They say it’s your Birthday…

Here we are, on the eve of another Independence Day in 2022. It’s fair to call it the country’s birthday, as it celebrates our independence from British rule, allowing us to forge our own path as our own country.

I wonder, though… how many more of these will we see?

Yes, we’ve survived our own Civil war, the north against the south, the blue against the gray, but we’re now facing a far deeper divide in the country, one that encompasses the entire population.

It’s the blue vs. the red.

The individuals who’ve been elected to represent us are instead joining a party (or in some cases, a cult) with their own agendas, pushing them hard with absolutely no regard for the choices of, or the collateral damage that affects the public.

Remember the public? You know, the folks you “represent”?

“Social” media is the flashpoint that truly shows us how deep the divide has become. I’ve left all of it behind, having grown tired of the vindictive verbal attacks that fire up with little or no provocation. I’m not talking about political groups, either… I’ve seen it occur in groups dedicated to writing, to photography and so on.

Places you’d think would be safe havens to enjoy common interests and share knowledge and ideas with like minded people.

Until they weren’t.

So, I’ve left those all behind some time ago now, and I don’t watch the news or read the newspapers as often as I used to. There isn’t much in the way of good news to report, or so it seems.

I’ll simply sit in our yard with my wife and watch nature instead… far more peaceful this way, and who knows?

I might just think of a story idea or two.

In The Works…

I’m cobbling together a collection of short stories, the best of the ones I wrote between 2016 and 2022, which includes the three I’ve done very recently.

Why? No particular reason. I just thought it would be nice to put them all together between one set of covers and do a limited print run of about 10 copies.

I’ll keep one for my bookshelf and give the remaining 9 to friends as gifts.

It’s a healthy group. The manuscript runs slightly north of 500 pages, containing about 50 or so stories, so there’s a lot to read.

Did I include all of them? Oh, hell no… there are some early ones that are terrible, and those will never see the light of day again. I bet even Stephen King has some early clunkers tucked away somewhere as starters for his fire pit.

I’ve been playing with cover ideas, and I kinda like the latest one…

It’s plain, yet bold in its design, and I think it suits the project well. I’m doing what I believe will be the final tweaks to the manuscript this weekend, and once I’m finished, I’ll upload the cover and manuscript files to the printer and have a proof copy done.

A boy needs a hobby, no?

Sleep well…

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

With each new day, I find myself wondering if I’d woken in the Twilight Zone or bypassed that and gone right into the Outer Limits.

When I retired in 2019, I’d set up a comfortable retirement, one that allowed us to maintain our lifestyle and enjoy life. Today, that’s become about as comfortable as trying to wear the clothing I wore in the ’80’s.

Tight. Seriously tight.

So, I’ve retired from retirement, at least for a while, and landed another job in tech support/customer service. At least there’s a comfort zone there, as it’s what I’ve done for decades. Adding a steady paycheck restores balance and gives us the opportunity to get our bills paid and maybe… maybe, get just a little bit ahead of the game.

We can only hope.

My good friends at the Horror Tree are releasing their yearly collections soon, and I’ll have a few things between those covers, and I just finished reviewing edits on a story I’ll have appearing later this year in yet another collection:

Appropriately enough, the story I’ve submitted for this one is very much in the Twilight Zone theme, which wasn’t even intentional when I sent it in.

Funny how things work out, isn’t it?

As a Father’s Day gift, Anita has brought my camera bag to Midstate, where Mark is going to give the whole kit a good once over, sensors cleaned, lenses cleaned and checked… the whole enchilada! Knowing his work, as he’s done a CLA (clean, lube, adjust) on my venerable F4 in the past, I know the next time I open the bag to shoot, it’ll be like having a guitar handed to me by David Gilmour’s tech, ready to all but play itself.

I’m so looking forward to enjoying the result of this incredible gift!

Well, that’s it for now… have to hit the shower, do a booze cruise to stock the fridge, and then hit a couple projects waiting in the wings for later today. To quote the late, great Stan Lee…

Excelsior!

Back in the Saddle…

The very comfortable retirement I began in April of 2019 worked quite well for us, allowing us to maintain the same lifestyle as we had while I was working, and it was great.

Until it wasn’t.

