Bing and Nuttiness

It was Saturday. I stopped off at the local coffee bar for a cup of my favorite brew. I wasn’t looking to meet anybody. I didn’t.

Well, at least not at first. I was at my favorite table in the very back of the place, the one against the wall facing the front, a good location to see everyone in the bar. The crowd wasn’t overwhelming. That’s why I was surprised when she came in and headed toward my table. She was tall and thin, maybe too thin but who was I to judge. She stopped at my table and leaned on a chair.

“You know, that’s where I normally sit,” she said to me.

“What’s stopping you, Blondie?” I said.

“Don’t call me that, my hair is red,” she told me. She wasn’t lying. The lighting wasn’t so good.

“What should I call you?” I asked.

Just then, some goofball fired up the jukebox, a loud rendition of Bing Crosby singing “Temptation” from some old movie. I watched as her lips moved, but my lip reading isn’t so good, so I said, “What?”

She said it again, but I still couldn’t hear her. I motioned her into the chair across from me. She sat and smiled at me, then covered her ears. I yelled, “What are you having?”

“What?” she yelled back.

“What are you having?” Her look told me she didn’t catch it that time either. I leaned toward her and yelled, “Coffee?”

She nodded, then pointed out what she wanted on the menu.

Just then, the manager, a small, wiry, guy with black, slicked back hair, came out and, hearing the jukebox blaring, tossed his hands up, then let them drop onto his head. He rushed over to the jukebox and started shaking it wildly, screaming something as he did. After several minutes, the music died and the manager moved away from the jukebox, saying, “How many times I got to say it? No Bing Crosby!”

The jukebox was pretty banged up, so no one was able to play anything more on it.

“Whew, what a relief,” the redhead told me. “I mean, I like Crosby, but that was just too loud.”

“You got a point there Red,” I said to her.

“Don’t call me that,” she said.

Hilarity Clinton: My Discovery of Usenet in the 90s

Before Facebook, Twitter, Google, and even the vast Web itself, there was Usenet, where anyone, anywhere, could post whatever was on his or her mind, and millions around the globe had the option of reading it or forever blocking the person posting. It was in this free-wheeling environment where I once again found a sense of purpose for my writing and a massive audience with which to share it. Bill Clinton first moved into the White House around the time I discovered the Internet, so the Clintons showed up rather frequently in posts I made at the time. Here are three of the most infamous. I had a couple of these posted on my website, where I’d occasionally get hits from an odd government domain I later discovered belonged to the Executive Office of the President.

For those unfamiliar with Free-nets, they were Unix-based user communities which allowed early ‘net denizens to access various Internet resources. Sort of like a text-based, non-invasive precursor to Facebook.

President Clinton Stole my Fries

Posted to newsgroup talk.bizarre, 13 February 1994, via Cleveland Free-net.

It was an average Friday. I was about 15 minutes away from closing down the local McDonald’s, not sure where I was headed afterward. I’d been working on the same Big Mac for about an hour, picking at it mainly. I’d grown bored with it about five seconds after I’d zinged the pickles past the head of this kid trying to impress his date. He didn’t much like it and came to share that information with me, but I brought him down a peg by saying, “You know pal, you really want to impress her, you shouldn’t be in Mickey Dee’s.” Embarrassed, he slinked back across the dining room. He got her out of there not five minutes later.

After warding off this punk, I turned my attention back to the Mac, but the thrill was gone. The experience held no fascination for me and I wondered about all those other Big Macs I’d eaten in all those other restaurants and decided I was no better for having eaten them. Still I’d never been so depressed by a burger before, and I wondered what this experience meant for my future beef consumption. I tried to shrug it off, tried molding the bun into daring shapes, but nothing I did could shake the sense of foreboding I felt. Something big was about to happen and I hoped that whatever it was, I’d still be standing afterwards.

I checked the clock and realized it would only be another fifteen minutes before that weasel night manager would be out to tell me to shove off. Still, I couldn’t pull myself out of that seat. I took a quick look around then dumped the last few ounces of Jack Daniels into the Sprite I’d been sipping for so long that the ice had melted then slowly made my way back to the counter.

“Now what?” the bored chick behind the counter said.

“Just came back for that positive attitude,” I said.

She gave me a dull, half-smile then backhanded me from behind the counter, knocking me to my knees.

“Sarcasm I don’t need,” she said. “What’s your order?”

“Large fries,” I said, “And make it a double.”

I took the fries back to the seat, then tossed the burger to the floor under the table and gave it a good kick, sending it over to the table where the kid and his date had been. I started working on the fries, eating ’em one at a time, lingering on each as though my life depended on making ’em last as long as possible. That’s when I noticed her.

She was outside, peering into the restaurant through the large picture windows. I caught her eye and raised my cup to her. Smiling, she turned toward the door and slowly made her way inside. She was blonde, older than I was, but still sharp, with the best pair of gams I’d seen in the last few minutes. She was dressed in black. Seemed kind of nervous and kept looking over her shoulder. She by-passed the counter and headed straight for my table. Not waiting to be invited to sit, she pulled out a smoke and lit it and took the longest drag on it I’d ever seen then exhaled just as slowly.

“Slumming?” I said. She laughed.

“Nice fries,” she told me.

“They get the job done,” I remarked. “You got a name?”

“Maybe,” she said. “In the meantime, call me Hillary.”

“Hillary, eh?” I said. “I had an—” I paused, then realized none of my female relatives bore that name, “Never mind.”

She kept looking around, casing the joint. I took another sip of my electric Sprite and said, “Expecting someone?”

“You never know,” she said.

Suddenly, these two guys wearing shades and earpieces came in. Hillary took one look at ’em and said, “Damn.”

“Problem?” I asked, but she didn’t hear. Instead she looked at me and said in a sultry voice, “You’re not gonna eat those fries are you?”

“Planned to,” I replied. It wasn’t what she wanted to hear.

“Sorry kid,” she said.

It was the last thing I heard before someone sapped me from behind. I saw stars and teetered on the edge of darkness, rocking back and forth, trying to hold on to consciousness and sinking fast. The room was spinning, but I managed to get to my feet and saw Hillary leaving, arm in arm with this big, red-faced guy. They had my fries. I tried to follow, but suddenly my legs didn’t work so well.

I came to and found myself staring up into the face of the rat night manager.

“You can’t sleep here!” he yelled. “Out! Out!”

I got to my feet, then, just for good measure, slugged him. I left him sprawled on the floor, whining like a little baby. Outside, I found a note attached to the windshield wiper of my car, the quickly scribbled witticism, “I feel your pain!”

That’s when I knew. I hadn’t dreamed it.

By now the manager had regained his composure and was heading out the door, waving some sort of blunt object. I hopped in the front seat and gunned the engine, peeling out just as he made it to where I was. I left him in a cloud of dust, screaming obscenities then headed off toward Burger King, to get some more fries.

Secrets of the “Pyramids”

Posted to newsgroup talk.bizarre, 14 April 1994, via Free-net Erlangen (Germany).

The address at the bottom of the letter I received was “188 Mockingbird Lane” the alleged address of “Steve Baxter”. I didn’t know Baxter, had never before been on or near Mockingbird Lane, but I had received this note in the mail, claiming to be a “lucky charm” and that I should send this guy a dollar. Well, I’m not one to send money to people I don’t know, especially someone who sends me cryptic notes. I wanted to know how this guy had gotten my name and address and I wanted to let him know how I felt about his offer.

When I rang the bell, however, the person who answered, an old woman who seemed a bit frightened, told me no one named Baxter had ever lived there. She wasn’t too informative other than that, and seemed anxious for me to leave, so I didn’t press the issue. As I was leaving however, I thought I saw someone watching me from a downstairs window.

Driving back in my car, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being followed. It was crazy, I know, but I found myself checking the rear view mirror more than usual. The feeling didn’t leave me after I got home either. All throughout the following week I had the distinct feeling I was being watched.

Then I received the first phone call.

“You should’a sent da buck,” the first guy said, then hung up.

“Forget about Baxter,” another told me. All the callers sounded different, yet somehow similar.

I knew I was on to something. I went back to the letter. The next name on it was “Cheryl Dudah” from “Gary, Indiana” which was several hundred miles away. I left the next morning.

Different streets, different cities, yet the story was oddly the same. In fact, I was almost certain that the old woman who answered the door in Gary was the same woman who’d answered the door at the first place I’d gone. I knew it couldn’t be the same woman, or could it?

When I left the house, I noticed I had a flat. This was curious, as I’d just bought new tires. Walking to a nearby phone booth, I heard footsteps behind me but when I turned, there was no one there. I quickened my pace but just as I turned the corner, someone was there, and smashed me in the head with some blunt object.

I woke up in a dank basement, my hands bound. I couldn’t see a thing, but suddenly someone switched on a single, overhead bulb and I found myself face to face with Bill and Hillary Clinton!

“You couldn’t take a hint, could you?” Hillary said, all the time slapping her palm with a rubber hose.

“Now, Hillary,” Bill said, “no need to get rough. Yet.”

He sat across from me and smiled.

“Now, you seem like a reasonable fellow American,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to do anything that would hurt this country, now would you?”

What could I say? I was tied up, sitting eye-ball to eye-ball with the president and first lady. So I shook my head.

“Good,” he said, leaning toward me then grabbing the collar of my jacket. “Now listen up and listen good!”

He laid it all out for me. For years, the government has been sending out illegal chain letters and keeping all the money sent in. The same 100 addresses have been used since FDR’s time, when the scam first started. The idea has been to play on the greed of the average individual and to profit from it.

“You might say it’s one of those ‘secret taxes’ you always hear about but never see in action,” Bill said. “Another thing we’ll do is send the secret service in to people’s houses while they’re away to check for change under the cushions on the couch.

“Is that profitable?” I said.

“How the hell do you think we paid for the Stealth Bomber?” Hillary said, again smacking her palm with the hose.

“She’s right,” Bill said, nodding. “And we’re looking into exploiting the money you lose in vending machines to pay for the health care package.”

“But why are you telling me this?” I said. “Or, aren’t you going to let me go?”

At this they looked at one another and laughed manically. Hillary stepped out of my line of vision for a few minutes then returned holding a hypo full of something. I watched the needle slowly make its way toward my arm then I don’t remember much else.

