Hi! I’m Joe Eliseon, author, attorney, humorist, raconteur and so forth.
Authors, they say, need blogs and blogs, necessarily, need authors. The purpose of this blog is to introduce you to my fiction. The purpose of this page is to introduce you to me. One wonders where to begin. Of course, there’s always…
Life began for me in 1954. It was a great year, although I’m taking that mainly on faith. Personally, I don’t recall much about it. I couldn’t even tell you who won the World Series. But, as you can tell from the look in my eyes, I was of a somewhat skeptical nature from the start and a bit apprehensive about the whole undertaking.
Nevertheless, I soon bought into the American Dream, largely because it included automobiles which, like me, made a lot of noise. There’s nothing quite like shattering the complacent chirping and twittering of Mother Nature with the full-throated roar of the greatest invention known to man, the internal combustion engine. It’s just another application of my favorite maxim: “If force doesn’t work, you’re not using enough.”
Not that I don’t have a more sensitive, aesthetic side. For instance, I’ve always appreciated color. I judge Detroit’s color schemes from the late ’50s and early ’60s to constitute the best use of color since the Renaissance. Take a look at the interior of the 1955 Oldsmobile 88 convertible pictured. I don’t remember where I got the photo anymore, but thanks to the photographer and vehicle owner. It’s a gem.
An Aerial Aside
As an aside, let me admit that I have a pronounced weakness for World War II-era aircraft design. Although the aircraft pictured predates the war, are there any lines as perfect as those of the McDonnell-Douglas DC-3, shown here in its C-47 military configuration?
I don’t think so, unless those of the Consolidated PBY Catalina be considered. That’s one hell of a beautiful aircraft. A sentimental favorite as well, because it was a Catalina scout that first sighted the Japanese fleet, leading to the U.S. victory at the WWII Battle of Midway. A fortunate event, because the only other possible outcome would have led to the introduction of sushi (read, “raw, uncooked fish”) into our diets two generations ahead of time. But I digress.
My memories of the 1950s are strangely devoid of Elvis or Marilyn Monroe, but I do remember seeing Roy Rogers and Godzilla, the former live from a seat in the Boston Garden, the latter on TV from behind the living room couch. Not only that, but I knew who the president was, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Prompted by a local kids’ TV show, I saluted his portrait with a glass of chocolate milk every weekday lunchtime. As for the rest of the decade, well, it’s rather fuzzy.
Growing Up in the Sixties
The first date I can actually remember writing is sometime in September 1960, which puts me in the first grade. I can remember the math paper, a half-sheet of cheap, brownish-white stock, on which Mrs. Hutchinson taught us to draw margins: two horizontal lines across the top at one and two inches from the top edge, one vertical line at one inch from the left-hand edge, and another at one half-inch from the right-hand edge. I accomplished this feat of draftsmanship by using a ruler and a fat number two pencil, no eraser. I immediately concluded that the first grade would not tolerate mistakes. However, on further reflection some years later, it occurred to me that six-year olds sometimes chew and swallow erasers. Maybe Mrs. Hutchinson knew what she was doing.
In the 1960s, I made two discoveries, both of which have had a lasting impact on my life. The first was comic books. Issue No. 299 of Adventure Comics, seen on the right, is the first comic book I remember buying, although other than the naked fact I have no recollection of the transaction’s details. What I do recall is that I came to measure my wealth in terms of comic books: a quarter in my palm meant I could buy two with a penny left over; a fifty cent piece meant four comics and two cents left over; on the rare occasion when someone coughed up a dollar bill, it was eight comics, a pack of gum and one cent back, my equivalent of a two-week drunken toot.
Comics opened up a vast world of imagination for me, but they also taught me to read. No, not the skill of reading. The mechanical skill was taught me by my mother, the aforementioned Mrs. Hutchinson and my first half-year second-grade teacher, Mrs. McCarthy. Comic books taught me to read for the sheer pleasure of it, to read because I wanted to. These are two different things: almost everyone learns the first; a happy few learn the second.
I might also mention that comic books imparted, ever so gently, an appreciation of art. In the Flash cover above, Mr. Infantino displays an understanding of composition, an ability to make static figures convey the impression of action, a sense of color and proportion. In my world, comic books offered a boy one of his few opportunities to indulge a taste for beauty without getting mocked as “girly.” What else could we buy just because we liked the way it looked? O.K., cars and airplanes, but comic books didn’t break the budget.
I don’t want to give you the wrong idea. As far as I’m concerned, comics serve only as a launching pad. You should grow out of them. By my early teens, I had left them behind. The medium by its nature lacks depth. It can handle ideas only by radically simplifying them. It suffers from the same limitation as television news: it can whet the appetite, but it’s a thin gruel when it comes to real nourishment.
One day in my late twenties, I was walking south on a Manhattan avenue when I glanced into a shop window. Staring at me with a
“come hither” look that outstripped anything I had encountered in Studio 54 was a copy of the only issue of the Silver Age Hawkman I had ever missed buying. I can’t describe the intense, nostalgic rush that flooded over me at the sight of that one comic.
I couldn’t do anything but buy it. I took it back to my apartment and read it with guilty pleasure. The next time I visited the old Boston homestead, I snuck down to a dark corner of the basement where my old, forlorn bedroom dresser had been relegated. I pulled open the forgotten bottom drawer. There, with all the other four-color remnants of my childhood, I secreted the missing Hawkman No. 2 between No. 1 and No. 3. I closed the drawer. I thought that was the end of an isolated escapade.
But it wasn’t. It was only the prelude. During those few moments I had lingered over that opened drawer, I noticed other missing issues, other incomplete runs. The memory of those lacunae smoldered in my brain for years, bursting forth in my mid-thirties. Then, flush with cash – or so I thought – I started collecting in earnest. For the next six or seven years, I filled in every hole I could find in my collection. Then, suddenly, I lost interest. Cash wasn’t so easy to come by. Prices had started to climb. The requirements of storage and preservation of “ephemera” grew more demanding. Grading the books – which had been a simple, somewhat self-evident matter of Mint, Very Fine, Fine, Good, Poor – mutated into an ever more persnickety analysis of every stress line, rusted staple, and fleck of ink. My relaxing hobby came to rival my law practice in complexity and anxiety. I gave it up.
But I’ve never been sorry for the time I spent on comics. They’re the best investment I ever made. Better than Social Security.
The Space Program
As I watch the film today, President Kennedy doesn’t sound as inspirational as he did back then, or maybe my memory has mashed up his “Travel To The Moon” speech with his Inaugural Address. His Inaugural was an honest-to-God corker, as they say in South Boston, that suburb of Dublin. But it doesn’t matter. My mental ground had been prepared years before by another great American.
Walt Disney sparked my childhood passion for rockets and space exploration. It’s hard to exaggerate his hold on the imagination of me and my peers through his Sunday evening “Disneyland” TV program. Just when we were starting to despair at the approach of Monday morning and school, Walt diverted us with the likes of Davy Crockett, Texas John Slaughter, Elfuego Baca, and Francis Marion (the “Swamp Fox,” a Revolutionary War hero second only to George Washington himself).
But, historical diversions aside, Walt promised us a future of adventure. Our “New Frontier,” as President Kennedy later named it, would be in space. First, we would go to the moon and then to Mars and beyond. Walt had all the paraphernalia figured out, everything from his XR-1 shuttlecraft, to his spinning space station, to the seven-armed space suits that we’d use to put it together, to the fleet that would take us to Mars. It was all there, sleek, elegant, and so logical it was inevitable.
Werner von Braun
When I say Walt had it all figured out, I mean Werner von Braun had it all figured out. Walt borrowed and popularized the rocket scientist’s ideas. You might call Dr. von Braun one of the spoils of war. He had been a precocious German youth, playing with rockets in the twenties and thirties when the Nazis came along. As a stellar member of the research group based at Peenemunde on Germany’s Baltic coast, von Braun helped develop the V-2s that Hitler shot at London. Of course, you couldn’t blame him for that. Humorist Tom Lehrer put it as follows in one of his memorable ditties:
I just send them up.
Who knows where they come down?
That’s not my department,
Says Werner von Braun.
In all the excitement during the fall of Nazi Germany, the Americans and the Soviets each grabbed half of the newly unemployed and available German rocket scientists. Lucky for Werner, he ended up in the American half. Which brings us to a…
Trip Around the Moon, by Walt Disney
Here’s a video made by the Disney team some time around 1955. I must have seen it in re-runs. Listen as Dr. von Braun beguiles us with the details of a trip to the moon, including all the latest and greatest hardware.
How could any kid pass up all that great, streamlined stuff? I was sold. I wanted to be a rocket scientist, just like Dr. von Braun. O.K., maybe not exactly like him. I wanted to be an All-American rocket scientist. I signed up for all the science and math I could.
Not that I wanted to be an astronaut. Certainly, there wasn’t anything wrong with being an astronaut, like the original seven Mercury Astronauts. I admired them. I idolized them. I thought they were great. I was happy the country had men like them. But strapping myself into a tiny capsule I couldn’t get out of, sitting on top of a hundred-foot high rocket loaded with thousands of tons of high explosives wasn’t my cup of tea, or Kool-Aid. It seemed to me like jumping out of a perfectly good airplane or getting shot out of a circus cannon. If you want to do it, great! More power to you. But nature had set my thrill threshold a bit lower.
My thrill-seeking appetite had already been satisfied by my attempt to race down a soapbox derby track on a skate-board. Everything went well for the first thirty feet. Then the primitive suspension system failed and the board launched me into space. I landed on my head, suffered a concussion and blacked out for the first time in my life. I awoke with my personal thrill threshold reset on “low.” From then on, I was strictly a “Mission Control” type of guy.
I won’t go through the whole story here, but America made it to the moon on July 20, 1969, just in time to meet President Kennedy’s deadline. I was in my first year of high school and was I ever elated. I had my sights set on M.I.T. and NASA. I was determined to be part of the team sending men to Mars, just like Walt had promised.
Then, something untoward happened.
As I progressed through high school, people across the country lost interest in the space program. That unerring indicator of public opinion, the Nielsen ratings, showed that fewer and fewer people were watching network coverage of the succeeding space-shots, even the launches, which I thought were better than football games. What could all this mean? Could people really not care? Was it really a case of “Been there, done that”? How could it be? Space was just opening up to us.
Then came the coup de grace. NASA cancelled the last two Apollo missions because of budget cuts. Cancelled?!!! What the heck were budget cuts? How could we stop at the moon? We were supposed to be going to Mars and beyond! Who could possibly cut NASA’s budget? Who could tell all those amazingly brilliant and wise scientists and engineers and courageous astronauts that they couldn’t spend money?
It took me a while to figure out who could cut NASA’s budget, but the answer came in one word – Congress. The wise guys in Congress could tell my beloved astronauts to take early retirement and all the rocket scientists and engineers to start looking for jobs designing vacuum cleaners and mechanical toys. And who were these jamokes who could tell all my heroes to take a hike? Congressmen, that’s who. And who were Congressmen?
My career plans changed accordingly.
That’s my story, containing all the significant, formative events I choose to disclose. Everything else is details. I went to college; I went to law school; I practiced law; I lived through several personal disasters; saw my legal practice rise and fall more than once; got my heart broken; rescued some clients from the hell of litigation; swallowed some bitter pills and administered a few myself; became a millionaire for all of 48 hours; got deathly ill; recovered; fell in love at the last and most unlikely minute. You know, the kind of stuff everybody goes through.
At last, I decided to try writing novels. It seemed one way to try and make sense of it all. I started with The Seamless Web. The funny thing about The Web is that the wackier the incidents I describe, the more likely there are to have been true. My imagination isn’t that good. Of course, there’s a lot of truth about me packed into all of my novels, in one form or another. I try to be oblique, but you never know what peeks out between the lines.
One thing: the attorney-client privilege sometimes impedes the presentation of the full-blown truth, at least until the respective statutes of limitations run out. And some limitations aren’t in the statute-books. They never run out.