Showing posts with label Eve Fisher. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eve Fisher. Show all posts

21 May 2020

Tales From the Waffle House and other 24/7 Adventures


by Eve Fisher

Once upon a time in Hollywood - my Hollywood - I spent an awful lot of time with an old black bluesman named Solomon at a place called Ben Frank's on Sunset Boulevard.  I just looked it up, and it's listed on Rock and Roll Roadmaps, and it still exists, only now it's Mel's Drive-In.  (???)  But I liked it the way it was, a 24/7 place where Solomon and I could meet over coffee and cigarettes and sometimes a little food and endless conversation.  We often got kicked out, not because we were there too long - there was no such thing, at least not late at night - but because Solomon would have a tendency to eventually go off on a rap about how the only religion that embraced the full erotic aspect of God's love was Hinduism (and he waxed very poetic), and then hit on the waitress, who usually thought he was a dirty old man.  Maybe he was, but he was a damn good friend - in fact he saved my life one night at a place called the Free Church, which is a whole 'nother story, that maybe I'll tell another time.  And I love a good long conversation on something besides the weather and politics. 

That - and recovery from hangovers - is what 24/7 restaurants are for. 

Check out Waffle House.

Everyone who's ever lived in the South has eaten at Waffle House more times than they can count.  Open 24-7, there's no where else in many towns open at 3 AM where you can get coffee, breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  If they ever add beer to the menu, no one would ever leave.

The motley assortment of people at a Waffle House at any time must be seen to be believed - Sunday churchgoers and the local homeless all chowing down together - but there are those who only walk by night, and they know where they can come.  Granted, the glaring lighting and 3 sided floor-to-ceiling windows are hard on the hung over.  But that's the price you pay for pecan waffles and an accessible bathroom.

And then there's the floor show:  how many places, other than Benihana's, have their chefs in constant view of the clientele?   I've sat there many a time, feeling a little rocky, watching the master chefs of Waffle House flipping burgers, eggs, and hashbrowns all the while tapping, singing, dancing to the radio and/or joking with each other, flirting with the waitresses, and (in olden days) smoking like chimneys without dropping ash anywhere but the floor.  Amazing.

I remember when the local Waffle House in Bristol, TN was taken over by a Yankee manager.  The guy - young know-it-all type - came in and started giving everyone hell about all kinds of stuff.  Not that anyone was paying attention.  They figured he'd move on sooner or later, and if they had anything to do with it, it would be sooner.

"He wants me to go out and chip weeds in the parking lot," said our favorite late-night waitress.  "Now I ain't doin' that.  And I let him know it.  He said he'd fire me.  I said, when do you think I'm gonna find the time to do that?  He say, you can do it when things are quiet 'round here.  When does he think that is?  Four a.m., and it's pitch dark?  I'm not going out there.  And at five, all them people from the factory come in, they shift over, and I'm running the counter like my ass is on fire?  I don't think so."

Another order he gave - to our favorite day waitress - was that she quit putting raw rice in the salt-shakers.  "Where is that boy from, anyway?  Don't he know that if you don't put rice in the salt-cellars, they gonna turn into Lot's wife?  How else you gonna made that salt flow?  He ain't never been here in July or August, that's for damn sure.  You want your hash browns smothered and covered?"  Hell yes.

There was also the time when the carnival came to town, and apparently one of the carnies made off and made hay with the girlfriend of one of the cooks.  The cook didn't take it well, especially when the carnie showed up at the Waffle House for sustenance before the carnival took off on Monday morning.  Let's just say that no one was chipping weeds in the parking lot that day but the carnie, and it was mostly with his teeth, as the cook bounced him around the asphalt.

And there were always drug deals in the parking lot, the homeless / wino regulars taking a snooze in that back booth that's almost out of sight of the windows, the constant gossip, and the police who ignored all of it, because they wanted a pecan waffle, too.

And we were all snobbish with it.  A Waffle House in Wytheville, Virginia.  Everyone's smoking, including us.  It's raining outside.  Inside, a nice thick haze of cigarette smoke, frying onions, waffle batter, burgers, grease, and coffee.  Perfect.  A car pulls up outside, New York license plates, and a couple gets out.  They walk in, and the woman looks around and asks, "Where is the non-smoking section?"  The waitress didn't miss a beat:  "In New York City."  The couple left, and the entire restaurant clientele stood up and applauded.

Of course, I enjoyed 24/7 restaurants more back in the day when I was apt to be up and around 24/7.  (Now I consider 9 PM seriously late and generally don't answer telephone calls after 8.)  When I was in my early 20s in Atlanta, in between Waffle Houses, the go-to places were the Majestic Diner at Plaza Drugs and Doby's, both on Ponce De Leon.  (Photo at right thanks to GA State Library Digital Collections.)

Doby's Good Food restaurant exterior on Ponce de Leon, 1980Back then the Majestic was just known as Plaza Drugs, and was known for its drugged-up clientele.  We Doby's customers liked to think we were a little more normal, but come on, when you have people walking other people in on a leash at midnight, there's nothing normal going on.  Except for the fact that the walker and walkee were both just showing off.  But at least we knew it was abnormal, and we showed our disapproval by ignoring them, despite their doing everything they could to get our attention.  The waitress' attention.  Somebody's attention.  Anyone's attention.

NOTE:  The worst thing in the world is to be deliberately, flamboyantly shocking and depraved and have no one pay attention.  😉  That is the tragedy of adolescence - temporary or permanent - in a nutshell.

Anyway, I was a Doby's fan, because they had better food.  And it was cheap.  Back in the mid-70s, you could get a vegetable plate (four veg and cornbread or biscuit) for probably $2.00, and breakfast with meat for $2.75.  A 3-piece chicken dinner would run you about $3.25.  I remember this, because we were all poor, doing our starving artist thing in the Little Five Points and North Highlands areas.  Mary Mac's (which is still around) was too expensive for us.

But again, the real purpose of 24/7 restaurants is a place where a group of people could sit over coffee and conversation for hours.  Face to face, laughing, talking, gossiping, arguing, exchanging ideas and dreams, plans and artwork, for hours.  It was great. 

And I think that's what I'd have missed the most if I'd been born in, say, 1990-2000.

Because before the pandemic, the smart phone arrived and ate up the entire attention span of a multi-generational group that apparently had had enough of people, and wanted to spend all their time texting.  From grandmothers to kids, it's been all eyes and thumbs on screen, for years. 

So, why are they suddenly hungering for other people's live company?  I mean, we've all seen it:
  • the people in a restaurant, everyone on their own smartphone, no one talking;
  • the people in a park, on their smartphones, while their kids played and occasionally begged for their attention;
  • the people walking, on their smartphones, never looking up (one walked into our parked car at the grocery store a few years ago, looked at us, shook his head, stepped to the right, lowered his head, and kept going).
Smartphones destroyed riding on subways and buses.  The sights you used to see!  I'll never forget Rughead in Atlanta, who spent all day long riding MARTA, wearing the worst wig in the world, stapled to his head...  Or all the tags of conversation, which I would note down in my little scribble book.  "Ain't no way I'm gonna tell my sponsor everything, even if I am working my program.  I'm not going to prison, even for my sobriety."

Smartphones destroyed the old coffee shops.  Starbucks is simply a vendor of hot liquid; nobody sits and talks there, they're on their tablets or smartphones or laptops, but no one talks.  And coffee shops, from the 1600s on, were all about talk.  That's what they were for.  Ask Samuel Johnson.

