lost time incident 18 – did love make the murder-go-round

master_detective_murdergoround

lost time incident 18
Hey, folks. We’ve got a short one this week because the real world has intruded on our writing time. Entropy is visiting from out of town and things are breaking or malfunctioning all over. My Xbox has always had power problems, but in the last few weeks, it talked my receiver into turning itself off at random intervals. They’re not-working buddies. Then on Friday, my laptop’s power cord stopped working so my laptop only has so much battery left and can’t get any more. Today my headphones went on the fritz. Something in the plug has frayed so I just get bits of songs, half of conversations, in both ears.

I’ve been forced to actually go outside and run errands to fix all this nonsense during what should have been my leisure time. Time usually spent wool-gathering to fuel this creative effort. I’ve just been plugging and unplugging things. Untangling cables. Talking to customer service reps. Ordering things online. Trying to figure out if there’s any way to avoid having to pay an electrician to show up and stick gizmos in the wall sockets and confirm we’re not cursed.

Bleh.

Anyway. Time to get typing on one of the machines that still works.

 

cherry

cherry
It’s kinda weird, isn’t it, that of the first three facts that come to mind when I think of George Washington, two of them are fiction? (#1 is that he was the first President. That one is true.)

Wooden teeth. Cherry tree parable. Untrue.

I don’t feel like this is common for most famous figures, right?

Abraham Lincoln: Sixteenth President, had two left hands, won a knife fight with the King of Bees

Pope John Paul II: From Poland, could turn invisible at will, invented the Polish sausage

George Clooney: Stole fire from the gods by carrying a hot coal in his mouth, was punished by same gods by being chained to a rock and having an eagle feast on his eternally regenerating liver, always chooses “Rock” when playing “Rock Paper Scissors”

(I don’t actually know a single fact about George Clooney.)

fallout

fallout

falloutforher

knock knock
“Who’s there?”
Margaret
“Margaret who?”
Margaret me in! You’re my only hope! They’re behind me and I have to hide!
“I can’t risk it. If they catch you here, it’s the last straw. I’ll be vanished.”
Leaving me on your doorstep doesn’t make you any safer.
“Get in, get in. Get that lampshade on your head and stand still.”

Popular culture wants you to think that people who get drunk and are the life of the party put lampshades on their head, but 9 times out of 10, it’s someone hiding from the secret police.

Now you know. Never make eye contact with someone wearing a lampshade. Never accept a briefcase from someone wearing a lampshade. Never make a living as a vendor of lamps when your government is a totalitarian regime.

Orange you glad I didn’t say “Police, open up”?

looking & listening
watching: First episode of Outcast, an exorcism-centric series based on comics from Robert Kirkman (Walking Dead).
listening: Spontaneanation – Hosted by one of the comedy world’s quickest minds (Paul F. Tompkins), every episode is improvised from an initial guest monologue
reading: Manifest Destiny – Lewis and Clark explore the North American continent but it’s full of supernatural dangers. Let me know if you wanna read the first issue. I’ll buy you a copy.

 

ending theme song
I drank a few cups of coffee post-dinner just to make sure I’d have enough energy to manage even this tiny newsletter, but I already want to take a nap. I know it’s early on, but so far, I don’t care for my 40s. This is some bullshit.

Sleeping is just practice for being dead and I want no part of it.

No more sleep.

I might have to sleep.

Don’t do anything exciting while I’m not here.

[Thanks to my wife Amanda for providing the fallout shelter advertising poster!]

–Michael Van Vleet

find me elsewhere
signalstation – home
TinyLetter – archive/subscription
Twitter – short nonsense
Tumblr – reblogging
Goodreads – reading
Bandcamp – listening
Amazon – wishlist

lost time incident 17 – least healthy mummies

san francisco mummies kale

lost time incident 17
The evenings this week were dedicated to board games, for the most part. Monday and Tuesday, the wife and I split duties, each taking responsibility for half of a four-man ghost-busting squad in a game— you guessed it— based on the Ghostbusters franchise. Wednesday I introduced work colleagues to Pandemic, and we almost saved the world, but nope, diseases for everyone, sorry. Thursday a friend dropped by to help us bust even MORE ghosts, which feels as good as they say it does. Then we ended the week struggling with some electronic woes as several of our plug-and-wire gizmos started having problems with staying powered on.

Say what you will about board games, but they power up every time.

In other news, crows and cats in the neighborhood aren’t getting along.

In the recent past, I spent a few months trying to get the attention of neighborhood crows. I’d whistle, then throw peanuts their way, hoping to make fast friends across species lines. (For the record, this is more concerted effort than I ever made to get to know my human neighbors.**) While I got crows to swoop down and take peanuts a number of times, I think they just thought I was a chump who didn’t know how to maintain proper nut control. They still don’t seem particularly happy to see me out and about, nor have any of them shown any interest in riding on my shoulder and whispering secrets into my ear as a dark familiar.

Earlier today, one of the neighborhood crows started making a non-stop racket right outside our living room window. Was this a concerted and loud peanut lobbying attempt? It was not. We looked outside and the ruckus was due to the presence of a black cat, poking around in the tree, pushing its luck.

I tossed some peanuts at the cat to convince it to find a different tree. Didn’t work. Bounced the peanuts off the tree. The cat wasn’t much interested in these bouncing peanuts. So now they’ll probably be found by the nocturnal raccoons who like to scream when fighting over who gets right of way, walking along the tops of fences.

No matter what, animals are going to make noise and everyone’s getting peanuts to eat around here.

**We have a next-door neighbor named Lisa who, upon moving in, assumed we’d be fascinated by her life’s story, eager to do favors for her, and has never in conversation tried to get to know a thing about us. She does ask after our cats, though. We have a downstairs neighbor named … I can never remember. Shares a name with a dish I don’t care for. Pasta-based. What is it. Linguinardo. No. Steve-ghetti. No. ALFREDO. Nice guy. Has a family. Don’t know their names at all. There’s another unit that could be full of aliens or serial killers. Don’t even know how many people are in there. And beyond this building, the neighborhood might as well be shrouded in mist and full of shivering creatures like in Silent Hill, for all the familiarity I have with the people who live around here.

Anyway. Who’s up for some fiction?

the atom age
We had to shut down the super collider. Up to that point, it had been a good week. We had bounced atoms off each other with spectacular success. Busted ’em up real good. We were internationally recognized for our work in atom collision. At the end of the shift, you could get bits of atoms off the floor, take ’em home for the kids. Supervisor didn’t care. You were saving the janitorial team on the night shift some trouble, actually, because otherwise they’re spending all their time sweeping up atoms.

But now the whole facility was at half power. People were leaning on machines that were usually too hot to touch, just killing time, checking their phones.

What’s the problem, I asked.

Computer’s got a virus, Wulf said. He pointed. Sure enough, there’s a virus sitting right on top of the computer they keep hooked up to the big red COLLIDE THE ATOMS button. Virus just looked over at us like: What. Daring us to do something. It would have lunged at us to make us jump if it could, so it could laugh if we flinched. You could see it in the eyes wobbling in its protein coat. Good thing it couldn’t lunge. Viruses don’t have the right kind of structure.

Gross, I said.

Hey, said some guy behind us. He had a clipboard. I got a whole truck load of atoms out back, someone going to sign for these? I gotta get ’em offloaded. Got to take a shipment of rain back to Colorado right after. And there’s trucks all backed up behind mine. Line’s going down the block. We gotta move. Who’s gonna sign for this?

Later, in the cafeteria, Wulf and I ate cold egg and bacon sandwiches. The virus sat at the next table sipping tea. The delivery guy ate at the table after that, but he wasn’t eating food. He was pointedly looking at print-outs of delivery schedules, then ripping them up and putting them in his mouth while trying to stare us down. Everything is our fault, sure buddy.

What are you going to do for the super collider talent show, I asked Wulf.

Magic show, he said.

You know magic?

Magic. Hypnotism.

You know hypnotism?

I made you forget that I know magic.

What, I exclaimed, and my top hat fell off, didn’t even know I was wearing one, bunnies spraying out of the hat in arcs as the hat bounced along the ground, a solid spray of rabbits, bouncing off the walls, colliding with each other, pellets shaking out of them like tiny atomic bits.

Oh yeah, now I remember, I told Wulf.

What are you going to do, Wulf asked me.

Probably some carpentry. Get my cousin’s tae kwon do class to come in, kick some boards in half, make a chair out of it.

Sounds like a great act, said Wulf.

Everybody likes chairs, I said.

The next morning, the super collider was up and running again. Noting the hints of aggression coming from the virus, someone on the night shift put up flyers around the compound advertising a ‘fight club’ in the basement, with tear-away coupon strips on the bottom for a free first punch, redeemable upon one’s first visit.

The virus was caught in a net trap as soon as it entered the basement rec room, torn off coupon still gripped in its tail fibers.

The night shift woke up the atom delivery guy, who had been sleeping in his truck, and all night long upright hand trucks were rolling their tiny wheels down the compound’s corridors, bundles of atoms offloaded and stacked in storage rooms or dropped down delivery chutes.

By the time we came in, everything was ready, so we strapped on our goggles and thought about how much better atoms are when they’re hurtling around. Looks like break time is over, Wulf, I said.

Atom-smashing time, he said.

And he hit the big red button.

golden age of tv
[SFX: rock music]
[stock footage: helicopter over a city landscape, a busy police office, a purse-snatcher running down the street, an empty church, a gravestone with handcuffs resting on top]

[TITLE: TBD ]

[footage: Following a beat cop as he walks a city street.]

NARRATOR: In the big city… crime doesn’t pay. The police force responds to hundreds of crime reports a day and if the criminal is found… they’re going down.

[footage: Beat cop goes up steps of burned out building.]

NARRATOR: And if the criminal has escaped, passing beyond the veil of this world, dying before they can be brought to justice–

[footage: A ghost cop falls into step with the beat cop, climbing stairs and going deeper into the building.]

NARRATOR: That’s where the ghost cops come in.

BEAT COP: Okay, partner. The arsonist’s spirit is in this next room. You ready to bring him in?

[GHOST COP turns, mouth open in a rictus, unable to talk… its hands pass through the door knob. Its eyes roll back. Nearby glass shakes in telekinetic frustration.]

BEAT COP: This was a terrible idea.

[GHOST COP wavers, its face in agony, fingers curled… then disappears.]

BEAT COP: … Great.

ghostcop

look listen
listening to: Berlin Community Radio
reading: The True Believer: Thoughts on Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer. An interesting look at the driving factors behind and the members of society most susceptible to the allure of joining a mass movement of any variety: political, religious, etc.
watching: Sicario. Whoah. Super intense. Probably gives fits to anyone working in Mexico’s tourism industry.

ending theme song
That’s going to do it for us for this week. It’s about that time of the weekend when final errands must be run, meaning it’s time to go pick up some fruits, veggies and barley tea from the local Asian market. Then maybe read some comics. Listen to more music streaming from Berlin.

Happy birthday wishes go out to Team Pan this weekend. Thanks again to my wife Amanda for the original illustration.

Also, a guy I went to high school put up a photo that a 15-year-old me appears in. Good looking kid, though I remember he didn’t think so. Too bad I can’t pass him a note. Too bad it’s creepy to tell young people “You’re probably never going to look better than you do now! Be more confident!”

No wonder nobody told us.

slim

As ever, thanks for reading.

— Michael Van Vleet

find me elsewhere
signalstation – home
TinyLetter – archive/subscription
Twitter – short nonsense
Tumblr – reblogging
Goodreads – reading
Bandcamp – listening
Amazon – wishlist

The Signal: EP124

TheSignalEP124

The Signal: EP124 – If you were waiting for the 124th episode of The Signal mixes to join us, well, today’s your lucky day. We’ve finally made it. We’ve designed this mix specifically for individuals who like number sequences that increase by successive powers of 2.

It’s 45 minutes of music, available for download if you click the image or link above, or you can play it embedded on this page if you like. That’s new. We’re trying a new hosting solution this time out, so send along feedback if you like/hate it. I think the file will stay available for 30 days after the last time it’s downloaded, so if you try the link above and it’s not there… try being within a 30 day window of the last person who downloaded it next time. The tracklist is available in the id3 tags or to mailing list subscribers (on that, more below).

We’ve got English folk tunes and electronic beats, hip hop and soul, R&B and latin-infused beats, garage rock, and bedroom pop.  Enjoy!

As a reminder, if you want to be among the first people on the planet to know that there’s a new Signal mix, you can sign up for the mailing list here: http://eepurl.com/bS6BNH   Benefits include early notification, a full track list, and access to a permanent archive URL for long after the file above has disappeared from its free webhost location.

lost time incident 16 – cows out there

selfie_with_cows_crop

lost time incident 16
Hey folks! It’s probably too early to be sure, but it sure seems like if you force yourself to practice a creative pursuit, it does actually get easier. Or maybe I just got lucky and had a hot streak this weekend. Put out a lot of Twitter activity, recorded some video game stuff with my better half, filmed a truly dumb instructional video (which you’ll see below) and then there’s this thing!

My intention, when I started the newsletter, was to get back in the habit of being creative, because too much time was slipping past me with with work/passively watch something/sleep cycle. It might be working.

Time is still slipping away, but that might now be more linked to my own advanced age.

The photo above is one I took last year in India, documenting the cows who liked to hang out in the vacant field next to the office I was working out of. For whatever reason, I’ve been thinking about that trip again recently, which reminded me of this anecdote:

out-of-town money
Last year, I spent a few weeks in India for work. I got into town early so I’d have a weekend to recover before I had to turn up, be awake  and act respectable in the office on Monday morning. My first morning out, I figured I’d just walk out the front gate of the hotel I was staying at, pick a direction, and see where I ended up.

However, parked just outside the gate was a good-natured fellow who jumped out of his tuk-tuk-style cab and volunteered to drive me wherever I wanted to go. When I asked him his rates, he insisted he didn’t charge. “Oh, are you affiliated with the hotel?” I asked. He dodged the question, but was fine if that was something I wanted to believe.

As it turned out, he was just a charming guy with no working meter who found that if you can charm a foreigner into hopping into your cab, their guilt at not paying you will usually lead to them tipping you more than you would have collected… by a long shot.

If you’ve read any sort of travel advice, you’ll know there’s usually a section about how to avoid being taking advantage of as a foreigner-with-money. Sometimes it’s as simple as telling you that you can haggle. Sometimes it’s as terrifying as telling you that if your driver runs someone over or crashes the vehicle, you absolutely should not leave the vehicle until help arrives, due to the possibility that it’s all a trap to kidnap you.

(That last one is for Angola, by the way.)

But India’s not too bad.

One of the things you get warned about is that if your cab driver won’t start their meter, you shouldn’t go with them. You’ll also be told that some drivers have partnerships lined up with local vendors and they’ll offer to take you anywhere for free— so long as you don’t mind browsing at a shop first. And if you buy something there, so much the better, because they’re getting paid for dropping you and your wallet off, and the kickback’s sweeter if you actually buy something.

But I tell you, if you’re up too early in the morning on a Sunday and you genuinely have nothing else to do, going to a handicraft shop at the suggestion of a cab driver who says you don’t have to pay him at all isn’t a bad way to pass the time.

That’s how I ended up looking at carved wooden elephants while chatting with with an Indian-appearing fellow named Javaid who said he was actually born and raised in Russia. Though he now runs his family’s handicrafts store, convincing people like me that we need a heavy brass statue of Ganesha, he originally studied to be an engineer. After getting out of school, he found himself working at a coal mine up in Siberia. He bailed on the coal-flecked snows of Siberia when the Soviet Union’s economy collapsed.  Claimed he doesn’t miss it, if you can believe that.

“Where are you from” he asked. When I said “The US,” he asked who I thought our next President might be.

“Well, the odds are favoring Hillary Clinton,” I said. This was mid-2015.

“She would be the first female President, correct?”

“Yeah.”

“Your country has been around for hundreds of years. Why do you think you haven’t had a female President yet?”

“Uh… because we’re a sexist country? Isn’t that obvious?”

Biggest laugh I got on the whole trip, my moment of honesty with Javaid.

 

e-book ideas

  • So You’re Haunting a Rich Person
  • My Gun Talks With Bullets
  • A Pet Owner’s Guide to Kettle Corn
  • B-bye 4ever – Suicide Notes from Children
  • A Gentleman’s Guide to Binge-Watching
  • Public Domain Fiction Make-Out Sessions

 

haunting-rich-person

 

meanwhile somewhere else

satire

 

interview with some vampire
“What is that? Will it hurt me? Or do you… do you use it to prepare food?”

The vampire was pointing, concerned, at my smartphone, which I had just placed on the table between us to record our conversation.

“… It’s harmless. Don’t worry about it.”

“I have traveled over mountain ranges of time and while I was doing so… I was studying the art… of sexy.” He picked nervously at a ragged fingernail. His nail beds were pale and recessed. “I am one of those sexy vampires.”

He smiled, his fangs poking out past his lips, yellow like table butter that’s been left on a picnic table under the summer sun. “Like in your fimms. Your movings.”

“You mean ‘movies’?”

“Do I? Perhaps? When I go to see a fimm, I sneak in … as a bat. Bat ears don’t hear human words so good.” He frowned. “I have never seen a moving that wasn’t upside down. And very blurry. Bats don’t see so good. But it was enough to be sure that I am sexy.”

vampire-bat-movie-fan1

vampire-bat-movie-fan3

vampire-bat-movie-fan4

vampire-bat-movie-fan5

vampire-bat-movie-fan6

jazz appreciation EP001

jazz_face_text

For those new to appreciating jazz, I put together a one minute introduction that will set you on the right path. Just some basic moves for beginners. Nothing too taxing.

 

ending theme song
Okay! We made it! One more lost time incident full of nonsense, out the door. As ever, we’ve got some amazing original illustrations from my wife Amanda. How about that, huh? An entire comic, we got from her this time!

If you like it, tell your friends. If you don’t like your friends… just keep this newsletter to yourself.

Thanks for showing up! See you next week!

 

–Michael Van Vleet

 

lost time incident 15 – becoming an all sorts piñata

Michael Van Vleet in Paris

lost time incident 15
Today is International Worker’s Day and to celebrate, I got enough sleep. Woke up feeling alert, an unfamiliar enough sensation that it was worth remarking upon. Made coffee. French roast. I don’t even know if the French roast coffee that way or if it’s a misnomer. I was there in Paris— see above photo— but I forgot to ask anyone. I do have a French colleague in the office who was surprised that her countrymen got credit for the French press I use to make coffee in a more professional context.

 

I don’t think I was going anywhere with that, but here’s a secret: Much of the time, I’m just letting my fingers start a-typin’ just to see what’s going to come out. That’s right. I don’t value your time. Ha!

There’s a breeze coming in through the front door and a cat is hanging out on my right leg, providing a counterbalance to the laptop on the left leg. My wife is laughing at internet summaries of a show about murder, so we’re all in a good place.

How are you doing?

It’s such a gorgeous day out there that it’s enough to make you forget that they won’t all be this pleasant.

[optional soundtrack: Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – “I Need Never Get Old”]

 

the position or velocity of dogs

twitter1_dogs
twitter2_dogs

dogmonster

 

autobio corner
In the small town I grew up in, for many of the years I lived there, there was nothing terribly remarkable about the town itself. Downtown we had a grocery store, a 5-and-dime, and a used bookstore where a nice old lady named Linda enforced a rule that you had to sell her a romance or sci-fi novel first if you were going to buy one yourself because otherwise they’d all go out the door. She had trouble keeping those genres in stock.

Every weekday at noon, through the soles of our feet, we’d feel the deep bass hum of the gravity wave factory just outside of town, down-by the Wal-Mart, generating energy and keeping the bills paid for most of the families of the kids I went to school with.

Our school mascot was the Comets, since our county had a higher than usual incident rate for attracting rocks and space ice, pulled out of orbit and into our outdoor swimming pools, our mini golf arcades, and our competition-grade cross-country running courses. Our sports teams weren’t great, so the local newspaper used lots of “crashing and burning” imagery when covering our matches, but our logo was fantastic: the comet wore a fierce expression, lip curled, and three sharp points came off the back with orange highlights to create the comet’s tail.

Things picked up when I hit the teenage years, though, because that was when a lunchtime pulse pulled in the Object, as it was originally called. It fell down by the woods where rumor had it Chad and Lisa had once been caught having sex where the grass was at its tallest. Who knows what happened out there behind the woods. One time Terry said he was walking around back there and came across a big pile of those full-head Halloween masks, half covered in brush like someone was hiding them out there. Said there was a wolf man and some kinda fish, but it had been raining and the pile of masks looked gross so he just left them alone. Weren’t there the next time he went back though.

The Object hung about those woods, waiting for kids to wander near. The kids who went out there to smoke found it first. It rumbled at them, wobbled a bit… but mostly it listened. Erik said he figured it belonged to one of the families whose homes had their backs up against the hill, like maybe it was a pet that wandered off, but it was the size of a refrigerator.

Of course now, with the benefit of hindsight and with the insight of world-class scientists, the consensus is that it’s a very clever probe designed to acquire language via some mimicry algorithms. We’re still not sure it knows what it’s saying, but most of what it learned to talk about was: which kids in the nearby middle and high schools sucked, which teachers sucked, who was a slut, and to say it was a big fan of many of history’s worst dictators and serial killers. I’ve heard that when they originally put up that tent around it and the government folks moved in, the first thing it asked them was how much they enjoyed a particular impossible sexual position, then affirmed that it liked it very much. “It’s the best,” it said. It then laughed with a series of barking hard-K sounds.

Any hope of learning more about its origins seemed to be dashed. It wouldn’t answer questions, if it ever had, instead preferring to copy the questions asked of it, or would fill silence by singing advertising jingles, but with all the original advertising copy replaced with “shut up,” but matching the original melody precisely.

Transcript. Note: Capitalization used to indicate relative volume.
THERE WAS ONCE IN THESE WOODS. NOW SAY JERRY. MELT STEEL BEAMS. I AM STUPID. Listening? Fucking RULES, man. SUCK DiiiiiiiiiiiiiCKS. High five for Hitler. Mitts. Mitts. Comets. Kek kek kek kek kek kek. After me, REPEAT. Ooored. Errd. Bored. Ting bored. Geh. ♫shut up shut UP shut up SHUT UP shut-shut-shut [advertising medley of 20 minutes cut].

But times change. Things progress. I bet it’s repeating smarter stuff now that scientists are talking to it. With any luck, maybe they’ll even notice they’re getting nothing back.
comet

current events
During a walk home from work, apropos of nothing, I remembered that in elementary school I had a class where each week, we were meant to study current events. We had to grab a newspaper from our parents, cut out an article, bring it in and summarize it.

The memory that came back to me was that one time, I found an article about ninjas and brought that in. Even had a picture of a ninja next to the article. I have not yet remembered what the article was actually about, but it was easier to understand than the conflict in Israel, or whatever was on the front page back in the 80s.

It’s just weird. Little fragments from an earlier life, still bumping about inside my head.

[memory tosses down a smoke bomb and disappears again]

 

ending theme song
I’m going to keep it a bit short this week, folks. Even though my head is buzzing because I ate WAY too many licorice all sorts. So let’s keep things focused so I’m imparting only the most important information. Okay. Cannonball Run 2 is full of talented people but it’s awful.

We’re already going astray a little bit.

Let’s see. Amanda and I created some more art postcards yesterday. We may have almost enough to send to every subscriber that I actually have an address for. If you’ve moved in the last however-long and don’t have an explicit memory of letting me know, well now you can. Maybe right now?

This week’s chunk of fiction was inspired by Simon Stålenhag’s Tales from the Loop which I backed on Kickstarter and was so excited about, I stuck it on a shelf and ignored it for months. I was waiting for a special occasion to flip through it and today ended up being that special occasion.

Also in the mental mix was the news that Stephen Hawking and Mark Zuckerberg want to fire tiny nanobots out into the universe to see what’s out there mixed with what happened when Microsoft set a chatbot loose in Twitter, only to see it turned into a racist monster within a day.

Thanks as ever to my wife Amanda for providing original illustrations.

Hope your weekend went well. I have to go and see if the internet knows what the antidote is for too much licorice.

Later, gators,

Michael Van Vleet

find me elsewhere
signalstation – home
TinyLetter – archive/subscription
Twitter – short nonsense
Tumblr – reblogging
Goodreads – reading
Bandcamp – listening
Amazon – wishlist