September 11, 2012

The Horror at Ellsditch


In December of 2011, a distant cousin of mine passed away peacefully in her Providence, Rhode Island estate. Upon her death, I was informed by her attorney that she had bequeathed her collection of correspondence and personal papers to me. I had never met this cousin, and how she came to know of me I cannot explain. 

Of chief interest among her papers was a series of letters addressed to her great-grandmother Kay Whelan, also of Rhode Island, written by Ms. Whelan’s fiancée, a Mr. Sullivan Prescott. I have presented Mr. Prescott’s letters below. They have been reproduced exactly as written. The reproduction is truthful and accurate. I can’t overstate how truthful this is.

Duncan Fyfe

London, England
September 2012

June 2, 1882

My dearest Kay,

As I had foreseen, Ellsditch is a squalid, small place - a rustic fishing village about which little can be remarked. Nonetheless, I will apply myself to the task so I may provide you with the full picture of my deeply unsatisfactory surroundings.

Ellsditch is found on the Cape Ann peninsula of Massachusetts, surrounded by the wide Atlantic Ocean. I believe the population cannot exceed a few hundred fisher-men, all of whom, thus far, appear sorely uneducated and lacking in the basic hygienes. Accordingly, the village offers few amenities - merely a post office, a general store and a small chapel for one’s worship, all of which are rendered insignificant by the large fishing shacks that teem with the village’s lobstering men. I have seen no library nor town hall - I get the impression that the men of Ellsditch have pared down their existence to the bare necessities, so as to be almost completely self-sufficient. It offends me.

I have rented a small room at the local Inn for the week. The innkeeper is an old and stuffy fellow of the name Amadeus Clay. He is a visually disturbing man. Most risibly, he claims to also serve as the village’s mayor. Ha - I wouldn’t deem him to fit to lick the desiccated bones of Increase Sumner!

The other residents of Ellsditch fared little better in my eyes. Have you ever spoken with a rural fisher-man? Of course you have not - as your fiancée, I would know if you had & naturally be most concerned. Kay, these people are dull as ditch-washers, and ugly. I am surprised I do not find their rotted-out teeth littering the village streets. They all walk with a peculiar, shuffling gait and suffer a pallid, grey complexion. As these men pass me by, they maintain their sunken eyes strictly downcast and do not respond to my hallo. I find this pretty improper.

The circumstances by which I have found myself in Ellsditch are unfortunate. It is a course requirement of M.U. that its medical students must work a full week with a qualified, practicing doctor in order to gain real world experience. Most students choose to study at practices in Salem, Boston, Newburyport & the likes. On the day of registration, how-ever, I was late to mark my preferred placement as I was at a delightful minstrel show. Once this concluded, only one placement remained available to me - with Dr. Silas Culver of Ellsditch. He is quite known in certain circles for accompanying research expeditions to the Antarctic.

I have not yet had the pleasure of Dr. Culver’s acquaintance. How-ever, if the residents of Ellsditch are any indication of his doctoring, I am not sure what he can teach me other than how to appear physically unpleasant.

I plan to locate Dr. Culver to-morrow. I am eager to complete this experience quickly, so that I may finally obtain my medical degree, and begin my own local practice as an ear, nose, throat and brain man. Lately I have been reading on the study of phrenology. Are you familiar? Once we are married, I will be happy to instruct you on this & other subjects as I assume the burden of your advanced education.

Some dismiss phrenology as having little proven connexion to medical science, but I find it interesting to ponder. Phrenology posits that one’s individual and mental attributes can be determined outwardly by the measurements of one’s skull. For example, the slight bump three inches north of your left temple would indicate to the trained phrenologist that you are perfect & lovely. And were that same phrenologist to examine the measurements of my skull, he would quickly deduce that I am quite in love with You.

I remain, your darling intended,

Sullivan Prescott.
Ellsditch, Mass.

June 4, 1882

Dear Kay,

For dinner last night at the inn, I was served a bowl of grimy vegetable soup and stale bread. I found it revolting. While the cook’s dull gaze was averted, I attempted to pass the wretched soup to the dog - a horrid, mangy mutt - but I missed and spilled the soup on the dog. Now both the cook and the dog are mad at me.

Oh, and Kay, another interesting thing that happened to-day was that a leviathan of a Grampus whale appeared beached upon Ellsditch’s rocky shores. The whale had pretty much expired. It stood about as tall as the garden pavilion on my stepfather’s estate. To be sure, it is not the largest whale ever charted by man, but Kay you would never have a seen a whale like this at your sewing academy. I ventured down and looked the unwholesome thing in its dead eyes. I wonder what this creature would say to us if he could. What words would this rough beast choose to be its grim epitaph? “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m a whale.” Perhaps something to that effect. Its fishy skin was curiously hard to the touch - almost metallic - and liberally coated in a dark, viscous substance that stuck to my fingers and tasted foul.

Anyway, I endeavored to see Dr. Culver to-day. His “hospital” is a small house - I believe it may be his home - that could not be more than three rooms. I knocked on the door for what felt like five minutes and was exactly five minutes. I am highly precise in matters of time. No answer came. Plain curtains were drawn o’er the windows and thus I could not determine whether the doctor was inside.

Presently, a grotesque Ellsditch man asked me what I was looking for. I explained my situation to this greasy disaster and queried of him why the hospital was closed. He said that I ask too many questions. But I had only asked him one and in fact he asked me a question first. I fear this is typical of Ellsditch hospitality.

I continued to search for Dr. Culver in the after-noon and evening but to no avail. Nor would any Ellsditchian give me a straight answer regarding his whereabouts. I am sore about this as I do need to pass this course.

I took a nap this evening. I swore that I heard the hum of bees emanate from within my pillow. But Kay, there were no bees in my pillow. That is what I find so queer.


Ellsditch, Mass.

June 5, 1882

Dear Kay,

A most unusual occurrence this morning. I saw a man walk into the ocean! He was clearly not intending to swim or bathe, as he was in clad in his full dress! Apparently the people of Ellsditch are unclear about the basic principles regarding i) the ocean and ii) being in it. I saw the man submerge but I did not wait around for his return. I hope when he resurfaces that he realizes he really pulled a boner on that one.

