA got together this year and voted to extend trick-or-treat hours for one hour beyond the 6 pm to 8 pm time frame designated by the local government. (Another thing about HOAs: they regularly mistake themselves for governments.) So trick-or-treat in my neighborhood was set at three hours this year, lasting from 5 pm to 8 pm.

I thought this was unnecessary, but you have to pick your battles in this world. I went along without any outward grumbling. I enjoyed Halloween as a kid (a theme I explore in my novel 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN), and I don’t begrudge today’s children the pleasure of trick-or-treating.

But three hours of trick-or-treating turned out to be more hours on foot than the average child or parent in my neighborhood could handle. The net result of the time extension was that everyone in the neighborhood went trick-or-treating from 5 pm till 7 pm, and the streets were empty during the hour from 7 till 8.

The ambitious members of my HOA at work…

Speaking of parents and Halloween: I have written before of the downside of helicopter parenting; but there is one upside which I must acknowledge: less youthful mischief on October 31. During my youth in the 1970s and 1980s, Halloween was basically a free-for-all, with kids running wild. Sometimes they victimized homeowners with vandalism, and other kids with bullying.

There seems to be much less of that nowadays, at least in my pleasant suburban part of the world. Change is rarely all good or all bad. It almost always involves a series of tradeoffs, with some things getting better, and some things getting worse. 

Why I love Halloween

It’s that season of the year again!

Last night I went out for a walk in my neighborhood around 7 pm. (We’ve had an unseasonably warm spell here in the Cincinnati area.) I didn’t take into account how quickly the dusk settles in this late in the year. I was only halfway out when it suddenly became very…well, dark.

I therefore walked back to my house in the dark. The houses around me were festooned with various Halloween decorations: skulls, black cats, and even some cool Halloween projector lights.

I love Halloween. For me, Halloween is the time when we mortals come to terms with two constants of human existence: a.) the unknown, and b.) the inevitability of death.

The celebration of Halloween is an act of acceptance. Our lives will always contain tragedy, dissatisfactions, and uncertainty. But we cannot allow ourselves to paralyzed by fear…or by sadness.

Halloween is a time when we laugh at death, and embrace our mortality.

A few years ago, I wrote a Halloween novel called 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN. This nostalgic, coming-of-age horror tale is set on Halloween night, 1980. Check it out here.

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

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**

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.

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.

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.

Summer and wasps: my annual war of annihilation begins

After an early May that veered between March-like cold and constant rain, summer has come roaring into Southern Ohio. Afternoon temperatures in the Cincinnati area will flirt with the low 90s this weekend. (That’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit, for you readers in Canada and the UK.) No rain on the horizon for at least three or four days.

People in my neck of the woods are currently getting worked up about cicadas. Cicadas don’t bother me. Bring ‘em on! as they say. I survived the great cicada outbreak of ’87. I’ll make it through this one, too.

There is only one insect—only one creature, in fact— that I despise with implacable, murderous intent: the wasp. I have always hated them, and my market share of wasp spray is likely a line item on the balance sheets at both Raid and Spectracide.

There is an old German proverb, “God made the bee, but the Devil made the wasp.” It’s absolutely true. Wasps are pure evil. And they know when you’re about to come after them. I have the stings to prove it.

There is a group of wasps building a nest under the eaves on one side of my house. Armed with a good supply of chemical warfare agents, I intend to send as many of them as possible straight to Hell before the weekend is over.

I usually pimp my short horror story, The Wasp, in late May or early June. It’s like an annual rite of summer for me. But you can read it for free here on the site.

I hope you enjoy your Saturday, wherever you are. As for me, I’ll be cutting grass, trimming trees, oh…and killing wasps.

Photo credit: Maine.gov

Cicadas and anxiety

There has been a lot of talk in the media of late about the upcoming emergence of Brood X, the next great wave of cicadas. And—in keeping with the spirit of these traumatized, triggered times—some people are now coping with severe cicada anxiety as they wait for the appearance of the red-eyed insects.

For me, any mention of cicadas takes me back to 1987. That was another major outbreak year. I was then 19 years old, and a student at the University of Cincinnati. As this contemporary article from the Los Angeles Times notes, Cincinnati was a major hotspot for the short-lived, unprepossessing bugs.

