Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mandatory Halloween Movies, Part 2: The BLAIR WITCH PROJECT

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
A young woman of my acquaintance from university days opined that the True Test of Greatness for any person, place, or thing, was that no one ever described he, she, or it as “okay.” That person, place, or thing was either cherished and revered, or despised with every subatomic quark of one’s being.

By her lights, The Blair Witch Project is right up there with Citizen Kane—which, come to think of it, is another movie people either love or hate.

What makes The Blair Witch Project work for me is that the supernatural element remains immediately beyond the edge of the visible. This film also savors that special flavoring of terror best understood by one-of-a-kind writer Shirley Jackson, namely, human isolation. Once those three young people leave their car on the side of the road you know they’re done for; it’s just a matter of time. Naturally, they’ll all begin to tear into another once they realize that, map and compass be damned, they are hopelessly lost.  Watching a trio of once-happy college students devolve into frightened and angry young adults is so wrenching that a CGI monster popping out from behind a tree would be a relief. But the only relief for these people awaits at the end of the film.

You poor, doomed bastards!
Throughout the making of The Blair Witch Project the actors were given GPS coordinates, general instructions, and not much else. You watch them run out of food and cigarettes and suffer for it. These are genuinely dirty, tired, hungry and frightened people we’re seeing, which, for some, is even harder to endure than the shaky-cam. Again, a CGI monster would have been a relief. Again, the only relief awaits at the end.

Yeah, well, I’d walk out on you, you ugly old man!
At the time of the film’s release, much was made of the real-life misery of the actors, and rumors were that the actors did indeed perish in those woods. Another win for Blair Witch is these actors look just like people you and I know. None of these people are even remotely attractive by Hollywood standards. While I can’t imagine anyone walking away from a blind date with Heather Donahue, her face is long, her chin is weak, her skin at once loose and puffy along her jaw. (Once they get into the woods, she’s not made up, either. Horrors!) Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams look like ordinary slobs you’d see playing hacky-sack outside the student union. This adds tremendously to the verisimilitude of the production.

The very woods are a character in The Blair Witch Project.

There is a malevolent supernatural agency playing with the characters (some have actually debated this), but it’s off-camera, outside the light, and barely even heard, at that. Everything we know about the evil stalking our hapless heroes is drawn from the reactions of the actors. Unless, that is, you visited the official Web site and read the mythology and Heather’s journal,* all of which got reactivated in time for the tenth anniversary of the film in 2009. The Internet marketing of the film was a much-ballyhooed first in 1999, but I can’t think of any film since that has succeeded based on buzz generated by a Web site. Snakes on a Plane is the only other movie I can think of that enjoyed extensive Internet promotion, but it failed miserably at the box office upon its release in 2006.

This stone-and-mortar work is rather primitive.
I’d pee on it if I wasn’t so dehydrated.
The haters hate on Blair Witch for the shaky-cam (I did get nauseated when I saw it in the theater; the heavily buttered popcorn didn’t help), the hard-to-follow sound, the lack of an onscreen monster and direct encounter with the same. The ending takes a while for some to figure out. I’ll never forget goofing around my garage after coming home from the matinee that bright August afternoon in 1999, and realizing what that last image meant—and feeling the hair stand up on my arms in broad daylight. I’m not the first or last who got caught like that. I can only imagine what it was like for those who woke up in the middle of the night with this epiphany.

I love it, though. And if you enjoy watching things fall apart one nerve-wracked piece at a time, seeing once happy and well-adjusted people driven to madness by faceless adversity, The Blair Witch Project is 81 minutes of (seriously pathological) joy.

Eat your heart out, Meryl Streep. Ms. Donahue owns this iconic scene.

 *There is no direct link to Heather’s journal. You have to click from the Legacy page, the journal link being on the right below the banner.

Mandatory Halloween Music, Part 1: “This Is HALLOWEEN”

Imagine an alternate universe in which Tim Burton was not busy making a silly hash out of Batman Returns in 1992, and Henry Selick did not have the opportunity to put his superior animation direction skills to The Nightmare Before Christmas.

On the other hand, let’s not, and enjoy what little good that’s left in this poor, debased world. 

Whenever I hear that movie’s opening song, “This Is Halloween,” I flash on the memory I have of singing it with my children as we tramped through the base housing at Bangor NSB in Washington state in 2004. “Best. Halloween. Ever!“ said 11-year-old Emily upon finishing. 

That year we got so much candy we were eating it for Thanksgiving dessert. Which, as I told my children, is precisely how much candy one should strive for. It’s not something we have every day, if at all. Halloween was the one night we could shamelessly acquire sweets, and the indulgences were parceled out accordingly in their school lunches and after dinners throughout the month.

I haven’t been the best father, but I am proud of the advice I gave my children, which I hope you will pass on to yours: You only have so many Halloweens as a child. Don’t let anyone talk you into attending a Halloween dance, or some bland, denatured “harvest festival” at some church. Pick a costume, get in character, hit the streets, and get that candy. 

Laughing, skipping down the sidewalk under the blessing of cold diamond starlight, singing this Happy Halloween song:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ray Bradbury’s Lost Paragraph

I had always wanted a hardcover copy of The October Country. When I met Ray Bradbury in 1991 I asked him about this and he wrote out the address for the publisher Alfred Knopf on the inside back cover of my 1982 paperback edition, presumably to encourage The October Country’s publication in hardcover. 

I never wrote Knopf, but in 2000 I did find a (then) recently published hardcover edition. I should have saved my money. Re-reading “Homecoming” I noticed one of my favorite passages missing:

With one last withering blast, away they all went, so many scarves, so many fluttery mammals, so many sere leaves, so many whining and clustering noises, so many midnights and insanities and dreams.

It’s a one-sentence paragraph, all of 33 words. But apparently their inclusion would have caused the printer to print an extra page to accommodate them. That’s my best guess as to why it was deleted.

Bradbury was somewhat notorious for rewriting work he’d best left finished. It’s a column for another day. Suffice it to say, if you want the best experience with one of fiction’s best writers, find the older editions. You can’t go wrong with this 1973 edition here, where I unearthed the Great Lost Paragraph. You also get the gorgeous Joe Mugnaini cover:

This book went through a lot of printings in the early 1970s so it’s not rare. Any decent used bookstore should have a copy. As for the illustrated edition of “Homecoming” with paintings by Dave McKean—dear God, no! The paintings are murky, hard-to-make-out garbage, and Bradbury ruins his own classic 1947 story for the sake of giving Timothy’s pet spider a name, among other stupidities. 

Moral of story for writers: learn to accept when your project is finished. If it’s something that’s already out there and the people love it, then by all that’s holy in this debased universe, leave it alone. Don’t tweak so much as a comma. There really does come a point when what you’ve made belongs to the people, and you should keep your hands off.

It’s a point I work towards every day. We should all be so accomplished.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Canadian-Baked Halloween Weirdness

According to the Wikipedia page, this collaborative song and video was created for the benefit of UNICEF in 2005. This isn’t the first time those evil United Nations people have tried to hijack our festivities. Remember “Trick or Treat for UNICEF!” I feel sorry for the kids who gave up candy for that.

To be fair, a few top-shelf (as of 2005) musicians are the ones trying to get us to give up the gold, and it’s a decent trade. However:

According to the official press release, the song “stems from a frustration with other benefit songs’ misguided, somewhat patronizing, and Western-centric worldview.”

I suppose this explains how the African nation of Chad gets name-checked early on. I’m sure the Peruvians appreciated their shoutout. 

Anyway, it helps if you are familiar with the treacly “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” from 1984, as that’s what the song riffs from. Despite all the big names on this, most prominently Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beck (in splendid spooky voice), Arcade Fire, and comedian David Cross, you probably haven’t heard of this, as it was a Canadian production for a primarily Canadian market. (It did get promoted over the Internet, which is how I got hold of it back in the day.) For all the top-shelf talent you’d think they could have made a better video, but it has its moments, and my children and I have enjoyed watching it over the years. (Yes, it’s safe for the family.) Hard to believe this was eight years ago already.

So, without further ado, the North American Halloween Prevention Initiative (NAHPI) wants to know: “Do They Know It’s Halloween?”

Misty Morning Hop

...and as we wind on down the road, our shadows taller than our souls....

The only constructive thing I did all yesterday was take a walk, come home, eat dinner, eat Benadryl, and crash early.

I got up with my wife’s alarm at 6:45 a.m. I thought about sleeping in some more, but, no, this was a golden opportunity to get all my Internet reading done before 9 a.m. and maybe get some work done on Grace Among the Dead

I downloaded a sweet pic of Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz in bed, a scene from the cinematic weirdness that is the Ridley Scott/Cormac McCarthy collaboration The Counselor. A writer for Variety wrote a game defense of a movie that, by most accounts, is overwritten, overwrought, and all-around atrocious. Which means I’ll have to see it eventually, if only to watch Cameron Diaz hump that Ferrari.

What else did I learn? Nothing, really. Not much going on in the news. We’re waiting on a late October storm here in the foothills of the Pikes Peak region. The temperature was 32 degrees with fog when I stepped out to take some photos with the PowerShot. Calm and gorgeous, it proved a cool balm for my overheated sensibilities.

The view from my backyard. We’re supposed to have strong winds with this coming storm, so this is likely the last chance I’ll have to get some happy snaps of my favorites aspens in their autumn wardrobe.
I came back down to the office and realized, hey, I did get some work done yesterday. I cut a lot of wasted words, deleted much extraneous exposition. The hell of it is, I need to keep my character of Deacon Sparks consistent. As in consistently slippery—he’s my Big Bad, and I want a sweet Satanic vibe to him. “Sweet Satanic” means he’s a tempter who shows us how wonderful and ordered and capital-R Right things could be, if we only go his way. I’d like to show how he has a lot in common with Derek Grace, save for the usual key details.

David Bowie reminded me of something important,
so I wrote it down.
This means work slows down. And what on earth am I doing inserting literary tropes into a zombie apocalypse e-pulp? Making Derek Grace a full-blooded human being with a point of view has earned me a lot of negative reviews. It turns out that simply making observations about the differences in behavior and attitude between the salaried professional and wage-slave working classes makes me guilty of “class warfare.” I should’ve known better. So I dial it back in Grace Among the Dead—but only because we’re at a point in the overall Saga of the Dead Silencer  where such distinctions hardly matter.  

It’s often said you can say things in science fiction in fantasy that you can’t say in real life. False. Any drama, in any setting or genre, will allow observations about touchy subjects. The challenge is that the Unspeakable Issue must be recognized in the allegory if the allegory is to be successful—and that success depends on how cleverly one constructs the narrative.

It turns out you have to be really clever to point out that which people vehemently refuse to accept: that our beloved United States of America, that Great Shining City on the Hill, Land of Opportunity™, etc., not only has social classes, but a caste system.

Fear not, Gentle Reader. We’re a month along into the zombie apocalypse in Grace Among the Dead. No one’s looking for a job, so that troublesome notion has no reason to show up and piss in anyone’s punchbowls. 

Meanwhile, the fog is burning away. The morning is almost gone. Time for another round of pushups and crunches. Then it’s brunch, and I can finally get started. I insist on distinct personalities among my characters. They will not speak alike. They will have distinctive worldviews. I insist.

Why? Not for art’s sake or any of that happy horse-hockey. I like working with (imaginary) people; that’s all. It’s what keeps the gig interesting. 

Soothe your own overheated sensibilities with these shots from around 9 a.m. local time, north Colorado Springs. Freezing temps, chilly fog, calm. Qualities I should make my own:

The cherry tree in our yard is changing with its usual blood-spatter of color.
Pikes Peak is behind that wall of white.

I feel better already just looking at this. 

I could stand here and stare down at my next door neighbor’s yard all day. The aspens are always more golden on the other side, blah-blah. Look, it’s just pretty, all right?  Time to go inside, anyway.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lou Reed Dead at 71

If all he ever did was this 1989 album he’d be
legendary in my book. Yes, I know, he did
so much more. I’d like to be alone with it, please. 
First reaction: surprised, but not all that much. Lou Reed was 71 but looked like 91. The man had lived harder and faster for longer than most humans with normal livers and kidneys can survive, and that stuff takes its toll. He left behind some timeless jewels in a large and very mixed body of work.  Who else can say they hung out with Andy Warhol at his 1960s peak of fame, recorded with Metallica and David Bowie, and even married Laurie Anderson? Respect.

Here’s the link to the Rolling Stone obituary, very well done for something written in a hurry. Reqiescat in pace, Lou. And thanks.

P.S.: I’ve always observed the 27th of October as the birthday of poets Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath. Now I must add “the day Lou Reed died” to that observance. What a day, huh? This should haunt us clear through Halloween.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Mandatory Movies for Halloween, Part 1: IT

I’ve been meaning to watch the DVD of It. We got this years ago, but this is one movie my now-grown kids won’t go anywhere near, not even as a joke. (You should’ve seen their faces when this got unwrapped that Christmas morning. Priceless!) 

Ah, Tim Curry. From playing Dr. Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show to a young Shakespeare (saw this on PBS) to the devil-villain in Legend to the 1990 TV Movie That Ruined Clowns for an Entire Generation. Reportedly Curry was so creepy as Pennywise the Clown the film crew gave him a wide berth while working on the set. For all Curry has done, this is the role he’ll be remembered for — even more than that sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania. There’s a vibe Tim Curry broadcasts through all that makeup and costuming that yanks, rings, and buzzes every fight-flight alarm in one’s nervous system.

Consider: Curry was in this three-hour miniseries for 

Even recut as a “family-friendly movie” trailer, it’s still unnerving. As a 1990 made-for-TV movie it doesn’t have much, if any in the way of ultraviolent gore, but you could do worse. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

God Deliver Us From People With Something to Prove in the Zombie Apocalypse

It’s been a while since we’ve played with the living dead. I was going through a rocky patch in Grace Among the Dead in which I was wrestling with my villain, getting him and his threat established. It took me away from the actual moneymakers and the book’s very raisons d’être.

That changed today. Although it’s from the as-yet published sequel, I want to share this scene. I love their entrance:

There are maybe 70 or so men spread out along either side of the road down the hill to the next terrace. Mostly men, that is, after a point there are no more women to be seen. I noticed some of the SUVs and minvans loading up and driving away at the top of the ridge. Apparently Sparks isn’t making this demonstration mandatory. Thank God for small favors.

There’s a line of men standing in front of me so I can’t see what it is that spooks the herd, but all at once there’s an “ooooooh!” and everyone seems to be taking three steps back at once.

I’ve got my panga out and I’m running around the last straggler on the sidewalk. I skid to a halt on my heels.

The odor of all these bodies billowing up the hill alone is enough to stop a charging rhino. A large, seething mob of reanimated dead, thick as ants, I can’t even begin to estimate the number—Sparks’ people has brought them up the frontage road, following behind three pickup trucks. They had just rounded the corner as I was coming down.

They’re all of three blocks and two terraces away. It’s been two whole days for me. I wonder how long it’s been since these men along the sides of the street have seen a dead person.

The men in the truck flatbeds below are thumping their chests and waving at the mass of shuffling corpses, who lurch forward, then fall back slowly as the trucks speed up and they realize there’s no catching this prey. Still, it’s right in front of them. They’re obliged to take their meat.

It’s the ones up front at first. They stop to jerk their heads about, causing the others to bump into them from behind. But then those push away and begin jerking their heads around. As if on signal, all three trucks pull away rapidly up the hill towards us.

The crowd of shuffling, ragged dead pause as one. So many heads—100? 200?—look straight at us with white, dusty, sightless eyes. From weathered, haggard faces arrested at one point of decomposition or another, they look to the living, breathing, humans just up the hill. They sense the anxious movement, they smell the fear sweat.

Judging by the roar that comes from their dry, dead throats, we must smell absolutely delicious.

I’ll be spending the rest of this evening trying to get my hero and his people out of there. Wish me luck.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

For Lovers Facing the Apocalypse: “If You Never Say Goodbye” by P.M. Dawn

Love songs don’t get any darker than this. Chris Carter, creator of The X Files (whatever happened to him?) gets co-writing credit for this song that appeared towards the end of the 1996 TV soundtrack album, Songs in the Key of X. He was a decent writer back in the day, so I’m guessing he’s the one responsible for the we’re-all-going-to-die, no-hard-feelings lyrics, which, thanks to Prince Be’s delivery amid Don Was’ thick, atmospheric production, get mangled seven ways to Sunday on Internet song lyric sites.

Fortunately, this has been one of my favorite songs since I first heard it, and a necessary part of my seasonal playlist come Halloween, so I’ve got the definitive words to the music right here. I especially love the lines that cap the main verses, which essentially boil down to: “It’s not this, it’s not that/It’s just your sorry self/Suffering and dying.” 

Read these lyrics as you listen to the song, and good luck resisting the urge to kill yourself. At least the apocalypse isn’t upon us. Yet. But, “If I say (and I say)/It’s coming any second...” we’ve got all the closure we need between us. It’s all good, babe.

Legs of a calf, head of a man,
Eyes on the camera, shaking everyone’s hand.
Vultures circle and smack their lips,
The sky goes black as the lightning rips.

Stars are immune, moon without pity,
As waves of blood roll over the city.
It’s not a rehearsal or special effects,
It’s the end of the story,
It’s what happens next.

If I say, and I say
It’s coming any second,
If I say, and I say,
In the blink of an eye
And I say, and I say,
With a bang and a whimper,
And I say it’s OK
If you never say goodbye. 

Song of a child, song of a beast,
As it slouches and slithers its way from the east
I dreamt a dream, but what can it mean?
Angels in armor devoured the queen.

All the people danced, and tore at their clothes,
The sky caught fire and the oceans froze.
It wasn’t a fable, it wasn’t a hoax
It was seventeen devils
Just making up jokes.

And I say, and I say
It’s coming in a second
And I say, and I say
In the blink of an eye
And I say, and I say
With a bang and a whimper
And I say it’s OK
If you never say goodbye.

I saw a temple made of gold,
The sky was so blue and the air was so cold,
Seraphim howled on a microphone
As the rats kept rhythm
On chicken bones.

People wept and swallowed their jewels,
Entered like soldiers, departed as fools. 
It isn’t a sentence, it’s not a reward,
It’s a black parachute with a noose for a cord.

And I say, and I say
It’s coming any second
And I say, and I say,
In the blink of an eye,
And I say, and I say,
With a bang and a whimper
And I say it’s OK
If you never say goodbye. 

Written by Attrell Cordes/David Was/Chris Carter. Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing, IMAGEM US LLC, BMG Gold Songs OBO Microdot Songs, FOX Music, Inc., BMG Rights Management US, LLC.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Ghost Before the Storm: An Excerpt

The following is the opening to “Stormwalker,” a story I wrote in 1990 about the legendary Gray Man of Pawley’s Island, SC. It’s currently scheduled for a collection of supernatural stories I’m putting together following the final installment of The Saga of the Dead Silencer. Happy Hauntings, y’all! Let’s hope they’re happier than this poor bastard, anyway....

He finds himself shimmering beneath a restless sky, alone on this very beach we’d walked together so long ago. How long has it been since he was last summoned to this place?

His aspect flickers sharply as he attunes his presence. After so many years asleep, he awakens to sameness. This same island, this same fury approaching from the mercurial waters beyond the horizon. The layers of gray, the time and direction, these are all that change in his lonely, twilit hell.

He takes his bearings from the clouded sun and the foaming distemper of the ocean. He notes the skeletal black outline of the pier to his right, as vague and insubstantial as he through the blowing curtains of spume and sand. He has appeared facing the southeast. It will be very bad this time.

Shimmering, now solid as shadow, the dark apparition on the sandbar turns to stride across the ripples of the swollen tidal pool. The sharp, hissing sands, the bluster of the winds rage vainly against his gentlemanly bearing as he approaches the houses waiting beyond the dunes. His manner is not one of a weary, self-pitying spirit. Not like myself, not like so many others who were free to depart this Earth, who now can only watch. I like to believe that it is the pride he takes in his mission. He bears his curse so bravely and so well.

“Stormwalker” Copyright © 1990, 2017 by Lawrence Roy Aiken. All rights reserved. 

Another Halloween'd Bookshelf, and a Sexy Witch

All of a sudden there’s this burst in traffic—three digits!—and I’m thinking, how do I keep the hits coming?

So here’s another picture of a decorated bookshelf in my office. Or, as I call this installation, “The Yellow Submarine Upon Waves of Mark Twain Encounters a Grinning, Glowing Gourd Upon a Stack of Dante, Bukowski, and Steinbeck.” Suck it, Banksy:

This is a photograph I found in my computer titled “Ann Miller the Sexy Witch.” I have no idea who this woman is but it’s apparent how she got in my computer. I like a pretty woman with nothing to prove, whose smile tells you everything you need to know. Plus, she’s dressed like a witch in a one-piece bathing suit. We’ve got a theme! 

...and let’s quit while we’re ahead. Happy Saturday, everyone! Go out and get yourself something to drink, turn up some music and enjoy it.

My Halloween'd Bookshelf, 2013 Edition

A while back a writer whose name I have forgotten was helping other writers publicize themselves on his blog by submitting photos of their bookshelves. I liked the idea, but again, I’ve forgotten the man’s name, and for all I know the promotion is long over. So I’ll post my own photos.

I have three bookshelves in my office. This is the tall Sam’s Club cheapie by the door:

Below is the first shelf, which is comprised of mainly of sentimental favorite books from my childhood. In the stack of books on the far left of the picture are the surviving James Blish Star Trek original series script adaptations I used to collect. I never thought much of Blish’s adaptations, but I loved the covers, especially the painted ones that appeared after the third collection. 

Star Trek 2 is the first book I bought with my own money, in the summer of 1971 when I was nine years old. It cost me 63 cents. The Making of Star Trek (clearly visible as the second book below the tribble) was the first book I ordered by mail, out of the back pages of an Eerie horror comics magazine. It arrived three days after Christmas in 1972, making that particular Yule extra special. It would also turn out to be the first book I finished reading over 400 pages, which felt like quite the accomplishment for eleven-year-old me.

The following are details of some of the objects. The Moon-Faced Man is the seasonal decoration. The Space Pod and the Robot from Lost in Space—Johnny Lightning/Playing Mantis toys that appeared briefly by way of promoting the 1997 movie—are on the job year-round.

The tiny, busted Enterprise is from a busted Franklin Mint piece that I’ve yet to figure out how to fix, as the parts seem impervious to glue, including Super Glue. So I leave it on the shelf as a crash site. In this case, I like to think it crashed off of the Moon-Faced Man’s largish face. And Robot’s standing there like, “Wait, what?”

Yeah, he thinks it’s hilarious. The li’l stinker!

The trinity in the far right corner bears notice. I love the little rubber Death with the pin-point red eyes. He was originally a flashlight for kids to use while trick-or-treating, but his battery died.

What, me creepy?

On to the second shelf....

The trick-or-treating cat with the skull candy bucket has this neat, old-fashioned craft look to it.

The detail on the hat is creepy-sweet.

It was made in China for Hobby Lobby. A faux-Americana papier-mache mass-produced “craft piece” from where they mass-produce everything else. I wonder who thought to do this. Someone had to come up with the design. Anyway, I like it. It works for what it is.

Below is yet another one of my wife’s finds somewhere. She picked this up during our time in California. We’ve had this one since 1991 so it’s a veritable antique as far as mementos of our marriage go.

I don’t know what this little guy’s story is. He does look good in front of those books, though.

Season’s Greetings!

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Night of the Living Dead TV Shows

For those who have trouble with the “Destroy All Zombies!” concept

For some reason people in France are reading this blog. Salutations, ô mes frères! I hope you’re all properly entertained by what you find here.

For any of my semi-regular readers who are wondering what’s taking so long between posts, I’ve been busy rewriting Grace Among the Dead. If it sounds like I’m being cute when I say the first novel I finished writing is turning out to be my third—look, there’s nothing cute about this. It’s an epic trial of will.

You’d think integrating previously written scenes and punching up a few character details, etc., would be easier than writing everything from scratch. I’d thought so, anyway. I’d expected to have this knocked out in two or three weeks. At the very least I’d have it done by the end of summer! O Lord, I was wrong. Stupid crazy wrong. 

The only thing keeping me going—actually, there are two things. First and foremost, I need to get the sequel to Bleeding Kansas out. Period. I’m committed to finishing The Saga of the Dead Silencer trilogy not only contractually, but emotionally. It’s a grudge match. The good news is I generally win these things. I simply have to keep at it and at it until there’s no more it to keep at. 

The other good news, and the second thing that keeps me going, is I am never doing this again. If I’m at all tempted to integrate scenes from an already typed-and-saved manuscript into a new story, I’ll make notes in regards to what made those scenes so great in the first place, and completely ignore them as I write the narrative from the ground up, all narrative bricks custom baked and laid on the spot, nothing shipped in. It’s far faster, so much easier, and gets the job done.

I did say I’d get back to talking about zombies sometime, didn’t I? I could have started cold by talking about The Simpsons 25th season opener a couple of weeks back. I’m not trying to be cute here, either. Watching this show in its latter days is exactly what I imagine it’s like watching a loved one, once a lively, smart, precious little thing, shambling mindlessly about the house, eyes rolled back into its head, pieces falling off here and there, and leaving a trail of putrescent grease everywhere it goes.

The plot had to do with Homer the Insufferable Man-Child going to a nuclear power workers convention, getting drunk and then kidnapped by—who? At first it seems like Muslim terrorists, because at one point Homer breaks out a rug and kneels on it facing east, i.e., towards Mecca. It turns out to have been some home-grown granola heads who somehow brainwashed Homer into giving up alcohol and being a better parent and father.

If I forget what the prayer rug that wasn’t a prayer rug was really for...well, shoot, I just can’t make myself care. It turns out the bomb wasn’t a bomb either, it was a simple container filled with foul smelling things that was supposed to have its odor pumped through the power plant’s air conditioning system. The stench would force the plant to shut down. But, quelle surprise! The air conditioning in Mr. Burns’ nuclear power plant hasn’t been operative for years. The plant is closed anyway and Mr. Burns is taken away to jail.

I haven’t seen The Simpsons on a regular basis for nearly two decades—even less since 2000—so I can’t know if they haven’t run this kind of story before. Still, I felt like I was watching a rehash of something. The few times I have managed to see The Simpsons since 1994 (I’d thought it had jumped the shark with that season’s premiere) I’ve seen many variations on

* Homer does something nigh-catastrophically stupid and Marge kicks him out of the house until Homer somehow redeems himself

* Homer does something nigh-catastrophically stupid and gets fired from the nuclear power plant, does something merely silly as a money-making scheme (or works another job) until he gets his old job back

* Moe the Ugly Bartender acts out on his unrequited love for Marge

* Everyone in Springfield gets fed up with the family and exiles the Simpsons (a plot point in the ballyhooed-and-forgotten feature film, as well as the 500th episode).

What makes The Simpsons hard to watch is I remember what it was when it started. Like a lot of shows on the then-nascent FOX network in 1989, it was a reaction to the saccharine Reagan-era TV programming like The Cosby Show and Family Ties. Unlike most family sitcoms The Simpsons worried about money, dealt with disrespectful children, the treatment of bright children in a willfully stupid society, etc.

Like NBC’s Saturday Night Live, another long undead show overdue for a bullet to the brain, it used to be subversive. These shows once did the unthinkable, namely, they acknowledged our discontent as consumer/subjects of a decaying and corrupt republic. Watching and laughing was a way of flipping off the Man. Now both are part and parcel of that very same phony culture the shows used to mock.

I wouldn’t have bothered with the next week’s episode if it wasn’t a Treehouse of Horror Halloween episode. For years it seemed they were airing these Halloween episodes as season premieres—in November, when everyone (even me) was well Halloween’d out. So this one comes on the first Sunday of October, leading me to wonder why they couldn’t do this on the Sunday before Halloween. I suppose that made too much sense.

The Guillermo del Toro-directed opening credits were flogged for weeks before on the Internet—you could even watch the finished sequence. It was okay, I suppose, if a little busy. I liked seeing Bart passing Ray Bradbury and the Illustrated Man on his skateboard. If you want to feel really smart, go to this page, watch the opening credits again, then watch the annotated version in which all the references are noted.

As for the episode itself, the macabre Dr. Seuss parody was far and away the best. The second segment with Bart and Lisa was a nice throwback to ancient days when episodes revolved around the children. The third was an homage to the 1932 film Freaks. Lenny, as a pinhead in Mr. Burns’ circus, makes a Zippy the Pinhead reference when he says, “Yow!” 

Altogether, it wasn’t bad, certainly better than the thin soup that was the season premiere. Still, it hardly seems worth making a point to sit down and watch The Simpsons every Sunday. Reportedly, enough people in the ages 18-49 bracket still watch to justify a 26th season. Like Saturday Night Live, I might tune in every once in a while if I’m around my TV at that time, and bored. But I’m not putting myself out for it. The breath left the body a long, long time ago. It’s just going through the motions, rehashing one of a dozen or more plot lines. And why not? The show has been on so long most young people don’t realize the same story they’re watching in 2013 was first told in 1992, and again in 1998, and again in 2002, et al.

As for the rest of what used to be promoted as Animation Domination Sundays, I refuse to sit through the ugly art and gross-out humor that is Bob’s Burgers (the previews are more than enough) and as for Seth McFarlane’s two shows after that, that’s a rant for another day.

I realize I should have some kind of image in here but looking at Simpsons art is too depressing after writing this. So here’s a shot of Kaley Cuoco in a bikini. In other news, John Lennon would have turned 73 years old today. But he’s long dead, too, and it’s just as well.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Invocation for a Most Beloved Month

This envoi to Ray Bradbury’s re-purposed Dark Carnival is one of the greatest, most evocative pieces of writing ever, hands down:

...that country where it is always
turning late in the year. That country
where the hills are fog and the rivers
are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks
and twilights linger, and midnights stay.
That country composed in the main of
cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bin, closets, attics,
and pantries faced away from the sun.
That country whose people are autumn 
people, thinking only autumn thoughts.
Whose people passing at night on the 
empty walks sound like rain....

Welcome, October, when the afternoon sun shines golden and elegiac like no other time of the year. T
he sky turns a lonelier shade of blue, the sunset a red-orange blaze without heat. The evening air is seasoned with woodsmoke, the smell of cold. There’s an icy sharpness to the stars as they sparkle in a darker, deeper kind of night, steeped in a mystery summer can never know.

That is, if you live in a reasonable climate.

Welcome, October.

Painting by Joe Mugnaini from the early 1970s paperback edition of Ray Bradbury’s The October  Country. Hauntingly beautiful—and flat-out haunting, as befits the stories within.