I stand firmly grounded in middle age, inasmuch as when I look back over my shoulder at the starting line and up ahead toward to the finish, the distances appear to be about the same.
To my left stand friends who never became parents — some by choice, others by circumstance. To my right are those who either won’t or can’t be with their fathers today.
And it doesn’t escape me for a moment how lucky I am to be here, in the middle. Today I had lunch with my dad and my children at the same table. (And Susan of course, who made our Melting Pot reservations!)
I’ve seen a lot of sad posts on Facebook today, advising others to appreciate the time they have with their kids and their dad.
I am, and I do.
I have lots and lots of books in my Star Wars collection, both fiction and non-fiction for young and adult readers alike.
Star Wars: The Mystery of the Rebellious Robot was published by Random House in 1979. I remember checking his book out from our school’s library. This copy also came from a school library, although not my school.
Unsurprisingly the story begins with Han Solo piloting the Millennium Falcon, Chewbacca and R2-D2 playing Planetary Poker, and C-3P0 running around like a maniac.
First it’s R2-D2 that begins acting rebellious, although soon many of the droids, robots and machines down on Tatooine begin malfunctioning as well. We learn that Luke Skywalker is working with a crew of scientists and engineers to build a super-vaporator because Tatooine was suffering from a severe drought. I hate to break it to them, but George Lucas only builds planets with one climate. Tatooine’s going to be a desert for a long, long time.
After our heroes safely land on Tatooine, they attend a meeting to discuss the rebellious droids. The meeting is led by Captain Egoreg, leader of the vaporator project. (“Egoreg” is suspiciously similar to “George” spelled backwards.) During the meeting, the conference room explodes. Everyone was unharmed except for C-3PO, who was wheeled out on a dolly for repairs.
Ultimately the source of the robot rebellion turns out to be tainted oil, provided by Jawas who were hoping the malfunctioning droids would be donated to them. Instead, Chewbacca scooped up all the Jawas and bonked them on the head.
On the final page of the book, Princess Leia awards Chewbacca with a reward while the others look on and C-3P0 photobombs the picture.
Star Wars: The Mystery of the Rebellious Robot was ghost-written by Eleanor Ehrhardt and illustrated by Mark Corcoran. A great interview with Mark about his memories of the book on its 30th anniversary can be found here.
When this book came out, I’m not sure if I was aware that The Empire Strikes Back was coming out the following year or not. As a kid, these books were a great way to peer into the daily lives of those Star Wars characters. The events captured in the Star Wars films were just a small part of what these characters went through during their lives. Books like these reminded us that there was lots of adventures and stories to be told.
In 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Marion Ravenwood becomes frustrated with Indiana Jones when he complains that it hurts everywhere she touches him. “Where doesn’t it hurt?” she asks, and the infamous archeologist is able to come up with four locations: his elbow, his right temple, his eyeball, and finally, his lips.
I’m in worse shape than Dr. Jones. In addition to my feet, ankles, thighs, butt, abdomen, ribs, back, shoulders, and neck all hurting, my eyes aren’t all that good, my elbow is aching, and my lips are chapped — and I didn’t even get chased by a giant boulder or a tribe of angry natives. All I did was walk around Washington D.C. for a few days with bunch of electronics strapped to my back, and drive 1,400 miles in two days to get back home.
What hurts the most are my shoulders, both from carrying around my backpack and holding on to a steering wheel for two days straight. On Friday, I left D.C. and drove to Hurricane, West Virginia, where I met up with John and Aaron from the Amigos Podcast and hung out for several hours before continuing on toward Lexington, Kentucky. The good news was I covered around 500 miles on Friday; the bad news was, if I wanted to complete the drive in two days (which I did), that left me approximately 900 miles on Saturday to drive.
I had loosely planned on stopping by the 1984 Arcade in Springfield, Missouri and Arkadia Retrocade in Fayetteville, Arkansas, but as the miles piled on my will to do anything but continue moving closer to home waned.
Both the padding in my ten year old driver’s seat and my forty-two-year-old booty aren’t what they used to be. Halfway through day two I found myself making more and more stops at highway truck stops, adding gas to the tank when it was still half full and stretching those muscles that weren’t cramping. My shoulder ached so much that I could no longer raise my arm above my head. My neck creaked and popped no matter which way it turned. My tailbone begged for mercy as I piled pillows under my bum to make the pain bearable. At each stop I began to hobble like a penguin as I tried to make things stop hurting. The single step up back into my truck seemed higher after each brief break.
I pulled into my driveway around 10pm on Saturday and left my truck full of clothes, empty cans of Monster energy drink, and fast food garbage. Even though I did little more than sit around and moan on Sunday, as of this morning, I’m still not feeling great. The muscles in my shoulder continue to pop every time I raise my left arm to rub my temples. My thighs hurt when I stand and more when I sit. Every time I turn my head, my neck sounds like aluminum foil crinkling. It’s going to take me a few more days to get over this one, and I am wondering if my days of 12+ hours in a car driving across America aren’t limited (or over).
It turns out, llama farms are located pretty far outside the confines of the city — at least the one we visited was. After thirty minutes of navigating gravel roads so narrow that we honestly didn’t know what we would do if we encountered a car coming toward us, we arrived.
There wasn’t anything at the llama farm I wasn’t expecting. There were two barns, a four-wheeler, a motorcycle, a pickup truck, a small cabin — and, in the middle of it all, a fenced-in pen containing roughly a dozen llamas. Except for an all-white one.
“He’s a jumper,” said Steve, sole owner of Smoky Mountain Llama Treks. After deciding he had had enough of the corporate life, Steve quit his IT job in Detroit and moved to the mountains of Tennessee. He traded his daily commute for daily hikes into the Smoky Mountains. His customers are no longers users needing computer assistance, but weekend warriors looking to get away and see the backwoods of Tennessee.
And curious people from Oklahoma.
Llamas are a lot like cats. They’re curious and not aggressive at all. When we arrived, I wondered just how close we would get to the llamas. Five minutes later after a very brief list of instructions (“don’t touch their ears of heads”), all four of us were standing inside the pen with the llamas. Steve rattles off the llamas’ names and you can probably imagine what Curly, Peanut Butter, and Black Jack look like.
In the center of the pen is a large and impressive pile of llama poop. “They all go in one place,” says Steve, stating the obvious. The grass downhill from the pen is plush and green. Apparently, it really does flow downhill.
The draw of the llama farm isn’t really the llamas — it’s Steve. In the half an hour we were there we heard how Steve made it from Detroit to Tennessee, his hike down the Appalachian Trail, the time the transmission went out on his truck, his neighbor (“he’s a Navy Seal”), and his ultimate dream.
“I’d like to meet Chuck Norris,” says Steve. “I think one day I will come out here and find him standing there, waiting to go on a hike with my llamas.” It’s a crazy thought, and yet after hearing half an hour of Steve’s stories, I have no doubt someday that it will happen.
As the kids fed bananas (“they love the peels”) and graham crackers to the llamas, I thought a lot about Steve. He’s quick to point out that his salary went from $200k a year in Detroit to $20k a year in Tennessee, and he couldn’t be happier. The guy has a grin on his face from ear to ear, even as the llamas get possessive over the last bowl of food and begin spitting at one another. And us.
The next morning, Susan and the kids got in a rental car and drove back to Oklahoma while I continued on to Washington D.C. I’ve spent the past week dealing with a Metro under construction, horrible traffic, and crowds of rude people. As I hang up my suit jacket and crawl into bed listening to jack hammers, blasting car horns and kids stomping around upstairs, the thought of living in the backwoods and even dealing with llama poop doesn’t sound all that bad.
The last time I spent time in Pigeon Forge, TN, I was nine years old. My family and I went to Knoxville in 1982 to attend the World’s Fair, and stayed in Pigeon Forge.
My father once described Pigeon Forge as “a sideshow without a circus” back in 1982. Not much has changed.
Susan got a good deal on this cabin for the weekend just off the beaten path. It was overkill for only four of us, but it was cheaper than the hotel I’m in tonight in Washington D.C.
One of the main things Morgan wanted to see in Pigeon Forge was the Titanic Museum.
The museum has more than 400 items on display that were on board when the ship went down, the most valuable of which was the actual violin that the band leader played while the ship went down. He didn’t survive, but the violin did.
Mason wasn’t as interested in the Titanic Museum, but had a good time racing go-karts just down the street.
Then we were off to see what Susan wanted to see. A llama farm.
I’ll write more about the llamas later this week, but suffice it to say this was the only picture I took while we were outside the pen. The rest of the time we were inside the fence, petting llamas and occasionally dodging llama spit.
Last week, a high school student was prevented from walking across the stage at his high school graduation ceremony because he had a beard. Before I got a chance to write about that, I read another story about a local Native American student was was prevented from wearing a beaded cap during graduation. Earlier in the year, a student was suspended for dying her hair a non-natural color.
I have a message for these and all oppressed youths who are being held back by the man and prevented from expressing themselves and doing whatever they want regardless of established rules: get used to it.
Back when I worked for Mazzio’s Pizza, the employee handbook explicitly forbid facial hair. If you showed up to work with a five o’clock shadow, there was a rusty community razor and bar of soap next to the sink that you could use to scrape your face with. If you weren’t willing to do that, you were sent home (without pay of course) and written up. On your third write up — not just for this, but any infraction — you were fired, and nobody wrote a newspaper article about it.
When I worked for Pizza Hut, I served as a shift supervisor on some nights and a delivery driver on others. Shift supervisors had to wear long black pants, while delivery drivers could wear black shorts. One day I showed up to work in shorts (thinking I was going to be delivering pizzas) but instead that night I was scheduled to be the shift supervisor. My manager, who knew I lived fifteen minutes away from the store, sent me home to go change into long pants.
Last month I attended an awards ceremony at Mason’s school, where Mason is one of 550+ eighth graders. For each subject, all the school’s teachers took the stage and handed out certificates to their star students — somewhere between five and ten students per teacher. Each student was called by name to walk up to the stage and accept his or her certificate. There were probably fifty kids on stage by the time all the math teachers had presented their awards. Then they moved on to science, history, English, Spanish, French, the vocal and drama departments, and so on before moving on to things like the Model UN, journalism, the academic bowl, and other school sponsored activities. Even if your kid hadn’t been on stage yet — no child left behind, right? — they still had a shot at the academic awards, in which every kid with a 3.5 average or better (A’s and B’s) received one. Toward the end, they hand out awards for going to school every day. Here’s a picture I took (from the back row, sorry) of some of our special snowflakes on stage:
I’ve told this story before, but one time when Mason was in grade school he come home and told me that it was Field Day. Field Day is an elementary school’s version of the Olympics, where kids compete in events like the high jump and races of varying lengths. For some reason as a kid I was pretty good at the long jump, but that was about it. If I was lucky I’d come home with a ribbon or two (at least one said “Participation” on it) and bide my time until the Spelling Bee rolled around. When I asked Mason if he won any ribbons on his Field Day, he looked at me with that same weird look kids give you when you try to explain to them what payphones were. Of course he got a ribbon, because everybody got a ribbon, because everybody always gets a ribbon. How can you give just one kid a ribbon? That’s favoritism.
That’s also why an 8th grade awards ceremony takes three hours to sit through — because at the end, we’re handing out awards for “coming to school.” The only thing stopping them from handing out certificates for simply being alive is the fact that the mother of some deceased child would probably sue them for discriminating against the dearly departed, and the next year they would have to give out awards to every child that passed away.
Back when I worked at Grandy’s, another cook and I discovered that the outside lighting wasn’t grounded properly, and every time you touched anything metal in the kitchen after dark it would shock the bejesus out of you. Any time you washed dishes, your arms tingled like when you stick your tongue to a nine volt battery. After complaining for weeks to management (who suggested we stand on plastic tubs while doing the dishes) we convinced another employee to call OSHA for us. Our manager told us if he ever found out who called them, he would fire us on the spot.
Look, high school sucks. You have to go, they make the rules, and you have to follow them. It is a card game in which students hold no cards and are forced to sit at the table. If you don’t like the school’s policy against facial hair, the way to fight it is before graduation. Talk to a teacher or an administrator. Go to a board meeting and voice your opinion. Start a newspaper or a petition (or, more likely, a Facebook page — whatever) and rally the troops. Disobeying the man is not the same as fighting him. That’s a hard concept to explain to a generation of kids with more awards than passion.
If nothing else, these kids were lucky to have learned life’s not fair early on. Start ignoring your company’s dress code or grooming policy and see how far that gets you. In the real world, which you are entering the day you graduate high school, you can’t simply break the rules you don’t agree with and not expect consequences. If anyone walks out of high school thinking otherwise, we have truly failed them.
Wearing Star Wars clothing is a fun way to tell people around you that you love the greatest trilogy of films ever. Or, perhaps it’s a way to tell them that you’re a giant dork. Either way, I have several Star Wars ties and shirts that I wear on occasion, but one item that gets more wear than any of them is this baseball cap.
I struggle to find more to say about it than “it’s a baseball cap that looks like a stormtrooper’s helmet,” but I’ll try. I bought this hat several years ago at the mall. I’ve had it long enough that we’ve had to wash it multiple times to try and keep it white. Based on the above picture, it’s due another round.
There’s nothing on the back of the hat, so when you wear it backwards (like I normally do) it just looks like a white hat.
The inside has a pretty cool pattern, although nobody except things living on my scalp ever sees it. I have another hat of the same brand that looks like Boba Fett’s helmet. I have a green shirt and a pair of matching Nike shoes that makes it more of an outfit.
I occasionally get comments from people when I wear it, which is exactly why I wear it.
I don’t really consider Star Wars branded clothing to be part of my collection proper, but it’s a fun way to find other fans of the franchise and perhaps strike up a conversation while out of the house and away from the computer.
Over the holiday weekend Susan and I stopped by a thrift store, where I ran across this disgustingly dirty Nintendo Wii for $20. Usually when I find a cheap Wii for sale it means the optical (DVD) drive has died, but I had other plans for one so I decided to take a gamble. The bundle had a power supply, Wiibar, and video cable, but no Wiimotes.
Ten minutes later after a quick coating of Fantastik, we were in business.
With everything connected (and a borrowed Wiimote from the other Wii) I fired it up with my fingers crossed.
So, it booted right up. You can see the previous owner had Netflix installed and a few other apps. The next test was to insert a game and see if the internal optical drive was any good or not.
No dice. The error reads, “An error has occurred. Press the Eject Button and remove the disc, then turn the Wii console off and refer to the Wii Operations Manual for help troubleshooting.”
This is unfortunately a common fate for Nintendo Wii consoles. The internal optical drive dies, and when it does, most people toss them into the trash. Nintendo will (or at least would) replace the internal drive for $90, but you can buy refurbished consoles at GameStop for $60, so replacing the drive doesn’t make much sense. In some cases it is possible to replace only the drive’s lens, but… good luck with that operation.
There is an alternative, however — the soft mod. This only works on the original-style Wii (not the newer “Wii-Mini”). I modded my first Wii in 2010 and things have only got easier since then. Once the machine is soft modded, you’ll be able to do all sorts of cool things — including loading game ISOs from a connected USB hard drive.
But first, a hurdle. The original owner had set a security PIN code, which prevented me from formatting the Wii and/or modifying it. I tried “1111” and “1234” with no luck before resorting to Google. The first website I found, Nintendo’s, said they could reset it for 50 cents. Seriously. Nintendo wants 50 cents for the reset code! Fortunately, the second link Google returned was to this page, which will generate a parental control password reset code for you (for free). With the console unlocked, I was able to format the machine and move forward.
With the machine formatted, I grabbed an SD card and followed the instructions on this page. Unlocking the Wii took about 5-10 minutes, once I had everything downloaded. Note that for the original style Wii, as long as the firmware isn’t too new, you don’t need to open the unit to mod it. It’s all done through a package which installs from the SD card slot. Clever!
And that’s really all there is to it. I went into more detail in this post from 2010, but now that the Wii has been modded it can read games directly from an external USB hard drive. I used Wii Backup Manager to backup my original Wii games. What you will do is connect an external USB hard drive to your PC, insert a Wii disc into your PC’s DVD drive, and use Wii Backup Manager to copy your games (one at a time) over to the external hard drive. Once you have finished, you connect the USB drive to the Wii’s USB port and with help from another program (I use USBLoaderGX), you can play your Wii games right off the external hard drive. No optical drive or discs required!
