Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, February 18, 2020


Openers:  They were in a basement somewhere, just the three of them, and it was late at night.  The place was full of shadows, and the shadows made six of them, one extra for each.  There was Moylan, better known as the Big Guy, and Hammond, one of his henchmen, and an individual known simply as the Screw, with that bull's-eye appropriateness underworld nicknames often have.

-- Cornell Woolrich, "Leg Man" (first published as "Dipped in Blood" by "William Irish," Street & Smith's Detective Story Magazine, April 1945)

Cornell George Hopley-Woolrich (1903-1968) left Columbia University without graduating when his first novel, Cover Charge, was published.  Cover Charge, was the first of six mainstream 'Jazz Age" novels written under the influence of F. Scott Fitzgerald.  This first novel was apparently written while he was invalided with a foot infection.  Woolrich's second novel, Children of the Rich, nabbed him a $10,000 prize in a contest sponsored by College Humor and First National Pictures, and led him to Hollywood as a screenwriter.  His stint as a screenwriter failed, producing no screen credits, and returned to writing novels but, by the 1930s the Jazz Age was dead -- Woolrich had failed to establish himself as a serious writer and his seventh novel was roundly rejected -- it ended up literally in a dustbin.  Also failed was a brief, unconsummated marriage to the 21-year-old daughter of one of the founders of Vitagraph Studios, while at the same time he was pursuing an active and clandestine homosexual love life.

Still determined to write, Woolrich begin writing for the detective pulps, which is where he found his true calling.  Many of his stories involved innocent people caught up in unexpected peril.  A prolific writer, he soon had to adopt the pseudonym "William Irish" to keep up with his output.  He moved back to New York to live with his mother in a series of seedy hotels, eventually ending up in Harlem's Hotel Marseilles, among a group of thieves, prostitutes and lowlifes that would not be out of place in [his] dark fictional world."  There he remained with his mother until her death in 1957, after which he moved to more up-scale digs.

Following the death of his mother, Woolrich isolated himself and began a sharp physical and mental decline.  An alcoholic driven by guilt over his homsexuality and self-doubt, Woolrich ignored his diabetes, leading to the amputation of a leg.  Following the amputation, he converted to Catholicism.  Staff employees would take him in his wheel chair to the hotel lobby where he could watch the traffic.  He weighed 89 pounds when he died -- a wizened mockery of a man.

He remains one of the best pulp detective story writers of his time.  He published 26 novels from 1926 to 1960, including such classics as The Bride Wore Black, Phantom Lady, Deadline at Dawn, Night Has a Thousand Eyes, Nightmare, and The Black Angel.  A final novel, completed by Lawrence Block, appeared in 1987.  Sixteen short story collection have also been published.  More than five dozen movies have been based on his works, as well as nearly ninety television episodes.  Among his short stories are "Rear Window," "Nightmare," "Three O'Clock," "I Wouldn't Be in Your Shoes,"  "Marijuana." "Bluebeard's Seventh Wife," "Papa Benjamin," "The Boy who Cried Murder," "A Dime a Dance," and "I'll Take You Home Kathleen."

Despite -- or because of -- his tortured life, Woolrich left us a treasure trove of remarkable stories that exposed the dark and unexpected side of life.


  • "G. H. Ephron" (Hallie Ephron & Donld A. Davidoff) - Obsessed.  A Peter Zak medical mystery.  "Dr. Peter Zak is obsessed with finding the stalker who is terrorizing his new intern Dr. Emily Ryan, and sets out on a trial of escalating violence as it leads him into dark and deadly places too close to home.  Obsessed with isolating a cure to a fatal brain disease that could mean international recognition and millions of dollars, researchers will stop at nothing, break every rule, use every deviant act -- including mutilation and murder -- to achieve their goal.  Bent on destroying the vicious web of deception, sexual jealousy, and death that threatens Ryan and the lives of his patients, Dr. Peter Zak must expose the deviant killer even if he has to risk his own life to do it..."  The blurb uses the word "deviant" twice.
  • Stephen Fry, The Liar.  Comic novel.  And who isn't a Stephen Fry fan? "Stephen Fry's breathtakingly outrageous debut novel, by turns eccentric, shocking, brilliantly comic and achingly romantic..."  "The Liar is hilarious -- page after page of the most outrageous and often filthy jokes, delicious conceits, instant, brilliant ripostes that would only occur to ordinary mortals after days of teeth-grinding lunacy." -- Literary Journal  "It's very unfair.  It took Joseph Heller seven years to write Catch 22.  Stephen seems to have knocked this one off on a couple of wet Wednesday afternoons in Norfolk." -- Hugh Laurie  

President's Day:  When I was a kid we looked forward to February.  First, it was winter and there were bound to be at least a couple of snow days.  And, in those pre-PETA days, there was Groundhog Day and we kids really believed there was magic in the groundhog lore.  And Valentine's Day -- yes, everyone would get stupid cards (many from kids we didn't like) but there was always a chance of candy.  February was also the shortest month, an outlier if you will, and even with another day popping up out of nowhere every four years, it still remained the shortest month; we kids always rooted for the underdog.  And finally, there were Lincoln's Birthday and Washington's Birthday, two school holidays crammed into one short month.

Today, we have President's Day.  One measly day instead of two.  And we have to celebrate all the presidents, not just the cool ones like Lincoln and Washington and Ike, but others we never heard of like Chester A. Arthur and Franklin Pierce.  As an adult, I don't mind honoring our presidents -- most of them -- but, geez Louise, there are limits.  Can we just honor 44 of them?  I'll even throw in Nixon and George W. Bush and count Grover Cleveland twice, just let me drop 45.  I do, however, honor the office of the president, so I'll settle for Office of the President's Day.  Please?

On This Day Yesterday:
  • In 1600, on his way to be burned at the stake for heresy, philosopher Giordano Bruno has a stake impaled in his tongue to prevent him from speaking.  No more spreading that nasty philosophy for Giordano.  Simpler times, simpler solutions, even if they don't achieve what you hoped for.
  • In 1621, Myles Standish was appointed the first military commander for the Plymouth Colony.  Standish was a hawk and believed in a strong preemptive action, using a brutality that disturbed some of the colonist (and did not endear him to the local native Americans).  Longfellow portrayed him as a shy romantic in "The Courtship of Myles Standish," so there's that.
  • In 1801, the U.S. House of Representatives named Thomas Jefferson president and Aaron Burr vice president after the two were tied in electoral college votes.  History has lauded Jefferson (Sally Hemings notwithstanding) and Burr went on to kill Alexander Hamilton in a dual (something Manuel Lin Miranda fans will never forgive), and then plotted with England to capture the U.S. western territories.  Jefferson tried to influence Burr's trial for treason by proclaiming that Burr was guilty "beyond question" before Congress.  Golly, a president trying to interfere with the workings of justice...who woulda thunk it?
  • In 1864, Australian  bush poet and the author of "Waltzing Matilda," Banjo Patterson was born.
  • In 1867, the first ship passed through the Suez Canal.  The original canal was a single lane waterway with no locks buy with two locations that would allow ships to pass.  It reduced the voyage from London to Arabian Sea by 5,500 miles, bypassing the South Atlantic and southern Indian oceans.  Strategically placed, the canal was the focus of an international crisis in 1956, when Gamal Adbel Nasser, the president of Egypt, began making friends with the Soviet Union, forcing Great Britain and America to withdraw their support for the building of the Aswan Dam.  Nasser then nationalized the canal and closed the Straits of  Tiran to Israeli ships.  This led to a conflict in which Britain, France, and Israel occupied the canal zone.  In order to prevent the situation escalating into a full-blown war, the United Nations formed its first international peacekeeping force.  The Suez Canal also played a part in the Arab-Israeli Wars of 1967 and 1973.
  • In 1912, writer Mary Alice Norton was born.  Better known as "Andre Norton," she was the gateway drug for many of into the world of science fiction.  Norton is credited with over 300 books, although a number of the later books were collaborations or written by other authors using her characters and ideas.  She is probably best remembered for her Witch World series.  Norton was named a Gandalf Grand Master of Fantasy. an SFWA Grand Master, and was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.  She wrote novels for more than 70 years.  Shortly before her death in 2005 the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America established the Andre Norton Award, given yearly to an outstanding book of Young Adult or Middle School science fiction or fantasy.
  • In 1930, English mystery author Ruth Rendell was born.  Baroness Rendell published 80 books, 24 of them about her series character Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford.  Out side of her police procedurals, she is known for her psychological suspense novels written both under her own name and as "Barbara Vine."  She received the Silver, Gold, and Diamond Dagger Awards from the Crime Writers Association, three Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America, the Arts Council National Book Award, and The Sunday Times Literary Award, among others.  She was a patron of Kids for Kids, a charity to help children of Darfur and was an active member of the Labour Party in the House of Lords.  Her novels have been filmed (if I counted correctly) 69 times, 50 of them for the television program The Ruth Rendell Mysteries.  I would hazard that she is one of the most honored female English mystery writers since Agatha Christie.
  • And in 2009, perhaps the most famous female bullfighter in the history of the "sport," Conchita Cintron died at age 86.  Her first public appearance was in Lima in January 1936.  In one appearance in 1940 she was gored by the bull and taken to the infirmary but refused treatment and returned to the ring, dispatching the bull with one thrust before collapsing.  Durong her career she killed more than 750 bulls.  "Her record stands as a rebuke to every man of us who has ever maintained that a woman must lose something of her femininity if she seeks to compete with men."  -- Orson Welles.  Fans of the bullfight must forgive me if I assert that there is nothing noble in killing a large pot roast charging at you.

Florida Man:
  • 27-year-old Florida Man Gregory William Loel Timm was arrested after driving into a voter registration booth in Jacksonville -- two counts of aggravated assault on a person 65 years or older, one count of criminal mischief and driving with a suspended license.  Police reports did not specify which political party sponsored the registration booth, but the Republican Party of Duval country tweeted that "six Trump Campaign volunteers were intentionally targeted while registering voters."  Separately, GOP Chairperson Ronna McDonald tweeted, "We will not be silenced by cowards, and these disgusting acts only make us work harder to win in November."  Whether the incident was intentional has yet to be shown and McDonald's use of plurals indicates that the incident will be politicized.  Intentional or not, the incident should not be condoned.
  • Florida Man Nelson Gibson is upset that he isn't allowed to bring his life-size cardboard cutout of Donald Trump to his thrice weekly, three-and-a -half hour kidney dialysis sessions for emotional support.  Gibson's son told television station WPBF, "what I would really like to happen is for them not to infringe on my father's freedom of expression and speech and allow him to bring in the lifesize cardboard cutout that takes up less service area than a garbage can."  Gibson's family said that they were not sure when he would return for treatment.
  • Acting on a tip from the U.S. Marshal's Service, Hardee County Sheriff deputies went to locate Florida Man and fugitive (from what was not reported) Mario Orosco.  When they arrived at the location, a residence, deputies heard loud music and laughter.  They knocked but were not admitted for a half hour, and were told by Janesse Orosco that she had been taking a nap.  The deputies found Mario Orosco hiding in the attic.  They also found a heart-shaped chocolate box containing 17 baggies of marijuana.  It was, after all, just before Valentine's Day.
  • Romance is not dead for Florida Man Jim Cocci who encountered a large great white shark during a dive off Riviera Beach.  It turned out that the shark was one that had not been previously registered in the great white database of the Massachusetts Shark Research Program, which then entered the shark into the database and gave Cocci the honor of naming the shark.  Cocci posted on Facebook:  "Our 'new' shark has been entered into the database and is named 'Colleen' after my loving wife, very best friend and greatest diving buddy ever!  Happy Valentine's Day, Honey!"  Well, it wasn't a candy box full of marijuana.

People (and Things) Can Be Good Dept.:

This Week's Poem:
Old Man Platypus

Far from the troubles and toil of town,
Where the reed beds sweep and shiver,
Look at a fragment of velvet brown --
Old Man Platypus drifting down,
Drifting along the river.

As he plays and dives in the river bends
In a style that is most elusive;
With few relations and fewer friends,
For Old Man Platypus descends
From a family most exclusive.

He shares his burrow beneath the bank
With his wife and his son and his daughter
At the roots of the reeds and the grasses rank;
And the bubbles show where our hero sank
To its entrance under the water.

Safe in their burrow below the falls
They live in a world of wonder,
Where no one visits and no one calls,
They sleep like little brown billiard balls
With their beaks tucked neatly under.

And he talks in a deep unfriendly growl
As he goes on his journey lonely;
For he's no relation to fish or fowl,
Nor to bird or beast, nor to horned owl,
In fact, he's the one and only!

-- Andrew Barton "Banjo" Paterson

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