Wednesday, January 30, 2019

"At The Crossroads": An invitation to a short story

For three days this past fall my dog Tammy and I were trapped in a motel room in the North Carolina mountains.  Hurricane Florence was thrashing the slats out of the state even that far inland.  It was the two of us and the usual hurricane emergency supplies: cans of deviled ham, some crackers, a few six-packs of Coca-Cola... and not much to do.

So I began writing a short story.

In the past few months has come understanding of why I've never been able to crack that block in my mind toward writing narrative fiction.  Yes, there have been the scripts for the various films(?) and other projects.

But anything like a smallish piece of prose?  The connection couldn't be made.  Not until toward the end of this last summer, and maybe someday I'll be able to talk about that.

Suffice it to say, so far I've written three short stories, begun work on another, and have finished the first draft of a one-act stage play (which could easily be adapted into a short film).  And then there's the children's book that's in the works.

A few weeks ago I wound up using one of the stories in conjunction with another project.  It was the one written in that motel room during the hurricane.  And I've contemplated sharing it with a wider audience.  This is the second piece that I've completed so far.  Perhaps the others will appear on some outlet or another later on.  I've uploaded it as an Acrobat file.

So here it is.  Submitted for your approval, I present to you:



Shyamalan's GLASS concludes the superhero trilogy we don't deserve and didn't know we needed

You know that a filmmaker has returned to fine form when you're compelled to a second viewing during a movie's first run.  Maybe even soon going back for a third.

After a few disappointments (including 2006's bewildering and nigh-incomprehensible Lady In The Water) my interest had grown wary - to put it mildly - in M. Night Shyamalan's work.  The wunderkind who in 1999 brought us The Sixth Sense and then Unbreakable followed by Signs and The Village (a film I will never be ashamed to defend) had been hailed as "his generation's Steven Spielberg."

But then Shyamalan kinda wandered off the reservation.  Went weird.  Became the strange relative who packs up and goes into places that only his deepest id seems to understand.  Sometimes he comes back from the quest with renewed vision and perspective.  Sometimes he doesn't.  Sometimes he fails to come back at all.

It wasn't until a few weeks ago on Christmas Eve that I finally saw Shyamalan's 2016 film Split.  Even before then it intrigued me.  The widespread word was that Split was shockingly good.  And I have become a bit of a fan of James McAvoy.  But then I heard that its final scene tied in with Unbreakable: a film that's enraptured me since first watching one late night at a theater in Asheville many moons ago.

Even without knowing that the connection with Unbreakable was coming, I would have caught the common thread.  Shyamalan had produced another comic book movie without being based on a comic book.  McAvoy's character - dubbed "The Horde" by the end of the movie - is described so much as superhuman depending on which personality is dominant at the time, that Split was at least an obvious spiritual sequel to Unbreakable.  The main deviation being that this was a super villain origin story (maybe the first one in cinema history).

But then that last scene in the diner, and a waitress mentioning the guy in the wheelchair from years ago and then we see David Dunn (how I regret not being in a theater when Bruce Willis comes into camera) simply muttering "Mister Glass".  The best magic is when it's done right in front of your eyes, and you think you're seeing everything but then it drops your jaws and you can barely realize how much you've been tricked the whole time.  That's what Split was: a full-blown stealth sequel.  And a portent that this wasn't over with yet...

Shyamalan had regained my tenantative faith.  He seemed on to something.  And I knew that I had to ride this out to the end to see where he was taking this.

So it is that on its opening weekend I caught Glass.  An attempt was made to write a review shortly afterward but... I couldn't do it.  Not without another viewing and absorbing the spectacle of not just this movie, but the entire tale leading up to it.

That second viewing came last night and it only affirmed what had been on my mind in the days since first seeing Glass: that M. Night Shyamalan has delivered a true thinking-person's comic book saga.  One well ahead of its time and I have to believe that admiration and appreciation for it is only going to keep growing.  Some call it the "Unbreakable Trilogy".  Shyamalan himself refers to it as the "Eastrail 177 Trilogy".  My personal preference is simply "the Eastrail Trilogy".

Whatever its name, Shyamalan has made Glass be the third act of the superhero trilogy that we don't deserve, that we didn't know we needed, and perhaps should be the morality tale we heed most right now.

Glass begins three weeks after the events of Split, and David Wendell Crumb is still on the loose.  Now nineteen years after the conclusion of Unbreakable, David Dunn persists in his persona as "Raincoat Guy", "Security Guard Man", whatever.  The latest nickname that social media has given him is "The Overseer": a superhero monicker that Dunn's now grown-up son and business partner Joseph (again played by Spencer Treat Clark) relishes in the back-office lair of their home security store.  Even now, Dunn is still looking out for people.  And trying to distract himself from his status as a widower.

When four cheerleaders disappear - the same M.O. as Crumb's previous abduction of Casey Clarke (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her friends - David and Joseph set out to track down The Beast.  And it's not far into Glass that the two metahumans collide in combat.  They are just as promptly apprehended and taken into custody and remanded to a high-security mental institution.  The same high-security mental institution, incidentally, where a near-catatonic Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) has been put away following his homicidal quest for superhumans nearly two decades earlier.

David Dunn, The Beast, and Mister Glass all in the same psychiatric hospital.  On the same ward.  Within eyesight of each other.  This won't end well.  Or maybe it is going according to the plan of Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), who is determined to treat the trio for their "delusions of grandeur" simultaneously.  Joseph attempts to convince Staple that his father's apprehension is a mistake.  Casey - who has already grown stronger and more confident in the weeks since escaping The Horde - insists on seeing Kevin.  And Price's mother (a very wonderful return to the part by Charlayne Woodard) tries reaching through the fog to her son, stalwart in her belief that a true mastermind endures behind that vacant stare.

