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Monday, April 20, 2009

We Love You Conrad, oh yes we do...Conrad who?

If it isn't already apparent, I like to collect paper. Preferably old paper, however, it doesn't have to be old to catch my eye, and similar to the theme of the previous post, I don't need to find it, sometimes it finds me.

After college, (and before my interest in finding stuff) I was bent on "finding myself", but only if I wouldn't have to go far to look for "me"( I did eventually "find myself", turns out I was just "bent"). I had chosen my path, entertainment/production, but not the medium. Video was accessible and cheap, but film had a mystique about it. The two were at odds, video was years away from looking like film, yet film was just too damned expensive to be involved in - even 16mm film. However, Both became available to me, so I dabbled in both.

I became connected to film production through co-workers at my first 9-5 job, and though they were a rag-tag group, the opportunity smelled of "ground floor". They seemed to know what they were doing and what they wanted, and that was enough for me to follow them. Looking back with my 20-20 hindsight vision, I might have known to steer clear of this group. Why does experience have to be such a wonderful yet expensive teacher? They were schlock horror film makers and I met them while they were finishing up a 16mm feature, "Killer Dead". I got as involved as they would let me, even taking on the role of disembodied arm #1 and zombie #5. The work that had been paying the bills at that point was in film restoration and the experience gleaned from that got me a job in post-production on this film. 5 days a week for 3 weeks I was assembling the work print for "Killer Dead" on a six-plate Moviola flat bed editor in the basement of the director. There was no pay; I worked for meals prepared by the director's Irish mother. She was an excellent cook and at this point I was so enjoying the work, I would have paid for the opportunity. What is it about the Irish and potatoes? I still can't bake a potato to compare with hers! The film, when finished, sat waiting in the can to be sold to a distributor.

Somewhere in all the "experience" I was getting, the production team and I journeyed to Fanex, a convention sponsored by the Horror and Fantasy Film Society of Maryland. These are events where fans can meet and greet the B actors, bit players, directors, writers, and creators of the horror film genre and share the "connectedness". I arrived at the convention with a stack of business cards promoting my film restoration and production skills thinking I would do some networking. I actually chose to spend most of the convention chasing a red-head rather than hang on every word of the film-genre venerable Ray Harryhausen and Jeff Morrow. I did leave my card in a few fish bowls, or at tables because the theme of the convention seemed to be shameless self-promotion.

A few weeks after the convention I got a strange handwritten envelope from the west coast:

I thought, "Who is this?" I had never met this person. How did he come to think I was going book him into a gig? That's a pretty confident signature, he seemed to think he was somebody important. Tucked in with the letter was a newspaper clipping:

The explanation was simple, this guy must have pocketed one of my cards and either innocently or devilishly took a stab that I was going to be a business prospect for him to continue milking fame out of infamy. "Plan 9 from Outer Space" is the epitome of bad movies, so bad in fact that it is not even necessary to see it to know how bad it is, its reputation precedes it. Conrad Brooks played a bit part as a cop in this movie and has attempted to ride its tattered coattails ever since. His letter, with its random plea evokes pity, maybe embarrassment with a whiff of desperation thrown in. This was back in 1990, before I'd begun to date my wife. You might think I would have seen this as the turning point in my life, a sign, or omen that warned: Change careers! This way leads to...Conrad Brooks!

Nope. I went right on working with this group and even invested money into the next project, a straight-to-video movie of an artist who is haunted by the murderous character he has painted. Vaguely similar to "The Picture of Dorian Gray", the evil "Simon" begins killing all the friends and associates of the painter until...I don't think we ever actually finished it. The writer fought with the director, the director fought with the cinematographer and my investment didn't seem to have a fighting chance as no accurate accounting of the movie's expenses had occurred. This backstory may have made a better movie than what we were producing. I eventually severed all ties with these people and found that the only films that interested me were the ones I was projecting at the North Street Cinema. A year later I began dating Julie, she had started as a cashier and moved to assistant manager, and 18 years later she's telling me to stop blogging and come to bed. Maybe Conrad did make a significant contribution to the film industry...he kept me out of it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Some stuff you find - Some stuff finds you.

I have always wanted to publish a line of bumper stickers. It doesn't sound like a noble cause, but I often don't know how to better express my observations of the world around me (Blog posts are too long for bumper stickers, I know). The bumper sticker for this post would read: "Coincidence Happens!" There isn't always a good explanation for the things I pick up. Sometimes it is purely based on coincidence, which has occurred while performing random acts of Urban Archeology.

I was visiting a local flea market at a time when the marriage of two friends was imminent. I had no intention of going to the flea to shop for a gift, they weren't registered there. Although years later when I suggested to my fiancé that we register at the Elephant's Trunk Flea Market, she failed to see the humor in it, unless rolling one's eyes is some deep expression of amusement. As I went from booth to booth looking for nothing in particular I walked by a cedar chest with the lid open. Maybe it was the condition of the advertisement on the lid that caught my eye, but the manufacturer of the chest was the same as the the groom's. That floored me.

Thinking that I had found the perfect gift, I became concerned that my face had transformed into a neon sign flashing, "Charge Me Double, I'll pay it!" I didn't have too much cash on hand, so I attempted to feign disinterest and asked the dealer, "How much for the chest?" His price was high, so I thanked him and walked away. I would take the chance that no one else would consider this the perfect gift, and planned to circle back later. Time was running out, the flea doesn't go on all day and many dealers begin to wrap it up after the morning rush, on top of that, the sky was becoming overcast. I returned after exploring another section to hover around the booth. I was too cheap to give in and feared that the next haggle could be my last. I really wanted this chest as much as I wanted to be finished gift shopping, but I couldn't figure a strategy. I finally dove in with my price and was disappointed when the dealer countered by dropping only $20 off the price. I twisted in the wind that had kicked up, and felt a drop of rain hit my head. Somewhere behind me I heard a collective groan from the dwindling crowd and the dealer left me to begin covering his other pieces of furniture.

"Tell ya what, will you take $__ if I help you load your truck before the rain gets here?" He paused for a second and said, "Deal." and tossed me an old blanket to cover the chest. I had seized an opportunity and named a price I could afford in exchange for 5 minutes of hard labor.

Going back even further I was hit by a strange coincidence at Buffalo State College. I had been reading a book I found at a paperback book exchange, "A Separate Reality". I was interested at the time in non-fiction and the blurb on the back seemed too amazing to be a first-person account. The book is somewhat of a drug culture classic by author Carlos Castaneda as he discovers an alternate sense of awareness through a Yaqui shaman guide and the help of peyote and other psychotropic plants. Truthfully, I never touch the stuff, but these were my college years and while experimentation seemed to be all the rage, reading about it would have to be the next best thing. While working as the film chairman on the entertainment committee at college I decided to clear out an old file cabinet in the office to prepare for the next season of films to be booked at the school. It is a little strange to be reading a book that is a lot strange and discover this (Click to enlarge):

The year is 1983, how strange is it to just happen across correspondence from the author I was reading at the time. Karma? Kismet? Serendipity? It is amazing that an envelope from 1971 would last as long as it did in such an unremarkable location - 12 years in a folder. On top of that, the book also has a publish date the same year as the letter. This is where I get philosophic and pose the question: Did I find it, or did it find me? You decide, I was too weirded out.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

You might want to set a match to this one!

I have always been a fan of Science Fiction, but it wasn't until a tag sale in the summer of 85 when I picked up a book to read on the job (as a projectionist at the Cinema on North Street in Danbury, CT.), Robert Heinlein's "The Number of the Beast". It would be an understatement to say I liked the book. I went on to read just about everything he ever wrote. It was Heinlein's ability to develop rich characters and weave them into an experiential journey of science and fantasy that grabbed me. I know what you're thinking, "Buy a book to read on the job?" The job of a projectionist in those days was still tied more to the fire codes and the work was mainly monitoring the equipment in case something went wrong. Once the film was threaded in the projector and rolling, the rest of the time was spent waiting, and during the down time it was possible to catch up on some reading.

So what has this got to do with match books? If grasping one item can alter the course of your life (such as the Heinlein novel above), then hunting for treasure becomes an exciting gambit. What will the next "find" bring? A new way of thinking, a new talent, some small evolution? Maybe nothing at all, but digging through the past can bring some interesting twists and turns to what might be an otherwise uneventful afternoon raking leaves in the yard.

A week ago, while driving around in search of something (that isn't yard work), I found a sale in Bethel, and while any sale can be a boom or a bust, this one had all the makings of being one of the worst. For starters, it was a repeat. These are all too common, however, you only need to have one success at a repeat sale to get over the disappointment. I took a chance and my companion and I made our way to the front lawn of a home in sore need of not so much a "makeover" as a "do-over". This year as in others they had an assortment of tools, hardware, and cameras (an odd but attractive mix) and a table of assorted items, mostly old. I was drawn to the old cigar box of match books. Not something I collect, but there was one I had never seen before:
Now, there's a provocative matchbook. They usually have staid advertisements for restaurants or hotel chains. What is "Easy to Pick Up"?
The person behind the table said "2 bucks for the lot of those." Well, since I was looking for something I could bring home to paw over, this one matchbook had me sold thinking it was a WWII -era piece. I am still researching this, and I have found a similar style was distributed in the 40's. I would have guessed by the "lady" that it was likely closer to the Vietnam era. The cigar box was full, but I usually will stop looking (read drooling) so as not to give the seller an indication that they might have spoke to soon on the price.

Match books are an interesting snap shot of their time. The information about this candy is from the New England Candy Company, whose claim to fame these days are "Conversation Hearts", Clark Bars, and Necco wafers. A representative of the company who had surprising little background for this product told me that this was sold starting in 1938 and discontinued in 1998 when they purchased the Clark Bar. I had never heard of it until I saw the match book.

Without any actual dates printed on the book I could be forever guessing the date of these. The image of the phone to the right could be a good indicator, or maybe finding out the inception of yellow pages. I, truthfully, don't need to know the age of everything I find, I just think they're cool.

The ones that really grab me are the local landmarks that are no more. Take a look at these next ones (Click on it to see the larger size):

I can't find good information about this grand structure, though I know it was a significant Danbury landmark for many years. I can't rely on the internet to answer all my questions I may just have to visit the analog version of the internet: the library. This post will be continued.