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TARDIS Collector’s Corner: Classic 1980 Tom Baker TARDIS Tin Bank (The White Whale TARDISes)

(An ongoing writing project in which I catalog and quantify my extensive TARDIS collection. Find previous entries HERE.) 

As I’ve previously written, I came to my fandom of Doctor Who in the summer of 1980, in small town Mississippi, where I felt like I existed in something of a Doctor Who fandom vacuum. In the years before the internet, the ability to research a television show, let alone one from a foreign land, was kind of limited. At the time, having seen only a handful of Tom Baker stories, I had no idea how long the show had even been on the air. I had no idea that there had been other Doctors before Baker, or, indeed, a 5th Doctor impending. I had no idea that there were novelizations of episodes in the world, or that books about the show itself had also been published. I’d never even heard of a Dalek, cause I had missed “Genesis of the Daleks” during its initial PBS run. My first ever episode to see was mid-way through “Revenge of the Cybermen,” the story falling immediately after “Genesis of the Daleks”. I was a babe in the Whoniverse woods, trapped in the deep south, where we only got the show at all by the grace of the God of Public Television and a long-handled spoon. But I was definitely hungry for more.

Being in the 4th grade during my initial viewing, I longed for Doctor Who toys, yet, again, had no clue that such things already existed elsewhere in the world. It would be years yet before I learned of the Denys Fisher TARDIS of the 1970s and years yet before the Dapol TARDIS toy was produced. Yet I would have given anything at that age to have my own TARDIS toy. Which was why, a few years on, I was shocked the first time I caught sight of a Doctor Who Tom Baker Tardis Tin Bank. These were first produced by the Avon company in 1980 as fairly simple metal lidded boxes of a rectangular TARDIS-like shape, with a printed TARDIS exterior featuring an illustrated open door with Tom Baker himself standing in it. There was no three dimensional lamp on top, but just an embossed metal lid with a circular raised section painted as if light were pouring from beneath the rounded blue disc. (I expect it’s meant to be thought of as the TARDIS roof as seen from directly above.) By no means was this a toy TARDIS, but for a kid who was easily able to use his imagination to transform his Dad’s girlfriend’s cream-colored muffler into a full-length Doctor Who scarf in his head, it wasn’t a far stretch at all that I might yet be able to use such a tin as a toy, I thought.

Now, you’d think for such a powerful memory of wanting one of these, I’d be able to remember exactly where I first saw one. Not… as… such.

Part of me wonders if I first saw one at the house of some acquaintances of my dad’s, whose older son introduced me to the concept of the Doctor Who Target novelizations. That would have had to have been around 1982, or so, that I first saw the tin, and I think we visited those folks around then. However, if he’d owned such a tin, he certainly didn’t let me lay hands on it. Instead, I suspect that the tin might have been something I first spotted in a comic book store–possibly among the first two such stores I’d ever visited, both of which were within a block of one another, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and both of which are no more. The more likely shop I might have seen it in was called Injun John’s, which was a newsstand/comic shop/tobacconist/porno mag emporium. I can still remember the smell of the place, which was always a heady blend of tobacco and newsprint. Asgard Comics was more of a traditional comic book store. I bought my first two issues of Marvel’s run on Doctor Who there.

Or, perhaps I saw the TARDIS tin at Memphis Comics and Records, which was another shop I would frequently convince Dad to take me to, on the way to see my grandparents in Missouri. Or maybe at any of the handful of comic stores I visited while on summer time road trips. (Though not, I should add, at the very first comic shop I attempted to visit in New York City–a story for a future entry.)

Wherever it was that I spotted one, it was in person and was distant enough that I couldn’t get my mitts on it. (I can recall seeing the first issues of Watchmen there in 1986, so why can’t I pin down the tin? It’s maddening!)

Years later, while visiting my friend Matthew Jameson, who lived in Huntsville, AL, I spied another similar tin. This time it was owned by Matthew’s father, and was not a Tom Baker tin, but a Peter Davison 5th Doctor tin bank. This tin Mr. Jameson let me examine up close. It looked the same as the Baker tin, but with Peter painted in the doorway instead. (Fun fact: Peter Davison is the only Doctor Who actor I’ve met in person, so far, and whose hand I have shook. And the entire time I was doing so, all my brain would spit out was “That’s #&%!ing Doctor Who!”) I was not nearly as enchanted with the fact that Peter Davison was on the tin, but it was still a TARDIS. By that time I was in high school, so seeking a toy TARDIS was not yet back on my radar of things a boy my age should be doing. I’d have to wait until I was well into my 30s for that desire to kick back into gear. And soon after it did, I made the mental note that one day I wanted to own such a classic TARDIS tin like I’d wanted as a child, preferably with my boy Tom on it. However, I found in my ebay searching that such tins had become rare as the old ones rusted away and got recycled. As such, it became one of my White Whale TARDISes. I occasionally would still look for them on ebay, but they tended to go for dozens of dollars more than I really wanted to pay for a metal box. I bided my time.

Back in May of last year, I finally located one in an ebay auction. For some reason, it was only listed for $19.98, or, at least, that was the price I paid as the winning bidder. I worried that perhaps this was some sort of knock-off TARDIS tin, due to its cheapness. Perhaps there was something wrong with it. But I paid my money and took my chances.

When it arrived, it was somehow smaller than my memory of the ones I had seen previously. Of course, I was relatively smaller at the time I saw them, too. However, I’ve looked up several listings for similar tins and the measurements match those of the one I have. And if it is still somehow counterfeit, the counterfeiters did a fine job of aging it, for there was rust to be found around the edges of the inside. A little elbow grease cleaned it right up. It looks like a true 1980s-era item. I also don’t really care if it is of more recent manufacture. It’s awesome and now has a proud place on my office bookshelf. I give it four TARDi.

The TARDIS Collector’s Corner: The TARDIS Bookends by Underground Toys

(An ongoing writing project in which I catalog and quantify my extensive TARDIS collection. Find previous entries HERE.) 

This particular set of TARDIS bookends is not necessarily a Christmas-themed one. However, I received mine as a gift for Christmas, a few years ago, so I tend to associate it there. No better time to talk about it. I have my niece Catherine (a.k.a. “K.T.”) to thank for this set. I loved it immediately, as I’d been eyeballing the set whenever I’d see it in a store, but I had never pulled the trigger on the purchase because the sets tended to be in the $50 + range. K.T. had been a fan of the show during the David Tennant era and she wound up re-watching many of those episodes and on into the Matt Smith era while she lived with us for a couple of years. So she knows of my love of TARDISes of old. (In fact, I think she still has one of my TARDISes–a fish tank ornament I offered for use in her fish tank but which she instead just put on her shelf, much as I’d been doing. If these bookends were a replacement for that one, though, I’ll take it!)

These bookends were released by Underground Toys, the manufacturer of any number of other fantastic Doctor Who products, so you know out of the gate you’re in safe hands with folks who know the topic. Unlike some bookends where you have two identical sculpts on each end, this set splits the TARDIS in twain, perhaps as it passes through the other-dimensional barrier posed by your books. In my case, it’s even better because I use the bookends to hold up my classic Doctor Who novelizations, and a few more modern ones as well.

