Sunday, July 31, 2011

je propre la nuit, part 29

by jean-claude etranger

illustrated by roy dismas

part twenty-nine of fifty-two

to begin at the beginning, click here

nothing had prepared ricky for this - walking down the highway in the rain, under an umbrella held by a little man who might be ...

part 30

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Scottish Play; or, Stand Not Upon the Order of Your Going, But Go at Once

by Dan Leo

illustrated by konrad kraus and rhoda penmarq

Mr. Y’s entire life was a piece of
underground performance art
and so it was no great leap really when
he became an actor.

One time he played Banquo in Macbeth
(known in the theatre world as the bad luck play,
a play even the title of which
must not ever be spoken,
lest calamity ensue)
and on the last night of the run
after finishing his last scene
he yanked off his false beard and his wig,

wiped the spirit gum and make-up from his face,
changed into his street clothes,
and sat down in his dressing room chair
with a can of beer,
waiting for the play to end
so he could go out to the bar
with the rest of the cast.
Imagine his surprise
when the stage manager
came in and yelled:

“Mr. Y! What are you doing?
You’re on again in two minutes!”
Mr. Y had forgotten he had
one more scene to do.
Desperately he put down his beer,
Stripped off some of his street clothes,
threw on some of his costume,
slapped some spirit gum onto his face along with
some tufts of fake beard, clapped on his wig,

poured some fake blood over his head,
then ran out onto the stage,
and played the scene.

The audience was appalled and moved
by the horrible frightening spectre
of Banquo’s ghost.

Then Mr. Y went backstage,
pulled off the ragged tufts of beard
and the wig, wiped off the spirit gum and fake blood,
changed his clothes,
sat down,
and finished his
can of beer.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian, chapter 20: "Wolverington"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo *

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and konrad kraus

*Ass’t Professor of Classics and Elocution, Olney Community College; editor of No Place Like Nowhere: Selected Early Poems of Horace P. Sternwall (1936-1941); Olney Community College Press.

Contrary to what nearly everyone thought, Lord Wolverington was in fact legally entitled to the term of address “Lord”, being the 25th (and last) Baron Wolverington, but he could never go back to England, no, not after being cashiered from the 5th Royal Horse Guards for conduct unbefitting an officer in 1914 (something involving a French farm lad and a bottle of absinthe on the eve of the first Battle of the Marne),

not after selling off the family lands acre by acre to pay his gambling and legal debts, not after finally losing the familial manse itself in a game of whist in 1922 (his old school friend “Poof” Smith-Jones had written him recently to inform him that the present owners had turned the old pile into a “country inn”; the ground floor front was now a pub, complete with jukebox and pinball machines, whereas the big hall had been turned into a dance hall, complete with a traditional jazz band),
not after that terrible scene at Pratt’s in 1927 when Wolverington’s special chum Lord Messingham fell or jumped or perhaps even was pushed out of the window of the steward’s quarters to his untimely death impaled on the spiked railing below on the pavement of Park Place.

for complete episode, click here

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Eighty-Six: "That's entertainment!"

In our previous episode Frank revealed to our heroes that he and the Rat Pack were in fact denizens of a planet “far, far away” called Swampoodle. As if that weren’t weird enough, it turns out that the night club they’re all in is part of a vast flying saucer floating between the earth and the moon, but invisible from the earth because it’s in another dimension, called Fishtown. This is too much for Daphne, and she bursts into a laughing fit.

(Completists may go here to start our epic from the beginning.)

Everyone waited, and when Daphne had calmed down a bit, Dick -- wanting to change the subject, but also genuinely curious -- said, “Frank, I wonder if I might I ask a question?”

Frank waved an indulgent hand.

“The spacemen in the flying saucer -- the little spacemen -- why did they look like -- like --”

“Like spacemen?” said Frank.

“Thank you. Whereas you fellows look like, well -- you know. Plus all these other people here -- they look like --”

“People?” suggested Frank, not unsuavely.

“Exactly,” said Dick. “I mean I presume they’re all, uh, Swampoodlers also.”

“That is correct,” said Frank. “We are all Swampoodlers here.”

Daphne, her beautiful eyes bulging, held her fist steadfastly over her mouth.

“So what gives?” asked Dick.

