Hundo

Word Whiskey got its 100th follower yesterday! That’s an average of 1.4 followers per post, which I will absolutely take.

This blog means a lot to me. It was something I had considered doing for a couple years before finally getting around to it, and I’m amazed at how therapeutic it has been for me. It’s a place where I can finally have long-winded opinion pieces on writing, how to do it, how not to do it, how I do it, and what it means to me and have it read by people who give a shit. It’s a place where I can put poetry and short stories and flash fiction so I can exercise my writing muscles, and nobody will roll their eyes because that’s part of what this blog is for. It’s expected.

There was another unexpected advantage that quickly made itself known. The other day, my friend and I were driving from the (excellent) theater show she directed to go and get some drinks. I was telling her how I tend to not be a very open person with things that matter to me. I don’t like discussing my family and I try to keep away from talking about the things that are really eating away at me. Even so, members of my family shaped me. The darkest parts of my life helped me learn a lot about myself. Personal failures and losses have taught me a lot about the world and how to exist in it.

I’ve done less than some and more than others throughout the time I’ve been alive so far. I’ve endured things that – like everyone else’s struggles – have affected me uniquely and with their own degrees of severity, dictated primarily by my perception but no more or less serious. I didn’t come into this blog wanting to gain any kind of pity or exhibit any sense of helplessness or condescension.

All I wanted to do, for the first time, is talk about things. I wanted to talk about how individual members of my family impacted my life and the kind of things they went through, the kind of people they were. I wanted to talk about my struggles with depression. I wanted to talk about my struggles as a writer. Despite the difficulties and how close it hit home, I wanted to talk about addiction and suicide. About fear, sadness, and frustration.

I don’t do this to be bleak. I do this because, for one, it helps me get it out onto (digital) paper. For another, I want people to know they aren’t alone in their experiences. Hopefully I can bring understanding to some people. Hopefully, people will know that someone else is going through the same stuff and that they have all the support in the world and that they can get through it.

Maybe they want suggestions on books to read. Maybe they want to read a poem to remind them of romance. Maybe they grew up in a harsh household or with loving grandparents or are wrestling with something inside and they just need someone to empathize with them. So I’ve been writing about and sharing things across all forms of social media where my friends, family and strangers can read about shit I would never talk about over dinner or unless I was deeply drunk.

Yesterday someone left a comment on one of my posts. They said they had skimmed through my entire blog until they found one about the importance of discussing suicide and thanked me for writing it, saying they had bookmarked it to read maybe every day until the day they didn’t need to anymore. I’m not sure if I know the person who left the comment or not or how they stumbled across my blog either way, but that post made my heart ache. It also made me feel like I was doing something positive if I was helping even one person. That’s a huge chunk of what Word Whiskey is about.

Not every post of mine is going to resonate with everybody. My 100(!) followers have come here for different reasons. But you guys and gals knew that, didn’t you? And you’ve stuck around regardless.

Thank you so much for all the support and for everyone who has taken the time to stop by and read even one of these things. Near the top of the page, you’ll see a little gear symbol. Clicking on that will give you access to archives of Wood Whiskey posts by either month or category, so feel free to dig around. If you read something you like and you think others would like it as well, feel free to share it to Facebook or Twitter or wherever else you might feel inclined.

Until next time, I’ll leave you with a poem by Tyler Knott Gregson. You can find more of his excellent work at his Tumblr.

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Ten(ish) Books That Tickle My Fancy

I was asked by a friend to list ten books that have meant something to me. I wasn’t going to do it because I wasn’t sure I could come up with a full list. Then inspiration hit me (and I needed to update my blog, besides).

1. The Hardy Boys series by the Stratemeyer Syndicate/The Indian In the Cupboard by Lynn Reid Banks: I don’t remember which came first, but these were the books that really kickstarted my love for reading. When I was young, my grandparents would take me to their home in small town Red Lodge, Montana for a month or so at a time. I would get homesick after a week or so and found myself in the nice old library downtown. It was two stories tall and filled with rows of scratched and faded bookcases easily fifty years old. The building smelled of old books, vanilla left on a sunny lawn for a generation of happy summers.

