Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Headphones Guy

Gather 'round for story time!

This one is true, and happened to me earlier this week.

Last Friday I picked up a rental car to take up North to see my family. When I returned to the house to pack our bags into the car (which turned out to be a small SUV, because the rental place was out of midsizes), my dog was acting strange. At first I thought she had gotten into the trash or done something else she wasn't allowed to do, because she looked guilty as sin. If you have a dog, you know this look - ears down, laying on her belly, submissive posturing. The kid and I looked around the house for evidence of wrong doing, and found none. My dog has a checkered past, and we don't know any of it. She was picked up as a stray, starving to death, covered in fleas and puncture wounds, and had clearly lived most of her live outside, as evidenced by the fly-strike on her ears, that had eaten away most of the velvety soft fur. This to say - sometimes she acts guilty and submissive because, I assume, she had a lot of experience being punished for nothing.

Usually some kind words and a belly rub pulls her out of feeling guilty for existing, but this time, it didn't work. She whined and cried at me, which was new. When she laid on her side, I rubbed her belly, and instead of her usual ecstatic response, she winced.

Fuck me, right?

The kid's car seat was already set up in the rental so I ran out and covered the cargo area in sheets and got her in. I say that like it was easy, but she was in pain and weighs as much as some adults, but the point is - I got her in.

I won't go into too much more detail because the reason I'm telling you the above is to say: I put my dog in a rental car.

You're not supposed to put your dog in a rental car, and you're especially not supposed to put your dog in a rental car if she sheds like a hair bomb going off, which mine does. The following day, I put her back in the rental car to follow up with her regular vet. When Monday rolled around and I had to return it, the back end of that Jeep grocery-getter was covered in fawn colored dog hair, despite my best efforts with the sheets. 

I had to get gas, because the car was a Jeep, and despite not driving it for hundreds of miles North, but just around the neighborhood to the veterinarian, I had used half a tank of gas. I figured the vacuum at the gas station was a better bet than my home vacuum, and I could kill two birds with one stone. I loaded the kid into the car and set off. 

This was my neighborhood gas station. I know the clerks, I've been there easily a thousand times since moving here four years ago. I had to run in to get change for the vacuum, so I left the kid in the car and ran inside. As I approached the door, I noticed a guy staring at me. He looked to be about my age or a little older, and was loitering outside wearing headphones. I wouldn't have noticed him if it weren't for how hard he was noticing me. Around the time I stopped being able to deny that he was staring at me, he pointed at my Snake Plissken t-shirt and shouted, "KURT RUSSELL!"

I laughed, feeling foolish (he was just staring at my t-shirt, god Renee, get a grip) and said, "Yeah!"

When I came out of the gas station, though, he yelled at me again. "KURT RUSSELL! KURT RUSSELL! BIG TROUBLE IN CHINA!" I told myself he was yelling because of the headphones, and stopped myself from saying, "No, Escape From New York" or "You mean Big Trouble in Little China" and instead said, "Yeah, man! Kurt Russell!" But then he followed me back to my car. He stopped about 100 feet short as I opened up the passenger side and pulled out the knife I keep in my purse and attached it to my waist band. I looked to the kid, and she didn't seem to notice, so I put my buck in the vacuum and went to work. 

As I vacuumed the thick coat of dog hair out of the cargo hold, I watched him. Another car pulled in beside me, apparently someone he knew. The vacuum ran out of juice, and as I got out to put another buck in, I noticed he was talking to these people in a completely normal tone of voice. He wasn't off his rocker, or deafened by his headphones - he just felt the need to yell at me. But he was minding his business at that point, so I went about mine. When I moved to the back seat where dog hair had inexplicably flown over the seat and covered everything, I noticed the man creeping closer to the car. I looked to the kid and saw that she was watching him, too. I didn't like it, but I couldn't get inside the gas station to tell them someone was loitering without passing him, and I felt like calling the police over a loud mouthed loiterer who liked Kurt Russell probably wouldn't help me. Then, this motherfucker stood right in front of my rental car and leaned against the wall.

