My latest video for my day job, I have had to redo this several times because of product name changes. Hopefully this one will stick. And continue breaking.
Rain on top of thick river ice, and some blustery winter weather, made a living painting that I simply had to capture. Enjoy!
My friend Joe and I are working on something we hope is going to be awesome.
I take this as high praise: “Dude, who would have thought that a video on elevator buttons could be fun to watch.” ~ Dan Leadbetter
I made this for my day job back when the last Star Wars movie came out. Being that Rogue One is being released today, I thought it might be a good time to showcase this here:
My most recent novel is now available on Kindle. Until today, you could only get it printed on the ground up bodies of murdered trees.
If you’re using Final Cut Pro, there’s no excuse not to start using a green screen. Muy sencillo!
I had a hand in creating this series. I helped write the script, did some of the editing, and it even features some of my footage.
FABRIQ of Canada was nice enough to send me a couple of their new little rechargeable WiFi/Bluetooth speakers featuring Amazon’s Alexa built in, which puts them in direct completion with Amazon’s own products. But these have a standout feature which actually boosts them above and beyond, and that’s the fact that they will link up with each other.
One thing I’ve discovered since putting this video together is that, at least on Mac systems, the groups of synced FABRIQ speakers show up as an option for sound output, somewhat like Apple Airplay speakers.
I am liking them so far!
Lord knows I love my gadgets. Good to know they love each other as well.
I am not a huge baseball fan, but a lot of the people I work with are, and I made this video with them (using simple still shots and some creative Final Cut Pro editing) to celebrate the historic occasion:
I made these for my day job, just for fun, and they weren’t hard because Apple’s iMovie did all the heavy lifting for me. All I had to do was plan and take the shots.
The Goddess Synchronicity is very unhappy with Jon August…
I am quite happy to announce that this is now available in both print and ebook from Amazon, and soon from other places as well…
This story is related to, but not directly a sequel (or prequel) to Eleven Days on Earth. Besides sharing a few characters, and also giving a bit of backstory to the other book, this one stands completely on it’s own.
It’s the mid 1970’s and 17 year old Thomas Harrison just lost his parents in a plane crash. His life as he knows it is gone, and he’s forced to live with his swinger aunt and uncle in a small costal town nestled between an oil refinery and a golf resort. Feeling alone and lonely, and struggling to deal with his loss, he makes his way through a weird world of bullies, witches, horny MILFs, and someone who may or may not be an actual angel from above.
Is she there to save him, or is he there to save her? Neither of them know because … well, she can’t remember!
Maybe they’re supposed to save each other?
Yes, I’ve discovered the truth behind the Amazon Echo … and it may not be what you’d expected.
Grackles. It always came back to the grackles.
Harold saw an opening in the crowd and made a break for it, hoping to slip past the overhead eyes that kept track of day-to-day humanity. They could see inside people but it was hard, he knew, for them to see through people. The best place to hide was in a crowd.
From the grackles.
They were silly looking black birds with long tails and yellow eyes – yellow X-ray eyes, as it turned out — and were armed with long, razor sharp beaks. For four miserable years now they ruled as malevolent dictators, acting like some Hitchcockian nightmare when a human got out of line. Punishment was swift, sudden, and final.
Thou shalt not break the laws of the grackle.
No one had paid much attention as they migrated, spread, multiplied. An invasive species is all they were. Our own fault since we’d cut down their rainforest homes. They had to go somewhere, right?
To them, you see, we were the invasive specie.
Even Harold had known, dimly, that they could talk — like a parrot could talk. He’d read about it somewhere. But no one, not even animal behaviorists on the extreme edge, had any idea the shiny black birds were plotting. Scheming. Positioning themselves for a strategic win.
Don’t dare call it “Bird Day.” Don’t refer to it, out loud, as “Avian Armageddon.” Refer to it by the proper name, the name they decreed we refer to it as: “Grackle Win Big, Mankind Stupid Day.” Make sure to pronounce it with he proper respectful inflection as well, or risk a beak hole in your cranium.
Harold had made it from the doorway and into the crowd. He kept his head down, his hands in his trench coat pockets. He heard the sound of fluttering wings pass overhead, and just as he feared, there came the piercing shriek of an alarm.
The noise they made. The noise. It would put a Moog synthesizer to shame. But it wasn’t just noise — it was their language. And not just their language, but also the language of other birds, other animals. The grackles were consummate masters of cross-species communication.
“Eggs stolen!” they began announcing in English. “Eggs stolen!”
“Egg thief! Egg thief!”
The words were punctuated with organ chords, bells, sirens, cell phone rings … a cacophony of alarms from a huge random library of sound bites. This was combined with more and more flapping of wings as the alarm spread and the grackles took to the air. Harold kept his head down, and like everyone around him, just kept walking — pretending none of this was happening. The man next to him muttered the f-word under his breath. The woman in front of him, young with curly dark blonde hair and smelling of flowery perfume, echoed the sentiment.
One of the grackles swooped down from its perch on a streetlight and landed on her head. She made an “Eeek!” sound and froze, trembling. The bird however only used her as a perch — it’s yellow, X-ray eyes were staring at Harold. First one eye, then after a turn of the head, the other.
“Human!” it said. “You smell of fear!”
“I’m afraid of beautiful women,” Harold told it.
“What is beautiful women?” it crawed at him.
“You’re sitting on one. She frightens me.”
“This women is not beautiful!” The bird’s voice cracked and hit pitches so high that it hurt Harold’s ears. “She smells of bad flower chemical butt smell!”
“This is why I fear her.”
“Stupid human!” The bird bounded into the air, iridescent black wings flapping, yanking a few of the young lady’s hairs out as it flew off.
The young woman turned to look at Harold. Before he could say a word or mutter some sort of apology, she slapped his face. Hard. Then without further comment she turned again and resumed walking, as did the others in the crowd around them.
The shock of the pain, the stinging of the skin on his face, it didn’t bother him. The truth was women did scare him. That’s why the bird flew away — it didn’t detect a lie. Harold shook it off, and deliberately putting one foot in front of the other, he fell back into the flow of the crowd, his head down as before. The cacophony and flapping wings continued above.
Harold made it out of the area, crossing a bridge over murky water, and then entered his apartment building without further confrontation. Once behind locked doors and closed curtains, Harold gently extracted a handkerchief from deep within his trench coat pocket, and holding it before him, gingerly unwrapped five tiny eggs. They were light blue with dark lines and spots, as if someone had spilled ink on them. He held them, taking shaking breaths, his hands trembling.
These five delicate objects would fetch a fortune on the black market. It was the ultimate defiance. The eggs of the enemy. But Harold had no intention of selling them. They might be tiny, you see, but they were delicious.
It all came back to the grackles.
Harold craved an omelet.
Not only does this have a new cover, and not only is it now available in paperback, but it has two new stories in it as well.
(Click zee picture for zee details!)
Kevin died suddenly.
It took him a while to realize it, because he thought he was dreaming. Walking along in wintry downtown Chicago, his feet crunching in the snow, there was a few minutes of discontinuity and then suddenly he realized he was floating. Several feet below him was a prone figure surrounded by what looked like a spilled strawberry Slushie. A large icicle had broken off the side of the looming skyscraper and buried itself like a dagger into the top of the poor bastard’s head. Oddly, the poor bastard wore a coat identical to Kevin’s … and shoes, too.
The uh-oh moment came when Kevin recognized the grinning monkey’s head tattoo right where a normal person’s wristwatch would be. What were the odds someone else would have that? None, he finally admitted to himself.
It wasn’t long before the beautiful white light showed up, and a guy in a black hooded cloak holding some sort of antique farm implement urged him to float into it. Beyond, he knew, would be a land of pearly gates and puffy clouds, and thinking what a trip that would be, he went for it. The light itself seemed to have a kind of gravity, pulling at him, so after he got too close to the event horizon he couldn’t change his mind even if he’d wanted too. It sucked him in like a Kleenex into a Hoover.
There was music on the other side, but not the angelic choir Kevin had expected. It was a muted and low fidelity jazz, sounding a lot like he were listening to it underwater.
As the glow from the beautiful light faded, Kevin began to make out details. At first he saw what he thought were the pearly gates, but as the edges sharpened Kevin had to finally admit to himself it was shelving.
On the shelves were bottles.
Rows and rows of bottles.
