Monday, July 28, 2008


  • Blood Lust #1: Irresistible by Michael Bates (Bantam, 1994)

    I've been hooked on the Blood Lust series of sex & shock young adult horror novels since reading a post on "What YAs shouldn't Read" back in the glory days of Usenet. Well, Publisher's Weekly "Gleefully recommends this slick combination of macabre softcore porn and whiny schadenfreude..." and so do I.

    Irresistible is as good a place to start as any. "Irresistible" is a perfume clandestinely distributed to the popular set by the inevitable revenge-crazed nerd. Alas for the recipients, this product works far to well. A few drops triggers a bodice-ripping, restraining-order inspiring passion. A whole bottle, well, the cheerleader that tried that wound up partially devoured by her "bad boy" date.

    And that's just the start of the fun. The just as inevitable nice girl finds the boy of her dreams so hopelessly devoted to her he Hitchcocks a cheerleader in the shower (25 times!) for saying something mean about her and then breaks another rah-rah's neck for good measure. The double funeral is marred by an passionate couple sneaking behind a monument! To quote our heroine's thoughts, it's "...totally twisted to be having fun while two of your friends were being buried!"

    The scent
    -crazed youngsters stop at nothing, not even necrophilia, right up to the pleasingly unresolved ending. Subsequent volumes (seven, I believe) mine similar suburban horrors with equally surreal results. Kids today just have it way too easy....

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


The Taxi-Dance Hall: A Sociological Study in Commercial Recreation and City Life by Paul Cressey (University of Chicago Press, 1932. 2008 reprint)

This is perhaps my Ur book, a combination guaranteed to satisfy both my Cornell Woolrich induced taxi-dance hall obsession and my jones for gritty ethnography. I pre-ordered it over a year ago. And it was worth every minute of the wait.

The Taxi-Dance Hall is the gem of the “Sociology Noir” sub-genre centered at the University of Chicago from 1915 to 1935. For the uninitiated, taxi-dance halls were common in large cities between the world wars. Men paid women dance hall employees a dime for the pleasure of a 90-second dance, with the hall and the hostess splitting the take. For various legal and public relations reasons, the halls advertised themselves as “dance academies” and called the dancers “instructors.” However, little instruction was expected or given. As one dancer said, “You don’t have to know how to dance anyway.”

Although Cressey is a bit of a blue-nose who finds his subject “demoralizing,” he doesn’t let this keep him from presenting an unflinching, keenly observed portrait of the Chicago taxi-dance hall circa 1928. Via extensive case studies, interviews, and even historical, economic and geographic analysis, he captures the personality of the customers and dancers and the atmosphere of their norish milieu.

The customers as a rag-tag mix of immigrants (especially Filipinos) out to meet “immodest” American women, slummers checking out the other half, young bucks learning how to kick up their heels, older men and “the dwarfed, maimed, and pockmarked.” Surprisingly, many were just looking for dancing or companionship and attention from young woman. As one middle-aged man said, “Who wants to dance with an old woman? [it] makes me tired before I start.” But others were out for a whole lot more. No serious taxi-dancer lacked for after-work “dates,” where they matched wits with “the fish” in what Cressey calls “the sex game.”

The dancers themselves tended to be native born locals from broken or instable homes. Cressey divides them into four groups: “nice girls,” who were well-behaved or simply inexperienced; “smart girls,” who worked their dates with expertise; “never-miss girls,” who were really part time prostitutes; and, “sensual dancers” whose dance floor antics (vertical lapdancing?) “functions as a utility for her patrons.” Yes, there was plenty of exploitation in the taxi-dance hall scene, but as Cressey makes clear, it was a two way street.

Ultimately, Cressey concludes that the taxi-dance hall is not a cause, but a symptom. Its patrons are “a panorama of the maladjustments of urban life.” The halls themselves are “testimony to the inadequacies of present day life for its patrons” that nonetheless meets a need, however imperfectly. He calls for regulation and reform, not repression, an attitude that didn’t play too well back in those days. The disreputable nature of this book (originally submitted as his thesis) cut off his academic career at the knees. But I bet it’s this disreputable nature that has this book back in print more than 75 years after the fact, while its more respectable cousins are left to the ironists. This is the real noir.