And anything more than this perhaps already too long synopsis would be depriving you, Dear Reader, of a rare comet illuminating the skies of what some are calling an increasingly dismal genre.  Because Glass is a true intellectual's comic book movie.  And it wraps up a true intellectual's comic book trilogy.  This is a saga about superpowers not as a feast for the eyes but for the mind.  The Eastrail Trilogy (yeah that's what I'm calling it from now on) is a morality exercise and it can't be broken down into a Cliff's Notes version.  The only other comic book trilogy in the same neighborhood is Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Saga: a character study as much as a straightforward adaptation.

I will remark however, on Glass and how it succeeds as the end of the Eastrail Trilogy.  Because in this comic book film universe there are indeed super-powered individuals.  And they are everywhere.  And more to the point they are each and every one of us.  Shyamalan's is not a world where superhuman abilities belong to the very lucky or the mega rich or the divinely born.  From the very beginning of this saga almost twenty years in the making, Unbreakable and Split and Glass have tried to drive home the message that, as C.S. Lewis beautifully put it, "you have never talked to a mere mortal."  Perhaps it's not so ironic that David Dunn in his hooded poncho bears great resemblance to The Spectre as Alex Ross depicted him in the groundbreaking 1996 graphic novel Kingdom Come.  "You have watched the titans walk the Earth," Spectre tells the elderly pastor Norman McKay, "and you have kept stride.  Perhaps you are more like them than you realize.  You exist... to give hope."  Ross drew the depiction of the mysterious hero that appears in the newspaper toward the end of Unbreakable.  Make of that what you will.

To give hope.  Isn't that more than enough of a superpower that each of us can acquire?  Despite how often too many in this world - the powers and princes and demagogues - tell us that we "are the victim", as Casey is informed at one point in Glass.  We can have and do have more power than we imagine.  It is the common man, and not presidents or generals or celebrities, who control our destiny.  Maybe that is why so many critics have given Glass unkind reviews.  This is a film that is metaphorically shattering their worldview: the worldview they demand that the rest of us must adhere to.  And then in that final scene, the dawning of a new universe and a world poised to change and never go back to the way things were...

Remember when The Matrix came out twenty years ago this spring?  The more I think about it, Glass caps off a story that is even more potent.  Is far more powerful.  Is much more needed right now in our culture.  But again, I might be saying too much.  As with the best of books and movies, it's better to go in cold.  And cold you will, because whatever you have ascertained from Glass's trailers, rest assured that it is not the movie you are expecting to go in seeing.

It takes a lot for me to make time lately to review a film, but Glass demanded it.  I'm going to absolutely recommend catching this during its theatrical run.  And if you can, by all means do take a refresher course with Unbreakable and Split before going to the theater.  It's not required but it will help in appreciating the grander scheme at work across this trilogy.  But even without that, Glass is a magnificent ensemble of cast, of concept, and of Shyamalan's grand mastery of the twist... and there are some.  Oh bruddah, are there twists.

Let's give M. Night Shyamalan a round of applause.  The kid done good.  And he's shown us something all too scarce lately: real growth and evolution of a filmmaker.  If the previous decade and a half or so of lackluster product has been his time in the wilderness, then it has been time well spent and I am most certainly looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Go-ing in blind...


If you're one of the few dozen who haven't seen Bird Box on Netflix yet, it's about a woman leading two children to safety.  The catch is that they must remain blindfolded, or very bad things will happen to them.  Being that ours is the same culture that a year ago made a "challenge" out of eating Tide Pods laundry detergent, of course now many idiots people are making a game of doing ANYTHING blindfolded.

From tonight's weekly gathering of our Go club:


That's from an actual game.  I was blindfolded, Leo wasn't.

It didn't end well for me...

Friday, December 28, 2018

I'm no artist, but...

For a number of years there's been an image in my head of what it's like to have bipolar disorder.  Mainly, the aspect of it that's the most agonizing to endure.

Not looking for pity or sympathy for myself.  Just trying in some meager way to evoke what it is like for many, many people in this world.  Because I do know firsthand.  Maybe someone will see this and it might change a heart or two.  Perhaps even more.

I made this graphic earlier tonight.  It's the best way that I know to convey it:



The inescapable sense that you will forever be outside looking in.  The person who those you love knew so well, disappeared.  And now there is this imposter, who only too often gets shut out and away.

And so there you are.  Looking at a world you once loved and were so thankful for.  Looking but can never touch again.  Seeing them warm around the fire together, laughing and being happy... but you are not there.  You have been banished to the hinterlands of your own madness.  Exiled away, and you did not want this.  And you still love them.  They will never know how much you dearly love them so, despite the years and distance still to be.

It is a hell all its own.  A hell let slip by God Himself.  You are there alone in the cold, outside looking in.  And many are the moments when you pray for death and sweet release from it all.

In spite of how circumstances in my own life are drastically better than they were a year ago, this has been an especially brutal holiday season.  Depression raged back to life just in time for Christmas.  It did much the same two years ago, when Christmas was spent alone in a hotel room in San Diego, an entire continent across from familiar faces and voices.  Had it not been for my dog Tammy being with me all along this way, well... God knows what I might have done.  Tammy keeps me going.  We take care of each other.  She knows when the darkness hits and she knows when to cuddle up extra close.  Just one more bit of evidence why I will always believe that dogs (and cats) possess a soul.  And maybe more soul than too many of us human beings.

The depression has passed for now.  And there are more people in my life also.  Yet, I still mourn and doubtless always will mourn the loss of those relationships over the years because of my condition.  When you love others like that, you can't hold it against them.  Even so, you are still there.  Outside looking in.  And you never stop asking God "Why?

If you know of someone with bipolar disorder or any other mental illness, please: don't shut them out of your life.  I know, also better than most: being with them in even a peripheral sense is an unenviable experience.  It drains others of their cheer and spirit.  But please, don't abandon them.  Encourage them.  Listen to them.  Pray for them.  Not knowing if God is hearing you because of your own broken mind, that is one of the worst things about this also.  If they know you are praying to God for them, that can be a precious tether of hope for them to hold on, to keep going, to bear through until the break of dawn after the long dark night of the soul.

(And tried that I did, I was unsuccessful in locating the original source of that image.  It matters that the creator gets credit for it, and no infringement is intended.  It just perfectly encapsulated it better than any other I found.  So if you know where it came from shoot me an email at theknightshift@gmail.com about it.)

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Eve 1968: "...and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth."

1968 was perhaps the most turbulent year of the most turbulent decade of modern history.  Assassinations, wars, upheaval - sometimes peaceful and sometimes not - and the looming threat of global annhiliation... it seemed that the whole world had gone mad.

So maybe it took three men a distance of more than two hundred thousand miles from that same world to put things into humbling perspective for the rest of us.

It was fifty years ago tonight, on Christmas Eve in 1968, that the crew of Apollo 8 ended one of the most-watched television broadcasts in history with a special message.  William Anders, James Lovell, and Frank Borman took turns reading from the first chapter of the Book of Genesis.  Half a century later, their glad tidings from orbit above the Moon has lost none of its magnificent potency.

Here it is:


A short while earlier, the crew had become the first humans to witness the Earth as an entire planet in one glimpse.  Anders was able to capture the moment with a photograph that has since come to be titled "Earthrise":



"And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth."

~ Frank Borman, Mission Commander, Apollo 8

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Chris declares THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD to be the best film of 2018... and DEMANDS that it get a wider release!

Well, that's a pretty bold assessment to make considering that 2018 has been a year that I haven't seen many movies during initial release in a cinema.  And where something like Solo: A Star Wars Story and Avengers: Infinity War are usually films that I'd see multiple times during their theatrical run, I only caught those once each.  And lately my schedule has become packed with a lot of activity: various projects and whatnot.

That being said, two months ago the sense hit that They Shall Not Grow Old was going to be an experience unlike any other in recent memory.  And that sense was proven just.  Only two movies before had ever left me feeling so impacted and affected as the credits rolled: 1993's Schindler's List and then The Passion Of The Christ eleven years later.

But as emotionally overwhelming as those two films are, neither can boast a cast of those who really were there, as they lived through it.  And in that respect, They Shall Not Grow Old will linger just as unshakable in the minds of many for the rest of their lives.




Let's have the trailer for the U.S. limited release speak for itself:


In time for the centennial of the armistice that ended World War I, Peter Jackson (The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, 2005's King Kong, and many other films) was given the opportunity to assemble a work honoring the British soldiers who volunteered to take to the trenches of France and Belgium.  To that end, Jackson and his crew were given access to more than a hundred hours of footage from a full century ago, along with more than 600 hours of audio interviews made in the Sixties and Seventies with veterans of the Great War.

But Peter Jackson decided early on that they were going to go further... much further... than any historical documentary had before or was even possible to achieve previously.

For 99 minutes, They Shall Not Grow Old follows the young men (officially 19 to 35, but some only 14 and 15) of Britain who rallied to enlist even as the sky had just begun to darken over the distant Balkans.  When the disastrous chain of events brings England and Germany into a declared state of war, the ranks of the army swell.  Some are moved by sense of duty, others out of having to avoid the shame of refraining from the cause.  And still others simply out of sense of adventure.  And for the first 15 minutes or so, it's much the classic black and white footage that we have become accustomed to for most of the past century.

It's when the British cross the Channel and into Western Europe that we are suddenly jarred into the war as never beheld until this year.

Using digital photo and video technology - much of which had to be invented along the way - Jackson and his team took that very old footage and cleaned it up, brought it to the standard 24 frames per second, and bestowed vivid color.  The visual result: a documentary about World War One that looks as if it could have been filmed just yesterday.  The clarity and sharpness between the processed footage and modern video is nigh on indistinguishable.  And just as uncompromising: dead soldiers pile up on the battlefield, maggots squirm in the carcasses of horses obliterated by machine gun fire, fatted rats infest the network of trenches.  Most will recoil in disgust at the photos of cases of gangrenous trench foot, common among the soldiers forced to work while standing in waste-filled water.

And still, it's not enough.  Jackson's crew went all out to bring audio to their work.  Professional lip readers were hired to make out words spoken on the silent footage, with voice actors providing audible dialogue.  An officer's otherwise uncertain reading to his soldiers compelled Jackson to seek out the official announcements of that particular day the footage was shot, then recording on his iPhone a reading one of the notices... and discovering that they had found the match.  The Foley effects are as thorough as they are profound, even using modern New Zealand field artillery to provide sounds for the German cannons.

The result is a plunge into the reality of war that will haunt, that will evoke laughter, that will make you smile.  And then will break your heart as you realize that many if not most of these fine young men are soon to be butchered, blown to bits or blistered by poison gas in the war that was supposed to end all wars.

They Shall Not Grow Old is by great leagues the most powerful motion picture that I have seen in a very long time while in a theater.  And last night, December 17th, was the first of two nationwide screenings in the United States.  And at the show I caught, that auditorium was packed with an audience as varied as any I have witnessed for a film.  They were of all ages, of multiple ethnicities.  A nine-year old boy was there with his father and grandfather.  One man had his two daughters with him.  There were high school and college students and retirees and men and women and... for a film that has such a limited release and scarce marketing stateside, the audience size defied expectations.  And there we were, together and across a century sharing in the laughter and tragedy of those British soldiers.  One hundred years and just as many minutes, we were all united in respect and admiration toward those who went before.

And They Shall Not Grow Old is one motion picture that absolutely merits a wide release.  Much wider.  It will be sought and appreciated by many, many others, especially those who otherwise may not have given much thought to the history of World War One and how its consequences affect us still today.  If that doesn't happen, They Shall Not Grow Old will prove to be the film that sends a lot of people over the top and into upgrading their home entertainment to 4K sets and ultra high-def Blu.  It certainly is the one movie I most want to have in my library in as beautiful a depth as currently available.

If and when that Blu-ray streets, I sincerely hope it includes the making-of featurette that follows the credits at the nationwide screening events.  Peter Jackson elaborates quite a lot on the various procedures used to enhance the ancient footage and to enhance it with sound.  He also notes that They Shall Not Grow Old focuses on the British soldiers who were involved in the war.  Meanwhile, there also exists hundreds of hours of footage from the perspectives of the American forces, those of the French and Germans, and others.  Nearly every faction and ethnicity involved in the Great War wound up with some representation recorded on celluloid.  Footage from the streets of Paris and the decks of German U-boats.  Given that They Shall Not Grow Old is as groundbreaking a technical achievement as Avatar and Jurassic Park, perhaps those other perspectives will be given similar treatment.  Were it to be so, then Peter Jackson will have given us and our posterity a priceless lesson in human nature at its worst... and at its best.

Rating movies on a scale isn't something I usually do, but They Shall Not Grow Old gets a solid 10 out of 10 from me.  There is one more nationwide screening currently scheduled for December 27th.  If at all possible, it's well worth taking the time to see on the big screen.

Just one last thing though.  Dear Peter Jackson, if you are reading this: buy some shoes, man.  You're an Academy Award-winning filmmaker.  You don't have to prove anything anymore about becoming a real hobbit.  Time to get yourself properly shod!

Monday, December 03, 2018

A limerick in memory of the Forty-First President

Have been WAY lax in blogging of late, mostly because of some new projects demanding a lot of my time.  Even so, this morning some inspiration hit and it was too good not to jam out a new graphic of it with my iPad:


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

"Let me out...": One Night At The Grove Park Inn (a true story)

It was August of 2000.  I had been living in Asheville for just over two weeks.  With abandon I had thrown myself into the ways and customs of that curious city in the North Carolina mountains.  And not just for sake of my new job as investigative reporter.


No, it was more personal than that.  Asheville was finally a crack at life on my own, now 26 and a year after an extended season of college.  I wanted to make the most of it.  To make an escape from previous disappointments with the breaking of new ground.


Part and parcel of that was meeting new people.  And being a reporter gave me an edge.  Especially in Asheville.  A town my landlady had described as "a mixed bowl of nuts".  Thirty percent rock-ribbed Christian conservative, thirty percent very liberal, and forty percent anything and everything in between.  Being a journalist there puts one in contact with all the characters.  Already I had met the mayor, the district's representative in Congress, a purple-haired man calling himself Cassandra (after the woman in The Iliad who prophesied about the fall of Troy but wasn't believed), "the Thong Guy" (don't ask), and a number of other interesting folk.  Still to come was covering the massive "We Still Pray" Christian rally, the "We Still Work Magic" rally the local witchcraft community held a few weeks later at the same high school stadium, being called "a--hole" by a future President of the United States, and a photo together with Bill Cosby that I can't show anymore.


As wildly entertaining as that all sounds, it was serious business.  And I still hold dear the lessons and virtues of good and impartial reporting that the editor and publisher shared with me.  However I may go as a writer for the rest of my life, I owe much to each of them.


So even when it came to the "Summer Spook Series",  I was determined to approach matters with an objective eye and a mind divorced from suggestion or duress.  Not to be a prejudiced skeptic, but neither to be overwhelmed with sensation about the supernatural.


It was "for fun," my editor had said.  "Part Scooby-Doo and part The Blair Witch Project". But we were still a weekly newsmagazine toward which there was responsibility to be had.  The readers were owed the facts, whatever they may be, and the opportunity to weigh it on their own.


And so it was, at 9 p.m. on a Monday night, that ten of us - the wife of the editor, a fellow reporter, some high school students, a business owner, and a few others including Yours Truly - met in the lobby of the Grove Park Inn.  Reputedly one of the most haunted hotels in the world.


-----


The Grove Park Inn opened in 1913, after nearly a year of construction.  The dedication address was delivered by William Jennings Bryan.  It has since seen visits by everyone from Henry Ford to Sir Anthony Hopkins to Chuck Norris.  Ten United States Presidents have been guests at the hotel.  During World War II it was the site of internment for German diplomats.  In recent years it has been  revealed that in the event of a nuclear attack on America, the United States Supreme Court would have been relocated to the hotel.


It had been in the final months of the Belle Époque that the Grove Park Inn first opened its doors.  But it was in the decade after the Great War that the place truly exploded to life.  The Roaring Twenties came hard and raucous to this hotel in the hills above Asheville, and even today one without understanding why might expect to see flapper girls and catch the whiff of expensive French cigarettes.  And Prohibition be damned!  The liquor flowed well within the halls and rooms of the Grove Park, with a sly wink and a knowing grin.


Maybe that has something to do with how it is that the name of the young woman who died there around 1920 has been forgotten.  She fell to her death within the hotel, from over a balcony and onto the hard stone of the Palm Court three stories below.  As any large resort or park or fine ocean-going vessel, tragedy can and will transpire amid revelry.  And there was little revelry as that in the wake of the Kaiser's vanquishing.


All that is known today is that she died instantly and that she had apparently been staying in Room 545.


At least, however, we know who had been a guest in Room 441 for a year between 1935 and 1936.  It had been none other than F. Scott Fitzgerald.  The author of the celebrated novel The Great Gatsby had consigned himself to residence at the Grove Park Inn.  Hoping out of desperation that the environment might stimulate his writing.  As well as being close to the sanitarium where his beloved wife Zelda was receiving psychiatric care.


Fitzgerald spent much of the darkest period of his life at the Grove Park Inn.  A few years later in 1940, he died a broken man.


In 1948, the nearby Highland Hospital was destroyed in a fire.  Stories persist that the patients had been drugged and locked within their rooms, abandoned by a vengeful nurse who lit the match.  Zelda Fitzgerald and eight others perished in the flames.


-----


Late one evening in 1998 a newly-hired security guard at the Grove Park Inn believed he had spotted a guest "wandering around drunk on the grounds, in an old-style costume."  He radioed his supervisor about it and was met with a  screaming voice demanding that he return to the hotel.  Bewildered, the guard looked toward where he had seen the woman, but she was no longer there.


Upon entering the security office the supervisor was shouting threats about immediate termination.  And then the threats stopped when the boss realized that in sincerest honesty the guard, who had just relocated to the area, had never heard about the Pink Lady.


It was sometime in the Twenties that the woman in Room 545 began letting staff and guests understand that she was reluctant to leave so abruptly.  The new guard had become just the latest to witness her comings and goings.


Even today, guests report that they feel tickled during the night, especially on their feet, by "someone else" in their room.  Lights flicker on with no one touching the switch.  Young children tell their parents the next morning about "the nice woman" who came to visit them during the night.  


She is the Pink Lady.  A spectral young woman who has been sighted hundreds of times throughout the Grove Park Inn.  And over the decades many of them have come from guests staying in Room 545.


There have also been stories about Room 441.  About the sound of typing coming from behind its doors when no one was staying within.  And at times, sightings of men and women in period attire who vanish upon a second look.


It is not surprising then that the Grove Park Inn has become the subject of numerous studies by paranormal investigators: some professional, many not.  One respected group, L.E.M.U.R. Investigations, had recently finished an extensive study of the Grove Park.  Their findings: based on the weight and consistency of the reports from so many guests and staff, something was amiss at the hotel.


The team of the "Summer Spook Series" would be the next to investigate the Grove Park Inn.


And the editor informed us that by special arrangement with the Grove Park's management, we would have Room 545 all to ourselves...


-----


Beginning at 10 p.m., we would split into teams and cover the hotel and the surrounding grounds.  Throughout the night on the hour we would meet back in Room 545 to give reports and compare notes.  Two of us would remain in the room itself.


The editor's wife had a couple of cameras, including one loaded with infrared film.  I had a notepad and a micro cassette recorder.  She and I and another team member were accompanied by a guard and given access to the clubhouse, near the Grove Park's golf course and not far from the hotel itself.


We used flashlights to navigate as we walked around the rooms, and the banquet hall had already been set up for a formal event of some kind.  That is where I found myself alone around 10:40.  The cassette recorder was still whirring away.  I had forgotten it was on at all after getting some comments from the guard.


If there had been anything unusual in the clubhouse, we didn't see it or hear it.


A little over an hour later during our group's second meeting in Room 545, as the others were discussing what and where to go next, I rewound the tape to find some bits of the conversation with the guard.  I thought I was close to it but I was wrong.  It turned out to be a segment from the time we were inside the clubhouse.


And that's when we heard it on the tape:


"Let me out..."


-----


As best as we could determine, it was from the time I had been in the banquet room.  Nobody else had been inside apart from myself.


But still, there it was.  A voice, gender indeterminate.  Whispering "Let me out..." followed by something unintelligible.  I rewound the tape and played it back several times, without suggesting to anyone else what it might be.


Every person in our group said that it sounded like someone saying "Let me out..."


-----


Okay, well... it was a bit spooky.  A week later an experienced investigator listened to the tape and remarked that it seemed very much that I had recorded what in the trade is called "electronic voice phenomenon".  And that there had been many such cases reported ever since the invention of the phonograph.  Even today, there are times when I think about that night and I wrack my brain trying to remember if anyone else had come into the banquet room that night.  But I don't recall anyone at all.  And I don't think I was speaking to myself either.  I certainly didn't say "Let me out..." in a hushed but quite audible whisper.


At fifteen after midnight we dispersed again.  Before we did, the editor's wife took a few random photos with the infrared-loaded camera inside Room 545.  Those were the first pictures made on the roll of film.


-----


I was with a group of other people, including my fellow reporter.  We walked a short distance to what was at the time the studios of ABC affiliate WLOS.  A cardboard standup of one of the on-air newscasters looked out from a window, his face beaming a cheery smile.  No doubt a great laugh during the daytime.  At night, strolling from the Grove Park Inn, it was a bit surreal.


Nothing happened between then and 1 a.m.  Neither did anything remarkable transpire between 1 and 2.


And nothing happened between 2 and 3 either.  That was when I decided to visit the fourth floor: completely empty of guests and staff at the time due to renovation.  Sheets of canvas and paint buckets and lengths of lumber and table saws were throughout the floor, up and down the hallways.


I was alone for almost the entire hour, sitting with my back to the wall.  Room 441 was within eyesight to my right.  The plaque on the door noting that it had been F. Scott Fitzgerald's residence during his time in Asheville reflecting what dull light came down from the upper floor.  There was not a sound from either above or the atrium three stories below.


At 3 a.m. I returned to Room 545.  The fourth floor had not yielded up anything unusual.


-----


The editor's wife wanted to see Fitzgerald's room.


I returned to the fourth floor, bringing her along.  We came to the outside of Room 441.  Again, not a sound apart from our own quiet voices.  Nobody had told directly us to stay off of the fourth floor, but neither did we assume that it would have been permitted had we asked.  We were being discreet about it.


The editor's wife took some photos with both regular film and the infrared-loaded camera.  Including one infrared shot down the hallway, with Room 441's door situated in the left of the picture, the floor immediately in front of it clear in the scope.


We saw nothing with our eyes.  But there was one curious incident that occurred.  She had brought a small magnetic compass with her.  We had been told beforehand that sometimes compasses would act odd in places supposedly haunted.  Not far from Room 441 she brought the compass out.  The needle was spinning.  Not far, but certainly not at a snail's pace either.  It would turn one way, then veer toward the other direction.


Why it did that, we could never explain.


-----


4 a.m.  The group met in Room 545 once again.  Nothing else to report.  And by 6 a.m. and the sun beginning to rise we all decided that we had done our part and that at least there was a ghostly voice to show for it.  We each went on our way.  I returned to my apartment and crashed for a few hours before going in to the office.


-----


"Okay, Chris, this is going to make your jaw hit the floor."


It was Friday morning.  Three days after the end of the first "Summer Spook Series" investigation.  The night at the Grove Park Inn was already falling behind in the rear-view mirror of my brain.  Yes, there had been the weird sound from the tape recorder but... heck, that could have been anything.


Then my editor showed me the photos.


It had taken a few days to get the infrared film developed.  They had received the pics the previous afternoon, after I had left for the evening.


The first two that he showed me were from inside Room 545.  The photos were a grainy black and white, but otherwise were not much different from pics taken with standard film.  However, in each of the photos and especially remarkable in one of them, there was a very clear "artifact" in view hanging over the bed.  It seemed very much to be not on the wall, but in the air itself.


What it was, we couldn't figure out.  There were two of our team in the photo and they seemed obvious to it.  But there it was, right between them.


It was odd.  But otherwise, not something one's mind might linger upon.


The next photo however was absolutely disquieting.


It was the one his wife had taken on the fourth floor, aimed down the hallway and with the door to Room 441 in view.  Again, a grainy black and white image.


Yet very visible, in the center of the image, there was someone standing in the hallway.


Someone with a face.  Looking toward the camera.  It seemed to be the face of a woman.  Wearing, perhaps, a long dress.


She was smiling.  And eighteen years later, long after the most recent time I've seen the photo, those eyes still haunt me, for lack of any better term.


Nobody else had been on the fourth floor with us.  But there it was.  A third person, who had only turned up in an infrared photograph.


-----


The same professional investigator who examined my audio recording told us that he believed we had captured a legitimate image of... well, something.  And it is a testament to his objectivity that he could not suggest what it was.  Only that it was empirical evidence, along with the apparent voice on the cassette tape.


No one in our group saw anything with our own eyes, or heard with our ears alone.  But by at least three different means the equipment we used, we had detected some very, very peculiar "signatures" around the Grove Park Inn.  I still have the audio recording somewhere.  The photograph is in the possession of my former editor.


-----


So... is the Grove Park Inn haunted?  More to the point: are there such things as ghosts?


I'm inclined to say that there is something at the Grove Park Inn.  And that's just based on the testimony of people I interviewed personally, along with the mountain of documented reports over the past century.  It's more than enough to discount any mass delusion going on.


As to what precisely it might be...


I'm skeptical of the existence of ghosts as entities of a spiritual nature.  However, I have held to a theory for quite a long time now, even before that night at the Grove Park Inn.  It is this: that we still don't understand everything about the realm of electromagnetism and quantum physics.  There may be more than two dozen different dimensions to the universe, according to string theory.  But that's just conjecture based on math and bits of evidence from high-energy particle experiments.  That "grand unified theory" remains as elusive as ever.


Maybe what are known as "ghosts", are like a signature on a local environment.  Something analogous to a recording on a VCR (a "video cassette recorder" for millennials and younger who are reading this).  And every so often the recording "plays back" on its own or because of a stimulus.  Or maybe that's too wacky an explanation.  It's the only one I possess to my own satisfaction, however.


-----


And with today being Halloween, and it's been awhile since I've been able to post something on The Knight Shift (lots of stuff has been happening on my end keeping me from much writing at all) I thought it would be good to make up for it.  By sharing a very true story of what happened when I and a group of others spent a night doing what we thought was light-hearted paranormal investigation at one of the most famous - and most haunted - hotels in America.


On my honor, I can attest that the preceding account is a true and accurate one, as best as I can possibly convey.


And that's my ghost story for this Halloween.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Chris addresses the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation and declares war against hate at Elon University... with his FIFTH article for American Thinker!

Hmmm... let's see...

This past week has seen the writing of my second-ever work of short story fiction (while stranded in a motel room along with Tammy the Pup during Hurricane Florence) after trying for decades to crack that art, work begun on a one-act play, finally started plotting a children's book(?!?). And now, it's article #5 written for American Thinker!

Has the Muse roared back from her exile, or what? For awhile I thought she had gone sailing off the cliff in a convertible accompanied by Dignity a'la Thelma and Louise, but anyhoo...

"There's Poisoning the Well, and Then There's Borking the Well" is my take on the Brett Kavanaugh nomination for the United States Supreme Court. However, that's just the peripheral matter of a way bigger issue: that for sake of partisan power there are some - and I'm looking at you in particular, Senator Feinstein - who are enthusiastically willing to trample upon a millennia of legal tradition in abandoning the rule of law. And when that is allowed to transpire, all of us as a people suffer its consequences.

From the article:
The machinations currently deployed against Brett Kavanaugh stem from a heart of darkest cowardice. If his detractors cannot prevail on purely rational and intellectual grounds, then they will do so playing to the basest hysteria and hate. There will be no satisfying their bloodlust until Kavanaugh's haggard, weary face is up on the telescreens, accusing himself of crimes against Big Sister that he never committed. So it is that the yet to be substantiated claims of Ford and Ramirez are now enough, we are told, to override fair and due process. Strangely, this principle never seemed applicable to Juanita Broaddrick, but I digress.
But... that's not all, folks! Because something else gets touched on in my new article and this one is much more personal.

It is this: that in the article I'm calling attention to the fact that Elon University - the college I could once be proud to call myself an alumnus of - is now harboring, employing and celebrating someone who has been taking an active part in the harassment of many innocent people, for no reason other than their holding to political beliefs she does not agree with.

Megan Squire, an Elon computer sciences professor, was revealed earlier this year to be an Antifa activist. She is, for all intents and purposes, an enabler of domestic terrorism.

Yeah, I said it. I went there. And from where I'm sitting it's plenty enough cause for myself and other alumni to withhold our contributions to Elon.

Again from the article:
The ol' alma mater already lost my contributions earlier this year – a consequence of Wired revealing that one of Elon's computer professors is Antifa activist who has been compiling a massive database of anyone she deems Lebensunwertes Leben.  That means "Republicans," "conservatives," "Alt-Right," "white supremacists," and pretty much everyone listing starboard of Friedrich Engels.

Megan Squire is not only still employed at Elon, but applauded.  Last week Squire delivered a "Distinguished Scholar Lecture" about her work supplying the Southern Poverty Law Center with information about their common enemies.  This is the same Southern Poverty Law Center whose "hate list" has been used to target innocent people for assassination.  Curiously, Squire's work is totally absent any analogues from the left of the political spectrum.  A "scholarly oversight," no doubt.

Once upon a time, Elon University was a place that encouraged freedom of ideas and vigorous debate. But as ideological homogeneity has prevailed upon "the most beautiful campus in America," that time is now past. The school that welcomed Margaret Thatcher to dedicate its student center in 1995 would probably have the Iron Lady arrested for trespassing were she still with us.

In good conscience, I can no longer contribute to a school that has embraced intellectual intolerance and has abandoned reason for capricious "feelings." Neither can I endorse my college when it continues to have among its staff a gleeful provider of resources for domestic terrorism. But still, I held out hope that sanity there might yet prevail.
As ever, in conveying my thoughts for publication I do my best to steer away from partisan labels and identity politics. As I told a colleague today: "I deal in ideas, not ideologies."

But regardless of where you're coming from on the political spectrum, I like to believe that very, very few of us are comfortable with the knowledge that anyone is being targetted for harassment, intimidation and much worse because of their opinions.


Does Megan Squire believe herself justified in painting her enemies in such broad strokes?  Is she a fitting representative of the Elon University community in doing so?

Regardless of whether she does, well... I've no other way to put this. At times I have encountered truly hate-filled people. Like neo-Nazis (got shot at by a gang of them) and the Westboro Baptist Church (had to spent several hours with them one hot summer night in a small television studio).

From where I'm sitting, there is not a shred of difference between the "God Hates Fags" idiots and Megan Squire. One just happens to have a computer science education and a better web page.  And also potentially has had her work lead to the injury of others if not worse.

When the objective is hatred, the semantics matter none. And there can be no excuse or justifying that hatred.


So, President Connie Ledoux Book and the trustees of Elon University: in keeping with the school's expressed beliefs in diversity of ideas and backgrounds and that the school should be a safe environment... when are you going to dismiss Dr. Megan Squire from the computer sciences department?

Because having a hate-filled extremist in your faculty, and one so enthusiastically applying her work toward damaging and destroying the lives of others, is the kind of thing that - not to put too fine a point on it - might dry up the alumni contributions. It sure has mine. Having seen some of Dr. Squire's Twitter account, I cannot understand how anyone's life can contain so much anger and hatred. Much less that of a Ph.D.

As far as Squire's work from a purely academic perspective is concerned: she may be brilliant at Python databases but the bias factor of the data itself is so irredeemably out of whack that it's utterly useless beyond a political agenda. Raw data is supposed to be neutral, impartial, agnostic... and Squire's methodology is a betrayal of all of that and more. In short: she is not a serious scholar. That alone would merit reconsidering her status as a member of the faculty.

Having such a malicious person intent upon causing grief to others certainly does not reflect well at all on whatever vestige of Christian values remain from the college's founding under the oaks in 1889.

Which is more important: the reputation and integrity of an institution that many of us still hold dear in our hearts and memories? Or protecting an enabler of domestic terrorism out of some passing fad of "resistance"?

So... "Long live Elon"?

What is it going to be?

Saturday, September 22, 2018

The News & Record has banned me from leaving comments

Okay, to be fair, there has not been any formal notification of exile.  But having attempted to make comments with five different browsers and automatically being directed to a Facebook "blue screen of banishment" with each one, it's safe to say at this point that I am now persona non grata from adding to reader commentary on the News & Record website.  It was discovered two days ago and no correspondence has been returned from their staff about it so, looks like I've been dispatched to the hinterlands... or at least those where Greensboro, North Carolina's "newspaper of record" is concerned.

As for why the banning has taken place: if it was in violation of terms of service, I can't find a single example.  And I went back through the past few months, from around late spring when I began leaving comments on their published letters, editorials, and some published articles.  Not once was I rude or condescending or suggesting that any other commentator was being an idiot or imbecilic.  I strived for both respect and also intelligent conversation to move discussion forward, instead of promoting one ideology or another.  The image at the right is a screengrab of a typical exchange, involving a former News & Record editor and myself.  If anyone spots any inconformity with the rules of polite society, I would appreciate understanding how.

More likely though, it is nothing more or less than the News & Record editorial staff exercising censorship against those expressing opinion contrary to a leftist bias that grows more apparent with each passing day.  And other commenters have suggested much the same.  In the words of one:
"They also check our FB pages out. I like your thoughtful comments on N&R. I have been attacked by a few on the left but I try not to be snarky. They love to censor anyone who might be right leaning."
I have to concur. It also goes a long way in explaining why there seems to be a 10 to 1 ratio of anti-Trump letters published compared to any conveying anything positive about the man. Given that the vast majority of the News & Record's eleven-county coverage area went solid red for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, the remarkable proportion of letters condemning the man (often on the most ridiculous of grounds) is suspect.

As for what I plan to do so far as the News & Record - the newspaper that I began my writing career with by way of all those letters and occasional op-ed piece and religious articles of mine that they began publishing just before my senior year of high school began - is concerned, there is no doubt at all.  I will do nothing apart from this blog post.  I'm not even in the Greensboro area anymore, but just "peeking in" every so often to see how transpires events there.

Mostly however, it's because the News & Record as a newspaper is dying.  It's been bleeding away readers in recent years like a sliced-open artery.  Advertisers are fleeing, and the Sunday classified ads are no longer the small volumes of separate section.  A few years ago the page width of the newspaper editions was slashed drastically.  Staff has been let go.  There is talk of shuttering the once-imposing News & Record headquarters in downtown Greensboro.

None of these are indicators of a healthy and vibrant newspaper enterprise.  Not even charging money after ten free articles a month on their website is going to prop up this failing business.  Maybe outside (read as: "foreign", parse that as one may) interests might subsidize the News & Record, but the days of being supported by its own community are numbered.

This is what happens when a daily news publication pitches itself as "the journal of record" for an area - an assumption that demands total dedication to impartiality - and instead becomes a propaganda broadsheet.  In the case of the News & Record it has turned into a progressive outlet to the far left of old-school Pravda.  It is, not to put too fine a point on it, NOT an unbiased and impartial news outlet.  It can no longer be trusted and if it ever could, those days are fast receding in the rear-view mirror.

(Incidentally, when I was traveling on a meandering journey across America recently, I visited the offices of many small-town newspapers and not a one of them wasn't thriving.  Why were they so strong?  Because they committed themselves to news, and with keeping themselves above any social or political agenda.  But political agenda is all that the News & Record is motivated by now, apparently.  Being snide and condescending and sophomoric and insulting the readers only goes so far before there is blowback.)

So, why should I be upset that I've been banned from making comments on the website of such a newspaper?  The News & Record is going to be dead in a few years anyway.  All that will remain are microfiche and piled-up copies in the dusty storerooms of the Greensboro Public Library and at UNC-Greensboro.  And an empty edifice in the downtown of one of the largest cities in North Carolina.  Grim, mute relics of a newspaper that was once acclaimed, respectable, and trusted.

That, and lots of unemployed reporters and editors and managers.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Equal Justice: The Legend of Herkenbald

Law, we are told even in fifth grade, is something that applies to all without respect to wealth or status.  And then a few years later the same notion gets drilled into our mushy skulls during civics class as high school freshmen.  It's a noble ideal, and we like to think that the world follows America's example as a model of how under the rule of law, there are none deemed greater than others.  Rich or poor, celebrity or obscure, politically affluent or peanut gallery... it doesn't matter.  Here we are all equally accounted and equally accountable.

And it is all a damnable fantasy and we all know it.  Even if we don't talk about it.

I suppose the current situation with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is in my mind tonight.  As of this writing some former classmate during the early Eighties is alleging that Kavanaugh did something, or other, whatever.  She's due to testify before the Senate next week.  It's already grounds enough, however dubious, to have a number of elected officials and many commentators in the media demanding that Kavanaugh withdraw himself as a nominee.

Huh.  Funny.  I remember many of these same people insisting in 1998 that President Bill Clinton's sexcapades were inconsequential.  That his "character didn't matter".  That it was all "sex lies" whatever that is supposed to be.  If it didn't affect his performance as President of the United States then it shouldn't be on the radar.

These same people went down to the mat tooth and claw to fight for Bill Clinton.  Now they demand that Brett Kavanaugh be stricken from consideration for the Supreme Court.  All on the word of an individual whose integrity has been questioned by her peers and students, and is now found to be an anti-Trump activist at least at some point recently.

Maybe it's just me, but a semen-stained dress is a lot more incriminating than high school gossip from thirty-five years ago.  That a heap of Kavanaugh's former fellow adolescents are now vouching has been made out of whole cloth circa September 2018.

Don't even get me started on the obscene double-standard in regard to the allegations of foreign interfence on Trump's behalf in the last election and the uranium sale that we know happened with the blessing of Hillary Clinton.  One is fast becoming an unsubstantiated scandal that has lost all meaning for most Americans.  The other supplied nuclear material to those who would do harm to this country.

But, none of those particulars are really germane to this post.  I'm discussing the greater tragedy across our system of justice.  Namely, that justice is not impartial.  It plays favorites.  It has become a commodity for sale to those with pull.  And it's not supposed to be this way.

Which brings us to the legend of Herkenbald.

It was something introduced to me when I was in Belgium many years ago.  And ever since I've thought that it's a tale well worth telling to students here.  It should especially be shared in law schools, and in police academies, and with anyone who takes it upon himself or herself to become involved in the judicial process at any level.  It is, in my mind, the perfect parable of incorruptible justice.

So, what is the legend?

Herkenbald is said to have lived around 1020.  That is when he was a judge serving the people of Brussels, anyway.  And he was renowned far and wide for the wisdom of his decisions.  He was also famous... or infamous... for how serious he took his duties.  Everyone, no matter their station, was beneath the same shadow of immutable law.

And then came the day when Herkenbald, after many years of faithful service to his people, was very old and taken with grave illness.  He was moved to a bed in the hospital, to wait for the end.  And yet, he insisted that he be allowed to carry out the task appointed him long before.

Toward the end, Herkenbald heard a commotion outside of his room.  With hesitance, the great magistrate was told that his own nephew had taken a maiden against her will and committed rape.  Herkenbald commanded his subordinates to bring his nephew to his bedside.

However, the subordinates disobeyed, and took measures to hide the nephew.  And for whatever dumb reason, five days later the nephew came to the hospital on his own and entered Herkenbald's room.

Herkenbald was friendly and kind to his nephew.  He was very glad to see the young man, here at the end of his own days.  He bid his nephew to come and sit beside him.

And that's when Herkenbald grabbed the youth, held him with all his remaining strength as he pulled out a concealed dagger, and slit his own nephew's throat wide open.

His nephew's body collapsed to the floor.  The act discovered even as Herkenbald's breathing grew shallow, the bishop was summoned to hear his confession and to deliver last rites.  But Herkenbald refused to confess to the murder of his nephew.  It was not murder at all, the judge told the bishop.  It was the administration of justice.  His nephew had raped a woman and thus forfeited his life.  The law was without question in the matter.  A crime had been committed and punishment must be meted out.  And that is what Herkenbald had done.

Outraged, the bishop refused the final sacraments to Herkenbald.  The legend says that just as the bishop was storming out of the room, Herkenbald called out to him.  Then Herkenbald blew the high clergyman a holy raspberry: upon his tongue was the sacramental Host.  He had been given communion by the highest of all judges.  And then, his tasks fulfilled and a proverbial "up yours!" to the Bishop of Brussels, Herkenbald died.

Now if that's not a hardcore myth to convey to apprentice practitioners of the law and to veteran judges and constables alike, then by all rights it should be.  The legend of Herkenbald is the perfect morality tale about the law.  It is an admonition to judges and to politicians and to all who would hold sacred the rule of law in a society.  It is a reminder that though man and his schemes are inescapably fallen, there is an incorruptibility that must be striven toward without favor.

That photo is a depiction of Herkenbald slaying his nephew.  The statue itself decorates one of the churches in Brussels.

Maybe there needs to be a sculpture of Herkenbald in the United States Capitol Building.  Perhaps in the Rotunda, where every member of the House and Senate might see it.  And in the United States Supreme Court Building.  And in every courthouse in America.  And in law school textbooks.

After all, Lady Justice carries a blade.  Herkenbald actually used his.