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Mengele: The Complete Story ~ A Capsule Book Review

Mengele: The Complete Story ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Dr. Josef Mengele (1911-1979) embodied the strange duality seen in other high-profile members of the Nazi party during the Third Reich. As physician at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, he was capable of the most barbaric cruelty and scathing disregard for human life, while at the same time loving animals, trees, flowers, music and poetry. He was father, husband and beloved of his close-knit family and his loyal friends and supporters.

After World War II was over the Nazis were defeated, Dr. Mengele became the most sought-after and most reviled man of the twentieth century. While many of the infamous members of the Nazi party were brought to justice and executed, including Adolf Eichmann, Mengele somehow managed to escape justice, not for lack of trying on the part of the governments of Germany and Israel and several intrepid “Nazi hunters.”

Dr. Mengele was interested in anthropology and genetics. He believed that a super-human German race was possible through genetic engineering and scientific manipulation. At the Auschwitz concentration camp, he had unlimited human subjects on which to conduct his experiments. He was especially interested in twins, dwarves, and people with physical defects and disabilities. He would infect children with diseases and then wait for them to die so he could dissect them. He experimented with dyes to change eye color on his subjects, and the result was often blindness and death. His experiments were often bizarre, cruel, and medically useless. He was a real-life mad scientist.

If Dr. Mengele’s medical experiments at Auschwitz weren’t enough, he was also one of the Nazi officers to perform “selections” of prisoners as they exited the train cars: Go to the right and you live. Go to the left and you die. These selections were based on the physical appearance and age of the prisoner and nothing more. Dr. Mengele seemed to enjoy the job of making selections; he was always looking for new subjects for his experiments.

Dr. Mengele always maintained that he did nothing wrong at Auschwitz; he was only following orders, only doing his duty. According to him, he saved many lives and helped many victims of the diseases that were prevalent in concentration camps, such as typhus. However, there were many eyewitnesses who survived the camp who told a much different story; he was not called “the Angel of Death” for nothing. He was cruel and callous, without sympathy for his victims. If he had ever been brought to trial, the testimony of the witnesses would have convicted him.

After the war, Dr. Mengele’s life became a strange odyssey of escape and evasion. He got away to South America; first Argentina and then Paraguay and then Brazil. He had lots of Nazi sympathizers to help hide him who refused to believe the stories about him. There were many people who would have given almost anything to have him brought to justice. At one time there was a reward of ten million dollars on his head. A kind of mythology grew up around his ability to escape; he became known all over the world as the one Nazi who got away. The Mengele story was fed by lies, exaggerations, misinformation and the pursuit of notoriety. Mengele “sightings” were reported in places where he could not possibly be.

This is not to say that Dr. Mengele lived a life of luxury and ease as a fugitive in South America. To remain hidden, he often lived in squalid conditions and in isolated places, separated from his family. He lived in constant fear that he would be recognized and maybe even kidnapped, as Adolf Eichmann had been. In 1979, Dr. Mengele died at age 67 of a stroke while swimming and was buried in a modest grave in Brazil. His remains were disinterred in 1985 to provide positive identification. So ended the life of an elusive monster.

Mengele: The Complete Story by Gerald L. Posner and John Ware is an exhaustive factual account of the wartime activities of Dr. Josef Mengele and his postwar life in South America as a fugitive. Dr. Mengele was a relatively young man during the war, only in his thirties, so he lived a long postwar life. The exhaustive details of the political machinations in South America, particularly in Paraguay, to keep him from being extradited, are too much information for the casual reader, like me, but, except for some tedious details and far too many difficult South American names thrown in, Mengele: The Complete Story is a fascinating account of one of the most infamous figures of World War II.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

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And That Includes Cab Fare

And That Includes Cab Fare ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Mrs. Deal was eighty-five and had more cobwebs in her head than the basement and attic combined. She could no longer be trusted to stay at home by herself. She had been known to leave the front door open all night in the winter or turn the burners on in the kitchen and let dangerous amounts of gas escape into the room before she noticed the blue flame hadn’t come on the way it was supposed to. Her daughter, Patsy Ruth, age sixty-three, left her latest husband in the city and went to live with Mrs. Deal in her old-fashioned house on a corner lot in a small provincial town a good five-hour drive away.

Patsy Ruth had smothering emphysema from a lifetime of smoking Camel cigarettes, but her more immediate problem was her fragile nerves. She took little yellow pills her doctor had prescribed, sometimes twice the number she was supposed to, but still, no matter how many pills she took, Mrs. Deal tried her nerves almost beyond endurance. Mother and daughter had never been on the best of terms anyway, going all the way back to the beginning, and it was an almost impossible situation with them both living under the same roof. Mrs. Deal was stubborn on principle; it if was mealtime, she wasn’t hungry and refused to eat. At bedtime she refused to have the light off. Patsy Ruth thought at times about taking the whole bottle of yellow pills at once and getting into her big four-poster bed and going to sleep and never waking up, or going down to the railroad trestle and jumping into the shallow, muddy water a hundred feet below.

“I’m not a well woman,” she was fond of saying to anybody that would listen. “I still have my own life to live.”

To have an occasional “day off,” Patsy Ruth had to engage the services of a “woman” who was willing to spend a day, or at least part of an afternoon, sitting with an impossible old woman and keeping her from doing any harm to herself or to the house. When Mrs. Ida Stroud answered Patsy Ruth’s newspaper ad the first day it appeared, she seemed ideal; she had sat with old people before, she said, had some nursing experience, and lived only a short distance away. Patsy Ruth would have to pay for her to take a cab, though; Mrs. Stroud was fat, had painful varicose veins, and wasn’t able to walk very far.

