Abigail (2005 – 2018)

It is always difficult to say goodbye to a family member.

This afternoon, I was at my desk, working on my latest book, when I heard Abigail behind me. She liked to sleep in the hidden cubbyhole under our bed, and, as an old and overweight cat, she had health problems and would cough and hack up hairballs and such.  This time, the sound was different — and then it just stopped.Abigail

(I had to go back and rewrite that paragraph when I realized I had written it in the present tense.)

“Abby?” I said in my talking-to-cats voice. “Are you all right?” When she didn’t respond, I got nervous. This didn’t feel right. I pulled out my phone, turned on the flashlight, and peered under the bed. She was there, but not moving. I didn’t see her breathing. I reached in to touch her and her eyes were open and her tongue was out.

“Heidi!” I screamed. “Get up here now!”

Heidi came upstairs to see what I was so upset about, and soon we were both crying. We checked for a heartbeat or breathing and found nothing. We placed her in a box and took her to our vet — not because we thought anything could be done, but because we knew they could humanely have her cremated.

It’s never easy. We’ve outlived a number of cats over the years, and as anyone who has ever had a beloved pet knows, it is like losing a family member. We’re childless by choice, so we spoil our cats instead.

As we left the vets, Heidi said, “Let’s go look at kittens.” I reminded her that we still had three other cats to keep us company, but she was so sad, so I went along. We drove to the local no-kill animal shelter where we have adopted some of our previous family members.

Now we have two more — sisters from the same litter. 8 weeks old. No names yet. They’re currently in the downstairs bathroom, allowing them to get used to the area and the smells before we expand their world and let them meet their new housemates. Meanwhile, I fed the other three and mistakenly called one “Abigail.” So it’s not like adopting kittens makes you forget your past cats.

Heidi has no problem in becoming the crazy cat lady, and I guess I’m happy for our extended family.

 

Taking the country back from the bullies

“When they go low, we go high,” Michelle Obama said.

Well, that didn’t work.

Liberals and progressives are now mad and are refusing to “take the high road” and look the other way. We’re fighting back.  And it’s about time.

Bullies will continue to bully you unless you fight back. You have to be willing to be just as aggressive as they are.

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We’re not used to thinking like that. We liberals tend to want to work with others, and try to understand others. It’s due to the empathy we have that most conservatives are missing.

And that’s how conservatives have won over the years — by pushing their way in, by bullying, by demeaning anyone they disagree with, and by cheating (through gerrymandering, blocking legislation and appointments, and — let’s face it — by breaking the law). I am not advocating that we do these things at all. I am saying we have to stop allowing them to get away with it.

And we’re moving in that direction. We’re fighting back. We’re punching nazis. We’re staging counter protests. Recently, the alt-right’s rally in Washington DC turned out to have only about two dozen participants, facing off against hundreds of counter-protesters. The organizers of the march said some of their members did not attend because they didn’t want the confrontation, because, like all bullies, they can dish it out but they can’t take it.

Being nice only allows those who are not nice to take advantage of us. It’s how con men operate and it’s how the bad guys win. Wars are not won by “going high when they go low.”

Get angry. Fight back.

Win.

 

Birthday lesson: Don’t have regrets

Today’s my 60th trip around the sun. I look in the mirror and see a guy with bags under his eyes, gray in his beard, and wispy hair barely covering a balding head. That’s a scary thought, especially when I consider where I thought I’d be at this point in my life.

There are paths I chose in my life that, in retrospect, I wish I had not. But when I reflect on what I have accomplished, I’m fairly proud. This is the kind of retrospection everyone should do, and if you’re not pleased with what you find, to remember that it is never too late to make a change. grouchoYou only have one life, after all. This isn’t a computer game where you can start over and create a new character.

So let’s start with this: Try not to have big regrets.

Act on your dreams. No one was ever on their death bed saying, “I’m so glad I never tried to accomplish that dream of mine!”

I’ve done a lot of different things in my life. I’ve been successful at some, and not so much at others. (You’ll forgive me if I reminisce a bit here.)

When I was a kid, I decided I wanted to be an actor. So my mom took me to community theater, and I passed auditions and was in a number of plays. (I continued on through High School.)

Then I wanted to be a cartoonist. I ended up drawing comics for my school newspapers all the way through law school.

I thought it would be great to be in a band, so I taught myself guitar, bass and piano. I played in many bands and still do from time to time.

In High School, I decided to start an “underground” newspaper. It became quite popular, although it was more like Mad Magazine than a real newspaper. (I continued to write for the college and law school papers and later did a column for the Allston-Brighton Item, a real newspaper in Boston.)

Then I said, “I should write a musical comedy.” I did, and the High School drama coach liked it. The school put it on. It was held over an extra week and got good reviews from the local paper.

In college, I decided to run for the student government and received the highest number of votes of any candidate, and was later awarded the college’s Student Service Award in my senior year. I also became the college radio station’s Program Director.

Then I decided to go to law school, mostly because I was interested in politics. I became involved with the Massachusetts chapter of Americans for Democratic Action and ended up as their President for a year. I also worked as a lobbyist, and was campaign manager for a state representative for a summer.

After law school, I said, “There should be a magazine for animated films,” and started Animato!, which later grew into a real magazine carried in book stores everywhere.

Then I joined up with some friends and began one of the first live-action fantasy medieval role-playing games in America. I later broke away and started the Alliance LARP, which now has been running for more than 25 years. I have chapters all over the United States and Canada, and the Discovery channel even did a documentary about us. (Yes, you watch it on Netflix and yes, that’s me and my wife Heidi being interviewed.) We even had a booth at the New York Renaissance Faire for many years, which we sold when Heidi’s medical condition prevented her from working.

About ten years ago, I decided I wanted to write fiction, and I have so far published three novels and a bunch of short stories (no, they’re not self-published) as well as edited a few anthologies, featuring NY Times bestselling authors. A few were even made into audio books with professional actors reading the stories. I even have an agent now, and I started the Pocono Liars Club, a group of local writers who sponsor workshops and seminars.

Now, were all of these things successful? Absolutely not. I tried to make a living at the LARP but instead ended up living in poverty for a few years. My books are not best-sellers. My bands may have played all the big clubs but we never got a record deal. I gave up on the cartooning and never pursued the acting.

I’ve had regrets about life, just like everyone. But they are rarely of the “I wish I had tried that” variety.

And that’s today’s lesson: Take control and make things happen in your life. There is no “Life Fairy” who will come along, point a magic wand, and make all your dreams come true. Sitting around and watching TV won’t get you anywhere. Get off your butt and do something. Make something of your life.

Make sure that when you’re on your death bed, you have no big regrets.

It’s okay to discriminate against assholes

One of the Sad Puppies — a group of butthurt snowflake selfish white male Trumpites who whine about things like the 1% of female leads in science fiction movies — has been barred from attending a major science fiction convention after he planned to take disruptive action at the convention, having done similar things in the past.

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This is literally the Sad Puppies logo. They’re apparently sad because people get mad at them for being assholes to everyone else.

So of course, he’s claiming he’s being “discriminated against” because of his political views. These Sad Puppies, along with all the other whiny white males, KKK members, nazis, religious fundamentalists and Trump supporters, consistently complain that they’re being discriminated against because they’re no longer allowed to discriminate against others like they’ve always done.

Look, genius: A private organization has the right to deny entry to anyone they think will disrupt their group, including for political disruptions.

You have every right to hold whatever terrible political viewpoints you want. That is guaranteed to you under the Constitution. You don’t have the right to demand that anyone else provide you with a place or a forum for you to express those opinions, nor do you have the right to demand that someone let you into their group when they believe you don’t meet their standards. No shirt no shoes no service.

Discrimination is when you are being prevented from entering because of things you have no control over, such as your race or gender or place of origin. If you choose to be the kind of guy people can’t stand to be around and they say they don’t want you near them, that’s not discrimination. You chose to be that person.

As Frank Zappa said, “It’s okay to discriminate against assholes, because nobody was born an asshole.”

It’s always amazing to me how these people who always scream about how the “market” can solve all our problems whine and scream like babies when the market decides to do just that against them.

Edit:  Friend of the Blog Jim C. Hines explains this particular person’s history in more detail on his blog

My fun with an artist scam artist

My wife Heidi Hooper is an award-winning artist who specializes in, believe it or not, dryer lint art. Seriously, she’s in Ripley’s Believe it or Not museums around the world (and in their books) and will soon be seen on a major TV show that we can’t tell you about yet.

So she sometimes gets people emailing her to buy her artwork or to ask for a special piece made just for them. But since I’m the lawyer and the writer, she often asks me to answer her email for her when these transactions come about.

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“Docs Playing Poker” by Heidi Hooper

So today she received this request:

Hello,

My name is Rob Carter from Virginia.. I was looking for some artwork online and I found your contact and works while searching and I must tell you, You are doing a great job, I would really love to purchase some of your works for my wife as a surprise present regarding our forthcoming 20th anniversary, I would like to receive further information about your piece of work and what inspires you..Also, kindly email me back with some images and price list of your inventory that is ready for immediate sales within my price range ($2,000- $13,000).. Hope to hear from you soon..

Thanks and best regards.

I was immediately suspicious. No mention of her unusual work? No description of the art? Just “Hello, I want art. Please sell me some.” But just in case it really was a legitimate offer, we sent this response:

You can see all my work on my web page (www.HeidiHooper.com) with the prices.  Just let me know what you like. And if you want a special order, let me know that as well. – Heidi

Soon the response came in:

Hello Heidi, thanks for writing back it’s nice hearing from you… Well, Can you please let me know the availability and pricing of this painting (Docs Playing Poker)? Kindly confirm the availability and pricing asap. Hope to hear from you soon, Rob.

Well, at least he looked at the website. But “Docs Playing Poker” is hardly a “painting” since it’s made out of dryer lint. And you’d think he’d make some comment like, “I want that one because my wife loves Dr. Who.” So we replied:

One of my favorites, as I’m clearly a Dr. Who fan. They’re all cheating, too.  That’s one of the larger pieces, 24 x 36 (not counting the frame, which is of course included). It sells for $5500.  Shipping would be extra, and I usually send them overnight because then it’s all insured and everything. That way you could get it for Christmas.  Where in Virginia are you?  I’m originally from Richmond and got my undergraduate degree in sculpting from VCU. I look forward to hearing from you. – Heidi

Note that since he mentioned Virginia, we did too just to see if he knew anything about Virginia. His response did not mention that, but he did start to run the scam now, thinking we were all excited about making that much money:

Dear Heidi, Thanks for writing back it’s nice hearing from you.. I must tell you I intend to give my wife a surprise with the immediate purchase of the piece. Also If you’d like to know, I’m relocating to the Philippines soon and our wedding anniversary is fast approaching. So I’m trying to gather some good stuff to make this event a memorable one.. I’m okay with the painting and price (Docs playing poker $5,500) I think it’s worth it anyway, so I’ll be sending a Check..

As regarding shipping, you don’t have to worry about that in order not to leave any clue to my wife for the surprise, as soon as you receive  the check and it clears with you, my shipping agent (who is also moving my personal effect) will contact you to arrange pick-up..

I would have come to purchase the piece myself but, at the moment, am on training voyage to the North Atlantic Ocean (I’m an ocean engineer) with new hires who are fresh from graduate school and won’t be back for another couple of weeks..

Regards!

PS: In the meantime, kindly get back to me with your full name (you want the check payable to) cell phone no. and mailing address (preferably for USPS or FED-EX not P.O box) where a check can be mailed to so I can get the check prepared and have it mailed out to you asap..

Here’s where it’s clear, and I’m mostly sharing this with you so that you don’t fall for these kinds of scams. Usually, it’s done when people are selling things through ebay or something, but they only want to send you a check and they want your phone number (because it’s easier to con you by phone) and your address.

So we responded as follows:

If you want to rush this, you can PayPal me at HeidiHooper1@gmail.com. Thanks!

Check payable to Heidi Hooper, PO Box 349, Tannersville, PA 18372

You can call my husband at his office if you have any problems:  570-629-6322

Note that we specifically did not give out our home address, and that phone number? Goes right to my law office.

This is how this scam works: They give you a bad check, usually from a fake bank or a bank far away, and they overpay and ask for you to refund them. Then the check bounces and you’ve just lost not only the money you gave them but the item you sold them as well. (Here’s a detailed article from Snopes on how this scam works.)

So, predictably, the next email from him was a bit more emphatic about how he would have someone come by to pick up the art and all we’d have to do is pay that person for picking it up — from the check he was sending, of course.

Dear Heidi, Thanks for the details which I’ve noted down, My wife handles the family credit card/bank issues, and in order not to leave any clue to her for the surprise,  I’ve contacted a client of mine to issue out a check which will include my shipping agent fees to you, But courtesy demand I must first appeal to your self interest and ask for your help in remitting the overage (after deducting your fee for the piece) to the shipping agent as soon as the check clears..

I would have handled this much differently if I’d been at home but am a bit pressed for time as our anniversary is fast approaching and do not have access to a lot of cash over here to expedite this transaction…. trying to kill two birds with a stone. kindly deduct any tax incurred on the overage before giving the balance the shipping agent, they are not sending any bill or holding you responsible for the payment of my shipping contract with them..

I am really sorry for the mix up and will appreciate if you get back to me asap to know if i can entrust you with this transaction..

Many thanks and talk to you soon..

To which we replied:

No, sorry, you need to take care of paying your shipping agent yourself.  I can arrange for the piece to be able to be picked up at my husband’s law office for you though so it can be done quickly. If you use a money order, then we don’t have to wait for it to clear. 

And then it was quiet. Perhaps the mention of the “law office” made our art collector change his mind.

So please beware of this very common scam.

Lasik: 3 years later — was it worth it?

It’s been around three years now since I had lasik surgery. Was it worth it?

I had worn glasses since I was ten years old. Too much reading probably. At first, my prescription wasn’t that bad, but as time went on, the glasses got thicker and thicker. By the time I was 40, I needed bifocals. I got the kind without the lines, which really would have bugged me, but bifocals are a headache in and of themselves — if your head isn’t at exactly the right angle, things are out of focus. Lying on the sofa and wanting to watch TV required a few minutes of arranging pillows so I could see everything in focus, and changing positions meant pausing the show to make adjustments.

Then things started getting worse. My eyes couldn’t handle the stress. I would get flashes that stayed for many minutes — you know, how when you look at the sun and then look away and there would be a kind of exposure that stays in your vision? I’d get those for no reason whatsoever.cyclops

The final straw was when I was in court and I started seeing two images. Scariest thing ever. You ever been to the optometrist and your head is against that machine and the doctor shows you two images, one above the other, and says, “Let me know when the images combine into one?” I was seeing two images without that machine!

So it was determined that I really needed to get a lasik operation by everyone except, of course, my insurance company, which called it “elective surgery.”

I was hesitant, of course — it’s my eyes, what if something goes wrong? (Plus I thought I looked good in glasses.)

The surgery itself was really simple. It took five minutes at most. I laid back, they used a q-tip to numb my eyes, and then it was done. I needed a ride home and couldn’t drive for a day or so, but the next morning was amazing. I woke up and could read the clock on the other side of the room for the first time in my adult life. I stayed home from work just in case but I was fine by later that day.

I also remember the first time I went to bed that night after having the surgery, and just as I was about to lay down, reaching up to my face to remove my non-existent glasses. Forty-five years of doing that every day is a hard habit to break.

One difference I noticed was that there was a halo effect around lights at night, especially things like streetlights. My night vision also seemed diminished. This is normal, and I’m not sure if it’s gotten better over time or if I’ve just become used to it.

My eyes were also very dry after the operation and I had to carry around eye drops and put them in every few hours. It gradually got better so that I no longer need to do that.

Still haven’t figured out how to shoot lasers out of my eyes, though. I suppose that comes later.

The operation was expensive but then again, so is buying new glasses every few years, which can really add up.

I still need glasses for reading and using the computer, but I buy them three for ten dollars at the discount store.

Last week, I decided that I should get bifocals again, with a clear top part and a magnified bottom part. faceThat way, I wouldn’t be whipping off my glasses every time I go between reading something and looking at the person I’m talking to (which happens a lot when you’re a lawyer, as you can imagine).  What a mistake. I had forgotten the problems with having to hold your head a specific way. With the bifocals I had to hold my head up and look down my nose to read the computer screen. Fortunately, the eyeglass people were nice and allowed me to return them for a full refund.

So I’m going back to what I learned to do after the surgery — put the glasses down at the end of my nose so that I can see over top of them. Fortunately, I have plenty of nose for that.

It’s frustrating to have to always carry around glasses with me. I have glasses laying all over the house so if I go into the kitchen and need to read cooking instructions on a package, I’ll be ready. (I used to be able to hold those things up to my face to read them, but not any more.) But given all the advantages, this is minor.

So yes, I absolutely recommend it.

Remembering my Father

It’s Father’s Day

Dad influenced us in many ways without sitting us down and giving us lessons. I can’t remember him ever saying “Now, don’t be a racist” or “It’s important for you to be a responsible person” but we learned by example.

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My family around 1977, but with my girlfriend (now wife) Heidi standing next me.

Dad quit his job at Channel 12 to start his own business, and painted signs in the basement of our home, so he was always there. Each of us later went on to start our own businesses, and while we’ve each had our ups and downs, we’ve all become pretty successful at it.

He was also fiercely loyal to Mom, and loved her tremendously and treated her with respect, and that taught us something, too.

He hardly ever drank, except maybe wine on holidays, and none of us grew up thinking we had to drink to have fun. And he always made us laugh.

When Heidi and I started dating, one time we went on a picnic with my family and as we walked through the park, she was astounded to see Mom and Dad holding hands, obviously still in love with each other. “I didn’t know parents did that sort of thing,” she said. Later, my friend Mark Waid said something similar: “The reason kids come over to your house every weekend to hang out is because everyone wants to be a Ventrella. You don’t realize how unusual your family is.”

And that was true — on TV, the family sitcoms all had families basically getting along. But in real life, most of the kids I knew were from broken homes or unhappy homes. I never realized that when I was young.

So here’s to Dad: You did a good job.