Monday, June 29, 2015

The Square Peg - Darla Dingbat, Rabid Promoter

I got an email the other day from an agent... well, book promoter is a better appellation, but she called herself an agent... and an advertising whiz. She said she could help me achieve a bazillion sales on my books. Her email was splattered with testimonials from "highly satisfied" customers. I emailed back, thanked her for her concern and offer, but told her I wasn't interested. I made one tiny mistake. I used my business email... you know, the one with the auto signature... and my website, and my address... and my phone number. I should have paid more attention before I dashed that note off. She answered my email immediately. She said she'd call. And then she did.

I picked up the phone and said "Hello." I didn't look at my caller ID. Big mistake.

"Darla Dingbat here, I just need a minute of your time. You won't regret it."

I already was. I started to respond, but didn't get the chance. She was already launching into her pitch.

"Boy, have I got a deal for you," she said breathlessly, and for a second I thought this might be one of those late night 1-800 calls... you know the kind. It wasn't. She was just storing oxygen for the torrent of words that came next. "Do you know what I can do for your sales? I can boost them right to the top. I'll design an a campaign that will drive those sales right through the roof. You'll be on the Amazon best seller list in no time. Think launch parties, book signings, review swaps... think podcasts and guest blogs... we'll blaze new trails into the readers world. Think your website with targeted SEO..."

I quickly broke in as she took another breath. "SEO?" I asked, "Substandard Employment Office?"

She either didn't catch my sarcasm, or ignored it. "No, silly, Search Engine Optimization... we'll hashtag the hell out of them. Your books will show up every time somebody clicks a mouse or taps a screen! How does that sound to you?"

It sounded to me like she was about to have an order-gasm, but I didn't say that. "Uh, huh, and what's all this going to cost me?" Two can dangle bait, I figured.

"Tell you what, give me a week to put together a campaign. I'll lay it out in writing so you get the full picture... I'll even give you different package options, then we can talk cost. How's that sound?" When I paused, she filled the void. "Seriously, I really want to do this for you, and the campaign plan won't cost a thing. Just look it over and I'll follow up after a few days."

"Fine," I said. But it wasn't fine. I was either going to get spam in my email box or junk mail in my regular mailbox. Either way, it was going to have to be taken out to the trash, digitally or physically, and I consider that a waste of time,

Four days passed and sure enough, an email from Dora Dingbat, Agent showed up in my In-box. I opened the email, expecting to see an outline. I wasn't that lucky. It was a short email with a pdf attachment. Well, I thought, I'll at least do her the courtesy of reading the email.

Deer Mr. Stooner,

    This isto conform our telcon of [blah-blah] 2015. Attaches you'kk fund my campane plan for you   book. Please take time to reed it and I'll call next Thrusday.

Excitedly yours,

I should have sent that straight to the garbage, but I'll be honest, that letter got my curiosity up. I had to find out if I was dealing with a grownup or a 10-year-old little girl with big ideas. I opened the pdf. The top was emblazoned with Darla's Name and logo - in perfectly good English. Either she had gotten careless with the email or had one of her kids type it. The "campane" paper was sprinkled with pictures of cuddly bear cups, wolf puppies, birds, and horses. I was immediately on alert.

What you have to understand is that my book is not a Disney portrayal of the wild world... it's realistic, it's gritty, and it's vicious in places. It's titled "PREY for SURVIVAL," for Pete's sake. You'd think she would have gotten a clue.

I scanned down the campaign. There was a schedule of book signings at PETA and Green Peace meetings, guest podcast appearances on ecofreak sites, and a web site mockup that looked like it had been taken out of the New Zoo Review. I'm not even going to go into what she had for a hashtag SEO list, book launch promos or ad placements.

True to her word, Darla called me up on "Thrusday." I answered.

"Well," that breathless voice again, "What do you think?"

"I think you need to read the books you are trying to promote," I replied and hung up.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Square Peg - Just Another Texas Good Ole Boy Passtime

Just Another Texas Good Ole Boy Passtime
Copyright S. Bradley Stoner

It was Wednesday afternoon. A dreary day in San Antonio. Grey clouds were blowing in off the gulf and starting to stack up, but it wasn’t raining ... yet. I wanted to mow the lawn and trim my shrubs, but the grass was wet and the shrubs in bloom. My lovely would have pitched a fit if I bobbed her blooms. I’d been writing since the crack of 7:30 and my poor old eyes were turning the letters on the screen to merge-mush. I needed a break.

I wandered out to the kitchen and got a cup of coffee, wondering what trouble I could get into that didn’t involve the alphabet. Then I thought about my shootin’ irons. I hadn’t blown off any steam in a dog’s age. 'Why not?' I thought. There was a shooting range just a few miles away and since it was midweek, it wasn’t likely to be crowded. I wandered back into my office and studied the rack of rifles and shotguns. Yes, I said them in the plural. I’m a Texan... and before that I was a Montanan and before that a Coloradoan. Having things that go “bang” is native to all those cultures... except maybe Colorado now. Colorado is kind of going up in smoke.. the kind that gives folks the munchies. You don’t do much shooting when you are mellowed out and are busy stuffing your face. I know this from close observation, not first hand experience.

