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Church of Monsters

H.P. LOVECRAFT OFFERED HORRIFIC CHIMERAS TO THE WORLD. SHOULD YOU CHOOSE TO RECEIVE THEM, THERE IS A FAN CLUB WAITING.
DISCUSSED
Nightmares, Edgar Allan Poe, Tentacles, Peter Weir, The Hollywood Theatre, Cthulhu, Cosmic Horror, Film Festivals, Trekkies, Übermonsters, The Dark Menace of Water, Patti Smith, The United Amateur Press Association, Mudslinging, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Masterpiece Theatre, Philip K. Dick, Tales from the Dark Side, Drowned Corpses, Gamers, the Church of Satan, Frozen Dogs, Brunch

Church of Monsters

Dorna Khazeni
12 Snaps

I. Remedies to Reality

Michel Houellebecq, in his ad­oring study of H.P. Lovecraft, asserts: “Those who love life do not read.” Houellebecq follows this tantalizingly bleak pronouncement with a rousing ­battle cry, tailor-made for these implied nonlovers of life—“We need a supreme antidote against all forms of ­realism.” For many readers, Lovecraft is this antidote; like Lovecraft himself, these readers have found odd solace in the viscerally horrific by-products of his lively imagination.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890–1937), the master of blood-curdling weird fiction, who lived most of his short life in Providence, Rhode Island, and toiled over his oozing creations in obscurity, has spawned enormous amounts of “anti­reality” ac­tivity. The mythos he created is regularly recalled in the fiction of other writers as if it were a fundamental building block of horror fiction. But his work has also penetrated and then metastasized inside universes other than the literary one—most notably in the universe of film. Perhaps this metastasis is due to the centrality of dreams in Lovecraft’s work, and the fact that film can most closely mimic the visual experience of dreaming. Lovecraft often recorded his own dreams in his letters to his friends, and some of his stories are direct transcriptions of dreams. Writing on December 11, 1919, he describes a nightmare:

I seemed to be seated in my chair clad in my old grey dressing-gown, reading a letter from Samuel Loveman. The letter was unbelievably realistic—thin, 812” x 13″ paper, violet ink signature, all—its contents seems por­tentous. The dream-Loveman wrote:

“Don’t fail to see Nyarlathotep if he comes to Providence. He is horrible—horrible beyond anything you can imagine—but wonderful. He haunts one for hours afterward. I am still shuddering at what he showed.”

I had never heard the name Nyarlathotep before, but seemed to understand the allusion. Ny­arlathotep as a kind of itinerant showman or lecturer who held forth in publick halls and aroused widespread fear and discussion with his exhibitions [… that] consisted of two parts—first, a horrible—possibly prophetic—cinema reel, and later some extraordinary experiments with scientific and electrical apparatus.”

Yet literal translations to film risk failing to convey the ineffable terror of Lovecraft’s otherworldly entities. Straight visual interpretations of his tentacled monsters seem reductive at best, at worst, laughable. Nonetheless, films of his works abound. The successful ones manage to strike the same disconcerting note as his writing: a vortex of the abhorrent opens in the midst of our otherwise recognizable world.

 

II. What’s Lovecraftian?

A prime example of a film considered brilliant by all Lovecraft aficionados is the first Alien (dir: Ridley Scott, 1979). Lovecraft has been described as the successor to Edgar Allan Poe, even though his particular brand of nightmarish fiction is distinguished by its tangible, almost scientific sort of horror. A term often used to describe his world is cosmic horror. For example, Cthulhu—arguably the best-known name in Lovecraft’s bestiary—is described by Lovecraft as follows:

If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings… It represented a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind. This thing, which seemed instinct with a fearsome and unnatural malignancy, was of a somewhat bloated corpulence…

Appropriately, then, the 11th Annual H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival takes place at the Hollywood Theatre, an ornately detailed building replete with Byzantine façade and rococo tower, which was built around the time Lovecraft was populating his bestiary. The attendees at the 11th Annual H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival are different, looks notwithstanding, from, say, Trekkies. They’re readers. And they are here because of the stories they’ve read that a gaunt, fairly antisocial gentleman from Providence wrote many de­cades ago. On this evening, the first night of the festival, the crowd of Lovecraftians in the lobby swells to two hundred. In the earliest years of the festival, the crowd could be pretty sparse, single guys or guys in groups with the occasional guy dragging a girlfriend to a showing of some classic from the Lovecraft canon like The Resurrected. Though there are still definitely more men than women at the festival today, the ratio is closer to two to one. Upstairs, business is brisk at the vendor booths, where you can pick up a “Cthulhu for President” T-shirt (in an election year, the vendors haven’t let slide their chances to be cheek­ily political), a monster-shaped statuette, or a pin with a wavy red, white, and blue flag background that reads “No More Years.”

