Some of you know that my older son, Nick, is currently undergoing his field training as a member of the Baltimore city police department.(Please save the concerned references to The Wire; believe me, I know.) He’s been calling me every couple of days to share the latest amusing anecdotes about life in the part of the city to which he’s been assigned, a neighborhood known as Marysville.Much of what he’s related has consisted of relatively low-level interactions between him and his training officer and the general populace.Yesterday and today, however, the stories he’s had to tell have been of a different order, altogether, and given some of what I’ve noticed on the web this weekend, have me more concerned— more worried than I like to admit.
The first incident occurred around dinner time, yesterday, when he and his training officer responded to a call for backup to a domestic disturbance.They arrived at a modest house whose front door had been broken open by a large stone planter, which partially blocked the doorway.Inside the house, a middle-aged man was brandishing a baseball bat at the much younger, and bigger, man who was standing on the front step.Apparently, the young man was responsible for the baby swelling the belly of the middle-aged man’s daughter—who was somewhere inside the house—and was also involved with one of the local gangs, the White Rhinos, who, despite their name, are not to be trifled with.When the homeowner had seen the younger man walking up the sidewalk, he had locked the door and called the police.He did not answer the young man’s knocking, after which, the young man stepped back, noticed the stone planters flanking the front step, and wrestled one of them up and over his head.He threw it into the door, which burst inwards.By that time, the first police officers had reached the scene, and were putting out the call for backup that Nick and his training officer would answer.They had seen the young man heft and throw the planter, so had their hands on their guns as they shouted for him to back away from the door.When Nick stepped out of the car, these officers had drawn their guns and were pointing them at the young man, who had not yet answered their calls to step back from the house.Complicating matters, the homeowner was brandishing his Louisville slugger at the young man, daring him to come one step closer, and from her place somewhere behind him, his daughter was screaming and crying.
Nick drew his own gun as the young man finally stepped back from the doorway and bent to pick up the other stone planter.It was quite the sight:each one was easily a couple of hundred pounds, yet this young man wrapped his arms around it and hefted it off the stoop as if it were a quarter of that weight.The cops, Nick included, were screaming at him to drop it, to put the planter down, which, even at the time, sounded absurd.Yet when the guy heaved it at them, and it struck the windshield of the first cruiser, it smashed a hole through it.That was enough for one of the cops:he shot the guy once, through the chest.The young man staggered back, but remained on his feet.At first, Nick thought that maybe the round hadn’t struck the young man dead center, but no, the hole in the guy’s sweatshirt was clearly visible.It wasn’t bleeding, which made him wonder if the guy were wearing some kind of body armor under his sweatshirt.All the cops were still shouting, telling the young man to lie down, but not only did he remain standing, he started to walk towards them.Because of where they were positioned, neither Nick nor his training officer could get a clear shot at the young man without endangering the homeowner behind him, but Nick was fully expecting the young man to collapse as his wound caught up with him.He did not, and the same officer who’d fired the first shot did so a second and a third time, tracking his shots up the young man’s torso as he went.His fourth bullet struck the young man in the face, under the right eye, and all at once, the guy dropped where he was.Things after that were fairly chaotic:once Nick and his colleagues had swarmed forward to check on the young man, who was indeed dead, there were calls to be made for an ambulance, for additional officers to support the investigation that was now required.It was, as you might imagine, a fairly intense experience for an officer still in training, and we spent a good deal of last night discussing it.It was strange, Nick said, but he couldn’t get over the lack of blood.He’d checked:that first shot looked to have gone clean through the guy’s heart.He should have bled all over the place, but even after he was down, there was no blood to speak of.
