Adventures in ADHD: Learning about cars

One thing about having ADHD (OK, there are dozens of things but I’m trying to focus on one here. Don’t distract me) is that for me, I have this tendency to become hyperinterested in something and for the next few weeks or months I spend all my energy on that interest (and unfortunately, my money as well sometimes).

Until I become burned out and lose interest or a brand new shiny interest shows up.

Past interests have been swords. I wanted to collect them. I read about them. Became an expert on them. Before I knew anything about them I had purchased three wallhangers (swords only good as decoration) and before my interest waned I had acquired two genuine swords and three antique fencing foils.

Silver Age comicbooks. Having grown up in the Silver Age, I still regard this period, into the early Bronze Age, as the greatest period for comic books, specifically Marvel. So I go through periods where I purchase collectable copies of S.A. comics. Usually reader’s, which are the lower grade of comics and the most affordable. 

At one time I was interested in collecting beer steins, and also beer memorabilia, but since I stopped drinking over two years ago, these things are just taking up space and collecting dust. Anyone want a German beer stein that has a naked woman in the bottom that you can only see once you’ve drained the beer and hold it up to a light? 

My latest interest is cars. I’ve never been a car guy. I mean, I grew up during the muscle car era of the ’60s and I still oogle a well-maintained car from that era, but I’ve never had any interest in their mechanics.

Outside of changing the oil on my 1986 Dodge Daytona Turbo Z, the rest of a car’s mechanicals are a mystery to me. As far as I’m concerned when you turn the ignition key, the car starts because of magic.

But now my ADHD has taken a turn toward an interest in cars. Beyond just wanting to change the oil, and wash and wax my vehicles, I want to know what makes them tick, and click, and squeal, and knock and ping.

I want to learn how to work on them and keep them running well. (I’ll simply mention that part of this is because I’m cheap and tired of paying mechanics to do things I should be able to do just as well.)

I’ve been to the library several times and have checked out four books so far on maintenance for beginners. Three out of four of those books were geared toward women and/or written by women. 

I guess the sexist assumption there is women don’t know jack about cars, but men do. Nevertheless, I’m finding them very educational because I probably fit into that level of inexperience. My dad never worked on cars (or my mom). They relied on the corner gas station to keep things running and, I might add, were at the mechanic’s mercy when it came to problems and cost.

I don’t want to be like that any more. Did you know that a car’s internal combustion engine is also called a four-stroke engine because it takes four strokes of the piston  (up and down and up and down) to make the car go? I didn’t. As I said, I thought it was magic. Who knew it involved valves, fuel injectors, combustion chambers, spark plugs, cam shafts and so on? Seriously? Who knew?

I’ll admit, I had a few friends in high school who worked on their cars and I often got roped in to do all the grunt work, but I never understood what they were doing. It was like watching a magician summoning a demon. If you told me it didn’t involve a pact with the devil and blood sacrifices to get that car to run, I wouldn’t have believed you.

How long will this new interest of mine last? Hard to say with ADHD. Could be anywhere from three months to the rest of my life.

All I know is I’m chomping at the bit (shoukd i have used a car analogy?) to change the oil on one of my cars, but they were all recently in for that and I don’t want to just waste oil time and money on something unnecessary. 

In the meantime, I’m actually going to clean the garage, put up shelving, and get everything organized for when I finally do get a chance to work on one of the cars.

The books I’ve read so far (in order of how I read then and coincidently, in order of how I liked them):

  • Clueless About Cars: An easy guide to car maintenance and repair by Lisa Christensen, with Dan Laxer
  • Auto Upkeep: basic car care, maintenance and repair by Michael E. Gray & Linda E. Gray
  • Dare to Repair Your Car! A do-it-herself guide to maintenance, safety, minor fix-its, and talking shop by Julie Sussman & Stephanie Glakas-Tenet
  • The Car Book: Everything you need to know about owning, enjoying and maintaining your car by Steve Rendle

I enjoyed Clueless About Cars and found it to be easy to read and understand. Lisa Christensen is a female auto mechanic. Her experiences made for factual and interesting reading, whereas the women who wrote Dare to Repair are not mechanics and admitted they knew nothing about cars until they started eriting the book. Dare to Repair is a much thicker book, but it’s geared primarily to women who, like me, are complete novices and think cars run by magic. The book is informative but I still think Christensen’s book is much more useful.