More disturbingly, since last night, I have developed a vexing rash over both sides of my neck. It has turned my skin a quite peculiar shade of vermillion (red) and keeps me in constant agony. I feel a python has entered my body, coiled itself around my throat and become hopelessly entwined in the layer of muscle between bone and flesh - panicked, it twists with dreadful spasms. Its dying agitations burn through my fair skin. I am almost driven to release the evil beast by the cut of my surgical scalpel. I also have a little tummy ache.

Dr. Silas Culver still eludes me despite my best investigative efforts. I inquired of Mr. Amadeus Clay - putative mayor - about where I might find Dr. Culver, and he simply told me not to concern myself with the matter. Ridiculous. Clay is obviously not a college man or he would understand my plight. Later, I slipped a brief explanatory note under Dr. Culver’s door. As I did so, I saw a shadow pass across the crack of light visible at the bottom of the doorframe. I immediately pounded upon the door and exclaimed “Dr. Culver, your absenteeism threatens my wish to become a brain doctor!” I received no reply.

It appears I must wait to meet Dr. Culver a little longer. At least I have my books to occupy myself in the mean-time. I am reading Twain’s ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’. It is quite awful: a puerile celebration of the under-class.

The whale is still present to-day. I asked one of the fisher-men if the village had any inclination to move it. He told me to mind my own business. Now I admit to being unfamiliar with life in the provinces of Massachusetts, but I was raised in Providence, Rhode Island, and in Providence we had a saying: If you have to look at a dead, fat whale every day and nobody will move it, it is your business!!!

I am also curious to know why the whale shows no sign of decomposition. Admittedly, how-ever, I am not a whale doctor - yet!

I miss you terribly, my love. I will conclude this letter presently as I must prepare for bed. Outside my window I can hear the locals chanting. It sounds like - “yig soggruth”. “Yig soggruth”. I believe this is German - it means “pleasant dreams”.


Ellsditch, Mass.

June 6, 1882


A brief missive to-day. I awoke this after-noon after a long but fitful sleep, and slippery, disturbing dreams of snakes eating their way out of my skin. I find it hard to move. My neck burns like hell-fire. I have doused it in cold water but it offers no relief.

I am convinced that these wretched Ellsditch people attempted to break into my room at the inn last night. I was startled awake before the dawn by a sharp, persistent scratching at the door, soon followed by a sudden, violent thumping. Then I heard shouts. It was those words again - yig soggruth! yig soggruth!! they screeched it over and over like jackals, hooting and laughing, reveling in mad ecstasy. To be honest, Kay, I’m not certain it means “pleasant dreams” at all.

I could not seek leave of my bed on account of the overall pain I was in, so I lay absolutely helpless and in great fear, waiting for the door to yield against their battery. Eventually the noises ceased. I slept poorly after that.

Kay, please advise whether your cousin Boat has yet been released from jail following his spree. Your cousin is a mindless brute but there is a high chance I shall need to call upon him for protection from this savage lot. Please determine Boat’s availability post haste and, should I request it, have him meet me here in Ellsditch. I will reimburse his train fare & misc. expenses, but tell him not to push it - nothing fancy.

I still cannot leave my bed in order to send this letter. I do not trust Amadeus Clay to perform the task but I fear I have no choice. Unless - maybe the dog will deliver the letter for me?

I just checked - no he won’t.

It appears I must beg the help of the innkeeper after all. But if you do not receive this letter, Kay, send Boat.


June 7, 1882


When I awoke this morning I checked my rash in the bath-room mirror. The inflammation has subsided, but in its place there are two wide, red slits running down my neck. I probed these flaps of skin with my finger and to my horror I determined that they seem to be gills. This is bullshit and I hate it.

Don’t be too alarmed about this, how-ever. I think it will look alright. Maybe I will take to wearing a scarf or shawl of some kind. Please go ahead and make one for me. Could you prepare a few different versions for me to look at and I will approve the final one.

With great exhortation, I prepared myself for the day and walked around the village although I am suffering still from blinding head-aches and subnormal physical strength. Nobody seemed particularly bothered by my gills. I noted that the Grampus whale was gone, at least: a silver lining in the gill cloud.

As I took my mid-day meal at the inn, I demanded of Mr. Amadeus Clay whether he sent my letter to you yesterday. He merely smirked and claimed he “didn’t recall.” I have fully had it with this man and his obstructionism. Later, I asked him what “yig soggruth” meant. The question put him in a huff and he refused to serve me any dessert. I yelled at him that I didn’t even want any dessert because it was probably trash. I did want some though.

I undertook a feverish nap in the after-noon. I dreamed I was inside the Ellsditch hospital, its rooms completely bare of furnishings, and occupied by a gaunt, distinguished gentleman with greying hair, seated, and with a walking cane carved in the likeness of a snake. I had never seen this man before but I am convinced of his name - Silas Culver.

I must rest now.

Ellsditch, Mass.

June 8, 1882

Dear Kay,

I am quite shaken. More-so than when I discovered I had grown gills over-night. They are still there, by the way. I want you to draft a missive to your cousin Boat right away, but do not send it until I give you the signal at the close of this letter.

The Ellsditch men entered my room last night. I did not hear their approach - I suspect Clay furnished them with the key. I may have gone too far with my dessert remark. A gang of them - four or five - hauled me out of bed roughly and fastened a blind-fold across my eyes. Naturally I resisted, but was quickly over-powered by their mixed-blood savageness. Have I entertained you yet with my theories regarding the races? It is agreeable stuff. Remind me to revisit this topic with you.

Anyway, I was dragged through the streets by my arms, pulled into a house and across creaking floorboards. The air in this house hung thick with a sickly, foreign smell. In the scent I detected a rotting cock-tail of the body’s four humours - bile, blood and phlegm all together, and the musk of burning tar. I heard in the distance miserable gurgling noises and a low, steady hum and I knew immediately that I was in the Hospital. I was forced into a wooden chair, which I believe was the one from my dream although it could have been any sort of chair really.

Soon I felt a man’s fetid, wet breath upon my face. His voice was calm - measured and dispassionate, but severe. He told me that the blind-fold was for my own protection. I believe the man to be Dr. Culver. His diction was too precise to be an ignoble Ellsditch fisher-man. Culver, or whomever, said to me that it had already begun. I told him I didn’t know what that meant. He then shoved something firm and warm into the gills on the left side of my neck - such excruciating pain - and merely said, in an even tone, that I could not run, that it could only be embraced. I cried that I didn’t understand. The thing burrowed deep into my neck. He leaned in even closer and whispered:

What Don’t You Understand.

“Tell me what is happening to me,” I begged him, “I don’t understand.”

Culver backed his face away and withdrew the object from the damp slits of my neck. “Yig soggruth,” he answered.

I was picked up from the chair and the blind-fold ripped away. But I clenched my eyes shut. I did not look, Kay, I did not look. Two men ushered me out of the house and threw me out onto the muddy ground.

After that I walked in a dazed state back to my room, from where I now write you this letter. Kay, I have changed my mind about you sending Boat to Ellsditch. Reflecting upon these events I have decided that I must go back and confront the doctor myself. If he knows what is happening to me - the gills and so forth - then I believe he must know how to reverse it. I also believe that there is no time to waste. I must go soon - and thus, alone.

Should I perish in Ellsditch, Kay, my wishes are quite simple. You should not marry, nor fall in love with another man. I should like for you to have a tattoo of my face inscribed in some area upon your body... oh, what madness overtakes me, Kay; no lady should bear a tattoo. Instead, I suggest that you employ a qualified draughtsman to draw a picture of me on a piece of paper, and that you affix this paper to yourself with some sort of glue. Please do this.

Ellsditch, Mass.

June 9, 1882


A hic-cup in my plans. I forgot that the door to the hospital is locked. Were it not for my weakened state - in addition to the gills, my skin has begun to assume a scale-like texture; again, no need to concern yourself with this - I would have burst down the door using my strength. Instead, I chose to confront that blob Amadeus Clay in the lobby of his inn. I recalled that he was supposedly the mayor of this village, and might have access to all of its buildings. I ordered him give me the hospital key, but as I had foreseen, he was unhelpful and condescending to-wards me.

I calmly retired to my room upstairs and procured a surgical scalpel from my doctor’s bag. I returned to Clay in the lobby, took his right hand suddenly, and plunged the scalpel deep into it. Don’t overreact to this, Kay. I would never stab someone while we were married.

Clay found his stabbing disagreeable. He screamed like a stuck pig who has been stabbed with a scalpel. I kept pressure on the instrument and roared that he tell me exactly who Dr. Silas Culver is, and about the sordid work he is evidently conducting. The wretched innkeeper wept and claimed not to know who Culver is - claimed that nobody really did. He said to me that Culver had settled in Ellsditch almost ten years ago, and had set up operation as the village doctor, but without having much to do with Clay or any of the Ellsditch population. He described a man who evinced severe melancholia and who lived as much as he could in unhappy solitude - being generally distrustful, even fearful, of his fellow man. More recently, how-ever, about three years ago, Culver accompanied a research expedition to the Antarctic, and when the man returned to Ellsditch, he was not the same. Culver returned possessed of a certain energy, and when Clay saw this, he said, he knew that Culver had found what he had been looking for. What had he found? I inquired.

Clay said, “He found a way to feed him.”

Further details were not forthcoming, though I was able, at last, to procure the key to the hospital. When I announced my intention to use it, Clay gasped like a stuck pig who has been stabbed with alarming news. He said, with quite some urgency, that I could not go into the hospital - that I would not survive. I told him that I had already done so. He said yes, but did I see? I ignored him and he collapsed on the floor, wracked with pathetic sobs. I noted at this point that Clay also had gills upon his neck, and the more I looked around and thought about it, it seemed that everyone here in Ellsditch has them, and has done so from the start. But I am a busy man and cannot be expected to notice every little thing.

I write you now from my room. I believe Dr. Culver must know what is happening to me, and how to put a stop to it. I don’t even care about passing the course at this point really. I am just very peeved about this whole situation.

I shall return to the hospital after I finish this letter. If I do not write you within the next three days, send Boat without any delay. Perhaps the police, also.

I will always love you - forever.


Sullivan Prescott
Ellsditch, Mass.

June 11, 1882

My love my love

I have had many thoughts - and primarily what I need to do is burn down everything that I saw. To start with - the hospital - it must - must - be burned. Do you have fire? Then - all the buildings must follow. I have been trying to start a fire but - you have not been of any help. We will speak when I have done this - and not a moment before. If I die, bury me - I am in the same way!

When will we be married? I do not want to be married in your father’s house. Too dark - too many eyes - I have to see you. Tender your mouth and pretty your eyes. You are the moon. I would never be unfaithful to you. Always never. We are too wonderful. Tell me everything we will do together. Don’t tell me in the way you talk - so unsure - so weak - SO PATHETIC - my head is hurting, I’m sorry.

In the afternoon, I watch as crows cut the devil & swim to the period of the sea. Do you like this? The next step is only a long night-mare.

I am sorry for all this.

Very and truly sorry - I hate the way they look. I will burn for it.




Sullivan Prescott

June 15, 1882


















June 25, 1882




August 29, 2012

Official Playlist of the 2012 Republican National Convention

Hi guys! Paul Ryan here, aka DJ Jobkreator. This week, it is my great honor to accept the Republican Party's nomination for Vice President of the United States at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. 

Not many people know that the vice presidential nominee is responsible for selecting the music that plays throughout the convention. This is a bipartisan tradition dating back to Henry A. Wallace in 1940. For the soundtrack to that year's Democratic National Convention at Chicago Stadium, Wallace's only choice was a six hour audio recording of scientists testing cosmetics on mice. More delegates were into this than you might think.

