Friday, May 14, 2021

Spartacus Got Me Beat Up

I have a vague recollection of my parents dragging me to see "Spartacus," when I was a wee lad. It must've been a revival or maybe we even watched it on TV. Whatever. But forcing a six-year-old boy to sit through a three hour and twenty minute epic about boring politicians hanging out and talking in togas strikes me as not the greatest idea.

(Side note: My dad had a strange history of the films he chose for family viewing. We saw "Patton (tortuously dull)," "Walking Tall (how was this a children's film?)," and best of all, "Billy Jack (my first spotting of female nekkidness--three, count 'em, three times!--Thanks, Dad!)." Once we got older, his choices grew worse, leaning toward redneck comedies with Clint Eastwood and an orangutan. I finally broke with the herd; while they watched Burt Reynolds and cars, I snuck into the theater next to it to catch flicks like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Dog Day Afternoon.")

Anyway, as a six or seven year old, "Spartacus" bored me stupid. But one thing stayed with me. Well, two actually: the gladiator fights and how the Roman emperors would react to the outcome of a match, usually with a dramatically downward turned thumb to end the loser's life. Cool!

So, the next morning, there I was on the school bus, all sparkly and glowing with gladitorial thoughts as we bumped our slow and nauseating way to school. All was terrific in my little world until we came to the inevitable stop to pick up this older, bus bully. That's when I always clammed up, for I'd felt his wrath before, having been tripped by him, shoved, called names, the entire fun package.

Once this monster boarded, I tried to make myself invisible and retract into my turtleneck shirt. It seemed to work, as he found a new target in the kid in front of me. But after a while, I'd had enough of watching this torment. I found myself wondering not what would Spartacus do in such a moment, but rather what would a Roman emperor do. The answer was quite obvious.

Slowly, methodically, oh-so-dramatically, I raised my hand. Made a fist with my chubby lil' thumb up. A hush fell over the bus. A spotlight framed by the sun pouring in caught me. For one glorious moment, all eyes were upon me in my most Roman magnificence. Then I turned my thumb down.

I don't know what I was thinking. The gesture was meant for the bully, not his victim, so it didn't make a lot of sense. And how in the world could I possibly get out of this? By inspiring the rest of the beaten and downtrodden smaller kids to revolt on my behalf? 

Clearly the bully understood the gesture was meant for him (even though I'm absolutely certain he didn't understand the context; I've never met a smart bully. I'm pretty sure that's why they are bullies). Quickly, his rage turned toward me. He grabbed my turtleneck, raised me, shook me, cursed me, and ended things nicely with a few punches. Naturally, the bus driver ignored the obvious ruckus, only because he was the second biggest bully on the bus.

(Side note #2: A college friend of mine was indoctrinating his girlfriend into the "joys" of "Spartacus" at a revival, as she had never seen the film. When they drove up to the glorious old Glenwood Theater {the last of it's old-fashioned massive kind}, she read the marquee and got angry. Beneath "Spartacus" was the title for another film, "One Good Cop." She read it all as one title. "You didn't tell me this was a cop movie," she yelled. Even better, when they watched the credits and writer Dalton Trumbo's name came up, she screams, "That's my uncle!" "Spartacus" touches everyone in different ways.)

Recently, my wife and I watched Spartacus again and all of these painful memories came flooding back. Some kind of leader, that Spartacus. Not only did he get all of his followers crucified, but he made a grade school kid take one for the team, too.

I am NOT Spartacus!

While on the topic of bullies from my past, they run absolutely amok throughout the first book in my high school/supernatural/murder mystery/comedy/social issues trilogy, Tex, the Witch Boy. These characters, too, are based upon my bullies in high school hell. Give it a look-see if you dare.


 

Friday, May 7, 2021

The Man Who Ruined Bowling

Maybe that title's a little misleading. Fact is, I've never liked bowling. But because of my own personal Bowling Bully, I'll never pick up a ball again.

It seems like all of my life I've been dragged into bowling alleys. From an early age, I thought it was kinda dumb, barely a sport at all. I didn't like the sounds of the alleys (thrumble, thrumble, thrumble, SPACK-BAK-CLACKETY-CLACK!) and I certainly didn't like the idea of sharing shoes with fellow sweaty outta shape men (and isn't bowling the sport for sweaty outta shape men?).

