Rants, Raves, & Random Thoughts

Shameless self-promotion of my writing skills or lack there of.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

A Soldier's Choice

It is quite unnerving to be summoned to the Battalion Commander’s office, even on a good day. However, when your Section Chief bails you out of a German jail just two days prior, you know your visit will not be a pleasant one.

I don’t know which bothered me more, the armed guard at my side or the fact that no one would believe that I was justified in my actions.

As we approached the closed door of Colonel Radcliff’s office, I found it odd that he had two guards stationed on either side of it. They must have been newbies because I didn’t recognize either one of them. This was not my first trip to his office, but then it was the first under these circumstances.

“So much for his famous open door policy.” I muttered as we came to a stop three paces from the door.

“You’d do well to check that attitude soldier.” The guard at my side scolded, before announcing our arrival.

“Send him in!” Colonel Radcliff barked at him from behind his desk.

I marched into the room, snapped to attention, and saluted the Colonel. “Sergeant Crow, reporting as ordered, Sir!”

“At ease trooper.” He commanded, returning my salute before retrieving his cigar from the ashtray.

I let my gaze drift over the two men in the room as I assumed the at ease position. One bore a single star on either shoulder that marked him as a general. The other soldier was a Command Sergeant Major. Both men bore the much-coveted Ranger tab and were holding black berets. I guess JAG was sending in the big guns for this one.

“This is General Seaton and Sergeant Major Stevens. Sergeant Crow, I have just been going over your records here. This is quite a mixed bag I’m holding in my hand. On one hand, I see several medals and achievement awards. This is absolutely stellar for a soldier your age. On the other hand, you are constantly in some sort of trouble, always pushing the limits of the law. Did you know your squad leader recommended that we seek your discharge on a section 8? Do you know what that means?”

“Yes sir, I do. It means Lieutenant McCrae thinks I’m crazy.” I answered, hoping it wasn’t a rhetorical question.

“Your damn right he does. It says here that he observed you jumping out of your barracks window and nearly landing on him. Your room is on the second floor, why would you do such a thing?”

“Sir, we were almost out of beer and the PX was about to close. I thought the window would be a much faster means of egress than the stairs.” I replied, trying not to let my face slip into a smile.

“Well, your just a regular comedian aren’t soldier?” Colonel Radcliff asked, clearly boggled by my audacity.

I knew better than to say anything. There was clearly no right answer to that question.

“It says here that you have been busted six times for assault. You must really enjoy fighting. Do you have an inferiority complex son?”

“No sir, I just have a little trouble knowing when to stand down.”

“And now you have stabbed a German civilian. What’s worse you did it in front of the Polizei. Of course, you couldn’t go with them quietly, you took it upon yourself to fight with them as well.”

“Sir, I stabbed him with the same knife that he tried to stab me with. That is what I was trying to explain to the Polizei. It was self-defense. I would have went with them quietly but they were handling me rougher than I thought was necessary, especially when I hadn’t done anything wrong.” I interrupted to plead my case.

“Oh, I see now. It is all a conspiracy. I suppose everything else in this report is just some sort of misunderstanding as well and the Polizei just happened to miss the fact that their boy had the knife first?” He baited me.

“No Sir. I have done everything else that you see in that record and worse, but the Polizei rolled up just in time to see me sink the knife into that German’s backside.”

“You stabbed him in the ass?” He asked as he shuffled through the papers on the desk in front of him.

“Yes sir, I told him when he pulled it on me that if he didn’t put the knife away I was going to shove it up his ass.”

All three of them broke into laughter. I guess the German Police had omitted that part of the altercation from their report.

“Well son, at least you warned him first.” Stevens quipped, still smiling.

The colonel nodded at him before returning his attention to his papers. I could feel both the General and Sergeant Major appraising me as I stood there.

“Your report also says that you have a knack for languages. You have listed six different ones that you are fluent in.. What drives a man to learn so many languages?” He asked, peering up at me over his glasses.

“I found it’s a great way to meet girls, sir.” I replied through a smile, rousing another round of laughs from my otherwise silent observers.

“You applied for Ranger training within two months of your arrival here. There is a war going on son. We are liberating Kuwait. You don’t feel that my unit is good enough to fight with?” He asked, leaning back in his chair.

