archives & links below

My photo
A person who needs no introduction.

Monday, December 21, 2020

A Holiday Service From Your Friends At New Pals!

 Parents! Sometimes it's hard to afford all the presents your child deserves. Let's not get into the reasons--really, we all know how it is. Just to give you all a bit of slack for when you really need it, here's an actual reprint from the December 25, 1985 New Jersey Record that could be useful, though be cautioned that your child might still react poorly. (Click to enlarge.)

Actual newspaper clipping from 1985 "Santa C. Claus Succumbs-- Dies in Chicago Hotel Room"

But your youngster will probably see reason and understand why there's no pony or race car this year. Might as well give it a try. What's the worst that could happen?

.


Saturday, November 21, 2020

Some Light Reading

 One of the last things I did on the recent trip to the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan was to hop in the car with my sis and pop down the road that runs up and down the peninsula (small p) that she and her husband live on.

At the end of the road, which has already forsaken pavement and a second lane, we find the old Stonington Point lighthouse, now preserved as a tower you can walk up, if the skinny spiral stairs don't put you off. The day we went, it was windy, and starting to lean toward getting dark soon. Kathryn stayed by the car, having seen this all before and not having a fondness for those steps, while I dashed along the old sidewalks that remained around the keeper's house's former location, before it all burned down.

I headed up the steps, thankful they weren't wet, and got more and more cautious as I came to the top. I tried to keep to the wall, where the pie-slice steps were their widest: none too wide. I made liberal use of the handrail. It was only three stories tall, but I took them all very seriously, particularly with the insistent wind whipping at me. 

There were nice window views along the way. No glass in the windows, so they were immersive views that engaged all the senses. 

There's my view from the top. Kathryn's in the car at that moment, trying to get a picture of me up at the top, but I didn't hold still for very long. There's the sidewalk. Going off to the right a ways must have been the outhouse or garbage dump or something. 

They bought their place on that peninsula in the 1970s. It was in the last couple of years that they learned a bit of family lore that had escaped them somehow--for a year or two (and I don't remember if it was late 19th or early 20th century, but maybe the former), the lighthouse was manned by an ancestor of my brother-in-law, Steve. He'd been lighthouse keeper up in the Copper Country, and we had known for some time that he'd held that prestigious position. What we didn't know was that he'd been summoned to come and man this one. And it turns out to have been a very isolated spot, far from any other people--an unpleasant contrast to his earlier posting, where he was a community leader. The Stonington location was only reachable by boat then, and his family didn't like the isolation either. I'll bet the road we were on wasn't there then, not to mention the Stonington community, small as it is (well, it's been bigger).

I paused for a rather successful selfie (if I do say so), which shows how much the wind had to have been blowing, because otherwise I'd have to be a real slob to let my hair get that frazzed. Darn wind. Next morning, I hit the road again, driving from rest stop to rest stop, tiptoeing from state to state to evade the ever-present virus that was out to get me. 

I think I made it.

.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

 About 1983, I recorded accompaniments to a couple Spanish hymns, and became fond of one of them. I hadn't copied it out of the hymnal when I returned it, and in the decades since, I've looked for it. I found it last year. "Yo solo espero ese dia." It's as nice as I remembered.

I found a YouTube of a congregation singing and playing it with accordions, guitars, and more intricate rhythms than the score suggests. It was an ear-opener, though I may still play it as before, with sweet intent.


The weird thing, though, is that while I was watching that, I suddenly clicked on the beat-for-beat similarity between this hymn and a French song "The River Seine," which I first heard happily murdered by Jonathan and Darlene Edwards (Jo Stafford and Paul Weston).

So sorry I can't give you Darlene ("video not available"--I got that close), but here's an instrumental version on a sweeeet 1950s-looking portable wind-up phonograph (similar to the one I first heard "Carmen Boogie" by The Crew-Cuts on):

Copyright? The version of the hymn I found has an earliest (c) of 1954 on it, but that's for an arrangement. No telling how old the anonymous melody there is. The song was first recorded in 1948, in French. I can't tell who swiped from who, but SOMEBODY SWIPED FROM SOMEBODY.

That's all. No resolution from me at this time, but if I ever find out, you can just bet I'll tell you about it.
 
originally a series of tweets. still is.

