Two pigs walking a cat

The kitteh is surprised

No, this isn’t the start of a joke leading to a bar and the cats ordering cosmos or something. It’s a real video of a seriously unlikely friendship that works: two pigs walking a cat.

If you’ve ever owned cats, as I have, you know how impossible this is. Dogs are social–they’re pack animals. Cats are solitary hunters, if not psycho killers, God bless ’em. And I tried to walk our three cats.

Did. Not. WORK.

Here’s what usually happens when you try to walk a cat and this Cat Walking Guru, who is a braver man than I.

What do you want?

friendly friday friendly dog meme

Thank you to all the readers of this silly blog. I’m running experiments and on a streak of posting once a day–so now’s a good time to switch things up. What would you like to see?

More languages

WordPress shows which country people are reading from, and I’m noticing Finland, China, Turkey, India–and some place called the Isle of Man, which seems a bit sexist. It’s 2018, not 1518.

I’m running a plugin that translates the blog into the following languages:

If you’d like another language on the list, tell me and I’ll get it going.

Bleeding red ink

What first pages of popular or classic novels are highly over-rated, or put you in a coma, and deserve getting bled on with a red pen?

Which music videos are completely bonkers–or so wondrously complex that the lyrics and images need deciphering?

And is there a movie, TV show or streaming-thing that begs to be watched and dissected?

Switching things up

Should I open up the blog to guest posting goodness, as long as it’s not Karen reposting her Facebook feed full of MLM about essential oils?

Tell me if you’d enjoy more series, like Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse, or want one-offs like weird news stories about psycho killer raccoons terrorizing Olympia (real story) and Texas grandmothers shooting monstrous alligators who ate their miniature horses years ago (also real).

I’m also thinking about adding more analysis of current events and tips on fighting lies and propaganda, seeing how the world has gone completely mad. Bit more serious than I intend for this blog, but these are not normal times.

Hit me up

Happy to listen to suggestions however you want to give them, except by telegram, Twitter DM’s or showing up in person. Not kosher. 

Send secret e-mails
guy@redpenofdoom.com

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@speechwriterguy

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A love letter to TV weather reporters, those brave, storm-chasing fools

Listen, I made a joke on the Twitter about TV weather reporters.

Except there’s more to it than a joke. These folks really are brave, and no, those windbreakers do not make them invincible.

As a former journalist, I get what they’re doing. We used to have the police scanner on all day and night in the newsroom, and if you heard about a flood, fire, car crash, murder or other bit of mayhem, it was a race to see who could grab their camera and notebook to get out the door first.

When everybody else heads away from danger, reporters walk right up and say hi.

Weather reporters don’t get much respect. It’s seen as an entry-level job, with veterans and hotshots doing “real news.”

So noobs at a TV station are usually the ones who have to get up at oh-dark-thirty to drive into the mountains and do a live shot at 6 a.m. that yes, it’s snowing, as you can see. Then another live shot at 6:30, 7:30, noon, and so forth. The same shot. The same news.

TV weather reporters wade into the floodwaters and storm surges.

And yes, they hit the beaches and try to remain upright when hurricanes roll in with 100+ mph winds.

It’s a tough job.

We should appreciate them more. These folks literally risk their lives trying to educate us and hopefully save some lives. Because if they’re showing up with a brave camera crew, it’s a clear sign that we really should get out of town.

Unlikely animal friends will restore your faith in the world

Because we’re apparently living in a reality show dystopia, and watching the news can put you in therapy, take a little break to watch this video.

Then cuddle your cat, play with your dog or befriend a murder of crows by feeding them peanuts (in the shell, it’s a happy puzzle!) every day until they start bringing you shiny objects as tribute. These shiny things may include car keys. Resist the temptation to turn your crow army into a crime ring with a chop shop behind the wrecking yard.

If taking some time with your furry pookies doesn’t help, watch THIS video of unlikely wild animal-human friendships.

Why writing is EXACTLY like running, except for the part about words

Most of the folks who follow this silly blog are creative types–novelists, editors, journalists, photographers and other brilliant, beautiful people.

So let’s talk about creativity.

Are the arts a habit? Or does the muse randomly descend upon your noggin, so long as you make the right sacrifices and entreaties?

Though my love for the muse is strong, I’m making the case for habit.

All the way.

Because writing–and other creative work–is a hell of a lot like running. Here’s why.

1) The more you do it, the easier it gets

You can take classes about writing (or running), read books, watch videos and listen to experts.

In the end, though, there’s no substitute to getting off your duff and doing it.

And the more you write, or run, the easier it gets.

The first time you run a mile, or write something Serious, it’s painful.

Sometimes so painful that you question why anyone would do this ever again.

But then the next time, you run two miles, or write something twice as long, and it only hurts half as much.

Creativity is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets.

2) You can’t save up and go wild

It’s far, far easier to write 500 words a day, or run 5 miles five days a week, then tell yourself, “Hey, I’m busy this week, but on the weekend, I’ll crank out 2,500 words of that novel or run 25 miles.”

Hear me now and believe me later in the week: trying to cram it all into a weekend, or a single day, is setting yourself up to fail.

A mile a day is easy. You can walk it.

Same thing with 100 words, which you can do with a stubby pencil and the back of an envelope while hanging upside down on a roller coaster.

Two miles a day is still easy, just as 200 words a day is a breeze.

The difficulty goes up exponentially.

Famous novelists in history like Hemingway used to count their words religiously, by hand. They didn’t have a button on Word that did the work for them. And they’d quit for the day after hitting a target like 500 words.

Doesn’t sound like much. Yet that 500 a day is huge.

If you write 500 words a day, every day, that’s 182,500 words a year.

Three novels, unless you’re doing sagas about elves and dragons and such, in which case congrats on finishing that prologue. (I say that out of love.)

Sure, on good days you’ll crank out 1,000 words, and on great days you’ll hit 2,000 and if you’re absolutely on fire, congrats and 4,000.

It’s just that you can’t count on 2,000 words a day, every day, week after week.

Same thing with running. I can do 5 miles maybe three days a week, and work up to four or five days a week after a month or two.

Might do ten miles once a week, if I’m feeling it.

Ten miles a day, every day, isn’t realistic.

Resting all week and running 25 miles on Sunday? Nopity nope nope. Ain’t happening.

3) Loud music and solitude

There are writers I know who can’t write unless the door is closed, to get rid of that feeling that somebody is behind them.

Unless you have a twin, or a great friend who’s in exactly the same shape as you, it’s tough finding a running partner who goes at the same pace and is available to run whenever you can cram it in.

Writing and running are both made for headphones and solitude.

This is one area where running and writing diverge, since I don’t write anything Serious without a fresh cup of joe, while running five or ten miles while carrying a coffee mug hasn’t worked out yet.

4) Coaching, advice and gear isn’t everything, but it sure helps

It’s possible to write only using a pen and legal pads.

Somebody could run barefoot, every day, and be faster than a sedentary person running once a week wearing $225 shoes.

HOWEVER: good coaching, tips and equipment help.

I type faster on an ergonomic keyboard and run faster with good shoes.

Scrivener is better than Word, which is better than a legal pad.

And in both things, there’s always something to learn. One of the wisest men I know says, “Whenever I meet somebody, I learn something.”

Never think asking for advice is a flashing neon sign telling the world you’re an amateur.

Coaching, advice and gear gets more important the better you get at writing or running.

Professional runners and writers don’t tell people, “Yeah, I do this for a living, which makes me an expert, so why would I ask people for help or advice?”

The opposite is true, with the best professionals in the world seeking out the MOST coaching and help, since even a 1 percent boost to their performance matters.

5) Mixing it up is essential

You don’t run the same route, distance and pace every time. You do a hill day, a sprint day, a distance day.

Same thing with writing. There’s great benefit to mixing up what you do and layering it all together.

Journalists should try fiction.

Novelists should give poetry a go.

Screenwriters can gain from checking out rhetoric and speechwriting.

And there’s an order to how you write or train.

Runners and other athletes do workouts in certain progressions: start slow and build up volume. Rest, stretch, massage, ice, heat. It’s not the same thing every day.

Writers have their own progressions. You can’t write and edit at the same time, just like you can’t run and stretch in the same minute. These things happen in series, not parallel.

6) Deadlines focus the mind

Without deadlines, it’s easy to meander along. There’s always tomorrow, next week, next month, next year.

Deadlines make things happen.

I’m running more and more often, and for longer distances, due to a looming deadline: a half marathon in September.

Same thing is true with writing, where deadlines rules.

For the month of August, I did a little experiment. Could I write one post on this silly blog every day, put down at least 500 words a day on the new novel–plus train for the half marathon?

Running got easier, every time. Two miles turned into three miles, then five, six, seven, nine, ten–it flowed.

Without that half-marathon coming up, I would’ve been happy doing five miles forever, and never tested myself to see if nine or 10 would kill me.

Though I missed one Friday with the blog, I doubled up on a different day for 31 posts in 31 days. NOT TOO SHABBY. Pretty sure that’s the most I’ve posted in any month since the dawn of time.

And on the novel, I cranked out 15 chapters, which works out to half a chapter a day, every day.

For structure geeks, that’s 15 chapters out of 36 total in a four-act structure, with nine chapters per act.

Three chapters shy of half a novel is a beautiful, beautiful month.

You don’t complain about that, unless you want the Writing Gods to strike you down with lightning after opening a sinkhole beneath your feet.

I raise my glass to August, for it was Good.

Not good because the muse decided to bless me.

Good because habit, discipline and dedication beats inspiration. Every single time.

One man’s love letter to romance authors and readers

Listen: romance novels don’t get enough respect.

Not for the amazing army of authors. Not for the editors and literary agents.

And not for the millions of loyal readers.

That should change. Here’s why:

1) The world needs books more than ever

If you care about ideas and words, you should care about books.

Newspapers and magazines are below books on the food chain of ideas and insights. I say this as a former journalist who bleeds newsprint if you cut me.

Only books give a writer enough space and time to truly dive deep into a topic.

Every library is an arsenal of liberty and each book is a foot soldier in the war against ignorance, apathy and hate.

We need books more than ever, with propaganda, misinformation and tyrants—or wannabe tyrants—one the rise around the world.

Books matter. When it comes to ideas, they are irreplaceable.

Oh, television and movies make billions. Money isn’t the same as importance. TV, movies and the Series of Tubes can’t replace the role of books.

And the foundation of a healthy book industry? Romance novels.

It’s not even close.

Crime and mystery novels are No. 2, at $728 million a year in the U.S. book market. Sidenote: there are conflicting opinions of what genre is No. 2. I’m not getting into that fight.

Romance novels lap the field with a staggering $1.44 billion a year.

2) Romance is not a fad

Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.

You can make a case that YA dystopian fiction was a fad, just like a zombie movies and books were once hotter than the sun but now colder than an icy hand wrapping around your throat at midnight in a graveyard.

There are fads in publishing, just like anything else.

Romance novels, though, are eternal and infinitely varied.

There’s contemporary and historical, futuristic and fantasy, gothic and paranormal, series and suspense, straight and LGBTQ.

Sidenote: I believe a good percentage of romantic suspense novels would get placed on the mystery and thriller shelf if you reversed the genders of the protag and love interest. Switch the genders of my favorite series, the Reacher novels, and bookstores would put those on the romantic suspense section. I own every Reacher novel and they all have a strong romance subplot, with the love interest the most important character aside from Reacher, somebody who gets more time on the page than the disposable villain Reacher will inevitably outsmart before he crushes their bones into powder. The fact that the gender of the protag determines where the book gets placed on the shelves kinda pisses me off.

3) Women rule the book world, yet men dominate book reviews

Women hold 70 to 80 percent of publishing jobs and make up the majority of both literary agents and book buyers.

However: male authors and male critics dominate book reviews.

That’s upside down.

It’s smart business to pay attention to what people buy, and dumber than dumb to ignore the actual market and what your customers want.

If movie critics ignored 90 percent of action movies and only wrote reviews for black-and-white French existentialist movies, the average movie-goer would be hacked off. I don’t care what industry you talk about. Car reviewers who only write about $240,000 exotic sports cars aren’t really helping their readers, who buying sedans and pickups and minivans.

Book critics and book reviews should reflect what book buyers actually put down money to buy.

4) Romance is a story that needs to be told

Literature—and all stories—is really about what’s worth living for and what’s worth dying for.

War and action movies answer the question of what’s worth dying for.

The best stories about what’s worth dying for show how tough this choice can be. CATCH-22 doesn’t say World War II was a bad war. Clearly, Hitler needed to be stopped. The question Yossarian struggles with is truly this: After the war is basically over, do you really need to risk your life flying more missions that will probably get you killed, or should you save your life by becoming a deserter, shunned by your country but still breathing?

Romance novels are about what’s worth living for.

Who should pick as a partner or spouse, to love and cherish and maybe start a family?

That’s a massive, massive question. You better get it right, because getting it wrong can be the biggest disaster ever.

Romance novels show people struggling to make the right choice. Who should you pick as a partner in love and life?

5) Romance authors, editors and readers are strong where male writers are weak

If you’re a male writer, I’d suggest getting editors, critique partners and beta readers with a romance background.

Every. Single. Time.

Hear me now and believe me later in the week: Romance folks are strong where most male authors are weak. Seek them out. And when you need a professional editor, hire them.

The opposite is also true. I’ve edited novels for a number of female authors, including romance authors writing thrillers (or romantic suspense), and I think we both learned a ton each time. Strengths and weaknesses should be complementary, and you won’t find that with an editor, critique partner or beta buddy who’s a clone of you.

Also: romance authors and readers have the biggest and best-organized communities, online or in person. They have their act together.

RWA is an army, folks. Do not mess with them.

6) HFN and HEA are squad goals, people

Men should push for tax breaks for romance novels. Seriously.

This is my experience: My wife reads everything. She’s a trial attorney and the mayor, basically working two jobs. And sure, we have all kinds of books in our library and all over the house: books on rhetoric, the classics, non-fiction, thrillers, mysteries. Everything. Yet the last thing she or I want to do after a hard day is to read heavy non-fiction or dense, depressing lit-rah-sure, which on weeknights makes me feel like I have to pull an all-nighter to write a 20-page term paper, and I am done with all that.

Romance novels let her relax. They make her happy, just like reading thrillers makes me relaxed and happy.

Happy wife, happy life.

There’s a reason why if there’s no HFN (Happy For Now) or HEA (Happily Ever After) that it’s not actually a romance novel. Could be a tragic love story, like ROMEO AND JULIET, but not a romance.

The message of romance novels is that despite how hard it can be to pick the right person, and build a strong relationship with them, all of that is worth the effort. That’s why the ending has to be HFN or HEA.

I like that message.

Strike that. I love it.

It’s hopeful, noble and something we all need to hear.

Because in the end, it’s our relationships—not how many digits are in your bank account, or how fancy your car and house is—that really matter in life.

P.S. As a bonus, check out this great infographic from PBS. My only quibbles: at the end, they give FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and the e-book trend too much space, though this was back when that book was huge and e-books seemed like the future. Now, readers are pushing back for more physical books. Because hey, there’s nothing like the smell and feel of a read hardcover.

Hey there

Here’s the deal: I’ve been crazy busy with Other Things, and did not post to this silly blog much lately. And I missed it.

Missed dissecting the first pages of novels, the full three minutes of insane music videos and the reasons why the Series of Tubes will always, always be awash in videos of cats.

Missed talking smack with writers, editors and creative types scattered on every continent.

Missed the whole damn thing.

It’s good to be back here. Am writing a post every day for the month of August (so far, so good) and it’s made writing other things, for work and fun, much easier and faster. A happy snowball.

So: thanks for reading, thanks for commenting or tweeting at me–and thanks to many of you for teaching me a lot.

P.S. Just shout if you have suggestions for posts, such as which novels, music videos or movies (a) desperately deserve to get bled on with a red pen, (b) need to be taken apart to see why they work so well or (c) are so godawfully bad they circle back to good. I may open this thing up for guest posts, even. YOU NEVER KNOW.

If you care about protecting our democracy, follow these people on Twitter

In normal times, I’d never title a post like that, except as a joke. Yet these are not normal times.

You can see that based on how people changed the way they use Twitter.

I follow all sorts of people: screenwriters and speechwriters, librarians and literary agents, authors and architects. Twitter let’s me chat with folks from Iceland to India, and instead of talking about the things we love, like books and movies, most of the people I follow increasingly tweet about politics. Why? Because it’s not hyberbole to say that free democracies around the globe are under attack.

Creative people get that. They see what happens to reporters, writers and filmmakers when authoritarians subvert what used to be a democracy. They understand that liberties like freedom of the press can be taken away by the stroke of a pen and watch as police round up political leaders along with reporters who write stories the Dear Leader doesn’t like.

This list of five is mostly conservatives and national security / law enforcement folks. That’s for one simple reason: they have the strongest ethos on this issue.

It takes guts to walk away from your political home. Your career will suffer, even though you’re choosing country over party. I respect the hell out of that.

As for national security professionals and counter-intel folks, they know this fight better than anyone and have dedicated–and risked–their life to protecting all Americans, regardless of party, race, creed or color. My grandfather flew bombers in World War II and was a FDR Democrat, while my father’s a disabled Vietnam vet who votes Republican, but they both served the same flag and constitution. They swore the same oath to protect our country and constitution from enemies foreign or domestic.

Our democracy is under attack from enemies foreign and domestic, as are democracies in Europe and around the world. If you care about that, the people on this list are worth a listen.

1. John Schindler — @20committee

#Natsec @observer, historian, security consultant, author, provocateur, bon vivant, polyglot, counterintelligencer, cat guy. Former NSA, NAVSECGRU, NWC.

2. Rick Wilson – @TheRickWilson

GOP Media Guy, Dad, Husband, Pilot, Hunter, Writer. Author of Everything Trump Touches Dies, coming August 7th.

3. Molly McKew – @MollyMcKew

Writer. Information warfare expert. Foreign Policy and Strategy Consultant.

4. Malcolm Nance – @MalcolmNance

US Intelligence +36 yrs. Expert Terrorist Strategy,Tactics,Ideology. Torture, Russian Cyber! | NYT Bestselling Author, Navy Senior Chief/Jedi Master, NBC/MSNBC.

5. Clint Watts – @selectedwisdom

Author: Messing With The Enemy Current: @MSNBC@FPRI & @gwcchs Former: @USArmy@FBI@CTCWP

 

P.S. Wrote a quick little guide on how to fight back against propaganda, lies and oppression. It’s built to be brutally practical, no matter where you live or when you need to use it.

 

 

A peek inside the brain of puppers and doggos

friendly friday friendly dog meme

If you’ve owned dogs and served cats, as I have, watching them closely can give you a peek inside their noggins.

There’s a great book by Jared Diamond—GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL—that drops serious knowledge about the kittehs and doggos, and yes, that book is all about the rise and fall of civilizations around the world, so why would he bother with house pets?

Here’s why:

(1) Diamond says you can figure out which civilizations struggled and which turned into mighty empires with a simple trick: count how many plants and animals they could domesticate.

(2) That’s because you can’t have permanent villages and cities, much less an empire, if you’re stuck roaming around as hunter-gatherer. Tough life, carrying everything that you own, especially without a horse to haul it around. You have to be able to grow wheat and herds of goats and such to settle down and have villages, then cities, then science and tiny supercomputers that allow a single human to send Candy Crush spam to all of their Facebook friends.

(3) The only animals that can truly be domesticated are ones that naturally travel in packs or herds, because only those animals understand how to be social. In other words, animals with some natural manners. Other animals might be sort of tamed, but never truly domesticated.

(4) Doggos live in packs and are totes social.

(5) Cats are solitary hunters and brutal killers. Seriously. Yes, even the ones that look like this:

The kitteh is surprised
Surprise Kitteh is surprised.

Back when The Discovery channel did science instead of reality shows about pawn shops and such, there was a Top 10 Predators episode. You had the great white shark, polar bears, lions, tigers, Kevin Spacey, you know, the usual suspects.

Number 1? House cats. Even if well fed, they’ll run around killing scads of birds, mice and whatever else they can, just for fun. They are furry little Sith Lords.

So why are puppers and doggos so different?

I’ve watched our Hound of the Baskervilles from when he was about one year old and have gotten a good look inside his head.

Mystery Number 1: Why do dogs HATE the mailman?

This seems to be such a cliché, an urban legend. The kind of thing that could get traced back to an off-hand line on I LOVE LUCY that just took off in pop culture and never died off.

Except there are good reasons for dogs to hate mail carriers and delivery folks.

Since we live on a dead-end road with few neighbors, there are two distinct types of people driving by: folks who live here and visitors.

The Hound doesn’t bark once when he hears the cars of people who live here. Doesn’t even look up—he knows the sound of each engine, though he’ll head for the door to greet family members when he hears their car start up the hill.

Random visitors might get barked at, but to him, they heed that warning and keep on driving past to their destination. They don’t stop at our house or show back up again tomorrow.

Delivery folks do.

To the dog, the FedEx folks show up all the time and the post office people come by every flipping day, ignoring all his barked warnings.

Even worse: the mailman is the only person to stop at the corner of our property for a long time. I believe, deep in my soul, the Hound thinks the mailman is peeing on our mailbox. Because that’s what a dog would do: mark territory.

It doesn’t matter who’s wearing the uniform and driving the delivery truck. To doggos, those are the colors of an invading army, and each person wearing them and stopping at the mailbox is sending a clear message: “Your home is now my territory, and so are the homes of all your neighbors and friends. Your warning barks don’t frighten me. I’ll be back tomorrow to pee on the mailbox and claim your home as mine. Do something about it, tough guy.”

Mystery Number 2:  What do dogs think of cats?

Back when we had three cats, the Hound couldn’t figure them out.

He understood the rules: don’t go upstairs, don’t go in the dining room and stay off the couches. We trained him to do things and when he did them, he got rewarded with treats or affection. That’s the system.

Cats don’t listen. They don’t care about your stupid rules or wishes.

To help train the doggo, we have him sit in another room when food goes in his bowl. And it might be a few minutes before we tell him OK, go eat. He sits at attention, no problem. It’s like he’s in the army. He enjoys clear rules and learning new tricks.

There’s no way any of our cats would ever sit and wait for food, not even if you offered them treats and love.

Quite the opposite. Whenever they were hungry, they made sure you knew it. Joy the White (kinda like Gandalf the Grey but after fighting that demon thing) would go further. If she was pissed off, she’d make it literal by stalking into the room to glare at you while she peed in a corner, just to show she was upset about her food bowl being empty or some such thing.

To the Hound, the cats were unpredictable and immature little furballs with no brains or social skills.

If he saw one of them breaking the rules, like walking into the dining room, he’d police them, gently nosing them back into the kitchen. Trying to get them in line. It wasn’t aggressive, like he was the boss. It was incredulous. “Are you crazy? Don’t offend the Tall Wizards Who Control Light and Dark, because we have a good thing going here: warm house, soft beds, fresh food and their protection. Why are you trying to screw that up?”

This isn’t a question of brains. Cats are plenty intelligent and with a lot of effort, some people have trained them. With zero effort, you can watch them do clever things and get into all kinds of trouble. Like experimenting with gravity.

Dogs are pack animals and wired differently. Puppers simply don’t understand why the Tiny Furballs with Needle Claws have no social manners and refuse to learn things from the Tall Wizards, especially when the reward for learning things is yummies and love.

Mystery Number 3: The on-off Switch of Guard Dogginess

The Hound sees it as his job to (a) alert us when strangers or delivery people are outside, and (b) to guard the door.

This is fine normally. When we have a lot of people over, though, it can be a hassle and a mystery–because once people are in the kitchen or dining room, there might be 15 people there he doesn’t know, and he won’t bark at a single one. his tail and happily gets petted all night.

A similar thing happens the Hound hits the kennel: the kennel owners always let dogs out into a fenced area separated from the main run. Every time, the new dog goes to the fence to touch noses with all the other dogs, then they let that new dog into the main area with tiny terriers and Great Danes, with zero problems. They all play together.

Except none of that works when the dog can still see their owner. They’ll bark at the other dogs and do not get along. The Switch of Guard Dogginess going from OFF to ON. Back on duty.

I took this idea home and started putting the Hound in the library when guests push the doorbell. Mystery solved: if people are at the door, he’s on duty. Once people are past the foyer and in the kitchen or dining room, I let him out and everything’s great.

In his doggy brain, he’s thinking something like this: “Clearly, the Tall Wizards let all these people deep inside to our most sacred room, where we store all the food. So they’re friends. Friends who brought us MORE food as tribute. I have never smelled so many good things! Our pack is popular, which means our territory and power is growing. The mailman dares not challenge us now.”

###

For serious dog knowledge, here’s some pretty good stuff on dog body language.

Things I’m selling that you should buy and such

MAGIC BREADMAKER

You put water and wheat-powder stuff inside, push a button to use the Force, then POOF, out comes bread.

Sort of like this:

rey makes bread

This breadmaker is in a nice, white box with all kinds of buttons.

Not included: Destroyed AT-AT shelter.

Asking price: Five bucks or one-quarter portion.

DOG HOUSE

It’s cedar, medium-sized and fancy, while our Hound of the Baskervilles is black, large and not fancy at all.

If you don’t have a destroyed AT-AT handy as a shelter, this will do nicely, as long as you’re under 5’3″.

Once I finished building it, our dog sniffed at the treats inside, drank from the water bowl and ran off to chew on sticks and chase rabbits. He never entered it again.

Later, he explained to me that the whole point of being outside is to be outside, rain or sun, and that being rained on is good for you sometimes. It makes you appreciate the sunshine. He also said that kibbles are for cats and that when we’re gone, he sits on every chair in the house, not because he doesn’t know it’s wrong, but because rebellion is good for the soul.

Not included: Dog.

Asking price: An old Jiffy Peanut Butter jar of full of pennies, nickels and a couple of quarters.

FOUR REPORTER NOTEBOOKS STOLEN FROM THE NEWSROOM

I worked at a dying newspaper before working at dying newspapers was cool.

When the death spiral got fast and tight, they started rationing rolls of film, pens and reporter notebooks.

Yeah, they rationed notebooks. If you run out of paper while covering a story, hey, write on your forearm. It’s blank.

The second the supply cabinet got restocked, starving reporters rioted to grab all the film, pens and notebooks.

I still have enough reporter notebooks to roof a ranch-style house. They’re just the right size to put in your jacket pocket. Love ’em.

Not included: Stories for dying newspapers or rolls of film. Sorry. Threw the film out. Nobody even develops film anymore.

Asking price: A moleskin notebook that’s too nice for you to actually use, so you keep on writing on the back of envelopes to save the moleskin for the deepest of deep thoughts.

TWO SANSA MP3 PLAYERS

These are miniature technological wonders, tiny black boxes perfect for playing your favorite songs stolen from the interwebs, now that the only albums people buy are ones made of vintage vinyl and hoarded by bearded hipsters.

If you are not a bearded hipster, load these things up with your favorite songs for when you put on shorts and run around the neighborhood despite having two Hondas and a bicycle you never ride.

If you lose a player, who cares, because you have a spare with the SAME SONGS.

Actually included: Random music. Charge these up and yeah, there’s music on them. I have no idea whether this was during my Lenny Kravitz phase or not. Could be a bunch of Toad the Wet Sprocket.

Asking price: Two random CD’s you’ll never use again. I’m making a shiny roof for a bat house.

ONE RANDOM BOX FROM MY GARAGE

I’ve lived in NY, WA, Germany, the Netherlands, the Hinterlands, NY again, Spokaloo, Bellingham, Tacoma and now Monte—and every time I packed up to move, most things went into boxes that got transferred from one garage to another without anybody opening them. I paid attention during Greek Lit about that whole Pandora thing. You do NOT open boxes.

Whenever the garage door closes, these boxes put on Barry White songs and start multiplying.

Not included: A single clue as to what’s in the box.

Asking price: A random box from your garage, or enough C4 to atomize at least 45 boxes of stuff I’ll never look at again.

DIGITAL CAMERA

Five years ago, this was hot stuff. Small. Digital. Stick it in your pocket while you travel the world.

This is still the perfect camera for somebody learning to shoot or a starving college kid who realizes that even the smartest smart phone can’t zoom worth a damn.

Not included: Photos. You have to shoot them. Turn the dial to a setting you pretend to understand, frame the shot and push the button.

Asking price: Drive by with your windows down and I’ll happily Russel Wilson this thing into the soft cushions of your back seat.