Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Sunday, January 22, 2023


Openers:  It was the first time in twenty yearsof handling pottery that I've ever dropped a piece.  It smashed to bits on the tile floor, and a twenty-dollar gold piece rolled out.

My assistant, Mr. Linchan, picked it up and said, with his customary. ill-advised sense of humor:  "Maybe we ought to smash the rest of them, eh, Doc?"

I reminded him cooly that my title was "Doctor," took the eagle from him and put it in my pocket.  We began to assemble the fragments of the piece that had been broken.  It proved to be a quart jug, one-eared, of a raw-earth color fired with a peculiar transparent crackle-glaze over a bisque body,  When I picked up the piece inked with the catalog number I looked in my ledger.

"American Ceramics Gallery," said the page. "#6684503, gift of Hannes Schlectman, Reading, Pa. 3/5/39 -- thrown and fired circa 1920, maker unknown, insured $10."

-- "A Ghoul and His Money" by C.  M. Kornbluth (first appeared in Dime Detective Magazine, September 1946; reprinted in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January 1993; collected in Hard-Boiled Detectives, edited by Stefan R. Dzienmianowitz, Robert Weinberg, and Martin H. Greenberg, 1992)

Our unnamed narrator is basically a cold fish. a humorless depratment head of an East Coast ceramics museum, and prideful of his knowledge about his chosen field.  His preferred breakfast is a slice of dry toast and a glass of warm watert, although weak tea would also do.  He gives "Little Talks on Pots," whiohc have been "received wuith so much enthusiasm by the habitues of the museum."  He is not what one could consider a hard-boiled detective.

When he reported the incident to his supervisor, the man basically told him that such a piece did not belong in the museum anyway, and he questioned our narrator's judgement in accepting it.  This led to a heate argument between the two.  Later, our narrator was called before the museum's board of directors and was given a month's vaction with full pay.  Since our narrator's supervisor was due to retire within the month, this solution meant that the b oard need not take any action that might result in negative publicity.  Our narrator decides to use the month to trace the origins of the destroyed piece.

It takes him to a small Pennsylvania town, where he discovers that the jug was made by a woman who had died of cancer some years before.  The potter who made the piece called herself Miss Henderson, although she was really Mrs. Hobbet -- after her abusing hiusband had beaten her, causing her to lose her unborn child, he had disappeared and she reverted to her maiden name.  This had happened some twenty years before, around the time that the broken jug had been fired, and also the time when the town's bank had been robbed of a large sum of golden eagles and double eagles. Neither the robbers nor the money were ever found.  Our unassuming narrator soon discovers small town corruption, a double murder, and impendng death at the hands of a murderer.  Only his knowledge of the art of pottery making saves him.

C. M. Kornbluth (1923-1958) was best known as talented and prolific science fiction writer of the 40s and 50s who published under his own name and some fourteen pseudonyms (some in collaboration).  A member of the Futurians, a group of science fiction fans who eventually became distinquished and influential professionals (Frederik Pohl, Donald Wollheim, Robert A. W. Lowndes, James Blish, Judith Merril, Damon Knight, Richard Wilson, Isaac Asimov, and others), his career was cut short by his death after shoveling snow before heading to New York for an interview to assume the editorship of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  In addition to his science fiction and some paperback "pot-boiler" novels published in the 1950s, Kornbluth published eighteen pulp mystery short stories, all but two of them in the 1940s.  His was a blazing talent.  there were few better when he took the time to craft a story.


