Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Covers I Love

Because I'm feeling nostalgic but don't feel like writing diddly-squat (click to embiggen).

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Mom and Dad and Jimi Hendrix--A Christmas Memory

I'm no Truman Capote and there will be no tales tonight of dotty aunts, illicit liquor, fruitcake-making, nor presents exchanged by those who had nothing to give.

This is a story, a brief one, about Mom, Dad, and Jimi Hendrix.

Back when my father was alive and my mother lived in the Real World we'd go through this little dance every December: "What do you want for Christmas? Do you have your list ready?" Dad, being typical of his generation, never did. If he needed something during the course of the year he bought it, so his "list," such as it was, consisted of whatever occurred to him at the moment someone asked. "Well," he might say, "I can always use socks... and underwear... maybe a white shirt with French cuffs... uh... that's about it."


Mom, on the other hand, was a little more prepared: "Which list do you want? Things for the house? Things for me? The expensive list? The less expensive list? The cheap list? Silly items? Serious items? Wait... they're here in my purse somewhere... (rustle of papers)"

And me? I had a massive list of books I'd heard about over the course of the year-- like that surprised anyone. "You know, dear," Mom would say yearly, "we love buying books for you, but it's more exciting when we get to go to different stores looking for things." I understood. Their book-buying spree was simply a trip to Barnes & Noble in Charlottesville where Dad would accost some cute, young female clerk, hand her my list, then wander off with Mom to the coffee shop where they'd sip the brew o' the day and wait for the CYFC to check in periodically asking if this was too much or too little or too few. It probably took all of an hour.

(I gather I could have had a slew of dates based solely on the various CYFCs' reactions to my book lists; I'm nothing if not an eclectic reader and I certainly come across as immensely, cool, suave, hip and sophisticated... on paper)

Anyway, one year after another "You know, dear..." statements I decided to mix it up a bit-- add some silly books to the list  (That Darn Squid God being one of 'em), throw in a few non-sensible (if not nonsensical) items (Psycho House snow globe, glow-in-the-dark planets 'n' stars ceiling stickers, etc.), and because it amused me to do so, a request for The Most Hideous Tee-Shirt I'd Ever Seen, a tie-dyed, DayGlo Jimi Hendrix print. Oh, sweet CROM, it was ugly!

I'd spotted this particular item at an artsy-fartsy gift shop called Coyote across from U. VA and figured even if my parents didn't buy it (and I didn't expect them to), they'd get a kick out of wandering around amongst the hipster bric-a-brac, this being about as far from anything they could imagine as I could imagine.

I underestimated them.

Christmas morning that year as I began to unwrap one particular package Dad ahem-ed and said, "Once you open that, your mother has a story to tell you."

Yes, it was the Hideous Hendrix Tee. "The only one they had was on the wall," Mom said, "and we had to make that nice young girl behind the counter climb a ladder to get it down. She kept looking at us and then the shirt and then back at us the whole time..."

Let me set the scene for you a little as I imagine it. It's the 'Eighties. My parents never went anywhere without being impeccably dressed, Dad in a three-piece suit, hat, gloves, long overcoat (the height of fashion in 1963) and my mom dressed as if going to a fancy winter party except without the otherwise obligatory hat and white gloves ("I could never stand wearing those things; I was so glad when they went out of style"). Some petite U. VA student working part-time while polishing her undergraduate thesis on Like, Y'Know, Intensely Feminist Themes in Really, Truly Obscure Medieval Literary Fragments.

Dad continued. "So she's looking at the two of us and your mother" (the very proper, very well-read, very formal 9th Grade English teacher) "leans over and whispers, 'Dear, we were at Woodstock.'"

Twenty-five or so years later and thinking of this story still almost makes me wet my pants.

And yes, I do still have the Hideous Hendrix Tee:

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sleep-Deprived, Caffeinated, With Brain Set to "Random"

Today, of course, is the Winter Solstice and the morning after the last lunar eclipse of 2010, for which I gave up a perfectly good night's sleep to trudge around in the cold and dark with a pair of binoculars and a big-ass cup of coffee. Being as I was alone and unsupervised (but not with easy access to a computer... this time), my mind began to wander to the Greater Fishersville Flying Nipple Flap.

