Wednesday, August 31, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian, chapter 26: shirley

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas

"she can't dance, she's going to have to learn to sing."

those were the first words shirley remembered hearing, in a dressing room in alberta or maybe it was a hotel room in manitoba. shirley's parents were vaudevillians of the old school and had performed the exact same song and dance act up to eight times a day for three hundred days a year for ten years by the time shirley was born and fourteen years after that before her father ran off with a "bad woman", strangled her, and was sentenced to life imprisonment in washington state.

"we'll ask adele, see what she thinks." adele was her mother's best friend and her father's severest critic. she too had an act that she performed exactly the same way eight times a day etc and was usually booked at the same time and place as shirley's mother and father. adele's act was "goldilocks and the three blind mice". adele, in a blonde marie antoinette wig, would belt out old standards while three trained mice - one white, one pink, and one black - crawled and capered over the blonde wig, and her bare shoulders and large bosom.

for complete episode, click here

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Woman Trouble

The sun rose from the neighboring golf course, through the tiered, flowery window-treatment opposite the bentwood banister supporting Zach’s throbbing head. He woke remorseful and sour-smelling, hours before Beth and the children—lucky to escape a confrontation with anyone but himself before his morning shower, shave, coffee and toast.

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

He drove to Columbia well ahead of the morning rush, closed the blinds to his office and shed the constrictive Boy Scout uniform, along with its chafing residue—the all-night slough of a guilty conscience.

The campus hadn’t risen for the day either, allowing him to work out at the gym free from hearty hellos and good-mornings.

After forty minutes on the elliptical machine and twenty on the recumbent bicycle, his pangs of conscience lost their sting. He felt as if a storm had passed. He showered, shaved, ate a small breakfast and returned to his office with a tall double latte, his usual composure restored. Mentally, he tested it. The ground felt as solid as if he had never stepped knee-deep in mire.

At nine-thirty, busy assistants and secretaries further solidified his position. He drew his office blinds open to blue sky and green grass and phoned Beth.

“Don’t hang up, baby. Let me apologize.”

“I’ve already called a divorce lawyer, Zach. The one Isabelle used last year.”

“Beth, let’s be calm. I’m asking you to forgive me. Can’t we try counseling first? I know you’ve pleaded with me for years. You’re always right. I’m sorry and want to make amends.”

“Ha,” Beth snorted, in part from physical pain. “I’m always right—you say that and treat me like I’m an idiot. You need to know, Zach, I’m seeing a doctor who’ll document the damage.”

“Beth, honey, how bad is it? God, I’m sorry. Bruises, swelling, what else?”

“I haven’t decided if I should go straight to the emergency room or to the dentist.”

“Beth, Jeez. Don’t do anything that can’t be undone until we discuss the next step. If I drive home right now, will you sit down with me?”

“Stay away, Zach. Call your lover and tell her you’re free.”

“If you say the word, honey, I’ll never see her again.”

Beth laughed.

“Beth. What I did makes me sick. But you have the reflexes of a pro. You turned your head—I barely clipped you.”

Her voice softened, almost to a whisper. “I think Matt knows. The bruises above my jaw are obviously your knuckles. I covered them with make-up and popped a couple of painkillers. But before he left for school, Matt asked if I was okay. And when he kissed me good-bye, he moved toward the injured side and then pulled back and kissed my other cheek.”

“I’ll call him.”

“Zach, don’t. Give us some time. Maybe I won’t show the bruises to a lawyer. But don’t fool yourself. I’m divorcing you for the best settlement—that is, the biggest settlement I can get.”

He hung up, closed his eyes, and gathered his books. At ten-thirty he met with his teaching assistants. At eleven-thirty, he called Vida. When the receptionist said she wasn’t there, he asked for Sally, her secretary, who said, “Didn’t she tell you she’s taking a leave of absence? She won’t be coming into the office for at least a year.”

“A year? Since when?”

“Since very recently. Call her mobile.”

