APRIL 22 ,1886: BUT WILL YOU RESPECT ME IN THE MORNING?

BUT WILL YOU RESPECT ME IN THE MORNING?

In a blow to lounge lechers everywhere, the state of Ohio passed a law making seduction unlawful. Covering any man seduction1over 18, it prohibited sex, consensual or not, with a woman of any age if the woman were being taught or instructed by the man. It covered all subject matter, leaving a lot of room for interpretation.  Other states jumped on the anti-seduction bandwagon. In Virginia, he’d better not try to engineer an “illicit connexion with any unmarried female of previous chaste character” using the promise of marriage. In Georgia, he couldn’t “seduce a virtuous unmarried female and induce her to yield to his lustful embraces.” In some jurisdictions, however, a woman could not press charges on her own behalf; only the father could do so based on his property interests in his daughters’ chastity.

Naturally, such laws were enforced with varying degrees of fervor. An unfortunate man trapped by the law in New York was headed for certain conviction until he proposed to his victim during the trial. Just to make certain, he didn’t back out, the judge brought in a minister and had the ceremony performed then and there.

A court in Michigan, on the other hand, went out of its way to favor the accused male. On three charges of seduction, two were thrown out because the woman was no longer virtuous after the first seduction. The other was tossed when the court ruled that her claim that they had sex in a buggy was physically impossible.

Sick in de Stomach, Part 1: Albert’s Lament

“Albert, you’re not sick,” said Peaches, handing a mug of strong tea to the man lying on the chaise lounge wearing an oversized nightshirt that made him look much frailer than he actually was. Peaches, who would not reveal the source of her nickname, had by default fallen into a grudging guardianship of the cantankerous old Frenchman. “You’re just imagining these things because you know you should be up on your feet being a human being.”

“We have no aspirin,” answered Albert. “Are we a third world country that we have no aspirin? How can a civilized people have no aspirin?”

“Because no one has been to Guadeloupe for two weeks. We’re running out of things.”

“It is because this island has no pharmacy,” said Albert. “It is the twenty-first century. How can an island be without a pharmacy?”

“You always said pharmacies are a plague of civilization,” said Peaches. “That easy access to medicine creates sick people, people dependent on medicine. That’s what you said.”

“I was a well man when I said that. Now I need a pharmacy because I need aspirin because I am a sick man. Is that so difficult to understand? Please speak, don’t nod; my vision is blurred.”

“That’s because you’re a cross-eyed old fool,” Peaches said warmly.

“Perhaps I am, perhaps I am,” Albert almost whispered. “And I’m a burden. But please don’t think ill of me. I may only be a burden for another day or two. The tea is very nice. I appreciate your bringing it to me. Would you recite for me, please, the tiger poem you love so much? I’d like to hear it once more.”

Peaches was dumbstruck. Albert had always criticized her love of poetry, particularly British poetry, and now he was requesting a recital. Maybe he was dying after all. What other reason could he have? He needed a pretty thought to take him to heaven. Peaches couldn’t deny such a request, even if he were dreaming his illnesses, so she recited in a very serious poetic voice: “Tiger, tiger, burning bright, in the jungle late at night . . . uh . . . afraid of nothing but where they bury.” She paused, then grinned and said: “For this tiger is fearful of the cemetery.” Peaches had, of course, ad-libbed the final two lines, but they were quite good, capturing the spirit, if not the exact wording, of the original. She repeated it once again, giving more emphasis to the dramatic elements she had created, then sat smiling with satisfaction, waiting for Albert to voice his appreciation.

“I think the dog is probably rabid,” said Albert.

“Why do you say that?”

“He bit me.”

“It’s a she,” Peaches corrected.

“It is my understanding that rabies is found equally among the two sexes of the species.”

“Yes, but she doesn’t have rabies,” said Peaches. “She just doesn’t like you.”

“We would be able to find out for certain if there were a veterinarian on this island,” Albert lamented. “But of course there isn’t. There are probably a thousand veterinarians in Paris. But not here. We don’t even have a doctor. This is no place to live. In France, there are specialists. If I have a heart attack here, I have no chance. If disease sweeps the island, we’ll all die.”

“But you said that doctors were worse than disease,” Peaches reminded him. “You said the only difference between a medical doctor and a witch doctor was their makeup.”

“I have said a great many things in my life.”

“And now they’re coming back to haunt you.”

“Situations change,” said Albert, sighing. “I hope you’ll excuse me now. Conversation has made me weak. I must rest.”

continued

Sick in de Stomach is one of the 15 stories from Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean, available as an ebook or in a print edition with real pages and everything.

Advertisements

APRIL 21, 1986: SEEMS LIKE WE STRUCK OUT

SEEMS LIKE WE STRUCK OUT

Notorious gangster Al Capone moved to Chicago in 1919 where he built a career in gambling, alcohol, and prostitution rackets, eventually becoming Chicago’s go-to guy in the world of crime. He oversaw his various enterprises from a suite at the Lexington Hotel until his arrest in 1931.  He died in 1947.

The Lexington Hotel outlasted Capone by a good many years. In the 1980s, a construction Al-Capone-psd53402company undertook a renovation of the historic hotel. While surveying the building, the company made some unusual discoveries, including a shooting range and an elaborate series of hidden tunnels connecting to taverns and brothels and providing escape routes should the Chicago police get frisky and raid Capone’s headquarters. Most intriguing of all was a secret vault beneath the hotel, where rumor had it, Capone hid vast sums of his ill-gotten gains.

These discoveries were just too tempting for “investigative reporter” Geraldo Rivera to let pass by.  So on April 21, 1986, Geraldo planned to open the vault on live TV in a much ballyhooed special, The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults. What would the two-hour media event reveal? Piles of plunder? Bodies of Capone competitors? Jimmy Hoffa? Judge Crater? Among those who stood by Geraldo as the whole world watched were a medical examiner and agents of the Internal Revenue Service, lending the entire undertaking an aura of grim importance.

The vault was opened, and there . . . ? A lot of dirt and a couple of empty bottles. Geraldo did his best to snatch something out of the rubble, suggesting to 30 million disappointed viewers that the bottles were exciting because they had been used for bathtub gin during Prohibition. A nice try, but he summed up the evening by saying: “Seems like we struck out.”

 

 

April 20, 1935: Splish Splash, Snooky Was Taking a Bath

A music staple of the 40s and 50s, Your Hit Parade, made its radio debut on April 20, 1935. It lasted for nearly 25 years before being done in by rock and roll music – and perhaps Snooky Lanson. It began as a 60-minute program with 15 songs played in a random format, and eventually moved to television where the seven top-rated songs of the week were presented each week in elaborate production numbers requiring constant set and costume changes.  The list of top songs was compiled through a closely guarded top secret algorithm that involved record sales, quarters plunked into jukeboxes, shoplifted sheet music and the divination of an unidentified mystic in Memphis, Tennessee.

Dorothy Collins , Russell Arms, Snooky Lanson and Gisèle MacKenzie were top-billed during the show’s peak years. And Lucky Strike cigarettes starred throughout its run.

As the rock and roll era took over, the program’s chief fascination became seeing a singer like Snooky Lanson struggle with songs like Splish Splash and Hound Dog.

Tiny Tomato Killer Strikes Again

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness, or so says some annoying pundit.  Likewise, I suppose, it is better to do something positive than curse the mounds of snow still encircling us.  I’ve always been of the curse the darkness ilk, but occasionally I do try and rise above the winter of my discontent and light a candle in the snow.  One of the better remedies for my malaise is the old seed catalog – tiptoeing through the tulips, tomatoes and zinnias almost brings warmth to my icy heart.

If you ever order anything from a seed catalog, you will never have to worry about being without one again.  They will arrive every January just as reliably as your income tax packets.  There’s Seed City, Happy Seeds, Seeds R Us and many more.  Funny thing is they all come from the same little town in the Midwest.  One could develop a dandy conspiracy theory about this: a single little old lady – Granny Burpee – taking seeds out of great big jars and putting them in little envelopes with all those different names so that every spring every one of us plants the same seeds in every garden everywhere.  Are we really planting radishes and marigolds?

Nevertheless I jump in full seed ahead.  Seven tomato varieties, a couple of cucumbers, greens, beans, okra.  Snapdragons, sweet peas, exotic species I’ve never heard of.  “And there’s no such thing as too many sunflowers,” I’m reminded.

There is such a thing as too many seeds, however.  Granny Burpee doesn’t hold back – a hundred seeds here, two hundred there, a thousand.  I’d like to order six tomato seeds, please.  I really only need two cucumber seeds.  The theory seems to be that you must overplant, just in case some of them don’t sprout.

But they all sprout.

I wanted a couple of tomatoes.  I planted a plastic seed-starting tray, two or three seeds in each of its six cubicles.  Twenty tomato plants emerge.  Just thin out the extra plants, the catalogs advise, leaving one healthy tomato plant in each cubicle.  That’s theory again.  From over my shoulder, as I carefully pull out the runts of the seedlings:  “You’re not going to murder those little plants, are you?”

