Take Me to Your Leader

Close Encounters of the Weird Kind

Recently, there was construction taking place outside the office. Guess what? Jackhammers and productivity do not mix.

Good thing I have noise-cancelling headphones and Spotify Premium.

At one point, the jackhammers were replaced by a deep, metallic, droning sound that lasted for about five seconds at a time. Really creepy-sounding, and it kept repeating; kind of like an ominous foghorn that I found eerie and familiar. I knew I’d heard that sound before, but couldn’t quite place it.

tripodFinally, I realized it was identical to the sound the Tripods made in Steven Spielberg’s 2005 adaptation of War of the Worlds. I played it out loud, and everybody in the office agreed—the resemblance was uncanny.

This reminded me of the time I was convinced I’d been abducted by aliens.

Cue flashback music…

It was January 2007, and my life was in flux. I was newly-divorced and living in a brand-new townhouse of my very own. One evening, I was parked in front of the computer in my bedroom, chatting with a female. (Newly divorced, remember?) Suddenly, three events occurred in rapid succession:

  • A dog began barking urgently outside.
  • The lights dimmed. They didn’t flicker, as will sometimes occur when it’s windy; they just got real low for a few seconds.
  • I heard a mysterious sound. In my blog post dated 1/24/2007, I compared it to “an electronic sort of humming, followed by what sounded like clashing cymbals.”

This was well nigh disturbing, to say the least. (Also, I have been blogging forever…)

I mentioned these strange occurrences to my chat companion, who joked, “Sounds like the Mother Ship just landed.”

I didn’t think much more about it until the following morning, when electronic devices began conking out anytime I drew near. Seriously: my fully-charged cellphone wouldn’t let me make a call, but instead emitted “a series of weird electronic beeps and clicks.” That same day, I was in Best Buy on my lunch hour, buying a CD (because it was early 2007), when the sales clerk’s cash register froze. She could not get it to work and was forced to do a hard reboot. “That was odd,” she said. “It’s never happened to me before.” Weird things like that happened, off and on, the rest of the week, before things finally returned to normal.

Suddenly, those jokes about the Mother Ship weren’t so funny to me. I wondered whether I had been abducted by aliens and had my memory erased, the side effects of which were an ability to disrupt the electro-magnetic field. Sure, we scoff now, but it seemed at the time to be the only logical explanation to my weird ability to unwittingly kill all electronics around me.

To this day I can’t explain what was going on, though later events in the townhouse make me feel that I had a bigger problem with ghosts than aliens.

I’m Here for the Boos

Between carving pumpkins for the first time in years and actually passing out candy to kids, Halloween was a novelty this year. I hadn’t had a trick-or-treater come to my front door in 14 years. Not because I didn’t have a front door (turns out those are a pretty standard feature in most dwellings, minus tipis and igloos), but rather, kids avoid apartment and townhouse complexes on Halloween, so we always ended up with a couple of unopened bags of candy. We figured things would be different now that we’re in a house, and sure enough, we saw maybe 40-50 costumed kiddos over a three-hour period. It was actually a lot of fun, even though I didn’t discover until plugging it in that evening that my fog machine was broken. It emitted a few half-hearted wisps of fog before sputtering out, the last futile gasps of breath from a dying soul. I wasn’t too surprised though; the thing had been boxed up since 2006. I’ll be sure to buy a new one for 2020 so I can really set a festive tone.

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Glutton for Punishment?

The weather has been its usual mixed bag of late, alternating between cold, a little less cold, snowy, a little less snowy, windy, and a little less windy. It looks to be the same for the foreseeable future.

You will notice, by the way, that I did not in fact post anything on the first two days of the month, which means I’m bagging my idea of blogging every day in November. You can breathe easily, Betsy. We’re gearing up for the winter issue of our parenting magazine at work and I’m still freelance blogging like a madman, so I figured I was overextended enough already. Can you believe I’m averaging 75 freelance articles a month?! It’s a wonder I have any brain cells left. I’m passing the torch and handing over 90 percent of the work to a former colleague at the end of the year, so at least there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Hopefully not a weird, flickering light accompanied by strange sounds and dying electronics…

Octember, Anyone?

It has been freakin’ cold here lately. So cold, my words froze in midair this morning; I had to thaw them out in a frying pan before Tara could hear what I said. We ended up taking everything out of the freezer and huddling inside to keep warm. Three pints of ice cream are now serving as handy footstools in the living room, guys.

It’s so cold the local politicians have their hands in their own pockets for a change.

Think I’m kidding?

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This weather isn’t unusual for Rapid City, but it is unusual for Rapid City in October. Our high on Tuesday was 10º colder than our normal low for the date. If this is a harbinger of what’s to come this winter, we’re in for a brutal one. And the local weather guys are saying it just may be

It’s supposed to warm up for Halloween. This means upper 40s, which is still cold for the date, but at least it’s above freezing!

And yes, Ron, we had more snow.

This storm rolled in Monday evening, just as we were finishing up carving pumpkins. We only got 2” out of it, so not a lot, but again…October. I think we’re going to have to rename the month Octember, because it definitely feels more like Christmas than Halloween.

Speaking of jack-o-lanterns, I hadn’t carved a pumpkin in…hmm…maybe 10 years? The last time was with the kids, before Tara and I even got together. She hadn’t carved one since 1995! So, it was a fun (and novel) experience for us both. I have no idea how many trick-or-treaters we will get, being new to the ‘hood. I spoke to a neighbor recently and she said it varies; some years there will be a lot, and last year there were…two or three? I’ll be happy to see even one! It’s been a long time since I’ve passed out candy.

Plus, I really want an excuse to fire up the fog machine. Although the fog might freeze and force us to break it off in chunks in order to dispose of it.

Life on the great plains, I tell you!

Celestial Jackpot

I rarely get so sucked into a book I can’t stop reading it, but I’ve been forcing myself to turn off the lights every night and put down “Dark Matter” for fear I’ll never go to bed and it will suddenly be morning. Which wouldn’t be a terrible thing, but I do like my sleep!

The novel is described as “a story about a scientist who chooses love and family over scientific immortality and major awards—only to run headlong into versions of himself who made different choices” and is “cleverly imagined, dizzyingly plotted, thrillingly told.” YES. It is all those things, which is why I can’t put the damn thing down! I guess Blake Crouch is known for his “Wayward Pines” trilogy. I’m going to have to check that out soon.

Anyway. “Dark Matter” is heavy on quantum mechanics, exploring far-flung ideas such as the Multiverse, the “many worlds” theory, and parallel lives. Concepts that all found their way into my current novel, “Dream Sailors.” I eat this stuff up. I find the science absolutely fascinating and mind-blowing. The idea that a new universe is spawned for every choice we ever make in life hurts my head in the best way possible. It excites me and leads to frenzied discussions with my patient wife, who listened to me babble on and on Friday night over drinks and dinner at Firehouse Brewing about how there might be a parallel universe in which I’d chosen the Reuben over the buffalo burger instead of vice-versa (I was seriously torn, guys!), and how that Mark’s life would unspool very differently from this Mark’s – err, my – life.schrodingers cat

She’s lucky I didn’t bring up Schrödinger’s cat.

So, is the idea of parallel dimensions pseudo-science, wishful thinking, or something else entirely? As far-fetched as it all sounds, it’s theoretically possible, and many esteemed scientists – such as Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson – were/are proponents. Even now, I find myself wanting to talk about how we live in a universe with an expansion rate that’s neither too fast nor too slow, an electron that’s not too big, a proton that has the exact opposite charge but the same mass as a neutron, and a four-dimensional space in which we can live. Consider this: if the electron or proton were just 0.2 percent larger, they would be so unstable they would break apart into smaller particles, atoms could never form, and we would not exist. I mean, what are the odds?! Some would say that’s strong evidence of a divine being, but for atheists a Multiverse makes equally perfect sense. With an infinite number of universes, once in a great while you’ll find one with the exact right conditions to support life as we know it. The very fact of our existence kind of feels like we played the lottery hit the celestial jackpot. Take that, billion-dollar Mega Millions winner!

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I could go on and on with this stuff. And I’d love to, but I don’t want to bore you with any more theoretical physics talk. Feel free to chime in with your opinion, though!


Halloween happened. Or so I’m told. It never actually felt like it, as we didn’t get a single trick-or-treater. It’s actually been 13 years since I’ve opened the door to somebody in costume. I’ve drawn two conclusions from this: kids avoid apartment and condominium complexes on Halloween, and nobody has once sent me a singing telegram.

Because I never left the apartment after 2:30 p.m., I didn’t even see anybody dressed up. At least Tara drove by a couple of kids on her way home. Last year we all wore costumes to work and there was the Boo Bash in downtown Camas, so I at least got a sense of the holiday. This time around, nada. At least we made sure the few bags of candy we purchased just in case were ones we liked! But because I’m so stingy with my sugar intake, I’m limiting myself to a single “fun size” Baby Ruth or Snickers bar per day, so we’ll probably be working on them until Christmas.

By the way, is one inch really a fun size??


It’s been a pretty quiet weekend. After a stretch of mild weather, it’s turned colder, which means it’s not conducive to going hiking (though I actually did go for a hike on Friday morning). We ran a bunch of errands yesterday and will be watching the Broncos game this afternoon. I’m cooking a pork/beef stew. There’s a Netflix movie queued up for later.

Oh! Speaking of Netflix, are you watching “Making a Murderer Part 2”? It has totally changed my mind about Steven Avery. After the initial series I figured, well, there are some questionable things, but the guy probably did it. Now I AM COMPLETELY CONVINCED HE IS INNOCENT. I’ve moved way beyond reasonable doubt. His attorney, Kathleen Zellner, is a beast. Mad props to her. And Brendan Dassey has always been an unwitting pawn. His conviction should have been overturned years ago.

In a parallel universe, they’re both free men…