Gambits #15 – Crazy Ways to Die

Over 90 people are killed every year in riding lawnmower accidents.

That’s more than the average for death by sharks, bears and alligators combined – in spite of Hollywood, those average about one each per year. Lawnmowers were higher than snake bites (6) and venomous spiders (11).

In fact there are only 4 “freak” accidents that kill more people than lawnmowers. Angry deer (no shit) at 200, electrocution at 400, carbon monoxide at 430, and the most boring “accident” of all, falls, at 36,000 plus.

I wonder how tractors fit into that? I have secondhand personal knowledge of a death by tractor followed by suicide of the perpetrator.

I suppose it would be a forensics nightmare. Murderer catches old Bob out on his mower, out of sight of the house maybe, or nobody’s home. Put a rock in the path, a bonk on the head, Bob goes headfirst over the front, gets chewed into hamburger. Most of those mowers have a kill switch in the seat, but if most people are like my father-in-law was, that switch got deactivated the first time it was a pain in the ass. No pun intended. Or maybe, like the two neighboring politicians in Virginia who got off their mowers and into fisticuffs over who was mowing what they shouldn’t be, well, you have the perfect setup.

Or like the ever popular somebody killed the competitive bike rider, think about sabotage on the hot-rodded riding mower circuit.

So think outside the box. Killed by an angry deer is so predictable. I mean think of all the scripts and real murders where somebody got shot “accidentally” while deer hunting when all they needed to do was offer to carry Bob’s gun and piss off a deer. Death by riding mower takes some imagination, or a serious case of stupid.

Gambits #14 – Pesky Caucasians? Turn up the Country Music

Attention: All those seeking equity and equality who aren’t already running our local governments, city councils, school districts, hospitals, sports franchises, school boards, economic development campaigns or spending tax dollars for Covid Vaccination Sites where white people aren’t, listen up.

A study by researchers Steven Stack of Wayne State University and Jim Gundlach from Auburn University hypothesize that topics often present in the lyrics of country songs — such as “marital discord, alcohol abuse and alienation from work” — can foster a suicidal mood among those who are already at risk.

The researchers performed a multiple regression analysis of 49 metropolitan areas and found the greater the airtime devoted to country music, the higher the suicide rate. In their paper, the researchers explain that “the effect is independent of divorce, southernness, poverty and gun availability.”

The retort is that depressed white people simply seek out country music. You know, for that “Bummed but not the Lone Ranger” feeling of false empathy from a puppet pop star. Before they pop themselves.

This study was done two decades ago, so with with the deep inroads pop has made into country maybe things have changed. But I doubt it. Hell, enough Taylor Swift would make make anyone as suicidal as hearing Achy Breaky Heart ever again. But the main themes in country haven’t changed. A whopping 75% of country songs are the old heartbreak numbers. Add in the collateral damage from lost love and “dee-vorce” and there goes the truck, the double wide, the farm, the kids, the dog, all with drinkin’ as the usual offered solution and you have 98% of country music.

So, Sha’niqua, you wanna turn the little community college Becky’s outta the blood lab? Turnin’ up the R&B or BCA won’t help, but changing it to country will.

Think I’m foolin? Download the text.

Two funnies from my career in music: A conversation at a small, grimy cinder block bar outside Cheyenne, Wyoming, where we asked someone in the parking lot: “You got room for live music here?” “Why hell yeah. We got room for both kinds. Country and western. Which one are you boys?” Standing outside the Ryman in downtown Nashville with two geezers, one holding a violin (sorry, fiddle) case, the other a mandolin case while a hired gun guitar player threw down some serious shred warming up at sound check inside. Fiddle geezer looks at me and his friend, saying: “That shit rat there?” He thumbed the Ryman’s open door, spit a stream of tobacco juice into the street. “That shit rat there is whut the hayul’s wrong with country music ennymower.”

Or is it the fact that’s it’s all one song, as shown from 6 top songs being indistinguishable?

Gambits #13 – The “Thing” Syndrome

Here it is – The Possessed Hand

There’s a neurological disease known as ‘alien hand syndrome’ that causes the person afflicted to be completely unaware of what one of their hands is doing.

Whaaaaaat?

Yes. Anyone with the disease is estranged from the behavior of the hand (or limb) which will behave “capriciously and without direction” from its owner. Sufferes have been awaked by their random hand stroking their face, pulling an ear or messing with their privates.

There are a number of etiologies that could be involved, from certain Alzheimer’s brain lesions, stroke, dementia and uncategorized “damage”. A fall, a blow to the head. Regardless of cause, the hand does its own ‘Thing”.

Instead of the angry severed hand, though, a great plot I’ve only seen a few times would involve a connected hand with a politically incorrect mind of its own. Instead of a middle finger popping out, an involuntary Incredible Hulk style power-choke grip lifts a conveniently deaf convenience store clerk over the counter while the owner demands half the two-fer price for a single bag of Doritos.

Or Murder.

Take a serial killer who is by day a pleasant enough high speed interface engineer who gets driven around at night by his hand to commit murder most foul. It could be written from the Grisham-Turrow-Gardner angle, the Cornwell-Garritson angle, a pick an author whodunnit, a Laura Levine-esque humor take or a Noir shamus riff titled The Upper Hand.

Bonus – Give the hand owner Tourette’s to go with and the comedy at the convenience store explodes. I’ll spare you a demonstration.

Further – https://www.thecut.com/2015/03/woman-who-was-attacked-by-her-own-hand.html

Gambits #12 – Deadly Umbrellas

Like the myriad of disgusting headlines my friend sends me or I discover in my own local news, I’m sharing another one I haven’t seen beaten to death (yet).  Not that it’s not out there by any means, but I haven’t seen it circulating in print or TV.

Here you go – Death by beach umbrella.

Many accidents and injuries involving errant beach umbrellas go unreported, but you should know that between 2008 and 2017 at least 31,000 were reported and required emergency medical treatment. Several deaths by beach umbrella have even been reported along with quite a few maimings, including loss of eyeballs, feet, appendages and abdominal parts.

What a fucking great setup. PI or Bounty Hunter Barbie on the beach with Hunky Ken. After the fashion observations and minute accessory descriptions, the wind kicks up.

“Damn!” She exclaimed, pissedoffedly. “I paid twenty dollars for that hat.”

“Hat?” Ken said, absently studying her perfect buns that sported a confectioners dusting of sand.

“Yes, my white straw sun hat with the blue and fuscia Kate Spade knock-off bandana. There it goes!” She pointed into the mess of tumbling, rollicking beach umbrellas, picnic baskets, beer coolers, plastic starfish and towels piling up against the pier and tourist gift shop.

“Isn’t Kate Spade like, dead?”

“That’s why the knock off is so valuable, moron.”

“Check that.” Hunky ex NATO superspy Ken tapped his temple saying “Be right back.” He dashed recklessly into the melee. Upon grabbing her fashion statement hat he stopped in his tracks and began blocking incoming beach debris with his forearms like Wonder Woman in a speedo. The wind abated as suddenly as it started.

“What’s wrong?” Bounty Hunter Barbie asked.

“This one has your name on it, Barb babe,” he shouted, then muttered “or is it babe Barb…?”

When she arrived, he pushed the upside-down umbrellas and coolers aside to give her a clear, yet disturbingly grim view.

“Jeez, Hunky Ken. It’s Benson Ekoreck, the witness protection skip I’ve been looking for.”

“With a beach umbrella stuck in his chest.” Ken reached to remove the umbrella.

“Stop!” Barbie screeched in that shrill voice she hated but just came out when she was upset or orgasmic. “That’s my umbrella!”

Well, of course it is. Was. Whatever. Anyway, there you go, a free plot device. Remember, you heard it here first. Evanovich owes me five-spot if she uses it.

Seriously – Umbrella deaths and bodily damage are a reality. So much so that several Democratic Senators, two from Virginia and one from New Jersey on a day with nothing better to do sent a letter to the Consumer Safety Commission demanding the effects of errant beach umbrellas be looked into.

“Beach umbrella safety is always lower on anybody’s list, until you get impaled by one,” Senator Menendez said.  

Well no shit, Sherlock.

Can’t help myself – If the fictional scene started above had gone on, it might have ended this way –

“That cop thinks you whipped up the windstorm with your hoo-ha somehow so you could get the Bail Bond on that dude refunded,” Hunky Ken said, disaffectedly brushing sand from his glistening bicep.

“He’s just a hairy scrotum in a cheap suit looking for an easy way out. I didn’t do it, so he can kiss my ass and go pound sand. Hey, what’s that on your shoulder?”

“Uh, souvenir?”

“Souvenir? You can’t just take things from a closed crime scene just because it started out as an Act of God, Hunky Ken.”

“Ohh… But the cops said to pick out what we wanted…” Hunky Ken stopped, looked glumly back at the pile of beach crap being picked through by once happy beach goers. “I guess I better take them back.”

“I guess. Wait. Them?”

“I got you one, too.” In a quick move based on years of training and reflex perfection, he whipped two beach towels off his shoulder, snapped them out in front of himself before handing one to Bounty Hunter Barbie.

“Oh my God!” She inhaled a big breath. “A Versace beach towel! You don’t see many of these.”

“Or these.” Hunky Ken held up an oversize Def Leppard towel. “This is major killer.”

Bounty Hunter Barbie rolled her eyes. “What’s so special about a Def Leppard towel?”

“It’s a collector’s item, babe, Barb, uh Barb — ”

“Never mind.” Barbie pouted, unaffected by his enthusiasm.

“No, really. Check it out, Babe, uh, Barb uh… In this picture?” Hunky Ken palmed up the silkscreened band photo on the towel for her. “The drummer dude still has both arms!”

NVDT #57 – Vices

The other day I was looking for the word that describes the writing mechanism of stringing a sentence together with ‘and’. It can be considered a flaw when used as was being discussed. Students in freshman English constructing run-ons of independent clauses and fragments stuck together with ‘and’. It is also a rhetorical device used to mimic an enthusiastic child, or as a breathless survivor. The latter, for example, used by Hemingway in “After the Storm”.

The good thing about living in the same house with a Ph.D. in Rhetoric is there are tons of reference books. Like this Lanham. Well-loved nearly thirty years ago by a puppy who felt ignored while the thesis was being composed. I got close with this book, but when you’re not a rhetorician and have no idea what you’re looking for? I said as much and was told about this “…marvelous site put together by a man at Brigham Young. It’s so well done I sent him a note thanking him. I don’t think the search works all the time, but find something close or start with enthusiasm or vices.”

Great. Vices? Moron that in a minute. I popped into one page and found the rhetorical justification for rule-breaking. Yep. They’ve been after defining language tricks for thousands of years. Check this out. Figures, if you miss it, are rhetorical ‘plays’ one can call with language. Scary, huh?

Many figures name the ways that expression can exceed what is strictly necessary to get an idea across. (Indeed, all rhetorical figures can in some ways be considered superfluous, so long as one maintains the artificial separation of form from content). However, what is semantically unnecessary may in fact be rhetorically advantageous; that is, the form may communicate as much as the content. These figures name both purposeful excess for effect, as well as stylistic vices:

Vices? You bet I clicked it. I would urge you to do the same. The language docs have words for all of our shortcomings. You won’t find me using many of these save the more common ones (tautology) so as not to be found graecismus. Even the Professor doesn’t use them. “I can’t say to a freshman from Nigeria, working in her second language, sorry, polysyndeton is unacceptable.” I understand that. Had someone told me to find the polysyndeton in “After the Flood” I would have told them there weren’t any damn dinosaurs in the whole story and go fly a kite.

Go through the list. Find yourself. I did. More than once.

The site is Silva Rheoroticæ  http://rhetoric.byu.edu/

Who Will Sing Me a Lullaby?

I’m a big fan of the lullaby. The beauty is that they lurk in a song that wasn’t written to be one. Except to me a number of the early innocent songs before my time were looking out the window with longing lullabies. A favorite of mine – “Count Every Star”. I’ve heard it done from Doo Wop to Vegas lounge lizard. Treated properly kicked down to acoustic guitar or deep space piano it will knock the volume out of a loud room and turn adults into children, if only for a moment. I have no idea why. I do know it as fact.

I also have no idea why Kate Rusby isn’t a household word. If you don’t know of her music, you might think of getting acquainted. Most everything she writes and sings is in that magical land where beautifully executed simple from the heart storytelling meets the air between the notes. Everyone needs a lullaby once in a while. Who will sing you a lullabye? Kate Rusby. Don’t know if she’ll share the cheese.

Happy 808 Day!

1980 to 83. That’s it. Three years. Easily the most used, abused, sampled, looped, and heard by all drum machines in history.

Why? The thing sounded like the cheezy beatbox in home organs. Boom chikka chikka. Little filtered analog noise bursts crammed into audio envelopes. Tish tish tish clack boom. I mean Kraftwerk made of it by sampling their own voices and using them as a beat track on Boing Boom Tshack from Electric Cafe

Except…unlike the CR78 and other drum machines of the presampling era, the 808 had  variable tuning. No, not the city in China, but actual pitch up and down on the klacks and booms. If a car has ever pulled up beside you and rattled your windows with low-frequency Boooooooom…. Boooooooom that’s the 808. Stretch and distress and compress that low kick until it never fades and rattles your windows when it goes down the street. A sound, we learned, that keeps an amplifier buried on the power supply rails until it burns up.

People will complain about all the kinds of music that sound brings to mind but be advised, plenty of pop and rock songs were demoed with the 808. And more million-selling R&B than you can shake your booty to, jazz, acid jazz, smooth jazz…everybody incorporated the sounds of the 808. In fact I’ve used 808s widely myself in everything from cover tunes to electronica to synth space fart tracks.

Gain access to a state of chill and some headphones, here’s some 808 in a hippie redux context

Why again? Because I was inspired by the old 60s synth instrumentals and hearing a Muzak version of Jethro Tull (?!) in an HEB Grocery store in Austin, TX and figured, you know, I do that &*^% for a living.

Happy 808 day, even if you’re not all that happy about how it’s found its way into everything music-wise.

 

 

 

RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #22

Authenticity –

“You’re telling me nobody in Washington DC has a piano you can rent?”

“No.”

“Not Washington Music or Venneman or the Steinway Hall or any of the back-line places? Jesus, you’d think there’d be a shit load of pianos in DC. All the parties and weddings and receptions, hotels.”

“No, man. I’ve called them all and nobody has a grand piano I can rent. That’s why Rick told me to call you. He said you could hook me up.”

“Rick?”

“Wakeman. He’s coming in to play a classical music concert. A live broadcast, and he needs a good piano.”

Right. Rick’s a real comedian. Here we go. “I can get you a ProMega3, from Chicago, with Rick’s programs blown into it. Have it there in three days.”

“What? A Pro…What?”

“A Generalmusic ProMega3. It’s a physically modelled digi –”

“A digital piano? No way, I can’t have that. Those sound like shit, everyone will know, Rick will hate it.”

“Rick won’t hate it, that’s why he told you to call me. It’s not a sampled piano. Yeah, those all sound like audio Polaroids. But this is a real-time physically modelled instrument, sympathetic resonance figured on the fly like a real piano, all the math done by the physics department at the University of Padua. Padua being where the piano forte was invented.”

“It’s still a digital piano, no matter how good it is. It isn’t an authentic piano. I have $5,000 microphones set up in here for a real –”

“Riddle me this. You put five of those microphones on the piano. Run them through the board –”

“A digital console with high end Prism ADA converters. Those things are –”

“Ten grand a pop. Great. What do you have at the end of that signal chain?”

“What do mean, what do I have?”

“You have a digital piano. Just like the one I’m offering you. Five high end mics, data conversion to harmonic and volume modelled envelopes, real time resonance. The sound board and wooden case is done with math, not samples. It’s as authentic as your mics and digi board. If anyone notices or complains, I’ll eat it.”

“Well, hell, we’re out of time now, I don’t have any choice. And Rick said…Shit…Are you sure you don’t have a real piano?”

“Positive, but I’ll send you a ProMega3. Tell Rick everybody loves a clown and to poke around the first bank, Herbie Hancock’s fave Fazioli tweak is in there. Sound check for Artist Not Present in Rick’s case is number 2, RW Stein. Any problems, call me.”

A week later I make the call. “Anybody complain about Rick’s piano?”

“No. Did you hear the show?”

“Sure,” I lied. “He’s crazy funny and can play his ass off.”

“Yeah. So, uh, look, how can we get two of those ProMega things for the studio?”

***

All you have to do is make me, or any reader, believe it. I have a WIP set in LA in the early 80s. I wasn’t there, I was in NorCal. I have friends who were. What is needed is “A studio in Silverlake.” It works because there were a lot of them. A high-rise ocean-front condo in Santa Monica. Yeah, duh. A funky old 8 plex apartment in Long Beach. L.A. is the global center of funky small apartments that could have been shotgun houses, old motels, two story office buildings. They’re in every TV show ever shot in L.A. from Dragnet to Transparent. I read Laura Levine’s fluffy mysteries, her heroine lives in an apartment in West Hollywood. Some colorful neighbors, funky houses. Traffic sucks on the 5, the 1, the Harbor Freeway, Santa Monica Blvd. Of course it does. Who am I to quibble? Fancy restaurants on the beach, Mexican places with huge burritos, everybody accepts that. More importantly, it’s enough. Robert Parker used to beat me with Boston, but not too hard. Tony Hillerman could put me in an old beat up Suburban in the New Mexico desert with few words and a few mountains. Elmore Leonard, Get Shorty in L.A. Are there any map coordinates?  No. Descriptions of big houses and restaurants and grubby offices. Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely. A dumpy house, a grimy bar, a nut-case estate. For me? In and Out Burger on Beverly. A vegetarian walkup in the parking lot of a strip center, or off the 1 in Malibu. Pre-War apartment courts on the bay in Huntington. They’re there. Why not? Authentic is the story, on a believable set.

Authenticity, then, does not require 200 pages of Irvine Welsh’s phonetic Scotts, or an accurate down to the nails in the shutters description of a side street in the Bahamas or a page and a half of verdant pastures or a horticulturalist’s coffee table book version of Louisiana garden and potted plant life. Or $20k worth of mics and preamps. Authenticity is a few locations, a few props, carried by the story. All the set decoration in the world isn’t the story. If the story works, it could be next door or a far-off land. Make me believe the characters and their stories without gumming up getting them around and putting them somewhere. Authenticity is the story. 

***

Authenticity – When asked about Jeff Beck’s guitar rig his tech answered with all the right techy stuff. He finished by saying “But he could play an old Masonite Silvertone through a Pignose and he’s still gonna sound like Jeff Beck.”

More Authenticity – Rick’s version for an Australian magazine. Zoom to read.

 

 

 

Looney Lunes #160 Rise Up, Wimmin 2 fer

Out Damned Spot!

In rural Nepal many families still practice Chhaupadi, a custom that requires all menstruating women to be banished to a small hut or shed for the duration of their period. They are not allowed to interact with or touch any male family members or livestock or enter the family home.

Nepalese men are lucky their women aren’t out in the barn sharpening knives. And pity the lonely fool with a couple of daughters, they all get in sync with mom. Unless it’s World Cup Week.

Yeah, Right, Babe. Sure Thing.

Back in the late 1800s a common argument against giving women the right to vote was that it would allow married men an unfair “extra” vote. As they would surely exercise their influence over their wives to vote alike!

It’s thinking like this that makes me want a word for Male Bimbo.

Gambits #11 – Rattlesnake, Whiskey and Uranium

Plus a Handgun, a Suspended License and a Stolen Car

Character Study +

John D MacDonald, Elmore Leonard, Dashiell Hammett, Laura Levine, Fitzgerald – A few words and a reasonably complete picture. From characters to towns. Solid. You know who and where and aren’t bogged down in details. His suit looked dirty but wasn’t. Avocado appliances, a small box-store table for two. A Grand Canyon dishtowel hung from the oven handle. A big man. Pink. Rubbery. Thin and nervous enough to make it contagious. Yellowish skin. Dark circles under unsteady eyes.  He was wide and plodding. Neckless, shoulderless, bald. His necktie short, loose, the knot partially buried by a third chin.

Okay, enough fun. Gambits is about writing prompts, cues, unusual manners of death. Here’s another one from an old friend of mine. From The Daily Oklahoman. A paper I threw in my youth (quite accurately) from a red Sting Ray.

GUTHRIE (AP) — Police in Oklahoma say they found a rattlesnake, a canister of radioactive powdered uranium and an open bottle of Kentucky Deluxe whiskey during a traffic stop of a vehicle that had been reported stolen.

The traffic stop happened June 26 in Guthrie, about 30 miles (45 kilometers) north of Oklahoma City. Guthrie police Sgt. Anthony Gibbs told Oklahoma City TV station KFOR that police don’t know why the uranium was in the vehicle or how it was obtained, though uranium ore can be bought on Amazon.

Gibbs says police also found a gun in the console and a terrarium in the backseat containing a pet Timber rattlesnake.

Gibbs says the driver, Stephen Jennings, was charged with possession of a stolen vehicle, transporting an open container of liquor and driving with a suspended license.

There’s the setup, here’s the character – What the hell was this guy up to? A hit man gone to seed?

 

Trivia – Guthrie was the original state capital of Oklahoma. A handful of bu$ine$$ men wanted it in Oklahoma City. Guthrie, the original territorial capital didn’t want to give it up. The capital is where the state seal resides, by God, and it’s in Guthrie. As bu$ine$$ men will do, they arranged to have it stolen from Guthrie. When it arrived they removed it from a canvas bag and set up shop in a downtown OKC hotel. Where there were smart enough to keep it locked up and guarded.