"Time is an illusion, rising from time. Steep is the mountain which we climb." -Metallica/The Small Hours

If you are trying to set up TCP/IP in a FreeDOS machine running in VMWare and connect it to a network, this is the post for you. If you are not trying to do that, this is not the post for you. See you tomorrow.

Also, I don’t know why you’re trying to build a virtual machine using VMWare, installing FreeDOS on that virtual machine, and trying to get TCP/IP working. It’s not for me to ask. If you’re here, I’m assuming that for whatever reason DOSBox didn’t meet your needs and you need to set this up. I’m sure you have your reasons.

Things you’re going to need:

01. VMWare Player (Free Download)
02. FreeDOS ISO (Free Download)
03. Command-line networking files (*1)
04. DOS network drivers for VMWare (*1)
05. mTCP (*2)

*1: I have created a floppy disk image with all these files: protman.zip
*2: I have created a floppy disk image with all mTCP files: mTCP.zip

With all of those files you are ready to begin.

Step one: Install VMWare Player

Step two: Create a new virtual machine. Select installer disc image and use the FreeDOS ISO image.

(We are now assuming you have a working FreeDOS virtual machine running in VMWare Player.)

Step three: On the VM, create a directory called C:\NETWORK

Step four: Inside C:\NETWORK, use EDIT to create a text file called PROTOCOL.INI. Put the following information in PROTOCOL.INI:




Step five: Mount the protman.flp floppy disk image. Copy all the files into C:\NETWORK on the VM.

Step six: Add the following lines to fdconfig.sys:


(Note: If you are using MS-DOS instead of FreeDOS, put the lines in config.sys instead.)

Step seven: Add the following line to autoexec.bat:


Step eight: Create a folder called C:\MTCP. Mount the MTCP.FLP floppy disk image. Copy all the files from that image to C:\MTCP.

Step nine: Reboot the machine (In FreeDOS, simply type REBOOT)

Step ten: Once the machine has rebooted, the network drivers should be properly loaded.

Step eleven: Change to the MCTP directory. Type DHCP to obtain a DHCP address.

(Note: If you would prefer to use a static IP address, you’ll need to do the following:

– Create a file called TCP.CFG (mine is under C:\NETWORK) and put the following lines in the file:

IPADDR 192.168.1.x
NAMESERVER 192.168.1.x
MTU 1500

– Add the following line to autoexec.bat:


This will set your machine up to use a static IP instead of DHCP.

Step twelve: You should now have an IP address and be connected to the network. You can use the MTCP tools to ping, telnet, use FTP, or connect to websites.

That should be everything you need to get up and running! Tomorrow I’ll talk a little bit about getting USB devices to work in on a virtual DOS machine.

NOTE (3/7/15): I have NOT been able to get NET commands (net share, net view, etc) to work with this build. NET gives me a “file not found” error. I have pulled the net files (net.exe, net.hlp, etc) from WFW311 and continue to get prompted to turn the networking service on. Right now, the easiest ways to move files to/from the VM are to use floppy disk images, ISO images, or to launch ftpd.exe from the mTCP tools and connect to the VM using an FTP client (anonymous) and move files to/from the machine that way.

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Recently a fellow writer told me he was considering self-publishing his next book because he was “tired of all the crap that goes along with writing that’s not writing.” Specifically, he told me he just wanted to wear his “writing hat” for a while.

I had bad news for my friend. Self-publishing requires wearing a lot more hats than just your “writing” one.

The minute you’re done with your writer’s hat you’ll be putting on your editing hat. Editing your own writing (I mean really editing it) is hard — too hard for most people, in fact. Oh, fixing spelling and grammar mistakes is the easy stuff. It’s those big edits that make it hard (gut wrenching at times). I’m not talking about removing paragraphs, I’m talking about removing entire chapters. Or characters. As a writer your job is to create stories; as an editor, your job is to tear them apart and rebuild them. If it seems as if the two hats have conflicting agendas, many times they do. I’ve read that an author’s job is to write as many words as needed and an editor’s job is to cut as many words as possible. It’s a difficult thing to do, especially to your own babies.

In this day and age you’ll need a technical support hat. Chances are you already know your way around a word processor, and that’s great, but that’s just the beginning. Even before I finished writing my latest book (Gastric Steps) I had registered the GastricSteps.com domain and set up a related Facebook Group and Twitter Account. I set up WordPress on the website and linked it to the social media accounts so they all share information.

To sell Commodork and Invading Spaces as eBooks I had to convert the original source files to PDF, set up PayPal merchant links, and automatic downloads. I’m in the process of recording and releasing all of my books as audio books, which requires a whole new set of skills. None of this stuff was impossible to figure out, but if any of this sounds like techno-jumble you should consider finding the biggest computer nerd you know and purchasing them a cake, or some cookies, or a gift certificate to Thinkgeek.com.

I also find myself wearing my artistic hat from time to time. I designed the front and back covers to both of my books. At a minimum, you’ll need to know how to layout any photos if your book contains any. If your book requires drawings or illustrations, you may find yourself creating those, too. The artistic guy works a lot with the technical guy when designing website logos, banners, and advertisements.

The hat I like wearing the least is the one that’s most important when it comes to selling your work: your public relations hat. You know those friends of yours on Facebook and Twitter who won’t stop posting about their latest Kickstarter, or those co-workers who are constantly trying to get you to buy something to support their kid’s fundraiser? Congratulations; you’re about to become one (if you plan on selling anything, that is).

Everybody who self-publishes can sell 50 or so copies of their book to family members and co-workers who will gladly fork over a few bucks to own a copy of your vampire-themed romance novel simply because it has your name on the cover. When those sales dry up, the real work begins. A recent article on TechCrunch.com noted that Amazon currently has 3.4 million books for sale and is adding a new one every five minutes. That’s a lot of books. To not get lost in the crowd you’ll need to use those social media accounts your tech guy set up for you. (That was you with a different hat on, by the way.)

When I released Commodork I purchased table space at multiple video game conventions where I sold and signed books and stood around talking about old computers with strangers until I was hoarse and my feet hurt. I set up interviews with magazines, pestered website owners, launched a related podcast, and purchased advertisements. Two years later when I released Invading Spaces I did it all over again. I gave speeches at Defcon and Notacon about self-publishing, and one at the Oklahoma Electronic Gaming Expo where I talked about collecting arcade games. I wrote press releases about my books and sent them to the local newspaper. My wife printed up business cards for me and I handed them out. If you hate talking about yourself and your books, you’ll hate wearing this hat.

As much as I dislike it, occasionally I write articles about self-publishing and add links to my books Commodork and Invading Spaces (grumble).

When those sales start rolling in you’ll need to put on your shipping hat. When you put this hat on it’s time to roll up your sleeves.

I order my books 50 copies at a time through Lulu.com. When they arrive I unbox them and place them in stacks in my garage. As people order them I autograph them, place them inside priority mail flat rate envelopes ($5.75), and drop them off at the post office. Because my local post office is only open when I am at work, I spend a lot of time at the self-service machine. It takes me roughly three minutes per package to swipe all the required screens and punch in the address (required, even though I have it hand-written on the package as well). When my books were first released and sales were higher, multiple sales each week meant multiple trips to the post office each week. I understand you can print postage from your home now. I really should look into that.

Finally, while not limited to self-publishers, you’ll want to keep your accounting hat close by. I sell my books electronically through Amazon; in turn, at the end of each year, they send me tax forms. They also direct deposit my monthly earnings into my bank account and sometimes things get confusing. I didn’t keep good records of how many books I actually sold throughout the years, something I regret now.

It goes without saying that some or all of these hats can be outsourced. Outsourcing typically equates to money, so if you’re looking to hire an editor, a tech-support guy, or a publicist, shop around and make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. So far I’ve worn all of these hats myself, but I can tell you there are times when I wish I hadn’t.

In the end I suppose that’s why they call it self-publishing and not self-writing.

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Metadata is defined as “a set of data that describes and gives information about other data.”

Most people associate metadata with digital photos. When you take a picture with your iPhone for example, a lot of additional information is saved along with your photo. EXIF metadata includes the settings of your camera, like the shutter speed, whether or not you used a flash, and the focal length. GPS metadata includes the latitude, longitude, and altitude of where you took the picture. TIFF metadata stores information about the make and model of your camera, the picture’s original resolution, and any software used to edit the picture. (Some websites, like Facebook and Twitter, strip the metadata out of your photos when you upload them. This prevents people from downloading your photos and determining where you live.)

EXIF, GPS and TIFF are examples of automatic metadata. They are automatically generated and stored inside your pictures. There’s also manual metadata that can be added to photos. Using different programs you can do things like rate your photos, add locations and categories or tag who is in each one. This becomes very handy if you have a large digital photo collection that you would like to be able to sort or query very quickly. Given the right tags, you would be able to search for all pictures taken on beaches, for example. Like anything, manual metadata is only as good as the data and effort you are willing to input.

While standing in my grandmother’s kitchen the day of her funeral, it hit me that the physical items we own — our “stuff” — has metadata, too. The vast majority of this metadata is stored in our heads.

I don’t even have to move for an example.

On my writer’s desk in the living room are three mannequin dolls used by artists: a small one, a medium-sized one, and a large one. As for data, you could measure how tall they are, what kind of wood they are made of, and what position they are currently in.

I bought the medium-sized one during a trip to Hobby Lobby when I was convinced I was going to become an artist. I bought roughly $100 worth of markers at the same time. The medium-sized one ended up not being as articulate as I had hoped for so I went back and bought the large one a few days later. For a while the medium-sized one sat on our entry table. Each time Susan or I passed it we would arrange him in a new goofy position. Around Christmas, Morgan went into a store and purchased the smallest one for me. It’s a keychain. He doesn’t up very well on his own but he’s probably my favorite because Morgan bought him for me as a gift.

That’s metadata, and everything physical thing I own has it. Attached to almost everything I own is how I acquired it, what I paid for it, and the last thing I did with it. The skeleton finger puppet sitting on my desk came from my mom’s house on Halloween. The videogame-themed coasters on my desk were made by my children; if I close my eyes, I can still see them making them. The marshmallow scented candle on my desk was purchased by Susan for me. We spotted it together in Big Lots once and I told her the scent made me imagine cooking s’mores with her in a lakeside cabin.

Gah, I really need to clean my desk off.

Sitting on top of my tape deck upstairs are a stack of cassette tapes. Most of them are cassettes I purchased from local bands at concerts. The stack contains cassettes from Eternal Decision, Forte’, Pitch Black, Cotton Mouth, Hollow Kriez, and several others. Another pile contains cassettes full of songs I recorded off the radio in the 1980s. Listening to them takes me back to my childhood bedroom.

Someday, when I die, someone will walk into my computer room, spy those cassette tapes, and either toss them in a donate pile or, more likely, into a trash can. To me, they are irreplaceable treasures. To somebody else, without that metadata, they’re garbage — anonymous music stored on outdated media.

Sitting on my bookshelf is a book titled “Maybe You Should Write a Book” by Ralph Daigh. It’s a compilation of articles written by authors and editors. It was published in 1979 and, as such, contains no reference to the internet or word processors or even computers for that matter. Then again, this book isn’t about the mechanics of writing. It’s more of an motivational book.

I purchased the book in 2004 from a used book store in Tulsa. I had already begun piecing together a document titled “The Jack Flack Manifesto” which would eventually evolve into Commodork. For months I didn’t even read “Maybe You Should Write a Book.” I just put it on the shelf above my computer and looked at the cover each day before I sat down to write. Eventually I did read it. I’ve read it a few times now. Daigh’s book is intertwined with the memories of writing my own. It empowered me.

You can buy a copy off of Amazon for a penny, plus shipping. The book is literally not worth the paper it’s written on.

When I look at my shelves of Star Wars action figures, I can tell which ones Santa brought me in 1978 and which ones I’ve picked up over the years to add to the collection. In my garage I have t-shirts I wore on dates, the old computer I used to run my BBS on, and my old Dungeons and Dragons dice. I have handwritten notes from high school girlfriends, concert ticket stubs, hats I bought on vacation, a shelf full of Donkey Kong figures and over a thousand old 5 1/4″ floppy disks.

All of it priceless.

All of it worthless.

That’s metadata for you.

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We spent most of the past weekend indoors, snowed in. A wintery storm delivered snow on the roads and piled ice on top of that. It wasn’t an end-of-the-world snowpocalypse by any stretch, but the roads were slick and we decided to listen to the news and stay at home off the roads as much as possible.

Susan came up with the idea of having a movie-making competition between the four of us. She came up with this idea around 10am and declared a 2pm cut off time. After the video were done we decided to post them on Facebook and let people “vote” for their favorite by clicking “like” on the ones they liked the best. Here are the videos:

Mason’s “Snowball Fight”

Morgan’s “Ted the Spider”

Susan’s “Beauty in the Snow”

Rob’s “Snow”

Everybody came up with their own movie ideas. Mason and Morgan shot their entries with their phones and edited them using iMovie. Susan shot hers with her camera, and edited it with Windows Movie Maker. I shot mine with my Flipcam and edited it with Sony Vegas.

In the end the contest was too close to call so we declared a four-way tie for first place. I guess the next time it snows we will have to make more movies!

PS: My friend Bruce made the following video, which we all loved!

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The first tie I can remember wearing was an all black tie. I got it because I needed to wear a black tie under my red robe for my senior picture. The photographer tied it for me around my neck because I didn’t know how. I don’t remember ever seeing that tie again. Come to think of it, perhaps I borrowed it.

The first tie I remember buying was this God awful cranberry colored tie that matched these God awful cranberry-colored pants I owned. I wore this tie and these pants with both white and black button down shirts and it looked equally dumb with either. I applied for several jobs wearing this tie/pant combo. I didn’t get any of them.

At Mazzio’s, Grandy’s and Pizza Hut my uniform consisted of a company-provided Polo. When I moved to Pizza Inn, my uniform became a button down shirt and a tie. I bought three button down shirts prior to the day I started: one pink, one blue, and one white. The cranberry tie didn’t match any of those shirts so I stopped by the closest thrift store and bought an IGA tie. I don’t mean a tie that was sold by IGA; I mean a tie that was issued to IGA employees. The tie was covered in pictures of food featuring the IGA logo. Over the next few months I picked up lots of other ties in varying shades of tacky.

I have two tie hangers hanging in my closet that came from the “As Seen on TV” aisle. Each one holds 20 ties. Both are full, meaning I own 40 ties — many so tacky I wouldn’t wear them outside the house. I decided to spend a few minutes this afternoon cleaning off the tie racks.

Here are some of the ties that did not survive the cut.

IGA Tie: Unless I get invited to a food convention, I just can’t imagine wearing this anywhere.
Circuit Board Tie: I have two other computer-themed ties, both better looking than this one.
Einstein Tie: If you have to wear a tie with Einstein on it to let people know you’re smart, you’re trying too hard.
Buckwheat Tie: Seemed appropriate at the time of purchase…
Irish/St. Patrick’s Day Tie: I have two of these for some reason.

Looney Tunes Tie: No.
Purple Bubbles: No.
Blue/purple swirls: No.
Looney Tunes Tie #2: No.
Mickey Mouse Tie: No. I mean, I went to Disney World and Disney Land and didn’t take or wear this tie. When else would I wear it?

Christmas Tie: Ho Ho No.
Christmas Tie 2: See above.
Flintstones Tie: Yabba Dabba Don’t.
Betty Boop: Boop-boop-be-don’t.
Bullwinkle Tie: Hey Rocky, watch me toss this tie into the cut pile.

That leaves me with this:

The serious ties (aka: the ones that cost more than $20) are on the left, with the fun ones on the right. The rack on the right contains half a dozen Star Wars ties, a Three Stooges tie, a poker cards tie, and several others. I’ve never worn most of these ties but should the occasion arise, I’m ready.

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I believe it was Andy who first discovered that a small plastic container of jelly could be launched into one of the hanging plants above our booth by placing one on the edge of a spoon handle and pounding the other end with one’s fist. The first few shots were wild, with little plastic tubs of strawberry, grape, peach and apricot jelly landing on top of the buffet bar and in other vacant booths. Jeff was the first to master the trajectory, consistently landing jelly after jelly in the potted plant across the aisle from us.

We were eighteen, nineteen, and had only just discovered that the world didn’t shut down at 10 P.M. It did in Yukon of course (I think it’s actually a law…) but in neighboring Oklahoma City we had discovered twenty-four hour restaurants, like the Kettle just off I-40 and Meridian. All three of us worked the late shift at fast food restaurants. Wearing dirty restaurant uniforms and smelling of pizza the three of us would arrive at the Kettle sometime after midnight but before the 2 A.M. bar rush drunkards. It was there we talked about the past, the present and the future while drinking never-ending glasses of Dr. Pepper and devouring plate after plate of rubbery scrambled eggs.

Oh, and launching little packets of jelly up into the hanging potted plants.

Jeff and I had already dipped our toes into the waters of community college. Neither of us were sure if college would pay off or if we would even finish. None of us knew what we wanted to do when we grew up, and yet we were beginning to be mistaken for them (grown-ups, that is). By then we were old enough to live on our own. All of us knew the commands to load Commodore 64 games from diskette. None of us knew how to do our own laundry. Everyone was telling us we could do anything and yet we weren’t doing much of anything. The only thing all of us knew for sure was that Andy and Jeff would never, ever get rid of their Camaros and I would never part with my Firebird.

When we talked about the future we talked about stupid things, like going on trips together or all moving into a lake cabin together. A time or two we wondered what it would be like if one day all of our kids got together to play. I can tell you from experience, it’s pretty great.

We never talked about what it would be like to sit together on a leather sectional that cost more than my old Firebird did and reminisce about old times while all of our kids played together. That’s what we did a couple of months ago for New Year’s.

We never talked about what it would be like to attend Andy’s dad’s 70th birthday party. I did that the weekend before last.

We never talked about what it would be like to attend Jeff’s grandmother’s funeral. That’s what I did yesterday.

Of all the things I imagined the three of us doing together someday when we were grown-ups, I never once considered the possibility that someday the three of us would actually grow up.

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“Nobody just dies in the winter,” Mrs. Joyce Thionnet, my eighth grade English teacher once told me. “When an author talks about winter it’s a metaphor for death. The trees are dead. Snow is still and silent. Death is cold.”

“But what if the person in the story just happened to die in the winter? Like, coincidentally?” I asked.

“There are no coincidences in fiction,” she said. “In fiction, winter equals death. Period.”

“I put a shovel in the back of the truck in case you guys hit snow on the way to Chicago,” Susan said Thursday night. Forcasters were predicting a little snow in Joplin on Friday and a lot of snow in St. Louis. We didn’t bring any kitty litter to throw under the tires for traction, but in St. Louis there’s always White Castles.

Early Friday morning mom drove to dad’s house and the two of them drove to my house. By 6 A.M. I had mom and dad, their luggage, Morgan, and the shovel packed into the truck and ready to head north. 800 miles to Chicago on Friday, grandma’s funeral on Saturday, 800 miles home on Sunday.

When we pulled out of my driveway the temperature was 42 degrees. Within a couple of hours it was 36 degrees and suddenly it was 26 degrees. When we stopped for lunch it had dropped to 17. Eventually the digital thermometer just began displaying “ICE” randomly instead of the temperature. We never saw the sun on Friday, but we didn’t see any ice on the roads or snow falling either. Someone said the high in Chicago on Friday was 3 degrees. I believe it.

I’ve been to Tews Funeral Home in Homewood, Illinois twice now. I was there on my 40th birthday for my Uncle Joe’s funeral and I was there this past weekend for Grandma O’Hara’s. I’m 41 now. I remember the layout of Tews and I don’t care for the feeling. I know I’ll probably end up going there a few more times. I don’t want to think about that right now.

Susan and Mason are not in Chicago. Mason’s YMCA basketball team got invited to the state finals. Nobody wants him to miss the game and everybody wishes they could be there. By the time we arrive at the funeral home on Saturday Mason’s team has already won their first two games of the day. Susan promises to stop texting me scores. I ask her to please keep sending them.

The feeling is different today than at Joe’s funeral. My Uncle Joe died suddenly, unexpectedly. My grandma was 85 and had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for a few years now. Only seeing her once or twice a year, the change between visits was dramatic. It was entertaining to watch her search for her cane while she was holding it. It was scary to watch her try to answer a potato while her phone was ringing. It was heartbreaking to visit her after she didn’t know who I was anymore.

At least half a dozen people at the funeral home mistook me for my dad. “Sorry about your mother,” they would tell me. I corrected the first couple and then simply started saying “thanks” and shaking people’s hands.

I wore my black suit with a dark blue shirt and a purple tie — grandma’s favorite color. Morgan wore a pretty dress and one of grandma’s necklaces that matched.

At my Grandma McKracken’s funeral, a decade ago now, I remember looking around the room and thinking to myself that this was the last time I would ever see most of these people. I was right. The room was filled with peripheral relatives that I likely would never run into anywhere else.

I had the same feeling this past Saturday. I shook many hands and when I said “hello” I knew in many cases I was saying “goodbye.”

The service after the wake was short. A friend of the family did a short reading. We sang a song. My Aunt Linda said a few words. Then we walked by the casket and said goodbye to Grandma O’Hara. Lots of people said she didn’t look like herself. I tried not to stare.

I didn’t cry until Morgan started it.

At the end of the service, my phone buzzed and I peeked at the screen. Mason’s team had won two more games and was heading to the finals.

Dinner after the service was at the Warsaw Inn. It’s a Polish buffet, one of grandma’s favorites. When we arrived at 5 P.M customers were leaving the restaurant, complaining that they had been waiting over an hour for a table and couldn’t get in. Fortunately, we had a reservation.

“O’Hara, party of 75.”

I ate Polish sausage, sauerkraut, potato pancakes, blintzes, pierogies (cheese and meat), pastries, and a salad. While not my first time here, this is the only Polish buffet I’ve ever been to. It’s the first time I’ve been here without grandma. It is most likely the last time I will ever be here. I have an extra pierogi before leaving.

I hug the waitress goodbye. She has no idea why.

After that, the evening’s a blur. Normally I’d have partaken in a bit of Crown Royal but I was exhausted from the drive up the day before and couldn’t do the drive home with a hangover. I spent a couple of hours upstairs talking with my Uncle Buddy. He and my Aunt Linda (who live upstairs from my grandma) plan on moving downstairs soon and renting their place out. Other people were downstairs, going through old photos and keepsakes.

Grandma’s dog Squirt wandered the house, looking for grandma I presume.

I got a text from Susan. Mason’s team won the tournament and were named the 2014-2015 YMCA 12 and Under Champions.

We left Chicago Sunday morning and put another 800 miles on the Avalanche. The temperature got up to 24 degrees and stayed there for most of the day. I drank three or four cups of coffee and three or four Monster energy drinks on the way home. There was snow on the ground beginning in Chicago and the entire way home. In Joplin, Missouri, we hit our first snow flurry — none of it stuck, but it enough to keep us pushing forward. As people throughout the midwest were wishing for snow to fall we had our fingers crossed the weather would hold out for just a few more hours.

It was cold the entire ride home.

It’s a little colder this morning.

Touche, Mrs. Thionnet.

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My grandma’s house in Chicago has an enclosed front porch. There’s a swing out there, a few chairs, sometimes a table or two. I’ve sat on that porch, I’ve eaten on that porch, and I’ve slept on that porch.

In 1987 by buddy Jeff rode along with my family on our annual Chicago vacation. That’s us outside the Museum of Science and Industry. I’m on the left, Jeff’s on the right. My cousins Brandy and Paula are down front and my sister Linda’s on the right. That’s my Uncle Joe behind the pole. I don’t remember who took the picture. During that trip, Jeff and I slept on grandma’s front porch. We spent the first night sleeping on grandma’s plastic lawn chairs, which didn’t prove to be particularly comfortable. The next night, we attempted to drag a metal bed frame up from the basement to sleep on. In the process, we put a big rip in the linoleum on grandma’s kitchen floor. We covered the rip with a kitchen rug and, after everyone else went to sleep, snuck out out of the house and walked to the nearest convenient store to buy some glue. The convenient store clerk, convinced we were going to sniff the glue, would not sell us any. Instead, we bought some rubber gasket sealer. We got lost on the walk back to grandma’s house and got stopped by one of Homewood’s finest, who gave us a personal escort back to grandma’s house. We were able to sneak back in without being noticed. The gasket sealer, as expected, worked horribly for repairing the linoleum. We left the rug in place covering up the tear and never told anyone. It’s probably still there.

Then there was the time in the early 90s that I tried to impress a girl by telling her I was “planning a trip to Chicago by myself.” Her response was, “can I go too?” With my bluff called, I had to admit that I didn’t really know how to get to Chicago, nor did I have a car that would make the trip.

“We can take my car,” Susan said. “And we’ll get a map.” And, just like that, the two of us set out on our first road trip together. We weren’t sleeping in the same bed at that point in time and so the two of us ended up out on grandma’s porch. At least I did. I think Susan got a bed inside the house. The picture above is of Susan next to a model from Independence Day on display at the Museum of Science and Industry.

Then there was the infamous drive I made from Boston to Chicago in the late 90s. After a week’s worth of nightmares about my flight home ending in a fiery crash while stuck in Boston for work, on the day of my flight home I was informed that my plane had been delayed due to mechanical issues and that was enough for me to cancel the flight and rent a car. I picked up my rental and set out from Boston to Chicago. Susan, Jeff, and his wife Heather set out from Oklahoma to meet me there. We all rendezvoused in Chicago and crashed on, you guessed it, grandma’s porch. The four of us drove back from Chicago to Oklahoma the following day. The plane I was supposed to fly home on exploded.

Not really. But it could have.

Now, grandma’s porch is not the only place to sleep when we visit Chicago. My Aunt Linda and Uncle Buddy have a spare bedroom and couch that are always available. My Aunt Debi and Uncle Joe’s house has futons, couches, recliners, and a spare bedroom as well. Unlike a hotel, these are not places one needs reservations for. I’m sure I could show up in Chicago any day of the year unannounced and have a place to stay. If I had friends of family in tow, they would have a place to stay too. That’s just how my family is. I’ve taken a few friends with my on trips to Chicago. All of them have left well-fed and hungover.

But all of those places are first come, first serve, and all of them are more comfortable than grandma’s porch, which is guaranteed to be hot in the summer and cold in the winter. During the summer, you’ll get to sleep to the soothing tones of Homewood’s police and fire departments, guaranteed to wake you up at least once during the night.

That being said, grandma’s house was always open to anyone needing a place to crash for the night — and if all the beds were taken, there was always room available out on the porch.

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By 1979 our family was already on our third video game console. We owned a standalone Pong system in 1977, sold it for a Magnavox Odyssey 2 in 1978, and upgraded to an Atari 2600 in 1979.

Grandma O’Hara visited Oklahoma the spring of 1979 as well. At least I think that was the year. I specifically remember sitting down in our living room floor with her and watching The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe during (I think) that same visit. According to Wikipedia, that animated film first aired on April 1st, 1979. Of course it’s possible that we caught a re-run (and we did own a VCR…), but that date kind of feels right.

I can’t imagine most 50-year-olds who grew up during the Great Depression being all that interested in playing video games, but somehow my grandma’s five-and-a-half year old grandson (me) talked her into playing Atari with him. I don’t remember all the games we played together, but I specifically remember we played Bowling.

In Atari’s version of Bowling, players move their bowler up or down inside the lane and then press the joystick’s red fire button to send the ball rolling down the lane. At the other end of the lane are ten pins, represented by dots (tiny squares, really). There are multiple game variations built in to the game cartridge. One variation doesn’t allow the ball’s trajectory to be altered once it leaves the bowler’s hands. Another allows it to be altered after the bowler releases the ball but only once, as if the ball were thrown with a spin. The easiest variation allows the ball to be controlled all the way down the lane with the joystick. I once read a doctor’s description of performing a lobotomy. After inserting an icepick into his patient’s brain, he wiggled it all around for a few seconds in hopes of doing the most damage. This is the exact same technique (sans icepick) I used in Atari’s Bowling — wait for the ball to enter the pins and then thrash the joystick around in hopes of hitting as many pins as possible. While the intended outcome of the two actions are exact opposites (in a lobotomy you’re actually hoping for a 7-10 split…) the concepts are similar.

The difficulty switches on the Atari itself can make the game easier or harder for individual players. I don’t remember exactly how we had the game configured but since I knew what an Atari was and grandma didn’t, I can assure you the game was set up to make things as easy for me and as difficult for her as possible. One memory that leads credence to this theory was that during the game, my grandma swore. A lot. Of course she didn’t swear in English; instead, she uttered a few words in either Russian or Polish (the Irish comes from my grandpa’s side) and then told me not to repeat them.

After one game of bowling, grandma quit. And by that I mean, she quit playing video games. She blamed her loss to me on poor vision in one eye, claiming that because of it she had no depth perception. Although I too am essentially legally blind in one eye now, I’m still pretty sure I can play Atari’s Bowling with no problem. Grandma later got a computer and played Solitaire and Poker on it (both online and off), but I don’t recall her ever playing Bowling or the Atari or any other video game system again.

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Grandma O’Hara, my last living grandparent, passed away over the weekend. She was 85 years old.

I could tell you a million different things and facts and stories about my grandma and will probably share a few of them with you this week, but for some reason the only one that comes to mind right now is the time my grandma sent me a shrunken head for Christmas.

I suppose a lot of older people take part time jobs after they retire and my grandma was no exception. Some grandmas work at food banks and retirement homes and hospitals. Grandma O’Hara got a job at Chuck’s House of Magic, on the corner of 183rd and Dixie Highway in Homewood, IL. My grandma also lived on the corner of 183rd and Dixie Highway, literally across the street from Chuck’s. She simply walked across the street to work every day.

This picture was taken from my grandma’s front yard. You can see Chuck’s House of Magic in the background, directly behind her.

Chuck’s House of Magic was owned by Chuck and Joyce Gruberman. They did a lot of balloon and flower deliveries, but my favorite two things about the place were the Halloween props and costumes and of course, the magic.

The Halloween props, costumes and masks were second to none. I took the following picture in 2004 the weekend before Easter.

Yes. That’s how Chuck’s House of Magic decorated the store for Easter.

Along the back wall behind all the Halloween stuff was the magic stuff. There were tricks, big and small. On most days you could catch Chuck back behind the counter, performing tricks for anyone walking by. It’s one thing to be impressed by a magic trick; it’s another to know how a trick is done and be impressed by the skill of the magician. I’ve seen the cups and balls trick performed a thousand times, but I’ll always remember the time I saw it performed at Chuck’s.

A few times while we were up visiting we would walk over and visit my grandma at Chuck’s. Grandma would always introduce us to everyone and remind us of her discount, should we want to buy any fake doggie doo or bloody hockey masks. (I did actually take her up on that offer once. Chuck had a stack of Star Wars helmets one time, four or five of which made the trip back home to Oklahoma with me.)

I don’t remember asking for it, but one year for Christmas I got a package from my grandma in the mail. Inside there were gifts for everybody and, for me, a plastic shrunken head. I think dad had one too and perhaps I had let my admiration for his be known. Mine came with a small string affixed to the top which made it perfect for hanging from one’s rear view mirror, where it hung for a while.

Of course I still have it. It sits on my shelves of knick-knacks and random odds and ends. People seldom believe me that behind everything on those shelves there’s a story. Should anyone walk past those shelves, point to that shrunken head and ask “what’s the story behind that thing,” this is the story they would get.

On Halloween night, 2004, a small electrical spark ignited Chuck’s House of Magic. The small fire quickly turned into a five-alarm blaze according to the Chicago Tribune. Everything inside the store melted, and between the flames and the weight of the water, the roof collapsed. This is what remained of Chuck’s House of Magic:

I’ve owned that stupid shrunken head for a long time now. In one way it seems a bit ridiculous to be reminded of one’s grandma by looking at a plastic shrunken head. Then again, the fact that she mailed it to me tells me that she understood who I was… which actually kind of makes it the perfect thing to remember her by.

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