“Sir, the way I see it, I am going to fight in this war sooner or later. I just want to be as highly trained as possible when I do it. You have a fine group of men assembled under you, but when the shit hits the fan, I don’t want to be surrounded by good soldiers. I want to be surrounded by the best.”

“Why was he rejected Colonel?” Seaton asked after casting a glance at Stevens.

“His squad leader claimed he was psychologically unstable.” He replied with a shake of his head.

“Ah hell, who isn’t in this day and age?” Stevens added with a nod.

“Well son, have you given any thought of what you are going to do when all of this is over?” The Colonel asked, returning his attention to me.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand the question sir.”

“I mean to say, you can’t soldier forever. You tour will be up in another year and they won’t let you re-up with the criminal record you have amassed. If the Army doesn’t want a man with a criminal record, how many civilian employers do you think will be willing to give you a chance?”

“I guess I haven’t thought that far ahead, sir.” I replied softly, realizing for the first time that I was not only accountable for my actions, but for the affects my actions would have on my future.

“What do you think, Sergeant Major Stevens?” The Colonel asked, watching him rub his chin.

“He is a little rough around the edges, but he has the look that could blend in with about any of them and it sounds like he has the tenacity to get the job done.”

“We have a mission for you that is highly unorthodox. It will put you through a highly modified Ranger course. If you choose to accept it, your record will be wiped clean and you will never see a courtroom over your latest transgression.”

“What’s the catch?” I asked wondering what they wanted from me that would be worth so much to them.

“You will only have two months of training in an undisclosed desert location. You will live off of goat meat and dried dates. You will live, eat, and sleep with the six men that will be with you on the mission. You will learn to speak as much Kurdi as possible in that time. When you deploy for your mission, you will not be wearing your Army Uniform.”

“Will I be issued an Iraqi Uniform then?” I wondered aloud, not sure if I liked where this was heading.

“The clothing we have seen worn by the Iraqi troops makes a mockery of the word uniform. But you will be given something that will pass for one.”

“What’s the assignment, sir?” I asked, realizing that this was sounding more and more like a suicide mission.

“I can’t tell you that, son. The only other thing I can tell you before you make your decision is how long you will be on the mission. We are asking for two weeks. Just two weeks worth of work and you get a brand new start.”

So, I must decide between a life with no future and a life that will probably be cut short. I wondered what I would be doing for those two weeks. Oh well, sanity has never been my strong point.

I held my breath, looked at each of the men in the room one final time and said: “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play!”

This is a story line that I have been toying around with, but I am not sure I want to pursue. It is worlds apart from what I normally write, so I am looking for input. Would anyone out there like to see more stories along these lines?

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Drats! Foiled Again.

Ah, an evening of friends, revelry and getting your ass handed to you early in the game. We had our monthly get together on Saturday night. A group of friends and I play a Blackjack tournament once a month. We play for bragging rights, of course, because it would be illegal to play for actual money. Never the less, the competition is fierce.

There were ten of us playing this time (the number varies based on whoever is in town and what not) and a couple of new faces in the crowd (Hi Adam and Lisa). We each start out with $200 in chips and play for 30 hands.

I played aggressively. I played wildly. I made ludicrous wagers and backed them up with smack-talk. I lost all my chips by round 15. Yes, I decided to try a new strategy and it failed miserably.

We do a chip count and a fairly lengthy break at round 15 and I went “all in" hopes of putting some distance between me and my friends. At the break, my buddy Travis had accumulated nearly $500 worth of chips. Amy was the only other person that was fairly close to him with around $300.

Apparently the break cooled Travis’ winning streak, because he lost 8 consecutive hands and didn’t make it to the end of the tournament. My wife was playing rather conservatively and was still fairly close to $200 as they entered the final 10 hands. So, under my tutelage I managed to talk her into a couple of reckless wagers that bumped her out of the competition in just a few short hands. With only five hands to go, the ladies were ruling the table. Jennifer, Amy and Lisa were the only ones left. Amy had a commanding lead and Lisa was nearly broke (at one point, she was down to $20). Her husband, Adam, convinced her that the only way she could win was to go “all in” every hand for all of the remaining hands. Since this is all for fun, our Blackjacks count as 2 to 1 or double your wager. Lisa won the first 2 of her five wagers then got three, count them three Blackjacks in a row! That put her at $510. Yeah, she took the tournament, pushing Amy into 2nd place.