Anyway, you'd think the smartphone crowd - like the militia / survivalist types - would be the last people to be bugging out during this time of social distancing.  But no.  Joni  Mitchell was right.  "You don't know what you've got till it's gone."



Maybe some day we'll all get talking again.  And make some new tales to boot.

Stay well, stay safe, stay home.

Meanwhile, Blatant BSP:

Check out stories by yours truly:

"Brother's Keeper" in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, May/June 2020.

"Pentecost"  in Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology, SleuthSayer Elizabeth Zelvin, editor

"Embraced"  in Startling Sci-Fi.

Startling Sci-Fi: New Tales of the Beyond (The NEW Series Book 3) by [Adam Sass, M. P. Diederich, Eve Fisher, Mike Algera, Brian T. Hodges, Charlotte Unsworth, Jhon Sanchez, Scott Lambridis, Stefanie Masciandaro, Casey Ellis]AHM_MayJun2020_400x570



07 May 2020

One Bite at a Time


Before COVID-19 I was a regular volunteer at the local penitentiary, what with AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project - Sioux Falls, of which I'm president) and the Lifer's Group (of which myself and my husband are the official volunteer supervisors).  This meant I was down there pretty much every week, and sometimes more than once.  Well, that came to an abrupt end.  No visitors, no volunteers allowed, for the foreseeable future.

Yes, I miss them.  And I've been trying to maintain contact.  I have permission to write to them, as long as the letters are non-personal and revolve around AVP or the Lifer's Group, and I do not put my personal address as the return.  And since I can't get in to get any responses they send to the in-prison chapel mailbox, it's a one-way communication.  Kind of frustrating.  But I keep doing it.

I know many people today feel - and say - that social distancing, and COVID-19 lockdowns are like being in jail.  To which, my simple answer is, no, it isn't.  Not at all.

A typical cell at SCI Phoenix, with room for two inmates. Mr. Cosby has not been given a cellmate yet because of security concerns.Not unless you're spending your social distancing in a 6' x 8' concrete room with one wall that's nothing but bars, and inside the bars is a toilet, and against another wall are bunk beds, and you share this space with another inmate.  Who you may or may not like, but you probably have to live with, because if you refuse to share, that's a violation, and could land you in the SHU, which is an even smaller room, with even less stuff in it.  Not only that, there are guards who make sure you stay there up to 23/7, and enforce a wide variety of rules on behavior and speech that have to be read to be believed.

So, no. Staying at home is not at all like being in jail.

But we can learn a lot from inmates. And the first thing is how to do time.  It seems that to a lot of people, six weeks is way too long to have to be stuck indoors.  What if you had to do a year?  (There's a good chance there will be no effective vaccine for at least that long.)  What if you had to do more than that?  How does a person do a long stretch of time?  Well, one of our best inside facilitators, lifer Mighty Mark, said, "Well, it's like eating an elephant.  You take one bite at a time."

Every inmate has to learn - even if they're in for a short sentence - to NOT think too far ahead.  To NOT focus everything on their exit day (if any).  To NOT fume and fret and demand more than they can have.  To accept, in other words, what their situation is.  And then live, as much as humanly possible (and we are all human and frail) in the moment.  Right now.  This bite.  Chew.  Swallow.  Bite.  Repeat.

The big mistake most people do when they find themselves in confinement is to focus all their attention on:
(1) how horrible their situation is.
(2) how unfair the lawyer / judge / sentencing system is.
(3) how are they going to survive the next ____ months / years?
(4) how much the next ____ months / years is wasted time, time they'll never get back, no matter what, and it's just unbearable.
(5) how everyone has abandoned them.
(6) how alone they are.
(7) how useless / hopeless / tasteless everything is.
And on down the a long, long, long negative list of emotions, facts, realities, that are indeed unmistakable and undeniable.

A lot of them - especially the young men - lash out, towards themselves (there's a lot of cuttings, self-harm, and attempted / successful suicides in prison), towards other inmates (a lot of aggressive posturing, attacks, fighting), and even towards the COs (which never ends well for the inmate).  Some of it - even sometimes the self-harm - is showing off, to themselves and others that they've still got what it takes.  That they're the man, and no one better mess with them.  Rising in the pack, hopefully, to Alpha male.  The angriest - and ironically the most wounded - spend the most time in the SHU (solitary confinement), because not only is isolation the punishment for violence, but it's also where they put the suicidal.  (And those who are contagious.)

But, as the young inmates age, many of them come to realize that it doesn't work.  That sinking into violence or despair, aggression or depression, does nothing but make the time go longer and longer and longer...  And they realize (especially the lifers) that they have to make a life, a whole life, where they are.
Including friends.
Including hobbies.
Including goals.
Including education, perhaps even a career.
Including happiness.
BTW, a rip-roarer of book is Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo.  Meet Edmund Dantes, sailor, who is falsely accused of treason and imprisoned for life - in solitary confinement - in the Château d'If (which still exists - see photo on the right).  After 8 years of solitary, he's suicidal, but then the Abbé Faria - digging his way out, a poor sense of direction - ends up at Edmund's cell.  Over the next 8 years, Faria teaches Edmund everything - language, culture, mathematics, chemistry, medicine, and science - so well that, after Faria dies and Edmund escapes (read how yourself), Edmund can pass easily as a Count, welcomed everywhere and anywhere.  This is one of the great swashbuckler thrillers, especially as the Count ruthlessly, tirelessly pursues his revenge - but the opening chapters are also a master class in how to survive doing serious time.  And how important education can be.

Another master class is Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, an account of his years in the camps and how people survive horror beyond imagination.  He was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who survived the  Holocaust - barely.  (See the Wikipedia summary HERE or, better yet, read it yourself.  I've read it more than once, and gained something new every time.)
"The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity — even under the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not."
Remember, this is from a man who survived four - yes FOUR - concentration camps.

And there's a story about Viktor Frankl in another book called The Monks of New Skete:  In the Spirit of Happiness.
We had a friend who was in a Nazi concentration camp in the Second World War, a dog breeder, and he was digging in the trenches with the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, and Victor Frankl told him:  "This is where you've got to find your happiness - right here in this trench, in this camp." ...  For this is where we're supposed to find our happiness - where we are now, wherever that might happen to be, in all that we do, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.  To experience happiness is to experience freedom.  No matter what may happen in life, nothing will be able to touch true happiness. ...  So we have come to understand that happiness is not only in our power to attain, it is our duty to attain.  - The Monks of New Skete, pp. 312-313
A handy list to help:



And a wonderful video of how they do it in prison, Path of Freedom, with Fleet Maull, a former inmate:


    One bite at a time.
    One beat at a time.
    One breath at a time.
    And repeat…


    And now for some blatant self promotion:  My latest story "Brother's Keeper", set in Laskin, is in the May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  I share space with many of my fellow SleuthSayers - Robert Lopresti, Elizabeth Zelvin, Michael Bracken, Mark Thielman, Janice Law, and many other fine writers.

    AHM_MayJun2020_400x570

    23 April 2020

    Modern Little Plague on the Prairie



    by Eve Fisher

    NOTE:  Due to complete discombobulation last week, I posted this a week early.  But, here it is again, newly updated and with a new section - at the end, don't cheat - on possibilities for crime in a time of pandemic.  Enjoy!

    As some of you may have heard on the national news, Sioux Falls, SD, currently hosts one of the top hotspots for COVID-19 in America, thanks to Smithfield Foods.  With 941 cases just from Smithfield, we were #1 until we got beat by two correctional facilities in Iowa, and they can have the honor.

    Smithfield (which bought Morrell's, and then in turn was bought by a Chinese company back in 2013), was operating like any other meat packing plant, with super-crowded conditions for animals, carcasses, and people, all at super-high speeds, thanks to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, who pretty much deregulated the industry in September, 2019. (See story HERE)  And, lest you think Smithfield was an outlier, meat packing plants are popping up all over the country, full of COVID-19, thanks to a tendency to cram workers cheek by jowl for their shifts.  See "Poor Conditions at Meatpacking Plants" HERE.




    Anyway, Smithfield wasn't transparent - there's a shock - and covered it up from March 25-April 6, when they had 80 cases and couldn't hide it anymore.  So they promised to close the facility for 3 days for deep cleaning. The next day there were 160 cases, and the day after that 234, and it turned out Smithfield hadn't closed for cleaning but was still processing.  So our Mayor and Governor asked for 14 days quarantine and cleaning, and the CEO closed the plant "indefinitely" and put out a snippy letter saying they'd only kept it open so long to "protect the food security of the nation." Yeah, right.

    But I don't want to go into our sorry tale of woe. Instead, I want to post some observations for future mystery writers and historians. Because you know, sooner or later, people are going to start writing about this, and they need to get it right.

    In Sioux Falls, 90% or more of the people grocery shopping - and the clerks - are wearing masks and gloves. The aisles in grocery stores are all one way, and they have 6-foot markers on the floors. But most people are not wearing masks / gloves outside for walks or exercise (including myself) because your glasses fog up and God knows we have plenty of fresh air because here the wind never stops.

    Norwegian Stoicism - In other parts of South Dakota, however, most people are NOT wearing masks or gloves anywhere. And it's business as usual regarding the number of people in the store, etc. And in many areas, someone wearing a mask and gloves is considered pretty much a wuss. They receive rolled eyes or a little sad chuckle: the Norwegian Lutheran version of the Southern "Bless your heart" - which is not a blessing. Of course, the average Norwegian / German / etc. Lutherans are by and large a stoic lot and expect everyone else to be the same. Another reason for no masks / gloves: these are the same people who'll be out in sub-zero weather without hat or gloves, because they can take it. 

    Libertarians - From the get-go of COVID-19 in our state (currently 1,858 cases, 1,659 in Sioux Falls) our Governor, Kristi Noem, has only given directives, and will not put in place official shut-down orders of any kind for any location. "We're not New York", which is pretty much the mantra of many rural areas. Apparently this gives some kind of immunity except in Sioux Falls, which is an urban area, so what do you expect?  
    BTW - one surprising thing is that many people aren't thinking about what happens if Sioux Falls does go all New York City, overwhelmed by cases and deaths. The truth is, if that happens, the whole state of South Dakota is screwed, medically, because guess who's the health care center of the state?  Avera McKennan and Sanford hospitals and all their clinics are here. Where all patients with serious health issues are brought. When Allan had his heart attack in 2010, they airlifted him from Madison, SD to Sioux Falls for (successful) surgery. What happens if there are no beds because COVID-19? 
    Mayor TenHaken tried to get a stay-at-home order for Sioux Falls, but he couldn't get the Sioux Falls city councillors (made up mostly of business owners) to back him, nor some residents, who were "concerned that it violates constitutional rights, is difficult to enforce and will bankrupt business barely holding on as it is. And one pastor called it "a massive government overreach." (Argus Leader) (On the other hand, the front-line workers want it, and want it NOW.)

    Last night, the city council agreed to a "no lingering" ordinance and expanding and enforcing the rule of 10 or less for gatherings.  But the same people showed up to protest:
    Some said they were concerned about what the measures had done to the economy. Some said they didn't believe the virus was really a threat at all, citing stories they'd seen online. Former political candidate Lora Hubbel questioned the credentials of Public Health Director Jill Franken and asked why the public was listening to doctors "who are not elected officials." - (Argus Leader)
    Economics!

    “After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world." - Calvin Coolidge, Jan. 27, 1925.

    Oh, Cal, you don't know the half of it.

    Park Jefferson Speedway in North Sioux City plans a racing event with up to 700 spectators Saturday night.

    Fun fact:  The Park Jefferson International Speedway (above) in Jefferson, Union County, South Dakota, is going to host a dirt track racing event with up to 900 spectators this Saturday.  Our Governor, bless her heart, will not lift a finger to stop it, but did "strongly recommend" that no one go.  And Union County officials, including the Sheriff, say they can't do a thing to stop it from happening.  (Argus Leader)

    Further fun fact:  The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is coming up in August.  This hosts about 500,000 bikers annually, and they spend a lot of money on concerts, concessionaires, etc.  How many people believe that our Governor will stop it?  Or the city councilors of Sturgis, SD?  Pray for us.  But also for yourselves, because most of those 500,000 are from out of state, and they do go home eventually.

    Religious - As someone told me, "Why is everyone so afraid? If you're a true Christian, you shouldn't be afraid of anything, because everything is in God's hands." To which I replied, "Gethesemane." (see Matthew 26:39) Which was a polite way of avoiding screaming, "WE ALL GET AFRAID SOMETIMES.  EVEN JESUS."
    I detest people who try to be holier than Jesus, I really do. Life is hard enough as it is.
    Reminder:  "Courage is fear that has said its prayers."   

    Media driven - There is a distinct difference between the Fox News / Sean Hannity / Rush Limbaugh / OANN / QAnon crowd and the rest of us. Those 6 weeks of presidential golfing and rallies - with the full on support, encouragement, denial, and general "it's nothing!" of Fox News, etc. - pretty much poisoned the well. Today, most of those media consumers still don't believe that COVID-19 is anything more than just another flu, and everyone should just go ahead and get exposed to it.  In the immortal words of Bill O'Reilly, “Many people who are dying, both here and around the world, were on their last legs anyway." (Hill)  So let's let everyone get it, get herd immunity, and whoever dies, dies. 
    NOTE: What's interesting to me is that most of the people who are in denial are the same people who are hoarding. "Well, I thought I might as well pick up that extra bale of toilet paper..."  
    And as for the young people - well, when you're a teenager you think you're bulletproof and invulnerable. I remember it well.  God bless you, and there's a reason I'm staying on the other side of the street.  

    Good Stuff:  On the other hand, people are volunteering, in various ways. They're sewing masks, running errands for the elderly, sending cards, making posters, and helping at food banks. They are Zooming and GoToMeetings and calling like crazy.  (BTW:  FUND THE USPS!)  There's a lot of good going on. A lot of helping. A lot of prayer. And a wonderful team of doctors (including a godson), nurses (including a goddaughter), grocery clerks, USPS workers, police (BTW, here in Sioux Falls, the Chief of Police, a police captain, two lieutenants, a sergeant, an officer and three civilian employees all have the virus), and other front-line workers.  Please pray for them all. 

    But now let's talk about possible future mysteries, thrillers, sci-fi, etc.  

