(from “The Mask of Matches Malone,” S02E17 of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, 2011)
For all the attempts to improve the bloom, nothing can compare with the majesty of the original.
For all the attempts to improve the bloom, nothing can compare with the majesty of the original.
Despite the changes in coloration and form, some aspects of the original specimen have remained.
“By God,” I said when I could speak, “he brought you an orchid.”
“Brassocattleya Thorntoni,” Wolfe purred. “Handsome.” — Rex Stout, The Silent Speaker
(This one is the handiwork of good pal Bully, who saved me the grief of revisiting Black Orchid’s Vertigo Era incarnation while ensuring the event wouldn’t pass without at least one Nero Wolfe reference.)
The flower’s special allure resides in its aura of mystery. Take that away, and it may as well be a common variety weed.
Today I’m going to try and get this feature back on track with a forgotten bit of flotsam that resurfaced while I was pulling some more memorable records from storage.
Though Action Replay’s 1984 Personality Crisis compilation managed to slip clear out of my memory for over two decades, I can still remember the details of its purchase. I picked it up for a fiver at Mystery Train on Newbury Street sometime during the spring of 1992, before my first falling out with my punk rock pal Leech. I’m not sure why we even bothered visiting the store, as its tourist-friendly location ensured that anything remotely interesting sold within seconds or was slapped with an extortionate price tag and locked up behind the counter.
I suppose we were bored or trying to get out of the rain or possibly both. Buying the album was almost an afterthought, fueled by its low asking price and the shock of finding an unknown-to-me punk rock compilation buried in the shop’s otherwise slim pickings.
The biggest selling point was that it included the studio version of “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” by the Adverts, which got cut from the import reissue of Crossing the Red Sea because of copyright issues. The rest of the material was a haphazard mix of deep cuts and familiar favorites tossed together as a bargain bin package — The Tubes’ “White Punks on Dope,” Sham 69′s “Hurry Up Harry,” Dr. Feelgood’s “Milk & Alcohol,” and the titular track by the New York Dolls. It’s all quality material, but lacking anything approaching a thematic or temporal throughline.
It felt as if someone at K-Tel wannabe label reviewed their licensing deals and realized they had enough songs to greenlight a “punk” compilation, and I be surprised if that wasn’t the case.
The record did get a decent number of spins, though mainly for the Adverts and Tubes tracks (and even those got more play as mixtape material than on the turntable). It wasn’t long, however, before the post-Alternasplosion flood of re-releases and collections meant being able to listen to those twin selling points in more cohesive contexts.
I picked up Personality Crisis during a transitional period of my punk-i-tude, as my relationship with Maura grew more serious and my affected aggro stance started to feel like an obsolete embarrassment. I still identified as punk, but it wasn’t the same punk I’d embraced as a hardcore kid or Oi! turd.
It wasn’t an entirely conscious decision, either, so much of that glacial shift was spent going through the motions and clinging to old habits with ever diminishing enthusiasm. My purchase of Personality Crisis was an example of that auto-pilot phase. I bought it because it was punk rock and it was there. A year or two earlier, and it would’ve been a cherished foundational artifact instead of a easily forgotten afterthought.
A true black orchid is characterized by its deceptive elegance.
I’ve been dicking around on the internet for almost twenty-five years now. In that time, I’ve seen multiple childhood mysteries clarified by either active searches or chance encounters. Stuff that was once confined to the realm of hazy memory or dismissed as ancient fever dreams have been given names faces, titles or — occasionally — eBay or third-party Amazon listings.
It resurrected Robolar…
…pulled Mattel’s Flying Aces out of mothballs…
…and pulled a minor regional radio staple from the New Wave ether.
Despite the those (and other) flashes of validation and resolution, there was one faintly fragment of memory which continued to elude me. It was a “social issues” short for tweeners, which ran during the “instructional programming” blocks PBS affiliates used to run during school hours. Said blocks were a crazy quilt of edu-programming with odd run-times and covering a variety of subjects, and visual aesthetics which ran from pure Seventies graininess or shot-on-video surrealism.
This particular short came from the former school, and dealt with a prim teen forced to deal with peer pressure and temptation when she spends the summer with her wild child cousin. I caught it once while I was home sick from school in the early 1980s, but could only recall a few memorable bits from it.
Every couple or years or so, the memory would resurface and I’d indulge in some fruitless internet searches before resigning myself to failure. The efforts weren’t entirely productive, as I was able to determine it wasn’t an episode of Inside/Out or Bread and Butterflies, two of the more memorable PBS programs in the Seventies moral education vein.
It wasn’t much of lead, but it did help me finally resolve the mystery when the itch flared up again last night. A search for the two shows — plus “PBS” and “1970s” — turned up an ancient forum post where both were discussed alongside a similar program titled Self Incorporated. One quick tab over to YouTube, and my decades long quest was over.
Watching it again was a bizarre experience. The Ford Era fashions and home decor are a bit more jarring in 2017 than they were in 1981, and the teens that looked so grown up when I was nine now look like babies to my middle aged eyes. I can see why this short dug its hook into me, though, as it mirrored my own experiences with my rowdy North Woburn pals. We’d just hit the age where they’d begun to dabble in more “mature” mischief and I struggled with the temptation to go along with them.
I did manage to resist the worst of it….mostly, but the memories of that inner conflict lingered and somehow managed to wrap themselves up in a long-forgotten splinter of social engineering.
Even the most unique bloom can be overlooked in an over-crowded arrangement.
Two weeks ago tonight, I began to feel a throbbing pain in my jaw while prepping the household garbage for the following morning’s pick-up.
I’m no stranger to dental issues, but this incident came on strong and out of nowhere. The weird thing about tooth pain (and gut pain and knee pain and every other agonizing artifact of my misspent you) is that the memory of the most extreme manifestations tends to fade fast once they’ve passed. As a consequence, I tend to get anxious over small stuff while shrugging my shoulders about more problematic issues.
I was convinced the problem was caused by an impacted wisdom tooth and would pass on its own with a couple of ibuprofen and a good night’s sleep. That did seem to be the case at first, until I the afternoon rolled around and the pain became unbearable. Even worse, there was a blizzard bearing down on the eastern New England that threatened to leave me snowbound and in agony.
Neither my regular dentists or any in the nearby area were taking emergency cases for the next forty-eight hours, but fortunately Maura remembered there was a walk-in clinic in nearby Stoneham. A twenty dollar co-pay got me face time with a PA, who gave me a quick going over and scripts for amoxicillin and heavy-dosage Motrin. (Protip: Telling a physician “fuck the painkillers, I need antibiotics” is great for cutting out the “oxy-head or not” song and dance routine.)
The meds did their work on the infection and swelling and then proceeded to work over the rest of me. Me and medications don’t get along well, which is why I limit myself to the occasional Sudafed pill with a 200 mg ibuprofen chaser when my dysfunctional sinus-dental relationship gets out of control. I’d rather cope with the devil I know than get trashed by some adverse and unexpected reaction to unfamiliar meds. This time I didn’t have a choice, as Future of the Human Race depended on me completing the entire antibiotic regimen while the jaw pain would only settle down with a quadruple dose of my anti-inflammatory of choice.
As a result, I have spent the last two weeks in a perma-drowsy state of nausea, where even toasted white bread and water induced violent gastric distress. Most of the time was spent on my living room couch, falling in and out of consciousness beneath a rock stupid puppy and two cats while watching episodes of Laugh-In on a retro TV channel.
That would’ve been bad enough at the best of times, but it was made worse by the fact that this is the busiest time of year at my day job and I was supposed to be spending this lost time getting the house in order for an upcoming Big Life-Changing Event I’m not at liberty to disclose at the moment.
Writing, for both a potentially paying gig and on this site, has fallen entirely by the wayside. I’ve been flaking on something as simple as the Black Orchid posts. Focusing on long-form pieces has been next to impossible. I’ve been recovering from last weekend’s root canal at a good pace, but that means pushing myself to make up for lost time on other fronts.
(It also doesn’t help that the torrent of half-assed hot takes that continuously flow through my social media feeds make me feel like retching whenever I contemplate writing a political post. It doesn’t matter if I have a better perspective than those idiots if I feel like I’m just adding more turds to the shitstream.)
And that’s pretty much it — treading water and feeling guilty about it while telling myself that things will level off eventually. And still unable to eat much of anything. Or stay functional past ten in the evening.
The Ultimate Powers Jam will continue shortly (and there are a few finished write-ups in need of artists, if anyone is interested), the RPG posts will continue as best I can, and maybe March will see the return of Nobody’s Favorites. Hopefully.
The dispute over the specimen’s pedigree continues to rage among experts.