The bookends are presented with the TARDIS door side up at an angle, against a starfield backdrop. The right half has the top of the TA`RDIS popping out with plenty of room below to add some other toy for display, such as K-9, as I’ve shown, or even another TARDIS. But the windows look great, framed in white with the distinctive dark panels of the Smith era.

The left half is mostly taken up with the lower half of the TARDIS, so there’s not much room to display anything there. (It’s also a dickens to dust.) It looks just like the plain side of the TARDIS until you look at it from above, where you can see the details of the door, including door sign and ambulance badge.

Now, it would certainly be a terrible thing if I’d been given a TARDIS for Christmas by a loved one and then spent a bunch of time talking shit about it here. But as this is a review, of a sort, so I feel like I have to talk a tiny bit of shit, but just a smidge (smudge?).

If I had a complaint about the craftsmanship of this piece, it’s that the lower half of the face of the TARDIS on my particular set (as seen in the above photo) seems to be a little warped in its molding. One might chalk this up to the warping of time and space which the TARDIS experiences in the show, but I’m pretty sure its just that someone at Underground removed it from the mold before it was fully set. Whatever the case, I don’t care. In fact, the first time I even noticed this flaw was in looking at the above photo while writing this. You certainly can’t see it looking straight on at the bookends, so what does it matter? I dig these a lot. I give them a solid 4 TARDi.

Merry ChristmaHanaKwanzika to all!

The Runaways Giveaway

The RunawaysMy friend Brenda Barnes Clark is currently running a free ebook promotion for her new middle-grade novel The Runaways: A Billie Rose Tackett Horse Adventure. It’s a historical adventure story set in West Virginia and starring a character of Melungeon descent. Brenda would love it if you’d give it a read and submit a review of it to Amazon.

Billie Rose Tackett, an 11-year-old girl in 1946 West Virginia, can speak to horses. It’s kind of a think-speak, but she can speak to them all the same. She knows this, because of a pony named Penny, who has run away from the local county fair, asks Billie for her help. How will Billie prove Penny did not belong to the fair, or to the terrible pony ride keeper?

How can she prove Penny told her this when no one in their right mind would believe that a horse can speak? She knows she can’t and they have no other choice but to run away.

In her quest to save Penny, Billie and Penny show amazing courage and tenacity to overcome seemingly impossible, life-threatening situations. In this fast-paced adventure story, Billie grows in confidence as she deals with prejudice, disability, bullying, family loss, compassion, and forgiveness while doing whatever it takes to save the runaway pony.

#westvirginia #horses #horsebooks #middlegrade #freeebook

Get your free copy today at… https://amzn.to/3GYeJEv

TARDIS Collector’s Corner: the String Light TARDISes

(An ongoing writing project in which I catalog and quantify my extensive TARDIS collection. Find previous entries HERE.) 

Continuing the holiday season for TARDIS collecting, I can finally detail 10 of the TARDISes in my collection in the form of a set of TARDIS string lights.

Manufactured by the Carlisle Company of Carson City NV, and licensed by the BBC, but purchased from the late and lamented ThinkGeek.com, these string lights are from the Matt Smith era of the program, complete with bright blue paint job and the return of the St. John’s Ambulance Company badge on the door. They are well-sculpted with a decent wood grain, though not one that’s especially to scale with how grain would look on a full-sized TARDIS. Better than most, though, I’d say.

When illuminated, the light from within does tend to bleed through the surface of the blue-plastic instead of just from the windows and roof lamp. In point of fact, the roof lamps don’t glow at all, as that’s where the wires connect.

Now some folks would say that, with this item being a single unit, it should only count as one TARDIS in my collection. I am not one of those people, though, and count it as 10, since there are 10 individual TARDISes present and accounted for. Yep. That’s how I roll. One purchase increased my already sizeable TARDIS collection by 10. That’s some festive holiday efficiency for your ass.

As far as string lights go, these are fine. There are only 10 of them, so you’re either going to have to string them on a very small tree (as I did using my grandmother’s antique artificial tree in the image above) or you’re going to need more lights. Like many string lights, these will connect to other sets, be they TARDISes or other types of lights. Maybe you could mix and match with Dalek string lights. However, if you just want some atmospheric TARDIS lights to hang from the end of a bookshelf (which is where mine usually live) then they’re great. I give ’em 3.5 TARDi.

More recently, another company, Rabbit Tanaka, has picked up the license to make TARDIS string lights. (Rabbit Tanaka also manufactured the TARDIS night light from a few years ago, which I also own but have not yet reviewed here, though I suspect it will be startlingly similar to the string lights review.) I do not yet own a set of the RT lights, but they look half-way decent, if a little bit plain. They look to be modeled after the Eccleston/Tennant TARDIS, though with a uniform blue color rather than their dingier paint-job. Gone is the ambulance badge, but the white door sign is retained. From the pictures I can see online, they also do not appear to have any wood grain elements. I might get a string of them eventually, just to help fill out my other 10. (And to add another 10 TARDISes to my collection number, natch.)

In the meantime, I present my Nerd Tree for 2021…

My Nerd Tree

In the Midst: A COVID-19 eBook Anthology

In The Midst: A COVID-19 AnthologyIn mid 2020, my friend Sandy Tritt put out a call for submissions to a Covid-19 anthology she was putting together. As the August deadline approached, I remember wishing that I had something to send her, before remembering that I had actually written something on the topic, way waaaay back, what seemed like years and years before, in April of 2020.

I’m sure there are writers who used their downtime during the 2020 pandemic and lockdown to get a lot of writing done. I am not one of them. Now, Lord knows I have enough stories in-progress that I could have tackled finishing a few of them or even started something new in 2020. But I just couldn’t summon much interest in creative output for pretty much the whole year. A lot of this can be chalked up to just not feeling any love for the craft due to Covid-19, but there were larger factors at play in my life that actually outweighed even a global pandemic for me. The pandemic definitely didn’t help, though.

While I live in West Virginia, I spent most of the first half of 2020 in Mississippi, helping my parents while my dad recovered from spinal surgery. I was supposed to be there for five weeks. It turned into five months. Most of my writing for those months came in the form of Facebook posts and texts updating family and friends on our situation there. I wasn’t entirely without creative output, though. I did manage to write, revise and complete a 10 minute theatrical monologue which was then workshopped, revised more times, workshopped again, and subsequently published in an anthology of Covid-19 writing. As per usual, I had to have a deadline to make me complete it.

The monologue–some might argue short play, due to its formatting–in question was written in response to a March 2020 challenge issued by Jason A.Young, of Clarksburg’s Vintage Theatre Company. Jason challenged a number of West Virginia playwright types to write monologues documenting the pandemic experience in West Virginia. As I explained to Jason at the time, I wasn’t having a WV pandemic experience because I was in Mississippi. While I couldn’t really comment on what was going on back in home, I could definitely shed some light on what was happening to me and my family in my home town of Starkville.

