Short Story: There’s a Hole

There’s a hole in the swamp where you can toss anything and it’s gone forever. Most people know about it and have used it one time or another. It’s behind Clarke’s Bait Shop on the levee road right before you get to the turnoff for LA 96. You’ve been there. We used to go as kids.

Behind Clarke’s the ground slopes down into the swamp and the soil begins to turn to mud. That’s where the hole is, about 15 feet in diameter, near the water. Even on a sunny day if you look into it there’s nothing but blackness – as black as you can imagine. Blacker than black. We used to throw rocks into the pit and listen. We never did hear them hit the bottom.

A while back they say Martin Theriot threw his wife down there. She went missing. Never was found. Some say she moved in with her mother in Shreveport, but no one’s seen her, even Dr. Kyle who goes to Shreveport on the regular. He said he even knocked on her mother’s door once and no one answered. She’s in that pit – in that hole. Still never hit the bottom, I’d bet.

But mostly people throw trash in there. The dump only takes construction waste and no one wants you dumping trash on their property. They used to do that in the old days, before they found the hole, I think. I don’t know. Maybe it’s been there forever. Anyhow things like paint buckets and big pieces of furniture and mattresses are a pain to leave out for the trash trucks. You’ve got to put them out on certain days and who can keep track of which day. If you miss it you’ve got a mattress sitting out in front of your house, junking up the curb, probably getting wet. It’s a lot easier to just toss those things in the hole.

Or at least it was. Last weekend Joel Lang was walking the levee with his dog. I don’t know what happened – a squirrel or something caught the dog’s attention and next thing you know it’s down the hole. Joel just moved here last year. He doesn’t know anything so he called to the dog. He got some treats and hung over the edge. Next thing you know there goes Joel.

Now they’ve put up barricades all over behind Clarke’s Bait Shop. No one can get near it. There’s a backhoe and some other equipment. All week they’ve been trying to fill the hole in but of course the dirt goes in and it’s gone forever. I heard the plan now is to put plywood sheets on top then cover those with two feet of dirt. That way no one can fall in. Of course if you need to get rid of anything you’ll be out of luck. The trash trucks come on Monday but next week is a holiday. Anything you put out is gonna be there a while. 

Short Story: My Father’s Face

When my father was dying of cancer, he told me he was at peace with it. He sat most days in the sunroom, surrounded by his books and plants. He said at age 84, he’d seen enough – not that he was satisfied, but it was enough. It wasn’t enough for me.

I went to see the Rabbi because I had an idea. We’d always been told the library under the synagogue held many old texts. Books about anything you could imagine. Secrets. Old secrets. I asked the Rabbi if anyone had searched the texts for cures. Of course they had, he said, but I was welcome to go see for myself. He was humoring me. I knew it, but I didn’t care, so I went down the dusty stairs and looked.

It wasn’t a library so much as a storeroom. It took up the entire basement beneath the synagogue chambers – the main worship room and all the side vestibules – everything. Books were over-stacked on shelves, piled onto large tables and piled underneath too. If there was a system of organization, it had been long abandoned. There was no order, only books, which made it even more exciting. Anything was possible.

I looked around for medical texts, religious texts, anything that caught my eye. I found a few that looked interesting. I carved out a small space where I could sit and thumb through them but on that first night I didn’t find anything.

When I got home my father was still in the sunroom, staring at the stars. It was a cold night, but it was clear and you could see the tip of the Milky Way.

“What were you doing so late?”



“I was looking for a cure for you, in the sacred texts. I was at the synagogue.”

He smiled. He was always happy when I went to the temple for any reason. He didn’t seem to mind it was on a fool’s errand. He seemed agnostic toward my reasons. He put his hand on mine and looked back to the sky. I looked too. It was obvious that’s what he wanted.

The next few evenings I went back to the library and on the fifth night I found something. It wasn’t a book but a door. It was hidden behind stacks of books which I’d cleared in a half-hearted attempt to organize those I’d already inspected. I pushed the door open and a stairway led down, into darkness. Of course I went down those steps! If a secret stairwell in a dusty library under a synagogue doesn’t beckon you then you’re probably not worth saving.

After some time there was a light and I followed it down a narrow hallway to a small room. A candle was burning and there was a stone pedestal. There were books all around but there was one sitting open on the stand. It was a medical journal. It took some time but I found the cure for the kind of cancer my father had. It was his pancreas, if I didn’t mention it already. I ran out, excited but also dubious. What were the chances that I would find my answer – and so soon?