  • Rhys Bowen. Oh Danny Boy.  A Molly Murphy mystery.  "In turn-of-the-century New York City, Irish immigrant Molly Murphy is contemplating giving up PI work for something a little less complicated, less exciting.  Molly has had quite enough excitement recently, thank you very much.  Especially from the handsome but deceptive NYPD captain Daniel Sullivan, whom she'd like to avoid completely.  But when Daniel is accused of accepting bribes and lands himself in The Tombs, the notorious city jail, he begs Molly to help prove he was framed, and after everything they've been through, she cannot turn him down.  As she finds herself drawn further and further into the case, she begins to fear that Daniel's trouble is related to one of his investigations -- catching the East Side Ripper, a serial killer who is targeting prostitutes.  Oh Danny Boy arks Edgar-Award finalist Rhys Bowen's triumphant fifth installment in her New York Times bestselling Molly Murphy mystery series."
  • W. J. Burley, Wycliffe's Wild Goose Chase.  Mystery "Wycliffe's home overlooks a peaceful, West Country estuary -- buit even here he can't get away from crime.  One Sunday morning he is walking along the shore when he comes across a service revolver with one chamber recently fired.  In recent years Wycliffe has often regretted the fact that his rank cuts him off from the early stages of an investigation, but here he is, in at the very start.  The case takes Wycliffe into the world of art robberies and crooked dealers, to a suicide which may be a murder, and a hunt for a missing yachr.  Aa the investigation escalates, Wycliffe begins to wonder exactly where the clues are leading."  
  • Max Allan Collins, CSI:  Crime Scene Investigation:  Dark Motives.  Computer game.  "Team up with the entire cast of CSI and a new imporved crime lab to track down the heinous truth in five complex new crimes.  No crime is ever perfect.  Your job is to find the flaw."  Collins scripted four of these CSI computer games back in the day.  When I across this used copy I thought I'd give it a try.  If my Luddite brain can figure out how to work it, that is.  I picked it up because I'm a big MAC fanboy.
  • Elizabeth Daly, The Book of the Lion.  A Henry Gamadge mystery.  "Avery Bradlock wanted Henry Gamadge to tell him the value of his famous late brother's unpublished correspondence.  But after one curious evening with the Bradlock household, Gamadge became far more intereeted in the strange circumstances surrounding Paul Bradlock's death two years earlier.  What had the well-known poet and playwright been doing in Central Park on the night he was murdered?  Could the woman whose apartment Pul had visited supply the answer?  When Gamadge went to question the lady, he discovered that his most promising witness, indeed his only witness, was suddenly dead.  Someone was writing the final act to a deadman's play in blood."  Daly wrote good old-fashioned mysteries and Gmadge has been called "the American Peter Wimsey."
  • John Farris, Catacombs.  Thriller/horror/adventure mash-up.  "John Farris's tribute to H. Rider Haggard and King Solomon's Mines is an action-packed thriller with international espionage, rare, powerful jewels and a lost race of cat people."
  • A. J. Hackworth, The Library of the Unwritten.  Fantasy.  "Many years ago, Claire was named head librarian of the Unwritten Wing -- a neutral space in Hell where all the stories unfinished by their authors reside. Her consists mainly of repairing and organizing books, but also of keeping an eye on restless stories that risk materializing as characters and escaping the library.  When a hero escapes from his book and goes in search of its author, Claire must track and capture him -- with the help of former muse and current assistant librarian Brevity and the nervous and sweet demon Leto.  But what should have been a simple retrieval goes horribly wrong when  the terrifying angel Ramiel attacks them, convinced they hold the Devil's Bible.   The text of the Devil's Bible is a weapon in a power struggle between Heaven and Hell, so it falls to the librarians to find a book with the ability to reshape the boundaries between Heaven, Hell...and Earth."  I'm a sucker for librarians in Hell novels.
  • Maurice Proctor, Rogue Running and Somewhere in This City (original Biritish title, Hell Is A Ctiy0.  Inspector Martineau mysteries.  Rogue Running:  "It started at a football game.  Detective Brabant, who should have had his eye out for pickpockets, discovered that his own wallet had been lifted, along with all his police credentials -- a serious matter to a man in his position...But the worst was yet to come -- with an elderly businessman missing, his secretary turning out to be more than a secretary, and a famed football player turning out to be real trouble.  Soon Brabant and wily Chief Inspector Martineau found themselves in a pro game of deception and detection where every move might be their last -- where the next play was sure to be murder..."  Somewhere inThis City:  "Inspector Matineau and his men turned the town upside down in their hunt for Don Starling, thief and murderer.  But Starling eluded them.  He had a perfect hiding place -- and one thing he had to do...kill Martineu!"  Proctor was a long-serving British police constable and the author of 26 novels, 14 of them in the Inspector Harry Matineau series.  Hell Is a City was released as a 1960 film starring Stanley Baker, John crawford, and Donald Pleasence; I haven't seen the film but it is reportedly very watchable.
  • Connie Willis, Futures Imperfect:  Three Short Novels.  Sceince fiction omnibus.  Uncharted Territory:  "There's no better team than Carson and Findriddy when it comes to surveying uncharted territory.  But they aren't making much progress on the plantet Boothe, and the government back home is making noises.  It's the governments own protocol that slows things down -- rules meant to protect indigenous ecosystems and cultures.  Fin and Carson pay stiff fines to their native guide, Bult, for every infraction, and Bult knows a good thing when he sees it.  He spends most of his time fining them for 'verbal abuse of indigenous fauna' (yelling at one of their uncooperative mounts) or 'disruption of land surface' (leaving footprints).  So Boothe's uncharted territory remains uncharted...and filled with indigenous surprises."  Remake.  "Yes, Virginia, there is a Hollywood, but nobody makes live-action movies there anymore.  Why bother, when computer technology allows you to remake any film with any actor you choose?  An expert like Tom, for instance can give Casablanca a happy ending or replace Bogart with River Phoenix.  And mucking up a classic doesn't bother him, much.  What bothers him is Alis.  She wants to dance in the movies -- really dance -- and she won't listen when he tries to explain why it's impossible.  Unfortunately, her obsession touches off his own:  he can't stop thinking about her -- even after she disappears from the Hollywood scene.  He keeps seeing her, or thinking he does, dancing in old, old films..."  Bellwether.  "Sandra Foster is the expert on fads at HiTek, a research and development firm in Boulder.  The company Management is convinced that by learning what triggers a fad, they can launch one at any time and make a fortune.  But fads are unpredictable -- at least most of them are.  The latest fad sweeping through HiTek is another story.  When Management expresses interest in winning a million-dollar grant, the entire staff jumps on the bandwagon.  Even Sandra gets caught up in the trend to conduct research that will pay off, teaming with chaos theory scientist Bennett O'Reilly for an experiment involving the education of sheep.  Together they make a discovery at once serendipitous and profitable..."

A Folk Music Top 40 - 1986:  I was in a nostalgic mood this week and tagged some of Dick Cerri's Music Americana radio programs on YouTube.  For some 35 years, Cerri was the host of Music Americana, The Folk Music of America on various radio stations in the Washington, DC area.  In 1982, Cerri and singer/songwriter Tom Paxton formed the World Folk Music Association, a major promoter of contemporary and traditional folk music.  I thing I miss most about living in the DC area is the various concerts and showcases that WFMU sponsored.

Here is the program featuring the show's 1986 Top 40 Songs as voted on by its listeners.  1986 was the fifth year that Cerri spotlighted the Top 40.  Some damn good listening here, along with a trip down memory lane.


Batons:  The singer introducing the show above is Christine Lavin, who, besides being a great talent, is a baton twirler.  It is my firm belief that everyone should appreciate her skill at baton twirling.  So...

A Good Year for Nepotism:  On this date in 393, the Roman emperor Theodosius I proclaimed his 8-year-old Honorius co-emperor.  Theodosius ruled the Roman Empire for 16 years until his death in 395.  As emperor he won an important war against the Goths, and also put down two civil wars.  Under his rule, the Nicean Christian Catholic orthodoxy was recognised as the official state religion of the empire.  He was the last emperor of a whole Roman Empire, before it was split into two, with a western and an eastern court.  His eldest son Arcadius was named co-emperor in 383, but he proved to be a weak ruler, dominated by his ministers and his wife.  Arcadius became the ruler of the eastern half of the empire after his father's death.  The second son of Theodorius, Honorius, named co-emperor in 393, was no great shakes as a leader either. Following his father's death, he ruled the western half of the empire.   As a child ruler, he was dominated by his principal general (and guardian) Stilicho -- who became his father-in-law when Honorius married Stiliocho's daughter Maria.  After Maria's death in 407, Honorius married Thermantia, the second daughter of Stilicho.  In 408, a rival of Stilicho convinced Honorius that his father-in-law was conspiring with barbarians to overthrow him.  In response, Honorius had Stilicho and his son executed, and had Thermantia taken from the throne and given to her mother.  With the death of Stilicho, the military strength of Rome was severely weakened.  By 410, Alaric and his Goths were able to sack Rome.  A few years earlier, the Roman general Constantine had declared himself Western Roman Emperor in Brittania in 407, and became co-emperor from 409 to Constantine III.  The Western Empire slowly began to erode.   In 417 Constantine married Honorius's half-ssiter, and Honorius named him co-emperor in 421, but Theodosius III (who had succeed Arcadius in the 
East) refused to recognized him.  Meanwhile, Honorius became physically attracted to his half-sister, forcing Constantine to move her and her two childrten to Constantinople.  Honorius died of edema in 423, leaving no heirs.  By that time, Britain, Spain, and Gaul had been ravaged by barbarians.  Eventuially Theodosius managed to seat his cousin Valentinian III on the Western throne.

Shake, Rattle, and Roll:  There have been times recently when it appeared that Mother Earth was out to get us.  Nothing, however can compare with what happened 467 years ago in Shaanxi Province in China.  The dealisest earthquake on record happened then, killing an estimated 830,000 people -- over 100,000 dying direct;ly from the earthquake, with more than 700,000 dying n the aftermath from starvation or plague.  More than 97 counties in Shaaxi and surrounding provinces were affected, with the earthquake reaching a scale of 8.0.  The earthquake destroyed an 840K-wide area (520 miles).  In some counties as much as 60% of the populationj was killed.

Ernie Kovacs:  Today is the birthday of Ernie Kovacs (b. 1919).  Where would America be without the Nairobi Trio?

Buffalo Bill:   Frm 1898, here's an actual voice recording of Buffalo Bill Cody.

Vampire Lore (French Edition):  To kill a French vampire you must drive a baguette through its heart.  Sounds easy but the porcess is pain-staking.

The Cuckoo Murder Case:  An Ub Iwerks mystery with Flip the Frog.

Florida Man:
  • Florida Man Leonard Irvin Wayne Tucker, 56, has been accused of dragging an 87-year-old Pensacola woman across the floor, using her as a mop to clean up dog urine.  Tucker had been living with the woman since 2018 as her caretaker and was reported to have been a family friend since the 1990s.  The incident was recorded on videotape.  Tucker had previously spent 11 years in prison from 2005-16 on homicide/manslaughter charges stemming from an incident in Santa Rosa County, the charges stemming from a house fire which left one man dead.
  • Sometimes Florida Men come out smelling like roses.  Maybe.   Five Florida Men -- Carlos Duvergel, 58, Juan Crespo, 46, Felix Castillo, 49, Asnay Fernandez, 32, and Ishmael Manzano-Suarez, 25 -- were convicted of stealing $1.3 million in perfume from a New Jersey warehouse.  One presumes they did the theft in Jersey because Florida don't need no stinking perfume.
  • Love means never having to say you're sorry, especially in Florida, and especially if you have a squirt gun and some ricin handy.  50-year-old Kevin Jones of Kissimmee was sentenced for intended to spray his former partner with the ricin loaded gun.  Jones, already a convicted felon, had intended to go on vacation after immediately spraying the woman with ricin so that he would have an alibi.  When arrested, he was found with five tubes of home-made ricin along with the squirt gun; a search of his home disclosed five addition tubes of the bniological toxin and nearly 200 rounds of ammunition.  He was forced to surrender two firearms that he owned illegally.  Jones will have ten years in prison to contemplete true love's ways.
  • Florida Man David Reed, 54, of St. Petersberg, was arrested in Kentucky after state troopers noticed his car driving erratically.  As troopers approached his car, Reed took off, leading them on a three-county chase in which several police cars were damaged.  When stopped, the troopers found a woman's body -- her name and cause of death thus far unreleased -- in the trunk.  Reed was arrested for murder, domestic violence, abuse of a corpse, fleeing or evading police, tampering with physuical evidence, and resistng arrest.   Kentucky police evidently do not take kindly to bodies in car trunks.  Maybe Reed should have left her in the back seat instead.
  • Somewhat off-topic.  Mys son-in-law and grandson spent last week in the Florida Everglades hunting pythons.  Although they spotted all sorts of neat animals, they did not encounter any pythons.  I think I know what happened -- they were looking in the swamp itself and not on the road:

Good News:
  •  Fooled ya!  It turns out that five historical torture devices were never used but were invented by con men
  • A crew of street veterinarians treat the pets of skid row homeless
  • Cancer plummits, guinea worm eradicated, bye-bye ebola -- three huge wins for humanity
  • What's in a name?  A man from Luck, Wisconsin won the $15.1 Megabucks jackpot
  • Man who broke into school to save 20 peopple in a blizzard gets Super Bowl tickets from the Buffalo Bills (another reason for George Kelley to be proud of his home team)
  • 90-year-old woodcutter biult his own "Hobbit" house, where he lives in charming comfort
  • Singing bus driver becomes a star after making video to show family in India what he did for work

Today's Poem:
The Everglades

Gren and blue and white, it is a flag
for Florda stitched by hingry ibises.

It is a paradise of flocks, a cornucopia
of wind and grass and dark, slow waters.

Turtlrsd bask in the last tatters of afternoon,
frogs perfect their symphony at dusk --

in its solitude we remember ourselves,
dimly, as creatures of mud and starlight.

Clouds and savannahs and horizons,
its emptiness is an antidote, its ink

illuminates the manuscript of the heart.
It is not ours though it is ours

to destroy or preserve, this the kingdom
of otter, kiongfish, alligator, heron.

If the sacred is a river within us, let it flow
like this, serene and magnificent, forever.