But everyone I know has always wanted to have a bowling experience with me. A rite of passage, I suppose...to HELL.

Which brings us to "Brad."

Really it's my fault that I found myself bowling with Brad in the first place.

Let me 'splain... I knew Brad back in the day when he worked at the same company I did. He was an affable enough guy and we became acquaintances. First came happy hour, then came friends, then came Stuart in the bowling alley.

Most definitely against my will, I was dragged into the alleys of deep, dark depression.

It's funny you don't really know someone until you either A) get hammered with them (I had many "friends" turn into ugly, violent drunks); or B) go camping with them (I wouldn't know, though, because a guy's gotta draw the line somewhere); or C) go bowling with them. 

Things got worse with Brad. MUCH worse. 

Once I entered the loud and odoriferous den of despair, I discovered Brad fancied himself an expert bowler. On the other hand, I knew I was a horrible, no-good, embarrassment-to-amateurs bowler. I had been conned.

Nine outta ten balls I sunk into the gutter. Hell, I didn't even have the coordination to ever launch off the correct foot. Just isn't in my clunky nature.

And every time I sunk a ball into the gutter, my ego sunk even further. Mainly because Brad sat at the table, roaring with giddy delight over crap beer, basking in his moment of supreme schadenfreude. 

See Brad laugh! See him giggle like the broken wind! Listen as he brags about how well he handles big balls! (Hold up...that didn't sound right...)

He didn't stop at guffawing. Soon, the "good-natured" insults began. 

"Hey! Hey, Stuart! Your lane's the one in front of you! Hoo-HAH!" and "Ha! I didn't know you were blind!" and "Maybe you'll get one pin this time! Ha HA HA HA HA HAAAAAA!" and other choice bon mots.

As if my fragile male ego hadn't been battered enough into the gutter, the next thing I know, Brad's got his arms around me, trying to show me his alley expertise. Completely emasculating.

I slunk out of that hell-hole vowing never to bowl again.

And I haven't.

Coincidentally enough, on my last visit with my daughter, she told me of her last time in a bowling alley. A chip off the ol' block, she was dragged in kicking and screaming by a "bowling ace." He then berated, laughed, hooted at, and denigrated her lack of alley skills. I'm so proud of her.

Anyway, this guy, too, ruined bowling for my daughter for life. We commiserated (even though we both agreed "the sport" sucked to begin with).

Let's put an end to bowling alley bullying (say that three times!). Make a difference today. Only you can do it. Help save the children. Please send money and gifts to me, Stuart R. West, care of Twisted Tales from Tornado Alley (or should that be "Bowling Alley?") to help me battle against bowling bully PTSD.

Speaking of shameless plugs and desperate Trumpian level grifts for your hard-earned cash, check out my short story horror (and dark humor) collection, Twisted Tales from Tornado Alley. There aren't any bowling bullies in the tales, but there are some dark characters that could give Brad a run for the gutter. Plus, it's one alley that's even scarier than a bowling alley.


 


Friday, April 30, 2021

Cat Terrorism

No one believes kids, especially parents. I still carry a grudge over the long-ago case of being falsely accused of...*gasp*...making faces at the neighbors' cat.

Years ago, when my brother and I were in early grade school, we were easily bored. Nothing to do. Zilch. Nada. There were three (on clear days, maybe four) TV channels. Not that it mattered. In our house, friggin' Lawrence Welk ruled the TV. Trying to force a kid to sit through that mind-numbing series of dance numbers, old people music, accordions, and toothpaste smiles would drive any kid out of the house, even me, a notorious reader and homebody.

So outdoors my brother and I ventured, searching for something--anything--to do. As it was during the aftermath of a rain storm, we thought it'd be mighty keen to catch falling raindrops from the tall trees in our mouths. Desperate measures for bored kids.

To this day, I still remember spinning around the driveway, eyes closed, mouths open to catch drops from neighbor Walter's hulking tree between our houses.

