Monday, July 28, 2014

Walkers, Walls, and Wayward Cats

I've never lived anywhere before that people go out of their way to visit. Sure, I grew up in Chicago where millions of tourists flock yearly to look out over the city from atop the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower and eat what is unquestionably the world's finest pizza. But they never visited my neighborhood way out on the Southwest Side, so there weren't people wandering down my street with expensive cameras dangling off their necks.

But now, suddenly, I find myself in a tourist destination. Senoia, Georgia looks like that idyllic old-fashioned small town that only exists in your grandmother's imperfect memory. And apparently the film industry agrees.

Senoia was used as the backdrop for the formerly zombie-free town of Woodbury in The Walking Dead Season 3. It's been used as a setting for lots of other TWD episodes, too, including Season 4's infamous Pudding House and the never ending railroad tracks that everyone finds themselves walking along. And now they're prepping for at least two more years of TWD filming in my backyard.

On July 7, the Senoia City Council agreed to let Raleigh Studios build a 15-foot corrugated steel wall around an entire neighborhood near the downtown area. The buildings in that neighborhood were originally constructed as a "living backlot" with unique homes that are not only private residences, but also offer filming locations with a particular look.

Speculation is rampant about exactly what's going to happen within the wall. The word is that what's inside will not only be a filming location, but also the wall itself will be a prominent feature in upcoming episodes. An advantage of this wall is that it will have guarded gates that keep out "Walker Stalkers" (fans who want to watch filming and hopefully snag an autograph from one of the show's stars) and those who want to post online spoilers about upcoming plots.

Filming for Season 5's episodes inside the wall is scheduled for September through November, 2014. Then last week, the studio went back to the Senoia City Council and requested permission to extend the length of time the wall can be up. They asked for 2019, but had to settle for 2016 because this city council can't approve a project that will extend beyond its time in office.

What did TWD's huge fan base do upon hearing this exciting news? They descended upon Senoia in even greater numbers than before. It's a blast to walk down the street here and see smiling tourists taking pictures of each other with the town of "Woodbury" over their shoulders. They're carrying bags of souvenirs from The Walking Dead Store. They're visiting restaurants in hopes of a celebrity sighting. They're taking Georgia Mercantile's tours of TWD filming locations. Whenever a motorcycle drives past, everyone cranes their necks to see if Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon's alterego) is on it.

And if zombies and tourists aren't enough to keep the folks of Senoia entertained, there have been articles in the local newspapers that a number of people have spotted a large black or brown panther-like cat prowling the countryside. It allegedly ate some woman's little dog. It leered at another woman and her pet cat from a tree. It jumped in front of someone's car. Witnesses claim the feline is about 5-6 feet long, including the tail. No one knows whether black panthers are making a reappearance in the State of Georgia or if maybe this was someone's pet that either escaped or was released because the owner sobered up and realized he was keeping a freaking panther in his house. There are still some people who say it's not a big cat, but a coyote.

I want to be the first to put forward another explanation entirely: The panther is a Walking Dead fan that's just here trying to get Daryl's autograph like everyone else. And he'd also like to know what's going on behind that big wall.

Stay tuned for updates about filming, felines, and fans.

Friday, July 11, 2014

It's Not My Fault I'm Wrong

Some of you have been asking how my cat Elliott's bid for the American presidency in 2016 is going. Things are moving along swimmingly, thanks for asking. Elliott has lost a pound – mostly in hair, I suspect, since his winter coat was pretty heavy – and he's looking sleek. His appetite is good. The other day his sister Rue (the soon-to-be First Lady) killed a rabbit and shared it with her brother under the decorative bridge in our backyard. It was a heartwarming family scene that the press would have loved if only they had responded to my call for a press conference.

Speaking of politics, the New York Times had an interesting article yesterday that has practical implications for Elliott's campaign in 2016. You know how you've got that bleeding heart liberal friend who's always moaning about the plight of the underprivileged or immigrants or whatever? She wants to give everyone's money to people who don't work or won't go through the legal immigration system. You can't even go out for lunch with this girl without her bringing everyone down by talking about disease in Africa or kidnappings in Central America. For some reason, she's got a mental block and can't understand when you explain how impractical her proposals for curing the world's ills are.

Or maybe you've got an uncle who insists on listening to Rush Limbaugh on the radio every day and spends family parties trying to convince everyone that George W. Bush was the greatest American president who ever lived. This uncle of yours insists that Bush's proactive invasion of two countries on the other side of the world protected the lives and property of all Americans. No matter how many times you point out the myriad reasons that these arguments don't make sense and how Bush should be behind bars, he won't listen.

Well, stop beating your head against the wall with your ultra-liberal or fanatically conservative friends and relatives. No matter what you say, it won't matter. That's the message of new studies that suggest political beliefs are genetically determined. In other words, it's in a person's DNA, and no matter how rational your arguments are, you're not going to convince people that their beliefs are wrong.
That takes a load off, doesn't it? Thank you, New York Times for discussing this research and helping us understand that we can stop wasting our breath trying to change the minds of everyone who holds different political viewpoints from our own. Elliott the Cat's campaign will use this information to avoid all discussion of political topics during his speeches and debates. Instead of talking politics which will just annoy people who have a genetic inability to agree with him, Elliott will simply rely on his cuteness factor by rubbing on the legs of voters and purring. He'll also catch mice in the garages of Electoral College members. Performing personal services like that for constituents is what Congress members call "casework."
In light of this new research, the only question that remains is what we will talk about at parties when we're not debating politics with friends and family? Maybe we can go back to making fun of that weird Greek guy your friend Maddy dated when she was studying abroad that year? Or maybe we can argue about who gets Grandma's jewelry when she dies someday? That's always good for a few laughs.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Cat Elliott for President

 Political pundits keep tossing around the name Jeb Bush as a possible presidential candidate for 2016. Yes, another guy from that Bush Family. Every time it happens, I scratch my head and wonder: What's wrong with these people? Isn't this country sick of Bush presidents yet? Are we so completely out of ideas that all we can do is repeat past mistakes?

Now, please don't think that I'm just some liberal who hates Republicans. I'm plenty sick of people named Clinton running for office, too.
So in the interest of patriotism, I'm prepared to lend a hand to a country that's obviously out of ideas for acceptable presidential candidates. My cat Elliott would make a great president. Our campaign slogan is Elliott 2016: He likes tuna.

Elliott works hard to keep American yards free of moles.
Elliott is fully qualified for this job. The U.S. Constitution says presidents must be natural-born citizens, which Elliott must be since I found him in Illinois. There's no reason a stray cat would walk to Illinois from Mexico or Canada – and definitely not Kenya – so he must be American. Elliott is six years old, which is 42 in human years, meaning he's over the minimum age of 35 that the Constitution mandates. The Constitution doesn't say that presidents must be human. He's also non-partisan, which means he can bridge the gap between Republicans and Democrats.
Here are just a few more reasons why Elliott would be an excellent president:

Like 26th President Teddy Roosevelt, he's a skilled hunter. But instead of slaughtering majestic, rare creatures for sport, he eliminates disease-carrying, garden-destroying pests like mice and moles.
Future First Lady Rue
Like former Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin, he devours his kills raw and in one piece, leaving only the head.

Like 24th President Grover Cleveland, he's unmarried, so his sister will act as First Lady. And like President Cleveland's sister Rose, Elliott's sister Rue is feral and lives primarily outside. That means she'll host all official events in the White House Rose Garden.

 Unlike all recent presidents, Elliott won't take semi-weekly vacations to Hawaii or Martha's Vineyard or a Texas ranch that the American public foots the bill for. Think of the savings on jet fuel for Air Force One alone.

Unlike 42nd President Bill Clinton, Elliott's been neutered, which means no embarrassing incidents with interns in the Oval Office.
As an added bonus, Elliott is not a lap cat, which means he won't get hair all over German Chancellor Angela Merkel's austere lady-suits when she visits the White House.