For me and my parents, Covid-19 was only the icing on the already difficult cake that started our year. While my father’s surgery in mid-February had been a success in terms of ridding him of the agony he’d been in for months, due to a pinched nerve, it had not entirely been the instant cure we’d hoped for. He came out of surgery barely able to walk due to months of using his legs incorrectly in order to avoid pain. He then wound up doing nine weeks of in-patient rehab at a nursing home facility while I split my time between hanging out with him in his room there and being at home to take care of my step-mother, Myra.

Part way into his rehab experience, Mississippi had its first case of Covid-19 and Dad’s facility went on full lockdown. This meant I couldn’t get inside to see him because they were trying like hell to keep Covid-19 out. We could then only communicate with Dad by phone, Facebook video, and by me standing outside of his ground-floor window and talking to him phone to phone.

By the time Jason issued the challenge to write a monologue, I had a few things to say about the pandemic experience. The monologue I wrote, entitled “Fish Bowl,” depicts one side of a cell phone conversation between a father and son looking at each other through the glass of a nursing home room window. It was inspired by the many such conversations I had with my dad through the window of his room during those weeks. And while much of the conversation is fictional, much of it is true. It also quite accurately depicts the way I came to learn that there had been an outbreak of Covid-19 in his facility during one such conversation.

I turned in the monologue to Jason in April 2020. He passed it along to a very talented local actor from his troop named Sean Marko, who made both audio and, later, video readings of it as a kind of online workshop. It helped the revision process immensely to hear how the words sounded and where my tendency toward super long sentences caused train wrecks in the execution. Being back in the collaborative process of theatre again felt great, especially after weeks of avoiding any such output, viewing it as a distraction to my many responsibilities at hand.

Months later, I did another couple of polishes on “Fish Bowl” and submitted it to Sandy for her anthology. She said it made her cry, which I guess is as good a review as a writer is likely to get. She accepted it and it was published as part of In the Midst: A COVID-19 Anthology in November, 2020.

I guess this is a long way to go to say, “Fish Bowl,” has just been published again in the brand new ebook edition of In the Midst: A Covid-19 Anthology. Unlike the print editions, where readers needed to chose between black and white and a pricier full-color version, though, the much cheaper ebook is in full color.

There’s a lot more tale to tell about my time in Mississippi, both comedic and tragic. I’m now considering the best format in which to tell it.

Website Repairs and Podcast Reduxes

A few long time friends and/or followers of this page might have noticed a couple of changes to this site over the years. I’m not just talking about the semi-once-a-decade sprucing up I do on the visuals (it is a nigh on 25 year old site, after all), or the shifting sands of content; no, I’m talking about the name of the site itself. Oh, it’s always been called Mister Herman’s Home Page–or, at least, phonetically it has–but the actual URL address has danced about when it comes to spelling.

For the first few years of its life, Mister Herman’s Home Page lived in the personal directory of whatever ISP would have me. The site initially served as a repository for funny Top Ten lists that I and my friends had written, in-joke-laced humor pieces, funny graphics I’d made, and more in-joke-laced recipes inspired by the things I used to cook and actually eat during college. Gradually, though, I began to add my writing to the mix, from early short stories, some of which made it into A Consternation of Monsters, to my signature non-fiction Horribly True Tales. The site began to fill out.

Trouble was, whenever I’d move to a new town and get a new internet provider, I’d have to move it all and the web address would change once again, as would my email address. After my 5th ISP change in so many years, though, I decided to bite the bullet and just get the site a permanent address. I bought the URL MisterHerman.com and pointed it to whatever ISP I was using at` the time. And I recall, at the time, debating whether to buy MrHerman.com as well, to avoid confusion, but decided to lean in to the full spelling that I preferred. And, not long after, I set up permanent hosting for the site via an official GoDaddy hosting account. Gone were the days of having to move the site with each new ISP.

Years passed and I decided owning MrHerman.com would be good after all. Alas, someone had beat me to it and set up their own web design service with that shingle. This was annoying, because I’d posted enough writing and told enough people the name of my site that I didn’t want folks to be waylaid on the way there by some Fake Shemp Mr. Herman. (And, let’s be clear, I’m fully aware that I’m the Fake Shemp Mister Herman and the site should really be owned by Pee Wee Herman himself. And if he’d ever like to have it, I’m quite open to discussing it and would cut him a fair price due to all the entertainment he’s given me over the years.) Instead, I just kept tabs on the Fake Shemp Herman. After a handful of years the name became available again and this time I didn’t dawdle in buying it.

More years passed, I wrote a book, and decided to spruce up my page to help market it and myself. I switched to WordPress, which I thought would be the uncomplicated, intuitive, and user-friendly solution to my web design needs. (Ahhh hah ha ha hah ha hah ha hah hah hah ha hah hah ha ha hah ha hah ha hah hah hah ha hah hah ha ha hah ha hah ha hah hah hah ha hah hah ha ha hah ha hah ha hah hah ha ha hah ha hah ha hah hah hah ha hah hah ha ha hah ha hah ha hah hah hah ha hah hahhhhh!) While setting up the new hot site, though, I pointed MrHerman.com to it, allowing MisterHerman.com to remain in its previous form until I was ready to go live. When I did, I just let MrHerman.com become the official new URL for the site, with MisterHerman as its redirecting shadow.

Part of my book promotion involved recording adaptations of a few of its stories as a podcast called the Consternation of Monsters Podcast. Still later, I did the whole thing as an audiobook, but I tend to prefer the podcast versions of the stories, which are not always straight-up word for word readings, but can branch out into stageplays, radioplays, and sound-effects-laden efforts. I spent a lot of time trying to get them right, as well as keeping up with the RSS feed for it so that people could listen to it from whatever podcast app they cared to use.

One day, a year or so ago, GoDaddy called to let me know they were going to be discontinuing the use of the server I was on and needed to migrate me to a new one. They suggested upgrading to CPanel hosting, which would offer me all the features I’d had before and more. Sure thing, I told them. Sign me up. They then said the would set up the new site for me and I could migrate my old site to it over the course of three months they were kind enough to give me, so the old site didn’t have to immediately go away. I told them to just use MisterHerman.com as the name of the new site, and I’d keep the old site as MrHerman until I could get it moved (just like last time, in reverse).

Now, I don’t know if you have ever tried to migrate one WP site to another location, but it’s devilishly tricky. And while there are a number of WordPress plugins that claim they do the migration for you, none of them actually work–or, at least, none of the half dozen I tried did. I really REALLY didn’t want to have to go through every page of code and change every listed addresses from Mr to Mister, though. Then GoDaddy told me that for a mere ten sawbucks–that’s a crisp $100, to you and me–they’d do the migration for me. Sounded like money well spent. I signed right up and within a couple of weeks the site had been moved. I checked a sampling of pages to make sure everything was still there and it seemed to be.

I should have checked more pages. The ones I checked were good, so I, sadly, trusted it all was.

That was months ago.

Recently, I happened to notice that my Consternation of Monsters Podcast was no longer working properly in my podcast aggregator app. I hadn’t looked at it for months–since the last new episode I’d done in 2018, really. But I saw a red triangle with an exclamation point on the show graphic and knew something was amiss. What do you suppose I discovered? Oh, just that while my site had been successfully moved and most of the MRs had been changed to MISTERs, a number–and not a small number–of them had not. In particular, the file of the podcast feed itself was choked with MRs. I can understand GoDaddy not checking such a file, which was not a part of WordPress to begin with, but quite a few links within the site itself, which was WordPress, referred back to the old MrHerman addresses. More horribly true still, I soon discovered that all of my Horribly True Tales stories were listed with the old addresses on their table of contents pages. It seems that while each individual page was switched from MR to MISTER, any page with in-house links to pages on the site did not have any alterations made to its code in this regard.

Super long story short, I’ve been doing some site work this to restore the podcast and its feed to their former glory, as well as all the other broken links on the site. (If you happen to one, how bout drop me a line about it at efritzius AT gmail DOT com).

After much code-work and testing, the podcast is back up and its episodes restored. You can find them all at the main Consternation of Monsters Podcast page, as well as links to blog entries about the stories adapted themselves.

And I can reveal there will soon be news about new episodes in the new year.

“The Talkin’, Ayyyym offended, If that IS your Real Name, End of an Era, Friiiiiitz Call Blues” (a.k.a. “Actual Telephone Calls Heard at My House over the Course of a 15 Year Period #332”)

When I worked as a morning drive radio DJ, back in the ’90s, frequently we would get calls from people who wished to complain about something they heard on the radio which had offended them.  Trouble was, with very few exceptions, the thing they heard that had offended them had been said by an on-air personality on a completely different radio station than the one I was employed by.  Yep, whenever John Boy and Billy said something saucier than most decent folks cared to hear, the O-ffended of Northeast Mississippi had no other recourse than to open the phone book, pick a radio station at random, and then call me or my morning show partner to lecture us about something we’d not even said.  We called these the “Ayyyym offended” calls, since they always began with that phrase.

For the past 15 years, my wife and I have experienced a different but still related telephonic behavior in what we’ve come to refer to as the “Friiiiiitz” calls. 

Way back, around 2006, our land line rang at 3 a.m., waking us up.  Since 3 a.m. is outside the normal hours of telephone conversations, we naturally expected the call to be from a relative bearing tragic news.  I braced myself for the worst as I answered the phone.


(noise…  noise… labored breathing)

ME— Hello?

(noise…  noise…)


ME— I’m sorry, what?

CALLER— Is this Friiiiitz?

ME— Um, this is Eric Fritzius.

(labored breathing)

CALLER— Is this Friiitz… from Fritz’s Pharmacyyyyy?

ME— No, I’m afraid it’s not.  My name is Eric Fritzius.

(noise… noise… labored breathing)

CALLER— You’re not… Friiitz?

ME— No. 

(noise… noise… labored breathing)

CALLER— Do you have… Fritz’s number?

ME— Uh, no.  I’m sorry, I don’t.

(labored breathing)

CALLER— I need… to call… Friiiitz.  I’m having…  an emergency.

ME— Uhh…   (Looks to my wife, who, at the time, was a medical resident and who presumably might be of help)  She says she’s having an emergency?

WIFE—(firmly and distinctly) Tell. Her. To call. 9.1.1. Or go. To the E.R. 

ME— Ma’am.  I’m sorry, but if you’re having a medical emergency, you need to call 911 or go to the emergency room.

(noise… noise… labored breathing)

CALLER— I caiiint dooo thaaaat.


That was the first of at least a dozen such hour-of-the-wolf “Friiiiitz” calls we have since received.  I’m pretty sure that same lady has been responsible for many of these calls, but a few other folks have called as well.  Folks who have experienced what they have deemed to be a medical emergency, at 3 a.m.; folks who then decided to phone up, not their doctor or otherwise a trained emergency medical professional, but instead their favorite pharmacist, Fritz, because that makes a metric ton of sense; folks who then opened their white pages to F, at 3 a.m., located a last name that shares five letters with the name Fritz—which, it should be noted, is not actually the real Fritz’s last name to begin with, as “Fritz” is a nickname the real Fritz uses in place of his real first name—and then these folks blindly phone said number in the assumption that they’ll reach the Fritz they want. And every time—every single time—no matter if it’s the original lady caller or some other rando, when told we are not the Fritz they’re looking for, these folks always ask if we have Fritz’s number.  Because all Fritzes know one another, I guess? 

No, we most certainly do not have Fritz’s number. We have gone to great lengths not to have Fritz’s number—and by “great lengths,” I mean we have never bothered to check if Fritz’s number is actually listed. And our reason for this willful ignorance is because if we were to look up Fritz’s number then we would have Fritz’s number, and the fact that we would still not be willing to give his home number out, at 3 a.m., to people who should be calling 911 in the first place, would mean we would feel extra guilty for willingly withholding said information should they die from the medical emergency they refused to call the proper medical assistance to assist with.  Instead, we have always been polite when such calls come in, but always advise the callers that in genuine medical emergencies the only number they need to phone is, in point of fact, 911. With great frequency, the reply to this suggestion is the declaration: “I caiiint dooo thaaaat.” So far none of the callers have elaborated as to why they can’t. 

In 2008, we relocated from Greenbrier County to Mercer County.  There are no Fritz’s Pharmacy locations in Mercer County, though, so our “Friiiiiitz” calls came to an end, and the only 3 a.m. calls we occasionally received were medical emergencies involving patients in the hospital for whom my doctor wife was genuinely responsible.

In 2012, we moved back to Greenbrier County, got a brand new land line phone number, listed it in the phone book, and waited in anticipation.  Sure enough within the first two months, right on time at 3 a.m., the phone rang.

ME— Hello?

(noise…  noise… labored breathing)


ME— No.  No, this is not Fritz.  This is the Fritzius residence.  We are not related to Fritz from Fritz’s Pharmacy.

(noise…  noise…)

FEMALE CALLER— This is not Friiiitz?

ME— No, it is not. 

(3… 2… 1…)

CALLER— Do you have– ?

ME— No, we do not have Fritz’s number. Again, we are not related to Fritz. Our name only shares five letters with his name.

(Okay, we’re not ALWAYS polite.)

CALLER— I need… to call… Fritz.  I’m having… an emergency.

ME— Then you need to call 911 or go to the emergency room.

(3… 2… 1…)

CALLER— I caaaiiint do thaaaat.


In the years since our return, these calls have continued, albeit not often.  Most have been from folks other than the usual lady.  Some have even occurred during actual daylight hours.  We still have not had Fritz’s number.

At least…

…until today.

While writing this, and after 15 years of steadfastly avoiding the task, I finally looked up Fritz’s home number.  Turns out, it’s been right there in the phone book the entire time, listed under Fritz’s very own name. However, the callers would still have been unable to determine which number was truly his even if they had known his actual last name, because “Fritz” was smart enough not to have his phone number listed under his nickname either.  Instead “Fritz” used his real first name, which also starts with F but is also not Fritz.  In other words, the real Fritz doesn’t want these calls any more than us Fake Shemp Fritzes do. 

