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Whew!

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.

NOW AVAILABLE: To the Bones

My latest audiobook narration, To the Bones by Valerie Nieman, is now available in a variety of audiobook markets. To the Bones is a supernatural horror thriller set in a town where the river flows orange and the founding—and controlling—family is rumored to “strip a man to the bones.” Darrick MacBrehon, a government auditor, wakes among the dead. Bloodied and disoriented from a gaping head wound, the man who staggers out of the mine crack in Redbird, West Virginia, is much more powerful—and dangerous—than the one thrown in. Hard-as-nails Lourana Taylor works as a sweepstakes operator and spends her time searching for any clues that might lead to her missing daughter. Could this stranger’s tale of a pit of bones be connected? Along the way, the bonds of love and friendship are tested, and bodies pile up on both sides.

Hear a SAMPLE

Available at Audiobooks.com, Kobo, Nook Audiobooks, Downpour Audiobooks

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: 

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, 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.

Actual Conversations Heard in Actual Doctor’s Offices #83

NURSE—And has anything changed in your medications?

ME—No, I don’t think so. My doctor had me on an antibiotic recently, but other than that I don’t think anything has changed.

(The nurse goes down a list of my medications and supplements until she reaches…)

NURSE— And are you still taking the… Ninjacof?

ME—Um, Ninja Cough? That doesn’t ring any bells.

NURSE— Ninjacov… ninja cough… I guess that’s how this is pronounced.

ME—Well, if I was taking anything else, I would certainly hope it had “ninja” in the title, but that’s not one I’ve ever taken.

(Made her laugh. She then looked up Ninjacof, which turns out to be a cough and sneeze suppressant. I’ve indeed never taken it nor heard of it. Neither of us knew how it managed to get into my record. Must be ninjas.)

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.

Actual Breakfast Table Conversations Heard at My House #117

(Setting: the breakfast table at my house as we’re polishing off the beautiful French toast my moms-in-law made for us. Having finished hers, the wife takes out her current knitting project–a fancy scarf knitted on the bias–to start a new row.)

THE WIFE– (to her mom) I think I figured out why I keep getting extra stitches in this…

ME– (interrupting) Have you been snitching?

THE WIFE– What?

ME– Have you been snitching? (beat) Cause snitches get stitches?

(Long pause)

THE WIFE– You are a dork.

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.

https://bleedingcool.com/comics/demands-disney-pay-alan-dean-foster-increase/

#AlanDeanFoster #DisneyMustPay

The Archer’s Cup, now available

My audiobook narration of The Archer’s Cup, the third book in S.D. Smith’s Green Ember Archer series, is now on sale through Amazon and Audible.

I had a great deal of fun recording this, because, as always, Smith’s characters are just so enjoyable and challenging to voice. In fact, I’d say two of my favorite character lines to have ever recorded are found within this book. (And if, after listening to it, you can tell me what either of those two lines are, you’ll win a prize.)

Being the third in the series, you should first listen to The Last Archer and The First Fowler. But to really know all the characters as well as their situation, you should, of course, hear Joel Clarkson’s narrations of Smith’s entire Green Ember series. The Green Ember Archer side-stories fall within and impact the framework of the larger Green Ember story.

I hope the series continues into further books, if only so that I get to bring back Matron Wilder, who is one of my favorite of Smith’s villains.

In this sequel to The Last Archer and The First Fowler, Jo Shanks is charged with aiding Emma on her mission to unite the secret citadels in their fight against the Preylord slavers. Alongside Cole and Heyna Blackstar, Jo and Emma must enter into the heart of a community in confusion.

Something is wrong at Blackstone Citadel. Can Jo and his friends solve the mystery and enlist Blackstone’s aid in time to rendezvous with their allies fighting for the Mended Wood?

A citadel on the edge.

An insidious mystery to unravel.

Who will target the terror?

Actual Semi-Paraphrased Telephone Conversations Heard at My House on Saturday #386

*RING*

ME Hello?

AVA’S FLOWERS—Hi, I’m calling for Eric Frizzzoo?

ME—This is him.

AVA’S FLOWERS—Yes, I’m calling from Ava’s Flowers. We got your message requesting a refund and wanted to call and talk to you about this?

ME— Yes.

AVA’S FLOWERS— I understand there was a delay in the delivery of your flowers. Would it be all right if we made the delivery of the flowers tomorrow?

ME— No, it would not be. You see, the flowers were for my wife’s birthday, which was yesterday. And because the flowers were not delivered yesterday, I had to make other arrangements and buy flowers elsewhere. So, no, we have no use for flowers delivered tomorrow.

AVA’S FLOWERS— I see. Well, again, we are very sorry for the late delivery of the flowers. But are you really certain that you would not want us to go ahead and deliver them tomorrow?

(LONG PAUSE)

ME—Yes. I am really REALLY certain.

AVA’S FLOWERS— Very good, sir. If you would just stay on the line for a few moments, I will be right back.

(Five minutes pass before she returns to cheerfully tell me that I will be issued a full refund. Let this be a lesson to you all: Just because a florist is listed first in a Google search of “Rainelle WV Florist” does not mean they are A) actually located in Rainelle; and B) worth a flying fleur. Ava’s, it seems, is some kind of fly-by-night internet outfit that allegedly coordinates florists nationwide to provide local delivery. But their site masquerades as a local florist that has allegedly been in business for 30 years. However, if you Google search “Ava’s Flowers complaints” you will see that actually getting flowers delivered to their customers on time is not really Ava’s bag. You will also be directed to the Better Business Bureau for many many more complaints concerning Ava’s Flowers. Next time, just do what I wound up having to do and go get a lovely arrangement from Kroger.)

Actual Telephone Conversations with Actual Insurance Companies Heard at My House #604

SETTING: My house as I speak to a USAA rep regarding my vehicle, which struck a deer 30 miles from home during my return trip from Mississippi.

INSURANCE REP— … and I understand the damage to the vehicle is along the left front corner, and along both door panels?

ME– Yes.

INSURANCE REP– And I understand the driver’s side door no longer opens?

ME– Yes. I had to climb out through the passenger door. But it still drives fine.

INSURANCE REP– Well, sir, we actually consider the car to be undriveable at this point. If you were to drive it and something were to happen to the passenger door, and it was not able to open either, how would you be able to get out of the vehicle?

ME– Dukes of Hazzard style!

(Pause)

INSURANCE REP– Heh.

(I was just glad she got the reference.)

“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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