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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Are You Questioning My Authority? You Are? Damn!

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When you take care of pets professionally, one thing you begin to recognize is the power struggle that exists between the pet and you. As the hired caretaker, their perception of your place in the hierarchy of their household requires some scrutiny. I often used to joke that some pets thought of it like this: 1) themselves 2) their owner 3) the other pets/toys 4) the plants 5) me. Of course this wasn’t always true, but dealing with the pampered pets that I have, I ran into it quite often. Enough to dedicate a blog to it at any rate.
One of my first clients was an elderly woman’s extremely spoiled cocker spaniel. When this dog wanted something, she wanted it NOW. I’d taken her out for a walk before a Packer’s/Vikings game, wanting to make sure I had no distractions. Barely the first quarter had gone by and she wanted to go out again. Since she’d already done her business, I told her to wait until halftime (yes, she understood me, of this I am certain). When I wouldn’t make with the walk she jumped up on the couch, looked me in the eye, squatted, and took a piss. It was a white couch.
Another dog I cared for on a regular basis demanded a certain amount of playtime per day and, if it wasn’t met, would get quite surly. The amount of time he wanted to play? Every waking minute. While I was in his house nothing would do but that I constantly throw a toy or ball for him. The owners would tell me later that he slept for three days straight after I’d taken care of him.
Not all of them were so funny. One dog actually got violent with me if I wouldn’t let her have her way. When I walked her she would get agitated when she saw other dogs, and when I wouldn’t allow her to chase after them she would bite me instead. Fortunately she was a little dog, but the bites still hurt. On one occasion she wanted to go outside and bark at something (squirrels, birds, leaves blowing by) and when I didn’t let her she crept up on me stealthy as a fox (are foxes really that stealthy? For the purposes of this blog let’s say they are) where I was lying on the couch. She jumped on my chest and stood over me, her face in mine. I froze, watching her carefully. Before I could say ‘nice little doggy doggy’ she took my lips in her teeth and bit me so hard I thought I was going to require a visit to the emergency room. Pulling her off must have been a hilarious sight; it’s too bad I don’t have video to post on youtube. To this day I have a small, white, crescent shaped scar on my top lip you can see clearly when I smile.
Yes, the question of authority has been raised by many of my furry friends, and my job first and foremost has always been to let them have their way as much as possible, just so I don’t get hurt.

 

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Give Me Booze Or Give me Death! Four Stages of Hangovers