    • Robberies - well, when almost everyone's staying home, how well does B&E work?  However, I'd like to point out that cars must be feeling fairly abandoned.  (You would be amazed at the number of guns that are stolen out of unlocked cars every month up here...  it got to the point that one of the City Councilors even proposed penalizing gun owners who didn't lock their guns in their vehicles.)
    • Kidnapping - Besides the obvious who's going to know who's gone if no one's going out, here's a little scenario.  If plasma treatment is the only thing that works for a while (or longer), what if a group of billionaires - like the ones at Saint-Tropez - with their own medical facilities at their own compound hire / co-opt / acquire recovered COVID-19 patients for future treatment?  (WaPo)  (Might be time to re-watch Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive"...)
    • Scams - going full throttle.  Invent your own, every one else does!
    • Murder - Well, there's lots of opportunities, as always.  Even more, what with the effects of COVID-19 on a body, and the lack of time for autopsies in a pandemic.  And I think it was Brendan DuBois who pointed out on Facebook that giving unregulated medicine to an irritating spouse might be one way of getting away with getting rid of them...  
    • And how does the prevalence, indeed in some places, requirement of masks add to these scenarios and more?  

    Strange times.



    Stay safe, stay well, stay home.

    09 April 2020

    Passing the Time


    I've seen a lot of memes about how Isaac Newton discovered calculus while he (and everyone else) was under quarantine for plague, and how William Shakespeare wrote the poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece.  In other words, get off your butt and do something with all this free time!

    To which I answer, what free time?  I'm still writing blogs, writing stories, keeping up with friends, paperwork for Alternatives to Violence Project Sioux Falls, writing (with the permission of prison authorities) to the inmates, keeping up with the latest COVID-19 statistics, a daily walk, and then there's laundry, constant reading, making face masks and other survival kit, and the weekly foray to find food and other necessities.  I suppose I could also clean the house a little bit, but let's not go too far.  It might break into my reading.  And at night - a girl's gotta have some fun - there's Netflix!

    Meanwhile, let's talk about our reading habits in time of worldwide pandemic.

    Daniel Defoe Kneller Style.jpgSome people are reading Albert Camus' The Plague, and I tried, I really tried, to re-read it, but it was just too damned depressing.  On the other hand, Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year, is a real nail-biter, but also has a lot of mordant humor to it.  (Which is only what you would expect from the author of Moll Flanders and Robinson Crusoe.)  The descriptions of "doctors" and treatment alone is enough to make every Monty Python movie look underdone and insipid.
    BTW, every day for the last two months I've included the daily COVID-19 statistics in my journal, because (1) I'm an historian and (2) I read Defoe's Journal years ago, and one of the things that always stood out to me were the "daily bills of mortality".  I believe in maintaining the tradition.  In the immortal words of Mr. Defoe, "The bills were simply frightful." 
    Meanwhile, if you really want good literature about epidemics, you can't go wrong with the Victorians.  They knew how to write a cracking good yarn, and wallowed in sickbed and deathbed scenes, and all the accompanying pathos and tears, as well as tender moments of love-making on the precipice.  Plus they're long novels.  Like a mini-series, you can binge for quite a while.

    Charles Dickens, Bleak House.  - Smallpox.  Besides being the most bitter satire of the legal system, bureaucracy, and greed that's ever been written, some of the major plot twists depend on a smallpox epidemic.  While I - like many others - find our heroine Esther Summerson almost nauseatingly sweet and self-deprecating (it doesn't help that she narrates much of it), there are enough other characters to make this a great novel.  One of them, Harold Skimpole (supposedly based on the real life poet Leigh Hunt), who is a masterpiece:  free of all the duties and accountabilities of life.
    Bleakhouse serial cover.jpg
    "I covet nothing," said Mr. Skimpole in the same light way. "Possession is nothing to me. Here is my friend Jarndyce's excellent house. I feel obliged to him for possessing it. I can sketch it and alter it. I can set it to music. When I am here, I have sufficient possession of it and have neither trouble, cost, nor responsibility... It's only you, the generous creatures, whom I envy. I envy you your power of doing what you do. It is what I should revel in myself. I don't feel any vulgar gratitude to you. I almost feel as if YOU ought to be grateful to ME for giving you the opportunity of enjoying the luxury of generosity. I know you like it. For anything I can tell, I may have come into the world expressly for the purpose of increasing your stock of happiness. I may have been born to be a benefactor to you by sometimes giving you an opportunity of assisting me in my little perplexities. Why should I regret my incapacity for details and worldly affairs when it leads to such pleasant consequences? I don't regret it therefore."  
    Who among us has not met a Mr. Skimpole?  And what a hard lesson it is when the Mr. Skimpole does to us or someone we love what he does to Richard Carstairs - bleeding him dry of every penny - and to the poor boy Jo, dying of smallpox:  "You had better turn him out." And when Mr. Jarndyce will not turn him out, but nurse him, Skimpole - we find out later - takes a bribe and turns Jo over to the man sent to find and kill the boy.  And no one kills Skimpole!  Bleak House is worth the reading just for the portrait of Skimpole, the ultimate conman.

    Charlotte Yonge, The Trial.  - Scarlet fever (an outgrowth of strep throat) combined with typhus (lice) spreads through the village in the opening chapters, killing tons of people.  In the aftermath, one of the local doctors' families has lost the parents, leaving the oldest son (also a physician) in charge of his 4 siblings.  Unfortunately, Henry Ward is of the pompous ass school of Victorian pater familias, and the conflict between him and his younger brother explodes into violence.  Leonard takes off and goes to work for an old reprobate who's a distant relative.  Old reprobate is killed.  Leonard's arrested and tried, and Henry takes his sisters and leaves for America, where they move to a swampy, disease-filled settlement (that should be named Eden after Martin Chuzzlewit).  What could possibly go wrong?  Especially after Henry leaves his sisters in the settlement to go be a doctor in the Civil War?  Who will rescue them?  What will happen to Leonard?  What does Sir Walter Scott's Marmion have to do with anything?  (BTW - this novel is a sequence to her The Daisy Chain, both of them favorites of C. S. Lewis.)


    Group read: Deerbrook by Harriet Martineau | Virago Modern ...Harriet Martineau, Deerbrook.  - Among the earliest Victorian novels (1839), the real plot is about Dr. Hope, who marries one sister while being in [unrequited] love with the other, and how that works out.  About mid-way through the novel, either cholera or typhoid ravage through a town, causing mass deaths and change.  This was the only novel Martineau ever wrote - she was famous for her political economic theories, which she put forward in a series of surprisingly well-written Illustrations on Political EconomyDeerbrook doesn't have much on political economy:  but it does have a lot of authorial musings about hopeless love, what women should do with their lives, and poverty.  Plus a truly evil neighbor who will do anything - ANYTHING - to prevent her brother from marrying the object of Dr.  Hope's true love.

    Elizabeth Gaskell, Ruth.  - Ruth is a fallen woman, but pure of heart, who redeems herself  by nursing her seducer during a typhus epidemic.


    But, if you're tired of morality and uplifting thoughts, or even thoughts about death at all, why not go further back and dig out a copy of Boccaccio's Decameron Tales?  Ten young people (7 women, 3 men) flee plague-stricken Florence and go out in the countryside (yes, they're young; yes, they have money; yes, they have servants; think all the New Yorkers who fled to the Hamptons), where every day they eat and drink and sit out in the garden, each one telling a tale.



