Thursday, September 25, 2008

Charles Fort and I are in the Appalachian Independent

The Knight Foundation has provided startup funding for the Appalachian Independent, a fledgling online newspaper with the ambition of covering Allegany and Garrett counties in western Maryland via a network of "citizen journalists."

The hurdles are many and obvious, but the thing will never get off the ground if lots of folks don't submit work to it, so I took the plunge and contributed an article about a recent Cumberland get-together of the International Fortean Association, which the Independent has published here.

One of the links within the article doesn't seem to work, but I copied that URL into a new browser window, and it worked just fine, so go figure. I'm not involved in the HTML coding; I just hope to submit stuff occasionally. If you know anyone in the vicinity who might be interested in doing the same, please spread the word.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Quote this, G-men

I admire without reservation this ad for the MAFIA, a.k.a. the Mollie A. Fearing Insurance Agency in Manteo, N.C., which we saw in Real Estate Outer Banks magazine during our May vacation. Fearing must have seen Big Bad Mama at a formative stage, but that's true of many of us.

I wonder who the cartoonist is.

Fearing's online presence, alas, is considerably more demure.

A cameo by the 15th Street Diner

You can't tell from the crop in this online version of the article, but I was pleased to recognize immediately, in the May Southern Living profile of Rick Bragg, where Mary Margaret Chambless snapped the photo. "Hey!" I said aloud. "That's the 15th Street Diner."

Many a meal I've eaten at that Tuscaloosa, Ala., establishment, often in the very booth where Bragg is sitting. In this scanned and cropped image from the print magazine, you can read part of the logo, backward, on the window behind the headline:Such is the profusion of good Southern cooking around Tuscaloosa County that the 15th Street would not even make my Top 10 list of favorite local eateries -- a list headed by the incomparable Brown Bag in Northport -- but if I had even the 15th Street here in Allegany County, Md., I'd be grateful.


I share this ad for Claussen's pickles in case you missed it in the Sunday newspapers a few weeks ago. Once you're done wincing, squirming in discomfort, etc., note the photo in the corner, and how the angle emphasizes the jar's steadfast erectness.

Side note: Isn't it annoying when you go looking for an official Claussen's pickle site and can find nothing closer than the portal site of the behemoth parent company, Kraft?

Baseball, hot dogs and lethal injection

I support Maryland Citizens Against State Executions (MD CASE), which opposes the death penalty, but I nevertheless was startled to receive this postcard in July.

None of the images exactly shout "death penalty" -- but what image does, these days? One of the many reasons states opted for lethal injection over the electric chair in the first place was the chair had become too loaded an image, like the noose, the guillotine, the stake and the cross; it was no longer the property of the executioners alone. Now there is no loaded image for execution in the United States -- a syringe, after all, could represent so many things, good and bad -- which helps keep execution out of people's minds, which helps the status quo, and so the executions continue.

Not so many in Maryland, though. According to the invaluable Death Penalty Information Center, Maryland has executed five people since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, and the first one wasn't until 1994. Six prisoners currently are on Maryland's death row, all men. (What's their racial and socioeconomic breakdown, I wonder?)

I wrote my story "The Executioners' Guild" (I thought) in a hot haze of righteous anti-capital-punishment anger. After it was published, dozens of people came up to me and said: "I loved the story. By the way, what do you think about the death penalty?"

Does revulsion sell?

I once thought that Ollie's Bargain Outlet had the most moth-eaten mascot ever seen in retail, but that was before Elmer's House of Bargains & Good News Outlet opened in Cumberland, Md. Yikes!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bless you for asking

I recently was mailed an offer to subscribe to The Christian Century at the "professional clergy discount" of $39 for the year. "I am confident that you will find the magazine an invaluable partner in your ministry," says the insert.

From what alternate timeline was this mailed?

The Living Dead

From my Aug. 26 "Ripley's Believe It or Not!" calendar:
Henri Christophe (1767-1820) of northern Haiti ordered his guards to prove their loyalty to him by marching over a 200-ft. cliff. Those who obeyed plunged to their deaths and those who refused were tortured and executed!
Mad Henri figures briefly in my Nebula- and Stoker-nominated story "Zora and the Zombie," which just has been reprinted in John Joseph Adams' new anthology The Living Dead, published by Night Shade Books.

Boom! That was the sound of my Robert E. Lee cuckoo clock

Speaking of the Civil War: If you're wondering what to get the secessionists on your Christmas list, consider this item from The Bradford Exchange.
In the South's hour of need, a gallant soldier named Robert E. Lee won timeless glory for himself and the fighting men of Dixie. Now, you can be reminded of the enduring pride of the South with a timeless Civil War cuckoo clock ... At the start of every hour, miniature doors decorated with the Confederate flag swing open and a handcrafted cannon announces the hour with the sound of cannon fire.
My first thought was, aren't the only truly "timeless" clocks the broken ones?

My second thought was, are the boys in gray picketing the Yankee headquarters of The Bradford Exchange (Niles, Ill., home state of Lincoln and Obama) for likening Robert E. Lee to a cuckoo?

My third thought was, there's no limit to the Civil War kitsch that people will buy -- if it's pro-Confederate kitsch, anyway.

Heck, I'd buy one of these myself, if Marse Robert himself popped out of the doors every hour to say, "Ah surrenduh!"

Civil War News trading cards

During my recent visit, one of the display cases in the Stockyards Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, included several examples of the gory Civil War News trading cards published by Topps in 1962, featuring the artwork of the great Norman Saunders, whose immediate follow-up for Topps was Mars Attacks. Apparently no one's parents got bent out of shape by the Civil War News cards, since they were "educational"; Mars Attacks, of course, was a different story.

The museum exhibit, presumably put together by a Confederate sympathizer, refers to them as "War Between the States" cards. The museum's offerings are "Death Barges In," "Dynamite Victims," "Painful Death," "Rebel Power," "Massacre," "No Escape," "Savages Attack," "Victim of the War" and "Deadly Defense."

Here's Bob Heffner's fine site full of information about the Civil War News series, though the artwork itself is seen to better advantage at the Norman Saunders website, or here.

The Palace light bulb and the Stockyards Museum

On my August business trip to Texas, I found myself in a town I never had visited before, Fort Worth. At first opportunity, of course, I went to the Stockyards Museum to see the 1908 Palace Theater light bulb, the second oldest still-working bulb in the world. (The oldest is in Fire Station 6 in Livermore, Calif.) I feel a kinship with the Palace bulb in its centennial year, as we share a birthday; come Sept. 21, it will be exactly 56 years older than me.

The bulb was all I had hoped for, but I was delighted to discover the museum's many other attractions, which included: a display of dozens of different patented barbed-wire designs, with annotations; a vintage "bad luck wedding dress" that seems to have inspired at least one novel (by Geralyn Dawson); copies of the meatpackers' newspaper The Armour Oval, featuring "News and Views of Armour Crews"; a years-old cast model of a proposed Fort Worth monument to the great black cowboy and rodeo star Bill Pickett, a monument that unfortunately seems never to have been erected; a giant framed movie poster for Pickett's 1921 "all-colored" Western The Crimson Skull, co-starring Anita Bush, Lawrence Chenault and Steve Reynolds, "the One-Legged Marvel"; a 19th-century washtub with a sign offering "First Water" for 15 cents, then cheaper rates for bathwater that already had been used once, twice, etc.; and a circa 1915 Meilicke Payroll Calculator, essentially a tabulated card catalog as long as my forearm. (The instructions note, for example, that "42¾ hours at 34c per hour is found on card tabbed 34, intersection of 40 and 2¾ -- $14.54.") All this is interspersed with signs that say things such as "Please don't lean on this creaky ol' case." In short, the Stockyards Museum is well worth your time.

Tonight's gallery visit

Tonight en route to a milkshake at the Frostburg Freeze, Sydney and I dropped by campus for the opening reception of the latest Roper Gallery exhibition, this one dedicated to works by the art faculty at Salisbury University on the Eastern Shore. Our favorites were Sally Molenda's color photos of Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and two science-fiction-flavored bronzes by Jim Hill, "CrabKing's Palace" and "Skygate," the second of which you can see here and here. You can't tell from those photos, but "Skygate" is taller than 6 feet. We also liked Hill's bust of himself, which I think was titled "Creativity."

I'm on Facebook, too

After years of urging from Sydney, I finally created a Facebook page, during a spare hour in a hotel room during our July driving tour of the Hudson Valley and New England. So if y'all are on Facebook, Friend me now!

On the tenure track

Life has been a whirlwind since my last blog posting, in July. Shortly after Sydney and I got home from Readercon, I was offered a tenure-track teaching job in the English department at Frostburg State University in Frostburg, Md., teaching professional writing -- including business writing, technical writing, journalism and editing & production. Yes, that's the same department where my wife, Sydney, teaches. I accepted, gave my notice at Overdrive magazine, "The Voice of the American Trucker," and then spent a hectic August trying to wind down one job (which involved a business trip to Texas for the Great American Trucking Show, among other things) and crank up the next one. I had exactly one week between my last day at Overdrive and the first day of fall classes, Tuesday, Sept. 2. This is the first night I've felt able to draw breath in weeks! But I'm delighted, of course, by how everything has worked out.

Here's my faculty Web page, what Wikipedia would call a "stub."

And how are y'all doing?