WeekendCoffee Irony

coffeeshareIf we were having coffee today I’d be wondering about the little ironies of life.  If you’re like me you’re seeing reminisces about the forty-second anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death.  Forty-two years.  What’s the irony?  Elvis was forty-two when he died!

Note: if you are a die-hard Elvis fan you best move on to the next paragraph.  I was never one of his biggest fans during his life.  I appreciated his place in the history of American music, to be sure, and I even liked most of his movies.  But in his later years, he had become almost a caricature of himself.  It was no illusion, and later accounts of his life support that notion.  At the time, most people I knew pretty much considered him as almost a joke and we were not far off the mark. He was sheltered, pampered, catered to, all while he was pretty much sewing the seeds of his own destruction.  He still managed to put on a hell of a show though, but let’s face it, the information age would have totally destroyed him.

Actually, I’m gratified that his image was rehabilitated … it survives now, after 42 more years.  If he had lingered around with the same excesses and abuses for another ten or fifteen years, I doubt his image would have survived as long as it has.  Hopefully, he would have rehabbed but it doesn’t sound like his cadre of enablers was ever going to let that happen. I won’t say that death was a good career move for him, but, well … forty-two years later Elvis is certainly not a joke.

Life is full of these little markers.  On my forty-second birthday, I happened to go to the grocery store and noticed one of those little “buy alcohol” signs with the year of birth on it.  I realized that day that it had been twenty-one years since I turned twenty-one!  I think that was the first time the concept of old-age seemed to dawn on me as a creeping glacier of inevitability.

What sort of life-markers do you like to note?

So, kudos to you, Elvis.  You did all right, buddy.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.  The release date of his latest novel, Lucky Strike is inevitably creeping closer … look for it sometime next month!

More info on this novel and my others at http://thefensk.com

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Tang It …

apollo11Okay, I decided to share something I posted on Facebook because, well, the teaming millions have to know. Even those who lived through the event will remember what I am sharing.

The one thing missing in all the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing broadcasts is the ever-present TANG commercial.  As part of the news coverage of every space flight I can remember, there were always TANG commercials.  Always.  They probably lined up these slots years in advance … I’m sure they were as big for them as Super Bowl commercials are for everybody else.

Ah, but younger folks might not even know what Tang is — and yes, it does still exist. It’s a powdered breakfast drink, generally orange-flavored (although I think they eventually expanded the line). Well, orange-flavored is a bit of an exaggeration … it was more a sort of semi-orange-flavor.

They used to advertise it as “what the astronauts drink” … It came in a jar like instant tea or instant coffee. If you believed the commercials, this product was the apex of American civilization in the 1960s. The moon landing was second, of course, because they obviously couldn’t have made it to the moon without Tang, right?

I seem to recall one of the astronauts, Frank Borman I think, saying ‘do you really drink Tang’ was one of the most asked questions of them. The second most asked question was probably ‘how do you go to the bathroom’ … really a related question I guess.

Although for all of us it was indelibly linked to the entire space program, it was totally skipped in all of the hoopla over the anniversary of the landing.
Sample commercial:

WeekendCoffee Buzz … and Neil!

apollo11If we were having coffee today I’d be pretty vocal about recognizing the fiftieth anniversary of the first lunar landing. I have privately noted the date every year since then.  It is hard to believe it has been fifty years because  I remember the events of Apollo 11 quite vividly.

In fact, I have followed the space program closely since the first flight of Alan Shepherd.  My fourth-grade teacher, Miss McGrath, dated some guy who worked for NASA (I grew up in Houston so he was part of the fledgling Manned Spacecraft Center) and he came in and got us all fired up about the whole thing.  We watched the entire flight of John Glenn on TV in school!  Big deal, you younger folks might think, but in 1962 it was indeed a big deal!

Even from the first days there were complaints about the spending of money on this entire effort.  These complaints continue today.  Improve things on earth first, they say.  I say, look around.  Chances are you’re reading this on a computer or better yet, a tablet or smartphone, based on information that was transmitted over the internet by wire or by wireless communication.  These weren’t just natural progressions in technology.

Look at the 20th Century:  most “advances” were slow, almost cosmetic, and this continued up through the 1960s.  It was after the space program that things really took off.  This is because of the huge investment in technology, which created new industries, and a lot of jobs, along with a lot of new ideas solving problems that people hadn’t even considered before.  This served to make people more interested in pursuing educational goals to advance various fields of engineering, that is, as opposed to more traditional trade pursuits.

All of us have been affected by the amazing advances in electronics, medicine, engineering, metallurgy, chemistry, manufacturing, robotics, heck, I’m running out of fields but there are more — I just can’t remember them all — you can trace all these things back to the initial investments in the lunar landing project.  It wasn’t just an investment in achieving a singular technological triumph, it was an investment in all of us that continues to enrich our lives to this day.  Maybe these things would have eventually happened, but I assure you the progress would have happened at a snail’s pace compared to the way it worked out.

You want a really good example? In May 1977 we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic.  Think about that.  Yes, air travel had advanced, mostly due to wartime necessity, but that’s pretty much it.  Television?  It existed in concept at the time of Lindbergh but wasn’t even crudely available for another twenty years.  When did things really start to take off?

To the deniers, I have to ask, where is the motivation for such a conspiracy — one that would involve hundreds of thousands of people?  The money?  It really wasn’t that much in comparison to the rest of the Federal budget … remember it was funded piecemeal over a period of years.  It still is.  The thing I hate about the deniers is this: at the core of their denial is that they deny humans are even capable of doing something like this.

Here are some common claims.  No stars in the pictures.  It’s daytime!  There is no atmosphere and no ocean to reflect blue, but it’s daytime and it’s really bright and the cameras must be f-stopped really tight.  I’ll tell you this, if there were stars in the pictures, that would be proof of a fake.  The flag?  It had a spring to make it unfurl.  Hanging limp would have looked really lame.  We weren’t entirely without class in the sixties. The danger of the Van Allen Radiation Belts?  It’s a phenomenon. Really, there’s much more danger from solar wind (which is where the radiation in the belts comes from).  We know about these things … there is layered shielding.  Most of the time you get more radiation from the electric burner on your stove. I saw some guy post once about “how did they take off from the moon without an engine?” … where did he get that?  Of course there was an engine.  Lordy.

In my opinion, two events precipitated these conspiracy theories, both of them were movies.  Star Wars and Capricorn One.  Capricorn One came after Star Wars … it was about a similar sort of conspiracy but involving a Mars landing.  Pretty low budget and forgettable movie but some people didn’t forget and it cemented the merest idea of a conspiracy in their minds.  The other, Star Wars, heralded a technological leap in movie special effects that continues to this day.  Note: before Star Wars, space special effects were pretty darn awful.  You have to think about this in context.  I think a lot of deniers consider the issue through the post-Star Wars special effects revolution, not before.

Yes, people have died.  Space has always been a dangerous endeavor.  So is the freeway and air travel. In times past, people would go off on ocean voyages and disappear without a trace.  Did they stop sailing the ocean? Nope, they built newer and better ships.

You might note that I used Buzz Aldrin’s name first in my title … that was both for aesthetics as well as to give Buzz a big shout out.  We all remember Neil Armstrong first and foremost; he stepped out first, after all.  But you know what?  They landed together; they were a team, and I think they thought of themselves as a team of three.  Success depended on all three of them … including Mike Collins, the man in the tin can up above.  So to all of you, Buzz, Mike, and Neil … thank you for helping us realize what is no doubt the most awesome technological event yet created by our species.  Think of it, yeah, America did this, but more than that … humans did this!  Let’s go back!

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC … find more information about him and his writing at http://thefensk.com
NEWS!  His companion cookbook, The Mossback Cafe Cookbook, is now FREE on Amazon!  Take a look >>> HERE

The story of Oso

osoMy daughter started a new job in a new career yesterday. We were close to her new office after a doctor’s appointment so we offered to meet her and treat her to a celebratory dinner.  My wife rode with her on the way back and they were following me on our way home, about 25 miles to the west.

A few miles down busy Interstate 85 I saw something in the road. I had a lot of glare on my dirty windshield, not an ideal situation in the late afternoon driving west, but I soon focused on the object. It was a dog standing in the middle of the lane.  A car was parked nearby and a woman seemed to be chasing the dog.  I managed to change lanes but was concerned about traffic, speed, and my followers so I continued on.  I reasoned that it was likely the woman’s dog and she’d get him.

Okay, I didn’t have the best reaction.  But in a few moments, I realized I didn’t see my daughter’s car behind me anymore.  I called both her and my wife.  No answer.  I was concerned that maybe they had hit the little dog.  The bad thing about the Interstate highway is that there is no easy way to return. Finally, my wife called me back.  They had stopped.

The woman I saw had, in fact, coaxed the dog out of the roadway and was holding it, but she lamented to them that she was just passing through and didn’t know what to do with him.

“That’s okay,” my daughter told her. “We’ll take him.”

He turned out to be a scared, but very sweet, Rat Terrier.  He had no collar so they stopped on the way home and bought one.  I had already started scouting out the local “lost and found pet” Facebook pages after I got home.  I was just waiting for him to get to the house so I could snap a picture.

He was found about twenty miles from our house, along the county line between Orange County and Durham County.  We live in Orange County but along the opposite county line. There is a lot of cross-county interaction; many people commute to Chapel Hill and Durham (and even Raleigh), so I knew it would be better if I could cast a wide net.  There are local Facebook pages for our town and for Orange county, so I started there.  The county to the west, Alamance, has a lost and found pet page, I posted there too. Orange County has a lost and found pet page as well, so I posted there.  I had to join and wait for approval at both of those last two.  I knew there were two motels within a mile of the spot where he had been picked up, so I called and left my number, in case any guest reported a missing dog.

Okay, I felt guilty that I didn’t stop, but now I was doing what I do best:  I was writing and using the heck out of Facebook.  I had also taken a few minutes to get to know this little guy.  We kept him isolated from our dog and cats, which I knew was important from some past experience in taking in other strays.  He really was a sweetheart but we didn’t know his health history. In the case of a stray, you really should observe the new animal for a few days.  We likely had nothing to worry about, this dog was clean and well-groomed. His claws were impeccably trimmed and polished.  I decided to check something else.

oso2“Sit!” … he sat and lowered his ears and looked soulfully up at me.  Yeah, this was somebody’s love bug.

I kept checking the posts.  In minutes there were already leads.  The shares continued.  He got to the house at about 8PM.  At about 11 I got a call.  It was a woman whose neighbor had seen the pictures on one of the Facebook shares.  After a brief exchange, I was pretty sure this was legit.

I told her I could bring him by in the morning.  No way, she said, she was getting him right away!  She said his name was Oso.  I had taken to calling him Roadie, because he had been in the middle of the road when I first saw him.

Of course, I wanted some verification.  As a first step, I went up and called him by name.

“Oso!”

His ears perked up in recognition, sort of like, “he knows my name!”  He ran to me and immediately rolled over.  Okay, step 1 complete.

The lady brought a folder with all the papers to verify.  She also showed me pictures on her phone … perhaps hundreds of photos of him.  Yeah, I was convinced.  He also obviously missed his Mommie very much … there was no questioning his own recognition of her.

So yes, I felt guilty I didn’t stop.  But like I said, I had a good backup.  And I knew how to use my strengths to help make things right.  Pets get away sometimes, no matter what you do.  He’s just a sweet and very much loved pup who managed to rush out the door.  My dog does that every now and then.  She’s a beagle mix who lets her beagleness overtake her desire to be an obedient dog on occasion.  It happens.

I have a confession: we really liked him and almost hoped he wouldn’t be reunited.  One wonders how people choose not to return found pets, but I can see how the temptation might be strong.  One owes it to these much-loved pets to fight that temptation and find their owners!

Anyway, Oso’s adventure had a happy ending.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. More information on his work can be found at http://thefensk.com

WeekendCoffee Punctuation

coffeeshareIf we were having coffee today, I’d be in a tizzy about punctuation. Not just any punctuation, mind you, but specifically colons and periods.

I keep getting zinged by editors on my enormously bad habit of spacing twice after colons and periods. I am currently using great effort to force myself to space singly right now as I complete every sentence.

The habit dates me. I learned to type on a typewriter. It was a standard rule I was taught. TWO spaces after colons and periods. TWO. If not, you’d get that big ruler smacked across your knuckles. I told you, it was a long time ago.

Somewhere along the line, as word processors came into being, the rule changed to a single space. I believe very large numbers of us didn’t get the memo.

It is a habit that is almost as hard to quit as smoking. It’s automatic, especially when I am on a two-thousand-word writing spree.

How many of you still double space after colons and periods?

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. You can buy his books on Amazon. Handy links are available here: http://thefensk.com

His second novel, A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP is on sale through June 2 at Amazon, the ebook is only 99 cents.

 

It Might Curry Your Flavor

coffeeshareIf we were having coffee today I’d be skipping the sweet roll. Can’t do it, I’d say.  A1C is too high, the doctor said the last time I was in there and he mentioned the dreaded D-word.  I was ticked off.  I admit it.  No, I wasn’t ticked off at him. I wasn’t ticked off at fate or at life. No, I was ticked off at ME!  I knew better.

I’m being a good boy. My glucose numbers are stellar. I’m dealing with the random sweets part of this much the same way I dealt with drinking when I realized that was a deep dark hole I didn’t want to go farther down. I’m changing.  This is harder.  There are only two liquor stores here, but there are three donut shops.

