Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, May 6, 2019


Openers:   A gentleman was strolling down a side street in Paris, on his way back from the house of Madame de Verchouxeux.  He walked mincingly,, for the red heels of his shoes were very high.  A long purple coat, rose-lined, hung from his shoulders and was allowed to fall carelessly back from his dress, revealing a full-skirted coat of purple satin, heavily laced with gold; a waistcoat of flowered silk; faultless small clothes; and a lavish sprinkling of jewels on his cravat and breast.  a three-cornered hat, point-edged, was set upon his powdered wig, and in his hand he carried a long beribboned cane.  It was little enough protection against footpads, although a light dress sword hung at the gentleman's side its hilt was lost in the folds of his cloak, not quickly to be found.  At this late hour, and in this deserted street, it was the height of foolhardiness to walk unattended and flaunting jewels, but the gentleman seemed unaware of his recklessness.  He proceeded languidly on his way,glancing neither to left nor to right,apparently heedless of possible danger.

-- Georgette Heyer, These Old Shades (1926)


  • Raina Telegemeir, Ghosts.  YA graphic novel.  Cat and her sister move to the Northwest coast of California with their parents.  It's hoped that the weather there will be better for Maya, Cat's younger sister, who has cystic fibrosis.  Maya is a happy, active girl who has become better adapted to her disease than Cat has; she is always concerned about what Maya is doing and how it might affect her.  They meet their next-door neighbor Carlos, who is the same age as Cat and who runs a part-time ghost tour of the town.  Cat doesn't believe in ghosts but Maya is eager to see them.  The town is party central for ghosts and the townspeople take great pride in them, making Dia de los Meurtos a major town-wide holiday.  The ghosts are friendly and cheerful and love to interact with the townspeople.  Eisner-winner Telegenmeir has produced a thoughtful, wonderful book about families, love, death, and heritage.  I read half of this last night for a bedtime story for Jack (actually, he read it; I turned the pages) and he loved it too.
  • Charles G. Waugh & Martin H. Greenberg, editors, The Arbor House Celebrity Book of Horror Stories.  Horror anthology with twenty stories, nineteen of them selected* by well-known authors (The remaining story is one by Joyce Carol Oates that is related to her choice, Henry James' Turn of the Screw.)  The "celebrities" are mainly genre writers (Asimov, Bloch, Block, Bradbury, King, Sheckley, Silverberg...among the other celebrities are Walker Percy, Irwin Shaw, Rona Jaffe, and Garson Kanin.  Of the stories selected there are three by Poe, as well as well-known stories by M. R. James, W. W. Jacobs, Richard Matheson, H. P. Lovecraft, A. Merritt, Edward Lucas White, and Robert Hitchens.  Still, there's some pretty interesting  lesser-known stories here.

Jo Sullivan Loesser:  Tony-nominated musical theater actress and singer Jo Sullivan passed away last week.  Many years ago, Kitty and I were house managers of a small  Actors Equity theater in Massachusetts and Jo appeared starring in a run of A Little Night Music.  Later her daughter, Emily Loesser, played Anne Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank.**  The two also joined to perform their cabaret act at one of our fundraisers.  I did not get to know Jo very well, but she was a nice lady and a fantastic singer.  My memories were mainly of being enthralled nightly by her performance (in a gorgeous red gown), singing "Send in the Clowns."  Magical.  Each night she'd make her entrance again with her usual flair...

For the past fifty years she managed her late husband Frank Loesser's estate, which included the musicals Guys and Dolls, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and The Most Happy Fella.

Jo was 91.

The Come-Back Kid of 2019:  Measles.

As John Oliver would say, How is this still a thing?

Anti-vaxxers have replaced flat earthers as today's stupids.  (Not that flat earthers have completely left the scene.)  

Thankfully, we have not gone beyond the point of herd immunity.  Yet.

And Tyler Too:  William Henry Harrison was the first American president not to complete a full term, dying just 32 days into his presidency. putting the relatively young country into a constitutional crisis.  Does a vice president become president if the current president dies in office?  Today, we'd automatically say yes, but in 1841 it was a different matter.  Article II of the Constitution says that when a president dies and is therefore "unable to discharge the Powers and Duties of said Office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President."  In other words, the vice president would have the powers and duties of the president's office, but would he actually become president.  While the legal scholars quibble, Tyler would have none of that.  He declared himself president, dismissing the cabinet's decision that he would be "Vice President-Acting President," and was sworn into office as fast as he could, setting the precedent that was later embedded in Amendment 25 to the Constitution.  Thus, on this day 178 years ago, Tyler, at that time 51, became the youngest man to serve as president.  That did not stop his opponents from referring to him as 'his Accidentalness."

Tyler's domestic programs and appointments were continually thwarted by a Whig congress, but his foreign policies fared much better.  An expansionist by nature, Tyler invoked the Monroe Doctrine for Hawaii, effectively keeping the British from interfering with those islands.  Tyler's administration also finalized the border between Maine and Canada, a sore point that almost brought America and Britain to war several times.  His administration also negotiated a treaty with China and Tyler also signed a trade pact with Germany, although his Whig opponents refused to ratify it.  Florida became the 27th state under Tyler's watch.  He also strengthened the Navy, adding many warships.  He ended the Second Seminole war and negotiation a peaceful conclusion to Rhode island's Dorr Rebellion.  Tyler also supported the annexation of Texas and despite heavy opposition managed to sign an annexation bill into law three days before his term ended. 

Tyler's legacy places him as a middling president, with arguing that he was a "hapless and inept chief executive."  Some scholars give him credit for his foreign policy, but a S-Span survey of historians in 2017 has him placed as 37th of our presidents.

Something to Celebrate:  It's a little-known holiday but today is New Beer's Eve, because tomorrow is National Beer Day, marking the anniversary of the enactment of the Cullen-Harrison Act, which soon led to the 21th Amendment (that's the one that repealed Prohibition).  The Cullen-Harrison Act made 3.2 percent beer legal to sell and distribute again.  IMHO, 3.2 beer tastes like dishwater but it's far better than nothing.

Today's Poem:
Abandoned Farmhouse

He was a big man, says the size of his shoes
on a pile of broken dishes by the house;
a tall man too, says the length of the bed
in an upstairs room; and a good God-fearing man,
says the Bible with a broken back
on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;
but not a man for framing, say the fields
cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.

A woman loved him, says the bedroom wall
papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves
covered with oilcloth, and they had a child,
says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.
Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves
and the canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole.
And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames.
It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.

Something went wrong, says the empty house
in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the field
say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars
in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.
And the child?  Its toys are strewn in the yard
like branches after a storm -- a rubber cow,
a rusty tractor with a broken plow,
a doll in overalls.  Something went wrong, they say.

-- Ted Kooser

* Not necessarily the first selection, mind you.  Some listed a few stories they liked and the editors had to choose one.  One author could not remember the title or author of his favorite story and his description of the plot was no help in recognizing the tale, so another story was substituted.  Some stories selected were not horror stories per se.  And so it goes...

** Also featuring George, a stray cat adopted by the theater and who was bounced from home to home among the staff.  We had him for one summer.  He was a pretty cool cat.

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