Thursday, June 26, 2008

My Friendly Neighborhood Scammer

This is Diane.

She's my neighbor and her mother just had a heart attack and she's in the hospital in Des Plaines and Diane needs to get out there right away because she's her only daughter but her car is out of gas and she doesn't get paid until Friday. She's a real good person and she doesn't want to be a bother to her neighbors but she needs twenty dollars for gas. She works full-time at Walgreens, but she doesn't get paid until Friday and her mom just had a heart attack and she's in the hospital in Des Plaines and Diane needs to get out there right away and she really needs twenty dollars for gas. She's a real good person and she will pay you back tomorrow she swears.

The first time I met Diane it was about 7:00AM on January 23, 2008. I know because she rang the doorbell and I went down there in my robe to answer it. It was really cold out that morning, still kind of dark. I listened to her story and, because it was early and cold and I probably wasn't thinking clearly, I gave her five dollars. Later on that day I wrote a journal entry about it.

The second time I met Diane was today at 1:00PM. I was headed downtown and Diane was just leaving one of my real neighbor's doors. As soon as she saw me her face brightened and she walked right up to me.

"My name is Diane and I'm your neighbor and my mother just had a heart attack..."

I recognized her right away. "Your mother had another heart attack?"

She stopped for a second. "And I'm her only daughter and she's in the hospital in Des Plaines and..."

"You came to my house last January with this bullshit story," I said. "I gave you five dollars then and you never paid me back."

Give Diane this much credit: she knows when she's been busted.

"I'm sorry," she said, smiling. "I swear I'll pay you back tomorrow..."

I pointed to her purse. "How about you pay me back right now?"

"I'll do it tomorrow. I'm not the sort of person to bother my neighbors..." She started walking away. I followed her.

"So, do you do this sort of thing full time?"

She stood up a little straighter. "I have a full-time job."

"Walgreens, right?" She nodded. "So this is just part time I guess?"

"Yeah. I'm real sorry. I'm not the sort of person to bother my neighbors. I won't do it again."

I took out my phone. Diane got a nervous look on her face. I took her picture before she knew what was happening. "Now I've got your picture," I said. "I'm going to make signs with it and post them all over the neighborhood so people will know you're full of shit."

Diane apologized once more, and swore she wouldn't do this again, and finally crossed the street in the middle of the block to get away from me.

Now, if I'd gotten the slightest inkling that Diane was developmentally disabled or truly in need I wouldn't have given her such a hard time.

People like Diane really annoy me. After living in the city for 20 years I've heard too many stories like hers. The tellers are always frantic and desperate and all too willing to prey upon your emotions and what little sympathy you have left for your fellow human beings.

Once, a woman came to my door saying her daughter was in the hospital and she needed cab fare to go get her. Another time, it was a black woman who said she was bleeding real bad "down there" and needed cab fare for the same reason. While I was impressed by her originality and use of such an urgent detail, she didn't get anything from me. I can think of at least a dozen more like this.

These folks put you in such a bad position. If you give them money, you wonder if you're a chump. If you refuse, you wonder if maybe that person was the one who really was in trouble.

Then again, maybe they all are. Just not the kind they're telling you about.

As a result I hardly ever help strangers who ask for assistance, which is pretty sad.

Diane and her kind make the world a worse place, and me a worse person.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

HyperiCon Approaches

In less than 48 hours this peaceful-looking hotel somewhere in Nashville, Tennessee will be transformed into a pit of Hell. Or something like that.

HyperiCon, "Nashville's Speculative Fiction Convention," is June 27-29. I'll be there, along with John Hornor Jacobs, Fran Friel, John Paul Allen and, I hope, a sizable contingent of science fiction, fantasy and horror fans, Trekkers and Southern Goths. I wouldn't mind running into a horde of ravenous editors, publishers and agents either.

I'll report on the proceedings as time allows, so check back for updates.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

AFI Responds

Though I wasn't expecting a response from last week's little rant, I was pleased to find one waiting in my email box just the same.

It would be nice to report that my complaint about AFI snubbing the horror genre in its list of "America's Ten Greatest Films in Ten Classic Genres" went straight to the top. Instead, it seems that someone deep down in the web site department cared enough to send me a copy of the company line on this topic.

Dear C. Michael Cook,

Thank you for contacting the American Film Institute and for watching AFI's 10 TOP 10.

We appreciate your opinions and suggestions.

Unfortunately, we could not include all of the suggested genres at this time. AFI’s 10 TOP 10 honors America’s 10 greatest films in 10 classics genres. It is not the list of the 10 greatest film genres. The genres were chosen by a committee of AFI film historians and AFI Board members after receiving many suggestions from AFI members and film enthusiasts.

Please check periodically for future program information.

Best Regards,

AFI Web Team

In other words, thanks for your email and complaint, which has been deleted. "Classic" genres doesn't necessarily mean "greatest" genres, so don't get your snot in a knot. The genres were chosen by a committee of highly placed individuals more concerned with keeping their cryptic special interests happy than fairly representing the breadth of film genres. Please keep checking the site for more of the same old same old. Sincerely, the entire AFI web team.

I think this is the point where I'm supposed to say something like, "Well I never!" or "Of all the nerve!"

Monday, June 23, 2008

Something to Make Your Skin Crawl

I saw this video today and had to pass it on. It's probably pretty old (like, from the nineties) and given the way things on the Internet have a tendency to get around, you may have seen it before. Either way, take a look and prepare to be horrified.

One thing I love about this video is how it keeps getting worse and worse and worse. The awful details just keep piling up -- like the circumstances that led up to the infestation, and what happened to the livestock, and what the daughter was preparing to do with one of the mice she found. (That was the last straw, mom? If this had been me, I would have found my last straw a long, long time ago.)

There may be a story in here somewhere, if some clever author hasn't already come up with it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Horror Snubbed by AFI's List of "America's Ten Greatest Films in Ten Classic Genres"

As if further proof were needed of just how poorly the genre is viewed, the American Film Institute chose not include horror in its line-up of America's 10 greatest films in 10 classic genres.

What's even more surprising is some of the genres AFI did include. Western. Sports. And three separate crime genres: Courtroom Drama, Gangster and Mystery. (Seems like a couple of these could have been combined to make way for a genre that's been around since the beginning of film, but apparently not.)

Judging from AFI's genre list, we are a country that loves cowboys, athletes and criminals.

The closest AFI got to horror is Sci Fi, and within that, only Alien, A Clockwork Orange and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 version) would qualify as close to a horror film.

By ignoring horror in its entirety, AFI has overlooked classic films such as Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, Frankenstein, Halloween, Dracula, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Psycho, The Shining, and Jaws.

The oversight makes me want to write AFI a strongly worded letter. If you feel the same, drop them a line here.

Here's something to get you started:

I was very sorry to see the horror genre was not represented in AFI's recent "America's Ten Greatest Films in Ten Classic Genres."

By overlooking horror, AFI has chosen to ignore one of the oldest genres in filmmaking and such classic films as Frankenstein, Dracula, The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead, Halloween, The Shining, Psycho and Jaws.

Stranger still was the inclusion of three crime-related genres: courtroom drama, gangsters and mysteries. Surely two of these could have been combined into a "crime" genre to make room for horror.

I'm very disappointed in this latest list, and imagine you'll hear from many other horror fans about this snub.

I understand compiling lists like this one is difficult and many great films simply can't be included. But to overlook an entire genre seems especially short-sighted.

Thanks for your time.


Blood-Sucking Freaks

It seems appropriate to follow up my last post with some information on the sea lamprey, one of nature's most horrifying parasites.

That's a lamprey on the left, smiling big for the camera.

A little background: The lamprey is native to the Atlantic coasts of North America, Europe and the Mediterranean, but has since migrated into all five of the Great Lakes, where it's responsible for destroying large populations of indigenous fish.

Its life cycle is comparable to its bizarre appearance. Young are born in inland rivers, emerging from eggs blind and toothless. They burrow into the mud for 3-17 years, filter-feeding on muck and carrion. When they reach their adult form -- which can be as large as 36 inches -- they migrate to the sea or another large body of water. There, they get down to the business of latching onto larger fish, burrowing into their flesh, and sucking blood from their victims until they die from blood loss or infection.

All in all, not one of God's most charming creatures or something you're likely to run across on

Biologists are searching for an effective lampricide, but have yet to come up with something that doesn't also kill off other species. In 1996 the University of Minnesota demonstrated a creative but unfortunate approach to problem solving when it looked into ways that lampreys could be prepared and served as seafood. Chef Bob Bennet, of Bennets Bar & Grill in Duluth, Minnesota, devised a number of dishes including Lamprey Stew & Garlic Mashed Potatoes, and Arroz de Lampreia (lamprey rice).

Intrepid taste testers said the lamprey dishes tasted pretty good. However, researchers later discovered that the lamprey's super-predator position in the food chain caused them to become repositories for contaminating chemicals from the very fish they fed on. While this was an unfortunate development in the control of lampreys, it was definitely a boon to diners the world over.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Rich Get Richer

The economy is in recession. The value of your home is in the shitter, along with your IRA and 401(k). Your job looks shaky and unemployment is up, again. Gas is over $4.00 a gallon. And because of that, the price of everything is also heading skyward.

Good news seems hard to come by these days, so I'm sure you'll be as happy as I was to learn that a new AP IMPACT survey found compensation packages for CEOs continued to climb last year, despite the poor performance of their companies.

The median CEO pay package -- meaning that half made more and half less -- reached $8.4 million in 2007. This includes salary, bonuses, stock options and grants, deferred compensation, fringe benefits, perks, tips, big fat cigars and pony rides for the kids.

In all fairness, that's up only 3.5% from 2006. Which is probably around the amount of your raise last year, if you were lucky enough to receive one. But where that bump may amount to a couple thousand extra dollars in your annual paycheck, it adds up to a $280,000 gain for the median-earning lady or gentleman occupying the corner office.

Of course, some CEOs did better than than others.

Last month, Rick Wagoner, CEO of GM, announced the closure of four truck and SUV plants due to flagging sales and the high price of gas. This followed a $39 billion-with-a-B annual loss and a 19% drop in stock value. Way to keep a steady hand on the wheel, Rick, and well worth a 64% raise, which brought his annual salary to $15.7 million.

Jeff Mezger is CEO of KB Homes, which has been battered by the mortgage crisis and stalling home sales. Through it all, Jeff's able management guided his company to a $930 million loss and an accompanying 60% drop in its stock's value. For results like this, Jeff was awarded with $24.4 million in 2007, including a handsome $6 million bonus. Though for exactly what, I cannot say.

Profit at insurer XL Capital fell more than 80 percent last year, and its stock price slumped about 30 percent. But Chief Executive Brian O'Hara made $7.5 million, a raise of 23 percent. Obviously, this is a guy who knows how to fill out a self-evaluation form.

Meanwhile, jobs leave our country for sunnier and less regulated climes. 47 million Americans live without health insurance, but with the constant fear they will some day need medical care. And the United States goes to hell without even the benefit of a hand basket.

How much longer will we be able to take comfort from statistics like these, secure in the knowledge that at least America's CEOs will be taken care of, regardless of what befalls their companies or the rest of the country? How much longer will we be fortunate enough to share in even a small part of their success? How much longer can the rich get richer?

It's hard to say, but one thing is for sure. Times as good as these simply can't last forever.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Happy Horror News

Just received word that the +Horror Library+ Volume 3 from Cutting Block Press has accepted my story "The Living World."

In it, an anorexia patient shares a secret with her young counselor, which causes her to see the world in a new and frightening way.

Of nearly 500 stories submitted, "The Living World" is one of only 30 selected. I'll be appearing along with notables like Gary Braunbeck, Bentley Little, Michael Arnzen and my pal, Kurt Dinan. Actually, the entire anthology looks amazing. Even the cover is kick-ass. (The artist is Chad Michael Ward.)

Sincere thanks go out to R.J. Cavender and his editorial staff. I'm excited and honored to be included.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sexual Chemistry

Imagine my surprise when I found this inside the Pennysaver insert of my Sunday paper, tucked alongside coupons for peanut butter and fabric softener.