I’m watching carbs.  I “did” Atkins a number of years ago so I have a good handle on the relative carb counts of food.  That is a big part of this.  I’m also exercising.  Regarding foods, it is easier than Atkins. I can have that occasional biscuit as long as I work it into my overall meal carb count.  Same with tortillas.  That covers at least two of my major food groups.

I’m still playing with a few things.  Like, take spaghetti squash. Some people tout it as a replacement for pasta.  I like it as a vegetable but I never much liked it with Marinara sauce. Ah, but I was hungry for Chicken Curry one day and wondered about making some rice, my usual accompaniment. I can eat rice in small quantities.   But sometimes it doesn’t fit in with other things I might have eaten that day. At the store, I saw some spaghetti squash and I wondered, “what if?”

I’m here to tell you today that curried chicken over spaghetti squash is a revelation! The slight sweetness in the taste is a perfect accompaniment to a spiced curry sauce.  Who knew?  I also found something else.  It seems to actually lower my glucose.  Anecdotal evidence, sure, but I’ve noticed it every time I’ve tried it. This combination is definitely in the mix now, an accident like my sweet potato secret. Ah, but you have to get my cookbook to get that.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.

For more information:  http://thefensk.com

 

Got It Covered

coffeeshareIf we were having coffee today one of the first things I’d want to do is show you the new cover from my latest novel.  Cover art is always a bit of a challenge because I am not artistically inclined in that way.

At 66 years old I am still pretty much at the stick figure stage.  And they aren’t particularly good stick figures either.  But I have ideas, and I shared a few of my ideas with my publisher’s graphic artist and she did a pretty good rendering of them.  So here it is for everybody in the coffee shop to see:

LuckyStrike-WEB

The book will be published this coming October and is the third in a series of following the adventures of Sam and Smidgeon, who are on the trail of a different kind of treasure this time. As the cover hints, there are long road trips involved and more than once, Smidgeon, the heroine of the book, strikes a very similar pose.

Well, to be honest, they aren’t at all sure what’s going on. It’s a mystery from start to end with a pretty good villain if I say so myself but unlike some mysteries, the reader knows more about it than the characters. Still, I’ve saved a few surprises for the ending.  It has many of the elements of the previous books, including tiebacks to my cookbook, The Mossback Cafe Cookbook, and the first two books in the series. Ah, but I have (hopefully) added enough exposition so the casual reader is not totally lost if they happen to read this first.

I even threw in a couple of cameos.  One of my favorite writers is Ernie Pyle.  He was a remarkable writer, best known as a war correspondent in WWII who eventually died in combat on Okinawa. In reading one of the book compilations of his articles, I noted a man by the name of Elkins he came across in both North Africa and Italy. Pyle was always quick to give home town information of anyone he wrote about and Major Elkins was a college professor from College Station Texas.  He actually called Major Elkins “his friend” on both occasions.  It was not a term he freely used. When I read that, I started wondering.  Years ago back in Texas, I worked very closely with a woman, whose married name was Elkins. I recalled her husband had grown up in College Station as the son of a professor.  I asked her about it.

“Oh, yes,” she said, “That’s Bob’s dad! Bob still has letters Ernie Pyle wrote to him.”

Small world.  So, I wove this coincidence into the start of this book, a bit of an introductory vignette you might say, and Major Elkins is a part of that bit of storyline.

We novelists, if we are lucky, also employ the use of something we call beta readers.  We’ll share our almost completed manuscripts in the hope for an honest assessment of the story. It is part of a working process to make for a better manuscript. I’m hoping for comments on readability and possible logical errors in the story. One caught a discrepancy in a small detail linking back to book 2. It had no bearing on the story, but I like the little details to be accurate so I was glad to be able to correct it.

Anyway, one of these readers wrote back and commented that she had once lived in one of the small West Texas towns I mention in the story.  I got a few more details from her about it and she hadn’t put it together that this part of her life almost exactly paralleled the timeline of the story.  Well, I couldn’t let something like that pass.  I wrote her into one scene, a true cameo, but it also served to add a little more insight into one of the characters.

If writing wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t do it.  Anyway, enjoy your coffee.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. Information on his work, including the upcoming Lucky Strike, can be found at http://thefensk.com
I’m posting hints from time to time on my FaceBook author page too, so please click that link and follow me.

Ides of February

coffeeshareIf we were having coffee today I’d probably be mentioning book news.  Well, there isn’t too much news.  I’m hammering away at the fourth revision of my next novel.  Pretty sure I got away with three on my last novel. But this time, I just wasn’t sure so I’m making another pass.