I didn't like that the kid was watching his every move. She had her dad's iPad in her lap, and a baby bunny riding a puppy offering free candy can't tear her away from that thing - but she was noticing this guy, and watching him like she was waiting for him to do something. I had been keeping my eye on him since he followed me to the car, and I definitely didn't like that he was standing right in front of us. I wouldn't say he was staring us down, but he was clearly keeping his eye on us.

In my mind, I made a plan. I didn't want to confront him and ask him to leave, because I know all too well how a situation like that can escalate, and my kid was in the car. I didn't want to traumatize her, or put myself in danger right in front of her. But I couldn't ignore this guy's behavior, and the implicit risks. I tell myself, that if he comes to the door while I'm half in, half out, vacuuming up dog hair, I'll swing the hose at his face and go for my knife. I wonder what kind of damage the hose would do, and if sticking the industrial grade sucker on his face would serve me better. I look down for split seconds at a time to finish my vacuuming and keep my eye on him while trying to decide whether hitting him or trying to suck his eyeballs out of his face is the better opening move. He doesn't move from his spot in front of my car, and I try very hard not to imagine what he might be calculating in his mind.

If this were a short story, he would have moved to the door. I would have turned the vacuum on him - either hitting him in the face or sucking his eyes out, and things would have gone wrong, or at least not smoothly. I would have stabbed a man in front of my grade schooler, and you'd get some graphic descriptions of his blood spattering on the white paint job.

But he didn't make a move, so I didn't make a move. As I hurriedly wound the vacuum hose around it's hook, he started to drift around the passenger side of the car, but he gave it a wide berth. I decided I would rather not get gas there, and got in, making some excuse to the kid to alleviate any fear, and drove across the street.

As if this were a short story, a man at that gas station also stopped me to comment on my shirt, but he was friendly and not yelling at me. The only thing he did that rubbed me the wrong way, was disagreeing that Escape From LA is a good movie if you watch it in the right frame of mind.

My mind often goes to the worst case scenario - when I am writing and when I am not. Perhaps my response to the man with the headphones was over the top - but maybe it wasn't. I've been groped leaning into my car to buckle the kid in, right across the street from her elementary school. I've told men who were creeping me out to give me space only to see the situation turn into a screaming match. I've had all sorts of bad experiences with men in public spaces, and it wasn't a possibility I was going to bet against when I had my kid with me.

It turns out that the headphones guy incident was just punctuation in a bad week getting worse, so I am at a loss for how to conclude this. But I think these stories are important to tell. 


David Nemeth is a gift to us all

By Sam Belacqua

David Nemeth is doing a thing what needs to be done. He's a one-man machine with his goddamn INCIDENT REPORTS.

Submission calls. Book reviews. Articles. Interviews. Videos of author readings.

Each week this mother fucker is posting an amazing write-up of what the hell is going on in the crime fiction world, mostly in the "small press" realm.


Most of us (yeah, me included. fuck off) have our heads up our asses. Nine out of 10 author newsletters I subscribe to have something like "What Coffee I Was Drinking When I Wrote My Beautiful Words of Beauty Today," complete with links to some schmuck on Goodreads who said some nice words about you and your book because, honestly, why would I care about something that wasn't you, author?? Gawd, we authors can be such self-indulgent cockcanoes, convinced that people want to read the ways whatever goddamn 100-year-old celebrity what died this week influenced said author. Dear Author, No one gives a shit that the first time you wanted to be a writer was when you saw Sir Rupert McDickdoozle in the 1968 film noir "Dark Darknesses." Who gives a shit?

David Nemeth is helping spread the word about other authors, and I give a shit about that. So I grabbed my cup of Death Wish Coffee that I was drinking to honor the memory of Harry Dean Stanton, whose performance in The Avengers: Hulk on a Plane made my balls soft and ever so delicate, and I walked my scabby ass over to the email machine to ask Nemeth some questions.

Sam Belacqua: The fuck made you start this weekly report?

David Nemeth: I don't think I would have ever started "Incident Reports" without the crime fiction community being so welcoming and supportive of the book reviews I was doing. Once I realized that it was impossible for me to keep up with all the new books coming out, a weekly series was a way for me to at least mention them. That was its genesis, but I then I added book reviews, short stories, and articles I read because I'm a glutton for punishment.

SB: What the fuck is it with this weekly shit? That's a fuckload of work, man.

DN: Weekly, damn, yeah it is a lot of work. I did four weeks of dry runs before I published the first one to see if it was a doable thing. It's tough, but I have two things going for me: an understanding and supportive wife who I don't deserve and only one kid, who is in college. So I've got some free time. If anyone cares, technology-wise I am using Newsblur for RSS feeds and Instapaper to store articles. I just started using Scrivener to write the posts using Markdown and that has sped things up.

SB: Yes, people care about that tech bullshit. It's a goddamn nerdfest around here. Christ, in the time it took you to answer that question, seven douchenozzles have written blog posts about using Scrivwhateverthehellyousaid to write their novels that no one will ever publish. Speaking of writing, what kind of creative shit you been up to?

DN: I'm trying to write some short stories, and by trying, I haven't carved out the time just to sit down and write. I'll get there though, but I'm thinking about it at least. Instead, I'm reading, doing lots of reading, and binging Shameless with the Missus.

SB: Shameless with the Missus? Christ, is that some weird sex thing I don't know about? I'm not going to Google that. Sure, it sounds harmless, but I ain't going to have another "pegging" search page again. Fuckin' hell. Ain't enough brain bleach in the world, man. Anyway, what's one of your most popular posts? Some big successes?

DN: The most popular thing I've written on my blog was my post on the death of 280 Steps. I still miss them but hate the way they went out. BTW, can Hinkson ever find a publisher that will stay in business to keep Hell on Church Street in print? That book is the balls. What I really enjoy is when I recommend books and people dig them like Marietta Miles's Route 12, Paul Heatley's Motel Whore, or Lina Chern's Sparkle Shot.

SB: Anyone been a jackass? Any pushy authors? I want names and home addresses, goddamnit.

DN: Luckily, I've been under the radar so I haven't gotten bombarded. Will this article take me to the next level? I will say that the big publishers are the worst at rancid promotion on Twitter. How many times do big-time authors, authors I thought I respected, shill for a book that sucks? I hate that. At least with small presses, if a book isn't fantastic, you can see the effort and talent there. I'll support that over a shit-ass book from a major that was only written for a TV or movie deal in mind.
**
Thank Zeus we have this mother fucking David Nemeth showing us how it ought to be done. He's saying, "Hey, there's this cool thing someone else did. Go check it out." I mean, fucking hell, man. That's the shit right there. Pay it forward, or whatever that bullshit is. 

If you're doing newsletters and you aren't helping readers discover people who aren't you, then maybe you can take a lesson from David Nemeth's INCIDENT REPORTS.

And, by the way, if this mother fucker ever puts up a tip jar on his site, buy the man a drink each month. Hell, he's working his ass off for you people.

http://www.davidnemeth.net/incident-report-no-1/

PS - Dear Author, I didn't mean that your author newsletter was bad. You're a goddamn glorious snowflake & everyone loves you so hard.

PPS - I swear to whatever god you love that if you see Nemeth's blog and your first thought is that you ought to send him your own book for him to review, then you're a goddamn monster.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Why Aren't You Watching Narcos?

by Holly West

Look, I know these things are subjective and my own viewing habits are fairly narrow, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say this: Narcos is the best show on Netflix right now, and possibly, the best show on any network at the moment. So why is it I never hear anybody talking about it? And why hasn't it won very many big awards?

Or maybe, people are talking about it and I just missed it. I tend to miss a lot.

I've tried to avoid spoilers in the rest of this post but if you're concerned, maybe just go watch the show.

Medellin Cartel, as portrayed in Narcos
I'll admit, the first season fell into what I call the "homework TV" category. While that sounds like a bad thing (and in some ways, maybe it is), when I refer to something as "homework TV" I generally mean it requires a little work on my part to get into. Game of Thrones is, for me, a classic example of "homework TV" because there are so many elements I have to keep track of: characters, families, who sits on what throne, that sort of thing. I love the show, but sometimes I just don't feel like watching it because it requires more brain power than I'm willing to give.

At this point, you might be asking yourself: How lazy can a person be? But hey, I've never made a secret of my poor attention span. The Internet has only made it worse.