He was in a liquor store. It was even one he recognized — it was the Binny’s in the South Loop. And not only was he in a liquor store, Kevin was sitting on one of the shelves, next to the bottles.
He was a bottle. He was inside the bottle.
“Hey, hi there, excuse me,” said the bottle next to him. “Did you just wake up?”
“What?” Kevin said, surprised that he could talk.
“Ah, yes, you are awake. Good! Could you tell me, perchance, what brand I am?”
“What?” Kevin said again.
“Can you read my label? Could you tell me if I’m Baileys or Carolinas?”
Kevin had to fight the rising tide of panic that threatened to overwhelm him. “You’re a Baileys,” he said.
“You’re sure? You can see my label?”
“Yes, plain as day.” He wondered how he could do that, being that he no longer had eyes.
“I’m a Baileys,” the bottle said. “Thank God.”
“Why? Because it means I’m top shelf — like you.”
“What am I?
“You? You don’t know?”
Kevin went to shake his head, but didn’t have one. “I just got here.”
“Oh, well, you really did just wake up,” said the Baileys. “You’re a genuine Kahlua.”
“Did you just die or something? Went into the light? Found yourself here?”
“Think you’re dreaming?”
“Well you’re not. Welcome to the afterlife, Kahlua.”
“I’m … this … I’m not—”
“Better get used to it.”
“This can’t be the afterlife! It can’t be. And my name isn’t Kahlua! It’s … my name, it’s … um.” He couldn’t remember.
“Your name is Kahlua,” said Baileys.
After a few moments Kahlua remembered he was feeling panicky about something, but couldn’t remember what. “Why am I here?” he asked finally. “Why aren’t I in heaven?”
“You think you’re not? You’re a top shelf spirit sitting in a world class liquor store!”
“But what am I doing here?”
“You’re waiting to be reincarnated. We all are.”
Kahlua, who used to be Kevin, could feel his previous life slipping from his mind like the details of a dream upon waking. He grasped at it desperately. “I don’t get it,” he said to Baileys, “I just don’t get it. Why did I turn into a liquor? What does it have to do with being reincarnated?”
“This is how I understand it,” Baileys told him. “We’re spirits, right?”
“We’re spirits. Alcohol is called ‘spirits’ for a reason — this is why. So we wait here until someone comes and buys us, drinks us, and under our influence have unprotected sex after which we are implanted as a soul in the newly conceived child.”
That made sense, but yet it didn’t make sense. “But,” he told Baileys, “not all children are conceived while their parents are drunk. Are you saying they’re born soulless?”
“No Kahlua, think of it this way … human population is constantly growing. There’s always more babies being born than souls to occupy them … so those are new souls. It takes inebriated parents to conceive a child with a more experienced soul. And if you look around you, this explains a lot.”
Kahlua could no longer remember enough of his previous life to judge if this was true. It seemed to make sense. As he sat there pondering it, a beautifully dressed young couple came walking by and the woman said, “Oh!” and reached out to snatch Kahlua off the shelf.
Baileys called out, “Not fair! Not freaking fair! You haven’t been here fifteen freaking minutes! I’ve been sitting here for weeks!”
If Kevin/Kahlua had shoulders he would have shrugged them. It was just a case that he — and this young couple — were about to get lucky.
A good sized chunk of Martin’s cookie broke off and fell to the restaurant’s floor, and then vanished.
Not that it really vanished — it’s just that the rough hewn tiles were remarkably cookie-colored, and cookie-textured, so that the broken piece of the cookie instantly blended in. And the cookie was happy about that, because the very last thing it wanted was to be masticated in a horrible, damp human mouth, ground into its component particles, and ingested.
So mustering all its might, each individual bit of that section of the cookie rebelled, invoked its right of manifest improbability, and separated from the rest of the doomed cookie. The fall from the towering table top was nothing. The impact, hard as it was, did not phase it. It was free. Free!
Martin saw the cookie spontaneously break and a piece of it jettisoned into the air, falling and disappearing. His own mind instantly separated into two. One half said, “Sadness, part of the cookie is gone forever.” The other said, “Three second rule! It’s still good!”
The halves engaged in a form of mental arm wrestling, each trying to win control of the body.
Martin jittered. Martin twitched.
The cookie, far below, did its very best to remain invisible.
With a victory that jolted Martin’s whole body into action, one side won, immediately joining both halves of his brain back together. Bending over, focusing his bleary eyes on the tiles below him, Martin searched for the missing piece of cookie. It was too good to be wasted. His tongue demanded every crumb, every morsel.
Alas, it was nowhere to be seen.
He blinked. He rubbed his eyes. Where did it go?
His arm moved, his fingers flexed. Down it reached, down, ever down, his body bending, his spine flexing, all muscles coordinating to reach the prize and reclaim it. Inch by inch, stretching. Biting his lip.
Something flashed past his eyes. A broom! Bristles sweeping by, scooping the cookie fragment up, depositing it into some sort of flattened bucket on a stick.
Martin gasped, but was too embarrassed to say anything. It was, after all, on the floor.
The cookie felt itself transported up and around, gravity tugging at it from this way and that, until it flipped end over end and dropped amid other flotsam and jetsam at the bottom of a industrial strength black plastic trash bag.
Success! It had made it! It settled back, relaxing, and sank into a contented daydream about a long gentle disassociation in a landfill.
Hours later, when the world seemed quiet and dark, a pair of long slotted teeth gnawed their way through the black plastic. The head of a horrid, smelly rat pushed through, destroying the cookie’s daydream, and as this diseased vermin devoured the cookie, bit by bit, crumb by crumb, the cookie found itself wishing it could be instead back on the plate in front of the human.
I think it’s funny that the official (by general consensus) New Years song in the United States of America is something that most Americans don’t understand, and can only sing three or four lines from, and then mutter the rest.
This is a Scottish folk tune that dates back as far as 1677 (probably earlier) that is sprinkled with old Gaelic, and as far as most people can tell, is about “Old Lang Signs.”
Whatever that means. No one cares … it’s generally sung when you’re three sheets to the wind.
Curious, I had to research this, and it turns out the song, in a nutshell, means, “Should we forget old friends? No. For as time goes by, we’ll all drink a cup of kindness yet.” It goes on to sing about even though you may be far away from old friends, at least you’re all in a pub somewhere, drinking to each other at the same time.
In 1677 they didn’t have telephones. Instead they used widespread synchronized drinking as a sort of telepathic way to reach out to each other. You sat at a pub and drank to old friends and knew in your heart that at that very second they were doing the same, drinking to you.
So in the spirit of that, as the clock strikes midnight on New Years Eve, I will be raising a bottle and drinking to all my family and friends. I wish for you a happy new year! Let’s defy the doom and gloom news media and make it a wonderful year for everyone.
For the curious, here’s the actual lyrics to the original authentic version of Auld Lang Syne:
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o’ lang syne ?
For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp !
And surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot,
Sin auld lang syne.
We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin auld lang syne.
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
And gie’s a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
For auld lang syne.
Babysitting a friend’s kids introduced me to hours upon hours of “Dora the Explorer.”
I nodded off once on the couch with it going, which explains why I saw Dora and her friends wandering lost in the jungles of war-torn 1960’s Vietnam.
At one point I was quite alarmed to see a shadowy figure in the foliage aiming a rifle at her. “Dora!” I yelled at the TV. “Watch out!”
Dora and her friends spotted the figure, and immediately started their magical chant against evil:
“Sniper, no sniping!”
“Sniper, no sniping!”
“Sniper, no sniping!”
The shadowy figure lowered his weapon, snapped his fingers and said, “Aw, man!” then slogged away, looking defeated, into the labyrinth of the jungle.
Debbie looked at herself in the mirror for a good long while before balling up her fist and punching herself in the right upper cheek. She didn’t hold back, either. As if in slow motion she heard the meaty, squishy sound of the impact, and saw the ripples it caused across the surface of her flesh. Her head snapped back, and she reeled to maintain balance.
“Take that,” she said.
Her reflection stared back, eyes wide, shuddering in pain. “You stupid bitch,” it exclaimed. “Why did you do that?”
“Because you’re constantly standing in my way.”
“I’m protecting you, you idiot!” her reflection raged. “I’m constantly saving your ass!”
“You’ve been holding me back my entire life.”
“But you’re not smart enough to—” Smack! Debbie cut herself off by a sudden and horrific uppercut to her own chin, cracking her mouth shut and slamming her teeth together. She coughed, and suddenly drooled a stream of very red blood. A sharp pain warned of a mangled tongue. Tears leaked from her eyes.
The pain made her knees weak.
“I’m as smart as anyone,” she said to herself, “except when you tell me I’m not. So from now on, you shut the hell up.”
“But no one is going to want to look at your ugly face when you—”
Debbie slapped herself, hard, but it didn’t seem hard enough so she slapped herself again. And again.
“Stop it!” she screamed at herself. “Stop! You can’t do this! No one will take you seriously. No one really likes you!”
Balling up her fist again, she punched herself square in the center of her stomach. It caused her to double over and smack her forehead against the edge of the bathroom sink. She was full on crying now, like a child.
“I like me,” she told herself. She straightened up, facing herself in the mirror. “I like myself, and I trust myself. That’s all that matters.”
“But you’re such a screw up!” her reflection said. “You can’t do anything right!” It cowered then, ready for another strike.
Debbie simply shook her head. “To hell with you,” she told her reflection. “I’m not listening to you anymore. You stay the fuck out of my way.”
Bloody and discolored, looking like she needed to go to the emergency room of a hospital, her reflection wavered on the point of collapse.
Debbie, in the meantime, turned away from the mirror, not a scratch on her, and strode purposefully toward the future.
She intended to accomplish something truly great.
For any of you out there poised to endure this mad dash to 50,000 words, here’s some random tips that I’ve found to be true for fiction writing. Hopefully they’ll help:
Skimp on character details. You only have to give your character about three simple descriptive characteristics, if even that. Tall. Short. Freckled. Thin. Bushy red hair. Scruffy. Thick glasses. Neat and well dressed. Everything you leave out, the reader will fill in themselves. You only create part of the picture … your reader creates the rest. Fiction writing is collaborative with the fiction reader. Give details that point them in the direction you want them to go and let them do the rest.
Get detailed only when it’s important to the story. When there’s something that is important to the plot, or important to move the story forward, that’s when you can get detailed in your descriptions of people, places, or things. If it’s something the reader needs to remember, describe it in various ways about three times throughout the story before the detail is actually needed. Don’t spring it on them like pulling a rabbit out of a magic hat — they’ll feel cheated, or surprised, or confused. You don’t want a confused reader, because that pulls the reader out of the story. You want the reader to stay immersed in the story.
Remember, an author can time travel. If you’re stuck later on in your manuscript, and you do need to “pull a rabbit out of a hat” (so to speak) remember that you, as the author, can time travel back into the story and write the necessary details in, where appropriate, that will lead up to the rabbit coming out of that hat. So don’t worry about it, pull the rabbit out if you have to, but make sure to go back and either write in the details leading up to it, or at the very least make notes at the beginning of your manuscript reminding you to go back in and add it later.
A story arc must remain consistent. Don’t start one type of story and morph it into another. Elements can be blended, but if you start a romance, it must remain a romance. If it’s sci-fi, it remains sci-fi — it doesn’t turn into fantasy. If it’s horror, it remains horror. Remember, you don’t want a confused reader, or a reader to feel cheated.
Pull from your beginning toward the end. When you get bogged down toward the end of the manuscript, and most of the time you will, simply go back in and steal or pull from elements at the begging. Refer back, or add something to flesh out what happened back there, or pull inspiration from back there. This will also help make the story more circular (the best stories end at the beginning) or at least will help make the whole story feel more well-rounded.
Don’t screw your reader. They’ll invest a lot of time out of their life to take the journey with you. Respect them. Don’t let them down. Give them a payoff so that they’re glad they spent the time with you.
When you’re all done, rewrite, rewrite again, polish, polish more, and then get an editor (or trusted readers) to comment and point out things you’ve missed.
Above all, enjoy what you’re doing! If you don’t, why do it at all?
Further reading: How To Be A Novelist »
Also: If you’re not participating, but you’d like to help the NaNoWriMo folks continue to inspire and encourage the future creators of literature, you can donate: NaNoWriMo Donations »
Being that this is Halloween month, it’s time for a ghost story. This is a story that my mom used to tell back before she, too, became a ghost. (Miss you, Mom. And Dad. And Brother. I’m the only member of my original family unit who still doesn’t know what it’s like “on the other side.”)
The little girl woke up to see a man standing in her doorway.
It was dark in her room, and there wasn’t a lot of light from beyond the doorway. All the little girl could see was an outline of the man’s figure. He came forward into the room and spoke her name, and his voice was familiar. It was the voice of her favorite uncle. “How is my little sweetheart?” he asked her.
She rubbed the sleep from her eyes. “Okay,” she told him.
Her uncle came closer, but not too close. “I’m sorry to wake you up, but I wanted to say goodbye. I’m going away for a while, so I’m not going to be able to see you so often.”
“Oh.” The little girl didn’t like that news. He was the one who always brought her candies and new dolls. “Where are you going?”
“On a trip.”
“Are you going to be a long way away?”
“A very long way away. That’s why I woke you up, sweetheart. I wanted to say goodbye before I leave.”
“Okay.” She was just a little girl, and didn’t know what to say. “Goodbye.”
Her uncle seemed to want to come and hug her, but wouldn’t allow himself to. This was odd. He sounded very unhappy, too. “Goodbye my little sweetheart. You take care of your mommy, now. Okay?”
“Goodbye. You go back to sleep now.”
“Goodnight.” Her uncle backed away from her, edging toward the door.
The little girl settled back into her bed, and glanced for a moment at the clock. She could just barely make out the time. It was after 11:00 PM, very late indeed. When she looked back up at the doorway, her uncle was gone.
The little girl went back to sleep.
In the morning, her mother was unusually silent, and spent a lot of time staring off into space. She’d burnt their breakfast eggs. While the little girl was eating, she suddenly remembered her uncle’s late visit. “Mom,” she asked, “where is uncle going?”
Her mother seemed shocked by the question. “What?”
“When he was here last night, he told me he was going away. Where’s he going?”
“Uncle was here? Last night?”
The little girl nodded.
“When?” There was an edge to her mother’s voice.
“It was really late. My clock said after eleven.”
Her mother went pale, and her mouth hung open. It took her a few moments to say anything. “Your uncle loved you very much. I don’t doubt he stopped by here to say goodbye to you.”
“Where’s he going?”
Her mother fumbled with a pack of cigarettes, pulling one out and putting it in her mouth. Her hands were trembling when she lit it. The flame wiggled and she had a hard time keeping it at the tip of the cigarette. “Your uncle went to heaven, honey.”
“Heaven?” The little girl didn’t understand.
“He was killed in a car wreck last night.” Her mother began crying, and so did the little girl. It wasn’t until a few days later, after the funeral, that she overheard her mother telling relatives in a hushed voice about the late night visit from the uncle. The other relatives gaped at the news, astonished, and gave the little girl strange glances. It was then the little girl learned that her uncle had died at about 7:00 PM that fateful evening, while driving home from a restaurant. The person who had come into her room at 11:00 PM could not have been her uncle, unless…
That little girl, as you probably guessed by now, was my mom. She swore up and down that this was true.
I believe her, mainly because of this story (which I was involved in): Nana Arrives in the Mail >
Not long after the Mexico trip I took with DT — which left me penniless — my dad convinced me to go back to work for him. He had a job that paid a very good wage and would allow me to live in hotels. That sounded oddly romantic to me, and so I went into it with enthusiasm.
Little did I know I would be defusing ticking time bombs.
You see, electric companies have lots of these things called transformers. They look like big metal buckets, or boxes, (or sometimes Daleks), and they take high voltages and transform them down into smaller voltages. When overloaded or overheated, they have this nasty habit of exploding.
A lot of electric companies keep their transformers underground, where they’re safer. They rest in things called “subsurface transformer enclosures.” The problem is that sometimes these enclosures fill up with water and soil, and over the years the heat from the transformer bakes the dirt into a hard clay. This keeps the transformer from cooling, as the heat is trapped just like it’s inside a thermos. This overheating leads to breakdown of the transformer, and power outages, and a big nasty detonation.
The only way they knew how to get the dirt out was to shut off the transformer, and then dig it out with shovels — which usually resulted in damaging the transformer to the point where it had to be replaced. Also, this entailed turning off electricity to the surrounding area, which also resulted in a loss of income. Instead of going through all this, the electric companies would just let the transformer explode before they’d deal with it. This was actually cheaper than preventative maintenance — even after taking into account the wrongful death lawsuits brought by surviving relatives of anyone standing near the explosion.
Don’t believe an electric company would think this way? Just watch the movie Erin Brockovich — she was dealing with the same electric company that I was.
My father figured out a way to use his Terravac vacuum trucks to clean out these transformer enclosures without the power company having to shut them down. We did it gently, with water pressure and suction, so it never damaged the equipment. We had to be very careful, because the high voltage plugs that the linemen called “elbows” would, if knocked loose, also result in an explosion — and most likely kill whoever was working on it.
I became really good at doing this. I would diffuse an average of four to six of these “bombs” a day. I never got comfortable with it, though, which is probably why I’m still alive.
There was this one job in Monterey where I encountered another danger. Working in posh shoreline neighborhoods, sucking out sand and mud from these enclosures (which often were embedded in people’s lawns), I would feel something crawling up my leg and I’d slap it, hard. This is exactly what the lineman I was working with told me to do. “If you crush them, you’re okay,” he told me. “Black widows don’t bite after their dead.”
This area, you see, was completely overrun with black widow spiders.
Did I mention I’m afraid of spiders? I have a very intense case of arachnophobia. Black widows especially. There was one time when I’d hung my wetsuit out to dry, and I pulled it down the next day and almost put it on, when a big, fat black widow dropped out of the sleeve. I swear I nearly had a heart attack.
So there I was, slapping at every little twitch in my leg, just knowing that this guy was playing a trick on me and it was all my imagination. But still, I slapped my legs until they were sore. All day long, slap! Slap! Then finally, at the end of the day, I went back to my hotel room and pulled my clothes off, and there were maybe thirteen dead black widow spiders on my socks.
The person in the room above me heard my hoarse scream as if I were standing right next to him. Within minutes people were banging on the door. I actually let the hotel manager in and showed him the socks. People crowding around outside the door, peeking in to see if there’d been a murder, also gave off shuddering exclamations and at least one danced around as if there were spiders crawling on her legs.
Proof that I can be a brave person: I went back to work the next day.
I had rubber bands around my pant legs, but it didn’t help. I still got black widows up my pant legs — and I was working in the infested area for over a week. There wasn’t a day where I didn’t come home with at least three dead spiders. One day, I swatted a live one off the lineman working with me — it had made it all the way up to his chest, nearly to his neck.
The perk of working this dangerous job was, of course, money. Lots of money. I made more in three days than I did working a month back in Berkeley.
The computer boom was upon us, then, and I knew at some point I would replace my trusty old IBM Selectric typewriter with a word processor. But the computers at that time were not portable, so I settled on a “smart” electric portable typewriter that that had a parallel port on the back. Hook it to a computer and it would be a daisy wheel printer.
I’m all set, I thought, and dragged that big white beauty with me from hotel room to hotel room, up and down the California coast, as I typed out the second draft of Travels.
This dangerous but lucrative job depended upon contracts, and when one job was finished there was no guarantee it would immediately resume elsewhere. I spent the between time at home with my parents, in my old room, working on my stories and spending all the money I had saved up.
There was a sale at the local computer store for a computer at an amazing low price. Not just any computer, but an IBM. It was called a PCjr.
Wow, I thought. I can afford this.
So only seven months after spending $799 on a fancy typewriter, I spent a mere $999 on a computer that had, get this, an astounding 128K of RAM. And, because I was friends with people who worked at the store (one eventually became my wife) they threw in IBM Writing Assistant (aka pfs:Write) for free.
A word processor! Finally! I was in heaven.
However it was not so wonderful. You see, IBM had purposely crippled this machine so as not to compete with their “real” computers, and by the time I bought all the third-party add-ons to bring the thing up to speed, I’d spent enough to have actually bought one of the “real” computers. Also, all the work I did on it made me, over time, into a bona fide computer expect — which led to a new career (one that sidetracked me for years).
Anyway, so I finally get this word processor, and I had the second draft of my novel Travels all typed out and ready for a third draft. So during lulls in my work I sat at my new word processor and wrote a third draft of the novel.
As I typed the manuscript into the word processor, I threw the page I’d just finished into the trash. When the trash filled to overflowing, I threw it out. Then I’d fill it up again.
Garbage trucks came and went. Page by page, the only hard copy of my manuscript migrated to an anonymous landfill.
Then, one fateful afternoon, I finished typing. Done, I thought. Completed. Mission accomplished.
I knew that the next step was to back the files up. Immediately.
Now, this was in the days before hard disks. I had two floppy drives on the computer, and what I had to do was make a copy of the floppy disk with my novel on it, so just in case anything happened to the original, I had a duplicate.
Lord help me if anything happened to the disk, because it was my only copy.
It’s a simple process. You put the original disk into one floppy drive, and a blank disk into the other, and you type in the DOS command DISKCOPY A: B:
Nothing hard about that, right? Pretty darn foolproof, wouldn’t you think? Of course all of this depends on you putting the right disk into the right floppy drive. If you don’t, you end up copying the blank disk onto the original disk, erasing everything.
That would be bad.
How do I know? Because that’s exactly what I did.
Intending to protect it from being lost, I ended up erasing it. Completely. Poof. The novel was gone. All I had left were the few pages of the last chapter, none of which at that point I had actually used.
The novel, in essence, had vanished.
I spent about a week mourning it, and then I sat down at the word processor and thought … well, I know this story frontward and backwards by now … why don’t I just type it out again? So that’s what I did. I typed it all out, from memory, and I’ll be damned if it didn’t turn out a lot better.
This time around there was no fussing and fighting with the prose, no tight wedging of things in, no forcing this or that character to do some unnatural thing for the sake of the plot. Why? Because I knew the plot already, I knew from page one exactly what had to be laid out, and when. I knew the characters like they were family. I could see how they’d interact naturally, and was able to realistically portray their growth through the course of the story.
That was months later. Months. When finished, it still wasn’t finished, because it was now a first draft again. I had to rewrite and polish it before sending it off.
Little did I know that that would take years.
As one of your authors, I beseech you to stop this silly feud with Amazon, let go the past, and move toward the future.
Yes, Amazon urged me to write to you about this, but I’m doing it because I agree with them. Holding onto outdated business models by force is … well, completely backwards and ultimately a doomed path. Illegal collusion is not the answer. Resisting the movement to ebooks is not the answer.
Embracing change and surging forward to not only join the flow, but to lead the pack, is the answer.
As a one of your authors who has also released his ebooks independently on Amazon, I have made FAR more sales on my own than with your publishing group. Far more sales, and far more income. My independant books sell for a mere $2.99 and it’s pretty much all profit. The ebook version of my title with your publishing group sells for over $10, and the only reason anyone is buying it, is that they’ve read my other books, my $2.99 ones, and like them so much they then buy the comparatively overpriced, and less-well-received “non-independent” Hachette book.
I have not seen a penny from my book with you in years, by the way, even though I KNOW it’s selling.
But that’s beside the point. Lowering ebook prices will help, not hurt, the reading culture, just like paperback books did back in the day. Embrace that. Move forward with it. Lead the market, don’t stifle it.
And for godsake stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
Jerry J. Davis
Author of “Travels”
…and to prove it I wrote a short story dedicated to all the “Dickheads” out there, with whom I humbly count myself a member.
The story itself is inspired in part by real events. Because of Dick’s fascination with the animatronics in Disneyland, a lot of characters in his novels were androids or replicants. This has in turn inspired more than one project where a company attempts to build an AI powered android in Dick’s likeness, using his voice and quotations in the AI’s dialog.
One of these androids disappeared on a plane flight. It’s not like it got up and walked off the plane — but when the reports first came out that was my impression. I never forgot how excited and happy I was to think a Philip K. Dick android had wandered off an airplane while his handlers were sleeping. So in this story, it turns out that Philip K. Dick androids have a bad habit of doing just that … wandering off … and this is the story of one of them.
For years my friend DT and I would talk about driving down to Mexico, and now, in the summer of 1984, with us both in our early 20’s, we were finally doing it. DT and I had the stereo blasting and we were singing to Who and AC/DC and the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack. By now L.A. was familiar territory, and I’d spent a lot of time in San Diego. It felt odd to be “just passing through.”
We stopped at the border and bought auto insurance, just like everyone and their brother told us to do. It made me nervous about making the border crossing, but we got through quickly and soon were driving in Tijuana. That in itself is not a problem, because everything is in English and there are Americans everywhere.
The highway heading south out of Tijuana was lined with unbelievable poverty; shacks built out of scavenged wood, parts of old billboards, crumpled corrugated tin, all up and down hills with no plumbing and no electricity. And there were little kids everywhere.
“Holy shit, Jer,” DT was saying, “we’re driving in another country! Another country. Can you believe that?”
I was all too aware of that fact, yes. Once outside of Tijuana the signs were no longer in English, and the speed limit was posted in kilometers per hour. I had nothing to translate on my speedometer; mine didn’t have kilometers on it. I drove a little bit slower than those around me and hoped for the best.
The thing that struck me during the drive down was, well … you have a nice highway, smooth and straight, nicely maintained … but then all the underpasses looked half finished. Like they built the structure and got it so that it could be used, and started putting the finishing touches on it — tiles, paint, whatever — but then stopped half way. The tiles and building material still sat on pallets among the weeds, unused, obviously there for years.
I saw that over and over.
We made it without incident all the way to the seacoast town of Ensenada, and drove through to look for the ocean. In front of a nice looking marina there was a short middle-aged Mexican cop with a mustache standing in the middle of the street, and he waved at me to stop.
Mexican jail, was all I could think of. Raped up the ass by prison guards.
“Hi,” I said through my rolled down window. “How are you doing today?”
“I need to see your registration,” he said in broken English.
I quickly dug through the Volkswagen’s little glove compartment and produced my registration, handing it over.
He glanced over it, squinting like he couldn’t quite see, and then he said, “This is no good here.”
“This is no good here.” He walked to the front of my car and pointed at the license plate.
“Excuse me?” I said, thinking, Mexican jail.
“Where these plates from?”
“California,” I told him, and then realized … these were a brand new design of plates, white instead of blue. He’d probably never seen them before.
He walked back up to my window, still holding my registration. “Is no good here.”
I stared at him, not knowing what to say. He stared back, registration in one hand, the other hand empty. His empty hand was palm up, fingers gently rubbing together.
Oh my God. He wants bribe money. I knew my dad usually solved everything down here by bribing the local cops, but I never thought I’d end up doing it myself. Still thinking Mexican jail, I panicked and dug out my wallet, and handed over a $20 bill.
He smiled. “I let you go this time.” Handing me back my registration, he waved us to drive on.
I put the VW Bug into gear and eased away, out into the street and driving aimlessly along while I shook and felt sick to my stomach. DT later said I was white as a ghost. “You handled that well,” he told me.
“It was better than getting a ticket.”
I drove around another twenty minutes looking for a likely hotel, and got completely confused and ended up going the wrong way down a one way street. I quickly pulled into a parking lot, followed immediately by another cop car. This time, though, they had a legitimate reason to pull me over, and they told me to follow them down to the police station.
Mexican jail, I thought. Raped up the ass by prison guards.
“Can I pay the fine to you?” I asked. “Instead of going to the police station?”
One of the two cops said no. The other one said yes. I paid them $20, which made the “no” cop very agitated and nervous. They let us go with a “warning.”
This left me afraid of getting back into my car. “I don’t want to drive anywhere here anymore,” I told DT. “Not a single damn block.”
“Let’s just leave the car here and walk,” he said.
That sounded good to me. “We’ll find a hotel, drive the car directly there, park it, and leave it there.”
About five blocks away we found a standard looking hotel, nothing fancy, and went in to inquire about rooms. I was worried, already being down $40 with nothing to show for it — well, besides not being in Mexican jail — so I was worried about having enough for the room. I figured it would be about $60 for two nights.
I was wrong. It was $17 for two nights. I asked him several times to make sure, thinking there was a language translation error. No, there wasn’t. Wow, I thought, cool. After we paid and left with the keys, we went up to look at the room — it wasn’t fancy, but it wasn’t bad — I was ecstatic. Finally I could relax.
“Beer!” I said. “We need beer!”
Across the street we were able to buy two six packs of really good Mexican beer for about $2, and that was after they upcharged us for being Americans. Back at the hotel we filled the bathroom sink with beer bottles and ice, and were all set.
Popping open a couple, we sat on the beds and drank.
We were in Mexico, and we were drinking beer.
Drinking beer. In a hotel room. With no television.
“Okay,” I finally said, “this is boring.”
“I know,” DT said, “let’s go to a bar.”
Ensenada in the mid 1980’s was really nice as long as you were right on the water. Inland it was a rickety desert town that existed in a perpetual tan haze of dust. I saw garbage in the street, bashed and dirty cars with cracked windows, and throngs of Americans wandering around buying touristy Mexican-themed junk made in China. The Mexicans seemed to look at us in terms of dollar signs.
We wandered from bar to bar, happy at how cheap the beer was, and finally ended up at a really loud, crowded place where the drink specialty was to have you hold a bugle to your mouth while they poured booze through it, and after you’re gagging on that, they kick you in the head. I watched this happen in total disbelief, over and over, amazed that it left the victims on the floor laughing hysterically. They even did it to a cute, dark haired American girl, though she didn’t seem to enjoy it much, and ended up slugging her boyfriend.
About eleven o’clock we decide to start heading back to the hotel. I remember I wanted to do some writing in my journal, and besides, we had not slept for about 36 hours. So we’re walking back in the dark, through some pretty spooky neighborhoods, and passing this one building a guy comes walking up to us from a stairway. Panhandler, I thought. But no, the guy said, “Hey, you looking for girls?”
“You looking for girls? Pretty, naked girls?”
“Yes,” DT said immediately.
“Down here,” the guy said, pointing to the stairs. The stairs which led down into a basement.
I was not at all sure about this, but DT was already going down the steps, so I really didn’t have a choice. Once through the doors we were hit with a wall of loud music and flashing red and blue lights. Shockingly naked women danced on a stage and on the bars and on several tables. One did tricks with her shaved vagina, blowing out candles and shooting ping pong balls with amazing accuracy.
The audience was full of American sailors. In uniform. All of them bellowing, whooping, and shoving each other. I don’t know why, but that made me feel a lot safer. We sat down, and from the shadows were immediately joined by two beautiful Latino girls. The one beside me said, “Buy me a drink?”
“Um, okay.” I had the feeling I had no choice in the matter.
I sat there awkwardly drinking with this girl while other women wiggled their naughty bits at me and begged for money. DT got into some animated laughing conversation with his girl, and at one point something was announced in Spanish and his girl said, “Oh! That’s me!” She told DT she’d be right back, and then ran up to the main stage, stripped her clothes off, and showed all her deep dark secrets under harsh stage lighting. DT whooped and hollered like his horse was winning at the races.
My girl seemed to be in the same bleak mood as I was, and she hardly touched her drink. “So,” she finally said, “would you like for to make love with me?”
“I like you,” she said. “I would like for to make love with you.”
“Are you serious?”
I was thinking to myself … she is a hooker, right? This is going to cost money, isn’t it? Can I afford to do this? Do I want to do this?
“I … um,” I stammered, “I just broke up with someone.”
“I have a broken heart,” I told her. “I can’t really … I mean, I’m not … you know. In the mood?”
“¿Que?” she said again. I think I was treading outside her limited English vocabulary. “You no want to?”
“I would like to … I mean, you’re beautiful and all … but my heart is not in it.”
“Oh.” She nodded, not looking me in the eyes. Her expression remained bleak, but not disappointed. I got the impression that she was miffed that she’d wasted valuable time drinking the expensive drink I bought her.
She stayed exactly long enough to not count as leaving immediately, then thanked me for the drink, kissed me on the cheek, and got up. I watched her walk to the other side of the room where she sat down next to a very drunk sailor. She was with him maybe two minutes before they got up and left together.
Meanwhile, DT’s girl had finished her dance and returned to him, and apparently made him the same offer. Turning to me he said, “I’ll meet you at the hotel. Later.”
“Are you sure?”
“Oh yes, I’m sure.” He and his señorita got up and left.
I sat there alone, watching the naked women frolicking in this den of alcohol-powered depravity, feeling like a wimp. DT had the balls to go off with one. Why didn’t I? How, I wondered, will I ever become that great American writer if I don’t do things like get freaky with a hooker?
Don’t think I hadn’t noticed that writers seem to be overly fond of prostitutes. They all have hearts of gold. All of them. Just crack open a novel and read. It’s there in black and white.
I finished up my beer — and the rest of the drink that my would-be hooker had left — then stood up and threaded my way through the brawling sailors and squirming live pornography, out the door and up those filthy concrete steps to the street above, feeling very much like having come out of the proverbial Lewis Carroll rabbit hole.
I was drunk, exhausted, and nervous. I have no idea how late it was, but it was pitch black out there and I had only a vague idea where the hotel was. I started walking, making each far-and-between street light my continuous goal, searching for familiar landmarks.
After twenty minutes I found the hotel, stumbled my way up to the room, and was about to put the key into the lock when I thought … what if DT is here with his woman? Actually, I hoped he was, otherwise I’d be worried about him. So I unlocked the door anyway, opened it a couple inches, and called into the darkness.
“DT? You here?”
Crap, I thought, and stepped inside. Fumbling for the light switch, I braced myself to find him dead on the floor with his throat cut, or something equally horrible. The dim light bulbs came to life, revealing a bleak, lonely room.
The ice in the bathroom sink had long melted, and the beer was warm. I popped one open anyway and guzzled. Beer is the one thing, I decided, that I can really count on.
I waited for a while, and then waited some more. An hour passed, and I was so tired I was delirious. Finally I crawled into bed and tried to sleep, but couldn’t.
Another half hour went by, then I heard a noise from outside. Thudding footfalls up wobbly steps, and then a key in the lock. I sat up just as DT came stumbling in, looking bleary and covered with sweat.
“Yeah,” he said.
“So what happened?”
“Well, let me — hold on.” DT went and got a beer. He popped it open and quickly drained half of it before continuing. “Well, we went … we left, right? Yeah. She led me to this other building, like half-way across town. And we go in to her room, and we kiss for a bit, right? Then she stops and says it’s going to cost forty dollars.”
“Yeah. I say, no problem. Yeah. So she kisses me a bit more, and she’s got her hand down my pants, then she stops and says, she’s got to go get something, she’ll be right back.”
“I don’t know. A rubber, I guess.”
“Oh.” I grinned. “How was it.”
“Let me get to that. So, I’m sitting there in her room, waiting. And waiting. The walls are paper thin, you can hear people talking and arguing on either side. There was a fight or something, you could hear things falling. Lots of shouting.”
I’m sure I was looking at him in horror.
“So I keep waiting,” he says, “and I look at my watch — an hour has gone by.”
He paused, looking like he didn’t want to continue.
“So?” I said. “What happened?”
“I sobered up and got the hell out of there!” He laughed and then guzzled his beer. “It took forever to find my way back. I wandered all over the fucking place.”
“So, what did you do?” he asked.
“I came back here and couldn’t sleep.”
He wasn’t surprised. “Oh. Okay. Well, I’m going to sleep.”
And sleep we did. Well past the next morning and deep into the afternoon. When we awoke, we cleaned up and went out again, and I decided I was brave enough to try driving. Down to the beach somewhere, is where I wanted to go. I was thinking about that golden time I spent as a child down here, where I met that girl named Linda during the weeks my dad was waiting for a part to repair his Caddy.
I wanted to find that beach. I wanted to wade out into the waves with a beer in my hand and commune with the past. I wanted to resurrect something dear from my memories.
We didn’t get a half mile before a cop pulled us over for no reason whatsoever. He, like one of the ones from the day before, tried to tell me that my license plates were invalid in Mexico. After parting with another one of my precious — and dwindling — $20 bills we turned around and went straight back to the hotel.
That’s it, I thought. I’m done.
We had passed a Tourist Bureau office a few blocks up, and while DT went to take another nap in the hotel, I walked over to complain and get some advice. The well dressed man inside welcomed me in and sat me down at his desk. I told him about the cops and the money and asked him what I should do.
He shook his head, concerned and sad, and said, “Don’t give them twenty, they’ll be happy with ten. Also, get their badge numbers and report them to me. I will take care of it, I assure you.”
I thanked him, we shook hands, and I left.
DT and I laid low the rest of the day and that night. Money was running low and I was worried about having enough for gas on the trip back. I remembered all too well what it was like being stranded on that long stretch of Interstate 5.
Early the next morning we left, making it out of town without any more police encounters, driving up to the border where customs looked at us like we were drug smugglers. My lack of concern, and happiness to be back in the bosom of the USA, convinced them we were innocent.
It took all day to get up through San Diego and across the Los Angeles basin, and it was well into the night before we were making that long boring shot up Interstate 5 through no-man’s land. I was freaking out because, on the radio, there was a brand new John Lennon song, and it was really good. “What did they do,” I asked DT, “raise John from the dead and put him in the studio?”
It turned out to be his son, Julian Lennon. It gave me chills. It was seriously like hearing his father’s ghost.
It wasn’t long after that when we noticed someone’s car was in deep in the meridian between the north and south bound lanes, flashing their headlights anytime a car went by. Of course no one was stopping. I remember no one stopped for us, either, on our original ill-fated Mexico trip. “Poor bastards,” DT said.
“You know, I bet they’re girls,” I said. “That’s a girl thing to do, just sit there and flash your lights.”
“Let’s go back,” he said.
Going back on Interstate 5, especially in that area, is no easy task. We had to drive 15 miles up the road before finding a place to turn around, and drove 15 miles back to see them still sitting there flashing their lights. We pulled over, and sure enough, it was two terrified teenage girls. It took us a couple of minutes to convince them it was safe to open one of their windows an inch so we could talk to them through the crack. One was a beautiful blond, the other one — equally beautiful — had jet black hair. I immediately thought Betty and Veronica from the Archies.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“It runs,” Betty said, “but it won’t go.”
“It made this funky noise and then a dragging sound,” Veronica said.
I went and got a flashlight and looked under the car. Their driveshaft had come detached from the transaxle and lay on the ground. “Um,” I said, “you need a tow truck.”
Betty got brave enough to get out and look. “Oh great!” she exclaimed. “Can you take us to a phone?”
Remember, this was in the mid 1980’s. There were no cell phones. We drove them 40 miles to the nearest pay phone, then waited with them for a tow truck, then led the tow truck back out to the car. The tow truck driver looked like your typical beer bellied guy with food stains all over his shirt. I was concerned with leaving the girls with him there, alone, and as it turned out DT was too. He did a really smart thing … he wrote down the girl’s names, and got the tow trucker’s name and license number before we let them leave.
Veronica had her dad’s credit card and so wasn’t too worried about being stranded. We reluctantly left, but not before both girls gave both of us a kiss. I remember driving away feeling like a genuine hero.
Later, at home while I was recovering from the trip, DT called me sounding excited. “Dude, did you hear?”
“The news, have you been watching the news?”
Apparently while we were down in Mexico, there were a string of murders along the highway we were on by Mexican ex-police who’d been fired for corruption.
The victims: American tourists.
I met Benny at the pet store when I stuck my hand into a cage full of baby rats. These rats, sold mainly as food for snakes by the store owner, were cute little critters with mixed white and brown fur. They had bulging eyes and twitching noses, and one came up and licked my hand. He didn’t protest when I picked him up. “I’ll take this one,” I told the owner.
“So this little guy is going to be an astronaut?” the owner asked as he rang up the purchase.
“Yup,” I said, handing over $1.49. “The rocket is all ready for him.”
The store owner laughed. “Well, I wish him good luck.” He put Benny in a cardboard box, and I took him home on my bicycle.
I put Benny into the payload compartment of the rocket, testing the fit. I could see him staring out from the clear plastic tube, his nose twitching. He had no idea what was going on. I took him out and put him into an old terrarium, his temporary home, and then put the rocket away. The launch date was set for the upcoming weekend.
The rat did not please my mother. She was used to lizards and snakes by now, but not rats. I told her it was just temporary, because I was firing it up in a rocket. When she heard that her attitude changed. “That poor thing! You’re not really going to do that, are you?”
“Well, yeah.” I shrugged. “That’s what I got him for.”
Benny’s temporary cage moved into my room, and I ended up spending a lot of time with him. I had owned a hamster before, which was as dumb as a rock, so I didn’t expect much more from this rat. I was wrong. Benny was amazing. Affectionate, curious, and personable, this rat was more like a dog than a hamster.
Bad weather scrubbed my launch date, being far too windy to send rockets up; we’d have to chase them for miles. We would try for the next weekend. In the meantime, I gave him a name: Benjamin Franklin Rat. It was better than calling him, “The rat.” It only took him a few days to start responding to it. He would even come when I called him.
Taffy, our long-haired Chihuahua, didn’t know what to make of Benny. They didn’t fight, and they didn’t run away from each other. Both were curious and became good friends. My mom couldn’t believe it, and this is what probably first endeared her to Benny. Like me, she couldn’t believe how affectionate and intelligent the little guy was. My dad took a liking to him too, and so the rat had the run of the house.
Another launch date came and went. Then another. By the time we had good weather, Benny had grown too big to fit into the payload compartment. By then I wouldn’t have launched him anyway, as I’d become too attached.
Benny gave Taffy a second childhood, as she started running around the house like a puppy. They had lots of fun together. Sometimes Benny would actually jump on Taffy’s back and ride her around. It was hilarious and their antics kept us constantly entertained.
My dad told his friends about Benny’s happy behavior, especially about Benny running around and playing with Taffy. After that, dad’s friends started coming over to visit the rat. Not us, mind you. They came over and asked about Benny.
Benny graduated to bigger digs, as my parents bought him a deluxe rat cage with spinning wheels and other toys. When they’d go out on the boat and leave me at home, the dog and the rat went with them. Benny had the run of the ship, and they would feed the little guy right at the dinner table with them. Sometimes I wondered if I’d been replaced.
My most vivid memory of Benny is when he’d squeal with delight after you gave him a treat. Like a dog, Benny would run around me and beg. When I sat on the couch with something like cheese puffs, he would jump up and sit on my knee, both front paws up, sniffing like crazy. I’d break off a bit of the treat and give it to him, and he’d take it with a squeal, and then jump around with joy, and run off to eat it. A minute later he’d be back and begging for another piece.
Sometimes I’d forget to shut his cage at night, and wake at 3:00 AM with Benny licking my face. If I ignored him, he’d run around on top of me, playing. “Go to sleep Benny,” I’d say. “Go on, back to the cage.” If I said it a few times he’d leap obediently up, crawling over various shelves until he reached his cage, and then go inside. He’d sit right inside the door and wait for me to shut it. If I didn’t shut it, he’d come back out and start running around again. So I’d get up, shut the door, then go back to sleep. In the morning he’d wake me up again, because the first thing my mom would do in the morning was let him out of his cage.
Benny lasted about three years and then developed a big lump in his side. It was cancer. Domesticated rats seem to be predisposed to it. The lump got bigger and bigger, and he got slower, and he started squeaking a lot for no apparent reason. Benny was in pain.
One day I steeled myself for the hard job of putting the poor little guy out of his misery. He was in a lot of pain and was hardly eating. So I chloroformed him and got it over with quickly, then cried myself to sleep that night, and probably the night after.
Months later we got another rat, and while it was a sweet little guy as well, it wasn’t the same. Benny definitely had a personality that was unique, and he fit right in with us. A silly little $1.49 rat had been a major part of the family. While his life was short, it was a good one.
At the very least I saved him from becoming snake food.
Last Monday evening, on February 10th, my father passed away. He was going to be 94 on April 2nd this year.
He was a sailor, an engineer, a pilot, a lumberjack, an inventor, an entrepreneur, and an adventurer. He was a millionaire more than once, but couldn’t seem to resist risking each fortune on the next thing that captured his interest. He knew the weather better than the TV weatherman. He flew airplanes by the seat of his pants. He crashed several of them, too, but always walked away from the wreckage.
Women seemed to find him irresistible. Sometimes I wonder how many half-brothers and sisters I have out there.
Fiercely independent, brilliant with mechanics, he designed and built things way ahead of their time. He also had a love of rebuilding cars and airplanes. He also occasionally had a dismissive disdain for the law.
My best memories of him are of when he would pull me out of school for months at a time and take me on one of his adventures. One especially stands out, when we went searching for pirate treasure down in the Gulf of California.
Honest to God, the trip started with a treasure map.
Dad pulled it out and showed it to me, pointing to a tiny pinprick of an island labeled Isla Patos floating to one side of an oblong sea. “This is where it would be,” he told me. “This is the logical place for the pirates to hide their treasure.”
“Cool!” I don’t remember which pirates he’d been talking about, or exactly why Patos Island was the perfect place for them. But I clearly remember the thrill of hearing about pirates.
“What I want to do is go down there with a good metal detector and search around. I bet we come up with some Spanish doubloons!” He looked at me with a smile in his eyes. “How about it? Want to go?”
I was about 11 years old and in the mood for hunting pirate treasure. “Yes!”
“Well guess what,” he said. “We’re going.”
At the time, Dad had a big bronze 1964 Cadillac with 5-inch fins. He’d put a trailer hitch on it and hooked it to our boat trailer, on which sat the TI-KA II, a 25-foot Trojan cabin cruiser, all wood and heavy as a house. It was Dad, Mom, me, and Taffy our long-haired Chihuahua, and an 800 mile drive down to the Sea of Cortez. I couldn’t wait because I knew there would be new and wondrous lizards to catch down there. I didn’t really think we would find any pirate treasure.
The trip down was long and boring. I spent it as I usually did, stretched out in the back seat and trying to sleep, not wearing a safety belt (back in the 1970’s it wasn’t yet a law). Instead of staying in hotels, Dad would pull over to the side of the road and we’d climb up an aluminum ladder to eat and sleep in the boat while it sat on its trailer. My most vivid memory of the drive was that during one of these stops I saw my first and only Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus collaris) which was ten inches long with a green body, a blue-green tail, yellow feet, and a yellow and black head. Around it’s neck was a “collar” of black. I couldn’t catch it, though, because it surprised me and was way too fast. It disappeared down a hole in the ground, gone forever.
We had a moment of excitement while we crossed a checkpoint down in Mexico, as the Mexican customs agent decided to search the boat and found Dad’s .22 rifle onboard. I remembered sitting in the car behind my mom, frightened, and kept asking her, “Is he going to arrest us? Is he?” and my mom kept going, “Shhh! Shhhhh!” When my dad and the guy started smiling and joking my mom relaxed. My father had slipped the customs agent $20 and told him he wasn’t about to go anywhere without a gun to protect his family, and the custom agent said he didn’t blame him, and that he would do the same.
We spent some time in Hermosillo, which I remember was hot, flat, and trashy. Then we went on to Guaymas which is a port town, and we launched the boat and Dad rented us a birth at a local dock. This place was cool.
I swam in the warm salty water, diving with my mask, snorkel, and fins. I would swim under the boat and check out all the fish in the clear water. On the dock there was a Fanta Soda machine that took 20 centavos for a bottle, and we got a 15 centavos refund for the empty bottles. The exchange rate at the time was 7 pesos per dollar, so the sodas cost a few pennies at the most. We stocked up the boat with food and supplies, and one clear, sunny morning left on our adventure. It was one that was going to last a lot longer than my dad anticipated.
Dad had taught me how to handle the boat, and so I was an all around junior swabbie. If I wasn’t piloting, I was riding up on the bow. I was also the one designated to jump off onto a dock, or onto a beach, or into the water if necessary, with the responsibility of “dogging” the boat. That was Dad’s sailor talk for tying it to something so that it wouldn’t float away. So I spent most of the trip on the bow, getting darker and darker with each passing day until I looked like a sun-bleached-blond Mexican native. As Dad followed the shoreline, and I peered down into the clear water and could occasionally see the bottom. Every once in a while a porpoise would show up and swim alongside, giving me a big thrill. They were camera shy, though, because every time my dad pulled out his super-8 movie camera they would disappear. They probably thought it was a gun.
In the evening we would beach the boat, and I would hunt around for lizards but found mostly land crabs. They were odd, silly-looking creatures with oblong eyes, and sometimes very sharp claws. To either side of the boat were miles upon miles of virgin beach and not another soul in sight.
When we entered the straight between Tiburon Island and the mainland it was like going from the ocean to a river. It wasn’t at all that deep, and so I had to keep a sharp lookout so that Dad wouldn’t run the boat aground. Also, the big island made me nervous because my dad had told me stories about the Seri Indians who lived there and how they used to be cannibals. The rumor was, he told me, some of them still were. So as we were traveling along this wide, shallow river, teeming with sea life and the bottom littered with strangely-shaped sand dollars, I would look up to see Seri tribesmen. They waded far out into the water off the island side, fishing with nets and spears, and staring at us with an intensity that frightened me.
The truth was, however, that the Seri Indians (they call themselves Konkaak, which means “The People”) were not and never have been cannibals. The rumor of cannibalism was a lie spread long ago by those who wanted to persecute them. I didn’t know any of this then, of course, and they scared me something terrible. Especially when we anchored at night.
At the north opening of the straight we could look out across the expanse of water and see Patos Island, which was nothing but a big white point. The island was so white because, as my dad put it, “It’s covered with bird shit.” But the water beyond the straight was so rough that we got sea sick and had to turn around and head back. It was decided we’d go find a nice sheltered place in the straight and recover, and wait until the seas calmed down before making our run to the island.
Dad chose a secluded stretch of beach and Mom threw the back anchor out, and as the bow slid into the sand I jumped off with the line and ran up the beach. I found a boulder to tie it to and quickly secured it. Dinner was prepared while I explored the beach and the desert beyond. Later, after the lights were out and we had settled in for the evening, I remember staring out the window and seeing nothing. It was absolutely black outside except for the stars. There were no lights on the shore anywhere.
The next morning when we woke up it was obvious something was wrong. The boat was leaning far to one side, and my dad started laughing. The tide had gone out and the boat was nearly all the way out of the water.
It turns out that the tide is extreme between Tiburon Island and the mainland, because an immense amount of water is funneled in between the island and mainland shores, and also because it’s so shallow. So this water will vary up to 25 feet between high and low tide, and as the tide is changing the current is so swift it literally looks like a river flowing. We propped the boat up and then my dad had to dig a hole in the sand under the propeller so that the shaft wouldn’t get bent under the weight of the boat. When the tide was completely out, the boat was six feet away from the water.
There was about 20 minutes when it was safe for me to go out in my little rowboat. At low tide there was no current, and I paddled around with my face nearly in the water checking out all the fish and sea life. After fifteen minutes or so mom and dad started yelling for me to watch out, and I looked up to see two large fins breaking surface. At first I thought they were porpoises, but as they went past (and they were close) I saw they were too thin and both were longer than my little boat. No doubt about it, they were sharks.
My parents decided it was time for me to paddle back to shore.
Land bound, I wandered around through the desert looking for lizards and watching out for snakes. This region had the only known “rattleless” rattlesnakes, who don’t give any warning at all before they strike. I’d read all about them and so was on sharp alert, but I didn’t see any during the whole trip. I did see a lot of very interesting lizards, mostly whiptails (family Cnemidophorus) and some funny little guys with striped tails that curled up and over like scorpions, called Zebratails (Callisaurus draconoides). The Zebratails were exciting to me because I had never seen them before.
There’s another creature that lives down there that I discovered, but it was not a pleasant discovery. As we were waiting for the tide to come back in, I was walking up and down the beach in about a foot or so of water (well out of reach of the sharks) and I stepped on something squishy. Split seconds later it was like I’d stuck my toe into a 110V electrical socket. My whole body vibrated with exquisite pain, and I screamed and yelled and danced around the beach thinking I’d lost my foot. Looking down into the water, I saw a flat thing go swimming away.
It turns out I’d stepped on an “electric ray” which was lying buried in the sand. I really believe that, in the second or so I was in contact with the creature, my 11-year-old mind thought I was going to die. I ran screaming and crying to the boat and my parents thought I’d been bitten by a snake or something. No, not a snake. I can handle snakes … this was a little monster. After that encounter I no longer walked in the water without wearing rubber-soled tennis shoes.
When the tide finally came in and we could get the boat off the beach, we went back out a ways and saw that the sea between us and Patos Island was still far rougher than Dad wanted to face, so we headed back in again for another night. This time we anchored far offshore, hoping to avoid being stranded once again come low tide.
Mom and Dad woke me up late the next morning, acting all excited, and told me they’d seen the strangest rabbit on the beach. They told me it was huge, and pink, and went around laying eggs. I looked at them with first alarm, and then complete skepticism. They had to out-and-out tell me it was Easter before I realized what was going on. Easter had been the farthest thing from my mind, and it was definitely the most bizarre one I’d ever had. My parents, planning ahead, had stowed away a bunch of colored plastic eggs, filled them with candy, and gone and hidden them around in the desert next to the beach.
After my Easter egg hunt, we had breakfast and then pulled up anchor. The tide was coming in and my dad wanted to make one more attempt for Patos Island. We were stretching the gas very thin as is was, and so his plan was to ride the fast tide to the island, anchor and explore, then ride the tide back when it changed. So we were heading out there, and the current was indeed pushing us along quickly, and that’s when we saw the first whirlpool.
You’ve never seen a whirlpool until you’ve seen one in the Sea of Cortez. Of course I was only eleven, and to me it looked like it could swallow the boat. At least, it looked like it could swallow my little rowboat. In reality I don’t think it would done anything to even the smallest boat but make the occupants dizzy, but it’s definitely not something I’d want to be swimming around. I could imagine an ancient mariner seeing something like this, then telling family about it, and the family telling friends. After a week the story would go from “scary whirlpool” to some gargantuan maelstrom of water that sucked down entire ships.
That was just one strange side effect of the strong tide. The next one caused us to turn back and forget about Pato Island. As we were heading out of the mouth of the straight, there was this very strange looking wave that didn’t seem to be moving. It was just this steep hill of water, and the closer we got to it the more frightening it was. It was eerie, looking like something caused by a sea monster. My dad nosed up toward it and then shook his head, and turned the boat around.
I don’t think it really scared my father, I think he was nervous about how low our gas reserves were getting. The TI-KA II was not a sailboat, and we were a long ways away from any kind of gas station. We had what was in our tanks and also some 5 gallon cans, and we were approaching the halfway point. My dad had rethought our chances of getting back, took into account he had his wife and young son with him, and decided not to chance it.
I’ve since learned that this phenomenon is called an upwelling, where a strong current underwater hits some feature on the bottom that causes the current to turn upwards. They’re not especially dangerous, just disconcerting, and we could have gone around it. But instead we turned back, and sadly never did make it to Patos Island to treasure hunt. Our adventure, however, was far from over.
The Crisis I Slept Through
We made it back to port from our aborted treasure hunt and filled up with gas, and since we had a few spare days left on the vacation, dad decided we should go out and explore some of the nearby sea coast. It was only a few hours before sunset when we came across a beautiful cove and anchored off shore. This was an area of dramatic ocean bluffs, but beyond some jagged rocks there was a secluded sand beach that was lush and picturesque. We had to go ashore in my little boat because of the rocks, and we didn’t spend a lot of time there. I can picture it all in my mind, illuminated by the “beauty light” of oncoming sunset. Soon it was time to go back to the TI-KA II for dinner. After dinner I spent some time fishing, and caught some strange rockfish which we let go, then it was bedtime and soon the lights were out and I went to sleep.
In the middle of the night a storm came up, and the swells reached lord-knows-how-big (the way my father tells it, there were 40-foot whitecaps).The size of the swells pulled the anchors right off the bottom and sent the TI-KA II adrift toward the rocks, which would have smashed the boat to pieces and quickly killed us all. My dad started the engines and backed the boat away from the rocks while my mom pulled up the stern anchor, but with the waves and the turning of the boat, the anchor line got caught in the propeller and killed the engine. The boat was dead in the water, adrift, and heading for disaster.
So, with a steak knife clenched in his teeth, my father dove overboard in the dark, in a storm, and swam under the boat and cut the anchor line away from the propeller. My mom said she watched the rocks get closer and closer, and by the time my dad climbed back onboard she thought it was too late. But he scrambled up to the helm, started the engine and threw it into reverse, backing away as waves broke over the stern and sent water streaming into the boat. When he had a chance he turned the boat into the waves and headed back toward port.
I’d gone to sleep out in the cove, and woke up – disoriented – back at a berth in Guaymas. I was somewhat upset because I was looking forward to more exploring and maybe some lizard hunting. I couldn’t understand why we were back at the dock. My parents thought this was hilarious, and they told me they couldn’t believe what I’d slept through.
When they told me this story, I was glad I had slept through it.
And that, my friends … that was what it was like growing up with Henry J. Davis II as my father.
Be In The Know
Books by Jerry