Showing posts with label Dixon Hill. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dixon Hill. Show all posts

14 July 2018

Arizona Hills


by Leigh Lundin

Seven years ago, a coterie of writers banded together to launch SleuthSayers. In his first column, Dixon Hill introduced his fedora. I think I met that fedora recently.

Dixon Hill
Dixon Hill
To be sure, I also met the storied Dixon Hill and his equally legendary wife, Madeleine. You may remember reading about her, the very charming lady who drove fuel tankers in Iraq.

Dixon has written about his own military training, parachute jumping, explosives, and special ops. Yet in his writing and in real life, he displays quiet confidence and an utter lack of braggadocio. What you read, what you see, is what you get.

But fair warning: Around him, women get a gleam in their eye, that “Yum, Teddy Bear” look, which the rest of us males envy.

I’ve wanted to meet the man behind the writing. A few months ago, it looked like that might happen, but life intervened. Finally I set foot in Arizona only to meet an elk in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then a death in the family followed. Finally, though, I was free. Dixon squeezed me in.

Despite lack of sleep, he proved the most consummate host. Being raised by a professor shows. A natural teacher, he’s written about the history and geography of Greater Phoenix. I found myself racking up mental notes everywhere we visited.

First, at my request came a brief introduction to automatic sidearms, this from a guy who’s living (in multiple senses of the word) depended in part upon knowledge and skill of weaponry. Who better to learn from?

Hole-in-the-Rock
Hole-in-the-Rock, Papago Park
Dixon followed with a tour of Phoenix. He drove through Papago Park to point out the Hole-in-the-Rock, an elevated cavern open at either end. He named the surrounding mountain ranges. He noted bridges that ran high over dry river beds, waiting like a boxer for that blow that never comes… until it does.

Questions had been gathering in my mind about desert plants, mesquite, ironwood, and especially cactus. With Dixon’s wide-ranging interests, I was almost unsurprised to discover he’s a member of the Desert Botanical Garden. There, they combine education with beauty.

Dixon shared a story about his father and the infamous ‘jumping’ cactus, AKA Teddy Bear cactus. His dad experimented, risking his own flesh. He hypothesized cactus pods store up kinetic energy, until the slightest touch sends them exploding off their host plant. Me, I think that’s a damn clever theory.

Dixon had another surprise up his sleeve, a visit to the Poisoned Pen Bookstore adjacent to Poisoned Pen Press. Loaded with signed mysteries and science fiction, it’s a drool-worthy shop in Scottsdale that seems both packed and airy at once. Independent bookshops could take lessons from them.

I introduced myself to the owner… not too crudely I hoped. Dixon and I made quite the prickly pair.

Setting aside his own fatigue, Dixon showed me his writing cabin set in a corner of the garden. There he retreats to write, coaxing the computer from his arm chair. The fedora there… was it the same Staff Sergeant Hill traveled with around the world? I suspect so.

The visit turned out entertaining and educational, everything and more I expected from a man I learned about through his writing. One day, Dixon, let’s do it again.

The Flight of the Phoenix

So…

At Phoenix airport, I gathered my kit around me, my wits and my tickets. Hot as it was, I found myself strangely reluctant to depart. Turned out United had the same notion.

“Whoa,” said the ticket agent. “You’re too late to board.”

“What? No, I can’t be.” How many times had she heard that story? “Really, I received a confirmation email telling me to check in, like now, I’m on time.”

Anxious to put in her propeller, a United supervisor strolled over. Her snoot lifted into the air like my soon-to-depart plane.

“We closed boarding and no, you could not have received such an email.”

“I did, I did,” I said plaintively, thinking I must have read it wrong. Wait… Although I’d had poor luck finding phone signals in Arizona, five million people populated Phoenix. Surely AT&T had a presence here, didn’t they?

I pulled out my dusty iPhone and… Yes! A signal! Moreover, an email! The right one. I held out the phone like a child showing homework to the teacher.

“Ma’am, here’s the email. It spells out the details and I’m here on time.”

She read it once. Not quite believing it, she peered closer. I could almost hear the chips in her brain going, “Oh crap, he’s right.” Then she glanced at the clock ticking away on her computer terminal and lit up. “NOW,” she said with immense satisfaction, “now you’re too late.”

The counter agent gave me the most carefully neutral look. She managed to convey a measure of sympathy.

“I’ve booked you tomorrow. If you don’t mind a hint, lose a couple of pounds in your suitcase.” Again she gave her patented neutral look. “Thank you for choosing United.”

No hurry. Good company, good food, good night’s sleep. Orlando could wait another day.

Phoenix Rising


The personality of all cities depend upon geography and geology. More than most, the Copper State’s very existence depends upon Mother Nature’s good nature.

It’s bedrock is literally laid bare. River beds lace hither and yon, empty and dry… most of the time. Water, when it comes, can rage rapidly, as colleague Susan Slater has expressed in her novel, Flash Flood.

Unlike Eastern states, water rights are bought and sold. So are mineral rights. A few strip mines in the Copper State have left behind unnatural terraced hills, white not from rime but extraction chemicals. Arizona has been fortunate in other metals that begin with the letter A in the periodic table: Au, Ag, Al… gold, silver, and aluminum.

NASA used selected places in Arizona for lunar mission training. It’s not difficult for an outsider to think of Arizona as a beautiful planet in itself, one where pioneering humans have dug in, stubbornly nesting amongst its fabulous rock structures, a landscape hospitable to the hardiest among us.

Just avoid uninsured elk.

03 June 2018

Hot Spot


by Leigh Lundin

I’ve fallen off the grid. Unintentionally. No T-Mobile, No AT&T, no Virgin Wireless, no voice mail, no cell phone. Also no email, no web, no internet access. Neither of my phones nor my computer work. Both fruitlessly scan for radio signals, not picking up even a blip, not even alien static from distant Roswell.

phone, no bars

I didn’t plan it this way. I’m spending five weeks in Arizona. Tomorrow I visit the Grand Canyon, but here in the town of Gunsmoke in Holyshiteitshot County in eastern Arizona, the telegraph bypassed the town, never mind Pony Express and the telephone. When I enquired about a hotspot, bemused residents said, “It’s 109°F in May. How damn hot do you want it?”

109°F… Here F, usually preceded by a plosive ‘holy’, stands for a word other than Fahrenheit, usually heard when sliding into a rental car seat. I never knew leather could melt. Steering wheels appear inspired by paintings of Salvador DalĂ­. Truthfully, the steel door handle of a downtown restaurant is wrapped with pipe insulation and electrical tape, presumably after a few people involuntarily left skin samples.

Century Link is establishing a presence in the county seat. When I enquired, they said, “Congratulations, you qualify for high-speed internet.” They went on to define ‘high speed’ as 3Mbps, the approximate walking speed of a one-legged dog. Computers think data rates that slow mean the internet is broken. Compare 3Mbps to my suddenly much less despised Spectrum/Brighthouse ISP at 100Mbps or even optional 1000Mbps if that’s too slow.

100-1g Mbps

At 3Mbps, news can take a long time to crawl through copper wires. Folks asked about rumors a black man had been hired in the White House. They seemed politely dubious when I said more like a weird orange.

As for my computer, I plugged it into a socket. The wiring exploded with a shower of sparks, barbecuing my power supply. This is what we call a ‘challenge’.

Knowing I had a SleuthSayers article due, kind people came together to help out. One lent an old laptop. When connected to the internet for the first time in eons, it launched into mass Windows 7 updates taking most of a 24-hour day and burning through the data allocation of that person’s telephone hotspot. At that point, another person stunned me by buying a new cell phone to provide a fresh hotspot. Folks are asking around for an old cell to lend me. Life is good.

But wait, there’s more.

FedEx delivered a new computer power supply. As before, neither of my phones can pick up a signal, this coming from a guy who for years refused to own any phone. The nearest AT&T tower is thirty miles in one direction, fifty in another. An internet solution remains questionable, but I’m not yet out of options. SleuthSayers’ Dixon Hill has invited me to stop in, and Scottsdale definitely has internet and phone service.

Life is good.

31 October 2016

At Last


By Fran Rizer

Today is October 31, 2016--Halloween.  Also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows Eve, and All Saints Eve, Halloween begins the three-day observance of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembrance of the dead.

To most of us, Halloween is a holiday characterized by the dispensing of candy to costumed young people who threaten, "Trick or treat."  Other traditions include costume contests and parades.  When I taught elementary school, teachers and parents worked together to hold Halloween carnivals for students.  Before my retirement, these changed to Fall Festivals, and scary costumes (such as vampires, werewolves, skeletons, zombies, and this year--clowns) were forbidden because some people felt that Halloween was a celebration of witchcraft.

The traditions of Halloween include decorations such as black cats and pumpkins carved into jack-o-lanterns as well as activities like apple bobbing, pranks,  bonfires, and divination games.  In some parts of the world, Christian observances include church services and lighting candles on graves.

What accounts for the popularity of the non-religious aspects of Halloween? I believe it's because humans like to be scared--so long as what frightens us isn't real.  We might think that fall and Halloween would amplify the appeal of spookiness, but horror is a genre that transcends season.

How does the title "At Last" relate to Halloween and the horror genre?  Recently I've been doing a lot of writers' workshops in South Carolina libraries.  One of my most popular is entitled "A Late Start." The topic is writing as a second career after my retirement including disadvantages of waiting so long to begin writing fiction as well as the obvious advantages of greater maturity and vaster experiences. The workshops include tips on speeding up the process of successful writing and publishing.  The story of my first horror book proves that I don't always follow my own advice when it comes to fast writing and quick publication.

"At Last" would work as well if this blog referred to my first novel in 2007 as it does now to my tenth book released this month, but Leigh Lundin didn't invite me to return to SleuthSayers to summarize the workshop.  I'm here to tell you about my newest book and why "At Last" is a perfect title for this column.

The HORROR of JULIE BATES began several years ago as A Midnight Dreary and morphed into Something to Fear.  Both David Dean and Dixon Hill critiqued the manuscript during one of those phases, and I incorporated several of their suggestions. After numerous rewrites, my agent accepted it, but held back a year before pitching it.  Berkley was interested and made two suggestions.  Pardon my unladylike expression, but I busted my butt to work out the changes and dashed it off back to my agent in two weeks.  I didn't hear anything.

Sure, I wanted to push for a response, but we all know that it's not a good idea to put pressure on agents or editors.  After months and months, I asked the agent to touch base with the interested editor at Berkley.  I almost had another heart attack when I received an apology from my agent because he had forgotten to send her the manuscript revised to her requests.

Meanwhile, there had been major changes in the publishing world. To make a long story short (literally in this case), it was too late.

I began querying new agents and received some requests for the complete manuscript, but when Darren Foster at Odyssey South Publishing said, "Let us have it," I jumped at the chance.  And so, ladies and gentlemen, at last, my first horror novel is now available.  Here's the back copy:

                                 Who knew Columbia, South Carolina, could be so scary?

Julie Bates discovers a corpse in front of the Assembly Street post office.  Arson destroys her home the same day, but Julie's story is not a mystery.  It's horror--southern style.  Police officer Nate Adams thinks the killer who raped and murdered Julie's mother the year before is stalking Julie, but Julie's tormentor is not human.  The well-known ghosts of South Carolina barely skim the surface of the evil that awaits Julie Bates.  Move over, Amityville.  Columbia, South Carolina, is right there with you on the scale of terror.

How does a writer transition from cozyesque to horror? The preface explains:

When a red-haired woman approached me at a book-signing, I expected her to ask me to autograph one of my own cozy mysteries.  Instead, she asked me to write a book for her.  I went into my usual spiel that she could do a better job of putting her story on paper than I, but we agreed to meet in the coffee shop after the signing.  Writers are frequently approached to write or co-write someone else's story. Most of the time, we decline politely, but there was something about this mysterious stranger that made me hesitate to dismiss her so quickly,

The HORROR of JULIE BATES is that woman's story.  I spent many, many hours recording Julie Bates' tale and many more days and nights scaring myself as I wrote her story from her point of view, changing only names. The occasional third-person chapters were added after I was fortunate enough to obtain Richard Arthur's journal.

I have already received several emails questioning, "Did you make up this story or did a red-haired woman really tell it to you?"  I can honestly say the story came from a red-haired woman.

Long-time SleuthSayer readers know that I've jumped genre from cozies in the past when I wrote the thriller KUDZU RIVER.  I have no idea where I'll land next, but in the meantime,

Until we meet again, take care of . . .  you!
                                                                     

22 April 2016

New House (and Backyard Writing Studio)


'Screaming Eagles' patch of
101st Airborne Div. (AASLT)
by Dixon Hill

As many of you probably know, I met my wife when we both worked for Military Intelligence, in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

One off-shoot of this fact, is that we both grew used to an itinerant lifestyle.  She and I lived many of our single-life years in army barracks.  Before landing at the 101st, she spent time at Ft. Huachuca in Arizona, followed by a year in South Korea.  I lived in Monterrey, CA for a year and a half, studying Arabic, then spent several months, each, at Goodfellow AFB, TX and Ft. Devens, Mass.

After my wife, Madeleine, received an honorable discharge, she moved out to where I (by then) was on an A-Team, so we rented an apartment in Fayetteville, NC, outside Fort Bragg, until I received my own honorable discharge.  Arriving in Scottsdale, afterward, we were used to living in places we didn't own, so we continued to rent while raising our family.

A few months ago, though, we decided to use the G.I Bill and buy a house.

Yep!  This is the house.  I know: It's pretty darn green.  And the yard needs work.
But, Mad likes the tree, and I'm not stupid, so the tree is staying.
We like the older houses in South Scottsdale.  'Older,' around here, means they were built in the late '50s or in the '60s.  The house we closed on, yesterday (yep! the day before this post went up online), was built in 1959.

As you can see from the photo, it's ... well ... green.

This has nothing to do with our military background.  We suspect there was a sale on green paint, because several houses in the area are painted the same color.  And, we plan to make some changes to the paint scheme, because -- frankly -- our years in the army provided enough exposure to the color green, as far as we're concerned.  (Though we do like a nice green lawn -- something I'm going to get cracking on, next week, after we're moved in.)

Not Mine
The house may have been built in 1959, but it's solid, built of block, and suits our needs well, with a living room and large kitchen (big enough for the farm table my wife wants), a nice back patio, a fireplace and swimming pool, as well as three bedrooms and a room (where the carport used to be) that my youngest son can set up as a game room.  And, it has one more thing.
Nope, not this one!


Not Mine, either.
There is a large concrete slab in the backyard, which was clearly used for parking an R.V. sometime in the past.  I used to be an SF Engineer, and we did more than just blowing things up.  We also built things.  Out of lumber, rough timbers, even concrete and steel (when we got the chance).  So, I checked out the pad, and realized it was strong enough for what we needed.

The plan is, we're going to put my Backyard Writing Studio on this pad.

If you haven't thought of backyard offices, or studios, let me tell you: There are a lot of folks who have them these days, judging from what I found online.  I've done quite a bit of research -- both in-person and online -- and posted some of the pics (above) that I found, to give you an idea of what's out there.

But, I don't think mine will look much like those.  Not at first, anyway.  We contemplated the idea of my building the thing, but I think there's an easier solution.  We're still not quite sure yet, but I suspect my studio will initially look like this:

"Duratemp Side Utility" building from Weather King.  Interior unfinished.  Priced about $4,000, including delivery.
Those double doors on the front, when removed, leave an opening that measures just the right size to permit the installation of a sliding glass door without extensive adjustment.  The interior is unfinished, but the 2x4 studs, at 16-inches on center, permit easy insulation addition, while the roof 2x8's will handle R-30 insulation.

I don't do electrical work, so I'll hire an electrician to wire the place for plugs and lighting, as well as a window 110V A/C unit I plan to install on the side away from the house (and, an exhaust fan, of course, to get rid of my cigar smoke at times).  I can handle the dry wall and flooring without any problem.  In the future, we can decide if I want to upgrade the exterior, and maybe add a wooden deck around it or a pergola-type shade structure out front.

True, my Backyard Writing Studio probably won't end up looking as nice as those others, but the price is right, and it sure beats sitting out on my apartment balcony as the Arizona summer comes marching in!

See you in two weeks!
--Dixon

29 January 2016

Why I had to Be Careful on the Reservation for A While


Map of the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community.
Scottsdale bounds the north (upper map) and west (map left) side,
while Mesa bounds the south (map lower) side.
by Dixon Hill

These days I don't worry too much about driving across the local Indian Reservation outside Scottsdale, but there was a time when I had to keep a sharp eye out for police vehicles while driving to and from school.

And, the real cause of the problem was that I was trying to be a nice guy.

And, because I was ignorant.  I hadn't yet learned that people didn't necessarily read something I'd written, in the manner I had envisioned while writing it.

I made my way toward fiction through the journalism field. My primary goal was to make a living writing fiction, so my first goal was to earn a B.A. that might help convince editors I was a serious writer.

To accomplish this first goal, I decided to attend the Cronkite School at Arizona State.  At that time, at least, an ASU student had to earn the majority of his common core credits during his first two years -- all spent outside the Cronkite School.

Yes. You're seeing it correctly.
SCC is the Fighting Artichokes!
After completing enough credits with an acceptable GPA, a student had to apply for the Cronkite School then had to pass the Cronkite entrance exam before being permitted to apply for the Journalism or Communication Program.

I used the GI Bill to pay for school, but had two kids at home during this time, and another one on the way toward the tail end of my sophomore year. So, I spent those first two years at nearby Scottsdale Community College (SCC) to: save money, run my small pool layout business, and spend more time around the house. Our youngest son was born about the time I entered the Cronkite Program at ASU.

By the time I was admitted to the Cronkite School, I'd worked as a reporter on a small Scottsdale paper for two years, had also spent two school years on the Scottsdale Community College paper, and finally closed my small business to permit me to concentrate on completing my degree.  Two years after entering the Cronkite School, I graduated with a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication.

But, the thing that caused me to run afoul of police on the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC) occurred while I was working on a small human interest story for the SCC paper.

Scottsdale Community College isn't really in Scottsdale at all.  It's actually about a half-mile outside Scottsdale, on land leased from the SRPMIC.  And, the SRRPMIC police patrol the area outside campus, while providing arrest authority on campus when needed.  A person who stole money from the SCC snack bar cash register, while I was on the paper, for instance, was apprehended by campus police, then arrested by SRPMIC police, who booked the suspect into the Maricopa County Jail.  (Yes, that's right.  That's Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jail -- pink underwear, green bologna and all... though these days it serves a vegetarian-only diet with no bologna on the menu [assuming you don't count Sheriff Joe's antics as bologna].)

One day, in the school news room, the faculty adviser for the paper told me she had received permission to have a school reporter accompany an SRPMIC police officer on a ride-along during a night shift.  She thought I might be a good choice, due to my age and military experience.  I happily accepted the assignment.

When that night arrived, I showed up at the police station on the reservation and met the sergeant who would be driving us around in his SUV, while on night patrol.  He was a nice enough guy, if a bit too showy for my taste.  I wasn't worried about that; I'd dealt with showy guys in the army.

He took me out and drove his patrol route, showing me areas of interest -- such as the lawnmower repair business where he'd earned a decoration for his actions during a shootout.  We found a new car sitting empty in the middle of nowhere, which was registered to someone on the other side of The Valley.  After calling for a tow truck, he explained that young people on the reservation sometimes went to clubs in Scottsdale or Phoenix, then stole a car to drive home.  Sometimes they stripped the car after getting it home.  Other times, like this one, they simply abandoned it.  We hunted around for, and found, the keys by the time the time the tow truck arrived.

He took me through "Bunny Acres" a part of the reservation that's pretty empty except for a few houses crouching in darkness.  Elsewhere, he showed me the remains of a house that had been destroyed during a shootout between reservation gang members on one side, and the FBI supported by the SRPMIC police on the other.  He asked me not to write about that house, because standing wisdom held that gang activity on the reservation had been completely wiped-out that night, and the tribal government didn't want potential casino customers to worry about the possibility of gang violence.

Had I been a hard-nosed reporter working on an expose, I'd have countered by asking for his opinion concerning the clear gang problems two friends of mine had encountered while working as teachers on the reservation.  Those two guys, for instance, found it interesting that when they handed out M&M's to their high school students, the red M&M's disappeared from some desks, while the blue ones disappeared from others, depending on whether the kid was a member of the Crips or the Bloods.  Gang tensions influenced the daily lives of those kids in the classrooms.

As I told the sergeant driving me around, however: "No problem.  Both my editor and our faculty adviser told me to treat this as a human interest story.  I'm supposed to give SCC students a feel for what the cops paroling the streets around school are like -- what you guys go through on a daily basis. I'm not here to dig up any dirt, or get anybody into hot water.  Plus, I spent time in the military and I hold a Top Secret clearance.  So, if you find you just said something you shouldn't have, let me know and we'll talk about it.  My bosses probably won't want it in the story anyway."

We went to a drunk driver arrest, worked a small traffic accident, and drove around some more.  We drove past a house that had a big pack of dogs running around out front.  The sergeant slowed and swung the SUV over toward that side of the street, quietly calling out the window to them.  As the dogs began to stand and prick their ears, he turned to me and said, "These guys always let their dogs out; they never put them inside or put leashes on them.  The law says they can't be out here without leashes, and I could arrest their owner.  But, we try to help people remember to do the right thing, without arresting them if we can."

By then, the dogs were barking and jumping, frantically chasing the SUV as we drove down the road on the right side again.  As the front door opened, and the owner came out, yelling at the dogs, the sergeant called: "They need to be on leashes if they aren't penned up!  Get them inside!"  Then he turned to me as he rolled up his window, saying, "This way, it wakes him up, so he pays the price, but he doesn't have to get involved in the legal system."

A short while later, we got a call about a domestic violence dispute with shots fired.  That was the one and only time the sergeant turned on his flashing lights and siren.  The only time he drove at anything above the speed limit.  Just about the only bit of excitement all night!  (If you don't count a pack of barking dogs chasing your car.)

But, even the domestic violence dispute was over by the time we arrived.  The man with the shotgun had been arrested and everyone else was being assisted by advocates.

When I wrote the story, I aimed for the human interest piece I'd described to the sergeant.  I emphasized the idea that the department practiced what they called "Community Policing," using the sergeant's own parallel about how they tried to police the SRPMIC employing common-sense alternatives to arrest, the way Andy Taylor policed Mayberry on the Andy Griffith Show.  I illustrated this idea by outlining the way the sergeant had dealt with those loose dogs.

I was so proud of the result that I even dropped several copies of the student newspaper at the police station, so the guys could read it.

When I was on the way out, however, a lieutenant stopped me.  "You're the guy who wrote that story in the college paper, right?"

"Yes, sir.  Did you like it?"

His face clouded.  "We got a problem.  That sergeant who took you around is in hot water."

I was horrified.  "Why?"

(Okay, so this isn't a word-for-word recreation of our conversation.  But it is pretty close, I think.  I mean, this happened 16 years ago or so.)

We went into his office.  "Did you really have to compare us to Andy Taylor and Mayberry?  Why did you do that?"

"Well.  He did it.  He explained that was what you were doing.  And I thought it was a great idea!  So I explained it.  What's wrong?"

"It didn't occur to you that folks might read that, and think we were all a bunch of Barney Fife idiots -- shooting ourselves in the foot all the time!?"

I felt like an idiot, myself.  I shook my head.  "I'm sorry.  That never occurred to me.  I just thought I was comparing you to a guy who did a good job of keeping the peace, and gently keeping folks from stepping out of line.  That's why I wrote about the dogs."

His head snapped up.  "That really happened?  Just the way you described?"

I nodded.  He was pretty angry, but it was the truth.  "Yeah.  Just the way I said."

"And he said that stuff, about intentionally making all those dogs bark to wake up the owner?"

"Yeah.  Why?  What did he do wrong?"

"Damn!"  He scanned the story and put his finger on a spot.  "This part here -- where he went to the shooting with red lights and siren -- how fast were you going?"

I shrugged.  "I don't know.  It was dark out, and I couldn't read the speedometer from where I sat." I was pretty sure we'd been doing about sixty, but I knew that was the wrong answer.

"Did you feel in danger when that happened?  Did you think he was driving too fast for the dark conditions out there?"

I shook my head.  "Absolutely not.  What did he do wrong?  What's the problem with the dogs?  He did it so he wouldn't have to arrest that guy."

He laid down the paper and looked at me.  "Well, the problem is: That's a little thing called "Disturbing the Peace."  And it's illegal!  You had a tape recorder with you.  I saw it.  Did you record all this?"

"Yeah.  I did.  But, I didn't mean to get him in any trouble."

"Do you have those tapes with you?"

They were in my car, but I'd had enough basic journalism training to know how to handle that question.  "I always have to give them to my editor.  They belong to the paper."  (Please note: I did not say I had ALREADY given them to my editor, just that I HAD to, and that they belonged to the paper.)

"So you don't have them."

"No."  They weren't on my person.  They were in my car about fifty feet away, in the parking lot.  On the front seat!

"Okay.  I'm going to let you go.  But, you need to bring me those tapes, because we need to use them.  And we may need to call you to testify in court.  If you don't bring those tapes back, we can issue a warrant.  Understood?"

I nodded.

Back at my faculty adviser's office, I told her what had happened, and what I'd said to the lieutenant.

"You actually told him the tapes are newspaper property?" she asked.

"That was the advice I got, when that local editor came to speak to one of my classes."

"Give me the tapes."  I handed them over.  "Okay," she said.  "Now they ARE newspaper property.  And he'll need a court order to get them from us."  Then she looked at me.  "But, you'd better be careful when you drive across the reservation to come to class.  They might try to arrest you.  Here's my card; if they arrest you, call me."

Maybe that police officer just wanted to scare me, or something.

But that faculty adviser wasn't joking.  She was worried.

That was over a decade ago, so I don't worry too much anymore.  Heck, I don't even know where I put her card.

But, for a while there . . .

See you in two weeks,
— Dixon

18 December 2015

Why I Never Met Bob Crane


By Dixon Hill

On Thursday, June 29th, 1978, not long after my fifteenth birthday, my parents told me I would be getting a late present.

The night before, they had seen Bob Crane (perhaps best known for portraying "Col. Hogan" on Hogan's Heros) in the play Beginner's Luck at the Windmill Dinner Theater about five or ten miles north of our home.  After the play, Mr. Crane came out to meet the audience, shaking hands with those who had stuck around.

My parents -- habitually about the last to leave anywhere -- chatted with him for a short time, during which they mentioned my recent birthday.  Crane told them to bring me by the theater after the play on Friday night (July 1st), so he could shake my hand and give me an autographed photo as a late birthday gift.

No, I don't recall him offering any free tickets.  But that's okay; I thought the idea was kind of neat. My dad insisted it was Crane's idea, telling me, "He actually seemed to be a nice guy, son.  He says he's looking forward to meeting you, and he sounded as if he meant it."  Then he joked, "Of course, he could just be a good actor."

I enjoyed Hogan's Heros and looked forward to meeting him -- secretly hoping one of the women who played one of the bar maids on the show might somehow be there too.  (I was a fifteen-year-old boy, after all, and had no idea that he had married one of them.)


Such, however, was not to be.

That evening, the Phoenix Gazette carried a story: earlier that afternoon, Bob Crane had been found murdered in an apartment not far from where we lived.

He was murdered in the early morning hours, his skull crushed by a camera tripod as he lay sleeping in bed, and an electrical cord tied around his neck later -- all this, only hours after speaking with my parents.

His body was found by Victoria Berry, his costar in Beginner's Luck.  She went to find him around 2:00 pm.  When Crane didn't answer her knock on his door, she picked up his newspaper and entered his apartment.  The lights were off, with the drapes drawn, and she had just come in from the bright sun. Nonetheless, she says she closed the door after entering the apartment, then she looked around for him.

His body lay on the bed in apartment 132-A, at the Winfield Place Apartments.  Berry told police: "... At first, I thought it was a girl with long dark hair, because all the blood had turned real dark.  I thought, 'Oh, Bob's got a girl in there.  Now where's Bob?...'  I thought, 'Well, she's done something to herself.  Bob has gone to get help.'  At that time, I recognized blood ... "

Then she looked closer.

"The whole wall was covered from one end to the other with blood.  And I just sort of stood there and I was numb.  Bob was balled up into a fetal position, lying on his side.  He had a cord around his neck which was tied in a bow."

While Victoria Berry was giving her report to the police, inside the apartment, the telephone rang. Police asked her to answer it, but not to reveal that Crane had been murdered. The caller was a video production salesman named John Carpenter.

When Lt. Ron Dean of the Scottsdale Police Department took the phone, identifying himself, he told Carpenter there had been "an incident," but not that Crane was a dead. Carpenter called back, later, and spoke to Lt. Dean again.  The detective was surprised that Carpenter never asked what the "incident" was that police were investigating in Crane's apartment, or if he could speak with Crane.

In 1978 the Scottsdale Police Department did not have a Homicide Unit, something often overlooked in articles about this murder.  However, this fact was very shortly on the mind of everyone in Scottsdale, because the investigation didn't seem to be getting anywhere.  And, at least one piece of potential evidence -- an album of pornographic photographs that Berry had seen when she arrived -- had disappeared!

Surprising evidence also began to surface. Police found about 50 pornographic video tapes or films in the apartment, along with video cameras and film cameras.  A bathroom had been turned into a darkroom with an enlarger, and there were photos of a nude woman on negatives inside.

Reports soon circulated about Crane's fetish of filming himself having sex with multiple women. Police learned that he had obtained the equipment for this hobby from Carpenter, and that Crane had told family members that he planned to break off his friendship with Carpenter on the day of the murder.  The two men were last seen together at the coffee shop in the Safari resort around 2:30 that morning.


Several potential suspects also came to light: Crane's angry estranged wife, husbands angry about Crane bedding their wives, even a fellow actor who had threatened him in Texas.  But, police continued to focus on Carpenter.

Scottsdale's lack of a homicide unit may have made its mark, however, as Carpenter was not put on trial until 1994!  Carpenter was acquitted after a two-month trial, and died four years later, still maintaining his innocence.

The strange upshot?

Sleepy little Scottsdale, Arizona -- my home town -- finally established its own Homicide Department not long after Crane's murder.

As for myself: I never got to meet the guy, because he was murdered the day before I was supposed to.

See you in two weeks!
--Dixon



20 November 2015

Mystery In The Superstitions


By Dixon Hill

As may be plainly seen by looking at the photo below, the Superstition Mountains are quite inviting, and do not appear at all sinister. (He said with a wink.)


Why then, is this small range of jagged peaks, near Apache Junction, Arizona, so swathed in superstition and murder?

And, though lots of those murders are apocryphal, all too many were quite real!

Well ...

This is, after all, the spot on the map marked with a big X, if you're one of those folks looking for the Lost Dutchman's fabled gold mine.  (In fact, I took this photo while standing beside a picnic table at Arizona's Lost Dutchman State Park.)

And, that Dutchman figures pretty prominently in Valley lore around here.


Here is a look at just a few of the Valley businesses trading on the Lost Dutchman for the sake of name recognition.




I'm not sure I'd like to park my R.V. in this place.
I might return to find it missing, and not be able to locate it ever again!









There have been numerous books written on the subject, of course.

















Just as there are plenty of "Lost Dutchman's Mine" maps floating around.




Some with less detail than others.








This map (right) is based on some rocks supposedly found in the area.

Evidently, the idea here is that the
Lost Dutchman, adept at wielding pick and shovel, used them to etch his treasure map on a surface more durable than paper.





       





These are the rocks.









Now, I'm not saying there aren't any mines in the Superstitions.  In fact, there are a LOT of old mines
and defunct mine shafts in the Superstitions.  The place is, after all, a treasure trove of minerals.

HEY!  You can see something that might be the entrance to a mine, in this photo (right).  Of course, it might just be a cave.  But, is it the entrance to the Lost Dutchman's Mine?

I rather doubt it.

The problem is: The Lost Dutchman's Mine brings out tons of treasure hunters every year.


Some contemporary Lost Dutchman occurrences are funny.
But ... others aren't.
Most of the time, of course, they find nothing, and then go back home -- with a story of adventure, and maybe even a gold nugget they bought somewhere else.  (The Gold Field Ghost Town -- built while I was off in the army -- isn't far from the mountains.  And, they sell "gold" there, though the last time I saw it, what they were selling was iron pyrite, otherwise known as "fool's gold."  Perhaps that tells us what the owners think of their customers.)

Some contemporary additions to the tale are rather humorous, such as the one in this clip on the left.

Other would-be treasure hunters, however, wind up lost and out of water, in a desert terrain that does not suffer fools or the unprepared gladly.  Among these folks, the lucky ones get choppered out by the Sheriff's Posse.  The unlucky ones stick around, to add their ghosts, and stories of a good person gone missing, to the litany of the Miner's victims.


Around 2010, for instance, a Colorado man came out to hunt for the mine.  His remains were discovered three years later.  He had apparently become wedged in a vertical fissure while climbing one of the walls.  Thinking about his last days or hours on earth is not a pleasant past-time.

Occasionally, however, that old "Ghost Mine" causes REAL problems.

When I was in high school, folks in The Valley began to notice that a lot of people who had gone hiking or camping in the Superstitions were not coming back.  Search parties were sent out.  The Civil Air Patrol overflew the mountains for several days at a time.  But, no bodies were found.

Finally, one search patrol did find a body or two.  And, that body or two had been shot to death.

To make a long story short: A mother and her two grown sons thought they'd found the Lost Dutchman's Gold mine back up in these mountains.  And, perhaps they'd been back there all by themselves for a little too long.  Add in a strong dose of "gold fever" after they thought they'd found the mine -- which, unfortunately, sat not far from a rather popular trail -- and they found themselves having to fend off a formidable number of "claim jumpers."

The story might have been funny, if they hadn't killed so many hikers.

The fact is, however -- even though you can see a picture of that "Lost Dutchman's" tomb stone on the right -- there may have been no Lost Dutchman at all!  At least, not in the Superstitions.

In fact, according to some research, there are as many as 51 versions of the Lost Dutchman legend, many of them having nothing to do with the Superstitions, and some taking place in states other than Arizona.

So, why is this legend so prominent here in The Valley, that folks die over it?

Well, I'll write about that in my next installment.

Meanwhile, if you're coming out to The Valley, and you want to visit a nice picnic or camping area that has nice hiking trails, you might make the drive to the Lost Dutchman State Park.

Just watch out, if somebody starts shouting: "HEY!  HOLD IT, YOU CLAIM JUMPER!"

--Dixon

19 June 2015

Crime Tour of Phoenix Part 1


Uncle Sal's

By Dixon Hill

Left Coast Crime will be convening at the Hyatt Regency of Phoenix, Arizona February 26th - 28th,2016.

Knowing that LCC attendees lurk on this blog, and suspecting some of them might like to take their own self-guided tour of the Phoenix historical crime scene, I've decided to post some articles this year that would lend themselves to just that use.


Starbuck's Location
"Office Max Center"
Corner of Osborn and Hayden roads
in Scottsdale











Across the parking lot from this unassuming Starbuck's where my son and daughter worked in high school, and less than a quarter mile from the house I grew up in, sits this place:

Uncle Sal's Italian Ristorante
Uncle Sal's Location
About 23 mins. from the Hyatt
according to Google Maps










At first glance, the contemporary cookie-cutter strip mall location and hole-in-the-wall frontage might indicate Uncle Sal's is one of those Italian restaurants run by somebody about as Italian as my Polish grandmother.

In truth, however, this is the place once owned by the wife of Salvatore "Sammy The Bull" Gravano, who billed her restaurant as: "The best kept secret in Scottsdale," Sammy the Bull loved to eat here, and it was frequented not only by members of his family, but -- reputedly -- also by drug dealers, underworld figures and the like.  (On several occasions, my mom and I enjoyed the pizza there, when I was home on leave from the army.)

Gravano had been given plastic surgery to alter his appearance, then he and his family moved to The Valley in 1995, as part of the witness protection program following the John Gotti trial.  The former member of the New York based Gambino family was rechristened "Jimmy Moran."  He opened a construction company called Marathon Development at 45th Street and University drive in Phoenix, where he employed 15 people and earned nearly a million dollars a year.  He also did business as Creative Pools, a pool installation company.
Gravano's Phx. Mug Shot

All of this came to an end in 2000, when Sammy the Bull, as well as his wife, son and daughter were arrested as part of a sting on organized drug dealing in The Valley.

Salvatore (then living as Jimmy Moran) reportedly provided consultation and cash to the drug-dealing arm of the "Devil Dogs" a Phoenix gang known for barking as they beat people up.  It was further reported that pool company and restaurant employees were involved in the dealing, and that drugs were being sold out of Uncle Sal's.  Salvatore was eventually convicted, and sentenced to 19 years in prison.

The Bar






The Patio
Uncle Sal's is still there, of course. And, if you'd like to go get a bite
to eat and look around the place, I think you'll enjoy your meal.  The bar is nice, and so is the food.  You can even eat on the patio.

Outdoor temperatures should be quite comfortable during the LCC period in February.

While the pasta is good here, the steak is my favorite.  The green bean side is excellent!


Dress is casual during the day, and business casual in the evening.  If you want to pull out the stops and dress to the nines, they'll love you for it!


Pricing is not bad either.  A single person can enjoy the steak in the photo to the right and some beer or wine and still get out the door for under fifty bucks.


According to his daughter, Gravano ate at Uncle Sal's regularly, often sneaking in the back and sometimes taking his food to go.  There are those who suspect his practice provided the catalyst for the opening of this second eatery, which shares the same kitchen with Uncle Sal's, and is known as: The Side Door.


If your wallet doesn't tend to be over-stuffed, and your culinary tastes run toward good beer, burgers and dogs (And perhaps you'd secretly like to get a feel for what it was like for Sammy the Bull to sneak in the back for his chow while the Feds were closing in!) then I suggest you walk around the north end of the building that houses Uncle Sal's and eat here.  They sell Vienna Beef hot dogs for only $4.00 each -- or, Chicago style for six bucks!  There is also a large selection of beer on tap or in bottles, as well as a large wine selection, and some higher-end food -- even ice cream!

Overhead View of Strip Mall with Uncle Sal's and Side Door


This photo is taken looking west.

Osborn Rd. is on the right side of the photo, while Hayden Rd. runs across the bottom.  The building at the lower left is Starbucks.  The large main building is Office Max and Big Five sporting goods.

The small square building, which -- as you can see on the schematic below -- is not quite connected to the Office Max bldg., is where you'll find Uncle Sal's.  It's in the lower left (south-east) corner of that small square building.

If you walk around the north (photo-right) side of this building, you will find The Side Door at the west (photo-top) end of it, facing out to the north.

Do not be confused by the bank building (lower right).





Fastest way there from the Hyatt Regency Phoenix
  • Take Monroe to 4th Street
  • Turn LEFT to head NORTH on 4th Street, being sure to BEAR LEFT just past Garfield St.  
  • 4th Street will then become the north-bound lane of 3rd Street.  
  • STAY IN THE RIGHT LANE at this point.  
  • TURN RIGHT onto the HOV on-ramp for I-10 East (also known as 101 East).  
  • Follow the 101 East until you exit (off to right) onto 202 North.  
  • (Note: 202 Exit is to the right side of the 101, but you want the LEFT lane of the RIGHT-SIDE EXIT lanes -- 2nd or third lane from the right side of freeway.  If you bear all the way to the right, you will end up on the 202 South.  If this happens, exit ASAP and get back onto the 202 North)
  • Follow 202 North and take Indian School Rd. exit.  
  • At the base of the off-ramp, TURN LEFT onto Indian School.
  • TURN RIGHT onto Hayden Rd.  
  • Uncle Sal's is in Office Max strip mall on the corner of Hayden and Osborn, a half-mile ahead of you, on the left.


05 June 2015

One Hero's "Masque" May Be Another's Costume


By Dixon Hill

As well as being a writer, I'm also a husband and dad.  I spent this past weekend (May 28th through
31st) at Phoenix ComiCon with my 12-year-old son, and gained some very interesting insight there.

My youngest son, Quentin, likes to practice Cosplay.  Cosplay is a compound word created by the combination of Costume and Play (or player), and hence denotes a person who is play-acting that s/he is the character (sci/fi or anime usually) s/he is dressed as.

Cosplayers may spend hundreds of dollars on their costumes, and work diligently to achieve detailed accuracy (similar to a Civil War reenactor I once knew).  And, at conventions such as this, the prizes for best costume can run into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Believe it or not, there are Professional Cosplayers who earn big bucks by dressing as characters from video games, television shows, or even movies.  They earn this money not only by winning cosplay contests, but also by doing work for sponsors.  I suppose this shouldn't have come as a big surprise to me; after all there's a guy who frequents the cigar store, who earns a six-figure annual income by portraying Sean Connery at business conventions or on the radio.  Pro Cosplayers earn money in a very similar manner.

I once posted here about an activity my youngest son, Quentin and I engaged in, last summer, called ICon ("eye-con"). At that convention, Quentin cosplayed (dressed and acted) as Edward Elric, the title character of the anime TV series The Full Metal Alchemist.

ICon was not a particularly giant convention, recalling (in my mind) the gaming conventions my older son, Joe, had attended when he was in middle school.  There, Joe and his buddies played Dungeons and Dragons or other board games for several days straight.

But, ICon lasted only one full day.

The Phoenix Comicon, however, lasted four days and was held at the Phoenix Convention Center (very close to where Left Coast Crime will be held in 2016). Last year, over 15,000 people attended Comicon, and this year the numbers were believed to be even larger.  Having been there, I believe it!

The Venues Included Writers! 
Storm Troopers posed for free with folks.
Phoenix Comicon had multiple venues within the convention center, but the admission "membership" bought access to all of these venues for the given day(s) of the membership.

Quen being tossed into
Batman's Arkham Asylum
Venues included two film festivals, one of which permitted members to submit films in advance, in hopes of winning honors.  There were also extensive panels and classes on writing, headed-up by successful Sci-Fi, Fantasy or Romance writers, and myriad author signings, as well as classes on screenplay writing, comic book writing and even something detailing how to become a professional still camera photographer for Hollywood movies.

Writers and pros had booths in the underground area, where steampunk and cosplay items competed for sale against Star Trek, Star Wars and other Sci-Fi and Fantasy memorabilia.

There were also movie and TV stars galore, available for autographs (about $40 to $60 each, additional cost) or to pose in photos with you (that would set a person back a hundred or two hundred bucks each),  The local Dr.Who society was on the top floor (by the stars) with their Tardis, two life-sized Daleks (one of which moved and had a suspicious-looking "Sidekick" badge taped to the front!), and a remote-control K-9.  On this floor also, one could find the Delorean from Back to the
Q sits with "Greedo" on Star Wars "set"
Future
(photo prices supposedly donated to charity -- photos with the actor who played "Doc" in the film were even more expensive), several Star Wars "sets" created by local and distant Star Wars fan clubs, and even the Zombie Defense League and a local Pirate group.

Cosplay filled a lot of con space also, with classes and panels that ranged from how to buy and style wigs, how to sew costumes or make realistic-looking armor that wouldn't weight you down, to panels of professional cosplayers giving tips on the contests and how to make money at cosplaying.

Membership is NOT Cheap

An adult membership for all four days cost about $97.00 (a significant savings!), while a "sidekick" ticket for a kid 12-or-under cost $10.75 for the full four days.

Lunch for 2 = $45.00 LOL
By the time I finished work on Thursday, and we got downtown to the convention center, all of the full-time adult memberships were sold out.  I still managed to get a "Sidekick" membership for Quen -- though he initially didn't like it, feeling embarrassed I believe -- so he was set for all four days, as long as he was accompanied by a paid adult.

By the time it was all said and done, I purchased two adult memberships for Thursday ($30 each) so Q wouldn't have to wear his embarrassing Sidekick badge, two adult memberships for Friday (about $47 each) so my wife could go with him in the morning while I was at work, and my older son's girlfriend could join her until I relieved my wife, three adult memberships for Saturday ($57 each) so my older son, Joe, could attend with his girlfriend and myself, while Q used his Sidekick badge (and the older kids could go to the Steampunk ball or some other adult venue that night), and an adult membership for Sunday ($35) so I could go with Quen on my day off.

COSPLAY  (Hmmm.......)
A Family of Dr. Who's . . . Plus a Cyberman son ....
Talk about dysfunctional teen years! LOL


The main catalyst for our going, of course was that Quen wanted to participate in a Cosplay Contest. The problem was: Though we downloaded Comicon info from their website to our cell phones, months in advance, and that info kept updating over time, we NEVER saw anything labeled: "Cosplay Contest."

Instead, there was a "Cosplay Fasion Show" on Thursday morning, and a "Prejudging for Masquerade" at 4:00 pm on Saturday, and a "Masquerade" at a local Hotel, where the steampunk venues were being held, at 9:00 pm Saturday night.

Was the Cosplay Fashion Show a contest?  Evidently not.  Was "Masquerade" the contest, or was this a codeword for something dealing with steampunk?  We didn't know.  Nor could we find out ahead of time.

At one point, we ran into the evil "boss" from Kingdom Hearts.
You can't see it, but there is a crowd
jumping up and down and screaming behind me.
Quentin planned to dress as Sora, from Kingdom Hearts, a video game in which a young anime boy battles evil creatures with the help of Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Pluto -- though this game is not for toddlers imho.

To that end, for over a month, Quentin worked with my wife as she diligently followed his instructions, as well as online pics, to sew a Sora costume for him.  We bought a pair of too-large shoes at Goodwill, then he and I turned them into Sora's shoes using paint, tape and paper mache.  He and I constructed a "KeyBlade": Sora's primary weapon, using PVC pipe, cardboard, Styrofoam, paint, a small chain, etc.  My wife even styled his hair to match Sora's.

Thursday afternoon, Q and I entered the convention, neither of us in any costume.  Our plan was to orient ourselves to the premises, attend a few panels on cosplay or some other things, and form a strategy for the weekend.  Unfortunately, the maps in the program, cross-indexed with the buildings we were in, didn't make sense to me.  In fact, I'm embarrassed to admit that I -- an ex-SF Sergeant, known for finding my way for miles across empty and inhospitable terrain using only a map and compass -- never did quite manage to orient myself inside those buildings until the end our last day there.

It was not a stationary battle.  Q is waving his keyblade
as the "boss" waves his arms in attack.
I was able to navigate us to several panels . . . only to discover that Quen didn't want to attend most of them.  "I don't want to go to this.  It's like a class in school.  I just got out of school for the summer; I don't want to go to school for fun!"

I didn't blame him.  And, since he was the reason we were there, we did what he wanted to do -- while I scratched my head a lot and tried to figure out where we were on the myriad of seemingly unrelated maps inside my program.

By Thursday night, at last, I figured a few things out.  So, on Friday morning, my wife, Madeleine, and our son's girlfriend, Suzanne, knew where they had to take Q for the fashion show, while I was at work.  My daughter, Raven, wound up there to cheer him on, too.

Suzanne fixes Q's "Sora" hairstyle.
Q got a chance, there, to strut his stuff in his Sora costume, up on a stage in a huge hotel ballroom, in
front of hot lights and hundreds of people -- which I have no doubt was a good experience for him.  He encountered stage fright, but dealt with it on his own --HUWAH!!  I got there too late to see the show, but heard all about it from the kids.  My wife went back to work, while Suzanne, Raven and I took Q back into the con.  The younger folks decided to wander around together for awhile.

One panel I attended alone was called, "How to be the parent of a Comicon Nerd."  Quen had protested his attendance, saying the adults on the panel would make jokes about kids in cosplay.

He couldn't have been more wrong!

From the Mouths of Babes 

This panel was made up of a half-dozen kids ranging in age from about 14 to 17.  The theme of their panel was essentially: "What sort of Comicon Parent are you: Supportive, Disinterested, or Abhorrent?"  (Yes, they actually used the word "abhorrent." LOL)

First, each speaker explained a different facet of what a parent's comicon kid might be "into" and why it was usually "really nothing to be worried about."  They covered comic books, films, TV series, online comic books (webcomics, such as Homestuck), cosplay and other things.

They stressed the idea that "forbidding" a kid to play a game or watch a show wouldn't keep that kid from playing the game or watching the show at a friend's house.  Instead, they stressed open communication as the best way to address parental concerns.  Finally, each kid on the panel told us what her parents were like (supportive, disinterested, or abhorrent) so that we could compare ourselves to them, and adjust our actions if need be.

I was deeply moved when the girl with two supposedly "abhorrent" parents, wiped her eyes as she told us about her dad making fun of her cosplay outfit, and of how her mother refused to drive her to the con, making her take the bus, because "...that stuff is Devil worship -- you can burn in Hell alone!"  (Maybe her parents weren't really that bad, but her perception was that they were.  And, the really heart-rending part, was that I could hear how much she loved her parents and wanted to connect with them.)

Some feel EMPOWERED by cosplay.
The really eye-opening part of this program, however, was that I saw the impact of cosplay on some of these kids' lives.  Several of the panel members were dressed in cosplay outfits, which surprised me at first. Later, however, a couple specifically said words to the effect of, "I'm pretty shy, and I don't ever speak up at school or anything.  But, when I wear this cosplay, I can cosplay that I'm this strong character.  While I'm dressed like (this character), I act like (this character) and that's what gives me the ability to speak to you in front of this room, like this.  I could never do that, if I was just me."

It wasn't just what they said, either.  I could see it in their mannerism; their conviction was clearly evident, as was the importance of what they were doing, and why they wanted to speak to parents about their concerns.  Frankly, I wished that more than five or six parents had come to the panel. I also made sure to ask questions when it came time for Q & A: I wanted the kids to know I valued what they were doing.

And, I got to see one mother obtain relief when she asked, "Please tell me, what the heck is this Homestuck?  Why is my eleven-year-old daughter going to school with gray paint on her face and hands, and orange horns on her head!?!"

All the girls on the panel, along with a few kids sitting in the audience, screamed with joy, then laughed and sighed and comforted her, assuring her that it was alright, that they had all been into Homestuck and painted themselves gray at eleven and twelve.  At one point, one girl held up her arms and said, "See?  No more gray paint on my face or arms.  I outgrew it and she will too.  It's okay.  It won't hurt her.  Your daughter is fine and happy." Then, they gave the mom tips, such as: "The important thing is to keep her from getting in trouble at school, by getting paint on the walls if it rubs off her hands.  The way you do this is to seal with ...(I don't remember: something about baby powder and stuff -- but the mom took notes!)

I Realized:
Entrance to Cosplay Lounge.
Sign for Diversity Lounge in background.

Cosplay empowers people like this -- people who, for one reason or another, feel outcast or sidelined by life.  And, as these kids spoke, though they never addressed the issue, I finally began to understand why gender-bending is an important part of cosplay to many people; so much so that the "Diversity Lounge" was located next to the "Cosplay Lounge" at the con.

I also realized why taking photographs inside the Cosplay Lounge was so carefully forbidden -- because cosplayers take off their costumes in there; they are naked and themselves; they have lain their defensive bulwarks to one side and are vulnerable until they gird themselves, once more, in the armor of their character.

As the kids also pointed out: People (adults and children, both) engage in cosplay or other comicon activities for hundreds of different personal reasons.  Not every cosplayer is looking for a strength or defense that eludes him or her in real life.  Many, like my son, Quentin, just enjoy playing the part of fictional characters -- something I do, every day, when I write.  And I can understand this; I always have.

But, thanks to those brave kids, I now understand more about the genre, and the factors that may be at play in other practitioners lives.

But What About the Cosplay Contest???

Door to PreJudging Room
No Entrance W/O Permission
It finally wound up that the "Masquerade" WAS the cosplay contest.  Q and I camped out, in the hallway outside the prejudging, for several hours, but he did not get in.  The condensed answer is that we didn't understand how to apply online.  We've learned a lot, however, and next year -- WE'LL  BE  READY!

The hallway outside, 2.5 hours later.
In fact, with the help of a friendly "Sailor Venus" cosplayer, we learned of two cosplay contests he can enter in the interim, here in The Valley, so that he can get some more practice in front of a large audience.

A particularly humorous encounter I witnessed at the con occurred during lunch one day.  Q and I were eating, out on a sort of bench under shade, and there was a male-female couple in their late twenties not far from us.  The woman dressed as a Harry Potter character insisted (for some reason, I wasn't sure) on giving her husband/boyfriend a hard time about wanting to watch World Wrestling Federation on TV at home.  When the guy finally griped, "What's wrong with wrestling?" she responded, "It's completely
FAKE!"  At which point, he looked at her and mumbled, "Right.  And like you go to Hogwarts!"

For the Hill family, though, Phoenix Comicon and the lead-up -- gathering info, making the costume -- all of it, was a family activity.  And, in the end, our family really enjoyed it.  So, chalk-up a win this time!

See you in two weeks,
--Dixon