That Lyman Plains rifle and the Hawken looked pretty inviting. Besides, my black powder was aging on the closet shelf. That stuff goes bad if it sits too long. Can’t have that, now can we? And then there was my .44 caliber Navy Colt replica... also black powder, but while the Lyman and Hawken are flintlocks, the Colt is a cap and ball pistol. Yeah, that sounded like a good combination. I checked my possibles bag to make sure I had enough patches, .50 caliber balls for the rifles and .44 caliber balls for the Colt. Then I picked it up... lead is heavy and I had 100 rounds of pistol and 50 rounds of rifle balls in there plus my powder flask, ball starter and sundry other necessities. Good thing that bag is made of heavy leather and has a nice wide shoulder strap. I filled my antique powder horn with about a pound of FFFG powder, pulled on my boots, and headed out alone. My neighbors Bingo Bob, Dudley Do-Little, Mechanical Marv, and Duncan Donutz were all otherwise occupied. Besides, the only one who would have gone shooting with me was Duncan, the retired cop.

When I got to the range, it wasn’t quite as empty as I had expected. The parking lot was jammed with Ford F-350s and  Dodge Rams with humongous hemis, but there were surprisingly few shooters and there were still a bunch of open stations, so I marched up to the office to pay my fee. The clerk kind of eyed me funny, but didn’t say anything. He offered me a pair of hearing protectors, but I had my own. Weapons, ammo and target in hand, I wandered to my assigned shooting station amid the comments and catcalls from an obviously younger generation that had more money and time than most people do. There were only two shooters. The rest were just hanging out watching them.

“Whatcha got there, Grampa? You shootin’ antiques today?” one scrawny young fellow cradling his super customized, wicked looking Bushmaster XM-15 Tactical.

“Nice camo, sonny,” I called back. I'd have said something with a bit more bite, but my guns weren't loaded and I think his was.

Howie Howitzer, the guy in the station next to mine, sat polishing the .50 cal cartridges for his Model 82A1 Barrett semi-auto. I’ve got to admit, that thing’s a beast. My Hawken .50 cal looked kind of puny in comparison. Howie just eyeballed me, shook his head and finished filling that over-sized magazine with those gigantic shells as I laid my prize possessions out on the shooting bench.

Now, the thing you have to understand is that you just don’t cram a cartridge in a muzzle loader and go... there’s a whole process to getting it ready to fire. A really good black powder shooter can load and fire about three rounds a minute. I’m more like three minutes a round. It doesn’t bother me, I have the time. I’m retired.

I suffered the hoots and giggles from the peanut gallery of the idle youth as I poured a measure of powder down the muzzle of the Hawken, positioned a patch and round ball on the bore, set it part way in with my bullet starter, before using my handmade, antler handled, razor sharp, patch knife to trim the excess patch material. Then I finished setting the ball, removed the ramrod from its brass rings and drove it home with a single power stroke. You don’t tamp the bullet like they do in the movies... that just flattens the ball and makes it fly funny. Then I half cocked the hammer, pushed back the frizzen, and primed the pan with a small amount of powder. Once the frizzen was closed, I was ready to fire. All I had to do was bring the hammer to full cock, shoulder the weapon, sight down the barrel, depress the set trigger, and caress the hair trigger in front of it.

As I sighted down the barrel, the kid with Billy Bushmaster yelled, “Can ya see the target, Gramps?”

Sometimes I hate kids. But, I ignored him, felt the hammer fall, the flint strike the frizzen and, after a split second pssst as the primer powder burned to the chamber, there was a big bang and that big, old round ball was sent downrange. Man, that blast is loud... and it belches a mixture of glowing power fragments and thick gray-black smoke out of the end of the muzzle. The station is perfect for me... all the smoke blows toward Howie and Billy. The giggles stop when the coughing starts. I draw a little satisfaction from that. Howie takes advantage of the lull to send a magazine of .50 cals downrange, the shock waves rattling my insides, and then he grins at me evilly.

“Nice shootin’,” I yell at him, but he shakes his head and mouths, “What?” At least I think he mouthed it. I’m not hearing so well after all that, so I shrug and give him the thumbs up. Howie gives me a one digit salute... and it isn’t his thumb.

For the next round, I loaded all of my weapons, the Hawken, the Lyman, and the Colt. Laying each one carefully on the bench before me. It took me ten minutes of progressive deafness to get the chore done while Howie went through two more magazines. Taking a deep breath, I pick up the Hawken. cock, aim and fire, then the Lyman, then the Colt. I rapid fire the Colt. Ear muffs or no, I’m pretty sure I'm going deaf. The shooting at the adjacent benches has stopped... all that smoke has made it impossible to for anybody to see the targets.

Through the haze, I notice Howie Howitzer and Billy Bushmaster are packing up. The both glare at me with bloodshot eyes. Black powder smoke is kind of hard on eyes. Then I notice the range master striding purposefully toward me with a bandana pressed to his nose and mouth. Apparently I had broken some rule when I fanned the colt. Apparently that’s a no-no. The range master invited me to leave. I told him I wasn’t ready. He told me I was. I told him I wanted my range fee back then. He told me it would be a cold day in hell. I smiled at him and told him I’d wait... I had all the time in the world...after all, I’m retired.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Square Peg - The Leap Forward or Is Big Brother Really Watching?

The Leap Forward or Is Big Brother Really Watching?
Copyright S. Bradley Stoner

My last Square Peg column was written sometime around 1983... heavens to Betsy! That was 32 years ago. Where did the time go? Ah well, here we are in 2015 Anno Domini... call me old fashioned, but that just sounds better than Common Era or CE. For me, that’s just political correctness, and I don’t find anything particularly correct about that. In fact, I don’t find much correct about politics, but that is a topic for another time. But speaking of government stuff, much to my surprise and astonishment, Harold showed up here in San Antonio. You remember Harold... the self-same fellow who used to drive me nuts in Montana.

I almost didn’t recognize him. He’s put on a pound or thirty and he’s balding, but making up for it by growing facial hair. At least I think it’s hair. I was hoping he wouldn’t see me looking out the slat of the window blind. Luck was not a lady... Harold poked a finger at me, mouthed, “I see you in there,” and rang the doorbell again. “C’mon man, let me in!”

I didn’t want to. I mean, I really didn’t want to! I had been Harold-free for the better part of three decades, and I had no clue how on earth he found me. I paused. He banged on the door. I finally relented and opened the door a crack. “What do you want?”

“I’m with the NSA now,” Harold intoned in his most serious voice.

I blinked and thought, ‘If you’re with the NSA, I’m Homer freaking Simpson.’

“We have a few questions for you,” he added. “We need a few moments of your time.”

“What’s with the ‘we’ crap, Harold? I don’t see any ‘we’ out there... it’s just you.”

“It’s how we at the organization refer to ourselves. We’re never really alone, you know.” He wedged his hand through the crack. It held a card.

I took it. I looked at it. Sure enough, there was Harold’s name emblazoned across it with the words ‘Field Director’ right below it. There was a telephone number and an official looking seal on the card, but no address. I shook my head. That made some sense... not putting the address on the card. It was kind of like the government removing the on-line agency phone books. Terrorist threats and all that. I remembered back to when the military changed their system from “ThreatCon” (Threat Condition) to ‘FPCON’ (Force Protection Condition). Right now, I was at FPCON Charlie... because Harold presented an imminent threat to my security. If I got to Delta... well that would be it... it would be all over.

Harold wedged a foot in the door so I couldn’t close it. “Look, you can let me in now, or I can come back with a piece of paper later...” My threat level jumped to Delta.

“What does the NSA want with me? I’ve been retired for a few years now. Am I stockpiling too much weed and feed or something?” I asked just a tad defensively.

“Nothing like that,” Harold said in a conciliatory tone. “This is just routine... nothing at all to be worried about.”

Now, I’d worked with the government long enough to know that ‘routine’ and ‘nothing to be worried about’ were trigger words that meant you were about to be interrogated and had plenty to worry about. I had visions of Guantanamo Bay and water boarding, bright lights, lousy music blaring and no sleep. NSA... those guys weren’t constrained from operating domestically like the Company was. I started to wonder if they had bugged my place. I figured they were tracking my every move on Facebook and Google. My Twitter account would be virtually worthless to them... I almost never used it. But the others... I started to think about all the “likes” and “Google +s I had logged. Some of them were pretty conservative, after all, I am a strict constructionist when it comes to Constitutional matters, but I’m pretty open-minded when it comes to other things.

“Do I gotta go get that paper, or can we have a nice little chat now?” Harold growled. He apparently was put off by the time my ruminations took.

Personally, I thought those little tidbits had passed through my neural network at lightning speed. I opened the door just a bit more. That was enough for Harold. He wedged his shoulder in there and then bulled the door open, making for the nearest chair by the coffee table. He had that iPad up and running in no time. “You got Wi-Fi here?”

“Nope... I’ve got wireless, but it’s protected.”

“Just give me the code,” he said.

I looked at him. This was starting to stink like Harold schemes of old. “Use your own code.”

That caught him by surprise. “Wha...?” His eyes got that old deer-in-the-headlights look I remembered so well.

The screen on his iPad was glowing. It had the same seal on the log in page, but I noticed the fine print below it. I couldn’t get my bifocals to adjust to the print, so I just reached out and grabbed the iPad out of his hands.

“Hey!” he screamed, panic setting in.

I read the fine print. This tablet property of the Neighborhood Survey Association. I gave Harold a hard stare. “Ya know, Harold, this is Texas. And you sort of barged into my house... I really didn’t give you permission... and I have a pretty big pistol..,”

It was all the encouragement he needed. He grabbed the iPad back, almost broke his neck getting out of the door, and slammed it behind him. I think I heard him whine something about needing the job as he ran down the sidewalk.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Oh the Joys of Texas In a Wet Year - Or, Why Are There Critters Hiding in My Grill?

It has rained in south central Texas this year. A lot. We've had close to 24 inches of the stuff in San Antonio since January. That's only 8 inches shy of our normal average annual rainfall. And it's only June. And there's more on the way this Saturday and Sunday. Long term predictions say it's going to continue to be wet through the rest of the year. El niƱo has come to visit. To date, the little boy has delivered some 30 trillion gallons of water to Texas... that's right folks... 30 TRILLION with a big old capital T gallons. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. We needed it to break a five-year drought and fill our empty lakes and aquifers.
But man... my yard is starting to look like a Yucatan jungle. My carefully conceived landscaping is running rampant and critters are starting to take up residence. More about that later. This is what my back yard looks like today. Upper left is looking west. Lower right, looking east. It did not look like that to start with. When we bought the place four years ago, there was nothing in the back yard and only a few rose bushes in the front with a hedge next to the living room window. Other than that, nada. For comparison, below is a picture of the back yard when we moved in.

Told ya. Nothin'. Bare except for a drought-stricken lawn that had as many weeds as it had grass. I don't like a nothing back yard... or a front one for that matter. I sat down at my drafting table. I drew up a landscaping plan. In the central depression, where we discovered during the one hard rain event we had that year, runoff raced through our yard and flooded into the neighbors. I knew how to fix that. French drain disguised as a dry creek bed. And that rectangular back yard needed breaking up, so a graceful curving flower bed entered my design. No shade? No problem. A couple of trees would fix that, so into the drawing went Crape Myrtles along the fence and a nice Monterrey Oak between the flower bed and the creek bed. Oh and a garden bridge. If you have a dry creek bed, you need a bridge or it just doesn't look right. I was about done with the plan when my lovely came in and told me she had found the neatest bush at the local farmers market and I just had to go see it with her. We brought home a morning glory bush... from the Yucatan. Of course now we needed a Mayan pyramid to complement the theme. One of those went into the design. A couple of shrubs to break up the angular lines between the back porch and the office extension was penciled in and then I got to work. Somewhere along the line, somebody decided a stone patio extension with a pergola-style arbor would enhance our "outdoor living area." And of course that bare space to the side of the porch just wouldn't look right without a matching pergola-style potting shed. I gotta quit watching Yard Crashers.

I went to work. Who knew when I started the project I'd be buying some 6 tons of limestone building stone? Or 3 yards of sand and gravel? Or making trips to the Hill Country to collect rocks for the creek bed? Or... Oh, I could go on, but as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.. I presume a few pictures can only enhance that, so here they are.

 Ahhh.... that's better. A place to barbeque. A place to pot new plants. Bushes that will eventually provide a little shade and as a bonus, provide a place for birds to perch and hummingbirds to feed. This was really starting to come together. It was starting to be our little haven. In time, our shrubs and trees would give us some privacy in a neighborhood where space seems to be at a premium. I like neighbors... just not quite this close. Oh well, you can't have everything I guess.
 My lovely thought the creek bed looked a bit drab, so she bought some blue glass stones at the dollar store and scattered a few among the rocks. We bought more... in fact we bought all they had in the store before the clerk told us we could order them on-line... by the case.. at a discount. Now our dry creek bed looks like it has water in it. That first year, it confused the heck out of the birds. They'd apparently never seen "hard" water like this. The Grackles started taking out stones and putting them in the grass next to the creek. I'm still not sure whether that was a protest or they had their own ideas about landscaping.

Enough history... but that sure looked nice, didn't it? Growing things don't stay neat. They tend to try to fill the space in which they are planted. They grow... and during a wet year they grow a lot. My Monterrey Oak is over fifteen feet tall. The volunteer trees (I'm pretty sure they were volunteered by the local squirrel), a Red Oak and an I don't know what it is tree, are about 12 and 15 feet tall respectively. My Oleanders are taking over the far side of the creek and hiding my flower garden. The Crape Myrtles are not only hiding the neighbors, they are making it impossible to see that lovely Bougainvillea that is crawling on the back fence. I cut my grass three days ago... now it's five inches tall. I'm supporting OPEC with my gas lawn mower.

And critters? I don't mind the birds that flock to my fountains and feed on the nectar of my sage and firecracker. I don't mind the bees and wasps that get high on the Morning Glory pollen (hey, even the Africanized bees are mellow after making a visit to that bush). I like the bunnies that show up now and again. There's an Opossum that thinks our back fence is his personal highway. Luckily the skunk that shows up now and again hasn't fumigated my back yard. But that brings us to the Raccoons.

They started showing up this spring. One decided the insulation on my central air conditioning pipes might make a tasty snack. I reinstalled the insulation twice, but I got smart after the second time. I put hot sauce on the insulation. They haven't bothered it since. Apparently cayenne pepper is not on their menu. Then they fished the pump out of the little fountain on my porch and chewed up the connection for the internal hose. Apparently hard plastic IS on their menu. Cayenne pepper fixed that too... along with a replacement pump.

But last night was the absolute topper. We had gone out to enjoy the night... look at the stars in the sky that was remarkably clear for the first time in weeks. Then we sat down at the table. A scrabbling noise came from the vicinity of my grill. Not the new six-burner power grill that my son bought me for my birthday-Father's Day-Christmas gift... but my trusty old two burner Char-Broil that is in semi-retirement until I can find it a new home. I keep them both covered with heavy-duty grill covers to keep out the weather. It doesn't keep out raccoons. I moved the big grill. A moderate sized raccoon shot out from under the skirt of the cover and took off across the yard. She was followed by a smallish one... obviously her baby. Ahh, I thought, that takes care of it. Wrong.

I had just resumed my seat when more noises emanated from yon grill. I walked over to it. More noises, then silence. I started to lift the canvas cover, Silence. I pulled one end off. There, staring back at me were three little masked faces. For a moment they froze... and so did I. After all we were less than a foot apart and my fingers were woefully close to their sharp little incisors. Talking usually calms critters... at least it does when I talk to them, And for just a moment it did. Then the two furthest from me made a break for freedom, clambering down the grill inside the skirt and darting into the yard where Mama Raccoon had been a moment ago with their little brother. The last one got stuck in the folds of cover. At least he thought he did. He looked at me, probably scared out of his wits. I assured him I meant no harm, and gently nudged his little butt, with the cover between my hand and his butt of course. He slooowly made his way out. He left the porch, tiptoed across the patio, and out to the yard... the wrong way. I hope he found his Mama... and I wonder if they will be back tonight.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Square Peg - Winter... or Confessions of a Red Neck Dinker

Winter... or Confessions of a Red Neck Dinker
Copyright S. Bradley Stoner

I like winter. Ski bums, ice fishermen, and snowmobilers like winter too, but I don't fit into any of those classifications. I found out a long time ago that skiing was not for me. The lodge is okay, but the slopes are downright dangerous. Snow on ski slopes is not soft and fluffy. It hurts when you can't stay in an upright position. And I can't. Ice fishing is okay too, if you don't mind the cold, the work, and the smell. Snowmobiling... well, let's just say I haven't gone that far around the bend... yet.

No, I like winter because I'm a dinker. Some say a red neck dinker. For those of you who don't know what a red neck is, I suggest you Google it... I'm not going to to tell you. For those of you who don't know what a dinker is, let me explain. In spring when all of my animals are finding out how they can make big holes in my fence, I dink around with posts and woven wire. In summer, usually because something on my old tractor has gone bad, I plug in the two twenty and dink with my welder. Sometimes I dink around with the mistakes left over from fixing the tractor to make metal sculptures. I call them art. Emily calls them junk. Summer is also a great time for dinking around with wood working projects. You'd be amazed at what can be made from wood. You'd be more amazed with what can't. Finally, summer is the best time of the year to work on that "classic" that sits up on cinder blocks out back. Emily doesn't understand the value of a classic automobile. She wants to know when I'm "going to get that old eyesore of a junker out of here."

Then comes fall. I used to like the fall. Crisp mornings, changing leaves, a touch of woodsmoke in the air. I'm not so sure anymore. Fall means shorter days. It's God's way of telling a dinker to quit dinking around and get the mess that's accumulated from all those summer projects cleaned up, and then laughing at you when you don't have the time to do it. I mean, by the time the Broncos have defeated the Raiders and Seattle is at half time, there are only a couple hours of daylight left... which would be okay, but dinkers have this irresistible urge to see what happens to Seattle during the second half.

Ah, but then winter comes. You have no idea how comforting this is to a dinker. Especially when that first snow flies. I can put Emily off when the first hard freeze comes. "Look Emily, I tried, but that pipe is stuck to the ground." Or, "Geez, I sure would like to get that burned, but there's an inversion. The county won't issue me a burn permit." If I hold her off for two or three weeks, I've got it made. Snow. A dinker's idea of the perfect heaven. Projecting pieces of pipe get little white caps on their ends. It does to that pile of metal mistakes the dinker welded together what he never could... it makes it beautiful. It makes Emily forget about them for the entire season. Now all she thinks about is see for the bird feeder I made her last summer. I watch her now as she lovingly fills it for the chickadees. She turns and looks at me with shining eyes. "I don't suppose," she chirps sweetly, "that you ever cleaned up the mess you made when you built this thing?"

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Square Peg - Cat Food... or the Insidious Feminization of America

Cat Food
Copyright S, Bradley Stoner

I have a question. Does anybody out there know who is in charge of the cat food companies? Not the canned variety, the crunchy kind. I think they're headed by a conspiracy of individuals intent on making men feel inferior.

Have you ever looked at cat crunchies? I mean really looked at them? Do they come in those hard, masculine nuggets like dog food? Not on your life. They come in little circles and crosses. Circles are not masculine. And the crosses sometimes look like little imitations of female chromosomes. And if you mix the two kinds (shudder) they wind up being little circles with little crosses at the bottom... like this ♀... and we all know what that means.

My friend Emily told me that I was overreacting. They make them like that so the cute little kitties can chew them easier. "And, besides," she said, "pussycats are sort of feminine."

Now, I'll admit that they are soft and sort of cuddly, and that they purr a lot, but does that make them sissies? I ask you, what's feminine about bringing home a dead mouse and laying it on the table? Is is feminine to burp feathers? And why do they call it "tom-catting around" when men are just looking for a little fun? Is that feminine? Have you ever watched a cat stalking a robin in the grass? I'm telling you, beneath that soft, furry exterior there beats the heart of a cold-blooded killer.

I'm appealing to the good masculine sense of fairness out there. Can't one of you manufacturers make cat crunchies in golden nuggets? Do we have to give up everything? Is there no justice?! I say, "Men unite before it's too late! We must resist this feminist takeover of OUR world!"

I have to quit now. Emily just came in and whispered in my ear that we're out of cat food... and if I'm a really good boy, she'll have a special treat for me when we get back from the store.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Square Peg - Protection Plans

Protection Plans
Copyright S. Bradley Stoner

Did the world zip through a few revolutions while I was asleep? Or wasn't I paying attention? What happened to insurance? You remember, the security that you used to buy from the guy who came to your house smoking smelly cigars and telling those really good jokes. That comforting sheaf of papers that guaranteed that if you had a fender bender you were covered. If you tripped over the barbeque, slap-whacked down on the patio, and busted your flipper, you were covered. If the neighbor kid used your picture window for a backstop, you were covered. If Ma Nature decided to single out your house to demonstrate that man isn't quite as dominant as he thinks he is... that's right, you were covered.

Well, I just discovered that you can't buy insurance anymore. You purchase a protection plan. An automobile protection plan. A personal protection plan. A home owners protection plan. You've got your indemnity plans, and if you have an ACCIDENTAL death, you can be doubly indemnified if you purchase the RIDER. Of course, if you die at a time of your own choosing, the insurance company pays itself a handsome dividend and your family gets squat. This is the insurance company's way of telling your spouse that she or he shouldn't have nagged you so much and your kids should have been a little better behaved.

For your car, you may purchase any one of the following plans: Your Fault, My Fault, or No Fault. No Fault is rapidly supplanting the other plans and is being pushed by state legislators with the full knowledge that nobody wants the blame for anything anymore. No Fault means that when the drunk from down the block presses your Porsche, dings your DeLorean classic, or annihilates your Audi, it's NOT HIS fault. How could it be? He doesn't own a protection plan. So, every time he bangs up your baby, guess who's rates go up? That's right. Considering that ten percent of the idiots out there cause ninety percent of the damage, this is no accident. Figure it out. Do you make more raising the rates of ten percent to astronomical levels? Heck no.. they'll quit buying protection plans. Oh wait, they already did... so, you raise the remaining ninety percent's rates to the stratosphere and then you've got something!

I've noticed something else too. With the advent of protection plans, insurance salesmen have become all but extinct. This makes me mad. I miss the jokes. Now we have to deal with Agents, Investment Counselors, CICs and CLUs. When was the last time you heard an Agent crack a one liner? When was the last time you saw an Investment Counselor crack a smile? Nuts, they don't even smoke smelly cigars anymore. That would raise THEIR rates.

One more thing. Who told the insurance companies they could produce oil? Become stock brokers? Own vast tracts of farmland? Make movies, for Pete's sake?! Wall Street doesn't even run a close second when it comes to control and ownership. I dug and dug for the answers. I never did find them, but consider this... who else could afford the protection plans?

I've got it solved, though. When it's my time, I have the perfect plan. I don't need insurance. I'm going to take all the money I've saved, pack it around a box of dynamite in my living room, sit down on the box, light a really smelly cigar, tell a couple of really good jokes, call up my CLU, and let him hear me go out with a bang!

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Square Peg - Constitutional

Copyright S. Bradley Stoner

It was Thursday afternoon. I was bored. I didn't have a thing to do that night. Everything on the tube was being recycled. I longed for something different. I looked in the local paper in the "Events" section. I'd been to the art shows. I'd been to the craft shows. I had no intention of seeing the return of Jason in Friday the Thirteenth part ninety none, and I don't do needlepoint, bridge, or pinochle. When I saw the announcement for a meeting of the Constitutional Study Group, I thought, "Wow! This is for me." I had visions of lawyers, university professors, and jurists conducting a panel discussion on the fine points of government. Boy, was I in for a surprise.

I should have known better. The meeting was being held at the Joseph McCarthy Building on South Cracker Street. No identification was required, but you had to produce a gun of at least .30 caliber to gain admission. I presumed that this was because the Second Amendment was on the agenda. The First Amendment was also going to be discussed. At least I was prepared. I wore my quick draw holster with the .45 in it, and I always have my big mouth with me. Unfortunately, I also carried my notepad and a pen.

A diminutive man stopped me at the door. He limped and was stooped. Small wonder. The cannon on his hip outweighed him and that string of grenades must have put a terrible strain on his back. "Whatcha need them papers fer?!" he demanded,

"I'm a writer," I replied. "I need them for notes... First Amendment and all, you know. He asked for whom I wrote, only the way he put it, it had no "m" in whom and he ended the question with a preposition. I had a feeling my safety might depend on my answer. "The New American Reactionary," I stated firmly. "We print in red, white and blue ink."

He eyed me suspiciously and then waved me through, muttering, "I ain't never heard of it, but it sounds okay."

I found a seat next to an attractive red head who was packing the cutest pearl handled pea shooter I've ever seen. "Nice piece," I said, looking her over.

"Watch it buster!" she said, tapping her pistol. "I know how to use this thing." The sweet granny next to her was knitting a gun case for her sawed off twelve gauge.

The meeting was brought to order by a bearded apparition who used his nine millimeter for a gavel. Nobody seemed mind the blast, the smoke, or the new hole in the wall behind the dais. I sat quietly while the guest speaker explained our sacred right to bear arms and the sixteen ways to convert a hunting rifle to an automatic assault weapon. I said nothing when he gave instructions for building a tank. I put a plug in it when he explained that our guns were the only thing that stood between us and war with the (yet to be defined) enemy and the twenty ways our guns could be used to keep the peace.

But when the second speaker stood up and started exercising his freedom of speech to instruct us on the evils of the press, I could no longer contain myself. "Hey," I shouted out, "the First Amendment specifically grants freedom of the press." I was about to explain that, as a strict Constitutionalist, I didn't appreciate anyone suggesting the Bill of Rights should be infringed. I didn't get the chance.

The response came from all over the room. "Sit down and shut up! Who wants to hear from you?!" and "What is that? A pinko commie line? Put a gag in it Rooskie lover." I was sorely tempted to point out that freedom of the press was the thing that distinguished us from totalitarian governments, but I could see that constructive dissent had no place here. I sat down.

While some erudite man was expounding on the "commie maggots" in Congress, the cute red head took pity on me. She petted my pistol. She poked me with her pea shooter. She whispered to me about the cartridge loops on her bra straps. She showed me the little holster on her garter. She invited me to inspect her bomb shelter. Her brother sat on my other side tickling my ear with a howitzer.

I don't remember much after that. Dr. Skullpeeker says I snapped. All I know is that when I hear a gun go off, I see red, run to the basement, and babble incoherently about commies, bare arms, and topless bomb shelters.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Square Peg - Single

Copyright S. Bradley Stoner

[Author's note: This was obviously written before I met the love of my life to whom, as of this day, I have been married for 25 wonderful years that I wouldn't trade for all the tea in China... not that I drink tea... well, I do, but it's iced tea, it's a southern thing. We met in an elevator, in an airport... at gunpoint... but that's a tale for another day.]

I'm steamed. The four thousandth six hundred and forty ninth person to do so this week just asked me if I was married. I don't mind the question, but those looks you get when you say "no" are about to drive me around the bend. Is being single a disease? If it is, then why hasn't my doctor prescribed something for it? He seems to think I'm just fine. But not the rest of the world.

Married women are the worst. Particularly middle-aged married women. "Oh, you poor dear," they'll say. "You poor, poor dear." If they think I'm so poor, why don't they give me money? If I had more money, I might just consider matrimony... or not.

Some think that if a man is past thirty and still a bachelor, he must not eat at all, or subsist entirely on junk food. The most often heard comments from these ladies are, "You must be famished," or "Why don't I fix you a good, wholesome, home-cooked meal?" Some just look you up and down like they were measuring you for something. I've found out most of them are married to traveling salesmen and football junkies.

Family is right up there with married women. Most of my family is married. I KNOW they think I have a disease. Once called restlessness. How do I know? Why else would they keep asking me, "Don't you think it's about time you settled down and got married?" Good Lord! I've been in the same place for ten years. Some of them have been hoppity-skipping all over the darn country during that time. And, we're not talking vacations here. The men in my family are sort of strange too. They keep saying, "Don't you think it would be nice to have a wife when you want to... well, you know..." 

"What?" I ask.

In lowered voices and hushed tones so 'the ladies' won't hear, they say, "Do it."

"It?" I ask (okay now I'm just toying with them).

"You know... IT!"

I give them the old blank stare. That get's them frustrated. I let them stew a while, and then say, "This is the eighties for Pete's sake." After all these years, I'm surprised they have the same reaction. It's one of utter shock.

Married men, on the other hand, assume I'm out there whoopity whooping it up every night with a different girl. I'm not. That doesn't seem to make any difference to them, they still think it, ask me all kinds of weird questions, and give me sly glances. All of their midnight fantasies are supposed to be available to single men. Do they really think single women are that stupid? That's why they call them 'fantasies' and not 'realities.'

Some of the jealous types are afraid I'm after their wives if I wave at them or simply say, "Hello." I'M not that stupid. I like living... with all my parts intact. But, I still don't get invited to many barbeques. Swim parties are completely off limits. Who knows? A pair of forty five year old legs might turn me on. I might go absolutely bonkers at a pair of sagging boobs and go madly pursuing their sweet lollypop. They might have to put their beer down, stuff the kids in the station wagon, and teach me a lesson. Fat chance.

A writer friend of min told me that I really was missing out on something, though. Kids. Kids are wonderful, he told me, they are a joy. They are fascinating. They are terrific fodder for writing. All of this while he was yelling at his sixteen year old and trying to get the crayons out of the printer.

Emily has been talking matrimony. One of her friends just got married. I'm not sure. I don't think I'm quite ready yet. She keeps wanting to put my dirty sox in a hamper. I don't own a hamper. I use a garbage can. And, I like my sox hanging around... it makes them easy to find. She wants me to move the dust around every so often. What's the point? It just settles back somewhere else. She wants me to clean off my desk. That would be disastrous. I wouldn't be able to find anything.

I just got a survey call. Guess what the first question was.... "ARRRRRGH!"

[Post script: When I finally did meet my future bride (it wasn't Emily), we went together only three months before we tied the knot. My friends and family were aghast (again). They warned me not to be so hasty... they told me to wait. And when I didn't, they solemnly shook their heads and said it wouldn't last. Ha! Like I said, twenty five years and counting... what a ride!]

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Square Peg - Lawyers

Copyright S. Bradley Stoner

Lawyers are a breed apart. In fact, I sometimes think they ought to be assigned a whole new species, or at least members of two subspecies... Homo sapiens currencyensis and Homo sapiens semialtruisticus.

Each of these subspecies have distinctive field marks. Using the following guide, almost anybody can spot and distinguish them. Both can be seen roosting in popular restaurants during the noon hour staring intently at a stiff-backed menu and wearing three-piece suits of a dull color, although semialtruisticus has been known to be a bit more flashy during reporting season.

Both share decidedly similar behavioral patterns when roosting. After reading the menu, they can be seen to fold their arms across their chests and arrange their facial muscles to produce a thoughtful scowl. Whether this is in anticipation of decision-making or merely a territorial signal to other professionals is unclear. More study will have to be done.

When the wait person (both currencyensis and semialtruisticus are politically correct in their gender sensitivity) comes, there is much harrumphing and thoughtful pausing. It makes the eating ritual a very dramatic event. During the course of the meal, very predictable behavior occurs. When asked a question, members of both subspecies become very reserved, often pausing for several minutes while cogitating on the precision of the answer. "Would you like a beer?" may take up to fifteen minutes to resolve. Because of this practice, they are considered very mature even though some may have only recently left the nest.

The differences between currencyensis and semialtruisticus are immediately apparent once you leave the noon roost and feeding grounds. Currencyensis is generally observed driving an expensive foreign car to an impressive steel and glass building in the high rent district where he will ruminate remain for the remainder of the day at a cost of two hundred or more dollars an hour, depending on the part of the country in which he nests. Semialtruisticus also drives away in a foreign car, however it is usually a VW or a Toyota. He comes to roost in a government office or a store front where he spends the remainder of his day among those of his flock, plaintively vocalizing about the plight of the taxpayer and the little guy. All at the expense of the taxpayer and the little guy, of course.

So there you have it... the pocket guide to lawyers. I just hope that my brother gets time to finish that contract for me before he reads this column.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Square Peg - @#*^+%$!

Copyright S. Bradley Stoner

I'm working on a book. Several, in fact. I like putting words together in a meaningful form. I like creating images. I even like mixing my metaphors sometimes just to keep editors on their toes. A friend of mine told me that I would have to alter my approach if I REALLY wanted to get published in today's markets.

"Brad," she confided in me, "if you really want to make it, you have to go with the mass markets. Romances are the really hot item."

I thought about that. Maybe that was the way to go. I rushed out to my super market and bought one of them. It had a beautiful, scantily clad woman in the embrace of an extremely handsome, well-muscled man on the cover. The title was steamy and catchy. "In Heat In Paradise." This, I thought, ought to be a real page turner. Even the authoress's name was a turn on. I had serious doubts that it was real, however. After all who would name their darling daughter 'Lacy Geestring?'

I drooled with anticipation all the way home. I closed the door behind me and raced for my favorite chair, and opened the book. It took me exactly seventeen minutes, fourteen and three-tenths seconds to read it. I was disappointed. I called my friend . My friend was amazed to learn of my ability to speed read. It was nothing. If you simply discard all the pulsing, throbbing, heaving, passionate sweating and glistening, the oh yeses, darlings, sweethearts, my loves, the oh, oh, ohs, and the articles 'a' and 'the,' the entire book was only twenty four pages of plot and locale. The "fleshing out of the characters" was simply that... young, lithe, firm bodies with heaving breasts, firm buttocks, soft curves for the girls and rock hard abs, bulging biceps, chiseled features for the guys. I like young, firm, lithe bodies, but there was just too much of a good thing in that romance book.

"It just isn't for me," I told my friend. "I don't do throbbing, heaving, passionate young bodies with sustained fervor, my love."

My friend contemplated a moment. "I suggest you try for a fast-paced blockbuster then," she said. "Too bad you're not a cop or a priest, though."

I went out and got a fast-paced blockbuster. I've got to tell you, I've never seen so many @#*^+%$! words strung together in so many @#*^+%$! combinations in my life. It's enough to give you a @#*^+%$! headache if you read them all. Some are pretty @#*^+%$! inventive though, I'll have to admit.

The blockbuster took me forty five minutes, fifty four and nine-tenths seconds to finish. At least there was a plot and some characterization. But, boiled down, I'd have to say it fell more in line with a padded short story or novella than what I'd consider a serious literary effort. I called my friend back and told her about the blockbuster.

"You'll never be a great success," she said almost sadly. "You just don't seem to understand what the public wants. The eat this kind of thing up... they crave it. It's addictive."

"It's boring," I said. "It's tripe, and, pretty much, it's garbage."

There was a long pause at the other end of the line. My friend let out a prolonged sigh of resignation. "You'll have to adjust your attitude. These things are earthy. They're direct. People understand them." It was my turn to pause. I thought I did it rather well. It forced her to speak before I replied. "Well?! What are you going to do?!"

"I'm going to continue to write literature. If nobody wants to read it and nobody wants to publish it in today's market, well.... they can just stick it up their asterisk!"

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Square Peg - Environ-mental

Copyright S. Bradley Stoner

I've never been a joiner. Recently, however, I've been considering membership in one of the local environmental groups. The preservation of the environment is a noble cause. It's a worthy endeavor. And, because these groups are fun loving and non confrontational, I won't have to worry about spending time in the hoosegow.

The Universal Preservation Coalition, for instance, has most recently been involved in studying the Three-banded Mud Toad. This is not to be confused with the Southwestern Two-Banded Mud Toad, which in no way is a threatened species. The Three-banded Mud Toads are tiny creatures, barely macroscopic, that inhabit hard packed dirt parking lots. These tiny creatures appear only after a long, wet spell, and are most often observed after a tequila sunrise. Because of the diminutive nature of the toads, members of the UPC have often complained of headaches and a visual problem that makes them see lines and bars.

When I expressed concern over such side effects, the president of UPC, Heddy Hurtz, said, "Nothing comes easily. We environmentalists are often called upon to sacrifice for those species less able. It's a small thing to ask for the preservation of an endangered species."

I contemplated this for a moment. It made sense. "No pain, no gain?" I asked.

"You got it," Heddy replied.

The Hope for Unidentified Creatures in the Kingdom of Earthly Domains is more diverse than UPC. The members of this organization are less discriminating, more universal in their approach. These carefree people go in search of species heretofore undiscovered, and then set up funds to ensure their survival. I'm not clear from the literature whether that means the critters' or the members' survival.

HUCKED made two discoveries on a recent picnic. An almost unheard of back-to-back double. Iliff Dangeroos, a man of impeccable dress, if not reputation, had the privilege of naming them, since he was the first to notice them. Iliff had been standing there in his safari jacket, bush shorts, and klettershule, brushing the dust off his crushable felt hat when he saw the first and smelled the second.

"Arachnida woofii and Pseudomarsupialis nardii," Dangeroos said proudly. The former he described as a moderate to large sized, furry bodied, brown spider. It seemed quite ordinary, eight legs and all, except that it had an unsettling and unexpected vocalization. "Whenever I approached the bugger," Iliff said, "and bent over to pick it up, it erupted. Sounded like a small angry dog, it did." That's where the common name comes from... Barking Alpine Spider.

The second, P. nardii, has subsequently been seen and described. It is a true mammal, but has a pouch much like a kangaroo, hence the designation Pseudomarsupialis. It seems this hairy, rather ugly animal, the Shagnasty Bushnard, has been found to place its young in the pouch immediately after birth. The kit attaches itself to a single teat and there remains, totally undisturbed, for an entire year. This strange behavior seems to account for the malodorous scent, and the fact that nardii is usually smelled and rarely seen.

One last fact. A. woofii and P. nardii seem to have a symbiotic relationship, woofii is always heard immediately before nardii is smelled. Most reported observations have been at chili cook-offs and bean and weenie picnics where there is plenty of beer. Nobody knows why.

After hearing the exciting exploits of both groups, I was hard pressed to make a decision as to the one I would join. Careful consideration led me to try to negotiate a merger. It has finally succeeded. I'm really excited. I'm about to become an UPCHUCKED member!