Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, June 22, 2021


 Openers:  I dropped into Jack's place the other night for a slice of tongue -- some of it in a sandwich and some from between Jack's lips.  The place was pretty crowded,  but I managed to find a booth as Jack glided over to take my order.

:What'll it be?" he asked.  Then -- "Well, I'll be damned!" said Jack.

"Probably," I observed.

But Jack didn't hear me.  He was staring at the tall thin man who elbowed his way toward the booth.

I stared, too.  There was nothing remarlable about the gentleman's thin, somewhat dour face, but his suit was enought to attract anyone's attention.  It isn't often you see a horse blanket walking.

"See that guy?" Jack whispered, hurriedly.  "He's a number for you.  Used to be an upper bracket in the rackets."

"He looks it," I confided.  "Is he dangerous?"

"No.  Reformed, completely reformed.  Ever since he divorced his third wife he's led a simple life, playing the races.  But I never expected to see him in here -- he hasn't been around for months.  Wait -- I'll see if can steer him into your booth.  You'll enjoy it -- he's the biggest liar in seven states.

-- Robert Bloch, "Time Wounds All Heels"  (Fantastic Adventures, April 1942)

The stranger is Lefty Feep and "Time Wounds All Heels" was the first in a series of twenty-three tales in Fantastic Adventures about the hapless hero, from April 1942 to July 1950.  The first eight stories (plus one original, "A Stich in Time")  were reprinted in Lost in Space and Time with Lefty Feep (1987) -- the first of a proposed three-volume collection from John Stanley's Creatures at Large Press.  The other volumes never appeared.

The Feep stories were tailored to the Fantastic Adventures audience -- young, undisciminating teenagers.  Feep, a race track tout who never seems to get a break, relates his tales in the first person, using a Damon Runyon-esque dialog, complete with slang, tortured puns, and other crimes against the English language.  The themes come from folklore by way of Thorne Smith -- thus you have flying carpets, a genie in a bottle, the Pied Piper, the Ariabian nights, Jack the Giant Killer, and a zillion riffs on time travel -- all about as corny as you can get.

Understand, these stories are not good.  They are strained and predictable and written to order.  Bloch himself had no particular fondness for then and, indeed, did not remember writing some of them.  But they were popular, and --doggone it -- I really like them.  Just not in heavy doses.  Reading more than one or two at a time would be too much of a mediocre thing.

Fantastic Adventures ran a lot similar stories, comic far-out fantasies with a humorous bent and a befuddled hero.  Dwight V. Swain gave us Henry Horn; William McGivern, Tink, as well as Philip Ppiuncare & the Three Musketeers; James Norman, Oscar, Detective of Mars; Leroy Yerxa, Freddie Funk; Elroy Arno, Willowby Jones; Harold Lawlor, Bill Mitchell; And Charles F. Myers, Toffee.  Not quite in the same vein was Nelson F. Bond's stories of Bullard; Bond would use the same formula for eom of his stories in Bluebook and Pat Pending, Squaredeal Sam McGhee, and (in Astounding, Horse Sense Hank).  And, in Astounding, there were the stories of Gallagher, who created the wackiest inventions imaginable while drunk and has no idea wht they were designed to do when he sobered.

Fantastic Adventures began in May 1939 by Ziff-David Publications as a companion to Amazing Stories.  Its first managing editor was Raymond A. Palmer, who had great success in turning around the moribund Amazing Stories, by aiming at a strictly juvenile audience.   The "official" editor was B. G. Davis, who held that post unitl 1947.  Assistant editor Howard Browne began as managing editor with the March 1947 issue, while Palmer was named editor.  Browne was soon replaced by associate editor William Hamling beginning in 1948.  Browne came back  as editor in January 1950,; Lila E, Shaffer served as managing editor for a few months in 1953.  The last issue of Fantastic Adventures in March 1953, making way for the far more adult-oriented digest Fantastic.  Browne was never a fan of science fiction or fantasy; his interest lay in mysteries and in Hollywood, where he made a name for himself.  Hamling went on to edited a number of low-level science fiction magazines and to find financial success in soft-core porn publishing.  FAs last associate editor, Paul W. Fairman became managing editor of Fantastic in 1953, beginning (with Browne) the magazine's quick slide into mediocrity which was only reversed with the appontment of the talented Cele Goldsmith (later, Cele G. Lalli) as editor in December 1958.  Fairman, BTW, went on to become the editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine; Lalli left Fantastic in 1965 to become editor of Bride's Magazine.

Fantastic Adventures was noted for introducing Thornton Ayre's The Golden Amazon and for publishing a number of  stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  It had the distinction of publishing Theordore Sturgeon's first novel, The Dreaming Jewels, as well as long stories by Lester del Rey, Willian Tenn, and Walter J. Miller, Jr.  Most of the magazine's contents were written by a stable of Chicago-based writers such as William P. McGivern, Leroy Yerxa, David Wright O'Brien, Don Wilcox, and Berkeley Livingston, along with Hamling and Palmer, all writing under a plethora of house pseudonyms to provide the word count the magazine needed.  The magazine also dipped into Tarzanesque adventures with novels about Jongor (by Robert Moore Williams) and Toka (by Palmer under his J. W. Pelkie pseudonymn.

Robert Bloch needs no introduction.  The author of such classic stories as Psycho, "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper," and "The Hell-Bound Train," Bloch was a master of the suspense, horror, fantasy fields, often with a sly humorous twist.  For many of my generation, Bloch was the entry point to a lifetime of fantastic reading.


  • Philip Jose Farmer, Flesh/Lord Tyger.  Reprint of two fantsy novels.  Flesh is an expanded edition of a book originaly published as a Galaxy Novel.  "After 800 years of exploring the stars, Space Commander Stagg had returned to Earth,  But Earth had become a new world.  Where science and technology had reigned, now there were agriculture and tribal warfare.  And mankind worshipped the Goddess and was content.  They named Stagg 'Sunhero" and performed secret rites.  Endowed with the virility of a nation, and with foot-high antlers throbbing on his his head, he set out on a cross-country jaunt.  He was the Sunhero, king of the Earth and all its will women." As for Lord Tyger, "My mother is an ape.  My father is God,  I come from the Land of Ghosts.  So sings Ras Tyger, Philip jose Framer's monumental incarnation of a moder-day Jungle Lord.  Savage, heroic, and beautiful, he is master of the world.  And he rules his kindom with sex, savagery, and sublime innocence.  Unitl one day, with the landing of the great whirlinh 'birds,' the insane reality of his existence begins to unfold...and plunges him into an incredible quest for truth whic cannot end until he comes face to face -- with God."  Few people have played with ideas as Farmer has.
  • L. Ron Hubbard, The Red Dragon.  Adventure novella, one of eighty volumes put out by Galaxy Press, LLC (a Scientology division) to cover Howard's pulp stories.  This one was published in Five-Novels Monthly, February 1935.  "Flame haired Michael Stuart's career as an officer in the US Marine Corps abruptly ended after a failed attempt to return the Chinese Imperial Dynasty ro power in 1930s Asis.  Abandoned by his country, he's unable to find safe passage out of china by Land or sea.  Now Stuart, also known as the 'Red Dragon,' has a new occupation:  he intervenes in matters for the good of the people.  Despite the danger, Stuart agrees to help a beautiful woman search for a mysterious black chest which her father hid in Manchuria before his murder.  Their quest takes them from Peking north to the Grt Wall of China and beyond.  With enemies coming at him from every corner, Stuart finds he;s playing a most deadly game of hide-and-seek.."  Now known as the creator of Dianetics and the father of Scientology, Hubbard has always been a giant in his own mind and is now considered one of the most well-rounded geniuses in history by his followers.  There seems to be nothing Hubbard had not done and nothing he had not mastered.  Hubbard was actually a talented pulp writer who produced a few outstanding stories.  He was also a mythomaniac, and egoist, and a bullshit artist.  He once said the surest way to become rich was to invent a religion.  Well, guess what?  A somewhat innocuous philosophy cobbled from diverse sources has now grown beyond all recognition into a money-making monster, as has Hubbard's reputation.
  • Richard Laymon, After Midnight.  Horror novel.  "alice has quite a story to tell you.  That's not her real name, of course.  She couldn't givr you her real name, not fter all the things she reveals about herself in this book.  All of her...adventures.  And all that killing.  She wouldn't want the police to find her, now would she?  It started out so nice.  Alice was house-sitting for her friend, enjoying having the whole place to herself, with the sunken bathtub and the big-screen television.  But everything went wrong the first night, when she looked out the window and saw a strange man jumping naken into the swimming pool.  Alice knew he would be coming to get her, like all those other men before.  But she would never be a victim again.  Not after she remembered the old Civil War saber hanging in the living room..."  Laymon was one of the best horror writers of his generation, junfortuinately far more admired and respected in ??England than in his native America.
  • Paul Tremblay, The Cabin at the End of the World.  Horror novel.  "Seven-year-old Wen and her parents, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote cabin in Northern New Hampshire.  Far removed from the bustle of city life, they are cut off from the urgent hum of cell pones and the internet.  Their closest nieghbors are two miles away in either direction.  On a summer day, as Wen catches grasshoppers in the front yard. a stranger unexpectedly appears.  Leonard is the largest man she has ever seen, but he is friendly, with a warm smile that wins her over almost instantly.  Leonard and Wen continue to talk and play, until three more strangers, two women and a man, all dressed like Leonard in jeans and button-down shirts, come down the road carrying strange, menacing objects.  In a panic, Wen tells Leonard that she must go back inside the cabin.  Before she goes, her new friend tells her,"None of what's going to happen is your fault.  You haven't done anything wrong, but the three of you will have to make some tough decisions.  I wish with all my broken heart you didn't have to."  As Wen sprints away to warn her parents, Leonard calls out, "Your dads won't let us in, Wen.  But they have to.  We need your help to save the world."  Tremblay is an author worth seeking out.

Guinn v. United States:  Juneteenth, our newest federal holiday, marks the practical end of slavery in the United States.  As we all know, the battle for racial justice did not end there.  Then Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution was ratified in 1870, declaring that the right to vote could not be dnied by any state due to "race, color, or previous condition of servitude."  Not surprisingly,  that did not sit well with a number of Southern states, which began enacting reach-arounds that, in effect, could negate the Fifteenth Amendment while not specifically violating it.  One way this was done was through "grandfather clauses."

Oklahoma ("where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain") entered the Union in 1907 with a state Constitution that apeased the Fifteenth Amendment by allowing men (sorry, ladies) of all races to vote.  Like many other states, Oklahoma had a literacy test that had to be passed in order for an indiviual to vote.  Such tests were one way to keep black citizens from voting.  But there were an awful lot of white citizens who were also illiterate.  What to do?  Well, you just "grandfather" them in through an amendment that waived the lteracy test if you or an ancestor were allowed to vote or had served as soldiers before a certain date...let's say, 1866.  Since slaves were not allowed to vote back then, nor were allowed to serve as soldiers, the literacy test could not be waived.  Also, most states thatb had allowed free persons of color to vote in the early 19th century had rescinded that right by 1840, so even those blacks whose ancestors were not slaves were basically out of luck.

Frank Guinn and J. J. Beal were both Oklahoma (where "the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet") election officials who had been indicted and convicted of "having conspired unlawfully, willfully, and fraudulently to deprive certain negro citizens on account of their race and color, of the right to vote at a general election held in that state in 1910."  Their case was argued before the Supreme Court on October 17, 1913, where the plaintiffs argues that they were following the state's grandfather law.  The decision, handed down on June 21, 1915, vehemently denied their argument on an 8-0 rulling (with one Justice taking no part in the determination or the consideration of the case, having come to the Courtin 1914).  Chief Justice Edward Douglass White delivered the opinion that the grandfather clause was clearly designed to interfere with the voting rights granted by the Fifteenth Amendment even though it appeared to be racially neutrl on its face.  the grandfather clause "was repugnant to the Fifteenth Amendment and therefore null and void."  It should be noted the Guinn v. United States was the first case in which the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed a brief before the Supreme Court.

Things did not end there and institutional racism was not stopped in its tracks.  State legislatures continued to craft and pass laws designed to restrict voting rights for blacks and others.  Much of the focus today comes from the Republican party's efforts to restrict voting -- not only of blacks -- to maintain their political hold.  The GOP has also declared was on critical race theory being taught in public schools, their claims at not being racist or that they are not  using this opposition as a political power grab notwithstanding.

Lincoln Logs:  One of the most popular toys in the twentieth century was Lincoln Logs, notched wooden (usually redwood) toy beams that could be assembled to make small cabins, such as replicas of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and Abraham Lincoln's log cabin.  The toy was invented by John Wright, the son of architect Frankin Lloyd Wright, in 1918 (probably, the date varies).  On a visit to Japan Wright noted that the use of interlocking wooden beams in the construction ot Tokyo's  Imperial Hotel gave the building more stability and security.  Lincoln Logs soon became popular, but not before Wright sold the rights to the toy.

The name of the toy did not come from Abraham Lincoln, as many believe.  Wright named to toy after his father's middle name.  Originally Frank Lincoln Wright, the architect changed his middle name to honor his mother's family after his father left the family.

Here's a video of an elaborate castle being built with Lincoln Logs:

Did you play with Lincoln Logs as a kid?

Maria Marten; or, Murder in the Red Barn:  One of the most popular plays of the 19th century was a domestic melodrama based on the real-life murder of Maria Marten in 1827 in Suffolk, England.  The play had no real author; instead, it was a "devised" play that changed depending on the actors, where it was performed, and who produced it.  The villain is one William Corder, who murdered his lover Maria and buried her in the "Red Barn" in Polestead, Suffolk.  Corder left the area but sent letters to Maria's family claiming she was in good health.  Maria's stepmother later claimed to have dreamed that she had been murdered.  After Maria's body was uncovered in the barn, a search went out for Corder.  and he was found in London, where he had married and had started a new life.  Brought back to Suffolk, Corder was tried and found guilty.  He was hanged in Bury St. Edmund in 1828 before a large crowd of what I assume to be enthusiastic witnesses.

The crime, the trial, and the execution was widely played out in the popular press.  A national sensation, it was the subject of mny songs and plays.  "Fit-up" companies, or traveling theater groups, performed the plays in music halls, drinking houses, and fairgrounds across the country.  Actors who moved from company to company often took their better bits with them and gradually additions became an integral part of the play's traditional structure.  By 1840, the play was being performed in theaters and it remained one of the most popular melodramas of the Victorian Age.

Here's Murder in the Red Barn, the 1935 film based on the case, featuring Tod Slaughter and Sophie Stewert, and directed by Miltn Rosmer:

Florida Man:
  • Florida Man Jeffrey Hein, 25, of Tampa, was searching for egladon shark teeth in the Myakka River but found teeth of an entirely different sort when a nie-foot alligator chomped on him.  "I thought it was a propellor.  It hit me so hard.  I realized I was inside its mouth and if the alligator hadn't decided to let me go on its own, there was really nothing I could do about it."  Hein received 34 stitches in his head and was left with a minor skull fracture and bite marks on one of his hands.  A somewhat similar incident happed with Massachusetts (not Florida) Man and lobster diver Michael Packard, who was swallowed by a humpbacked whale earlier this month.  The whale also ejected Packard after a few seconds, leading one to assume that Florida and Massachusetts men taste pretty funky.
  • Although I doubt it will become an Olympic event, the Florida Baby Toss was performed on May 26 by Florida Man John Henry James III, 32.  James was spotted driving erratically by a deputy in Vero Beach.  This led to a wild 40-minute pursuit  by Florida deputies and a police helicopter.  James smashed his Nissan Rogue into the front end of a deputy's car, dodge roadblocks and an attempted stop stick, and ran over another stop stick before being boxed in by police cars.  He then fled the vehicle, taking his two-month-old child with him.  He threw the baby at deputies before attempting to flee.  He was caught.  And the infant was also caught -- by Deputy Jacob Kurby (who may or may not have played football in school).   The baby was safe, and Jmes was taken to a nearby fire house, and then to a local hispitl for medical treatment, and finally to jail, where he faced a number of charges, inventing a possible Olympic event not being one of them.
  • Florida Man and one of many Florida Men who didn't not get the message that Donald Trump lost the election Alexander Jerich, 20, decided to celebrate Trump's birthday by destroying a $16,000 LGBTQ crosswalk artwork in Delray Beach.  With an "All Aboard the Trump Train" flag on his pickup truck, Jerich deliberately did "burnouts" across the newly installed artwork.  He was arrsted and charge with criminal mischief over $1000, reckless driving, evidence of prejudice (i..e, a hate crime), and may well be charged with Florida's new "Combating Public disoreder Law," which ironically was passed by the Trumpist GOP stae legislative majority in response to Black Lives Matter protests...In a tragic accident this week, the driver of a pickup trunk hit to people just before the Wilton Manors Stonewall Pride Parade just outside Fort Lauderdale started.  Both men were taken to a nearby hospital where one of the was pronounced dead.  The driver, a 77-year-old man whose ailments prevented him from walking and was thus chosen to drive the lead vehicle in the parade, and the two victims were members of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men's chorus.  None of the three were immediately identified. 
  • An unnamed 14-year-old Florida Boy decided to steal a $200,000 Lamborghini in Miami Beach but only got a few blocks before abandoning the vehicle.  As he fled, he told an onlooker, "I stole a Lamborghini just now.  I can't drive.  I don't have a license."  The car's owner, Florida Man Chris Sander, had been home when he heard the car being started.  Sander ran outside, saw the Lamborghini tking off, and hopped on a motor scooter to take chase.  Meanwhile the onlooker had suggested to the boy that he give himself up peacefully.  By then, an officer on the other side of a fence was pointing his gun at both of them, so the boy took the onlooker's advice.  Sander said he had left the Lamborghini in his garage, along with the keys, when the boy stole the vehicle, leading some to question the wisdom of leaving the keys with the car.
  • Florida Man Ronnie Oneal III, of Tampa, was convicted of to counts of murder.  He had shot his girlfriend Kenyatta Brown with a shotgun and then beat her to death.  Oneal also killed his 9-yer-old disabled daughter with a hatchet and wounded his 8-year-old son with a knife before setting fire to their home.  The daughter had cerebral palsy and could not speak.  Oneal made the unwise decision to serve as his own lawyer, accusing the state of manipulating call logs and recordings.  He also accused a police detective who later adopted the 8-year-old of turning his sone against him.  Perhaps his greatest legal mistake was yelling and berating the jury during closing arguments -- the judge had to admonish Oneal severl times for using epithets -- and admitting to the jury that he had killed his girlfriend.  That sort of argument tends to prejudice juries.

Good News:
  • World's most premature baby celebrates first birthday after being given 0% chance of surviving
  • Yemeni fishermen find $1.5 million prize in the belly of a floating sperm whale carcass
  • One-legged woman is a world-class salsa sncer (video at the link)
  • Dad breaks record for 1.5 million pushups -- all for charity
  • Two days after wedding, bride donates kidney to groom's ex-wife
  • Dengue disease rate cut by 77% with this new mosquito "hack"

Today's Poem
For Once, Then, Something

Others taunt me at having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
Me myself in the summer heaven godlike
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.
Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths -- and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at the bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out.  What was that whiteness?
Truth?  A pebble of quartz?  For once, the, something.

-- Robert Frost


  1. I did play with Lincoln Logs, and with Tinker Toys even sister really went to town some years later with Legos, though her first set was a PlaySkool imitation product (sued out of existence, I suspect).

    Very good take on Lefty Feep and FANTASTIC know Palmer was editing it from jump till leaving Ziff-Davis, and Howard Browne's tenure benefited enormously from the stories he was buying for the abortive 1950 "slick" AMAZING example is the first appearance of YOU'RE ALL ALONE by Fritz Leiber; another is publishing rather higher-grad Bloch fiction such as the novella "The Dead Don't Die!" and fiction from "William Tenn", Clifford Simak and others,
    as well as the occasionally more sophisticated story by such good writers as William McGivern (as opposed to the cotton-candy stuff that the Feep stories were).

    Paul Fairman's awful tenure at AMAZING, FANTASTIC and DREAM WORLD (after his similarly awful founding issues of IF and before his short term managing-editorship at EQMM--Dannay was always very much in control at his magazine during his life--though Fairman was indeed working for B. G. Davis again) was matched by his attempts as YA sf novel, such as the ghost-job THE RUNAWAY ROBOT as by Lester Del Rey, who provided the outline. MODERN BRIDE was the key magazine at Ziff-Davis Goldsmith Lalli would eventually edit, not too long after having FANTASTIC and AMAZING sold out from under her.

  2. FANTASTIC ADVENTURES was founded, as much as for anything else, as a place to highlight Edgar Rice Burroughs's work...hence also a tendency to ape ERB's creations...Burroughs was on the downhill slide by '39 in popularity.

    As you remember, '39 was a banner year for new fantasy magazines...FA, UNKNOWN FANTASY FICTION, FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES, and STRANGE STORIES all began that year...

    And Browne was more fond of fantasy than sf...though as you note, he loved crime fiction, particularly Chandleresque mystery fiction, the most...before B. G. Davis took his fiction magazine marbles and left Ziff-Davis to found Davis Publications, with the purchase of EQMM, he allowed Browne to produce one issue of CONFLICT, a cf magazine in the format of FANTASTIC and the retooled 1953 AMAZING, and be "officially" the editor of ZD's shortlived US edition...essentially a straight reprint...of THE LONDON MYSTERY SELECTION magazine...while also doing one issue each of two nautical magazines, THE SEVEN SEAS and TALES OF THE SEA (or, arguably, two issues of the same magazine with different titles).