Graduating From The Doghouse


            My wife has a lot of good qualities. Of  course, if she had bad qualities I wouldn’t write about them here, would I? That’s called “preserving the evidence”. I didn’t read all those mysteries for nothin’, bub.

            I, on the other hand … well, my qualities are only so-so.

            Which leaves me here, in the doghouse, which I guarantee the dog doesn’t appreciate at all. You see, in May Emily became a college graduate, one of the first ever in either of our families, and I didn’t throw her a party.

            Oh, I meant to. But I also meant to write a bestseller and have a beach house in Maui, and that hasn’t happened so far, either.

            What threw me is that, after a great deal of thought, she elected not to go to the actual graduation ceremony. When I was younger I thought that kind of thing was a requirement, but turns out they’ll still give you your diploma even if you don’t slap on the cap and gown. That being the case, I assume my sneaking into Purdue’s graduation with a stolen cap and gown thirty years ago would have gotten me nowhere.

            I returned the gown, by the way. Kept the cap.

            For some reason I’ve never been certain of, you’re graded in college on a 0-4 scale. You’d think colleges would be able to come up with something that had more numbers! For instance, my solid C average in high school would have translated to a solid … I don’t know … 2.5? Math was never my thing, which explains the solid C.

            But Emily is a genius, darn her, and is of that rare group that actually graduated with a 5.0 grade scale average. Don’t look at me like that, it’s true: She’s smarter than perfect. Well, she would have, if they had such a thing. She got on the Dean’s list pretty much every time except for during the whole operation/critical illness thing, which I think qualifies as a fair excuse. I got on my teacher’s list once, but boy, was that a different list.

            I know what you’re thinking: “Okay, she’s way smarter and you forgot her graduation. What does she see in you, anyway?”

            Um … well, I’m cuddly. And I know what you’re thinking, so there’s that. Otherwise, I’m trying hard not to dwell on the fact that when we met I had high speed internet, and she didn’t.

            Anyway, we both have issues with large crowds, and an IPFW graduation ceremony is nothing if not large crowds; in addition, she has issues with spending money, even on something like a cap and gown. For this I am extremely grateful. I could have married someone whose issue is with not spending money.

            The result was no ceremony, which led to me forgetting to throw her a party, and thus to the doghouse … which is cozy, but doesn’t have the best atmosphere.

            A party is certainly in order. I stink at planning parties, although I’m better at it than, say, assembling a small engine, so I’m going to farm that out. What do you think? Put my mom to work and have a mom-type party? Or talk to her friends and throw a friend type party? I’ve screwed this up badly enough that I’m thinking both.

            Meanwhile, I ask this of all of you: If you meet her on the street, talk to her on the phone, or (more likely) encounter her on the internet, tell her Happy Graduation! Exactly that way, with the exclamation point. She deserves it. I really enjoyed our time at IPFW, but I just sat there in the lounge areas with my laptop and wrote—she went through four years of real work.

Meanwhile, obviously, I’m going to take her out to dinner. We don’t go out to dinner often—see above about issues with spending money—but this is a major league screw up. We’re not talking Applebee’s screw up … we’re talking Red Lobster screw up.

            This is secretly fine with me, as I love their steak and they have biscuits I’d happily kill for. But it’s important to make her think it’s a major inconvenience that I’m doing just to make her happy, along the lines of holding her purse while she shops for clothes.

            Maybe I’ll hold her purse in Red Lobster. I wonder how many biscuits would fit in there?
My wife studies hard. Especially in this case, when studying our wedding license for loopholes ... just in case.

Movie Review: A Million Ways To Gross In The West

            Hollywood takes great pride and joy in “pushing the envelope”. So much so that you’re not likely to get as much critical acclaim if your TV show or movie doesn’t try something over the top: Just a little more nudity, cursing, violence, or general grossness than has been generally allowed in the past.

            Two of my favorite shows are “The Walking Dead” and “Fargo”, both of which would have been R rated and never allowed near TV when I was a kid. However, let me suggest something that today’s Hollywood creators would find shocking:

            Just because you can push the envelope doesn’t mean you have to push the envelope.

            And so we come to “A Million Ways To Die In The West”. This picture was made by Seth MacFarlane, who’s well known for being as offensive as possible in his very funny show, “Family Guy”. What I did not expect—and this doesn’t spoil the plot—was to actually see a sheep penis, and to actually get a good look at a hat full of diarrhea.

