Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'Never a Stupid Reflection' (1973)

"Never a Stupid Reflection" is an outlier in the Ed Wood canon.

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

Fresh from the pages of Fantastic.
The story: "Never a Stupid Reflection," originally published in Fantastic magazine, February/March 1973, Gallery Press.

Synopsis: Terri Mills, 19, has been told all her life by teachers and classmates that she is "stupid," though she considers herself "just a little slower" than those around her. Raised by her aunt and uncle after her parents die in an automobile accident, Terri takes five years to graduate from high school and then has trouble finding work. She lasts a week as a hotel maid, three days as a filing clerk, and only one day as an employee at a movie theater.

To ease her depression over her chronic unemployment, Terri starts visiting bars and cocktail lounges and drinking Manhattans on a regular basis. Due to years of stress and overthinking, she looks older than her years and is mistaken for 25. Her local bartender comes to accept Terri's odd, somewhat childish behavior, as when she becomes fixated on a child's toy ring she finds on the sidewalk.

One night, Terri is delighted to see a quadruple reflection of herself in her cocktail glass. She downs drink after drink in order to replicate the optical illusion, unwittingly becoming quite drunk. She is so out of it that she barely notices when a portly customer at the bar sits down next to her and whispers in her ear. Passive as always, Terri leaves the bar with this strange man. The bartender recognizes the fat man as Jake the Pimp and figures Terri must have needed the money.

Wood trademarks: Alcohol (Terri prefers Manhattans, while Jake drinks scotch and water); bars and cocktail lounges (perennial Wood hangouts, both in fiction and in life, cf. The Cocktail Hostesses); prostitution and pimps (cf. this collection's "Private Girl"); effects of drinking described (Terri feels the booze "delightfully heat her insides"); fixation on pretty, feminine things (Terri's obsession with the ring - "It sparkles").

Excerpt: "She didn't really like to drink. But sometimes it was the only way she could get some measure of mental release. She found that out after the second job folded under her. There had been this little cocktail lounge near her apartment. She'd never, up to that time, been in one before and she'd never tasted any kind of alcohol before. She figured she couldn't go wrong as long as she took something sweet."

The very edition I own.
Reflections: One of the books that has come into my possession over the years is a 1954 "junior deluxe" edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales. I've held onto this volume for many years because I find the contents quite interesting and funny, not so much the well-known standards like "Rumpelstiltskin" and "Little Red Riding Hood" but the lesser-known, somewhat forgotten tales like "Prudent Hans," "Clever Else," and "Hans in Luck." In fact, I was so enamored of these fables, especially the last, that I once attempted to write a parody of the Grimm Brothers' style called "Prudent Fritz." (You will be the judge of whether I succeeded or not.)

In making my way through Grimm's Fairy Tales, I learned that many of these stories were cautionary tales about characters who behave quite foolishly and rashly yet consider themselves wise, brave, and fortunate. One fellow, "Clever Hans," is such a dimwit that he tries to impress a girl by (I'm not kidding here) tearing the eyes out of still-living animals and throwing them at her. Needless to say, this does not work. 

Ed Wood's "Never a Stupid Reflection" strikes me as a modern day version of these Grimm tales, only one intended for adults. The people close to Terri -- her parents, her aunt and uncle, and her psychiatrist -- have all told her that she is not stupid, so she has faith in her own talents and abilities. But just like the characters in the Grimm stories, Ed Wood's heroine has a series of comedic misadventures that cast grave doubts on her intelligence. I was particularly fond of Terri's filing system:
How in the hell would anybody know the names were filed by their last name? Didn't the first name always come first? Even when somebody addressed somebody by their last name there was always a Miss or Mister in front of it. Of course that might make the "M" file pretty full, but that's the way she figured it. and there were a lot of Toms and Bills and Joes.

Truth be told, "Never a Stupid Reflection" is a story that initially stymied me, and had I encountered it in some other context without the byline at the top, I might not have identified it as being the work of Edward D. Wood, Jr. Perhaps Eddie was in a bar one night, saw his own reflection in a whiskey glass and thought, "Hey, maybe I could get a story out of this." A lot of the story takes place in Terri's mind, and it's clear that there's something amiss with this young lady. Is she mildly autistic? She seems not to pick up on social cues, and she shuts the rest of the world out when she focuses on something seemingly insignificant, like the toy ring or the reflection in the cocktail glass. I guess this could be considered another story of Ed's in which predatory men take advantage of vulnerable women. In that sense, getting back to the fairy tale theme, Jake the Pimp plays the Big Bad Wolf to Terri's Little Red Riding Hood.

Next: "Scene of the Crime" (1972)