This was on my mind throughout the day, today, as I skimmed what seemed to me some of the more…extravagant stories making the news, popping up on the web.When Nick called tonight, those reports were the first thing he mentioned.Once I told him that yes, I’d seen them, but didn’t really give them much credit, he asked me if I were sure.I wasn’t, but didn’t a virus that could reanimate the recently deceased seem to be pushing the limits of believability, just a little?It did, Nick said, but the guy from yesterday?The M.E. wasn’t done with his examination, yet, but the word was, the young man he’d seen walking around, who’d thrown a stone planter forty feet at him and his fellow officers, had been dead for between twelve and fifteen hours when he’d done so.Nor was that all.Something had gone down last night—some kind of big operation involving the guys on the night shift and a group of feds who weren’t wearing any identifying logos on their body armor but whose orders command had told the night shift crew were to be followed without question.No one would say anything very definite, but apparently, they’d conducted a raid on a building that had been under surveillance as one of the way stations the White Rhinos used in their human trafficking operations.There was some kind of huge basement under the place where things had gotten pretty hairy.Today, everyone on Nick’s shift was given a handout detailing a set of behaviors to be on the lookout for ranging from aimless wandering to extreme, bath-salt-style acts of violence.The streets had been quiet, but there were rumors of things happening elsewhere, in D.C., Philly.
“You know,” he said before we hung up, “I know you’re not really into guns and all that, but maybe you should think about getting a shotgun or something.Just in case.”
“I’ll think about it,” I told him.To be honest, I already was.And I was wondering if it was already too late for that.
June of 2011 also marked the ten year anniversary of my marriage. Fiona and I celebrated by having a lovely dinner at a local restaurant, The Global Palate, which has taken over the building that housed the restaurant where we had our rehearsal dinner a decade prior. Our anniversary meal is one of the few I remember vividly from this past year: an enormous local pork chop with a side of creamy scalloped potatoes for me; risotto and a homemade ice cream dessert for Fiona. I'm not sure how to fit ten years of marriage, and twelve years together, into the space of much less than a very, very long book. Suffice it to say, there's a reason everything I write is dedicated to her.
For most of my adult life, each year has been so full of activity and events that it's often hard for me to remember what happened exactly when. 2011 was no exception; so, I thought I'd write down some of the year's more notable events.
No doubt, the year's most significant event for me, personally, was the birth of my first grandchild, Inara Mae Langan, to my son, Nick, and his wife, Mary, this past June. A grandfather at 41: who'd have thought it? But, I guess that's a chance you take when you have your first kid at the tender age of 21. Fiona and David and I visited the new family in their home of Baltimore at the end of July, and then they visited us in December. Needless to say, we saw huge changes in the baby, who grew ever cuter. (Yes, I know I'm fawning--it's a grandparent's right, okay?) This whole grandparent status has been kind of a strange one. There hasn't been the same kinds of dramatic changes in my day to day existence that accompanied the births of either of my sons. It's more a sense that my family has extended itself further into the future, that it hasn't grown just in number, but in duration.
2011 was also the year that Nick passed all the tests and was accepted to join the Baltimore City Police Department. He'd been trying to obtain a position with one of his local police departments for quite some time, and given a number of factors, including his age, the number of returning veterans applying for the same jobs, and the overall state of the economy, that he would succeed in finding a police job was not a sure thing. It came as a tremendous relief when he got the call from Baltimore City at the end of 2011. He'll start the academy in less than two weeks, now.
Nor was my younger son, David, any less busy. In addition to completing second grade and starting third, he began taking classes in Tang Soo Do--what I guess you could call Korean karate--at the local Y in July. Somewhat to my surprise, not only was he good at it, he was very good at it, and steamrolled through from his white to orange belts by December. He seems to me one of the stars of his age group, and I won't be surprised if, by this time next year, he's earned his green belt.
David's taking up a martial art also meant me ultimately returning to martial arts. I had studied Isshin-Ryu Karate in New Paltz several years ago, until bad knees and the demands of my schedule necessitated me giving it up. Watching David doing his moves class after class, though, I found myself missing the old routine. He and his teacher were eager for me to join the school, but I was leery of muscling in on something he'd made his own. So, we compromised: once he obtained his orange belt, I would begin taking classes. I should add here that I assumed it would take him at least a year to earn that next belt. Needless to say, I was mistaken. At the end of December, I put on the Do Bahk and started my training. It's been cooler than I could have predicted, taking a martial arts class with one of my sons. As of this writing, I've made my first, small advance towards my own orange belt. We'll see how it goes.
The winds of change do not blow from random places; they blow mightily from Toronto, Canada.
In July of 2009, when there were only dark whispers and rumblings of a sleeping giant, one poised to take the pop music world by storm, three seemingly unassuming young men from up there in Canadia, somehow made it to Readercon, the conference of imaginative literature in Burlington, MA. Richard Gavin, Ian Rogers, and Simon Strantzas made an impression on the attendees as thoughtful enthusiasts of horror fiction and passionate fans of the musical oeuvre of NSYNC and Backstreet Boys. Two weeks after their very low key but important penetration of the American border, their hurriedly pressed EP Tundra: Three Canadian Chillers was released. The hit “Omens” took the music world by surprise. While the synthetic beats and Splenda-sweet melodies were not ground breaking, it was the moody, gothic lyric “the darkly splendid realm” sung in a delicious falsetto by Richard Gavin that enchanted listeners. Their unexpected overnight success took an early toll on Gavin in particular, as he turned to religion to cope with the newfound stress and expectations. Reportedly, Gavin attempted to meld aspects of Kabala, Pentacostalism (mainly the rattlesnake handling), Norwegian Death Metal, and Howard Philip Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos into his own concoction he termed Strantzasism. Rogers and Strantzas had difficulty with Gavin’s newfound and scattershot fervor. Heedless of the warning signs of the problems that would germinate from beneath the surface, The Colour Out of Glitter (or CO0G) began to work on their smash follow-up, A Very Canadian Boxing Day.
A Very Canadian Boxing Day proved a wild success in Canada, dominating the local college radio airwaves for sixteen weeks and achieving a measure of popularity in the United States, cementing the band's status as pop godlings in the making. But it was this very international stardom that would prove the undoing of COoG. The trouble began innocently enough, as these things often do. Simon Strantzas was energized by the rabid support of COoG's two fans from the US, Paul Tremblay and John Langan, both of whom sent countless fan letters. Strantzas, dedicated champion of the people as he was, insisted upon personally answering each and every letter, which numbered in the scores weekly. Ian Rogers knew something was amiss when he noted that Strantzas licked each and every return envelope and stamp despite the fact they were of the self-adhesive variety. Strantzas was addicted to more than love -- his passion for adhesives would soon spiral out of control and led to grave consequences that would threaten to rip the band apart. Bad as matters were, however, the worst was yet to come.
Strantzas's increasing battle with adhesive-addiction, coupled with Gavin's sudden decision to spend three months pursuing a therapeutic cleansing via bran and pig's blood at a monastery in the Carpathian Mountains, led to Ian Rogers being thrust into leadership of the band. Before Strantzas and Gavin had departed for the Betty Ford Center and Romania, respectively, each had laid down rough vocal tracks for what was to be the band's next album, a collection of covers of classic love songs whose working title was Valentine's Day Three Ways. When Rogers had seen each of his bandmates off at the airport, he had reassured them that he would not, as he put it, "bollocks things up." Left to his own devices, however, Rogers decided to abandon this project in favor of something far more complex, a Valentine's Day concept album which would tell the story of Felix Renn; a lonely private investigator's quest for love in a city filled with monsters and bacon. Rogers blended Stranzas's moving cover of Bon Jovi's "Runaway" (which he oddly renamed "Cold to the Touch") with Gavin's tender homage to Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla," adding his own, polka-inspired take on The Bay City Rollers' "Saturday Night" to the mix and setting it all to a sampling of Donna Summer's Greates Hits. The resulting album, Johnson for Hire, would consist of this thirty-eight and a half minute song, whose title, "Everything I Do" (Love Theme from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), would lead to a fist-fight between Rogers and Bryan Adams when the two bumped into one another at that year's Canadian Music Awards, held at the downtown Toronto Sizzler. And though Rogers would claim his title had nothing to do with Adams's mega-hit, and that the copies of the album with Adams's face on the cover were the result of a mix-up he had nothing to do with, it was clear that, in his hands, what had been Canadia's latest entry into the world of pre-fab post-adolescent pop was in jeopardy.
Newly-released from his stay at Betty Ford, Simon Strantzas launched an ambitious plan to restore the fortunes of the band that, as he had put it, had allowed him to move into a house with a solid-gold toilet bowl. Together with Richard Gavin, rejuvenated by three months of relentless bran, he set up and booked a tour whose focus on the group's earlier, more audience-friendly catalogue would re-establish their bond with the two groups of fans who had made them what they were: lonely, middle-aged men whose pretensions to literary grandeur had long ago been ground to dust by a cruel and indifferent marketplace, and soccer moms. Although initially sluggish, ticket sales for the "The Colour Out of Glitter: It's the U That Makes Us Canadian (And Not British. Really.)" tour picked up dramatically after the group's surprise performance at Mr. Sub's "Buy One, Get One Half-Price" promotion. Ian Rogers, though, was not happy with the new-old course the band was following, and once again, his taste for violence would get the better of him. When he overheard veteran Canadian folksinger Gordon Lightfoot questioning the band's prospects while waiting for takeout at the Friendly Thai restaurant, Rogers leapt on the man with his full measure of fury. And though Rogers would subsequently receive almost half a dozen get well cards from his mother during his recovery at Toronto General Hospital, the delay his broken jaw, dislocated shoulders, ruptured spleen, and shattered knees threatened the tour with forced Strantzas and Gavin to a stern response. They publically suspended Rogers from the band, replacing him with Corey Hart for the remainder of the tour. To make matters worse for Rogers, he was the subject of a lawsuit by the Friendly Thai restaurant, which claimed that his actions had made their name a lie and forced them to change it "The Mostly Friendly Thai Restaurant." Together with the reggae-inflected cover of "Sunglasses at Night" Strantzas and Gavin recorded with Hart, which scored unexpected success on the elevator-music circuit, it was looking as if The Colour Out of Glitter might have lost its R.
It was during this time that Rogers had a meeting that would change his life, and ultimately, bring the original The Colour Out of Glitter roaring back to life. While picking up a jalapeno and pineapple crepe at Crepes a Gogo, Rogers felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see the grizzled face of Laird Barron smiling at him. Having heard of his old acolyte's troubles, Barron had leashed a team of half-rabid coyotes to an old bed frame and lashed them all the way to Canadia to deliver to Rogers a message that would steer him away from the cliff he was speeding towards: "Ian: cool it." Newly-empowered and -inspired by Barron's trenchant advice, Rogers steered his two-wheel segway out into the August snow and set off in search of the two men with whom he'd once shared such intimacy. As it turned out, Strantzas and Gavin were ready for his return: while initially happy for any measure of publicity, Corey Hart had become increasingly demanding, insisting that, for their next album, the group should release an album of German bratwurst songs. When Strantzas and Gavin saw Rogers reappear in the doorway of Strantzas's mother's basement, tears in his eyes, all was forgiven, and Hart was tossed out into the night, without his sunglasses.
So now, with a new lease on musical life The Colour Out of Glitter is back, headlining Buger King's "The King Isn't THAT Creepy" tour, working on their next album, It's Still the Eighties in Canadia, and ready for whatever life has in store for them.
This past Friday, Fiona and I left David in the capable hands of one of his friends' parents and took the train down to NYC to see a staging of my story, "How the Day Runs Down," by Nicu's Spoon. The theater had first contacted me about possibly performing the story, which first appeared in John Joseph Adams's Living Dead anthology and is written in play-format, last summer. I agreed to it, but my agent warned me not to get my hopes up: lots of pieces get optioned for performances that never materialize.
Still and all, here we were, heading into the city in the midst of a rather intense rainstorm. We were supposed to meet my agent for dinner, but due to a snafu, that didn't happen, so we located a Chinese restaurant on the way to the Spoon Theater, rushed through our respective meals, and got to the theater with ten minutes to spare. Located at 38 West 38th Street, on the fifth floor, it's a small space; though still with enough room for about fifty or so audience members. We found our way to a pair of chairs in the middle of the seating, and waited for the play to begin.
And what a show it was! I suppose you could say I'm biased, but I like to think that, having written the thing in the first place, my standards for its performance were especially high. The actors did not disappoint; while all of them delivered fine performances, the two pillars of the show were Mark Armstrong and Elizabeth Bell. As the Stage Manager, he immediately established a free and easy rapport with the audience that gave his narration of and commentary on the play's events a kind of downhome authority; as Mary, she held the audience spellbound with her account of the disaster that befalls her character's family. Honestly, I could not have asked for two better actors. Although there's humor in it, this is not zombie as camp experience; this is a narrative that becomes ever-more bleak--as it was intended to be.
Afterwards, I had a brief discussion with the audience and cast members about the play, which Fiona taped. If I can figure out how to work the Flip camera, I'll post some of it on You Tube. In the mean time, I can't recommend this performance highly enough. If you can make any of the remaining performances, I don't think you'll regret it.
Recently, David decided he wanted to move ahead with the plans for a freshwater fish tank he and his mom have been discussing for a while, now. They decided on platys, which are pretty little tropical fish. We went to the local pet store and got a pair.
Maybe four weeks later, we have four tanks up and running: a 20 gallon one for the majority of our fish population, and three ten gallon tanks, one for the most aggressive male platys, one for the dozen or so babies that have been produced by these surprisingly amorous fish, and a hospital tank. Meanwhile, sitting empty in the mudroom is a Fifty-fve gallon tank.
And now we're pet-sitting one of David's friend's lizards, a leopard gecko. Oh, I can see where this is heading...
Actually, I've already received a ton of very generous birthday wishes over at the Facebook. (See? Now that I'm a grandparent, I can add the definite article to all kinds of words.) I'm going to try to reply to each and every one of them, but in the meantime, thanks to one and all. Not much in the way of plans for today: David's started karate at the YMCA in Kingston, so I'll take him to his lesson this afternoon, and then he, Fiona and I will go out for Chinese food at the nice Chinese restaurant in Rhinebeck.
I suppose your birthday is as good a time as any to take stock of your life. The short of it is, I'm luckier than I have any right to be, and I'm grateful for it all.
Yesterday morning, I awoke to a bag of charcoal sitting on my chest. Fiona and David had gotten me an early birthday present, and this was part of it. Once I dragged myself out from under the charcoal, I found a grill waiting for me on the kitchen table. Just right for the Fourth of July.
Did I mention that the grill was in a box, waiting for me to assemble it, a process that the instructions assured me would take no more than 45 minutes? If you have any idea of my mechanical aptitude, or, more accurately, my complete lack thereof, then the four hours it actually took me to build the thing won't seem either that surprising or that hilarious. And let's not even go into the hour after that it took me to get the charcoal going...
That said, the grill is now up and running, and the hot dogs and veggie burgers we had for dinner were delicious!
Wow, it has been a while, hasn't it? Sorry for all the dust...and I'll get that light seen to as soon as I can. I thought it might be fun to open up the old place for the summer, see how that goes. And since it's summer, that means Readercon, perhaps my favorite ongoing convention. This year, I have a pretty full schedule--here, have a look:
Friday July 15
12:00 PM RI Writing Within Constraints.Scott Edelman, Elaine Isaak, Michael Aondo-verr Kombol, John Langan, David Malki ! (leader), Madeleine Robins. Whether it's writing on a theme for an anthology, writing on assignment or commission, or simply imposing rules to jump-start your creativity, writing within constraints can be an incredible way to defeat "the tyranny of the blank page." We discuss the rewards and challenges of starting with someone else's idea.
2:00 PM VT Reading.John Langan. Langan reads from a work not yet selected.
3:00 PM F Whatever Remains, No Matter How Improbable: Horror and the Scientific Method.Gemma Files, Jack M. Haringa, Caitl�n R. Kiernan (leader), John Langan, Sarah Langan. What makes The Exorcist (book only) especially terrifying to a science fiction fan is the slow, laborious exhaustion of all rational explanations for the observed phenomenon, leaving demonic possession as the only alternative. The irrationality of horror becomes much more effective when its natural opponent, the scientific worldview and method, is neither dismissed a priori nor treated as a strawman. Beginning with the presumption that science is wrong and that there is inexplicable evil in the world might well provoke these readers' unconscious skepticism; playing by science's rules and reaching that conclusion is thrillingly convincing. What other works have exploited this dynamic? Are there advantages lost when the demonic world-view is not taken for granted but is instead painstakingly established? How do works that do this read to the naturally horror-minded?
8:00 PM E Autographs.Caitl�n R. Kiernan, John Langan.
Saturday July 16
1:00 PM Vin. Kaffeeklatsch.Victoria Janssen, John Langan.
7:00 PM ME The One Right Form of a Story.Judith Berman, Marilyn "Mattie" Brahen, John Langan, Meghan McCarron, Gayle Surrette (leader). Quoth Mark Twain: "There are some books that refuse to be written.... It isn't because the book is not there and worth being written--it is only because the right form of the story does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself." Anyone who has adapted a fairy tale for a poem or developed a short story into a novel might disagree, yet many authors have also spent years chasing stories that evade capture until they're approached in just the right way. What makes some stories easygoing and others stubborn? Is the insistence on a story "telling itself" a red herring? And what does "form" really mean here?
9:00 PM NH Supernatural Noir group reading.Ellen Datlow, Caitl�n R. Kiernan, John Langan, Barry N. Malzberg, Paul Tremblay. Contributors to Supernatural Noir read selections from their work.
Sunday July 17
11:00 AM G The Shirley Jackson Awards.F. Brett Cox, Ellen Datlow, Peter Dub�, Scott Edelman, Gemma Files, Caitl�n R. Kiernan, John Langan, Sarah Langan, Victor LaValle (moderator). In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson's writing, and with permission of the author's estate, the Shirley Jackson Awards have been established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. Jackson (1916-1965) wrote such classic novels as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as one of the most famous short stories in the English language, "The Lottery." Her work continues to be a major influence on writers of every kind of fiction, from the most traditional genre offerings to the most innovative literary work. The awards given in her name have been voted upon by a jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics, with input from a Board of Advisors, for the best work published in the calendar year of 2010 in the following categories: Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Single-Author Collection, and Edited Anthology.
12:00 PM G The (Re)turn of the Screw.Michael Cisco, Caitl�n R. Kiernan, John Langan (leader), Geoff Ryman, Henry Wessells. Stories in which it's unclear whether the fantastic element is real or imagined by the characters have been regarded as central to the genre by scholars such as Tsvetan Todorov (who called this mode simply "the fantastic") and Farah Mendlesohn (one of her types of "liminal fantasy"). With novels such as China Miéville's The City and the City, Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, and Sarah Waters's The Little Stranger, we seem to be experiencing a resurgence of this classic subgenre. Why now?
It's a good mix of panels. While I'm always happy to be part of the horror discussions, I'm also pleased to be included in discussions of writing craft. Now, I just have to figure out what I'm going to read from...