Category Archives: My Diary

I think forgiveness more often comes from confusion than anything else

I think – at least in my own life – forgiveness is more accompanied by confusion than anything  else. Not relief, or peace, or love, or completion, but more a sense of, ‘Well, ok, what am I supposed to do with this?’

I’ll give you an example:

I had this relative that everyone in the family hated. His wife was nice, and he was mister get-rich-quick scheme. He was always shucking and jiving and coming up short because he was a sucker. He was also big into conspiracy theories. Over the years it got worse and worse to the point that no one could stand him in the family, and I suspect no one could stand him out of the family either. If his wife – who we loved – was invited to a party, he would just sit in the corner, completely ignored.

If you made the mistake of saying ‘hi,’ he’d try to talk you into paying for a hyperbaric oxygen chamber for him to start his own business, as that’s the coming thing, or something equally groan-inducing.

I grew to hate him because of the pain he caused my relative. She…I could never tell if she was unaware of what a mess he was, or if she was afraid to leave, or if she actually believed his latest rivulets of ridiculousness were actually gonna work and this time they’d make it big. I dunno. I guess I never will.

I had this recurring fantasy that one day she’d die – I just always assumed he’d outlive her as her health was not great – and then at the funeral I’d walk up to him and say, “Now that she’s gone, neither I nor the rest of the family have any reason to tolerate you. We hate you, and stay away. You are completely alone for the rest of your life.” The wording changed from time to time, but something mean like that. Events didn’t play out like that.

Over time I began to realize he was a paranoid schizophrenic, or most likely so. Undiagnosed. That’s one of those diseases that gets worse as you age if untreated, and he was too paranoid to ever go see a shrink. And he definitely got worse as he got older.

I don’t think anyone else in the family ever got that he was crazy, I think they just thought that he was despicable, and he certainly did some despicable things, so they weren’t wrong, but I’m not at all sure where the line between “Utter bastard,” and “Lunatic who really isn’t responsible for his actions” lies. I assume it’s a wandering border that snakes around a lot. I still hated him, of course. He was so easy to hate.

Then he got sick, and after a lot of rigmarole I won’t bore you with, he ended up in hospice. I called to straighten out some arrangements, and then the nurse guy said, “You wan to talk to him?” I said, “Sure,” and to this day I don’t know why. Probably just because it would have seemed mean to say, “No.” I’m plenty mean, but I don’t generally want total strangers to know it.

I ended up on the phone with him, and he was pretty deaf, so I had to talk very loudly. I asked him how he felt, and he said he was in a lot of pain, which wasn’t possible as the staff informed me they had pumped him full of oh-so-very-much dope.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” I asked. It was a safe question because I’m 700 miles away and poor, and hence nobody ever asks me to do anything.
“It won’t be long now,” he said. In my mind’s eye I could see him staring at a big black hole that doesn’t exist somewhere between the foot of the bed and the far wall. In the background I could hear staff futzing around with tubes and wires and things.

“Ok, well, I’ll check in on you again tomorrow,” I said.

“Oh, God,” he said.

“We love you,” I lied. Straight-up lied.

“Ok, thank you.”

Not an hour later he died. I was the last person to talk to him. Last in the family, anyway.  The last thing I did was tell him that he was loved. He totally absolutely completely was not. Nobody loved him. He only knew like six people in the world, none of them could stand him by that time. I’m not some big, noble hero, I was just being polite. A polite lie for a dying man, and that’s all it was. There’s nothing noble in it.

So that hung over me for a few days, that mine was the last familiar voice he heard, and that even though I hate him, the last words from the family were nice. It was a weird, weird, weird irony. Confusing.

Time passed, and I got to thinking more about his obvious mental illnesses. Most of the rest of the family never considered the option, they just disliked him because of very good reasons. Most of them have since died.  Counting me, I think there’s only three people who even remember him. No, wait, four.

He had pissed away every dime he’d made in one lunatic scheme or another, and there was no funeral. He’d alienated everyone in 700 miles in every direction. I honestly do not know what happened to his body. Probably in a bar-coded thermos in some state-run crematorium somewhere, filed and forgotten.

His illness…well, I’m not saying he wasn’t responsible for a lot of the bad stuff he did, but his illness probably tended to push him in the direction of bad decisions. They were still decisions, mind you. I won’t go into what all he did. I got to thinking about my own mental illness, which does not drive me to make poor decisions, but it does make me pretty goddamned useless. If I’m better than him on some measure, it’s just the love and support of my dad in my early life, and my wife in the second half of my life. But I’m still pretty useless, and I still pretty much hate myself most of the time.

Awful thing to hate yourself, but I think it’s served me well. I’ve never deliberately hurt anyone, and I’ve only accidentally hurt very few. I’m worthless, so I tend to value others. In his case, well, you can’t second-guess crazy, right? I’ll never know, but I think that capacity for self-loathing wasn’t there to protect him. People like harmless, interesting, sad folks. People have always looked out for me. Even my bullies on occasion (Weirdly enough). Nobody likes the oily wheeler-dealer who’s lost money on his last 15 sure things, and wants you to fund number sixteen.

I’m digressing. He’s dead and nobody misses him, not even me. But how different from me was he? Well, a hell of a lot, honestly. Just the same, I do totally understand what it’s like to just never quite get the hang of life, how there’s some great gulf fixed between what the common people do every day without thinking about it, and the stuff that I can do, which ain’t much.  Him, too, I assume.

So he died, and I told him, “I love you.” As I’ve said, I was lying. DIdn’t love him then and I don’t love him now, but I guess I’ve forgiven him. I’m not sure if it’s because he was somebody’s baby full of hope once, and he came to a very bad end, and I’m sad over the loss. Or maybe I forgive him because I can see a disastrously failed version of myself in him, had I been so unlucky as to be unloved over the last 51 years. Or maybe it’s just because everyone connected with it is dead: His wife, his kid, the extended family. It’s all irrelevant now.

I don’t know, though the second one seems least likely.

But he’s dead, and I’m haunted by being the last to speak to him, and I’m happy I gave him a nice goodbye, assuming he was even aware of it (As I said: oh-so-very-much dope)

And I forgive him, I guess, but I’m more confused by the forgiveness than relieved by it.

And that always seems to happen to me, though this is obviously the most dramatic example.

What awful thing do you have to do to get kicked out of Paganism?

“What do you call it when you get kicked out of a religion?”
“Most commonly, ‘Excommunication,’ though that’s mostly a Christian term. It differs from religion to religion. Why?”
“I got kicked out of Wicca.”
“What?!”
“Yeah.”
“What do you have to do to get kicked out of paganism?”
“Yeah, I know, right?”
“No, I’m serious: What the hell did you do? Did you stab someone or something?”
“No, but I did argue that we should stab people.”
“Lemme stop laughing here. Ok: Please explain?”
“Well, you remember when I joined and why, right?”
“Of course.”
“Well, it turned out not to be what I expected. It was really political. You have to be a Green or Democrat to worship the earth, I guess, and they won’t shut up about it in the services. And they’re always talking about women’s rights and protesting the protestors who protest against abortion, and lesbian stuff. So many lesbians.”
“I thought that was part of the appeal?”
“I’m Bi, not lesbian.”
“Anyway…”
“Yeah, anyway, so it really was basically like my Women’s Studies class stuff, except that we sat on the floor in a circle and hummed a lot.”
“[Laughing]”
“So after a year and a half of this I was getting frustrated. I raised my hand in a meeting, right before the service, and I said ‘When do we sacrifice the goats?'”
“[Laughing really hard]”
“So they said, ‘what?’ and I said, ‘when do we sacrifice the goats? Or bunnies or whatever? I mean we’ve got the athame [sacred ceremonial knife] right there but we never slit anything’s throat with it.’ So high priestess explained that we don’t sacrifice animals, and that we’ve grown beyond the need for that because we have a fuller understanding than the pagans of old did about the importance of life and stuff. So I said, ‘so we’re not pagans?’ and she said, ‘No, we are pagans, we’re just more in tune with nature than the pagans of old.’ So then I asked if we somehow thought were were *better* than the real pagans…”
“I imagine that got some angry spluttering.”
“Yeah! So she told me to sit down, and she’d explain it all later, and I demanded that she explain it to me now, and then I said that she’s basically said that we weren’t *real* pagans, we were just playing dress-up pretend. So everyone was really mad by then.”
“I’m sure.”
“Finally I said, ‘look, if we’re pagans, and we’re not nailing seven men to seven trees on the seventh day of the seventh month in worship of Odin, then what the hell is the point?”
“[several minutes of laughing, then gasping from both of us.]”
“So I walked out and they yelled not to come back, and called the other covens to warn them about me.”
“[Laughing] You see, this is why I keep you on the payroll.”

Mahatma Randy’s Horror Show

My first real band after college was called, “Mahatma Randy’s Horror Show.” It was pretty much a disaster in every regard.

One day in 1992 or 1993 I was wandering through the Tarpon Springs Crappy Amateur Art Festival when, suddenly, a song struck me fully formed in my head. It was called, “My Baby’s the Last of the Communists,” which, only a year or two after the end of the cold war, seemed topical and funny. I quickly abandoned the poorly-soldered windchimes and ran back to my car to write the words down before I forgot ’em.

It was a pretty good song. Well, good lyrics. Not a song yet.

That motivated me to form a band. My previous (And first) one was “Technicolor Yawn,” which was also a disaster, but for more typical college band reasons. The good thing about a band, though, was that it gives you something to do, people to bond with, and hot-and-cold running chicks. All of that appealed to me as I was bored, lonely, and going through the worst breakup of my life at the time.

I put an ad in the personals section of Creative Loafing, a weekend entertainment paper or tabloid or supplement or whatever you call it. Eventually the phone started to ring.

Now the important thing to remember here is that I am not now, nor have I ever been a musician. I’m a slightly-better-than-average singer, and that is it. There endeth my list of talents. I had no idea what this song would sound like, but I intended to put together as large a band as I could with a horn section. I was going for something like Oingo Boingo or Bad Manners or something like that. As to how to write the music, I figured I’d just hum or whistle melodies, and have the other guys jam something together. (I can’t read music. I should probably mention that)

Recruiting was easy. Super-easy. I got a drummer in no time. As anyone will tell you, drummers are the hardest thing to get. Keyboardists? Dime a dozen. Gutarists?There’s so many of them you actually have to pay to keep them away from you. Everyone goes through that “I wanna be a rock star” phase. Bassists? Well, every guitarist can be a frustrated bassist if you ask ’em nicely enough. Drums, though? Drums are hard. There aren’t a lot of drummers, given the expense and size and noise of the kits, and such as there are are always in demand. They have bands lined up waiting for them, so they’re not gonna put up with my crap.

But, nope, I got a drummer. I bought him some Mexican food and he told me about his weird love life, and I listened patiently and said some up-with-people crap of some sort, and – bang – he was in.

Thus I ended up with a nine-piece band, including a four-piece horn section. Ten piece band, if you count me, which  you probably shouldn’t do as I’m not a musician. I’m just a singer.

The first problem was how to explain the sound I was looking for to these fine folks, and that just didn’t go well. I lacked the vocabulary to explain it, so all I could do was play them songs and say, ‘like that,’ which went over worse than you’d imagine because either the couldn’t copy the style, or didn’t understand it, or simply didn’t wanna do it. They wanted to play stuff that sounded like Thelonius Monk or Skynyrd.

Now, that would actually be pretty awesome, and I’d jump at the chance nowadays, but back then I didn’t know a lucky break when I saw it.

The second most obvious problem was scheduling. Most bands are 3 or 4 or 5 people, tops. This makes scheduling easy. Show up at the garage and we’ll jam. We can take my car! With each person you add, however, it gets more and more complicated. An order of magnitude more complicated.

One of the horn players was a doctor. Initially we met at his house. I had to go to the bathroom once, and there were needles all over the place. I don’t know if he was diabetic, or a drug addict, or very sick in some way that required him to treat it at home, but he was definitely a dangerously negligent housekeeper, so we decided to meet somewhere else from then on out.

And he stopped coming.

My drummer volunteered his place, so we met there and jammed in his living room.

You know what? I’d forgotten about it until this moment, but I don’t think we initially had a bassist. I think I tried to play bass. Honestly, my memories are fuzzy, but I know I took a turn at it. I couldn’t do it (Because I’m not a musician) but everyone liked my voice, so we kept meeting.

Well, I say we kept meeting, but the horn section evaporated quickly. Horn players get excited about playing with other horn players because they never get to. There just aren’t many bands with a horn section, though a lot used to have a sax or (Less commonly) a trumpet. Those guys were invariably the first ones to get kicked off the bus, so to speak, when the money doesn’t roll in. And the money never rolls in. So once we were down to just one horn guy, what point was there? He was more interested in playing with the others than with us, now we were just another band, so…gone.

The thing is, I really only had one song. I mean, I had a bunch of songs left over from my previous band, but never recorded any, so I didn’t have anything I could convey to these guys, so there was really just “My Baby’s the Last of the Communists,” which I wanted to be short and punchy and funny, but they were thinking long, serious, dramatic rock ballad. I can’t recall if I ever played any of ’em any They Might Be Giants, but I imagine if I did they probably told me to go straight to hell.

Our drummer had issues. He’d told over dinner one time that he’d been married up until recently. Then he was driving home from work one night and saw this hooker. Then he took the hooker home and threw his wife out, and now the hooker was his girlfriend.

Drummers, right? Amiright?

What can you say to that? “Gee, that’s keen.” I didn’t want to ask any questions because honestly no answer would be a good one. I mean, was she still hooking? Is it possible that I misunderstood her and she just made those hook rugs that were popular in the early ’80s? He never actually said hooker, exactly. Maybe I misunderstood? And he’s a drummer…I mean, I had to keep him, right? And we were practicing in his house. I just resigned myself to avoiding touching anything in his house, and compulsively washing my hands.

Since I wasn’t a bassist (And I can’t remember if we had one before me or not), Tom, the guitarist (And the only guy who’s name I can remember) brought in a friend of his. They’d played together in a band in the past. Power trio. On the surface this seemed like a good idea, as he was a really good bassist, and Tom was a really good guitarist. As one might imagine of a prostitution-enthusiast, our drummer had good rhythm. So: Power trio + me as singer.  I could work with that.

But by this point we still didn’t have any music written out, and the bassist flat out didn’t like my songs, so they took to playing their originals from back in the day. And as I didn’t know their songs, the bassist took to singing them.

I’m gonna be honest: He probably had a better voice than me. So in essence I’d gotten their old band back together.

Nowadays, this wouldn’t present a problem. A decade ago it wouldn’t have presented a problem. Twenty years ago it wouldn’t have presented a problem. Right then, though…well, nowadays I can talk anyone into anything by charm, bluster, or some humorous combination of thereof. Back then, though, I was in my mid-20s, and I just lacked the confidence – no, wrong word – arrogance to step in and force these guys to do my will. I didn’t even know how to explain my will, honestly.

It went downhill from there. The hooker had a serious conversation with her boyfriend about taking over “Some” of the singing duties, by which she meant all. Even then, I would have said, ‘yeah, sure, you can do harmonies and backing vocals and I’ll give you one song to a set,’ but, well, hooker. I honestly didn’t want her around.

The only thing that kept me from being forced out was that the Bassist didn’t want her singing, which was lucky as I didn’t have to get into it with the drummer. As a result she just became the worst cliche of local-band-girlfriend, hanging around all the time, banging a damn tambourine at random intervals and…well, to her credit, she didn’t warble much. Generally local-band-girlfriends who want to be in the band just spontaneously sing along.

The downside, of course, was that I was basically the second vocalist in my own band, and tended to be ignored at my own practices. I *did* manage to spruce up a song that Tom had played with an earlier band. It was called “Spot.” We recorded a demo of it. Well, half a demo. The drummer kept spontaneously stopping after the bridge. We could never explain to him that wasn’t the end of the song.

I don’t know where the demo went, but years later I recorded a version of it with another band, “Mahatma Randy and the Randy Mahatmas.” You can listen to it here.  It’s not bad.

The bassist couldn’t make it to practice one day, so I decided to stage a reverse-coup. I brought Dave Teach along to play bass. That would shift things in my direction somewhat. When we got to my drummer’s house, however, he wasn’t there. He’d forgotten. Tom was there, as were Dave and I, but the drummer didn’t show.

We plugged in our instruments on his front porch and jammed there for a bit. I’d like to say we played really loudly until the neighbors came out and drove us off, but we didn’t. We intended to, mind you but, again, I was going through the worst breakup of my life at the time, and just lacked the needed arrogance to front a band, much less that needed for a good pranking.

So we just noodled around for a few minutes, and then Tom left and then Dave and I thought, “This is stupid,” (Given that there was only a bass there now), so we left too. I wanna say Tom was kind of souring on the drummer by this point.

Later on I called up and asked the drummer where he’d been. He’d spaced on the whole thing. I told him, “It’s ok, we plugged in and practiced on your yard for a while, so it worked out fine.” He got upset at that. “You did what? That’s not cool at all.”
“It’s ok, the neighbors only complained a few times,” I lied.
“What?”
“Look, it’s ok, we were gone long before the cops got there.”
“Cops?” He got weirdly quietly upset over the phone. By this point the silent spaces between his words were almost audibly announcing ‘crazy-crazy-crazy.’

He started in on wanting his girlfriend to sing, and at that moment I just gave up. “You know what? That’s a good idea. We could use a female vocalist to compliment my lack of vocals. I think that’d be a good sound.” He didn’t get it. He didn’t even notice it.

“Ok, well, I’ll see you next week,” I said, with no intention of ever going there again, and I never called him back. Never heard from Tom again, either, which is the real shame of the whole thing, as he was really good.

Ah well.

What brings all this up is that I’ve been converting old video and audio tapes to digital, and hear the one practice we recorded, which consisted of, basically, me sitting in the corner while my band ignored me and played their own stuff.

Good times. Good times.

Why I named my son Beyowulf

Twenty years ago today, (as of 11:11 AM), my wife and I had our first and only kid. he was a couple weeks past due, so we had to go in and get him. For various reasons, we opted for a C-section. “Grande!” A nurse said during the operation.  He was a big kid. I don’t remember how big, cuz I’m bad with numbers, but pretty big. Ten pounds? That sounds right. The doctor’s first comment was, “It’s a linebacker!”   We were very happy.

My wife got an infection, so they decided to make us stay overnight an extra night  in the maternity wing, and then he crashed. SIDS. Fortunately we were in the hospital, and they caught it, but if my wife hadn’t gotten sick, if they’d let us go home, he would have died.

They rushed us by ambulance to All Childrens in St. Pete, and he spent a week in the NICU while we stayed in the Ronald  McDonald House a block away (seriously: give them money. They do great things)

For various reasons, only one of us was allowed in the NICU at a time, so the wife and I took shifts. I talked to him constantly, sang him The Might Be Giants songs, and told him how strong he was and how much fun he’d have if he’d just get well and come home with us. I held his tiny little hand and prayed pretty much every moment I wasn’t talking or singing. My folks came down to see him in his little Lucite crib with all the IVs sticking in him and monitors attached to him and so forth. The four of us looked at him for a couple minutes and cried, then the nurses told us that they’d already looked the other way as long as they could, and three of us would have to leave. I took my folks out.
“I don’t see why we had to leave,” one of them said, “that other kid had six people visiting.”
“that other kid is dying,” I said. “that’s the family saying goodbye.”
“Oh,” the folks said, chagrined. They knew how bad off we were, they didn’t realize how bad off everyone else in there was.

All the other kids died. All of them. Mine lived. I attribute that to God, but you can say it was just dumb luck if you like. I won’t argue with you. This isn’t a sermon.

What this is, I guess, is me ruminating on that time. I’d like to say it was a fairly tale after that, but in fact it’s been a pretty hard couple of decades for all concerned. Additional medical conditions, awful, awful, awful schools that have no idea how to work with special needs kids, poverty, my own ineptitude as a parent, the list goes on and on. It really wasn’t until a little over three years ago, maybe four,  when it finally began to settle down, and feel like the train might actually stay on the track.

Through it all, though, my kid has been a treasure. He is the reason I am alive, the reason I keep on going. With all the odds repeatedly stacked against him, he’s kept fighting and, well, I suppose nothing’s going to change there. The fighting continues. Some people get a normal life, others have to claw and scrape for it. But the important thing is that we’re all still here, the three of us, we all still love each other, which is better than most people in our predicaments.

I could brag about that, I suppose, but I’m humble. I’m fully aware and ashamed of how outclassed I am. if I was twice the man I am, I wouldn’t be a quarter of what my father was, and it pains me that I haven’t been able to be nearly as good a dad to my son as he was to me. He was superhuman, that one. And my son is superhuman, too. All the times he’s faced death and made it back off…well, a hero is someone who keeps on fighting, right? someone who doesn’t give up, and just keeps slugging away when the odds are frankly abysmal?

There’s a moral dimension to heroism, too: like my dad before me, my son has always done the right thing, if he’s been aware of what it is. He is that rare person for whom there is no difference between what he should do, and what he does. He’s moral, he’s smart, he’s ethical, and he’s braver than anyone I’ve ever met in that there are times when he’s abjectly terrified, but he just keeps on going, fighting, striving, winning less often than he loses; but then “victory” isn’t the measure of heroism. A willingness to risk defeat is. I could see all that in his eyes the very first instant after his birth. He was born with them open expression was like someone desperately trying to make sense of the situation, and figuring out what to do next.

(am I reading too much in to that instant? Of course I am. I was overwhelmed then, and now. Just the same…it’s real to me, and it feels real to my wife and him.)

If those qualities aren’t the universal hallmarks of heroism, well, they should be. There is no one in this world that I am prouder of, no one I love more, no one I know who cares more, who feels more, who tries harder. despite all he’s had to fight against, he was, is, and evermore shall be the bravest, most noble person I know.

There’s a reason I named him Beyowulf.

I had antlers growing out of my head as a small child

I remember having antlers as a child. It was the weirdest thing. At some point in college, I woke up distinctly remembering I had antlers. It wasn’t a dream, it was more like a sense-memory from childhood. It may actually be one, since as a very very small child I had a gimpy spine and required a lot of physical therapy, as well as wearing a partial brace for a while. I have no *conscious* memories of this, but (not counting the antlers) I do have one definite recurring nightmare that’s definitely from that time. So it’s possible.

Anyway, so I woke up in bed in the mid-80s thinking, “Man, this reminds me of when I used to have antlers.” I don’t know why. I might have rolled over a book or something in my sleep, which triggered it. I remembered very distinctly that I *hated* having antlers because I could only sleep on my back and couldn’t turn my head. That was the worst part: not being able to turn my head.

Then I thought, “Wait a minute, when did I have had antlers? And why am I *remembering* having antlers? And what the hell *happened* to my antlers? And why would I have had them in the first place?” Again, I can’t stress this enough: this was a memory of a childhood sensation, not a dream. I can tell the difference. Most people can.

This didn’t freak me out so much as confuse/intrigue me because I was reading entirely too much Philip K. Dick in those days, and also I *am* nuts. (Doctors say so!) Eventually I figured out it was probably the back brace keeping me from being comfortable when I slept, and here we are. Every now and again, the memory will pop up. “What are you thinking about, Randy?” Oh, back when I was little and had antlers.

Still, it’s intriguingly weird to remember something that never happened.

Sometimes, rarely, (As some of my friends can attest), I’ll just bring it up out of nowhere. There’ll be one of those long pauses in conversation that’ll go on a minute too long because whatever you were talking about has fizzled out, and no one has thought of another topic yet. “I used to have antlers,” I’ll say, bright and cheerful as day.
“Right, those little Christmas antlers you wore when we were opening up presents a couple years ago, I remember.”
“No, actual, real antlers. Made out of bone. Growing out of my skull.”
“Ah…uhm…”
(At which point one of my other friends will usually say, “Oh, not this again,” or “I’m leaving.”)
“Great big Bulwinkle J. Moose ones,” I’ll say, proudly.

I did that yesterday, actually, at a restaurant. It was poorly timed. The old guy was reaching over from the next table to ask if he could get the sugar for the coffee, since there wasn’t any on his table. His mouth was open, he was about to speak right when he overheard the conversation. He was actually dropjawed for a moment, and then he accidentally made eye contact with me. His expression said something along the lines of ‘I will never stop vomiting because of what I overheard.’ Then he just sat up at his table, eyes-forward, and militantly avoided looking in our direction afterwards.

My longsuffering wife gave his wife the sugar.

“Can you please not talk about that in public?”
“Right, right, right, sorry. Must only say crazy things around friends. Mustn’t frighten the ‘Danes. Must use my insanity for good, not evil. Forgot. Sorry. Sorry.

I just finished my 9th book, “Big Pharma”

I just published a new book yesterday.

My friend Jim Graham had been writing a series about a guy with the unfortunate nickname of “Scat” (Real name: Sebastian Scatkiewicz). He was a retired marine who more-or-less accidentally starts a civil war and ends up (As Jim put it) as the fulcrum about which the history of the galaxy turned. It called on a lot of stuff from his time in the British Army. Good military space fiction with political intrigue.

He was about 4/5ths of the way through one of his novels when he discovered he was terminally ill. He asked me if I would please finish the book for him, and of course I said yes. I had hoped to have it done before he passed, and he’d thought he’d had some more time left than he did, but that ended up being the last time we spoke. Jim passed away less than a month later.

His widow Vivien sent me his manuscript and notes, and I got cracking.

He’d written two “Main” novels in the series (“Scat” and “Army of Souls,”) and intended to write a third to bookend the series. (About which nobody knows anything, AFAICT). As the”Army” takes place about a decade after “Scat,” he intended to write a bunch of shorter novels set between the books. I call these “Interquels.”

I’m gonna be honest, it was a little daunting. My normal method is to just sit down and sprawl out crap as it comes to me, hence the hokey-jokey herky-jerky style of writing. It works for my stuff, and Jim liked my stuff, but it didn’t fit him at all. I wanted his last book to be *his* last book. I didn’t want it to be 4/5ths his book and then – zang – it switches to crazy Randy bullcrap, right?

So I reread the previous books, I took ridiculous amounts of notes, and I tried to match his style as closely as a could. I found I tended to overthink things. “How would Jim phrase this? Would he say it this way, or would he reverse those two words?” Etc. This isn’t be complaining, by the way. I don’t feel put upon at all. I feel honored to have been chosen to do it, and glad that I was actually able to make good on my promise to my friend. I also had help in the form of the Reverend Oliver Harrison, Church of England, who was of immeasurable assistance in translating my portion of the book from American to English.  He went through it and painstakingly identified places where Americanisms had to be replaced by Anglicisms. (Remember, Jim was British) I didn’t want the tone to switch from “Stiff upper lip” to “howdy, howdy, howdy, I’m a cowboy,” you know? And overall I tried to match Jim’s tone as much as possible.

Also, as with *everything* I’ve ever done, it simply would not have been possible without David Teach. He’s my George Martin. Mad love, man!

Anyway: I don’t really consider this “My” book (Though they were insistent that my name be on the cover), I consider it Jim’s book, and I was just a pinch hitter here. If anyone chooses to read it, and you like it? That’s all Jim’s doing. If you read it and hate it, that’s my fault. Also for my fans (If any) it might be a little hard to follow since it takes place in between books 2 and 4 in a very involved series.

Still and all, I think it’s a good book, and I think I did a pretty good job with it, and I think the points where it switches from him to me and back again are pretty seamless. It’d be fun to know if his fans can spot the sutures, so to speak. I hope to hear back from some of ’em.

The book is now up on Amazon and Smashwords.

Phew. So now that that’s done, it’s time to go back to my own normal weirdo-chaotic-goofball-nightmare stuff. 

(By the way, this was my 2nd co-authored book, and my 9th book overall)

I ruin movies by making them better…in your mind!

I tend to ruin movies by making them better.

See, I’m one of those annoying people who, for entirely selfish reasons, tries to get his friends to watch movies I’ve already seen. The reasons? Mostly so I can have someone to talk about it with, and of course, validation. (“Yes, Randy, that was a good film that I would not have seen were it not due to your incessant nagging. You have good taste in film, and hence are a good person, and you can stop hating yourself now.”) I have a lot of issues on that front.

Anyway, the problem is that I’m a pretty shallow man and hence have pretty narrow tastes. Mostly I just watch Science Fiction films. Current ones, old ones, classics, sclock-fests, I don’t really care. I also like anything by the Coen brothers, up to and including that bootleg of a very drunk Ethan puking his guts out in a toilet, while his sibling is laughing so hard that he can barely keep the shot in frame. (“[Rowlf] For God’s sake, Joel, why aren’t you helping me? [Rowlf]) I also claim to like everything by Terry Gilliam, but I’m lying about that. I really only like three of his films. Some war movies are cool. I mostly pretend they’re happening in space, anyway. Theoretically I like any western that’s more than two hours long, but watching a marathon of Terrence Hill films a couple years ago has made me question that. Oh, right, and I used to like some foreign art films up until I turned 40 and suddenly started finding them all disturbing.

So, really, not a lot of depth there, if I’m honest. Which I just was.

Bottom line: Nobody is interested in the movies I’m interested in, nor have they ever been, nor should they be. Yes, everyone will go to see Star Wars IX: The Legend of Curly’s Gold, but everyone was going to see that anyway, right? I’m grateful to have something to talk to them about, but it’s completely lacking in the ‘validation’ thing I mentioned above. It’s not like I talked them into seeing Colosus: the Forbin Project, or The Andromeda Strain (Both of which are super-rad and bitchin’ by the way). Do you know how hard I had to work to get anyone to watch Blade Runner in the decade between its release and the time it spontaneously became popular? And now everyone thinks it’s the 2nd best SF film of all time, and half the people reading this were born after 1992, so you’ve never known a world in which it was just me and Ridley Scott saying, “No, honestly, it doesn’t suck! And it’s pretty!” And Ridley, honestly, didn’t seem that interested after “Legend” also bombed. (That one totally deserved it. It sucks)

Since nobody likes what I like, I have to kind of oversell it in order to pique their interest. I’m sort of bad at this, in that I tend to be honest. “Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat is, unquestionably, the most original and important thing to happen to the vampire mythos in 50 years. However all that important stuff is in the last five minutes, and you also have to suffer through a pre-acting-lessons Bruce Campbell, which, as you know is painful, but here’s a list of concepts that, while poorly executed through the rest of the movie, are still sort of interested. And again: the last five minutes are the absolute best thing in the entire history of best things themselves!”

Needless to say, my batting average is pretty low.

Which brings me to the way I ruin movies for everyone.

See, I grew up in a semi-abandoned citrus grove that only had three other widely-spaced houses, and the occasional biker gang. Oh, and rattlesnakes. Lots and lots of rattlesnakes. Needless to say I didn’t have a lot of friends to play with. My dad was a dad, and hence mostly interested in sports, and relaxing after a hard week at work. Movies were low on his priority list. My mom…wow. My mom worked as a ticket girl in the box office of a movie theater in the ‘50s, but never bothered to go in and watch any of the movies. In 1977 the last film she’d seen in a theater was “The Sound of Music.” That movie was two years older than I am, and I’m half-convinced that she only went to see it because she used to work for the Von Trapp family. (It’s true! She did!) There was absolutely no chance on selling her on seeing anything, ever.

I had a shot with my dad, though. The problem there was that his attention span for things he wasn’t already interested in – like football – was fairly short. It was even shorter when football was actually on TV while I was making my pitch. This meant I had a very narrow window of opportunity to make my sale. I’d wait for the extended commercial break between quarters, and I only had 15 minutes. Less if he needed to use the can.

Basically I’d stand directly in front of him, and run through the whole plot of the movie at lightning pace. I’d jump around to give an impression of any cool action scenes. I’d deliver dialog in different voices so there wouldn’t be any confusion as to who was speaking – because, remember, I didn’t have time, and he was only half-paying attention. I would quote any cool dialog I could remember, and other dialog I couldn’t quite remember verbatim I’d punch up on the fly. Sometimes I’d hum or whistle theme music. I would describe in glorious detail any cool visual scenes, and then, hopefully, I’d get to the conclusion before “…and we’re back. It’s the fourth quarter, and the Bucs are down 21 points against the Dolphins. For the third time in three seasons.”

I never had much luck with my dad, but I got really good at my weird little presentations. Being constitutionally incapable of selfconsciousness, I started doing them at school. I had a better memory in those days, so I could just launch into one whenever the opportunity arose. These were always extemperaneous, always tailered to whatever the person I was talking to would find cool. Spoilers? Pfeh. Here’s the truth: most people won’t watch movies if they don’t already know how they’re going to end. Audiences are lazy. Particularly with old films, and remember, there wasn’t much Science Fiction in theaters in those days, so much of the time I was just trying to get people to watch, “It: The Terror from Beyond Space,” or “Fantastic Voyage,” or acting out why people shouldn’t watch, “Creation of the Humanoids.” Yeah, that’s right, I could use my skills to plug or kill a movie. I’m just that good.

It got so people would ask me to explain a movie just becaue they wanted to watch my floorshow. My pitch for “Outland” was referred to by a teacher as, “A one man show stage version of High Noon.” Which is pretty apt, really. I did this in college, I did this after college, heck, I still do it now. It’s become reflex. As society’s attention span dropped ever-lower, I got more effective.

Which brings us to the part where I ruin movies:

At some point, people started saying stuff like, “Yeah, ‘Brazil’ was pretty good and all, but I liked your report on it better than watching the movie itself.” Or, “Honestly I think the death scene in ‘The 9th Configuration’ was better the way you did it, then in the film.” or “Your rendition of ‘Forbidden Planet’ didn’t really prepare me for how corny and stiff the dialog in the movie was.”

Eventually, “I liked the Randy version better,” became a common complaint.

Why?