Cicadas were everywhere in Cincinnati that summer. They crawled on lawns, on the sidewalks of the inner city, on cars. The husks of the dead ones were everywhere, too.

The cicada mania of 1987 even inspired the song, “Snappy Cicada Pizza”.

Let’s return to the issue of cicada anxiety. I can’t say that I like cicadas, or that I would be pleased to come home and find a swarm of them inside my house. But they don’t cause me anxiety, either.

I sympathize, though, with the cicada-anxious. I have an extreme aversion toward wasps. My lifelong dislike of wasps even inspired a short story, “The Wasp”, which you can read here on the site.

Photo credit: Fairfax County, VA

To Metamora by train

This past weekend I accompanied several relatives on a train trip from Connersville, Indiana to the historic town of Metamora. We traveled via the Whitewater Valley Railroad.

Inside the train station at Connersville

I’m an Ohioan, but I consider myself an honorary Hoosier (and an honorary Kentuckite, too, for that matter). I live in Cincinnati, which is often called the Tri-State Area, the three states being: Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky.

Moreover, my dad grew up in Indiana, and I’ve spent a lot of time there over the years. Indiana might not want to claim me, but I claim Indiana.

I had never been to Connersville before, though, and certainly not to Metamora. Traveling up Indiana Route 1 from Lawrenceburg via car, we passed through the town of Brookville (a very nice town) and many other well-kept little towns whose names escape me.

Also, we passed plenty of farms, miles of woods, and acres of open pasture. Indiana is a great place to be if you like nature. They have lots of it.

The train ride was not what I expected, exactly. To begin with, this was not exactly high-speed rail travel. The 13-mile trip from Connersville to Metamora took a little more than an hour. One of the passengers, checking a smartphone GPS app, reported an average speed of 11 m.p.h. That sounds about right.

This was also a trip through the woods, more or less. But we did catch some scenic stretches of the Whitewater River.

Metamora itself was interesting. There was some old architecture worth seeing, and part of a canal that dated back to the 1840s.

Let’s be honest here. This was not the Grand Canyon. On the whole, there were parts of the trip (and the sights) that were a little underwhelming. Both the train (especially the track) and the historic district of Metamora were in need of some maintenance. The train ride was a little bumpy…probably safe, but a little bumpy.

That said, this is a tourist attraction that is bouncing back from the crippling economic effects of COVID. Several of the shopkeepers in Metamora said that they’re in the middle of renovation drive.

Everyone affiliated with the railroad, as well as Metamora itself, was extremely nice. If you happen to find yourself in east-central Indiana, you might give the Whitewater Valley Railroad trip a try. On the whole, my relatives and I had a pleasant day.

‘The Rockland Horror 3’ and the Model T

The next installment of The Rockland Horror series is set in 1917, early in the age of the automobile. 

That, of course, means Henry Ford’s iconic Model T. The Ford Motor Company  manufactured  the Model T between 1908 and 1927.

The Model T was mass-produced with simple specifications. The car originally came only in black, though a few other color choices were added in later model years.

The Model T was also quite affordable. The base price for a 1916 Model T Runabout was just $345, or $8,324.76 in 2021 dollars.  This was, obviously, much cheaper than just about any car manufactured for the U.S. market today.

But this simplicity came at a price. If the Model T was cheap (even by early 20th-century standards) it was also far more difficult to use than modern vehicles.

The Rockland Horror 3 (now in production) will be a horror novel, not a book about early automobiles. But the story does involve some car chase scenes, and I wanted to make these scenes reasonably authentic.

My maternal grandfather was born in 1921, and even he never owned a Model T. Driving the Model T is one of those experiences that has passed out of “living memory”, so to speak.

I therefore went to YouTube, where there were, indeed, a few videos about starting and driving the Model T. I’ve embedded two of them here.

You probably already know about the crank start. But even that isn’t the worst of it. To start a Model T, you had to arrange a series of switches and levers inside the car in the right combination. Then you had to “choke” the engine by priming it with gasoline, and then…

Let’s just say it’s complicated!