In the early '60s I was a Flying Saucer Fanatic. This is not as weird as it might seem today; for one, in the early '60s most people were interested in flying saucers/UFOs-- we were in the midst of the Third Wave of Ufology-- and I jumped on the bandwagon with all the enthusiasm a geeky 9-yr.-old could muster. I mean, Flying Saucers! Weird Things in the Sky! Maybe from SPACE! Possibly full of ALIENS! HOT DAMN (or words to that effect)! People were seeing UFOs all over the country, all over the world; the newspapers and magazines (that's what we had before the Intarwebs and Twitter and Facebook and HEY, YOU KIDS! GET AWAY FROM MY WOOLLY MAMMOTH!) were filled with reports of sightings, which was quite the boon to the publishing industry who rushed all sorts of books of greater and lesser quality into print.

This book was fun. Wish I still had my copy.

Even my hometown of Waynesboro, VA had a rash of sightings, my favorite, 45 yrs. later, being The Man Who Saw the Flying Nipple on, appropriately enough, December 21, 1964.

A gunsmith had a close encounter with a beehive-shaped UFO in rural Fisherville, Virginia. At five o’clock in the afternoon Mr. Burns was driving east on highway Route 250 east of Staunton when a 125-foot wide, beehive-shaped UFO slowly crossed the roadway ahead of him, causing his car to stall. As the metallic looking UFO descended it narrowly missed hitting some power lines. There was a bluish glow from the bottom. As it left, it rose to about 200 feet in altitude, tilted slightly, then disappeared quickly into the northeast. The car could then be restarted. Geiger counter tests showed abnormally high radioactivity in the area. (Sources: Donald B. Hanlon, Flying Saucer Review, March-April 1966, p. 14; Gordon I. R. Lore and Harold H. Dennault, Jr., Mysteries of the Skies: UFOs in Perspective, p. 171; Mark Rodeghier, UFO Reports Involving Vehicle Interference, case 136; Richard Hall, The UFO Evidence (Volume II): A Thirty Year Report, p. 3).

Source: http://www.ufoevolution.com/forums/calendar.php?do=getinfo&day=2019-12-21&c=1

At approximately 5:00 p.m. on the evening of December 21, as he drove east along Route 250 between Staunton and Waynesboro, Virginia, Horace Burns, a gunsmith in Harrisonburg, saw an immense cone-shaped object cross low over the highway ahead of him.

It was moving in a north to south direction at a slow speed estimated to be about 15 mph. The point of the cone was tipped slightly forward in the object's line of flight.

It crossed the highway approximately 200 feet ahead of Burns and settled in a meadow to the right of the road, landing gently, "like a bubble." At the moment the object crossed the highway, Burns' car motor failed. The object settled in the field as he brought the car to a stop on the shoulder of the highway.

Burns got out of the car to get a better look. "It was 125 feet in diameter, at least, and 80 to 90 feet high," he later reported. Its circular, sloping sides rose toward the top in six large, concentric convolutions that decreased in diameter and were surmounted by a dome.

The object was so large, Burns said, that when it crossed the road ahead of him it had more than filled the entire width of his windshield. In the gathering darkness, Burns could not make out with certainty the exact nature of the object's surface material but it gave the appearance of a dull, metallic finish.

He saw no features such as windows, ports, doors, or seams on the object; however, extending around its base at a height of about six feet was a band of bluish-white light, sharply-edged and about 12 to 18 inches wide. The light was steady and did not flicker or dim. No landing gear was evident and the object seemed to rest lightly on the ground on a somewhat convexly curved undersurface.

Burns watched the object for from 60 to 90 seconds at a distance no greater than 150 yards when it suddenly rose straight up to a height of several hundred feet and, emitting a soft "whoosh" like rushing air, took off in a northeasterly direction at an exceedingly high rate of speed, again with its top tilted slightly forward in the line of motion. It disappeared from view in a matter of seconds.

Following its disappearance, Burns drove home and told his wife about his sighting, swearing he wouldn't tell another soul because "they'd think I'm crazy."

However, a few days later, a local radio program announced the formation of a UFO investigations group at Eastern Mennonite College, under the direction of Dr. Ernest G. Gehman, a professor of German at the college. At his wife's urging, Burns got in touch with Gehman by way of the radio station to report his observation.

On December 31, Dr. Gehman traveled alone to the landing site and made a geiger counter test of the area. An extremely high reading was obtained, and was verified by the arrival of two DuPont research engineers who, having heard about the landing, had driven to the site the same day Dr. Gehman made his investigation.

In fact, Dr. Gehman had been able to locate the landing spot (later verified by Burns) by the readings on his Geiger counter.

Source: http://www.nicap.org/newlook/section_VI.htm

Virginia History: More UFOs Sighted Locally and Statewide
Published: 12:04 PM 5/2/2010
By Charles Culbertson/contributor, mail@stauntonhistory.com

The December 1964 sighting of an alleged unidentified flying object on U.S. 250 just east of Staunton sparked massive public interest, an investigation by the U.S. Air Force and a number of what might be called "copycat" sightings.

One of them involved several Staunton teenagers who claimed to have had a close encounter with a spaceman.

By late January 1965, the story of Grottoes resident Horace Burns' sighting of the mysterious craft (which he said landed in a field between Staunton and Fishersville) had gained national media attention and was beginning to generate a rash of other sightings throughout the state.

UFOs were allegedly seen at Marion, Fredericksburg and South Boston.

Locally, UFOs were reported seen in Greenville and the Jollivue area.

"Despite mounting reports of UFOs, the Leander McCormick observatory on Mt. Jefferson at Charlottesville hasn't spotted a thing," wrote the Jan. 25 Staunton Leader. "Larry Frederick, chairman of the astronomy department at the University of Virginia, explained that the objects could be meteors since the last six weeks have produced some 'showering' activity."

Frederick said another possibility was that people were seeing the high-intensity landing lights of jets which "follow the main north-south and east-west flyways that criss-cross the area."

The most creative sighting was reported by a Staunton teenager who said that while riding on U.S. 250 at Brands Flat with some friends, he saw what looked like a man walking toward the road from a field.

The teen thought nothing of it until the man sat down alongside the road and began to examine the cars passing by.

The youth said he then realized that the man might have come from one of the spaceships recently reported in the area. He said he and his friends got out of the car and ran toward the man, who escaped over a hill.

Two other little men appeared and also ran away, he said.

"They left us way behind," said the teen, who described the men as about three and a half feet tall and wearing one-piece, skin-tight garments that were silver in color.

The boys reported their sighting to Staunton police, who sent 10 reservists and a photographer to the scene to investigate. They turned up nothing.

After they left, the teenager who had first spotted the "spacemen" and the photographer stayed to continue the search.

They said they came upon a "glowing" aluminum barn. The photographer allegedly entered the barn and was hit by something. When he and the teenager started to run, the photographer turned to take a picture of the barn.

The teen said that as the camera's flash bulb went off, its light showed one of the little men standing by the structure. That alleged photo has never been published, at least not locally.

Local UFO hysteria reached its height Jan. 28 when a number of Staunton residents carrying guns spread out along U.S. 250 to search for aliens.

"Gun-toting Staunton area residents who pursue 'little green men' were sharply criticized today by Augusta County Sheriff John E. Kent," reported the Leader.

Kent said "it is dangerous as well as ridiculous" for grown men to take to the fields and woods to look for nocturnal creatures who stray away from their spaceships and disappear.

Staunton Police Chief R. Ruff Cline said he believed "the whole thing is a hoax."

After that, local interest in UFOs and spacemen seemed to diminish, with the Leader firing a final satirical shot with a front-page photo of a spaceman in a flying saucer — concocted by staff photographer Dennis Sutton.

Permanent link: http://www.ufocasebook.com/2010/virginiahistory.html

So there you have it-- strange things happen on the Winter Solstice!


The alarm went off at 3:00 a. m. prompting me to wonder exactly how much is one man supposed to suffer for his Geekhood?

This much, I suppose: leave a perfectly good bed, warm and soft and comfortable (also covered in cat fur), reluctantly pull on the thermal undies, the near-clean clothes, a hoodie, gloves, and wool cap, start the water heating for some mega-caffeinated coffee, grab the binoculars and head out into the 28° F. morning air to see the first total lunar eclipse to occur during the winter solstice since A. D. 1638.

I was braced for disappointment: there was intermittent cloud cover and my back yard is not an ideal viewing spot, what with the big-ass mercury vapor streetlight in the alley, but lo and behold! The streetlight was out (as it sometimes is; who knows why) and the clouds parted periodically just enough to allow me fleeting glimpses of totality at around 3:17 a. m. (not my pics, by the way):

And yes, the moon was precisely this color! Still, I'm less impressed with totality than when the moon emerges from the Earth's shadow (which it did around 4:00 a. m.):

This, but many times brighter!

So, I'll be going to work today a bit groggy, a bit bleary-eyed, but with the sure knowledge that my Geek Cred remains intact.

How's yours?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Afternoon With the Dogs

So one of my numerous bosses asked me to look after his two Springer Spaniels this afternoon while he and his family went to his father's 80th-something birthday party in Baltimore. It being a nice enough day, a tad cold, but sunny, I decided to walk over to his place, which meant I passed by the Byrd Theatre:

Now, about the two Springer Spaniels. They're lovely dogs, friendly as all get-out, but H-Y-P-E-R -as- HELL! I know why they call 'em "springers;" when they relax their anti-jump muscles they BOING!!! about 6 ft. straight up and this occurs every few seconds. Charlie & Gizmo are particularly manic and I had to wait about half an hour after letting them out before they slowed down enough to get any pictures.


