The Comic Con Podcast

On the eve of SF Comic Con at the Oakland Convention Center, fellow panelists and Trifecta Publishing House labelmates Mark London Williams and Samantha Heuwagen joined me for adult beverages and conversation at Sláinte in Jack London Square. We had a wonderful time at this literature-inspired Irish pub in the heart of the neighborhood named for Oakland’s native son and world-renown author, Jack London. Mark and I knew we had found a home for our occasional grub and libation get-togethers when we saw the portrait of Oscar Wilde on the wall during our first visit.

Novels and Video Games

Listen to the latest edition of The Get the Knaak podcast as I chat with author K.M. Riley. Her new book, Fever Rising, is due out in March from Trifecta Publishing House. We had a great time talking about books, her career in video games, and much more.

Comey the Homey and Much More on the Latest Podcast

My good buddy Chris Ingalls joins me for another edition of the Get the Knaak podcast. We discuss everything from former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony in front of a congressional committee to latest and upcoming movies, including Alien Covenant, Blade Runner and Wonder Woman, the Stephen King multiverse and we throw shade at an old friend.

Got 90 minutes to kill? Listen in, it’s better than whatever you’re doing.

Christmas Tunes are in the Air

261421_471407609572269_662459190_nAs much as I enjoy Halloween and horror movies, I must say, I enjoy Christmas even more. I have such fond childhood memories of this time of year. When I wrote my Thanksgiving blog last year it got me thinking and feeling about those times with my parents and of Christmas past. So I crafted this list of my favorite Christmas music, and decided to re-post it for you here.

I am a traditionalist when it comes to the holidays. Meaning that you must celebrate one before you can even think about celebrating the next. Christmas creep is one phenomenon I’d like to see go away. Stores decorated for Christmas and advertising holiday sales before Halloween is obnoxious.

So, I have a bit of a rule, a tradition if you will. I will not start listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. SiriusXM’s Holiday Traditions channel started Dec. 5, and I kicked it off on Pandora with my Johnny Mathis holiday station on the day after Thanksgiving.

I usually start with the Christmas music the Friday or Monday after Thanksgiving. So, this could go from four to five weeks depending on when Thanksgiving hits. I don’t get tired of hearing the same tunes throughout the month of December. Since some of my readers enjoy the countdown of my 100 favorite horror films each year, I thought I’d present my 15 favorite Christmas songs. As I mentioned, I am a traditionalist. I only like what I consider to be the “definitive” version. I don’t care for recent or modern remakes (with very few exceptions) and I really don’t care for attempts at new Christmas compositions, with one exception.

So, without further ado, here are my 15 Favorite Christmas songs and why.

15. Jingle Bells. There is a version out there with Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters. It is a rehearsal for an Armed Forces Radio broadcast and there is a very funny blooper as Crosby blows a line near the end of the song. It’s one of those rare recordings that I would’ve never heard if not for Pandora. Jingle Bells isn’t so much a Christmas song as it is a winter song. But with the use of sleigh bells, it has become associated with Christmas.

14. Baby, It’s Cold OutsideDean Martin and Marilyn Maxwell. Ah, the “roofie” Christmas song. This is one of those songs that are rare these days with two singers basically having a conversation. I am not musically inclined so I don’t know what this technique is called. There is a line in the song that suggests the lady is swigging a spiked drink as the host tries to convince her not to go out in inclement weather. I’ve always thought the host in the song engaged in innocent cajoling. Unfortunately, this song has been vilified in recent years despite new versions.

13. Rudolph the Red Nosed ReindeerGene Autry. The singing cowboy did the original and probably best version of the song, although Burl Ives gives him a run for his money in the iconic Rankin and Bass supermarionation Christmas TV special. Autry spins the tale of a misfit reindeer, who is bullied and discriminated against until he finally gets his bloody revenge. Oh wait, flashed back to Halloween for a second. Rudolph saves Christmas and goes down in…oh hell, you know the story.

12. Let it SnowMichael Bublé. There have been many versions of this song and I do like Michael Bublé’s Christmas efforts. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and countless others have recorded versions of this great tune that, like Jingle Bells, is more seasonal than holiday, but has become a Christmas standard.

11. Holly Jolly ChristmasBurl Ives. Probably my favorite song from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Ives, as Sam the talking snowman/narrator, sings this fun, festive, upbeat tune.

10. Rockin’ Around the Christmas TreeBrenda Lee. I think I danced to this song in a 4th grade production or somesuch. This is a different kind of Christmas song that incorporates the rock-a-billy style of the 1950s and the imagery of the holiday season. Her version of Jingle Bell Rock is a lot of fun too.

9. I’ll be Home for ChristmasFrank Sinatra. Bing Crosby did this originally as a bit of a tribute to the troops stationed overseas during World War II. As a former U.S. Navy sailor, I can certainly relate. I spent a few Christmases away from home. A bit melancholy, the song tells a bit of story and has a slight twist.

8. Santa BabyEartha Kitt. Only Eartha Kitt could make blatant materialism soft and sexy. The ultimate wish list, Santa gets serenaded and seduced in this wonderful Christmas favorite. Bublé tried to spin it from the male perspective and I thought it flopped. Only a girl can sing this, and Kitt’s rendition is the best ever.

7. Carol of the BellsTrans Siberian Orchestra. This is the only traditional carol I really care for, it’s haunting and rousing at the same time. It is used ad nauseum for the computerized synchronized home light show and for good reason.

6. It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the YearAndy Williams. The king of Christmas in Branson, Missouri, Andy Williams delivered the best rendition of this oft-covered classic. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

5. MistletoeColbie Caillat. As I mentioned, I don’t like new Christmas compositions but I make an exception for this one. Caillat really tugs at the heart strings with this beautiful song.

4. The Christmas SongNat King Cole. Mel Torme, the “Velvet Fog,” co-wrote this wonderful ode to all things Christmas, but Nat King Cole’s version is so silky smooth and just oozes Yuletide. What I want to know though is what the hell Chet did to deserve having his nuts roasted every December?

3. Winter WonderlandJohnny Mathis. If Bing Crosby is the father of Christmas music, Johnny Mathis is its uncle. Winter Wonderland may be a seasonal tune, but is has become a Christmas classic recorded by many. But Mathis’ version resonates.

2. White ChristmasBing Crosby. The best selling single of all-time speaks to me because I grew up in Western New York and know first hand what a White Christmas is. I was stationed in Iceland for three years and really got to know it. I miss it living in California. My job doesn’t allow me to get away during the holiday season so I have to do what Bing says, dream of white Christmases like I used to know.

1. Sleigh RideJohnny Mathis. I officially begin my Christmas music listening with Johnny Mathis’ rendition of Sleigh Ride. Recorded by many over the years, there are some excellent versions, but Mathis’ is the best and my favorite Christmas song of all, even though it is more of a seasonal tune.

Childhood Thanksgiving Memories Redux

Norman-Rockwell_Freedom-from-WantI get nostalgic this time of year. I may live in Northern California where we barely have seasons – summer was ridiculously long this year – but I grew up in western New York where we had all four in abundance. Fall has finally arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area and I love the crisp air.

I grew up thinking my Aunt Carole’s (my father’s only sibling) house was out in the country. The drive out to Scottsville, New York, seemed to take forever. It was picturesque as we drove past the horse farms that lined the road when we took the scenic route. For some reason I always took note of the rambling white fences that paralleled the road. As mom, dad and I approached the turn off, empty fields and barns dotted the landscape. The topography, architecture and open space cried country.

The house had once belonged to my grandparents, whom I never knew. My father’s father died in 1959, and my grandmother passed away in 1966, three years before I was born. My grandmother bequeathed the house to her two children – my father and his sister. I don’t know the whole story but Dad didn’t want to live in the house, my aunt ended up with it and lived in it with her husband, my Uncle Freddy, for the better part of her life.

The driveway wasn’t paved. A basketball hoop that never knew the touch of a net was loosely attached to the front of the rickety detached garage. There was well water. Eventually a pack of the meanest shepherd mix dogs I’ve ever known took up residence in that garage. You had to walk up an embankment to get to the path to the house. I say path because the sidewalk that led to the house came from the road and was worthless if you parked in the the driveway.

This was my Aunt’s house. It was built in 1906 and belonged to my grandparents. I spent many Thanksgivings in this house.

My parents and I would carry our dishes to pass, mostly my parents carried them, and I was a lazy ass who couldn’t be bothered with such things as a child. Aside from pies, the only dish I remember Mom making was a sweet dressing made with apples and prunes. Mom made a great pie crust, however, her apple pie filling left a little to be desired. Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious, it just could have been better. My aunt made a great apple pie filling. One year Mom and Aunt Carole combined forces…oh, man, was that a pie. I am partial to apple pie. I hate pumpkin pie, absolutely hate it.

More on pie later.

We had a rather old-fashioned, misogynistic (almost chauvinistic) kind of Thanksgiving, my four first cousins and I. My aunt and her three daughters – Tammy, Debbie and Shari – toiled in the kitchen with very little help from Mom, as we menfolk settled in for a day of feasting and football watching. Aunt Carole would tend to the bird which I am sure routinely tipped the scales at 22 pounds or more. I don’t remember much of what the oldest, David, did while all of this was going on, I just remember what it was like when he was of working age. School friends, later boyfriends and girlfriends, then husbands/wives, and associated kids would join us for dinner.

My father, my uncle, my cousin David, my mom and I (and later other invited guests), eagerly awaited the feasting while watching the Detroit Lions in their annual Thanksgiving match-up. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade had already been watched at one house or the other. For whatever reason, I always seemed to root for the Lions no matter who they played.

I was a finicky eater as a child. And to this day, there are certain Thanksgiving staples I don’t like. I won’t touch cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes (yams) or squash. Just give me turkey, mashed potatoes with butter, salad, soft fresh buttered rolls, and Mom’s sweet dressing and I was a happy boy. David would pile his plate a mile high at least three times. The army of cats would benefit from the leftovers as my female cousins picked the bird clean and tossed the unwanted scraps to the floor.

Then there was pie. Apple. Mincemeat. Lemon meringue. Key Lime. Pumpkin. Oh boy, was there pie.

Eventually, we’d settle down and watch the Lions, and maybe we’d catch some of the Dallas Cowboys game, have more turkey or pie. We never thought the Cowboys game was much of a Thanksgiving tradition – I would learn later that this was a mistaken belief. My cousins and I sometimes ended the day with board games. If I was feeling adventurous, I’d go sledding in the dark careening through the scrub brush.

We’d have as few as eight or nine, and as many damn near 20 for Thanksgiving dinner. As I got older, many of us took up smoking as a habit and we’d crowd on the enclosed porch (healthy) if it was too cold to go smoke outside.

The house itself had a distinct aroma, it was charming in some parts, dilapidated in others. It always seemed to be organized chaos. It certainly had something after the wood-burning stove was installed in the living room. Sometimes it felt like a sauna, even in the dead of winter.

All four parents are gone now. All that’s left of those Thanksgivings are memories. We didn’t take many photos of those events, despite my father’s shutterbug tendencies. I couldn’t find any pictures of Thanksgivings past. There could be slides somewhere, I’m still a little bit of a lazy ass. Maybe my cousins have some.

We weren’t rich people – far from it. We certainly were not the embodiment of the Norman Rockwell painting. But we did it this way every year with very few exceptions. I was in the Navy for 10 years, so I missed some.

Say what you want about what we did or how we did it. These were our Thanksgivings. We enjoyed them and each other.

I reset the trip-o-meter on a drive from my parents’ house to my aunt’s house in 1997. I had to know. I had driven out there a few times on my own as an adult. I still thought of it as the “country.” As I got older, it became less and less rural and more and more suburban.

Nine miles. An online driving directions site says just over 13. Not quite over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house.

The backyard belonged to the county after years of us thinking it belonged to the family. We used to play baseball, climb trees and pick cherries on land we thought was ours. Suburban expansion has ruined the quaint charm of the property.

You know what? I’ll always remember it as a drive in the country to Thanksgiving at my aunt’s house. Those fences and those horse farms will always line Scottsville Road, that barn a few hundred yards from the corner of Scottsville Road and Chili Wheatland Town Line Road, will always herald the turn.

These were our Thanksgivings and I wouldn’t have traded them for anything.

The Post Election Podcast You Didn’t Know You Needed or Wanted

So much has been said and written about the 2016 General Election, why not throw a little more fuel on the fire? My good friend and Navy buddy Chris Ingalls and I dissect the election and all of the ramifications in this Veterans Day weekend edition of the Get the Knaak podcast. Follow us on Twitter: @GetTheKnaak | @Ingalls1969

Another 5K Bites the Dust

For the record, I only run two organized races per year – the Oakland Running Festival (ORF) 5K and the Oakland Raiders Back to Football 5K. These races are approximately six months apart. The 2013 ORF 5K was at the beginning of my fitness journey and is an important marker. It’s not that I don’t aspire to do more. I actually want to increase my distance and run a 10K. I was heading in that direction when I hurt my back.

I really enjoyed this race even thought I lost a bet. Once again, not wise to challenge those half your age but it was all in good fun. I finished in 30:05. Not my fastest organized 5K time but considering I just started running again July 29, I’ll take it. My personal best for an organized 5K is 28:55, which I turned in at the ORF back in March.

My winding way through the Raiders 5K.
My winding way through the Raiders 5K.

The course was challenging but not daunting and I never felt like I wanted to quit or start walking. In fact my second mile was faster than my first. My back tightened up some toward the end but I had enough want to and gas left in the tank to sprint to the finish.

I ran again today, a slow 3.12 miles. I had the wind in my face for the first half of the run. Nothing takes the piss out of me more than running into the wind. I don’t mind a little weather but running into the wind, not so much.

Quite a few people have been telling me to get on Snapchat. I barely know what the hell Snapchat is. I do not have the bandwidth for another contraption, doodad, doohickey, gidget, gadget, web site, social network, streaming service or TV from space. However, my social media director is trying to make something of my periodic (frequent) rants and post them to Snapchat. So, if you want a peek into what I’m really like, follow Knaakchat at Themarc85.

Here I am finishing my 6th organized 5K in 3 years.
Here I am finishing my 6th organized 5K in 3 years.

I wrote recently about turning a corner. I don’t know what corner I have turned. I see the surgeon Monday so hopefully I can find out why I still wake up in pain in the middle of the night every night. You can almost set an alarm to it. Nothing helps – Ibuprofen, Norco…bourbon. I have good days and bad days and I have recommitted to exercise.

Speaking of…I alluded to it in my last entry but, um, yeah, I was eating too much. I can’t say I was consuming 3,000 calories and not exercising. However, 2,000-2,300 per day was too much. I lost nearly 60 pounds eating 1,200 a day. I was an idiot to think I could maintain my weight. So, I am back down to 1,700 or so per day and working out six days a week when possible. I am trying to run every third day or so. My body can’t handle every other day right now. I find running under 10-minute miles quite acceptable.

Who knows, maybe I’ll get back on the horse and start training for a 10K. I would have liked to run the Rock and Roll event in San Jose but my schedule won’t allow it. Eventually I’ll get out to longer distances. But first, let’s see what the hell is going on with my back.