Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac


Ed Sullivan was to the golden age of television what Google is to searching.  He ruled Sunday night TV for 23 years – from 1948 to his very last broadcast on this day in 1971. Sullivan presented acts from the era’s biggest stars to acrobats, dancing bears, puppets, contortionists, you name it.  Ten thousand in all – if they were entertainers, an appearance on the Sullivan show was their holy grail.

Musical performances from rock to opera were a staple of the program. Even its first broadcast, when it was known as Toast of the Town, made music history as Broadway composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II previewed the score of their upcoming musical, South Pacific. And after that, West Side Story, Cabaret, Man of La Mancha – if it was on Broadway, it was on Sullivan. One of those Broadway musicals, Bye Bye Birdie, was all about making it on the Sullivan show.

Sullivan also chronicled the history of rock and roll from Elvis Presley’s appearance in 1956 through the Supremes, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Doors, the Mamas and the Papas, and on June 6, 1971, the last program, Gladys Knight and the Pips.

When CBS canceled the show, the network let it end with a whimper.  But in the 33 years since cancellation, numerous tribute shows and DVDs have kept Sullivan in the public eye.

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. — General Dwight D. Eisenhower, June 6, 1944

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Although Mel Blanc, “the Man of a Thousand Voices,” is most often remembered as the voice of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Woody Woodpecker, Tweety Bird, Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, Speedy Gonzales, Foghorn Leghorn, Pepé Le Pew, the Tasmanian Devil and many of the other characters from theatrical cartoons and Hanna-Barbera’s television cartoons, he had a long career as a comedian and character actor in radio and television. He was born on May 30, 1908, and died in 1989.

Blanc was a regular on The Jack Benny Program in various roles, and appeared on many other shows (Fibber McGee and Molly, Great Gildersleeve, Abbott and Costello, Burns and Allen), including his own which ran from September 1946 to June 1947. In the Jack Benny radio show he was Carmichael, the irascible polar bear who guarded the comedian’s underground vault; his outspoken parrot; his violin teacher, Monsieur Le Blanc; his Mexican gardener, Sy; and even his Maxwell automobile.

Blanc was easily the most prolific voice actor in the history of the industry and the first to be identified in the ending credits. In his 60-year career, he helped develop nearly 400 characters and provided voices for some 3,000 animated cartoons. During the cartoon heydays of the 1940’s and 50’s, he voiced 90 percent of the Warner Brothers cartoon empire. As movie critic Leonard Maltin said, “It is astounding to realize that Tweety Bird and Yosemite Sam are the same man!”

A gem from The Jack Benny Program:

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Edward Lear, born in England in 1812, was a true dabbler — artist, illustrator, musician, author, poet. Starting off his career as an illustrator, he was employed to illustrate birds and animals first for the Zoological Society and then for Edward Stanley, the Earl of Derby, who had a private menagerie. He also made drawings during his journeys that later illustrated his travel books. and illustrations for the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson. As a musician, Lear played the accordion, flute, guitar, and piano (not simultaneously). He also composed music for a number of Romantic and Victorian poems, most notably those of Tennyson.

Lear is remembered chiefly for his work as a writer of literary nonsense. He might easily have been given the title Father of the Limerick for bringing the much maligned form into popularity (without the raunchiness that later found its way into the form). In 1846, he published A Book of Nonsense, a volume of limericks that went through three editions. In 1871 he published Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets, which included his most famous nonsense song, The Owl and the Pussycat, which he wrote for the children of the Earl of Derby.

Lear’s nonsense books were successful during his lifetime, but he found himself fighting rumors that he was just a pseudonym and that the books were actually written by the Earl of Derby. Conspiracy theorists cited as evidence the facts that both men were named Edward, and that Lear is an anagram of Earl. A few even suggested he was born in Kenya, not England.

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!’

Pussy said to the Owl, ‘You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?’
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

‘Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?’ Said the Piggy, ‘I will.’
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

Naughty Words Without Poetry

Stand-up comedian, social critic, satirist, actor, writer/author George Carlin was born on May 12, 1937 (died 2008). Noted for his black humor as well as his thoughts on politics, the English language, psychology, religion, and various taboo subjects, he won five Grammy Awards for his comedy albums. Carlin and his classic “Seven Dirty Words” comedy routine were central to the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case in which the justices affirmed the government’s power to regulate indecent material on the public airwaves.

