I Love to Fly

24 09 2010

San Antonio Sky

Yes, I love to fly. As I headed for the airport in San Antonio this morning at 3:30 am, I began to hear  B.W. Stevenson’s “Texas Morning” playing in my head.  

The San Antonio weather has been wild with the remnants of a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico blowing in and wreaking havoc. On my way in to Saint Anthony’s town, we sat on the runway in Dallas until 55 mile per hour winds died down and then circled SAT for a while for the same reason. When the winds reach a particular speed one is not allowed to land. I talked to a couple of good old boys who had already been to San Antone once then were sent back to wait at DFW.  

 I recall, some years ago, I was at DFW. A storm came rolling in and a plane was landing when a monstrous downdraft sucked it all the way down too soon. There’s a freeway just north of DFW Airport and some poor fellow had just moved to Dallas and gotten himself a job. As I remember, it was his first day, or maybe his first week and he was on the freeway that morning and the landing gear of the airliner brushed the top of his car and crushed it and him.  

 And then the plane hit too soon, missing the runway, and too hard and I looked out an airport window that early morning and the air was filled with fire and smoke. So I have no problem with taking our time to land.  

 I walked out of the San Antonio airport two days ago, and the sky was harsh brushstrokes of gray and black and wind whipped in all directions at once. It smelled like storm and I was reminded of growing up in Texas and just how fierce the weather could get.  

 It only dribbled on me as I drove to my hotel and when I went down to the Riverwalk for dinner it just rained hard enough to wet my glasses so I couldn’t see.  

 That night storms boiled and thundered all around and the rain pounded the window of my hotel room. I was content as Mother Texas rocked me in her roaring  bosom.  

 The next day was merely cloudy and so humid it felt like you could reach up and peel the weather off of your face and now my glasses fogged up. I didn’t really see much of San Antonio on this trip, but I experienced it.  

 It is before dawn, as I walk toward the terminal, the bus driver, a very nice and dedicated Hispanic gent, regales me with his exploits. For 22 years he has driven a terminal bus and never even been late for work once. In the dead quiet of a hot and humid San Antonio 4am I notice the insects—moths bang against the terminal window and crickets hop around me.  

 “Right in the middle of a ten cent scenery
Shuffled and stacked on a postcard rack
There’s a cute little kid on a Shetland pony
Smiles at me, I can’t smile back.  

Cactus Jack drinks coffee black
Tells me it’s my lucky day
Five o’clock in the Texas morning
I come a long, long way.”  

Will Stockdale & Ben Whitledge from "No Time for Sergeants"

 “…crackle, crackle…” The airplane shudders in the air currents. Will Stockdale spits into the back of the radio, “Hello…hello?” I look out the window and the wing lights flash through the pre-dawn cloud cover. “Sparks, what’s going on, can you reach the tower?”  

I remember this scene. Now we will break through the clouds and see below us gigantic ferns and a diplodocus or two. “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”  

 I shake my head to clear the morning cobwebs. How did I get on a plane to DFW? Wasn’t I just returning from there? Someone hit the fast forward and DFW is my connection again, this time on the way to BWI, Baltimore-Washington International. 

"Odyssey of Flight 33"

 Have I said that I love to fly? Ho, ho, strike up the band Willie, I’m on the road again. Behind me a tank-top-clad mother with color tattoos spilling out of her shirt all around her neck and down her shoulders, is cursing her children in a stage whisper. The little darlings are kicking the back of my seat.

Across the aisle, an elderly man—meaning older than me—is reading a magazine, well reading isn’t quite right, it is filled with photos of scantily-clad young women. But at least he isn’t drooling.  

 The woman to my right, in the center seat, is reading a magazine filled with photos of scantily-clad young women, but what clothing these are wearing I would classify as “fashionable.”  

 “Yip, yip,” at first I thought the flight attendant had the hiccups, but now I realize there is a dog somewheres about. From the lack of profundity in its bark I infer a very small dog, perhaps a chihuahua.  

 Sometimes I play a game and try and guess what people’s faces look like. I spend a great deal of time staring at the backs of people’s heads. I am almost always wrong.  

 The sun is on the horizon or we have risen up to meet it. I will see good friends, commercial friends, amigos de la calle in the suburbs of Baltimore, and other friends, mi casa et su casa friends and I come bearing tea and books including our new Pathfinder Advanced Player’s Guide and my godchild: Jason C.S. Chen’s A Tea Lover’s Travel Diary. Both available at Amazon and other find book retailers.  

 My GPS is primed to get me from BWI to Timonium and other nearby destinations.  

I believe the Blues Brothers said something to the effect: “We’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, we’re wearing sunglasses and it’s dark outside. Let’s hit it!”  

 Did I mention that I love to fly?