Whether it was the first of Banks’ five entry series or a random selection from the Hardy Boys’ many mysteries, they transported me from the loneliness that comes from being too far from home to worlds of magic and intrigue.

2. Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. This is the book that kicked off the world of Krynn, one that I visited many times over many years and which has been built upon, expanded, devastatingly changed and rebuilt by dozens of authors. While it doesn’t hold up as well now as it did in my youth (it’s based on their tabletop experiences and it reads in places like a recounting of their session instead of more natural storytelling), it is still one of my fondest series.

Not only that, but my love for that setting eventually led me some text-based role-playing chat rooms set in Krynn. It came during a rough patch in my life, led to a ton of very important friendships, and let me experience a ton of adventurous stories. But that’s a blog post for a different time.

3. Dragon Wing by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Obviously my love for the Dragonlance saga led me to find other things that the duo had written. Dragon Wing is the first novel in the seven book Death Gate Cycle. Each of the first four novels explore a different world, each rewriting the rules of magic and societal structure of the three typical fantasy races (dwarves, elves, humans). It also opened my eyes to complex characters. While the protagonists in Dragonlance had distinct personalities, doubts and backgrounds, they each more or less fit an archetype and stuck with it. At their core, they were also all good people (except Raistlin, who really is just a dick).

In the Death Gate Cycle, Haplo is our protagonist and he has an agenda, but he’s not a great guy. He’s racist (he was brought up that way), he’s cruel, he’s petty and he’s self-absorbed. These things all change through the course of the series as he realises nothing is quite the way he was brought up to believe. You learn with him, feel his frustration and his betrayals and his fierce protectiveness. Plus his powers are so fucking cool.

I also felt special reading these because nobody else I knew had ever heard of them.

4. Attack of the Mutant by R.L. Stone. I devoured all of the Goosebumps novels, the Goosebumps 2000 novels (meant for teenagers), and the show. I played the little video games on their old website and bought t-shirts. They were fantastic horror stories for kids with a wide rang of monsters and settings. Above all, though, Attack of the Mutant was my favorite due to its mixture of horror (which I enjoy) and comic books (which I love).

5. The Invasion by K.A. Applegate. This book is picked specifically by sheer virtue of introducing me to the Animorphs series, though it wasn’t my favorite from that series overall. There’s an excellent little piece about the quality of the series over at Tor Publishing House’s site.

6. Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind. Like the book above, this one served as an entry point to the author’s series (Sword of Truth). This was also one of the better entries and while there were more mediocre books and repetitive themes throughout the series than good ones, it ended with three very strong novels. I haven’t read any of his newer books set in the same world as sort of a second-act, but the initial series was pretty awe-inspiring to me.

I was 11 when I read Wizard’s First Rule and, well, I shouldn’t have been reading it. Don’t get me wrong, my dad let me watch R-rated movies and my step dad owned strip clubs and nude magazines, so I was far from some end-user innocent, but this book is a far cry from even the most brutal parts of Dragonlance. This was fantasy for adults and it was awesome. It made me realize just how far the genre could go.

7.The Stand by Stephen King. This book was on my friend’s list also, because he has good taste. I have read quite a bit of Stephen King and enjoyed most of it, but this isn’t just my favorite book of his, it’s one of my all-time favorite books period.

It isn’t just the bleak apocalyptic world. It isn’t only the excellent soundtrack or the many varied characters. It isn’t the overall creepy supernatural battle between good and the corruptive force of evil (the amazing Randall Flagg). It’s that King took his time with this book. I read the ridiculously long restored version of this book, but man… he really develops just about every character in this book in ways he usually doesn’t. Every long stretch of existence leads to a major event or turning point. It was a simmer that led to a series of boiling pops until it finally all explodes.

I fucking love this book. Oh, and if you like it, go read Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon.

8. The Monkey’s Raincoat by Robert Crais. I was a huge fan of fantasy and science-fiction growing up. I liked the spectacular, the impossible, the unbelievable. It didn’t occur to me that there was excellent stories told in a grounded, realistic way, too.

