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Thursday, August 23, 2018

To Wrestlemania and Back: A New Orleans Journey-Part 2

April 9, 2018

Rough morning. Double vodka sodas may be less nourishing than previously imagined. Unsure if I should have eaten less fried chicken last night, or more. Only cure is more food. Fortunately, we have a pretty exciting lunch reservation today at Antoine's.
Antoine's is one of the truly iconic New Orleans restaurants. It's been run by the same family since 1840, and the bio on the menu boasts of introducing the world to a number of iconic Creole dishes. The restaurant has no less than fifteen dining rooms, and has served celebrities and dignitaries for generations. That's cool and all, but frankly, I'm here for absurdly cheap cocktails and a three course meal. I am not disappointed, greeted by an interior dimly lit to perfection and an affable server more than happy to keep the twenty-five cent lemon drops flowing. I'm feeling better already.
I bypass most of the menu and head straight for the lunch special. For $20.18, you get an appetizer, entree and dessert, which is quite the steal. I end up going for the charbroiled oysters with garlic, herbs, butter, olive oil and Romano cheese on them, followed by the shrimp, crawfish étouffée, and finally a pecan bread pudding. And I couldn't be happier with my choices. The grits are creamy, the seafood is plump and flavorful, lemon drops are only twenty-five cents if you happened to gloss over that the first time, and I somehow find room for the decadent bread pudding. But the oysters...oh my, the oysters. I could probably eat a truckload of those things, and I just sit there blabbing on after every bite about how incredibly delicious they are. I heretofore resolve to order similar oysters anywhere we see them on a menu for the rest of the trip. I am too distracted by eating my food to take many photos of it, though I do manage to capture one part of the experience in between gorgings, Sheila's exceptional grilled Louisiana drum entree.

The rest of the day is mainly exploration, consisting of soaking in the city during daylight hours with relative lucidity. We happen upon a brewery, and are able to sample some local beers in the warm sunshine. I suddenly realize that telling this story with a condensed timeline makes it seem like I have a problem.
We choose to eat dinner at Royal House, a nearby restaurant that offers some very satisfying seafood options. Though dinner is predictably tasty (spoiler: everything in New Orleans is. Everything), what stands out in my mind is the odd scenario that accompanies our seating. First we are seated downstairs in a corner, but Sheila and I inquire about a table on the second floor instead. Our host accommodates this, bringing us upstairs and asking if we want to sit inside or outside. We decide to sit outside and enjoy the view, and as the host leads Sheila out there I hit the restroom. When I return to the dining room, I am greeted by the sight of our host yelling at the man who would be our server, telling him in no uncertain terms to mind his own business and focus on his own job. The exact reason for this is a bit murky; Sheila had requested to move back inside after seeing how wobbly the table outside was, and perhaps the second relocation triggers some deeply repressed memories within our host's psyche, causing him to lash out in pain and confusion. Or perhaps he is just unprofessional.  In any case, our server nervously apologizes, and we enjoy our meal, but the awkwardness of this sudden explosion of frustration casts a bit of a pall over it.
No matter. We must hustle back to the hotel room to lay around and watch WWE Monday Night RAW. After all, we just spent the previous day at wouldn't make much sense for us to ignore the immediate televised aftermath.

April 10, 2018

Having slept for the purposes of both rest and killing time until the next meal, I head to the next destination: Ruby Slipper, a popular breakfast joint promising an abundance of tempting Benedictions, omelets and so forth. At this meal I make not one, but two surprising decisions:
1. I stick with coffee, eschewing alcoholic beverages. I try to keep this on the down-low to avoid being run out of town.
2. I notice a meal option consisting of three different Benedicts, yet end up ordering the more sensible two Benedict option. I try to keep this on the down-low to avoid harming my reputation as a shameless glutton.

Both decisions pay off, as my cochon and shrimp Benedicts both hit the spot and fill me up just enough to satisfy me without causing me to adjust my belt or gait. Just as well, as our next destination is the New Orleans Zoo, to spend some time with Mother Nature's sister, Auntie Augmented Captivity. It's quite lovely, and we see animals ranging from the regal jaguar...

to adorable alpacas...


(Ed. Note-Months after our trip, the jaguar escaped its pen and did some extremely jaguar things, including slaughtering several of those adorable alpacas. I don’t blame the jaguar, but I do find it strangely haunting to think about.)

By the time we return to the hotel, my heart rate has dropped to its normal slow, heavy thud, and a new quandary is upon us: what shall we have for dinner? Fortunately, the answer seems simple. We're in an oyster kind of mood. And as luck would have it, we happen to be within walking distance of a restaurant that has the word "oyster" in the name. Kismet!
ACME Oyster House delivers what we want. And what we want, if you've already forgotten the previous paragraph, is oysters. Raw oysters, oyster shooters, some more of those charbroiled oysters with garlic and cheese and might think we would be oystered out by now, but ACME's oysterosity has seduced us and like Miley Cyrus, we both can't and won't stop.

...wait, that's seriously the reference I'm going with? I think it might be time for bed.

April 11, 2018

It's a big day for us. We have several activities planned, which means some semblance of a schedule must be maintained. Ugh. Responsibility is usually something best avoided on vacation. On the other hand: swamp tour! We board a tour bus outside the hotel for a journey beyond the urban areas that have constituted the environs of our trip thus far.

The specter of Hurricane Katrina reemerges on the bus tour, as we take a somber look at some structures and even entire neighborhoods that were devastated during the disaster and have never quite recovered. The city is so lively and vibrant that one has a hard time picturing the widespread devastation it suffered mere years ago. The ramshackle debris our tour guide points out serves as a reminder that the scars the tragedy left behind still linger.

We officially exit New Orleans proper for our swamp tour, visiting a completely new environment. Prior to this, my experience with swamps has been limited to the following:

It’s a lovely day out on the bayou, with mild weather, a gently flowing current and plenty of alligators about. We learn all sorts of things about the spectacle of alligator mating, as well as their apparent fondness for hot dogs. We see half-sunken wreckage, displaced after the infamous hurricane. We hold a small turtle.

At one point we find ourselves surrounded by wild pigs, grunting, uncouth brutes with no compunctions against putting their slimy hooves on the boat railing and demanding sustenance. Our guide mentions that the animals are an invasive species that have multiplied so quickly that, even being heavily hunted, the species is out of control. The swamp has effectively become a festering breeding ground for swine run amok. JUST LIKE WASHINGTON D.C., AMIRITE? Between the groves of trees surrounding us, the water's whispered burbling and the squeals of wild pigs, you'd be forgiven for having Deliverance flashbacks.

