~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~
English author Daniel Defoe lived from 1660 to 1731. He was a prolific writer whose most famous work is the novel Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719. Robinson Crusoe is generally considered the first English novel and has appeared in many reprints and translations. It is the famous story of an “everyman” who is shipwrecked alone on an uninhabited island in the Caribbean, as all his shipmates perish.
As a young man, Robinson Crusoe (the man, not the novel) can’t decide what profession to take up. Against the better advice of his father, he becomes a sailor. After a brief (and might have been successful) stint as a plantation owner in Brazil, he goes to sea on a commercial voyage to the Caribbean. There is a terrible storm and (you guessed it), the ship that Robinson is on is wrecked. All his shipmates drown but he, miraculously, survives. He washes up on a tiny, uninhabited, isolated, tropic island in the Caribbean, which turns out to be forty miles from Trinidad.
At age twenty-six, Robinson has never learned how to be on his own and he doesn’t know how to do much of anything; he doesn’t have what we might call “survival skills.” Luckily he is able to retrieve some essential supplies from the shipwreck, such as tools, rum, gunpowder, guns, clothes, and some food items. He has also salvaged some seeds for planting, which will prove useful to him later on.
Alone on this terrible island, he must learn to survive, or he will die. He must construct a shelter of some kind to protect himself from the tropical rainstorms, hurricane winds and sweltering heat. When he first comes to the island, he lives in fear that he will be devoured by wild animals or eaten by cannibals, which, he believes, live nearby. He must learn to find enough food to eat to keep himself alive. He must cope with isolation, loneliness and his own fear. He lives always with the hope that he will see a friendly ship on the horizon, coming his way.
As the novel progresses, we see how Robinson Crusoe is transformed. He must learn to do the things he never imagined he would have to do, such as killing animals for food, planting crops, making bread, making pottery, baskets and building himself a sturdy shelter to protect himself from whatever might be out there. He comes to realize after being on the island for years that God played a part in his salvation, when all the others on board his ship died. He sees how God played a part in providing everything he needed to sustain life. Without God helping him, he would have died. How he changes, how he is transformed from one kind of man into another kind, is the emotional core of the novel.
It’s many years before Robinson Crusoe finds a way off the island. He endures and somehow he thrives and becomes stronger. He finds happiness, comfort, peace and contentment. The irony is that he probably wouldn’t have had those things if he had stayed at home in England where he was born.
Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp
My Father’s Pajamas
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~
Susan pulled into the driveway of a two-story house and turned off the engine. The man sitting beside her, whose name was Knox, rubbed his hands along his thighs and looked nervously over at the house.
“I’ll just leave,” he said. “I’m not going in there with you.”
“Don’t be silly,” Susan said. “My mother is probably watching us out the window this very minute. She’ll wonder who you are.”
When she saw he was still hesitating, she said, “It’s all right. You can leave whenever you want.”
She got out and motioned him to follow. She led him across the yard and up the front steps to the porch. Before she inserted her key into the lock, she turned to look at him to make sure he was still there.
“As you can see,” she said. “It’s a big house. There are four bedrooms upstairs and another bedroom off the kitchen. We have plenty of room for houseguests.”
“I don’t think I should…”
She plucked at his coat sleeve and pulled him inside behind her.
The house was overheated and had an old smell about it, as if to announce to anybody entering: Old people live here.
Knox stood inside the doorway awkwardly, his hands in the pockets of his coat. A very old woman entered from another room and stopped in midmotion and when she saw Susan and Knox.
“It’s me, mother!” Susan said. “I’m back! And I’ve brought somebody with me this time.”
“Who is this?” the old woman asked. She had a great shock of white hair sticking out all over her head. The thick glasses she wore magnified her eyes many times, giving her a rather freakish look.
“His name is Knox,” Susan said. “I met him in the park. I invited him to come home with me and he very graciously accepted.”
“Who?” the old woman asked.
“Knox!” Susan said loudly. “His name is Knox! Don’t you think he’s nice-looking? That wasn’t why I chose him, of course, but I suppose it had something to do with it. He has blue eyes, mother. Same as you.”
“What?” the old woman said.
“And he’s just the right age. I don’t mean I know how old he is, but he looks the right age.”
“Hello,” Knox said to the old woman. “I’ll only stay a minute.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so?”
“I’ll show Knox upstairs to the guest bedroom,” Susan said. “He can take a shower or do whatever he wants while I fix dinner. I’ll get some of father’s clothes out of his closet for him to wear.”
“What?” the old woman said. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“I know you heard every word I said, mother! There’s nothing wrong with your hearing!”
“You’ll have to excuse my mother,” Susan said to Knox when they were upstairs. “She’s a bit eccentric and she is old.”
The guest bedroom was commodious in every way, with its own bathroom, a huge walk-in closet and lots of natural light.
“I think you’ll like this room,” she said. “It’s always been my favorite room in the whole house.”
“I can’t stay here,” Knox said.
“Does this look like the kind of room I belong in?”
Susan laughed. “You’re going to have to forget all that,” she said. “It might help to keep an open mind and be open to new experiences.”
“Your mother doesn’t like having me in her house and I can’t say I blame her,” Knox said.
“Don’t worry so much. I know how to get around her.”
She went to the closet and brought out a pair of pants, a shirt, a belt and a pullover cashmere sweater. She laid the things on the bed and then took some things out of the dresser drawer, which turned out to be a man’s underpants, an undershirt and a pair of black socks.
“These things belonged to my father,” Susan said. “He’s been dead for years. Wear them in good health.”
“I can’t wear your father’s clothes,” Knox said.
“I shouldn’t even be here.”
“I’m going downstairs now to cook dinner. You can take a bath, a shower, or do whatever you want. I know you’re thinking you only want to leave, but I hope you’ll at least stay for dinner. I’m thawing out some trout that I bought and there’s a lot more than my mother and I can eat.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “None of this seems right.”
“Maybe you need to think of it as your lucky day. The day I found you in the park.”
“My lucky day.”
“In the bathroom beside the sink is a brand-new razor that’s never been used. There’s also a toothbrush, a washcloth, a towel and lots of soap and shampoo. I think that’s everything you need. I’m going back downstairs now. I’ll close the door so you can have your privacy. I know men like their privacy. You can lock the door from the inside if it makes you feel better.”
“I don’t think I should do this,” he said.
“Put these clothes on that I laid out for you. I’ll wash your old clothes, or we can put them in the trash if you want. I won’t insult you by telling you how awful they are. Now, if there’s anything else you need, just let me know. I’ll be in the kitchen. Oh, and tomorrow I’ll trim your hair if you’ll let me. But please wash it first.”
“Trim my hair.”
“Yes. I’ll let you know when dinner is ready.”
While she was in the kitchen, slicing potatoes, her mother came charging in with the crazed look in her eye.
“Who is that man?” she demanded.
“I told you, mother. His name is Knox.”
“What is he doing in my house?”
“I invited him.”
“How long is he going to stay?”
“As long as he wants. We haven’t discussed any long-term arrangement yet.”
“I’m going to call the sheriff.”
“There’s an intruder in my house and I want him removed!”
“He’s not an intruder if I invited him, now, is he?”
“What do you know about him?”
“Where does he come from?”
“I don’t know.”
“Who are his people? What does he do for a living?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you going to wait for him to slit our throats?”
“He’s not going to do that!”
“We don’t know anything about him, so we have to assume the worst.”
“All you have to do is look at him to know he’s not that sort.”
“I’m going to call the sheriff.”
“You’re not calling anybody!” Susan said, turning to her mother with the knife in her hand. “I might slit your throat if you don’t stop being so silly!”
“As long as that man is here, I’m not staying in this house another minute! I’m going to go stay with my sister Edith.”
“Your sister Edith is dead.”
The old woman starting crying. “So, I guess that means I don’t have any place I can go!”
“You don’t need a place to go!”
“I don’t know how you can treat your mother this way!”
“This is not about you, mother!”
“What is it about, then? Are you starting to go through the change?”
“I want a friend, that’s all.”
“What about your Sunday school class?”
“They’re just a bunch of gossipy old women. I don’t have anything in common with them.”
“Maybe you should try harder.”
“Look, mother! I spend all my time in this house with you. You’re the only person I ever see or talk to.”
“That’s not true!”
“I cook your food and wash your clothes. I keep your house clean. Life is passing me by. Maybe I want more from life than being your nursemaid.”
“Well, what do you want?”
“I don’t know! I’m going to find out.”
“Are you going to marry that man?”
“I might. It’s too soon to know.”
“He might be a rapist!”
“He might be a lot of things. He might have a wife and eight children. You can’t go through life being afraid of everything and everybody.”
“What are you afraid of?”
“What kind of an answer is that? Are you sick? Do you need to see a doctor?”
“When I need to see a doctor, mother, I’ll let you know.”
“Is that man going to spend the night in this house?”
“I don’t know what he plans on doing. I want him to stay but I can’t force him.”
“Are you going to let him make love to you?”
“Of course not, mother! I don’t think you need to worry about that.”
“Well, I’m going to a hotel! Will you please call me a cab?”
“You know how to call a cab, mother. You’re just being melodramatic.”
“No, on second thought, I’m not going to a hotel and leave you alone in the house with that man! When there’s an unsavory character in my house, I want to know what he’s doing every minute.”
Dinner was uneventful. Knox ate the food that Susan put in front of him with his head down. She was gratified to see that he had put the clothes on that she laid out for him. He had taken a bath and washed his hair and he did look much improved. He still needed a haircut, though, and a manicure.
Susan’s mother sat with her arms close to her sides, feigning fear. She cried the entire time she ate and sniffled into her hanky for effect.
“How do you like the fried potatoes, mother?” Susan asked.
“Greasy. I can’t eat them. They give me heartburn.”
“Do you like the fish? It’s just the way you like it.”
“No, it tastes funny. I think it’s going to make me sick.”
“Would you like some salad?”
“No, I’ll just eat some of my candy before I retire for the night.”
“Too much candy isn’t good for you.”
“What do you care?”
She stood up then, nearly falling, and made her way out of the room.
“Your mother doesn’t like me,” Knox said.
“No matter,” Susan said. “She doesn’t like me, either. I’ve always been a disappointment to her.”
“I should go,” Knox said.
Once again he gestured over his shoulder with his thumb. “I don’t belong here.”
“It’s dark now and raining. Spend the night. You’ll have the guest room all to yourself. You won’t be bothered. There’s a lock on the door. You can lock yourself in.”
“I can’t pay you for any of this.”
“Tomorrow we’ll have a little talk while I’m trimming your hair. You can tell me about yourself, as much or as little as you want.”
“Maybe there’s nothing to tell.”
“Everybody has something to tell.”
“Maybe there’s nothing worth telling. I’m less than nothing. I’m nobody. I’m not worth mentioning. I’m not worth a second of your time.”
They sat for a while longer without saying anything. The house was quiet. Knox went to sleep sitting at the table. While he was sleeping, Susan looked at his hands and fingers, his face, his hair, his nose and mouth. If he knew she was scrutinizing him that way, he would have spoken sharply to her and walked out the door.
A crash of thunder woke him and he stood up from the table. Now is the moment of truth, Susan thought. Instead of leaving, though, he crept up the stairs and went into the guest room and locked the door. She hoped he would find the pajamas and dressing gown she left out for him. She wanted him to have all the good things she might give him.
Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp
A Thousand Others
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~
In September 1921, Mr. Fatty motored the three hundred miles—in his custom-made, $20,000 automobile—from his home in Hollywood, California, northward to San Francisco, for a much-needed hiatus from the arduous pursuit of making motion pictures. Mr. Fatty was, you see, the biggest star in Hollywood. People adored him. His pictures raked in prodigious amounts of cash.
If you ever saw Mr. Fatty act on the screen, you knew why he was so popular. He was funny. He was charismatic. He was charming. He was talented. He was Good with a capital G. He deserved the million dollars a year, tax-free, that he raked in. He deserved all the love, all the fame and popularity, that the world had to offer. He deserved it all, except, perhaps, the fate that awaited him in San Francisco.
On arriving in that picturesque, seaside city, Mr. Fatty checked himself and his entourage into his luxurious suite on the twelfth floor of the finest hotel. He refreshed himself with a bath and a brief nap. After taking some pills to pep himself up, he ate a steak sandwich and then began drinking prodigious amounts of alcohol.
The party guests began arriving before the sun went down. They were picture people, directors, producers, writers, and other actors; acquaintances, friends and friends of friends; flappers and party girls and party-girl flappers; would-be actresses, girls who would do anything with anybody to get their big break in motion pictures. Some were no more than fifteen, fresh off the farm. They took pills to crank themselves up, to make themselves happy, to make themselves lose whatever inhibitions they might still have.
And they were loud. They were raucous. They were crude. They were unleashed. They consumed bootleg hooch by the barrelful. They danced, some of them alone and some together. They removed part of their clothing and then all their clothing. They sang, they brayed like animals, they screamed, they whooped. They tore down the curtains and busted up the furniture. They coupled, on the couch, on the floor, in the bathroom, the kitchen, standing up, lying down, wherever they happened to be.
Any number of the unattached girls made a play for Mr. Fatty because they knew he was a major player in motion pictures. One kind word from him could get them in to see Hollywood’s top producers and directors. Making Mr. Fatty feel especially good, even for just a few minutes, might be the one little thing that could launch a motion picture career.
Some of the girls, of course, already had a few screen credits. They had played waitresses, maids, or “extras” in crowd scenes. They all hoped to be able to stand out from the others, to be noticed and get a chance to play the really substantial parts opposite the handsome, sleek-haired leading men who set their hearts aflutter.
May Beasley had appeared in twelve different motion pictures, but in most of them she didn’t get a screen credit because the part she played wasn’t big enough. She could play any kind of part—she could even sing and dance—but she thought of herself first and foremost as a comedic actress. She just hadn’t had the chance yet to prove to any influential person just how good she was. She could change all that if Mr. Fatty would just notice how pretty she was and how eager to make good.
Mr. Fatty noticed May, all right. He kept his eye on her as she moved like a cat around the room with a drink in her hand, flirting first with one man and then with another. Sometimes she danced her way from one person to the next, in time to the syncopated jazz music. He found her quite fetching. He couldn’t keep his eyes off her gyrating buttocks; he was sure she wasn’t wearing any underwear.
May also kept her eye on Mr. Fatty until he sat down on a French divan, where she went and sat beside him and put her arm around him, giving him a closeup view of her breasts. She whispered in his ear and nuzzled on his earlobe in the way she knew that drove men wild. He was so drunk and so high at that moment that he would have liked anything she did.
They kissed—a long, lingering kiss. He could have taken possession of her right there, but he was still a little conventional and didn’t like doing the things in public that he loved doing in private. He took her by the hand and led her into the bedroom, discreetly closing the door.
Mr. Fatty and May Beasley were in the bedroom for hours. The more playful of the party guests listened at the door, but heard nothing. They could only imagine the scene that was playing out, knowing as they did what a prodigious lover Mr. Fatty was.
The hour grew late and the party guests began to drift away. Mr. Fatty emerged from the bedroom, disheveled and sweating. The remaining guests cheered him, whistled and hooted. He smiled, wiped his brow, and bowed dramatically.
“You must have worn poor old May down to a nub,” someone said.
“She’s sleeping it off,” Mr. Fatty replied. “She’s feeling no pain.”
Mr. Fatty went downstairs for a bite to eat, telling everybody the party was over until next time. He hoped all his dear friends had a lovely time. He wanted everybody to have left by the time he came back upstairs to his suite because he needed to rest before driving back home. Au revoir, my dears! Until we meet again!
Late the next day, back home in Hollywood, Mr. Fatty received an urgent telephone call from his lawyer. Word was about that May Beasley was seriously injured from the treatment she received at the party in San Francisco. She had a ruptured bladder and was bleeding internally.
“What did you do to that poor girl?” the lawyer asked.
“Nothing that I haven’t done to a thousand others,” Mr. Fatty said.
“They’re saying you sexually assaulted her. If she dies, I’m afraid there’s going to be big trouble.”
“Should I go back up to San Francisco and see about her?”
“No, just go about your business. Go back to work at the studio. I’ll call you when I know more.”
Mr. Fatty went to work and for two days heard nothing. He was sure May Beasley was going to be all right. On the third day, he received another urgent call from his lawyer. May had developed peritonitis and was gravely ill.
“You weigh three hundred pounds,” the lawyer said. “May Beasley weighs a hundred and eight. People are saying you ravished her, crushed her.”
“I’m sure I didn’t do anything to her that hundreds of others haven’t done,” Mr. Fatty said. “She loved every minute of it.”
“She didn’t show any signs of being injured when you were with her?”
“None at all. She’s an actress. She’s just trying to get attention.”
“I hope that’s all it is.”
One week after the party, May Beasley died. The press ripped Mr. Fatty apart. They were calling him an animal, a cad, a monster, a ghoul, a fiend. Suddenly he was made to represent all the excesses of Hollywood and picture people: the heavy drinking and the use of narcotics and reefers; free love and out-of-wedlock birth; sexual perversion and the switching of the genders—feminine men and masculine women. In short, the casting aside of decency and the Christian values that made this country great.
To show his heart was in the right place, Mr. Fatty offered to pay all of May Beasley’s hospital and doctor bills. While his friends saw it as a magnanimous gesture, others saw it as tantamount to an admission of guilt.
He believed he should attend May Beasley’s funeral, but his lawyers and the studio bosses advised him to stay away. The last thing he needed, they said, was to show his face at her funeral and be inextricably linked to the tragedy of her death. He needed to begin thinking how he might extricate himself from the scandal and limit the damage done to his career and his public persona.
Mr. Fatty felt so sad about what happened to May Beasley, but the biggest blow of all came when his lawyer told him he was being charged with first-degree murder and must surrender himself to authorities in San Francisco.
He knew the world and he knew people. He had a few friends and admirers who would always believe in him, but the majority of people chose to believe he was a monster, a defiler and murderer of innocent young women. They were the ones, he knew, who would not rest until they had flailed all the flesh from his bones.
Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp