Stories of Weird Mystery

Month: July 2024

Whew! Five Points Safe Again for Dads in Pink Polo Shirts and Assault Sandals!

My favorite theater in the world, Sun-Ray Cinema, has closed after their historic building in the Five Points area was bought out by developers.

I’m told that the theater owners are looking for a new location, but my personal instinct after losing a labor of love like the Sun-Ray would be to retreat somewhere to rest up and mourn the loss. Maybe they’ll come back somewhere else, but I wouldn’t blame them if they decided Jacksonville didn’t deserve it.

(I’m projecting here. Every time I’ve talked to the owners myself they’ve been cheerful, positive people.)

The Sun-Ray was the kind of quirky place that played artsy films alongside the first-run ones. I’ve seen most of the A24 oeuvre there, plus a wide range of oddness like the new mediocre Star Wars movies, What We Do in the Shadows, Fury Road, The Witch, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, A Simple Favor, Hail Satan?, Book Smart, JoJo Rabbit, The Hidden Fortress, and about six of their annual showings of Jaws. (Where the audience would crush a can of Narragansett beer when Quint did.)

Aimee and I attended the second-to-last showing of Jaws there.

Even if the movie wasn’t great, you at least could enjoy the food and alcohol they served on pock-marked wooden tables that stretched along the rows. An employee would skulk up from the darkness to leave your pizza or basket of knick-knack sticks, and I’d whisper “Thanks!” as they skittered away.

It’s sadder when they have the lights up.

They had festivals and special showings with people like John Waters. Over the summers, they’d play movies for kids that had an all-you-could-grab sugary cereal bar. They had great pre-movie announcements, including my favorite with weird puppets talking too loud on cell phones.

One of their pre-movie ads had Stan Lee telling you to keep your feet off the tables.

You had to be a little choosy about what kind of person you’d take to the Sun-Ray. It was dark and sticky and had a lot of layers of chipped paint. They had murals of movie monsters and a precarious balcony that they discouraged people from using. You could hear the movie from the bathrooms on either side of it. Sometimes it smelled weird.

Sometimes they’d let people sit or stand up there.

If you had a friend who wouldn’t get the Sun-Ray vibe, who insisted on corporate safety and blandness, that was a good reason to realize they weren’t your kind of person anyway.

During the Plague Year when they were closed and needed support, I rented the theater to show Lake Mungo to friends.

It was the kind of theater that you’d run when you were fourteen years old after breaking in.

Here I am with Steve and Aimee for the latest Indiana Jones film on my 50th birthday.

I’m not much a part of any community (being scared and skeptical of them), so I regret that I wasn’t part of the Sun-Ray’s a lot more. I went to movies there, loved the atmosphere, and then went off afterward in a very aloof Gen-X sort of way. I wish I’d introduced myself and told them how much I liked it, how welcome I felt even alone in the darkness, but I never felt cool enough.

My neighborhood is being taken over by investors with spreadsheets, people who think that enough data can guarantee that every dollar spent is a dollar quadrupled. They believe that everyone wants high ceilings and bright lights and wi-fi and checklist entertainment, a place to take a selfie to show how fun they are.

Maybe those developers are right.

What I loved about the Sun-Ray, though, was that it was a weird space: a place for enjoying the weird and personifying the weird and being surprised by the weird. It was a place for brief displacement and then…maybe wonder. Maybe disappointment. Who knew?

We’ve come to a terrifying moment when we think that the data we’re gathering about the past and present can guarantee the future. We believe we know exactly how many people we can fire without losing any business. We’ve “perfected” the science of entertainment, measuring out the beats of our blockbuster movies in coffee spoons, taking fewer chances, making fewer mistakes.

We’ve refined the process of going straight from investment to profit without any of the accidents that really pay off in between.

I know when I go to the AMC Theatre that a benevolent corporation will protect me from any experience that’s too upsetting or too transcendent. We all have to return to work on Monday, after all, and it wouldn’t do to be amazed too often.

I hope the Sun-Ray finds a new home. When it does, I’ll be there, ready again for a good weirdening.

Dedicating A Scout is Brave

If you’ve savored every page in your copy of A Scout is Brave, you may have noticed this dedication near the beginning:

For William Simmons, who was never to my knowledge a Boy Scout but who has exemplified every one of their stated ideals throughout our nearly forty-year friendship…though not perhaps in the ways they’d expect. I appreciate our late-night urban hikes and the honest perspectives you’ve always provided to me. I hereby award you the Iconoclastic Integrity merit badge.

And you may have asked yourself, “Who the fuck is William Simmons?”

[Spoiler alert for people accustomed to reading my too-frequent eulogies: William is alive and well.]

