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Thursday, September 29, 2022
Wednesday, September 28, 2022
Tuesday, September 20, 2022
Saturday, September 17, 2022
The latest addition to my "to read" stack.
About an hour ago I was talking with Michele about our "to read" stacks, and I forgot to mention to her that I finally got my hands on this pulp era classic from the woman who 26 years later wrote the screenplay for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and am currently reading it. I set about writing her a note explaining the why of my interest in it, and that note instead blossomed to what you are now reading, so I share it with you as well as Michele.
I used to collect coffee table books of vintage sci-fi pulp magazine artwork, volumes that sprung from the 1970's nostalgia boom, and I have been fascinated and enthralled by this cover illustration since I was around ten or eleven, when I first saw it in its original context as the cover for an issue of PLANET STORIES.
At the time I was really into the style and aesthetic of vintage pulp illustration, its elements heavily influencing my sci-fi and fantasy doodles to this day, and this one struck me with the dynamism of its central figure. Who was that fierce warrior? What was her story? For forty-some-odd years I had no answers, but the other day I was looking at the cover on the internet and the thought occurred to me that a sci-fi/fantasy author of Leigh Brackett's pedigree probably had much of her catalog still in print or available somewhere, so I did a bit of sleuthing and found out that it could be had in a slim indie press volume that collected three of her unrelated novellas. It was under ten bucks, so I snagged it as this month's treat to myself.
Upon getting into reading it, I found it to be quite good and briskly paced, with Brackett's self-admitted love of the writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard being unabashedly worn on her sleeve, as was evident from the style of storytelling and pacing, and the fact that the story's protagonist — who is not the titular Black Amazon — is an obvious gene splicing of Tarzan, John Carter of Mars, and Conan the Barbarian. That's a good thing, as the aforementioned authorial influences were two of the top tier writers of the pulp era, when they were writing while firing on all cylinders.
I was surprised to discover that the novella is actually the fourth in a series about the sword-wielding guy in the lower corner of the cover illustration and that the Black Amazon is (thus far in my reading) somewhat disappointingly not the hero of the story, instead being a warlord and conquest-minded adversary for the actual protagonist. And while looking into whether or not I should read the rest of the series, I found it interesting that on every vintage pulp cover and in every magazine illustration or later reprint book that depicts the hero, John Eric Stark by name, well into the 1970's, he was never once illustrated as he was described. In the stories, due to his having grown up in the weird environmental conditions of a colonized Mercury, his skin is dark, described as almost ebony black, though ethnically he is of European Earth descent. Apparently, in those days it did not matter that he was not a negro, but he was close enough for rock and roll, and depicting a hero with black skin was just never gonna happen during the era between Pat Boone and the advent of Shaft. To the best of my knowledge, it was not until the '70's and '80's that sci-fi prose started featuring POC's as characters at all, let alone as heroes.
The more recent printings of Brackett's Stark stories, however, get his coloration right.
Anyway, I was so enthralled by that old cover — an early example of media that fed directly into my adolescent fetish for strong, fierce females in armor —, I used to draw my own comics of what her adventures on Mars would be (comics that, if they still exist, are secreted away somewhere in my mother's files), and I may start sketching her again, though I will not adhere to the description in the novella. There she is described in more realistic and practical armor and a cloak, as she leads a nomadic tribe of brigands who survive in the snowy wastes in the upper northern regions of the planet, and it's clear that Brackett was pretty much dropping hostile Bedouins into the cold, so they had to wear gear that made sense for that environment. The version drew at age 11 looked a lot like the one in the vintage cover illustration, but drawing her today I would make the design of her armor a tad more modern/sleek and, since it's sci-fi/fantasy, I might add pauldrons to the shoulders which a modern illustrator of the bland, too-slick vintage-inspired cover did, to an effect that renders the figure stiff and un-dynamic, and maybe make her boots more like those of Wonder Woman in the movies, complete with greaves, but with visually obvious cushioned soles for the environment.
That said, back to reading.
Tuesday, September 13, 2022
A few years back, a kind friend who'd received a sudden windfall via a job promotion decided to surprise me with this high-end collector's doll of Alex from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. I had wanted one, but its price of over $200 made it too rich for my blood. Anyway, I now have one, and it is lovely. That said, it will remain in its packaging until I live in a home where I have more space to properly display such treasures.
Here's the doll, from box and packaging to posing on my kitchen counter top with accessories, the kitchen items serving to provide scale
Barbie's new boyfriend...NOT.
Monday, September 12, 2022
Last week I spent a considerable amount of time rescuing old photos from my previous laptop, and while doing so I came across this classic document.
But I digress. This is about Bill Turner.
After my folks split up, my mother also began recreating herself. Now that she was out from under a loveless and awful 16-year relationship, part of her attempting to build herself anew after having lived her growing up years (and beyond) under the iron fist of her domineering Christian cultist mother, then enduring my father, included her taking her first tentative steps at finding a boyfriend, something she had not done since the late 1950's. She had been raised in a rigid Christian household, so her every activity was closely monitored by her mother and the other women of the James family matriarchy, even down to some of her relatives sneaking into her room to inspect her panties for evidence of sexual activity, and that was when she was a grown woman.
Needless to say, with that kind of shit going on, plus her time with dad, she had a very warped perception of men and dating. She was lonely, but her ideal man was an unachievable fantasy blend of Rhett Butler, Kenny Rogers, and Omar Sharif, only black, and he must always be the exemplar of the perfect southern gentleman. (A fantasy that she unfortunately tried to program me to be from an early age. Not in some incestuous way, but the way she treated me like she was grooming me as a chaste surrogate husband really did a number on my young head. Getting out of that house and going to college was the best thing that ever happened to me.) Nonetheless, she began to reach out to various black men she had met in various capacities, all from other towns since the number of single black men in Westport was practically nil. (Hell, the number of black people at all in Westport was practically nil.)
I believe my mom met Bill Turner sometime during 1978. Bill was a house painter of some small renown who did quality work for a reasonable rate, assisted by a sketchy white guy named Donald. He was nice enough, so mom briefly dated him. It didn't work out because my mom is very much a snob, and Bill, as she herself put it, just was not on her intellectual level. She was not wrong, but Bill was the salt of the earth, even if he did refer to a theme song as a "scheme song." Anyway, despite no longer being romantically involved, they stayed good friends, and he was her go-to guy for any house painting or simple home repairs.
Bill was over at the first house, and later the second house, quite often, and I think mom liked having him around so I would have something resembling a father figure and a positive male influence. I never thought of Bill fulfilling either of those roles, but I liked him a lot. He had a very earthy sense of humor and he was downright hilarious once he got going, with a favorite topic for him to take the piss out of being current Top 40 pop music. His derisive imitations of the songs that he hated made me laugh my ass off, especially his renditions of Billy Joel's "Big Shot" and "Pop Muzik" by M. He would also sometimes sing a sarcastic version of Mel Tillis's "I'm Just A Coca-Cola Cowboy," as he found country music to be an endless goldmine of ludicrous songs. In fact, he may be the Patient Zero for my love of old school country, the dumber, the better. Unfortunately it is impossible to translate the nuances of Bill's vocal performance of the aforementioned hits in writing, but if you ask me nicely, I would be glad to perform my approximation of his dulcet tones over drinks.
Between the time when I was 13 through to the end of my 12th Grade year, mom would sometimes task Bill with what amounted to babysitting me, despite me being in my teens and being quite a responsible kid. (To call Mildred overprotective would be a monumental understatement.) That was fine by me because what she didn't know was that Bill was a high-functioning alcoholic who always had two cases of Bud in his truck, and that he and Donald drank all day while on the job. There were a number of times when Bill would have to run an errand while I was in his care, so we would hop in his truck and he would whip out a beer, always noting with a sly wink that I was not to tell my mother, after which he would crack open the can and guzzle like a wolf pup at its mother's teat. And since I kept schtum about his drinking, he would hand me a beer of my own, thus introducing me to the timeless joy of "the Connecticut road beer." Those of you out there who grew up in Fairfield County during my era know EXACTLY what I'm talking about. His truck also had a generous supply of some of the scurviest porno mags I have ever seen, really grungy stuff featuring models who looked like worn-out biker hags. I'm talking the kind of stuff that kids would find molding inside a tree stump deep in the woods, what a friend of mine calls "feral porn." Bill always blew it off by claiming they belonged to Donald, but yeah, whatever.
Bill remained an on and off presence until perhaps the early '90's, at which point I never saw him again and my mother never mentioned him. A few times I asked mom if she knew what became of him, but she says she doesn't know. She was raised in a home where the code of silence on family matters and history was strictly enforced, so for all I know she does know what became of him. If I were to put money on it, I could see him doing himself in with the drink. I hope not, because he was a solid dude.
Tuesday, September 06, 2022
The next step is to get me scheduled for an examination that will have me drink a fluid that is detectable during a live X-ray. thus allowing the doctors to watch and take note of how my body's mechanisms for swallowing, digesting, and purging function. After that, if more is required before things are solved, I will have to endured having a wire pushed up my nose and down into my stomach, with said wire attached to a sensor that will record all of my esophagus and stomach's goings-on over a period of 48 hours. That sounds highly unpleasant, so here's hoping that the first test yields workable results...
Monday, September 05, 2022
When Shalom finally showed up, he proved to be one of those oldish Orthodox guys who look like the result of a transporter accident involving Gandalf and The Shadow. Upon entering the car, he loudly gave the driver grief when asked to wear a seatbelt while taking the seat in front of me. Seated behind him as I was, the AC proved that he was a stranger to general personal hygiene, as the air conditioning blew his considerable B.O. up my nose for the next 35 minutes. And I was the only one in the car wearing a mask. Many of the Russian drivers refuse to wear masks unless they see an incoming passenger wearing one, while the Orthodox who go to the dialysis center regularly attempt to do battle with Olena and the other nurse-techs and always lose, eventually giving in when threatened with expulsion if they do not mask up.(massive eyeroll)
Anyway, I am finally home and about to dig into some hummus and Wheat Thins.
Sunday, September 04, 2022
The Chinese-run Popeye's Chicken and Biscuits on 5th Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets in Brooklyn's Sunset Park. A haven for quality fast food chicken and the site of my utter debauchment.
During the week before last, when my systemic infection and agonizing UTI were finally fully vanquished, my appetite returned with a vengeance after a couple of weeks of barely eating (and being able to keep down what little I ate). Consequently, my body craved protein and comfort food, so, in a bid to sate both of those urges, I hopped the bus to the Chinese-run Popeye's in Sunset Park five days in a row. At each of those meals, I consumed a four-piece combo meal with biscuit and sides (sometimes two sides) and a large Dr. Pepper thinned with 1/6 seltzer from the self-serve drinks bar. Invariably the "all dark" order of two legs and two thighs, but as my system recuperated and my appetite became more voracious, I altered the order to four thighs, thus giving me more actual poultry protein (let's face it, there's nit much meat on a leg). Then, the following week, I went thrice more, placing the same order, sometimes tacking on an extra side of red beans and rice (delicious) along with my usual mashed potatoes and gravy. And, because the staff knows and likes me (they immediately twigged to part of my nature upon seeing the black gi that I wear as a light windbreaker), they sometimes sneak me an extra thigh, which I consumed with delight. It was absolutely over the top, and after each time I ate one of those meals, I felt a profound sense of shame.
It would appear that I have burnt myself out from Popeye's for the foreseeable future, but I must nonetheless remain diligent, as access to that Mecca of stereotype fulfillment is but a meager bus fare away. Instead, as of yesterday I stocked my fridge with healthier alternatives, including Chinese beef and vegetable dumplings for steaming, and chicken leg quarters that I will season and cook with my usual slow-and-low technique, yielding butter-soft dark meat that is slathered with a tweaked mesquite glaze during the final two hours of the slow-cooking. It's delicious and better than Popeye's, plus to say nothing of healthier and cheaper. The edge that Popeye's has is its singular seasoning and excellent sides (which may be down to the Chinese Popeye's having a staff that actually gives a shit), but I will ignore my junkie-like cravings and instead concentrate on staying the course. I may hit Popeye's again around the end of the month, but now I have to discipline myself and only go there once or twice per month. I know me, so cutting it out entirely ain't gonna happen, but this recent exercise in excess was not a good look. Nor was it in any way good for me, other than comfort.
Friday, September 02, 2022
That apparently made Popeye's day, and as I left I saw he had a huge, open-mouthed and toothless grin on his face. Unexpectedly, he bade me "Hev a goot veekend!!!" I wished him likewise and left.
Hey, I may not swing his way, but if the occasional voguing of my aging and not very Tom of Finland-esque physique and face give a lavender coffin-dodger something to make him happy, then who am I to deny him?
And it's sweet to occasionally be appreciated and ogled like a piece of meat in a safe way. In other words, I don't think Michele would mind. In fact, I think she might consider it an act of altruism.
"Yeah, if anyone fucks with me, I'm gonna killem. That's what I told the guys on my street...Ya mess with me or my mom, I'll fuckin' kill ya. I'm like Rambo... Mess with my mother, who's all that I got, I'll cut off your head. I mean it, I'LL CUT OFF YOUR HEAD. And If I don't have a weapon on me, I'll come back with all the weapons I can buy. And I know where ta buyem, too. I have the money. And if you have money, you can buy anything you want..."
When it became clear that the driver was not going to engage, the guy sat down across from me and remained silent. That is, until about five minutes later, when he began telling all and sundry that he now gets half off on MTA fares. When no one responded or payed attention to him, he once more fell silent.
Was he a loony who was off his meds? Was he just one of the innumerable local blowhards? Who can say?