Friday, October 31, 2008

Bestoink Dooley, Dr. Shock & Dingbat

I've gone on before how comic books and monster magazines kept me from growing up. It's true, though. I remain, at heart, an eight-year-old kid who loves to read Steve Ditko comics, peruse Forry Ackerman's awful puns in Famous Monsters Magazine, and dream about dinosaurs duking it out with King Kong on Skull Island. There's nothin' I can do about it. The Wolfman and the Creature from the Black Lagoon ruined me. Among the pusher men who dealt the fantastic to me, and to tens of thousands of other like-minded kids, were the many evening hours horror hosts of America's TV stations in the '60s and '70s.

During those days, local TV stations fell over one another to create horror movie hosts. These guys introduced the late night monster flicks that aired, generally on weekends when kids like me could stay up into the wee hours hoping to be scared shitless. Bestoink Dooley was the weirdo who dished the grue in Atlanta Gee Ay. I really liked him. He was famous throughout the Atlanta area, and had to be just about the most popular cat in town. At least to me and my pals in grade school. Years later, when he owned and operated a repertoire cinema in Buckhead (a downtown Atlanta neighborhood), I heard that he didn't like to be identified with his old role. But whenever I'd walk into that movie house to view some obscure foreign film and see him, I know he'd see the little kid shock on my face as I recognized him not as George Ellis, but as the horror film host of Channel Five's "Big Movie Shocker". Man, those were the days!

Later, after we'd moved first to Macon Gee Ay and then to a small, weird village in the mountains of north Georgia (Ellijay), Bestoink Dooley had become a faded memory as I entered my teens. I still enjoyed horror movies, but we lived in the woods (I mean seriously in the woods--the nearest neighbor was two and a half
miles away), and TV reception was hit or miss. The station that we could receive best had Dr. Shock, host of the aptly named "Shock Theater". The best thing about old Shock was that he had a puppet sidekick named Dingbat who spilled out terrible puns (just like Forry!), and who spoke in a wonderful, exaggerated southern accent. By then, I think I watched the movies just to see Dr. Shock and Dingbat introduce them and to listen to their banter between commercial breaks.

Dr. Shock and Dingbat.

At any rate, here's to the great horror hosts of my youth! I thought that these crazy bastards would be a good subject for my 400th post as a blogger.

And here's a
great website about local TV horror hosts! Find the ones you recall from your days as a kid sitting in front of the glass teat.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Weirdness of Writing

The following (black type) was originally part of an essay I decided not to write. Well...I wrote it, but decided to trash it. All but this part. After I'd finished it and looked at what I'd sucked ass. But I still like the part that follows.

The past three weeks have been a weird trip for me, as far as writing is concerned. I took the break to visit my nephew and his wife and daughters, and I rarely write anything when I go on vacation. But when I returned I found myself not able to write much. I wouldn't quite go so far as to call it writer's block, but I surely wasn't producing my usual 1,000 to 4,000 words per day of fiction.

After a while, I figured out what it was. I was feeling anxiety over the Presidential election. I was afraid that the right wing extremists (Republicans) would rig yet another election. I was afraid that the American people might actually be collectively stupid enough to elect a moron like McCain and force us to endure at least four more years of this madness.

But I've fought through it. Whatever happens, happens. That's always been my life's philosophy. What will be, will be. C'est la vie. Oh, well.

So now I'm writing again. I'm working on not one, but two novels. I can't ask for more than that.

And I wrote an essay that sucked. Except for this one bit that I still like, but which now goes absolutely nowhere. Oh, well.

The Place Evolves

by James Robert Smith.

I have long observed how things vanish into the earth. The planet’s history, revealed to us in the form of geology and paleontology teaches us how, time after time, things do indeed rise and vanish. Flash and fade. March and fall. Run and stop. The shapes keep coming, and they keep getting disassembled.

I’ve always been amazed at how life seems to reach for the logical. It finds a niche and inhabits it. Living things look about for a purpose, for something to exploit, and they adapt to do just that. Some creatures take slightly different angles of attack, but they generally will evolve to do the same thing that something else has done in a similar situation and environment.

Take, for instance, the ichthyosaur. It was a reptile. It originated as a land going species but returned to the seas. Legs became fins. Heads became streamlined. Eyes became large. They adapted.

