Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Great 1971 or 1972 Pink Floyd Caper

The Great Pink Floyd Caper

[This is dedicated to Randy Dahlquist, who also snuck in and was dealing with his own set of circumstances.]

I was in first-year university. Age 17 or 18. Didn’t have tickets for a band we loved called Pink Floyd, who were playing at the PNE Gardens auditorium. Creedance Clearwater Revival was filling the Pacific Coliseum with soon-to-be rednecks that night. So, I went in the back door of the Gardens about 3 p.m., said I was with the band. Had long hair, got waved through (just like an Obama event). I sat -zen like- onstage, under the piano, until a roadie asked me to help set up the gong --yes, the gong (that launched a thousand trips) on the back of Umma Gumma. Helped the guys out with various things, finding groupies to mend their trousers, which were those thin things Brits called loons. Roger Waters came out and nodded to me and sound checked One of These Days. When I nodded that it was cool, he nodded back and walked off.
Then they let the crowd in and I was standing centre stage and in walked the most beautiful hippie princess I loved from UBC.

She saw me.

It was awesome.

Finally, someone said, get off the stage and I went down and saw the Meddle show, with speakers 360 degrees (unheard of at the time) at the Vancouver Gardens. Mindblower. Floyd had strippers for the encore. I was about 18; I didn’t know that a large part of my life would eventually revolve around naked women. (It was a different time, you laughing fkrs.)

Couple nights later, the hippie princess is working the commisary in residence. I buy a chocolate bar and she says, "Hey, I saw you onstage with Pink Floyd the other night."

My chest and other parts grew large. "What did you think," I asked, referring to both the Floyd and myself. "I fkn hate Pink Floyd," she said. "I only went because my boyfriend said he'd cut me off if I didn't go."

I went back to my small Place Vanier room and thought a lot. There was a great lesson to be learned there. And oh how I learned it year after year after year....

--30 --

Friday, August 14, 2009

Stillwater: A Memoir of Boyhood Part 5

The Beatles Come to Stillwater:

I remember a summer game of tag on a big lawn beside a house that overlooked Stillwater’s main industrial area. Below where we played, a tiered set of sun-faded,grey, wooden stairs led down to what was essentially a marshalling yard. The big old building where my Dad worked as a personnel man and timekeeper was on the left side as you looked down. Logging trucks were parked on the right by a huge airplane hangar-like corrugated-aluminum machine shop like the top half of a giant culvert. Arc-welding constantly flashed through the doors. The rest of the land was dust, bordered by tall alders. An ancient wooden dock stuck into Stillwater Bay and, from about forty feet out, it was all log booms from one side of the bay to the other. Boom boats, those stubby little cartoon ships, bumped and rocked and shoved the booms around into some sort of order. Men in caulked boots ran along them with pike poles and pickaroons. Dust roads ran off to tattered residences converted from old bunkhouses along the shoreline.

There was a sort of gravel pit along one of these roads and it was full of trimmings from the alder trees that had overgrown the logging roads. It was a massive pile of small-cut branches and leaves maybe twenty feet tall. We could climb up the shell of this sort of amphitheatre and, huffing and puffing at the effort, could stand at the top of the precipice and with a hop, skip and jump go soaring through the air to land on our bottoms twenty-five-feet below on a soft cushion of flora. Today, the very idea makes me sick to my stomach. The potential for a stick prodding through somebody was there, but no one got hurt. Despite repeated attempts. It was one of those mystical, blessed summers.

Anyway, safe on the lawn of the foreman’s white picketed yard, overlooking the dustbowl and the bay, we were in a tizzy. All week, the TV was promoting the appearance of this group that all the bigger kids were listening to on their radios. They were called The Beatles and at The Hudson’s Bay in downtown Powell River, you could buy grey Beatles sportsjackets with black velour collars and even Beatle wigs. It was rumored that one of the big kids who went to high school in Powell River was actually sighted buying one of these toupees.

And this musical combo was to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show, this night, Sunday. We were all crazy for it, especially the girls. We constantly quizzed each other on the four bandmembers’ names. Ringo was the flat-out favorite throughout North America and so he was with the girls in our crowd. He shook his hair a lot, girls screamed and gave those of us who would grow to be big-beaked a lot of hope. (Especially years later when he married the luscious Barbara Bach.)

As the appointed hour neared, we spun madly around on the lawn, even the simple rules of tag forgotten in our excitement. I would yell out the word, “Ringo!” and Mousie and Penny would scream. Then they’d regroup and tell us how they were going to do exactly that when they watched in their living rooms tonight. We -me and my buddy Kimbo- in no way thought that was excessive. With the small bit of testosterone that a nine-year-old lad has, I felt I might make a peep myself.

Eight o’clock and we were all ushered into the living room of the foreman’s big house. Stilted Ed murmured a few things about having met these “fine young men.” He’d been around the entertainment scene as the Talk of the Town columnist for eons before he unexpectedly became the biggest thing on television. He knew that long hair and loud music was to be tolerated and that, if it drew in an audience, he only stood to win.

Looking back on those performances of She Loves You and I Wanna Hold Your Hand, I can see how much appeal that band had. I can’t really listen to them anymore as I’ve heard all the songs ad nauseum. But when I was researching this piece and watching that performance on YouTube, there was definitely some great music and incredible charisma and magnetism. The New York audience screamed themselves silly, as did Mousie and Penny. I was charmed by the lads, never realizing their later songs Revolution #9 and Good Night would be the only songs of theirs I could tolerate, some forty-five years later.

A few weeks later on the Sullivan show, I saw a band that I knew would make everyone forget about The Beatles, they were just so much better: The Dave Clark Five.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Stillwater: A Memoir of Boyhood Part 4

The over-rated science-fiction author Harlan Ellison has always had some pretty good things to say. One of them was: “Mothers are meant to do three things: love you; feed you and give away your comic book collection.”
This is my tale of that.
I had ‘em all: Avengers #1, X-Men #1, Fantastic Four #4, Daredevil #1, Marvel Tales #1, The Hulk when the Hulk was grey, Tales to Astonish with Ant-Man, Journey into Mystery with that early Kirby or Ditko Thor.
And, lo, there came to be a thing called a rummage sale at Stillwater Community Hall. My mother, though I had proved to her that reading comic books gave me superheroic grades in reading in school, decided that my comic book collection was a waste of space. And, after all, you’ve read them, they’re finished. My mother, one of the great readers of all time, could not understand the joy of rereading or collecting. Not getting collecting, I sort of understand. We were always surrounded by what would now be called tchotckes -beautiful figurines of birds and courtly ladies and gents. Mom presents. I’ll never forget, one time, breaking something and my Mom just sitting down and holding her head and saying, “I’ll never have one good thing, kids keep breaking them. Everything I’ve got has been glued together.” It was a horrible moment. Certainly I didn’t break much. I remember years later when I broke something and she said, “Don’t worry about it.” And years later when she broke a Persian glass goblet, one of a pair I had given her with a bottle of Kahlua for us to toast a lonely Christmas, alone together, I remember telling her, “I didn’t give you those to cause you any pain. It’s gone, let’s just be happy we have each other and don’t have to worry about it.” A few years later she knocked over a brand-new television, but that wasn’t her fault. She had her routine for going to bed and drawing the curtains around the house and suddenly this new thing was in her way, not on a proper stand. Ah breakage, it all comes down to it doesn’t it? Breakage of spirits, of bodies, of lives. Such loss. Life, it isn’t for the faint of heart. Life, it doesn’t end well.
Mom’s favorite book was Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth. If you’ve read it that explains much.
Anyhow, the comics were donated under much duress and, likely, tears. That night, at the same hall incidentally as the unfolding of the Tale of Hot Dog Suit (see further back in this blog), my friends swarmed me. It was a wilding of sorts. “Man, get over there, there’s all these great comics and they’re all in PERFECT CONDITION. And, the lady there is selling them for A NICKEL EACH OR THREE FOR A DIME!”
My stomach and nuts descended that night to levels that I’m not sure they’ve ever recovered from.
While my Mom was compis mentis, I would recount this tale to her. She would always look guilty and say, “I didn’t know!”
“Those comics are worth $200,000 each now, Mom! I could’ve been a millionaire.”
When she had lost her mind, I still occasionally muttered it to her.
Now, I’m a semi-pro comic dealer. I’m not a millionaire. Though, Mom, I could’ve been.
And, yes, she loved me and fed me. She gave away my comic collection. She was a great Mom.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stillwater: A Memoir of Boyhood Part 3

