RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Allen Kopp

Twin Peaks: the Return ~ A Capsule Review

Posted on

Twin Peaks: the Return ~ A Capsule Review by Allen Kopp

Twin Peaks, the too-offbeat-for-mainstream TV series, appeared on commercial TV in 1990 and 1991. It didn’t last any longer than it did, we will assume, because it wasn’t the usual ho-hum TV fare (it was challenging to watch). Now, all these years later, we have Twin Peaks: the Return on the Showtime network, with, it must be assumed, less network censorship and more leeway on the part of the show’s creators to bring us disturbing images and situations, not to mention R-rated language. “Visionary” director David Lynch is back as one of the show’s two writers, its director and one of its principal actors. He’s still using some of the same directorial techniques he used forty years ago on Eraserhead.

If you can remember back all the way to 1990, you will remember the show’s premise: a high school beauty queen named Laura Palmer from the small town of Twin Peaks in the state of Washington is mysteriously murdered and “wrapped in plastic.” Handsome FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle McLachlan) is summoned to Twin Peaks to try to figure out who (it might have been anybody in the town) murdered Laura Palmer. (If I remember correctly, it was her own crazy father who killed her.)

Anyway, the early-thirties Dale Cooper of 1990 is now in his late fifties, although he still looks essentially the same. He has been missing since the end of the first series twenty-six years ago. He is still wearing the same darkly conservative suit and has been in a sort of nether world, where the floor is a red-and-white zigzag pattern, heavy red curtains hang all around, and the people (including the dead but now middle-aged Laura Palmer) speak as if they just landed here from another planet. (You’d have to hear it to know what I’m talking about.)

Dale Cooper has two (that we know of) “doppelgangers,” or doubles. One of the doppelgangers is (or has been until recently) in prison, has long hair and is terrible-looking. The other doppelganger is named Dougie Jones. Through a series of mishaps, Agent Dale Cooper is now living the life of Dougie Jones in the state of Nevada. He looks so much like Dougie Jones that nobody, including the real Dougie’s wife and son, knows it isn’t him. He goes to work every day at the Lucky 7 insurance company in Las Vegas and the people who work with him believe he’s Dougie Jones and don’t know that he’s not. Dale Cooper doesn’t know who he is, so he can’t tell them he’s not who they think he is.

If you have been watching the seven episodes that have so far aired, I defy you to explain the “plot” of Twin Peaks: the Return. There are so many characters and so many different things happening that one wonders if all the (seemingly unconnected) pieces will ever come together into a cohesive whole. Maybe the show’s writers don’t even know where it’s all headed.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Room 1219 ~ A Capsule Book Review

Posted on

Room 1219 ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Room 1219, by Greg Merritt, is an American success story; how one man from humble beginnings rose to the pinnacle of his profession. It’s also a true crime story showing how that same man was ruined by a press that is more interested in dishing dirt and promulgating scandal than in being fair and objective and getting at the truth.

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was the biggest movie star in the world, the first to sign a contract for a million dollars a year. His onscreen persona (a good-natured, bumbling man-child) was the most recognized in the world. He lived in a mansion (for which he paid $250,000) in the most exclusive section of Hollywood. At a time when a Model T Ford cost $370 (what most people were driving, if they drove at all), Fatty drove a custom-made, $34,000 Pierce-Arrow.

On Labor Day in 1921, Fatty Arbuckle’s world came crashing down. He drove his Pierce-Arrow the 350 miles from Los Angeles to San Francisco (the road wasn’t even paved the whole way yet), rented three adjoining suites on the twelfth floor in the exclusive St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, and hosted a little party for a handful of his friends.

A minor movie actress named Virginia Rappe with pretentions of making it into the big time was in attendance at Fatty’s Labor Day party, along with three other women and three other men, besides Fatty. Miss Rappe was 30 but was always shaving a few years off her age, so it was given variously as 23 or 25. She was a showgirl, an alcoholic, and was no stranger to men or to sex. (Later, much to Fatty’s detriment, she was characterized as pure, unsullied and virginal.)

During the course of the party, Virginia Rappe became ill, apparently (to most observers) from drinking too much liquor. She began tearing at her clothes and complaining of terrible abdominal pain. She was crying and carrying on and saying things like “He hurt me” and “I’m dying.” When a doctor was summoned, the doctor determined that she had only had too much to drink and would be all right. Four days later she was dead. An autopsy revealed she had a punctured bladder resulting in peritonitis. What caused her bladder to puncture could not be determined; the autopsy doctor could only conclude it was from an “external force.”

Immediately Fatty Arbuckle, who had since returned to his home in Hollywood believing that nothing was amiss, was accused of Miss Rappe’s death. The love the world bore for him instantly turned to hate. The press labeled him as a beast and an ogre, a gross fat man with salacious appetites. He became a symbol for excess and for all that was morally wrong in America, particularly in the motion picture industry. Conversely, Virginia Rappe became a symbol for outraged purity. Both extremes were untrue and especially unfair in Fatty’s case.

What, if anything, did Fatty Arbuckle do to Virginia Rappe in that San Francisco hotel room that contributed to her death? That was the question the whole world was asking.

Fatty’s defense team (assembled at great expense) believed he would be charged with manslaughter (the grand jury’s recommendation). Crusading San Francisco district attorney Matthew Brady, however, had other notions: he sought a murder conviction. He was courting the women’s vote (woman had just been given the right to vote in 1920) and believed that women everywhere wanted Fatty to get the maximum punishment. The charge was changed from manslaughter to murder but, in the preliminary hearing, the judge determined that a murder conviction wasn’t warranted and again reduced the charge to manslaughter.

So, with much hoopla and publicity, Fatty was tried for manslaughter in a sensational trial that was the talk of the country. The trial resulted in a hung jury (10 to 2 favoring acquittal), so the whole thing had to be done over.

In the second trial, Fatty’s defense team seemed over-confident. They didn’t bother to put Fatty on the stand to explain for himself what had happened in the hotel room, and they didn’t give closing arguments. The result was another hung jury, but this time 10 to 2 for conviction.

Fatty was called to the stand to testify in his third trial. The jury believed him (the truth has a sound of its own) and, after about five minutes of deliberation, voted to acquit him. Finally, the ordeal was over. He was free to return home and resume his shattered motion picture (acting/writing/directing) career.

Not so fast, though! Six days after Fatty’s acquittal, all his movies were banned from American movie screens by the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA). (Studio heads wanted a clean slate, with Fatty gone.) So, after the terrible ordeal he had been through, he was not going to be given a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of the public. His career was effectively over. At thirty-five years of age, with possibly many more years of productivity ahead of him, he was ruined.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Society Wedding

Posted on

Society Wedding ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

On Saturday evening the sixth of August, marriage vows were solemnized between Ponselle de Fortenay von Hoople and Roger Melville Arcotte-Devaney III. The bride is the youngest daughter of Sebastian Fortescue de Fortenay von Hoople and Mitzi Upjohn de Fortenay von Hoople, both of whom are leading lights of café society and the yacht club set. The groom is a well-known champion polo player and scion of the Arcotte-Devaney manufacturing fortune.

The flower-laden ceremony was held in the lovely gardens of the palatial country estate of the bride’s parents, Forty Winks. The Right Reverend Everett Yawberry Lovell officiated, with a thousand invited guests in attendance, including the governor, Luther Addison Biggs, who is pleased to call himself friend of the family and business associate of the bride’s father. Also in attendance were the renowned novelist Miss Millicent Farquhar Meriwether (whose latest novel, Just Hurry Up and Die, is a huge success), and Broadway hoofer Miss Beulah Doakes.

The bride wore a lovely seventeenth century-inspired gown made entirely of Neapolitan lace that just about swallowed her up and made her look like the dress was walking down the aisle on its own. She chose as her maid of honor her lifelong friend and confidante, Miss Penelope “Pinky” Peebles, who, since she is a midget, was given a stool to stand on to make her as tall as everybody else. Those honored to be bridesmaids were Miss Vesta Cundiff (daughter of the well-known film actress Lola Lola), Miss Marguerite “Tiny” Cadwallader, Miss Fricka Wagstaff, Miss Beryl Belladonna-Stammers, Miss Veronica “Hambone” Turlock, and Miss Hildegard “Puffy” Mannering. In a unique twist for any wedding this season, and, in keeping with the outdoor setting, all the bridesmaids were dressed in costumes representing different birds, from the familiar robin to the sweet mourning dove.

The groom chose as his best man his brother, Mr. Bryce Errol Fennimore Arcotte-Devaney. Groomsmen were Mr. Antonio “Little Tony” Delessio, Mr. Justin Marburg Phipps IV, Mr. Franklin Lester Shumway, Mr. Percy Sherwood-Upjohn, Mr. Troy Biggerstaff, and Mr. Gideon Elijah Gottlieb. The men of the wedding party wore matching linen suits inspired by the planter of the pre-Civil War South, with broad-brimmed Panama hats and black patent-leather knee boots.

The bride’s mother, Mrs. Mitzi Upjohn de Fortenay von Hoople, was a standout among the ladies in her dress and hat made entirely of chicken feathers. She wasn’t able to speak with the beak she wore, but those who know her considered this a great advantage. The father of the bride, Mr. Sebastian Fortescue de Fortenay von Hoople, was the life of the party in his tuxedoed gorilla costume, complete with porkpie hat and cigar.

The mother of the groom, Mrs. Clara Tubbins Arcotte-Devaney, was dressed entirely in black in honor of her late husband, Mr. Roger Melville Arcotte-Devaney II, who died last fall when he fell into the ocean on his return trip to the United States from his travels abroad and was eaten by sharks.

The newly married couple departed on a honeymoon trip around the world on the luxury liner The Virgin Queen. When they return from their travels in about six months, they will reside in their renovated Fifth Avenue townhouse that reportedly cost twelve million dollars, a gift from the bride’s father. Part of the year they will reside in Palm Springs or in the chalet in Switzerland the groom inherited from his father.

This reporter had a chance to chat with the excited bride and groom before they ventured into the world on their own. The bride kissed this reporter on the cheek, leaving the imprint of her lips, and whispered in his ear, “I want a good write-up; no funny business, or my father will have you killed.” The groom gripped this reporter’s hand and, in his booming baritone voice, announced that he wanted him to come back in about ten years and see how many “little bluebloods” they have been able to “pop out” in that length of time. The bride squealed in mock outrage and punched her newly minted husband on the arm.

As the couple made their way to their waiting limousine, the assembled crowd shouted out their good wishes and threw handfuls of rice. The bride’s mother held a handkerchief to her beak and sniffled as the car drove down the winding drive and through the immense gates. She retired to her room in exhaustion as the guests began a drunken bacchanalia that would last until long after daybreak.

Copyright @2017 by Allen Kopp

He Fell Over Dead

Posted on

He Fell Over Dead ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

They lived on a small farm. They grew corn and wheat, strawberries, peaches, tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant, melons and cucumbers, among other things. Their chickens yielded four or five dozen eggs a week. They sold most of their eggs and whatever happened to be in season to two different stores in the town of Marburg twelve miles away. In the lush season, they set up a stand out in front of their property on the highway and sold whatever surplus they had to passing cars.

Lathrop was fifteen. He had gone to school through the eighth grade, and then he wasn’t obliged to go any farther. He wanted to go on to high school in Marburg but father said he was needed on the farm. Lathrop did the work of a hired hand without any pay. When he was younger, they had a hired hand, but his father fired him when he found he was stealing vegetables and selling them on his own in town. 

Lathrop liked working at the vegetable stand. It was easy work in the shade of an enormous oak tree, and it gave him a chance to see and talk to other people, who were mostly friendly and cheerful. Sometimes somebody he knew from his school days would stop by and he would talk to them, but most of the people he had never seen before. They were just passing by on the highway on their way home from wherever they had been. They would see the stand, and the idea of fresh tomatoes, corn or cucumbers for supper would make them stop.

On a warm Tuesday afternoon in the middle of June, Mr. Wessel, the nearest neighbor, came by. He was happy to see that Lathrop still had a dozen eggs left and some tomatoes.

“How are you doing today, Lathrop?” Mr. Wessel asked as he counted out his money.

Lathrop felt flattered, somehow, that Mr. Wessel would speak to him in this way. Nobody else ever did. “I’m just dandy,” he said jauntily, with a smile. He put Mr. Wessel’s purchases in a wrinkled paper sack and handed the sack over the makeshift counter. 

“Do you ever read books, Lathrop?” Mr. Wessel asked.

“I did when I was in school,” Lathrop said. He was reluctant to say that he lived in a house without books or that he had only gone through the eighth grade and would probably never go any farther.

“You seem like a smart boy. I have many, many books in my house. If you ever want to borrow, drop by and I’ll see if I have anything that might interest you.”

“Yes, sir! I’d like that!”

“You don’t have to call me ‘sir’. My first name is Eldridge, so you can see why people call me Wessel. It’s my handle.”

Lathrop smiled, even though he didn’t know what it meant. “I might just do that, sir,” he said. “Stop by and borrow a book, I mean.”

Late in the afternoon Lathrop was happy. He sold all the vegetables and eggs and had a cigar box full of change and one-dollar bills. He handed the money box over to mother.

“Mr. Wessel came by the stand today,” Lathrop said at the supper table. “He told me I could come over to his house and borrow some books to read.”

“You stay away from him!” father said.

“Why?”

“I don’t like him, that’s why!”

“If you don’t like him, does that mean I’m not supposed to like him, too?”

“If I find out you’ve been over there, I’ll knock your head off your shoulders and feed it to the hogs.”

After supper, when mother was clearing the table and father had gone outside, Lathrop asked her, “Why doesn’t he like Mr. Wessel?”

“He’s heard something about him, I guess,” mother said. “You know how he is.”

“What did he hear?”

“God only knows.”

“Well, I like Mr. Wessel. He’s nice to me. Most people don’t even look at me. I’m only Hodge’s kid and I don’t mean a damn thing.”

“I don’t like you to use that kind of language in the house.”

“Mother, when I was in school, I heard ten times worse than that every day.”

“I don’t want you to be like him.”

“Why did you ever marry him?”

“You never met my mother.”

She laughed then, something she hardly ever did, and Lathrop wiped the crumbs off the table onto the floor.

“I want to go back to school,” he said. “Eighth grade isn’t enough.”

“I know,” she said. “We’ll manage it somehow. And if you want to borrow books from Mr. Wessel, go ahead and do it. Just don’t let your paw find out. Keep the books hidden in your room.”

The next time father went to visit his ailing mother, a trip that always took all day, Lathrop, with his dog Ruff, walked the mile to Mr. Wessel’s house. His heart hammered in his chest as he knocked timidly at the door. He half-hoped that Mr. Wessel wouldn’t be at home. 

Mr. Wessel came to the door and when he saw Lathrop he smiled and motioned him inside. Ruff settled himself on the porch for a nap.

“I hope I’m not bothering you,” Lathrop said.

“Not at all,” Mr. Wessel said. “I’m always glad of visitors.”

The house was cool and dark. Lathrop sat in a large padded chair across from the couch. Mr. Wessel sat on the couch and crossed his legs. He wasn’t wearing any shoes.

After some polite talk in which Mr. Wessel asked Lathrop about his family, his dog Ruff, where he went to school and other mundane things, he took Lathrop into the next room, his “study,” where he wrote and had his books.

Lathrop never saw so many books in one place before. There were shelves and shelves of books, so many books that the ones that wouldn’t fit on the shelves were stacked neatly in rows on the floor.

“Where did you get so many books?” Lathrop asked.

“Some are mine and some belonged to my family. When you’re the last one left alive, you get, by default, everything that belonged to everybody who came before.”

Lathrop wasn’t sure what Mr. Wessel was talking about, but he smiled and nodded his head.

Lathrop looked over the books. There were novels, volumes of poetry, short stories, books on history and books that people had written about their own lives.  

“Do you have anything in mind that you’d like to read?” Mr. Wessel asked.

“I don’t know much about books,” Lathrop said. “In school, I only read what I had to to get by.”

“Have you ever read anything by Charles Dickens?”

“No. I’ve heard of him, though.”

“How about David Copperfield? Do you think you’d like to read that?”

“Sure, I guess so.”

“I read it when I was about you age. I don’t think you’ll have too much trouble with it.”

“Sure, I’d like to give it a try.”

With David Copperfield clutched tightly in his hands, he followed Mr. Wessel back into the front room. They sat again and after they had talked for a while Mr. Wessel got up and went into the kitchen and came back with two glasses of sweet cider and a little plate of walnut cookies.  

After an hour or so, Lathrop realized he had been in Mr. Wessel’s house for over an hour. He would like to have stayed much longer, but he didn’t want to overstay his welcome. He thanked Mr. Wessel for David Copperfield and walked back home with Ruff trailing along behind.

He showed mother the book when he got home and inside the front cover where Mr. Wessel had written his name.

“That’s so you’ll remember who the book belongs to,” mother said.

He hid the book in the bottom of his dresser drawer. He couldn’t let father see it. He would be mad at him for disobeying orders to stay away from Mr. Wessel’s house and would make fun of him for reading such a story book.

That might after mother and father had gone to bed, he began reading David Copperfield in his bed. If father came and unexpectedly opened the door, which he never did, Lathrop could easily thrust it under the covers and pretend it wasn’t there.

He considered himself mostly ignorant and uneducated, but he didn’t have any trouble reading David Copperfield or knowing what was going on. There were some words he didn’t know and the characters talked in a funny way, but Lathrop knew it was just because they were in a different country and the book was written a long time ago. 

The next time he worked the vegetable stand, he overhead two ladies from town talking as they picked out their vegetables. Lathrop didn’t care what they were saying, but when he realized they were talking about father he paid closer attention.

Lathrop gleaned from the ladies’ talk that father had a “girlfriend” in town and she had a small child by him. He paid the rent on the house she lived in and visited her regularly. The ladies had seen father, the woman and their child together at a fireworks display in the park on the Fourth of July. 

“That old coot,” one of the ladies said. “He ought to be ashamed of himself. And she’s half his age, too.”

She’s the one that ought to be ashamed,” the other lady said. “Damned old home wrecker!”

“Well, you never know about people.”

In a little over a week, Lathrop finished David Copperfield and was glad for a reason to make another trip to Mr. Wessel’s house.

Mr. Wessel asked Lathrop how he liked the book and Lathrop said he was surprised he was able to get through such a big book so fast and with seemingly so little effort. He forgot about the time when he was reading it.

Next Mr. Wessel gave him A Tale of Two Cities, which, he said, was a little more challenging than David Copperfield but of moderate length. Lathrop agreed to give it a try.

When the conversation switched from books to other matters, Lathrop told Mr. Wessel how he hated his father and was sure his father hated him. His father was gruff with him and impatient and turned his head away whenever Lathrop walked into a room. The two of them had very little to say to each other and never talked about anything that mattered.

He told Mr. Wessel his father didn’t want him to come there and borrow books but that he was doing it anyway when his father was away. His mother knew about it and thought it was all right. To Lathrop’s surprise, Mr. Wessel smiled and nodded his head.

“I never got along well with my father, either,” he said.

“What did you do about it?” Lathrop asked.

“Left home and didn’t come back until after he was dead.”

“What did you do away from home?”

“Went to college. Taught high school. Worked in a lumber mill and as a copy boy at a newspaper. I was clerk in a book store. I was even a waiter for about ten months.”

“Did you like that?”

“It made my legs tired.”

“Then what did you do?”

“When my mother died, I got a little money. Not enough to make me rich but enough to keep me from having to work, at least for a while.”

Then, even though he was embarrassed to say it, Lathrop told Mr. Wessel what he had heard the town ladies say at the vegetable stand.

“Do you think it’s true or just gossip?” Mr. Wessel asked.

“I think it could be true. He’s away from home a lot.”

“Does your mother know?”

“I don’t think so.”

Then there were other books: The House of Seven Gables, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Sea Wolf, The Red Badge of Courage, Life on the Mississippi. There was a whole world in them that Lathrop didn’t know existed.

On a stifling afternoon in August, Lathrop was sitting in the wagon in the barn looking at an old newspaper he had found when his father came in. Ruff went to meet him, tail wagging, and Lathrop’s father kicked him. Ruff yelped and leaped out of the way.

“What did you do that for?” Lathrop said. “He only wants you to notice him.”

“I’m going to take him out and shoot him!” his father said.

What?

“I can’t stand that dog and I never could.”

“The only reason you can’t stand him is because he’s mine and you know I like him!”

His father wiped the sweat from his mouth with the back of his hand and grabbed Lathrop by the arm and pulled him off the wagon onto the floor.  

“What’s the matter with you?” Lathrop said, trying to stand up.

“Yeah, what’s the matter with me? You’d like to know what’s the matter with me, wouldn’t you? The question is, what’s the matter with you?”

“I haven’t done anything!”

“You’ve been going over to that Wessel’s house. Don’t bother to lie about it because I know you have. What filthy things have you been up to with that man?”

“What?”

“What have you been up to with that Wessel?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about! He lends me books. I read them and then I take them back.”

“Yeah, and what do you do for him in return?”

“I don’t do anything!”

He grabbed Lathrop by the arms and turned him around and struck him on the side of the head with the flat of his hand.

“Let go of me, you bastard!”

“What did you just call me, you little chicken shit?”

Lathrop started to run and his father grabbed him from behind and slammed him to the floor. He was straddling him, undoing his belt to thrash him with it when Lathrop pulled himself up and started running again. He nearly ran into the wall of the barn and when he did he saw the big knife in the leather case his father used when he butchered hogs. He pulled the knife out of its case and when his father charged him he stabbed him in the throat. He then stabbed him two more times, once in the side of the neck and then just above the heart until he went down.

Right away Lathrop knew his father was dead. When he caught his breath, he took an old canvas tarpaulin and threw it over him so he wouldn’t have to look at him. Then he thought about all the blood that was leaking all over the floor of the barn that would be very difficult to clean up, so he wrapped his father in the canvas the best he could and pushed the body against the wall. Ruff jumped up and wagged his tail and seemed to think he was helping.  

After he got himself a long drink of water, he went into the house and told mother what had happened. She dried her hands and sat down at the kitchen table and looked at him and didn’t say a word.

He thought about what he could do with his father’s body so that nobody would ever find it. Just burying it didn’t seem the right thing.

Two miles away was an old homestead that had been abandoned for seventy-five years or more, people said. There was an old well that went down two hundred feet, maybe three hundred. Lathrop remembered seeing it when he was seven years old. It had given him bad dreams for a long time.

After midnight, while mother was sleeping the sleep of the innocent, Lathrop went out to the barn and, without too much effort, pulled his father’s body, using ropes, into the back of the wagon. He then hitched the sleepy mule, the one they called Timmy, to the old wagon and set off into the woods along a road that could hardly be called that.

There was no moon. Lathrop could barely see past Timmy’s ears, but he found the old homestead from memory. He pulled the wagon around to the back of where the house once stood and jumped down. The well was right where he remembered it.

A metal plate covered the well. He was able to lift it by one corner and, with a huge amount of effort, slide it to the side far enough to drop a body in.   

He pulled the wagon as close to the well as the remaining foundation of the old house would allow and, pulling on the ropes, maneuvered his father’s body to the opening and dropped it down, canvas and all. He listened for the body to hit bottom, but he heard nothing so he believed that meant the well was hopelessly deep.

He pushed the metal plate back into place and kicked the leaves and sticks that he had disturbed back so that the well would look undisturbed.

When he got back home, it was after three o’clock in the morning. He washed his hands and face and fell into bed, exhausted. He slept until nine o’clock and when he woke up breakfast was waiting for him in the kitchen.

For supper that day mother cooked fried chicken and mashed potatoes, Lathrop’s favorite. She baked a chocolate cake as a sort of celebration and put little red candy stars on top. It tasted so good that Lathrop ate almost half of it at one time.

In the evening it was rainy and cool and the dark came early, as if announcing the arrival of fall. Lathrop laid a fire in the front room, the first since April.

“You killed your father,” mother said, and it was the first words she had spoken about it.

“He was going to kill me.”

“Yes, but you killed him.”

“I couldn’t let him hurt Ruff.”  

“You killed him.”

“We don’t need him. We can get along with him.”

“You killed your own father.”

“He got tired of farming and ran off to California or someplace even farther. He hated me and I’m pretty sure he hated you. He doesn’t want us to find him. Anybody who ever knew him could easily believe it of him.”

“I don’t know what to think of a boy who kills his father.”

“You’re as glad as I am that he’s gone.”  

She looked at him in her quiet way and picked up her knitting and sat in her rocker near the fire. Lathrop lay on his back in front of the fire, a pillow from the couch underneath his head, and read a book. Ruff lay beside him. Now he could read all the books he wanted without having to hide. He was going to start to high school in September. It was a fine life.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

In the Garden of Beasts ~ A Capsule Book Review

Posted on

In the Garden of Beasts ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

In 1933, a new U.S. president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, appoints a new ambassador, William E. Dodd, to Germany. He is sixty-four years old, a history professor, scholar and writer. With his wife and adult children (Bill and Martha), he moves to Berlin to take up his duties. It is a tumultuous and transitional time in German history. The elderly president, Paul von Hindenburg, has recently appointed Adolf Hitler as chancellor, more as a move of appeasement than anything else. People feel uneasy about Hitler, with good reason. He rants and raves in his speeches. He is quietly and systematically arming Germany for war, in spite of protestations to the contrary. Hitler and his Nazi regime favor suppression of Jews, which manifests itself in beatings, intimidation, banishment to prison camps, and laws that forbid Jews from marrying non-Jews and from working in journalism and other jobs. Anybody, Jew or Aryan, who opposes Hitler and his government is subject to intimidation and professional ruin or, at worst, imprisonment or death.

Into this maelstrom, the innocent, well-meaning Dodd family is dropped. Ambassador Dodd’s twenty-three-year-old daughter, Martha, is a recent divorcee. Her favorite thing is men. In Berlin she gradually gains a reputation as something of a tramp. She goes from man to man, some of them Nazis and even a Russian communist, with whom is she is so much in love that she wants to tour Russia for a month to gain an understanding of his country. She is also an idealist who is slow at seeing things as they really are. When she first arrives in Berlin, she believes the Nazis are doing good things and improving life for all German people. Gradually she begins to see things in a different, more realistic way.

According to many observers, William E. Dodd is not a successful or effective ambassador. Being the American ambassador to Germany during the rise of Nazism is no easy task. Not only must he deal with radical Nazis, he must also deal with people from his own government who don’t like him and believe he was the wrong choice for the ambassadorial post in the first place. He seems to believe, wrongly and naively, that all he has to do is advocate moderation and common sense and the Nazis will “tone down” just because he thinks it is the right thing for them to do. This, of course, is not the way the world works. Secretary of state Cordell Hull and others in the U.S. government are mainly interested in getting Dodd to press for repayment of German debt, which Dodd does not consider as important as other matters.

During the early years of Nazism (early 1930s), many believed that Hitler and his inner circle (Goebbels, Goring, Himmler) were so radical that it was just a matter of time before rational people would see them for what they were and force them out of office. We know in retrospect, however, that this is not what happened. When President Paul von Hindenburg died in August 1934, Hitler assumed absolute control over Germany and proclaimed himself “Fuhrer and Reich Chancellor.” If it had ever been possible for anybody, any foreign power, to stop the Hitler juggernaut, now it was too late. The next ten years or so were going to be a very difficult time for the entire world. 

Ambassador Dodd proved to be more right about the threat that Germany posed to the world than a lot of people, during his lifetime, were willing to give him credit for. He and his family were in the unique position of viewing the rise of Nazism as outsiders. After Ambassador Dodd’s death, he was mostly vindicated as the lone voice who saw what was really happening in Germany, while most Americans were still hoping to remain uninvolved.   

In the Garden of Beasts is “nonfiction narrative” written by Erik Larson. It’s a chronical of true events, written in such a way that it seems to be a novel, a fictional story, but it’s all true and it really happened. If a fiction writer had written the story of Hitler, it would have been too fantastic and far-fetched to be plausible. What story of the twentieth century is more compelling and at the same time more frightening than the story of the small, mustachioed man who aspired to conquer the entire world and would stop at nothing to achieve his goals?

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Glass Eye

Posted on


Glass Eye ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

Baird never planned on being a father. It was something that just happened. First comes (something resembling) love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby carriage. When he looked at Imzie, his small daughter, he wondered how and if she would ever survive childhood and become an adult. He was a terrible father, he knew. He cared for her, of course, and wished all the best for her, but he couldn’t help wishing that she belonged to somebody else.

When Verlie came home, he was happy—not happy to see Verlie but happy she was there to relieve him of the terrible burden of looking after Imzie. After ten hours, he felt as wrung out as if he had just come off a hard day’s work at the shoe factory where he once worked.

Verlie was wrung out, too. She was pale and her hands shook as she looked through the pile of mail.

“Where’s Imzie?” she asked.

“Asleep,” he said. “Where else would she be?”

She went into the bedroom and when she came out she had taken off her uniform and put on her bathrobe. She went into the kitchen to get started on supper.

He sat down at the table, his back against the wall and watched Verlie peel potatoes.

“Did something happen at work today?” he asked.

“I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to stand it,” Verlie said. “I got in trouble today and I think I’m going to be fired.”

“What happened?”

“One of the patients, an old woman, filed a complaint against me.”

“What kind of complaint?”

“She said I deliberately threw her glass eye in the trash.”

“Did you?”

 “She threw it in the trash. By mistake. All I did was empty the trash.”

“You knew it was in the trash?”

“Well, truthfully, I did know, but I pretended I didn’t. I was trying to teach the silly old cow a lesson to try to get her to be more careful. Honestly, I never heard such a fuss over a stupid old glass eye. It’s just an old marble. She can easily get another one.”

“So they’re going to fire you over a glass eye?”

“Well, there have been a few other complaints, too.”

“Like what?”

“All those old people do is complain. They don’t have anything else to do.”

“Maybe if you apologize, they won’t fire you.”

“I’m not apologizing. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

While they were eating, Baird said, “If you get fired, we’ll probably end up in the poor farm.”

“There isn’t any poor farm anymore.”

“Maybe there should be.”

You get a job,” Verlie said. “I’ll stay home and take care of Imzie.”

“You know I’m doing the best I can.”

“I hear they’re hiring men at the bottling plant.”

“I’m not working at the bottling plant.”

“Why not?”

“I hold degrees in English and history. Nothing else need be said.”

“You’re always talking about not wanting to be like other people. If you worked at the bottling plant, you’d be the only one there with so much education.”

“And what would we talk about at lunchtime?”

“Why did I ever marry you?” she asked.

“You tell me.”

“I think there was something there that attracted me once, but I can’t remember now what it was.”

“Divorce me and go live with your mother. She has lots of money and she’d be glad for the company.”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? To be absolved of all responsibility?”

“I’m no good for you or for Imzie. I’m not even any good for myself.”

“My mother told me not to marry you.”

“I know. She doesn’t like me.”

“Can you blame her? Have you ever been nice to her? Do you like her?”

“No, I don’t like her. She gives me bad dreams. I’m sure she flies around at night on a broomstick.”

“There, you see what I mean! You have a terrible attitude toward people. That’s why you never get along in the world.”

“I get along in the world as well as anybody else.”

“Other people have jobs and nice homes and attractive children. I want what others have.”

“I’ve been thinking how some people just aren’t cut out to be parents,” he said. “My own father was a terrible father. He never said it, but I knew when he looked at me he wished I had never been born.”

“Your father was a confused and sad person,” Verlie said.

Baird pushed his plate back and lit a cigarette.

“You’re smoking too much,” Verlie said.

“We just had a dinner of fried potatoes and lima beans,” he said. “You’re not as hungry when you smoke.”

“You can have as many lima beans as you want.”

“I never want lima beans.”

“Go hungry, then!” she said. “Smoke yourself to death! I don’t care!”

“Why, what’s the matter, darling?” he said mockingly.

“Imzie is a wonderful child,” Verlie said.

“I know.”

“She deserves better parents than us.”

“Agreed.”

“She’s not like either one of us. Where did she really come from?”

“She’s God’s little gift straight from heaven,” he said.

“In a little while we’re going to get another little gift,” she said.

What?

“Just when you think your life can’t get any worse, it does.”

He spoke then to try to comfort her, saying they would get along and that everything would work out fine, but he didn’t believe a word of it. He was terrified at the thought of bringing more innocent life into the world. He couldn’t breathe. He felt as if his heart and internal organs were being compressed.

After supper, Verlie left the dirty dishes in the sink and called her mother. The conversation lasted an hour and a half. Baird went outside so as not to hear Verlie’s aggrieved voice.

When Verlie’s phone conversation ended, she tended to Imzie and then went to bed without a word. A few minutes later, Baird heard her snoring.

He turned on the TV with no volume and sat in front of it, not caring what was on or what was being said. They could have been talking about the world ending tomorrow and he wouldn’t have cared, except for Imzie.

About eleven o’clock he got up and went to bed, in a different room from the one where Verlie and Imzie were sleeping. He slept for a couple of hours and when he woke up he knew there would be no more sleep for him.

The house was so familiar to him he didn’t need to turn on a light. He put a few things into a small canvas bag: toothbrush, change of clothes, flashlight, three books, including the Bible. Then he silently dressed and placed his bag, along with his coat and hat, by the door.

He took one last look at the place, going from room to room. It had been his home for five years, ever since he and Verlie married, and it sobered him to think that he was very likely seeing it for the last time.

The last thing was to look into the darkened bedroom where Verlie and Imzie were sleeping. He didn’t want to take the chance of waking Verlie by going all the way into the room, so he only stood in the doorway. He said his silent goodbyes and then left.

He walked two miles to the edge of town and began walking along the highway. The farther he got from town, the more traffic picked up. Big trucks on overnight runs. He stuck out his thumb and in just a few minutes a driver stopped for him. He climbed up into the cab of the truck, looked into the driver’s face, and smiled.

After the initial greetings and the inevitable where-you-headed questions, the driver didn’t seem to care about talking. That was fine with Baird; he didn’t care about talking either.

He was so tired now and believed he could sleep. He put his head back and closed his eyes.

The plan was to lose himself in sleep, maybe to sleep forever, or until something outside of himself woke him up. And if he did wake, he would be in a new land—a different world—and he would be the kind of man he knew he was always meant to be. It was out there somewhere. All he had to do was wait for it to find him.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

The Mummy ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Posted on


The Mummy ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

An Egyptian princess from five thousand years ago thought she was going to be next in line for the throne of Egypt, but her father’s wife gave birth to a son who instead would become the next pharaoh. The Egyptian princess at this point embraced evil and murdered her father, his wife and infant son. When her crimes were discovered, she was entombed alive and, because she was a disgrace to Egypt, her body was laid to rest in a tomb in Mesopotamia, a thousand miles from Egypt, in what is present-day Iraq.

A crusaders’ tomb from the thirteenth century is found underneath London. One of the crusaders entombed there had a stone buried with him that he picked up while crusading in Egypt.

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), adventurer and plunderer of antiquities in Iraq, just happens to accidentally find the forgotten tomb of the disgraced Egyptian princess while dodging bullets from insurgents. He is with a hapless male colleague and a curvaceous female archaeologist named Jennifer Halsey, who recognizes the significance of the tomb from an archaeological standpoint. They crate up the mummy case containing the remains of the Egyptian princess and are flying it back to home base, when the plane crashes over England. All on board the plane are killed except Jennifer Halsey and Nick Morton.

Opening the five-thousand-year-old tomb of the Egyptian princes has released her, or has at least has released her malevolence. She causes the plane to crash over England so she can reclaim the crusader’s stone that goes into the hilt of her magic sword. She recognizes Nick Morton as her redeemer, her restorer, and the new love of her life because he was the one who found her tomb. All he has to do is abide by her wishes and the two of them will enjoy a life together of everlasting evil.

The Mummy is a silly, summer, action-adventure movie, with the emphasis on action instead of on intelligence or subtlety. Tom Cruise seems to have forfeited all pretentions of being a good actor by making movies like this one. And what about (the now-portly) Russell Crowe? Is he on the side of good or evil? It’s hard to tell. He is wasted here as a character named Dr. Henry Jekyll, who seems to serve no purpose unless it was to add an extra male star to boost box office receipts.

The original The Mummy was made in 1932 and stars Boris Karloff. It is a creepily atmospheric excursion into horror, a truly memorable classic that spawned a spate of sequels and added to the horror lexicon. The new The Mummy won’t be a classic. It’s not terrible, just another forgettable summer movie. Check your brain at the door, or, better yet, wait for it to come to HBO and save your nine dollars.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp