Sunday, April 9, 2017

Tom G Reads: Old School Monsters

I told Mr. Charles Joseph that I would review a chapbook that he half-wrote. But I’m a procrastinating prick and simply never got around to it as much as I wanted to. The dull, meaty tentacles of “I really should get that done” have been wrapped around my head ever since. So here it is, my first review of a chapbook.

            To those of you who don’t know what a chapbook is, I’ll explain quickly and to the best of my ability, that chapbooks have their roots in the penny pulp pamphlets sold by peddlers to an increasingly literate public before the dawn of the paperback novel and the newspaper. They were usually political rags or full of poetry, ballads, and parables. They were cheap and easy to read. The literature of the street. And even now, when they’re almost exclusively the territory of poets waiting for a payday, they still retain the quality of their roots. It’s a rough-hewn literary tradition of the none traditional.

            “Old School Monsters” written by Charles Joseph and John Dorsey features an introduction by Adrian Manning and shokushu goukan-esque cover art by Janne Karlsson. As its title might suggest, just about every title and piece within contains refence to the offbeat, eclectic B-films of matinees and midnight features seen in the late movies and seedy, ticket booth theaters of the bad old days.
            I’m not about to examine each and every poem –there are twelve– and I’m not prepared to pick-about nouns and sentence structure for the sake of a masturbatory exercise in literary analysis. I am, however, going opine about my own take on the objective item and its themes.

            “Old School Monsters” is a really good piece of work. Especially given the fact that it’s co-authored. The quality of my copy, at least, is fantastic. Published by Indigent Press, the tiny book’s construction is far above rag, and the cover art is luridly sinister and, frankly, top notch.
             Each piece in “Old School Monsters” makes reference to the movies mostly forgotten but always at home on Turner Classic Movies where we phony fifth-column snobs watch and analyze them for the sake of sex with the dolls of intellect and “culture”. However, each piece is more than a one-off about “Dracula”, “Angels with Dirty Faces”, “Creature from the Black Lagoon”, and so on. No… instead each piece is about life where the monsters and heroes are the same and the horror is the very real, very creepy banality of the passing year, the bad relationship, the death toll of a mostly forgotten war. The titles are even misleading in the best possible way. “Nosfaratu” leads us to maternal love, “Revenge of the Creature” puts us face-to-face with the most awkward thoughts in the cold heart of some no place in America, “Abbot and Costello Meet Cleopatra” reaffirms the cultural destitution of an Armenian Princess from Los Angeles, “Angels with Dirty Faces” –and I admit my bias for this one– pulls us into the chasm between old lions and young cubs.

            “Old School Monsters” has a disjointed, disorganized arraignment that I just can’t make-up-my-mind about. Is it an inclusion? Or is it perfect? As a sucker for harmony I feel bewildered reading it sequentially form cover-to-cover. But as one who has discovered the calamitous cacophony of life, I feel like it’s perfect. Reflection and ponder is one scattered mess of a mental exercise.

            To conclude, I will summarize my take on “Old School Monsters” by saying that it’s very well executed. It’s an enjoyable and rewarding read, especially when read more than once. A short burn with a long payoff. I would certainly recommend it. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Plethora of Hint Fiction: Volume 1

Her Ladyship of the Condiments
It is evil deeds her heart breeds.
Sullied was the pickle she put back into the jar.

The Fight
It was at night.
They stirred through rooms.
Neither remembered how it started.
Only the mirror she broke.
And his hand across her face.

A Warm Home
She keeps the heat too high.
But she’s beautiful, and he loves her.
They made a good home.
Downstairs, the dog gingerly licks its balls.

A Cold Home
Mother never talks during breakfast.
Father only broods during dinner.
The kids only play when they’re alone.
The parakeet paces in his cage. 

Grampa Dreams
Grampa sometimes dreamed.
            Mostly the past.
The dead German in Belgium.
            Whose boots he stole.
Grandma in 1951.
            She stayed warm in his CPO jacket.

Sweethearts on Parade
“Sweethearts on Parade” played.
The skating rink was dim.
Sandy drank an egg cream.
Charlie cocked his hat.
They pretended not to see each other.

Johnny fell in love.
Cheesy hit a guy with a brick.
Billy stole Donna C’s panties.
Tony shot a cat.

Mushy caught the wrong slug. 

He Calls Himself an Artist
He calls himself an artist.
He toasts at Lady Liberty’s.
            And smokes her stuff.
He’s not about the work.
He’s about calling himself an artist.

She stopped acting, and gaffing, and weeping, and fearing.
She started just being.
The last week of her life.

Watching the Light Pass
He watched blades of grass blow. And saw the light pass from the eyes.
            Silent death bringer. He wiped the blood from his blade.

Lights in the Forest
            Yorkshire girl’s eyes witnessed lights in the forest without light. And the cur spoke senseless tidings. She said, frightfully, a rosary. What witchery be this?

The Narcissist’s Sunrise
The sun rises for them.
            That IS what they tell themselves.
They are the end result.
            It all culminates in them, right then, right there.

By Tom Gullstrand.
Use only by expressed permission. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Adieu to You, Twenty-Sixteen

            If nothing else, 2016 has been the year of the unexpected. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series after a 108-year losing streak. It was the year that the man who received fallatio from Marla Maples in the back of a helicopter 25 years ago, became President of the United States. It was a year that robbed us, like an assassin, of icon after icon and those we never thought were icons until they were gone. 2016 was a year that brought dread to optimists and idealists the world over, and served us coldblooded cynics exactly what we wanted… cold.
And vandalizing art museums would never be the same again.

           2016 did, however, expose the truth. Truth that we usually bury under pleasantry and politeness if we behave ourselves. Truth that we mask in the vein of pretending to be tolerant and enlightened. The gift of 2016 is that we now know our own mettle. Many of us have learned that the we’re not measured by our wins or loses, but by how we accept them and carry on. We have not measured well. 2016 exposed the charlatans, the hucksters, the skunks, and the blowhards. And after all of the Twitter battles and Facebook skirmishes, and riots within the walls of YouTube, and desperate shrieks of pride and resentment at places like coffee shops and parks, and carnages big and small, we all get to glower bitterly at sodden, decaying potato fields like Irishmen who don’t know who to blame.

            The best thing you can say about 2016, is that we know who won… nobody.

We bid you Adieu, Twenty-Sixteen, and fond Bah Fangool. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

About Horror: The Power of Silence and Shadow

Few genres rely on audience stimulation like Horror. All genres seek to stimulate, but only two – Horror and Pornography – completely fail if they do not. While other genres can rely on their message and just good workmanship to communicate, horror is to be experienced. And that is because horror seeks to tap into the psyche, the soul, and raw sensory reaction more than any other. There lies the line between good horror and bad horror: good horror does this while bad horror does not.
            Most good horror on the screen is adapted from the page. And this goes all the back to the birth of the screen. From Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” to Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” all the way to William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist”, Stephen King’s “The Shining”, and Ira Levin’s “Rosemary’s Baby”, so many great and awful reiterations of horror come from the great writing that taps into our collective anxiety, trauma, and nature.
            That being said, books have the time, the space, and relatively small marketplace to work us over slowly and methodically. Unlike sight and sound, words on page serve only to communicate by way of the reader’s capacity to empathized, imagine, and analyze. It’s an intellectual medium. In that sense, it’s the highest.
            Writing, while important, relies on its audience for effectiveness. Only the interested and capable literate can experience words on a page.
            Films, however, are far reaching. Anyone – who is NOT staring at their friggin’ phone – can experience a film. While the terror and dread on page requires intellectual work, on the screen, most of the work is already done. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the trip. It’s a direct sender/receiver medium. Dread on the page is immersive, dread on the screen in unforgettable.
            That being said, over the course of my life, horror on film has almost completely lost its ability to truly effect its audience on any level deeper than the immediate reaction of screaming teenager girls with names like Katelyn, Kelly, and Kayla at the local Cineplex.
            It is a landscape of sudden twists, predictable plots, cheap sex, and jump-scares repeated again… and again… and again… and again.
            This degeneration has its roots in the decade before I was born. It was in the 1980’s that lurid sex, gruesome violence, and monsters that you always saw on screen were taken out of their home in the grindhouse theaters and made into mainstays of the film industry. In the quest for blockbuster openings, video rentals, and merchandizing the decade that began with Stanley Kubrick’s Rubik’s Cube adaptation of “The Shining” ended with “Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan”. And while America’s jean-jacket wearing youth had a movie to rent while they ate Domino’s Pizza, horror films as a legitimate avenue for exploring our collective anxiety, trauma, and nature was permanently crippled.
            In this, and arguably long before this, was lost a most important element of horror: ambiguity.
            Today’s audience has no capacity to watch a long shot, listen to silence, or interpret a shadow. Instead, they rely on instant gratification and jump scares. For this reason, horror as genre, not only in film but in writing, is withering a long, slow death. My proof comes in the form of comments like, “The Exorcist is a comedy.” The idea of audience interpretation is mostly a lost one.
            But it’s in ambiguity that horror lives. Director William Friedkin has even stated that he purposely used silence, shadow, and stillness to disturb the audience in 1973’s “The Exorcist”. Few films capture their source material like “The Exorcist”. It is widely regarded as one of the most frightening and psychologically disturbing films ever made. Audience reactions when it was released included panic attacks, physical illness, and a rise in psychotherapy.
            While these reactions seem apocryphal, it was not scenes of head-spinning, vomit, or sacrilegious masturbation that affected audiences the most. It was the moments of silence, shots of shadow, and tense stillness that overwhelmed viewers.
            Friedkin has admitted to deliberately mixing the films audio to include dense quiet and even utter silence so that he could break with loud, brutal noise. He’s also admitted to using darkness and slow camera work to build an atmosphere of tenseness and abysmal mystery. In this way, he created a canvas for the audience to project the worst of their imaginations.
            Many horror films from the “Silent Era” do this too. Filmmakers with limited resources and almost no special effects created negative space, forcing audiences to project and interpret darkness.
            While F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu” may seem tame, the images on screen of almost entirely cast in shadow. Now, while this was probably a means of cutting production costs, it created an entirely unforgettable and hypnotizing film. In its time, it disturbed audiences. Blacken doorways and windows, dark rooms, and dream-like pacing built suspense and menace. The darkness became the villain, because the darkness could be anything a movie goer in 1921 imagined it as. In this way, “Nosfaratu” probably captures the spirit of the Bram Stoker’s novel better than any other version ever made.
            1999’s “The Blair Witch Project” was incredibly effective at horrifying and traumatizing its audience. In its claustrophobic setting, where the only horror that’s actually seen is the disintegration of a human group, the mostly unintentional minutes of utter blackness and shots of the deep, dark woods create a film that pulls us in and leaves us terrified of something that we never see or hear on screen. At least the first time we see it.

Horror is not boogeymen and bloodletters. True horror does not live outside the viewer, or the reader. Horror is within. Horror lives in silence and darkness. In the ambiguity of shadow, where perception is so distorted that we can’t see, sight turns inward towards the mind and the soul. It’s the demons we don’t see that are the most terrifying, the most clarifying, and often, the most liberating. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

He's been reading Kurt Vonnegut, again...

            Sleepy time… time to nod off… the moon like a perfect, glowing snowball in the sky – the kind of snowball you see in cartoons, but have never seen in real life.
            I was in the mall, on the second tier, in front of a Suncoast Video. I was painting a portrait of a pop music icon – I won’t mention her name – dressed like a Valkyrie. She posed in front of me with a glowing smile on her face as she blew bubbles. All my equipment was in perfect order. My brushes stayed clean, my thinner clear, and my paint wet.
            On the audio system played The Andrew Sisters in a loop, again and again… and again.
            Down on the level below, between a Disney Store, an H&M, and a Sunglass Hut, Waffen SS troopers ate Panera Bread and tested their machine guns on men with Watermelons for heads. Their Commandant would then use the slaughtered watermelons to make daiquiris.
            Every few minutes, the TATATATATBROO of their Sturmgewehrs would ring-out followed by the grinding chainsaw buzz of a Magic Bullet blender. I could look and see the spatter of melon and seeds on a wall.
            “How ees zeh Masterpiece coming too, now?” asked the Commandant.
            “Good. We’re getting there,” I answered.
            “Have unt daiquiri?”
            “No thanks… I think I’ll pass.”

            A hot air balloon passed over us all. In it was a Southern Belle dressed like Glinda the Good Witch. She waved at us like a beauty queen. The SS men below waved back and blew her kisses. She farted, and her gas came-out in an immiserating rancid smelling cloud of rainbows and sparkles. My model blew some more bubbles, then reached-out so that a Bald Eagle could land on her arm. Herr Commandant sang along to “Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet”.

            Soon, Herr Commandant spoke-out with fear and fury, “Ve have run aut of zeh melons!”
            The SS troopers took aim at Beauty the Queen in her smelly, smelly balloon and began to fire. TATATATATATATATATBROO shook the air. My model stayed still and smiled. The balloon exploded into fire and black smoke and a rain of peanut M&M’s. To this, Herr Commandant had one lament.
            “NEIN! Zeese ist no good! Ve are allergic to nuts!”
            My model finally spoke is a soft, gentle voice, “Lucky them, they get to be the face of evil, they’ll never need to top themselves. Let then try being famous, I have to top myself every time.”

            In the Men’s Department at JC Penney’s, Ron Howard edited a movie version of what had just happened in Dress Shirts while Tom Hanks recorded the narration near the Levi’s.
            In the Women’s Section, Dr. Phil taped a show with Adolf Hitler. The Fuhrer was in tears.
            “Now Adolf, I don’t ask WHY you do what you do. I ask why wouldn’t you. Now, I’m gonna put some verbs in my sentences…” said Dr. Phil. An audience of women slowly nodded.
            In shoes, Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, and Alex Jones played Pokemon Go.
            An Islamic radical perused in fragrances while licking one of those giant lollipops… you know the kind. A salesgirl sprayed him in the face with a Calvin Klein fragrance. A drone with Hillary Clinton’s face slowly floated through the doors. It hovered for a bit, then squealed loud beeps before lowering a minigun that thunderously fired with such ferocity that it shredded not only him, but the poor salesgirl into a fine mush.
            Hillary and Bill walked in and smeared the mush on dry bread with capers. As they indulged, a rabble followed them in. They were, of course, PETA people.
            “MEAT IS MURDER, MAN!” they shouted.
            “Hey… you have to enjoy the fruits of victory,” argued Bill Clinton.
            “DAMMIT!” griped Hillary as she used a remote control to aim the drone at them.
            Another squeal of beeps, another thunderous clatter of fifty caliber shots and PETA was a pile of lettuce and organic dressing on the floor.
            “Bill, you need to eat some salad,” harped Hillary.
            “Aw, come on, baby.”
            Hillary just pointed, and Bill did as he was told.

            “SEE, I told you that they were cannibals!” bellowed Donald Trump in Juniors as he pelted a puppy dog with small rocks.
            In the parking lot, a mob of rainbow haired Social Justice Warrior gathered with signs and mega phones to watch a zeppelin burst into flame and crash to the earth in a hellish storm of immolation and screaming.
            “DEATH TO MICROAGRESSIONS!” they shouted. “WE ARE THE OPRRESSED! WE ARE THE OPPRESSED!” they went-on as Stormtroopers from Star Wars hacked into their smartphones and read their playlists.
            “Corporations are evil! DOWN WITH MONSANTO! DOWN WITH CORPORATE AMERICA!” tweeted Bernie Sanders on an iPhone of all things.
            A beautiful lady I know emerged from the darkness. It was the greatest feeling of relief I can remember ever feeling.
            “Some crowd,” she sighed.
            “Yeah… really.”
            “Why do they hate that zeppelin so much?” she asked.
            Only one answer popped into my mind. The first time that ever happened. “Because they knew that it would carry them away from this shit.”
            “Ohhh… I’m going to have smoke.”
            “You know what… me too.”

            We lit our cigarettes with the flames from the disintegrating blimp. An obese mall cop rode-up on his Segway. The light on the flames reflected on his bicycle helmet.
            “You can’t smoke on mall property,” he scolded as he scribbled in a pad, “Dirty lungs, don’t you know those thing can kill,” he went on as he handed us a fine covered in donut jelly.

            I tossed the fine into the fire and we walked-off into the night.

            Up above hung the moon like a perfect, glowing snowball in the sky – the kind of snowball you see in cartoons, but have never seen in real life.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Is THIS Freedom?

Listen... people.

Nobody is going to take your gun. Like drugs, or pornography, or smartphones, or Andy Dick, once Pandora's Box is opened, it's opened forever. Once it's out there, we can never get rid of it.

But there is a matter of taking the moral high ground. Saying ,"No, someone who is mentally ill, or on a terrorist watch list, or is a convicted batterer cannot buy a gun. And no, you can't buy an AR-15 out of some asshole's trunk in Virginia. And no, you can't walk into a Burger King with a rifle slung over your should, just for shits and giggles."

The problem of mass shooting and gun violence in the US is a multi-dimensional problem, and no one will address the dimensions of of them problem. America's biggest problem is that NOBODY will give an inch to get an inch. None of those clowns in the House, Republican and Democrat, have in 25 years done anything to address mental illness, poverty, education, gun laws, or the climate of perpetual fear in this country.

And people would argue that we need to "preserve our freedom".

What freedom do speak of, Good Squire? The freedom to risk your life when you pay $25 to see a shitty movie? The freedom to clinch your asshole in the Mall, because you don't know if someone is going to blow a fuse and light the place up? The freedom for children to pass through metal detectors at school? The freedom to be murdered at an office Christmas party? The freedom to be searched at a rock concert?

Living in a perpetual security state is not freedom. Freedom is the liberty to gallivant through your city, town, dell, and village without serious fear. Freedom is the liberty to send your kids to school knowing they'll come home alive. Freedom is the liberty to not be watched, and searched, and suspected, and shackled because "God forbid!"

Fear is not freedom. Or it is. It's the Ted Nugent's kind of freedom. It's a Gender Studies kind of freedom. It's a Police Union's kind of freedom. It's a Haliburton kind of freedom. It's a ISIS kind of freedom. It's a lone, white, male gunman's kind of freedom.

It's not MY kind of freedom.

Do I, we, YOU, have to sacrifice our freedom to live, to assemble, to gallivant, to play, to swing, and sing, and dance, and race, and fly, and YES... even go hunting or target shooting, so that some can spoon an AR-15 at night, or sit behind locked doors and wait for intruders to shoot?

Oh yeah, and I HATE Mondays.

That's my rant. Back to you in the studio, Stacy.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Fathers and Sons... and Deer

It was early 1958 when Wolfgang Rheinmann of Buffalo, New York, died. His only son, Charlie, of Brooklyn, attended with his wife, their son, and friends Frank and Delores DeCarlo. He chose to drive.

 Johnny:  I never met my old man’s father. He never talked him about, either. All I ever knew was that Wolfgang was from Germany and that he worked in a rail yard in Buffalo. There was a reason my old man left home and never went back, and I know it’s not because he stabbed somebody. I guess he just lived a life that old Wolfgang just couldn’t respect.

            I was ten when Wolfgang died. I remember that it happened in February. The funeral was in Buffalo and my old man insisted on driving all day to get there. Frank and Delores came to show support but also to fight the boredom of the road. There we were, all five of us piled into the Cadillac, my old man drove and Frank sat up front. The men always sat up front. I sat in back, between my mother and Delores.

            You remember weird things from when you were a kid. I remember Delores smoking a slim cigarette and reading a “Look” magazine my mother brought along. There was something about Sputnik, and when Delores started complaining about the Russians, Frank started talking about how much he admired them for standing-up to the Germans, and about how they ate their own shoes in Leningrad.

            My mother was asleep; she kept her arm around my shoulder. My old man just drove. If he said two words it was to Frank.

            He was like that. If he wasn’t bullshitting he was quiet. When he kissed my mother goodbye in the morning, he never said “Love you.” He never even talked to me in the morning. He’d wake-up, shave, comb his hair, and get dressed.

            He never even talked about what he did in the war. He had a scar on his chest and another on his back. My mother told me about years later.

            It was during the Battle of the Bulge, and my father was scouting in these woods near this village in Belgium. The German army was basically defeated by then, but they were still trying to keep their shit together. They had lost so many guys in Russia that they were drafting boys as young as fourteen to fight for them. Well anyway, my father heard these two Gerry’s slogging through the snow; they must have been lost because they were behind Allied lines. He traded some fire with them and hit one. The other one then shot him. It was a split second thing, the bolt on my old man’s rifle jammed and he felt the round go through him just as he got the friggin’ thing loose. It passed through his chest and out his back instead of bouncing around. Thank God.

            He went down and the German who shot him approached. Supposedly it was just a kid, probably fourteen or fifteen. My old man knew he had to do something because that kid, probably as scared shitless as he was, was going to make it final.

            “Mein vater ist Deutsch,” he said in perfect German. Supposedly the kid froze like he was ready to shit himself. I believe it. Then my father said “Er ist aus Hessen.”

            The kid lowered his Mauser for just a minute and stared at my bleeding American father who had just spoken to him in his own language. The terrified kid was ready to cry, supposedly. I believe it.

            It was just enough of a minute for my old man to slip his Colt out of its holster and plug the kid in the head, taking him out right there. And that’s how my old man survived the war… because his father, who never respected him, and who he never respected, spoke German around the house.

            I think it was something that haunted him, and I think he relived it whenever he was trying to be the guy everyone on the street thought he was. The only time my old man seemed be himself was when he was hunting.

            Frank had a friend who owned a property up in Duchess County. I don’t know how many acres it was, but it was a lot. And it was out in the country. It was all forest up there, just hills and trees and deer. My old man loved it, and he used to take me with him when he would go out and try to bag one. Frank used to come too; he never shot anything but he was happy to get away from his wife for a day.

            My old man was serious. He was quick, and he was quiet, and if you didn’t keep up your ass was getting left behind. And he had no respect for anyone who wouldn’t squeeze that trigger because they suddenly felt bad for Bambi. That’s how he lived his entire life. If you were like my mother and hesitated or were too slow for him, my old man would just leave you in his dust. He had to make that next dollar… take that next bet… bag that next deer.

            I can remember the last time he took me hunting. I was ten, I think. It was in the fall. We had brought Mike and his son Ray along. We closed in on this one doe in a clearing. It was a clean shot, no problem, just pop and done. My old man wanted me to take the shot.

            “Alright, Johnny… we got it sealed. Take the shot. Take the shot,” he was whispering.

            There I was, ten, swimming in my CPO jacket and trying to aim this fucking gun that was bigger than me. I looked at this doe just grazing. I knew she had to have babies somewhere. I don’t know what happened, but my mother flashed in my mind and I just couldn’t do it. The thought of that deer, and my mother, and I just couldn’t kill it. I was trembling when I lowered my gun. I had to stop myself from crying.

            Without missing a beat, my father took an Army stance and squeezed-off a shot. The doe went down right there. She went stiff and fell over. Then he looked at me and his look gave me the fucking chills. It was a sad look. He was just… embarrassed and disgusted at me. His son was weak. I was obliterated when he sat on a tree stump and lit a smoke and wouldn’t look at me. I knew then that he had lost respect for me. I never went hunting with him again.

            He was himself when he wasn’t talking, like in the car on the way to his father’s funeral. He was alone with his thoughts and the real guy inside, we were furniture. All of us were furniture. Why he was that way, who knows? My guess: it was all heavier than he let on. He struggled with… you know… life. But we weren’t supposed to know that. He was supposed to be the man in control, the suave hustler with the plan, the money, and the gun.

            But he was just a man, in the woods, with a rifle and bad memories. The only two people who knew the real him, me and my mother, he either didn’t respect or couldn’t connect to. He was alone, I guess.

            On the way to bury my grandfather, I just looked out of the car window and watched that drizzly, cold, dark country pass by. Somewhere in those thick, grey woods I hoped I’d see a deer.