Odyssey of the Heliotrope

Getting a full length novel published is a long and time consuming process. So for those of you who just can’t wait I’m going to be making some shorter pieces available through e-publication. The first of these is Odyssey of the Heliotrope, a story about an ill-fated  interstellar trip to colonize a foreign planet and what happens when things don’t go the way they are expected to.

It can be found on Amazon.com for the very low cost of .99 cents.




Na No Wri Mo Update #2

Today is the tenth day of November, which means it is one third of the way through National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). As of today, without having added today’s word count, (Which I’m procrastinating by writing this post) I have roughly 14,000 words.  By the end of today I will have at least 15,000 words.

If I can keep this rate up I’ll finish with 45,000 words or so. A good start, not quite as many words as I originally hoped, but it’s easier to add material than subtract it.

I still have no clue where the story is going. (That’s a lie. I wrote an outline that I’m generally sticking to) I don’t have a title or really know what the story is about. (This is true) But despite this I have been diligently adding new words, and forcing myself to not get bogged down with rewriting.

This process is so much different from the one I used for my last book, Boom Town. With that book I spent at least six months plodding through a 60,000 word rough draft, only to throw out 40,000 words rewrite it, show it and re-write it ad nauseum. With this process I’m finding myself chained to a word count, much higher than Hemingway’s, but also less constrained by trying to make story elements fit perfectly. The frenetic drive for a higher daily word count means I will inevitably be forced to re-write 2/3 of what I write, but that would probably be the case anyway. At least with NaNoWriMo I know by the end of the month I will have a complete story. After that I can spend the next five months trying to make it a good one and still not spend as much time as I spent on the last novel.

Na No Wri Mo

It’s November, which means it’s National Novel Writing Month or (Na No Wri Mo). Na No Wri Mo is exactly what it seems, it’s an attempt by authors to write a book in a month.  If you want more details, http://nanowrimo.org.

Now, in the past I’ve avoided Na No Wri Mo, mainly because writing is rewriting, and trying to speed through a piece is a recipe for disaster.  This year is different because I find myself in-between pieces and want a way to kick start a new project.  So while I’m not going to be jumping on board completely I will be attempting to write a complete draft of a novel by November 30.

I began this in ernest on November 1st, with a project I had been brain storming, but had not yet begun to write. I figure that I need at least a minimum goal of 1,000 words a day, with a overall desired average of about 16,250 words a week or about 60-65,000 words total. Today I have 6,686 words, but I haven’t written anything today, so in four days I’ve almost hit half.



Blasphemy in Oklahoma City: You Have The Right to be Offended 

Founding Father Thomas Paine, in his book The Age of Reason, wrote, “One man’s revelation is another man’s heresy.” While it’s certain these words, written in a French Jail cell, weren’t intended for the American Republic that Paine helped inspire, they are however applicable to the current political situation we live in today. Specifically, they apply to the uproar over Satanists using the Oklahoma CitySpace Theater for a black mass.

With the exception of religious fundamentalists, and revisionist historians like David Barton, most Americans recognize that our country was founded as a secular nation, all be it one with a Christian majority. But regardless of personal religious sentiment or lack there of, the founding fathers explicitly established a secular government by ratifying the First Amendment and its establishment clause.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution enshrines certain rights including the right to speak freely, the right to practice one’s religion, or not, and the right to be free from establishment, by the state or federal government, of a religion. What the First Amendment doesn’t protect is the right to be free from offense, or to prevent hearing speech religious or otherwise that one disagrees with.

Unfortunately, some people like Phyllis Zagano seem to believe that because they have a strongly held religious belief that it should receive special protection. Additionally, that those who hold a religious belief that differs from hers, and which Phyllis finds blasphemous should not be entitled to equal protection under the law, and should explicitly be precluded from freely speaking, or exercising their religious beliefs when those beliefs and statements rise to a level that Phyllis or others find offensive.

In a recent article for the National Catholic Reporter, Phyllis tries to argue that the Constitution should protect her from having to live in a world where other people have religious beliefs and practices that differ from her own. Specifically, Phyllis wants to shut down those nasty Satanists in Oklahoma, and prevent them from exercising their First Amendment rights to freely speak and practice their religion.


Unfortunately for Phyllis and the others like her, the First Amendment doesn’t protect her feelings, or allow her to shut down speech that she considers blasphemous, profane or heretical. In fact the First Amendment is designed to protect everyone from people exactly like Phyllis.

It’s clear from reading this article that Phyllis, like the countless other Christians, up in arms against the Satanists, don’t really understand the First or Fourteenth Amendment. Not one to let her ignorance on constitutional law prevent her from exercising her right to speech, Phyllis claims not only a right to be free from offense, but also the unique ability to determine what constitutes a legitimate religion and political speech. She asks. “Who can think Satanism is a religion?” “Who thinks a ‘black mass’ is political speech?”

Well Phyllis, to answer your question, I for one do. But I’m not alone, the United States Constitution, and a ton of legal precedent supports this belief. I, the City Manager, and countless others correctly understand that the First and Fourteenth Amendment does indeed protect what you term, “blasphemous hate speech.”

Oklahoma has anti-blaspheme laws, antiquated laws, which violate the First Amendment, by precluding people from freely exercising their right to freedom of speech and their right to freely exercise their religious beliefs. More over, anti-blaspheme laws come into conflict with the Establishment Clause, which precludes the government from showing favor for one set of religious beliefs.

While Phyllis correctly identifies Oklahoma’s blasphemy laws as being old fashioned, she fails to recognize that they are also unconstitutional and urges that they be used to prevent Satanists from freely exercising their religious beliefs, and offending her religious sensitivities, by holding a black mass where they will step on a wafer, that Phyllis believes is magical.

This is a product of what can be termed Christian Privilege.

Because the United States has a Christian majority, Christians receive significant privilege. As a result unconstitutional laws such as anti-blasphemy laws, or laws that preclude atheists from holding public office remain on the books in a number of states. However, they are unconstitutional and while still effective, are not enforced, because enforcement would be a violation of the First Amendment. That theses laws continue to remain on the books, is not a sign of their constitutionality, but only further proof that a majority of elected officials don’t care enough to vote to remove them.

Ignoring her own hypocrisy, Phyllis asks, “Why don’t Catholics get ‘equal protection of the laws’?” The answer is, they do. There is no constitutional protection to be free from speech that one considered blasphemous and hurts the sentiments of religious people.

The reason her question is hypocritical, is because she tries to use the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, to deny equal protection of the First Amendment to people whose beliefs offend her. What Phyllis and others like her demand, is not equal protection, but the right to discriminate against others, because their words, actions, and beliefs are deemed offensive. Or more simply put, because she finds their revelations to be heretical.

If this were a question of Christians being unfairly arrested under anti-blaspheme laws, Phyllis might have a legitimate point by invoking the Fourteenth Amendment. However, this is not the case. There are no cases of Catholics being punished for blaspheme, even though I could make a good argument that Phyllis’s very statements, constitute the wonton uttering of contumelious reproach upon a religion other than Christianity, which arises to the definition of blaspheme under Oklahoma law.

The reality is that Catholics have the right to use the Oklahoma CitySpace Theater for a religious rite. Because Catholics are afforded this ability other religions get the same benefit.  Included in this are religions that preach or hold positions in opposition to Catholicism. By refusing to allow other religions equal access to State facilities, Oklahoma City would be effectively violating of the First and Fourteenth Amendment.

Further to preclude speech on the basis that someone is offended would negate the very basis of the First Amendment’s right to free speech. Because the speech in question is religious in nature a preclusion on the basis that it’s offensive to other religions would also violate the free exercise and establishment clauses as well. This is a slippery slope that once started quickly ends in the United States looking like and Islamic Theocracy, with people being punished, for dissenting from the majority religious belief system, or merely saying they don’t believe in god(s).

As Paine said, “One man’s revelation is another man’s heresy,” meaning all religious speech, by its nature, is always going to be offensive to someone. Phyllis, who happens to be a member of the single largest sect of Christianity may be blind to the fact that some people find her opinions, beliefs, and religion offensive and blasphemous. But simply because her beliefs happens to be popular does not mean they receive special protections. The First Amendment was designed to prevent this type of slippery slope. Enshrined within that Amendment are a number of rights, but the right to not be offended, or to shut down speech on the basis of offense is not one of them.

Cheaper Than Therapy

Standing at the paint table for what seemed like the umpteenth time (really only the fifth) sanding spot putty and primer from my gas tank I began to wonder, what’s the point. Why am I doing this? Why am I spending over a dozen hours trying to smooth down the lumps, fill the holes, and round the curves? Wouldn’t it be better to spend my hours toiling on a project that pays me money so I can just hire someone else, someone more skilled, someone who could do a better job than I could ever do?

TIM before

TIM before the rebuild.

The resounding answer is no. I wouldn’t be better off letting someone else do it. Why? Because the point isn’t the end result. No matter how misshapen, or terrible the paint turns out, the point is the act of doing.

Tank all stripped with paint idea marked out.

Tank all stripped with paint idea marked out.

Some people build bikes, because they have a passion for it or because they can’t do anything else. Other people build them as a hobby, something fun to pass the time. And a few, mostly naive hipsters fueled by trust funds, foolishly try to build them as a way to fame, fortune, and glory.

Me, I work on my motorcycle as a form of therapy, It gives me something physical and tangible to show for my money and time. Something that works, something that’s not just bought with money, something I’ve built.


This is way too much bondo.

This is way too much bondo.

When I first left my big boy job as an associate attorney, the one with the secretary, paralegal, office with a view, healthcare, and decent salary. I thought I was crazy. Many of my friends, who were still struggling to find work, almost two years after being licensed agreed. At the time I was despondent and filled with anxiety, so I began to see a therapist. Once a week for over six months I sat there telling him all my problems, paying him money to listen. Eventually though I realized that instead of repeating my same problems, I needed to do something.


A lot less bondo, not quite, but getting there.

A lot less bondo, not quite, but getting there.

I don’t have anything against therapists. I find they can be helpful and I have at times benefited greatly from talking to them. But for me the act of creating is ultimately more therapeutic than sitting around endlessly talking about my thoughts and feelings.

Building a motorcycle is more than just a hobby, it allows me, even if for a brief period of time each week to turn off my over active brain and ignore the problems I see in the world. It doesn’t matter if it’s, the rising trend of religious fundamentalism, Russian separatists in Ukraine shooting down a jetliner, the ups and downs of the stock market, my frustration with a piece of fiction, or just my often depressed and anxiety ridden thoughts, even a bad day working on a bike allows me a respite. It allows me to escape into reality.

Underside painted with Truck bed liner.

Underside painted with Truck bed liner.

When I first got TIM I loved the knee dents and black pearlescent paint job. I wasn’t a fan of the silver stripes. So I took them off. In doing so I removed a not insignificant amount of paint, which led me down an epic rabbit hole. The knee dents were poorly done, and it was only massive amounts of paint, bondo, and spot putty that made the tank look decent. All of which only became apparent after I’d stripped the tank to bare metal.

Mandatory selfie of your Intrepid author covered in dust.

Mandatory selfie of your intrepid author covered in dust.

Lessons I’ve learned From my Work on the Tank:

1. Use less bondo than you think you need.

2. Sanding down takes longer and is more of a pain in the ass than layering up.

3. Mr. Miagi was right, “wax on, wax off.”

4. “Whatever you can see after it’s been primed you will see when it’s painted.” (Words of wisdom from Ernesto)

5. Doing it the wrong way is still worth while, but only if you learn how to do it better the next time.

6. Wear appropriate protective gear.

Tank prepped and mocked up on the frame.

Tank prepped and mocked up on the frame.

If I had to do it all again, I would be able to do it quicker and better. In all so far, I’ve spent close to fourteen hours sanding and prepping my tank. This doesn’t include the time I spent stripping the paint and old bondo, the time spent staring at it in agony trying to figure out what I was going to do with it. It also doesn’t include the time I will spend painting it, sanding it, repainting it, cleaning the insides of rust and then resealing it so it lasts another thirty plus years. I expect when its finished to put in close to fifty hours on a single gas tank.

Why? Why am I doing all this? Because it’s cheaper than therapy, that’s why.

(Side note, look for the soon to come release of the first original fiction piece Odyssey of the Heliotrope, written by yours truly, cover art by Tom Vincent, available for purchase digitally.)

Beat on the Brat Style!

Beat on the brat

Beat on the brat

Beat on the brat with a baseball bat

Oh yeah, oh yeah, uh-oh.”


TIM initially went into the shop because of electrical problems, but it soon became clear that there were more problems than just bad wiring. Among the numerous and seemingly insurmountable issues there was one that stood out as painfully clear even before TIM went under the knife; the uncomfortable riding position.

I’ve had several bikes in my life and ridden many I didn’t own, and one thing I’ve learned is that a comfortable riding position is the key to enjoying a bike. Nothing ruins a ride more than an uncomfortable position. A bike can be a ratty, rusted POS that continuously breaks down, and still be great fun to ride, but if it’s uncomfortable for its rider it will sit and gather dust even on the nicest of days.

Whoever decided on the set up for TIM was either thinking more about aesthetics or had the sadistic inclinations of the Marquis de Sade. For one thing, the drag bars were the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears in reverse, neither high enough nor low enough, but right in the middle ground where they were guaranteed to cause discomfort. The solo seat was alright, but a little too wide and without any meaningful padding. And who ever had owned it before had failed to put rear sets on TIM, forcing me to bend double over the tank, with my feet in front of me, a position guaranteed to cause cramping within fifteen minutes and back pain that lasted for days afterwards.

My initial desire was to throw on a pair of clip-ons, or classic clubman style bars, and rear sets, but my lovely girlfriend quickly put the kibosh on this idea with the innocent question, ” When can I ride on the back?”

That was that, the solo seat had to go along with the drag bars and the non existent rear sets. It took me a while of hemming and hawing before I decided upon a solution. Brat style.

The term brat style refers to two things. The first is the amazing Japanese custom motorcycle shop named Brat Style. I first learned about this shop and their bikes while I was teaching English in Japan. Unfortunately, due to uncontrollable circumstances, namely the Enron style downfall of my employer, I was prevented from visiting the shop in Tokyo, but I was able to see at least one of their bikes on the road and was pretty impressed.


The second and more common use of the term brat style, is a custom bike setup somewhere between traditional British cafe racer and an American style bobber. Typical features include but aren’t limited to: An empty center triangle and removal of as much weight and unnecessary material as possible, a shortened suspension, non drop bars, a frame with an up turned hoop end, and a seat that is relatively long and flat.

Example of a Brat Style bike produced by the shop Brat Style.

Example of a brat style bike produced by the shop Brat Style.

While there have been bikes like this around for a long time, brat style has recently been gaining in popularity in the custom motorcycle scene and a Google search will turn up hundreds of examples. This is probably because it is relatively simple and inexpensive, allows for a great deal of flexibility in customization and also provides a more comfortable riding position as well as the option of riding around with a someone on the back.

TIM with a Bratty hoop and all painted up.

TIM with his new bratty hoop all painted up.

Sadly, because of computer and camera issues there are few pictures of TIM being stripped and cut up. This namely took the form of cleaning off the meatball welds the original builder had done and adding a new up turned hoop end..  Some of the recent pictures show the remarkable transformation that is still under way.

TIM has been slowly changing from ratty cafe racer to brat style super star. Ignore the beat up tank and instead focus on the Honda CB350 style bars, and the beginnings of the brat style two up seat. It’s hard to believe these are pictures of the same bike.


“With a brat like that always on your back, what can you do? Lose?” (Ramones)

TIM at the Gates of Hades

For the ancient pagans of Greece and Rome, Cerberus was the multi-headed-hell-hound that guarded the passage into the underworld. In the stories, Cerberus has a taste for living flesh and like the Eagles’ song Hotel California, allows one to check out, but never leave.


Maybe because of this, I felt a lot of trepidation as TIM rolled off the back of the tow truck and into the Egyptian themed building, which is both home to Cerberus Motorcycles and one of the last remnants of San Diego’s early twentieth century art deco period.


I had been to two other mechanics searching for help with the daunting project of resurrecting the dead TIM. Anyone who has tried to undertake rebuilding an old machine knows it is a time consuming project, which can quickly become more expensive than it might seem worth. While the mechanics I had spoken with were knowledgable and helpful they were also expensive and less successful than I would have liked.

On two separate occasions my ride home was cut short by the same loss of power that had caused me to bring the bike to the mechanic in the first place. The resulting walk back, pushing the still squeaking TIM was almost as painful as the mounting bills. I became depressed. The whole point of buying an old motorcycle had been so I could work on it myself. Yet, there I was shelling out more money for someone else to not fix the problems.

It took almost a year of the bike sitting and going back and forth to various shops before I discovered Cerberus Motorcycles. A bit like it’s mythical namesake, Cerberus is a multifunction motorcycle garage and co-op.  The type of place where a garage-less, tool-less, know-nothing like myself can wrench on a bike, while in the next bay over a crew of talented and knowledgable bike builders turn out speed machines as fantastic as Hermes’ winged sandals, such as Julio’s CL 350 Honda. Not only does the bike look amazing, but it runs like a bolt of lightning flung by Zeus himself.


Almost as soon as TIM was off the truck and into the shop I felt my trepidation and fears subside. Instead I began to feel the giddy excitement of a young child rushing down stairs on Christmas morning. I couldn’t wait to get started, but I didn’t know what I was doing or where to start.

After doing some quick diagnostic work, with a little guidance from master mechanic Dave Hargreaves, I determined that the electrical problem was not with the charging system, but somewhere a bit further down the line. The good news was the money I had spent hadn’t been wasted. The bad news was that, like Pandora, I had opened a jar overflowing with problems that once discovered could not be ignored.

Some of the problems were minor, like the meatball weld a past owner had done on the frame to hide the battery under the rear of the single seat. Other issues were more problematic, like the tangled snake-ball mess of hodgepodge wires, solder, and tape that was supposed to serve as a wiring harness. I quickly decided the only way to proceed was to do a complete tear down and rebuild from the frame up. It would be more expensive, frustrating, and time consuming, but it was the only way to insure that TIM was able to stop limping along on life support.

It was the beginning of a quest, which like Jason’s search for the golden fleece, would be difficult and at times perilous.