Monday, January 23, 2012

What Whine Goes Best With Snow? (Updated 1/25)


When writing a blog without an editor, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of whining in your posts.  I have to be especially vigilant, because whining is almost like my default mode.  Who wants to read that all of the time?  They say that admitting you have a problem is the first step in solving it, and I think I do reasonably well at keeping it in check, both here and in other parts of my life.

Well, screw that.  (At least for this post.)  I am going to whine.  Specifically, I am going to whine about winter.

I hate winter.  I loathe it.  I despise it.  It makes me miserable and uncomfortable.  And where I live in northern Maine, we get more than our share of it.  Kids here were trick-or-treating in the snow this past October, and will probably be hunting for Easter eggs in it.  It’s long.  It’s also harsh.  Just this morning, the temperature was 22 below zero Fahrenheit.  That is literally cold enough for snot to freeze your nostrils shut if you inhale too deeply. 

To keep my winter whine flag from flying too long, I am going to limit myself to the top five things I hate about it.

#5-Static shocks:  Mercifully, static shocks are only a serious problem when temperatures outside are below around ten degrees, which is not usually a long period of time.  In a house with wall-to-wall carpeting, static can really build up.  By way of example, I have stood up from my chair in the living room and gotten a shock from touching the aluminum soda can I am picking up.  On my way to the kitchen, the cat brushes by my leg and we both get zapped.  (I also get a bonus hiss from the cat, who is convinced that I have intentionally done something mean to him.)  Then, as I touch the light switch in the kitchen, another static zap.  I reach for the refrigerator door, and get another.  All of this takes place within about 20 seconds.  And these are not little tingles either.  I am talking voltage!  Taking off a sweater at this time of year can generate enough electricity to short out an aircraft carrier.  Needless to say, the cats, and all of us for that matter, tend to be very edgy on really cold days.

#4-Creaky joints: I’ll be 42 years old soon.  I don’t really feel like being in my forties qualifies me as old, but some oldish things have started to happen to me, like the onset of our family curse: arthritis.  With each passing year, I am better able to forecast whether there is a storm coming by the creakiness in my knees.  It gets even worse in the winter.  The worst part is the involuntary groan that escapes from my mouth whenever I stand up in the winter.  I think I am one step away from setting out a bowl of ribbon candy, watching Matlock, and yelling at those dadburn kids to get off my lawn.

#3- Dangerous driving:  I’ve driven in a LOT of winter weather since 1985, and have had some pretty scary close calls.  I’m am sure that, aside from the time I commented that one of my female friends was as big as a house when she was nine months pregnant, my winter driving exploits are the closest I have actually come to death.  You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a deer come flying across your hood in the midst of a driving snow at night, her rear hoof just barely clipping your side mirror as she clears your car by inches and disappears into the storm.  This is often the problem with winter driving.  You can be doing everything perfectly, and some other entity, like a deer or an idiot, can nearly cream you.  On the upside, this is my first winter with an all-wheel drive vehicle, so I am hopeful it won’t be as terrible.  Of course, all-wheel drive isn’t much help on glare ice, and this winter we’ve had more freezing rain and sleet than snow.  If you see a blue Hyundai in a tree during the next storm, just wave.  That’s me.

#2-Snow removal: Clearing snow is something I have to do for my home, the home of an elderly relative and my workplace.  It is important to me that these three places are clear of snow and ice, and therefore safe for the people who come and go there.  I take it very seriously, but getting all that snow and ice off the steps, walkways, driveways, parking lots, roofs, etc.  can be a chore of epic proportions sometimes. Over the years I have fallen off roofs, nearly been run over by a truck, literally blacked out from exhaustion, been buried in a mini-avalanche, taken more flips on the ice than can be counted, as well as experienced all manner of sprains, strains, and pains, all for the sake of snow removal.  I keep telling myself it’s good exercise.  Maybe if I say that for enough years, I might just believe it.

#1-Cold feet: One of my all-time biggest pet peeves is cold feet.  While I am descended of hearty Irish stock on both sides of my family, I think I must have a distant ancestor who hailed from Equatorial Guinea.  If so, I have inherited their cold-sensitive feet.  I’ve had the same pair of sandals for almost 20 years, because there are so few days in the entire year when it is actually warm enough where I live to wear them.  On the other hand, I’ve gone through dozens of pairs of wool socks and slippers during the same period.   I wear wool socks from October until May.  I’ve heard of electric socks, but clothing one has to plug in scares me a little.  Plus it would need a hell of a long extension cord.

End of whine.  I have wool socks to launder.

(1/25) UPDATE!: Add "spontaneous nosebleeds due to dry air" to this list of winter woes I have.  Especially those that come on unknowingly in the middle of the night while sleeping.  I woke up this morning in the middle of what looked like my own murder scene.  Why can't I have normal problems like everyone else?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Look What I Read!: Four Years From Home by Larry Enright

Note: I am currently putting together another Adrian McAllister short story to share with you here, but in the meantime, I wanted to put up a review of a book I read not too long ago by an author whose work I have come to enjoy very much.  His name is Larry Enright.  He tweets (), he Facebooks (, and he blogs (  Sometimes, he does all three at once.  He is very talented and entertaining.  What follows is my review of his book Four Years From Home which was originally published on the Goodreads website last year.  He is also the author of A King in a Court of Fools and Buffalo Nickel Christmas.  All three of his books are available at a major online retailer named for a long and muddy tract of water in a mosquito-ridden, tropical land.

Having finished Four Years from Home, I can honestly say I am very glad I read it, though it was a challenge to get through in places for one reason: the narrator.   He is just not a likable guy through most of the book, and his emotional grumblings and rambling fantasy sequences can get annoying. It's a lot like being on an airplane, headed to some fabulous destination, but forced to sit beside an obnoxious jerk for the whole flight. That said, there is more to him than first meets the eye.  The final destination at which the reader arrives makes a little discomfort along the way all worthwhile.

There are myriad ways I could potentially spoil the plot in this review, so I will simply say that Four Years from Home is the story of an oldest brother in an Irish-Catholic family from Pennsylvania trying to find out what happened to his youngest brother, a college student who is missing and presumed dead. This is no typical missing-person mystery however. No, siree!

If you are considering reading Four Years from Home, I'd highly recommend it. If you are already reading it and are wondering whether to stick with it, I say wholeheartedly "yes". I turned to reader reviews myself for reasons to keep with it, and I am glad that I did.

Four Years from Home is definitely an interesting, original work, and you will be glad to have read it when you are done.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Adrian and the Cannibal's Internet Connection: A Humorous Short Story

After eyeing the Cabela's sale flyers for weeks, the Prodigy PRC200A reel / Fish Eagle XML casting rod combo Adrian McAllister had been drooling over had shown up at last, and at over 20% off.  He hopped into his pickup at dawn that Saturday and fought the early-season tourist traffic for the two hour round-trip downstate and back to the outdoor megamart. By lunchtime he was 45 minutes from civilization at his favorite fishing spot, all by himself, trying it out.  It was nearly the biggest mistake of his life.

Adrian’s line drifted lazily in the placid waters of remote Number 5 Pond.  After the early trip to Scarborough and back, as well as the rough ATV ride through miles of woods, Adrian was feeling pretty lazy himself.  It was a warm June day, not a cloud in the sky, and aside from the ubiquitous blackflies and mosquitoes, a perfect one for fishing.  Adrian’s wife was hosting a Pampered Chef party at their house that afternoon, and she was frankly quite relieved that he was not going to be underfoot.  Adrian was equally relieved that he was not going to be present for the cackling hen-fest.  Now he had the whole day to try out his new rod and reel, drink beer, and maybe even catch a nap.  It was shaping up to be a great day to get away from it all.

The new rod and reel was proving a wise investment, as Adrian caught several good-sized bass within the first two hours.  And that was using mere earthworms as bait too.  He celebrated his fourth catch of the afternoon by opening his fourth beer of the afternoon.  Just as he tipped back his head to take his first swig from the fresh can, a crushing thud landed on the top of his skull.  There was an instant of sharp pain, a flash of white light, and then it all went dark.  Adrian McAllister had been knocked out cold and was being dragged away.

About an hour later, Adrian groaned and slowly opened his eyes.  It was difficult to focus, and he was unsure of where he was.  He felt wet, and at first thought he had blacked out and fallen into the pond.  The top of his head was throbbing in pain, but when he went to rub it, he discovered his hands were tied to his sides.  His feet were bound too.  He soon realized that he was secured hand and foot and sitting in a large cauldron half-filled with water.  Though it was hard to see clearly yet, he swore he could see a middle-aged black man in some kind of wild, colorful costume just beyond the edge of the cauldron, hunched over something and swearing vociferously.  The frequent flick of a cigarette lighter could be heard.

“Umm…excuse me?” Adrian said.  Mild-mannered by nature, he was polite even in these circumstances.

“What is it?” the irritated man snapped in English with a thick accent that Adrian couldn’t place.

“Well, I was wondering what was going on, actually.”

“I am getting ready to cook you!  You cannot see that?” the man said, as though this kind of thing was an everyday occurrence in 21st century Maine.  The flick of the lighter continued, more rapidly and with increased intensity.  “At least I am hoping to cook you, provided I can ever get this damned fire started!”

“Wait…what?!  Stop for a second!” This was not at all what Adrian was expecting to hear.  “Cook me?! Why? And who are you?”

The man stood up to his full height and gave Adrian an impatient look.  He was tall and rail thin, probably around 50 years old, with a lined face and salt-and-pepper whiskers on his pointed chin.  His rough skin was the deep color of mahogany, with the complexion of someone who had spent many days exposed to the elements.  And his clothing was something straight out of a community theater production of South Pacific.  Bright feathers, shark teeth on a string around his neck, elaborate headpiece, golden baubles…the whole deal.  The only thing that seemed out of place was the pair of rectangular-framed reading glasses perched on the tip of his nose.

“On my home island, I am called ‘Larmustamitua’, but here in this land of pine trees and mosquitoes, they call me ‘Larry’,” the man told him.

 “Okay, um, ‘Larry’, my name is Adrian McAllister,” he said. “Why are you going to cook me?”

With a sigh, Larry tossed the useless cigarette lighter to the ground.  He picked up two sticks from the ground and started rubbing them together as rapidly as he could.

“I do not suppose you were ever a member of the Boy Scouts, were you Adrian McAllister?”

“No, sorry.”

Larry hunched down to the ground again and continued to rub the sticks together in hopes of obtaining fire.  He spoke as he rubbed.

“My wife Thalia and I are from a remote island in the South Pacific known as Kimbango,” he began.  “This kind of thing is somewhat common there.”  He rested his head in his right hand and gave another sigh. “At least it was years ago.”

“’This kind of thing’?  You mean eating people?  You mean cannibalism?” Adrian asked with no small amount of growing concern.

“One might call it that,” Larry the cannibal replied in that heavy accent.  “Thalia always thought it was a barbaric practice and had nothing to do with it.  She went to boarding school in England as a young girl, and came back to the island full of all kinds of fancy ideas for our island, like vaccines, getting wired for electricity, and not eating human flesh.  Her father was our chief, and she had his ear.  He made changes in a great number of things, thanks to my Thalia.  ‘Progressive thinking’ she calls it.  ‘Moving into the modern world’.  Humph!” He tossed his head in disgust.  “She and I had a quiet life on Kimbango.  It was nice.  She was working in the local school and doing some freelance writing while I was a fisherman and working part-time at Orange Julius.”

“Orange Julius?” Adrian asked incredulously.

“Yes, Orange Julius!  It is the only fast-food franchise we have on Kimbango, and our people highly esteem their delicious fruit smoothies as nectar of the gods. There is a problem with that?”  The irritated cannibal started rubbing the sticks together more furiously.

“No, no…not at all! Just seemed unusual is all.  But please go on.”  Adrian decided that if he could keep this guy talking, he might have time to come up with an escape plan.

“Then in the late-1990s, change came to our lives.  Some of my Thalia’s writing caught the attention of a big publisher here in America, and she received a contract for seven books.  She tried telecommuting over the Internet for a year or two, but it was not working out.  The plane trips halfway around the Earth almost every month were very tiresome.  It was terribly difficult on both of us, so about ten years ago we moved here.  I was not in favor of the move away from our home, but I was a tremendously bad fisherman and the Orange Julius had recently ‘downsized’ me, as they put it.  Since my Thalia was the one putting pandanus on the table, it was her career we followed.”

Adrian shook his head, wondering if he was hearing correctly, or maybe that bump on his head had done more damage than originally thought.  “So let me see if I understand.  You are a practicing cannibal from the South Pacific, living in the woods of Maine, and you are planning to make me your dinner?”  His voice was rising several octaves as the reality of it all began to sink in.

“That sums it up nicely.  Yes.  Though I am not at all practicing.  I am quite good at it, though I have not done it in years.”  He pushed his glasses up his nose.

“But what about your wife?  Didn’t you just say she was against it?”

“I will simply tell Thalia that it is chicken she is eating.  That is what you will taste like anyway.”

“Look, you really don’t want to cook me!” Adrian started to babble. “I’m sure that I’d be pretty stringy anyway.  And I’m just getting over a cold.  You might get sick.  You know, we really ought to talk more abou-…” His frantic pleading was interrupted by the tinny sounds of the 1989 pop hit She Drives Me Crazy emanating from somewhere in the cannibal’s pelvic region.

“Pardon me, I need to take this.  I am expecting a call,” Larry said, holding up a finger.  He turned his back to Adrian and pulled a silver cell phone from a pocket in his feathery garb, speaking into it heatedly.  The conversation was intense but brief, only about a minute.  Larry the cannibal then snapped the phone shut.  “Accursed corporate bastard sons of a one-winged buzzard,”   he muttered.    The tall Kimbangoan then turned back to Adrian and the sticks he had been rubbing together in hopes of making fire.  “Now, you were saying?”

During the phone call, Adrian’s plan had become clearer.  If he could manage to occupy Larry long enough, Thalia would arrive home and stop this madness.  Yes, she was a writer, but despite that she sounded like a reasonable woman who did not eat human beings.  Surely she would let him go free.  Adrian commenced stalling.

“Is, uh, everything okay, Larry?  You sounded kind of upset on the phone just now.”

“Oh that?  Our Internet has been down for three days.  I am not very knowledgeable about computers at all, nor is my Thalia, and those jackals at Passable Point Communications cannot send someone here to check it out for another three weeks!  Can you believe that?  How am I going to keep up with my episodes of The Bachelor?  There is no cable, and antenna reception out here is terrible!  It was better in Kimbango!” 

Just then, the cannibal at last got a spark from the sticks he had been rubbing together, and ignited some tufts of dried grass.  He chuckled in a satisfied way as he set them among the kindling at the base of the cauldron.  Wisps of gray smoke began to rise.  Adrian’s already heightened sense of urgency kicked up several more notches as he soon began to feel growing warmth from the cauldron bottom.

“Well, I know a thing or two about computers,” Adrian replied.  “Why not let me take a look?” 

Larry considered this for a moment.  “Well, it is going to take a while for this water to reach a boil.”  He rubbed some gray whiskers on his chin as he tossed a pinch of salt and a few peeled onions in with Adrian.  “Okay, but then it is back into the pot you go!  You need to simmer for at least a couple of hours, or you will be as tough as the soles of my Talia’s feet.”  His need for a reality television fix had outweighed his desire to eat human flesh for the time being.  Adrian’s hand and feet were untied, and Larry helped him out of the water in the cauldron.

“Thanks,” Adrian said, rubbing his wrists and the knot on his head. He finally got to scratch at some of the numerous blackfly and mosquito bites he had acquired while tied up too.  “Now let’s go take a look.” 

Adrian had no intention of running from the cannibal.  They were miles from the nearest town, in thick and overgrown pine forest.  Larry appeared to be in excellent physical shape.  Adrian knew he’d be tracked down in no time flat if he attempted to make a break for it.

From the entrance to the hut that Larry and Thalia called home, Adrian was surprised to see that it was larger inside that it looked from the exterior, and was nicely appointed with a mix of items from their native Kimbango, as well as more than a few from the L.L. Bean catalogue.    A chubby orange tabby cat stared at them enigmatically from the back of an overstuffed sofa, and a spectacular painting of what had to be a sunset in Kimbango hung on the wall.

“Over here.” Larry gestured toward a desk in the corner, where an open laptop sat.  “And do not drip all over the carpet or my Thalia will kill me!”

Adrian left his soggy socks and shoes at the door, and padded over to the computer.  The problem was evident as soon as he took a look at the router nearby.  One of the connections between the router and phone line out had come undone.  A few tufts of orange fur amongst the wires led Adrian to believe that the cat had knocked it out while nosing around.  He could easily have plugged it back in and instantly restored Larry‘s Internet connection, but that would likely mean quick trip back into the pot.  So, Larry began to putter around instead.

“I think we ought to do what’s called a “defrag”, Larry,” Adrian said, knowing full well that such an operation would take quite a bit of time.

“Do what you must,” Larry replied as he sat down in a comfy-looking leather recliner.  He pulled out a newspaper and began reading.  Adrian was amused at the site of a South Seas cannibal in traditional garb lounging in his Laz-E-Boy with reading glasses on the end of his nose, checking out the baseball box scores.  He turned his attention back to the screen on the laptop, as little colored rectangles flicked on and off, showing the progress of the defrag.

Larry looked over at what Adrian was doing every few minutes, but it was far from interesting to him, and after about 45 minutes, he began to snore.  Adrian took this opportunity to restart the defragmenting program, so as to prolong the lengthy process even longer.  He began to explore the hut while his captor slept, checking out the numerous pieces of Kimbangoan art on the walls and flat surfaces.  He almost wished he could visit there someday, in spite of the island’s man-eating past.

His reverie was broken by the growing whine of an ATV coming closer to the hut.  Larry woke from his nap and sprung to his feet.  “My Thalia!  She is home!”  The cannibal looked more than a little concerned.

A beautiful middle-aged woman with smooth, coffee-colored skin and wearing a flowered-print wrap entered the hut.  To Adrian, Larry now looked less like a fierce South Seas cannibal and more like a kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar.

“My Thalia!” Larry said, opening his arms to greet her.  They kissed, and then Thalia asked the inevitable question in an accent as thick as her husband’s.

“And who is this?” she asked, gesturing toward Adrian.

“This? Well this is Adrian, of course.”

“Of course,” the woman said with a puzzled smile. “Hello, Adrian.  That must be your blue ATV I saw just around the corner from here?”

“Yes, it must be.  It’s a pleasure to meet you Thalia.”  Adrian now realized that his means of escape was closer than he thought.

All three of them stood silently with smiles frozen on their faces for nearly 30 seconds, until Thalia finally spoke up.

“So what is Adrian doing here in our home, my husband?”

“You are not going to believe this my love, but I met Adrian fishing on the pond today, and it turns out he is most knowledgeable about computers!” Larry said.  “He is here to restore our lost Internet!” Thalia arched a skeptical eyebrow.

“You just ‘met him’, you say?”

“Yes, my Thalia, and he is close to restoring our much-beloved program The Bachelor to us again, are you not Adrian?”

“As a matter of fact,” Adrian said, “your Internet connection is fixed!”  He a button and their homepage appeared.  Adrian had stopped the defrag and plugged the router back in while the two of them had been speaking.

“Delightful, Adrian!” Thalia exclaimed.  “We are so grateful!  Here, have some pandanus!”  She thrust a basket of the odd-looking tropical fruit at Adrian. “And you simply must stay for dinner!”

“Well, er, thank you so much ma’am.  But I really must be going,” he said, reaching for his shoes and socks and pulling them on. “It will be dark soon.”

“Of course, of course!” Thalia said.  A look that was a mixture of relief and disappointment crossed over Larry’s craggy face.

“Thank you so much, my friend,” Larry said.  And with a wink, he added: “And consider it an open invitation. We’d love to have you for dinner some evening.”

“I just bet you would,” Adrian said through clenched teeth.  “Goodbye now!”  He waved, turned, and made a beeline for the door.  His own ATV and escape were only a few yards away now. 

Once outside, Adrian broke into a full run and did not stop until he reached his ATV, which he started in an instant.  He gave no thought at all to his new rod and reel, now lying abandoned alongside the pond, and within seconds all that could be seen of him was a cloud of dust.

The Kimbangoan couple watched from the doorway to their hut.

“Such a nice man,” Thalia commented.  “In an awful hurry though, isn’t he?”

“Indeed he is,” Larry answered.

“My husband?” Thalia asked coyly.

“Yes, my love?”

“What’s for dinner?”

Larry sighed deeply.  “Pandanus again,” he said without enthusiasm. Then he perked up a little.  “Though I do have four fine bass from the pond to fry if you wish!”

“Wonderful!” Thalia exclaimed.  “And while we are preparing the meal, you can tell me all about why your grandfather’s huge cooking pot is at a boil in the back yard.”

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Coming Soon!

This isn't a post, per say.  At least, it isn't a post in the sense of the previous items I've tossed up here.  It's more of a preview.

Later this week, I am going to be posting a short (~3000 word) story here.  It will be the first work of fiction that I've put out to the world in as long as I can remember, and I am pretty excited about it.  The general premise is that an average guy named Adrian McAllister goes on a fishing trip to a remote pond in Maine  and gets captured by a retired South Seas cannibal who has relocated to the area due to his wife's career demands.  Adrian has to rely on his wits to get out of the mess he's found himself in.  Needless to say, it's a light comedy, rated PG.

The piece is done and mostly edited.  I just want to let it perk another few days before letting it loose.  Stay tuned and pass the word to others.