My Mom and I were sitting in the Westview Mall at the Woolworth’s lunch counter where they had that awesome grape pop bubbling away in some plastic vat and fairly palatable burgers. She said to me, “What do you want to go as for Hallowe’en.” Ever the freak, I looked around me and said, “A hotdog.” Never one to be daunted, Mom said, “OK.”
So, my dad, my brother, and my Mom got some chicken wire and formed a hotdog bun, my size from knee to neck. Then my Mom got some vinyl of a hot-doggish brown color. From this, she made a semi-elliptical skirt to my knees and a helmet, with eyes, of course. She covered the chicken wire with an old sheet that she died bun brown, and to make the edges authentic, she couldn’t spring for yellow paint, so we used French’s mustard. Nobody in our staid British family ate anything as spicy as French’s mustard except my bro, so he was SOL and Mom used up the jar. Right before we had to go to the town hall for the Halloween, she slathered my sides with French’s. Naturally, with any sort of mask, you lose a certain portion of your vision and with this mask a major portion. Also, because of the vinyl hood, hearing was highly impaired as well. Still, Mom, God bless her, had given me what I wanted, despite the patent absurdity of the concept.
Proud as Punch, I waddled out to the car and everyone got in. But me. This was a problem we had not considered. I could not bend, plus I was massive. I believe, because of the masses of French’s mustard that I was wearing, someone fetched a tarpaulin and covered the back seat. Then my brother and father tipped me over and, getting French’s mustard all over their shirts, loaded me horizontally in the back of the 1960 green Ford Mercury Montclair.
The ride to the town hall was reminiscent of Edgar Poe’s Premature Burial. I couldn’t see, hear or move. And I was particularly concerned that my chicken wire exoskeleton was denting out of bun perfection.
Eventually, we got there and I was unloaded in complete indignity, rather like a log being pulled off the greenchain. So, thus discombobulated, with only the most rudimentary vision and virtually no hearing, I went in to the gala event.
Of course nobody recognized me and I couldn’t eat or drink anything, so I just wobbled around. Some girl kept coming up and trying to be lovey-dovey to me and I kept telling her to leave me alone. It was the next day that my parents told me that the girl was my friend Reg. I don’t know if Reg carried on with his cross-dressing practice in later life, but he certainly had talent.
Then there was the judging of the costumes. I couldn’t tell this was going on as I was deaf and half blind, but someone shoved me in a ring and I shambled around in circles. The system was that they would call you out as you were eliminated, but since I was effectively removed from communication with the rest of the world, someone eventually had to grab me by the shoulders and lead me away from the competition. I hope the fkr still smells of French’s mustard to this day.
To say that the hot dog-costume episode was a disaster would be understatement. I eventually got removed from the iron-lung-like apparatus so I could enjoy the party. But, I was one tuckered little cowboy by then and all I wanted to do was go home to bed and take comfort with Lambert my lion.

* * * *

Stillwater: A Memoir of Boyhood Part 2

I remember the day John Kennedy died. (And I love the Lou Reed song of the same name) November 22, 1963. I was in fourth grade. The teachers were called to an emergency conference. Me, being a little keener (suck was the term used in those days) was told to look after the class of mixed grade fours and fives. When Mr. Cooper, our teacher, came back to the room I immediately started launching in to various indiscretions committed by my classmates. He told me that wasn’t important right now. That the president of the the United States had been fatally shot. And we were going to get the afternoon off. Parents were being called and anyone who couldn’t be picked up could be billeted for the afternoon with friends. They were working the phones.
My brother, being in the Canadian Navy, had instilled in me a hatred for everything Yank. I was cavalier, came home to Mom and told her that I was glad we got the day off and didn’t care about John Kennedy whatsoever. Realizing she would be talking to an idiot, she told me he was a good man, that nobody deserved to be assassinated and to be a bit respectful.
When my brother came home from working at the Powell River pulp mill, I laughed about Kennedy being shot. He just looked at me strange and said it was no laughing matter. So, I stayed quiet the rest of the day and spent it reading The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Animals, one of my favorite books, which I still have in the bookcase beside where I write, today.
Maturity gave me some perspective on the Kennedy tragedy, as did the Lou Reed song. Twenty five years later, noir novelist James Ellroy also made me realize I wasn’t a hundred percent off track with my feelings. Jack the Haircut.
They say everybody remembers where they were when Kennedy was shot and that’s my recollection. I’m not proud of it, but I was a kid.
In the early 1980s, I visited Jack Kennedy’s gravesite and leaped over the chain fence to light my Kool 100, just so I could say I did it. Pretty near lost the front of my hair and the guards at Arlington were not impressed. Neither were the United States Travel Service when I recounted the incident in a Vancouver magazine article called Bell, Book & Scandal. To his credit, my editor, Mac Parry defended the onslaught of letters by saying that many readers had written in to observe that my article was “brilliant.” Whether they did or not, I dunno. But I owe Mac for that one --and many others, but those are different tales.

* * * *

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stillwater: A Memoir of Boyhood

In many meditation techniques you are told to remember a place where you were happy. This always leaves me pondering and ignoring any further instruction. One day, after hundred of hours of thought, I finally realized the one place I was truly happy. What follows are my memories of those days when I was nine or 10, and lived in Stillwater, B.C., near Powell River. It should be considered a meditative blog. I hope it takes you away from your problems for a moment and that it will conjure up your own special place/time in spacetime.

Stillwater: A Memoir of a Boyhood

I remember back when I entered fourth grade. I would have been eight years old, nine in October. The year 1962.
My father worked for MacMillan Bloedel and we were used to being transferred around the province. This would be my fourth school in four years. The House the Company provided us was, in a word, spectacular. And it was there, in Stillwater, seventeen miles south of Powell River, that I had some of the happiest times of my life.
The house itself was really something. It seemed huge and antebellum to me. It was white frame or shiplap, had two stories and a veranda. One entered via a boardwalk through arbors covered in hops vines. Immediately one was in the living room and, oddly, off the living room there was a paneled door to the master bedroom. To the right through a coved archway was the dining room with a bay window facing the front yard and again, oddly, there was the door to the smaller bedroom which was to be mine --occasionally to be shared with my brother, Stan, when he returned from the sea.

This house would be responsible for some major obsessions in my life that would result in --with all due modesty-- a mind obsessed with the bizarre, macabre and morbid.
My parents were older. In 1962, my dad would have been 61, my mother, 51. I recall being obsessively afraid that they would die. I once horribly startled my mother by awakening her by placing a hand over her nose to see if she was still breathing. Man, was she freaked out and who could blame her, she probably thought I was trying to smother her. But, I was totally terrified that IT had happened and here I was left alone in this scary house. And it was a scary house. But to that later.
My fear of my parents demise instilled in me a fear that I could only take to God, and so each night I would pray: “Please God and Jesus: Please let my parents live to be well over 100 years old and at least please don’t let them pass away until I’m at least 21 years old.” At 21, you were supposed to be a grown-up and be able to handle whatever life handed you.
I was also plagued by nightmares and I would pray myself to sleep each night asking the Lord and His Son, to allow me not to dream. And I could not recall any of my dreams again until I was in my mid teens.
The house was stone scary. It seemed to me to be the archetypal haunted house. Prayer and my faithful, strong and true, stuffed lion, Lambert, were my protectors. Thirty-eight years later, I am still plagued by nightmares of haunted houses. I was afraid to get out of the sheets at night to use the toilet. However, I was able to hold on through the night until someone got up in the morning. Then, I really had to go. However, if someone was in the bathroom I was at my wits end. My mother would direct me outside. But, being a proper little boy, I would not just go in the wilderness. No, I had to have a wide-mouth Mason jar in which to micturate and then bring the product back into the house to be flushed down the toilet. A couple of times, I recall having to use the same method when I had to move my bowels. This did not particularly please my mother, who would just be handed the jar to dispense with.
When my brother stayed with us and he slept in the bottom bunk, I rested much easier.
My brother would have been 22 or so in 1962 or 1963. While sharing a bedroom was fine for visits, he required his own room when his term in the Navy was complete and he reentered civilian life. He took the second floor, which was accessed by a weathered, grey, wooden staircase at the rear of the house. There was a doorless doorway dividing the space under the peak of the roof in half. His room was at the front of the house and on the otherside of the doorway was a storage area with two beds covered in toys and camping equipment under the angled ceiling flanking the passageway to his room. In that half, I could play quietly, protected, as he slumbered in the next room, resting from the young man’s excesses that would see him join a twelve-step program twenty years later.
My parents had instilled in me a prodigious ego. I was generally the top student in my grade and they always assured me that I was incredibly intelligent. This, combined with an obsessive reading of super-hero comic books conspired to give me a sense that one day, I might become super-intelligent, like many super heroes, including Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic of Marvel Publishing’s Fantastic Four.
I used to perform experiments. One of these involved a dart gun game, I had been given. In those rougher days, a dart gun was a metal pistol with an incredibly strong steel spring. You inserted a dart with a suction cup on its end down the barrel until it locked. Then you had a fully loaded weapon that could actually put someone’s eye out. If you took the suction cup off the dart, you were essentially in possession of deadly force. As a paranoid kid, I usually went around armed, with a loaded dart gun, no suction cup, or a sword. Anyhow, the other component of this dart game was a target that featured a cardboard stand-up of an airforce commander urging me to shoot and a circular piece of cardboard featuring a UFO that was supported on a piece of spring steel. You set it in motion and it swung back and forth. If you hit the UFO, it fell over backward and the lever action pulled up a sign on the stand-up that said you had scored 100 points for the good guys.
Okay, so I had this disk that would swing back and forward. Hypnotically. Given my assumptions about my ability to become a mad scientist and rule the world, I covered the disk with shiny aluminum foil. Then I set the device on the table in front of my brother’s window so that it would catch the sunlight. Then I woulld set the amazing hypno-machine in motion, emanating its mesmerising, mind-crippling rays on the populace of Stillwater, B.C. I thoroughly expected that I would soon see the populace, blank eyed and drooling lumbering up the dirt road to converge on our front lawn to await instruction from their master --me.
I spent a lot of time keeping that disk waving back and forth and waiting to no avail. I also often tried a more close up application for the amazing Hypno-machine. I tried to hypnotize all my friends, Kim, Mousie and Penny, to bend them to my will. Sometimes they reported feeling somewhat odd after staring at the disk for five minutes or more. Kim had some vague idea that if we could hypnotize the girls, we could get them to take their clothes off. But, that was a bit advanced for one such as I who simply wanted to rule the world.
What a maroon!

Anyhow, on either side of the upstairs rooms, there were hatchways leading into... I never new what. But it was dark and dusty. My brother would terrify me with speculation that there might be rats or bats in there. I more favoured arcane trunks filled with evil and possibly small homunculuses, warped and malevolent. As you can see, I was like one of H.P. Lovecraft’s characters trapped in an ancient New England house while other worlds swirled about my perceptions full of forces and creatures out of space and time.
Now, I see that this fear of alternate dimensions coexisting with our reality is the primary theme in my fiction writing. Stillwater is certainly where some of it came from. Certainly my Christian upbringing was another source. And also at that time a show came on television that seemed directly for me. Its name was The Outer Limits.

* * * *

Out back there was an old ramshackle double car garage and workshop. The garage had a dirt floor. The shop was a place where my brother made cannons. He would take old pipes or rifle barrels and cut them off, put them in a handmade caisson, put in gunpower and wadding and a ball bearing and then he would call me in for the ignition. He would have drilled a fuse hole and then he would light it. Fkn thing would go off like an atomic bomb and blow a hole right through the walls of the old shop. The kickback would also blow the caisson back through another wall. We would stand there and stare at each other. I think that may be where I first hear the phrases, Holy s***, Holy fk, Fk me, and other such epithets. Shortly, Stan realized that if he put the barrel of the cannons in the workbench vice, it would make for less mayhem and he began blowing out the other wall of the shop. Serious chunks blew out of those walls, but behind us was only a compost heap and then acres of forest. Lord knows, there are probably a few alder trees still there with ball bearings deeply embedded in their trunks.
My brother was also notable for several other matters that are indelibly scorched into my brain. First, I have to say that my family was not into hockey or football. We watched All-Star Wrestling, which originated from CHEK studios in Burnaby, with congenial host Ron Morrier, ads done live with “your haberdasher, Fred Asher.” Thus, we were all conversant with the figure-four suplex, the flying dropkick, the claw, the sleeper hold and such. So, once when we were playfighting in the front yard, I, thinking I pretty much had the same fighting skills as Batman, Spider-Man or Thor, at very least Gene Kiniski, Whipper Billy Watson or “The Mormon Giant” Don Leo Jonathan, assaulted my brother with the aforementioned flying dropkick. Now, I was not a particularly long legged nine-year-old, so when I launched both my feet in the air with all my might, I became a horizontal missile aimed at my brother’s chest just as I had seen dozens of time in the squared circle. However, I had underestimated those fine grapplers and their strength. Thus, I became about a 90-pound missile vectoring right to my bro’s nards. I had launched myself full out and he went down like a stone. And he didn’t move. I freaked and tried to get him to speak. He didn’t speak. And he lay there like silent death for the longest time. I had killed my brother. How would I tell Mom and Dad this?
My brother lay there in a fetal position. I sweated, as far as that is possible for a nine-year-old. I cursed having spent so much time reading Bruce Tegner Teach Yourself Karate books. Eventually, I think my brother managed to croak out, “Go away.” Which I did -with dispatch.
I’ve never really found out what happened that day. I believe I was too afraid to ask him about it until another 15 years had passed. By that time he couldn’t even recall the incident. Thank God for small infirmities.

* * * *

Another time I was annoying my brother somehow and he suggested I go fishing. Sounded good, so off I went with a chunk of wood with some fishing line around it and a hook. I put a few worms from the compost heap in an Old Chum tobacco can. My dad was a pipe smoker and hence we always had tons of tobacco cans around. As a consequence, everything was much better organized in those days: checkers, marbles, bolts, screws, worms.
It can hardly be overstated how idyllic our setting was in Stillwater. Facing the house, the lot to the right had an old abandoned house on the back of the lot. The yard was essentially chest-high hay with a few massive blackberry brambles around the edges. A pipe had broken in the yard somewhere, so there was always a puddle like a small pond in the middle of the yard. No one would have ever thought of fixing it. It was only water in those days. I believe there was some sort of wire fence that was easily vaulted and the house stood unlocked and we kids would play there all the time. A real house for a playhouse.
Past that yard was woods. Just raw, untamed forest, primarily alder and bracken and sawtooth ferns. In those days, you would just tell your Mom, or whatever adult, that you were going to play in the woods. You would plunge into the forest and resurface for lunch and dinner. The rest of you time you were on your own and no one was ever afraid. There were cougars and bears in those woods, but we never saw one. One kid did see a bear when he was walking to school, but he just abruptly turned aboutface and walked home. The bear was never seen again. Though we were all warned that if we saw a bear cub that it’s mother was surely around somewhere and that we should get away. Scientists said to back quickly away while trying to make some loud noise. Loggers told us just back away and then run like hell. We figured the loggers had the more practical method.
And no one was worried about tramps or sex perverts in the woods. If we came across where someone had made a fire or a camp, we just gave them their privacy; there was lots of woods to go around. As for us being out there and our parents concerned about perverts or kidnapping, I think those things were just never even considered in 1962. We didn’t have the media coverage in those days. TV was Fun-O-Rama and bolo-bat championships. If you could hit the ball with you bolo bat 30 times you signed an affadavit to that effect and sent it on to KVOS-12 and in about six weeks you got a badge that said, “Bolo Bat Champion,” which you could wear proudly to all occasions but church.
So, off in the woods, there was an underground creek. Now, someone had dug a hole to reveal the creek and they had handily built a square frame from sticks to hold the hole open and you could lie on the forest floor and watch little trout from minnows to nine-inchers swimming down the creek. I dislike killing things, but in those days I toed the line and fishing was allegedly cool. So, I wormed the bait on the hook dropped it into the water and watched a nice little trout take it. Pulled him out and, as I was taught by my mother, I grabbed a stick and clubbed him on the head until dead. I did this twice more and walked back home. I brought the three fish up to my brother, who was working on his 57 Chevy. “Here,” I said. “I’ve been fishing. Now what should I do?”
I had been gone ten minutes.

* * * *

As you faced the house, to the left was an orchard of cherry trees, then a wall of blackberry brambles completely isolating us from the next door neighbors. At the very back of the yard, bordered again by interminable forest, was an old chicken coop. My father and brother cleaned it out and it became my fort. It had big doors that opened out, so it was a rather welcoming fort and soon it was coopted by my friends, the sisters Penny and Mouse. I can no longer remember their family names, but they lived up at the top of a big gravel-roaded hill. They were such good friends, that I used to knock on their door after dinner to ask if they could come out to play. Being an incredibly shy child this was some measure of how much I liked them. Penny was large-boned, round jawed with dusty-colored wavy hair kept close to her face. She always had a bit of a double chin and this may have contributed to her somewhat grumpy disposition. Mouse, whose real name may have been Joanne, however was a stone beauty. In those happy days, before puberty threw a spanner into the works, one could acknowledge the beauty of another kid without even conceiving of jumping their bones. She was thin and had long blonde hair, seemingly always tanned and was a tomboy. In other words, you could hang out with a sylphen beauty, a wood nymph if you will, and in the forest there was never the slightest brainflicker of impropriety. While you gain so much with the onset of sexuality, you also lose much -and looking back fondly from having passed the lion’s share of my allotted four score and 10, I wonder which was the happier state. I seem to be writing about this one.
I remember once climbing the hill and going to the door and asking for Mousie. She came to the door and said, she’d be a few minutes. They were just having dessert. “Minute Rice,” she said, “and you know how that only takes a minute to eat.” She was so pretty, so fun, that such a little joke as that has stuck to me throughout my life. It should be noted as well that dietary habits were much different in the early 1960s. White rice was often served as a dessert, topped with white sugar and milk. Maybe a few raisins. As an entrĂ©e or sidedish, it would not catch on for a few years. Fried rice was available at Chinese restaurants, but was frowned on as a bit of a waste of money. After all, it was only rice.
Anyhow, Penny soon commandeered my fort into a tea room. Little plastic cups and saucers started appearing, an old beat-up tablecloth, some comics.
What to serve though? We never for an instant considered real tea. And the idea of kids with kettles of boiling water was unsound. What we did have was a vast resource of blackberries. Great roiling walls, eight feet high of blackberries. Enough for our parents to make jams, jellies, pies and tarts to circle the world if laid end to end. And there were still more, great heavy vines, more like boughs, laden with the blue-black fruit.
Penny, being the practical one, got some clean cloth and we squeezed the fruit into juice, which went in to the tea pot and was then doled out in tiny cups by Penny the teamaster.
It wasn’t particularly thirst quenching, but that summer we were part of a secret society known only by the purple rings around our cupid’s bows and the purple fingers and palms we sported for the day, those summer days.

* * * *

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Jayne & the Satanists --Chapter 33


On the drive home, I voiced my thoughts to Lex.  “Maybe I could get a book out of this story.  Even if no one believed Ste. Germaine’s story as nonfiction, it wouldn’t matter.  The lunatic fringe would slurp it up, as fact and the relatively sane would find it a compelling tale regardless.  A bit of a world history through one man’s eyes and because of Ste. Germaine’s memory I can avoid the shitloads of research that such a book would normally entail.  What d’ya think, Lex, my man?”

He lay on the passenger seat, for once not rubbernecking the passing sights.  His eyes were half slits, just an occasional glimmer of emerald catching an overhead streetlight.  I thought his reunion with Ste. Germaine must have spawned many thoughts and memories.  They say a cat’s brain is about the size of a walnut, but this cat was doing some heavy thinking —and I was certain there was more to Lex than was contained in the confines of his hide. His tail quivered and whipped back and forth, smacking the dusty upholstery.  Turning to me, he let out a squawk.

“That’s an awful squeak coming from such a big boy,” I said.  He yawned, showing a brilliant pink healthy mouth and needle-sharp fangs.  Then he put his head between his paws and unleashed a loud sigh.  He’d had enough for tonight.  His tail twitched a few more times, then I heard a few preliminary snorts and his chainsaw snores fired up.

When we got home, I carried him out of the car and plopped him onto my bed.  He looked up at me, released a guttural squawk and fell once more into the caress of sleep.


*  *  *  * 


Next day, Jayne came with me to the library, where we looked up anything we could on the Mandylion.  Most people would not expect it, but Jayne was a bear for research.  Because she was famous for her body and the roles she landed were less than cerebral, she enjoyed any chance to learn about things that would give her something intelligent to think and talk about.  Of course, explaining to Mickey how popcorn works would probably wow that audience for days.

     We were deep in the theology section and Jayne struck gold first.  “Hey, y’know the Mandylion isn’t the only cloth with the face of Jesus.”

“There’s that shroud thing in Italy, right?  Full length, supposed to be his burial shroud that Joseph of Arimathea wrapped Him in as he lay Him in his own tomb.”

“Okay,” she said, dubiously.  “But there’s also this other one of just His face called the Sudarium.  And given what you’ve told me about Ste. Germaine’s run in with Him, I think it might be germane —if you will forgive the pun.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Okay, but this could be important.  At the same station of the cross where Christ stumbled and Ste. Germaine, known as Caraphilus then, yelled at Him to get moving, a woman who came to be known as St. Veronica took pity on Him and stepped up and wiped the grime and sweat and blood off His face.  After she stepped back into the crowd, she noticed that Christ’s face had been imprinted on her handkerchief.  Allegedly, this vera icon or true icon is in the Vatican and is one of three true relics that are brought out at special ceremonies in St. Peter’s.”

“So, this cloth really exists?”

“I don’t know. I’ve heard the Vatican has Jesus’s foreskin.  Do you believe that?”

“That does sound a bit suspect, but then again, they don’t bring that one out like they ostensibly do with the Veronica.”

“If they did, it doesn’t sound like it would be terribly impressive.”

“Don’t talk like that. It’s ... sacreligious or something....”


*  *  *  * 


The research corroborated Ste. Germaine’s story.  The Mandylion had disappeared in a raid of cursaders on Constantinople.  When Jayne and I broke for coffee, we tried to suss out Ste. Germaine’s story.  If this Hoxhok character was so stoked on being a North American native wizard, why would he get involved in something from the ancient Middle East.

“Well,” said Jayne, “I think it all has to do with the Easter period.  Y’see, Mormons believe that after Christ died on the cross and when he was resurrected, he was seen in North America by native people and that this knowledge was given to the church founder John Smith and that he then received the Book of Mormon and formed the Church of Latter Day Saints based on Jesus’s brief visit.”

“How do you know this stuff?”

She tapped her temple and grinned.  “Kidneys, man, kidneys.”

“So you think Hoxhok can increase his power here in the New World by accumulating Old World talismans that relate to the period between the crucifiction and the resurrection.”

“From what you’ve told me, Ste. Germaine was rattled.  I don’t take him for the needlessly nervous type.  So, yeah, that’s what I think.  He’s worried that someone —Hoxhok— is going to accumulate a psychic power that we haven’t seen in a couple thousand years.”




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Sunday, March 15, 2009