Confessions of a Laserdisc Fiend Pt. 2 & New Caleb York

May 28th, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

Hardcover:
E-Book: Google Play Kobo
Digital Audiobook: Google Play Kobo

Today (Tuesday May 28) is pub date for Last Stage to Hell Junction, the new Spillane/Collins “Caleb York” novel. It’s a hardcover and you will probably be able to find it in the western sections of Barnes & Noble and BAM! Also, this means those of you who have been waiting to review the novel, having won a copy in a book giveaway, will now be able to post your thoughts at Amazon.

I like this one quite a bit, as much of it happens outside of Trinidad, New Mexico, which has been pretty much the sole setting of the previous three novels. I had in mind the Warner Bros television westerns of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s that, as much as anything, made me love the western form. My particular favorite was Maverick, which is the only one of those shows I’ve revisited extensively in recent years, although I’ve collected the DVD sets of all the rest, from Cheyenne to Sugarfoot, from Lawman to Bronco.

Maverick, of course, is known for its genre-spoofing approach, but the series had plenty of serious episodes, particularly (but not exclusively) the Jack Kelly-starring Bart ones. The very best episodes usually had both Bart and James Garner’s Bret, and these did tend toward humor; but a surprising number had noir-ish aspects and Agatha Christie-like enclosed settings. Hell Junction has the latter by way of a ghost town hotel that is welcome only to outlaws.

If you’ve been avoiding Caleb York because the novels are westerns and not crime novels, you are making the wrong assumption, and I encourage you to take a ride on this particular Hell-bound stage.

* * *

Meanwhile, back at the laserdisc ranch….

So far the experience has proven to be neither folly nor triumph. The 21″-inch tube TV (CRT) arrived and, with Barb’s help, I managed to extricate it from a big cardboard box full of smunched newspaper and packing peanuts. Such an experience is will-crushing in and of itself, and that was just the beginning.

What followed was an effort by a heart-patient/recovering stroke victim up the stairs with the heavy, clumsy TV aided by a not thrilled-about-it wife. I had, as luck would have it, a cabinet that was perfect for the TV to rest upon, a big square boxy affair that was designed to hold LPs with a built-in shelf designed for nothing in particular. That shelf would have been perfect for the laserdisc player to rest within, but no hole in the back existed to feed cords through. And I am a do-it-yourself-er whose skills do not include drilling a small hole in a piece of wood.

I had earlier ordered a stand from Amazon for a princely $28 that would support the TV and under which the laserdisc player would (theoretically) slide. This little stand, a sturdy effer, needed assembly. Either Barb or I assembled it. I will allow you to decide which of us was capable of that task. If you are giving me the benefit of the doubt, you are making a mistake.

Next step was to set the 21″-inch TV on top of the stand. Not that bad a job we made of it, for two people with a collective age of 141 years. I had shrewdly studied the specs at the Amazon listing and knew everything would be perfect. Plenty of room to slide that laserdisc player within the stand.

I’d already connected the appropriate cords and a S-video cable to the laserdisc player, so we set the TV sideways on the stand and completed connecting everything up. We eased the TV into position. We prepared to slide the laserdisc player home.

Amazon’s specs, however, did not include a wooden brace under the stand that made the passageway two inches or so smaller. No room at the inn (we could have used Jesus – he was a carpenter, after all). So I needed to prop up the stand at least two inches, all around. I considered pieces of wood, and then Barb suggested something we have no shortage of – books.

I tried four copies of the paperback edition of Road to Paradise – not quite right. After several other attempts, we used the Bantam mass market paperback of Stolen Away – representing my first royalties from that edition.

The laserdisc player now slid under perfectly. I was delighted. I turned to say as much to Barb, but for some reason, she had disappeared. Oh well.


M.A.C. with three random laserdiscs.

I fired everything up and all seemed tickety-boo. The laserdisc player made some disturbing noises, like a Tasmanian devil clearing its throat, but soon settled down. I selected a laserdisc to try out – The Bangles Greatest Hits (all of their hits, actually) – and pushed a button on the laserdisc player to open the tray into which the disc would go. The tray emerged and revealed a disc already in there. Somewhat disturbingly, its label was loose – had come unglued, picked off its perch by the hands of Father Time.

Also, disturbingly, the label on the reverse side of the shining disc was M.I.A. This meant it was somewhere down inside the machine. So far that didn’t seem to matter, though it might explain the initial sounds of discomfort emanating from the belly of the beast.

But the Bangles looked fine on the little TV – much better than such discs had looked on a flat screen – and the music sounded great. The girls (I mean, young women) may have had only enough hits to fill one compilation, but what great hits they were.

As Borat once said, “Success!”

That evening I selected another disc – Sammy Davis Jr. and Jerry Lewis performing in Vegas. Summoned the tray, filled it, sent it back into the machine. The disc looked and sounded great! When it was over, I pushed the button to eject the disc (I had done this successfully with the Bangles LD, earlier in the day).

The grinding returned, more forcefully now, the Tasmanian devil’s jaws grinding, and the disc tray would not open.

I tried various tactics to open it, all desperate in nature, and got nowhere. Finally I unhooked the laserdisc player, which still had its previous Sammy and Jerry disc in its mouth, and tried another machine. That machine was older and it too grumbled (even though it had not ingested a laserdisc label), but it did play. It does play. But it’s sluggish, taking forever to warm up and to perform such functions as ejecting a disc, and its key feature – playing side B after side A completes – does not function at all.

I am hobbling along with this disc player until I find if the original player I tried can be repaired. I believe it is merely a case of removing the semi-ingested laser disc label from the player’s mechanical innards. I’ve taken it to a computer store, where the gent is going to give it a try, though he looks from me to the Pioneer player and back again, as if trying to figure out which of us is the dinosaur, only to conclude: both.

But I will succeed. I promise you. I am not easy to dissuade. It’s the only child in me.

I will report back, whether you want me to or not.

* * *

Here’s a really nice review of Girl Most Likely.

I’m not sure why this 2017 interview of me by Sean Leary was recently posted, but Sean did his typical good job.

Finally, check out this great review of the Mike Hammer graphic novel from Titan.

M.A.C.

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4 Responses to “Confessions of a Laserdisc Fiend Pt. 2 & New Caleb York”

  1. Thomas Zappe says:

    Max, when a couple reaches the collective age of 140+ years and has exhibited serious health issues, it’s OK to pay some kid to schlep the heavy packages up the stairs. We occasionally get bulky grocery store items delivered for just that reason.

    It’s not necessary to prove you are twice the physical specimen you were half a lifetime ago. We want you at your typewriter [or whatever] not a hospital bed.

    Succeed and survive.

  2. Sean Kelly says:

    Was that the blue cover with a picture of a ladder copy of Stolen Away? If so, that was the first MAC novel I ever bought. I was horribly sad when I gave it to a friend who never returned it, but I found another copy to tuck away on my shelves.

    The first Richard Matheson books I ever bought were his westerns. I knew who he was from movies and TV, but never went for him as an author until Journal of the Gun Years and The Gunfight. Needless to say, that good writing pulled me in. So maybe the excellent Caleb York novels will do the same for you.

    Finally, I received the Girl Most Likely mp3 CD and am cruising through it. I am almost tempted to chuck it and read the book so I can get through it faster as my listening is limited by daily drive time. And thank you for the I Love Trouble. When I rebuild my MAC shelves at home (everything is in storage right now), it will be proudly displayed.

  3. Peter says:

    I absolutely LOVE the Caleb York novels! I am looking forward to this one as well!

  4. stephen borer says:

    Smiled at the random choice of those three discs.

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