Wow, with a tag-line like that, I'd better deliver. If you didn't tune in to last week's blog; GREAT!! Because I didn't either. Not only did I fail to deliver my blog, I failed to shout STOP SENDING SUBMISSIONS to the now infamous Kabel's Kannibal Cookbook. The deadline for submissions ended with my youth on September 28, when I turned 45 years old. Okay, so my youth ended a handful of birthdays ago when my hair turned gray and started migrating from the top of my head to the middle of my back. Let's move on already.
When I was a kid, my father was quick to dub his three sons with nicknames. Most of the time I was Bean. But every now and then I would be assigned the title of Fireball Roberts. I never asked why he called me that (occasionally), and he never bothered to offer it.
As years passed and I had the privilege of spending most of my adult life in the company of my dad building houses with him and one of my brothers, he would bring the nickname up on the golf course. Particularly when I overshot the green or hit a put too hard and it raced by the little hole in the ground you are supposed to put it in.
Again, I never bothered to ask about the Fireball Roberts reference; it merely assumed that this Roberts fellow was some icon of forgotten days who used to move quickly in some capacity or other.
This morning when my six year old daughter, Rose was acting like she took in great doses of sugar and caffeine just before her feet hit the cold floor, I found myself calling her Fireball Roberts. My wife asked me why I called her that, and I was at a loss.
Why did I call her that, and who was this character. Of course a more curious, or ambitious fellow would have looked this easily attainable information up a long time ago. That's what Wikipedia is for.
I should have probably looked it up a couple of years ago when I came across the name for the first time in a handful of years, when I read The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley. I cannot kiss the ass of this book enough to do it justice. If you haven't read it yet, shame on you. Go buy, steal, or borrow it right this instant!
Anyway, this great book opens with the line, "When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon."
WOW! If that doesn't send you running to check a reference, what will? The height of ambition I may not be, but I was overly curious enough to want to read as much of that book as I could in one sitting after taking in that great opening. The mention of Fireball Roberts sparked something in my head that only confirmed the notion that this Roberts dude was an icon of a forgotten era that my old man didn't just make up off the cuff.
Still, I filed it away and read on through the Crumley book and loved it. In fact, I loved it so much that as soon as I had finished it, I went on a biblioventure (my word), searching near and far for everything Mr. Crumley ever put to print. So far, I haven't enjoyed anything of his as much as I enjoyed The Last Good Kiss. Since much of it was out of print, I went up one cyber-hill and down the other until I had obtained every last word he put to print before he died. That's just the kind of obsessive nut that I am. But I did not look up the origin of this Fireball Roberts to guess why anyone would give an alcoholic bulldog such a moniker.
Today, when my wife asked me who Fireball Roberts was, I decided to take that embarrassingly easy step into the land of knowledge both true and false (since anyone can submit anything to Wikipedia and have it recorded for posterity). My new found ambition rewarded me with this:
Fireball Roberts is a horrible nickname to give a little kid.
Edward Glenn "Fireball" Roberts, Jr. was a Florida race car driver who lost the great race of life in 1964 during the World 600 when his car crashed into a wall and exploded in (you guessed it) a great big fireball. If you look hard enough, you can find the grainy old footage of his demise and see the actual ball of fire that did him in. Not a thought that I want to associate with my beloved little princess.
You must be thinking the worst about racing fans right now. I always do. What kind of sick people would slap a nickname like this on a guy who literally went up in a ball of fire? It would be like calling your late uncle who lost his life to cancer, "Cancer Joe" or your aunt who was trampled in a riot, "Flat Mabel."
Before you start throwing retaliation at the NASCAR fans by awarding them such seemingly appropriate insults, (Inbred, toothless drunk comes to mind. Dipshit who gets off watching cars go around and around in a circle until someone explodes into a fireball could be another) just relax; they weren't the ones who gave Mr. Roberts his grimly prophetic nickname.
No, Edward Glenn "Fireball" Roberts, Jr. got his nickname when he played baseball for the American Legion several years before he aspired to drive a car around in a circle until it crashed into a wall.
Apparently, old Fireball had a hell of a fast pitch and received his nickname from it.
He may have had a chance to earn the nickname from the Army Air Corp, which he enlisted in, in 1945. But Uncle Sam gave him the boot after basic training when his asthma kicked in. Which seems rather suspect to me as he went on to spending quite a bit of his time outdoors, throwing fast pitches and later driving his car around in circles before smashing it into a wall.
Now for the really good stuff, because I see someone bouncing up and down in the back with their hand raised. What about Lawrence Block? You think I threw his name in the title of this post just to get some of his fans to read my blog? Shame on you! I would never exploit my very favorite writer in such a way.
To prove it, I submit this picture of me standing next to Mr. Block with the look of a frightened deer or wild eyed stalker in my eyes. This was taken at the recent launch party for a book by Larry's late friend, the great Donald Westlake, who some of you may know as Richard Stark, creator of the Parker series.
Larry wrote the introduction to the very nice collection of Donald Westlake's non-fiction essays called The Getaway Car, that I have clutched in my trembling, sweaty hands. If you want to hear some great stories about the early days of the Golden Age of crime fiction in NYC, talk to Lawrence Block. Both Larry and Donald Westlake lived through a lot of growth and change in publishing history. It is a fascinating topic that is woven through this book. If you don't have a copy, go to the Mysterious Bookshop and get one NOW!
He also wrote the book A Walk Among the Tombstones, which everyone knows has been made into a feature film with Liam Neeson and is burning up the competition in movie theaters across the country right NOW!
All well and good, but what the hell does that have to do with cannibalism? You promised Lawrence Block AND cannibalism!
Well, the best news I have for you is that Mr. Block is one of the many talented authors contributing to the upcoming Kannibal Cookbook collection that is being put together by me and the awesome folks at Out of the Gutter.
This much anticipated collection of short stories will also feature such talents as Dave Zeltserman, Jason Starr, Stuart Neville, Joe Clifford, and many others.
I hope you have a healthy appetite and a strong stomach