Killing Timeless Superheroes On Repeat for Profit, a Road Which Should be Lesser Traveled

I scoffed at it. I resisted it. I’ve worked comic book retail before. I know what this is. It’s festering shtick played for cheap. If you can finger snap beloved characters gone, you can expect most, if not all of them to return once the profit margin begs for it.

Granted, for sheer curiosity, I opened the blazoned summoning to “Death of the Justice League” a couple times two different Wednesdays on new book day. I even made the rare faux pas of lingering on the end pages because I just know better.

The generous bundle of copies remaining on the shelves two months after the book’s release was a strong indicator. Albeit, they were the standard cover copies, and not the variants and certainly not the glossy acetate packaging. The latter hung about the comic book shop I frequent for a few weeks before selling out. Out of nowhere, though, perhaps from a closed down pull box or another customer unable to clear out weekly held books in suitable fashion, an acetate cover copy manifested.

Add to my conundrum of being baited a Father’s Day gift certificate from my loving fiancée, and with it the freedom to try books I’ve passed on in the interest of saving money. Well… To the good, I was able to score the first three issues of Keiron Gillen’s brilliant Immortal X-Men plus the riotous and gory hijacking of Wolverine # 20-22 by Logan’s smart-assed, likewise indestructible foil, Deadpool. Best ‘pool writing I’ve seen in the past few years.

Damnation, I wasn’t going to play ball, but that acetate cover of Justice League # 75 was coming down the line at me like a routine groundout at first, the ninth inning with the winning run on third. By the time I read the thing, it’s exactly the way I felt about it. Good contact, sharply driven, but in the end, a blasé out to flub a game-ending rally. No walk-off. Extra innings toward an indecisive outcome.

Yes, I know all the marketing gimmicks and presentation tricks from comic book publishers. When I worked in a comic shop in the early 1990s called Alternate Worlds, we sold tons of books cased in sealed polymer bags, along with special covers done in gatefolds, tri-folds, prism 3-D designs, holograms, a plastic diamond angle (looking at and from you, Eclipso), die-cut embossing, chrome plating, you name it. Ask collectors who were there; the smoke and mirrors work favored by the publishers were masking mediocre to miserable material inside.

From this time period, I’m currently writing a fiction story based on my experiences in comics retail. Specifically, the notorious Death of Superman (or “Doomsday”) and Funeral for a Friend saga spanning from 1992 to 1993. If anything reeked of cash grab in the comics industry, it was this bald-faced ploy to knock off The Man of Steel, who had me and maybe 30 other readers nationwide at the time. To be a part of that shocking and momentous occasion was to understand public duping at its best. Most of the people who bought Superman # 75 and the entire Doomsday story arc, as it was largely sold to consumers plunking down a deposit toward the entire run over Supes’ four titles (and Justice League of America # 69) at the time, weren’t even comic book readers. They were investors looking to nab a slice of history it seemed would never repeat itself, save for the four print runs of the pivotal “death” issue.

As their rival imprint’s “distinguished competition,” DC Comics have been no strangers to running the death gambit with their flagship characters. What was originally mortifying and tragic in 1985 when the original Flash, Barry Allen, and Supergirl, were purportedly snuffed in the Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries, has now become more of an asterisk instead of an exclamation point. DC and Marvel have killed and resurrected their stable so many times now it’s not even liberally covered under a pervading “multiverse” clause. It’s become Mandolorian-esque: This is the way.

Marvel has ingeniously staked a godhead factor within its still-building Krakoa era of their X-Men titles. The mutant sovereignty has discovered the method toward regenerating their entire population as needs and Quiet Council decrees must. As if Wolverine hasn’t died enough times, or lest we’ve suffered the perversion of resurrecting decades-dead Gwen Stacy, rebranded as hybrid avatars of Marvel’s long-standing cast (i.e. Gwenpool and Spider-Gwen). Marvel can now slaughter mutants at wholesale and bring them back within a single issue. Skip the emotive funeral aftermath tie-in.

For all my blustering, you can bet that acetate covered Justice League # 75 came along with me. All of my knowledge and background in marketing, yep, I still caved when I saw an acetate version of the book re-emerge on the shelf and I had a gift cert to burn. Yes, the confounded acetate cover is cool-looking. You got me this time, DC, drat it.

The book’s been out a while, and everyone who cares about this stuff knows what you see with the comic carny huckstering is what you get with Justice League # 75. Is it any surprise this comes at an issue numbered 75, for all intents and purposes, Superman’s new kryptonite?

Save for Green Arrow’s part in it, however, this is the most pedestrian fall of comic titans I’ve ever read. I’ve been at comics reading for more than four decades, and I have a strong suspicion what Joshua Williamson and DC is up to by creating a minimalist finale to the title’s current run. We all do, considering it’s all precursor to the publisher’s upcoming Dark Crisis crossover. I can make a prediction what this has all been for, which, on the face isn’t much other than to see The Spectre swing sides and Jon Stewart’s valiant stint as lead Green Lantern nearly save the day.

In the end, oblivion rules over Justice League # 75 in the same shredding fashion as the heroes died in Crisis on Infinite Earths, which is my main gripe to the whole thing. Wonder Woman only just recently cheated death a few months ago for what, the fourth time? Now this? Not even Krakoa’s cloning prowess, assuming it could be loaned ad hoc across competitor lines, can handle this in-and-out genetic reassembly like Sylvester McMonkey McBean’s star brands on (and off) thars. Alfred Pennyworth’s death being the only in comics to have any reticence and gravity, much less sticking power these days.

Which is what this constant die-in, die-out motif in comics feels like: a sham unfurled with just one suckering lever pull. Pointless variant covers and wearying reboots of comic series back to Issue 1 ad infinitum being enough excuse to just let the super bodies hit the floor.

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

The Candy Bar that Time, Not Baseball Fans, Forgot

You read a lot of retrospectives over woebegone discontinued sweets and treats from generations past. One candy bar not just reliably makes the list, it stands out like a mythical beacon of nostalgia not even the gobstopping Willie Wonka or Hubba Bubba chewing gum can outshine.

I’m talking about the ephemeral Reggie! bar, which crazed and glazed sweet teeth from the mid-1970s through the early Eighties. Named after the iconic New York Yankees slugger, Reggie Jackson (the Aaron Judge of his time), Curtiss Candy introduced the baseball-themed cluster bar in 1977. Comparable to the manufacturers’ Baby Ruth (featuring the namesake of Grover Cleveland’s daughter), the Reggie! bar struck many candy connoisseurs’ fancies, at least until its original demise in 1982.

Let me give you an abbreviated tale of two baseball cities, Baltimore and New York. One blue collar, the other a mash of working class and Wall Street. Baltimore has always been considered minor league compared to the pinstriped Metropolis (or slate gray and orange if you’re a Mets backer). This inferiority complex which has long plagued the city used to give Baltimore citizens, much less their sports teams, a collective chip on their shoulders. The swagger has returned, planted square upon the backs of the Ravens in the NFL. In the past couple decades especially, it’s no secret the Orioles have been the Yankees’ whipping boys. A current historical record of the two teams’ series over the years has the Yankees overpowering the O’s in a lopsided 1301-888 drubbing.

Granted, Baltimore’s rebuilding roster has finally shown sparks of competitiveness and they’ve managed to gnash at the Bronx Bombers’ heels here and there the past few years. During the 1970s and 80s, however, both cities boasted two of the top contending teams in Major League Baseball. Their slugfests back then were the stuff of the game’s canon, though incomparable to eons-worth of Yankees-Red Sox diamond duels. I was there to see some of those O’s-Yanks epics as a kid in the Orioles’ original home, Memorial Stadium. Seems way too long and just like yesterday I was cheering on my baseball idol, Eddie Murray, along with O’s legends, Al Bumbry, Lee May, Doug DeCinces, Don Stanhouse, Mark Belanger, Ken Singleton, Gary Roenicke, Rick Dempsey, Sammy Stewart and all the harbingers of Orioles Magic back then.

Reggie Jackson once played for the Oakland Athletics and, for a single season in 1976, with the Baltimore Orioles before migrating to the Big Apple and finding superstardom. Legend had it during his time as an Oriole that Reggie claimed if he could land a spot with the Yankees, he would have a candy named after him.

So it came to pass. Jackson turned Yankee and in New York’s home opener for the 1978 season, the Reggie! bar was offered as a promotional giveaway to the fans. After pounding out a home run in his first at-bat of the season against the Chicago White Sox (this feat following his four dinger romp in the 1977 World Series), fans threw the candy bars onto the field in celebration, delaying the game by five minutes for clean-up. Consider it a precursor to uber-hockey fans throwing their caps onto the ice when a home team player nabs a three netter hat trick.

Though it made a short-lived rebrand with a swap of peanut butter from caramel in the Nineties, the Reggie! bar was more phenomenon than novelty. If you lived the times, you no doubt had a go with a Reggie! bar at least once. Most compared the cluster candy of milk chocolate, peanuts and caramel to a Baby Ruth bar (easy cheat, considering the Yankees tie), but I liken it more to a Nashville-proud Goo Goo bar.

Despite the Yankees being considered nefarious enemies of the Baltimore Orioles back in the day, we had a soft spot for Reggie Jackson. Most baseball fans at-large did. Like Aaron Judge or even Shohei Ohtani in today’s league, Reggie was a spectacle, much like his predecessors, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. A Reggie Jackson at-bat was something to veer your eyes to, either at the stadium or on t.v. It made selling his candy bar all too easy back then. Like the man himself, people couldn’t get enough of the Reggie! bar when it first came out for a quarter. It was advertised as heavily as Budweiser and Old Spice pitches of the day.

Where I lived as a child for a few years in the mid 1970s, we couldn’t get a proper snow plow in the winter, but we could get a Reggie! bar at the tiny Winfield Market in Woodbine, a rural beyond rural hamlet in Carroll County, Maryland. A solid hour away from Memorial Stadium.

I used to get a dollar a week allowance for doing chores and with that buck, I could pester my folks on a Saturday to take me to the Winfield Market, where I could get a comic book, a pack of baseball (or Star Wars) trading cards, a Frosty root beer and a Reggie! bar. Can you stand it? All that swag for a single dollar! Ponder that a moment in this hellish bull market we’ve been thrust into.

Today, the Reggie! bar is a time capsule slab of chocolaty remembrance you have a feeling may surface as a rebooted good times throwback in the gift shop at your local Cracker Barrel. Fifties kids can still score Necco wafers, Sky Bars and Moon Pies to get their evocative sugar kicks in their golden years. Now would be a great time for sentimentality and a Reggie! resurface while there are still generations alive to plunk down for it. So long as it’s not an inflated $3.89 thrill seek.

Then again, we’re not far off some seeing a Judge Jaw Buster or his countenance replacing the hand-drawn homer king on a pack of Big League Chew. The Reggie! bar hung around during a period of economic flounder, gas shortages, American hostages overseas and political imbalance in the United States. New York City was then called “The Rotten Apple” from all-around negligence. Escapism works where it will.

-Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Announcing My Short Story Collection, “Coming of Rage,” to be Published in Summer of 2022 by Raw Earth Ink

I’m thrilled to announce the upcoming publication of my short story collection, Coming of Rage, through Raw Earth Ink, to be released later this summer.

It’s been an absolute pleasure working with press editor, Tara Caribou, as hands-on and attentive a professional an aspiring author could hope to work with. I look forward to sharing these stories of differing themes linked by a concept of pushing my protagonists toward the edge to see their reactions to adversity. As the book’s cover implies, music has underlying shades throughout each story, including a fictionalized slice of my former life in music journalism. I will share the official release date for Coming of Rage when it’s set.

Visit Raw Earth Ink to discover the many authors and poets who have published with the imprint: https://taracaribou.com/

When Star Tours Takes the Back Seat at Disney World

We recently took a trip to Disney World with the primary intent of getting lost inside the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge experience in the Hollywood Studios park. My fiancée and I are longtime Star Wars buffs, to the point of publishing Darth Maul fan fiction together in 1999. Galaxy’s Edge was something we vowed to each other when we started dating last year. Now having been, we’d both offer a mixed review of the replica spaceport dropped into a deep corner of a mouse cult far, far away.

Much of Galaxy’s Edge is breathtaking to behold with its creation of a craggy landing zone on the attraction-named planet Batuu. We wandered about the Black Spire Outpost, intimidated more by the prices for swag and refreshment and the excruciating wait times for the damned spectacular Rise of the Resistance and Smugglers Run rides than we were by the random appearances of Kylo Ren and his First Order stormtroopers. TJ had a playful verbal scrum with Kylo, who came no further than his stage as we partook the famous “blue milk,” which you can have laced with rum. A whopping $15.00 a pop each (rum version), we plunked the money like chumps for the sheer novelty of it.

Truth be told, Galaxy’s Edge is more fun in theory than in execution. The designers provided a wonderful sense of escapism with a Star Wars-true feel to it all. The first day we went into Galaxy’s Edge was disturbingly quiet, however. It wasn’t until we hit it again the following day on a Saturday, when the sounds of turbines, whirring motors, steam compression and port authority voiceovers chimed around us, giving it a more viable feel.

If you’re so inclined, you can shell out a couple hundred to build your own prop lightsaber or you’ll drop a single Benjamin to construct a fully-operational droid. You can read all the recent articles online about the price gouging running rampant all over Disney, and there’s full merit to the claims. Case in point, I was daffy enough to lay out $6.00 for the alien scrawled, globe-shaped Coke bottle made something a mini-rage amongst Star Wars collectors. Considering we rarely drink soda, I had to have one. It was the go-to souvenir (frankly, the only souvenir) we settled on at Galaxy’s Edge, since the heavy lean on merch is stuffed plush characters, Rebel pilot helmets and First Order battle gear, all geared for children.

The true reason for the season to Galaxy’s Edge, however, is its rides. I’m not going to lie; whatever your wait time is for Rise of the Resistance, whether you have a Lightning Lane or you slug through the poor schmo standby queue, do it. It’s a required element that can’t be spoken too much about, because it’s not a mere ride; it’s an experience. It’s a four-level trip from Resistance recruitment to full-on detainment on a Star Destroyer before you’re sent on a free roaming spiral through Hell itself with Kylo Ren hot on your tail.

Then there’s Smugglers Run, also a must-do for your chance to be either pilots or gunners inside the Millennium Falcon. TJ and I were pilots and we wrecked the snot out of Han’s trusty space bird. We brag on it, actually. Here’s a pro tip given to us by the park cast members… Wait until 2:00-3:00 as people are either eating or park hopping, or at the end of the day when visitors are chasing after the fireworks shows and you’ll have far less time to wait.

With all of this hoopla of Galaxy’s Edge comes a bit of a sacrifice, depending on how you look at it. I’m talking about Star Tours, built first for Disneyland in 1987, then added to the Florida hub in 2011. It’s been around a long while with interruptions in service, most notably during the COVID breakout.

picture from the public domain

Compared to the new thrill rides Galaxy’s Edge serves up, it’s sadly last-gen, even if it’s still a great time. They’ve even updated the theme to Star Tours to reflect the concluding trilogy of films and it’s a total hoot. Again, I’ll keep a tight lip, but just everyone who’s ridden Star Tours will tell you it’s a bumpy, raggedy 3-D adventure that can ding your hips or lower back a little bit. Still worth it.

The biggest point to be made about Star Tours, at least the Disney World version, is how easy it is to get on. The average time we saw for the standby wait on Rise of Resistance was two hours, getting as bad as two-and-a-half. Smugglers Run, the worst case scenario was an hour-and-half. Our waits were 75 and 55 minutes respectively, going by the suggestions of the Disney staff.

Star Tours, the longest wait time we saw either day we were at Hollywood Studios was 25 minutes. It’s a misnomer. The line flies, and we were on in 10. Now, anything Star Wars related is bound to draw serious crowds, unless you’re talking a nostalgic theatrical run of Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure. Yet you get a flavor of Endor in the approach to Star Tours, including a badass AT-AT towering over Ewok Village. It’s a tasty display that whets the appetite for a ride that once took up to three hours’ wait and at one time, reserved riding times. When it first opened, it was as eye-popping as the new rides and the Avatar: Flight of Passage ride at Animal Kingdom.

I don’t know about you, but to me a road lesser traveled related to anything Star Wars seems funkier than Bespin-mined tibana gas at Cloud City.

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

photos by Ray Van Horn, Jr. except where noted

When a Goddess Calls to You

Spirituality comes to us as it will, whether it’s taught or directed to us through family or conventional public teaching or we discover our own path of enlightenment through open-minded revelation. A couple years ago, I found myself questioning whether the concept of the singular divine could be subject to revisionism. Specifically, whether or not “God” was actually androgynous. It made perfect sense to me. How can we have male and female species without attributes of both in terms of creationism?

When it became clear to me I was on a clouded path of spirituality, I found my suspicions about divinity to be true. “God” is a man and a woman. Moreover, a collective of both. Of all the gods and goddesses I’ve honored and worked with since taking a new path, the Egyptian pantheon has claimed me. Isis, Ra, Nephthys, Anubis, Thoth, Osiris, Bast and Horus scratch the surface of the vast number of mostly forgotten Egyptian deities and each have come to me in visualization, meditation and through self-pulled oracle and tarot. That being said, one goddess has really pulled to my side as a healer and motivator and in communing with her, a sharing of energy I never saw coming.

Sekhmet, the lion-headed goddess of war, healing and fertility. What a true badass of the esoteric realm. I give her offerings of steak, beer and red wine and I light red candles for her as a continuing presence in my life. You might say her manifestation to me was pre-ordained seven years ago in these photos I took of lionesses at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, DC. The pictures show precisely what they reveal. Both of these lionesses watched me with intent and smiles. I stood there transfixed by them and they never took their eyes off of me until we parted ways. Maybe I might’ve been considered chuck steak if they could get their teeth in me, but I like to think Sekhmet had made her intentions known to me at an early onset. Blessed be, Sekhmet…

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Why I Miss the Original Hunt Valley Mall

The demise of the American shopping mall over the past decade-plus has been well-documented. Closed, gutted, abandoned, defaced, obliterated, repurposed…use whatever action phrase suits you. It’s gone beyond syndrome, more than just a tag of “dead mall,” which used to belong strictly to the Monroeville Mall outside of Pittsburgh, the filming location of George Romero’s 1978 horror classic, Dawn of the Dead.

I suppose I saw the proverbial writing on the wall as far back as my visit to Monroeville Mall nearly 20 years ago for the purpose of making a pilgrimage to horror hallowed ground. Even then, retail stores were dying and this was before Amazon and Ebay started putting standard brick and mortar shops out to pasture. To my dismay, the famous interior clock tower had been removed from Monroeville Mall and the skating rink turned into a food court. Only a shell of the rink could be found beneath a table outside of an Arby’s we’d eaten at. Worse, the SunCoast Video (remember them?) had no copies available of Dawn of the Dead, nor were the staff at the time knowledgeable of the significance where they worked. I hummed “The Gonk” (as in the drippy, corny carousel-styled mall music ushering the zombie march in Romero’s film) and lurched around SunCoast in a deliberate shaming maneuver. Really, it was self-shaming. Semantics.

If you’ve been on the planet longer than the past 22 years, you no doubt left you heart at a certain mall in your area, even if there were six or seven within drivable proximity as we had around the Baltimore suburbs and its rural outskirts. Chances are, if you lament the great mall kill-off, you spent much or all of your teens in a mall, like Rat, Jeff, Stacy, Linda and Damone did in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, still in my top-five favorite flicks of all-time. To understand mall culture, sure, you can dive into Jay and Silent Bob’s goofery in Mallrats and Season 3 of Stranger Things did an excellent job capturing the mall phenomenon of 1980s. To get it entirely, though, is to submerge yourself in Fast Times.

I always like to refer to the original Hunt Valley Mall as my “Fast Times.” We had many malls available to us as far as our parents felt like driving us and each shopping complex had its own special “thing” separating them from each other (a prefab Gucci store, a more aromatic water fountain, see-through elevators in the middle of the doings, a maze of walkways), yet Hunt Valley Mall was my mecca, my mojo, my verve. Whether it was with my folks, my friends, a girlfriend or all alone, I came of age at Hunt Valley, shy of losing my cherry, which later came in a more idyllic setting.

Today stands Hunt Valley Towne Center, a next-gen “Avenue” type of sprawling commerce built overtop a splintered fragment of the original mall you only recognize if you’d been there through the mall’s closure in the 1990s. Instead of the Hunt Valley Mall food court where a gazillion teen romances were plotted, you have a more upscale hibachi grill to get cozy with your date. There’s a couple of sports bars, a California Kitchen pizzeria, Outback, Carrabba’s and Mediterranean grub, along with chain eateries having nothing to do with the burger wars. A Dick’s Sporting Goods and Wegman’s grocery store dwarf the old Sears location and one-ups to the old days, there’s a movieplex that’s had both prosperous and difficult stretches. Peet’s Coffee awaits if you need a kick start or a secondary jump.

We haunt the new town center frequently, I’ll confess, and no doubt any companion of mine has grown weary of hearing my old stories about the long-gone heyday of Hunt Valley Mall. I’ve outgrown the admittedly superficial sport known as “The Rating Game,” played as much by the ladies as the guys. For the uninitiated, this horndog jugheadism by either sex entailed calling out ratings amongst their own group to male or female passersby, often by specific body part. The trick was to never get caught, not unless you were hoping to snag a date by shouting a positive score. Often such a maneuver got you the finger.

Do I miss these goofball shenanigans? Absolutely not, but it is a little funny, as in the shaking my head brand of funny, to think about how shallow we teenagers were across the board. Today they do it more inconspicuously through texting and Snapchat, even standing shoulder-to-shoulder. Nearly none of it done in the shadows of a Burger King or Pizza Bob’s kiosk nor an arcade with quarter-to-play video games. Those latter things, I do miss.

X-box and PlayStation may be ten times more advanced in graphics, concepts and interfacing, yet no virtual link to some screaming eight-year-old being outdone by his thirty-year-old father after getting vaporized on Fortnite compares to physically being amongst your peers in a live arcade setting. Anyone growing up in Hunt Valley Mall will utter the canonized name of “Space Port,” where moms and dads could dependably drop their kids off while they got their shopping done. Space Port was its own rite of passage, much as I’m sure any American kid of the 1980s would wax about their own arcade.

I can still see myself frantically twisting the joystick commanding those light cycles of Tron to mash the MPC’s guard to bits. I can feel my wrist getting tired hammering the snot out of the cannon fire button on Galaga–twice as fast during the bonus stages. There I go, dropping piledrivers, clotheslines and suplexes as Dynamite Tommy against video game wrestlers dubbed “The Piranha,” “The Insane Warrior,” “Coco Savage” and “Golden Hulk,” winning the championship belt in Mat Mania and defending it so many times I had to give my game up to some other kid when it was time to go.

Anyone habiting Space Port is wont to remember the days Punch Out! and the fully animated Dragon’s Lair arrived. Video gaming the Eighties wasn’t the same afterwards.

I’ve since loaded most of my music library onto a USB thumb drive, but Camelot Music will always have a special place in my heart. Yeah, mall music stores all around were overpriced. Yeah, they were often lacking depth as far as underground music goes, but Camelot was usually more on the dime than its mall-bound competitors of the day like Music World and Tape World. Maybe not as diverse and rich in selections as a Tower Records emporium or your local specialty music shop where punk, alternative and metal ruled, the mere name of Camelot Music brings automatic glee to any mall rat blowing his or her allowance on vinyl and cassettes of the day. Best album I ever bought from Hunt Valley Mall’s Camelot branch? Testament’s The New Order. In fact, I blared it as loud as I could push through my cheap speakers in my ’81 Escort in the Hunt Valley Mall parking lot. Two of my headbanger buddies joined me in a three man slam pit until the mall security chased us lunatics off.

I remember flirting with girls at The Gap and Big Sky clothing stores as I was just starting to build my confidence through my grit appearance. I remember eating at Friendly’s more so than the food court, sometimes with my family, other times with my girlfriend’s family, sometimes with a mixed group of friends from school who looked past my headbanger guise and welcomed me to the table. We bonded over Friendly’s famous “Happy Ending” ice cream desserts before taking anywhere from eight to ten laps around the mall, always right up to closing time. Store owners and security guards hated us, but we all played our roles and knew our boundaries, even if we would sometimes dash beneath lowering store gates daring to close a minute early like Indiana Jones inside the dropping temple barrier in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I remember a tobacco store I didn’t care about other than to stop and look at their Laurel and Hardy statues in the front window nearly every single time. My stepfather, a diehard Stan and Ollie fan, eventually landed that set and they’ve stood watch over his bar for nearly forty years. Not a time escapes me when I pull up with Pop for a beer downstairs that I don’t think about those statues’ original location. There was also Sir Walter Raleigh’s, one time more important than Macy’s and Hecht Company for the mall’s sustenance. One of the swankiest restaurants in Baltimore County, my father’s side of the family were frequent haunters of Sir Walter Raleigh’s and I relished any time I was invited along.

The days of rad are nothing you can teach future generations, but you can tell them about it, assuming they’re willing to take their AirPods out of their ears first. You were a mall rat or you weren’t, but most of us were and it’s not unheard of to hear mourning amongst many Gen X’ers over the death of their local mall as they would a best friend. A Five Below at the revamped Hunt Valley Towne Centre is cheap pacification, but it’s just not the same.

Time and tide, so the saying goes. Fact, traditional retail has lost tremendous ground to online shopping. Today’s specialized tastes and service wants and needs are seldom able to be fulfilled in a mall, whereas most people would rather click for sales in their pajamas instead of slugging it out for a parking spot. I’ll be a hypocrite and say I’m a frequent flier at Amazon, Ebay, Etsy and other electronic retailers for the simple fact I can find, more often than not, things you just can’t get in a hands-on store setting. Change is inevitable, change is often convenient. Sometimes change is for the good. Other times, change has you saying “gnarly” a lot, not as an embellishment, but as a twilight holding-on habit.

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

A Road Lesser Traveled (a poem by Ray Van Horn, Jr.)

A Road Lesser Traveled

Ray Van Horn, Jr.

glass shards crying phantasmagoria along the crackled asphalt

outraged brio against the tumbling Twinkie wrappers and flattened Wendy’s cups

a goddess without offerings, much less a flock,

her name thrice changed, the same for her pantheon

a 60 mile an hour highway built upon three-second rule empathy,

opening a lane closure leading to the heart

the first t.v. Superman undone by a matchless brand of kryptonite,

Reeves dispatched by a fading monochrome

the color-washed, lone video single from a cult metal band,

given its lone play decades ago between Bon Jovi and Def Leppard

the art of doing a solid,

much less dropping a thank you

the perpetual duel between poet and espresso machine

a throughway toll paid in blood

love without pretense

the word “agreement” prefaced by harmony

decorum where the “n” word is still taboo

the swallow of a cold, starry night sky,

gorging humanity back into its measured condition

an idiosyncratic signature done in cursive,

instead of through an e-bot

the same applying to self-eroticism

folks who know what comes next after “Hey hey hey!”

or, for that matter, “My country, ‘tis of thee…”

a smile,

giving even the most desperate a sense of worth

Best Assignment Ever: On-Site at Camp No-Be-Bos-Co (aka Camp Crystal Lake from the Original Friday the 13th)

From time-to-time, I’ve posted these photos from what I consider the best assignment ever to this point in my writing career.  Until the site had been recently repurposed and monetized for the public as “Crystal Lake Tours” (only given at certain times of the year, caveat) I’d been granted private access to the location most horror fans would give an appendage or two to see:  the Boy Scout camp doubling as the most notorious patch of woods the horror genre’s ever seen in the original Friday the 13th.

Camp No-Be-Bos-Co has been around since the early 1900s and continues to operate as a functioning Scout camp today.  I’ll never forget this trip as I was given a green light by the camp’s management to do an article on the site in 2008 when it was announced a remake of Friday the 13th was on its way.  Ranger Tom, the only official presence on-site the day I went up, gave me some terrific stories but advised that, just like the deputy in the original Friday says, they don’t stand for no weirdness from unauthorized uber-fans trying to sneak onto the camp.  I consider myself blessed for being allowed to photograph “Camp Crystal Lake” to my heart’s content.  It really does have a creepy ambiance, in particular around the edges of Sand Pond, constituting the movie’s “lake.”

I later ventured into Blairstown, New Jersey to see the town used in Friday the 13th’s establishing shots where the ill-fated hitchhiker cook Annie tramps through.  To no surprise, I couldn’t get anyone to talk to me about the film for my article, but I did find a jewelry store owner with the last name of Voorhees.  As it turns out, Voorhees is a common last name in the Jersey region.  Later, we ate at the Blairstown Diner used in the film, but our waitress vanished as quick as the doomed counselors when I tried to kick up convo about the film with her.

Nonetheless, the piece was a success and it was capped by an interview with the late Betsy Palmer, another personal thrill.  Betsy was the sweetest woman and she’d called me after our interview ran, telling me I was the first writer to ever quote her 100% accurately.  I still feel proud about that.  She’d invited me to a future lunch date in Manhattan, which I’m sorry to say never happened, even when I made the attempt to follow up a couple years later prior to her unfortunate passing.  RIP Mama Voorhees.  

I was later approached by Allentown, PA writer David Zernhelt about my “Crystal Lake” photos I’d posted around the web.  He’d put together a few small booklets about the Friday the 13th series and asked to use some of the photos you see here.  Some were featured by him and I thank David for his exposure of my work.   

Ki ki ki kiiiii…ma ma ma maaaaa…

All photos (c) Ray Van Horn, Jr.