Now, Walter was a curious sort. My dad didn't particularly cotton to him as he considered him somewhat of a "sissy."

"Why is Walter a sissy, Dad?" I asked one day, because again I was super bored.

"Because he's a bachelor and has three cats," said my dad with a self-satisfied, prim set to his lips which he thought explained it all, but it didn't, not one bit.

Anyway, shortly after our innovative game of catching raindrops orally, we soon grew weary of that challenge and trundled back inside to be tortured by some sisters warbling like rabid birds on "The Lawrence Welk Show."

All was fine until the next day when the doorbell rang. I gave it no heed as I was upstairs busy setting up my menagerie of stuffed animals in an elaborate court martial trial because that's the kinda kid I was (my brother's teddy bear, Tweaky, was the accused and I had already made up my mind that he was guilty, guilty, GUILTY!).

"Boys! Get down here! Now!" 

My brother and I knew Dad's tone quite well, usually the precursor to the dreaded belt. But, honestly, for once I couldn't even imagine what I'd done. I'd been on decent behavior for at least 18 hours. I mean, c'mon!

Down the stairs we trundled, heads down in a walk of shame, tails between our legs.

"Boys, what do you have to say for yourselves?" Dad grimaced, his mad face pinched tighter than a vice. 

"Um, nothing...I guess..." I said.

"You know who that was?" Dad hitched a thumb behind him. "That was Walter! He said you were outside yesterday making horrible, just horrible, faces at his cat!"

"What?" I thought back, couldn't take the credit for this random act of cat terrorism. "Dad, we didn't make any faces at any cats! Really! I never even saw a cat--"

"Don't you lie to me! Walter said you were making horrible faces! Screwing up your mouths and rolling your eyes back into your head and trying to scare his cat!"

"Dad! We didn't even see the dumb cat! And I swear we weren't scaring any dumb ol' cat because--"

"Save it! Now you're really in trouble for lying, too!"

Well... After that, things get a little hazy. I'm sure tears were spilled over the incredible and tragic injustice done to our poor lil' fragile childish selves, forever making us distrust adults (and cats) again.

No matter how much we protested--and granted, we were no angels, but this time we were completely innocent (which made me change my mind about sending Tweaky to the firing squad once I resumed my mock trial upstairs)--Dad wouldn't believe us, his mind made up by Walter and his poor, mistreated cats. J'accuse!

And, really...even if we had been making faces at a cat (which we weren't!), so what? My brother and I still can't get over it.

Parents. Hmmph.

While on the topic of questionable parenting, have you met the father in my "farm noir" horror thriller, Godland? He's not gonna get father of the year, that's for dang sure! (Every time I think of the great traumatic "Cat Incident of 1968," I think how worse things could be such as in this novel.)


 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Death Race 2021

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines! Vrooooooom!

"Say, Leroy, you spot that fella over yonder? On the sidewalk? One with the sign?"

"I sure do, Norwood. What about him?"

"Well, the second he steps off the sidewalk, you know what we're gonna do?"

"No, I don't, Norwood. What?"

"Wayull, what would the one true President, Donald J. Trump do?"

Scratches chin. Tilts head back. Light bulb! "He'd call him names and make him cry, Norwood!"

"You dayum numbskull!" Norwood swats Leroy with his "Southern Pride" cap. "No, you idjit! Okay, what would MTG do?"

"Who?" Leroy closes one eye and shoots the other toward the sky.

"Don't you know nuttin'? Marjorie Taylor Greene!"

"Oh, right. The hottie. Wayall...she'd prolly shoot him daid for our civil liberties!"

"Well, sir, you got that right. But that ain't what I'm aimin' for." Sighs, then spits chewing tobacco out the window. "Let me make it easy for ya, since God skimped on yore brains, Leroy. What would Dale Earnhardt do?"

Leroy raps his finger on his jaw. Switches his lips back and forth. Suddenly, his eyes widen with clarity. Celestial trumpets fill the truck! Tim McGraw blares from the radio! "I got it! He'd run him over. Daid!"

"Now yore cookin'! Let's go get him! 200 bonus points if the feller ain't from Amurica! Yee-HAWWWWW!"