            Was it shocking? Yes, just as the F-bomb used to be shocking before it became boring in its overuse. Was it gross? Well, yeah. Was it funny? Did it add anything to the movie? Just the opposite. The same goes in other areas: For instance, a scene involving a huge ice block was funny, until we see blood and gore splatter. Then—not so much.

            Sometimes the envelope is there for a reason.

            MacFarlane plays a sheep farmer named Albert who falls for a mysterious newcomer in town, played by the scene-stealing Charlize Theron. Unfortunately for him, the woman’s boyfriend is Clinch, the deadliest gunslinger in the West (Liam Neeson, who sadly has little to do.)  Albert must find his courage and get over his ex-girlfriend even as townspeople fall like dominos around him because there are, after all, a million ways to die in the West.

            The cast is overall wonderful, especially Theron and Neil Patrick Harris, and we get some great cameos along the way (the best of which is spoiled in some trailers.) While some viewers didn’t like MacFarlane in his role, I thought he did well playing the straight man as the smart but na├»ve Albert.

            As for the plot, I got a little whiplash: Part was a pure parody, but in the other parts MacFarlane plays it serious. Sometimes we’re looking at amazing Western scenery, other times a hooker’s telling her virginal boyfriend exactly what she’s doing to earn extra money. Much as MacFarlane enjoys his drug jokes and potty humor, I think he’s also sentimental at heart.

            So, would I recommend “A Million Ways To Die In The West”? Yep: It’s mostly fun and funny—if you can stomach it.

            Entertainment Value: 3 out of 4 M&M’s, but not the brown ones. I won’t be eating the brown ones for a while.

            Oscar Potential: 1 out of 4 M&M’s. There’s always cinematography or music.

Finally, a movie that appreciates a good mustache.

Fifty Authors from Fifty States: Good Things Do Come In Small Packages, Author Moni...

Fifty Authors from Fifty States: Good Things Do Come In Small Packages, Author Moni...: Large cities such as St. Louis, MO come along with all the expected tourism sites such as the St. Louis Arc, numerous museums, Jazz Clu...

In my generation, "sick" is not a good thing

Spent part of the longest day of the year sleeping, and now I'm waiting for the cold meds to kick in so I can sleep more before going in for a 12 hour shift. This is what I'm reduced to. But I do feel better than I did a couple of days ago, when I lost my voice almost completely.

On the other hand, during those times when I was able to do anything at all over the last week, I got several thousand words done on my space opera story rough draft. I put the Slightly Off The Mark book project aside until I feel better--didn't feel up to editing.

Speak of the Devil: A Night In The Life Of A Dog

Speak of the Devil: A Night In The Life Of A Dog: Before I get started today, I have links for your consideration. Yesterday was a  Square Dog Friday , so Parsnip had the Scotties front an...

Not a Sterling Personality


            So there’s this rich guy named Donald Sterling, who told his half-black girlfriend that he doesn’t like black people. And even though he said it behind the doors of his own home, somebody recorded it and now everybody knows, and they won’t let him be anywhere near his own business anymore.

            That’s pretty much it. Now the media has mostly moved on, while Sterling is losing that business in return for a whole lot of money, which makes him just as rich but still not a nice guy.

            Sterling, who owns a basefootketball team or something like that, has a long history of saying racist things. His newest rant caused the predictable argument between Republicans and Democrats, each side claiming Sterling belongs to the other. It was like when I used to get picked last in gym class.

            The truth turned out to be unclear. Sterling, despite a history of contributing to Democratic candidates, is a registered Republican. Maybe he’s a Republican in name only, making him a RINO elephant … but his contributions to Democrats are a pittance for someone of his wealth. It was the equivalent of Donald Trump throwing loose change at a RINO wino.

            Despite myself, I dug into his background, trying to look under his white hood and get a sense of the man. My conclusion: He’s not left or right. He’s just a bad guy, probably throwing his support at anyone who helps him make money.

            I’ve known some decent rich people who work hard, then give back. Donald Sterling’s not one of them.

            So why had I never heard of him? Because he’s a basketball team owner, and I despise basketball. I can live with most sports, but I absolutely can’t stand basketball—I will actually walk out of the room if a game’s on TV. So I don’t know this guy from Adam, assuming Adam’s a racist pig.

