Showing posts with label Leigh Lundin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Leigh Lundin. Show all posts

05 February 2023

Wednesday died on Saturday

Wednesday Addams fan illustration
example of fan art, artist unknown

Lisa Loring, who played the original Wednesday Addams, died last weekend, the 28th of January. Since her 1964 series, Wednesday has been played by a number of actresses.

The Addams Family grew out of a series of 1938 cartoon panels and evolved ever since. Most recently, in the titular Wednesday, Jenna Ortega stars in the rôle in which she enters a private school where she plays detective to solve a murder. She’s good as the character and interacts well with her charming, scene-stealing werewolf roommate, Enid. Anything involving Tim Burton and Danny Elfman is bound to be interesting.

Fortunately, Wednesday’s parents barely appear on the screen, Part of the fun of the original series was the deep and abiding (and over-the-top) romance between Morticia and Gomez. Hardly so in the latest incarnation. The performances of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Luis Guzmán fall colder and flatter than a collapsed gravestone. Reading between the pixels, the couple appeared ready to barf as they monotoned dry-rotted romance lines.

Yes, Jenna Ortega took two months of cello lessons to learn how to handle it. No, she does not play the popular excerpt in the film.

The series appears to nod at a few influences– Harry Potter, The Munsters, and The Exorcist, this last hinted at in a few strains of tubular bells. It’s on Netflix.

Wednesday Addams fan illustration
example of fan art, artist unknown

That Other Wednesday

Thus far, I’ve spoken of official elements owned by MGM, Paramount, and the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation, but clearly this recent release has been influenced by a lovely YouTube renegade, Adult Wednesday Addams starring Melissa Hunter. She crowd-funded it, seeking $5000 through IndieGoGo… and received $15,000, hardly a fetid pimple pop on the studio’s Uncle Fester.

And her skits are funny. Word spread about the little episodes. Adult Wednesday rights small wrongs. No injustice is too minute not to be taken seriously. Until one day…

A letter arrived from the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation: cease and desist. Thus landed a slap on the creative face.

On the one hand, Addams intellectual properties are owned by the foundation and studios. Further, they have the financial means to wear out almost any litigant: Those with the deepest pockets wins, and clearly Hunter doesn’t have deep pockets.

By some lights, Melissa and her little group appear on the side of the (dark) angels– the work is parody, clearly transformative, and appears in a smaller format. But fair use law remains exceedingly vague and only a judge could decide. She couldn’t afford to challenge the big guys on an iffy outcome.

But what an opportunity for the studios! Why not hire Melissa Hunter and her crew? Hit the ground running with an existing popular series with millions of views? Nah, that would be too sensible.

The big corporations issued take-down notices forbidding YouTube to publish Adult Wednesday Addams on her channel. Since then, episodes appear, disappear and reappear as stubborn fans post and repost.

Try these episodes while they’re still available. Tell me if you enjoyed the show.

Adult Wednesday Addams episodes
Season 1Season 2
S1E1 • The Apartment HuntS2E1 • Babysitting
S1E2 • Job InterviewS2E2 • Driver's Ed
S1E3 • Internet DateS2E3 • Wednesday v Catcallers
S1E4 • Dog WalkerS2E4 • The Haircut
S1E5 • One Night StandS2E5 • The Reality Star
S1E6 • Planned ParenthoodS2E6 • The Flea Market
____ • A Special MessageS2E7 • True Love Series Finale

22 January 2023

Dying Declarations II

II. A Hiss Before Dying

red curtain fringe

gate with the letter K

Lights down, curtain up, the famed film unreels.

Two minutes… ⏱️ … two minutes of reverent silence lapse as the camera passes under a gate bearing an encircled letter K. In the distance, a castle-like mansion beckons, a single lit window draws in the audience.

snow globe with hut inside

Through the glass, snow, swirling mysterious snow. When the camera pulls back, the scene reveals a snow globe cupped by an aged, dying man.

As the old man expires, the sphere rolls from his hand and shatters.

At that moment, theatre doors burst open. A piercing shaft of light slices the audience’s peripheral vision. The late-comers stumble and mumble, and their voices boom through the hushed auditorium.

“Hold this. Oh geez, I told that kid extra butter, no ice and lookie, extra ice and no butter. I’m gonna slap him silly. Hey, it’s started already. Oh, it’s that old guy, Orkin something. Scuse me. Oh crap, it’s in black and white.”

“Damn it. I can’t see. Scuse me. Scuse me.”

“Shh! Shh!”

On screen, the dying man whispers something approximating, “Яzzchoz€ßplub.”



“What’d he say?”

“Don’t know.”


“He said nose rub.”

“Slow snub?”

“Or clothes scrub.”

“No, no. Hose tub.”

“That makes no sense.”

“Maybe he whispered nose blood.”

“Like nosebleed? ’Cause he’s dying?”

“I’m thinkin’ Moe’s Pub.”

“Nonsense, no Moe and no pub.”

“It’s the bar next door. I need a drink.”

“Are you all deaf? He said toe stub.”

“That’s ridiculous.”



“He said snow glub.”

“No way. It was a snow globe, not a glub.”

“When it rolled, it went glub-glub.”

“That’s silly.”

“Honey, would you go back to the concession stand?. I can’t eat popcorn without butter.”


“Scuse me. Scuse me. Scuse me.”


“Turn off your phone!”

“I’m googling.”

“What’s it say?”

“Yo. Reddit says rosebud.”

“What? That makes even less sense.”

“Facebook misheard it too.”

“Scuse me. Scuse me. Okay, they gave us triple butter.”

“Two hours debate and we still don’t know.”

“I vote to close-caption theatre subtitles.”

“That concessions kid forgot salt.”




“Hey, look. Something’s painted on… on… on that burning thing. What is that?”

“A bedstead?”

“A bobsled?”

“Bob’s sled? Who’s Bob?”


“What does it mean?”

“I want a refund.”

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a show stub.”

“That’s the ticket.”


Wait! There’s more.

15 January 2023

Dying Declarations I

I. Famous Lost Words

train steam engine

Above the rumble of the Trois-Rivieres – Montréal night train, an agonizing scream rent the dark. Two world-famous criminal experts rushed into the compartment of their secretary, M. LeJeune. They found him seized in death throes, struggling to whisper.

Hercule Gaboriau knelt. He loosened LeJeune’s collar.

“Speak, mon ami.”

Before he expired on the threadbare carpet of the rumbling carriage, three faint syllables fell from the dying man’s lips. Hovering above them, Professor S.F.X. Van der Dyne frowned. Awaiting an impromptu autopsy by the train’s multi-talented conductor, the traveling companions adjourned to the next car where they debated the murder.

“Porky Pig?” Van der Dyne said. “What could that mean?” He lit his pipe. “What a puzzle. Good God, man. If LeJeune wanted his last words taken seriously, he shouldn’t have mumbled ‘Porky Pig.’”

“Incroyable.” The great egg-headed detective shook his head. “Sacre bleu.”

The on-board autopsy revealed LeJeune’s brain had been penetrated by a thin, needle-like object.

“Obviously penetrated by a thin, needle-like object,” said the professor. “But what does Porky Pig mean?”

The great detective drew himself up. “It’s all so obvious. En français, he say porc-épic.”

“Right you are, old man, Porky Pig. We all got that.”

“Non, non, mon ami, you misheard.”

“The least LeJeune could have done was enunciate before popping off.”

Mais oui, bacon brain. He say porc-épic.”

“D’accord, my friend. We agree he said Porky Pig. So what?”

“Pork-ee-peek, you lumbering lump of lardon. Eet means zee porcupine.”

“But Porky Pig’s a hog, not a hedgehog.”

“Non, you swaggering, swollen swimbladder of a swineherd. Porc-épic. He was killed by a quill.”

“Bah! No one’s written with quill for three hundred years, not even our secretary who believes, er, believed his antiquated Underwood comprised the pinnacle of word processing technology.”

Gaboriau gritted his teeth. “I… said… a quill… killed him, you boarish, bloviating, bumptious, barbarian biographer of balderdash. He was murdered with a quill.”

“You didn’t get the memorandum, old man. Geese got quills. Pigs– porky or otherwise– no quills.”

Merde du taureau, you pretentious, pompous, porcine proletarian.” The great detective palmed his face. “It means nothing, this shirr knowledge in my egg-shaped head. That Belgique fellow, at least he got respect.”

train racing across Canada

Huh? What? Why? Wait! There’s more.

07 January 2023

Crime Scene Comix Case 2023-01-019, Red Card

Leigh here with a sexist rant: I like watching US women’s soccer. Why? The players are exuberant and serious. When a men’s player (pick a country, any country) stubs a toe over an imaginary slight, he tearfully collapses on the ground, grousing and groaning like a sobbing 3-year-old whilst pointing a quaking finger at his opponent, hoping for a red card. Ooo, boo hoo. When one of the women is knocked down, she gets up and goes back to work. Hey, don’t trash me for telling it like I see it.

This isn’t one of Shifty’s best, but FIFA football fans will watch anything soccer related. Let’s have a look.

That’s today’s crime cinema. Hope you enjoyed the show. Be sure to visit Future Thought YouTube channel.

01 January 2023

№ 00419088

Lee Morris, Helen Louise Morris, Ryan Morris
Lee Morris, Helen Louise, Ryan

Louisiana Perish

Twenty seven years ago on another New Years Day in a small northern Louisiana town, the bodies of a moderately wealthy couple in their late sixties were found shot to death, Lee and Helen Louise Morris. Their visiting 9-year-old grandson, Ryan, was missing.

Near the end of the month, a teen found Ryan’s pajama-clad body. All three Morrises had  been shot in the head by the same .22 calibre pistol. Two months after the discovery, investigators arrested Mark Morris, son of Lee and Helen, father of Ryan, for first degree homicide.

The arrest surprised no one except the arrestee. He had been terribly careless in quotes and comments, raising suspicions since the beginning of the case. He was even picked up on a courthouse microphone admitting to his then-lawyer that he was guilty. The unusual aspect of this case was the motive– Louisiana’s Legislature had recently changed the law.

Untenable story, miniature of page 1

Fiction Becomes Factual

Several years ago, a Canadian publication serialized a locked-room mystery, one I’d written. Its title, ‘Untenable’, was a play on words. The motive in that homicide was a 2010 change in federal law.

It was a damned good locked room conundrum and I considered the motive unique. Then recently, I discovered a real murderer reacted to a change in state statutes.

For two centuries, a Louisiana doctrine called ‘forced heirship’ dictated that parents must divide their estate evenly amongst their progeny. No child could be disinherited without disinheriting all. The repeal abolished forced heirship and would take effect exactly midnight on New Year’ Day 1996.

Unhappy New Year

Helen Louise and Lee Morris visited their attorney and wrote a new will, leaving out their troublesome kid, Mark. They made the mistake of telling him.

Mark Morris allowed his parents to live into the waning hours of 1995 and then killed them for their nest egg. Grandson Ryan witnessed the killings and, in that parent’s depraved mind, he had to go.

With one exception, surprisingly little about the case appears on-line, mainly an AP news item and a find-a-grave squib. The one exception, however, is a well-written article explaining details. I recommend it.

As far as I can determine, Mark Morris resides in Angola Prison. He’ll die there whereupon his corpse will be interred in a grave with no marker revealing his name nor even his prisoner number, 00419088.

May you have a singularly wonderful — and safe — 2023.

18 December 2022

The Digital Detective: Encryption ≠ Encoding

Telex paper tape
Telex paper tape

The Explainers

Don’t refer to ‘computer codes’. When coaching lawyers for depositions, that became my first rule. I urge the same rule for authors as well. Don’t blow credibility by trying to ‘pluralize’ code with codes– in computerdom the plural of code is still code.

And what kind of code? Source code? Microcode? Machine code? Generic ‘computer code’ is less than meaningless. And while we’re at it, hackers can’s remotely set opponents’ computers on fire, not unless they slip their adversary certain laptops with defective Sony batteries.

To illustrate concepts, real-world analogies appeal to me, but some computer specialites are so abstract, explaining them is difficult. A few software specialists relate systems programming to composing music: Both take place in the originator’s mind, both use symbolic languages and, since the invention of the player piano and now modern mixing consoles, both can be programmed. But analogies can go only so far.

One of the most common questions has proved the most difficult to answer: How are characters stored in the computer? For example, what does “Now is the time” look like inside the machine? Explaining each character has a numeric representation loses some people, but mentioning numbers 0123 are represented as 30313233 (or worse, F0F1F2F3) results in eye-glazing and blood leaking from the ears.

Many programming courses don’t attempt to explain how letters and numbers are recognized and stored in computers. It’s taken for granted and too often they fall back upon, “Do as we say and you’ll do okay.” But that doesn’t answer the question.

Mike Drop

And then… two Michaels came together and showed me the way.

One was Michael Bracken. The other was… Mike Lindell.

Yes, that Michael Lindell, everyone’s favorite mad uncle, the My Pillow Guy. Wait, this is not about politics, I promise. We’re talking about writing.

Mr Lindell has very publicly complained that data in voting machines is secretly encrypted to prevent it being studied. He’s sponsored symposiums with ‘proof’ of skulduggery, and he infamously slandered and libeled voting machine companies, inviting lawsuits with nine decimal zeros in the complaints.

During one interview, Mr Lindell displayed a sample on the screen giving me my first glance at what he was talking about. Could he be correct?

As a writer, I try to get details right, because as a reader, I’ve been yanked out of stories when authors get details wrong. Mr Lindell got it wrong:

Voting machine data isn’t encrypted. It’s encoded.

Wait. Same thing, you say, right? To*mah*to versus To*may*to?

Nope: encoded ≠  encrypted.

Encryption implies obfuscation. It’s how spies try to protect their secrets. It’s how financial institutions are supposed to shield their transactions.

Mikey isn’t all techie and sciencey. I don’t doubt Mr Lindell innocently misunderstood what he saw, but his misunderstanding ‘plain text’ 0123 looks like 30313233 is costing him millions. If a highly visible businessman with political connections doesn’t understand, what about us ordinary readers and writers?

Michael Bracken’s Fault

Baudot 5-bit paper tape

An upcoming anthology for Michael Bracken required digging into historical events, early radio, and teletypes. I didn’t use teletypery (that’s a word, right?) in my story, but at some point the penny dropped, how to help people visualize character encoding. It’s so simple.

Once upon a time, I communicated by telex with offices in Europe. For quick notes, we’d dial in, tap out a few words and perhaps receive an immediate response. But overseas connection time was expensive, so for long flirtations, I mean messages, I’d prepare text on paper tape, then connect and transmit.

And therein lay my solution for anyone to see: encoding on paper tape, a technology a century and a half old. People could see and touch each character as a distinct hole pattern easily converted to a unique number:

hole = binary 1; no hole = binary 0

No Remorse

Morse Code, developed in the 1830s for single-key telegraphy, wasn’t suitable for this new medium. In the 1870s, French engineer Émile Baudot developed a five-bit code. Five bits allows for 2⁵ or 32 distinct characters, but Baudot and the subsequent Morkrum Code (1915) used ‘escape’ characters to switch to and from alphabetic letters mode and numbers-symbols mode, bringing possible combinations closer to sixty, although in practice, far fewer were used. (One of those ‘characters’ rang an attention-getting bell at the other end.)

Baudot paper tape showing shifted values
Baudot paper tape showing shifted values

Morkrum’s new ‘teletypewriter’ was literally a modified typewriter. Morkrum, by the way, is not a person, but rather three people: Joy Morton, founder of Morton Salt, and mechanical engineer Charles Krum, joined by the latter’s son, electrical engineer Howard Krum.

Puzzle Me This

This is paper tape, the stuff of telexes and teletypes, the technology that once powered Western Union, Wall Steel, and news wires. I’ve included only the Roman alphabet, invented a century and a half ago. Each letter has a distinct punch pattern. Curiously, the hole combination for A looks nothing like those for B, C, D, and so on. Each letter’s numeric assignment seems so utterly random as as to defy logic.

Baudot paper tape showing alpha/number shift values.
Baudot paper tape showing decimal values of alphabet

But there is a logic and I’m betting you can figure it out. Why didn’t Baudot lay out letters one after the other in alphabetical order and bump holes one-by-one?

There is method to the madness. Your challenge is to suggest a reason for these seemingly arbitrary hole assignments.

binary values of holes (numbered right to left)
values of holes
Hint № 1
It helps to know *the earliest* machines had five piano-like keys corresponding to the holes. A teletype operator would press the correct keys one-by-one, and the machine punched holes and advanced the tape.
Hint № 2
Note this sample includes a space character. It’s actually a clue.
Hint № 3
Hover for another clue…

Twitchy Fingers

AT&T developed a machine nearly identical to the Telex but using 7-bit code similar to ASCII and its Unicode descendants. Seven bits allowed for 2⁷ or 128 characters, many of them assigned special purposes. Many universities hung cheap, obsolete TTYs  on their early Unix computers, making an ASCII relationship clearer.

ASCII paper tape showing 7-bit values
ASCII paper tape with 7-bit values

[Unix aficionados blame those sluggish keyboards for the plethora of ungodly, abstruse Unix commands: awk, chown, df, grep, lp, m4, qalter, renice, uucp, yacc.]

Did It Work?

So does the paper tape comparison help explain how ‘plain text’ data is used and stored in computers? And does the difference between encoding and encryption make sense? Enquiring minds want to know.

Puzzle Answer ↷

04 December 2022

Selous Scouts

Not Your Boy Scouts

Note: This is a follow-up to my story in Alfred Hitchcock, ‘The Precatory Pea’. After writing this article, I received terrible news, which I include at the end of this article.

A few matters in my Alfred Hitchcock story bear explanation. As so often happens with storytellers, several particulars, as my grandmother would say, coalesced at the right place and moment. Most significant was laconic Simon Parkin, formerly of Zimbabwe, née Rhodesia.

According to his wife, in-laws, children, and small animals, he’s an utter lamb. Nonetheless to strangers he, like my brother Glen, projects a don’t-ƒ-with-me aura. He’s NOT the guy you want to jostle in a bar, not twice, anyway. It’s not so much he suffers fools badly, he doesn’t suffer them at all. Perhaps that restrained intimidation may simmer from his military background.

Selous Scouts badge

He began to talk and eventually he turned to history. Simon told me about Selous Scouts, Rhodesia’s special forces, specialists at guerrilla warfare. I captured some of his words for my story: “Reid-Daly marshalled the finest counter¬insurgency team on the planet. Our fathers fought Soviets and Red Chinese, for God’s sake. Uncle Ron kicked Castro’s arse back to Havana.”

After speaking with a couple more people, I tracked down relevant material in a Pietermaritzburg bookstore. The mixed-race Scouts were fierce. They were sly. They were feared. Their ferociousness scared the hell out of the communist putative freedom fighters. But interestingly, they became known for an offer that couldn’t be refused.

Critical Career Path

Unfortunately, I couldn't justifiably include one of the Scouts’ most interesting philosophies, a sort of prisoner triage. When the Scouts took POWs, they looked for those who might be saved from prison or possible execution. They offered captives an opportunity to join the Scouts.

This wasn’t done haphazardly, but was well planned, testing each. For example, during interviews, the interrogator and a too-casual guard would leave the room occasionally and, during one of these exits, the guard ‘accidentally’ left his rifle behind in a corner. How the prisoner reacted determined his future… or lack thereof.

I wouldn’t have given that program good odds, but surprisingly captured recruits turned out to be especially loyal with a success rate of eight or nine out of every ten.

Clearing the Air

Wikipedia is experiencing one of its hysterias about Selous Scouts, arguing that violent apartheid-era Scouts who’ve written on the subject shouldn’t be allowed as sources. Let’s be clear– they weren’t angels. They were at-risk soldiers for the white government of Rhodesia. But their fierce reputation spread, leaving behind a sense of awe. Think Rommel. Think King Shaka.

I received cautions not to write about Selous Scouts and especially don’t criticize them. Simon didn’t think an outsider could write about them at all. But no, I didn't plan to criticize.

My mind raced in a different direction. Zimbabwean and South African mercenaries were highly sought after apartheid, but the Blackwater 2007 mass murder in Nisour Square, Baghdad temporarily reduced demand for hired guns.

What if, my thinking went, what if unemployed wannabes fancied themselves as heirs of Selous Scouts? And what if they turned to cross-border crime to fund themselves?

As our Nellie noted, her nemeses were urban bad guys, not soldiers of the bush. In a literal sense, they didn’t know their own land.

A Colourful Cast

Like real Scouts, each of my bad guys brings a different heritage to the party:

  • Smith   — Rhodesian English
  • Buhle   — Ndébélé
  • Smuts   — Afrikaner
  • Svitsi  — Shona

and the other characters:

  • Nellie  — Zulu
  • Barbara — SA English

A spread of ethnicities like this appears fairly commonplace in South Africa.

Madam & Eve
Eve, Madam, and Mother

Apartheid may have ended, but a vigorous service economy remains for workers who fall outside of BEE, Black Economic Empowerment. In South Africa, the domestic black/white relationship is close and complex with considerable interpersonal involvement that retains a certain formality.

A sly comic strip, Madam & Eve captures some of this attitude. Madam Anderson may be the employer, but she ain’t the boss. Four million readers follow them… Black, White, Brown, and Coloured– and yes, South Africa has those designations as Trevor Noah has explained. (Eve's niece Thandi is one of the most delightful characters ever.)

Nando's ad
You are not reading this wrong.
(World Cup ad)

Nando’s, a famous chicken restaurant (its peri-peri hot sauce has been seen on the shelves of my local Walmart), is known for its sexy and politically incorrect hilarious ads about South Africa issues. You have to love people who laugh at themselves. Who else but Nando's would offer a WTF Special? (Wednesday, Thursday, Friday) One advert is sooooo risque, I don't dare provide a link, much as I'd love to.

[And I do love South Africa. Of all the countries I’ve visited, lived, and worked in, South Africa is my favorite. I loved it and I could easily live there.]

Military Hardware

The story references the ugly, stubby weapon ‘HMC’, sometimes called a spraygun. Here it means ‘hand (or handheld) machine carbine’ and not an M1 designated QUAL HMC made by Quality Hardware Manufacturing Company.

As opposition to apartheid took effect around the globe, South Africa and Rhodesia could no longer buy on the arms market. As a result, they began manufacturing their own designs, some considered the finest in the world. Their boat-hull shape and double skins made military vehicles notable for their resistance to mines and IEDs. You can see one example, the Casspir in the film, District 9. The Marauder came along later. It was featured in the British television programme Top Gear.

US flat-bottom HumVees faired poorly in Iraq. IEDs ripped through the floors of vehicles. Soldiers welded steel plates underneath, creating their own double hull, although a better solution was manufactured elsewhere.

Salad Days… it’s all in the wrist.

After our Nell stitches up the doctor, she makes her exquisite salad and serves each a bowl in the Nguni tradition. This distinctive method of serving looks like this: The server extends the bowl in one hand while cupping the forearm with the other hand.

I recommend salade lyonnaise without extra red berries.

Breaking News that may Break Your Heart

The following is disturbing and it reveals a major spoiler in the story. Proceed with caution.

20 November 2022

Murakami Haruki — Professional Tips

We’ve offered up professional tips from many famous authors, but I don’t recall we’ve published any from Japan. Meet Murakami Haruki (Haruki Murakami in Western notation), award-winning novelist, essayist, and short story writer.

He’s been accused by Japan’s literary elite of being too Western, of being unJapanese. Among his influences are Raymond Chandler, Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Brautigan, and Cormac McCarthy.

From time to time, Murakami has dropped pearls of wisdom vis-à-vis writing. Fortunately author Emily Temple has gathered them into a must-read article. The bullet points are:

Murakami Haruki
Murakami, Haruki
  1. Read.
  2. Take the old words and make them new again.
  3. Explain yourself clearly.
  4. Share your dreams.
  5. Write to find out.
  6. Hoard stuff to put in your novel.
  7. Repetition helps (outside of writing).
  8. Focus on one thing at a time.
  9. Cultivate endurance.
  10. Experiment with language.
  11. Have confidence.
  12. Write on the side of the egg.
  13. Observe your world.
  14. Try not to hurt anyone.
  15. Take your readers on a journey.
  16. Write to shed light on human beings.
  17. No matter what, it all has to start with talent…
  18. … unless you work really hard!

So, starting with admonition № 1, check out the article. Perhaps you’ll find a gem too.

06 November 2022


What the Bad Guys Wear this Season © South African Paramount Marauder

An Unexpected Heroine

Seldom do we encounter a housekeeper who singlehandedly defeats a criminal terrorist cell. On television, such a heroine would have a CIA backstory, keep a 10mm in her spatula drawer, and be trained in seventeen different ways to kill a bad guy with a broken pair of nail scissors. But no, Nellie appears so extra ordinary, she becomes extraordinary. Our calm and self-possessed iqhawekazi unpacks her most formidable weapon, her wits.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine arrived mere minutes ago, seven hours before today’s publication deadline. It contains stories by my betters, Eve, Janice, Mark, and O’Neil, and  a rare chance to see one of my stories in print. I’ll discuss the genesis of the story another time, but let’s discuss language… or in this case, languages.

South Africa has thirty-five languages, eleven of them official. My story, ‘The Precatory Pea’, is sprinkled with expressions from several. The Netflix television show Blood & Water illustrates how South Africans speak, sometimes coloring sentences with two, three, or four languages.

We do the same thing without realizing. We North Americans mix in Spanish, French, and Latin, plus numerous American Indian place names. We’re the richer for it.

The Name of The Name

“The name of the song is called ‘Haddocks’ Eyes.’”
“Oh, that’s the name of the song, is it?” Alice said, trying to feel interested.
“No, you don’t understand,” the Knight said, looking a little vexed. “That’s what the name is called. The name really is ‘The Aged Aged Man.’”
“Then I ought to have said ‘That’s what the song is called?’” Alice corrected herself.
“No, you oughtn’t: that’s quite another thing! The song is called ‘Ways and Means’, but that’s only what it’s called, you know!”
“Well, what is the song, then?” said Alice, who was by this time completely bewildered.
“I was coming to that,” the Knight said. “The song really is ‘A-sitting On A Gate’, and the tune’s my own invention.”

The table below contains unusual mixed-case words like siSwati, isiXhosa, and isiZulu. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might note, Zulu is a Nguni language but isiZulu is the name of the language… or something like that. The particulars fomented a searing war within Wikipedia. British Wikipedian’s were outraged, claiming the names were at best stolen loan-words or worse, made-up slang. South African editors responding by quoting the Oxford Dictionary, South African Edition, which Wikipedian’s initially didn’t believe existed. So, if you aspire to be ultra-obsessively, compulsively correct (and Good Lord who doesn’t?), Zulu is the people, isiZulu is the language.

Complicating the issue is what computer people call ‘camel case’, mixed capitals and lower case, but this is not unusual in South Africa spelling. For example, the name of the province where I lived is KwaZulu-Natal… birthplace of the Zulus.

I’m admiring and grateful Alfred Hitchcock’s chief editor Linda Landrigan took in stride these issues of languages on the other side of the planet. How terrific is that!

The Fame of The Name

“Must a name mean something?” asked Alice in Wonderland.

Well, yes. Meanings of names used to be important in Western civilization. They often denoted something about the child or birth (Tuesday, Ginger), or religion (Mary, Josh), an occupational name (Carter, Fisher), a place name (D’Arcy, DuPont), or pretty much anything at all (Pearl, Rose). Society has let these lapse from shared memory, but meanings of names remain important in other cultures. An African family naming their little girl Treasure or Precious softens the hardest heart.

I’m not the only one, but I have a habit of relating names to the character of people in my stories. Sometimes I use sounds; sometimes I go by popularity. In the telling of ‘The Precatory Pea’, I took into account ethnicity and name meanings of characters, e.g, Sipho– gift.


To my ear, South African English combines the sounds of British English with American Deep South vowels. “I like to ride my bike,” sounds like, “Ah lahk to rahd mah bahk.”

I enjoy the sound of several isiZulu terms. It happens to be a click language, so once in a while a *click* pops out. Many words use onomatopoeia. Anyone who’s been around aged farm machinery knows the sound of a tractor, ganda-ganda. A rattletrap vehicle is a skedonk. A bad guy is a skabenga– you can hear the word spit out in disgust.

I suspect Dutch Afrikaans has influenced some pronunciation. For example, ‘th’ sounds are pronounced with a hard T. The talented actress Charlize Theron is exceptionally tolerant of Americans mispronouncing her name, but in her home country, it’s spoken as Teron.

Johannisburg, Johannisberg, Johannesburg… I never know which spelling to use, never mind tasting the riesling. I learned it pronounced with a ‘Y’ as in “Yohannisburg.” So what happens? My hostess corrects me… “Johannesburg.” And then her Afrikaner friend corrects me back, “Yohannesburg.” I get verbal whiplash… or toungelash. At least all agree on Jo-burg pronounced as Joe-burg).

Salade Lyonnaise (salad of Lyon, France)

Salade lyonnaise is delicious, perhaps not often made with African spinach. Its distinguishing feature is warm vinegar and oil dressing with bacon scraps, heated but not so hot to wilt romaine, endive, or whatever lettuce you have at hand. Finish with chopped egg on the greens and dribble savory dressing over it. Try it!


Many words have both formal and informal variants. Informal forms and plurals are in parentheses.

term definition, description   language
Arch Desmond Archbishop Desmond Tutu
bakkie pickup truck
bandile increased isiNdébélé, isiXhosa
bok, buck any horned, antelope-like ruminant Afrikaans, English
buhle handsome isiNdébélé, isiXhosa
deurmekaar confused
dof daft, dumb, stupid
dwaal dazed
en and
hawu expression: wow, whoa, pfft isiXhosa, isiZulu
impi war, warriors
induna foreman, overseer
injakazi slut, bitch
inyanga (plural izinyanga) healer
isangoma medicine man, witch doctor, diviner, spirit talker, seer isiZulu
isigebengu (skabenga, plural izigebengu) bad guy, criminal, villain isiZulu
isipho (sipho) gift isiNdébélé, isiXhosa
isiXhosa language of the Xhosa isiXhosa, English
isiZulu language of the Zulus isiZulu, English
kokayi summoner, caller of the people together Shona
mach schnell hurry (verb), quickly, now
Madiba Nelson Mandela (clan name)
magondo hyena
mampara idiot, cretin
marogo African spinach isiZulu, isiXhosa
moegoe cretin, stupid person
nelisiwe satisfied
nkosana prince
rooibos South African red tea
salade lyonnaise salad of Lyon: egg, heated vinegar, oil, bacon French
schalk varlet, knave, servant
Selous Scouts controversial Rhodesian multi-race guerrilla special forces English
skedonk jalopy, beater, dilapidated car, junker isiZulu
svitsi hyena
uDokotela physician, doctor
umlungu (mlungu) white person
umndeni (mndeni) family
umthakathi (tagati) sorcerer, witch
umuthi (muti) medicine; any liquid of useful purpose isiZulu
voortrekker pioneer
xiang si dou aphrodisiac love beads

  (parentheses imply informal variants or plurals)


I owe thanks to Simon for describing Selous Scouts and approving the finished story. I extend appreciation to ABA for helping me get the wrongs right and the rights better. Thanks to RT Lawton for reading and advising. And I thank the real Nelisiwe, a gentle soul, an open heart, and a lovely person. She’ll be shocked to learn she’s known a world away. Nellie, I miss our shared lunches.

23 October 2022

Thrush at Bat

’Tis the season of the witch, the jack-o-lantern, the sugar skull, and unseen things that go bump in the night.

In near darkness of the wee hours, friend Thrush stumbled into his bathroom. In the sink sat a tree frog, a small amphibian that clings to glass doors and snarfs mosquitoes. Yay, tree frogs. Thrush didn’t want it to dehydrate but, half-awake, he didn’t want to deal with it at that hour. He dribbled water over it and stumbled back to bed in the dark.

He rose early before dawn and found the creature still in the sink, still in near darkness. Thrush wasn’t wearing his glasses, so he dribbled more water on it.

It was game day, Penn State versus Auburn. Thrush forgot about wildlife in the bath until mid-afternoon when he told me, hoping I’d rescue it. That’s me, Mr Neighborhood Wildlife Rescue.

There in the sink huddled a small dark lump. I didn’t have glasses on either, but I’d never seen a black tree frog. Suspicious, I pulled on gloves and scooped the tiny critter into a paper napkin. What the hell?

It had a stick-like projection… two, in fact… and a small tail. Frogs lose their tails when they’re young. And the little thing was shivering.

Halloween season– I found myself face-to-face with a bat.

a very wet bat a very wet bat
a very wet bat
shivering, can't open eyes
a very wet bat a very wet bat
stick-like part is a folded wing
struggling to open its eyes

Most bats in North America are small, the majority barely two inches. As a kid tramping through our woods, I encountered one that looked like a tan cocoon clinging to a branch of a bush. I imagined it emitting inaudible little zzzs as it napped. Some varieties of bats like caves, some trees, and others prefer man-made structures– attics and belfries.

Florida has thirteen flavors of bats. This little guy was probably its most common, the Mexican (or Brazilian) free-tail bat. He wasn’t at all aggressive or even defensive. He lay in my hand resting and quietly shivering. I took him outside in the sun. Thrush grabbed his camera.

The majority of bats are insectivorous. Like dolphins, they use echolocation to find prey. Bats eliminate tons of mosquitoes, flies, and other bugs each season. That’s tons literally. The largest are fruit bats, not carnivorous at all.

The ‘free-tail’ part of my little bat means it has more than a stub that’s not part of its wing. This bat can use a couple of Halloween tricks.

For one thing, the Mexican free-tail bat can jam ultrasonic signals of other bat species. They let a cousin find an insect, blast its echolocation frequency and swoop in for a snack.

The Mexican free-tail bat is also the fastest mammal in the world. It can clock 100mph (161kmph) on straight and level flight. Little else can come close.

As I held the tiny bat in the sun, it stretched one thinner-than-paper wing, tucked it in and stretched the other. They were nearly transparent.

Moments later, he stretched both and paused. The wingspread of this tiny thing astonished me, 10-12 inches (25-30cm) on a body hardly two inches long (5cm).

It knew when it had dried sufficiently to fly. It lifted off my palm, those impossibly tissue-thin wings not so much flapping as sailing. Within a moment, it shot amid the plants that line the canal and was gone. Gone like ghosts of Halloween.

May you and your bats stay safe this holiday.

18 September 2022


Extraordinary Attorney Woo

I've fallen in love. She's Korean, smart, attractive, lovable. My previous Asian dalliance didn’t fare so well, but I’ll discuss that shortly.

Extraordinary Attorney Woo

The first ‘she’ is a television show available on Netflix, Extraordinary Attorney Woo. Wow to Woo. Characterization is fantastic. The settings give a limited peek into South Korean city life and village peace, but most interesting was a temple. The plots were consistently clever and well executed. And… this is the only time I include a food review with a telly review, but I wanted to try what he had… and she and that guy over there.

I’ve given to understand the Korean title of Extraordinary Attorney Woo leans closer to Strange Lawyer Woo. The present translation is better than the original. The Woo in question is a fresh-out-of-law-school attorney and she is extraordinary.

She’s also autistic, which makes tasks small and large difficult for her. The story line counters her autism with a dose of savant, statistically not typical but it works. She remembers everything she reads.

Although she graduated top of her class, she couldn’t find a job until her single father called in a favor, winning her an internship in the second largest law firm in Seoul. Her dad is a bit of a mystery, a man who also trained in law but chooses to run a luncheonette.

Employees at Woo’s firm are wary of her, but after initial doubts, her supervising attorney takes her under his wing, mitigating some of the office politics. And wow, their law office makes that Northern despot crackpot seem like an amateur. Colleagues refer to one of Woo's fellow interns as a ‘tactician’, which I gather imputes a sly and devious plotter, one determined to oust Woo from the firm.

Two other colleagues are of interest, one of them her romantic interest, the boy all the girls love chooses to hang with Woo.

The most fascinating amongst her associates is her former classmate, Choi Su-yeon. All through university, Su-yeon helped Woo navigate campus life just as she helps her integrate into the corporate workplace. And, just like Su-yeon constantly came off academic runner-up in the shadow of Woo’s first place, Su-yeon finds herself exasperated she’s repeating the same pattern in the professional world. And yet, Su-yeon can’t help herself. She’s kind, selfless, and fond of Woo at her most helpless and hapless. She’s a beautiful character portrait.

In case after case when all seems hopeless, Woo makes a mental connection and resolves the current court battle. She astonishes the legal world and comes to the attention of the city’s largest firm. Indeed, the two largest firms in Seoul are both run by the smoothest of women. They that reminded me of a real-life supervisor at a large Central Florida theme park. Fellow cast members in her way never felt the sharpest of blades in their backs but wondered where the pool of blood came from.

Heartless Seoul

I’d previously watched the wildly popular Squid Game. Once the series ended, I stood under a long, hot shower, brushing my teeth and tongue to get the bad taste out of my mouth. Visually, it’s fascinating and I enjoyed the M.C. Escher quadriplex. But psychologically, it’s a sick ƒ. Give me Silence of the Lambs any day.

Frankly, I don’t think of Squid Game as a horror show although hints of horror break the surface from time to time. Perhaps its most interesting scene is a short ripoff of Eyes Wide Shut, that did it better and didn’t leave the audience wanting to scrub off their skin to get clean. And after the show should have ended, we had to endure an anticlimax as the tale petered out. It's a parable, see, like the Book of Job, which requires lots of slowwww explanation.

Without doubt, my distaste of perfidy factors into my opinion. Squid Game brings us 455 (actually more) examples of betrayal… and death. Rumors that Leader Kim Jong-un hung over his toilet bowl might be slightly exaggerated. But as I said, it is extremely popular and Leonardo DiCaprio will join the production for its second season. Let me guess– he might crack open the secret organization.

One opinion, of course. Your mileage will vary.

Heart in Seoul

I’ve talked about everyone except W우우 Young-W우우. Her name is a palindrome as she remarks at every introduction. She eats the same lunch every day, gimbap (seaweed sushi). She counts to three before skipping over a threshold. She converses almost exclusively about Cetaceans (whales, dolphins). She tends to wobble instead of walk. She’s terrified of revolving doors… and I have sympathy for her.

But we, like her colleague Su-yeon, see her beauty. She’s moral and ethical, which sometimes conflicts with the law. She’s vulnerable. She tries to fit in, and she wants her father to let her make her own mistakes. She worries she won’t be able to fall in love and please a husband. She’s bloody smart. And every so often dimples pop out of nowhere.

Producers waited a year to land the actress for the rôle and they chose well.

Watchers in Korea criticized the last two episodes of Season 1. (Yes, there will be a Season 2.) Her supervisor has cancer. When Woo visits him in the hospital, someone comments that the odds of survival are good. Woo corrects them, rattling off dismaying probabilities and percentages. Viewers were offended, saying, “How insensitive. My Uncle Ted got cancer and…”

That was part of the point, of course, that autistics often misread the room. Instead of watching Woo with social horror, they should have noticed her supervisor, smiling from his hospital bed. He understood she meant no harm and showed her concern by visiting.

Extraordinary Attorney Woo cast
At first blush, it might appear an overhanging vine, but look again. It’s Woo’s obsession.

I can’t emphasize enough how clever, kind, smart, smart and charming the program is. I’m noted for detesting SOS (soap opera shite) that so often appears in series as dying shows drag on. Woo profides a surfeit of personal drama, but it never crosses the line in jump-the-shark melodrama.

Extraordinary Attorney Woo. I give it 114 stars and six thumbs up.

04 September 2022

Florida News Part 2

Florida ashtray with misspellings

Continued from last time…

Kids Say the Darnedest Things

An Alaska Airlines plane was isolated at Orlando Airport after a 10-year-old lad with an iPhone radioed the plane had been hijacked. Fun fact: The minimum age for federal crimes that usually apply to planes is 11.

Lavender Lights

Mood lighting has come to Central Florida streets. For reasons authorities don’t understand, more than 600 malfunctioning LED lights have turned purple from their original white. Locals are now asking for disco balls and dance music.

Another Day, Another Gator

Social media marveled at a bicyclist calmly waiting for an alligator to cross the road. A person remarked that the cyclist must be local. Unfortunately the Bureau of Tourism appears to have removed the video, perhaps from fear of scaring away visitors. If gators are going about their business and you stay out of their way, they’ll leave you alone. Last year a bike rider was bitten– he’d fallen off his bike and landed virtually on top of the startled reptile.

And Yet Another

Alligators up to four, less than five feet (~1⅓m) are manageable, but after that, a human is outclassed in mass and strength. Imagine an 11-footer (more than 3⅓ metres) in your swimming pool. Nuh-uh, that’s a bit much even for me, especially during mating season. And crocodiles… Yiii! I avoid.


And Another

My friend Thrush sent me this item. B-b-b-bed? Seriously? Look, when raised young, they can make good, clean, quiet, protective pets, not a girlfriend. One of those arguments, “Brr. Your feet are freezing,” might not turn out so well.

And Another

The headline, ‘Florida man dies while searching for frisbees in a gator-infested lake,’ might sound of levity, but the story is sad to the extreme. We're talking pricey frisbee golf discs, and homeless men wade in lakes, hoping to retrieve enough to sell for food.

Bearly Here

Bad enough Floridians find alligators lazing in their swimming pools, but some, like my friend Thrush, put up with bears. Given a choice, I’d rather deal with a gator than a bear as this video demonstrates.

Bearly There

What‽ I have no idea how to caption this: grocery store, pitchfork, whip, stabbing an SUVAdditional information made it worse. How do you link teddy bears to pitchforks and whips?

Hog Haven

And if wild bear isn’t enough, what about wild boar? The retirement community of Sun City is supposed to offer drama-free living, but feral swine have settled in.

Homicidal Sand Dunes

If you’ve managed to avoid alligators, wild boars and bears, watch out for murderous sands. The strange fact is that lovely sand can be dangerous, even deadly, and the lethal physics of wet sand, dry sand, and dunes are all different and life-threatening in different ways. Dry sand might be the worst because you will almost certainly require outside assistance. Here are survival tips.

Another Reptile

A jewelry store owner averts a multi-million dollar diamond theft by locking the would-be perpetrator in the vault.

Hot Pursuit

Motorcycles in Florida… it’s a thing in a state where Bike Week lasts three hundred and sixty days. Osceola reportedly receives a complaint bikers are harassing motorists and waving pistols at them. Deputies follow a random rider who appears oblivious to the drama and pulls into a Kissimmee service station. They guy uncorks his tank, starts pumping fuel, and wham!

A deputy tases him. The ‘suspect’ erupts in a fireball ‘cooking him alive.’

Gasoline → fumes → spark → explosive, right?

The taser-happy deputy may have been denser than the oak of a nightstick, but he wasn’t trying to kill the guy. The victim suffered devastating burns over more than three-quarters of his body and survival is still touch-and-go. But here we have a problem.

After ages of no apparent reaction and refusals to bring in FDLE (Florida’s state police), the sheriff announced he’s charging the victim with four counts despite no evidence he was associated with marauding bikers and casually took time to top off his tank. No gun was found on or around the victim, nor anywhere on gas station premises. At this point, locals express doubt the victim was involved with an crime, suggesting Osceola County might be trying to forestall a liability lawsuit. Police should have considerable video coverage from air and road, but the Sheriff's Department is not responding to FOIA requests nor releasing video.

Rick Voldemort Scott
Senator Rick Scott

What Did You Expect?

The Republican Senate Campaign fund is missing tens of millions of dollars– perhaps a couple of hundred million– including tens of thousands for private air charters buried in a Waffle House line item. Only one man knows for sure and he’s on a yacht elsewhere. Florida’s Rick Scott who masterminded the largest Medicare/Medicaid fraud in history. His fine alone was $1.7-billion, that’s Billion with a B. So when the GOP wanted a financial genius to care for precious donations, who did they put in charge? Wait, you peeked!

Twerking While Intoxicated

An arrest warrant was issued for a woman who invaded a McDonald’s, partially trashed the place, and then, er, twerked upon exiting. Fortunately we do not have video.

Driving While Distracted

A couple crashed into a FedEx truck whilst engaged in an, uh, moving violations. (So many possible puns.) I cannot improve upon the observation of the Yahoo reporter: “The only package harmed was the one being attentively gift-wrapped by the passenger of the SUV.”

21 August 2022

Florida News Part 1

Florida postcard

Like Whack-a-Mole, the Sunshine State germinates and hatches weird news stories faster than a journalist can pursue them. The delay… yeah, the delay is the coronavirus’ fault. The stories had to go into quarantine. Yeah, that’s it. I can’t keep up, so the best I can say is that these are ‘news’ since my previous installment. We’ll begin Part 1 with privilege and politics.

Movie Theatre Murder Update

In 2014, we reported retired police captain Curtis Reeves murdered Chad Oulson and wounded his wife who, during previews, was sending a text message to their babysitter. Movie previews. The captain pled self-defense, which seemed farfetched even in this shoot-first / stand-your-ground state of insanity. But lo and behold, a jury earlier this year acquitted Reeves, who claimed he’d been in fear of being attacked… by popcorn.

Matt Gaetz Privileged Driving Award I

Manatee County Commissioner George Kruse was driving one fine evening when a tree, apparently intoxicated, leaped in front of Kruse’s Ford truck. Commissar Kruse did what any sensible man of means would do, he phoned his wife. After a little more thought, he phoned police. By the time deputies arrived, Kruse was sitting in his wife’s car. We’re not here to say he was drunk, but when he exited the car he was schlurring shyllables and schtumbling and schtaggering. Wifey blamed the “shitshow asphalt,” whatever that means.

Since police couldn’t place him in the wreckage of the truck, he was let off, but took swings at his critics, claiming he is the victim of a political witch hunt. Unfortunately authorities utterly failed to investigate or interrogate the tree.

Matt Gaetz Privileged Driving Award II

Flagler County Commissioner and Vice Chairman Joe Mullins likes to drive very, very fast in his red Ferrari and his Mercedes, and he pulls his privilege card whenever stopped for speeding, more than 90mph twice in the month of June alone. Even when cops give him a break by knocking a few mph off his speed, he warns them not to make any career-ending moves and informs them he “runs the county.”

Charming fellow. He helped arrange bussing of protestors to the January 6th insurrection, although afterwards he claimed he feared getting too close to the crowds storming the Capitol. When asked to resign as Commissioner, he refused. Then he was accused of fraud and racketeering, selling counterfeit Masters Golf Tournament tickets and phony badges to a travel company, a scheme that approached and might exceed a million dollars. Once again, the perpetrator claims it’s a political witch hunt and remains in office.

Ron DeSantis Abuse of Power Award

But guess who doesn’t remain in office? An elected State Attorney that Governor DeSantis stripped of his title following critical remarks about abortion laws. Previous Governor Rick Scott once attempted to remove Orange County’s elected State Attorney whom he didn’t like, but stopped short, merely taking cases away from her. In this case, State Attorney Andrew Warren is suing the governor, citing free speech and blatant abuse of power.

Matt Gaetz Jeffrey Epstein Award

Which reminds me, Matt’s ‘wingman’ (his words, not mine) in the world of teenage lust, Joel Greenberg, would finally, absolutely, most certainly be sentenced this month. Except he won’t as cooperation continues in what Gaetz considers a political witch hunt. Greenberg’s next sentencing date is 1 December.

If our (allegedly) corrupt politicos are correct, nary a hunted witch or warlock shall remain in Florida, not even Universal Studios’ The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. How do we manage to keep electing these creatures?