Saturday, July 30, 2011

Secrets of Our Soil

"There's a world going on underground," as Tom Waits once said.

And what goes on beneath Kentucky's "dark and bloody ground" is stranger than you might imagine: Mammoth Cave mummies, interstellar impact craters, a lost city under Lexington, and more!

Pick up this month's "Back to School" issue of Kentucky Monthly magazine and re-school yourself on Kentucky weirdness with my column Commonwealth Curiosities!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Forward Motion

I'm happy to announce I'm on board with the new KyForward website as a columnist and reporter! Their focus is on stories that are useful, educational, and positive - no lurid sensationalism, no crime-porn, no snarky attacks or character assassination, and no mean-spirited celebrity gossip.

In other words, the total opposite direction of where post-Gawker-style internet media seems to be headed.

My hat's in their ring.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Invisible Barrier

There seems to be a weird psychological barrier that keeps Kentuckians from exploring the vast majority of their state - especially between Louisvillians and Lexingtonians. In this month's issue of Kentucky Monthly, I address this mental block and exhort you and yours to get off the internet and acquaint yourself with the 120 counties of Kentucky, most of which I bet dollars to donuts you ain't been in.

Kentucky Monthly is available at fine and discerning bookstores and newsstands everywhere!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

RIP Typewriters?

The phrase "RIP Typewriters" is, uh, "trending" (Dear Lord, I loathe that concept) on Twitter today, apparently because the last manufacturer of them, Godrej & Boyce in Mumbai, India, has ceased operations.

However, don't go waving goodbye to the typewriter in the sky just yet. You can still get one if you really want one. And whoever started this meme about the death of the typewriter evidently overlooked the new USB Typewriters.

I use all means available to me, and typewriters will always have a place in my household and my offices. Then again, I still write in longhand - you know, with pen and paper like they did in antediluvian times? - which I realize is so unhip in this modern age which encourages citizens to become dull-witted insensate food tubes hunched over video games, eating toxic Frankenfoods, and getting into Splenda-fueled internet-rage flamewars on Facebook with some 13-year-old kid in Tierra Del Fuego over important issues like "reality" TV shows and pop stars.

Zager and Evans, right again.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Browning Boys

This month's installment of Commonwealth Curiosities: did you know that the original "Louisville Slugger" Pete Browning and the pioneering Hollywood director Tod Browning (the man who brought us Freaks and the original Bela Lugosi Dracula) were related? And did you know that both these Kentuckians led extremely eccentric lives? Just how eccentric? Pick up the latest copy of Kentucky Monthly and find out!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

DeQuincey on Memory

When I'm not writing, I'm reading. There are a handful of books which, like the Bible, never get old and I can leaf through their secrets again and again and again and never get bored.

One such book is Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas DeQuincey. It's written in a frenzied, disjointed, stream-of-consciousness style that screams wisdom and madness at the same time. Sometimes a run-on sentence will go run the length an entire page without taking a breath. The book was written after Mr. DeQuincey straighted his life out from opium addiction, supposedly. He doesn't sound opiated, that's for sure - just the opposite, he seems downright manic.

But tonight I was struck by this passage from the book, like a bolt of lightning hit me on my head when I read it - because it just happens to echo my own philosophical position based on my own firsthand personal experiences (with memory recall, I mean, not with opium!):

I was once told by a near relative of mine that having in her childhood fallen into a river, and being on the very verge of death but for the assistance which reached her at the last critical moment, she saw in a moment her whole life, clothed in its forgotten incidents, arrayed before her as in a mirror, not successively, but simultaneously; and she had a faculty developed as suddenly for comprehending the whole and every part.

This, from some opium experiences, I can believe; I have, indeed, seen the same thing asserted twice in modern books, and accompanied by a remark which is probably true - viz., that the dread book of account which the Scriptures speak of is, in fact, the mind itself of each individual. Of this, at least, I feel assured, that there is no such thing as ultimate forgetting; traces once impressed upon the memory are indestructible; a thousand accidents may and will interpose a veil between our present consciousness and the secret inscriptions on the mind. Accidents of the same sort will also rend away this veil.

But alike, whether veiled or unveiled, the inscription remains forever; just as the stars seem to withdraw before the common light of day, whereas, in fact, we all know that it is the light which is drawn over them as a veil, and that they are waiting to be revealed whether the obscuring daylight itself shall have withdrawn.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

East Filches West

This morning I was examining the statistics report that Blogger provides for each of my blogs, and I was surprised to see I was getting a considerable number of hits from a Chinese news site called Dong Xi.

I was even more surprised to find out why. It seems someone over there slapped together an article about Henrietta Lacks that leans so heavily on a post on my Steampunk blog - they even ripped off my graphic - someone felt obligated to put a tiny link at the bottom of the page listing me as a source. I suppose I should be thankful for that much.

Here's the translation.

I don't really take any of my blogs seriously, however, so I'm more bemused and amused than anything else. But hey, Dong Xi, are you hiring? I'll be happy to write for you legit and above-board.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Excerpt from "The Moleskin Checklist"

A rough, first-drafty teaser sample from my forthcoming pulp-noir novel that may or may not be titled Body of Work, The Tract of Blood, the rather Harry Stephen Keeler-scented The Moleskin Checklist, or none of the above.

The mailboxes in my office building are in the lobby, ensconced in a little kiosk. Each of them was about the size of a box of buttermints, and if you got a package that didn't fit, then you got a little cantaloupe-colored slip from the post office notifying you that you have to trudge down there to get it.

On this day, something slightly larger than the size of a box of buttermints must have arrived, because I got the aforementioned slip. Great. Now I have to drive across town to pick up something that's most likely junk mail anyway. Every time this happens, it turns out to be nothing worth the trek. Especially now that I no longer have a subscription to Hustler.

It was already hot out. Going to be another scorcher today, I can tell. I got into my beat-up 1981 Cadillac Eldorado and rolled down the windows. I have decent air conditioning, but the engine often cuts out at stop signs when I have it running.

When I got to Sappy's apartment complex, he was standing out front with a middle-aged barefoot woman in daisy dukes and, strangely, a woollen turtleneck sweater. She was furious and screaming at him in such a shrill and loud voice I could hear her before I could see her, driving into the parking lot. Sappy was comically feigning aloofness, staring resolutely into the distance and acting as if she wasn't there. If I hadn't rolled up when I did, she might have started getting violent in order to get his attention.

She was still screaming as I backed out. Sappy and I exchanged nods. "Sappy."


"Who the hell is she?"


"Uh huh. She doesn't look like a nobody."

"Trust me, she is."

Traffic near campus was constipated as usual, so I took a right on Linden and headed down Maxwell. Sappy reached down and helped himself to one of my cigarettes, as he always did.

"Would you like an Old Gold, Mr. Sappy?" I said mockingly.

"Yassss", he groused in an imitation of William Burroughs. "Let no man say you are parsimonious with your favors."

We pulled into Bicentennial Liquors. I told Sappy I'd stay in the car while he went after his usual bottle of Wild Turkey. Sometimes Sappy gets distracted by all the booze, though, and you have to go in and tug at his sleeve to hurry the fuck up. Problem is, sometimes I get distracted too and we both end up strolling around the liquor store for the better part of an hour, picking up every other bottle and speculating on all the different products. Even though I've never known Sappy to drink anything besides beer and bourbon. And sure enough, as I sat there starting to sweat in the hot car, I started to get a little hypnotized by the displays in the window. I started to get a hankering myself for a little something. I got out and went in and stood around staring at obscure brands of Cognac. I say obscure, but I don't know a thing about Cognac. What is it, anyway? It's in the Brandy section of the store, but you know, now that I stop to think about it, I don't know what Brandy is either, really. All I know is, I had some Cognac at my sister's wedding and it was some mighty fine stuff.

What the hell. I deserve a treat. I took the fancy Cognac to the counter, where Sappy had already bagged his bottled bird.

Twenty minutes later, having retrieved some padded manila envelope with no return address from my P.O. Box, we pulled out of the post office parking lot. I heard the sound of Sappy's bottle being opened. "Aw, man, here we go again," I said. "You never learn, do you? You lost your license and now you want to take away mine." Sappy said nothing, but raised his open bottle and smiled a wide grin exposing his tobacco-stained teeth. Then he turned the radio to an oldies station playing Led Zeppelin and made exagerrated mock "rock and roll" thrashing gestures. God, I hate Led Zeppelin.

People often wonder why I hold such a disdain for so-called "classic rock". My answer is always that old music is old and it's played out.

"But isn't most of the music you listen to even older?", some ask, confused. Well, yeah, but the difference is that it's old music that I've never heard before, or at least haven't heard often, such as "Ghost of the Mayor" by the Edison Symphony Orchestra. I grew up with "classic rock" before it was classic, and was as thoroughly immersed in it as anyone else at the time, of course.

Therefore, I can have long detailed conversations about Yes, Styx, Dire Straits, Led Zeppelin, Krokus, Cinderella, Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Wings, Rush, Cheap Trick, April Wine, Nazareth, REO Speedwagon, .38 Special, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Billy Joel, Van Halen, Angel, ZZ Top, Head East, Average White Band, Foghat, Blue Oyster Cult, Quiet Riot, America, Earth, Wind & Fire, Chicago, Atlanta Rhythm Section, KC & the Sunshine Band, Allman Brothers, Linda Rondstadt, Black Sabbath, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jimi Hendrix, Bad Company, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Thin Lizzy, Mountain, The Eagles, The Grateful Dead, Steve Miller Band, Kansas, Prince, Carly Simon, Hot Tuna, Eric Clapton, The Doobie Brothers, Rod Stewart, Abba, Grand Funk Railroad, Jefferson Starship, Air Supply, Bee Gees, Aerosmith, Grass Roots, Badfinger, James Taylor, The Guess Who, John Cougar Mellencamp, Poco, Jimmy Buffett, Queen, Boz Scaggs, Aldo Nova, The Carpenters, Foreigner, Traffic, Mahogany Rush, Carole King, Hall & Oates, Olivia Newton-John, Anne Murray, Motley Crue, Joe Walsh, Captain & Tennille, Genesis, Toto, Pink Floyd, Kenny Rogers, Seals & Crofts, Journey, Jethro Tull, Steely Dan, King Crimson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Seger, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Phil Collins, Madonna, The Police, Heart, Pat Benatar, Robert Palmer, Firefall, Supertramp, Boston, etc. and sound very knowledgeable and even enthusiastic about them - and yet at the same time, I don't really have a desire to hear most of the songs by most of these bands in my life again. Ever. This is a cause of considerable confusion for some.

Do the math: Led Zeppelin IV came out in 1971. By the mid-seventies, its songs had already been overplayed, run into the ground by radio. By decade's end, the horse was pretty well fully flogged to death. And yet throughout the 1980s we were still bombarded by these songs at every turn. And throughout the 1990s, it continued. And then again through the oughts. It's now the teens of the 21st century, folks. I have been subjected to the likes of Led Zeppelin for four decades now. Enough is enough.

I didn't rant about this to Sappy, however; he's heard it all before and doesn't give a damn. He seems happier in life than I am, so who am I to bitch at him for having the same taste in music as he did when he was in elementary school? Right now I just wanted something to eat. I knew some heavy drinking lay ahead of me in the hours to come, and I should probably bulk up now if I plan on getting any nutrition in me. I steered the Caddy into the closest drive-thru and fumbled with making the sharp turn even as I tried to open the envelope that came in the mail.

"Get me some fries", Sappy said. "I'll pay you back."

"You still owe me for that bucket of chicken."

"Uh, dude, I paid you back for that."


"You know, awhile back. We were drinking at Nelson's and I gave you twenty. Then you bought us all a round."

"I don't believe you. But even if I did, you shouldn't pay me money you owe me when I'm too drunk to remember it. And we haven't been to Nelson's in 3 months!"

The loudspeaker crackled. "May I take your order please?"

I was caught off guard while opening the envelope. "Hang on. Ah, I'd like a.... Pally Burger... and..."

"And an order of large fries," Sappy chimed in loudly.

"One Pally Burger, One large fry", said the loudspeaker. "Anything to drink today, sir?" I turned and glared at Sappy. He shot me a stained grin again.

And that's when the severed ear fell out of the envelope into my lap.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Edgar Cayce and Hopkinsville

In my latest installment of Commonwealth Curiosities, I'm layin' down the lowdown on "sleeping prophet" Edgar Cayce, whose birthday is celebrated every February at the Pennyroyal Area Museum in Hopkinsville, KY. Check out the new issue of Kentucky Monthly magazine at your local bookseller, or even better yet - subscribe!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Well, I've tentatively agreed to a new gig writing for, a new blogging collective effort spearheaded by Rick Redding, my former editor at Louisville Mojo. I'm entering the fray cautiously, though, because I'm not sure that the tone of the site is compatible with my philosophy regarding media news reporting, nor my general disdain for online social networking which blogging comes perilously close to if strict comment moderation is not enabled. Not to mention my new year's resolution to avoid unnecessary negativity as I see it.

My first piece for is primarily a reassemblage of comments I've already made elsewhere about Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis, and the upcoming Ark Encounter theme park in Kentucky. Though I give Ham some deserved nudging, I also decry those who make it a knee-jerk reaction to go on a prolonged internet hate campaign against the man and his beliefs - however peculiar they may be - and I also provide some useful hard data rather than just my own useless opinion, such as how to contact Ham directly and go straight to the horse's mouth, and how to support Ham's efforts via their toll-free donation line if you are so inclined.