MAY 23, 1701: HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU, KIDD

HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU, KIDD

William “Captain” Kidd was a Scottish sailor who was tried and executed for piracy on May 23, 1701. Some modern historians consider his reputation unjust, suggesting that Kidd acted only as a privateer, not a pirate. A pirate plundered ships; a privateer, under government authorization,  plundered ships belonging to another government. (See the difference?) Pirate or privateer, Kidd was among the most famous of his lot and one of the handful that people today can name – unusual because he was not the most successful nor the most bloodthirsty. Perhaps it’s because he did bury treasure, an important undertaking for any pirate worth his sea salt.

 

Several English nobles engaged Kidd to attack pirates or French vessels, sharing his earnings for their investment. He had substantial real estate holdings in New York, a wife and children, a membership in an exclusive club.   In short, he was respectable. But, foolish man, he decided to engage in one more privateering mission. Kidd set sail for Madagascar and the Indian Ocean, then a hotbed of pirate activity, but found very few pirate or French vessels to take. About a third of his crew died of diseases, and the rest were getting out of sorts for the lack of plunder. In 1697, he attacked a convoy of Indian treasure ships, an act of piracy not in his charter. Also, about this time, Kidd killed a mutinous gunner named William Moore by hitting him in the head with a heavy wooden bucket, also a no-no.

In 1698, he and his men took an Armenian ship loaded with satins, muslins, gold, and silver. When this news reached England, it confirmed Kidd’s reputation as a pirate, and naval commanders were ordered to “pursue and seize the said Kidd and his accomplices” for acts of piracy.

Pursued, seized, and hanged he was.   After his death, the belief that Kidd had left a large buried treasure contributed considerably to the growth of his legend. This belief made its contributions to literature in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Gold-Bug”, Washington Irving’s The Devil and Tom Walker, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. It also gave rise to never-ending treasure hunts in Nova Scotia, Long Island in New York, and islands off Connecticut and in the Bay of Fundy.

Man Smart (Woman Smarter), Part 4 — Consummation

“But I am the mayor,” insisted the mayor, to a little man with a big rifle who seemed to be hard of hearing. “If anything is happening I should be there.” He tried to bully his way past the young man only to find the rifles of his two companions pointing at him. The mayor studied the two young men behind the rifles and concluded that they were determined not to let him pass and that they just might have the nerve to shoot their very own mayor.

Most of the other travelers who were turned away from entering the city found spots to curl up and sleep through the night. But not the mayor. He paced back and forth in front of the soldiers as though it were he on guard duty, and he cursed under his breath about the indignity of being barred from entering his very own city, for he did indeed think of it as his personal possession, and he did not like his sovereignty violated.

Of course his sovereignty was further violated within the city, at his very own house, not once but several times, after which Mireille fell into a Sleeping Beauty sleep until wakened with a kiss from her Prince Charming, or at least a strutting, military version of him.

The mayor paced throughout the night, until well after dawn when the soldiers were relieved of their duty, their commander having quelled the crisis that had threatened the city, the crisis that had required such drastic measures. The mayor hurried home, barely looked in upon Sleeping Beauty – not that he would have noticed anyway how much more peaceful, contented and radiant was her sleep – and went to the phone where he began making phone call after phone call to colonels and majors and generals.

By late morning, Mireille was flitting about the house singing, the Mayor continued to make phone calls in an effort to identify the scoundrel who had assaulted his dignity, and Captain Petrullo once again strutted up Ponce de Leon Boulevard across Saltwhistle Street and back down Citadel Road.

Unfortunately, Captain Petrullo’s strutting days were numbered. The Mayor’s phone calls did set some of the captain’s superiors to wondering – and then investigating – the strange siege of Passion Point. And when it was discovered to be imaginary, poor Captain Petrullo was reassigned to lead a squad of six men protecting the gardens of the mayor’s crazy aunt at the very end of Leeward Arm.

Mireille’s detour from the path of marital fidelity had a salubrious effect on her ability to continue her life as the Mayor’s wife. That one night of passion enabled her to once again become the faithful, dutiful wife without the need for further straying. Except for that dashing young sergeant the following year, and the lieutenant, Mireille remained – and yes, the twin corporals and the baby-faced recruit – but, for the most part, Mireille remained a quite proper Mayor’s wife.

 

This story  is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

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MAY 22, 1856: SENATORS WILL BE SENATORS

It all started in the Senate chamber in 1856 when Senator Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts Republican, addressed the Senate on the explosive issue of whether Kansas should be admitted to the Union as a slave state or a free state. Three days later on May 22 the “world’s greatest deliberative body” became a donnybrook fair.