He hadn’t made the trip to Washington last week because it was Rosalind’s fourteenth birthday. And last night was the ceremony for his undeserved twenty-fifth Eagle Scout anniversary. If Vida wasn’t working, something had happened.

“Hello, Zach.” She sounded even more matter-of-fact than usual.

“Sally said you’ve taken a leave of absence. What’s happened?”

“Something I’ve always wanted without realizing how much I wanted it until a few months ago.”


“If you’re not too busy to see me, I’ll tell you. But not over the phone.”

“Vida, I know I haven’t been as attentive lately as I should have been. But I love you as much as ever—more. All this extra time I’ve been spending in New York was so we could be together. And now it’s done:  I’m divorcing Beth.”

“Tell me another one and maybe I’ll laugh.”

“No, I’ve been hammering this out all year. I’m divorcing Beth to marry you.”

“Too bad you didn’t say that a year ago. We might have made a happy family.”

“Why not now?”

“Because in the last several weeks, I’ve learned what I want in life—and what I don’t.”

“What? You’ve found religion?”

She laughed long and hard enough for him to realize that both Beth and Vida were laughing at him today. He stated critical intentions, wishes, and apologies and both women laughed. The sound echoed so that at the back of his mind, their mocking hilarity ran together, Vida’s duplicating Beth’s and Beth’s foretelling Vida’s.

Vida was still laughing. “I’ve dropped enough hints. I may as well tell you.”


“You’re sure you’re ready?”

“What is this? I’m always ready.”

“I’m pregnant, Zach. Both babies are healthy. The genetic tests came back two days ago. My doctor has given me the go-ahead, although I need to stay still. In another month, I’ll need complete bed rest.”

“How did this happen?”

She laughed louder than he could remember. “I can’t believe you actually said that. Do you want me to explain it to you?”

“All right, laugh all you want. I’m just surprised. Did you plan this?”

“Not really. I thought I’d missed my chance. By all indications, I was too old. It so happens, however, that last-gasp fraternal twins are not uncommon. I’m pregnant with two little girls.”

“Jesus, Vida! Twin daughters.”

“So will I see you at the Palm, twelve-thirty?”

“Maybe dinner would be better. I need to check on a few things.”

“Fuck you, then.”

“Vida, honey, cut me some slack. I’m beside myself here.”

“Take the shuttle. Be at The Palm by twelve-thirty.”

(click here for the next episode)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Baltimore Catechism, Part Two

Basically, if you died with a mortal sin on your soul you were screwed. For all eternity.

Fr. Murray said, "Okay, who can tell me how many Gods there are?" Gooney McFarland waved his hand furiously. "Okay, McFarland, how many Gods are there?" "There are three Gods! The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost!" "Wrong!" said Fr. Murray. Poor Gooney, he just didn't get it.

Of course in real life every Saturday afternoon we all went right from confession at St. Helena's to a double-bill of "Bad Movie" just two blocks down the street at the Fern Rock Theatre.

And I thought my old man was a tough guy.

Everyone in the class shifted uncomfortably in their seats when Fr. Murray explained this part.

Fr. Murray was trying to explain this one to us when all of a sudden there was this awful gagging sound from the back of the class. My first thought was that Gooney was acting up again, but it turned out it was little Timmy Ferguson, throwing up on his desk.

When Fr. Murray was talking about bad companions his eyes kept flickering over there to Gooney McFarland, sitting in the back row closest to the door.

With a tongue of fire on your head
You're bound for heaven when you're dead.

Too bad, Dad, you've been overruled.

I really wanted to see that new Steve Reeves "Roman" movie but I was racked with guilt because I had eaten a hot dog at Kresge's on a Friday.

Fr. Murray was explaining this one to us when Gooney McFarland started frantically waving his hand again. Finally Fr. Murray asked him what his question was, and after Gooney asked it he had to go up and lean over the desk while Fr. Murray got out the pingpong paddle.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 90: proposition

"Frank" has revealed to our heroes that Confucius, the Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had all been abducted by his alien race, the Swampoodlers, who had “planted in their brains these lovely ideas, whose import boiled down was really just: hey, don’t be a fucking asshole all your life. That’s all. Simple message…”

(Click here to read our previous episode; go here to return to the beginning of our exclusive serialization of the "director's cut" of this unqualified masterpiece from the inexhaustible Remington portable of Larry Winchester: “The one writer who makes Philip K. Dick seem normal, who makes Melville seem shallow, who makes Proust seem terse” -- Harold Bloom.)

