By now most people have probably figured out that an eclipse is coming this Monday, as it tends to do here in America every so often. Still, I'm not sure everyone's completely clear on all the details, so I thought I'd answer some common questions:

Q: Why does everybody have to scream at everyone about everything these days?

No, I mean about the eclipse. 

Q: What the heck is this thing? Is this some holdover from the 2012 Apocalypse?

This is a reasonable question, since we're still waiting for the 2012 Apocalypse. An eclipse simply happens when the shadow from one body passes over another body. For instance, one day I was lying on a beach when movie maker Michael Moore moved by. Moore blocked out the sun and ruined my tan, thus saving me from skin disease. (He refused to give me an autograph, just because I asked him when his totality would be over.)

That's Michael, in the middle. Not so very big after all.

Q: Huh?

Moore is rather portly, although I've been gaining on him. If you're a liberal, feel free to insert Trump's name. Oh, you mean "huh" about totality? That's the area of the Earth's surface that's completely covered by the Moon's shadow, usually only for a minute or so. During totality is the only time--and I mean ONLY time--when you can safely look directly at an eclipse without eye protection. Unfortunately, the area of totality is only about 70 miles wide. For example, in northeast Indiana the eclipse will cover about 86% of the sun, so go buy those glasses.

Q: What will happen if I look at it without protection?

Have you ever watched that episode of the TV show Supernatural, when the psychic gets to look at the true face of an angel? It's like that. Nothing left but smoking eye sockets. And yeah, that looks cool for a second, but only to everyone else.

It's perfectly safe to look at the eclipse during totality. But if even a sliver of sun is showing before or after, POOF! Seeing eye dog time. (Or, you could maintain some vision but have "just" permanent damage.)


Q: What's so important about this eclipse?

Well, it's cool, even more cool than smoking eye sockets. Also, it's rare in that, for the first time in almost a century, it will traverse the entire U.S. from coast to coast, over fourteen states. That's happened only 15 times in the last 150 years.

I can block my house from here!

There are between two and five eclipses every year, but a total solar eclipse only happens every 18 months or so. Not only that, but when they do happen it's often in a place where most people don't see it, like over an ocean, or the Pacific northwest. According to this mathematical guy from Belgian, any certain spot on Earth will see a total eclipse once every 375 years. That's an average, and it's math, so I'm just taking his word for it.

This is the first time in 38 years that a total eclipse was visible anywhere in the continuous U.S. For perspective, at the time Jimmy Carter was President, and gas was 86 cents a gallon. St. Louis, which is in the path this time, last saw totality in 1442, when gasoline was even cheaper. Chicago, which saw one in 1806 but will miss this one, will next see totality in 2205, when fueling your flying car might be very expensive.

Scientists have determined there are two small areas of the country--one in northeast Colorado, and one near Lewellen, Nebraska--that haven't seen a total eclipse in over a thousand years. Talk about bad luck.

Q: So I'm guaranteed to get a good show?

Oh, heck no. See above joke about the Pacific northwest; the 1979 total eclipse over that area was largely unseen due to clouds and rain.

This isn't a Hollywood movie: Any number of things could spoil it, from bad weather to having Michael Moore stand in front of you. But I wouldn't sweat Michael (can I call him Michael?) who I've heard is looking after his health much better these days. No, the big question will be whether weather cooperates. My wife and I are heading into the path of totality, and I can pretty much guarantee a day-long driving rain, or possibly a hurricane, will hit central Missouri at about that time.

What I probably won't see

 Q: What effects can we expect?
  
Fire and brimstone, dogs and cats sleeping together, total chaos, new super powers, pretty much the worst parts of the Bible. Wait, that was in the movies. Well, it'll get dark, 'cause--no sun. In the path of totality you'll see stars (or clouds), and you'll also be in for a rare treat of seeing the sun's atmosphere with the naked eye. One cool thing I noticed during a partial eclipse was that sunlight passing through the trees cast thousands of little crescent shaped shadows.

Some animals might be fooled into thinking it's twilight. In fact, eclipses have been known to thin out the local vampire population.

Geeks like me will geek out. People who don't understand, or don't care about, the difference between reality and Hollywood special effects might be disappointed.

Q: What are the greatest dangers?

As with many things in our modern society, the greatest danger might be driving. Officials expect major traffic jams as millions of people try to get into the path of totality. For those who don't make it on time or aren't expecting it, the danger is that they'll be driving down the road, trying to stare at the eclipse, only to ram someone who pulled over along the side of the road to watch the eclipse. Don't do either of those.

Otherwise, there's that smoking eye socket thing. Interestingly, during partial eclipses when the brightness doesn't seem too bad, infrared waves from the sun can still cause damage by overheating the eye, in a boiling egg kind of a way. Disturbed yet? Me, too.

Enjoy these eclipses while you can: The Moon's orbit is slowly getting larger, so the time will come when it will be too far away to completely cover the sun, meaning the end of total eclipses. Scientists predict this will happen in less than 600 million years, so go look while you still can.
SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
Weathering Indiana Festivals

In one of my books I included a photo of the Onion Days Festival, in Wolf Lake, Indiana. Never mind that it’s called Onion Days—that’s another story—but the photo was taken in the early 1900s, over a century ago.

Hey, I wrote the book; I never said I took the picture.

There are also photos in Albion of what would one day become the Chain O’ Lakes Festival. Those pictures were taken some fifty or sixty years before there was a Chain O’ Lakes State Park … so if the street fair had been called that at the time it would be some pretty amazing precognition.

While researching local history I was shown many photos of fairs, parades, and other gatherings from back a century or so: A late 1800s fair in downtown Kendallville, a 1914 wedding in the middle of Albion’s main intersection … to this day we’re still doing a lot of those same outdoor gatherings. (I assume they shut down traffic for that wedding, but maybe they had to use a team of wild horses to drag the groom in.) )
ozma914: mustache Firefly (mustache)
( May. 6th, 2017 11:16 pm)
I went out hunting mushrooms, a spore-t even I could succeed at.