William Simmons at Necronomicon.
This is William Simmons.
(Photo by Dave Lally.)

I’ve been friends with William since 1987, when he came knocking on my door and asking for Norman Amemiya, who’d told him that Dungeons and Dragons was about to take place at my home.

I was relieved to see him, if I’m being honest: Norman, though mentally about fourteen, was a 32-year-old man and my mother was a bit worried that my new gaming group was full of people twenty years older than me. Luckily, William was only four years older.

Together with Norman and a rotating series of guest gamers, William and I met for weekly sessions of Car Wars, Star Frontiers, Star Trek: The Role Playing Game, Toon, Paranoia, Battletech, and (maybe once or twice) D&D. Like Norman, he was very tolerant of my ADHD-fueled, rules-indifferent gonzo gamemastering style.  

William Simmons playing Conan on an Apple II at Willcon.
William was especially found of Conan on the Apple II as well as Eamon.

We also gathered around my Apple II+ as I developed a starship bridge simulator and a food chain science project, not to mention playing a few hundred cracked and pirated games that would grind ominously in my failing disk drive.

Once while he was staying overnight at my house way out of town, our cat gave birth to a few sickly kittens and then fled outside into the darkness. The only light source we had handy was an antique kerosene lantern, which he held aloft amid the orange trees, looking for the cat like Diogenes searching for an honest man.

At most science fiction, fantasy, horror, or gaming conventions we’ve attended since 1987, we’ve taken a late-night walk around whatever downtown area was handy. We chat about books and movies and games, plus my deranged ambitions to write. Once while crossing a drawbridge in Fort Lauderdale, we had to run when it began to rise under our feet.

I’m not doing a good job conveying who William is beyond “erstwhile gaming buddy.”

Like me, William didn’t have the most peaceful childhood. My reaction to uncertainty was to grasp desperately for control of my world, but William’s was a calm and measured scientific detachment. He is the most open-minded person I’ve ever met, willing to understand strange ideas (and people) while weighing all the information he can get. When my first wife called him during our divorce to get him to take her side, he said, “I really don’t have enough information to do that.”

William playing Call of Cthulhu at Willcon.
William participating in the Call of Cthulhu scenario that A Scout is Brave was partly based on.

William exemplifies all of the Scout laws that Bud Castillo follows in A Scout is Brave, though he’s sorely tested in his convenience store job each day. William’s ambition these days seems mostly to be peace, which I wholeheartedly understand; he does his job, reads more books than anybody I know, and has walked every furlong of Lord of the Rings Online.

I have three degrees in English literature and writing, yet William is the only person I know who has read the entire works of Shakespeare. He has a habit of doing that, reading an author’s entire oeuvre. He’s a fan of life’s side quests.

Aubrey from A Scout is Brave is a combination of Norman’s alien perspective of the world and William’s calm and considerate one. That character (and that book) wouldn’t exist without them, and I wanted you all to know that.

Readercon Approaches on Little Cat Feet

My A Scout is Brave book tour continues, this time with a visit to Boston and Readercon at the Marriott Boston Quincy!

Here’s where you can find me:

  • Friday, July 12, 7pm: A Weird Reading Tonight (a group reading with other Lethe Press authors)
  • Saturday, July 13, 11am: Getting Your Other Foot in the Door (parlaying an early success into a longer one)
  • Saturday, July 13, 2pm: The Tyranny of the Tale (alternate forms of storytelling other than your “Save the Cat” bullshit)
  • Saturday, July 13, 7pm: Will Ludwigsen Reading
  • Lurking at the Lethe Press table in the Dealer’s Room at other random intervals

I hope to see you there, and also at other book tour stops in your neighborhood (assuming you live in New England or Florida):

  • NecronomiCon Providence, August 15-18, Providence RI
  • Necronomicon Tampa, September 27-29, Tampa FL
  • Mysterious surprise book tour stop TBA, October, Jacksonville FL

A Scout is Brave Bursts Forth from Beneath the Waves!

Today is the official launch date for my book A Scout is Brave, though some lucky souls pre-ordered it or bought copies at our fabulous book launch on Saturday.

People at the book launch for A Scout is Brave.
It’s like the scene at the end of Titanic when people welcome Rose back to the ship!
People attending the book launch for A Scout is Brave
It’s my favorite thing in the world when people from all corners of my life come together in one place: family, friends, coworkers, former students, and bitter creditors!
Will Ludwigsen reading from his book A Scout is Brave
Here I await thunderous applause while my publisher Steve Berman signals the audience.

Of course, it’s never too late to join the troop!

And don’t forget that talented musical artist Kathexis93 has released a Lovecraftian prequel album, available on Bandcamp.

© 2024 Will Ludwigsen

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