“Well, you get so excited about them, and you’re so energetic, and you emphasize stuff they don’t and downplay stuff they emphasize, and some of your mis-remembered dialog is cooler than theirs, and you leave out the scenes that don’t work. I end up with a picture of the movie in my head, I go in expecting that and I get…just a movie. Not The Randy Version of the movie, which is more fun.”

“And shorter?”

“Oh, yeah, way the hell shorter. I really don’t have the attention span for a three-hour movie.”

Fat, Sweaty British Bastards and Charities

You know those charity candy dispensers you see next to the cash register in some restaurants and small offices? The ones that have, like, York Peppermint Patties or some other ‘meh’ candy like that, and you’re supposed to plunk in a quarter to take one, all proceeds going to the MDA or the ASPCA or whatever?

Quite a few years ago, I was sitting in my desk in the front of the office I worked in when this fat British dude came in with one, and asked if he could put one in our lobby. Low man on the totem pole, I had to deal with these things. I said, “No.”
“Why not?”
“You’ll see on the door right there, it says ‘no soliciting.'”
“This is different, this is charity.”
“I’m sorry, no. Good luck to you, though.”
“Why not?”
“I don’t think it matters, sir, I said ‘no.'”
“I want to know why not.”
“It is the stated policy of [name of company] not to allow local franchise holders to make donations in the name of the company, nor to allow others to place charitable donation boxes on our property, nor to endorse charities. The company does make quite sizable donations to charities, however, and I’d be happy to give you the regional office phone number, if you’d like to see if they can help you.”
“So I could go on TV and say your company doesn’t support charities.”
“You could, but as I just explained that’s untrue, and you could get sued.”
“[Grabs business card off of my desk] I’m going to be on channel 13 later today, interviewed for my charity, and I will tell them that Randall Schantz, speaking on behalf of [name of company] refused to give a donation to a national charity.”
“It’s pronounced ‘Shawn’s,’ not ‘Shantz’. I think you should go, and I’d like my card back.”
“Why? Are you afraid of me naming you on TV as a heartless selfish person?”
“No, I’m afraid you’re going to start calling and harassing me at 3AM, you nut-bar. Look, I don’t know how you think charities work, but bursting in to an office and threatening people’s livelihoods if they don’t take your crappy candy machines is *not* how you win supporters. Now give me my card back.”
“No, I’m going to go on TV and tell everyone that your company hates sick kids and I’m going to tell everyone that you’re the one that told me that.”
“[Picks up phone] I’m calling 911. See? I’m pressing ‘nine’. Give me my card back.”
“No [backs towards door] you can’t threaten me.”
“Oh brother. I’m pressing ‘one’…”
“You watch channel 13, you watch, your name will be all over the place! You’re ruined! You should have done it, but you’re ruined now! And maybe your replacement will be nicer.”

He left. I hung up the phone. My office manager stuck her head over the partition and said, “What the hell was that?” While I explained, I saw the guy go to a couple other offices in the plaza. “Should I get Gene [our boss] to call his lawyer?”

I sighed. “Nah, I got this.”

I got up and went to the pizza/sub place next door.
“Hi Randy. Want a sandwich?”
“Yes, actually. Did some fat sweaty British guy and demand you put up one of those charity candy things?”
“Yeah, I sent him packing.”
“Irksome. How about a Cuban, and a coke?”
“Yeah. Fifteen minutes, I’ll pound on the wall to let you know it’s done.”
“Thanks, Nick.”

I left there and went to the travel agent next door.
“Hi Randy.”
“Hi, Elaine. Tell me, did some fat British bastard just come in here and threaten you if you didn’t take one of those stupid candy machines?”
“He didn’t *threaten* me, but he was very aggressive. I just took it to get rid of him.”
“Could I maybe see it?”
“Yeah, I got it in the back. No way I’m letting that crap clutter up my office.”

She brought it out. There was a phone number on the side. I went back to my office and called.

“Hello, [name of charity]”
“Hi, could I speak to your manager, or whoever is in charge there?”
“May I ask why?”
“Yeah, one of your employees just burst into my office and personally threatened me, and I’d like…”
“Just a moment.”

Less than a minute later a guy came on the line.
“Hi, this is Jerry. What happened? My receptionist said someone threatened you?”
“Oh, not just me, he threatened my Fortune 500 company as well.”
“What?”
“Some British guy came in here not half an hour ago claiming to work for you – you know, now that I think about it, I have no way of knowing if he actually does or not, he didn’t provide any identification or anything…anyway he blustered in here, and when I explained that we couldn’t take his candy thing as a matter of national corporate policy, he went all freakin’ psycho. He said he was going on TV later today – are any of your people being interviewed on TV today?”
“No.”
“Good, I was actually a little worried about that. Anyway, he made an elaborate show of taking one of my business cards and read my name aloud and said he was going to specifically name me on TV for wanting sick kids to die…”
“He did WHAT?”
“Uh-huh. And he was going to badmouth the largest insurance company in America for a local agent refusing to take one of your little candy dealies.”
“Well, you don’t need to worry about that. There’s nobody going on TV today.
“Well, that’s a relief. So does this guy even work for you?”
“Well, he *did.*”
“What, you mean he used and now he’s gone all Colonel Kurtz, doing this as a scam?”
“No, I mean he’s fired. Like as of right now.”
“Oh. Wow. Do…uhm…do you even know who he is? Who I’m talking about?”
“There’s only one fat British guy working for us, and he’s really bad at his job.”
“Ok. Well, look, I don’t want anyone fired, I just want my business card back.”
“Why?”
“Because honestly I’m a little scared of the guy calling me up and threatening me in the middle of the night or whatever.”
“Yeah, see, if he’s threatening to get people fired and slandering huge national companies, and you’re *afraid* of him, then he really shouldn’t be representing us.”
“I can’t argue with that, but really I just want my card, and maybe an apology. Or just some kind of promise that he’s not going to jump out at me with a meat cleaver when I’m walking to my car.”
“I’ll get your card back, and if you ever see him again, just call the cops.”
“Yeah, ok, fine. Also, could you please send somebody by to pick up the dispenser from the travel agent next door? I’ll give you the address. She didn’t want it either, she just took it to get rid of him.”
“Oh, God, yeah. Sorry. I’ll send someone up right now. You know, I hope…”

Nick pounded on the wall.
“My lunch is ready, I gotta go.”
“Ok, I’m really sorry.”
“S’ok.”