“Mr. Ridpath,” said Frank, “I have been in this business a very long time, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s ‘Give the people what they want’. It’s like my very good friend Joe E. Lewis says: ‘They want shit, give ‘em shit.’ You earthlings don’t want us to look like you. You want bug-eyed monsters, we give you bug-eyed monsters. Now when we’re here in, uh, Fishtown --” He paused, glancing at Daphne, but she maintained her composure. “When we are in this alternate dimension we are able to assume any shape we damn well please, just as in dreams. And when we pass through the wall into your reality we retain that particular corporeal reality so to speak.”

“That’s far fuckin’ out,” said Harvey.

“Indeed it is, my young friend,” said Frank.

“So what the hell do you really look like?” asked Harvey.

“I don’t think you wanta know that, Sonny-Jim,” said Dean, with a languid smile.

“I will take your word for that, sir,” said Harvey.

Helen Bedd had finished stripping and gone off, and a singer was onstage now, it was Johnnie Ray, or someone very much like Johnnie Ray, circa 1956.

“So,” said Daphne, showing she was back in charge of herself and able to hold an intelligent conversation like a well-brought-up person, “just to be sure I’m following all this -- you are not really Frank, and these guys are not really the Rat Pack.”

“Mrs. Ridpath, we are better than that. We are the quintessence of the Rat Pack.”

“Okay. I’m confused,” said Daphne.

“Perhaps another cocktail?” suggested Frank.


Frank waved to two waiters who stood respectfully nearby in their worn little red jackets, and they quickly came over. The one guy was played by Wally Cox, the other one was Arnold Stang.

“Another round, boys, same for everybody, and tell the bartender to put some booze in them this time. And get Harvey a real drink. What about a whiskey, Harve? Four Roses? Schenley’s?”

“I’ll take a Jack Daniel’s,” said Harvey. “On the rocks, please. And another beer.”

“Beer and a Jack,” said Frank. “Make it a double Jack. Doubles for everybody.”

Wally and Arnold dashed away in between the crowded tables.

“I think you guys are really weird,” said Daphne.

“Look who’s talking,” said Joey. “A human dame.”

“Zip it, Joey,” said Frank.

“Well, I’m only sayin’,” said Joey.

“Zip,” said Frank.

“So I’m zipping already,” said Joey.

“So, like,” said Harvey, “you’re just pretending to be Frank and the Rat Pack?”

“Well -- I wouldn’t say pretending,” said Frank.

“That’s pathetic,” said Harvey.

“What, you don’t think we’re cool?” said Joey. “What would you like us to be, Herman’s Hermits?”

“Joey --” said Frank.

“Awright,” said Joey, “I’m zippin’, I’m zippin’, I’m zipped.”

“Okay, uh, moving on,” said Dick, “if I may --”

“Please do, sir,” said Frank.

“Okay,” said Dick. He paused, for just a moment. “I’m wondering, just what are you doing exactly, you know, visiting the earth and, um, flying around in flying saucers, assuming human shape? You’re obviously far more advanced than us, so why the hell are you fooling around on our little planet? Is it scientific research, or -- are you trying to take over -- or -- I mean, what’s in it for you guys?”

Dick was quite serious, but the Rat Pack all seemed rather amused, and Joey and Dean even had to stifle laughter. Frank raised a finger to keep the boys in line, then addressed Dick.

“One word, Mr. Ridpath: entertainment.”

“Entertainment,” said Dick.

“Yes,” said Frank. “It’s you humans. We can’t get enough of you. You and your favorite pastimes: sex, war, and insanity.”

To this Dick said nothing.

Daphne stubbed out her cigarette, pressing her tongue against the inside of her cheek.

Harvey studied his empty beer bottle.

“Okay,” said Frank, addressing Dick in particular, “perhaps you are offended by my candor and I can understand this. But you will I hope grant me this: you humans are a hoot, a laugh a minute, and never a dull moment. Always somethin’ happenin’. Now our race --”

“The Swampoodlers,” said Daphne, not laughing at all now.

“Yeah,” said Frank. “Well, we are a very ancient race, and dare I say a very wise race --”

“We’re the wiseguys,” said Joey.

“Joey, please.”

“Sorry, Frank.”

“We are,” said Frank, “we are -- oh, good, the drinks --”

Wally Cox and Arnold Stang arrived with the new round of drinks and started laying them down.