This book – and I don’t know who recommended it or how I stumbled across it – was my first foray into crime/thriller fiction. Elvis Cole and his less seen (until later novels) partner Joe Pike are private detectives. Cole’s investigations are interesting, his wit is hilarious and the action is tight. Robert Crais is who got me hooked on writers like John Sandford, Lee Child and especially Michael Connelly.

James Patterson can sit and spin, though.

9. Eragon by Christopher Paolini. Let me be clear: I know this series has a lot of fans and I’m glad you like what you like

I do not like this book. I think it’s dumb, I don’t think it’s particularly inspired, I don’t think Eragon being one letter from “dragon” is more coincidence than sheer laziness, and I own the movie anyway. Everyone was talking about the fucking thing, so I had to read it. Once I read it, I had to see if the movie was any better.

Meh, I say. Meh to both.

I also freely admit that part of my distaste is because of sheer, petty jealousy. Paolini became a best-selling author at 19 years old with a book that I didn’t find particularly compelling. I wanted that success. I wanted people to buy my stuff. I was absolutely frustrated.

Eragon is on this list because it made me absolutely sure that writing was what I wanted to do.

Which leads to…

10. Wired by Skyler Martin and K. Jered Mayer/Waypoint by K. Jered Mayer.

This is absolutely a cop-out, but the request was indeed for books that meant a lot to me.

Wired is a novella that Skaz and I wrote my senior year of high school. I wanted to do something special for my best friend Chelsea, so I thought, hey, why don’t I write a romantic-comedy? Girls like that. I can make people laugh.

Then I thought, hey, I’ve never written a romantic-comedy or anything over ten pages before HAHAHA WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING? So I asked Skaz for help. I don’t know why. He had never tackled the genre before, either. I just knew he was also a writer.

Well, he and I hit it off quick. He’s the best co-writer I’ve ever worked with and our senses of humor and intuition played off each other really well. We ended up cobbling together a 40k+ story that I was able to send off to Chelsea to hopefully enjoy.

That book needs to be polished up some and released for sale at some point, but I haven’t found the time to do it yet because I got inspired to work on Waypoint, a story of my own creation.

I’ve talked about that book at length in other posts, so I’ll leave it at this: I wrote that book at one of the lowest points of my life. It was the longest piece of work I had ever completed. I was terrified when I finally released it for sale. It’s been received exceptionally positively since then and reaffirmed my love for writing. It’s my baby, and I’m a proud mother.

That’s it for me, for now! Feel free to leave your ten books in the comments!

Mama Mia

I have a strange relationship with my mother, in that I hardly have a relationship with her at all. I wasn’t a planned child, nor was I the product of her marriage. She loved me to death and loves me still, but she was never able to really care for me.

I went to my grandparents to live full-time when I was five. My dad was crashing on their couch, my step-dad was erratic in his temperament and verbally and sometimes physically abusive to my mother, and my mom was an addict. Pot, of course, but that was never really an issue, although I recall her asking me if I wanted to try it when I was 13 or 14. She liked liquor sometimes too, but that was never really her vice. Crack cocaine, though…

I have never held a grudge against my mother for not being there. She had the presence of mind to give me to my grandparents when she knew she couldn’t care for me, and I know she tried to beat her addiction. It was heartbreaking growing up and getting a call every three months to let me know she was clean for a couple weeks. Like clockwork. I didn’t care that she would sometimes ask me for cab fare at my birthday parties when I was a kid. I didn’t care that she was an exotic dancer until my junior year of high school. She needed money and I just wanted my mom to be okay.

She has been in and out of rehab most of my life. She was in jail a little bit. It stopped being surprising early on and just became one of those things I would get a reprise of in a matter of time. My siblings and I visited her at a clinic on Christmas a few years back. It was different, but not unpleasant.

It’s frustrating, though, sometimes. My mom has all these dreams and goals. She wants to learn American Sign Language and help the deaf. She wants to (and for a while, did) help the infirm. She has tremendous artistic ability. She has a lot of love in her. So much love.

I hate that we’re not closer. She was the first person, when I was 15, that I told I lost my virginity. A month after that, she told me I was adopted on my father’s side. I could hear the guilt in her voice. She cried over the phone and I didn’t console her because I was floored, but I remember assuring her I loved her and thanking her for telling me before hanging up so I could flee my house. Somewhat funnier, I remember when I stepped on a balloon at my brother’s birthday party and the POP it made caused the Hell’s Angels present to flip out on me. My mom had no fear and got in the faces of every one, telling them to back the fuck off and shut the fuck up.