We first got swept up in the COVID pandemic in 2020, the entire world upended by an enemy we did not know how to fight at first, and then we migrated into our current world of spiraling prices, where I believe the government could do a LOT more in terms of price caps, as I’m convinced profiteering is a big piece of the problem. Follow the money – the big petroleum companies are publicly traded, review their profit and loss statements month over month and see what conclusion you come to.

In any case, it was time for me to dust off the old saddle and get back into the workforce, to reinforce our income in light of the new reality. I won’t say where, but I found a spot in tech support, working from home and supporting members of a large corporation with the technical issues they encounter on the job.

There’s a comfort zone here, as tech support is what I did for a very long time before I put my papers in, so it’ll be easy for me to adapt to this spot and get back into the swing of things.

It does kinda suck to have to go back to the grind, but such is the hand we’ve been dealt, and one has to do what one has to do.

I will once again see the twilight of retirement, sometime down the road when things stabilize around us…

Funnyman

My wife and I went to see a concert this past weekend. Well, we, along with about 65 thousand others, all creeping along a two-lane road toward the parking lot of the NFL stadium in which the concert was held.

I wonder how many boxes of Cuban cigars we all purchased for oil company executives from all the gas we burned as we idled for over an hour during the last mile to the gate?

But I digress. As we sat and waited, it seemed as if my old Muse was in the car beside ours and whispered a story idea to me with our windows down in the 90-degree heat that reminded me of the good old EC Comics I used to enjoy so much. It’s been a while since he visited, and this is what he suggested…

Funnyman

When Barry Martin walked out onto the small stage, he was surprised at how bright the spotlights were. The patrons seated at the tables were no more than silhouettes, but at least there seemed to be a small crowd on hand.

“Hey everyone, thanks for coming out to the Asylum tonight. I’m Barry Martin, and it’s my first time here. Whadda ya say, let’s have some fun!

As you can see, I’m old. I get reminded of that every day when I watch TV. They play these non-stop commercials for Medicare Advantage insurance all day long, using spokesmen like Joe Namath, George Foreman, and Jimmie JJ Walker. You know why? Because we recognize them. Because we’re old! And if those don’t get you feeling old enough, along come the ones for final expense insurance because they just know we have one foot in the grave already, don’t we?

OK fine, I’m old. When I was growing up, we didn’t have these internet influencers and all that crap. No, we had fads. Remember those? The Pet Rock? Oh, another big one was the Mood Ring, the ring that changes color based on your mood. I didn’t need a mood ring. I have a mood face. We’re constantly hearing people say that 60 is the new 40, but the cop that pulled me over on the way here did not seem to share that opinion.”

Nothing, he thought. Better kick it up some, buddy, or this’ll be your last gig here.

“Now that I’ve lived through a pandemic, I understand why all those Italian Renaissance paintings were of fat, naked people lying on couches all day. Scary stuff, right? If I would have had a choice when my turn arrived, I would have chosen the Pfizer vaccine. Remember, Pfizer is the company that makes Viagra. If they can raise the dead, they can certainly cure the living! It really made me appreciate my friends, though. Good friends are harder to find than toilet paper in 2020. I even tried some of this new age stuff during that time. My wife does Yoga, so I joined her for a session. I only mastered one pose, though. The Downward Facing Chalk Outline, it was called. I got in touch with my inner self last week, and I didn’t like that at all. In fact, I asked my wife to never buy single ply toilet paper again! I even went to see a chiropractor the other day. Now, I stand corrected.”

Barry was starting to sweat now, and not from the lights. Not even titters of polite laughter from the room.

“Does anybody remember the movie, ‘Field of Dreams’? It’s the one where Kevin Costner played a farmer who cut down all his crops and built a baseball field because he heard a voice telling him, ‘If you build it, they will come’. I wonder if the guy that invented the vibrator heard the same voice? Speaking of such, I will never understand women. A woman will profess to fear and hate all things related to horror, yet her favorite position is ‘Zombie Victim’, where she lies back and gets eaten. Ah yes, good old 69, a.k.a. the meal for two with the very hairy view. Talking about women, I believe all the women who’ve had breast implants should create their own political party. Instead of Democratic or Republican, they can call it the Tupperware Party.”

