Saturday, July 20, 2013

true story swear to God

(This is a true story. All names, dates, and locations in this story have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty. In the interests of decorum euphemisms have been used to replace some of story's more colorful language.)

Back in the 80s I was involved with an anime fan club in a large Southeastern city.  To this city came "Melvin", a charming and gregarious fellow who was a very talented artist.  Older, with more fan experience and contacts, he quickly became friend to all, host of many gatherings, a valuable club official, and participant in our various anime-fan projects, schemes, pranks, and other young-adult shenanigans.

Sadly, Melvin developed wanderlust and he moved to, oh, let's say, Frostbite Falls, Minnesota.  He hooked up with the fan community in a nearby large city and, as an extrovert among introverts, quickly became an integral part of that community as well. Club meetings, conventions, newsletters, gaming sessions, tape swapping; he was in the thick of it.

But all was not well.  Jealousy and suspicion lurked in the hearts of some of his new-found compatriots.  Melvin became the target of an anonymous hate-letter campaign, which sent letters to anime clubs across the country decrying this newcomer, casting doubt as to his motives and his morals, and begging for information as to his previous nefarious deeds in other cities.  I received one of these letters and immediately got on the telephone to Melvin and asked him what in the Wide World Of Sports was going on?

What was going on was nothing more than the dumbest-ass kind of dumb-ass fan politicking BS.  Some of the local fans in the Frostbite Falls region resented Melvin's outgoing demeanor, his "why bother" attitude towards persnickity fandom rules and regulations, and in general the concept that this brash outsider could waltz in and take over THEIR anime club. In turn, Melvin found himself exasperated at the childish attitude of those who would vote him into the club's leadership cadre, appoint him librarian in charge of the club's videotape library, and at the same time start an anonymous smear campaign behind his back.

Right around this time, one of the club's founding members... let's call him Fred Mertz - Fred got transferred out of town.  Way out of town.  Fred was the local tape god and had lots and lots of old-time anime tapes - 13th gen VHS copies of movies, TV shows and OVAs, gathered from wherever and whoever. As was the custom of beneficent tape deities, Fred would duplicate items from this collection for the benefit of club members and whoever could send blanks and return postage.  However, Fred wasn't going to take hundreds of VHS tapes with him on his trip, so the collection was donated to the club's library. The club agreed that our friend Melvin, as tape librarian, should have the cheerful duty of copying all these tapes onto other tapes that would be loaned out to club members at meetings.  That's right, the same club members who felt Melvin's presence was as odious as to require an anonymous smear campaign, also felt Melvin should spend his free time duplicating anime video tapes for their benefit.

And that's just what happened; Melvin copied tapes and brought them to the meetings and club members borrowed them.  Until one day when Melvin's house was robbed.  Robbed in broad daylight by people who knew what they were after - the Fred Mertz collection.  Nothing else was touched.  Just the tapes were gone.  Not a trace of them was found, no copies were unearthed that seemed to come from the collection - and what would be the point of stealing these tapes if you couldn't brag about having them, or show them to anybody?  Remember, this was in the days before torrenting, before Amazon, before DVD box sets.  A collection like Fred’s was fairly unique, and its appearance among any gathering of anime fans would cause a stir.  

The tapes remained gone.  Melvin soon left Frostbite Falls for greener pastures.  The anime club disintegrated, as many of them do.  Years passed.  I caught up with Melvin at an anime convention in a completely different part of the country, and soon we were relaxing in the hot tub catching up.  But there was one thing I had to know.

"Melvin," I asked.  "Melvin - I just gotta know.  What REALLY happened to the Fred Mertz tapes?"

Melvin laughed.  "Dave, I'll tell you the truth.  You want to know what happened to the tapes? I’ll tell you what happened to the tapes.  I SET THE MOTHER SCRATCHERS ON FIRE."

"I went out to the back yard and I opened up the grill, and I got the lighter fluid, and I carried the boxes of tapes out there and I just TORCHED THE WHOLE JUMP-ROPING LOT OF THEM.  They all went up in smoke.  If those jump-roping mother-scratchers in that anime club thought I was going to take their back-stabbing and their anonymous abuse without FIGHTING BACK, they were WRONG.  JUMP-ROPING WRONG, DAVE. "

I was horrified.  And yet at the same time I was amazed at the brilliance of the act, at the theatrical, Biblical proportions of what he'd done.  He'd taken the most holy objects of anime fandom - VHS tapes of Japanese cartoons  - and destroyed them in a ritual that both punished the sinful AND freed them from the object of their desire, ALL AT ONCE.

Was he right or wrong?  Should we condemn or applaud this act?  I don't know.  Certainly in the greater scheme of things, a tape collection isn't much to get worked up about, and the club, certain members of it anyway, well, they certainly deserved punishment.  On the other hand, it was, let's face it, destruction of somebody else's property.  I can't say what I'd do in that situation, and before anybody is quick to cast judgment, I would remind them of the Indian proverb that says not to judge a man until you've walked a mile in his moccasins, or copied Project A-Ko or the Macross movie a few hundred times.

With the distance of miles and years, I believe we can look back on the events and draw a few conclusions.  First off, if you have a problem with a club or with a club officer, air your grievances publicly through healthy and constructive criticism.  And secondly, if you DO mount an anonymous smear campaign against somebody, DON'T LOAN THEM YOUR VIDEOTAPES.


Nightmare Bruce said...

Great story! Wonder if Melvin had the urge to tell them he had burned them back then...he probably would have gotten assaulted over destroying a collection that scarce.

Things must have been weird back then when anime was so hard to come by (by the time I got into it in the mid 90's you could get a lot of stuff at Suncoast) but I like the idea of real face to face communities coming together out of necessity. It's a lot harder to escape the drama, though.

Anonymous said...

"This story looks shopped."

No, seriously, great job at cleaning this one up for the folks playing-along at home. I'm quite sure that I recall some of the background on this one (but you'd need a great deal of haggling and even more Shochiku Plum Wine to pry the intricacies out of me these days.)

-- Carl Horn's Funnier Brother

P.S. Some of those old tapes were gold, man, GOLD!!

Cheri said...

This is fantastic!

Acroyear said...

Wow, this brings back some memories. I too know and am friends with Melvin. Heck, I even spent the night up at his and his girlfriend's apartment in Frostbite Falls which is where the tapes were located and I ended up back there again not long after the tapes vanished because of the whole mess.

All these years later, I think I still have the copy of the notice mailed to me by the old geriatrics of the Bigger City near Frostbite Fall Metroplex Club in one of my boxes of old anime club newsletters and other assorted paperwork. It arrived right before a annual convention (which the club in this story ran an anime room) up in this city near Frostbite Falls which oddly enough, had some of these very same notices posted about the convention. Oh, what a fun weekend that was.

All in all this was such a pain in the @$$. As a friend and acquaintance to some of those involved in this, coupled with being the president (i.e. sucker) of another anime club just South and East of the club near Frostbite Fall, I got dragged into mediating some of the stuff going up there as a neutral third party. Needless to say that didn't work or last long but I did here enough to know that I was glad I didn't have to deal with big city near Frostbite Falls style politics in my little, insignificant corner of anime fandom.

As to the tape collection, I know several people who still have some copies of show the came from that source. Things I'm sure most modern fans have never heard of and would care even less about seeing but that's their loss. It was quite the collection and if memory serves, one of the two largest anime tape collections in the city of it's original owner.

Sorry for rambling a bit. It's late and I too do not wish to name names.

V.G.X. said...

A great story and it reminds me of some of the stuff I encountered in my early, wobbling, unsure steps into the field (or arena) of semi-organized Anime fandom. When I got into the fandom, it was in the very early 1990s. It was in a small university town where there was an anime club that was the center of the local fandom scene.
There was a local "tape god" of sorts I'll dub with the alias of Daniel. Daniel was one of those easy going sorts, and he had a decent sized, well-rounded collection of n-th generation copies of all sorts of anime. He was elected club president and managed to upset a small inter-club clique made up of a self-important busybody who fancied himself a local Master of Fandom and his tiny band of malcontents. He was the sort of guy who clung to his meager accomplishments as if they conferred the status he thought he deserved, in his case he claimed to have printed a fanzine no one had heard of that was "groundbreaking" and "seminal" and to have had two, two whole fanfiction pieces published in another zine, which he offered as proof of his writing credentials. This gasbag took the club utterly seriously and when he and a couple of his pals had held club positions he tried to steer the governance of the club to a rigid, deadly serious Roger's Rule of Order style on steroids. They resented Daniel because he took his job in the club seriously enough but his method of governance was laid back, casual but not lazy. This led to some backbiting and spreading of ridiculous rumors, and fandom politics at their pettiest. Sadly, the breakup of the club occurred about a year into Daniel's presidency, partly because he and others were tired of dealing with the local Master of Fandom and his bunches rumor-mongering, backbiting, criticism and those club members they managed to sway to their side.