Tuesday, February 25, 2014

“Can I get a divorce in heaven?”

For several years Lois (not her real name), who is a devout Latter-day Saint, has been a close family friend. Despite the fact that Sally and I dropped out of the Mormon church when we were teenagers and Lois knows it, she sometimes shares with us stories about her church and its impact on her everyday life. Recently Lois, who is our age, told of her father who is now 93 and ailing. Because Lois’s parents were also raised devout Mormons her mother and father were married in a temple ceremony for “time and all eternity.” It is necessary in their religion to attain the highest degree of Mormon heaven, the Celestial Kingdom,* where they are promised they will live in the presence of God.

Lois’s mother died several years ago. Her father did not really want to re-marry after his wife died, but a lady in his Mormon congregation wanted to marry him. They reached an accommodation. Since an LDS man can have several wives “sealed” to him, he is allowed to re-marry in a temple ceremony and those women will be with him and his first wife in heaven. Sounds weird, but it’s a legacy of their early belief in earthly polygamy as applied to the afterlife. It gives something of a lie to official Mormon statements that the modern church eschews polygamy. On this earth, that is. So Lois’s dad, who probably figures his late wife won’t appreciate seeing him in heaven with another wife in tow, had a prenuptial agreement with the second wife that they not be sealed for time and all eternity, but a “‘til death do us part” marriage.

The old man is ill, needs transfusions quite often, and is ready to die. The second wife is prolonging the inevitable by making sure he gets medical care. The other problem is while he may not wish to be sealed to the woman for time and all eternity, when he dies she can petition her ecclesiastical authorities to be sealed to him. According to Lois this is causing the old man quite a bit of distress.

“Do you think when I get to the other side I can clear this whole thing up?” he asked Lois. In other words, even if wife #2 is sealed to him can he break that bond somehow with a heavenly divorce?

Lois has an opinion that no, what God hath joined together, et cetera, et cetera, and poor Dad will end up in heaven with some baggage in the form of that second wife. To us outside the Mormon church it seems an odd thing to worry about, but they are serious about it. There are temple divorces on earth, and they can happen for purposes of adultery, abuse and abandonment and all the other reasons people are divorced on earth. But he can’t get a preemptive divorce for his heavenly state. I can just imagine the poor guy, sick and old, lying in bed, thinking of the consequences of him dying and showing up at heaven’s door, then trying to explain to his wife that sooner or later she will have a sister-wife..

It is a complication of applying earthly standards to a heaven and afterlife, especially if one strove to deserve such a reward during one’s entire life. Had I been Lois in that situation I would have comforted her elderly father by telling him I’m sure he'll be able to work it out. But then, I don’t share her faith, and of course she was being honest with him to the best of her knowledge of their shared beliefs.

It does make my own problems, which involve all-too-earthly vexations, seem minor by comparison to what this old gentlemen is worrying about. A belief in an afterlife usually involves a belief that one will be free of earthly cares, not pick up other problems — like an unwanted wife — in heaven.

*Temple marriage is not a right for an LDS couple; they have to be worthy. It creates some problems amongst family members who aren’t, and are not allowed to witness the actual wedding ceremony because they are excluded from the temple. They can be deemed unworthy for a variety of reasons, from very serious to what I think is almost frivolous, like drinking coffee, but that’s their religion. A local humor columnist, who is also LDS, opined that it means you could be in heaven not with family members like parents and siblings you might really like to be with because they weren’t worthy, but people whom you hated on earth who were.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Happy birthday George Washington from Jacky’s Diary

Jack Mendelsohn has been providing us laughs for decades. We might just not recognize the name. Among other things he has written are the Carol Burnett Show and the Yellow Submarine animated movie. He is a talented humorist but also a cartoonist who had a hit over 50 years ago with his Sunday comic strip, Jacky’s Diary (by Jacky Mendelsohn, age 31 1/2).

My brother and I read and loved the strip for the three years it was in our local newspaper. I found out from a book reprinting the entire three-year run of the strip, published by IDW and produced by Craig Yoe and his wife, Clizia Gussoni, that the strip was killed because it was too much of a hassle for the syndicate to prepare it for overseas publication. I imagine the child-like drawing is self-explanatory but there is a lot of wordplay going on, where Jacky substitutes words like “finely” for “finally” and “gruesome” for “grew some”...I imagine translating it would take some doing.

These two strips, which I have scanned from the book, celebrate today’s event, the anniversary of George Washington’s birth. (For the record, G.W. is 282 years old today.) Jacky gives the Washington story his own unique perspective. In other words, funny.

Copyright © 1959, 1960 King Features Syndicate, Inc.
Digital scans from the book are © 2013 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

John Christie, the soft-spoken murderer

John Reginald Halliday Christie is one of those infamous serial killers who, by dint of his crimes and the era, has risen above the usual lot of fellow sociopaths who commit such atrocities. In England, where Christie lived and killed his victims, his murders and the aftermath brought about a change in the law concerning capital punishment.

I watched a DVD of 10 Rillington Place, which I first saw on its initial theatrical run in 1971. (It was on a double-bill with a re-release of Psycho, no less.) What I had remembered about the movie before watching it again 43 years later was the grim tone of the story, set in 1949, and its locale, a poor neighborhood with Dickensian living conditions. That London neighborhood has since been razed  and no longer exists.

I also remember the performance of Richard Attenborough as Christie, who spoke in a very soft voice even during the act of murder. A soft-spoken man with sinister purpose. Here, in an early scene in the movie, he lulls his victim with assurances, then gasses her into unconsciousness before killing her.

Christie, as I’ve read in various accounts of his life and crimes, was gassed in World War I, and claimed to have lost his voice for a few years. When he regained it he couldn’t speak much above a whisper. He was also supposed to have a bad back, which he used to excuse not working. His bad back didn’t prevent him from burying some of his victims in the garden, as shown in a chilling scene where his spade unearths remains of an earlier victim.

The movie touches on those things, but mainly focuses on his relationship with the family of Timothy and Beryl Evans, who rented an upstairs flat at the same address. Evans, played by John Hurt, was a van driver and liar with grandiose claims (among them that his father was an Italian count). He was also an illiterate with an IQ of 70. When his wife, Beryl (played by Judy Geeson), became pregnant and wanted an abortion, Christie, who was a poseur claiming to have medical training, told her he could do it. He then murdered the trusting Mrs. Evans and as was his M.O., raped her as he strangled her (we are spared graphic details, but get the drift of what is happening). 

It was to be the beginning of a series of events which led to Evans being charged with his wife’s murder, hanged for the crime, and then Christie’s own eventual confession. Because of the apparent miscarriage of justice and after much debate, several years later capital punishment in Britain was ended.

Christie went on to murder his wife, and eventually moved from Rillington Place. When the bodies were discovered he went on the run but was caught and confessed. He was hanged in 1955.

I have never forgotten the performances in this movie, and my first exposure to both Attenborough and Hurt. Hurt did an acting job I still marvel at today, playing a man who just doesn’t quite grasp what is going on around him.

Although it isn’t shown in the film, the real life Christie did consort with prostitutes, and some of them were victims. In reading various accounts of Christie’s history in several Internet articles (and beware the Internet and its accuracy, because several of the articles just lift whole pieces out of Wikipedia) I did not read about Christie being a Saturday morning pornographer, taking photos of prostitutes. That claim is made in this article from a sleazy 1970 magazine, Crime Does Not Pay (not to be confused with the infamous comic book of the same name). The cover is based on Christie’s crimes, yet doesn’t attempt to capture his actual appearance.

Christie’s life has been well covered by biographers and true crime writers. The movie is based on Ludovic Kennedy’s book, Ten Rillington Place. I have found there are two schools of thought on Evans’ guilt or innocence, One, that Evans was innocent of murdering his wife, as Kennedy claims, or that he killed her and claimed Christie did it, as some other biographies claim (the “two stranglers in one house” theory). The film took the Evans-was-innocent story. I am neutral in such an argument, since I don’t have all of the literature concerning the case, but that innocent theory is also held by this article. “The Sex-Mad Strangler Who Raped the Dead!” is written as titillation to sell a magazine, and I won’t vouch for its accuracy, but it is an article people who have read copious amounts of information on the case may not have read. It was reading this article that prompted me to rent the DVD.

Take it for what it’s worth; the article is not signed, after all.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Happy alien abduction Valentine’s Day!

I found these eerie alien-abduction Valentines still in their original box (above) at a local thrift store some years ago. They are dated 2000. I wonder if some mom was pressured into buying this box of Valentines by a child, then had second thoughts about them, relegating them to the donation bin?

Over a decade ago when pictures of the bug-eyed aliens were popular on t-shirts, posters, and even Valentine cards, a coworker of mine, Ben, was actually spooked. I think he’d heard of abductions and alien anal probes as part of medical experiments on helpless humans aboard their spacecraft, and he didn’t like to think about it.

I told him (with a straight face), “The government is behind it, you know. They are having companies put these images out there because they plan to eventually introduce the public to the aliens, who have been here on earth as guests of the U.S.”

His head whipped around and I swear his eyes were as big as those alien eyes. “Stop it, man! You’re scaring me!” From his expression, I believed I was.

Visitors cards ™ and © Miekeljohn Graphics, UK

Monday, February 10, 2014

Chasing Bigfoot‘s ghost

Bigfoot is a good example of a creature that some people swear exists, even without the kind of evidence that is produced when a species shows up in the flesh (think cœlacanth, the prehistoric fish caught in the Amazon, thought extinct since the Cretaceous). My thinking about Bigfoot is when someone catches one show me and then I’ll believe it.

When it comes to animals that may or may not exist in nature hiding in our forests or lakes, we also must consider how many species of critters live on this planet. After googling a question on the number I found this surprising answer from Nature, according to Lee Sweetlove:  
        “There are 8.7 million eukaryotic species on our planet — give or take 1.3 million. The latest biodiversity estimate, based on a new method of prediction, dramatically narrows the range of best guesses which was previously between 3 million and 100 million. It means that a staggering 86% of land species and 91% of marine species remain undiscovered.”
If we accept those numbers that is one helluva lot of species that have not been identified.*

But we were speaking of Bigfoot, weren‘t we? So is it possible for a Bigfoot to be hiding from us in the woods or not? Based on the sheer weight of numbers of so-far unidentified species you could safely say yes. But not so fast. In the 2013 book, Nick Redfern‘s Monster Files, from Chapter 21, “Specters and phantimals” author Redfern writes:
    “Despite the fact that there have been literally thousands of sightings of Bigfoot within the forests of North American, spanning a period of at least several centuries, each and every attempt to identify, trap or kill even one such animal has ended in complete and utter failure. Unlike just about every other animal in the United States, no Bigfoot has ever had the misfortune of being hit by a car or truck and killed, nor has anyone ever stumbled across the corpse of one of these elusive animals.”
Redfern then goes on to explain what it would take to feed a Bigfoot, based on what is known of an observable creature in the wild:
    “Given its immense size and build, Bigfoot, for example, would likely require a massive intake of food on a daily basis After all, a fully grown silverback gorilla requires an average of 45 pounds of food per day — and that's just for one animal! Indeed, one of the reasons why it is so easy to track the movements and activities of gorillas is the clear and undeniable evidence of their constant, massive foraging for food. Bigfoot rarely, if ever, demonstrates such evidence of its culinary delights.  . . . For the most part the hard evidence of its eating habits — which would have to be absolutely tremendous, considering the eyewitness reports describing creatures reaching heights of 8 feet and weights of an estimated 300 to 600 pounds — is inexplicably lacking.”
But at least one person has an answer why there are Bigfoot sightings, and yet no actual Bigfoots to be caught. They're ghosts! Redfern quotes paranormal expert Joshua P. Warren, who Redfern says told him of “the possiblity that the ghostly presence of certain extinct animals may very well explain at least some sightings of monstrous beasts, particularly those that seemingly appear and vanish in the blink of an eye. Joshua calls these phantimals.”
    “‘Maybe Bigfoot is a phantimal,’ said Josh, ‘perhaps even the ghost of a prehistoric creature, similar to the enormous extinct possible ape, Gigantopithecus, or maybe even the spirits of primitive humans.’”
Warren also shares that he thinks this explains Nessie, the Loch Ness monster, who would need a lot more food than is available locally in order to live in the Loch. To Warren Nessie may be a ghost of a dinosaur.

So that answer may satisfy some, but all it does for me is open up more questions, such as do animals have souls? If so, is there an afterlife for every animal who ever lived on this planet? Or do only animals that vex us because they are so hard to pin down have souls, and other animals do not? What about when my wife says she feels something on the bed, like a cat? Our cat died in 2000 — does that mean our cat’s spirit is paying us a visit?**

Like other things that require explanations, when the supernatural is thrown into the mix it becomes impossible for me to take it seriously. Tales of ghosts are entertaining, but when someone uses a ghost to possibly explain a creature like Bigfoot then it just shows me that there are no satisfactory explanations at this time, and because of that the fantasists have gone to work to provide answers from their imaginations. You can say Bigfoot was dropped from a flying saucer, or lives in caves hidden to humans, another dimension, or is a deceased animal or proto-human from hundreds of thousands of years ago, but those aren’t explanations. They are just speculation taken so far past the point of credibility that the whole subject becomes laughable.


*I read about one species I was not aware of, in the Sunday funnies no less!

Barney & Clyde, January 12, 2014.

**I wrote once before on whether animals have souls, Do animals have souls?.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Another one lost to drugs: Philip Seymour Hoffman

Having liked and respected actor Philip Seymour Hoffman in every movie of his I saw, I felt betrayed that such a talent lost his life in the throes of drug addiction.

Maybe betrayed is too strong a word, maybe disappointed would be more accurate. I thought he had a lot more great performances in him. Now he’ll be another Hollywood tragedy like River Phoenix and several others. Their epitaphs: Killed by drugs.

Heroin is some real powerful stuff. Even though the story, “The Poppy’s Strange Fruit” is presented as comic art with caricatured drawings, the message is deadly serious. It’s from The Big Book of Vice, published by DC Comics under the Paradox Press imprint in 1999. Story is by Steve Vance and art is by Gregory Benton. Maybe Hoffman could have benefited from reading it before he got into his deadly habit.

Copyright © 1999 Steve Vance/Gregory Benton

Here’s a page from a comic that influenced me when I was 15-years-old, and saw it in a 1962 comic book called 87th Precinct. It's from the inside back cover of a book-length story of a heroin shipment to New York City to feed the “panic” from a local heroin famine.

I remember the creepy feeling I got from looking at it. I was naïve about drugs, as were my classmates and our teachers. No one talked about it. In those days we suburban kids were kind of blinded and unaware of the grimness of drugs, addiction, and its effect on the minority communities. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until drugs moved into those same suburbs and the white kids started using recreatonal and hard drugs that lawmakers got interested and alarmed.

I’m not pure as the driven snow. I don’t take heroin but if caffeine was a dangerous drug I would have overdosed decades ago.

Again from The Big Book of Vice:

Copyright © 1999 Steve Vance/ Bahadir Boysal