No, this isn't from an updated "Death Race" film, nor is it some horrific Dystopian science fiction book. Welcome to real life in the "America First" era!

This week, Republican legislators in Oklahoma and Iowa (with more states lining up) passed a bill which would give immunity to drivers who run over and injure protesters in the streets.

Yep, you read that right. Total insanity. When I saw this article, I couldn't believe it, thought it was surely a prank. But it's not. It's terrifying.

These so-called "lawmakers" are so afraid of the Black Lives Matter movement, that they're deputizing every crazy redneck with a pick-'em-up truck to run them down. All in the name of "America First," of course.

Free speech is now punishable by death. A "Citizen's Murder," if ou will. And it's legal! Fun!

Guys, what happened to America? How did we get so out of control and crazy?

Well, I can start pointing fingers, but I'm not going to play their game. 

No, the hell with that! Trump's "America First" doctrine has been the worst thing that's happened to this country since disco. His fascist and racist protocol has unleashed America's inner beast; it's been growling and seething behind white picket fences and covered up by mild smiles and manners for decades. Simmering like a pressure cooker.

Now, the GOP has handed the so-called "downtrodden white man" get-out-of-jail-free cards to kill freely. These incredibly stupid legislators don't realize the chaos they're about to unleash. Cars will become the new guns.

There was a time I actually admired the GOP. I never agreed with them (except for when I was a little kid and didn't know any better), but at least they stood for admirable ideals. At least I understood them. Now it's all gone to hell.

Even Trump recently said that if Republican politicians don't follow his "America First" protocol they just won't survive. For once, I agree with him. Damn it. 

Some old-school Republicans are remaining quiet, cautiously hoping Trump's relevance will fade away and take all of his vitriol, divisiveness, lies, hatred, and racism with him. But he's still making headlines and his army appears to be growing, with crazy-ass psychos like Josh Hawley and Marjorie Taylor Greene leading the way. A lot of these extremist "Republicans" are basking in the nutty headlights.

And how did M. T. Greene even get into office? Why are people giving her the chance to remain in the news? Glory-seeking publicity whores and insaniacs comprise a lot of the "new GOP." 

Get this...despite there being at least 156 mass shootings in the United States in less than four months, M. T. Greene is holding a raffle and giving away an AR-15 gun to the lucky gung-ho winner! All in the name of defending our civil rights, of course. Is this the actions of a "law-maker?"

But those evil, scary, nasty protestors need to be run over for daring to speak their minds. Right. I think their civil rights are kinda being left behind with skid-marks on their bodies. Isn't hitting someone with your auto illegal anyway, for God's sake?

Finally, I know that protestors from both extremist sides of the political aisle got violent. That's wrong, always will be. But what about the non-violent protestors (which MOST of the protests in the states have been, but they're not newsworthy)? What about my scenario above where the guy has to leave the sidewalk to go home?

Easy prey! Bam! Yee-HAWWWWW!

Good God, I never thought I'd say this, but "Come back George W. Bush. You don't seem so bad now."

(LAST MINUTE ADDENDUM: I wrote this post several days ago on a knee-jerk reaction to the crazy. I found out last night that the news article I read omitted one important point to the bill {now law}: this law applies only if you're trying to flee a riot. Still...it's untenable. And I can imagine people using "fleeing" as an excuse. How can it be proven in court? What's to keep the more loosely connected demonstrators from leaving the protest, and deciding to pick off some of their fellow "undesirable" protestors? My case still stands! At least for me.)

Stuart R. West's Amazon book page, featuring many tales of horror, humor, suspense, thrills, mystery, and other goofy stuff. Go on and click...looks like the world's gone crazy so you have nothing to lose anyway.
 


Friday, April 16, 2021

Lickin' Loomis

One of our new dogs, Mr. Loomis, is a licker. No, not the fun kind of human-loving, face-licking dogs. I mean "the other kind" of licker. That is, he's never met a surface he doesn't like to lick.

Floors, beds, sofas, furniture, electric sockets, you name it. If it exists Mr. Loomis is gonna lick that sucker.

Why is this? No clue.

