Tuesday, January 1, 2008
Earlier I mentioned my fascination with all things Fortean, strange, and weird, though I hasten to add I swallow none of this stuff without a side order of skepticism--Sturgeon's Law still applies and one must, therefore, be careful with what one believes. Still, it's fun to think there might be sea serpents, undiscovered animals, ghostly doings, gifts of prophecy, Mothmen, UFOs, mysterious fires and lights, lost treasures, and so forth.
Blame it on my babysitter.
Poor thing, for a couple of years she got saddled with a yakky child just about every other Saturday night because, well, I loved an audience--there were no kids my age in my neighborhood and, let's be honest, I was too damned weird for most of the kids at school. Even my parents had limited tolerance for my Aspergerian perseverations, and so, basically, I had no one with which to share the current week's obsession...except for unsuspecting relatives and hapless babysitters.
But Lisa A. was one smart cookie and quickly figured out that giving me something interesting to read would shut me up for the entire evening, thus allowing her to do homework, read teen magazines, chat with her boyfriend by phone, or whatever it was teenage babysitters did for amusement in the 'Sixties. On one particular occasion she tossed me a copy of the Scholastic Book Services (and there's a piece of nostalgia for the Baby Boomers--remember getting those flimsy little paperback catalogs in school once a month?) hottest offering, Strangely Enough! by C. B. Colby--an anthology of weird-but-supposedly-true tales.
She should have just given me crack--crack is less addictive.
The Money Pit at Oak Island, ghostly apparitions, haunted sentry boxes, ghost ships, flying saucers, mysterious TV signals, the strange behavior of felines (is your snoozing puddy actually King of the Cats?)--oh, it was great stuff! Over the next few years I wound up amassing a HUGE collection of similarly-themed paperbacks, discarded issues of Fate magazine, and UFO books, which was easy enough to do since this stuff was all the rage way back then.*
But that's not the story I'm here to tell.
Are you familiar with Michael Chabon? Author of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Wonder Boys, and, most recently, The Yiddish Policemen's Union? Well, a few years ago Chabon gave a lecture in which he revealed that not only had he read Strangely Enough as a child, but its author, C. B. Colby, lived at the end of the same street he did and when movers were emptying Colby's house years later Chabon saw them carry out what looked suspiciously like... a golem (be sure to read "Where Things Get Weird" later, but not right this minute).
Spooky, ain't it? Oh, wait; there's more. Chabon went on to say that C. B. Colby was actually a Holocaust survivor named Joseph Adler who wrote of his experiences in a memoir, The Book of Hell.
Except Adler wasn't a Holocaust survivor at all; he was a former Nazi named Viktor Fischer.
Let that bit of weirdness sink in for a minute.
Now, let's get to the real weirdness-- there was a C. B. Colby, he did write a slew of informative books for grade-school kids including Strangely Enough, but he was not an ex-Nazi nor was he a Holocaust survivor--Michael Chabon made it up.
(see "Fiction, Hoax or Neither? A Literary Dust-Up" and "Revenge of the Regressive Avant-Garde.")
Certain literary types went absolutely ape-shit, as certain literary types are apt to do (witness the furor over James Frey's otherwise inconsequential piece o' fluff A Million Little Pieces), griping (with, maybe, some, but only some, justification) that Chabon had no right to appropriate the "Jewish Experience" for his own, personal aggrandizement, nor should he have presented fiction as fact without a suitable warning label.
(see "Anatomy of A Hoax: An Interview With Paul Maliszewski," the man who broke the story)
Oh, pish-posh. They're just pissed because they got taken in by a storyteller. Chabon tells stories. We all tell stories and we all embellish them to greater or lesser degrees so as to entertain out audience. That's what storytellers do! Debate the ethics all you want, but I've never turned to the fictionistas when I'm looking for hard-core facts; I automatically assume a significantly high Embellishment Factor. Then again, my personality is such that I enjoy sifting signal from noise.
The brilliance of Michael Chabon is not only did he present a perfectly plausible weird story in his lectures (and let's be honest here, careful listeners received ample warning that what was to follow was not strictly true), he generated an entire meta-story as well.
Bottom line? Truth is stranger than fiction.
* The few friends I did have shared my interests and Saturdays often found us haunting dingy thrift stores in dodgy parts of town (especially the Cracker Barrel and the Nine-To-Nine Newstand in Basic City), scrounging for whatever coffee-stained, water-warped, mildew-scented treasures by Brad Steiger, Hans Holzer, and Frank Edwards we could get out grubby hands upon--rarely could we afford new copies, priced as they were at 75 cents, 95 cents, and, occasionally, an astounding $1.25.