Torches And Pitchforks: An Angry Village Finally Wins One

The hulking shape hunched at the reins while the white wagon lurched and creaked under his great weight.  A look of anger on his face, and of resentment, as he fled the village once prey to his tyranny.

And on the face of the poor horse pulling that wagon? A look of equine resignation that did nothing to hide his misery and depression. Reduced to pulling a troll…where had his life gone so wrong? His mother had been right, he should have become a plow horse, like his father and grandfather.

Behind that wagon, the villagers cheered and danced. Maidens with flowers in their hair glanced shyly at the young men clustered near the ale keg, hoping for a dance and a kiss. Those same young men, however, could not tear themselves away from the nearby cluster of village elders.

Having drunk deeply of the ale, and of the sweet wine of freedom, those elders were busy regaling each other with tales of the troll’s vicious wickedness. Every one had a story, every one had felt the sting of the troll’s evil. Something else all shared, however, was a common refrain: the nightmare was over! The troll was gone! Salvation and freedom had come finally to free them from fear and dread!

Separate from the others stood one woman. Beautiful and strong, she had faced more of the troll’s wrath than any other. Now she stood alone, at the end of the village street, and waved a mocking goodbye to that white wagon as it slunk away. No words did she speak, no sound did she make, but forever would her laughter of joyous relief ring bitterly in the ears of that giant, bloated figure.

Umm…yes, it’s metaphorical. And, no, I won’t explain. Nope, not when I have to go back to the ale keg and continue telling stories…

The Bellowing Of Horny Males

The bison are horny. No, really…the rut is starting early this season, and the bison are starting to gather in a couple of the larger valleys for what can only be described as a giant (in every sense of the word) orgy.

Picture a shaggy-furred, two-thousand-pound Austin Powers and you start to get an idea about an adult male about this time of year. They start making this loud, strange almost-but-not-quite-bellowing sound while they follow the fertile females around like lovestruck teenagers.

The employee dorms are not, it must be said, a whole lot different. From bellowing to following around to, well, orgies, it’s pretty much the same the thing.

Both are funny as hell.

Ever watch a twenty-eight year old man make a complete ass of himself over a nineteen year old girl who has zero interest in him? It’s pretty damned entertaining…not to mention reaching entirely new levels of pathetic.

Now, I do happen to have a hard and fast rule against fishing off the company pier, so I get to remain purely a member of the audience. Sitting around and watching this all, however, is far from boring. Heckling and mocking all these proceedings happens to be one of my favorite non-hiking activities right now.

Hell, even the handful of gay couples have added their own drama and spin. If I ever decide to turn to writing romance, I’ve got enough for a five book series after just three months of this!

All I know is that by then end of this summer, there will be exactly zero new marriages…and zero divorces. Pretty much everyone will go out the way they come in, and there’s something right about that. The married folks are still married…the single folks are still single…and the desperate are still desperate.

Yep, the universe is still chugging right along. Now, if we happened to get as many “Yellowstone babies” as the bison will, things might be a bit different…

At any rate, this ersatz-Saturnalia does get me to thinking about love interests, and about romance. Especially about how those two things need to be organic to the work. One thing I cannot stand, as a reader, are those stories where a “beautiful and spunky” love interest is shoe-horned in just because someone decided that every story has to have one.

Spare me.

More than ever, I keep falling back on (what is to me) Rule #1: do what is right for your story, and for your characters. Don’t put a damned romance in if it doesn’t belong. Don’t saddle your protagonist with a love interest that, well, wouldn’t interest him/her in other circumstances.

Honestly, the best love story is the one that makes sense. Then again…not a single one of the ever-changing, ever-humorous relationships I’m watching develop and disintegrate in the dorms makes any real sense either.

Crap, now I want to write a protagonist who is brave, brilliant, supremely capable…and is a complete cheap-slut.

Winter Is Coming*

*Thanks, GRRM!

No, really – it’s July, and the weather is changing. No, not to get even hotter, as is happening for most folks in the northern hemisphere. Nope, the weather is changing to get cooler: my summer is (already) ending.

I woke up the other morning a bit before seven. I had nothing to do for the next few hours, so I grabbed some coffee and headed outside to write. The fog hadn’t yet started to lift, and the air had the crisp, cold feeling of the beginning of autumn. In July.

The nights are back down into the thirties, and as soon as the afternoon thunderstorms roll in the days drop to sixty – or even below, from time to time. In July.

As scary as it is, as I write this I’ve been living in the park for almost three months. That is more than halfway through this whole extended vacation/escape. And no, I am honestly not sure which of those two it is. A bit of both.

Pretty much everyone who comes up here is trying to escape something – well, except for the international kids*. The younger folks are trying to escape parents and authority…are trying to escape the boundaries they’ve known all their lives. The older folks are (often) trying to escape the boredom and feeling of unaccustomed uselessness of retirement.

*Err…maybe there’s a lesson in that? I’m not drunk enough to even think about that…

Us in the middle? In many ways, that’s a bit harder. Some are trying to escape lives that have not gone as planned…are trying to escape the whats and wheres of recent years. But others are trying to escape that hardest problem of all: themselves.

You can tell those at a glance: they’re the ones who drink themselves senseless every night. The ones who are angry and resentful all the time. The ones who find a place like this is not an opportunity to see and do, but as a prison.  The ones for whom the trees and valleys, the rivers and geysers, are things not to be experienced but rather feared.

Okay, so I’m not going to delve too much into the specifics of that…not yet, anyway. There’s a great deal to say on that particular topic – a great deal that pertains to writing and to the characters we create – and the whole train of thought deserves more effort and thought than I’m bringing to bear at the moment.

Yes, that does mean that this another last minute post. That worst thing about that? I didn’t even do anything last night. I have no excuse, other than the fact that I spent the last few days doing, err, Yellowstone-ish things rather than write.

No, the reason I started writing about change was more internal: change for me, like winter, is coming. And, just like Westeros’ winter, it’s inevitable and inescapable…and potentially destructive as hell.

The change, for me, is that I have to figure out what the hell I’m doing after this.

I sold my house a year-and-a-half ago. I gave up my (admittedly shitty) apartment when I came up here. My life is, in essence, sitting in a storage unit waiting for me to figure shit out.

It’s easy to lose myself in the beauty up here, and in the rather unique pace and structure of life that goes with living and working in a place like this. But that just delays the decisions, it doesn’t take them away.

I have options. In some ways, too many options. But the end of the contract is still two months away, and it all still seems so unreal…far too unreal to make decisions that, well, matter.

Crap, what’s the worst that could happen? Three months ago I acted purely on impulse: I sent a resume then uprooted my life and started this little adventure ten days later. It’s turned out pretty damned good so far, so maybe it’s time to roll the dice again?

Fat, Drunk, Dumb and Lazy

A nice load of artisanal bread, some good locally made Brie, a few slices of prosciutto, and a six-pack of a nice beer (Bozone Select Amber Ale, if you’re wondering). Screw the employee dining room, I’m doing my own thing tonight.

The thunderstorms are gone, the sun is back, and I’m off work.

The Chinese tourists are very put off by my meal choice, and the hiker-trash (of which I am a proud member) are all trying to pretend disdain, but have so far shown only envy. I learned many, many things in my time and travels in Europe, but most of all I learned how to picnic. I mean really, really picnic. I’d have a nice Spanish Rioja with me if only I could find one…but I’ll settle for a quality beer.

Remind me to tell you about the picnics I pulled off in southern France: I ate (and drank) better on ten bucks there than I do on a hundred here!

Ahhh…first world problems…I love ‘em. And, no, my life does not suck at this point.

Shit, I could be in an apartment back home, bitching about the heat and doing the same things over and over again.

My brain wouldn’t have stood for that, and my soul sure as hell wouldn’t have. About the only downside I have at the moment (besides crappy internet and hungry/horny bears) is that the writing itself is suffering a bit.

Oh, not the quality…not the words. Those are coming just fine. No, it’s the vision. Dark, bitter and cynical sci-fi just doesn’t flow all that naturally up here. Now, if I was writing that fantasy series floating in the back of my mind…

That being said, I am back to making progress. Crap, some of my friends up here won’t let me not make progress: they force me to sit here and write. I can’t help, however, how the surroundings, and the changes in my own mood, effect the work. Connor is developing a hint of a lighter side, and is grinding away all those edges, both the rough and the sharp.

There’s a bit from a song (yes, there’s always a song, just like there’s always a but)…admittedly, it was written about a trip to Prague, but it still applies for me. Not to mention the fact that I can, personally, also attest to just what magic and changes Prague can work on you:

The twilight of our youthful days
Books and bridges burned
And records smashed

I’m fat and drunk and dumb and lazy
Digging deep way past the petty cash
But there’s not too many nights like these
When you know you have it way too good

Oh, let it revive me
Carry on, carry in the fire
Oh, let it revive me
Finding peace for a little while

—Prague (Revive Me), Dave Hause, Resolutions

 

The Evil Of Soup

Noodles…and, no, I don’t mean the good stuff. I’m talking about the cheap-ass “pour in hot water and have instant ramen” type stuff. Yeah, yeah – we all lived on that stuff at one time or another in our lives. I know I did.

But, for the love of all that’s holy, does it have to be so bad?

Let me paint a picture for you: roughly 4.5 million visitors go through Yellowstone in a year. And, to all intents and purposes, every single damned one of them comes into this store and gets noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner…all at the same time.

The hordes of tourists – all pushing and shoving and fighting to get their noodle-bowl first – are not even the worst part. The worst part? The smell.

No, really: the smell. How did I ever eat that crap?

The store’s cashiers, stockers and food service people are way too busy to take care of the damned noodle stand, so guess who gets to try and keep it cleaned and stocked? Good guess.

Every single time I walk past the place, I have to stop to clean and stock…all while gagging on the smell and getting shoved aside by hungry tourists. It’s enough to remind me why I’m an introvert…

Now, why on earth am I talking about the stench of cheap, instant noodles? Because, all too often, we writers forget that folks have senses other than eyes (and the occasional ear). How many stories talk about the smell of a place? Or the feel?

Honestly, the sense of smell can be just as evocative and memorable as sights and sounds. Whether I ever do another season working up here or not, I will remember two things about the store itself: the complete lack of air circulation in a 60+ year old building, and the stench of noodles.

And the noodles are worse…far, far worse. I’d gladly sweat my ass off every single day if it meant I didn’t have to walk by that damned noodle stand ever again.

Hmm…I thought about doing something serious here, a brief snippet to capture the feeling and smell of the store. My brain didn’t cooperate:

From sun to shade, the temperature dropped about twenty degrees. He pulled the hat from his head and wiped ineffectively at sweat-matted hair. The hike had left him tired, dirty and starving. But mostly starving. He needed something – anything – and he needed it fast.

He stepped through the door, dodging young kids and grandmothers as he squeezed between the two lines waiting impatiently for their chance at the registers. His stomach growled, and his legs felt weak. Something…anything…even a goddamned overpriced granola bar!

The crowd was a pain in the ass, every single one seemingly determined to keep him from reaching the ready-made food. It was a weaving, circuitous route he took. Faster to walk twice the distance than to fight upstream against all those pushing for the exit.

The beer fridge almost pulled him off the hunt – almost. As much as he wanted a drink, however, he needed food more. The briefest of sighs, and he left behind the Jennie’s Lake lager and the Bitch Creek brown. Later, when urgent needs were settled. When he didn’t feel like a weasel was eating him from the inside out.

He felt like a hero finally reaching the tower with the sleeping princess when he found the soup aisle. And when he’d grabbed one of those big, plastic bowls? He’d just slain the biggest fucking dragon in the place. Now he just had to escape, had to fight through the hordes of guards to reach the safety of the Kingdom of the Microwave.

Something began to build, however. A sense…a feeling…an odor. What fell beast lay in wait? What diabolical trap would he face?

That evil built, became all but overwhelming. Thirty people there were, all using two microwaves to heat soup. All the exact same soup…all the soup he himself held in his sweating, shaking hand.

The stench hit him in a wave. It was almost physical, that smell. Sickly, greasy…like a fire in a barn full of animals. Like the worst day in the slaughterhouses outside of Chicago.

He wanted to wretch, wanted to flee…but he was hungry, dammit!

He continued to wait in that line, started to push forward a bit, to claim a place as far ahead as he could. Hey, it was working for the little grannies – one had even stabbed him with the handle of her cane just to use his moment of shock to move ahead.

And the smell continued to build.

Thank God he had quit drinking early last night. He didn’t think he could take the place with a hangover. A headache and general queasiness to go with that smell? Yeah, that would be a good idea.

Only one person ahead, now. Hunger built until it had taken control of his mind. His eyes saw nothing but the microwave just ahead…

The rest of his body? The rest of his body was crying – screaming – to leave, to get out.

The dragon was still alive, and it was pissed. The air felt thick: thick with grease and salt, thick with the smells of nothing natural, thick with evil. His hands suddenly felt heavy, that plastic bowl starting to grow in weight until it dragged at his arms.

He had to do this, he had to eat!

The tiny granny fetched her soup from inside the microwave and moved away with a smirk for him. Psychotic bitch.

A tear at the packaging, then, and his bowl was open and ready. The smell, however, the smell from that granny’s bowl lingered. It had combined with the thousands before her, had permeated even the wood and plastic of the counter. Just a touch and the man felt soiled, dirty. Was that stain on his skin, or had it penetrated all the way into his very soul?

Water in the bowl…bowl in microwave…a couple of minutes to heat…

He started to shake and sweat. A burp, tiny and subtle, but one that brought with it a bit of bile from below. What the hell? He tried to settle himself, to take a deep breath.

That was a mistake.

He broke into a fit of coughing, wanted nothing more than water to drink..and to wash. The grease was everywhere, the evil filling every pore. He was gagging now, barely able to breathe.

DING

A trembling, palsied hand on the small door. A brief pull and it snapped open. Not a bowl of noodles did that door release, but a raging demon on the attack.

He wretched, had to lean on the counter to keep from passing out. His stomach continued to heave, and the other organs decided that now was a good time for some internal solidarity: his lungs shut down, his heart began to pound. Hell, even his fucking spleen decided to not do whatever it is that spleens do.

Inside that cloud, however – inside that demon – still hid his bowl of soup. Still hid the lunch he so badly needed.

He commanded an arm to move, to reach. The arm refused.

His legs had had enough. Fuck you brain, they said, we’re out of here.

The bowl of noodles laughed at him with maniacal glee.

Men and women were pushed aside. Children simply run over. The only pause in his flight was to kick aside the psychotic granny’s cane. Out of the store he ran, pursued all the while by the taunting, evil laughter of a $1.69 bowl of soup.

Terrorism Comes To Yellowstone!

Okay…well…maybe, not so much.

I don’t often do a “real time” post, but today I just have to.

IMG_0444Let’s start off by mentioning that I really doubt this place is Target #1 for ISIS: “Hmmm, Achmed, let’s see…do we bomb the SuperBowl or Yellowstone?”

Even they can get that one right.

That being said, we just had ourselves a nice (not so) little bomb scare last night.

Well, I use “scare” pretty liberally. The tourists were scared…the rangers were, err, collecting scads of overtime…and the store staff? We were up in front of the store, drinking and watching the whole thing. It was basically a Fourth of July picnic for us.

That being said, things did get more to the “scare” part when they evacuated the employee dorms a couple of hours later…then it started to hit home for a lot of folks. The poor international kids were confused as hell. Then again, the American kids weren’t a whole lot more on top of things.

Me, I had a nice buzz going…

Now, to whoever decided it would be funny to put a package in front of the building next to us with a threat printed on it: this is, err, federal land. It ain’t the much vaunted and feared Bozeman PD investigating this one, and it sure as hell ain’t the rangers. Them thar FBI boys ain’t the sharpest spoons in the drawer, but they have A LOT of money and power.

My favorite part, however, came when they evacuated the employees.

“What about my room?” I ask the ranger. “I’m like thirty feet from that package.”

“Naw, you’ll be all right. You’re below the store, it’ll take the brunt of the blast.”

Thanks. Thanks for that. I’m gonna sleep so much better, now…

One of the more entertaining pursuits, while the rangers were trying to (unsuccessfully) chase the employee picnic away from the theoretical danger zone, was to speculate on possible causes/motives. Aside from a creepy, mostly-insane former employee my favorite theory was that someone just didn’t want to wait the hundred years they figure it will be before the supervolcano goes boom. “Dammit, I want an eruption and I want it NOW!”

At least, I figured, if I was gonna die, I wanted to die with good beer. So I cracked the ONE bomber (don’t you just love the irony?) of Brombeere I had squirreled away and toasted the coming explosion.

IMG_0443Now I have to go to work, on one hour’s sleep, and clean up the mess.

Happy, happy…joy, joy.

How Dare People Want To Learn About The US?!?!

A guest got mad the other day. Nothing terribly unusual in that, to be honest: even on vacation, some people just want to find something about which they can be upset.

No, what makes this event stick out in my mind is what the guest got pissed about. This person was mad because the cashier she was dealing with has a strong accent and is still working on her English.

I was nice, let me emphasize that. I very nicely implied just what a jack-ass this guest was, and very nicely got them the hell out of the store as fast as I could.

I carry bear spray whenever I hike – I may have to start carrying tourist-spray when I work.

I should probably expand on why this irritates me:

Roughly 40% of the seasonal staff up here (and in any national park) are here on what’s called a J-1 visa. Now, a J-1 is not a normal work visa, it is an educational and cultural visa. It is for kids from other countries to come and work in the US to improve their English, and to learn about our people and our culture. It also ain’t cheap…these kids spend a lot to come here for this.

Sometimes what they learn isn’t all that great.

The cashier in question happens to be from Taiwan – she not only is a college grad, but happens to be one of the hardest and best workers I’ve ever seen. I would trust this girl with any job I could dream up and know she would exceed the goals I set.

I’m good at languages. I’m very good. I speak several, and can make my way in a few more. But in none of those languages am I perfectly fluent, in none can I hide my American accent. Yet never have I had any random, tourist asshat get pissed at me because I struggled from time to time.

Well, except in Spain…they made of fun of me because I speak Mexican Spanish, not “real” Spanish. Fuck Spain.

Err, never mind…back to the point.

We, as the US (both nation and people), have prided ourselves on the worth and strength of our attempt at a meritocracy, and tried to build that on the equality that all humans bring to the table regardless of their origins.

Believe that many of us might, but we sure have a shitty way of showing it…

Every single person should have to spend a few months living in another country, learning another language and culture. It might sound trite, but that really does change you: changes your outlook, changes your thought patterns, and sure as hell changes the boundaries of what really matters to you.