Mike Oliveri http://www.mikeoliveri.com Horror & Thriller Writer Sun, 02 Jul 2017 22:27:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 1265096 Booze and a Book: Bourbon and Bikers http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2017/06/20/booze-and-a-book-bourbon-and-bikers/ Tue, 20 Jun 2017 06:01:19 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20643

The Booze: Michter’s US*1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

I’d heard a lot of good things about Michter’s, so I snagged a bottle while I was at a local shop picking up a cigar for a friend. I cracked it open shortly before writing this, and I quite enjoyed the sweet smell. First little taste, neat, carried a similar creamy vanilla sweetness.

On ice it changed a bit, as if the cold dulled much of the sweetness. It’s still pretty great, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not getting the same unique flavor. I’m going to come back to this one neat sometime before passing judgement.

The Book: Freedom: Credos from the Road by Sonny Barger

This is another one I read a few chapters at a time between other books. I bought it partly out of curiosity, partly for inspiration while noodling on some characters in Lucifer’s Swords from The Pack and possible spin-offs.

On the plus side, it’s an enjoyable book. Barger shares a lot of insight and life lessons, and the biographical side is interesting reading. His perspective of The System and The Man may be skewed, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems that need to be addressed. He even shares a bit of advice and philosophy, usually conveyed through riding metaphors.

On the down side, Barger—like way too many people today—has a very selfish idea of freedom. There’s a lot of my freedom is more important than your freedom, and if yours doesn’t jive, then to hell with you. He demonstrates patriotism for an American ideal, but also some entitlement. Essentially, “I served my country, I should be able to do what I want”. It tends to fall somewhere between Libertarianism and anarchy, with a healthy dash of might makes right. Brotherhood over law, freedom over justice.

It all sounds good until one realizes the mightiest won’t remain so forever. When the top dog ignores others’ freedoms for his own, and someone within a brotherhood divides its loyalties, it’s only a matter of time before that top dog hits rock bottom.

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.

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The Amateur Mechanic http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2017/06/17/the-amateur-mechanic/ Sat, 17 Jun 2017 05:26:33 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20636

I find working on my motorcycle both satisfying and humbling.

Some of my friends, including those who also ride, are often surprised I do some of my own maintenance. It’s simple stuff, mostly, like changing the oil and filter, changing the brake fluid, or swapping the brake pads. This week I changed the battery, and I hope to put new spark plugs and cables on her soon.

My mechanic friends, on the other hand, stop just short of patting me on the head and saying, “That’s cute, kid.” I don’t have the tools or the right combination of skill and desire to get much fancier than that. I don’t need the front wheel falling off the fork at 60mph, or the whole thing going wobbly because I didn’t align the rear axle.

Also, I find it’s the little things that kick my ass. Consider this negative battery terminal:

Designed by Satan

The access hole to get to it is just a hair bigger than the terminal block itself, and the cable connection blocks the view of the nut. To make matters worse, the cables and the chassis make it impossible to go at the nut straight on with a screwdriver. What should take seconds becomes several clumsy minutes of cussing and dropped screws.

I also have a superpower: I can banish screws into the fifth dimension, never to be seen again. When I first removed the positive screw port, it tumbled into the chassis somewhere. I heard it *clink* against metal, but it never made it to the ground. I searched all around the gap it fell into, rocked the bike to shake it loose, all to no avail.

Knowing my luck, I worried it was sitting neatly in a gap in the drive chain, waiting to get pulled into the sprockets and tear them apart. This led to a new experiment: opening the sprocket guard to double check. No screw, just more lost time and an opportunity to remove some chain lube build-up.

Another screw disappeared from the battery cover some time ago (probably when I installed the battery minder cables). This one was 25mm (about 1″) long. You’d think it’d have been easy to find. Nope. Fifth dimension, man.

I’d also been searching for the radiator fill cap for some time. As in, since last season. Yes, you can laugh. The coolant reservoir is easy to spot. Even after consulting my trusty Haynes manual, I just could not find the damned fill cap. Someone even tried to tell me my bike doesn’t have coolant, just a radiator fan, because it’s “only” a 600.

I looked it up again this week while I had the manual in hand, noted again that it said “behind the passenger foot peg” and consulted the photos. No, still not making sense. But then I shifted perspective a little, saw a knob, leaned down farther. . .

“AHA!” So loud my daughter came outside wondering if I’d broken something, or if I’d tipped the bike over on my head. (She has such confidence in her dad.)

The cap was tiny, it was camouflaged, and it’s probably also a fifth-dimensional object only visible when the stars align in proper configuration.

Okay, maybe not. But the tube itself is no fatter than a #2 pencil, so it probably just didn’t register as a the reservoir fill in my mechanically-challenged brain.

(Side note: I felt a lot less stupid when purchasing the coolant today. I hit an auto parts store and told the clerk I just needed coolant for my motorcycle. He looked at me like I was speaking Greek, and no shit, I had to repeat it twice and say, “You know, the stuff that goes in a radiator?” before he pointed me to the right aisle.)

There’s a lot of satisfaction in saying, “I did this!” Even for simple tasks. It reminds me I’ve got a lot to learn, too. It’s kaizen: continual improvement. Just like my wife, Lenore’s pretty good at keeping me in my place.

Now on the Summer agenda is flushing the whole coolant system. This requires removing the gas tank, which the Haynes manual rates as two wrenches (of five) in difficulty. We’ll see.

Hard to believe I’ve had Lenore for eight years now. I’d like to upgrade before long, but in the meantime, she’s been a great practice bike. If I can keep her running, I should be able to do the same for the Harleys and Indians I’ve been eyeballing.

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.

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Smoke Blog: Rocky Patel Strada http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2017/06/14/smoke-blog-rocky-patel-strada/ Thu, 15 Jun 2017 04:30:31 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20634

It’s National Bourbon Day. Cheers! #bourbon #whiskey #straightedge #cigar #rockypatel #strada #nationalbourbonday

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It’s National Bourbon Day, so I’m sitting here enjoying a tasty glass of Straight Edge bourbon, enjoying a mild thunderstorm and a break in the heat, and hoping this cigar will match its quality.

I usually like the Rocky Patel labels, but never have I had a more uneven box of cigars than the Strada. I’ll come back to flavor in a moment, as the quality is where they suffer the most. One cigar will burn fine, but the next will have burn issues and either fizzle out or burn unevenly. Two of them spat and sputtered, as if burning into pockets of moisture, and one popped a few times and sprayed small bits of burning ash onto my table. I thought it might be a problem with my humidor, but none of my other cigars have had these problems.

The Strada is billed as a medium-body smoke, but I would rate it closer to full. The draw gives up pleasant hints of pepper, but the finish is leathery. Those that burned well, I mostly enjoyed. Those that did not left a very dry, ashy finish on the palate that required a strong drink for balance. Avoid sweet cocktails; that’ll just be a mess.

Construction varied as well. None unraveled during smoking, nor did any break or crack during cutting. The ash was often brittle, however, making them a messy cigar and a bit of a gamble to smoke while getting some work done at a laptop. Even a short ash might break off while puffing, which has happened to me twice while typing this post.

Like most of my sticks, they were on sale. Where I lucked out with the Gurkha Legend, the Rocky Patel Strada is a good reminder that in most cases I get what I pay for and I should probably stash away some extra pennies and stick to my favorites.

But hey, at least the Straight Edge is still killer, as I’ve previously written.

On to the next batch.

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.

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Booze and a Book: Scotch and Zen http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2017/06/11/booze-and-a-book-scotch-and-zen/ Mon, 12 Jun 2017 01:40:36 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20631

The Booze: Monkey Shoulder Scotch Whisky

Scotch has been very hit and miss for me, with mostly misses. Some of them are overwhelmed by that smokey, peaty flavor Scotch is known for, and it generally turns me off. Fortunately that note is mellowed in Monkey Shoulder, allowing the malt and a bourbon-y sweetness to come through. It makes this whisky a mellower, more soothing drink.

Monkey Shoulder goes down smooth and easy, too, and I enjoy it both straight or on the rocks. I’m going to recommend larger cubes or whiskey stones for this one, though, as the melting ice waters it down quick.

At the moment I’m enjoying Monkey Shoulder with the last of my Gurkha Legends, and neither is overwhelming the other. Good times.

The Book: The Dude and the Zen Master by Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman

“The Dude abides.” The classic The Big Lebowski character is a starting point in the conversations of life and Zen philosophy between actor Jeff Bridges and Zen master Bernie Glassman. In fact, the book is simply a transcript rather than a standard narrative.

I first ran into this book sitting at a friend’s basement bar. I was waiting for him to finish something upstairs, so I picked it up and read the first chapter, and I enjoyed it. A few days later, I saw several copies sitting on a remainder pile for around five bucks at our local Barnes & Noble, so I snapped up a copy for myself.

That was over a year go. It’s been sitting on my nightstand ever since, buried under my Kindle and a handful of martial arts-related books. I felt a bit angry and down the other night, so I pulled The Dude and the Zen Master out of the stack, dusted it off, and started reading.

In true Zen fashion, it was just what I needed, exactly when I needed it. It made me reexamine a few things and look at them in a new light, and it made me feel a hell of a lot better. A hundred pages later, I forced myself to put it down so I could get at least a little bit of sleep before my alarm went off later that morning.

I’ve harbored a minor interest in Zen philosophy while I’ve been involved in the martial arts these past ten years or so, but not so much its religious trappings. What I like about this book is it’s not preachy at all, and while Bridges & Glassman discuss meditation on occasion, they’re not telling the reader he must do this or that to reach enlightenment. It’s simply two guys discussing how they’ve found their paths and the things they’ve encountered in their lives, with a little sprinkling of The Dude for flavor.

Good stuff, and I’m looking forward to finishing it.

Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman on cigars in “The Dude and the Zen Master.” Word. #quote #cigars #books #zen

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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.

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Smoke Blog: Gurkha Legend http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2017/05/29/smoke-blog-gurkha-legend/ Tue, 30 May 2017 02:02:18 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20628 Instagram Photo

I lucked into a special deal on the Gurkha Legend at Cigars International, and let me tell you, I’ve been pretty happy with them.

They’re not an awesome smoke, but they were well worth the couple bucks a stick I paid for them. They’re a light, creamy, good-for-any-time cigar and they have been easy to share around with friends. A non-discerning smoker was very pleased with his, and another friend who prefers lighter smokes was similarly impressed. I’ve smoked them solo, paired with straight bourbon, and paired with cocktails, and they never let me down.

Tonight I enjoyed one while getting a little writing work done at long last, and I’m a bit sorry to see I’m getting to the end of the box. Good construction, a fair bit of smoke, a smooth draw, and no vicious aftertaste. Consistent, and light without being overly creamy or sweet. All told, they’re a solid smoke I wouldn’t hesitate to order again if CI offers another great deal.

Gurkha has risen toward the top of my favorite labels. I’ve smoked a couple of their labels that just weren’t for me, but were still solid smokes. Gurkha has yet to make me say, “Wow, they really missed the mark on this one.”

If you’re trying to stock a humidor on a budget, the Gurkha Legend might be tough to beat. If you’ve got money to burn, I might still lean toward Avo, or the Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real.

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.

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You’ve Gotta Keep Moving http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2017/03/19/youve-gotta-keep-moving/ Mon, 20 Mar 2017 02:34:19 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20619 They say Sunday’s supposed to be a day of rest, but that’s not been true for me for a long time. It’s the only day of the week I have no work obligations at either of my jobs, so it’s become a day I get my longer workouts done.

Instagram Photo

My family is gone in the morning, so that’s when I hit the dojo for practice. I always work kata or other elements of my style (Shuri-ryu), practice some kobudo, and sometimes work in some calisthenics or makiwara work. I do more teaching than practicing these days, so it’s become an important time to get my own practice in and work on corrections and advice from my instructors. In general, though, I’m aiming to get a good sweat.

Later in the evening, when there’s nothing going on at the school I work for, my eldest son and I to sneak into their weight room for squats and related leg exercises. My middle son and I have karate together, so this has the added bonus of spending time with his brother.

Instagram Photo

I’ve been lifting consistently for about five years, and now that he’s old enough, my son’s caught the bug. I have an Olympic bench and barbell set in my office, and we use that at home for separate workouts. We can do leg curls and extensions on my bench, but nothing beats squats, and I don’t have space at home for a power rack or squat stands.

I’ve thought about hitting the school gym on my own for some time now, but for safety’s sake I waited until I had a partner available. My son’s still a bit small to spot me, but now he’s there to call for help if I have an accident and go down.

Funny thing is, most people still tell me, “You’re too old for that stuff.”

I don’t claim to be a paragon of health, but I’ve seen results. I move better than most people my age. I can lift more than most guys half my age. My heart’s strong, and my doctor doesn’t ride me about my weight. My gut doctor remarked on how much muscle I’m carrying, and even my friends have noticed a difference.

My goal isn’t to get down to 5% body fat and compete in fitness competitions, nor do I intend to step into a cage and fight. I just want to stay healthy. Some of the martial arts instructors I train with are in their 60s and 70s, and when I get to be their age, I want to be active and moving like they are. They may have slowed down a bit, but they’re in far better shape than most of their peers. When people say “move it or lose it,” those are the men and women I picture. They stayed active and it’s paid off for them.

Meanwhile, the naysayers are all trying fad diets or cleanses. They don’t look for the shortcuts because they’re lazy, they just buy into the “you’re too old for that” bullshit and are looking for another solution.

 

A big part of cutting fat is exercise. It’s not just common sense, it’s proven science:

The other part of it is diet. My own diet can still use a few tweaks, and it doesn’t help that I’ve got a bum thyroid. However, fad diets and cleanses are unsustainable. What’s more is some of them prompt the body to tear down muscle, because muscle is expensive to maintain (calorically speaking). So while those weird shakes might result in temporary weight loss, they can also leave people in worse physical shape.

Most of us think about fat and muscle when we’re talking about fitness, but as we age we should also be thinking about bone health. I’ve seen several older folks with shattered wrists and hips after simple falls. Even moderate activity helps keep bones strong. It’s called Wolff’s Law, and the most obvious example of it I’ve witnessed is in the protruding knuckles of a karate practitioner who has spent a lot of time punching things.

You feel the difference when they punch you, too.

“Too old for this stuff?” Not by a long shot.

Find whatever makes you move and do it! Run. Hit a gym. Join a softball or soccer team. Play racquetball or tennis. Take yoga or spin classes. Ride a bike. Do you. The martial arts just happen to work for me, and it inspires me to dabble in other things like yoga and running so I can be better at karate and judo. There’s bound to be an art that fits your interests, and a good martial arts instructor can often double as a personal trainer.

You’re not too old. My oldest student is 69 years young and trains alongside his grandson. And yes, you have time.

Get to work.

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.

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Why Whiskey? http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2017/03/09/why-whiskey/ Fri, 10 Mar 2017 03:59:50 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20616 Short answer: Why not?

Thirst in Amber

The long answer: It turns out, in addition to my other food allergies, I’m allergic to barley. All those times I had heartburn after drinking a few beers with friends? That was the allergy kicking me in the guts. I can do ciders, wheat beer, or even sorghum beer, but no more standard barley beers for me.

The good news is, though, if you distill the stuff, it’s harmless. For years I’d only dabbled with some of the well whiskeys and bourbons if people bought me a shot, but then a friend turned me on to Jameson Irish Whiskey, and another friend turned me on to Woodford Reserve, and pretty soon I realized there was a whole new world out there to explore. Add cocktails to the mix and that world becomes even bigger.

I’ve enjoyed reading up on regional blends and flavors, and learning the differences in their histories and what makes a bourbon a bourbon and a Scotch a Scotch. I’m sure I’ll flirt with a few other liquors as well (I’ve had some really good tequilas), but for the moment I’ve barely put a dent in the bourbon selection.

Favorites right now include Four Roses Small Batch, Woodford Reserve, and, from right here in East Peoria, Illinois, J.K.’s Straight Bourbon. The bar where I enjoy my cigars has Knob Creek, which I like okay, but they’ve jacked up the price on it, which sucks.

It’s also given me a good excuse to do the Booze and a Book thing. Look for another entry next week.

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.

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Booze and a Book: Cocktail and Comics http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2017/03/08/booze-and-a-book-cocktail-and-comics/ Thu, 09 Mar 2017 02:50:59 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20614 Instagram Photo

The Booze: An Old Fashioned cocktail

I mixed this one up with Redemption bourbon, simple syrup, and spiced orange bitters from Beehive Bitters. The Old Fashioned has quickly become my go-to cocktail because it softens even the harshest of bourbons without completely killing the flavor. It’s also a great way to enhance a a low-grade bourbon and make it more enjoyable.

I rather like the Redemption bourbon straight or in a cocktail. It has a 21% rye mash, so it has just a bit of a spicy kick to make it stand out from some other bourbons.

A traditional Old Fashioned calls for Angostura bitters, but I won a small bottle of the Beehive Bitters through an online offer and it’s a much better flavor. I’ve been nursing the bottle along, and I’m sure I’ll buy one or two of their other flavors when this bottle is done.

The Book: Mage: The Hero Discovered by Matt Wagner

I first read Mage back in high school when two clerks at my local comic shop told me how much they loved it. It was already done and collected in three volumes by then, so I purchased the first one. Before the end of the week, I’d returned for the second two.

I’ve loved this book since. It’s a modern retelling of the Arthurian legend, and it’s just a very clever, beautiful book. It’s been ages since I’ve read it myself, so I’m long overdue for a reread. My sons have both read it, and if you look carefully you can see some of the pages have fallen out because they even re-read it a time or two. I may have to order a new volume.

The second series, Mage: The Hero Defined, is boxed up in single issues somewhere in my longbox collection. I kind of expected the boys to go looking for it, but they never did. I may have to pick up a collected edition of that, too.

The main reason I chose this book this week, though, is because it’s finally been announced that the final series, Mage: The Hero Denied, will be published at last. It’s hard to believe it’s been 18 years since Defined was published. I can’t wait!

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.

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What is a Life Worth? http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2017/03/07/what-is-a-life-worth/ Wed, 08 Mar 2017 04:02:23 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20610 Apparently about a hundred bucks.

As a gift card for a local burger joint, too

Last year in January and February, we had a lot more cold and snow than this year. A blizzard roared through one Saturday, and after it quit I went out to hang out with some friends. While I was out, the winds kicked up, the temps plummeted to about 8°F (below 0° with the wind chill), and snow started drifting across most of the roads. By the time I headed home shortly before 1am, things got messy.

I live in a rural area. The wind rips across the corn fields unimpeded, and the population and traffic is low enough in our county that the state’s plowing policy is to aim for 75% clearance. In effect, this means, “You’re on your own, folks.” Also, when climbing out of the Illinois River valley, the hills can turn sketchy quick.

I’ve lived here long enough to get a feel for which roads get the most care, so I gambled on a secondary route home. I also knew the north-south roads would be the worst, and I chose the one that would have the best chance of being clear.

I chose poorly. Once I crossed the county line, road conditions went to crap. A thick layer of snow covered the road about a half mile short of the next town, and when I spotted a pair of flashing taillights up ahead, I stopped.

A second later, this dude comes walking toward me. He’s tall and skinny, wearing nothing but jeans and a hoodie. I get him into the van to get warm, and he tells me his car’s stuck in the snow, maybe partly on the shoulder but mostly on the road. He lives in the town just up ahead, but there’s no way we’re getting through that way.

What’s more, he was getting ready to walk home. He has no phone. In my head I’m thinking this is how a lot of horror flicks start. But he’s about a buck fifty soaking wet, and he’s half frozen, so he’s less than a threat. He uses my phone to call his wife, and we discuss to another nearby town with a Walmart, where his wife can pick him up.

I tell him no way should she be coming out in this mess. I’m too stubborn to grab a hotel room or crash in the car somewhere, especially with a stranger in tow, so I tell him no worries, we’ll try the other route around to his town and see how the roads look.

Back down into the river valley I go. I circle around to my original route and up the hill, which is at least lined with trees before it levels out and cuts across the fields. Turned out it wasn’t such a bad climb after all. A little snow, but no drifts and no ice.

Now this guy, picture a skinny Tommy Chong with long hair—like, past-the-shoulder-blades long—and you’ve got the idea. He was on his way back from a gig with his band, and he works for a music shop in Peoria. Lots of “right on, man” in conversation. We talked about our jobs, our families. Cool dude.

So I get him to town. He lived just off the main drag, and the walk from his stranded car to his house would have been a little over a mile. Again, in sub-zero winds, wearing just a hoodie.

Yeah, he’d never have made it.

Even if he’d had a Tauntaun, it would have frozen before he reached the first marker. We did pass a squad car parked in a bank’s driveway to watch the road, but unless that officer was there the whole time and happened to see him walking by, he’d have dropped from hypothermia and I’d have been reading his obit the following week.

We agreed he was very fortunate. I don’t normally drive that way home, and if I’d been five minutes later, he’d already have left his car. If I hadn’t been stubborn enough to hang out with my friends that night, I wouldn’t have been out there at all. To me, that’s just dumb luck.

To him, it was a bit more than luck. He told his wife God sent him an angel. (Yes, me. Weird, I know.) He called me his angel a couple times, too, and insisted he’d do right by me and buy my wife and I dinner sometime.

I kept thinking, Let’s not make this weird, brother.

I tell him it’s no big deal, I live another ten miles past his town, so either route home still takes me past his place. Even if they didn’t, what am I going to do, flip him the bird and leave him to die? I’d have at least gotten him to a safe, warm place like the 24-hour Walmart or a hotel lobby.

So I get him home. Weeks pass. A thank you note from the guy shows up at work. He closed the note with, “I still owe you!” The Burger Barge gift certificate in the photo above was folded into the page.

Hey, great! My family digs burgers. I throw the card in my notebook and promptly forget about it for the next couple of months.

Summer comes. Kids say they want burgers. Hey, I got this gift card… To the Burger Barge!

My wife and I discussed how much might be loaded on the card. I joked ten bucks. She said maybe fifty, but we settled on $25. We ordered appetizers and let the boys go nuts on burger selection (these guys can eat when we let them). Bill comes to something like $80, and we hand over the gift card.

The waiter comes back, hands it back to me, and wishes us a good day. I automatically hand him my card to pay the balance, and he refuses it.

“You’re good, man. The gift card took the whole thing.”

Well that was unexpected. Jump ahead to this past January, and we used the rest of it. The whole thing was probably around $100.

Not too shabby for a night’s work. Like I said, apparently a man’s life is worth about a hundred bucks.

I kid, of course. Here’s the thing: I’m sure his life’s worth a lot more than a hundred bucks to his wife, who was waiting for him at home that night, wondering why he was so late and fearing the worst. I’m sure it’s worth more than a hundred bucks to their children, even if they are adults themselves.

I’m also sure he could have spent that hundred bucks on better things. I can’t imagine he’s making big bucks working for a music store and doing gigs on the side. That’s a lot of gas and groceries for he and his wife. Or a decent cell phone for next time he’s on the road.

I appreciated that he thought enough of my effort to send me the card, of course, but I’d have been just as content had I never heard from him again. I didn’t pick him up for the reward, and I wouldn’t have been shocked if he never got around to that dinner he’d promised while he was just happy to not be dead on the side of a road. For my side of it, I don’t think I could have lived with myself if I’d turned around and left him there, only to read about him in the paper.

What it comes down to is the value of a human life is what we put on it. With all that’s happening in the news these days, it’d be good if more of us remembered that.

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.

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Nature Has Selected Me to Die http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2017/03/06/nature-has-selected-me-to-die/ http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2017/03/06/nature-has-selected-me-to-die/#comments Tue, 07 Mar 2017 04:18:20 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20607 Okay, so maybe it’s not that bad.

Here’s the deal: I have several friends who get all choked up when the plants start having sex. The trees and grass start spraying their loads in the air, and these poor bastards start coughing and wheezing and sneezing. I often tell them, “Nature has selected you to die.”

Now it’s my turn. A couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with a handful of food allergies. Actually, the nurse’s exact words, “I’ve never seen this many positive reactions before.” Broccoli is on the list, which made happy (never could stand the stuff), but so are things I’d been eating most of my life, like tuna, salmon, soy, and even tomatoes.

Understand, I was raised on pasta twice a week and pizza at least once a week. When we moved out of the Chicago ‘burbs and couldn’t get good pizza, my mom drove the good stuff an hour home after work. When the pizza joint found out what she was doing, they gave us one of their delivery warmer bags, free. If there’s anything I’m immune to, its should be any member of the nightshade family.

Yet here we are. The short version is when I eat stuff I’m allergic to, my esophagus has the same reaction as my friends’ windpipes when they inhale pollen: white blood cells rush to defend our body from the wicked invaders and everything swells up. I’ll get heartburn, and if I keep exposing myself to these things, my esophagus can swell up to the point food gets stuck. Too much swelling, and I’ll have to hit an ER to have it extracted.

Fun, right? Oh, and if it goes on too long and goes untreated, there’s always the possibility it could turn into esophageal cancer. Metal. \m/

The treatment after my initial diagnosis was to avoid all the allergens, take Omeprazole, and to use the same inhaler as the pollen-allergic crowd. Instead of inhaling it, though, I swallow it. Within a few weeks the swelling was gone and I had no trouble eating. The follow-up endoscopy a couple of months later showed a clear, healthy esophagus. Score.

But I’m stubborn. I eventually strayed back to old habits. I still avoid tuna and salmon, and might have a little soy at a Chinese restaurant or sushi joint, but like I said, I was weaned on pizza and pasta. Avoiding tomatoes is a tough ask for me, even when most of the pizza around here is garbage. So here I am, two years later, getting food stuck from time to time.

Stupid natural selection.

Last week, I decided it’s time to get disciplined again. I’m gonna avoid all the stuff that triggers my allergies. For reals this time.

I’ve already blown it twice.

First, we had fish (tilapia) on Wednesday. I was working out after dinner, trying to figure out why I had such bad heartburn. Then it hit me: the tartar sauce is made with soybean oil. I checked the label and sure enough, mystery solved. The second time I screwed up, I had ketchup with a meal, and I just didn’t think about tomatoes. (Visiting Mexican joints is also fun when you’re avoiding tomatoes.)

Which leads me to my next point: If you don’t already have food allergies or sensitivities, you have no idea what a pain in the ass it is to shop around this stuff. I got a small sense of it when we scaled back on our sugar intake and avoided high-fructose corn syrup, but man, soy is in a ton of stuff. Mayonnaise, tartar sauce, and salad dressings are largely made with soybean oil because it’s cheap and it’s stable (it won’t spoil on the shelf).

Try it sometime. Pick something to avoid like soy, wheat, or high-fructose corn syrup, and start reading labels in your kitchen. Good luck! I even tried to make gluten-free chili for a potluck, and only found out after the fact that chili beans have wheat in them.

Beans, man! It’s a good thing I pulled the can out of the garbage before taking the crockpot to the event. Two people attending have gluten-free diets, one by choice and one by doctor’s orders.

Which leads to another problem: the food crazies. I went surfing for a mayonnaise recipe, and while there are several, I had to suffer through a couple tirades about the evils of soybean oil to get through them. I’m all about exploring the flavors of the original tartar sauce and mayonnaise recipes, or making something cheaper than packaged goods, but holy hell, I don’t need a tirade about subjecting my kids to the nefarious soy and gluten agendas of Monsanto and Conagra, especially when it’s attached to some shady pseudo-science even the recipe writer doesn’t understand.

For example, one said, gluten is “like glue for your intestines.” Um, no. You want to go paleo, keto, vegan, whatever, knock yourself out. There’s nothing wrong with making choices out of fitness or morality, or even with making a statement against some conglomerate’s marketing and/or competitive practices. Just spare us the junk science and bullshit conspiracy theories.

Anyway. I have to avoid pizza for a while again. And tonight I learned the hard way that extra-virgin olive oil does not make good mayo (too strong), so I need something lighter. Props to Boar’s Head for not putting soybean oil in their Pub Style Horseradish Sauce, giving me an alternative for sandwich at lunch.

Here’s to not letting food kill me any time 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.

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Yes, You Have Time http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2017/03/01/yes-you-have-time/ Wed, 01 Mar 2017 20:55:42 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20603

We have the power to fill our lives with the things that deserve to be there.

—Laura Vanderkam

There are a million time management strategies out there, and most of them are bullshit. It always comes down to making time, not finding time.

Vanderkam leans on that same principle of making time versus finding time, but she also makes it plain that there’s a lot more time available than we think.

That’s where procrastination comes in. We don’t feel motivated by the hard stuff, not even the things we want to prioritize. Suddenly we find ourselves reorganizing bookshelves and cleaning toilets (or watching TED talks*) rather than working.

Which leads me to a reminder:

Stop sweating the details and the results and just get to work.

Or you can take a closer look at the mind of a procrastinator with Tim Urban. If you’re going to procrastinate, you may as well understand what’s happening in your brain, right?

Urban really puts things in perspective when he shows you the life calendar. Ouch.

*Actually, I was listening to these in the background while monitoring network traffic and bandwidth, which is a whole ‘nother kind of time suck.

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.

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Booze and a Book: Zombies and Bourbon http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2017/02/28/booze-and-a-book-zombies-and-bourbon/ http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2017/02/28/booze-and-a-book-zombies-and-bourbon/#comments Tue, 28 Feb 2017 18:00:15 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20601 Instagram Photo

The Booze: Straight Edge Bourbon Whiskey

This bourbon is finished in sherry casks, lending it a sweet flavor that is almost reminiscent of an old fashioned. It’s a smooth, easy drinker, and one I’ve put in my flask a time or two because it’s easy to share with friends. I put most bourbons on ice and sip them slow, letting the ice water them down a bit, but with Straight Edge my glass is often dry well before the ice can melt.

Side note: I picked up a spherical, silicon ice mold after the holidays. It makes a fat ball of ice to chill a drink fast, though the spheres are a bit smaller than I expected. They also tend to fracture along their equator, and the resulting hemispheres melt even faster. They last longer than standard cubes, but if you’re the type of drinker who doesn’t want your whiskey watered down, stick to whiskey stones or even these badass whiskey bullets.

The Book: The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

In which I reveal I’m a Kindle reader. Shock! Horror!

Actually, I dig the Kindle Paperwhite quite a bit. It’s small and the backlight is easy on the eyes, which is important because I do a lot of my reading right before I fall asleep. I’ve also passed out and dropped it a few times without damaging the screen.

As for the book, I didn’t pay this one a lot of mind on release because it’s a zombie novel, and I had my fill for a bit. However, several of my friends raved about it, and then it got picked up for movie production (starring Glenn Close):

The earlier teaser trailer sold me. I’m not quite halfway through the book as I write this, but I’m hooked. Carey calls his zombies “hungries,” and the story is set some time after the initial zombie apocalypse rather than during. These are fast zombies for those who care, and Carey draws on nature for the cause of his zombies.

The other difference is the titular character, Melanie, is a smart zombie. Something is different about several child zombies, and as the novel begins the rest of the characters are there to study these kids. We get some background of the world and other characters through Melanie’s eyes, then the shit hits the fan and things start moving along at a good clip.

Carey’s prose is lean and engaging, and he shows good balance between Melanie’s innocence/ignorance and telling the reader exactly what’s happening. Zombie fans will find the usual hunger and chow-down horror here, though Carey doesn’t go overboard with it. Casual readers and horror fans should enjoy it alike.

I’m also pleased to see some of the scenes in the trailer are ripped straight out of the novel. That gives me hope the movie will be pretty great, too.

Now I just need to finish the novel before the movie lands.

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.

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Watch: Santa Clarita Diet http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2017/02/27/watch-santa-clarita-diet/ Mon, 27 Feb 2017 18:14:12 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20599 If you enjoy horror or dark comedy, then you need to check out Santa Clarita Diet on Netflix.

I shotgunned the whole first season in an evening. The best part is each episode is about a half hour long, so the show moves along quickly and doesn’t get bogged down in back story, dramatic dialog, or lingering shots of scenery to create atmosphere.

The plot is fun. Even if you’re tired of zombies, Santa Clarita Diet brings its own spin to the table. And while it’s definitely a comedy, it’s not a rehash of Shawn of the Dead, either. It’s very much focused on how a boring suburban family—including a soccer mom, an aging dad who has lost his cool, and a bored, rebellious teenager—copes with a major, bizarre change in their lifestyle after mom has to eat people now.

Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant play well off one another, and the supporting cast is a lot of fun. The writing is sharp and witty, and the plot teases out just enough back story over the course of the season to keep the audience interested. Nor do the writers make the viewers suffer through an “information dump” episode. There are a few instances the writers appear to set up a trope from horror or zombie flicks, only to take it in a different direction.

Even better, the characters actually grow and change. The first episode dives right in without wasting time on setup. The stakes are raised for the characters throughout the season, both in terms of the family’s relationship and the dangers of their circumstances. While I feel the characters are archetypes reflecting the humorous side of the series, they still evolve with each new challenge.

I’m ready for season two. Bring it on.

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.

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Booze and a Book: Karate & Rye http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2017/02/22/booze-and-a-book-karate-rye/ Thu, 23 Feb 2017 05:31:43 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20595 Instagram Photo

The Booze: Templeton Rye (4 year)

I dig bourbon, but I’ve started to flirt with ryes and rye blends and Templeton makes some good stuff. It’s sweet, with notes of caramel and just a bit of a burn when it goes down neat. I’ve tried the six year as well, and my only regret is not trying them side by side.

This is also the first time I brought out one of the Glencairn whiskey glasses I got for Christmas. They claim the shape of the glass concentrates the aroma, and they weren’t wrong. Would I use them every time? Probably not, but I’ll definitely run a few more drinks through them to get a better sense of their nose.

The Book: Dynamic Karate by Masatoshi Nakayama

One of my students was a Shotokan practitioner twenty years or so back, and he loaned me this book. I have a shorter, sort of companion book by the same author, Best Karate Volume 1: Comprehensive. Both books deal with basics and fundamentals, and another student asked why I’d need to read it if I already knew most of what’s in them. The rest, he felt, would probably be specific to Shotokan or at least be handled differently in our style.

I told him that’s not exactly true. Sure, the basic techniques—the punches, kicks, blocks, and stances—are effectively identical, but fundamentals are always important and I’ve already picked up a few differences in language and a few nuances that might help explain techniques to students having trouble picking things up.

In short, even if it doesn’t enhance my own training or karate knowledge, it will at least help my instruction, and that alone makes it a worthwhile read.

I tell my students, “The day you stop learning is the day you stop living.” Practice is important, but studying is also important, especially for advanced students. It applies to more than just the martial arts, too. Writers, for example, should be studying their craft and learning from others. I have friends in their 30s and 40s going back to school and taking new career paths.

It’s never too late.

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.

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Forced to Chill http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2016/10/10/forced-to-chill/ Mon, 10 Oct 2016 15:37:14 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20589 For the first time in ages, I suddenly find myself forced to sit and relax.

It’s Columbus Day, so I have the day off from the day gig, and it’s Monday, so I have the day off from the night gig. That made it the perfect day to get some new tires for Lenore, and I set the appointment a few weeks ago.

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I layered up for a chilly morning ride. The forty-minute trip is the longest ride I’ve been able to make this season, partly because of the old tires and partly because I spent a lot of time ferrying kids and/or gear around. It felt damned good to be on two wheels again, despite the two pinheads who tried to ruin my day by pulling out in front of me.

Bad news and good news at the bike shop. The bad news is my tires didn’t get ordered. I wasn’t looking forward to the idea of burning vacation time to make another trip back, but worst case, it’s doable. Fortunately they had some different tires in stock and, after cutting me a bit of a deal for the inconvenience, it shaved quite a bit of moolah off my original quote.

Works for me.

They only have one service tech, so install’s gonna be a while. One of the parts guys gave me a ride to a Starbucks down the street, and fortunately I had the foresight to bring a Chromebook along. Now I find myself sitting here with time to actually get something done for the first time in a long while.

Where the hell did this year go? I haven’t been on the motorcycle, my writing has suffered, my workouts have suffered, I haven’t touched my camera in over a year, and I have several projects that need to be done at home.

Damn. Something’s got to give.

In the meantime, I have two anthology invitations and several projects that need my attention. Let’s see if I can’t finally put a dent in one.

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.

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Smoke Blog: Gurkha Yakuza http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2016/09/05/smoke-blog-gurkha-yakuza/ Tue, 06 Sep 2016 03:03:40 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20582 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.

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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.

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On the Death of the Period http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2016/08/23/on-the-death-of-the-period/ Tue, 23 Aug 2016 06:02:00 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20576 “Period. Full Stop. Point. Whatever It’s Called, It’s Going Out of Style” is a bit of a mind bender.

My first reaction was, “What? No way.” Then, halfway through the article, I realized the Times had pulled a fast one: they only used a period once to make a point (no pun intended). The rest of the article? Bereft of periods.

And it’s still perfectly readable.

Mind blown.

I’ll admit I’m one of those annoying people who writes text messages in complete sentences, and unless I’m in a real hurry I’ll even copy edit the damned thing before hitting send. Am I just doing it out of habit? If so, is it habit of upbringing, or habit because I think like a writer?

Just now I grabbed my phone and surveyed various messages from friends. My first thought: maybe just the avid readers type in full sentences? Not so much. Two guys my age, one a reader and one not, write in full sentences. A few people several years behind me? Not a period to be found, except one case where there were two sentences in the same text. When she didn’t use exclamations or question marks, there was only a period to end one sentence, and the second sentence was left without.

All of their messages make perfect sense, and I’ve long since stopped noticing the missing periods. And they’re using full sentences, not abbreviations and acronyms. (Maybe those died with the death of numeric keyboards and the rise of autocorrect and predictive text? Either way, I don’t miss them.) I don’t get the impression they much care I use periods, and they certainly don’t take them as aggressive or indicative of emotion. Perhaps it’s time to see how our high school students feel about it.

Language has always been dictated by usage. English has changed quite a bit since Shakespeare, as evidenced by Shakespeare presented in its original pronunciation. Check out this discussion and demonstration by the same linguist cited in the period article:

Fascinating stuff, really. Perhaps we’re seeing language evolve rapid-fire before our eyes in the form of digital content.

Perhaps, then, the period is no different from manuscript habits like using two spaces after a period or double-spacing after line breaks. I once drove an editor mad with tabs at the beginning of paragraphs because software handles first-line indents now, and he finds that a lot more flexible with digital publishing. Are they next to go, or is it just him?

That all said, I don’t see the period disappearing anytime soon. I’m sure publishing will be slow to take up such a drastic change, and academia is even slower. I’ll find it hard to give up the period, even if someone somewhere leads the charge to make it official. I’m sure copy editors and typographers are already having heart attacks at the thought of it.

The next generation may not care. If my kid takes up writing like he says he’d like to, how will his habits change within the next 10-15 years?

On the one hand, it may be a function of design. I read about the punctus in a similar article. That thing sounds pretty cool, but it’s long dead. I bet most of you are googling it right now (and look how “googling” has become a verb, even for those goofy people who still do it on Yahoo!).

It’s about more than just readability, too, because most of us have seen variations of this crop up on our Facebook feeds:

jumbled paragraph

I do wonder about the effect dumping the period would have on someone with dyslexia, or other learning disabilities. Or “emerging readers” (elementary students). That might be a question to bounce off the special ed teachers and reading specialists at my day job.

I’m not advocating for or against the period. My gut says, “This is madness!” Yet my brain had no problem processing the article without periods, and I’ve been reading texts and email from people without them for years. We gave up the fight for good grammar in texts and email a long time ago, with exceptions for situations like job applications.

Language evolves, whether oral or written.

Perhaps it’s a matter of ephemera. A text is not meant to last. Neither is a tweet. Nor any other social media output. They’re all mean to communicate something quickly and disappear, despite being stored in a feed until an account is deleted. Even this blog post will scroll on back in time, read for a few days—or perhaps just hours—and quickly forgotten. If it is going to be thrown away or has to be shoehorned into 140 or 160 characters, it really doesn’t matter.

Consider, then, e-books. Are they ephemeral?

“But Mike, books are available forever!”

We’d like to think so, wouldn’t we? Writers love the idea of books stocked in perpetuity, sitting in dusty stacks to be discovered by future generations. With the sheer volume of digital output produced every moment, though, this is increasingly unlikely. I don’t peruse my e-book collection, and I’d hazard to guess those of us who wistfully fondle our bookshelves are very much in the minority.

It’s all consumed and forgotten, consumed and forgotten. As evidence, we can point to the endless number of books published and forgotten over the last 100 years. Walk into any used book store and consider how many books were consumed and discarded. Why pretend e-books are any different? Because Amazon can let you leave it on their servers forever? They’re just going to get buried deeper and deeper beneath the ever-expanding catalog, just like that used book store overflowing its stacks.

A hundred years from now, maybe the period will go the way of the punctus, and language will have come full circle. Maybe someone will find an ancient link to Winter Kill and say, “This #book has periods, how quaint Now where the hell is book three”

UPDATE:

I bounced the article off several English teachers. Two noticed the lack of periods, neither liked it, and one felt the article writer “cheated” by using several single-sentence paragraphs. Good luck filling long literary or non-fiction passages with a lack of periods.

Another didn’t notice the lack of periods, but had the same feeling: dense paragraphs of text would be tedious.

And let’s consider, the whole reason the punctus and later the period were invented were because of those long, dense paragraphs of text. We want to be entertained or enlightened by reading, not fatigued. Which, to me, comes right back to there being a big difference between direct, ephemeral communication like a text message and something intended to be around for a while.

Finally, the special ed teacher said the period is a big part of learning to read, especially for emerging readers with difficulties. Removing punctuation would make things considerably more difficult for a large portion of their classrooms.

But if we put emoji in their place. . .

Jesus. I don’t even want to think about that anymore.

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.

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Dig: Local Bourbon http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2016/07/27/dig-local-bourbon/ Thu, 28 Jul 2016 03:53:43 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20571 Ever since I tried their Young Buck Bourbon, I’ve been wanting to visit the JK Williams distillery, a craft distiller out of nearby East Peoria, Illinois. Schedule conflicts and inclement weather made it tough, and the JK Williams line continued to grow. Finally, the Rugrats were out of town this past Sunday, and the Wife and I were looking for something to do.

Perfect time for a visit. We called another couple and the four of us made the trip.

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The distillery is a small place, easy to miss on a frontage road in a row of small businesses and offices. They offer hourly tours on weekends, and though it was 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, their lobby (and bar counter) was fairly crowded with a group who just finished a tour and another group waiting to take one.

Kassi Williams started our tour with a history lesson of both the company and the whiskey business in Peoria. I knew Peoria was once the whiskey capital of the world prior to Prohibition, but the JK Williams crew, particularly the ladies, put together a nice timeline of historic photos and filled in some details I wasn’t aware of.

Then it was on to the still. I knew they were a small operation, but I didn’t realize they only had the one still. We got to see where they cooked up their mash, we smelled the results of the distillation process every step of the way, and Kassi explained the different mixes and mashes that make up their various products.

Something I really respect about them as a craft distiller is they source as much as they can locally. Their corn is local, and the fruit they use in their fruited liquors are picked by adults with special needs who work with the Tazewell County Resource Center. Way cool.

Then we got to see the aging room.

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This room and the barrels were a lot smaller than I expected, too, but their output is still quite high for a four-person operation with only one full-time employee.

JK Williams called their first bourbon Young Buck because it was too young to be legally called a bourbon (bourbon must be aged at least two years). One of the owners, Jon, told me at a tasting that they used special barrels to “age the bourbon faster,” and we got to see one of those barrels: they simply drill several holes on the inside of the barrel staves to increase the surface area the whiskey is exposed to. I liked the Young Buck, but I remember finding it a bit strong to drink neat.

After seeing the aging room, we returned to the lobby bar and were invited to try a quarter ounce of up to four different products, free of charge. (Score! Cocktails were available for purchase, too.) I was eager to finally try their fully-matured bourbon and rye. Unfortunately their High Rye wasn’t available just yet; it’s due this Fall.

The ladies went straight for the fruit drinks: the Peach Whiskey, the Blackberry Whiskey, Smitty’s Apple Pie, and the new Pineapple Whiskey. A bottle of the Pineapple Whiskey came home with my wife.

I went for two of their unaged products, JK’s Corn Whiskey and JK’s Naked Rye, the Straight bourbon, and one I wasn’t aware of, JK’s Select Bourbon.

The Corn Whiskey was sweet as promised, and the Naked Rye had a spicy burn. Jesse and Kassi served up the drinks and advised mixers for both, but I’m kinda dumb and wanted to see what the whiskeys were like solo. It doesn’t make a lot of business sense to have barrels and barrels of product sitting in a warehouse doing nothing, so these products, as well as the Young Buck, give them something to market while the rest of the line matures.

The Bourbon Select, if I understood correctly, comes from a barrel chosen by the distiller, Jesse, and this one was aged 17 months. The Straight had a full two years in the barrel. I rather liked both, though it was hard to get a full sense of the flavors with just a quarter ounce sip. Just the same, I found them both pleasant, with a bit more of a burn on the Select’s finish.

In the end I opted for a bottle of JK’s Straight Bourbon and a shiny new JK Williams whiskey glass (about time I added one of those to my collection). When I got home later that night, I didn’t waste time getting it onto some ice and then mixing up an Old Fashioned.

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Let me tell you, this is good stuff. I found it smooth and sweet on ice, with those wonderful, subtle hints of caramel and vanilla. Maybe I finally nailed my Old Fashioned recipe, but I was very pleased with that, too. I’m hoping to set up a tasting for myself soon to compare it to the Woodford Reserve and Four Roses Small Batch that I have on hand.

JK’s stock is appearing in several local stores, and the Young Buck is in Costco. It’s probably worth talking to your liquor store to see if they can get their hands on it. Myself, I’ll just stop on back to the distillery for another tour when the High Rye is released.

Looking for something to do in Peoria? Passing through on I-74, or willing to take a small side trip from I-39? Drop on in and check it out. The tours are open on the weekend and they’re free. If you’re at all interested in whiskey, it’s well worth the trip.

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.

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Motivation vs Intimidation http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2016/06/28/motivation-vs-intimidation/ http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2016/06/28/motivation-vs-intimidation/#comments Tue, 28 Jun 2016 05:35:22 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20562  

motivation-intimidation

Some time ago on Twitter, a friend groused about his lack of motivation when trying to get something done. I told him, “Motivation is really just intimidation in disguise.”

It wasn’t a tough observation, as it’s something I deal with all the time.

Sure, there are plenty of other time-sucking gremlins out there, ranging from social media to the new season of Peaky Blinders to being dumb enough to take on a part-time job. But none of these are truly as damaging as those nagging voices in our heads assuring us we’re just wasting our time. Whether those voices are telling us “nobody’s going to read this” or “this is crap” or “you’d be better off doing X for the day gig or night gig,” they all come down to the same thing: intimidation.

When I read “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators” at The Atlantic, it really hit home. I crushed it in my English classes. My creative writing teachers in both high school and college told me my work was publishable. I had journalism teachers in both high school and college pushing me to do more and more work. Another English teacher read some goofy poetry I wrote at random in a foreign exchange student’s organizer and told me I should be in her drama club. I wrote some passages for a college placement test and got credit for English 101 and 102 without having to take either course.

So hey, I thought I was pretty good at this writing thing.

Then I hit the real world. Slush piles. Editors. Readers. Not nearly as easy. Rejections really didn’t bother me, but lack of sales? That shit stings. I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’m not successful, as that’s a relative term. I’ve got a Bram Stoker Award statue collecting dust in my office, and Winter Kill has a pile of healthy reviews on Amazon. These things just aren’t putting food on the table, and I allowed it to reshuffle priorities.

Which is funny, because I do still enjoy writing. When I can put off the other distractions and shut out the voices, it feels good to be putting words on the page, whether it’s just a couple hundred or I have that rare good day I hit a thousand or more.

That shifting definition of success brings on a whole new level of intimidation, however. My oldest demon tells me if it’s not generating cash and concrete results, it’s not worth doing. If it’s not better than this or that writer’s work, it’s not worth doing. This demon does it’s job in four little words: “May as well quit.”

The problem with defining success by these accomplishments is so much of that success is out of one’s control. With the glut of content on Amazon and in book stores, it’s damned hard to get noticed. Publishers’ slush piles are bigger than ever, and the 1000 True Fans so many of us are looking for have more content available to them than ever. Social media was supposed to be the great savior for creators of all types, but now we’re all just shouting into a global cacophony in the hope just two or three people will glance at a post on their busy streams.

If we’re going to weigh the act against the results, of course it’s going to be intimidating. The act of creation—whether we’re talking writing, illustration, photography, or recording—takes a lot of time and effort. A lot more time and effort than most people understand. Even in those rare moments when the writing itself comes easy, the rewriting and the editing and the proofreading is a difficult process.

We have to stop thinking about success, however we definite it. Success—and failure, which is also relative—are results. Instead, we should concentrate on purpose.

Why be creative? Because we enjoy it. Because it’s who we are. Because it’s fulfilling. Because we’ve got to get this shit out of our heads. Because it entertains others. These things can all be accomplished whether a book is sitting on a bookshelf, is self-published to Amazon, or is distributed to half a dozen friends by email.

Why, then, should it be intimidating? Because someone may not like it? Big deal. That, too, is a result. That’s getting back to success or failure.

For a work to be seen, to be loved or hated, to make a buck or not, it has to be made.

Get to work.

 

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.

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Smoke Blog: Man O’ War Toro http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2016/06/25/smoke-blog-man-o-war-toro/ Sat, 25 Jun 2016 05:22:31 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20560 It’s been a long, odd Summer already.

Not so much bad, but full of ups and downs and several distractions keeping me from the main goals.

It’s a balmy night, and though rednecks are already blowing things up around town, my block is quiet. The Rugrats are in bed and won’t be able to break anything or each other for a while. I’m sipping on my second glass of whiskey and enjoying a Man O’ War Toro. I intended to spend this smoke writing, but instead find myself finding my chill and problem-solving. Maybe this post will help me transition to a little positive creativity.

I’ve enjoyed every Man O’ War I’ve tried, and this eponymous Toro is no exception. It’s a dark and oily beast, but not as bold as a Maduro or Ligero. It boasts a Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan guts, and delivers rich, woody flavors which linger on the palate without turning sour. Tonight’s whiskey is Japan’s The Hakushu and club soda, and it complements the cigar nicely.

This Man O’ War smokes easy and burns smooth, but it’s a needy thing that wants to be held. Ignore it for just a few moments and it goes out quick. Be careful on the relight with this one: a little flame goes a long way. Too much and it will bite back before mellowing out again. The ash doesn’t burn much longer than an inch or so, but it clings well enough that it’s not making a mess of the table or my laptop.

This may be the last of them from my last order, and I think I’ll miss them. They’re in the knuckler category, where they’re a good smoke right down to the last half inch threatening to burn my fingers. I prefer to buy milder cigars in larger quantities for casual smoking and for sharing, but I won’t hesitate to pull the trigger next time I see Man O’ War in a bundle or in special packages.

All told it’s a good, solid smoke for dedicated quiet time.

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.

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Smoke Blog: Xikar HC Connecticut http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2016/05/30/smoke-blog-xikar-hc-connecticut/ Tue, 31 May 2016 04:21:44 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20555 It’s Summer at last! It’s been a long year at the day gig, but though I’ll continue to work through the Summer, things will get a lot easier and I have vacation days to burn before our year rolls over on July 1st.

Summer also means I can sit outside and have a cigar more often, and I’ll have more time to get back to the Smoke Blog entries. I’ve been scouting Cigars International for some great deals to get the humidor stocked, and I started with a killer deal on five different five-packs of cigars. They arrived just in time for the weekend.

I chose to start with the Xikar HC Series Connecticut, a mild-medium blend presumably put together by the same company behind my favorite lighters and humidor gear. They replaced my lighter under their lifetime warranty, so the least I could do is check out their smokes. There are several blends available under the Havana Club label, but the light Connecticut got the nod because I wanted a good range of flavors and strengths in the humidor.

I’ve had two already (it’s been a busy weekend), and I’d call them good but unremarkable. On the plus side, they were both smooth and consistent. They lit easy with no sign of tunneling or canoeing, even in a gentle breeze one night. I loved the clean draw all the way through, and their ash held firm. Definitely a solid, well-constructed cigar.

CI’s info page says these are made with a variety of tobaccos including Costa Rican, Mexican and Nicaraguan fillers with a Sumatran binder. Their name comes from the Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper. The combination results in a pleasant enough taste, but there’s nothing that really stood out for me. Just fine for hanging out with friends and talking or watching the fights at our local haunts.

Definitely worth the bundled price I paid, but perhaps not something I would seek out on its own. They’re a cigar I could easily hand off to a friend to enjoy, especially one who prefers lighter flavors and isn’t all that picky. Got a friend into White Owls and gas station smokes? This will make a nice transition to the good stuff for them.

That all said, the HC Connecticut certainly doesn’t turn me off of their line. This is no throwaway smoke, so I’m curious about their other labels, especially the White Shade Grown. Xikar’s/CI’s price point makes them a very attractive deal, especially in mixed bundles. It’s a brand to keep an eye out for when I look for one-off smokes at local shops.

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.

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The Evolution of Writing Tools http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2016/05/29/the-evolution-of-writing-tools/ Sun, 29 May 2016 18:20:06 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20553

There's a certain satisfaction in closing the lid on the laptop, walking inside, and seamlessly picking up where I left off on the desktop.

— Mike Oliveri (@MikeOliveri) May 26, 2016

The first thing I teach my computer tech students is technology has one goal: to make our lives easier. Whether we’re talking simple machines like levers and pulleys or supercomputers to handle complex data sets like weather and climate change, the entire purpose is to make work easy and efficient. Some of those tools may get more complex over time, but they can also handle a lot more of the work.

The same has gone for writing tools. When I wrote the tweet above, I was using Google Docs. Everything is instantly saved, no worrying about losing a few hundred words to a power outage, and I have the added bonus of being able to pick up any machine anywhere and getting back to work right where I left off. Even if my home or work Internet connection goes down, I can keep working offline or open a new connection through my cell phone’s shared data. I’ve even accessed online files on a laptop from the car thanks to my phone.

This was almost unthinkable when my friends and I first started getting serious about our writing some 15-20 years ago. I was hammering away on Professional Write on an old computer at first, then transitioned through WordPerfect, OpenOffice.org, and Pages before settling on Google Docs.

We even have better tools within those apps. Google Docs, for example, has a rich revision history built in for tracking changes to manuscripts rather than having several copies of the same novel or story on several different disks or folders.

I know a few writers who lament how the tools have gotten too complex, and all the menus and clicks just get in their way. However, there are plenty of stripped-down or minimalist writing tools out there, and even they have the ability to share across computers or in different formats.

Speaking of, the end of the format war is probably my favorite outcome of the progress of technology. Results were very spotty going from WordPerfect to Word back in the day, and even going between the same program on PC or Mac could be sketchy. I used OpenOffice.org and Pages to work with editors using Microsoft Word and they never noticed, but it did take a little work and management on my part.

Today? Just about everything opens every format seamlessly. Some editors request .rtf files for safety’s sake, but for the most part, you can send them anything and they should be able to open it. If they’re demanding .doc files, it’s more or less out of habit or because it’s what everyone else does. With Google Docs, one click will send a manuscript to an editor as a .doc anyway.

It’s nice to be able to concentrate on the writing itself and not the fiddly bits that allow it to happen. Which, by the way, is why it’s also nice to write on a Chromebook rather than on a laptop where a hard drive might crash, a virus might derail a few hours of progess, or one has to monkey with drivers and updates causing crashes. With a Chromebook, the writer just opens the lid and gets to work.

Now we’ve almost come full circle. A pencil and paper were crash proof, write-anywhere tools. Now, with Chromebooks and smartphones and Google Docs, we’re just about back to that same level of reliability.

I look forward to seeing what’s next.

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.

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The Real Connections Come from Writing http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2016/05/26/the-real-connections-come-from-writing/ http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2016/05/26/the-real-connections-come-from-writing/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 04:56:52 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20551 Sure, outlining is important.

When telling a story, it helps to know where it ends. It helps to understand the setup and plot twists along the way. Or, when writing time is scarce, it gives the writer a clear sense of direction rather than wasting time winging it and having to backtrack or rewrite after a pre-reader or editor points out why a key element doesn’t work.

The problem is it’s easy to overdo outlining.

Some people labor over their outlines for months, sometimes years, tweaking every little detail until the whole thing sings. Or they’ll develop complex backgrounds for even minor characters, things they may not ever use in the story.

At some point you’ve just gotta write. Fish or cut bait. Shit or get off the pot.

I’m not saying character sheets and fat outlines and story bibles aren’t good tools. I’m saying readers don’t buy character sheets and fat outlines and story bibles, they buy finished works.

It’s easy to fall into the “outlining is creating” trap. Hell, I’ve done it a time or two myself. And oftentimes, no matter how meticulous an outline has become, a new opportunity appears halfway through and takes the story in a whole new directly.

We writers like to tell ourselves precious things like “my characters tell me what to do” or “my characters just won’t listen to me,” but the reality is the act of creation is a very organic, fluid process. When we start writing, we start making new connections.

Outlining is creative, but also logical. You might have a killer character and a dynamite scenario, but when you have to put the building blocks together to get the character to the scenario, you have to involve a different part of your brain. It’s effectively math vs art, left brain vs right brain. Is your time better spent solving problems or crafting sentences and making new connections?

As an example, I started work on a new project last night. I feel like I know the protagonist fairly well, as I’ve been thinking about her and her story for a long time now. Until last night, her story has been jammed up behind a few other projects in the pipeline.

Within the first 500 words of the first page, I’d both found and filled a major hole in her back story that I didn’t even know existed, and it made her introduction more effective.

Would I have found that hole by just brainstorming over and over? Maybe, but I doubt it. The brainstorming time was focused on the plot problem, and this was a free-form connection that arose from the act of writing and telling the reader about the character. It sprang directly from the creative effort.

A gift from the muse, if you’ll allow another writers’ cliché.

If you’re all about outlines and character sheets, by all means, keep it up. As with most creative efforts, your style is your own and your mileage may vary.

I’m just saying at some point it’s more important to start creating. Take that skeleton outline and throw some prose meat on its bones. Find out what it really looks like.

The left side of the brain makes important contributions to a story, but the real magic happens on the right side.

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.

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Recovery Mode: ON http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2016/04/18/recovery-mode-on/ Tue, 19 Apr 2016 03:10:10 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20545 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.

Instagram Photo

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.

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Smoke Blog: Foundry http://www.mikeoliveri.com/2016/04/14/smoke-blog-foundry/ Thu, 14 Apr 2016 20:19:22 +0000 http://www.mikeoliveri.com/?p=20543 Warmer weather is finally landing today, which means I’ll be able to sit down for a cigar outside at last. This summer, I expect a fair number of those cigars will come from the Foundry Tobacco Company brand from General Cigar.

Americium Box

Foundry Elements: Americium

A local liquor store has been rotating a few different sticks from the Foundry lines through their humidor, and I have yet to find one I didn’t like. I’ve also purchased a box online and picked up several more from another liquor store’s humidor, and again, I have always been pleased.

Last weekend I had one from their War of the Currents series, and it was a definite win. Smooth draw, clean burn, and a strong flavor without any harsh edges or heat. In short, everything I’ve come to expect from their line.

I enjoy their design, too. There’s a certain hipster quality to it all for sure, but it’s a nice departure from the same old traditional cigar bands and boxes that we’ve seen for decades. I kept the Americium box to carry cigars and supplies in, and it attracts a lot of curiosity from wait staff and other customers in the bar where I usually smoke.

Foundry & Four Roses

Foundry always pairs well with bourbon, too!

The War of the Currents bands are loaded with detail, and the Elements & Musings all have distinct, beautiful bands as well. I really like the metal accents that come with many of their cigars, including a toothed gear ring and a mock electrical fuse. I have a small handful of each floating around my office now.

Unfortunately a lot of these cigars are not available on the online outlets I frequent, and we don’t have a real cigar store around here. When my humidor starts running low, I’ll have to make a few phone calls and take a road trip to a proper smoke shop and see what I can find.

Until then, I’ll be content to keep experimenting with their lines as I find them.

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.

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