Such is life; the thrill of victory and that burning sensation of having it ripped from your grasp. Oh well, there is always next month.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Conestoga 2005

Do you remember this from Star Trek: "Kahn!...Kahn!" Yeah, everytime I start talking about Cons I hear that stupid shouting in the back of my head.

It looks like there is another convention (that's Con not Kahn) in my neck of the woods. By my neck of the woods of course, I mean in my new hometown. Conestoga, Oklahoma’s largest literary science fiction and fantasy convention is held right here, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It will be held from July 15-17th of 2005 so you have plenty of time to make arrangements.

Click on the link for more details. This will be the 9th Conestoga and it has come a long way from its humble beginnings in the Radisson Inn at the Tulsa Airport. There will be a lot of great guests and even more fans. Attendance has been known to exceed 500 in years past. It will be a great place to make new friends and quite possibly new fans (if you’re into that sort of thing).

I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Answers & Advice

It’s time for another edition of Answers & Advice. This one isn’t really asking for any advice, but I couldn’t really see changing the name just for this (hopefully) one instance.

Let’s get the formalities out of the way first: If you like what you see and have odd questions over any subject matter; send them to me and I will answer to the best of my ability. If you have questions but would rather not see them (or just your name) on the blog, be sure to let me know in the e-mail. Otherwise, I will consider them fair game.

If at any time, you read my advice and think I am way off base, just let me know, supply advice that you think would be more valuable, and I will be sure to pass it along to the appropriate party.

Dear Mr. Goodman,
I met you at the Con down in Dallas. Your attitude was very light and upbeat. You had a smile for everyone. Your stories and anecdotes were either funny or passionate, but they were always entertaining. I, quite frankly, found you charming as hell.

I sat with you at the bar and watched you dole out free drinks to other con-goers seemingly at random to writers and fans alike. When I asked you why you were doing that, you simply said, “I like to make people smile.”

You seemed to know the entire staff (not only of the con, but the service workers in the hotel as well, on a first name basis. Yet, you claim this was your first Con and you never met any of these people before.

Then we come to the business cards. You handed out several, just while I was with you. What were you thinking with “When you have absolutely nothing else to read” as a slogan? Aren’t you afraid that a slogan like that (I do have to give you points for humility) you would get filed (or more likely thrown) away, because honestly who has nothing else to read?

It did however, pique my curiosity. So, I checked out your sites. Nothing about your conversation or apparent personality prepared me for what I read. How can you be so funny and your writing be so dark? You should change your slogan to “When you want to be deeply disturbed.” And that dream, you wrote about. You made that up didn’t you? It read like a story (other than the fact that you used “little” a little too much). If it were really a dream, how were you able to remember so many details?

Aside from the shock of meeting one person and reading another, I am really enjoying your blog. I can’t wait to see what you post next.


Best,
X


Well X, let me begin by saying thanks for the kind words. Flattery may not get you everywhere, but it can sure take you to a lot of cool places. It was very easy to be upbeat at ConDFW because you knew that everyone was there to have fun.

As for the drinks, I actually didn’t buy any for anyone that I hadn’t at least spent a little time with. It’s just something I do. I really don’t know why.

It really was my first convention. I just…did I mention that I had a really good time?

On the subject of my cards, I have one word for you…advertising. I have a relatively small readership and I hoped to increase it. As for the slogan, I was trying to be funny. Apparently, I really don’t do funny well.

Apparently it worked, as you are now a new reader. Not everything I write is dark. Did you not see the joke I posted yesterday? I didn’t make up the dream; I wrote it in as much detail as I could capture, but it was still a dream. Thanks for pointing out the “little” thing. I would correct it but by now the damage is done. Did I mention that it wasn’t a story?

It was really nice meeting you as well. I am glad you like the blog and I hope you are surprised to see what I post next.

