Saturday, December 31, 2011

Some thoughts from Charles Lamb

I love this 1823 essay by Charles Lamb, so I'm showing it in its entirety. He sums up how New Year's Eve is inescapable. Happy New Year, everyone. Have a safe and happy evening and may the best of the old be the worst of the new!

EVERY man hath two birth-days; two days, at least, in every year, which set him upon revolving the lapse of time, as it affects his mortal duration. The one is that which in an especial manner he termeth his. In the gradual desuetude of old observances, this custom of solemnizing our proper birth-day hath nearly passed away, or is left to children, who reflect nothing at all about the matter, nor understand any thing in it beyond cake and orange. But the birth of a New Year is of an interest too wide to be pretermitted by king or cobbler. No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference. It is that from which all date their time, and count upon what is left. It is the nativity of our common Adam.

Of all sounds of all bell -- (bells, the music nighest bordering upon heaven) -- most solemn and touching is the peal which rings out the Old Year. I never hear it without a gathering-up of my mind to a concentration of all the images that have been diffused over the past twelvemonth; all I have done or suffered, performed or neglected in that regretted time. I begin to know its worth, as when a person dies. It takes a personal colour; nor was it a poetical flight in a contemporary, when he exclaimed

I saw the skirts of the departing Year.
It is no more than what in sober sadness every one of us seems to he conscious of, in that awful leave-taking. I am sure I felt it, and all felt it with me, last night; though some of my companions. affected rather to manifest an exhilaration at the birth of the coming year, than any very tender regrets for the decease of its predecessor. But I am none of those who -

Welcome the coming, speed the parting guest.

I am naturally, beforehand, shy of novelties: new books, new faces, new years, -- from some mental twist which makes it difficult. in me to face the prospective. I have almost ceased to hope; and am sanguine only in the prospects of other (former) years. I plunge into foregone visions and conclusions. I encounter pell-mell with past disappointments. I am armour-proof against old discouragements. I forgive, or overcome in fancy, old adversaries. I play over again for love, as the gamesters phrase it, games, for which I once paid so dear. I would scarce now have any of those untoward accidents and events of my life reversed. I would no more alter them than the incidents of some well-contrived novel. Methinks, it is better that I should have pined away seven of my goldenest years, when I was thrall to the fair hair, and fairer eyes, of Alice W--n , than that so passionate a love-adventure should be lost. It was better that our family should have missed that legacy, which old Dorrell cheated us of, than that I should have at this moment two thousand pounds in banco, and be without the idea of that specious old rogue.

In a degree beneath manhood, it is my infirmity to look back upon those early days. Do I advance a paradox, when I say, that, skipping over the intervention of forty years, a man may have leave to love himself, without the imputation of self-love?

If I know aught of myself, no one whose mind is introspective -- and mine is painfully so -- can have a less respect for his present identity, than I have for the man Elia. I know him to be light, and vain, and humorsome; a notorious * * * addicted to * * * * : averse from counsel, neither taking it, nor offering it: -- * * * besides; a stammering buffoon; what you will; lay it on, and spare not: I subscribe to it all, and much more, than thou canst be willing to lay at his door -- -- -- but for the child Elia -- that "other me," there, in the back-ground -- I must take leave to cherish the remembrance of that young master -- with as little reference, I protest, to this stupid changeling of five-and-forty, as if it had been a child of some other house, and not of my parents. I can cry over its patient small-pox at five, and rougher medicaments. I can lay its poor fevered head upon the sick pillow at Christ's, and wake with it in surprise at the gentle posture of maternal tenderness hanging over it, that unknown had watched its sleep. I know how it shrank from any the least colour of falsehood. -- God help thee, Elia, how art thou changed! Thou art sophisticated. -- I know how honest, how courageous (for a weakling) it was -- how religious, how imaginative, how hopeful! From what have I not fallen, if the child I remember was indeed myself, -- and not some dissembling guardian, presenting a false identity, to give the rule to my unpractised steps, and regulate the tone of my moral being!

That I am fond of indulging, beyond a hope of sympathy, in such retrospection, may be the symptom of some sickly idiosyncrasy. Or is it owing to another cause; simply, that being without wife or family, I have not learned to project myself enough out of myself: and having no offspring of my own to daily with, I turn back upon memory, and adopt my own early idea, as my heir and favourite If these speculations seem fantastical to thee, reader -- (a busy man, perchance), if I tread out of the way of thy sympathy, and am singularly-conceited only, I retire, impenetrable to ridicule, under the phantom cloud of Elia.

The elders, with whom I was brought up, were of a character not likely to let slip the sacred observance of any old institution; and the ringing out of the Old Year was kept by them with circumstances of peculiar ceremony. -- In those days the sound of those midnight chimes, though it seemed to raise hilarity in all around me, never failed to bring a train of pensive imagery into my fancy. Yet I then scarce conceived what it meant, or thought of it as a reckoning that concerned me. Not childhood alone, but the young man till thirty, never feels practically that he is mortal. He knows it indeed, and, if need were, he could preach a homily on the fragility of life; but he brings it not home to himself, any more than in a hot June we can appropriate to our imagination the freezing days of December. But now, shall I confess a truth ? -- I feel these audits but too powerfully. I begin to count the probabilities of my duration, and to grudge at the expenditure of moments and shortest periods, like miser's farthings. In proportion as the years both lessen and shorten, I set more count upon their periods, and would fain lay my ineffectual finger upon the spoke of the great wheel. I am not content to pass away "like a weaver's shuttle." Those metaphors solace me not, nor sweeten the unpalatable draught of mortality. I care not to be carried with the tide, that smoothly bears human life to eternity: and reluct at the inevitable course of destiny. I am in love with this green earth; the face of town and country; the unspeakable rural solitudes, and the sweet security of streets. I would set up my tabernacle here. I am content to stand still at the age to which I am arrived; I, and my friends: to be no younger, no richer, no handsomer. I do not want to be weaned by age; or drop, like mellow fruit, as they say, into the grave. -- Any alteration, on this earth of mine, in diet or in lodging, puzzles and discomposes me. My household gods plant a terrible fixed foot, and are not rooted up without blood. They do not willingly seek Lavinian shores. A new state of being staggers me.

Sun, and sky, and breeze, and solitary walks, and summer holidays, and the greenness of fields, and the delicious juices of meats and fishes and society, and the cheerful glass, and candle-light, and fireside conversations, and innocent vanities, and jests, and irony itself -- these things go out with life?

Can a ghost laugh, or shake his gaunt sides, when you are pleasant with him?

And you, my midnight darlings, my Folios! must I part with the intense delight of having you (huge armfuls) in my embraces? Must knowledge come to me, if it come at all, by some awkward experiment of intuition, and no longer by this familiar process of reading?

Shall I enjoy friendships there, wanting the smiling indications which point me to them here, -- the recognisable face -- the "sweet assurance of a look" -- ?

In winter this intolerable disinclination to dying -- to give it its mildest name -- does more especially haunt and beset me. In a genial August noon, beneath a sweltering sky, death is almost problematic. At those times do such poor snakes as myself enjoy an immortality. Then we expand and burgeon. Then are we as strong again, as valiant again, as wise again, and a great deal taller. The blast that nips and shrinks me, puts me in thoughts of death. All things allied to the insubstantial, wait upon that master feeling; cold, numbness, dreams, perplexity; moonlight itself, with its shadowy and spectral appearances, -- that cold ghost of the sun, or Phoebus' sickly sister, like that innutritious one denounced in the Canticles : -- I am none of her minions -- I hold with the Persian.

Whatsoever thwarts, or puts me out of my way, brings death into my mind. All partial evils, like humours, run into that capital plague-sore. -- I have heard some profess an indifference to life. Such hail the end of their existence as a port of refuge; and speak of the grave as of some soft arms, in which they may slumber as on a pillow. Some have wooed death -- -- -- but out upon thee, I say, thou foul, ugly phantom! I detest, abhor, execrate, and (with Friar John) give thee to six-score thousand devils, as in no instance to be excused or tolerated, but shunned as a universal viper; to be branded, proscribed, and spoken evil of! In no way can I be brought to digest thee, thou thin, melancholy Privation, or more frightful and confounding Positive!

Those antidotes, prescribed against the fear of thee, are altogether frigid and insulting, like thyself. For what satisfaction hath a man, that he shall "lie down with kings and emperors in death," who in his life-time never greatly coveted the society of such bed-fellows ? -- or, forsooth, that "so shall the fairest face appear? " -- why, to comfort me, must Alice W--n be a goblin? More than all, I conceive disgust at those impertinent and misbecoming familiarities, inscribed upon your ordinary tombstones. Every dead man must take upon himself to be lecturing me with his odious truism, that "such as he now is, I must shortly he." Not so shortly, friend, perhaps, as thou imaginest. In the mean-time I am alive. I move about. I am worth twenty of thee. Know thy betters! Thy New Years' Days are past. I survive, a jolly candidate for 1821. Another cup of wine -- and while that turn-coat bell, that just now mournfully chanted the obsequies of 1820 departed, with changed notes lustily rings in a successor, let us attune to its peal the song made on a like occasion, by hearty, cheerful Mr. Cotton. -

Hark, the cock crows, and yon bright star
Tells us, the day himself's not far;
And see where, breaking from the night,
He gilds the western hills with light.
With him old Janus doth appear,
Peeping into the future year,
With such a look as seems to say,
The prospect is not good that way.
Thus do we rise ill sights to see,
And `gainst ourselves to prophesy;
When the prophetic fear of things
A more tormenting mischief brings,
More full of soul-tormenting gall,
Than direst mischiefs can befall.
But stay ! but stay! methinks my sight,
Better inform'd by clearer light
Discerns sereneness in that brow,
That all contracted seem'd but now.
His revers'd face may show distaste,
And frown upon the ills are past;
But that which this way looks is clear,
And smiles upon the New-born Year.
He looks too from a place so high,
The Year lies open to his eye;
And all the moments open are
To the exact discoverer.
Yet more and more he smiles upon
The happy revolution.
Why should we then suspect or fear
The influences of a year,
So smiles upon us the first morn,
And speaks us good so soon as born?
Plague on't! the last was ill enough,
This cannot but make better proof;
Or, at the worst, as we brush'd through
The last, why so we may this too;
And then the next in reason shou'd
Be superexcellently good:
For the worst ills (we daily see)
Have no more perpetuity,
Than the best fortunes that do fall;
Which also bring us wherewithal
Longer their being to support,
Than those do of the other sort:
And who has one good year in three,
And yet repines at destiny, [p 32]
Appears ungrateful in the case,
And merits not the good he has.
Then let us welcome the New Guest
With lusty brimmers of the best;
Mirth always should Good Fortune meet,
And renders e'en Disaster sweet:
And though the Princess turn her back,
Let us but line ourselves with sack,
We better shall by far hold out,
Till the next Year she face about.
How say you, reader -- do not these verses smack of the rough magnanimity of the old English vein? Do they not fortify like a cordial; enlarging the heart, and productive of sweet blood, and generous spirits, in the concoction? Where be those puling fears of death, just now expressed or affected ? --passed like a cloud -- absorbed in the purging sunlight of clear poetry -- clean washed away by a wave of genuine Helicon, your only Spa for these hypochondries -- And now another cup of the generous! and a merry New Year, and many of them, to you all, my masters!

FIRE, BURN by John Dickson Carr

In the first half of the 20th century, Carr was It. He was a bestselling author. He teamed with Adrian Conan Doyle to write The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes, one of the most notable early post-Doyle pastiches. And he was a popular writer for radio; he wrote a number of episodes for shows like Suspense! and one of his original shows, "Cabin B-13", ended up being spun off into its own series. His works were also the basis of an early TV show, Colonel March of Scotland Yard, with Boris Karloff in the title role. He also wrote a handful of well-received plays. He had a couple of popular series characters, like Dr. Gideon Fell (who was based on G. K. Chesterton) and Sir Henry Merrivale (modeled on Winston Churchill). He also was a pioneer of the full-length historical mystery novel. Carr was noted as the master of the locked-room murder although later critics noted that his plots often strained plausibility and credulity.

I've read some Carr in the past, and he can be a mixed bag. Some works, like the historical novel The Demoniacs, hold up well today, while one of his early works, Castle Skull, I found to be a crashing bore. He could generate all sorts of Gothick atmosphere, but I feel that all too often he used the promise of supernatural terrors to sell a mundane story. (Such was the case of The Demoniacs, which was certainly good enough but utterly lacking in the macabre.) And that's probably part of why Carr has fallen out of favor today. He was great in the 30s and 40s, but after WWII some felt he lost something (although some of his better works came from that period). By the 60s his style of mannered mysteries had fallen out of favor, and while some are still regarded as classics, others have not aged well at all.

Luckily, Fire, Burn is of the former category. It's a meld of mystery with touches of supernatural or sci-fi, as Scotland Yard officer John Cheviot stepped into a cab in 1957 and stepped out in 1829, stunned and bewildered. We're never told how or why he traveled back in time, or even if it's really happening or some sort of hallucination. It just happens.

Everyone recognizes Cheviot, even his lady-love, so he plays along, feigning a sudden illness sometimes to cover up his lapses in knowledge. Luckily, he's an amateur historian so he understands the Regency and its mores, which gives him an occasional advantage.

He ends up investigating some historical crimes using future knowledge and techniques. It starts off with a noblewoman complaining of stolen birdseed, but then leads into a full-throttle murder investigation when a woman is shot to death in front of a group of people, but no one had a gun nor can one be found that actually fired the bullet.

In between there's romance, ruminations on the period, duels, confrontations, and all sorts of fun. And then a surprising return to the present at the end.

One thing that struck me while reading this was how reminiscent this was of the TV show Life on Mars. The time periods are different, of course; LoM featured a detective from the 2000s projected backwards into the 1970s. I wonder if that show's creators were familiar with this novel.

Anyway, it's a fun, zesty read, like Georgette Heyer with testosterone. It should be easy to pick up at your favorite used book emporium. It is out of print but still protected by copyright.

Judge Dee: Lost in the Maze

Sorry, folks, I was away for the holidays and didn't have much time for blogging. Now I'm back and getting a few things up before 2012 starts breathing down our collective back...

The Chinese Maze Murders was the first Dee book written, but not first in sequence; it's actually mid-way through the series. It opens with the supernatural framing story found in the early novels; in this case, a man who researches old cases has a chance encounter with an old man (the ghost of Dee?) who tells him a lurid story over many pots of wine in a restaurant...but then the next day nobody remembers seeing him.

Dee and his lieutenants are introduced as being on their way to a new post in fictitious district of Lan-Fang, a remote section of the border harried by Uighur tribes. It's said that this is due to his angering two powerful factions, the Buddhist clique and the Cantonese merchants, while at his last posting. (This is recounted in The Chinese Bell Murders.) Things are definitely amiss when he arrives, and he discovers that a local tyrant has set himself up as the power in charge, and has bribed and browbeaten the old magistrate into submission. Dee quickly puts things to rights, although the situation comes into play later in the novel.

Dee is confronted by three mysteries. First off is the death of a retired general, found murdered in his locked study, a bizarre miniature dagger steeped in poison embedded in his throat. And a packet of candied plums is in his sleeve, laced with poison. Who wanted him dead? Was the same person responsible for both?

Secondly, the young widow of another retired official comes to Dee with a problem; her husband left her with nothing but a scroll painting that supposedly was a clue to her real inheritance. However, his adult son by his first marriage maintains that she was disinherited because of infidelity. Does the secret lie in the complicated garden maze of the official's crumbling estate?

Last, what became of beautiful innocent White Orchid? She vanished some time ago and may have been part of the tyrant's harem, but there's no sign of her in his house. Someone who might have been her was seen in an old temple garden...but then later a headless corpse shows up that's identified as her. What happened?

This book has a rawness that clearly indicates it as an early work, but it's still good. Van Gulik's gothic descriptions of the crumbling garden maze are vivid and memorable. He creates a number of good supporting characters, like the feisty Dark Orchid, and the Taoist hermit Master Crane Robe who gives valuable clues while barely seeming to know what's going on. And Mah Joong has a fling with Tulbee, a Uighur girl who shows up later in the series.

As usual, any of Van Gulik's Judge Dee novels are Required Reading.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Night Double Feature

We're taking a break from the holiday rush, and after a filling dinner at our favorite place (and leaving an extra-generous tip for the waiter), we head to that lovely old theater down the street for another double feature.

First off is an 1897 gem from George Melies, The Bewitched Inn...

Then up is a longer bit of fun, also from Melies: the 1904 An Impossible Voyage, which is rather steampunk-ish in its outlandish modes of transport.

You'll notice a bit of a travel and lodging theme here. Many of us are traveling this season, so I hope everyone has a good journey and doesn't face the perils you see here.

The show's over, we head off to our favorite cafe for a drink or two....

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Requiem: Susan Gordon, 1949-2011

The daughter of B-movie director Bert I. Gordon, Susan was an accomplished child actress, appearing in films like her father's ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE, THE BOY AND THE PIRATES, and TORMENTED, as well as other films like THE FIVE PENNIES and THE MAN IN THE NET. She also did much TV work, including episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, 77 SUNSET STRIP, THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR, ROUTE 66, GUNSMOKE, and MY THREE SONS. She retired from acting and became a successful businesswoman, married and raised a happy family, but also had a lot of fun visiting conventions and meeting her fans. Sadly, she had cancer and passed away on December 11th.

I had the pleasure of hanging out with her several times at Monster Bash conventions in Pittsburgh. We had a mutual friend, the late Richard Valley, publisher of Scarlet Street, and it was through him that we met. We were part of a big group hanging out in the hotel lounge and having fun, and I remember that with joy.

The second year I went, I saw her enter the hotel and talk to a few people. Then she spotted me, gave a huge smile, and hurried over to say hello and how happy she was to see me. I was bowled over. I'm a bit neurotic and tend to worry that people only put up with me rather than actually like me, and a friendly gesture like that made me feel ten feet tall.

Susan was like that. She was quiet and private, but also had a great sense of humor and was a nice, considerate, gentle person. I have to admit that I've only seen a few of her films (but I do think she was good) and don't feel right really calling myself a fan of her work...but I was certainly a fan of her as a person. I never thought of her as some inaccessible screen personality, but just as a warm, friendly woman who had some good stories to share, loved a good laugh, and had a kind, warm smile. She was a truly classy lady and I will always remember her with great affection.

And here's the trailer for my favorite of her movies, TORMENTED:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's My Own Invention: Have a Gentleman Adventurer!

I received a good-sized bottle of brandy as a birthday present, and have experimented on and off with it. But then, one night I was doing a free-form cocktail, and I hit upon a happy combination.

Pour a finger or two of brandy into an old-fashioned glass (preferably a vintage cut-glass one). Add a splash or two of Gran Gala, a brandy-based orange liqueur. Pop in a couple of ice cubes, and sip contentedly by candlelight.

I asked my cocktail-nerd friend Sasha if he knew if that was an actual drink...while there is a drink called a "Lead Balloon" that's brandy and Grand Marnier, mine has Gran Gala and uses different (and more casual) proportions. So I took the liberty of claiming ownership and giving it a name: the "Gentleman Adventurer"! (And I am taking his advice and writing it up everywhere I can...or as he put it, "Blog that shit, yo.")

It makes for a good nightcap, or for relaxed sipping while watching a favorite movie, or as a congratulatory drink after you've solved the murder or prevented the fiendish villain from raising the dead and/or taking over the world. It's a very smooth, civilized drink, easy to mix on the fly. Mix it at home, explain it to your local bartender, spread the word! Have a Gentleman Adventurer!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dust & Corruption Calendar: December 2011

December is busy for all of us, I think, but here's a few things if you need to slip away from the family...

12/2-11 – Arlen Blues & Berlin Ballads, a musical cabaret from my pals at the IN Series. At theAtlas Performing Arts Center.

12/7 – Capitol Tassels & Tease Winter Wonderland Show.The Red Palace, 9:00pm.

12/8 – 3rd Annual Great Turducken Feast, featuring Montreal’s Blood Ballet Cabaret on their first US tour. The RedPalace, 8:30pm.

12/10-11 – Russian Winter Festival, Hillwood Estate. 10-7 on Saturday, 1-5 on Sunday.

12/10 – Dangerous Curves Ahead: Burlesque on the Go-Go, featuring Anita Cookie, Clams Casino, Gigi LaFemme, Minnie Tonka, and Darlinda Just Darlinda. The Red Palace, 9pm and 11pm.

12/10 – Grand Guignol Spectacular, featuring performances, film, toy theater, song, dance, and more, with a DJ’ed after party. The ConeyIsland Museum, 1208 Surf Ave, Brooklyn, NY. 8:00.

12/11 – D20 Burlesque, nerdy group on their first East Coast tour. The Red Palace, 8:30pm.

12/15 – Pretty Things Peep Show. The Red Palace, 9:00pm.

12/16 – The New York Grind Show, Birthday Baby Edition, featuring Amber Ray, Clams Casino, Anita Cookie, and Legs Malone. The RedPalace, 9 & 11.

12/16 – Sticky Buns Burlesque, featuring the Sticky Buns troupe with special guests Spencer Horsman and Miss Joule. Illusions, 1025-27 S Charles St, Baltimore, MD, 8:30pm.

12/17-18 – 2nd Annual Morbid Anatomy Holiday Fair, at The Observatory.

12/21 – The winter solstice. Also my parents' anniversary.

12/24 – Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast, free screening at the National Gallery of Art. 4:00

12/25 – Christmas. Survive! Enjoy it if you can, take a nap, don't eat too much, maybe make time for a movie or just to sit quietly and read.

12/30 – Accidental Circus Holiday ExtravaganzApocalypse. With Paolo Garbanzo, Mab Just Mab, the Mezmer Society, Sidetracked, and Darbuka Dave, with more to come.  Gallery 5, 200 W Marshall St, Richmond, VA. 8:00pm.

12/31 – Two free French fantasy films at the NationalGallery: Jean Cocteau’s 1950 Orphee at 2:00, and Jacques Demy’s 1970 Donkey Skin at 4:00.

12/31 – Ball Drop Burlesque & Variety Blowout Bash. New Year’s Eve party at the Red Palace. With Dr. Lucky, Lil’ Steph, Miss Joule, Paco Fish & Marla Meringue, Mab Just Mab, DJ Momotaro, and hosted by Scotty the Blue Bunny. Shows at 9, 10, and 11; advance tickets (highly recommended) are $30.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Phantom Serenade: The Chase in the Catacombs

We've been tracking the fiend from October, and a trail of clues has led us to the catacombs under the city. Every so often we think we've found him, but then he eludes our grasp....or it's not him at all. We've encountered a rat-catcher, and a mysterious man who calls himself Armand and who limps horribly. The trail has led us through what was once a speakeasy and at another point we stumble on what seems to be a Satanic chapel...and recently used.

And then, from hidden speakers, comes this tune from Mussorgsky...

Wait! Was that him? Good grief, what is he carrying?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


This was one of the first books I especially bought for my Kindle; actually, I think I got it with a gift card.

This is one fun, zesty read. It's not fiction; it's a combination of scientific history and true crime. We're presented with two parallel stories. The first is about Guglielmo Marconi and his development of the wireless, and how he worked and slaved at developing it and making it work...sometimes at the expense of his family and friends.

The second is of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, a U.S. born homeopath living in London. He was unhappily married to a philandering would-be music hall artiste, but began having affairs himself. Eventually his wife disappeared after a party, and he claimed she had returned to the U.S. and later had died and was cremated there. Meanwhile, his mistress moved in and began wearing Mrs. Crippen's clothes and jewelry. Mrs. Crippen's friends began to suspect foul play and contacted the police. A search was conducted of the house and the police were satisfied there had been no murder, but Crippen and the mistress panicked and fled for the US aboard a steamship. The captain suspected them, and contacted the police with the brand-new wireless, the first time it was ever used for detection purposes, and Crippen was arrested when he disembarked in Canada.

It's a fun story; the two streams eventually intersect in a dramatic way. And Larson is fair to Crippen; he never confessed, and there have been doubts cast on his guilt, but one cannot deny that his actions were very suspicious. Human remains were discovered under his basement floor, but there are doubts that they were his wife's. Larson's style is very straightforward, and he alternates between the two stories to keep things going.

Some may be annoyed by the interruptions to one or the other story; I have to admit, I found myself getting into the Crippen plotline more than the Marconi. But still, I'm glad I read this and recommend it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Judge Dee: Necklaces and Poets

Dee is on vacation after some tough work, and is on a fishing trip in quiet "Rivertown" where he hopes to relax. However, he is contacted by the local authorities, including an Imperial princess who makes her residence at a riverside palace there. The Princess is horrified at the loss of a valuable pearl necklace, a gift from her father, and her camp in the palace is worried that this is part of some scheme to manipulate the Emperor. Also, there's the death of a hotel clerk, and the disappearance of the owner's wife, that complicates things.

This is the next-to-last Dee novel written, and by now van Gulik had abandoned the named three cases and the map of the scene in the beginning. However, it's got some good characters, including the plucky niece of the innkeeper, Fern, whose assistance to Dee is invaluable. There's also a roving Taoist monk, Master Gourd, who proves to be more than he seems. There's also a nice glimpse of palace life, indolent and luxurious on the surface but full of scheming and decadence underneath.

Dee is staying a few days in the neighboring district of Chin-Hwa, just in time for the Autumn Moon festival. He's being hosted by his old friend Magistrate Lo, who's hosting a gathering of poets for the occasion. But of course, Dee gets embroiled in murderous goings-on. Yoo-lan, a former courtesan turned poet is attending, although she's been accused of beating a servant to death. Soong I-wen, a student, is murdered in a silk merchant's house. And a dancer is killed shortly after performing at a banquet. Are the cases connected?

Well, of course they are. But it's fun on the way. We get a good look at Magistrate Lo, a character often depicted as foolish and frivolous, but this time we're allowed to see a shrewd, intelligent side to his character. There's also some side characters, like the poet Sexton Loo, whose beliefs are a precursor of Zen, and the tragic Saffron, a mentally ill girl who lives in a nearby Shrine of the Black Fox.

One interesting aspect is Yoo-lan, who is based on the real Chinese poetess Yu Xuanji, who really was a courtesan who became a respected poet, reportedly had an affair with great poet Wen Tingyun, but whose life ended on the scaffold after being accused of the murder of a servant, a charge that is debated to this day. (According to some sources, that story may be completely false.) One of Yu's poems is reproduced in the book, in a scene set in a pavilion during an autumn banquet, a scene I found very memorable.

There's a few weaknesses in this entry; the plot's a little thin and hurriedly resolved. But van Gulik was writing this while very ill, and it was published a year after his death, so perhaps his talents weren't at their full peak.

For a bit of irony, the next book in the sequence of the series is the first written....

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Afternoon Double Feature

After a leisurely Sunday dinner, swapping tales of Halloween misdeeds and comparing plans for Thanksgiving, we amble down the street to our favorite cinema for a double feature!

First up is "The Monster", a 1903 gem by our old friend George Melies.

And then a 1908 short, made in France by Spanish director Segundo de Chomon. Are you ready for "The Haunted House"?

The sun is setting earlier and it's getting dark as we file out. As usual, conversation and laughs continue at the cafe down the street...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Two Quick Ones

For the first time, I borrowed a couple of library books on my Kindle. I got 'em through the portentiously-named Maryland Digital eLibrary Consortium, but it was fairly easy (you borrow it, and then you can either download the book from Amazon or connect your Kindle to wi-fi and it automatically downloads). The big problem right now is that I've heard that some of the biggest publishers haven't signed on with the Kindle borrowing system so you'll still have to borrow a lot of physical books.

Anyway, the two I borrowed fit the parameters of what I talk about here (yes, believe it or not, I do occasionally read things that aren't quite right for this blog), so here's a couple of quickies...

I'd heard a few things about Steve Berry's books, and finally read his first. It's not's very much in the paperback-thriller mold, with some very by-the-numbers plot elements and underdeveloped characters, but at the same time, it is pretty interesting for its delving into the real-life mystery surrounding the Amber Room, a room-sized art installation of amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors. It had stood in the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg but was seized by the Nazis (as part of their looting of art treasures across Europe) and disappeared after WWII.  It's been reconstructed based on what's known of the original design but people still search for the original.

Basically, the story is of a woman whose concentration-camp survivor father dies, leaving her a clue to the location of the Amber Room. She goes off in search of it, with her ex-husband following, and two hired killers working for ruthless and unscrupulous art collectors watching.

The Amber Room, before WWII
Berry's passion for art and history shines through, and sometimes I wondered if he wouldn't be better off doing nonfiction. He manages to fit in a lot of real-life detail about the Amber Room, as well as the Nazi rationale for looting art treasures, that for all its drawbacks as art, The Amber Room is actually a rather informative read. I read it in a few days; it went down easily and smoothly, and if I waited any longer to review it, I probably would have forgotten much about it aside from Berry's research.

The other...ugh...

I only got about a quarter of the way into Dracula the Un-Dead it before I was sorely tempted to throw my Kindle across the room in disgust. I hated this book! It purports to be a sequel to the original Stoker novel but is more of a sequel to Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula, which itself sets up to be the original novel before suddenly veering into Dark Shadows territory and having nothing to do with Stoker's creation. Mina is now in love with Drac, Harker is a bitter alcoholic, Seward a drug-addled loser, Holmwood an ineffectual coward, and Van Helsing has gone insane and become a vampire himself. I checked up on stuff and yeah, it turns out it makes Drac himself into the good guy. Ugh. If you're going to write a sequel to a classic novel, don't freaking rewrite it!

Plus it's just got such a flat, unengaging writing style; there's no real zest or zing to it. It just lies there, like the steak you thawed two days ago but forgot to cook and are now afraid to even look at. Steve Berry's The Amber Room if you have a taste for art history and are in the mood for an easy read; avoid Dracula the Un-Dead at all costs.

Monday, November 14, 2011


This 1896 volume, available for a free download from Gutenberg, is a fun survey of gravestones as art, an early example of serious taphophilia.

Author William Thomas Vincent ("President of the Woolwich District Antiquarian Society; Author of 'The Records of the Woolwich District,' etc.") has a wry sense of humor that hasn't grown brittle or dusty with age. And one of the best things about this book is that Vincent doesn't get self-consciously Goth-y or spooky; he addresses gravestone art as a serious folk art with infectious enthusiasm.

He's great at recognizing the patterns and trends in the art, and making all sorts of cool surmises about what was going on with the person buried, or with the carver responsible for the stone.

The one potential problem is that this book looks at gravestone art in the British Isles, and he's examining stones that are older than what I see here in the states, and from carvers from different schools and traditions. Still, the concepts and fundamentals you pick up here can probably be applied where ever you go rambling.

And Vincent's sketches are simply delightful.

It's a quick read, and will probably encourage you to go walking in graveyards and driving to remote towns to look for interesting markers. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Like I said, it's free, and can be downloaded to your Kindle or other e-reader, read on your laptop or tablet, or even (gasp) printed out. Abebooks has modern copies (probably printed out from Gutenberg & then bound) for under $20; good luck getting any original hardcovers for less than three digits, though.

So download away, and let it inspire your explorations.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dust & Corruption Calendar: November 2011

November is here, and I'm a teeny bit late, but finally here's the calendar of interesting-sounding events for the month...feel free to chime in if you know of anything...

Now thru 11/13 - NetherWorld, a Morality Vaudeville, presented by The Cosmic Bicycle Theater and ClockWorks Puppetry Studio, 196 Columbia St, Brooklyn, NY.

Now thru 11/26 - "Mechanical Wonders: The Sandoz Collection" Display of antique watches and clockwork automatons, and I'm sick over not being in New York to see this. A La Vieille Russie, 781 Fifth Ave at 59th St, New York, NY. Ticket sales to benefit the Jazz Foundation of America.

Now thru 12/31 - "Le Cinema Fantastique" Film series at the National Gallery of Art. All films are free. 4th & Constitution Ave, Washington, DC.

11/4 - 11/12: Burlesque & Belly Laughs, a series of performances of local burlesque & comic talent. DC Arts Center, 2438 18th St NW, Washington, DC.

11/9 - Hot Todd Lincoln's House of Hotness! Burlesque show hosted by one of my best friends (I'm being totally sincere). The Red Palace, 1212 H St NE, Washington, DC.

11/10 - "From Blue Beads to Hair Sandwiches: Edward Lovett's Folklore Collection." Explore a collection of amulets and curiosa, with a lecture by Ross MacFarlane. Free. Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London, UK.

11/11 - Prohibition Variety Show! Burlesque and variety presented by Gilded Lily burlesque troupe of Baltimore. Illusions Magic Bar & Lounge, 1025 S. Charles St, Baltimore, MD.

11/11 - The Grand Guignol: Parisian Theatre of Fear and Terror, 1897-1962. Lecture & book signing by Mel Gordon, with complimentary absinthe. The Observatory, 543 Union St, Brooklyn, NY.

11/12 - Absinthe and Other Liquors of Fin de Siecle France. Illustrated lecture and liquor tasting with director Ronni Thomas. The Observatory.

11/15 - National Press Club Book Fair & Authors Night. National Press Club, 529 14th St NW, Washington, DC.

11/15 - Anthropomorphic Mouse Taxidermy, workshop at the Observatory. Another class on 11/29.

11/16 - "Russian Folk Art," talk and book signing by Alison Hilton. Hillwood Museum, 4155 Linnean Ave NW, Washington, DC.

11/17 - Capital Tassels & Tease: Gobble Gobble Edition. Burlesque from budding performers. The Red Palace

11/18 - Valentine Candy Burlesque Presents Freaks & Oddities! Burlesque & comedy hosted by Reverend Valentine and Candy del Rio. The Red Palace

11/19 - No Computer is an Island. A PowerPoint film with live music. The Observatory.

11/24 - Thanksgiving Day, in the US. Don't overdo it.

11/25 - Black Friday, in the US. You might be better off staying home and reading or watching a movie.

11/29 - "Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman." Talk and book signing by Robert K. Massie. Hillwood Museum.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

At the Phantom Cabaret: A Requiem

We're gathered in the coolest cabaret in least in our opinion! Drinks are served, conversation is flowing. And then the lights dim and the Slomski Brothers take the stage!

I took this myself at a show last fall.

And we spend a fun evening of great musicianship, humor, and sheer enjoyment.

And now for the requiem part:  Phil Slomski, the burly one with the Amish beard, passed away this past Saturday, a few days after his 44th birthday. It's a loss that hit like a ton of bricks, even though he really wasn't a close friend. It was just so sudden (a heart attack followed by a series of strokes), and he was so young. It always seems so damned wrong when someone younger than yourself passes away.

At any rate, he was a great musician and comedian, and an intensely likable person. I know many people who have worked with him, and many who wanted to, and his loss is a blow to the local burlesque/vaudeville community. You are missed, Phil; save us all a seat at the bar....

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cabaret Macabre!

I'm being a bit of an old poop this Halloween. I've been experiencing some foot pain (I probably need to replace my inserts), and getting around without a car has occasionally been a freakin' annoyance. (I should add that some of my friends have really come through for me, and for that and them, I am extremely grateful.) We had a dreadful cold snap today, with record lows, sleet and snow making dicey traveling, and a freeze expected in the small hours tonight. Also a bit of personal drama (not going into detail, except to say that someone's been crossed off the Christmas card list, at least for the time being) has left me in a sour mood. So rather than be a killjoy at parties, I've been going to the movies and the theater, and actually having a good time.

Tonight I hit Happenstance Theater's delightful "Cabaret Macabre," the second of what will hopefully be an annual event. There's no real plot here; it's a series of sketches, all influenced by sources as scattered as Edward Gorey, Tom Waits, true crimes, Tom Lehrer, Goethe, and others. There is a loose connection around the concept of a school for "Precocious Twins" but that's merely an excuse for some loosely-connected skits. As there always is, there's parts that aren't as funny as others (a repeated gag seems like a bad idea), and sometimes the audience was chuckling at stuff that was really meant to be serious (a dramatic reading of "The Erl-King", which I saw coming almost at once), but overall it was a grand experience. There's skits, readings, and musical interludes, including Schubert's "Du Bist Die Ruh" on cello, piano, and musical saw.

Mark Jaster, one of the two brains behind Happenstance, is an amazing performer, communicating volumes with a single gesture or small change of expression. Sabrina Mandell, the other brain, combines an appealing goofiness with sharp-as-a-tack expressions. The rest of the cast is quite good, and Matthew Pauli was memorable when he strutted onstage, shirtless, as "Shears the Groundskeeper." (Alas, it's only one brief bit. Yes, I'm being a toad.) Karen Hansen's original music livens up the proceedings. It's also one of those shows that makes you appreciate good lighting design.

It's all great fun, and rekindles my yearning for a full-time cabaret. One of my many recurring pipe-dreams (at least, one of those I can comfortably share on this blog) is having my own nightclub/cabaret...although I'm undecided if I'd call it "Le Cafe Fantomas" or "Das Kabarett Mabuse."

"Cabaret Macabre" plays at Round House Theatre's Silver Spring facility, right on Colesville Road next to the AFI Silver. It plays Thursday through Sunday till Nov. 13, with a show on Halloween night as well. Tickets are $15 and worth every penny. See it, folks, this is Dust & Corruption delirium.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Afternoon at the Movies: Heading North

And again, after lingering over lunch, swapping stories and conversation and showing off our latest finds at the thrift shops and used book stores, our group is walking through the doors of our favorite theater again.

The weather has been chilly, and there's already talk that it will be a bad winter, so why not get in the mood?

This is a kissing cousin to Melies' famous "Trip to the Moon" but may be better in a few ways. I love the Professor's airship and the competition between the varying methods of transport. An enjoyable relic.

Show's over; time to retreat to our favorite cafe for a drink before going our separate ways...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

THE POISONED PEN by Arthur B. Reeve

From 1912, this isn't a novel, but a collection of short stories published in assorted magazines. Still, it's a fun collection of early scientific-detective works, sometimes seeming rather steampunk-ish.

Reeve's detective Craig Kennedy repeats his usual pattern of being hired to look into some crime, then using what was then high-tech equipment to foil the evildoers.

The first story, "The Poisoned Pen," is a tale involving a seemingly accidental poisoning of a young actress in a New England artists' colony. In fact, when I first read it I thought maybe Reeve had based the story on the real-life death of silent film actress Olive Thomas, who died in Paris of an accidental poisoning, but Reeve's story prefigures the Thomas case by nine years. Yikes! It's solved through skilled chemical analysis.

In "The Yeggman," (an old word for a burglar; sounds almost comical these days, doesn't it?), Kennedy is hired by an insurance company to look into a case of stolen pearls, and a maid chloroformed to death. He analyzes how the safecrackers worked, using low-level explosives, and lays a trap with a high-speed camera while going undercover in a gang of housebreakers. It's all lurid silent-movie stuff, like something out of Feuillade.

"The Germ of Death" is interesting in its sympathies for Russian revolutionaries in the days before the Red Scare, which really took hold in 1919. Kennedy investigates suspicious deaths in a cell of Bolsheviks headquartered in New York, which turns out to be done by a Czarist spy using typhus germs in an early case of bioterrorism. There's also an early appearance of a bomb-transporting device. It's kind of funny seeing Russian revolutionaries being depicted as so noble and idealistic, and the czarists so evil, when in a few short years there would be all sorts of sympathy for the czarists and the Bolsheviks would be so reviled. America is so fickle.

"The Firebug" has Kennedy hired to look into a rash of arsons, but all are around a chain of department stores. He solves the case with handwriting analysis (the arsonist conveniently sends taunting notes to the fire chief), legwork, and a "telautograph," a long-distance writer that allows him to summon a warrant. "The Confidence King" brings in the Secret Service as Kennedy deals with a counterfeit ring; we get a rundown of Bertillon's "portrait parle," and describes a bizarre method of changing one's fingerprints that is so loopy it just HAS to be bullshit, as I've never heard of it being done anywhere else. (My attempts to Google it have yielded nothing, so it's either something Reeve made up or else something that has since been discredited and discarded.)

A telautograph.

In "The Sand-Hog" Kennedy investigates evil deeds committed during the construction of a tunnel (sandhog is a term used for workers in excavation projects). Much is made of how the workers are operating in a pressurized environment, but the case is solved with a "telegraphone" or early bugging device.

A telegraphone.
Up next is "The White Slave," something that folks in the early 20th century seemed to hold in horror, although it's still a problem today. It's just not nice girls kidnapped off the streets to be forced to work as hookers, but immigrants duped into going to another country and end up in forced sexual servitude. Anyway, this story is less about drugs and prostitution and more about Kennedy exposing a fake psychic, and explaining some of the techniques used by such frauds. In that respect, this story is a little dear to my heart...nothing warms me like exposing a fake psychic who exploits the unhappy to line their own pockets. Interestingly, the resolution is brought about by hair analysis.

"The Forger" has Kennedy up against a check-forgery scheme, which was seemingly easy to do back then. The case is resolved by judicious use of a "telectrograph," or early fax machine for sending photos. (It makes me want to dub the fax machine in my office the "telelectrograph," which would certainly bewilder most of my co-workers. My boss would probably join in, though.) "The Unofficial Spy" opens with a mysterious death in a hotel, segues into Kennedy explaining the so-called "endormeurs" of Paris (criminals who drug their victims then rob them, at least according to Reeve), and ends up with Kennedy improvising a bug and stumbling on a plot for freelance spies to sell vital documents. It actually goes to Washington DC, to "the house on Z Street" which doesn't exist. Reeve probably knew that.

"The Smuggler" has Kennedy brought in to foil an attempt to smuggle designer gowns and jewelry to high-fashion shops of New York, reminding me of Patricia Moyes' 60s novel Murder a la Mode that deal with industrial espionage in the fashion world. It's solved with the assistance of a photophone.

A photophone.
Up next is "The Invisible Ray," in which an ailing millionaire is seeking his long-lost daughter, who may be a fraud. He suddenly goes blind and it appears to be connected to a crackpot alchemist who may be in cahoots with the "daughter." The man dies but Kennedy brings him back to life with a Draeger Pulmotor (yeah, you read that right, the man is brought back to life...this one pushes suspension of disbelief a little too far), and Kennedy reveals the man was blinded by ultra-violet rays (!), and the culprits arrested.

A Draeger pulmotor
Finally, "The Campaign Grafter" has a potentially honest politician being besmirched by a seemingly incriminating photograph, something that would be laughable today. The bad guys are brought down by some sneaky photography and a bit of bugging.

Is it good? Not always; sometimes it's just too formulaic and clunky for its own good. But at the same time, it's kind of fun to read these stories that tackle criminal problems with "revolutionary" devices that are so quaintly interesting to us today. Sometimes the attitudes are eye-opening, like in its treatment of Bolsheviks. And from a steampunk perspective, it's a lot of fun. I almost want to experiment with some of these. But they're also fun from the perspective of putting yourself in a silent-movie frame of mind, which is how I read them. So if you're fond of that period, read away!

CONTAGIOUS by Scott Sigler

Again, this isn't my usual thing, but it's so good I had to review it. Contagious is Sigler's sequel to Infected, a book I reviewed earlier, and continues the saga of Scary Perry Dawsey, former footballer turned avenging angel who's teaming up with the government scientists and doctors who are investigating the mysterious disease that's turning people into raving maniacs...and forcing them to participate in the construction of mysterious gates that communicate with another planet.

Where Infected dealt mostly with Dawsey's breakdown, this book steps back a bit and lets us see a bigger picture. We see the military leaders coping with the gates and the creatures trying to come through. We have a President, newly elected, making tough decisions about how to handle the infection. And we have Dawsey, getting himself back together and attempting to find some meaning in life after the events of the last book.

One thing that was pretty cool was how, in the first book, Dawsey was dominated by memories of his abusive father and seemed to take strength from that. However, this time around we get a better picture of how screwed-up Dawsey is as a result of his childhood...and how he actually finds real strength and a bit of peace as he forges an unexpected bond.

We also see more from the bad guys' perspective. There's a satellite orbiting Earth that's a source of the contagion, and we get a glimpse of its purpose and backstory. And there's a child who's infected with a new strain, who becomes a control and nexus for the invaders. She's a great villain, an angelic child who's all selfishness and impulse, only this time having the power and authority to have her every whim catered to.

So there's more psychology of Dawsey here, and also some pretty pointed satire on religion, as under the girl's guidance the infected begin to view things as a crusade, and she progresses from viewing herself as God's messenger to a new God entirely. (I mean, c'mon, give a kid that sort of power, they'd go completely berserk...)

It's quite good stuff, although Sigler admits he had a bitch of a time writing this. (I listened to the audio podcast version, and he does a Q&A in the last episode that's very illuminating.) He's getting the wheels turning on a third novel, Pandemic, and I'm looking forward to that. In the meantime, I'm trying to figure out what to listen to next; Ancestor, Earthcore, or Nocturnal? I've been listening to his "Bloodcast" short audio fiction podcast, which is very fun. He also has a series centered on the "Galactic Football League" that I haven't sampled yet, and I have to admit that it's because I'm not much on football.

But buy 'em, borrow 'em from the library, download 'em to your MP3 player. Sigler's a cool dude and deserves support.

And here's a video promotion for the book...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Something Else for the Calendar

This totally slipped my mind, and I'd originally meant to include it, so here goes...

10/28-11/13 - "The 2nd Annual, All-New, Cabaret Macabre," by Happenstance Theater. I saw "Cabaret Macabre" last year and had a blast, and I've come to love this quirky group for their cabaretesque performance pieces. This is definitely worth checking out. Round House Theatre Silver Spring, 8641 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, MD. (Right next to the AFI Silver Theater, part of the same building but a different entrance.) Check their website for showtimes.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Dust & Corruption Calendar: October 2011

It's gonna be a busy month! Here's some stuff going on locally and elsewhere that caught my eye...

10/6 - "Born of the Floating World: A Brief Exploration of the Japanese Graphic Narrative," illustrated talk by Dev Avidon, examines the roots of manga and anime in the art of 17th and 18th century Japan. The Observatory, 534 Union St, Brooklyn, NY. Tix $5, starts at 8:00.

10/7 - Edgar Allan Poe House Benefit Concert, featuring Lenorable, Dance for the Dying, Nunchuks, and Lions & Tigers & Whales. Velvet Lounge, 915 U St NW, Washington DC. Doors at 9:00, admission $8.

10/11-14 -  Soiree Debauche tours the mid-Atlantic, a burlesque show featuring Maria Bella, Mab Just Mab, Little Luna, Malibu, Nona Narcisse, August Hoerr, and Mark Slomski. 11th - Gallery 5 in Richmond, VA. 12th - The Red Palace, Washington DC. 13th - The Ottobar, Baltimore, MD. 14th - The Rex, Pittsburgh, PA.

10/13 - "The Empire of Death: Spectacular Ossuaries and Relics in the 16th and 17th Centuries," lecture and book signing by Dr. Paul Koudounaris, explores the uses of human remains in decorating religious shrines. The Observatory, 534 Union St, Brooklyn, NY. Tix $5, starts at 8:00.

10/14 - Seismic Sideshow, an array of sideshow & burlesque performers, a benefit for the annual Sideshow Gathering. Two shows, 9:00 and 11:30. The Red Palace, 1212 H St NE, Washington, DC. Tix $10 in advance, $15 on the day of the show.

10/15 - Halloween Costume Tea. For your younguns, a chance to dress up, have a colonial-era tea, and make some Halloween treats. Tudor Place House & Gardens, 1644 31st St NW, Washington, DC. Tix $20-$25. 1:00pm to 3:00pm.

10/15 - "Love Potion #1", an adaptation of the opera "L'Elisir d'Amore" by Donizetti, produced by my pals at the ever-interesting and innovative IN Series. Shows 10/15, 16, 22, 23, 28, 29, at GALA Hispanic Theater, 3333 14th St NW, Washington, DC. Tix $40, check site for showtimes. I'm ushering on the 23rd, so say hi if you come.

10/15-11/2 - Noir City DC 2011, a film noir festival featuring such classics as MILDRED PIERCE, THE MALTESE FALCON, LAURA, EXPERIMENT IN TERROR, SUDDEN FEAR, and many others. AFI Silver Theater, 8633 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, MD. View the full schedule at the website, where tickets can be purchased.

10/15-31 - Halloween on Screen, AFI's yearly schedule of horror films for the season, this year including a special tribute for Vincent Price's centennial. Films include TOMB OF LIGEIA, PIT AND THE PENDULUM, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, THE TINGLER, WITCHFINDER GENERAL, and others. AFI Silver Theater, 8633 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, MD. View the full schedule at the website, where tickets can be purchased.

10/16 - Skepticamp DC, a day-long grassroots conference on skepticism. I'll be presenting a paper on dentistry, tackling the marketing claims of over-the-counter dental products, and the intersection of dentistry and internal medicine. 10am to 6pm, Prince Georges Room, Stamp Student Union, University of Maryland, College Park, MD. Registration is free, lunch is provided.

10/16 - Feral Femmes, burlesque & belly dance fundraiser for the ASPCA and feral cat rescue. Solly's Tavern, 1942 11th St NW, Washington DC. Tix $10, Doors 7:00, show 8:30.

10/20 - Capitol Tassels & Tease! View DC's budding burlesque beauties. The Red Palace, 1212 H St NE, Washington, DC. Doors at 8:00, showtime at 9:00, tix $10.  

10/20 - "From the Magnificent to the Macabre: Send-Offs for the Dead," illustrated talk and book signing by Sarah Murray, looks at over-the-top funerals. The Observatory, 534 Union St, Brooklyn, NY. Tix $5, starts at 8:00.

10/22 - The 4th Annual Silver Spring Zombie Walk. Dress up like a zombie, or a zombie hunter, and join in the lurch. Gather at Jackie's or the Sidebar, lurch up Georgia Avenue (starting about 8:45), scare the folks on Ellsworth, then relax at the AFI Silver for a showing of DEAD SNOW.

10/22 - THE HANDS OF ORLAC, with live music. The 1924 silent horror classic gets a live soundtrack. ArtSpace Herndon, 750 Center St, Herndon, VA. Tickets are $5. (I'd love to do this, but lacking transport at the moment, it seems unlikely.)

10/22 - Halloween and Day of the Dead Party, with music, costumes, sugar skulls, burlesque, videos, and more. The Observatory, 534 Union St, Brooklyn, NY. Tix $12, starts at 8:00.

10/24 - "Freaks and Pornography: Victorian Popular Anatomy Museums, Sex, and the Unusual Body," illustrated talk by Saran Kathryn York, looks at Victorian museums which purported to show unusual examples of human anatomy but also trafficked in pornography. The Observatory, 534 Union St, Brooklyn, NY. Tix $5, starts at 8:00.

10/27 - Tudor Place History Haunt, an evening event for grown-ups, with a ghost-themed walk in the gardens followed by cocktails and refreshments. Tudor Place House & Gardens, 1644 31st St NW, Washington, DC. Tickets $10-$15, starts at 6:00pm.

10/27 - "Attack of the Mutant Theremin: A Scholarly Halloween Diatribe....with Music." Talk & performance by thereminist Kip Rosser; title pretty much speaks for itself. The Observatory, 534 Union St, Brooklyn, NY. Tix $5, starts at 8:00.

10/28 - Two silent classics with live music by the Alloy Orchestra! At 7:00, it's a restored 35mm print of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA with Lon Chaney; at 9:30 it's NOSFERATU. AFI Silver Theater, 8633 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, MD. Tix $20/$18 members. (It's two separate shows, not a double feature, alas.)

10/29 - The 4th Annual All Sinners' Night. Music and burlesque and costumes. The Windup Space, 12 West North Ave, Baltimore, MD. Doors at 8:00, tix $10.

10/31 - Halloween! Go wild, go crazy, just be sure to come back and tell the tale!