    They are almost all tales of love, trade (they're from Florence, and they're all merchants' children) many bawdy, most surprisingly (?) anti-clerical (in a time when there was no alternative to The Church), some tragic, most witty, and very, very, very entertaining.  Most are very old, retold by Boccaccio for his modern audience (everything was modern once upon a time).  And - if you're ever short of a plot, you could do worse than browse through The Decameron.  (Or Marguerite de Navarre's Heptameron, which often skewered her contemporaries...)

    And let's not forget Chaucer, who lifted a number of his Canterbury Tales from The Decameron, so why not read that, too?  Read about Chanticleer and Pertelote (The Nun's Priest's Tale), The Wife of Bath's Tale ("Alas that ever love was sin!"), the Cook - too drunk to tell his tale; the Knight's Tale (a classic tale of chivalrous love), and the battling Reeve and Miller (whose tales show a miller and a reeve, respectively, being bamboozled and cuckolded).  And on and on and on:

    Thus swyved was the carpenteres wyf,
    For al his keping and his Ialousye;
    And Absolon hath kist hir nether yë;
    And Nicholas is scalded in the toute.
    This tale is doon, and god save al the route!
    - The Miller's Tale

    All of these and more are available for free at Gutenberg! (http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page).

    And most are available for darn near free on Kindle and Nook.


    26 March 2020

    Little Plague on the Prairie:
    The 1918-19 Diary of Anna Eneboe


    Page One of Anna Eneboe's diary, which she kept from 1918 until late 1919:

    Miss Anna Eneboe
    Pierpont So. Dak.
    My day book
    Come read my thoughts

    Anna Eneboe and her Diary

    She was the great aunt of my dear friend Allyson Giles Nagel, who graciously gave me permission to use Anna's writing. The diary is very short, very simple, very spare, written in a small red notebook that's pretty worn after all these years. Anna was 19 years old in 1918, unmarried, and treasurer of the local Independence Red Cross (organized June 13, 1918). Some of the people mentioned in the diary are her older brothers, Henry (called Hank) and Rudolph (called Rud), her two adopted sisters, Lillian (called Lillie) and Agnes, her parents, and her future husband, Bernt Nerland. The family all lived on a farm outside Pierpont, SD, up in Day County, in northwestern South Dakota. Today its population is 135, back then somewhere between 314-400 (the census of 1910 and 1920 respectively). I've guestimated it to be around 380 in 1918.

    Now, before we get started reading excerpts from the diary, you need to remember that the Spanish Flu roared through the United States three times. The first was in the spring of 1918. It was fairly mild and it disappeared for the summer. People believed that it was over. And then with the fall, came the flu, and October - when this diary begins - was the deadliest month of all. 195,000 Americans died that month from the Spanish Influenza.

    Wikipedia – Link
    Victims died within hours or days of developing symptoms, their skin turning blue and their lungs filling with fluid that caused them to suffocate. There was no treatment, no vaccine, no cure. Thanks to WW1 (BTW – the Spanish flu killed more soldiers than died in battle in WW1), there was also a shortage of doctors and nurses back home. And no one, no place was immune. Even President Woodrow Wilson got it in early 1919 while negotiating the Treaty of Versailles in Europe. (Link)

    It's hard not to believe that it was the Spanish Flu's return in October, 1918 that got Anna to writing things down. Not that she knew it, but that month was the peak – but not the end – of the pestilence. But she was well aware that men were coming home from the war, some of them sick, some of them dying. That people all around her were sick, dying, but also marrying and giving birth. And that's what she writes about.

    1918

    Camp Funston Hospital Ward for Soldiers sick with Influenza

    Oct. 14th – Hans Oswood seriously ill at Camp Funston of the Fluenza.
    Oct. 15th – Alfred Nelson gassed in France in August and has been at the hospital since.
    Emil Sanders sick of the Fluenza in Camp Dodge.
    School closed in Pierpont Oct. 14th on account of the Flu.
    Dr. Murphy sick of the Flu.
    Mrs. Eddie Kamestad died in the evening Oct. 14th.
    Luther Hofstad wounded severely in France Oct. 14th.
    Edwin Ronshaugen died in Camp Funston of the Flu., Oct. 14th.
    Kristian Mjolsness was married to Lina Likus Oct. 18th.
    Anna Rindahl was married to Mr. Jensen November 3rd.
    Mr. and Mrs. Monk Osby are the proud parents of a baby boy, born Oct. 3rd.
    Rudolph Baukol lost in action [in pencil].
    Magnus Brindenuven died of wounds received in France.
    Oscar Nymauen died of the Fluenza in Camp grand.
    My Note: "On Oct. 16, 1918, the South Dakota State Board of Health ordered everything closed: Schools, houses of amusement, sporting events, speeches, everything. The order was enforced by police and the Home Guard, a quasi-military force that patrolled cities looking for violations." (Argus Leader)

    SD Historical Archives

    Mrs. Martin Jacobson died of the Influenza in November at Nigdahl Minn.
    The oldest boy of Rev. Danielson died of the Flu at Langford.
    Ole Jacobson’s little baby boy died of the Flu Sunday evening 28th of Dec.
    Henry was married to Jennie Eggen the 4th of Dec. at New Effington.
    Alma Gunderson was married to Dennie Holland in December.
    Selma Liknis was married to Synerk Anderson in October.
    Josie Oswood was married to Boyd Vikers in August at Camp Lewis, Washington.
    Enok Liknis was home in a furlough in Oct.
    The soldiers who came home for Xmas is as following –
    Earl Hutenburg
    Hans Oswood
    Gust Johnson
    Mat Johnson
    Harry Nerheim
    Rev. Husley from France [in pencil – Y.M.C.A.]
    Adolph Eikaness
    Martin Midland - -
    Mathilda Hanson was married to Mr. Olson
    Howard and Marie spent Xmas with us.
    A cablegram from the battlefields of France last week Thursday, conveyed the heartbreaking news of the first sacrifice made by one who spent his childhood days in Farmington, and lived here in the adjoined vicinity on the north, the greater part of his life.

    Henry O. Osness in company with his brother Chester departed from Langford April 26, 1918, with the Marshall County soldier boys of that date, who were sent to Camp Funston, Kansas.

    WW1 Soldiers Returning Home

    A sorrowful group of half-sisters and brothers mourn his loss, also a number of other relatives.
    He is survived by his two sister, Misses Josephine and Anna, and by three brothers, Chester, his comrade, and Theodore and Selmer.
    Three years ago, Henry enlisted in the navy, but was honorably discharged on account of physical disability. He appeared well and was of a happy, jolly disposition. The selective draft admitted him, and he went to death bravely fighting for his glorious country. “Over the top” was his motto, and t’was there he payed the supreme sacrifice.After only a brief time, they were called “over there” and on July 11th Henry gave his life nobly in this great crisis, which the United States was suddenly thrust into and from which nearly the entire world is so grandly, so nobly extricating itself. Henry was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Christian Osness and was born in Newport township, Marshall Co., June 10, 1889. The family resided in Farmington a number of years, during which the children were left orphans by the death of both parents.

    O’er the sea there came a cable message from the battlefields of France.The golden star in their service flag appeals with honor and sadness to Henry’s countless friends here.
    Henry is gone, never hereafter to wake nor to weep.
    Sleep, soldier, sleep.
    Ne’er more the bugle shall call you, call you to fight fierce and long.
    Yours is calm rest. We your memory sacred will keep.
    Sleep, soldier, sleep.
    We gaze at a star turned to golden. That shortly in deep blue did shine. O that in heaven, your soul is in keep.
    Sleep, soldier, sleep.
    “Chester’s Tale”
    Henry was blown to pieces. Half of the body were all that they could find to bury. There’s a little white cross somewhere in France that now marks his grave.

    Aerial photograph of Pierpont,
    Aerial view of Pierpont, SD.
    Pierpont Quasquicentennial - Pierpont SD Facebook page

    1919

    January

    Walter Sletten and Bernt Norland arrived from Camp Dodge Jan. 3.
    School opened again January 6th – met Bernt at the Ladies Aid at Synert Sampson January 9thTheodore Roswell died in January
    Old Mr. Brookings was buried January 9th.
    Born to Mr. and Mrs. Boyd Vikers a baby in January.

    Boyd Vikers and Christ Oswood return home from camp.
    Charly Paulson has been home on furlough.
    Meeting in Falness [Lutheran Church, Langford, SD] Jan. 19 – also to Y P.M. in the evening.
    Mr. Knut Syvertson and Mrs. Dahl was married this month.
    Was at John Enstad Sunday the 12th in the evening.

    21st - has been very lovely weather now for the last days. Today it is foggy.
    23rd – Henry Fossum returned home from Camp Lewis. Oscar Brandly also is home from Washington.Olaf Syre returned home from camp.

    Lillie’s partner was Clarence, my partner was Emil Erickson – we had a very nice time talking and laughing. Played games and so on. Shook hands with Olaf Syre. Hobart Syre and Joseph Nygaard came home today.23rd – very nice weather, social in Hainess school house tonite. Quite a few there. The sum paid for Baskets $72.74.
    28th – had our first trip in the Overland to Pierpoint. Sawsa Brandle’s a baby in January

    My Note The Overland was a "runabout", and the Overland Automobile was produced from 1903-1926. Pa's new vehicle was probably Model 83:

    Overland automobile
    Overland automobile (Wikipedia)
    February

    My Summation: February was cold, snowy, with more running about in the Overland. Alma Asdland died on the 10th and was buried on the 13th, which means the ground wasn't frozen solid. (Not always true in a South Dakota February.) There were meetings, cleaning, crocheting, and an oyster supper, along with one day when it was warm enough to play croquet, and more days when it was bitter cold with snow.

    March, 1919 - the flu returns - the Third Wave

    1st – Sat. – Enstad’s – washed the floors and baked was what Hattie did, and I tried to help her along. Snap’d our pictures.
    2nd – Sun. – kind of nice today. Rudolph came over after dinner. We made up a poem. In the evening we were discussing different things. Told our fortunes, and had a little lunch. Rudolph stayed over night. (In pencil on the side, Mrs. Ole Enstad died this morning.)
    3rd – Mon. – very mild and nice this morning. Rudolph went to Lee’s and then he came back for me. We had a Dakota blizzard going home.
    4th – Tue. – Mr. and Mrs. Carl Sampson a boy. Cold, but clear. Have not been doing very much. 5th – Wed. – washing clothes today, nicer weather.
    6th – Thurs. – Ironed. Jennie baked cookies, I washed upstairs.
    8th – Sat. – Doing the Sat. work in the forenoon and in the afternoon we four girls went to Bakke’s but only Selmer at home. In the evening, Julian and Hattie came over.7th – Fri. – Washed the floors. In the afternoon we went to town. Talked to Chris L. Oswood. Myrtle & Lillie went with us home.

    11th – Tue. – Rud sick of the flu. Very nice weather. Not doing very much.
    13th – Thurs. – Ironing. Colder. Feeling punk tonight. Uncle and Selmer is here.
    14th – Fri. – Sick in bed today of the fluenza.
    15th – Sat. – Sunshine again today. Been up this afternoon. Last year today we sure had a nice time this evening but now it is only memorys.
    16th – Sun. – Home all day. Have the “flu”.
    17th – Mon. – Feel better today.
    18th – Tue. – Pa has the flu today – nice weather.
    19th – Wed. – Nice weather. We are all feeling fine after the flu. Mrs. Huxley died of the flu.

    And then it's done - the Spanish Influenza is over.

    Wikipedia - Chitrapa - Own work

    On Thursday, May 22nd, Anna and the family went "to Pierpont, had a reception there for the soldiers. First time I seen Chester in uniform. The soldiers were seated on the stage. Had Annie Sparks duet and a quartet. Drawed number on a Red Cross quilt and Chester won it. had ice cream and cake. Only one vacant chair and that was Henry Osness." (Whose death, as you'll remember, Anna recorded in the first part of her diary.)
    23rd – Fri. – Lillie and I have been home alone today. The folks been in town. In the evening we went to Pierpoint to take in “The Birth of a Nation”.

    A few more months, barely three pages more, and Anna's diary came to an end.
    My Note: Anna mentions 14 cases of the flu, 6 of them in October, 3 in November-December, and 5 in March. In the whole diary, 12 people die - 3 in October, 3 in Nov-Dec., and the rest in Jan, March, May, two at least of whom died of the flu. Not a lot, right? But in a community of 380 people, where everyone knows everyone else and has since they were born, that's a lot.
    Six cases of flu in October, including the doctor, would have frightened everyone. The whole family coming down with the flu in March would have everyone scared.
    And those 12 people dead - they would leave a hole in the community, from the newborn to the soldiers who never came back. Small towns are tight-knit, and memories are long. Weddings and funerals, births and deaths, all get talked about for years, if not generations. The proof is that we know the rest of Anna's story, because it's still being talked about, in Allyson's family, and now here. Anna continued to live on the farm until she was married. She was an older bride: she and Bernt were married in 1931, when she was 32.

    Lace or floral wedding dresses
    https://vintagedancer.com/vintage/1930s-wedding-history/

    But marriage isn't the end of the story, no matter how happy it was. And while I wish her story had a happier ending, it doesn't: Anna died in 1933, in childbirth, at the age of 34. As you can see from the photo of her in the casket, she was buried in her wedding dress, a custom of the time. The baby died as well.




    Written On The Back Fly-Leaves of her Diary:

    Could we but draw back the curtains that surround each other’s lives, see the naked heart and spirit. Know what spur the action gives. Often we would find it better, purer then we judge we should, we should love each other better. If we only understood.
    I’m getting tired of dreaming. Dreaming of you all day. I’m getting tired of sceming [sic]. Hope I shall get you some day.
    I envy the dimples that hide and go seek, and play with the roses that bloom on your cheek.
    Our eyes have met.
    Our lips not yet
    But O you kid
    I’ll get you yet
    Smile, and the world smiles with you.
    Weep, and you weep alone.

    Anna Eneboe

    Stay well, stay safe, stay  HOME.

    PS - for Anna's entire diary, go here.

    PPS - Other sources for information of the 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic in South Dakota include these article:

    12 March 2020

    Welcome to The Zo


    by Eve Fisher

    I'm involved in a variety of things at the penitentiary these days.  There's the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), that I've been doing for 10 years.  We're doing a training for facilitators (T4F) workshop in April for that, getting more inmates trained as inside facilitators.  AVP is going strong.  Our main problem is that we always need more outside volunteers.  In case you haven't noticed, volunteerism has gone down over the last few years.  Most of the service organizations I know of (Kiwanis, Elks, Lions, etc.) are seeing a dramatic drop in membership.  And the people who are interested in helping aren't that interested in doing a weekend-long workshop inside a prison, even though it's probably the most interesting, educational, entertaining, and safest place you can be.

    Allan and I are also supervising the Lifer's Group, for the third fiscal year, and the achievements are beginning to really show.  There's Toastmasters, which the Lifer's Group hosted for almost 2 years, and now is a full-fledged group of its own at the pen.  There's the suicide watches, which the Lifer's Group has taken on (with, of course, permission and approval from prison mental health and prison administration).  We just hosted our 2nd Talent Show, and it was great.  Music, jokes, poetry, and a production of yours truly's "The Scottish Play", a five-minute rendering of Macbeth, complete with cheerleading weird women.  (Great laughter and applause.)  We have a few other on-going projects, and a lot of ideas.

    Over the years, I've gotten sort of used to prison ways, and idiosyncrasies, because working with the inmates is worth it.  But I can go home.  Every night, I get to go home.  What about those who don't?  What is life really like for them?  Well, I'm presenting for your information and (?) entertainment, a series of videos (each runs about 5 minutes) called "Welcome to The Zo" presented on the website The Marshall Project.







    And for the last episode, "Retaliation", see here:

    Life in prison.  

    Meanwhile, let's talk - for a brief moment - about disease.  The coronavirus may never reach the South Dakota prison system, but colds and influenza go around swiftly and frequently and it often seems that everybody in the unit catches it.  They isolate prisoners - with their cellie (whether the cellie has it or not at the time) - in their cells, which is a 6 x 8 space with a window that does not have a view or access to fresh air but does have a toilet right in the front, at the door.  Toilet paper (which must also serve as tissues) is rationed.  Hand sanitizer is considered contraband (alcohol content).  There's a lot of bleach, and a lot of cleaning, but I've seen an awful lot of prisoners hacking and sneezing while cleaning.  See this article in the Marshall Project for more info:  (Marshall Project)

    As I said, at least I get to go home.  And I always keep hand sanitizer in my car.  

    Meanwhile, South Dakota - as of today - has 5 coronavirus cases, and 1 death.  As Daniel Defoe would say, not a high weekly bill of mortality, but has turned our eyes to the potentialities.  









    27 February 2020

    How to Lose a Country, or The Atlas Game


    by Eve Fisher

    Sometimes it takes a while to catch on to what you're seeing.  I am a map freak.  I love them.  I have a few treasured old atlases, including one from 1918, which came with a pamphlet about the League of Nations tucked away in it.  I also have a world map shower curtain, with all the countries, their capitals, and the occasional other city or natural wonder on it.  It was made in China, so there are a lot of other Chinese cities and of course the Great Wall.  Take a look at it.  Of course there is no Tibet on it - God only knows when that got taken off of Chinese maps, and you won't find it on regular atlases as an independent nation anymore, either.  Sorry, Dalai Lama - China has absorbed it and has no intention of ever reversing the process.

    But - something else is missing.



    Two countries, Kyrgystan and Tajikistan:

    https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Cacahuate
    Apparently, they've been absorbed into China, too - they no longer exist, according to this Chinese world map.  Now, you might say, "Hey, it's a shower curtain.  They couldn't include everything."  No.  They've pretty much got everything else, including every country in Africa, even the tiniest ones.  So... makes me wonder, does China have plans?

    Let's face facts:  maps are generally the heralds, and always the finales of war, whether waged through words or weapons.  Countries come and go all the time.  They are conquered, absorbed, enlarged, reduced, and sometimes break apart all on their own.   Remember Czechoslovakia?  Yugoslavia?

    Location of Poland
    OCHA - Locator map of Poland.
    In Europe, the most notorious example of this is Poland, which was partitioned up between Russia, Austria and Prussia in 1772.  For the next 123 years, Poland and Lithuania pretty much ceased to exist as sovereign nations.  In 1898, a map of Europe was published in Poland that had no Poland on it.  (See Here)  Finally, in 1918, Poland returned as a country!.  In 1939, it was occupied by Germany, which divided it up with the Soviet Union.  The Soviet Union set up a People's Republic of Poland, under the U.S.S.R., from 1945-1989.  Poland, as a sovereign nation, returned in 1989, and is still here.  So far.

    Notice its neighbors.  Putin has been indicating that Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania all still belong within the Russian embrace.  The map may change again...

    And sometimes countries "just get left off" of maps.  New Zealand has a running quarrel with a number of atlases, which keep leaving them off.  Apparently many mapmakers (including one of New Zealand's own) don't find it that important, which is sad, considering that it's Middle Earth.  (Atlas Obscura)  

    Map of the United States with Michigan highlighted
    (Wikipedia Link)
    In 1989, the latest Rand McNally atlas left out South Dakota, North Dakota, and Oklahoma. ″It was an editorial decision,″ said Con Erickson, a public relations representative in Rand McNally’s Skokie, Ill., office.  Oh, well...

    We managed to find South Dakota without them when we moved here in 1990.  (AP)  And all three states got back in the next year.  I think.  Maybe I should go check.

    We should probably also check for the Upper Peninsula, which also seems to get lost on atlases.  Oh, it may be there in the big USA map up front (see above), but is there always a detailed map of the UP?  Apparently not.  (NPR)  Which might lead some people to think that you just can't get there from here.  Wherever you are.  Especially if you're in South Dakota or Oklahoma.  

    Maps change.  Atlases change.  The world changes.  

    Here's the history of Europe showing the borders and populations of each country in Europe, for every year since 400 BC:


    Here's one for the Middle East from the dawn of time until the current day:


    Here's the history of Africa:



    And Asia:



    And the shortest one of all, North America:




    "All diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means."
    - Zhou Enlai

    And, apparently, cartography as well.






    13 February 2020

    Revoked


    by Eve Fisher

    Woollcott in 1939 photographed by Carl Van Vechten
    Alexander Woollcott
    One of the reasons I dig around in old books - especially old miscellanies - is that you can find the most amazing things.  Take Alexander Woollcott (1887-1943):  critic & commentator for The New Yorker, radio personality, occasional actor, and constant pain in the ass.  (He was the inspiration for Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner.)  He was also obsessed with murders, past and contemporary, and he spoke and wrote about many with that acidulous wit that has been equalled only by Dorothy Parker (whom he once described as "so odd a blend of Little Nell and Lady Macbeth").  

    So I was rereading Woollcott's While Rome Burns, and - thinking of us, dear SleuthSayers and fans! - headed straight for the section "It May be Human Gore".  I struck the motherlode.  The following - from the chapter "By The Rude Bridge" - is one of my favorite murders of all time.  

    Let's just start off by saying that in September, 1929, Myrtle Adkins Bennett, Kansas City housewife, shot her husband, John G. Bennett, to death over a hand of contract bridge.  Where's the mystery, you ask?  Well, read on:  


    *********************
    (From While Rome Burns.)

    "The Bennett killing, which occurred on the night of September 29, 1929, was usually spoken of, with approximate accuracy, as the Bridge-Table Murder. The victim was a personable and prosperous young salesman whose mission, as representative of the house of Hudnut, was to add to the fragrance of life in the Middle West. He had been married eleven years before to a Miss Myrtle Adkins, originally from Arkansas, who first saw his photograph at the home of a friend, announced at once that she intended to marry him, and then, perhaps with this purpose still in mind, recognized and accosted him a year later when she happened to encounter him on a train. That was during the war when the good points of our perfume salesman’s physique were enhanced by an officer’s uniform. They were married in Memphis during the considerable agitation of November 11, 1918. The marriage was a happy one. At least, Senator Jim Reed, who represented Mrs. Bennett in the trying but inevitable legal formalities which ensued upon her bereavement, announced in court—between sobs—that they had always been more like sweethearts than man and wife.

    Bridge declarer.jpg"On Mr. Bennett’s last Sunday on earth, these wedded sweethearts spent the day playing a foursome at golf with their friends, Charles and Mayme Hofman... After dark and after an ice-box supper at the Bennetts’, the men folk professed themselves too weary to dress for the movies, so the four settled down to a more slatternly evening of contract bridge. They played family against family at a tenth of a cent a side. With a pretty laugh, Mayme Hofman on the witness stand referred to such a game as playing for “fun stakes,” though whether this was a repulsive little phrase of her own or one prevalent in the now devitalized society of a once rugged community, I do not know.

    "They played for some hours. At first the luck went against the Hofmans and the married sweethearts were as merry as grigs. Later the tide turned and the cross-table talk of the Bennetts became tinged with constructive criticism. Finally, just before midnight, the fatal hand was dealt by Bennett himself and he opened the bidding with one spade. Hofman hazarded two diamonds. Mrs. Bennett leaped to four spades. Discreet silence from Mrs. Hofman. Stunned silence from Bennett. Hofman doubled. That ended the bidding and the play began.

    https://commons.wikimedia.org/
    wiki/User:Newwhist
    "Mrs. Bennett put down her hand. At her trial it was the policy of the defense, for strategic reasons, to minimize the part the bridge game had played in the ensuing drama, but the jury could not be confused on this point and three of the jurors went so far as to learn bridge in the long leisure of the jury room. Nor could the mind of that stern realist, Mayme Hofman, be befogged. When summoned as a witness by Senator Reed, she knew she was really coming to the defense of Mrs. Bennett as a bridge player.

    “Myrtle put down a good hand,” she said staunchly, “it was a perfectly beautiful hand.”

    "In any event, while she was dummy, Mrs. Bennett retired to the kitchen to prepare breakfast for her lord and master, who would be leaving at the crack of dawn for St. Joe. She came back to find he had been set two and to be greeted with the almost automatic charge that she had overbid. Thereupon she ventured to opine that he was, in her phrase, “a bum bridge player.” His reply to that was a slap in the face, followed by several more of the same—whether three or four more, witnesses were uncertain. Then while he stormed about proclaiming his intention to leave for St. Joe at once and while Mr. Hofman prudently devoted the interval to totting up the score, Mrs. Bennett retired to the davenport to weep on the sympathetic bosom of Mayme Hofman...:

    “No one but a cur would strike a woman in the presence of friends.”

    "I have not as yet been able to learn whether the game was ever settled, but when Mr. Hofman had completed his work as accountant, he ventured to reproach the host for unseemly behavior, to which comment Bennett replied by a strong suggestion that it was time for the guests to go home. Mrs. Hofman—one can imagine her bridling a good deal and saying that she considered the source—had got into her wraps and Mr. Hofman was tidying up in the bathroom, when he saw his hostess advancing through the den, revolver in hand.
    Image result for james thurber cartoons new yorker
    James Thurber, The New Yorker
    via Pinterest (Link)
    “My God, Myrtle,” he cried. “What are you going to do?”

    "He soon learned.

    "There were four shots, with a brief interval after the second. The first went through the hastily closed bathroom door. The second was embedded in the lintel. The next two were embedded in Mr. Bennett, the fourth and fatal shot hitting him in the back.

    "The next day the story went round the world. In its first reverberations, I noticed, with interest, that after her visit to the mortuary chapel Mrs. Bennett objected plaintively to her husband’s being buried without a pocket-handkerchief showing in his coat. To interested visitors, she would make cryptic remarks such as “Nobody knows but me and my God why I did it,” thus leaving open to pleasant speculation the probable nature of her defense.

    [Seventeen months passed, and finally Woollcott asked a Kansas City friend what happened to the case?]

    “Oh!” the good doctor replied, “she was acquitted. It seems it was just an unfortunate accident.”

    Natty couple in 1929
    Wikipedia Source
    "It seems the dutiful Mrs. Bennett had merely gone for the revolver because her husband wanted to take it with him to St. Joe; that in stumbling over a misplaced chair in the den she fired the first two shots unintentionally and that her husband (pardonably misreading her kind intentions) had sought to disarm her. In the ensuing Apache dance of their struggle for the gun, it had gone off and wounded him fatally.


    "The defense was materially aided by the exclusion on technical grounds of crucial testimony which would have tended to indicate that at the time Mrs. Bennett had told a rather different story. It was also helped no little by the defendant herself who, in the course of the trial, is estimated to have shed more tears than Jane Cowl did in the entire season of Common Clay. Even the Senator was occasionally unmanned, breaking into sobs several times in the presence of the jury. “I just can’t help it,” he replied, when the calloused prosecutor urged him to bear up.

    "The Reed construction of the fatal night’s events proved subsequently important to Mrs. Bennett, in whose favor her husband had once taken out a policy to cover the contingency of his death through accident. Some months after the acquittal a dazed insurance company paid her thirty thousand dollars.


    "Footnote: Protesting as I do against the short-weight reporting in the Notable British Trials series, it would ill become me to hoard for my private pleasure certain postscripts to the Bennett case which have recently drifted my way. It looked for a time as if we all might be vouchsafed the luxury of reading Myrtle’s autobiography, but this great work has been indefinitely postponed. I understand she could not come to terms with the local journalist who was to do the actual writing. That ink-stained wretch demanded half the royalties. Mrs. Bennett felt this division would be inequitable, since, as she pointed out, she herself had done all the work.
    "Then it seems she has not allowed her bridge to grow rusty, even though she occasionally encounters an explicable difficulty in finding a partner. Recently she took on one unacquainted with her history. Having made an impulsive bid, he put his hand down with some diffidence. “Partner,” he said, “I’m afraid you’ll want to shoot me for this.” Mrs. Bennett, says my informant, had the good taste to faint."
    ************

    Back to my musings:

    For the more curious among us: What bridge hand could be that bad? See Snopes' reconstruction HERE.

    Source:
    https://www.rosewoodhotels.com/en/the-carlyle-new-york/gallery
    As for Myrtle's later years, and there were 61 of them, she died in Miami, Florida, in January, 1992 at the age of 96. "After World War II and throughout the 1950s, she worked as executive head of housekeeping at the elegant Hotel Carlyle in New York City, living alone there in an apartment. At the Carlyle, she developed friendships with the rich and famous, including the actors Mary Pickford and Henry Ford II." Later, she traveled the world, working for a hotel chain, and left an estate - valued at more than $1 million - to family members of the late John Bennett. (Wikipedia)

    Final Note: According to Woollcott, "It was Harpo Marx who, on hearing the doctor’s hasty but spirited résumé of the case, suggested that I make use of it for one of my little articles. He even professed to have thought of a title for it. Skeptically I inquired what this might be and he answered “Vulnerable.”"

    But personally, I prefer the title "Revoked."