The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye by Ben Arzate

Book: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye

Author: Ben Arzate

Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection, flash fiction, bizarro

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Increasingly I wonder why I continue with this explanation for each book.  If I am discussing it here it’s odd, that’s a given.  But I think, for the time being, you should consider this book odd because one story features a landlord strapping thick books to his head and goading his tenants into punching him when rent is due.  Also a house gets cancer, and the cancer isn’t a horde of stray cats moving in and destroying everything the humans love.

This collection also contains the line: “Hank walks home with the neck of his guitar shoved up his ass.”  You need to buy the book to find out why this happened to Hank.

Availability: Published in 2018 by Nihilism Revisited, you can get a copy here:

Disclaimer: Ben Arzate is a frequent commenter on this site (and I should return the favor but I sort of suck lately, you know how it is), and I consider him an e-friend. We’ve never met in person but who does actually meet in person anymore since the Internet has come to ensure we can have friends without ever leaving the house?  At any rate, you run the risk of being called a shill if you don’t disclose such things so be aware that I e-know Ben and approve of him as a person.

Comments: Ben Arzate is a very good writer, but in addition to being favorably inclined towards him because he keeps my morale up over here in Hell’s Half-HyperSpace, I really like this collection because it is filled with the kind of strange little stories that have made me a fan of Hank Kirton, Jon Konrath, and Andersen Prunty.  These stories cover a lot of literary and psychological ground in very few words – 33 stories in 104 pages of text.  I find such stories remarkably detailed because their spare nature causes me to fill in any blanks with my own life, sort of modifying them to fit my experiences.  I do that with everything I read, to an extent, but it’s all the easier when writers like Arzate give me a perfect framework upon which to build my own literary reaction.

Most of these stories are flash fiction, more along the lines of vignettes. A few of the stories are longer form, like “Meth-Lab Nursery,” which sadly does exactly what is indicated in the title, and “The Arranged Marriage,” a strange story about a young couple forced to marry by their intrusive parents.  The couple eventually find a way out of their predicament when they meet the girl’s ex-boyfriend, who works for a side show because he has what sounds like a cinematic form of progeria.  We also get snippets of the miserable, post-apocalyptic, life of Alex, a protagonist who, in the course of three stories, gets coffee at a terrifying cafe located in an utter hellscape, is forced to fetch his mail from a locked cuckoo clock, and watches what appears to be the televised version of Best Gore punctuated by ballet performances. They’re unnerving stories, the Alex tales.

My favorite story in the collection is “The Rent is Due.”  A lunatic landlord wakes all his tenants on the day rent is due.  At 3:30 a.m., he lines them up, uses a belt to attach a large book to his head, and forces his tenants to punch him.  If they don’t punch hard enough, he makes them hit him again.  I don’t know why this story delighted me so much.  Another of the shorter pieces I appreciate features a man dying after eating literal doughnut holes – like he has regular doughnuts but does not eat them but eats instead the void in the center.  It kills him.

The above stories are all entertaining, but evoke less of my verbose need to fill in the blanks. Not the case with “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye,” a story that spoke directly to my largely unexplored animism.  I am that person who is sure the pair of shoes she never wears feels slighted, or that her carpet is sad because the cats have been puking a lot lately.  The last time a story pinged this tendency to imbue the inanimate with spiritual and human traits happened during S.D. Foster’s bizarro story about a piece of fruit that never gets eaten.  In Arzate’s story, a house literally gets cancer.  It’s an old house, and the owners kick themselves for not getting it checked out sooner, making sure it was healthy before the lumps formed on the stairs and under the carpet.  Maybe they could have prevented the cancer, and they struggle in much the same way a person might when the dog they’ve had since they were a child becomes terminally ill.

There are things I don’t like about our house, and I hate saying any of it out loud because I know the house can hear me.  It’s not the house’s fault that the cats have wrecked the carpet and baseboards, that Sally (whom we have to nebulize in a weird crate Mr OTC made out of stuff he got at Home Depot) has coated every surface from the knees down with snot, that Boo Radley has scratched large chunks of frosted glass off the front and back doors as he tries to catch moths outside the house and on and on.  So when I criticize the house or complain about the amount of time I spend crawling around with a magic eraser in one hand and enzymatic cleaner in the other, I am certain to make it clear to the house that I don’t blame him for all this mess. I also worry that when we finally move or die the house will be bereft.  It has had a weird time in its short life and I sense it is sort of happy with us living here.  The dude who lived here before us sold DirectTV things, you know, those gray disks people install on their roofs?  Our garage was full of the boxes when we moved in, and all the boxes were empty except for a ton of gecko carcasses because those things infest this house and yard.  The garage had been turned into some sort of indie-band sound studio and that’s my most optimistic guess. I am 90% certain porn films were shot in there. Dozens of electrical outlets still remain along the ceiling and we will never be able to mask all the surround sound speaker mounts in the TV room.  We could replace the drywall entirely and they would still be there.  The whole house is covered with scars, and I know the house doesn’t like these scars.  These are not the sort of scars that chicks dig.  Neighbors seemed visibly relieved when a quiet-looking couple bought the house.  So you can imagine how our house felt.

And let us not mention the… weird stuff that happens in this house, the almost Lovecraftian entities we are certain inhabit this space.  I brought it up discussing Konrath’s fine lunacy, and you may have thought I was exaggerating for comedic effect, but seriously there is something living in this house that makes me certain it will kill me.  The stairs have already come for me, and I now have a limp every time the temperature dips into the sixties or below, so in addition to worrying about my house’s feelings, I also fear it.  Or rather I fear the things living here I cannot see.  The house does, too, which is another reason I will feel really bad if we move.  Our house doesn’t have cancer.  It has PTSD.

My reaction to this story is longer than the story itself, I think, which is the real magic of the sort of writing Ben presents us with in this collection.  Some of his stories really are a foundation upon which you can build your own cat-infested snot hole that will one day kill you or maybe just leave you feeling guilty about the messes that your slovenly pets make along with the certain knowledge that all the cleaners you use give you your own tumors to deal with.

But it’s not all “fill in the blanks.”  In “My Church” I didn’t need to descend into a near-psychotic analysis of my house to appreciate the story.  A kid attends a dismal church held in a basement and the best way to describe the philosophy of the church is Pointless Aggression Theology.  After prayers they turn off the lights in the basement and beat each other with hymnals that were accidentally printed in Russian. I love the reason the pastor gives for these book beatings but I’m gonna keep it to myself to keep from wholly spoiling the short story.  (It’s also interesting that this collection features a character who wants to be beaten by a book via the punches to the tomes he straps to his face and a religious group who smack each other with books written in a foreign language none of them can speak.  I want to psychoanalyze Ben but I’m currently using my powers for evil.)

The book ends with “Love: A Parable.”  It may seem like a jaded, cynical look at love, but at the same time it is a kind look at the nature of some sorts of romantic love, a perspective that can become very sentimental if not kept in check.  It’s strange to say that a story can be both cynical and sentimental but here we are.

This book contains some rough and/or gross content: a neighborhood descends into really uncompelling group sex, a war criminal recites a nauseating soliloquy, weird angels wreck cars when they fall from the sky, and similarly unnerving content can surprise the reader unprepared for this sort of bizarro-ish splattery writing.  Luckily I was prepared.  You should be, too.

I find it interesting that a style I find intolerable in other writers works to Ben’s advantage.  I’ve spoken before about the tiresome, emotionally-removed, flat style that caused me to rebuke books from Tao Lin and Stephen Elliott, yet found myself enjoying from Sam Pink.  And now I can add Ben Arzate to the very short list of writers who use this style well.  In Ben’s case, this flat remove is needed because you really can’t create a strong emotional attachment to characters in stories that are often two paragraphs long.  Nor would you really want to.  Additionally, extremely violent content can often be better appreciated at a certain emotional remove.  It’s a variable that I now realize I have to solve on a case-by-case basis.  I used to think I detested the style.  Now I think I simply dislike when it is not done well.

This style is especially well-married to the stories Ben tells.  Absolutely dystopic in almost all cases, yet often tempered with a bit of affection for the story or a little serving of hope.  Such stories need a simple, direct method of story-telling.  Too much emotion would clutter up these spare tales.  As would too much detail.  Ben achieves a sort of spartan reserve that lets him tell outrageous stories without crossing over into the false wackiness and pointless gore that eventually turned me off so much bizarro.

I want to leave you with this line from “Deep Sea Diving Suit” because I relate on an almost spiritual level to the protagonist Jeff’s decision to live his life in a deep sea diving suit:

He is so used to spending time in an environment hostile to his survival that he finds himself unable to leave his protective suits despite the fact they make existing in a welcoming environment difficult.

And now you know one of the many reasons why I cannot hold a day job.

You should get this book, highly recommended.

God Speed, Adam Parfrey

Adam Parfrey died on May 10, 2018, and his death has been a mild devastation to me.  I never met him in the flesh but had some online interactions with him wherein he was both very professional and very kind to me.  I keep wanting to discuss his commitment to freedom of speech and to the dissemination of ideas that were guaranteed to make some readers uncomfortable – given recent societal determination to ban and censor all thought that makes anyone feel uneasy, losing Parfrey seems all the greater a loss.

But if you know who Parfrey was, you already know this.  And if you don’t know who he was, the best way to explain why Adam Parfrey was so important is to just to let you see, quite literally see, why he matters so much to me and to other people dedicated to experiencing strange and frightening ideas, to supporting freedom of speech in public and private realms, to shining light on that which is hidden. I said on social media that creating I Read Odd Books, which eventually morphed into this current site, was in no small part influenced by Adam’s works: his own writing, his work with Amok books, Feral House and Process Media are present throughout OTC.

My site and my own life’s works are a small leaf growing on a twig growing from a branch on the tree Parfrey planted and cultivated.  Almost every non-fiction shelf in my home has at least one title that is in some way associated with Adam Parfrey.  This is just a sample of what I found in five minutes or so, glancing at my shelves.

In this shelf sampling, left to right, top to bottom: The Covert War Against Rock by Alex Constantine, Lords of Chaos by Michael Moynihan, Pure Filth by Peter Sotos and Jamie Gillis, Strange Creations by Donna Kossy, The Gates of Janus, first and second editions, by Ian Brady, Rants by Adam Parfrey and Bob Black, The Carnivals of Life and Death by James Shelby Downard, The Source by Isis Aquarian, American Hardcore by Steven Blush, Shit Magnet by Jim Goad, Technological Slavery by Ted Kazcynski, Psychic Dictatorship in the USA by Alex Constantine, Apocalypse Culture/ Apocalypse Culture II / Cult Rapture, all three edited by Parfrey, and Demons in the Age of Light by Whitney Robinson.

This really is just a sample.  There are likely a dozen more, at least, that I didn’t hone in on in my quick survey of my books.

Despite the clear influence Parfrey has had on my book purchasing habits, it seems a bit mawkish to me to be so upset about the death of a man I never met in the flesh.  But, as I think of it, it becomes clearer why I am so sad.  When I look at various elements of my tastes, I can see Adam Parfrey’s influence, even if it is a circuitous route to get from A to B.  For example, I listened to black metal before Lords of Chaos was published, but the book encouraged me to seek out a few musicians mentioned because I wanted to include them in a book I was working on at the time, a book that became hard to work on after 9/11 and was ultimately abandoned.  Reading that Feral House title led me to an interesting, decade-long correspondence with one of the musicians in the book.  That has happened with other Feral House titles, strange friendships forming after the authors saw my discussions of their work.

Parfrey also indirectly led me to Ulver.  My favorite album of all time is Ulver’s Perdition City.  I only listened to Ulver after reading about them in LoC.  I may have eventually given them a try but Parfrey’s willingness to publish such a book certainly got me there quicker.

I don’t know if I would have a book published were it not for Adam Parfrey.  Of course my book discusses titles from Feral House and Process Media, but my discussions of such works brought me to the attention of my publisher, Nine-Banded Books, in a particularly bizarre and even more circuitous way.  My site attracted an unstable young woman who tried to file false DMCA claims against my original content.  When that was quickly decided in my favor, she also tried to get me in trouble with my then host by claiming I was publishing obscene content, including child pornography.  She flagged my discussions of some books discussing sex, including Jim Goad’s Big Book of Sex, published by Feral House.  One of the authors whose book she mentioned spoke to Chip Smith about what had happened to me and Chip contacted me about it.  That led to a friendship and a decision to publish a brick of a book containing some of the more interesting discussions I wrote.  My book contains several Feral House and Process Media titles: The Covert War Against Rock by Alex Constantine, Strange Creations by Donna Kossy, two passes over The Gates of Janus by Ian Brady (the second reaction clocked in at around 20,000 words), The Carnivals of Life and Death by James Shelby Downard, and Demons in the Age of Light by Whitney Robinson.

Parfrey delivered complex, interesting, creepy, inspiring and fascinating voices to those of us willing to explore roads not familiar to us. He published content he thought needed discussion, knowing full well that doing so would ensure labels that did not describe him accurately would be foisted upon him.  I will always appreciate his courage to publish that which the purveying moral arbiters consider evil in some manner, raising the ire of bluenose prigs and puritans on the left and the right.  I owe him a lot. God speed, Adam.

God Speed, You Desert Wizard

Art Bell has died.  On Friday the Thirteenth.  Of course he did.  Because he was Art Bell and we should have expected it.

So many people will be offering up eulogies of this man who, in my estimation, heralded in the current “reality TV” obsession with the paranormal and supernatural through his radio show, Coast to Coast AM, that I don’t know how much I can offer that is unique.  I’ve mentioned several times over the years that Art Bell has influenced me in strange ways, from introducing me to the works of former priest/fallen man of faith/potential conman/charming Catholic Malachi Martin to making me wonder how many pieces of modern music he influenced.

Mostly I adored him for suing the late Ted Gunderson for defamation when Gunderson insinuated that Bell molested one of his sons and was involved in child pornography.  My low opinion of Ted Gunderson should not be belabored in this short paean to one of the most notable purveyors of weird, but I love that Art Bell did not tolerate such slander.  He prevailed in a civil suit against Gunderson and Gunderson’s cohorts, and the details of the verdict are sealed so we don’t know how much Ted Gunderson had to pay out for making such base accusations, but the moral victory was more than enough for Bell fans.

Every year I listen to Art Bell’s Halloween shows called Ghost to Ghost, where he takes in calls from people who had paranormal and frightening experiences.  It’s going to be a bittersweet listen come this October.  I hope now Art knows if there’s a bottom to Mel’s hole and what is down there if there is, if Oswald was a lone gunman in the Kennedy assassination, was there really a frozen little green man in Jonathan Reed’s freezer, and if John Titor Timetraveler was really a load of horseshit.  I hope his afterlife is as weird as he deserves.  Rest well, Art, and know that your death, in maybe a few weeks, will likely have a very strange conspiracy theory surrounding it.  We all know you would have wanted it that way.

Hi! Buy my book!

So my book, TL;DR is out and you can get it in a number of places.

If you love Amazon, you can get a copy there.

If you really dig ordering books online from Nine-Banded Books, the publisher of my brick-like compendium, you should head over there right now!

Are you in Baltimore?  Because Atomic Books is selling TL;DR. I feel a strange thrill knowing that the store that receives fan mail for John Waters is selling my book, and by strange thrill I mean I will likely be mentioning this fact for years to come.

If you are in the Chicago area, Quimby’s Bookstore is carrying TL;DR.  No direct link to the book yet but go ahead and shop there now.  If I’m not on the shelves, get a few ‘zines and go back later, because that’s what I’d do.

Want a signed copy? You can buy one from me here.

I can’t believe I have a book out.  What a time to be alive.

 

Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn

Book: Dark Sparkler

Author: Amber Tamblyn

Type of Book: Non-fiction, poetry, confessional

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because I spent at least a dozen hours investigating the “Search” suggestions on pages 101-108 and didn’t even make it through the first page due to all the horrible yet interesting rabbit holes I found myself falling down into.

Availability: Published by Harper Perennial in 2015, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I read this book last summer but my overall disorganization as of late worked in my favor for once because some of the content in this book is rather topical right now (I really need to start discussing books the day after I finish them but we can talk about how much I suck in another entry, I promise). The #metoo and #timesup “movements” have brought institutionalized sexual violence and harassment in the entertainment industry into a sharper focus than I could have ever thought possible. The toppling of Harvey Weinstein has been absolutely surreal to witness, but it helps explain why Mira Sorvino sort of disappeared from movie screens after winning an Oscar. I always liked her and now I know Weinstein systematically blocked her from access to high profile roles because she preferred not to have sex with an aggressive ogre of a man. The sentencing of Larry Nassar has lit up Twitter with people cheering as a man who molested at least 140 gymnasts was dressed down by the judge in the case. No matter what the industry is, if it is fueled by young, fit, attractive people, you can count on the industry attracting predators.

But predation can take many forms. A parent, a manager, a director, drug dealers, a world that devalues older women. As topical as this book is in many regards, the women Amber Tamblyn discusses in these poems aren’t exclusively victims of sexual predators. The women who inspired the poetry in this collection experienced a variety of miseries in a world that chews people up and spits them out for all sorts of reasons. Tamblyn took the stories of these girls, teens, and women who achieved some fame, however small or fleeting, and showed the damage done in a way that, strangely, honors humanity as much as revealing interesting and at times salacious stories.

My interest in books is mainly prose – I am not as learned in poetry as I am in prose fiction and non-fiction. But there are still poets whose words speak to me. I focus on specific poems by those poets, seldom embracing their bodies of work as much as the poems that contain those lines that mean something to me. Wilfred Owen (“As under a green sea, I saw him drowning…”), Gerard Manley Hopkins (“It is the blight man was born for, it is Margaret you mourn for.”), and EE Cummings (“Olaf (upon what were once knees) does almost ceaselessly repeat ‘there is some shit I will not eat'”) are great examples of poets who produce specific lines that resonate with me deeply, and Tamblyn manages to create lines that similarly resonate. One in particular I will discuss in a moment.

This collection reminded me in many ways of Mikita Brottman’s short story collection, Thirteen Girls. I found myself curious about all the women in this collection, as I did when I read about the women who fell to serial killers in Brottman’s penetrating look at victims and the ways they are remembered. The titles of the poems are the names of the women they are about, and there were enough stories of women and children whose sorry tales I knew before reading this book to ensure I felt the power of the poems Tamblyn crafted to portray them. Seeing the most troublesome parts of their lives depicted in poetry forced me to rethink my attitudes towards some of the people Tamblyn wrote about.

Venal Men Getting Their Comeuppance: an OTC Two-fer

Books: The Deep Whatsis / Diary of an Oxygen Thief

Authors: Peter Mattei / Anonymous

Types of Books: Fiction, potentially asshole recovery manuals if taken somewhat seriously

Why Do I Consider These Books Odd:  Eh, they aren’t that odd in and of themselves but considering them together shows me how enjoyable shitty people can be when they know they are shitty and just accept it.

Availability: The Deep Whatsis was published by Other Press in 2013 / Diary of an Oxygen Thief was published by Gallery Books in 2006 and you can get a copy of both here:

Comments: Analyzing these two books together, because one hits the mark with me and the other doesn’t, might lead one to believe that one of these books is somehow bad, or at the very least lacking.  That’s not really the case.  Rather, reading these two books around the same time showed me something very interesting about myself: I like unrepentant assholes.  Don’t get me wrong – redemption arcs have their place and can be enjoyable, but after a while I tire of the trope of callow men with some measure of success deciding that their lives are empty and meaningless and that their chosen work is unsatisfying and that maybe, just maybe, they can be better men.  If the catalyst for change is the presence of a manic pixie dream girl, all the better for the formula.

It’s jaded to think that this formula got hijacked from the early successful Palahniuk novels but, yeah, many books told from the perspective of a male protagonist who is sick of his immoral job, who meets an outsider woman and experiences a strong philosophical shift have the aura of Fight Club about them.  I mean, it’s a common trope but perhaps I see it clearer after Palahniuk did it so much better.  The Deep Whatsis doesn’t have a Tyler Durden twist and is almost 99% non-violent, but it follows the script and at the end left me feeling like I really needed the protagonist to burn something to the ground because otherwise this book is more or less just a version of several George Clooney movies, like Up in the Air, where the lovable rogue discovers he’s an asshole and learns from the experience and it’s all really heartwarming.

And that’s well and good to a point but sometimes you just want a self-aware asshole to suffer without trying to become a better man. 

Halloween 2017: Hopefully brief interruption

It’s been an interesting autumn season out here at Chez Oddbooks and I am under the weather, so to speak.  I hopefully will resume Halloween-y posts no later than Thursday.  Until then, please feel free to share any creepy or Halloweenish story you think I’d like to hear.  Any awesome horror novels or movies you’ve consumed lately?  Did you listen to the Silencer video in today’s earlier entry and want to sue me for emotional damages? Comment away!

Halloween 2017: Masks

It’s Halloween, so what better time to talk to you all about the masks or mask-like uses of make-up that annoy, upset or absolutely terrify me.

One of my earliest memories is of a television commercial promoting an Alice Cooper concert in Dallas.  I must have been three or four at the time.  I was absolutely terrified by his appearance, with the heavy eyeliner that appeared to be running down his face, the wild hair, the marks around his mouth that might have been blood for all I knew – our old television was in black and white.

Seriously, fuck this guy.

My parents decided that the best way to help me overcome my fear of this horrible man on the TV was to force me to watch it every time it came on.  My father would prevent me from running from the room when it aired, holding me there and telling me over and over that it was just a television commercial, it was just a man in make-up, that none of it could hurt me.  It didn’t work.  I screamed and cried and still he and my mother persisted, convinced they could reason with a frightened child.  I had similar reactions to KISS, mostly Gene Simmons.

Interestingly, I am not particularly unnerved by clowns.  I look at a clown, and I know it’s some asshole wearing a bunch of make-up and a wig and maybe some stupid clothes.  I know what the intent is behind clown make-up – to delight or terrify.  When I know the intent, it’s hard to be afraid, and that is where my parents, as well meaning as they were at the time, missed the mark.  I didn’t need to know that it was a commercial and couldn’t hurt me.  I needed to know why the man was dressed that way, what his intent was, what he planned to do in that get-up.  And of course I could not express this so young and of course my parents had no idea what was at play in my terror.  Variations of not knowing the reason behind the disguise fuels my adult uneasiness around masks, I think, though surely there are other explanations, from Jungian collective unconsciousness ruling my response to just plain jitters.

There are a lot of explanations as to why it is that people wear masks and costumes at Halloween and I am loath to discuss them because to do so means I have to cover every potential reason going back to early recorded history or someone will show up and leave a very long comment schooling me on Samhain-this and Pope-Boniface-that and how it’s racist for a white woman even to say Dia de los Muertos, let alone discuss the purpose behind sugar skull make-up.  But this is a time of the year that makes a woman who finds the purpose behind masks very important somewhat uneasy.  And perversely, because it makes me uneasy, I expose myself to it in ways that make me even more unnerved.  But I can’t seem to avoid it, and since I can’t stop poking at this canker sore in my psyche, I’ve decided to drag you all down with me.

Halloween 2017: Corn Hill Cemetery

When Mr. OTC first learned about the Corn Hill Cemetery, the message board included some geographic coordinates and nary a mention that there was also a  New Corn Hill adjacent to “old” Corn Hill.  The geographical coordinates were only marginally more accurate than closing our eyes and smelling our way there, so it took us a while to find the Corn Hill Cemetery.  Before we came close to our final destination, we found the Catholic cemetery in New Corn Hill, a herd of longhorns, a five-grave cemetery in the middle of a cornfield, a cemetery in someone’s front yard in Weir which is a completely different city, and eventually we found Corn Hill.

The cemetery was presented online as a cemetery in a ghost town.  Really, it’s an active cemetery in a town that moved and got absorbed into another town.  We were green in terms of such explorations at the time and now know the difference between “abandoned” and “located within a ghost town.”  Ghost towns in Texas can be remarkably lively towns, teeny-tiny bucolic places among larger bucolic places.  Corn Hill is such a ghost town and its cemetery, while very rural appearing with some very old graves (for Texas), is maintained and contain some recent burials.

I photographed this cemetery several years ago and didn’t intend to include it here for Halloween 2017, but decided to because of a bit of equipment failure that lost new photos.  I also want to mention that this cemetery had some souls of the living variety when I photographed it.  Some edgy teens were having a literal tea party at the edge of the cemetery where there were no graves.  Because this is sort of a visually grim cemetery, they weren’t sitting on a blanket under a big tree or near a gazebo or benches.  They were just out there in the corner of a chain link fence, quietly hanging out.  They watched me for a while then realized I had no plans to hassle them and ignored me as I went about my business.  They were still there when I left.  If I were buried in a place like Corn Hill, I think I’d welcome well-behaved teens and their tea parties.  I didn’t photograph them because they seemed like good kids, and also because if I had I might have upset them and a scene would have ensued.  I don’t want to cause a scene among the dead.

A modest marker for a modest cemetery.

 

Nice little view of the cemetery. It’s a very exposed, hard-baked cemetery. This is also what summer looks like in central Texas.

Halloween 2017: Abandoned Hotel in Corn Hill, Texas

The photos I am going to share in this Halloween 2017 entry are old, in Internet years. I had intended to share some photos I took over the last month depicting some dark Texas history as well as a lovely old cemetery up the road from my house, but I’ve had a significant equipment failure with my camera. I lack the vocabulary to explain what happened but from what I recall from the conversation I had with Mr. OTC, who is sometimes Mr. Tech-Support, a card got corrupted in my camera.

It’s really important to me to have an entry up every weekday in October. So I dug through my archives and found a couple of photo series that have not appeared online as much as some of my other photographs and with them I’ll create some photo essays of some of my interesting Texas crawls.

If you’re not from central Texas and know the name Jarrell, Texas, it is likely because of the massive tornados that struck the town in 1997, creating one of the most devastating natural disasters I’ve ever witnessed personally, being as landlocked as I am. Arguably the fires we get in these parts are worse but generally with fires, people are able to evacuate with some warning. The Jarrell tornados hit fast and with fury and destroyed so thoroughly that at least one family was wiped from the face of the earth. They were shredded in the winds and enough pieces were recovered to be able to legally declare people dead. Sturdy homes and trailers alike were leveled. We tell ourselves that our weather-predicting capabilities are far more sophisticated twenty years later but when a series of over 20 tornadoes is coming your way, there’s only so fast you can move to safety.

In fact, bizarre weather has made it hard to photograph some of the places I want to share here. The Columbus City Cemetery in Columbus, Texas, has some remarkable statues and a couple of pieces of interesting lore. One year massive fires kept me from going out there. This year Hurricane Harvey made a trip impossible. And the last two times I planned to go to a cemetery in Texas where supposedly there is a space alien buried, it snowed. Snow in Texas often borders on catastrophe and it is never particularly pretty more than two hours after it happens because it turns to slush, then into ice, and it’s a muddy, unappealing mess that results in more car crashes (when people like me try to drive on it) than snowmen.

But back to Jarrell, Texas. Years ago, Mr. OTC heard of a ghost town called Corn Hill that had a very interesting cemetery. When I hear “ghost town” I think of an abandoned western Main Street with boarded up shops and peeling clapboard houses. While there are a couple of abandoned buildings still standing, Corn Hill as a town relocated either to New Corn Hill (I am not making this up, I swear, and New Corn Hill boasts my favorite Texas cemetery to date) or was absorbed into Jarrell. The cause for Corn Hill dying is, of course, a railroad being laid a few miles in the wrong direction. At its peak, the town had around 350 citizens, a Mason lodge, a school, a post office, a stage stop and several churches. All that remains of Corn Hill are a few buildings and a cemetery. I will be sharing one of those buildings today and the cemetery tomorrow.

Yeah, didn’t go inside. This looks daunting but it looks even worse from the side.

It’s amazing to me that this old house is still standing even after the tornadoes of 1997. I didn’t know the history of this place when I explored it. All I knew was that it looked interesting and that I have a complicated relationship with no trespassing signs. This building was once the hotel and the residence of John Shaver. Located just off I-35, this hotel and stage stop was built in the late 1870s.

But mostly the appeal of this building is how creepy it seemed initially. I guess plenty of fisherman use the “spike the head on a fence to skin the fish” method of descaling their daily catch but it will never not be creepy to see dead heads on barbed wire outside an abandoned house near dusk.

There is a decided “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” feel to this house.