The Power of Words

29 08 2010

Illuminated KJV Initials

Last night it was time to read an ARC for book review purposes. I opened it and began. The first letter of the first word of the first sentence of chapter one was illuminated. The word was unknown to me. Add the illumination and I was completely at a loss. Fortunately I know the fine editor of this fine book and so asked him to elucidate. He admitted that he was a bit worried about this himself and might change it in the final version.

 This thought led me astray and it was some time before I was back reading. [ Strange interlude-once I made it past the first letter the illuminated initial, I was thoroughly caught up in the novel and read into the wee hours] “So,” thinks I, methinks. We editorial types spend an inordinate amount of time worrying over a single word in a book full of words. Or do we? Then I muses on the nature of a book, I does. And I came to a conclusion that is pretty damned obvious unless you are not thinking about it.

 Every word in a book is of equal importance. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it is effing true. If any word is unnecessary, then what in the hell is it doing in the book? So all those “the’s” and “and’s” and “but’s” and “I’s” mean something. And it is right and correct then, that editors fret over each and every word. I still shiver with this thought. It is as if a physicist were worrying over the existence and placement of every atom…or quark.

Aum in Tibetan Script

 Middle-of-the-night thought processes are often non-linear. So ma’ wee tiny brain does a lurch and turns right at the nearest black hole and I winds up in India, or, for my purposes, in Tibet with Aum. I was taught by a teacher in the Tibetan tradition, that “Aum” is the presence of all sounds. Every sound in the universe, or universes, is and are all expressed at the same time by pronouncing “Aum.”

 I first learned about the power of Aum through other sounds. I was studying with this same teacher, learning a most wonderful internal martial art called Tibetan Blue Heron 藍鷥拳. Lord of mercy but this is one fine fighting system. It is similar in some respects to the better-known Crane style, but there are differences. It was brought to China by a wandering Tibetan monk, Lama, Zurdwang (1530 -1620) from Quamdo, Tibet. Sometimes it feels, in the bones, like Taijiquan. One major aspect is striking at acupuncture points. It is a subtle art among subtle arts. 

American Great Blue Heron

In our warm-ups, we learned a particular meditation practice. I call it Heng-Hung. We would practice controlling our breathing and focus on our centers. As we intoned “Heng” we would mentally move our centers up into the thorax, and then on a lower note, “Hung” or maybe “Hoong” and move the center down to the dandian. We were learning to move our centers at will. Ai-ya, what a fine practice.

 And there was power in those words. Night after night we meditated and intoned the words and we gained greater control of our centers.

 At this same time I was pushed kicking and screaming and dragging my heels into a meditation class. I didn’t want to learn how to meditate. I wanted to learn how to fight. Ha, to quote my Centering teacher, who gestured with his hand indicating the large wushu practice room and 40 odd students clad in black hifus and cotton shoes, “This is all bullshit! Unless you learn meditation and centering, you will have nothing!”

 So, I learned to meditate. And we were taught a mantra. It was a mantra of prosperity and we chanted it to bring good fortune to our school. It began and ended with Aum. Now at the same time I was studying acupuncture—how can you strike your opponent’s acupuncture points if you don’t know where they are? And I learned Centering, physical and mental, and Chinese Yoga (which included the feat of using each and every muscle separately), and the manipulation of Subtle Energy. Holy Moley but I learned a lot in just a couple of years.

 So we sang Aum, and with the Heng-Hoong training we found that we could move the Aum around inside the body. Change the shape of the mouth and the pitch of the sound and use your mind and Aum moved up inside the skull and then down into the thorax and the abdomen and the vibrations could be varied and watch your breathing now, and, and it was marvelous. We learned to know and control our own bodies. How many people can say that?

 To this day I am a little cautious when it comes to saying Aum in public. The word is a word of power even if only inside my own body, and with the cavity resonance it can be loud or soft or penetrating or caressingly smooth. It is my favorite word in a career involving many, many words.

Gutenberg Bible A book, and an example of illumination

 Perhaps then, a book, with all of its words, to turn things around, perhaps a book is a fraction of Aum and in its totality and in each and every word, it is a thing of power.

Shifu John Painter demonstrates Tibetan Blue Heron techniques

Ain’t Nobody in Here But Us…

11 08 2010
 Birds (class Aves) are winged, bipedal, endothermic (warm-blooded), egg-laying, vertebrate animals. There are around 10,000 living species, making them the most varied of tetrapod vertebrates. They inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birds range in size from the 5 cm (2 in) Bee Hummingbird to the 2.75 m (9 ft) Ostrich. The fossil record indicates that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs during the Jurassic period, around 150–200 Ma (million years ago), and the earliest known bird is the Late Jurassic Archaeopteryx, c 150–145 Ma. Most paleontologists regard birds as the only clade of dinosaurs to have survived the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event approximately 65.5 Ma. Wikipedia

Lake Sammamish

 I was idling on East Lake Sammamish Parkway two weeks ago, of a morning, with the beautiful lake on my left. My windows were down, my moon roof was open and just ahead of me some gigantic piece of earth moving equipment was growling and twisting and turning and pawing at the ground. Stop-sign-bearing worker bees in yellow plastic hats warned me to halt. Summer in Seattle is a time of never-ending road construction. The constant piddly-pitter-patter of winter rains wears at the roads and summer is the best time to fix everything. And so I was stopped.

 It was a nice cool northwest morning, and a Lois McMaster Bujold story was playing on my iPod. I enjoy, immensely, the dulcet tones of voice star Grover Gardner. No one can ever be Miles Vorkosigan but he.


I looked to my right, and on the sidewalk, a single industrious crow was worrying at some food. I looked closer and saw a spill of peanuts. The crow held a nut down with his foot and pecked, peck, peck, peck, until a chunk of goober pea broke away. Then it picked the piece up and lifting its bill, swallowed. Rinse and repeat.

 I love the way crows sometimes hop, two-footed, up onto the curb, down into the gutter, somewhat reminiscent of Chinese hopping vampires. This particular crow hopped about and eventually consumed two or three peanuts. Then above me…I looked up through the open moon roof, above me was a second crow, perched on the power lines. It cawed and the one on the sidewalk flew away. I do not speak crow and so have no idea what had just happened.

 Then crow secondo flew down and approached the peanuts. This guy was not so bright. First he tried to swallow an entire peanut in one gulp, choked, and coughed the nut back out onto the sidewalk. Nor was he a great learner. He went snatch, snatch, snatch, and gathered three peanuts into his bill and tried to fly away with them. But it was too many and they all fell out back to the sidewalk, where a third crow landed. I did not get to watch this one’s methods as traffic began to go forward, it was our time to creep past the earth machine, hoping it did not swallow us up or crush us.

Northwest Bald Eagle

 Just after clearing the construction area there was a flash in the air in front of me and a bald eagle swooped over the road with a fish in its talons and landed in a tree. Ha, ha, what a sight. I do love to watch bald eagles. [Strange interlude: There are two subspecies of bald eagles—I just learned this from Edward O. Wilson’s splendid autobiography Naturalist–Haliaeetus leucocephalus is the southern and nominate subspecies, the bird chosen as our national symbol—but I was looking at Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis which is the larger northern subspecies Thank you Doctor Wilson for taking time out from your ants to look upward.]

 And thus we arrive at the point of this story, taking the round-about way as when I travel the road to work, winding along beautiful Lake Sammamish, always turning a short story into a long one…I love birds. Of all the animals creeping, crawling, slithering, flying…of all these creatures, I most love birds. Birds are beautiful. They are delicate. They are powerful, and fierce, and strong, and glorious. And smart. They are tool users—and, and, tool makers.

 When I moved to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, one of the first things I did was put up two bird feeders in my backyard. I had begun watching birds whilst living in Texas and loved me some mockingbirds and cardinals and hated grackles with a passion. But I was not familiar with the birds of Wisconsin. Then one weekend afternoon I was sitting in my den. A blackish-white kind of bird fluttered down to the feeder suction-cupped to my window (the feeder, not the bird). This bird spread its wings to break its descent and I was treated to a glorious flash of red chest and inner wing. It was a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak. Wow, this cardinal’s cousin was a beauty. And, as with many birds, the male is the gaudy one—just showin’ off.

 I love to watch birds walk, with different species having a different number of forward and back facing toes, they can walk in several ways. And those side-facing eyes are a marvel as well. When you think a bird is looking straight at you, it is not. When it cocks its head, one eye toward you, then turns that head so that the other eye takes a gander as well, then that is when you have attracted the attention of said avian. 

Male Cockatiel

Birds are smart. They are tool users. They are affectionate. They are social. I had a second-hand cockatiel for a number of years and I loved him dearly. He is my second favorite…I refuse to use the term “pet,” the animals in my life were my friends and my companions…anyway, only my beloved cocker spaniel, Pretty Maggie Money-Eyes was ever any dearer to me. And Maggie was really my daughter, not my dog, and I was her boy. But I digress…Terry the cockatiel was a friend. It took a while for us to get to know one another.

 A co-worker kept saying “My damned bird won’t die!” Over and over I heard this until I said, “Okay, I’ll take him.” I did not even know what a cockatiel was. This one was well over ten years old and books said the average life span was five. What was I getting myself into? Was I adopting some geriatric sack of feathers? And I had a cat. What indeed was I doing? That first night I sat in the kitchen with Terry’s cage on the kitchen table. The door was open and he slowly emerged. I had bought some millet. I soon found out that millet was Terry’s catnip.


 My Grand Shifu had taught me how to handle birds when we did a photo shoot for Internal Arts magazine with a dove. Ha, Shifu had worked as a stage magician in his youth. You extend your index finger, bump up against the bird’s chest, and he walks straight forward and climbs aboard. The night Terry flew over to my shoulder, walked up to the back of my head and began grooming me was a great delight. Goose bumps sprung up.

 And losing Terry was a great sadness. I still dream about him, but he made it to 18, well beyond the average cockatiel lifespan. But I suspect this lifespan is so low because these parrots are cheap and owners have no respect and mistreat them.

Scarlet Macaw

 Of course, being the reader that I am, I devoured every book on cockatiels (there were not many) and subscribed to Bird Talk magazine and came to love the entire parrot species… psittacines, and loved to visit pet shops and interact with the parrots or simply watch them…and I got to know the keeper of the bird house at the Fort Worth zoo, and she would let me hold one of the scarlet macaws on a stick, they were stick trained so someone could not just stroll up, proffer an arm and walk off with one. 

African Grey Parrot

And I lusted after an African Grey parrot, but I was too broke, and they live so long…sigh, I read a story about a man who owned an Amazon. For thirty years the bird lived in a cage in the man’s den. Then the man died. When the house was sold and everything was being moved out, the movers picked up the bird cage and the Amazon began shouting “Help me, help me.”

 The last I read, African Greys are rated with an IQ similar to that of a five-year-old human, and the emotional level of a two-year-old.

 So, birds, I love them, and after living with one for so long I now look at them differently. And I enjoyed the hell out of watching the crows. Construction delays can be fun.

 Oh! And I almost forgot. Like it says at the beginning, they used to be dinosaurs. Effing DINOSAURS! Is that cool, or is it coolest? I actually had a dinosaur for a roommate. Glorioski.

 Hey, I also learned a new word. “Clade.” From Wikipedia: A clade is a group consisting of an organism and all its descendants. In the terms of biological systematics, a clade is a single “branch” on the “tree of life“. The idea that such a “natural group” of organisms should be grouped together and given a taxonomic name is central to biological classification. In cladistics (which takes its name from the term), clades are the only acceptable units.

David Quammen collected some of his science essays in a book entitled Natural Acts. A new edition is now available. Included is his essay “Has Success Spoiled the Crow,” on why crows get into so much trouble.


We Gotta Get Out of This Place…

28 07 2010

Out front

San Diego Comic Con 2010 is difficult to corral. Put 200,000 people in a small space: thrill, excite, poke eyes out with pencils, titillate, and exploit. What do you get? Fun. Mayhem. Lunacy. Yes, that is Comic Con.

 I arrived on Thursday morning prepped for a meeting with a chain bookstore buyer. I got out of the cab at the San Diego Convention Center [Strange Interlude Primo: San Diego wins, hands down, as the city with the most garrulous cab drivers—they all wanted to talk and liked to talk, and they talked—end of Strange Interlude] so I removed myself from the taxi and there were people everywhere. All over the place they were, and then some. And they were all moving. It looked like a god had discovered this gigantic ant hill full of Homo sapiens and stirred it up with a celestial stick. The humants had boiled over away from the convention center across a very wide main thoroughfare and into the streets and onto the sidewalks of downtown San Diego. I did not look to see if they were also swimming in the Pacific Ocean.


 Then Dame Fortune smiled upon me. I was fearfully close to a meeting time and the Facebook rumor mill had declared the lines interminably long, including the “Pro” line. And if the outside of the convention was any sign…the line wove back and forth like some enormous mythical snake or perhaps the Worm Oroboros, seeming to have neither a head nor a tail. But then I spotted the door for Pro’s and there was no line, and smiling folks ushered me along and I had my badge so fast my head was spinning. Glorioski!

 “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; or close the wall up with our Comic Con dead. In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility…” And I entered. As there were countless people outside, so the interior of the hive was filled with social mammals, all intensely active. It was hot. I suppose the climate control equipment had just been fired up, so it was very hot. And it smelled like feet.

A really good Batman and Catwoman

I was swimming uphill. Take one step forward two to the side, twist, duck the pike over that guy’s shoulder, small step, small step, slide. It had been many years since my last Comic Con and the differences, besides the enormity of the crowds, were 1. Professionalism, the exhibits and displays had a much more professional look, for the most part. The big boys, D.C., Marvel, Dark Horse, IDW, Hasbro, Mattel, Lego, Star Wars…ad infinitum and ad nauseum, the big boys dominated. Two and three stories some of the exhibits rose up unto heaven. 2. Noise, the roar of the crowd, the even louder roar of music and sound systems, the constant buzz of light sabers as Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker fought an endless battle on a giant screen, barkers sought to draw me into their own little reality, and the chicks, there were lots of young, scantily clad chicks handing out…things…I do not know what, I did not take any.

A super Joker and Two-Face

 And other chicks wanted me to lie down inside a suspended animation chamber from the Nostromo in Alien…hmmm, if the very air I breathe smells like feet, what does a suspended animation chamber that has just disgorged Monstro the Human smell like? No thank you.

 3. And there were costumes, cosplay is a term I am just learning. There were very professional looking costumes like a Batman and Catwoman I saw and a Joker with a female Two-Face. Turn and look, catch an eye, wiggle your camera, and the be-costumed posed. It was as if a large percentage of the attendees were trapped in a Warholian mobius strip experiencing their 15 minutes of fame over and over and over until the show shut down.

 At one point I wandered up onto the second floor balcony to avoid a lot of the crowd and a section was roped off so that a pair of beefy, homemade-armor-clad knights could clang and bang each other whilst a king with robe and crown adjudicated. This was of course the SCA, Society for Creative Anachronisms.
These noble warriors and I have crossed paths many times.

On the outside: San Diego is one swell city!

The weather in saint Diego’s city was cool, nice, just around 70. The sun shone bright on the ocean and sailboats abounded.

 [Strange Interlude Secondo: My hotel was far from the madding crowd. Howsomeever, one reason I chose it was because it was on the shuttle bus line. Several years ago I had made the horrible mistake of choosing an hotel not on a line. During BEA my boss and I trudged for miles lugging briefcases and suitcases though the early summer high humidity in an annoying drizzle in New York City, and my left shoulder still clicks because of that. So I was on the bus line. Hurrah. Well, that morning I had an early appointment and took a cab.

Go ask Alice...wait, wait, she's late, she's late for a very important date...

 In the evening I boarded the appropriate bus. There was just me and a guy from New Jersey. The bus driver, also loquacious, gabbed about being in law enforcement and he did this to earn poker money. The bus continued on and came to a final stop at a Hilton on some island. The Jersey guy de-bused. I sat. The driver turned and looked at me. “You get off here. This is the last stop.” Me: “That sign on your windshield says there are two more hotels, and mine is next.” Lawman: “I’m not going any farther, you have to get off here.” Me: “But…” Him, “Did I mention I was in law enforcement?” Me: “So I get off here, eh?” Him: “Yeah, there’s a taxi.” He pointed. I disembarked. End Strange Interlude the Last.]

This guy stayed at my hotel and he got on the bus like this.

 I had many good meetings with buyers from all the major book chains, and I saw artists including Tom Baxa, Mark Nelson, and Todd Lockwood, plus meeting Dave Seely, and there were writers, and publishers, and editors I have known and appreciated for many a year including a super conversation with Pyr Editorial Director Lou Anders and a swell dinner with D.C.’s Bob Wayne, writer Joe R. Lansdale, and Karen Lansdale. Ha, ha, it was an especial delight seeing Mary Franklin of Lucasfilm. I had not seen Mary in about seven years…oh how tempus does fugit!

 This was the place to be and to be seen. It was exhilarating and exhausting and gratifying. And I will be back next year. Oh, and I bought myself a bright red Green Lantern hoodie. Now I just have to wait for the Seattle weather to get back to normal so I can wear it.

More Comic Con photos: http://www.piercewatters.com/ComicCon2010.html 

The Littlest Storm Trooper


Way Out West Down South

22 07 2010

One of my favorite films is Laurel and Hardy’s Way Out West. When they rescue the girl Mary Roberts (Rosina Lawrence), Ollie pronounces it “May-ree” they learn that she is from the South, as is Oliver Hardy who is Georgia-born and Georgia-bred. “You’re from the South? Well shut my mouth,” says Ollie. Even Stanley declares his southern origins, “The south of London…” So here I am winging my way  down the coast from Seattle as straight as a crow could fly, and perhaps even straighter. I am bound for San Diego and Comic Con.

In the mid-1970’s I lived in Long Beach, California. It was a time of idylls in the Land of the Lotus Eaters. The economy was good and living was easy. I enjoyed living in my brother’s house with my niece, and later my nephew, and my mother. My brother was a fine host. It was one of the few times when our family dwelt in close proximity of one another. And there was Autumn the dog and Lillian the housekeeper. Idyllic indeed in the land of eternal spring.

And we were near San Diego, just up the freeway. When friends came to visit, mostly from Texas, we always planned one day for driving down to San Diego and visiting the zoo. The San Diego Zoo was one of the true marvels of the world in the 1970’s. The animals were housed in an approximation of their natural habitat instead of cold steel cages.

My favorite memory was visiting the zoo with my friends and roommates from  college days. Just inside the entrance, in a rounded clear enclosure, were several Komodo Dragons. Oh those dire beasts from the tropics, dread lizards with poisonous and infectious fangs. They were fearsomely magnificent.

As my chums and I entered the zoo, a stream of small children, grade school children from a nearby bus, flowed around us running and chattering as children do. And those dragons were enthralled. Here was food just the right size, and so much of it. They crouched and crept around the inner circle of their enclosure, eyes never leaving the wee ones. But, that was all they could do and the spigot was closed. The flow of children ceased, and the dragons drowsed.

On that same trip, returning to Long  Beach, there was a search for illegal aliens and traffic on the freeway was stopped. One of our group, Nick the Chicken who, was blessed or cursed with a Mediterranean complexion despite his English surname, was closely inspected by the border guards. Nick spoke with a definite Texas accent, and they let us go.

In later years a major magazine distributor was based in San Diego and I made periodic trips down to see them, and the subscription fulfillment house used by Wizards of the Coast and then Paizo was also in San Diego and I have spent many a day completely lost even though I was within feet, sometimes, of my destination. But this was before cellular telephones and GPS. For some reason Jimmy Durante Boulevard springs to mind.

This is my first Comic Con in about ten years and I have been told that things have drastically changed. I remember my last convention, I helped work the Wizards of the Coast Booth. We were right next to Del Rey, and I met editor Steve Saffel for the first time.

In the past I had been a sales rep for Ballantine and Del Rey and had enjoyed dancing and also sipping fine single malt scotch with two other Del Rey editors, Shelly and Veronica, that being at an upscale resort in Laguna Nigel at a sales conference. So I was happily reunited with those two. And I met the Del Rey Publisher, Tim Kochuba. Some time later, Tim visited Seattle and Wizards of the Coast and we had dinner. But I most remember sitting in the dark in the WotC parking lot in Tim’s rental car and listening to him talk about his beloved dogs. Tim had come to Del Rey from House of Collectibles and he was part of the lineage.

Over the years I have had the privilege of knowing Ian and Betty Ballantine, Judy-Lynn and Lester Del Rey, Owen Locke, Tim Kochuba, Kuo-Yu Liang, and Betsy Mitchell, every person who was responsible for the fine line of science fiction and fantasy from Ballantine Books. What a pleasure and an honor.

But that Comic Con where I met Tim was quiet, sedate, calm. Now, or so I have been led to believe, San Diego Comic Con has become four days of media madness. The focus has shifted away from comics to movies and TV and games and it is for certain the house is full. The place sells out months before the event. There is nary a table to be had nor a walk-in ticket.

As I write this I worry about making my first appointment on time today. Facebookers yesterday were lamenting the long lines to get badges. But, this is beyond my control. How many attendees are there? I have heard up to 140,000. I suspect that is high. But I have read online that estimates of the money it brings to San Diego run from $40 million dollars all the way up to $160 million.

And there are rumors that it will move. The Los Angeles Convention Center is vying for the business. I attended a BEA there several years ago and the venue was nice enough and downtown Los Angeles was enjoyable, even if it was not New York City. But the other possibility is the Anaheim Convention Center. I attended an ALA there and I do not want to go back. It is within a stone’s throw of Disneyland and I quickly had my fill of mouse ears and little girls with princess hats, tiaras? The only good thing about that venue was the onsite vending of Hurst Ranch grass fed beef hamburgers. That was very nice and a pleasant change from the Jacob Javitz Center six dollar hot dogs at BEA in New York.

I am an hour away from a different city by the bay and this has much potential. The buyers from most of the major chains are here and it affords me the opportunity of meeting with many buyers on one trip. And the Saturday attendees are our kind of people. Gamers, comic fans, film buffs, these are the folks who play roleplaying games and who read science fiction and fantasy.

I expect costumes galore and noise. With games and films and TV and one hundred gazillion people, there will be noise. Oh, and hype, and pretension, and money squandered. One company of whom I had not heard until they approached me at BEA, has rented a yacht and anchored it in the harbor just outside the convention center. Conspicuous consumption and display and arrogance and hubris will all be there.

But also awe and joy and memories for young folks. And Green Lantern, I bet Green Lantern will be there, and Thor, what about Thor?

So, Comic Con here I come, are you ready for me?

Next, in the belly of the beast.

Strange Things are Happening…

18 07 2010

For the past several months I have been pretty much content listening only to a mix I concocted and call 3 Cool Chicks 2010. It consists of 18 songs, 6 each by Abigail Washburn, Jolie Holland, and Hibari Misora.

“Washburn’s “Strange Things are Happening Every Day” a standard from the days of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, is my telephone ringtone.

Howsomever, I got to listening to Sister Rosetta today, and she is wonderful. So I thought I would share some music. Three versions of “Strange Things Are Happening Every Day.”

First the good sister, and what a collection of guitars she had! I have seen her described as Rockabilly Gospel. Sing it sister:

Next is Fern Jones. I have read that Fern and Sister Rosetta were both early influences on Johnny Cash. Fern, you’re up, darlin’:

And finally, the very different but powerful version from Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet, featuring Washburn’s husband, Bela Fleck.

