Category Archives: The Good Ol’ Days

The Most Marvelously Monstrous Monster Models

 

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Photo credit: Boy’s Life Magazine

Here at Warehouse Find I’ve written about favorite toys of my youth (Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces, GI Joe, Jarts, and Shogun Warriors), but I haven’t written about model kits from those days so long ago. I must admit I didn’t build many models back then. I still don’t, even though I have at least half a dozen just waiting to be worked on.

No, my older brother was the model-builder in those days. And he had some of the coolest model kits to ever be made. I’m specifically talking about a popular line of model kits featuring monsters and scenes of the macabre.

In the 1950s, TV stations in America began playing the old Universal Studios horror classics, giving those great old, scary movies new life. Kids all over the country discovered the greatness of horror filmdom’s golden age. Aurora Plastics Corporation had been making model kits for close to ten years; when, in 1961, they hit upon the brilliant idea of capitalizing on those horror films’ new-found popularity. They would issue a line of model kits based on those monsters.

Their first was Frankenstein’s Monster. He was soon followed by Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Creature, and the Phantom of the Opera. Those would be followed by other famous Universal monsters. Later came the giant monsters: King Kong, Godzilla, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. (Click here to get more information on these great monster models.) They were a roaring success with the young-uns!

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By the time I was a sentient kid, it was the 1970s. (I turned six in late 1970.) My older brother had found the 70s’ versions of Aurora’s monster models. Those models jumped on the “kids like things that glow in the dark” phenomena. They reissued their original kits with a second set of selected parts that could glow in the dark! It was a cool idea, but it didn’t always translate well.

It was evident I was in my budding years of a lifetime of pedantry, because even at that tender age I thought the glowing pieces that were hands and heads made sense on Dracula and the Phantom, but on the Wolf Man, King Kong, the Creature? And why would Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Phantom have glowing shoes? Godzilla having a row of glowing fins on his back was cool and it made sense, but his having a glowing head, hands, feet, and a tail was silly.

Well, no matter. The models were excellent. I was so envious of my older brother’s collection.

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Photo credit: eBay

Years later, in the 1990s, another set of reissues of some of those models hit the market, this time they were put out by Monogram. They were part of the Luminators model kit series, models made of transparent plastic in neon colors. You could send away for a black light that would make those kits glow in the dark. But they didn’t look so good otherwise. I bought a set (Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Phantom, the Wolf Man, and the Mummy) anyway.

I put Dracula together first, without painting him. He was a bright yellow collection of plastic that vaguely resembled the great monster. It just wasn’t very impressive. Then I remembered the lesson taught to me by the original series of Jonny Quest in the episode The Invisible Monster: Paint will make it visible.

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Photo credit: Bill Jones

I took the old vampire apart and began anew. This time I would paint him. But it wouldn’t be the last time.

I put the other sets together, painting the parts as I went along. I had a limited palette consisting of only a few colors of model paint. Those paints were oil-based enamels that didn’t mix very well to create a greater variety of colors. Still I did my best and I thought I had done pretty well. I even showed them off to a few people, including my older brother. I put them proudly on display in my room and then didn’t think about them much again.

Until.

Until I made a visit to Chris Mars’ house. Chris Mars is the original drummer of the legendary Minneapolis rock band The Replacements. He is also a very talented artist. His paintings, although disturbing, are fantastic. He is also a good friend of my best friend, Dave. Chris was out of town and Dave was house-sitting when he invited me over for a couple movies and beers.

Let me tell you guys! Chris Mars has a very cool house. His being an artist and into old movie monsters made his house particularly interesting to me. He had all kinds of monster memorabilia, some of which he created himself. And there, in his living room, was his set of Aurora monster models. They were painted so exquisitely, I was positively awestruck.

I’m also an artist. I’m mainly a cartoonist, but I can do portraits and I’m not bad at illustration. I like to think I’m pretty good at the cartooning and portraits. That I’m a decent artist. But looking at Mars’ monster models put me to absolute shame. I felt embarrassed by the models of which I had held such pride.

Chris Mars, without being there, had shown me that I didn’t have to use model paint. He clearly didn’t and he worked with a far greater palette than I had. So, soon after my visit to the artist’s home, I was taking apart those five monsters, breaking out the acrylic paints I’d had since art school, and repainting. And I don’t think I did too badly.

More reissues were released and I picked up several of them. Of the ones I worked on, I started out doing them the right way. From the start. Those turned pretty darn OK, too.

Below are pictures (not the best quality) of the models I’ve completed. The first five are part of the Luminators reissues and they look much better painted.

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Look closely at Dracula’s right knee. You can see where the cape broke when I was taking it apart to repaint. This and the next four were the models I repainted after seeing Chris Mars’ collection.

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It was clear to me that this was the Monster from The Bride of Frankenstein, so I “muddied” it up a bit to match the look in the movie.

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A later version of the Wolf Man was more accurate to the movie versions by Lon Chaney Jr., but this one is still an awesome pose. I love the skull!

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It’s been suggested that this Phantom is based on James Cagney’s portrayal of the character as part of the Lon Chaney biopic Man of a Thousand Faces (1957).

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Cagney or…

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…Chaney? I think it might be based on Cagney.

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This is not Boris Karloff’s Mummy. It’s Lon Chaney Jr’s from The Mummy’s Tomb (1942) and The Mummy’s Ghost (1944).

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This is the first of the non-Luminators reissues I worked on.

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Other modelers have Ann facing away from Kong. I think, judging by the look on her face, it makes more sense to have her looking at her giant simian captor.

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Sorry about the poor focus of Rodan’s face. This broke as I was trying to get the picture. The overall design makes it prone to breaking this way, besides when put together Rodan’s face is positioned so far down it’s barely visible.

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Ghidorah is just a damn cool monster!

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And finally! The King of All Monsters!

Packing Peanuts!

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Another Example Of The Weirdness Of The 1970s

The 1970s was a weird decade. Well, I suppose every decade has its weirdness, but the ’70s definitely had its own special vibe. The fashions were pretty tacky. Even the most straight-laced looks just seemed slightly askew. Wide lapels, bell bottoms, platform shoes, ponchos, and everyone seemed to have long hair. Everyone except Telly Savales, that is.

And there were all those catch phrases pulled from popular television series. “Sit on it!” “Kiss my grits!” “Up your nose with a rubber hose!” “Dyn-O-Mite!” “Nanoo nanoo!” “Who loves you, baby?”

So many catch phrases.

There were mood rings. You could own a pet rock. You could track your bio-rhythms, while you read your daily horoscopes, which were so very important in the ’70s. (Of course, you know bio-rhythms and astrology are just a bunch of nonsense, right?)

It was also possible for a comedian to make a good living on just one joke. Remember Raymond J Johnson Jr? Mr. Johnson was a character played by Bill Sulga and he made a career out of telling people they didn’t have to call him Johnson. “You can call me Ray. Or you can call me Jay. Or you can call me Johnny…”

Now that’s comedy!

There was another person who gained world fame in that weird decade by using his one joke that consisted of essentially physically assaulting people. He was a comedian from England who, in the early ’60s, started working as a lighting technician in Australian television production. He soon made his way to performing characters on camera and became popular with fans. In 1970, he began co-hosting a children’s show and soon after came his “partner” in comedy – Emu.

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The man was Rod Hull. He began working with an unusual looking bird that was simply called Emu. Emus are large flightless birds found in Australia and are quite similar to ostriches. The feathered friend was a puppet made to look as though Hull was carrying it, while he operated its neck and head.

Emu had a foul (pun!) temper and it didn’t take much to set him off. Emu would savagely attack people, creating what has been called a kind of gleeful havoc. I mean that bird would really go after people. Often times, Hull, Emu, and the victim would end up in a heap on the floor. Emu’s attacks were startling and looked quite violent while, Hull, acting as a kind of wildlife expert, would appear to be futilely attempting to control the angry bird.

And it worked. People thought it was hilarious. Including those who were on the receiving end of the attack. And that was the key, I think. If those who were attacked reacted badly, Hull might have found himself in court or with a broken arm, which actor/comedian Billy Connolly did seriously threaten to do once and, thus, avoided being attacked. However, most victims played along. Some even had fun with it.

In 1974, Hull took this act to Saturday morning kids’ programming in America. He was a regular on the Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show. That’s where I first saw Hull and his maniac bird. And the routine was funny. And it’s really just one joke!

Hull was able to keep getting laughs from that one joke into the 1980s. I just saw, and this is what prompted me to write on this topic, Rod Hull and Emu’s appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson from 1983. I gotta tell ya, Hull was fearless. He was told, by the production staff, to go easy on Johnny and to not go after Richard Pryor, who was also a guest on the show. But Hull (and Emu) understood the comedy is not in going easy. An attack is funny. An all out assault that puts Carson face down on his desk and Pryor on his back on the couch is hilarious! And to their credit, both victims were laughing through the whole bit. Click here to see what I’m talking about. And you can read an excellent behind the scenes account of that Tonight Show appearance here.

Yep. A lot of weird stuff occurred in the ’70s. And I’m kinda glad it did.

Packing Peanuts!

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Mars Ain’t The Kind Of Place For St. Paul Kids

The legendary Minneapolis nightclub First Avenue & 7th Street Entry might just be the best nightclub in the world. Well, I can’t say that for sure, because I haven’t been to many other nightclubs and I haven’t been to First Avenue for a couple years now. And I’m not certain about how the club was before I started frequenting it in the mid-80s, but from what I’ve learned from my elders, it was a pretty damn cool place when it opened in 1970 as The Depot right on through its name changes (Uncle Sam’s then Sam’s finally First Avenue) and to today.

I do know its better than at least one nightclub in New York City. Actually, maybe I don’t. I’ll try to make that clear in a moment.

It was the early 90s when two friends of mine (John and David) and I went on a road trip out East. A week-long, whirlwind trip driving through several states and in and out of Canada. We didn’t stay very long in any one place. We were on the move. We had plenty to see.

The main plan was to go to a record store in Lowell, MA. It was called RRRecords and it was David’s choice of destination. But, along the way there and back, we figured we might as well check out a couple other places of interest. Toronto, Niagara Falls, Boston, the Atlantic coast, and New York City made the secondary list of destinations. We ended up scratching Boston off the list to extend our time in NYC.

Our visit to NYC was the longest stay in any of our points of interest. We spent a day and a half in the Big Apple. The first evening, we shuttled in from Newark, NJ, where we had our motel room, to catch a few sites and reconnoiter for our planned full day assault the following day. That evening we had a couple beers at a bar called Downtown Beruit, had a slice or two of authentic NY-style pizza, and went up to the observation deck of the Empire State Building.

The plan for the next day was to go into town in the morning and spend the entire day seeing as many of the sites as we could. We rode the subway, walked through Central Park, laid on benches at the base of the World Trade Center, visited the Guggenheim gift store (the museum was closed), and valiantly searched for public restrooms. You’d think a city that size would have more public restrooms. 800 million people and only one restroom for public use. (That’s professional hyperbole, folks.)

The plan for the evening was to find a nightclub and stay until closing (5am) and then find some other place to hang out until the first shuttle brought us back to Newark.

John was the main planner of the trip, so he busied himself scouring the free weekly papers for an interesting club at which to spend the night. He found one that touted itself as consisting of five or six stories of dance floors, each offering different genres of danceable tunes. Sounded cool to us.

We worked our way over to the part of town where this club was situated and along the way we stopped in several of the excellent specialty shops New York had to offer. And in these shops were stacks and stacks of cards and flyers for nightclubs, all offering some special deal if you brought that card with you: Free cover or a free drink, something like that. The clubs were just begging for our business. The club John had found was right in there begging along with the rest of them.

So, we got to this multi-floored haven of entertainment, but it wasn’t quite opening time yet. Just along side the club was an empty lot, so the three of us sat there, our backs leaning against the building. In the corner of the lot, about 30 feet from where we sat was a sizable pile of rubble. It was a pile of bricks, busted up cinder blocks, broken bottles, cans, twisted rebar, and a few tires. There was something else about that rubble pile: It was crawling with rats. Quite a few.

Occasionally, a rat would skitter its way along the base of the wall in our direction. We’d toss a few rocks or broken bottles or bricks, whatever was handy, in its direction and that would send it scurrying back to the pile. It was kinda fun. I don’t think we actually hit any of the critters, but we did get one to jump pretty high.

The three of us had made it a point to do our best to not look like tourists on this trip. We didn’t even bring cameras. We wanted to blend in. However, John and I each had a shopping bag containing items we had purchased that day. We figured we’d just check them in at the coat check once we got in this magical club.

But the wheels in John’s head were turning and he hit upon an idea that would keep us not looking like tourists and save us a couple bucks.

“Jim,” he said.

“Yeah, John,” I replied.

“No one in their right mind would think of approaching that rubble pile covered in rats, right?”

“Right.”

“Well, wouldn’t that make it the perfect place to hide these bags. There’s no food in them, so the rats wouldn’t be interested and we wouldn’t have to pay the coat check.”

“John, I think you have something there.”

And that’s what we did. We threw rocks at the pile and scared off the rats. We then dropped our bags into the center of an old tire and quickly retreated, letting the rats guard our goods. We then went around to the front door as opening time was upon us.

Several bouncers came out and set up barricades to keep an open area at the front and help direct the customers into the club. The doors opened. No one was allowed in. The three of us weren’t the only ones waiting and more people began to gather. No one was allowed in.

Two “club kids” sauntered up to the doors and in they went. The crowd continued to gather and wait as a few more “club kids” arrived and were ushered right in.

The bouncers just stood and acted as though we weren’t even there.

And still we waited.

There were far more people waiting outside than had been allowed into the club. There were plenty of paying customers waiting to get in and spend their money, but still we waited. It was getting ridiculous.

Remember, this was the early 90s. The Disco hey days of Studio 54 were long gone, but the bouncers picking the “right” people to go in attitude was still in play. “Hey! You guys are begging for business! We have your free cover offers! Let us in!”

I’m not sure how long we put up with this, but eventually John and David turned to me and said, “Screw these guys! If we leave now we can catch the last shuttle back to Newark. Should we go?”

“Yep. Screw these guys.”

John and I retrieved our stuff from the rats’ nest. John made me grab my own bag, even though he got to the pile first and could easily have grabbed it himself. Thanks, John.

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Under the eyeballs is where we sat with the rats.

I haven’t mentioned the name of the club, because over the years my certainty of the name has faded. I had thought it was called Mars, but I wasn’t sure. However, it turns out my memory is correct.

Last month, a friend of mine spotted a short video biography of musician/DJ Moby. In it Moby takes viewers on a tour on NYC and shows what had become of some of his favorite places. One of those places was a nightclub which, in 1989, was where he got his first job as a DJ. It was called… Mars! In the video, you can see the wall we sat by waiting for the club to open. You can’t see the rats, though.

I was able to find a Facebook group page populated by people who either worked or hung out at Mars. The picture I’ve posted of the club from those days comes from that page and seeing it confirmed that that was the club. I recognize the “medallions” on the doors.

Before I sign off, I do have a question for those Mars bouncers.

Do you know what the bouncers at First Avenue & 7th Street Entry do with the gathered crowd waiting to get in when the club opens its doors?

They let the people in.

Packing Peanuts!

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My Favorite Band?

Over the last couple of days, on the Facebook, people have been posting lists of ten musical artists they have seen in concert, with one entry being a lie. Those willing to participate were challenged to guess which of the ten their Facebook friend hadn’t seen. In my enthusiasm, I posted two lists.

List one:
Let’s Active
Reverend Horton Heat
Johnny Thunders
Liz Phair
Buzzcocks
The Screaming Blue Messiahs
Pretenders
Rush
The Guess Who
Hunters & Collectors

List two:
The Fleshtones
The Screaming Tribesmen
David Byrne
Stereolab
Jefferson Starship
Kansas
Pete Townshend
Duran Duran
Husker Du
Skinny Puppy

A lot of folks hopped on and had some fun with this latest social media meme. A few cynics lashed out. And a special few made rather clever and funny parody lists. My favorite was a list of ten chemicals – “one of them is a lye.” Get it?

My first list reminded me of a night from the summer of 1984. I went with a group of high school buds, all Class of ’83, to The Cabooze to see The Guess Who. It turned out to be a night of inebriated over-enjoyment of that middle-of-the-road, classic rock band from Canada.

The Cabooze is an interesting and intimate live music club in Minneapolis. It’s not as famous as the legendary First Avenue & 7th Street Entry, but it is a good place to watch a band play. The layout of the venue is unconventional. It’s long and narrow, much like a caboose. Cabooze. Get it? Its stage was not much more that four feet high and it isn’t very deep, so larger bands tend to get rather cramped in when they perform.

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Galactic performing before a packed house at The Cabooze 4/11/07. Photo by Cory Funk.

But the audience can get right up there. Right up close. Very intimate.

Well, that summer night not only offered the finest of classic rock from the Great White North, it was also two-for-one beer night. For some reason, the fellows I was with would give me their free beers. Now, I won’t say I got hammered, but I was a little lit up by the time the band took the stage.

This being the summer of ’84, I had been through my first year of art school. Halfway through that year, I had embraced the punk/post punk/Mod/Gothic music scene and I had begun to dress and wear my hair unconventionally. I was breaking away from my high school identity and stretching out to express and explore my weirdness.

I had also started going to concerts at which slam dancing (I hate the term moshing) was likely to happen. And I enjoyed getting into the pit and flailing around. In my drunkenness, I brought a little of that enjoyment to the floor in front of the stage as The Guess Who played hit after hit. Now, I wasn’t exactly being violent. It’s just that, in my enthusiasm for hearing those familiar tunes, I began to be less considerate of the folks around me and I bumped into them as I danced around.

Before my friends could settle me down, two dudes, not bouncers, who were there to enjoy the show gently took me aside. They were actually pretty cool about it. As I recall, they told me they appreciated the fact I was really enjoying the show, but I was getting out of hand and being a bit of a jerk to those around me. Honestly, I hadn’t even thought about it. I wasn’t trying to be a jerk, but in my buzzed state I hadn’t noticed that’s exactly what I was.

I apologized to the fellows and I settled down. Everyone was then able to enjoy the show. And I didn’t get beat up.

As the band’s set was coming to an end they played their song Share The Land. At the end of the song, most of the instrumentation dropped away and they harmonized the line “shake your hand, share the land.” While they did so the band members reached out to shake hands with the fans.

Two guesses as to who the two dudes were who climbed over my back and the backs of others in front of me to get their hands shook. Yep. They were my two advisors on public etiquette. How ironic.

From that night and for years after, my friend John, who was one of the people before whom I had drunkenly over-enthused myself, took to referring to The Guess Who as my favorite band.

Well, they were that night.

Oh! The two musical artists I haven’t seen in concert are Liz Phair and Pete Townshend.

Packing Peanuts!

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A Great Teacher. An Iffy Book.

I’m a skeptic. Being a skeptic, I try to think critically about extraordinary claims. I want to assess the strength of the evidence for such claims before I accept their veracity. I’m highly doubtful of ghosts, psychics, ancient aliens, cupping, Futzuki pads, homeopathy, etc.; but, if you show me good evidence for their existence or efficacy, I’m willing to stop doubting.

This blog isn’t about skepticism. It’s about looking back fondly at the past. After all, Warehouse Find is the official blog of Nostalgia Zone, a store dealing in old comic books and toys and other fun stuff from the days of yore. I normally save my skeptical observations for my blog at dimland.com and my internet radio show/podcast Dimland Radio. (Yes, I know, shameless plugs.)

However, earlier this week an old school friend of mine and I reminisced about a teacher of ours who had a profound influence on us. I credit this teacher with setting me on the path to skepticism and critical thinking.

His name was Roy Raymond and he was my junior high English teacher. Don’t ask which grade, because I can’t remember. Anyway, he was an excellent teacher as well as a funny one. He liked to claim both his first and last names translated to royalty or king or some such. He told jokes and allowed his students to do the same.

Although it didn’t hurt, his being funny didn’t make him a great teacher.

He was able to make his students feel comfortable and receptive to learning. He challenged us. He made us think.

And when it came to reading the classic American novel Of Mice And Men written by John Steinbeck, he did something I think was an example of brilliant crowd handling. He read the book to us in class, but before he did he had a little talk with us. He said he intended to read it as written. He wasn’t going to gloss over any of the swear words and racial epithets. He believed to do so would lessen the impact of what Steinbeck was trying to say.

That’s when Mr. Raymond did the brilliant part. He told his class that he believed we were old enough and mature enough to understand context. And telling us that stroked our egos a little and got us to minimize the shock or giggling when our teacher said a swear word or the N word. Brilliant crowd handling. And it’s a great book.

Another book that’s not nearly as great factored into an important lesson taught to me by Mr. Raymond.

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Since the fourth grade, I have owned a fascinating little book which I purchased through the Scholastic book program for a mere 35 cents. It was author C.B. Colby’s collection of weird, creepy, and mysterious tales of ghosts, haunted houses, disappearing people, lost treasures, and many other bizarre occurrences titled Strangely Enough! Its cover suggested the short stories within might all be true by asking, “Fact or Fiction? Real or Imagined?”

In my youthful gullibility, I believed these stories to be true. Many of them included names of people and towns. And some had dates for the mysterious happenings. Dates! These must be real! No one would make up names and dates!

I was so convinced, I took a pen to the cover to draw an arrow to the words “Fact” and “Real.” You can see the arrows in the close-up image of the cover of my well-worn copy below.

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Oh, and look that cover. So good. There were other printings of this book with other cover designs, but this is the one I like. It’s a terrific illustration that so completely captures the tone of the book. Just look at that green hazy night, those black and dormant trees, and that figure racing through the night. Is it a witch? A devil? A lunatic? A frightened villager? And is that ball lightening in the sky? Or, maybe, a flying saucer?

I was very taken by this book and I wanted Mr. Raymond’s opinion of it. He had encouraged his students to read and share with him what we were reading, so I handed Strangely Enough! to him. I told him the stories seemed to be true and that there were names and dates and everything. He took it and had a look.

When he returned this most favoritest book of mine to me, he burst my bubble as gently as he could. He explained that these stories couldn’t be simply accepted as true just because some gave names and dates. He told me that most readers wouldn’t bother researching the stories to see if the names and dates were real and that the author knows that. He also explained the “Fact or Fiction? Real or Imagined?” questions were part of a gimmick to give the stories a little more impact.

I was a bit crestfallen that Mr. Raymond didn’t validate my opinion of the book, but I didn’t resent him for it. I didn’t react by doubling down and believing the stories even more. I didn’t accuse my teacher of having a closed mind. Instead, my mind opened. I didn’t quite understand at the time, at least not consciously, that Mr. Raymond was essentially telling me, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

I see that now. And I have learned that Strangely Enough! is mostly urban legends – apocryphal tales meant to warn and thrill readers. Some stories might actually be based on real events, but are told through the filter of mystery-mongering. A more rational explanation was likely available, but the author preferred to go with the mystery.

Mr. Raymond is no longer with us. I don’t know exactly when he shuffled off this mortal coil, but I will always fondly remember him. And I will be eternally grateful for his helping me to think critically and not be so gullible.

Thank you, Mr. Raymond!

Appreciate your great teachers and give them your thanks.

Packing Peanuts!

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A Hobo, a Hunchback, and a Weird Old Lady Walk Into a Haunted House…

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Guest blogger Michael Noble returns with a Halloween tale…

Of course, despite the debacle that was playing “war,” [see Mr. Noble’s previous guest bloggery] Doug Schlaufman and I remained good friends. As is evident in the photo provided above during one of our Halloween outings.

This particular Halloween of our youth was a bit of a milestone: It was THE Halloween night we were going to visit the famed haunted house down the street from where I lived, a house we hadn’t dared go into previously. The hauntings and blasphemies and tales we’d heard about the place had kept us at bay for a long time. This year? It was the year we popped our haunted house cherry and ventured forward.

Back in the day, Halloween was a much anticipated free-for-all.

There were pillowcases that needed filling with candy and treats in the course of several trips in and out of the surrounding neighborhoods. There was the goopy make-up that got in your eyes and stuck there throughout the next day when you went to school, no matter how hard you tried to scrub it off. There was the toilet paper. There were the pumpkin guts tossed in the middle of the street we slipped on when we crossed from house to house. There were the dark, foreboding pathways leading up to houses, lit by little more than a single, ominous red or blue light bulb. The dogs scaring the bejeebers out of us when we approached a house. The thoroughly creepy music emanating from the background somewhere. Dank, moldy figures sitting on porches, waiting to make us leap screaming as they suddenly “came alive” and lurched menacingly at us.

Those were the days.

The old Polariod photo is of (left to right) Doug Anderson (hobo), myself (hunchback … and yeah, hunchbacks wore jeans) and Doug Schlaufman (weird old lady), complete with my father’s bright orange ‘68 VW in the background. It was 1973 (I think) and I was twelve years old. What a motley looking crew we were.

I remember that particular night vividly. We ran wild in the streets for hours, collecting as much as we could. I recall we came back with bags full of stuff, our loot practically giving beneath its weight. We’d dump it all on the kitchen table for Mom to go thorough, snag a piece or two for the road and then we were out the door for more.

We were unstoppable.

There was a house about a block away. It was transformed into a Halloween haunt during the season. We never had the guts to go into it before, but this was the year. I remember we saved that place for last. We wanted to go in, but we didn’t want to go in, if you know what I mean.

Toward the end of the night – feet tired, arms weary from lugging pounds and pounds of tooth-decaying treats – we ventured to the haunted house of doom.

We were greeted by an ominous voice inviting us to enter at our own risk. We were genuinely frightened out of our wits, but none of us backed down. We were going to go through with it. Mom knew where we were, even if she didn’t know who these people were. It was all good.

We carefully tip-toed inside. Just past the front door, ripped shreds of material hung. We had to make our way through them. Some were sticky. With what we hadn’t a clue.

A left turn took us into our first room of terror. We stopped dead in our tracks: a surgeon came into sight just around a wall. He had a mask on his face, scalpel in hand. We couldn’t see who he was “working” on but he beckoned us toward him. We tentatively took steps forward and, as we did, an operating table came into view. A balding man was atop it, mouth in a grimace, reaching out toward us and moaning. We could see his naked belly, a belly spilling out spaghetti entrails and red ooze.

Our hair was standing on end. The patient moaned louder and reached for us, but we backed away, right into a couple of hideous ghouls who had snuck up from behind us. We started and yelped and saw yet another figure closing the door we’d come through. This one had a scythe in one hand and what looked like intestines in the other. I felt a hand on my shoulder and screamed.

One of us bolted for the door, grabbed and opened it. The gruesome troop came at us and we dashed out of the room, back down the hall, through the front door and out into the street at a pace I would never again run.

We ran all the way back to my house, terrified as we bolted from the place, laughing at our scared selves the remainder of the way. One of my friends suggested we return and go through the rest of the place; the other blurted, “No way!”

We made it back to my house with nary a scratch. Halloween, again, was the blast we’d remembered it to be.

Inside the kitchen, my mother asked about the haunted house. We all agreed it was thoroughly creepy, but fun. Something caught her eye as she looked at me … and a look of utter disgust came across her face.

“What in the world is on your shoulder?!?” she half yelled. She grabbed a dish towel from the kitchen and came at me. I stood frozen still. My friends were looking at me wide-eyed, no laughter left on their faces.

My mother reached over and took whatever it was from my left shoulder. She showed it to me.

It was a huge piece of raw calf’s liver, a real one, obviously used as one of the props in the haunted house. That hand on my shoulder had left it there for me as “a parting gift.” It left a dank, blotchy, wet stain.

That’s the kind of Halloween I remember as a kid. They were good times … good times indeed.

Michael Noble blogs regularly at Hotchka.com and can often be heard on the Assault of the Two-Headed Space Mules podcast.

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Cardboard boxes and empty lots

Market_and_Summit_in_Akron,_empty_lotIt appears to be true that smells are a potent trigger of memories. I’ve heard it said often, so it must be true, right? Well, maybe. I will say that each summer, a season I generally dislike, whenever I catch the smell of freshly cut field grass and weeds memories of summers of my youth fill my mind.

Specifically, I recall that empty lot across the street from where I lived as a boy. The empty lot was behind a strip mall, so there were dumpsters for diving to find unexpected treasures. And just a couple blocks away was another strip mall with one of the stores being an appliance store.

Oh, would we kids case that store’s dumpster area. We mainly had one item in mind: Boxes! You see, sometimes the appliance store would neglect to break down its boxes when they put them out by the dumpster. And when we spotted those empty, but still intact, boxes, we knew what we were doing that day. We’d be makin’ forts!

We would scarf up those boxes. Usually, they would have been for ovens or dishwashers, but sometimes there would be the must coveted of the cardboard appliance boxes – the refrigerator box! Oh, boy, if you got your hands on an intact refrigerator box you were the envy of the rest of your gang.

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So, the boxes would by hauled over to the empty lot and knives and scissors and string would be acquired. Some of us might even get some markers or crayons to draw control panels for a rocket, for example. We would cut windows and doors with flaps for privacy. And we might connect each section with smaller, but still big enough to crawl through, boxes to serve as tunnels for our fort/hideout/rocket ship.

One time my friend Todd grabbed a box for a mattress. He made it work even though pretty much all you could do in it was lay down. Good thing he wasn’t claustrophobic.

Usually it would take as much or more time just getting the boxes from the store to the empty lot and all set up as forts or whatever, than we would spend playing in them. But we would play in them. And the whole day would be spent with those boxes.

Inevitably, kids being kids, it would be time to destroy the structure we had so painstakingly built. And that was almost more fun than all that earlier work and play on that busy summer afternoon. And, because our empty lot was about half surrounded by a hill, we would take parts of the broken down rocket/fort and use the cardboard as sleds to ride down the hill.

The day would be coming to an end and supper would be on the table soon, so it was time for these tired kids to head home. We were good kids, though. We would gather up the flattened cardboard remnants of that day’s imaginings and put them in the dumpster where they belonged.

Well, maybe not in the appliance store’s dumpster, because two blocks at the end of the day felt way longer than at the start. We’d put the cardboard in one of the closer store’s dumpster. We were good kids, but not that good.

Packing Peanuts!

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