Sunday, May 19, 2013

Days of Reckoning Press



I once was the editor of a “zine” that made it through at least four issues with the spiffy title The Days of Reckoning Press. At the time I was living with a young woman, lets call her Z--,  who was my co-editor. We were on the fringes of the punk scene. That is to say, she was in the punk scene and I wasn’t. It was a few years too early to call us “slackers,” plus Z-- worked a real job in the research division of the NYPL, while I was a low-paid “journalist” for suburban newspapers.  We collected weird pamphlets and books. Z-- kindly introduced me to the writings of Charles Fort (whose wit and creativity make him transcend the crackpot category). Other treasures collected include a pamphlet about the benefits of “rebound” exercise (on small trampolines), aka "reboundology," and one I since have lost about Baltasare Forestiere, the Mole Man of Fresno, who carved out an enormous underground house in the desert of California for a bride in Italy who refused to join him. My rather miniscule collection still includes a homey history circa 1940 of the Purefoy Hotel in Alabama. Z-- subscribed to a very bizarre newspaper out of Hollywood in which all manner of strange theories were promulgated, and in which one B-movie actor, Aldo Ray, a friend of the publisher’s, was treated as one of the all-time greats. (David Goodis’s Nightfall is still one of my favorite noir novels but I have never seen the movie starring the great Aldo Ray.)

The idea with Days of Reckoning was to mimic a crackpot publication--like that one out of Hollywood. For inspiration, we read all of Martin Gardner’s books on pseudoscience. We also had both gone to college in Santa Cruz, California, so our memories of the bulletin boards there, full of testimonials for groups like the “Breatharians” (who claimed they did not need to eat but only breathe mindfully to survive) provided added inspiration--in Santa Cruz in the late 1970s, trying to escape from the jargon-laced ensnarements of Est-graduates was also part of daily survival. A few friends contributed columns. I drew a picture of a lizard for the front cover that also served as the handbill that we posted on street corners.   We pasted up each edition the old-fashioned way and then ran it off on what were then termed“Xerox” machines—since we didn’t have access to the even less efficient technology of a mimeograph machine.
In the zine, I included  brief biographies of characters such as Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy. I didn’t know what I was doing but tried to make these pieces read like slightly zany Jorge Luis Borges essays. Instead they read like something that belonged in a zine.  I suppose it was a bit sophomoric. We had a few avid fans, including my older brother, who tends to like all my dubious stunts. (My writing career probably began in high school when I wrote him long letters when he was off being a ski bum that he read aloud to his roommates in Colorado to apparent great effect.) The advertisements for Days of Reckoning outlived the publication--one of the phantom handbills with a ripped up lizard survived near a loading dock off of Bleecker Street for nearly a decade after we closed the press.

After this period of youthful/punk/bohemian/absurdity I broke with Z--, floundered around, got married, got a Ph.D. and learned better how to research and write about historical characters such as Hahnemann. My dissertation was filled with biographical sketches of electro-therapy showmen, stage hypnotists, anti-Spiritualists, and New Age salespeople. The Days of Reckoning impulse had undergone a sea change--it's hard to be a father, raise two children, and live absurd. I still love writing about people who uphold bold ideas contrary to the status quo--call it the Quixote impulse. [See Man from Mars: Ray Palmer’s Amazing Pulp Journey]

The Days of Reckoning no longer seem to be upon me. With that, I can live.

2 comments:

  1. Hi – I came across your blog this morning, when looking up an entirely different book on Amazon recommended an intriguing book of yours (I’m interested in the psychology of wonder), and I made my way here to find very entertaining posts but as yet not many comments. Hence, this comment, to encourage more posting. I’d like to follow along in the future – I see that you have G+, but I seldom visit there. Do you announce your new posts on Twitter?

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    1. Not tweeting as of yet - glad you have enjoyed the posts! I believe you can sign up for post alerts here. They also show up on my Amazon.com author page.

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