Frank picked up his double Four Roses Manhattan and held it up so that the stage lights shone through it.

“Ah, post time,” he said, and he took an appreciative sip. “So, where was I? Lost my fuckin’ train of thought --”

“You’re a very ancient and wise race,” said Dick.

“Correct. Ancient, wise -- wise and ancient -- and, well, let’s just say we’ve evolved a little bit past all this, you know -- war, insanity --”

“And sex?” asked Daphne.

“Yes,” said Frank.

“Oh, brother,” said Daphne, and without waiting for Arnold Stang to lay down her own double Manhattan, she reached up, took it off his tray, and took a good long gulp.

(Continued here; soon to be a major motion picture from RKO, starring Lawrence Tierney, Ida Lupino, and the Bowery Boys; written, directed and produced by Larry Winchester.)

je propre la nuit, part 28

by jean-claude etranger

illustrated by roy dismas

part twenty-eight of fifty-two

to begin at the beginning, click here

"so this is what it all comes down to," clyde thought bitterly.

part 29

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Black Sky Dot (2): Heavy Guy

The big guy grunted as he ran, short piglike farts of sound seeming to emanate not from his bubbling lips but from somewhere deep within the flabby, pale mountain, now tattooed red by resistive underbrush where the torn remains of a dirty wife-beater did not hide it.

The soft green-gold light pouring from the thick growth above did not show him which way to go in the blind green maze, but the thin whine in his left headset did, its shrill discord resolving occasionally to a clear endless sixty-cycle bleep when he turned his lumbering course across the beacon's hidden cry. Every now and then  he stopped and read the harmonics his sensors fed him, moving his hairless, wire-crowned and antennae-crested head slowly, silently, in the moist air.

There was some kind of combustion piston engine running much too near, its unsteadily changing ignition-note reported by EM filtration as distant doglike pants and yips in the forest to his right. Obviously, the machines had found his signature non-civilian and its movements purposeful. The engine didn't move nearer, but was almost certainly looking for him.

Overhead, there had been nothing for hours. No aircraft's radar glare, no sat or spaceplane's gentle scanning light-cones, no bat's shriek of IR hardware or purr of mech actuators had entered his trusty, expensive sensorium.
Still he ran.

He was heading for his number-one secure dropout spot, his seventh and greatest misappropriation of mission funds of this sort. He had squirreled away the tech and money to set it up for years, and had kept the terrain virgin, dropping off his private survival kit with an automated device he had built and programmed alone, in his basement.

The people he had worked for at the time were well aware of what went on in his basement, and of most if not all of his own less unique security measures. Building a major cyber in secret was impossible.

The device in question, however, had been built at his unnameable but certainly national-plus level employer's behest, to fulfil an overseas client's contract for the use of his employer's intelligence and assassination services under certain redacted circumstances.

Constructed well within the allowable range of operational parameters, the device had performed admirably, according to his superiors, not only fulfilling a needed correction of political destinies in a redacted country but apparently very politely crawling off to self-destruct somewhere deep and dark and randomly chosen afterward. At least, according to the final data evaluation of its last report to its masters, which had been conducted by some very fine minds both meaty and magnetic. All as above-board as it got in his line of work. He had even gotten a bonus.

That final report had been a lie concocted by a machine more cleverly fashioned than any had suspected. There had been hidden code in hardware memories, in seemingly-random magnetic fluctuations of the power core, in the control software for the left main eye.

The lobsterlike thing, after falsifying both the physical and electronic evidence of its own demise, had embarked upon a most piratical career, gathering needed materiels in the dead of city night and the brazen sun of the high seas. Many a store-room was despoiled and more than a few inheritances prematurely generated by the manylegged beast, invisible and swift by night and gleaming dull metallic red by day, before its job was finished and it came here to lie below the jungle mud, waiting for the maybe-never of this moment, growing and changing.

Now, wakened by an aetheric dogwhistle that eluded the ablest ears, it was awake and busy once again, though still unmoving.

The fat young man, who was really very worried, found its steady responsive whining very reassuring. Several options stopped being greyed out in the old-fashioned decision tree that hung always in the left bottom corner of his vision, changing colour and transparency as the big monocular visor responded to light conditions. He kept running, hoping not to see another bright blue flash from above.

Early that morning, in the small strange town that huddled on the reeking border of the jungle forty-three kilometers away, he had seen a pillar of blue, clear light descend from the sky. Nobody else had, but then again nobody else was wearing what he was wearing over his eyes as he approached the town, intending to check it for electronic signatures and move on. He meant to do the last three hundred and forty-seven kilometers of his escape run on foot, as he felt his employers would find that unlikely. He had been very fat since quite an early age, and had never demonstrated anything but hatred for the even remotely athletic requirements of life.

The light had played gently above the town for a few moments, and then vanished. He had not been able to read it, unfortunately. Opportunities for decrypting such things had been limited by extreme danger in the past, as they were now in different ways. Had his employers even suspected that he was able to detect the kind of transmissions he had coloured blue for convenience in his apparently spec but in fact rather personalised sensory gear, he would long ago have been mentally and physically disassembled in a faceless, numberless room on a nonexistent floor of some hospital or office tower somewhere.

Someone in this unknown town had just talked to God. That blue effulgence from above, coming from what should be and appeared to be empty orbital locations, he had seen before only on hot battlefields and occasionally in truly major civilian ops, Putin-sized hits and revolutionary riots.

He had identified previous targets for these obviously very black comms, by means of careful mousing about in ops records and good memory work on location data regarding occurrences. These included three deeply planted kill teams, one tactical artillery team, and one sapper company (obliterated minutes later in an unfortunate atomic event all parties concerned agreed to have been accidental and inexplicable).

He hadn't pushed his investigation of the matter, sticking to known hacks and moving very little data, but he had been interested. Anything he didn't know about interested him. Obviously, the blue sky comms were well above his level, and appeared to use particle techniques he had been developing experimentally himself in great secrecy. He had felt a bit jealous.

Now he was a bit gratified by the attention, if rather frightened. He was obviously being considered a big fish, now that he was out of their pond and into the world-ocean. This was the second blue flash he had seen since leaving his masters' service, without notice and with a head full of the black and devious clockmaker's arts he had grown wise in, under their distant but near-omniscient guidance.

The first had given him the only warning even his sharp ears and mind had gotten of trouble catching up, flickering down through the otherwise innocent if cluttered sky and aether above the narrow stone street he was walking as he approached the little shopfront he operated from in Besançon.

He had immediately fled in a series of vehicles, his cufflinks easily activating the nearest car as his hidden breastplate and dorsal plates suddenly shrieked mad confusion to every sensor in a three-kilometer bubble. The liquid silver of their computing gel substrate had heated him painfully inside his enormous and well-tailored navy blue suit (a patentable but personal blend of wool and Faraday fabrics) as the systems drank power from their batacitors.

Now he took warning again. Either he had been detected, or he had been tracked. His last best hope was stillborn. Now he ran towards his last worst fear, hoping to ride a hell-horse out of the fire that was springing up around him. There had been no more blue flashes from the sky, but there had been encrypted radio comms and the dense, complex emissions characteristic of electronic equipment moving around the area since then. He had simply begun moving as rapidly as possible towards his final goal, undoing the protective encryptions around his last resort as he ran.

If he was stopped, he would unlock the gates. He didn't want to do that, for the sake of the people and animals in the area, but he would do it for a last chance at making it out of the situation. He pressed on over the treacherous, root-filled ground that floored this trackless but at least relatively dry route, ignoring his wracked and shuddering musculature and pain-rived chest. If he failed, the machines would know what to do.

Peter Greene 2007.

gull museum tour ( guide heart attack)/title: broken poem

                        gull   museum    tour   ( guide    heart  attack)

         -and this
                     is  hauteryx (
           a    rough   tr
                              translation )
      chief    of   a   thousand
                             nations  - thus
 ( he   died  ,   with   the   greatest poems
       of    his      life
                   un ·

! they  all    spoke
                      the   one   proud  tongue

                title:  broken poem
                             (upon his lips)

Peter Greene 2011.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mr. Y at the Beach

by Dan Leo

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and konrad kraus

Mr. Y was a slight little chap.
He always dressed in black or dark clothes,
years before it was fashionable to do so,
the only other person who dressed in black
at that time was Johnny Cash.

Mr. Y also always wore a pair
of black “Beatle boots”,
and I wondered where he found them;
these also were not the style of the day.
He told me that his mother bought them for him
at some shop up in their neighborhood;
I’m not sure where he said she bought them,

probably Thom McAn, or possibly the
shoe department at Sears or Robert Hall;
years before she had gone in
and bought him his first pair
of black Beatle boots,
with the zipper up the side
(Mr. Y never went with her;
she did all his clothes shopping for him);
anyway, Mr. Y would wear the boots for
a year or so and when they started to wear out

his mother would take them back to the shop
and say, “Look, these boots have worn out already;
I want a replacement pair.” For some reason they
always gave her a replacement pair.
Mr. Y’s mother had been recycling the same pair
of black Beatle boots for Mr. Y for years;
the store must have kept in a permanent supply
just for her, so that they would always have a
another free pair ready when she came in
again in a year, complaining that the boots
had worn out.

Mr. Y always wore clip-on dark lenses over his
prescription glasses, day or night, inside or out.

He was from Northeast Philadelphia but he spoke
with a slight mid-Atlantic accent, sort of a cross
between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley
and Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came in
From the Cold.

He never smoked, but at one time he would
walk around with an unlit cigarette in his
mouth; he called this “Robert Blaking it”
because Robert Blake walked around
(and chased criminals)
with an unlit cigarette in his lips in Baretta.

One day we were all down the shore, in Cape May,
the whole gang of reprobates.
We went to the beach
and we sat on our towels and blankets,

hungover, putting in an hour or two
until it was time to hit the bars again.

Everyone wore bathing suits or cut-offs
everyone that is except for Mr. Y.
He sat there in the hot sand in his dark clothes,
and his Beatle Boots, with his clip-on shades,
sweating, his face turning red.

Then the beach tag checker came by.
If you didn’t have a beach tag you had
to buy one.

“Hey, Mr. Y, the beach tag checker is
coming. You gonna buy a beach tag?”
Mr. Y was no fool. He was not about to
spend the little pocket money his mother
gave him on anything but beer.

And so he lay down, face-first, on the sand,
no blanket or towel, in his dark clothes
and his Beatle boots, and his glasses with the
clip-on shades.
The beach tag girl came by;
those of us who didn’t have
tags bought them. All except for Mr. Y.
The girl looked at this small slight figure
in dark clothes and Beatle boots,
lying motionless face down in the sand,

like a man who had been taken out here and shot
the night before,
and then she walked on.
After she had moved safely off down the beach
I said, “It’s okay, now, Mr. Y. She’s gone.”

Mr. Y pushed himself up, and sat up again in the sand.
He took an old cigarette out of his shirt pocket,
put it in his mouth,
and gazed out toward the ocean.

je propre la nuit, part 27

by jean-claude etranger

illustrated by roy dismas

part twenty-seven of fifty-two

to begin at the beginning, click here

"no, i don't think so."

"hey, why not?"

"let's go."

part 28

Monday, July 25, 2011

je propre la nuit, part 26

by jean-claude etranger

illustrated by roy dismas

part twenty-six of fifty-two

to begin at the beginning, click here

"perhaps you would like me to accompany you - if you are not going too far, that is."

ricky stared at barnabas. " thanks, but i don't know where i'm going."

"i have an umbrella."

part 27

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Better Than Fine

For weeks, Zach followed Vida Korbett at a careful distance through the Younger Institute’s elegant curving hallways. Long before they were introduced, he sought an impression of her in his rare still moments. Every time he worked in Washington, D.C., he took surreptitious pleasure in the way her long legs propelled her rhythmically forward, the action of her hem grazing the backs of her knees, and the streaming of her shiny, reddish-blonde hair, which swung when she turned and settled in loose waves around her shoulders when she paused. Zach’s senses grew keen whenever she passed the open door of a committee session he was attending. Yet he listened in vain for her voice, deciding on his own that it must be low, almost throaty, and so steeped in knowledge she deliberately added a vaguely sweet silence between sentences.

(Click here for the first episode; here for the previous one.)

Finally, she attended a seminar on public policy. At either end of a middle row, they waited until the last speaker finished before passing the people separating them, saying, “Excuse me,” and “Awkward, I know, but I must get by,” until they faced each other in the narrow confines. When they shook hands, “How do you do? I’ve been meaning to meet you,” both on full wattage, their similar style at the same game, made them laugh. They had heard quite good things about each other, and laughed at that too—and at how obviously and avidly they were about to pursue each other.

Zach gleaned Vida’s attitude and humor as quickly as he had put together the details he had watched during the weeks before they met. She regarded her voluptuous beauty, in which she seemed entirely secure, like a perk, as trivial yet prestigious as a preferred parking place. Zach, however, found her soft, shapely mouth and big, many-hued eyes (her pale brown irises took on the colors of her surroundings) extraordinary. Her plump chin looked as smooth and rich as a scoop of ice cream. Her luscious appearance was as strong and commanding as his.

As Director of Development, Vida headed the Institute’s entire fund-raising operation; she oversaw twenty to thirty employees and interns, training and inspiring them to gather capital, meaning she would have impressed Zach even if her dimpled cheeks and ample figure didn’t fascinate him.

After their first meeting, Vida took Zach to dinner. Three times in three weeks they ate at a discreet and private club to which Vida had belonged since graduate school. The dining staff kept her favorites in stock. She liked single malt scotch, Veuve Cliquot, Chateauneuf du Pape, Sancerre, soft-shelled crabs, lamb chops, filet mignon, tamarind sorbet, and many kinds of bitter dark chocolate. She also liked, and the club also provided, micro-brewed beer, Kosher hot dogs, and super skinny French fries. The fourth week, Zach took her to the Capital Grille, after which she invited him to her townhouse in Georgetown.

Her wholesome, prolonged sexual pleasure spurred Zach’s endurance and prompted him to employ his cache of erotic tricks. That was their first time. Past that, he abandoned all calculations—no conscious maneuverings. He succumbed to Vida and they experienced high-flying coupling, after which, they lay drenched in each other. Zach felt as if he and Vida could reconfigure time. Her innate power made Zach’s double life simple. In fact, he didn’t think of it as a double life at all. Vida had triggered something magical in Zach, so that he lived as two separate men at once.

Although, perhaps the first Zach’s life wasn’t quite so simple. In New York, sleeping with his wife, another dream unreeled, and his nights with Beth began to feel like a rodeo. He dreamed repeatedly of straddling two galloping horses, one foot squarely on each animal’s back. The wild horses ran faster and faster until they veered in opposite directions. He often woke with a cry that woke Beth, who assumed it was she who had screamed and woken him. For, of course, Zach never screamed—never had and never would, Beth believed. She apologized for waking him and grew teary, confessing that a nameless but terrible fear seized her whenever she closed her eyes.

“Something is wrong,” she said. Her every intuition hovered over an as-yet undetected fault that was already ruining them.

And Zach told her, “No, sweetheart. Nothing’s wrong. Everything’s fine. Better than fine. All our wishes are coming true.”

(click here for the next episode)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian, chapter 19: gramercy 7 - 5316

by manfred skyline

illustrated by rhoda penmarq
and roy dismas

"collinson residence."

"mister collinson, please."

"which mister collinson would you like to speak to, sir?"

"uh - the mister collinson that got arrested the other night, on various and sundry charges the primary of which was white slavery. that mister collinson."

"i see. are you with the press, sir?"


"i rejoice to hear it. might you be a member of the legal fraternity?"

"no, but i was recommended to call by a lawyer. my name is vance, victor vance and i am a fully licensed private investigator. mister wiley suggested that i call. mister collinson is expecting someone recommended by mister will wiley and that's me. am i making myself clear?"

"perfectly , sir."


"do you have a phone number where you can be reached?"

"yeah - gramercy 7 - 5316."

"thank you. i hope i am not being rude, sir, but might that be a pay phone?'

"no, it's a perfectly respectable bar and grill. al's bar. have him ask for vic vance. if i ain't here, ask for lou gracchus."

for complete episode, click here

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 85: Swampoodle

Larry Winchester (author of this third-place prize-winner of the Fredric Brown Award for Most Unjustly Obscure American Novel) now leaves us in suspense as to the fate of Enid and Hope and switches scene again to the swingin’ Samba Room, where Dick, Daphne and Harvey have found themselves hosted by Frank and the Rat Pack...

(Click here for our previous episode; go here for the barely-remembered first chapter.)

The room had gotten smokier, more crowded, more drunken. Tony Anthony had been replaced by a stripper (“Helen Bedd”, a blond Russ Meyer type), backed up by a jazz combo, four seen-it-all-done-it-all pros in smokestained old tuxedos.

The waiters had cleared away the dinner plates and brought on a fresh round of cocktails.

“Okay,” said Frank, “I’m sure our new friends are wondering, just what the hell is the deal here? Am I right?”

He turned to Dick.

“Well,” said Dick, “I was rather wondering just where the hell we are.”

“An enormous space station,” said Frank, “slowly circling through space between your very lovely green and thriving planet and your almost equally lovely albeit barren and lifeless moon. But, I might add, quite invisible to the human eye, and in fact, immaterial according to your own quaint concept of what is and what is not material.”

“Oh,” said Dick. “Immaterial.”

He didn’t look entirely convinced.

“Ya, see, Mr. Ridpath,” said Frank, “we are in a whatcha might call a different state of reality, a, uh --”

“Another dimension?” said Harvey. He was the only one drinking beer, a Falstaff.

“Right!” said Frank. “Another dimension. It’s kinda like your whatchamacallit dream-state, a universe that co-exists with your universe but cannot be seen from your universe -- although, oddly enough, one can in fact see your dimension from this dimension.”

“So we’re kinda like ghosts up in here,” said Harvey.

“Uh --” Frank hesitated.

“Or angels,” said Daphne.

“Well, yyyeah --” said Frank, seeming to concede some faint but dubious value to the above suppositions.

“And the only way you can get into this, uh, dimension,” said Dick, “is in one of those, those --”

“Flying saucers,” said Frank, “right.”

He clicked open his gold cigarette case, took out a cigarette, tapped its end on the table.

“So,” said Dick, “you -- people -- are from -- this, this other dimension?”

“Oh, no,” said Frank, lighting his cigarette with his thin gold lighter, “we’re from a planet much like yours, ‘cept it’s like a billion trillion whatever light-years away.”

“I knew it!” said Daphne. “What’s the name of your planet?”

“Well --” said Frank, “you won’t laugh, right? Humans always laugh.”

“I won’t laugh,” said Daphne.

“You promise,” said Frank.

“Scout’s honor,” said Daphne, raising her right hand in the Girl Scout salute.

“Swampoodle,” said Frank.

“Swampoodle?” said Daphne.

“Swampoodle,” Frank said again.

Daphne laughed, but put her hand over her mouth.

“See?” said Frank, addressing the rest of the Pack, “they always laugh.”

Dean, Sammy, Joey, Peter, and Richard Conte all murmured in assent, or nodded, or both.

“Sorry,” said Daphne, and then immediately put her knuckle against her lovely lips again.

“So --” said Dick, to the rescue as usual, “uh, if you’re from -- Swampoodle?” Daphne tried but could not suppress another peal of laughter. “Um, why -- “ Dick hesitated, trying to think it out, “why this, this other dimension?”

“Well, ya see,” said Frank, “back on Swamp--” Again Daphne couldn’t hold it in, and now she held both hands over her mouth. Frank sighed and went on: “back on our ‘home planet’ -- about a million years ago, we invented a device which enables us to travel the vast reaches of interstellar space in quite reasonable amounts of time. Now this device, which we call the Reality Woofer --”

“The what?” asked Daphne.

“The Reality Woofer.”

Daphne snorted.

“Oh, my God, Frank, I’m sorry,” she said, speaking through her fingers, her shoulders hunched.

Dick and Harvey just managed to control the urge to laugh, while all the Rat Pack remained stonily impassive, most notably Frank:

“Perhaps I should continue some other time,” he said.

“Oh, no, Frank,” said Daphne, “please. Do go on. I promise I’ll behave.”

“Okay,” said Frank, taking a sip of his Four Roses Manhattan, “so -- we invented this, uh, this ‘device’, which, when installed into one of our flying saucers, enables us to travel through the uh -- the --” Daphne still chuckled from behind her hand, but Frank sighed and went on -- “the, uh, whaddyacallit, the --”

“Vast reaches of space?” suggested Dick.

“Right,” said Frank, “the vast reaches of whatever, by enabling us to enter into this different, uh, dimension in which we can travel these, uh, these --”

“Vast reaches,” said Dick.

