Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Summer of Adventure! Part 4.

[Dear Readers: Here we are at chapter 4; chapters 1 (here), 2 (here), and 3 (here) of our thrilling 5-part serial have been running this week.]


The Summer of Adventure! 

by Frederick Key

Part 4

The perfect sister record went out the window a couple of days later because of Jane’s parents’ surprise thirty-fifth anniversary party coming up on Friday night. Jane and Julia were forced to make up and hug it out to get the plans finished. Jane, in fact, was feeling pretty guilty by then and overspent at Party City, looking for coral (traditional) or jade (modern) type decorations. As the layoff rumors were intensifying at work, Henry got itchy over the bill, but kept his trap shut.

“I’m worried,” said Jane on Thursday night. “Your ‘Summer of Adventure!’ has me terrified, actually.”

“Why? Hasn’t it been adventurous?”

“Too damn adventurous! I’m scared my dad will have a coronary when we pop out and yell ‘Surprise!’”

But her dad did not have a coronary when they popped out and yelled “Surprise!” He had a coronary hours after the party, when all the food and fun and stress sent his blood pressure soaring. The call came in at one a.m., and Jane left Henry in charge of the kids while she fled to meet her folks at the hospital.

“You’re crazy with worry for him! You can’t drive!” said Henry, who was crazy for worry for her.

“Watch me,” she said, and left.

Well, he was home with the kids, so he couldn’t watch her, so instead he watched the clock until she finally called as the sun was up over the horizon. “He’ll be okay,” she said. Her voice was drained and flat, but Henry knew it was from exhaustion and relief. A good kind of drainage, then. “It was a heart attack, but a mild one. Probably no permanent damage.”

“Thank God.”

“Fortunately, Mom called the ambulance right away. But he’s got to start taking care of himself.”

“We’ll get him mall-walking or something.”

“He’s resting, so I’m taking Mom home. Julia’s going to stick around. See you soon.”

“Love you.”

“Love you, too.”


Henry happened to love his father-in-law too, so he was at the hospital every day after work until they let the old man out, cheering Pops up as best as he could. Hal went with him a couple of times. Hal had not been in a hospital since he’d sprung from his mother’s womb, and got it in his head that Pops was in custody.

“It’s not jail,” said Henry after the second trip.

“They won’t let him go, he said.”

“That’s how you know it’s not jail. They throw everyone out of jail as fast as they can.”

After Pops got sprung and Jane got him home, she told Henry, “I’m done with adventure for now, okay?”

But adventure was not done with them.


The Overmyers’ annual end-of-August barbecue was not itself much of an adventure. Yes, the usual neighbors drank too much, and a couple of the kids started screaming about close Wiffle Ball call at first (a call that had been totally blown by Pete Overmyer himself), but no punches were thrown. All anyone could talk about was Hurricane Jeremiah, which had hugged the coast and marched north instead of hitting Florida as originally expected.

Hovering at the ice cooler, Henry had a beer and said with authority, “It will never make it this far. Too early and too slow.”

“It’s gone from a Cat Two to a Cat Three,” said John Trout, who liked to slip in jargon when he could. “If you think it will fall apart, think again.”

“It’s been such a pleasant August,” said Tommy, who was an old friend of Overmyer’s and whose last name was shrouded in mystery. “We’re due to get slammed.”

“The weather gods going to cream us?”

“Everything balances out.”

Henry was far more concerned with the hurricane that was about to blow through his company. With the bulk of the holiday work done, everyone expected the pruning to begin. What was left of Henry’s mind was eaten up by concern over Henry’s father-in-law and that constant thrumming worry about his children that never ceased. Real hurricanes were too picayune to slip in.

“If we get anything it will be a tropical depression,” he announced to the other cooler copters.

“What makes you think so?” asked Tommy.

“Because I sense depression in my future.”

Shortly after sunset, after burgers had yielded to brownies and brownies to crumbs, Jane gathered up the family and dragged them home before the kids got too tired and the adults too beery.

Jeremiah continued his march up the coast, blowing Henry’s family around a little in North Carolina, but he didn’t make landfall yet. When he was pushing cloud cover into Henry’s region he finally began to command Henry’s respect.

“We’ve got to get ready,” said Jane. “It will be here in two days.”

Henry would still be inclined to scoff, man that he was, but Jane was very worried, and he had enough respect for her and experience at marriage to know that a teaspoon of action beat a gallon of reassurance.

The TV weather geniuses didn’t advise boarding or taping windows, so that was okay. Jane bought the recommended supplies—batteries, water jugs, emergency food—bread, toilet paper, and milk were growing scarce—while Henry gathered in all the summertime toys, tools, and tables and did his best to childproof his cluttered and unfinished wreck of a basement.

Jane made sure her parents and her sister’s family were all right. Henry called Kerry, who lived on the top floor of a garden-apartment condo.

“I know you’re not talking to me,” he said, “but there’s a hurricane coming. Wanna come sit in the basement with us?”

“I hate you.”

“I am aware of that.”

“Can I bring Screwball?”

“Labradoodles are welcome.”

“I’ll be there Thursday morning.”


Henry’s office announced that it would be open for normal business hours on Thursday, when Jeremiah was due, but of course employees were encouraged to exercise caution blah blah blah.

“I’m exercising caution,” Henry told Geoff on Wednesday. “Proactivity!”

“Good. Me too.”

On Thursday, Auntie Kerry renewed her popular with Henry’s kids, popularity that was especially high when she was accompanied by Screwball.

At about two in the afternoon the sky went black, like someone had blown the sun’s fuse. The first gust of wind threw debris across the lawn, pinging things off the windows. It howled over the roof and whispered around the doors. Jane closed the curtains. Then she turned to her family and clapped her hands.

“Time to camp in the basement!” she said, in the same way she might have said Time for ice cream and chocolate sauce!

Things were okay in the basement for a while. All the sharp objects were packed away, there was plenty to eat, and although there was no bathroom Henry had set up a changing station for Nug at the washer and dryer, complete with a ton of diapers and wipes and (wisely) the diaper can. If the house got flattened and they were stuck under debris for days, Henry would be damned if he would be trapped with Nug’s poopy pants out in the open. He was not sure how Nugent Kingslip did it, but his younger son could convert the mildest of foods into the most powerful of poops. It was like a bad superpower.

For the rest of them, the bathroom was right next to the cellar stairs. They’d be quick if they had to go, and children would be accompanied by an adult.

They had a TV and a DVD player downstairs, and a big stack of animated crap on DVDs, so the kids should survive. As it happened, they were excited to be camping in the cellar. Broke up the same old same old.

“Daddy,” asked Hal at one point, “if the hurcane knocks over the school, do I have to go?”

“Yes, son, they will hold classes in the rubble. We believe in education in this town.”

Hal chewed on that for a while. Phoebe was trying to braid Screwball’s curls, Nug was reading a spitproof picture book upside down, and Jane and Kerry were listening to the radio off in a corner.



“If the hurcane knocks down the jail, will the bad guys all get killed?”

“We don’t have a jail in this town.”

“Where do the bad guys go?”

“To jail in a town with low property values, son.”

“What if their jail gets knocked down?”

“Well, then, the bad guys might get hurt. Maybe some could get killed.”


“Don’t worry. They’re all low-down bushwhacking lily-livered sidewinders.”

“I would feel bad.”


“Yeah, ’cause if there’s no bad guys there’ll be nothing for Batman to do.”

“You’re right, Hal. Good thing they build jails out of very tough stuff, like our manly masculine basement here. No hurcane’s gonna get us, right?”


But as Henry looked over at the faces of his wife and sister, he could only hope he was right.

It got worse, a good deal worse. Things weren’t too loud in the cellar, which had no windows and one steel door to the backyard that Henry had muffled with cushions—nothing that couldn’t be removed quickly in an emergency. But on a trip up to the bathroom, the lashing of the rain and wind and endless rumble and boom of the thunder was bad enough to make Henry fear for the state of his family and even for the state of his pants.

There were a few sudden patches of calm, in which only the ticking off of seconds on the kitchen clock could be heard. Then the wind whipped up again, driving rain and maybe bits of debris against the window, ticking hard off the glass, and Henry’s fancy suddenly took the sound as a fistful of seconds all scattered at once, as if the storm was blowing time to pieces too.

Henry did his business quickly and prayed all the way downstairs.

The kids were pretty quiet now. Even Nug could pick up the grown-ups’ worry. On the TV Prince Phillip and the good fairies were giving Maleficent the works, but outside the storm was doing the same. No one was paying much attention to the movie, not even Phoebe, and it was her favorite.

Then no one could pay attention to the movie, because everything went black.

It was instantly silent in the cellar. Then a thunderbolt burst nearby, close enough to the house to make three adults, three children, and one dog all scream.

It was nice when the family could do things together.

[Conclusion tomorrow.]

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Summer of Adventure! Part 3.

[Dear Readers: Thanks for sticking with us through chapters 1 (here) and 2 (here) of our thrilling 5-part serial. On to 3!]


The Summer of Adventure! 

by Frederick Key

Part 3

Horrid Cousin Tor’s wedding was worse than they could have imagined.

Now really into summer, the beach wedding would have been a hot, sticky, and thus uncomfortable affair even if it hadn’t been for the mounds of seaweed and the clouds of gnats and mosquitoes and gawkers hanging around. Henry, who believed that tattoos were only legal because it was unconstitutional to force people to wear signs that said Stupid, was impressed that Tor had found a woman with more ink than he had. Some nice work on her face, in fact. Her family and friends were equally charming.

“Well, this is pleasant,” said Henry later, under the tent at the reception, to Jane and his sister Kerry. “I had no idea that trailer parks had communal areas.”

“It is a modular home community, not a trailer park,” said Kerry through clenched teeth. Kerry was Henry’s older sister, the only other person in his immediate family to show, even though it meant leaving her dog, Screwball, home by himself for the day.

“This is your family, so be nice,” muttered Jane.

“Oh, I’ll be nothing but nice,” said Henry. “Her family looks like they wouldn’t be put off from violence by mere threats of arrest and prosecution.”

There was a cash bar, which could not have been more thoroughly raided if it were free, and various card tables set up as food stations labeled meat, yardbird, spuds, and other. There was no calamine station, sadly. Henry had that feeling he’d had many times in the last decade, that he’d be a lot more relaxed if he hadn’t been accompanied by Jane, a normal human being. After all, he’d had to deal with these people all his life. It was his family.

But not his immediate family, thank God. His parents had moved to North Carolina, and for this occasion they had sent presents and excuses. North Carolina, Henry had heard, was quite a nice place to be, and sounded even nicer right now.

“Do you get the feeling there might be a little tension between your aunt Pauline and her new daughter-in-law?” asked Jane.

“Why would you say that?”

“Nothing, no reason… except Aunt Pauline just tipped the DJ and now he’s playing ‘Highly Strung’ by Spandau Ballet. And Hazel keeps looking over at her.”

Nervous smiles filled the tent.

In response, as best as they could follow, the bride requested Huey Lewis and the News’s cover of “Mother-in-Law.” The groom’s mother countered with Matchbox Twenty’s “She’s so Mean,” and the bride responded with Less Than Jake’s “Escape from the A-Bomb House.” Pauline, with no smile at all, asked for Led Zeppelin’s “Your Time Is Gonna Come,” prompting the bride to strike back with Three Days Grace’s “Just Like You.” By now Tor was cringing behind the bar, pounding down drinks. His mother could not be dissuaded from going nuclear with Black Sabbath’s cover of “Evil Woman (Don’t Play Your Games with Me).” Kerry vanished. The bride hit back with “Mother” by the Police, which Henry thought showed a little weakening on her side, but it must have struck Pauline hard because she went straight to Fishbone’s “Lyin’ Ass Bitch.” The bride then started going through the envelopes on the gift table, gathering enough cash out of the presents to bribe the DJ, and Henry turned to his wife and said, “Call your mom in the car and tell her we’re coming to get the kids early.”


The week that followed had a perverse effect—somehow Henry’s ducking out early from the wedding got his family mad at him.

“How bad could it have been?” asked his father on the phone. “It didn’t make the papers.”

“You come up and meet the bride’s family and tell me,” said Henry. “They had gotten up and were scowling and clenching their fists like they needed to grab some broken bottles. I got the feeling they didn’t mind spending time in the House of Many Doors and would be willing to go back to make a point.”

“So you left Kerry with these people?”

“She had gone to the bathroom and never came back, so I assumed she’d run for it.”

“She said she came out and you’d run away with Jane and she was scared to death. And your aunt Pauline is furious.”

“Don’t drag me into this, Dad.”

Henry’s mother, Pauline’s sister, thought Henry should have exercised a calming influence at the reception, acting as a soothing balm on the scratched-up souls as the “representative of the sane side.” Henry's mother had been doing that for Pauline since they were little girls. And now Kerry was mad at Henry for running away, saying she would never speak to Henry again. Ever! Not even a little! 

“Maybe we should have tried to defuse the situation,” said Jane, looking guilty. “Blessed are the peacemakers, right?”

Considering that Jane hated his mother’s family Henry found that kind of thick, although she was tight with his mom and Kerry. “All right, fine, we’ll be goodness and light from now on.”


The Kingslips’ foray into being goodness and light lasted until Wednesday, when Jane told Henry over chicken nuggets, “I can never go to the park again!” and started to cry.

“What now?”

Hal had eaten all his nuggets, and Nug was passed out with his bottle (not unlike Tor’s father, Uncle Pinky). Phoebe was building a fairy castle out of nuggets and mashed potatoes.

“I had fight with another mother today,” Jane said.

“Okay, kids, scram,” said Henry. “Well, not you, Nug, you should stay for this.”

Nug continued to sleep while his siblings cheerfully scrammed. Jane continued. “Her son punched Hal and I—I just went off.”

“It was clobberin’ time.”

“No, stupid! But I yelled. Why don’t you listen?”

“Can’t say. Why did Hal get punched?”

“They were fighting over the springy horse.”

“So the kid just reared back and wham?!”

“After Hal pushed him, yeah.”

“Hal pushed him? Then he started it!”

“He did not! A push is nothing like a punch! Everyone knows that!”

“Well, there’s not a mark on our little bruiser. That other kid must have been a weakling.”

“That doesn’t matter! I yelled, then she yelled—I just snapped.”

"And you punched her."

"No I didn't!"

Henry went over to her side of the table and hugged her. “You were defending your young, like a good mother.”

“I was acting like an idiot who winds up on YouTube. ‘Jerk Blond Mom Goes Nuts.’”

“Uh, no one was recording, I hope.”

“No, no…”

“Sweetie, I know you’ve been stressed out with the dental surgery, the wedding from Hell, the lecture on bad territory canvassing from the five angry lesbians…”

“Only three are lesbians.”

“…and your wiseass blockhead of a husband. I’m surprised you didn’t slug her.”

“I can never take the kids to the park again!”

“Sure you can! We’ll go at two a.m., and—”

It was Henry who wound up getting slugged.


Henry’s fillings, which hurt his mouth and his wallet, came at a bad time. It was the Saturday of the church carnival, and he and Jane were volunteering in shifts at the bake sale booth.

The catch was, they had been trying for weeks to keep their own children from finding out about the carnival. Bad enough they were going to Hershey Park; they didn’t need local empty calories too. Plus, the kids would be too small for any of the rides and the games, which would leave them doing nothing but “eating cotton candy until they pastel-barf in the backseat,” Jane said, and Henry concurred.

It hadn’t been easy keeping them in the dark. Posters all over town. “Fortunately, only Hal can read, but not worth a damn,” said Henry to Jane. Still, for a month they had to become Communion Sprinters, hustling out of church immediately after Communion so the kids wouldn’t hear the carnival announcements.

It seemed to have worked. Then that Saturday morning Henry came home with half his face numb, drooling, the pain starting to seep in, to find all three kids whining like bad brakes.

“Whuh habben?” asked Henry, who had been expecting to find the children shuffled off to Jane’s parents.

“I don’t know!” said Jane. “They just knew today was the day. Osmosis or something. Then they got it out of me, that Mommy and Daddy got to go to the carnival and they didn’t.”

“Whad dey do, wahberboard you?”

“I tried to say it was a big-people’s carnival…”

“Oh, Lord.”

It turned out not to be a disaster. Jane and Henry had been planning to take turns at the booth anyway, so while one took a shift at the booth the other minded the kids at the parish center, with minor excursions into the fair. The kids did manage to eat poorly -- funnel cake was the most nutritious thing they got -- but no one got sick.

Henry almost did, actually. Jane had gotten him a frozen lemonade that hit the two brand-new fillings and his head nearly exploded.

The pastor popped over by the booth just as Henry was clutching his mouth in agony.

“Hi, Henry,” said the pastor. And quietly, “Mrs. Carlucci’s pecan squares do the same thing to me.”

At last, the big family weekend away arrived, and with it a gastrointestinal virus that blew through the family like a cyclone. Hal brought it home from a playdate at Jane’s sister’s; Hal generously donated it to Phoebe, who kindly shared it with Little Nug. That was Friday. Henry and Jane were only mildly affected, if you call having to deal with three small children with liquid bowels mild. The poor kids were so miserable that Henry couldn’t spare any pity for himself, even though his brilliant idea of paying for the motel in advance to get a discount meant no refund for the canceled trip. “At least we kept the trip a surprise from the kids,” said Henry. “They’d have been inconsolable if they knew they were missing the Sweetest Place on Earth over this. It could have been worse.”

“It can always be worse,” said Jane as she collapsed in bed that Saturday night. “That doesn’t make it good.”

“What, projectile diarrhea not your idea of a great weekend?”

“I am having my tubes tied,” said Jane slowly, “by a crew of sailors, knitters, Boy Scouts, and gift wrappers so that nothing will ever go into or come out of them again.”

Henry collapsed next to her. “I’ll put a want ad up on the Sailor, Knitter, Boy Scout, and Gift Wrapper news site.”


Jane, who had apparently become a plague to other mothers and a rascally varmint at large, next got into a flame war on Facebook with her own sister.

“Julia knew Tommy was sick and let Hal come over anyway!” Jane told Henry on Monday night.

“And you called her out on it?”

“I wouldn’t have made a peep if she hadn’t sarked me over us blowing money on a trip we couldn’t take. ‘Who pays in advance when you have small children LOL,’ she wrote. Jerk. Now she’s not speaking to me. And it was all her fault!”

“None of the sisters are speaking to us. Sweep!”

He held up his hand for a high five, but Jane left him hanging.


[Can Henry and Jane have any luck this summer? Return for the penultimate chapter tomorrow!]

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Summer of Adventure! Part 2.

[See Part 1 of this novella here.]


The Summer of Adventure! 

by Frederick Key

Part 2

“I guess you’ve heard the rumors,” said Geoff quietly as they waited for their flight.

“Sure,” said Cass.

“What?” said Henry.

“Oh, yeah it’s bad. And all at once, too.”

“So it’s true? All three?”

“’Fraid so, Cass.”

“What?” said Henry.

“Seligman’s folding,” said Geoff. “Probably going to skip bankruptcy and go straight to liquidation.”

“Whoa—they made nice stuff.”

“Well, we made it sound nice, anyway,” said Geoff. “Then there’s PL Scotto.”

“They can’t possibly be folding.”

“No, but they’re going to do everything in-house,” said Cass.

“What?” said Henry.

“And we’re losing HappeeMart.”


“Decided to skip the catalog copy. Just going to throw the pictures up with bare data on the site from now on. They’ll keep us on for design, but the copy department is cut out.”

“Oh my God,” said Henry. He was alarmed by the news, and almost as alarmed that Cass knew it and he didn’t.

Everything Geoff said was repeated in the most positive way possible at the conference. The company was prepared to face these challenges, they were told, and be proactive in the search for solutions.

It was a nightmare.

At the sales dinner Henry had a few drinks, and was by no means alone in that. He was not drunk, not really, but perhaps nicely sozzled as he made his way from the hotel banquet room to the elevator.

“Going my way?” asked Cass, coming up at his side.

“Naturally,” said Henry.

They both had rooms on the seventeenth floor. On the way up, Cass’s perfume drifted over Henry’s way and he started to sweat. He remembered that he’d always been horrible with girls, and he counted on that more than any personal virtue to save him now from doing anything regrettable. But oh, how he wanted to do something regrettable.

“What do you think will happen?” Cass asked quietly.

“With what?” he choked out.



“Will we manage to hold on?”


The elevator glided to a stop. She said, “I see layoffs.”

“Uh. Yes, maybe.” He was both disgusted and relieved.

They went down the hall. His room, 1711, came up first. “I’m farther along,” she said, gesturing.

“Uh-huh,” he replied, wishing wordlessly that everything would stop sounding like a euphemism to him right now.

“Must be a tough spot you’re in,” said Cass.

“How do you mean?” he said. Duh duh duh. He slipped his card into the lock.

“Being one of the middle managers. Aren’t they usually the first to go?”

“Well, I, uh, guess it all depends.” He stepped into his room.

“I’m lucky,” said Cass.


“Geoff likes me.” She gave a little finger wave and was gone.

Henry closed the door and loosened his tie. He had several feelings and they were all bad. He splashed water on his face and took off his jacket. Then he picked up his cell phone and sat on the bed.


“You’re right, Janey,” he said. “That Cass is despicable.”

Henry soft-peddled the potential for layoffs and somehow failed to mention his pulse-pounding brush with unfaithfulness, or at least a brush with lurching at a woman and making an ass of himself. But when he got home and saw his goopy, pudding-covered children and his relieved little wife he felt almost as guilty as if he really had done something.

Henry tried to be levelheaded at work, but he found himself taking it out on Cass anyway. He was disgusted with himself for ignoring her weaselishness for so long. When she submitted copy for a blouse calling it “The softest, flowingest fabric you will EVAH feel!” he sent it back, writing in the Comments, “Unsubstantiated, slangy, uses unknown words. Try again.” Cass sulked all day.

They layoff rumors had taken on their own life by now, though; even the freelance editors and writers Henry managed were sniffing around for confirmation. He denied everything and made plans to use up his vacation before the ax fell. This was difficult since they were in the busy season, writing Christmas catalog copy in the heat of June, but he figured he could get a few days. He also updated his résumé on the sly.

The problem was that there were very few jobs for wordsmithing in this part of the state. Like most writers, Henry was useless at other work. Getting laid off could mean selling the house and moving—assuming he could find something somewhere else.

There was Jane’s job at the library, of course, but it had been reduced to part-time at her request because of the kids. It didn’t pay much more than the cost of the sitter they used while she was working, and as a manager Henry could no longer work at home to cover for her. Maybe he could sock away a few dollars by using his vacation to be the sitter, he thought.

“Gonna take a couple of days next week,” he said to Jane.

“Oh, great! Will you be helping me with the library petition?”

“No, I—”

“Wait—I’ll bet you were finally going to paint the porch.”

“Well, I—you know, why not do both?”

What the hell. Painted porch = curb appeal. Might need it.



But first there was Beach Day II, just him and the kids back on the lousy local beach. Now that the summer had begun in earnest (if not on the calendar) and school was almost out, the beach was more populated with people. It was just as populated with rocks and seaweed and gray sand as it had been before.

“We lookin’ for bad guys again?” asked Hal as they laid out the blanket.

“Not yet. Nug’s unconscious.”

“What’s unconkshious?”


“He’s useless anyway,” said Phoebe as she dropped her juice box in the sand.

“You all are,” said Henry, “but I’ve grown attached.”

He managed to get Hal and Phoebe to work on a sand castle together, which was no easy job for them. The beach sand was like concrete. Little Nug gurgled once with hunger, but was quickly fed and dispatched. Overall it was a nice day for the four of them. Until the asswipes with the cooler and speakers showed up to turn the beach into a nightclub.

Henry knew his own party was over. He’d been one of those asswipes a long time ago, and knew that an unpoliced beach was their natural habitat. He started packing up.

“We gonna look for bad guys now?” said Hal.

“No need,” said his dad. “They found us.”

When Jane got home from the library she had some words to say about Hal’s and Phoebe’s delicate skin and the importance of sunscreen. Henry tried to say it was all part of the Adventure!, but with two red kids crying and one pre-verbal toddler wailing—Nug was not burned but he liked to sing along—Henry was kind of drowned out.


It rained the next day, ruining his plans for porch painting, but it was just as well, as he had forgotten about his dental checkup. The day after that, bearing up under the weight of the knowledge that he had caries in two teeth, Henry went with Jane to canvass her designated area on behalf of the library.

“We should have taken the kids,” said Henry after five no-answers. “We could trot them out as props. ‘Save the library! Think of the poor urchins!’”

“I think they’ve had enough of the sun for one week,” groused Jane. They went to the next house and Jane rang the bell.

An elderly voice—Henry could not tell if it was male or female—said through the door, “Who is it?”

“Good morning, ma—uh, good morning,” said Jane. “I’m Jane Kingslip with the Adamstown Public Library, and I’m collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to fund—”

“No thanks,” said the voice. “I have TV and Internet. Library’s a waste of money. Good day.”

“But—” Jane started.

Henry led her gently away. “You’ll never get through that door,” he said. “Come on.”

“But we need sixty signatures! How are we going to get that many?”

“I know, the five angry lesbians will kill you.”

“Only three of them are lesbians,” she muttered, as she always did when he made a crack about his coworkers. “Henry, this is ridiculous.”

“Come with me.”


“And call me Hank. Summer of Adventure!, remember?”

“Hank” took her to the local Starbucks, which he knew would be populated by those who considered themselves enlightened and well-read, even if the only thing they’d read since college was their Twitter feed and the shampoo bottle. He and Jane had sixty signatures before lunchtime.

“That’s totally cheating,” said Jane. “I was supposed to cover a particular territory.”

“You’re right. Let’s go back to schlepping door-to-door.”

“Are you kidding? Come on, Hank, buy me lunch. And we have to stop at the card store. We need a card for your cousin's horrid wedding.”

[Can Jane and Henry survive the horrid wedding? Tune in to Part 3 tomorrow and find out!]

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Summer of Adventure! Part 1.

[Dear Readers: Four years ago I wrote this novella to publish in parts while my family went on vacation. That was for my old defunct, inaccessible blog. I've always been fond of the saga of Henry and his crew -- this story and the Christmas edition I ran later that year -- and with your kind indulgence I thought I would run it again this year, before summer runs away.]


The Summer of Adventure! 

by Frederick Key

Part 1

“Disney’s out,” said Jane, plopping onto her chair at the kitchen table.

“That’s all right,” said Henry, who had not been very keen on the idea of dragging three small children through a kingdom, magical or otherwise. They said it was the Happiest Place on Earth, but after his brood had been through it they might have had to reassess.

It was almost Memorial Day weekend, and unlike most of their friends, Henry and Jean still had no vacation plans. What they did have was a three thousand dollar bill coming for Jean’s gum surgery, which helped quash the idea of doing much of anything this year. Henry had been hoping they might get away, as he’d been feeling restless, but seeing Jean slump with guilt over her lousy gums aroused his sympathy.

“We’ll have fun anyway,” he said. “It’ll be a fine summer.”

“I don’t know how much fun it will be,” Jane said. “It would have been nice to have something good on the calendar. Look at the things we do have coming up. A wedding for your revolting cousin Tor. Your trip to the home office. The library petition campaign. The church carnival. Everything is horrid or drudgery or horrid drudgery. It’s the summer of drudgery.”

“No,” he said. “It’s the Summer of Adventure!”

Henry was a copywriter for an agency that mostly did catalogs for clients. Henry knew five hundred ways to describe a sweater he had never seen or felt that would make you want to buy it anyway. He was used to putting a good face on the unknown.

When he told Jane that he was rebranding the summer as the Summer of Adventure!, he was hoping that she would think of the upcoming irritations as challenges. But he himself was thinking of the old saw that “adventure” was some other poor sucker going through hell on the other side of the planet.

Henry did not mention that. He said, “We’re going to be the Adventure Family. I’m going to start calling myself Hank. It’s much more butch.”

“Uh-huh. I’m feeling more action-packed already.”

“Even if we can’t afford a big trip to Disney, we can swing a weekend away. Why not take the kids to Hershey Park? I think I can even get discounts through the company.”

Jane thought for a moment, as if her dislike of exposing the children to a mountain of chocolate was wrestling with her periodontal guilt. Then she said, “Okay, why not? Let’s pick a weekend.”

The looked at the kitchen calendar and stepped over the landmines of the library campaign, the Overmyers’ annual barbecue, her parents’ surprise anniversary party, the carnival, and of course Horrid Cousin Tor’s wedding. They settled on the second weekend of August.

“At least it will be something on the schedule that’s not torturous,” she said.

“Think adventure,” he said, “not torture.”


Henry (or Hank) made the reservations, feeling proud of his proactive stance. Of course, they had waited too long to make plans, and the best lodging was booked for that weekend, but the third-string motel would save them some money anyway. And, by paying in advance, Henry got fifteen percent off.

So he was fairly happy as he drove to work the next morning.

Even the flat he got when some schmuck pulled out on a very tight turn, forcing him to the roadside (or “up on the marbles” as he later described it), causing him to run over a nail big enough to have united the transcontinental railroad, his mood would not be ruined. The incident happened outside a convenience store that sold cans of that aerosol tire fixing injection stuff. He bought a couple, filled the tire, and was back on the road in fifteen minutes. Proactive!

When he got out at lunchtime the tire was quite low again, but he’d proactively foreseen this and made an appointment with the tire guy two blocks from the office.

“You used that spray stuff?” asked the burly tire guy.

“Yeah, and it got me to work on time.”

“And voided your warranty.”

“It— What, now?”

“I could’ve fixed it for free. Now I have to replace the tire.”

Henry began to suspect that the cynical definition of adventure may have been the right one after all.


Jane’s periodontal surgery was the first appointment of the Saturday following, which meant Henry had to load up the car, bring all the kids along to drop Mommy off at seven thirty, then stash them somewhere until Mommy called to be picked up.

“Why we goin’ so early?” muttered Hal, who, like his mommy, was not a morning person.

“Because Mommy doesn’t know if the doctor will give her drugs that will make her get arrested if she tries to drive,” said Henry.

“Mommy’s gettin’ arrested,” Hal helpfully informed his sister Phoebe.

“Why’d she do?”

“Went to the dentist.”

“That gets you ’rested?”

“Depends on the drugs,” said Henry. “If they knock her out she’ll be very well rested.”

Baby Nug just cried.

On the way to the dentist, Jane was wound up like a clockwork monkey and just as scary-looking.

“Mommy, Daddy said you’re gonna go to jail on account of the drugs,” said Hal, who never missed a chance to chuck his old man under the bus.

“What are you telling these children?” spat Jane.

“Terrible things. Better make it quick in there. I’ll have all morning to corrupt them.”

“No sweets!” she said. “Or they’ll need expensive dental work like Mommy!”


It was too much trouble to take the kids back home and unstrap them from their various harnesses, so Henry drove them to the DoNut King Drive Thru and got sugared breakfast for everyone. They ate in the parking lot. After that, Hal was wide awake and his brother and sister were asleep. It was too early to go anywhere, so Henry drove out to the local beach, which was dirty and deserted and covered with rocks and seaweed. Just as they got there it started to rain.

“What’s dis?” asked Phoebe blearily.

“The Summer of Adventure,” said Henry.

“We gonna look for bad guys on the beach?” said Hal, who seemed to have latched on to a Crime and Punishment theme and was reluctant to let it go.

“Yeah, let’s do that,” said Henry. “Right after we—urk—change your brother.”

He hoped he would remember to get the dirty diaper out of the trunk before a week went by. Not like last time.

Jane was a little dopey when she called. Henry loaded the damp children back into the car—no bad guys caught—and returned to the dentist. Fearing Jane would be too woozy to walk unaided, Henry left Hal in charge and ran inside.

“I’m fine,” said Jane, although her cheek was swollen and discolored. She looked like she’d hit the mat in the first round and stayed there. “Where’re the kids?”

“Driving around. Let’s flag them down.”

“Henry!” said Norma, Dr. Smythe’s receptionist. “When are you coming in? It’s been—hmm—the computer days it’s been two years since your last checkup!”

“Well, yeah, I’ve been so busy flossing that I haven’t been able to call, so—”

“Why don’t we set you up right now?”

Henry turned to Jane for an excuse to bolt, but Jane had already run outside to find her unattended children.

The rest of the day Jane spent rotating ice packs in and out of the freezer and explaining the elements of childcare to her husband.


So it was a relieved Henry that left on his two-night trip to the home office the following Wednesday. This was the only business trip he ever made, going to the annual sales conference with everyone else who was part of the Talent. They met with clients whom they normally would only speak to electronically, and were told that they were doing a fantastic job and should try to do better going forward. Henry was traveling with his boss, Geoff Silverman.

He had not mentioned to Jane that Cass was coming along this time.

Cass Brown was young and gorgeous. Henry had not hired her, but at his last promotion found that he had become her manager. She was tall, with flowing brown hair, unlike Jane who was tiny and blond. When Cass was dolled up it almost hurt to look at her, like she was some higher order of being. She was a lousy copywriter too, but Geoff was determined to help her along. Henry was willing to help too.

Jane had met Cass at the last company Christmas party and hated her with more hate than Henry would have thought could fit in a five-foot-tall body.

Henry may have been relieved to have a breather from home, but he become more nervous when he saw Cass looking awesome at the airport. She wore tight zebra-striped pants, about which he thought Not many people could pull that off and then his inner thirteen-year-old added But I’d like to, huh huh huh. Then he saw Geoff and his immature self shut down. Geoff, as it turned out, was to make him even more nervous.


Please return tomorrow for our second thrilling chapter! 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Tiny little pills.

You know we love Advil around this place. Sinus pain from allergies, muscle aches from yardwork or oversize dogs, tension headaches from editing books by idiots -- Advil helps with them all. I'm still demanding that those dummies at the Nobel place slap one of their big ol' prizes on Stewart Adams, the man who invented ibuprofen, but no -- they'd rather give the sack o' cash to plagiarists and other liars.

Okay, whatever. Swedes.

But our question today is: Can ibuprofen actually be improved?

The drug companies always want to come up with ways to improve a product to make it more effective and get that money pumping again. But how do you improve on something as awesome as Advil? They made the gel caps (or Liqui-Gels), which was one brilliant move -- easier to swallow and faster to work. Surely, we've now reached the pinnacle of Adviliciousness, right?

NOT SO FAST! says parent company Pfizer. Now we have Advil in Tiny Pills!


Say hey!
Advil Liqui-Gels Minis are smaller than the regular pills -- no major surprise there. How much smaller?

Less than half the size, I think.
And yet these fat little pills hold the same 200 mg of ibuprofen as the big salami-shaped pills. Inconceivable!

I jest, but pill swallowing can be a serious problem. It's not just that the person has an oversensitive gag reflex (although I suppose it could be). There is a real condition called dysphagia, generally caused by a problem in the throat or esophagus. Parkinson's, esophageal spasm, MD, MS, GERD, stroke, esophageal diverticula, scleroderma -- these are just some of the things that can make pill swallowing hard. Although Pfizer's not advertising these baby Advils specifically for people with these issues, it's clear that they are intending them for just such customers.

I wonder, in fact, why they made the pills so big to begin with. Your average campus Marxist crybaby would start screaming that it was to make the bottle bigger so you'd think you were getting more for your money, but let's not jump to such a conclusion. Perhaps the way ibuprofen was formulated initially required its dissolution in a greater amount of fluid, an issue that has been addressed. I don't know; do you?

One thing I can say is that those little Advils can get away from you fast. The slick surface and the round shape can lead one to pop right out of your fingers and skitter away on the floor, which can be a real issue if you have small children or adventurous pets who like to gulp down whatever they find. Care is needed.

I have to say that the new pills are kinda cute, though. That has to count for something.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

When it absolutely, positively, has to be....

Overnight what now?

I can't say that I had not heard of overnight oats; as I have written before, I am sometimes called upon to edit cookbooks, including hideous health-nut cookbooks. I've also been to a meeting or two where a woman (always a woman) would be chowing down cold oatmeal from a reusable container. So I knew that putting oatmeal together in the fridge the night before had become a thing.

But is it a thing? Or a Thing? Is it a Thing in the James Arness sense? Or is it okay?

Even though this overnight oat thing is a big boon to Quaker Oats, they have seen where it can be boonier by putting out their own cup of Overnight Oats. As you can see in the picture, it comes with stuff mixed in (raisins, walnuts, and honey flavor here, but there are three other varieties too). You just add milk and shove it in the fridge.

Overnight oat cereal is pretty simple; in fact, Quaker has some recipes on its own site. But this cup o' overnight oats saves you the trouble of putting stuff in (except the milk) and finding the clean Tupperware.

It's interesting, because originally all oats were overnight oats. That's right: oatmeal as food for human consumption used to be cooked all night. Even as late as 1922, according to The Farm Journal ("Most Farmers Prefer Packaged Breakfast Foods" -- no link available), "In summer... oil and gas stoves are substituting for the kitchen range, so that oatmeal cannot simmer all night long, as many people consider necessary."

Modern overnight oats are a lot easier, since they prepare themselves in the fridge and you won't accidentally burn down the house while you're sleeping.

So how are the Quaker Overnight Oats? I tried a couple of flavors, including the above, and my review is: Meh. The oats are really chewy and not in a good way; more like the something-chewed-this-already way. Gummy, actually. The flavor of the honey one was a little weird, and I suspect that comes from using some kind of powdered honey (there's no liquid honey in the cup).

To be fair, though, I wanted to put together a cup of overnight oats from scratch, to see if the texture issue was just this pre-cupped product. Last night I did just that, mixing yogurt and milk with a cup of oats and whatnot (following this recipe, except with raisins for the apple and almond slivers for the chia seeds because, well, chia seeds). Let's eat!

And it's okay. Not gummy. Still weird -- it's cold non-crunchy oatmeal. Takes some acclimation. But better than the ready-mixed product.

So those are my findings. Your mileage may vary, but I suspect this cold oatmeal is a fad that's not going to last long. At least it doesn't involve the words "kale" or "smoothie," which is pretty major.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Looking for Leo.

I enjoy puzzle games and escape games, on the phone or computer. I love to curse and threaten violence when they frustrate me. One of the reasons I dislike board games is that fellow players react poorly when you curse at them and threaten violence.

Just to briefly mention my bona fides, I have been through all five Myst games, I have escaped just about everything Mild Escape has to offer, I have tested my mettle against all the Glitch Games (Forever Lost, all three parts, being a trial) and Fireproof Games (all three Rooms). I have battled out of Darkmoor Manor (creepy!) and Facility 47 (apocalyptic!), courtesy of InertiaSoft. I have gone nuts over Hozumi's works, and am currently up to date on the updated-monthly Les Vacances de Monsieur 3939 (that date being Friday). I am well acquainted with Escape Man. Tomatea has no game I have not cracked.

But one of the very best games I have ever cursed and threatened my way through is The House of Da Vinci, by Blue Brain Games.


The plot is pretty sketchy -- your master, Leonardo da Vinci, has disappeared, having run afoul of his patron, and left behind clues for you to follow him through several extraordinarily complex rooms of his home. The puzzles are largely based on Leonardo's real sketches and plans for various machines, and, like all the art, they are gorgeously rendered. The whole thing is an atmospheric feast for the eyes.

You get two lenses that can help. The first is a viewer to operate mechanisms from outside machines for some puzzles, which functions much the way a similar device did in Fireproof's third Room game. There's also another lens that sometimes enables you to see into the past, to get a sketchy view of movements that give you necessary clues. But really, since you can't progress without these two lenses, they aren't so much helpers as yet more complications to keep things interesting.

As for the puzzles, they are absolute killers. According to the game's plot, you are supposed to act quickly because Leonardo is being hunted by his angry patron. In reality, you'd have to hope the patron would be extremely lazy and out of town at an evil masters' conference, because you would be stuck for weeks in each room, trying to solve one complex puzzle in order to get one tiny widget that would enable you to confront the next complex puzzle. Better bring lunch.

I'm not saying that the puzzles are unfair. But they're difficult. Sometimes the problem isn't even a matter of logic or deduction, just searching -- that tiny key you have to find may be hidden behind a false bracket on a table or in the frame of a painting or even in another item already in your inventory. Happy trails! If you were really in this house you'd wind up having to pee in a corner, because even if you found the bathroom, opening the toilet would be the equivalent of cracking a bank vault.

Fortunately there is a hint feature that doesn't cut you off after X number of hints, or demand extra money beyond the price of the game. Not that it's always helpful. Sometimes it will suggest you try something you have been trying for an hour. I find that's a good time for the cursing.

Before I sound too grumpy, let me add that solving each puzzle makes you feel like a genius for a moment. Some are fairly simple -- but most will test your mad puzl skilz. And there are puzzles and mysteries every step of the way. Apparently your boss Leonardo can't make a sandwich without encoding the bread. If all else fails, the ever helpful App Unwrapper has a complete walkthrough.

I really have only two genuine complaints for this game. First, I played it on the iPhone, and some of these puzzles were not appropriate for that format. For example, take this bloody thing:

You need to be able to see various bits of it that are barely visible with the phone, as there was no way to zoom in. It was a genuine problem that required App Unwrapper.

The other thing is that the game creators made the same error as that idiot Dan Brown -- Leonardo's family name is NOT Da Vinci. "Da Vinci" is just a descriptor. It's like being introduced to Joe from Cleveland at a conference and calling him Mr. From Cleveland all night. When referring to the Renaissance man upon whom this game is based, just call him Leonardo. No one ever makes this mistake with Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni.

Anyway, I got through it, and was frustrated but happy to see that it's set up for a sequel. If you like puzzle games, room escape games, or just being mad as hell, you'll enjoy the House of Da Vinci. It's $4.99 on the App Store, and you'll get plenty of cursing for your money.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Giddyup, Gallup.

[Yes, it's another rerun from the old, defunct blog - How could I let this genius go to waste? Plus I was tied up earning filthy lucre yesterday.]

Got a call from Gallup, wanting my opinion on pressing issues of the day. Well, I'm not real shy about sharing my thoughts--thus the blog--but like most people I don't want to spend a lot of time on the phone talking to strangers. (Makes me wonder if the polls are weighted in favor of lonely, bored, or otherwise unoccupied people, and if so what that means for public opinion polling in general. Is the direction of the country being dictated by people who just don't have anything better to do? And if so, is that a bad thing?)

The thing is, the Gallup people and other pollsters like to ask all sorts of questions from the various people who hire them, so you wind up feeling like you're having a very broad-ranging conversation with an ADD-addled crazy person who is nonetheless very interested in what you think.

  • Do you consider yourself a Democrat, Republican, or Independent?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being most likely and 1 being least likely, how likely are you to vote in the election this November?
  • Did you watch any network television shows in the last 48 hours, yes or no?
  • Do you like cheese, yes or no?
  • What is your zip code?
  • Do you only use a cell phone, a landline, or do you use both?
  • How many children under the age of 18 live in your home?
  • Have you flossed your teeth in the last week?
  • For the purposes of survey data only, do you consider yourself straight or gay?
  • How about Cheddar, do you like that? Yes or no?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being very much and 1 being not at all, how do you rate hula hoops?
  • If a rubber plant falls in the forest does it bounce back, yes or no?
  • Does your dentist know you don't floss enough, yes or no?
  • Do you think there might be life on Pluto, yes or no?
  • Is Velveeta really cheese, yes or no?
  • Have you been to the dentist in the last six months, yes or no? Did he get on your case, yes or no?
  • Do you just not like cheese that smells like feet, yes or no?
  • Do you think the Plutonians are upset about being downgraded from a planet to a dwarf planet, yes or no?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being I Have No Pulse and 10 being Hochimama!, how do you rate Sofia Vergara?
  • Do you consider yourself an undecided voter, yes or no? Need more time?
  • Do you think the dwarfs are upset about Pluto being downgraded from a planet to a dwarf planet, yes or no?
  • How many teeth not counting deciduous teeth have you lost due to your poor dental hygiene? Please note that the number must be between 0 and 32.
  • How many non-imaginary friends do you claim to have?
  • As a typical American, would you describe yourself as fat, pretty fat, kinda fat, fat, husky, chubby, lardy, big-boned, fatty fat fat, obese, blobular, or gigundo?
  • Would you say that, to your well being, cheese is not very important, important, very important, crucial, or more vital than life itself?
  • Do you vote in off-year and school board elections? Really?
  • How many rings does Saturn have? Answer me that, wise guy!
  • Do you believe that cheese is a high-protein food useful in weight loss, yes or no?
  • How many of your friends would agree that they are really your friends, bearing in mind that honesty with yourself is the first step toward successful living?
  • Is your opinion of the American Cheese Bureau fair, good, very good, or excellent?
  • Do you own or have you ever owned a hula hoop?
  • How many unused bicycles are in your basement or garage? Don't lie to me, sir!

Of course, I also considered that here I am, talking to some nice young fellow, and he could be recording every second answer with his own preferences. Sure, they say it's monitored for accuracy, but who is going to compare thousands of phone conversations to the answers?

If that's the case, I hope he likes cheese.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipse: PR stunt.

The more I think about it, the more I understand that today's so-called "solar eclipse" is nothing but a public relations stunt. Yeah, you heard me. Who by? Who else? By the same people who brought you green cheese: the moon.

You got it -- I'm willing to take on Big Satellite here.

The moon has been trying to get attention for some time now. Remember last year's Supermoon? That turned out to be a big bust -- nothing but trouble. I was willing to cut the moon some slack at the time, but now I am more cynical. Now that I see the moon is just out for what it can get, that it only thinks of its own interest, I am convinced it caused all kinds of trouble on that fateful day and will probably get up to more lunar high jinks today.

Already the stupidity is starting. Price gouging for eclipse-related travel is an actual thing. Fake eclipse glasses may wind up causing permanent vision damage to the poor fools who bought them. And speaking of fools, there's the mom who wanted the eclipse moved so it wouldn't conflict with school, and the professor complaining in print that the path of the main eclipse zone has willfully followed non-black areas of the country. The Eclipse Is Racist!

Clearly, the moon is making us even dumber than usual. It is part of its plan.

And seriously, does the moon even need publicity? IMDb has more than 200 productions with the word "Moon" in the title. AllMusic lists over 1,000 songs with "Moon" in the title, and over 1,000 albums. Even the US Patent and Trademark Office lists 4,861 trademarks with "Moon" in it somewhere. If anything, the moon is suffering from overexposure.

I, for one, am not buying into this. I'm going to protest this eclipse nonsense. I'm going to totally ignore this desperate cry for attention. I understand our moon is lonely, all by himself up there (unlike Jupiter's greedy cache of 69 moons), but is that our fault? The moon was formed when something punched our planet -- it was an act of galactic violence. We didn't invite it. We're the victim here. And despite that we went through a lot of trouble to go visit, and even left some neat presents. Well, we'll see if we'll bother with that again anytime soon.

So you may be watching the skies today, but count me out of the hoopla. I'll just be enjoying the shade.