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Honest Mistake

Arnold Marmor (1927-1988) was a British writer of spy thrillers, crime stories, and science fiction. In the late 1950s, when the pulp market began to slow down, Marmor switched to writing lurid stories of the soft porn variety.

Marmor still wrote spy and crime stories, but he added enough spice to please his new audience. His books were marketed with salacious covers and suggestive titles, such as “Boudoir Treachery,” “Love Addiction,” “Ruthless Fraternity,” “Sweet Smell of Lust,” and “Spies Die Hard!” I’m just passing along what I learned, people.

The short story below, I assure you, is from Marmor’s pre-porn period. It’s an ordinary mixture of straight-up science fiction and black humor.

———

Fish Fry

By Arnold Marmor
Published in IMAGINATION — Stories of Science and Fantasy, December 1954

Off Key West in the Florida Strait, with the bucking of the motor launch under the seat of my pants, and a rod and reel in my hands, I could relax. I mean really relax. Sometimes a cool current from the Gulf of Mexico would engulf me and it would be like something a man dreams about. Alone, under a blue sky, with one’s thoughts. And then the thoughts would vanish as that familiar tug on the line meant a struggle was coming up. A battle between man and fish.

I love deep sea fishing. I was on a vacation with nothing to do but relax. Oh, there were women, all right. But one gets tired of women. But not fishing.

So here I was, this bright sunny afternoon, in my motor launch, when that tug on my line made me sit erect, and my brain became alert. You have to think clearly. You have to know when to let out line and when to pull in line. When the fish got tired you could tell. It all comes through experience.

From the pull of the line I thought I’d hooked a sailfish.

I reeled in fast, then started letting out line. But the line didn’t get taut. It was loose. At first I thought I’d lost it.

And then it climbed into the launch.

I got up fast and made ready to dive overboard.

“Hold on, fella,” it said. “Don’t get into a panic.”

I stared at it. It was about four feet tall, with scales and two thick stubs that was supposed to be tails. It stood on its tails and blinked enormous eyes at me.

“The creature from the black lagoon,” I said.

“To you I’m a creature,” he said. “To me you’re a creature.”

“What kind of a fish are you?”

“I’m not a fish. I’m a Grenarian.”

“You mean you eat vegetables?”

“I’m from the planet Grenaria.”

“Look,” I said. “You want this boat? Keep it. I’m off for Tampa. It’s about time I took up drinking.”

“You hate me.”

“No, I don’t. Honest. I’m just not used to these things.”

“It happens all the time. What you don’t understand you hate.”

“But I don’t. Honest. And where did you learn to talk?”

“I learned English from a professor. He understood my plight and tried to help. He was fishing the same as you when I caught hold of his line and we met.”

“What happened to him?”

“He went back to tell his colleagues. I never saw him again.”

“He’s probably in the booby hatch,” I said.

“What’s that?”

“Where I’ll be if I ever tell anyone this.”

“This is a cruel world,” he said. “By the way my name is Hrodes.”

“And mine is Carol Engelholtz. Now that the formalities are over, what the hell are you doing here?”

“My orders were to make contact with this solar system. My ship is at the bottom of the sea. I have to be near water or die. And every time I try to make contact I’m left alone on a craft of this sort.”

“You mean they jump overboard?”

“That’s exactly what I mean.”

“You’re from another galaxy?”

“Yes. My planet is covered with water. Your planet is the best one in this system which has water on it. That’s why I’m here.”

“But you’re not in water now.”

“My gills can still absorb it. As long as I’m near it.”

“Well, what do you want me to do?”

“I want to meet someone with responsibility.”

“I wouldn’t be able to get anyone to come out here with a story like that. They wouldn’t believe me. I’d end up with the professor.”

“Then take me with you.”

“But you wouldn’t be near water. Wait a minute. I can leave you in the tub.”

“Anything. I just want to get this mission over with.”

“I can wrap you up in wet towels. I can drive you to my place and go bring someone back with me.”

“Anything. Anything. Just let’s get on with it.”

“Why, I might be making history. I may become famous.”

“Will you please start this craft back to land?”

“Sure thing. Just a second,” I started the motor and headed for land.

Me. Carol Engelholtz. A liaison between two planets. I never felt so excited in my life. Why, it was more exciting than hooking a sailfish.

“There’s my lodge,” I shouted, pointing at the bluff just over a rise.

“You stay there alone?” Hrodes asked.

“I have a cook and a housekeeper. But they won’t bother you. You’ll stay in the tub in my bathroom while I go fetch somebody. But who do I go fetch?”

“Anyone with responsibility. I want to get this over with.”

“Yes, yes, I know. Your mission.” I docked the launch, soaked towels, wrapped them around Hrodes, carried him — or she — to my car, and in fifteen minutes I was home.

I left Hrodes in the tub and went back to the car. Miami was too far off. There was a small town called Chesterville a few miles away. It seemed the only place to go.

“There ain’t no F.B.I. branch here,” a deputy behind a battered desk said. He was about sixty, with a skinny neck that was covered with half dollar size blotches. “Better try Miami. Why? What’s the matter? Find some subversives? A lot of subversives in Florida.”

“No, no, nothing like that. Look, there must be a school or some kind of place for learning here.”

“Shore thing. We gotta school.”

“Isn’t there a professor teaching there, maybe?”

“Nope. But we got old Mrs. Henshaw. Husband died about six years ago. Old bag. I think she’s been running around lately with some tourist from Iowa. Now if you’re just lookin’ for any old professor, then —”

“That’s right,” I said, grasping at a straw. “Any old professor. Is there one in town?”

“Professor Klugelmeyer. Used to teach at some eastern college. Kind of dopey, though, I think. Funny old gaffer. Believes in flyin’ saucers. Can you imagine?”

“Where do I reach him?”

“He’s stayin’ at Mrs. Kirpatrick’s roomin’ house. Poor Mrs. Kirpatrick. Got a bad case of food poisoning. She ate—”

I ran out of the building and inquired for the rooming house. I found it and Professor Klugelmeyer.

“What? What? Hard to believe — Hard to believe. Once heard the same story from Professor Dickson. The poor fellow was put away. You must be mistaken, old man. You must be. Take my advice. Give up drinking. Bad for the liver, too, you know.”

“That old deputy told me you believe in flying saucers,” I said.

“I do. I really do. From Mars, probably. But they certainly won’t turn out to be fish. Fish talking? Come now.”

“I didn’t believe it at first myself. Listen, Professor, come with me. See and hear for yourself.”

“Well, I don’t know.”

It took me an hour before I had him half convinced. I almost dragged him to my car.

“This had better not turn out to be a practical joke,” he said. The professor was somewhere between sixty and seventy. He was kind of thin and he sported a long white mustache.

It was getting toward evening when we got to the lodge.

I ushered him in to my room. “There,” I said, flinging open the bathroom door.

“Where?” he said.

“There.”

“Where?”

I looked. I blinked. I looked again. The tub was empty.

I raced through the house.

In the front room I saw Mrs. O’Brien, my housekeeper.

“Where’s Hrodes?” I asked her.

“Who?”

“He was in the tub. I left him there.”

“You mean that big fish?”

“Yes, yes. Where is he?”

“He’s in the kitchen. We’re having him for dinner.”

“What!”

“Sure. Yat has it in the oven now.”

“You murderer!”

“What are you talking about? It’s only a fish. Didn’t you catch him so we’d have fish for dinner?”

“No. Didn’t he tell you who he was?”

“Are you crazy? He didn’t tell me nothin’. Besides, I didn’t see it till Sun Yat had it all cut up and laid out for cookin’.”

Sun Yat, my Chinese cook. Hrodes had met someone who couldn’t understand his plight or be scared out of his wits. Sun Yat was a deaf mute!

The professor was clucking sadly at me as he stomped out of the house.

Me? There was nothing to do but eat my dinner…

Thoughts du Jour

Problem, Solution

On our daily walks around Jefferson, Jake and I observe all sorts of things.

For example, at the corner of two residential streets north of downtown is a house with a nicely-manicured yard. The lawn and shrubbery are immaculate. These people take pride in their home’s appearance.

Not long ago, I was surprised to see deep tire ruts in the grass at the edge of the yard, caused by a vehicle cutting the corner during a hasty left turn.

The homeowners responded by posting a “Keep Off the Grass” sign beside the ruts. But the next time Jake and I passed the spot, the sign itself had been run over, and fresh ruts were visible in the grass.

Game on.

The homeowners countered by placing three massive boulders at the corner — giant, immovable things that can foil any vehicle. And actually, the boulders add a nice decorative touch.

Game over.

Feet and Chair Legs

In 1498, Leonardo da Vinci completed his painting The Last Supper on the wall of a convent in Milan, Italy. 150 years later, inexplicably, residents of the convent found it necessary to punch a door in the wall, which eliminated a chunk of the bottom center of the painting. Gone were the feet of Jesus and some chair legs.

But the missing swath wasn’t exactly lost to history. Around 1515, two of Leonardo’s former students had painted (on canvas, not a stone wall) a reasonably close reproduction of The Last Supper. It shows the lost feet and chair legs basically as Leonardo painted them.

In 2020, the Royal Academy of Arts in London hired Google to digitize the reproduction in super-high resolution and made it available online.

This is Leonardo’s original, door and all.

And this is the reproduction.

I’d really like to know why that door was necessary.

Entitlement

Apparently, Steelers quarterback Ben Rapistberger is nearing retirement. So long, Ben. I wish you all the worst.

You remember Ben Rapistberger, who in 2009 was credibly accused of raping a casino hostess in Nevada. But then, the man is a rich and famous athlete, and the charges were dropped.

You remember Rapistberger, who in 2010 was credibly accused of raping a college student in the bathroom of a Georgia nightclub while his bodyguards, two off-duty state troopers, watched the door. But then, the man is a rich and famous athlete, and the charges were dropped.

Why those incidents got under my skin so much, I can’t say. But I was indignant enough after the Georgia incident that I vowed never to watch the Steelers again as long as Rapistberger was on the team. A silly and useless gesture, I admit, but I kept the vow, and I’m not sorry.

Funny thing, though. Out of all the current fawning on the sports channels about Rapistberger and his illustrious career, I haven’t heard one mention of the casino hostess or the college student.

The Questions…

1. What is the largest member of the deer family?

2. Of what substance are your fingernails and toenails made?

3. Name the world’s largest island and the world’s longest river.

4. What African country formerly was known as Abyssinia?

5. To what does the Australian term jumbuck refer?

The Answers…

1. The Alaskan moose.

2. Keratin, a strong, tough, fibrous protein. Keratin also is the key material in hair, horns, claws, hooves, feathers, and skin.

3. Greenland and the Amazon River.

4. Ethiopia.

5. A male sheep. Jumbuck is an aboriginal word, origin uncertain.

Tune o’ the Day

I read a sarcastic comment somewhere that David Bowie’s 1983 hit “Modern Love” probably was made up in the studio on the day he recorded it. Maybe so. The lyrics are baffling and don’t seem to go anywhere. Drugs, maybe?

On the other hand, the tune is catchy, danceable, and well-regarded. Bowie said the lively arrangement was inspired by the sound of Little Richard. It does have a sort of manic feel to it.

In 2006, the alt rock/folk/country band The Last Town Chorus slowed the tempo of “Modern Love” to a crawl and released what is, in my humble opinion, an excellent cover.

The Last Town Chorus, by the way, started out in 2001 as a duo consisting of singer Megan Hickey and a guitarist. After a year or so, Megan ditched the guitarist, and she still tours as LTC today using hired backup.

Modern Love

By The Last Town Chorus, 2006
Written by David Bowie

I catch the paperboy,
But things don’t really change.
I’m standing in the rain,
But I never wave bye-bye.
But I try. I try.

There’s no sign of life.
It’s just the power to charm.
I’m lying in the wind,
But I never wave bye-bye.
But I try. I try.

Never gonna fall for modern love.
It walks beside me.
It walks on by.
It gets me to the church on time.
Church on time.
It terrifies me.
It makes me party.
It puts my faith in God and man.
God and man.
No confession.
No religion.
It don’t believe in modern love.

It’s not really work.
It’s just the power to charm.
Still lying in the rain,
But I never wave bye-bye.
But I try. I try.

Never gonna fall for modern love.
It walks beside me.
It walks on by.
It gets me to the church on time.
Church on time.
It terrifies me.
It makes me party.
It puts my faith in God and man.
God and man.
No confession.
No religion.
It don’t believe in modern love.

https://rockysmith.files.wordpress.com/2021/11/modern-love-ltc.mp3

The United Nations has a thing called the Human Development Index, which ranks the nations of the world according to the well-being of their people. Primarily, the index considers income, life expectancy, and education level.

The 2020 HDI, the most recent, said the leading countries are, in descending order:

1. Norway
2. Ireland
3. Switzerland
4. Hong Kong
5. Iceland
6. Germany
7. Sweden
8. Australia
9. Netherlands
10. Denmark
11. Finland
12. Singapore
13. United Kingdom
14. Belgium
15. New Zealand
16. Canada
17. United States —Aha! There we are, in 17th place on the well-being of the citizenry chart.

Frankly, that stinker of a rating is no surprise to me. In spite of our huge wealth and abundance of potential, we rank poorly in most categories that genuinely matter to actual people. The US is:

— 13th in standard of living
— 20th in quality of life
— 24th in science education
— 29th in personal freedom
— 31st in delivering decent healthcare
— 34th in the actual health of the population
— 38th in math education
— 46th in life expectancy

But, by God, we do have some Number Ones to our credit. We lead the world in:

— Military spending
— Cost of healthcare per capita
— Incarceration rate per capita
— Number of guns owned by civilians

Is this a great country or what?

That’s a rhetorical question.

This Just In

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA — Organizers of a camel beauty contest in Saudi Arabia disqualified and fined 43 breeders who used illegal methods such as Botox injections to improve the appearance of their camels.

The King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, in which breeders compete for over $66 million in prize money, is in its sixth year. Because of the high stakes, breeders use a range of illegal methods to improve their chances of winning. These include Botox and hormone injections, bobbing a camel’s tail, and dyeing its coat.

To detect tampering, the camels are inspected physically and scanned with x-ray and sonar devices.

The owners of winning camels not only receive cash prizes, but are able to sell their animals at higher prices. Thus, fines for tampering are high, ranging from $8,000 to $27,000 per offense.

ACTON, ENGLAND — A British company set a Guinness World Record for the largest pyramid made of recycled washing machines. Currys PC World, a retailer of home appliances and electronics, stacked 1,496 recycled washers into a pyramid 44 feet tall.

Guinness said the base of the pyramid was comprised of 256 washers forming a square that measured 31 feet per side. The machines, all refurbished and ready for reuse, were stacked unsecured.

Currys said the pyramid was an effort to raise awareness about recycling the 1.45 million tons of electronic waste generated in the UK each year.

A survey conducted by the company last year found that 68 percent of Brits claim to be confused or uncertain about the recycling process. Translation: not interested enough to find out.

SÃO JOSÉ DO RIO PRETO, BRAZIL — In November, a cow escaped from a slaughterhouse, wandered through town, and ended up at a water park. The park was closed for the season, so the cow was at first undetected.

Employees said the cow found its way up a ramp to the top of a water slide, then dropped to its knees and slid down the chute and into the swimming pool below. It was then rescued and secured.

The workers said the slide is designed to hold 450 pounds, but held the 700-pound cow without damage.

The cow was not returned to the slaughterhouse, but was adopted by a nearby rancher and will live out its life among new bovine friends.

The rancher named the cow Tobogã, which means “slide” in Portuguese.

Pix o’ the Day

More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

Misplaced Power

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961

———

Once again, it’s a Merry Christmas for the defense industry.

The US House and Senate have approved the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, and, as always, the extent of our military spending is obscene. For the military-industrial complex, it means riches beyond the dreams of avarice.

For 2022, the Biden Administration had asked for the breath-taking sum of $753 billion in military spending, the same as our 2021 spending. The House bumped it up to $768 billion, the Senate concurred, and that was that.

Those billions will go toward our spectacularly costly and largely unnecessary military machine; will buy still more jets and tanks and bombs; and will further fatten the defense industry contractors that have been leeching on the taxpayers for lo, these many years.

The US has spent insane sums on the military for decades. Consider our spending for the last 10 years:

The last time the US authorized less than $500 billion in military spending was 2004.

It’s true that the rest of the world lavishes billions on its military, too. But no country comes close to matching us. Here are the world’s 10 leading countries in 2021 military spending:

Our spending was more than that of the other nine countries combined.

Among rational people, one school of thought is not to spend those billions at all. Another is to use it in more worthwhile ways. Considering our many chronic problems, the latter seems a reasonable choice.

Some version of Medicare for All would be a godsend. But that would cost trillions, not billions, and is another conversation. Instead, consider a few other options I’ve read about recently for the best use of our wealth:

For $36 billion a year, we could expand Medicare to include dental, vision, and hearing coverage.

For $80 billion a year, we could make all of our public universities tuition-free.

For $15 billion a year, we could have free, nationwide, publicly-owned broadband.

For $55 billion a year, we could give every working adult in the country 12 weeks of paid family or medical leave annually.

For $150 billion a year, we could create a system of free Pre-K and free childcare for working parents, nationwide.

All pipe dreams, I know. As always, the politicians will continue to serve the military-industrial complex.

In 2022, the Air Force plans to buy 12 more F-15EX jet fighters from Boeing for $1.4 billion. The jets are needed, they say, because the fleet of F-15C fighters is aging.

Only a few scattered politicians in Washington — Democrats, of course — will say no to that.

Quotes o’ the Day

We have come to live in a society based on insults, on lies, and on things that just aren’t true. It creates an environment where deranged people feel empowered.

Colin Powell

###

Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him and let him know you trust him.

Booker T. Washington

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Every war, when it comes or before it comes, is represented not as a war, but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac.

George Orwell

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Don’t find fault, find a remedy. Anybody can complain.

Henry Ford

Powell

Ford