Archive for General

Smoke Blog: Gurkha Yakuza

Labor Day. I guess Summer’s done, then.

This one shot by in a flash. The daily grind of two jobs played a role in that, I’m sure.

My family has gone back in the house, and as I sit here watching this evening’s backyard bonfire die down, I’m thinking about the long list of things I intended to accomplish over the summer. I haven’t finished a single one.

Shit.

That’s part of why my cigar time is so valuable to me. I’ve talked about it before, how it forces me to slow down and sit still for a while. Sometimes I write a little, sometimes I noodle over work- or family-related things, and sometimes I just plain tune out and chill.

Soon, though, it’ll be too cold. I won’t have this cigar time, and this year that worries me more than ever before. I realize now I need to find a new zen to fill the void. It may be as simple as cleaning the office again, turn it back into a workspace rather than a collection point for all the paperwork and bullshit that stacks up in our kitchen. Reclaim a space where I can spread out with creative and brain fuel rather than chaos and stress.

Or maybe it’s the bourbon and cigar talking.

My last Gurkha Yakuza cigar is burning down with the fire, and I’m not all that sad to see them go. They’re not a bad smoke, but they’re definitely not a casual, anytime cigar for me.

The Yakuza has a medium-full body, with a heavy, leathery smoke that has a subtle bite almost like gunsmoke. Seems rather fitting for the brand. Though the wrapper is on the dark side, it’s not oily or bitter like, say, a maduro, with a lighter taste not indicative at all of what’s to come once it’s lit. And despite the stronger flavor, it doesn’t linger long on the palate or overpower an accompanying drink.

So, while not unpleasant, it demands one’s attention. It’s a quality smoke, like much of the Gurkha line, but not one I’d pass around to my friends who prefer lighter or even flavored cigars. It’ll be one I’d pick up as part of a mixed package in the future, or as a one-off smoke at a shop when I’m in the mood for something heavier.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Recovery Mode: ON

It’s been a little over five weeks since I last hit the weights. I was going to start back again tonight, but pain in my right forearm and wrist is still nagging at me, so I opted to wait a little longer.

I beat myself up at first, but then I realized this is the longest break I’ve taken in about four years, so maybe I’m due. Guess I’ll have another cocktail and cigar.

Oh, the pain.

Someone suggested maybe I’m getting too old for this shit. Meanwhile, despite my arm injury, I’m still able to finish karate workouts and run, while they bitch about the pain in their back and knees yet do nothing. I pointed out the difference and they don’t seem to get it. I guess I should do nothing and still be in pain? I’m kind of afraid to see how they’re going to feel in another 20-30 years.

If recovery periods like this are what it takes to free up a little time to work on some writing projects, though, then so be it. This is the first time in those five recovery weeks that I haven’t been tied up at the second job, away with family, or running other household errands I’ve been slacking on.

I’m drowning in a backlog of ideas and stories, and as I sit here looking at my various notes, I don’t even know where to start. In a minute I’ll just pick something and roll.

Let’s see what comes of it.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

How to Screw Up a Bourbon Tasting

A liquor tasting should be a no-brainer, right? Have bourbon available, pour some for a customer, hope they buy it. Done.

Someone needs to tell that to our local Friar Tuck liquor store.

I stopped in yesterday with my sons to get some craft root beers, and I saw they had a tasting today including two bourbons: Broken Bell Small Batch and Lexington Bourbon Whiskey.

I show up today, wait behind some people tasting the wines, only to be told, “I don’t know why that’s up here, that was last month’s tasting.”

Three and a half hours into the tasting and nobody fixes it? She still had an open bottle of Broken Bell, but I was told they wouldn’t be opening another bottle of Lexington so I couldn’t try that one. Fail.

I accepted my little sip of Broken Bell. Barely enough to cover the bottom of the plastic shot glass. Look, I don’t expect full shots because they’re not going to send people away hammered, but at least JK Williams gave us enough to really taste when they had an event at a friend’s club.

The Broken Bell wasn’t half bad. It’s price point put it around Knob Creek or Maker’s Mark, but not quite as high as some of the other small batches like Four Roses Small Batch or the premium brands like Woodford Reserve.

Taste-wise, I’d say that works out about right. It’s definitely smoother than Maker’s and Knob, but it didn’t have much character. It’s no well bourbon, just a decent, general bourbon which could be used in a cocktail or taken neat or on the rocks as the mood strikes. It wasn’t special enough to warrant picking up a bottle to explore further, but I’d try it again if a local bar stocked it.

Too bad the Lexington wasn’t available, as it seems to have better tasting notes and reviews on the web.

Ah, well. That’s the general experience at this place: they have a lot of good stuff in stock, both liquor and cigars, but few seem to know or care much about what they have. Their humidor isn’t huge, but it has a wide range from cheap, flavored crap to high-end sticks. Only one guy seems to know much about them. Ask about a liquor they don’t carry, though, and they all just shrug. I’ve struck out at least twice asking for Writer’s Tears Irish Whiskey.

I might have been more disappointed if I’d made the trip just for the bourbon, but I also picked up a couple of cigars and hit a Starbucks for some quiet writing time.

I tried a new bourbon and I made some writing progress, so I’ll just call it a win.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Garage Repair: I Am All That Is Man

I’m a big believer of do-it-yourself home repair. Whether we’re talking plumbing, electrical, flooring, or HVAC, most of the costs are tied up in labor: paying someone to come out and do the work. With the right tools and a good YouTube search, however, you should be able to handle most household repairs and many automotive repairs.

After that it’s just a matter of weighing the cost of your own time against the cost of paying someone else to do it.

A little over a week ago, this happened:

Gonna need a new one of those (Garage spring repair)

A photo posted by Mike Oliveri (@mikeoliveri) on

That’s an extension spring for a garage door. It snapped in half, which meant the garage door opener couldn’t open the garage. Fortunately whomever installed it had the foresight to run a safety cable through the spring, so I found it hanging in place rather than punched through a wall or window.

Most garages have a single torsion spring above the center of the door; the rest have a pair of extension springs. Torsion springs are not easy to replace, and they can hurt you if you don’t know what you’re doing or don’t have the right parts.

Extension springs, on the other hand, are easy to replace with nothing more than a socket wrench. Disconnect one pulley wheel, thread the cables, reconnect the pulley wheel, and you’re back in business.

Assuming you can locate the damned things. I hit three of the big box hardware stores and a Farm & Fleet looking for the right size springs, but they only stock springs for up to 160-pound doors. My door, apparently, is closer to 200 pounds. I ended up calling an overhead door company instead, and they were able to find me a new pair. The bigger springs cost almost three times as much as the 160s due to their size, but at least I still wouldn’t have to pay for installation.

I finally had enough time today to get to work. Half an hour later, this happened:

Garage door: FIXED! I am all that is man.

A video posted by Mike Oliveri (@mikeoliveri) on

Score. Saved me a couple hundred bucks in labor, I’m sure. It works better than before, too; the newer springs pull the door open a few inches higher, even with the top of the doorway.

And because I was able to get the garage door open, I was able to make this happen at last:

SHE'S ALIVE! (And needs a bath.)

A video posted by Mike Oliveri (@mikeoliveri) on

It’s good to be the king.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

2015 in the Rearview

You know, 2015 wasn’t half bad. I didn’t get any new writing projects out there, which is kind of a bummer, but I’ve been tied up with so many other things that I’m not going to sweat it right now.

Cheers, 2015!

A photo posted by Mike Oliveri (@mikeoliveri) on

Most of my time went into my karate training and my students. I took over as instructor of my old dojo (one of three dojo with my karate school) a year ago this weekend, and I’ve grown my enrollment quite a bit.

I enjoy teaching a lot more than I thought I would. Watching students grow in their karate and make connections is amazing, and I get a lot of good feedback from their families. If I’ve had a rough day at the day gig, or I’m just in a bad mood, that fades as soon as the first students walk in the door.

I put a lot into training for my own test in August, which consumed my otherwise free time through the first half of the year and into late Summer. The test itself was a long day, but I passed and earned my second degree black belt and my instructors were happy with my performance.

Fitness-wise, I sorted a few things and lost some weight, which is always a good thing. Progression on the weight lifting is slower than I’d like, but I’m also not quite eating the best way to build muscle because I’m trying to control the weight gain. This Summer, I ran non-stop for 5K (three miles) for the first time.

Ever.

This New Year, I’m not even going to look back at the goals I set last year. I had a lot going on, and a lot of good things went down. The direction probably changed, but I’m calling the year a win and I’m looking forward to 2016.

Let’s do this.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Here Be Dragons: Science and the Imagination

As I type this, I’m sitting out on the porch watching the end of tonight’s supermoon eclipse. Cloud cover had killed the beginning of it for us, but now the clouds are gone and I’ve got a good view of the Earth’s shadow cast across the face of the moon. The red of the totality, the Blood Moon, was fairly dim, but now I’ve got a great view of the contrast between the sunlight and the shadow.

I can’t help but think about some people I know who take no joy in this sort of thing. It’s not an uncommon attitude, but some take it a step further and claim science has somehow ruined these events for them. Eclipse? “Big deal,” they’d say. “It’s just a shadow.” Meteors? “It’s just a rock falling into the atmosphere.”

When they were kids they were impressed by such events because they were in awe of what they didn’t understand. I even knew someone who was jealous of primitive cultures who explained the stars away as gods or dragons, of cultures who built stories and myths around these events. He’d lament how astronomy and physics have killed those stories.

So life was somehow better when we were ignorant? I just can’t get behind that attitude.

Ignorance is not imagination. Those cultures were explaining the world in the best way they could. Their ignorance does not make the world magical.

Imagination is still finding the beauty in these events, even though we know exactly what’s happening. Science doesn’t stop poets from romanticizing the full moon. It doesn’t stop writers from using a storm to set atmosphere. It doesn’t stop any of us from finding the beauty in a sunset, even though they occur every day and we know exactly how they work.

Should we not retain our imagination in the face of what we already know? Should we not find wonder in the explained? To me, that’s what real magic is about.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Teaching Grammar with ’80s Metal

It’s simple, kids!

Simile:

Metaphor:

Any questions?

(This is why they make me work in the basement with the computers and not teach actual classes.)

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Clearing Hurdles

I’ve spent the last six months practicing for my latest rank test last weekend, and that prep consumed a lot of the time I’d otherwise have spent writing. The good news is I passed the test, and I’m now a nidan (2nd degree black belt) in Shuri-ryu karate. The bad news is the only real writing I got done in that time is for the papers I had to write for the test.

But hey, the test’s done. Hurdle cleared. While the school year has kicked off at the day job, things are going a lot smoother than they did last year. Between the two, it’s as if a huge weight has been lifted.

San Cho Sai

Shedding some of the extra body weight has been nice, too.

Now it’s back to productivity. Not having the time to sit down and hammer on the keys has been driving me crazy, and has only served to compound other stresses. The harder, smarter decision was to wait, though, because the writing would have suffered, too.

That’s not to say I wasn’t working on anything. I’ve been chatting about ideas with artists, there’s a pitch out there, and I’m going to have to pick a prose project to concentrate on by this weekend. I also plan to get a few short stories to some editors in the coming months.

The next step is to establish a writing routine as solid as my workout routine. I’ve got an idea of what it will look like, and it feels doable. I’ll tweak it over the next few weeks, and with luck, I’ll have something to share with you all soon.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Another Year Done

School year, that is.

The students at the day gig finished yesterday, and the teachers will wrap up tomorrow. I work all summer, but I’m looking for this year to be much quieter and more productive than last year.

One teacher has been very helpful in helping me push technology into our district, but he’s retired as of tomorrow. As a parting gift, he handed me a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel.

Now THIS is a gift!

Score. Thanks again, Steve! I owe you a good lunch this Summer, both for this and for all the assists.

Now I’m kicking back on a Whiskey Wednesday with a bourbon and a smoke, reflecting on good times, and getting ready to pound on a short crime piece.

