The Big Top

A new old tradition has been revived in my family: going to the circus. I have an extremely dim memory of the first time, so it must have been in California before my family moved to Texas.

I recall that my dad would play some of the games for prizes, after asking his daughters to decide what sort of prize they wanted. My sister usually zeroed in on stuffed animal lions and tigers, but this was so long ago that I was still in my doll phase. I remember coveting a pale “lady doll” who had black hair and blue eyes (in other words, she looked like my ancient hero Wonder Woman). She was way at the top of the dolls. My dad never had trouble winning the games, and after the prize was won, the guy reached for a blonde doll behind him. My dad wouldn’t take no for an answer – it had to be the one his baby wanted. So the guy had to take a pole with a hook on it to get the doll with the black hair, and I clutched her with glee as we all went off to win a stuffed tiger down the row. I wonder what happened to that doll? Someday, I’ll have to hunt for one to stand in for her. Maybe the next time I’m in the Oh Susanna shop in the French Quarter. But I digress….

We used to go to the circus every year when I was little, in California and later in Texas. We’d get cotton candy, popcorn, and chocolate malt balls (though after one night of far too many malt balls, I can’t even smell them to this day).

I suppose what broke the habit was when the family moved to Saudi Arabia for my dad’s job, and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey couldn’t follow us there.

Last year, I was driving through Houston and saw a billboard for good ole RB and B&B, and called my sister to read off the information to her. We went with our mom on a nostalgic whim, but ended up having such a good time that we knew we’d want to go again. Well, that time is now – or actually, that time is tomorrow evening. We’re even planning to be there early enough to visit the performing animals in their cages before the show like we used to way back when. I won’t be scarfing down malt balls, but the cotton candy will not be safe from me!

Here’s a bit of circus trivia for you: Ringling Bros. used to be a rival of Barnum & Bailey, and sometimes the competition got out of hand. Funny that they ended up joining forces and still exist today when others have disbanded and disappeared long ago. When I’m watching the performances, I often think about the history of the show and how they used to travel by train with special cars. Watch “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, at the beginning – you’ll see one of these special trains, complete with a giraffe staring at you from a hole in one of the cars. Bygone times….

It’s terribly cool that the circus shows are still around, and even though a lot has changed, you can still see the lion tamer, the trapeze troupe, and the magnificent horses – and of course, those wonderful clowns and pretty acrobats. Good times.

Ancient City Con III Wraps Up

Jacksonville, Florida’s Hyatt (the one on the river) was once again host to the Ancient City Con for their third annual show. With more space (and hopefully more for next year) it was easy to move around and see and do many things. I don’t get into the table gaming or the video game contests, but many others did, and I know the panels were successful. They also had “Make and Take” projects going on, which are like classes that teach you to make a specific item.

I had some wonderful success with book sales, and most of the dealers I spoke to on one of my shopping rounds reported that they were making good sales, too. I wasn’t surprised, since last year this was the most successful convention for sales as well. However, after the dismal outcome (sales-wise, anyway) of one of my 2009 cons in Orlando, dismal for all of the dealers that is, it was nice to see all that happy commerce going on in Jacksonville.

My panels, “The Pillars of Writing” and “How to Beat Writer’s Block” were very well received, and I had book agent Gary Roen and author William Hatfield on those with me, as well as a few other esteemed authors for either one or both topics.

For the late night panels, we had putting on both the “Vampires, Vampires, Vampires” panel, and the infamous “Occult Showdown” panel, in which the audience picks sides in versus-style match ups and helps “make the case” for how/why their pick would win over their opponent. The coup de grace was the last match: the Blob Vs. the Stuff. As a member of the audience, I was leaning toward favoring the Blob to win. In the end, it came down to a deciding factor of body count: the Blob had wracked up more bodies than the edible Stuff. Another popular one, early on, was Buffy Vs. Anita Blake. Naturally, Buffy won. It’s hard to beat someone who has already died twice and come back swinging both times! As Buffy herself said in one episode while comparing “stuff happens” with her ex, “Did you die?” When he says no, she replies, “I’m gonna win.”

The weather was a bit soggy, the hotel managed to have two waitresses in the bar area at lunch with two conventions in the building, and the Mongolian BBQ place I wanted to revisit is now a Gold’s Gym, but hey – the little Mexican food place at the Landing, Cinco De Mayo, made up for a lot of that. We were three tables worth of people, but it was great having about three waiters hovering and ready to fetch stuff and freshen drinks at any moment. Plus, their food was amazing!

For next year, our suggestion of a separate room for the panels is in the planning. They also want another separate room for showing a schedule of films. I think these plans will greatly enhance the whole experience for Ancient City Con IV.

And to some friends of mine who live in Jacksonville, I’ll call them “The Muses”, it was wonderful to hang out with you all again, ladies, and great to meet those of you who I didn’t know already on Saturday morning. Along with my other friends from Florida, you all made the weekend even better with fun conversation and excellent stories told. I look forward to doing it again next year!

July 10, 1937 – for Darhl C. Cowden

In February two years ago, my dad passed away. June and July are always a little odd now, in particular Father’s Day and today, July 10th – Dad’s birthday. I usually stop by the cemetery (just a few streets down from home) and spend some time in a “visit”, clean off the stone, straighten the flag and flowers, water the grass if it looks parched. Today he would have been 72, having been born in 1937. Part of my brain still reflexively thinks, “I need to get a cake and a present.”

Not that he didn’t have his problems, but he was a great dad and if I say so myself, he did a fabulous job of raising my sister and I along with our mom.

He was a blast when we were little, and then he took us all over the world after his oil company job moved us to Jubail, Saudi Arabia. Western Europe and Kenya and Egypt in Africa – dreams fulfilled to be in some of those places. I’m a history buff, so it meant a lot to stand in the Parthenon in Greece, the Roman Coliseum, and among the pyramids of Giza. We toured Munich, and visited London and Amsterdam multiple times (they were the stops on flights to and from Saudi Arabia), as well as Switzerland, and others. We visited Cowden England, and ate lunch in a pub named after us.

One of the best adventures was going to Exeter, England and learning how to sail. We went all up and down the English and French coasts, discovering wonderful towns, beautiful little islands, and meeting some of the best people in the world. I even got to explore the ruins of a once grand villa on the French coast that had been shelled in World War II! What was left of it (mostly just some walls) was still riddled with bullet holes.

Now, I have to wonder if I’m a history buff because of these travels? Probably so.

One of my guilty pleasures, watching “Dancing with the Stars” was started because my dad was watching it.

He loved Corvettes, movies (especially James Bond), and listening to the Beach Boys and Jimmy Buffet. His enjoyment of “Cast in Bronze” (the Carillon at the Texas Renaissance Festival) got us all to fall in love with that humbling, soaring music. He loved Country, too, and 50s rock and roll, and the tales of King Arthur.

Because of my parents, I have an abiding love for broadway musicals, especially “Camelot”, and Folk music like Peter, Paul and Mary, and the Kingston Trio.

I made a cloak for him for the Renaissance Fair so he could look like Richard Burton’s King Arthur, and he bought a lovely gown so my mom could be his queen.

At his funeral, they had the Air Force honor guard there, with a rare bugler to play “Taps” live. Even now, I can hear it, as they folded the flag and handed it to my mother, and everyone there who had either served or ever loved someone who had, ended up in tears.

His magnificent RC model airplanes still hang on display in the family garage where they were built. He was a pilot in California when I was a baby, and a Sheriff, too. He used to make his own bullets, and he taught me how to shoot a handgun. Even now, I follow in his footsteps with my job in Records Management (the same job he did in Saudi for Bechtel and then later for Shell).

And now it’s July 10 again, and memories, happy and sad, crowd in. I gave him a song, a sort of dedication: “I Am A Town” by Mary Chapin Carpenter, and it always makes me cry. All I have left to say is this:

Happy Birthday, Dad. We love you, and we miss you.

Merry-Go-Round Radio

What radio station I listen to is largely determined by what will come in with the least amount of static for the building I’m in. The next factor is a tolerance issue: of the few stations to pick from, are any of them ones I actually like, or is it a matter of the “lesser evil”? Worked into that is whether or not I’m sick to death of the music they play – over and over, in constant and unending rotation.

Merry-Go-Round radio refers to the format of having X number of very particular songs on an eternal loop and the songs almost never vary. Ever. Imagine listening to the same CD everyday for the rest of your life – that’s today’s standard radio format.

Therefore, to have variety, one must switch stations often. I would do this, but generally only a few will come in at a given time, and most of those are Tejano and Country. I can listen to Country for a bit, but it has a limited shelf life due to all the heartache songs getting on my nerves.

The rock station I wanted (the one with no dreaded “morning show”) won’t come in at all. The oldies station that just added an idiotic morning show won’t come in now, all of a sudden. For one brief, shining week I had the 80s station coming in clearly, but then cruel fate took it away again. Now, I’m stuck with “Sunny” (light pop hits) a station that is afraid to play anything harder than Aerosmith, but they only play the ballads. So far, the best part about Sunny is that I’m not subjected to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

So, instead of reinventing radio, such as introducing satellite stations you have to pay through the nose to get, why don’t “they” change up the songs on the loops on a monthly basis (if not weekly)? Or, invent a device that makes an average radio in a concrete bunker actually receive all of the stations? (Then I could surf musical genres for variety, at least).

In conclusion, a ray of hope: “they” are rumored to be inventing a way to get web radio shows available on regular radio devices, and on your car radio. That would be fabulous, as the internet is where all the good stuff ends up, anyway. Naturally, the FCC is going nuts over this. Here’s what I really want: a metal station that ranges from glam to thrash, where you can hear Slayer uncensored, and where they aren’t afraid to play stuff from Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” album. Ah, bliss….