PILTDOWNLAD No. 8.5 – The Cult of Teddy Ruxpin
Even though “The Cult of Teddy Ruxpin” is part of a much larger work, that is, the novel A Masque of Infamy, I am loath to label this zine as an excerpt. Those who have read A Masque of Infamy may feel turned off by this zine because of the potential regurgitated material, but there are additional passages, rewritten parts and anecdotes that were painfully cut from the novel. Despite my impractical, I am often told, desire to publish that entire novel as a series of typewritten zines that truly represent what I was trying to accomplish with the novel, this version of “The Cult of Teddy Ruxpin” is the complete tale of how I lost religion, discovered punk and made true friends after moving to a small town in Alabama. It is a story of teenage rebellion, resisting high school conformity and conformity in general as well as subverting the dominant paradigm. It’s about how a seed was planted in fertile soil, a seed that continues to mature to this day.
Available for $2 through etsy.
After experimenting with an exclusive deal through Amazon’s KDP program for the past six months, the eBook for A Masque of Infamy is now available for all popular e-readers.
The current version has been copyedited and includes an epilogue, something I was loath to do, but I bowed to pressure since so many readers disliked the abrupt ending (which may be a spoiler alert for those who haven’t read the book). Personally, I like cliffhanger endings, especially when the story is based on a real life. But what the hell… The paperback, however, remains the same, sans epilogue, but also copyedited. So if there are still mistakes now, they are most likely intentional.
* More online book and eBook vendors that carry A Masque of Infamy can be found on this Goodreads page. *
This year’s San Francisco Zine Fest seemed particularly poignant in that more people than ever before came up to yours truly and gave him (that is, me) their zines. Plus looked me full on in the eye. Now in this day where so-called virtual reality has replaced so-called real life, the above is not to be under-rated. About 150 years ago if you wanted to hear a real human speaking to you, you would have to be in the same room (or at least nearby). Therefore you could note their total physiognomy, body language, gestural vocabulary, nuances of vocal inflection, eye movements, smell (if any) and a thousand other subtleties (and obvious-ities) telling you WHO THE PERSON REALLY WAS. (Unless the person is a skilled psychopath; the kind Burroughs talks about who can con you super-fast out of anything you have.)
Monday morning I became ill-therefore a perfect excuse to lie in bed and read all the zines. By luck, the first one I read had a fire to it so contagious I am forced to share it with you NOW (excerpt follows):
“[I] discovered ‘Ex-Animation,’ a photo-copied monstrosity that sh-t all over the glorified desktop publication that I had just created. I mean, this thing was rough! Most of the text was written on a typewriter with a few broken keys. The rest was hand-written and pasted half-assed onto the page. The collages and line drawings were primitive at best. The images were oversaturated, as if the creator had made copies with the Xerox machine lid open. And the staples were bent in half from using the wrong kind of stapler and then bending them in half with pliers or something.
“Not only was this self-described ‘zine’ the most amazing thing I’d ever seen in print, the writing was poignant and personal. There were short pieces about traveling to England, working as a stripper and getting molested as a kid. Even a few poems. I was blown away. The writing wasn’t polished or stylized. It was just raw. Obviously written without drafts or revisions. Just straight words from the soul. It was apparent that this hot mess existed because it had no other choice but to exist. Which was what made it so compelling. But what astonished me most was the candor. At that time, honesty was very difficult for me. I was all about facades, living in a fortress of fantasy. I wanted to write without reservation, but I was afraid to go deep, in case I exposed the hidden wounds from a f-cked-up childhood and spending my teenage years in institutions and foster homes. Besides, I figured nobody wanted to read about those kinds of experiences anyway. So I kept writing about what was safe: the lost years of my twenties, wasted in a constant state of inebriation, chasing drugs and alcohol with dysfunctional and abusive relationships. And I never used my real name. I put out several more zines before I moved on to chapbooks and then eventually started publishing paperbacks by other writers. In the spirit of DIY ethics, I handled all the aspects of publishing myself, from design to distribution. But I was going nuts from the pressure. And it’s not like I ever had any money. After a while I realized that drive and determination were not enough when the walls were crashing down. So I threw in the towel.
“I never lost the itch to put words and images on paper, but I always swore that if I were to start publishing again I would only do a hand-made photocopied labor of love. I hadn’t forgotten about ‘Ex-Animation’ and how I felt when I realized that the glory of publishing wasn’t in competing with the newsstand. It was about raw honesty. Truth. Conviction. All the things I was still struggling with. I’d always believed that my past experiences were a disease and that sharing them would infect others with my trauma. Mine was a story I never wanted to tell. I’d kept it buried so deep, for so long, that I figured it would eventually drift from my memory. But twenty-five years later, it still follows me. Even today, I may have given up the drugs (the f-cked-up relationships were harder to kick), but I am still just as lost as when I was in my twenties. The past may never make sense to me. But if I’m ever going to be whole again, I have to purge these m! emories by embracing the pain. A few years ago, I started writing everything down. As honestly as possible. Every day I wrote. Once I’d opened the flood gates I couldn’t contain the deluge. The process was like draining an abscess… When I was finished, I had over a thousand pages. Most of it crap. But I figured I was ready to do what I’ve wanted to do since that fateful day when I picked up my first zine…” [end of excerpt]
I ended up reading every word of this zine, titled “The Nasty Oh-Dear,” aka “Piltdownlad” issue #4. The author also gave me #1, “The Guero Chingon Stories – Five short tales about growing up a whiteboy in East L.A.”, and #3 “Junior Careers: Adventures of a Teenage Door-to-Door Salesman – Trying to make a buck selling candy in the San Gabriel Valley.” These were completely fascinating and felt like they had been written back at the time they were LIVED; I’m guessing the author kept journals or-? Then I tackled the perfectbound 5″x8″ 307-page BOOK titled “A Masque of Infamy” and it was hypnotizing. I thought **I** had had a bit of a “challenging” childhood, but compared to THIS narrative, I felt I had totally “lucked out.” Finished the book this morning. Understood why he called this “a novel” rather than an “autobiography”-America is far too litigious a society to permit a **true*! * autobiography from ever being published!
Then I read his zine #6 “Institutionalized” containing legal documentation for what had happened, small narratives from four points of view, etc. This total experience-zines plus “novel”-combined to give possibly the richest “autobiography” I’ve ever read: complex, multi-faceted, uncensored, honest-yet “creatively (and invisibly) engineered” to provide a compelling narrative that I didn’t want to put down…
I recommend this book and ALL the zines that this author, “Kelly Dessaint,” has produced-order from Phony Lid Books, POB 86714, Los Angeles CA 90086. http://www.phonylid.com – essential 21st century noir reading…. Oh yes, Punk Rock plays a “beacon”-like role here…
As publisher-editor of the 1977-79 zine SEARCH & DESTROY, V. Vale helped bring international attention to a Punk scene as prophetic as more publicized ones elsewhere. The publication was launched with $100 each from Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and published at City Lights Bookstore, where Vale worked at the time. For Vale, Punk provided a launching pad for a host of cultural-anthropological explorations, including Industrial music, the writings of J.G. Ballard and William S. Burroughs, feminism, pranksterism, studies of The Body, plus “Incredibly Strange” filmmaking and music, which he has chronicled with the RE/SEARCH series of publications that he founded as **sole proprietor** in 1980 (he has the original DBA certificate hanging on his wall).
Includes the INSTITUTIONALIZED story cycle.
I started writing about the dysfunction and trauma in my family almost four years ago. My original intention was to write a novel in the tradition of Tolstoy and Faulkner with an omniscient narrator, written in third person from the perspectives of each member of my family. Ambitious, yes, I know. But I figured that if I failed, I would be much closer to what I wanted than starting out on a smaller scale. The first draft was 850 pages and it was, unsurprisingly, a complete failure. I tried to cram too much information into one story. So I rewrote it in the first person, from my perspective this time, as a teenager experiencing the events as they happened. That is what became the novel I published earlier this year, A Masque of Infamy. (On a side note, I really wanted to call the book Sucks, Alabama, which is a much catchier title, but felt like that people would perceive the book as a slam on Alabama, which it most definitely is not. While my teenage self wouldn’t have flinched at possibly alienating readers, I’ve since grown somewhat squeamish in my old age…)
While most of the first draft was scrapped, there were a few parts that I really liked. I thought the part of the story when my little brother and I were first admitted into a mental hospital while our father and Rick waited to be arrested on sodomy and child abuse charges was particularly poignant when told from all four perspectives. So I went back in, salvaged and rewrote those sections for this current version. (Although the other parts in third person, I kept mine in first person.) To get at the grist of the story, as I was writing the first draft, I interviewed my siblings and my father several times and obtained the court records from the trial. I reprinted some these documents herein, along with two of the four newspaper articles on the case that appeared in the Anniston Star. (I had to get these off microfilm stored at the local university, an arduous process that was hindered by the very short amount of time I could spend doing research in a library two thousand miles away. Fortunately, I was able to just send away from the court records, though it took a while for the clerks to find the files in the storage warehouse where they had been kept since 1987.)
A few additional notes: There is some “creative engineering,” but only to maintain the narrative and flesh out the characters through dialogue. All names have been changed and/or redacted. Even my own. This is consistent with the novel and done to avoid any hassles with certain people (namely, my little brother) not liking what’s been written about them. (There have been threats.) So this way, I can just point out, Hey, it’s FICTION! (Even though it’s not.) It’s a NOVEL! (Only because I use dialogue and a narrative structure.) And anyway, I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to write a memoir. (Even though, in the end, I kinda did.)
While changing names to protect the victims and innocent bystanders in this story makes sense, you might be wondering why I’d remove the names of the perpetrators? I went back and forth over that point, but decided that since they’d served their time in prison, they paid their debt to society. What they owe me, my brother and the rest of our family is debatable at this point. However, if you are really curious, click here to see what Rick looks like these days after twenty years in prison.
The INSTITUTIONALIZED story cycle is preceded by letter/comment section and an introduction cannibalized from The Nasty Oh-Dear zine (Piltdownlad #4), which, incidentally, is the prologue to the novel and, once the current issues with the silkscreened cover are gone, will no doubt go out of print.
Read the excerpt “Mister Nice Guy” here.
Purchase a copy here.