Unfortunately, the M7 bus waits for no news. I’d missed the last of the night and it was over 30 blocks home now. I could cut over to the subway but despite the cold I decided to hoof it. When I got home my father was asleep.

The next morning I found him in his sunroom. I told him I’d found a cure but he didn’t seem to care. His alocasias needed water. After lunch I went to him again but this time he was napping. The afternoon sun lit the side of his face. White stubble was there if you looked close, but from the doorway he looked young. I remember when my mother was still alive, not that long ago. When the sun hit the room like this they’d dance in it. Then my father would threaten to put on a record and my mother would shoo him away. It was like that with those two. Now my father lay still. I’d try him again, but for now I’d let him sleep. What was the hurry?

The Patriots: A Dungeon Crawl set after the American Revolution

In the midst of the American Revolutionary War, as George Washington and his men sought refuge from the British in the wilds of the Allegeny Mountains, they began to hear stories of an ancient underground city. Built by the ancestors of the Susquehannock, Shawnee, and Iroquois, this network of chambers was once populated by tens of thousands of native people until they were run out by “the sickness of the land.”

Desperate for supplies and any advantage, Washington detached a contingent of men, along with their Indian guides, to find an entrance to this underground network. Only one man returned, reporting “the depths of those dark chambers were filled with nothing but witchery, and the monsters and demons of ancient evil.” In 1790, Washington, now the first president of the United States, was once again desperate for resources, this time to run his fledgling American government. In a letter to Ben Franklin, Washington wrote “I do not know what riches we may find in those primeval depths, but we cannot build this nation until we have cleared these lands of danger. The foundation must hold.” Washington assembled an eclectic group of soldiers and mystics to once again locate and explore this underground network, rid it of any dangers to the Republic, retrieve valuable items, and seal the place up forever.

What they found was both surprising and more deadly than anyone had imagined.

Dial of Destiny Fails to Turn Back the Clock

The latest and presumably last installment of the Indiana Jones franchise came out this summer. Based on previews and the early press, Dial of Destiny did not seem worthy of $15 and an afternoon at the theater during an otherwise busy summer. Now that I’ve watched the movie via Disney+, that assessment has proven accurate.

The unfortunate reality is that 80-year-old Harrison Ford is a shell of the Indiana Jones we all remember. While Dial of Destiny contains a fun mystery and some entertaining action scenes, it is largely forgettable. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is excellent as Jones’ god-daughter, Helena, but ironically, the energy and vitality she brings to her part only highlights Ford’s own slow and grump-filled performance.

Some of this, of course, is on purpose. Ford wanted to bring closure to his character and this is where he and the screenwriters envisioned Jones by the 1960s: tired, retired, washed up and washing down his contempt for the era with booze. This nicely sets-up the “one last ride” undercurrent of the film, along with a subtle redemption arc and well-earned finale with the love of his life, Marion. Still, I’m confident most Indiana Jones fans were happy remembering the beloved character as he was in the first three films: strong, resourceful, quick-witted and full of hope.

This classic version of Indiana Jones is who we see in the first twenty minutes of the film, as modern CGI is able to de-age Ford during an action-packed flashback. Parts of this sequence are excellent and beautifully executed, tricking viewers’ brains into believing we’re watching new footage of 80s and 90s-era Jones. But then the character speaks in Ford’s gravelly, modern-day voice and the illusion is lost. While many aging actors still possess their iconic voices, Ford does not. Continuing the uneasy effect, many scenes look like a video game cut scenes rather than film. Director James Mangold shrouds the sequences in a vignette, denoting a dream-like quality, but it’s not enough. We know we’re watching a fake, and by the end you wonder how some of the scenes made it into a $300 million movie.

So this is a swan song for Indiana Jones. This installments’ McGuffin, a thousand-year-old dial which tracks rifts in time, coupled with de-aging CGI, would seemingly give the filmmakers license to revisit the previous four films, to fill some gaps in Jones’ checkered past, or to relive old glories. Alas, all of that was too ambitious for this film.

There is no clever time paradox, either. If time-travel is possible, you’d think, so are many ingenious twists and turns. The main villain, Nazi scientist Jürgen Voller, is killed in an overly graphic manner during the film’s opening scenes. His return in the 1960s raises many questions. It turns out, he simply survived. Ho hum. The film’s closing act, when the Dial is finally activated, does contain a modest twist, but for the most part the Dial was truly a McGuffin all along. Its time-tracking abilities and their effects on the plot are minimal.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is an uneven film filled with many dubious choices by the filmmakers. Perhaps this is to be expected from a movie first hatched by George Lucas in 2008 before being passed along to a litany of writers and directors until its production could wait on Ford no longer. The film had to be made and it was. In this finale, Indiana Jones has his last adventure before settling down in Harlem with Marion and their friends. I suppose it is the ending he deserves, if there had to be one at all.

