Tuesday, January 19, 2010


So I came home from work today to whip out my traditional "It's Poe's Birthday! Get Goth-y or Sumthin'!" post only to receive some distressing news from Stately Wayne Manor:

The Poe Toaster was a no-show.

Now, I admit, in the Grand Scheme of Things this seems pretty trivial, but ya gotta understand (1) I love Poe, (2) I love symbolic gestures, and (3) I love a good mystery.

For 60 years the Poe Toaster(s) combined all three, giving a little excitement to my otherwise humdrum life.

There may be an explanation (and since news articles on the Intarwebs often disappear into digital limbo I'm reproducing it here):

Poe Toaster Might Be Dead Performer

Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Anne Kramer, Steve Fermier and Associated Press

A tradition "nevermore"?

A mysterious visitor who left roses and cognac at the grave of Edgar Allan Poe each year on the writer's birthday failed to show early Tuesday, breaking with a ritual that began more than 60 years ago.

"I'm confused, befuddled," said Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House and Museum. "I don't know what's going on."

The tradition dates back to at least 1949, according to newspaper accounts from the era, Jerome said. Since then, an unidentified person has come every January 19,to leave three roses and a half-bottle of cognac at Poe's grave in a church cemetery in downtown Baltimore.

Rafael Alvarez, President of the Baltimore Poe Society tells WBAL Radio he has a theory about why the mystery admirer did not show up this year. He thinks that person died last week.

Alvarez says e-mails have been circulating for the past several hours pointing to the late David Franks of Baltimore as the Poe toaster. Franks was found dead in his Baltimore apartment last week. He has been a writer, performer and poet in Baltimore for years.

"It fit David's love of the prank and the practical joke. And particularly stunts that involve sort of high literary high-wire acts," says Alvarez.

He says that Franks also wore the same clothes daily like that of the Poe toaster and he fit the physical description. "David had quite the late 19th century English dandy flair for scarves, gloves, and various caps. It would not be unusual for David to don a cape if the situation called for it," says Alvarez.

A friend of Franks tells WBAL Radio that she too would not be surprised if he was the Poe toaster because he fit the physical description.

The event has become a pilgrimage for die-hard Poe fans, some of whom travel hundreds of miles. About three dozen stood huddled in blankets during the overnight cold Tuesday, peering through the churchyard's iron gates hoping to catch a glimpse of the figure known only as the "Poe toaster."

At 5:30 a.m., Jerome emerged from inside the church, where he and a select group of Poe enthusiasts keep watch over the graveyard, and announced to the crowd that the visitor never arrived. He allowed an Associated Press reporter inside the gates to view both of Poe's grave sites, the original one and a newer site where the body was moved in 1875. There was no sign of roses or cognac at either tombstone.

Jerome said the Poe toaster has always arrived before 5:30 a.m. There was still a chance the visit could occur later in the day, but Jerome said he doubted the person would risk a public unveiling by performing the task in daylight, when other visitors could be there.

"I'm very disappointed, to the point where I want to cry," said Cynthia Pelayo, 29, who had stood riveted to her prime viewing spot at the gate for about six hours. "I flew in from Chicago to see him. I'm just really sad. I hope that he's OK."

Pelayo and Poe fans from as far as Texas and Massachusetts had passed the overnight hours reading aloud from Poe's works, including the poem "The Raven," with its haunting repetition of the word "nevermore." Soon they were speculating, along with Jerome, about what might have caused the visitor not to appear.

"You've got so many possibilities," said Jerome, who has attended the ritual every year since 1977. "The guy had the flu, accident, too many people."

Tuesday marked the 201st anniversary of Poe's birth, and Jerome speculated that perhaps the visitor considered last year's bicentennial an appropriate stopping point.

"People will be asking me, 'Why do you think he stopped?"' Jerome said. "Or did he stop? We don't know if he stopped. He just didn't come this year."

There have also been recent controversies over which city should be regarded as Poe's rightful home, with some making the case that the remains perhaps should be moved to Richmond, Va., Philadelphia or Boston, cities with their own Poe legacies.

Jerome said he thinks it's unlikely the dispute is connected to the Poe toaster's no-show. If anything, Jerome felt the visitor might have weighed in on the controversy by leaving a note with the roses and cognac, as has been done in some previous years.

One such note was left in 1993, when the visitor wrote: "The torch will be passed." Years later, another note indicated the man had died in 1998 and had handed the tradition to his two sons.

Sam Porpora, a former historian at Westminster Presbyterian Church, where Poe is buried, claimed in 2007 that he was the original Poe toaster and that he had came up with the idea in the 1970s as a publicity stunt. Jerome disputed Porpora's claims by citing a 1950 article in The (Baltimore) Evening Sun that referred to the annual tribute.

Poe was the American literary master of the macabre, noted for poems and short stories including "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "The Pit and the Pendulum." He is also credited with writing the first modern detective story, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," which appeared in 1841.

He died Oct. 7, 1849, in Baltimore at the age of 40 after collapsing in a tavern.

As for the fate of his annual visitor? That's a new mystery.

Jerome said he will continue the vigil for at least the next two or three years, in case the visits resume.

"So, for me," he said, "it's not over with."

One can only hope.*

Heads Up, Poe Fans!
Poe's Birthday Bash
Poe's Birthday Bash Continues
The Last of the Poe Birthday Bash (featuring embarrassing pics of Sarah and me mackin' on a Poe bust)

True Genius Shudders At Incompleteness (MetaFilter weighs in on the no-show with its usual dose of snark)
In A Strange City (mystery writer Laura Lippman fictionalizes the Poe Toaster)
"Poe At 200" by Nick Mamatas

*And should certain Richmonders (ahem!) pick up the torch? After all, we have a nice museum and his mother is buried nearby.

Monday, January 18, 2010

For Sam, And He Knows Why!

Last time, as you may recall, I posted very briefly (as in "OMG-a-special-place-in-Hell-is-being-reserved-for-me-for-even-mentioning-such-a-thing") about Ass Goblins of Auschwitz, prompting long-time friend and fellow reprobate JSam to comment,

"Tell the truth, 30 or 40 years ago did you ever have any concept that you would lay eyes on a book such as this, or that the Third Reich would be a casually approached topic for weird humor fiction ( forget "The Flesh Eaters", "Shock Waves", and "The Frozen Dead")? In those days, Lampoon's "Hitler in Paradise" seemed so riskay!"

No. No, I didn't. A little less than forty years ago I thought I'd reached the height of decadence by using a fake i.d.* to see A Clockwork Orange (rated "X" in 1971). Nowadays I think nothing of reading Razor Wire Pubic Hair at work.

It's 2010 and all the sacred cows have been slain.

"Hey, you kids! Get offa my lawn!"

JSam is referring to the March 1972 issue of National Lampoon, which featured a photo essay entitled "Stranger in Paradise" (description here), and being 16 I thought this was the Funniest. Thing. Ever! Historical note: this was the very first issue of National Lampoon I'd ever seen and 75 cents (plus tax) later my entire concept of humor was forever changed (see Going Too Far by Tony Hendra).

*Actually, even though I had a fake i.d.--a friend's draft card--no one asked to see it. The ticket seller in Charlottesville obviously assumed we were just a couple of dirty hippies from U. VA and didn't bother to check. This gave me a certain cachet-of-cool in high school... for about twenty minutes.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sometimes I Don't Know WHAT To Think

Courtesy (?) of Warren Ellis and coming soon to a webpage near you,

It's Monty Python meets Nazi exploitation in a surreal nightmare as can only be imagined by Bizarro author Cameron Pierce.

In a land where black snow falls in the shape of swastikas, there exists a nightmarish prison camp known as Auschwitz. It is run by a fascist, flatulent race of aliens called the Ass Goblins, who travel in apple-shaped spaceships to abduct children from the neighboring world of Kidland. Prisoners 999 and 1001 are conjoined twin brothers forced to endure the sadistic tortures of these ass-shaped monsters. To survive, they must eat kid skin and work all day constructing bicycles and sex dolls out of dead children.

While the Ass Goblins become drunk on cider made from fermented children, the twins plot their escape. But it won't be easy. They must overcome toilet toads, cockrats, ass dolls, and the surgical experiments that are slowly mutating them into goblin-child hybrids.

Forget everything you know about Auschwitz...you're about to be Shit Slaughtered.

If I didn't know better, I'd swear my friend Bill had gotten a book published; this is so his sense of humor.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Happy Birthday, Elvis!

To paraphrase (and steal from) my friend Anne, "no thinky thoughts, no grand proclamations, no fifty cent words." Just an aging Discordian doing his annual tribute to The King.

"For unto you is born this day in the city of Memphis a Presley, which is Elvis the King.''

And Elvis saw them berating the poor recording artist, whose music was terrible and lyrics insipid, and Lo, the King said unto the mob:

"Let he who is without bad singles cast the first rhinestone."

And the mob turned down their eyes, each considering his own Don't Worry Be Happy or Man in the Mirror, and shuffled off.

"Thank you," said Elvis. "Thank you very much."

--The First Church of Jesus Christ, Elvis

Brother Wayne hoists the Sacramental Bottle of Elvis Sweat.

Sacred Texts:
Dead Elvis: A Chronicle of a Cultural Obsession by Greil Marcus
The King is Dead: Tales of Elvis Postmortem ed. by Paul M. Sammon
Elvis After Elvis: The Posthumous Career of a Living Legend by Gilbert B. Rodman
Elvis Culture: Fans, Faith, and Image by Erika Lee Doss
Elvissey by Jack Womack

Jay: You do know Elvis is dead, right?
Kay: No, Elvis is not dead. He just went home.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dime Store Mystery

See that? That's a Buck Rogers XZ-38 Disintegrator Pistol manufactured by Daisy circa 1935.

It's a pretty cool toy, especially for the Depression Era-- 10" long, metal, made noise and shot sparks when you squeezed the trigger. As you might imagine, they're quite collectible; in fact, I just saw one in good condition on eBay for $799.99.

A bit of only slightly irrelevant trivia: Dave Grohl, frontman for the Foo Fighters (and a science fiction fan), plopped one on the cover of their debut album:

Let's change lanes for a minute (don't worry; this'll all connect): when I was a kid growing up in the Sixties, Mom & Dad shipped me off to my grandparents' tobacco farm for a week every summer, which was great! I got to ride on tractors and ponies, play in the river, hike through the woods, wander through the family cemetery, climb into barn lofts, hang out with my cousins, and explore all sorts of vast, uncharted (by me) territory.

Including the farmhouse.

Now, my grandparents' house was built about 1828* and, typical for the area, had high porches under which all sorts of things accumulated: rusty lawn mowers, cans of nails, discarded tractor tires (often painted white and made into flower planters), planking, sheet metal, empty oil cans...

...and a rusty, dirty, no-longer-functional Buck Rogers XZ-38 Disintegrator Pistol.

At the time I had no idea what this was and thought nothing of it besides it being a convenient weapon to use against my cousins whenever we re-enacted the Great Battles of History.** Many (many!) years later when I saw the Foo Fighter's album I thought to myself, "Hey! I recognize that gun! I wonder what ever happened to it?"

It took a few minutes before the next series of thoughts hit me: To whom did it belong? My grandparents had three daughters, no boys, as girly-girl as one could imagine (paper dolls and doll houses, tea sets, etc.). Mom would have been 13 when this thing was manufactured, my middle aunt would have been a few years younger, and my youngest aunt would have been an infant. Who bought it? How did it get here? Why was it left and forgotten, because what boy would give up such a thing?

There's a deep mystery here, one that's, sadly, completely unsolvable and I've got to admit, late at night when my blood sugar's low and I'm feeling melancholic, it haunts me.

*Actually, my cousin Jay, the current resident, has been doing a lot of restoration and is beginning to think it's much older.

**Which went something like: "Bang! I gotcha!" "Did not!" "Did too!" "Did not!" "Did too!" "Yeah, well, I got you first!" "Did not!" "Did too!" "Did not!" "Did too!"

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year!

(composed yesterday)

And welcome to 2010!

New Year's Eve was mostly a non-event for me. The Federal Gummint allowed us to leave 59 minutes early (hey, it's a government thing; I can't explain it), which was nice, especially since I wanted to avoid the pre-revelry traffic, but since I live very close to a liquor store I still managed to get caught up in the insanity. See, all I wanted was some fancy food from Ellwood Thompson's (translation: too lazy to cook and desiring something... festive), just around the corner, while the rest of humanity, it seemed, wanted to get its drunk on (or already had, judging from the way people were driving)-- a square block of near-gridlock. Okay, yeah, maybe some of those people were headed to the two other grocery stores in the area... maybe... but I sure saw some long-ass lines inside when I drove past the liquor store (I have it on good authority that the one at Southside Plaza, near where I work, was a madhouse--apparently, the City of Richmond even took the precaution of stationing a couple of police cars nearby).

I had a last-minute dinner invite from Big Gay Cliff (Mandarin Palace, where lots of Super-Secret Support Group people eat before heading off to The! Big! SSSG! Dance! at U of R, but (1) I really didn't feel like fighting traffic and going back across the Bridge to Southside and/because (2) my lower back was still hurting from shoveling the snow and ice from around my car the other week. A quiet evening reclining with the cat in front of the Glass Teat seemed about all I could handle.

Sid-the-Cat chowed down on his Kibbles & Snouts ("Now With More Horse Tonsil!"*), I chowed down on beef brisket braised in coffee**, horseradish on the side, and we both were sound asleep (Sid atop my chest) before, oh, I'm guessing 9:00 p. m.

But we didn't miss the arrival of the New Year, oh sweet Crom, no; the Richmond Ad Hoc Volunteer Militia made sure of that. The celebratory gunfire began just before midnight by my clock, much of it seeming to originate from the alley behind my apartment (it wasn't; it was merely LOUD), because, let's face it, what else says "Happy New Year" better than several thousand rounds of high-powered ammunition? So there was that and the now-traditional New Year's Eve Clawing-of-the-Food-Bringer/Litter-Box-Scooper as... certain... members of the household scrambled for cover.

Yeah, welcome to 2010.

*Ok, so it was Fancy Feast Turkey & Giblets.


Friday, January 1, 2010

Books Read In 2009

1. 10/Jan/09-- Usher's Passing by Robert R. McCammon (1984).
2. 25/Jan/09--The Stone Monkey by Jeffrey Deaver (2003).
3. 28/Jan/09--Samaritan by Richard Price (2003).
4. 28/Jan/09--Singing Songs by Meg Tilly (1994).
5. 4/Feb/09-- Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem (1999).
6. 12/Feb/09--Slaves of New York by Tama Janowitz (1986).
7. 19/Feb/09--An American Childhood by Annie Dillard (1987).
8. 1/Mar/09--Be Cool by Elmore Leonard (2005).
8. 8/Mar/09--The Floatplane Notebooks by Clyde Edgerton (1988).
9. 11/Mar/09--Hooking Up by Tom Wolfe (2000).
10. 11/Mar/09--When the Going Gets Weird: The Twisted Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson by Peter O. Whitmer (1993).
11. 20/Mar/09--On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (2000).
12. 23/Mar/09--Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury (1990).
13. 15/Apr/09--The Vegetable Gardener's Bible by Edward C. Smith (2000).
14. 16/Apr/09--The Pepper Garden by Dave DeWitt & Paul W. Bosland (1993).
15. 21/Apr/09--Boy's Life by Robert R. McCammon (1991).
16. 28/May/09--The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga (2006).
17. 15/Jul/09--The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1974).
18. 22/Jul/09--The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall (2007).
19. 22/Jul/09--The Harlan Ellison Hornbook by Harlan Ellison (1990).
20. 16/Aug/09--20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill (2005).
21. 24/Aug/09--The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe (1968).
22. Sept/09--King Dork by Frank Portman (2006).
23. Sept/09--Still Life With Chickens: Starting Over In A House By the Sea by Catherine Goldhammer (2006).
24. Oct/09--13 Phantasms and Other Stories by James P. Blaylock (2000).
25. Oct/09--Vaccine: the Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver by Arthur Allen (2007).
26. Oct/09--Night by Elie Wiesel (1972, 2006).
27. Nov/09--Achtung Schweinehund!: A Boy's Own Story of Imaginary Combat by Harry Pearson (2007).
28. 25/Nov/09--Further Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin (1982).
29. 13/Dec/09--Mother Tongue: The English Language by Bill Bryson (1990).
30. 18/Dec/09--Deep Storm by Lincoln Child (2007).
31. 30/Dec/09--The Sleeping Doll by Jeffrey Deaver (2007).