The Man Behind Dracula

By Christopher Zoukis His ashes sit in a white porcelain urn, which looks like a fat, Greek cookie jar.  There’s a silver hasp on each side to keep the lid on.  The urn, half-hidden in shadow, perches on a gray marble shelf.  The shelf is one of many such ‘niches’ in the columbarium, which is […]

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Don Winslow: Author

Don Winslow is the New York Times bestselling author of thirteen crime and mystery novels as well as short stories and film screenplays.  What I like about him is his writing style, which is cheekily funny.  His best known book is probably Savages because it was made into a movie.  But some of his earlier […]

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Consider The Lobster: DFW

This video contains an excerpt from DFW’s breathtakingly delightful book — Consider the Lobster.  Originally published in the August 2004 issue of Gourmet magazine, this review of the 2003 Maine Lobster Festival set off a firestorm of controversy among the readers of the culinary magazine.  The essay is concerned with the ethics of boiling a creature alive […]

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Caryl Chessman – 3

By Christopher Zoukis 

Finally, on May 2, 1960, Chessman was strapped into the chair in the gas chamber at San Quentin.  As the straps were tightened, his attorney Rosalie Asher was in Sacramento, presenting a motion to Judge Goodman of the California Supreme Court.  Judge Goodman was intrigued by her presentation, but needed more time to study it.  Rosalie Asher told him there was no time. 

Judge Goodman issued a one-hour stay of execution so that he could study the motion.  He instructed his secretary to call the warden at San Quentin.  When told to halt the execution, the assistant warden, Reed Nelson replied that it was too late.  “The execution has begun.”

The pellets of cyanide had already been dropped into the sulfuric acid, which sat in a bucket beneath Chessman’s legs.  The deadly fumes, like the invisible fingers of death tendriled up to his mouth and nose.  It took him eight minutes to die.

Three hours later a black hearse from the Harry M. Williams Funeral Home in San Rafael arrived to pick up the blue-green, lifeless body of Caryl Chessman.

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Caryl Chessman – 2

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy

His name was Caryl Whittier Chessman.  Born May 27, 1921 in St. Joseph, Michigan, he died May 2, 1960 at San Quentin Prison, San Quentin, California.  He was executed by the order of the State of California.

His life, though simple in one respect, that he spent most of it in one prison or another, was enormously complicated in many other respects.

The beginning of the end began in 1948.  Caryl had just been paroled from prison when the police arrested him in Los Angeles.  Supposedly, he was the “Red Light Bandit.”  This person nicknamed the Red Light Bandit, whoever he was, used a red flashing light on his car to impersonate a police car.  He would come up behind cars and turn on the red light.  Once the cars stopped, he would rob the drivers and passengers or, if they were young and female, rape them.

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The Happiest Man Alive – 2

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy

Once upon a time, the strewn ashes formed the skeletal infrastructure of Henry Valentine Miller, who called himself “the happiest man alive.”  Raw and robust in physique, he was tall, slender and gloriously ugly of face in an old-fashioned way.  Which means photographers sought him out, as the resulting photos exposed a most decorative piece of work – a delightful, irregular clot of ebullient life.

Born in Manhattan, New York, Miller grew up in Brooklyn.  For a short time he attended City College of New York, but dropped out because he found formal academics suffocating.  Miller wanted to write, eat, drink, and fornicate.  To live life like most people would, if they could only shed the itchy skin of sanctimony.

Miller moved to Paris in 1930, where he lived like a street person, sleeping on the floors of friends’ apartments, begging for food, scavenging and, of course, writing.  The literary fruit of this lifestyle was Tropic of Cancer, a ribald, autobiographical novel that reads like an animated, graphic essay.  Because of its overt sex scenes, honest language, and innovative style, no publisher in the United States would touch the book. 

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