Famished after our swamp sojourn, I decide to sample a local snack and picked up a couple bags of Chee-Wees in the gift shop. Chee-Wees are produced in Louisiana and are ostensibly a healthier, baked version of Chee-tos, which of course means they are substantially less tasty than the original. Still good, though. My favorite thing about them is the mascot on the package, who resembles the dollar store toy aisle version of Chuck E. Cheese.

After nightfall, we embark upon the Haunted New Orleans pub crawl, confident that it shall provide an abundance of opportunities for spirit-related puns. I met our guide, Randy, a few years ago at my sister’s wedding, and remember him as a funny, charismatic gentlemen. My memories prove accurate as he gives us a spirited tour of local haunts, accompanied by some refreshing beverages. There’s nothing quite like quaffing boysenberry craft cocktail while listening to a story about a prostitute committing suicide. Perhaps my favorite part of the tour is our visit to The Dungeon, a location where photography is banned and the décor is reminiscent of the Haunted Castle at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The bartendress insults my masculinity for sipping a shot and the verbal abuse just feels right. Our brief voyage into the spirit realm concludes at an absinthe bar, with wormwood-infused dreams to follow.

April 12, 2018

[Notes illegible, save for the following]

Definitely should have eaten dinner last night.

April 13, 2018 

Our last full day begins with a trip to Cafe Du Monde for their famous beignets. On the way there, I am hustled out of some money by a shoe-shining huckster who goes from friendly to somewhat menacing when I balk at his proposed price. Full disclosure: I at first go along with the hustle knowing what I am getting into and embracing what I feel will be some quaint down-home swindling, but I still experience sticker shock. At least Sheila snaps a photo to forever preserve my disdain at succumbing to a grifter.

Cafe Du Monde is a very odd place. The massive line outside is apparently almost entirely for suckers, as it wraps around the building to culminate in a to-go window, whereas you can just walk in and seat yourself without a wait as long as a table is available. No one seems to know this outside of locals and people who read Yelp ahead of time, which is fine by me. After overpaying to have diluted Palmolive sprayed on my sneakers, I desperately need to feel some form of smug intellectual superiority, and this fits the bill.
Our server whizzes by our table with only the slightest of pauses to take our drink order, then returns with both beverages and beignets, despite our not even having a chance to order the latter yet. Either she's telepathic, in which case she seems to be setting her sights a bit low, or everyone always orders the same thing. Ultimately, the point is moot, as the coffee and beignets are excellent. We finish up, hopped up on caffeine and powdered sugar, and head over to Jackson Park for an amble before shifting our focus to a matter of great import: lunch.
Our lunch plans for the day involve meeting up with Randy, our haunted pub crawl guide. We call a Lyft to take us to the designated restaurant.
“Where are you two from?” the driver asks Sheila and me.
“California. San Jose, specifically,” I reply.
“Oh yeah? What brings you out here? The French Quarter festival?”
“No, actually, we came out to see WrestleMania.”
WrestleMania?” queries the driver. “And you’re still here?”
We are shortly thereafter introduced to boiled crawfish, one of the final boxes we need to tick off on our figurative NOLA meal to-do list. The crustaceous mound we receive looks like too much food at first glance, but I am more than happy to devour each spicy ersatz lobster baby nugget until only a pile of decimated shell fragments remains. My fingernails shall retain a unique scent and appearance for hours to come, despite numerous hand-washings.
We decide to walk off our meal in the nearby Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden outside the New Orleans Museum of Art. This lovely and serene area is home to numerous fascinating pieces of art, including this bust of Rodin that looks like the cover to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark...

...and my most heinous nightmare in tangible form: a giant metal spider.

We stroll around, taking in our surroundings as the end of our trip looms. Some particularly feisty geese attack us when we inadvertently violate their personal space. Ominous gray clouds move in, hastening evening’s descent, though fortunately we detect not a drop of rain.  As we head back to the hotel, our new Lyft driver asks us what we’re in town for.
“We came out to see WrestleMania!”
“And you’re still here?”
Our final night on the town consists of one last pass around the French Quarter. We finally have some gumbo (the last must-try food on our list), which is predictably fantastic. At a dive bar I try out some Malört, a liquor I have heard about at length courtesy of the online Old School Magic: The Gathering community but never actually seen until today. When the bartender asks me, "Are you sure you want to drink that?" after I place my order, a cold chill runs down my spine. And with good reason. Basically, Malört tastes like someone managed to distill all the bitterness that has fermented in my soul over the span of thirty-six years of endless disappointment into a single shot glass worth of beverage. All things considered, I've tasted worse. 
Souvenirs are purchased, copious amounts of Abita are imbibed, one last effort is made to sear the general vibe of my surroundings into my long-term memory. Lovely, ornate architecture and spectral flickering lamps are offset by shrill screams of frivolity and the occasional whiff of vomit. Honestly, in many ways, Disneyland pretty much nailed it.
Ultimately, the need to pack forces us to flee the Quarter’s temptations, but a compromise is made. There will be one more go-‘round with Willie’s, to end things the way they started: with ludicrously potent daiquiris and fried chicken. The meal of kings and colonels, Sanders and otherwise. Still, there’s no time to lollygag, so we get everything to go and hustle back to the hotel.
A boisterous fellow accompanying us in the elevator up to our room detects the fragrance of fried poultry and rhapsodizes about his favorite local options.
“I used to live out here,” he says. “Now every time I come back in town, the first thing I do is get some fried chicken.”
“Oh yeah?” I say. “Where do you go to get it? Willie’s?”
“Nah man,” he says, shaking his head, “Willie’s used to be the shit, but they kinda fell off. Now it’s all about Brother’s! You gotta get your fried chicken from Brother’s!” At this point, he notices the logo on our grease-spotted paper sacks and unconvincingly appends his previous statement. “Oh, uh, but Willie’s is cool, though. I mean, you know, they’re coming back, lately.”

April 14, 2018

We depart as we arrived, amidst the patter of warm, heavy rain. Soon after picking up some last minute pralines and a fried shrimp po’-boy at the airport, we are aloft. With the heavy cloud cover, New Orleans is already hidden from view, and as the Big Easy’s Bayou Magic fades, a sobering fact dawns on me: I’m probably going to be eating nothing but salads for the foreseeable future.

 If you enjoy Joey Marsilio's travel writing, buying one or more copies of his novel Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior will help finance his future trips/writing material. If not, well...he's about to get started on his Halloween stuff for the year.