I am sure that you have noticed by now that I didn’t print your letter in its entirety. There are just some things about my life that I would rather keep private. I realize that may seem strange after reading some of my posts, but there is a limit. I do appreciate your interest though. Maybe at another convention, I will answer at least one of those questions for you.

Take care,
James

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Another Fine Drinking Story

A cowgirl, who is visiting Texas from Arkansas, walks into a bar and orders three mugs of Bud. She sits in the back of the room, drinking a sip out of each one in turn. When she finishes them, she comes back to the bar and orders three more.

The bartender approaches and tells the cowgirl, "You know, a mug goes flat after I draw it. It would taste better if you bought one at a time."

The cowgirl replies, "Well, you see, I have two sisters. One is in Australia,the other is in Dublin. When we all left our home in Arkansas, we promised that we'd drink this way to remember the days when we drank together. So I'm drinking one beer for
each of my sisters and one for myself."

The bartender admits that this is a nice custom, and leaves it there.

The cowgirl becomes a regular in the bar, and always drinks the same way. She orders three mugs and drinks them in turn. One day, she comes in and only orders two mugs. All the regulars take notice and fall silent.

When she comes back to the bar for the second round, the bartender says, "I don't want to intrude on your grief, but I wanted to offer my condolences on your loss. "

The cowgirl looks quite puzzled for a moment, then a light dawns in her eyes and she laughs.

"Oh, no, everybody's just fine," she explains,
"It's just that my husband and I joined the Baptist Church and I had to quit drinking... Hasn't affected my sisters though."

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Mind is a Terrible Thing

I am struggling to understand. I truly am. How does the mind work? The answer is obviously specific to an individual instance. My question is how can the answer have such a wide spectrum of possibilities?

Let’s say you are walking down a sidewalk. You are headed for the job interview of a lifetime, trip on crack and fall. What would you do? You would pick yourself up, knock the dirt from your clothes, check the scrapes on your hand, and move on, albeit a bit sheepishly. It seems like a reasonable thing to do, right?

What if you didn’t get up? What if you refused to budge? What if you refused the aide of passersby? What if you snapped at the fingers of anyone foolish enough to attempt to make you get up? Would this mean that you were crazy or just misunderstood?

I guess I don’t understand what makes a person give up so much for so little. I understand that the fall might have hurt, but there are people all around you that are willing to help.

Let’s say that days, months, maybe even years go by. The crowds that you drew have long since dispersed. You hardly even get a second glance anymore; save for the random stranger that leaves just enough food or water within your reach to keep you alive. You have become invisible; by the power of being ignored, you no longer exist.

One day, You push your body up from the cold concrete. You rest on your heels, but your knees still touch the reassuring surface. You collect your thoughts for a while and things are starting to make a little since. You realize that it was foolish to grip the pavement for so long. You finally stand up, but your legs are too weak to walk and your knees miss the comforting cold of the sidewalk, so you decide to crawl.

Where do you think you are going? Where would I go? You continue to crawl. You are no longer invisible, but people are giving you a wide berth. Who needs them? You have the sidewalk to comfort you. At last, you reach your destination. The sign out front has changed, but it is the right building. You are going to your job interview. Is it wrong for you to be angry that the position is no longer there? If you can’t get the interview will you return to your sidewalk or will you press on and show them that you are responsible enough for a different position?

Doesn’t make sense, does it? Maybe, I just haven’t found a sidewalk that was that appealing to me. It could be that I have never had a fall that I wasn’t able to recover from. I just don’t know what makes a person…surrender.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Greatest Weekend Ever

All I can say is…wow! Ok, I will try to say a little more than that. Although, it seems wow was the word I used most over the weekend. Luckily, for all concerned, people that had a lot of more interesting things to say, allowed me to listen to them.

Let’s begin with the panels. Both informative and entertaining, these sessions allowed us to get inside the minds of industry professionals. They shared insights, dispelled myths, reinforced facts, and passed on information that I had never heard before. The panel, Escape from the Slush Pile, alone was worth the price of admission. I particularly enjoyed hearing that the slush pile is a magnet for the mentally ill.

I made a lot of new friends. Some of which I hope to stay in contact with, others I know I will. I met several people that I recognized as commentors from a few of the blogs that I frequent. I also received the names of several new sites to aide in my relentless pursuit of blogs to read. It is great to finally be able to put a face with the name, or in most cases their handles (I suppose there is no actually distinction in cyberspace).

The aspect of the convention that amazed me most was the accessibility of the authors. It wasn’t just that they were roaming around, accepting handshakes, returning nods, and signing autographs, I mean to say that they were truly approachable.

On the topic of autographs, I picked up my first copy of Agyar, which Steve Brust signed for me. I can’t wait to read it.

My first night, I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with the fabulous Nielsen Haydens and incomparable Mr. Brust. You have not lived until you have discussed politics, scammers, and the civil war with these people.

I have been following Electrolite and Making Light for several months. It was great to finally be able to put a face and more importantly a voice with the words.

I witnessed history in the making. Teresa Nielsen Hayden made her singing debut on Saturday night. She was really quite good, but there was some discussion afterwards to the fact that she had been tricked into doing it. Tricked or no, you could tell she was having fun.

Mr. Brust is, hands down, one of the most entertaining people I have ever met. On Saturday, he was kidnapped by a group of traveling belly dancers. Oddly enough, I don’t think he minded. When he returned, I bet we spent every bit of an hour swapping one-liners and all out groaners. The man knows more light bulb jokes than any one person should.

Saturday afternoon, Robert Asprin and Jody Lynn Nye were having a conversation just slightly out of my earshot. Not wanting to miss out on an opportunity like this, I kept trying to think of something witty to say that might get me invited to join their conversation. I’m thinking, I’m thinking and much to my dismay, I realize I got nothing. Finally, I just break out with “Excuse me, I am not much of a conversationalist, but I love to listen. Do you mind if I join you?” They didn’t mind and as a result, I spent a lovely hour getting to hear some absolutely hilarious tales. I feel I should point out here that I had actually planned to share one of their tales, but have since erased it. Why you ask? Because not knowing them on a personal level is part of the great mystery, the allure. If you want to hear about personal trials and tribulations, it should be in first person or at the very least have the writer requested to do so. Might I suggest that you visit a con?

I will say that I had a wonderful discussion with Mr. Asprin late Saturday night. I told him that this was my first con and he told me about his first one. He said that he found himself surrounded by all of these great writers. One of his favorites took a liking to him and led him around the con introducing him to several influential publishing people. He said that he looked back on that moment and wondered how he could ever repay a debt like that. He obviously couldn’t take this author around to all of the contacts he has now (Well, of course he could, but chances are said author has already been there). So finally he decided that the only way he could truly pay him back was to do the same for others. How cool is that?

I also had the privilege of spending some time with Bob Gunner the founder of Cyber-Pulp e-publishing. Mr. Gunner was very charismatic and enthusiastic about writers, writing, and the future of e-publishing. He is now branching out to the physical world, working with book distributors to see his books placed on the shelves of bookstores everywhere.

Just when I thought the con couldn’t get any better, I had an amazingly cool experience. I attended Literary Agents Demystified: What Every Writer Needs to Know. It was hosted by the Nielsen Haydens. When they began the portion about scam agents, Mrs. Nielsen Hayden invited me to sit on the panel. I have had some experience in this area and I suppose that she felt it would be fruitful to have me talk to other aspiring writers about what I have learned in that department. I gotta tell you, it was cool to sit up there, telling my story and having a room (mostly) full of faces looking back at me intently. They may not have been hanging on my every word, but they were paying attention. I hope that means it will help someone out there think twice before signing on with a con artist. If I were able to prevent one writer from being fleeced, then that knowledge would make every other experience at the entire weekend pale in comparison.


In short, this was one of the greatest weekends I have had in a long time. I can’t wait ‘til next year.

Monday, March 07, 2005

A Moment of Reflection

What really makes us who we are? As individuals, I mean. Is there one thing that stands out in the minds of our family and peers when they hear our name or see our face? Is there several? Is there nothing?

Is it our accomplishments? Maybe it’s our failures. What if we haven’t experienced either that was of great consequence? Will we be known for our moderation?

Will we be remembered for the lives we touched or the people we shunned? Will our name be spoken with a smile or through the sound of grinding teeth?