“Okay,” said Dick. “Fine. So why are we here? Because if we’re supposed to set up some new religion or what-have-you I think you might have the wrong people.”

A smattering of laughter made its away around the Rat Pack.

“Y’know, fellas,” continued Dick, getting just a little bit pissed off, “I like to think I can take a joke with the best of them, but -- Jesus Christ --”

All the Rat Packers chuckled again, except for Joey, who said, “Hey, relax, pal! Wait’ll you hear our proposition.”

Just then Johnnie Ray came to the end of his act. He thanked everyone very much for being such a lovely audience, and he sent out a special hello to Frank and Dean and Joey and Sammy and Peter and Richard Conte and their charming guests. The band played him off the stage, and then segued into a steaming but cool jam of “Fernando’s Hideaway”.

“What’s this here proposition?” asked Harvey.

“To put it bluntly, my friend,” said Frank, “we would like to offer you good people a piece of the territory.”

“What territory?” asked Harvey.

“Why, the Earth of course,” said Frank.

“Holy shit,” said Harvey.

“You mean,” said Daphne, “like -- rulers of the Earth?”

“Not like,” said Frank. “Precisely.”

“Fuck,” said Harvey.

“Someone needs to take control down there,” said Frank. “Of course we’ll back you up. Spaceships, death rays, mass hypnosis -- whatever you need, all you gotta do is ask. And it goes without saying we will grant you virtual immortality on the physical plane -- barring unforeseen severe accidents, of course.”

Dick was the first to reply, after a pause.

“Frank, with all due respect, is this a joke?”

“No joke, my friend. For many years we have had our eyes on you three. And on the lovely young Hope too of course and what a shame she could not be here tonight.”

Harvey tapped a cigarette on the edge of his ashtray and muttered under his breath:

“Fuck this shit.”

“You see, my friends,” said Frank, “not only have we have been monitoring your progress for years, we have also on occasion done what we could to assure your progress. Harvey, it was no accident you broke your leg jumping out of that chopper, or that you just happened to burst in on Major Green doing the dirty with that nurse, thereby assuring that you would be relieved of all future combat duty.”

Dick and Daphne stared at Harvey quizzically. He would have to explain it all to them later, or let them read his memoirs.

“And, Dick,” continued Frank, “and you, Daphne -- I mean, not to take anything away from you guys, did you think it was just luck -- not to mention your not inconsiderable resourcefulness -- that you two have slipped through all those jams of yours unscathed? Brawls, shoot-outs, riots, revolutions, wars? Why do you think we arranged for you two to come to New Mexico? Why did you hook up with Harvey, and Hope? Yes, my friends, you three, with the aforementioned Hope, are the most advanced humans -- or in your case Mrs. Ridpath, half-human -- on your planet. You mentioned royalties before, Mr. Ridpath. Well, perhaps it’s only fitting that you very wonderful and may I say magnificent people should be the new -- and you should forgive my choice of words here -- the new and very all-powerful Royal Family of the Earth! And, may I say, your children, who I am most sure will be just as beautiful and talented as you good people -- starting with the child that you, Mr. Ridpath, have engendered in the aforementioned very lovely and nubile Miss Hope Johnstone --”

“Excuse me,” said Daphne, “what?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Mrs. Ridpath; you were not aware of Mr. Ridpath’s and Hope’s little tryst the other night --”

“What?” said Daphne.

“Yeah,” said Dick, “what?”

“Please Mrs. Ridpath,” said Frank, “do not be jealous. Dick didn’t know what he was doing.”


“We abducted him.”

“You what?” said Dick.

