Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Saturday, May 16, 2020


Openers:  A man with brown cheeks smoothly shaven and wearing a clean denim shirt because it was Monday morning, chaperoning his herd of Jersey across the paved road from the barn side to the pasture side, saw a car coming and cussed.  With any driver whatever the car would make his cows nervous; and if bad luck made it a certain kind of week-end driver from New York, which was only 50 miles to the south,there was no telling what might happen.  He stood in the middle of the road and glared at the approaching demon, then felt easier as he saw it was slowing down and still easier when it crept circling a six-foot clearance post past Jennifer's indifferent rump.  When it stopped completely, so close alongside that he could have reached out and touched the door handle, the last shred of his irritation was dissolved, for he was by no means so hopelessly committed to cows that he didn't know a pretty girl when he saw one.  He even saw, before she spoke, the flecks of ocher that warmed her troubled gray eyes, though she spoke at once.
     "Please, am I going right for the Fox place?"
     He grunted and crinkles of criticism radiated from the corners of her eyes.  "Oh," he said, "you're bound for The Zoo."

-- Rex Stout, Double for Death  (1939)

Thus we are greeted to the first (of three) detective novels about Tecumseh Fox, created by Stout as a break from his more famous (and sedate) detective, Nero Wolfe.  Fox inhabits the same universe as Wolfe; references are made to the same people and locations that appear in the Nero Wolfe saga.  Fox's full name is William Tecumseh Sherman Fox, a name presumably given by Stout so he could refer to the private detective as "Tec."  It is probably not a coincidence that a fox and a wolf are both predatory animals -- the wolf much stronger and the fox presumably much slyer.  Sherman is best known for setting Atlanta on fire during the Civil War, while legend has Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

I love the opening of this book, from the farmer's clean shirt because it was Monday to the cow Jennifer's indifferent rump.  It sets the stage for Fox -- we instantly realize that we are about to meet a different type of detective even before we learn that he lives at "The Zoo."

Stout's Nero Wolfe is one of the most popular fictional detectives in history, despite the fact that most of his deductions are flimsy and virtually nothing he deduced would stand up in court.  Wolfe's quirks and his pairing with his ur-opposite Archie Goodwin brought about a perfect blend of detection and hard-boiled mystery.

Stout's mainstream novels did not fare as well, although his first published book How Like a God (1929) received critical attention.  (It was published by Vanguard Press, a firm Stout had co-founded.)  He began publishing short stories in 1912, followed by serialized novels in The All-Story beginning the following year.  By 1916 Stout was tired of writing stories whenever he needed money.  He decided to stop writing until he had accrued enough money by other means so that writing would not be main support.  He created the school banking system which served his purposes nicely.  By 1929, he had accrued a large enough nest egg to start writing again.  Does that date sound familiar?  Stout lost most of the money during the Depression that started that year.  The best laid plans...

Stout turned to detective stories in the 1930s.  The first Nero Wolfe novel, Fer-de-Lance, was published in 1934.  By 1940 he concentrated on writing detective stories, mostly in the Nero Wolfe series.  By this time he was a nationally recognized figure and was able to promote his causes.  Stout described himself as a "pro-labor, pro-New Deal, pro-Roosevelt, left liberal."   As early as 1925, Stout joined the board of the American Civil Liberties Union National Council on Censorship.  During World War II. he joined Fight for Freedom, hosted three weekly radios shows, and helped organize American writers in the war effort.  He chaired the Writer's War Board and conducted the first broadcast of CBS Radio's Our Secret Weapon.  He led the Society for the prevention of World War II and became active in the United World Federalists.

Stout actively lobbied for a fourth term for Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Coincidently, while in the Navy in 1908 and 1909, he served as yeoman on President Theodore Roosevelt's yacht

He was branded a Communist by the chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee and earned the enmity of J. Edgar Hoover, in part because of his leadership of The Author's League of America during the McCarthy era..  Stout eventually got back at Hoover in the Wolfe novel The Doorbell Rang.

Always outspoken, always fearless, sometime contradictory, Stout published The Illustrious Dunderheads in 1942, detailing the isolationist, anti-World War II, pro-Nazi voting records and statements by sitting members of  Congress, naming names.

In the mystery field, Stout served as president of the Mystery Writers of America.  He received MWA's prestigious Grand Master Award in 1959.  The Bouchercon XXXI mystery convention nominated the Nero Wolfe books as the Best Mystery Series of the Century and Stout as the Best Mystery Writer of the Century.  He was inducted into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame in 2014.  Wolf has appeared in films (some early ones were pretty bad), radio (four different series on five networks, plus a gender-switched adaptation of a Wolfe story in 2018). television (at least three different series, plus individual programs, as well as German, Russian (twice), and Italian (also twice) television series. three stage plays (including one in Italian), and a daily and Sunday comic strip (1956-1972) currently being reprinted on Evan Lewis' ever-interesting blog, Davy Crockett's Almanack.  Films were also made of Stout's political thriller The President Vanishes and his Dol Bonner mystery Hand in Glove.  Nero Wolfe was also immortalized on a Nicaraguan stamp in 1972.

Rex Stout's older sister Ruth was a well-known gardening writer know as the "Queen of Mulch" and for her "no-work" gardening method.  She reportedly accompanied axe-wielding Prohibitionist Carry Nation on a saloon raid; Nation was arrested but Ruth, only 16 at the time, was not, even though Ruth caused the most damage.  Another literary relative of Rex Stout's was his cousin W. T. (Willis Todhunter) Ballard, a well-known pulp writer and the author of many western and detective novels.  Ballard married Phoebe Dwiggins, the daughter of popular cartoonist Clare Victor Dwiggins ("Dwig").

Favorite Records:  I have a couple of Facebook friends who keep posting memes about quizes and challenges, such as "Which Lord of the Rings character are you?" or a "What was your favorite childhood toy?" or "I bet only one in ten will repost this message."  Since these are dangerous and often used to mine personal data it is my policy to never respond to such memes.  Recently, one friend posted a  challenge to name the ten record albums that most influenced you.  Although I didn't respond,, I did think about this one.  My answers tell a lot about me -- and not just my age.

  • Don McLean, American Pie.  I believe he has several different albums with this name; the one that really got me has the title song, "Everybody Loves Me, Baby (What's the Matter with You?)" and "Winterwood," among the outstanding selections.
  • Gordon Bok, Ann Mayo Muir, & Ed Trickett, Minneapolis Concert.  "Waltzing with Bears," "Green Fields of France," "The Gin and Raspberry." and others.  Not a bad song in the bunch.
  • Phil Ochs, Pleasures of the Harbor.  Probably his most accomplished album.  We were married to a duo singing the title song, plus the album has the greatest goodbye song ever, "Changes."
  • Ian and Sylvia, Play One More.  Sylvia Fricker leading in a rollicking version of 'When I Was a Cowboy."  Ian Tyson singing "These Friends of Mine."  Every track in this album is a gem.
  • Side by Side, Side by Side by Song.  Side by Side (Doris Justis and Sean McGee) were D.C. staples for more than 25 years and were the "house band" for Dick Cerri's Music Americana.  Among the sixteen tracks on this album are favorites "Potter's Wheel," "Death in Venice," and "That's the Way It's Going to Be.'
  • The Limelighters, .Children's Concert.  The Limelighters were the first folk group to get my attention, which gives you an idea of how old I am.  I would play everyone of their albums over and over, but if I had to choose one, it would be Children's Concert.  Pure joy captured on a disk.
  • Dave Mallett, Inches and Miles.  A retrospective album produced by Noel Stookey.  Mallett has a voice like pure honey.  This one has his most famous song, "Inch by Inch," "I Knew This Place," "Fire," "Arthur," and many others.  As with all these albums, this one I would play over and over and over again.
  • Peter, Paul and Mary, The Holiday Concert.  This one has my favorite Christmas song, "I Wonder As I Wander," Mary Travers singing "For Baby" to her granddaughter, "Light One Candle," and many more.  another album that is pure joy.
  • The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  There are better songs on other albums but this is the one that blew my socks off.
  • The Rolling Stones, Out of Our Heads.  "Satisfaction."  Need I say more?
Limiting a list such as this to ten items is a thankless task, knowing full well that this list could change at a moment's notice (or whim).  Where are The Kinks, Cream, The Spencer Davis Group, Jim Kweskin's Jug Band, The Chad Mitchell Trio, Tom Lehrer, Ma Rainey, Tom Paxton, Bessie Smith, Leonard Cohen, and so many others?

What are the record albums that define your life?  Kitty would most surely name Jefferson Airplane's first album.  Just as surely she would not allow me to name THE BEST OF CHICKENMAN.

Feeding the Hungry:  According to Wikipedia, on this date in 332, the Emperor Constantine the Great announced the distribution of free food for the citizens of Constantinople.  As with many items about Constantine, this fact should be taken with a grain of salt.  As Bill barr recently (and disgustingly) said, history is determined by the winners.  Contemporary reports reports about Constantine were highly laudatory (and therefore, highly suspicious).  What is undisputed is the constantine was the first Roman emperor to convert to the Christian faith and called the first Council of Nicaea, which produced the Nicene Creed.  He spent most of his life as a pagan, and although a convert to Christianity, reportedly refused to be baptized until on his deathbed; his thinking being that he could then be forgiven of any sinful things he did while in office -- he did kill his wife and his eldest son, after all.  Nonetheless, between the time of his conversion and his death, he did accomplish much for the faith and his people.

I am taken by the idea of the government distributing free food.  Today, with so many people in economic stress, President Trump's 2021 budget would slash food assistance for millions and reduce the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program by 30%.  It would cut off benefits for nearly 700,000 low-income adults living in areas of high unemployment.  It would end SNAP for more than 3 million individuals by rolling back "broad-based categorical eligibility."  It would cut SANP by $1 billion a year by eliminating state flexibility in setting "Standard Utility Allowances."

Geez, Louise.

The war on the poor and the middle class continues unabated.  Perhaps Constantine the Great had the right idea some 1688 years ago,

760 Years?:  Enjoy it while you can.

Florida Bee:  The heck with Florida Man!  Our state can now claim the reappearance of the blue calamintha bee (Osmia Calaminthae).  Blue bees have not been seen in the state since 2016.  This may cause some confusion:  I told someone that Florida has blue bees and he replied, "I know.  Especially on the beaches during spring break."  I think we were on different wavelengths.

Good News:

"Not only to say the right thing, at the right place, but far more difficult to leave unsaid the wrong thing, at the tempting moment."  -- George Sala

Today's Poem:
He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet;
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

-- William Butler Yeats

No comments:

Post a Comment