Will we be judged by the company that we keep? Perhaps, it will be the friends that we have lost. More to the point, who is our harshest critic in this area, our peers or ourselves?

Is it the strength of our convictions that sets us apart? Is it the lack of them?

Maybe, it is something as simple as political affiliation (or affliction depending on which side you fall on), but then I guess that falls back to the company we keep.

Should sexual preference be a defining characteristic? It shouldn’t matter who you love, but too often it does.

Do our beliefs come into play? Our belief in a god, a goddess, something, anything, or nothing, do we wear these beliefs (or lack of them) on a sign around our neck?

Is it our contributions, be they charitable or artistic? Is it our greed or generosity?

Perhaps it is our ambition. Does being a couch potato mean you are successful if that is what you really want out of life? Does continuing to strive for something that we fail at time and again make us admirable or insane?

On a more personal level, am I a good father? When my son is grown, will he remember me fondly or will he remember me as an overbearing tyrant that was too hard on him? Does it matter which as long as he grows into a fine young man?

Will I be remembered as a good husband? When my wife looks back on our life together, will she smile? Will I bring her more joy than sorrow? Will I bring her enough joy that she can’t remember the hardships?

Does my family (other than my wife and son) know how much they mean to me, even though I hardly ever see them? Does it make me a bad person, because I don’t make more of a conscious effort to that end?

Does the image we display for friends and strangers reflect who we are when we are alone?

Does any of this matter? I think we are the culmination of all of our life’s experiences. More simply, it is life that makes us who we are. People will either accept us baggage and all or they won’t. If they don’t, who needs them?

Live, laugh and love, but for god’s sake make the best of it. Life’s too short to be taken seriously.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Music for the Masses

Has anyone else noticed that Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day is now British? Their new song, Holiday, is great, but when I first heard it I thought I was witnessing the next wave of British Punk to grace our airwaves.

Yesterday, I heard a mix song that had Wonderwall by Oasis played over Green Day’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams. It was, in a word, magnificent. I haven’t been this excited about a remix since Ray of Gob. You remember, that was the song that merged Ray of light by Madonna with The Sex Pistol’s God Save the Queen and Pretty Vacant. Isn’t technology a wonderful thing?

It makes me want to start playing around with some of my other favorites. I wonder what I could do with my Sinatra and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies CDs. Too easy, you say? Maybe I could mix Guns N’ Roses with Stone Temple Pilots. Oh wait, that’s already been done. It’s called Velvet Revolver. Perhaps, I could try something with Kenny Wayne Sheppard and Staind. I’ve got it. I can mix The Killers with Jesus Jones and throw in a few samples from Puddle of Mudd.

Well, I’m off to make history. I will let you know how it all turns out.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Weekend Rents

We had another exciting weekend filled with… movie rentals. Actually, we only watched three movies the entire weekend. We spent most of yesterday at the zoo, which incidentally is my son’s favorite place in the entire world to visit. When the weather is nice we try to go at least once a month.

The first movie we watched was Saw. This movie was twisted and dark, which I was expecting, but it wasn’t scary. It was more of a thriller than a horror flick. Some of the imagery was quite disturbing, but again, it just wasn’t scary at all.

Full of twists and turns and possessing an ending that I didn’t see coming, this movie is worth watching. Just don’t go into it expecting to be frightened. My overall impression is that this movie is Seven meets Hannibal.

The second movie was Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. This is not just another slacker stoners find adventure while trying to sate the munchies. This is a quality film about a young man that is taken advantage of by nearly every single person in his life. On his quest to find White Castle, he is forced into a night of self-discovery. When the journey is over, he is a new man with a newfound sense of confidence.

Have no doubt about it; this movie is full of great potty humor and bad intentions. I laughed my rear off through most of it. There is no real “Moral to the story” here. It is just good old-fashioned less than clean fun. I am glad I didn’t see it in theaters, but I am glad I watched it.

We wrapped up the weekend rentals with Cellular. This was a surprisingly good movie. My wife picked this one and to be honest, I didn’t think I would like it. For some reason I had it in my head that it was just going to be some spin-off of Phone Booth. Guess what, I was wrong. It was action-packed and funny in all the right places. This movie hit the ground running and never stumbled once.

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