Monday, July 15, 2019

Imaginary Employment

My father said, when one is unemployed, one should still rise and shine early, dress nattily, shower, brush one's teeth, etc., and act like one is still working -- actually, he said that looking for work was your job under such circumstances.

Last Thursday I decided to try -- really try -- to pull this off.  I rose about three hours before I've been getting up.  I showered, shaved, brushed my teeth, FLOSSED my teeth, got dressed, left my apartment, stopped for a doughnut and ice tea -- then I went back to my apartment to my fake job. Yes, as an experiment I decided to act as if I were at a job in my apartment. I got quite a bit done -- applied for a real job, typed 500 words on my novel, read that article on the F-22 fighter, paid my bills, cleaned up my work tables, took those books to the consignment store, got the dishes out of the sink, found those references on quantum gravity (but not on the Palace of Nestor in ancient Mycenaea -- not in the "Archeology" file and not in "Gryphons") . . . wanted to take off my shoes, but you don't get to take your shoes off at work -- it's -- WORK!

In my case it was an experiment to cure procrastination, and I think it succeeded. But a lot of these self-help ideas work on the first day. Could I keep it up tomorrow and the next day?
Friday I followed the same schedule.  Up, dressed, out, got potato chips and chocolate bar, back to the apartment.  Applied for a job, looked for the Palace of Nestor Xeroxes again ("It flourished 1200 BC!  Where else would it be except the Archaeology file?").

Decided F22s are so expensive and tabs are kept on them so well, they couldn't just go off the map in my novel, so I read about the F15 instead.  Typed 500 words on my work-in-progress "Other Realms," finishing the bits on wormholes and Zero Point Energy.  Practiced Excel spreadsheets.  Washed laundry.  When's quitting time?  "Only two hours in?  This fake job is hard!"

On Saturday I could have declared it the weekend, but I didn't want to lose my momentum.  More job searching, more reading, more typing (both on my novel and my non-fiction book), cleaned out and cleaned up my new car to keep it snazzy.  I felt exhausted at some points, so I had to go "off the clock" to rest for a while in my armchair -- yet I ended up working an hour past "quitting time."  Maybe there's something to this fake work ethic!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Phantom Photographer

An occasional curious event noted by forteans is the appearance of Phantom Photographers, unknown people who apparently take pictures of people and/or their houses during a UFO or monster flap.  John Keel wrote of them in The Mothman Prophecies.

I once worked with people in charge of foreclosures at the Bank of Oklahoma.  Their files were full of photographs of houses from which the unfortunate residents were to be evicted.  I noticed that all the pictures had been taken on the move, so to speak, from inside automobiles.  Maybe some of these phantom photographers come from financial institutions.

A number of reports describe, not an obvious camera, but a burst of light as from a flashgun.  Jim Keith, in his book on MIBs, mentions a secret government “light weapon” meant to temporarily blind the enemy.  I suspect this concept eventually became the memory-erasing “flashy-thingy” from Will Smith’s Men in Black movies.

Anyway, I used to think of myself as the guy fortean/paranormal events avoided at all costs, but maybe I once ran into a phantom photographer.

Decades ago a used book store opened at 10th St. and Boston in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  It was the largest book store I've ever seen -- almost the largest store, period.  Walking through its irregularly placed walls was like wandering through the Carlsbad Caverns -- but all its walls were covered with books, stretching up beyond human reach.

I only visited it a few times.  I think it was open only a year before it was gutted by fire.  I walked past it not long after the fire; the shell of the building remained, but the interior was all charred shelves, timbers, and ashes.

Strangely enough, the floor was strewn with books that looked untouched by the flames.  Bibliomaniac that I am, I actually considered climbing in through the shattered picture window and seeing what was there.  I argued with myself that even if they weren't burnt, the volumes had to be sodden by fire hoses; there could be sharp nasty things under the rubble; maybe I'd even fall through the floor.  So I didn't enter.

Before I could walk away, however, a figure came picking its way through the blackened rubble from the depths of the store.  It proved to be a skinny young man, maybe in his mid-20s, with scraggly black hair and a black mustache and beard.  He wore (to the best of my memory) a pale tan shirt or pullover and blue jeans.  He climbed out the broken front window to the sidewalk.  He carried a camera of some sort that he kept turning over and over in his hands.