It celebrates the arrival of a new product from the Johnson & Johnson K-Y family: "couples lubricants" with gender-specific formulations. When combined, the two apparently create some kind of mind-blowing reaction.

The ad makes this point with no less than three hard-hitting lines of copy. The first, at the top, promises "exciting" sensations for him, "thrilling" sensations for her, and something "amazing" when the two come together.

The second, at the bottom, states, "Two people. Two products. Together, one amazing reaction."

And finally, on the package itself, something that reads like one part come-on, one part warning label. "His excites. Hers delights. Together they ignite."

Amazing? Reaction? IGNITE? One shudders to think what might happen if, while fumbling in the dark, these two products are not used strictly within the recommended guidelines.

But suppose they are. He puts his on that and she puts hers in there. I'd still suggest for safety's sake to make sure the kids are sound asleep, or even out of the house altogether. Because like any other chemical reaction, once this thing gets started it may be impossible to stop.

Even the photo -- two tubes, each glowing with its own inner fire -- promises a potentially hazardous experience.

Maybe I'm just too uptight for these times. Perhaps my mental and emotional development is arrested at the stage of a precocious 13-year-old. After all, this may be just what Mr. and Mrs. America have been waiting for to spice up their otherwise sporadic and routine love life. J&J might make billions and revolutionize the personal lubricants market segment. In the months and years to come, perhaps we'll all look back on this post and say that I was not only wrong, but judgmental and immature about it as well.

Heck, I might even be playing into the grimy hands of marketers with this post. But some things just can't go uncommented on. At least by me.

If you're curious and want to learn more -- or maybe just squirm uncomfortably at your computer -- check out the companion website at

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Company's Coming!

While my good friends Mr. and Mrs. Beavers are off conquering the European continent, Mrs. Beavers has graciously given me a prominent shout-out on her blog, I Am Mrs. Beavers.

So if you've just arrived from her place, anticipating some high-quality, Beavers-approved blogging, allow me to say, "Welcome!" I'll do my best to keep you entertained and behave like a gentleman, for I do not take Mrs. Beavers' trust lightly.

This may mean that, in addition to breaking out the good china and those appetizer recipes from the Better Homes and Gardens Book of Easy Entertaining, it could be time for those Joyce Wildenstein, Marilyn Manson and sea lamprey posts I've been saving for just the right occasion.

Make yourself comfortable. I'll be right back.

"Jack Ketchum's The Lost"

2008; written and directed by Chris Siverston; based on The Lost by Jack Ketchum

The only reason I'm writing a review about this film is because it took away two hours of my life that I'll never get back, and I feel like I should at least get a blog post for enduring it.

Also, warning others about it may be considered some type of community service.

Here's the plot: small-town sociopathic teen kills two girls, gets away with it, and kills a bunch of other people four years later. In between, the film rambles for an hour and forty-five minutes before ending in a drawn-out scene of torture porn.

I was suckered in by Jack Ketchum's name on the front of the box. Ketchum has been writing horror fiction since the '80s and is finally becoming something of a brand name for his efforts, including the novel on which The Lost is based. I can only imagine that this book is not one of his best or, if it is, that the film adaptation was woefully botched.

If you're looking to be bored for an hour and forty-five minutes then grossed out for fifteen, The Lost will probably be your bucket of blood. If you're looking for something else -- and honestly, who isn't? -- I recommend letting The Lost stay that way.

The best thing I can say about this film? The DVD cover looks mighty nice against my site design.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Office Horror

Offices can be scary.

James Lileks, whose site I read daily despite his often conservative leanings, once speculated that beneath every office desk is an invisible hole in the floor, down which your life slowly drains.

Mr. Lileks works from home. I sometimes refer to him as "the fucker who got my life."

In the nineties I wrote a story about an office where management put a drug in the coffee to make people work constantly. I wrote another one about a guy who works so late that when he leaves the office the only bus available to him is one that goes to a cemetery.

I can understand the desire to make office life funny -- countless movies and sit-coms have been doing it for years. But why aren't more people mining offices for horror? Or have I just missed them?