And perhaps most important, unlike Jeb Bush, Elliott the Cat is unaffiliated with the likes of Dick Cheney or Karl Rove.
So for 2016, don't bother with all the same old tired politicians who've disappointed us year after year. Think Elliott. He likes tuna.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Balancing on the Platform

I spent this afternoon at a presentation by historical fiction author Victoria Wilcox. One of the topics she brought up that raised a lot of questions among the audience members was about building an author's "platform." Apparently both aspiring and published authors have questions about what a "platform" is and how to create a successful one. I was among those with questions, and not surprisingly, I walked away feeling overwhelmed.

Modern authors are told repeatedly that we have to promote our own work by any means necessary. Those means always include – but aren't limited to – a website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, and a zillion other social media avenues that have been created in the past 15 minutes. Apparently that contact with the public which can be used to sell books is an author's platform.
During today's presentation, Wilcox suggested that smart authors volunteer details about the dreaded platform when they're sending out query letters to literary agents and editors. When I heard that, it reminded me of the time that an agent asked what my platform was after I submitted a query to her for a nonfiction book. At the time, I was unclear on the concept. My first thought was that the agent was supposed to help me built a platform by securing a book deal. Yes, go ahead and laugh; I was naïve.
Needless to say, hearing people talk about their platforms today made me feel guilty about how I neglect both my blog and my Twitter account. I regularly talk myself out of posting by asking why anyone would want to read the ramblings of a stranger when they could instead be doing anything else on the planet. But it seems that putting material out there for the public to read is exactly what having a platform is all about.
No one reads it, but at least you can say that you're making the effort. At least you can write in your submission letters that you have a blog, and it's possible to post a link to it on your website. At least it makes you seem like you're not a complete Neanderthal when it comes to technology. Maybe it even makes you appear to be a serious writer. And if nothing else, it demonstrates that you have a clue what a platform is. Which puts you head and shoulders above where I was not too long ago.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Escape from LinkedIn

I need to get off the grid. Totally, completely unplugged from all electronics and modern technology. That's the only way to make LinkedIn leave me alone. Of course, I'm just speculating here. It's entirely possible that even if I'm living in a cave in a godforsaken wilderness, catching fish with my bare hands and fighting off grizzly bears that want to steal my hand-caught fish, LinkedIn might still find me. They'll drop little parachutes over me with messages tied to them, like the soon-to-be slaughtered tributes get in The Hunger Games. The LinkedIn parachutes will say, "A person who you once bought a used dishwasher from wants to connect with you on LinkedIn. They endorse you for 'Cleanliness.' Would you like to Accept?"
And if I ignore the request, as everyone in the real world does, then LinkedIn will keep sending requests. More and more little parachutes will drop onto my primitive campsite, starting the trees ablaze when they land near my campfire, attracting more grizzlies, scaring away the fish. And just like in the real world, there won't be any way to stop them. If I wad the stupid things up and throw them back at the sky, a new parachute will appear that says, "We're sorry, but your recent update to this support ticket came from an email address that's not the primary email address associated with your account." And of course, I'll need my log in information to use the Help Center to update my email address. Which I don't have because I'm living in a cave in the woods in order to escape LinkedIn.
I joined LinkedIn a couple years ago because they had started sending me messages to get me to "connect" with some friend-of-a-friend who was already a member. I didn't want to join, but I couldn't find any way to stop the messages from the outside, so I thought I'd and gain access and bring them down from the inside. No such luck. The "connect" messages continued, but now they were coming in greater numbers. Now, people who I was peripherally associated with were "endorsing" me for skills and apparently expecting me to endorse them in return.
I tried ignoring the requests, but LinkedIn keeps sending them. They're relentless. So I tried just saying "Yes, connect with this random person for God's sake!" but then I'd have to log in every time. Which begins the nightmare of digging through a drawer looking for current login passwords. All so I can make an email go away.
Last month I got so disgusted, I made a serious effort to make it stop. I tried to cancel my account and I found a link that would put me on a blocked email list. It seemed to work for a little while, until just recently when I started getting their emails again. Only this time, my login information doesn't work, probably because I might have cancelled the account. So I can't accept "connect" requests because I can't log in. And when I request help, they send me a link to their help center which requires a login.
I've tried multiple times to send them emails to make their communications stop, but every time I get the same response about how my email came from an email address that's not the primary email address on my account. First of all, I shouldn't have an account anymore because I can't log into it. But also, I swear I've sent them cancel requests from every single email address I've ever owned in my life, but still I get this same message. I think it's all just a huge trick being played on the American public. There's actually no way to unsubscribe. We're all supposed to keep receiving this nonsense until every man, woman, and child on the planet is "connected" and "endorsing" one another. Then LinkedIn will own the world.
In my efforts to unsubscribe, I've tried being nice, I've tried being polite, but after too many futile attempts, my most recent communication to LinkedIn went like this:
If that friendly missive doesn't work, the only way to escape is to go totally off the grid and hope LinkedIn can't find me. And I mean totally off the grid: using pinecones as toilet paper, skinning deer with tree bark, growing a Duck Dynasty beard even though I'm a woman.
I haven't received a reply yet from my latest email, but when I do it will no doubt say something like, "Some woman you vaguely knew in high school in the 1980s wants to connect with you. She endorses you for 'writing up chemistry lab reports' and 'wearing leg warmers.' Log in to accept." But I won't be able to read it because I'll be crouched in a forest someplace, brushing my teeth with a rock.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

To Sochi or not to Sochi?

When Olympics time comes around, I always honor the Games by wrestling with myself over whether to watch or not. Spending two weeks in front of the TV watching other people exercise isn't going to benefit me in any way. So this year I put together a list of pros and cons to help me decide.

-        Shaun White's hair
-        There's nothing else on
-        Epic fail figure skating crashes
-        Epic fail crashes for all other sports
-        Possibility of learning what a triple lutz is
-        Personal stories of athletes overcoming hardship to compete in Games
-        Watching U.S. athletes win
-        Being patriotic and supporting my team
-        Halfpipe and figure skating are the rare women's sports that are entertaining

-        Shaun White cut his hair this year
-        Could watch commercial-free DVDs instead
-        Figure skating reminds me of Tonya Harding
-        Curling doesn't move fast enough for epic fails
-        Lack of room in my brain for triple lutz
-        Athletes act like these pointless contests are as important as curing cancer
-        Watching U.S. athletes lose to tiny countries that don't even have snow
-        Won't make me smarter, richer, thinner, or more accomplished
-        Excuse to seem patriotic while just wasting time
-        No gymnastics in Winter Games

It seems like a wash, but I'll probably end up watching parts of the Olympics like usual. Something interesting usually happens that people are talking about, and it's always good to see that live. This year, I’m expecting Russian President Vladimir Putin to put exiled American NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in his presidential box with him for the Opening Ceremonies. And if the pair of them fail to land the triple lutz, then all the better.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Do Not Mow

It looks like Walking Dead might be revving up for some more filming in Senoia, Georgia this upcoming week. The now-familiar sign is back on Route 16 that says the street in front of the Senoia Library will be closed all day from September 23 until the 29th. It was shut down like that a couple weeks ago for WD filming, but I didn't want to jump to any conclusions.

So yesterday, I drove down the street to see if there was any other sign that there might be zombies invading Senoia this week. Sure enough, the lawns lining the street had "Do Not Mow" signs stuck in them. Normally that wouldn't mean much to me, but according to people who live in neighborhoods where they've filmed before, the WD producers sometimes pay homeowners in filming locations to not mow their lawns. This makes it look like the homes aren't being taken care of after their owners turn into mindless feeding machines.

Who would have guessed that during a zombie apocalypse, yard maintenance is the first thing to suffer.