Thursday, October 22, 2015

Not disaster. Just...eventually amusing.

A couple of years ago, I bought a great little printer, HP F4440. After using up the ink supplied with the printer, I bought re-cycled cartridges from eBay. Worked great for a very small amount of money, compared to the new HP cartridges.
But THEN!~ I upgraded to Windows 10. And had to get new printer drivers. Which wouldn't be a problem, except that the new printer software INSISTS on genuine HP ink. It wouldn't print for me.
At all.
No REAL problem; I rarely print anything anyway, other than my tax forms. And since I usually don't file my taxes until they put a lien on my bank account, that really isn't an every year thing. Maybe every five years. (I'm not a tax rebel, I have ADD.)
But last night a friend asked me to arrange and print some song lyrics for a performance he is going to lead, so I knew I would need to get some genuine HP ink today. I agreed to print out what he needed, then meet him at his house for lunch and proof reading by 12:30.
No problem. I had to go out anyway.
See, about two weeks ago, I went to the stomach doctor, and complained about stomach pain and heartburn. He put me on an antibiotic, and told me after I had finished it (only five days) I would need to submit some stool specimens. The antibiotic tore my stomach to pieces, and killed everything that was alive in there, and after I stopped crying like a scared little girl (which took a week or so), I went by the lab to pick up the stool sample kit.
Found out he ordered FIVE tests, which called for EIGHT tubes. They gave me the tubes and plastic bags and this little plastic hat. Poop in the hat, scoop out the poop, put it in the tube. Seal the tube. Put the tubes in the plastic bags. Seal the plastic bags. Return everything but the plastic hat to the lab.
It is a demoralizing process to take your own stool samples. How much is going to be enough? I've got eight tubes....
And what if the plastic hat slips?
No easy way to do this.
At least the cat didn't try to come in while I was sitting on the bathroom floor. She already thinks I'm strange because I empty her cat box. If she saw me scooping up my own poo with a little plastic spoon and sticking it into a tube, she'd call the cops. "Arrest this man! He's playing with his poo!"
So, I had to go out today, to take the poo samples back to the lab. Therefore it was no problem to make a SECOND stop and buy ink.
And my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA is serving on a women's retreat this weekend, and she left this morning, so I decided that was a good time to make my poo and ink run.
Now, I'm fat and crippled, and I have a bag of poo, so I decided to take the motorcycle. Just something about the rebellion associated with being a biker; I needed that additional personality reinforcement to make up for carrying a poo-bag.
Except I couldn't get the bike started. I hadn't ridden in weeks.
So I fooled around with the carbs, and put the battery on the charger, and by carefully handling my tools, I was able to make the bike fall over. So that was good. It's not a little bike; it's a 1985 Honda V65 Sabre, and it weighs around 500 pounds or a ton or something. Anyway, I can't pick it up by myself.
So I left it, and took the truck. I figured that way I would have enough time to drop off the poo, buy the ink, get back home, and print off the songs in time to make it to my friend's house by 12:30. If I tried to pick up the bike and get it running, no way.
So, in plenty of time, I pull up to the lab, and walk in with my bag of poo. "I need to drop off these stool samples," I tell the receptionist.
"Okay, go ahead and sign in, and I'll have someone see you in case you need blood drawn."
"No, I don't need any blood drawn, I just need to drop off these stool samples."
"Well, you may need  to have some blood drawn, so just have a seat, and I'll have the technician look at your paperwork." And she makes me sit down in this crowded office. And I was holding a bag of poo. And everybody in the office KNEW I had a bag of poo, because you could hear everything that went on. I knew this was the case, when I heard the receptionist tell a technician that there was a Mr. Patterson who was sure he didn't need blood drawn, but that there were other people ahead of him.
So, I sat in the office holding my bag of poo while millions of people who needed blood drawn went ahead.
Now, there is NO WAY that there was any odor coming from the bag: the poo was inside a sealed tube, inside a plastic bag, inside another plastic bag, inside a big honken plastic bag that said "CAUTION! POO!!" No, it didn't say that, it said SPECIMEN or SAMPLE or something. But the point is, no way was there any odor. But that didn't stop me from smelling poo, and imagining everyone else in the waiting room smelled poo, as they looked at the fat crippled biker sitting on the edge of his chair. Took about a week subjective, maybe fifteen minutes Earth time, before the tech called me back.
She wanted me to sign in again, so I did.
Then she finally accepted the bag of poo. And she wanted the paperwork (which would undoubtedly show that she would get to draw blood from my grumpy hairy arm. I pointed out to her that the paperwork was in a special side pocket of the poo bag. She took it out, and then said she needed my insurance card. There's a copy of it in the papers in the poo bag, I replied.
No, there isn't (you dumb butthead), she retorted.
So, I reached through the window, rearranged the papers for her, and showed her the copy of my insurance card.
And they then grudgingly let me leave without taking blood. I decided on my own that I would perhaps LATER have a nice day, but that her parting words would not influence me in any way.
And then I walked through the crowded waiting room, all eyes on me, as I reeked of poo and had big green horseflies buzzing around my head.
Ten minutes later, I'm at BJ's Warehouse to buy ink for my HP printer. I need one black cartridge and one color cartridge. Cost: $90.
That bothered me.
I strolled down the aisle, until my eyes discovered a Canon Pixma  MG6620 printer (Wireless-print-copy-scan-cloud link) on sale: was $150, now $60, new in box. Did it have starter ink cartridges? Box doesn't say, so I go off to Customer Service. Yes, after talking to someone on the radio, they let me open the box, and the nice lady helps me discover: TA DA!!! INK!
So, I'm still okay on time, and will make it home, install the new printer, properly format the song sheet, and get it to my friend for 12:30 lunch.
That's before I discovered a cement truck had dumped its' load on Highway 92, reducing lunch hour traffic to one lane.
I make it home at 12:30, scramble inside, unbox the printer and start the setup. My friend calls at 12:45. I decide to psych him.
Hey, Tony, where are you?
Silence. A moment of profound, deep silence. Then:
Umm, I'm at my house, where you are supposed to be.
Yeah, I knew that, I was just messing with you. I had to buy a new printer. Why don't you come over here?
So, by the time Tony arrives, I've got the printer installed on my wireless network, and the song sheet formatted, and he loves it. He makes a couple of changes, and I print off the pristine original in clear, crisp, 18 point type, and even have a folder to keep it from getting messed up.
And before he leaves, he helps me pick up my motorcycle.
See? If you have FRIENDS, life just is a whole lot better. Cats are okay, but they won't help you pick up a motorcycle.
On the other hand, I don't know how comfortable it would be if Tony sat in my lap. So there's that.
I hope this doesn't have any typos, because I'm just going to publish it without proof-reading. Bad habit, I know, but it's 9 PM, I haven't eaten anything, and I'm tired.
G'night. y'all!

Scout's Duty, by Henry Vogel, is now on Amazon

I reviewed an advance copy of Scout's Duty here on my blog on March 3. Henry has just added this third volume of the trilogy (Scout's Oath & Scout's Honor) and I hope he sells a million.
Yesterday was the day Doc Brown and Marty McFly picked as a destination in the Back to the Future franchise. That was a good opportunity for the family to binge-watch all three movies, so we did.
(By the way, I hate watching movies with the family. I'm a grinch.)
The watching family, in case you care, consists of my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA; 10 year old Kenneth; 9 year old Alicia; adult daughter Elizabeth; son-in-law Vincent; and intermittently, the fat black Manx cat SugarBelly. And me. We have a big TV; it's ridiculously huge, something like six feet across or thereabouts. I don't know fer shure, I just paid for it, I don't watch it.
Anyway, one SPOILER ALERT scene where George McFly has an awesome day in the new and updated 1985 is the day his ....FIRST BOOK IS PUBLISHED!!!! And by the looks of things, must have gotten a huge advance, too, because there are lots of toys and cars and things at the McFly house.
I'm hoping that will happen for ALL of my friends who write, not just Henry; millions of bucks in advances to afford shiny cars and people who keep them shiny...
But, here's the recycled review from six months ago with minor edits for continuity. Or something.:

