Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, August 6, 2018


Openers:   Closer and closer, the plane came roaring across the field and hurtled for the narrow dusty road at one end.  Some men swore feelingly, and one made a break for the shelter of a tree.  Death was pouring from that plane -- leaden death.  Arsenate of lead, to be specific.

-- "Mask of Glory" by William O'Sullivan (from Air War, Summer 1942)

(And check out the original blurb for this story:  "Skid Carr, Crop-Dusting Pilot from the U.S.A., Finds Himself in the Middle of a Nazi Spy Plot That It Takes a Slue of Bombers and Fighters to Break Up!"  The grammar may be bad but it sure made the reader want to dive into the story.)

Happy, Happy:  Patti Abbott, writer and blogger extraordinaire, has been publishing a weekly meme on "Things That Made Me Happy" and asked others what made them happy.  Patti's blog is on a (short, I hope) hiatus; until her blog returns, I thought I'd put my weekly responses here.

  • Tom Paxton.  The singer songwriter is 80 now and as powerful as ever.  His songs speak for justice and for humanity.  In a recent interview he explained his philosophy simply:  "I don't like bullies."  Last night, Kitty and I went on a YouTube binge of Tom Paxton songs.  Tom Paxton gives me hope.  Here's a sample:
  • Losing Weight.  Last week I (well, Kitty actually) decided it was time to lose weight.  Rather than go on a specific diet, we thought we'd try skipping fast food on the run and concentrate on eating watchfully and at specific times.  You have to understand that I am heavier than Nero Wolfe at his heaviest.  Also, I seldom weigh myself.  I had weighed myself the week before and then this week.  I had lost about eight pounds over those two weeks -- which actually means this week.  So, something's working and -- so far -- it hasn't been difficult.  I may even stay the course.
  • My family.  After 48 years of marriage, I am amazed daily at how lucky I am.  This week the kids and grands headed to an alligator farm in Alabama and sweated in the blazing heat, handling gators, spiders, and snakes.  Better them than me.
  • Streaming.  We're now addicted to binging television shows.  Watched season one of Marvel's Cloak and Dagger; it started slowly but soon  moved into entertaining action.  I hope there will be a season two.  We're currently watching Black Spot, a series from France about an isolated French village where the murder rate is six times that of the country as a whole.  eerie, suspenseful, and funny.  I hope Amazon Prime picks up the second season when it becomes available.
  • I really enjoyed John Connolly's recent book he, a biographical novel about Laurel and Hardy.  I'm slowly dipping into Connelly's collection Nocturnes.  Great stuff.
Spit Take:  "I was not late.  The Queen was late."

Cryptic:  Cryptocurrencies are the Beanie Babies of the moment.  Well, that's my opinion anyway.  (I'm not alone in this:  The Securities and Exchange Commission has issued warnings about cryptocurrencies.)  A monetary system works because of a shared faith in that system and its regulation.  There is no regulation here and any faith in the system (IMHO) seems based on a combination of wanting to get-rich-quick, a minority view of our regular monetary system, and a desire to launder money.  I find it troubling that many of those who are advocates for cryptocurrency label themselves as "entrepreneurs."  Cryptocurrencies are competing against each other.  We hear of Bitcoin and its wild swings in value but there are hundreds of other cryptocurrencies popping up and fading away.  Well now there are ATMs throughout the world for cryptocurrencies -- several thousand of them, manufactured and placed by at least three companies.  I find that cryptic.

Also cryptic is Starbucks.  The company is planning on opening a thousand "Italian-style" bakeries, first in Seattle, then in Shanghai, followed by ones in Milan, New York, Tokyo, and Chicago.  It's an attempt to cash in on the lunch and dinner crowds.  Starbucks is known for its overpriced, burnt-tasting coffee and its pretentious concoctions thereof.  The company has obtained Princi, a small upscale bakery with no presence in America, and will be building its bakeries on that company.  But Starbucks has done this before and its success has been less than overwhelming.  Companies must grow and expand beyond their original vision if they are to survive, but somehow I cannot see an upscale crowd going out to dinner for an Italian sandwich and burnt coffee.  Call me a curmudgeon.

On This Day:  Six years ago NASA's Curiosity rover landed on Mars.  The following day Martian newspapers carried the headline THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD.

Judge Crater:  Also on this date, but in 1930, New York Judge Joseph force Crater reportedly entered a taxi and was never seen again, earning his place in the triumvirate of famous disappearances along with Ambrose Bierce and Jimmy Hoffa.  His disappearance raised public concern about corruption and was a factor in the downfall of the Tammany Hall political machine.

Speculation had Crater making a lot of money through shady deals.  He also had a taste for nightlife and for showgirls.  Late that July, while vacationing in Maine with his wife, Crater received a phone call and then told his wife that he had to go to New York for a few days to "straighten those fellows out."  He arrived in the city, gathered up his mistress, and headed to Atlantic City.  He returned to Maine on August 1, but on August 3 he told his wife he had to make another trip to New York, promising to be back in time for her birthday on August 9.  On the morning of August 6 Crater reviewed his office files and reportedly destroyed several of them.  He then had his assistant cash checks totally $5,150 (over $75,000 in today's money).  He and his assistant then brought two locked briefcases to his apartment where Crater gave the assistant the rest of the day off.  That evening he had dinner with his mistress and with his lawyer.  They exited the restaurant about 9:30 and said that Crater got into a taxi -- a story both later changed.  After Crater had been gone from Maine for ten days (four days after his wife's birthday), his wife became concerned and began calling friends, trying to locate him.  On August 25, when he did not appear for the opening of Court, his fellow justices became alarmed and started their own search.  And on September 3, the police were finally informed.

Shortly after Crater's disappearance, his mistress left town to be found in late September at her parents' home in Ohio.  She said she left town suddenly because she had word that her father was ill.

Another showgirl, June Brice, who was suspected of blackmailing Crater (thus the briefcases of money), vanished the day before a grand jury was about to convene about Crater's disappearance.  she was discovered in 1948 in a mental hospital.

A third woman, Vivian Gordon, reportedly one of Polly Adler's high-end prostitutes, was also linked to Legs Diamond (a friend of Crater's, as was Diamond's former boss Arnold Rothstein).  Early in 1931, Gordon lost custody of her sixteen-year-old daughter.  Angry she went to a commission looking into city corruption and volunteered to testify about police graft.  She was murdered five days later and a search of her apartment turned up a coat that belonged to Crater.  Gordon's daughter committed suicide.  I remain suspicious about that.

Crater's widow (as we can reasonably call her) remarried in 1938 -- a year before Crater was officially declared dead.  (Her new husband's first wife had hung herself just eight days before the wedding.)   With Oscar Fraley, author of the book The Untouchables, she wrote The Empty Robe, the story of Crater and his disappearance from her perspective, stating that she believes Crater was murdered.

In 2005, one theory came out that Crater was killed by a bodyguard to one of Murder, Inc.'s most notorious hit men and that Crater was buried at the current site of the New York Aquarium, but no skeleton remains were found on the site during excavation in 1950.

Despite the mystery and the uncertainty tow things remain evident:  Crater was not a nice person and he did not have a nice ending.

Today's Poem:

"The Ugly Daughter"

Knows loss intimately,
carries whole cities in her belly.

As a child, relatives wouldn't hold her.
She was splintered wood and sea water,
she reminded them of the war.

On her fifteenth birthday you taught her
how to tie her hair like rope
and smoke it over burning frankincense.

You made her gargle rosewater
and while she coughed, said
Maccanto, girls shouldn't smell
of lonely or empty.

You're her mother.
Why didn't you warn her?
That she would not be loved
if she is covered in continents,
if her teeth are small colonies,
if her stomach is an island,
if her thighs are borders?

Who wants to lie down
and watch the world burn
in their bedroom?

Your daughter's face is a small riot,
her hands are a civil war,
a refugee camp behind each ear,
a body littered with ugly things

but God,
doesn't she wear
the world well.

-- Warsan Shire

(Warsan Shire is a British poet born of Somali parents in Kenya in 1988.  She was awarded the Brunei University African Poetry Prize and in 2013 was selected as the first Young Poet Laureate for London.)


  1. Good for you on making the effort to lose some weight. I still have over 100 to go after losing about 50. We - wife and I - weight every Monday morning, without fail. I seem to go up and down, the same 4 or 5 pounds, but I keep working at it. I need to eat more veggies and less carbs.

    I'm sorry, my friend, but I have to disagree with your statement: "Starbucks is known for its overpriced, burnt-tasting coffee and its pretentious concoctions thereof. "

    We love Starbucks coffee, and find most other coffee weak and tasteless. I love a Mocha now and then, but try to limit due to calories.

    1. I will readily admit that my opinion about Starbucks may be in the minority, but I'll take a cup from Dunks over Starbucks any day, Rick.