Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.”

Mike Baron, Nexus Novel

ONE THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND TWELVE WORDS FROM NEXUS NOVEL IN PROGRESS  

CHAPTER FORTY “Beast”

Horatio dined at Impresario every night. He was mistaken for Hugh Sayso three times, once by a woman who fainted. He dined alone in an alcove beneath a glittering dome that reflected the sky, surrounded by caricatures of famous customers. There were two caricatures of Clonezone the Hilariator, one by Pete Emslie and the other by Steve Rude. He worked his way through the menu from Ahi tuna to zebra cutlets, with stops along the way for kale souffle and quinoa a la mode. He was a generous tipper, and competition for his table was fierce among the waiters.

The waiters always said the same thing.“Excellent.” “Perfect.” Like ordering was a difficult acrobatic routine he’d managed to stick. The waiters kept changing. He was a good tipper.

On his fourth visit, the manager, Liz Horton, a long drink of water with Morticia Addams looks, told him that from then on he would eat for free in recognition of his selfless act.

“No more bills for you, Mr. Bartol. Maya opened up an account in your name.”

“That’s very kind.”

“You’re good for business.”

People stopped by his table, introduced themselves, and posed for pictures. Each time Horatio chortled, complied, and complained. “I’m no celebrity.”

He posed with a Cub Scout Troop from Milwaukee. He posed with the Girl Greek Grenadiers from Venus. He posed with a man running for the City Council and instantly regretted it.

People sent him bottles of wine, which he donated to the soup kitchen on Forty Second Street. He visited the soup kitchen every night after dinner and helped serve. All the food came from surrounding restaurants, most of them five star. The indigent dined on patois de faux gras, kippered herring, buffalo steaks, barimundi, and fostedor leaves. The staff split the wine.

One night Horatio found himself working next to a jumbo black man named Dr. Dirt, who was a stockbroker for Diggs Brown during the day.

Dr. Dirt laid a grilled pheasant breast on the plate of an old woman whose filthy gray hair hung in her face like Cousin It.

“You would think,” Dr. Dirt said, “that after nine thousand years of civilization we would have no more homeless. You would think so, but you would be wrong.”

Horatio re-upped a supplicant’s mussels. “There’s no cure for the human condition.”

“Splain.”

“Human nature is immutable. There will always be the weak. There will always be the strong. No amount of social engineering is going to create a class of people who are all equal in all things. You’re always going to have more losers than winners. There are no easy answers. Life is messy and complex. That’s why so many people go into mathematics and psychiatry.”

Dr. Dirt grunted. “I’ll have to think on that.”

They worked in a companionable silence. The soup kitchen was on the ground floor with a misted glass wall looking out on the theater district. Sometimes, drunk swells leaving the theater would press their faces and hands up against the window. Sometimes drunk theater goers would stand in line along with the indigent. Horatio always asked for a donation.

A dozen people lined up at the counter clutching their biodegradable hemp plates. The big room was humid, filled with tantalizing and appalling smells. The food. The people. Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” played through the speakers. It was October 15.

“So you’re saying,” Dr. Dirt said, “that paradise is unobtainable?”

“Well no. Attitude is everything. You can have a miserable life but if you have a good attitude, life can be beautiful. Not everybody is capable of a good attitude. I’d go so far as to say most people aren’t capable. Life is tragic. Most people are going to be unhappy.”

“That’s grim, Jim.”

“We must immanentize the eschaton ex post haste de facto,” Horatio said.

“Huh?”

“We must immanentize the eschaton ex post haste de facto.”

“What does it mean?”

“Prosperity is just around the corner.”

They worked in a companionable silence.

“So what you’re saying is, misery is the lot of man.”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Yet, some people are capable of happiness.”

Horatio looked into the limpid brown eyes of a hungry girl. “One lump or two?”

“Two, please.”

He gave her two lumps. “A great many people are capable of happiness, but a lot of them are evil. You know what makes them happy? Power over other people. Most people are motivated by envy and resentment.”

“That’s grim, Jim.”

“What it is.”

The following night he was at his table in Impresario sipping a Stoly martini, when a new waitress approached, a young woman, her hair finished in seven brightly colored Cadillac fins extending from hairline to the back. Left to right, the fins were magenta, turquoise, ecru, jet black, lavender, fuchsia, and candy apple red. She looked like a George Barris creation.

“Good evening, Mr. Bartol. I’m Kim. I’ll be your server tonight. May I tell you about our specials?”

“By all means.”

“Arugula, goat cheese and cranberries appetizer, broast beast brain, ancient grains with future grains…”

“What is the beast?”

“I’d rather not say.”

“Is it warm blooded?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“Be it fish or fowl?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“Please continue.”

“Chopped spinach from frozen Bluebell containers recently discovered in a survivalist stronghold in Alaska, oscillating ocelot eggs, newburg of chewburg, and deep-fried Hostess Twinkie reenactments. Flute flies sauteed in granola oil.”

“That sounds so enticing. What else?”

“Last but not least, drizzled drongo chops with kiwi bird mayonnaise and grunt cakes made from our own special antediluvian recipe.”

“It all sounds so good. I’ll need a minute.”

“Of course.”

The waiter gestured and a transparent sphere of water hovered over Horatio’s glass.

“What happened to the man you replaced, Gustav?”

“Gustav was taking liberties with the lasagna. He had to be let go.”

“What kind of liberties?”

“You don’t want to know. Can I refill your drink while you’re waiting, Mr. Bartol?”

“Sure.”

She took his glass. He insisted on a tumbler. There was something about this girl that was oddly familiar, as if he’d met her before but couldn’t quite remember where or when. She returned, placing is drink in front of him on the round polished oak table. The martini came halfway up the glass, two olives speared on a toothpick.

“Have you made a decision?” Kim said.

“I’m feeling lucky. I’ll try the beast.”

“Excellent.”

“You’re not going to tell me.”

“You must wait and see.”

Horatio accidentally elbowed his white linen tablecloth to the floor. He and Kim both reached for it at once, their forearms touching.

And then they both knew.

Bat Fan vs Fat Ban by Mike Baron

BAT FAN V. FAT BAN

By Mike Baron

This was it. Ragnarok, Armageddon, and Doomsday rolled into one. This was the premier of Batman: The Killer Croc’s Revenge, the latest installment in the greatest movie franchise of all time. Christian Bale as Batman. Gary Oldman as Chief Gordon. Lindsay Lohan as Rachel Dawes. And Sean Penn as Killer Croc.

Wayne Callard stood in line with 1500 other Bat Fans waiting for the Cinegrande Cineplex to open its doors. Wayne had been waiting in line for nineteen hours. He’d camped out on the sidewalk the previous night, swathing his bulk in two double-sized down-filled sleeping bags on a foam mattress. Wayne was five feet seven and weighed 350 lbs. He’d been born Cicero Wayne Callard.

“Man,” said Manny Ramirez standing next to Wayne and blowing on his hands, “I hope they open the doors soon! I could use a tube steak!” Manny wore Bat sneakers and a Batpack.

“Haven’t you heard?” Wayne said. “They pulled all the hot dogs. The fat content was too high.”

Manny regarded Wayne dubiously. “You’re shittin’ me.”

“No sir. The mayor signed the executive order yesterday. He doubled the food tax on all fast food items and mandated the removal of such items as hot dogs, French fries, jalapeno poppers, and deep fried cheese curds.”

“You gotta be shittin’ me!” Manny wailed. “What kind of dumb fuck would do that?”

“An overreaching municipal, state, and federal government that seeks to control all aspects of our lives and treat us like children.”

“I been thinkin’ about that hot dog all night! It’s the only thing that kept me going!”

“Hang, bro,” Wayne said. “I got you covered.”

A shout. A huzzah rose up the line. They had opened the doors. It was ten-thirty in the morning. Excitement was palpable among the faithful, overwhelmingly comprised of adolescent boys with a few sullen adults shepherding their cubs and hapless girlfriends in tow.