Mr. Loomis is a 13-year-old Lhaso Apso, kinda a cranky old man of a dog. Generally speaking, he's friendlier to floors than people. Could it be senility? Doubtful. There's nothing wrong with his taste buds. Surely, after a while, he'd catch onto the fact he's licking up dust.

My daughter thinks she has the answer. She'd read that when dogs lick surfaces and floorboards and such, they have upset stomachs and are trying to hurl. During the nightmarish time when we took in my daughter and her two demon dogs, she said her smallest devil, Baron, constantly licked the floorboards in her bedroom. It was the first thing he'd do every night before going to bed.


(Come to think of it, our floorboards could use a good cleaning now; I'd invite Baron back over to clean house, but I think my wife's hair would turn white overnight.)

Anyway, I don't think Mr. Loomis is licking surfaces because he's nauseous. He eats well and I've never seen him toss his cookies.

The American Kennel Club, smarty-pants as always, tells me that Mr. Loomis is licking furniture because he's bored. Dogs are creatures of habit and changes in their routine can make a dog anxious. Repetitive licking releases endorphins and is a way for dogs to self-soothe.

Well, okay, let's say I buy that reason. What do I do about it? Mr. Loomis can't hear very well and his cataracts keep his vision pretty bad, not to mention it takes him forever to walk anywhere. How do I entertain him? Dance for him? That's probably not a great idea, for if the neighbors saw that, they'd surely call the local nuttery or police or whatever.

Other dog experts (and there are a hella lotta them out there, every one with a different opinion) have differing viewpoints. One suggests my dog is depressed. So...I guess I have to find a good doggy psychologist.

Another expert says that allergies can cause a dog to act in "strange and mysterious ways (Hmmm, maybe it's no coincidence what dog spelled backwards is!)." But if I buy into this theory, wouldn't floor dust make an allergy worse?

Either way, I'm not complaining. Not only do we have two new fine and furry and funny companions, but the house has never been so clean! It's like having a four-legged Roomba (and his tail acts as a fine feather duster as well).

While we're on the topic of "strange and mysterious ways," all of my books can be pretty much summed up as having been written in that sorta mind-set. Go on and take a gander at my Amazon page and pick up some pages of strange!


 

 



Friday, April 9, 2021

Guilt-ridden Games

The past thirteen months have fostered a lot of addiction. Of course I'm talking about the vilest form of addiction around, the most insidious and life-altering type of addiction that's helping to destroy the world: phone games.

Sure, I've played them before. But not to the point where I'm all in now. And I'm very, very mad at myself for falling into the vast black hole of games. In fact I used to scoff at people who couldn't put their phones down in public, banging their finger away while trying to blast an asteroid or whatever.

Now, I'm one of them. 

My name is Stuart. ("Hi, Stuart.") And I'm a...a...*gasp, choke*...gameaholic.

There. I said it. And I know I'm not alone. For crying out loud, gaming has become one of my first go-to morning rituals. I can't start my day properly without "gaming maintenance."

See, these game-creators and destroyers of souls are truly heinous people who know exactly what they're doing. My game of choice (before I turn to my other games) is "Angry Birds 2." When I first got into it, it seemed perfectly harmless, just kind of passive, mindless entertainment I could amuse myself with during long car rides. But the gaming maintenance alone is intense. Every day you're expected to play the daily challenge along with other tasks. Not to mention gain (through side games) 5 apples a day to keep your lil' cute "hatchling" fed. What happens if you don't feed your hatchling?

To my great shame, sadness and dismay, I found out. Time had run out and "Boney (they encourage you to name your hatchlings, thus establishing a close loving connection. You devious bastards!)" shed giant, sad cartoon tears, slung a bag over his shoulder, and slumped off my phone screen to never be seen again.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooo... (Screaming while standing out in the pouring rain with my fists clenched into the air).

So, so sad. And manipulative. And these gaming gurus are thriving during our pandemic, grifting rubes (such as myself) into playing along, ladling on the guilt like chow at the soup kitchen. (I honestly had no choice--absolutely none, whatsoever--to raise a new hatchling and name him Boney again, in hopes I could forget the nightmare of seeing my initial hatchling heartbroken and run away to die of starvation).

The manipulation doesn't stop within the game itself either. The ads that you're forced to sit through are evil as well. They're always trying to sucker we poor fools into playing games "to win real money!" (I gotta admit, my defenses were at a pandemic low at one point and I almost succumbed to this poisonous apple). 

Then there are the ads for all of these cool animated games with animated tasks like saving a King from drowning. Now I've been conned into a couple of these before. And they're NOTHING like what was advertised. Usually, it's just some poorly animated dumb guy building a garden at a snail's pace.

Tricky, these people are. Shameless, too, for preying on a shut-in world.

You know, it used to be my annoyance started and stopped when "friends" kept inviting me to play Candy Crush on Facebook. Now I've succumbed to the tempting, albeit hollow, promises of phone games.

So, my fellow humans, I say we toss off the shackles of our gaming-induced slavery and revolt! Throw down your phones now and go take a walk!

I plan on doing that just as soon as I complete my Angry Birds daily tasks. Maybe... Hang on... Just another hour...

Speaking of shameless manipulation, I actually enjoy being manipulated by a good book. Now, I'm not saying that my horror thriller, Dread and Breakfast is good, mind you. That's your call. But I did set out to manipulate the reader with many terror-filled twists and turns inside the Dandy Drop Inn. Come on over, check in, and find out if I succeeded (I'll wait for you to finish your current game).


 

Friday, April 2, 2021

A Hole in the Head



The other day I was dying on the treadmill. My wife walks in and says something, but I can't remember what it was. (Side note to my wife: I do listen to you, I do! But I was on the treadmill fighting for my life!). Anyway, for the purposes of this post, my response was what mattered.

I said, "I need that like I need a hole in the head."

Now I know it's a stupid saying, but it's something I picked up from my dad. She looked baffled so I told her that my dad used to use that idiom. She said, "I know, I know. My dad used to say it, too. I think it's kind of a dad thing."

Great. So I'm becoming my dad. What next, unfunny Dad jokes? (Wait...my daughter would probably say I already jumped that shark a long time ago.)

I started wondering about the origins of "hole in the head" comments (anything to take my mind off my on-going torture by treadmill). Later, Professor Google told me some things that weren't too enlightening. First, the good prof  stated the idiom originated because bullets to the head caused holes and nobody wanted that. Thanks, Professor Obvious!

Second, the prof quit fooling around and said the statement possibly originated from the Yiddish saying,
"Ich darf es vi a loch in kop" Source: theidioms.com
"Ich darf es vi a loch in kop" Source: theidioms.com
"Ich darf es vi a loch in kop" Source: theidioms.com
"Ich darf es vi a loch in kop" Source: theidioms.com
"Ich darf es vi a loch en kop," which translates to "I need it like a hole in the head." Still not very helpful when it comes to the psychology of these drama queens. 

Most interesting is the 1959 Frank Sinatra comedy called, A Hole in the Head, I'm guessing a violence-filled yuk-fest taking place in a hospital's emergency room.

Anyway (back to my conversation with my wife while the treadmill punished me), I felt like I needed to defend my usage of such an antiquated saying, so I blurted out, "Okay, it's a dumb thing to say because we already have five."

My wife furrowed her brow and said, "five what?"

"Five holes in the head."

I could tell she was counting, eyes Heaven-ward, straining her mental abacus. "No, there're seven."

"Seven? But...but the eyes aren't direct holes. I mean...we have pupils filling them!"

"No, they're considered holes. As we saw in that film last night, they can be pretty vulnerable, too."

Now, I had already apologized for making her sit through Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer the night before, so I didn't want to reopen that particular can of worms.

"Huh. Are you sure eyes are considered holes?"

"Yep. And actually we have eight if you consider the foramen magnum where the spinal cord goes into the skull."

Sweating, panting, out-of-breath, considering the very vulnerable nature of our bodies, and becoming kinda grossed out, I said, "Okay, I think I'm done with this conversation now."

I have a lot of fun--as do my serial killer protagonists--with heads in my darkly comical thriller trilogy, Killers Incorporated. See how much fun by giving 'em a read: Secret Society, Strike, and Killer King.