Monday, November 10, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'Just One Question' (1973)

"Just One Question" is a booze-soaked tale set in one of LA's sleazier neighborhoods.

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

A page from Calga's Erotic Love.
The story: "Just One Question," originally published in An Illustrated Study of Erotic Love, Vol. 4, No. 1, January/February 1973, Calga Publishing.

Synopsis: Hard-drinking, semi-employed Harry Kling prepares himself to rob the small liquor store owned by cantankerous old man Tankersmith, a crazy coot who doesn't trust the banks and keeps his money in a strongbox. Although he has thought of pulling this job many times, he was finally convinced to actually do it by his nagging live-in girlfriend, Millie, who says she'll replace Harry with another man if he can't bring her the money and wine she demands. 

Harry successfully enters the store through the skylight but is surprised to find himself in a fistfight with another thief who is already robbing the same place! He manages to subdue the other crook as the cops arrive with guns drawn. The cops thank Harry for a job well done, but they have just one question: why was he there in the first place?

Wood trademarks: Alcohol (here, mostly cheap red wine); liquor store robbery (cf. Fugitive Girls, this collection's "To Kill a Saturday Night"); prostitutes; squabbling heterosexual couple; character of Millie similar to Sleazy Maisie Rumpledinck of Take It Out in Trade (both overweight, broken-down whores with substance abuse problems); character of  Harry Kling similar to Ed Wood himself (hapless but amiable old rummy with spotty employment record); phrase "Harry Kling wasn't much of a figure of a man himself" (compare to opening of "Island Divorce": "Jerry wasn't much of a man, as the he-man type goes"); penury and the threat of homelessness (eternal Wood problems).

Excerpt: "Damn how he wished he had been born rich and ugly instead of broke and ugly. The other way around it would be the girls who were shelling out to him. He knew a lot of the pimps around the street who worked things that way. But they were dressed in sharp suits, and they had their hair plastered back and they always smelled of expensive perfumes, and they had money and cars and girls whenever they wanted them. But they were all good looking. It was easy to see how they could get any girl to do anything they wanted for them."

Reflections: I'm beginning to think that a reader could drink his or her way through Blood Splatters Quickly, choosing an "adult beverage" to match each story in this collection. The selection process wouldn't be too difficult. Most of the time, Ed Wood helpfully names a particular kind of alcohol preferred by the characters: scotch in "The Wave Off," martinis in "Island Divorce," cheap red wine in "To Kill a Saturday Night" and "Just One Question," etc. 

For the rare "sober" stories here, the reader might have to get a little creative. For, say, "Dracula Revisited," perhaps sangria or a Bloody Mary. While this approach may make the reading experience a little richer and multi-sensory, it might also lead to alcohol poisoning or cirrhosis of the liver, since Eddie's characters never know when to say when.

The character Millie makes a fatalistic statement in this story I find particularly striking: "I gotta get me a good man that can keep the booze comin' in here. I ain't got a lot of time left on this earth and what time I do got I aim to drink my way through." Do you suppose Eddie felt the same way by 1973?

This is another time when Ed Wood seems to be drawing on his own life and his own experiences for his art. The constantly-arguing Harry and Millie seem like avatars for Ed and Kathy Wood, only maybe slightly lower down on the socioeconomic ladder. Not much lower, though. Ed and his wife were already living in a rough, crime-ridden neighborhood by this point because they'd lost their house. I noticed, too, that the words "bastard" and "shit-head" are used a lot in "Just One Question." These are the same epithets that pop up in eyewitness and earwitness anecdotes about the Woods' own arguments, as related in Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy

Mostly, "Just One Question" takes place in a world without hope or ambition, where life's only comforts are found in a bottle, and where the run-down neighborhood liquor store is the center of the universe. Harry and Millie are the only characters we really get to "know" here, but all the background extras, other than the cops and the liquor store owner, seem to be winos and bums. It's telling that Ed Wood, eternal optimist, manages to find humor even in this dark place.

By the way, I wonder what Harry told the cops...

Next: "I, Warlock" (1971)