“I guess we can manage the cab fare,” Patsy Ruth blatted into the phone, delighted that she had found the right person so easily and on the first day.

On Saturday, Patsy Ruth was going to visit the dentist, meet a friend for lunch and see a two o’clock matinee movie. She arranged with Ida Stroud to come on that day.

Patsy Ruth was gratified that Ida Stroud arrived on time on Saturday morning but was a little dismayed to see that she had brought her thirteen-year-old daughter, Stella, along with her.

“Stella don’t cause no trouble,” Ida said. “I can’t leave her at home by herself. She gets into too much mischief.”

Stella Stroud was a pale, skeletal girl with a permanent scowl on her face and dark circles around her eyes. Refusing to say hello to Patsy Ruth or to Mrs. Deal, she slumped down on the couch, folded her arms and yawned.

“We’ll all get along just fine!” Ida gushed. “We’re going to have a fine time, aren’t we? Everything will be just fine.”

“I’ll be back around six,” Patsy Ruth said.

“Don’t give us a thought!” Ida said. “We’ll all be just fine!”

“Do you mean I have to stay in this hell hole all day until six o’clock?” Stella asked after Patsy Ruth was gone.

“Find something to do,” Ida said. “Go outside and commune with nature.”

“I don’t want to go outside!” Stella said. “I didn’t want to come here in the first place!”

“Sit there and be miserable, then! I don’t care!”

“You’re just a horrible old woman, you know that?” Stella said.

Of Ida’s eight children, Stella at thirteen was the youngest. Mr. Stroud had been dead for many years, the victim of a bad heart passed down to him through father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

Ida beamed at Mrs. Deal. “You certainly are a lucky woman,” she said. “You have your daughter to look after you and you live in this fine, big house. That’s as much as any Christian woman might expect.”

“I’m a Methodist,” Mrs. Deal said.

“Where’s your husband?” Stella asked.

“He died.”

“What did he die of?”

“Shut up!” Ida said. “You’re not supposed to ask questions like that!”

“Well, I just wondered!”

 “Would you like a piece of butterscotch?” Mrs. Deal asked. “My daughter buys this butterscotch candy for me when she goes to the store.”

“No, thank you, dear,” Ida said.

“Haven’t you got any peppermint?” Stella asked. “I hate butterscotch.”

Ida gave Stella a warning look. “If you can’t be nice,” she said. “I’m going to slap you silly.”

“Well, let’s talk about something interesting,” Stella said. “I have sleep apnea. I could die in my sleep any night.”

 “Nobody wants to hear about that,” Ida said.

“Well, I don’t know why the hell not! I think it’s very interesting!”

“You think it’s interesting because it’s about you! You need to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around you! And I told you not to use words like that!”

“Words like what?”

“You know perfectly well what I’m talking about!”

“Well, pardon the hell out of me! I have to go to the bathroom! Where is it?”

“Ask Mrs. Deal,” Ida said. “It’s her house.”

“All right. What’s her first name?”

“You’re not supposed to use her first name, silly! Call her ‘Mrs. Deal’.”

“All right. Mrs. Deal, honey, I need to use your bathroom. Is that okay?”

“What?” Mrs. Deal said.

“She wants to know where the bathroom is,” Ida said.

“Oh. Go through the dining room into the back part of the house.”

Stella leapt to her feet. “It’s always so interesting to see other people’s bathrooms!”

“And don’t break nothing, either,” Ida said.

When Stella had gone out of the room, Ida gave Mrs. Deal a sad smile. “Kids!” she said. “This girl has given me more trouble than all my others put together. From the time she was born, she was trouble with a capital T, morning, noon and night. She would lie in her crib and scream all day long and all night. I told my husband I wasn’t having any more children because I was afraid they’d turn out like her. He didn’t care if we had another dozen because I did all the work of takin’ care of them. He made the living for the family, but that was all he ever did. At home he never lifted a finger.”

“I had three children,” Mrs. Deal said, “but only one of them is still alive.”

“All of mine are still alive!” Ida said. “I rue the day! Now, let me tell you, that Stella has had a rough time of it her whole life. When she was just a baby, she had yellow jaundice, whooping cough and I don’t know what all. You name it, she had it. And from the time she started to kindergarten, it’s been one problem right after another. She wet her pants just to defy the teacher and she refused to sit still and pay attention. Finally the school gave her a test and they said she wasn’t right in the head and they put her out! Can you imagine putting a child out of school? Then we had to send her to a special school in another town and, believe me, it cost a lot!”

“Maybe it’s just better not to have any children,” Mrs. Deal said. “I had three and both my boys are dead. One died two days after he was born.”

“Oh, isn’t that a shame! But it’s such a blessing to you that you still have your daughter. She lives with you and takes care of you.”

“She wants to put me in a nursing home so she can get married again. She’s been making a lot of calls, asking questions. She thinks I don’t know what she’s up to, but I’m not as stupid as she thinks I am.”

“I’d have you come and live with me,” Ida said, “but we live in such a small house. Not big like this one.”

“She’s still married to that last husband of hers, but here she is scouting around for the next one. She’s had I don’t know many husbands.”

“No!” Ida said. “And she seems like such a nice woman!”

“One of them she was married to twice.”

“Some people is like that. Can’t seem to find what they’re looking for.”

“My son was married two different times,” Mrs. Deal said. “He was an alcoholic and died at age thirty-five. Even younger than his father.”

“Isn’t that sad! Well, I guess we learn tribulation through our children if nothing else.”

“That’s what I mean,” Mrs. Deal said. “It’s probably better not to have any children at all.”

“Then we’d be alone, I guess, and that might be even worse.”

Stella came back from the bathroom smiling and wiping her hands on the seat of her pants.

“What were you doing in there so long?” Ida asked.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“You weren’t smoking, were you?”

“Don’t be re-dick! I don’t have any cigarettes!”

“Mrs. Deal and I were just swapping stories about our children.”

“I bet you told her how awful I am, didn’t you?” Stella said.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“I’m not ever having any kids. I don’t want the little son-of-a-bitches.”

“You shouldn’t say that,” Ida said. “You don’t know what the future holds for you. You’ll meet a wonderful man.”

Hah-hah! Where?”

“You’ll get married and live in lovely little house and you’ll realize after a while that something is missing and that something is little ones. After you’ve had one, you’ll want another and then another and then another.”

“You are so full of shit!” Stella said.

“Hey! I warned you about using that kind of language! One more word like that, and you’re going to have to wait outside on the front porch until six o’clock. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”

“Oh, you know what you can do, don’t you?”

“I don’t want to hear another word out of you!”

“I just remembered,” Stella said. “Today is my birthday.”

“No, it ain’t, either,” Ida said. “Your birthday is in April. This is October.”

“I can make today my birthday if I want, can’t I? It’s such a boring, terrible day, I can say it’s my birthday just to help make it a little bit special, even if it’s not really my birthday.”

“No, you can’t, or if you do, just do it silently and don’t say anything!”

“I wonder if I’ll get any presents?”

“No, you won’t, so just forget about it!”

“When I get a little older, I’m going to run away from home!”

“Why wait?” Ida said. “Go now! Go anytime! You have my blessing!

“I’m not going to hang around this stupid, dead town and have a bunch of ugly babies and be just like everybody else. I’m going to Hollywood and I’m going to be a big movie star and when that happens, you’ll be sorry you were ever mean to me!”

“Send me a postcard!”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? You’d like to be rid of me!”

“You try the patience of a saint!”

Stella said to Mrs. Deal, “You see what a crazy old bitch my mother is, don’t you? And she never stops being crazy! She’s crazy twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week! It’s a wonder I just don’t shoot myself!”

Ida stood up, took three elephantine steps, and in one deft motion, slapped Stella across the mouth. “I don’t want to hear another peep out of you for the rest of the day!”

Stella sobbed and rubbed her cheek and was sullen for the rest of the morning.

At noontime, Ida went into the kitchen to fix lunch, leaving Stella and Mrs. Deal alone together.

“My mother says you’re a tiresome old woman,” Stella said.

“She can leave any time,” Mrs. Deal said.

“Did you ever see anybody talk as much and not say anything at all? She’s like a big gas balloon with a leak. And did you ever see anybody so fat in all your life? Lord God! I’m embarrassed to be seen walking down the street with her.”

“Stick a pin in her,” Mrs. Deal said.

“Did you know I have a boyfriend? I’ll bet you’re kind of surprised to hear that about me, aren’t you? He’s sixteen and he has his driver’s license. He hasn’t got his own car yet, but he can borrow his brother’s car any time he wants. He’s coming to pick me up tonight. My mother doesn’t want me to go out with him, so I’ll tell her I’m going to a girlfriend’s house. She’ll never know the difference. And me and my boyfriend? We’ll drive out someplace to a secluded, romantic spot, and when we’re sure there’s nobody around we’ll get into the back seat and make love. Doesn’t that sound romantic? I’m a very romantic person, but I guess you can tell that just by looking at me.”

When lunch was ready, Ida took one of Mrs. Deal’s arms and Stella took the other arm and helped her into the kitchen.

“I’m not helpless, you know!” Mrs. Deal said.

Lunch was canned tomato soup and dainty little baloney sandwiches with the crust cut off. Ida was of the opinion that bread crust made old people choke.

“I don’t like tomato soup,” Stella said.

They ate in silence. Stella discovered she could eat the tomato soup as long as she soaked bread in it first. When Mrs. Deal was finished eating (hardly anything at all), she said she was sleepy and wanted to take her nap. Ida helped her into her bedroom, covered her up with an afghan and went back into the kitchen.

Stella was still sitting at the kitchen table, looking at something she held in the palm of her hand.

“What is that you’ve got there?” Ida asked her.

“Nothing,” Stella said.

Ida grabbed Stella by the wrist and made her drop what she was holding. It was a pair of little gold earrings.

“Where did you get those?” Ida asked.

“I found them in the bathroom.”

Stole them in the bathroom is more like it.”

“It doesn’t concern you.”

“It concerns me if that daughter knows that you’ve been stealing from them and fires me. It’s not a lot of money, but it’s all I have coming in right now.

“She’ll never know I took them.”

“Put them back right now or I’m going to shake your head so hard it’ll fall off your shoulders.”

“Not on your life! You get paid for sitting around this dump all day, while I get nothing! Isn’t my time worth something? I’ll be lucky to get five dollars for these. I’m not even sure if they’re real gold.”

“It breaks my heart to know I have an unrepentant thief for a daughter.”

“There’s worse things.”

“If Mrs. Deal and her daughter find out you do such things, they’ll think you’re just terrible!”

“They won’t find out.”

“When that daughter comes back, I want you to tell her you found those earrings on the floor and then give them back to her. Then she’ll know you’re acting in good faith.”

“Screw good faith! I’m not gonna tell her anything!”

“If you won’t tell her, I will! Do you want her to know you’re a thief?”

When Patsy Ruth returned home, she was in a happy frame of mind, with smiles all around. “I’ve had the most relaxing day,” she said. “Sometimes all a person needs is to get away from home for a few hours.”

“I know just what you mean,” Ida said. “We had a lovely visit with your dear mother and the time just flew by.”

Patsy Ruth paid Ida, plus cab fare, plus an extra five dollars since everything went so well.

“Now I can pay the light bill,” Ida said.

Ida and Stella put on their coats and made ready to leave.

“Stella has something she wants to tell you before we go,” Ida said to Patsy Ruth.

“What is it, dear?”

“Go ahead and tell her while I call the cab,” Ida said.

Stella hesitated until Ida was in the kitchen, where the phone was. “I just wanted to say…”

“Yes?” Patsy Ruth said.

“I just wanted to tell you there’s a bad smell in your bathroom. I think it might be coming from underneath the floor.”

“Oh, really? I haven’t noticed any smell.”

“Some people can smell things that other people can’t.”

In just a minute, Ida came back into the room. “The cab will be here in two shakes,” she said.

“Finally, I can go home!” Stella said.

Patsy Ruth opened the front door and gave Ida a friendly pat on the shoulder as she passed through. Stella refused to look at her or return her smile.

Patsy Ruth sat down on the couch facing Mrs. Deal and lit a cigarette. Her smile had turned into a scowl, the scowl that Stella wore as she went out the door. The happiness she felt when she came home had left her. The good day was at an end and now it was time to return to the ugly reality of living in the same house with her mother.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

Insidious: The Last Key ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Insidious: The Last Key ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

Successful horror movies spawn sequels. First there was Insidious and then Insidious 2, then Insidious 3, and now there’s Insidious: The Last Key. Where will it all end?

The character Elise Rainier (played by Lin Shaye) is a woman in her seventies. She is at the center of all the Insidious movies, even if she is not the main character, because she is a psychic and has spent her life battling malevolent demons who are always out to do harm to the living. In Insidious: The Last Key, Elise Rainier revisits her childhood in a house in New Mexico. The year is 1953 and ten-year-old Elise sees ghosts all around her; the house that she and her family live in is in fact haunted. Her mother understands her, but her brutal, TV-watching father thinks that all Elise needs is a good beating every now and then. He forces her to lean against a wall and beats her on the back with a cane. It turns out there’s a malevolent demon haunting the Rainier home that forces Elise’s father to beat her and do other bad things that we find out about later in the movie.

The demon kills Elise’s mother and then Elise and her younger brother are left with the cruel father. When Elise is sixteen, she gets enough of her father’s brutality and leaves home, never to return. Then we fast-forward to 2010 when Elise is quite a bit older. She gets a call from a man who says his house is being taken over by evil spirits and needs her help to get rid of them. When the man gives Elise his address, she recognizes it as the haunted house in New Mexico where she lived as a child. She travels to the house with her two comic-relief sidekicks, Specs and Tucker, ghost hunters who have been in all the Insidious movies.

The current owner of the house is a working-class man named Ted Garza. He lives in the house alone, but, as we learn as the movie progresses, he does some of the same bad stuff that Elise’s father did decades earlier in the same house, courtesy of the malevolent demon who has taken up residence. As in all the Insidious movies, Elise must go head-to-head with an unspeakably evil supernatural monster. Its good versus evil.

The first Insidious movie is one of the best horror movies ever made, a truly creepy journey to the other side, which in this instance is called “the Further.” Each sequel in the series, though, is less effective than the one before it. Insidious: The Last Key shows that maybe the series is wearing thin and it’s time to retire it. Why is the demon with its long fingers never really explained? Why does it haunt the house in New Mexico? What is the significance of the keys? What about the little boy whose ghost plays with Elise’s toys? How did he die in childhood? Why is the prison where criminals are executed mentioned and shown at the beginning of the movie and then never again? Does the prison have anything to do with the demon? Insidious: The Last Key would have been a better movie if all these dangling plot points had been explained.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

Somebody Somewhere

Somebody Somewhere ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

I was standing at the window. Inside it was still winter but outside it was spring. The sky was blue, trees and flowers were budding, the sun was shining and birds were singing. Miss Deloite, the woman with the delightful hanging mole on her upper lip, came up behind me. I heard her shoes squeaking on the floor and then smelled her particular sharp smell.

“You shouldn’t be wandering the halls,” she said.

I ignored her but as she walked away I turned and stuck out the tip of my tongue at her and she turned into a puff of blue smoke.

I went back to the room that I had come to identify as my own and lay on my back on the bed and looked up at the ceiling. I knew there was something wrong with me but I couldn’t remember what it was. I couldn’t even remember what place I was in. Oh, well. If it mattered at one time, it didn’t matter much any more.

I heard somebody coming and picked up a magazine and opened it and pretended to be reading. I wanted to look busy so nobody would ask me questions or try to engage me in conversation.

It was Theo, all dressed in white as usual. If I saw him in any other color, I wouldn’t recognize him.

“Where’s Miss Deloite?” he asked. “She said she was coming in here to help you with your bath.”

“I’m perfectly capable of taking a bath on my own without any female assistance,” I said, not looking up from the page.

I should probably have told him I just turned her into a puff of smoke but I would have to let him figure it out on his own. He should feel lucky that I didn’t do the same to him.

I crossed my ankles and wished I had a cigarette, and in came Louie from next door. He was wearing a lady’s red kimono with white dragons. I didn’t like Louie and I let him know it.

“What makes you think you can just barge into my room any time you feel like it, Louie? I’m supposed to be taking a bath.”

“I already took mine.”

“I’m so happy for you.”

“Do you have any candy?”

“If I did, I wouldn’t give it to you.”

“That’s not very nice.”

“Shouldn’t you be having your nails done or something?”

“I’m going to tell Miss Deloite you were snotty to me,” Louie said.

“You’ll be telling it to a puff of blue smoke.”

“What?”

Before Louie could annoy me any further, I raised my eyebrows and turned him into a little spider. I laughed as I watched him run on his touchingly small legs across the floor to the wall. He crawled up the wall to the ceiling and looked at me.

“You’re a medical phenomenon,” I said.

I was thinking about taking a nap, for lack of anything better to do, when Theo came back, bearing clean towels.

“Since Miss Deloite is temporarily not to be found,” he said, “I’m going to help you with your bath.”

“I already told you I don’t need help with a bath,” I said.

“Stand up now and take off your clothes, or I’ll do it for you.”

“I don’t want to take off my clothes for you any more than I do for Miss Deloite.”

“Do you want me to go get Stan and Sylvia?”

“Oh, please! Not Stan and Sylvia! I can’t tell them apart. Oh, I remember now. Sylvia’s the one with the mustache, isn’t she?”

“Cut the comedy now. Stand up.”

“Theo, I don’t like your tone of voice!” I said. “It’s not a polite way to speak to a man who isn’t well.”

He came at me with the intention of pulling me off the bed by my arm, but before he knew what was happening I raised my index finger at him and turned him into a blue jay.

Now, I had always thought the blue jay a most attractive bird, even though people said he was mean and liked to eat carrion.

Theo flapped his blue wings a couple of times and flew up to the ceiling and ate the tiny spider Louie in one gulp. Louie didn’t even have time to try to get away.

“Good bird!” I said.

He flew around the room a couple of times, bumping painfully into the walls until I stood up and opened the window for him. He didn’t have to be coaxed to fly out and then away over the treetops.

“Be well!” I called to him.

I lay down again. I did not want to take a bath and would be just as obstinate about it as I needed to be. I still believed the decision to take a bath should be mine alone. Crazy though I may be, I must have some rights left!

Before I had time to draw another breath, Nurse LaPeezy was upon me with my meds. I eyed the pills suspiciously.

“What if I don’t want to take that stuff?” I said.

“Doctor’s orders,” she said.

“So you’re saying I don’t have a choice?”

“I could call Stan and Sylvia if you like.”

“Oh, no! Not that!”

She handed me a cup of water and I pretended to take the pills. I put them in my mouth and swallowed but I held them under my tongue. When she bent over to pick something up off the floor, I spit them into my fist. The hand is quicker than the eye.

As Nurse LaPeezy was leaving I felt a strong dislike for her. I flicked the little finger on my right hand at her and she turned into a mouse. Realizing she was a mouse, she scurried across the floor the way mice do and disappeared into a conveniently placed mouse hole in the corner. I envied her because I knew she’d find her way to the kitchen where she’d have plenty to eat and find lots of other mice to keep her company. How sweet the life of a mouse must be! Much better than that of a nurse.

The next time somebody came in to help me take a bath, I was going to tell them I had already taken it while everybody was occupied elsewhere. I wanted them to know I had probably been taking a bath on my own since I was three years old and didn’t need help from anybody.

I was almost asleep when a slight change in the air currents around the bed made me open my eyes. Dr. Felix had come in silently and was standing at the foot of the bed looking at me.

“Sorry to wake you,” he said.

Dr. Felix wore glasses and looked like Franchot Tone. His hands were folded in front of him. I looked at his hairy wrists and his expensive wrist watch so I wouldn’t have to look at his face.

“If you don’t mind, doctor,” I said. “I don’t really feel like talking to you today.”

“Anything wrong in particular?” he asked.

“No. It’s just that I’m here and I don’t know where here is.”

“Here is where you need to be at the moment.”

“I must have a home somewhere, even if I can’t remember it. I want to go home.”

“Everybody feels that way sometimes.”

“That’s comforting.”

“I’m going to increase your antidepressant medication again.”

“You doctors think drugs are the answer to everything, don’t you?”

“You’re spending far too much time alone. That’s not good. I’m going to assign you to some group activities.”

I groaned and closed my eyes. “Don’t trouble yourself,” I said. “I won’t be here.”

“Are you planning on going someplace?”

“Well, you never know,” I said.

He chuckled in his knowing way and turned to go. As he started to put his hand on the door to open it, I blew out a little puff of air in his direction and turned him into a cockroach. He ran under the door and out into the hallway. One of the nurses would see him and scream and step on him and then take a Kleenex out of the pocket of her uniform and pick him up and throw him in the trash can. How fitting is that for Dr. Felix?

Before anybody else had a chance to come in and annoy me, I dressed in some clothes I had been hiding in the bottom of the closet. It was a uniform the maintenance men wore that I had stolen one day when I was exploring in the basement. In the uniform and with the brown cap pulled low over my eyes, nobody would recognize me. Also hidden away in the closet I had some ninety dollars and a pack of cigarettes, which I stuffed into the pants of the uniform.

I took a good look at myself in the mirror over the sink and went out into the hallway. Everything was quiet and nothing out of the ordinary. I made my way down the stairs to the main entrance.

The receptionist at the front desk looked up from the magazine she was reading and then looked away. I knew she didn’t know who I was. If she had known, she would have been screaming for help.

I walked out the door into the bright cool air and down the steps, wanting to run but not running because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I followed the concrete walk to the driveway and along the edge of the driveway a quarter-mile or so to the main gate. I saw nobody and nobody saw me.

I turned right at the gate out of the place, which seemed to me a better choice than going left, and began walking. I walked for many blocks and saw nothing that looked familiar. I might have been in a foreign country or on another planet, for all I knew. Still, it felt good to be free and on my own.

Checking my pocket to make sure the ninety dollars was still there, I remembered the cigarettes and how long it had been since I had one. I lit one up and as I walked I puffed out a cloud of smoke behind me.

I stopped at a bar that looked inviting and had a beer and a hamburger and after that I kept walking deep into the city. It was a big city but I didn’t know what the name of it was and I didn’t know if I had ever been there before. I saw many people but they seemed to not see me, which altogether suited me.

After what seemed like hours of walking, I felt tired but pleasantly so, and I felt good about the distance I had put between myself and the place I had left behind. When I came to a faded old hotel with a sign that said Clean Rooms and Cheap, I decided that getting a room was the most logical thing I could do.

The desk clerk signed me in without asking for identification or money in advance. He gave me a key to a room on the tenth floor and I went up in an elevator that must have been a hundred years old.

The room was clean, as advertised, and pleasant. There were two windows, a bed, desk, dresser with a large mirror, chair, closet and tiny bathroom. I liked the feeling of being up high. I opened the window a couple of inches to feel the air and to hear the traffic noises from the street, which at that distance I found soothing. After checking the door to make sure it was locked, I lay down on the bed and fell into a deep and restful sleep.

I spent two days and nights in the room, sleeping a lot during the day and walking around the city at night. Nobody ever approached me or bothered me or seemed to find my behavior in any way out of the ordinary. I couldn’t remember ever feeling so free and unencumbered.

More than anything I wanted to go home, but I knew that was never going to happen. I had developed a smoking habit and I preferred tea instead of coffee, but those were about the only things about myself that I knew for sure. My past was a slate on which nothing had been written.

Did I come from a small town or a city like this one? Did I grow up in an apartment in the city or in a house in the wide-open spaces with a big yard and a view of the mountains? Wasn’t it likely that somebody was waiting for me somewhere, wondering if I was alive or dead or if I would ever come home again? A mother? A wife? A lover? A son or daughter? Whoever he or she was, I could feel them and I knew they could feel me.

I also knew the people from the place I had left behind were going to come looking for me. I had done some bad things, including turning my doctor into a bug. I didn’t see how anybody was going to forgive a thing like that. They would take me back and probably never let me go free again.

On my third day in the room, I had the window open as high as it would go to let in the warm breezes. At any one time, there were as many as five pigeons on the ledge outside the window. They cooed and danced and seemed happy. When I got close to them, they weren’t at all afraid of me. If I had had something to feed them, they would have eaten right out of my hand.

I sat on the bed, looking at myself in the round mirror on the dresser. Wait a minute, I thought. I don’t have to go back to that place or any other place like it. I can do to myself what I did to the others.

I pointed at my reflection in the mirror and turned myself into a pigeon. I flapped my wings on the bed to try them out. From the bed I jumped to the floor and then to the window ledge. There were three pigeons already there to greet me. They knew I was somebody they had never seen before, so they were curious about where I had come from. After introductions were made, they were all eager to show me around the city. How happy I was to have made such delightful friends so fast.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

The Greatest Showman ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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The Greatest Showman ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

He was a dreamer who refused to live the dreary, conventional life that most of us live. He was Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum, a show business impresario who lived from 1810 to 1891. He grew up poor and, as a man, had difficulty finding his place in the world. After several failed attempts at earning a living, he opened a museum of oddities (wax figures and a guillotine) in New York, but, when nobody wanted to see it, he added live “curiosities,” which, in the parlance of the age, was known as a “freak show.” He hired a Tom Thumb midget, a bearded lady who could sing, a fat man (he’s 500 pounds but we’ll add some padding and say it’s 750), a lady albino, Siamese twins, a dog boy, a tattooed man, a giant (he’s really tall but we’ll add even more to his height), and other oddities that people, loving the macabre and the “different,” would pay money to see. The freak show was the beginning of P.T. Barnum’s success.

Of course, it was no time before Barnum began receiving unfavorable press coverage for his “exploitation” of the “unfortunate” individuals in his show. People threw rocks in the street at the “freaks.” The show was considered lowbrow and tasteless, but that didn’t keep the crowds of people from flocking to see it. Soon, P.T. Barnum achieved the kind of notoriety he had always wanted. He bought a splendid mansion on the same street where his wife’s parents lived. Taking his show to London to meet Queen Victoria was the pinnacle of his success. In London, he met the famous singer, Jenny Lind, known as the “Swedish Nightingale.” He brought the beautiful Miss Lind across the Atlantic to tour the United States and began what many perceived as a love affair with her, adding marital infidelity to his growing list of transgressions.

He had other problems, of course, including a fire in his theatre, financial reverses that resulted in the loss of his home, and, always, being snubbed and dismissed by “society.” In the way of movie musicals, though, he is able to overcome adversity with his winning smile and his genuine affection for people. “There is no more noble pursuit,” he said, “than making people happy.”

The Greatest Showman is a singing and dancing extravaganza that is more a fantasy than the realistic story of a man’s life. The music and dancing are definitely of the modern variety and do not reflect the styles or tastes of nineteenth century America. It’s not the traditional movie musical like My Fair Lady, but is more like La La Land or Moulin Rouge. For two hours, forget you are a raging sophisticate and enjoy the sights and sounds of the pretty people on the big screen singing and dancing themselves into a frothing frenzy.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

A New Ricky in Their Midst

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A New Ricky in Their Midst ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Ethel let herself in at the kitchen door and helped herself to a cup of coffee. She sat down at the table and began nibbling at the bacon that was left over from breakfast. When Lucy came in from the other room, she took one look at Ethel and began crying.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Ethel asked.

“Oh, Ethel, it’s just awful!” Lucy sobbed.

“What happened?”

“I’ve just been frantic since two this morning! I don’t know what to do!”

“You and Ricky have another fight?”

“I don’t know what’s got into him lately.”

“Well, pour yourself some coffee and sit down and tell me all about it.”

“Oh, Ethel, I hate to tell you what I’ve done!”

“It can’t be all that bad!”

“This time it is!”

“I’ll help you get it straightened out, whatever it is. What are best friends for?”

“Oh, Ethel, I don’t know how to tell you this!”

“Just say it. You’ll feel better.”

“I’ve killed Ricky!”

“What?”

“I said I’ve killed Ricky Ricardo. My husband. The famous bug-eyed Cuban bandleader known and loved by millions.”

“Oh, Lucy! You didn’t! I’m speechless!”

“I know! It’s terrible!”

“Are you sure he’s dead?”

“He’s dead, all right. He’s been dead since two this morning.”

“Well, get yourself calmed down and tell me all about it.”

“Well, he came home from the club about one-thirty and I noticed right away that he was acting sort of funny. He wouldn’t look me in the eye.”

“Oh, honey, that’s a very bad sign!” Ethel said, spraying crumbs out between her teeth.

“He took off his clothes and laid them on the chair next to the bed and went into the bathroom. I heard the water running, so I figured he was taking a bath. I gathered up his clothes for the laundry and you’ll never guess what I found!”

“What?”

“There was lipstick on the front of his shirt and, not only that, it reeked of perfume!”

“That doesn’t necessarily mean anything, honey! How do you know he didn’t just brush up against one of the chorus girls from the club?”

“Oh, he brushed up against her all right, and did a lot more than that, too!”

“Oh, honey! Now don’t start jumping to conclusions!”

“That isn’t all. When he came out of the bathroom in his bathrobe, I asked him if he had a pleasant evening at the club and he yelled at me.”

“Yelled at you? That doesn’t sound like Ricky!”

“He called me a meddling old bitch and said he was sick and tired of my nagging at him all the time.”

“Oh, Lucy! What did you do then?”

“I asked him if he had been seeing another woman and he broke down and began crying. He said he had been seeing a chorus girl named Delores for about two years and he couldn’t go on any longer with the deception. He and Delores are in love, he said, and he wanted me to divorce him so he could marry her!”

“Oh, Lucy! I can hardly believe it! I never would have suspected it in a million years!”

“I know! He’s been very good at concealing it, hasn’t he? The louse!”

“What did you do then?”

“Well, we began arguing, saying nasty things to each other. I called him a two-timing pig and he called me a henna-haired harridan. We became more and more angry. When he twisted my arm and tried to slap me in the face, I took a knife and stabbed him in the neck. It was a clear-cut case of self-defense.”

“Oh, Lucy! The neck?”

“I severed the jugular vein in one stroke!”

“Oh, honey! Wasn’t there an awful lot of blood?”

“There was, but I got it all cleaned up.”

“And where is he now?”

“He’s on the floor next to the bed. I have him wrapped up in two leak-proof sheets. There’s not a trace of blood left.”

“Oh, Lucy! I’m afraid you’re in for a lot of trouble!”

“I know! I’ve just been frantic trying to figure out what to do!”

“I think you should call the police and turn yourself in. Tell them Ricky came at you and you were only defending yourself. With a good lawyer, you might get off with a light sentence or maybe no sentence at all.”

“Oh, Ethel! I’ve thought about it from every angle! I want to call the police but I’m afraid they’ll be mean to me. They’re all men, aren’t they? Of course, they’ll take Ricky’s side and make me out to be the villain!”

“Oh, Lucy! What will people think when Ricky doesn’t show up at the club? You’ll have to tell them something!”

“I have a plan all worked out. I think it’ll work, but I’m going to need you and Fred to help me.”

“Oh, no! You’re not getting me mixed up in this!”

“Ethel, I thought you were my best friend!”

“I am, but I’m certainly not going to spend the next thirty years of my life in Sing-Sing in the name of friendship!”

“Oh, don’t be silly! Nobody’s going to jail!”

“But it’s murder, honey! It’s serious!”

“If you and Fred will just do what I say, everything will be all right.”

“Just how far do you think Fred and I are willing to go to help you after you’ve killed your husband?”

Ethel called Fred to come up to Ricky and Lucy’s apartment and, when they had him comfortably seated on the couch with a bottle of soda in his hand, he looked suspiciously from one to the other.

“What have you two dizzy dames got cooked up?” he asked.

“Are you going to tell him, or shall I?” Ethel asked.

“There’s no easy way to say it,” Lucy said.

“For heaven’s sake, just say it!” he said.

“Ricky and I had a terrible fight last night.”

“Yeah, what of it?”

“Well, I…”

“She severed Ricky’s jugular vein with a knife and killed him!” Ethel blurted.

“She what?

“In the heat of the moment, I killed Ricky, Fred,” Lucy said. “That wasn’t really my intention, but it just happened.”

“Have you called the police?”

“Well, no, Fred. You see, I don’t think that’s necessary as long as you and Ethel help me.”

“Help you do what?”

“The furnace in the basement is really hot this time of year. I mean, there’s a big door and a big fire burning inside.”

“Oh, no! I’m not going to put Ricky’s body in the furnace!”

“With all three of us, it’ll be so easy!”

“No, I’m not getting mixed up in a crazy scheme like that! Do you think I want to spend my golden years behind bars?”

“If we do it right, Fred, nobody will ever know.”

“What do you say when people come looking for Ricky?”

“Well, I’ve thought of that, too. I’ll wait twenty-four hours and then I’ll file a missing persons report. After that it’ll be easy to make it seem that he’s run off.”

“He was cheating on her, Fred!” Ethel said.

“What?”

“Yeah, he had a girlfriend named Delores.”

“If we’re lucky,” Lucy said, “we can get the police to believe that tramp Delores had something to do with his disappearance.”

“No less than she deserves!” Ethel said.

“So Ricky was stepping out!” Fred said. “The old dog!”

“I just might kill him myself if Lucy hadn’t already done it,” Ethel said.

“Well, that sort of puts things in a different light, doesn’t it?” Fred said.

“Now are you willing to help me?” Lucy asked.

“On one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“You give me one-third interest in the club.”

“Fred! I can’t give you one-third interest in the club! I don’t own the club!”

“Freddy, for once in your life do something to help somebody else without calculating what you can get out of it,” Ethel said.

“Well, it was just a thought,” he said. “You can’t blame me for trying.”

“So, you’ll help me, then?” Lucy asked.

“Looks like I don’t have much choice.”

In the middle of the night, with everybody in the building asleep, the three of them loaded Ricky’s stiff body into a large trashcan on wheels and took it down to the basement on the elevator. Fred wheeled the trashcan up to the door of the furnace; he and Ethel hefted Ricky’s body out of the can and into the furnace while Lucy stood by and chewed her nails.

“How long do you think it’ll take to burn the bones and teeth and everything?” Lucy asked.

“We’ll give it until this time tomorrow,” Fred said. “I’ll come down every couple of hours and stoke the fire.”

Lucy called the police at the appropriate time and told them Ricky had disappeared, apparently run off. He had been despondent lately over money, she said, had even mentioned suicide, and there was another woman involved. The next day, all the newspapers ran the story: Bug-Eyed Cuban Bandleader Disappears—Foul Play Not Ruled Out.

Lucy began receiving condolences from friends and business associates of Ricky’s. The phone rang day and night and Ethel stayed with Lucy to keep newspaper reporters from bothering her with silly questions. Lucy’s mother saw the news on television and called Lucy long-distance from Jamestown, New York, imploring her to “come home.”

After weeks, the case was unresolved. Police could offer no clues. They concluded that Ricky had indeed run off. There were reports of witnesses seeing him board a plane for South America on the night he disappeared. At least two people claimed to have seen him on an ocean liner bound for Greece. Others claimed to have spotted him in other locations, including a racetrack in Kansas City and a brothel in Augusta, Georgia.

The club held auditions to find a replacement band leader for Ricky. One in particular, a man named Mickey Richards, stood out because he was so much like Ricky, not only in the way he looked, but in the way he sang, talked, and walked.

Mickey Richards was hired and took over as bandleader at the Copacabana. Lucy watched him with interest and was amazed at how much like Ricky he was. The management of the club even persuaded him to change his name to Ricky Ricardo. Out in front, the theatre-type marquee proclaimed: He’s Back! He Was Never Really Gone in the First Place!”

The club was more successful than ever before, with patrons being turned away every night. People soon forgot that the real Ricky had ever left because there was a new Ricky in their midst, and this one was even better than the original.

For her part, Lucy missed Ricky terribly and was sorry she had killed him. She cried herself to sleep at night, wishing she might undo what she had done. She began making little overtures to the new Ricky, inviting him to the apartment for dinner or to a Broadway opening. A couple of times she left anonymous love notes in his dressing room at the club. She imagined that the new Ricky would fill the void left by the departure of the old Ricky and that everything would be as it was before, in the old days before he grew tired of her and fell in love with that floozy Delores.

Alas, it was not to be. The new Ricky differed from the old Ricky in one very important respect: He didn’t like bottle redheads and in fact didn’t like women at all. Lucy toyed with the idea of killing him, too, but she was afraid she wouldn’t get away with it a second time. She would talk to Fred and Ethel and ask them what they thought about it.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

Valley Forge ~ A Capsule Book Review

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Valley Forge ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, was where the Continental Army spent the winter of 1777-1778, while waiting for more favorable weather to continue the war with the British, now occupying Philadelphia eighteen miles away. The weather was miserably cold and the army was ill-equipped, with not enough food or clothing to go around. Many of the men went without shoes. A lot of times they went without eating or ate what they could forage. Makeshift huts for shelter were constructed out of logs. More than 2500 American soldiers died at Valley Forge by the end of February 1778, from exposure, starvation, malnutrition, or disease.

Valley Forge is a novel by American writer Mackinlay Kantor. Instead of being a novel in the traditional sense, it’s more a collection of interconnected stories: a young deserter named Mum decides to return to his regiment after being treated kindly by a sixteen-year-old girl (we learn at the end of the book what became of Mum); a seven-year-old slave girl brings General Washington some apples and potatoes because she has heard he doesn’t have enough to eat; a defector is hanged while calling out for his mother; a young cobbler who has his leg amputated wonders how he will pursue his trade after the war; a gang of foragers deals with recalcitrant civilians; a young man with a horse he loves named John must deal with having the horse taken away from him by an officer (the horse John reappears at the end of the book); a group of young girls find what they believe is a litter of puppies, but what they don’t know is the puppies are really wolves and the mother will kill the girls if she finds them messing around with her babies; a young officer has a torrid love affair with an older widow who always keeps her face covered. The one person who appears throughout the book is General George Washington, the commander of the American forces on whose shoulders rests the success or failure of the war with the British. General Washington refuses to have comforts for himself while his men are living miserably at Valley Forge. He is a true American hero.

Valley Forge is an interesting, little-read book. It’s not about war or warfare but about the small moments in the lives of mostly insignificant people who are engaged in the titanic struggle for independence from a repressive, invading foreign power. Although it’s fiction, it’s well-researched and based on fact, as the bibliography at the end of the book attests.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp