Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, March 4, 2019


Openers:  When Agnes left her house, she picked her moment carefully.  Only the greenhorn oil trucker battling the steep road coiling around her house might have caught a flash of red gingham in th mirror.  He did not.

-- "When Agnes Left Her House" by Patricia Abbott (from Florida Happens, edited by Greg Herren)

Speaking of:   Patti Abbott's latest, Monkey Justice and Other Stories will hit the bookshelves on the 18th of this month from Down & Out Books.  Monkey Justice collects the early stories of the Anthony-, Edgar-, and Macavity-nominated author.  Previously available only as an ebook, the collection can only further enhance Patti's reputation as one of the country's finest writers of short stories.

Great stuff.  And available for pre-order.  Don't miss this one.

"Patti Abbott is one of the premiere practitioners of the American crime story.  The staggering level of care she invests in her craft is always evident from the first sentence to the last.  She writes smart, dark tales with frighteningly real characters and vivid settings."  -- Chris Rhatigan


  • Jack M. Bickham, Gunmen Can't Hide/"John Callahan" (Paul Chadwick), Come in Shooting.  An Ace double.
  • Joseph Gage, A Score to Settle/Ray Hogan, Hangman's Valley.  Also an Ace double.
  • Frank Gruber, This Gun Is Still.
Westerns all.  Bickham, Chadwick, Hogan, and Gruber were all well-known pulp writers.  Jack Bickham also published over 75 books in a number of genres.  He wrote the source novel for Disney's The Apple Dumpling Gang, and was the author of the classic crime short story "Being a Murderer Myself," written as "Arthur Williams."  Chadwick created Secret Agent X, Captain Hazzard, and Paul Hammond for the pulps.  I know nothing about Gage other than he published at least one other western novel (a British paperback) and may possibly be the same person as Joseph H. Gage, the author of several (evidently poorly written) juveniles and one short story in the October 1951 issue of F&SF.  Any information about Gage would be welcomed.  Hogan wrote prolifically in the western field.  Gruber wrote for the pulps (more than 300 stories in over 40 magazines), movies (IMDb lists almost 3 dozen credits), and television (where he created three television series, Tales of Wells Fargo, The Texan, and Shotgun Slade, and wrote for many more).  He published more than sixty books in the western and crime fields.

Yesterday:  I was watching weather updates from an Alabama television station.  The weather lady was reporting on a severe storm in the area, saying they took a look at their radar and found "something that should be there."  It was debris.  A few minutes later, the National Weather Service confirmed a tornado in the area. Sadly, at 23 people were killed by the tornado in one Alabama county. I had high, unrealistic (and non-lethal) hopes for the thing that should not have been on radar.  Oh, well.

A Nice Place to Visit But You Wouldn't Want to Live There: has compiled a list of what they call the 50 worst American cities to live in.  The list seems to be based on three things: the poverty rate, the violent crime rate, and the median cost of a home.  As always, such lists should be taken with a grain of salt, especially considering some of the cities listed have a population of under 10,000.  Florida, my current state of residence (as opposed to Confusion, my current state of mind), makes the list four times, including the coveted (?) number 2 spot, which went to Florida City, population 12,149.  States most represented on this list were California, Michigan, and Alabama.  And the worst American city to live in is...(drum roll, please)...Mendota, California!  Yep, Medota, with its 11,396 population, it's 49.5% poverty rate, and its violent crime rate of 646 per 100,000 people.  My math may well be off (if so, blame my junior high math teachers, not me) but I calculate the violent crime rate works out to about 8 a year.

Donald and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week:  His summit with Kim Jung Un bellyflopped into an early exit with at least one major concession given and nothing received.  Michael Cohen's testimony (which Trump blamed for the breakdown in talks) most likely have hurt Trump's chances of coming out smelling like a rose.  A story broke that he had personally ordered Jared's  security clearance against the strong recommendation of his intelligence people.  Although his hardcore base will stick by him no matter what, may of the GOP are beginning to resist the president.  Also, many of the speakers at this week's conservative convention CPAC appeared to hail from Crazytown, which does not bode well for The Donald.  Nor does the reaction to his so-called "National Emergency."  It will take a lot of hamberders to comfort him after this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week.

Music from the Present:  Last Saturday I posted the song "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" in honor of Dr. Seuss' birthday.  So, with that in mind:

Florida Man:  Well, not Florida Man, but Florida School.   Port Charlotte High School officials forced math teacher Alissa Perry to remove a drawing of Colin Kaepernick that she had posted in her classroom for Black History Month.  Something seems to be wrong here.

Gentleman Jack:  It's the birthday of Jack Sheppard, known as "Gentleman Jack" and "Jack the Lad."  Born in London in 1702, Sheppard was apprenticed as a cane-chair maker when he was six years old.   When he was ten he began as a shop boy to a wool draper who taught him to read and write.  Sheppard was then apprenticed to a carpenter, Owen Wood, and signed a seven-year indenture. At age 20, after five years of a promising apprenticeship, Sheppard began going to a local tavern where he soon took a liking to strong drink, as well as to a local prostitute known as Edgeworth Bess.

To supplement his small wages as a carpenter, Sheppard began to steal items from houses where he worked and shoplifting.  He soon moved on to burglary and associating with local criminals.  He and Edgeworth Bess moved to Fulham where Bess was soon arrested and imprisoned.  Sheppard broke into the prison and rescue his mistress.

Sheppard was first arrested in April 1724, when his brother Tom (with whom he and Bess had engaged in burglary) ratted him out.  Placed in jail for questioning, Sheppard broke out within three hours in a remarkable escape.  In May, he was arrested for pickpocketing and Edgeworth Bess was soon jailed with him.  The two escaped using knotted bedsheets and then climbed a 22-foot-high fence to freedom.  This escapade caught the attention of the populace for its daring as well as the fact that Sheppard was small (only 5'4") and that Bess was a large, heqvy woman.

Sheppard continued his career as a burglar and supplemented it as a highwayman.  He was arrested for the third time in late July, tried, and sentenced to hang.  On the last day of August, when his death warrant for September 4 was delivered, Sheppard escaped from Newgate Prison and was smuggled off prison grounds wearing women's clothing.  By this time Sheppard had achieved the status of a folk hero -- handsome, smart, likable, and non-violent.  Sheppard was arrested once again by a posse nine days later and returned to his condemned cell.  Two thwarted attempts to escape late, he was moved to a strongroom where he was clapped in leg irons bolted to the floor.  He mocked the jailers and showed them how easy it was to pick the locks of the leg irons.  He was then tied more tightly and handcuffed, still he was able to escape a fourth time on October 10 by picking his handcuffs, climbing up a chimney (although still in leg irons), breaking through a ceiling and then six barred doors to the prison chapel and then to Newgate's roof some 60 feet above ground.  Sheppard then reversed direction and went back to his cell (!) to get a blanket, then made his way to the roof again.
He then managed to get to the roof of a neighboring house, broke in, and quietly made his way down the stairs and out to freedom.

Two weeks later he broke into a pawnbroker's shop and helped himself to a fine silk suit, some jewelry, a wig, a sword, and other items.  He was arrested at a tavern, blind drunk and wearing the silk suit and several stolen rings.  He was so famous by then that jailers charged moneyed visitors four shillings just to see him.  Prominent people sent George I a petition asking that Sheppard be transported rather than hung.  At his trial he was given a chance to avoid execution by informing on others, but Sheppard refused.  The "ever cheerful and pleasant" Gentleman Jack was sentenced to hang.  His plan to escape a fifth time by cutting the ropes that held him on the way to the gallows was foiled when a prison warder discovered his penknife.

Thus died Jack Sheppard, age 22 and a criminal for less than two years.  He lives on though in literature.  The writer Williams Ainsworth wrote a popular romance about him.  (Its magazine serialization in Bentley's Miscellany overlapped the last parts of Dickens' Oliver Twist, helping the novel gain in popularity.).  Daniel Defoe is thought to be the author of an autobiographical narrative that appeared under Sheppard's name.  Disturbed by Sheppard's popularity, the Lord Chamberlain banned any play using "Jack Sheppard" in the title. at least in London; the ban continued for some forty years after the execution -- something that did not stop people from getting around that interdiction.  Among many other play's John Gay's The Beggar's Opera (1728) used Sheppard  as the basis of the character Macheath.  That play was adapted by Bertold Brecht and Kurt Weill as The Threepenny Opera, featuring the well-known character Mack the Knife.  Sheppard was the subject of popular songs during the Eighteenth Century.  Later, Frank and Jesse James would sign letters as "Jack Sheppard."  His story was also the basis of at least three movies, in 1900, 1923, and 1968.

Today's Poem:
Mack the Knife
(Die Moritat von Mackier Messer)

Oh, the shark has pretty teeth. dear.
And he shows them pearly white.
Just a jack knife has Macheath, dear..
And he keeps it out of sight.

When the shark bites with his teeth, dear
Scarlet billows start to spread.
Fancy gloves, though, wears Macheath, dear
So there's not a trace of red.

On the side-walk Sunday morning
Lies a body oozing life;
Someone's sneaking 'round the corner.
Is that someone Mack the Knife?

From a tugboat by the river
A cement bag's dropping down;
The cement's just for the weight, dear.
Bet you Mackie's back in town.

Louis Miller disappeared, dear
After drawing out his cash;
And Macheath spends like a sailor.
Did our boy do something rash?

Sukey Tawdry, Jennie Diver,
Polly Peacham, Lucy Brown
Oh, the line forms on the right, dear
Now that Mackie's back in town.

--Bertolt Brecht, f rom The Threepenny Opera

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