David Rice is a Scout, First Class. He's many other things as well, but being a Scout goes to the core, and has an impact on the kind of friend and the kind of husband he is. When he was a little boy, and later on an older boy, he loved listening to the stories of an old, retired Scout who lived across the street from him, so every thing he does is a culmination of a lifetime dedicated to the concept of duty.
In this book, David starts off at what most would consider the top of the heap. He's married to the beautiful Princess who is destined to rule her kingdom, and there is really only one other superpower on the planet. So, David could be content either to rest on his laurels, or set about a conquering the Tartegians and then ruling the entire planet. To his credit, neither course of action seem to appeal to him.
The outside world intrudes, through the wormhole in a crippled ship, David, being a Scout, goes to rescue them. And we get to meet the really, honest, no-kidding nasty bad guys, because that's no ordinary ship: it's PIRATES!!!
For a Juvenile/YA book to be good, in the Heinlein tradition, certain things HAVE to happen. The hero can't just stand off and give orders. He has to give the bad guys a fair fight. And, he has to win, in the end. And THIS is a good Juvenile! There's not a thing in here that would make me uncomfortable if I was reading it to my 10 year old, Kenneth. The pirates have tortured and tormented a young boy to make him into a cruel cyborg; David kills the cyborg, but not without a pang, as he considers that the boy was a victim, too. He refuses to lie to the bevy of gorgeous babes, scantily clad slaves forced to be entertainment for the captain: nope, he gives them shirts, and promises to do his best by them.
Okay, let's sum up: this is the best of the trilogy, in my opinion. It's clearly an excellent juvenile. It's also well written enough that I enjoyed reading it as well, and I am NOT a type who reads at the level of see Spot run! While you would benefit from reading the other two books (Scout's Oath and Scout's Honor), you don't have to read them first to enjoy this book. Give it some good cover art, and I'd be happy to see this in every school library in America.
How's THAT?

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Why I Never Talked to Stanley Kubrick Again

This is a story I made up to amuse myself last week, in a mildly expanded form.

The movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" recently appeared on Netflix. I never saw it when it appeared in theaters, and ignored all the media hype about it, with one exception: I did read the MAD magazine spoof, called '201 Minutes of a Space Idiocy.' That might seem to you to be a particularly ignorant decision regarding a ground-breaking sci-fi epic, but I have an excuse: I actually worked on the film.
My name doesn't appear anywhere in the credits, which is a demand I made when I stormed into the Shepperton Studio offices after my last day on set. They were disturbingly untroubled by my little tantrum, which I recognize now as being due to the fact that under no circumstances would my name have appeared anyway, since I was just an unpaid production intern. In my defense, I had just turned 23 in 1966, and I suppose I had that old I-am-the-center-of-the-universe thing going. It took years to be free of that particular delusion; perhaps my decision to finally watch the film denotes final liberation.
But I get ahead of the story.
In case you don't remember, the movie starts out with animals. Specifically, the initial scene involves hominids, portrayed by people in make-up, with a few chimps mixed in for variety. The make-up for the hominids took four hours each, and involved lots of glue and hair, and the results looked good, but smelled AWFUL because of the glue. My first task was to cut yards and yards of long black hair (probably harvested from hundreds of young Asian women), into variously sized bundles for use by the make-up artists. It wasn't a particularly intellectually challenging job, but it did require intense concentration and attention to detail. Human hair is amazingly resilient to being cut in large bunches, as I suppose any barber could verify. I had to stop and sharpen my scissors about every fifteen minutes or so, or I'd get things into a terrible mess.
Everything was filmed in the studio, except for the last shot, and the lights made the stage almost intolerably hot for the actors in the suits. Kubrick said it brought realism to the set, because the actual environment would have been around 90 degrees F in the shade, but I think he just didn't want to front the money for the air conditioning. Even the people behind the lights had to work at it to stay hydrated, and the suited actors couldn't stay in the suits for more than 20 minutes max or they would pass out from the heat.  Between the hot human smell and the hot glue smell, it was like working in a rendering factory in a tropical rain forest. In fairness to him, Kubrick DID suffer under the same conditions as the rest of the crew. except that he wasn't in a suit, and he had a personal assistant to spritz him with water and keep a fan on him.
The script called for warthogs in the initial scenes. They were first to be shown as competitors with the hominids for the scant mountain vegetation, and then as a new food source after the monolith taught the hominids how to use a bone as a club. It's an essential concept, but we had severe problems from the beginning. In the first place, warthogs are mean as hell, and bit anything within range of their beady little eyes. That meant we couldn't get insured unless we provided protection for the actors in the hominid suits, and the humane societies were refusing us any aversive controls on the little crap-toads (and I mean the wart-hogs; not even Kubrick suggested using cattle prods on actors.).
So Kubrick says, get tapirs; tapirs are gentle. Right. I don't know what arcane BBC nature documentary he got his info from, but tapirs are NOT gentle. They would knock the hominid actors down to get to the freshly planted vegetation we'd put out as a supposed food source, just shoulder them right out of the way. Then they developed some sort of fascination with the hominid costumes. They've got these little prehensile noses they use to dig in the dirt, and they started pulling out the damn monkey hair that took so long to glue. None of the wranglers could figure that out; was it a tapir vs. hominid thing, or did the scent from the stinky glue combined with people sweat trigger it? We never knew what went wrong. All we knew was that in sixteen days of trying to get 15 seconds of film of tapirs and hominids interacting, we got nothing except tapirs pulling out monkey hair.
Fortunately, we lucked into a pretty smart veterinarian who pointed out that while warthogs are mean and tapirs are stupid, pigs are both smart and trainable. So, that's what we went with. We took his advice and went with French Pinks, because we had to paint them purple/grey to match the few seconds of usable film we had already shot, and they all had to be fitted with prosthetic noses to resemble the never-to-be-adequately-disdained tapirs.
With pigs on set, we did great. They were naturals, and took what little direction Kubrick needed to give them very well indeed. Shot after shot, even with the multiple retakes Kubrick was known for, those pigs handled it like professionals. All Kubrick had to do was make some rudimentary gestures with his hands, and the pigs came through like champs. I can't begin to tell you how much we appreciated that, because up until that point, we thought we might have to rely on "artist concept" imagery or stop-action to get the footage we needed.
It all came to a screaming halt with the money shot, the scene where the hominid hits the pig on the head with a bone and it falls over. The BSPCA was absolute death on the idea of us actually whacking a pig on camera, even if it was done by the most humane methods. Kubrick and the veterinarian and the pig farmer spent hours together, trying to come up with a solution, but there was simply nothing that would make a pig fall over like it was conked on the skull, except for conking it on the skull.
Fortunately, Kubrick put an amazing amount of time with the pigs. He had always liked talking with actors during filming, and as far as he was concerned, the pigs were no less actors just because they had twice as many legs. He had a small curtained-off area built just off set where he and the pigs could hang out together between scenes. It was all a part of his directorial style, the way he immersed himself in the movie. And that's how he discovered the solution.
Music defines how Kubrick's films are remembered. The obscure 'Also Sprach Zarathustra,' which became an icon at high school football games due to the pounding drum mix and easily taught horn intro, wasn't even considered as theme music until post-production began in 1967. At the time of filming, Kubrick was leaning toward a folk-pop mix to contrast with the images of the primitive hominids, and had selected Donovan's hit "Sunshine Superman" as the perfect complement to the revelation of the monolith. Donovan was recording nearby during the filming, and was a frequent guest on stage and would often join Kubrick and his wife Christiane as their diner guest. When Donovan was arrested for pot possession, it was Kubrick who put up his bail and arranged for his lawyer, as Donovan's record agency tried to disassociate themselves from the scandal.
That's how we discovered that pigs react to cannabis much in the way that humans do. After filming had stopped for the day, Donovan, who was deeply disturbed by his arrest, would join Kubrick and the pigs for some conversation and food, and at one point, a particularly inquisitive porcine ate the greatest part of Donovan's marijuana stash and became intoxicated. It was such a tension reliever, that Kubrick asked me to provide the pigs with pot each day, and they developed a real affinity for it. Thus we discovered, quite by accident, that past a certain point of intoxication, pigs tend to fall over quite frequently without any outside assistance. In fact, we soon discovered that left to their own devices, the pigs would become falling-down stoned very early in the day, and my primary task was to regulate their intake. None of that is evident in the final cut, however. At least, after a gap of fifty years, I couldn't spot anything.
Being a procurer for pigs wasn't what I'd spent four years at Oxford for, but I could accept it as a necessary evil in my advancing my career. What I found unacceptable, however, was Kubrick's surprise decision not to provide any after-care for the pigs following the completion of the shoot. At the time, it was widely accepted that marijuana was highly addictive, and I feared that I might have created a pack of hogs doomed to a life of degeneracy. (As it happened, there was no negative fall-out. In fact, the pig farmer commented that his pigs were fattening up very nicely on whatever it was that I was feeding them. I did not have the courage to discuss the munchies with him.
But I never worked with Stanley Kubrick again. He simply knew too much about making films, but almost nothing about drug education.