Friday, October 31, 2014

Blurb and Excerpt for "Kaishaku"

     Below you’ll find the blurb and excerpt for my second ebook, “Kaishaku.”  Winners of the Horror Author Trivia contest and the Horror Movie Trivia contest will be able to get a free copy of either this book or “Dead Reckoning” (see October 27th post for more information on that book).  Kaishaku is also available on the Musa Publishing website ( and on Amazon.  The cover is on the right border of this blog.

  Kaishaku Blurb:

     After receiving a DUI, Dustin Dempster is working off some community service hours at a hospital.  While there he’s asked to do some amateur counseling of sometimes difficult patients.  He thinks this a waste of time, but he reluctantly agrees.
     One of these difficult patients is Levon Howard, a man paralyzed from the neck down because of a car accident.  He’s initially uncooperative, but after being charmed by Dustin’s brutal honesty and willingness to break some small hospital rules, he agrees to participate.  Soon he’s revealing his biggest secrets to Dustin…
     For Levon is an obsessed and unrepentant killer of the worst sort, only with a personal quirk.  Despite his revulsion, Dustin finds himself intrigued by Levon’s story.  Soon he finds himself doing what was once unthinkable, and realizes that he’s being affected by what he’s learned.  Will Howard’s madness claim yet another victim, or even another perpetuator?

Kaishaku Excerpt:

     Dustin pulled up his chair, and listened intently.
     “For starters, my name is Levon, so call me that.  Not big on ‘Mr. Howard.’  Fort is right in a way—I do want to talk.  Just not to someone like him, or his flunkies, or a nurse.  What I’m going to tell you I’ve never told anyone—but I figure, why not?  My life—my real life—is over.
     “You never told anyone?  Why not?”
     “Shut up and listen!  You’ll see.  But anyway, the most important thing in my life is that I’m obsessed with killing.  With a catch—I’m not a murderer.  I’ve never been arrested, never went to jail, and never even broke the law.”
     Levon paused to catch his breath, and Dustin just stared at him, and resisted the urge to laugh.  Come on!  This guy’s gotta be fucking with me!  Or was he?  He looked pretty sincere—could he be serious?  Maybe he would have been better off not talking to him.  But, on the other hand, Levon could hardly attack him even if he wanted to, and besides, Dustin was a little curious.  So he waited for the paralyzed man to resume.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pumpkin Beers (Updated)

     (Regular readers of this blog might be saying, “Wait a second, this post sounds awfully familiar.”  And they’d be right, this is a reprint from a year ago.  However, I have updated it a little bit, as I was able to try some more pumpkin beer offerings.  Essentially, I needed another Halloween-related post for the Coffin Hop, and couldn’t think of anything else in time!  New updates are marked with an asterisk (*) in front of them.)
     Since it’s the Halloween season I thought I’d do a post about the brew of the season—pumpkin beers.  By doing so I may be risking alienating (or boring) any non-American readers, because pumpkin beers appear to be a nearly exclusive American beverage.  Also, these beers are probably pushing the “exotic” title, as due to their type’s popularity explosion in the past decade or so they’re probably more like “slightly unusual.”  But what the hell—I want to post about at least one food or beverage with a tie to Halloween this month, so let’s get on with it.
     In researching pumpkin beers, I was surprised to learn that their history is extensive.  Like before the U.S. was even a country.  One website I consulted noted that America’s first folk song, written in 1643, was a satire about eating (and drinking, in the form of pumpkin ales) nothing but pumpkins and parsnips.  The lyrics I viewed weren’t that funny to me, but humor can be culturally and time period bound, and this song is over 350 years old, so I’ll give it a break, and not mock it.  During this period, evidently malt was hard to come by, so early European colonists looking to brew beer turned to a local plant that was a good source of fermentable sugars, the humble pumpkin.  As a result, pumpkin ale was quite popular, especially in the 1700’s, along with regular porters and ales.  A recipe for making it survives from 1771, even.  However, this popularity took a major hit in the early 1800’s.  Pumpkin ale was seen as passé, and apparently malt sources weren’t such a problem to easily locate anymore.  Regular grain ales, porters, and then lagers especially came to dominate the U.S. beer scene in the mid to late 1800’s, and up until the present day.
     However, in the early days of the craft, microbrewing movement, in the late 1980’s, a brewer decided to experiment, and reintroduce the pumpkin beer.  This brewer, Buffalo Bill’s Brewery (out of the Pacific Northwest) even used one of founding father George Washington’s personal recipes for their prototype (although the commercial version was apparently different, and used pumpkin pie spices in place of actual pumpkin to make it).  Over the next couple of decades pumpkin beers steadily grew in popularity, and now hundreds of U.S. breweries offer them.
     And this in itself produced surprising information.  I didn’t realize how polarizing an issue pumpkin beer is.  People seem to mostly love it or hate.  I read a particularly vicious quote about the style from a Washington City Times beer writer, Orr Stuhl:  “Even picking a favorite is like picking a favorite airborne disease.”  Looking through some comments in the websites and blogs I looked at, I saw some similar opinions—how much they hated pumpkin beers, and in some cases, how they hated that they were sold, and how those that enjoy them are not “real” beer drinkers, etc.  These were balanced by comments defending pumpkin beers, many of whom extolled (or at least appreciated) the style.
     I myself, not shockingly, love to try new types of beer (and meat, organs, cheeses, vegetables, fruit—you get the idea), and I’m not adverse to all the fruit-flavored beer types, either, like lambics, krieks, winter seasonals—some are quite tasty.  Although I have to say that even the good ones, like decent ciders, are usually so sweet that I can only have one or two in a sitting, and can’t drink them all night.  But as a switch up, I can appreciate them from time to time.  Over the years I’ve tried the occasional pumpkin beer, and recall liking some, so I went into this project with enthusiasm.  But enough history and chatter, let’s get to the rankings.  I deliberately chose a mix of larger, macrobrewery offering, and smaller, local microbrews.  And these are listed, worst to best, using the school A(excellent) through F (failure) rankings.

Southampton Pumpkin Ale (New York State): D.  Very nasty, and astringent.  Not good at all.

Starr Hill Boxcar Pumpkin Porter (Virginia): D.  I like that they tried a different beer style—most pumpkin beers are ales or lagers—but the result was tremendously disappointing.  It was tasteless, like water.  Akin to a light beer—that’s how watery it was.

Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale (Colorado): D.  Thin, tasteless, and not worth it.

*Long Trail Unfiltered Pumpkin Ale (Vermont): D.  Bad.  Metallic-tasting.  Not pumpkin-y at all.  What happened?  Long Trail is usually a quality brewery—a rare miss.

Buffalo Bill’s Brewery American Original Pumpkin Ale (Pacific Northwest): D+. You may recall from above, this was the one that reintroduced the style back in the late 1980’s.  So I expected it to be exceptional, since so many copied it, or at least the idea.  But no, for me.  I found it only slightly pumpkin-y, and a lot astringent.  

Lakefront Pumpkin Lager (Wisconsin): C-.  Disappointing.  Only a hint of pumpkin flavor.  Watery and weak.

Post Road Pumpkin Ale (Brooklyn Brewery, NY):  C.  Okay, not great.  Slightly bitter in an unpleasant way.

Shocktop Pumpkin Wheat (Missouri):  C.  Mediocre.  Had slight cinnamon taste.

Shipyard Brewing Pumpkinhead (Maine):  C.  Drinkable.  Not very pumpkin-y.  Rather bland and inoffensive.

*Wolaver’s Pumpkin Ale (Vermont): C.  Just average.  Kind of bland-ish.  Not bad, just not a very compelling flavor.

Ithaca Country Pumpkin (NY):  C+.  Okay, weakish.  Not great.

*Great South Bay Splashing Pumpkin Ale (Long Island, NY): C+.  Pumpkin-y at first, but ends a little weakly.

Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale (Massachussetts):  C+.  Slightly better than average, but still not very special.

The Traveler Beer Company Jack-o Shandy (Vermont)  C+.  Really different—it’s a shandy (lemon peel) mixed with pumpkin.  Weird.  Flavor pairing is a little off-putting and strange, but somehow is not terrible, and is oddly drinkable.

Uinta Punk’n Harvest Pumpkin Ale (Utah):  B-.  Nice odor.  Okay, a tad blandish.  Still a marked improvement over most of the others.

Harpoon Pumpkin UFO Unfiltered Ale (New England): B-.  A bit weak, but better than average.  Slightly more pumpkin-y.

*Harpoon Imperial Pumpkin (New England): B.  This was a surprise, as I usually do not like stouts at all.  Tastes very heavy and strong (it’s 10.5% alcohol!).  Slightly spicy.  Weird.  Has sweetish, vanilla-y burn at end.  Really grew on me.

* Southern Tier Pumking (NY): B.  Sweet, vanilla-y.  Good.  Hides alcohol content (8.6%) well.  To be fair, it didn’t taste very pumpkin-y, but it was tasty all the same.

Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale (New Hampshire): B+.  Nice odor, very good.  Spicey.  Tastes normal at first, than pumpkin flavor really kicks in nicely.

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale (Pennsylvania): A-.  Very good.  Blend of spices was well done.

    In conclusion, looking at my rankings, I’m struck that I’m apparently an exception to the “love it or hate it” dichotomy.  Almost half (7, now 9) I found to be mediocre and average (“C” rating), and I disliked (“D”) 4 (now 5), and really enjoyed (“B to A”) 4 (now 6).  And even the 4 (now 5) lowest ranked ones weren’t terrible, weren’t drain pours or anything.  So it appears, if I generalize, that I kind of like the style, but only slightly.  Also, I should note that I wasn’t able to get my hands on two of the acknowledged superior pumpkin beers—Dogfish Head’s Punkin and Southern Tier’s Pumking (obviously, I did find this one—it’s ranked above).  If I can locate them I’ll add them to the list.
     * Furthermore, I’ve been a little puzzled, and amused, by the recent furor over “pumpkin spice.”  It appears that some people are really upset over this flavor being added to coffee/lattes, doughnuts, cakes, candy, candles, etc.  I get that many people don’t like pumpkin spice flavoring, or are a little annoyed that it’s being offered in tons of products, and you see the words everywhere, but it still seems like an overreaction.  It seems pretty easy to just not order the offending flavor, and just ignore the fad for a few weeks.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Horror Movie Trivia Contest

     Just to review, this is one of the contests I’m running for the Coffin Hop.  The first person to comment in with all 10 answers correct wins their choice of a free copy of one of my ebooks—“Dead Reckoning” or “Kaishaku.”  In the event that no one answers all 10 correct, it will go to the person who answers the most correct by the end of the Hop—12:01 a.m., November 1st, 2014, Eastern Standard Time.  (And in the event of a tie, I’ll flip a coin, or draw names out of a hat.)
     As usual, I tried to make this challenging, so some brief internet searches might be necessary to figure these out.  Enjoy!

1)      Famous (infamous?) entertainer/actor/comedian/performance artist Andy Kaufman made his movie debut playing a murderous policeman in a 1970’s sci-fi/horror movie.  Name it.
2)      What famous horror director had an early job working on “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” shooting the “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy” episode?  (Side note—at the time, future movie star Michael Keaton was also working on the show, as a grip.)
3)      What actor appeared in both a “Friday the 13th” movie, two “Return of the Living Dead” movies, and is reported a good friend of George Clooney?
4)      What actress appeared in 1985’s “Weird Science,” 1988’s “Return of the Living Dead Part 2,”  1988’s “Killer Klowns from Outer Space,” and in two episodes of “Seinfeld,” one in which she played a Nazi?
5)      What two later famous actors both appeared in 1994’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre:  The Next Generation”?
6)      What famous sci-fi/horror director played a character who is killed by Jason Voorhees in a “Friday the 13th” movie?
7)      What famous horror director played a party guest (and was uncredited) in a scene in the 1988 Eddie Murphy comedy “Coming to America”?
8)      What was the only movie that Wes Craven directed to receive an Academy Award nomination, (for acting)?
9)      Famous actress Jennifer Aniston had her first real movie role in an early 1990’s horror movie.  Name it.  (Technically she first appeared in 1988’s legendarily awful “Mac and Me,” but that was as a extra.)

10)  Rank the following horror series in order, from least number of films to most.  This counts all remakes/reboots, etc.  And this is as of right now, late October, 2014—sure to change!  “Friday the 13th,” “Halloween,” “The Howling,” Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Saw,” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”  I’ll provide the numbers:  6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 12.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Underrated Horror Movie Gems--"Motel Hell"

     “Motel Hell” was a horror-comedy (or, you could make a claim that it was a comedy-horror) that came out in 1980, and was a modest hit.  But, as you can tell from the title of this post, I don’t think it’s received the acclaim it deserves.  Its name is memorable, and sort of known, but I still think it rates a bit more attention.
     The movie is about Vincent Smith, who runs a small hotel, and a successful smoked meat business, in partnership with his sister, Ida.  Their home is located way out in the country, in an unspecified state.  The Smith’s younger brother, Bruce, is the local town policeman.  A young woman, Terry, is in a serious motorcycle accident with her boyfriend, who is reported dead.  Having few other options, she decides to stay with the Smiths.  Things start to get sinister, as it becomes evident that Vincent and Ida aren’t the kindly farmers they seem, and their delicious cured meats might not be 100% USDA pork….
     (SPOILERS AHEAD)  And now for the spoilerific recap, for those that have seen it, but are hazy on the details.  We know fairly quickly in that Vincent and Ida are serial killers and cannibals.  Mostly they do this by setting traps along the local highway—secretly shooting tires out, laying out literal (bear) traps, having Ida pretend to be injured by a fake car accident on the side of the road, etc.  But they also occasionally get victims at their hotel—they lure swingers in, and then pretend to be into S & M to securely tie up their prey.  But, they don’t kill their victims right away—instead they bury them up to their necks in a secret garden, feed them through a funnel, and then periodically kill them off and add them to the cured meat products.  The family, we learn, has a long history of doing this, dating back at least to their grandmother.  Vincent and Ida’s brother Bruce isn’t in on the crimes, as he ran away when he was young.  The pretty Terry resists Bruce’s wooing attempts, and instead falls in love with the much older Vincent.  However, love is not blind enough to overcome the revelation that Vincent is a murderous cannibal.  Bruce, too, has become suspicious, and his investigation reveals that Vincent and Ida are killers.  Bruce arrives in time to (eventually) kill Vincent in a chainsaw duel, while Ida is (presumably) killed by the would-be victims after they dig themselves out of the secret garden.
     “Motel Hell” is obviously a parody of horror films.  Most notably, of course, of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974), which both feature bizarre families, cannibalism, and the chainsaw as a featured weapon.  There’s probably also a nod to 1960’s “Psycho,” since both feature crazy murderers who run small, isolated motels.  And, in general, the Smith’s hypocritical religious moralizing, and prudish disdain for modern and alternative sexuality, are clearly typical horror themes.  Also, when the secret garden victims dig out and go after the Smiths, the imitation of George Romero’s slow zombies is pretty easy to see, as they advance, moaning mindlessly, on their attackers.  (You could argue that this is unrealistic, and it probably is, but on the other hand, being buried for days, and fed only through a tube, probably would be physically and psychologically traumatic.)
     Several underlying themes and philosophies can be seen, starting with a definite environmental/hippie-type theme.  Vincent’s meat is proudly billed as chemical and preservative free.  Ida is an herbalist, who heals Terry injuries using these alternative substances.  Even though they’re purportedly Christians, as they watch the programs of and attend the church run by Wolfman Jack’s character, Vincent at one point worries about the karmic implications of what they’re doing to the human victims.  And this is less hippy-ish, but Vincent seems like a Malthusian in philosophy.  His justification for killing and cannibalizing people is that there’s too much overpopulation, and not enough food for everyone.  (Kind of an update on Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.”)  Finally, I was struck by Vincent’s pride in he and Ida’s tricks and traps to acquire victims.  He thinks they are creative, and even artistic.  Kidnapping as art—don’t think that even the most extreme performance artist has gone that far!
     It’s not all (dark) laughs, though.  There are several quite disturbing moments.  Most notably, the secret garden.  Vincent and Ida cut the victims’ vocal cords so that they can’t scream.  As a result, they make an unsettling, awkward gurgling sound that’s very chillingly memorable.  The scene where the Smiths bizarrely hypnotize the band members and then hang them is messed up, in a good, eerie way, too.  The overall idea is nasty as well.  The Smiths have implicated their neighbors in their crimes, indirectly, as the innocent customers have been made cannibals, too, have helped destroy the evidence of some murders with their own digestive tracts, like the cops in the cool Roald Dahl story and Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV episode “Lamb to the Slaughter.”
     Rory Calhoun’s portrayal of Vincent is very effective.  Despite his awful crimes, he’s still charismatic and sympathetic.  He’s got serious mental issues, clearly, and richly deserves his eventual fate, but you still sort of root for him.  Because he believes in what he’s doing—in his mind he’s not a bad guy.  He’s helping solve a problem.  One that’s unpleasant, but that needs to be done.  And, in his way, he’s not cruel.  He doesn’t gratuitously torture his victims, and in fact tries to be humane (in a crazy, psychotic way, granted).
     (END SPOILERS)  The acting in “Motel Hell” is a cut above the usual low budget horror fare.  Rory Calhoun as star Vincent, as noted above, carries the film.  Nancy Parsons, as Ida, is suitably odd and creepy.  Paul Linke, as Bruce, acquits himself well in a bumbling, sometimes oafish, but ultimately heroic role.  Nina Axelrod (Terry)’s role isn’t as challenging, but she does it competently.  Most of the supporting cast has one note (mostly victim) roles, but they’re okay, too.
     Looking at director Kevin Connor’s career, this appears to be the pinnacle.  Most of his movies were of the low budget sci-fi/fantasy type.  The only others I’ve seen were “The People That Time Forgot,” and “The Land That Time Forgot.”  Alas, both I recall as being horrendous.  Dumb stories (even to 13 year old me), and effects that were atrocious, not even so-bad-they’re-good.  To be fair, I haven’t seen his other features, and maybe I’d like some of them, but the titles and reviews don’t look too promising.  But, like I said, on “Motel Hell” at least he did a good job.
     Not to say that the movie was a perfect classic, though.  Those looking for a fast paced, straight horror film may be disappointed, for example.  Also, the climatic chainsaw battle scene was very poorly lit (or at least on the MGM Midnite Movies edition that I own).  I realize the dark can be atmospheric sometimes, but in this case I had a very difficult time seeing what was happening, which was a major problem when you’re watching such an important part of the story.
     Star Rory Calhoun had an interesting life.  He had serious behavioral problems early on, and served time in both juvenile reformatories and big boy prison like San Quentin.  He starred in numerous movies, such as “Adventure Island” (1947), “Way of the Gaucho” (1952), How to Marry a Millionaire” (1953), “Treasure of Pancho Villa” (1955), “Night of the Lepus” (1972) (See my August, 2014 post about rabbits for more info) and the camp classic “Hell Comes to Frogtown” (1987).  Not such a great guy to marry, though—one wife claimed he cheated on her with 79 other women.  Rory retorted that she didn’t include half of them!
     Paul Linke was fairly typecast as a cop, as he played one in various movies and on popular 1970’s-80’s TV show “CHiPs.”  Nancy Parsons is best known as Bealah Balbricker in “Porky’s” (1982) and “Porky’s: The Next Day” (1983), and also appeared in “Sudden Impact” (1983), and “Steel Magnolias” (1989).  Nina Axelrod did mostly TV—“CHiPs” (with Paul Linke), and “Charlie’s Angels.”  She went on to be a casting director.  Wolfman Jack (who played the preacher), was a famous 1960’s-70’s DJ, and also had a memorable role in “American Graffiti” (1973).  Of the supporting cast, one of the many victims was Monique St. Pierre, best known as a Playboy Playmate, and the punk band drummer of “Ivan and the Terribles” in the film was none other than John Ratzenberger, best known for his work on TV’s “Cheers” as annoying mailman Cliff Clavin.
     So if you’re looking for a horror movie with a few laughs, which pokes fun at some of the genre’s clichés, you could do a lot worse.    

Monday, October 27, 2014

Blurb and Excerpt for "Dead Reckoning"

      Below you’ll find the blurb and excerpt for my ebook, “Dead Reckoning.”  This is one of the ebooks available as a prize for those who win the Horror Author Trivia contest (posted Saturday, October 25th) and the Horror Movie Trivia contest (which will be posted Wednesday, October 29th).  Dead Reckoning was also nominated for Long and Short Reviews “Book of the Year” for 2012.  This book is available on the Musa Publishing website—    and on Amazon, among others. 

Dead Reckoning blurb:

      Kurt Minnifield is a fledging actor playing a zombie in a low budget horror movie.  The director and crew decide to move their shooting to lovely and isolated Watkins State Park… only they don’t get proper permission.
     Victor Newsome is a thirteen year old trying to both shed his nerdy image and learn outdoor skills at a special survival camp.  After teaching the boys how to make shelter and kill their own food, the counselors decide to take a day trip to the neighboring state park—Watkins.
     A series of ethical lapses, poor decisions, and bad luck lead to a colossal misunderstanding.  Violence erupts as both sides fight desperately against a dangerous set of foes.  Who will be more savage—the literal “monsters,” or the boys equipped with deadly weapons, and the knowledge of how to use them?

Dead Reckoning excerpt:

     Kurt struggled to catch up as the unknown actor continued to track the other zombies.  Now he saw that the other actors must have seen or heard the guy—they’d turned around and were advancing on him.  The guy wasn’t Chris, or Rickey, or Gene, either, this was definitely some new actor.  So what happens now?  No one had any special effects things on that he could see, so unless this man ran away the unscripted, natural shooting was over.
     The actor wasn’t fleeing.  He raised his gun and aimed it at the zombie in front, Will.  His hand shook for a second, and then he fired.
     The crack of the shot was loud, and Kurt nearly fell over in shock.  That was no blank!  That sounded real!  What the fuck?  And then he turned his head to look at Will.  Blood was running from a hole in his chest.  Kurt gasped.  Will had been the last zombie to be made up before Kurt—he was positive that T.J. hadn’t put any squibs on him.
     Will had stopped, and his zombie claws went to the wound, and he stared at the hole wonderingly.  The zombies nearest him—Tabby, Henry, and Ed, all dropped their arms down and were staring at Will too, and then back at the mystery man with astonished expressions on their faces.
     The guy hesitated, and then raised his gun a little, and fired again.  There was a second boom, and then Will’s eye broke up, followed almost immediately by the back of his head.  Blood, and pieces of whitish skull and grayish brains splattered out, onto the forest floor, and even slightly on Tabby’s arm.  Will fell on his side with a strange gurgling sound.
     Holy Shit! thought Kurt.  That was no squib either.  This was real!  This guy is psycho!  He watched as Tabby took off, into the bushes to the side of the clearing.  Henry and Ed crouched by Will’s body, and struggled to communicate with the alien assassin.  They waved their arms wildly, trying to signal “Stop” with their palms held up.  Their grunting was noticeably louder, but still inarticulate.  Kurt started to walk across the clearing to join the group.
     The armed man paused a moment more, and then aimed once again.  The two zombies tried to duck behind Will’s slumped corpse.  Two shots whined past, and then a third hit Henry in the shoulder.  Just then he whirled in Kurt’s direction and fired again, just as Kurt threw up his hands.  As soon as the gunman turned, Ed and Henry were in the bushes right behind Tabby.
     Fire rushed through Kurt’s left hand, just above the wrist.  He groaned as he saw blood, and tendons, and even bone through the hole in his mangled hand.  He dove to the ground, just as another bullet hit a tree right where his head had been.  And then he was gone, tearing through the bushes and trees almost without looking.
     The man trotted up to Will’s body, and kicked at it curiously.  He looked briefly at the spot where the hand-shot zombie had disappeared, and then he turned back and went after the first three zombies.
     It hadn’t been thirty seconds when the first fly landed on Will’s destroyed head, took off, and then landed again.  Soon a large crowd of them was jockeying for a prime position.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Halloween Myth

     With Halloween fast approaching, today I’d like to talk about a popular media topic about the holiday—tampered candy.  We’ve probably all heard the stories, either from newspaper/online stories, television segments, or accounts from relatives or the cliché “friend of a friend.”  The tales show an impressively detailed (and brutal) array of weapons—candy infused with poison or drugs, or candy (but most commonly apples) which have razor blades, needles, broken glass, etc. embedded in them.  The second “Halloween” movie featured this, with the poor kid who still has the razor-bladed apple stuck in his mouth.  It’s quite a serious matter.  Many folks don’t let their kids trick-r-treat (or at least severely limit it), and countless police hours have been spent investigating these alleged crimes.
     But here’s the thing—it’s almost completely overblown.  There have been a few incidents, but they are much less numerous, and serious, that what’s been presented.  To date, there’s never been a proven case where a child has been killed or even seriously injured from a tampered treat gotten during normal trick-r-treating.
     But let’s get into the history of this.  This type of mass hysteria reportedly started during the Industrial Revolution, which was the first time mass food production moved out of a person’s home (or at least a close, known person in your neighborhood, etc.).  Helping this out was that many food items were actually dangerous to eat during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s—reading Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel “The Jungle” (based on observing real meat packing (and general labor) conditions) is disturbing and horrific, and led to the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act in the same year.*
     However, the fear didn’t become specific to Halloween until about 50 years later.  In 1959, Fremont, CA dentist Dr. William Shyne gave trick-r-treaters candy-coated laxatives.  At least 16 received them, and there were several incidents of nausea and diarrhea resulting.  Dr. Shyne was charged with outrage of public decency and unlawful dispensing of drugs.  Then, in 1964, Greenlawn, NY housewife Helen Pfeil was supposedly put off by trick-r-treaters she thought were too old.  So, her “treats” passed out were dog biscuits, steel wool, and (clearly marked and packaged) ant poison buttons.  No one was hurt.  Pfeil said it was a joke, and received a suspended sentence.
     A later case was more serious.  In 1970 five year old Kevin Toston of Detroit died from eating allegedly poisoned Halloween candy.  This appeared to be a legitimate case of a treat poisoning initially.  Then, however, the truth emerged.  Kevin had come upon his uncle’s hidden stash of heroin, and ingested the fatal amount.  His family then tried to cover this up by sprinkling heroin on his candy.
     A 1974 incident was even grislier.  Eight year old Timothy O’Bryan of Deer Park, TX died after eating his Halloween candy.  Lab tests showed some Pixie Stix had been laced with deadly cyanide.  Preliminary investigations suggested a local neighbor, Courtney Melvin, was the source.  However, the neighbor had an airtight alibi—Melvin was an air traffic controller, and dozens of coworkers confirmed he was at work during Halloween night.  Suspicion grew when a salesman recalled selling cyanide to Timothy’s father, Ronald Clark O’Bryan, and even remembered Ronald inquiring about fatal doses for humans.  Plus, Ronald had also very recently taken out life insurance policies on his children, and was having serious money woes.  It turns out that Ronald had actually slipped poisoned candy in his daughter’s and three other children’s bags, but luckily they didn’t eat them.  Mr. O’Bryan was convicted of one capital murder charge and four attempted murders, and was executed in 1984 by lethal injection.  A crowd of 300 pro-execution people demonstrated outside the prison as he died, and showered anti-execution protesters with candy.  O’Bryan was dubbed “The Candy Man,” and “The Man Who Killed Halloween.”
     Several other children died or were seriously ill over the years, and this was initially thought to be from Halloween treat tampering.  But, lab tests and autopsies revealed other causes.  In 1978 two year old Patrick Wiederhold of Flint, MI died after eating candy, but lab tests proved there was no poison in the treats.  Ariel Katz (7) of Santa Monica, CA died while trick-r-treating.  The autopsy showed an enlarged heart was actually the reason for her tragic death.  In 1996 Ferdinan Siquig of San Jose was taken to a hospital after eating Halloween candy, and initial lab tests showed cocaine in his urine.  Subsequent re-tests indicated that the first test was in error.  Four year old Tiffany Troung of Vancouver, British Columbia died in 2001 after eating candy, but tests once again showed no poison, and that a streptococcus infection was actually the culprit.
     A couple of events were tragicomic.  In late September of 1988 in Emerson, NJ, a NY Times story reported that Sunkist Fun Fruit Dinosaurs had strychnine powder in them.  9400 cases of this candy were destroyed.  Tests indicated that this powder was actually harmless corn starch.  In 2000, in Hercules, CA, a Snickers bars were found that contained marijuana.  Police were able to track it to a single residence.  The investigation eventually indicated a convoluted, but innocent mistake.  A person had tried to mail pot to a friend disguising it as candy bars.  However, they used insufficient postage, so it was undelivered, and went to the dead letter department at the post office.  After the allotted time had passed a postal employee took possession, and thinking they were regular candy bars, handed them out to trick-r-treaters.  No injuries were reported.
     Here’s one final, legitimate tampering incident.  In 2000 in Minneapolis, MN, James Joseph Smith passed out Snickers Bars (again) with needles stuck in them.  A fourteen year old boy was cut slightly, but didn’t need medical attention.  Smith was charged with adulterating a substance to cause death, harm, or illness.
     And so on.  Joel Best, of the University of Delaware, has been studying this phenomenon for decades.  He checked out every alleged case he could find, and came to the conclusion I noted earlier—no one’s been confirmed to have been seriously hurt, much less killed, by treats handed out to trick-r-treaters.  The only deaths were by natural causes, or by accidental ingestion of illegal drugs found in the home (the Toston case), or a poisoning murder by the child’s own father (the O’Bryan case).  Best did find dozens of examples of minor tampering, but these were nearly all hoaxes, or pranks done to siblings or friends by people they knew.  Often, in response to hearing about the phenomenon from earlier media reports.  And as with other sensational reportings, many people read the initial, incorrect story, but fewer see the follow up or retraction where the mundane truth is revealed.
     There are real dangers about Halloween.  The day is fourth in the U.S. in number of injuries to children, after Labor Day, Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July.  Mostly due to car accidents—children are out, sometimes after dark, sometimes in costumes that impede their mobility or vision, or are difficult for motorists to pick out.  Here is another example of how people view dangers to themselves.  Folks tend to obsess over dangers that are infinitesimally rare (terrorist attack, or SARS, or shark attacks) while pooh-poohing much more realistic dangers (car accidents, obesity, smoking, etc).
     To sum up, I’m not advocating that parents or children should blindly trust everyone, of course.  Just because no one has actually done this fatal crime yet doesn’t mean someone won’t potentially do so.  It’s probably a good idea for parents to quickly check over candy/treats their children have collected, and discard anything that seems opened or weird.  I’m just pointing out that people should keep the real details about Halloween candy tampering in perspective, and not be panicked about it.

*  I read “The Jungle” fairly recently, and heartily recommend it.  Its accounts of the meat packing conditions, and the conditions for poor immigrants laborers in the U.S. in the late 1800’s—early 1900’s are indeed harrowing.  It does suffer a bit at the end, when the pro-socialist message gets a little unrealistic, naïve, and even sappy, but still, overall a worthy read in my opinion.  Interestingly, author Upton Sinclair was quite annoyed that the uproar over his book was almost solely about the disgusting meat packing conditions, and not the overall plight of the poor laborers.  He was quoted as saying, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Horror Author Trivia Contest

     This is one of the contests I’m running for the Coffin Hop.  The first person to answer all 10 questions correctly wins their choice of one of my ebooks—“Dead Reckoning” or “Kaishaku.”  If no one answers all 10 correctly, the winner will be the person who answers the most correctly by the end of the Hop—12:01 a.m., November 1, 2014, Eastern Standard Time.  If there’s a tie, I’ll pick the winner randomly, by picking a name out of hat, or flipping a coin.
     Also, I reference these several times in the questions, so just to explain, the Bram Stoker Awards are the awards given out annually by the Horror Writers Association, since 1987. 

1)      Who is the only person to both receive a Bram Stoker Award nomination and see their band have two top 20 hits in the Billboard Hot 100 category?  (Hint—they are more famous as the musician.)
2)      Staying with music, what famous horror author also wrote the sort of unauthorized biography of Courtney Love, entitled, “Courtney Love:  The Real Story”?
3)      Not surprisingly, Stephen King holds the record for most Bram Stoker Awards, with 13.  Who is second all time, with 10?
4)      This famous horror author also wrote for a lot of television comedies in the 1970’s and 80’s, including for “Three’s Company,” “B.J. and the Bear,” and “The A-Team.”  Name them.
5)      What famous horror author is also a paleontologist, and has published several scientific articles in such periodicals as “The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology”?
6)      When movie directors used to want to not have their names included on a movie, they used the pseudonym “Alan Smithee.”  This famous sci-fi/horror author uses the alias “Cordwainer Bird,” when he/she wants to do this for a screenplay or story they’re not happy with.  Who is this?
7)      What famous true crime author was friends with, and a coworker of, real life serial killer Ted Bundy?  (This author’s first true crime book was about this relationship.)
8)      What famous horror author also wrote over 25 sex instruction books, with titles like “How to Drive Your Man Wild in Bed,” “How to Drive Your Woman Wild in Bed,” and “Your Erotic Fantasies”?
9)      What horror author is the only person to win both a Bram Stoker Award and (under the pseudonym Maxwell Hart) two AVN awards? (The AVN awards are the Adult Video News awards, sometimes referred to as the “Oscars of Porn,” given out since 1984.)

10)  The Universal Product Code (UPC), now printed on nearly all products, has long been rumored by extreme conspiracy theorists to be the Mark of the Beast mentioned in “The Book of Revelation” in the Bible.  (They erroneously think that the code has “666” in it.)  On that note, what horror author’s 1978 novel was the first book that had the “evil” code printed on its cover?

    (Readers may notice the answers to these questions were never printed, since folks didn't guess them during Coffin Hop 2014.  Should have included these earlier, but it kind of slipped my mind, and I got a bit lazy.  Anyway, if you want to know the answers, I put them in a comment to this post.)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ghost Stories

     I’m pretty much a skeptic across the board—I don’t really believe in the supernatural in any capacity.  This might seem incongruous with my love of horror fiction and horror movies.  Or maybe not.  I’m guessing there are few people who think that vampires, werewolves, zombies, and masked, near-immortal killers, etc., actually exist.  Reading or viewing frightening yet unreal subject matter is a nice escape, and a fun (for some), safe, way to scare yourself in an entertaining way.
     However, despite my strong doubts, I still do like scary, allegedly true stories.  Especially about ghosts.  I used to be very frightened by any ghost characters, almost including the Boo-Berry cereal ghost, and as an adult I still get a thrill from them.  Telling stories around a campfire, or, even once, in the attic of an abandoned, dilapidated house, is still my idea of a good time.  Even if it is more like an appreciation of the tales as folklore.
     So, with this disclaimer out of the way, I’d like to relay my one and only personal spooky story, followed by a few from friends.  Mine was over a decade ago.  A friend and coworker of mine, who I’ll call Greg (because that’s his name) was employed at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, PA as a tour guide.  Eastern State ceased functioning as an active prison in 1970, but it’s been declared a National Landmark, and is open for tours.  Greg took us on the usual tour one Saturday afternoon, which was great.  I highly recommend Eastern State as a tourist destination.  It was the first real penitentiary in the U.S., and was initially designed upon the Quaker idea of forcing prisoners to take stock of their lives, repent, and become law-abiding citizens.  This meant every single prisoner was given his own solitary confinement cell, and, aside from a Bible and a brief daily trip outside his cell to a walled in yard affixed to the cell, had no diversions.  No visitors, no mail, no conversation, for however many years the sentence was.  The guards even wore socks over their shoes to muffle their footsteps as they walked down the corridors outside.  Obviously, solitary confinement is now reserved for an extreme punishment, but the designers thought they were being kind.  Who knows how many relatively minor thieves, etc., were driven mad by this?
     Architecturally it’s pretty cool, tool.  One of the cell blocks is laid out like a giant wheel, with the central hub being where the guards stayed, and each prison wing as a spoke, so guards could spin around and see every section fairly quickly.  After over crowding became an issue, and perhaps, people realized how terrible solitary confinement was, Eastern State eventually became like a regular prison in 1913, up until its closing in 1970.  It had its famous convicts—Willie Sutton served there, and escaped temporarily in a tunnel.  Al Capone did too, and his cell is preserved.  It’s very reminiscent of the scene in “Goodfellas” depicting how relatively posh high Mob guys had it inside, with more room, gourmet food and drink, etc.  Eastern State has a weird location, too—initially it was on the outskirts of the city, but over time Philadelphia grew out and around it, so you have the giant stone walls of a massive prison just sitting in the middle of a city neighborhood.  Anyway, to sum up, and cut this a little shorter, I think Eastern State is a worthwhile visit for many reasons.
     Back to my story.  Greg had a set of keys to Eastern State, and said he’d spent the night there a couple of times.  As it got closer to Halloween we were intrigued.  Finally, one Saturday eight of us went to Philadelphia, had an awesome Italian dinner, and then
went over to the prison to camp out.  Some of us were more into the spooky vibe than others, but we were all excited.  I wanted to try to creep myself out but setting up my sleeping bag in an isolated cell by myself, etc.
     Alas, there was a snag.  It quickly became apparent that an official ghost chasing group had rented the place for the night.  Obviously, since we hadn’t paid, we weren’t supposed to be there.  Greg was in a bind, so as a compromise, he snuck us into the Administration Building near the front of the prison.  Even this was atmospheric and cool—a giant tower to climb; abandoned, paint-flaked rooms; and deserted ominous stone hallways.  When we were finally ready to call it a night, seven of us stayed in one room at the end of the hallway, while one guy stayed in a nearby room closer to the single, long stairwell to the second floor.  Greg, Herb, and myself were still awake, talking quietly, when it happened.  Slow, plodding, fairly loud footsteps, coming up the staircase.  After we confirmed that all of us had heard it, I rushed down the hallway and stood at the top of the stairs, and shown a flashlight down it.  Nothing to see, or hear further.  No eerie cold spots, or inexplicable feelings of terror, etc.  I recall noting that the one guy on his own (Hi Scott) was still in his room sleeping, so there we are—I can’t explain the footsteps.  About fifteen minutes later all hell broke loose.  We heard more footsteps coming up the stairs, but these were made by obvious sources—the ghost chasers and another tour guide found us in our “bedroom.”  The employee noted Greg, and said they’d talk later.  They left, and after a couple of hours of sleep, we packed up and left, too.  This story has a bad ending, as  the following Monday Greg was fired.  It was just bad luck—any other weekend no one would have known.
     Now, I’m certainly not claiming this is proof of anything.  I’m pretty sure Scott was accounted for, and wasn’t making the footstep sounds (possibly by going up the spiral staircase that went to the tower roof), but I’m not 100%.  Or, the ghost chasers were about—maybe they were walking around somewhere nearby, and we heard the echoes.  We were drinking, so there’s that, too.  I don’t think any of us were drunk, but “half in the bag” or “buzzed” is probably accurate.  But, like I said, I couldn’t explain the noises at the time, and it was fun in a mildly disturbing way.
     My next story is second hand.  When I think about it, I should be a prime candidate for experiencing ghost activity.  I’ve exhumed hundreds of graves, and, I’ve stayed in hundreds (thousands?) of hotel rooms in my long archaeological career.  Because people dying in hotel rooms is, I understand, a fairly common phenomenon.  Clearly, being by yourself, away from home, in a sometimes dingy room, can be depressing, so suicides probably make up a fair bit of the deaths.  Plus, things like heart attacks, overdoses, and strokes aren’t unusual, either.  Just looking at the numbers, the odds seem pretty strong that a room I stayed in must have been the scene of a death at least once or twice.  But still, nothing unexplainably weird so far.
     Anyway, my friend Dave was staying in a room, in a regular, random hotel.  His room had an adjoining door to his next door neighbor’s room.  (Something which I try my hardest to avoid.  Thin walls are problematic enough in some hotels, for noise disturbances.  But an adjoining door sometimes makes it seem like you’re in the room with them.  Which is especially awkward when there’s amorous activity going on.  (And doubly so when you know the neighboring room is occupied by only one person!))  After a while Dave started to hear his neighbors messing around with the adjoining door, and being noisy in general.  Whispering, children’s laughter, rattling of the adjoining door’s knob, knocking, that type of thing.  When this wouldn’t stop he called the front desk to complain.  The employee was sympathetic, but said they didn’t know what was happening, as the room wasn’t being rented out.  The noises continued.  Finally Dave went down to the lobby, and had the employee come back with him.  They opened up the door to his neighbor’s room, and the employee was correct—the room was empty, and showed zero signs of any recent human presence.
     And one more hotel story.  This tale was relayed to me about twenty years ago, so my grasp of the details is more tenuous.  A crew was staying in a fairly crappy hotel in Maryland.  The crew started noticing things that were “off.”  Noises, feelings of being watched, stuff like that.  Then they discovered that the hotel was built upon the site of a Civil War amputated limbs cemetery.  (Because in those primitive medical days, amputation was distressingly frequent.)  Most dramatically, my friend Laura one night felt an invisible someone sit down on the bed next to her, and even saw the depression form on the bed underneath “nothing.”  At some other point the spirit became more active, and pulled the bed covers off of her.  (Again, hazy on the details, but I’m guessing she immediately (and understandably) switched rooms.)
     This does raise some interesting questions.  Mainly, why?  Aren’t ghosts normally situated where their bodies died, or a place they frequented?  I didn’t think, say, a disembodied arm could haunt somebody, and how, since it presumably wouldn’t have a consciousness, soul, etc..  I guess maybe a bunch of guys died during the amputations, maybe nearby, and that’s the explanation.  But part of me is oddly amused at the thought of a ghostly body part clumsily roaming around a room, like “Thing” from “The Addams Family.”  Or where does it end?  Will a tuft of hair from my first haircut as a baby haunt the area around my baby book, and will the wisdom tooth I kept someday terrorize a later occupant of my room?  (I kind of want to think so.)
     In that vein, the house of another friend (Hi Leon!) just after college allegedly had a spirit in the attic.  Only, if it existed, it was either incredibly weak, or incredibly lame.  Its sole “haunting” consisted of turning on the attic light by itself.  (And now I’m picturing some ghost flipping the switch on and giggling maniacally, thinking, “That’ll show ‘em!” or, “Get ready to pay an extra three cents for your electric bill this month, puny mortals!”)  Really, when I heard this story (aside from thinking that the tenants just forgot and left the light on occasionally, maybe while tipsy, or that there was a simple wiring problem) I felt bad for the ghost.  I mean, c’mon man, at least put a little more time and thought in your efforts to scare us.
     One final spooky account, in a different way.  My friend Keith was making the interminable drive back home on the East Coast from his college in Colorado.  He was doing so in a run down van.  It was going really well for a while.  He and his friend were having some really good conversations along the way.  Really deep, significant stuff—Keith said he felt like he was getting to know his friend in an unusually rewarding way.  Finally, about three hours from home, Keith had a startling revelation.  He was by himself.  The van had a faulty exhaust system, and he hallucinated his friend’s presence, and the good talks.  He wanted to continue, being relatively close, so he drove the rest of the way with the windows all wide open.  (And then hopefully brought the van to a garage ASAP.)  I know there’s no ghost, but I find this story terrifying.  I can only imagine how disturbing this realization must have been, like some “Fight Club” style scenario.  (Not to mention, this meant a severely mentally hampered person drove a van for hundreds or thousands of miles, posing an extreme danger to himself and other motorists.)
     Anyway, that’s it.  Feel free to share any of our ghost stories, in shortened form I guess, in the comments.  I always love a good one.  Also, just as a reminder, the link to the Coffin Hop is:

Coffin Hop 2014

     Welcome to the Coffin Hop!!!  For the third straight year, I’ll be participating in this most ghoulish of blog hops.  Stop by every day from now until Halloween (October 31st, of course) for posts with a Halloween (or at least horror-related) theme.  As in previous years, I’ll be running two contests.  The winners of the two trivia contests will have their choice of a free copy of either of my ebooks—“Dead Reckoning” or “Kaishaku.”  To help folks make this decision I’ll be posting blurbs and excerpts from each book.  As a preview, posts for this hop will include one about ghosts stories, “Halloween Sadism” tampered candy, an account of an underrated horror movie gem, horror movie and horror author trivia, and an article about one of the seasonal alcoholic beverages—pumpkin beers.

     And, as always, big thanks to Axel Howerton for creating and hosting this hop.  Please also check out the blogs of the other dozens of writers and artists who are participating in this event.  There will be many, many interesting posts, short stories, and chances to win a variety of prizes.  So Happy Halloween!  The blog address is:  

Monday, October 20, 2014

Yet More Announcements

     I'm happy to announce that I just received another acceptance, for a short story of mine.  "The Existence Mezzanine" will part of the "Creature Stew" anthology, from Papa Bear Press.  By a coincidence, the President/Managing Editor of Papa Bear Press is Michael Collins, who joined me in having a story in "Undead Living," the Sunbury Press anthology that was published a year ago.  Horror fiction is a small world, I guess.  As usual, I'll provide more details when I know them.
    I realize this post was extremely brief, but that will change very soon.  Starting this Friday, October 24th, and continuing up until Halloween (October 31st), I'll be part of the Coffin Hop for the third straight year, and posting daily.  As usual, dozens of horror writers and artists will be participating.  So plan to stop by for fun and scary blog posts, trivia, and lots and lots of opportunities to win prizes, including both print and ebooks.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Civet Crap Coffee Beer

     Two nights ago, my friends and I sat around and drank some poop.
     Ha.  While that’s sort of technically true, it’s a wild exaggeration.  We had beer that had some of that coffee made with beans that a civet cat had consumed, digested, and defecated, in it.  So this blog hasn’t taken a dark turn, and become a platform for discussing bizarre and repulsive fetishes.  (Yet.)  (Ha again.)
     The beer was Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Brunch Weasel.  It’s an American Double/Imperial Stout.  Mikkeller is rather an odd setup.  It’s essentially some brewers without a brewery.  They only have a small brewpub in Denmark, but their real production is done using their recipes, but brewed in conjunction with other breweries.  Some of these partners are Nogne O, Evil Twin, BrewDog, Three Floyds, Cigar City, and AleSmith.  Brewing with literal crap coffee isn’t that weird for them—they’re big experimenters, having put out an amazing 600 different types of beer.
     Asian palm civets are small mammals, having bodies about 2 feet long, and having an additional foot and a half long tail.  They weigh between 4-11 pounds and are native to Southeast Asia.  “Cat” is not an accurate name for them—they’re not felines, and are most closely related to mongooses.  These creatures are nocturnal, and have an omnivorous diet—mostly fruit and insects.  One of the types of fruit they like is coffee berries—“bean” is actually not botanically correct.  The coffee berries are not completely digested, and folks clean the feces off of them, grind them up, and brew up coffee.  You might ask, what kind of fool would drink coffee made from cat crap?  Rich ones!  Depending on the kind, a kilo of this coffee can set you back as much as $3000!  The merits of Kopi Luwak, as it’s known in Indonesia, are sharply debated.  Obviously, given its price, many think the taste is improved by the civet’s digestive system.  Others, including some renowned coffee snobs, maintain that the civet coffee is mediocre at best, and that people are just interested because it’s rare, exotic, and pricey.  Snob appeal.  And that the fans of it convince themselves that its’ great for psychological reasons.
     When I first heard about it, I had many questions.  Who came up with the idea, and when?  Also, does this mean people were just trying partially digested food from other animals’ crap, too?  Or did they feed coffee berries to various animals, and brew up the resulting poop coffee, many times, and that civet’s just happened to be the best?  Well, the truth is kind of depressing.  The Dutch prohibited the local people of Sumatra and Java from using coffee for their own consumption in the 18th century.  Then the native people noticed the coffee bean remnants in wild civet dung, and began to brew it up.  It became traditional, and even after they were independent they kept doing so.
     There is one more topic to discuss.  Civet coffee is controversial for another reason.  Namely, since it’s become such a lucrative export, folks are clearly inclined to increase production.  This is sometimes done by caging the civets, and even force feeding them.  So it’s rather similar to the whole foie gras situation.  Happily, Mikkeller maintains that their coffee is only gathered from wild, uncaged civets, eating of their own accord, in Vietnam.  This variant is called ca phe chon.
     I was very excited to try this beer, with its special excretatory ingredient.  I did so at the World of Beer bar/restaurant in Albany, NY.  And it was….. pretty terrible.  I didn’t like it one bit.  But, there’s an important caveat—I detest coffee.  One of the great mysteries to me is why most of the world loves it.  I get that the caffeine is a nice boost for people in the morning, but there are other, (to me) tastier sources for this.  I invited (really insisted, in a case or two) the others in my group to try some, and most of them liked it.  Finally, in addition to not liking coffee, I’m not a fan of stouts.  So a flavoring agent that I despise in a type of beer I dislike—there was almost no chance I was going to enjoy this.  In conclusion, I’ll never have this again, but if you like stouts, and coffee, it might be up your alley.  And if you save up a bunch of money, you might like the actual civet coffee by itself, too.
     If anyone was put off by the scatological nature of this post, I apologize.  It (presumably) will not be repeated.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Llamas

     During the course of our work as contract archaeologists, we often find ourselves in agricultural fields, and sometimes also pastures.  Usually it’s no big deal.  Cow pastures are the most common, and cows tend to be fearful, and leave you a wide berth.  (Bulls are sometimes more aggressive.  A bull once walked up to each digging team in turn, about ten feet away, and stared us down.  He didn’t offer violence, but it was still unsettling, especially since we were several hundred feet away from the fence.  And another time a bull literally stamped his feet on the ground like in the cartoons, and made snorting/huffing noises.  We hopped over the fence before he decided to complete the threat and charge.)  Horses are typically super curious, and walk right up to you.  Sometimes they even stand on our equipment, and once one tried to eat my dig partner’s straw hat.
     But one time the crew found itself on a farm in Iowa which had llamas.  Some friends of mine, Otto and Emma, in their words, deliberately “riled up” a llama, knowing that another friend (Hi Beast) was approaching.  She walked up to the llama and said hello.  It responded by spitting right in her face.
     Llamas are fairly large, up to six feet tall to the top of their heads and 280-450 pounds, and native to South America.  They are part of the camelid family, which includes camels (of course), vicunas, guanacos, and alpacas.  Vicunas and guanacos are the wild species, while llamas and alpacas are the domestic variants.  People in South America have been utilizing them for thousands of years, as they make good pack animals, are edible, and their hair is excellent for making warm clothing.
     Camelids have a weird reproductive system, too.  Females have no estrus or “in heat” times—instead, the act of mating causes an egg to be released, and then fertilized.  So, basically, females are good to go pretty much whenever, usually the only exception being if they’re already pregnant.
     In addition to their other uses, people have discovered that llamas make effective sheep guarders.  If you put a single unbred female or castrated male llama in with sheep, they sometimes bond with the sheep.  They can be fierce guards—they occasionally will kill dogs or coyotes who try to attack their sheep.
     Llamas owners have learned that, essentially, when raising them, that familiarity breeds contempt.  If young llamas are bottle fed and frequently handled by people, they grow up to be ornery and difficult.  It’s almost as if they regard a too-friendly person as another llama.  And although they’re social animals, they often engage in mini fights with each other, and kick, neck wrestle, and yes, spit at one another to establish their rank in the herd.  But, if a person doesn’t bottle feed them, or handle them often while they’re young, and instead trains them after they’ve been weaned, the llamas tend to be more docile and better behaved toward humans.
     I had llama meat at the same restaurant, Dave’s Exotic Burgers, where I had the python (See September 7th, 2014 post).  Unlike the snake, the llama burger was in the traditional patty shape and size.  And I liked it.  It had an odd, gamey aftertaste, but somehow in a positive way.  I thought it was a bit better than the python.  I would have it again, but as with the other exotic burgers, the price was fairly steep ($20 for the burger and unlimited French fries).
     Llamas are vocal creatures, too, and often communicate with each other using humming sounds.  But be forewarned:  If you hear a male making a gargling type noise, which has a buzzing quality to it, which sounds like “orgle,” it means he’s sexually aroused.