In his speech entitled “Crime Against Kansas,” Sumner identified two Democratic senators caneas the principal culprits in this crime—Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina. In a little bit of overkill, Sumner called Douglas to his face a “noise-some, squat, and nameless animal . . . not a proper model for an American senator.”  Andrew Butler, who was not present at the time, received an even more elaborate characterization.  Mocking the South Carolina senator’s image as a chivalrous Southerner, the Massachusetts senator charged him with taking “a mistress . . . who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean,” added Sumner, “the harlot, Slavery.”

Representative Preston Brooks was a fellow South Carolinian to Butler. He read a certain amount of ridicule into the remarks, and he took great umbrage on Butler’s behalf.  In one of the Senate’s most dramatic moments ever, Brooks stormed into the chamber shortly after the Senate had adjourned for the day, where he found Sumner busily attaching his postal frank to copies of his “Crime Against Kansas” speech.

Brooks claimed that if he had believed Sumner to be a gentleman, he might have challenged him to a duel.  Instead, he chose a light cane of the type used to discipline unruly dogs. Moving quickly, Brooks slammed his metal-topped cane onto the unsuspecting Sumner’s head.   As Brooks struck again and again, Sumner rose and staggered helplessly about the chamber, futilely attempting to protect himself.  After a very long minute, it ended with Sumner lying unconscious. As Sumner was carried away, Brooks walked calmly out of the chamber without being detained by the stunned onlookers.  Overnight, both men became heroes in their home states.

Surviving a House censure resolution, Brooks resigned, was immediately reelected, and promptly died at age 37.  Sumner recovered slowly and returned to the Senate, where he remained for another 18 years. But the incident symbolized the breakdown of civility and reason in the capital and serves as a reminder to current legislators to always play nice with one another.

Man Smart (Woman Smarter), Part 3 — Complications

Captain Petrullo spent most of that afternoon grooming himself into the spit-polished image of the perfect commander, the perfect lover, the perfect seducer. How wonderful, he thought – a perfect man making love to the perfect woman and, as a bonus, making the vile Mayor Cervantes the perfect cuckold. Once he had primped and pruned himself to perfection, he strutted up Ponce de Leon Boulevard to Fat Freddy’s Cafe where it had been agreed he would wait, drinking absinthe, until summoned by his amorata.

And Mireille still intended to summon him as the sun made its unhurried journey toward the western horizon, even though she had had the entire day to get cold feet. She somehow knew that this was a monumental, now-or-never moment; were she to not seize this opportunity, she’d never bring herself to take such a bold step, if she even had another chance. She intended to summon Captain Petrullo right up to the point at which she pulled a sheet of paper from the desk and wrote: Come to me now. Yours truly, Mireille – right up to the point the phone rang and she heard the chilling words: “Meeting’s been canceled. I’m on my way home. I’ll be hungry.” These cruelest of words were finalized by a most loathsome burp and the drone of the sudden dial tone.

Captain Petrullo had taken the rather arrogant step of assigning one of his 500 men to a post near the Mayor’s house, specifically to carry Mireille’s letter of liaison to him at once. And by the time the young man arrived at Fat Freddy’s, just as the stubborn sun dipped at last into the sea, Captain Petrullo, whose absinthe had certainly made his heart grow fonder, whose imagination had aroused him in every other conceivable way, sat in a state of intense anticipatory excitement. Thus it was with great agitation that he read words he had never expected, words that implored him not to come to Mireille’s house, that her husband was at this moment on his way home.

A commander of a 500-man army unit must by virtue of his position, be bold and decisive, even when under the influence of absinthe and a now almost uncontrollable passion. Bold and decisive Captain Petrullo was. He stood and said in a very loud voice so that everyone in Fat Freddy’s could hear: “This is very serious news indeed, Private Vincent. Go to the men and prepare them. I will assemble the unit at once. This is a night that will test our readiness, to be sure.”

These dramatic words had their intended effect on the audience. Everyone sat in silence, staring at the captain, showing alarm. He surveyed them and remained silent for the longest time. Then the crafty captain said quite solemnly: “We have a serious situation which I am not at liberty to discuss. I deeply apologize but I must establish a curfew. Please go to your homes and remain there. No one can be allowed to leave – or enter the city tonight.” He turned dramatically and marched out.

He marched straight to his 500-man unit and quickly placed them on duty at posts around the city with the most emphatic orders that no one was to leave or enter. No one, he repeated several times just to be certain they understood, instilling in them the notion that were someone to exit or enter the city, someone else would surely be shot. Then Captain Petrullo marched, no strutted, to Mayor Cervantes’ house and to a very surprised, but very happy Mireille.

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This story  is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

MAY 21, 1819: DON’T TAKE ANY WOODEN BICYCLES

DON’T TAKE ANY WOODEN BICYCLES

In 1819, the first bicycle in the U.S. appeared in New York City.  And it started a craze that was to overtake the city for the rest of the summer. Actually it was a sort of a bicycle. It didn’t have any pedals. And you didn’t sit on it. It did have two wheels, but no one called it a bicycle. People variably called it a “velocipede” (Latin for fast foot), “swift walker,” “hobby horse” or its most popular name “dandy horse,” referring to the dandy who usually rode it.

The dandy horse and the craze that it caused had been imported from London, although the contraption was actually invented in Germany. It was propelled by the rider pushing along the ground with the feet as in regular walking or running. The front wheel and handlebar assembly were hinged to allow steering. One major drawback of the dandy horse was that it had to be made to measure, manufactured to conform with the height and the stride of its rider. And it had wooden wheels which were okay for the smooth pavement of the city but any other surface made for an extremely uncomfortable ride.

The dandy horse fad was short-lived. Perhaps it was the constant ridicule or the rocks thrown by ruffians. And with riders preferring the smooth sidewalks to the rough roads, many pedestrians began to feel threatened by the machines. As a result, laws were quickly enacted prohibiting their use on sidewalks.

It was another 40 years before velocipedes came back into fashion – equipped this time around with pedals – when a French company began to mass-produce them. The French design was sometimes called the boneshaker, since it was also made entirely of wood and was still a very uncomfortable ride.

Man Smart (Woman Smarter), Part 2 — Opportunity, Knock

The flirtations continued to grow like the frangipani nurtured by the tropical sun until their passions broke the bonds of silence and spilled into the open. Neither Mireille nor Captain Petrullo was surprised that the other shared the same feelings, but each had a different reaction to them. The captain being a forceful military commander wanted to take action, to leap into the fray, to engage those passions as though they were advancing enemy forces that must be physically subdued. Mireille, on the other hand, being the dutiful if not particularly happy wife of another man to whom, no matter how vile he was, she had pledged herself, was determined to hold passion in check, to never speak of it again, let alone take any action.

And so, as the months passed, their affair remained innocent, for even though Captain Petrullo frequently begged leave to sully it a bit, Mireille stood fast in prohibition. But passion contained is not passion extinguished, and theirs continued to smolder,  just short of the flash point, the danger of combustion ever present. To some degree, their innocence was aided by the lack of real opportunity to act without fear of being caught, but fate was not about to let the two lovers go untested. Opportunity, knock.

“Meeting in Port Charles tonight,” grunted Mayor Cervantes one morning. “It’ll go late. I’ll stay the night.” Perhaps if he had just said his piece, had not punctuated it with a loud burp, Mireille would not have decided right then and there duty be damned – passion, I am your prisoner.

Having made this momentous decision and later that morning encountering Captain Petrullo during his strut up Ponce de Leon Boulevard, Mireille informed her lover-to-be. Captain Petrullo was at once as squiggly and squeaky as he had been the day he first saw her. With his head bobbing up and down so fast it might lift him off the ground, he agreed to an encounter that evening – after the Mayor had departed, after it had been dark and quiet for a while.

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This story  is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

 

MAY 20, 1899: LEADFOOTED IN THE BIG APPLE

LEADFOOTED IN THE BIG APPLE

Jacob German, a New York City taxi driver, earned the dubious distinction of being the first person to be cited for speeding in the United States when he was pulled over for barreling down Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. The scofflaw was “clocked” at a speed of 12 miles per hour by a police officer who, with persistent pedaling of his bicycle, managed to overtake him. German was imprisoned in the East 22nd Street station house. He did not have to surrender his registration and license because there were no such things in 19th century New York.

The speed limit was claimed to be (although it was not posted) 8 mph on straights and 4 mph through turns. German was driving an electric vehicle. Records don’t indicate whether or not he was on duty or carrying a fare.

A fair number of drivers have been issued speeding tickets since. The US Census Bureau tells us that 100,000 people per day are cited for speeding in the United States. At an average fine of $150 per ticket, that’s $15 million daily, a nice source of income for various municipalities – particularly in Ohio where the most tickets are issued (followed by Pennsylvania and New York). And certainly an award must go to tiny Summersville, WV. The town, with a population of 3,200, gave out 18,000 to 19,000 speeding tickets annually.

Texas claims the ticket for the fastest speed – 242 mph in a 75 mph zone. That driver was not pulled over by a police officer on a bicycle.

Man Smart (Woman Smarter), Part 1 – Saltwhistle Strut

Captain Petrullo was a very proud man. He had just been placed in full command of the army unit stationed in Passion Point, the third largest town on the entire island – five hundred men, all under his very own command.

If a man were given to strutting to begin with, being in command of a 500-man army unit would certainly encourage him to strut in earnest, which Captain Petrullo did, up Ponce de Leon Boulevard across Saltwhistle Street and back down Citadel Road, two, sometimes three times a day. He would nod with a certain aloofness to those who watched him in awe as he did his turn around the town at a pace that just hinted at military precision.

Since Captain Petrullo was in the habit of being watched, not watching others, he was not prepared to react to spotting for the first time Mireille, the pretty young wife of Mayor Horatio Hornblower Cervantes. (Mayor Cervantes’ unlikely name was the result of the union between his father who claimed to be descended from the Spanish writer whose name he bore and his mother who claimed to be related to the English admiral, not realizing, perhaps, that he was a fictional character.) The mayor had married the lovely Mireille before she was old enough to know better. In her youth, she had been seduced by the stature of the office, overlooking the stature of the man, which was less than impressive by almost any yardstick. In fact, the man was vulgar when not in the public eye, his eloquent words giving way to a vocabulary of grunts and wheezes and snorts. All in all, the marriage was not a source of profound satisfaction for Mireille.

When Captain Petrullo first saw Mireille, his military veneer went AWOL, and he trembled as if he were the lowliest recruit in his own 500-man army unit. His gait became awkward as he passed her; when he tried to nod, his head danced on a rubber neck; and when he tried to greet her, his voice squeaked. The poor man fled up Ponce de Leon Boulevard as though he were being pursued by a 500-man army unit, not commanding it.

But the captain was a resilient man, and by the very next day, he was back to strutting. During his second strut of the day, he once again saw the woman who had done him such damage the day before. But he steeled himself for their encounter, and as they passed each other, they exchanged smiles. As the days passed, further smiles were exchanged, then words of greeting. Words of greeting grew into conversations, and the conversations became more personal. The words they dared not let enter their conversations were in their eyes, in looks that probably should not have been exchanged between the captain of a 500-man army unit and the wife of the mayor.

continued

This story  is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

 

 

APRIL 25, 1926: HERE THE MAESTRO DIED

HERE THE MAESTRO DIED

The world premier of Giacomo Puccini’s last opera “Turandot” was held at Milan’s La Scala on April 25, 1926, two years after his death. Arturo Toscanini conducted. Toward the end of the third act, Toscanini laid down his baton, turned to the audience and announced: “Here the Maestro died.”  Puccini had died before finishing the opera. Subsequent performances at La Scala and elsewhere included the last few minutes of music composed by Franco Alfano using Puccini’s notes.  A highlight of the opera is “Nessun Dorma,” probably the most famous aria in all of opera.

Down at the End of Lonely Street

Elvis Presley scored his first number one hit on the Billboard Pop 100 on this date in 1956.  Recorded and released as a single in January, “Heartbreak Hotel” marked Presley’s debut on the RCA Victor record label . It spent seven weeks at number one, became his first million-seller, and was the best-selling single of 1956. The song was based on a newspaper article about a lonely man who committed suicide by jumping from a hotel window.

Sick in de Stomach, Part 4: Happy Birthday, Dear Albert

TURTA full hour passed before Christian shouted to Basil. “Is it done yet?”

“This pesky turtle won’t stick his head out so’s I can bop it.”

Basil remained seated next to the tortoise for the rest of the afternoon, leaving only to refill his glass of rum every fifteen minutes or so. Christian and Mutton finally rejoined him.

“Y’know,” Basil confessed, “I sort of forgot which end this turtle’s head is suppose to come outten. Another thing. I got sort of hungry here smellin’ that soup cookin’ so I been having a few tastes now and then and y’know, it tastes sorta good. I think this here turtle’s been sitting next to it so long that it kinda got some turtle taste. I’ll bet if we just add a little sissy sherry, even ol’ Albert’ll like it.”

“Turtle, you say,” said Albert, taking another sip from the bowl that sat on the table in front of him. The others ringed the table, watching in anticipation.

“Caught ‘im myself,” said Basil, grinning.

“It tastes more like sherry with a lot of pepper in it,” said Albert, forcing another sip. By the time they had added the sherry, all that remained of the soup, thanks to the prolonged boiling and Basil’s frequent tasting, were a few charred leaves. Peaches had tried to perk up the bowl of hot sherry and leaves with a healthy dose of pepper. “Interesting leaves,” Albert mused. “My good sherry, I suspect.”

“Only the best for ol’ Albert.”

“I always preferred sherry in a glass, accompanied by a good cigar,” said Albert. “But it’s so much more delicate served hot with leaves floating in it. Perhaps you’ll let me savor it in solitude. I’m afraid I might spill a precious droplet or two with everyone watching. If you’d be so good as to bring a cigar when you return.”

They marched out, and when they returned five minutes later, all that remained of Albert’s birthday soup was a little dampness on the lips of his satisfied smile. Only Peaches noticed the curious puddle underneath the table.

“Thank you, my friends,” said Albert, lighting a cigar. “I only wish there were another bowlful, such is my appetite for turtle soup. Perhaps I’ll go to Guadeloupe tomorrow.”

“Here’s to ol’ Albert bein’ seventy,” said Basil, downing a glass of rum. “Happy birthday, Albert,” chorused the others. Albert smiled, and Peaches was compelled to recite: “Tiger, tiger, burning bright . . .”

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.

APRIL 24, 1819: WHERE’S THE SODA, JERK?

WHERE’S THE SODA, JERK?

Samuel Fahnestock was given a patent for the first soda fountain in 1819. Carbonated mineral water was all the rage at the time.  Joseph Priestley had created the first man-made carbonated water back in 1767, and Jacob Schweppes had developed a method of mass producing it, quickly leading to the production of different brands of soda and different flavors. Fahnestock’s soda fountain allowed these drinks to be sold by the glass. Oddly enough, it took more than fifty years for someone to create the first ice cream soda, even though ice cream had been around since at least the 10th century.

At the peak of their popularity in the 1940s and 1950s, soda fountains were everywhere – in pharmacies, ice cream parlors, candy stores, department stores, and five-and-dimes. They were public meeting places (or hangouts, when occupied by teenagers).

Soda fountains required the services of a soda jerk. The name referred not to the personality of the person serving sodas but to the jerking action used to swing the soda fountain handle back and forth when dispensing soda. The position of jerk was actually quite sought after and usually came only after an extended period of service in less desirable positions. The soda jerk was the star of the soda fountain show.

The decline of the soda fountain began in the early 1950s when the Walgreens chain introduced full self-service drug stores. Hello Dairy Queen and McDonalds and supersizing; goodbye chocolate soda with two straws and two cents plain.

sick in de stomach, part 3: turtle lust

“I’ve got a dandy soup pot and loads of vegetables – onions, carrots, potatoes,” said Christian, when they reconvened at noon the next day in Albert’s Booby Bay Cafe.

“I got lots of leaves,” said Mutton. “I couldn’t find very many in the bay, so I got a bunch from out back.”

“That stuff you got there is just fine and all that,” said Basil, grinning. “But it ain’t turtle soup yet. Old Basil’s got the turtle goods.” He pulled his hand from behind his back and held before them, by its tail, a three-inch turtle.

“I don’t think that will make much broth,” said Christian, inspecting the turtle. “Say, isn’t that little Gustave’s pet turtle?”

“What kind of a pet is a turtle for a young lad? Won’t fetch nothin’.”

“It’s too small anyway,” said Christian.

“Now you didn’t say nothin’ ’bout how big a turtle you wanted, did ya? How much turtle d’ya need? Albert’s just one little Frenchie. Okay, okay, you start cookin’ them onions. Mutton, take this little critter back to Gustave, and I’ll go find a big turtle, which I would’ve found before, if someone had only said as such.” Basil made a trip to the bar for a refill, then headed off alone, the rum sloshing in his glass, mumbling as he went: “The lad won’t never make a seafarer, I’ll warrant, not ’til he learns how to give directions proper.”

The vegetables and leaves were boiling violently in the pot of water when Basil returned two hours later, dragging a bulky burlap bag behind him. “Got us a right fine turtle here,” he said. “A big’un like old Moby Dick, ‘cept he was a whale and Ahab only had one leg where I got two legs, and this here’s a turtle.” Basil ripped open the burlap bag to reveal a 200-pound tortoise. The tortoise took one look at them and retreated into his shell.

“That’s a lot of turtle,” said Christian.

“First he’s too little, now he’s too big. You’re bein’ mighty picky about the size of turtles. This here one’s the only other one on the whole island.”

“I think these turtles are endangered,” said Christian.

“I know this here turtle’s endangered.”

“He won’t fit in the pot,” argued Christian.

“He wouldn’t want to anyway,” said Mutton. “It’s pretty hot in there.”

“First, we gotta dismember ‘im.”

“What’s dismember?” asked Mutton.

Basil shook his head. “It’s just like rememberin’ except, in this case, we cut him into little pieces.”

“Won’t that hurt?” asked Mutton.

“It would if we didn’t bop him on the head first.”

“Have you ever bopped a turtle on the head, Basil?” Christian asked.

“Never bopped no turtle. Bashed me a scalawag though.”

“What’s it like?” asked Mutton. “Does it hurt a lot?”

“Well,” said Basil, “first he looks at you all twirly like, eyes wigglin.’ And sometimes they just stays open and keeps wigglin’ while the brains squirts outen ‘is skull and flies all over tarnation.”

Christian blanched.

“But it don’t hurt none,” Basil concluded.

Christian shook his head. “Okay, go ahead and do it. I’m going to wait over there.”

“Me too,” said Mutton, and he followed Christian away. Basil found a good size rock and sat down next to the tortoise.

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.

 

APRIL 23, 1983: SATURDAY MORNING SUPERSTAR

SATURDAY MORNING SUPERSTAR

Athlete turned actor, Buster Crabbe (Clarence Linden Crabbe II), looking back over his career, could easily have said “been there, done that.” After winning Olympic gold in 1932 for freestyle swimming, Crabbe dived into the movies, eventually starring in over a hundred movies, first taking a turn as the jungle hero in Tarzan the Fearless in the 1933 serial and a variety of jungle men in movies such as King of the Jungle that same year,  Jungle Man in 1941, and the 1952 serial King of the Congo.
Leaving the jungle for the far reaches of space, he played both Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. His three Flash Gordon serials were Saturday morning staples in the 30s and 40s. The serials were also compiled into full-length movies. They appeared extensively on American television in the 1950s and 60s, and eventually were edited for release on home video. Later on television, Crabbe also found his way into the French Foreign Legion. As his acting career wound down, he became a spokesman for his own line of swimming pools. He died on April 23, 1983.

Sick in de stomach, Part 2: What to give a man who hates everything

“So old Albert’s a sick’un, is he?” said Basil, downing his first rum of the day. Basil had always thought himself to be a descendent of the pirate, Sir Basil Ringrose, and as each day sailed toward sunset and the rum clouded his horizon, he metamorphosed into the pirate himself.

“That’s too bad,” said Mutton, Basil’s young protégé, whose mind was also clouded, even without the benefit of rum. “Being sick doesn’t feel very good.”

“Albert’s only sick for one reason,” Peaches declared. “Tomorrow’s his birthday.”

“Why would his birthday make him sick?” asked Christian, Peaches’ ward and the youngest and wisest of the three men who sat with her at one of the six tables on the open pavilion that was Albert’s Booby Bay Cafe.

“I don’t know,” said Peaches. “I guess it’s because he’s old and foolish, and birthday’s make him feel older and more foolish. And this one’s his seventieth so he’s really old and really foolish.”

“Old Albert ain’t so foolish,” said Basil, coming to his rescue, which was the proper thing to do since he was drinking Albert’s rum.

“He’ll get over it,” said Peaches. “By Monday, he’ll be himself – for better or worse.”

“Seventy years,” mused Basil, as he lumbered over to the bar and refreshed his rum. “Here’s to old Albert bein’ seventy.” He took a drink. “By rights, we ought to be givin’ the little frog a birthday present of some sorts.”

“What do you give the man who hates everything?” asked Christian.

“A watch,” suggested Mutton. The others had long since given up trying to follow Mutton’s thinking.

“Where would we get a watch?” complained Christian. “We’d have to go to Guadeloupe to get a watch. We don’t have time.”

“If we had a watch, we’d have plenty a’ time,” chortled Basil.

“Besides,” said Christian, not nearly as amused at Basil’s joke as Basil, “he probably would hate a watch.”

Basil chuckled on for a few more minutes, then said: “I know somethin’ Albert don’t hate.” He grinned, smug in his ownership of a piece of knowledge the others lacked.

“What would that be?” asked Peaches, the only one willing to give Basil his satisfaction.

“Turtle soup,” Basil pronounced. “Old Albert likes turtle soup a whole lot.”

“You’re right,” said Christian. “I’ve heard him say how much he loves turtle soup.”

“He loves turtle soup made in Paris,” said Peaches.

“Is turtles of the French persuasion somehow different than ordinary turtles?” Basil scoffed. “A seafarin’ man knows a turtle is a turtle.”

“Unless it’s a terrapin,” said Christian with a smirk.

“Isn’t that a canvas thing?” asked Mutton, looking bewildered.

“Ain’t no such thing as a canvas turtle, boy,” said Basil. “They’d be awful chewy.”

“Turtle soup would be nice,” Peaches mused.

“And medicinal,” added Christian.

“But we don’t know how to make turtle soup,” said Peaches.

“What’s to know?” said Basil. “You gets a turtle and puts him in a soup pot and cooks him up.”

“We can figure it out,” said Christian. “We cook the turtle in water. That makes broth. And vegetables. And bay leaves. I know bay leaves are important in soup. And Albert talks about sherry.”

“Sherry be a sissy drink,” said Basil.

“It goes in the soup, Basil. Albert says it complements the turtle.”

“It’s old Albert what oughtta compliment the turtle,” said Basil.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard Albert compliment turtles or anything else,” said Peaches, not wanting the boys to be disappointed.

“What I meant was . . .” said Christian. “Oh, never mind. This afternoon we’ll go out and find all the ingredients.” Mutton gave him a lost look. “The things we just talked about that go into the soup. Then tomorrow we’ll start cooking, and tomorrow night, turtle soup for Albert’s birthday dinner.”

“Lead on, Cap’n,” said Basil, and the three of them marched off, leaving Peaches with profound doubts about the soup project but unwilling to interfere with their gift to the ailing Gallic gargoyle.

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.

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.

APRIL 9, 1940: YOUR SHOPPING CART IS EMPTY

YOUR SHOPPING CART IS EMPTY

Sylvan Goldman was an idea man. One of his more persistent ideas led to his choice of careers. Actually, it was more than an idea — a concept, an eternal truth perhaps. “The wonderful thing about food is that everyone uses it — and uses it only once.”

Born in the Oklahoma Territory, he and his brother went into wholesale produce only to be wiped out by plunging oil prices.  After studying all the latest methods for retailing groceries, they bounced back with a chain of self-service stores featuring woven baskets for  carrying groceries. The stores were a big success, and they were bought out by the Safeway chain. Once again hard luck hit; their Safeway stock tanked during the Depression. And once again they bounced back; by the mid-30s they were half owners of the Piggly Wiggly chain.

Goldman continued to dream about customers moving more and more groceries. And one night in 1936 he had a eureka moment — inspired by a wooden folding chair. Put wheels on the legs and a big basket on the seat and you have a shopping cart.

Goldman and a mechanic friend began tinkering. They devised a metal cart with not one but two wire baskets. For efficient storage, the carts could be folded and the baskets nested. Goldman called his invention a folding basket carrier, receiving a patent on April 9, 1940.

When the carriers were introduced to the public, Goldman encountered one tiny problem. Customers didn’t want to use them. Men thought they would look like sissies pushing a cart. Women felt like they were pushing a baby carriage.  And older shoppers thought it made them look helpless. Goldman was always ready with another idea. He hired attractive models, both men and women, to push the carts around, as well as charming greeters urging customers to take one for a spin.

By the 1940s, the carts had become so much a part of the American shopping experience that the Saturday Evening Post devoted its cover to them. And they got bigger and bigger until they got tiny as little icons on websites everywhere.

Goldman’s Folding Carrier Basket Company is still in business today. Goldman isn’t. He died in 1984.

Don’t Hurry Worry Me, Part 4:  Blue Denim Rendezvous

hurryEvery bit of island treasure still remained buried when Elton figured he had earned a break at the Crab Hole.  He carefully draped Clarence Henry’s blue denims over a large rock so they might dry while he wet himself inside.  Those pants hadn’t been on the rock ten minutes when who should walk by but that rogue Randall.

“My pants!” he said, remembering the blue denims but somehow forgetting their origin and rightful ownership.  He scooped them up, went around back of the Crab Hole, slipped out of his pants and into Clarence Henry’s snappy blue denims.  They were damp, but still soft.  Out of a sense of fairness, Randall stretched his own pants over the rock, before heading off to an afternoon liaison with none other than the wife of the man whose pants he wore.

At this point in the story, Chicken Avery was usually forced to quell a mutiny among listeners who said the story was just too preposterous.  “Truth is stranger than lies,” Chicken Avery would say.  “Life is full of coincidences which maybe aren’t coincidences at all but preordained or something.”  He looked up at the ceiling.  “Now here’s another coincidence.  You interrupted my story just at the very time I finished my drink and needed a refill.  So if someone would be so kind as to fill my glass, I’ll get right back to this very amazing – and very true — story.”

As foolish a person as Randall is, had he remembered whose pants he wore, he would not have worn them to this particular rendezvous.  But he didn’t, so he did.  Fortunately, Clarence Henry’s wife paid so little attention to Clarence Henry’s pants that she didn’t recognize Randall’s blue denims as her husband’s very own.  And once Randall had arrived at Clarence Henry’s house and adjourned to Clarence Henry’s bedroom with Clarence Henry’s wife, Clarence Henry’s pants were a forgotten heap on the floor next to Clarence Henry’s bed.

This particular liaison was interrupted in mid-passion by the sound of a door slamming.  “What’s that?” said Randall, jumping up.

“That would be Clarence,” answered Clarence Henry’s wife.

Randall, on his way to becoming something of an expert on hasty exits without pants, dove out the window.  Clarence Henry’s wife could have made her husband a very happy man had she just remembered who the true owner of the blue denims was.  But she didn’t, and she threw them out the window after Randall.

To Randall, the pants flying out the window were a Godsend, or so he thought until, trying to don them on the run, he was spotted by that good dog, Mango.  Mango knew those pants, knew they did not belong to this young rogue.  He chased Randall for half a mile, nipping him in the behind until Randall dropped the pants. Mango then gave him one last punitive nip and let the naked young man flee.

Then Mango returned those pants to Clarence Henry.  But was he thanked for his efforts?  Rewarded?  No, he wasn’t.  That poor dog was punished.

But Chicken Avery had promised a proper moral.  And a proper one he delivered, for Clarence Henry who had taken a stick to his one true companion would never enjoy those blue denim trousers again.  By the time Chicken Avery’s story had been recounted several times, Clarence could not strut around in those pants without everybody laughing at him.  And if folks weren’t laughing, it was because they hadn’t heard the story.  So they soon heard it, because Chicken Avery felt an obligation to tell them about the marvelous life those pants had had when Clarence Henry wasn’t in them.

Listen to Don’t Hurry Worry Me performed by the Easy Riders

This story originally appeared in American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

APRIL 8, 1832: TAKE MY WIFE . . . PLEASE

TAKE MY WIFE . . . PLEASE

Earlier centuries saw a great many practices that were commonplace then but which would be considered inappropriate in our more enlightened wife-at-auctionage. Nowhere was this truer than in (merry old) England — purchasing a plump Irish child for special dinner occasions in the 18th century, for instance, or in the 19th century, selling a spouse one had grown weary of.  One such sale took place on April 8, 1832, an account of which was recorded for the amusement of generations that followed.  Joseph Thompson, a farmer, had been married for three unhappy years when he and his wife decided to call it quits.  As was customary, Thompson took his wife to town and set her up for public auction.  At noon, the sale commenced with Thompson delivering a short speech:

“Gentlemen, I have to offer to your notice my wife, Mary Ann Thomson . . . whom I mean to sell to the highest and fairest bidder.  Gentlemen, it is her wish as well as mine to part for ever.  She has been to me only a born serpent.  I took her for my comfort, and the good of my home; but she became my tormentor, a domestic curse, a night invasion, and a daily devil.  Gentlemen, I speak truth from my heart when I say — may God deliver us from troublesome wives and frolicsome women!  Avoid them as you would a mad dog, a roaring lion, a loaded pistol, cholera morbus, Mount Etna, or any other pestilential thing in nature.”

What a sales pitch!  This guy could sell anything. The asking price for Mary Ann was 50 shillings. Eventually, the price was knocked down and a deal was made — 20 shillings and a Newfoundland dog.

Everyone satisfied, they parted company, Mary Ann and a gentleman named Henry Mears in one direction, Joseph and the dog in the other.

Don’t Hurry Worry Me, Part 3:  Blue Denim Ahoy

hurry“Does anyone here need some pants?” Ismelde asked the three sailors sitting on the dock, amusing themselves with beer and cigars.  They eyed Ismelde with suspicion at first, then stared intently, their seafaring eyes inspecting her from stem to stern.

“I’d be needing some pants,” said the largest and swarthiest of the three.

“Oh dear,” said Ismelde,  “I don’t think they’ll fit you, sir.”

The youngest of the three spoke up.  “I reckon they’d fit me.”  Ismelde studied him.  He was of much the same build as Randall.

“Why don’t you try them on?” suggested the other sailor with a big, toothless grin.

The young sailor stood and grinned back at his mates.  “Let’s do that.  Couldn’t take them if they didn’t fit.  Come on.”  He pulled a reluctant Ismelde aboard their sloop, leaving the other two sailors chuckling and speculating.  A few moments later, a very red-faced Ismelde emerged from the sloop and hurried away.  Just behind her the young sailor zipping his newly acquired, tight-fitting blue denims swaggered ashore, boasting to the others:  “I guess she’s never put pants on a sailor before.”

Randall couldn’t have told you this part of the story, someone would complain.  Chicken Avery just shrugged them off.  Now don’t you hurry me, he’d say.  Don’t worry me.  Someone told me this, someone else told me that.  I just put it all together.

Three hours later, the young sailor was still swaggering, promenading the length of the deck, as the sloop plied the choppy waters off the windward side of the island.  And perhaps it was that swaggering that rendered his sea legs useless against the lurching of the sloop, that threw him off balance and allowed him to be tossed off the starboard side, blue denims and all.

Elton Sinclair’s hours of sobriety were few.  And he spent those few hours combing the beach for clues to the buried treasure that would lift him out of the drudgery of island life and whisk him away to the upper strata of European society, where he would drink cognac instead of rum.  The corpse in the blue denim trousers lying in a heap on Pigeon Beach presented Elton with a bit of a moral dilemma.  Should he report the body to the authorities and subject himself to all their suspicious interrogation or just let someone else discover the body and deal with the fuss.  He realized that, if everyone who happened onto the body were to save themselves the fuss, the body would never be officially discovered even though everyone on the island must know about it.    On the other hand, he was a busy man; there were others with more time to waste on fuss.

Having faced the first moral dilemma and making a sound decision, Elton face a second moral dilemma.  Would the authorities, once the body had been discovered by someone other than Elton, care whether the corpse was attired in a pair of handsome blue denims or in a pair of shabby brown pants much like those that Elton wore?  Of course not.  Elton knelt down next to the sailor and peeled the pants from his lifeless body.  He was about to remove his own pants and put them on the body when it struck him that the poor wretch lying there was free of all care and certainly any care about whether or not he wore pants at all.  So Elton saluted the naked corpse, slung the blue denims over one arm and headed down the beach, keeping watch for any telltale signs of treasure.

continued

This story originally appeared in American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.