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

11 September 2015

The Haunted Castle

Two weeks ago, I provided a short introduction to the Tovrea Castle, here on SleuthSayers, and I
promised to let you know why this home, built to rather resemble a wedding cake, is connected to intrigue in the mind of Phoenicians.

This week I present the first installment.

As you may recall from my last post (and I'm not planning to test anyone, so don't let your shorts get all bunched up) the house was originally built by Allesio Carraro for use as a hotel.  The local cattle king, E.A. Tovrea, later purchased the place, located almost literally right on top of his stockyards, so that his wife and he could move in and use it as their home.

In fact, there was a large stretch of land that Carraro had been hoping to buy off another fellow, in order to build a housing tract associated with his hotel.  He also thought this land might help provide a buffer between his hotel and the stockyards.  Though both Carraro and Tovrea supposedly offered the owner of that land a similar amount of money, the land went to Tovrea.  Carraro's complaints that "the fix was in" didn't prevent old E.A. from promptly building a huge sheep pen on that land, further inundating Carraro in the smell of livestock on his front door, thus pressuring the man to finally sell out.

Della Tovrea
As luck would have it, E.A. died about nine months after the move from their previous home at 48th street and Van Buren was completed.  His wife, Della, however, continued to live in the house until "her death" as the story goes.

And, the "story" goes further ... at least that part of it whispered from the lips of Phoenicians here in the Great Salt River Valley.  To hear folks talk, Della died in that house.  Murdered in cold blood.  In the dark of night.  Trying to defend her home from two intruders.  And her ghost now haunts the place, wreaking poltergeist havoc among any small bands of explorers curious to see inside the old house.  At midnight on the anniversary of her death, a woman in white is said to be seen waving in distress -- sometimes even wailing weakly for help -- from the roof walk outside the upper room, just below the cupola.  Woe unto the man who tries to render her aid, however: as soon as he sets foot inside the house, she flies into a rage, screaming, "INTRUDER!  THIEF!" and kills him.

These are the gentle stories I heard about the place as a child, while growing up here in The Valley of the Sun.

For those of you unacquainted with our sweet little valley, let me tell you the following, in order to give you some idea of what it's like here: The Valley of the Sun (which the Navajo rightly call "Hoozdo" meaning "The place is hot." -- that's the truth incidentally; not a joke) is really a huge basin area occupying hundreds of square miles, surrounded by low mountain ranges.  This basin was once dominated by the Salt River (and, in a way, it still is). This river, called "Onk Akimel" or "Salty River" by the Akimel (Pima) Tribe, drops 10,000 vertical feet from its origins in the White Mountains (These mountains are the sacred "Dzil Ligai" of the White River Apache Tribe.) to enter the Great Salt River Valley from the east and run across its width, pouring away to the west.
Roosevelt Dam, completed in 1911,
with Theodore Roosevelt Lake behind it.

The Salt River was dammed up back in the early 20th Century, creating a series of lakes that act as reservoirs, and dams that provide electricity.  This was done as part of the National Reclamation Act, and was known as the Salt River Project -- an undertaking roughly akin to the Tennessee Valley Authority.

After all the damming, the part of the Salt River that ran through The Valley was completely dry, except when it rained hard enough (or if snow melt up north raised lake levels far enough) to force employees of Salt River Project (known locally as "SRP") to open the flood gates.  At those times, the old Onk Akimel roared deep and muddy.

Tempe Town Lake
Today, much of this section of the riverbed is still dry.  However, the city of Tempe has built a "lake" in part of the riverbed, by establishing inflatable dams across it that can be deflated and lowered during flood periods when the river needs to run.

When the river isn't running, the city raises the dams and pumps water into the "lake," filling it.  They even have some odd plan, which I don't understand, that entails letting water seep out of the east end of the lake, to reestablish a marsh area that once existed here.

But, what, you may ask, does all this have to do with those stories of Della Tovrea's murder and her ghost?

Well, in my opinion, it has almost EVERYTHING to do with BOTH of these things.

You see: They're both bunk!  Della Tovrea's death did have violent overtones, but she wasn't murdered.  She didn't even die in the house.  And her ghost has -- so far as I have been able to ascertain -- never been reportedly seen at the house.

The city now owns the property and runs tours through the place, and certainly no one has ever reported any poltergeist events from this "intrusion."  And, I can't find a single source who actually claims to have personally seen old Della's ghost up on the rooftop. Those old-timers who told me these stories have died off, you see.

So, where did these stories come from?

Well, here we come to why I told you about The Great Salt River Valley, and the river from which she draws her name.  Both the river and the valley, the physical geography of this desert basin, provide the answer in my opinion.  How?

You recall that I told you all those Native American names for the Salt River and the valley it runs through?  I did that, because it's natural to do so.  You see, Native American culture runs as a sort of life's blood through the entire valley.  This Valley of the Sun (Hoozdo in Navajo) is not only hot, it's also a place of ancient human civilization.

And that's no accident.

In the final years of that time period we denote by the initials B.C., the Hohokam -- a prehistoric Native American tribe -- established the first known civilization here.  It seems they were lured from within the desert by the Onk Akimel (Salty River). They established large communities in the valley, and over a thousand miles of canals that moved water from the Salt River to their farm fields.  The latest remains of the Hohokam indicate that their civilization died out, or significantly changed, around A.D. 1450.

Today, two tribes in the area claim the Hohokam as their ancestors: the Tohono O'odham (meaning Desert People) and the Akimel (meaning River).  The Tohono O'odham are often called the Maricopas, while the Akimel are colloquially referred to as the Pimas.  These two tribes now share the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community which is very nearly surrounded by the valley cities of Scottsdale, Mesa, Chandler and Fountain Hills.

While only two tribes claim the Hohokam as their ancestors, however, the survival of every living soul in The Valley depends upon this ancient civilization.  That's because, in 1867, after rounding up enough backers to make it possible, Jack Swilling (known today as "the founding father of Phoenix") revived several of those ancient Hohokam canals and began selling irrigation water by the board-foot.  Over time, he excavated more ancient canals, even building a few new ones, to spread his irrigation business to farms across the valley.

Today, SRP uses those same canals (plus some newer, larger ones) to deliver water to the Phoenix Metro area.  Without those canals running along at our feet, all us Valley Dwellers would die of thirst within days.  So, while only two tribes claim descent from the Hohokam, all of us here in The Valley of the Sun virtually "swim" (and at times literally swim!) in water provided by the work they did here.

Consequently, Native American culture runs deep and wide across the Great Salt River Basin.  It always has, since the day Jack Swilling started promoting their canals as the key to prosperity here.  In fact, when I was a kid, I knew a LOT of folks who couldn't really tell me what street they'd been born on.  Instead, they told me the "laterals" that intersected nearest to where their family lived at the time. These "laterals" were the canals, and they were numbered.  I can't tell you how often I heard old timers wax nostalgically about places such as "Ah, the old intersection of 34 and 55, what a place!  What a time!"  For them the canals were not only viaducts providing water, but also navigational touchstones they lived their very lives by!  They basically lapped up Native American culture every time they took a drink, and they followed it to find their way to school or work, and back home again that night.

Superstition Mountains
Add to this, the fact that several tribes live in the area, and their members interact with city folks on a daily basis, and you can quickly understand how large a stamp Native American culture has made upon Valley dwellers.  At the east end of the valley, for instance, stand a set of imposing mountains known as the Superstitions.  Aptly named: this is where the Apaches had a legendary secret mine from which they dug all their gold; a mine protected by the spirits of dead ancestors.  It's also the range in which a certain fellow of supposed Dutch descent wound up disappearing, after he came into town with a lot of very pure gold that he claimed to have dug out of that mine!

The Cactus Garden

In fact, the very Saguaros in the Cactus Garden surrounding Tovrea Castle is tied to Native American lore.

Supposedly, saguaro cactus grow where an "Indian Brave" died, and the number of arms on the cactus are commensurate with the number "Bravery Feathers" that brave earned during his lifetime. This is pretty obviously a "White Man's" "Indian Legend" I'd say, in that it makes little sense but it's a nice story, fun to repeat around the campfire, or when taking out-of-towners on a desert tour.

Which is exactly how I think those stories of Della's murder and subsequent hauntings came about.  Folks around here are prone to hear "White Man" interpretations of Native American myth, as well as complete fabrications about them.  The folks who hear these tales know they probably aren't true, but they make nice stories to share and spread.  At the same time, there is a sort of magic here, the magic of water spread evenly across an arid land, turning it lush and green -- a magic rooted in the practices and cultures of ancient Native Americans.  A magic so strong, that folks used to locate their very bodies by the canals that magic carved into the earth at their feet.

That's strong stuff, this magic.  It's based on ancient myth, ancient truths, modern facts and actions, and it became deeply altered as it all passed from one culture to another -- which didn't dilute that magical feeling one bit.  It heightened it instead, made Valley Dwellers ready to see magic in any and everything.  And if that little magical story didn't make sense, but sounded good and might be fun to pass along, and maybe even believe in a little bit ... well that was alright too.

But, The facts are these: In late 1968, thieves broke into the house.  Della, who was sleeping on a cot in the kitchen at the time, heard them upstairs, and began firing her pistol through the kitchen ceiling, hoping the rounds would come up through the floor on the next level and peg the intruders.  Her plan failed, and the thieves tied her up before making off with $50,000 in furs and jewelry.  For many years, it was said that the thieves beat and tortured her, trying to get her to reveal details about hidden loot, however a docent working at the castle said that they only tied her up and did not harm her.  She died a few months later, at the age of 81, on January 17th, 1969, while in a nursing home.  She died from pneumonia, not a beating.

Obviously, there was a crime here.  In fact the criminals were later caught and prosecuted; some of the stolen goods were even recovered.  But, they didn't murder Della, or even beat her.

I had often heard that the reason the thieves were trying to torture her, was to force Della into revealing the manner in which this artwork on left could be manipulated, in order to open it and reveal a hidden wall safe behind it.  Said safe supposedly stuffed with treasure.  I don't think that's a likely story either.

So why all the stories?  This is the West, with a capital W.  Tovrea Castle sits only a short distance from Pueblo Grande, a village built and lived in by ancient Hohokam.  The house has an odd look to it, folks were not permitted to visit very often (Della supposedly had that pistol handy because she used it to scare the curious off the property.), and this is a valley steeped in legend.  Sometimes those legends have some basis in reality, but others are pure invention, and it can be very hard to tell which is which at times.

And, thus, the truth of a break-in, in which the homeowner is tied up and later dies through non-
associated circumstances, becomes romanticized by members of the public.  Tongues wag.  And a ghost is born.

I promised not only theft, last week, associated with a Tovrea wife, but also murder.  And, there is a murder, it's just not THIS Mrs. Tovrea.  I'll tell you all about that one next time!

See you in two weeks!

14 August 2015

Minotaur and Mystery

I'd like to welcome any aspiring writers who've stumbled across this post.

Pull up a chair.

Sit a while.

We like your sort here.

SleuthSayers can be thought of as the online home (or maybe "watering hole") for a collection of published writers and authors.  While we're all joined by the fact that we've published crime or mystery fiction, the fact is:

SleuthSayers writers have been published in a myriad of genres: Science Fiction, Romance, Historical and Young Adult, just to name a few.This blog provides an outlet where we share tricks of the trade, useful habits, and even gripes about what we've encountered while stumping through the publishing jungle.

For aspiring novelists or short story writers, the effluence from this literary wellspring can sometimes prove pure gold.  I've gleaned just the info I needed on more than one occasion, myself.  And I've read comments from many others who have too, in past posts.

You'll find How-To ..., How I did it ..., How I DO it ..., What went right?, and What went wrong? articles written by folks who've published numerous short stories in national magazines and several novels that did (or are doing) quite well out there on bookstore shelves.  In fact, some of these articles are written by people who owned bookstores, or worked as editors in the publishing industry. Other contributors teach (or have taught) college writing classes, but here on this website you get to tap their knowledge and experience for free.

And, that publishing jungle can be rough: the size of the challenge crushing the unwary, while the glacial pace of the industry forces long waits and grave doubts upon even the most active or the bravest of souls.  It can be easy to let your work become derailed.  God knows, there are a lot of writers' souls lost in that jungle out there.

The aspiring writer can find consolation here, however, written by successful folks who still have to deal with the dreaded Rejection Letter, editorial "black holes" that seem to simply swallow manuscripts for eternity, or even the drudgery of endless rewrites.  We've been there.  We ARE there.  We feel your pain, and commiserate.

One other useful item:  We occasionally post info about writing contests (or, at least, I do).  Minotaur Books (a division of St. Martin's Press) has teamed with the Mystery Writers of America, for instance, to sponsor the:

First Crime Novel Competition  If you're an unpublished novelist and can manage to submit a manuscript of at least 40,000 words, featuring a murder or other serious crime, by December 14, 2015, then you might like to enter.  The winner gets a contract and 10 Grand advance against royalties.  You'll find the publisher's details here. 

Good luck out there, to all who enter!

See you in two weeks,

19 June 2015

Crime Tour of Phoenix Part 1

Uncle Sal's

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

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"
(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,

10 April 2015

My Writing Space

Our cats sometimes keep me company as I work.  The chair in 
this photo is the lawn chair I used to sit in while working.
A few posts ago, I mentioned that my wife had bought me a new chair.  I explained that, prior to that moment, I had been sitting in a plastic lawn chair to do my writing.

I write on my apartment's second-floor balcony, which overlooks trees, green lawns and a fountain pool below -- not to mention the barbecue pavilion I frequent several times each week burning steaks, chicken, jalapeno poppers (That's not a typo: J-poppers are hollowed-out peppers stuffed with cream cheese, etc. and wrapped in bacon.  When the bacon and peppers are good and black, they're done.), hot dogs and/or burgers for dinner.

Sometimes they get a bit nosy.
Or demand that I stop work and feed them!
At the time, several folks suggested they'd like a look at some photos of where I do my writing.  (Which, I have to admit, is also where I primarily do my reading.)

Taking people at their word, I decided to post pics of my writing area today -- sparse as it is.

Though I think the view is quite nice, it's starting to warm up here in the Valley of the Sun, so I've put up a shade screen that I let down once the sun gets over the yardarm.

My computer is not in this photo, but perhaps those with eagle
eyes can tell that the magazine open on the shelf of my "desk"
Is the May issue of AHMM with R.T.'s story illustrated on cover.

Thankfully, I can still look out through the patio's openings.

I would caution the reader that I have never been known as a particularly "neat" person, having one friend who used to bring his dog over to my bachelor apartment, when I was in the army, so said dog could "surf"  used pizza boxes across my living room floor while my buddy and I watched his favorite bass fishing shows on TV.

A better shot of my "desk" perhaps.
My desk is a cupboard built by my oldest son when he took a
shop class. I have since mounted it atop a frame with casters,
sold at Home Depot for moving large or heavy furniture.

Marriage, however, perhaps like music, has tended to sooth some of the savagery out of this particular beast.  So, my writing aerie is kept in much better shape than the apartments or dorm rooms of my single years.

Having kids around naturally helps clutter the issue.  The newspapers on the floor, in the far right of this photo, were put there by my 12 year old, Quentin, who has been constructing a costume for the upcoming Phoenix Comicon.

And, yes, those are books stashed under the top shelf of my rolling desk -- along with magazines and other reading or reference material.

Below, you see the spot I actually occupy while writing: Diet Coke, cigars and pipe on my left, laptop computer more-or-less in front of me, keyboard on my thighs with the mouse on the right arm of my chair, fan in the background to keep the computer cool as the desert temperatures rise, and a nice view of the green lawn below through the X-braced trellis-looking detail in the center of the balcony wall.
Yes, my reading material spills over (literally "over") onto the top of my desk,
where you see The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and stacked issues of EQMM and AHMM.

Well, that's it.  This is my writing space.

Now I'm waiting to see some of yours.

See you in two weeks,

13 February 2015

Cheap Christmas Leather Luxury

by Dixon Hill

Note:  I wrote this a few weeks ago, but then saw that Melodie had already loaded a much better (and far funnier) writerly chair story into our blog list.  At that time, I shelved this one.  Recently, however, I decided it never hurts to let folks know about the physical items directly supporting a writer's endeavors.  After all, someone may be interested.  So, here below is the article about my own chair.

My wife bought me a chair for Christmas.

I found out about it two days before Christmas, and three days AFTER she told me that she and I weren't getting each other presents this year.

She said the same thing last year, too -- which wound up with me out scouring a local 24-hour Walgreen's at around 10 am Christmas day.  So, I'd already gotten her a present for this Christmas, completely ignoring what she'd said.

Consequently, learning about the chair didn't phase me.

Dragging it from the store, bungee-cording it to the roof of our car and carrying it up the stairs, however, did.

Thank God for the assistance of our oldest son, Joe.  Without his help, I'd still be plodding up those steps.  Because that chair is heavy.  I mean, seriously: it probably weighs in with around the same mass as a nice leather-bound set of Hugh Hefner's Complete and Unabridged List of Personal Happy Memories . . . er, uh, I mean . . . his Personal Sins.

Anyway . . .  My wife got me the chair, as she explained, because I needed a better chair for writing.

I certainly wasn't gonna argue about that.  I write (as many of you know) out on our apartment balcony.  I've got a little rolling desk out there, comprising a short but hefty wooden cabinet that our son, Joe, built in shop class, which sits atop a 2x4 & caster device designed to move heavy furniture.

The way Joe built the cabinet, I've got a strong wide shelf about ten inches below the nice, flat top -- upon which perches my laptop when I'm working.  I keep cigars, tobacco, pipes, pipe cleaners, lighters, pens and other odds and ends down on that shelf.  The mouse sits on the arm of my chair, and the keyboard sits on my lap.  The caster wheels let me roll the "desk" up close when writing, and push it back when I stand up.

Until my wife bought me that chair for Christmas, though, I was sitting in a green, plastic, Adirondack-style lawn chair that didn't give me a lot of lumbar support.  Okay: It hardly actually gave me ANY support, being plastic and quite flexible.  Additionally, it was pretty low-slung, so I actually sat a bit too low to see my laptop screen very well.

Perhaps, therefor, you can understand why I wanted something a bit more comfortable.

Problem was: it also needed to be cheap and not too nice, because it would be sitting outside. Winters here in the Valley, might not be too rough on outdoor furniture, but summers are BRUTAL to them.

Madeleine's solution was brilliant.  She found a nice big red fake-leather cushy armchair at Goodwill. The chair was in great condition and had been priced at $25.00, but she got it on sale for 50% off.

So, I now sit in a $12.50 armchair to do my writing.

In fact, I'm sitting in it now. It's 11:11 pm (an auspicious hour, surely! LOL), and chilly enough that I've got a blanket over the chair to protect my backside (I'm wearing shorts) from the cool fake leather.  I'm wearing one zippered jacket in the normal manner, with a second open and spread over my legs.  And I'm quite comfortable.

As to my feet:  They're nice and warm too.  In a pair of house shoes my son, Quentin, gave me for Christmas.

See you in two weeks,

30 January 2015

Locked Room Mystery in Argentina

by Dixon Hill

There are times when I read something, and I think it would make an excellent post here on SleuthSayers.  Often, I try to post a synopsis of what I've read, adding information about it from other sources in order to round out the story a bit more.

When the originating source, however, is such a truly fantastic article that appeared in The New York Times, I find myself thinking that any attempt at a synopsis would simply be foolish.

There are those who may cry foul, claiming that I shirked my duty by doing what I'm about to do. While I, personally, would admit that I'm not submitting my own writing on this post today, which means my own work here on SleuthSayers is pretty short this time, I don't feel I'd be able to agree with the idea that I'm shirking my duty.

Drawing people's attention to a story such as this, is something I feel duty bound to perform.

Additionally, as you'll see, this is a real and quite contemporary locked room mystery of sorts -- though whether we'll ever see justice done, remains an open question.

To understand what I'm talking about, please click on this link HERE . You'll be taken to a page of The New York Times, and a story that -- in my opinion -- is must reading.  About something that happened far south of where you and I live, on the day when our nation was celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Sadly, this story is one of injustice to another group of people.  But, it's one I firmly believe you'll find worth reading.

Since I originally created this post, I saw that one national television news outlet had run a story about it.  I was on my way out the door at the time, so I didn't get to see what they reported, or how they handled the story.  On Wednesday, January 28th, I found an interesting follow-up article in The New York Times, which you can read HERE .


02 January 2015

My Arizona Home

So, last night being New Year's Eve, and given that my family could benefit from a little added side income, I found myself driving a cab from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am.

Yes, I picked up several folks who'd had a bit too much to drink (though perhaps fewer than you might imagine), along with a few rather odd folks who had clearly been up to rather interesting activities, and two different groups who'd had blow-outs, wrecking their cars.

And, yes, I made some money.  Humorously enough, my smallest tip came from a guy who kept telling me he was wearing a $1200 suit.  He tipped me less than two bucks for a $14.00 trip.  But, I guess that's why he has the money to buy expensive suits.

What surprised me, however, was that I had to chip ice away from the edges of my car door, after I'd turned in the cab this morning, and gone to retrieve our family sedan from the parking lot, before I could pry my frozen-shut door open to drive home.

We don't get a lot of ice like that, here in the Valley of the Sun.

I'm sure a lot of you out there are thinking: "A little ice.  Boo hoo.  Deal with it Desert Boy!"  And, frankly, it can be hard to explain how odd this is, to someone from -- oh, say: Minnesota perhaps.

Which has me thinking of a rather remarkable little book called My Arizona Home, written by a fellow named Desé R. Trat.  Trat does a nice job of capturing both fact and flavor, when it comes to his description of the Phoenix area and Scottsdale, so I thought I'd share some excerpts with you.  Happily, Trat was glad to give me permission to do so.

Trat's book begins with an explanation (if you could call it that) about why desert dwellers develop sort of love or "fever" for the place, with this rather odd opening note:

“In the upper soil levels of much of the desert southwest, there is a mildew-like fungus known as Coccidioidomycosis, or Cocci. You’ve probably heard it called 'Valley Fever.' Believe it or not, if you’ve lived in The Valley all your life, you’ve probably already had Valley Fever. Valley Fever can be dangerous …”

 —Public Service Announcement Televised in the Phoenix area, 1967-1978

(You may be interested to know that I remember seeing this ad on television. He then begins his winding roam through desert life.   :)

 Things in the desert are farther away than they appear. This is why a picnicker with a broken down car might die of thirst while walking to a near-by highway, and why his bleached bones might later be found twenty miles from the nearest paved surface.

 But don’t think the desert sets traps for the unwary; it doesn’t.

 The desert just has a dry sense of humor and likes to play practical jokes.

 People who respect the desert stock their cars with little practical joke kits including: several gallons of water, a small shovel and a few boards for getting out of sand traps—plus maybe a flare gun, in case the joke starts growing old. Consequently, those who respect the desert tend to survive its practical jokes and often wind up developing a certain fondness for its sense of humor.

 Those who don’t respect the desert, however, don’t usually develop this fondness—possibly because they are too busy having their bones bleached.

 The Valley of the Sun (‘Hoozdo’ or ‘The place is hot’ to the Navajo Tribe) is really a huge basin area, occupying hundreds of square miles, surrounded by low mountain ranges and dominated by the Salt River.

 This river (called ‘Onk Akimel’ or ‘Salty River’ by the Pima Tribe) drops 10,000 vertical feet from its origins in the White Mountains (the sacred ‘Dzil Ligai’ of the White River Apache Tribe) to enter the valley from the east and run across its width, pouring out to the west.

 In the final years of that time period denoted by the initials B.C., the Hohokam—a prehistoric tribe of Native Americans—established the first known civilization in the Salt River Valley, building large communities and over a thousand miles of canals, which moved water from the Salt River to their farm fields.

 The latest remains of the Hohokam indicate that their civilization died out, or significantly changed around the year 1450. Today, two tribes in the area claim the Hohokam as their ancestors: the Tohono O’odham (meaning Desert People) and the Akimel (meaning River People).

 The Tohono O’odham are often called the Maricopas, while the Akimel are often referred to as the Pimas (evidently, this is because the Akimel word for "I don't know what you are saying," sounds like "Pima" and was heard quite often by early settlers in the area, who took this as the tribal name.)

 The two tribes share The Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, which is very nearly surrounded by Scottsdale, Mesa, Chandler and Fountain Hills.

 The Hebrew word ‘Jehu’ (pronounced Yay-hoo) means ‘reckless driver’. In the 1800’s when Arizona was still part of the New Mexico Territory, this word was used to designate a man who was a stagecoach driver—perhaps a strong indicator of the way those men drove their coaches.

 Jack Swilling, born in Anderson County, South Carolina on April Fool’s day of 1830, entered the area now known as Arizona as a Jehu, helping to build Leach’s Wagon Road around 1850. After that, he became a miner, then a soldier and later an Indian scout. In 1867, after rounding up enough backers to make it possible, he revived the Hohokam canals, making Phoenix a viable place to live and farm.

 Swilling died before a town site was incorporated, in 1881, on the north side of the Salt River. However, his friend picked the name Phoenix from Swilling’s dictionary—the only dictionary in the settlement. Thus, Jack Swilling is credited as the founding father of Phoenix.

 With the spread of irrigation, due to Jack Swilling’s revived Hohokam canals, other cities and towns began sprouting up all over the Salt River Valley. Though it would not actually be incorporated until 1951, the city of Scottsdale was founded several miles northeast of Phoenix in 1894 by Winfield Scott, a retired army chaplain.

 The current city of Scottsdale has spread north from that original location, climbing up into the foothills of the McDowell Mountains, Pinnacle Peak and other parts that rim The Valley.

 Composed of bare rock, overlaid with a thin sheet of dirt, scrub plants and cacti, these mountains have no way to soak up rainwater. Thus, when it rains, the majority of the runoff does just as its name implies and runs off, right down the mountainside, onto the flatlands below. 

 The result is that—somewhat perversely, perhaps—though Scottsdale is located in the desert, the major natural problem confronting city planners is flooding.

 The desert is crisscrossed by hundreds of sand-bottomed wash beds—some as small as two feet across and a foot deep, and others as large as eight feet across, by six feet deep. These wash beds are usually bone dry. After a heavy rain, however, the water sheeting down from the mountains, joins in these washes. There it forms into solid rivers—fronted by a wall of water, up to six-feet-high—and can rush through the larger washes at freight train speeds.

 These flash floods have been known to carry away people, cattle—even large trucks. The victims are often recovered miles downstream, drowned and battered by rocks, wreckage and other effluvium carried along at bone-splintering speeds by the raging waters.

 Water, not blessed with a natural ability to ignore the effects of gravity, tends to run downhill. Thus, all that water, in all those washes, heads down off the mountains and flows south through the length of the city.

 Natural drainage within the topography has created a sort of super wash—a runoff superhighway, if you will—that knifes through Scottsdale, up to a quarter-mile wide. Usually, this super wash just takes the form of a boring, dry wash bed, but occasionally it transforms itself into a dangerous raging torrent of turbulent dark flood waters. Those who lived in Scottsdale before the sixties, called this super wash “The Slough,” pronounced “Slew.”

 The Slough runs through south Scottsdale between Miller road to the west, and Hayden road to the east. It runs through the city and then out of the city into Tempe, where it dumps into what used to be the Salt River, almost immediately south of the border between the two cities.

 The river bed the slough dumps into was bone dry for decades, because the Salt River, which once ran deep and wide, was dammed up in a series of seven reservoirs north and east of the Superstition Mountains, in the early part of the Twentieth Century. The original damming of the Salt River, and creation of the concomitant reservoirs, was a massive federal project akin to the Tennessee Valley Authority. The organization created to oversee all this was designated The Salt River Project.

 Today, SRP, as it is popularly known, provides water and electricity to a major portion of the Valley of the Sun; without it, most of the people who live here, would have to live somewhere else.

 Heavy rains can cause SRP to open the floodgates and let water out of the reservoirs, in order to keep them from overtopping the dams. The half-mile wide riverbed then fills with deep, running water. When I was a kid, if SRP opened the floodgates, the Salt River would flow deep and muddy. Traffic running over the two-lane Mill Avenue Bridge, the only bridge over the Salt River back then, would back up for hours. And, when it rained that hard, a fast-flowing river usually ran down The Slough, which would dump its own quarter-mile-wide load into the Salt River bed just west of Hayden road.

 There were no bridges at all over The Slough, meaning that Scottsdale was effectively bisected by a river of fast-flowing runoff. Scottsdale school teachers, who largely tended to inhabit the lesser-expensive housing found in Tempe, had no way of getting to the schools. When that happened, the schools would close for the day and thousands of children—myself included—would cheer.

 In the Seventies, Scottsdale undertook an ambitious program to deal with the flooding of The Slough. The land that held The Slough was bought up from the farmers and others who owned it. Then the city dredged the bottom of The Slough and built earthen retaining walls, where needed, and constructed a series of bridges and large but unobtrusive culverts to carry the roadbeds above the flood waters.

 Having effectively canalized and bridged The Slough, they then set about beautifying it. A long, interconnected series of parks and golf courses was constructed down the length of the flood area. Today, this area is known by the name designated by those far-reaching planners of the Seventies as the Scottsdale Greenbelt.

The Greenbelt in small flood time.
 The Greenbelt provides golf, parks, picnic areas, tennis courts, a skate park, miles of bicycle and jogging trails and many other forms of exercise and recreation for Valley Dwellers. When it floods, those few roads that still run through the bottom of the wash are closed. The raging waters run down over the parks and golf courses, and the repairs afterwards are fairly simple and comparatively inexpensive. Overall, the Greenbelt is a masterwork of form following function, which would have made Frank Lloyd Wright proud, if he had been involved in its construction.

The lake from the air.
 A few decades after Scottsdale created the Greenbelt, the city of Tempe created Tempe Town Lake.

  Today, much of the old Salt River bed in Tempe is filled by this lake, retained by the banks of the
The lake as Tempe residents tend to see it, near Mill Ave. Bridge.
river bed on the north and south sides, and by inflatable dams on the east and west ends. When SRP opens the floodgates, the dams can be deflated, and the Salt River flows, once more, through its historic channel.

See you in two weeks!