Friday, February 27, 2015

Heavenly Planned Obsolescence

Over the past several months, the fickle gods of car problems ("Heavenly Planned Obsolescence") have had it in for me.

Just as my daughter's car finally--FINALLY--was fixed (a tragic, eight-month long experiment in stress involving the mechanic running from the law...a tale for a different day), the car guys in the sky decided to shower down more grief.

Not too long ago, my wife and I bought a new car, a Highander, purportedly one of the best autos on the road. We settled into post-car purchasing bliss. Then I made the tragic mistake of taking it to my mechanic for a final check AFTER I'd bought it. Turns out it IS a great ride. Except the engine sucks. Something about the blocks separating. "A flaw," the mechanic said with a million-dollar grin. A flaw? Dang engine was gonna' drop out. 
So we got it fixed. Then the engine started leaking oil. Back to the mechanic. "A manufacturer flaw in the fix-it kit," he said, this time doing a really crappy job stifling his laughter. There may as well have been dollar signs rolling in his eyes. How many flaws can a highly-recommended auto have in one life-time?

I love the car. It's great. Rides like a dream. Has a cassette player. A cassette player! Everything about it's sweet. Except, of course, the engine. Kind of a big deal, I think. If nothing else, maybe I can sleep in the Highlander like a docked boat in a driveway.

Three more trips to the mechanic. Each time the engine light came on. Still not fixed.

Meanwhile, my wife's car has its own headaches. Flat tires, goofy computer system, some piece of plastic crap dragging the road like cans on a newlyweds' car. I swear I've spent more time these last several months in auto mechanics' lairs than I have in church over the past ten years.

I'm in my own car circle of hell, a nightmare that loops round and round, where it stops, nobody knows.

Friday, February 20, 2015

My dog is taking over the world one human at a time!

It's that time of year when people start breaking New Year's resolutions, an honorable tradition, one I look forward to annually. I set my resolutions early: lose weight, walk the dog more, win a million dollars in the lottery. far, none of these goals have been met yet.

But every Thursday, around 2:00, I've been walking the dog. Since January, at least. One small step toward one of my goals.

And then there was yesterday...

"Mesmero, the Wonder Dog"

Here, in the midwest, winter's really just starting. And I shouldn't complain, not after what Boston and New York have been through. But the snow's finally begun here, hasn't stopped.

At 2:00 yesterday, I closed the computer, ready to do some food prep and house cleaning. The dog flips out. He gallops through the house, leaping like a kangaroo. He stops in the foyer, looks at his hanging leash, back to me, back and forth several times. I get it already.

So, I say, "Zak, you don't really want to go out there, do you? I mean, look outside! It's snowing, it's ten degrees, it sucks!" Clearly my words fell on deaf ears (my dog has very selective hearing).

He runs upstairs, stops at the head of the steps, gives a bark. Manipulating me. He knows full well that's part of the ritual, my going up there to switch into tennis shoes. He's staring down at me, big dopey expectant eyes, tail wagging and knocking things over.

Who am I to deprive him of the highlight of his week? Even though I dreaded it worse than a trip to the dentist.

Now here's something you need to know about Zak...he's a highly artificially climate-controlled dog. He despises any type of moisture or cold. Literally, I have to shove him outside to go to the bathroom if it's even sprinkling or dropping snow flurries. When I do successfully get him outside, he doesn't leave the deck, gives it a few seconds to fool us, and then barks to be let back in. 

NOW he wants to go for a walk in our Winter Trauma-land? Further proof of his manipulation. we go, Zak excitedly dragging me to the park through a blizzard. Unaffected. Happy.

Thirty minutes later, my eyes are watering from the wind, my faces is red as a fire hydrant, I can't feel my feet, my nose is running with skin flaking off like potato chips.

Yet, I fell for it. 

It's gonna' be Planet of the Dogs, folks. My dog's the Caesar, leading the troops through psychic manipulation. You've been warned.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Television Trauma

We pay a lotta' cash each month to watch TV. Yet, over the past three months, the service has been sporadic, images freezing, the system kicking us out with rude messages like, "I'm sorry, but you suck, you can't watch TV now."

I won't name the provider (yet). But we've had ten different fellas out over the last three months.
Some of them quite swell; one hobbit wanted to hang with me and waste out his hours. Fine, your dime, whatever. But each "technician" has a different diagnosis ("Your frim-fram is set to stun," "Looks like your dig-outs have been compromised by gophers," "You should only use your microwave when you're not watching TV," "Have you heard of electronic Shingles?") They all have solutions, none of them work.

Most of the guys are nice. 75% of them look like ruddy-cheeked "Larpists" with teeny-tiny Game of Thrones goatees.

One dude was the Zen-Warrior of TV Maintenance:

Me: "Would you like a cup of coffee?"

Zen-Warrior of TV: "Coffee? Hmm, coffee. I don't believe I've experienced the fixation of coffee in many moons. These days I evolve with Taekwando and study Winnie the Pooh books. I wouldn't consider sullying my temple with caffeine."

Okay. That's fine. Just fix the damn TV.

None of them have. The biggest problem is one hand doesn't know what the other's doing. A stray finger scratches my belly, promising glorious rewards (or at least, a working TV stream). The other punches in our phone number and inanely asks, "Are you satisfied with how your problem was resolved?"


Makes me long for the olden days when we had three (four, if the weather was in our favor) channels. Sure, it sucked, having to choose between Lawrence Welk or Hee-Haw, but at least we could depend on the choices.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Easels and Pancakes and Loin Cloths...Oh My!

