Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, May 30, 2022


 Openers:   She sat in the rocking chair beside the grate of s moldering coal-ash, pressed and damped into a semi-solid mass so that it should burn even longer.  Her eyes were bright with a quick nervous light that contrasted forcibly with the monstrous wreck of her face, for when the second stroke had fallen upon her two years previously, not only had all power of movement had been taken from her, but she had also lost her power of speech, and was forced to live on, a powerless lump of suffering flesh, twisted and broken.  Her body was shapeless in the many shawls that encumbered it.  A scattered rug was wrapped round her knees in an endeavour to provide a slight protection against the chill of the poorly heated room.

Old Mrs. Strathers looked at the clock that ticked loudly on the mantlepiece, overcrowded with ornaments and photographs so dear to her daughter-in0law's heart.  She peered into the greyling dusk.  Six o'clock.  Ronnie should be back soon.

Dear Ronnie!  He was the one solace of her mockery of life, devoting himself to her on every possible moment.  But naturally it was only in the early morning and the evening that he could be with her.  Hi office hours were long.  Half-past eight until half-pat sex, with an hour off in the middle of the day.  He was working too hard; and he hadn't got the strength to stand it.  Molly should have noticed it long since; and made him see a doctor.  But no, the poor boy had grown to look worse and worse, until he was little better than a ghost; and it was not until the previous week that he had consulted a doctor -- Doctor Hallam, who lived at the end of the street.  Old Mrs. Strathers had never felt much confidence in him.  Carless, and too fond of the bottle, in her opinion.  Ronnie hadn't told her very much of what he had aid to him.  She thought that he had made light of it all, but that, no doubt, was because he was afraid of alarming her.

-- "Old Mrs. Strathers" by Charles Birkin (first published under the pseudonym "Charles Lloyd" in anonymously edited anthology Quakes, 1933  -- the sixth of fourteen anthologies in The Creeps Library from London publisher Philip Allen and edited anonymously by Birkin;  reprinted in  the collection Devil's Spawn (1936), Where Terror Stalked and Other Horror Stories (1966), and The Harlem Horror (2002) -- all published under the Birkin name)

Poor Old Mrs. Strathers! -- trapped within her own body, able to move her eyes only, with only her son Ronnie to care for her.  But things are even worse.  Ronnie's wife, Molly, hates both him and her.  Molly ignores her mother-in-law's care and spends what little money Ronnie makes on fripperies, leaving him in worn clothes and forced to work long hours.  And Molly is having an affair with Mrs. Strathers' step-son Charlie (the offspring of her second husband, dead these past fifteen years) -- the two openly and cruelly flaunt their relationship before the old woman because, how can she tell anyone?  Poor sweet, dedicated Ronnie doesn't suspect a thing.  

Charlie works in a chemist's shop and has access to many chemicals...You can see where this is going, and you're right.

When I think of contes cruel in short stories, my  mind turn to three writers:  Villiers de l'Isle Adam (who invented the term), Maurice Level (who brought the form into the twentieth century), and Charles Birkin.  Many other writers -- notably Patricia Highsmith and Roald Dahl -- have used the form successfully, but these three form the core of the "no happy endings" school of short fiction -- their stories are cruel for the sake of being cruel.  It is their nihilistic viewpoint and their approach to horror that have made these writers popular.  Only rarely is it a case of the biter bit in these tales; more often, the innocent are the ones who are bit and eviscerated physically, emotionally, spiritually, or psychically destroyed   Although the conte cruel may look as though it owes much to the Marquis de Sade's writings, nothing could be further from the truth.  Adam, Level. Birkin.Hand others used the form for dramatic effect; de Sade's writings were the wish fulfillment of a deranged mind.  The conte cruel is more aligned with the grand guignol movement in theater.

Sir Charles Lloyd Birkin, Fifth Baronet, (1907-1985) was the son of a British colonel and the grandson of the First Baron, a lace embroidery and tableware magnate.  In the early thirties, Birkin was employed by publisher Philip Allen, where he created The Creeps Library, fourteen anonymously edited anthologies (along with the earlier Not at Might series edited by Christine Campbell Thomson) that set the standard for much of British horror, as well as seven collections from authors E Heron  Allen, Achmed Abdullah, L. A. Lewis, Tod Robbins, Edmond Hamilton. Vivian Meik, and Birkin himself, along with two novels by Meik.  Twelve of the fourteen anthologies contained one or more stories by Birkin under the Lloyd pseudonym.  Other authors included Eliot O'Donnell, Tod Robbins. Marjorie Lawrence, H. R. Wakefield, Lord Dunsany, and Russell Thorndyke, but the quality of the writing in the stories were for the most part aimed to titillate.

In 1942, Birkin  succeeded his uncle to become the Fifth Baron.  He spent World War II in the Sherwood Foresters (an infantry regiment in the British Army.  Birkin returned to writing in 1960 and produce eight volumes of short stories over the next ten years.  He died on the Isle of Mam in 1985.

A bit off topic, but one of  Birkin's sisters, Freda Dudley Ward, gained notoriety as the mistress of  Edward, Prince of Wales, from 1918 to 1929.  Freda married twice; her first marriage was dissolved on account of adultery; one daughter married the film director Sir Carol Reed and their daughter married the actor Edward Fox, who was to portray Edward VIII in Edward & Mrs. Simpson, which also covered Freda's long affair with the would-be king.  Freda's other daughter produced a son who married the niece of James Bond Creator Ian Fleming.  Freda's second marriage, to Cuban Theater impresario Pedro Jose Isidro Manuel Ricard Mones, Marques de Casa Maury, from 1938 to 1954.  Freda died in 1983 at the age of 88

Memorial Day:   Today is the day we honor all those who lost their lives inactive service in the military.  It's also a day picnics and barbeques and family gettogethers, as well as the unofficial start of the summer season.  Perhaps there is no better way to honor those dead than by enjoying the fruits of their sacrifice.

I was part of a big family.  Every Memorial Day, the trunk of our car would be filled with potted geraniums and we would go to several cemeteries in two towns to place them on the graves of family members who had gone on before.  We were extremely lucky that we had no relative to die in war. My parents would spend a few moments silently before each grave, then, at times, spend a few minutes reminiscing.  I was young and many of those we honored were a complete mystery to me, faces from a far-distant past beyond my memory.  And then there was the parade -- the smallest of two annual parades in our small town; the other parade, on the Fourth of July, was a much larger and much grander celebration.  Today, there's no one around to place those potted geraniums on those graves, though my mind is there in spirit with those whim I can remember or remember having been told of.

Most of those we honor were not heroes.  They never set out to be but many turned out to be heroic.  They were poor, scared kids who joined the various services to better their lives.  Once in the service many learned to be heroes, learned the importance of comradery, learned the importance of having each other's back, and learned the importance of discipline.  They also learned they served a higher cause than themselves.  Sadly, many of them ended up in fights they could not understand and some died for no real purpose that I can understand.  

A friend of the family made a point always to visit Arlington National Cemetery whenever he was in the D.C. area.  He would spend hours in that silent beauty that encapsulated honor, sacrifice, duty, and valor -- he always left the cemetery a better man than when he had entered it.

Here's Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery last year:

Here's a song for today:

And my go-to song for this day:

May you have a holiday full of joy, friendship, family, food, love, and remembrance.

Pancake Toss:  I am the most uncoordinated, unathletic person ever to stumble over his own feet, but I may have found a sport in which I could excel:  pancake tossing.  It's evidently a real thing, although I don't if there are any tournaments scheduled in the near future. 

After careful consideration, I doubt I could make my mark on this sport.  The world record holder according to the Guinness Book of Records people is a guy named Brad Jolly who achieved 140 tosses within sixty seconds; I doubt that I could eat that many at one time.

Here's a video of Luke Burrage, a champion pancake tosser, doing what he does best:

Commando Duck:  In 1944 Donald Duck took on the Japanese in World War II.  With such talent on the Allied side, it's a wonder that the war lasted so long.

Today:   Happy birthday to film director Howard Hawks (b. 1896), film producer Irving Thalberg (b. 1899), actor and comic foil Stepin Fetchit (1902), man of many voices Mel Blanc (b. 1908), bandleader Benny Goodman (b. 1909), Hall of Fame comic book artist Mort Meskin (b. 1916), restauranteur Bob Evans (b. 1918), science fiction great Hal Clement (b. 1922), Cheyenne Bodie actor Clint Walker (b. 1927), actress everyone has heard of but few can place Ruta Lee (b. 1935), the guy to whom H.A.L. was sorry he couldn't do that, Dave, actor Keir Dullea (b. 1936), football great Gale Sayers (b. 1943), and singer Wynonna Judd (b. 1964), According to Wikipedia, nobody was born on May 30, 1970; the last persons born in 1969 were Japanese directors Noami Kawase and Ryuhei Kitamura;  the first born on May 30, 1971 were rugby player Paul Grayson, film director Duncan Jones, singer Idina Menzel, ice hockey player Jiri Siegr, and rugby player Adrian Vowles; anyone born on May 30, 1970, is evidently a loser.

This is also the seventh anniversary of the death of Beau Biden.

Today is National Creativity Day -- something you might need to figure out how to celebrate My Bucket's Got a Hole in It Day, also today.

R.I.P., Ronnie Hawkins (1035-2022):

Florida Man:

  • A ten-year-old Florida Boy who may grow up to be Florida Man was arrested in Coral Gables for making a written threat to conduct a mass shooting.  In the wake of the Uvalde mass shooting in Texas, police are not taking any threat lightly.  Detectives interviewed the book and determined there was enough probable cause to arrest him.   The boy was taken away in handcuffs.   Carmine Marcino, Lee County Sheriff, called the boy's actions "sickening."   He went on, as if playing to a crowd, "Making sure our children are safe is paramount.  We will have law and order in our schools!  My team didn't hesitate one second...NOT ONE SECOND, to investigate this threat."  He continued, "Right now is not the time to act like a little delinquent.  It's not funny.  This child made a fake threat, and now he's experiencing real consequences."  Now I cannot presume to know the circumstances here, nor can I speak to what the boy's intent was, but the fact that the sheriff called this a "fake threat" indicates that the police may have overreacted by handcuffing the boy.  Was this a credible threat, or was this ten-year-old boy just being dumb like all other ten-year-old boys?   The fact that this incident hit the national news (I got Marcino's quote from Fox News) and the strong stance of Sheriff Marcino raises a lot of questions, mainly, has a ten-year-old kid become a political pawn for the far-right law and order crowd?  It was not reported whether the boy either had firearms or access to firearms.  Following the recent shooting  tragedy in Texas there have been a number of cases where teenagers have posted threats or hints of mass shootings.  Each one should be thoroughly investigated but shouldn't common sense prevail?  Putting a ten-year-old through a handcuffed perp walk goes beyond scaring someone straight; it traumatizes the child, stokes fear in the community, and throws red meat to a political base.
  • Florida Man and definitely not a member of the ASPCA Tyler Crevasse, 33, allegedly buried his father's dog alive and laughed about it to police.  This was after an altercation with his father that landed the father in the hospital for treatment to his injuries.  Crevasse told the police that the dog was "old" and that he assumed it was "already dying." 
  • In a nightmare scenario, Florida Man Lawrence Green, 51, was reportedly having a fight with his daughter's boyfriend at her Clearwater apartment.  The daughter, Sydney Green, 22, tried to intervene and her father accidently stabbed her in the stomach.  She died a few hours later.  A few months before, Green had posted a tribute to his "hero" daughter, calling her "my energy. my fire. my heart, my love, my baby girl." evidently in response to the emotional support she had given him after the recent death another daughter from COVID.  Green has been charged with manslaughter.
  • Florida Man Wayne Bowen, 64, has pled guilty to using his twin brother's identity to collect thousands of dollars in military veteran's benefits.  Bowen must pay back over $63.000 in benefits for medical service, housing benefit, and  nutritional subsidies.  His brother, who lives in a different state, said he never gave Wayne permission yo use his identity and that he himself had never applied for such benefits.
  • Florida Man Christopher Edwin Day, 52, of St. Petersburg ha been sentenced to life in prison for minor boys in Vietnam while posing as an English teacher.  Mr. Day is not a good person.
  • Florida Man Ramiro Alanis now holds the world's record for movie watching after viewing Spider-Man:  No Way Home 292 times, a feat that cost him 33,400 in movie ticket over a three-month period.  He had previously held the record for watching Avengers:  Endgame 191 times back in 2019.  He record was beaten in 2021 by a man who watched Kaamelott: First Installment 204 times, and Alanis was determined to win back his title.  It wasn't easy.  The Guinness World Record rules state "the movie must be watched independently of any other activity,"  which would include quick naps. checking one's phone, or bathroom breaks.  Nineteen viewings of Avengers:  Endgame where disqualified in 2019 because of bathroom breaks Alanis took.  This time he had to hold his pee.  Now that's dedication.

Good News:
  •  Sisters find each other after 45 years apart, living in the same city with sons going to the same school
  • New "Hometown Heroes Housing Program" is helping Florida teachers and first responders buy their first homes
  • Iceland trots out service that lets horses answer your work e-mail while you are vacation
  • Wintering Monarch butterflies bounce back in Mexico
  • New drug combination lower risk of asthma attacks by 25% -- a pardigm shift
  • Women who hug a loved one how a decrease in the production  of cortisol  (are you listening, Kitty?) 

Today's Poem: 

Alfonzo Prepares to Go Over the Top

(Balleau Wood, 1917)

"A soldier waits until he's called -- then
moves ass and balls up, over,
tearing twigs and crushed faces,
swinging his bayonet like a pitchfork
and thinking, anything's better
than a trench, ratshit
and the tender hairs of chickweed.
A soldier is smoke
waiting for wind; he's long corridor
clanging to a back of a house
where a child sings
in its ruined nursery...
                                                                and Beauty is the
gleam of my eye on this gunstock and my spit
drying on the blade of this knife
before it warms itself in the gut of a Kraut.
Mother, forgive me.  Hear the leaves?  I am
already memory."

-- Rita Dove

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