Monday, June 18, 2012

Rodney King

Rodney King takes me back to NY in the early 90s, when a feeling of martial law engulfed the city during one evening. The city was battening down the hatches, as were other cities, fearing contagion of the riots then incinerating LA. It turned out that NY remained calm, with nary a fatality. I seem to remember one Korean shop worker was killed, but that would have been a standard statistic, when the city was a rougher place than it is today (homicide rates were around 3,000 per year.)

The King riots might be the last of the great racial/class riots of the US. Though still breaking out in Europe (remember last summer's U.K. hoody mayhem) this phenomenon has cooled down much stateside, since it began in the 1960s. In one way the King riots signaled the end of an era, but in another way, his video-captured beating brought in a new era.  The ubiquity of camera phones and Youtube have probably altered police behavior.

I was surprised to read of King's death. Just a month or two ago I had heard an interview with him, when he was publicizing his memoir. He seemed a happy man, mellowed by time generously compensated, thanks to a civil suit. His swimming pool death is eerily familiar--seems that many LA celebrities, or their spouses, die this way.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Rich history of childhood ghouls

Recently I read Kirk Demarais' wonderful book, Mail-order Mysteries (Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads) and was jolted to see several artifacts long forgotten. Perhaps the best was the Ghoul, a mask not thought of for perhaps 40 years.

This book explains dozens of fascinating things I only imagined--because I was a kid of too modest means, never being able to afford anything in the advertisements at the time. (Heck, I couldn't even afford the comic books in which these ads were printed, relishing the one or two comics my Grandma would buy for me each summer, before a camping trip!)

But some of the things in this book I actually saw and touched in childhood, finding treasures in my grandparents' basement. This place held a tremendous, intoxicating pull for me, for it offered a window into the world of of my uncle and father's childhood or teen years in the 1960s, a rich place. Literally rich, apparently. They evidently had had access to resources enough to have purchased things like this Ghoul Mask in their youth.

I had a good childhood, but in retrospect I see that it was probably more puritan, more modest than the generation before me. (This perhaps steeled me for the age of austerity that grinds on endlessly year after year, thanks to factors of globalization and technology. Are we hapless zombies or potato sack-wearing somnambulists, stumbling in the great "race to the bottom?") 

Not only were my means more modest, I suspect that my mother would have forbade much of the grotesque and muscular expressions, the monsters of the early 60s youth culture. A perfect example is this mask, the Ghoul, made by Topstone Company of Connecticut. Holy Mackerel--can you imagine something like this coming out of CT today?

Though I can't recall the exact moment I discovered this mask in the basement, I can imagine that I probably thought it first a slightly crusty rag, as I withdrew it from the corner of a drawer of closet, sharing the sweet dust of Outer Limits cards or gumball charms. Unfurling the rubber, I would have discovered this thing was a ghastly mask, a magical thing. It was scary enough just to handle, with its texture of mummified skin, in some places flaccid, in others, crusty, the latex aging. I think I scared the bejezuss out of my younger brother when I wore it (or was it the reverse, when he wore it?) Who knows what happened to it?

Thanks to books, the Internet, and eBay, I can see it again, rekindling a moment of wonder and horror long dormant.