In his own words:


Swimming is not a sport. Swimming is a way to keep from drowning. That’s just common sense!

Honesty may be the best policy, but it’s important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy.


The very existence of flamethrowers proves that sometime, somewhere, someone said to themselves, “You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done.”

Religion has convinced people that there’s an invisible man…living in the sky, who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten specific things he doesn’t want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer and burn and scream until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you and he needs money.

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

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

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

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

Matilda, Part 2: What to Do with Our Surprise Passenger

Humberto stared at the sea ahead of them for several moments, then mumbled. “We probably got an hour or two on them, but they can overtake us. And they’ll know we’re headed for Caracas.” “Maybe they’ll think she took the boat out,” Odus offered.

“I would never take the boat anywhere without my stepdaddy’s permission,” said Matilda, looking toward heaven.

Thinking aloud, Humberto half spoke, half mumbled. “They’re expecting us to go to Caracas. What if we went to Maracaibo instead? They wouldn’t expect that. We could lose the yacht there. God, I hate to lose the yacht. It’s worth a bundle. Could we hide it somewhere for a while? No, we’ve got to lose it. But what about the girl?”

“That’s easy,” said Odus. He took two quick steps and scooped her up in his arms before she could react. “Let the sharks handle it.” As he carried her across the deck, she now twisted and flailed and fought him, real fear in her eyes for the first time. He leaned into the railing and held her out over the water.

“Stop,” shouted Humberto. “We can’t do that.”

“Listen to him,” pleaded Matilda, looking alternately at Odus and the sea stretching out below. “He’s older and wiser.”

“Goddamn it,” Odus muttered, lowering her to the deck, but fondling her as much as he could before she was on her feet and hurrying toward Humberto, her unlikely savior.

“That would be murder,” said Humberto. “Stealing is one thing, but murder is something else. That’s bad. They catch us, they shoot us. Besides, we are not killers.” The fear in Matilda’s eyes disappeared with his words, and her composure returned. Humberto was not watching her, did not see the change in her expression. He didn’t realize that he had lost command.

“I got an idea,” said Odus, rejoining them.

“Wow,” said Matilda, circling him, looking him up and down. “This should be good.”

“We find a hidden cove, maybe on one of the coastal islands,” said Odus, beaming. “Then we ransom the chick.” He looked to Humberto for the almost certain accolade. Humberto stared back at him for a moment, then turned his gaze to Matilda, allowing the idea to parade through his mind for inspection. Matilda, on the other hand, laughed out loud.

“What’s so funny?” Odus demanded.

“Ransom,” said Matilda through her laughter. “Didn’t you ever read ‘The Ransom of Red Chief’? Of course not. What am I thinking? You don’t read. You’re thinking my stepfather would pay to get me back. The most he’d give you is a bottle of champagne and a thank you note for taking me off his hands.”

“Your step papa doesn’t like you?” said Humberto.

“Positively hates me.”

“And your mama?”

“Well, she probably doesn’t hate me, but she’s more comfortable when I’m not around.”

“This is not the happy americano family from TV,” said Humberto, eyes narrowing.

“The Cleavers we’re not,” said Matilda. “Maybe Lizzie Borden and her family.”

“Hmmm,” said Humberto. “Then it’s very possible that the entire U.S. Navy is not pursuing us at the moment.”

“Whoops,” said Matilda; then she shrugged. “You’re right. I’d guess at this moment they’re probably peering into the volcano, saying it’s my own fault I missed it, if I couldn’t be in the right place at the right time. So now what?”

“Caracas,” said Humberto.


Matilda 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

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

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

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

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

Matilda, Part 1: The Poobah
Goes to Sea

It couldn’t have been easier.

The Pooh-Bah’s engine roared to life without protest, and Humberto negotiated his way past the other yachts attempting to outsway each other as a show of sovereignty over the Playa Marique harbor. Behind him, the Bacchanal Beach Club sleeping off a night of hedonism with a reggae beat became tiny and meaningless.

Odus, useless as usual, lazed in a deck chair, dead to the world. But Humberto didn’t need him at the moment, and he enjoyed the solitude. He stood at the wheel as though he were the very proud – and legitimate – owner of the Pooh-Bah, as she plied the now glistening water. He whistled a lilt he had learned as a child on the streets of a less cosmopolitan Caracas. When he delivered this fine yacht to Caracas he would be rewarded handsomely. This time he’d take a little vacation. Buenos Aires, maybe. Or Rio.

Humberto’s reverie was shattered by the appearance of someone who wasn’t Odus – a young woman whose tousled blonde hair and oversized T-shirt suggested that until a few minutes ago she had been sleeping. She half glared at him through half-open eyes.

“Who the hell are you?” demanded Humberto, his eyes very open.

“Who the hell are you?” the young woman retorted.

“I asked first.”

“I don’t care. It’s my boat.” She paused. “Well, it’s Harold’s.”

“Who’s Harold?”

“None of your business. Get off this boat.”

“Is that the son?” She didn’t answer. “Or the father. You are a mistress to one of them, aren’t you?”

“You animal. Harold is my stepfather. It’s his boat.”

“Of course,” said Humberto. “I didn’t recognize you all messed up like that. You’re the daughter.”

“Matilda,” she answered. “Now who are you?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Humberto growled. “I’m in charge here.”

“Like hell you are.” She rested clenched fists on her hips, yielding not a bit. “You’re trespassing. Just what are you up to?”

“I am stealing your stepfather’s boat. And why are you here? You should be on your way to the volcano with your mama and papa.”

“I was with Ramon. He left and I fell – hey, this is none of your business. Who do you think you are? My nanny?”

“Your parents, they will be worried. Damnit. They’ll come looking for you, find the boat gone. I ought to slit your throat.”

“You bet your sweet ass they’ll come looking for me. The police maybe even the navy are probably after us already. You’re ass is grass.”

Odus stumbled toward them, tucking his shirt into his pants. “Hey man, who’s the chick?”

“Don’t call me a chick,” Matilda snapped. “My name is Matilda. But don’t call me that either. Just don’t call me.”

“Hot little chick, isn’t she?” said Odus, staring at her and grinning. “What’s she doing here?”

“She’s a stowaway,” said Humberto.

“I am not. I belong here. But you don’t, and you’ll both be in jail before long.”

“Nice legs,” said Odus, inspecting her. “I’ll bet she’s got a cute ass, too.”

“God, you’re slime,” Matilda said, making a face to suggest she was about to throw up.

“You little bitch,” said Odus, raising his arm to strike her.

“Stop it,” said Humberto.

“Yeh,” said Matilda, who had flinched only momentarily. “If I have any bruises when they catch you, you’ll probably never see the outside of a cell again, that is if they don’t shoot you.”

“What’s she talking about?” asked Odus, turning to Humberto.

“Our plans may have been fouled up, thanks to little miss hot pants here,” said Humberto. Matilda smiled at him. “Let me think,” he said.

“Oooh, that should be exciting,” said Matilda. “Can I watch?”


Matilda 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

APRIL 14, 2019: Right Out Loud

It’s okay to laugh out loud today. You don’t even need a reason because today is International Moment of Laughter Day and that ought to be reason enough. The day is the brainchild of Izzy Gesell, a self-described humorologist.

“Laughter comes right after breathing as just about the healthiest thing you can do,” he says. “It relieves stress, instills optimism, raises self-confidence, defuses resistance to change, and enhances all your relationships.”

To help you celebrate the day, here is a list of ways you can laugh. You can titter, giggle, chuckle or chortle. You can cackle or crow. You can snicker, snigger or snort. Ha-ha, hee-haw, ho-ho, tee-hee, yuk-yuk. You can guffaw, belly laugh or horselaugh. You can roar or shake with laughter. Split your sides, bust a gut, roll in the aisles and perhaps die laughing. And of course there’s the ever-popular laughing until you pee your pants.


Fireworks, rock music and, yes, laughter punctuated the April 14, 1999, announcement by former Vice President Dan Quayle that he was tossing his hat into the Republican ring for the 2000 presidential race. He offered himself as the antidote for “the dishonest decade of Bill Clinton and Al Gore.” He promised to restore integrity, responsibility and more malaprops to the White House.  He exited the race a few months later, after finishing eighth in the first Republican straw poll, cheating the world out of future Quayle gems such as these:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I deserve respect for the things I did not do.

I love California, I practically grew up in Phoenix.

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

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

The Radish — Now That’s a Funny Vegetable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

February 28, 1949: Hey kids, What Time Is It?

Okay, you could be forgiven for answering “It’s Howdy Doody Time.”  Howdy was certainly a pop star of the puppet world. As were Kukla, Fran and Ollie.  But let’s talk importance.  Albert Einstein.  You’ve probably heard of him.  Which puppet show did he watch?  Not only did Einstein watch Time for Beany, he once excused himself from a conference of Nobel prize winners, telling them it was time for Beany.

Time for Beany arrived on the television scene on February 29, 1949, a couple of years after Howdy and Kukla.  The show’s  creator Bob Clampett pointed out that these shows featured puppets as puppets, appearing alongside humans.  He wanted to create a fantasy world that would let audiences lose themselves in the illusion that Beany and his friends were full-sized people and that Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent was ten feet tall.

In daily 15-minute episodes, Beany, Cecil and Uncle Captain Horatio Huffenpuff sailed the world aboard their ship Leakin’ Lena in search of adventure. A wild array of supporting characters included Carmen Dragon, Mouth Full of Teeth Keith, Hopalong Wong, Tear-along the Dotted Lion, Dinah Saur and the Red Skeleton.  Dishonest John and Dudley Nightshade provided villainy.  Stan Freberg and Daws Butler were the principal puppeteers and voices.

Time for Beany aired until 1955. An animated version, Beany and Cecil, followed during the 60s.

Judy Drownded, Part 2: A Beast with Burning Eyes

The people of Soleil are not hardhearted; but now and again, someone did drown. It was sad but inevitable, being surrounded by ocean. Judy had no family beyond a drunken uncle, but she was popular with the young men of the island, and it was they who grieved the most. It was taken for granted that she had drowned. In other places, they might drag a body of water for a body just to be sure, but you couldn’t drag the ocean. And the ocean generally cooperated by delivering a drowned body to the beach in a timely manner. So the people expressed their remorse, got on about their lives and waited for the ocean to bring closure. But this time the ocean did not cooperate. Days passed, weeks passed, and no Judy.

The eclectic mix of music on the Crab Hole jukebox included several Hank Williams songs. In addition to being classic country recordings, the Hank Williams songs, particularly “You’re Cheating Heart” and “Poor Old Kewliga,” were bellwethers, unfailing signals that it was time to cut off Chicken Avery’s rum. When Chicken started singing along with Hank, it was pretty much a given that he would pick a fight when the song ended unless sent home.

Thus it was that Chicken was stumbling along the beach, wailing about that brokenhearted Indian, Kewliga, adding a haphazard calypso lilt to the tune, that night in late July. As he walked, he saw something out there in the water, something staring at him with burning eyes, something large and fearsome. And he remembered Judy, who had last been seen on this very beach, whose body had never come back, because it was eaten by a shark, or something worse. He tried to run, stumbling and falling, certain the great unnamed beast was pursuing him. He could feel its hot breath, and he knew that, if he were eaten, he would be swallowed whole, not chewed.

Leland Armbrewster treasured his late evening stroll through the stillness of his beach. It wasn’t Leland’s beach in any legal sense; it belonged at any given moment to whoever wished to take advantage of it. But Leland’s comfortable home hovered over a portion of it, and Leland was used to considering most things he surveyed to be his. In fact, it may have been that attitude that brought him to Soleil from a small town in upstate New York where, as Mayor, he took a rather proprietary interest in the town treasury, finally embezzling, to use a harsh word, a substantial golden retirement parachute. After stops in Jamaica, Barbados, and Martinique always cut short by a most doglike private investigator hired by his former townsfolk, Leland arrived in Soleil, where he now engaged in the aforementioned late evening stroll.

Leland was remarking to himself, as he did during every evening stroll, how refreshing the breeze off the water was, when a madman babbling about demons came screaming out of the dark and fell at his feet. The man held tight to Leland Armbrewster’s ankles and prayed an unintelligible prayer over and over until Leland shook him loose.

The second mate of the SS Love Nest said to the third mate, as he dimmed the spotlight they had been training on the island in the distance: “That’s Soleil; it’s worth skipping.”


Judy Drownded is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.