that was the week that was

Let’s start with the obvious: I apparently do not have COVID-19, despite the universe’s best efforts to give it to me.

I’m also still sick and have been for a week now.

What a long strange trip it’s been…..

Let’s start at the beginning.

Since, oh, the late 1990s or so, a group of us have gotten together roughly once a month to play poker. The personnel have changed over the 25 years or so that we’ve been playing, as some folks have moved away, and one, sadly, has died, but it was a regular thing to do in person right up until the apocalypse of 2020. At that point, we switched to a virtual poker game, using the web site, which has “rooms” you can customize and enables anybody at the URL for your room to manipulate the cards, and also with a section only visible to you. Every Saturday night since early April of 2020, we’ve been at least attempting to play poker this way — which has had the added bonus of allowing two of our former players (who moved to Florida) to rejoin the game.

Last weekend, for the first time in three years, the local contingent of the poker gang was all free, and we decided to at last play in person. It was wonderful, we had a grand old time, we ate pizza, we drank fermented fluids of various sorts, and it was fabulous. I was down three bucks, but it was worth it to hang out with folks. (The game is a $10 buy-in, and we play with chips that are either a dime or a quarter. Not exactly high stakes….)

There were eight people in the house where we played: the six poker players, and the spouses of the two poker players who lived in that house.

Sunday morning, one of the poker players tested positive for COVID-19.


Adding insult to this injury is that I’m feeling like absolute shit. Saturday night at the end of the poker game, I had the chills, and Sunday morning I woke up sick as a proverbial dog. First thing I did was test myself, make sure I wasn’t the plague rat. But the COVID test came up negative.

Nonetheless, given the exposure, I immediately isolated. Wrenn has a job currently that is hourly paid and doesn’t have sick time, plus she’s part of a group of supervisors who are already short-handed, and her losing time to illness would be bad on multiple levels.

The good news is that we live in a large enough dwelling, complete with large guest room, so isolating is easy. That was Dale’s room when we first moved here, and Matthew’s room after Dale died. Since Matt moved out, it’s become a guest room and also Wrenn’s craft room. It has a TV with a ChromeCast, a minifridge, a desk with a comfy chair (chair thanks to ToniAnn), and a very comfy queen-sized bed.

The bad news is that I have been really sick all week. Even if it isn’t COVID (and it apparently isn’t), my nose has been running like Jesse Owens, I’ve been coughing up a lung every twenty minutes, and my energy levels could charitably be called “fluctuating.” I spent most of Thursday dead asleep…

I didn’t even bother testing again until Wednesday, as that was the soonest I would test positive if I got exposed at the poker game (most aren’t until five days in, but some of the new variants show up as soon as three days). But I did cancel my karate class, as I didn’t want to expose myself to anybody.

Since Sunday morning, I have been pretty much living in the guest room, masking whenever I leave the room. I didn’t leave the house at all until Friday when I ventured out to a) do laundry and b) go to the Urgent Care and get a PCR test, which is more reliable than the home tests.

This morning, that PCR test also came back negative. At this point, I’m pretty sure I dodged the COVID bullet again, and can keep my three-year streak of not getting it alive.

But I’m also still blowing my nose, y’know, a lot, and coughing heavily (one of those lovely phlegmy coughs) on the regular, so I’m staying mostly isolated, but Wrenn and I have agreed to dispense with the mask, at least, and interact more, for which we’re both grateful. This separation sucks, man.

Not everyone at the poker game has been so lucky: besides me and the original plague rat, there were six people in the house where we played, and three of them have tested positive thus far. Of the remaining three, one has remained negative; dunno about the other two yet.

Writer Brain has been on strike for far too much of this week. I managed to squeeze the rewatch of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever out of my brain, and a few paragraphs of my Sherlock Holmes novella, but that’s it. Today I’m gonna try to write something — maybe a Patreon review, maybe more Holmes.

So — how’s your week been?

2022 is dead, long live 2023!

2022 was mostly a good year, which was a welcome change after the nightmare that was 2020 and the recovery from that nightmare that was 2021….

At the end of karate class Saturday — which was the last one of the calendar year — Shuseki Shihan Paul told a nifty story. He was born in Trinidad, but his family moved to the Bronx when he was four years old. One day it had snowed, and he and his older sister went to the park. They had never seen snow before, and they thought it was the coolest thing. What particularly impressed his four-year-old self was how he could turn around and see his footprints in the snow behind him. The idea that he could see where he’d been so clearly was completely new to a four-year-old who’d only lived near the Equator prior to that….

Since then, he said, he always tries to look back to where he’s been, as it helps him figure out where he’s going. That resonated with me, since I’ve been doing year-end posts on my blog since I started my LiveJournal back in 2004, and continued that tradition over here on WordPress since I migrated the ol’ blog here in 2017. So here, as usual, is my look back at the footprints I’ve made in the snow the past twelve months…

Let’s start with karate, since we began with Shuseki’s story. This was my first full year as a yondan (fourth degree) black belt with the title of “Sensei” — ditto for Sensei Charles, with whom I went up last November. On the one hand, very little has changed for us: our relative position in the dojo hierarchy is the same as it was before, and we’re doing a lot of the same things we did as sandans (third degree), like be the first people tasked with teaching kids’ classes (and many adult classes) when Shuseki is unavailable. And yet, there’s a noticeable difference. Shuseki has made us part of the “inner circle,” as it were, as the two of us are more involved in decisions about the dojo and the discipline, and there’s just a general feeling that we’re doing more and are more involved. It’s a very nice feeling.

It’s also nice hearing my kids at the Inwood afterschool program call me “Sensei Keith.” Related to that, my teaching has increased a bit there, this year, as the number of kids in the program required splitting the afterschool kids into four groups rather than three, which means an extra hour of teaching each week. Now I’m even more tired most Wednesday nights, but it’s also more money, which is never a bad thing…

While COVID-19 is still a thing, it’s a less virulent thing than it was (recent surge notwithstanding). Parties and events that didn’t happen in 2020 or 2021 did happen in 2022, including conventions! And while the year started with the Omicron mishegoss that led to me backing out of one January and two February conventions, overall things started to get more normal-like for conventions. Several cons that were virtual the last two years were back in person.

I’m pleased to say that, despite me doing a mess of cons and teaching karate to kids every week, despite Wrenn doing two jobs (one for the first four months of 2022, one that started more recently and will go into the summer of 2023) that involve interacting with the public a lot and using mass transit, neither of us has contracted COVID-19 (we test very regularly). Of course, we also are vaxxed and boosted, and we both still mask when we go to an enclosed space full of people we don’t know…

(Not everyone was so lucky. All four of my parents contracted COVID in June of 2022, which sadly coincided with my mother’s 75th birthday, which meant she was unable to celebrate that milestone properly. She plans to make up for this in 2023 with a 76th birthday celebration that can’t be beat, possibly involving trombones…)

There are a lot of great convention memories from 2022: having HELIOsphere and Shore Leave back in person, the usual magnificence of Dragon Con, doing lots of great shows with Bard’s Tower in Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Columbus, Raleigh, Salt Lake City, and other places I’m forgetting. It was especially nice to revive the authors’ dinner catered by Andy Nelson’s BBQ that Wrenn and I started in 2019 at Shore Leave (which this year included a surprise birthday celebration for Christopher Abbot’s husband Jeffrey as well as a memorial for Dave Galanter). ToniAnn and I also were honored to be Carlos Ferro’s guest at clubs in both Indianapolis and Salt Lake. But the best was being a guest of honor on three different occasions this year: at InConJunction in Indianapolis in July, at Bubonicon in Albuquerque in August, and at Philcon in Cherry Hill, New Jersey in November.

Professionally, this was the year of the short story: I wrote seven short stories that were published this year, and I’ve written three more this year that will be out in 2023. I also wrote the next book in the Precinct series, Phoenix Precinct, which debuted at the aforementioned Philcon, and I finally finished the first draft of my urban fantasy Feat of Clay, the sequel to 2019’s A Furnace Sealed, which I need to do some revisions on this week. My returns to the world of comics and RPGs also finally bore fruit this year, as December saw the first issue of the Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness prequel comic The Beginning and Incident at Kraav III, the Star Trek Adventures module I cowrote with Fred Love, both released. My nonfiction writing for and Patreon continued apace, plus a few more essay thingies in books.

Personally, Wrenn and I got to do a bunch of road trips, and we did some work to better reorganize our living space (some with the fantastic help of ToniAnn — notably, we now have walk-in closets that you can actually walk into), culminating in getting rid of our dying sectional and replacing it with a shiny new couch. Wrenn and I also made a point of getting back to places we hadn’t been to much in 2020 and 2021: the Bronx Zoo, the New York Botanical Gardens, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, plus several restaurants we hadn’t been to in forever, like the Black Whale on City Island (where we went for our anniversary) and Sylvia’s in Harlem. I also got to attend a lovely wedding that ToniAnn was the officiant at, and she and I got to spend a fun few days in Florida afterward, which included a lovely lunch with my agent Lucienne and her husband Pete, who were two more people I hadn’t seen in person since the apocalypse. I also got to spend a day helping ToniAnn’s husband Kyle and Kyle’s Dad get some stuff out of ToniAnn’s stepmother’s family’s place, which was a fun day of lifting heavy things. Plus parties like Dave & Kara’s Hallowe’en shindig and holiday gatherings hosted by Randee & Maury and by Catelynn & Mark.

Another byproduct of the world getting back to something resembling normal is the ability to see medical professionals more regularly. I finally started seeing a therapist again for the first time since the early 2010s, which has been a huge help for my mental health. Physically, I did something to my Achilles heel and for the first time in years, I started pulling the muscle in my back that I used to pull all the time when I was a color belt but which had been in decent shape since I got my black belt. Wrenn started seeing a dentist again (we found a good one in late 2021), and she had major dental work that she’d been putting off for ages finally done last month. She can smile again! Also of note is that my parents continue to deal with various ailments as they age: my father now has hearing aids, my mother had operations to deal with an arterial issue in her legs, after which she has become much more mobile, John has been dealing with some heart issues, and Helga has been dealing with her tremors and some mental health stuff. Also ToniAnn and Kyle started some work on their health. This getting older shit is a pain in the ass. And in other body parts….

There were bad things that happened this year, but I’d rather not dwell on them. Life in general has been way too negative the past few years, and my optimism has taken several kicks to the balls since March 2020. I’d rather focus on the good.

And the good is this: I have a wonderful family (both blood and chosen), I have some of the best friends a human could ask for, I have two adorable cats who make my life happier by being cute and cuddly, I have a somewhat successful career as a writer and occasional editor, I’m a fourth-degree black belt and an important part of my karate discipline, I get to teach kids which brings me tremendous joy, I have a home and my health and all that other good stuff.

Happy new year, everyone!

sofa, so good

We have a new sofa! It’s incredibly comfy! And the two seats on the end recline! Getting there was a minor saga….

Back in 2016, we were rather unexpectedly forced to abandon our old apartment. One of the things we were in the market for in our new place was a living-room sofa, as the futon frame and futon we’d been using in the old place was pretty much dead. Conveniently, my sister from another mister, Laura Anne Gilman, was selling her NYC co-op after having settled in Seattle, and she let us have her sectional for a song:

The sectional was a good and noble piece of furniture that served us well for six years, but the second law of thermodynamics is a thing, and over the last year especially, the poor thing was starting to fall apart.

And so, the one and only present we got for the holidays this year from, basically, our entire family was to get us a new sofa. We went to a Raymour and Flanigan outlet store and sat on a bunch of couches until we found the one we liked. It meant our family had to spend more — you can order a couch way cheaper online — but this is what we’ll be sitting in for the next several years, and it needed to be one our butts had field-tested, as it were.

Once it was ordered and a delivery date set, we had to then get the old couch out.

This is where the “saga” part comes in….

We live in a hundred-year-old house with narrow hallways and a front door that’s 85″ tall. The house has been subdivided into three units, and the entrance to two of those units is on the second floor, with front doors facing each other in a tiny landing at the top of the stairs. The long part of the sectional is 87″. “So how did you get it in?” you may ask, and the answer is, “with the help of our neighbor.” The only way to get the long part of the sectional into our home was for the neighbor to open her door, also.

Problem: said neighbor flew to California a few weeks ago to be with her brother, who is not doing very well, health-wise, and she is going to stay out there with him for the duration, as it were. She has no ETA for when she’ll be back, obviously — unfortunately, she also hasn’t given anyone a spare key.

So in order to make an 87″ couch piece get through an 85″ doorway, we had to engage in some creative destruction:

I spent a good chunk of Wednesday using wire-cutters, a saw, an exacto knife, a hammer, and my own brute strength to remove large chunks of the long part of the sectional so it would fit out the door. All the wood pieces that made up the thing’s support were glued and/or stapled (mostly glued), which made it a challenge, but it was fun to rip it apart…. *laughs*

We deliberately timed the delivery for a Thursday because that’s the day that the garbage pickup includes big-ass and unusual items like sofas. We put the sofa out onto the street Wednesday night, and by the time I drove Wrenn to the subway station for her job in the morning, the sanitation trucks had already come and gone, and it was like the sofa was never there!!!!!

The final bit of the saga came yesterday. R&F gave me a 9am-12.45pm window for delivery on Wednesday, which was narrowed down to 11am-12.45pm Thursday morning. Mind you, the truck didn’t actually show up until 2pm. Sigh. Having said that, the two guys got the thing up and put together and ready to go in about seven-and-a-half seconds, so that was nice.

The couch not only has two recliners, there are also USB ports on either side, so we can charge things!

So now we are be-sofa’d. Many many thanks to Laura Anne for the old sectional, which had a long and happy life, and to the Forebearance and ToniAnn & Kyle for the gift of the new reclining couch!

it’s Election Day — you should vote

Personally, I voted blue down the line, which is standard for me generally, and vitally necessary this year.

Since the turn of the millennium, this is what has happened with Republicans in power:

  • Major economic downturns, with corporate scandals in 2001 (which were bigfooted by the events of early September) and a massive economic crash in 2008
  • The worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in its history, at least in part due to the administration downplaying intelligence reports warning about it.
  • A war in response to that attack that utterly failed after several years to do what it was supposed to accomplish, and also used as a false justification to start a second war.
  • The utter botching of the response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.
  • The utter botching of the response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017.
  • Dismantling the pandemic response team in 2017, thus leaving the country ill-suited to the pandemic that hit in 2020.
  • The utter botching of every single response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • An increase in violence against people of color by police, emboldened by one of the two Republican presidents being a white supremacist.
  • The two most unqualified Supreme Court Justices in the institution’s history elevated to the bench via manipulation of Congressional rules. Those two justices, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, also perjured themselves, as they swore under oath that Roe v. Wade was “settled law” and then they proceeded to go with the majority opinion to repeal it. Another Supreme Court appointment taken away from a Democratic president by a Republican Senate Majority Leader, an un-Constitutional action
  • Repealing of Roe v. Wade.
  • An insurrection that attempted to stop the certification of election results and jeopardize the legitimate transfer of power for the first time in the country’s history.

Please note that most of the above have body counts attached to them.

When Democrats have been in power, this is what has happened:

  • Decent (if far from perfect) national healthcare for the first time in our nation’s history, an action that saved many lives (including that of my wife).
  • Skilled and sensible recovery from the 2008 crash, which included keeping banks and the auto industry afloat.
  • Strong economies.
  • Skillful handling of various natural disasters, including Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
  • Actually finding and taking out Osama bin Laden, the ostensible purpose of the war in Afghanistan.
  • In Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagen, and Ketanji Brown Jackson, we’ve gotten three excellent Supreme Court justices.
  • The distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine was handled skillfully.
  • Haven’t started any wars, nor had any terrorist attacks on our soil.

Vote today, if you didn’t vote already.

stocking up on antibodies

Wrenn and I are both over 50 and got our first COVID-19 vaccine booster shot in October of 2021, so we decided to get our second booster today. Given that everyone’s decided masks are for wussies, and there’s been a slow uptick in cases since the mask mandates were dropped/lightened, I’m very happy to give myself every possible defense against this……

a lovely fifth anniversary

On Friday, Wrenn and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary by going back to City Island. This time we spent some time wandering up and down City Island Avenue and checking out the little shops. (I even bought a book, a tome filled with Bronx-based ghost stories that should be useful stuff to mine for the Bram Gold Adventures.) City island is a lovely little New England-style fishing village sitting off the east coast of the Bronx.

Then we had an amazeballs dinner at the Black Whale. I’ve been going to the Black Whale since I was a kid. It’s a charming little place decorated like an antiques shop, with little tchotchkes all over the place. When I was a kid, before my mother developed a sensitivity to seafood that curtailed her dining options on City Island, we used to go out to dinner there a lot, and we would often go to the Black Whale for dessert. (I would almost always have a root beer float.)

The outside of the Black Whale (picture snurched from Google Images)

However, they are also a full-on restaurant with very yummy food. We ate in the courtyard out back and had an absolutely magnificent meal. It was lovely and yummy and the perfect way to celebrate our anniversary. (Also, how the hell has it been five years? On the other hand, has it really only been five years? Seems like forever, at least partly because the last two years have been so awful.)

The courtyard behind the restaurant, where we actually ate. (Picture snurched from Google Images.)
A black whale compass — very fitting, no? It was next to our table….
They gave us garlic bread! It was yummy!
I had a glass of Montelpulciano.
Our appetizers included mussels for Wrenn and fried calamari for me, though we each partook of the other’s….
Our entrees: Wrenn had ravioli stuffed with mushrooms and feta cheese, in a cheesy sauce, and I had herb-crusted cod that melted in my mouth.
Wrenn’s favorite thing at the Black Whale is their hot chocolate, which is overwhelmingly fabulous.
Our desserts: Wrenn had creme brulee, I had a hot fudge sundae and my inevitable root beer float.
My lovely wife.
Me, happy. (Picture by Wrenn.)

Happy anniversary to us!

why limit a birthday to one day?

Because Wrenn had to work for 15 hours on Monday on her temp job and because I was flying back home from Indianapolis, we decided to postpone my birthday festivizing to Thursday the 21st. By then, Wrenn’s job was done (she’s now looking aggressively for more permanent work), and so we went out to City Island with all four parents, the Godmommy, and Matthew to Portofino for a lovely lunch.

L.-r.: Helga, Daddy, Livia, Matthew, John, Mommy, Wrenn, and me. You can’t see it at this angle, but I’m once again wearing the “It’s My Fucking Birthday” sash — much thanks to ToniAnn for the loan of that….
My appetizer: insalata tricolore
Wrenn’s appetizer, which she shared with me (as I did the salad): mussels
A lovely Ruffino chianti
My main course: a yummy yummy risotto pescatore
Capuccino, plus Wrenn’s and my desserts of chocolate mousse cake and vanilla ice cream

Today is Wrenn’s and my wedding anniversary — it was, amazingly, five years ago now that we became a married couple at Mario’s Restaurant — and we’re gonna celebrate with another City Island meal, this time at the Black Whale.

Happy birthday to me! Happy anniversary to us!

another successful trip ’round the sun

I spent my 53rd birthday in two different states, as well as on a plane. It started waking up in Indianapolis when it was snowing, and ended with me driving from Manhattan to the Bronx in a monsoon. In between, I had dinner with my parents, took a karate class, and drove Wrenn home from work at close to midnight.

My trip to Indianapolis for Indiana Comic Convention and Wrenn’s job (which ends fully on Wednesday) means we put off the proper birthday festivizing until Thursday, when the family will have lunch at Portofino on City Island. In the meantime, however, ToniAnn gave me the “IT’S MY FUCKING BIRTHDAY” sash to wear this morning, seen in the picture above. I wore it proudly and happily.

My presents so far have included a Cameo video from Garrett Wang, thanks to Meredith and Sas, a Green Hornet and Kato Funko Pop set, thanks to ToniAnn, a fun night out at the Patron Saint Club in Indianapolis Saturday night, thanks to Carlos Ferro, and a bajillion birthday greetings publicly on Facebook and Twitter and privately via text, e-mail, and Facebook Messenger.

Happy birthday to me!

fuck Texas

Texas Governor Greg Abbott wrote a letter instructing teachers and doctors to report parents who give trans children gender-affirming care, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion that gender-affirming surgery is child abuse.

This has been swallowed in the news cycle by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and that’s understandable, but we shouldn’t forget that Texas is run by scum-sucking weasels and the state of Texas is not safe for trans people.

Back in 2013, then-Governor Rick Perry took out ads trying to lure businesses in other states to Texas — including New York. Lewis Black did a segment on it, which included a magnificent PSA of New Yorkers, led by Black, telling Texas to fuck off. I found myself remembering that today for obvious reasons.

Because the internet is wonderful, that video is still archived at Comedy Central’s web site. Click on this paragraph and go watch it right now. It’s magnificent.

“Remember the Alamo? Neither do we!”