.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

SEPTEMBER, 2020 [Michigan Seems Like a Dream to Me Now] pt 1

Yes. It happened. There was a September this year. It haddeth 30 days. I ventured up to the great state of Michigan, via Pennsylvania and Ohio. Even via the great state of Michigan, since I was going all the way up to the other state of Michigan, the Upper Peninsula, where it had been established I should be able to see Dad at his present lodging in a rest home.

For a while--since March, of course--Dad's been inaccessible, and we've been sending stuff in to him and writing notes and letters with very large print. Then someone told Kathryn (my sister nearby who's been handling all this) that since he's in hospice, the rules are different, and she and I could have been seeing him in person any old time in there. I made my plans, fussed a lot, worried more, then drove up in two days; somewhat nervously, what with the plague and all. 

I had a smooth and uneventful two days going up, though, and my rest between drives was pretty solid. Check out this cool not-an-Airstream-at-all trailer I saw on the way! A few years back, I saw dozens of Airstreams heading for the same place I was going, and didn't take a picture of the shiny gaggles of them on the highway. They all parked together near the fairgrounds, and I may not have even gotten a shot of them then. Whoopsy.

White Castle Sign

I managed to stop at both my White Castles that are up there. Ann Arbor, and Flint (above), though I couldn't go inside this time. The ones in northern Ohio all closed one year. 

Overlook

I mostly kept going, but I took breaks as needed--timed catnaps in rest stops, and even went out a scenic overlook to check for good blog photos.Elevated view of N-S highway in MI

Well, a view's a view. They can't all be Silver Streaks. I kept an open mind, and most trailers or RVs I saw, I lived in for about a mile while the owner never suspected a thing. Pulling those boxes on wheels, or even just driving one, is work. 

A state road in the woods of Upper Michigan

I got to the cabin of my sister and brother-in-law out on the little peninsula they're on. After a settling-in period, I started taking a walk now and then. Four or five times, I went out to the end of the driveway (actually a state road, but it connects them with their mailbox on the larger gravel road their address is on). The first two times I just went to the mailbox and back, but after that I doubled the walk by going a mile on the larger road, once to the left and twice to the right. I can tell this was taken in the half mile closer to the mailbox because of the major sedge action on the forest floor there. Closer to the house, the ground looks like someone--a wise, wise politician perhaps--has raked them all out.

Small urban body of water with a duck in it

I also took a couple of remote walks that I was driven to and then picked up, giving Kathryn a chance to run an errand or three each time. I started my first walk involving the nearby town of Gladstone by this city park (this water adjoins Lake Michigan). I told this duck I'd race it, and it took off like a shot. Never saw it again.

Great Lake with light dappling water

I was trying photos of this and that. I love what the sun does on the water, and here's a snap of that from somewhere on the trail in Gladstone. I followed it till it seemed fully played out, then retraced my steps and got in a decent walk. The pack I take on walks was much fuller than usual because I was on this trip, so I was often aware of what great exercise I must be getting.

A bench and bin on the Lake Michigan walking path

My second Lake Michigan walk involved some of the same trail, but this part of it started a handful of miles closer to Escanaba, so the walk was this lovely paved path with cars streaming by on one side and the lake stretching off endlessly on the other. There are three or four of these little sit-downs with convenient trash and recycling bin at hand. I sat down on the last one I got to, as it had nothing obstructing the lake view (like the obtrusive shrub that this one has). I put on ear buds to muffle the wave front of the car noise and took what may have been the best such walk on the trip.

Blue sky, blue water, clouds, near & far shore

Each time I turned my head to the right, I could watch the clouds lollygagging across the sky over the water. I'd be happy to take that walk now, but distance prevents. I hear they're having a really nice day today.

Accessible overlook on Lake Michigan trail

Considerately, there is an overlook that seems eminently accessible for a variety of people.

This task has expanded and mutated. I was at first going to simply acknowledge that September had, indeed, taken place in spite of my failure to blog anything. Now that I've opted for an illustrated trip report (as a "lazy" way of adding content!), I find myself editing all the photos. Besides, I can milk this for at least another entry here, and maybe even two! So I'm going for it. I can procrastinate this! YES!!

.



Monday, August 31, 2020

Picture Post, August 2020

 I like this shot I got on August 19, from under the Main Street bridge, looking toward the State Street bridge at the Erie Canal at Schoen Place in Pittsford. Library building visible on the right, two canal boats are parked in the shot, one of which Sarah steered for about a mile, close to ten years ago.




 I'm about to walk that way again. I hope it looks this nice today. Nice to see Flocky again, too.

.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Powder from Hell (short fiction)

The bus rolls down I-80, and for the third time on this trip, I unfold some letters. The first two times, I was sharing a seat with cheerful busybodies from whom I instinctively shielded the letters. Third time's the charm -- I not only have the seat to myself, I have at least half the bus to myself. I raise my eyes for a moment and check the scenery -- still endless fields of something green and leafy. I lower my eyes to the first letter.

"Dear Brother,

"I have arrived, safe and sound, in the hamlet of Arkville. I thought there were mountains in the West, but I am informed that those are much farther off, and that one does not begin to see them until one is almost in Colorado. The bus journey was long, past fields of corn and soybeans, truck farms and truck stops. We passed one where the water tower had been decorated to resemble an enormous coffee percolator! On the way, I practiced my shorthand skills by transcribing the contents of billboards that we passed. I am most anxious to do well in my first job, working for the Arkville Refreshment Corporation. It's such a big move, from home to here. If my classmates at the Springfield Secretarial Academy could only see me now!

"I was greeted at the bus stop in Grand Island by a tall, rawboned man in overalls who never wasted a word. Indeed, he didn't use a word if he could nod his head or otherwise gesture the answer. He put my bags into the back of his truck and drove me the rest of the way to the company gates and was gone before I could fish out a tip from my purse. He is paid by the bus company to convey people the last part of the way, when someone wants to come to Arkville.

"I am working for the Vice President of the company, a Mister Traum. I had to stifle a giggle at his appearance, for he looks so very much like the 'before' picture on an advertisement for some sort of sleeping aid. His skin is grey, and his eyes have bluish hollows beneath, and he seems to shuffle or shamble when he walks. His speech seems almost listless, and I have to prick up my ears to catch what he says sometimes. What is more surprising, the other people I have met here look much the same. It's as if they were members of the same family, though their last names are mostly different from one another's. Perhaps there's something in the water?

"Anyway, it's late, and I will start work in the morning. Wish me luck! And do write to me!!

"Your loving sister."

I suspect I am now going through the same scenery she described in the letter. In fact, a few minutes later, I would see the giant percolator. The first time I opened a soda on the bus, I wasn't sure if it was allowed, but now I know the driver doesn't care. I decant the cola I bought at the last bus depot and use it to help choke down some cheese peanut butter crackers while I read the second letter.

"...I would have sent the first letter sooner, but there are no mailboxes here for employees to use! I finally walked out to the road, looking for the company mailbox, and encountered the mail carrier, and he took it for me. Can you imagine not having a mailbox?

"The work is rather easy, so far. My boss, Mister Traum, speaks so slowly I don't even know that I need to use my shorthand. I'm impressed, though, with his plans for the company. They make some kind of sweet beverage here in the form of a powder that you mix with water. He is poised to go national with his brand, by forming a partnership with an existing company that makes an orange-flavored breakfast drink. He has contacts at the company that used to work at his own company. They've been planning it for years -- he's really a visionary!

"My only regret is that I can't stand the stuff myself! Isn't that awful? It's a sort of bluish-purplish powder that mixes with water. I thought the water here was bad enough, but just put some of that in it, and it's worse! The water is kind of hard and chemically, but with this in, it tastes downright metallic, like some flavor not of this earth. This is just between you and me and the gatepost, though. Don't want to lose my job..."

So far, the tone of the letters was light and cheerful. That changed with the third one.

"...I'm peeved with Mister Traum, who keeps trying to get me to drink the purple stuff. It's not official company policy, apparently -- at least, it's not in the employee manual they gave me! -- but everybody else swills the foul stuff like it was ginger ale. You can tell who drinks it, because they all look like Mister Traum. I thought maybe it was a family operation, but they're not related. I'm the only one here who doesn't talk... real... slow... and slur words and shuffle around. I hate to think that the drink is why they all act like that.

"But it's getting annoying. When I started, my apartment had working taps, and then they sent a plumber in who said the water wasn't good to drink. Do I need to tell you that he talked slowly and shambled when he walked? They cut off my water, and the only running water in the place is in the bathroom. I thought of drinking from the tub water, but the way the pipes look, I'd almost as soon drink out of the can, pardon my French. They put pitchers of water and the purple junk outside my door every day, and they are cutting down how much water they give me. I could scream.

"I'm off to find the mailman, I guess. He'll be by in about an hour, more or less, and it takes twenty minutes to walk out to the road. Tomorrow's supposed to be a big day. Company tour..."

The bus was stopping. My perusal of the letters was temporarily put aside while I got out at the gas station that shared some space with the bus line. Apparently, the buses only stopped there if they put a flag up, or if the bus had someone to drop off. I expected a lunch counter, but found only another vending machine and pop machine. While I waited for the farmer and his truck, I got some change and stocked up on more cracker snacks and sodas.

"...Get me out of here! I can't stand this any longer! They showed me where the powder comes from, and it's not something they make, it's something that comes from pits deep in the ground! It's horrible. We went down in a mine elevator. I can't tell you how far, but it felt like a mile. It stank down there. I hadn't realized the stuff had an odor, but now I can't get it out of my mind. It was hot, too, and of course, there was nothing to drink but the vile liquid itself. I took a sip, just a sip to keep my throat from constricting, and it was like I was intoxicated. I saw things moving in the tunnels, far away. I hoped it was a trick of the light, or maybe a hallucination from the foul draught. I begged them to take me back up. I don't remember the ride back to the surface.

"I woke up back in my room, and looked for the pitcher of water, and there was none. I shall lose my mind if I stay here much longer. Come and get me! I am afraid of this place and these people. Please, dear brother, you are my only hope!"

The truck arrived. I visited the restroom before we left, and took a long drink of water from the semi-clean sink. drinking out of my cupped hands. Reading her words had made me thirsty. I looked intently at the farmer who drove me from the station to a county road. He seemed normal. I asked him questions, and he answered them with an economy of verbiage that would have done Silent Cal Coolidge proud, but I learned that he goes back and forth to the company, conveying packages from the bus station and back, twice a week. I persuaded him, with the aid of a couple of large-denomination bills, to wait at the gate for an hour. He seemed unwilling at first to jeopardize his working relationship, but the promise of more money and my assurance that the company wouldn't mind overcame his reluctance. We turned off onto a dirt road, and I realized we were almost there.

The countryside wasn't what I was used to back East. Away from the irrigated fields, the land was dry, and flatter than Massachusetts. The vegetation was in clumps. I walked for several minutes down the gravel drive, finally reaching the strange, isolated complex of buildings that was the factory. Nobody was outside. I ended up going to the front door and trying the knob. It was locked. I rang the bell, and was greeted by a man who seemed to fit the description of Traum: grey skin, sunken eyes in dark circles. I introduced myself, and said I was looking for my sister. He turned, without a word, and started walking. I presumed I was supposed to follow, impatiently checking my watch. Would the farmer wait long enough? The man walked with devilish slowness. Down a hall, up a flight of stairs. I checked my watch again.

Finally, he took me down a corridor and stopped at a door. A tray stood on the floor, looking somewhat like a room service tray, with an empty pitcher on it. He knocked, and motioned for me to wait, and he slowly went back the way we had come. As I waited for the door to open, I mentally replayed the route we had taken. It was slightly circuitous, but I felt that I could retrace it if need be. There was a sound behind the door, and the knob turned. I found myself looking at my sister.

I smiled in recognition. "I'm here," I said. "Get your things together -- only as much as you can carry. We're leaving."

She looked up at me with sunken eyes, a flicker of regret on her greyish features. "I'm staying here," she said slowly. "This is my job. I'm sorry I brought you out here for nothing." She turned away and shuffled apathetically back into her room.

"But you wanted to leave! Come on, let's get out of here. I've only been here--" I looked at my watch. "--twenty minutes, and I'm anxious to go. Come back with me! I have your ticket."

She shambled over to the counter, where a glass of some bluish liquid stood. "I'm okay now. Everything is fine." Looking me in the eye, she took a long drink and put the glass down. I looked at my watch. If I hurried, I might make it back to where the farmer might be waiting in his truck. I strode out into the hall, my mind racing, and hastened back the way I'd come. I found the stairs I'd come up, and went back along the hallway I remembered. I came to a place I hadn't seen before, retraced my steps and found the hall branching off. I got to the front door of the building and stepped outside. The sky was starting to get a little darker. By my watch, I had ten minutes to travel a distance that had taken me twenty minutes before.

I walked, I ran. I lost my head and dashed as quickly as I could. When I got in sight of the gate in the barbed-wire fence that led to the dirt road, the truck wasn't there. The driver, the truck, my valise, even the sodas I had bought, all were gone.

The cold came quickly as it got dark. My coat was in the truck. I finally went back to the apartment, where I was admitted without comment. I now sit uneasily on a wooden chair, looking at the pitcher on the counter. Behind me is a woman who is no longer my sister, and all around me is a company bent on bringing to the world an unspeakable substance that will, I am convinced, be the downfall of us all. It will be two days before the farmer returns for his regular business here. My head swims with the enormity of it. I'm worn out from my exertions. There is nothing to drink here, nothing save for the ubiquitous, vile bluish-purplish liquid, and -- Lord help me! -- I THIRST!

.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Stalking the Wild Abutment

I didn't hurry to get to my walk today, as it was going to be cool and (knock wood) not wet in about the same proportions for a couple of hours. When I did walk, it was a lovely day, and I made good time. GREAT time if you believed my walking odometer, which reset its time after twenty minutes... while keeping my mileage! So I showed a superb average speed today, you betcha.

On the canal, I spotted a disused dock, just about the only one with no trespassing signs on it. It was a little overgrown with weeds, and has creeper on the bench. I photographed it for future reference. There's a Little Free Library not far from State Street, on the canal, and I poked through it and straightened the books and CDs out. I even tightened the latch, having a Phillips Head on my knife.

In the area back of the Del Monte motel (where we all stayed our first night in town, as our other accomodations wouldn't be ready for another day, twelve years ago), I went to the portion of the Auburn Trail that Sarah and I had walked once, from the apartment we were in for three weeks or so as we waited for this house to be ready for us. At the time, I'd seen signs that something was odd about one part, near the end. I looked down and saw some concrete. Later, I decided that was a spot where another line (I recently learned that it's the old electric car line from Rochester to Victor or Bloomfield or one of those places) crossed below, which I'd seen in a photo. This photo:



















I'd almost started to think that I had imagined it, having spent some of my walks bumming around that stretch of the railroad trail, looking in the dense growth below for signs of that underpass. I'd spent time looking at what I could find online--like this photo! 

I thought I had it in a book, but couldn't find it, so I found it at a site set up by Mr. David Gardner, who had some early photos, and a map showing the path of the streetcar, which brought me to within a few paces of the spot earlier this week. Just above is a view of the elevated part of the Auburn, taken from a spot on or near the tracks in the old shot. When you're on the trail up there, nothing really tells you you're on a cement structure. It just looks like a raised right of way, except when you notice how far down the trees on either side go.


Today I walked to the spot, about to look for the thing for a couple of minutes at the apex of my walk (from home back to home was about six miles today), and there it was, plain as anything--because some men with tractors and other equipment were removing the vegetation that covered it and clearing off the front of the old underpass (which is now undoubtedly bricked or cemented in) so it can be seen from the trail. And they're putting in a bench, and for all I know a historical info sign. I thought this was great, and thanked them. The above view is looking own from the upper track bed at part of an exposed side of the underpass--it would be on your right in the old pic.



The above map shows where this took place. The arrow by "Abutments" points to where my abutment has been several times in the past couple of weeks. I used that map and a screen snap of the satellite view from Google and worked out where that spot should be, and checked the scale and estimated about a hundred paces. I wasn't far off. I also went and looked at Jojo's, which occupies the old streetcar depot (handily across Main Street from the Auburn's depot). I also located the old German Howitzer that used to sit in a park just above that arrow indicating the station. There's no sign of its base in the park now, but the Pioneer Burying Ground a mile from my house has three cement pads that used to hold the captured armament until 1936 when the other park was created. By about 1980, they decided to landscape it out of existence, and they loaned the piece to East Rochester. By a coincidence, the day after I had been reading about it, I walked around a corner of one of the paths between the Auburn Line and the canal and there was the howitzer.



A guy there told me they were looking to put the thing in the park they're creating back there, but it needs some work. He said some Mennonites were maybe going to fix the wheels and tires, but it still needed sandblasting. To add another layer of unlikely coincidence, I was telling my next-door neighbor about the howitzer, and he said that his Legion post (or was it his VFW chapter? Never mind!) had refurbished the thing in 1980. A sign on it says it was done again in another year, too. I'm deciding against buying a howitzer for my yard. Too much maintenance.

In other railroad trail news, I saw some 'new-to-me' miles yesterday when I drove (first time I drove somewhere to walk by myself) down to Railroad Mills, the street that marks the farthest south I'd gone before, and parked by Powder Mill Park, and walked to the trail and went two and a half miles (not an ambitious day, distance-wise) and saw some nice glens and woods, on a very well manicured trail with stone mile markers and reasonable signage. I reached Fishers, NY, which has a two-story blocky, knobby stone pump house that is the second oldest railroad building in the US. Though it's a very small town, they did have a Little Free Library there, and I traded the book in my pack for one they had. 

Between Railroad Mills and Fishers, however, was another little mystery.


Why, what a nice tunnel under I-90 (Dewey Thruway)! You fellows surely didn't build that there because the old railroad trail ran that way. How recently did the trains run this way? And how long ago did they build the Thruway? (On different days, I found the answers: This part of the Auburn Road was abandoned in 1960. The Thruway was built in 1954. It was just that close.)

My research this week also shows that the Trails group that was starting up in the late 1990s had considered connecting the Auburn as it crossed the Erie Canal (presently a dead end on each side) by putting a new footbridge where the railroad bridge used to be, something I'd often wished someone would do. In 2002, the job was estimated to cost $1.4M to do. No idea how much it would cost now, but that big concrete piece still stands ready in the middle of the canal. (I also learned that some abutments I'd seen when crossing the canal at Marsh Road were not from an old Marsh Road bridge, but were there for the street car line.)

Anyway, on the way back, I sat on a bench and played with my tiny keyboard for a quarter of an hour, getting back my version of Fats Wallers's "Viper's Drag" that I can play on a 31-key instrument with just two notes of polyphony. 

Getting back to today, I found the Harladay Hots stand in operation in a vacant-lot park on Main Street, and had an Andouille Sausage for lunch. Then I went home and played the piano. Life was full of fun today, and I relished it, haw haw.

.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

REUNION

I walked along a street in my home town
Between the scenes of yet another dream.
A noisy car came near, slowed slightly down;
Inside, un-aged, my high school chums--my team!

Brad, at the wheel, looked like he always did,
Seen in the hallways or up on the stage.
Mark, Laurie, Keith, and some familiar kid
And all still at their adolescent age:

Seventeen, untouched by life, still prime.
All seventeen, untouched by life, and prime.

I called their names, they turned their heads to stare.
I said "Good grief, where have you guys all been?
How is it you're still young and fresh and fair?
How'd you do that? Can I be seventeen?"

They focused on me briefly, features frank,
Examining me like some sort of bug,
Then looked at one another, silent, blank,
And shared a brief and apathetic shrug.

Seventeen, and looking fine, still prime.
All seventeen, and looking fine, and prime.

Their interest in me faded fairly fast.
It wasn't for my sake they'd driven slow--
I was just a stranger who they'd passed,
And clearly, they were ready now to go.

"I guess I'm doomed," I said, "I'm doomed, aren't I?"
They talked among themselves as off they rolled.
Who was that? Have you ever seen that guy?
I stood flat-footed, overweight and old.

Fifty-nine, and past the prime, and doomed
But even in the dream, they too were doomed.
In much the way that all of us are doomed.
.

 

This was a real dream from a few years ago, though I may have been older or younger than 59.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

message in the woods

Living specks hover
Spelling words in obscure glyphs
I can never read.
.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

like humor, but smaller

DFT pitched the first one months ago. This was quickly knocked together for a Twitter post using the photo that prompted it and an image search result, and I'm putting it here so I can get it with equal facility if I need it again.

That's all. No end credits joke here today.
.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Solving the unsolved murder in Chandler's THE BIG SLEEP

Who killed the Sternwood Chauffeur? Raymond Chandler famously didn’t know the answer when he was asked by screenwriters for the adaptation of his classic novel, The Big Sleep, but some careful digging turns up a plausible answer, and possibly even a reason Chandler might have lied about it.

The Big Sleep was Chandler’s first novel, and the first appearance of Philip Marlowe, one of the most famous and frequently imitated of the fictional sleuths. Chandler wrote seven novels starring Marlowe, as well as a number of short stories. The character inspired ten movies, four radio series (and several one-off adaptations of the movies), and two series (plus one-offs) on television. Whenever a tough detective talks to himself, he seems to be using Marlowe’s voice, possibly filtered through Humphrey Bogart. And then there is the Marlowe Apocrypha (by which I mean stories by Raymond Chandler featuring detectives who would later evolve into Marlowe--not stories by other writers about Marlowe, in imitation of Chandler).

Writing did not come easily to Chandler. When it came to producing his first novel, he reached back to stories he’d already published in the pulps, a fairly ephemeral medium, adapting and borrowing from the adventures of detectives who were Marlowe in all but name: Carmady, Dalmas, Mallory, and others with and without name who already had the ethical toughness with a touch of poetry (Chandler had a classical education from Dulwich College, London, where he associated with the Bloomsbury group).

Chandler ‘cannibalized’ (his term) the earlier stories for plots, characters, and incidents, enlarging and adding detail in the process. Once he had done this, he closed the book on the stories, never allowing them to be reprinted. Three of the stories were reprinted in the 1940s — according to Philip Durham in his introduction to the collection “Killer in the Rain,” Chandler said this was done without his knowledge or permission. They had served their purpose, and whether he was embarrassed by his early work or felt that readers could be confused by their variant plotlines, or some other reason, he wasn’t interested in seeing them pop up again, even for money.

In writing The Big Sleep, Chandler cannibalized no fewer than four stories, but relied mostly on “The Curtain” and “Killer in the Rain.” As Durham notes, he also borrowed bits of “Mandarin’s Jade” and “Finger Man” for scenes and details, but the first two mentioned provided twenty-one out of thirty-two chapters in the novel. In “Killer in the Rain,” the dead chauffeur is named Carl Owen. His name is changed to Owen Taylor in The Big Sleep. We don’t see him alive in either one.

The scene where Marlowe watches them fish the car out of the water comes from “Killer in the Rain.” Inside the car was the body of Owen, chauffeur of the father of Carmen Dravec, who became Carmen Sternwood in The Big Sleep. Owen had been hit on the head, non-fatally, before the car went into the water and he drowned.

[SPOILER ALERT]
At the end of the story, Marlowe talks to Joe Marty (who becomes Joe Brody in the novel and movie), who reveals that he had sapped Owen, but while his attention was elsewhere, Owen came to and sped off quickly. It’s assumed by Marlowe that Marty is telling the truth, and therefore the chauffeur drove off the pier in a confused mental state. This incident, however, didn’t make it into The Big Sleep.

So who killed Owen Taylor? In The Big Sleep, Brody is otherwise much the same as Marty in the original short story. Can we assume that events followed a similar course? (Before going back and reading closely, I had the idea that Owen had been done in by the same character who committed the murder in “The Curtain,” which made for a more elegant theory and a shorter explanation, but the theory didn’t hold up under examination.) Brody doesn’t live long enough to tell Marlowe the same story Marty told, but with the parallels between the two stories, he’s the best fit. We’ll say the evidence is circumstantial, and we’ll never know because the sentence was carried out on him before we could find out — let’s just say “Joe did it. Sort of.”

And what of Chandler? Did he forget what he wrote before? It seems unlikely, given that he must have looked closely at the story while he was rewriting much of it for the novel. I would speculate instead that he preferred looking a little foolish than bringing up the stories he cannibalized for the book. Anyway, to Chandler, the details of the plot were secondary to character and mood. He expressed scorn for most mystery writers (Dashiell Hammett being a notable exception) with their railway timetables, alibis, and unmasking scene in the living room. He didn’t care to revive a story he’d already recycled, and a neat, mechanical mystery and solution were never his first priority.

Friday, July 24, 2020

walking haiku

Come here, butterflies!
With every random zigzag
You refill my soul.

One of these flowers is the butterfly.
It occurred to me while walking that one of my favorite Walt Kelly quotes, with the addition of only a couple of punctuation marks and line returns, is a very serviceable haiku:
There is, unerring,
Magic in the stumbling flight
Of the butterfly.
And so there is, and it would be a shame to forget it.
.