The film festival’s program is printed in the form of a 1920s broadsheet newspaper called the Daily Lurker. Beneath the h. p. love­craft film festival headline is a picture of the Hollywood Theatre with Lovecraft’s thin face superimposed on one side, while on the other side Cthulhu’s tentacles thrash about behind the building. The newspaper’s front page carries articles on the festival’s feature-film offerings: The Last Wave (dir: Peter Weir, 1977), The Resurrected (dir: Dan O’Bannon, 1992), Dead & Buried (dir: Gary Sherman, 1981), Quatermass 2 (dir: Val Guest, 1957), and The Crimson Cult (aka Curse of the Crimson Altar, dir: Vernon Sewell, 1968). On the inside pages is a listing of short films. In Why Vote for the Lesser Evil? (dirs: Jon Cazares & Brian Wood, 2004), hapless worshippers try to get Cthulhu’s name on the U.S. presidential ballot, and persuade a potential voter that their candidate will far surpass Dubya in terms of the mayhem, misery, and downright destruction he will wreak. Between the Stars (dir: Djie Han Thung, 2000) is a short that articulates a Lovecraftian view of an infinitely vast universe using poetic and somewhat stark black-and-white images.

At 7:30 p.m. the movies begin. Peter Weir’s The Last Wave is the opening-night feature—a po­tentially surprising choice, given there’s no evidence that Weir ex­plicitly meant to undertake a Lovecraft adaptation. Set in Australia, The Last Wave is the story of an attorney hired to defend a group of Ab­original men living in the city. They have killed a man who witnessed something he shouldn’t have. As the protagonist—a dishy Richard Chamberlain—becomes embroiled in the case, he discovers powers at work that aren’t human. He also discovers that he is a “chosen one” of sorts, an “ancient one,” a seer. Associations with Lovecraft’s fiction are apparent. Water, as it often is in Lovecraft’s universe, functions as an element of dark menace: hail is delivered from a pristine, cloudless blue sky and flings its glass-shattering rage at schoolchildren in the Ab­original desert; in the film’s dramatic final sequence, a tidal wave washes away the world. The film’s emphasis on dreams also earns it a place in the canon of Lovecraftian cinema. “Dreamtime is more real than reality itself,” the lawyer is told by the Aborigines. (In Lovecraft’s work it is Cthu­lhu—the über­monster, replete with “fearsome and unnatural mal­ignancy,” tentacled and terrifying, that lies dreaming and dead.) Just like in Lovecraft’s fiction, “native” peoples know things and are wise in ways that that the Western, “civilized” man is not. They have knowledge of those things that transcend the earthly understanding of ordinary mortals. In Weir’s film, the Aborigines know the truth the white man is trying to deny. Although it’s a safe bet that Weir never meant to make a Lovecraftian film, The Last Wave conveys an eerie sense of cosmic horror à la Lovecraft.

While Weir’s film is an example of a professionally produced offering at the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival, in some cases the quality of the films seems less crucial than their content. An utterly degraded half-inch video version of the 1981, 16 mm student-film adaptation of Lovecraft’s 1926 story “Pickman’s Model” is screened later in the weekend. All technical shortcomings aside, the experience of watching this film is enhanced by the sense that you’ve personally discovered an artifact that will never be seen again by anyone, anywhere. This sensation of discovery is part of the thrill exerted by the festival as a whole, and is part of what binds this temporary community together. On the back of the Daily Lurker, in the lower left column, there’s a note that festival director Andrew Migliore received from Patti Smith, a huge Lovecraft fan. She wanted to attend the festival, but in the end, couldn’t make it. She’s written:

There are those whom we seek and there are those whom we find. Occasionally we find, however fractured the relativity, one we recognize as kin. In doing so, certain curious aspects of character recede and we happily magnify the common ground.

 

III. The Amateur Family

Lovecraft’s own life might have been even lonelier and bleaker than it turned out to be were it not for the Un­ited Amateur Press Association. In 1914, Lovecraft’s invectives against Fred Jackson, an insipid writer of sentimental fiction in the Argosy, a “cheap magazine” as per Lovecraft himself, that specialized in trashy ro­mance and other sloppy popular writing, resulted in a public mudslinging fest that lasted several months. As a result, Lovecraft was contacted by Edward F. Daas, president of the United Amateur Press Association (UAPA), and invited to become a member, which he did on April 6, 1914. The UAPA was founded on September 2, 1895. The word “am­ateur” is not used in the sense it is today. Rather, it in­tended to convey that writers associated under this banner were not part of any commercial enterprise and wrote purely for the love of writing. Their use of the term “amateur” and their membership in the UAPA meant they were committed to a fraternal code of conduct, shared freely and with great courtesy their experience and their expertise, and provided support to one another. The fruit of their labors was contained in publications—high-standard proto-zines, in effect—that were published by individual members at their own expense, and which contained the works of other members. In his first autobiographical essay, “What Amateurdom and I Have Done for Each Other” (1921), Lovecraft writes:

Happily, I can be less reserved in stating what amateurdom has done for me. This is a case in which overstatement would be impossible, for Amateur Journalism has provided me with the very world in which I live. Of a nervous and reserved temperament, and cursed with an aspiration which far exceeds my en­dowments, I am a typical misfit in the larger world of endeavour, and singularly unable to derive enjoyment from ordinary miscellaneous activities. In 1914, when the kindly hand of amateurdom was first extended to me, I was as close to the state of vegetation as any animal well can be—perhaps I might best have been compared to the lowly potato in its sec­luded and subterranean quiescence. With the advent of the United I obtained a renewed will to live; a renewed sense of existence as other than a superfluous weight; and found a sphere in which I could feel that my efforts were not wholly futile. For the first time I could imagine that my clumsy gropings after art were a little more than faint cries lost in the unlistening void.

Through his membership in the UAPA Lovecraft forged lifelong relationships with numerous correspondents, among them other “amateur” writers such as August Derleth, Donald Wandrei, Frank Belknap Long, Rheinhart Kleiner, and Clark Ashton Smith. (It was also indirectly through the UAPA that he met his future wife, Sonia Greene.) Their common literary interests and their mutually supportive contact created an epistolary community in which they could thrive even as the literary establishment ignored them. (During the years that Lovecraft and his colleagues were churning out their tales, Joyce published Portrait, Eliot The Waste Land, Fitzgerald Gatsby.) They read and commented upon one another’s work, passed along tips regarding possible publishing op­portunities, and occasionally met face-to-face on planned trips and outings. Among the group, Lovecraft was known for his fastidious and generous attention to the reading and editing of his friends’ works. A compulsive letter-writer (he wrote over seventy-five thousand letters in his lifetime), Lovecraft’s correspondence—most of which resides at the John Hay Library at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and was, over a quarter of a century, pain­stakingly edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei (vol. I–III) and published in several volumes by Ark­ham House Publishers—provides one of the best artifacts of how the UAPA worked in the twenties and thirties.

Andrew Migliore, the founder of the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival, has created a mirror community of amateur enthusiasts. A software engineer with no background in the arts or writing, Mig­liore has, by dint of his sheer love of Lovecraft’s fiction, organized this event in his spare time for the last ten years. The festival came about due to Migliore’s mystification over the absence of film adaptations of Lovecraft’s work. “Not on PBS, not on BBC, not on Masterpiece Theatre. Why don’t people like that do a great adaptation? He’s a legitimate author. Edgar Allan Poe gets these serious treatments and period pieces. Why doesn’t Lovecraft?”

Migliore first realized he wasn’t alone in his frustration when, in 1995, he was asked to create a content-management system for the software company where he wor­ked. As a test, he had to choose an ISP and create content for his data model. His favorite authors were H. P. Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick. He thought of the twenty or so films he’d seen based on Lovecraft’s fiction and decided he’d write movie reviews and post them on the new site. “So,” he continues, “I did a review of The Dunwich Horror [dir: Daniel Haller, 1970], and a few others. I called my website ‘Beyond Books.’” Before long, all manner of Lovecraftians began to log on. Migliore recalls, “One of the first people who contacted me was John Strysik—he was involved in Tales From the Dark Side.” Mig­liore’s reference is to the classic television show that ran from 1984 to 1988. “Strysik told me he had made a student film based on Lovecraft’s ‘The Music of Erich Zann’ [dir: John Strysik, 1980]. I hadn’t seen any amateur Lovecraft adaptations—it was the first time I’d seen something so cool that was more of a faithful adaptation of the spirit of Lovecraft’s work.” Migliore asked if he could do an interview for the site with Strysik. They became friends. Through Strysik, Migliore met Aaron Vanek, who later sent him his film The Outsider (1994):  “I definitely thought it was pretty cool, too.”

