These Villains Creep

These villains creep - Deep Ellum, Texas

These villains creep – Deep Ellum, Texas

“The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.”
― Anaïs Nin

In this brave new world, this best of all possible worlds, I take the Internet to be the entire of all existence. I think that a reflection of everything is in the internet, somewhere. Obviously, I will never be able to prove myself wrong – but sometimes I can’t find what I’m looking for.

For example, I photographed this sticker stuck in Deep Ellum. It says, “These Villains Creep – TVC.” But I can’t find what this means.

The closest possibility that I could find is that it is a subversive ad for a local print shop – TVC One. But that doesn’t feel right.

Oh well, thank goodness for small mysteries.

Molten Glass Christmas Tree

One of my favorite events of the Holiday Season is the Cedars Open Studios Tour. The Cedars is a neighborhood of Dallas south of downtown and is an up-and-coming area. It still has some relatively low cost space and a lot of artists use the neighborhood as studio space (we’ll see how long this lasts – gentrification is a bitch).

In November, the studios open up on one evening for the Cedars Open Studios TourFacebook Link. It’s a fun event and a great way to get some unique Christmas Presents. I always do the tour with some friends on a bicycle, but I guess it would be OK to drive a vehicle, park, and walk. Look for it next year.

The final stop is always Bowman Art Glass (a way-cool place). They have a tree-shaped armature out front. After sunset, they do a skit or two, then, in the dark, the workers bring ladles of hot glass out from the ovens inside and pour the molten liquid over the armature. This makes a glass Christmas Tree.

Glass Christmas Tree at Bowman Art Glass, The Cedars, Texas

Glass Christmas Tree at Bowman Art Glass, The Cedars, Texas

There is always some wood and paper in the armature so the hot glass starts fires.

The only problem is that is is almost impossible to take good photos – the darkness and the contrast of the bright hot glass, plus the large crowd gathered around. But it is a blast and fun to watch. Next year… bet there or be square.

Pouring molten glass onto the Christmas Tree

Pouring molten glass onto the Christmas Tree

Cadillac Goddess Hood Ornament

From the Pistons and Paint Car Show in Denton, Texas

From the Pistons and Paint Car Show in Denton, Texas

Hey, little girlie in the blue jeans so tight
Drivin’ alone through the Wisconsin night
You’re my last love baby you’re my last chance
Don’t let ’em take me to the Cadillac Ranch
—-Bruce Springsteen, Cadillac Ranch

Cadillac Rancy

A crude little sketch I did in watercolor pencil at the Cadillac Ranch west of Amarillo.

Old Guys Rule Cadillac Ranch Amarillo, Texas

Old Guys Rule
Cadillac Ranch
Amarillo, Texas

Dallas Art Park, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Dallas Art Park, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Serious Pizza

Cook throwing dough at Serious Pizza, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Cook throwing dough at Serious Pizza, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

A while back I went on a photowalk with some other folks in Deep Ellum. It was sponsored by a national organization and there was a contest. I wasn’t really interested in entering and didn’t think about it – I was there for the fun.

As we walked around I stepped into Serious Pizza. There was a woman from the Photowalk already standing there, looking at the guy spinning pizza dough. I stood shoulder to shoulder to her as she raised her camera and clicked. About a minute later, I took the above shot.

I’m notoriously slow at processing my photographs and the other woman had hers up first. It was amazing how similar our photos came out, even though they were taken a minute apart (I think it was different dough, for example). She entered hers in the contest, and won first place nationally.

Which is cool with me, she did take her photo first and had it posted first. It is a nice shot – especially with the guy’s tattoo.

I love Deep Ellum, always have. I’ve been living in Dallas long enough now to see the area go up and down several times. I did a search on my laptop for the term “Deep Ellum” and found some entries from my old journal from back in the day.

This one is from an entry called “Monkeys in Space.” I wrote it in 2000, sixteen years ago. It refers to an event that happened fifteen years before that – in the mid eighties – thirty years of Deep Ellum.

The mid-eightes in Dallas were a time of alternative music and gritty nightclubs popping up in the nascent Deep Ellum district. Most of my life, I’ve felt out of step with the times, sometimes ahead, sometimes behind. For a little while in the mid-eighties, while I was in my late twenties, I guess I could be considered to have been fashionable. The Deep Ellum nightclubs were starting and I was among the first people to hang out in the old Video Bar, the original Club Clearview, Theater Gallery, and the Prophet Bar.

Like all the clubs, the Prophet Bar was a converted old brick industrial space. It had two rooms, a front bar with live music and a back room with a suspect kitchen. It was known for watered down drinks, hot music, and walls covered with wild surrealistic murals painted on commission by local artists.

One evening we were at the Prophet Bar for some live music but had arrived early and were sitting around the front room with a smattering of folks all sipping drinks and eyeing the fashions and the figures. They had a jukebox and I had a fistfull of quarters.

The selections were populated by the alternative hits of the day, Siouxie and the Banshees, Teardrop Explodes… but among these familiar tunes were a few songs that even I hadn’t heard of. Wild sounding bands with ridiculous song titles. The one I remember was a band called Monkeys in Space with a song on the jukebox that I can’t recall except that it was a sexually explicit title.

I said to my friend, “I’ve never heard of that band before. Look at that. I wonder what kind of music that could be?”

Of course I couldn’t resist. Thinking how cool and hip I was to play a song nobody had heard of I plunked down my coins and pushed the proper numbers and letters on the buttons – then walked back to the table with the whole bar looking at me.

The bastards that ran the club had thought up a pretty good joke. In the slot that they had earmarked for Monkeys in Space they actually put a copy of Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree, by Tony Orlando and Dawn. It’s hard to describe the horror of that song… that opening hook, those lyrics booming out in that place with the black clad clientele and colorful murals.

I curled up like a sprayed bug.

That incident always stuck in my head. Decades later, I was able to use the Tony Orlando and Dawn song for my own nefarious purposes.

But that’s a story for another day.

Over 99 Billion Served

Over 99 Billion Served - but no more.

Over 99 Billion Served – but no more.

There is a joke in Dallas… it goes like this, “Whenever you ask someone for directions, they always start ‘Get on Beltline…’.” And it’s true.

I live a handful of short blocks north of Beltline, so I know that endless loop well. Less than a mile to the West, on Beltline, of course, is was a McDonald’s. I have been in that place exactly once, when we first moved in, before our internet and water was hooked up. I went in there for coffee and wifi.

Now when my kids were little, we went to McDonald’s (and various other fast-food emporiums) all the time. Not for the food, per se, but for the ball pits and climbing tunnels. My kids were connoisseurs of fast-food ball pits. They would sit around at home discussing the comparative merits of all the local McDonald’s vs. Burger King. They would arrive at a decision and off we would go. When driving long distances they would spot a unique climbing structure out the speeding windows and we would have to stop. Candy would walk to another place, any place, and get food – she could not stand McDonald’s… no matter how fun the ball pit was.

But the kids had outgrown all that before we moved here. Shame, because that McDonald’s had a really nice climbing structure in a huge glass enclosure out front. (Google Maps Streetview from before the demolition). At any rate, I had no reason to go there and had only been there that once.

Still, though, I drove or biked past it at least twice a day for years and years and it had blended into the daily background of my life.

Then, one day, coming home from work, it was gone. There was nothing there except a pile of rubble.

Plastic tunnels and ball pit netting, bulldozed and torn asunder.

Plastic tunnels and ball pit netting, bulldozed and torn asunder.

It was a shock. There were the plastic tunnels all bulldozed and torn asunder. It was like finding a body in the yard – like someone you knew slightly had died. Of course, the neighborhood email list went into a frenzy of indignation and fear – nobody knew what had happened.

Of course, this is Dallas (or at least a suburb), and nothing is allowed to rest for long. The rubble was gone in a couple days and already, concrete is being poured. I assume it will be another McDonald’s – probably bigger and better.

But I bet the food will be the same.

There is another Dallas joke. “There are only two seasons in Dallas, Football and Construction.”

Built For Man’s Abscence

“this was an environment built, not for man, but for man’s absence.”
― J.G. Ballard, High-Rise

Wells Fargo Tower in Fort Worth, Texas. Click on image for a higher resolution image in Flickr.

Wells Fargo Tower in Fort Worth, Texas. Click on image for a higher resolution image in Flickr.

I have always been fascinated with the view of skyscrapers, looking up, from the sidewalk beneath. They cease to be buildings and are converted into insane abstract constructions.

Love/Hate – what amazing examples of man’s imagination, ambition, and effort – yet they are also the least human of buildings. From the street they are nothing but glass walls with tiny openings guarded by armed guards. Man is not welcomed into his own creations.

(title paraphrased from High-Rise, by J. G. Ballard. I wrote about it here).

The Creature from Cleveland Depths

“Who’s kidding?”
“You are. Computers simply aren’t alive.”
“What’s alive? A word. I think computers are conscious, at least while they’re operating. They’ve got that inner glow of awareness. They sort of … well … meditate.”
“Gussy, computers haven’t got any circuits for meditating. They’re not programmed for mystical lucubrations. They’ve just got circuits for solving the problems they’re on.”
“Okay, you admit they’ve got problem-solving circuits—like a man has. I say if they’ve got the equipment for being conscious, they’re conscious. What has wings, flies.”
—–Fritz Leiber, The Creature from Cleveland Depths

Artwork for The Creature from Cleveland Depths, Galaxy Magazine, December 1962 Artwork by Wally Woods

Artwork for The Creature from Cleveland Depths, Galaxy Magazine, December 1962
Artwork by Wally Woods

For me, one of the pleasures of being my age is recalling literature, especially short stories, that I read long ago, when I was only a sprout. For the life of me, I can’t remember my bank PIN or my work password on Monday mornings, but short stories I read, only once, more than a half-century ago are epoxy-stuck in my rapidly petrifying cabeza neurons. The plots are there, sometimes a little hazy or changed, as are the characters – but the authors and titles have long dissolved into the mist. That makes it a challenge to find the darn things when the fancy strikes me to revisit the fiction of my youth.

The internet, of course, is a vast and mind-boggling resource for idiotic flights of nostalgia. It is a never-ending maze of rabbit holes and time sinks – even if you can sometimes find what you are looking for.

But you already know all that.

I have written before about a story I read once about giant killer snails. In the years since I wrote that blog entry, a number of folks have emailed me that they had read the same story back in the day, and had been searching for it. I wrote a sequel and am thinking about a sequel to my sequel.

But there was one story that I remembered clearly (though, again, not the author or the title) from long, long ago. It kept coming back to my mind because it had been so prescient. The story, written long, long, before its time, concerned the invention of the Personal Digital Assistant and the smart phone… and, I guess, SIRI. There was this inventor that was having trouble remembering his appointments. So he developed a device, attached to his shoulder that contained a magnetic wire on reels (I remembered the magnetic wire in particular) and as the wire unwound, it would give the wearer a reminder at the appropriate time through a voice in an earpiece.

Things spun out of control rather quickly, however. The company that designed these devices made them more and more sophisticated, adding bigger and better features, and then connecting them together in a sort of internet. But as they became more refined and ingrained into everybody’s daily life the machines became self-aware and began to take over the world. The human race were reduced to slaves to their own machines.

Obviously, this story, as I remembered it, has more than a little applicability to our lives today. I thought about the tale the other evening as I tried to maneuver my bicycle through the park next to my house (I have to go through the park to reach the trails that lead to the West – to my work and to the DART train lines). It was a Saturday evening and all the parking lots associated with the park and the associated elementary school were full – cars were filing up along our street and the other neighborhood feeder roads.

The trails themselves were packed with throngs of people wandering in seemingly random routes. They were all oblivious to the world around them, walking zombie-like, staring into their phones. I had to dismount and walk my bike through the park. It was simply too dangerous to ride as the human automatons would cross the path at unpredictable intervals and stride into my path without warning. I don’t understand how they managed to avoid hitting each other.

They were, of course all playing Pokemon Go. There must be some valuable virtual critters in the park next to my house, because at peak times there might be a thousand folks there (though it is already dying down, of course). I don’t want to sound critical – I love that these people are getting out and using the park. But I do wish they would look where they are going… at least a little.

And the sight of all these people lost in their virtual world couldn’t help but remind me of this ancient story… where the same thing happened, more or less, and then went horribly wrong.

So back to the internet, where I ran search after search (PDA, computer, shoulder, wire recorder, short story, science fiction, on and on) to no avail. I could not find any reference to the story.

Then, when I wasn’t thinking about it, a word popped into my head. The word was, “Tickler.” That was what they called the machines, the reminder units with the wire recorder, “ticklers.” It is amazing that that word was still hiding back there in the cobwebs of my head, and that it finaly came back out.

Adding “tickler” to my searches brought immediate success. The story was written by Fritz Leiber in 1962, and was called “The Creature from Cleveland Depths.” Not only did I find out the author and title, but I found that they had let the copyright expire, and the story (actually more of a novela) was available, free of charge, on Gutenberg.org.

So I downloaded the Mobi version and read it again on my Kindle. I had remembered the main plot points pretty well. I had forgotten the semi-humorous style and some of the sociological aspects (probably over my head) but the rest was spot-on.

Artwork for The Creature from Cleveland Depths, Galaxy Magazine, December 1962 Artwork by Wally Woods

Artwork for The Creature from Cleveland Depths, Galaxy Magazine, December 1962
Artwork by Wally Woods

Artwork for The Creature from Cleveland Depths, Galaxy Magazine, December 1962 Artwork by Wally Woods

Artwork for The Creature from Cleveland Depths, Galaxy Magazine, December 1962
Artwork by Wally Woods

I looked at the publication history and found the original version in the December, 1962 Galaxy Magazine (with cool illustrations from Wally Wood). I was only five in 1962 – which is a bit young – so I must have read it years later. It was in a 1966 Fritz Leiber collection called “The Night of the Wolf” and that cover looks familiar to me… that must be where I read it.

So, I’m sure you are asking… How did the hero inventor defeat the evil “tickler” that had taken over society and the world? You really want to know? You should, it’s a crackerjack ending.

I’m afraid I’m not going to tell. You’ll have to download the ebook, or read it here, or, listen to it here.

It is a bit dated, but extremely up to date too. Read it, you’ll like it. It’s amazing that the story, which foreshadows so much of today’s technology was written in 1962. This is what computers looked like in 1962.

Artwork for The Creature from Cleveland Depths, Galaxy Magazine, December 1962 Artwork by Wally Woods

Artwork for The Creature from Cleveland Depths, Galaxy Magazine, December 1962
Artwork by Wally Woods