And Whatever walks there, walks alone.

“Fear,” the doctor said, “is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishing of reasonable patterns. We yield to it or we fight it, but we cannot meet it halfway.” And later, the doctor was gone, and “Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

I used to read books with eerie passages, like this one from author Shirley Jackson (I could give you the whole self-analysis rationale, but I’d rather you make it through to the end of this little note…). I don’t read them so much anymore. Like anything else – cars, movies, clothing – the offerings range from cheap and disappointing to over-the-top-stand-up-and-applaud good.

Shirley Jackson’s classic scary book, The Haunting of Hill House, is the PHD of Fright, the Mother Superior Sister of Sinister, and the Extension Ladder of top-level terror. But – it isn’t one of those with chain saws, fingernail-claws, or soon-to-be-toast teenagers muddling around in dark places.

When I finished the last page of Hill House, I shuddered like a Labrador just out of the farm pond. Wasn’t sure exactly what had just happened, but – either way – it was darn creepy.

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And there are plenty of people who reacted the same way. At its publication in 1959, the New York Times reviewer wrote of author Shirley Jackson: “In The Haunting of Hill House” she has produced caviar for the connoisseurs of the cryptic, the bizarre, the eerie, guiding us along the frontiers between commonplace reality and some strange ‘absolute reality’ of her own.”

Horror-master Stephen King calls it one of the most important horror novels of the 20th Century. And he ought to know one.

There are plenty of books on my “would love to have a 1st Edition” list – and Hill House is on it.

Again.

After years and years of searching (oh, there are a few out there for sale, but not in my price range), I happened across one that I thought I might be able to own. Thought about it. Thought some more. Finally, I decided I wasn’t getting any younger, and made the commitment. Felt like a kid with a new grape sucker when it arrived in the mail.

Wrapped the dust jacket in protective archival plastic and put it lovingly on the shelf, where it has been for the past six weeks, and where I have visited it – more than once. Showed it off to my daughter on Monday and asked her to take custody of it in the event of my being run over by a bus.

Yesterday, the book appeared on the checkout counter. Without my putting it there.

When I looked up, there was a somewhat familiar face – a customer who has purchased a number of collectible books from me over the years. I removed the card that indicated the price, and tilted it in her direction.

She nodded and said, “I’ve already talked to my husband about it. I told him some of my college text books cost this much, and where are they now?”

I had to agree, and – although my heart sunk just a little bit – I rang up the sale and gently placed it in a bag.

It’s sort of a running joke – that the books in the shop are a bit like my orphans and it is my duty to find them good homes. I know this one will be well taken care of and appreciated for the special volume that it is.

Would like to have gotten to know that particular book-child o’mine a little better though! In the meantime, I’m back on the hunt for another orphaned copy of the book…which is okay, too. I love a good safari!

We’re serving up some hauntingly delicious fare at lunchtime tomorrow, so…

Come visit!

McHuston

Booksellers & Irish Bistro
Rose District
122 South Main St, Broken Arrow, OK!

Back then: Doctor My Eyes. Now: Doctor Everything.

The exact chain of thinking is already lost, but Dustin told me he was going to a concert this evening and suddenly I’m reminiscing about a random show I once attended.

Somebody on Facebook mentioned The Eagles and now I’m trying to recall my own history… wondering whether I had seen them opening for the Rolling Stones (nope, that was Stevie Wonder) – searching the internet for clues to my own past, then BAM!

There’s a memory, courtesy of David Dean and the Tulsa Poster Project.

Bonnie Raitt, opening for Jackson Browne at the Tulsa Assembly Center. How well I remember it!

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That’s a lie. I remember the show pretty well, and some things vividly. Other aspects that might have been important at the time – nah, not so clear. Hey. It was 1974.

I remember I was poor as a churchmouse, working as a 10-speed bicycle mechanic while attending broadcasting school. Money was so tight that I couldn’t eat on Saturday until after the weekly paychecks were handed out (after lunch). The girl behind the counter at Burger Chef (where I ate almost every day) figured out my dilemma and starting slipping a little hamburger across the counter to go with my Saturday Cola-only lunch.

It occurred to me that I could return the favors and ask her to go see the just-announced Jackson Browne/Bonnie Raitt concert (okay, so my little Chef was cute too…). Saved up. Bought tickets.

Not so clear these days whether she suddenly changed jobs or whether I was too chicken to ask her out. At any rate, I made it to the concert… probably by myself. (Did I mention that some parts of this memory weren’t as clear?)

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Maybe it was the fact it was a Wednesday, but even the cheap seats were great. There weren’t enough people to fill the floor area of the arena. There were some folks seated in the first section on either side of the stage, but they weren’t much closer than anyone else.

In fact, when the spotlight first hit Bonnie, she grabbed the microphone and called out – “Is this everybody?” and pointed out at us. “We ought to just clear the chairs out and rollerskate!”

We made up for our lack of numbers with enthusiasm. None of us was disappointed in the performance, and I was only slightly embarrassed when one of us in the audience shouted out “Rock and Roll!” in the middle of one of Jackson Browne’s tender ballads.

How I first heard of Bonnie Raitt also escapes me these days, but I believe I was as anxious to hear her perform as I was the better-known Jackson Browne.

I know it was my ol’ buddy Mike that drove us down to the Rolling Stones concert in Texas, where we were surprised to learn that Stevie Wonder was opening the show. And it was Mike who occasionally lent me his glasses during the show so I could see the stage from the nosebleed seats we were in.

So, Mike, if it was you sitting with me in the Browne/Raitt audience, it wasn’t so much forgettable – just Burger Chef Girl: Plan B.

Auctioning Off Old Memories…

It’s the rare day when you find yourself up for sale on eBay. Not a Buy-it-Now, either. Selling off a bit of me, Auction-style.

Back in the day, between the job and the raisin’ up o’ the children, I would hunch myself over a typewriter of an evening, tapping out words. (That’s the sound typewriters made: clack-clack-clackity-clack, ding! Bzzzzzssssttt. Some of you will recognize the Carriage Return there.)

I don’t think I ever truly harbored thoughts of becoming a famous writer. One whose novel was turned into a blockbuster movie. Lounging on the veranda in sunglasses even on a dreary, overcast day. Maybe holding a Meerschaum pipe near my lips as though I was smoking the thing.

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There wasn’t enough time to finish a novel, so I cranked out short stories. Bad ones, mostly. It was like a compulsion though: get a little free time and plop down at the writing table. Finish one up and deposit it in the closet with the others, maybe expecting a publisher to break in the house one night to pilfer and publish one of them. Didn’t ever happen.

So, instead of continuing to wait for the Thieving Publisher, I sent one of them off, safely tucked into a manila envelope along with my great hopes.

The thrill when a reply arrived! The nervousness. My name beautifully hand-penned on the envelope, bearing a publisher’s return address, me fearful, but opening it anyway. He liked the story, he said. Thought it was a little Bradbury-esque (goosebumps for me by that point) and wondered if I would object to it being included in the next issue.

What??? Are you kidding me?

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He later mailed me a little check (even smaller by today’s standards…) and I waited anxiously for the arrival of the copy he promised me.

Publishing has changed greatly in the past decade, and the idea of desktop publishing was a new thing way back when my story was accepted. Not that it made any difference to me. My fiction was in the magazine along with stories by other folks, several of whom were pretty well known (in some circles).

I was published, thought I.

The capper to the thing was this: shortly after the magazine came out, my buddy and I attended a convention on the east coast. Some well-known authors were there (Stephen King was a no-show). And a lot of fans/readers. Heading out to dinner, we were joined by a fellow we met, who casually asked if we were published writers.

Hah! I was a little embarrassed – but a little bit proud, too – to reply that, amazingly, I had a story in the latest issue of a little magazine. He wanted to know what magazine, and I told him. He knew the publication. What story, he wanted to know, and I told him.

He had read it!

As good as it gets for me, at that moment in time.

We had an enjoyable evening, the three of us heading out for an exotic meal. (He had heard of Arby’s but there were none in his home-state. Oh, well… it would have to do for exotic.)

There aren’t many copies of that little magazine around any longer. At some point I had entered an eBay search to alert me in case one ever came up for auction.

Today was the day. I’m tempted to put in a bid just to own it.

But I already know how the story ends.

Come visit!

McHuston

Booksellers & Irish Bistro
Rose District
122 South Main St. Broken Arrow OK!