Chepe "negotiates" with the Dominicans. A truly stand out scene in Season 3.
Okay, so at first, Narcos was "homework TV," for a couple of reasons. One, much of it is in Spanish and requires subtitles for people like me who are less than fluent in the language. I don't have anything against subtitles except that sometimes they detract from what's happening on the screen. Second, like Game of Thrones, there are a lot of characters to keep track of because it follows a few cartels and government agencies. This, combined with the Spanish, often had me going back to ask, wait, who is this guy? Is he Cali Cartel or Medellin? Is he part of the Policia Nacional or local? These things matter because the jurisdiction of a particular law enforcement agency are sometimes central to the plot.

This is no fault of the show or its writing, I promise you. Based on true events, Narcos is a complex, beautifully acted and well-plotted drama that often has me on the edge of my seat. I wasn't sure how I'd like Season 3, given that the show started out being about Pablo Escobar. In this case, history is a spoiler because we know, more or less, how Señor Escobar died in real life.

Wagner Moura as Pablo Escobar
Speaking of Señor Escobar, the actor who plays him, Wagner Moura, is magnificent in this role. He was nominated for a Golden Globe in 2016 and, much as I love Jon Hamm (let's face it, I'm a sucker for a pretty face), Moura was robbed. In his portrayal, he struck the perfect balance between vicious psychopath and loving husband and father. Escobar himself would've been honored.

As it turns out, Season 3, in which the Cali Cartel takes center stage, is as strong as the first two seasons and in some ways, I liked it better. Although it lacks a single character as intense as Moura's Escobar, it has a Sopranos/Godfather-like quality, especially because one of the characters it focuses on is a key player in the cartel but desperately wants to get out. He's so good at his job that his employers won't let him. Picture Michael Corleone saying "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in." Only in this case, the stakes are far higher for the individual in question.

Pedro Pascal as DEA Agent Javier Peña
Once again, the writing and acting is top notch. This cast is multilingual and the performances are absolutely compelling. It helps that I've had a crush on Pedro Pascal, who plays DEA Agent Javier Peña, since his ill-fated appearance in the above-mentioned Game of Thrones, but good as he is, he's not the best actor in the cast, not by a long shot.

If you're looking for a series featuring strong women, Narcos generally isn't it. Part of it is the time and culture they're portraying, of course. And this isn't to say that the women in the series are weak, they just don't take center stage like the men do. You know, like in real life, 2017 USA. That said, as secondary characters they're a bit more nuanced than I see in a lot of popular television shows, which is something to applaud.


Sometimes, I have to wonder how much I miss in translation. Considering how much I love the show based on the subtitles, I have to assume the dialogue in Spanish is that much better. I confess to practicing my Spanish as I watch the show, and now, as we finish Season 3, I have a much firmer grasp of its profanity and drug lingo. One must ask oneself how many times the word puto can be uttered in one scene. Answer: a lot.

I hope I've convinced you to give Narcos a chance if you haven't already. Since my husband and I've spent the last week or so watching the latest season, it's heavily on my mind and I want you to love it as much as I do.

Por favor y gracias.

***

Note: As I was writing this post, I was looking for video to include and learned that Carlos Muñoz Portal, a Mexican location scout for Narcos, was recently murdered in a violent region of Central Mexico while looking for filming locations. I'm terribly saddened by this news. Condolences to his family and friends.

Second note: As I was finishing this post, my brother notified me that Steve Murhpy and Javier Peña, the agents who took down Pablo Escobar, and on whom Narcos is based, are speaking at a nearby venue next week. Of course I bought tickets.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Dangerous Book

What's the most dangerous book you ever read?  When someone asks that question, they generally mean a book that's dangerous because of its ideas or transgressive content.  For certain people, it may be a book they read while living in a country where specific repressions apply - political, social, what have you - a book that restrictive forces in that place consider subversive. But what about a situation where you're reading a book that shouldn't be a threat to anyone? By any objective standard, you're not reading something taboo, but circumstances have made the book you're reading dangerous to you alone. What then?  I had that experience once, and I was reminded of it the other day when I was rearranging my bookshelf and came across the book that caused my nervousness - Friedrich Durrenmatt's The Pledge.