I know that this workaround is used more for piracy than anything else, but as I mentioned on that previous entry I wrote, this was a great way for me to let my kids play the Wii without having to worry about them scratching up my original games. Now, six years later, I’ve found another use for it — an inexpensive way to breath life back into a Nintendo Wii someone else had tossed away.
Mason had one of his friends spend the night last night. While I was driving them to 7-11 to buy some party snacks at 10 p.m. (because that’s what cool dads do), the boys had a discussion about whether they should learn to play guitar or the drums.
“Drums are louder, but guitars sound cooler,” said Mason’s friend.
I’ve been a guitar guy my whole life. When I was five or six years old, I used to practice my guitar skills by “playing” baseball bats and tennis rackets. When I was in second grade, Santa brought me my first guitar, a red, acoustic one that got more use as a prop in home videos than it did anywhere else.
That’s my buddy Andy on the “drums,” a set of brown pillows.
That red guitar made appearances in lots of home movies.
Decked out in sunglasses, a trucker hat, and a Chicago Bears vest, in this video I bang on the guitar for several minutes while shouting “look out, Mick Jagger!” for some unknown reason.
I actually did get a set of drums, when I was ten years old. I remember them being in my room for a little bit and then I remember them being in the garage for a little bit and then I remember them being gone. I don’t remember what happened to them but my daughter had this little electronic toy that never stopped making noise and one night while she was sleeping I took the batteries out of it and threw it into the garbage. I suspect my drums might have met a similar fate.
This is me in the mid-90s, still playing guitar and acting like a fool in front of the video camera…
…and here I am a year or two later, doing the same thing with Mr. Moonpie.
These days, my guitars spend more time hanging on the wall than they do hooked up to amplifiers. The world has enough bad versions of “Iron Man” out there without my contributions.
When I tell my friends that my writing professor (Deborah Chester) wrote the book on writing genre fiction, I’m being quite literal. Okay, so maybe she didn’t write the book on writing genre fiction, but she wrote a book on the subject, and a darned good one too. It’s called The Fantasy Fiction Formula, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. In 264 pages, Chester walks you step-by-step through the process of writing a fiction novel.
If you have stared at a blank computer screen wondering where to start, or started writing a novel only to hit a dead end and wonder what to do next, this is the book you are looking for. This book walks you through the entire process of writing a fictional novel from beginning to end, from creating characters and plots to writing dramatic openings and grand climaxes. This book won’t tell you what to write about, but if you have an idea and don’t know how to begin (or end), this book will help you, guaranteed. As someone who has both read the book and attended Ms. Chester’s novel writing class, I can tell you that this book and her class are very similar. I would never trade the opportunity of having a published author read my work and offer me feedback and advice in person, but if taking a graduate level course on writing in Norman, Oklahoma isn’t in the cards for you, this book is the next best thing.
As I stated in my review of the book on Amazon.com, my only minor quibble is with the book’s name. From my Amazon review:
My only (very minor) complaint with the book is with its title — specifically, the word “fantasy.” While most of Deborah Chester’s books are works of fantasy and science-fiction, the techniques included here apply to every genre of fiction writing. If you’re not specifically writing fantasy, don’t let the title scare you away. No matter what type of genre fiction you are writing, the formulas presented here will work for you!
Deborah Chester recently did a six-part podcast interview with the Manchester University Press, who (for some unknown reason) has buried the links to the podcast deep within the bowels of their website. Here are the links:
Fantasy Fiction Formula interview with Deborah Chester: Part 1
Fantasy Fiction Formula interview with Deborah Chester: Part 2
Fantasy Fiction Formula interview with Deborah Chester: Part 3
Fantasy Fiction Formula interview with Deborah Chester: Part 4
Fantasy Fiction Formula interview with Deborah Chester: Part 5
Fantasy Fiction Formula interview with Deborah Chester: Part 6
Each episode is about ten minutes long and touches on one of the subjects covered in the book. They’re not a substitute for reading the book, but they’ll give you an idea as to whether or not the book is right for you.
Congratulations to my professor on her book and the podcast interviews! I know that in a few years after I have forgotten everything I learned in class, I will still have this book for reference material!