In your sleep,” said Frank. “Along with Hope. And under hypnosis we had you two shall we say make like the beast with two backs.”

“Makin’ whoopee,” said Sammy.

“Slam bam,” said Joey.

“Thank you, ma’am,” said Dean.

“And a good show it was, too,” said Peter.

“I’ve seen better,” said Richard Conte.

“Dick!” said Daphne.

“Darling,” said Dick, “this is all news to me.”

“Like I said,” said Frank, “you were both hypnotized. Please do not hold it against Dick, Mrs. Ridpath. You see, we had to see if he and Hope were compatible. Because it’s all part of the master plan, to breed a new Royal Family of the Earth. We hope that you, Mrs. Ridpath, and Harvey also will be willing to -- um, oh how shall I put it --”

“Hey, wait a minute, pal --” said Harvey.

Daphne grabbed her purse, tossed her cigarette case and lighter into it, and stood up.

“Okay,” she said. “I’ve had quite enough of this. Goodbye.”

She turned and walked off through the tables.

Dick quickly jumped up, not forgetting to pocket his own cigarettes and lighter, and hustled over to catch up with her and take her arm. She stopped, and fixed him with her flashing hazel eyes.

“What?” she said.

“Wait,” said Dick.

“What for?

“Well -- for me.”

She continued to look at him for a long moment. In the background the band was now playing “Caravan”.

“These people stink, Dick,” she said. “And I think their whole set-up stinks. And I don’t want any part of it. I want to go home. I want to go back to the earth.”

“All right then,” said Dick. “Let’s go.”

She paused again, then gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.

“Oh, just wait till I get you home, mister.”

Harvey had gotten up also, and he came over to them.

“You guys ain’t leavin’ without me,” he said.

“Right,” said Dick. “Well, let’s go then.”

Without looking back they walked on through the crowded room to the entrance. They came to the maître d’s stand, where Henry Silva stood very seriously with his arms folded, but before they could go past he came out from behind his little podium, blocking the path to the exit.

“May I ask where you’re going, sir?”

“Anywhere but here, buddy,” said Dick.

Henry held up his left hand.

“I’m afraid I can’t let you leave, sir.”

With his right hand he unbuttoned his tuxedo jacket, revealing the butt of a pistol protruding from his red cummerbund. He put his hand on the pistol but did not draw it.

Frank and his friends had all gotten up from the table and followed close behind Dick and Daphne and Harvey.

Dick looked from Henry back to the Rat Pack, who were all spread out in a semi-circle about six feet away.

“Mr. Ridpath,” said Frank, “Dick, let’s be reasonable. Where do you think you’re going and how do you think you’re going to get there?”

Daphne opened her gold lamé purse and looked into it.

“That’s it,” said Frank. “Have a cigarette. It will calm your nerves. Soothe your hurt feelings. Okay, I’ll be the first to admit, maybe we were just a bit out of line. You know, hypnotizing Dick and Hope and all, and having them, uh --”

“Do the nasty,” said Joey.

“Zip it, Joey,” said Frank.

“I’m zipped,” said Joey.

Daphne stuck her hand into the purse.

“Here,” said Frank, taking out his thin gold lighter and stepping forward, “allow me, Mrs. Ridpath.”

In a fluid half-second Daphne drew Dick’s Smith & Wesson Airweight .38 out of her purse, cocked it, and laid its muzzle right in the center of Frank’s broad forehead.

Everyone froze.

(To be continued. Soon to be a major television mini-series event starring Tori Spelling, Shannon Doherty, Jason Priestley, and Luke Perry. A David Susskind Production.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian, chapter 25: "Balls"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo*

illustrated by konrad kraus and rhoda penmarq

*Ass’t Professor of Classics; Ass’t Remedial English Coordinator; Olney Community College; editor of Triumph of the Damned: Seven Previously Uncollected Novellas of Horace P. Sternwall (1937-1942); Olney Community College Press; “The Sternwall Project”.

for complete episode, click here

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Baltimore Catechism, Part One

Sometimes it really sucked being a Catholic kid.