Kidding--I just stumbled across them by happy accident. (Literally stumbled across them, in one case.)

I hate regular mushrooms. They taste like a 50s horror movie. Still, I must admit that finding edible ones in the wild made my interest ... well ... mushroom a bit. And who doesn't want to have a little fun-gus in their life?

So, at my wife's urging (okay, she made me), I tried one. She fried it up, with a little butter, much the way I like everything cooked except for chocolate. (I like my chocolate covered with a nice thick layer of more chocolate.)

It tasted like pork. I'm not kidding. Unlike mushrooms I've tried in the past, which taste much like unripe raw rubber, these are much Morel tasty. (Now I'm wondering what raw rubber really tastes like.)  It's not a food I'd want every day, but it just goes to show you ... sometimes it's worth giving something new a try.

Before you ask, I was assured by the property owner that if I identified where I found these Morels, I'd end up pushing them up myself.

ozma914: (Dorothy and the Wizard)
( Apr. 26th, 2017 03:52 pm)

A certain percentage of the population will insist that if they can do something, it's easy for anyone to do.

Example: I take a woodworking class in high school (because an industrial arts class was required and I wasn't any good at getting out of that kind of thing). "It's easy. Anyone can use a saw and sander, and make a bookcase."

Well, I have a dozen bookcases, and I didn't make a single one of them. I also have an Incomplete in woodworking class.

Keeping a small engine going is easy, with just a little training and practice. Tell that to the crew of the passing 747 who found a piece of my mower blade and a spark plug embedded in a wing after the infamous Exploding Lawn Mower Incident of 1998. I don't care how much the federal investigator claims it broke the laws of physics.

So when I tell you I'm a little nervous about installing our new water heater, I don't want to hear any of that, "ah, it's easy" crap. The E.R. has a special "ah, it's easy" treatment room. It's right next to the "hold my beer and watch this" ward.

My wife spent the better part of a day researching the best replacement for our heater, which recently went from a small leak to rinsing the basement floor, and wasn't that nice of it to help keep the place clean? Then we drove to the store, and discovered it would fit into our Ford Escape with exactly half an inch to spare. Then came getting it out of the SUV and down the basement steps, which make two sharp right angle turns: One at the inside of an L shaped wall, one at the basement door. Picture it. The new heater weighs 130 pounds, which is still less then the piece of my lawn mower they found inside a barn six miles from my lawn.

And that was still the easiest part of the job, although my back denies it. The rest comes later this week, when I have to remove the old water heater and install the new one. The instructions are pretty plain, step-by-step, and involve electricity and natural gas.

But not to worry: Someone will show up to help, they always do. No one really wants to see my house blow up. That I know of.

I'm sure it'll work out fine. Or if you don't hear from me later, look for a video similar to this one: 

https://youtu.be/Cv178a60Ypg

Any author will tell you their success at finding readers lives and dies on reviews. Well, and sales. That's a given.

Actually, not all writers will tell you that. Stephen King doesn't worry about reviews so much. Neither does Rowling, these days. Come to think of it, these days they don't have to worry about sales so much, either.

Still, for most of us reviews are a big deal. There's one thing we all desire more than reviews, though: Good reviews. If the reviews contain the words "greatest ever", "genius", or "eat your heart out, King and Rowling", it's probably a good review. Not always, though. Here's a review I got for my first novel, Storm Chaser:

"This is the greatest ever waste of space--getting people to buy it was a genius con. Eat your heart out, King and Rowling: You'd have never gotten away with this."

So there are always exceptions. Here are some questionable reviews my other books received:


Storm Chaser Shorts:
 "Dude, shorts are never mentioned at any of these stories. Sure, there are some storms, and people get chased once or twice, but that's only two-thirds of the title. No truth in advertising!"

 
Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights: A Century Or So With the Albion Fire Department:
"This book should have been way longer. He didn't cover every single day. He missed most nights. And what's this 'or so' crap? This guy will never write another history book again."

The No-Campfire Girls:
"I'm all for adventure, but don't they have a safety director at this summer camp? Arrows, explosives, storms, fires--it's an insurance nightmare. Also, it has all these teenage girls, and no representation from teenage boys; it should have been more gender neutral."

Slightly Off the Mark: The Unpublished Columns:
"Opinions are fine as long as they're mine, but these just aren't my opinions at all. Also, I have the strangest feeling the author is trying to be funny. That's just unacceptable. I'm fairly certain I'm offended."

Images of America: Albion and Noble County:
"Okay, this is lazy, lazy stuff. They're supposed to be writing, and instead they jam the whole book full of pictures. And they didn't even take them themselves! Somebody paid them for this? (Update: Okay, somebody pointed out that 'Images' is in the title, but that's just lazy titling.)"

The Notorious Ian Grant:
"So this offensive guy drives all the way across America just so he can insult people in a different state from the one he usually insults people in. Then he's surprised when people want to kill him. Well, California wisecracking doesn't cut it in the Hoosier state, fella: Take your sexy stubble and go home before you get Tazed just like everyone else in this story."

Hoosier Hysterical: How the West Became the Midwest Without Moving At All:
"I appreciated all the photos, but I don't know what they're of. Also, I'll bet the jokes would be funny if I knew what they were about. I think this is about history. I don't like history, but the section on Indiana celebrities was cool. But I've never heard of most of them."

Radio Red:
"I've never heard of this book. Should I have heard of this book? Maybe if it was free, I'd try it. Why do these writers want so much money, anyway?"


I'm afraid to even bring up the newest anthology, The Very True Legends of Ol' Man Wickleberry and his Demise. I mean, it's got violence and ageism in it.  On the other hand, it could be worse. None of the reviewers specifically referred to me as a "bad writer".

Well, none that you'll hear about from me.


 

If I were to insult people and mean it, that wouldn't be funny.” – Don Rickles

 

And there you have it, the secret to his success. These days everybody wants to be an insult comic—just go to the comments of any web article and watch everyone sharpening their verbal knives, hurling insults, name-calling with glee. They all think they’re original, and they all think they’re funny.

 

“Who picked your clothes—Stevie Wonder?” – Don Rickles

 

Don Rickles was way ahead of them, plus he was funnier. He got away with it, too. He didn’t care about your race, sex, religion—he just wanted to know what they were so he could make fun of you.

 

“My mother was a Jewish General Patton” – Don Rickles

 

That's Don on the left, insulting the Japanese during WW II.

 

 

How did he get away with it? Easy: He didn’t mean it. Jokes today just seem mean-spirited, like you’re not trying to be funny so much as getting a dig in. 

 

“Compared to what some of the young comics use for material today, I’m a priest.” – Don Rickles

 

But with Rickles you got the impression it was all an act—that he never meant a thing that he said. That he was—although he’d deny it—secretly a nice guy. And by all accounts of those who knew him, it was true. That, as he admitted himself, was the trick—to be likeable and liked before you start with the insults.

 

“Oh my God, look at you. Anyone else hurt in the accident?” – Don Rickles

 

R.I.P. Don Rickles, 90 years old, World War II veteran and, as Johnny Carson put it, “Mr. Warmth”.

 

“If I took therapy, the doctor would quit. He’d just pick up the couch and walk out of the room.”
(To Johnny Carson) “That’s it, laugh it up. You’re making $50 million a year and your poor parents are back in Nebraska eating locusts for dinner.”

 

 

 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

(Note: This was originally written on February 7th and then misplaced, which isn’t the first time. It was the beginning of what was overall a nice February—for Indiana. You all know how things changed in March.)

Ah, spring.

Or, possibly, &$@# spring!

That’s the way it is, with springtime in Indiana. It’s feast or famine, a saying that goes well for farmers wondering if they’ll be able to get into their fields early, or ever.

I was reminded of spring just a few days after that stupid groundhog predicted six more weeks of winter, a prediction that’s essentially meaningless in Indiana. There are always six more weeks of winter—we just don’t know when. It could start next week. It could start next month. (Note: It did.) If you’re having a mild winter, like we had this year, a backlash is almost guaranteed. I’m worried about whether spring is going to be full of terms like “polar vortex”, “late winter snowstorm”, and “Is that groundhog still alive? Get my gun”.

On this particular day my wife and I got out of the car while shopping and simultaneously cocked our heads, which come to think of it probably looked pretty funny.

“Is that a bird?” I asked.

“That is a bird.”

“But that’s not a bird we usually hear in February.”

“No, it’s a spring bird.”

It was indeed a spring bird, one that was soon to be very, very unpleasantly surprised. On that particular day, the outdoor temperature hit the mid-forties. Two nights before it dipped into the teens. Two days later it hit sixty and we had thunderstorms, followed a few days after that by snow.

A typical March in Indiana, the only strange thing being that we heard the bird in early February. As you read this is should now be March, which means (if you live in the Midwest) you’re dressing in layers to combat both frostbite and heat stroke, possibly on the same day. But for February, that weather was actually pretty good.

February is usually easy to forecast. You have two choices: It’s cold and it’s going to snow, or it’s not going to snow but even colder. (Note: I said usually.) But spring—spring is different. Here’s a typical Midwest meteorologist in, say, mid-March:

“Looks like a blizzard headed our way, folks—oh, wait. The radar just updated, and the blizzard has been sucked up by a tornado! I think we’re going to see some serious snow drifts.”

We have something called March Madness, which most people think is about basketball playoffs. But in Indiana, March Madness translates to ice season: that time of the year when sleet and freezing rain fall as often as snow.

“Aren’t those icicles on the electric lines pretty—oh, the power’s out again.”

Occasionally we’ll have a dry spring, and instead of frozen precipitation you can see columns of smoke in every direction, often accompanied by sirens. This is called grass fire season, and generally comes just after March Madness. People realize they can finally walk outside without fifty pounds of outer clothing, and their first thought turns to the mess their lawns have become over winter.

“What shall we do with all these branches, leaves, weeds, and trash? Oh, I know—we’ll burn them! The ground is still wet; what could possibly go wrong?”

Pro tip: All that dead plant life around your fire is plenty dry, fella. The ground being wet simply means fire trucks can’t go off road to extinguish that wildland fire you just started. And then firefighters end up out there, ironically, trying to beat the heat with their own fifty pounds of outer clothing.

But it’s spring, so who knows? I’ve helped fight a few grass fires that I had to walk around snow drifts to reach. I’ve gone out on tornado watches in March. (Terrible idea, by the way—the basement’s way calmer.) I’ve shoveled snow in May. And all the while those poor, confused birds are flying around up there, trying to figure out whether they should be heading north or south.

They’d better decide fast, because if they head west they’ll run into a blizzard, and if they fly for the East Coast they’ll run into an even bigger blizzard.

So yeah, I’m worried about that bird. What is he living on, anyway? If he pecks the frozen ground for worms he’ll break his beak. The first bugs don’t come out until … well, about now, if you include mosquitoes.

In fact, it’s not uncommon in Indiana for the big piles of plowed snow to still be melting off in July. Sometimes, on the first really warm days, you can see kids skiing down snow mountains at Wal-Mart, then surfing on across the parking lot.

