THE UNFORTUNATE ROGER CRAB
Seventeenth century England was not without its share of eccentrics, folks who were not the sharpest arrows in the quiver. Roger Crab may certainly be categorized as one of them, although his misfortune at having his skull split open while serving in the Parliamentary Army might provide some excuse for his eccentricity. The unfortunate Crab was sentenced to death after the incident (for having his skull in the wrong place at the wrong time?), but his sentence was later commuted and, upon his release, he became a haberdasher of hats.
His wandering mind somehow happened upon the idea that it was sinful to eat any kind of animal food or to drink anything stronger than water. Determined to pursue a biblical way of life, Crab sold all his hats and other belongings, distributing the proceeds among the poor. He then took up residence in a makeshift hut, where he lived on a diet of bran, leaves and grass (the 16th century equivalent of a kale and edamame diet), and began to produce pamphlets on the wonders of diet.
“Instead of strong drinks and wines,” he wrote, “I give the old man (referring to his body) a cup of water; and instead of roast mutton and rabbit, and other dainty dishes, I give him broth thickened with bran, and pudding made with bran and turnip-leaves chopped together.”
Just as Crab persecuted his own body, others began to persecute him. He was cudgeled and put in the stocks. He was stripped and whipped. Four times he was arrested on suspicion of being a wizard. He bounced from prison to prison until his death on September 11, 1680. Fortunately, our modern society treats its vegetarian eccentrics much more humanely.
Some scholars believe Crab was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter.
Just a Bunch of Tomorrows, Part 1: Bessie and Cora
I really don’t know why my mother took me to see Bessie and Cora. Perhaps she was worried about the future, my future, and the future was Bessie and Cora’s forte. These two sixty-something ladies shared a bungalow on the upper end of D Street, a bungalow from which they told fortunes, mostly to the young women whose husbands were off trying their best to wind down World War II.
Bessie and Cora were twins as well as fortunetellers.
Although they looked very much alike, they were not identical, which made life much easier for Wilhelm, Cora’s husband, who also shared the bungalow and whose eyesight and mental prowess had been waning since about 1939, so that it was difficult enough for him to identify his wife as it was.
Bessie and Cora each took a slightly different spin on divining the future: Bessie was an avowed palmist; Cora dabbled in tarot, tea leaves and the other trendier methods. Bessie was pragmatic; she gave her clients nuts and bolts information to help them cope with the near-term future. Cora was a blue-sky seer; her flights of fancy took her clients into a distant romantic future filled with dark strangers and great wealth.
My mother took me to see Bessie and Cora twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays while she went to do her part for the war effort — I was never sure exactly what — I always assumed it was riveting airplanes, but that’s probably just a romantic notion I picked up later in life. And so, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, my future was in the hands of Bessie and Cora. It didn’t take too many Tuesdays and Thursdays for me to completely read their meager library of children’s books and lose interest in the fortune telling paraphernalia that had outlived its usefulness and had been consigned to a cardboard box in the back hallway.
And how many times can you hear your future foretold? I would be a good student, and if I studied hard, become very smart and eventually successful — that’s what Bessie saw in my palm. She held my palm tightly, looked at it sternly, her features as hard as the marble bust of Beethoven that watched from an upper bookshelf. (I could never understand Wilhelm’s confusion. The sisters did look very much alike, but even though their physical features were the same, Bessie’s were hard and Cora’s were soft — an incredible difference that should have been obvious to everyone, even Wilhelm. Bessie looked just as much like Old Marble Beethoven as she did like Cora. At least I thought so.) Bessie’s divination of my future never wavered; it was exactly the same on the third Thursday as it was on the first Tuesday, so I quickly gave complete control of my future to Cora.
Soft-featured Cora spread out her tea leaves and told me that someday I would fly in very fast airplanes to faraway places where I’d meet fascinating people — kings, queens, archdukes, emirs. She consulted her cards to discover that I would, when I reached a proper age, have rendezvous with women as beautiful as Rita Hayworth, as lively as Carmen Miranda, as mysterious as Marlene Dietrich. The bumps and contours of my ten-year-old head revealed that adventure also lie ahead — hidden treasures, Himalayan treks, maybe even a trip to Mars. It was a wonderful life that Cora had planned for me, but even her big wide wonderful world of the future grew tiresome in time.
Wilhelm wasn’t particularly impressed by his wife’s or his sister-in-law’s prowess at prognostication. Whenever the subject came up, he’d just snort and say: “The future. It’s just a bunch of tomorrows, pretty much the same as today.” For a while I enjoyed sneaking up on Wilhelm to see how close I could get before he knew I was there.
Just a Bunch of Tomorrows is included in Naughty Marietta and Other Stories