I use a technique called fast writing. By concentrating on word count, one chips away at the plot until an entire story develops.  I find it quite creative as your mind is consumed with ways to keep moving forward.  The traditional thought of writing, to slowly craft as one goes along has one drawback. If the writer sees something shiny, they stop. Sometimes for hours. Sometimes for days. Sometimes for weeks.  Sometimes forever.

Fast writing starts a self-induced competition against time.  In National Novel Writing Month the timeline is thirty days.  Fifty-thousand words in thirty days.  It’s doable.  And like I said, it is very creative. Ideas pop into your head.  But I admit: the process is dirty.  The first revision is primarily concerned with scraping and scrubbing and applying a lot of elbow grease to the words from the first draft.  Quite a bit gets scrapped. And then there are the additions.  The first draft often hits the high points.  The second draft is the time to flesh out the characters, to delve into descriptive paragraphs illustrating the highs and lows of the lives you have created.

My novel was in pretty good shape after the second draft. I did another revision pass and sent it to some honest readers whose opinions I trust.   But it is a third installment sequel of a series.  I like to think each book in my series should be able to mostly stand on their own.  But a lot had happened in the two other books.  And like life, the characters’ lives have been affected by those circumstances.  So most of my early readers thought it needed more exposition. This is where I am now.  It’s not hard to bring in exposition, I crafted a literary device to help, but I also have to tweak here and there to make sure it all fits together.

Revision is hard work; I find it much harder than the fast-written first draft.  The only thing harder is marketing.  I’ve mentioned marketing before: it kicks most authors in the ass. Yes, me too.  I hope to submit this manuscript for publication very soon; I’ll keep you posted.

Speaking of marketing: when I cobbled together a small companion cookbook a couple of years back, I threw together a cover. I liked it okay. I’m no graphic artist.  But through time I was more and more unsatisfied with it.  Revision is so tedious, one must take a break every now and then (weekend coffee share qualifies!), so I decided to play around with a new cover design.  For one thing, my old cover was too wordy. This one is similar but much simpler.  I love it. Go check it out!

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Thomas Fenske is an author living in North Carolina.  You can check out his current works (including the cookbook) at http://thefensk.com

 

#WeekendCoffeeShare #NoScam

coffeeshareIf we were having coffee today I’d be inclined to warn you about a new telephone scam that is making the rounds.  This one is designed to prey upon helpless old people.  They hope.  It centers on the “new” Medicare card. I must be on some heavy hitters list because I get calls for this one almost every day.

I generally try to be polite on the phone.  Even with telemarketers and scammers.  This one is obviously a scam because it starts out by asking if the one has received the new Medicare card.  They will then explain that they are here to help you to activate the new card.  Since I only recently joined Medicare I knew this was bogus.  It told me immediately they wanted to use this ruse to get unsuspecting people to divulge their Social Security Numbers.  In some cases, they want to charge a fee to help you activate your new card, which was already activated the moment you received it.

Sigh.  I started out telling them I wasn’t interested in whatever they wanted to offer me.  They try to scare you by telling you, through their heavy accents, that they ARE Medicare.  Medicare doesn’t initiate any kind of call.  I generally ask to be taken off the list.  One woman told me that she could not take me off the list until I answered all of her questions.  I told her I was reporting them to the FCC (useless since the phone number is spoofed–not valid) and she responded by chanting “bless this call, bless this call, bless this call, bless this call” … I just hung up.

So the next day I got ANOTHER call.  They have a lot of information, name address, obviously phone number.  Affirm NOTHING!  On this latest call, when the guy asked if I received the new card I answered “No. I’m not on Medicare.”

Obviously, his script had some component for that answer and he started, “Okay …” but before he could continue I just went off on him.

“I don’t have Medicare or Social Security. I don’t pay taxes and I don’t have anything to do with the United States Government whatsoever …” I was just rattling off anything I could think of.  I hesitated, and the line was silent for a long interval, and he said, “Uhhhh,” and hung up.

I’m tired of not being able to answer my phone.  I’m taking it back and proceeding to have a bit of fun in the process.  I know someone who just puts it down on the table and walks away and comes back later and hangs it up.  I know someone else who blasts a loud air horn.  I think I’ll stick with crazy.  Nice but crazy.  They want to mail you a packet? Say you don’t get mail anymore, that you opted out.  No Social Security, no Medicare, no Credit Cards, no Banks.  Money?  You don’t use it, never have.  You don’t even know whose phone this is … You don’t even know where you are.

Be alert and aware and let’s take our phones back.
Uh, since I don’t use money, could you pay?

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Thomas Fenske is an author living in North Carolina. You can get more information on his books at http://thefensk.com./main.html