"Hey! This not MY poop..."

While waiting for (relative) calmness to descend, I grabbed a few pics of the various holly variants in the back yard. No particular reason; they were pretty and seemed seasonally appropriate:


"I'm as calm as I'll ever be. Now, let's see if
I can knock you over starting... NOW!"

"Is that food? You're holding it near your mouth so it must
be food. If it's NOT food then it OUGHT to be food.
Food is good."

"I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille."

Hey, I take my amusements where I can find 'em!

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Junky's Christmas

The first of my traditional Alternative Xmas posts.

A few years ago my friend and occasional fake-date Sarah commented on my MySpace entry, "For Your Christmas Reading Pleasure,"

"yes! i know it's officially christmas when you post "the junky's christmas".

"now all i've got to do is find the cd of the alternative rock christmas songs, listen to it on repeat, spend time listening to my senile mother (and cassie) talk to my dog about the christmas tree, and get a "it's a wonderful life" speech from everyone who's known me for over five years and thinks i'm suicidal because i didn't go to college. then it'll really feel like christmas..."

Well, Sarah; this one's for you!
(for those not in the know, imagine an O. Henry character with a drug problem)

Text version (in unfortunately vivid colors) here.

Early XMas Presents-- From Me To Me

Yeah, I've been on a couple of buying sprees the last two weeks but, c'mon, if I don't give myself the presents I want, who will?

It all started when I went walking to check out the Xmas lights last Friday evening and I realized, "Damn! It's cold out here!" And by that I mean cold for Virginia, i. e., below 28° F., which I realize is nothing for those of you in Illinois and Iowa and Montana and other such frigid places, but is a tad on the nippy side for Richmond, especially since I'm don't really own any clothing suitable for even a brief sojourn into the wintery onslaught. Y'see, I'm used to being in the cold for no longer than it takes me to get to or from my car, say, ten minutes at worst. Forty-five minutes plus equals a shivery G. W.

Anyway, the upshot is I made a trip to Hull Street Outlet (which is not, by the way, located on Hull Street) and made a few purchases: black wool watch cap, black wool scarf, two M-65 field jackets w/lining in olive drab and black (natch!), cushioned wool socks, a black balaclava (because my face gets cold), and a nice pair of insulated gloves. All these for a reasonable price. On the plus side, when the weather outside is frightful I'm prepared to kick its ass; on the down side, I look like I'm about to knock over a 7-11... or a small Middle-Eastern nation:

(geez, I hope the Arabic says what I think it says* and not
"likes to have sloppy, kinky sex with underage goats")

Recall my rant a few months ago about my lost-then-found Rotring Newton 600 rollerball pen? Yeah, well, I figured a back-up was in order and even though these things have become hellaciously expensive-- and they weren't cheap to begin with-- I bit the bullet and bid on an eBay auction. Which I won. For less than I expected. Behold my glorious new Rotring 600 Newton Fountain pen (fine nib) with lava finish:

Why a fountain pen? Well, I dunno; I kinda like retro-tech and the thought of being able to use Noodler's Heart of Darkness Black Ink ("bulletproof" and "black as Stalin's soul") makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Now if I can just make my handwriting more legible....

These days I'm using my computer as my primary sound system, which works out fine for the most part. I have just enough hearing loss that a high-end system is wasted on me; however, I do like my music faithful to the source... and loud. Out of consideration for my neighbors, who may not entirely appreciate my late-night excursions into the land of Gary Puckett & The Union Gap's Greatest Hits, I wear headphones-- Sennheiser HD-280 Pros-- which are a great compromise between fidelity and cost; unfortunately, my computer has a little difficulty driving 'em. Enter HeadRoom's Total BitHead headphone amplifier: "plug the BitHead into the USB port and digital audio is automatically routed out of the noisy environs of your computer to be converted by the superior digital-to-analog converter (DAC) of the BitHead." Sounds like a lot o' hype, but lemme tell you something: not only does it give me more-than-adequate volume, even my middle-aged, high-frequency-impaired ears can detect a difference. Plus, it was on sale!

So there you have it, How I Damaged My Checking Account But Improved My Quality of Life Immensely.

*"I am not a terrorist."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Xmas List Addendum

Dear Santa,

Remember that hellaciously convoluted Xmas list I posted a few days ago? Well, I'd like to add one more item-- A Black Death European Tour long sleeve T-shirt:

I'll be the coolest former microbiologist on the block!