Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Walking Shadow

Tomorrow will be my first day at the new job, the first real job I’ve worked at in a year. So today, naturally, I had to watch both girls, at home since school’s inexplicably closed the day after the Memorial Day holiday (they’ve actually had five days off in a row now). Since it’s my final day as Official Caretaker, we did a lot of things: went out for a long walk in the morning before the heat rose too oppressive; ran errands, such as a sidetrips to Five Below and the pet store for hamster bedding; watched a cool movie during the afternoon heat spike while eating sandwiches and chips; went to the park so they could bang on the monkey bars and I could walk the paths in meditative silence, reflecting on this crazy past year.

It was during my walk that I saw the walking shadow.

The path winds around a large pond, perhaps twice the size of a football field, in the geometric center of my town. Meandering through canopies of trees and vines, the path hugs the “coastline”, with the fenced-in backyards of our more expensive homes the path’s other border. Every thirty, forty, fifty feet is a small dock; not large enough to launch a boat (there are no boats on the pond), but more for fishermen and bird watcher types. I found a more secluded one, and stepped out to the edge and rested against the sturdy wood beams.

The book in my hand was one on Shakespeare. Leafing through the pages, I settled on a short excerpt from Macbeth:

Life’s but a walking shadow, … It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Immediately after I read these lines I glanced out on the pond, and saw the walking shadow. I had the presence of mind to pull out my cell phone and ensnare the otherworldly visitor in a jpeg:

Then the sugary jingle of the ice cream truck wafted through the brush. I knew my girls would be in Pavlovian overdrive. So, eyes flitting between the mocking image in the water and the dancing follicles up and down my arms, I reluctantly stepped off the dock to intercept them. Fortunately my picture of the walking shadow sufficiently creeped out Little One enough to make her – and, subsequently, Patch – forget all about Bomb Pops and Chocolate Eclairs.

Still don’t know what it means. I’m betting, though, it’s actually a good omen.

What a great little happening to end my Year of Exile!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Book Review: Watch the Skies!

Watch the Skies! A Chronicle of the Flying Saucer Myth

© 1994 by Curtis Peebles

For the longest time – several years, really – I’ve had my eye on this book. A quick perusal long ago told me that Watch the Skies! spells out more the mythology of the UFO / flying saucer phenomenon than its history, usually fleshed out via extraordinary (as well as those bordering on the commonplace, it must be noted) eyewitness accounts.

This intrigued me to no end.

Now, every couple of years the flying saucer bug bites me. Sometimes seriously, as it did back in the early 2000s when, in a new apartment several hundred miles south of where I previously lived forever, I did some serious research into the subject in hopes that some great American novel would emerge from that granite block, a la Michelangelo chiseling away at the stone that become the Pieta. Well, that never happened, but I was able to put the sprawling beast into a user-friendly framework, a master catalogue of the nightmares and visions of the books I devoured as a youngling.

Anyway, I stumbled across the Peebles book about two weeks ago. Picked it up, and devoured it in a few days like it was one of those early gnarled paperbacks I discovered in the spookier sections of the local library where my mom worked.

And you know what? I liked it a lot.

The bottom line is that Watch the Skies! – the line taken, of course, from the final admonition from 1951’s The Thing from Another World – is skeptical toward the whole ETH (Extra-Terrestrial Hypothesis) explanation of UFOs. A skeptical book, but a gently skeptical one. A gentle book that treats its subject with soft, loving gloves, focusing on a more meta-psychological ever-evolving “myth” paradigm as opposed to the Grey aliens flying who-knows-how-many light years to get here to insert stuff up hapless victims’ butts.

Ahem. That was a low blow. Or maybe not. I look wistfully upon the whole “nocturnal lights” and “daylight disks” of the Dr. J. Allen Hynek era with genuine fondness, and consider the whole UFO thing taking a really, really bad misstep sometime in the 80s with Whitley Strieber and Budd Hopkins and the whole abduction thing.

But back to Peebles’ book.

The “history” ranges from Kenneth Arnold’s June 1947 sighting (though the 1897 airship ‘flap’ is mentioned) up to the predominance and preponderance of the abduction phenomenon in the late 80s / early 90s. The author attempts to show – fairly successfully, though I don’t know if I’m a hundred percent convinced – how flaps often coincide with national or global crises … i.e. the Korean War, the Soviet Union gaining the H-Bomb and the threat of mutual destruction, Watergate and Viet Nam. And through it all, as our history and history with conflict evolved, so did the Myth, which Peebles traces from flying saucers > contactees > conspiracy theories (and NICAP’s raison d’etra) > crashed saucers / cattle mutilations / abductions. At each stage the characteristics of the myth grow, change, develop new offshoots, thunk hard into dead ends. At the end of each chapter such morphings are spelled out for the reader.

Like I said, I liked it. It was a pleasant stroll down memory lane, a lengthy revisit with old friends on the porch with bottomless pitchers of lemonade, a thoughtful nighttime look out the bedroom window past the picket-fenced field onto the starry skies – with some stars moving quite unnaturally. All with a new friend at your side, explaining things to you from a different angle, and the more you listen, the more you nod your head and say, “Yes. This is the way I think it is. This makes sense to me.”

Grade: A-minus.

Sunday, May 29, 2016


After a year out of work, I have accepted a position at a local nonprofit company.


So as not to jinx anything (not that I’m particularly superstitious, but …) I’m clamming up about this for now. At least until I get the first paycheck. So, more details to follow, next month.

Currently I’m stashed away in a nondescript motel off an unremarkable highway in an unassuming cookie-cutter town somewhere along the Jersey shore. Yesterday I spent my annual day at the beach with the family. Truth be told, the water was frigid, the wind was gale force, and the entire experience was somewhat unpleasant. I did read sixty pages of my current paperback (see below). I also bonded with Patch, walking up and down the surf searching for cool looking rocks and shells. Today I’m holing up behind closed curtains, to read, write, and study.

Halfway done with the Great White Whale novel. I’m much more learned than I was when I first surfed through it, nearly twenty years ago. I pick up on the literary and classical references that swam away from me on that maiden voyage. Plus I pleasantly perceive how perfectly alliterative Melville the mythic proto-modern American whaling wordsmith was. Like I like to be, to lesser or larger levels.

Been going through a UFO fringe-y thing of late. Every couple of years it happens; now’s the time this time. Read Curtis Peebles’s excellent slightly skeptical history of the phenomenon last week (review to follow) and now almost finished with Dr. Hynek’s The UFO Experience, of which Spielberg’s Close Encounters was heavily influenced. I am of two mind regarding UFOs. As a student of physics (albeit highly lapsed), I disbelieve the extra-terrestrial intelligence hypothesis fervently. Yet … something’s there. Which leads to me weirder explanations, perhaps the subject of a future post. Irrespective of the ultimate origin of the UFO phenomenon, there’s a campy creepiness I absolutely love about reading first-person accounts of sauceric encounters, hearkening wistfully back to the dangerous days of my youth. I eat it up.

Anyway, that’s the quick update. I’d like to do two more blog entries before the end of the month, so check back, okay?

In the meantime, why not read about my Close Encounter of the First Kind?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Our Second First Holy Communion

Ah! What an incredibly hectic week we’ve had.

I’ve been playing losing defense over the past five days against a nasty, aggressive head cold that’s now migrated down to my chest. While that skirmish was going down I had to escort Patch on a girl scouts hike, scrub the house top to bottom and whip out the machete to do the year’s first yardwork to make it safe for my in-laws flying in. I purchased a couple cases of beer and a couple bottles of wine, and fielded two phone interviews with prospective employers with all this going on.

Wait – Clean the house? Yardwork? In-laws flying in? Beer and wine?

Sounds suspiciously like a party.


Saturday was Patch’s First Holy Communion, four years and two weeks on the heels of Little One’s initial celebration of the sacrament.

And as I did then, I dispensed the Blood of Christ to my daughter for her first sip of Our Lord’s precious blood.

So, despite a fearful moment of dis-equilibrium up on the altar (please God – don’t let me pass out in front of 600 people at my daughter’s first communion!) the ceremony was wonderful, tugged at the heartstrings, and went without a hitch. Father summoned up the young boys and girls and quizzed them good-naturedly on the sacrament of Holy Communion, and Patch made us overly proud eagerly and zealously raising her flailing hand as high as possible to answer every question she could. It was all over before we knew it, and we all drove off to a local eatery where we reserved the back room for a specialty pizza party.

We returned to the homestead late in the afternoon, where Patch opened up her envelopes and a gift from her godmother – an artist’s set of pencils, pastels, paints and pad. She absolutely one-hundred-percent loved it. In fact, she’s used it every day since, morning and night. And she’s quite talented.

Me, I snuck upstairs and took a two-hour nap.

Congratulations, Patch! You make us all proud!

Thursday, May 19, 2016


About six months ago our local A&P was bought by Acme.

This caused me great distress.

Now, this is not a case of Hopper being overhyperbolic. They actually thought it a good idea to rearrange the entire store. For three months I couldn’t find half the stuff I go to the grocery store to buy. (A typical weekly run by me for the family averages 40-50 items totaling $150-$200.) Apparently I wasn’t the only long-time customer distressed; they actually handed out maps of the new layout at the front door.

Anyway, they also brought the Monopoly game with them.

Now, I rarely gamble. The times I bought Powerball tickets or scratch-off thingies can be counted on one hand. But I got sucked into this game. I dunno, must have been the allure of that $5,000 Free Groceries prize (or at least a $25 gift card) that hooked me. For the past three months I played it, collecting the stupid pieces for the board and logging on to the stupid website to check my stupid cards to see if I won anything:

I didn’t win anything, other than more free cards.

Was it a waste of time?

Well, objectively yes. Unobjectively, it’s not like I couldn’t spare the hour a week it took me to tape pieces to a board and log on to their website. And at least I know with certainty that I never held a winning ticket in my hand. I estimate roughly that I went through 400 tickets or so over the three months. Maybe more.

Me, I don’t have any luck. That’s the wife’s department. But she only wins in even years (i.e., the Military Bridge thing in 2014, the trip to Paris thing in 2012, etc.) And we’re halfway through an even year. Big things are just over the horizon, baby! Let it ride!

Friday, May 13, 2016

A Thought Experiment

Imagine how man might exist a thousand years from now. Let’s say that all his material needs are taken care of due to vast leaps in technology. Menial work simply does not exist. Nor does the need to sell anything to anybody. Indeed, man has advanced past the economic system we know today as capitalism. Yet neither does socialism exist. Nor communism, feudalism, totalitarianism. Some ism we know not right now supplies the solutions to all his needs, wants, and desires.

The currency of this culture – since currency we know and value today, money, does not exist – is Prestige. And for some crazy weird reason, this thousand-year-future society values dense abstract higher mathematics. Maybe it’s a result from (or cause for) the magic-like technology that suffuses the world(s). Who knows. Anyway, men and women spend all their free time studying and solving incredibly complex functions and formulas. Hours and hours every day, at their desks, with pencils and paper, pushing the boundaries and borders of higher mathematics farther and farther toward the very Mind of God. Those that push it the farthest gain the most of this intangible currency, Prestige.

Now, suddenly you – this is very important, the 21st-century You who’s reading this humble blog post – you arrive on the scene.

You may say you don’t need Prestige. But you do. You may not be interested in Prestige, but Prestige is interested in you. It’s inherent in every interaction at every level of this society, ranging all the way from intimate familial relations to those with complete strangers. Everything turns on Prestige.

So …

How do you  You  get “prestige” in this society?


This is the best analogy I can think up that sufficiently describes my situation and the way I feel about where I am at this point in my life. At least, during my bleakest moments.

During my lighter times, I go about my business minute by minute thinking Happiness Is Just Around the Bend.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

All right. Enough navel-gazing for now. Let me take a few days off, then we’ll have some fun (and funny) entries here at the Hopper.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Grim Anniversary

About a year ago I was laid off from the job I had since 2011. The company was in trouble; there were overtime freezes, wage increase freezes, and hiring freezes unless a salesman was applying. Departments were told to lay people off.

I was not in the “in” crowd there. I came to work, did my job (and did it well), and left. Family obligations and such, plus all the reading and writing I like to do at night to wash away the stress and strain of the day. I saw the writing on the wall, as they say. I thought I could make it to the end of that summer and enjoy my first official week-long vacation in three years.

Instead, they gave me a permanent vacation mid-May.

So what have I done the past year?

Well, set aside self-publishing the book, child care and support, and all the exercising to keep myself off the ledge –

I’ve done a lot, but to no avail.

Over the past twelve months, I have:

- Worked with a career coach (a friend) who redesigned my resume and cover letter.

- Targeted 136 local businesses with 254 periodic mailers (cover letter selling myself, my resume, and a letter of recommendation). In my line of work, this is how my position and similar ones are normally filled.

- Applied to 22 online wanted ads geared specifically for my position.

- Met with and worked with three recruiters from three different recruiting agencies.

- Took a ninety minute class to brush up my advanced Excel skills.

- Utilized two friends’ leads (for laterally-related positions).

- Applied – unsuccessfully – to three “dream” jobs.

The results?

Four phone interviews totaling just over 90 minutes and six in-person interviews for just under five hours of total sit-down time.

And I’ve driven 282 miles in the process. (Hey, I keep track – I’m studying to do your taxes, and you can deduct $0.54 per mile driven for job-seeking.)

And still outta work.

But it’s been my experience with these things that once you plant the seeds, opportunity comes when you least expect it. Out of the blue. Always darkest before dawn. And lots of other clichés I’m trying to avoid like the plague.

Hopefully I’ve planted enough seeds. I planted five alone this past week.

Well, wish me luck as I continue my quest to make more money than it would cost to put the kids in aftercare and pay the mortgage.

Note: I wrote down all these stats not to impress you (‘cuz I ain’t since I still lack a job), but to reassure myself that I’m not just taking up space …

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Movie Review: The Car

© 1977

Travel back with me through nearly four decades of time …

To the late 1970s: shaggy carpets, bad hair, polyester clothing. Cable TV, this humongous box attached to a thick plastic cord to the back of the television. Bringing thirty or so channels into our living room, including HBO, and the scads and scores of movies with it. Movies pre-teen Me probably shouldn’t be watching.

I wrote about this invasion in pretty entertaining detail during a review of Damien: Omen II, posted nearly six years ago, here.

But not all those flicks beamed into our house were “evil,” like that the aforementioned Omen. Some were downright good. I remember a fascination for the Midway we watched many, many times. Also such cool fare (for me) as the original Star Trek movie and such mindless entertainment as Smokey and the Bandit and Convoy, all enjoyed in that air-conditioner-less living room over those hot late 70s summers.

But the best of the “evil” movies was one me and my brother watched countless times. Literally. I don’t remember how often we watched it. Probably just about every time HBO aired it, I guess. And that movie is The Car.

In one glorious sentence, the movie tells the tale of a satanic black car terrorizing a small desert town, running down victim after victim after victim until destroyed – we think – in an explosive showdown.

Posterity calls this movie the “Jaws on land.” I’ll take it one step further. I think it’s a brilliant cross between two of the hottest flicks of the early-to-mid-70s: Jaws and The Exorcist.

Jaws meets The Exorcist

Wikipedia tells me The Car was released into theaters on May 13, 1977. That sounds about right. Seeing it on cable a year later, the fabulous summer of 1978, would make me just-about-eleven, firmly ensconced upon the borders of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Know what movie came out twelve days after it? Yup. The original Star Wars … ergo facilitating an early (and perhaps premature and unwarranted) demise. Or maybe that’s just my inner geek wishful thinking.

Anyway, I loved this movie! I loved all the characters. Will you permit me two slightly embarrassing confessions? Okay. James Brolin, starring as our hero, mustachioed, helmet-less motorcycle riding Sheriff Wade, was my first ideal of manliness, my first male role model, as a youngling. And I had a pre-adolescent crush on his goofy, spirited girlfriend Lauren, played by Kathleen Lloyd.

Super-cool hero to eleven-year-old 1978 boy

Tragic heroine and heart-thief to same kid

Loved all the secondary stereotypical and clichéd characters. There’s the wooden stoic Injun and his counterpart, the visionary old Indian crone. There’s Amos, the hard-drinkin’ wife beating loudmouth who just so happens to own a dynamite factory. There’s the craggy cranky seen-it-all police chief. I thought the odd detail of his affection for the abused wife of Amos a simple, endearing touch. Drunk weakling Ronny Cox. Lauren’s well-endowed friend. The stodgy 50s-era high school principal. The bad hair and bad clothes on all the students.  

Loved the victims. The bicycling couple at movie’s beginning …man, how that boy’s frightened squealing trying to elude the Car over a bridge – wimpy and emasculating to adult me – pulled at my heartstrings as a youngster. The obnoxious French horn playing dope … that we see him run over forward and backward – twice – horrified me as a kid. That befuddled fat dopey cop trapped in his cruiser and gently, menacingly shoved off the cliff by the Car. Wow, does every southwestern police car haul easily-ignited napalm and C4 in their back seats? And – the most terrible of deaths! – poor, poor Lauren!

Sure, the film is chock full of crazy, stupid moments. Like the Car suddenly cutting into a wild roll to take out two oncoming police cruisers racing down the highway side-by-side. Or its ridiculously tossing Wade ten feet in the air with its slightly ajar door. Or its leaping four feet off the ground to demolish its way through a victim’s house – and a victim in the process. Yeah, they’re stupid and crazy – but they never seemed stupid and crazy to young me. No, they just seemed, for lack of a better word, badass.

Watch out for that door, Wade!

And that same word best describes the design of the Car: Badass. Thoroughly badass. The low roof. The sunken headlights. The gaping fanged maw of a grill. The flat black shark-like paint. The lack of door handles – why wouldn’t a car have door handles??? The amber tinted windshield. I dunno. But the dude who designed that Car knew what he was doing and tapped into something primeval, something Jungian, something unfathomable, as does the shark in Jaws and the demon in The Exorcist.

And I love the concept of a “driverless” car … and the scene, pre-toss, where Wade almost catches a glimpse of the Car’s interior.

The best scene in the film is quite powerful. Possibly Hitchcockian, definitely Spielbergian. It’s the scene where the Car silently surprises Brolin in his garage as he’s preparing to destroy the thing. Extremely well done. Tense, oozing menace, and telegraphs a lot of power into the antagonist. That scene alone pulls the flick up one whole star in any serious review.

Oh, and the ending! I loved the grim, taciturn, alpha-male resolve to take down the Car after it kills Lauren. As if it Crossed a Line and Things Just Got Personal. Enjoyed the just desserts wife-beater / demolition mogul Amos receives as he’s shanghaied into the plot to destroy the Car. How me and my brother analyzed that massive super-explosion fireball … searching for that demon face! Watching it a few days ago, 38 years later, I thought I saw fangs and a lion’s paw. Back then I swore I spied a sharp-toothed mouth spitting out literal tongues of flame.

I see, uh, a claw ... fangs? ... a gaping maw?

Ronny Cox saw a demon. Wade saw nuthin'!

I’m honestly surprised at the negativity toward this movie when I started searching for it a few months back. It’s an unabashedly beloved scarefest from my childhood. Rumor has it that in some cuts of the film, there’s a final seen of the Car lurking about the streets of Los Angeles, stalking more victims to satisfy its bloodlust. That’s something I’d like to see for curiosity’s sake.

Body count = 11 onscreen deaths (two cyclists, hitchhiker, police chief, six cops, Lauren). Possibly more offscreen.

Grade: A+ cheese.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Bartolo Colon

Best tweet of the night ...

Whoever called the Kentucky Derby the greatest two minutes in sports hasn't seen Bartolo Colon's home run trot.

Bartolo Colon, girthy and corpulent pitcher for the New York Mets and My Main Man, has just hit his first career home run at the ripe old age of 42. It was a glorious thing to witness, and I witnessed it as it happened. As many others have tweeted, the end times are nigh.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Where is Hopper? Where is Hopper?

Here I am!

Ay! It’s been an action-packed week.

I’ve been busy interviewing with a company for a payroll position these past few days. Calls to a recruiter, a short phone interview, a 40 minute phone interview, and, just yesterday, a two hour in-person interview. I think I will be finally earning some money soon. Only problem is child care. We have Patch in an aftercare program that ends 5:45 and Little One, only eleven and technically not able to be alone legally (nor would I feel a hundred percent assured if she could), gets out of school at 3 (unless she has track practice, then its 5). We’re working on it, but that’s the latest knot of stress keeping me up at night.

Counting a face-to-face meeting with a new recruiter later today, I’ve had twelve phone, FaceTime, and in-person interviews in just under six months. Most have vanished down the memory hole once completed. One or two have been downright depressing. This last job has been positive. I feel the hand-moving-chess-pieces aspect of it, though vast swathes of it still sit on my chest like that X-ray-proof-leaden-vest-the-dentist-puts-on-you of Dread. Gotta have faith things will work themselves out. They always have, for the most part, in the past.

Still intending to proceed with the tax preparation plan that would start sometime in August. Spent ten or twelve hours over the past two weeks reading and reviewing some books on the subject recommended to me. One thing that’s really come home to me over the past year is to never put all your eggs in one basket. Something I’ve done, unfortunately, all my life. Something I will pass on to my children in hopes that they will learn from their dad’s miscues. In five years, in a perfect world, I’d like to see myself making income from three sources. Should any source fail, the other two will carry us until I can get another one back in play.

A free subscription to The Hopper if you can guess what my other source of income will be.

Anyway, I’ve kept up the morning workouts, walking and weightlifting, five or six days a week, and that’s helping me maintain a positive equilibrium. I also visit my local church three or four times a week for a quiet fifteen minutes of prayer and meditation. So very comforting to be in a dark, peaceful, warm church in the middle of the afternoon. Serenity and transcendence. A fortress of respite from the daily grind, the neverending stress, the inanity of the work buy consume die culture we swim in. Perhaps the best fifteen minutes of my day. That is, unless I’m cuddled up under blankets on the floor with the little ones watching a really cheesy SF movie and eating popcorn.

Oh, and speaking just of that, I recorded a classic – CLASSIC! – movie from my youth, 1977’s The Car this past weekend and watched it with Little One yesterday. Patch wants to watch it, so I’ll be viewing it again (this second time with my hands ready to drop over her eyes for the two or three scenes that might not be appropriate for a seven-point-five year old). My brother and I watched this flick countless times on the new-fangled cable TV of our youth way back then. If I have the time and energy this week, I might do a big blow-out post on the movie a la the one I did on Breaking Bad a few weeks back.

Read an extremely intriguing and short book on the Jungian psychology implicit in Herman Melville’s great American novel, Moby Dick. (Still don’t believe I have a hyper-eclectic taste in literature?) Now, theories of Carl Jung – archetypes, the collective unconscious, the journey of self-realization – have interested me off and on since I first read of them in the early 2000s. Haven’t written much about it, here on the blog, since I legitimately don’t know enough to write about it with any semblance of authority, and never really had the time to delve into the subject. (I did buy Jung’s book on the UFO phenomena of the 1950s years ago, and am salivating in anticipation of his explanation to those shiny metal objects up in the sky … but have never set aside time to jump into it.)

Anyhoo, this book on Moby Dick inspired me to re-read the novel. I’m already a quarter into it and it’s a much more energetic page-turner than I remember when I read it twenty years ago. But more on that later, in another post.

I’ve been editing my second manuscript over the past couple of weeks. Currently I’m up to page 290 out of 426. My goal is to finish it before I resume full-time work. Shouldn’t be too difficult, as I’ve learned over the past year that I enjoy writing / editing infinitely more than I do marketing / self-promoting.

Well, that’s all for now – got to get the girls to school. Looking to post something of interest this weekend.