To put together the music for this year, I sat down with a clean sheet of paper and selected some of my favorite songs that embody strong conservative values: economic freedom and a level playing field for all Americans; a responsible, balanced budget; a fair tax code; and giving families the freedom to make their own choices about education and health care without government getting in the way. With this playlist, people like you can "Rock The GOP" in your home, boat or on the go. 

For their support and encouragement, my thanks are due to John Boehner (DJ Frostboehne) and Mitt Romney (DJ Mitt Romney.) 


Another great cut from the Boss/job creator. This soaring, triumphant anthem tells the story of a man who knows what he wants out of life and is determined to make it on its own. It's not the story of a man who knows what he wants out of life and expects that government handouts will get him there.

No real relevance. I just like this one. 

(And Also For Vice-President)

A great, irreverent tribute to capitalism and the private sector work ethic. With our strong business record, nobody understands better than Governor Romney and me what the Frogs are talking about in this song. If we didn't "play for money," as it were (this is a metaphor - I'm speaking primarily about governance; we're not really musicians) then I don't think we'd be qualified to hold public office.

I'm working, but I'm not working for you. A rousing indictment of entitlement programs.

Rumor has it that if you play this track backwards, Robert Plant can be clearly heard to say “Romney/Ryan 2012.” No, that’s just an urban legend. We will be playing this song backwards though.

We’ve got a little bit of “walking to do” before we can get this president out of office. This is also a good workout tune. Not that we'll be doing reps on the convention floor. Maybe we will.


Look, I think this president is fundamentally a good man, a good family man. But does he really know what it's like out there for common people? I've done town hall meetings. I've talked to my constituents. I've talked to real American families who are hurting. And though we all agree that health care in this country's got to get fixed, Americans don't think that a government takeover of healthcare is the solution. What Americans want is for us to start over, on a clean sheet of paper, and move through these issues and fix them. I can do this. I have a whole thing of clean paper in my desk. I love paper, and it's ready to go. 


Like, I know, right?

Throughout the campaign, this president has tried to make the debate about distractions because he can't run on his record. That's what this song is in reference to. It's very much in reference to the president's record. Please don't misinterpret it as a statement about Governor Romney or myself. To be fair, I know this one is a little tenuous. 

1. Summer of '98. 3:13 a.m. I've just heard the last line - it's "but don't hate her when she gets up to leave" and I didn't need to look it up, though you have no way of knowing this - and I let it linger, like you would a strange new taste that is sweet and bitter and perhaps if you hold on for as long as you can you will remember - you will know - that far-off thing it reminds you of...

2. "I don't want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to people, even those I've never met. I want to go on living even after my death! And that's why I'm grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop and to express all that's inside me!" - Annalies Marie Frank (1929 - 1945)

3. You are young and in love and you know this and you know that this will come to an end but maybe it never truly does. It's hard to explain. But that's okay - I understand it. I understand it now.

4. Good drum sound on "Ghost."

5. It was not possible to choose just one song from this album. It needs to be heard at the 2012 Republican National Convention in its entirety.


August 2, 2012

Legends of the Chateau Marmont

High above Sunset Boulevard looms a stately Gothic castle, looking like something out of medieval times or Medieval Times. There's no knights in this castle, though - not unless you count poor Sir John Gielgud, who lies in the basement where Laurence Harvey dumped his corpse. (Allegedly.)

No, we speak instead of the fabled CHATEAU MARMONT. Glamorous, sexy and dangerous, for 85 years the Chateau Marmont has been where the Hollywood elite meet to stay in a hotel. The biggest names in show business (Paul Newman, others) have passed through its walls, and the Chateau is as notorious for its star-studded clientle as it is for that clientele's outlandish behaviour. It's the place where Billy Idol once trashed a suite because room service had poured the truffle oil over his french fries instead of putting it in a separate thing. For many stars, it's a home away from home, family and responsibilities. And for an unfortunate few, it's where they meet an untimely demise. (Sir John Gielgud. Do the research.)

Oh, how we could go on. But while the "old Hollywood" mythology of the Chateau Marmont is exciting, it's important to remember that some of the Chateau's legends are merely that - legends, like that of the mighty Pegasus. That's why we've taken the time to help you sort the fact from the not fact.

There's always someone you know staying at the Chateau Marmont.
This is true. Celebrities are regular visitors to the Chateau. It's guaranteed that you'll see at least one famous face during your visit. As a back-up, the Chateau keeps Daniel Baldwin in the lobby at all times.

The Eagles' hit "Hotel California" is about the Chateau Marmont.
This is true. Like the rest of the Eagles' discography, "Hotel California" was devised and commissioned by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. 

Led Zeppelin rode their motorcycles through the hotel lobby.
This is false. Nobody from Led Zeppelin has ever owned a motorcycle.

Breakfast is like forty bucks per person, without tip.
This is true and it's bogus.

Billy Wilder once slept in the bathroom of his Chateau suite to avoid an overbearing and unstable roommate - Peter Lorre.
This is true. Wilder remained in the bathroom until he passed away some 30 years later.

The Chateau Marmont is built out of Errol Flynn's bones.
This is false and I don't know how this rumor started.

The Chateau Marmont is built out of Clark Gable's bones.
This is true.

While a guest at the Chateau, Dennis Hopper staged and filmed wild, drug-fuelled orgies, some of which had almost 50 participants.
This is false, and it's offensive. Hopper was a deeply moral and devout family man. The "Speed" star was also an avowed teetotaler and even has a co-writing credit on Minor Threat's seminal anthem "Straight Edge."

The Chateau Marmont is haunted.
This is true.

Roman Polanski stayed at the Chateau Marmont before fleeing the United States to avoid sentencing on charges of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.
This is true. It's said that Polanski left behind a series of devilish riddles that would lead the police right to his doorstep. To date, the United States authorities have been unable to solve these riddles.

James Dean famously hopped through a window at the Chateau to audition for "Rebel Without A Cause."
This is patently false. There are no windows at the Chateau.

It is customary to tip the hotel staff.
This is false.

John Belushi died of a drug overdose at the Chateau.
This is false. John Belushi died in a Culver City Burger King. The cause of death was loving Burger King too much.

F. Scott Fitzgerald suffered a heart attack at the Chateau Marmont.
This is a common misconception. Fitzgerald actually caused several heart attacks by lurking under guests' beds and seizing their ankles. Fitzgerald was well known for his pranks.

Be careful - the walls of the Chateau have ears.
This is true. In 1971, Elliot Gould was forcibly plastered into a wall by his "MASH" co-star Robert Duvall. Duvall also loved a good prank.

Howard Hughes once occupied the hotel attic. From this vantage point, he would spy on women undressing outside through binoculars.
This is true. He loved pranks!!!

Christian Bale is at the Chateau Marmont right now.
Yes, in suite 57.

Photography is not permitted.
This is true.

Cocaine, heroin, speed, ketamine, LSD, acid, mushrooms, bath salts, stalking, mail fraud, the production of pornography, suicide, assault, sexual assault, exploitation and obstruction of justice are not permitted. 
This is false.

July 21, 2012

The True History of Pinball

It may be difficult or easy to believe today, but the game of pinball was once America's favorite pastime. Though some form of pinball has existed since the 15th century, the story of America's love affair truly begins in Boardwalk Empire-times, when a populace deprived of the demon drink (alcohol) sought cheap comfort in the arms of the coin-operated arcade games that had recently sprung up about the nation's pool halls and gentlemen's clubs. Soon, however, America grew bored of having sex with the pinball machines and came to appreciate pinball as a fun game in its own right. And although prohibition ended at some point in the thirties (nobody is really sure) pinball had successfully captured the nation's heart. 

Pinball's allure faded soon after the Great Depression (an economic disaster brought on by the socialist policies of Democrat president Franklin Hussein Roosevelt), during which America's favorite pastime became "eating food." Pinball experienced a resurgence in the 1970s, as the machines incorporated advances in electronics technology like colored lights. But the digital revolution that had revitalized pinball would eventually serve to doom it once more. The rapid rise of the video game industry in the 1980s made pinball look tired and simplistic in comparison. In the age of 16-color graphics and internal PC speakers, Pinball never stood a chance. Famously, Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi once declared that he would piss on anyone he saw playing a game of pinball.

Yes, pinball has been known by many different names over the years: America's favorite pastime; coin-operated arcade games; pinball. Let's take a look back at some highlights from pinball's long, colorful history, so that we might never face the dire consequences of our forgetting.

  • GORGAR (Williams Electronics, 1979) was the first pinball machine that could talk. Nobody knows how or when Gorgar developed this ability, only that Gorgar, in his deep, otherworldly voice, would beg children to end his suffering once and for all.
  • THEATER OF MAGIC (Midway, 1995) was the first pinball machine to incorporate balls. Thus began the fabled "Golden Age of Pinball" (1995-7.)
  • Until 1997, it was illegal for unmarried women to play pinball.
  • BLACK KNIGHT (Williams Electronics, 1980) was the first pinball machine created by other pinball machines.
  • In the 1930s, pinball players would attempt to cheat by bumping, or "tilting", the table. If caught, cheaters were encased alive in the machines.
  • ADDAMS FAMILY PINBALL was elected to the Minnesota state senate in 1992.
  • The first pinball machine was THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. It was discovered in 1897 by an Antarctic expedition who found it buried under the ice.
  • The Pinball Hall of Fame Museum in Las Vegas is built upon the grave of Eric L. Pinball, who had no connection to the pinball industry.
  • All of the people present at the 1972 World Pinball Championships in Washington, DC are STILL THERE.
  • Pinball giant Williams Electronics once offered a $10,000 prize to anyone who tattooed the PIN*BOT logo on their body. The only person to collect the reward money was Roy Cohn.
  • The Who's 1969 single "Pinball Wizard" is generally accepted to be the first rock song about witchcraft.
  • It was possible to achieve a "ONE BILLION TRILLION" score on certain Williams Electronics pinball tables. This extremely rare high score entitled the lucky player to fight the CEO of Williams to the death.
  • The CEO of Williams Electronics from 1979 to 1994 was Eric L. Pinball.
  • Between 1942 and 1976, it was illegal to marry a pinball machine in New York state.
  • Eric L. Pinball is hiding under your bed.

