So over the rainbow: a noir interview

Say, whatever happened to all those characters from Oz?

Glad you asked.

We know what happened to Dorothy: she went back home and became an overworked farm wife, bitterly comparing her tedious life to her great adventure in Oz. After her initial relief at getting back home so easily, Kansas just didn’t stack up anymore. She eventually moved to Chicago and worked in a baby buggy factory, sadly ironic, because, unbeknownst to her at the time, the Wicked Witch of the West had cast a sterilization spell on her. She died penniless and miserable.

That’s so sad!  What about the Tinman? He got his heart, didn’t he?

Well, yes. But as a result, he couldn’t help feeling the pain of all the people around him, and took to weeping almost all the time. The end came when he learned of Dorothy’s fate in Chicago. He just couldn’t stop crying. Finally, with all those wet tears rolling down his face, and into his joints, he rusted clean away, poor thing. Had he only wished for a brain, he could have seen that coming, and taken steps to avert it.

Huh. But the Scarecrow? He did get the brain, right? So, he must have turned out okay.

Yes, and things did look good at first. But, since he didn’t have a heart, he became arrogant, thinking he was better than all those idiots out there. Not a way to make friends, I’m afraid.

But still, he made it, right?

Well, no. His arrogance so infuriated his neighbors that they set him on fire, and, being made mostly of straw, he went up like a roman candle. Proving, if proof was needed, that burning out isn’t any better than rusting, after all, rock stars notwithstanding.

Well, at least the lion must have made it.

Indeed he did.

So, he didn’t die a miserable death?

Nope.

Great!

Not necessarily. See, with no brains and no heart, and no longer afraid, he started bullying everyone around him, and since he was a lion, there wasn’t much they could do. Eventually, the people with brains and hearts got together and figured out a way to capture him.

What did they do with him?

Some brainy people wanted to kill him, thinking it was the only way to be rid of him for good, but others saw an opportunity to study him, so that they’d be ready if another courageous lion happened by. It was the people with hearts who made the difference, because they refused to let him be killed. As a compromise, they declawed him and pulled all his teeth. Now he lives in a cage, because the brainy people are afraid he’ll run away before they get a chance to study him.

Wow. Didn’t the people with hearts try to release him?

No. With no claws and no teeth, how could he survive?

From the OPI

Office of Perpetual Investigation
Popular Music Division

Memorandum: Purple Berries?

Here are the facts as we know them:

An unspecified number of people are leaving, because they are not needed. They are leaving by sea, on ships made of wood (very free, apparently). We don’t know how many ships, but at least two, as the plural is specified, we don‘t know the size of the ships or the crew, although both seem small, and we don’t know of a destination, although aimless roaming is strongly suggested.

We also know that at least one person has subsisted on purple berries for 6 or 7 weeks, or the better part of 2 months, and we know that a second person has requested some of the same berries, and that the request has been granted. Some questions immediately arise:

1. Where were the ships procured, and how? Were they bought, built, or stolen?
2. Where were the purple berried procured?
3. What kind of berries, purple or otherwise, were nutritious enough to sustain someone for that long, especially without “getting sick once?”
4. How were enough of them to eat for the better part of 2 months stored on what certainly appear to be small vessels?
5. How were they stored in such a way as to keep them from spoiling for such a long time?
6. What was everyone else eating, since it appears to be the first request for the berries to be shared since the departure of the ships?

Unless and until these mysteries are cleared up, I’m afraid there will be serious doubt as to the veracity of the account.

How to stop stressing and believe in yourself

“Listen to me,” said the counselor, “your ideas are as good as anyone else’s.”

The young man shifted his weight and looked down at the floor.

“I guess so.”

“What do you mean, you guess so? It’s true. You need to stop comparing yourself to others. That way only results in feelings of inferiority.”

“But, maybe I am inferior. My ideas sound so vague, so simple. If you read what everyone else writes, it’s all so subtle, so well thought out.”

Silence. The ticking of the big mantle clock seemed to fill every moment with anxiety. The counselor let out a long sigh, tapped his pencil on his pad, and looked directly at his young client.

“First of all, you’re comparing yourself with published authors, people who have had time to elaborate on their ideas, and anticipate objections.”

The young man looked dubious.  “But you don’t know my work.  You don’t know if my ideas are good or not.”

“That’s not the important point here.  What’s important is that you are a unique person, and no one else has your viewpoint. If that’s not worth sharing with the world, I don’t know what is. Look inside your own heart for answers, not in some books written by people who will never know you, the real you.”

The young man looked up.

“Really? You really think my ideas are as good as anyone else’s?”

“Absolutely. You’re unique, you’re you. Don’t let others control your self respect. If your so-called friends constantly criticize your work, you need to find better friends. Surround yourself with people who lift you up, not drag you down.”

The young man stood up, took a deep breath, and extended his hand.

“All right, then! I’ll do as you say.”

“I’m so glad we could have this talk,” said the counselor, giving him a sidelong glance. “Keep your chin up. I look forward to hearing good things of you in the future.”

They shook hands, and, with a bounce in his step that was utterly lacking before the meeting, young Adolph strode out into the sunlight.

The day Vukovich died

I wrote this as a memoir in a fit of nostalgia after watching the Indy 500 on Memorial Day. Then I decided to check names and dates, and discovered that, as often happens with memories, I had conflated several events, and the story was incompatible with reality. I tried changing it to reflect that, but couldn’t satisfy myself with the result. The original story, though inaccurate, was simply better. I see now how easy it is for memoirists to get caught up in these traps you read about, when someone exposes their work as false. I decided to leave it as it was, along with this caveat: make of it what you will. Call it memoir, call it fiction, but enjoy it if you can.

Memorial Day, 1955, Indianapolis. Me and Hughie on the railroad tracks with a portable radio, listening to the 500. Just that; there was no Indy then, the only nickname we knew for our city was Naptown, and it seemed appropriate. The race itself in those days was as pure and innocent as we were. It was before the big global car companies got involved, before Ford brought the refined, expensive high-pitched whine of its V-8s to the track, when the deep, throaty roar of the big 4-cylinder Offenhauser engines ruled the pack, when a boy could walk the alleys of Indianapolis, and catch a glimpse of an open wheeled racing car in someone’s garage, when a neighborhood grease monkey could still dream of building and driving a car in the big race without being laughed off the street.

The race took all day back then, when people in the know would say that for a car to circle the track at more than 150 mph was against the laws of physics. And so we climbed to the tracks to listen, and spend the day talking and dreaming. It was a tradition, or such tradition as not-quite-10-year old boys can have; we had resolved to do it some months before, after I had found a semi-functional radio in someone’s trash. The knobs were long gone, as was the antenna, but we put new tubes and a battery in it and tuned to WIBC as best we could. I will never forget the crackling, distant roar of the Offenhauser engines, the changing pitch of the announcers’ voices, fading in and out to the accompaniment of various screeches and howls. The few passing freight trains only added to the romantic lure for a couple of  boys.

We sat at our favorite spot, above the ruins of a factory, whose broken windows and random indecipherable gears and brackets were sheer heaven for the imagination. To us it was as mysterious as Pompeii or Stonehenge, and we spent long hours devising theories about what had been made there, and why it had been abandoned, and whether there were ghosts. All the while, the sun shone brightly, the breezes came always just in time, and the radio droned a hypnotic backdrop, as close to paradise as anything on this earth.

Then, through the crackle, came the voice of Jim Frosch, the backstretch announcer: a horrendous crash involving at least three cars. The car driven by Roger Ward had broken an axle, causing the cars behind to swerve to avoid him. The race leader and favorite, Bill Vukovich, was hit with such force that his car sailed of the track, striking an abutment upside down and landing in a parking lot. Vukovich – for us Mickey Mantle, Johnny Unitas, and John Wayne all rolled into one – was dead. We came down from the tracks, stunned, and walked slowly home through the neighborhood, which suddenly seemed stiflingly hot.

Stories and rumors swirled. Boyd, whose car had sent him flying, had hit him on purpose. Roger Ward’s car had been sabotaged. As days passed, the stories grew less accusatory but more grisly. Someone had a cousin who knew a guy who had seen the crash at the race and swore he saw Vukovich’s head roll down the track a few dozen feet before coming to rest on the inner verge. None of it was true. None of it mattered.

That was the end of the “tradition.” It marked the first real disillusionment of our short lives. From that point, Hughie and I gradually lost interest in hanging out, although we were glad enough when our paths crossed, and exchanged stories, and asked after each other’s recent adventures. But we went separate ways, each choosing, or thrust into, our separate tunnels.  I longed to escape everything familiar, parents, neighbors, greasy streets with permanent potholes; Hughie seemed evermore welded to the neighborhood. After high school, I went off to college, a relatively rare thing in that neighborhood. He joined the Navy, then was back out almost immediately, on a medical discharge.

Years later, home on a visit, I gave in to a nostalgic urge and looked him up; he still lived in the same neighborhood. I knocked on his door. A woman I didn’t know opened the door.

It was a small rundown apartment with a musty odor. Hughie sat on the arm of a couch, eyes glazed with surrender. There were two other guys, a couple of girls, a half empty whiskey bottle. We said hello, and I said so long.

Nowadays. I sometimes find myself grieving for those old times when our lives seemed pure and holy, and I still think of that day so long ago, the day Vukovich died, and how the world seemed irreparably changed. How were we to know that it was only the beginning?

The Bar al-Kabob scrolls

The world of biblical archaeology is reeling from the announcement of a major discovery by a team from the Musée des Choses Incroyable, led by Professor Marcel Douteuse.  In a cave at Bar al-Kabob near the Dead Sea, the team has discovered a scroll, reproduced below, dated to the early first millennium BCE by context.  It appears to be an alternate version of the Book of Genesis, in particular, the section relating to the creation of Man.

 

bar al-kabob-001

Here’s a translation:

After God had made the earth and all the mountains, He found that He had some dust left over.  This He fashioned into a likeness of Himself, and breathed life into it.  Then He saw that there was still some dust left over.  This He made into another likeness of Himself, and breathed life into it, and looked upon His works, and saw that they were good, and called them Adam and Steve.

From the journal of Peter Kugel-Schwanz

I have obtained the journal of the late Peter Kugel-Schwanz, investigative journalist for the German tabloid Spektakel, through devious means, which I am not at liberty to divulge. The following is an excerpt, dated the day before his untimely death in a freak accordion accident.

In the course of my research surrounding the mysterious Document 1285a, I have learned of the involvement of one Harry Bollocks, Jr., an operative of an obscure British agency called the Ministry of Abstruse Development; it is so obscure that its acronym is a state secret.

It seems that Mr. Bollocks was a key player in the time machine project alluded to in the afore-mentioned document. I was determined to find and interview this gentleman, but he seemed to have disappeared from the face of the earth around January of last year, around the same time as the filing date on the document. While delving deeper into the workings of the ministry, I was able to make the acquaintance of someone who once was employed there, who must remain anonymous; I will call him Mr. Y. At about the same time, I became aware of several suspicious events, which I could only interpret as attempts upon my life. This has prompted me to write down as succinctly as possible the facts I have learned through several intensive interviews with Mr. Y.

First, as to the functioning of the time machine: it could be set to arrive at any precise time and date in the past by ministry officials, but the return journey depended on the operative who was sent into the past, a fact whose significance will become clear.

Second, the operative who was sent on the mission in question was none other than Harry Bollocks, Jr.

It was determined by those in charge of the operation that Bollocks would be provided with a cover identity, a verifiable historical entity, in order to minimize any collateral effects of his presence. The identity that was chosen was that of an obscure German dispatch runner who had been wounded severely at the Battle of the Somme, and had died March 4, 1917 of infection. Bollocks assumed this identity, counting on the force of history itself to clear up any contradictions, in order to carry out his mission to assassinate Heinrich Knebel, a lieutenant who would later rise to prominence and instigate WW II. The idea was to forestall the Second World War entirely by eliminating this person.

The name of the deceased dispatch runner whose identity Bollocks assumed was Gefreiter (Pfc.) Adoph Hitler.

Document No. 1235a

Document No. 1235a
Classification: Top Secret
Subject: Report on Operation Nullification

Pursuant to the development of a viable instrument for travelling back through time and returning safely (Document no. 1234), and the subsequent approval of Operation Nullification (Document No. 1235), this report details the results of said operation.

The objective of Operation Nullification was to travel back to 1917 and assassinate Oberleutnant Heinrich Knebel, later known as Heinz Volker, the charismatic leader of the National People’s Party (Napi) beginning in 1934. Removal of this target was deemed to forestall the rise of the Napi Party, and thereby vitiate the events leading to World War II.

Result: Objective successfully completed.