Monthly Archives: January, 2014

The Speakeasy #146: THE MAGICIAN’S ASSISTANT

magician

THE MAGICIAN’S ASSISTANT

Spencer listened for Sir David to descend the spiral staircase. He could follow his progress by which tread was creaking. This was helpful information, in case Spencer was doing something that Sir David would not approve. Like looking at his Book of Words.

David Wighton is the only magician to have been granted knighthood in the history of the British Empire, and he did not let one forget. He received this honor from the Queen for his service during the Boer War. He had developed Hypotyposis, and her military advisors were convinced it could be used to good advantage against the enemy. David Wighton was made a Colonel and put in charge of a brigade of magicians and sent to Swaziland. It had come to naught, but he did amuse the Queen with his wonders, and was awarded for that.

Spencer had been in Sir David’s employ for three years. Working with the great man, he was the envy of every member of the BMAU. But, Spencer had become tired of cleaning capes and hats of guano, polishing canes and shuffling cards. He had learned the ins and outs of many illusions, but never the big ones. He longed to make a name for himself. In short, he was tired of being the assistant.

One of the great man’s many achievements was his use of magic words. He did not rely on the likes of ‘Abracadabra’, ‘Presto’, ‘Hocus Pocus’, and certainly not ‘Bippity, Boppity, Boo’. Many thought he made them up, but not Spencer. One day in the library, while re-shelving Sir David’s books, he discovered an heretofore unseen button in the wainscoting. After a push and a click, a panel slid back, and there inside was a notebook and a fragile looking volume that appeared quite old. Spencer knew he had found the Holy Grail of Magic. With shaking hands he removed them and began to read. The notebook contained a history of the Boer War experiment to make the enemy vanish, and curiously the last entry was three weeks ago. Spencer knew the old man was crushed when he had not been asked to help during the ‘War to End All Wars’, and it appeared he was still working on a solution. Upon opening the old book, he felt he was descending through time as words leapt from the page and assaulted his mind. Some words he had heard Sir David use, so he knew he was on the right track.

Many months passed, and the lad practiced his craft, often returning to the book for guidance. It was on this day, with the sun streaming into the library, causing dust motes to dance in the air, that Spencer returned to the book. The panel slid back, but the books were not inside. A sound behind froze Spencer.
“Looking for something?”, Sir David intoned.
“I didn’t hear you come down, Sir”, Spencer was flummoxed.
The magician had descended the stairs by Hypotyposis. “Obviously not, boy, or you would not have been sneaking about. I knew you were up to something. What have you been looking for in my books?”
“A magic word, sir. Something I can use to be great like you.”
The great magician pondered, “I see. Well, I will give you a word I have just discovered that would have won the Boer War.” He whispered in Spencer’s ear. “You only have to repeat it three times. Now please go fetch me some tea.”

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Some weeks passed. Spencer had not been home and his mother was alarmed. His friends in the BMAU had not seen him, and that was not like Spencer. He loved a pint or two, and the chance to brag about Sir David’s latest success. In fact, he had been hinting at his own act soon to come. She suspected foul play.

Sir David’s assistant answered the door, admitting the police. They were ushered to the conservatory, and stood humbly before the great one.
“We have come to ask if you know the whereabouts of a Mr. Spencer Milburn, Sir David. He has turned up missing. Since March 27th, we believe.”
“Yes, most distressing. I had to hire a new assistant. Do you know how much work it is to train a new assistant? I was in the library, and sent Spencer to make tea. I sat there and waited, but he never came back.”

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Here are the instructions for my 750 word story to this week’s Speakeasy Challenge by editor Courtenay Baker:

Submissions must be 750 words or fewer. Fiction or Poetry. Your piece must included the following sentence as the LAST line: “I sat there and waited, but he never came back.”   And must include a reference to this video:

The photo is of the famous British magician David Devant, performing his astonishing illusion, Hypotyposis… Spencer is on the far left, I think.

ON TOP OF MT. YOUNG… A view of the San Juan’s

ON TOP OF MT. YOUNG... A view of the San Juan's Guest Photographers Isabel Place and Stephen Place… When Isabel’s Uncle Stephen visited from Ireland, she took him to the top of Mt. Young to see a spectacular view of our islands.

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Isabel

Stephen

Stephen

I posted this on my photoblog… TedBook’s Daily Pics… and I thought readers here might like to see a view from my Island… a view I have yet to see, since it involves vertical hiking…

THE CUBAN DIARY… THE DANCE

ula on ferry after myanmar

THE DANCE

There’s salsa music playing while I sit on the cobblestone steps watching people dance. If I stare straight ahead I can see over the red-tiled rooftops of Trinidad. I see the ocean, a great expanse of blue condensed into a thin line on the horizon. One of the dancers is a little girl, she’s wearing a bright pink shirt. She’s accompanied by her aunt or older sister. She looks to be about nine years old and already a great dancer. Her dark hair is pulled back into a neat bun and adorned with fake flowers. At the end of the song, they leave the dance floor. I see the cobblestone stairs beginning to fill with people. It’s fun to watch the band play because they all dance to the music with the rest of the dancers. The music they are playing is traditional that has been turned into rock. I convince my mom to dance with me, but neither of us can lead so we dance by ourselves, until a man in a red sweatshirt starts to dance with me. He’s a good dancer and conscious of the fact that I’m not the best. As we dance to the salsa, out of the corner of my eye I see someone join my mother. They are dancing faster than we are. When the song ends, I go back to my chair only to be asked again by a gentleman about 70 years old. We dance by the table my parents are sitting at. He also dances slowly, but as the song goes on we dance faster. When the song ends, he kisses me on the cheek and then we leave.

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Another dispatch from our Foreign Correspondent, Ula Grace, traveling in Cuba with her parents Krista and Steve. A few days prior I had received an email from Krista, here is an excerpt…

And now we are in Santiago. Last night, with the help of a new local friend, we snuck Ula into a fabulous and seedy house of music, and danced! (the locals said I dance like a Puerto Rican – whatever that means!) Fantastic! Heading off on another memorable overnight bus to Trinidad tomorrow, and hopefully a little beach time. We really like Cuba in general; the people are very nice and helpful, the streets are incredibly clean even within all the colonial decay. And people are very surprised and pleased when we tell them where we are from! 

I am curious to know what ‘dancing like a Puerto Rican‘ means to a Cuban… it can’t be good. Anxiously awaiting Ula’s next post… and Krista’s… I’ll keep you posted.

To follow THE CUBAN DIARY
ULA GRACE… Foreign Correspondent
THE CUBAN DIARY… The Canvas

THE CUBAN DIARY… The Canvas

ula on ferry after myanmar

THE CANVAS by Ula Grace

As I look down from above, I see a vast canvas waiting to be inscribed upon with memories and experiences. I see a scene of everlasting beauty, created out of the continuing story of the amazing people who make up the Cuba we know today. I see a masterpiece created by waves of blue that fade into the green that is Cuba. I see where the unblemished blue dissolves into the clear aquamarine that accompanies the shallow water near the shoreline. Where the navy seeps into the translucent blue of the shoals, I see a spray of deep azure that at first glance mars the surface of that perfect transition. As I continue to gaze, I see deeper, I see how the azure completes that chapter in the story of life…

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This is the first dispatch from our Foreign Corespondent, Ula Grace, as she explores Cuba with her parents. A world… seen through the eyes of an almost 13 year old student at Spring Street International School in Friday Harbor… that most will never visit. To see the start of this journey, click here… ULA GRACE… Foreign Corespondent … and stay tuned for her next post.

Ula is a world traveler, visiting many countries since a babe in arms. To help establish her credentials, here is their Christmas card from last year…

Ula's Christmas Card... Burma

Friday Fictioneers: THE RIVER IS LOW

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THE RIVER IS LOW… a Drabble for Fri Fic

 Mercury hits 73˚ in San Francisco… and it’s January!  Meanwhile in Sacramento:

“Man, the river’s low. I never see it this low. When you think the last time it rained?”

“Hell, I don’t even remember. I hear they’re hiking instead of skiing at Tahoe.”

“Likely be a bitch this summer.”

“No shit, hell I remember ’77. ‘If it’s yellow, be mellow… if it’s brown, flush it down.’ They had to put a pipe across the Richmond Bridge to send those mokes in Marin our water. Let’s secede so we don’t have to send it south.”

“The Golden State will be Brown.”

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friday-fictioneers

This week’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt courtesy of Erin Leary.   “Write a one hundred word story that has a beginning, middle and end.”

 I guess this is not really a story, per FF ‘guidelines’, but more  an expression of a few recent random thoughts as I looked at Erin’s photo for inspiration and saw a river.  It made me think of recently seeing the Sacramento river at its lowest ever, no rain to speak of since October there, and this is the rainy season.  There is very little snow in the Sierra Nevadas and none at all from the passes of Southern Oregon to Redding.  California is declaring a state of  Extreme Drought, as we were in shirt sleeves when I was in San Francisco yesterday.  And secession attempts are hot and heavy in the Jefferson Republic to create a 51st state.

THE OLD RED BARN

My pal Betty has returned to Irwin’s Place ready to do some writing. Please enjoy her memory walk down hockey lane… back to The Old Red Barn

IRWIN'S PLACE

MEMORIES OF THE OLD RED BARN

 It had just stopped raining when I parked my car on Grand River near McGraw in Detroit. It was a typical fall day in September 1987. All the leaves were turning vibrant colors, with some of them floating to the ground. I turned on the windshield wipers to clean the last residual rain off my windshield and looked out. There it was, Olympia Stadium, which had been my second home for years. How majestic she looked against the breaking gray clouds. How I wished I could go inside one more time and smell the stale beer, popcorn and cigarette smoke. Shutting my eyes I could almost hear the shouts from the fans when the Red Wings scored. I saw all the great ones play there, Gordie Howe, Terry Sawchuk, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, Stan Mikita and Maurice (The Rocket) Richard. The list goes…

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143rd yeah write: TO SPACE OR NOT TO SPACE

old-typewriter

TO SPACE OR NOT TO SPACE

When I first started writing my blog on WordPress, I noticed a peculiar thing. As I typed my stories I would double space between sentences. When I previewed the story, I noticed a space had disappeared. Annoyed, I would go back into my edit mode and add the spaces back. After awhile, I would sometimes forget, and eventually gave up. I always wondered why this happened. Not enough to do a Google Search, but I wondered.

Two weeks ago, I was listening to a show on NPR called ‘The Dinner Party Download’. I don’t usually listen to NPR on a Saturday afternoon, so the show was new to me. I wasn’t sure I liked it, but then I was driving so maybe not paying 100% attention. It seemed too busy, with a bunch of people trying to be cool, maybe that was the idea… dinner party… people conversing. They did have an interesting story about the 100 anniversary of the Mona Lisa being returned to France, after an absence due to a brazen theft by Italian Vincenzo Peruggia, which is a cool story in itself. But the gist to this story was an interview with some Italian bartender who had invented a cocktail for the occasion, called the Mona Lisa. Here’s the recipe if you want to try it.

Into a tall glass, add:
1 part Alkermes, an Arabic-turned-Florentine liqueur from the de Medici era.
1 part orange juice
3 parts Champagne

As the show went on, they would sit around shooting the breeze between stories and I kind of half-listened, until I heard something about double spacing. I perked up, and one guy said that it depended how you learned to type. If you learned on a typewriter, you double spaced. If you learned on a computer, you single spaced. “If you double space on the internet (a funny way to put it I thought), it ate one of the spaces”, he said. So that’s what was happening! I was typing on the internet and my spaces were being gobbled up.

I wondered if that was true. I learned to type on a typewriter in junior high school… I think eighth grade, maybe ninth or seventh. Hey, that was 55 years ago. I do remember a classroom with a hell of a lot of typewriters and kids clacking away. It was hard at first, but I got the hang of it and am a pretty good typist to this day. My granddaughter Isabel types a lot faster than I do. I’m sure she learned on a computer, I’ll have to ask her if she double spaces, maybe that’s why she’s faster if she’s just single spacing.

A computer keyboard is easier on the fingers, I know that. My first typewriter looked just like the one in the picture above, the keys were hard to push, but I liked the feel.  I remember when we got our first electric typewriter… that was something… and then we got one of those ball ones later on, that was fun to watch.  I don’t remember the last time I used a typewriter. I’ll probably always double space, but I don’t think I’ll go back and add spaces on my blog now… I wouldn’t want to mess with the internet.

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  I wonder how many of my writer friends double space.  I wonder if any of my writer friends use a typewriter.  Here is a link if you want to read some of my writer friend’s stories… yeah write weekly writing challenge  See if there’s any double spacing.

Here’s the link to The Mona Lisa Returns to Italy story on at the Dinner Party Download, in case you are interested.

New Staff Member at TedBook

ula on ferry after myanmar

Returning home from Myanmar last year…

Last week the Publisher of TedBook sent out the following letter to a recent guest author:

TedBook letter to ula

Today we received the following reply:

Ula's letter to TedBook

Her first assignment starts January 14th… Stay Tuned…

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Recent Posts by Miss Grace…

THE DOORKNOB

HOME

THE CUBAN DIARY

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moonshine  I thought my friends at yeah write.me would like to meet the new Foreign Correspondent at TedBook.  She leaves next week for a country not many Americans have visited.  We are looking forward to her reports… internet availability willing.  Here’s a few pics of past travels…

Thailand

Thailand

 

India

India

Japan

Japan

Thailand

Thailand

Egypt

Egypt

THE WRITER

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THE WRITER

Last Chance by Max Welton

It is hard going, but the demolition is scheduled for tomorrow.   The brush that started at your ankles now reaches chest height, the fence is in sight.  Past bulldozers, poised like fierce beasts to devour the hapless sanitarium, you enter the north wing and hunt for room #36.  An excited sadness overwhelms you as you search her room for what was hidden within the wall.  After the accident her decline had been swift.  Seventeen years since you learned the truth about Daisy, it’s now or never.   An unseen hand guides you to a loose wallpaper patch,  glittering Art Deco reveals itself. Her bracelets are safe once again.

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FROM THE DESK OF MAX WELTON

So, that’s it!  The start to my first novel.  I’m kind of going for a Twilight Zone vibe here, maybe Rod will be interested when I’m done.  I’ve always wanted to be a writer, like my uncle Nick. I’ve written a few poems and stories for the Reader when I can find the time, but I would really like to write a novel.  I have great ideas and can write really great titles, like ‘Death in the Shadow of Saint Mary’s’.  I live on the North Side in Bucktown, a Polish/Puerto Rican/Low Rent neighborhood, and I work right down the street from St. Mary of the Angels, I think it’s the coolest looking church in Chicago.  I can just never come up with a story… that was it, just a great title.  It’s going to be a murder mystery someday when I can think of a story.  But right now, I’m quitting my job and writing full-time to finish ‘Last Chance’, thanks to uncle Nick.

My uncle Nick was a famous writer, well kind of famous.  He had one big hit, but made a decent living writing for magazines.  He was very kind to my mom and me, more like a father than my father.  When I told him I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, he said “Write what you know about.”  I saw my first Sox and Cubs games with Nick, he introduced me to art, and he showed me Chicago.  I wanted to be just like him.  I still do after all these years.

Nick was killed covering the war when I was just out of high school.  He never married, and I was his only heir, so I was not only sad, but expecting a nice inheritance.  Like the character in his book, I got cheated.  He left everything to the Perkins Sanitarium in New York.  I got a few boxes of old letters and unfinished manuscripts.   I was bitter at first, but his lawyer told me that Perkins had given Nick his life back when he was lost in an alcoholic depression.  He had dreamed of being a writer, not a bond salesman, and a new technique called ‘automatic-writing’ was a perfect fit to help cure him.  His doctor suggested he write about the events in Long Island, and the grief that was fueling his condition.  “Write a book.  Even if you are the only person to ever read it”, he said.  It worked, because Nick came out a well man, and a writer.  The story was published to a huge success.  He moved back to the Midwest to be near his family and write stories.  He took care of me, so I forgave him.

Years later, I actually looked at the contents and discovered a story he never intended to publish.  I thought it was interesting, as it was about a distant cousin named Daisy.  She had been part of the whole Long Island thing, and ended up in a ritzy mental hospital also, Lakeview Sanitarium on the North Shore.  That’s where the filthy rich went… guys like me went to Cook County.

That was awhile back.  I forgot all about it until the other day.  I was reading the business section of the Trib, and saw that some new luxury homes were slated to be built there, using the bricks from the Lakeview Sanitarium.  The property had been abandoned to seagulls and rats for many years and was in ruins.  Demolition was slated soon.  That jogged my memory… something Nick had mentioned in his story about Daisy.

I found the volume devoted to Daisy.  Nick tells how her life unraveled after the murder of Gatsby.  She was a woman torn between two men not able to have them on her terms, her tense gaiety gone, and perhaps never forgave herself for her involvement in an automobile accident.  She had been the one driving the Rolls, and Jay had covered for her.  Nick was never sure if her husband knew she was the driver, but Tom Buchanan saw fit to take her away from the unhappy scene.  They moved from East Egg back to their estate in Chicago, not even going to the funeral.  When Nick finally went to see Daisy, he found that stricken with grief and guilt, she had slipped into a despondency so great that she was in a constant state of shock.  Her husband could no longer put up with it or bear to watch and committed her to a sanitarium, where she stayed till her death.  Sadly, Nick was her only visitor, and would go to Lakeview to visit Daisy once a month.

This is the part I was looking for…   “I never knew who to expect when I visited Daisy.  One time she would be staring out a window, alone in her thoughts, and completely incommunicado.  I would hold her hand and talk to her, hoping she could hear me.  Maybe she wouldn’t feel alone.  Curiously, the next visit would find her attired in one of her finest dresses bedecked in jewels and excited to see me.  She loved her diamonds, especially the bracelets, of which she had many.  She would chatter on, completely a different girl.  We would never bring up Long Island.  On occasion, she would ask me about her daughter, Pam.  Daisy had not been the most caring of mothers when well, and I wondered if she thought it odd that Pam never came to visit.  I would say she was just fine, and that was that.  Lakeview liked the guests, that’s what they called the patients, to dress as they had at home, and it could be quite the fashion show.  We would dine in the great room and the attendants always made quite a fuss over her.  Daisy liked that, as I think it brought back memories of the good times.  One day as I walked Daisy back to room 36, I asked her if she wasn’t the least bit concerned about the safety of her jewelry.  She assured me she wasn’t and was quite proud that she had been so clever.  Daisy explained that she had peeled back a square of wallpaper, and hollowed out a place in the wall.  With the wallpaper pushed back, “you couldn’t tell otherwise”, she said.  I didn’t ask her to show me, but she did say it was low to the ground.”

The demolition date was in two days, so with that bit of information and a few tools, I set off for the old hospital to see if I could get lucky.

Maybe now, I’ll get lucky with ‘Death in the Shadow of Saint Mary’s’.

Max Welton… Chicago… 1970

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Okay, I know what you are thinking… “The next F. Scott!” … please, I’m far to modest.  This is a post I started last June.  I had just seen ‘The Great Gatsby’, and was inspired to write a 100 Word Flash Fiction for Friday Fictioneers based on Daisy’s character.  It is actually Max’s story and can be seen here… Friday Fictioneers: LAST CHANCE  It got me to thinking about what life would have been like for Daisy after the book.  The only problem… I had never read The Great Gatsby, so I only had the movie to go on.  I know, I can hear it now… the outraged “Never read ‘The Great Gatsby’, The Great American Novel!!!… in your mind right now.  I’m still puzzled why it was never assigned to read in high school or college, but it was not, maybe it wasn’t The Great American Novel in the 1960’s.  So I had started the story of Max Welton and then put it on hold till I could read the book.  Mission accomplished, I finished my story and immediately got sidetracked with work, taking time off writing anything for a while.  And so my story languished in my draft file, a cold case, forgotten… until my memory was jolted by this line by Karen, in her blog Fat Girl In Boxing Gloves, ” They’re all in my draft box collecting cyberdust, and if that trollop of inspiration that stokes my creative fires ever returns, you’ll get to read them”.  My creative fires were re-lit and my story now sees the light of day, or the glow of your computer screen.  Please let me know what you think.

The photograph is of the Willard State Asylum in Upstate New York.  I came across it when looking for photos of gothic looking asylums to represent my made-up ‘Lakeview Sanitarium’.  I also came across an amazing story.  A project by photographer John Crispin, inspecting patients suitcases that had been stored in the Willard State Asylum, which closed in 1995 and had only recently been discovered.  It is pretty amazing… Willard Suitcases.

My Favorite Summer Memory

To start off the 2014… my first blog post on WordPress… and an entry in a new writing group for me…’ yeah write’!

TedBook

When I was 15 my father thought it would be a great idea if I worked on a cattle ranch hauling hay… to teach me the lesson of why I should go to college. Well, I did go to college but not because hauling hay was hard work. (which it was) So, in 1958 I spent 4 glorious weeks on a cattle ranch in Modoc County near the town of Adin. Our family spent a few weeks each summer at our friends ranch… and I got an extended stay. The rancher’s wife took me to town in Alturas, and I got fitted with boots, jeans and a cowboy hat! It was Farmer’s Boot Camp for sure… they treated me as an adult and expected me to work. I learned how to do, and did, everything re: haying. I straightened and raked furrows, repaired broken bales, moved bales into rows, rode…

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