“Are there no amusements? Yes. … What are the fifty newspapers, which those precocious urchins are bawling down the street, and which are kept filed within, what are they but amusements? Not vapid, waterish amusements, but good strong stuff; dealing in round abuse and blackguard names; pulling off the roofs of private houses, as the Halting Devil did in Spain; pimping and pandering for all degrees of vicious taste, and gorging with coined lies the most voracious maw; imputing to every man in public life the coarsest and the vilest motives; scaring away from the stabbed and prostrate body-politic, every Samaritan of clear conscience and good deeds; and setting on, with yell and whistle and the clapping of foul hands, the vilest vermin and worst birds of prey. — No amusements!”—Charles Dickens
WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER EIGHT: PART TEN: THE FALL
How did the Seven Stars Tavern and Doss House stay in business? Let me set the scene of the first time I ever seen it. Like it was yesterday I remember it. A damp evening in late autumn and I was still living there with poor Red Mary in her house of ill repute. One gray evening she was out drinking in Noxtown and she unaccountably took me along with her—she was already half-mad with worry over Smash Conklin and all the rest. The basement dive was dark and woody, with panels of thick glass for upper windows facing the street. It smelt of smoke and sour beer and greasy fried fish. It was hard by the Salt River. Tooting of riverboats. Snarls and hardy-har-hars of hoary old lushermen. I was given a copper penny to tip the piano player. I asked him to play the only song I knew of: “After the Ball.” A tear sprang in Red Mary’s eye on hearing the strains of that sentimental air and she whisked me out of there toot sweet and never took me back there again and told me to never again set foot in the place or she would tan my hide—she got some of her odd turns of phrase from her time down South plying the Riverboat trade but for the most part her lingo came from the demis and lallygags and ladies of joy she overseen on a daily basis.
Funny the things we remember—or refuse to forget.
But her baleful stares and threatenings never did stop me none from doing as I pleased, ner going back there on my own, to see what I could see. Believe me when I tell you, Yob, that there were fights in that saloon that lasted the whole night long—Yekkmen crazed from swilling coffin varnish and people getting their ears chawed off and their heads bashed in with table legs used as clubs and all on the slightest pretext—the slightest pretext–while at the same time coke fiends snorted rocket powder out of asthma bottles and men with beaver hats posed low over their eyes picked pockets–and all the while knocked out drunks lay snoozing in the corner, snoring with their toothless mouths wide open and their dusty pockets turned inside out. At the fag-end of the night I seen dead bodies being rolled out the door to the side alley and carted away in hand-drawn wagons. I twigged to Yobs of my age—thirteen and fourteen–swilling bumbo and fighting between ‘em in loud after-hours brawls out in the back alley, in the long shadows throwed by gaslight lamps, with the Yekkmen laying bets and urging them on. Believe me when I tell you I seen it all–and it was all too much for any man, and more so a lad of my tender years.
How is it that the coppers in the precinct house didn’t shut ‘em all down, all these cribs and low dives? The opium joints and bed bug cribs and red light mansions and Places like French May’s and The Golden Dollar and the International House? The answer was plain as the pimple on your nose. You learn your way around soon enough if you got eyes to see and ears to listen. Tipsy Smith was under the protection of Captain Tom Aston. That came with a cost. Free whiskey drinks for all the coppers. Free bottles of the good ole stuffy-wuffy for the Cap’n. And a large passel of greenbacks changing hands once a month and every month. T’was ever thus. Scratch my back, et cetera.
A deal with the very devil—that’s what life was, and is. And we all make those deals; Yob; make ‘em every day, and these very same deals are made the world over, from Mount Venus to Maracaibo. We are all proud of things which should shame us, like money ill-got, and ashamed of things that should make us proud, like virtuous poverty. Or so the preacher says. I wouldn’t know. I been poor but never virtuous; I’ve had money but I was never proud.
Do you want to know the Yobs as has got the whole thing all sewn up? They is always high up in the Masons, and the Moose, and the Elks, and they always stood high up in the machine. Unless you was a high up yourself, you dealt with them only through clerks and secretaries and what were called supernumeraries. Most tripper-uppers worked at night; I fast twigged that THESE fine trots stole money from the city in broad daylight, and if you tiffed with them, so what? What are you going to do about it?
How to get in good with one of them was key to my master plan to get back at Smash Conklin for plaguing me and Red Mary. How to get one of ‘em to tumble to my plan was my problem. Because all these doors led right to the Big Man, Cokey Stolas, He Whose Name Must Not Be Mentioned; He Who Must Be Obeyed. To hear some men tell it, we lived only by his permission in the world of his moves. He controlled the newspapers, the Yekkmen, the Mayor, the banks, and so on. He controlled the electric company, the drug stores, and the coal companies. A dragon loving, satanic Bohemian. Speak his name and ye be damned. We were his chattel. He ran the Big Street AND the Little Store. And me, who was I? A mere lad. Am I going to bend him to my will? Dream on, Yob, said my self to myself.
But if I couldn’t dub the jigger and humbug him in some way then I was trumped. I decided that whatever I decided to do, I ought first to try it on a dog and if the dog didn’t die then maybe Baby WOULD get a new pair of shoes.