This week Twisted Tales is turning over the blogging to author Dave Fraser. Dave and his sister, Heather Brainerd Fraser, are the authors of the extremely entertaining Jose Picada mystery series. Turns out we both had books launch on the same day this week. Dave's a New York resident. And he views my stomping grounds, Kansas, as an alien world. Here's what his journalistic investigation found out about Kansas (to read my take on New York, visit Heather & Dave's blog!):

Stuart West is a life-long Kansas resident, so it should be no big surprise that his six books (of which I've read four) are all set there. February 3 marked his seventh release, The Secret Society of Like-Minded Individuals, and it's set guessed it, Kansas!

All this Kansas stuff got me thinking about Kansas, which didn't take very long, since I don't know much about it at all. In short, everything I know about the state relates to The Wizard of Oz and the Kansas City Royals, which, it turns out, actually play in Missouri. So we can cross them off the list.

I set it upon myself to learn more about the state. Instead of doing actual "research" and learning "information", I decided to plan a theoretical road trip to the Sunflower State (learning this official nickname was as far as my "research" went). These are, sadly, all real things.

Stop 1: Monument to the Pig That Inspired the Piggy Bank (White Cloud, KS) In 1913, ten-year-old Wilbur Chapman sold his pig, Pete, and donated the funds to an organization helping lepers. The story caught the public's imagination. Pete the pig would live forever as a symbol for saving money, long after he was made into bacon.

Stop 2: Second Largest Hand-dug Well in Kansas (Seneca, KS) This awesome attraction is a big hole in the ground.

Stop 3: Monument to Grace Bedell (Delphos, KS) In 1860, eleven-year-old Grace Bedell wrote Abraham Lincoln a letter suggesting he grow a beard, which he did. Later in life, Ms. Bedell settled in Delphos, where she continued to write world leaders regarding fashion and beauty. Gandhi's loincloth? That was her idea, too.

Stop 4: World's Largest Ball of Twine (Cawker City, KS) The
Guinness Book of World Records recognizes a ball in Branson, Missouri (circumference: 41.5 feet) (that's the circumference of the ball, not Branson) as the world's largest. But the fine people of Cawker City are not deterred. Through their hard work and determination their ball continues to grow. In 2014, it measured 41.42 feet in circumference. Only 0.08 feet to go, or, if we measure it in terms of bad boy pop stars, 0.014 Justin Biebers.

Stop 5: World's Largest Collection of World's Smallest Versions of the World's Largest Things (Lucas, KS) Technically, this could be just about anywhere, since it is based out of a large passenger van. It is the home to a collection (the world's largest, of course) of small versions of objects determined to be the largest of their type in the world. Of course, the name kind of says all that, doesn't it?

Stop 6: World's Largest Czechoslovakian Egg (Wilson, KS)

With intricate patterns and bold colors, Czechoslovakian eggs are miniature works of art. Wilson, which bills itself as the "Czech Capital of Kansas", saw fit to make an egg for the ages. It measures 22 feet long, giving an unprecedented opportunity for a dazzling display of Czechoslovakian Egg artistry. So they painted the whole thing solid black.

Stop 7: World's Largest Hand-dug Well (Greenburg, KS) Suck it, Seneca.

Stop 8: International Pancake Day Hall of Fame (Liberal, KS) What exactly is International Pancake Day? Each year, the town of Liberal has a race against a town in England. Women from each town run, flipping pancakes as they go. This has been going on since 1950, or, for our metric-loving Canadian friends, for roughly 2,049,840,570,735 milliseconds.

Stop 9: World's Largest Hairball (Garden City, KS) Just...gross.

Stop 10: World's Largest Easel (Goodland, KS) We will end out tour in northwest Kansas, staring up at the world's largest easel, holding what is probably the world's largest Van Gogh reproduction. This two-for-one is no doubt in the World's Largest World's Smallest Museum Thingy. What was it called again?

I guess I always thought of Kansas as being kind of boring. After looking over my list, though, that couldn't be farther from the truth. And this is just the top ten (An example of something that didn't make the list: Lucas' World's Most Artsy Public Toilets). People of Kansas, you are friggin' weird. I wish I lived there.

There you have it, folks! I should've known better than to turn my blog over to Dave after the last, um, "interview" he did with me. But don't hold that against him! Buy Dave and Heather's new book, Act of Abduction: Jose Picada, P.I.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Secret Society of Like-Minded Individuals is everywhere!

You can run, but you can't hide. Like-Minded Individuals, Inc. is everywhere.

Don't believe me? Read my newest shocking expose,"fictional thriller," The Secret Society of Like-Minded Individuals.

Here's what some early reviewers had to say:

The Secret Society of Like-Minded Individuals is a brilliant thriller about a society of serial killers with just a dusting of humor. Suspense fans will not be disappointed. --Heather Greenis, author of The Natasha Saga

Secret Society of Like-Minded Individuals pulls you in for a furious ride, sure to give you chills. Dark, gritty and meaty fun. --Meradeth Houston, author of the Sary Society series

A gripping read. For those of you looking to add to your reading list, I highly recommend giving this one a try if you enjoy a different twist to your thrillers. --Penny Ehrenkranz, historical romance author

The Secret Society of Like-Minded Individuals is not your usual thriller, murder mystery. It is a unique plot with unexpected murderers and, of course, the underlying West humor, a roller coaster ride to the end. Trust me, you've never read anything like it before. --Patricia McQueen, retired English teacher

The only problem is...I haven't heard from these reviewers since they've read the book. I suspect Like-Minded Individuals got to them.

If you read the book, you can help expose the shocking conspiracy! And maybe save my life! Because they're now after me for writing the book!

Buy the book now, for the love of God, and help save my life! 
Available in paperback and Kindle format.