Monday, May 14, 2018

To Wrestlemania and Back: A New Orleans Journey-Part 1

The idea came, as grand ones often do, after the drinks began to take hold. My girlfriend and I were drinking what could fairly be described as an excessive amount of alcohol for a Monday night, while watching the extremely appropriately-titled WWE Monday Night Raw. We had been discussing the possibility of going on vacation soon, when serendipitously enough, a commercial advertising the upcoming WrestleMania event howled across our television screen. Held in New Orleans, a city we both had long desired to visit, could this event be the unlikely inspiration for our next adventure?
Long story short, yes. The plan was simple: we would spend a week in the Big Easy, starting with WrestleMania and moving on to sight-seeing, exploring, drinking, eating, eating and eating over the course of the following days. And so, mere weeks later, we departed a gloomy, drizzly San Francisco and headed down south.
Our flight was largely uneventful, save for the child behind us who found great amusement in repeatedly saying "Ahhhh! The plane's gonna crash! We're all gonna die!" On the other hand, I experienced joy in its truest form when the flight attendant informed me that my canned Moscow Mule would be complimentary. A more encouraging omen I cannot imagine.
The plane landed in Louisiana amidst much the same weather we left in. If one were judging purely on atmospheric conditions, they could be forgiven for thinking we had never left our home state. But the sudden abundance of pralines and hot sauce at every airport kiosk made our arrival in Cajun Country undeniable. The plethora of massive WWE advertisements all over the walls and columns served as an electrifying reminder that we were less than twenty-four hours away from a sports entertainment spectacle for the ages! Or so we hoped. In any case, first thing was first: we needed to find our hotel.
I was every bit the gawking yokel during the cab ride into the city, pointing out pipes and buildings like they were ruins of a Martian civilization. "Look, it's a Michael's!" I said at one point. "Just like where we live!"

We arrived at our hotel during a break in the rain, and the receptionist immediately surmised that we were in town for WrestleMania (a dubious honor, perhaps) and scoffing at my half-joking desire to take a nap. "This is the Vegas of the South!" she said. "Get outta here with a nap." And fittingly enough, we soon did have to get outta there, because we were in the wrong hotel. We had foolishly mistaken the Courtyard Marriott Near the French Quarter for the Courtyard Marriott French Quarter, and the price we paid was a few blocks' walk that exposed the wheels on our suitcases to things no wheels should experience. Still, our detour gave us a chance to get a sense of our new surroundings, see a number of obvious fellow WWE fans walking the streets, and FINALLY catch a goddamn Corsola in Pokemon Go.
Our actual hotel was a comfortable retreat with the odd feature of its only window looking out into the hotel itself rather than outside. Though this was admittedly jarring initially--I didn't expect to see a twenty-something man drinking Mountain Dew outside the window when I first drew back the curtain--it was a bug that became a feature by offering perhaps the truest blackout curtains I've ever seen. Time became malleable as, so long as Sheila and I were physically within that room, we were granted the ability to pretend it was any time of day or night we desired to suit our circumstances. This would come in handy numerous times during our vacation. In any case, for the time being, we closed the curtains and shook off our travel weariness with a few Red Bull and vodkas. This is probably where I should note that this is a recounting of a personal experience, not a how-to guide.

Famished and let loose in one of America's culinary epicenters, we were nearly overwhelmed by a myriad of choices for our first official New Orleans meal. So as we headed out into the suddenly quite vigorous (but warm) rain, we opted for convenience and headed into a nearby restaurant that seemed quite popular: Willie's, a fried chicken joint with a few other locations in town. The heavenly aroma of crisp chicken skin and the whirring churning of daiquiri machines were clear indicators that we had made the correct decision. Now it was merely a matter of deciphering the somewhat unintuitive menu. Fortunately, I had essentially decided on fried chicken and jambalaya before walking in, and there was a suitable combo meal on the board to accommodate my desires. But what should we get to drink? Each individual 7-11-Slurpeeeqsue drink machine had a piece of paper taped to it with the name of the drink and some of the components therein. Think Everclear and Bacardi 151 in the same drink, a.k.a. the feverish nightmare of a college freshman. We were intrigued.
"Excuse me," Sheila said to the girl at the cash register, "what's in that orange drink over there? The 190."
"It's orange."
"OK, but...what's in it?" she persisted. "What kind of drink is it?"
Apparently it was the Area 51 of drinks, a closely guarded secret with details provided only on a strictly need-to-know basis. "Um, alright," said Sheila. "I'll get that one."
I went with the Willie's punch, despite the seemingly toxic nature of the labeled liquor blend within. You can seldom go wrong ordering an item with the same name as the establishment.

In any case, despite the enigmatic nature of the ordering process, our dining experience was excellent. The food was exceedingly moist and flavorful, with the jambalaya an instant favorite between us and the drinks as potent and tasty as they were mysterious. As we dined, we noted the plethora of wresting shirts adorning the chests of our fellow diners, feeling at one with our fellow travelers. This bond was cemented when the Jay-Z/Linkin Park mashup masterpiece "Numb/Encore" played on the restaurant sound system, and I found myself singing along to it with the table next to us, a group of grappling connoisseurs headed to the Ring of Honor show that night. Truly, we were all travelers on a strange, strange journey, and one last time, we all needed to roar.
After that, the weather died down again and we decided to use the evening to explore the French Quarter. Our movements were swift and somewhat blurry, and details were unimportant. We would ascertain some markers on our wanderings that would provide bearings for the rest of our vacation, like a hot dog cart that looked good but which we never patronized, a Walgreen's that would become our source of gallons of life-saving Ozarka water in the days ahead, and a statue of Jesus that cast an imposing shadow.

The final bar we visited that evening, purely by chance, was the historic Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, a structure that has existed since the 1700s and is one of the oldest bars in America.