            My feeling is that we should stop angling for political capital and look at it for what it is: An old guy who’s still living in the 50’s. The 1850’s.

            Maybe a bigger question is, how can people like that still think this way, in the 21st Century? Especially since Sterling’s name isn’t Sterling: It’s Tokowitz. He’s a Jewish guy with a mixed-race girlfriend (and a wife, which says something about him), and should know something about prejudice.

            On the other hand, he was born in 1933 in Chicago, and so grew up in a place where white and black people didn’t always get along. He was already in his 30’s when Martin Luther King, Jr. was doing his work. He wouldn’t be the first old guy who just couldn’t adjust to the idea that what he learned as a youth might be wrong.

            In other words, he’s a scumbag.

            And yet …

            Oh, I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve a smack down. I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve public ridicule. I’m not saying that having mixed feelings on this matter doesn’t make me uncomfortable.

            Yet I’m bothered by the idea that a guy can be fined big bucks and have his company taken away from him because he has an opinion. Especially an opinion that, in the triggering case, was given in the privacy of his own home and recorded without his knowledge.

            (I’ve since learned things about how the NBA is organized that shows their justification in taking his team away, but this is a humor column, and I can only explain so much.)

            I once had a Confederate flag in the privacy of my own home. Granted, I was twelve, but still … does my owning a Johnny West action figure mean I hated Indians? (Okay, so I owned Geronimo, too.)

            What if we can all be stripped of what we own just for having an opinion? What if the cattle industry demanded I have my car taken from me because I hate liver? If some vegan activist recorded me in my kitchen saying I love steak, and it resulted in a fight between them and the pork industry, is it their business whether I have a beef with liver?

            So, yeah, I have some concerns with the whole thing. Mostly I have concerns about having to defend a worthless scumbag who should be beaten with a basketball bat. Do they have those?

            What I would expect in America is that I can rib you in my columns, and if you don’t like my bull you can vote with your hooves and just walk away, leaving me penniless and opinionated.

            And to show you how that works, starting right now I’m never again going to a game played by that team Donald Sterling owns.

            Whatever team that is.

Changing the way I spin on the web:

            “I’ve been thinking about it.”
            “Did it hurt?”
            “Little bit.”
-- The Notorious Ian Grant

            Hey, look at that: a surprise sneak peak at my upcoming novel. And also a good intro, because, like Ian Grant, I’ve been thinking about things … and it did hurt, a little.

            I’ve self-published two books, and I’ve had a book and a short story collection released by a small traditional publisher.

            They both have disadvantages, one of which is you don’t get a lot of help in marketing. If you’re going for traditional publishers in the hopes you can just leave everything to them and go on to your next book, forget it. Unless you’re a big name, the publisher’s cut of your work goes toward editing, set up costs, cover design, and other things that don’t include sending you on a multi-city book tour. (Including profit.)

            What’s the best way to market your book? Everyone knows, but no one agrees. One thing most do 
agree on, though, is that one of the best marketing tactics is to keep writing good books. (Notice the “good” part.) Better still from a marketing standpoint is to write a series, since people like to revisit their favorite characters, if done well.

            So, how do you balance your time, as a writer, between writing your new book and marketing your last one?

            I dunno.

            But I’m trying some steps in that direction. First of all, I’m going to delete my “Storm Chaser” and “Storm Chaser Shorts” Facebook pages, which were, after all, an experiment to begin with. I’m considering keeping my “Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights” page, as it has more of a community aspect and relates to local history and firefighting in general, in addition to the book itself. (Or maybe I should give that job over to Tanner Lock’s excellent Albion Volunteer Fire Department Facebook page?)

            But in general I’m going to concentrate my efforts on my FB fan page, which is Mark R Hunter (as opposed to my “private” page, which is Mark Richard Hunter) It seems pointless to put extra effort into individual book pages, especially since Facebook recently has made changes that make it less useful to writers seeking new readers.

            On a related note, I have two twitter accounts: @MarkRHunter and @StormChaserbook. With the ease of Tweetdeck I’ll probably still cross post writing and weather related stuff to both, but otherwise the Storm Chaser one is going inactive.

            Finally, I’m going to change how I use social media, a little. Many writers spend a lot of their online time connecting with … other writers. Thanks to that, I’ve developed some amazing friendships, a support system I never had as a beginning writer, and great ideas.

            But writers can’t sell books just to other writers.

            For one thing, most writers are poor.

            So I’m going to make an attempt to diversify my posts a bit more, talking about things other than writing. Or maybe things that aren’t about writing, but that relate to the things I write about.

            See, if I can make those things interesting and/or funny, people might read them and say, “Hey – I should check out his books!”

            Meanwhile, by streamlining the process a bit, I’m hopeful for enough time to get out at least two books a year, and maybe some short stories or other writing, all going toward my eventual goal of world domination – um, writing full time.

            My main goal will be to put out the best work I can, in the hopes of making the readers think I’m confident and talented, and worth telling others about.
            It could work.

Plumbing, Part 2: It Gets Worse


            Last week, I described how preparing to fix my home’s only toilet turned into a half day ordeal. The rest of the day went pretty much the way you’d expect:

            After staring at the instructions for half an hour and muttering to myself, I figured out how to get the new piece of toilet innards in. (At about that point my wife popped her head in, and I went on a ten minute diatribe that basically consisted of “Easy! They said it was easy!” along with some hysterical laughter.)

            The new piece had to be reconnected to the water line, and the instructions gave four different ways to do that, depending on the incoming line. Flared? Flanged? Screwed? Something was screwed, all right. (Later I would mispronounce the word “flanged” to the guy at the hardware store, even though I knew how to pronounce it. My head was that screwed—and nailed—by then.) My setup, I determined, was flanged.

            That took the “already installed” washer, which I’d thrown aside because it had deteriorated to a little ring of black pond scum. The rubber washer that came with the new parts, which took me ten minutes to separate from the other washer that came with the new parts, wouldn’t be necessary. Really?

            With the old washer back in, everything was complete. Right? By then I’d skipped over steps fourteen through seventeen and was desperately craving a beer, even though I hate beer. I headed downstairs to turn the water back on. Instantly the sound of the tank filling could be heard upstairs.

            At least, that was hopefully what the sound was. Running upstairs revealed that the toilet was indeed filling, and it even stopped when it was supposed to. I’d saved the day!

            Of course, there was also that water spraying out from under the toilet.

            It may seem like a good idea: Constantly cleaning your bathroom floor with a good, steady spray of water. In reality, I’ve learned that water spraying all over a room tends to end badly. I ran back downstairs to shut off the water. Then back upstairs to tighten the nut. Then back downstairs to turn on the water. Then back upstairs to get sprayed in the face, and tighten the nut more.

            The old rubber washer, built by Korean kids who are now Korean elders, just couldn’t handle the strain of being taken out, then put back in again.

            I ran back downstairs and turned off the valves, which also turned off the supply of water to my home’s heating system. One of the valves sprayed me in the face.

This was new.

            Apparently that fixture also had a rubber washer that couldn’t take the strain.

            By now I’d run up and down the stairs often enough to prepare for a marathon, my back was screaming in agony, and I’d started to wonder where that half bottle of vodka had gotten to that I stashed away somewhere after New Year’s, 2008. But I persevered, because when you gotta go, you gotta go, and my property’s outhouse disappeared a long time ago. I tried to tighten the nut again, and when that didn’t work I started going through the steps, one by one. Again.

            The dog, by then, had retreated into the living room and was lying on the couch, trying to be invisible. He began casting fearful looks in my direction when I wandered into the room, compulsively folding and unfolding the directions, clothes soaked and eyes wild.

            “I have to start over from scratch. Heh. It must be the washer inside. I gotta start all over. Ha. Ha ha. Hahahahahaha!!!!!!!”

            At which point the dog wisely left for wherever my wife was hiding.

            At the hardware store, the hardware guy patiently listened to my explanation of what I needed, which was peppered with a lot of “little round thing”, and “goes on the other thing for the stuff”, and a few words I can’t relate here. Finally I demonstrated on an actual model of a toilet, which I discovered was bolted to the wall when I tried to lift it to show him the bottom. It occurred to me later that an awfully lot of people must come in there, trying to describe the things they need for their stuff.

            But finally he understood. “We don’t have that.”

            Uh huh.

            What he did have was a little package of plastic pipe connector whatsits, which included a little plastic washer, which might or might not do the trick. “I’ll try it – why not? Also, do you have any whiskey?”

            Looks like I picked a bad decade to give up drinking.

            I completely disassembled the assembled assembly, reassembled it, added the new washer, and tromped downstairs, where the water spray soaked me until, ironically, I turned the water back on. Then the leak there stopped, and since that valve has to be on to supply the furnace, I figured it should be called even.

I heard the sound of rushing water. Edgar Allen Poe never wrote a more suspenseful moment.

            Upstairs, I discovered the toilet was working perfectly. Also, a little stream of water was wandering its way down the water line behind the toilet, onto a pile of wet towels. Absolutely nothing had changed since before the job started.

            The instructions say the connections holding all that goshdarnit inside the toilet, and hooking it to the water line, should be hand tightened only. I got a wrench. Crawling under the toilet, I cranked that water line as tight as it would go.

            The stream stopped. The dripping started. Drip. Drip. Drip. Right down the water line, in a way that made it impossible to catch in a container.

            And that’s why, if you should visit my home and have the unfortunate need for a bathroom run, you’ll find a towel wrapped around the line under my toilet, a towel that has to be replaced daily. Hey, it’s a lot less water than was going down the drain before I started.

            Besides, I know when I’m beaten.

The "new" toilet, along with the old flooring. If it ain't the seat, it's the foot.

Snape Takes a Holiday

I took some time off from my writing to write … don't judge me, it's what writers do. So if any of you are interested in the Harry Potter universe, I wrote a little fanfiction in which Professor Snape travels to a world of beautiful people, fun in the sun, and constant good times … whether he wants to or not.

He hated wasting an intimidating pose.”

Speak of the Devil: Charge Of The Rampaging Sloths

Speak of the Devil: Charge Of The Rampaging Sloths: Some links to see to before I get started. Yesterday was a Sunday, so we had a Snippet Sunday  post.  Have a look at Krisztina's pecul...

Review: X-Men Exposed—sometimes literally

            Time travel, yay! I love a great time travel movie. Heck, I love a bad time travel movie.

            Good news: X-Men: Days of Future Past is a great travel movie.

            The movie, which has a title so long it exhausts me to say it, is about mutants in our future who send one of their own back to our past to prevent a war that destroys our present. Can I just say X-Men? Assume I’m not talking about one of the previous ones.

            More specifically, a small group of characters from the comics have been surviving ongoing attacks from Sentinels by detecting when the mutant hunting robots are approaching, then psychically going back a few days in time to warn themselves to flee. In other words, they’ve been time traveling constantly, which can take quite a toll on a person.

            The solution, naturally, is to go back in time half a century or so and stop the murder that eventually leads to the government funding the Sentinel Program, and doesn’t the government always end up behind these things? Unfortunately, the person who committed that murder is one of their own: Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), and why has no one noticed that she runs around totally naked for half this movie? Oh, sure, she has weird blue skin that looks like rubber gloves, but still …

            Anyway, the only person who can survive a trip that far back is Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), whose mind heals as quickly as his unaging body does. Kitty Pryde (my favorite mutant from the comic books) is given specific instructions: Send Wolverine back to a moment where he’s in bed with a lover, so he’ll get up and treat the audience to full (if not frontal) nudity.

            I didn’t care all that much myself, but my eardrums popped from the simultaneous intake of air among all the females in the movie theater.

            And then we’re in the 70’s, where Wolverine realizes all the mutant powers in the world can’t protect him from polyester.

            I’m so glad we aren’t in the 70’s anymore.

            This is one of the best of the X-Men movies, and one of the best of the superhero movies, too. It’s true that you should be a fan of the comic books to get all the little winks, and this is one time when seeing the other movies is a prerequisite. On the other hand, the moviemakers have done a fantastic job of jumping back and forth in time without confusing the audience, and that’s an amazing accomplishment.

            The story’s great, the acting strong, the special effects (of course) mind blowing, and X-Men fans get at least a cameo from almost all of their favorites. Also, as with Star Trek, this story has the advantage of erasing almost all the canon that canon’d before this, giving them a clean slate for the next movie.

            I’m left with just one question: If Halle Berry once received a half-million bucks to drop her top in a movie, how much did Hugh Jackman get for baring his bottom?

Entertainment Value: 4 out of 4 M&M’s. That’s two wins out of two trips to the theater.
Oscar Potential: 4 M&M’s for something, even if it’s special effects