-- Campbell McGrath


  1. But Not Alice Chang, Indeed Her Housemate Todd Mason actually writes:

    Cyril Kornbluth had a certain sustained interest in pottery...another story where it plays a role was "The Marching Morons", where a potter discovers the eventual protagonist in his cryosleep. Also typically of CK, the potter is part of a semi-secret world elite of intellectuals and artisans among the millions of blitherers, said elite proving to be less benefactors of humanity than benefactors of themselves exclusively. Kornbluth wasn't too keen of letting Anyone Off.

    Including himself. He managed, after an early life devoted to not taking care of himself, to gain a lifelong case of essential hypertension after an extended multi-day period of dragging a machine-gun around a French forest in WW2. The relatively crude meds and stringent dietary restrictions of the period didn't sit well with him, and then the overexertion of the snow-shoveling and running for the train did him in. I have yet to read them, though I gather to call A TOWN IS DROWNING and perhaps one or two of his other contemporary mimetic novels potboilers is unfair. I shall have to rectify my lack of seeking them out. Robert Mills ended up editing F&SF after Anthony Boucher gave up the job, and did fine work.

    When I think of Kovacs, I think first, most often, of his old-country New Host of the HOWDY DOODY SHOW..."What foolishness is this?"

    The vampire pun is what got you fired from THE SOUPY SALES SHOW. Too hip for the room.

    Even though it was on FM, the folk and bluegrass station in DC was WAMU (I believe the carrier-current campus-only WAMU-AM for students, or perhaps with different call-sign, persisted into the '80s at least). I enjoyed the ever-shrinking amount of such programming that WAMU presented during my time in the DC area, as well, though I did like most of the NPR and syndie spoken word programming that was pushing it out, most of the time, as well...eventually, WAMU became essetially all spoken word/news, and as such became the highest rated station in DC, I suspect close to uniquely among US radio markets...CBS news station WTOP-AM lost its CBS affiliation (when that network was sold off and swallowed up) and picked up an FM frequency to challenge WAMU, albeit with a sadly unsurprising excrement-ton of ads. BLUEGRASS COUNTRY became the digital music signal out of WAMU, and for some years rented a low-power traditional FM translator out of northern VA, which worked fine for me when I drove south to visit my folks, or ran errands for them. Then the owners of the signal got a better financial offer to run Moscow propaganda from Radio Sputnik, and took it with alacrity. Should Go Look if that's still spewing. Probably. But BLUEGRASS COUNTRY is still on WAMU HD2 and on the Web...the latter at .

  2. Calling Kornbluth's novels potboiler was not meant to denigrate his work. A TOWN IS DROWNING (co-authored with Pohl) is a highly readable, competent piece, perhaps a bit above others like THE NAKED STORM, PRESIDENTIAL YEAR or VALERIE. The most accomplished of this novels might be A MAN OF COLD RAGES. The only novel of his I have not read is HALF, a [psychological portrait of intersexuality, which supposedly suffers from the misinformation of the subject prevalent in 1953 when the book was published.

    Kovacs was to televison what Stan Freberg was to radio and Peter Schickele was to classical music. The world is poorer without them.

    I have great memories of listening to WAMU while living in the DC area. The Sunday lineup of Ray Davies, dick Spotswood, and others could not be beaten. MUSIC AMERICANA never appeared on WAMU, although for a few years it was on WETA. Other stations it called home over the years were WAVA, WHSF, and WJMD (WLTT)

    Give my best to Al;ice.

  3. Todd Mason, continuing the masquerade (since I don't want to log Alice out on her backup laptop):
    Alice says Hello, and thanks for the best, and back at you (not a verbatim account, but she's just up, and That's Pretty Close).

    WAMU at least still has THE BIG BROADCAST, although I've perhaps heard nearly every extant YOURS TRULY, JOHNNY DOLLAR so far by now, and certainly every GUNSMOKE they've played. (I used to have a radio show up against it, for some years.)

    Indeed, WETA, before they went broke for some years and put the radio station on a pure classical format for that period and (I believe) since, was also the home of Mary Cliff's world-folk music series TRADITIONS, which you'd probably dig, if you hadn't yet had the opportunity...the low-power community radio station WERA has become its current home, and is also webbed:,chunk%20of%20DC%20and%20more.

    Since I was a 1984 arrival to the DC area, I missed the interesting years of WAVA and the more-diverse years of WHFS (which did hang around for decades as a commercial Alternate Rock station when such were scarce, if less scarce than today).

    COLD RAGES, one wonders, might've been somewhat autobiographical. Not having read it yet...