Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

Every Picture Tells a Story: 9/27/10

A stopover at the Island of Long at JB's place Saturday night In celebration of Dee's birthday (which is actually the Wednesday, but we must celebrate when we can).

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tonight's Dinner...

...will look something like this: Skirt steak with onion/garlic/jalapeno pan gravy.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 9/24/10

I think the coffee cup is trying to tell me something.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Mouse in the House

To be honest, I don't remember why I walked into the kitchen. It may have been to get a glass of water. Or maybe to slip a dirty plate into the sink. Or to give Olivia a cat treat or a bit of milk.

Doesn't matter, really. I walked into the kitchen, and Olivia immediately followed, as she nearly always does. I was about to do whatever it was that I was going to do when I heard the plastic Target bag on the floor near the trash container move.

I stopped and stared. So did Olivia.

The Target bag had fallen off the counter and onto the floor after my last visit there, but had I just knocked something off the counter to cause the noise that both Olivia and I had just heard? A spoon? A sponge? A pepper mill?

None of the above. Nothing on the floor but the bag--and whatever had just made it move.

Olivia and I watched and listened. The bag moved again. I Leaned down, looked closer, touched one of the red bullseyes at the outer fringe of the bag. It moved again. This time, I saw a small dark shape through the white-and-red plastic--roughly the size of a mouse.

A rodent. In my apartment. Again. Really? REALLY?

I quickly shagged Olivia out of the room, opened the back door (so I could rush out with the varmit, if indeed I could actually catch it) and grabbed a cloth to toss over the bag, which I did.

Two unfortunate realizations happened next.

First, when I lifted the cloth, I discovered that the mouse wasn't in the bag, as I'd supposed, but under the bag. Consequently, it made a dash for the back door.

Second, when I opened the back door, I should have propped the screen door open as well. Had I done so, the rodent would have scampered out and never been seen again. Instead, when it reached the base of the screen door, it did an abrupt about-face and ran back into the apartment. Since I was standing where the mouse had already been, it ran past me and made a sharp left into the dining room.

This was a problem. I'm in the midst of rearranging La Casa del Terror, so there are piles of stuff everywhere--plenty of cover for a midsized mouse. I'd have to depend on Olivia's tracking abilities and my own hearing to zero in on the little bugger. I grabbed the longest implement I could lay hands on--an unopened roll of Christmas wrapping paper unearthed during the rearrangement--and flipped on the dining room light.

Olivia had not failed me. She was crouched low, tail twitching, staring at the cat bed, which the mouse had to be either in or under. This was not the brightest rodent on the world. In a roomful of hiding places, it chose not only the most obvious one, but the one that afforded it the least number of escape routes. It had two choices: It could run toward me (and likely get clouted with the Christmas wrapping roll), or it could run toward Olivia (and likely get eaten).

It chose the latter.

Bad choice.

When I poked the pet bed with the wrapping paper, the mouse ran away from me and toward the plant by the dining room windows. Olivia pivoted, pinned the mouse to the hardwood floor with her paws (she has no claws, but is young, strong and willful) and clamped down with her jaws.

"Good girl!" I exclaimed as Olivia held her catch fast in her mouth. I reached under the plant stand, pulled her out and ran toward the back door. When I got out past the screen door (which, by this time, I'd propped open with a white vase), I shook Olivia from side to side to dislodge the mouse from her mouth.

One problem: No mouse fell from her mouth. It was gone. She'd dropped it on the way out. Which meant it was still in the apartment.


I set Olivia down in the kitchen and retraced our steps. I didn't have to go far. The mouse was lying just beyond the doorway between the dining room and the hallway--very, very dead.

I quickly covered the body with the Target bag and cloth and swept it all into the dustpan. One brisk trip the the Dumpster later, the invader was gone.

olivia was now parker in the dining room, mere inches from where the mouse's body fell out of her mouth. She scowled at me (as only a calico can scowl) and cried. I'd taken away her hard-fought prize, and she was not pleased. I was, though, and I gave her extra kitty treats as a consolation prize.

There was still a troubling question hanging in the air, though: How had the mouse gotten in? Had I not sealed all the most likely entryways? The kitchen barriers seemed intact. What about the bathroom, where the rat from two summers ago had most likely gotten in? The plaster that had been knocked out of the wall was still in place, but as I felt around the seal, I found a nickel-sized hole at the base of the seal. A hole more than large enough to allow a midsized mouse access to La Casa del Terror.

I found the can of Great Stuff sealant that I'd used last time and shot enough of it into the hole to seal it well. Great Stuff is, well, great stuff, and the new hole is now plugged, but will that be enough? Will that prevent another invasion?

This is the third rodent to make its way into my apartment in four years. I have to assume it won't be the last.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 9/23/10

Daisies grow on the land where Riverview Park used to be.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Horror of It All

First, there was the sound--a long, groaning, creaking sound that could only issue forth from a centuries-old coffin lid.

Then came the music--an eerie, bass-driven tune punctuated by shrill, specific guitar notes and accentuated by strings and, perhaps, a harp.

Then the string of black & white images from classic Universal horror films like Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and The Mummy flowed across the screen.

Finally, the title card bearing the freehand-drawn visage of a man with long, flowing hair, a formal top hat, bulging eyes and a smile that seemed to show dozens (if not hundreds) of razor-sharp teeth displayed the name of the program as the voiceover man (initially Carl Greyson, later Marty McNeely, both newscasters handling the late shift) announced the evening's feature presentation.

So began nearly every showing of Creature Features, the weekly WGN horror-movie showcase that stirred the imaginations--and haunted the dreams--of children and adults alike from its premiere on Saturday, September 19, 1970 until May 1976. (The very first and very last movies shown on Creature Features were one and the same: the Tod Browning/Bela Lugosi version of Dracula.)

In my memory, such as it is, Creature Features lasted at least two years longer than that, and I could swear that I ran across a late-night version of it that eschewed the usual montage and just presented the title card with the line drawing of Lon Chaney from London After Midnight (ironically, a long-lost silent film that therefore could never be shown on Creature Features--or anywhere else, for that matter) and the spooky Henry Mancini theme lifted from Blake Edwards' Experiment in Terror (also ironically, not a horror film and therefore something that would never be shown on Creature Features).

Regardless of how long the show was actually on the air, it made a deep impression on me and much of my generation growing up in Chicago in the 1970s. It also gave me my first introduction to many of the classics of the genre--in addition to the aforementioned Universal horror classics of the '30s and '40s, Creature Features also ran selections from Warner Bros. (Doctor X), Columbia (The Black Room), 20th Century Fox (The Lodger) and even Japan's Toho Studios (the Americanized version of the original Godzilla and my all-time favorite daikaiju classic, War of the Gargantuas).

As I've mentioned before, I was lucky enough to have grown up in Chicago, where we had many TV stations with lots of programming time to fill, even in the days before all stations ran all 24 hours. (In the 1970s, most stations were off the air by one o'clock in the morning.) And what was one of the most cost-effective way to fill that time? Movies. That meant just about every channel had at least one regularly scheduled movie program. Some, like WGN, had several. So we were lucky enough to have more than one horror-film showcase on the air at the same time.

In fact, the other high-profile monster show in Chicago in the 1970s officially started just one day before Creature Features first stalked the airwaves. Well, sort of.

That Friday night, September 18, 1970, WFLD launched their own horror movie showcase, Screaming Yellow Theater. At first, it didn't really have a host--not even a line drawing standing in for a host a la Creature Features. It just had the voice of staff announcer Jerry G. Bishop doing a Bela Lugosi impersonation--appropriate enough, since the first feature that first night was Ghosts on the Loose, an East Side Kids comedy with Lugosi as a menacing guest star.

According to Chicago TV Horror Movie Shows: From Shock Theatre to Svengoolie, the very entertaining history of our fair city's horror movie showcases by Ted Okuda and Mark Yurkiw, Bishop continued hosting Screaming Yellow Theater off-screen for several months, maintaining the Lugosi impression while adding smart-ass comments about the movies, which weren't nearly up to the fare over on WGN. There were a few certified classics, like the original Night of the Living Dead and Mario Bava's Black Sunday and some unsung gems like Night Tide (starring a young Dennis Hopper) or The Haunter Strangler (starring an old Boris Karloff), but most of the movies on Screaming Yellow Theater were low-budget, no-star garbage that needed all the help they could get. And come that following summer, boy would they get it. When Bishop finally debuted on-screenas Svengoolie, Screaming Yellow Theater completely stopped being about the movies and was now all about the green-haired hippy vampire with the Transylvanian accent. the movies were still there and still bad, but the jokes were worse, which made them that much funnier. Bishop was basically doing stand-up prop comedy (most of the props being rubber chickens hurled at him whenever he made a bad pun, which was often) on a decidedly shoestring budget. He was also obviously having a blast with the gig.

For all good things, though, there is an end, and the end for Svengoolie came rather unceremoniously in the first week of September 1973, when the new owners of WFLD decided to save some money (like they were spending a whole lot of cash on the show anyway), cancel Svengoolie and use the horror host they already had on their payroll in Cleveland and Detroit: The Ghoul, successor to Ghoulardi (a.k.a. Ernie Anderson, father of director P.T. Anderson).

I tuned in the next Saturday, fully expecting to be entertained by the green-haired hippy vampire telling corny jokes and making silly puns, only to find a new guy dressed as a gangster and toting a Tommy gun. (Because he was on in Chicago now. And we think gangsters are hilarious.) At least that's how my nine-year-old mind recorded the event. (Remember what I said above about memory.)

Whatever actually happened that night, three things were verifiably clear: Svengoolie was gone. The Ghoul was here. And the Ghoul was just not amusing to me. (Apparently, it wasn't just me. He only stayed on Chicago airwaves for a few months, though he's been on and off the air in Cleveland and Detroit ever since and even has his own website. More power to him.)

Even as good things end, other good things begin. After a few years without either Creature Features and Screaming Yellow Theater and only a few quieter, hostless shows (one of them ironically named Creature Feature and even more ironically on WFLD, former home of Svengoolie) to feed our need for monster mashes, WFLD changes ownership again--in fact, changed back to the previous ownership, which wanted its own horror host again. That's how they wound up with Son of Svengoolie (a.k.a. Rich Koz) in June 1979. That lasted until 1986, but there was life in the ol' Goolie yet: he rose from the dead on New Year's Eve 1994 and has been showing bad movies (and telling worse jokes) ever since.

So this weekend when the 40th anniversaries of Creature Features and Screaming Yellow Theater are upon us, raise a pint (of blood) in celebration and watch a bad movie. Something with Bela Lugosi would do just fine.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 9/17/10

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nine Years Later

Sitting among the many books on the many shelves of my dining room is a trade paperback collection of stories, vignettes and pinups created in the weeks and months following the terrorist attacks on New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001.

The book features many luminaries of the comic book field--Alex Ross, Neil Gaiman, Will Eisner, Stan Lee, Neal Adams and numerous others--telling tales of that day from different angles. Some are funny, others allegorical. Most are somber, meditative or respectful.

Some of the stories are about the victims. Others are about the brave men and women who rushed to their aid--the firemen, policemen, paramedics and clergy. Still others are about eyewitnesses who looked out a window or up to the sky only to see horror unfolding before them.

The one that always gets to me, though--the one that I always flip right to whenever I pick up the book (as usually happens on this, the anniversary date of the attacks), the one that always makes me cry--is a single page painted by popular cover artist Brian Stelfreeze.

It doesn't depict airplanes or buildings or first responders or super heroes attempting to make sense of the senseless. Instead, it shows a young woman sitting on a bed, legs pulled toward her. On the bed with her are a box of tissues (she's obviously been crying), a TV remote, a corded telephone and a stuffed panda.

Her left hand is holding one of the tissues. Her right hand is smoothing the pillowcase on the side of the bed where her someone should be, but isn't--and never will be again.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Every Picture Tells a Story: 9/9/10

"I always feel like somebody's watchin' meeeeeeeee..."