Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Beast from 1985

Far below Penguin Hall, the walls of the catacombs lay lined with row upon row of shelving.  Beneath the dust of a decade, resided hundreds of hours of tape, painstakingly labeled in tiny script and devoted entirely to Mrs. Hall's compulsive penchant for recording the minutiae of her life, her diversions and delights.  They loomed as heavily over the other boxes in the basement as they did over Mr. Hall's thoughts.  He had on several occasions, stared helplessly at the amassed wealth of personal history and in moments of weakness, lingered uncomfortably long over thoughts of havoc and destruction perpetrated by the untimely placement of large, powerful magnets in close proximity to the collection.

The obsession began, as most obsessions do, innocently enough; in a moment of gift-giving desperation, Mrs. Hall had been presented a camera.  Twenty or so photo albums later, a dawning realization that there may be a problem crept over her family.  The scandalous amount of scratch spent on the developing and printing of her pictures began to be the subject of whispered concern.  The advent of VHS recorders in the early 80s only fueled her unholy desire to mark and preserve the tedium of her days; and following the introduction of light inexpensive models available to the public, she was never seen without camera and/or camcorder in tow. As a result, her collection multiplied unfettered.
As happens in so many of these cases, of course, the madness did not end there.  Not merely content to document her own history, she recorded ad nauseum local programming and frequently, (Mr. Hall shuddered) even commercials.  Having moved several times in her past, she explained, local commercials became a sort of time stamp to her, of when the recording was made.   It was one of those things, reflected Mr. H. wistfully, that upon looking back the symptoms seemed so clear one wonders why help wasn't sought sooner. 
All effort must be made to reduce this, he thought, before we have to move. Mrs. Hall had been agreeable to the disposal of a considerable amount of goods already, but Mr. H. was certain on these she would not budge.  Eyeing the ancient technology, it occurred to him at the very least, space could be salvaged with conversion.  Christmas week, he lovingly presented a perplexed Mrs. Hall with a VHS to DVD dubbing machine and suggested, in the kindest way possible, that they begin right away.  She regarded his motives darkly, but dug in.  
The work was proceeding nicely, when Mr. Hall unearthed an unfamiliar subject.  Wiping the dust off the label, he struggled with her printing.  "What is this?" he asked.  Mrs. Hall looked over and smiled.  "That is a true rarity.  And I think we'll dub that one next." They dimmed the lights, put on some popcorn and watched as the dubber hummed happily away, converting the fragile magnetic tape to digital stock.
"Back in 1985," Mrs. Hall explained, "I was living in Wichita, Kansas.  KSN television station aired 'The Beast from the Beginning of Time' as a Halloween special.  Apparently, the film had been made back in 1965, but was deemed so silly that it had never been released to the general public.  When I heard they were going to show it, I fired up the ole' VCR and taped it on the spot.  Since then, every once in a while you will see reference to it, but by and large, it's not available and very hard to locate on tape."  Mr. Hall winced as he watched the "acting".  "I'm not surprized- " he said, "the scariest thing about this is that they were able to convince anyone to record it in the first place.  Did anyone actually look through the viewfinder when they were filming it?  Some of the staging at the end of the film is, well, to put it politely, unfortunate."   "It was a different time, dear," snickered Mrs. Hall.
Later that day, as they cleared away the tapes and made room for a cup or two of something bracing, Mrs. Hall examined some of her handiwork.  She had to admit it was much neater and more compact to store them this way.  "Now don't you feel better?" asked Mr. Hall, as he handed her a glass.  "Yes.  I don't mind shrinking them," she added; "but don't ever ask me to give up my copy of 'The Beast from the Beginning of Time.' " He smiled. "Or that copy of 'Hardrock, Coco and Joe' I recorded from a Bozo the Clown Christmas special.  Do you know how hard it is to find that??" she began, but Mr. Hall just shook his head.

(Ed. note:  B-Movie Man, Richard Chamberlain- no, not the famous one- wrote a wonderful history of "The Beast from the Beginning of Time" on his blog, and the Gentle Reader can peruse that here.)

Story Update! Fire up the popcorn popper- the Gentle Reader can now watch "The Beast from the Beginning of Time" in its entirety here on Youtube.  Mrs. Hall was finally able to upload it, albeit in three parts, for everyone's cinematic enjoyment.  

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Christmas redux

"Leave the decorations just the way they are and let's get some more egg nog- It's Chris' turn for Christmas now!" said Mr. Hall. The boys of the Hall had been taking the holiday in a sort of tag-team approach, and Mrs. Hall was gearing up for round two. At least the unseasonably warm weather made getting around easy. Mrs. Hall threw a scarf on over her sweater; "Com'n, we're going to be late for the cocktail party at the crematorium!"

They slid out of work and over to Oakwood Cemetery. All the usual suspects were there, and the buffet looked even more enticing than last year's. The chef from Kelly's pub held his place behind the carving station, and was dishing out a pasta creation with a terrific sauce enlivened with banana peppers.
Despite all the trappings of a Christmas season, the weather gods still refused to go along with things; the grounds around the cemetery remained green and fresh. Though while the temperate climate was topic of the day, the bigger concern was the economy. A number of their parties had been cancelled or postponed (which was turning into a euphemism for cancellation) and the season seemed to be taking a turn for the worse. Even the venerable holiday do at Coleman's Irish Pub, (the one chance Mrs. Hall looked forward to every year, because it always brought out the old guard of directors) was put off until a later date. Such was the nature of the year.
But all that was put aside, when the Halls pulled up to Hancock airport the following night to pick up Master Chris. Flying in from Montgomery, AL, he was staying over the holiday, renting a 16' moving van, and with Mrs. Hall's very indebted and happy blessings, taking all the loot, furniture and possessions he could carry away.
"Ah, it's good to be back home again," he said, after finally relaxing on the couch. Killer came up and gave him a hug. Mrs. Hall busied herself making all of Chris' favorite dishes, but Mr. H. disappeared downstairs. Chris' space gun collection was well known far and near as a thing of large and substantial beauty, but as far as Mr. Hall was concerned, it had been gracing the catacombs at the Hall for long enough.
He brought up several large bins of guns from the basement. "Welcome home. You can start by
going through all these."
Mrs. Hall prepared the traditional dinner for Christmas eve and after a short respite, the group dressed for service. Midnight Mass was beautiful and the little band straggled on home. The next day, Santa obligingly made a second appearance at the Hall, and Chris' stocking swelled up full, next to his bounty under the tree.
Wiping the remains of a chocolate orange from his
mouth, Chris reminded Mrs. Hall that he had to leave the following day, and while it was loads of fun to sit around and eat, (swallowing yet
another chocolate bell from the stocking as he spoke) he really had to load up the truck and be ready to go. They continued to pillage the Hall until the truck could hold no more. "Be careful with my old bar cabinet-" cautioned Mrs. H. as she
watched a favored relic of her past disappear into the van. "You promised me those L.L. Bean chairs from in front of the fireplace, too," he reminded them, and in a jiff, they were gone. By Christmas night, the van was full, secure and loaded with gas, ready to take off for Montgomery in the morning. Armed with a battery of leftovers, Chris climbed into the cab. As the Halls drove off to work, the van pulled away in another direction, and Chris waved jauntily from behind the wheel. Two days later, he wearily managed to peck out the words "Home at last!" in a text message to Mrs. Hall, and everyone sighed a sigh of relief.

Revolving doors

"Where's all the snow?" Master Ian had just come in on the train from Ft. Geo. Meade and was anxious to have a traditional, if a tad bit early, upstate NY Christmas. "There hasn't been snow all month out here," remarked Mrs. Hall sadly, though Mr. Hall's happiness at that deficit was barely contained.

Ian barreled through the door of the Hall and threw down three or four of the most massive
duffel bags Mrs. H. had ever seen. Within minutes, most of it was spread out around the house. Killer came over to greet him, and he skritched her head. "I have to be back by the 2oth," he said. "I'm shipping out to Japan right away!" Mrs. Hall sighed. Another baby flying away, she sniffed.

The Hall was decorated early in anticipation of Ian's arrival, but it was doubtful he ever noticed.
It took all of the span of thirty minutes or so for him to communicate with his friends that he was back in town, and before you could utter the phrase "massively multi player online role-playing game", the working clutter and attendant paraphernalia necessary to connect the players with the rest of the universe appeared and swallowed up the room. Friends came and went throughout the night, and when Mrs. H. came down to breakfast the next morning she surveyed the damage and fed the remaining survivors.
During the days when he couldn't muster a team, Ian relaxed by working on his battle re-creation models. Painting them accurately consumed him, and the hours sped by peacefully. (In fact, while at school at Ft. Meade, Ian and his interest in his models was the subject of a student's feature film. He was interviewed and videotaped working and talking about his hobby for about three minutes.)

Just before he was to leave, they chose a day to be "Christmas" that week, and bright and early in the morning, Ian arose to a plump stuffed stocking and goodies waiting for him under the tree. There was lots of candy and holiday food and fun; but before you know it, it was time for him to go.
Mrs. Hall thought she would only have a quick moment at the train station to say good bye, but as luck would have it, a change in his orders necessitated a snap decision, and the little band took off together on the road. Master Ian, after a brisk six hour drive, piloted by a surprized but ever ready Mr. Hall, was deposited on the steps of his base in Maryland. Hugs and handshakes all around and he was off. Next episode: Chris-mas!

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