Two security guards met them at the door. “Please deposit all liquids, foods, and recording devices here. Sir, would you mind opening your coat?”

Wayne dutifully spread wide his bulky pea coat revealing a round mound covered with a nicely pilled argyle sweater that had belonged to his grandfather. The guard looked away and waved him through.

“Sir, would you mind opening your backpack?” the guard said to Manny.

Manny slipped it off and flipped open the lid. “It’s a Batpack.”

Tickets were nine dollars for the eleven o’clock matinee, twelve dollars for shows after noon. Wayne got his ticket and waited for Manny in the lobby where the snack counter was doing a brisk business in popcorn made with sunflower oil and available with virgin olive oil, tofu on a stick, and fruit smoothies.

Manny entered the lobby. “Ahmina get a Coke and some buttered popcorn, okay?”

“There is no buttered popcorn. It’s available with sunflower oil and olive oil.”

Manny’s jaw crushed a toe. He looked toward the refreshment counters which resembled festival seating at a Who concert. He resigned himself to water. Wayne took off at flank speed. It was imperative to GET YOUR SEATS FIRST and fish for food second. By the time Wayne and Manny gained the theater, the plum rows eight through twelve were taken with sniveling, squirming, texting, snarfing boys and men in a state of perpetual shiftiness emitting a low rumble of conversation punctuated by invective.

Wayne took the third seat in the 13th row except it was labeled the 14th to avoid the onus of superstition. Manny sat on the aisle. The big screen showed a ruddy, cheerful Santa Claus in coitus with a reindeer, guzzling Coke and shouting, “Shake, it Prancer, you hot bitch!” It was a Very Special Christmas.

During the trailer for Punisher IV, Marvel 0, a flat top and his date, who look4ed like Betty from Betty & Veronica, entered the aisle causing Manny to swing his legs to the side. Wayne had to stand and even then it was like squeezing by a mattress stuck in the doorway.

“Do you smell McDonald’s” Betty whispered to her date.

“Shhh!” Wayne shushed. Dude gave him the stink eye but Wayne ignored him. The troublesome couple sat three seats away. They watched a trailer for Zits, the new Will Ferrell comedy in which he plays a child/man forced to grow up when he takes over the family summer camp. They watched a trailer for Grits, the new Adam Sandler comedy in which he plays a child/man forced to grow up when he takes over the family plantation. They watched a trailer for Pits, the new Ben Stiller comedy about black holes.

Finally, after ads for plastic surgery and whole grain crust chicken and sun-dried tomato pizza, the lights lowered and the feature began. Manny stared at the screen in fascination until the smell of a Big Mac got his attention. Wayne nudged him and passed over a Big Mac.

“What? How?” Manny said, pleased and delighted.

Wayne reached down and pulled a portion of his belly away from himself like a lid. “Prosthetic belly,” he whispered. “Costume store. Got the Big Macs last night in Jersey. Kept ‘em warm with body heat.”

“Shhhh!” Betty shushed harshly.

I know what you’re thinkin’, Wayne thought to himself. In all the confusion, did he pull out two burgers, or three? The question you’ve got to ask yourself, lady, is do you feel lucky?

Batman had a utility belt. Wayne had a prosthetic belly.

Wayne and Manny ate their burgers. Dude immediately in front of Wayne turned in his seat. He had a buzz cut and a ring in one ear and through his nose. “Dude, like that burger you’re eating is totally horrendous. Take it outside, why don’tcha?”

Other young men swiveled to see the object of wrath. Wayne deftly tucked the rest of the Big Mac into his cavernous maw, chewed and swallowed. Reaching into an inside pocket of his pea coat he withdrew a canned Coke, popped the lid and drank copiously. He belched like the Mother of All Bullfrogs. He rolled it out like a black furry carpet. It just kept on rolling. The belch caromed off the ceiling frieze and tumbled ‘round the room.

Onscreen, Batman foiled an attempt by the Punisher to crash his movie.