And the reason why I finally looked up Fritz’s number? Only because the days of the 3 a.m. Friiiiitz calls are now probably at an end.  You see, the real Fritz recently sold his chain of pharmacies to CVS, and will no longer be dispensing meds under that name. I figured it was finally safe not only to have a look at his number but to tell this story. 

It’s the end of an era for sure, but I am astounded that with all the hullabaloo of Fritz transferring his customers’ pharmaceutical records to CVS, we’ve not received even one “Friiiiitz” call about it.

Might go so far as to say, “Ayyyyy’m offended.”


Am I the only one who watched Steve’s Blue’s Clues 25th anniversary message with breath held, CTRL pressed, and my finger over the W, `cause at any moment I expected his sweet, leisurely-paced story to take a hard turn toward the tragic?

I was expecting something along the lines of…

“And then… one day… I was, like, `Oh, hey, big news, I’m leaving.’ And then I just kind of… got on a bus… and went to college. Of course, by ‘college’ I think we all know I really meant `rehab.’ See, back in the `90s, your ol’ buddy Steve had some… well, he had some real bad habits he’s none too proud of. Let me give you a few clues… Ol Steve had what we call a real `Molly’ problem. Yeah, he did a lot of rave beans and was riding the X-express on the regs. Yeah, yer Steve’s free time was brought to you by the letters M, D, M, and A. And that’s… you know… not good. Nor is losing your apartment, all of your savings, and your brain’s ability to regulate its chemical reward system. But I got help. And, at least, I no longer see blue dogs.”

So glad he didn’t say any of that.

The Talkin’ Bruised Coccyx Blues (NOW UPDATED WITH MORE COCCI!)

Back in April, I posted here about my then-recent Amazon purchase of a memory foam seat-cushion sold by a company called WAOAW.  Said butt-pillow, which had the unwieldly product name of “WAOAW Seat Cushion for Office Chair, Chair Cushion of Memory Foam for Car Seat Cushion,” arrived with an offer of a $10 Amazon gift card should I happen to give it a 5-star review on both their site and on Amazon.  While shilling for the man rubs my journalistic integrity the wrong way, I did actually like the cushion.  I was also enchanted by the idea of leaving a tongue-in-cheek review that worked the idea of the payola scheme into the narrative of the review, while also using both the word “coccyx” and the full title of the pillow in the review an unnecessary number of times.  That way I could leave an honest review while still stabbing an unscrupulous business in the back.  I wrote it up and posted it to WAOAW’s site.  Unfortunately, before I could post the review to Amazon itself, the Amazon listing for the cushion mysteriously vanished.  I assumed it was because Amazon got wise to WAOAW’s scheme, but who knew?  I posted it to Facebook instead.

A few days later, WAOAW wrote me to apologize that their Amazon listing had been pulled and assured me it was because “our link was maliciously attacked and there were some problems.” They said they would have it back up within a week and asked me to please leave my glowing review at that time. 

Instead of a week, three months passed before the listing was restored. However, the new listing had a slightly different title.  Again, the original was called the “WAOAW Seat Cushion for Office Chair, Chair Cushion of Memory Foam for Car Seat Cushion.” The new product name had become the “WAOAW Seat Cushion for Office Chair, Non-Slip Car Seat Cushion for Desk Chair, Memory Foam Coccyx Seat Cushion.”  Clearly my work had paid off if they’d added “coccyx” into their title.  Their inclusion of coccyx also meant that I would be able to fit a few more cocci into a revised version of my review.  I did another polish pass and produced the following: 


My coccyx has been painin’ me for the last few years.  It all stems from the time I fell right on my coccyx and subsequently bruised it while tumbling down an escalator in Penn Station, NYC.  (That’s the big apple, to you and me!)  Since then, I can’t sit in a chair for more than 7 or 8 hours before my coccyx really starts singing!  Especially when I sit in these stinking hard wooden chairs we’ve got all around our dining room table.  I think they’re made of some kind of sorebutt wood, or something—pardon my French.   My family can tell you that after sitting on one of those for even an hour, when I stand up I have to scream “Ow, my coccyx!”  It feels like someone just hauled off and kicked you squar in the dumper, I assure you.  My coccyx needed help!  I went online to the Amazon to see if I could find me a good coccyx pillow and lo and behold what should I see there but the “WAOAW Seat Cushion for Office Chair, Non-Slip Car Seat Cushion for Desk Chair, Memory Foam Coccyx Seat Cushion.”  First of all, I love the company name, because it reminds me of home just to say it.  See I’m from Mississippi and “Waoaw” is how every person from Mississippi pronounce the word “wow.”  (Seriously.  No funning!  We can slip extra syllables into any given word.  Well, except for “Mississippi,” which we just call “Misipy.”  Don’t know why.  That’s just the rule we made.)  I liked all the five-star reviews for the WAOAW Seat Cushion for Office Chair, Non-Slip Car Seat Cushion for Desk Chair, Memory Foam Coccyx Seat Cushion.  There were so many of them!  Which made me feel like a lot of people have clearly tried this cushion and loved it!  Why else would so many people leave so many five-star reviews?  A few of them even said it was good for their coccyx pain, too!  I decided to order one and give it a whirl.  Let me just tell you, this cushion has been a lifesaver for my coccyx!  It’s real soft with a velvety cover on it that’s nice to the touch and a polkadotty grippy bottom side that really holds onto a slick wooden chair seat, I can attest.  And it’s got a handle on one end for easy carry, but it’s not too heavy if you just want to carry it in your hands like a normal person.  When I sat on it for the first time I said “Waoaw!” as my hinder sank into its memory foam layers.  Talk about super comfy!  It even has a little notch in the back part of it, right where my coccyx can rest without getting yarded on by the cushion itself!  And its symmetrical design keeps you level and even, so you never ever feel like you’re leanin’ toward Schronces.  My family can tell you that I haven’t screamed “Ow, my coccyx!” even once since I started using the WAOAW Seat Cushion for Office Chair, Non-Slip Car Seat Cushion for Desk Chair, Memory Foam Coccyx Seat Cushion.  If you have problems with your coccyx and if you have sorebutt wood chairs—pardon my French—around your dining table too, I recommend picking up the WAOAW Seat Cushion for Office Chair, Non-Slip Car Seat Cushion for Desk Chair, Memory Foam Coccyx Seat Cushion.  Your coccyx will thank you!

I fired this off to Amazon as my five-star review and sat back to see what happened. 

Within a few hours, I received an email from Amazon, reading in part: “Thank you for submitting a customer review on Amazon. After carefully reviewing your submission, your review could not be posted to the website. It appears your content did not comply with our guidelines.” 

I was furious!  How dare they reject my heartfelt review of this miraculous butt-pillow?!  On what possible basis could they do such a thing?  Everything I said was accur… Okay, ALMOST everything I said was mostly… kind of accurate.  Tongue-in-cheek, sure, but almost entirely sorta true.  And you can’t object to style, I say.