Meanwhile the site was growing bigger. Migliore interviewed Brent Friedman, who had written the screenplay for The Resurrected. Strysik asked Migliore why he didn’t try to procure a copy of a feature film and host a screening. Soon after, the idea for the annual H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival was born. Ten years later Migliore has finally quit his day job and works on the festival full-time. He and Strysik have written a book about Lovecraftian films, The Lurker in the Lobby (Armitage House, 2000). He has also undertaken the DVD release of the best of the Fest’s films through his Lurker Films site www.lurkerfilms.com. The releases include a striking British film, Rough Magik (dir: Jamie Payne, 2000), originally made as a television pilot and distinguished by its uncan­nily 1970s horror-film at­mosphere.

 

IV. Elocution and the Bestiary

Late on the first evening of the film festival, the royalty of the 11th Annual H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival retires to the Moon and Sixpence, a pub not far from the Hollywood Theatre, where a post-movie party is taking place. Migliore sits across from Donovan Loucks, who maintains the most comprehensive Lovecraft website. To his immediate left is Scott Connors, who proffers this: “I can tell you how to get fingerprints off a floater.” (“Floater” refers to a drowned corpse. The process in­volves using alcohol to draw out the moisture and liquid paraffin to set and fill out the ridges that have softened and almost disappeared. You also need ten empty jars of Gerber’s baby food.) Connors works as a nurse in Sacramento in his real, non-Lovecraft-related life; he is also a Clark Ashton Smith specialist, and has just edited a collection of Ashton Smith’s letters. Throughout the weekend Connors refers to Lovecraft as “Grandpa,” which is how Lovecraft referred to himself in his correspondence.

Also seated at the table is S. T. Joshi, the man who, for all intents and purposes, appears to be the gatekeeper of Lovecraft studies, having authored numerous books about Lovecraft and edited some of the best collections of his work. His scholarly efforts have brought all of Lovecraft’s writing, including his letters, to a wider public. His 1996 biography of Lovecraft, H. P. Lovecraft: A Life, is considered by many scholars to be the finest and most definitive. (He has also edited collections of fellow UAPA-ers Algernon Blackwood, Clark Ashton Smith, Arthur Machen, and Lord Dunsany, among others.)

John Strysik—also seated at the royalty table—tells of meeting Joshi in 1980, when he made his short film based on Lovecraft’s 1922 story “The Music of Erich Zann.” He walked into the library at Brown University and asked if anyone there had any connection to Lovecraft. He was directed to a dark stairway that descended into a dingy basement. There, in the farthest corner of the basement, sat Joshi, poring over Lovecraft’s letters. (Naturally, it is Joshi who plays the part of the Captain in one of the more popular shorts here this year, The Love Craft [dirs: Eric Morgret & K. L. Young, 2004]. Think of the opening credit sequence of an old TV series that takes place on a boat and has a Captain, a Bursar, etc. In The Love Craft, however, the cheery music is interrupted when the many-tentacled Cthulhu drags the ship down into the deep.)

As the night grows drunker, someone suggests pitching a TV show called CSI Arkham to CBS, and I realized I’ve landed in a topsy-turvy Alice-like fold of the universe, a place where things are observed, digested, and spat out as seen through the lens of the Cthu­lhu mythos. If you speak the language, you’re in. Arkham, for example, is closely bound to the mythos that Lovecraft created. It’s many a character who starts off innocently enough in Arkham, Massachusetts, only to be taken unawares by the lurking evil that resides close to the surface. The Great Old Ones are everywhere. Cthulhu is everywhere.

Speaking of Cthulhu, there seems to be some disagreement regarding the correct pronunciation of the word. While many pronounce it ku-thoo-loo, Joshi prefers a two-syllable pronunciation, the first syllable incorporating two consonants, k and th. It sort of goes like this: kthoo-lu—the kthoo part sounds like a cat throwing up a hairball.

Any discussion of the minutiae of Lovecraft’s world can ex­tend indefinitely. Lengthy conversations about the pronunciation of the names of tentacled scaly creatures with marine physiques in­vented by this long-dead man seem normal—a man who, although he lived by the sea his entire life, could not abide the smell of the ocean. This irony was not lost to anyone when, on the second night of the festival, a large group went to eat sushi at the Japanese restaurant next-door to the theater.

