Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, January 31, 2011


I was listening to a rebroadcast of The Diane Rehm Show yesterday on NPR.  Diane's guest was Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, an interesting indictment on mass marketing and its effect on young girls.

     Has "Princess Mania" gotten out of hand?  And what effect does it have on a young girl's identity?  Is mass marketing pushing our children to grow up even faster that it had a few years ago?  Does the heavy corporate effort of merchandising push young girls to a false sense of maturity?  Has childhood been coopted by the almighty dollar?

     Probably, yes.  It does seem, though, that everything has sped up from when my daughters were young.  There is a fast track from Princess to Bratz to a push to early sexuality.  I watched some sort of dance contest show on television this past week which had a young girl, probably ten or eleven, do a routine that seemed entirely inappropriate for a girl that age.  Her costume was just as inappropriate.  I have steadfastly avoided Toddlers and Tiaras, which -- despite what organizers of such contests claim -- surely attracts pedophiles.

     Both boys and girls are targeted by such marketing and merchandising, but it seem to me that girls are more directly targeted.  It's a mixture of greed, sexism and misogyny.

     Or am I just an old fart who doesn't want to move with the times?



Just six books this past week, most from various paperback series:
  • Judd Cole - Cheyenne #2:  Death Chant
  • J. T. Edson - McGraw's Inheritance
  • Warren T. Longtree - Ruff Justice #6:  The Spirit Woman War
  • Jeffrey Lord - Richard Blade #7:  Pearl of Patmos
  • Michael Swanick - The Iron Dragon's Daughter
  • Ramsay Thorne - Renegade #2:  Blood Runner
     Spent most of the week catching up on Stephen King's Dark Tower series and finished The Wolves of the Calla and Song of Susannah.  Later this week, I'll (finally) get to volume 7.  Right now I'm halfway through a 1928 short story collection by John Buchan, The Runagates Club, and finding it both interesting and jingoistic.  Also dipping into L. Adams Beck's The Ninth Vibration and Other Stories (1926) and finding it rough sledding, at least at the start.

Friday, January 28, 2011


My choice for this week's forgotten books is truly forgotten.  I read the book about 25 years ago and then completely forgot about it.  According to my notes, I enjoyed it greatly, but now I can't remember much about it.  Perhaps someone reading this this can help jog my memory on some details.

     Rue Morgue No. 1 is a 1946 anthology edited by Rex Stout and Louis Greenfield published by Creative Age Press in New York.  My foggy memory tells me that this was planned as the first of a series, although no others appeared.  Anyway, here are nineteen mystery/crime stories taken mainly from the detective pulps (Black Mask, Detective Magazine, Detective Tales, Popular Detective, Speed Detective, and possibly others), with a sprinkling from the slicks (Atlantic Monthly, Cosmopolitan, Woman's Home Companion), and from Weird Tales.  Here's the line-up:
  • The Listening House, Paul Hoffman
  • What More Can Fortune Do?, H. Bedford-Jones
  • It Had to Be, Dorothy Dunn
  • Slay-Mates, Charles Larson
  • The Green God's Ring, Seabury Quinn
  • Gun from Gotham (Sleep for a Dreamer), Robert Leslie Bellam
  • Second Childhood, Jack Snow
  • Cold Figures!, William Hellman
  • The Watchers, Ray Bradbury
  • Manhattan Manhunt, Matt Taylor
  • Dead As in Blonde, D. L. Champion
  • Death in the Tank, Hugh Speer
  • Death Lies Waiting, Roland Phillips
  • Need a Body Cry, H. Wolf Salz
  • Suicide, Frank Kane
  • Midnight Rendezvous, Margaret Manners
  • I'll Slay You in My Dreams, Bruno Fischer
  • Murder Is Stupid, Kerry O'Neil
  • The Cat's Eye, John Van Druten
     Some pretty heavy hitters here from the old pulps:  Bedford-Jones, Quinn, Bellam, Bradbury, Champoin, Kane, Fischer, etc.  To my knowledge, the anthology has never been reprinted.  Abebooks has copies listed going for $9.50 and very much above.  I really need to get a copy and re-read it.  Sounds like just my cup of tea.


     This week's guest host for Friday's Forgotten Books is Kerrie Smith over at Mysteries in Paradise (mysteries-paradise.blogspot,com).  Patti Abbott is taking a well-deserved break and will be back in a few weeks.  Meanwhile, we carry on, or -- in this week's case, we Kerrie on.  **groan**

Thursday, January 27, 2011


My name is Jerry and I have gone over to the Dark Side.  I am sincerely worried about the state of my soul.  I am beginning to revel in others' misfortune.  Yes, I admit it.  I am beginning to get addicted to the trainwrecks that are reality television.

    It started simply enough with The Real Housewifes of D.C.  Watching the gate-crashing Salahis was like watching a deadly snake.  I was hypnotized by their shallowness, all the while basking in my superiority to them.  Then came a show called Million Dollar Listing, about three young competing California real estate agent who brought shallowness to a new low level.  (Don't even get me going about Chadicakes' hair!) 

     Last night I watched an episode of Wife Swap.  One bozo was too busy playing with his actions figures to pay attention to his young (very talentless) son who wanted to be a rapper; and that's when he and his wife are not out hunting Sasquatch.  The other family seemed to be deluding themselves that they were paying equal attention to all their kids.  Ugh!  I felt so virtuous.  I am so much better than them.  They are merely objects to be sneered at, not pitied.  God help me!

    I've also seen a number of shows about brides.  Mean, thankless brides.  Selfish, bitchy brides.  Brides who have absolutely no taste in choosing bridal gowns.  Slash-my-wrists-now-before-I-would-ever-deign- to-marry-any-one-of-these-monster brides.  Brides who make the subjects of the "People at Wal-Mart" site look positively main street.  Brides who scare me.  Brrrrrr!

     I may need your support.  I'm going to try...try to give it up cold turkey.  Public television and selected scripted series only.  Masterpiece Classic and NCIS.

     If I don't make it, feel free to Gibbs-slap me.


My contribution to Scott Parker's Forgotten Music series this month concerns two performers with just about the same name.  The music may not be considered forgotten, but I wonder how many people today listen to the original artists.

     James Charles "Jimmie" Rodgers was born in 1897, probably in Mississippi but perhaps in Alabama.  By the time he was thirteen, he had run away a couple of times with ideas of starting his own show; he was caught and sent home.  His father got him his first job as a waterboy on a railroad; within a few years Jimmie became a railroad brakeman.  Railroad men and hobos helped him refine his guitar skills.

     By the age of 27, he came down with tuberculosis, forcing him to leave the railroad while allowing him to persue a performing career.  He soon found some success on local radio and made his first recording in 1927.  A few months later, at a second session, Jimmie recording Blue Yodel (also known as T for Texas) which went on to sell half a million copies.  Jimmie Rodgers became a genuine star, the "Singing Brakeman".  He toured with Will Rogers and recorded with Louis Armstrong, all the while recording songs that would remain classics to this day.  In 1933, just two days after his last recording session, Jimmie Rodgers died of TB; he was just 35.

     Not only is Jimmie Rodgers considered one of (if not the) the founders of country music, but his influence on American blues is considerable.  It is hard to discuss American "roots" music without discussing Jimmie Rodgers.

     Less than four months after Jimmie's death, another Jimmy Rodgers -- James Frederick Rogers -- was born.  This Jimmy Rodgers was blessed with a sweet, golden voice that launched him to the number 1 spot on the record charts with Honeycomb in 1957.  This song was followed with other hits, including Kisses Sweeter Than Wine.  Many of his songs had a folk sensibility, Sloop John B and Waltzing Matilda among them.  He was able to blend Nashville, folk and pop effortlessly.  His popularity led to a variety show on NBC and a later summer replacement variety show on ABC, as well as some film roles.

     In 1967, he was physically beaten in an incident that remains shrouded in mystery.  Allegedly he was assaulted after being pulled over by an off-duty policeman.  The beating fractured his skull and left him little memory of the incident.  His rehabilitation took a year, during which his wife died suddenly of a blot clot.  He eventually returned to performing, recording as late as 1979, but essentially his career had begun a steep descent.  In 1999, he admitted that he had suffered from spastic disphonia "for a number of years", which impaired his ability to sing.

     So, here's to two Jimmies, each of whom made a positive contribution to the American music scene.

First, Jimmie with Blue Yodel Number 1, In the Jailhouse Now, and Miss the Missippi and You:

Then, Jimmy with Honeycomb, Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, and It's Over:


For a guide to this month's forgotten music, visit Scott at

Monday, January 24, 2011


My choice for this week's overlooked flick is a 1955 mystery/espionage movie with a soupcon of science fiction:  The Atomic Man (original UK title Timeslip).  A man has been fished out of the river after being shot in the back.  A photograph taken at the time shows a halo around the victim's head.  Reporter Mike Delaney, smelling a big story, investigates.

     At first, the victim appears to be a Dr. Raynor, an atomic scientist.  But the real Dr. Raynor seems to be alive and well and working in an atomic laboratory.  This Dr. Raynor, however, has his face bandaged -- the result of a recent car accident.  The shooting victim is not any help; he seems to be talking nonsense.  It's not nonsense of course:  radiation has affected his brain and has put it seven and a half seconds ahead in time -- the victim has actually been answering questions that had not yet been asked.

     After that interesting science fictional conceit, the movie then goes back into thriller territory.  the trail leads Mike to the real villain Vasquo and to a South American tungsten concern.  Mike digs too deep and is fired; he and his girlfriend dig deeper and discover an industrial espionage plot.  The pace quickens, danger looms, and Mike must risk all to save his girlfriend.

     Despite a number of standard tropes, this is a surprisingly good and intelligent movie.  Evidently, the story was first used by the screenwriter, Charles Eric Maine, as a 30-minute BBC television show.  Maine (real name David McIlwain) then wrote the movie and finally wrote it as a novel, The Isotope Man, the first of three books featuring Mike Delaney.  (References stating that the movie was based on the book did not look closely at the book's copyright date.)



Gotta stay out of thrift stores.  Here's what came in last week for the collection that ate Southern Maryland:
  • Greg Bear - Beyond Heaven's River
  • Glen Cook -  Whispering Nickel Idols (a Garrett, P.I. novel)
  • James Herbert - '48
  • Nancy Holder - Buffy the Vampire Slayer:  Carnival of Souls
  • Herbert Lieberman - The Climate of Hell
  • Warren Murphy & Richard Sapir, creators - The Destroyer series: Midnight Man (#43); Dying Space (#47);  Profit Motive (#48); Total Recall (#58); The End of the Game (#60); The Last Alchemist (#64); Look Into My Eyes (#67); White Water (#106); Syndication Rites (#122); Market Force (#127); Dream Thing (#139); Dark Ages (#140); Frightening Strikes (#141)
  • Don Pendleton, creator - The Executioner:  Double Crossfire (#40); Don Pendleton's Mack Bolin:  Hardline
  • "Owen Roundtree" (William Kittredge & Steven M. Krauzer) - Cord:  King of Colorado
  • Elaine Viets - Shop till You Drop (Dead-End Job series)

Sunday, January 23, 2011


It's cold outside, so we're staying in, and have been all weekend.  The couch is comfy and there was a lot to watch on television and DVD.  Briefly:

  • Devil (2010) - Horror flick based on a story idea by M. Night Shyamalan.  Five people are trapped in an elevator and one of them is the devil.  Which one?  The abusive security guard?  The pickpocket old lady?  The sleazy mattress salesman?  The blackmailing siren?  The fifth person (who has a devastating secret)?  Blood and nastiness abound, with a slightly cheesy ending.  B+
  • The Social Network (2010) - The founding of Facebook.  Very good performances by Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield.  Not too many characters come off well in this flick -- Aaron Sorkin's script does a good job of putting nuances on shallowness.  A-
  • Wall Street:  Money Never Sleeps (2010) - It's been eight years since Gordon Gekko has been released from prison.  He's found new fame as a best-sellling author but is biding his time to make a comeback and to get his revenge.  (He may be channeling his inner Khan Noonien Singh here.)  Michael Douglas does a good job as Gekko and Josh Brolin performs well as his antagonist.  Shia LaBeouf struck me as totally uinbelievable in his role, Charlie Sheen puts in a gratuitous performance, and Frank Langella is looking old.  B-
  • Law & Order: UK - "Hidden" (season two, episode two, 2009) - Prosecutor Jamie Steel (Ben Daniels) knows a recently released rapist has not been rehabilitated and now has a chance to try him for rape/murder.  I've seen every episode thus far shown on BBC America and Jamie Steel seems to be the losingest prosecutor in the world, or (perhaps) the UK empanels the O. J. Simpson jury for every trial.   Despite this (and plot holes), I'm enjoying the series.  B+
  • Medium - "Me Without You" (series finale, 2011) - After seven years, this enjoyable -- and sometimes frustrating series -- sails off into the sunset.  This episode suffers badly from "seriesendingitis", a terrible disease that series producers catch when they want to tie up loose ends while providing something supposedly unexpected for the viewers.  The disease usually hits the ego and stains the series while straining credulity.  This episode was a mess as well as a ripoff of too many other shows and movies.  Oh, well, at least I know now that Ikea shelving will still be popular 41 years from now.  Extra points for the closing credits.  C-
  • Primevil - An anomoly opens in a school where three students are serving detention.  When the ARC team show up, two of the students fear they are the police and manage to lock down all inner and outer doors to the school.  Munching on people ensues.  Meanwhile, Philip decides that all the specimens should be put down, prompting Abby to try to smuggle them out of the ARC.  Evil Ethan kidnaps Emily.  This series has had so many changing cast members, it's sometimes hard to keep them straight.  In this episode, we are bludgeoned with unbelievable characters behaving unbelievably.  A good premise for this episode is wasted.  D
  • We also tuned into QVC while they peddled the Jacqueline Kennedy Collection of costume jewelry.  This is something Kitty tries to catch whenever it is offered.  Self-styled "Kennedy historian" Philip Katz delivers patter on the history and stories behind each reproduction, sometimes accurately.  In this case, the devil is in the details rather than the elevator (see above).  Some of his gaffes seem scripted, some impromptu, and many are designed to push merchandise by embroidering on the Kennedy mythos.  No, JFK never designed all the pieces of jewelry that Katz claimed.  And, no, Jacqueline Kennedy did not make an overseas trip to Canada.  These QVC episodes would be a complete hoot were it not for the pathetic phone calls from excited buyers who fell for this line.  A gulty pleasure, thus not eligible for rating.
       How was your weekend?

Saturday, January 22, 2011


As Bill Crider might write:  Another Sign of the Coming Apocalypse.  Sarah Palin now stars in Steampunk Palin, a comic book featuring the half-a-governor in a steam-powered future where over half of the half-a-governor has been replaced by robotic, steam-powered parts.  Got that?  The divine Mrs. P., who can get really steamed over rational discussion, is powered by hot air.

     What's cool is that Palin is drawn having a zaftig body that previously existed only in Glenn Beck's imagination.

     I have not seen or read the comic book, so I can't really comment further except to say the thought of handling a steampunk Palin makes me very uneasy.

     A hat tip to Gary Dobbs, whose Tainted Archive blog attempted to warn the world:

A tip of the same hat to SF Signal, which linked to this over at BoingBoing:

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Let me 'fess up at the beginning:  this is not really a forgotten book.  It was published in 2005 and was recommended by Locus Magazine as one of the best books of that year.  Since it was published by Nonstop Press (not really a major publisher) and concerns an artist few people have heard of, I figured I could sneak it in here.

     Confession number two:  I haven't read the book.  I just got the book this morning and have spent most of that time going over the artwork, then going over the artwork again, then a third time...well, you get the idea.  I will get to the text this weekend, I promise; but, oh, the art...

     Lee Brown Coye is best known for his work in the horror field:  Weird Tales, Arkham House, Fantastic, Whispers, etc.  His style in that field is often cartoonish, outlandish, and disquieting.  Somehow, the art always fit whatever story it was depicting.  Often his ink and scratchboard art featured sticks -- joined together in odd ways or separately -- a thin (sometimes lop-sided) crescent moon and old Victorian houses.   The author and editor Karl Edward Wagner, a personal friend of Coye's, used the stick motif as a basis for one of his best stories, aptly and simply titled "Sticks".  Coye himself was known to spin an interesting tale about his fascination with the topic -- much of which was incorporated into Wagner's tale.

     Coye, of course, worked in other areas.  He had a Thomas Hart Benton-like approach to many of his oil paintings, often depicting a rural, central-New York sensibility.  His spot art could have easily fit into The New Yorker today He worked in murals, in models, in jewely, in sculpture, in diorama.  He designed book and magazine covers, letterheads, and business cards.  Constantly exploring, constantly experimenting, he deserves much wider recognition.  Unfortunately, much of his artwork has been lost, destroyed, or damaged; in his one-paragraph preface (yes, I read that much of the text), author Luis Ortiz mentioned that some 1930s murals "may still exist under four or five coats of house paint" in a school auditorium.

     This is a fantastic book, a thing of beauty.  Luis Ortiz also produced another great book about another great artist, Emshwiller:  Infinity x Two, also highly recommended.  I'll get to that one soon, but for now, I'm going back to savor Coye's artwork.


     Patti Abbott is taking the week off, but blog buddy Evan Lewis is acting as Guest Host for Friday's Forgotten Books over at  Check it out for other forgotten books.  While you're there, be sure to congratulate Evan for recently winning the Mystery Writer's of America's Robert L. Fish Memorial Award for his short story "Skyler Hobbs and the Rabbit Man".

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


American Vampire collects the first five issues of Scott Snyder's amazing comic book.  Coming along for the ride is Stephen King, who wrote half of each of the five issues, detailing the origins of Skinner Sweet, the American vampire.  The artwork is by Rafael Albuqueque.

     The main story takes place in late 1920s Hollywood.  Pearl Jones and Hattie Hargrove are movie extras with dreams of making it big.  Handsome movie star Chase Hamilton invites Pearl to a party at the home of a famous director, B. D. Bloch.  Pearl and Hattie are impressed by Bloch's elegant home and by the guest list, including Lon Chaney, Harold Lloyd and Louise Brooks.  Hamilton escorts Pearl to a private room to meet Bloch and leaves her with Bloch and some of his colleagues.  Unfortunately for Pearl, they are all vampires...and hungry.  Pearl survives (for a while) and is taken to a hospital where she is treated for massive animal bites.  Left alone there to die, she is visited by Skinner Sweet, who turns her.

     Skinner Sweet is a new kind of vampire -- an American vampire -- with more power than other vampires, most of whom had come to this country from Europe.  Sweet can survive in the sun and in water; his power only fades on nights when the moon does not shine.  He was once a particularly vicious outlaw who had been captured by Pinkerton agent James Book.  While escorting Sweet to New Mexico and an eventual hanging, Sweet's gang derails their train and a bloodbath ensues.  Sweet is killed and buried, but something has happened to turn him into a new kind of monster, albeit still particularly vicious.  To ensure that Sweet stays buried, a coven of European vampires build a dam and flood the area where Sweet's grave is.

     That's the background.  There are no sparkly vampires here.  This graphic novel goes back to the roots of the legends and presents vampires as they should be:  bloodthirsty, amoral killing machines.  Red is the color of the day and it flows freely.

     Scott Snyder first envisioned this story seven or eight years ago, but had not been able to get a handle on it until he had an opportunity to transform it to a comic book series.  When Snyder contacted Stephen King for a possible blurb for the proposed series, King asked if he could write a story for the series instead.  King took Snyder's story and detailed outline and produced Skinner Sweet's bloody origin story.  The two stories -- one in 1920s Los Angeles and the other beginning in 1880s Colorado -- mesh well. 

     Further volumes will take Skinner Sweet and Pearl Jones to Las Vegas in the 1930s and to World War II in the 1940's.  I'm looking forward to them.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


He passed away today at age 95, after being afflicted with Alzheimer,s since 2003.  A former vice-presidential candidate and Ambassador to France, Shriver may best be known for founding the Peace Corps.  That's a proud legacy for anyone.

     Sargent Shriver's legacy goes far beyond those accomplishments:  The War on Poverty, Office of Economic Opportunity, Special Olympics, Head Start, VISTA, Jobs Corps, Upward Bound, Foster Grandparents, Community Action, Legal Services, The Shriver Center (formerly the National Clearinghouse for Legal Services), Indian and Migrant Services, and Neighborhood Health Services.  There's probably much more that I haven't listed. 

     Is there a single person in the country who has not been affected, directly or indirectly, by this man's commitment to service?

     Sargent Shriver showed the very best of the American character.  He will be missed.


This past week was a good one for me and a bad one for my wife ("Where are you going to put all those books?")

  • "John Blaine" (Harold Goodwin) - Rocket Jumper, a Rick Brant Scientific Adventure, #21 in the series
  • Arthur C. Clarke - Imperial Earth
  • John Creasey - The Toff Proceeds
  • Gordon R. Dickson - The Dragon on the Border
  • Robert L. Forward - Camelot 30K
  • Karen Haber & Jonathan Straham, editors - Fantasy: The Best of 2004
  • Ben Hibbs, editor - Great Stories from The Saturday Evening Post, a 1947 paperback with thirteen stories first published between 1942 and 1946
  • Warren R. Murphy & Richard Sapir's The Destroyer series; I stumbled onto 32 books in the series (**smirk,smirk**):  Mafia Fix (#4); Last War Dance (#17); Assassins Play-Off (#20); Deadly Seeds (#21); Brain Drain (#22); The Last Temple (#27); Ship of Death (#28); The Head Men (#31); Voodoo Die (#33); Chained Reaction (#34); Dangerous Games (#40); Firing Line (#41); Skin Deep (#49); Fool's Gold (#52); Date With Death (#57); The Arms of Kali (#59); Lords of the Earth (#61); Lost Yesterday (#65); Sue Me (#66); An Old-Fashioned War (#68); Blue Smoke and Mirrors (#78); Terminal Transmission (#93); Unite and Conquer (#102); Scorched Earth (#105); Never Say Die (#110); Failing Marks (#114); The Final Reel (#116); The Last Monarch (#120); A Pound of Prevention (#121); Disloyal Opposition (#123); By Eminent Domain (#124); Waste Not,Want Not (#130)
  • Don Pendleton - Thermal Thursday, #36 in the Executioner series
  • "Michael Slade" (Jay and Rebecca Clarke) - Death's Door

     The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get.  **sigh**


To kick off my first entry for Todd Mason's forgotten movies, I have picked the most un-PC movie ever made.  This way, my contributions can only go up, right?

     The origins of this movie began in 1976, when then-Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz told a racist joke to singer Pat Boone and former White House counsel John Dean.  Not only was the joke racist and highly offensive, but (IMHO) it was terribly unfunny, as most such jokes are.  The joke -- and its teller -- became publicly known and Butz was forced to resign over the controversy.  (Weep no tears over Butz; he was a prejudiced yahoo with a long track record of offensive statements.  He also ended up convicted of tax evasion.)

     The movie is called Loose Shoes and it was released in 1980, although it was probably filmed three years earlier.  A sketch movie along the lines of Kentucky Fried Movie, it was racially and sexually offensive and mostly unfunny, except...about an hour into the film was a short musical sketch based on Earl Butz's joke that also gave the movie its title.  This sketch is pure offensive genius.  I can't/won't describe it, but its effect is on the order of the "Springtime for Hitler" scene in The Producers

      Loose Shoes was directed by Ira Miller and written by Miller, Ian Praiser, Varley Smith, and Royce Applegate.  Praiser had probably the biggest career of the four, producing and writing for such television shows as Alf, Bosom Buddies, Taxi, Caroline in the City, and Suddenly Susan.  Applegate had a steady acting career and is best known for his supporting role in the television series Seaquest DSV.  Miller and Smith had lesser careers, mainly in television.

     The film is alleged by some to be Bill Murray's first movie (he appeared in one sketch) and the timing of the release coincided with Murray's newly-found Saturday Night Live, Meatballs, and Caddyshack fame.  Others in the long list of actors and comedians who appeared in the film included Tom Baker, Buddy Hackett, Sid Haig, Howard Hesseman, Ed Lauter, Misty Rowe, Avery Schreiber, Betty Thomas, Gary Owens and Harry Shearer.  The most interesting member of the cast, however, is Kinky Friedman.

     For the cast alone, this film is a must for fans of bad movies.  It is also a must-not for anyone easily (or not so easily) offended.  You are going to have to search for this one. I have no idea if it is available on DVD or VHS, and a cursory search of Youtube did not provide any clips for me to imbed.

     For a more tasteful selection of forgotten movies, go to Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom at

Sunday, January 16, 2011


It turns out we were wrong, gang.  Actually, maybe we weren't, but we sure are now.  The Zodiac has changed and we are just going to have to live with the consequences.

     First off, there are thirteen signs of the Zodiac, not twelve.  I don't know why they are calling the new sign Ophiuchus.  It should be Arachne.  John Sladek invented/created/discovered it in his 1977 book Arachne Rising:  The Thirteenth Sign of the Zodiac, published as by "James Vogh".  Sladek is somewhat ignored nowadays and that is just wrong.

     Secondly, I am going to have to have a complete personality change.  My birthday is on October 30th, which used to put me squarely in with the Scorpio crowd.  Scorpios are obsessed with sex and Scorpio is the sex sign of the zodiac -- at least that's what I've been told and who am I to argue?  Now I am either a Virgo or a Libra, not sure which.  If there are any Virgos or Libras out there, please let me know which would be better.  Also, are Virgos (or Libras) allowed to be obsessed with sex?  Hope so.  I've invested a great deal of time being a Scorpio and I don't want it to go to waste.

     Additionally, what do I call myself?  What do I say a parties?  ("Hi, what's your sign.  I'm a Virgo and/or Libra.")  I don't want to come off as wimpy or undecided.  Would "Virbra" work?  Or "Ligo"?  The first sounds like I'm a chiropractor or some sort of kinky sex toy and the second sounds like I'm a child's set of building blocks.  This zodiac shift is a sad, sad state of affairs.

     I think what I'll do is what I've always done:  ignore the whole thing.  It's all rubbish anyway.  At least that's what my horoscope says -- if I'm looking at the right sign.


Martin Luther King Day is celebrated on the third Monday in January, making it January 17th this year.  His actual birthday was yesterday, January 15th.  I thought I'd would split the difference and post a few musical reminders.

     First, the great Mahalia;

     And Malvina Reynolds:

     With apologies to many of the current residents of Mississippi, here's Phil Ochs:

     I remember hearing the Staples Singers in the 1960's:

     I just like the fact that this song is now being sung by a sixth grade girl; to me, that gives it as power as when Joan Baez sang it:

      I was privileged to watch one of the last performances by Odetta.  Her voice rang true then as it did here in 1965:

     The man himself:

     May his dreams come true...

Saturday, January 15, 2011


It's official:  Nordstrom's has the best public restrooms.  At least in my area.  Well, actually, at least close to my area.  It's also the best place for shoes.

     January is the time for "Best of" lists, and the Chesapeake Bay area is no exception.  Bay Weekly, a free newspaper that covers the Annapolis area and my part of southern Maryland, has issued it's Best of the Bay list for 2010.  (Understand that the list is voted on by the readers, so what may be the "best" could merely be the most popular.  Isn't that always the way?)

     So if you are ever headed down my way, be advised that the best veterinarian is at at South Arundel Veterinary Hospital, and the best acupuncturist is Dr. Daohe Fang.  And was there any doubt that the best toy store is Be Beep?  I didn't think so.

      The best book store is Barnes & Noble.  (Really?  How long after it won multiple awards did they decided to carry Shaun Tan's The Arrival?)  Of, course there is a paucity of independent book stores in the area:  the number in my county

     The most scenic drive?  Bay Ridge.  Best dentist?  A tie, between Dr. Kathy Farley (Annapolis) and Dr. John Cutting (Edgewater).  Best yoga studio?  Golden Heart Yoga.

     And if you come down my way, be prepared to eat, because that evidently is one of the things we do best.  Skipper's Pier takes the honors in six catagories:  best overall restaurant, best seafood, best oysters, best softshell crabs, best bar, and best dock bar.  The Boatyard Bar & Grill is the most Bay-friendly business.  Mike's Crab House is the place to go for the best crab house, best crab cake, best crab soup, and best place for a cheap date -- and, no, cheap date is not a menu item.  Coffee?  The best coffee house is Zu Coffee.  (There's an umlaut in "Zu", but damned if I can find an umlaut on my keyboard.)  The Cadallac Ranch is both the best new restaurant and (tied with Skipper's, above) best new bar.  Best pizza can be found at Ledo Pizza (a bit too greasy for my taste), which is also another best place for a cheap date.  The best Asian food is at Lemongrass.  The best barbeque is at Adam's:  The Place for Ribs.  The best buirger can be found at Five Guy's Burgers & Fries; they also have the best french fries.  There's a tie for best deli:  Giolitti Delicatessen is duking it out with Nick's of Calvert.  Luna Blu has the best prix-fixe menu, and Heavenly Chicken and Ribs has half of the best wings.  If the wings are too hot, cool your mouth at Maggie Moo's, which has the best ice cream.  And if you have a sweet tooth, the best bakery is Sweet Sue's.

     There's many more places to eat.  Mamma Lucia's Squito's (best Italian), Double T Diner (best kid's menu), Mexico (the one in Huntington -- not the one down the street from me) and El Toro Bravo (best Mexican, tie), Osteria 177 (best romantic restaurant), Lewnes Steakhouse (best splurge restaurant and best steak), Rod 'n' Reel and Yellowfin (best Sunday brunch, tie), Chris' Charcoal Pit (best take-out), and Acme Bar and Grill (the other half of the best wings).  It's a bit sad that the best vegetarian category was taken by a supermarket (Whole Foods) rather than an eatery.

     While dining, perhaps you can listen to WRNR 103.1 (best radio station), or -- if you're lucky -- the restaurant offers entertainment by John Luskey (best local band/musician).

     Two items I will not argue with:  Best Hero - Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Biggest Issue Needing More Attention - Bay Clean-Up.

      What about where you live?  Have you been afflicted, whether good or bad, with a best-of list?  If you have, what seems silly and what seems serious?  And, if it was up to you, who should be named Best Hero in your area?  What should be the Biggest Issue Needing More Attention in your area?



Friday, January 14, 2011


John Kendrick Bangs (1862-1962) was popular writer and satirist during the late 1880s and early 1900s, probably best known today for his 1895 book A House-Boat on the Styx.  His humorous short story The Water-Ghost of Harrowby Hall is still occasionally reprinted.  His books are amusing, although obviously dated, and can be read quickly.

     Case in point:  The Dreamers:  A Club.  Being a More or Less Faithful Account of the Literary Exercises of the First Regular Meeting of The Organization (1899).  I love the names of the thirteen members of this club:  Bedford Parke, Tenafly Paterson, Dobbs Ferry, Hudson Rivers, the Snobbe Brothers (Tom, Dick and Harry), Greenwich Place, Fulton Streete, Berkeley Hights, Haarlem Bridge, Monty St. Vincent, and Billy Jones.  All of these genial idiots have literary ambitions.  Having just realized that many great works of literature were inspired by dreams of their authors, this Dirty Baker's Dozen decided to find a way to induce dreams that would pave the way to certain literary success. 

     How to do it?  People often dream after a rich meal, so why not design a meal that would ensure dreaming?  But what to serve?

     "Hudson Rivers was of the opinion that there should be six courses at that dinner, each one of Welsh-rabbit, but varying in form, such as Welsh-rabbit puree, for instance, in which the cheese should have the consistency of pea-soup rather than that of leather; such as Welsh-rabbit pate, in which the cheese should rest within walls of pastry instead of lying quiescent and inviting like a yellow mantle on a piece of toast; then a Welsh-rabbit roast; and so on through the banquet, rabbit upon rabbit, the whole washed down with the accepted wines of the ordinary bouquet, which experience had taught them were likely in themselves to assist in the work of dream-making."

     (Please note that this book was published five years before Winsor McCay began his cartoon series Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend.  An influence on McCay, perhaps, and leading eventually to the creation of Little Nemo?)

      The club decided against Huddie's proposal of Welsh-rabbit and cheap wine, deciding instead to go with Monty St. Vincent's idea of a grilled lobster, followed by devilled bird, followed by mince-pie smothered in molten cheese.  They also decided to hire a secretary to type their future literary outputs.  Dobbs Ferry had once seen a manuscript by Charles Dickens and reported that the handwriting was atrocious.  "I don't see how anyone knew it was good enough to publish until it got into print!"  One of the Snoobe Brothers replied, "That's simply a proof of what I've always said...if Charles Dicken's works had been written by me, no one would ever have published him."  "I haven't a doubt of it...Why, Snobbey, my boy, I believe if you had written the plays of Shakespeare they'd have been forgotten ages ago!" observed another member.  Snobbe agreed:  "So do I...This is a queer world."

     After the first meal of the club, all members hurried home to dream.  At the next meeting, they read the works inspired by the dreams:  stories, poems, plays, and a much-fancied reportage -- allowing Bangs to satirize many of the popular writers of the day.  I'm not familiar enough with all the writers to fully appreciate the parodies, although one on Sherlock Holmes and one on Finley Peter Dunnes' Mr. Dooley were spot on.  All of the parodies were enjoyable as examples of well-meaning but atrocious writing, so a familiarity with  all of the authors satirized is not really necessary.

     For the record, the book is dedicated "with all due respect and proper apologies" to:

  • Richard Harding Davis
  • James Whitcomb Riley
  • William Dean Howells
  • Rudyard Kipling
  • Hall Caine
  • Sundry Magazine Poets
  • Anthony Hope
  • The War Correspondents
  • A. Conan Doyle
  • Ian MacLaren
  • James M. Barrie
  • The Involvular Club, and
  • Mr. Dooley

     Every once in a while, I pick up one of Bangs's books and transport myself to an earlier time.  The satire may be dated but the humor is timeless.  I wouldn't recommend this to everyone, but if this is your sort of thing, you could do much worse.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


What the reader knows is that a new Dean Koontz novel will follow a familiar pattern.  A person with a tortured past will be put through the wringer, as will his family and loved ones.  Facing seemingly impossible odds against forces of evil/night/darkness/whatever, the truly good in spirit will overcome, reinforcing the beauty of life that is promised to all of us if we are humble and grateful enough.  And there will be a dog, usually a golden retriever, in the mix, representing an avatar of the light.  The thrilling climax will be stretched out over fifty or seventy pages.  And still I read each new Dean Koontz as it comes out:  I get caught up in the ride, following it through to the end and eagerly await the next one to come down the pike.

     The plot of What the Night Knows is covered in the book jacket blurb.  Twenty years before, Alton Turner Blackwood went on a killing spree, destroying and degrading entire families every 33 days.  The fourth family to be targeted had one survivor, fourteen-year old John Calvino, who managed to kill Blackwood only after his parents and sister were murdered and his sisters brutally defiled.  Fast forward to present time.  John Calvino is now a homicide detective, married with three children.  Another family has been murdered in the same manner as the first family that Blackwood had killed.  This time, the murderer was the family's young son, a boy who had no previous indication of violence.  Disturbed by the pattern of this latest killing, Calvino visited the youthful killer in the secure mental facility where he had been incarcerated.  The boy then quoted phrases that Blackwood had spoken to Calvino twenty years previously just before before being shot and killed by Calvino.  Phrases that Calvino had never told anyone.  And 33 days later another family is slaughtered.  Calvino knows that his family will soon be targeted by whoever or whatever is repeating Blackwood's crimes.

     I won't go beyond that basic premise here.  I will, however, try to explain what bothered me about the book.

     There is very little physical description of the main characters; rather, Koontz expends his energy describing the qualities of each member of Calvino's family.  We know they are uniquely bright and talented and special.  We know the world would be a much poorer place without them.  We know they are bound to each other by a fierce loyalty and love that put everyone else in the novel to shame.  We know that because we are told over and over again in so many different ways, usually in long paragraphs.

     Calvino the cop is a loner, devoted only to his work and his family.  He is honest to a fault and he has been redeemed by his love for his wife.  His wife is an artist whose work has a positive quality that has been critically recognized.  She accepts her gift humbly.  Though not directly addressed, it seems that she and Calvino make enough money to afford a pretty large house and grounds, complete with a couple to cook and do the household chores.  She also homeschools the three children.  He keeps the household safe with advanced alarms systems (which seem to evaporate whenever he steps outside).

     The children.  The oldest, Zach, is almost fourteen and desperately wants to be a marine when he comes of age.  He's been training to be a marine for two years.  He has a strtictly platonic crush on a girl he knows, while seemingly not being curious or interested in sex.  He has an aching love (in the purest sense) for his two younger sisters.  Naomi is eleven and whip-smart.  She's in love with fantasy worlds and magic princesses and dragons and whatever else I would presume a seven or eight-year old girl would be -- not an eleven-year old girl.  Thing is, part of Naomi believes this could be real.  Naomi has an aching love (in the purest sense) for her brother and sister.  To me, Naomi is the most ill-imagined character in the family.  Minnie, the eight-year old, is also whip-smart.  In fact, she's whip-smarter than any of the kids.  She also can sometimes see the dead, and she has a certain preternatural knowledge about things every now and then.  Minnie has an aching love (in the purest sense) for her brother and sister.  Almost every other character in the book is flawed or (to one degree or another) evil.  The only exceptions are the housekeepers (who are not given any character and are mere set pieces) and Calvino's partner (who's only purpose in the book seems to be to disappoint Calvino and to be proven wrong at the end).

     I guess the basic problem I had with the book is that it seems just too damned choreographed.  It has a constructed flow, rather than an organic one.  I felt manipulated far more than normal with a Koontz novel.  Koontz usually handles these things much better.  (Or does he?  Had he reached this point with earlier books, and I hadn't recognized it, or cared to recognize it?)  Of course, I must mention there was one plot point in the conclusion that I simply had a difficult time accepting. 

     Perversely perhaps, I still enjoyed the book.  The plot is solid, the threat exciting, and I really cared about the characters, despite my comments of two paragraphs above.  It is to Koontz's credit that he kept me reading -- kept me wanting to read -- despite the flaws that seemed to reach out and slap me on the side of the head.  The guy can write, I give him that.  Yes, I'll read his next book.  And the one after that.  And the one after that.

     And did I mention that the golden retiever had been dead for two years?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) was raised by his preacher father for the pulpit.  As a child he learned the value of theatrics and showmanship in spreading the gospel.  These lessons were carried over when he began to perform exorcisms:  simple tricks could convince tortured souls that they were possessed by demons and that Marcus could, and would, drive those demons out. 

     Now married with a young son, Cotton's conscience is getting the better of him.  He's leaving the ministry and will be exposing the exorcism racket for the sham it is.   Iris (Iris Reisen) is a documentary film making who is going to chronicle this one last exocism.  Picking an appeal for help at random, Cotton selects young Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) as his last subject.

     Nell's father has become more fundamentalist since his wife's death several years ago.  His only other child, a son, has rejected religion and all it stands for.  After Cotton performed his tricks and "exorcises" the young girl, he is surprised when Nell appears at his hotel room in a fugue state.  It turns out that Nell, who has been virtually isolated since her mother's death, is pregnant.  The boy she points to as the father knows nothing about this and is, in fact, gay.

     Oh, by the way, the demon is back..

     The movie is filmed documentary-style, a la The Blair Witch Project, with all action being recorded by Iris's photographer.  A check on IMDB shows a very mixed reaction to the film, but I really enjoyed it.  I thought it gave an interesting twist to an old chestnut.

      (BTW, I watched this the same afternoon I watched Inception.  I much preferred The Last Exorcism, which may tell you something about my critical thinking.)


...because he nails it:

Monday, January 10, 2011


It's Jack Taylor versus the devil in Ken Bruen's latest book, the eighth in the Jack Taylor series.  Now, why would the devil go after Jack while he has such major league stuff like war, famine, disease, and just pure evil to keep him busy?  Well, this time, it's personal.  For the devil, as well as for Jack.

     Bruen's books about Jack Taylor have always been dark, bleaker than Willeford or Goodis.  Taylor's life is one of despair, and everything he touches eventually turns to shite.  But the ex-Garda is just too stubborn and self-destructive to give up.  Bruen's brings a terse, dark poetry to today's Ireland, but as long as Taylor carries on, we can feel a little hope. 

     Although Taylor has faced (and been affected by) pure evil in the past, this is the first time he has come up against a supernatural antagonist.  Has Taylor bitten off more than he can chew?  Or has the devil?  I won't go into the plot except to say that horrendous things happen to Taylor and to those around him, horrible crimes are commited, and terrible vengeance is enacted. 

     The supernatural aspect cannot be dismissed, but this is in no way a "dark fantasy":  it's pure noir through and through.  Ken Bruen is one of the best writers working today, and his Jack Taylor series is one of the best examples of noir out there.  I can't recommend this book highly enough.


I had just two items come in these past two weeks:

  • Crypt of Cthulhu #94, Hallowmas, 1996
  • James Norman, Oscar, Detective of Mars
      Crypt of Cthulu is a small-press journal from Necronomicon Press.  This particular issue contains August Derleth's B.A. thesis from 1930, "The Weird Tale in English Since 1890."  I'm a huge Deleth fan so this made me happy.

     The other item, the Norman book, is a collection of five stories from Fantastic Adventures from the early Forties, and now collected by the wonderful Pulpville Press.  The stories (with their original magazine blurbs) are:
  • "Oscar, Detective of Mars", October, 1940.  "Out of a magician's hat popped the lovable Martian, Oscar, right smack into the middle of a deadly situation"
  • "Death Walks in Washington", March, 1941.  "Oscar, Detective of Mars, was the strangest creature ever seen on earth -- but the lovable little fellow wasn't half as strange as the ghastly figure that stalked murderously out of nowhere to challenge Oscar to a deadly duel of wits"
  • "Oscar Saves the Union", September, 1941.  "An Indian uprising dangerous?  While everybody laughed, Oscar used his sensitive nose, and it told him of an incredible danger to America..."
  • "Oscar and the Talking Totems", April, 1942.  "It took all the other-world science of Oscar, the Martian detective to combat the dastardly Jap plot that lay behind these innocent totem poles in Alaska"
  • "Double Trouble for Oscar", October, 1942.  "Oscar couldn't be in two places at once...Anyway, it meant danger to Fort Knox's gold"

     Neat, huh?

Friday, January 7, 2011


"This is my 'depressed stance.' When you're depressed, it makes a lot of difference how you stand.  The worst thing you can do is straighten up and hold your head high because then you'll start to feel better.  If you're going to get any joy out of being depressed, you've got to stand like this."  -- Charlie Brown


1954 was a good year for Poul Anderson.  This was the year he published his first major science fiction novel (the classic Brain Wave), the classic fantasy The Broken Sword, and the also-classic rationalized fantasy adventure Three Hearts and Three Lions.  Not yet thirty, he had already begun some of his most famous series:  stories about the Hoka, Dominic Flandry, and his Future History/Technic Civilization.  And 1954 also saw the magazine publication of a quirky story called Question and Answer in the June and July issues of Astounding Science Fiction.

     Question and Answer was both an alien encounter story and a puzzle story.  In this case, the puzzle concerns the aliens:  a contradictory conumdrum that faces some interplanetary explorers.  To go much further would give much of the plot away.  Convincing and logical depictions of aliens that are alien are relatively rare in science fiction:  Stanley G. Weimbaum pointed the way in A Martian Odyssey, Hal Clement convinced us with his Mesklinites in Mission of Gravity, and Poul Anderson turned a new leaf with this story.   (Yes, I know there are many other examples in science fiction today, especially since many sf writers now have a solid grounding in science, but right now I'm in my gosh-wow, wide-eyed, golden-age mind set.  So quitcha carping and go read the story.)

     Question and Answer was published in paperback by Ace in 1956 under the title Planet of No Return, and has been repirinted a number of times, including a 1978 reprint under the original magazine title Question and Answer.  The novel has also been been included in two omnibuses of Anderson's work:  The Worlds of Poul Anderson (Ace, 1974; do not confuse with the Roger Elwood-edited collection of Anderson's work titled The Many Worlds of Poul Anderson) and Two Worlds (Gregg Press, 1978).

     Anderson, of course, continued on writing -- creating more and more marvelous world and garnering more and more fans and awards until his death in 2001 at age 74.  For those who have not read his books, you can start almost anywhere (I have not read anything by Poul Anderson that I have not enjoyed) -- he has written science fiction, fantasy, mystery, historicals, adventure, juveniles, poetry, and non-fiction -- but if you're looking for a good, entertaining, fast-paced, sense-of-wonder read, try Planet of No Return.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Today's the day my younger brother becomes an even older old fart.

Best wishes and happy birthday, Ken!


For all you quilters out there:

With a doff of the chapeau to Dawn Keane.

Monday, January 3, 2011


Today is Wild West Monday.  More specifically, it's Wild West e-Monday.  The brainchild of Gary Dobbs, author and western fan extraordinaire from Pontypridd, Wales, it's a day set aside to promote the western in books and movies.

     Gary runs The Tainted Archive website, where he is hosting the e-vent. (Hehe.  Get it?  e-vent.  Oh, I'm so clever!)  Under the pen-name "Jack Martin", Gary is also a highly acclaimed author of the western novels The Tarnished Star, Arkansas Smith, and the forth-coming The Ballad of Delta Rose.  He help start a new line of western e-books, helped get George Gilman's best-selling Edge series back before the public, and wrote A Policeman's Lot, a historical mystery novel which places Jack the Ripper and Wild Bill Hickok in Victorian Wales.  He's also an actor; you've probably seen him lurking in the background on such BBC-TV shows as Dr. Who, Torchwood, or Larkrise to Candleford, to name a few.  As a man of many talents, Gary's the real goods.  Enough said.

     Now, as to Wild West e-Monday, Gary will be posting items all day.  Thus far, he's had items on the new True Grit movie from the Coen Brothers,  a great story, Melanie, by "Edward A. Grainger" (the talented David Cranmer), an article by Chap O'Keefe on Black Horse Western's entry into the e-book market, a look at Soltice Western's new e-books, and an article by Charles T. Whipple (aka "Chuck Tyrell") on why he writes westerns.  I'll be checking back throughout the day to see what other goodies Gary has up his sleeve:

While you're over at The Tainted Archive, be sure to check out some of the many older posts there.  Gary's always interesting and his website is a daily stop for me.

UPDATE!  Gary is now offering a free e-book of RAVEN DOVE by Joanne Walpole!  Now you have to click on to The Tainted Archive!

Also:  Gary just announced that his book The Tarnished Badge has been optioned and may be coming to the big screen soon.

UPDATE 2:   Also up is an  interview with writer Chris Scott Wilson and an interview with Terry Harknett, who, as "George Gilman" created the classic EDGE series.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Murray Leinster was one of the pulp greats  Best know for his science fiction and western stories, he also wrote extensively in the mystery, adventure and romance fields.  Here, in a story from All-Story Weekly, July 12, 1919, he combines the western and the mystery genres.  Enjoy.

It was hot.  My pony jogged listlessly along, without interest or animation, while I was only concerned with the problem of getting to shade and water, but especially shade.  The sun was hot enought to fry anyone's brains in his skull, and my saddle burned my hand if I touched it where the sun struck it.  There was a trickling stream of perspiration down either cheek, and a third stream down my nose.  From time to time I smudged the dust across my face in an attempt to stop the streams, but the action merely interrupted their course.

     It was in this peculiarly Texas atmosphere that I came across Jimmy Calton.

     He was standing by the open hood of one of those mechanical miracles know as a "tin lizzy," holding a sooted spark-plug in one hand and attempting to clean it with the other.  He was swearing the while dispassionately, in a curious mingling of good Anglo-Saxon and 'dobe Spanish.

     "Hello, Jimmy," I said listlessly.

     He looked up and nodded.

      "Say, you look hot," he observed.  "Come on an' ride a ways with me.  Lizzy heah'll be runnin' in a minute, an' you can tie yo' pony on behind."

     "Going anywhere in particular?" I asked.

     "Over t' see th' coroner," he told me.  "Ol' Abe Martin got shot th' other day an' folks are sayin' Harry Temple done it.  They got 'im locked up, anyways."

     I dismounted stiffly and tied my pony to the rear of the machine, allowing him plenty of lead-rope. 
Jimmy finished wiping the last of the spark-plugs, apostrophizing the car in the mean time.

     "You creakin', growlin', spark-plug foulin', blasted hunka tin," he finished lyrically, and put down the hood.

     He went to the crank and turned it half a dozen times.  The engine caught, sputtered, and bagan to run with a pretentious roar.

     Jimmy hastily reached for the wheel and adjusted the spark and throttle; then climbed in leisurely.  With a grinding and a lurch we started off, my pony following docilely behind.

     "Yes, tin, tin, tin," said Jimmy, doing mysterious things with his feet:

     I have scorned yuh and I have flayed yuh,

     But by the guy who made yuh,
     You are bettuh than a big car,

     Hunka tin!

     We slipped into the car's second and highest speed, and began to run more smoothly.  Jimmy looked behind to see that my pony was all right and began to roll a cigarette with his left hand, while expertly guiding the car around the numerous ruts and rocks in the roadway.  I watched the process of cigarette rollng without interest.

     "I can't seem to get the knack of that," I remarked, when he had finished and was licking the edge of the paper to hold it in place.

     "Imitatin'" Jimmy said casually.  "There ain't any way that everybody can do.  Nobody else I know rolls 'em like this.  It's jus' easiest this way fo' me.  You'll have to mess around till you find a way that fits yo' fingers."

     "I'll smoke tailor-made," I said, "rather than bother with learning."

     "Jus' like th' new generation,"  said Jimmy severely.  Jimmy, it may be said, is thirty, but affects the authority of a man of eighty.  "Wantin' everything done by somebody else, or else by machin'ry.  They even want theh thinkin' done fo' them."

     "It's too hot to think down here."  I took off my hat and wiped the moisture off the sweat band.

     "Judgin' by the little bit of it people do," Jimmy remarked acridly, "most folks agree with you.  Most poeple look at thinkin' as somethin' they was taught to do in schools, an', as such, somethin' t' forget as soon as possible.  From th' folks that don't think about th' spigoty revoltosos jus' across th' border an' are pained an' surprised when th' spigoties run off some o' their cattle, down to th' folkts that ud rather buy cigarettes than bother thinkin' up a way to roll them one-handed  fo' themselves, everybody's jus' the same.  Why, twouldn't surprise me none at all if most folks tol' th' truth jus' because it's too much trouble t' think up a lie."

     I accepted his rebuke in the matter of cigarettes meeklyand said nothing.

     "It's a fac'," said Jimmy, with an air of mournful pity for a race fallen so low.  "I saw in a book th' other daythat th' best lyin' is th' lie that's near th' truth.  Ain't that ridiculous?  That's just justifyin' laziness.  Ef folks got th' goods on yuh, and yuh can't get away from th' truth, then it's all right t' dilute th' truth until it's harmless, but otherwise a good lie beats th' almost-truth nine ways from Sunday.

     "Only it's a lot o' touble thinkin' up a good lie, and fortifyin' it with accumulative evidence" -- Jimmy rolled those two words off his tongue with some satisfaction -- "accumulative evidence like a good lie ought t' have."

     He fell silent for a while, doing marvels of steering in the avoidance of obstacles and depressions in the really horrible road.

     "And thinkin'" he said suddenly, presently, "Folks don't like thinkin'.  Anybody with any sense ud know Harry Temple wouldn't've shot ol' Abe Martin.  Harry Temple has got a bank account in th' Farmers and Ranchers Bank, an' it ain't in reason that he'd go an' shoot anybody t' steal their roll.

     "Ol Abe sold off six hundred steers, an' got th' money fo' them.  He was ol'-fashioned and didn't believe in banks, so he took th' money home with 'im.  An' somebody went an' shot him and took th' roll.  But Harry Temple, with a bank account in th' Farmers and Ranchers bank -- it ain't reasonable that he'd go an' shoot anybody fo' to steal their money.  Ef he's any like I am, he's too busy wonderin' ef somebody is goin' t' steal his money to go stealin' somebody else's."

     Jimmy said this last with an air of virtue that made me smile.  Jimmy is much too good a poker-player to be worried about his money.  I know he owns one small ranch that he never goes near, bought out of the proceeds of a colossal game still remembered along the border.

     "But they think he did it?" I asked.

     "Sho they do," said Jimmy scornfully.  "They's goin' aroun' sayin' they know he did.  That's toro, of course."

     One of Jimmy's individualities is his habit of translating American slang intto 'dobe Spanish and using it in his conversation.

     "What are you going to see the coroner for?"

     "They's holding a inquest, " said Jimmy.  "I'm sort o' goin' t' horn in a little, I reck'n.  These folks are too lazy to' do any thinkin'.  Ef I sees a chance, I'm goin' to do some head-work for them.  Theah's Abe Martin's place right ahead."

     We turned in the gate and swung up to the house.  Half a dozen cars, most of them the same make as  Jimmy's, clustered about the front, and there were about a dozen or more ponies tethered by the porch, dozing in the baking heat.  It was quite a pretentious place, built in the old-fashioned style of the days when a rancher was almost a baron in his own right.  Two big barns and a huge stable behind the house almost dwarfed the dwelling proper, and quite hid it from the rear.

     Jimmy eased his car in among the others, snapped the switch, and alighted.  Three or four of the men about the door nodded to him and told him the inquest had not yet started, but that it would begin shortly.  Once he found that out, Jimmy plunged into an intricate and technical discussion of patented attachments for his machine, and I drifted off into the house.

     It was a very old house, and built with old-fashioned disregard for space.  I gathered, however, that the housekeeping done it was but sketchy.  Half a dozen of his riders made it their headquarters, with old Abe Martin.  They bunked there, and a cook prepared the meals for all of them.  There was a long table with a checked, red tablecloth on it -- the room was empty now except for buzzing flies -- where they had their meals.  On the day of the shooting, I learned, the men had all been away on their duties, and the cook had gone into town for supplies, so Abe Martin had been alone.

     Presently I went out to look at the stables.  They were huge, but not much used.  Three or four ponies were in their stalls, and several more stalls seemed to be used from time to time, but most of them were without signs of recent use.

     There had been a time when the place was the headquarters of a busy ranch, but since the time of fences the activity had lessened until only Abe Martin, his half-dozen riders, and the cook lived there.  It was curious to see the dwelling-place, large in itself, dwarfed by its outbuildings.

     A stir in the house called me inside.  The inquest was evidently to be more or less of an informal affair, but there was none the less a determined and businesslike air behind it all.  Those men meant to get at the bottom of the matter.  The coroner seemed to be a conscientious individual, who took the evidence of the first witness with great exactitude, though he knew pretty well beforehand just what the testimony would be.  The whole inquiry, as a matter of fact, promised to be cut and dried in spite of Jimmy's announced intention of "horning in."

     The first witness was the cook, who had discovered the body.  He had come back from town, entered the house and discovered his employer dead on the floor of the hall.

     He had been shot through the heart.  A rider, whom the cook had hastily summoned, corroborated his testimony and added that the body was cold when he was called, proving that death had occured some time before.

     "Th' evidence shows," said the coroner casually, "that Abe was shot when there wasn't nobody in th' house but him an' th' murderer.  Th' cashier of th' Farmers and Ranchers Bank ain't heah, but he has give me th' information that Abe had over four thousan' dollars on him when he was killed.

     "That's gone.  Evidently he was shot fo' his money.  It's part of th' duties of a coroner's jury t' uncover any evidence that will help in solvin' the problem of who th' murderer might be.  Miste' Joe Harkness will take th' stand."

     There was a movement of interest in the small crowd packed into the one room.  I had managed to get beside Jimmy Calton, and his face became extraordinarily mild and gentle.  It hinted at some expectation of excitement, if I knew Jimmy.  Every one had heard Harkness's story before, so it was simply a recapitulation.

     "I ain't got a thing t' say," announced Harkness bluntly, "cept that I seen Harry Temple come out o' this here house 'bouit three o'clock, jus' after Abe Martin was shot.

     "I was having trouble with my sparkplugs down the road a ways, when I seen Harry.  He come out o' th' kitchen door, looked all roun' as ef he was looking t' see ef anybody seen him, an' then he went down to'd the stables.  He went inside theah, the he come out o' that an' went over to th' quarters and got a drink at th' pump by th' do'.  I was wonderin' what he was doin', but it looks t'me like he was makin' sho' theh wan't nobody around that could 'a' tol' that he'd been around.

     "An' theh's one more thing.  When he come out o' th' house -- he come out th' kitchen do' -- he was puttin' somethin' in his breas' pocket."

     I glanced at Jimmy Calton.  He was looking at Harkness with a gentle, placid smile. His face did not change when Harry Temple stood up, pale beneath his tan.

     "Ever'thing Harkness says is so," said Harry determinedly.  "Eve'y single word, only I didn't shooot ol' Abe.  I come out heah t' see him 'bout sellin' him some yearlin's.  He wasn't heah, so I went in the kitchen t' see ef I couldn't leave word with th' cook.

     "Th' cook was missin', too, but I thought I heard somebody movin' aroun' somewhere, an' I went jus' where Harkness said, an' jus' in th' order he said.  He must've seen me first when I come out o'the kitchen.   When I couldn't find nobody, I cranked up an' lef."

     Harkness stood up.

     "I hate t' contradict Harry," he said sharply, "but he's made a mistake.  He didn' crank up an' leave.  He was driving somebody else's car, an' it had a self-starter on it."

     Harry Temple flushed slightly.  "That's a fac'," he acknowledged.  "I'd forgotten that.  I was drivin' a car they lent me at the' garage.  I'd lef my own theah t'have some repairs made."

     "Of co'se," said Harkness sarcastically, "nobody suspec's that you was drivin' a strange car, with strange tires, so they couldn't prove nothin' on you by the tracks."  Jimmy put a question in a gentle voice.

     "There's another question," he said softly.  "What was Harry putting in his pocket when Harkness saw him comin' out o' th' house?"

     "I don't remember puttin' anything in my pocket," said Temple, beginning to be worried. "It was prob'ly my handkerchief."

     There was a moment's silence.  One or two of the men in the room stirred uneasily.

     Jimmy Calton smiled sweetly to himself.

     "Misteh Coroner," he said slowly, "may I make an obs'vation or so?  It looks like somebody ought t' point out two or three fac's."

     "Go ahead, Jimmy, " said the coroner.  It seemed to be bothering him that so much seemed to point to the guilt of Harry Temple.  Temple did seem to be quite a decent sort, and the coroner evidently hated to bring out so much to his discredit without anything to counteract the impression thus made.

     Knowing Jimmy, he knew Jimmy would not interfere unless he thought things were going the wrong way, and that meant in this case that he had something to say in Temple's favor.

     "Misteh Coroner an' gentlemen," said Jimmy formally, "it don't seem hardly fair t'bring out all thhis heah evidence against a man without any evidence th' other way.  I want t' point out two things about this heah case.  th' first is that Harry Temple has got money in bank, an' the second is that he never disputed a single thing Harkness said about him.  You know, an' I know, that a man with money in bank ain't goin' aroun' doin' high robbery an' murder.  He cain't aff'rd to.  You jus' think about that a while.

     "An'  heah's somethin' else t'think about.  Did you notice that Harry Temple said right off that he done jus' what Harkness said?  Now ef he'd shot ol' Abe Martin, you know he'd have tried t' make some o' that stff soun' jus' a little less incriminatin'.  He'd've said he didn't go in the house, jus' to the door an' knocked, and he'd've tried t' weaken eve'ything Harkness said, jus' that way.

     "But he didn't.  He's tellin' the truth so hard he cain't see it's puttin' a rope roun' his neck, in spite of his being jus' as innocent as he says.  As for his puttin' somethin' in his breas'-pocket, nobody puts money theah -- an' especially stolen money -- butr mos' everybody puts theah handkerchief theah."

     "But that ain't evidence," said the coroner disappopintedly.  "I tho't you had some fac's t' give us."

     "I'll give you one fac'," Jimmy offered.  "Harry Temple didn't shoot Abe Martin.  Looka heah, Harkness himself don't believe he did.  Do you?"  he demanded, turning to that person.

     Harkness sat stolidly in his chair.

     "You heard what I said," he grunted.  "You heard what I seen him do."

     "Sho I did," Jimmy admitted readily, "but you know he didn't shoot Abe."

     Jimmy seemed to be making a fool of himself.  I tugged at his sleeve for him sit down, but he paid no attention.

     "What do you mean?" demanded Harkness suspiciously.

     'Nothin' whatever," said Jimmy with a gentleness I suddenly recognized as dangerous.  "Nothin' whatever, excep' what I said.  You know Harry Temple didn't shoot Abe."

     "You mean t' tell me I'm lyin'," snapped Harkness angrily.

     "No," said Jimmy in a cooling drawl.  "Nothin' so harmless.  I'm accusin' you o' somethin' a damned sight more dangerous than lyin'.  I'm accusin' you o' tellin' th' truth -- th' exact truth."

     There was a puzzled pause.  I noticed, however, that Harkness was watching Jimmy with a curious alertness.

     "It's always mo' dangerous t' tell th' truth in a case like this, Harkness," said Jimmy, still in that gentle drawl.  "You tol' th' absolute truth about what you saw Harry do, an' that's th' mos' dangerous you could've told, because there ain't but one man could've tol' that.

     "Misteh Coroner, ef you'll look out o' the window, you'll see jus' wheah Harry Temple walked down th' kitchen steps, jus' wheah he went back to the stables, jus' wheah he went into th' big barn, an' jus' wheah he got a drink.  An' then, ef you look, you'll see wheah he stopped his car, so Harkness coulod see he had a self-starter on it, instead of a crank."

     I saw a light break on the coroner's face, as he looked from place to place in the yard behind the house.  He faced about, just as Jimmy deliberately pulled a revolver out of his pocket.

     "Harkness tol' the truth," said Jimmy softly.  "He tol' th' absolute truth, but -- theh ain't but one place you can see all them things from.  With all them barns outside, theh ain't but one place that you c'n see th' do' of th' stables, an' th' big barn an' th' pump by the quarters an' th' kitchen do' all at once.  An' theh wasn't but one man in th' world who could've seen Harry Temple do all them things, because theh wasn't but one man in that place.

     "Th' only place you c'n see all them places from is this heah room, an' th' only man in th' house when Harry Temple did those things was th' man who'd shot Abe Martin an' hadn't had time t' get away when Harry Temple come drivin' in!

     "Harkness," Jimmy's voice was suddenly like steel, "'ef you pull that gun on me I'll blow a hole right th'ough th' place yo' brains ought t'be."

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Start the new year off right.  With Pogo:

And without Pogo:

And, finally, since this is the beginning of the year, let's look at the beginning of Pogo and Albert's friendship:


A tip of the hat to Comicrazys, Greatest Ape, and Pappy's Golden Age.