It’s why I often call Indiana the greatest place in the world, except during winter. Luckily, surviving winter is like surviving pain: Once it’s over, you tend to forget how bad it is. By the end of May you can put your snow shovel away (you might want to keep the gloves and wool hat out, just in case), and enjoy the outdoors, until it gets hot.

Maybe the hot is why we’re not all living in Florida.

 

 

 

 

 

The first reviews of Ol' Man Wickleberry are in--well, review--and it seems to be going over well:

https://www.amazon.com/review/R31PARSB3O5H8C

Ol' Man Wickleberry probably wouldn't agree, but he's known to be crotchety.

Remember, authors depend on reviews to survive. There was a time when that was literal, as starving authors would read their reviews, then cook them into a mush with a little salt and pepper for those months between royalty checks. That's a lot harder to do since the internet came along.

I took a couple of days off for our wedding anniversary this year, having come up with a fairly simple idea, which is all I'm capable of when it comes to events like that. Anniversaries, birthdays, Valentine's Day ... my mind freezes up like a ... frozen ... thing. See, just thinking about it does that.

Now, my wife loves camping, but our anniversary is March 5th. In Indiana that's camping season in the same way the South Pole is a tourist attraction: Sure, you can do it, but you're more than likely going to freeze. But we'd had a very warm February, so I rolled the dice and came up with a plan: We would head south for a short camping trip, maybe somewhere along the Ohio River where it's always at least five or ten degrees warmer than Northern Indiana. It's not exactly green down there yet, which is why I settled on Clifty Falls State Park--a place where a lack of foliage might actually improve the view.

As long as it didn't rain it was a brilliant plan, by which I mean it was brilliant by my standards, by which I mean I didn't come up with a backup plan in case it rained. Then we got measurable snow on two of the first three days of March. The first day we didn't get any snow because of the severe thunderstorm rolling through.

I confess to getting a little nervous at that point.

Our forecast was cooler and partially wet, but hey--that was hundreds of miles from our soon-to-be dream anniversary spot. So I checked the forecast for Madison, Indiana, which is right by Clifty Falls at the opposite end of the state.

Their forecast was exactly the same as ours.

That I didn't see coming. It wouldn't be so cold that we wouldn't be comfortable inside the sleeping bags my mother-in-law gave us for Christmas--but three days stuck inside a tent with a dog, wrapped in a sleeping bag (us, not the dog), just doesn't seem all that dreamy.

So as I write this it's March Third, and I'm desperately trying to come up with a plan B. I even checked on what the anniversary gifts are for a fifth wedding anniversary. The traditional one is wood, and the modern one is silverware.

Well, the wood would come in handy to build a fire. But silverware? Why don't I just give her a new garbage disposal, or a vacuum cleaner? "Isn't it romantic? A gift like this will sweep you off your feet! Get it? Dear? What are you doing with that ax?"

At this point I considered combining the anniversary gift ideas into a "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" themed anniversary, in which we would go out into the forest with wooden stakes and silver bullets to hunt the supernatural. That show figured into how we met, and I believe it's having a 20th anniversary itself, so I thought I had something. Then I realized it would involve taking my once again disappointed wife into an area with no witnesses, then handing her a sharp object and a loaded gun.

Might as well just give her a shovel, too ... but I think hand tools don't come around until the 11th anniversary. I'll let you know how it goes.

If I can.

(This is the big non-Radio Red announcement post that only newsletter subscribers have seen so far. As we'll see later, it does relate to Radio Red--in a big way.)


Awhile back I was invited to write a story for a fiction anthology e-book: The Very True Legends of Ol' Man Wickleberry and his Demise. Me being the type to kill two birds with one stone (It's just an expression!), I made a connection between that book and Radio Red, and had a lot of fun with it. And now it's up for ... free!





Ol’ Man Wickleberry is a man of legend – or is he a legend of a man? With a scruffy beard and a dislike for humanity, how long has it been since he met his demise, and what is he doing in his ghostly afterlife? The stories may differ, but all of them are true. We swear. So if you’re ever wandering alone in the woods at night, and find you’re not really alone, it just might be Ol’ Man Wickleberry.


Enjoy eight tales by seven talented authors including:

Vendetta by Chris Harris: Mr. Baker is on his way to steal a deal when he’s snowed in. Stuck waiting at a rustic tavern, he’s ambushed by an old man with a strange story – a story that’s beyond belief. Or is it?

Evil Animals and Automobiles by Mark R Hunter : Ol’ Man Wickleberry hates deer so much he sometimes prompts them to an untimely end, with the help of those newfangled automobiles. But the next victim might be Ol’ Man Wickleberry, himself.

The True Story of Ol’ Man Wickleberry by Jonathan Harvey: Jonathan Harvey puts the Terrible Turtle spin on the Wickleberry legend. He names himself Papa Harvey and weaves a tale that is strange and bizarre, but still interesting. If only he wasn’t constantly being interrupted.

Out Walking by Joleene Naylor: The mysterious carnivorous white rabbits sound too strange to be true, but Ol’ Man Wickleberry can’t stand the thought of missing some rare game. It seems a walk is in order…

Body Swap by Ruth Nordin: A teenage boy makes a trade with a man who was thought to be dead.

Weirdly Normal - The Hike by Simon Goodson: Vincent hates hiking. But more than anything else, he hates their guide's endless wittering about the horribly scary myth of Ol' Man Wickleberry. Just when Vincent is certain the night can't get any worse... Ol' Man Wickleberry himself makes an appearance!

Wickleberry Elixir by Terry Compton: Rick and his two fellow college students just wanted a few extra college credits and the money from the work study. Then the professor demanded more details. But details sometimes lead to answers no one really wants or believes.

Ol’ Man Wickleberry (The Other True Story) by Jonathan Harvey: Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O, and next to this farm lived Ol’ Man Wickleberry, E-I-E-I – Oh. It seems Ol’ Man Wickleberry doesn’t like these kind of goings ons. A short story that’s rhyming good fun.





