Sometime between the ages of eight and nine, traumatized by The Story of Dr. Doolittle, and his adventures in Hugh Loftig's whimsical Africa, wherein a cannibal the color of coal, and suited in an armor of rusty mop-buckets, was bleached by the titular hero to aid said cannibal in his quest for the heart of a fairyland lass, I forsooked the insidious charms of children's literature,(1) embarking on an investigation of works consigned to disreputable--nay, lunatic
--realms of public inquiry.

Said differently, I fed on schlock authored by lowbrow crackpots.

Now, I was not a feeble-minded child: plasticine, crayons, water colors and acrylics were the tools of my imagination. I wrote stories and poems. I was well-spoken. I was an avid reader.

In fact, according to a system of measurement utilized in those culturally-biased times, the 1960s, when public institutions were under the strict, hegemonic control of a bunch of slug-brained hunkies, and Dick and Jane rubbed against the dusky booty of Little Black Sambo on the library shelf, my reading skills were deemed quite advanced for my age.

My tastes, however, were rather outre. Thus, given my new found reading, the innocent beliefs of childhood--Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny and the purity of Mickey Mouse--were supplanted by an untenable belief in ghosts, flying saucers, telepathy, miasmic bog-critters, and the luminously paranoid rhetoric of militant black nationalists.

In addition to Lofting, I also attribute this shift in attitudes to the disillusionment wrought by both the Kennedy assassination and Oswald's televised murder; Dr. Fredrick Wertham's salacious attack on the comic book industry, "The Seduction of the Innocent," which opened gleaming new vistas of sex and sadism for my fevered, if impressionable, mind; and, appropriately enough, Forrest Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland. Crucial, too, was the distinctly bohemian flavor of my home life.

My parents maintained a library largely devoted to art history and psychiatry, as my father and mother were engaged in those fields, respectively. Our book shelves also contained a respectable sampling of modern fiction. The living room coffee table was always stacked with the latest issues of The Evergreen Review, Ramparts, Avant-Garde and The Realist. Abstract paintings, executed by my father's accomplished hand, adorned our walls. The jazz recordings of Atlantic, Blue Note and Columbia were in constant play.

Frequently, I would situate myself on a heat vent in a corner of our living room, eavesdropping on the discussions my parents held with the various shrinks, painters and jazz musicians who were frequent guests in our home.

Initially, I was drawn to the poetry and plays of Amiri Baraka, then Leroi Jones; which did much to temper my emerging world-view. Thereafter, though, I hungered for gamier meat...

So, with what coins remained of my weekly allowance, the Saturday afternoons of a post-monster-movie-matinee were spent, in the company of my beloved younger sibling, browsing through the shelves of downtown bookshops. There, among tweeded scholars and harried grad students, I searched for the outlandish yarns spun by the likes of Frank Edwards, John Keel, Hans Holtzer and George Adamski.

As a result, I was regarded as something of a playground crank. You see, in that era of freedom marches and lunchcounter sit-ins, my model of ethnic pride was not, as one might assume, the fiery Baraka; but Barney Hill,(2) the first alleged black ufo abductee of modern record.

Although our Race Leaders had made strident demands for Black participation in many areas of American life, I was appalled not one had not voiced a single word of support for Hill and his otherworldy plight. On the school yard, brandishing a copy of the N.O.I. newspaper in one hand, and a dog-eared paperback of Flying Saucers from Outer Space in the other, I would rant and wildly gesticulate: "Why doesn't the honorable Elijah Muhammad put aside his grievances with the white man for just one minute," I'd glare, "and issue a joint statement with Major Donald Kehoe?!! I read Muhammad Speaks! I got a copy right here! I know what the man said. He prophesized the arrival of a great Motherplane, piloted by bow-tied black men who would lay waste to the white man's wicked world. Then, cocking a conspiratorial eyebrow, he'd ask: "Could it be this egregious omission on the part of our leaders is due to the fact that Mr. Hill is married--to a white woman? Granted, Hugh Hefner ain't exactly gonna stuff her behind in a bunny suit! Maybe that's why Barney got ulcers in the first place, staring at them sagging old titties! But he's a Black man! A brother! Mr. Muhammad should lighten up and give the man a break!

"As a people, we have made tremendous strides in the field of Ufology. Our people have done so for centuries. Have you heard of the Dogon? A tribe of peoples in Africa? They have a highly sophisticated system of Astronomy. And they been talkin' to the fish folks in Sirius long before they had shit to say to the white man."

FOOTNOTES:

1) The exceptions, of course, were depraved Victorians like the Reverend Charles Dodgeson, and his pal in pedophiliac picture-taking, George MacDonald.

2) Barney Hill was a postal clerk who had developed an ulcer condition. In 1961, he and his wife, Betty, decided on a short vacation in Montreal. On the return trip home to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Barney spotted what he thought was a bright star. They tracked the 'star' for some miles until Barney stopped his car, got out and examined it through a pair of binoculars. Instead of a 'star', Barney alleged he saw a disc with rows of windows flashing multicolored lights. The disc drew closer and he claimed he saw humanoid figures inside. After this, he and his wife could not account for the next two hours of their lives. I say 'alleged', not because I doubt the veracity of his experience, but, rather, Sun Ra, professed citizen of Saturn, had traveled along the same roads where the Hills were abducted six months before.

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...I fed on schlock...
...I was regarded as something of a playground crank. You see, in that era of freedom marches and lunchcounter sit-ins, my model of ethnic pride was not, as one might assume, the fiery Baraka; but Barney Hill, the first alleged black ufo abductee of modern record....
"As a people, we have made tremendous strides in the field of Ufology. Our people have done so for centuries. Have you heard of the Dogon? A tribe of peoples in Africa? They have a highly sophisticated system of Astronomy. And they been talkin' to the fish folks in Sirius long before they had shit to say to the white man."
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