Three days later I got an official envelope from [name of charity] in the mail, which only had my business card in it.

The weird thing is that I came out of that whole situation feeling guilty.

The Beautiful Farewell to Star Trek

You ever stumble across something really stupid that, nevertheless somehow manages to fill up a hole inside you that you never knew was there?
 
It’s no secret I don’t like Star Trek, and the reason is obviously that I loved it once, as a kid. I’ve considered all subsequent Treks to be disappointing or flat out awful, and I abandoned the franchise somewhere around 1993 or 4. I like amateur films and videos and things, so my only exposure to Trek in the 21st century was through Fan Films, which primarily had nostalgia value, and mostly suck. Eventually there were just too many of these, and they were all too awful, and I drifted away from them.
 
Fan Films have always been illegal (Copyright infringement) but generally not prosecuted. A year or so ago, Paramount decided to start enforcing their rights, and now they’re verbotten. Nobody’s making ’em anymore. Nor will they.
 
Now, the slickest bunch making ’em was a semi-pro outfit out of California called “Star Trek Continues.” Despite the actors not looking much like their TOS originals, and some occasionally dodgy production values, it *felt* like Trek. It was really good, but I lost interest. Over 5 years they made about 10 episodes. Their final episode was said to be the last one of the golden age of fan films, the last one anyone could get away with, which just squeaked by under the wire. I decided, ‘what the heck, I’ll give it a shot.’
 
Now, when I was 10, 11, 12, I adored Trek. Obviously I wanted more, but like everyone else of my generation I really wanted “Seasons 4 and 5” more than movies, or spinoffs or whatever, right? Even still, I long ago made peace with the fact that it wasn’t gonna happen. And love TOS like I did, even as a kid I was aware that it had a lot of problems. I wasn’t blind.
 
But you know what I wanted? The thing that was secretly buried in my heart all this time? A hole in me that I never even noticed was empty? To my surprise, it wasn’t *more* Trek, nor more TOS.
 
I wanted a conclusion.
 
I wanted a solid end to the original show. Not a reunion movie, or anything like that. I wanted the Final Voyage of the Starship Enterprise at the end of its Five Year Mission.
 
And I got it. Holy crap, did I get it!
 
“To Boldly Go…” is a two-part episode. Without spoiling it, the Enterprise’ mission is complete, and it’s heading back to earth when it gets called aside to investigate strange goings on. It bookends the entire series, revisiting some of the circumstances of the “Where No Man Has Gone Before…” and there’s an extended callback to “The Enterprise Incident” that works really well, but the story is all new. Those elements simply serve to bring things full circle, to give a very well-earned sense of completion.
 
The sets are flawless, as are the costumes, the script hits all the right ’60s beats (Though with some modern flourishes, and with some ’60s narrative flaws that I think have to be intentional), the soundtrack (Mostly culled from old episodes) is perfect. It is a bang-on production, and honestly I had no difficulty believing this was the final episode of TOS (Which presumably would have aired in the spring of 1971)
 
At some point, about a third of the way through, the continents shifted inside me and this stopped being a fan film, and *became* TOS. It wasn’t about nostalgia, it was about an end to the epic and the epoch that had been dangling and incomplete in my mind these last 40 years. I never noticed, presumably because shows didn’t have finales in those days. They just *stopped.*
 
This, though, more important than ‘more Trek,’ this was the conclusion I’d never known I was missing. At some point, perhaps halfway through, my ten-year-old self showed up, and we watched it together, me remembering what it was like to be that young, and the other me forgetting what it was like to have grown so crusty and cynical about something I’d once loved.
 
So we watched it, and neither of me can say whether it was really objectively all that good. Both of us thought it was, but both of us were far too close to it emotionally to really be sure. In a way it didn’t really matter if it was good or not (Though, again, I think it was very good), rather it was about fixing that leak inside me. It was about closing that door that had been banging in the wind all these decades, and doing it with a sense of contentment and finality.
 
The final scenes set up ST:TMP, but I don’t care about that kind of continuity. It’s well done, but I don’t need it. What I do need is Kirk, Spock, and McCoy standing alone, talking about what happens next.
 
What I needed was Kirk requesting a desk job because he can still see the faces, and remember the names of all 78 people who died while he was captain, and he just can’t throw people’s lives away like that.
 
What I needed was was Bones retiring because “I’ve seen too much death, and I haven’t seen my daughter in five years.”
 
What I needed was a heartbroken Spock retiring to Vulcan because he’s been tainted by human emotion to the point that he just can’t take it anymore.
 
What I needed was these three guys having been *changed* by their voyage, saying goodbye to the people they were when they started, and moving on to the next stages in their lives.
 
What I needed was them coming home. What I needed was me coming home.
 
Trek is done for me now. There is no more. It ended here, now, last night, on Youtube. None of the subsequent stuff exists. This is all I ever wanted without knowing it, all I never knew I needed. It’s done.
 
The episode ended, and rather than the usual music playing over the closing credits they just played the normal background bridge noises. Then that ended, too.
 
Then I sat there in the darkness, staring at the screen in bittersweet silence for a long time, feeling something I hadn’t felt in 30 years, and smiling all the way through, body, mind, and soul. 
 
And then the ten-year-old version of me got up, walked out of the house, and quietly closed and locked the door behind him.