"Dynamite from Nightmare Land" is a chapter title from The Spy
Who Loved Me, a 1960 entry in the James Bond series. Though Bond
usually hung in places like the Caribbean or the South of France,
"Spy" takes place in upstate New York in the Adirondacks area
between Lake George and Glens Falls. As well as being Bond's
creator and one of the best title writers ever, Fleming also
wrote travel books. It shows in "Spy". Regional color abounds.
"Spy" is also the only Bond written in first person. The narrator
is female and in the opening chapters she ponders past love
affairs. When Fleming as (wo)man dishes unsatisfactory ex lovers
he comes on like Sex & the City. Fleming's brand name fetishism
was often parodied, but here it fits like a pair of Manolo
Blahniks. When Fleming as (wo)man beds Bond he does so in ripe,
adulatory prose. Nobody does it better than his own creation.
"Spy" is a mixture of hot fudge romance and low rent pulp. It's
set in the kind of motel where the furniture is nailed to the
floor. Every character is just passing through. The motel owners
are mobsters from Troy, New York and want to torch the place for
insurance. The heroine, who is bumming around the northeast USA,
has stopped for a temp gig as desk clerk. Bond stumbles onto
the scene when his car gets a flat. A Hudson Valley summer
thunderstorm rages. It's no picnic inside either. The thugs in
"Spy" are pre Godfather. No conflicted anti heroes, just brutal
bogeyman who need killing. Bond obliges. "Spy" has evocative
passages about the Adirondack forest, digressions on motel scams
and pokes at tourist culture: "Visitors may hold and photograph
costumed chimps!" An alternate title for "Spy" could be
"A Tourist Season in Hell".
"Mobtown" (Hyperion 2002) by contemporary author Jack Kelly also
covers organized crime in mid 20th century upstate New York. In
the city of Rochester. The year: 1959. When second tier cities
were still pumped by smokestack industry while being rotted out
by organized crime. Jack Kelly may make his "Mobtown" detective,
Ike Van Savage, a series character and move him forward in time.
But if Ike ever gets to the here and now, there won't be much
for him to do. Modern day upstate New York has absolutely no
organized crime. Zip. Such things now are matters of myth--
dwarves bowling ninepins at Appalachia. But for a hard look
backward drop into "Mobtown". Jack Kelly writes in the
Hammett/Cain/Chandler tradition and is an innovative plot
twister. A poetic pulpster. But be warned: characters with
"smiles that could cut you to pieces" lurk in his novels.
In the 50's teens also skipped mean streets. Nancy Drew made
a fictional town her beat but the equally able Trixie Belden and
Ginny Gordon covered the real life mid and lower Hudson Valley .
Trixie Beldon's father had a white collar town job but her family
lived on a farm. Trixie did heavy chores, knew her way around
guns and since copperheads still hissed "I Luv NY" took snake
bites in stride. All while solving mysteries. In "The Red Trailer
Mystery" she tracks down a missing heir-- a runaway teenage boy
whose stepfather kept him a veritable slave on a decrepit farm
near Albany. HUD funds weren't as available yet so bad dad has
eyes for his ward's mazoola. Trixie scotches that one.
Ginny Gordon was a teen entrepreneur in a town on the east side
of the Hudson, about 50 miles above New York City. In each book
Ginny launches some small business: a lending library, a swap
shop, etc. Though none are located in Enterprise Zones, Ginny
does OK. Even as mysteries unfold. In "Ginny Gordon and the
Lending Library" a jewel thief arrives on the commuter train, in
search of a swag map which got tucked in a book at Ginny's store.
The Ginny series is a little darker than some teen tec tales:
even good characters have bad aspects. Life on Main Street is
lovingly drawn and the demands of small business are treated
sympathetically. Ginny is out of print but can be found in the
kind of bookstores she herself might run. Trixie Beldon is being
reissued by Random House. Many books in both series were penned
by Julie Campbell, but pseudonyms were typical to juvenile
series, so who knows? Maybe Nancy Drew wrote them.
Despite major points of interest, neither series is great
literature. If you want regional kid's lit at its best, go for
the Freddy the Pig series by Walter R. Brooks. Much has been
written re Freddy. In brief, the books appeared from the 20's
to the 50's, but are back in print thanks to Overlook Press in
Woodstock, New York. The stories took place on a farm in central
New York. Freddy was a polymath pig. Among many things he was
a detective, a poet and a politician. In the most recent reissue
"Freddy and Simon the Dictator" a rat named Simon whips up an
animal revolution and takes over a number of upstate farms. Simon
is secretly bank rolled by real estate schemer Herb Garble. One
rat rule follows with Garble the man behind the throne. Freddy
& friends overthrow Simon, bag Garble and restore republican
virtue. The small "r" kind. The Freddy series is selling well.
Here and overseas.
When talking regional, consider a magazine called "Light
Reading", published in 1994 by Scott Munn. Once of Jersey City,
New Jersey. Now of rural Britain. Scott lived in JC during the
80's and early 90's under several municipal administrations. His
appreciation for the absurd became finely honed. Being an artist
he sought to share his vision. But like Scott says "Jersey City
wasn't ready". Light Reading only appeared once. Once was enough.
The cover was a photo of a botched, crooked yellow traffic line
staggering up the main thoroughfare of Newark Avenue-- as if
painted by Mister McGoo on a bender. The perfect guideline for
life in a city/county where scamming never stops. And where pols
with corruption records get eternal returns and never fear
looking like clowns. Heck, they love those floppy shoes and honk
honk noses. Particularly if someone else buys em. One feature in
Light Reading was "Source The Quote". Where you guessed which pol
said what. Upon first reading I thought Munn made the quotes up.
But "Light" was far more profound than just a joke book of graft
and gaffes. By integrating politics with a sense of the
fantastic, "Light" plugged into the transcendent beneath the
Naugahyde. Imagine an old discarded couch sitting on the pre
Gold Coast shore of the Hudson River, facing the vision of Wall
Street. Then imagine that couch flapping its cushions and
saying "Together we can make Jersey City a slice of Heaven".
Or addressing a passing priest: "When you stop sin, Father,
I'll stop all the problems of Jersey City". In JC the sacred
trips lightly from the lips of the profane.
If you wish to source the above quotes (hint: think city hall)
you can link to Scott Munn's current website, where "Light"
lives forever. Way back when, I found "Light" at a Jersey City
newsstand. But Didier Moulinier's mail art zine from France "La
Poire D'Angoisse" showed up in my Hoboken post office box.
"La Poire" was small, crisp and focused. Arriving in a neatly
lettered envelope. Examples are linked below. Also linked this
month is a lovely layout of pastel Japanese bathrooms (nothing
more local than the loo) subtly personalized by Shozo Shimamoto,
circa mid Big 80's. Another link stop is "Visit Your Granny" by
Rhonda Boothe in Washington State. Visiting "Visit" is like going
over the river and through the snow and finding your funny scary
enchanting granny (or is she the wolf?) waiting for you with
goodies. Such as Bug Meat, Something Fishy and Angel Graft.
Meanwhile, down in Louisville, Kentucky, Zan Hoffman (Zidsic
et al) has his new improved site ready for inspection. See &
hear the Zan Man go. Music! Pictures! Words!
Last Stop: About the Beauty in Art.
Graphic & text by Henning Mittendorf, Frankfurt/Main Germany.
When the war with Iraq was looming, I exchanged emails with
Henning Mittendorf. Since Henning lives in one of the "old
Europe" countries that didn't want to join the fray, we discussed
the reasons. One thing Henning said was that after WW2, when he
was a child, many Germans developed a deep horror of war and
militarism; an attitude the USA very much encouraged. And now,
Germans were being asked to reverse that revulsion and they just
couldn't do it. An anti war sentiment has always been present in
Henning's art. When invoking peace it's a prayer, never just
a plea to give peace a chance at any price. When directly
addressing war's horror, it's a response wrenched from the soul
of someone who knows, first hand, that war can make Hell a place
on earth. And unless possessing incontrovertible proof that such
a stop must be made, who in Heaven's name would want to go there?
As well as an untitled graphic (which I've dubbed "Dynamite from
Nightmare Land") by Henning Mittendorf, PEEP 5 includes his just
completed essay: "About The Beauty In Art".
PEEP 5 Contents:
PEEP 5 Cover
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff, "Love & Death, So American Novel"
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff, "Tattoo Picture Book"
Didier Moulinier, La Poire D'Angoisse
Shozo Shimamoto, Beautiful Japanese bathrooms
Henning Mittendorf, "Dynamite from
Henning Mittendorf, "About The Beauty In Art"
Scott Munn, Light Reading
Rhonda Boothe: Granny Artemis Home Page