"Hi!" he said.  "Can I interest you in a camera?"

And he gave me this long spiel about what kind of camera it was and how good it was and how it was almost new (don't ask me what sort of camera; I long ago forgot).  And he only wanted $20.00 for it.

At one point in his turning and rolling the camera (he held it about stomach level), he paused and pointed the lens right at my face and snapped the button.  He apparently took my picture, and he gave a funny grin like he knew I knew.  Anyway, $20.00 was a lot to college student me, and I declined his offer.  The bearded man didn't press the matter and sauntered off down the sidewalk.

The first thing I thought of was the Phantom Photographers chapter of Mothman Prophecies, but I didn't really assign any significance to the encounter.  I assumed he was just a hustler trying to make a quick buck with a probably-stolen camera.  But it was weird seeing him clamber into view from way back in the lightless depths of the burned-out store.  Any why did he take my picture?

Monday, May 27, 2019

Found an old book review I wrote during a bout of depression.  Think I'll resurrect it here:

The Silmarillion

by J. R. R. Tolkien

(Fantasy novel; Middle Earth #1)

Perhaps it is because my mind is empty and cobweb-ridden this year, since I have sold so many books and disavowed many more, but Tolkien's The Silmarillion poured effortlessly through the windows of my eyes. I have heard that even Tolkien buffs have trouble wading through this precursor to The Hobbit and the Ring trilogy; I paused several times because I didn't want it to end.

It may not be the literary merits (as great as they are) of The Silmarillion that mesmerized me so much as the mood it evoked: reading of the earliest eras of Middle-Earth transported me back to my own adolescence, when books of wonder with their fantastic lands and marvelous inhabitants stretched out endlessly before me -- yet all remained within my grasp, if I but pulled out my library card or saved up a few quarters for a paperback.

Studying the well-limned map of Beleriand, with its mountains, forests, lakes, and rivers, became strangely calming. Here were far lands with alien names, the stage for great and mythic works. Now the urge steals over me to pull out my Atlas of Fantasy and study other realms of the fantastic. A covetous feeling engulfs me -- I must take back the lands that, due to whims, temperament, and circumstance, I have relinquished over the past quarter-century: Amber, Narnia, Nehwon, Darkover, Deryni, Oz, Islandia, and a score of others.

Much effort went into these maps and into The Silmarillion itself (Tolkien labored on it, off and on, for most of his life!). This storehouse of talent, this battery of a love of storytelling, sent its current through the filaments of my being. I must re-start my own tales and fill them with adventures dear and creatures dire!

I have become a boy of twelve again, the "golden age" of SF (and fantasy) reading; I am free of school on a lazy summer's day, belly-down on the sofa or bed or carpet, chin propped on hands. I listen to the rush of a fan or air conditioner, my roamings through the molten July heat done for the afternoon. I leave my room and my home -- temporarily, at least -- and drift like an astral traveler to other worlds and times.

Yet I am also an adult, more worldly, better able to understand the complex words and phrases, spotting more similes and references. I am able to scribble my own thoughts on paper and even see them in print once in a while.

Old folks think wistfully of former days. Youth expects "now" to last forever. A few people, however, hold the best of both ages within their breasts; they are guided and goaded to this state of bliss by miraculous books like J. R. R. Tolkien's Silmarillion.

You might expect me, after the above ravings, to give the book endless "stars", but I know few readers will agree with my blathering assessment. Realistically, had I read The Silmarillion at any other time in my life, I would have barely kept my head above the ocean of names of Elves, Dwarves, Humans, rivers, cities, lands, weapons, and battles. (Indeed, I recall several false starts in reading the book back in the '70s.) Even as a compromise, however, I can't give the Bible of Middle-Earth less than four out of five stars: **** 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

How High's the Water Mama?

Sometimes the best intentions come to naught. Take all the recent fuss over global warming. Even if everyone came together to prevent cars and cows from giving off greenhouse gases, it may not help, due to an interesting fact uncovered in February 1993.

At that time a team of geophysicists led by Donald Blankenship (University of Texas) and Robin Bell (Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory) were flying over the Antarctic ice sheet south of Marie Byrd Land. Three hundred miles in from the Ross Ice Shelf, they noted a four-mile-wide depression. They flew back, using radar to penetrate the ice, and discovered a 2,100 foot mountain. They measured the peak's magnetic field and found "the strong signal characteristic of iron-rich volcanic rock." In other words, there was an active volcano beneath the Antarctic ice -- probably more than one, as the area is a rift valley, like the infamous Atlantic Ridge.

Oddly, the problem is not that the icecap might melt. Not even a volcano could do that. But it could melt the lowest layer of ice, which would then mix with the sediment base, which would erode away. The western ice sheet might then collapse into the sea. According to science writer Robert Naeye, "if it did, the global sea level would rise about 20 feet, and coastal cities will be flooded."

This is not to say we should let greenhouse gases spew into the atmosphere at our hearts' desire, but . . . Someday I intend to move from my apartment of ten years habitation, and when I do, it will be to someplace inland. And high.

Naeye, Robert, "The Strangest Volcano," Discover vol. 15, no. 1, January 1994.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

I brought 15 copies of I Heard of That Somewhere to my book signing last Saturday.  The event was to last from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM., and I sold the last one at 4:59 PM. Good timing!

An amazing number of people showed up despite the cold and wind and rain, which started off gale-strong and just kept getting worse as the day wore on. I'd like to take credit for that, but it was probably just the luck of the draw.

With the possibility of more people checking my blog, I'd better produce some new material -- specifically, a glimpse of my next book, tentatively entitled Other Realms, about mysterious disappearances of people, animals, and vehicles, unexplained appearances of strange creatures, and the possibility of other dimensions impinging on this earth:


            Many cases of disappearances and appearances prominently feature a strange fog or mist gathering about the vanishing/appearing object.  This mist has parallels in old legends.  “Manawydan, Son of Llyr,” a tale found in The Mabinogion, tells the story of Manawydan, his new wife Rhiannon, her son Pryderi, and Pryderi’s wife Kigva.  Upon marrying Rhiannon, Manawydan becomes lord of Dyved in southwestern Wales.  After riding out from their castle at Arberth, the foursome encounter a curious phenomenon:

            “As they were sitting on the mound they heard thunder, and with the loudness of the thunder a mist fell, so that no one could see his companions.  When the mist lifted it was bright everywhere, and when they looked out at where they had once seen their flocks and herds and dwellings they now saw nothing, no animal, no smoke, no fire, no man, no dwelling . . . They returned to the hall, but no one was there; they searched the chambers and the sleeping quarters but found nothing, while the kitchen and the mead-cellar were equally desolate.”  [Jeffrey Gantz translation, 1976]

            An unknown fate supposedly befell Romulus, the legendary co-founder [with his brother Remus] of Rome.  Romulus mysteriously vanished in 714 BC.  (The mention of a solar eclipse during the event would set the date as May 26 of that year.)  The Roman author Livy (Livius Titus) wrote, in The Early History of Rome, that “One day while he was reviewing his troops on the Campus Martius near the marsh of Capra, a storm burst, with violent thunder.  A cloud enveloped him, so thick that it hid him from the eyes of everyone present; and from that moment he was never seen again upon earth.”

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

For those of you who will be in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, area in the near future: It's official! Michael D. Winkle will be signing (and hopefully selling) copies of his book I Heard of That Somewhere at Gardner's Used Books, 4421 South Mingo Road, Tulsa, OK, from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM on Saturday, April 13, 2019!
Unless the signing is called due to Spontaneous Combustion or asteroid strikes.

Read of Astounding Wonders of Time and Space, such as the Subterranean Heartbeat!

Mrs. Massey's Migrating Mice!

The Devouring Vine and the Snake-Tree!

The Portal in the Desert!

And Many Other Miracles Never Before Exhibited in any North American County Fair!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

On a Country Road

Now a glimpse of my next book of true-life mysteries and strangeness, I Heard of That, Two:

The 1970s show Kolchak:  The Night Stalker, about a hard-bitten newspaper reporter who constantly stumbles across monsters in modern-day Chicago, is my all-time favorite TV series.  Most critics agree that the episode “Horror of the Heights,” scripted by Hammer Films alumnus Jimmy Sangster, is the best of the series.  In it a Hindu demon called the Rakshasa, a hairy, toothy, humanoid flesh-eater, preys upon the elderly Jewish inhabitants of a Chicago neighborhood.  Not satisfied with a simple shape-shifting spirit, Sangster kept his monster to one form – but it can telepathically project images into its victims’ minds, who see someone they know and trust instead of a fanged and clawed predator, and who walk happily into its shaggy outstretched arms.

The closing lines of "Horror in the Heights" always remind me of this account from that early volume published by the Society for Psychical Research, Phantasms of the Living.  The story came from John Rouse of Croydon (a borough of London).  Rouse worked for Cockerells, a coal-distribution company, but he was also a member of a group “which met to investigate spiritualistic phenomena” (which sounds a little Kolchakian in itself).  A “Mrs. W.” was part of this group, “between whom and himself a strong sympathy existed.”

In the spring of 1873 Rouse traveled to Norwich on business.  At about 11:00 PM he decided to take a walk in a rural area on the edge of town.

“It was in the brightest moonlight, about full moon, I should think, with hardly a cloud in the sky,” Rouse recalled.  He mounted the summit of a hill and could see far across the land in the silvery lunar light.  The only moving object for miles was a human figure on the road ahead, which was walking his way.  As the two drew closer to one another, the coal representative decided it must be a country woman hiking to Norwich with eggs and other produce to sell at the market.  Rouse continues:  “The next moment I began to fear that, the time and place being so lonely, the woman would be afraid to pass me.  I, therefore, under this feeling, got as near as possible to one side of the road, thus giving her all the width on the other side to pass; but, to my astonishment, she also left the middle of the road, and took the same side as myself, as if determined to meet me face to face.  I then walked into the middle of the road, thinking I would avoid her, but to my surprise, the woman did the same.”

Though the figure was a woman, it was no farmwife:  "I could plainly see that the figure before me was a well-dressed lady in evening dress, without bonnet or shawl.  I could see some ornament or flower in her hair, gold bracelets on her bare arms, rings on her fingers, and could hear the rustle of her dress.”  No matter where he walked on the road, she shifted to match him, as if intending to crash right into him.

Mr. Rouse suddenly recognized the woman as Mrs. W. from London.  He was not overly shocked; he assumed that some business had brought her to Norwich as it had himself.  The two late night pedestrians came within five feet of each other.

“She held out her hand to me, and I could see her face and lips move as if about to speak to me.  I was in the act of taking her hand to greet her, but had not touched her, when some iron hurdles which formed the fencing of the cattle market, rang as if they were being struck with an iron bar.  This startled me, and unconsciously I turned round to see what made the noise.  I could see nothing, and instantly turned again to Mrs. W. but she was gone.” [Sidgwick, pp. 366-367]

Mr. Rouse sensed something strange was going on.  He walked swiftly back to Norwich and spent a sleepless night in his hotel room.  The next day he made inquiries about Mrs. W. and was informed that the woman was quite well, and had been in London that night among friends.

Misdirection that pulls one’s attention from a strange sight is not unknown in fortean tales.  “We have found in a number of instances that, while mobs of monster-chasers were combing one forest or swamp, UFOs were engaged in covert activities only a few miles away,” notes John Keel. [Keel, p. 129]  In folklore there is the old saw that a Leprechaun is under your power unless it can get you to look away.

I keep thinking of The Night Stalker episode, though.  We learn in “Horror in the Heights” that only a crossbow bolt blessed by a priest can kill a Rakshasa, and there are apparently “Rakshasa hunters” roaming the world watching for the ravenous demons.  Perhaps the "clanging noise" at the fence was a crossbow bolt ricocheting off the iron hurdles, fired by a nearby Rakshasa slayer, and the creature itself vanished "like the cowards they are."

I hope Mr. Rouse counted his blessings.  As Carl Kolchak (played by Darren McGavin) finishes up in “Horror”:  “And if you happen to be walking along a lonely country road one night and you see your favorite aunt coming towards you . . . Good luck to you, too!”

Keel, John A.  Strange Creatures from Time and Space (Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications, 1970).

Sidgwick, Eleanor, et. al, eds.  Phantasms of the Living (University Books: New Hyde Park, NY, 1962 [1886]).