Naturally, they did not give specifics on how my review did not comply with their guidelines, but instead offered a link to their guidelines and a list of a few common issues to keep in mind, included below with my parenthetical commentary:

Your review should focus on specific features of the product and your experience with it.   (Oh, come on!  My review totally had specifics about the product and my experience!  I mean, I described the velvety covering, the grippy polka-dots, the useless handle, and everything—not to mention how great it makes my hinder feel!) 

Feedback on the seller or your shipment experience should be provided at www.amazon.com/hz/feedback.  (Wait…  so I’m not allowed to even mention the company is called “WAOAW” and how good that makes me feel due to my southern heritage?  That’s just geographical bigotry.)

We do not allow profane or obscene content. (What obscene content did I use?  Hinder?  Sorebutt?  Dumper?  Coccyx?  French?)

Advertisements, promotional material or repeated posts that make the same point excessively are considered spam.  (Now now…  including the word “coccyx” 16 times does not qualify as excessive repetition.  Seventeen, I’ll grant, but I didn’t go there.) 

Any attempt to manipulate Community content or features, including contributing false, misleading, or inauthentic content, is strictly prohibited.  (False?!  Misleading?!  INAUTHENTIC?  Eh… okay, they probably have me there, but not in the way that they think they do.  I maintain my review is entirely accurate, except for the fact that while I did fall and bruise my coccyx in Penn Station a few years ago, and it did pain me for the entire train trip back to West Virginia, and it did cause me to scream “Ow, my coccyx!” at every opportunity during that journey, which did cause my family and fellow passengers to become annoyed with me, the pain itself was completely gone after a week or so.  And while my coccyx doesn’t continue to pain me to this day, sitting in a wooden chair for hours does cause my overall wedgie-region to hurt, hence the need for a high-quality, five-star bum-cradle.  However, everything else in the review is still on the level.)

In the end, I decided that even though I was still offended by the rejection, and while my review was mostly accurate, Amazon had managed to intuit a general aroma of bull-feces in its tone and that was probably enough to warrant a rejection.  I’ll have to make do with just posting my review here.

The Talkin’ Bruised Coccyx Blues

With as much chair time as I have to spend editing audio books, often on the uncomfortable wooden chairs of our dining room table, I recently ordered a memory foam chair cushion in an effort to save my butt some pain. I went to Amazon, searched by average customer review, picked out a cushion that had several hundred five star reviews, and ordered it. It arrived yesterday and made sitting at the table a far more comfortable experience. The cushion also came with a warranty card with a QR code. When you scan the code, it takes you to the company website where it lets you input your Amazon order number and contact info, ostensibly to establish the warranty on your butt pillow. It then offers a free $10 Amazon gift card, seemingly just `cause. And, of course, when you click that button, it gives you a review field and a number of stars you may select in order to give the product a rating. I knew the drill. And while it offends my journalistic integrity to shill for any corporation, I actually would have given the butt five stars for free. I decided that for $10 I could hold my nose and write the review anyway as long as I also made the whole thing an exercise in parodying an Amazon review not to mention seeing how many times I could fit the word “coccyx” into 550 other words.

Waoaw that’s a good cushion!

My coccyx has been painin’ me for the last few years. It all stems from the time I fell right on my coccyx and subsequently bruised it while tumbling down an escalator in Penn Station, NYC. (That’s the big apple, to you and me!) Since then, I can’t sit in a chair for more than 7 or 8 hours before my coccyx really starts singing! Especially when I sit in these stinking hard wooden chairs we’ve got all around our dining room table. I think they’re made of some kind of sorebutt wood, or something—pardon my French. My family can tell you that after sitting on one of those for even an hour, I usually have to scream “OW, MY COCCYX!” upon rising to my feet. It feels like someone just hauled off and kicked you squar in the dumper and can be quite uncomfortable. My coccyx needed help! I went online to the Amazon to see if I could find me a good coccyx pillow. And lo and behold what should I see there but the “WAOAW Seat Cushion for Office Chair, Chair Cushion of Memory Foam for Car Seat Cushion.” First of all, I love the company name, because it reminds me of home just to say it. See I’m from Mississippi and “Waoaw” is how every person from Mississippi pronounce the word “wow.” (Seriously. No funning! We can slip extra syllables into any given word. Well, except for Mississippi, which we just call “Misipy.” I dunno why. That’s just the rule we made. And you should hear how many syllables we add to coccyx!) I liked all the five-star reviews for the WAOAW Seat Cushion for Office Chair, Chair Cushion of Memory Foam for Car Seat Cushion. There were so many of them! Which made me feel like a lot of people have clearly tried this cushion and loved it! Why else would so many people leave so many five-star reviews?! A few of them even said it was good for their coccyx pain, too! I decided to order one and give it a whirl. Let me just tell you, this cushion has been a lifesaver for my coccyx! It’s real soft with a velvety cover on it that’s nice to the touch and a polkadotted grippy bottom side that really holds onto a slick wooden chair seat, I can attest. And it’s got a handle on one end for easy carry—but it’s not too heavy if you just want to carry it normal. When I sat on it for the first time I said “waoaw!” as my hinder sank into its memory foam layers, cradling my coccyx in comfort. Talk about your super plush butt pillow! It even has a little notch in the back part of it, right where my coccyx can rest without getting yarded on by the cushion itself. My family can tell you that I haven’t screamed “OW, MY COCCYX!” even once since I started using the WAOAW Seat Cushion for Office Chair, Chair Cushion of Memory Foam for Car Seat Cushion. If you have problems with your coccyx and if you have hardbutt wood chairs around your dining table too, I recommend picking up the WAOAW Seat Cushion for Office Chair, Chair Cushion of Memory Foam for Car Seat Cushion. Your coccyx will thank you!

Naturally, after I got this pasted into the WAOAW review field, it forwarded me on to Amazon for me to leave it there as well. Only the link was not only broken but the butt pillow in question was entirely missing from Amazon. There’s not a WAOAW-branded item to be found on the site. Which probably means Amazon got wise to their payola review system and banned them. Alas, my review may only live here and, perhaps, on the WAOAW website somewhere.

Oh, and the answer is 14 coccyges used.

Witness him

The Imortan is dead. Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played Imortan Joe in Mad Max: Fury Road, and Toecutter in the original Mad Max, has passed at 73.

I was just watching the final 40 minutes of Fury Road last night (cause, as a rule, if I happen upon that film on cable, no matter where it is in the story, I stop down to watch the rest; and, when I’m finished, if I happen to see it on another of the movie channels starting at exactly the place I came in before, I turn over and watch it all again). Such a well-crafted, perfect film that drops you into a pre-built world with characters who were living lives before you got there (well, some of them) and will keep on living them after you depart (fewer still of them, I’m afraid). And you get the immense pleasure of getting to spend a couple hours watching what they do and the amazing machinery they get to drive across a fascinating and desolate hellscape.

Hugh Keays-Byrne as Imortan Joe was a truly great villain. His backstory and motivations, like that of most of the other characters, we are largely left to guess at based on the clues we’re given. But the clues are there if you’re paying attention.

I truly don’t think you need to have seen any previous Mad Max films to enjoy Fury Road. It gives you everything you need, which is kind of the case for each of the Mad Max films. They don’t carry a lot of baggage. If you have not seen it, I demand you stop down and do so. Easily the film I’ve enjoyed the most of the last decade.

Publication Alert… In the Midst: A COVID-19 Anthology

In The Midst: A COVID-19 AnthologyA theatrical monologue of mine has been published in a new anthology entitled In the Midst: A COVID-19 Anthology, by Inspiration for Writers, Inc. As you might gather from the title, this anthology was inspired by the chaos and shared experiences caused by the global pandemic we’re all trying to get through. Over 30 writers and artists from around the world have contributed to this anthology in the form of essays, poems, fiction, monologues, photographs, and art.

My contribution, “Fish Bowl,” is a monologue originally commissioned by Jason Young of Clarksburg’s Vintage Theatre Company, who was looking for pieces that would showcase how the pandemic was affecting the mountain state. However, at the time I was in Mississippi, helping take care of my parents as my father recovered from spinal surgery. So, instead, I wrote a monologue that is one side of a telephone conversation inspired by the many such conversations I had with my dad through the window of his room during the weeks he was doing in-patient physical therapy during that facility’s lockdown. And while much of this conversation is fictional, the monologue also accurately depicts the way I came to learn that there had been an outbreak of Covid-19 in his facility.

Big thanks go to Sean Marko, an actor from Clarksburg, who recorded multiple versions of “Fish Bowl” which assisted with the workshopping and refining process. Without being able to hear the words said aloud, it is sometimes difficult to know how to make a piece designed to be spoken better, and he was integral to the part.

In addition, a photo I took during one of these chats through Dad’s window has been included on the cover of the anthology as well.

Check out In the Midst: A COVID-19 Anthology available at Amazon.

From the “Monolithic Corporations Behaving Badly” desk…

Artist credit: Michael "Pooch" PucciarelliMy dad saw the 20th Century Fox film Alien during its original theatrical release. He found it so fascinating and unsettling that he decided to tell me the entire movie in an expanded beat by beat synopsis, during a long car trip. When he finished, I said, “Tell it again, Daddy,” because I too was fascinated and unsettled by it, but wanted to “see” it again, if only in my head. So he told it all again.

I loved the story of Alien, but had no desire to actually see the film. You see, this very same father had then recently taken me to see the late`70s theatrical re-release of Jaws, and it had been enough to permanently warp my fragile little six-year-old mind. I knew for certain then that movies could be scary and sleepless nights invariably followed. For days. No, it was far safer to have your dad tell you the story without things jumping out at you.

I avoided horror movies for years, to the point of turning off TV commercials for films I knew would be terrifying. (The Shining being a chief example. The TV spots told you NOTHING about the plot, but the stark, icy imagery and sinister announcer voiceover was enough to tell me I wanted none of that. I still haven’t seen it to this day, which is truly a crime of laziness at this point.) In the mid 80s, I began to take a distant interest in horror. I was an avid reader of Starlog Magazine, so I read a lot about scifi-based horror movies. Ghostbusters and Gremlins, tame as they are, let me know I was capable of surviving the occasional scare. And then, in 1986, Aliens was released and I felt a burning need to see it. The idea of Ripley returning to fight not only a similar alien, but multiple aliens, was delicious. However, I was still too much of a wuss to actually buy a ticket. Instead, I hatched a different, safer plan. I bought the movie novelization by Alan Dean Foster.

In the `80s, movie novelizations were ubiquitous. If you released a movie, it got a novelization. I’d read several, having been trained to reading adaptations by Target Books Doctor Who novelizations. Alan Dean Foster was a particularly prolific writer of novelizations (as well as his own original sci-fi novels). If it was sci-fi and wasn’t adapted by Peter David, chances were pretty good it was by Alan Dean Foster. I not only bought his Aliens book, but purchased Alien as well to read first, just to refresh myself on the story I’d only been told before. I found the Alien novelization every bit as fascinating as my dad’s telling, but it was also a bit different because it contained scenes that did not appear in dad’s because they weren’t included in the theatrical release. (They were filmed and appear in the directors cut release of Alien, but aren’t necessary unless you’re just curious to see them.) After reading Alien, I felt safe enough to rent Alien on VHS. And because I knew where the scares were coming, I was able to just sit back and enjoy the story from almost a clinical standpoint. It quickly taught me how to hack the horror movie viewing experience–how to see the movie’s creators pulling the strings, through music swells or sudden silences, to bring about the scares and effectively tell the story. I then devoured the novelization of Aliens, and found it as good as the first movie if not even better. And when Aliens was at last available for home video rental, I snatched it up and loved it. No sleepless nights necessary.

Aliens was my gateway drug to horror. After seeing it, I was all about a horror movie. I poured through neo classics like the Friday the 13th series, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and–still my favorite–The Thing. I then went back and began watching older fare such as Phantasm, which is just a masterpiece of weird. Thanks, Alan Dean Foster! I owe you a debt I hope now to help repay.

As you may have heard, in 2012 @disney bought 20th Century Fox and their entire catalog. As such, they also bought the rights to the publishing of the novelizations of the Fox movies, including all of Foster’s Alien books as well as his Star Wars novels and novelizations. These books are still in print and make money for the corporation. However, according to Alan Dean Foster himself, as soon as Disney were the owners they ceased paying him the royalties on those books that he is contractually owed. According to him, they have since been ignoring most inquiries concerning this from him, his representatives, and his writers guild. What little communication has been had was for Disney to demand he sign a nondisclosure agreement, meaning regardless of the outcome of any negotiations, he would not be allowed to speak of it publicly. This is a standard practice following negotiations, but prior to is not normal. Having exhausted other avenues, Foster has decided to speak out about the matter. It is very likely that he is far from the only author being affected by this behavior on Disney’s part.

In the interest of fairness, I have tried to find Disney’s side of all this online, but Mickey’s lips appear to be sealed.

If you like Foster’s work, or just don’t care for monolithic corporations behaving badly, I invite you to join me in letting them know about it. Check out the story I first learned of this at the link below. There are multiple others on other platforms now.


#AlanDeanFoster #DisneyMustPay

“Anninversaries” the 20th and the search for presents

Twenty years ago today, some kids got hitched.

(There’s some controversy there, though, cause my bride was actually wearing the preacher’s wedding ring when she said her vows, as hers fell out of his bible and onto the floor, seconds into the ceremony, and he just switched out his own for it to save a big awkward mid-wedding ring search. In a groom-daze, I failed to notice any of it, though, until he handed me his yellow gold ring in place of her white gold band, and all I could think was “That damn jewler! He sold me a painted ring!” It took some complex facial expressions on Ashley’s part to communicate what had happened and I finally realized it was the preacher’s ring. However, technically, I think this also might mean I’m married to him.)

