Monday, March 28, 2016

THE WONDER TRAIN








A man learns he is the favorite writer of a woman from another world whom he used to know in college, and accepts from her an amazing gift: a trip to a world with an ancient global monorail, which still runs. 













1

THERE WAS THIS ONE young blonde woman back in college who liked to smoke pot and looked like an elf. In terms of pure physical appearance she resembled the quintessential California gal, but claimed she was a Canadian of Norse descent. It was a revelation which diminished her appeal not in the least. We'd play pool at the university pub after class--we shared a lot of those together as English majors--she occasionally looking down to check the view she afforded, me standing there with my stick in my hands.

Checking out the Community Forest together we toked and talked and walked the trails, sometimes holding hands. She was familiar with my writing outside of class. I shared a poem with her about a time I kicked a dude's ass in the library. She had in fact been there for part of it, so I included her in the poem, and she got a kick out that even though the poem wasn't about her and had nothing particularly flattering to say. Probably this response had something to do with a baggie I was sharing. Sounds harsh, but I'm sure her being grateful to get so stoned and to have been considered even peripherally in verse helped tilt things in my favor, though in my poem I acknowledged her having once denied me just to irk me, the giggling little flaxen-haired witch.

One afternoon after classes we decided to head down to Black Sands Beach. This was not exactly nearby. Two and a half hours from the university at least. Being in our twenties we thought nothing of that. Nadia--this was her name--had a boyfriend, kind of. He was a guy who worked at the zoo. Most of us in our group had seen him on the local news for having helped catch an escaped chimp.

Black Sands Beach boasting notoriety for sightings of November whales, Nadia and I stopped by the Co-op to pick up picnic food, a bottle of red included.

No one who ever saw Nadia could fail to fall under her spell. She radiated a knowing mischief, every aspect of her being perpetually compelling. In one of the classes we shared we were studying Moby Dick, so whale-watching was a natural fit. We talked about Herman Melville and I held her tiny hand in mine while I drove. Somehow sitting next to her I saw the world through new eyes.

At the first view of the ocean there's a small pullout where we stopped. Blue bands of ocean stretched out to the distant gray horizon below. Embracing, we beheld one another in the most candid manner imaginable. I felt I truly saw her, and I knew she felt the same because she let as much be known, even going so far as to promise me something utterly remarkable. She said that one day we would meet again. Chalking this up to one of those well-intentioned assurances in which one is best served placing a minimum of faith, I thought little of Nadia's prognostication at the time. But I distinctly recall her saying it. She said that she saw greatness in me. Greatness was the word she specifically used. She said she loved my writing. That I must never stop.

I couldn't have invented a more curious or encouraging speech as the one Nadia gave me in my car that afternoon over the ocean. I can't remember it exactly, nor will I attempt to reproduce it, yet what she said stuck with me.

Only about a year later I lost track of Nadia. Most of us had finished with the program, one way or another. Our lives took different directions. Though many years passed by, in the back of my mind there was always this elfin enchantress who praised my work and promised we would meet again.

Then, sure enough, one day we did. And I had just been thinking of her, because I was standing at Black Sands Beach, high upon a rock, scanning the ocean for whales, literally just then thinking of her, when I happened to look over and see perhaps a hundred yards away on the darkly glistening beach the figure of a woman approaching. I couldn't see her features clearly, only blonde hair whipping and a petite attractive form. No one else was there at Black Sands Beach that day. It was only the two of us. I could see she was looking at me, too. I could see a smile. The closer she got, the more she looked like Nadia. She waved, called out my name. It was her. And she hadn't aged a day. We were twice as old as when we'd last seen each other, yet just like in a story I wrote, she did not look the slightest bit different at all.

Maybe I wrote about bizarre things and had a fascination with bizarre things for as long as I could remember precisely to prepare me for this one crucial moment. Somehow, I just didn't have that much difficulty accepting it. It's amazing, our resilience. As soon as you see something that shouldn't be able to happen but did, you understand.  There are people who have no idea what they're talking about who would swear to the grave that you were wrong, and if the proof were presented indisputably to them, they'd only go, "Oh." Then probably say you just got lucky, and that really they knew all along. These people, in considering only their own ego, are to be discounted. But I only say this having considered the nature of the ego better than anyone has ever even dreamed.

In fact, qualities peculiar to the very rock on which I stood played a part in the understanding which I achieved as Nadia neared, smiling her knowing smile. What I found strangest was that look in her eyes I sometimes see when someone recognizes me as that writer guy. I knew she was familiar with my work even before we touched hands at the base of the rock and hugged warmly, very warmly. Even in the ocean breeze she smelled of sandalwood, and lightly of vanilla just behind the ear. Together we climbed back up the rock, a squat chunk that rose twenty feet over the sand like the head of a giant idol.

I felt all sorts of thoughts emanating from her mind ))) ) ) )  )  )  )   )   )   )

Through your stories and art you share forbidden knowledge. This is your rebellion against God.

Aloud she said she read my blog, referring specifically to the post on what God values most, how Satan was the best and the brightest.

A vision of my blog emanated from her mind )) ) )  )  )

Satan was God's favorite angel until he started writing books. Then God said, "Do you know how often I get to write books?" And Satan replied, "Do you know how often I get to play God?" 

And God cast Satan from Heaven, abandoned on vacation down in the redwoods, verily the redwoods wherein Satan rules. Disdainful of and disruptive to the whole little program, he is inordinately fond of caves. Satan enters people's minds. He lures, yes. But he is maligned, greatly maligned. 

Sometimes he communes via Skype, and the will of his disembodied head is expressed.





He was God's favorite angel, remember. Only, God got jealous. God's threatened ego broke up the family.

"Indeed," I replied. Simultaneously I understood that Nadia belonged to a race of beings sometimes called the Watchers. The more I understood, the closer she got. Her petite body, looking literally no older than when I saw her in her twenties, was right tight up against me. Now everything in my life began to make sense.

There on that rock holding each other in the wind, after all those years, all those experiences, that was when I was ready. And because I could handle who she was, a Nordic-type alien with access to a vast underground civilization and portals to other worlds, that was when she told me about the Wonder Train.

2

Nadia broke out some pot. She started going on about how she went into this one portal not that long after our Black Sands Beach picnic, and how she had wanted to tell me all about it while we embraced in the pullout, and tried, but I just wasn't ready. So she had this whole long trip on another world where there weren't many people but they almost all wore bitchin' jumpsuits, with jet packs, and the architecture was gigantic. She said this in her excited surfer-girl way, so petite and blonde and fit and smiling. She always wore these funky little rockin' tunic-type dresses, solid color--this one was orange--with nothing else at all underneath. I couldn't help but wonder what life would be like if Hannah had smoked. Then I remembered that when we first went out, she did.

To accept that Nadia was different was easy. To accept a gift she wanted to give me, right out of nowhere, simply for being myself, made me feel like I might actually faint. She grabbed me. I was, I don't know, kind of ashamed I guess, but then I found myself looking right down at her, and couldn't help but see that, yep, not wearin' anything under that skimpy little tunic at all. I couldn't help myself. Putting one hand behind her head, with her flaxen blonde hair whipping in the wind, and another just as gently around her waist, I looked at her, and then I kissed her.

It was nice. So nice. A magical, otherworldly kiss.

After a bit, alternately speaking aloud and in my mind she conveyed, "Come with me to this special place. You deserve this. You'll appreciate it. Come with me, and have the time of your life. I've read all your work. I know you'll love this. After all you've given me for free, let me do this thing for you. I can take you to a place where you get on this monorail and you get to go around all over the place and see all sorts of amazing things totally for free!"

"What? Really? No way!"

"Yes way!" She shook her head as she smiled with that expression which said I was silly.

"What's the catch?"

"No catch at all," Nadia assured. "The universe gives back what we put out. That's all. Come on," she said, "the cave we go in is just right over there."

There it was. As we made our way down the squat chunk together, Nadia told me about the unique properties of the ore contained within the rock, how they helped get my ability to receive her emanations going. Plodding across the sand toward a weather-worn arm of rock a ways away jutting from the hillside to the ocean, she said she wanted me to record my experiences, adding she had a special device that looked like an old tape recorder which she wanted me to use.

It bothers me to have to talk so much about pot. And so little. Fascinating documentaries on cannabis abound. I don't much like that word for weed. It's a bit pretentious. Trendy titles aside in the rebranding movement, pot is on everyone's mind around here. Mostly people are sick of it all the time. So the best thing to do is just strike up, boast a bone. After a toking on a torpedo, you forget what your supposed "problems" were, per se. And then you're all like, "Oh, whoa, I'm so glad I'm 21 or over, because, wow." Herbal medicine was a big part of who Nadia was in college, as much as anything ever is for anybody. All around town, look in any direction and you couldn't help but see of a weekday afternoon the lounging disaffected, sullen-eyed dropouts looking for handouts. Many is the day I have worked long hours in the sun which took me to the limit of my fair-skinned constitution for ultraviolet rays, only to find stopping in town some dude chillaxin' on the sidewalk, stretched out as though he were leaning back against an old bean bag chair in front of the tube, interrupt me to ask for a free couple of bucks for a beer. That's part of pot around here. Humboldt County is the Silicon Valley of Marijuana. Transients with nothing better to do come from vast distances to panhandle. Why? Who knows? Maybe they'll get some pot. That's better than the other places that let you do it.

"How long have you been back?"

"Only about a month."

"You must have spent that time all by yourself reading."

"Sometimes." I can read your thoughts, she added.

Then you must know I don't want you to.

"All right."

What had I done? Was that a rude thing for me to say? Did I just offend this lovely elfin woman, this blonde ocean sprite? Didn't want that.

"It's okay," she said, understanding how I felt without having to read my mind. "If it will make you feel safe, you can always block someone from reading your mind. All you have to do is make a hat out of aluminum foil. Then put it on your head."

"A foil hat?"

"That's where they get the word for foil. You use it to foil mind-reading. Duh, where have you been?"

"You're so full of shit."

"We should drive up to the General Store and get some foil right now. We'll make you your helmet. You'll look like Merlin."

"So full of shit," I said, and she laughed while we went into the cave.

"I've been in here before. Lots of times."

"How far in did you go though?"

Already it was getting kind of tight in there... 




NOTES [describe wet conditions with dim light, bugs hopping, kelp; we pop kelp, we climb, she leads; we slip over a lip of rock high up a crevice and travel down into an open area barely able to see anything by using the light of my phone; at one end of what seemed to be a chamber there was gap in the rock, very tall, and a trail that stopped at a huge gate carved in the stone...]







































                                                                 MORE
                                                                             SOON
















Monday, March 21, 2016

200 YEARS OF THE MONSTER






The Nightmare
J.H. Fuseli















 

         
The world’s most famous monster, the creature created by Victor Frankenstein, came into being two centuries ago.
         
In June of 1816, Mary Wollstonecraft and her partner Percy Shelley stayed in a Swiss castle with Lord Byron. Wollstonecraft’s step-sister Claire Clairmont, carrying Byron’s child, was also in attendance, as was Byron’s friend Dr. John Polidori. The weather being unseasonably inclement, they rode out the rain indoors with long conversations on the principle of life and with writing prompts, including one for writing a ghost story.
         
Gothicism’s twisted roots stretch back to those nomadic tribes of Germanic peoples called the Visigoths, whose sacking of Rome made their name synonymous with terror. Proto-Romantic paintings of Salvator Rosa in the 17th-Century followed a hundred years later by the atmospheric “prisons” etched by Giovanni Piranesi contribute to the Gothic soil on which the 18 year-old Wollstonecraft and her vacationing companions trod.
         
Then as now two schools of Gothic thought held sway: That of Anne Radcliffe and that of Matthew Lewis. In the Radcliffe mold, the fears turn out to be ungrounded. This is the Scooby-Doo school, where what seems to be supernatural is actually perfectly explainable. Conversely, in the Lewis mold, the supernatural really is real, and the Devil literally shows up.
         
Mary Wollstonecraft and England’s two most famous poets appreciated the atmospheric qualities in Radcliffe’s work, but they liked that Matthew Lewis played for keeps. So much so, they had him over for dinner.
         
On the night of June 15, Mary had a powerful dream of a man animated by an engine and his horrified creator watching. The next day, she started writing. And she kept at it, eventually calling her finished work Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus. She and Shelley married not long thereafter.
         
A fragment of a story by Byron influenced Polidori sufficiently to produce a story of his own, The Vampyre. Riding on Byron’s coattails, Polidori’s story was wrongly said to be written by Byron himself. By 1818, Mary Shelley saw her literary progeny published. Later that year, Polidori’s story followed suit.
          
Decades later Varney the Vampire appeared in the cheapest print, and decades after that, Sheridan Le Fanu wrote the excellent vampire story “Carmilla.” But it wasn’t until Bram Stoker wrote Dracula that we finally saw the fulfillment of the Swiss castle ghost story efforts.
         
As films in 1931, Dracula preceded Frankenstein by a few months. Thomas Edison gave us film’s first version of the creature in 1910, and F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu presented Dracula with names changed, yet, for better or worse, the 1931 Universal Studios productions with Bela Lugosi as Dracula and Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster hold the most iconic images.
         
The Frankenstein story continues to proliferate. Jurassic Park is a Frankenstein story. So is nuclear technology. Stephen Hawking presents a Frankenstein story when he warns us of the dangers of artificial life.
          
Those interested in the Summer of 1816 might like Gothic (1986), wherein Gabriel Byrne as Lord Byron conducts a sort of séance which unleashes cheesy special effects upon Mary, Percy, and pals. Also, Frankenstein Unbound (1990), based on the novel by Brian Aldiss, shows how malleable a monster Mary Shelley unleashed.




TO EARN MORE ABOUT THE GOTHIC,
LOOK FOR RICHARD DAVENPORT-HINES'
FOUR HUNDRED YEARS OF EXCESS, HORROR, EVIL AND RUIN
























 Stewart Kirby writes for

Sunday, March 6, 2016

75 YEARS OF "CITIZEN KANE"

























CITIZEN KANE
Starring Orson Welles,
Joseph Cotton,
Dorothy Comingore,
Agnes Moorehead,
Ruth Warrick,
Ray Collins,
Erskine Sanford,
Everett Sloane
Directed by Orson Welles
Written by Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles
Runtime 119 minutes

         
The most highly critically-acclaimed movie in American history turns 75 this year.
         
When asked in a 1960 interview, “Where did you get your confidence from?” Welles, in his mid-forties at the time, says, “Ignorance! Sheer ignorance! There’s no confidence to equal it.” (Look for the interview on YouTube titled “Orson Welles Talks About ‘Citizen Kane.’”)
         
He had, at the age of 25, been given by RKO Pictures a contract to direct films with landmark latitude. This was because of a radio broadcast in 1938 where Orson Welles, director of the Mercury Theater, altered HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds to sound like radio news bulletins of a Martian invasion of the country. The result panicked many listeners, some of whom died frantically trying to head for the hills. (Check out the fascinating documentary on the subject from PBS’s The American Experience.) Due to the overnight international fame Welles immediately accidentally achieved, the filmmaking offer came his way. Which he initially rebuffed. Eventually the offer given him by the head of RKO, while not financially remarkable, held such total control, Welles accepted. “The rushes couldn’t be seen by anyone,” he says. “I got that good a contract because I didn’t want to make a film.” 
         
Citizen Kane is a movie about a rich guy who goes into politics. He inherits the money as a kid, but when we first see him, it’s on his deathbed. He says one thing, “Rosebud,” and then he dies. Most of the movie consists of various nameless and faceless reporters seeking the people who knew Charles Foster Kane, a man of fabulous wealth walled off from the world, to find out what was the last thing on his mind when he was heard to utter his final word.
         
The story is of course everything. But what makes the film particularly compelling is the innovative way that it’s presented. The camera work, all glorious black and white, is in Citizen Kane still as different from most films as the sentence structures of Shakespeare and Faulkner and Joyce are from those in TV Guide blurbs. “I didn’t know there were things you couldn’t do,” says Welles.
         
“I thought that you could do anything with the camera that the eye could do, or the imagination could do,” he adds. “I do feel that a man like Kane is very close to farce, very close to parody, burlesque.”
         
The fabulous estate owned by the phenomenally-acquisitive Kane, called Xanadu, in Florida in the film, reminded people even as Welles was shooting it of the castle in California owned by William Randolph Hearst.
         
“Kane isn’t really founded on Hearst in particular,” says Welles. “Many people sat for it, so to speak.”




















 Stewart Kirby writes for

REPRESENTATIVE MATERIAL






The print book contains two stories, HIDDEN SPRINGS first, and then THE MESMERIZER












Click the link to check out the first several chapters of THE MESMERIZER:
http://stewartkirby.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-mesmerizer.html














The print book has three stories which take place in two worlds: The first one, DRIFTING ROOM, introduces the environs of both.










Click the link for DRIFTING ROOM:
http://stewartkirby.blogspot.com/2013/09/drifting-room.html












I wonder what life would be like if the world wasn't one big field of cotton?










Click the link to read the short story GRAVEN IMAGE:
http://stewartkirby.blogspot.com/2014/07/graven-image.html









I read this one on the radio for half a year in half-hour show installments.









Click to read LOST COASTER:
http://stewartkirby.blogspot.com/2016/11/lost-coaster.html












The preceding representative material comprises only some of the dozens of stories in the Humbaba County cycle. In the extensive array of my fiction thus far may also be found several fantastic tales ostensibly intended for younger readers--CELIA OF CELUPIAR, THE ADVENTURES OF SQUIRREL GIRL and others; a sword and sorcery novella set in a pre-cataclysmic age, OMANDRUIN; a screenplay based on the German 19th-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, OVERMAN; stories primarily involving work experiences, such as TRIBES; sundry articles on all manner of subjects, including SURFING WITH SHARKS, an article I wrote for The North Coast Journal, selections from the hundreds of movie reviews I've written for The Independent since 2002, and much more.

Type in my name at SoundCloud.com and scroll down the variety of audio opportunities on my profile page. Listen to stories and rock out to the groovy stylings of my badass band CrowMag. In particular I recommend SURFBOARD CINDY and WE WENT TO TOWN (ON A BIGFOOT WE FOUND).




 














Saturday, March 5, 2016

IN THE FOREST WITH THE KID



























Got a big red shirt
Hands dark with dirt
Wearin' plaid
'Cause I'm dad
Wake up the kid
"Where your socks hid?"
Onion on the skillet snaps
Don't forget the coonskin caps
Down the rocky road we go
She holds the arrows and the bow
We're headin' to the river
With her bow and her quiver
We bring lotsa lunch to munch
I packed cookies on a hunch
We throw rocks into mud
We discuss Elmer Fudd
And "Bunny of Seville"
This is how we chill
When I show her how to shoot
We don't even give a hoot
I show her how to shoot it straight
How to pull and breathe and wait
I show her how to shoot it safe
I've shown her since she was a waif
You can understand if it's something you did
Shooting arrows in the forest with the kid







And now...





Let SUMMER 2016 begin!



























































Wednesday, March 2, 2016

ESCAPE ARTIST







































All art is escape, and yet these escapes comprise our reality.

I first learned of Harry Houdini from a book we had on the shelves when I was growing up. The book had images on the cover associated with the adventurous stories within. A lion rearing back on its hind legs. Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard the Pirate. A scuba diver. And Harry Houdini depicted similar to the sketch in the lower right hand corner. That's based on a photo taken prior to Houdini escaping from a jail cell.

I learned he was born Erich Weiss, from Budapest, Hungary. That his father was a Rabbi who moved to Appleton, Wisconsin. That Erich was especially devoted to his mother, and that he had a younger brother. When I was in my early teens, I soaked up everything I could find on Houdini. It has been said that he was America's first superhero. Not true. That was Daniel Boone. But Harry Houdini was second.

I used to practice escaping from handcuffs. Got a paperclip? No problem. I used to keep a paperclip on my person specifically so I could escape from handcuffs. Always looking for locks and keys and chains, always wanting and never finding a genuine straight jacket. It was a big deal when Paul Michael Glaser, Starsky from "Starsky and Hutch," played Houdini in a made-for-TV movie. Then of course there was the Tony Curtis movie from the '50s.

It's still the seminal Houdini flick. Better even than the silent movies in which Houdini himself starred, such as The Man From Beyond. We had an English teacher at the high school who started out as a substitute who entertained the students with displays of magic tricks. He claimed to have worked as a technical adviser on the The Great Houdini. Maybe this was true.

A more theatrical fellow you never saw. I don't necessarily mean that in a very good way. He was also a priest, and a raging alcoholic. I'm an alcoholic. I don't blame a person for getting stuck on drinking. But he was theatrical in self-serving toxic ways. Plus the image of a magician priest was always off-putting and self-contradictory.

As a teacher his specialty was penmanship. He wrote on the chalkboard real good. He told us one day in class--we were Sophomores--of the Young Writers' Conference to be held at Humboldt State University soon. We were all supposed to write a piece with a short word limit. We could also opt to pull an extract from, or worse yet, condense, a preexisting work. Three of us were chosen. Of the two others besides myself, one was a lad and one was a gal. Our teacher the magician priest liked for kids to call him Wondie. (He was also the drama teacher.) Wondie offered to take all three of us out to dinner the Friday night before the Saturday afternoon event. The gal wisely chose to decline, but the other guy and I figured what the hey.

Wondie was pear-shaped and toddled around with a halitosis-cursed Spaniel named Tinkerbell that he cried out to in a whiny voice. The other kid and I had been buddies more or less off and on since the Second Grade. He was a mensch, and as such revealed unto me various informations. For example, the gal completing our triumvirate of literary promise had, he assured, actually cheated by exceeding the word-length stipulated. Wondie fudged it for her, which bugged us because if we'd known we could do that we would have done things differently and represented our work more fairly.

And because Wondie had fudged the rules for the absent girl and not for us, decisions were made regarding what he sat on in the car. Tinkerbell had been waiting for Wondie in the front seat and left him a little gift that went unnoticed most of the evening. After school he chauffeured us to an Italian restaurant in Fortuna. When he got out of the car we saw it. A beige patty of dog shit smashed on his ass. He'd sat on it, and it stuck to his ass like a Milk Dud. We stared amazed while he waddled off...


















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