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I started this blog with the idea of solely writing humorous stories about running a pet-sitting business while trying to make the time to write and have found, alas, that I want to write about other things. So, off-topic again, here we go! But, actually, it does relate, because technically it is about the business, just not about writing. Hell, no one cares anyway…
In 2009 my self-owned, self-run business became a seven-day a week job. Gone were the lazy, blissful, carefree days of old when I had days off. Now I was expected to be someplace (several someplaces) every day. The main reason I allowed the business to function in this manner was because I wanted to keep everyone happy by making myself readily available. Also, the business constantly changed; the majority of my clients, I discovered with no small amount of frustration, were of a selfish nature. Once they no longer needed me I was discarded like a gum wrapper. To keep things floating I had to bob, weave, parry and spin, and if it meant taking on clients every day, then by God I’d do it.
Unfortunately, a hold over from my gigging musician days was my love of the occasional ‘drunkening’, a term I’ve stolen from Homer Simpson. I no longer imbibed like a sailor on shore leave on a daily basis (nor did I have the time) but every now and then (about twice a month) I liked to toss back a few and play my guitar. The problem, as it were, was that I now had to get up every day, so I knew there were going to be a couple days a month that were going to be, how you say? Less than stellar.
So I’ve come up with the three stages of hangovers (actually there are four, but that one is for hardcore partiers only) that I’d like to share, and just how miserable they are to get through.
Stage One: This is purely a beginners level. This is the hangover a daily drinker feels on a good day, after a ‘maintenance dosage’. This was mostly how I felt for about ten years. In other words, no problem.
Stage Two: Taking the rabbit further down the hole, this one has you feeling a touch more blurry and sleepy, but after a cup of coffee or two you can still greet the day with some modicum of aplomb, as long as there is no heavy lifting required.
Stage Three: Okay, the gloves are off. This one sucks. Instead of wine or beer you were drinking Jack straight out of the bottle; these types of binges usually include something else (hopefully just weed) and scattered memories the next day suggest you may have done something foolish (or downright idiotic). The day is going to be long and torturous. The toilet bowl is your friend on both ends and coffee (nor anything else) will stay down. Can’t wait ‘til this day is over.
Defcon Four: All right, for those of you who have never been to this stage, consider yourself lucky. This is what nightmares are made of. I’d hate to divulge anything in this blog that may make me lose credibility with any of the more sensitive readers (yeah, right!) but I’ve been known to take a toot of blow from time to time. This is Defcon Four land. This is the hangover with NO sleep, the one that makes you believe in God or possibly the acceptance of life after death (simply because you want to die). A hangover so bad in which your phone is in hand, wanting desperately to call in sick because you don’t even feel safe getting behind the wheel of your car but NO! The show must go on. The first thing you think about upon getting out of bed is taking a nap (yes, I said no sleep but that doesn’t mean an attempt wasn’t made to get some). You can hardly even shave because your hands are shaking (right now you are asking yourself: do I really want this man to walk my dog?) and only after the sunlight hits your dilated pupils can you finally utter one long, painful, anguished scream…
It has been a long time since Defon Four for me (actually, I think it was 2010; the guy I bought cocaine from moved out of town and I didn’t have time to find a new dealer), and I have to admit I’m glad he left; had he not I’d probably still have his number on speed-dial.
Yes, this business has commanded I jump through quite a few hoops, has made me be more responsible when all I desire is the opposite, but that’s a good thing. I can save the crazy shenanigans for when my books finally start selling; I’ll then become a crazier public persona than Charlie Sheen. I can’t wait!

 

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Buy My Book Or Everyone Dies! And Other Clever Ways To market Your Book

