Category Archives: Uncategorized

Bike Trail by Mike Baron

BIKE TRAIL

Fort Collins has excellent bike paths. I frequently ride the Spring Creek Trail which winds through the heart of Fort Collins. I always count the horses. People keep horses here like other people keep dogs. The trail takes me past the CSU Veterinary School. I can usually count on two there. The trail winds past the little free library box outside the fire station at Prospect and Taft. I always take a book, and usually pick one up. The last book I picked up was Beyond Fear by Joel Kramer, who set out to cross New Guinea in 1993 with a friend, using nothing but an inflatable kayak for transportation. It was an incredible journey.

Many people struggle with their bikes. When you ride a bike, your leg must fully extend to the bottom of the cycle, the knee locked. People grunt and strain, standing on their pedals, and their legs never fully extend. I use medieval toe traps, The modern way is special bike shoes that lock into the pedals and are easy to remove. It is astonishing how many people do not observe the most basic rule of the road: stick to the right.

As the trail approaches Spring Canyon, more horses appear, big gorgeous bays on a shaded pocket ranch west of Taft. Just past Spring Canyon heading south is a pocket ranch which can yield up to three horses. The other day I circled back toward it and found its front, hidden behind a fence on a dead end road.

The Cathy Fromme Prairie is a wide open space in the shadow of the foothills with nothing but a bike path. Signs advise you to be snake awake. New signs have appeared, limiting electric bicycles to fifteen miles an hour. The trail cuts under Taft and then under Shields, near the Apple Wood neighborhood. Now we’re talking. This is horse country. I counted nine horses. The trail cuts under the railroad and I’m back in Fort Collins with rushing traffic and blowing trash.

I have enclosed two images. One is a painting of Kender MacGowan with his beloved horse, whom he had to put down. Val Mayerik is the artist. The second is the lagoon I pass on my bike ride.

Why My Grade Should Be Raised by Mike Baron

WHY MY GRADE SHOULD BE RAISED

1. There must be a mistake somewhere.

2. At no time during the exam did I recieve an official warning; therefore, relying upon the college, I merely maintained my grade. Surely this should been a satisfactory grade.

3. I know many members of the class who do not work as hard as I do and who got a better grade. I am reconized among my classmates as a good student. Just ask any one of them.

4. I was not well at the time of the exam.

5. This mark ruined my prospect of getting a scholarship.

6. This mark grieved my parents whose pride I am.

7. This is the only course in which I received a poor grade.

8. It is not a higher mark which I seek. I care notning for marks. I think marks are wicked and I disapprove of them. However, this pernicious system of which I am the victim requires marks for achieveing success, and therefore, I seek a higher grade.

9. Several people around me copied from my paper during the exam, yet they received higher marks than I. Surely, this is not fair.

10. I live far away frm the college and I feel this extra travel should have been considered when you gave me my grade.

11. I have studied this subject from the broad philosophical viewpoint and, trherefore, I was unable to answer your technicl catch-questions.

12. The questions are ambigous and therefore my answers should be graded according to the reasonable interpretations that I made of your questions.

13. The exam was unfair and unfairly distributed over the subject.

14. I have to work after school and at nights. Therefore, I should be given a break.

15. The reason I did not do better is because I am very honest. I do not wish to say anything against any of the other members of the class.

16. My mind always goes blank during an exam.

17. I would have done much better if I had taken the other exam you gave to the student next to me.

18. Conditions in the room were not conducive to concentration.

The Northwest Passage, by Mike Baron

THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE

Like many modern communities, Fort Collins has built some excellent bike trails. I can ride from my house all the way downtown, up Spring Creek Trail, which follows the creek, through Roland Moore Park, past the little free library box behind the firehouse, to Spring Canyon Park, then back through the Cathy Fromme Prairie. I always count horses as I ride. People keep horses in Fort Collins like dogs. You can walk to several horse properties from my house, and no one would call my neighborhood rural.

The other day I counted fifteen horses. Perhaps ten per cent of this trail is on public streets, none of which are crowded.

Fort Collins recently completed a new trail on the east side that goes south through Loveland and ostensibly hooks up with the North Trail coming up the West Side, so that in theory, I could complete the loop with very little time spent on actual streets. The grail shoots through prairies adjacent to upscale neighborhoods with beautiful houses and corrals. A sub trail, which I have yet to take, goes down to Boyd Lake and follows the waterfront until it spits you out at the north end of Loveland.

I headed west on the concrete trail as it cut between pastures in which horses grazed. It passes a prairie dog town where curious prairie dogs pop up out of their holes and whisper enticingly, “Do you want the bubonic plague? Kiss me!”

The trail wound past a trailer park. Most of these trails wind past trailer parks at one point or another. I think they’re easy to wind past. It went under Highway 287, came out by the Loveland Walmart and promised to connect with the North Trail via dogleg. I rode and I rode. I rode through freshly minted neighborhoods backed up against open space and the railroad line. But I could not find the Northwest Passage. I rode home the same way. I counted ten horses. I went online and looked at the Loveland bike trails and there it was, a tiny little portion of red dots, not the solid red line that indicates finished trail. It’s there. I just have to portage my bike.

The Art of the Insult, by Mike Baron

THE ART OF THE INSULT

The perfect squelch. The withering put-down. The witty slander that leaves folks gasping in disbelief and delight. D.H. Lawrence on James Joyce: “Stewed-up fragments of quotation in the sauce of a would-be dirty mind.” Winston Churchill: “Unless the right honourable gentleman changes his policy and methods and moves without the slightest delay, he will be as great a curse to this country in peace as he was a squalid nuisance in time of war.” Dorothy Parker: “Their pooled emotions wouldn’t fill a teaspoon.” Mary McCarthy on Lillian Hellman: “Every word she writes is a lie including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”

High school, for me, was an unending search for the withering put-down. Like Eric Harris, I had no use for humanity and it had no use for me. Unlike Eric, I lacked that black toxin which caused him to mow down a dozen classmates before turning the gun on himself. I used to memorize what I considered witty put-downs. Many young men go through a phase where alienation causes them to judge harshly. Most of them grow out of it.

However, Facebook breaths new life into this adolescent movement. There’s something about Facebook that brings out the worst in people. They say things on Facebook they wouldn’t dream of saying to your face. You actually have to struggle to keep a thread on track without degenerating into I posted that Lady Gaga had killed it at the Superbowl, and within twenty posts it had degenerated into “Fuck you!” No! Fuck YOU!”

Serial insulters are witherers. Wither the witherer? The latest rage seems to be fabricating faux nineteenth century insults without the wit. “Hoofwanking bunglecunt” has a certain cachet, as does “twatwaffle” But it has no meaning. Oh insult, where is thy sting?

They will never replace the classics. “Fuck you!” “No! Fuck YOU!”

My friends, I have five rules for arguing on Facebook. 1: No sarcasm. 2: No personal attacks. 3: Be brief. 4: Keep your sense of humor. 5: Know when to quit.

Those Ads by Mike Baron

THOSE ADS

You click on an article. As you begin to read, an ad slithers in like the red tide, slowly, inexorably blocking the content. There is no way to delete the ad for about ten seconds, as the advertiser has paid big bucks to hold you hostage. You delete that ad. Another appears, creeping down from the top like some lethal fog. You wait patiently for the little ‘X’ to appear to get rid of that one. You delete it. As you read the article, another ad pops up, this one all singing! All dancing! You forgot to turn off the sound. And so on.

I understand that web content providers need to monetize their investment, but thus far, these ads have had the opposite effect. If I note the advertiser, it’s only to shun them. This is one reason I miss print media and the demise of the magazine. Magazine ads are not intrusive. They don’t block content. You can take them or leave them. Moreover, there is great satisfaction in holding the magazine in your hands and looking at the pictures. It’s not the same on the internet.

Then, when you close out the ad, a fucking survey appears wanting to know why. My only avenue of protest is to note that business and shun them.

Changing technology and culture has resulted in the demise of the monthly all-purpose motorcycle magazine. Cycle World and Motorcyclist have gone quarterly with predictable results. Where once they featured road tests and new models, they now feature artsy-fartsy photo spreads. Close-ups of concrete. Race paddocks. Articles on the Miracle of Titanium. When new bikes appear, they are often electric. Whoever invents a device to replicate the sound of gasoline engines will make a fortune.

Only part of the blame goes to shifting tech. We now have a risk-adverse generation that views motorcycles—and even cars!–as potentially lethal objects to be avoided at all costs.

Jazz by Mike Baron

JAZZ

I was Music Editor of the Boston Phoenix back in the day. It was my job to go out night after night, talk to musicians, and listen to their bands. One night Les McCann was playing. Most people know his brilliant breakout hit, “Compared To What,” with saxophonist Eddie Harris. Eddie wasn’t with Les that night. At the end of the first set, he introduced his side players. “On drums, Wilson Smith! On bass, Todd Jones! And on guitar, #!@$Q@##$ Q#%#ESFAD.” The guitarist was Polish.

During the break, I talked to Les. “How do you spell your guitarist’s name?” I asked.

“Well isn’t that interesting,” Les said. “I have three side players and you only want to know the white guy’s name.”

I looked at my notes. “On drums, Wilson Smith. On bass, Todd Jones.”

Les blanched a little bit. After that, he could not have been kinder. https://www.google.com/search?q=les+mccann+compared+to+what&rlz=1C1GGRV_enUS751US751&oq=les+mccann+com&aqs=chrome.0.0j69i57j0l4.4284j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

Neil Hansen

NEIL HANSEN

I became aware of Neil Hansen, aka “Spyder,” aka “Bannen,” when he began drawing Whisper for First Comics. Neil had a unique, dynamic style and I wanted to work with him. When he became available for Badger, I was thrilled. His Badgers, including “Kruisin’ With the King,” are among my favorites. When I wrote Punisher for Marvel, Neil did several issues and yearbooks. His work is instantly identifiable, like that of Steranko or Norm Breyfogle.

Neil visited me at my home in Madison and sat house while I was at a con. “As long as you’re here,” I said, “please draw a story.” The resulting eight-pager, “Hair of the Dog,” will finally see print in Ozzy Longoria’s horror anthology Gods and Monsters. You can find Ozzy on Facebook. Neil penciled, inked, and lettered. He created his own Epic series, Untamed. It is worth checking out for the jaw-dropping art.

I have hounded Neil over the years about drawing more comics, but as time passed, he drew less and less and the last time I asked him he said, “I’m sorry, Mike. I sat down to draw and it just wouldn’t come.” His last work was a series of Badger covers that appeared from IDW about ten years ago.

In the meantime, he worked as a caretaker for an old motel in Canada.

These days, Neil makes his living trading in domain names. He makes a good living.

Disco Chapter One, by Mike Baron

DISCO CHAPTER ONE

Donnie Waits crouched by the rear bumper of Ralph Speece’s pickup, cradling a baggie of pot to his chest and listening to his mother and Ralph go at it through the open windows of their second-floor apartment. The four-unit apartment building sat on the outskirts of Gunderson, Wisconsin, a nowhere burg to which they’d moved three weeks ago when Kate got a job as executive secretary to Frank Werner, CEO of Werner’s Meats. The redbrick building was plunked down at the edge of a cornfield across the street from a farm. Its nearest neighbor was a tire wholesaler a quarter mile toward town. Donnie wondered why a developer would build in such a spot.

“You don’t tell me what to do!” Ralph was raging inside. He was a cut telephone lineman Kate had met at the gym, the latest in a long line of losers.

Donnie heard Kate talking low and intensely, the word “marijuana” rising in volume. Ralph had promised not to bring marijuana into the house or smoke anywhere around them lest Donnie find out. Too late for that. Ralph had offered Donnie a toke the first time they were alone.

Donnie felt bad about swiping the baggie from Ralph’s truck, but Ralph should have listened to Kate. The argument escalated. A door slammed. Kate was giving Ralph the heave-ho, as she had so many others. Kate was destined to go through life being disappointed by men, and that included Donnie.

Donnie ran for the cornfield and had reached the back of the apartment building before Ralph emerged. He heard Ralph start the truck and peel out, with a rooster tail of gravel striking the dumpster. He’d be pissed when he found his reefer gone.

Donnie was seventeen, facing down the gun barrel of senior year at Gunderson High, the third high school he’d attended in as many years. Maybe this time Kate would like the job. Maybe this time they could settle down. Donnie whizzed through the corn stalks feeling the swish of silk and leaf on his cheeks and bare arms, smelling the rich, almost overpowering scent of ripe corn. It was a flawless hot blue day near the end of August. Next week he would undergo his annual ordeal, registering at a new school.

But today was his to get high and dream about becoming a millionaire rap star. Or maybe a country singer. He didn’t really like rap, but it seemed like a pretty surefire way to fame and fortune. Just spittin’ rhymes, and he’d always been good with words.

Or maybe he would draw comics.

Donnie burst through the far end of the field, where a sagging barbed wire fence separated the cornfield from Johnson’s Creek, which meandered east-west through town. Donnie loved the creek. It was peaceful there, cool in the shade of ancient oak and cottonwood. He sat on a flat rock by the sandy bank, pulled out the baggie and some Zig-Zag rolling papers. Someone told him Jesus had smoked pot and if he doubted it, all he had to do was look at the image on a package of Zig-Zags.

With nothing to roll on, he took off his Grendel T-shirt, stretched it flat across his knees and rolled on that to produce a fat doobie. He put his shirt back on and felt his pockets. Oh no. No lighter, no matches. How could he have been so stupid! He thought of sneaking back to the apartment, but Kate would be there seething and loaded for Cape buffalo.

The closest source of fire was Nate’s Bait and Tackle, a ramshackle general store at Bateman’s Landing where County Road HR ended. Nate was an amiable drunk who’d taken a liking to the young man, and taught him how to tie a fishing fly. Donnie had last encountered Nate passed out behind his own counter, TV blaring. It would have been the perfect opportunity to clean out the cash register and make off with several bottles of gin. Instead, Donnie had somehow manhandled Nate into his bed in the back room, closed the store and sat with him until he came around.

There was a black-and-white photo on Nate’s wall of him and some Army buddies in Nam. Some of those kids looked as young as Donnie.

Nate’s was on the other side of the creek through a pasture. Donnie found a spot where steppingstones allowed him to cross without getting wet. He gingerly climbed over the barbed wire separating the pasture from the creek and headed diagonally toward the bait shop. Maybe Nate would lend him his little aluminum skiff.

Donnie looked around. The pasture was empty, but he stepped carefully to avoid the cow pies. He caught a hint of wood smoke, loving the day.

“Hey!” someone shouted. “Hey, kid!”

Donnie froze. Busted? By whom? For what? He turned and saw a man in a ball cap, overalls and a beard gesturing from fifty yards away at the fence.

The man pumped his arm. “Get the hell out of there!”

An explosive snort sounded from alder and gorse down by the creek. Donnie turned.

A black bull pawed the ground, staring at him with the gravity of a small planet.

Oh shit!

Donnie took off. He was quick enough to make the track team and poured every ounce of energy into the rush, feeling the squish of fresh cow pies beneath his feet as he pounded for the fence, the bull’s hoofbeats sending shock waves through the ground. Donnie ran, limbs pumping, lungs wheezing as the beats got louder.

Donnie had no idea how he got over the fence. He had no memory of leaping, only landing and rolling, twigs digging into his flesh until he came up against a tree and looked back to where the bull had pulled up and was now peacefully cropping grass.

Groaning, he examined himself: ripped jeans, scraped elbows, a little blood. He swatted his pockets. Still had the baggie and the doobie. Donnie got to his feet and confronted the now sedate bull.

“You’re a real asshole, you know that?”

The bull fixed him with one brown eye and slowly chewed. Donnie turned and made his way through the forest to Nate’s Bait.

How I Ended Up in Colorado by Mike Baron

HOW I ENDED UP IN COLORADO 

I started in karate at the Ja Shin Do Academy in Brighton, Massachusetts, in 1975. Andy Baumann, Joe Demusz, and Jane West were the instructors. I’d always been curious about karate. I had no natural athletic ability. Zero, zilch, zippo. Nada. Every physical contest was a chore to me, from tossing a ball to running. I was as coordinated as a tornado. I could barely lift my leg above my knee in front of me.

I could only get better and so I did, but every stage was a struggle. I had little confidence in my self-defense abilities. After a year training, I was in excellent shape. I can’t believe what we did in that class, in terms of sheer physical effort. For example, “Thousand Kick Night” was a regular feature. There’s no way I could keep up with that regimen today. If anything, Andy has become even more fanatical about rigorous physical training—you can check him out atbaumansextremetraining.com.

In ’77 I moved back to Madison, Wisconsin and began writing for Isthmus, the alternative weekly. I introduced myself to publisher and editor Vince O’Hern, who had been training with Jim Henry at Choi’s Karate on West Washington in the Fess Hotel, which also housed Rod’s Place, Madison’s premier gay club. I got as far as high red when Choi’s closed its doors and Jim left for sunnier climes.

I worked out sporadically with Vince, Bob Dodd, and Al Reichenberger at the University Natatorium. Then I broke my hip. I’d designed and built my own house, and one of my clever innovations was to put a trap door in the floor of the bedroom closet. One opened the door and there was a little ladder going into the basement. One night under the influence of alcohol and cocaine, I stepped into the closet intending to grab a jacket, forgetting that I had left it open to impress my date. I fell through the opening and broke my hip. My date was duly impressed.

My comics were selling and everybody wanted me. I was hot for fifteen minutes, but I didn’t know what I had, or how to keep it. My writing lacked discipline. I would snort coke to write. I tricked myself into thinking this made writing easier, but it didn’t. It just robbed me of judgment.

