My First Full Day in Florida, and The Tall Dark Man From PulpFest

I did not realize just how tired I was until I fell onto the air mattress in the front room.  I barely had the dexterity and the awareness to put on my CPAP mask and turn the machine on before falling completely asleep.  Susie had stayed up late with me for awhile–both of us on our respective laptops–but I stayed up a little later than she did, and almost fell asleep in the chair where I had been sitting.

Susie, Steph, and Mike gave me the $.10 tour of Brevard County after we stopped at a produce farm to buy mangoes.  The growers sold Steph and Mike some unripe mangoes, and said they had none available that were ready to eat.

The mango farm was just across the road from the Indian River, which separates Merritt Island from the mainland.  I saw the exterior of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Cocoa, and from a distance saw the launch pads of the Kennedy Space Center.  We went onto the beach by Cherie Down Park in Cape Canaveral and I could barely see the launch towers in the distance.  I took some pictures of the Atlantic.

I realized that I did not blog about PulpFest after it happened, and I attribute that to a serious lack of mental and emotional energy.  I did not spend all that much money.  I think my single biggest expense was the admission fee.  For $650, I could have come away the proud owner of an electric typewriter used by Walter E. Gibson, the author of many novels and short stories featuring The Shadow.  And for $10 thousand, I would have owned a first edition of Dracula, copyright 1897 by Archibald Constable and Company.

Instead, I reigned in my spending.  I bought a DVD of Three Into Two Won’t Go, a 1969 British love triangle movie starring Rod Steiger and Claire Bloom.  I barely remember seeing it on the late, late show on Channel 3 (from Huntington) when I was a teenager.  The title intrigued me, and I remembered it instantly when the Yammering Magpie had it for sale among many hundreds of DVDs at PulpFest.

At a table full of vintage paperbacks, I spent $8 on a Dell paperback of The Tall Dark Man, by Anne Chamberlain.  Those blog readers who are not from Marietta probably have never heard of it, but The Tall Dark Man is a mystery novel written by a Marietta native.  The story is about a teenage girl who has a penchant for making up tall tales and improbable scenarios.  One day in study hall, she is looking out the window and sees two men on a hill.  One man kills the other, and then sees that she witnessed it.  The novel describes her attempt to escape him, and her often futile attempts to enlist the aid of people who know about her history of exaggeration.

I attended Marietta Junior High School for one year, and have not set foot in the building since 1978, but reading the description of the interior, and then of walking down the steps to Seventh St., bring vivid images to mind.

I mention it now because I had planned to bring the book on this trip, since I haven’t reread it for quite a few years, but while the bus was heading down Interstate 75, I looked in my knapsack and discovered that I had forgotten to pack it.

I’m starting to droop here.  We had a late meal at Steak ‘n Shake, and Susie and I are the only ones awake right now.  It’s getting hard for me to hit the right keys here.

Pulp Non-Fiction

This afternoon, I spent several hours at the Ramada Plaza on Sinclair Rd. at the 40th annual Pulpfest, moving from vendor table to vendor table in the hotel ground floor.  I’ve become much more choosy at events such as these, and gone are the days when I could blow an entire paycheck at something like my beloved Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention in Cincinnati.  It would have been impossible for me to scrutinize every book, DVD, poster, and pulp magazine for sale, but I am pretty sure I got a pretty representative picture of what’s available.

There was a we’ll-look-back-on-this-and-laugh moment during the convention.  A seller from Michigan specializes in manuscripts, first editions, and signed copies.  On his table, he displayed a two-page handwritten letter (circa 1928) from H.P. Lovecraft, creator of the Cthulhu Mythos.  I asked how much it cost.  “Twenty-five,” he said.

My friend Steve wrote his master’s thesis on Lovecraft’s body of work, so I went outside and texted him immediately.  (Cell service is nonexistent in the ground floor of this hotel.)  I texted, 2pp Lovecraft letter (handwritten) on sale for $25!.  He texted back, Wow.  Authenticated?  He was wise to ask this, because I went down and spoke to the dealer, and this brief discussion brought me back down to earth.  I went back upstairs to where there was cell reception, and sent another text message, Never mind.  It’s $2500!”  Steve texted back, That sounds more like it. 😀.  Lovecraft died in 1937, and any of his papers, hand- or typewritten, appreciate more and more annually.

I was able to keep my spending reasonable.  When I was going to St. Mary’s Middle School, I gave a speech in my forensics class (a classy way of saying “public speaking”) on my growing book collection.  Among other gems (nothing particularly valuable or collectible), I showed a double novel, They Buried a Man.  The husband and wife who own and operate Hooked on Books in Bolingbrook, Ill. had the book.  (My copy disappeared in the many moves from Marietta to Boston, Cincinnati, Athens, etc. over the years.)  So, for a mere $5, I now own They Buried a Man once again.  Ace Books published an entire series of “Ace Giant Double Novels.”  They’re the size of a typical paperback of the period (1955), selling for $.50.  Mildred Davis was the author of both They Buried a Man and the other novel, The Dark Place (G-543).  When you finish reading one novel, you would turn the next page, and the final page of the other book would be there upside down.  Two covers, two complete books, two for the price of one.

I learned about Pulpfest from mystery writer, law professor, and attorney Francis M. (“Mike”) Nevins, Jr., whom I met several years ago at the Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention in Cincinnati.  The convention came to Columbus in 2009.  It had previously been in Dayton, so I never attended until it came to the Ramada Plaza.  I am not surprised at the overlap between the old-time radio crowd and the pulp enthusiasts’ crowd.  I saw some of the same faces, and some of the same merchandise was available.  (There were very few audio recordings for sale, but several vendors sold DVDs of movie serials, 1950s TV shows, and B movies.)

Very interesting choice of music right now.  I’ve programmed my laptop to shuffle the music files stored there. Here I am writing about a convention for pulp fiction and genre enthusiasts–the theme is the 80th anniversary of The Shadow–and the song that came up just now was “Spooky,” by the Classics IV.  (When I was in high school, the Atlanta Rhythm Section’s cover was quite popular, but I admit I like the Classics IV version better.)

And now for a double whammy music-wise.  The next song that came up was  “Read ‘Em and Weep,” by Barry Manilow.  Besides admitting for all the world to read that I have a Barry Manilow album ripped to my laptop, I’ll ‘fess up the reason why this song hits me in the gut.  Steph and I were married 15 years ago tonight at Highbanks Metro Park in Powell.  In the eyes of the law, we are still married, but tonight we are over a thousand miles apart.  And now, it’s a thousand statute miles apart–we have been thousands of miles apart spiritually, mentally, and emotionally for much longer.  I know it’s best that we’re apart, and I think I’ve adapted well to single fatherhood (and this month of full bachelorhood), but that doesn’t make this date any easier.  Anyone who has suffered the bitter end of a relationship can appreciate the lyrics of this song.

I am not long back from dinner with Steve and Mike Nevins at Noodles and Company (I highly recommend their Wisconsin macaroni and cheese with meatballs, by the way), and later tonight I will make the three-mile trek to Grandview for the Return of Nite Owl Theater.  The film tonight is Teenagers from Outer Space.  I have never seen this, nor have I heard it before it appeared on Fritz’ Website.

I bought two DVDs at the convention at $10 apiece.  One was Barfly, a movie that had me in stitches when I first saw it in the early 1990s.  The only Charles Bukowski book I had read at the time was Post Office, a novel I loved but did not fully appreciate until I went to work at the main post office in Cincinnati in May 1992.  Barfly‘s setting reminded me very much of the 600 block of East Main Street in downtown Cincinnati, where I spent many afternoons and early evenings with Robert Lowry, the once-famous Cincinnati novelist who died broke and out of print in 1994.  I was a bit of a snob about where I drank, and I considered Lowry’s hangout, the Bay Horse Café, to be beneath my station–I was used to college bars, and thought they were a step up from Skid Row establishments such as The Saloon and the Bay Horse.  (The college bars were, after all, college bars, even if you had to step through a minefield of spilled beer, broken glass, and vomit to get from the bar to your seat.)

The other was Kill Me If You Can, a 1977 made-for-TV movie starring Alan Alda as Caryl Chessman, a career criminal executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin in 1960 for rape and kidnapping.  I was in junior high when I saw the movie for the first time, and it turned me into an opponent of the death penalty, and it led me to read the four books Chessman wrote while on Death Row, including his autobiography, Cell 2455, Death Row and his only novel, The Kid Was a Killer, published two or three months before his execution.  I have not watched the movie in its entirety, and I won’t tonight, but I am glad to finally have a copy.

Many of the vendors organized their products by genre, author name, or publisher, and many issues of Argosy, The Phantom Detective, and Dime Mystery Book were in chronological order.  That was good,  because I was on a mission to find a specific 1955 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for a friend.  (I came away with two “I have it, but not here”s, but I collected email and snail addresses from both vendors, and will contact them in the next day or so.)  At the same time, serendipity can be your friend as well.  I have lost track of how many books I now own by discovering them completely by accident while in search of something else.  I have prowled bookstores and a misfiled book just happens to me one I’ve tried to find for years.

Some typical PulpFest fare.

These books were considered the epitome of risque fiction in the 1950s.  I did not see much gay or lesbian pulp fiction, but I am sure many of the vendors had it for sale.  Gotta love it: “It was a beautiful honeymoon–for four!”

I first became aware of Mike Nevins when I read his massive biography of mystery and suspense novelist Cornell Woolrich Cornell Woolrich: First You Dream, Then You Die.  I did not meet him for several years afterwards, and he was pleasantly surprised that I knew of his book about Woolrich.  Tonight at dinner, he signed the introductions he wrote for Woolrich’s posthumously published Tonight, Somewhere in New York and the Ballantine reprint of The Black Path of Fear.

One dealer was selling a $100 copy of Woolrich’s 75-page novella Marihuana (originally on sale in 1944 for a dime!), and alongside it was a title I found much more intriguing.  This was Frederic Brown’s The Case of the Dancing Sandwiches, both published by Dell.  The title did not intrigue me enough to fork over the price he wanted.  Just coincidentally, it was the same price as my electric bill, and I think Susie would like to come back to a house with electricity.

If I knew for sure it worked, I would have bought a big outdoor dial thermometer that advertised Blue Coal (“America’s finest anthracite”).  When I’ve streamed episodes of Suspense from or listened to the disks and tapes I’ve bought over the years, Blue Coal came up quite often as a sponsor, as did Roma Wines and Autolite Spark Plugs.

It’s miserable out tonight, and the relative humidity is sky-high, as it has been for much of July, yet I will soon be lighting out for Grandview.  Susie and I wanted to go last month, but the post-Comfest traffic snarled all buses headed away from Goodale Park and the Short North, so we didn’t get to go.  (Susie didn’t want to walk, as I usually do, and as we did when we saw Dementia 13 in May.)

Next stop: Grandview.

With My Final Reserves of Energy, I Drag Myself to the Laptop to Chronicle My Weekend

I’m sitting at my overly cluttered desk with The Moody Blues (the Every Good Boy Deserves Favour album).  Truly riding on fumes here, but I realize I haven’t written in here in a week, so–even if no one else is reading–I’m going to post to try and restore my mental and physical energy level.

On Monday, Steve and I took Susie to Girlz Rhythm ‘n’ Rock Camp at Hoover Y-Park in Lockbourne, about 18 miles from us.  This is her second year there.  Girls aged 8-18 come together to form bands, write music, learn to perform it, and put together complete stage performances.  Unfortunately, after we dropped Susie off, Steve made good on his promise to get me to work promptly afterwards.

I’m sure Suzie Simpson (the director) and her volunteers kept the girls running around to all hours, until they fell over from exhaustion.  My week was packed to the rafters with work, since my co-worker is on vacation the entire week, which doubled my workload considerably.

So how did I unwind?  By cramming Saturday with one activity after another.  Our friend Cynthia drove me down to Lockbourne Saturday morning to see the girls’ performance and take Susie back to Columbus.  Susie surprised me when I saw her onstage at the Yamaha keyboard while singing lead vocals for Moonlight Band.  (She had to sing two vocals, since one of the girls in her band left the camp by emergency squad on Friday, apparently with appendicitis.)

The littlest kids’ song had everyone in stitches.  I didn’t catch all the lyrics, but the gist of it was “Leave me alone, get out of my life,” and the refrain included “When I see you, I want to vomit.”

Susie at the Yamaha, awaiting the cue to begin.

Only one finale was appropriate: a very spirited rendition of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ “I Love Rock and Roll.”
They love rock and roll!

Susie and I went to the Whetstone Library once we were back in Columbus.  The outdoor performance was racing the sky, which was darkening every minute.  Steph and her friend Joanna had come down separately from us, and headed back to Columbus as soon as the performance ended.  Cynthia, Susie, and I stayed for the potluck.  (Unfortunately, I didn’t get any of the blackberry pie that Cynthia contributed.)  By the time we were back in Columbus, it was raining.
I didn’t realize just how exhausted I was until Susie and I came home from the library.  I lay down for about 45 minutes, and then jumped on the COTA bus northbound to the Noodle Company, across from Graceland Shopping Center.  Pulpfest was this weekend at the Ramada Plaza Hotel on Sinclair Road.  I went to it last year–its first year in Columbus–but didn’t go this year.  (I wrote about the ’09 show in my LiveJournal blog here.)
Since I met him at an Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention in Cincinnati in 2006, I try to see Mike Nevins any time our paths intersect.  Long before I ever met him in person, I had bought his Cornell Woolrich: First You Dream, Then You Die, which chronicles the wretched life of the author of “Rear Window” and The Bride Wore Black.  Last year, he was our dinner guest, and since I couldn’t make it to PulpFest, Steve and I met him for dinner at Noodles.  Mike talked about his forthcoming book, Cornucopia of Crime, in which he analyzes the works of many popular 20th-century crime novelists, such as John D. MacDonald, Cleve Adams, and Erle Stanley Gardner.  (We all had quite a discussion about Perry Mason in its various incarnations.  This started when I opined that Hamilton Burger had to be, without question, the most incompetent attorney in American history.)  All the characters of the Perry Mason series grew and changed with the times, of course.  I always remembered Raymond Burr in the courtroom with “But, Mr. Phillips, if you were in San Diego that night, as you claimed, how could you have known…”

Steve headed home, and Mike back to the hotel for a PulpFest event.  I’ll probably see him in Cincinnati next spring at the radio convention.  He planned to head home to St. Louis early Sunday morning.  (Mike publishes under the name Francis M. Nevins, and has written several mystery novels, including Beneficiaries’ Requiem and Publish and Perish.  He is a retired professor of copyright law at St. Louis University.)

Mike Nevins and me, post-repast at Noodles Company.
Not sure why we look so solemn.
Through the miracle of Facebook, I was invited by a friend of a friend ad infinitum to a “Meet Our House” party on Medary Ave.  It was truly a wonderful occasion, christening the Judi Bari House (named in honor of the Earth First! activist who died in 1997).  No one there knew me by name, although when I introduced myself to one of the hosts, he recognized my post to the event’s Wall.  (I wrote: “Only in Clintonville can you have a calendar like this: 1. Pick up daughter at summer camp; 2. Have dinner with mystery novelist in town for PulpFest; 3. Go to radical activist house warming party in evening.”)  I walked into a crowded, but still comfortable living room, and everyone was drinking beer.  I felt a little presumptuous, but I went straight to the kitchen and filled up a cup with water, which was all I drank all night.  (I truly overdid it on the Diet Coke during my dinner with Mike Nevins, and had tried to walk some of it off between dinner and the party, so I wouldn’t be quite as wired.)

A lesson I never learned when I was in Athens was that booze isn’t what makes the party.  It’s the people, and I met quite a few people I hope will become friends, and not just in the loose form of the word that all the social networking sites use.  I spoke with different people–male and female–at different stages in jobs and education, many at the crossroads.  (One woman has a very circuitous journey planned for the next several months.  She plans to become a laborer at The Farm, the Tennessee intentional community, and from there to move into a squat in Brooklyn.)  The music consisted almost entirely of very unorthodox dance mixes and hybrids of disparate sound files.  I am not a dancer, so I remained on the porch or in the kitchen, where I could actually hear myself think.

I was home around 3 a.m.  Steph was sound asleep, but I was too wired to sleep.  I considered blogging, but I made a stab at writing in the holographic diary and finally fell asleep around dawn.  I had wanted to go to church, but when I woke up, I realized I wasn’t going to make it.

Now the work day looms before me, and I still want to write up the day’s events in the diary, especially since I’m down to the last seven pages in the composition book.