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This blog is generally about humorous pet sitting stories but I am going off-topic momentarily to write about something that may be of interest to writers, both fiction and nonfiction. As you’ve no doubt found out, experts in the publishing industry will always go out of their way to tell you that to professionally publish you need a ‘platform’, which is industry jargon for a way to garner an audience. Without some professional achievement, award of merit, or other endorsement you have no clear way of reaching readers, and that is what a publisher will want to establish: whether or not you are going to sell books. Talent is secondary, and if you don’t believe me pick up a copy of Fifty Shades Of Gray and marvel at its literary prowess. Writing is a business, like anything else.
So in these modern times we now have POD, or print on demand. Nowadays, anyone can publish a book. No longer does your manuscript have to sit in the drawer, languishing after each failed attempt at getting a professional to read it (someone you haven’t paid to read it). Now you can take matters into your own hands and get it out there into the market, selling it on Amazon.com or any other place that accepts self-published books. And if you look at the bestseller lists there are indeed self-published books on them, doing quite well.
Okay, now that we’ve established that, I have some words of advice. Eight months ago I finished a novel I planned to self-publish. I’d done the traditional route for many, many years, finding that publishers were looking for more reasons to say ‘no’ to my manuscripts than they were to saying ‘yes’. I figured I would bypass them and release and market my own book. I did my research, picked a publisher and established a marketing plan. I will say this once but I may repeat it later: nothing can prepare you for the journey, what it may actually hold for you and your book.
I worked my ass off for years, saving my money. By the time my book, The Gyre Mission: Journey to the *sshole of the World was ready, I had about $12,000 set aside to invest in it. Publishing the book isn’t where you are going to spend much, it’s the advertising. All tallied, I spent under $2000 on publishing, copyrighting etc. I went the cheap route and edited the book myself (not recommended) so I could save around $3000 (professional editors charge by the word, and my book was about 280,000 words. At twelve cents a word…you do the math). So with publishing and editing you are looking at around $4000, give or take. Next I hired someone to create a website. This cost me $1000. Then I hired a marketing firm to the tune of $6000 for a three-month advertising campaign. Acting upon their advice I then spent two to six hundred dollars a month for four months on other promotions (they did not tell me where to spend my money, they simply gave me ideas and I made the decisions myself).
I learned many things. Firstly, I’ve only just begun; five months of promotions is merely the beginning. Secondly, you are going to realize how many human parasites are out there, ready to try and con you out of your money and/or book rights and/or dignity. In order to get book reviews I pitched it to many blog sites, book review sites, etc. Maybe one in ten replied to queries. Beware of sites that want money for reviewing your book; they are most often a scam. One in particular, Review The Book, required $25 for ‘site maintenance’. They looked reputable but turned out to be thieves.
I joined book-reading sites such as Goodreads and Librarything and entered my book into free giveaways. In a certain period of time (a week, a month) people enter the contest and when the time expires winners are picked, addresses are sent to you and you send them the books. Great idea, good promotion. The idea is they will read them and offer feedback on the site, book reviews that will help you to sell more copies. The downside is that there are many professional booksellers that lurk on those sites, vying for free merchandise they can sell. It was barely two weeks after I’d sent books to ten lucky winners (taking seven days to ship via ‘Media Mail’) when I found them for sale on ebay and Amazon.com. Right now you are saying to yourself: ‘your book sucked and they wanted to get something out of it. Maybe they were too lazy to burn it’. As you may recall, the book is 280,000 pages. Of everyone who read it, the fastest anyone made it through was in three weeks. I read it in eight days once, but I really dedicated myself to it, and I know the story. These books were for sale, used, after less than a week of arriving at their destinations. Think what you will, but their profiles (I know these peoples names; I was, after all, given all of their info to send them the books) on ebay and Amazon.com are professional sellers. And go to Amazon.com and simply try and sell them a used book. You have to set up an account, blah blah blah. They don’t just throw away cash on used books, especially one from an unknown author. But the joke is on them: I’m having a hell of time selling it. Good luck!
At this point, all told, I’ve given away more copies than I have sold, and the books that are selling used I don’t see a profit on. Again, you may be thinking: ‘This guy is a shitty writer and his book sucks ass’. Go to my website http://www.edgarswamp.com and read a sample. I think you’ll be surprised.
My main point with all of this (besides bitching about the vultures on the reading sites), is that yes, you can self-publish to get your work out there, but if you don’t have an audience have at least $10,000 you can invest. If you don’t have any marketing money, it isn’t worth it. 300,000 books were published in 2012; yours will merely be one of them, vying for people’s attention.
All this said I’m glad I did it. I don’t learn anything unless I do it myself. And I haven’t given up hope; I know it’s a good book and it just has to find its audience. That is my biggest piece of advice: believe in yourself. At the end of the day that might be the only thing you have left.

 

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Hey brother, can ya spare a tab of acid?

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Before I took my writing seriously I was a musician, a guitarist/singer/songwriter. I played in dozens of rock/metal/grunge bands, traveling around the United States in old, dilapidated vehicles that had seen better days when Carter was president. I took my music VERY seriously, actually thought I could become a professional if I stuck with it. I’ll be honest right here simply because it feels good to do so: yes, I could have been a professional in a niche band, something along the lines of The Melvins, Mudhoney, or the Supersuckers (okay, I wasn’t that bad) but I wasn’t, like, the next Kurt Cobain. I didn’t know that then, of course, otherwise I probably would have given up and gone back to writing. ‘The Gyre Mission: Journey to the *sshole of the World’ is my official coming out party as a serious writer, having written a lot of crap before it but, like with my music, I thought the other novels and stories were good at the time.
Anyhow, seeing America via the poverty route is truly something. You meet a lot of strange people, stay in a lot of even stranger places and have to get very creative about how you go about eating every day (if indeed you are able to procure a daily meal). I’ve lived in warehouses, lumberyards, state parks and, once, in a beat-up ’81 Ford Escort station wagon for about a month. I’ve also worked just about every crappy job there is, having gotten stranded in many towns when there was no money for gas (or I got kicked out of a band for being a derelict and subsequently left behind to fend for myself). In 1994 I found myself in Atlanta, Georgia, having lost my job as lead singer of a grunge band in Raleigh, North Carolina because during a show (while on LSD) I picked up the rythem guitarist and threw him into the crowd. Needless to say, they didn’t catch him. Anyhow, I was staying in a trashy motel on Ponce De Leon in Little Five Points, the cultural epicenter of the ‘hip’ scene in Atlanta. Musicians, artists, actors, writers…they all congregated there to get their fledgling careers jump-started. As I sat in the shitty room, contemplating my fate as well as mourning the loss of Kurt Cobain, an idealistic-turned-bitter-icon, I became aware of the sound of someone being choked, coming through the a.c. vent. Their breathing was tortured, panting and grunting, and every so often it was punctuated by the soft ‘thud’ of what could only be a fist striking human flesh. I became deadly certain that someone was being murdered, so I called down to the front desk, explaining to them the situation. My account was met with a blasé silence, no assurance that it would be looked into. In fact, the desk clerk hung up on me. So I sat there and listened, and eventually the noise subsided. I was sure that whatever was going on up there I’d be reading about the next day in the paper, but that never happened. In retrospect I’m sure it was a sex game involving asphyxiation and S&M type torture. I forget the name of the motel, but it had a strip club in the basement featuring some of the most bruised (yet hot) chicks I’d ever seen. Atlanta is very big on strip clubs and the laws very lax. Full nudity was the norm in most joints.
There was a club I hung out at (yet another forgotten name but I think it was called something like The Warehouse; it was a converted factory turned music/dance/S&M club) and it had three levels: the first floor was Hell (a leather/bondage club) the middle floor was Purgatory (a dance club) and the third Heaven (a live music venue). I’d be there to see cutting edge bands and folks in full body leather bondage suits with their slaves on a collar and leash (on all fours) would wander up from the first floor. I never quite knew what to make of them, these leather-clad freaks, and I almost never looked them in the eye.
I worked as a telemarketer for a while in Conyers, a tiny town thirty miles south of Atlanta. The place was insane, populated by misfits and miscreants of every kind. The owner kept loaded automatic weapons in his office and snorted cocaine off his desktop. In the heat of an especially brutal summer when the a.c. went out he bought us whiskey, beer and blow to keep us at our desks working. I blacked out at one point and have no recollection of driving back to Atlanta. All I do remember is that I didn’t go home; instead I went to a warehouse I’d recently vacated (I’d left amidst a chaotic backdrop of acrimony and moved into a lumberyard with a marijuana activist group) and got into a fistfight with a drug dealer and his buddy/body guard. I call it a ‘fistfight’ but actually I did most of the damage to myself; while they held me down on a concrete floor I flailed and thrashed and battered my own face on the cement. The moral of that story: make sure the a.c. doesn’t go out in August in Atlanta; you never know what is going to happen.
I worked in a restaurant as a line cook for a while after that, a trendy place where Michael Stipe (singer of REM) ate all the time. I did terrible things to his food because I didn’t like his band (don’t tell him, he might get pissed). Henry Rollins ate there once and I wanted to meet him. I rushed out into the dining room preparing to approach him and declare: “Dude, you are, like, the true embodiment of punk rock!” and when I got within five feet of the table he fixed me with such an icy, homicidal glare I stopped dead in my tracks, frozen. I was wearing jeans that needed to be washed three months ago, ripped t-shirt in the same shape, and a filthy apron stained with humus, salad dressing, human blood (my own) and so on. My hair was wild and crazy, my face that of a rabid, sycophantic fan. As he glowered I quickly realized he probably didn’t want to be bothered and I fled. To this day I still think that was the right move.
A few weeks later I decided to get out of Atlanta; the drug dealer I’d had the skirmish with wanted me dead and several members of the marijuana activist group were arrested for possession of narcotics and unregistered firearms. The only reason I wasn’t in jail with them was because I’d scraped up enough cash to go to the movies; when the DEA raided the place I wasn’t home.
And then I was in Chicago, staying in a closet-sized room infested with so many roaches they fell off the ceiling onto my head at night. Three months later I was in Milwaukee, playing in a post-grunge band called Gasoline Heart. If that name sounds familiar it isn’t because you heard MY music; Paul Westerburg of ‘The Replacements’ has a band by that name presently. I failed to trademark the name so it was up for grabs. I’m sure he thinks he came up with it. Whatever…

 

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