“Some poor wish that they were dead,
Some are glad to be alive,
We have some who are killin’ each other,
Some are commitin’ suicide.”

Marvels of the 20th Century

2 05 2010

Looking backward, the 20th century was pretty remarkable in a lot of ways. Major wars, we found lots of new ways to kill people. Major medical discoveries, many diseases were mostly wiped out. Antibiotics saved many lives and also helped generate new and deadly dangers. Jonas Salk brought us the Polio Vaccine. Things remembered as a child that I hope will never occur again: classmates crippled by polio. I remember a little girl who lived up the street from my family in Houston who was in an iron lung. The neighborhood kids would kind of hang out sometimes, trying to look in through the front door and see the poor girl in the living room, at least we did until we were told that was very rude.

I remember watching an episode of The Loretta Young Show—strange interlude—whatever happened to that show? Why doesn’t it ever appear in reruns, somewhere? Ha, and Bob Hope describing Ms Young as “A chocolate-covered black widow spider. So there was this episode where Loretta’s…her husband, I think…was in an iron lung, and the power goes out during an electrical storm. And the hand crank on the lung doesn’t work and she is frantic trying to keep him alive until the power comes back on. That episode had a powerful effect on me, for me to still remember it 50 years later.

I remember the first round of polio vaccinations. It was at school and we were in some sort of tunnel, perhaps a tent had been erected out front. I was near the back of the line, having a terrible fear of injections. But that was worse because I had to watch all the vaccinated kids walk out crying or white-faced. Subsequent rounds were given on sugar cubes, but that first one was a shot.

So, back to a century of marvels, good and bad. What is my favorite invention from last century? Hmmm. Well, I certainly love this computer on which I am currently writing, and I spent half of the 1990’s building and installing CAD machines. I was in the first real television generation. The family used to laugh about me, the child: I asked my mother what she watched on television when she was a little girl.

Marvel that it is I have to put television on both sides of the line. It was a wonderful invention and certainly shaped my life and I would not be anything like what I am today without it. I guess The Twilight Zone pointed me toward science fiction. And I always wanted to be part of the Cleaver family where mothers vacuumed whilst wearing pearls, fathers had heart-to-heart chats with their children in the den, and the houses were two stories. But I didn’t want a goofy next door neighbor like Larry Mondello. Actually, all of Beaver’s friends were creepy.

But television is evil, too. It broke up families. I was still pretty young when I started begging to eat my dinner in front of the TV. And we got TV trays and the very first god-awful Swanson TV dinners in those tin trays—or were they aluminum?—and I watched television whilst I ate and my parents sat in the kitchen at the kitchen table, and conversed during dinner, which is what families should do.

I suppose I will have to condemn the computer then, too. I am fortunate in that I work for a company that makes table top roleplaying games where people actually sit down together to play. Computers engendered computer games and now folks sit and stare at a screen for hours. Sigh. I often think we are indeed moving toward Asimov’s world of R. Daneel Olivaw where humans only see one another in person in order to procreate. And shucks, we really don’t even need personal contact for that anymore. Oy, is robot sex on its way?

All right. So what other marvels came into being or grew to enormity in the 20th century? Automobiles. Sure they began in the 19th century, but in the 20th they dominated. We went from Henry Ford and his Model T, to the incredibly indulgent Hummer. The surface of our planet crawls with cars like cockroaches on a chocolate cake. We became mobile. You could get from here to there in nothing flat.

Perhaps nothing contributed more to the breakup of the extended family than the automobile. If you lived in Tennessee and heard about a good job in California…well just get in your flivver and roll on out. Or if you lived in Oklahoma and all the topsoil blew out into the Pacific Ocean, load up the family and move to Beverly…wait, I’m getting confused. Henry Fonda didn’t play Jed Clampett.

And how we love our automobiles. I have a friend who collects Ferrari’s. Collects. Whoa, and they went to China for a race and 250,000 people gathered at a track in Shanghai to watch folks drive in circles. And every year I go to the Books-a-Million show in Birmingham and it often coincides with Talladega and the hotel is awash in drunken folks who loves them some auto racing. Ha, one year two drunken women got into a fight in the lobby over who was going to steal the standee of Will Ferrell.

And then there is air pollution. I suppose nothing has contributed to particles in the air we breathe and possible heat released into the atmosphere like the automobile.

Well, it seems that everything is two-sided. Nothing is completely good or completely bad. Okay, so I mentioned antibiotics and the Salk vaccine. Well, misuse of antibiotics has brought us MRSA and it kind of gets worse every day. But nothing wrong with the Salk vaccine, methinks.

What else? Airplanes. They kind of fit into the same category with automobiles. I have spent an incredible amount of time in automobiles and airplanes. Ha, if old Albert Einstein is correct, then I am somewhat younger than my contemporaries because of all this travel.