 

V. Ontological Displacements

Andrew Leman and Sean Branney, the cofounders of the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, are seated at one of the vending tables in the Hollywood Theatre, a binder between them. Inside the binder is what appears to be the actual clipping referred to in “The Call of Cthulhu”’s third section, “The Madness From the Sea”:

 If heaven ever wishes to grant me a boon, it will be a total effacing of the results of a mere chance which fixed my eye on a certain stray piece of shelf-­paper. It was nothing on which I would naturally have stumbled in the course of my daily round, for it was an old number of an Australian journal, the Sydney Bulletin for April 18, 1925. It had escaped even the cutting bureau which had at the time of its issuance been avidly collecting material for my uncle’s research.

Printed on newsprint, dated April 18, 1925, the clipping bears the headline mystery derelict found at sea and features a story filed from Sydney describing the tale of the strange experiences of an abandoned New Zealand ship. The graphic recreations are true to the period and meticulously constructed—gorgeous in their reporting. And there is more in the binder: a university ID, a library card, a passport, checkbooks, and more newspaper articles about events Lovecraft refers to in his tales. These items—props, in fact, for role-playing games (RPGs) based on the Cthulhu mythos—are perfect stand-alone artifacts, relics from Lovecraft’s fictional universe washed ashore here at this table in the movie theater’s lobby.

Many of the festival attendees are devotees of RPGs. Lehman and Branney, who both hold master’s degrees in theater, run very elaborate versions of RPGs, which resemble improv theater. These are live-action events that take place all over the world, adventures that in­volve intricately staged situations. Gamers enter a compact where cer­tain elements of a narrative are fixed while others evolve as you play. There’s an overlap be­tween the world of these games and that of reading and theater. The thrill is the same: you leave your day-to-day self behind for the duration of the game and step into a fantasy. Because games are played with others, a virtual space is created where individual imaginations work within a collective setting. In the case of the Lovecraft Fest attendees, players visit a place of fear. For these individuals, the thrill lies in being scared shitless and in using their resources and wits to get out of “danger”—to survive the scary story. The better the game, the more powerful the emotional experience.

While I didn’t experience the thrill of RPGs at first, my next couple of encounters allowed me to almost undergo the requisite id­entity shift, at least vicariously: when you play you have to understand that they are everywhere, all the time, and you must be prepared to survive… at any cost. You have to learn to decipher reality.

 

VI. Rex

On Saturday night, I spend some time talking to Rex, undoubtedly the most visually striking individual at the event. A small man dressed in black, Rex’s head is shaved and he has three implants in his forehead—one above each eyebrow in the shape of a small horn, and one in the center of his forehead in the shape of a pitchfork. He also has two medium-sized ring piercings in his chin. He tells me that he is a magister templi in the Church of Satan. “A magister templi,” he explains, “is the equivalent of a bishop or cardinal within the Church of Satan.” Rex is at once cryptic and articulate. He says things like this:

My physical manifestation to the objective universe mirrors a very carefully contrived internal psychic landscape. I am moving away step-by-step from a perspective that can be racially or culturally attributed to the human toward a process of becoming something even greater. I identify with the “other” and I always have.

It’s noisy in the lobby of the theater. To continue our conversation we move to the foyer of the Ladies Lounge. Rex claims he believes Lovecraft to have been an occultist, or at least “a neo­myth­ologist and a reluctant prophet of the chaotic condition that is the ter­minal manifestation of the twen­tieth century.” Isn’t it true, I ask him, that Lovecraft never intended his writing to be used as part of any ritual? Rex agrees, but he has this comeback:

Lovecraft never intended the ­stories as ritual documents. It just took a keen mind to be able to look at them from that perspective and be able to manipulate them for that purpose. In so much as all religions are the creations of men, there’s nothing to say that you couldn’t take a piece of fiction and make it work equally well as a part of ritual, as taking something from history, that supposedly is actual or real.

Rex is from Astoria, a place he sees as “the closest thing to Innsmouth [cf. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”) you could hope to find on the planet.” He then lays out an extraordinary list of what he sees as correspondences between his world (Astoria) and Lovecraft’s (Inns­mouth). In the process of as­similating this fictional body of work to fit his psychic/philoso­phical needs, Rex has appropriated Lovecraft in a way that is very creative. He reinforces the idea that reading can ripple its way out into the world and leave tracks, that the workings of a single imagination can, like a genie, make unlikely things—or unlikely situations—appear in the world. Like this unlikely situation: I’m sitting on the floral carpeting in the foyer of the Ladies Lounge at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival with a person who has horns implanted under the skin of his forehead, who is telling me that he actually believes that Yog-Sothoth, Cthulhu, Nyar­lathotep, and Azathoth have some form of corporeal reality, while in the next room there’s a wedding ceremony taking place be­tween two young vendors who like the festival so much that they’ve decided to get married here.

