Man’s Best Friend

I just got a second opinion about Newcastle’s latest health crisis. He’s nineteen years old with a congenital heart condition and now hyperthyroidism. None of the treatments are particularly savory—either for price or how difficult they’re going to make Newcastle’s life. I don’t want to buy more time with him by making him miserable and confused. (“Why is father sticking his finger down my throat?”) And I can’t imagine he’s got long anyway.

When I asked my regular vet what would happen if I chose not to treat it, she gave me a huge guilt trip. When she was listing the treatments, she mentioned a topical ointment, but when I asked about it and told her it was the most appealing, she shamed me for not caring about my cat. A little discomfort a couple of times a day is better than all the suffering he would go through if the ointment didn’t work.

When I talked to my parents, they said, “He’s just a cat.” They didn’t say it in a derogatory way, but as a statement of fact. I trust my mother’s impartiality on this issue despite Newcastle earnestly trying to kill her.

So I got a second opinion. This doctor told me about the effect untreated hyperthyroidism could have, especially on his heart. She told me that cat could possibly live five or six years untreated, but not likely. She looked at his medical records and told me Newcastle could live another three years, but a lot less if the hyperthyroidism went untreated. She said it’s in the early stages, so I could just monitor him for a few months. I basically went to a second vet looking for permission not to treat him, what I got instead was peace of mind and total honesty.

I let Newcastle into my backyard this afternoon, and I monitored him the whole time so he didn’t get into any trouble. I watched him, clumsy, slow, and arthritic, explore. His feet walked on loose soil and packed concrete, and he picked and chose which plants to sniff and which ones to snack on. He escaped into the neighbor’s yard before I could stop him, but I lured him out, using myself as bait. I had brought my phone out with me because I expected to be bored. I was not. I was transfixed.

Overwhelmed, he sat down, and I understood what I want. I want my cat to be this happy until it’s time for him to retire. Nothing will ever compete with the jungle outside the back door, but I’m giving him extra scritches, longer cuddles, some human food, and maybe a spa day or two. And if this means making each other miserable for twenty seconds a day, then I’ll do it. I’m not ready for him to go, and if I can buy another three years, then here’s my credit card. On the other hand, I will not extend the life of a suffering animal just because of my feelings.

Newcastle is not suffering, though. He got to see the backyard. Life is good. I ordered the ointment.


Convenience Store Maniac: an Ode

It’s only natural to mourn the things you loved and are no longer with you, whether it be a person, a pet, a childhood house, etc.

Convenience Store Maniac was a semi-autobiographical portrayal of a man working at an S-Mart gas station and convenience store too seriously. who only lives for his job. One day he snaps, believing that commerce is a religion, and he is the but a humble minister. This means an inquisition of sorts with his regular customers, some of whom really piss him off. And then he starts killing people. It was clever and a little over-the-top, and that’s exactly what we were going for.

I remember when Shane first conceived of it, in depraved journals he wrote in during his overnight shift at the convenience store he’d been shipwrecked in. I read a few of the entries, and what I saw was a rambling, incoherent, violent mess, and I told him, “I don’t know what this is, I want in.” I loved what I saw, and together we breathed life into Leonard, playing to each other’s strengths, arguing over the use of a single word, as well as brainstorming our way around corners we’d painted ourselves into. We named all of the regular customers after classic country-western performers (except for the teenage assholes, who were Kurt, Chris, and Dave). Even though the names were never said aloud, they helped shape the personalities of people who got maybe one line in the whole movie. We manufactured and fine-tuned chaos. We wrote the first act, at the end of which Leonard takes his first victim, and then I got married, and my asshole cat broke my hard drive, and the first part of Convenience Store Maniac is lost forever.

What isn’t lost forever is the memory of the long weekends I spent in his house on Bear Town Road twenty years ago, getting baked and joining forces with my best friend to create something great. We haven’t talked about it in decades, and if we put our minds to it, we could bring it back to life. On the other hand, there’s nothing I could type that will live up to the first fifty pages that lives in my memory.

