DUNGEONS & DIPSHITS

As one ages, maturity and wisdom encrust the soul like a slowly growing reef. Nostalgia blooms as an intellectual antibody. That’s why people listen to music popular when they were in high school, even if it’s playing on the oldie’s stations. This is spiced with countless embarrassing memories of naivety-based stupidity: incidents that no one else cared enough to remember.

If I’d played a sport back then, I’d probably be defending my studliness by playing it with younger folk and talking about how it was more invigorating when we use to play it in snow storms when I was young. I did not play sports. I was a kick ass dungeon master: king of the geeks; generally considered the best amongst any of the groups with which I played. We took turns so that everyone could run characters.

I’m not bragging. It’s just good to know ones abilities and weaknesses. For example, I was elected president of the computer club my senior year. I could use computers on a basic level, but never learned programing or anything like that. I was just the king of the geeks.

All governments start as a protection racket, usually for the underclasses as a criminal organization. Our own government began as a criminal organization

I could have played sports, or done well in my classes, given the opportunity. Instead I did my homework in class or on the bus because I lived on an orphanage farm. Outside of school hours I was a farm laborer for a religious cult run by a lawyer. It was a cruel place. My body became hard and lean; I stopped putting up with bullies and bullshit; my mind had not yet been able to grasp the realities of society and reality. The point is I didn’t put up with bullies. All those who were bullied clustered around me. This was high school, so I was too into myself to understand what was going on, but my incrusted reef of age has shown me perspective. 

Let’s end this looming digression before it becomes a self-help book, accept the previous as a preamble and get to the point. It’s been many years since I’ve played Dungeons and Dragons, and many editions. It was a slow day at a small convention. The vendor room was empty during panels. We set up a table in the center where we could jump up laconically to get behind our table if a customer came by and got ready to play the latest version. I was no longer the king of the geeks, aside from being the only one with published books to my name. My compatriots were young people dressed as slightly goth hipsters, but mostly geek, and barely old enough to drink. Even so, they had the world figured out, with the obvious exception of romantic relations. I still remember those days in a vague nostalgic way. The more I learned over the years, the less I realized I knew, and just began questioning everything.

We rolled for statistics. Mine indicated a cleric. Then we chose alignment. Cue foreboding music. It was a puritanical mixture of lawful goodness flavored with a neutral leavening. I had a neutral in there, but the potential paladin objected to the chaotic preface. “I can’t be associated with a chaotic character, I’m lawful-good.” 

I had fond memories of countless months playing D&D in my youth, in lieu of going to class. Since I’ve seen decades and read histories of assholes doing the same shit to the human populations they were hired to support, I attempted to explain with my age induced hubris to a group of young citizens of the United States brought up in that educational system .“We are a group of heavily armed adventurers about to venture into unknown foreign territory and kill the indigenous population so we can steal their shit. We are doing this for fun and profit. We might as well call ourselves fucking republicans.”

That’s when my righteousness noticed the paladin’s ‘young republicans’ t-shirt. I met the eyes of the others and realized I was an unwanted intruder in a goblin lair. I drank my potion of speed and teleported to saner locations.

Current Events

It has been too long since I’ve practiced the writing craft. Writing is an occupation I enjoy, but rarely pays well. I am also afflicted with a defect that gets in the way: I’m very good at practical things. This is a surprisingly rare ability in these times when one is proud if they can change a tire, let alone the oil.

I can change a tire. I can change a toilet or replace an entire bathroom with such elegant tile work that upper middle-class housewives are happy to pay substantial funds to have me remodel their million-dollar homes.

I paid for college with remodeling work. I earned a contractor’s license before a degree. The degree would have earned me less, so I dropped out and bought a house. Now I am stuck by my own work ethic. I do not advertise, but I have a reputation, and word of mouth is a powerful force.

“I can get to your project in two to four months,” I tell people as I schedule. I do my best, but I am dealing with a flawed species: affluent humans. I’m incessantly confronted with the casual phrase: “While you’re here can you also do…?”

People call with sudden emergencies, short fixes that need to get done before they can shower, cook, et cetera, again. Every spare day, or potential day off gets subsumed by the needs of others. Rarely do I even have the time to do such rants as this one.

That has now changed. I’ve been blessed with a leg wound. It not only has me reclining with nothing else to do beyond writing my subversive thoughts, but they have also supplied me with enough opioids to foster a serious addiction. I’m not saying it is in the interest of the drug companies that own the medical schools in this country to get everyone who falls into their clutches hooked on drugs, but it sure makes them a massive amount of money.

As I said earlier, I know how to get things done, and done right. Pain is okay, it’s part of life. I take just enough pills to keep it bearable and pass the rest on to Jesus. He’s the janitor and trades the pills to a local deputy addict in exchange for protection against deportation harassment. We all get what we want in the end.

I digress. I wanted to tell you about how I acquired time to write. There is a place just off the highway called the “Greasy Spoon” where people go to get Salmonella, botulism, and diarrhea because they are too hungry and tired to cook for themselves. I was at the counter to eat my fried in lard veggie-burger. I’d worked a ten-hour shift, it was late, and there hadn’t been time for lunch. Desperate hunger calls for desperate places.

I did not get to enjoy that burger; nor would I have even if I’d gotten the chance to eat it, I’m sure. This because two Imperial Stormtroopers sat down at the bar beside me. That was a facetious comment for our times. They weren’t really Stormtroopers, nor were they fascist Italian Brown Shirts or Nazi Black Shirts; they were United States Blue Shirts: police.

The one next to me was black. His partner was a redskin, that is, a white guy who spent too much time wearing a tee shirt in the sun watching Naaascaar or something. (I don’t actually know how many a’s are involved in the sport, so just take out any you don’t need and send them to Florida, I’m sure they would be happy to have more).

I am infinitely curious, and at the time, was too tired to practice good sense. I turned to my new dining companion and asked the obvious racial question. “So, can you shoot random white guys without legal consequences?”

The answer is no. However, his white partner can shoot smartasses. Fortunately, my income level was high enough to only allowed for a leg wound. Even better, I will now have more time to write, since a charge of resisting arrest comes with a forced sabbatical in a reclusive environment.

Holiday Craft Fair in Ukiah

For all those hanging out in Northern California, I will be signing books at the Girl Scouts Holiday Boutique in Ukiah on Saturday, December first. Many other crafty people will be there as well. Location is the Veterans hall on S. Oak st. I hope to see you there:)

The Wrong Tool

Sometimes it seems I remodel to support my tool habit. Over the years I have acquired quite a collection. Since each aspect of construction is unique, it requires its own specialized tools. I am involved from the foundation to the roof, so naturally I need the tools to do each and every one of these disparate tasks. After all, if you’re going to do a job right, you must have the right tool for the job, except when you don’t. Sometimes the best tool for a job is the wrong one.

A bucket may appear to be the tool for catching water, but what about under a sink? The space not taken up with pipes, p-trap, garbage disposal, and dishwasher lines has been filled with cleaning supplies. They don’t make a bucket that can fit under such a nest of plumbing. They do, however, make a plastic paint tray that is perfect for the job. Its low height, about three and a half inches, allows it to slip easily under all that piping. There is even plenty of room left to work. The rectangular design means it can fit into the corners, and the broadness of the tray makes it wide enough to catch the water from the supply hoses and the p-trap at the same time.

These trays can comfortably hold three quarts, or a full gallon if you want to push the limit, but since a p-trap and supply lines combined hold less than a pint, there is plenty of capacity to get the job done. In addition, the sloped part designed to even the paint out on the roller is a great place to put that nasty, hair-clogged trap you just removed.