The Pledge, subtitled Requiem for the Detective Novel in its original edition, concerns an investigation conducted in a Swiss village by Inspector Matthai.  One day away from retirement after a renowned career as a police inspector, he gets entangled in a child murder case, and this case upends his life.


Though a suspect is caught and confesses after hours of interrogation, Matthai does not believe that the man is the killer.  There have been other children murdered in the area over the past months, and Matthai is convinced that a serial killer is behind the deaths.  He tells his colleagues that the man in custody is not the person they need to catch.  No one agrees with him, however, and the department closes the case.  Undeterred, Matthai promises the murdered child's parents that he will catch the actual killer.  This is his pledge.  And after making his pledge, in retirement, using his own money, he dedicates himself to conducting an investigation that he is sure will catch the real killer, who he says will strike again.


I don't want to give away how the novel plays out. If you haven't read it, or seen the 2001 movie adaptation with Jack Nicholson as Matthai (directed by Sean Penn), you're in for a treat. It's a treat with a kick, though. The Pledge has an ending that is perfect for the story preceding it and that serves as a commentary on detective fiction endings in general.  It's not an ending you easily forget.   





So where does the danger in reading The Pledge come in?  It resulted from an unfortunate fluke. 


I first read the book when I was in my senior year at SUNY Binghamton University. I read the novel for pleasure, not a class. I was living alone in my small ground floor apartment, and I remember I was reading it at night, on a weekday, when somebody knocked on my door. When I opened the door, I found two local policeman standing there, and though they were professional and polite, they were quite serious. Now that day on my bus trips to and from campus - about a thirty minute ride each way - I had seen police out in force. They had roadblocks set up in various parts of town.  This was highly unusual, to say the least, in Binghamton, but for whatever reason, in my student obliviousness, I hadn't even bothered to ask anyone what the police activity was about.


The two officers at my door now told me.  A child (aged 10 or 11, as I recall) had disappeared that morning, and the hunt for the boy was on.  The boy lived with his parents in the neighborhood where I did, and I had to assume that the large police presence in my area especially meant the police had a lead and suspected possible foul play. 


I invited the two policemen into the apartment, and we talked awhile.  They asked me general questions about myself (it was nothing unusual for them to encounter a student since Binghamton is a college town) and some questions about how I'd spent my day.  I didn't put up any objections to them looking around my place, a studio type arrangment with a living room/bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom  Though surprised to hear about the reason for their visit, I was calm and amiable, and they remained professional throughout. Still, the entire time, I kept glancing over at my book.  I was well into The Pledge, and Inspector Matthai, in the Swiss countryside, was obsessively pursuing his search for the predator who he knew would kill another child.  I had left the hardbound book on a chair, its title plainly visible, and the absurd thought occurred to me, "What if one of these cops knows the book and is a Durrenmatt fan?"


It seemed unlikely.  And yet my mind kept racing: "He'll get suspicious. He'll think I'm the guy who snatched the child today.  He'll think I'm a psychopath who takes his inspiration from fiction and here I am reading for ideas on how to get my next victim..."

I may even have started to sweat.


No, not really.  I did in fact have those thoughts but I never perspired or betrayed nerves. After about 15 minutes, the two policemen thanked me for my cooperation and left.  I closed the door behind them, heaved a sigh, and went back to my book.  I laughed at myself.  Such silly thoughts.  Why would either of them know The Pledge?  But hold on a second. What if they were now staking out my apartment, surrounding me even as I returned to Matthai, ready to move in and grab me? 


That didn't happen, but the man who owned the house in which I had my rooms (there was a floor above mine where somebody else lived), told me days later that the police had indeed checked the building's celler when I was off at school the day after their visit.  Of course, I have no idea what their impressions were of the house's other tenant.  In any event, no body was found in that cellar, and despite my slight paranoia connected to my reading of The Pledge, I didn't notice anyone tailing me in the days to come.  I finished the novel without incident.


And the upshot of the real life narrative, the fate of the actual missing child?
 


After all these years, I can't for the life of me remember the reason behind his disappearence. But I do recall that he was found alive and unharmed.














Monday, September 18, 2017

Monday Review: SKULL MEAT by Tom Leins


Before turning in one night this past summer, I picked up my reader and skimmed the first few paragraphs of SKULL MEAT by Tom Leins. It had been a long day and I didn’t think I would be awake for very long.

Thanks to Tom Leins I didn’t get any sleep.

I couldn’t put it down. Tom’s writing is kinetic and fast-paced, perfectly suited for the break-neck feeling of this novelette. Start reading a few lines and the next thing you know it’s well past the witching hour. SKULL MEAT delivers dirty, British crime at its best. Descriptive. Violent. Bloody. Grotesque. Wait until you meet 'Swollen' Roland. I loved it!

The story goes…

Meet Joe Rey. Joe is a tough guy hired to sort out problems for unseemly businessmen and violent crime-leaders. His latest brutal assignment comes with a few complications, however, and soon a game of cat and mouse ensues. Rey tears through his seedy seaside hometown of Paignton, with his trusty pig-knife, dealing justice or vengeance. Joe is as tough as the streets he walks.
Charming, quiet beach towns will never look the same.
Perhaps the most intriguing character in the novelette is the setting, Paignton. Leins admittedly gives the burg an “apocalyptic edge” and in doing so creates a depressing setting with wildly dangerous characters ready and willing to do anything. The danger feels life-changing, bigger than the town.

The next time you day-trip to your nearest quaint beach town, I guarantee you’ll be checking around corners and avoiding alleys.

SKULL MEAT has mobsters, ex-cons and unscrupulous undesirables. It’s a grimy tale, disconcerting in a thrilling way. You may feel a little dirty after reading, but it is worth the guilt. Realistic violence and snappy dialogue keep the story moving at a scary pace.


Former film critic and current rapscallion, Tom Leins is one of the best voices in British crime writing, well known for his short stories and flash fiction. He’s been published by the likes of Akashic Books, Shotgun Honey, Near to the Knuckle, Flash Fiction Offensive, Horror Sleaze Trash and Spelk Fiction.

Currently he is working on a collection of wrestling-themed tall noir tales and finishing REPETITION KILLS YOU, a project he has described as a “literary jigsaw puzzle.” Not one to rest he is also completing another novella in the Paignton series, BONEYARD DOGS.

If you like your stories down and dirty, you need to put SKULL MEAT on your TBR list.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Of Fall and Football and Friends



I’ve been thinking about Missouri lately. I know, I know, it’s where my books are set, so go figure. But lately I’ve been thinking about Missouri, as in the university. The place where I spent some of the best years of my life.
I always tend to think of the University of Missouri-Columbia as autumn rolls around and the school year begins. And the football talk starts up. Now, when I was there, I can just about count the number of football games we won on one hand. And I’m talking for all the years I was there, not just one season. 
Me during losing (and therefore very long) football seasons.
Nowadays, no matter how the Tigers do, it’s better than that. Although I did cringe yesterday. We lost. I won’t say by how much. But the season is still young. There’s always hope. There’s always crisp fall air, and spiked cider in plastic cups, and wrinkled flannel shirts paired with someone’s borrowed jeans because you forgot to do your laundry. There are always those things, even if it takes a little imagination to get there now that I’m so far away – in both distance and age.
And there are always friends. I’m very lucky that there’s no nostalgia with that at all. I’m still in touch with many of the people I went to school with. Just this past week, I got to catch up on with an old j-school friend I hadn’t talked with in years. And this coming week, a woman whom I met my first day in the dorms - and who’s been one of my very best friends ever since - will come to visit. I can’t wait. I’ve got the spiked cider all ready.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Son of Houston-con: An Old-School Comic Convention

By

Scott D. Parker

It’s not everyday you get to meet a man who helped open your eyes to a larger world.

About a month or so ago, I was in my local Bedrock City Comics store to see if they had any of the old western pulp magazines featuring Texas Ranger Walt Slade as written by Bradford Scott. They did and I bought one. On the checkout counter was a flyer for something called “The Return of Son on Houston-con.”

Now, longtime comic readers will note the checkerboard along the top edge
reminiscent of DC Comics from the 1960s. That alone caught my attention and intrigued me. Other than Comicpalooza back in May, all the other comic conventions were cancelled or postponed this year, so I was more than happy to see what this con was about. And for $5 for two days? It was almost like theft.
The other thing that lodged in my brain was the venue. It was a hotel. The first conventions I attended here in Houston back in the late 70s and early 80s were in hotels. Nothing against the way cons have evolved over the decades—with the expansion of what’s on sale to the cosplaying—but there was something cool about a small con. As I walked into the hotel last Saturday, I held hope that the con would be a throwback to the cons of old.

And I was rewarded.

Son of Houston-con was entirely held in two, non-contiguous rooms. One room featured toys. I bypassed that room when I first got there because I want to see the comics. They were there, all in one not-too-large room. Bedrock was there and much to my happiness, owner Richard Evans brought all his pulps! Naturally, I snatched up the remaining Thrilling Western titles featuring the adventures of Walt Slade. (I discovered an interesting story, “The Sun Rises West,” and read it first; here is my take.) I also gravitated to the dollar boxes of another vendor. Slowly, I made my around the entire room, reveling in all the vintage material, including this, a program from Houstoncon ’71. What the cover doesn’t reveal is that Kirk Alyn, the first live-action Superman from the 1940s serials, was the featured guest.

After a walkaround of the toy room—which had an original Six Million Dollar Man 12-inch action figure and the Evel Knievel scramble van—I was just about to leave when a man asked if I had enjoyed myself. I said yes, very much. He wore a name tag so I started asking him questions about the folks who organized the event. Turned out the name on the tag was the same name on the original flyer: Don Price. Very graciously, he told me a bit about the history of the original Houston-con back in the day—he attended that 1971 show; turned out the program was his—and the comic book collecting community here in Houston.

And then he dropped the name Roy.

Immediately my mind reacted. “You don’t mean the guy who owned Roy’s comic shop on Bissonnet?” [Right near Murder by the Book for folks who know where that shop is located.] Price said yes and offered to introduce me to him.

Now, for the younger folks who read these posts, y’all know there is such a thing as a comic book store. Throw in digital and there’s a myriad of ways to get every comic you want. But back in the day (gosh I sound old) the only place to get comics were spinner racks at grocery stores, drug stores, and convenience stores like U-Totem, 7-Eleven, or Stop n Go. And if you missed an issue, especially one with a cliffhanger, well you simply missed an issue.*

My grandfather who lived near Roy’s Memory Shop (that was the official name) would always drive me around to the various convenience stores in his neck of the woods. One day, I saw a shop with spinner racks near the front window. Not only that, his painted sign featured the Human Torch. What must this store be?



I walked in and it was nirvana. This was a store whose sole purpose was to sell comics and memorabilia.
 For a kid who devoured comics, this was heaven. Every time I visited my grandfather—probably once a week—he would take me there. It was in Roy’s Memory Shop I learned what day comics were released and was able to ensure I didn’t miss an issue. Once I learned stores like Roy’s Memory Shop existed, I never had to worry about comics again. I found one in Austin when I was in school there, another in Dallas, and again back in Houston with Bedrock City and The Pop Culture Company.

All of that is background and prelude. Mr. Price introduced me to Roy Bonario last week. I am an adult now, but some of my childlike wonder at discovering his store returned when meeting the man himself. I was able to tell him how much his store meant for a young kid like me and thousands of other kids over the years. He began talking about past Houston-cons, the business of collecting, and how much fun he had in talking with fans over the years. It was quite a moment.

Have y’all ever had a chance to meet your “Roy” and tell them how much what they did meant to you? I’ve had one other moment like this. It was up in Denton, Texas, and I was attending The University of North Texas for grad school. It was an evening class in the history building and we were all hustling to get to our lectures. A man, older than men, was walking in the lobby and his face was instantly recognizable to me. It was George King, my 10th grade world history teacher. He was the one responsible for igniting the fire of history within me. I had the opportunity to remind him who I was (he said he recognized me), why I was there, and that he was the one who flipped on that history switch.


*World’s Finest Comics #246 was one of the comics I bought from a spinner rack at a Stop n Go near my grandfather’s house. The lead Batman/Superman story was a cliffhanger. I scoured all those convenience stores for #247 but never found it. Many years later, guess where I found #247? You don’t really need me to answer that, do I?