The hip injury put me on my back for six weeks. When I once again began to walk I realized I was seriously out of shape, so I turned again to martial arts, although I had very little ability and was now hampered by a gimp leg. I have a titanium brace screwed into my right femur, and a metal ball in the hip socket. My calves have always resembled boneless chicken wings. I wouldn’t be caught dead in shorts. My stretching had improved, however. I began training with John Fehling and his kali/escrima boys in the basement of the Vilas Neighborhood Community Center. John is extremely knowledgeable about Filipino martial arts. We trained with sticks and lock-flow. Unfortunately, after a year, John decided Thai boxing was the way to go and he stopped teaching everything but how to hit and kick.

I had married. As my career nosedived, Madeline’s health began to deteriorate. Nasal infections lasted for months. One snowy winter night she had an accident on the Beltline and damaged her neck. She suffered from fibromyalgia, a form of arthritis. One day she said, “I can’t take another winter here. I’ll die.” Okay, I said. We took a massive road trip throughout the southwest, and settled on Fort Collins as the most suitable. My sister Jill and brother-in-law Dennis live here. Dennis and Lee Casuto urged me to spend more time at Karate West.

Things were bad at home. Madeline was in constant pain, which sent her to every pain specialist on the front range. There were other problems. She was fired from her job for failing to show up and lost her health insurance. She suffered from depression. I suffered from depression. Once, back in Madison, I came very close to killing myself. And again, after we moved to Fort Collins, I fell into the Marianas Trench. (William Styron’s Darkness Visible was a hopeful guide map to these dark times.)

Karate was the only regular feature in my life. I looked forward to it every day because when I was on the floor, I was not aware of my home situation. I’ve discussed this with other students and we agree that one of karate’s benefits is that it requires such attention as to preclude dwelling on your troubles. Although I’d been granted a black belt by Joe Demusz, one of my original instructors, the performance gap between me and the standard Karate West black belt was instantly apparent.

I just put my head down and kept coming. While the rest of my world was in free fall, there was karate, noon every day, Monday through Thursday. Then a funny thing happened. I began to improve under the eagle-eyed tutelage of those sadistic bastards Lee Casuto and Brad Suinn. In fact, every higher belt with whom I’ve come in contact has gone out of their way to help me, particularly Mike Martin and Wayne from Budweiser.

One day I went to karate and when I came home Madeline was dead. I tried mouth to mouth. I heard the air rattle through her bronchial tubes but there was no response. I called 911. I was numb. My friend Pete accompanied me to the police station for the interview. Another friend spent the night at my house to keep an eye on me. The next day I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t write. So I went to karate. It helped me deal with overwhelming grief. My psychiatrist urged me to keep going. “Tell the truth, Mike,” he said. “Aren’t you a little bit relieved?”

Gradually, my grief began to subside. It was as if I were coming to the end of a long tunnel. I believe I’m a basically optimistic person, and my natural optimism, so long buried beneath an age of crisis and despair, surfaced.

The Karate West mottoes are keys to successful living. Attitude determines whether you see the glass as half full or half empty. Those who see the glass as half empty are in danger of slipping down the drain. Without something outside themselves to pull them forward they fill their time with the pursuit of pleasure or wallowing in self-pity. They have stopped growing. Why bother? Those who see the glass as half full see possibilities, a reason for living. They have enthusiasm, which is the keystone of a good attitude. Karate is a bridge toward something bigger than the self.

These days I look forward to karate with the enthusiasm I used to reserve for New Comics Day. Achieving second degree seems premature to me. I’ve only been at it thirty years.

ReplyForward

Walkin’ in Milwaukee, Mike Baron

WALKIN’ IN MILWAUKEE 

Capital City Comics, an outgrowth of Capital City Distribution, was our first publisher. I used to go out to their warehouse on the beltline the nights the comics came in and watch the employees pack the boxes like Santa’s helpers to loud rock and roll. Sometimes the employees took something to help them stay alert through the long night. A ferocious rivalry developed between Capital City and Diamond Distribution to see who could get their comics to markets first. It was louder than a Limp Bizkit concert. There were enough old blues musicians working there to fill a festival. James Eisele. John Davis himself, a mean blues guitarist. Drummer Billy McDuffy, guitarist Tom Flinn, bass player Tom McCarty, and sax player Bob Corbit.

One day I was out there and Milton was showing around a half dozen Chinese businessmen in dark suits, with an interpreter. I asked John what was going on.

“It’s a group of Chinese businessmen and publishers. They wanted to visit Dark Horse, but they accidentally booked tickets to Milwaukee, Wisconsin instead of Milwaukie, Oregon.”