And then there is the telephone. And electricity! Combine those with the computer, and, perhaps, television and you wind up with those little marvels we walk around with in our pockets that do everything but make toast. Of course, Thomas Edison was not a nice man, and Nicola Tesla was, at the least, obsessive-compulsive, and at the worst kind of mad…and do cell phones cause brain cancer? Ha, using cause and effect, watching people drive with a cell phone stuck to their ear, I must conclude that they at least cause stupidity.

Holy moly but last century was indeed packed full of marvelous inventions. And I mean this as things at which we marvel, good or bad.

And then there are nuclear weapons. Can anyone say anything good about the atomic bomb? Well, without it Dr. Strangelove would never have been made. And it all depends on perspective. It ended World War II, and damned fast. But the Japanese were running out of young men and food and equipment and maybe we didn’t need to nuke a couple of their cities. But tell that to folks whose sons were coming home in a box from the Pacific Theater. I don’t know.

Nuclear weapons still hang over our heads today and sooner or later a terrorist group will get hold of one and blow up a city. But Pandora’s Box tells us that once something is let loose upon the earth we just have to learn how to deal with it.

I spent a great deal of time as a child scared out of my mind waiting for the war to begin. We watched movies showing us how to lie down in a ditch and cover ourselves with something or other just in case one was caught out in the open during a nuclear attack. And we cowered under our desks and were cautioned to stay away from windows and all this engendered the joke about kissing your ass goodbye.

And Ray Bradbury wrote that incredibly poignant scene in The Martian Chronicles, wherein the shadows of dead children playing with a ball are burnt into the side of a house. And the robotic house of the future continues to operate after everyone was dead and it lets the poor radiation-sick dog into the kitchen.

But when Pandora’s Box is opened you cannot close it again. You can’t put toothpaste back in the tube. When someone invents something it will get used, one way or another and humans have always had this nasty habit of trying to find more efficient ways to kill one another.

Now, what else? I had a friend in Dallas who wrote for the Dallas Times Herald in the 1980’s who always swore that the greatest invention of the 20th century was Velcro. He never quite convinced me, but many wonders did come out of the space program. Which brings us to rocket ships. I suppose the rocket first came into its own with the German V2, the sound of which certainly brought nightmares to an entire generation of Brits. And the space race came about because we couldn’t let the Russians get ahead of us, but lordy that was a fine day watching the first men on the moon. I would go into space if I could. And like Delos D. Harriman, “The Man Who Sold the Moon.” Thank you very much Mr. Heinlein, dying on the moon is kind of a cool idea.

So good and bad, yin and yang, is balance achieved? I have decided that my favorite invention is refrigeration. Despite warnings from my Chinese doctor about the evils of cold beverages, I just had a lovely glass of ice water, thank you very much. I guess if I had actually put ice cubes in it, it would be iced water. I adore cold drinks. Pop, beer, wine, juice, give it to me cold.

Of course, I was born and grew up in Texas, which in the summertime is hell misspelled. Texas Monthly magazine once ran an article about the heat factor and Texas. With elements such as wind and humidity included, much of Texas in the summertime is hotter than Death Valley. And without air conditioning, a large part of the populace would now be living somewhere else.

As a child in humid, bug and critter infested Houston, I remember our having one air conditioner. It was a window unit installed in the dining room. In the summertime we would hang sheets up over the doorways and move beds into the dining room. That became our total living space for a large part of the year. And lordy the kitchen was indeed hell on earth and we ate a lot of fresh, uncooked food, or went out and got hamburgers from Prince’s Drive-in.

In the 1990’s, I went west of Fort Worth to visit my cousin Elizabeth in the little town of Strawn, Texas. Her sons had just built her a new house on her property and we sat in the air conditioning and chatted whilst the sun beat down everything outside. In my head, I could hear Steve Fromholtz singing “And it’s hotter than hell when the sun hits the land…” And Elizabeth, who was near 90 then, talked about the old house and how the kitchen was outdoors. There was a wooden shed with a wood-burning iron stove and it was open on all sides. When the wood finally got sufficiently grease-soaked, you just tore it down and built a new shed.

So refrigeration in general and air conditioning specifically has played a large part in my life. And of course it has its price too, that being an enormous use of electricity and the yin for its yang, putting out lots of heat. If you chill something over here you have to heat something over there.

The current issue of Saveur magazine has an excellent little article on the history of refrigerators. I highly recommend it, and the entire issue may be the best, cover-to-cover in the history of that fine magazine.

When I was a kid, it was quite a treat to go down for the Saturday matinee at the movie theatre for a dime and sit in air conditioned comfort watching serials and cartoons and usually some cheesy “B” feature. The theatre had a blue and white sign out front advertising the air conditioning.

Now, what have I missed? What marvel of the 20th century most thrilled you?