Hat Trick

“Nothing more foolish than a man chasing his hat.”

A quote from Tom Reagan, the depressed and self-loathing protagonist of Miller’s Crossing, my favourite movie.

After a recent screening for my birthday in July, I had to admit it was still my favourite, and not, as I often claim, Fight Club, a film with a completely different depressed and self-loathing protagonist.

A couple of years ago, when my life was still in the relatively early stages of becoming a nightmare hellscape I can’t wake up from, I attended a Writers Guild of Canada meeting—one of the rare ones to take place in Montreal. Normally, I prefer to skip these unproductive networking opportunities, but there was some pressing news Canadian screenwriters needed to be briefed on. It was so pressing, I’ve since forgotten what it was. But there was free food, drink tickets, and, more importantly, hats.

Sometimes I like to get something out of my annual membership dues.

Exactly enough WGC baseball caps had been printed to be doled out to all the attendees who had submitted an RRSP. Of course, some jagoff absconded with two. That left only a single remaining hat to be divvied up between the final pair of lingering hacks. Namely myself, and fellow hack friend, Sylvie. We had each agreed to show up for the meeting under the condition that the other one would be there as a social-anxiety wingman. It had worked out, right up until it was time for one of us to get screwed out the hat giveaway.

Sylvie bravely threw herself on that grenade and forfeited the hat. I took it home.

But the WGC hat did not become another piece of industry swag, sitting forgotten in a closet, waiting to one day be given away to some homeless shelter. No, I wore the hat. I wore it a lot.

It was grey and black with the Writers Guild of Canada logo on it. Those were my colours, and it reminded me of the days when I used to be a real screenwriter, before my career dried up, crumbled to ashes, and blew away. Mostly because I live in entirely the wrong province, and nobody wants to hire an Anglophone screenwriter from Quebec. Where’s the tax credit in that?

It had been many years since I’d worn a baseball cap—many years since I’d even owned one. Except, of course, for my promotional Predator hat I got back when that movie first premiered. But that was reserved for the head of my taxidermied childhood koala teddy bear (don’t ask).

After decades of wearing a specific style of cap, I took to this new one in a big way and grabbed it whenever I headed out the door. It wasn’t fitting winter apparel, but the rest of the year it kept me from getting sunburned straight through my male-pattern baldness.

I was wearing it the other night, even though the sun was down and it had been an unseasonable warm November day. Coming back from a long commute to Lachine, I was carrying a heavy IKEA bag stuffed with goods, including a winter coat that had belonged to my father. He died last month, so I guess that makes it my winter coat now. Something to replace the one with the broken zipper I’ve been wearing these past few years.

The load was punishing, and the walk after the commuter train doubly so. After carrying this burden for miles, I was sweaty and sore. Along the way, I got overheated enough to take off my guild hat and stick it in the overflowing bag.

I never noticed it fall out. Somewhere along the dusty construction site that is Grand Boulevard these days, it abandoned the bag I had slung over an aching shoulder. Had I made it home, unloaded, and found the hat missing, I probably would have gone out after it again. Tired, exhausted, maybe I’d find it lying the street, maybe not.

But I didn’t have to do that.

“Monsieur!” I heard from an SUV that had stopped in the middle of the intersection and honked at me.

I turned to see what this asshole wanted. Turns out he wanted to tell me that I’d just dropped my hat.

“Thank you,” was I all I was able to say to him before he drove off following his good deed.

I picked up my hat, soaked with sweat and now soiled with roadwork filth, and made a note to give it a good wash when I got back home. Throughout those last miserable blocks I kept wishing I could have thanked that driver more profusely. He’ll never know to what degree he made things suck less.

2020 has been the worst year of my life, except for 2019, which was the other worst year of my life, and 2018, which was the other other worst year of my life. It’s been a brutal stretch of loss after loss.

But I didn’t lose my hat, because one completely random stranger made things suck less. Thank you.

I Got a Brudda

Sid Haig died a few days ago.

He was one of the few actors I ever pursued getting a signed 8×10 glossy of. It was done by mail order, and I got it personalized with the obscure line of dialogue, “I got a brudda.”

It was so obscure, I wondered if Sid would even remember it from his long career.

But of course he had to. It was a line delivered to Sean Connery in Diamonds Are Forever. A statement so stupid, even the unflappable James Bond was taken aback. How do you forget that luminary moment from screen history? I know it certainly stuck with me from childhood.

His late-stage career revival came largely through the films of Rob Zombie. And even though I despise Rob Zombie’s movies, Sid is great in them. I was vastly more pleased to see him appear in the opening scene of S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk, and was hoping there would be more collaborations between the two of them, much as Udo Kier has become a staple of Zahler’s work. Alas, it was not to be.

I followed the story of Sid’s recent trip to intensive care following an accident, his near-death experience, and hopeful signs of recovery. But then word of his death hit.

We’ve lost another classic genre star. Sid was 80 years old.

Best Before

I had food poisoning a day ago.

Been there, done that a couple of times before. But this time it was a whole new level of bad. Sure I felt like I was dying on those previous occasions, but I’d never been reduced to slapping myself in the face—hard—to maintain consciousness. I might have called 911, but the phone was an impossible distance away from the cooling surface of the bathtub side, where I was resting my flop-sweating head and waiting for my body to make its coin-flip choice of which end was going to handle the evacuation.

I was alone and far from assistance. Well, almost alone. One cat—the smart one—figured out something was wrong, and tried to comfort me with meows and face rubs, ignoring the danger she was putting herself in, crossing one potential line of fire repeatedly. I made a note to leave the tap running for the felines in case I didn’t make it. That would take care of their water supply until my body was found. As for food, I’ve always made it clear that my pets are free to help themselves to my mortal remains in order to survive until rescue arrives. What do I care if I’m dead? I’m not using the old meat-sack anymore, I’m not into open-coffin funerals, and the crematorium ovens don’t care how pretty your corpse is.

Morbid?

Well, I did write Necropolis. And the sequel, Epitaph, coming soon.

After you go through this sort of experience and you realize you’re not going to die after all, your thoughts go to figuring out why this horrible thing happened. I pointed a few fingers, and I did my research about the gestation periods of different types of food poisoning. In the end, I had to admit it was my own damn fault. The exact thing I’d been joking about with friends for the last year had come to pass. I’d poisoned myself.

I’m moving soon. And I’ve known this for many months. Among all the books and DVDs and collections in my house was a long-standing horde of emergency food. I’m in Montreal. I lived through the great ice storm of 1998. Disasters happen. Supply lines can get cut off. I like to have enough canned food on hand to see me through at least a month or two of interrupted services. If the shit hits the fan and store shelves empty out, I’d prefer to avoid the bread lines.

And, you know, if there’s a zombie apocalypse, you really don’t want to have to go outside for anything.

It was only once I started going through stuff that I realized how long my long-standing horde had been stashed away in those basement cupboards. Every single can down there was several years past its expiry date.

Which, of course, was no big deal. Expiry dates on cans of food are mostly bullshit, unless the can got dented or corroded in some way. Otherwise, it’s an airtight seal that will allow you to enjoy the tin-encased contents well beyond any end of the world you’ve happened to survive.

Right? Right.

Admittedly, I composted all the canned peas and carrots and corn and beans. Canned vegetables taste like crap compared to their fresh counterparts. I’d bought them for an emergency, and there was no emergency unfolding that was dire enough for me to subject myself to that bland crap, much as I hate waste.

But the canned fish… Ah, the canned fish. Again, fresh is better, but cans of tuna and salmon can make for a fine sandwich. So, over the past year, I’ve been eating two or three of those cans per week, always subjecting them to a thorough sniff test first. Always cautious about what I was about to put in my body.

And it worked out fine right up until it didn’t.

I think it was the can of salmon I had for breakfast that morning that did me in. I can’t be sure. But it’s a prime suspect and, just in case, I threw the rest out. Then I threw out more stuff that was probably fine but had crossed the expiry date. Then I threw out stuff that should be completely inert and incapable of going bad, just because it had committed the unpardonable sin of getting old.

It all had to go, and it all went, without pity. Waste be damned.

I now have a very modest pantry. There’s nothing I want to stock up on until after this move happens and I have new cupboards to fill.

I dodged a bullet this time. I’ve mended my ways. And now I’ll have to come up with a new way to neglect myself to death.

King of the Hill

Here’s a screenshot trophy for me to wave around like a semaphore flag for anyone who will look my way. It was an uphill battle to topple Stephen King’s It because I don’t have a movie adaptation coming out. Plus my novel doesn’t end with a pre-teen gangbang in a sewer and a universe-creating turtle-god. Can’t wait to see how those elements are not handled in the new film version of It this time around!

Okay, fine, this phenomenon only happened for a day on Amazon.ca, not over with the big boys at Amazon.com. Honestly, it took a shockingly low number of sales to climb to the top of the horror chart in Canada. Meanwhile, in the same category on dotcom, Necropolis has been picking at the fringes of the top 500.

Here’s hoping today’s promo can push it just a little higher. Download All the eBooks is doing a multi-author promo for science-fiction, fantasy, and horror novels. Necropolis is in the mix, along with box sets, series starters, and other fun stuff. Check it out and enter the contest for a chance to win a Kindle Fire or Amazon gift certificate.

The DATE multi-author promo is here.

Meanwhile Necropolis remains priced at $0.99 for a little while longer, or free to read for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Get your copy now.

And if that epic tale isn’t enough Necropolis material for you, there’s more to be had in advance of the eventual sequel coming later this year. Clever readers have signed up for the Eyestrain Productions newsletter in order to get exclusives, like “Crocodile Tears.” This is an all-new short story about one of the cast of Necropolis—a standalone adventure featuring grief, greed, and gallows humour. Subscribers already have their free copies. Would you like a link to read or download it for yourself when the next issue goes out in a week? Just sign up.

Subscribe to the newsletter now.

Fly or Die

It’s out.

I had a hard time letting Necropolis go. This is the first thing I’ve published through Amazon that has never existed elsewhere in any other form. Most of the stories in Raw saw print earlier in other books and magazines. As did Carrion Luggage, Hot Pennies, and Choke the Chicken. The Red Baron articles also go way back to the pages of Aviation History and Dog World among others. Even Sex Tape and Filmography spent time in development as film projects first. Necropolis, however, is completely new, entirely original, and has never been seen before. It was my little secret for years, becoming a bigger and bigger secret as time went on and chapters were added. Now it’s been pushed out of the nest and onto virtual bookshelves.

Necropolis is priced at only $0.99 for its initial launch/promotion period. It’s also available through Kindle Unlimited if you’re a subscriber. Reads and reviews on Amazon.com are encouraged and welcome.

Necrotic Spring Cleaning

As a home owner, I have had to remove a broad range of dead critters from the property over the last couple of decades. The day we moved in, there was a dead baby bird on our doormat. On the roof, I discovered several years’ worth of raven and crow victims, and had to spend a couple of hours removing half-eaten pigeons and pigeon parts.

Then there was the dead mouse. And the dead rat. And fragments of a skull that likely once belonged to the squirrel prey of the predatory orange tabby that used to live next door. His kills were legion, and I still dread ever having a look at what might be stored and desiccated behind our backyard hedge.

With the spring thaw and the receding snow comes the revelation of the new crop of trash and remains that got buried in the winter. Today, I found a candidate for most exotic corpse yet excavated on my land.

A squid. An entire dead squid, about the size of my hand. I’ll be removing him once he finishes melting out of the layer of ice.

Bear in mind, I’m in Montreal. Miles from the water. And squids are not local.

Obviously, this came from a fish shop. I imagine someone bought it, decided they didn’t really know how to prepare it, and then threw it away once it started to go off. Then it got fished out of the trash by an animal looking for an easy meal. One of the squirrels, or perhaps another urban-wildlife scavenger, moved it to the side of my house before deciding it, too, didn’t fancy squid after all. At that point it was dropped in the snow, covered over, and preserved for me to discover in March.

So, y’know, yuck.

I’d rather have more chunks of pigeons to sweep off the roof. I am not looking forward to scraping up this slimy, gooey cephalopod. I’m also not looking forward to the flashbacks the next time I order a plate of calamari.