The Little Robot

A Short Story by Bill Ectric

robot.jpg

Sometime in the future

The little boy shivered in his white hospital baby stroller, which was too small for his five-year-old frame. No one noticed him shiver. That was the first hint that something was wrong. Adopted by the Youth Solution Agency after his parents were convicted of treason for writing pamphlets critical of the government, the boy was now hedged into a world of loneliness, confusion and uneven discipline, for unnatural rules designed by whomever was in charge.

At least he had his plastic toy robot. It was an excellent eight-inch scale model of the robot from an old television show called Lost in Space. His robot was his friend. The little boy’s name was Josh.

Soon after arriving at the Agency, Josh got in trouble for having prayer beads. He only owned two things: the toy robot his father gave him and the Anglican prayer beads his mother gave him.

Josh’s father was a robotics worker in a factory. He gave the boy a toy robot with several little gadgets built in. For example, if you pushed a button on the robot’s chest, a mechanical voice said, “Danger, danger, Will Robinson!” just like on the TV show. The clear plastic bubble head, with radar gizmos inside, could be raised up and down. When you pushed a button on the robot’s shoulder, its arm popped forward and its little claw hand opened. You could put a pencil in its hand and the spring-loaded claw would click shut and hold the pencil. You could open a small plastic door on the robot’s leg that revealed pretend gears that ran the roller-track “feet.” Josh loved his robot and played with it all the time.

Josh’s mother had given him a set of Anglican prayer beads, consisting of a small crucifix on a loop of turquoise beads. It was against the law to give children religious artifacts, but the bureaucrats overlooked crosses because they had become common as ornaments of jewelry, which the officials usually stored with other things that kids were too young for, like adult-sized rings, watches, and pocketknives.

Josh’s mother had taught him a simple version of a prayer written by Saint Francis of Assisi. A large woman in a white nurse’s uniform caught Josh reciting his prayer. The boy held the first bead on the string between his thumb and forefinger and said, “Lord, give us peace.” Sliding his small fingers to the next bead, he said, “change hatred to love,” and moving to the next bead, “change despair to hope,” and so on, each bead signaling the next phrase.

“What are you doing?” the big nurse asked. She had sneaked up behind Josh. “What is that?”

Josh was unsure how to answer because of the tone of her voice.

He said meekly, “Mom’s beads.”

“Let me see that,” demanded the nurse.

Josh held the beads tight.

“Okay, then,” she said. “We’ll see about this.”

At the next staff meeting, she told the Head Administrator about the rosary.

The Head Administrator said, “Well, we can’t have that. I mean, I don’t really care personally, but we’ll get a bad mark in quality control.”

The nurse said, “His mother gave him the artifact. It might traumatize him if we take it away.”

“Kids get upset,” said the head man. “He’ll get over it. Use some strategy. He seems to like that robot. That’s much more appropriate for a young boy. It’s scientific, practical. It’s a testament to man’s accomplishments.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” the nurse said.

Soon enough, Josh also got in trouble with the robot. One night after lights out, he pushed the button and the robot blurted out, “Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!” in the dark, and a younger child woke up crying in the room full of beds.

The big nurse came into the room.

“Give me that,” she said in a whispering voice that everyone could hear.

Josh held the robot tight. The nurse got an idea.

“Let me borrow the robot for one night and I’ll give it back tomorrow. If I have to take it from your hands, you won’t get it back ever.”

Josh reluctantly handed over the toy robot.

The next day, after breakfast, all the children were on their way to the library when the nurse pulled Josh aside.

“I’ll make a deal with you,” she told Josh. “I’ll trade you the robot for the beads.”

“Mom’s beads…” stammered the boy. He was clutching the small cross in his tight pants pocket.

“Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of it,” the nurse assured him in a comforting tone. “You can have it when you get older.”

Still holding the crucifix in his pocket and trying to change the subject, the boy said, “Library. Library time.”

The nurse reached into a big pocket on her white smock and brought out the robot. The boy’s eyes opened wide. He held his hand out for the toy.

“Not until you give me the rosary,” insisted the nurse.

Josh grudgingly pulled the cross from his pocket, followed by the attached beaded string. Each turquoise bead made a little bump as the string slid over the rim of his pocket, until it hung free down the length of his upraised arm. When the nurse put the robot in his other hand, he let go of the beads and quickly hugged the robot in both hands.

A few days later, the Head Administrator was in a good mood. He told the nurse, “I’m very happy with the progress Josh has made. He shows a lot of potential with hands-on skills. I saw him taking that toy robot apart and putting it back together.”

Josh had disconnected the little speaker inside the mechanical man. That way he could push the button without upsetting anyone with the robot’s loud voice.

To his relief, Josh had discovered that no one could tell what he was thinking. He pretended to read the robot’s mind, pushing the button and then imagining he heard the voice. He could imagine the robot saying whatever he wanted.

The next day, the Head Administrator watched Josh from a distance. The boy was quietly engrossed in playing with the robot’s many gadgets. He seemed to have forgotten the prayer beads. The Head Administrator felt pride and a sense of accomplishment for leading the boy away from superstition and toward a practical, scientific pass-time. He smiled a satisfied smile.

What the Administrators didn’t know was that, as the boy played intently with the robot, his mind was busy with this:

When Josh clicked the button on the robot’s chest, he thought silently, “Lord, give us peace.” Then he extended the clear bubble-like head and thought, “change hatred to love.” The boy clicked the arm spring button and thought, “change doubt to faith.” He clicked open the small plastic door on the robot’ leg and thought, “change despair to hope” and so on. All this was going on in Josh’s head, with the click of each gadget representing a different prayer that nobody but God could hear.

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The Pete Brown Interview

Morden Tower / Photo © Andrew Curtis (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Morden Tower / Photo © Andrew Curtis (cc-by-sa/2.0)

By Bill Ectric

On June 16, 1964, Pete Brown gave the first ever poetry reading at Morden Tower, now a literary landmark in Newcastle, England. The Morden Tower Readings, conceived and organized by Tom and Connie Pickard, went on to host readings by more poets than can be listed here, especially from the Beat and Black Mountain movements, including Allen Ginsberg’s first European reading of Kaddish. I have always found the connections and cross-pollination of different scenes fascinating, but in 1964, the only poetry I cared about was surrounded by electric guitars and drums. As the sixties progressed, I absorbed rock & roll, blues rock, acid rock, progressive rock, and heavy metal.

Pete Brown, Living Life BackwardsI did like to read, however, and I was one of those kids who not only listened to records, I read everything printed on the album covers: Music and production credits, liner notes, and even the ads on the inner sleeves. We didn’t have CDs back then, and those 12-inch wide phonograph disks had plenty of room on the packaging for text. Polydor Records used to promote various artists on the paper inner sleeves of their albums covers, and I remember the curious feeling of seeing my favorite rockers (Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and The Who) alongside artists that, to me, seemed arcane even then (Acker Bilk, Teagarden and Van Winkle, Len Novy). I remember wondering, who is this mysterious person named Pete Brown, listed in the credits on Cream albums alongside Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker? On the album itself, under each song title, the composer’s names appeared in parentheses: Sunshine of Your Love (Clapton, Bruce, Brown); White Room (Bruce, Brown); I Feel Free (Bruce, Brown).

Much later, I learned that he was none other than the same Pete Brown who gave the first reading at Morden Tower. Born on December 25, 1940, in Ashtead, Surrey, England, Pete Brown started writing when he was fourteen. He cites a jazz and poetry recording by Kenneth Patchen as a turning point in his life. He also names Dylan Thomas and Federico Garcia Lorca as important influences. By age 19, Pete was a professional performance poet and worked with Michael Horovitz to produce the New Departures magazine, which published early works by Samuel Beckett and William S. Burroughs. Allen Ginsberg saw the New Departure group as a counterpart to the American Beats. As previously mentioned, Brown co-wrote a number of songs with members of Cream, which, at the time, was considered an avant-garde band due to their extended improvisations and dedication to a psychedelic version of the classic blues form. After Cream disbanded, Pete Brown and Jack Bruce continued to co-write lyrics for  Bruce’s solo albums, including Songs For a Tailor, Harmony Row, and Into the Storm. Pete has been the producer and/or percussionist and/or vocalist for a variety of bands, including The Battered Ornaments, Pete Brown and Piblokto!, The Hamburg Blues Band (guest sideman), Back to Front, The Interoceters, and more. His books include Few Poems (1966, Migrant Press: Birmingham), Let ‘Em Roll, Kafka (1969, Fulcrum: London), and The Old Pal’s Act (1972, Allison & Busby: London).Pete Brown & Piblokto

I had the pleasure of asking Pete Brown some questions by email.

BILL: Being involved in both music and Beat poetry, did you ever meet David Amram?

PETE: Yes. I have done two gigs with David Amram, both under the name of LIPS Festivals. The first was a few years ago at the now-defunct Ocean in Hackney. He played piano and French horn. My bassist, David Hadley, jammed with him. The second time was last November when we did a 50 years of On the Road celebration at the new Marquee club, now, sadly, also defunct. Amram played on all three nights with various people including on a poetry/music set with me. I also had my whole band there one night and it was the last gig of that particular incarnation as I am now back with Phil Ryan and we are planning a much larger band to tour next year when the new record is out. Amram and I got on very well, incidentally- being a jazz fan of old I was quite aware of his work with Miles, and also saw Pull My Daisy when it first came out. He is extremely sprightly, and reminded me a little of Mose Allison, one of my idols, who also seems to go on forever. Would it were the same for me in ten years time!

BILL: I understand you were the first poet to read at Morden Tower. Was there any musical accompaniment during the readings?

PETE: I was definitely the first poet to read at the Morden Tower, and no, there was no music then.

BILL: Can you talk about some of the people you met there?

PETE: The most important person I met there was Basil Bunting, who Tom Pickard had coaxed out of retirement. What an incredible writer and a great bloke. I later took Ginsberg there and I think Robert Creeley, too. It was a terrific place, great atmosphere and the girls were very friendly!

BILL: How did you and Jack Bruce collaborate? Did one person write the lyrics while the other wrote the music?

PETE: When I worked with Jack, which I did for over thirty years, the music mostly came first. There were exceptions, such as Rope Ladder and White Room. As You Said was written almost simultaneously, Jack playing and me writing.

BILL: Did you ever meet or work with Alexis Korner?

PETE: I knew Alexis quite well, ever since Graham Bond and Dick Heckstall-Smith began playing with him. When I was doing the New Departures Jazz/Poetry thing we had a residency at the Marquee at the same time as Alexis’ Blues Inc., and we were allowed in free, so I was usually around. I did the odd gig with Alexis later on, one memorable festival in a muddy hole in the ground near Hannover in Germany. I think I also did at least one gig at Les Cousins folk club with him, it was when he was in a more experimental mode and had a violinist with him. We also had many musical colleagues in common over the years, for instance Danny Thompson and Zoot Money.

BILL: First I heard that Harry Shapiro was writing a biography about you. Later I heard that you are writing your own autobiography.

PETE: I’m writing an autobiography. It’s nearly finished – should be ready by the end of the year. I wanted Harry to do it with me but the publishers, having seen a couple of chapters I wrote, felt it would benefit from having my voice in it.

Pete Brown & The Interoceters

BILL: Any other news?

PETE: The only news is that, with luck, Phil Ryan and I will have finished recording the new album, which also features Arthur Brown, Clem Clempson, Jim Mullen, Richard Bailey, David Hadley, Bob Jenkins, John McKenzie, Mo Nazam, Taff Williams, Art Themen, Annie Whitehead, and possibly a cameo appearance by Peter Greene (the elusive founder of Fleetwood Mac). We are still waiting on a decision from Peter Greene. We hope to finish recording by the end of September and have it mixed by the end of October. That’s my main effort right now, and the book. There are mutterings of lyric and poetry books but we are still in negotiation. There also seems to be a plan for me to produce Peter Green again, but it’s just a plan right now.

BILL: Are you the Peter Brown mentioned in the song, The Ballad of John and Yoko?

PETE: No, the Peter Brown mentioned in that song was part of the Beatles management team and not me. Sorry to disappoint.

BILL: I guarantee you, I am in no way disappointed, having actually been able to interview a person who shines so mythical from my golden past.

More Interviews by Bill

Bill Ectric’s Place (blog)

Bill Ectric’s Website (Books and More)

The Last of the Hippie Filmmakers

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre poster

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre poster. “It happened” was a bit of an exaggeration…

Via Taki’s Magazine, Joe Bob Briggs looks back on Tobe Hooper and the making of  the  original Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I enjoyed this article on several levels: Film history, biographical, human interest, horror movies, and just plain good writing. Brigg’s calls Hooper “the last of the hippie filmmakers.” Here’s a brief quote from the article:

(Hooper’s) masterpiece, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, was condemned as pornography by both coasts even as inferior horror films out of Andy Warhol’s Factory and Warner Brothers’ backlot were being praised as works of genius. Hooper then spent the rest of his life knocking on various Hollywood doors that would occasionally be cracked open just wide enough to give him one job at a time, often by C-level producers who turned up their noses at his pedigree and then micromanaged his work until it was all but destroyed. His one big break, Poltergeist, was plagued by the persistent fake news that Steven Spielberg ghost-directed it. This libel followed Hooper throughout his career and was even appended to many of his obituaries. First of all, let’s state the obvious. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of the most successful independent films in history.

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Inspired by Murder

On Murder Considered As One of the Fine Arts    Guilty Things A Life of Thomas De Quincey

This review was written by Colin Dickey for New Republic, November 2, 2016:

“Murder, in ordinary cases, where the sympathy is wholly directed to the case of the murdered person,” (De Quincey) reasons, “is an incident of coarse and vulgar horror; and for this reason that it flings the interest exclusively upon the natural but ignoble instinct by which we cleave to life.” This attitude to primal panic would never “suit the purposes of the poet.” What, then, must a poet do to elevate such a scene to high art? The only option: “He must throw the interest on the murderer.” Since 1823, this has become commonplace; from The Godfather to Silence of the Lambs to Breaking Bad, it’s become the default position of any serious drama to include the perspective of the murderer. Like it or not, our imaginative lives now reside in De Quincey’s dreamworld.

Fittingly, Frances Wilson’s new biography of De Quincey, Guilty Thing, begins not with his birth or his lineage, but with a murder: In the early hours of December 8, 1811, shopkeeper Thomas Marr, his wife and infant child, and his apprentice were all found dead, their throats slit and their heads bashed in. With no real suspects, the case fascinated everyone in England, but none more so than Thomas De Quincey himself. The Ratcliffe Highway murders, as they became known, inspired in De Quincey a “profound reverie,” according to his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and would occupy his mind and his writings for decades to come. The murders, De Quincey would later write, “had an ill effect, by making the connoisseur in murder very fastidious in his taste, and dissatisfied by anything that has been since done in that line. All other murders look pale,” he concluded, by the “deep crimson” of the Ratcliffe Highway murders.

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1966: A Magic Year

Look Magazine 1966

One of my magic years is 1966. My 12th birthday was in June of that year. Sociologists and psychologists describe the ages of 12 to 14 as early adolescence, the onset of puberty, the ability to form more complex thoughts, and a moving away from parents in search of individuality.

1966 felt like I was on the cusp of something new, something wild, maybe even weird. Images filtered into our home via magazines, television, and film – images of Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, featuring The Velvet Underground and Nico, for example. I didn’t know what it all meant, but it was something not for the parents. We could buy cool wrap-around sunglasses, similar to the ones worn by members of the Velvet Underground.

Of course, there were other good years after 1966, and in real life you can’t really draw a line between years; one blends into the other. But 1966 was the last year I could truly enjoy the tactile, glittering combination of plastic, electronics, sugar (on cereal, in bubble gum and Coca-Cola), and unlimited potential, without the teenage angst, the far-off dread of the Vietnam war, new pressures of school, and the guilt imposed by environmentalists. Don’t get me wrong – I want to save the planet – but I’m just talking about the way I felt as a kid. After the 1967 Summer of Love, plastic became a derogatory word for fake and hypocritical, and it was ruining our planet because plastic is not biodegradable. The hippie communes fascinated me. I read Thoreau’s Walden and briefly considered a hermit’s life in a cabin in the woods. It never would have worked. Even camping out in the backyard with my friends had drawbacks. It got cold at three o’clock in the morning!

I know it sounds strange that a 12 year old would be worried about going to war. I should explain that in my small town, 1966 seemed to last until 1969. By 1969, the ’67 Summer of Love had given way to what some called “the death of the American Dream,” or “America’s loss of innocence,” with events like the Sharon Tate murders and the killing of a concertgoer by the Hell’s Angels at a Rolling Stones concert in Altamont. In one of my favorite book passages of all time, Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972), subtitled, A Savage Journey Into the Heart of the American Dream, writes about the great wave of sixties hope finally breaking and rolling back.

“We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . .
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.” ― Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972)

 

In the April 8, 1966 issue of Time Magazine, John T. Elson wrote the cover story, Is God Dead? It was an even-handed look backward and forward about the questions of faith and doctrines. You might say it formed my theology because we didn’t go to church when I was growing up. My mother used to read things to the rest of our family in a kind of conversational, “oh-this-is-interesting” way. I think it was her way of teaching my brother and I things, which she didn’t know how to put into her own words, knowing we could read it for ourselves but probably wouldn’t. I remember her reading excerpts from the Time magazine article, like where Elson said,

“Protestant faith now means not intellectual acceptance of an ancient confession, but open commitment—perhaps best symbolized in the U.S. by the civil rights movement—to eradicating the evil and inequality that beset the world,” and “In search of meaning, some believers have desperately turned to psychiatry, Zen or drugs. Thousands of others have quietly abandoned all but token allegiance to the churches, surrendering themselves to a life of ‘anonymous Christianity’ dedicated to civil rights or the Peace Corps.” Now I attend services an Saint John’s Cathedral, an Episcopalian church that specializes in feeding the hungry and housing the homeless.  

The luxury of being 12 years old in 1966 is that I felt as though I had plenty of time to figure out religion. In 1966, we were a household of smiles, laughter, my brother’s first bicycle, with butterfly handlebars and a banana seat; my first camera, a Kodak Brownie 127 model; our family’s first combination record player/8-Track tape stereo. My father taught my brother and me to solder wires and helped me build a crystal radio from a kit. We hooked up a plastic skull to a small motor and put it in a cabinet. When you opened the cabinet, the skull’s mouth opened and a little tape recorder said, “why are you looking in here?” or “Oh, my aching bones” or anything else we recorded on the three inch reel of tape.     

Ford Motor Company introduced eight-track tape players in three of its 1966 models: Mustang, Thunderbird, and Lincoln. RCA Victor introduced 175 Stereo-8 Cartridges from its music catalog.

1966 media landmarks, for me, include:

The Jeff Beck/Jimmy Page version of the Yardbirds, who, along with Keith Relf, Jim McCarty, and Chris Dreja, had a cameo appearance in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow-Up (1966). Film critic Andrew Sarris called the film “a mod masterpiece.” Blow-Up reflected sights, sounds, and mood of “Swinging London.” In the New York Times, Bosley Crowther called the movie a “fascinating picture, which has something real to say about the matter of personal involvement and emotional commitment in a jazzed-up, media-hooked-in world so cluttered with synthetic stimulations that natural feelings are overwhelmed.” Fuzz-tone guitar electronics was getting more popular.  

If I had to pick a favorite Beatles album, I would choose their 7th studio album, Revolver , released on August 5, 1966, a marriage of philosophy, romance, and rock & roll. Revolver embodies a perfect balance of exuberant summer warmth, autumn-like gothic melancholy, and meditative psychedelia, driven by whip-snap drumming, hot ringing guitar tones, and the drone of Hindustani classical music. My verdant valiant summer took on a pleasant chill as leaves began to ripen and die, while I, like a grinning glow-skull, reveled in the profound implications of getting stronger while simultaneously aging in time and place, living outside of time looking in, knowing I could always return to this window of scrutiny at any age. Lennon and Harrison, in particular, were experimenting with LSD. McCartney was experimenting with avant-garde techniques like musique concrète. Starr’s top-notch drumming held it all together. One need only listen to the plodding, wobbling outtake of Tomorrow Never Knows on the Beatles’ Anthology Album to appreciate Starr’s dynamic drumming on the superior Revolver version.          

Truman Capote described his book, In Cold Blood (Random House, 1966) as a “nonfiction novel.” He also called it an “experiment in journalistic writing.” This style of writing would come to be known as “New Journalism.” Traditional journalism is objective, concerned only with the facts. New Journalism is subjective and includes the author’s personal reaction to the subject they are writing about. The writers of New Journalism often insert themselves into the story. Hunter S. Thompson’s first published book, Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (Random House, 1966) is also considered a category of New Journalism called Gonzo. Other New Journalism writers include Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Terry Southern, Robert Christgau, Gay Talese, and others. According to literary critic Seymour Krim, the term New Journalism was first used in 1965 by Pete Hamill.

Television shows Star Trek (NBC), Dark Shadows (ABC), The Monkees (NBC), Batman (ABC), Mission: Impossible (CBS) all debuted in 1966. The Hollywood Squares (NBC) pilot episode aired in 1965, but the regular series began in 1966. On weekdays, when not in school for whatever reason, I enjoyed watching Hollywood Squares with my mother because it brought nine guest celebrities together in one place to display their knowledge and practice their shtick. Also in 1966, The Marvel Super Heroes animated series marked the first appearance of Marvel Comics characters on television. The show was syndicated to local TV stations, independent of the major networks. My friends and I were excited to see Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, Thor, and the Submariner on the tube, but disappointed by the low-budget animation, which usually involved still pictures with just the mouths moving when the characters spoke.

Singer Johnny Rivers had a 1966 hit record with Secret Agent Man, a song written by P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri. A short version of Secret Agent Man rocked the opening credits Secret Agent, a television series starring Patrick McGoohan. This series originally aired in England as Danger Man beginning in 1960 with a different theme song (actually two theme songs: first, The Danger Man Theme, and later, High Wire, both composed by Edwin Astley). During the sixties “spy craze” ignited by the popularity of James Bond, Danger Man came to American television as Secret Agent, with the Johnny Rivers song.

Speaking of Patrick McGoohan, his career move in the sixties illustrates a perfect analogy of what I like to call the “1966 transition.” Danger Man, especially the early episodes, reflected the traditional image of a spy wearing a suit and tie; it harkening back to the 1950s, invoking the cold war and international espionage. Eventually, the series introduced a few spy gadgets as a nod to the James Bond films. McGoohan quit Danger Man in 1965 and spent 1966 planning and producing The Prisoner. During this time, he obviously had his hand on the pulse of popular culture. The Prisoner debuted in 1967. Filmed in the enchanting, storybook-inspired village of Portmeirion in North Wales, The Prisoner reveled in surreal imagery and counterculture rebellion against dubious authority. The dubious authorities subjected the title character (McGoohan) to mind control techniques, including hallucinogenic drugs and dream manipulation. Instead of traditional suits, the characters wore toned-down version of the mod designs found in Swinging England’s Carnaby Street. If a prisoner escaped from the island by boat or swimming, a giant bubble chased them down, skimming across the ocean surface, and returned them to captivity. The bubble added an element of science fiction to The Prisoner.   

Speaking of science fiction (or was it nonfiction?), Look Magazine featured a story in their October 4, 1966 issue called “Aboard a Flying Saucer: The Incredible Story of Two People Who Believe They Were Kidnapped by Humanoids in a Spacecraft.” This was the story of Barney and Betty Hill, a real-life couple who claimed to have been abducted by a flying saucer. The Look article consisted of excerpts from the best-selling book, The Interrupted Journey (1966, The Dial Press), as told to John G. Fuller by the Hills. The book was made into a television movie called The UFO Incident in 1975, starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons. This book is a major source of all the “experimental probing” tropes that are so common today. This story fascinated me as a 12 year old kid, and there were nights when I could have sworn I heard weird electric buzzing in the walls and saw unexplained lights in the sky. Incidentally, Look Magazine’s advertising revenue peaked in 1966 at $80 million. I’m reminded of Ray Palmer, editor of Amazing Stories magazine in the 1940s, who said Amazing Stories sales increased dramatically when he published a series of stories by Richard Shaver, known collectively as The Shaver Mystery. Shaver claimed that space aliens, left behind on Earth many years in the past, had evil mutated descendants still living underground in caverns. These mutants would sometimes emerge from their lairs to kidnap humans for nefarious purposes, and they frequently tampered with Shaver’s mind by sending invisible rays into his brain. Funny thing – Shaver also claimed his stories were true.

To be continued  . . .

Psycho-geographic Impressionism

Tim Gilmore

Tim Gilmore

Psychogeography was defined in 1955 by Guy Debord as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” – from Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geograhy, 1955

From Burrow Press, an interview with Tim Gilmore by Hurley Winkler:

Hurley Winkler

Hurley Winkler

Before I ever met TIM GILMORE, I met his writing. I was a teenager, eager to explore the dozens of overgrown abandoned sites strewn throughout my hometown of Jacksonville, FL. I was still cautious, though, and did what any millennial would do before entering a sketchy building—I Googled it. That’s how I found Jax Psycho Geo, a blog Tim keeps to document his exploration of mysterious places in Jacksonville. Tim’s website not only gave me courage to explore, but introduced me to some of my favorite pieces of creative nonfiction.

Hurley Winkler: I want to ask you about your blog, Jax Psycho Geo, since that’s where I first started reading your work. What let you to start writing a blog?

Tim Gilmore: To begin with, I wanted to write this huge, sprawling postmodern novel. I wanted to represent the entire city as a novel somehow. And if you did that, you’d have to just sample everything you could sample, whether that was something hugely and historically significant, like Axe Handle Saturday, or if it was a woman falling asleep at her piano in Queens Harbor.

So I did that, and then realized that it was just huge and unwieldy. I wanted to expand so many of the smaller stories into bigger stories. I started the website, and originally, the first stories were all parts of what I thought was going to be this novel about Jacksonville. Instead, I put them all up [on the website] in a couple of days. That was five years ago.

HW: And you just kept going.

TG: I’m pretty obsessive, as you know.

HW: You use the word “sample.” What do you mean by that?

TG: Like sampling in music. You can’t represent the entirety of anything, because that wouldn’t be a representation. Anytime you try to represent something, you misrepresent it automatically because it is a representation. It’s not the thing, and it can never be the thing. It seemed to me that the way to picture an entirety of something was to show glimpses—almost impressionistically—of what might be happening all over town at the same time. That’s the most you could ever see of the whole picture.

Read More at Burrow Press

The Autumn Kid

Thanksgiving Bulletin Board

Inspired by my prolific friend Tim Gilmore, I decided to write something about my childhood. While my novel Tamper included some semi-autobiographical chapters, this is all new and all true:

I’ve been trying to erase the line between science and mysticism since I was a child, even if I couldn’t put it into words. Some people say that every moment in time is happening simultaneously. I tend to believe it.   

There are golden childhood moments that have stayed with me all my life. I don’t think about them every day, but when prompted by a certain sight, sound, place, or something I eat or drink, they are happening again, right now.

Second grade. Autumn. Paper cutouts of Pilgrims and Native Americans encounter each other on  the classroom bulletin board. Black hats, big buckles, headdresses, moccasins.  The Mayflower in the harbor. Pumpkins, corn, apples, and pears overflow from a “horn of plenty” basket known as a cornucopia. The weather is crisp and chilly in Virginia. The teacher had read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to us, just before Halloween. She told us about the Salem witch trials. It was all still fresh in my mind. To this day, I like reading about ghosts and witches, real or imagined (is there a difference?).   

Sitting at our second grade desks, we write our names on the top line of the paper, and under the name, we copy the date from the chalkboard. November 5, 1962. I remember doing this in the first grade. A pattern forms in my mind, and life is good. I have risen above babies and kindergartners because, after only two years in elementary school, I have grasped the reliable, inexorable logic of calendars. Things gel fast when you’re a kid. This world of Halloween-tinged constancy is one of my golden moments. When I feel the glow now, as an adult, would a scientist say it is only a surge of serotonin or endorphin that approximates my second grade epiphany?

 I didn’t expect it to ever change. I looked forward to future events, like Christmas and summer vacation, until at some point, I must have felt change at a subconscious level. On the playground, I stood too close to a little girl in a swing. The corner of the swing cut my forehead. My invincible forehead healed, leaving a tiny scar, which I thought looked cool, like I was a tough guy. But when I saw creases in an old person’s face, I thought, that won’t happen to me for an eternity. By the seventh grade, the decay of autumn lurked mysteriously in my soul like a guilty pleasure, but also, on a distant horizon, a scary realization, fear diminished by the hubris of youth.

My mother has an old black and white photo of my friend Russell Board and me pretending to be super heroes, wearing towels for capes. We look a lot sillier than we thought we did at the time. I was five years old and Russell was six. He was very smart and I looked up to him, listened to him. As we got older, comic books taught us a lot about science. Metamorpho, the Element Man, introduced by DC comics in 1964, could shape-shift into any element or combination of elements. We learned that iron and carbon were elements that, when combined into an alloy, make steel, because Metamorpho explained it when turned his fists into steel to fight a robot.  The Flash, another DC hero, could pass through solid matter by vibrating his molecules at super speed, to slide around the molecules in the wall. Even though this was not possible in real life, it helped us understand the nature of atomic particles.  

Then one day I was in the front yard of my house with my younger brother Jeff and his friend Dennis. We were pretending to be super heroes, pretending to fly. I was their leader. With our arms stretched forward, we ran, pretending to fly, making whooshing sounds like the wind in the Superman TV show. Russell Board rolled into view on his bicycle, on the street in front of my house, and we ran to meet  him as he slowed down. “You wanna play super heroes with us?” I asked, and he said, thoughtfully and mildly, “Mmm…I guess not.” I was embarrassed. Russell was not judgmental about it. He did not look down derisively at me. But he had outgrown it and I felt suddenly so embarrassed for still playing like a little kid. It was a turning point in my life. I don’t know about Russell, but I didn’t want to let go of the past. I wasn’t ready. Some days, in some ways, I’m still not ready. But there would be other golden moments.

To be continued…