A recommendation: The Blue Mountain Review

I’ve had the pleasure of getting acquainted recently with The Blue Mountain Review.  The poetry there is simply superb.  I suggest that it makes excellent summer reading — I know I’ll be bringing it along on the annual “River Trip” with the Mary Washington College kids.

Click here and peruse the newly published Issue 7:  The Blue Mountain Review, Issue 7.

For more information about the journal, you can find its Facebook page right here:  The Blue Mountain Review.

 

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Throwback Thursday: MTV in the early 90’s (at Mary Washington College).

You are really getting old if you can remember when MTV was cool.  In the first half of the 1990’s, MTV had it all: weird, varying animated logos; Tabitha Soren; “MTV Unplugged,” which I still enjoy via Youtube today; “Liquid Television;” the sometimes priceless “Beavis and Butthead;” the always priceless “Aeon Flux;” and the bizarre promos featuring “Jimmy the Cab Driver.”  (The date on the embedded video below is incorrect; Jimmy was annoying his fares in the 90’s — not the 80’s.)

This was the age when non-music-video programming more or less began for the channel.  But it didn’t suck — it was actually quite good.

I think MTV’s greatness lasted until 1994 or 1995, around the time when my college career drew to a close.   We didn’t have cable in our dorm rooms at Mary Washington College … except when we did.  During my junior year, some intrepid, subversive genius had gotten into the vicinity of the Resident Director’s cable connection, and “split” it or something, in order to provide our entire floor with basic cable.  He was an anonymous hero … like Batman, except probably a lot more chill, we figured.  (He wasn’t the hero that Alvey Hall deserved, but he was the hero that Alvey Hall needed just then.)

God, did we all love it.  Frederickburg, VA, was a small, quiet town, and we didn’t have the Internet, or even cell phones.  We didn’t even have landlines in our room; we had two shared “hall phones” for local calls and a pay phone to call anywhere outside town.  (And I guess college kids today might be unfamiliar with the concept of “local” and “long-distance” calls.)

Here’s what I can’t figure out in retrospect, after 24 years …  I understand that cable can be “split;” New Yorkers do it all the time.  But … wouldn’t Batman need to lay cable down throughout the length of our dorm?  And wouldn’t he need to install cable jacks in each of our rooms?  Did he do it on a Saturday night, when we were all drunk?  How did he get in?

Maybe he came in the window.  Godspeed, Batman.

 

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Because I worked hard for that doctorate.

The off-brand knock-off of Dr. Pepper is named “Dr. Perky” and, for some reason, that is very, very sad.

One of my Mary Washington College alums suggested that “Dr. Pervy” would be a catchier name, but I’m already using that for my Match.com profile name.

Do I LOOK any perkier?  I’m feeling more chagrined that I bought a 12 pack of this, even if it was only $2.35.  It tastes like water, sugar, and just a touch of peppermint-flavored cough syrup.

 

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Throwback Thursday: 80’s Wolverine posters!

The first of the posters you see below was created in 1987 with art by Art Adams; the second in 1989 with art by Mike Zeck.  (Is there something ironic about an artist named “Art?”)  These definitely bring back 90’s memories for me, though — I remember looking them on my friends’ dorm room walls at Mary Washington College.  (The Adams’ piece that popped up in the dorms might have been different; there are several variations of the image, and I seem to remember an all-black background.)

That would have been the Spring of 1991, toward the end of my freshman year.  It was just before I’d really discovered superhero comics, even though I’d grown up with Sgt. Rock, Indiana Jones, Conan the Barbarian and Archie.  I thought costumed heroes were generally a stupid idea; not even the Batman craze after the Tim Burton’s 1989 film attracted me to the genre.  (Burton’s film was actually considered quite groundbreaking at the time; this was long before Christopher Nolan’s amazing work eclipsed it and its sequels.)

I didn’t even know who Wolverine was.  (Trust me, I was fully converted to both Marvel and DC fandom during my sophomore year.)  I remember listening to a classmate muse about the image of Wolverine fighting Captain America — if Wolvey’s adamantium claws could cut through anything, and Cap’s adamantium shield couldn’t be broken, how would the melee depicted play out?  (Yes, I’ve long since learned that Cap’s shield is made of vibranium; I’m just not sure if that’s a retcon or not.)

 

 

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“The Disappearance of Little Tommy Drummond,” By Eric Robert Nolan

[First published by Dead Beats Literary Blog, November 5, 2013]

A town could die from the inside out.

That was what Kira Manning thought as she gazed absently out from the wide front window of Manning Hardware in Willibee, Massachusetts. A single loss close to its heart can reverberate throughout a town, in the same manner that a malignant cancer flourishes throughout a body.

On the surface, things might look the same. Main Street beyond her window still held the same cars and passersby. Eddie Berenger, the town drunk, still ambled along with his big, dark green Army knapsack, ever laboring under the misconception that nobody knew it held a 12-pack. Anna Mirren walked smartly along with her arms full of choir notes for the Willibee First Baptist Church Adult Choir. And the prim Mrs. Bell still strolled like royalty along the sidewalk, her corgi keeping perfect pace with her like a diligent squire.

But that was the surface. Today, Willibee was a changed place. On a telephone pole just outside the store window, a poster broadcast a word in bold black letters:

MISSING

Below that was a photograph. A handsome 11-year-old boy with closely cropped black hair smiled broadly out at passersby. That smile suggested a soul who had never seen a rainy day in his life. If the boy himself had been standing there on the sidewalk, the smile would have been contagious.

But he wasn’t there on the sidewalk. Little Tommy Drummond had been missing since May 9th, 2013. He had been playing with two friends at Falcon’s Wing (or just “The Wing,” to many locals), a twisting ravine among the piney hills along Willibee’s western edge. The Wing had been a favorite place for the town’s children – a steep, sharp rift, full of thick vines, with a sandy trail winding along the bottom. Lined by coniferous ridges, it was actually quite close to town, running alongside it. Yet it was tucked firmly under the forest’s endless canopy of pines.

Tommy had been playing with two friends – John Paulson and Troy Bristol – and they were the last two people to see him alive. And now, as the calendar crept into the waning days of a humid June, a growing consensus held that they would always be the last to have seen him.

Tommy Drummond never returned home that night. And the only sign of him the following day had been a single, bright red, left sneaker, sitting askew in the ravine’s vines.

Kira turned away from the window. She was a slender 32-year-old in a red flannel shirt, with a cascade of curly walnut hair tied back in a ponytail. She had much work to do. It was inventory day at Manning Hardware, and she preferred to run a tight ship. Besides, she was only one woman, and the store was hers alone. She liked to run a tight ship because life had taught her that she needed to do so. She’d been orphaned by a car accident when she was 14, and she was far too independent to have ever married. She was one of those uncommon people who truly treated industry as a virtue. And so she resumed counting the rows of squat green Kohlemen Lanterns on an overhead shelf.

Still, like so many others in Willibee, her thoughts returned to what the newspapers had dubbed “The Drummond Case.” Willibee was a logging community of about 2,000 souls, and the possibility of a kidnapping or murder had monopolized – no, fundamentally altered – the town consciousness. Nobody could forget the pageant of grief that was the local news coverage: Cynthia Drummond, the mother, weeping openly on television; the worn, frightened look of Sean Drummond, that father; the shell-shocked expressions of his two younger sisters.

And nobody could forget the singular nature of the case’s strangest clue. On May 11, two days after the disappearance, someone in the search party noticed a single word carved into one of the great, tall pines lining The Wing:

NERO

Police determined that it had been made with a pocket knife, and neither of Tommy Drummond’s playmates had placed it there. And nobody had a firm idea how it might relate to the boy’s disappearance. Nearly all opined, however, that it had something to do with it. The tree sat at a high pass that overlooked nearly all of Falcon’s Wing; whoever had put the message there could easily see where Tommy and the other boys had been playing. The FBI had been called in from the Boston Field Office (kidnapping is a federal crime), and their forensics experts had determined that it had been carved at about the same time the boys had been there.

Nero. What did that mean? Was it a name? If so, was it a name the abductor called himself, or was it an appellation given to him by others? A minority in the town held that it wasn’t a name at all, but a reference – “Nero fiddled while Rome burned.” Was that how the message was intended?

But while Rome burned, a chill settled over Willibee. The effect on the town was difficult to fully describe. Certain changes were predictable: people locked their doors at night, schools cancelled outdoor activities, parents admonished their children never to talk to strangers. And, of course, children no longer played along Falcon’s Wing.

The real effect of the disappearance, however, ran far deeper; the chill over Willibee permeated its very bones. A sense of danger can invade a place. It can occupy a town like an opposing army. It can change the nature of every single subsequent moment for the people living there. Willibee was a small town, and like many small towns, it was no stranger to provincialism. Residents there had once credited themselves for living lives that were simpler and safer than those who lived in big cities. The Drummond Case robbed them of that. The sense of safety was gone now, leaving a gap that was as painful as a roughly extracted tooth. And the most venomous aspect to all of this was a suspicion – that the crime had been committed by one of Willibee’s own. The small town was not a tourist destination, and had few visitors. Some of the lumberjacks were seasonal workers from elsewhere, but the police had investigated them with no real leads.

The possibility – the very notion – that “Nero” could be a local was not only terrifying, it also destroyed the town’s sense of identity. It was a different place now – the old Willibee was dead, while this new and frightened community had fallen, trembling, in its place. With Tommy Drummond’s loss, the town had died from the inside out.
After a solid day’s work, Kira closed Manning Hardware just a little early at 4:50 PM. Skipping her usual cup of coffee at the Bumblebee Diner, she proceeded directly home. Her left turn on Willows Street took her past one of the immense and solid walls of pines that lined the town like ramparts. Not far away was Falcon’s Wing.

She too had played along The Wing as a girl, in those forever-ago days when she had parents. Her favorite game was hide and seek, and she had been good at it. She remembered how each tree seemed like a friend and a teammate, concealing her flight from her pursuers. She remembered how the fallen pine needles on the forest floor made her footfalls silent.

Now the trees felt like a presence once again. Here, in yet another humid June evening, they stood sentinel over the secret of Tommy Drummond’s fate.

A girlish, irrational thought crossed her mind – “Maybe the pine trees took him.” She could imagine them thinking, conspiring once again, but this time as confederates with whatever dark soul had stolen away with the lost boy.

Shivering a little, Kira continued home.

(c) Eric Robert Nolan, 2013

 

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Photo credit: By Pit1233 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

“Fantasia” double-feature today!

I just finished watching Disney’s “Fantasia” (1940) this snowy afternoon with my girlfriend — she gave me the boxed set with “Fantasia 2000” (1999) this Christmas.  This is the first time I’ve seen the entire film in … 26 years?  If memory serves, I last saw it at Mary Washington College’s Dodd Auditorium when I was a freshman in 1990.

I loved it just now even more than I loved it then.  My favorite segment will always be the final one — Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” with a coda of Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria.”  (The accompanying animation is Gothic horror; I’ve posted about it here at the blog before.)

I felt for sure that my second favorite would be Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.”  Pictures of those animated dinosaurs startled and thrilled me as a tot after Christopher Finch’s “The Art of Walt Disney” (1975) somehow appeared magically among my baby books in Queens, New York.  As an adult, however, I liked the segment mostly because of its cool depiction of lower life-forms.  The dinosaurs were stylized and interesting to see, but I don’t think the quality of the animation has held up very well — especially considering what we know about the dinosaurs has changed so much in 80 years or so.

Instead, my second favorite was Ludwig von Beethoven’s “The Pastoral Symphony,” and its whimsical, beautiful depiction of centaurs, gods, and other figures from Greek mythology.

My girlfriend’s favorite segment was Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” with its dancing fairies.  “Fantasia” was actually a favorite movie of hers growing up; she’s seen it several dozen times in her childhood.

There is some bizarre trivia about “Fantasia” from Wikipedia, which has a lengthy entry for the movie: “In the late 1960s, four shots from The Pastoral Symphony were removed that depicted two characters in a racially stereotyped manner. A black centaurette called Sunflower was depicted polishing the hooves of a white centaurette, and a second named Otika appeared briefly during the procession scenes with Bacchus and his followers.”  That’s so nuts.

 

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Throwback Thursday: The Hoppity Hop!

Believe it or not, I can actually remember these toys from when I was little more than a baby in Woodhaven, Queens, circa 1976.  I lived on … 89th Street?  I’m not sure.

My best friend was Kelly Sullivan, who lived a few houses down.  We both played on these.

Bizarrely, I don’t remember seeing these since I was a tot.  But, out of the blue, I saw them on sale at the Vienna, Virginia, CVS, as I and a Mary Washington College almuna were preparing for a Labor Day barbecue at her house.

 

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