When working under a sink I like to put an old towel under everything. This catches any water missed by the paint tray as well as acting as a drop cloth. It also provides a bit of cushion while trying to reach those out of the way places. Like Arthur Dent I don’t go anywhere without a towel.

When you’re all done under there, be sure to check for leaks. Leaks don’t always show up right away and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between a slow leak and water left over from the repair process. I like to leave a piece of cardboard under the pipes for an hour or so. Any drip

shows up nice and clear on it so I can be sure the job is done right.

A common tool abuse that I can not condone is the use of a screwdriver to open paint cans. This often results in damage to the lid that prevents it from being put back on correctly. This not only makes it harder to open the next time, but it can also allow air in to dry out the paint. If you don’t have an actual paint can opener then my two-bit advice is just that: use a quarter. They are quite effective and the round edge won’t damage the lid. As for putting the lid back on, the traditional method is to use a mallet or hammer to tap it down firmly. Some will set it on the ground and stomp it shut with a foot, putting the boot in as it were. These are effective, but care should be taken to avoid splatters. Excess paint on the rim can be squeezed out at high velocity during the process, decorating surrounding objects. I like to use my roller extension pole. I lay it across the center of the lid and with firm pressure, roll the lid closed in both directions.

A final word on painting. Don’t let your brushes stand upright in the paint, or while soaking in water. This forces the bristles out of alignment and ruins the brush. Insert a small screw into the wide part of the handle with the head sticking out a bit and you can conveniently hang it on the side of your container.

If there is a lot of hand sanding to do, trade in that sanding block for a drywall sander. The wider sanding base and actual handle make the job much easier. Pre-sized paper is commonly available from 80-150 grit, although you can cut your own to fit.

Very few construction tools require thick grease, so when it is called for it may not be readily available. This can become a problem if you are removing ceramic tiles. An air hammer makes this job considerably easier. But it needs an application of viscous grease on the shaft to work properly. My environmentally friendly solution can be found in any well stocked medicine cabinet, petroleum jelly.

The most useful item in my unconventional tool box is my x-ray safety goggles. With these I can see through walls. I have built and torn open enough of them to know what I am likely to find inside. Before starting any project I study the area carefully. All those switches and outlets have wires

running to them. Not something you want to cut into while removing drywall. Nor do they look good running through your new window or doorway. A careful look at their layout can predict their probable path. It is a good idea to have a plan for moving them before you begin your tear out. I find a trip to the attic to trace what wires are heading into what wall and where is very helpful

That wall behind the sink is going to have not only wires, but an inch and a half vent pipe running up it. This makes it a difficult place to put in that sunken medicine cabinet. If you are considering removing a wall, check the rafters above it. If they run perpendicular than it is a bearing wall. That means the weight of the roof is resting on it. A little forethought can save a lot of frustration.

The x-ray glasses can also be used to find studs. Look again at those electric outlets. They are almost always nailed to a stud. If you have trouble determining which side of the outlet the stud is on, simply remove the cover plate and have a look. This also lets you see if there is an extra screw on the top and bottom which will indicate that it is a remodel box and therefore not next to a stud. Studs are typically spaced at sixteen inch intervals. So once you’ve located one stud, it is just a matter of measuring to find the one you want, or all of them. I use this method whenever I put in baseboards. A note of caution, every window and door has studs on either side irregardless of the rest of the layout.

These are a few of the tricks I have learned over the decades. There are many more. One of the wonderful aspects of the construction trade is the constant inclination towards innovations that make jobs faster, easier, and safer. In the two decades that I’ve been in the business I have seen many changes. The ones that work become the new standards. These changes are the results of the most powerful tool available, the human brain.

Hiding

Hiding

Boredom tormented his active intelligence while he lay there remembering. So he left the bed and moved towards the window to see what his little portion of the world might be up to. He called it his, even though he wasn’t a part of it, because it was the only thing outside of this room he ever saw.

The family had been up here while he slept and had left more of their junk on the floor. As he made his way towards the window, he stumbled over a small plastic castle surrounded by miniature knight-shaped caltrops. Cursing aloud before he could stop himself, he froze in sudden panic. Fear of discovery gripped him. After listening intently for a time to be certain the family wasn’t reacting, he breathed a sigh of relief and continued to the window. He desperately longed to be out there exploring the wild chaos on the outside. If only he had the courage to leave the safety of this room. But he knew that would never happen. Therein lay the tragedy of his existence.

Later, he lay in his safe place again. He usually hid here during the hours when the brightness of the day made everything dim. This was his time of fear, when he curled up in a ball of terror to protect himself from the dangers of the world he couldn’t see. Once, those of his kind ruled and all went in fear of them. But that time had past long ago, and the few who remained hid as he did in otherwise unused corners of reality. Alone and hopeless he waited for the sun to go down, and the fear to lessen somewhat.

Through the floorboards he could hear the family talking below in their brightly lit feeding room. The little one, hardly over a decade old, spoke with such excitement he seemed barely able to contain it. Its parent spoke in a distracted, mildly condescending voice.

“How was your night?” she asked in a habitual way.

“I heard the ghost again mom.”

“Are you sure its a ghost?”

“”Well, maybe it’s a monster or bogyman.”

“Oh,” she said in her half listening voice, “what was he doing?”

“He was bumping around in my room and cursing.”

“Nothing you shouldn’t hear I hope.”

“I couldn’t actually hear what he said. Anyway, I already learned all those words at school.”

“Is that what they teach these days.”

The creature who dwelt under the bed covered his ears with his paws and tried not to listen.

Hi Ho, Hi Ho

Hi Ho, Hi Ho

Gray the sky was for the clouds did hang low shrouding the world in gloom when I set forth ‘ere the breaking of dawn. My errand was urgent and I dared not tarry even for a bite of bread. The alarm had cried out in its urgency that I must away without delay. ‘Twas many a mile I traveled ere I broke my fast. I didst halt upon a moment at the son of Donald’s house, for my need to call upon the jakes was manifestly imminent. Whilst there I aquired the elixir of wakefulness and ate of the empty calories. Progressing then further upon my Journey, I didst enter the great city.

Throughout ages anti-diluvian, the wild men who lived amongst these hills gathered upon the banks of the river in due season. In idylic style, they fished its waters and hunted the antelope, dwelling in rude shelters made from the hides of slain beasts.

But no more.

In centuries past, invading hosts weilding seeds and plow swept them away, building constructs of wood, stone, and steel. They opened the way for the following hords to swarm across the land. Iron bridges were flung across the river. Roadways they built, and verily, they were wide, for horses a score abreast could pass unhindered. Yet, still the swarms overflowed their capacity.

Into this maelstrom didst I enter. Hordes didst throng about me in the diem’s chariot race of death. Thrice was my flank assailed. Thrice didst I dodge the threat, though it was a near thing each time. Vied we, one with the other, and each alone against all, placing our very lives in deadly peril to steal a moment’s lead from our rivals. My progress was cut off of a sudden by Darrell Du Plumber, whos need for haste manifestly outweighed my own, though his life seemed of much lesser value.

I persevered, employing all my will and dexterity towards forward progress. At last, my goal came in sight; my journey neared its end. Yet, even now my quest was stalled at the very brink of fulfillment. My very brethren stood arrayed against my entrance. Sticks and placards were in their hands. Girt with righteousness, they stood before my vehicle in their ranks.

Deploying the appropriate electronic command, I didst cause my sinister visibility shield to descend. One of these compatriots leaned towards the opening. I addressed him thusly:

“What’s up?”

To which he didst reply, “The union called it. We’re on strike.”

Addiction

Here is my response to Chuck Wendig’s latest challenge, writing a story in only three sentences.

Addiction

I need a smoke, but they won’t let me light up in this oxygen-filled hospital room. I probably have enough time to get to the smoking section and enjoy a cigarette. That is, if I can get out of this iron lung.

