Like many of you, I have an obsession with the mythical concept of the eclectic old curio shop, those place bursting with dusty shelves full of old pulp novels, dried homunculus heads, and wonderful old vinyl records with covers sporting elegant women in various states of undress, as befits moonlight serenades and pink champagne for dancing. Yes, yes, I know as well as you do, from first hand experience, that these stores, at least nowadays and in the United States, do not reflect the reality of our situation, that these stores as they exist today are far more mundane and disappointing. But that doesn’t kill the dream of walking into one and instead of finding chrome clocks, off-brand Snuggies, and Sham-wows, we might instead find ourselves having to choose between the hideous dried monkey paw that grants three wishes, the cursed ventriloquist doll, or the dusty grimoire containing unspeakable secrets.
Digging through the truly countless number of obscure cult and b-movies in the world is a lot like sifting through the piles in a wonderfully seedy and disorganized junk shop doubtlessly run by some creepy, fat old guy who stares at you a lot, keeps smacking his moist, fleshy lips for no reason you’d want to contemplate, and occasionally interrupts your browsing to see if you’d be interested in a suspiciously soiled and rumpled issue of Oui or a ring adorned with Nazi fingernails or some other such weird shit. In Gainesville, Florida, where I lived for many years and where I cut my teeth as a true obsessive regarding tracking down and watching strange movies, our local seedy junk store was Ray the Trader’s. Ostensibly, the store specialized in old sci-fi novels and magazines, but that stuff took up only a small corner of the completely chaotic mounds that were crammed from floor to ceiling, wall to wall. Most of the store was given over to dusty electronics, old records and 8 tracks, porno mags from the 70s and 80s, racist salt and pepper shakers, grungy looking mugs and souvenir glasses, military memorabilia, and other glorious, sometimes offensive crap.
Rumor held that there was a special “back room” for VIPs, where Ray would let you peruse and purchase kiddie porn, dried human skins, Nazi stuff, and I don’t know. Raffle tickets to win a night spent torturing a hobo or kidnapped UF co-ed or something. Credence was lent to the rumor by the fact that Ray the Trader’s hovered just past the city limits, and thus presumably, the reach of all human law, and shared a parking lot with Gainesville sleaziest “edge of town” strip club. But on the other hand, they also shared a parking lot with a hibachi grill restaurant, and if there was such thing as the fabled VIP’s stash, no one I knew ever got to look at. Or at least, they never got to look at it and live to tell the tale!
Well, dude was weird, whatever the case, but I’m sure people say that about me, too. And who am I to judge, since me and plenty of friends were in there from time to time, digging through his wares in search of old cameras, 50 cent VHS tapes, and that issue of Penthouse featuring Suzee Pai from Big Trouble in Little China. Never did find that one, but we found plenty of other stuff, and not all of it for personal use. There was a tendency among, let’s call them the more impish among our crowd of friends, to take particularly perverse, hilarious, or somehow unattractive photos from Ray’s old dirty magazines, blow them up to substantially larger size, and hang them on other friends’ front doors, porches, or car windshields. Thus was many a lawn beautified by a poster featuring a cruddy copy of a photo with a caption like “Aja humps a humpback” or “Look at this clit: it’s awesome!”
You never knew what kind of crazy shit you’d stumble across in that store, and I always liked that. It was like an old museum, from back before they gave a damn about organization, and natural scientists and explorers and crackpots would just bring in any old shit, an interesting fungus or a big or a skeleton with two skulls, and they’d pile it all onto shelves using a system of categorization that was, at best, esoteric and probably made no sense to anyone but the one mad old coot in charge of curating the menagerie. Or, in another way, it’s like the web. There’s more out there than you can ever process, and most of the good stuff you’ll never find, because there’s way way more shitty stuff. But every now and then, amid the link farms, spam, and sites dedicated to poetry written from the point of view of someone’s cat, you find a true gem — the monkey paws of the internet, so to speak — and that makes all the boring, useless garbage worth having shoveled through.
Although the effort may ultimately prove to be misguided, and although it may end up be frustrating for the reader, my guiding design principle for this site is to model it after that hopelessly confused jumble of ephemera.