As one of the priests succinctly told us, "God didn't put you on this earth to have a good time."

So all you had to do was go to mass on a Sunday and then you got to chill out the rest of the day. Definitely one of the more reasonable rules. Except you had to go to mass or else if you died you would go to hell.

For some reason Jesus was in a furnace in the basement. I asked no questions.

Okay, so you're going to hell if you miss mass on a Sunday. Same punishment as for a mass murder. I began to have my doubts, but I kept silent, justifiably fearing the repeated thwacks of a nun's brass ruler on my tender outstretched palm.

What a drag it was when the priest came by for the yearly "visitation" and we had to act as if we were not insane. My father even had to put a shirt on over his undershirt.

There was no dilemma for me of course, no dilemma at all.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Wounded Beast

Beth staggered backward from his confession, her round face bobbing, looking much the way it did when they were first married—soft, sweet, and young.

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

The overhead fluorescent light flickered blue, casting a ghostly illumination that washed out her rosy complexion. After another step back, her eyes narrowed. The surprise confession prompted bitter laughter, which she repressed fast. And yet—he was in love with another woman after all. They stared at each other and their nineteen years of marriage vanished.

Zach’s animal instinct took over with a bestial desperation he had never known before. Beth hugged her robe tighter around her body.

Fear besieged him; he stood straighter and thrust out his chest to counter sickness and remorse.  He gaped watching his gentle, nurturing wife morph into a predator, an enemy of a different species. Within a timeless gap, she tipped her feral head to appraise him critically.

Beth’s expression filled the room with scorn. He could see she wanted to laugh at him and her eyes did: in the middle of the night, taking a hammer to an award he had longed for since he was thirteen years old. Then she shook her head laughing at herself. Why had she fooled herself for so long? One half of  her brain shamed her deliberate ignorance, while the other half groped among the flickering suspicions that had disrupted her sleep for years. Possibly, for the first time in her life, her self-deprecating side lost. Her mouth twisted in amused disbelief.

“Are you sure, Zach?” Against her will, her voice recalled her father’s sarcastic cadence. “You’re sure you’re in love with a woman? And not a Boy Scout?”

Zach’s right fist lashed out as Beth was already turning away. The impact clipped her jaw. Without a pause, without glancing at him, she proceeded regally up the stairs.

Crouching beside his workbench, Zach hung his head and sucked in deep, long breaths, eyes closed. After he recovered a modicum of dignity—or assumed he had—he tiptoed upstairs to his bedroom. Which Beth had locked.

He reeled before the closed door. What had happened? Zachary Severins would never hit his wife. The mother of his children? Never!

Groaning, he clung to the banister, easing his over-sized body onto the top step. Here he waited for an explanation to arise. That didn’t happen but his shock lessened. After an unknown span of time, he knocked lightly on the clean, pressed wood door. “Beth, baby, please. Let me in. You know I’m sorry. I can’t believe what happened. And you know, you must know, I’ll never strike you again.” Ordinarily, he would have added, “Scouts’ Honor.” The loss of this essential value brought forth the tears he so despised.

Locked out of the master bathroom, he splashed cold water on his face in the powder room. He had strayed so far off course, he couldn’t get into his own medicine cabinet. He couldn’t take a shower in his own home.

For years, Matt’s troop had collected soup, sandwiches, candy bars, and travel-sized shaving implements, distributing them late Friday nights to homeless men squatting under bridges, curled inside doorways, lying on subways grates. And here he was—needing to leave but unable to shave.

When was the last time he had stayed with Vida? He had given her some excuse last week and this week as well. Itching to shave and shower, he didn’t trust himself to drive to an all-night drug store. The Hudson River towns had zoned them off to the cheaper suburbs. To find a Walgreen’s, Zach would need to navigate unfamiliar roads for twenty minutes. All he needed now was a car wreck.

So he sat at the top of the stairs, wearing his constrictive uniform, stinking from failure, waiting for sunrise.

(click here for the next episode)

mice can become lions...

by nooshin azadi

illustrated by rhoda penmarq