Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Black Hand

“The Black Hand,” by Charles Gardner Bowers, appeared in the January, 1931 Amazing Stories. It is a story of an arm transplant, but it is also part and parcel of the execrable history of racial attitudes in America.

A white man, the artist Van Puyster, has gangrene of his right hand. The physician/surgeon, Dr. Evans, has a plan to replace the man’s arm with one from a black man.

The temper of the times in its treatment of the black characters shows how the author felt about them. While the white people in the story have names, the African-Americans who are singled out have no names. They are known as “a condemned criminal,“ “a negro [sic] valet,” and “a porter.” In this story, the African-Americans are just props.

Author Bowers’ clunky prose is mostly in the form of dialogue, and some of it sounds pedantic, like an article from a medical journal. In those days of early science fiction the emphasis was on the science, and the literary quality of the fiction was secondary. That didn’t stop some of the writers from over 80 years ago from going on to develop their talents — a young Jack Williamson, called in his later years “The Dean of Science Fiction,” contributed a story to the issue — but none of the authors were ever going to win any awards for fine literature.

What struck me also was the endorsement in the editor’s introduction of “an eminent physician and well-known writer” (Dr. David H. Keller, M.D., perhaps. In Keller’sWikipedia biography, his writing is described as “hostile to feminists and African-Americans”). The “eminent physician” said the story “is a clever conception and a fine piece of work,” and, “the surgery is far better than anything I could have written.” I have even more suspicion of it being Keller, who was a psychiatrist. He adds, “The psychological phases of it tickle me pink.” An interesting choice of words.

A spoiler for the story: Having a black arm drives the white artist crazy, and he commits murders of several black people. That is told off-camera, so to speak, because of the method of the story’s construction.

“The Black Hand” is only noticeable nowadays by the plot device using race, and the blatant bigotry of the writer, the editor, and the physcian who endorsed it. It is just another example of the gulf between whites and blacks in that era, and in today’s sensitive racial climate is a curiosity from a common time of outspoken racism.

Click on the scans to make them larger.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Bag lady and the burglar

It has been a week for me recognizing people I know. At the auto show last Friday I saw two retired people I worked with at the school district. Yesterday Sally and I went to a thrift store where I spotted an old classmate from art school 45 years ago, Cheryl R.

I have run into Cheryl several times over the years. She is easy to pick out of a crowd. Her appearance is bizarre, and she does it to herself with her unusual make-up jobs. She has always used bright blue or green eye shadow under penciled on eyebrows, and she does some little tricks with mascara around her eyes. Yesterday I saw she had drawn three little lines, about 1/4" long, at the corners of her eyes. She also has darkly rouged cheeks, which gives her a clownish appearance. My impression was a stereotype of a bag lady. I saw Cheryl putting little trinkets, cheap little ceramics of kitties and puppies, into her cart. I wonder if her house looks like something from the Hoarders reality show.

The thought struck me, seeing Mimi during a re-run of the old Drew Carey Show, that actress Kathy Kinney might have picked up some make-up tips from Cheryl.
Man, I am cruel, aren’t I? I recall years ago seeing Cheryl with a young woman I assumed was her daughter. I wonder if the daughter worries about her mom. I felt sad for Cheryl, but then maybe she was looking at me and thinking, “I remember that guy from when he was young, and now he’s an ugly old man!”

On our way home we stopped for lunch. In the restaurant I recognized another former co-worker. Gene P. was an accountant for the school district. Gene was fired from the school district because of some bizarre and criminal conduct on his part. I don’t know if he stole from the school district (keeping it confidential, no one in the Accounting Department would have told me if he had), but I found out he had been a burglar.

Gene definitely had some problems with depression and family issues. I don’t know if he was on medication. The story was that he was burglarizing his neighbor’s houses. Of course the talk around the neighborhood was that someone was breaking in, but no one would have suspected Gene. Gene, the square guy, the accountant, church-going family man. One night a neighbor came home and found Gene in his house. The jig was up.

