Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

MAY 23, 1701: 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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Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

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.

continued

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

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

MAY 21, 1819: 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.

continued

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

 

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

MAY 20, 1899: 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.

 

 

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

MAY 7, 1885: COMIN’ THROUGH THE TV, SHOOTIN’ UP THE LAND

An essential player in Hollywood westerns was the leadinggabby man’s sidekick, and many sidekicks became just as famous as their starring partners: Andy Devine was Jingles to Wild Bill Hickock, Pat Buttram and Smiley Burnette were both sidekicks to Gene Autry, Jay Silverheels was Tonto to the Lone Ranger, Leo Carillo was Pancho to the Cisco Kid. The top sidekick was, of course, Gabby Hayes, born May 7, 1885. Through the 1930s and 1940s, he was sidekick to Hopalong Cassidy in 18 films and to Roy Rogers in 41.

 

The third of seven children, George Francis Hayes was born in an upstate New York hotel owned by his father. As a young man, he worked in a circus and played semi-pro baseball while a teenager. He ran away from home at 17, and joined a touring stock company. He married Olive Ireland in 1914 and the duo enjoyed a successful vaudeville career. Although he had retired in his 40s, he lost money in the 1929 stock market crash, and he felt the need to work again.  He and his wife moved to California and he began his movie career, taking various roles until finally settling into a Western career.

 

Hayes first gained fame as Hopalong Cassidy’s sidekick Windy Halliday in many films between 1936-39. He left the Cassidy films in a salary dispute and was legally prevented from using the name “Windy.”   So “Gabby” Hayes was born.  He gained fame as a sidekick to stars such as John Wayne, Randolph Scott, and, of course, Roy Rogers – beginning with Southward Ho in 1939 and ending with Heldorado in 1946.

 

Offstage Hayes was the complete opposite of his screen persona – an elegant bon vivant, man-about-town and connoisseur.  He died in 1969.  On the subject of his movies: “I hate ’em. Really can’t stand ’em. They always are the same. You have so few plots – the stagecoach holdup, the rustlers, the mortgage gag, the mine setting and the retired gunslinger.”

“You’re a good-looking boy: you’ve big, broad shoulders. But he’s a man. And it takes more than big, broad shoulders to make a man.” — High Noon

“There are only two things that are better than a gun: a Swiss watch and a woman from anywhere. Ever had a good… Swiss watch?” — Red River

“A gun is a tool, Marian; no better or no worse than any other tool: an ax, a shovel or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it. Remember that.” –Shane

“You don’t look like the noble defender of poor defenseless widows. But then again, I don’t look like a poor defenseless widow.” –Once Upon a Time in the West

Everybody Loves Saturday Night, Part 4:  War and Peace at Naughty Nora’s

Caribbean-PartyNecker Lincoln was certain his nose was broken.  He was halfway to Naughty Nora’s before the bleeding stopped. It just wasn’t right. Sure, he had called Marie’s momma a rhinoceros, but that was no reason for the woman to beat up on him. After slapping him some, Marie had tossed him from the porch of their house to the wet ground. And the mud and blood made him look as though he had – well, been in a fight.

“Daylight come and me wan . . .” Naughty Nora’s hushed as Necker entered. Prisoners and captors alike looked at him in awe.

“Are you back from the front?” asked Nora.

“What?” Necker responded.

“The battle,” said Billy. “Tell us of the battle.”

“The battle?” said Necker, a little confused. Then he studied his own appearance. “Oh, the battle. I guess it didn’t go too well.”

“Oh my God,” wailed Billy. “The bloody, bitter tragedy. The agony of defeat.”

Maurice, who had not been singing, who had been sitting in a corner, dwelling on the infamy of such a big country as the United States picking on their little country – all the while lubricating his thoughts with a bottle of rum – stood and shouted: “kill all the prisoners!”

“Wait a minute, Maurice,” said the still reasonable Everette.

“Yes, wait a minute, Maurice,” echoed Estelle who, with all eyes now on her, regretted having spoken out of turn.

“Tell us more about the battle, Necker,” Everette urged. “Were we badly outnumbered?”

“Outnumbered?”

“Yes,” said Everette. “How many of the enemy were there?”

Necker grinned sheepishly. “There was just Ma – ”

Estelle was the first to hear the same low rumble they had heard earlier. She hurried to the window, and the others followed, everyone crowding to see what was happening. Once again, the great tank crept down Christopher Columbus Boulevard, this time from the opposite direction. As Her Majesty’s Royal Militia marched into sight, Estelle counted them, all 37 of them, followed by an even larger entourage than before. And they pulled a cart piled high with fish.

“Our glorious army has returned,” shouted Billy. “We have won the war.”

“We have defeated the Americans,” chanted Maurice, jumping up and down. The two men ran out to follow the parade.

“The war is over,” said Nora. “Peace is here. We hold no grudges. A round of drinks on the house.”

Then, just as suddenly as they had disappeared, the lights returned, bathing Naughty Nora’s with a kind of normalcy, with a peace on earth, good will to all. The jukebox kicked back to life. Estelle looked around. Tourists and locals had returned to laughing conversation. Penelope was flirting with the French hippy. Sidney Smith sat down at Estelle’s table and resumed staring at her breasts. “What the hell,” she said with a sigh, as she leaned back in her chair and sipped her rum.

The jukebox sang: “Everybody, everybody. Everybody loves Saturday Night.”

Everybody Loves Saturday Night 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.

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

MAY 5, 1862: VAMOS A CELEBRAR

Today is Cinco de Mayo. It is sometimes mistakenly thought of as a major Mexican holiday; it is, rather, a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride by people of Mexican descent living mostly in the United States – and, of course, non-Mexicans looking for an excuse to drink tequila.

 

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated primarily in the state of Puebla where it is called El Día de la Batalla de Puebla (The Day of the Battle of Puebla) observed to commemorate the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. France, under the leadership of Napoleon Number Three, sought to establish a Gallic empire in Mexico (possibly because things had gone so well for Napoleon Number One in Russia back in 1812). In 1861, a large French force landed at Veracruz sending the Mexican government into retreat. Moving toward Mexico City, the French army encountered heavy resistance near Puebla from a poorly equipped Mexican army of 4,500 men. The Mexicans were able to soundly defeat the 8,000-strong French army, considered the best in the world.

 

Although there’s not much happening in Mexico City on May 5, there’s plenty of action elsewhere as celebrations everywhere honor Mexican cuisine, culture and music. In addition to the many U.S. events, Windsor, Ontario, holds a Cinco de Mayo Street Festival, and a club near Vancouver, British Columbia, holds a Cinco de Mayo skydiving event. In the Caribbean, there is an annual Cinco de Mayo air guitar competition in the Cayman Islands and a celebration at Montego Bay, Jamaica. Cinco de Mayo events are held in Australia, New Zealand, London and and even in Paris (where it’s sometimes called, Cinco de Mayo, Merde).

 

Everybody Loves Saturday Night, Part 2:  Let the Battle Begin

Caribbean-PartyNaughty Nora’s remained silent, except for the calypso tune on the jukebox which persevered, unaware of the current situation, surreally inappropriate. Under the table, Estelle crouched on hands and knees, waiting for the next blast, the one that would end it for them here and now. She heard a little scuffling, and a fair-haired man appeared under her table, also on hands and knees. He grinned and said: “We can’t go on meeting like this.”

“What happened?” asked Estelle, her voice quivering.

“Damned if I know,” said the man, who spoke with an English accent. “My name is Sidney Smith, by the way.”

“Estelle,” answered Estelle. Sidney Smith didn’t answer; he was staring at her breasts. The lights went out. Estelle screamed.

From behind the bar, the efficient Nora quickly produced several candles and distributed them among the tables. The tourists at Naughty Nora’s may have found a direct – and probably dire – link between the blast and the loss of electricity, but the locals knew that the electricity on the island was a fickle thing that would frequently take some time off. Saturday night was particularly prone to electrical problems since it was the one night of the week that everyone seemed to do things using electricity.

Everyone remained hushed in the flickering light of Naughty Nora’s, speaking only in whispers. It was silent outside as well, but as they listened they heard a low rumble in the distance that grew closer but remained low and steady. A few of the braver patrons crowded around the windows and looked out into the moonlit night.

The heavy tank of German manufacture, which was the centerpiece of the island’s defense forces, rumbled down Christopher Columbus Boulevard, followed closely by Her Majesty’s Royal Militia. Although the island had long since severed its relationship with Britain, the militia remained her majesty’s, and it proudly comprised the 37 islanders who owned guns. Accompanying them were another dozen paramilitary hangers-on wielding sticks. The great armored beast, its turret turning this way and that, had seen service in North Africa and was, therefore, the only member of the militia that had any combat experience. Nevertheless, to the tourists cowering inside Naughty Nora’s, this was no Veteran’s Day parade in Peoria. This militia confirmed their worst fears.

To the locals, now well under the influence of Nora’s rum, the militia stirred their latent patriotic souls.

“We’ve been invaded,” shouted Maurice, the bricklayer, breaking the silence that had held sway since the explosion. “The Americans are attacking.”

“We should join our brave countrymen and help to repel the North American hordes,” said Billy, the son of the mayor.

“We’ll fight the Americans to the death,” shouted Maurice, raising a fist in the air. Estelle, feeling very much like the wrong nationality in the wrong place at the wrong time, slipped behind Sidney Smith.

“What if it isn’t the Americans?” said Everette, the taxi driver and voice of reason. “How do we know?”

“Whoever it is, we will fight them to the death,” said Maurice, finishing off a glass of rum for emphasis.

“Yes,” said Billy. “The Americans or whoever.”

“But why would we want to fight to the death?” asked Everette, the voice of caution.

“For our honor,” shouted Nora, from behind the bar.

“But isn’t it better to be alive than to be honorable?” said Everette, the voice of cowardice.

“That’s the attitude that keeps the islands under colonialist thumbs,” said Billy. “What little we have is our honor, and you would strip us of that.”

“But if the Americans kill every one of us, what good is our honor?” said Everette, the only voice of hope as far as Estelle was concerned. “Who will even know of our great honor? Will the Americans tell the world how honorable we were? I think not.”

That was an argument that Maurice had to turn over in his clouded head, but in the meantime, he insisted, the tourists, particularly the Americans, were all prisoners of war. “We can’t let them aid the invaders,” he explained.

“Isn’t it exciting,” bubbled Penelope. “I’ve never been a prisoner of war.”

continued

Everybody Loves Saturday Night 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.

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

MAY 4, 1959: VINYL AND GOLD

The first Grammy Awards (or Gramophone Awards as they were originally called) honoring achievement in the recording industry were held in 1959. And it was a banner year to start passing out those little gold gramophones.

In contention for Record of the Year was Perry Como with one of his three Top 10 singles for the previous year, “Catch a Falling Star,” Peggy Lee with her biggest hit of the rock era, “Fever,” Frank Sinatra crooning “Witchcraft,” and the are-you-kidding entry, “The Chipmunk Song” by David Seville. Taking home the statuette (to Italy) was Domenico Mondugno and the only foreign language recording to ever win the top prize, “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu.” The recording also won Song of the Year against pretty much the same competition.

For Album of the Year, Sinatra put both his 1958 releases in the running (possibly canceling each other out) – the upbeat Come Fly With Me, his first with arranger Billy May, and Only The Lonely, arranged by Nelson Riddle. Ella Fitzgerald placed one of her several songbook albums in the ring, this one dedicated to Irving Berlin. And Van Cliburn, having won the April 1958 International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, scored with Tchaikovksy: Concerto No. 1 In B-Flat Minor, Op. 23. Stiff competition but Henry Mancini was up to it, nailing the first of his 20 Grammy Awards with The Music from Peter Gunn.

Sinatra, Fitzgerald, Como and Cliburn all won in other categories, as did Louis Prima and Keely Smith, Count Basie, Andre Previn, and the Champs (Tequila). The head-scratcher Grammy of the year was in the category Best Country and Western Performance, won by the Kingston Trio for  “Tom Dooley.” Well, it’s not jazz or classical.

Everybody Loves Saturday Night, Part 1:  Elton and Claris Go Fishing

Winter-weary tourists who take the considerable amount of trouble to get to Tortoise Bay are not thrillseekers on a hell-bent search for tropical carpe diem. They are bookish sorts, sun Caribbean-Partylovers, people who just want to slow down to the lazy tempo that prevails here. What little action there is at Tortoise Bay takes place on Saturday night at the only nightspot, Naughty Nora’s. Nora’s isn’t all that naughty; the guiltiest pleasures are the flying fish sandwiches and rum punches. On Saturday night, the locals come to listen to the vintage jukebox play its unlikely mix of calypso, country and tunes that were popular when Bermuda shorts were still trendy. They come to socialize and to unwind after a week of work.

Some of the tourists also come to Naughty Nora’s on Saturday night to wind themselves up just a bit after a week of lethargy. Given their low-key vacations, it’s understandable that these folks might be a little overwhelmed at finding themselves smack in the middle of an invasion.

 

“Are you sure this is such a good idea, Claris?”

“This is the smart way to catch fish, Elton,” said Claris with just a touch of superiority. “It’s like that American dude that long time ago invented the assembly line where he could make a lot of cars at once instead of just one at a time. It’s a fishing assembly line, and boy are we gonna get a bunch of them.”

“But it’s dangerous,” moaned Elton. “It’s dynamite. Someone could get themselves hurt. Like us.”

“Not if we know what we’re doing, said Claris, tying the sticks of dynamite into a neat little bundle. “We just float it on out there a ways, it goes bang, and boy it rains fish.”

“Are you sure?” said Elton, skeptical of the raining fish part. “Have you ever done it before?”

“Not exactly,” said Claris. “But I heard about it and got pretty good instructions.”

He put the bundle of dynamite on the little raft and lit the fuse. Elton turned and ran down the beach as fast as he could. Claris, getting a little nervous now himself, pushed the raft out beyond the rocks with a long pole, then turned and ran after Elton.

 

Estelle Webster was working doggedly on her third rum punch, trying her best to feel comfortable in what she considered somewhat seedy surroundings. Her friend Penelope Goodwill had coaxed her into coming to Naughty Nora’s, saying it was a good chance to see island life up close and for real. Estelle didn’t need up close and for real; she rather liked the styrofoam ambience of a cruise ship, where fresh-scrubbed young men and women followed you around like puppy dogs, taking care of your every need. It was also Penelope who had convinced her to come on an island vacation, saying it would be more of an adventure than a stuffy old cruise ship.

Adventure. Here she sat while Penelope was standing around the jukebox with a bunch of locals, laughing and carrying on like they had known each other forever. Here she sat, enduring the unabashed ogling of a middle-aged hippy who looked very much like he aspired to nothing greater than beachcombing. He and his companion spoke French, although from her limited knowledge of French, it seemed as though they spoke it quite thickly – perhaps the result of the prodigious amounts of red wine they had consumed.

The third rum was better than the first. The drinks were a little warm; she had wanted ice but, upon asking, had been advised that the ice was not made from bottled water. She imagined a lot of people were careful not to drink the water in these places, but forgot about the ice. The filthy Frenchman was staring at her cleavage, once again Penelope’s fault for talking her into wearing a dress cut low enough to get her arrested in a lot of small towns back home.

Penelope walked a little unsteadily back to the table and said: “How you doing?”

“Fine, just fine,” said Estelle.

“You gotta relax, Stel,” said Penelope, waving to the French hippy.

“Don’t do that,” said Estelle. “He’s been staring at me, at my . . . just don’t encourage him. He’s French.”

Penelope suddenly shouted to the other table: “Comment allez vous, monsieur. Je suis Penelope. Elle est Estelle.” She pointed to Estelle.

“Allo,” the man shouted back. “I am Francois. Pleased to know your acquaintance, Penelope. And you, Estelle.” He put his fingertips to his lips. “How you say bien montee, bien carrossee. Et un petit cul mignon. Tu es une allumeuse.”

“What did he say to me?” whispered Estelle.

“Good evening or something,” said Penelope. “Just smile and say merci.”

“God, what if he comes over here,” said Estelle, but upon saying the words she realized that maybe she wouldn’t mind that so much. It was kind of . . . kind of exciting. Maybe this was beginning to become an adventure after all. She raised her glass of rum punch, but before it reached her lips, the windows rattled, the glasses and bottles behind the bar tinkled and Naughty Nora’s itself – floors, tables, chairs, patrons – all trembled as if an earthquake were about to savage the earth beneath their feet. But earthquakes didn’t usually come with a deafening bang, with the sound of something exploding in the night. Estelle’s rum flew out of her hand and sailed through the air all the way to the French hippy’s table, where it landed like a little aftershock. Estelle crawled under her table.

continued

Everybody Loves Saturday Night 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.