When I came to, I was back in my apartment, and the first thing I was aware of was a message coming in on my answering machine. It was from my boss, asking where I’d been for the past week. I grabbed my watch and realized I had in fact lost an entire week. I phoned my boss and gave some sort of excuse, then just sat, trying to find some way to piece together all I had seen and heard.

Suddenly, a thought occurred to me and I dressed quickly and rushed out to where my car was parked. It was exactly where I normally park.

At least they fixed my tire.

Checkers Rant

Emailed to president at whitehouse dot gov, 7 October 1993, via Cleveland Free-net.

I have been looking high and low for a copy of Richard Nixon’s Checkers speech, delivered 23 September 1952, on some electronic archive, but still this speech has eluded me. I will not debate the relative merits of the Nixon presidency and his other political achievements, dubious as some may be. But Checkers was a classic moment in American history. True, it was not the Gettysburg address, but as one can count the millions of children conceived over the years by parents watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, I’m certain that one can also discover a large number of men and women now in their early forties, Checkers children, if you will, who were conceived during that telling moment in which Richard Nixon salvaged his political career.

So far, Mr. Clinton, I have supported you. I voted for you in ’92 and didn’t really mind in ’88 when you droned on and on during your introduction of Michael Dukakis — actually I wasn’t watching, as I was on duty in the back parking lot at the convention and was watching the festivities on a miniature television run by two AAA batteries, so I was switching on and off until the candidate came on. But I’m not sure I can continue to live in a country where speeches by unpopular former presidents aren’t made available to the average reading public. I must request, sir that you correct this anomaly, or else I may have no other choice but to flee this country. I do not make this statement idly. I’m not more than two or three hundred miles from the Canadian border, so it would be a simple matter to get there.

Please, sir, I urge you to place Checkers on some FTP archive somewhere and make this site known to any and every one. Other speeches can then follow, in no specific interval. Many Americans will thank you, sir, and you shall go down in history as the greatest president of the 20th century.

The Lupos and Shakespeare

Note: This article has been updated and expanded in my essay collection The Cheese Toast Project, available in print from online bookstores, and in print and Kindle at Amazon.

My earliest known ancestor, Ambrose Lupo, was brought to England as part of an ensemble of string players around May of 1540 by Henry VIII. Some scholars believe this was in connection with Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves, but given the timing, Ambrose and colleagues would have arrived as the marriage was waning, rather than being there in time to provide entertainment. Rather, Henry’s decision seems to have been guided by a desire to raise the standards of English music, and the impact these musicians had would be felt for more than a century. The Lupos, along with other families such as the Bassanos, the Laniers, and the Comeys, established musical dynasties that endured throughout the reign of the Tudor monarchs, and into the reign of the Stewarts. Ambrose and his sons, Peter (my ancestor) and Joseph, were among a group of musicians credited with introducing the violin to England.

Joseph Lupo first shows up in household accounts in 1566 and his brother Peter is first listed in 1570. Ambrose Lupo was among the musicians who marched in the funeral procession of Henry VIII and at the coronation of Elizabeth I, and Peter, Joseph, and their sons, each named Thomas, marched at the funeral of Elizabeth I. Ambrose served for over fifty years, ending with his death in February of 1591.

By the time Shakespeare arrived in London in the late-1580s, Peter and Joseph would have been well-established in their positions at court. Both would have been around thirty years older than Shakespeare, but there is evidence that Peter lived in the East End of London, in Aldgate, near the theater district. While it’s hard to say how much the musicians would have interacted with the playwright, there is evidence from Shakespeare’s work that he was acquainted with, and may have even drawn inspiration from the Italian musicians at court. Many of his plays are set in Northern Italian locales, such as Verona, Milan, and Padua, and his work is peppered with musical references, from the Duke in Twelfth Night proclaiming, “If music be the food of love, play on” to Hamlet admonishing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, “Though you may fret me, you will not play upon me.” A recent discovery suggests Shakespeare drew inspiration from the musicians for two of his best known plays.

As an Italian at the English court, Peter’s name was often rendered in many interesting ways. In some documents, he’s listed as Peter, in others he’s Petro, or Pietro. In the listing of New Year’s gifts for 1585, he’s identified as Petruchio Lupo. This discovery was made all the more intriguing by the fact, that, at the time, his wife’s name was Katherine. Petruchio and Katherine (or its Italian equivalent Katerina) are the main characters in The Taming of the Shrew. A look at other characters from this play yields more interesting parallels. In Shrew, Petruchio has a servant named Peter, a servant named Joseph, a servant named Philip, and a servant named Nicholas. “Petruchio” Lupo is better known as Peter, has a brother named Joseph, a son named Phillip, and a colleague named Nicholas Lanier. The similarities extend to a second play by Shakespeare.

Petruchio, in Shrew, claims to be the son and sole heir of Antonio, a wealthy merchant, recently deceased, from Verona. Verona is part of Veneto or Venetia which, in Shakespeare’s time, was in the Republic of Venice. This suggests that Petruchio could be connected to another of Shakespeare’s protagonists, Antonio, the title character from The Merchant of Venice. In that play, Antonio is the benefactor of Bassanio, and more than one scholar has noted the similarity of this character’s name to the family of musicians, the Bassanos. In Merchant, however, Antonio is presented as a bachelor without a son. Venice is notable in the history of the musicians, as it was Venice where the Lupos, Bassanos, and other musical families were recruited into royal service by Henry’s agents.

Peter’s brother, Joseph, married Laura Bassano, and Laura was cousin to Emilia or Aemilia Bassano, who married Alfonso Lanier the brother of Nicholas. Emilia Lanier is believed by a number of scholars to have been the Dark Woman of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Unfortunately, much of the evidence connecting Emilia to Shakespeare comes from a questionable source, Simon Forman, an astrologer with designs on Emilia. Forman states she was the mistress of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, who, as Lord Chamberlain, was the patron of Shakespeare. The facts that can be verified about her, however, make Emilia an ideal candidate for the model on which Shakespeare based Katerina in Shrew, not least of which being the fact that she’s the daughter of Baptist Bassano. Baptista Minola is the name given to the father of Katerina in Shrew.

Early in the 1600s, Emilia Lanier published a volume of poetry under her own name, something unheard of for a woman during this era. There are only a few known examples of women who published during this time. The theme of Emilia’s work was that women were every bit the equals to men, and she highlights a number of notable women throughout history, including Elizabeth I. She also focuses on the women surrounding Jesus, claiming they were better apostles, since his disciples all ran away when Jesus was arrested, while the women stayed with him throughout the crucifixion and later returned to prepare his body after he’d been laid in the tomb.

Evidence exists that suggests that the Lupos and possibly the Bassanos were Jews. Notably, Ambrose and colleagues appear to be among the “secret Jews” rounded up by Henry’s men early in 1542 and held in the Tower for a period of time before being allowed to quietly leave England. The Spanish ambassador, Eustice Chapuys alludes to this incident in a letter to a colleague, and hints at the musical background of the prisoners, “however well they may sing, they will not be able to fly away from their cages without leaving feathers behind” and in household accounts, the string players are listed with the notation, “they be gon to their contry.” Later, Ambrose shows up among records of the Inquisition in Venice, in testimony from a young singer named Orazio Cogno, identified as someone responsible for letting Orazio read material the Church deemed heretical, while Orazio was in England.

The Merchant of Venice and The Taming of the Shrew are among Shakespeare’s most controversial plays, Merchant for it’s harsh portrayal of Jews, and Shrew for it’s treatment of women. However, an important parallel can be drawn from Merchant, given that Shylock is forced to convert to Christianity, and the musicians, if they were Jews, had to convert, or at least pretend to convert, to avoid repercussions in a hostile society. The purpose of the Inquisition, in fact, was to ferret out Jews who held to their faith while professing Christianity in public.

As stated, Peter Lupo was considerably older than Shakespeare, and his identification as “Petruchio” has only been found in this one place. The fact that he’s recorded as such, however, suggests he was sometimes known by this name, though whether or not Shakespeare heard him called this is unknown. Wikipedia identifies “Petruchio” as an English version of the name “Petruccio” but the main reference is to the character in Shrew. It may be Shakespeare drew nothing more than a few names from those around him. His other play set in Venice, Othello, does have a character named Emilia, though.

Still, it is nice to imagine Shakespeare’s work being performed with background music provided by my ancestor and his family. Peter would have been well-known around London, given his placement at court, and he did inhabit the same section of London Shakespeare would have frequented. In later life, Peter retired to Kent, where he died around 1608. His son Albiano was among the earliest settlers of Virginia, and his son Phillip, through a son by the same name, was the father of the earliest branch of the Lupo family in America.

References:

Ashbee, Andrew, Records of English Court Music, Vol. VI, 1558-1603, Aldershot, England, Scolar Press, 1992.

Holman, Peter, Four and Twenty Fiddlers: The Violin at the English Court 1540-1690, New York, Oxford University Press, 1993.

Holman, Peter, “The English Royal Violin Consort in the Sixteenth Century”, Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association, Vol. 109 (1982/83).

Lupo, G. M., “The Lupo Family of Early Virginia“, The Virginia Genealogist, Vol. 36, No. 4, October – December, 1992, pgs. 281-288.

Prior, Roger, “A second Jewish community in Tudor London”, Jewish Historical Studies, Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England, Volume XXXI (1988-90).

Prior, Roger, “Jewish Musicians at the Tudor Court”, The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 69 (1983).

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic of the Reign of Henry VIII, Vol. XVII, 1542, Printed for Her Majesty’s Stationery Office by the “Norfolk Chronicle” Company, Ltd., Norwich, London, 1900.

Testimony of Orazio Cogno before the Venice Inquisition on August 27th, 1577, The Ever Reader, Number 5, Spring/Summer 1997.

Wikipedia entry on Emilia Bassano.

Excerpt from “Crazy Like the Foxes”

This is an excerpt from my novel The Long-Timer Chronicles: Crazy Like the Foxes, available in print and Kindle format at Amazon.com.

Background: Charles and Renee Fox, a couple who’ve been married for more than eleven hundred years, are the main protagonists of Crazy Like the Foxes.