It was loads of fun. And the best part for me is that connection I mentioned earlier: My story about Ol' Man Wickleberry happens to take place during the opening chapter of Radio Red--but from a very different perspective. It's not a spoiler: The scene is the inciting incident of the novel, and is actually on the back cover blurb and in the story's description, so fear not!

You can find Ol' Man Wickleberry for free on Smashwords and Barnes and Noble:
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/700221

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-very-true-legends-of-ol-man-wickleberry-and-his-demise-joleene-naylor/1125700942

 And it's on Amazon. At the moment it's 99 cents there, but our illustrious editor is working on price matching and getting it down  to zero, too--keep checking back!
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MZF588Q
The headline stopped me cold: "Seven Objects Found Circling Dwarf".

My first thought, as you might imagine, was: "Wait--I thought 'dwarf' was now an insulting, politically incorrect term, like 'midget', or 'calm political discussion'. Sure, you have dwarfs in online gaming, but that's a whole other thing. Have you ever tried to get an Orc to clean up his language?

"Excuse me, Mr. Orc, but the proper term is 'little people'. Wait--what are you doing with that double bladed ax? Help!"

Anyway, my second thought was, "Someone needs to help protect that poor dwarf from those seven--seven? I mean, not me--I have an appointment. My sciatica is acting up. Danger makes my ears bleed."

Turns out it was a red dwarf, which seemed even more insulting until I discovered that's a type of sun. This particular sun should be very familiar to Han Solo, who could reach it in twelve parsecs (that's how far away it is), but for the rest of us a parsec is a unit of distance: It would take several million years, even if we took an empty jug along instead of stopping for bathroom breaks. At 39 light years it's close, but that's in astronomical terms: It's like saying a government project is "only" a few million dollars.

For those of you who are Star Wars fans, I should add that this is a red sun we're talking about, named by the movie series' Admiral Ackbar: "It's a Trappist-1!" It's only a little star, slightly bigger than Jupiter and twelve times smaller than our own Sun. The truth is, red dwarfs are the most common types of stars in the galaxy, so in all ways it's unremarkable except one: We've discovered planets circling it.

Lots of planets.

Not only that, but most of the planets are around the size of our Earth. Not only that, but three of those planets are in the star's Goldilocks zone. And so, in the most stunning astronomical discovery ever, we can definitively announce that we've discovered planets inhabited by bears and little blonde girls. The worlds are thriving, and covered by porridge, making them just right.

Or maybe that's just a term astronomers use for a planet that's the perfect distance from its sun for life to exist: Not too hot, not too cold. Liquid water could exist there, which means you could, indeed, make porridge, although I prefer oatmeal. It's sweeter. At least, it is when I'm done with it.

Since Trappist-1 is so small it's very dim, like a 15 watt bulb, or a politician. (I never get tired of that ... even when everyone else does.) So to be in the Goldilocks zone, three of the planets whirl around very close to the sun, and to each other. The years are very short, the sun dim and red, and you could stand on one planet and see the others as plainly as we see our Moon. As a result there are probably a lot of tidal forces there, so you'd have no problem keeping your clothes clean. Really, it's like a paradise, except for the violent earthquakes and volcanoes that would come from the tidal forces, and I just realized they aren't talking about laundry detergent.

We don't know a lot about these planets, yet. What kind of atmosphere do they have? Is it like Montana, or Beijing? Is there water there? Considering how much water we've discovered across our own solar system, it's likely. And the best part is there are no gas giants, leading us to believe the entire system is devoid of both lawyers and Congressmen. (What? It's still funny.)

But regardless of that, this is still the largest number of planets we've yet seen around an exoplanet, which is to say a planet not circling our own Sun. It's like they're an outtie and we're an innie. And all of them close enough to Earth-size to make us sit up and consider the possibilities.

So, is there life? Bacteria? An ape civilization? Starbucks? Most important of all, do they have chocolate?

Or ... dare I say it ... something better than chocolate? Granted, seems unlikely.

Maybe we could send Han Solo to check.

 So here's the scenario: You want to support your local volunteer fire department, so you go to their fund-raising bingo night. And it's your lucky day! You get the B-12, and the I-C, and the IN-diana, and G-whiz, and even the O-boy! (I don't actually play Bingo, but I assume that's how it goes.)

 

"Bingo!" You've won! This is so much more fun than when you and your buddies got drunk and had that nose hair plucking contest!

 

And here's your prize. Powered by D-cell batteries, it's three speed, in brilliant white plastic--real plastic, not that fake stuff. You look at it, puzzled. Is this some kind of back massager? And then the realization hits you:

 

You've won a sex toy.

 

Well done, sir (um, or ma'am)! Your Valentine's Day gift-giving dilemma is over.

 

That's how they roll at the Hometown Volunteer Fire Company in Schuykill County, Pennsylvania. Their idea of "hometown" appears to be at odds with what I would imagine. But like any volunteer fire department, the Hometown Fire Company has the ongoing challenge of finding enough money to stay in operation. The good news is, they appear to have hit the jackpot, or rather the bingo: Naughty Bingo.

 

Naughty Bingo night is March 11, and I know you're interested. I assume it'll be held at the fire station, which is already chock full of talk about nozzles, hose, pumpers, and squirting of various sorts. And you thought a hose bed was just for hose.

 

Hometown tried it for the first time last year, reasoning that their supporters were getting tired of all the old fundraising tropes. I mean, you can only have so many fish fries, pancake breakfasts, porkburger sales, chicken ... mmm, I'm hungry. Where were we?

 

Oh, yes. They decided to try something new, and it brought in a standing-room only crowd from several counties in two states. (New Jersey. Go figure.) Just 160 tickets were sold, and they were snapped up faster than a leopard-skin whip at a San Francisco clearance sale. Do they make leopard-skin whips? Wait, don't tell me.

 

The firefighters, already well known for finding 'em hot and leaving 'em wet, were understandably concerned about community reaction. But everyone seems to love the idea--maybe because it beat raising taxes. Really, with fund raisers it's already a small step from sex toys to bratwurst. "Now remember, this is silicone: Don't try to put it in a bun. Wait, let me rephrase that ..."

 

The real question people should be asking themselves is: Why should emergency responders have to spend enormous amounts of their time begging for it? Money, I mean? If there's one area that should be fully funded, this is it.

 

Maybe every government department should have to do fund raisers:

 

The parks department could set up a lingerie football league.

 

The water department can host wet t-shirt contests.

 

And, of course, the street department would have ... street walkers.

 

Until that time comes, it seems to be mostly small fire departments that need to get a stiff shot of cash by raising funds. If they have to do that, then I say let them do whatever gets their finances up--we've already had racy firefighter calendars of both sexes, so maybe this was the next logical step.

 

And if Naughty Bingo is here, then strip poker can't be far behind. I'd better start working out.

 

 

 

 

I didn't catch this when it first came out, but here's another review of Hoosier Hysterical ... and new reviews make this Hoosier hysterical:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R2TAWWSKJVFMO1

It was actually posted the last day of 2016, which means I'm still waiting for the first review of this year. Remember, to authors reviews are like chocolate: Sure, in theory you could have too much--but it very rarely actually happens.


He's here!

Don't be scared.



https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/700221

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-very-true-legends-of-ol-man-wickleberry-and-his-demise-joleene-naylor/1125700942

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MZF588Q/

(Free on Smashwords and Barnes and Noble, but still set at 99 cents on Amazon. Which isn't an unreasonable price for an eight story anthology. Just the same, Ol' Man Wickleberry's working on it, so keep checking back.)
ozma914: mustache Firefly (mustache)
( Feb. 2nd, 2017 03:12 pm)

I gave the grand-twins a glow-in-the-dark model of the solar system for Christmas, but my daughter tells me the planets won't glow. Now I'm beginning to worry that Bae may have licked the glow material from their surfaces.

 

But at least he's snuggly.
For those of you totally ignorant of the fact that Valentine’s Day is coming up (I’m looking at you, men), the humor anthology My Funny Valentine is still available in print and e-book. (I have a few copies on hand myself.) Maybe your loved one is sick of chocolate, or flowers, or chocolate flowers (Chocolate flowers? The perfect gift!) I’m one of the contributors to My Funny Valentine, which is unsurprisingly about Valentine’s Day.
 
If your loved one has an e-reader, the Kindle version is just $2.99. If they don’t have one, don’t be cheap—buy them one. If they already have one, be cheap. Or, you could get the print version for $9.95 at Amazon:
 
I’d advise against getting them the book for the second or third year in a row, though—they’d certainly notice. But I suppose in that case you could go over to www.markrhunter.com (or Amazon, or Barnes and Noble, etc.) and grab one of my romantic comedies for the loving one you love.
 
This originally went up on the 4 County Mall website (although without the photos) here:

http://www.4countymall.com/single-post/2017/01/09/Fun-With-Inaugurations

 
SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
 
This is inauguration month. You probably didn’t realize this, unless you’re one of the few people who followed the 2016 Presidential election. I mean, who paid attention to that?
 
It was the single nastiest election since I ran for high school student council in 1979, and came in fourteenth out of thirteen. (I was beaten by “none of the above”.) But I’m a humor writer, and humor writers are fearless, so I’m absolutely going to not write about that election because I’m not stupid. And not one of those other twelve student council candidates can deny that, not even the one who ran on the platform of banning shop class, which I voted for him.
 
Here in Indiana we’d much rather talk about basketball and the weather than politics. That includes me, and I hate basketball. Hoosiers only follow politics because of our belief that politicians are like dogs: They might do some things for you, but if you stop paying attention to them they’ll chew up everything and spread crap all over the place.
 
Mostly people here in the Middle would just like to be left alone to lead our lives, but if someone riles us up … well, that’s a different story. After all, this is a state where the governor once sent the American army to attack a political convention, in the state capital.
 
It was called the Battle of Pogue’s Run, and I devoted a whole section to it in my book Hoosier Hysterical because I thought it was—well—hysterical. (Look me up and I’ll sell you a copy for just ten bucks, or less if you’ve got one of those newfangled electronic do-dads.) Although there were no injuries, Pogue’s Run had all the makings of an epic story: rebellion against authority, a cavalry charge, cannons pitted against trains, pistols hidden in petticoats … you can’t make up stuff like that.
 
This is what people did for fun in Indianapolis, before the Colts arrived.
 
Pogue's Run. Some sports team plays in that building in the background.
 
 
As all fifteen of my regular readers know, I write these things early, so for me it’s three weeks before the 2017 presidential inauguration. Maybe we’ll have a repeat of 2009, when Chief Justice John Roberts mixed up his words while giving Barrack Obama the oath of office. People were so worried about it turning into a legal issue that Obama was sworn in again the next day—and that was over just 35 words.
 
Apparently no one took issue to Lyndon B. Johnson’s vice-presidential oath, in which he was supposed to say “without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion”, and instead said “without any mental reservation whatever”. Hey, we’ve all been there.
 
Anyway, in part of my ongoing effort to have something to write about—I mean, to educate the public—let’s see how things have gone wrong in past presidential inaugurations.
 
I’ve already written about William Henry Harrison, who gave the longest presidential inauguration speech ever, then promptly died. He should have taken note of George Washington’s speech, the shortest ever. Still, maybe it wasn’t the time so much as Harrison’s refusal to wear a coat: In 1937 Franklin D. Roosevelt watched the inauguration parade for an hour and a half during the rainiest inauguration day in history, and survived. Not only that, but he watched the whole thing while standing—and FDR couldn’t stand, without assistance.
 
President Harrison is feeling a little under the weather ...
 
 
In 1909 ten inches of snow fell on William H. Taft. Luckily he was a big, big guy, who just plowed through his speech.
 
In the inauguration of 1865 Abe Lincoln had a brand new vice-president, Andrew Johnson—who showed up drunk for his own speech. The story is that Johnson was feeling under the weather, and alcohol was the preferred treatment for a lot of ailments back then. I suppose alcohol’s also the preferred treatment for stage fright.
 
The most expensive inauguration was Obama’s, which cost more than $150 million—but about two thirds of that was paid for by private donors, an idea I can get behind. Crowd source the government!
 
John Quincy Adams did something truly shocking at his inauguration: He wore pants. Up until then, all the new presidents wore knee breeches. Perhaps ironically, Adams was also known to go skinny-dipping in the Potomac River.
 
Adams was also the first president to be photographed, so you can see why he was no peeping prize. But one day a female reporter named Ann Royall, who’d been refused an interview, simply sat on his clothes and refused to let him out of the water … and became the first female reporter to interview a U.S. President.
 
Who wouldn't want to see this handsome guy skinny dipping in the Potomac?
 
 
On a less happy note, in 1857 thirty-six people celebrating James Buchanan’s inauguration caught the “National Hotel disease” and died. Buchanan got it too but recovered, and I assume didn’t dine at that hotel again.
 
JFK had a hot time at his inauguration parade, as in the podium caught fire. A Cardinal was delivering the invocation at the time—think what you will of that.
 
Then there was the inauguration of Andrew Jackson. Twenty thousand people gathered outside the Capitol, a huge crowd for 1829, and Jackson was so happy that he said: “Ya’ll come on over and visit us at the White House!”
 
So they did.
 
Jackson had to escape out the back while the drunken mob smashed stuff and generally turned the White House into a wreck, which also happened when Hillary started throwing bric-a-brac at Bill during the Affair Affair. The party organizers were only able to clear the building by putting free booze out on the White House lawn.
 
But here’s my favorite of all: In 1953 Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the reviewing stand for the inauguration parade when a cowboy rode up to him on a horse … and lassoed him.
 
Of course, that had to have been planned in advance. The cowboy, Montie Montana (I assume that’s his real name) … survived.
 
"Not sure why them fellas in the suits seem all upset."
I haven't had time to write a Christmas column this year, so this is a shorter and greatly modified version of a column I first wrote back in 2009 or so. It's a confessional column ... I confess.



SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

Years ago I DJ’d part time at a local radio station (which figures into my next novel, but we’ll cover that later). I happened to be on duty when the boss decided it was time to start the Christmas season with the Gift of Music.

He produced a card file and a stack of CD’s. On each card in the file (no computers -- it was that long ago) was the name of a Christmas song, which we shuffled into randomness. As soon as I saw what happened to fall as the first one, I had my intro.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to get the holiday season under way with WLNB’s selection of Christmas music, and I’ve been chosen for the honor or starting it out. I’m perfectly okay with that, as long as I don’t have to play ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer’. Now, let’s see what’s on top of our play list ... no. It can’t be. Not that -- anything but that!”

Ah, but it was. And so I started out the Gift of Music with a redneck song about a reckless driving Santa Claus murdering elderly pedestrians.

Hey, I never said I was a good part time DJ. Note that I’m no longer employed there.

I’ve made it a practice to be the best combination of Scrooge and Grinch that I can possibly be. For the uninitiated, Scrooge is the old time British fellow who gets scared by ghosts into loving Christmas. The Grinch is the green guy who goes down to Whoeville to steal Christmas, but ends up returning everything when the Whoeville people start singing happy carols. This begs the question: if the people in Whoeville were happy anyway, why didn’t the Grinch just keep the stuff, and sell it on Ebay?

Yep -- two great stories, two bad endings. Just call me the Scrinch. Or Grooge, that would be okay.

I base most of my attitude on either out of control commercialism or people who, themselves, act like Grinches. Yes, I get upset when I see giant plastic Santas on display at Wal-Mart -- in September. But don’t we all get mad when some scumbag burglar steals the Christmas presents right from under someone’s tree?

I’ve mentioned this before, and recently: Christmas all year round might seem like a good idea, but in reality it would make the holiday cheap and ordinary. Put a friggin tarp on the decorations until mid-November, okay? I once went shopping for Halloween clearance items, and turned the corner to discover a plastic Frosty giving me a ... well, a frosty look.

As for stealing gifts, vandalizing decorations and such ... not that I haven’t wanted to vandalize decorations, but only when the outside ones are turned on in October. For everyone else, a public whipping on New Year’s Day should beat the holiday spirit into them.

My point is this: Although I get as angry as everyone else when “Let it Snow” starts playing in the store while people in shorts and tank tops stumble in, wiping sweat from their brow --

I don’t know if I should say it. It might ruin my reputation, and where am I without that? Next thing you know, people will discover I really like animals. But ... okay, complete honesty, here ...

I love Christmas music.

People may never look at me the same way again.

Christmas is the only thing I look forward to through the months of bitter cold, with nothing but driving snow and black, dead foliage. I never said I was big winter fan. I hate cold, I hate snow, I hate heating bills, I hate bulky clothes that never warm me up, I hate that some people like all that stuff -- but I love Christmas. Colored lights shine through the dull twilight of winter. People actually cheer up a little. Well, some people. And of all the things about Christmas, I love the songs the best.

It doesn’t matter if they’re old or new. Sure, the barking dog Jingle Bells thing grates on me, and I’ve heard versions of “Santa Baby” that make me want to hurry down a chimney. But from Frank Sinatra to Christina Aguilera, nothing perks me up more. What they’ve done elsewhere in their lives, or what other people think of them, doesn’t matter -- I’ll listen to it if it’s Britney Spears, or Barry Manilow.

Old or new? I love “Carol of the Bells” and “The Hallelujah Chorus”, which my choir sang in high school. They didn’t have new Christmas Songs back then. But I’ve got songs in my Christmas library by Faith Hill, the Trans Siberian Orchestra, the Eagles, and, yes, Hannah Montana.

Type of music? It’s all Christmas to me. Doesn’t matter whether it's the Bryan Seltzer Orchestra, Jessica Simpson, or Andrea Bocelli. Or that other fella, Tchaikovsky, and his Nutcracker thing. Still, nothing will ever beat the classics, and Bing Crosby is the king of the classics. I may not like white winters, but “White Christmas” will always be close to my half-frozen heart.

So that’s it --  my big confession. I love Christmas music ... almost all Christmas music. As long as the lyrics aren’t being “sung” by pets.

I don’t even mind that great tribute to holiday violence, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”.

Much.
 
 
The Wreath of Khan.

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
 
 
I always feel a little disjointed when the holidays arrive. I’ve never ready for Thanksgiving, which is followed within hours by Christmas, and minutes after that by New Year’s Eve, followed immediately by several months of miserable winter. I’m never ready.
 
And yet, the holidays come every year. So, what’s my excuse?
 
“Gee, I thought for sure it wouldn’t happen this time. Why was I not warned?”
 
My mother calls every year to find out when we want to celebrate Thanksgiving. We never celebrate Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving—that would be too easy. But many of us work in the service industry. In my 911 center, we almost never close down for the holidays. Okay, we took a few hours off when the Cubs won, but otherwise …
 
Many of my other relatives work in the more difficult service jobs, the ones where you have to work a register and deal with customers face to face. They don’t take 911 calls, but they often make 911 calls. I think I’d rather be on the receiving end. It’s because of their jobs that we can’t celebrate a holiday on a holiday. It used to be they were busy on Thanksgiving, setting up for Black Friday; now they’re busy on Thanksgiving, having Black Friday.
 
If you’re old, like me—I always feel old when the days get shorter—you’ll remember a time when everything shut down for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Go out for Thanksgiving dinner? What a turkey of an idea. Go shopping that same evening? There are ball games to watch, people. But these days we’re thankful for our alarm clock, so we can get up at 3 a.m. to work our part time job in riot control at Best Buy.
 
Don’t worry, ma’am: A little ventilation will get that pepper spray right out of your new flat screen TV.
 
So mom calls, and want to know if we want to have Thanksgiving the Sunday before, or the Saturday after. “But mom,” I say, “Why worry about that in August?”
 
“It’s November, dear.”
 
“But what happened to Halloween?”
 
“Your cardiologist ordered us not to say you missed it until November 7th.”
 
“But—the full sized candy bars!”
 
The irony is that there are plenty of reminders that the holidays are approaching. This year I saw my first store Halloween display in August, and my first Christmas display in September. It was 90 degrees. Nothing says Christmas like watching a plastic Santa melt like the Wicked Witch.
 
“Ho ho oh noooooo!!!!”
 
Nothing left but a bubbling pool of liquid on the floor, smelling faintly of peppermint and gingerbread. It’s enough to make you hit the eggnog.
 
Maybe my denial about the approaching holidays is an unconscious response to the cheapening of those same holidays, the way they come earlier and earlier. It’s not special any more. One year, on January third, I started poking through Christmas clearance items when I was stopped by an employee:
 
“Sir, those aren’t available for purchase yet—we’re putting up the store display tomorrow.”
 
It gets confusing. The Valentine’s Day cupid wears a fur lined red hat, and instead of a bow carries a little bundle of fireworks. Every time you pass him he says, “Happy Easter!” and tries to give you pumpkin shaped candy, while waving a sign advertising a President’s Day sale. On Thanksgiving.
 
The underlying meaning of all holidays has blurred into one unmistakable message:
 
“Give us money, and we’ll give everyone ‘free’ stuff that will make us all happy.”
 
Which they stole from politicians, but never mind.
 
Thus my idea for a new federal law: No holiday can be mentioned more than six weeks before the actual date. No holiday decorations can be put up longer than the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. No special sales can be held on an actual holiday, with the exception of President’s Day, which is a lost cause.
 
One exception: Christmas lights can be put up outside while the weather is still good, as long as they’re not turned on before Thanksgiving. If they’re lit (or inflated) earlier, it’s open season for anyone with a rifle, paintball gun, blow gun, lawn darts, or snowballs. Or bazookas. No, that’s overkill—literally.
 
Our aim should be to make holidays special again, and you can’t do that if the holiday never goes away. If you go to the party store and can’t remember if your decorations are supposed to be red and green, or pink, or red, white and blue, then you’re doing it wrong.
 
How do you know if you’re doing it right? Well, I suppose you’ve got the right attitude if you’re thankful. If you’re giving. If you’re getting along with people, or at least trying to. You know, the good will thing.
 
And if that doesn’t work, you could try giving me some of your Halloween candy.
 
For Christmas.
 

 

Fort Wayne’s regional publications about what there is to do, WhatzUp, came out Thursday and … say …

 

 

 

Why, that’s my name on the cover! I’m actually above Mannheim Steamroller! I wonder what’s inside …

 


 

Why … it’s an interview with me! And anyone who can’t find a copy (I got mine at the Kroger’s in Auburn), can read the interview online:

 

http://www.whatzup.com/?page=feature&id=666

 

Because that’s whatzup.

 

.

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