She wants to know everything about my life because she’s been so far out of it. Her eyes light up when she sees my siblings and me and she’s always smiling. I could be penniless, homeless, friendless and she would tell me how handsome and strong I am and how proud she is and how much she loves me.

It’s overwhelming. I don’t like answering questions about everything. I feel smothered with love and I get anxious about how excited or active she gets about everything. She’s a very sensitive, emotional woman and I can only handle so much time on the phone with her, and I know she knows when I’m being short. I know she’s disappointed but she does her best not to let me hear it.

She’s the kind of woman who bought me stuffed frog toys for 10 years because as a kid, I rescued a frog one time. Frogs are cool, but I’ve always been partial to wolves and tigers. Two years ago, on my birthday, I drove her from my godfather’s funeral to her halfway house. She gave me a stuffed dog. I took that dog out to the fucking bar that night and used it to talk shit to drunk assholes.

I remember, very faintly, her holding me to her chest when I was young and singing me a lullaby. I don’t remember the words. I don’t remember the rhythm, even. But I remember feeling safe.

I love my mom, but she has been a disappointment. She has lied and broken promises and missed birthdays and been absent. And I know she has struggled and is struggling, but it has been a knee-jerk reaction to stay as distant as possible because I don’t want to be hurt, and I don’t want to see her hurt, and it breaks my heart to see her still so full of dreams of the future and knowing those dreams probably won’t come true.

So. My mom called me today and told me she was going into detox again soon. This one did surprise me. She had been doing very well lately, but if she needs the help, then I’m glad she has presence of mind to get it. She said she was going to get me something. I was expecting another stuffed animal or something similar.

She came in while I was working with a customer, handed me a bag and left. She texted me later. “Sorry hope u like it love mom”.

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For reference, this is my right forearm:

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I write. I write poems and short stories and novels. I love doing it, this creating and sharing stories thing. I got the tattoo as a symbolic gesture. An iconic writing instrument along my writing arm, an embodiment of the storyteller lifestyle. It means a lot to me, so I’m glad I have that visual representation permanently emblazoned on my body, even if some people think it’s ridiculous and even if dozens of drunk women tell me my “feather is pretty”.

I wasn’t expecting such an attentive gift from my mom. I was speechless. It still seems a little unreal. I realized I’m kind of a shitty son, then. So. Guess I’ll have to try and be better going forward.

The Metal That Gave Me Mettle

The first computer I ever owned as a kid was some piece of shit desktop that did nothing for Internet and only basic script commands. I could play Space Invaders and Pong on it, green icons on a black screen with a laggy system so that I never got too used to winning. Around 11 or 12 or so, I got upgraded to a faster computer with Internet capabilities and a dial-up connection. I can recall the long screeching noises vividly. My friends and I used to vocally mock the sounds, as if the machine had feelings we could hurt.

My grandparents, God bless them, put a lot of faith in me to not go to any websites I shouldn’t have. I remember furtively venturing to “sex dot com” and laser printing out softcore images of naked women that I hid under my mattress and blamed on my friend when I inevitably got caught. Oh, you were holding drugs for a friend? Weapons? Yeah, I had topless photos of Denise Richards. “For a friend”.

I took my grounding and pleaded my case and gradually regained my privilege to be on the computer. I discovered Java Chat, a popular early chat room type often divided up by topic or demographic. The particular one I frequented…I don’t even recall how I found it. I think the subject for the room was “Miscellaneous” or some other inane shit.

Being a bullied kid with few friends and an awkward look, I found it easy and, in fact, a relief to meet friends on the Internet. There was JadeDragon (who was kind of a dick) and Topcat (who was my homie) and Spider and this chick Jess who I had a huge crush on and who called me occasionally and who betrayed me when I found out she lied about her age, even though her actual age was closer to mine. You remember when A(ge)/S(ex)/L(ocation) was a thing? Yeah, it was like that but with lies.

I think I was 13 or so when I met Amanda in the chat. She was a year older than me, feisty, funny. She and I bickered as much as we had each other’s back, but she was also there for me through some really hard times. We became friends, though I was in Anchorage, Alaska and she was in Toronto, Canada. We spoke a lot, almost everyday, in the chat room proper or in PMs (private messages). She was my girl, my go-to, the one person I could tell anything to.

She is still a close friend of mine, some 13 years later.

Amanda is the one who got me into Kittie. She started talking about it in the chats, linked me to songs, encouraged me to buy the CD (which, at that point, I think was only Spit). I’m not a big metal guy. I never have been and I probably won’t ever be super into it, but there was something about this all-chick line-up and they way they shredded and screamed and sang that reached whatever pent-up feelings I had gurgling in my chest cavity. I got hooked. I checked them out because a girl I liked asked me to and I stuck with it because the band fucking rocked.

As the Java chat wound down, Amanda and I found our way over to Kittie’s official message board on their website. It was free to sign up, there were hundreds of threads to contribute to (Band discussions, debate, general topics, art and poetry, tours, etc.), and the only rule, really, was don’t be a dick.

Did we follow that? Hahaha no. Not in the slightest.

Could we be warned and banned and suspended? Absolutely. But the moderators didn’t always get along and there were always favorites and sometimes someone said something so fucked up but inherently hilarious that the person would get a message asking them to tone it down instead of an official warning.

There were several regulars that frequented the board, myself among them. I was 13 or 14 when I started posting and I developed a certain kind of reputation for myself. Everyone who was anyone on that board built a rep for themselves. There were stern folks and smart folks and assholes and sarcastic assholes and poets and artists and dumbfucks and rock stars. I made friends with a lot of the right people, but I got warned a time or two. Everyone who was anyone on that board got warned a time or two.

There were costume contests and .gif request threads. There were board awards where people could vote for users to win things, and other people would make banner “award” images to post in their signature lines. There were threads about politics and threads about soda and an equal amount of energy and opinion went into both.

It was a community. It was a family. Not everyone got along, but it was a family all the same. The craziest part about it was the transparency. This was right when scanners and webcams were starting to get big so there was a level of transparency on the board that hadn’t been in the Java chat. Add to that the fact that several board members either lived in close proximity to each other or would road trip to hit up concert venues and meet there. We knew when people were who they said they were.

Additionally, as it was their official board, the Kittie band members would occasionally pop in to chime in on certain topics. The thing that struck me the most about them was that they never came in to address their “fans”. They came in to talk to their family. There was never an air of condescension or entitlement or a shortness of expression. They were our friends, and we were theirs and that was a huge thing.

See, in school, I had to be somebody different all the time. Quiet around certain people, bite my tongue with certain people, hide my intelligence or over reach it with certain people. As I got older and began working, I needed to have a professional face. I had to hide certain qualities about myself and felt ashamed about certain others.

But on the Kittie message board. Everyone could be themselves for the first time. I didn’t have to worry about being called ugly. I could hide or post a pic and at least one person would have something nice to say. I didn’t have to worry about my poetry. There was another poet who would encourage me. I could rant in anger or cry in frustration or celebrate losing my virginity or crack crass jokes or vent my family problems or voice my insecurities. I could be me and people fucking liked me for me and that was weird and so goddamn needed.

You know, people talk a lot these days about the dangers of meeting people on the internet. It is no more dangerous now than it was ten years ago. Less so now, in fact. You just need to not be a fucking idiot about doing it.

I met Diana when I was 17 and flew to Texas. We had spoken on the phone, had webcam chats, talked for years online. I may have gotten confirmation from someone else that she had met, and we met in an airport – practically the most public place you can meet. I stayed for two or three weeks. We went to Ozzfest during Hurricane Katrina, celebrated what I think was her 21st birthday, catcalled some meerkats at the zoo and walked the Galveston strip. It was a hell of a trip.

A year or so later, I flew down to meet my friend Tommy. When he first showed up on the board, he had some stupid fucking goggles that I would not let him get away with wearing. I flew down a couple times, actually. Once I met another board member, Ashley, visiting from Arkansas. The other time, Tommy and I decided to spur-of-the-moment drive from Prattville, Alabama to Detroit, Michigan to meet up with board member Crystal and catch what would be my first live Kittie show.

We arrived in 13 hours, stopping for fuel in Tennessee at a joint gas station/fireworks shop because God Bless You, Tennessee.

Which brings us back to Kittie. I never got to meet the full Spit line-up that had got me so hooked on the band, with Talena Atfield and Fallon Bowman. I did meet sisters Morgan and Mercedes Lander, bassist Trish Doan and guitarist Tara McLeod and let me tell you, they were amazing to me.

They snuck us in to their sound check to hear some of their new stuff before anyone else. They recognized me immediately as “that dude from Alaska”. Mercedes made sure I had one of the two copies of the set list in hand and they took the time to take pictures with me after.

I flew to New York to meet board member Jenny D. We caught Kittie’s acoustic set in a mall where I surprised them. I hadn’t let them know I was coming. Jenny took me to my first and only college party where, at 18 or 19, I won some games of flip cup, vomited all over some frat house bathroom, got a girl’s number and suffered the single worst hangover I’ve ever had.

We caught the Kittie concert in Poughkeepsie and after, the ladies all signed my hat. Tara, who I had a tremendous crush on, gave me her number to keep in touch. I mentioned wanting to write books for a living. Morgan encouraged me to do so. I can’t express how much it means to have someone you look up to and whose art you enjoy tell you to keep at it.

I met board member Karen in Ireland and had one of the fondest memories of my life, holding her while a university group, amidst a light show, sang “She Moved Through the Fair”.

Skyler Martin, aka Skaz, is another board member. One I’ve never met but who is the best writer I’ve ever worked with or whose material I’ve helped edit.

Tommy, of Alabama fame, and his roommate (and board member) Ben once gave me a place to stay when I got kicked out of Canada and had no place else to go.

The last time I saw Kittie perform live was at the Key Club in Los Angeles in 2009. I had just moved away from Alaska for the first time. I was scared and mostly broke and too much in my head and in a rough spot. I scraped money aside to see them; my friends ditched me. Morgan greeted me with open arms. She gave me a shout out during the concert. Ivy Jenkins was playing bass at the time. I didn’t get to meet her then, but we’re friends now.

After the concert, after I forcefully interjected myself between a perma-fried, super-high fan and Morgan, I got to spend a little time with her and Mercedes just relaxing on the tour bus and drinking wine. And I felt okay. I felt like I could get through things, if only for a while.

Morgan and Mercedes Lander, Trish Doan, and Tara McLeod have absolutely been encouraging to me and my endeavors for the better part of a decade. They have never needed to reach out or wish me happy birthday or offer me to hang out. They have never needed to reach out to me.

Or anyone else, because they have reached out to so many people. They have touched so many lives, have encouraged artists and inspired artists and have left an impact on the industry.

Not only that, but the community they have built has saved lives. People who couldn’t be themselves anywhere else found an out. Those who were struggling found support. I personally have developed some of the strongest friendships in my life from interactions on that board, real friendships that have lasted over a decade without, in some cases, needing to meet in person. I’ve met my greatest inspirations through Kittie’s board. My best first kiss with a woman. Some of my greatest, craziest memories. Friends all around the world.

The best part? I’ve lived most of my life in Alaska. I’ve barely had the interaction with the band people elsewhere have. I know of at least two marriages from that board, one that crossed the world. Kittie is a band who is compassionate, inspirational and fun, a band whose presence ignites growth and whose very construction can build a global family that stands the test of time.

I love the band as a whole for their artistry, especially being outside of what I typically like. And those women I know personally? I love them dearly for the friends, the experiences and the encouragement they’ve given me. I may not have pursued storytelling had they not told me I was worth it.

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The Balloon Trick: An Absolute Zeroes Story

He recognized the pistol as an A-series Kendler 73. It was modified with what looked like an extended magazine and a shortened trigger pull. The color was customized into a shimmering green that kissed gray in the right places. It was a solid gun. It was a gun that the owner should be proud of. He just wished the barrel wasn’t pointed at his face.

“Where are the relics, Rumble?”

“You’re going to have to be more specific. Are these actual antiquities are are you referencing the pair of older women Tix and I were drinking with earlier?”

The man with the gun scowled and tightened his grip. “You know what I mean, you damned -”

“Hey, now. No need for that. It’s right…” He pointed directly over the man’s shoulder, past the handful of men with him. “There.”

“How dim do you think I am?”

Rumble smirked at the same time with several animals began screeching. The native name for them was ganthrum but Tix just called them Palgannan tiger-lizards (not to be confused with the tiger-lizards on Inner Springer which were smaller, less temperamental, a different color and really only tangentially similar beyond loping like tigers and being reptilian). They had come upon a full pack in the “nonexistant” back room of a local exotic pet vendor and purchased the lot of them.

They had been expensive, but the amount he and his partner would make hocking the ancient merchandise would triple it. Maybe even more. Plus nothing beat the looks on the faces of the men trying to keep him from his payday as ganthrums, notoriously prone to violent actions when lumped together in tight confines, thrashed their way around the landing pad.

Each of the tiger-lizards had a dozen balloons tied tightly around their tails. They waved around wildly, a whimsical counterpoint to the gnashing of teeth and slashing of claws. With soft slaps, they bounced off of the fuel pumps scattered about.

This was good. This was key.

David Rumble knocked aside the gun in his face and headbutted the confused man holding it in the side of the chin. With his right arm, he spun the man wrapped him up, back tight against his chest. With his left hand, he pulled his own pistol and pressed it against his hostage’s temple. The other men were now torn between defending themselves from the animals and rescuing their leader. They trained their guns on the smuggler.

“Ah ah ah!” Rumble said, loud enough to be heard over the ganthrum snarls. “Those balloons are full of etherium! You know how combustible that stuff is. You light me up, the whole pad will blow.”

“Rush him, then! He can’t risk shooting me, either!”

“Ball bearings with a water pressure projection system. Enough to scramble your brains without any of the burn.”

The man in his arms cursed and his people watched warily as Rumble backed up to the loading ramp of Shadowlark, the ship he bought and that Tix Trobly couldn’t stop working on.

“I’m up!” Rumble shouted back into the belly of the ship.

The engine began thrumming and he could hear the thrusters prepping to ignite. The ramp began lifting up and Rumble snickered as he saw the men on the dock scrambling to get as far away from the ship as possible.

“Wait! The etherium! If you let him take off-”

“There was never etherium in those balloons. The fuel tanks have fire shielding, besides. Good God, man, how the hell did you pull a crew?”

He pushed the man off the ramp. It was high enough that the landing hurt but not so high as to cause permanent damage. Tix would have pantsed him beforehand, but there was no need to add insult to injury.

The relics were secure in the cargo hold. He was uninjured. It had all gone smoothly. Rumble holstered his weapon and made it to the cockpit. Tix was lounging in the pilot’s seat with one hand on the lift controls.

“You know, there’s one thing I don’t get.”

“What’s that?” Rumble asked.

“We knew where they were going to be waiting for us. There were a half a dozen ways we could have got everything back to the ship and taken off without a confrontation. Why the tiger-lizards? Why the balloon fake-out?”

“For the story, my friend. Rumble and Tix wouldn’t be worth half a damn if we couldn’t get the job done without some flair.”

He settled down in the co-pilot’s seat and pulled a bandana from his back pocket. With practiced motions, he tied it around his head, obscuring his eyes.

“You’re just going to take a nap?”

“You’ve got it, Tix. I trust you. Now shush. Chicanery always tuckers me out.”

The Best Medicine

So the new place I live in isn’t far from downtown, where I work. The neighborhood is nice and quiet, if a little worn down. There’s a liquor store/gas station to the left of my house and an excellent Vietnamese restaurant to the right. And a Subway that looks sketchy.

To get to and from work, I cross a bridge. It’s a walk that takes anywhere from a half an hour to forty – five minutes, dependent entirely upon my mood. On one side is the downtown area, full of bars and restaurants. On the other end, the bridge splits. One direction leads to my home and some government buildings. The other leads to the port and an inlet that looks incredible under the sun.

A couple days ago, I was heading home from work and I looked up from a Living Dead story anthology I was reading. The sun was descending upon the water in crimsons and amethysts. People were standing in a river far below in hip waders, fishing. Downtown Anchorage looked vintage in its own way, there, from the center of the bridge. It wasn’t even that loud, with only the occasional passing car sending a tremor under my feet.

I stopped and leaned against the railing for a few minutes, just…looking. I wasn’t even terribly thoughtful. I just took it in and thought about how beautiful my state could be. There were some abandoned warehouses below me, too. Not so beautiful.  All the same, I kind of wanted to break in, just to look, just to check out the dusty insides of a factory workplace that had long been abandoned to dust and days.

It was nice, taking a moment to just stop and let things be around me. Let the world turn around me while I just observed.

Yesterday, a great man who spread joy and laughter to millions of people lost his battle with himself. He was someone many people, myself included,  grew up on. As a child,  he made me laugh. As an adult, he made me laugh harder once I found his stand-up routines. As an actor and writer,  his serious turns and intelligent writings were something to look up to and be inspired by.

As someone who has lost many to depression and who has wrestled with the disease, I was gut-wrenched by the news. For someone who has been so iconic and influential and almost universally beloved to have succumbed…it hurts and it’s scary and it is so monumentally sad.

I wish he had more quiet bridge moments, where the pressures fell away for a few moments. Maybe that would have helped. Maybe not. We’ll never know.

I know that more than ever I want to pursue my art to reach others. I want to bring people an escape. I also want to bring attention to depression and suicide and do what I can for those afflicted by and struggling with it.

May your sunsets be deep. May your sunrises be eternal.

Distilling Who I Used to Be

As I write this, I’m just tipsy enough to start to sleep comfortably. I’m supposed to be up in 3 hours for what will likely be an almost 24 hour day between a 12 hour shift and a healthy stint at the bar I spend too much money on.

So I’m laying down and thinking about sleeping but I want some music to put me in the mood to sleep. Strangely, radically, I find myself in the mood for the Distillers. As The Hunger and Coral Fang and City of Angels pulse through my ears, I’m shotgunned back almost a decade.

I was an asshole as a teenager but mostly because I was angry. I was angry at my family of fuck-ups. I was angry at fake friends. At how nobody believed in me because I was good at plenty of things but not great at anything and I didn’t have a known clique that I hung out with. But I had my group and that group stood by me.

For about five years, there was one thing that I prided myself on and that was that I just did not give a fuck about myself. I took chances. I didn’t blink at risk. I spat in the face of logic and disbelief because I believed I could do it. I fought for the impossible solely for the sake that everyone else thought I couldn’t make it happen.

Not quite everyone. My aforementioned group was a few folks that railed against conventional thought and really fought to put their lofty goals first. They were like-minded dreamers. That’s why we got along so well.

Then folks started getting married, having kids. I made some mistakes. I fell in love and got burned. People fell away. I almost died. I racked up debt. I started feeling like shit started feeling like a piece of shit.

Now I’m listening to Brody Dalle growl in my ear. I’m remembering elbows in my ribs and music pounding my shoulders while my one goal was to be – not the biggest or the strongest or the smartest guy – the scariest motherfucker there. The guy who didn’t quit. The one who laughed at “it can’t happen” and “you’ll never do it”. When I was the guy who didn’t believe in writer’s block, let alone let it fuck his vibe up.

I’m too focused on the grind these days. Not that it isn’t important, not that I shouldn’t care about my job. But that job isn’t me. The money is nice and it’s essential, but I’m a guy who has lived out of two suitcases for five years. I’ve spent three years following the drifter lifestyle without the freedom the mentality gives.

I need to get back to this: I am who I am, and I do what I do, and it won’t be the best, and it won’t be the smartest, but it’s going to happen no matter how many people will leave, no matter how people will stop believing, no matter how many people will tell me I can’t.

I used to scream at thunder, punch waves, grit my teeth at the odds and believe that no matter how bad it got, I would pull myself up. As I got older and had fewer family, fewer friends and more bills, it’s gotten hard.

But dammit, the challenge is what I loved the most about it. I lost that somewhere along the way. I want it back. I’m getting it back.

Fucking Brody Dalle. Bless ya.

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