Monday, November 17, 2014

A Chilly November Night at the Movies

After a day of rain, the wind has started blowing cold. We clutch our hats and huddle in our coats as we wander into our favorite restaurant, sitting at our usual table, looking over the specials, and gently teasing the new waiter who isn't sure what to make of our crowd.

Dinner is eaten while we tell tales of our October adventures and compare plans for Thanksgiving and express our horror at Black Friday shopping. Not to mention the complaints of encroaching Christmas songs, decorations, and commercials!

After dinner, it's up the street to that old movie house we love. Tonight's show is 1933's "The Phantom Broadcast"!

This overlooked little gem is full of real-life Hollywood landmarks, many of which I'm told are still standing. Not to mention great music that somehow never caught on, which is a crying shame.

After the movie, we brace ourselves against the cold and head up the street to that little cafe...tonight we'll need something hot!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Looking Back on October

Whew. October was a busy month.

Aside from my work going wild (which I'm not going to talk about, really can't talk about, except our operations are expanding and we'll be changing our name in a few months as we've outgrown the old), I was getting into a lot more than usual. One of the good things about living in the Baltimore suburbs as opposed to the DC suburbs is that my money goes much farther.

My friends at the Yellow Sign Theatre in Baltimore's trendy artsy Station North neighborhood (where I once considered moving) ran an innovatively-staged film series. For three weeks, a different film was featured each week, and each film was hosted by a different "horror host". What made it even better was that the theater was done up as a basement rec room, with a "slacker teen" host who had to deal with interruptions from his mother ("Oh, I just thought your friends might want a snack,") and a grouchy, overbearing father who appeared only as a silhouette. It was a blast going to that and I hope they do it again. The films were Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, The Ape Man (with Bela Lugosi), and the sleazoid classic Bloody Pit of Horror. There were also commercial breaks (usually vintage) and a great sensation of being over at a friend's place, watching TV.

One evening I impulsively went to Bennett's Curse, a huge and elaborate haunted house in Jessup, MD. I was deeply impressed; it was the biggest and most technically professional haunted attraction I'd ever seen. There were large animatronic figures that must have been expensive, as well as a section of the attraction done in 3-D paints (patrons were given glasses). It took quite a while to go through, and sometimes was pitch dark and you had to feel your way. It was a real adventure and next year I want to get a group together and go. It's expensive as these things go ($30 basic admission) but was worth every penny.

The HallowRead conference was an interesting experience. It's currently a one-day event, a sort of micro-con, in a community center in Ellicott City, MD, just down the road from me. The focus is on "steampunk, horror, paranormal and urban fantasy" although I was bemused to notice that the romance end of these genres was heavily represented. There was a steampunk tea that I managed to miss (it required separate admission) but I will be sure to attend next time. There were panel discussions and some socializing, and a small dealer's room that was primarily a chance for the authors to sell their own works. I bought a Baltimore-set paranormal novel, and had a zesty conversation with the author about finding a moral compass when you're a nonbeliever, and a couple of gay romance novels which I found out is actually a thriving genre for female readers. I also met and connected with a charming lady who turned out to be the wife of a Facebook friend, whom I'd never met, so that was a charming coincidence. So in the end, it wasn't a literary Monster-Mania but it was enjoyable, and with potential to expand into a full-weekend convention, and I hope it does.

My HallowRead ticket included admission to two events that evening that I decided to attend, which I think nobody else did. One was the "Haunted Ruins" of the Patapsco Female Institute. Check the link for the story behind the site; it's a ruined girl's school on a hill overlooking the town. It was a typical amateur haunted house in some aspects, but was given a punch of eerieness by taking place in actual ruins and using the actual folklore.

The other event...oy. It was an opportunity to sit in on an actual "ghost hunt" at the Ellicott City Historical Society by serious "paranormal investigators." Now, I'm a skeptic about such things, but I thought, what the hey, it would good to see this sort of thing in person and firsthand. I wondered if they would be cynical charlatans but no, they were sincere believers, although perhaps a bit off in the wooniverse. The most down-to-earth member of the group was their resident Wiccan, who was very sensible about a lot of things, dismissing "orb" photos as mostly being dust, moisture, or insects. One spot for investigation was a place in the basement, where several people claimed to have felt nauseated near some broken tombstones. Several said they felt queasy, but I honestly said I felt nothing. (I wondered how much of the queasiness was their own built-up expectations.) They would sit down and try to communicate with the spirits using a smartphone app called "Echovox." That's right, a $20 smartphone app that lets you talk to the dead somehow. I found the notion fairly ridiculous myself.

Anyway, a long period of questioning the spirits and getting fragmentary answers followed (Echovox seems to record ambient sounds and play them back in fragmentary bits so it will sound otherworldly and you can interpret them according to your own expectations), and I went off my shift and to the upstairs. One lady and I wandered into the main museum and while there did seem to be a real cold spot in there, I realized quickly it was because the door was open. Their "EMF readers" were getting all sorts of readings there (I suspect those things function randomly, based on my own observations) and then people clustered in to investigate this new "haunting," they wondered why it was warming up so much. I stood back thinking, "Hellooo, body heat," but said nothing. Eventually, I had enough, and was horribly tired, so I excused myself and went home. still a nonbeliever.

I also attended my friend Phil's annual Cemetery Potluck, held every October in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, DC. That is turning into the goth/steampunk/dandy event of the season, and I'm always flattered to be included and welcomed in that diverse group, although I need to step up my game with the outfits.

Halloween itself I spent in DC, thrifting and visiting a favorite tea shop and ambling about downtown, and attending a burlesque show in the evening. However, I think next year I will stay in the Baltimore area...I didn't get home until 3 am and was a wreck the next day.

This weekend I have nothing planned, and am content to limit my travels to the gym, library, and grocery store. There are times I lament my ongoing singlehood but tonight I'm actually grateful to be alone. A weekend home alone with the TV and my books is welcome after all the running around I did in October.

To close, here's a favorite tune for this time of year...

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Cold November Day at the Phantom Recital Hall

The Halloween festivities are behind us, and we're all grateful for an extra hour of sleep last night. (I know I am!) It's an uncharacteristically cold and windy day today, and searching for something to do, we find there's a student recital at the music school. Tickets are cheap and available; why not go?

We quickly get ourselves together; nothing fancy, just make sure your hair is combed and your clothes clean. Warm coats make their season debut, and we arrive at the venue just in time.

Dimitri Shostakovitch was a 20th-century composer who often had difficulties with the Soviet censors for his use of "decadent" modern styles but who eventually was recognized as one of the greatest of all time. This particular work, complete in 1970, was one of the first Russian works that called for the players to tap the bodies of their instruments with their bows...which has struck some listener's ears as sounding like rattling bones. There is something undeniably remote and eerie about this work, one of the more interesting in the canon of classical quartets.

We return to the cold and wind outside; it's still slightly early, so we'll go home to a light, home-cooked dinner, a refreshing comfort after too many meals out and too much party fare. But something about the rattling bones and remoteness of the violins sticks with us...

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween from Dust & Corruption!

I send all my readers and friends my best wishes for a wild and crazy (yet safe) Halloween! I'll be going to a burlesque show in DC, and I have the day off so I plan on doing some shopping & lunching out. Hope you have fun, whatever you're doing. And even if you're staying in, have a pleasant evening!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Absinthe and I

My fondness for absinthe is well-known. So well-known, in fact, I was to appear in a local podcast, The Curioso, for their special absinthe episode. You can hear me reading a poem, talking about absinthe, and making some absinthe cocktails. Give it a listen, why don't you?

Sorry I haven't been updating much. October has been busy, both with fun stuff and with work. In fact, work has gone berserk. I won't go into details but it's kept me hopping and often leaves me too burnt out at the end of the day to do much blogging. Things should quiet down in a bit, though.

And for a special lucky bonus, here's a video from the podcast taping. A shirt button came undone over my stomach, making me look even more horrifying fat than I already am. (I started going to a gym, though, and I think I've lost some weight already...)

Monday, October 20, 2014

An October Monday Night at the Cinema

It's time for our monthly night out at the movies! The pre-show dinner involves quite a bit of conversation about our plans for Halloween, the difficulty of coming up with costume ideas, the obscene cost of decorations, and nostalgia for our own days of trick-or-treating.

Then it's up the street to that slightly shabby old cinema for the classic film!

This month, it's one of the first sound Sherlock Holmes films, A Study in Scarlet, starring Reginald Owen as Holmes, and co-starring Anna May Wong!

The show finally over, we go up the street in the increasingly cool air for that final drink before going our separate ways...

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

After a busy weekend

I was busy last weekend...

Monster-Mania was this weekend. I've attended this Philadelphia-area convention a few times in the past, but now they've started having a second show in  Baltimore so it's pretty much a given that I have to go.

There were a lot of neat people (like the couple above) but it was mostly a dealers and autographs event. I'm not much of an autograph person, and most of 'em charge of autographs anyway and that's money that I can spend on books and DVDs. There was a movie room as well, but not much real programming aside from that. The dealer's room was mostly collectibles, and that's also something I'm not big on; the manufactured "collector's item" stuff usually leaves me cold. (I'm a picky bastard.) But I did find some cool handcrafted things, like a boutonniere made from old playing cards and with a skull at the center that I'm going to wear to a picnic soon, and a comfy pillow made to look like Sam from the delightful Halloween anthology film Trick'r'Treat. I also got a dozen DVDs, including a few I've been unable to find for a while, like The Big Crimewave (a Canadian noir comedy) and The Unnamable and The Unnamable II. DVDs were surprisingly cheap; I wonder if the trend toward streaming is making them more affordable.

I did get to meet independent filmmaker James Balsamo, which was pretty cool. Yeah. that's me on the right.

Sunday was a small ceremony at Edgar Allan Poe's Grave.

It was organized by the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, a group I should look into joining at some point. Yesterday was the anniversary of his death, so every year about this time they arrange a flower-laying ceremony. It was a quiet, calm observance, and everyone in attendance was invited to lay flowers if they wanted. This was followed by everyone retreating to the Poe Room of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in downtown Baltimore, where they had arranged a lecture on Poe's precarious finances.

The Poe Room is gorgeous and there's tons of rare editions in the shelves; I could while away many hours there. But anyway, the lecture basically confirmed that Poe made some bad financial choices, but was also hampered by the difficulties of earning a living writing, and also the reality of a bad economy at the time. There was some fun discussion afterward, and I got to raise the question of whether Poe was really the first to create the detective story or if it was E. T. A. Hoffmann. (My theory? Hoffmann started to piece together the elements, but Poe synthesized them better.)

I also read this oldie, after coming across references to it as one of the great gothic mystery classics. How was it? Well, badly dated in quite a few ways, but still fairly enjoyable. In WWII-era San Francisco, Hilda Moreau (whose husband is away in the Navy) goes to visit her sisters-in-law, who inhabit a crumbling Victorian house. Eldest sister Pauline controls the purse strings of the family trust, and browbeats (and sometimes blackmails) the other sisters into following her orders. Pauline ends up murdered, and a shady servant and an even shadier lady lawyer end up dead as well before things are resolved.

It's an interesting milieu; almost all characters are women, a reflection of the wartime days when almost all the men were off fighting. But every so often I had to look up some reference that I didn't get, and other aspects of the wartime life are quite alien to 21st-century readers. The resolution also seemed rushed, as if Collins was getting close to her page limit and decided to wrap things up. The solution comes almost as a mistake, rather than as the result of deduction and reason. I guess I'm too much of a fan of the Analytical school.

In personal news, I joined a gym! Yeah, in that photo above, I've got quite the gut. I went for the first time on Tuesday and just walked on a treadmill for a bit, but watch out. In another decade I'll be svelte and sexy.