Gotta kick Summer off right.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Field Notes Field Test

I’ve been working in a Field Notes notebook for a few months now, and while it’s been a solid & dependable notebook, I’m not quite sure it fits my needs.

This notebook has been taking a beating

This notebook has been taking a beating

I decided to start with the Pitch Black edition, a basic black notebook with Field Notes dot-grid pages. Field Notes has a reputation for making durable notebooks, which is an important feature for me. See, my notebooks live in my back pocket, and let’s face it: I’m not a small man. Any notebook I carry is going to take a beating. It comes out of the pocket at home and various destinations, but I’m often sitting on it in the car or on the motorcycle.

I’ve just about filled the first of my set of three Pitch Blacks, and so far it’s held together well. The cover has a few permanent wrinkles, it’s fraying around the staples, and the cover below the bottom staple is splitting along the spine. However, it’s still holding all of the pages just fine. The notebook stays bent out of my pocket, but I just flip it around when I return it to my pocket and it smooths out in the other direction. The pages themselves are holding up great. The first several pages inside each cover are wrinkled, but all of my pencil scratchings are perfectly legible. (As legible as my handwriting allows, anyway.)

I was concerned about the dot-grid pages at first, but I’ve come to dig it. For those unfamiliar, imagine a graph paper layout, then remove all the lines and leave a dot where the intersections were. It has the feel of a blank page, but the dots still create subtle lines for guidance. I find I can write as large as I want without feeling like a frustrated kindergartner who can’t color within the lines, yet I still have some solid guidance for longer passages and lists. It hasn’t changed my world, but I certainly won’t avoid dot-grid in the future.

As much as I like the Field Notes, however, its glaring weakness is in my own usage: I need something sturdier. These notebooks are great for working at a desk, on a table, or on a bent knee, but they don’t have the backbone for hand-held work. That’s a big problem for me in the dojo, where I’ll have to record something quickly while standing at the edge of the mat or between instruction and practice. I can get a little more oomph out of it by wrapping one side of the notebook behind the other, but it’s still just not quite steady enough for my meaty paws.

The plus side of the dojo work is the pages hold up to sweat. Whether the sweat is on my fingers or dripping off my face, the writing doesn’t smudge on the page. That wasn’t always the case with my last Moleskine, which drank the sweat right up.

While I like the Field Notes overall and would recommend them to most people for general use, I will most likely finish out the last two from this set and then try something a little more solid. If anyone has recommendations, please do drop them in the comments below.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

2015: Second Verse, Same as the First

So, 2015.

I’d say it looks about the same as 2014 so far. There’s no border here for me, no difference in the days other than having to remember to change that last digit to a 5 when I’m writing or typing dates.

I don’t need to look at last year’s goals to know I screwed up, either. In fact, I didn’t even make any last year. My routine has seen a lot of turmoil over the past year, and I’ve only just managed to get things under some semblance of control. Stepping out for several days with the family has really helped to unload a lot of mental baggage; crossing an arbitrary date border is purely coincidental.

My weight lifting routine has been going well, and my dojo attendance has been solid (and is what helped maintain my sanity. Most everything else has suffered.

No more.

I see some light at the end of the tunnel as I type this, and the next few months are full of opportunity and possibility. I’ll be taking full advantage and setting up more of the same for the summer and the remainder of the year. I hope to be able to talk about some of it soon, as one contract has been signed and another project is waiting in the production pipeline.

As order returns, so too shall routine. Including keyboard time.

So, 2015. Let’s do this.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Get Handsy

Our school is cutting back on traditional industrial arts programs and pushing more kids into heavier math and science courses, and it bums me out.

Not because math and science aren’t important, mind, but not every kid is looking to go on to college or to become an engineer. Even if that were the case, what good is an engineer who’s never put his hands on a wrench? Would you trust an architect who hasn’t at least framed up a shed?

Adults shouldn’t be afraid to get their hands dirty. There’s satisfaction to be had in a lot of this work, and in many cases it can save a few bucks.

The Workspace Tour

Yep, I built this. It’s not a work of art, but it works well and it’s the most comfortable desk I’ve used because it’s custom-made for my height.

“I’m not good with tools” shouldn’t be an excuse. If you grew up with cartoons, you have a pretty good idea how a hammer works. I’m not saying everyone should be able to turn a beautiful table leg on a lathe (I sure can’t), but hanging a shelf on a wall should be an easy job.

I’ve changed the brake pads on one car and on my motorcycle. I happened to have the tools for those jobs, and it wasn’t bad. All it took was a manual, a YouTube video, and the guts to tackle the job. Labor for things like that? Usually around $85.00/hour.

Car oil & filter changes are so cheap these days it’s worth it to go to a mechanic, especially when they top off fluids and perform other simple services and checks at the same time. However, I think it’s a job every car owner should be able to handle in a pinch. Tire rotations are too time consuming to do on my own (and most dealerships do it for free if you buy your tires there), but I’ve put on several spares. Nobody should have to wait for a tow truck for a flat tire.

Tinkering on the motorcycle is fun. Sometimes the narrow spaces in and around the frame and engine are frustrating, but I’ve swapped the battery, installed battery minder leads, changed the oil and filter, changed the brake fluid, and changed the brake pads, all because taking it to a motorcycle mechanic is inconvenient. Soon I’ll be handling the spark plugs and maybe the spark plug wires. The only thing I’ve paid for is tire swaps and a new chain and sprocket install. I just don’t have the proper tools or environment for those, and if I get them wrong, I could be in a world of hurt.

I first learned to get handsy with a water heater. It had a leaky overflow valve, and someone put a scare into me about possibly cross-threading the new valve and having to replace the whole thing, so I called a plumber. He was at the house for less than 15 minutes. The part? About twenty bucks. The total bill? $90.00.

Never again. When the bottom finally rusted out of that water heater, I purchased and installed the replacement myself. We had a misstep with the flux when we sweated the copper pipes, but one conversation with the owner of the hardware store put us in the right direction. Years later, thanks to that experience I was able to help a friend cut an old, broken water softener out of his water line and sweat new pipe in to close the loop.

In our new place, when the thermocouple quit on the water heater (which it did repeatedly until a recall had me replace the whole burner assembly), I replaced it myself. Not difficult at all. Another friend sweated turning the gas on and off when his thermocouple quit, so he paid a plumber. Once again, small job, big bill.

I’m not saying we should take money out of some working stiff’s pocket. We once had plumbers dig up and replace a sewer line to the tune of $4K because it was too big a job. But I’ve replaced toilets and kitchen & bathroom faucets without batting an eye. I’ve helped a friend install a countertop, and I’ve wrestled with a garbage disposal for an hour until I realized the gasket was upside down. These are sometimes annoying jobs, but they are not difficult or highly technical.

In fact, I think a great number of smaller mechanical, plumbing, and electrical jobs are done simply because the car/homeowner doesn’t want to deal with it. Meanwhile, we probably saved hundreds of dollars across all of those jobs, and the sweat equity and satisfaction made them worthwhile.

I paid out to have a furnace installed and several windows & a door replaced because they’re just too big a job. However, I’ll be tackling a laminate floor and building a soffit in the near future. First time for both, but the flooring just snaps together and I’ve helped with a small drywall job, so I have a pretty good idea what I’m in for. Wish me luck.

Now I include my oldest son in all of these jobs, and sometimes his younger brother, depending upon the job. Heck, the boys installed the last two brackets of my desk because I didn’t feel well. I want them to have the confidence to do some of this stuff on their own when they move out, whether or not they have the opportunity to take a shop class in high school.

And ladies, this applies to you, too. My wife may not have had the muscle to break the lug nuts loose on one of those tire swaps, but I’m sure she could have handled any of these other jobs with the same instructions I looked up.

We’re both looking forward to our daughter learning some of this stuff soon. If she ends up having to change a flat tire while out on a date someday, she’ll know she needs to dump his ass, won’t she?

Next time you have a small job around the house or on your vehicle, ask yourself, “Can I handle this myself?” Then dig in and get your hands dirty.

It’s worth it.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.