9

Day of the Living Dummies: A Visit to Tombstone

“Welcome to the OK Corral. The West’s most famous gunfight began where you are now standing. If you look around, you can see the gunfighters, just as they stood on October 26, 1881…” said a disembodied voice from the speakers.

There I stood at the actual site of the OK Corral in the blazing Arizona heat. This was where it had all happened. On this exact spot, legendary lawman Wyatt Earp and his brothers faced off against the most notorious gang of outlaws in the old west. I was very excited to see the recreation of the gunfight, but I was in for quite a surprise…

wyatt earp saddle

You see, the truth is, life in the old west wasn’t as glamorous as it was portrayed to be by movies like Tombstone (starring Kurt Russel). Wyatt Earp, his brothers, and his gambler friend Doc Holiday didn’t look like Hollywood movie stars. Yes indeed, this is what they don’t tell you in the history textbooks. All the participants in the shootout (Wyatt, Morgan, and Virgil Earp, Doc Holiday, the Clanton Brothers, and Frank and Tom McLaury) were not real people at all but were in fact large, lifelike dummies.

Usually, the gunfight is reenacted daily by real people (a very inaccurate portrayal, compared to the dummy one), but I’d arrived too late for that. For latecomers like me, they had an ever better show on hand. Here is a small glimpse of it:

I know, you are very jealous dear readers, because you weren’t there to witness it yourself. I think you’ll agree that even as a dummy, Wyatt Earp is quite heroic.

I also found out much about the sex trade workers who lived in Tombstone in Wyatt Earp’s time. They were sometimes referred to in those days as “soiled doves,” which sounds a bit condescending. This made me think of the doves that were living above the patio in the house where I was staying in Phoenix, only they should have more rightly been called “soiling doves” as they frequently soiled the nest and its surroundings.

Two of Wyatt Earp’s wives (he had been married three times, with the third marriage lasting until his death) were former “soiled doves.” One of the wives, Mattie, had to return to her former profession and was driven to suicide when Wyatt abandoned her. This fact seems to tarnish the romantic gloss Hollywood has wrought over this legendary hero.

I returned from my journey somewhat wiser and more aware of the harsh reality of this town’s history. Oh well. The truth is better than a romantic myth. Would you agree?

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9

Swashbuckling in the 21st Century: Basil Plants and Other Occupations

Horiculture?..

But then again, many swashbucklers before me have had stranger occupations and hobbies when not employed at their adventurous callings. In an interlude between naval wars, Horatio Hornblower was laid off from sailing and earned  his living as a professional gambler. This wasn’t as irresponsible as it sounds. In the novel Lieutenant Hornblower, the title character frequented a few whist games at a local club and was asked by the proprietor of the establishment to sit in as a fourth player if any party was lacking in one. And he got paid for this, the lucky sea dog!

aquamaniac-a-teamWhile gambling seemed tempting, I didn’t go quite that far. I am currently employed in something almost as exciting and dangerous, namely appearing as an extra on various movie sets. Last week I was a wealthy socialite, and this week I am just a “passer-by” on the set of an upcoming sci-fi show. Earlier this summer I appeared as a citizen of San Francisco in the upcoming Godzilla film.

I couldn’t help but think of the A-Team, in which Hannibal Smith moonlights as “the Aquamaniac” in the interludes between helping the oppressed. The A-Team being sort of a modern-day swashbuckler, I think this is ample proof of movie-making as a veritable swashbuckling pursuit, at least in the temporary absence of greater adventures.

Anyways, I began this blog post with horticulture because this has been another way this swashbuckler passes the time.

It all started with a job fair…

I attended said job fair seeking a full-time job, but did not succeed in that regard.

In any case, I was given much swag at this job fair. One of the things I was given was a small envelope containing basil seeds courtesy of the City of Vancouver. The website for seeking civic jobs was inscribed on the envelope, but being the flaky writer that I am, I forgot to look for civic jobs, and instead, I decided to plant the seeds. I had had a rather unsuccessful string of horticultural experiments in elementary school that put me off attempting to grow anything for a long time, and so about 15 years later it was with trepidation that I planted these City of Vancouver seeds into four small pots on my balcony.

This time, however, I did not fail. So amazed was I by the progress of my plants that I documented their growth photographically.

Basil 1

It’s important not to pour vast torrents of water on the seeds to avoid displacing them. They need to stay close to the surface for the sprouts to make their way upward. I made various small punctures in the plastic cap of a water bottle and thus gently watered the seeds with lukewarm water. Amazingly, after just a few days, sprouts pushed from under the earth!

Basil2

And soon developed their first leaves.

Basil3

With more watering and plenty of sunlight…

Basil4

this was the result. Finally, I decided they deserved a bigger pot, so I repotted them. Re-potting proved very daunting, for it required separating some of the plants whose roots had become rather intertwined. I separated them very carefully, though a few roots got ripped in the process, but the basil thrived nevertheless!

Basil6

I also added mulch (mowed grass) to keep the water from evaporating.

basil plant

And here are the plants in their current state!

I took this amazing success as a sign that gardening is indeed a swashbuckling occupation. Like all swashbucklers, I endeavor to protect the oppressed, and in these times of pollution and clear-cutting it seems that plant life is very much oppressed. So, I try to support it, as well as giving myself extra credentials as an author of a novel about dryads.

2

An Ocean Story

This is kind of a blast from the past… I couldn’t decide what to blog about today so I thought I would post this story I wrote one night in 2007 in Dublin, Ireland. I’m usually more comfortable writing novels, the longer the better, but I think this is one of my few good short stories. Have you ever been fascinated by the ocean? What’s your favorite ocean story?

Oceans: A Geographic Fable

fijiIt was midnight over the Atlantic, but the sun was just beginning to rise on the islands of Fiji, a sight that never failed to gladden the lackadaisical Pacific.

“Woo-hee!” it cried, rejoicing in its air-headed way, “Canoe racing galore! Don’t forget to slap on that sunscreen!”

You wouldn’t think that oceans accepted the names humans had given them. After all, since their beginning they were all one mass of water, one entity. Even now, there is no clear boundary between, say, the Atlantic and the Arctic Oceans. And yet, if you are called something for a long enough period of time, you begin to identify yourself with the name and the personality that goes with it.

In the 21st century, it was especially easy to hear human voices. Radio waves snaked their way between continents, cell phone conversations rebounded off the stratosphere, and satellite signals beamed down like so many heavenly decrees. Even now, the Indian Ocean was discussing an episode from a television show.

“I just don’t like the way Seinfeld treated that Pakistani,” it complained.

“Dude, he was only trying to help,” the Pacific soothed.

“Yes, but look how it turned out. That whole episode – no, that whole show just gives me a sinking feeling. It’s like he can never do anything right.”

“That’s because it’s a comedy,” the Mediterranean put in its two cents’ worth, “an ancient form defined by Aristotle. In a comedy, the main character must be morally and intellectually at a lower level than the audience.”

“Seinfeld has no morals at all!” intoned the Atlantic. “I’ve seen that show. It is like a swamp, a fetid sludge filled with iniquities.”

“There is too much demoralising sexual content in today’s television,” boomed Arctic, “It is polluting our culture.”

“No, dude,” the Pacific chimed in, “you’re talking about, like, oil spills and stuff like that. You’ve got too many oil refineries off your shores.”

“I have to agree with the Arctic,” the Atlantic said, “Thirty years ago, they wouldn’t have allowed shows like this on the air.”

The Atlantic always claimed political neutrality but was secretly a Republican and, like the Arctic, a bit of a Bible-thumper. It couldn’t help it: after all, so many people had prayed on its crossing.

“Characters in today’s television shows have no honour!” the Sea of Japan exclaimed.

“You’ve got to chill out,” drawled the Tasmanian Sea.

“Don’t tell me to chill out, you,” the Atlantic roared back, “Don’t even talk to me. You keep sending shitloads of this cheap beer that tastes like piss onto my waterways. It’s embarrassing to me, and it’s unfair to the Europeans.”

“Right, because you are so refined and European,” the Tasmanian mocked. “Tell me, how many Europeans are shitting on you right now? You’re full of shit!”

“We are all full of shit,” the Pacific announced in its sing-song voice, “People piss and shit on us all the time. But who can complain about that when they also surf?” Suddenly, it broke into song, “If everybody had an ocean across the USA, then everybody by surfin’ like Californi-a!”

The Arctic was still ruminating on the subject of failing moral standards. Oceans are often reluctant to let go of a subject. They like to conserve things. That’s easily seen in the way they conserve the warmth of the sun’s rays for much longer than the land does. “Thirty years ago a show like Will and Grace wouldn’t have—”

“According to Aristotelian logic, that’s not a valid argument,” the Mediterranean lectured, “If you say something was not permitted thirty years ago, it does not immediately follow that this same thing should not be permitted in the present.”

“Yeah, well, we’re independent now,” ” the Tasmanian exclaimed, “We don’t need none of that British logic. Britannia don’t rule the waves anymore.”

“Nobody rules the waves,” the Adriatic tossed out happily.

ocean-story-moon“Except the Moon,” the Indian Ocean said softly.

“The moon does have a certain attraction, I’ll admit,” said the Mediterranean. “But does she rule?”

“With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb’st the sky,” the English Channel began.

“If you think about it, it’s actually not the Moon herself but the force of gravity that pulls the tides towards it,” said the Arctic.

“That’s deep,” the Pacific commented.

The Atlantic had a good view of the full moon at this moment. There she floated, silent, seemingly out of touch with the world around her. She didn’t claim to rule anything.

Drenched in moonlight, the Atlantic decided to have a few hours’ nap before daylight arrived. It zoned out the buzz of human voices and music, and only the distant song of the Pacific lingered in its consciousness.

“Everybody’s gone surfin’, surfin’ USA… ”

5

Swashbuckling Adventures in the US

While relations between Canada and the States have been very strange, or even strained, I opt for taking a non-political view of things. I was rather interested in the swashbuckling adventures and various oddities I may encounter. As a Canadian passing through the Land of Opportunity, I did find many photo opportunities.

swashbuckling-adventures

I loved all the wacky statues, especially the Cap’n. When you go to Europe, you don’t really get much in the way of wackiness. All statues are very stern or at least respectable. They have some connection to history or politics. Not so on the Washington-Oregon border. The passage was marked by a great liquor store guarded by Captain Morgan himself.

paul-bunyan

Here’s the famous Paul Bunyan and his ox Babe. They have some historical/mythical significance… Whereas this donut…

kitsch-randys-donuts_35680_600x450

does not. Or does it?…

surfboard

And from monumental kitch to hidden gems… some artwork in an organic cafe tucked away in Trinidad, California. These are painted on real surfboards that had outlived their ocean career. It looks like I’m wearing a surfboard-shaped hat 🙂

surboard2

I just love the beaches of LA! My favorite incident was these two seagulls trying to loot our bags on Venice beach. These bags contained no food whatsoever, so I assume the seagulls were just having fun and satisfying their curiosity as they exuberantly set about pulling my red bikini and other accoutrements out of the bag. The one on the right looks like it’s smiling!

LootingGulls-adventuresin-the-us

Overall, I’m still not sure how to describe my American experience. This was only my second trip to California. The first one had inspired my novella Very Much Alive, which was focused on L.A. and its art scene. This second trip was mostly about unsuccessful attempts to surf the untamed beaches of northern Cal, still considered a new surfing frontier.

PaddlingInCurrentA

Here I am on a cool and windy day trying to paddle out while this insane current kept driving me away from my goal. It wasn’t a very successful outing!

Anyways, back to what I was saying about being unable to encompass my west coast US experience. I suppose that’s why I opted for photos instead. I think eventually it will make its way into my writing, with little fragments appearing here and there. The new novel I’m working on already has a healthy dose of surfing content and is partly based in L.A.

I hope these photos have been inspiring or at least amusing. Let me know what you think!

3

The Motorcycle Homilies: Learning to Ride a Motorcycle Is a Lot Like Learning to Write

IMAG1297-smlThanks for bearing with me, loyal readers and fellow bloggers! I haven’t blogged in ages, but I hope you are still with me. I’ve been busy working as well as learning to ride a motorcycle and enjoying the beginning of summer, so it has been an interesting couple of months.

 

 Motorcycle Lessons

It took me several lessons to learn how to shift into first gear and get the thing moving. The controls are very sensitive, and since I only drive automatic, learning how to shift gears was something new to me.

Robert Brockway of Cracked.com says it best when he says,

…for reasons that are entirely beyond me, motorcycles have the clutch on the handlebar and the gear shifter at your foot, forcing me to assume that Bill Motorcycle, the inventor of the motorcycle, was either medically dyslexic or some sort of drunken acrobat who exclusively rode bikes while doing headstands.

You also control the throttle with your hand instead of foot, and have not one but two brakes — using either of which at the wrong time will hurl you off the bike like a meat trebuchet.

learning to ride a motorcycleSo far, I’ve never been hurled off the bike in such a spectacular manner. In fact, I managed to take off successfully on my very first day of learning (that is, first day of learning with the motor on — there was one previous day of coasting downhill and falling over). The bike gave a bit of a lurch as the engine nearly stalled, but I got things under control.

Strangely enough, in the following training sessions, I seemed to get worse!

I was worried that stalling would occur or that I would lose control of the bike. And indeed, there was a lot of lurching and stalling. Sometimes the bike would roar forward like a wild beast when I applied too much gas. Once I accidentally popped a wheelie, impressing nearby spectators. But finally I found a way to apply the right subtle pressure on the gas and to gently release the clutch.

The bike was in motion! Apparently that’s the hardest part of learning to ride, and I finally conquered it.

I guess the cheesy motorcycle metaphor moral is that with riding a motorcycle, as with learning any other new skills, we do better when we are confident. Sometimes this confidence comes from ignorance, but that’s okay. It gives you the power to start something new and dazzle the world with your amazing wheelies, metaphorical or otherwise.

At the age of 12 I believed I was the best damned writer in the universe. While that may not have been true, it gave me the confidence to continue writing for many years to come.

This is why I think writers who are stuck or are having doubts about their abilities need to look back at their youthful writings and recall that feeling of owning your writing and liking it just the way it is without worrying about what family members, editors, or critics will say about it.

Okay, that’s enough homilies for now. I will write more about my adventures soon!

4

Swashbuckler Defends Scantily Clad Women

Hello, she’s Pam Anderson. It’s her job to be inappropriate.

We don’t usually do rants on Swashbuckler’s tales, but there is an ongoing anomaly in our society that I have to address here. I just viewed a video about celebrities over the age of 40 dressing “inappropriately” and I have to say: is this Victorian England? Should older women cover up their entire bodies in unattractive dresses, preferably of a somber color?

This video must be seen to be believed. A couple of what I suppose are C-list talk show hosts sit in bed in their pajamas discussing fascinating current topics such as holiday shopping on e-bay, then they start talking about celebrities dressing “inappropriately.” The word “inappropriate” was said at least five times. “Isn’t this inappropriate?” “Yes, it’s so inappropriate!” and so forth. They sounded like some sort of pompous dickensian villains. Personally, I think they’re just jealous that at forty-something Pam Anderson has a very nice physique. She certainly has nothing to be ashamed of, whereas these two… who knows what they’re hiding under their pajamas?

I suppose having grown up with Baywatch I have a certain affinity for Pamela Anderson. I like that she has a sense of humour about herself. She is one to be mocked, not chided.

Anyways, then they bring kids into it. “What do her children think?” Who cares what her children think! It’s none of our business. Also I’m sure the children are aware of what the human body looks like. I always find it strange when people feel the need to shield kids from seeing the human form. If anything, it’s going to make them suspect there is something wrong or shameful about their bodies and could create issues for them in the future. Do these pajama-wearing bowdlerians ever take their kids to the beach? And if so, do they make them avert their eyes? “Close your eyes, kids, everyone is dressed inappropriately here!”

No mention of men dressing inappropriately was ever made. Not that it should be. I think everyone should have the right to dress however they want without being judged. It’s a free country!

And how interesting is it to listen to a couple of catty people agreeing with each other? They could have at least introduced a third character, maybe someone wearing a bathrobe and arguing in favor of the scantily clad celebrities in the manner of a socratic debate.

With so many other worthy causes to write about, I’m not sure why this seemingly minor one should make me angry enough to write a whole blog post, but I guess it’s because there’s a creepy underlying injustice to this attitude towards women. And it often comes from other women!

Seriously women, we’re all on the same side here.

I hardly ever watch TV so I sometimes get these glimpses of pop culture through the internet. I guess this is what entertainment is like nowadays… It makes me glad I live under a rock!