Buzz Cut jabbed a finger at Wayne. “Why don’t you get up off your fat ass and go sit somewhere else?”

“Yeah!” said his sidekick, Li’l BC.

With a sigh Wayne heaved himself to his feet and motioned for Manny to do likewise. He had not come to rumble with Nazis. He had come to see the movie. He and Manny moved further upslope until they found two seats in the narrow aisle next to the wall.

Onscreen, terrorists had taken over Gotham Tower and were jamming all radio, internet, and short wave transmissions. In the theater, a gang of twenty-something boys sitting behind Wayne and Manny had seized control of the 18th row and jammed transmissions from the screen by hooting, making noises, and throwing Junior Mints.

A Junior Mint bounced off the back of Wayne’s basketball-sized head. Wayne slowly swiveled with a steely glare. The obstreperous ones studiously watched the screen on which Bruce Wayne was fending off Poison Ivy’s attentions.

Another Junior Mint sailed past. Giggles emanated from the 18th row. Wayne didn’t bother to turn and look. With a sigh of resignation, he gripped his arm rests and heaved himself from his seat. My city bleeds, he thought. He ponderously made his way up the aisle toward the 18th row.

“Oh oh,” they joked. “Look out now, here he comes!”

“Beware the Fat Fury!”

Wayne wondered if the benighted ones were even familiar with Herbie Popnecker. Without looking at them Wayne reached the 19th row and turned in. He sat behind what he took to be the ringleader, a dude in an Oakland hoodie, pants down his ass and BKs on the back of the seats in front of him as if he weren’t the issue of wealthy white mandarins on the Upper West Side.

“You smell something?” the White Negro said.

“Yeah,” said one of his minions. “Something stinks.”

The White Negro turned to confront Wayne, whose knees were up against the back of the seat. “Whassup, you fat faggot? Why don’tcha move your bulk somewhere else, know what I’m sayin’?”

Wayne reached into his belly prosthetic and brought forth a halogen flashlight and a water pistol filled with dog urine. “Please turn around and enjoy the movie for which you paid nine dollars.”

Onscreen, Batman confronted a crazed Killer Croc in the act of planting a bomb.

Offscreen, the White Negro said, “Or what? You gonna make me?”

Wayne turned the flashlight on the White Negro’s face. He squirted dog urine on the White Negro’s shirt.

“There,” Wayne said. “Now you have a smell to complain about.”

The White Negro heaved himself over the back of his seat and attacked Wayne with both hands, delivering blow after blow to Wayne’s prosthetic belly. The White Negro’s fist penetrated several of the twelve thumbtacks Wayne and pushed through the front of his sweater. Stinking of dog urine, the White Negro stared in horror at his bleeding fists.

The manager, a pale young man with a ponytail, came up the stairs with his own flashlight which he shined on the whole sorry scene. He sniffed. “Okay, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you all to leave. Your ticket money will be refunded out front in the lobby. Let’s go.”

The White Negro turned on him in wounded innocence. “But we didn’t do anything! This fat fuck started messing with us!”

Wayne remained seated. “They threw Junior Mints at the back of my head. I’m sure a police search will reveal the Mints.”

“What’s that smell?” the manager said.

“Smells like dog piss,” one of the minions said. He had the makings of a fine detective.

“All right, that’s it,” said the manager with newly found authority. “Out of here right now or I’ll stop the film, turn up the lights and call the cops.”

There was some grumbling but when two more ushers appeared with flashlights on the landing below the White Negro resignedly got to his feet and led his minions out the door. “It sucks anyway.”

The manager turned his flashlight on Wayne. Wayne turned his flashlight on the manager. “You too,” the manager said.

“Moi?” Wayne said. “I have troubled no one. I have thrown Junior Mints at no one. I merely seek to watch the movie which is ruined for me now, ruined I say because of incessant interruptions and the obstreperous and contumacious nature of your clientele.”

“Let’s go,” the manager said. “You can get a refund in the lobby.”

Wayne rose with dignity. “Fine,” he said and waddled down the stairs, pausing only to glance at Manny, who dutifully joined him. The two lads soon found themselves nine dollars richer individually and out on the street.

“Now what do we do?” Manny said.

Gazing at a poster for The Bourne Natural Killers, Wayne deduced their next move. “Come on. We’ll make our own movie. We’ll shoot it on my phone.”

How to change a tire by Mike Baron

HOW TO CHANGE A TIRE

I ain’t the handiest guy in the world, but I know how to change a tire. A lot of new cars don’t come with a spare. If you get a flat, you’re shit outta luck. Better have one of those plug-in tire repair kits so you can hobble to the next service station. I also know how to drive a stick shift. Growing up on the flat eastern plains of South Dakota, my friends and I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel, so much so, that we would routinely “borrow” our parents’ cars late at night to get the hang of it.

It was a car culture. My best friend’s dad always had copies of Road & Track and Car And Driver in his clinic office. He was a successful doctor who also owned several hot cars including a Ferrari, which he let me drive once.

“I think eighty is fast enough, Mike.”

Doctor Delaney also had a Mercedes 300 and a humongous Dodge with a hemi.

I love shifting the gears, matching revs on downshifts, feeling the engine hit its torque curve. It’s a joy to feel part of the mechanical apparatus that moves you through the countryside, and the joy is greater when you ride a motorcycle, because instead of being sealed off from the land in an enclosed steel cage, you are part of the countryside.

I love the smell of gas.

These days, most cars have automatic transmissions, rear view cameras, devices that correct the steering if you nod off and fail to notice you’re about to rear end a semi. People refer to manual transmissions as millennial anti-theft devices, and there’s some truth there. A lot of kids are leery of driving and in no hurry to get their licenses, partly because of stupid propaganda demonizing internal combustion engines. All progress comes at a price. The internal combustion engine has been one of the greatest boons to mankind since the invention of the wheel. For every person who dies in a car crash, a thousand have been transported swiftly and safely to hospital emergency rooms for everything from pregnancy to heart attacks. Fresh water and medicine travel to disaster areas via internal combustion engines.

Those who want us to emulate Europe with mass transit don’t understand what makes America unique. Part of it is freedom. The freedom to hop on your bike, or into your car, and go wherever the hell you please. America is a huge country with vast distances, especially out here in the West. Mass transit works great in dense urban areas, not so much in the West.

Today’s risk-adverse yoot are not buying motorcycles. Scary! There used to be numerous monthly general purpose motorcycle magazines. Now there are two quarterlies, Motorcyclist and Cycle World, and neither has anything of interest. Motorcycle manufacturers don’t vomit forth dozens of new models each year as they did in the past.

But like the horse and comic books, motorcycles will never disappear because they have their enthusiasts. I hope they will make a comeback.

To change a flat tire, you loosen the lug nuts before you apply the jack. Jack the wheel off the ground, replace it, gently screw in the lug nuts, then lower the car back to the ground. Once it is on its full weight, you tighten the lug nuts.

Mike Baron, The Survey

THE SURVEY

Every company is desperate for positive feedback. Every company employs some firm to conduct surveys on its behalf.

Use SurveyMonkey to drive your business forward by using our free online survey tool to capture the voices and opinions of the people who matter most to you.

School district issuing surveys to complete picture about home, classroom, technology use.

Online surveys are part of the broader family of self-administered surveys (Internet, by post, etc.), as opposed to administered surveys (face to face, telephone). By taking the time to give your opinion, you are providing input for the development of a product or service. In fact, the quality of an online survey depends on the reliability of the information you provide.

The information collected from surveys reaches clients, but will always conceal individual identity. Survey results are aggregated by combining responses with those provided by other participants who have also completed the online survey. This data is stored in a database that can be analyzed by clients, but personal data will never be revealed, sold or traded without your permission.

My own experience is that they are intrusive and irritating. Automatic calls are the most irritating, as they do not work on your schedule. A prerecorded voice says, “Your feedback is important to us. Please take a few minutes to answer this survey about your recent experience with Veeblefetzer Orthodontics.”

But it’s not a few minutes. They phrase the questions so that the can provide neat statistics to their employer. There is seldom room for personal experience. “On a scale of one to ten, one being least satisfactory, ten being most satisfactory…”

And the questions go on and on. I usually hang up after five minutes. Online surveys are nearly as irritating. Don’t we get enough spam? In days of yore, businesses knew they were on the right track by repeat customers and personal testimonials. I’m happy to give a personal testimonial. I write glowing reviews for the Better Business Bureau. But this survey business is out of hand. I went through McDonald’s the other day and by the time I got to the second window, the survey was waiting.

Testing Black Belt, Mike Baron

Notes for Testing Black Belts, Summer 2018

Combinations:

Main thoughts for combinations are to make sure your strikes are complete and clear. Combinations need to flow in order to be useful, but don’t go so fast that we can’t tell what kind of kicks you are throwing.

Kicks need to fold and retract. (3rd degrees are weakest at this.)

Point foot on round kicks.

If a combination says “double side kick” it is meant to have both kicks middle height, not lo-hi. It will say “lo-hi” if that is the intention. (3rd degree #6a has double side kick)

Pay attention to when you are supposed to step back, usually on a #2 combo with a step back spin hook kick or spin backfist.

Know when to step and when to skip, and when NOT to.

2nd degrees #2a slide side kick is different from a skip kick.

(Take corrections to heart, but don’t hurt yourselves trying to do something that doesn’t work for your body!)

One-steps: Samar be more aware of your distance, you tend to be too far away. Will, sometimes your kicks were not clear. Looked like you were doing round kicks for #2.

Everyone, just be aware of proper distance to make the techniques work optimally.

Same for Grab defenses. Know when to step in or step back to make your defenses work better (esp 1st degrees)

Know what things work for you, and consider who your partner is, in how you do some things (careful with the take-downs)

Knife defense: Control that knife hand! Don’t forget to use your strikes.

Club defense: Mostly good, find ways to get inside the swing.

Ground defense and choke defense: Keep good awareness, to recognize things early so you can defend it early.

Sticks: On 11-count form, be sure to complete moves. #7 thrust sometimes gets lost.

3rd degrees: On hi-forehand, hi-backhand, hi-forehand/sombrada drill, be sure you show the change of distance.

Targets: Hand targets—make sure 1 and 2 punches extend; target-holders be careful not to meet the puncher’s punch so much that they can’t extend.

For all of the targets work, be sure you listen carefully to the instructions. Sometimes people were doing the wrong drill or wrong techniques. Be sure to hold the targets properly for your partner. The test is on holding as well as on the striking. Be a good partner.

Forms:

General: Full preparations; retract kicks. Stances. Timing hands with feet. Focus on the techniques. Be self-aware, self-correcting. Always aim for better.

Bal Sae – counts 6,7,8 be sure to twist body and make both arms move fully.

Sang Kee – Timing of the yell on #1 is when you step back and R arm drops down to block. Remember all of the other yells (esp. both on #9 and #11). Head height stays low when changing from horse stance to back stance (#17-18). Count 22 is open downward block in back stance. Then shift to front stance.

Koryo 1 – count 6 is single knife hand block (L hand pulled back by hip), and #7 is reverse punch, staying in back stance. Dbl outward block #11 is in front stance. Knife hand blocks #1 and #14 are with both hands open

Koryo 2 – remember the sequence. Some of you had occasions when you left out parts. Double outward block #13 is in front stance, #15 is in back stance.

Kan Ku Dai – try to cross all of the knife-hand preparations; yells are on #9, #25, & #40

Ge Baek – mountain blocks are palms-facing-in; niner block is a square position; yells on #1, #14, #18, #30

Under-belt forms: Knife-hand blocks with fist on chest in KM forms except KM Oh Dan; PA Sah Dan line toward the back in 3 double-attacks and a knee; PA Yi Dan remember to do full prep for sideward punch counts 3 & 6.

Weapons Forms:

Full motions—one arm is straight in all strikes with bo. Be clean on vertical line, horizontal line, diagonal line Universal bo – Be sure the diagonal strikes when you are on your knee actually go out diagonally.

Universal kamas – Be aware of where the chambered hand is. Be sure that both arms move when doing forward cut in back stance and backward cut in front stance. Keep clean stances. The front stances tend to get short and sloppy.

Specials – Looks like we have a nice variety of performances. Keep practicing, get comfortable with facing the audience, explaining something about your choice, and moving smoothly through whatever it is that you are doing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abject Squalor by Mike Baron

ABJECT SQUALOR

My late wife chose the house in which we live. When we moved in, the front and back yards were perfect, watered regularly by an underground, automated watering system. If you want to have a lawn in Colorado, this is what you do. Because most of Colorado is a desert. And the rest is mountains. Yet everyone has a lawn. And the city’s lawns are the most glorious of all, because they don’t care how much they spend. Many a time I’ve driven past city water sprinklers during a heavy rain storm as they direct their stream to the middle of the road. I once notified the Parks Department that their sprinklers were falling on asphalt. Nothing has changed.

The West is all about the water, who owns it, who controls it. Now you might think nobody owns the water. You would be wrong. Certain land rights carry water rights, grandfathered from the days of the Conestoga wagon, if the land contains a stream or river. Some states (not Colorado) have outlawed the collection of rain water in barrels.

Lawns are reasonable for the Upper Midwest and the South, where rain falls steadily. They make little sense in a desert. You want to solve Los Angeles’ water problem? Tell all those stars to stop watering their lawns. And build some more dams!

But their problems are not my problems. My problems are the dogs.

Enter Freddie. One day I heard Freddie laughing and barking in the back yard. He was tearing up the underground watering system. Not a nip here and there, no. He ripped up entire sections and chewed them to suet. The other dogs. Soon there was nothing left of my backyard watering system. I could do what I do in the front yard, which has its own problems. Drag the sprinklers out twice a week and water.

Then came the rabbits. Their urine destroyed the front lawn, and if the front lawn isn’t nice, the home owners’ association sends a SWAT squad. I carefully scraped up the dead spots, applied gypsum, seed, and covered it with fresh topsoil. It rained for three days straight. I watered every day for a week. The result? A desultory handful of blades. I am waiting. I am watching. And when the time is right, I shall try again. Not for me the terraforming and chemicals of the modern professional lawn grower! No. If I can’t raise it itself, it doesn’t deserve to live.

The Corner Pocket by Mike Baron

THE CORNER POCKET

Mike Baron

I was a fat and cowardly child. Growing up in South Dakota, I feared everything from the boys in the locker room to big dogs. I bullied and was bullied. It’s a mystery to me how I managed to hang on to some of my childhood friends, but here we are, fifty years later, tighter than ever.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, I moved to Boston to work on weekly “alternative” papers. I ended up in a basement apartment in Brighton, a half block from the Ja Shin Do Academy, a storefront karate school. Every day on my way to the MTA, I passed that school. I would stare through the mist-covered windows at students moving around the hardwood floor, hearing their thumps and kiais. Like most young men, I was fascinated by karate. One day I said fuck it, and went inside to talk to the teacher Andy Bauman. Andy acquired his black belt while stationed in Korea. He could punch through a wall.

I trained at the Ja Shin Do Academy under Andy, Joe Demusz, and Jane West. It was very traditional, very hard. I can’t believe some of the things we did. Thousand kick night was a regular event, as was picking up a teammate in a fireman’s carry and running around the park.

One day a lanky young man came in, went up the makiwara screwed to the wall, and punched it, breaking his hand. He never returned.

When I returned to Madison in ‘77, I resumed training at Choi’s Karate, under Jim Henry. Jim was a charmless thug, but he knew his stuff. I trained with Vince O’Hern, founder and publisher of Isthmus, Madison’s “alternative” weekly, for which I was music editor. Amazingly, Isthmus is still with us, following the collapse of ninety per cent of the alternative weeklies in the country, due mostly to the rise of the internet. I was about to test for black belt when Choi’s went belly-up. Vince and I continued to train together, sometimes at the UW Natatorium or at Lathrop Hall. Lathrop was a beautiful old brick building with a pool in the basement. It’s gone now, like so much of the classic campus, replaced by an ugly building.

I let training slide for years, working out in the basement of my house in Fitchburg. I designed, built the house, and paid it off. It had an in-ground pool. But I made bad choices and ended up losing it and moving to Colorado.

But before then, I found a group of fighters training in the basement of a community center under John Fehling, who’d trained with Danny Inosanto. It was my first exposure to stick fighting. Not that I love stick fighting! Who needs it? It was interesting.

I picked up my first comic in South Dakota, Uncle Scrooge. At UW, some friends turned me onto Steranko and Neal Adams. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I couldn’t believe people could draw like that. I was hooked.

I lived in Boston when the first Master of Kung Fu came out. I bought multiple copies. It was only twenty-five cents. Steve Englehart wrote and Jim Starlin drew it. Doug Moench Gulacy took over. It took Gulacy a few issues to find his stride, but when he did, it was explosive. He took Steranko one step further. But even then, looking at the beautiful drawing of Shan-Chi throwing a flying sidekick. I sensed something wasn’t right. We didn’t see any fighting.

When Hulk waves his fist and five thugs fly off-panel head first, we don’t really see what happened. We get the comic book rush and understand the story. But it’s not like looking at a real fight.

These comics, Master of Kung Fu, Richard Dragon, Iron Fist, purportedly about martial arts, had very little. Only Denny O’Neil, who created Richard Dragon, understood something of the fighting arts. I wanted to show martial arts in a comic like a Jackie Chan film. I wanted to see the techniques unfold so that we understand how Shang-Chi ends up on his back. Comics are no competition to film. Film has many advantages including sound, controlling the pace, and choreographers who understand that the audience wants to see the kung fu. Those magnificent, highly choreographed fights you see in Enter the Dragon, Drunken Master, or Ip Man aren’t realistic, in the sense that the brawl in Treasure of the Sierra Madre is. But they are masterful action entertainment and you know you are seeing real kung fu, even if every move is carefully choreographed. Jackie Chan routinely shot scenes hundreds of times to get one perfect take. Comics only need to draw it correctly from panel to panel.

Comics have one big advantage. They can legitimize story material that would be laughed off any sound stage. You will believe a man can fly.

I was working at an insurance agency when one day I got a call from a friend who was an editor at an “alternative” newspaper that erupted due to a union dispute. “There’s some guy down here trying to sell us his drawings,” he said, “and he draws just like you.”

I met Steve Rude on the steps of the Student Union. Until then, I’d been trying to draw. I met the Dude on summer afternoon, he opened his portfolio there on the veranda, and I stopped drawing. Once Capital City picked up Nexus, I proposed a comic about a Druid wizard, cuz that’s what Jeff Butler wanted to draw. Milton Griepp said, “Give us a costumed crime-fighter.”

Why would anyone put on a costume and fight crime? They’d have to be crazy. Thus was Badger born, and the forum in which to showcase martial arts. I urge anyone wishing to understand what I mean to get Badger #9, “Hot August Night,” and look at the fight scene between Badger and Cobra Crisp. Using some photo ref, as well as my childish drawings, Bill Reinhold nailed it. I choreographed every fight scene, usually by drawing it out by hand.

I wrote Kato for Now, first with Brent Anderson, then with Val Mayerik. Val is an accomplished martial artist as well as one of the finest painters of his generation. Go to www.valmayerik.com. We took pains with Bruce Lee to make the fights not just realistic, but in keeping with The Little Dragon’s philosophy.

Q-Ball popped into my head. A stick fighting pool hustler. Some people say, “If he’s Q-Ball, why isn’t he bald?” Wait. Q-Ball is on a journey of discovery. We have big surprises and epic fights.

The friends you meet in martial arts are true friends. Www.karatewestinc.com