ZDMT #2

Good turnout for my second book reading/signing on the Zero Degree of Meaning Tour at The Unjekylled Man's Comics & Things. Not as good as the first reading/signingI counted over 400 Rotarians in the amphitheater—but there were 50 or so people in attendance, including my father, again. This time he disguised himself more covertly, i.e., in a way that didn’t call attention to himself, although he’s tall, 6’8”, the same height as my protagonist in Codename Prague, and he stands out, so to speak, no matter what. The disguise itself isn’t important. I signaled for him to wait for me after the performance and he signaled back in compliance. Then he left before I began.

Unjekylled Man’s is a cool place. Retrolibre décor and lots of old books and comics in pristine condition that aren’t too expensive; I found a first edition issue of Jeff Lint’s The Caterer for $15. The guy who runs the store—the unjekylled man, allegedly—was polite to a fault, plastering an entire wall with posters of my book covers, reciting long paragraphs from my books by rote, getting me drinks whenever our eyes met, even offering to chauffer me around town whenever I needed a lift, no strings attached.

I asked him what an unjekylled man is. He gave me an answer that I didn’t understand. I told him the problem with a man being unjekylled is that Jekyll—i.e., the protagonist from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the only Jekyll I’ve ever heard of—is a man, unlike Hyde, the ’gänger, who is arguably a mutant, or at least a perversion, if only psychosomatically, of a man, and so, theoretically, to “unjekyll” a man would be to unman a man, rendering the man not a man at all. It would’ve been more accurate to call the shop The Unhyded Man’s Comics & Things, since a perversion, psychic or corporeal or both, is more likely to be removed from one’s core being, as opposed to removing the core itself. The owner mentioned something about Freud and castration and we turned to other matters.

For my reading, I decided not to recite anything from Codename Prague but rather to recite Vincent Price’s monologue at the end of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” pass it off as my own, and tell everybody that it was a chapter in the novel. “Thriller” was released in 1982, nearly thirty years ago, and some of you might not remember it. Just in case, here is Price’s monologue:

Darkness falls across the land.

The midnight hour is close at hand.

Creatures crawl in search of blood

to terrorize y’alls neighborhood.

And whosoever shall be found

without the soul for getting down

must stand and face the hounds of hell

and rot inside a corpse’s shell.

The foulest stench is in the air.

The funk of forty thousand years

and grizzly ghouls from every tomb

are closing in to seal your doom.

And though you fight to stay alive,

your body starts to shiver.

For no mere mortal can resist

The evil of the Thriller.

I didn’t do the laugh at the end. Throughout my recitation, I noticed a distinct shift in listener attentiveness and attitude. Nobody left, and nobody accused me of plagiarism afterwards during Q&A. But almost everybody made faces that suggested they were being violated or mistreated in some way. And later, beneath the static of harsh whispers, I heard the phrase “assault on the reader” traded repeatedly. Whatever the case, somehow I managed to sell and sign 100+ copies of Codename Prague and They Had Goat Heads. One gentleman bought twelve copies apiece. I asked him why that number. Like the owner, he gave me an answer that I didn’t understand.