Those kids then said their vows in what felt like a blur, smooched, and walked the aisle. They took their pictures, went to the reception where they hoped to party down on some fantastic wedding grub. Except every time they tried to get even one bite of their very own wedding food, plates were snatched out of their hands and they were shuffled away for cake-cutting and gift-opening and champagne-toasting and garter-tossing and bouquet-chucking. And with each plate-snatching, they were promised that copious amounts of wedding food had been packed for them to take on the honeymoon, so don’t sweat not getting to eat any of it now.

And they stepped out of the reception hall and into the February sun as man and wife. And their friends and family pelted them with bird seed, which ran down in their underwear and made the wedding night a little complicated.

And they piled into an automobile that any right-thinking mechanic would have warned them against traveling to Walmart in, let alone Gatlinburg, but they got there all the same and with most of the trailing cans intact.

And only there, in their cozy honeymoon cabin, the Smoky Mountains smoking outside and their bellies rumbling inside, did they discover that the copious amounts of wedding food that had been promised had been packed into the wrong vehicle.

At least they had the birdseed.

I’ve had 20 amazing years with this beautiful, crazy, mean-as-a-snake lady. I believe I’ll take 20 more.

I love you, Ashley Marie Holloway Fritzius.

We don’t normally buy each other anniversary presents, but 20 years is 20 years. A few weeks before our anniversary date, however, I began thinking what would make a good present for my bride. On major anniversaries in the past, we’ve taken return trips to Gatlinburg. For our 10th anniversary, we returned to our original honeymoon cabin. However, in the intervening decade, what had once been a quaint and remote little a-frame cabin waaaay up in the hills had now become just a house in a fairly crowded neighborhood of dozens of such houses. Walking naked to the back deck hottub during daylight hours was no longer an option. So on our 15th anniversary, we stayed in an entirely different mountain cabin in Pigeon Forge–which was also basically in a neighborhood, but had a better view. This year, though, we don’t have a lot of spare time for even a weekend trip, so I opted for something more material as a present.

In thinking about successful presents I’ve given in the past, the one that came to mind was a graduation present I gave the wife of a painting by local water colorist Jeanne Brenneman. I’d snuck the painting in and hung it on the wall in place of another one, waiting for Ashley to notice it. On the off chance I could create magic a second time, I went to Jeanne Brenneman’s website to peruse what she had for sale. And there I found the perfect painting, a watercolor of northern lights called Cosmic Chaos. Being from Alaska, the northern lights hold a very special place in my wife’s heart. She’s seen them with her own eyes and it’s one of the things she misses dearly about Alaska–one of the things only true Alaskans, who stay the winter-long, get to see on a regular basis. Seemed a good fit.

I wrote Jeanne Brenneman, explained that I was interested in her painting, and asked if it was still available and, if so, nearby–some of her work is on display in galleries far and wide, so it would be my bad luck if it was out-of-town on an extended tour. As it happened, the painting in question was hanging on her studio wall because it was one of her all time favorites too. We set up a time for me to come pick it up, on a day during which the wife was still out-of-town herself seeing her newly born grand niece in Kentucky.

Instead of waiting til our actual anniversary date to give it to her, I decided to do it on the day she returned–since our actual anniversary was packed with other obligations. I decided to hang it in a conspicuous place and wait for her to see it. And I picked the most conspicuous bit of real-estate our walls had to offer–directly beside the front door. It’s a spot we’ve never hung anything in the past, but was a nice chunk of space to accommodate a none-too-small painting.

The wife came home, opening the front door to enter the house, the door itself blocking her view of the painting. Once closed, though, the painting was very obvious–it’s purples and reds standing out against our tan wall. She didn’t see it.

I kept my phone ready to take video, but all I got were four shots of her walking directly past the painting on her way out the door to bring stuff in from her car. After nearly an hour, I finally decided to take the painting down for a bit. Partly this was because she asked me to go to Walmart to get macaroni for dinner, and I didn’t want her seeing it while I was gone, and partly because my in-laws were out for the afternoon and I knew they would want to see her reaction, too.

Later, once everyone was home, I put it back up when she was in the shower and we all began to wait.

Nope. She walked by it several more times, oblivious.

After an hour, my mother-in-law decided to try and speed things up by standing in proximity to the painting hoping Ashley would notice. She noticed Ma acting squirrely, and commented on that, but didn’t see the painting. I began to wonder if she’d already seen it and was just toying with all of us.

Cosmic Choas by Jeanne BrennemanAbout the time I’d set my phone down and given up on capturing the moment, she finally noticed it. Only I didn’t get to see her see it. I only looked up when Ma was smacking the back of the sofa near my head to get me to pay attention. I turned to see Ashley standing directly in front of the picture staring into it with a look of awe on her face. She stood there in silence for over a minute, beaming.

“How does she do it?” she finally asked.

“I know,” I said. “I thought it looked great online, but it’s so much more impressive in person.”

“I love it,” she said.

“Happy anniversary,” I said.

Thanks again, Jeanne. It was just what I’d hoped it would be.

A couple days later was our actual anniversary date. I had a card for the wife and she had a card for me. They both had the exact same envelope and a near identical lump where a ribbon was incorporated into the exterior of the card therein. We burst out laughing, thinking we had–as we have in the past–purchased the exact same card for each other. But, no, just cards by the same company. She had also brought me an anniversary bouquet of Reese’s peanut butter heart flowers (Reese hearts taped to straws) which were poking out of holes punched into the top of a box of Lucky Charms. I was overjoyed. I would show you a picture, but I was forbidden to take one since the bouquet’s appearance didn’t quite match her mental image of what she’d been aiming for. (I took one anyway, but it somehow disappeared from my camera by morning. You might think Ashley deleted it, but it’s gone from Google Photos automatic upload backup, which she wouldn’t know how to access, so I think it genuinely disappeared on its own.)

RIP Sadie Mac Dog

Sadie Mac DogSadie Mac Dog took her final nap this morning. She was grumpy, too clever for her own good, prone to roll in deer poop at every opportunity, and was the bane of UPS drivers county-wide, but she was still one of the finest dogs I’ve had the pleasure to know. I’m heart broken, but am glad she is no longer in pain.

Some of my fellow Christians argue that pets do not go to heaven. I’m sure they have their reasons, but I argue that even making such a statement is in danger of placing limitations on God that I do not believe exist. Perhaps pets don’t make it to the afterlife. However, if God should want us to be reunited with our loved ones who have gone on before us, surely these joyous creatures he supplied to help make our miserable lives less miserable might also join us in the great beyond. He made them to begin with. He is the author of reality. He can do what he wants. And I hope that Sadie and I will wander the trails together again some day.

Sightings & Appearances

A video of my recent appearance on Cat Pleska’s WV Author program. I had a great time, despite my own mouth flubbings.

Here’s a fun drinking game you can play: when the author confuses the name of a famous deceased southern humorist for a famous living fantasy novelist, take a drink. And when the author’s cell phone blares out a Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy text notification minutes after he name drops Douglas Adams (and despite him thinking he’d turned it off before the taping began), go ahead and chug the whole drink.

Big thanks to Cat Pleska for the chance to chat.

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