Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The No. 7 Fireworks Embalming Pump Mail-Order Skeleton, And Others!

Find a nice comfy chair, boys and girls, because tonight's blog is one of the long ones.

Fortunately for you, most of the length is composed of photographs. As long-time readers of the blog know, I am fascinated by fireworks, and tend to get excessively camera-happy around the 4th of July.

This year was no different. Indeed, I had three cameras trained on the sky. Two were digital, one was film. The only film processing shop in Oxford is closed until they get parts in for their developer, so you will spared the film photos, at least.

And for a treat, I'm featuring photos taken by a real photographer on a real camera as well as my own amateur offerings. Karen Tuttle, who many suspect may be my wife, took her Canon Rebel SLR to the fireworks show, and got some truly amazing shots.

But before we get to the exploding things, let's take a brief detour into the past. Our vehicle will be a comic book I unearthed while searching for an old solenoid. The comic's cover is gone, so I don't know the name of the series or even the year, but I suspect it to be from around 1969, because that is the year I learned that Life is fundamentally hostile and that no good can come of it.


Direct your gaze onto the advertisement below. Try to see it through the eyes of a bookish six year old who loves all things strange and eerie.

Oh yeah. This is the stuff dreams are made of...

Life-sized monsters. Seven feet tall. SEVEN FEET TALL. That's tall, people. With glowing eyes! Reaching hands! Imagine the terror, indeed.

For a dollar.

Did I absolutely have to have a seven-foot-tall glowing skeleton of my very own?

Why yes. Yes I did.

So I shoved a buck thirty-five into an envelope and checked 'Boney the Skeleton' and the clock on my frantic little life came to an abrupt and screeching halt the instant that envelope hit the bottom of the mailbox.

I'd never wanted anything so bad in all my life. I went to sleep dreaming of the fun Boney and I would have! We'd stroll around town, scaring Hell out of everyone. We'd sit out on the porch and wave to horrified passers-by. We'd be the terrible talk of my tame little town, and if any kid came around with some lame Frankenstein's monster we'd knock his block off.

That is what I dreamed. Such thoughts consumed my every waking moment. And oh, did the moments drag. The ad didn't include the traditional admonition to allow six to eight weeks for delivery. How many hours did I spend, pondering the significance of that mysterious omission? Did the fine creators of Boney the Skeleton rush their sinister creations to the happy owners in a matter of mere days, instead? Was there, even now, a dark, unmarked truck speeding through the night toward Oxford, an eager Boney at the wheel?

Hours dragged. Days crept. Weeks crawled.

Moment by agonizing moment, I waited for my skeleton friend's arrival, forsaking all lesser concerns.

One Week. Two weeks. Three weeks, four. I lost my appetite. Lost interest in all things unrelated to the subtle click of clever bones.

Five weeks. Six weeks. Seven weeks, more. My eyes developed dark circles beneath the lids. I walked with a slump. Dragged my feet. How long, I wondered, so often the very words left paths in my brain. How long must I endure this never-ending sojourn through darkness?

Then, on rainy Tuesday afternoon in September, my mother met me at the door, smiling the smile of a relieved but patient parent.

I knew. I knew without words that Boney had arrived!

He was home, home at last, all seven glorious glowing feet of him! All 206 intricately connected phalanges and metacarpals and femurs and mandibles!

I was alone no more.

I was....complete.

I raced into the kitchen, sure Boney would be seated at the table, waiting to give me a cold but friendly embrace.

Instead, atop the tiny Formica eating table, sat an envelope.

An envelope. Thick, yes, and larger than the usual bills that came to us.

But only an envelope. No more for more than a single toe-bone. If that.

Mom must have recognized my confusion.

"It's from the right place," she said. "Open it! You've waited so long."

My mind raced. All right, I thought, though I'm sure I didn't use those words. Boney's delivery has been delayed. Or maybe they send a letter ahead before the actual skeleton arrives. Yes, I decided, as I tore into the paper. That must be it. It's a warning, so people won't be frightened.

Mom moved to my side.

So she was right there, for that awful moment when I removed the contents of the envelope, watched them unfold in my hand, and realized that Boney, my magnificent life-sized seven-foot-tall skeleton friend, Boney of the glowing eyes and the reaching hands, was nothing more than a cheap piece of plastic with a crude rendering of a skeleton painted upon it.

I do remember quite clearly thinking this:

Life-sized. They said it was life-sized. That means sized like life, with height and width and thickness.

They lied. The lying liars lied.

I dropped Boney on the kitchen floor and started bawling.

The weight of every moment of the long agonizing wait fell over me like a tidal wave. I had to say goodbye to my skeleton pal Boney forever, because there really wasn't any magic at all in the world, not even for a dollar plus thirty-five cents shipping, not even from storied New York.

Mom is gone now. Boney, who I kept, flaked away into bits of dust decades ago. I turned quickly past all the ads in my comic books, because after that I knew darned well Sea Monkeys didn't wear festive outfits and build little cities in your fish-bowl, and X-Ray Specs were just cheap plastic frames with concentric circles drawn on the lenses. No. Those were merely more lies. The world is what you see, nothing more. Jobs and bills and tired Dads and worried Moms and pets that sometimes never came home.

And all that came rushing back when I lifted that old comic book out of a stack of cast-offs and saw that ad again.

I still miss ya, Boney my skeleton pal.  Maybe one day.


This is life before the Internet, kids. Count your blessings.

As I've mentioned before, my friend Matthew Graves is making another movie. Entitled The Embalming,
it's a macabre little film which will debut during the Oxford Film Festival next February.

I got to build a couple of the props for the movie. An embalming pump will be featured in several shots, as well as the sign on the door of the mortuary at which all the action takes place.

Building weird movie props turned out to be a lot of fun. The pump is actually just an old electrical box joined with a clear dog food tub, some hoses, a few lights and switches, and the contents of my cast-off plumbing parts drawer. But it pumps goo, and it looks appropriately creepy, if I do say so myself. But you be the judge!

There are some stains even Formula 49 won't touch.
If your initial reaction was 'yuck,' I've done my job. Now imagine the fluid tank filled with a bubbling concoction of syrup, old coffee, soup, and maybe just a dash of clam bits. Add bubbles, and presto! Instant gag reflex.

The stains are actually a mixture of mineral spirits and hardened mahogany wood stain, with some splashes of melted black crayon and floor dirt rubbed in. Not sure if you can read the label in this pic, but it claims the pump was made by Superior Embalming Pumps of Arkham, Massachusetts, as a shout-out to H.P. Lovecraft.

The guts of the device. I know, real guts would have been more impressive, but Karen says they stink up the place.

That's the pump that makes the whole rig work. My cordless drill powers it, so even if my lines spring a leak mid-shoot no one gets electrocuted.

And here's the sign!

I'm proud of that sign. I did the text, the fonts, the graphics, and had them printed on a clear vinyl decal (thanks Vistaprint!). The frame is wood, and aged to look a bit weathered, but better maintained than the pump.

Sorry for the reflection in the image!



First, Karen's pics, because she has a good eye and a good camera. I have a good eye too, but I keep it in a jar in a safe deposit box.

That Canon Rebel never ceases to amaze me. Look at the detail it captured, without a hint of blur. Go on, blow it up -- incredible.

Same here, and here. The optics can capture so much so quickly.

Karen really needs her own webpage of pics. I think she said she shot 800 during that single fireworks show.  I'm just not that fast. Speaking of which....


I took my cameras, too. I've got a Fujifilm S1000that I put on a tripod and set for long exposures. I've tried this before, with no success, but this time I captured a couple of images I liked.

Here's the first one:

The smoke, the flash, the colors -- okay, it's not National Geographic worthy, but it's pretty cool.

Below is another one from the S1000:

Neat, huh? Not everything is in perfect focus, but I like it anyway.

I had friends on that Death Star!

My other camera is a much older 5 megapixel box I've had for years. But it takes great pics. Here are a few it captured.

Boom. Hope you enjoyed the fireworks, sorry about the skeleton, and wash your hands thoroughly after each use of the Superior Embalming Pump No. 7 Special featuring High Pressure Cavity Inject.

Shooting for the movie starts this week, so expect some pics from the set next weekend!

Until then, don't pin your hopes on mail-order skeletons, son, because they'll burn you every time...

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