That was one of his problems. The other was his teenage daughter. Since this took place in the early nineties the daughter would be in her late thirties by now. Before he was fired Gene took me aside one day to tell me the woeful tale of his daughter, who was stalking magician David Copperfield. We live in Northern Utah, and Las Vegas, where Copperfield was performing, is quite a long way to drive. But Gene’s daughter, who had decided that if David Copperfield, who did not answer her love missives to him, were to meet her he would see what a wonderful person she was, and how happy she could make him. She stole Gene’s car and took off for Las Vegas. Gene called police, and the Highway Patrol picked her up in St. George, Utah. She was carrying a large kitchen knife. The belief was if she couldn’t convince David to love her she might kill him. When I heard that story I was flabbergasted. Some people project feelings onto celebrities, even stalk them or try (and sometimes succeed) in killing them. But not the teenage daughter of someone I knew.

I came quickly back to earth. We really don’t know what goes on in families, do we?

I hope Gene’s daughter got the help she needed. Since David Copperfield, as of this writing, is still alive and well I know she didn’t get to him with her big knife. I also hope Gene got the help he needed. He could have spent some time in jail. I never heard, and it never got into newspapers. It was in the very early days of the Internet. If it happened today the story would probably end up online.

David Copperfield’s ability to fly might help when confronted by love-struck teenagers with butcher knives.

I did not say anything to Gene in the restaurant. I thought talking to me might be a reminder of some very dark days.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Selma — the savage season

I have not seen the movie, Selma, but I remember the event on which the movie is based. The Civil Rights movement of the sixties was marked by being newsworthy. After all, citizens being beaten, gassed and firehosed because they asked for their Constitutional rights made for dramatic footage on television news programs.

Unfortunately for the beaters, gassers and firehosers, that footage went all around the world. It made a mockery of America and its self-righteous proclamations of freedom and “all men are created equal.” It also made the cops look like bullies with clubs attacking innocent people. It was an especially bad public relations image for the State of Alabama.

Life magazine for March 19, 1965, has the story of that event. I find the cover photo riveting; it is the peace just moments before the brutality. Knowing the history makes the image portentous.

Copyright © 1965 Time, Inc.

Friday, January 16, 2015

God of anger or god of love...a god for gag cartoons?

I wrote this in 2012. After last week’s attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices and murder of four cartoonists by two terrorists, it seems to still be pertinent. I added some more cartoons to what I have shown in the earlier post. The New Yorker seems to have a lot of fun with God, heaven, hell, and religion in general, just as Charlie Hebdo does. So far no machine-gun firing fundamentalist Christians have blasted The New Yorker.

Is God a hardass, angry and vengeful? Is God a nice guy, forgiving of human foibles? Does God have a sense of humor? I'm not qualified to say, but I am qualified to say that in the U.S. and other countries which have the great gift of free speech, visualizations of deity have long been available. And that includes visualizations that lampoon and disrespect God. I've got some cartoons I've culled from the New Yorker, and even a couple from the Sunday funnies. To some Christians these are probably blasphemous. But no matter how they feel about the cartoons they don't foam at the mouth, then form an angry mob looking for someone with whom to go to war. (Literally, that is. If angry letters are a form of weaponry then they are known to lob a few nukes on cartoonists and those who publish them.)

I'm speaking solely from my own position as an agnostic, but when I think about religious people I wonder how they can all profess to love the same God, and yet view him so differently.

The past few days some Muslims have been showing some outrage over some corny 14-minute YouTube video. They feel it disrespects their religion. I'm willing to bet that most of them haven't actually seen it, but are willing to go into an anger meltdown, enraged with the United States, ready to spill blood over what they've heard of it from the hardliners who manipulate the faithful.

Imagine how they'd react if these cartoons were about Allah or the prophet Mohammed.

Copyright © 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 The New Yorker:

Copyright © 2012 King Features Syndicate: