Monday, January 31, 2011

I Love Michigan Video Contest

On the 21st of January I was informed of the I Love Michigan Video Contest. While I wouldn't mind the prize money, in truth I think the real tragedy would be to have a contest like this come along and I, with Atomic Swan Films dedicated to community-mindfulness, not participate. So in the last ten days I cut together the following video for the contest.

Michigan hasn't always been nice to us, but it's our home.

~ Charles

Monday, January 24, 2011

Atomic Swan 50s Sock Hop

I've got a lot on my plate at the moment, in large part due to my own doings. Besides the Atomic Swan Zine Fest sponsored by If EZine, this year I'll be sponsoring the Atomic Swan 50s Sock Hop (and two other events) in Flint, MI. I would talk about the other events at this juncture, but today I'd like to concentrate on the Atomic Swan 50s Sock Hop. I'll be spending most of my week trying to find a location and pound out some of the details for this event. But to get an idea of what the 50s Sock Hop has to offer, let's check out the announcement video.

This should be a fun event. And out of all the events, as much as I'm amped for and have a personal interest in the other events Atomic Swan will be hosting, I'm taking the 50s Sock Hop most personally. Someone out there might be asking what a guy born in the 70s would be doing celebrating the 50s on a personal level. Well, I believe I can best explain by sharing part of a book I've begun writing titled Joyride Thru Death Valley. Joyride, for short, was started in 2001 and has yet to see completion in part because it's my most autobiographical work. Allow me to define my writing right here and now: I am an autobiographical writer, meaning I pull a lot from my personal life and a lot of my personal life is reflected through my writing. Yes, even the science fiction and fantasy. I'm not like J.D. Salinger or some other writers who claim to have no connection to the people or worlds they've created. My first completed novel (still looking for a publisher, by the way! Hint! Hint!), titled Soar, is about a cyborg living in a world where technology has been outlawed. It is my reaction to the religious fervor created in the United States post-9/11. Silent Nights, another novel I've completed and am looking for a publisher for, sprang forth from a conversation with a one-time friend that claimed he believed in the Christian God because if said god did not exist, he would have nothing to live for. His was such cyclic and dependent thinking that it nearly frightened me for him. As for The Children of Gods (aka TCoG) novel Theft of Heaven and the novella Escape from the Cottonwood Chamber, the entire world of TCoG is my answer local personalities losing their culture, their identities and their life's structure through corporate globalization being sold to them; TCoG is an attempt to take Joseph Campbell's theories one step further by not just recognizing universal similarities in regional cultures and folklore, but creating a folklore that all regions can attach to in the presence of globalization. It's an odd conjoined life that TCoG lives, to be sure.

Anywho, out of all my writings, probably the most autobiographical would be Joyride. And here is a sample of the text that should help bring reason to my personal interests in hosting a 50s Sock Hop (please note: this is NOT an autobiography; an impression of my life, sure, but a novelization thereof):

"Smooth. Grooved. Attitude packed in wax. I felt the LP with my fingers. Sleek. Cool. Violently etched out. Voices screaming in the dark. Scratched. Caught. Sought after.

We had an old record player. An atavistic relic. I stood before it. It was big, more like a table. No, an altar. A shrine. The cool LP in my hands. All apartments had alleyways. Darker sides. Congregational meeting places of sex, drugs and, well, as luck would have it, rock ‘n roll.

I had been walking home from school, second grade. Sticking out of the corner of our apartment’s darker half dumpsters had been a cardboard square. It had pictures of Chubby Checker and several others I didn’t yet know. I grabbed the square. It was pretty clean. Clean enough to handle. I cocked it open. Out rolled the big, beautiful, black LP. Unscratched. Unscarred. Unbroken. It was someone’s memories now too painful to hear. Their trash was my gold. As soon as I got home, I dropped my Thundercats backpack off just inside my room and headed for the record player.
I stepped forward, the LP unsheathed and in my hands, and I summoned the player to life. Switched it to 33-1/3. Then I softly, gently lowered the great black disc to its rightful place. The revolution began. The needle fell into groove. The world was blown away from around me, like leaves in a gale.

Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want)” screamed out at me. I was chained to the spot instantly. I could do nothing but I had to do something. I stood motionless, unknowing yet learning. And then it came to me.

My body exploded into a fury. My puny arms whipped at the air. My feet kicked and stomped. My hair… I could feel my hair. It bounced and swayed with my frantic, stupid dancing. I was alive for the first time in my life. And I stayed alive until the song ended.

I was sweating, panting, heaving, hurting, feeling good. Alive.

I turned around, glancing, making sure no one had seen my convulsions. Two eyes stared dead at me. They were my own. I had forgotten that we had a floor-length mirror across from the stereo. There it was. There I was, witnessing me witnessing myself. I looked into those eyes. My tiny chest slowed and stopped heaving. Sweat rolled. New music played, but I did not dance.

I was born into a yesteryear never before seen by human eyes. A place where Chuck Berry and Lovecraftian horrors dance in some Pooh-Bear Hunny Pot Madness mockery of life’s ideal. A place where everyone and thing is not much more than a big Fuck You to God or whatever Greater Plan there might be. And, if there are no such things, then that’s the most wonderful Fuck You of them all, to all the idiots that ever believed in false hopes, false idols and the insane, inane imaginings of monks or priests or lamas or whatever-the-fucks drunk with power, mental illness, madness, sex, their own voice or wine and mushrooms.

But no, that can’t be the ultimate joke. Death is the ultimate joke prancing in his dyed-black or charcoal gray (for that chic well-worn look) court jester suit. Dancing like a mad bum in the streets. His dancing so beyond understanding you can’t help but laugh. Yet you know his madness carries the disease of danger. He’s dangerous to passers-by and to himself. But who gives a fuck about him? You just hope he doesn’t strike out at you or hit you up or even talk to you as you pass him on the street.

Sometimes, a safe distance across the street from him, you watch his dance through some box or portal or similar periscopic device. And then you laugh at dear Mr. Dancing Death ‘til you cry. Like watching Benny Hill for the first time and you laugh partially out of shock as you ask “Can he really do that?” And then sometimes the truly brave or depraved, but usually just the uber-bored, will stand and laugh right in his face, taunting poor Mr. Death with the promises of pennies if only he’d piss himself one more time.

Welcome to Long Beach, circa 1985.

We were growing up on Doo-Wop. I don’t know exactly how or who or why or when any which one of us first started listening, but we were. All of us. Maybe we were listening to it cuz it was all the symbol of an era that defined America. An America living in the every-day fear of the A-Bomb or the H-Bomb or the Whatever-the Fuck-Bomb or the UFOs. Maybe cuz the fifties were confusing times and all the kids had was the music, Alan Freed, and James Dean’s red jacket or Brando’s black leather one and his soft cry of “Whadya got?”

Maybe it’s cuz we saw the same shit goin’ on in the eighties. We had fear and nukes and ICBMs and sky-jackings and dime-a-dozen serial killers and a racist president continuing the murder of the indigenous and blacks and making it harder for people to become citizens despite Lady Liberty’s promise. Maybe we were looking for something distinctly American, learning what it was to be a cog in a machine. And we, too had our red jacket. But it was Michael Jackson’s. And we still had the music on stations like KODJ and KRLA 1110 AM. Yes, A-fucken-M. And, more than that, we still had our Brando battlecry of “Whadya got?”

Nah, fuck it. The music was fun and it bopped along and was an alternative to the fucken pussy-assed New Wave bullshit that everyone whored to the television was listening to. Doo-Wop was fun. Plain and simple.

Every decade suffers from the illness of nostalgia. But sometimes an illness can train your weakened body by exposing it to the horrors of sleepless nights, vomiting, and the tang of bile. Like chicken pox. Once you get it you’ll never get it again because your system has adapted to fight it, to prevent it. So illness, ultimately, is a walk through fire that can strengthen and enlighten you. But you still gotta go through a period of delusional flux, insane dreams when you’re unsure if you’re really asleep. A hell tailored just for you.

That was the eighties. And the nostalgic affliction hitting us then was that of the fifties. All the nobody old fucks were finally becoming somebody old fucks. The fifties dominated the eighties, flu-ing it all up. The kids of the Atomic Age were grown and taking the reigns of the Space Age.

And their music was everywhere. At least 3 or 4 radio stations surrounded L.A.; VCRs were invading homes with movies like The Buddy Holly Story; the theaters filled with movies like Back to the Future, Stand By Me, Top Gun, Great Balls of Fire, Dirty Dancing, La Bamba and The Outsiders. Hell, I was even made to read Hinton’s book twice, once in the fifth grade and then again in the seventh. Elvis-mania dominated as Nashville went from country to big city Pop.

Yep. History was repeating itself, regurgitating all over the eighties. Some absolutely hated it. So they ran, they ran so far away into something less than music and only slightly more than a jingle. Those that knew better but still didn’t jive with the nostalgia rallied ‘round Black Flag, Bauhaus, Bob Marley, The Clash, Grandmaster Flash and Run DMC.

Then there were young cats like myself. Cats that dug the jive. Some back then woulda said it was cuz I didn’t know any better. Maybe. But I learned, while those critics are still listening to the same ole shit, the eternal loop of an 8-Track, I learned. I learned where Elvis stole his moves and I learned where the Rolling Stones got their name and I learned exactly who it was that went down to the crossroads every night to pay his debt.

Besides Doo-Wop and rockabilly and Hip-Hop we had Motown. Having been born in Flint I had a factory-assembled, built-in interest for Motown. When we moved to Cali, we were poor. Not like eating on-sale turkey-ham for two weeks kinda poor. I mean broke-ass poor. And when you’re broke-ass poor, even turkey-ham on sale is too expensive. It was a good thing I loved my PB&Js and Ramen. Still do.

Our first place was a three-room apartment off Granada in Belmont Shores. The three rooms were a bedroom, a living room and kitchenette, and a bathroom. For a long time we slept on cheap-ass, painful plastic folding chaise lounges, the kind that I would later find out the rich and the tourists could buy, use once and throw them out, forgetting about them like any other piece of trash. But when you wake up with stripes all up and down your legs, arms, back and ass from the strips of plastic, you pray for the day you can throw them out. But you’ll never forget them. My parents wouldn’t let me sleep on the floor cuz it got too cold at night, so they said. I think it had more to do with the carpet, what little there was of it, had been too far beyond cleaning for anyone to lay on.

There was a good mix of blacks and gays and whites in our area and a helluva lotta Asians. I can’t count how many times I’d hear on the radio about boat-loads of Asians getting caught in the port o’ Long Beach or L.A. trying to sneak into the country. The news always showed the feds in some grand crack-down, charging and yelling into an inconspicuous ship that coulda been any random cargo ship, pointing their menacing weapons and blinding flashlights at massive groups of people huddled together, half-starved and unarmed and frightened. Then, at the footnote of the news piece, someone would always say how horrible their lives must have been in their country of origin. And that was that. The reporters would move on to the cuddly human-interest story of the night. Those nameless, faceless people forgotten in the second of a segue.

All of us were poor. No matter our skin color, sexual preference, politics, religion… whatever… our lowest common denominator was poverty. That made us equal, mostly respectful and sometimes even protective of each other. Though we were never so stupid as to let our guard down, to stop fearing our neighbor just enough, to ever think that that same poverty we shared or the occasional junkie’s habit would make our very neighbor either consciously or unconsciously stick a knife in us for whatever few bucks we mighta had.

But mostly we shared what we had, which was a whole lotta nothin’. But we shared the sun, laughs, heartache, and the music. And Motown was big. I quickly learned that Motown, R&B and Soul began with James Brown and ended with Marvin Gaye, with the high points in between belonging to Teddy Pendegrass, Al Green and Ray Charles. In my humble opinion, the unsung hero of soul singing (maybe because he was around during the Doo-Wop era, a decade prior to Motown) was Brook Benton. That cat could sing. I’ll admit he didn’t do as much for the music scene as other cats, but I can’t help loving his voice. Of course, the biggest group around, the one everyone listened to, were the masters known as The Temptations.

All that music, it spoke to us. It said what we were saying, what we were living. Oh, sure, we loved our M.J. and Rockwell and Grandmaster Flash. Any respectable man would. But Motown, well, it had soul. A soul we could kick back to and say “Fuck it” to the world outside and just enjoy that moment in our lives while it played.

I never knew how anyone ever got their boom box onto campus – we weren’t supposed to bring any electronic devices with us to school – but inevitably someone did. Boom boxes were everywhere. Ghetto blasters were a common name for them, too. And to see some cat walking down Redondo in the middle of the day with a massive rack of speakers on one of his shoulders was the ultimate staple of what it meant to be cool in Long Beach in the eighties. Eventually I got one of my own. It was smaller. I don’t remember the brand. I didn’t care. It was blue and gray and had detachable speakers and that’s all I cared about. So no matter what, whether we were at home or at school or at the beach, music was blasting out at us everywhere and we were perfectly happy with that.

Outta my little group of friends back then, I was the only one born here in the States. I didn’t really know a world where one ‘race’ dominated.

There were five of us: myself, Twin, Little Sammy, Key-Man and Con-Man. We called him Twin cuz he and Sammy were always together, hanging out, studying and even fighting just like they were twins. And boy would they ever fight. The first real, up-close and personal, fully in Technicolor fist fight I ever saw was between those two. They would swing their arms wildly, landing most of their punches on the back of each others’ necks and shoulders cuz they’d have lowered their heads and just started goin’. They would beat the living fuck outta each other. The first time we saw it happen I think we were all kinda shocked, not at seeing two kids fight on the playground at school, that happened all the time. But because we cared for each other and these two were so tight we were amazed they’d even think of raising a fist to each other. But they did. Several times, in fact. Me, Con-Man and Key-Man would just stand down and let them go. We’d watch for the playground security and shit to make sure they were never seen. They never were. We came close once or twice, but they were always aware enough to hear me or one of the other two tell ‘em to break it up cuz security was popping over.

After a fight they’d always cuss in their native languages to each other, keep their heads down in class and not speak to one another. But by the time the bell rang at the end of the day things were all cool between them. They’d even be quietly studying together. Crazy little shits. What I was always amazed at was neither one never really got hurt too bad. Coupla cuts and several bruises, but never any stitches or anything big enough to really grab anyone’s attention or require anything bigger than a band-aid.

Once these punk-ass high school kids who were most likely ditching school drove around the block and pulled up outside the schoolyard fence to watch Twin and Sammy go at each other. They started hooting and hollering like uncultured apes. Apparently they’d never seen a good fight, or at least not a really good fight between such young kids. Sammy and Twin stopped when they heard us yelling at the punks to go fuck themselves. They started mouthing back at us. Which of course only pissed us off all the more. I had found a penny randomly earlier that recess period. I pulled that thing outta my back pocket and flung it like a hot, fast flying disc right at their fucken car.


It didn’t do any real harm. It just sounded incredibly loud off the little piece of shit Pinto with all its rusting metal. The driver got out and really started screaming his head off, saying we was all little fucks and how he was gonna kick ours asses. We, of course, egged him on. Key-Man shouted back, “The only thing you can do with asses will get you thrown in jail if you touch us!” Con-Man was screaming in his native Cambodian. Sammy joined him. Twin was screaming in his native Laotian and Key-Man and I started picking up odd assortments of rocks and shit and hailing them down on the little shitty car. You shoulda heard it, like a fucken PCP addict trying to play steel drums at mach speed.

You gotta remember, this was 1986. We were ages ranging from 8 to 10. These guys we were standing up to were almost twice our age and at least twice our size, all four of ‘em squeezed into that little Pinto. But we weren’t about to let some stupid fucken asshole stop and watch and get his fucken jollies as our boys were dukin’ it out.

Twin had been born in Laos, but soon after his birth his parents had moved to Thailand thinking life would be better there. It wasn’t. So after several years of scrimping and saving they came to the States. I met him a month after he’d moved here. Key-Man, who got his name cuz he could play piano, had been born on a ship on the way to the States in international waters. He’d been in the U.S. for about four years. I think his parents somehow managed to get him declared as a U.S. citizen. I don’t really know cuz I didn’t care one way or the other. Con-Man and Little Sammy had both been born in Cambodia. We gave Con-Man his name cuz he was always talking to girls and he was always getting’ us outta what little trouble we were actually ever caught up in. He didn’t have a way with words so much as he knew how to present himself, how to hold himself, how to say certain things or smile a certain way. He reminded us of Dirk Benedict’s character Templeton “Face-Man” Peck on the TV show The A-Team. Con-Man was like our unofficial leader. We all rallied around his leadership. He took good care of me, too. He taught me my love for math. So much so that I was able to start learning the fifth grade math with all the fifth-graders while I was still in the fourth grade. He was a real whiz for the shit. I, in turn, taught Sammy and Twin.

Con-Man even taught us a few basics in kempo at recess. Mostly he taught us things like foot stomps, a palm to the nose, a pencil or similarly sharp object to the eye, nose or mouth. Just basics that would get someone to scream, get them disoriented, and give us enough time to get the fuck outta Dodge. Con-Man had learned all this shit from an uncle in Cambodia who was into martial arts. He was still in Cambodia, though, and Con-Man seemed sad once when he mentioned his uncle didn’t want to come to the States to be with him. Con-Man had never mentioned a father, so I figured this uncle was the closest he had to one. But I never pressed the issue, so I never found out. Sometimes shit like that doesn't matter. You know, shit you can't fix.

Out of all them, though, I don’t think I was as tight with anyone as I was with Little Sammy. He and I hung out almost as much as he and Twin did. Mostly I helped him with his studies in class. He needed a lot of help in English and math and history. Spending all that time together made us good friends. We’d joke and have fun actually studying. I guess it was at this time I first learned my love for learning, thanks to him and his desire to learn and be good in school and my desire to help him in that.

Sammy was kind of a cute kid. He had rich, dark brown skin. His face, I hate to say, kinda had a pug-nose thing goin’ on. His hair was jet black and shiny and so were his eyes. He had this weird habit, like I did, of looking at the ground a lot. Maybe it was where we were coming from. Maybe we were just weird kids. Who knows?

Once, after school, we were sitting on this beat-up, carved-up, chipped wood bench that had been painted red over and over again. I wondered why whoever did the painting didn’t just give up on the damned thing. Making that bench look good was definitely a losing battling. If you weren’t careful you’d get splinters in your hands or in your ass from it. But it wasn’t much of a thing to pull the splinters out and that damned bench was always in the shade, no matter the time of day, so we always sat there.

Anyways, we were sitting and waiting on our mutual families to come and pick us up after school. I asked if his mom was coming to get him. A simple conversation began.
“No. I dink mah brudder iz.” He still had his heavy accent. “But mah mudder might come, too. Mah brudder jess got here lass night.”

“From where?”

“Cambodia. Mah uncle came, too. We all togedder now.”

“That’s cool, man. I bet your mom and dad are happy.”

“Mah mudder’s not happy. Mah brudder got inna fight on da boat. Broke his toe. Had ta go ta da hospital. Now we got more bills an he can’t work yet cuz a da broke toe.”

“Shit,” I sighed.

“Yeah, an mah fodder he not alive no more.”

“Fuck, man. I’m sorry. How long ago did he die?” We was tight, so I didn’t think he’d mind me asking. He didn’t, he just sorta stared at his feet as he spoke.

“When I was liddle. We lived inna farming area. Lotsa farmers. One big field all cut inta sections. But eberyone worked eberyting. We shared eberyting. We had one car only for all of us. It was mah gran-fodder’s. Mah fodder and someone else took it one day. Dey filled it wid stuff ta sell in town over da udder side of da mountains. He never come back.

“Da next day, I remember I was wearing nuthin’ and mah mudder was holdin’ me when deez two men come ta our house. Mah brudder was dere an mah gran-fodder an uncle. Mah gran-fodder’s dead now,” he added as a side note. “Never made it here.

“But deez men dey say ‘Are you dis man’s wife?’ I remember mah mudder say yes. Den dey say ‘We sorry but your husband is dead. He was a part of some people who hate da gov’ment.’

“He was, too. So was mah gran-fodder. So was mah brudder. So was eberyone. But dis man he say ‘We stop him on da mountain road inna town.”

Again Sammy noted, “Da only way inna town was a long road tru da mountains. Half-day trip. Maybe more. Cliffs next ta da road da whole way. So deez men dey say ‘We stop him and kill him an da udder man as our country’s enemy. Den we put him an da udder man back inna car an push it off da mountain.'”

Sammy and I were nine-years old. I didn’t what to do for him. I didn’t know what to say. I just put my arm around his shoulder and said, “I’m sorry, man.” And there we stayed until his family came. His brother was there, cast on his foot and all. And he gave me the meanest, ugliest look a man has ever given me. Had he given me that same look a decade later, I woulda gutted him with a blade then and there. He wouldn’ta left that hot fucken schoolyard blacktop alive.

But I was young then, and I didn’t yet know about the kind of hatred and sorrow that could consume a man until he was hollow, until he would stupidly break his own toe in a fight in the belly of a whale headed for Oz.

But I was learning.

Sammy got up from the bench and said goodbye and walked away. And somewhere in the background, on somebody’s boom box, The Temptations sang.

There were other cats we hung with. Our little group was pretty tight but we wandered in and out with others. The five of us just always came back and hung out together, that’s what made us a family. Usually when other people came to hang out with us it was because we were having a pick-up game of baseball on one of the two diamonds on the playground. I loved baseball, always had. I even got to see the great Reggie Jackson in a coupla games before he retired over at Angels’ Stadium. When we weren’t playing baseball we were playing kickball. It was great.

We had the usual cast of supporting characters hanging out with us one day and gone the next, running the painted bases one day and gone from sight the next. They were like commercials interrupting the regularly scheduled broadcast of our lives to let us know other realities were out there. Among them were Pooh, Nickel-Nickel, Trent, Sheena, Eevie and her little bro Santos. Each had their own story, each their own worth to our group.

Pooh was named after the Milne character, and he used it to get attention from all the girls. He was a bigger player than Con-Man when it came to girls, but he couldn’t quite talk a good talk when trouble came around like Con-Man could. Pooh never did his work, but he always had the right answer if the teacher ever called on him. He was just naturally smart that way. But school didn’t seem to jive with him. He just kinda drifted in and outta class as he pleased, always late and always with an excuse why he had to leave early. Mostly he came to school just to hang out.

Nickel-Nickel got his name cuz he was always selling something on the playground at recess for a nickel. From Garbage Pail Kids to candy, Double Nickel had it. His name started out as The Ice Cream Man cuz when that bell rang kids would come storming out of the building, spilling onto the hot blacktop, rushing toward him with their nickels in hand, as if he were a passing ice cream man on a hot summer day. It eventually became Nickel-Nickel.

There was always a quality about Nickel-Nickel that disturbed me. Not cuz he was peddling worthless crap on the schoolyard instead of playing. Hell, we all knew our families could use the money. I just figured he was a genius for his entrepreneurialism. What disturbed me was his near-obsession over making money. He was always talking business. Inside of class or outside. He tried really hard to grasp the subjects we were learning, but he always seemed to have trouble. We offered to have him study with us a couple times. I think we all learned real quick it just wasn’t gonna happen. Once we started studying on our own, out from under the teacher, he’d be back in there talking about making money. I’ve seen people broke before to the point where their kids had to chip in now and then. But he seemed like he was a major bread winner for his household at the age of ten. During one of the few times he actually did try to study with us, he mentioned his father skipped out when his mom was pregnant with him. Again, not a new story to me. Pretty par for the course for many of my classmates, really. On another occasion he told me, with quite some pride, his mom had her own pot plant growing in the corner of the kitchen. He said she even got the plant it’s own little lamp and everything so it could grow right. When he made his third and final attempt to study with us he told me that he was a direct descendant of John Dillinger. I had little idea who the hell Dillinger was back then, but I made a quick trip to the school library a coupla days later and found out. Finding out only added to my frustration of not being able to shake the feeling that something else was wrong with the kid. I didn’t know why he was telling me specifically all this shit. Maybe he trusted me and they were all his own little cries for help with whatever he needed help with in his life at the time. But what the fuck did I know? I was nine and he was ten. Eventually I just learned to ignore the notions and accept him for the good guy he was, struggling with the rest of us, trying to move on to the next lesson, the next day.

Us fourth-graders looked up to the fifth-graders mostly. Con-Man, Key-Man, Pooh and Nickel-Nickel were all fifth-graders. Maybe that’s why Trent hung out with Nickel-Nickel. He never really hung out with us. The only time Trent was around us was when Nickel-Nickel was. I always felt bad for Trent. He just seemed to get into trouble no matter where he went. Out on the playground he would be yelled at for running, despite the fact every other kid did, too. If there was a test in class, he’d fall asleep in the middle of taking it and flunk it. If he was called on it was only ever when he wasn’t paying attention. And he was never paying attention. He just always seemed distracted. Maybe that’s why he and Double Nickel got along so well. At least, I would think, Trent had someone to help watch out for him.

Sheena was some Aussie chick with silky blonde hair, part aboriginal if I remember and part Brit, who’d come to the States to live with her grandmother. She lived near me so we started walking to and from school together. A very nice girl. Sometimes overly proper, but it was never out of place. She was just well behaved and friendly and respectful. She didn’t hang out with us too often while school was in session. She had made her own friends. But on a few occasions she’d come over to us and take part in whatever game or bull session we were having. Mostly we just walked to and from school together.

Eevie and Santos were Mexican. By the fourth grade Eevie and I were sharing our third classroom together. I had always had a crush on her, even way back in the second grade. She was such a pretty girl, with almost Castillian features. She had black hair that shone in the sunlight and deep brown eyes, mocha skin that was soft (I remember the first time she touched my forearm to get my attention to ask me to pass her something in class... I don’t remember what the hell she wanted but I remember that touch and her soft smile as I wordlessly handed whatever-the-hell-it-was to her), a smile that could melt the whole coming of the next ice age, and she always wore prim and proper little dresses. Politeness came to her naturally. I hadn’t dared talk to her too much over those coupla years. She was too pretty and I always lost my voice when I got near her. Eventually I grew into being more comfortable around her. She would always say hi and smile and I would always return the kindness and ask how she and her little brother were doing. Santos was in the second grade by the time we were in our fourth, but I had known him when he was in kindergarten.

Eevie was very protective of her little brother. I think it was because their parents were going through a particularly nasty divorce and that had been going on since I had known her. That might be the reason why she brought little Santos to us when he started getting into trouble at recess with his own classmates. They were destroying property and shit like that. Marking up the walls with crayons and rocks and whatever else their little fingers could wrap themselves around. Eventually it came down to a brawl between Santos and some know-it-all punk who, even though he was only in the second grade, already had a fucken chip on his shoulder. So one day during recess me and the boys were just hanging out on a coupla the chin-lift bars (we liked climbing up and just sitting on them where we could overlook the whole playground) and here came Eevie dragging little Santos along behind her. I about shit my pants. Eevie had only rarely come our way, but today she was walking towards us with a purpose.

“Hey guys,” she said as she approached us. “Can I ask you a favor?” Both Con-Man and I knew her pretty well so she addressed us more than the others.

“What’s up?” Con-Man said before the words could stumble out my own mouth.

“Well, my little brother’s been getting into trouble. He even got into a fight last week. I was wondering if he could hang out with you.”

“Sure,” I shot. I liked Santos. He was actually a very nice kid, very much like his sister. So I didn’t mind him around. Plus I saw it as a chance to do Eevie a favor, which was my greatest pleasure at the time. So Santos started hanging out with us during recesses and lunch and, to my delight, so did Eevie. I think he was bored at first, but we all took to him real quick. Sammy, who was heavy into the sound of bass-men from the Doo-Wop groups we listened to, taught him how to properly “poppa-oom-mow-mow,” which any young cat should know how to do. Key-Man and Twin especially treated him like a little brother and were the ones who spent most of their time with him. They even got him reading at recess, which even we didn’t do. Con-Man taught him some of the defensive moves he had taught the rest of us, this time a lot more discreetly. I taught him all about Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, The Stones, Bill Haley, James Dean, and the incomparable Gene Vincent. I also spent a lot more time with Eevie.

We were all just taking care of each other. And that was that.

It turned out that Little Eevie loved all the same music we did. There was one exceptional difference, though. She could sing the shit. And I mean she could sing like nobody’s business. When she got goin’, diggin’ down deep for that gutteral pitch she could get, she sounded like a very young Laverne Baker. Eevie loved Laverne, and Etta James, The Shirelles, and she really dug Rosie and the Originals. She also swooned over Michael Jackson, as any kid did in those days did, and The Furious Five, The Temptations, everything that mattered. She’d get to singing and the rest of us would clap along while Santos danced wildly and Sammy dropped in with the bass of his voice he was always practicing. Life was never so fully enjoyed by kids on that playground as we were doing enjoying it.

Every day I would look forward to school, but this time for a new reason. I’d still go to school to do my work and play my writing games with Key-Man and help other kids, all of which I loved doing. But now I also lived for those recesses, for my time with Eevie. She seemed to gravitate toward me in conversations and often we’d be having our own little talks while the guys played or talked around us. That’s when I learned how bad her parents’ marriage was.

We were sitting on the bench along the first base line of one of the diamonds watching Sammy roll-pitch a kickball to Con-Man, who had a helluva kick that could get some air, and Twin and Santos and Key-Man scramble after the ball in the outfield. It was our usual diamond, the one we always went to when we wanted to play. I had met a lot of kids whose parents were already divorced or separated, I even met a few orphans with foster parents, but Eevie was the first kid I ever knew whose parents were actually going through the shit. And it was bad. They argued over everything, even each others’ clothes. Eevie and Santos were living with the mother while their father was working for some big corporation down in San Diego. Or, at least, that's what she said. I'm not sure. Her greatest fear, she once confided in me, was to have her dad get custody of them. She didn’t want to move outta Long Beach. She wanted to stay with her friends. Because of her parents, she hadn’t stayed at a school as long as she had at our current elementary. I found that a shocking coincidence and told her of my health issues. I told more or less anyone who was interested back then about my heart problems and if it happened to come up in conversation, but I never really confided in anyone how much confusion had been brought on by the moving and uncertainty it brought to me. But I told Eevie.

“Oh, Charles,” she sighed as she lay her head on my shoulder. I took her hand without thought. Any other day I would have exploded inside having done such a thing, but not today. Not at that moment and not with what we were talking about. It was all just natural and it was nice.

“When the hell is this world gonna get its shit together?” I said, mimicking someone I'd heard somewhere. But it somehow made sense to me at the moment.

She sighed again, “Yeah.”

We watched the playground surge with activity for a few moments. Then the bell rang and we returned to class."

So there you have it, an impression of my childhood in relation to music and the environment I grew up in. This is why I'm personally overseeing the 50s Sock Hop. I want it to be first and foremost fun.

Now, to find a place to hold the Sock Hop. Let's do this.

Monday, January 17, 2011

New Zines and New Years

The new year brings a lot of new things my way. For one, I'll be making my attempt at blogging on Mondays. I've thought about this for some time - it seems like two years now that I've been considering it. So, here we are, Monday the 17th of January, and I'm blogging.

This week's blog post is all about zines. This August will mark the 8th anniversary of If EZine: The Free Online Magazine of Thrilling Speculative Fiction. I'm pretty proud to be able to say I'm still going strong with the old ezine.

I have a lot of zany zine-y stuff in my life already and much more awaits me in my near-future. For one, I've published my first book. Tales from the Ifreet is a collection of the serialized fiction that can be found in If EZine, plus one new story not published anywhere else. Tales from the Ifreet is now available. My good old cohort J. Ho not only did a beautiful job on the cover art (both front and back) but he recently blogged about it. You should check out his artwork. He's just about the finest illustrator I've ever come across (and I'm not saying that just because we're also old friends) and I'm incredibly happy with his rendering of Iffy the Ifreet, If EZine's mascot and horror host. Thanks, J. Ho.

Cover art by J. Ho

In addition to the book, If EZine and my movie company Atomic Swan Films are hosting the Atomic Swan Zine Fest sponsored by If EZine this April. It's Flint, Michigan's first real zine fest (as far as I know; feel free to correct me on this). We have quite a few zinesters and creative types excited to participate and attend this zine fest.

On the Origins of the Atomic Swan Zine Fest sponsored by If EZine: As I became more involved around Flint and started meeting more people, I've found there's a pretty big sub-culture of writers here. But there aren't many events in the area that I felt properly celebrated the art of telling tales and writing. The Skelebration of Scares is certainly a very good one (wherein local writers get together to read their scariest tales at Halloween), but has a certain emphasis on reading and performance and less on the actual formulation of words on the page. There's the blossoming Flint Comix Con, which is great, but has a definite emphasis on comics and visual art and not so much on writing (though they generously make room for writers; in fact, it was at the Flint Comix Con I met local writer, Skelebrations organizer and fellow shenanigans lover Chris Ringler). But, in general, there wasn't an event specifically celebrating the visceral act and art of writing and the DIY spirit of punk, science fiction and the pulpy, gritty, down-and-dirty doin'-it-my-own-damn-way art of zines. The DIY attitude is definitely prevalent in Flint, but no one seemed to be celebrating it outright, at least not in relation to writing.

In essence, I saw a need in Flint to have a zine fest. Not one to wait around for others (there's that DIY spirit again), I threw out some feelers, found out Ringler once produced zines, met Chris Reed who loves zines and came across a general resounding, "Um, yeah, you know what? Flint SHOULD have a zine fest" sort of reaction.

So I got off my ass, recruited Chris Reed into my zine army and we're setting off to war, as it were.

I'd like to take this moment to thank Reed, who graciously accepted when I asked if he would chair this event. In his own words, "I'll chair it like a la-z-boy." Haha. I knew Chris would be perfect to chair the event. Not only is he an entertaining Absurdist (both in person and through his writing), his love for zines is seconded only probably to my own.

The zine fest has gotten me back into the writing mode. I'm already working on my second zine in two days with plans for at least two more. Here's the cover of the first (this zine collects some of my more funny, asinine and worthless Tweets).

So, here we are: zines, zines, zines in 2011. If you're in the area on April 8th between 6pm and 9 pm, come to The Lunch Studio for the Atomic Swan Zine Fest and let's rock it hard.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Tales from the Ifreet now Available for a Mere $10.95!

First post of the new year! And it's a doozy. For the past 7+ years I have been self-publishing an electronic magazine, If EZine. This webzine sprang forth from my love of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and pulp. I grew up on comic books, the Amazing Stories TV series, Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock presents the Three Investigators. For me, IF EZine keeps me in constant contact with my childhood; keeps me in constant contact with that child I once was sitting at home with an imagination running wild; keeps me in touch with something I think a lot of us lose as we grow older: our sense of wonder. If EZine keeps me young, I hope vital and in constant contact with the loves in my life: writing, storytelling and wild dreams.

And now I share those dreams with you.

Tales from the Ifreet is the first book from If EZine.

Since 2003, writer Charles Shaver has been publishing If EZine - The Free Online Magazine of Thrilling Speculative Fiction. With a passion for pulp-era storytelling, Charles has established If EZine as a hub of science fiction, sword & sorcery, horror and adventure. Collected within this volume are stories originally serialized throughout the issues of If EZine - plus one new never-before-published story!

Stories in this edition:
The Last Stand of King Zalam
Zalam of the Mountains
Zalam in the lost City of Adul-Ra
Spidorans Below
Captain Destiny and the Creature from Atrius-99
From Here to the Stars!
Hunter of the Dead
Iffy's Tale
The Gargoyles of Fort Van Raine

and the brand new story published only in this collection:
Blood on the Mountain

With cover art by J. Ho.

Go buy one today!