July 12, 2012

Fleet Street

A violent burst of rain jumped Jen Gilbert on her walk back to Holborn, pinning her underneath a narrow doorway on a sleepy street she didn’t know. Choosing to wait out the downpour, she watched as loose sheets of newspaper blew by like tumbleweeds and the sky turned dark and gave up on the afternoon. For ten minutes, she braced herself against the wind as it stung her cheeks red and flicked rain in her face like a total asshole. After the rain soaked through her worn boots to her socks, she noticed that she had been waiting next door to an open coffee shop with a loud neon sign, and was embarrassed. 
        She carried a canvas bag weighed down with a laptop and hardback Italian textbooks and as she hustled into the shop, the bag swung hard into her thigh. Inside, she glanced at the chalkboard menu and ordered without any particular enthusiasm for drinking coffee, but with great desire to linger indoors. 
        “Can I just get, like, a black coffee? A small one.”
        The woman tending the shop looked so unreasonably put out by this request that Jen wondered if she had committed some terrible cultural faux pas, like not knowing ‘black coffee’ was Cockney rhyming slang for ‘you whore.’ 
        “Just black coffee,” she clarified, in something less Brooklyn than her normal accent. The cashier nodded and took her money while still appearing to think of the transaction as a major burden. It was obvious now to Jen that this woman would probably have closed up shop had she not arrived. The place was empty but for the two of them and the white noise that hissed softly from wall-mounted speakers. It was only just past six and, come to think of it, maybe that was too late for drinking coffee to be proper, thus the cashier stinkeye. Not that this was good reason to judge: for all the cashier knew, Jen needed the evening caffeine because she worked as a bartender or night garbagewoman. Who cared what she thought either way. Jen had put down her two pounds for a cup of coffee and this stranger would see her for who she really was - an unemployed American on a student visa who stood a lanky six feet tall and was dripping rainwater onto the floor - and deal with it. 
        Jen relaxed into the back of a leather couch at the furthest possible edge of the room. To be indoors during a rainstorm; that was the real victory. That was a win over nature. She unpacked her bag and laptop on the coffee table by her feet, clearing a space between the thick design magazines of hard paper stock and single letter titles. The cashier brought her the black coffee in a large white mug with a tall spoon inside, balanced upon a saucer that was too small and said nothing when Jen obligingly thanked her. Jen set up her laptop, her purchase having entitled her to fifteen minutes of free coffee shop Wi-Fi, and entered the Wi-Fi code printed on her receipt: GR8COFFEE. Online, she browsed Facebook and the Guardian and New York Magazine simultaneously. Sono degli Stati Uniti, she thought to herself in measured, self-conscious Italian. Dove posso travare caldo discoteca? Hesitantly, she tested the coffee and found it to be okay.
        She opened her Gmail inbox in a new window. The only new email was from her friend Beth. Beth had quit school in London three months earlier and gone home. Home for Beth was New York, from where she had sent Jen this email at two a.m. Beth’s time. With no subject line, the message read, in its entirety:
        What’s the point of anything?
        Oh yeah.
        I remember.
        Jen had just begun to puzzle out Beth’s weirdness when a second email arrived in her inbox. This one, which also lacked a subject line, was from Jonah Gilbert. Jonah Gilbert was Jen’s elder brother by four years and her only sibling, whom she had hugged goodbye at JFK eighteen months ago, leaving him with wet eyes and her eyeshadow smeared all over his collar. Since then, she and Jonah had spoken - exchanged emails, more accurately - maybe once every two months. 
        Can you skype? Call me asap.
        Technically, yes, her laptop was able to use Skype, but it was too old a model to have a built-in camera or microphone, and though unrelated to its Skype-running ability, the keyboard didn’t have all of the keys. But for Jonah’s sake, Jen logged in and fished through her bag for her iPod earphones with the internal mic. She was alerted to the incoming call from Jonah before she had even the earphones in. After disentangling the wires from her earrings and the buttons of her jacket, she accepted the call.
        “Jonah?” she said, holding the mic up close to her mouth.
        “Jen?” The video on Jonah’s end claimed to still be loading, but looked pretty dead. 
        “Yeah. Jonah? Hey, are you... do you have the camera on?”
        “No,” he said after a second, “my thing doesn’t have a camera to begin with.” Jonah sounded unclear and far away. The audio quality wasn’t great either. Jen high-fived her brain for thinking this.
        “Yeah, mine doesn’t either.”
        “Okay, so listen,” Jonah began. 
        “I have to warn you,” Jen interrupted, releasing the mic from her fingers, “it’s ridiculous that you’d want to talk right now, I literally... I literally have only like ten minutes to talk you. I’m sitting in some coffee shop ‘cause it’s raining outside and I’m on fifteen minutes of Wi-Fi. Less than that, now. So I’m just saying, I’m just warning you, I can’t talk for long.” Jen looked for the woman behind the counter. She had vanished.
        “That’s cool, I only need you for a minute.”
        “I mean, I need you always.”
        Jen frowned. “Are you alright?”
        “I’m good. I’m in Somalia.”
        “What? No, you’re not.”
        “Yes I am. Well, I’m only on the border, technically. I’m supposed to be going to Mogadishu for work and we’re just being held up here for some reason. I don’t know, I think it’s fine. It must just be a security thing. Actually, you know, I think I might still be in Kenya? Legally. I should double-check. I’ve been at a refugee camp in Dadaab for a while, up until this morning, and I’m moving over to a facility in Mogadishu for a bit. It’s in Kenya - Dadaab, I mean. Anyway, I’m posted up here at the border and while I’ve been waiting I started talking to this guy who’s stuck here hanging out for a bit also, and I was telling him all about you and I told him to ask you out and I think he will.”
        “So is there a way I can get him in touch with you?”
        “Wait, this is really the reason why you’re calling?”
        “Yeah, so Facebook, maybe?”
        Without any video Jen found it difficult to gauge her brother’s sincerity. “This by you is urgent? Calling from Somalia thinking that maybe you found - maybe! - a dude I would go out with?” At times she thought of Jonah as less of a brother and more of an Improv Everywhere project.
        “Well, he seems like a good guy,” said Jonah, unfazed and weirdly earnest, “and Mom and Dad would like him and he’s a doctor too, which is interesting, and he looks nice, you know, I guess, presentable, and both of you like travel and he speaks different languages so you’d have things in common and he is recently single and he’s open to being in a relationship. Uh, not an open relationship. A normal one.”
        “Wow. You have sold me. I am getting on a plane right now.”
        “Are there any questions you want me to ask him?”
        “No. Literally none. But, hey, you know, I like that you feel like you need to actually legitimately scour the world to find me a boyfriend; like, thank God you found him, right? Thank God you found The One Guy.”
        Jonah thought this over - or at least, Jen assumed that’s what the silence meant. “What don’t you like about him?” he asked.
        “What don’t I... Jonah.”
        “Are you seeing somebody?”
        Jen hesitated and felt silly about doing so. “I mean... not really.”
        “What does that mean? That means no.” It did mean no. “What’s the problem, then? I’m keeping an eye out for you. I always do.”
        “That is not a thing you have to do.” Jen wondered what else Jonah supposedly did for her without her knowledge. “Don’t feel the need to do that. I do alright, dude.”
        “With guys?”
        “Well, yeah.”
        “Do you do doctor alright, though?”
        Jen sipped the coffee again, which was starting to taste less offensive. “Are you really in Somalia?” she asked, setting the coffee down.
        “Technically it’s the border.”
        “Why?” Jonah had left New York last year to work for Doctors Without Borders, although Jen supposed that was not necessarily why he was in Somalia. Allegedly in Somalia. 
        “You know, the usual. Taking care of measles and shit.”
        If only Jen could will the video feed into existence so she could verify all this - like if she could see Jonah hold up a newspaper with the word ‘Somalia’ on it. “Are you safe? Seriously. Are you being safe?”
        “You mean, like, am I using protection?”
        “First of all, gross. Second of all, don’t get cute with me. You’re in Somalia. Somalia.”
        “I’m not getting cute, honest to blog.”
        “Ugh, you’re garbage.”
        “Actually, did you know that, statistically, more Americans die every year being crushed by vending machines than are killed or captured in Somalia? That has been reported. In journals.”
        Like talking to a brick wall if the brick wall were also a dick. “Do you have any other settings besides deadpan?”
        “You understand I’m not talking about vending machines that fall on people, right; these are the machines that smother you with a pillow.”
        “You are the weirdest.” Jonah paused. Every time one of these pauses went on a little too long, Jen grew alarmed. 
        “So this guy...”
        She rolled her eyes. “Oh yeah.”
        “He’s a doctor, a real one; an MD. He’s got an MD in emergency medicine from UC Davis. He’s American. He’s from Sacramento.”
        What’s the endgame here, she thought. “I’m not moving to Somalia for this dude,” she said with a modicum of sternness in her voice.
        “Also he’s Jewish.”
        “Good for him.” Jonah didn’t seem to care about the modicum of sternness.
        “So he wouldn’t have to convert,” he continued.
        “You want me to marry this guy now?”
        “Well...” he equivocated, “only if you wanted to.”
        “I’m not that desperate to marry another Jew that you needed to go to Somalia to find me one. I’m not that desperate period.” At this, the woman behind the counter rematerialized. Jew watch or something, Jen figured.
        “You wouldn’t want to marry someone Jewish?” Jonah asked, as if a voice could raise an eyebrow.
        “No, who cares?”
        “That’s not important to you?”
        “Not really.” She could tell that the more aggressively she stonewalled him on this, the more baffled he would get. 
        “I’d want to, if it was me. I mean, if it were me. It would mean something to Mom and Dad, too.”
        “Good for Mom and Dad.”
        “Huh.” This was more disappointed than baffled, and less fun.
        “I don’t know. It’s a cultural thing, too, though, don’t you think? Shared background or understanding or whatever?”
        “Either you believe in it or you don’t.”
        “Yeah, but, you know...” Jonah and his pauses. “I don’t know.”
        “What?” she persisted.
        “Different worlds.”
        “I’m not going to have this argument with you, by the way. Like, maybe this argument isn’t priority one when you’re at some fucking border crossing and I only have five more minutes to talk to you.” 
        “It’s a moot point, anyway, because Robert’s Jewish.”
        “Who’s Robert!”
        “The doctor.”
        “You know, moot means that the point can be debated. I think you’re confused.”
        “I think you’re avoiding the subject of Robert.”
        “Let’s talk about what you’re doing for Thanksgiving.” Jen had been asked specifically to bring this up with Jonah, not that she expected to get much of an answer out of him.
        “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” he said. That was what she had expected.
        “Mom has sent you so many emails,” Jen said. “You don’t even know. You don’t even know because you do not even look at them. She is complaining to me about how it is impossible to hear back from you. You are the subject of like a full ninety percent of the conversations I have with her.”
        “I do read her emails,” he said mildly.
        “Yeah, not that you reply to any of them. I guess maybe you would if you thought you found a hot doctor for her to hook up with.”
        “I didn’t say he was hot. I said presentable.”
        “Oh, not hot? I’m not interested then.”
        “I’m giving him your email address.”
        “Are you going home for Thanksgiving?” she tried. 
        “I don’t know.”
        “Come on. I am. I’m going. For two weeks.”
        “You don’t have, uh, classes?”
        “Nope.” She drank from the coffee mug and the tall spoon smacked her in the cheek.
        “Hey, say something in Italian,” he said eagerly.
        “No. Are you gonna come home or not?”
        “I don’t know if I can. Honestly. I’m on a mission.”
        “Ooh, pardon me, lieutenant commander. Jeez. Roger that.” She moved to salute but thought the coffee shop woman might find it weird. Maybe she was finding all of this weird.
        “That is what they’re called,” he said, unmoved. “They’re called missions. I didn’t make that up.”
        “Oh, sorry.” She was a little bit sorry about making fun of it, too.
        “It’s alright.”
        “But Mom is freaking out about you.” She quickly changed the subject. “You worry her. You can’t do her the favor? It would make her year. And I want to see you.”
        “I want to see you too,” he protested, “I want to visit. I just don’t think... how many minutes do you have left? Of Wi-Fi?”
        “Like five. But I can buy a second coffee,” she offered, although she suspected that horrible hovering woman might not let her.
        “What time is it there?” he asked.
        “In Brooklyn?”
        “No, dummy, where you are.”
        “It’s six twenty.”
        “Is that in the morning or in the evening?”
        “In the evening, dummy.”
        “That’s too late to be drinking coffee.”
        “Mind your own business.” She slurped the coffee loudly into the mic.
        “I’m a medical expert.”
        “A jerk expert. More like.”
        “Good one,” he said sarcastically, probably upset that he hadn’t thought of it.
        “Why can’t you come home?” she tried one last time, using her plaintive voice.
        “I...” Jonah thought around for the words. “Well, I can’t. I just got here. I’m not even here yet, technically. I’m on the border. I have a job and I can’t always just go home or whatever. I’m, you know, I’m busy here.”
        “What, how long are you going to be there?” she asked, worried now.
        “Six months.”
        “Six months?” she practically shrieked at her laptop screen. “Jonah, I haven’t seen you in more than a year.”
        “I know,” he said. “I know that.”
        “How are you going to be safe in Somalia for six months?” 
        “Don’t worry about me,” he said, which Jen felt pretty strongly was not the right answer.
        “How am I not supposed to worry about you?” she said, bringing the mic back up to her mouth, “I don’t hear from you for months - nobody does - and I have no idea where you are and I guess it turns out that you’re in the most dangerous parts of the world. I don’t know what it is you’re doing or if you’re being safe or taking care of yourself or whether other people are looking after you. You have to look at it from my perspective. I don’t know anything except that you’re in danger. I have to know that you’re okay. I have to know that if I haven’t heard from you in a while, that you’re still okay. Do you understand what I mean? I need to know that. I need you to tell me that.” Her cheeks were flushed now. She was truly pissed at him for putting her in the position again of needing to mother him.
        “Yeah,” he said quietly.
        “I do worry about you,” she repeated, gently insistent.
        “Okay, I get that, and I’m just saying that you don’t have to.”
        “But you’re living in refugee camps?” she asked hopelessly. 
        “In Dadaab, yeah,” he said. “But MSF has a building in Mogadishu. In the city. We’re staying there.”
        “Okay, so what’s that like? Does that have running water?”
        “Yeah, hot water, absolutely. Clean water.”
        “And, you have, like... a proper bed?
        “Yeah, there’s real beds. I mean, I have a roommate, but, you know, I’ll live.”
        “And they take care of you?” Jen closed her eyes.
        “Yeah, there’s decent food, there’s TVs and shit... it’s fine. It’s like a crappy motel, pretty much. Or a dorm. I eat better here than I did in college, actually.”
        “So what about when you go out into the field? Do you call it the field?”
        “Yeah, but basically I really just go to an office every day. It’s more boring than anything.”
        “And they’re keeping you safe, right?”
        “There’s plenty of security. The police are great and they take our safety very seriously.”
        “And the... patients?” She didn’t know what to call them.
        “Literally the worst thing that can happen is a kid gets his diarrhea on me. That’s as bad as it gets.”
        “Oh, Jonah,” she said, burying her face in her hands.
        “I’m okay,” he reassured her, “I’ll be fine. And I’ll see you in six months.”
        “Will you?”
        “Sure,” he said.
        Jen wasn’t even sure where she would be six months from then. “I’ll still be in London, I think.”
        “I could come to London. That would be fun. I could do that.”
        She smiled. It was a nice thought. “Okay, so tell me about this guy,” she said.
        “Tell me about Robert.”
        “What - oh, yeah, so, right, okay, he’s a doctor, like I said.” Jen brought her legs up onto the couch and held the cup of coffee close to her chest while she listened to her brother. 
        “He’s a doctor of emergency medicine from UC Davis. He is thirty and he turns thirty-one next year. He’s from a Jewish family in Sacramento and he’s the oldest of four kids. He has three sisters. Younger sisters. His dad is a psychiatrist and his mom is in real estate or something. He once had to save his granddad’s life by doing CPR! The granddad is dead now. Not because of that. Heart attack or whatever. He’s into Mad Men.
        “This is his second mission for MSF, I think. He’s really into travel and he can speak French. And English. Obviously. He runs, like, marathons and stuff. He ran the New York marathon once, recently, too. He’s into history. I think he is very outgoing and smart and he speaks really fast. He has a deep voice though, not nasal. Like a mind going a mile a minute, he’s one of those guys. Not a vegetarian... he likes Mexican food. He voted for Obama. He doesn’t have any children and he doesn’t smoke. He seems to drink socially and oh, yeah, well, he smokes socially when he drinks... also socially. I don’t count that though, the smoking. He doesn’t like dogs. I don’t really know why.
        “He really seems to care about issues and stuff. I mean, obviously, since he’s out doing this, but he gets intense when you talk to him about what we’re doing. A little bit, anyway. A little bit worked up and he starts going off and you see that he actually believes in something. He’s sort of droll and dry but not in a douche-y way. I think he’s a good guy because I really made him laugh at least a couple... at least four times. Oh, he likes Arrested Development too.”
        “How long did you talk to this dude?”
        “What? I don’t know, like twenty minutes? Anyway, the reason that I thought of you is that I think you would really do best with someone who you respect and you admire. I think you’d want someone who you find challenging, in a good way. And I think he’s the same. You’re all of those things, too; very capable and independent and... he has a sort of restlessness and ambition to him and sometimes I think you do too. So I was telling him about you along these lines, talking you up, and he was interested, you know, he was asking about you.”
        “What did you say to him?”
        “I said that you’re one of the real ones.”
        Yes. Jen never felt warmer towards the faceless Skype icon that represented her brother. “Yes,” she said, “you can give him my number.”
        “You sure?”
        “Or my email address, or my Facebook, or whatever you want.”
        “Okay, good.” She heard him relax. “Common sense prevailed. I feel really good about this.”
        Jen checked the time in the corner of the screen and was positive that fifteen minutes had gone by already. “Jonah,” she said, sitting up, “I really want to keep talking to you but I honestly have to go, and not only because of the Wi-Fi thing, I have to be somewhere tonight and...”
        “Yeah, no, I get it.” And it sounded to Jen like he really did.
        “Please be safe,” she urged him, “I love you so much.”
        “Um... do you want to hear a joke?”
        “What? I guess so.”
        “Alright, you have to say to me - you have to ask me, ‘have you heard of the hunchback of Notre Dame?’”
        “Have you heard of the hunchback of Notre Dame.”
        “It rings a bell.”
        “Alright,” she said, “go you.”
        “I just thought it up like half an hour ago,” he bragged. “Actually, though, to be honest, I’m not sure if I’ve heard that before somewhere. It might be, like, a classic joke. From olden days. But I think there’s also a chance that I’m the first person to ever have thought of it.”
        “You’ve got to call me or email me or whatever,” she said, very quickly, as she knew now for certain that the fifteen minutes were over and she could lose him any second. “Let’s talk soon, okay? Promise.”
        “Okay. We will. Hey, say something to me in Italian.”
        “Ti amo.”
        “I love you. Please take care and don’t die.”
        “I won’t. Die, I mean. And I love you too.”
        “See you soon. See you home.”
        “Okay, bye.”
        Jen’s Wi-Fi connection lasted just long enough to see Jonah’s Skype account go offline. Slowly, she drained the remainder of her coffee and collected her things to leave. It was still raining outside, but from where she was standing it looked a little lighter, at least. As she came to the door, she paused by the counter.
        “Thanks,” Jen said to the woman, “that was lovely.”
        “You’re welcome,” she said, and Jen believed that she meant it.