When Desperate Housewives Call Me

It can be difficult to make a living as a writer. That is why I moonlight when I can. Desperate women from all over the Austin area call me to come over and do for them what their husbands can’t or won’t. They pay me well to satisfy the one real need they have for a strong man who knows what he is doing, and they get it without all the bother or commitment of a relationship. It is also a task I usually enjoy preforming, even if it gets hot and sweaty.

That’s right, I fix things. I also remodel kitchens and bathrooms. I worked construction to pay for college and enjoyed it so much I ended up becoming a general contractor. Okay, there was a little more to it than that. For the equivalent in paperwork and cash as a semester at college, I became a licensed contractor, a member of the California Contractors Association and started a business that earned over 60k in the first year of operation.

But that did not leave much time for writing. So twelve years later I’ve reversed priorities. Being a writer is now my primary occupation. If that is what I want to do with my life, then it must come first. I still do some remodeling, but it gets done around my writing schedule. You have to be who you want to be now. Someday starts today if it is to come at all. What are you doing to follow your dreams?

Flashed Fiction

This is my entry for Chuck Wendig’s writing contest using the following five words in a story under 1000 words: figure, dusk, flirt, mobile phone, and wig. In contests like this I try not to use more than four of the five words in the first sentence.

At dusk, the familiar figure in a bad wig appeared once again to flirt with my imagination. She is my muse, and just in time to interrupt my work on chapter two. She speaks in a voice, soft and sultry.

 “The five words for today’s flash fiction contest have just been texted to your mobile phone. Don’t you want to see what you can do with them?”

I sighed. The challenge was difficult to resist. And it certainly stimulated my imagination. But it seems like they were interrupting my novel too much. Six months and I’m still struggling through the second chapter. Yet I’ve managed to produce a flash fiction piece everyday. But no one buys those. I’m lucky to get them posted for free on obscure websites. It was time to demand answers.

Lying is not exactly a muse’s nature. It is more a matter of wrapping the truth up in layers of myth. But if you demand the truth, they have to give it to you.

“Why are these contests so important to you? Wouldn’t it be better for me to finish a significant work like my novel? As my muse, I would think your efforts would be better spent helping me finish that.”

She smiled at me sadly. “Oh, my poor writer. I am a muse, not your muse. Frankly, your writing is crap and I’m doing my best to keep it from happening.”

National Geographic

On Saturday, I attended the Texas State Jousting tournament which took place in the Village of Sherwood. I do not normally seek out entertainment that involves grown men poking each other with sticks. So when I say attended, what I really mean is that I keep a shop within the village where I sell the books we write and the toys I make. I can see the jousting lists from my doorway.

My shop also happens to be right next to the stables and the gate where the jousters come in and out. On this particular day the back area of my shop and all the surrounding area was crawling with National Geographic film crews. They were there to film the jousting for one of their TV Specials due to be aired this fall. Being a considerate and accommodating creature, I did my best to work around them, and even set up a couple of my chairs for them to use during the day.

Around mid-afternoon I was ready for a break myself and went out back to spend some time in my favorite lounger. This was when I discovered why National Geographic travels all over the world. It’s to get away from the wasted environments they leave in their wake. What I found in my backyard was cheese (I hope) smeared into the seat of my chair. The remains of the offending sandwich and the wrapper had been tossed on the ground nearby despite the large garbage can five feet away. Empty drink containers were scattered liberally around with other bits of random garbage. Before I could sit down and relax I had too wipe down my chair, cover it with a clean cloth, pick up all the garbage in my backyard, and kick the empty drink containers into a pile around their coolers.

But it turned out okay. At the end of the day they gave me a hat to thank me for allowing them to take over and destroy my eco-culture. This is in the civilized tradition of giving representatives of a local culture (i.e. obviously inferior and savage culture because they did not have the benefit of our civilization’s culture) cheap adornments in exchange for taking whatever they want.

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