Mud Simple

When I was a kid in the mid-eighties in a neighborhood called Indian Hills at the eastern border of Gallup, New Mexico, there were these dirt ditches. One of them was behind my house, and it was like Disneyland for kids who couldn’t go to California.

Every August at that time, we’d get a monsoon, and the eponymous hills of Indian Hills (known colloquially as the Hogbacks) would disgorge thousands of pounds of mud, which would flow down the street, mix with the ditches, and pour down our cul du sac like a river, and when the clouds parted, all that was left was a thick layer of muck.

It was glorious. My friends, Eric from a block over would join me, along with Will, who lived on the other side of the neighborhood, and Max, the coolest guy I knew, who lived at the end of our cul du sac, would join my sisters and me in this celebration of unbridled ickiness. I remember finding cat poop buried in these ditches. When we got hungry, my parents hosed us off, and we could come inside again. It was the most fun we’d have all year.

In 1986, we moved away, but two years later, we returned to rent a house identical to our previous one, only across the street. And those assholes had paved the ditches and installed drainage so that the mud was directed in an orderly fashion into what passed for the Rio Puerco, the river that was technically not there. I was twelve at the time and on the cusp of being over that kind of thing (thirty-five years later, this is decidedly not true), but I still enjoyed the majesty of those mini-mountains gifting us kids with the thing we wanted most: to become utterly disgusting.

Never again.

I know why they did it. The mudslides crippled the neighborhood every year, like clockwork. It took countless dollars to clean it up, and as Indian Hills expanded and grew more popular, that kind of thing just wasn’t acceptable in a functioning city.

But I still remember getting shoved into the muck by Max, who would get shoved in return, and shouting and being a goddamned kid, and I remember it being taken away from me, and this being my first real taste of how adults can suck the fun out of everything.

Can You Hear the People Sing? 

In an unexpected plot twist, I spent yesterday afternoon in the Kennedy Center, watching Les Miserables. The plot twist is because I don’t particularly like musicals, and I can’t spell Les Miserables without miserable. I had just started working on page one of my new comic, and I wasn’t ready to call it quits for the day when my friend used the telephone function on her cell and told me she had an extra ticket for that afternoon.  

I have never seen Les Miserables all the way through before. It had never popped into Popejoy Hall in Albuquerque during one of my GATE trips, and Broadway was prohibitively expensive when I was there. (I’ve seen Rent on Broadway, but that was via shenanigans.) I saw the movie with my ex-wife, and we got an hour into it when we had to give up. However, I’m trying to accept invitations now (despite my art) because I’m thrilled someone thought of me.  

I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. The set was dumbfounding, and damn, these people could sing. And I knew that kid was dead the instant he climbed the barricade. Sure Marius and Cosette had the personalities of wet cardboard, Marius’s bestie (whose name I forgot because I can’t remember anything) was fun and memorable and dead early into the second act. It was nice to be able to hear what Javert was singing about.  

But what really made my brain jump out of the top of my head and jump off a bridge was the aforementioned sets. Les Mis (as all those in the know call it) is epic. It takes place in France as revolution after revolution happens, in the streets, in the slums, in gated residences, etc., and through a miracle of engineering, they made it happen, from the docks at night to a wedding in a palace. There were no people in black moving scenery around—the scenery moved itself. And it did it so smoothly, the lights didn’t have to go down.  

One day in the office a while ago, when there were more people willing to stand around and chat for a half-hour, one of them, who is only a couple of years younger than I said, “You have to watch A New Hope. Just try to ignore the bad effects.” I almost broke my keyboard. The original Star Wars did not have CGI. It had dozens of craftsmen making the rantings of a filmmaking lunatic look like something you’d see in real life. They were sculptors, metalworkers, electricians. Like the lighting tech and the people ultimately running the sets, they were engineers. They were artists. Tom Savini, Stan Winston, they were artists.  

What disappoints me is that with CGI, you can make literally anything happen. There is no limit to the scope of your movie. As a practical effects artist, you are limited by what you have. Sometimes, while accommodating your limitations, you create something even better (i.e. hiding the shitty-looking shark in Jaws). You can’t freestyle with digital effects. The sound of the TARDIS in Doctor Who is a planer running over a piano. How did that guy figure out to do that? 

Something else I don’t like about digital art is that you don’t have to make mistakes anymore. If the brushstroke you just made bleeds into the background, hit control-Z. I have correction fluid, which doesn’t take paint or most inks. It’s my responsibility to leave my error on the page or make it a part of the picture. And I love it. I have hardly any experience with photo-editing software, but I have enough that I could erase every mistake I’d made in any painting or sketch. I won’t do it. I scripted, laid out, penciled, painted, inked, and lettered a whole comic, paint and ink on paper, because I love limitations. Limitations inspire me. The woman who designed the first Cyberman on Doctor Who had some tights and a vacuum cleaner (true story). That’s part of the reason I love Classic Who so much. What they created was cheesy, but it was genius. 

Digital artists are artists. I could never get into it because it required a completely different set of skills that I had been honing in my adulthood, but I recognize how hard these artists work. Sam Yang is a digital artist I admire, for example. I try to discuss it as easier than what I do, but it’s not. It’s just different. 

Going back to Les Miserables and the various Cirque du Soliel performances I’ve seen**, and Rent, they have a budget, but everything they create must be seen from as close as a hundred feet away, and it has to be convincing. Everyone who’s ever done theater knows this, and it takes a particular kind of maestro to pull it off, performance after performance, play after play.  

Bravo, set designers!  

*My ex-father-in-law, a stoic, strong, soft-spoken, masculine man, lived near Vegas, and he had a thing for shows, especially showtunes, and he was a millionaire. I saw a lot of shows. 

Snippets from Romania

When I came to Romania, I was unprepared for how many leather pants I would see.

Nobody wears plaid in this country. Usually, the service industry will start talking to me in English when I say hello, but when I wear plaid, I don’t have to say a damned word.

In addition, they don’t put lids on anything. You are required to do that yourself.

Everyone in Bucharest dresses like circa 2000s hipsters.

Of all the countries in the world, it is least surprising that Romania has a Goth shop.

Prompt customer service is not really a thing in. They only use beverage lids when you ask.

Pop Cola tastes like cloves and redundancy with a subtle hint of redundancy.

The Romanian toy museum is really fun. They have them organized by type, and I swear I’ve never seen so many abacuses in one place. During communism, they had a ripoff of Monopoly called “Capitaly.” But what got under my skin was the Game Boy. In a museum. And before you Millennials start to get all uppity about how old Gen-X is, they had Pokemon Gold in there too.

White Trash Cola tastes like ginger, with a splash of mullets and trucks on blocks.

I was ready to praise Bucharest for not having hostile architecture, but clearly they’ve perfected it.

As we visited Dracula’s (alleged) castle, the weather, cold and rainy, would have been better with lightning. There was a torture room.

Most Romanians look like they’re middle-aged. The reason for this is that everyone smokes, even (no exaggeration) children.

What It Don’t Get I Can’t Use

A little over a year ago, I got hit with some very bad financial news. Dealing with it has been a challenge, as the organization handling the issue has been slow to respond, with a customer-service approach that leaves a lot to desire. However, things have been settled, but now I’m spending more than I am making, and have been since I got this news.

Obviously things are more expensive now, despite record-breaking profits, and prices continue to get jacked up while salaries are stagnant. This is a political problem, and like with guns, action is not being taken to adequately address the issue because the Republican party is corrupt and has no interest in helping the citizens of their country and is obsessed with tax breaks and drag queens, and the Democratic party is corrupt, but it kind of wants to help, but is thoroughly obstructed by the other side. I just received a raise, and I gave myself another raise using benefits chicanery. It’s still not enough.

Here’s the problem: I earn an entry-level adjacent-salary because there’s a ten-year gap in my resume, but it’s a good salary. My rent is currently cheap, and now that I’ve lost interest in junk food, my grocery bills are cheaper. But I’m still more than broke.

This is because I spend irresponsibly. Winter of 2021-2022, I blew hundreds of dollars on toys, including the entire line of Doctors, including the War Doctor, a TARDIS, a twenty-foot scarf I’ve used once, and a single non-Doctor-Who figure from Japan that cost me $170. Prior to that, I spent a fortune on Legos, which are sitting in several storage cases, separated by model and taken apart after I put them together, along with wooden model kits that don’t work properly. Last year, I discovered model kit action figures, and I bought two of them before I decided they were too time-consuming to play with.

It’s not all toys. I’ve all but quit writing, and I’ve got a number of somewhat expensive fountain pens to show for it. When I go to street fairs, I tend to pick up handmade notebooks and wall art, even though I need neither. I don’t really read books anymore, but at AwesomeCon, I tend to buy all the books from self-published authors. Even here, in Romania, I bought a handmade notebook before I could stop myself.

Currently, it’s been art supplies. As a cheap example, I quit using Magic Rub erasers because they devastated my paper, so I switched to Art Gum. I had a brand new one in my art supplies that had been gathering dust until my renaissance, but I still went to the art store and bought two more, even though one will last me the better part of a year. I ordered stencil after stencil, even though I won’t be able to use half of them. I have bought two watercolor trays since I restarted, and I already have two that are going to last me a long time. I have enough Bristol boards to spend years making comics. If I was a professional, this would be an investment, but I never expect to make my money back. This, like writing, is a hobby, as much as I hate to admit it, and dropping a fortune on your hobby is irresponsible when you’re broke.

My job, which has more benefits than a government job, requires a visit with a financial wellness advisor. I explained that, when I’m manic, irresponsible spending is a symptom, and the ADHD makes it worse. What we’re going to do is track every cent I spend between April 1 through 30 and make a budget. Obviously, Romania is busting my bank (I saved for it somehow, and it wasn’t optional), but I’m recording it anyway. The first and last two weeks of the month will be the true test. Obviously, I’m paying bills for two, which adds up to quite a lot, so I’ll have to revise it when she returns in June.

But it’s a compulsion, as much of an addiction as cigarettes and junk food. I was cruising around Facebook this morning, and I saw an ad for a mini-statue that I had to have! I literally slapped my hand and said, “No!” Later, the cartridge of my brush pen ran out, and Nicole asked me if we should buy more, and I almost told her yes. I couldn’t wait to buy stuff at the art store. But I have enough cartridges at home, that—at my present rate—will last a little under two years, so with great effort, I told her no. Each no required a moment of clarity that I can’t count on all the time, so what can I do?

First thing’s first: I’m not going to AwesomeCon or Faeriecon this year. I only go to cons for Artist’s Alley, and that’s where you can buy anything useless (or piles of books). I’ll miss chatting with artists and writers, but there is an 80 percent chance I’ll buy something if I talk to the person at the table. Second, even though it’s a block from work, I cannot go to the art store anymore. I don’t need anything there, and if I do, I will go in for that thing, and that thing alone. Same thing with online retailers, though sites like Amazon, which owns most of the books I have, are going to be difficult to avoid. I dumped one streaming service already (I have no idea how I’m going to watch Good Omens this summer), and I’m weighing the pros and cons of getting rid of more. (That’s harder because I watch TV and movies while I draw, but any one site has a bazillion things to watch, so maybe not that hard.) Also, because every time I go to watch a movie, it’s a miserable experience, I’m going to stop going, even to Marvel movies, unless it’s a movie I’m dying to see, like John Wick 4: He Really Loved that Dog. More importantly, accountability. My advisor emailed me a spreadsheet that I promptly lost, which she will check regularly.

Is there an overspending anonymous? Because even as I take these steps to control myself, I feel like I have no power over it. On the other hand, I kicked drinking. I kicked smoking. I can do this. It’s harder because you have to spend money, but people do it all the time. I don’t have a car, I don’t have kids. People who make less than me get by with both of those, so I have no excuse.

I can do this.