How to buy a Camping Tent

My friends and acquaintances all know I’m a camping guy – the guy to ask if you’ve got a camping question. The number one query I get is “What kind of tent should I buy?” This question generally comes from dads and moms who haven’t done a lot of camping but now their kids are in scouts and they have to figure out something because the outing is in two weeks.

I always tell them I have a ton of tents and they can borrow one of mine. But it’s nice to have your own tent, and honestly they’re pretty cheap. One of my favorite tents is a $25 one-man backpacking tent I got on the clearance rack at Academy. It packs down to nothing and has so far proven to be indestructible.

How many people are going camping?
This is the first question. Is your spouse going? How many kids do you have (and how old are they)? In other words, how many bodies will be sleeping in this thing and how big are those bodies? As a general rule you want to take the number of people, add one and that’s the size tent you need. So, for 3 people get a 4-man tent. You can cheat a little with small kids. For example, if it’s just you and two kids under 8, you can get by with a 3-man tent.

What features should I look for?
Your tent needs a bottom, first of all. That may seem obvious but I’ve been asked. The best tents have a thick, tarp-like bottom that extends up several inches. This is to keep water out. I’ve also been asked if you should set-up a tarp underneath your tent. I say no, especially if you already have a tent as I’ve described. Get a dome tent. They’ll have open netting at the top which is nice for warmer weather and a rain fly – basically a rain cover you attach in case of bad weather. These rain flies may not look like much but the good ones work well. May I present to you, my tent, the Coleman Sundome 4-man tent:

The Coleman SunDome: A good, basic 4-man tent for $80.

I Don’t Know How to Set a Tent Up
I get this a lot. “Can you show me how to set it up?” Nowadays, setting these things up is super-easy. For my Coleman, you lay it out and put stakes in the four corners, then you put together two tent poles and push them through loops in the top to make an X. Lastly, you push the tent poles up to make the two support archs you see in the pic, clicking the ends of the poles into little doodads in the corners. That’s it. I do suggest you set it up once at home. That way, when you set it up in the woods, in the dark, you’ll have already done it once.

What Not to Do
Don’t buy one of those quick “pop-up” tents unless it’s for just you. They’re small, usually only big enough for one medium-sized person. If you do get one, try it out before you get into the woods. Don’t overpay for a tent. I know it’s tempting to get a $400 North Face 4-season tent, but unless you’re camping every weekend in Alaska it’s probably overkill. Finally, don’t get too big of a tent. I see this a lot. It’s you and one kid in a 6-man mess tent. Who doesn’t love more space? The problem is that the tent will be harder to set-up and tear down, and take up more room at the campsite and in your car when packed up.

Final Words
When you go camping, you need to be able to get a decent night’s sleep. In addition to your brand-new tent, you’ll also want a blow-up mattress, either with a battery or foot pump, and ample pillows and blankets (or sleeping-bags). If it’s your first time, or your kids’ first time, set the tent up in your yard and let them play in it for few days. You can even do a test night sleeping in the tent in the yard, where you can bail out and get back in your bed if needed. All these things will increase your chance for everyone to get a good night’s sleep that first time in the woods.

A Better Book of Boba Fett

Andor is the latest Star Wars series. The first three episodes came out this week and the show looks incredible so far. As I understand it, each three-episode arch will get a new director. I’m hoping that’s a good thing. The last two series, Obi-Wan and The Book of Boba Fett were extremely uneven. The Boba Fett series in particular had some great writing and some bad writing, mixed in with uneven acting, directing and tone. Because it was such a missed opportunity, I’ve been thinking about how it could have been better.

The Problems
What were the biggest issues with The Book of Boba Fett? The first is that fans wanted to see Boba Fett kicking butt, but the show is set in the Mandalorian time-period, five years after Return of the Jedi when an older, wiser and sarlaac-pit scarred Boba Fett is attempting to build a crime syndicate. Boba seems ridiculously out-numbered. His crew is in the single-digits until late in the series when he recruits a town of reinforcements. The scale always seems off. Lastly, the look and tone don’t match the plot. Any story about a crime syndicate begs for dark, late-night encounters but this series takes place almost exclusively during the day. Instead of scenes filled with the strain and emotion of hard choices, most scenes play out as ho-hum comic book panels where the characters don’t make things happen, they just bounce to the next page.

Fix Number One: Three Stories
One thing the series does well is to tell two stories: the story of the crime syndicate and the story of Boba Fett’s recovery and rehabilitation among the Tuskan Raiders, which we see in flashbacks when he’s resting in his bacta tank. The Sand People segment is both well-written and touching and shows us the reasons that Boba Fett has become kinder, gentler scum. Or has he?

My fix: weave three stories instead of two. Obviously, you can cut the inexplicable Mando-only episodes out of the middle of the series to save run-time. The third story, which we’d also see in flashbacks while in the bacta tank would be of a bounty hunter mission from Boba’s past. Presumably it’s a mission that goes terribly wrong. He’d display the cunning badass persona he’s famous for, as well as total ruthlessness. This would contrast with the Sand People storyline of redemption. The question going into the final series climax would be this: Can a man like Boba Fett really change or will the pressure of his predicament push him back to his ruthless ways?

Fix Number Two: The Crime Syndicate Story
The “present day” story is a mess. Characters are introduced but never developed and Boba never seems to have an adequate crew or plan. I’d restructure it as a series of problems and solutions. Each time, his reward is more allies. First, he negotiates with the Hutt Twins, then he manages to win over the Trandoshans. The whole time it’s clear his chief rival is Shaiz but we also learn the Pykes are coming. A storm is brewing and he’s out-manned. His next hurdle is winning over the Wookiee bounty hunter Krrsantan. It’s a big win, but when he tries to recruit Cobb Vanth’s town we see that the Pykes have recruited Cad Bane. Checkmate. Only as a showdown becomes inevitable does Boba Fett turn to his ace-in-the-hole, the Mandalorian. There’s a big fight of course, with different factions facing off, but Boba eventually triumphs. Shaiz is defeated and at his mercy. The question is whether Boba will delivery vigilante vengeance or true justice. Has he really changed?

Fix Number Three: Less Phantom Menace, more Rogue One
As I mentioned earlier, the bright, comic book look and tone of this series doesn’t match up with the expectations of a show about an infamous bounty hunter forming a crime syndicate. Read that description again and tell me if you see sunshiny days and smirking faces. With the introduction of the bounty hunter mission storyline, which could take place in dark city streets somewhere, the tone of the series immediately gets better. Add in some Mos Espa night scenes where bad things happen. Throw in a lightning storm. The day scenes work better as slow-burning suspense if we know that each night there will be a reckoning.

Overall, Boba Fett was both fun to watch and full of problems. Star Wars fans can be a tough crowd, but that doesn’t excuse lazy writing and uneven craftmanship. The Book of Boba Fett was a missed opportunity, but based on the first three episodes, Andor looks like a smash hit.

Playing with AI Drawing Bots

I’ve been playing with the Midjourney AI Drawing Bot a lot this week. You access it by joining a Discord Server and entering commands, such as /imagine Cartoon Character Bulky Fantasy Knight.

I showed the bot to my six-year-old daughter and she immediately began feeding me prompts such as Pug Eating a Hot Dog and Cute Sleeping Kitten. We decided to make a game out of it where I’d feed the bot a prompt and she’d have to guess what that was. For example:

Yes the prompt was Fox Wearing Sunglasses. The AI has many limits, as you can imagine, but I found myself thinking about what the bot could be used for right now. The most obvious application is for Idea Creation. When a client says they want a picture of a Fox with Sunglasses, that’s often all you get. What is the fox doing? What are the exact colorations of the fox? Is he chubby or skinny? We all know what a fox looks like, but these minor details are completely left up to the artist who will often try all these variations to see which ones look the most pleasing or interesting. Being Creative isn’t something that’s always easy to turn on, especially several times a day for different projects. Artists will look at the world around them, flip through old magazines or (yes) surf the internet for inspiration. An AI Drawing Bot seems like a well suited tool for kick-starting the creative process.

Work Schedules & Biorythms – Update

It’s been over 18 months since I posted about a new work schedule and as I check in, I can say that it’s mostly worked! I still get going around 8:30am. One difference is I basically work straight until the lunch hour, taking a break mid-morning to get away from my computer, walk outside for a minute, or stretch. In that break, I may grab breakfast, or do one or two little things like the dishes, but then I GET BACK TO WORK. Finishing a cup of coffee makes a nice, natural break point.

If I have errands or things to do outside the house, I’ll safe that for after lunch. One difference is I’ve rented an office nearby that I can bike to. It’s in the downtown area, so if I meet someone for lunch e’ll meet downtown, then I end up at my office. I’ve found myself to be much more productive at my office in the afternoons. The change of scenery does me well.

If there are things around the house to do, I generally save those until “after work” which is around 4:30pm. My wife or I will try to have dinner ready by 6pm. One thing we’re working on is having dinner as a family more, or at least my wife and I eating together around the same time as my daughter. I recently read that talking as a family at dinnertime is more important than what you talk about.

I used to “take off” Monday mornings and Fridays for personal projects and me-time. Because of a particular project, I’ve had to work first-thing on Mondays, but as that project has wrapped up I’d like to get back to that idea of easing into the week. As for Fridays, I’ve been working a lot of them, but I’ve also been allowing myself to “take-off” random days in the middle of the week for personal things so it’s balanced out.

Every person is different and every family is different, but for 18 months now, this schedule is working for me.

Work Schedules & Biorythms

I’m self-employed. Like most self-employed people, motivating myself to actually work is a challenge. Balancing life with work is a challenge and so is being efficient. I’ve always felt that efficiency is one of the keys to a successful business. The key to making this thing work is to get maximum bang for your buck.

There are times of the day when I naturally feel like working, like in the morning before the phone starts ringing and other things begin to compete for my attention. There are times when I struggle to maintain focus, like right after lunch. These windows have moved around over the years, especially when I became a parent. I heard myself complaining to others that my mornings were consumed with getting our daughter ready for daycare which didn’t begun until 9am meaning my day started at 9:30, in the middle of my natural productivity window. By then there were usually several fires to put out and I felt pressed for time before we had to pick her up again, or I needed to go to a meeting or transition to another work location or project.

I’m trying something new in 2021. My daughter has started pre-K which means our mornings are shorter and I can get started as early as 8:30. Great, but more importantly, I’ve designated 8:30-10:30 as a time to get as much work done as possible. A morning sprint. I check my e-mails quickly, and create a prioritized To Do list for the morning. I push off e-mails that need long replies or research. I’ll allow myself to check the news for 5-10 minutes but no more and then I GET TO WORK. And because I know this is a sprint to 10:30, I know that I can get back to those e-mails or news stories then, when my morning sprint is over.

So far it’s working. When you work at home, all the little things you need to do around the house can distract you as well, especially when you’re thinking “I should do these now while the kids aren’t here to slow me down.” I’ve given myself permission to do some of those things from 10:30-12:30, which is also a time to make lunch and exercise. By giving myself time to do household chores, I can stay on top of them, meaning some days there aren’t many to do, giving me another slot of time for work or projects. If I need to leave the house to run errands, I group those tasks together with another list and do them after lunch, ideally at the “end” of my work day right before my daughter gets home.

7:00 – 8:30 Morning routine, get daughter to school
8:30 – 10:30 Morning Sprint
10:30 – 12:30 Chores, Lunch, Exercise
12:30 – 1:30 Project
1:30 – 3:00 Errands or Afternoon Sprint
3:00 – 4:30 Pick up daughter, playtime, chores.
4:30 – 6:00 Family Time, cook.
6:00 – 8:30 Dinner, Bedtime routine, clean-up
8:30 – 10:30 Couple time, relax

This is just a framework, but I’m oddly excited by the new schedule, I think because it’s working. By focusing on my naturally productive times and giving myself permission to not work when I don’t feel like it, I’m getting more done and feeling better about it too.

It’s 2021 Ya’ll

I’m writing again. Right this moment. I enjoy writing and they say the only way to get better at writing is to write, so here I am. My last update to this blog was 2015. People don’t even really use the word ‘blog’ anymore. In 2015, my wife and I welcomed our daughter into this world and last night she lost her first tooth. In between that time we’ve had the Trump years and a global pandemic. Prince died, Pokemon “Go” was a sensation, and Notre Dame burned. We had the #MeToo movement, a total solar eclipse, wildfires, Russian hacking, hurricanes and Tiger King.

I’ll write about whatever’s on my mind. I’ve promised myself to not try to force this into anything. Just write for writing’s sake. Hopefully it will be good, or helpful, or somehow cathartic and positive. Hopefully I can stick with it. And if you’re reading this I hope you enjoy some of it.