James Cook: Guest Post for the Summer of Zombies Blog Tour!

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 For today’s blog entry, I’m rather proud to give my proverbial podium to a guest author for the Summer of Zombies Blog Tour.  That would be James N. Cook, whose pic is below, followed by a brief introduction from James and a free excerpt from the new zombie novel which he co-wrote with another esteemed fellow horror author, Joshua Guess. Take it away, dude!

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Hello everyone, and thanks for having me. For this post, I decided not to bore you to death with a bunch of anecdotes, un-funny jokes, and observations that no one cares to hear. I am not here to tell you all about how awesome of a writer I am, and why you should buy my books, and how hard I’ve struggled, and blah, blah, blah. Rather, I’d like to simply show you. This is an actual chapter from an upcoming novel I am co-authoring with Living With the Dead creator Joshua Guess. Its title is The Passenger, and we expect to publish it sometime in mid-to-late July. I hope you like it. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Excerpt from the upcoming novel The Passenger, by James N. Cook and Joshua Guess.

 

 

The trouble started, as it usually did, with the crack of a rifle.

A high-powered one by the sound of it, Ethan thought. The bullet smashed into the operator’s compartment on the u-trac, and if not for the four inches of ballistic glass between Gus and the rest of the world, his head would have burst like a melon. As it was, the grizzled engineer barely flinched.

“Looks like we got company.”

Ethan looked at Jones to find him grinning broadly. The handsome man’s smile faltered, however, when more rifles fired and nearly a dozen rounds broke themselves against the armor of their passenger car. Ethan snatched up his rifle and leapt to his feet.

“Backs to the wall!” he shouted.

Delta squad surged up from the bench and fanned out against the two-inch thick steel walls standing between them and whoever it was firing on the u-trac. Ethan peered out the narrow window and looked across the tall grass separating the tracks from the treeline less than a hundred yards away. As he watched, the branches parted and swirled, and over a dozen horsemen broke cover and began driving their mounts hard toward the slow-moving transport. The riders stood up in their saddles, knees bent with boots locked into stirrups, leveled their mismatched rifles, and began firing.

“Goddamn, how’d they know we were coming?”

Ethan turned his head to look at Jones who stood pressed against the wall beside him. “You see they have horses, right? Probably a patrol spotted us and then rode back to get his friends. This shit-heap we’re riding only goes about ten miles an hour.”

Jones nodded understanding just as another volley of gunfire peppered the wall.

“Fuck,” Ethan swore. It was only a matter of time until one of those rounds found its way through a firing port, and when that happened, the ricochet would rip them to pieces. Gotta make these assholes back off.

“Jones, get that SAW up the ladder,” Ethan said. “Schmidt, Holland, Cormier, lay down cover fire until he can get the hatch open. Fuller, Page, Hicks, cover the other side. Shoot anything that fucking moves. Smith, make sure Jones doesn’t run out of ammo.”

Private Smith stood ashen-faced against the wall, sweating bullets in spite of the cold and clutching his rifle with trembling hands. Looking at him, Ethan remembered his own first taste of combat. The lurching in his stomach, the pounding of his heart, the rasp of his own rapid, panicky breath grating in his ears. There was only one cure for that ailment, and that was to get into the fight.

“Smith! You fucking deaf?”

He jerked and looked at Ethan, the whites of his eyes round and bulging. “Yeah. I mean no. I mean … I hear you, sergeant. I got it.” He shuffled over to dull metal case mounted against the wall, flipped the latch, opened it, and took out a green box of belted 5.56mm NATO ammunition. As he did so, Jones hefted his M-240 Squad Automatic Weapon—or just SAW, as it was more commonly known—and stepped up the short ladder that led to the roof of the passenger car. He turned the handle to unlock it, but stayed bent beneath the hatch.

“All right, open fire!” Ethan shouted. He leveled his rifle through the narrow firing port and began squeezing off rounds. The riders were approaching fast and firing as quickly as they could. Try as he might, Ethan couldn’t get a good shot at any of them. Behind him, he heard Justin, Cormier, and Holland open fire as well.

“Got one!” Holland shouted. As Ethan watched, one of their pursuers slumped over and fell from his saddle. His boot remained lodged in the stirrup, and his horse continued to gallop along, dragging his limp, flailing body along with it. The riders behind the dead man saw what happened to him, and began to back off. The ones in front, oblivious to their cohort’s fate, continued their pursuit. One of them came level with the rear car, reached into a saddlebag behind him, and produced some kind of improvised explosive. A very large one. Where the hell did he get that? Ethan couldn’t get the man in his sights, so he shifted his aim lower and squeezed off a short burst. The man’s mount screamed as several rounds tore into its lower chest and the thick muscles of its legs. The animal pitched forward, rolling and thrashing and crushing his hapless rider. As he fell, the explosive went flying through the air and detonated several yards behind the u-trac’s rear wheels.

“They’ve got some kind of fucking grenades!” Ethan shouted. “Isaac, time to earn your paycheck!”

Jones’ teeth stood out sharp and white as he smiled. “Hell to the yeah, baby.”

He pushed the hatch open with one meaty hand, surged up through the opening, and leveled his SAW.

“WHOOOOO YEAH MOTHERFUCKER!”

Short, staccato bursts of fire poured from the heavy weapon, tearing into the approaching riders and sending them tumbling to the ground in screaming, bloody heaps. Some of the rounds went low and caught the horses, but there wasn’t much Jones could do about that. The SAW wasn’t the most accurate weapon in the world.

At the same time, the squads riding in the other passenger cars finally got it together and began adding their rifles to the fray. Whatever the raiders had been expecting when they set out to pursue the u-trac, it hadn’t been hardened soldiers cutting them to ribbons with a withering hail of hot lead. Panicked, the ones still alive veered their mounts around and pounded away back toward the cover of the trees.

“Aw, come on now. Get back here bitches, you know you LOOOOOVE this shit!”

The big gunner fired a final burst at the retreating marauders before stepping down and closing the hatch behind him. Jones’ face glowed with excitement. Ethan shook his head.

“Nice work, gentlemen. You too, Smith.”

The young private was still standing by the ladder clutching his box of ammo. “Me? I didn’t even do anything.”

Ethan stepped forward and clapped him on the arm. “Sure you did. I gave you an order and you followed it. You didn’t freeze up, or panic.” He leaned forward with a conspiratorial whisper. “You didn’t shit yourself, did you?”

Smith let out a nervous laugh. “No, I didn’t.”

Ethan stood up straight and grinned at the younger man. “Then you did just fine. Maybe next time I’ll even let you do some of the fighting.”

Smith’s smile grew sickly, then disappeared altogether.

The door at the far end of the car opened, and Lieutenant Jonas stepped through the narrow opening, careful not to step into the short length of empty space separating the command car from Delta’s passenger carriage. “Everyone all right in here? Anybody hurt?”

“No sir,” Ethan replied. “We’re all good.” He turned to Smith. “Check the other cars for me, private. Find out if there are any casualties.”

Smith nodded. “I’m on it.”

As the private hustled to the next adjoining car, Jonas stepped closer to Ethan. “Did my eyes deceive me, or were those raiders on horseback?”

“Yes sir, they were.”

The lieutenant ran a hand over the back of his neck, his mouth forming a thin, hard line. “Well ain’t that just fucking wonderful. How much you want to bet those sons of bitches are from Hamlet?”

“I’m not a betting man sir, but I’d say your odds are pretty good.”

“And now they have bombs.” Jonas shuffled over to a window and planted a hand against the wall as he stared out. “We’re the first u-trac to come out this way, Thompson. And now they’ve seen us. I guaran-damn-tee you that by tomorrow these tracks are going to be lousy with IED’s. Fucking Hamlet. Place is a goddamn den of thieves, and slavers, and insurgent scum. I’ve got half a mind to radio for permission to go root those fuckers out.”

Ethan watched the older man move to the bench and sit down, back straight. He looked incongruous with just a single bar on his collar. Most of the officers his age had oak leaves or eagles with wings spread wide. It was easy to forget that Jonas had spent most of his career in the Army as an enlisted man, working his way up the through the ranks the hard way. He’d seen more than his share of combat, and wasn’t afraid to take up arms and get in the thick of things when the situation required it. Because of this, and his deep understanding of the needs and concerns of his soldiers, the trust and respect he got from his men was absolute. Nevertheless, the idea of walking blindly into hostile territory—and going off-mission to do it—struck Ethan as not being the best of ideas.

“What about Pope? Maybe they could send out a drone to recon the place, find out what we’re up against. I’m not afraid of a fight sir, but I don’t like the idea of going in blind. Not if we can help it, at least. There’s no sense in getting ourselves killed needlessly.”

A less experienced officer may have bristled at Ethan’s suggestion, if not his tone. Jonas, however, nodded calmly. He knew good advice when he heard it, and he wasn’t arrogant enough to think that his experience precluded him from making mistakes. The Army had NCO’s for a reason, after all.

“You’re right sergeant, as usual. Still, knowing those fuckers are out there…”

Holland spoke up, “If you want LT, I can take a couple of guys and go scout it out. See what I can find. Maybe make some trouble for ‘em.”

Jonas thought about it for a moment, but shook his head. “No. I appreciate your courage Holland, but I can’t spare you. Besides, we’re behind schedule as it is, we can’t afford the delay.”

The door to the car opened, and Private Smith stepped back through. “No casualties, sir. Everybody’s okay.”

Jonas stood up. “Good, good. Any fight you survive is a good one, right men?”

Delta Squad nodded in agreement, their faces grim as they remembered fights that not all of them had walked away from. Fights where they had lost friends, men who were so familiar, who had shared so much terror and hardship, that they were like family. Brothers, all of them. Private Smith shuffled his feet and remained silent. He had been assigned to Delta after his predecessor was killed in the line of duty. He didn’t know the circumstances of the man’s death, but he knew the other soldiers of First Platoon had taken the loss hard. And none harder than the men around him.

“You all did well today,” Jonas said. “That was a good, fast response. Especially you, Jones, you’re a goddamn nightmare with that SAW.”

The gunner grinned. “You know what they say, sir. Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Jonas barked a short laugh. “Damn right. All right then, looks like we’re squared away.” He gestured at Ethan. “Staff sergeant, round up the other squad leaders and get reports from them. Command is going to want to know what we just expended valuable ammunition on.”

“Yes sir.”

“The rest of you keep your eyes peeled for trouble. Holland, put that scope of yours to use and watch our back trail. Those raiders might find their spines and decide to pay us another visit. If they do, I want warning well ahead of time.”

Holland nodded. “Want me to get the other DM’s to do the same, sir?”

“No, just you and Sergeant Kelly for now. Rotate out with the other two in a couple of hours.”

“Will do.”

Ethan watched the Lieutenant open the door and step back into the command car. He caught a glimpse of the cot along the wall, and the chair bolted to the floor in front of a small desk. It would have been mean accommodations under other circumstances, but standing there in the bare passenger car, he felt like some character from a Dickens novel wandering through the cold and staring through a window at Christmas dinner. The door shut, and the room was lost to view. He sighed, his shoulders slumping.

Time to round up the other squad leaders. Time to write a report.

Goddamn I hate paperwork.

*****

 

 

Hamlet passed by to the north of the u-trac much the same as any other town.

Ethan watched the outlines of buildings in the distance as they slowly drifted from left to right, little more than grey and brown husks against the blue morning haze. Even from this far away, he could see the empty, yawning holes staring out from behind shattered windows, the black scorch marks left behind by long ago fires, and the sharp, stabbing fingers of I-beams, support struts, and shattered concrete pillars where office complexes and government buildings had once stood — all collapsed now. All reduced to great, mountainous heaps of forgotten rubble.

Across the depressing expanse between the town and the tracks, littered like corpses on a battlefield, lay houses, businesses, long-dead industrial facilities, and sagging structures that seemed to have no identifiable purpose at all. Every visible wall was crowded with vines and creepers that swarmed over rooftops in choking, skeletal tangles. Autumn’s chill had turned everything brown and dead, and blanketed the landscape in an ocean of endless beige beneath a cloudy, pewter-colored sky. All seemed still out there. Abandoned. Quiet.

Ethan knew better.

There were eyes out there. Many eyes, and none of them friendly. They watched the tracks, he knew. They watched, and they would remember. He would not have been surprised if word of the brief, bloody firefight had already reached the ears of the other marauders holed up in that shattered ruin of a town. Nor would it have surprised him to learn that their plans for retaliation were already in motion. That was what they did, these marauder bands. They fought. They killed. They took from others. And if they were attacked, their response was never proportional, never just an eye for an eye. They were vicious, savage people, with no regard for anyone’s lives other than their own. Often, they even fought amongst each other, robbing, raping and stealing.

It was a well-known fact in the Army that you didn’t go after marauders with half measures. You didn’t just hit them and hope they would learn their lesson. These were people who didn’t back down from a fight. Didn’t run away. Didn’t get intimidated by the occasional strafing run or mortar bombardment. If a platoon was sent to take down known marauders, it wasn’t just a police action. It wasn’t just an effort to bring them to heel.

It was total annihilation.

Kill them all, root and branch, or die in the attempt. And dying wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. More than once, entire platoons had limped back to Fort Bragg decimated and in shambles, most of their men dead or dying of wounds or infection. Contrary to what all the strategists had predicted, the marauders were becoming increasingly well-armed. Unexplainably, alarmingly so. They were determined, these insurgents and raiders, and they were getting better at their craft. And out there, across that cracked veneer of dead civilization, was an unknown number of them.

Waiting. Plotting. 

Ethan stood near the wall, his face close to the chill, gently blowing air outside, and stared out the narrow window as the u-trac slowly rattled along. He searched rooftops for movement, eyes narrowed, jaw constantly working. He searched the tall grass for the telltale streaks of lighter brown that would indicate someone having passed through recently. He breathed in deeply through his nose, trying to catch the acrid odor of wood smoke born on the wind. He listened for the crack of distant rifles echoing across the low, gently rolling hills. But mostly he simply watched, gaze unfocused, never letting his eyes rest on one spot for too long, determined to spot trouble if it was out there. He rested his head against one thick forearm, and for long into the morning, he watched.

He watched, and he worried.

 

 

**************************************

 

 

I sincerely hope that you liked this excerpt, and if you want to check out more of my work, or Josh’s, just click the links below:

 

James N. Cook on Amazon 

Josh Guess on Amazon

 

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My Upcoming Novel — The Next Big Thing world blog tour

I have recently received the honor of being asked to participate in The Next Big Thing world blog book tour, where writers answer a few questions regarding their next upcoming novel. As I do indeed have a novel in progress now, I was pleased to accept fellow writer and WordPress blogger Alex Chase’s offer to participate (thanks, dude!), and without further ado, here are the questions (in bold) followed by my answers.

What is the working title of your book?

CENTURION: DARK ORIGIN.

 

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Basically, from being an enthusiastic, lifelong fan of the super-hero sub-genre of science fiction. I’ve always wanted to write my own series of such characters due to my fascination with their archetypal relevance to the collective human consciousness (larger-than-life heroes have been a part of every world culture’s official folk legends, including the Bible), and it’s recently been shown that prose is as good a medium for super-heroes as their more traditional illustrated story format (i.e., ‘comic books’). The idea for this particular character, Centurion, goes all the way back to my high school years, and at long last a version of this character will see publication for consumption by the masses (read: the small but way cool segment of the masses who are fans of this awesome genre).

 

Another major idea incorporated into this novel and the sub-genre it entails is that of infusing a large degree of autobiographical elements into the mix, which acts as an interesting way of presenting your life story in a highly fictionalized context that conveys all that your life experiences have taught you in a (hopefully) entertaining manner. This idea goes all the way back to Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster’s creation of the seminal super-hero archetype for the modern era, Superman, but in a less overt manner.

 

What genre does your book fall under?

As noted above, CENTURION will fall clearly within the super-hero genre, which many categorize as a distinguished sub-genre of the general science fiction rubric.

 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I think Andrew Garfield of last year’s big screen version of The Amazing Spider-Man would make a really good onscreen portrayal of Benny Lotharo, Centurion’s civilian alter-ego. His only close friend, Gary, would be well-portrayed by Josh Peck, at least if he was a bit younger and put on some weight. As for Benny’s life-saving mentor, the tough but justice-minded soldier-turned-special agent Donovan Jakes, I would elect Mark Ruffalo for the role, as he did a fantastic job as Dr. Bruce Banner in last year’s other great super-hero big screen opus, Marvel’s The Avengers.

 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In a world where metahuman beings are suddenly appearing in large numbers, one particular troubled adolescent is the recipient of the gift of posthuman power and finds he has to struggle past his inner demons and emotional shortcomings to become a hero rather than a destructive menace to society.

 

Okay, that was sort of a long sentence, but thanks to the grammatical tool known as the comma, I still managed to get it down in a single sentence 🙂

 

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

This novel will be published by Metahuman Press, whom I am honored to work with.

 

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The first draft is still in the works but progressing nicely, and if it’s okay to take an educated guestimate, I see its completion over the next several months, with hopefully a late 2013 or early 2014 release date if all goes as planned.

 

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Most likely gritty super-hero books that explore the flawed human side of heroes, such as pioneers in that field like Alan Moore’s The Watchmen and Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, with a more recent example being Mark Millar’s volumes of The Ultimates. I hesitate at this point to even imply that CENTURION should belong in such company, but their interpretation of the super-hero is the inspiration to where I will be taking the main character of this book.

 

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My own life experiences combined with my lifelong love and respect for an iconoclastic method of story-telling that breaks various boundaries and features an abundant use of socio-cultural archetypes that have a strong resonance on the collective psyche.

 

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Benny Lotharo will be a deviation from the traditional adolescent super-hero paradigm that we have seen with the likes of Peter Parker, Dick Grayson, and the young Clark Kent portrayed in the Golden Age to Bronze Age Superboy mythos and as interpreted in the long-running Smallville TV series. Benny will not start out as an obviously good person who will quickly rise to the challenge of being a hero after receiving his powers. Like Peter Parker, he will be a greatly disliked social outcast amongst his peers, but unlike the type of character that Peter represented, Benny will carry deep emotional scars that will cause him to initially go down a dark path. 

 

But both he and the readers will gradually learn that he is a good person deep down who needs to work very hard to overcome his bitterness and anger at the world for its rejection of him to eventually become a hero. It’s true that Peter Parker initially eschewed the hero route to go into a self-serving show business career (a well-known point of the mythos that was curiously left out of last year’s big screen interpretation of the Spider-Man story, though it was fully incorporated into the Tobey Maguire version of a decade ago), but he never fully gave into his anger to seek vengeance on his peer tormentors; Peter simply became aloof and narcissistic, not out for blood. Benny will regrettably choose to go there in the beginning, and as a result, he will have a lot more redemption to work out before he can be called a hero.

 

I agree with some fan critics of modern comics that we do need traditional super-heroes of the naturally heroic kind that inspire us to become all that we can be–note Steve Rogers, a.k.a., Captain America, who is my all-time fav super-hero; and the traditional version of Billy Batson, a.k.a, DC’s Captain Marvel, another fav of mine–but I think characters with serious emotional flaws who are easier for us average joes and janes to relate to can also inspire us,  by making it clear that no matter how much work it may take, those who are determined to overcome their negative traits and emotional baggage to become a much better person–even a hero–can indeed get there, with some help from those in their lives who care. I think both types of characters in the genre can be equally inspirational if handled the right way, which is why I like seriously flawed characters who have to struggle to become heroes in addition to those who are extremely noble and pure of heart from the onset.

 

Once again, I thank my colleague Alex Chase for asking me to participate in The Next Big Thing, and I thank all of my fellow writers in the genres I work within for the immense inspiration they have provided for me through the years!

Friendship–the Pleasure and the Pain

Yes, this post will contain a hefty helping of my ruminations on friendship. But as is usual with me, it will not merely deliver a paean of praises to how wonderful friendship is (even though it can be, and often is). Instead, I will look at this most important force in our lives from all angles, discussing it as the 3-dimensional social phenomenon that it tends to be. As opposed, of course, to the usual saccharine sermons given to it on TV shows and books geared towards children (for whom our culture feels the need to simplistically dumb down whatever info we allow them access to, but that’s a subject for another post).

 

It’s quite clear that different people make friendships to different degrees than others over the course of their lives, and view them through a variety of personal interpretive lenses. Some people have naturally charismatic and colorful personalities, and these individuals tend to attract large numbers of people with friendly intentions and admirable feelings towards them. Others have colorful personalities of a different sort, and tend to be much more of an acquired taste than the previous category; they will tend to attract the ire or ridicule of large numbers of people–who tend to feed off of each others’ peer-and-culturally-influenced attitudes towards the individual category in question–but also a small number of people who are drawn to them with friendly feelings of kindred spirit and shared experience. Some people harbor a fairly large number of people they consider “true” friends and hang out in big groups on a regular basis, enjoying the company of many whom they get along with. Others keep their close friendships very modest in number, as they may be of a personality type that doesn’t do well with crowds of people, particularly those whom they do not know well and whose reactions to their type of eccentric personality may be unpredictable, at best. Different life experiences and the number of successes and disappointments any given individual may have in this area will obviously affect the number of people they are willing to trust, and how long it takes to earn their trust.

 

One’s individual level of social skills and natural talent at charming or getting on people’s good side plays a large role in this too, though not everyone who has these skills have good intentions, and not everyone who lacks them have no positive qualities, of course.

 

Also, let’s face it, with the sometimes shallow and sordid values our culture promotes, social popularity often has a lot to do with how many people will go out of their way to form friendships with you and to get on your good side. This popularity sometimes only exists because of a person’s individual degree of wealth, social standing, athletic ability, physical attractiveness, physical prowess at dispensing retribution, or often a combination thereof–or influenced in the opposite fashion by the lack of any or all of these things.

 

Of course, genuine friendship must be built on real respect, not fear or simple gratitude. Any seemingly good feelings or bonds built on the latter two things tend to result in “friends” who are largely opportunists, sycophants, and lackeys, and they may secretly harbor great feelings of jealousy, resentment, rivalry, and even hatred towards you. If this is the case, a person whose circle of friends is largely or mostly built on social popularity for the above reasons (i.e., relating to fear or being “bought”) can seriously backfire on them if that person should ever suffer even a temporary loss of their great advantages (this is why having people fear you without also respecting you is not a good idea, contrary to the legendary mob ideology). Such individuals may even be secretly and subtly working behind your back to oust you from your advantaged position, or at least hurt you in various ways for entirely vindictive reasons, in the manner that Iago dished out to Othello while pretending to be a very close friend who was looking out for his best interests (as a good example of the timelessness of the themes tackled by Shakespeare in his awesome tragedies, make a point to rent or watch the 2001 film O starring Mekhi Phifer and Josh Hartnett to see the powerful themes of Othello played out in a contemporary college setting).

A major point about friendship to observe is that our close friends, like our family and significant others, are not only a frequent source of good times and joyous moments, but also of painful disagreements and personality clashes. Like romantic relationships where one person has a level of love that the other does not share, it’s possible for a similar dynamic to be at work in close platonic friendships. Simply put, one person may have a degree of respect for their friend which the latter does not share in equal magnitude with the former. Just as lovers may grow apart in time, so do some friendships, and when one is content with the drift and the other is not, it can lead to some heartbreak and hurt feelings, including feelings of betrayal. 

 

This should not be seen as surprising, nor in any way an attempt to disparage friendship any more than I would attempt to dismiss the power and importance of the bonds naturally formed between family members, or romantic bonds. Plain and simply, those who are close to us not only tend to bring us the best moments of our lives, but also some of the worst. Strangers rarely bring such highs and lows to us, because they obviously do not spend enough time around us to effect us too dramatically for either good or ill (yes, there are exceptions, of course, but I’m talking about the rule here).

 

It’s always difficult to deal with when a friendship we value so strongly, possibly over a long period of time, begins to unravel. I’ve certainly experienced long-time friendships where I considered the friend in question to be akin to a surrogate sibling, and I continue to have such friendships today. As such, I know how hard on the heart and soul it can be when such a long-term close friend gradually changes in a way that you don’t–though not necessarily “growing” in the sense of changing for the better–where they slowly but surely evolve (or arguably, devolve) into a different type of person who is not as fond of your various quirks and idiosyncrasies that they once may have found endearing in the past, or not as tolerant of such aspects of yours that they may have usually tolerated much more easily back during the “good old days.” They may change in such a way where they, unlike you, dispense with various principles and ideologies of life that you both once held dear together, thus severing a large part of the bond that you two (or more of you) once shared, and even brought you together in the first place. As time passes, you may find them exponentially diminishing in the number of times they seek your company per month; or your shoulder when they need to lean on someone; or their willingness to take the time to call you on your phone as opposed to just communicating via text messages on your cell or Facebook, with a similar dissolution of the frequency of your online convos on whatever chat program of choice you both prefer. (or preferred) You may suddenly begin noticing less replies by them to the various comments you leave on the wall of your Facebook page (“Damn, it’s not like him to avoid replying to one of my posts concerning my cat’s problem with hair balls, or my kid’s habit of emptying all my bottles of wine on the floor”); less comments left to  your blog posts (“Shit, she always used to have a reaction when I mentioned our old Gone With the Wind marathons!”); and less interaction with you on whatever online massive-multi-player-role-playing games (or whatever they call them this year) you may have once enjoyed a regular routine of making the simulated lives of orcs miserable together (“I dunno, knight_in_hot_pink_armour, I haven’t seen him join us on 1 of our raides on the orc nurseries in about 4 months now, itz not likke him, I think maybee his knew gf has him wippped or somethin…”). 

 

As time presses on, your protestations of concern may be dismissed with typical, “I don’t have as much time as I used to since […]” retorts, which you know are largely, if not entirely, bogus since you are well aware that if someone truly wants to do something, they often (if not usually) make the time to do it. You know you are being demoted on that person’s priority list, a place you may have once held an important spot on, and this can be quite painful to deal with if the growing apart is mostly or entirely one-sided.

 

This is just one of the aspects of life we need to develop the strength to deal with and, if need be, move on from when it happens, sort of like death, illness, and debt (for the likely foreseeable future regarding the latter, that is). It’s not something that should be seen as “good” just because it’s natural (*flips the bird to the Luddites*) or built into the system, but it is something that is nevertheless part of the truth of our existence (as Captain Jean-Luc Picard but it regarding death in Star Trek: Generations). As such, we need to accept that it does happen, and if it does, we need to accept it, pick up the pieces, and move forward with our lives, as we do with every disappointment or loss we may experience. Life never ceases to move forward or lose its meaning or purpose, and we must always be willing to get back up and move in accordance with it no matter how many times we get knocked down–or at least shoved off-balance.

 

I have certainly had my share of long-time friendships that I hold very fond memories of, where I attempted to keep the friendship going indefinitely, or re-establish it in later years, but the other person lost interest and felt the need to move on after awhile, or not re-establish anything resembling what we once had. This wasn’t always due to a disagreement or falling out, but sometimes just due to the fact that they evidently came to view our friendship as an aspect of their past that they eventually came to outgrow, no matter how fondly they may remember it, just like they may outgrow a certain  hair style or childhood hobby. The dreams you may have mutually shared in childhood of a “friendship for life” sort of deal may possibly have went the way of various other dreams you once held most strongly (e.g., becoming crime-fighters together, traveling to the Orient and exploring its ancient mysteries side-by-side, teaming up and beating down that bully that always bothered the two of you in fourth grade, etc.). What can you do in such a case? Nothing, save for moving on yourself and respecting the decision of the other person to do so, even if you don’t like it (and you have every reason not to).

 

This is no different than what amounts to your only option if a significant other eventually or suddenly falls out of love with you and similarly chooses to move on. It may possibly be the ending of a certain chapter of your life, but it’s never going to be the end of the world for you, because we all know that a new beginning inevitably comes with every type of ending (I always liked that expression, because cliche’ or not, it really does hold true).

 

Sometimes, in a worst case scenario–which I also speak from unfortunate experience on–a friend you may have held in high esteem for a fairly long period suddenly turns on you (whether justified or not), and suddenly displays an attitude towards you that is far removed from the one they put on during the heyday of the friendship, when it was strong. This could be something you saw brewing over time and thought you could handle and mitigate its progression the platonic version of TLC (no, I don’t mean The Learning Channel, people!), but ultimately failed to stop from coming to a proverbial head; or, it may be something that happens rather suddenly, and really takes you by surprise.

 

This next bit of advice may sound odd and counter-productive, but I can assure you it isn’t:  Every once in a while, it can actually be useful, if not ever really desirable, to have a friend get angry at you, especially if they have imbibed some spirits beforehand and thus had their inhibitions crippled. Why? Because you would be surprised but also drearily enlightened to hear what your friend may continue to hold against you–including from incidents that you thought you two had moved past and considered “water under the bridge” many years past–or things about you that they may greatly dislike or disagree with you about, but held back from letting you know until they got very angry and/or inebriated. Such an instance, however unpleasant and disheartening, can show you where you actually stand with them, and what resentments may be festering beneath the surface waiting for the “right” opportunity to boil and burst from their metaphorical mantle like a volcanic eruption when you least expect it–or when you least need it to happen.

 

I believe that many of us harbor secret or semi-secret fears that the foundation we hold even with people we think are close friends may not be as strong as we like to comfort ourselves by thinking, due to this or that incident several years ago, etc. The truth is, we are all human and will thus make mistakes and display quirks that even our closest friends are not going to like, and some of these mistakes will be big ones. This is why the ability to forgive and the willingness to apologize if warranted are essential ingredients to the longevity of a friendship, along with its chances of standing the test of time.

 

Some friendships, sadly, can mirror certain negative romantic or familial relationships and grow to be abusive in nature, where one person comes to view themselves as the “alpha” of the friendship and seeks a dominant relationship with their platonic chum (think of Moe Howard of the Three Stooges and his relationship with Larry and Curly–or Shemp or Joe, depending on the era of the film shorts you are watching–to get a good if somewhat extreme idea of this; or the likes of Ollie Hardy, Ralph Kramden, the onscreen Bud Abbott, and Fred Flintstone, and the nature of their relationships to their respective BFFs, Stan Laurel; Ed Norton; the onscreen Lou Costello; and Barney Rubble ).

 

Some of these relationships get so discordant that eventually, even if grudgingly and sadly, you (or your friend, if you were the “alpha”) have no choice but to cut your losses and move on. Sometimes forgiveness and second chances are given, and you find that the person either didn’t learn their lesson, or their personality and your personality appear to be naturally such that the same phenomenon tended to gradually occur all over, thus necessitating another, perhaps final, parting.

 

Some negative but close friendships can and do result if two (or more) people who formed a close and even seemingly symbiotic emotional bond eventually develop a competitive rivalry for one reason or another–either temporarily or permanently–that escalates to the point where it cannot be a “friendly” type of rivalry, and mutual respect and trust is eventually severed as a result. This may or may not lead to second chances in time, largely depending on whether or not either of the two genuinely learned their lesson from the experience, or whether or not the circumstances that resulted in the competitive rivalry are no longer a factor. The willingness to forgive is an important element of both character and compassion, I believe, but as the saying goes, sometimes what occurred can be forgiven but not forgotten, and things may not necessarily be the same again if the forgiveness leads to a reconciliation.

 

Regrettably, some friendships can take on a mutual type of co-dependency that is often to the detriment of both (or more) participants, just as certain familial and romantic relationships can, and often for similar reasons. This, of course, depends on the personality types of the people involved, the way the friendship begins or develops over the long haul, or the reasons that the bond in question was formed on both ends in the first place.

 

And of course, we have that final category that may be termed “questionable,” “mutable,” or “opportunistic” ‘friends,’ the type who feign friendship for various reasons, and may even be fun to hang out with and do things like watch films of mutual interest with (e.g., the typical guy porn marathon gatherings, so men can “prove” or confirm each others’ machismo and heterosexual credentials to each other, even though I hardly think porn serves well as group entertainment in the same sense that Marvel’s The Avengers or  The Amazing SpiderManwould for a gathering of comic book fans, but I digress…). These types of individuals view you more as “useful” than they do as a joy to be around, and some may simply consider you a last resort to hang with occasionally if more desirable or preferred company is not available.

 

Some of the individuals making up the previous category may be better defined as acquaintances rather than friends, which are basically low-tier associates who “hang” with you simply because they work with you, or are a friend of a friend, or attend classes or a Topps club with you–or a local Klan gathering, yanno what I mean–and may like your company in small to moderate doses, but do not form such a bond with you that they have any great desire to lend their shoulder to you or hang with you on a regular basis outside of the place or the company of the other person where or with whom they share this association with you.

 

These people may also form some fond memories with you, especially if they have endearing qualities that make a sometimes tedious experience more tolerable or fun, and for that reason it can be good to have a supply of them in your life. However, they are not the same type of people you develop a mutual feeling of going through thick and thin with out of complete choice, even if you become very used to them and feel a notable sense of loss if you or they leave the place or distance yourself from the person whom you share a mutual association with. If you will permit a rather technically crude analogy, these people are more comparable to a landline bonded to a certain place, as opposed to a cell phone, which is bonded to a specific person. Okay, not the best analogy one could think of, but I think you get the gist, so shut up, okay? 😉

 

So, to sum another of my long-winded ranty diatribes up, friendships can be a major mixed bag in life, even though very worth pursuing and maintaining in the scheme of things. The friendship needs of everyone are different, of course, but I think most–if not all–people have an emotional need for the self-validation that comes with receiving the respect of others (regardless of number) who become a part of our lives because they want to be, not because genetics or other circumstances have dictated that they have to be. Different people may need a different number of friends, or different degrees of closeness amongst these peer crowds, to achieve this emotional requirement, but it appears to be an all but universal requirement amongst the human species. We are major social animals, even if our degree and level of individual sociability varies. Everyone from the most decent person you could ever meet, to the typical self-serving jerk, needs real friends, and this is why for good or ill, they have such potency and purpose in our lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“People say, ‘I’m not interested in politics,’ like it’s just another hobby, like ‘I’m not into skiing or needlepoint.’ But freedom isn’t free. It shouldn’t be a bragging point that, ‘Oh, I don’t get involved in politics,’ as if that makes you somehow cleaner. No, that makes you derelict of duty in a republic. Liars and panderers in government would have a much harder time of it if so many people didn’t insist on their right to remain ignorant and blindly agreeable. And foreign adversaries would have to calculate the savvy of our people into their nefarious plans.”
–Bill Maher, WHEN YOU RIDE ALONE YOU STILL RIDE WITH BIN LADEN

“People say, ‘…

CARNAGE: AFTER THE END

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Now on sale from Sirens Call Publications is Volume 1 and Volume 2 of Carnage: After the End, two short story anthologies that each feature ten tales centering around the common theme of humans struggling to survive in a nightmarish post-apocalyptic world. Volume 1 includes yours truly among the ten authors in a short story entitled “The Scurrying,” where one of the few remaining human tribes inhabiting such a hellish future world plagued by a species of giant predatory rat that has displaced humanity from the top spot on the food chain fight for what may well be the final battle of their lives.

Hard copy versions of both volumes are available at just $14.99 each at CreateSpace, and can be purchased from the following links:

Volume 1

Volume 2

Very affordable e-book versions of both volumes at $3.99 each can be purchased at the following places:

Volume 1–

Smashwords

Amazon US

Amazon UK

 

Volume 2–

Smashwords

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Many thanks to the terrific staff of Sirens Call Publications, it was awesome to work with them on another project!

Capitalism, and What Our Love Affair With It is Costing Us & the World

There are times when I want to take fervent defenders of capitalism by the collar of their shirts and toss them onto a huge continent of abundant resources where they can all compete and fight with each other over who gets the most of everything available on that land mass–as opposed to cooperating with each other to share resources and prosper collectively–to their hearts desire, while leaving the more civilized amongst us to share the rest of the planet’s uber-abundant resources and productive capacity that modern technology has made possible. In short, we would be free of the profit demand imperatives that prevent us from creating a far better society that, while it wouldn’t be perfect, would nevertheless be many magnitudes better than what we do have and can have today thanks to post-industrial technology.

 

And that is not in reference to just the small handful of actual beneficiaries of this system, but also to the too many fellow members of the working class who continue to vote such individuals into office simply because they think they are nice looking, have charming personalities, come off as “just a regular person like us” (as if a multi-millionaire typically leads a lifestyle comparable to the average worker), are the “correct” race or gender with the same religious beliefs (or lack of same) that the worker in question happens to share, or agree with them on silly wedge issues like whether gays should be allowed to legally get married, etc., et al., and give not the slightest shit about the effects that the foreign and domestic policies on economics, civil rights, or the environment that these people support for entirely self-serving reasons will have on both us and the rest of the world (assuming they even care about what goes on outside the borders of grand old America, which has but 5% of the world’s population). And we continue to let them convince large numbers of us that we are “good Americans” by supporting an archaic and destructive system far past its progressive heyday nearly a century and a half past while entirely ignoring the fact that America was born in revolution, and the Constitution has a provision (Section V) that allows for a legal and peaceful revolution whenever a vast majority of American citizens demand it. Instead, we have come to worship those in offices of political and corporate power as if they are akin to gods on Earth rather than seeing them as what they actually are–privileged human beings who do not work  harder than any of us do, and are certainly not any more talented than we are as a group, but simply got the luck of the draw when it came to who their families were, what decade they happened to be born in when a certain talent they had happened to be in high demand, or some other generous dealing of the cards that in no may meant they worked harder or took more risks than the vast majority of workers who have to deal with the daily grind of low-level employment in fast-food restaurants, the various departments of a bank, as professional housekeepers and janitors, etc.

 

And if you think saving up money from busting your ass at three of the above types of jobs simultaneously over even a long period of time will enable you to eventually become a millionaire, then you are refusing to take a realistic look at not only the cost of living for an average worker that quickly eats up what you make from the relatively meager paychecks offered by even three of these jobs per month, but you are also willfully overlooking the fact that the cost of big factories, attendant machinery, and number of employees needed to run the big corporate juggernauts that the few members of the capitalist class own shares of to make their vast wealth (I won’t use the word “earn” here), not to mention the fact that the vast majority of income taken in every year by the capitalists come from (appropriately enough) capital gains, and not any number of paychecks. To those who are not familiar with the jargon of big business, that means investments, and it takes vast amounts of money to play the stock market in order to acquire a level of returns that are significant enough to actually live off of (if you don’t believe me, then I double dare you to invest a few hundred dollars of your paycheck into the stock of whatever company you work for, if not the stock market itself, and see if the miniscule level of gains you make and all the risks you take elevate you into the life of leisure that members of the capitalist class routinely enjoy at any point in your life).

 

Let it be known here that my problem is not with rich people per se; I do not begrudge anyone a comfortable and even lavish life style, and I am seriously glad that the families of these people, despite whatever personal or emotional problems they may have, do not have to live in the type of environment and insecurity that the majority of working class people regularly have to deal with. My problem is with capitalism itself, and not any particular group of people, even the beneficiaries of the system themselves, and I acknowledge there are some genuinely good-hearted and very progressive millionaires and billionaires who are generally working towards a more equitable type of system (note Bill Maher, Michael Moore, and Chris Rock are a few good examples). Kudos to them, even though I obviously don’t agree with them on everything.

 

The crux of the problem is not white men; not rich people; not Jews; not “welfare cheats”; not immigrants; not prostitutes or drug dealers, or sexual deviants of one kind or another, or gay people that want to get married; the problem is the system itself, and the fierce competition and inequality it engenders amongst a world population during an era in time when technology has progressed to the point where–for the first time in human history–an abundance is capable of being produced for everyone on the planet. Going along with that problem is the continuing love affair (as Michael Moore put it in the title of one of his great documentaries) that the majority of the population continues to have with the system. And sadly, those continuing to remain loyal to a system that they have the equivalent of an abusive relationship with (whether they are the majority in the position of the abused, or the tiny minority in the position of abuser) not only includes a surfeit of some of the poorest of the working class, but also a good number of crusading progressives who insist on attempting to continuously reform (i.e., tame) capitalism, and who continue to believe that it’s somehow un-American not to like some variant of capitalism, rather than agreeing to junk it and replace it with a more advanced, resource-based economy where money, competition, and private or state ownership of the industries and services are replaced (respectively) by disbursement based on the needs and wants of everyone, cooperation, and social ownership by everyone (which does not occur in the form of a state run by a handful of privileged and powerful bureaucrats who control a professional police force, but committees run and controlled by all workers across the various industries and services, none of whom receive special power or privileges over anyone else).

 

We need to get over our learned helplessness of believing that a man-made system like capitalism is somehow fixed in nature rather than an institution created by humans, or that the ruling class and its many institutions are too powerful to defeat. If the vast majority of us continue to wallow in a sense of piteous acquiescence to the existing system, then obviously the relative few who do stand up and fight are going to have a very difficult time enacting lasting change in a prompt fashion. We have to be in this together collectively, and not believe that the 99% of us that run and operate (but do not own) the industries and services are actually helpless before the 1% who control and benefit from this arrangement. We need to keep in mind that the mass of professional soldiers and police are comprised of members of the working class who would be highly unlikely to turn their weapons on family and friends if the great majority of workers stood up and demanded change by working within the existing system and its legal framework to enact a firm and uncompromising, but civilized and lawful revolution. Workers need to stop identifying their interests with that of the ruling class, and realize that they do not need a boss class dominating the decisions of industry, but are capable of running society equitably and in a much more fair and meritorious manner by themselves.

 

Those who continue to fight for reform and attempt to change the Democratic Party into an instrument for workers’ interests need to look at the many past examples of such attempts that proved futile, and those who continue to support the Republican Party based on their attitudes towards gays, religion, abortion, or some ridiculous sycophantic love of anyone who is both good-looking and powerful, need to join together based on common economic interests geared towards providing our families and future generations of humanity with freedom from poverty, insecurity, involuntary unemployment, a heavily polluted environment, and the threat of constant war–which will eventually make its way into our borders with the attendant erosion of civil rights if those who follow the legacies of Republican Bush and Democrat Obama continue to have their way–and seek democratic rather than draconian solutions to the problems we now face. And the number of genuinely good-hearted, progressive members of the wealthy few who  care about all humanity and the planet itself over that of the profits of the few need to pool their sizable resources into the effort to aid the workers into getting off their asses and working together collectively (keep up the good work, Michael and Bill!), while the rest of us need to recognize that this contingent of the 1% cannot do this all by themselves despite the resources they wield, because they have the majority of their own class against them.

 

This is not about taking away the secure lifestyle of the few that now have them, but simply to remove their status of power and privilege over others by bringing this lifestyle of plenty to everyone, and this is what those few are fighting to retain, which they argue rightfully belongs to them and no one else. Do any of you seriously believe that Donald Trump or the royal family in Britain, or even the CEO of whatever company you work for, literally works millions of times harder than you do to support your own family? Do you seriously believe that the thousands of involuntarily unemployed in your state who receive $300 per month in welfare benefits and $250 in food stamps per month are seriously living a life of luxury compared to the vastly larger hand-outs and bail-outs the government routinely gives the not-exactly-needy executives of the many big corporations that regularly screw up with their decisions and nearly cause the economy to collapse on more than one occasion–as Enron did a decade ago, and as the banks did during the Obama administration’s first term in office? We need to get over our fear of change, and end our stubborn loyalty to an abusive and predatory system that encourages the worst aspects of human behavior simply because we have been conditioned to do so our entire lives, and it’s all we’ve ever known. We need to believe that all humanity not only deserves better, but is capable of providing a better world for ourselves and future generations, as well as facilitating a harmonious existence with the rest of the planet. We can achieve this by working together across racial, gender, ethnic, and sexual orientation barriers, as well as the artificial barriers of religion, national citizenship, and party affiliation, to progress towards our collective material interests, and the needs of this planet. These material interests are what is most important, and when they are resolved in an equitable manner, then the other problems we face will be far easier to deal with.

 

Not all of my future blog posts will be on the subject of progressive politics, of course, but you can look forward to and/or dread several of them to be, as next on this topic I plan to delve into the charming subject of America’s wondrous for-profit health care system.

 

– CN

Thomas Nigro Sr. – R.I.P.

I figured that with the requirement of a published author to have a blog these days, personal matters as well as professional insights and general philosophical musings about any given topic are certainly “game” material for posting, since it’s good to let your followers get to know you as a person better. And though I do not plan to be narcissistic (well, okay, not too much, anyway) and make personal matters dominate my choice of topics, this one I think is well deserved, as it’s done in the honor of a close family member I just lost yesterday. That would be my grandfather, known to those who knew him–and me–personally as Thomas Nigro, Sr., who passed on yesterday after 89 glorious years of a basically good and productive life.

I think that I certainly owe this blogged eulogy to my grandfather, as anyone who knew me well personally was almost certainly aware of the rocky relationship I had with him over the course of my life. The common narrative attributed to it seems to be the usual cliche’ of me taking the role of the ungrateful little punk who never appreciated all his grandfather did for him, including the fact that he let me live with him and my grandmother after my mother left their home when I was 12, and I elected to stay with them; and I was nothing but trouble for this greatly caring couple who devoted their time generously and unselfishly to raising me. Like most such stories, there is admittedly at least a grain of truth to that, as I was quite outspoken and difficult as I grew up, and my grandparents certainly went through a lot dealing with me. Of course, also like such stories, the cliche’ tends to be an overly simplistic interpretation of the situation. As disrespectful and defiant of authority as I could be (and often was, I must admit), I never abused any substance (e.g., alcohol or narcotics), nor was I ever habitually in trouble with the law, and to my grandparents’ credit, they didn’t impose strict rules on me. As such, I had nothing to rebel against, and I stayed out of trouble by choice. However, our personal relations could be difficult, as my willful nature often made me what my family would call “mouthy,” and I was mischievous in the extreme. Yes, me and the other kids in the neighborhood proceeded to terrorize it with our mischief on a regular basis, and to quote the lyrical phrase popularized by the theme song of the classic ’70s sitcom All in the Family, “those were the days.” Okay, for us maybe, if not for the neighbors who had to deal with a small group of kids running in and out of their backyards and hopping fences while playing chase or pretending to be super-heroes on a mission to save the world, that is.

The full truth of the matter, as I strive to be objective here, is the following: My grandfather and I were two very difficult people to deal with at times, and despite a few superficial similarities (e.g., a temper; stubbornness about our ways; an obnoxious sense of humor with a love of getting over on other people), we were very different individuals in many essential ways. Make two such people live together, and what do you get? Exactly the volatile mix one would expect, of course. On top of all that, my grandfather was quite big on the “tough love” ideology, and he could be merciless to those he disapproved of (and he was quick to disapprove of many people), even if you happened to be a member of his immediate family who cared about him greatly (yup, that included me on both counts, or is that surprising?). When I was quite young, however, my grandfather and I were best buds, and those were very happy times of my life. Since my mother was a mere 16 when she had me, and obviously still living at home, my grandparents took a strong role in raising me, often leading to a source of conflict and rivalry between my mother and them. One could argue that they “won” the conflict, considering I chose to stay with them after my mother left their home when I was 12. This gives an idea of how close I was to both my grandparents despite all the conflicts that eventually began, and which went a long way towards shaping me into the person I was to ultimately become, for better or worse.

When I reached my middle school years, it became obvious to my grandfather that I wasn’t going to become the grandson he had hoped for–I was obviously destined to become Chris the Writer, instead of Chris the Carpenter, and that was not an area of interest that my grandfather was familiar with. In his day, my grandfather was greatly skilled in carpentry, cement work, plumbing, gardening, just about anything you needed your hands to do, and he could fix nearly anything that broke. I totally lacked these skills, my abilities going in an entirely different area of expertise, so to speak, but I was always greatly impressed with his natural ability at what he was good at. But he valued living a productive albeit quiet life, avoiding controversy whenever possible, which–well, wasn’t the case with me. My controversial opinions (all of which I stand behind, mind you) and annoyingly natural tendency to think “outside the box” wasn’t smiled upon by my grandfather, and he and the rest of my immediate family could not comprehend these aspects of me, so it resulted in a great many conflicts and fights, with my grandfather inevitably being awarded the “right by default” status due to the usual justification of me living in his house, he being generous enough to provide for me while I did nothing for him save take up space in his home, etc., et al. I won’t get into the in depth discussion and analysis of the “if someone provides for you materially, you owe them unlimited deference” ideology here (but rest assured I will in a future post, since the ideology certainly does bears such scrutiny and analysis). Simply pointing out the crux of the difficulties my grandfather and I faced while living together all of those years is what’s important here, as this post is intended as an honor to his memory and discussion of our relationship, and it’s getting pretty long as it is.

Let me now give all credit to my grandfather where it happens to be due, in case anyone be concerned I am going to do little other than bash him along the lines of what the many celebrities do to the people who raised them in their various autobiographies (whether justified or otherwise). He was always a hard worker, sometimes maybe even to a fault, as he never hesitated to do things the hard way. He did indeed provide very well for me while raising me, and I cannot make a single complaint along those lines. Despite all of our conflicts, he almost never hesitated to provide transportation to me to various places I needed or wanted to go, and I appreciated these things more than I can possibly say. I was always concerned about taking advantage of him despite what anyone may think, and for the last three years of his life, when it became clear that old age and the health problems that so often come with it were catching up to him, I went to great lengths to secure alternative means of transportation when I needed it (it was very difficult for me to drive a vehicle due to various health problems, the main one being afflicted with a very cruel malady called chronic fatigue syndrome at an early point in my life, but I will get into more detail about these aspects of my life in future posts, as it would be getting too far off topic to delve into them here).

So the truth is, despite all the not so great personality traits which we both possessed that made us difficult to relate to and get along with each other, my grandfather was a pretty cool guy. For the past 12 years, he was generous enough to allow me to inhabit the upper apartment of his home for a very affordable rent (far less than I would have been able to get for such a big apartment from strangers, especially in the Western New York area), and I will always be thankful to him for this. He took care of family no matter what his personal feelings for them may have been, and this is something that one cannot take away from him. Once I moved out of his home and finally gained the privacy and space we needed from each other after I graduated from college and began my career as a struggling writer (finally now beginning to bear fruit, but again, that is another post), our relationship improved significantly. We started the road towards becoming best buds again, and despite the continued conflicts we had from time to time, and all the resentments and regrets one can expect to develop between two peas from separate pods living together for so long, I came to the conclusion that my grandfather was alright, and I was glad to have him in my life for so long.

Most importantly, I’m glad I got the chance to tell him that very thing last week, the last time I saw him alive, just a few hours before he had to be hospitalized for the final time, as it turned out. I deeply regret not seeing him the few days he was in the hospital, but not only do I greatly dislike the atmosphere of such places, it was very difficult for me to see him in such an emaciated condition. I like to consider myself a generally strong person, but I have to admit that some things are just beyond me, and this happens to be one of them. Understand that my grandfather was a physically powerful and energetic man well into his later years, and I was always impressed by this facet of his being, with the result being that I grew up seeing him as nigh-invincible. I never thought old age would catch up to him to the extent that it did, but over the past decade, as he went from his late 70s into his 80s, he began to physically decline, and it was very difficult for me to see this happen. It weighed very heavily on him too, as he became increasingly (and understandably) depressed and irritable over this inexorable decline. I could do nothing but sympathize with this plight of his, for I could only imagine what it was like for him to gradually but quickly lose the great prowess and energy he once had, and was well known for. He was a prideful man who was used to getting things his way and being in full control of his life, and this was not something he could deal with gracefully. Despite his enjoyment of life, he wasn’t happy any more as his physical decline progressed, and in truth, he wasn’t upset when the end came for him. The members of his family (including me) are very upset, of course, because we already miss him terribly. But my mother and my uncle, his two children, made the right decision in deciding not to have extraordinary measures taken to resuscitate him when the end came, nor put him on life support; he would not have wanted these things, and when my mother discussed this with me two days before he passed on, I fully agreed with her that to do that would have been selfishness on our part, and if we did such a thing, it would have been for us, not for him.

I am certain that many reading this, if not most of you, have gone through the same thing, as loss comes to all of us eventually, and I don’t need to explain how difficult it is to do the right thing, rather than the self-serving thing, when it comes to parting with someone who meant so much to you, and whom you wanted to be around forever. And as I have often noted, and will certainly note again, the right decision is most often the hardest of two or more possible decisions, which is why doing the right thing can be so difficult to do in many given instances.

During his few days of hospitalization, I wanted to say goodbye to my grandfather, to let him know how sorry I was for my no small part in the difficulties we had, and how glad I was that relations between us had improved over the past decade. The ‘l’ word was there, but he and I weren’t the type to use it without feeling terribly ‘mushy’ and awkward, at least between us (I have been able to use that important word with my grandmother often since I almost lost her to an aneurysm a decade ago, thankfully). That may be a “macho” fault we had, no doubt, but that was the way it is, just like we both knew we had to accept each others’ stubbornness and various other idiosyncrasies, even to the very end. But I felt so much between us was unresolved, and there were other words that could be used to make how I felt about him clear. After a heartfelt discussion with my boss and BFF the same day he passed on, I resolved to compromise by writing him a letter that expressed how I felt, and how much I would miss him, and my mother agreed to read it to him the following day. Sadly, however, my grandfather didn’t last another day, as he passed on at the hospice mere minutes after my mother and uncle arrived to see him later that afternoon. I will always regret not getting that letter to him, but I am determined to honor his memory in other ways, so that in the end, it won’t seem so bad that he got Chris the Writer as a grandson instead of Chris the Carpenter (who would have figured, eh?).

When I was quite young and we were best buds, and he would let me accompany him on all the work he used to do around the house–fixing, repairing, and building many things while dealing with my annoying presence the entire time–he gave me the nickname “Benny,” something he never really used once my childhood gave way to my problematic middle school years. Nevertheless, it stands as a memory of the happy times I shared with him back in those all but carefree days, and as such, this is the reason I gave the character in my upcoming novel Centurion the name Benny Lotherno (the last name being one of the variants of our real last name throughout history I recently uncovered via research). There will be quite a bit of autobiographical material in that novel despite being a work of fantastic fiction, and since I hope it’s successful enough to be the first of many featuring that character, his first name will stand as a lasting monument in memory of my grandfather, and the good times we shared. Moreover, I plan to write a special story, intended for publication, that will likewise do him honor, this one featuring another continuing character of mine, Mike Nero, as he and his grandfather–based on guess who? (Go ahead and guess, your first one will be correct!)–will share a final adventure together that will serve as a sort of emotional catharsis for me. I do believe my grandfather’s consciousness lives on in a better plane of reality (he didn’t believe in an afterlife, so if I turn out to be correct, I will gain the satisfaction of one day visiting him and telling him, “I told you so!”), and wherever he now resides, no doubt happily taking advantage of the restored vigor he now enjoys as he sets off on a new adventure, I am hoping he will see that his grandson will do his best to insure that he is immortalized and never forgotten, as he was quite a special guy and I want it always to be known that despite how often we knocked heads, his grandson respects and appreciates all he did for him wholeheartedly.

I would like to ask all my followers and friends who read this to give a minute of silence in my grandfather’s memory.

Thomas J. Nigro, 1923-2012