Come June, I have twenty tomato plants, a dozen cucumbers, a dozen nasturtium, I don’t know how many dozen sunflowers, a sea of seedlings that I forgot to label, and six zucchini.   With six zucchini plants, I’ll be able to place a giant zucchini on the back seat of every unlocked car in Vermont.

Maybe I’ll curse the darkness for a while.

APRIL 19, 1949: SEND IN THE CLOWNS

russianSEND IN THE CLOWNS

With the threat of nuclear annihilation hanging over the world, cold war adversaries were nonetheless able to find glimmers of humor. At the opening night of the Moscow Circus, noted Russian clown, Konsantin Berman, demonstrated who had the upper hand in the clown cold war, launching barb after barb in the direction of the United States.

Tossing a boomerang, he likened it to the U.S. Marshall Plan that was pumping economic recovery aid into Western Europe. “American aid to Europe,” he said, “Here is the dollar.” as the boomerang returned to his hand, delighting the audience. Producing a radio that bellowed out the sound of barking dogs, he announced: “That’s the Voice of America.”

Meanwhile American clowns were dumping buckets of water on each other and slipping on banana peels.

Speaking of Banana Peels

The Vagabond King a 1925 operetta by Rudolf Frimi was already an American success when it opened in London on April 19, 1927.  It’s success in England was probably assured given its theme of foibles of the French.  Its hero is a braggart, thief and rabble-rouser who attempts to steal an aristocratic lady from the king himself.  Not only that, he openly mocks the king, boasting about what he would do if he were king.  The angry king gives him royal powers for 24 hours — king for a day — during which he must solve all France’s problems or go to the gallows (the guillotine had not yet been invented).  He succeeds, wins the lady’s hand and lives happily ever after in exile — probably in England.  The operetta was the inspiration for a couple of movies and, of course, the popular radio and television program “Queen for a Day.”

 

 

APRIL 18, 1968: IF YOU BELIEVE THIS, I’VE GOT A BRIDGE . . .

IF YOU BELIEVE THIS, I’VE GOT A BRIDGE . . .

Famous real estate deals abound — the sale of Manhattan for beads, the Louisiana Purchase, Seward’s Folly. One of the more unusual is the April 18, 1968, sale of London Bridge for a mere $1 million (of course, as any schoolchild knows, the thing was falling down). American oil sphinx_magnate Robert McCullough was the buyer and he bought it as a large conversation piece for his Arizona real estate development in an out-of-the-way spot that had previously only been an inspiration for Roadrunner cartoons.  The bridge was disassembled in London, each piece numbered, then hauled to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, where it was reassembled.

McCullough had wanted to buy the Brooklyn Bridge for his project, but it had already been sold. Many times, actually. One George Parker had made his living selling the bridge to oil magnates and other naive visitors to New York, some of whom actually tried to erect toll booths.

The relocation of London Bridge inspired, in addition to a great deal of laughter, a forgettable 1985 made-for-television movie Bridge Across Time (aka Arizona Ripper or Terror at London Bridge) in which several murders are committed in Lake Havasu by the spirit of Jack the Ripper, whose soul is transported to the United States in one of the stones of the bridge (sorry you missed it, aren’t you).

Although the Sphinx may have been more architecturally appropriate to the location, McCullough wasn’t interested. “Something about the nose,” he said.

Legumes in Love

British poet and physician Erasmus Darwin died on April 18, 1802.  As a physician graduated from Cambridge, he didn’t really distinguish himself. When he is remembered at all, it is for his poetry, and one particular poem, The Loves of the Plants, part of a larger work called The Botanic Garden (the other part being The Economy of Vegetation), in which the physiology and classification of the vegetable world is presented in a rather lofty and lyrical manner. Although the subject was mundane and the technical accuracy questionable, the poetic frenzy reached amazing heights. Had Erasmus Darwin’s grandson Charles presented his discoveries in a more poetic fashion, perhaps they would have been more warmly received.

 

 

APRIL 17, 1610: SOMEWHERE A RIVER BEARS YOUR NAME

SOMEWHERE A RIVER BEARS YOUR NAME

Back at the dawn of the 17th century, the holy grail among explorers was the Northwest halfPassage, that elusive sea route that Europeans had been seeking ever since they discovered that North America stood right in the middle of their way to China. (For some reason, they longed to go west to China even though it was a lot closer going east.)

On April 17, 1610, intrepid British explorer Henry Hudson. already famous for having discovered and explored a river that just happened to share his last name, set sail on his latest attempt to find the passage that would at last allow Europeans to take (as the popular song tells us) a slow boat to China.

It was his fourth expedition, financed by adventurers from England. Sailing across the Atlantic, slipping between Greenland and Labrador, he entered the Hudson Strait (another remarkable coincidence) and soon reached (you’re not going to believe this) Hudson Bay. Unfortunately after all this seeming good luck, the expedition took a nasty turn.  After three months dawdling around the bay, Hudson was surprised by the onset of winter. Why winter north of Labrador in November would be a surprise is anyone’s guess. Nevertheless, Hudson and his crew were forced to set up a winter camp. The next few months were not pleasant, and many of the crew members were not amused. They grumbled and held their tongues throughout the winter until June. But once they were sailing again, they up and mutinied, setting Hudson, his son and seven friends adrift.  Although Hudson was never seen again, England laid claim to everything that shared his name — river, strait, bay and even a funny looking vehicle that seemed to have no useful purpose.

 

APRIL 16, 1850: CALL ME MADAME

CALL ME MADAME

Madame (Marie) Tussaud is arguably the world’s most famous wax sculptor. Born in France in 1761, she began her artistic career during the French Revolution, searching through corpses to find the heads of noted guillotine victims from which she made death masks. She herself was imprisoned for three months awaiting execution, but an influential friend intervened and she was released. She and her waxwork friends toured throughout Europe for 33 years before settling into a permanent exhibition in 1835 on Baker Street in London. There she gained prosperity and fame, managing her wax museum until her death on April 16, 1850.
Throughout Madame Tussaud’s long existence, its most popular feature has been the Chamber of Horrors (as pictured here).

Perhaps they could install a great big one in the white house

Inventor Walter Pichler is the genius behind the amazing TV helmet of 1967. This device allows a user to leave the outside world and slip into his or her own little world of information and entertainment. The user simply inserts his or her head into an capsule that resembles a small submarine and hopes that he or she doesn’t bump into something while enjoying the “virtual world” of Gilligan’s Island.

April 15, 1992: Me, Pay Taxes?

April 15 is most famously the deadline for filing income taxes, so it is quite fitting that prisoner number 15113-054 entered the federal prison in Lexington, Kentucky, on April 15, 1992, having been convicted of one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, three helmsleycounts of tax evasion, three counts of filing false personal tax returns, sixteen counts of assisting in the filing of false corporate and partnership tax returns, and ten counts of mail fraud. Her famous excuse for this bit of naughtiness was “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”

Known affectionately as the “Queen of Mean,” Leona Helmsley started her amazing career of acquiring everything she laid her eyes on back in the mid60’s, soon aided and abetted by Harry Helmsley, after they disposed of his wife in 1972. Their real estate empire included the Park Lane Hotel, the Empire State Building, Helmsley Palace and a collection of condos throughout Manhattan.

In 1983 the Helmsleys bought a 21-room mansion weekend retreat in Greenwich, Connecticut, for $11 million. Finding it a tad shabby for their tastes, they had it remodeled for another $8 million, adding among other homey touches a million-dollar dance floor and a mahogany card table. When they tried to stiff the contractors, they were sued for non-payment. The Helmsleys eventually paid up, but it was revealed that most of the work was illegally billed to their hotels as business expenses.

A federal criminal investigation followed, and they were indicted on several tax-related charges, as well as extortion. Harry called in sick, and Leona took the fall alone.

April 15 would be the ideal day for another real estate nabob to make public his tax returns.  Don’t hold your breath.

 

APRIL 14, 1999: THE FUTURE WILL BE BETTER TOMORROW

THE FUTURE WILL BE BETTER TOMORROW

Fireworks, rock music and chants of “Q2K” punctuated the April 14 announcement by former Vice President Dan Quayle that he was tossing his hat into the Republican ring for the 2000 presidential race. He offered himself as the antidote for “the dishonest decade of Bill Clinton and Al Gore.” He promised to restore integrity, responsibility and more malaprops to the White House.

And he came out swinging against television character Murphy Brown (even though she wasn’t running for anything). She and her ilk contribute to a “poverty of values,” he intoned. “A character who supposedly epitomizes today’s highly intelligent, highly paid, professional woman — mocking the importance of fathers, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another lifestyle choice.”

Quayle’s candidacy was greeted by a thunderous silence. He exited the race a few months later, after finishing eighth in the first Republican straw poll. Maybe too many folks were confused by that Q2K campaign slogan.

In any event, the world was cheated out of future Quayle gems such as these:

If we don’t succeed we run the risk of failure.

Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.

A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls.

It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.

When I have been asked during these last weeks who caused the riots and the killing in L.A., my answer has been direct and simple: Who is to blame for the riots? The rioters are to blame. Who is to blame for the killings? The killers are to blame.

Bank failures are caused by depositors who don’t deposit enough money to cover losses due to mismanagement.

I deserve respect for the things I did not do.

I love California, I practically grew up in Phoenix.

The global importance of the Middle East is that it keeps the Far East and the Near East from encroaching on each other.

I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy – but that could change.

The Radish That Broke My Mother’s Heart

We were the first on our block to have a television set.  Perhaps today that’s more a confession, an admission of weakness, than a source of pride.  But back then it was a source of great pride.  This, of course, was way back then — when we got our first television set, television programming didn’t invade our living rooms until four in the afternoon, and it exited by eleven, wrapping things up and signing off with the Star Spangled Banner and a test pattern, a device that tested the clarity of your vision or something like that.  (The late night part is hearsay; I was not allowed, early on, to stay up that late.)  But even though it was a mere seven hours of television, we flaunted it.

One problem with that early television schedule quickly surfaced – it stretched right through dinnertime.  But technology would solve that problem for us, too.  One night, with great ceremony, my father brought home the devices that would allow us to watch “Super Circus” and “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet,” without culinary interruption — TV trays.  What a marvelous idea.  They were tinny, vulgar and liable to collapse under anything heavier than roast beef, but night in, night out, my mother would slap a full meal right onto those trays.

Bless her.  Given diners who never once dropped their eyes to look at their plates and a husband with the narrowest of gastronomic parameters, she still put that dinner on those TV trays every night, making certain that every meal, no matter how meat and potato it might be, was accompanied by a healthy salad.  Little wooden bowls brimmed with lettuce, onion, carrot, celery and radish. We were partial to radishes – round and ruby red until cut by my mother into slices so uniform that, if they were placed side by side, you’d need a micrometer to measure the difference in thickness.

Though they all look pretty much the same, radishes can vary widely in their intensity of flavor, so it was not unusual that on one night our salads contained some particularly potent radishes.  Nor was it unusual that a person such as myself who never checked to see what was on the salad fork before plunging it into his mouth might inadvertently bite into several radish slices at once.  The resulting assault on tender ten-year-old taste buds was dramatic.  And any adolescent gourmand in the same situation would, after the fire died down, shriek:  “What are trying to do, kill us?”

My mother quickly and quietly, with mumbled apologies, removed the offending salad and went to the kitchen, where she remained, sitting in the shadows, most likely sobbing, while her selfish loved ones blithely watched television, unaware that a heart had been broken.

I thought nothing of my thoroughly ignoble behavior at the time; it was just one more carelessly tossed off cruelty.  But as the years passed, that single unpleasant act began to haunt me more and more.  My early visions of my mother sitting in the kitchen sniffling intensified as I aged.  And finally my mother was wailing at the top of her lungs and beating her breast before finally flinging herself in anguish against the refrigerator door.  And it was all my doing.

When I reached the age she would have been on that day of infamy and then some, I finally had to face my personal devils.  One night over martinis, during a visit with my mother, I broached the subject, and words of remorse began to tumble from my mouth like ills from Pandora’s box.  My mother looked at me as though I were crazy or something and said in her understanding, gray-haired way:  “Are you crazy or something?”

Classic denial.  My mother had buried the Day of the Radish deep within some crevice of her mind, denying it, and she continued to do so for the rest of her days.  Nevertheless, I have cleansed my conscience, and I can eat radishes once again.

 

 

APRIL 13, 1360: HAIL, HAIL, THE GANG’S ALL HERE

HAIL, HAIL, THE GANG’S ALL HERE

It was the 14th century and once again England was out to conquer France. The hostilities had been going on for nearly 20 years, when England’s King Edward III sailed across the Channel with a huge army — a cast of thousands.  The dead of winter set in, and the inconsiderate French refused to face the English invaders in direct combat. Instead they huddled in their warm and cozy castles, drinking cafe au lait while the English plundered the countryside and got frostbite. Come April of 1360, having lasted through the winter, Edward and his men fought and torched their way through the Paris suburbs, and readied themselves to have at Chartres.

Then, on April 13, a sudden violent storm came up. Lightning killed several soldiers, and then the heavens opened up and hailstones the size of pommes de terre began hammering the hapless army, killing a thousand men. Naturally, they took this as a sign that God was annoyed. Edward declared the invasion “my bad” and negotiated a peace with the French. The English renounced all claims to the throne of France, and the French gave them croissants.

But wouldn’t you know it, a few years later, the King of France declared war on England ( this was, after all, the Hundred Years’ War, scheduled to last another 75 years or so.)

Historians assure us that this was not the origin of the phrase “Hail to the Chief.”