The Car Book is last on the list primarily because it was written for a British audience and the differing nomenclature was confusing and I don’t just mean boot and bonnet. Aside from that, by the time I read it, most of its information was just repeating what I had already learned in the previous books. Which is a good thing for me because it means I’m actually learning,  and possibly retaining, this new knowledge.

If you have any suggestions on what car book I should tackle next, I’d be happy to hear it.

Learn something new every day to keep your mind young. Learn a hobby to keep it active.


These were a few of my favorite stores

As a child, my favorite store to hang out and just browse all the cool shit was the hobby store at Capital Court mall. It was called The Hobby Horse, I beleive. Both it and the mall are long gone, just childhood memories now.

But back then I was into plastic modeling and racing HO cars (those little slot car racers made by Aurora). HO cars, like trains, were a huge fad back in the 1960s. Unlike today, where you get a cheap race track set for a few bucks that runs on batteries, has crappy cars that won’t stay on the track or even run half the time, and you end up throwing the whole piece of shit in the trash in a month, the HO cars of the ’60s were well-made, durable, and customizable.

Everything on the car, from the chassis itself, to the wheels, magnets, bushings, and the conductor rails, were replaceable with higher end accessories designed to give you an edge in a race. (I still have my cars and parts.)

Many  a Saturday afternoon was spent in the Hobby Horse just window shopping for all the latest car designs or the newest plastic model kits.

Then, sometime around when I was 14 or 15-year-old, my tastes drastically changed. It happened when I heard my first Black Sabbath album and read my first fantasy novel (Tarzan or Conan, can’t remember which was first). My new favorite stores to browse in became Walden Books and 1812 Overture, a record store on the corner near my home (as well as downtown’s Radio Doctors).

I’d spend hours at each, just browsing, picking up books that caught my attention, or flipping through records in the bins. Walden’s then had a great selection of current books in the science fiction, fantasy, and pulp adventure reprints. Back then, it seemed like every visit brought a plethora of new paperbacks that smelled fresh off the presses: a new Doc Savage, The Shadow, Tarzan, or Conan.

And the record store as well was an aural and visual delight. The store’s staff always had some new music playing and just browsing through the bins was an adventure. This was back when album covers were truly worthy of being called art. Many artists of the day created some frame-worthy pieces, most notably Roger Dean.

Yes’s “Tales from Topographic Oceans” by Roger Dean

Then in the 1980s, the VCR became affordable for consumers and video stores opened up, like Suncoast Pictures, where you could go and browse for your favorite movies, TV shows, or musicals, and to reserve copies of the newest upcoming releases. Browsing a Suncoast was a movie-goers dream: they offered not only videos, but posters and other Hollywood memorabilia.

For many of us, browsing is a thing. We could spend hours sifting through records, or videos, or perusing books. It was a truly enjoyable experience and one that has in many cases gone away.

Today, everything is digitized and available on the Internet.

Record stores are just a memory. No one buys albums any more (except for the current nostalgic fad). Music is just a bunch of binary 1s and 0s and album art is also a thing of the past. I mean seriously, is it possible to appreciate a postage-sized graphic representation the way we could a 12 inch by 12 inch gorgeous piece of artwork?

Video stores are all gone and book stores, like Walden, B. Dalton, and Borders are all out of business. Only Barnes and Noble survives, but they’re becoming just a shadow of their former self, catering less to bibliophiles and becoming more of a gift shop, specializing in action figures, Legos, and manga. For book browsers like me, a trip to B&N takes mere minutes now.

For those of us who love to browse, the Internet and digital technology is our bane. Its sad because people need that adventure of discovering new music, or a new author, or what have you, that only comes from physically holding the object, enjoying the tactile feel, appreciating the visual aesthetics, reading the cover blurbs or liner notes. You can’t do that online, not like in real life.

In comparison, online shopping is one-dimensional. You can only see what they want you to see. The experience is static, artificial, and unfulfilling. Maybe one day businesses will realize this and attempt to give customers more of the old-fashioned, hands-on shopping experience. Sure, they’ll never return to brick and mortar stores, those are proving to be too inefficient, but maybe three-dimensional holographic stores could be the answer. With a pair of glasses, you can log-on to Amazon (or online retailer of choice), choose books or music, and voila! You’re transported to a virtual bookstore, with shelves lined with books, just like the good old days, and you can pick them up, look at the front and back, open them, peruse them, and discover books you wouldn’t have just scrolling through page after page online.

Maybe. One day.

A fella can dream, can’t he?

But, until that day, at least I still have guitar stores to go to and browse.


Lancer/Ace Conan the Wanderer: Rereading and Reminiscence

Conan the Wanderer is book 4 in the Lancer/Ace series of Robert E. Howard’s Conan published back in the late 60s and 70s. It is a collection of four stories edited by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. This was one of the non-Frank Frazetta covers and was illustrated by John Duillo.

As I’ve stated in the blog posts for the previous books in this series, these are Conan’s stories as published in chronological order, not as they were written and published by Robert E. Howard, who had a tendency to jump around the Cimmerian’s life and write stories out of sequence. But L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter put the stories in order according to a chronological timeline as proposed by P. Schuyler Miller and Dr. John D. Clark, who had discussed it through letters with Howard. De Camp and Carter also wrote stories to fill the gaps in Conan’s life.

This was not one of my favorites in the series. Much of that, as explained in my review of Conan the Freebooter, has to do with the fact that Frank Frazetta did not do the cover. I guess, for me, I do just a book by its cover. The stories here aren’t bad. For example, “Shadows in Zamboula” is a strong Howard effort and “The Flame Knife” is a rousing rewrite of a Howard Oriental tale to suit the Conan chronology. But I was fifteen at the time, reading Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Philip Jose Farmer, Michael Moorcock, John Jakes, Fritz Leiber, John Silverberg, John Brunner, and many other wonderful writers of fantasy and sci-fi, and in the over scheme of things, this particular anthology just sort of fell short of the others.

Reading it again, however, I enjoyed it now much more than I did then.

Conan, as the preface to the first story states, “is about 31-years old at this time and at the height of his physical powers.” Let’s get into it, shall we?


Conan the Wanderer (1968) by Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter

“Introduction” (L. Sprague de Camp)
“Black Tears” (L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter)
“Shadows in Zamboula” (Robert E. Howard)
“The Devil in Iron” (Robert E. Howard)
“The Flame Knife” (Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp)

Introduction. As always, de Camp starts things off with a little essay on Howard and Conan.

Black Tears. A pastiche written by de Camp and Carter. First published here. Later reprinted in The Conan Chronicles 2 (1990) by Orbit Books.

Conan and his band of Zuagirs are chasing Verdanes, the man who betrayed them to the Turanian army but managed to turn around the surprise and slaughter the Turanians, across the desert. His men ask Conan to stop the pursuit because up ahead is the cursed Land of Ghosts. Conan won’t be put off and his men desert him in the middle of the night leaving not enough water to return, so he decides to continue on.

Conan reaches the mythical city of Akhlat the Accursed and is caught and dragged into the city, where they cleanse his wounds and heal him. Conan is brought before Enosh, who explains that his people are held prisoner of a demoness, but there is a prophesy that the city will be liberated and Conan is that liberator.

Meanwhile, Verdanes, also captured by the city dwellers, has been thrown into a room with several realistic looking statues. Statues that cry and moan. He sees a mummy on a throne with a bejeweled mask. His greed gets the best of him and he grabs the mask, but the mummy is alive and awakened, and Verdanes begins to feel himself turn to stone.

Conan decides to help Enosh and enters the hall that Verdanes had entered. Will Conan survive the now youthful gorgon? You’ll have to read for yourself. If you can find a copy. It’s not a bad story despite not being written by Howard, but then, I’m a fan of both de Camp and Carter.

Shadows in Zamboula. Originally published in Weird Tales in 1935 as “The Man-Eaters of Zamboula.” Republished as “Shadows of Zamboula” in Conan the Barbarian (Gnome Press, 1954), The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000), and in Conan of Cimmeria: Volume Three (1935-1936) (Del Rey, 2005) under its original title, “The Man-Eaters of Zamboula.”

Conan is warned by an old beggar to not return to the inn he has paid for a night’s lodging at, but Conan goes to the inn anyway and finds out the awful truth of being a lodger at the inn run by Aram Baksh. I don’t need to go into too much detail. It’s a Howard original and the original title gives away some of the storyline. Go read it.

The Devil in Iron. First published in Weird Tales in 1934. Republished in Conan the Barbarian (Gnome Press, 1954), The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003).

When I was reading this story I thought it was a pastiche by de Camp and Carter because it seemed to borrow heavily from another Conan story, “Iron Shadows of the Moon” that appeared in Conan the Freebooter. Turns out, it actually is a Howard story. It’s not badly written, but as I said, it seemed to have a lot of elements from the previous story, including taking place on an island in the Vilayet Sea, the supernatural elements, and the similarity in the names of the girls, both who have escaped their captors to be protected by Conan, Octavia in this story and Olivia in “Iron Shadows.”

The Flame Knife. Revised by de Camp from an unpublished Oriental Howard tale featuring Francis X. Gordon titled, ‘Three-Bladed Doom.” It was published as a Conan story in Tales of Conan (Gnome Press, 1955).

It’s a rousing adventure tale where raiders kidnap Conan’s then flame, Nanaia, and Conan pursues them into their hidden city. It is filled with lots of military action as Conan’s men clashed against two other factions and runs into his old enemy, Olgerd Vladislav, who had freed him from the cross back in the story “A Witch is Born.”

Next up, Conan the Adventurer, which is the fifth book in the series, but was actually the first book published, and also the first of the series I read.


Lancer/Ace Conan

Lancer/Ace Conan of Cimmeria

Conan the Freebooter

Conan the Wanderer

Books, Books, Books!

Our intention, on Saturday, was to stop by the Milwaukee Mile and catch some of the Indycars doing time trials for Sunday’s AJ Foyt 225. Unfortunately, the race seems to have grown some. We stopped attending the yearly Milwaukee Mile race sometime after the jerks who own the Indianapolis 500 nearly destroyed Indycar racing and sent a lot of fans over to NASCAR.

But Indycar kissed and made up this year and instead of two different and watered-down racing leagues, they’ve united under one.

Anyway, years ago we used to go to the time trails for free. Parking was free. And you could wander around the track facilities for free, looking at all the merchandise. And getting in to the track itself to watch was relatively inexpensive, just a few dollars.

Now people want money just to park. We were driving around hoping to find a spot to park on the street for free. It seemed hopeless, but in our travels we came upon this used bookstore we didn’t know existed. My family loves books. I think we’ve spent several hundred dollars in the last month over at Half Price.

So we were all eager to see this place.

As we entered, this little old bag lady was sitting on the floor near the entrance. She smiled and we passed her without thinking about it. Later we discovered this was the owner of the store. There were so many books she didn’t have room for a desk. Didn’t have room for a cash register. Didn’t have room for anything but books.

This place was a bibliophile’s dream and a OCD’s nightmare. Bookshelves stuffed to the ceiling with books, in many instances, several rows deep. Sometimes they weren’t even on bookshelves, they were just stacked in the aisles of the store, aisles that were narrow and mazelike because of all the books.

Some of the stackings were precarious to say the least. Both my kids managed, inadvertently, to cause an avalanche of books by merely placing their hands on an unstable bookshelf.

My first thought was this just going to be just another foray into Half Price Books world, where they only keep books they think they can sell. Very few rare books. Very few unpopular books. Very little by unknown writers.

I was wrong. I started glancing in the sci-fi section, pulling down stacks so I could look behind them and I immediately noticed a book by John Jakes. John Jakes, for those of you who don’t know, used to be a great fantasy writer, one of the original members of the sword and sorcery resurgence back in the 60s and 70s. This was before he sold out and started writing all those mainstream books about the Civil War and other historic fiction.

This was a copy of Brak the Barbarian. I’ve been haunting Half Price for decades now hoping to find a copy of Brak. So I kept searching, spurred on by this and found another Brak. Then I found some “Thonger” books by Lin Carter. This was a series where he emulated Edgar Rice Burroughs-style of adventure.

And I found some Man From Uncle books, written back when the television series was popular. I was in Geek Heaven. We left $40 poorer, but no way did we even scratch the surface of that store. We will have to return to its musty corridors again, to continue the search for treasure.

Oh, and that elderly lady? She hand-wrote the receipt, tallying up the cost in her head, only accepting cash or check. And lest you think she’s an easy mark, she knows her stuff. I had found a copy of Babe Ruth’s vinyl release “First Base” (yes, they have old vinyl records, too). I thought it would only be a few bucks, but she recognized instantly it was a rarity and said it was worth $20.

She’s cagey, that one.


Book Crossings

I was listening to Wisconsin Public Radio today and they had as a guest one Scott somebody or other who started this thing called Book Crossings.

The concept is you join their group, register a book you have that you’d like to share, then leave that book “in the wild,” meaning on a park bench, in a bus station, or anywhere in public. Another member captures the book and reads it, then leaves it somewhere for someone else to pick up, all while tracking the book online for the entire community to see. “Oh look, the book has visited 10 countries so far!”

Sounds cute and harmless, but as an author I was horrified to hear this.

I was horrified because if one book is circulated among even a tenth of this community (estimated at over 575,000 members as of August 1st), let’s say 57,500 members, then that is 57,500 less books sold that the author would have received royalties for.

The Book Crossings’ argument sounds similar to that used by those who STEAL music off the web: it introduces readers to new authors and genres that they would not have been exposed to before and therefore these people will actually go out and buy extra copies of the book because they enjoyed it.

Baloney. Thieves can always justify their desire to steal. This is nothing more than a way to rip off writers as downloading music is a way to rip off musicians. People are less inclined to buy something they’ve already perused for free. What’s the expression, why pay for the cow when you can get the milk for free?

Authors, like musicians, work hard to create that book or song. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears go into the creation process. The authors want their works to be enjoyed by as many people possible, yes, but they also expect to receive recompense for it. They aren’t creating these works for free consumption. The thought that upwards of thousands of readers are enjoying the book and the writer isn’t receiving even one red cent from it is appalling to me.

Writing, as they say, is like sex and writers are like whores, first we do it with ourselves, then with a few close friends, then since we’re doing it anyway we decide to do it for payment. Hmm. Wait. I think I messed that one up.

Anyway, as a reader and lover of books, I’m even more appalled by this whole sharing concept. I love books. I collect them and I hate to lend them out. They never return in the same pristine state as I lent them, if they are even returned at all. The thought that one of my babies might be left out in the rain or snow to catch cold saddens me. Books are not meant to be released into the wild. They can’t fend for themselves and will surely die of exposure when left out in the elements.

As a charter member of the ASPCB, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Books (and it’s only member), I insist this barbaric practice cease! Because that’s what it is. Barbarism.



Seems to me that a better and more humane way to run this Book Crossings is each registered member reads a book, then they post a review of the book online encouraging others to go out and BUY the book themselves. That would be the best of all worlds. More books would be purchased helping the writers, more people would know the joy of giving a loving home to a book, and all those lonely books would be able to live out the rest of their lives in sheltered and pampered comfort.

Have you hugged your books today?