A truly lovely and striking venue, it felt like the original concept that the Pirates of the Caribbean ride was based on. I made a toast to buccaneers past with the first of many (many) bottles of Abita Amber we would consume during our trip. It was damn near magical. But then, we were seized with an inevitable impulse that would draw our night to a close. In short, we were hungry.
We ventured toward our (actual) hotel room, fueled by the twin realizations that we were due for additional sustenance and that we needed to not feel like absolute death in order to fully enjoy the next day's WrestleMania festivities. So we preemptively checked off one of the boxes on our figurative tour checklist: visiting a Popeye's in New Orleans. Based on an article we had read in anticipation of our trip, we were operating on the information that while visiting a fast food chain restaurant touting Louisiana cuisine in its home state would seem on the surface to be heresy, it was actually an example of a franchise elevating its food within its home state. As fans of Popeye's, we had to test this theory, and it ended up being true and then some. It was not only elevated, it was just...different.
Any Popeye's I've ever been to in the Bay Area has a standard fast food restaurant setup: you order at the counter, and when your food is ready, they bring it out of the kitchen and serve it to you at that same counter. This Popeye's ran on a different system. You ordered at one counter, paid for your food at a second counter, and then went to a third counter for condiments and food bagging. It was a lot for us to process, particularly in our somewhat foggy state of mind, but at the very least it seemed a clever way to provide more employment opportunities in the fried chicken industry.
We ate our Popeye's in our hotel room, on top of a towel we spread out on the bed. It was every bit as delicious as we could have hoped, and was sure to prove a valuable ally in the anti-hangover wars ahead. Sleep came swiftly soon after.

We awoke with no clue as to what time it could be, feeling surprisingly less than terrible. Some combination of poultry grease, Texan bottled water and excitement for the event to come fortified us for the day ahead. Still, we needed some breakfast, and so decided to try out the restaurant across the street from our hotel,  Serio's Po-Boys. As it happens, we would end up eating here multiple times during the trip, yet neither Sheila nor I ever actually purchase one of the sandwiches for which the establishment is named. The blame for this falls squarely at the feet of the most unexpected foodstuff we encountered during the course of our vacation: the muffuletta.
The muffuletta is a sandwich as delicious as it is difficult to spell. A combination of soft ciabatta bread, Italian meats, Swiss and provolone cheeses and a truly impressive olive salad, this particular version of the muffuletta apparently was judged to be superior than that of esteemed celebrity chef Bobby Flay. I can certainly see was a remarkable dish: tasty, tangy, meaty, huge (I don't believe I've ever seen another sandwich you can purchase by the quarter, half or whole) and unique. Yelp turns up only one restaurant around San Jose that serves these, but after my experience at Serio's, I'm definitely motivated to go try it and see how they measure up.
Our bellies full, the time had come for final Wrestlemania preparations. Our remaining Red Bull supply served us well as we shook off the lingering effects of the previous night's frivolity and, with the NXT TakeOver special that had taken place just hours before playing on the iPad, we donned our Shinsuke Nakamura shirts and prettied ourselves up. The Superdome awaited.

Contrary to popular belief, the first match of Wrestlemania was a battle between Sheila and stadium security over her clutch allegedly being a quarter of an inch larger than stadium regulations allowed. Sheila insisted that she had looked up said regulations in advance and measured the bag with a ruler to ensure compliance, but the lady at the gate was having none of it. What she did have was a stick she was using to measure bags. It had no units of measurement on it, or really any markings at all, but she assured us that it was an accurate gauge of clutch size, and said gauge showed that we were in violation. Sheila vehemently disagreed, and given the length of the line and the sheer amount of time we had already waited in order to gain access to the building, the proposed solution of leaving the line and buying a new bag at the team store was not exactly ideal. The people in line behind us were less than sympathetic for our cause, grumbling that we should just leave the line, but after some increasingly strained back-and-forth, the gate attendant grabbed her supervisor, who quickly cleared up the situation and had Sheila empty the clutch and put it in her pocket as a condition for entry. There was no championship belt awarded for our victory, but the sweet taste of triumph was reward enough. Plus, you know, we didn't have to wait in line again.
For as long an event as it was (as I recall, it clocked in at somewhere around seventy-three hours, give or take), I don't have a ton to say about WrestleMania. Part of this can be attributed to our seats being situated right by the liquor vendors, who were more than happy to suggest we make our every vodka/soda order a double (for efficiency's sake, of course). This added immeasurably to our enjoyment of the event while detracting immeasurably from my ability to recount it in detail, but frankly there are a million write-ups of the show online, and I'm writing this a month after the event, so I'd hardly have the most timely analysis anyway.
What I would like to note, though, is the feeling of being at WrestleMania. When we walked in, we were greeted with a view of the gorgeous set.

Now, unless you buy some absurdly expensive tickets, any live viewing of Wrestlemania will likely include you squinting at the ant-like size of the in-ring performers from your vantage point before finally giving up and just watching things unfold on one of the big stadium screens. In a sense, you're probably missing out on some things by being there. If you were watching the show at home instead, you'd likely have a clearer picture of the action and the benefit of running commentary (annoying though the commentators can be at times) to give context to the action.
But what this ignores is the feeling of being at WrestleMania. You're in a giant Stadium, watching the Super Bowl of professional wrestling with excited fans from all over the world. Everyone mutually rejoices when Daniel Bryan comes back from retirement to wrestle as though he was never concussed into a forced exit from the ring for years. You join the chorus of applause when Ronda Rousey proves herself to be quite capable and formidable in her in-ring debut, and sort of murmur when massively popular (and just plain massive) Braun Strowman selects a random child from the crowd to be his tag team partner in a championship match. Yes, the second half of the show was largely lacking in comparison to the first, ending with a main event that no one was excited about due largely to the perceived predictability of its outcome and the lukewarm enthusiasm for the characters involved.
Even when the finish of the match went contrary to nearly everyone's expectations, the gasps of surprise were somewhat mitigated by the sheer exhaustion of the crowd. But in a way, individual match results are nearly beside the point. WrestleMania is an entity far bigger than than any individual match, or even any one year's card. It is a spectacle drawing on decades of history, fueled by the enthusiasm of fans from every corner of the globe who just want to spend some money to see people beat each other up in elaborate and dramatic ways. And until Cirque Du Soleil starts allowing powerbombs, there truly is nothing else like it. If you ever get the chance to experience a WrestleMania for yourself, I highly recommend it.
Oh, and you'll want to get seats close to the booze and the bathroom. Trust me on that.
Back at the hotel that night, we were thoroughly drained from a full day of watching other people being athletic, and grappled with the idea that we really needed to eat something approximating dinner before we went to bed. As we stood at the elevator, waiting to go down to street level in search of grub, a child and his father passed by, on the way to their room. As they did, the boy turned to Sheila and me, gestured toward the paper bag his father held and declared in a surprisingly intense monotone, "We got Willie's." Then the pair departed. Laughing on the way down about the child's Village of the Damned-esque personality, we nonetheless drew inspiration from his unprompted statement and, well, we got Willie's. For the second straight night, flakes of deep-fried chicken skin would nestle among the fibers of a bath towel draped over the foot of a hotel bed. As is only right and proper.

