Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'Craps' (1973)

A lifelong gambler graduates to the next world, minus his ears, in Ed Wood's "Craps."

NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Gallery's Tales for a Sexy Night.
The story: "Craps," originally published in Tales for a Sexy Night, Vol. 2., 1973, Gallery Press. Edited by Chuck Kelly and illustrated by Neil Weisbecker.

Synopsis: A legendary crap shooter named Makey has been murdered, with his throat slit and his ears cut off. At his funeral, four men, including an 82-year-old codger, gather at his graveside and exchange bawdy stories about their departed comrade, laughing as they remember Makey's drinking, cussing, gambling, and carousing. There is a chip missing from the dead man's marble tombstone, and the men agree that Makey probably used this to fashion a pair of dice for himself in the afterlife. While the preacher talks of Makey's soul and other mourners glare with disapproval at his talkative friends, the four men continue to speculate about who could have killed the champion dice roller. They also wonder whether Makey's equally-legendary penis has been removed.

The old man complains of his hunger, possibly brought on by the thoughts of the worms who will soon be devouring Makey's mortal remains. The men make plans to reconvene at a local watering hole called Venereal Disease Louie's, where Makey has a postmortem tab, and they express regret that Makey will never get to face another famous gambler, Big Ed Smiley. Then, a fifth man arrives at the funeral with shocking news: Big Ed Smiley killed Makey, removed his ears and penis, then felt guilty about it and shot himself. The sound of thunder overhead indicates that Makey and Big Ed are finally having their big showdown... in the next world.

Wood trademarks: Funeral with preacher delivering sermon (cf. Plan 9 from Outer Space); particular obsession with spooky old cemeteries (cf. Orgy of the Dead); grim speculation about what happens to bodies once they're buried (cf. this collection's "Into My Grave"); the word "ma'an" (a common expression in these stories); references to coffins and ghosts (cf. Night of the Ghouls); alcohol and bars (eternal Wood motifs); skeletons (cf. Plan 9, Orgy of the Dead); the word "fluff" (this time in reference to a woman, cf. the character Fluff in The Class Reunion); violent emasculation (cf. this collection's "Breast of the Chicken"); men exchanging stories about a fallen acquaintance (cf. this collection's "Epitaph for the Village Drunk"); reference to the Devil (cf. this collection's "Hellfire"); possible reference to prostitution (the men talk about spending money on women); combination of sex and death (the men talk about Makey's postmortem sex life); thunder (a mainstay in Ed Wood's movies, cf. Glen or Glenda?, Plan 9, etc.)

Excerpt: "He sure as hell would be dead if he can't hear those dice rattlin' like his skeleton will be doing come Winter time. An' on top of that if he can't use that wand of his with some of the dead women he's bound to meet. After all, all them spirits ain't old ones. They's a lot of young stuff gettin' themselves dead every day, and Makey sure had an evil eye for the young stuff. Spent a lot of money on them too. 'Course he won a lotta' money so I guess he could spend a lotta' money."

Stubby Kaye brings his dice to Heaven.
Reflections: "And the Devil will drag you under by the sharp lapel of your checkered coat!" I could not help but think of Stubby Kaye crooning "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" from Guys & Dolls as I read Ed Wood's "Craps," the story of a (literally) die-hard gambler who actually does bring his dice to Heaven with him, chipped out of his own gravestone even. Well, maybe Makey's destination isn't Heaven exactly, but wherever he winds up in the afterlife, he's still gambling.

I'm now also reminded of the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Suicidal Thoughts," in which the rapper ponders his own postmortem existence and scoffs at Heaven: "Hangin' with the goodie-goodies lounging in Paradise. Fuck that shit, I wanna tote guns and shoot dice."

Though similar in stature, Stubby Kaye and the Notorious B.I.G. deliver exactly opposite messages with their songs. Stubby renounces his sinful ways so he can get into Heaven in the next life, while Biggie enjoys his vices too much to give them up for anyone, God included. Where does Ed Wood fall in this debate? Well, it may be instructive to know that, according to Kathy Wood in Nightmare of Ecstasy, Ed's favorite song was "Amazing Grace," a Christian hymn which centers around a sinner (who self-identifies as "a wretch") finding redemption through God's grace.
"Ed loved that damned song, 'Amazing Grace.' It kind of hit him somehow. And he wrote that book, Saving Grace. It was written when he was getting more and more depressed. They say that people, when they feel they're going to die, that they get kind of religious, and Eddie, something kind of happened to him. I don't know what it was, but he wrote this crazy book. And I felt kind of strange about it, like a chill up my spine."
The fate of the book Saving Grace (seemingly written in the mid-to-late 1970s) is currently unknown, as it was never published during Eddie's lifetime and has not surfaced since his death. "Craps" is not pious or religious in tone at all, however. In fact, the characters in the story actually scoff at the idea of prayer. A sample quote: "Prayers don't help no how, no way for anything else but crap shootin', an' that's a fact." Throughout "Craps," the four men's raunchy conversation serves as an ironic counterpoint to the preacher's well-intended but ultimately meaningless eulogy. Interestingly, the clergyman at Makey's funeral asks the "Good Lord" to show mercy on the deceased gambler. "Gambling wasn't so bad," Wood writes. "Life was all one kind of a gamble or another." Who knew that better than Edward Davis Wood, Jr.?

Considered in total, "Craps" is yet another example of Eddie's all-consuming obsession with death. It's basically a lighter, less-tragic variation on "Epitaph for the Village Drunk," with the protagonist already dead at the beginning of the story and his exploits only revealed through anecdotes shared by the men who remember him. I sincerely hope that, when Eddie himself was cremated in December of 1978, at least a few of his former colleagues and drinking buddies gathered to swap stories about the Man in the Angora Sweater. Eddie would've liked that.

Next: "Calamity Jane Loves Hosenose Kate Loves Cattle Anne" (1973)