Category Archives: ManRant

Cover Reveal

For the past few months I have been working with Red Sofa Books on a near-and-dear project of mine. I am super excited to announce the release of “Rabbit Slayer”, book I of “The Alice Chronicles”. This book will appeal to fans of Alice in Wonderland as well as those that need the energy of Buffy. In the story I tackle the question of “what if Lewis Carroll was telling the truth, and Wonderland is real.”

It has been a long road, and revealing the cover is a major milestone in making this dream a reality. A special thanks to Dawn Frederick at Red Sofa Books / Literary for taking on my story – and me. Also many thanks to Alex Kuno for a gorgeous cover. I am thrilled about it and I hope it excites everyone else.

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Road Trip

20130218-185001.jpgIt is 9 pm, central time, and I am still an hour east of Memphis, Tennessee. We’ve been on the road since eight that morning, Eastern time. We had crossed the Appalachian Mountains and nearly avoided a storm front that generated tornadoes throughout the South. The night sky is moonless with the highway traffic light. I am settling in to the driver seat after having been forced to stop for an hour in the middle of the highway while a semi burned up ahead. Beside me my wife, Donna, has her eyes glued to the iPhone as she searches for a decent place to stop for the night. A FaceBook friend of hers had commented on my posted image of our traffic predicament and informed us to reconsider staying in West Memphis.

Throughout the past six days on the road, we put her iPhone and today’s technology to the test. In Louisiana she found a small creole type restaurant that served crawfish by the pound; in Mississippi it was a hotel; in Alabama she applied for a dozen jobs, even having a phone interview; in Florida she helped navigate through some back roads to avoid an accident which shut down Interstate 95; and in Georgia she found the most important thing — Chick-Fil-A. I’ve used my phone to determine different routes back west, kept up with the Twitter universe, posted FaceBook pictures at South of the Border, and the next morning find a Starbucks in Little Rock.

Another exit passed by and I reminisced on road trips from my past. I recalled hitchhiking thirty-five miles in the middle of the desert because of a blown engine. I remember the heat of the Alabama summer while I helped my dad rig the brakes on my grandmother’s Cadillac to get us, and my broken down Impala, back to New York. In the nineties there was the night of three exits and five hotels trying to find one with vacancies. And how could I forget the hundreds of roadside gas stations with the unsanitary bathrooms and raunchy food. Our trip had none of these. The stress and trials of road trips seem to be a thing of the past.

Donna asks if we should stay on the Tennessee side of the River. I think of the Monday morning rush hour and consider it would be safer to be out of the city. Forrest City, she says, is just west of Memphis and a Holiday Inn Express lies right off the highway. She switches to another app and pulls up ratings. There are few reviews, but it is probably because the hotel is new. She calls and reserves a room while I stretch the tension from my back and shuffle in the seat to ease the pain settling in my posterior. Donna pulls up the address and inputs the address into the car’s navigation computer. In seconds a route is calculated and shows me that a bed is now just an hour away.

Tonight there will be no guessing. We won’t have the fear of leaving our car in a parking lot. Best of all the shower will be clean and the toilet will flush, not over flow. I kiss my wife’s hand. Her work as navigator and companion has made our impromptu trip enjoyable. And the technology in her phone has made it bearable. Once more long road trips can be considered without dread and derision. I can foresee more road trips in our future as we explore the beautiful country we live in. So long as we keep our smart-phones charged.

 

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Dog Days of Summer

It is mid-July and the summer heat is topping triple digits. It is days like this that I stay inside situated under the AC vent. This past weekend was no different. I found myself procrastinating while surfing the internet for a blog idea to jump out of the world wide web and smack me across my bald head. At some point, Alley, one of my two Shih tzus excitedly jumps between me and the television, her tail wagging franticly. It’s her way of telling me that she needs to go out.

After three minutes of trying to ignore her antics, I succumb and head over to the door. Oreo, the male dog, pops up from his resting place under the end table as if asking “walk?”

I am a firm believer that dogs are animals — not people. Though I’ve cared for this pair for nearly ten years, never once had I referred to them as “my babies” or dress them up in ridiculous outfits. (Okay, there was that one time I put a sweater on Oreo after he was shaved down a little too early for summer, but the poor guys was shivering.) They are dogs, and I am the pack leader. That being said, I still can’t help adding Pixar-type characteristics to the duo. For example, I’m convinced that Oreo is the happy dumb dog with a vocabulary limited to one word sentences. With him, it’s more how he says something rather than what he says. Alley on the other hand is a diva with a vocabulary to go with it. In fact, she is the epitome for which the word ‘bitch’ is derived. Unfortunately, she lacks memory. Like she will forget that it is the middle of summer in Texas and we live on the third floor.

As soon as the door is open Oreo bolts out and waits for permission to head down the stairs. But when the summer heat hits Alley in the nose, her excitement is shot and she saunters out. When the door clicks shut, Oreo trots down the stairs, happily muttering “Pee, pee, pee, pee….” And Alley just stands there looking at me as if to say, “Stairs? You want me to go down stairs?” On the second landing, noise from the pool distracts her and she HAS to see what is going on. She doesn’t often get an above view of humans, so she revels in the moment.

“Alley,” I yell at her.

“What?” she snaps back. “Oh yeah, stairs. Fine”

Begrudgingly, she endures the tedious task of walking down all those stairs. I’m sure she would love for me to carry her, but she needs the exercise. Besides, it is quite humorous to see her half-roll, half-waddle down. At the bottom Oreo has already relieved himself and his eyes are asking “walk?” When Alley finally makes it down she gives him a slight body slam; her retaliation for his making me take them out.

I give Oreo the go-ahead and he takes off. “WALK!” his stride says. Alley though, stands there, glaring. “Seriously? You want me to walk? It’s hot.” She then trudges off to the grass and urinates oh so daintily. When she’s done her looks says, “Okay, I’m done. Can we go back to the AC now?”

I coax her to follow and she eventually gives in. I am the pack leader after all. She trots a few steps then stops to see if I’m watching. I can easily see her riding in a wagon like the Queen of Sheba, but she’s prone to motion sickness. Pending on my patience I’ll put her on the leash. Alley does behave much better when on-leash, but when I go to connect it to her collar, she drops her head and the tail goes flaccid. The biggest act of pity me you’ll ever see.

The whole time Oreo is prancing ahead. Every twenty feet or so he will stop and look back to make sure we are following. I think that is the limit of his vision. As a young pup Oreo pissed-off one too many cats and is now mostly blind as a result. I think he has no near sighted vision left as he can’t see food placed in front of him. He strictly goes by sense of smell. His far sighted vision is limited and gets distorted with the back ground. But he doesn’t care, he happily prances along. “Walk, walk, walk… Shit?”

With no warning he makes a turn and heads off to the grass, his rear legs going slightly faster than his front. He walks like this for fifteen or twenty feet before circling five times then settles in to do his deed. “Ahhhhh. Shhhiittt.” After finishing his business he attempts to vault over the pile, but his left paw catches just the edge — as always. Back on the sidewalk he returns to his prancing like nothing happened.

Throughout the walk Alley lags behind. I contemplate putting her on leash, but it is a lazy day and I’m feeling patient. She takes the opportunity to thoroughly sniff every spot dogs have marked. Oreo just marks over the spot, many times while she is still catching the scent. It isn’t until we head back upstairs that life returns to Alley. She’ll bound up the steps two at a time like she is a puppy again. At each landing she stops to make sure I’m following. Her tongue is out and I swear she’s about to hyperventilate. Several times in the past her excitement resulted in a hacking fit, so now I try to keep her calm. But with the instinct that a treat is at hand, it is hard to stop her.

Inside the apartment I hang up the leashes and kick-off my shoes. Alley’s tail is swishing so hard I worry she’s going to throw a hip. At about ten years old she is an old dog indeed. Oreo though, has taken up a “MINE” position just inside the kitchen, like he does when guarding his food or a fresh bone. He knows what is coming and knows he needs to protect what is his from the glutton Alley. I give them their treat and Alley rushes off to swallow most of hers, while Oreo devours his before returning to comfy spot under the end table. It’s only been fifteen minutes and the excitement is over. The three of us settle back in wasting away our dog days of summer.

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Confidence Begins Skin Deep

ImageLast week I ventured to the gun range with the wife and had a blast shooting hand-held cannons. The ultimate being the S&W .44 Magnum long barrel — the original bad-ass weapon, made famous by Clint Eastwood in Dirt Harry. The pumped up ego only lasted until my wife posted to FaceBook pictures of me firing said weapon. The ego was further deflated when she informed me “those were the good pictures”. I basked in the post-shooting glow for a day or so allowing my brain to slowly accept the reality those photos shown.

A week later and I have come to the realization that confidence begins with image. How we present ourselves to the public is the spark to confidence. For a man; the vehicle we drive, the tools we use, the man-toys we possess, are all items that define who we are — or at least who we want to be. And of course the more flashy, more expensive, or the bigger those toys are, the more we are trying to compensate for the lack luster confidence we feel within ourselves.

This holds true to women as well, just in a different ‘fashion’. Don’t believe me? Watch a few episodes of TLC’s What Not To Wear. Stacey and Clinton will tell you that a woman’s whole outlook on life can begin with the positive image she has for herself — meaning the clothes she wears, the style of her hair, and properly applied make-up.

(Just a side-note here. Yes, I, a man, do indeed watch the show. Not so much for the fashion advice, but because Stacey and Carmandy are freaking hot! Hehehe, I watch for the pictures, not the articles.)

There was a point in my life, not so long ago, that I didn’t need man-toys to bolster my confidence. My accomplishment, my physical feats, and my athletic body spoke volumes of the confidence I felt. Hell, for the first time in my life I felt like I was attractive to the opposite sex and had the notches in my bed post to prove it. But my confidence got the better of me and over the last few years my accomplishments waned, my physical feats were reduced to getting off the couch to go pee, and my athletic body is now covered in 50lbs of fat. The confidence is gone. I now rely on my motorcycle and moments at a firing range to give me a glimmer of the confidence I once felt.

Granted that there are men out there that are my size and very content with it. They have confidence and they wear their weight well. Though we men are simple creatures, we are all different. Confidence begins skin deep, and for this man, an athletic body is what is needed. I know what needs to be done. I know how to get that Kirk back. I have done it before and, dammit, I will do it again.

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Looking Like a Bad Ass

On a Saturday in late June my wife and I headed down to the firing range. An associate at work organized the event with a friend of his. As it was a class on learning basic safety of firearms and how to shoot them, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to bring her. The wife has become increasingly jealous of Kari Byron from Mythbusters, for having a job that allowed her to blow shit up and shoot big ass guns. It would also be a chance to show-off my self-proclaimed masterful skills with a firearm.

In fact, my last trip to a firing range was in 1989 while serving in the Marine Corps. I’ve fired weapons since, even once shooting a hole through a friend’s truck’s glove compartment. Truth to be told, I think that was the first and only time I fired a pistol. As a Marine we were required to qualify with the M-16A2 (rifle) but we only had one day to shoot the M1911 (pistol) and I had chosen that day to be in sick-bay with the shingles.

We arrive at the firing range a little late and head up the hill to where the rest were waiting to begin the class. The instructors go through the safety rules and talk about the basics of marksmanship. B.R.A.S.S. Got to love easy acronyms. Finally, we get out to the range and begin shooting. The wife takes to it really fast. I do have to admit, seeing her with a Bereatta 9mm in her hands was sexy and scary at the same time. I replayed the days events to make sure I didn’t piss her off for any reason before handing her the loaded magazine. We fired a range of pistols and a M&P15-22 (rifle patterned from the civilian AR-15). After things started winding down, Todd brings out the big boy, a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum Model 29 with 8 3/8 inch stainless steel barrel (see the picture). The original bad ass gun made famous by the original bad ass himself – Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry.

Being the gentlemen we are, the women had a chance to fire first. A few opted out, but not my wife. She pushed her way to the front and grabbed that bad boy. If her holding a 9mm was scary, seeing the 5’4” petite woman brandishing a mini-cannon was down-right terrifying. After pulling the trigger she couldn’t help giggling. She looked at me with an expression of “don’t mess with me” written all over it. Not to be out done, I had my go at it. I must admit, that first trigger pull is a bit unnerving. After that, it’s an adrenaline rush with each pull. Even more surprising I was on target. That’s one less tennis ball.

Throughout the day we took pictures. For her, it was to prove to her daughter she actually did it. For me, it was to look like a bad ass.Epic failure. The image in my head of my cool shades aiming the stainless steel long barrel looked pathetic compared to the massive ring that has settled around my mid-section. I looked like a deflated Hersey Kiss standing on tooth picks. The only thing Dirty Harry about the image was the .44 mag. Lesson learned: don’t take pictures if you aren’t prepared for the result.  A lesson I’m going to discuss in my next post. For now, I’ll enjoy the memory of feeling like a bad ass for just a little while longer.

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The Joys of Madness

Our mornings are a blur of rushed half-asleep commotion, followed by hours of mind-numbing meetings, then a flurry of exhaustive chores before retiring for the night. On the weekends, we try to squeeze every ounce of fun we can into our measly 48hr pardon, before the cruelty starts all over again. Day by day and month after month we continue in this endless cycle. Occasionally, we need to stop and smell the roses….

Okay, I know it’s an old cliche with an obvious meaning. Take a moment and enjoy the things that life has to offer us. But that is different for each of us, especially different between men and woman. Take my wife and I for example. She is one to take the phrase literally. She will walk through a garden and smell the roses, the gardenias, and what ever flora is in bloom. And, if her ever-present allergies are flaring up, a trip to a local shoe store will suffice as much as any garden. Not sure why, but she says shopping — shoe shopping more specifically — is a relaxing therapy.

Yeah, no.

Not for me. Crowds of people, endless lines at the check-out, and countless outfit changes is not a day for me. Personally, I prefer seeing the mall pass by at high rates of speed. A rose by any other name is still a rose, but getting a bug splattered on my face shield is pure adrenaline. That’s for me.

This past weekend I took the cruiser in to get the front tire replaced and have the 12K service done. Three hours they told me. My fast pace life screamed to a halt. With so much to do and I’m stranded for a whole three hours. What was worse, the weather was perfect for riding. I chatted about it with the owner, who took pity on me and offered a joy that only a man could appreciate. (okay, there are some adrenaline junky women out there, but let me have my man-moment). Out comes the keys to the Holy Grail of super sport bikes. A machine that is said to top out at over 200mph, one that will do 0 to 60 in three heart beats, a bike that separates men from the wannabes. HIS Yamaha YZF-R1!

Can I get a man-grunt?

I consider myself a calm and collected adult, but the sight of those keys dangling in front of me had man-drool dripping from my lips. Just imagine Horshack in Welcome Back Kotter “Oh! OH! Me! Me!!”. I’m so excited I barely acknowledged the text from my wife – “make sure you wear a helmet if your going to test ride”. What else is a kid going to say? Okay, no problem. I can do that. Besides, sand and a bald head don’t do well at high speeds. Helmet on, and a quick lecture on the “changes” he’s made to the bike, and I’m out on the road. Well… not really. I had to stop once or twice on the back street to allow my hips to relax from the weird angle.

I typically ride a cruiser, a bike made to sit upright or to recline BACK. A sports bike (or in the R1’s case a super sport) is designed to lay the rider FORWARD over the gas tank — with your legs behind you. If you are not used to it, expect some adjustment time. Like to the end of the block.

The light turns green and I lean into the turn and up the ramp to the highway. In mere seconds I’m in second gear and doing 60mph. I hit third and I’m doing 80mph. I notice the speed, hit fourth and throttle out. I’m cruising at 70mph in fourth and the bike is like holding back a leashed cheetah. The beast under me roars with caged excitement and I realize I have two more gears! Traffic keeps my speed at an almost legal velocity, but I can’t help feathering the throttle. That’s all it takes, a little twist and the beast screams from 70mph to 100mph. I’m in fifth gear and see the exit to 161 south. A new highway of three lanes and very little traffic.

Not one to pass up an opportunity, I throttle and shift down to lean into the turn, at 65mph. I know its insanity, but the R1 takes the turn with ease. Ahead of me is a long stretch of concrete heading onto the super clean highway. I jump down to third and release the animal. The end of the ramp I’m at 100mph and fifth. Seconds later the wind is screaming by me at 130mph and I’m straining to keep my head down and looking forward. Just a word to the wise. An open face helmet with a little sun visor clipped in place is NOT a good choice for facing speed in excess of 120mph. It took all I had to keep my head straight as I broke through 135mph.

I approached a small rise in the road and thought it would be a great place for Ft. Worth’s finest to hang out, so I throttled down. I crested the hill and there he was. My speed? 80mph! Ha. I avoided a big one!

The trip back saw the speed frequently in the triple digits, but I was also testing out the nimbleness of the crotch rocket. In and out of traffic with ease, and the tight turn of 161 was taken at an un-godly speed. I’m not really sure how fast I was going, I know I was leaning very close to the concrete and my mind just kept screaming “please don’t kill me” over and over.

Was it insane? Hell ya.

Would I do it again? In a heart beat.

My wife can buy all the shoes she wants, so long as I get to play with the joys of madness.

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Men and Their Toys

My silence over the past few weeks are filled with excuses and you’ll-never-believe-what-happened. Most interestingly, and my happiest moment, is the purchase of a new toy. In fact, two new toys have been purchased into the von der Heydt household. Many weeks ago, my motorcycle decided to stop working at the most inconvenient time, while traveling on the highway at 70mph. God looked over me, as I found myself safely stranded on the side of the road for three hours. Since then, my bike was parked in the garage and I mourned the loss. A few weeks later, my wife’s car (our most reliable vehicle) decided to fry, die, and generally stop working. God looked out for her more, by allowing her to make it to work before roasting the engine.

Her transportation being most important persuaded us to make the decision to purchase a new “dependable” car. After days of searching (and test driving) we settled on a 2011 Hyundai Elantra. If you are in the market for a new vehicle it would behoove you to look into this completely redesigned car. Once considered a disposable car, Hyundai has release a product that could rival most luxury cars on the road today, at a fraction of the price. My leery wife, concerned with price more than comfort, was persuaded to test drive the vehicle. Aside from the many safety features, the navigation package, and the 40mpg rating, we found the vehicle to be a smooth and quiet ride. Within hours, we purchased the test drive car, and the last on the lot. I enjoy the handling, the bluetooth interface, and the XM radio, but by far my best feature is the reverse camera. I shall never park nose first into a spot again. In fact the wife has reported that she has become an expert at parking – a miracle considering her nose-in performance. (Love you, sweetie.)

Sad news soon followed. Three weeks after purchasing the car the heavens opened up and released a torrent of nickel size hail on the Elantra. I recall being jarred from my sleep with my wife crying, “My car. My new car.” In my boxers, I ran from the bed to see what was the matter. At first I thought she was crying, until I noticed she was drenched from head to foot. I then realized that the roof roared, as if train tracks were placed overhead. A glance in the back yard one would think it was snowing from all the white on the grass. But it doesn’t snow in April, in Texas (well not when its 70 degrees). The hail pummeled the roof, the fence, my plants, and worse – my wife’s new car. The deductible is $500 and we can pick it up tomorrow (fingers crossed for no dents).

The warmer weather and the rise in gas prices prompted us to look into more efficient means of transportation for me. My old car gets decent mileage at 25mpg, but at 153K miles it is getting on in age. So we took my handicapped motorcycle down to the shop. As I pull in, a semi sat next to the building, a line of new motorcycles lined the road. My eyes instantly locked onto the 2010 Royal Star Venture S. I parked the rental truck and stared with desire at the beautiful machine. When I started to get tunnel vision I remembered to breathe. The trance was broken and reality returned. I went inside and consulted with the head mechanic and the store owner. We all went out and looked at the my decrepit machine. The mechanic looked it over, commented on the near pristine shape, and turned the engine over. “Damn shame,” he said. Both the owner and I looked quizzically to him.

“Rod.”

It felt as if the world let out under my feet. The motorcycle has two cylinders, each with its own piston and connecting rod. The loss of the rod meant that half the engine was destroyed and would require a complete rebuild. It was devastating and expensive news. To make a long day short, the owner and I entered into an agreement. I would purchase the Venture (my dream bike) at $2K below retail, he would keep the old bike and rebuild the engine. Once running and sold, he will split the profit with me. All I needed was my wife’s okay. Surprisingly, that discussion went easier than I thought. The Royal Star is listed at 42mpg and is a very comfortable ride. In the end, I rode away on that Saturday afternoon the proud owner of a slick, black Royal Star Venture S. What more can I say? I’ve been bonding with my motorcycle. The MacBook, the story, and the blog have all taken a back seat during my bonding period. I’m certain all the male readers out there will understand. Something is to be said about: men and their toys.

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