Joey Marsilio would like to remind you that by purchasing his novel, Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior, you are not only getting yourself a great book to read, but also adding to his "traveling to places and then posting inane musings about it online" fund.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Thanksgiving 1996

     I awaken with a simple desire: to pick up where I left off in Final Fantasy III. I am finally getting around to playing the game, two years after its initial release, in the fallow period before I get my Nintendo 64 for Christmas. I am borrowing my friend's copy, as well as a gargantuan strategy guide he has downloaded from the primordial internet that is approximately the size of the FBI's file on the John F. Kennedy assassination. These few late autumn days off from school give me the precious time I need to take on this adventure that some say lasts upwards of a hundred hours. I have spent the last several wandering back and forth through a small patch of forest fighting dinosaurs.
     I'm still adjusting to my environment. Just a few months ago, my family moved on up from our mobile home of ten years to a two-story townhouse on the other side of the city. Though I'm still rather annoyed that we never went back to retrieve the rest of my belongings as promised (R.I.P. Teddy Ruxpin and Grubby), we did snag the important stuff, and I no longer have to remain on the same floor as my parents. A fair trade, I suppose.
     From downstairs, the orchestral refrain of the Fox Sports anthem announces the commencement of the several hours of jabbering that precedes the holiday football games. It is accompanied by other traditional Thanksgiving noises: the clink of ice in a glass, the fizzy gurgle as Captain Morgan and Coca-Cola join it within the vessel, the murmured obscenities from the kitchen that will crescendo into a roar by the afternoon. I turn up the volume on my bulky black tube television, neon green dots on the screen expanding into bars as the score of FFIII swells. I make sure to keep it within reason; my mother hates video game music, and I'd like to avoid unnecessary confrontation today.
     The morning passes as planned, with a minimum of contact with my family (it's a rookie mistake not to pace oneself in terms of exposure on the holidays). The Chiefs and Lions game is well underway when the hunger pangs begin a'pangin'. The roasting turkey's succulent aroma has begun wafting into my quarters, and I can resist its siren smell no longer. Reluctantly, I tear my admittedly weary eyes away from the television to head to the kitchen. It's time to indulge in the traditional Thanksgiving snacks.
     I don't know when or how it started, but the selection of pre-dinner Thanksgiving treats in the Marsilio household has long been set in stone. As I approach the kitchen table, I see the goofy serving dish we've been using for years, a plastic blue flower with each petal a separate section containing a different food item. I smile, knowing the culinary joys enplated therein. The menu, as it were, consists of the following:

-Deviled eggs. These hard-boiled, silky smooth delights, their creamy yolks accentuated by a hint of smoky paprika, are ironically simply heavenly.
-Celery sticks, with their green ravine filled to the brim with Kraft Bacon & Cheddar spread. The celery is merely a vessel, as is often celery's lot in life, to showcase the incomparable spread. Were I only to know that it would be discontinued years later, replaced by inferior spreads like the Handi-Snacks-esque Pub Cheese, I would relish the moment and consume even more. On the plus side, the lack of this future sight is likely sparing me some future gastrointestinal distress.
-Black olives. Just black olives, straight from the can, onto the dish, and into my mouth.
-Two items in separate sections meant to be enjoyed together: Saltine crackers and smoked baby clams that had been packed with cottonseed oil in a tin. The technique here is to pile as many clams on a Saltine as possible, add a dash of Tabasco sauce on top, and savor the flavor of Poseidon's own barbecue. The only thing greater than the taste is the degree of difficulty involved in not dripping a viscous oil/Tabasco mixture on the other foods at the table. In the years to come, as my sister would embrace veganism as a lifestyle, my father would taunt her by eating these slowly in front of her, while gleefully inquiring how upset she was that he was consuming "smoked babies" in front of her. This bit would be about as well-received as one would expect.
-Beside the bottle of Tabasco, a separate bowl contains a heaping selection of nuts, including filberts, almonds and Brazil nuts, which my relatives refer to by a name containing a horrific racial slur. I always enjoy them, but having to hand-crack each one grows tiresome, and after a while I just go back for more deviled eggs and clams.

     Having been provided adequate sustenance by the White Trash Classics tasting menu, I return to my room to sit on my ass and continue my epic virtual journey. Yet within minutes, the turkey's tantalizing fragrance bamboozles me into thinking that I'm famished. I shake off the poultry hypnosis and try to focus on my game. There are still more dinosaurs to kill, and one of them surely must have the item my adventurers have been fruitlessly hunting for.
     A sudden commotion downstairs indicates that my father either burned himself, cut himself, or that the team that won the football game didn't cover the spread. I don't let it distract me.
     As evening creeps closer, the clatter of pots and pans rises above the cloud of boozy profanity and fragrant meat bouquet emanating from downstairs. The finishing touches are being put on dinner, and I can hardly wait to gorge myself upon the feast that is to come. I turn off the television, rub my dry, tired eyes, and head into the maelstrom below.
     The golden roasted turkey carcass greets me with an almost certainly imagined smile as I descend the staircase. My father is removing the last bits of stuffing from inside the bird with a large wooden spoon and plopping them into some sort of amber dishware. He complains that it is likely undercooked and that we're welcome to eat it if we want, but we may die of salmonella. I'm not terribly concerned; I've been conditioned by now to expect an unending stream of self-deprecations from the architect of this dinner, each in search of a refutation and effusive praise. I will prudently ration those out through the course of the meal.
     A din of dishes hitting dishes, of silverware tinkling against other utensils, of paper towels getting ripped and tumblers getting accidentally knocked over all falls away when I lay my eyes upon what my mother is removing from the refrigerator. A giant but unassuming Tupperware bowl, schoolbus yellow and covered in barely-clinging plastic wrap, joins the assembling feast. Within is the greatest treasure of Thanksgiving, a decadent jewel that smells of the sea and tastes of enchanted kingdoms. The crab salad.
     To the layman, the crab salad looks like a milky, briny slop. But one bite is enough to convince the disbeliever of its deceptive charms. A slaw containing iceberg lettuce, shredded crab and enough mayo to choke a horse, it is the holy grail of my Thanksgiving meal. Rest assured, I partake of the turkey and all the other assorted goodies, but the crab salad is the alpha and the omega of the holiday, the dish that I look forward to the most and that, when all is said and done, I feel like I cannot eat again until a year has passed. Some may think it best eaten on crackers or toast, but I just eat it with a fork. By the time Thanksgiving dinner has concluded, I have eaten three bowls. A simple tally shows my Cool Hand Luke-level egg consumption to be worrisome.
     The family serves ourselves at the counter, plucking selections from the platter of carved turkey, the pot of mashed potatoes, the warm, buttery biscuits, the cranberry sauce that still has hints of embedded lines from the can if you know just where to look. My mother, father, sister and I all sit down at the table, a cramped glass disk atop a white wicker base, and offer a half-assed prayer. Then my father points out that there are two gravy options, one made traditionally from the turkey drippings, and one from a seasoning packet. Despite my father's assertions that his hand-made gravy is "inedible," I both eat and enjoy it, making sure to note that he did a good job and that it is indeed tastier than the powder-based option. I am again informed that I should probably not eat the stuffing, but I have a perhaps naive amount of trust in the old man's drunken cooking skills. My faith is rewarded with a delicious, moist dish and a living streak that continues for decades to come.
     For the grand finale, I cut myself an excessively large slice of pumpkin pie. It's still chilled from the fridge, just how I like it, and I pass on the option to spray real aerosol whipped cream on top in favor of shoveling several dollops of Cool Whip atop its custardy crown. With each bite, I am positive that I absolutely cannot possibly take another. And then I take one more.
     When the feast is finished and the dirty dishes left lurking in the sink, awaiting the next morning's laborious cleaning, I crawl upstairs, lying in bed as the meal slowly begins to break down. Home Alone is on TV, so I shift to lie on my side and watch it, half-focused in the onset of food coma and lamenting that the line "I'll rip off your cojones and boil them in motor oil" is sanitized for broadcast to an awkwardly dubbed "I'll boil ya in motor oil!" My Thanksgiving meal is consumed, and though there will be turkey sandwiches and soup cobbled together from leftovers in the days to follow, the Christmas season is now upon me. I drift into blissful, bloated reverie as I rest up for the day ahead. After all, there is still so much adventuring to do.

Speaking of leftovers, please enjoy some copied, pasted and minimally altered text from a previous Thanksgiving blog! I hope you and yours have a happy Thanksgiving and find some time to just relax and enjoy the season. If you're bored, you can always read my other seasonally-appropriate articles about a book of Thanksgiving poems illustrated by the guy that did Scary Stories to Tell in the Darka book of Thanksgiving stories from the early 20th century and Trader Joe's turkey lunchmeat. And read my book, Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior! It's a cornucopia of shameless plugs!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Carve-O-Lantern 3: The Return of the Kits

When I was walking down the street today, I saw this:

Now this could mean one of two things: either someone is preparing to burn Tobey Maguire in effigy for that dance scene in Spider-Man 3 (which I liked, suck it, haters), or it's Halloween season again! This is perfect, because it gives me an excuse to drone on at length about one of my favorite things: pumpkin carving! Avid readers of my blog may recall my earlier installment about pumpkin carving pioneers Carve-O-Lantern, as well as the sequel post about their product line expansion. Well, there's still plenty of meat on this bone, so I'm diving into a pumpkin PIE-le of patterny goodness to bring you this retrospective!
Carve-O-Lantern (and later, Pumpkin Masters) have released so much material over the decades that I could-and possibly might-write about this stuff forever. So let's go waaaaay back to the early days of the brand to take a look at how their pumpkin carving kits have evolved through time. I've procured a veritable bushel of new stuff since the last article, so this is a great opportunity to share some of them.
To review: the protozoan state of this august October line was the original Carve-O-Lantern book, she of the spiral binding and self-assembled tools:

I covered this book and its assemblage of cool, festive and at time downright bizarre patterns before. So let's move on to the next product in the Carve-O-Lantern line; their streamlined, non-spiral bound pumpkin carving kit:

I reviewed this one before as well, but what I haven't covered yet are the many, many, MANY pumpkin carving kits to follow. We're talking bunnies on some crazy NIMH fertility meds numbers. OK, NIMH didn't really deal with fertility drugs, but maybe they branched out and formed NIRH or something. Just let me have this semi-esoteric reference.
Anyway, Carve-O-Lantern was not releasing products at a breakneck pace at first. They were, after all, pioneers in the field of jack-o'-lantern crafting, and if pioneers try to venture too quickly and recklessly into the unexplored, they might pay dearly. Just ask Lansford Hastings. So the second carving kit came out in 1989, three years after the initial publication of Carve-O-Lantern, and the third would not arrive until 1992. Here it is:

Carve-O-Lantern's designated graphic designer clearly had quite a cushy job, as a product designed to come out once a year would look almost identical for many editions to come. As for the included patterns:

This is a nice assortment, albeit largely the same as the designs in the Pumpkin Carving Patterns supplemental book released the same year. It appears that the intent at this point was to give consumers who already had a set of carving tools an option to buy most of the patterns in a cheaper, tool-less package. This was the first and last time this would be an option, because why sell one product to completionists when you can sell two? Probably because nobody knew such completionists existed back then, a quaint notion in 2017 when some people (cough, cough) feverishly monitor eBay auctions for rare pattern books like the Busch Gardens/SeaWorld assortment.
Somewhat confusingly, the fourth pumpkin carving kit also came out in 1992, though I suspect there may have just been an error in the copyright date on the packaging, since the fifth set came out in 1994. So either we got two of these in one year and then none the following year, or we didn't. GREAT JOURNALISM, JOEY.

Again, we see some staggering creativity in terms of graphic design, as this one looks nearly indistinguishable from set #3 at a glance. Unlike that set, however, these patterns were unique to this release, aside from Mr. Lips, who was continuing his journey to become the drunk guy at the party who can't take a hint when it's time to go home.

Possibly the best kit yet in terms of patterns, this one truly offered a variety of options for carvers at all skill levels, from a sassy fanged variation of the traditional jack-o-lantern for babies, to the moaning souls of the damned ironically spelling out the word "happy," which challenged veteran carvers to keep the profanity in check while nervously attempting to not slip and sever one of the thin strands of pumpkin holding the delicate image together.
By 1994, the Carve-O-Lantern name had perished, and from its ashes arisen the mighty moniker "Pumpkin Masters," which endures to this day. With the name change came a shockingly minor facelift to the carving kits, with the primary innovation being the convenient display of patterns on the front rather than the back. No longer would consumers waste precious seconds flipping cardboard in search of these coveted candlelit images.

This is a solid assortment, with all-time classic Screamin', another cute kitty and more, though it escapes me why Trick or Treat '95 needed the premature, 2K games-style yearly branding. Not to ruin the suspense, but it's still just as effective in '17.
BUUUUUT hold on just a minute, buckaroo! We're skipping something here. Even though this was the next traditional carving kit to hit the shelves, the year prior had actually marked the official debut of the Pumpkin Masters name, with this unique product:

Yep, a Deluxe Pumpkin Carving Kit. Totally different than a non-deluxe one, and I'm only being half sarcastic here. A bit of a hybrid between the saw-yielding carving kits of yore and the independent pattern books sold alongside them, this softcover marvel boasted not only a full set of carving tools, but by far the most designs of any release since the original, with a whopping seventeen patterns (including the bonus Night Owl, not pictured on the back).

Admittedly, many of the patterns were reprints from prior years, but come on! For one thing, once any given year's Halloween season was over, the corresponding carving kits were gone. They tended to stay gone, meaning that if you missed a release you were pretty much out of luck. Now you had a second chance to own some of these ephemeral classics. And even considering the volume of reprints, such a wide variety of patterns sold alongside the tools with which to carve them made for quite the package. Oddly enough, only one more Deluxe Pumpkin Carving Kit was released before the line died off. Perhaps the train to Valuetown only runs one way.
1995's big release was marked by the presence of Garfield, whose cool, well-designed pattern was only slightly undermined by his rather lame joke on the cover. What's supposed to be scary about Garfield being on a pumpkin? His licensing fees?

But the real story of 1995 was a product so innovative that Leonardo Da Vinci's ghost secondkilled itself in shame: Melon Lights. Have you ever wanted to carve a pumpkin in July? Well now you can, with Melon Lights! I hope to carve one of these someday and bring it as a wedding gift for someone I desperately want to just stop contacting me.

OK, we're running a bit long here, and I'm sure you have some last-minute costume prep/massive holiday drinking to do, so I'll end with one more tidbit. This last product I'm about to show you may be been the nadir of the original Carve-O-Lantern lineup, and possibly forced them to change their name for fear of ever being identified with it again. I speak, of course, of Pumpkin Pals.

These inane things make Melon Lights look like the internal combustion engine. Too lazy or crippled by carpal tunnel syndrome to carve a pumpkin? Here are some stupid pieces of cardboard and tissue paper to make your pumpkin look like a low-rent Teen Wolf! Choose from other classic characters like Vulcan Vampire and Lady with Her Hair on Fire! And as far as the collection as a whole, there were four of these abominations, including fairy tale variations that would make Mother Goose asphyxiate herself with a potato chip bag. I only have one of them, because to hell with paying ten bucks or more online for this crap. If the art of pumpkin decorating is an ass, Pumpkin Pals is half of it.
I hope you've enjoyed this festive look at the evolution of a Halloween institution. Do yourself a favor and pick up one of these oldies if you happen to see them at Goodwill or something. You won't regret it! Or maybe you will. Life is funny like that. Happy Halloween!

Don't let him fool you. Joey Marsilio is still attempting to sell enough copies of his debut novel, Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior, to buy the full line of Pumpkin Pals. You can help him achieve this wretched dream today!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

World's (Insert Adjective Here) "True" Ghost Stories

No, I'm not dead, despite what my online presence, or lack thereof, may suggest. And speaking of the undead, I'd like to reflect today on a particularly strange series of books about the supernatural. In this case, the strange thing is not the content of the books themselves, but rather the series' origins and evolution. Perhaps the oddest thing about these books is that there are nine books in the series (well, arguably...I'll get to that), yet there is almost no information about them anywhere. Most of the Amazon pages for them have no reviews, and even a Google search reveals little more than used book sales. Isn't it unusual that such a lengthy series seems to have not a smidgen of the dedicated, borderline obsessive fandom afforded even the nichest of long-running franchises?

I suppose at this point I should mention the name of this series of books. Don't worry, you probably won't recognize it unless you're one of the six people searching for information on them online and this post showed up by default. The nine books comprise the, for lack of a better term, World's (Insert Adjective Here) "True" Ghost Stories series. Basically, each book proffers an assortment of "true" stories of the supernatural-the quotation marks are their addition, not mine-that best exemplify some descriptor (for example, "mystifying" or "bone-chilling"). I'm sure the selection process for these was thoroughly scientific and their placement is definitive and by no means arbitrary. But this is all very abstract, so let me get into some concrete details before you click away from the page in annoyed bewilderment.

The first book in the series is 1988's World's Best "True" Ghost Stories by C.B. Colby, though it's not really where the series began. No, the true origins of the series go back into the 1950s, when Colby, "an avid adventurer and sportsman" per his bio, wrote a syndicated newspaper column called "Adventure Today." The column dealt with unexplained happenings, supernatural phenomena, mysterious disappearances, lost treasure and what would at the time be referred to as "ripping yarns." The veracity of each story was certainly debatable, as Colby himself would remind the reader, but he presented them with the appropriate zeal and bombast. Eventually, the column gave way to books collecting some of Colby's best offbeat tales: 1959's Strangely Enough! and 1965's somewhat inaccurately-titled Weirdest People in the World. The stories in it are weird, sure, but oftentimes the people within them are completely ordinarily and as perplexed by the events around them as anyone would be. I'd ask Colby what the thought process was behind the name, but I'm afraid I'm about forty years too late for that.

Anyway, several decades after that, Sterling Publishing released World's Best "True" Ghost Stories, a compilation of stories from Strangely Enough! and Weirdest People that dealt with ghosts and the supernatural. Well, mostly. 

There are also stories here of, among other things, a disappearing indigenous tribe in Alaska, an old woman who apparently spontaneously combusted, and a weird tale about talking cats that isn't very good and yet has been retold in more volumes of horror tales than I can remember. So while there's a general theme of uneasiness to the proceedings, there are less ghosts than you might think.

And speaking of titular inaccuracies, let's address the "true" portion of the title. That gets explained in the note to the reader that starts off World's Best, a note which is largely repurposed from the Introduction to Strangely Enough! There are some changes to the text, most notably a few additional sentences written by Colby, or more likely someone posing as Colby, considering he died more than ten years before the book was published. So either way, you could say they used a ghostwriter. The additional lines explain to the reader that "all the accounts in this book have, at one time or another been passed off as 'true'...and who shall say they never happened?" So basically, a very liberal definition of the truth, which in 2017 is more or less the factual standard. Colby never really gets enough credit as a pioneer in the field of truthiness.

That's the book in a nutshell. A mix of accounts of unexplained events, spooky anecdotes and classic folklore, all presented in the matter-of-fact style of a newspaper article and accompanied by simple black and white illustrations that heavily rely on shadows and isolation to convey the otherworldliness of the events described. It is remarkably effective, and what it lacks in florid language it makes up for in efficiency. In the same vein as the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, the brevity of the stories makes them easy to recount, and the journalistic presentation makes them feel more authentic and less like utter flights of fancy. For the most part, at least...I'm still not buying the talking cats thing. It's a great collection of oddball tales in the spirit of Ripley's Believe It or Not! and a nice greatest-hits collection of Colby's two prior greatest-hits collections.

In 1991, a similar collection of Colby's old works with a different theme, World's Best Lost Treasure Stories (I would have preferred World's Best "Lost" Treasure Stories, but that's splitting hairs) was released by Sterling, suggesting their intention of building a World's Best... franchise around Colby's old material. They got a franchise, alright, but it was not the one they were expecting.

Shortly before the publication of Treasure Stories, Sterling released another installment of spooky tales. This one, World's Strangest "True" Ghost Stories, drew on different source material, bypassing Colby entirely by excerpting stories from John Macklin's 1967 book The Strange and Uncanny.

Perhaps a bit more grim than Colby's work but just as compelling, here we learn of the psychic horse that solved a child's tragic disappearance, the cursed mummy that was allegedly on board the Titanic when it sank, and the sleepy English crossroads that bore both a terrible curse and a name that probably wouldn't fly in America in 2017.

The next year would see the release of World's Weirdest "True" Ghost Stories, written by John Beckett.

This was a milestone: the first installment of the series to apparently be an entirely original creation rather than an abridged rehash of a book from decades before. Still, it continued along the same lines, and probably benefitted from being able to draw from events that had occurred within the previous twenty-five years.

With 1992's World's Most Spine-Tingling "True" Ghost Stories, the series introduced yet another author, Sheila Anne Barry, and perhaps its greatest asset, artist Jim Sharpe.

Whereas the books before had all contained effective but relatively indistinct artwork, Sharpe's illustrations are bold, unique and very evocative. From screaming faces to ominous spirits to a malicious killer doll in a sailor suit, Sharpe would go on to illustrate the remaining installments of the series and elevate even the more mundane stories with his detailed, semi-insane renderings.

But it should really come as no surprise that the guy was talented, considering Time, TV Guide, and many other respectable publications had hired him to do cover artwork for them. He even created a portrait for the presidential gallery! Frankly, given his resume, it seems like he was slumming it a bit for these books, but maybe he just loved this kind of crap as much as I do.

Oddly enough, after two consecutive original books, 1993's World's Most Bone-Chilling "True" Ghost Stories went back to the repurposing well, revisiting John Macklin's work and lifting stories from his awesomely-named 60's books Brotherhood of the Strange and Dwellers in Darkness.

But after that, subsequent titles went back to being original works. Well, this point, the series was getting pretty tired, revisiting the same themes time and again and even repeating some of the same stories (albeit with different authors) as the books continued to roll out every year like macabre installments of Madden.

The eighth book in the series, 1996's World's Most Mysterious "True" Ghost Stories, could well have been called Weird War Tales for its heavy focus on military themes (which, funny enough, would likely have met with noted armed forces buff C.B. Colby's approval). Even Sharpe's artwork looked oddly rushed by that point.

Finally, things wrapped up in 1997 with World's Most Mystifying "True" Ghost Stories, as the series drifted off into the aether like an unfed Tamagotchi, likely to the tune of Elton John's "Candle in the Wind 1997."

Or did it? 1998 saw the release of The Little Giant Book of "True" Ghost Stories, where the series did what it did best: repackaged old material. Basically books five through seven of the series crammed into one volume, The Little Giant Book kept the series...well, not alive exactly, but undead at least. And that, after a decade, marked the last volume of "True" Ghost Stories.

Yet it still did not mark the end of the stories themselves. C.B. Colby's original material persists to this day, published in various compilations of spooky stories, but the strangest part of this saga involves an overlap with a completely different series of books.

Following the huge success of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, Short & Shivery, and others of their ilk, a new contender in the youth-focused horror short story arena emerged in 1991's Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs. The big hook of this book and its numerous sequels were their sheer nihilism. Whereas the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books would often feature protagonists that got thoroughly heebie-jeebied but ultimately survived, Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs was a slaughterhouse where no one made it out alive. If you wanted to read about a child getting ripped apart by a werecat, or an entire family being strangled to death by their own shadows, or extraterrestrials burning kids to death before summoning their compatriots to Earth to do the same to the entire human race, you were in luck. This series persisted through the 90's, with almost as many volumes as the "True" Ghost Stories series until it finally petered out, possibly because they ran out of children to murder.

You may be wondering why I bring this up. Well, apparently long after the demise of the original series, someone published a book simply called Scary Stories for Sleepovers.

And, lo and behold, it contains some of the very same C.B. Colby joints printed in Strangely Enough! and Weirdest People in the World and reprinted in World's Best "True" Ghost Stories. Nearly sixty years after their original publication, the stories are still going strong, veritable literary body snatchers hopping from series to series, assuming their identity while never losing their own.

So, to recap: a newspaper column was repurposed into two books, which were then repurposed into another book, which begat a series of books with similar titles that at times repurposed material from other books and at times consisted of original material (albeit said material consisting of retellings of events recounted elsewhere). After the conclusion of this series, several of the books were repurposed into a giant compilation book, and long after that, the original stories that were repurposed into the first book in the series were repurposed again under the title of an entirely different series of books. It's a truly fascinating web of use and reuse that, in the end, boils down to the simple fact that people love a good story. And ghosts. And cursed mummies. And psychic horses.

A final note: there was a television show years back called Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction?, hosted at first by James Brolin and later by the illustrious Jonathan Frakes, master of the wry smile.

The show would present reenactments of stories, then call upon the viewer to determine whether or not they had actually occurred. Many of the stories reenacted on that show were the very same ones described in these books, so I would often have a bit of an unfair advantage in determining which of the tales I was witnessing were Fact...or, I suppose, "True." Whether due to coincidence or fandom, the subject matter of this low-key series of ostensible ghost stories (yes, including the psychic horse) had made it to primetime network television, a.k.a. the American Dream.

Well done, "True" Ghost Stories. You "truly" are the (insert adjective here).

Joey Marsilio would like to cordially request that if anyone out there, anyone at all, has read these books, that they please let him know about their memories and experiences with them. And also that they purchase a copy of his novel, Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior.