Birthday party bash

Old age has introduced new forms of despair in my life. Yes, I’m talking about birthday parties for kids. The kid birthday party concept needs reformation. The current model results in escalation a la the Cold War arms race.

From my experience, this is how it goes. Kid gets invited to the first birthday party of the season. You’re obligated to buy a present for Kid to bring along, so you shell out money for a Lego set or a nerf gun or whatever. That’s a problem right there, as there isn’t a socially approved option of being thrifty and making a present instead (such as a painted rock, a toilet paper roll action figure or a box of garden snails).

Anyway, presents aside, the real problem is the scope of the party. You and Kid arrive and the party has a piñata, a small riding pony, and face-painting. Your uncontrollable mental calculator adds up the costs. You think, hmm… not too bad.

But, as the year progresses, the parties escalate according to the Keeping-Up-With-the-Joneses principle. This is not a new principle. In fact, Plato wrote about it back in the 400s, only he called it Keeping-Up-With-Pythagoras.

Anyway, the next birthday party has a juggling clown and a ventriloquist. The one after that has a Russian trapeze act. The next party has the Lipizzaner horses flown over from Austria. The party after that, Kim Jong-un parachutes in and does magic tricks, followed by the chorus line of Cats performing a medley of Broadway hits.

If all that isn’t bad enough, there’s the food. It’s a minefield of dietary restrictions, social justicism, and cultural twirpiness. No meat. Only organics. Only hotdogs made from textured soy protein. No dairy. No hydrogenated oils. No MSG. This is a pity because kids love that stuff. If you made milkshakes out of hydrogenated oil and MSG, the kids would slurp them down like anteaters slurping ants. Standing around with other parents discussing food at parties is worse than getting a tax audit.

Parent A: My Ronnie is vegetarian. Eggs make him weep for the lives of chickens that will never be. He’s such a sensitive boy. I think he’ll be an artist.

Parent B: Well, my little LaFonda is a sustainable fruitarian. She cares about the earth.

Parent D: My Brianna only eats food imported from Iceland.

This is why my policy is no birthday parties. We will send you a polite letter of declination, written in crayon, along with a tastefully wrapped present (a beet from our garden, a spare sock, etc).


Portrait of a Serial Killer

I suppose it’s unavoidable that the majority of serial killer thrillers and mysteries tend to feature the same kind of killer: a depraved murdered with some variety of attendant twists (a fondness for eating his victims, turning their skin into lampshades, getting intimate with their corpses, murdering them in unsettling ways, etc). At the end of the day (or book), these killers blur into the same person. There’s nothing that inventive about them. Oh, one of them might be a supposed devout Christian (always an easy, lazy and fond target) or a white supremacist or a whatnot or a whosit.

But they’re all essentially the same.

Writers of these books must feel compelled to create the most horrific protagonist as possible. After all, they have to shock and compel and carve their name on the genre so readers are inspired to talk about their books to others. “That Hannibal Lecter fellow…” I understand their motivation. I think it unfortunate. It reminds me of the old Soviet-era grocery stores I visited in Eastern Europe: one brand of bread on the shelves, one brand of canned peas…

The problem is, like taking drugs, the high becomes less and less attainable, the more you use. The reader becomes numb over time. Which is one of several reasons why we’ve moved into an era of heroes being just as repulsive as their corresponding villains.

This problem got me thinking recently about the character of the Serial Killer in fiction. Not all of such villains need to be the next Jack the Ripper. I think a blander sort of fellow would be much more terrible in the long run. An acceptable, educated, polished person. An unassuming cog in the machine.

This brings us to Desmond Phipps…

Portrait of a Serial Killer

“Our office has one more suggestion, said Desmond Phipps.

“Yes?” said the chairman.

Phipps cleared his throat and pretended to consult his notes. He was a short, bespectacled man with thinning blond hair and a weak chin that he tried to conceal behind a goatee.

“Dr. Ralston Reed and Dr. George Patterson,” he said, “both statisticians at Princeton, recently published a paper analyzing vehicle speeds on all classifications of roads: highways, city streets, residential, high density urban, rural areas, and how they relate to emissions and climate change. One of the key points they make for the purposes of our discussion is that increasing speed limits within certain ranges reduces carbon emissions due to the improvements in modern engine efficiencies.”

“Increasing the limits by how much?” said the woman sitting three seats down the table.

Phipps didn’t bother looking at her. Melissa Hart. She was the senior aide to the senator from Wyoming and sometimes wore cowboy boots. Her voice sounded like a blender grinding up rocks. Almost certainly a smoker. She was probably was more accustomed to riding a horse than driving a car. He doubted whether someone like her had the intelligence to be on the staff committee for updating national road standards.

“Up to ten miles per hour more for average highway speeds that are still at sixty or below,” said Phipps, “for a national average of seventy. Urban and residential areas would only need an increase of five. The adjustment in urban and residential actually has a bigger impact than the change in highway speed. Viewed on a driver-by-driver basis, these increases really are small, but it’s the small things that count. Collectively, these modifications would result in an annual reduction of six point nine billion tons of carbon emissions at current population levels.”

There was a brief moment of silence as the committee considered this.

“What about school zones?” said someone at the far end of the table.

“School zones would certainly be an exception,” said Phipps quickly. “My senator feels very strongly about education.”

“Did they analyze what their proposal would mean for traffic accidents?” said Hart.

Witch, thought Phipps to himself. “Of course. They calculate a slight increase in mortality from the current level to an additional one per every two hundred thousand. That’s statistically irrelevant.”

“But not irrelevant for that one person,” said Hart sarcastically.

“Per every two hundred thousand,” said the man sitting across from Phipps. He scribbled quickly on his notepad. “Let’s see… point zero zero zero five percent. For a carbon reduction of six point nine billion tons? That’s quite a nice return. I wish my investment portfolio was doing that well.”

Except for Hart, everyone at the table laughed.

“I think Minnesota could get behind this,” said an elegant blonde at the end of the table. “Climate change is polling strongly in our area, even ahead of jobs and immigration, and it is an election year.”

“Any issue you can tie to climate change is a slam-dunk in California,” said another staffer. “Sea levels, kids with emphysema or asthma–hell, find some bald kid with cancer, even if it has nothing to do with climate. Throw in a couple pictures of cute polar bears or dolphins, my boss loves this stuff when she’s out campaigning.”

“Minority kids in wheelchairs,” said someone else. “They’re gold. Do some photo ops with them and you can sit back and watch the polls bounce.”

There were several nods in response. Phipps relaxed in his chair. He didn’t allow himself to smile. He would do that later. In private.

“Alright then,” said the chairman, looking at his watch. “It sounds like we’ve got some pretty good consensus. We’ll add this emissions reductions plan to the list. I’ll have my staff type up the revisions and email them tonight. The EPA will get a copy too. They can come on board early and get their press releases ready. I trust you’ll all brief your senators before the new safety standards go public. Boil it down to talking points so they’ve got a good grasp of what they’re supposed to say.”

“If they ever get asked,” said someone.

Everyone laughed. Even Hart smiled sourly.

Phipps took the train home late in the evening. A sleek white cat met him at the door. It purred and rubbed against his ankles. Phipps opened a can of cat food and dumped it neatly into a blue ceramic bowl. The cat promptly began to eat in neat little bites. Phipps heated up a plate of leftover fettuccine for himself and poured a glass of white wine.

Point zero zero zero five times three hundred and fifty million… No. Point zero zero zero five percent of the population.

He did the math quickly in his head.

“One thousand, seven hundred and fifty, Bella,” he said to the cat. “What do you think of that?”

The cat ignored him.

A chalkboard hung on the side of the refrigerator. It had a long list of numbers, dates and initials on it. He added 1,750 to the list, along with the date and NRSS for National Road and Safety Standards.

He took a sip of wine and finally allowed himself a smile.

“Not bad at all, Bella. And the hearings on trade with China begin tomorrow. Electronics. Electronics have lots of potential, Bella, particularly devices children use. Chemicals, pottery, glass. Toys. Pencils, paper goods. All the everyday small things. It’s always the small things you have to pay attention to.”

The cat stared at him for a moment and then resumed eating its dinner.

“Of course,” said Phipps, “who’s paying attention?” He smiled again.


A Romantic Poem of Heartbreaking Beauty

I infrequently write romance. Pretty much never. Well, that’s not true, as I have written three stories that classify as romances to some degree: Rosamonde, The Girl Next Door, and Ice and Fire. Compared to my other writing, though, fairly inconsequential.

Sometimes, though, you just have to write romance when the mood grips you.

Such as yesterday, when I delved into the depths of poetry. Depths. That would be the way to put it.

So, without further ado…

Rose turned up her nose when Joe proposed.
She shook her head and shouted “No!”
The deposed beau composed an ode
and read it to his best friend Moe.
“Love like a cancer grows.
In my heart and my lymph nodes.
It was a blow when she said go.”
“I don’t know,” said Moe.
“She chose the row she wants to hoe.
So you don’t owe her any odes,
that girl’s just a stuck-up toad.”
“Shucks,” said Joe, “Well, I suppose.”
He heaved a sigh, sad and low.
“I’ll really miss her lovely toes.”

Like I said, the depths. The cold, murky depths. With strange fish swimming by.


Musical Sketch: The Dead Game

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Years ago in my Chicago days, my band, the Autumn War, did a song called The Dead Game. I can’t remember the lyric topic, but I’ve always been intrigued by the title. Anyway, I just borrowed the title and wrote a new song this week (topic: politics, health care, and the forced irrelevancy of the individual). I’m going to do some more tweaking with the sketch, but I’m pleased with how it’s proceeding.


Thoughts on Not Writing Epic Fantasy

I seem to constantly meet people who get that gleam in their eye when they hear I’ve written a few books.

“A writer, eh?” they say. “I’m thinking about writing a book too.”

“You are?” I say. “That’s great. What’s it about?”

That’s a dangerous question to ask, but what else am I going to say at that point? There is no other question to ask. Other than a deus ex machina twist in the plot (asteroid strike, swarm of hornets, or the the appearance of a land shark), I have no other choice.

“Oh, it’s about this guy who opens a door, no, wait, a closet door, or maybe he should open a cupboard? Anyway, he goes through because maybe he’s being chased by football players, and then he finds himself in an alternative world where he suddenly acquires all these mad fighting skills and he’s also a totally awesome wizard, and this really hot princess falls in love with him. No, wait. Maybe two really hot princesses. Or three? And then there’s this super bad guy called Doom or King Doom or…no, I got it! Count Doom, kind of like Count Dooku from the new Star Wars movies, but cooler because it’s sort of like Star Wars and sort of like that guy from the comic books who fights Spiderman. Count Doom! He’s really evil and he’s going to destroy the world and the guy, the first guy, is the only guy who can stop him. And then there’s this huge battle scene with lots of fighting and stuff.”

“Sounds interesting,” I say. “How much have you written so far?”

“I haven’t really started yet, but I will.”

And then we wander off on our separate ways, both of us to dream our dreams and fly our flights of fancy. Both of us to age and grow older, one day at a time. Sand through the hourglass until there are no more chances or opportunities or stories left to be told. That can be told.


Old Tunes: These Days

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Here’s another old tune from the recently uncovered trove. I can’t remember exactly why I wrote this song, but it seems to be about mortality. I guess I have a thing for writing about the fragility of life. My friend Lionel is singing lead. I’m playing guitar and keyboard, plus singing the “tripped” vocals. Steve Loveless on percussion.


Dragons, Neo-Nazis and Faeries

What do dragons, neo-Nazis and faeries have in common? If your answer is the amazingly delicious combination of peanut butter and chocolate (or Al Gore as a close second), then you’re somewhat correct, but that wasn’t the answer I was looking for. I was actually referring to Karina Fabian’s new book Greater Treasures. Karina is a friend of mine from an online writers group that has enriched my life with a great deal of discussion on culture, books, politics, art, how to make moose meat taste less gamey, and many other things.

But, enough of that. I’m going to post an excerpt from Greater Treasures below. If it piques your curiosity, head on over to the DragonEye site for other tales.

Greater-Treasures-EbookGiven the day I was having, it came as no surprise that when I got home, I found the dogs sprawled in a drugged sleep and the sounds of things being overturned from within the warehouse. I decided not to bother with subtlety, but I did resist the urge to burst in with flames going full-blast. I had questions first.

Naturally, I walked straight in to find an automatic weapon—yep, a bona fide black-market AK-47—and I thought only Faerie lived their clichés—and six other weapons of various types pointed at me. I didn’t stop, just closed the door with my tail while I strolled in slow and placid-like. My visitors had shaved heads, faces painted white with clown paint, and black t-shirts with swastikas in white circles.

“If you’re the housekeeping service, you’re fired.”

“You stay right there, or we gonna fire you!” said one guy from the sidelines as he held his nunchucks at the ready.

What’d he think he would do—whack me on the nose? I turned to the one holding the assault rifle. “Scraping the bottom of the barrel with that one, weren’t you?”

“He’s right. You just stay still while we search the place.”

“The place” was a ten-thousand square foot warehouse with offices on the upper floor. Boxes I still hadn’t opened line the walls and made a maze in the second warehouse room. I settled myself on the floor and rested my head on my crossed arms. “Go ahead. I get half of anything you find.”

They stared at me, unbelieving. I smiled back. Mr. Cooperation, that’s me. Finally, Big Gun snarled for the others to get to work. As he turned his back on me, Nunchucks muttered, “I got your half. Don’t think I don’t.” Guess he learned such witty repartee in Hitler Youth Summer Camp.

I watched and listened and waited. With eight teenage skinheads trashing my place, it was only a matter of time.

“I wouldn’t go in there if I were you,” I suggested as Nunchucks made a grab for the doorknob to Grace’s workshop.

“You gonna stop me?” He turned the knob.

“Nope,” I said as I closed my ears and my eyes. Even so, I saw the otherworldly light and heard the harmonious roar of Divine Vengeance followed by Mundane screams.

“The Heavenly Host on the other hand…”

I waited until the screams died down to whimpers before opening my eyes and rising.

Four of the skinheads were unconscious. Three may as well have been; they were curled up in the fetal position, whimpering. Nunchucks was actually crying for his mommy. Big Guns had collapsed to the floor as well, the gun thrown away from him. He was sitting and rocking and making high-pitched keening through the roof of his mouth.

I’d tell Grace to tone down her wards some, except that the effect is directly proportional to the evilness of the intent. Suddenly, I was feeling a little shaky about my earlier entrance.

Knights out of the armor now. I went around, collecting weapons in the office trash can and poking through pockets. I found the usual stuff—driver’s licenses, credit cards, petty cash… One kid had a condom; wishful thinking on his part, I knew. Another had a report card. MLK High. Wonder if he was the one beating up Faerie kids? Honor roll grades, too. Of all the years I’ve battled evil, there were still some things I didn’t understand.

As I was returning Big Guns’ (aka Rick Matherston’s) wallet back into his jacket pocket, he blinked and focused on me.

“What was that?”

“Angels, kid.” Actually a kind of magical shadow of the real thing, but close enough.
“But I thought angels were—”

“There’s a reason why their first words are usually ‘Fear not!’ whenever they meet a human.”

His eyes returned to their unfocused stare. I almost felt sorry for him. Then I noticed the letters FARISLAR tattooed on his knuckles. Faerie slayer.

Karina FabianThe winner of the 2010 INDIE for best Fantasy (Magic, Mensa and Mayhem), Karina Fabian has imagination that takes quirky twists that keep her–and her fans–amused. Nuns working in space, a down-and-out Faerie dragon working off a geas from St. George, zombie exterminators—there’s always a surprise in Fabian’s worlds. Mrs. Fabian teaches writing and book marketing seminars, but mostly is concerned with supporting her husband, Rob Fabian as he makes the exciting leap from military officer to civilian executive, getting her kids through high school and college, and surviving daily circuit torture…er, circuit training.  Read about her adventures at http://fabianspace.com.

Website: http://fabianspace.com, http://dragoneyepi.net
Blog:  http://fabianspace.blogspot.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/karina.fabian
Twitter:  http://twitter.com/#!/KarinaFabian
Google +:  https://plus.google.com/103660024891826015212

 


We need a Fresh Pie sign on the Moon…

090329_6761It probably wouldn’t be cost effective to put a Fresh Pie sign on the Moon, but it would certainly be eye-catching. A massive neon sign taking up the entire full face of the Moon. Blinking on and off. Fresh Pie, with an arrow pointing at our farm in California. I imagine it would tick off the environmentalists. They tend to get upset and freak out over any kind of development. The nice thing about the moon, though, is that there aren’t any so-called endangered species living up there (at least, none that I know of). No tiger salamanders or red-legged frogs. Thank God. Might be some green tentacled hopping aliens, though, but they aren’t on the endangered species list.

The top two pies in this photo are mixed berry. The bottom pie is an ollalieberry. Ollalieberry, if you aren’t familiar with it, is a cousin of the blackberry, but it tends to be a larger and sweeter berry. It makes for an excellent pie. These pies are deep dish, just out of the oven, and have definitely been consumed by the time you set your eyes on this photo. That’s life, ain’t it?


Abelskivers, redux (but without ducks)

For some bizarre reason I keep on getting people coming to my site because of abelskivers. I wrote a piece about the little Danish gut-bomblets about a year ago. It was either a piece about how they’re responsible for global warming or the extinction of the dodo bird or something like that. Anyway, Google keeps on sending abelskiver pilgrims my way. Kind of like people making trips to Lourdes to get healed, they come here to learn of lethal Danish baked goods.

Once a year, my church puts on an Abelskiver day in honor of its Danish heritage (aside: I’m not Danish myself, but I appreciate Danish things such as how they dealt with the Nazis during WWII, havarti cheese, and…uh…Danish pastries that aren’t abelskivers). Scads of abelskiver pans appear out of thin air. Batter is mixed up. Stovetops ignite. Those who have too much hairspray in their hair also ignite and run screaming for the nearest sink. The batter gets inserted into the round depressions of the pans. The batter turns into balls of delicate brown pastry hot goodness. The balls get served on plates, sprinkled with powdered sugar, alongside dollops of jam, slices of ham, and wedges of orange. People eat them in vast quantities and then stagger home to expire.

Thus is the circle of life perpetuated in a fairly civilized manner without needing to involve lions messily eating wildebeests at watering holes in the Serengeti.

Contrary to popular belief, abelskivers do not resurrect well in the microwave. Rather, when reheated, they cunningly manifest an enticingly crispy outer layer, while concealing a concrete interior with a density equivalent to a black hole. Once ingested, the hapless ingestee is done for. That is why most abelskiver intervention associations advocate consuming the little skivers only if you are in sound health, have good life insurance (is term better than the other kind? I’m perpetually confused about that), and possess a properly executed will leaving everything to me.