 

VII. The Blair Myth

Each year on the last day of the festival, Sunday, An­drew Migliore invites the  cabal of hardcore Lovecraftians to brunch at his house. The tradition is largely supported by the good will and amazing French toast made by his wife, Linda.

Before long, everyone starts to clamor for Scott Glancy, who runs Pagan Publishing, a gaming and publishing company, to tell the Blair Myth. Glancy begins the Blair Myth with a description of Blair—“a tall, cadaverous fellow”—and a bewildering anecdote meant to be indicative of “vintage Blair.” One day, according to ­Glancy, Blair gave their mutual friend John an envelope. He told John that he was going to Belize, and if he didn’t return in four weeks, John should open the en­velope. He left for Belize with his rifle case. When he returned a couple of weeks later, he no longer had the rifle case, but he had malaria. His first words upon arrival were, “John, do you still have that letter?” Blair immediately burned the letter.

The Blair Myth is a bit more slapstick. One very early morning on the campus of a college in Missouri, Blair was driving around dumpsters trying to find packing boxes for his upcoming move to Alaska. As he was rescuing boxes from the dumpster in front of the biology building, a van pulled up. A guy jumped out. Blair, sensing the man didn’t want to be witnessed doing what he was planning to do, put down his boxes and walked away.

But Blair’s curiosity was piqued. He doubled back and saw the guy remove a large dark object from the van and throw it in the dumpster. Then the guy entered the biology building. A couple of minutes later, Blair noticed a light turn on in the building. (“Years of playing “The Call of Cthulhu” had prepared him for this moment!” said Migliore, referring to one of the more popular RPGs).

Blair opened the dumpster and found a three-foot-long bundle covered in garbage bags and wrapped up in duct tape.

Glancy’s story is punctuated by semihysterical interjections, oooohs, yelps, and giggles from the otherwise rapt crowd.

Blair (“of course,” says Glancy) had to see what was in the bag. The first thing he encountered was hair. More like thick fur from, say, a German shepherd. Sure enough, there was a frozen dog in the bag. (“A perfectly good frozen dog,” says Glancy.) But then Blair noticed the package wasn’t shaped right for a dog, so he pulled the dog out of the bag until he got to the head end of it. Except there was no head. Right then, Blair glanced up and noticed that the light in the biology building had gone off.

Shrieks greet this part of the story from those assembled in Migliore’s sunny living room.

Blair, Glancy continues, closed up the dumpster and hightailed it out of there. Once back in his dorm room, he called campus security and told them his story. He hung up and tried to stay calm. Suddenly the phone rang again. He picked up. On the other end, there was a click. Blair quickly put two and two together and deduced—of course!—that as­sassins were on their way. The only logical thing to do was to build a barricade against the door of his dorm room with his furniture. Which he did. He got out an AR-R15 assault rifle and stayed below the level of the windows, waiting for the inevitable attack.

The phone rang again.

“Blair crawled his way over to the phone, pulled it down. ‘Hello?’ It was campus security saying something like, ‘Oh, hey! Yeah. We checked out your thing and someone was dumping medical waste from the college illegally. Thanks for telling us about it. It’s all sorted out now, citizen. Go back to sleep.’”

According to Glancy, Blair never lived this story down. It circulated among their group of friends and was told and retold endlessly. The question that re­mained unanswered was “Where was the head?” Was there a jar somewhere filled with weird-colored liquid and the head floating in it, silently barking?

Later, Migliore tells me that a couple of years ago, when Jack Donner from Star Trek was a guest at the festival, Donner came to a brunch where Glancy was telling his cycle of Blair stories. Donner turned to Glancy’s girlfriend, Jane, and in his hoarse whisper asked, “What kind of a man is this Blair?” Jane replied “Well, Blair’s the kind of guy that’d come into a house and have a good look around and think, ‘How will I defend this house from a horde of flesh-eating zombies?’” Still deadpan, Donner asked, “This Blair… [long pause]… he thinks that there are zombies?” Laughing, Jane replied, “No! Blair doesn’t think there are zombies. He just wishes there were zombies.”

Don’t we all?

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