Ichthyosaurs are gone, now. They have not been seen on this planet for tens of millions of years. But the form is with us again. Nature always finds a way to do this. Some land-dwelling mammal returned to life at the edge of the sea, found it desirable, and stayed. Legs became fins. Heads became streamlined. They evolved. The modern dolphin bears a stunning resemblance to the extinct ichthyosaurs with whom they are barely related, and only by the most tenuous of branches on Life’s family tree.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Last of 2005

The last of the mountains hiked in 2005:

Carole and I had a pretty good setup for our tent camping. It wasn't perfect, but it was pretty good. This was our last car camping tent trip. This was at Standing Indian Campground in June of 2005. The reason it was our last tent camping trip was because one night we were visited by a very large and very aggressive black bear. He wrecked part of our campsite searching for food that wasn't there. (All of our food was stored away and locked in the truck.) But the bear didn't know there was no food until he'd knocked everything over and broken open every container. He didn't hurt us, but he easily could have. I chased him away initially, but he blundered right back into camp a few minutes later, and I knew that he was far too aggressive to try bluffing a second time. So we retreated to the cab of the truck and I chased him away a final time by starting the engine, which did the job. At any rate, we'd been discussing buying a hard-sided trailer, and this was the impetus for that final decision. I don't mind tent camping when I go backpacking, but I don't like bears barging into my camp when I'm with my wife. She's not accustomed to that kind of thing.

John Rock, above the fish hatchery in the Pisgah National Forest. Part of the fish hatchery can be seen far below, and that's Looking Glass Rock in the distance behind me.

John Rock from below.

October 17, 2005. We took possession of our Casita travel trailer. It has proven to be the best single purchase we've made as far as our leisure time is concerned.

Blackrock Mountain, near Clayton, Georgia. Our first trip using the Casita as a base camp.

The heavily forested ridges of Tamassee Knob in upstate South Carolina.

Wolf Rock near Sparta, North Carolina.

And so concludes my list of mountains hiked in 2005. It was a very busy hiking year for me.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More of 2005's Greatest Hits.

Some more of 2005:

This classic southern Appalachian rhododendron tunnel led me to...

...this place; Pickens Nose, in the Nantahala National Forest. A tremendous and stunning peak. One of the best in the southern Appalachians.

The slopes of Pickens Nose are also home to places like this--Mooney Falls. While stunning, the trail to this waterfall was one of the creepiest I've ever hiked. I got a really bad case of the chills hiking back out of there. My paranoia got the best of me--it was as if I could feel something watching me all along the way out of the shadowed forests. I was very damned happy to see the trailhead and my truck.

At the Albert Mountain fire tower along the Appalachian Trail.

Old lookout tower on Wayah Bald. (I don't know who the assholes are who got in my way as I was taking this shot.)

It's hard to tell from this shot, but I'm standing at the edge of a tremendous cliff face camouflaged by dense brush. Many hundreds of feet straight down. Near the top of Ridgepole Mountain which, while now in North Carolina, came close to being the highest mountain in Georgia (more on that some other time).

Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in the eastern USA. The old lookout tower in this photo is no more. It was demolished this year and a new one is now under construction, due to be completed in 2009.

Standing on the top of Mount Craig, the second highest summit in the eastern USA.

Vigorous new growth of balsam trees on Big Sam, another of the east's highest peaks. In the previous two decades, acid rain and an introduced pest (balsam wooly adelgid) exterminated the old balsam forests in the Black Mountains. But since the old forests have died off, new trees have thrived and the forest is returning to something like its normal appearance. No great old trees, of course, but the young ones seem to be in good health, so far.

Standing on Cattail Peak, one of only a handful of eastern mountains to approach or exceed 6,600 feet in elevation.

These cliffs appeard out of the mists adjacent to the trail I was hiking to access Mount Gibbs, another of the Black's sixers.

Soaked and exhausted after backpacking and bushwhacking to the summit of Celo Knob, the last of the Black's sixers I needed to complete.

More next post! (I told you 2005 was a busy year for me.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

More of My Favorite Mountains.

Various peaks hiked in the Southern Appalachians in 2005:
(2005 was a very busy hiking year for me. This will take several posts.)

Buzzard Rock, Virginia (note white Appalachian Trail blaze)

Whitetop Mountain, Virginia (Appalachian Trail weaving around the summit).

Half Acre Ridge, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Benn Knob, South Mountains State Park

Mount Sterling, Great Smoky Mountains National Park (NC side).

Mount LeConte (Tennessee, GSMNP). Highest outhouse in the eastern USA.

Sam Knob, Pisgah National Forest.

Little Sam Knob, and Sam Knob.

Green Knob, Middle Prong Wilderness.

Devil's Courthouse, Pisgah National Forest.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Some of my favorite North Carolina mountains.

Another in a series:

Peaks hiked in 2004.

Stone Mountain (the one in Du Pont State Forest).

Cattail Peak, Black Mountains.

Potato Hill, Black Mountains.
Winter Star, Black Mountains.
Blackrock Mountain, Panthertown.

Waterrock Knob, Cherokee.

Stone Mountain, Sparta.

Little Green Mountain, Panthertown.

Whiteside Mountain, Highlands.

Looking Glass Rock, Pisgah National Forest.
Moore's Knob.
Pilot Mountain.
Chestnut Knob, Morganton.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


I voted today.

Here in North Carolina we have early voting. No excuse absentee voting, they call it. You can even register and vote the same day. It's the most liberal voting policy I've heard of, which is really strange when you consider that this is a pretty politically conservative state.

The NC legislature mandated that we have a paper trail for our voting machines, too. So as I voted I could look through a small glass partition and verify that my vote was being printed precisely as I was indicating it should be on the touch screen. This was a nice touch, too. In the past, I wondered whether my votes were actually being counted. Now I don't worry about that. The votes are printed and collected on spools within the voting machine. Not even the old style punch cards could allow you to actually see your vote being cast correctly.

For the past week of early voting the lines have been amazingly long. Every day I would stop by the library closest to my route and check to see what the wait was like. I only have 30 minutes for lunch, and the waits were always in excess of an hour. But today, even though the line was very long, the wait was only fifteen minutes. So I took the opportunity to vote on my lunch break. It was nice to be able to exercise my right to vote this way without having to agonize over what I know will be very long lines on November 4th.

At any rate, it was great to be able to vote early. It would be nice if every state allowed for this.

Voting is a right, not a privilege.

Friday, October 24, 2008


There was this, a tiny incident from my years of exploring the forests:

I had spent a hot summer day hiking the trails of Hanging Rock State Park here in North Carolina. It's a rather strange place--a series of isolated mountain peaks known as the Sauratown Mountains, named after an extinct tribe of Indians who once lived among those summits. The area is quite pretty and striking, composed of ridges of hard quartzite caprock that has preserved the little high country, forming peaks that loom over the Piedmont and which form watersheds for rushing streams, tumbling waterfalls, and coves packed with lush forests.

Coming down from the tallest summits, I hiked to a waterfall. No one else was around and, since I was covered in sweat, I decided to take a shower in that cascade. After that, taking my camera, I waded into a small grotto below the falls. Looking to my right, on the wall at about head height, was a tiny, perfectly woven bird's nest decorated with green lichen. Inside that nest was a single, fragile, pale egg. I quickly snapped a couple of photographs of the nest and its contents and then scrambled away, leaving that palm-sized nursery and the occupant waiting for birth.

Taking only the image and the memory.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


What is it about the place where you live? Most people I know hate the towns where they live. Especially if they grew up there. I assume it all goes back to the old saying that familiarity breeds contempt. In my case, it's so. My home town is a place called Brunswick. It's on the Georgia coast about ninety miles or so north of the Florida border.

There are two seasons in Brunswick: sweltering, which lasts from about March through November; and hot, which extends through the other three months. Most places in the USA have had their populations expand in the past 100 years. But not Brunswick. I'm pretty sure that it's about half as large as it was at its greatest expansion, population wise. Once upon a time Brunswick served as a major port, but it faltered for various political reasons and Savannah and Charleston soon outpaced it and left it in the dirt, with only the mosquitoes and sand fleas to keep the citizens company.

Brunswick is easily one of the most physically hideous places I've ever been. There's nothing about it to make it attractive. The terrain is routinely flat (coastal plain), the forests consisting largely of scabby oaks and anemic pines and palmetto that have grown up since the old forests were cut to the nubs again and again and again.

There are rivers, of course. These are very muddy and turgid. The rivers are so packed with the fruit of Piedmont erosion that even the ocean around Brunswick runs brown. And marshes, too. Sidney Lanier, the great poet of Georgia wrote about The Marshes of Glynn. He never saw those marshes die off from industrial pollution, of course. During most of the years of my childhood, the marshes were dead and toxic. You could fish in there, but eating the fish was pretty risky business. Since then, the industries figured out a way to make money by filtering the toxic wastes and the marshes have recovered. I think the mercury compounds should be sufficiently buried by mud so that the shellfish and such are safe again.

The old hometown has a peculiar scent, too. The two major industries are the local pulp mill where vast tons of paper are made, and an enormous chemical outfit called Hercules that, among other things, processes pine resin into various components. The pulp mill exudes noxious gases into the local atmosphere several times per day that can knock you on your ass. Imagine if King Kong farted directly into your face from about a foot away. That's what smelling the air in Brunswick is like. If you've never been there and are driving in your car with the windows rolled up and the air conditioner on, you might not be quite aware of the stench. At first, you might think someone in the car leaked a silent one out. But as soon as you stop to refuel or get out at a nearby rest area, the full impact of the air will smite you. It will, if you're not prepared, strike you down. Believe it or not, the locals get used to it.

The Hercules plant is another matter. The smells that emanate from that place vary. Some of them are actually pleasant. Pine oil is produced there, and that has a very nice scent. However, I have smelled gases coming out of that huge industrial compound that are definitely not pine. Who knows what it is? I'm certain whatever it is that they make, it must have something to do with the hideous numbers of cancer victims who live in Brunswick.

Once upon a time there was another major employer in Brunswick. It was called Babcock & Wilcox. They made industrial boilers. One of their customers was the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant. You can guess what happened to Babcock & Wilcox. The power company had to have a scapegoat, I reckon. Jobs in Brunswick were at a premium when they shut down that outfit.

I don't go back to Brunswick very often. Only a few times in the past twenty years. The place stinks, of course. But there's more to it than that. It's just a very nasty spot on the map. I get depressed whenever I've gone back to visit the few friends I have there. I have family there, too, I think.

But other than wanting to take a couple of photos of a few spots in the town (strictly for historical purposes, mind you), I don't intend to ever return there. If I do go back, it will be a very quick detour on my way to somewhere worthwhile. I'll hop off the Interstate, ride to those few locations, take some digital photographs, and get the hell out.

Ah, Brunswick.

There's an exception to every rule, of course. In Brunswick's case, it's the old Glynn County Courthouse. A nice enough building, yes. But the redeeming value of it are the amazingly beautiful grounds filled with old trees, decorated appropriately with Spanish moss. It can almost make you forget where you are.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Chuck took me to visit two small villages near his home while I was staying with him. First we drove to Clifton, and later in the day to Occoquan. Both of these small towns are classic "historic" places. In general, when you see something like that advertised, it generally just means a depressed downtown area emptied out by the competition from big-box stores and a fled citizenry. In the case of both of these places, however, there is truth to the adjective utilisation of "historic".

While none of the structures in Clifton and Occoquan are genuinely ancient (by
Old World standards), there are lots of houses and buildings of sufficient age to qualify for that term here in the USA. Many of the structures we saw as we strolled along were Civil War era, and some predated even that conflict.

The key thing in these two small townships is that there are strict regulations
limiting what can be moved, torn down, or built up. The people who live in these places want them to retain a certain atmosphere.

To preserve that architectural and geographic tradition, one has to have solid and strict laws in place to enforce. And both Clifton and Occoquan are great examples of what can be accomplished by regulating growth and industry.

This country has been far too obsessed with rampant growth to embrace rational regulations. The greedy have risen up and spun their propaganda machines to the point where the very word "regulatio
n" has become something of a profanity.

But as anyone can see, we need regulations. Without them, we get ceaseless urban sprawl. Without them, we are shown the rape of the landscape. By Jove, it's time to bring them back, and to enforce them. Let's dance on Reagan's grave. Let's place a urinal over his diseased corpse; one which trickles down to his vacant, gaping mouth.