Roland Fox had every opportunity to make something of his life. The younger of Charles and Renee Fox’s two sons, he learned from a very early age that he would most likely have a long time to decide what he wanted to do with himself. By the time he reached the age of sixty he realized his parents’ pronouncements had proven true as he still looked like a man in his late teens to early twenties. Born on his parent’s manor in England a few years before his father and other nobles forced King John to sign the Magna Charta, Roland spent the first two hundred and fifty years of his life in his parents household, even though his brother Nathaniel had already established himself as a landowner in his own right and his older sister Isabella and twin sister Katherine were constantly fending off suitors. Though his parents had never applied any pressure on him to move out or get on with his life, he felt they would like to see him working toward some goal. So Roland decided to go the scholarly route and headed off to Oxford where he studied the classics, learned Greek and Latin and was generally bored to tears. He had planned to work on a degree in Philosophy, but he ended up dropping out and hanging around London then touring the continent a time or two, trying to find something to spur his interest.

At last, Roland discovers that it’s far more interesting to fool people into giving him money than to earn any on his own by plying a trade. One afternoon, lying around his flat, he hits upon an idea and immediately starts putting together a master con. He rounds up investors for a proposed settlement in the “new world” and gives such a good performance, that he has deep pockets lined up around the block to buy in. At last, he bids farewell to his benefactors and sets out for the colony with promises that he will return with an update and the first profits in a year or so. Instead, he sails to Amsterdam, where he lives off his ill-gotten gain for a number of years, until he is sure most of his creditors have died, at which time he returns and starts all over again.

Certain that he’s hit on the perfect scam, Roland heads to Paris, where he has equal success in conning investors, and this time he hides out in Milan. He’d last hit England in the late 1700s, so by the mid-19th century, Roland is sure the coast is clear. He returns and once again sets out to gather investors, and is equally successful, though his original spiel of populating the “new world” has to undergo some modifications, given the uprising in the colonies at the end of the last century. Colonizing Fiji, leasing diamond mines in Africa and investing in something called Even Newer South Wales become his stock in trade. He has so many scams going he finds it hard to keep up with them all, sometimes telling investors they’ll have a stake in New Fiji or New South Fiji.

It’s inevitable that Roland’s activities will catch up to him. One afternoon in 1861, Roland is in his flat when he hears a knock at the door. He answers to find one of his creditors accompanied by a constable

“That’s him,” the creditor says. “That’s the man.”

“What’s this about?” Roland says.

“Mr. Fox, this gentleman says you owe him a considerable sum of money,” the constable says.

“I wouldn’t call it ‘considerable’. Besides, I intend to make good on it very soon,” Roland says.

“He owes me £500,” the creditor says.

The constable nods. “I’d call that a considerable sum, sir.”

“And he’s been saying he’d pay me for more than a year,” the creditor says. “Yesterday an associate saw him at a shipping company making arrangements for what appeared to be a long trip.”

“Is this true, sir?” the constable says.

Roland shrugs. “My business takes me all over the world.”

“What business is that, exactly?” the constable says.

“I secure financing for various overseas ventures,” Roland says. “I guess you could say I’m a speculator.”

“Speculating on how to rob people blind is more like it,” the creditor says. “I know this neighborhood and it costs a pretty penny for a flat here.”

The constable considers it all for a moment then says, “Would you please accompany us down to the precinct to sort this out, Mr. Fox.”

“Today is awfully busy,” Roland says. “Could I pop by tomorrow sometime?”

“I’m afraid that wasn’t a request, Mr. Fox,” the constable reiterates, taking Roland by the arm. “Please come with me.”

Once in custody, the authorities publicize Roland’s name and description and within a week four hundred people come forward claiming to have lost money in one of his get-rich-quick schemes. One man, claiming to be a hundred and one years old, shows up stating that someone matching Roland’s description cheated him out of his family’s savings in 1784, but the authorities dismiss this as impossible, since Roland appears to be no older than his mid- to late-twenties though they don’t rule out a father or grandfather. He refuses to defend himself or admit the charges and at last, his sentence is handed out. He’s to be transported to Australia as soon as the next boat sets out and until then he’ll be interred in debtors’ prison.

On his first day there, Roland is seated in the main yard when he looks up to see his twin sister Katie entering. She’s dressed in an old and worn homespun dress with an apron over top of it. Her hair is mussed and she appears to have been crying.  While Roland looks more like his mother with black hair and green eyes, Katie looks more like Charles but with auburn hair and gray eyes. Seeing Roland, she thrusts her folded hands in front of her face and begins to cry again. Roland shakes his head and rolls his eyes at the performance then rises to receive his sister.

“Oh, dear brrrruther,” Katie says, with an inexplicably bad accent that sounds vaguely Irish. “I din’t wanna believe ’em, but ‘tis true!”

She throws her hands out beside her then wraps them around Roland and begins to sob again.

“Good god, Katie,” he whispers to her, “What’s with all the dramatics. And why are you wearing this getup.”

She continues to embrace him but says in her normal voice but with a note of sarcasm, “It seemed the proper attire for visiting one’s brother in debtor’s prison.”

“Point taken,” he says. “By the way, your Irish still needs a lot of work.”

“That was Scottish,” she says.

“Then it really needs some work,” he replies.

She releases him and they sit on a nearby bench.

“Have you spoken to Mom and Dad?” he says.

“Yes,” she replies. “They’re hoping you have a lovely time in Australia.”

“Oh, come on, they’re not going to actually let this happen are they?” Roland says.

“Afraid so,” Katie answers, “Mom was livid. Not even Dad could calm her down. You’re lucky he convinced her to let me come to see you. They’ll tolerate a lot of things, but scamming most of England for two hundred years is beyond the pale, even for you.”

“It’s not like I hurt anyone,” he says.

“Roland, you’ve been taking people’s money then leaving the country until all your creditors die then you come back and start over again,” Katie says. “I don’t know if there are actual rules for long-timers, but if there are, that one’s sure to be in the top ten.”

He shrugs and shakes his head.

“Did you at least talk to my friend, Johnny Baynes?” he says. “He’s normally strapped for cash, but can usually scrounge some up when needed.”

“Oh yes, Johnny Baynes,” she says. “It may interest to know he’ll most likely be accompanying you on your little excursion.”

“What?” Roland says, genuinely surprised. “What happened?”

“He got caught breaking into some shop,” she says. “That and numerous nuisance complaints, not to mention something about an explosion have earned him a ticket down under.”

“Well, at least I’ll have someone to talk to,” Roland says, “might not be so bad after all.”

“You and Johnny Baynes romping around Australia,” Katie says. “The aborigine won’t know what hit ’em.”

As they’re speaking a greasy looking man in a worn topcoat walks nearby and says to Katie, “Got time for a quick one, love?”

Katie leaps to her feet and points at him, yelling in a thick Cockney accent, “You watch yourself now. I’m a respectable lady.”

“Shove off, Wally,” Roland says. “This is my sister.”

“Oh!” the man says then bows and moves away.

“Your cockney’s getting better,” Roland says as Katie sits beside him again.

“Thanks,” she says. “I’ve been working on it.”

Roland shakes his head. “You’re not still hanging around Aldgate are you?”

“Just during the day,” she says, “but one of these days, I intend to immerse myself in the area. Learn how the other half really lives.”

“Do you honestly think that helps with your acting?” he says.

She shrugs. “I don’t know. It’s fun, though. Like stepping outside my skin for a while, you know?”

“I suppose,” he says. “Anymore run-ins with that McIntyre woman and you may step out of your skin permanently.”

Katherine laughs. “I can handle Sally McIntyre. She just caught me off guard last time.”

“Well, just watch out,” he says. “Situations have a way of getting out of hand.”

“You’re one to talk, Mister Never Consider the Consequences of His Actions,” she replies. “I shudder to think how many little Rolands and Rolandas are running around out there.”

He rolls his eyes and looks away from her. “You know, maybe you have the right idea after all. I wish I could step outside my skin for a while.”

“Seems you’ve been doing quite a lot of that lately,” she says. “Maybe a trip down will do you some good.”

“Yes, like a dose of arsenic,” he says with a scowl.

“Oh, come on,” she says. “It’ll all be over before you know it. Then you can get on with your life and this will all just fade into the background.”

“The sooner the better,” Roland says.

Excerpt from “A Tale of Two Sisters”

This is an excerpt from my novel The Long-Timer Chronicles: A Tale of Two Sisters, available in print and Kindle format from Amazon.com.

Background: Victoria Wells, one of the lead characters of the novel, meets another Long-Timer, a black woman who calls herself Maxi, in early 20th century New York. Victoria wants to bring Maxi to her apartment, but because the buildings in Victoria’s part of town are restricted, Maxi instructs Victoria to introduce her as the maid, which mollifies the neighbors for a while. Mrs. Mayfair is Victoria’s friend and assistant.

Maxi’s comings and goings become a source of growing friction for the other residents of Victoria’s building who have taken to charting when she arrives and departs. They note the irregular hours, the long stretches of time she’s there and the total lack of any sort of cleaning supplies entering or leaving the apartment. Victoria and Maxi try a number of strategies to mitigate the controversy from having Maxi show up in a variety of maid’s outfits to wearing a sign that says, “I’m her maid” but none of it seems to quell the tension. Speculation runs rampant that Victoria is some sort of anarchist flaunting the social mores or she’s a Jewish radical and concealing her identity or even worse, she’s a radical Jewish anarchist flaunting the social mores while concealing her identity. One resident proposes burning her place down, but this idea loses steam when it’s pointed out they’d also burn their places down if they did.

Finally someone sends over a police detective to get to the bottom of what’s going on. When he knocks on the door, Mrs. Mayfair cheerfully welcomes him in then calls out, “Miss Wells. There’s a policeman here to see you.”

This leads to a brief scuffle in the bedroom. The detective hurries over and opens the bedroom door. Victoria is seated on the bed nude but with a sheet wrapped around her. On the floor beside the bed, but out of sight of anyone at the door, a scraping sound can be heard. Maxi’s voice comes from below the bed, “I think I just about got it.”

Victoria looks at the detective and says indignantly, “Officer, what is the meaning of this?”

“Detective, ma’am. We’ve had reports that there is a colored woman living in this apartment in violation of your lease,” the detective says. “Whoever’s on the other side of the bed, stand up.”

Maxi stands, completely nude. She covers her breasts with one arm and her privates with a feather duster.

Indicating Maxi he says, “You want to explain what she’s doing here?”

“She’s cleaning under the bed,” Victoria says as though she’s explaining something that should be obvious. “Detective, as I have made it very clear to my neighbors and building management, Maxine does not live here. She’s my maid. She cleans up then she leaves. And yet they persist in harassing me just because I want a clean apartment.”

The policeman looks over Maxi and says, “Ma’am, why is your maid not wearing any clothes?”

“I don’t want her bringing in dust from outside on her clothes,” Victoria says. “She comes in, takes off her clothes then cleans my apartment. I don’t see what’s so odd about that.”

“But you’re naked too,” he points out.

“I am in my private apartment with the curtains drawn. If I want to prance around naked, I’ll do it.”

He indicates Mrs. Mayfair and asks, “Why isn’t she naked?”

“Because I don’t impose my beliefs on anyone else,” Victoria says.

“Except your maid,” the detective says pointing to Maxi.

“I pay her more than enough to make up for the imposition,” Victoria says, a wild look in her eyes.

“I don’t really mind,” Maxi says in a deferential voice.

“There’s something awfully strange going on here,” the detective says, “and I really don’t want to know what it is.” Pointing to Maxi he says, “You put your clothes back on if you’re going to do anymore cleaning,” and to Victoria, “you wait until your maid is gone before you do anymore prancing,” and to Mrs. Mayfair, “and you — you should get an apartment by yourself. You seem to be the only sane one here.”

He heads to the door and says, “Now I don’t want to have any more complaints from this apartment. Is that understood?”

They all look around at one another and say in unison, “Yes.”

After he leaves, Maxi says, “We could just stay at my place.”

John Wilkes Booth: Assassin or Patsy?

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Artist: Alexander Gardner (1821-1882). Moses Parker Rice (1839-1925), possibly one of Gardner’s former assistants, copyrighted this portrait in the late nineteenth century, along with other photographs by Gardner. The author died in 1882, so this work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Did John Wilkes Booth shoot Abraham Lincoln or was there a second gunman? Ever since those fatal shots rang out in Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865, debate about Booth’s involvement in the Lincoln assassination has centered around this crucial question. Now, nearly 150 years after that devastating act, a report the public wasn’t supposed to see may provide answers to this question.

History records that within days of the Lincoln assassination, the actor John Wilkes Booth, accused assassin, died during an attempt to apprehend him. By this time, the controversy surrounding the assassination had prompted President Andrew Johnson to put together a high-level commission to investigate the incident. This commission, headed by then-Chief Justice Salmon Chase, was almost immediately dubbed “The Chase Commission.” Over the course of the next year, hearings were held which called such notable witnesses as German economic theorist Karl Marx, who claimed to have been in correspondence with Booth, and ex-president of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis, who denied the existence of any plot to “get Lincoln.” Booth’s wife Maryanna was not called, primarily because no one could prove he had a wife by that name.

Almost immediately, the investigation centered around Booth’s involvement in the Fair Deal for the Confederacy Committee, many pointing to it as evidence of Confederate co-operation in the assassination. In testimony before the commission, Davis dismissed this involvement, saying, “It was a Copperhead organization and I always suspected they were backed by the U.S. government anyway.”

The most compelling testimony, came from witnesses inside the theater, many of whom claimed to have seen a second gunman hiding behind the curtains, just before Booth’s fatal shots rang out. Witnesses report seeing Lincoln’s body jerk somewhat sideways and to the right, then back to the left, forward, and sort of spun about before he slumped in the chair. Many who witnessed the shooting actually ran toward the stage curtains immediately after the shots, but in the confusion created by Booth’s leap to the stage, the alleged second gunman was able to escape unmolested. Said one witness, “Dang, I was laughing so hard, I thought it was all part of the show. Then somebody said Lincoln was shot and I started wondering if I was going to get a refund or something.”

The greatest hindrance to reviewing the papers, however, has been the disorganized nature of them. Also, the commission was bereft with in-fighting and lack of co-operation on the part of the various government agencies called upon to testify. Repeated attempts by the commission to subpoena FBI files on Booth failed, owing to the fact that the FBI did not exist as a federal agency at the time of the assassination. At last, the investigation was halted by order of Congress, which told the president to “lay off the booze, and quit wasting government resources.” It is believed by some researchers that Johnson’s insistence on continuing the investigation is what largely contributed to his later impeachment.

Conspiracy theorists continue to hammer home their insistence on government involvement. One researcher is quoted as saying, “Not a single person involved with the assassination is alive today. If that’s not evidence of a conspiracy, I don’t know what is.”

Still, over a million pieces of paper have survived, consisting of such odds and ends as transcripts of testimony by various White House insiders, to the list found in Booth’s pocket of what he’d had for breakfast the morning of the assassination. Sources report it could take another 100 years to pick through it all.

The Carvings on Stone Mountain

Anyone walking up the trail to the top of Stone Mountain is familiar with the various carvings people have made over the years, some more than a century old. I decided to do some research on Ancestry to see what information I could dig up on some of the more interesting ones. All photos were taken by me between 2011 and 2013.

Annie Logan Anderson, Mrs. G.A. Goodyear, Joe A. Carter, 1878

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It’s location is to the left of the handrails, about three-quarters of the way up the mountain, as one is ascending.

On the 1880 Census, Annie L. Anderson is listed in John P. Tuggle’s household in Stone Mountain, GA, identified as his niece. Publicly posted genealogies on Ancestry state she married Josiah A. Carter, and this has been confirmed with the census in 1900, and in his obituary from the Atlanta Constitution in 1914. I have not been able to locate a G. A. Goodyear on the 1880 census, or in connection to the Carters or Annie Anderson, though, I’d assume she’s somehow connected to one family or the other, since her name is carved with theirs. I suspect Joe Carter paid someone to do the carving, since the engraving shows a high degree of workmanship, and his line of work, newspaper reporter, didn’t lend itself to carving granite.

By the time this carving was done in 1878, Josiah Carter was already in the news business, working for DeKalb papers, a profession he took up at age eighteen, according to his obituary. His father, also named Josiah, was a physician in Oglethorpe County, GA in 1860, who served as a surgeon in the Civil War. Josiah A. Carter was later the city editor at the Atlanta Constitution under Henry Grady.

In 1887, Josiah Carter is listed as serving as chairman for a meeting of the Young Men’s Anti-prohibition Club, and in 1888, he’s listed as an upcoming speaker at the Atlanta Philosophic Society. He worked on the campaign of Georgia governor Hoke Smith and went with Smith when he was elected Senator from Georgia, serving as a clerk.

There’s an article in the Atlanta Constitution from January of 1889, entitled “Joe Carter Waylaid”, which identifies him as the victim of an assault downtown while he was headed home from work. The article lists, in detail, the route he took when walking from the paper to his home on Baker Street. The assault happened on Luckie Street and the assailants are described in the article as “footpads”. The article says they hit him over the head and made off with his watch and chain.

He was apparently well-respected in his profession. His name shows up numerous times in articles in the Constitution and other papers and in 1894, he’s listed as working in New York City. In 1909, he and another gentleman purchased the Marietta Courier and Marietta Journal and combined them into the Courier Journal, and news of this purchase was reported in The New York Times. He died in Washington, DC in September, 1914 after an operation to correct an unidentified abdominal problem and his obituary is printed in the Atlanta Constitution.

At the time of his death, he still owned the Marietta Courier Journal, where his son, Josiah Carter, Jr. was listed as the editor. In 1915, Josiah Carter, Jr. is identified as one of the witnesses on the scene following the lynching of Leo Frank in Marietta. The Atlanta Constitution reports that he received anonymous death threats after writing an editorial on Frank, which could not be located online.

Mrs. Annie L. Carter died 14 November 1931 in DeKalb County, GA according to the Georgia Deaths collection on Ancestry.

Charlie Bradfield, Dec. 27, 1913

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This carving is about a third of the way up the walking trail to the right of those ascending the mountain, in a reasonably flat area which contains several other carvings.

There’s a Chas. Bradfield, age 11, listed on the 1900 census in the household of his father James in Stone Mountain, GA. His profession is listed as a “day laborer”. In 1910, closer to the date on this carving, he’s listed in the household of Sarah Bradfield, and his age is reported as 19. In 1910, he’s listed with no specific profession, but the field he’s working in is described as “odd jobs”. He apparently spent a lot of time on the mountain, as there’s another carving further up from this one with his name on it, that’s not as elaborate. There’s a Charles Bradfield listed on the census in 1920 in DeKalb with a wife, and a Charlie Bradfield on the census in 1930, but it’s not clear it’s the same person. A death is recorded in 1944 for a Charles Lee Bradfield, and in 1910, he’s listed as Charles T. Bradfield, so, again, it’s not clear it’s the same person.

The WOW in Charlie Bradfield’s carving apparently stands for Woodmen of the World, an insurance organization, which still exists.

W. G. Boatner, 1924

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This is also in the area near the railings, which seems to have been a very popular area for carvings as there are many in the vicinity. This may have been one of the spots where people went for picnics as it affords a very nice view of the surrounding countryside. At the top of the incline where the railings are, scan to the left near the small wooded area where people stop to rest after the steep climb at the railings to find this carving.

William Glenn Boatner, born around 1893, appears on the 1930 and 1940 census, living in Marietta. His occupation in 1930 is stone cutter at a marble mill and in 1940, he’s listed as the superintendent at the marble mill. He may have been working in that capacity at the granite works at Stone Mountain in 1924. The carving suggests a high degree of skill as a stone cutter. In his household in 1930 is his wife, listed as Ilah and son, William G. He appears to have been a life-long resident of Cobb County, as he shows up there on the 1900 census, age 7, in the household of his father, William M. Boatner.

Curiously, in 1930, the family is listed as White but in 1940, they’re listed as Black. It’s not the first time I’ve found families listed as a different race from one census to the next, with no explanation for the discrepancy. Often the census taker interviewed neighbors rather than speaking to the family, or went by proximity to estimate facts about a family, so mistakes were frequent.

William Glenn Boatner, Sr. died in 1948 and is buried in Marietta. His son, William, died in 2000.