Pg. 17, #17

Going to the cinema as if it were a lover’s date or a dangerous adventure inside a Stagecoach driven by a hero whom we follow blindly through every metamorphosis.

*

How could a guy enjoy dirty movies with females present? We knew there had to be a catch. There was. This wasn’t an American movie. It was French. That’s why it cost so much. A whole dollar. More than Tempest Storm. Our doubts grew stronger when one of my companions perceptively noted, ‘It says subtitles.’ He made the observation as if he’d discovered a dubious clause in the small print of a contract. ‘That means they put all the talking in words at the bottom of the screen.’

*

A silent film without music — he could have found no better way of describing the weird world in which he now moved. He looked at passing objects and people, but they had no colour, vivacity, meaning — he was mentally deaf to them. They moved like automatons, without volition of their own. He could hear what they said, he could understand their words, he could answer them, even; but he did this automatically, without having to think of what they had said or of what he was saying in return. Therefore, when they spoke it was as though they had not spoken, as though they had moved their lips but remained silent. They had no valid existence; they were not creatures experiencing pleasure or pain. There was, in fact, no sensation, no pleasure or pain at all in this world; there was only himself — his dreary, numbed, dead self.

*

What did he want with the beasts? Why, too, had he pretended they were not his when I had remarked about them at first? Then again, in his personal attendant there was a bizarre quality that impressed me profoundly. These circumstances threw a haze of mystery around the man. They laid hold of my imagination and hampered my tongue.

*

He brought back a male orangutan named Tarzan to serve as the sperm donor. He also revised his plan, deciding to seek out female volunteers. Remarkably, he got a few. One woman cheerily wrote to him that she was willing to surrender her body to science because, “I don’t see any sense in my further existence.” Once again, though, fortune did not favor Ivanov. Tarzan died of a brain hemorrhage in 1929 before the experiment could start, leaving Ivanov apeless. The next year Ivanov was swept up in one of Stalin’s political purges and shipped off to a prison camp. He was released two years later, but died soon thereafter. This, as far as we know, brought an end to his research programme.

*

Soon psychopathology replaced ethnicity as the critical demographic determinant. There were no longer Italian neighborhoods, or Cuban neighborhoods, or Irish of Greek neighborhoods. There were Anorexic neighborhoods, and Narcissistic neighborhoods, and Manic and Compulsive neighborhoods. There was no longer a Columbus Day parade or a Puerto Rico Day parade; there was an Agoraphobics Day parade. Fifth Avenue lined with police barricades, traffic diverted. But, of course, the designated route was empty, utterly desolate, because the paraders, the spectators, even the Grand Marshall himself — agoraphobics each and every one — had all stayed away, each locked within the “safety” of his or her own home.

*

One reason for psychoanalyzing Hitler was to uncover vulnerabilities that could be exploited. Stanley Lovell seized upon one of Langer’s ideas — that Hitler might have feminine tendencies — and got permission from the OSS hierarchy to see whether he could push the Führer over the gender line. “The hope was that his moustache would fall off and his voice become soprano,” Lovell wrote. Lovell used OSS’s network to try to slip female sex hormones into Hitler’s food, but nothing apparently came of it. Nor was there ever any payoff to other Lovell schemes to blind Hitler permanently with mustard gas or to use a drug to exacerbate his suspected epilepsy. They main problem in these operations — all of which were tried — was to get Hitler to take the medicine. Failure of the delivery schemes also kept Hitler alive — OSS was simultaneously trying to poison him.

*

The final seven passages from seven page seventeens in seven books, reached down from quite high on my shelving.

Bertolucci by Bertolucci, by Donald Ranvaud & Enzo Ungari (whose authorship kinda makes a liar of their title); Flicker, by Theodore Roszak; Hangover Square, by Patrick Hamilton; The Island of Dr. Moreau, by H.G. Wells; Elephants on Acid and other Bizarre Experiments, by Alex Boese;  My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist, by Mark Leyner; The Search for the “Manchurian Candidate”: The CIA and Mind Control, by John Marks.

8 Responses to “Pg. 17, #17”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    I prefer Johnny Sheffield’s “Bomba the Jungle Boy” to Tarzan. Ironically Sheffield died in a fall off the roof of his garage which he was trying to repair. Very Un-Bomba.

  2. Very!

    A fate similar to that of Rod Hull, TV puppet-wielder, who died trying to repair his TV aerial.

  3. Sheffield was 79, so there was something Bombalike about climbing about. Favorite Sheffield story: The maturing Boy was eying the new Jane, Brenda Joyce. Weissmuller slipped up beside him and said “Nice, eh?” Sheffield nodded, and Weissmuller announced to the whole crew “Boy all grown up now!”

    As for the CIA, I trust the book mentioned a supposed plan to get a bundle of curated pornography to Hitler and drive him insane. The urban legend-y account I read said it was cancelled because the guys gathering the porn were getting a bit too into their work.

  4. Weissmuller was, alas, a bit of a sex pest, as Esther Williams makes clear in her memoir. Fortunately, by the time she worked with him in water shows, she could outswim him.

    I haven’t heard the Hitler smut story: it may not be authentic enough to have made it into the book.

  5. It’s not porn, but there’s a WW II era Henry Kuttner story called “Nothing But Gingerbread Left” about an allied plan to drive the Nazis insane with what amounts to a word virus. It ends with Hitler stomping around his bunker endlessly repeating “Left! Left! Left-a-wife-and-sev-en-teen-child-ren-in-star-ving-con-di-tion-with-no-thing-but-gin-ger-bread LEFT! Left! Left-a-wife…”

  6. By astonishing coincidence, which is what the Page 17 idea is all about, I just acquired a collection, “Ahead of Time,” by Kuttner. But it does NOT contain the story you cite. Obviously the universe’s synchronicity engine still needs fine-tuning.

    But, on page 17 of the book appears the sentence “Hull’s wives and children were leaving in little, quiet groups.” That’s quite an impressive co-inky-dink.

  7. You can find it in the Science Fiction Book Club “Best of Henry Kuttner,” edited by (tho uncredited) Ray Bradbury, who also wrote the introduction (credited). Over here it’s pretty cheap and easy to come by both in HC and PB.

  8. Thanks, I think I know where there’s a copy…

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