Jesus, I’m working harder than an ugly stripper up here, and nothing, he thought.

“You have to be careful about what you say these days. For example, If I call a dog a Fur Baby, everyone thinks it’s cute, but if I call a child a Skin Baby, they think I’m depraved and hideous. And all this social media stuff is an absolute friggin’ nightmare. Hoping to avoid conflict when browsing social media is like jogging barefoot in a dog park and hoping you don’t step in shit. Me, I’d rather just visit a local bar and talk to people. The regulars at my neighborhood bar were so happy to see me return the other night that they invited me to be the goalie on their dart team! I’ve had people ask me if alcoholics run in my family, but I tell them nah, they just stumble around and break shit, that’s all. I used to enjoy when they’d all get lit and try singing nursery rhymes. ‘Old MacDonald had Tourette’s, E, I, E, I, fuck!’

I give up, he thought. Let’s wrap this up and move on.

“Hey folks, I’m Barry Martin, and thanks for coming out. If you enjoyed the show, visit my web site at BM dot funny, and no, that’s not the one about enjoying your bowel movements. I’ll leave you with a thought from the great George Carlin, who told us that there might not be an I in team, but there certainly is in Individuality, Independence, and Integrity, so always be yourselves and…”

Barry stopped, his mouth agape. The spotlights had dimmed, and the houselights had come up, and now that he could see the audience, he saw they were all corpses, in varying states of decomposition and rot.

“What the fuck…”, he whispered, hearing footsteps behind him. He turned to face a large man, dressed in a tuxedo smiling broadly.

“Nice set, Barry. I’m sure all your guests enjoyed it.”

“Guests? What the fuck are you talking about, and who the hell are you?”

“Don’t you recognize them, Barry? Look, your former wives are all together at that table right up front, there’s the group you embezzled from when you worked for that brokerage, and…”

“But…how? I mean, they’re all…”

“Dead? Well, of course they are. Many by their own hand, courtesy of having known you, Barry. And now, they’ve all come to witness your last performance and welcome you to…”

Last? No, no, I have a gig upstate next week.”

“You had that gig, Barry. Not any longer, I fear. Do you remember that joke you used to tell about how someone would tell you to go to hell, and you said you couldn’t because the devil had a restraining order against you?’

“Y-yeah, sure, what about it?”

“Congratulations, Barry. I’ve lifted my order, and we’re all here to welcome you to Hell, a spot you’ve worked very hard to earn.”

“NOOOOOOOO!!!!!”

THE END

May 24, 2022

Bash Free Zone

As I was growing up, it seemed you had to choose between two things, supporting one while bashing the other at every opportunity.

It started with the “Beatles vs. Stones” (I was Beatles), and then migrated to “Star Trek vs. Star Wars” (I was a Trekkie) and, once I became interested in photography, we had the eternal “Nikon vs. Canon” battle for the best.

I had a friend at work named Ric, who brought in and showed me his Nikon F2AS, and I was transfixed. As solid as a steel block, yet containing the internal mechanics as precise as the finest Swiss timepiece. While an F2 was way out of my price league, I did eventually get myself an original FM.

The FM was a completely manual camera, the only thing the coin sized battery powered was the light meter within, so it was my training ground to learn the rudiments of photography, the interaction between the aperture and shutter speed, and why you’d want to prioritize one over the other, depending on what you were shooting.

Those were invaluable lessons, and I keep those hard learned practices with me today, despite the advances in digital photography where every camera now has the ability to be a PHD (Push Here, Dummy) and yield amazing images.

As I moved through the world of film, I eventually obtained an F4, which was the most amazing camera I’ve ever used, even to this day. I got some amazing images with that camera, many of which are found on this site today.

It broke my heart to part with this beloved workhorse, but the writing was on the wall. Digital had taken over the world, and the value of these best of breed cameras was dropping like stones. I sadly parted with mine and entered the digital world, where I went through a number of bodies over the years, searching in vain to find something I could bond with as I’d done with my F4.

And then it happened.

Turns out the lead engineer at Nikon who pioneered the F4 worked on one last project before he retired, and his touch is all over this interesting hybrid.

Meet the Df (Digital Fusion)

As I call it, the heart of a digital, but the soul of film. This is the last camera I plan on getting, and so I have two of them in order to have immediate backup in case one needs to go to the shop for anything.

My fleet

This model was met with derision and sarcasm by much of the industry, which didn’t surprise me. “That expensive and it doesn’t do video???” Nope, it’s a camera, not a camcorder. “What’s up with all those confusing dials and controls on top???” You’d think you’d taken away their beloved cell phones and pointed to a rotary phone mounted on the kitchen wall. No, it’s not for that crowd, but for those of us who came up through the film era, this was a breathtaking entry to the Nikon lineup!

Now, despite my obvious loyalty to the Nikon brand for half a century, I don’t bash Canon. Or Fuji, Sony, Olympus, Pentax or any other camera brands. They’re all good quality instruments, and they all have their own loyal following.

I just prefer my Nikons. This old dog isn’t interested in learning any new tricks, thank you very much.

Inevitable…

We’ve dodged the bullet for nearly two and a half years now, but Anita felt so bad the other day that she called out of work, something she almost never does.

As she’d learned her manager just tested positive for COVID, she took tests Wednesday morning, evening, and then again yesterday, all of which came back negative.

Just before she left for work today, she got texts from two other co-workers, one who’d tested positive and the other who was feeling sick and was going to take a test. Based on that, I asked her to take a test again today just before she left. I told her I’d call if it was positive, and just text if it was negative.

And the dreaded pink line came up bright and clear. We went to a state testing site this morning and we both had rapid and PCR test swabs done. I was negative on the rapid, but I think the PCR will likely be positive when the results come back. We’ve been by each other’s side all week, so I doubt it’ll just skip over me.

She reached out to her doctor and was prescribed the meds that are most effective in fighting this thing, and has begun taking them. Her work actually had to close her location as five of the seven people working there all tested positive by today!

At least this variant, while highly transmissible, is not nearly as virulent as the original one was, so rest, isolation and the prescribed meds should get her through this in a few days.

If you’re reading this and you’re not feeling 100%, do yourself a favor and take a test, whether home based or at a facility. You’ll be far better off catching it early, as the meds are only going to be available within five days of the onset of symptoms, according to her doctor.

Oh, and if you’re an old fart on Medicare like me? Medicare provides 8 rapid tests per month for free. Just visit your pharmacy and get yours, so they’re at hand if needed!

Stay safe out there!!!

FINALLY!

Spring!

After endless days of cold temps and winds high enough to ground the ferry for the past 4 days, we finally have Spring weather today!

As the usual group of critters gathered to enjoy the nice weather, I set to work on the grill. Every two years, I gut the grill, scrub out the tank with a wire brush, and then rebuild it with new parts. This makes the grill not only last, but also works like new! This year, I added a set of LED “Stadium Lights” that mount to the handle, so when the late urge for a burger hits, we are ready!

The secret to enjoying great cooking is very simple. First, you must maintain the cooking equipment in good condition so it’s always ready to go and works flawlessly. Second, and even more important, is you have to marinate.

No, not the food… you have to marinate the CHEF!

Chef Marinade

Where’d that come from?

Having been a voracious reader for all my life, there are two things I’ve always tried to bring along every time I open a book.

First, a suspension of disbelief. If you’re planning to be entertained and taken for an exciting ride, don’t bring along arguments of logic and physics to dispute the events taking place on the page.

Second, and more importantly, my imagination. As I read, I enjoy the “mind movie” that plays in my head, bringing the words on the page to a more vivid life.

For reasons I can’t explain, I found myself focused on those ideas yesterday, and how a writer can make something even more threatening, scarier by not showing it clearly. Each of us will imagine this thing based on our own experience, and on what scares us, so the ambiguity of the threat makes it all the more dangerous in the minds of each reader.

As I was considering these things, I found myself writing… writing fiction, for the first time in a couple years now! The bike was wobbly, and in dire need of a good tune-up, but it still worked, amazingly enough.

When I finished what became a Flash piece, I decided immediately that I wasn’t going to fall down the old rabbit hole and play the submission game with it. Nope, I think I’d rather put it here, so anyone who’s interested can have a quick read and see if their imagination makes things worse than the words on the screen imply.

For better or worse, here it is – Blackout