“Right,” said Frank. “At the speed of thought. On accounta the normal rules of physics don’t apply here.”

“Like in dreams,” offered Daphne, getting a grip.

“Kinda --” said Frank, as in, Well, no, not really.

“And how quick exactly is the speed of thought?” asked Dick.

“Oh, it’s very quick,” said Frank. “All you gotta do is get out on the road so to speak, build up a little speed, engage the, uh --”

“The Woofer!” cried Daphne. “The Reality Woofer!”

“Right,” said Frank, frowning but going on. “Then you burst through the wall between dimensions and, like, boom -- you’re on your way. One of our top of the line Reality Woofer ships can make it from here to Swamp -- to our world in like two hours, two hours and change. And we’re talking about sixty-nine trillion billion miles, light-years, whatever.”

“Far,” said Joey.

“Right,” said Frank. “Far.”

“So,” said Dick, “it’s like: you use this Woofer thing to go from your world into this other dimension to get to here, and then I guess when you want to go to the earth you have to use the Woofer thing again to get out of this, uh --”

“Twilight zone,” said Harvey.

“Well, we don’t call this dimension the Twilight Zone, Harvey,” said Frank. “It’s called Fishtown.” He turned to Daphne. “You can laugh now, Mrs. Ridpath.”

“I’m not laughing,” she said.

She took a cigarette from the platinum case which had been supplied to her. Sammy reached all the way across the table to give her a light with his lighter which was identical to Frank’s.

“Thank you,” she said.

She exhaled a great cloud of smoke and then burst into uncontrollable laughter.

(Continued here; soon to be a 37-part mini-series from The Pennzoil Hall of Fame on the Dumont Network, starring Dane Clark, Martha Vickers, Edd “Kookie” Byrnes, Thomas Gomez, Priscilla Lane, and Akim Tamiroff; written, directed and produced by Larry Winchester.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Most Boring Person

by Dan Leo

illustrated by konrad kraus

We had a friend in the crowd

I’ll call him Mr. X.

God only knows how he got in the crowd,

but we weren’t that exclusive,

and it wasn’t as if anyone was knocking down

doors trying to get in our crowd anyway.

But this Mr. X, sad to say,

was a bit of a dullard;

however, he had a car, and he had a job,

he was a plumber, so he had money,

which most of the rest of us rarely

had because we rarely worked,

and what money we made

we quickly spent on booze and beer;

so he definitely had his uses, especially to

one dude whom I’ll call Mr. Y, who

absolutely never worked and never had any money

except some pocket change his poor hard-working

working-class mother gave him.

But Mr. X chauffeured Mr. Y around

and bought him beer.

The guy wanted to belong to something

I suppose,

and we were it.

One awful night we sat around the dining room table

of some wretched row house,

drinking, and a relative stranger to the crowd

posited the question: “Okay,

who’s the most boring person you know?”

A chill went through that wretched dirty smoke-filled

room in a wretched falling down row house in a

wretched and poor Philadelphia neighborhood.

Uneasily the baton was passed from man to man.

“Uh, it’s, uh, so and so.

“Ha ha, yeah, that guy’s pretty dull.”

“Well, for me I gotta say it’s that guy


“Oh, yeah, right, he’s a bore-ass all right.”

And so on…

When it came Mr. X’s turn

he said some other dull guy’s name

and everybody said, “Oh, yeah, boring guy,

real boring guy.”

But then it finally came to Mr. Y.

Please don’t say it, Mr. Y,” we all thought. “Please.

Don’t fucking say it.

But, after a short dramatic pause,

Mr. Y pointed a finger at Mr. X and he said what we were

all afraid he would say:

“It’s you, Mr. X.


You’re the most boring person I know!

The heavens didn’t crack open.

Mr. X, who easily could have

broken Mr. Y in two,

did not break him in two.

In fact they remained friends,

if you could call them friends,

and why not call them friends,

and he continued as Mr. Y’s chauffeur

and patron,

at least for another year or two, or three,

until he got too caught up in wife and kids,

or maybe his wife laid down the law,

I have no idea.

Maybe at heart he knew he wasn't

all that exciting,

and he was just glad to be able to

hang around with guys who weren’t

as boring as he was.

And so at least maybe he knew

how boring he was,

which was a hell of a lot more

than you could say about

anyone else in that crowd.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011