Back in the dim dark 1980s—specifically, in the spring of 1980—I took my lovely girlfriend (soon to be wife, a few years later) to Los Angeles, Karloffornia (thank you, Forrest J. Ackerman!) for the very first time, in celebration of her graduation from ODU.
We had a wonderful time, but the things that struck me the most were, first, the sheer amount of prostitutes that hung out in a specific area of Sunset Boulevard, most of them wearing halters and brightly-colored hot pants. There were so many, it looked like they were holding a convention. Living sequestered for all of my then 22 years in small-town Hampton, Virginia, I had never seen a hooker before in real life. This spectacle on Sunset was something out of a rental video.
Not that I ever rented that type of video.
The other thing that struck me was something I also had never seen before.
I was driving a rental car on Sunset Blvd, and passed by another spectacle that brought a huge smile to my face. I said to Maria as we drove by, “That was a giant, spinning Bullwinkle statue.”
Yes. Yes, it was.
I have remembered that simple, quick glimpse of Bullwinkle for forty years.
It still exists, and has a secret history that most people have never heard of. Until now.
Imagine, in your mind, a Gotham City of cold, concrete skyscrapers, and abandoned buildings along the polluted river shoreline, and dented cars from the 1930s to the 1970s, and men on the streets wearing wide-brimmed hats, and women in long, old-fashioned dresses.
This is the Gotham of Tim Burton’s original Batman film from 1989. It’s timeless, caught somewhere between the thirties and the seventies. It’s Batman noir.
And it’s the Gotham City, ostensibly, of Batman: The Audio Adventures, now streaming on HBO Max.
This is a podcast, and it’s almost all audio. (The screen you see above, minus the logo, is present during the podcast, and occasionally something in it will change along with events in the audio story.) It’s almost a return to radio dramas of the ’40s and ’50s—but it’s decidedly different.
First, the cast is top notch, all from tv and movies, and a surprising number come from the halls of SNL at 30 Rockefeller Center. So does the podcast’s creator and producer, Dennis McNicholas, who populates his Gotham City with the voices of Westworld‘s Jeffrey Wright as the Batman, Rosario Dawson, John Leguiziamo, Jason Sudeikis, Chris Parnell, Melissa Villaseñor as Robin, Seth Meyers, Brent Spiner as the Joker, Paula Pell, Ike Barinholtz, Bobby Moynihan, Kenan Thompson, Alan Tudyk, Heidi Gardner, Brooke Shields, Paul Scheer, Tim Meadows, Fred Armisen, and Twin Peaks‘ Ray Wise.
Second, it sounds a little like the classic Adam West/Burt Ward show from the ’60s, but it’s a lot darker, and much closer to today’s comic books. So don’t go into it expecting high camp and hijinks. Maybe a laugh here and there—Bent Spiner’s Joker is wonderful—but the show straddles some extraordinary middle ground, and reminds me in tone of the best tv Batman, Batman: The Animated Series from the ’90s. Here’s the first podcast episode, free on YouTube:
After NBC canceled Star Trek in 1969, the show immediately went to syndication to stations across the country. In Hampton Roads, the NBC affiliate WAVY TV obtained the syndication rights, and I happily greedily lovingly worshipfully watched every episode ad infinitum for at least the next four years, usually broadcast at 4:00 pm, and followed by repeats of The Wild Wild West at 5:00 pm. That schedule would change every other year, basically, with Wild Wild West at 4 and Trek at 5, and then vice versa.
During that time period—and the forty plus years since that halcyon era—there was only one episode that I have seen only once. Considering that, during a period of 1045 weekdays, every single one of Trek‘s 79 episodes would have been broadcast thirteen separate times, I should have seen that one episode at least twice, perhaps even five or six times, or more.
But I only saw “Spock’s Brain” once.
I have no proof to offer; only educated conjecture. But I suggest that “Spock’s Brain” was shown very infrequently in syndication back in the day because the episode was so bad it was embarrassing. This episode is roundly remembered as the single worst episode of the original Star Trek ever produced—the writer, classic Trek producer/writer Gene L. Coon, even used his pseudonym of Lee Cronin for the writing credit.
I saw the episode again for the first time in almost fifty years just last Saturday, after we watched War of the Colossal Beast on Svengoolie . . . which contained no war and only a borderline beast. It’s good for a few laughs—but if you’d like a different take on “Spock’s Brain,” read this by Trek novelist Keith R.A. DeCandido.
Yeah, sorry. I’ll even take “The Omega Glory” over this embarrassment. Shatner’s greatest Kirk speech makes that episode a classic of Trekkie cheese. More, please!
2012 marked, for me, a milestone: a movie I had dreamed of and wanted to see for 41 years was finally made and released.
The movie was titled, simply, John Carter.
A Princess of Mars, the book upon which John Carter was based, and I have a long history that began in 1971. I had just joined the late, great Science Fiction Book Club and received my three books for 10 cents introductory offer. Every month they sent out the selected book of the month and their catalog of other new or reissued books; and in one of the first catalogs I received, I saw this cover by the great Frank Frazetta . . . and I knew I had to read this book!
I had never been so thrilled by such a story; and although I had watched many movies based on the author’s most popular hero, Tarzan, I had never heard of the Tarzan books, or his Martian series, or his Venus series, until the SFBC offered Barsoom Book #1. (Barsoom is the name the inhabitants of Mars call the Red Planet.)
The next few years were a whirlwind of collecting and book buying from print catalogs, through the mail, in Richmond department stores such as Thalhimer’s and Miller and Rhoads, and at science fiction conventions in a pre-Internet, analog world—and they were some of the most joyful years of my life.
2102’s John Carter was supposed to be titled John Carter of Mars, but Disney marketing execs killed that idea after the failure of a previous movie with Mars in the title, Mars Needs Moms. Even so, there is a book called John Carter of Mars, which is the 11th book in Burroughs’ Martian series, and contains ERB’s final John Carter story, “Skeleton Men of Jupiter,” which was originally published in 1943 in Amazing Stories. “Skeleton Men” was the first story in an intended four-story collection of connected tales that, unfortunately, Burroughs never completed. He went to Hawaii and became the US’s oldest war correspondent, returned to the States, then died in 1950.
It has been 73 years since an original, authorized, and in canon John Carter story has appeared, and it just arrived on my porch today.
I’m going to finish Stephen King’s new novel, Billy Summers, later tonight. I think there’s a twist at the end that I spotted way beforehand, and I hope that King is going to surprise me.
But my first literary love was Dejah Thoris, and my favorite hero even today is an immortal Virginian gentleman who became a king on Mars. I’ll start John Carter of Mars: Gods of the Forgotten as soon as Mr. King lets go of my throat with his literary hands, and then I’ll once again be transported through the cold ether to a planet where life is led at the sharp edge of a longsword.
You can order John Carter of Mars: Gods of the Forgottenhere. The other books in Burroughs’ Mars series are:
Ah, Brandy . . . you’re a fine song . . . but the wrong song.
In my last post, I talked about the Song, “Brandy,” and it’s impact on both me and the writing of Ghostflowers. That’s important to remember, because “Brandy” was only a thematic influence upon the events of my novel, and I somehow forgot that while I was writing Ghostflowers.
Even though I was alive, well and extremely cognizant during the grand year of 1971, the summer in which Ghostflowers takes place, nevertheless it was 42-43 years later that I wrote Ghostflowers. Consequently, I had to do a lot of research on almost every aspect of life in 1971, and, until a few days ago, I thought I had verified the release dates for every song I mention or reference in my book to jibe with the timeframe.
The time is very specific in Ghostflowers: the novel takes place from Thursday, July 1 to Sunday, July 4, 1971. And I discovered a few days ago that I had accidentally put “Brandy” into a scene where my main character not only dances to the song, but sings along.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t do that in the summer of 1971.
See, “Brandy” wasn’t released for almost another year, on my 14th birthday, on May 18, 1972.
I’m still shaking my head how I made that mistake. Wishful thinking, I guess. The song is perfect for the moment.
After realizing I had to rewrite the scene, I printed that page from my manuscript (page 291, not that it matters)—it’s a scene of a big teen party in the woods, somewhat reminiscent of the party in the woods in Dazed and Confused—and started crossing things out. I changed “Brandy” to “I Feel the Earth Move,” which would not have been anachronistic; but I used Carole King elsewhere in Ghostflowers, so I thought maybe I should come up with another song.
I don’t listen to radio much nowadays. There aren’t a lot of stations that still play real rock and roll—ok, classic rock and roll—and I can’t hear the Blues or Jimmy Buffett on the radio unless I subscribe to Sirius XM, which I do not. BUT Richmond does have Boomtown Radio, which can sometimes entertain me when it isn’t trying to sell discount deals on their obnoxious radio shopping shows. Today, after a short but exhausting little virus that laid me up for three days, I got out of the house to pick up lunch for me and my lovely bride. And the first song that came on was a tune that I remembered happily from my misspent youth. Luckily for me, it came out in 1970, before the events of Ghostflowers, was quite popular, and I remember it playing on the AM station (WGH, in old Virginia) that I always listened to back then . . . and that my characters are listening to during the party in the woods on Saturday, July 3, 1971.
“Brandy,” the hit single by Looking Glass, made a big impression on me when it was released in 1972.
First, it came out about a year after the classic Dark Shadows ended its run on ABC TV. I was still happily hungover from its daily dose of ghosts, vampires and werewolves—to be honest, I still am—and the lyrics to “Brandy” evoked in me a sense of ethereal loneliness that I still feel almost fifty years later whenever I hear the song.
At one time—and, no, don’t ask me when, because I have no idea—I thought that perhaps “Brandy” could be a vampire story. Yes, of course, her sailor/lover was bound to the sea . . . but perhaps he was an undead, as well. I always had two images, of Brandy, walking through a village street at night, her cloak tight around her; and the image of Brandy standing far out on a wave-splashed dock, waiting for her lover in the darkness.
I never thought I’d ever see anything close to the image that “Brandy” summons in my mind, but director Karel Reisz and cinematographer Freddie Francis captured it almost perfectly with Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant’s Woman.
So, that idea, plus the era the song came out, plus the song’s love story, plus my love for Dark Shadows . . . somehow they all commingled together when my lovely wife first gave me the initial idea for Ghostflowers.
Music, especially classic rock and roll, is all-important to Ghostflowers, just as rock and roll was all-important to every American teenager growing up in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, when radio was still king. Rock pervades every paragraph of my novel, whether it’s mentioned or not, so every few days or so I’m going to present here a song from my imaginary Ghostflowers soundtrack.
When it gets closer to publication time, I’ll compile a playlist and post it on YouTube, Spotify and Pandora, to play while reading the novel.
Until then, here are not one but two of the tunes that influenced me in the writing of Ghostflowers: “Brandy” and the “Theme from Dark Shadows.”
By the way: the subtitle to Ghostflowers is A LOVE STORY. WITH BLOOD.
After 40 years of being classically overworked and underpaid, my lovely bride retired happily from teaching special education, and from dealing with all the trials and aggravations created as a bureaucratic byproduct. I wanted to take her somewhere special to celebrate her newfound freedom. Key West, her first choice (and always my first choice) has become too damn expensive. Hotel rooms that are ordinarily $300 a night now cost between $600 and $950 a night, even during the off season, due to hotels overcharging (price-gouging, to be honest) in order to make up for their losses during the worst of the pandemic. (Their greed not only made us change our immediate vacation plans, but I had been hoping to have a reunion with some of my best friends from my days at the University of Miami, in both Miami and Key West, in either 2020 or 2021. The pandemic changed those plans once; the prices in Key West changed those plans a second time. It remains to be seen if we’ll be able to have a reunion any time in the near future. Almost $1000 a night for a hotel room worth $300 is simply insane. Is something wrong with Florida? By the way, rental cars that are usually about $35 a day are now about $100 a day. The FUCK?)
After Key West (our perennial favorite vacation location and my spiritual home), our go-to place is Lake Buena Vista, Florida, where other big kids like us will find a manufactured world of fantasy that adults enjoy just as much as children. And so we flew to Walt Disney World in July, settled into a perfectly-cooled air-conditioned room at Disney’s Beach Club, and enjoyed four nights of fun, food, and spending way too much money (but at nowhere near $600 a night).
Here’s the sad thing:
We never should have gone.
Don’t get me wrong. We had a wonderful time and loved Disney World, as usual. We’d never before experienced the Food and Wine Festival at EPCOT, and we had a great time noshing on tapas and small bites all around the world, having a Bass Ale at the Rose & Crown, exploring the new Riviera hotel (not all that impressive, sorry), drinking at Jake’s Bar in the House of Blues while B. B. King played in the background, watching the disappearing act at the Abracadabar, and imaginerding out at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, in the still beautiful Polynesian Resort (our honeymoon hotel).
But after we got back to RVA (a day late, thanks to American Airlines—and we’re still waiting for our reimbursement. However, our United flights from Richmond to Orlando were PERFECT!), Maria and I looked at each other and realized that, if we hadn’t made our vacation plans months in advance, we wouldn’t have gone.
See, after experiencing the unexpectedly huge size of the Disney crowds, it seemed to me that the fantasy land of Walt Disney World is actually Ground Zero for COVID.
Even with some rides, attractions and restaurants still closed, due to the pandemic, I have NEVER seen the Magic Kingdom so crowded, except on New Year’s Eve. I sincerely believe the spread of COVID from Florida is like a crime evidence board webbed with red strings . . . and it emanates directly from WDW . . .
From the maskless idiots weaving through the queues in the Orlando airport to the maskless idiots packed like sardines in the queue lines of the Jungle Cruise and the Haunted Mansion, the virus is thriving like Dengue fever in the subtropical fantasy landscapes of Florida. I don’t know if tourists think they’re immune on Disney property—I know, there are still some who don’t believe there are snakes or alligators on property—but it wouldn’t surprise me that they think nothing bad could ever happen here at Disney World. No masks; no social distancing. It is no surprise that, now almost four weeks after we got back, Florida leads the U.S. in COVID cases.
After experiencing the daily, unexpectedly huge crowds at WDW last month, I can only conclude that Disney World is a super-spreader—a super-spreader not just for Florida, but for the entire country.
Think about how the unmasked flow into and out of the Orlando airport; congregating at Disney World, mixing and mingling, maskless despite the TSA regulations demanding masks in the airport (there were too many without protection)—and how many unvaccinated?—then returning from days of daily, uninterrupted exposure in the theme parks to the overcrowded Orlando airport, to get lam-packed onto airbuses and go back to their homes.
How many vaccinated are carriers? How many unvaccinated are infected? How many have connecting flights and layovers at the country’s airports, where they mingle with thousands of other tourists?
Why would any of us take a chance traveling like this, madly, carelessly, if we don’t actually have to?
Red strings. Long, red strings, spreading across the map.
Like I said, if we hadn’t been locked into the vacation we wouldn’t have gone. As it was, after we got home, we both worried for a few weeks if we had done something wrong; if we had been exposed and were carrying the virus unknowingly.
We’re safe, thankfully. Science is a good thing, and our vaccinations are working.
But we can’t get vaccinated for the disease of greed.
Here’s how to understand Florida gubinator, DeSantis:
Florida depends on dollars. Tourism dollars. Disney dollars.
If Florida’s own governor doesn’t give a damn about the lives of his own constituents, then he certainly doesn’t give a goddamn about any out-of-state tourists.
“Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida announced this week that park guests will no longer be required to wear face coverings while outdoors, including on outdoor attractions and lines. Masking in these areas is now optional, according to a report by ABC News. The easing of restrictions only applies to Disney’s Florida parks; visitors at Disneyland in California are still required to mask up.
Everyone who enters Disney World ages two and up must still wear masks while indoors, including while waiting in any indoor queues. The announcement comes as Florida reported a record-high number of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.”
Why would Disney relax their masking requirements? Perhaps to make people feel more comfortable (despite the facts)? To make potential guests feel like everything is normal in Disney’s World?
The Walt Disney World company is focused now on making the parks ready for the start of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, which begins officially on October 1, 2021.
That’s less than two months away.
Nothing can be allowed to go wrong. Right?
Like the guy said in Stephen King’s Cujo—you know, the horror story about a rabid, murderous, unstoppable monster—“Nope. Nothing wrong here.”
My last blog post was on May 14, 2019. See, I ran into a writing complication two years ago: I had a little heart attack and that knocked me off course. Nothing major; I felt a burning sensation in my chest for a few days, thought it was indigestion, and my cardiologist’s nurse said, “Nope, let’s get you to the ER.”
Dr. Appleton, a cardiologist and surgeon non pareil, came in an hour later, put a line through my wrist instead of through my groin (for which I will be eternally grateful), cleared out the blockage, and now I’ll be on Eliquis and Crestor the rest of my life. I’m eating more fish and chicken, and I’ve cut back on Red Bulls and too much coffee because they can make my heart skip. I will not give up an espresso or two every now and then. Don’t ask too much of me. Come on.
Anyway, I’ve got a new novel coming out in the spring, Ghostflowers, a Southern gothic to be published by Journalstone Books, and one of the things we writers are expected to do is to create a website and build interest in both our books and our “brand.” I’m not sure what my brand is, but if you’re looking for a writer on the wrong side of fifty who tells stories about vampires, ghosts, witch women, eccentric adventurers, an island where the pulps are still alive, haunted theme parks, and sex, death and magic in Miami, then welcome to my blog, named after one of my favorite Jimmy Buffett songs, “Take Another Road to Another Time.”