HeroesCon 2019: Day 2 — Nice Shirt

The day isn’t over yet, but I think I can bring us essentially up to date.

I woke up around 7 this morning, wrote the previous post, and let the Spawn sleep in while I went downstairs to the hotel breakfast buffet. After I got back to the room I got a bit more civilized as the Spawn emerged from being zonked out. Once she was sufficiently functional, we went to a nearby diner for her breakfast of waffles and bacon, and I had an order of hash browns. From there, we walked a few blocks to the convention center, arriving just as they were getting ready to take the annual cosplayer “family portraits.” We watched some of that, and then split up again.

One of the neat things about doing this sort of thing year after year is that I’ve actually gotten acquainted with some of the artists and vendors who make HeroesCon a regular stop of their own. For example, I dropped by Yale Stewart’s booth and we talked about his JL8 webcomic, a new strip he’s working on… and his new 5-month-old puppy. In fact, he was talking about the puppy when I walked up, and because I didn’t know he was talking about a puppy, I asked him if he was a new dad.

“Well, a puppy daddy,” he said, “But it’s still a living thing that you have to take care of. And with which you’ll never be able to really communicate.”

“So just like being a human dad, then,” I said.

From there, I met up with the T-shirt folks at World of Strange, from whom I’ve acquired a fair amount of my wardrobe over the last few years. I love their shirts — not only are the designs cool and suitable to a campus eccentric and part-time rock and roll drummer, but they come in… ahem… adult sizes while being reasonably priced. By way of example, a cool graphic T in my size may very well run around 30 dollars or more from a big-and-tall store or catalog. However, WoS hooks me up at two for 30 (the base price is $20 each), and today, 3 for 45. So I walked off with shirts including a 50s Steve Ditko design, a pre-code horror comic from Harvey, and the March 1940 Thrilling Mystery, which included stories by Joe Archibald and Ray Cummings.

As I chatted with the woman who runs the booth, I mentioned that I frequently get admiring comments when I wear their shirts to concerts, mystery conventions, and even when I teach. She told me how much they appreciate the word-of-mouth (or of blog, I guess), and we talked about the stuff they have on the drawing board. I told her I’d love to see more pulp covers, and we talked about how hard it is to keep the plates spinning at a small business.

In fact, both yesterday and today I’ve worn their shirts, and both days I’ve had admiring comments, so I directed folks toward the WoS booth. I’m wearing one of my favorites today, another early-50s Harvey horror comic which happened to provide the inspiration for a classic punk rock single sleeve.

Misfits Die Die

The fact that “Die, Die My Darling” was my original working title for Broken Glass Waltzes just endears it to me that much more.

And as I was walking around, a fellow said, “You know, that comic is for sale here.”

“It is?”

“Yeah, over at Forgotten Five’s booth.”

So I had to go have a look, and sure enough, there it was, and I could take it home for a mere $6900. But while I can get away with buying a few T-shirts while I’m here, I decided that it might be tough to justify dropping seven grand on a 60-plus-year-old comic to Mrs. M. The Spawn agreed that I should opt for self-preservation. Still, it was cool to look at, secure in its safety case with grading sticker. And thanks to the guys at Forgotten Five, I did come away with a souvenir of sorts.

Chamber of Chills

Photo by the Spawn.

While I had her with me, I went back to the booth of John K. Snyder, III, whose adaptation of Eight Million Ways to Die I had picked up the previous evening. As soon as I said hello, he said “That’s a great shirt,” so I had to tell him about the encounter I had a few minutes earlier. “It’s a classic cover,” he said, but he also agreed that I probably was wise to let them hang on to it. And once again, the man’s hair was better than humans deserve, and made me look even schlubbier, if that’s possible.

John Snyder at HeroesCon

Again, photo by the Spawn.

 

***

After a little more browsing, the Spawn and I decided it was a good afternoon for a movie, so we walked back up the street to a screening of Dark Phoenix, the latest X-Men saga to hit the big screen. It was a nice enough way to spend a couple of hours, even though the critics haven’t been particularly fond of it. The Spawn noted that the pacing of the film seems odd, and the final third or so of the movie consists of a couple of set piece battles of the sort we’ve grown used to over the years. The movie makes significant departures from the Claremont/Byrne original, which I reckon is inevitable for a two-hour flick, and there are a couple of elements (one political and one symbolic) that struck me as being really heavy-handed, but the movie was still a chance to spend some time with characters I’ve learned to love over years in print, and to like in their assorted screen incarnations. And I’m always glad to watch a movie with the Spawn.

***

And that’s been a theme of this trip — and the others over the years. It’s been a great series of father-daughter weekends, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to share them with her. How this will shape up next summer, with the Spawn in Maryland, I’m not sure. However, both of us have already said we’re looking forward to continuing our tradition, and where there’s a will, there’s a way. Even if we spend too much money on T-shirts.

 

Posted in Broken Glass Waltzes, Culture, Family, Literature, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment

HeroesCon 2019: Day 1

As is the custom of our tribe, the Spawn and I are in Charlotte, NC, attending HeroesCon for what we are pretty sure is the ninth consecutive year. We got here yesterday, but wait! There’s more.

***

During the summer terms, classes only meet Monday through Thursday. However, I had to get up anyway, because we were having a Freshpeep Orientation — the first of the year — and that means that the English department had to score about 120 placement exams for FroshComp. As two of my colleagues were out of town/state/the country, it fell to one of my colleagues and me to handle this batch.

It’s a quick process, a simple up/down vote on each paper, and the two of us generally agreed, so we got the whole batch done in about two hours, and I got home by noon. The Spawn and I threw our bags into Mrs. M’s car — the soundest of our three — and set out on our hundred-mile drive. It was actually my second trip to Charlotte of the week, as two friends of mine and I had come up earlier in the week to see stoner metal legends Sleep. At some point, I’ll likely post a review, but not right now.

The Spawn and I got to our downtown accommodations around 2:45, which was a good thing, because at 3 I had to jump in on the conference call for a hiring committee of which I’m a part. The call took about an hour and fifteen, and though the field in question isn’t really in my area of expertise, the chair seemed impressed with my performance and the questions I asked in the meeting, based on the reading I had done about the candidates. He told me this wouldn’t be my last committee of this sort. That’ll teach me, I guess.

Seriously, though, I’m finding this particular process interesting, and while this position is outside my field, it’s an important one to the college, so I’m glad to have input.

***

After I was off the phone, the Spawn and I walked a few blocks down College Street to the Convention Center for the first day of the convention. Security seems a bit heavier this year, as we were about 20 yards into the building when a security guard stopped us to check the Spawn’s bag, an experience we haven’t had in the past. After we got our wristbands (made of fabric this year, instead of the gummed paper ones of past years), we got our programs and made it to the convention floor.

Along with the traditional welcome message, the program gives pride of place to a convention Code of Conduct, which also is posted at several points around the convention area. While there has been a code in the past, it seems more prominent this year. That’s okay — HeroesCon has prided itself on being family friendly for years, and that’s one of the reasons that the Spawn and I started going to begin with. Still, between the parcel check and the seeming emphasis on good behavior, I wonder what this means about the place of conventions in the larger culture.

***

The Spawn and I split up once we got to the convention floor. She was looking for a birthday gift for the Main Squeeze, and I had a mission of my own. After a quick check of the program, I made a beeline (well, a bumblebee line, with occasional distractions and collisions) to see John K. Snyder, III, and pick up his graphic novel adaptation of Mr. Block’s Eight Million Ways to Die.

8 Million

I introduced myself and mentioned that I’m a friend of LB, and we chatted for about ten minutes as he autographed a copy of the book for me. We talked about some of the differences and similarities between film and graphic novel forms, and about his desire to do other Scudder adventures. (Hint: We were both excited about one that rhymes with A Bicket to the Toneyard.) We also talked a little about El Bee’s coming visit to Mondoville, and Mr. Snyder said that if we ever need someone to talk about the topic of graphic novelization, we should give him a holler.

It was a real treat to meet Mr. Snyder, but I do have to cop to a certain amount of envy. The man’s hair is spectacular — the Werewolves of London would envy him.

***

A bit later, I happened across a booth staffed by some young folks offering drinks of local soda Cheerwine, and I noticed that they had signs up saying that they’d be happy to talk to visitors about collegiate E-sports. As it happens, Mondoville is starting a program, so I struck up a conversation with a couple of them, who turned out to be from Catawba University, one of our rivals in more traditional athletics. When I told them we were getting a team started, they gave me some of their business cards and told me they had information about endorsements, a database for potential scholarship players, discounts on gamers’ chairs, and various other trappings. So I’ll be passing those on to the Dean and our newly hired coach.

Does this mean I can now claim this trip as a business expense?

***

After wandering aimlessly for a bit, I decided to sit down for a bit, and happened to arrive at the seating area simultaneously with the Spawn, who had accomplished her mission as well. We caught each other up, and then the Spawn mentioned she was hungry, so we decided to head back toward the hotel for our traditional first-night dinner at the Carolina Ale House. I ordered the nachos, and was a bit startled to discover that they are now served on a platter that is reminiscent of a garbage can lid. They were good, though, and it isn’t like I’m required to eat all of them. Just most.

We swung by a Walgreens to pick up something to drink and made it back to the hotel in time to unwind and call it a night. As I fell asleep, I heard the Spawn chatting on the phone with the Main Squeeze. A good first day.

***

In a few minutes, we’ll migrate back down the street for Day Two. A report will follow.

Posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature | 1 Comment

Postscript

Because my parents were murdered near midnight on 12 Jun 09, I didn’t get the news for a few hours, with the first call letting me know something was wrong coming at 3:30 a.m. on 13 Jun.

This morning, I found myself instantaneously, preternaturally wide awake in the darkness. Mrs. M and the Hound remained zonked. I looked at the clock. It was 3:30. It took me another hour to fall back to sleep and get my remaining two hours before getting up to start my day.

The body remembers.

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Ten Years Past the Big Noise

Tonight at about 11:30, my parents will have been dead for ten years. My brother has been incarcerated for nearly that long, serving what has become two life sentences without the possibility of parole when he was convicted of the murders in 2013.

And me, I’m still here in Mondoville. I took the day off today; I’ll be back teaching Freshman Comp tomorrow morning.

In the years between the murders and Mike’s trial, I found myself looking for what I called (less than originally) the New Normal. Some folks use terms like closure, but I never believed in that then, nor do I now. But I know my life didn’t stop, nor did those of Mrs. M or the Spawn. Instead, I found myself learning to filter the world through the echoes and the emotional tinnitus of the Big Noise, and I guess that’s what the New Normal is.

There are still times every day when I think of conversations I’d like to have with my folks, jokes I’d like to share, stories (including my own fictioneering) I’d like to talk about with them, questions I wish they were here to answer. I’d like to talk to them about the future the Spawn is embracing, how they handled things when I began graduate school 32 years ago. And I’d like to thank them for giving me a home in which people could read and write stories and paint pictures and do music, so that I always knew that those are things people can do, even in suburbia. Heck, I even owe this blog to them in a way, having begun it both as therapy and as a sort of continuation of the online discussions I’d have with Dad and the Mad Dog.

I trust I’ll have those opportunities eventually, in a time outside of time, but I feel their absence now, and I think of how that shapes me in this now. And that shape, too, is of the New Normal.

It had been a sunny and hot day in Mondoville the day my parents were killed. Today, it is rainy, grey, and relatively cool. But they are the days I have had and I have, and I go through them one at a time, adding them one to another like the rooms of the chambered nautilus. It’s my nature, and part of my profession as a teacher, to carry pieces of the past with me wherever I go — what I can see of old songs and stories, what I can know of the people who sang and wrote them. And it is also my nature and my responsibility and my holy chore to pass them along to others. I do all these things with my own history, too. But it is also my nature to write, to make up my own stories and songs, and to put those into the world as well. That, too, comes from my own history, of which both the Big Noise and the New Normal are elements.

In William Goldman’s semi-autobiographical novel The Color of Light, the protagonist realizes that “Everything is material. You just have to live long enough to know how to use it.” Ten years later, I’m still learning.

 

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Sunday Potpourri: Sneakers with Wheels Edition

I’m gearing up to assemble the midterm exam for my Brit Lit survey kids, but meanwhile…

***

Made a run to Real City yesterday, hitting my favorite cheap Chinese restaurant before settling down at the used media emporium. The drive from Mondoville is usually about 35 minutes, but was closer to 50 yesterday, as the traffic on I-26E toward places like Charleston, Hilton Head, and the rest of the coast was pretty solid. It seemed to me that much of the Greater Cincinnati area was migrating down — I saw scads of license plates and dealer insignia from my old region, with Cincinnati neighborhoods and Northern KY counties prominently displayed. Clearly, we’ve entered the true summer season.

While I was ensconced at the used media place, I found an interesting graphic novel, Dark Night by Paul Dini (text) and Eduardo Risso. It’s subtitled “A True Batman Story,” and it’s an account of Mr. Dini’s near-fatal mugging in 1993 and his subsequent recovery. When he was attacked, Mr. Dini worked for Warner Bros. Cartoons (specifically, on the film that would become Batman: Mask of the Phantasm), the end product of years of comic and cartoon fandom. He had lived primarily in an imaginative world of superheroes and villains, while also trying to live in the only slightly more real world of Hollywood.

Mr. Dini narrates how the two worlds intersected in his life, with effects both baleful and beneficial, and how they have led him to his present situation. It seems remarkably honest, and it’s an interesting use of the medium. I’d recommend it.

***

I also bought a copy of Murder as a Fine Art, the first in David Morrell‘s Thomas DeQuincey mystery series. I’m only a few chapters in at the moment, but his mid-19th-C. London seems sufficiently grungy, and the action sequences are as solid as one would expect from the guy who created Rambo. I’m interested in seeing how Morrell portrays the aging opium eater in as a sleuth.

***

I ran into three former students (all had graduated within the past year or so) while I was at the bookstore, including two friends of the Spawn. I enjoyed it when they said, “Well of course we’d find you here, Dr. Moore.” I told them it was an occupational hazard, and we chatted a bit before they continued on their way.  They all seemed to be perking along nicely, and it was good to hear from each of them. It’s also good to know that I apparently haven’t soured them on bookstores. 

***

A highlight of the trip came as I was heading toward the car to make my waya back to Mondoville. Showers were rolling in from the west as I walked through the parking lot, but they hadn’t quite arrived as a yellow Triumph TR-6 rolled past with the top down.

Now you have to understand — I’m a convertible fetishist, and have been since I was a kid in the 70s and learned they were going out of production. I grew up with tales of my Dad’s old clapped-out Jag, and reading The Magnificent Jalopy, a 1967 kids’ book about some kids who enter a restored old car in a 1000-mile rally. So I’ve always craved the feeling  of zipping along with the top dropped and my music of choice harmonizing with the sound of the tires on the pavement. Thank goodness, they came back, and the first newish car I bought for myself (instead of inheriting a beater from someone trying to get rid of it) was a 1989 Chrysler LeBaron ragtop.

89 LeBaron

This one wasn’t mine, but it’s a ringer for it.

It’s the only convertible I’ve ever owned, and since then, all our cars have been chosen more for practicality (and drum capacity), but the dream has never died, and has in fact grown stronger.

Don’t get me wrong — I loved the LeBaron, even when the top got pinched by the mechanism and I could only afford to patch it with duct tape. But even it was a shadow of the Platonic experience I’ve sought through the decades. What I’ve wanted was a little European sportster of some sort. A Jag, or an MG, or a Karmann Ghia, or an Alfa…

… or a Triumph. And in recent months, I’ve found myself looking online at those cars from the 60s and 70s and wondering. But one of the things I’ve had to wonder about was the question of whether or not I could actually use one of the things.  Back in the late 80s at Kentucky, I was a passenger in a Triumph Spitfire belonging to a girl I blind dated before I met Mrs. M. (I was tempted to keep dating her just for the car, but she had a vote as well, oddly enough. I don’t remember her name, but the car was blue.), and I remember sitting comfortably. But at 6’4″, I had to fold a bit, and while I’m no taller, my overall volume has increased. A lot.

So when I saw the yellow TR-6 roll past, I admired it and went back to my ride. But as I was pulling out, I saw the couple who had been in the car putting the top up, and dammit, I had to ask.

76 tr-6

This isn’t the one I saw, but it’s a remarkable simulation.

I stopped my car, rolled my window down, and asked, “How much room is there in that thing?” I told them I have been thinking about little British convertibles for years, but didn’t know if I could fit.

“Well, would you like to try sitting in it?” Do ursine mammals defecate amidst the sub-Alpine conifers? Indeed they do, and indeed I would. And since the top was now up, this would be a useful test indeed, as I was about 8 inches taller than the car’s owner.

It took some ducking and shrugging, but I found myself in the driver’s seat, in the Spartan confines of what felt like a pair of canvas sneakers with a steering wheel. My fears of poking my head through the roof like Dino in the opening credits of The Flintstones proved unfounded, and while there was practically no clearance between the steering wheel’s rim and my particular excess cargo, the owner told me the seat could tilt back one more notch. He and his wife did say I could probably rule out the MGB or Midget, but this? This was manageable, and if I were to drop 30 pounds or so, even comfortable.

So I wriggled my way back out, grazing the top of my head on the roof’s edge, thanked the folks greatly, and made my way back to Mondoville. Now I need to find a Karmann Ghia to try. The dream lives, and I can think of worse motivations to lose weight.

***

Well, that exam won’t write itself, so I’d best get back to it, but here’s a bit of music before I go. Turquoise were a band from the Muswell Hill section of London, a region familiar to fans of the Kinks, and there’s a definite Kinks vibe to this track, anchoring it enough to keep it from turning quite as twee as one might fear. Although the group had Heavy friends (Dave Davies, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon among them) and were managed by Stones tour manager/chauffeur/possible killer of Brian Jones Tom Keylock, their two singles for Decca/Deram went nowhere. This was the B-side of the first one. From 1968, here’s “Tales of Flossie Fillet.”

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Family, Literature, Music, Why I Do What I Do | 1 Comment

My Parents’ Anniversary

Mom and Dad were married on 8 Jun 63, so this would have been their 56th anniversary. Mom had graduated from high school the day before; Dad had been out for a year, and had been taking art classes at Peabody, before it had been fully absorbed into Vandy.

Mom Dad Marriage 8 Jun 63

Mom’s dress was basically homemade, as there weren’t many wedding dresses available for 6-foot-tall women in 1963. Dad was 6’1″, but by golly, Mom was gonna wear heels.

The first time Dad saw Mom was in high school. She had walked into his class bearing a note from another teacher. Dad asked a classmate who that girl was.

“That’s Madge Harris.”

“I’m gonna marry her.”

And he did.

At points over the years, Dad would joke: “The two toughest years of marriage are the first one, and whichever one you happen to be in at the time.” On anniversaries, he’d say, “Thirty-eight years? That’s a long time to fight a war.” But when the police found his body four days after their 46th anniversary, Mom’s graduation picture was in his wallet.

And although Mom thought Dad was a jerk when they first “officially” met at a roller rink, she eventually came around, and loved him passionately for the rest of their lives. They argued, of course, and came close at least once that I know of to calling it a day. But there was never any question that each was the love of the other’s life, and after they were murdered, I found consolation in the fact that neither had to finish growing old without the other. It was cold comfort, I guess, but you take what you can get in those situations.

So I note their anniversary today, and I’m glad they had each other.

Mom Dad Wedding

From the reception at my brother’s first wedding. 1994?

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Once Upon A Time in “The Next ‘Next Athens'”…

A couple of days ago, Jeff “Flesh Hammer” Walls of the Woggles died of pulmonary hypertension. Readers of this blog are well aware of my fondness for the Woggles, but prior to his stint in that group, Walls played guitar in the critically acclaimed 80s band Guadalcanal Diary, formed (like the Woggles) in Athens, GA. So I was listening to one of my favorite Guadalcanal songs last night,

and I got to thinking about the radio station in Lexington where I first heard the song, and of my own semipro musical career in those days. Cue the harp glissando.

I was about a month into my first tour of graduate school when I turned 22, in 1987. In a truly spectacular display of misplaced priorities, I found a band to join in fairly short order. We called ourselves Reno Nirvana (Kurt and the lads hadn’t come onto the radar yet) and played exactly one show, at a rent party in downtown Lexington, KY, where we opened for the hardcore punks of Die Kreuzen, who were on tour from Milwaukee.

Not long after that, a guy who had seen Reno play saw me walking from campus to a local record shop (or perhaps to the sub sandwich shop in the same building) as he drove past. He stopped and asked if I wanted to jam. I said sure, and he gave me some contact info just before the traffic backed up on Euclid Avenue. We met up a couple of days later, and that was the birth of our band, the Groovy Kool. We stayed together for about three years, playing music we called “folkadelic”, but that was really the jangly stuff now known as “college rock.”

We never made it out of the second division in Lexington, because of our musical limitations and unprofessional habits — the members of the band that didn’t play drums were fond of fermented beverages and herbal jazz cigarettes, which meant that the third set of a night could get shambolic indeed. But we played at least a couple of weekends a month, with weeknight gigs on a pretty regular basis as well, and the occasional one-off gig in a city park or festival. Heck, we even played one show at the state hospital for the mentally ill — our guitarist/singer was a social worker.

This sort of thing was one of the reasons it took me five years to complete that two-year M.A. degree, but in retrospect, I’m glad I did it. And despite our flaws, being a second-tier band in Lexington in the  late 80s wasn’t a disgrace either.

You see, that was a period when numerous college towns in the South (and perhaps other places as well, but I speak of what I know) had thriving local music scenes, and each hoped to follow in the footsteps of the ur-Scene in Athens, GA. Everyone was convinced that their particular stomping ground could be the “next Athens”, and Lexington was no exception. Every once in a while, one of our local bands would put out an indie record or cassette, or maybe do a regional tour. On rarer occasions, we’d hear that a label or a management company had begun to explore a development deal with one of the groups in town.

All this was fueled by the University of Kentucky’s then-new radio station, WRFL (for “Radio Free Lexington,” natch) and the presence of a few downtown clubs that were willing to book original bands and allow them to build an audience, even if it was only a small one. Places like the Wrocklage and the Jefferson Davis Inn (a/k/a The King’s Arms Pub for a while) were places to play if you weren’t doing classic rawk or top 40. The King’s Arms was something of a base of operations for the Groovy Kool; they were a regular stop for us, either as an opener or the headliner on a two-band bill.

And some of those bands were pretty good, as it turned out, even if none of them actually broke. Thanks to the wonders of technology, I can even share a few samples.

Velvet Elvis may have been the biggest of the Lexington bands — and the fact that you’ve likely never heard or heard of them is an indicator of how much the “next Athens” thing didn’t happen. But they did some pretty cool stuff. Here’s an example:

But there were other folks doing interesting stuff. A punk rock group called Vale of Tears put out a 7-incher or two around that time, and after they imploded, I sat in with their guitarist, Tootie Shipley, during the formation of a new band. I was long gone by the time they made it into the studio, but that band has achieved a measure of notoriety for its name alone.

One of my fellow Transylvania University undergrads had moved on after graduation, and Scott Luallen became the frontman for cowpunkers Nine Pound Hammer. Nine Pound may be the most heard of any of these bands, as they did the theme for the Cartoon Network/Adult Swim cartoon 12-oz. Mouse. This one is probably my favorite of theirs:

Nine Pound still gigs occasionally, but guitarist Blaine Cartwright is probably best known for his work with his next band, Atlanta sleaze-rockers Nashville Pussy.

Another Lexington-based act of that era with some staying power was guitarist Paul K. (for Kopasz) and the Weathermen. Paul K. came to Lexington on a debate scholarship, but his loves when I knew him were music and smack, not necessarily in that order. He’s a very talented player and always found solid backing musicians (hanging with Jaco Pastorius “when we were junkies together in Florida”), but the joke was that the Weathermen consisted of anyone Paul hadn’t ripped off for dope… yet. He got religion and got clean probably somewhere in the late 80s/early 90s, and has put out albums influenced by writers ranging from Jim Thompson to Borges. I allude to one of his songs in my short story “Just-So Story” (part of which takes place in Lexington), and what do you know? Thanks, internet!

But here’s a track with much higher recording quality from his 1992 album Killer in the Rain.

Of course, I moved to back to Northern KY in 1992 to begin work in the magazine biz, before taking a crack at Grad School 2: Electric Boogaloo, and I’ve only been back to Lexington a few times since then (although it’s nice to be remembered when I’m there.) But I’m still doing music all these years later, and I can still remember how excited I was when I heard my band’s music on WRFL for the first time, and I take some satisfaction in my time in a second-tier band.

Goodbye, Mr. Walls — thanks for the music.

 

 

Posted in Education, Music, Why I Do What I Do | 3 Comments