I may have been only a kiddie but old enough to of knowed that if any a Man Jack of ‘em just happened to be a stray Tup on the loose then I could fix ‘em up with Little Jane or one of Red Mary’s other girls and they would blab to the doxy and I could learn some interesting things and then we would see what we would see. Maybe I could ask one of the whores to do my work outright—but which?
It was then that I lighted on Little Jane. She was one of them young sentimental tarts that thought I was a cute customer when I first moved in with Red Mary and was sweet on me as a result and one night I showed her I wasn’t a little boy no more and she and I came to an understanding and before long I knew that she would do anything that I wanted, not that the threat was ever there, but I knowed that if I ever told Red Mary about how Little Jane took my cherry there would be hell to pay for Little Jane, and she knowed it too.
From there it was just a matter of figuring out who to use to take down Smash Conklin, which was the burning desire of my newly awakened soul. Now, it happened that most of the newspaper reporters in town was beholden to the Big Man—it goes without saying that nearly all of ‘em was sports as frequented Prostitutes. Little Jane gave it away free to one of these Yobs, a Mort named Tommy Dodd, a turfside scribe who liked jazzing prosties more than standing rounds or even betting on the ponies. Little Jane flattered this fly rogue as a big man who knew all the players, and in return he gave up the skinny on who was on the ins and who was on the outs. He spilled that as of late it was Beau Nash who had gotten on the bad side of the Big Man by being greedy and roughing up some of the prosties in his stable too bad and causing all kinds of small trouble. I treasured up this ken and filed it away to use for another time–little knowing that the day would come sooner…rather than later.
RANDY SCOUSE GIT
WHAT DO YOU CALL A GROUP OF…?
Borrah Minevitch & His Harmonica Rascals
Boxcar Rhapsody (1942)
Onitsha market literature
LIFE AND MONEY TURNS MAN UP AND DOWN
…by Sunday O. Olisah, also known as “the Strong Man of the Pen,”. An example of Onitsha Market Literature.
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JOHN CARPENTER’S ‘THEY LIVE’ TURNS 25
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11* DEVIATIONS FROM THE PREPARED TEXT: A REVIEW OF OTHER MEDIA
THE NOVEL: AN ALTERNATIVE HISTORY 1600-1800. BY STEVEN MOORE.
This is a book more to be savored rather than devoured; I can only hope that the pace at which I am reading it strikes a happy medium between the two extremes.
Moore has presented a menu for novel lovers–a witty and informative text; a scrupulously annotated reading list for a leisurely retirement or a grandly ambitious autodidact.
What’s good about this book and his previous volume is that he manages to engage the reader’s interest in books which it is likely they have never read. Furthermore, his judgment seems eminently sound when discussing less abstruse texts. In particular, I find myself in full agreement with his assessment of Don Quixote as both a postmodernist text and a rattlebag of authorial out-takes.
I am already anticipating volume three. I am certain it will be well worth the wait.
CONTROVERSIES IN POPULAR CULTURE. 705.
Are television and newspaper and online commentators interesting? Yes, if by ‘interesting’ you mean partisan and slanted. I don’t pretend that I am fair and balanced in every particular, but I am allergic to cant, have developed a pretty good bullshit detector, and furthermore, I am more than willing to correct course when I am convinced that I am in error. I don’t merely dismiss any assessment which is contrary to what I think. I try to assess it for flaws, and if and when I find any, I try to decide whether the flaws outweigh the merits. Anybody who is media literate ought to be able to detect a superficial argument which merely serves to justify a partisan attack. In fact, they taught us how to do that in Freshman high school English. Of course, the crypto-Mandarin shouting heads and water spaniel rhetoricians well trained to fetch and carry always dumb down their approach, so their approach is the exact opposite of that taken by historical scholarship. Fact is, these instant analysis pieces are often simply wrong. Blinkered in their analysis of the short view; purblind in their analysis of the long view. Full of ad hominem flackery. Reactionary humbug. And Ice Cream Soldier sententiousness. Guilty of mere cant. Which has cant become simply received opinion. Why can’t so-called individualists look past their cultural conditioning and try to think past it every once in a while? Cant: “hypocritical and sanctimonious talk, typically of a moral, religious, or political nature.” Is there anyone in favor of it? The sticking point is, who is brave (or arrogant) enough to deride it when it is all around us, like the air we breathe?
CONTROVERSIES IN POPULAR CULTURE. 706.
In 100 years, this era will be as obscure as the era of the Spanish-American War is today–a War which was a strike response against terrorist Brigands (“Remember the Maine”) followed by a ten-year Guerrilla War in the Philippines.
CONTROVERSIES IN POPULAR CULTURE. 707.
At least let us give victims the opportunity to choose their own terminology. And let us not get on a rhetorical high horse about people who are in circumstances less advantageous than our own. Ultimately, it is mere cant.
CONTROVERSIES IN POPULAR CULTURE. 708.
When people reach a certain age—usually by their fifties–they not only begin to feel nostalgia for the fads of their youth but are in a position to impose them upon others. Witness the 1940s and their fascination with the Gay 90s, and the short-lived 1920s flapper fad of the 1960s. This may or may not explain the recent fascination with 70s Prog Rock.