Author Archives: Nathaniel Cerf

About Nathaniel Cerf

Nathaniel Cerf is the owner of ThePenMarket.com. He has been a fountain pen junkie since the age of 9, but his addiction got out of control around 2004, when he began to learn the art of fountain pen repair.

In addition to his pen activities, Nathaniel is a professional writer with a master’s degree in journalism from The University of Montana. A former Gannett newspaper editor, he has also been published in magazines as diverse as Montana Journalism Review, Nostalgia Digest, American Fencing (that’s swords not barb wire or picket) and True Confessions. His photography has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Argus Leader and American Fencing.

The blogosphere knows Mr. Cerf from “The Hat Chronicals” at www.hats-plus.com, where he created and currently maintains a blog committed to fedoras, pork pies and the history of headwear. He also originated a movie review blog for DVDPlanet.com.

Nathaniel is currently shopping an expose novel he has written about the children’s mental health industry. (Yep, he has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, too.)

If that isn’t enough to keep him busy, he coaches and competes in fencing. He maintains a national rating in foil, but he also dabbles in epee. (That’s the weird sword crossword puzzles always use.) He also continues perfecting the formula for peanut butter and mustard sandwiches and Flaming Hot Orgasmic Tacos from Hell.

A Very Parker Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving from the Gold Star Memorial Bridge in Groton, Conn.

Thanksgiving hasn’t been this chaotic and stressful for everyone in America since at least World War II…possibly since the 1919 Spanish Influenza pandemic. There’s the Covid-19 pandemic, political turmoil, recession, open-rampant-growing racism, civil unrest and climate disaster for many recovering from wildfires and hurricanes.

It feels more important than ever to take a day to recognize all of the things we are grateful for in our lives. Me, I’m thankful for my fiancé, her mother and I all being healthy and well together in our new home. I’m thankful my parents, sister and her family are healthy and safe. And I’m thankful for all of my friends, whether we know each other from before ThePenMarket.com or because of it.

So many customers became friends who beautifully color my life. In Chicago, I have a Civil-War studying, vintage-camera-loving buddy with fantastic wit and a social-working, philosophizing friend who convinced me to not give up on my novel. There’s the salsa-dancing police detective who specializes in tracking down child abusers in Arizona. A Heinlein-loving pen collector in Virginia. A virologist who is working on the Covid-19 vaccine. A certain retired urologist in Connecticut. A retired sailor in Virginia Beach. A school teacher in Germany. A Waterman-loving Oklahoman. The nursing home nurse in Texas. Several great paramedics in Washington and Colorado. I have a 3-fingered brother from another mother down in Texas, as well as a wonderful roommate and travel buddy who loves cars as much as pens. I’d have never guessed I’d have as many additional new and wonderful friends from the Deep South as I do. I am a Yankee city boy, after all. And, of course, there are many, many other pen friends whom I delight in getting to know through the site. 

The newest friend I think you’ll enjoy meeting is Camy Matthay. Camy reached out to me after reading my series of stories about the pens that ended World War II. Most of those pens were Parker pens, and she is reconnecting with her late father by doing the deepest dive into Parker pens I’ve seen in years.

Frank Matthay in his passport issued 1959. Matthay was the leader of Parker exports from 1928 through 1966.

Who was her father? No. Not George or Kenneth Parker. Her father was the unassuming sounding Frank Matthay…the man responsible for making Parker a global brand!

Her story is equally captivating as her father’s. Camy came along late in Frank’s life. And, unfortunately, he died of early-onset Alzheimer’s in the mid-1970s when she was a teen. His memories were robbed of him by the disease, just as she was coming of age and really interested in getting to know her father as a person more than just Dad. Life moves quickly in one’s teens and twenties, and a little later in adulthood Camy decided to reconnect with her late father when she uncovered a treasure trove of boxes filled with his papers, passports, photos and other personal effects.

Frank, as it turns out, lived the adventure of a lifetime. Not only did he live well at a time when most of the world lived in crushing poverty, he saw the world before it lost much of its mystery. He met presidents and Nazis—generals and actual Amazonian headhunters. He helped give birth to the Parker Vacumatic, 51, 61 and 75!

Thankfully, Camy has shared her discoveries with me and is happy to share them with you, too. The following is my summary of her father’s biography with her full approval.

Frank Matthay (far left) with George Parker (white haired guy, founder of Parker Pens) circa 1929.

Frank Matthay was born May 10, 1904, in Beyenberg, Germany. Too young to fight in World War I, he was a talented student in what now would be considered a college-prep high school. Here he specialized in studying the classics, including the languages Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French and his native German. Along the line, he also picked up English.

At the tender age of 19, he immigrated to the United States in 1923. He was sponsored by his uncle. Germany, at the time, was struggling desperately with the national economic collapse of post-WWI reparations and more. He moved to Chicago, where he was supposed to work in his uncle’s grocery store. However, it seems he never worked for his uncle, taking a job initially as a soda jerk and taking night classes at a YMCA. 

It is unclear when and where he mastered English, as well as Spanish, Portuguese and some Mandarin Chinese. Yet, his early training in the German school system likely made it very easy for him to learn any other language put in front of him.

Also unclear is how he joined the Parker Pen Company in January 1928, at the age of 23. His mastery of languages was what got him a job in the export department, and he was soon working closely with George and Kenneth Parker.

By all accounts, Frank was the life of any party with a natural gift of gab and always armed with a joke and amusing stories. He was tall and lean with a broad, easy smile and a glimmer of mirth in his eyes, plus he had a meticulously Teutonic attention to detail. All important traits for setting up a global distribution and sales network in Central America, South America, Europe, Asia and South Africa!

After a year with the company, Frank was sent on his first assignment to Cuba on the two-year-old airline known as PanAmerican. His career would actually parallel the rise of PanAm. He rode on every glamorous (and not-so-glamorous) float plane they had including the very early Sikorsky S-38, Consolidated Commodore and the extremely lux Sikorsky S-40 “Caribbean Clipper,” which was the first of PanAm’s famous “Clipper” airliners.

Frank took this photo of a Sikorsky 38 float plane taxiing to the dock.

On the success of his Cuba trip, in 1930 he was sent to Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, France, Mexico and Cuba, once again. During his trip to Europe on the SS Bremen, he witnessed one of the first, if not the first, aircraft launched from a ship at sea. It was a mail plane launched from a catapult to speed the delivery of the mail the ship was carrying. In 1931, he spent 6 months “on the road” building Parker’s network in Australia and Southeast Asia!

Herbert Hoover’s motorcade drives through Port au Prince, Haiti.

An avid photographer, Frank took pictures of all of his travels. He has images of President Herbert Hoover’s 2-car motorcade in Port au Prince, Haiti. He loved exploring volcanos. On one of his trips to Peru or Ecuador he met and photographed a tribe of headhunters. He even bought a shrunken head from them for $25 (about $330 in our current money). The images look as if they could have been in National Geographic.

Frank took this photo of a tribe of headhunters in Peru or Ecuador. He bought a shrunken head from them for $25.

If you remember my stories about Kenneth Parker befriending Gen. Dwight Eisenhower in the Philippines, Frank was with them!

Fans of the Parker 51 will love knowing that Frank was the architect of the 1939 and ’40 release of the preliminary Parker 51s in South America and the Caribbean! His itinerary in 1939 was packed with extended trips south of the border. His itinerary on PanAmerican Airlines alone cost nearly $27,000 in today’s money. That doesn’t count his hotels, meals, etc. Yet, it also laid the ground work for the sale of tens of millions of Parker 51s both abroad and at home.

Here is Frank’s copy of the PanAm route map from 1931. Odds are really good that he flew every leg of that route.

Financially speaking, Frank was very well paid for his efforts. At the end of the Great Depression in 1939, he was making $5,000 a year. That is just shy of $100,000 a year in today’s money. And that doesn’t count for his luxury travel and adventures paid for by the company. According to records from Janesville that Camy found, he was making more than local doctors. Parker’s famous nib grinders of 1939 made $2,400 a year. A typist at Parker would make $1,000 a year. (Other cool details she uncovered.)

Frank’s passports are works of art, colorfully illustrated with visas to scores of nations. More impressive than the stamps of many colors are the notes from customs officials. Chilling are the notes by Nazis and Italian fascists telling him where he can and cannot go. It also seemed to him at times that the Nazis had him under surveillance. As a former German citizen who became a naturalized American, he was suspicious to them.

As it turns out, they had good reasons to suspect him. He was very anti-fascism. After the outbreak of World War II, he worked with friends and family in Belgium to funnel money to the resistance fighting Nazi-occupation.

His post-war years were just as busy, as he rebuilt Parker’s global networks from the rubble of Europe’s and much of Asia’s destruction.

Check out the stamps from China to Nazi Germany on this heavily inked page from his 1937 passport.

Unfortunately, a life of travel and corporate empire building was rough at home. His first marriage, in which he had 3 children, ended in divorce. Later in life he remarried and had three more children, including Camy. Yet, that was difficult, too. He traveled around the world so much, a very, very young Camy thought he was one of America’s first astronauts for a little while.

In 1960, Parker opened a sales office in Paris, and Frank and his family were moved there to run the office until 1962.

By the mid-1960s, Frank’s memory started to fail. Very little was known about neurological diseases such as Alzheimers back then, and doctors actually thought his medical problems stemmed from diseases he might have picked up on his travels or from eating exotic native foods, such as, apparently, a still beating snake heart in Vietnam.

Frank retired as a vice president at Parker in 1966, after 38 years of dedicated service. He continued his hobby of collecting stamps and learning Russian and Sandskrit until his Alzheimers made it impossible. He passed away in 1974.

Frank is on the far right posing with the famed Parker 51 airplane. Among his many other hobbies, Frank was a licensed pilot, though I do not know if he flew the “51.”

Honestly, there are so many more adventures in Frank’s life, but I just couldn’t fit them all into this post without simply writing a book. I am so thankful for Camy’s reaching out to me and sharing her stories and research. I hope you enjoy learning a little more about Parker’s international growth and its star salesman and leader.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and holiday season. No matter how bad this pandemic gets, remember we are going to get through it. A vaccine is on its way. And one day, this pandemic will be nothing more than a bad memory. Thank you for visiting and supporting ThePenMarket.com. We can’t do it without you, and we are so grateful for you. Stay strong and keep writing.

Lamy Crystal Inks Undergo Light-Fast Testing

With four moves in 2 years and a ton of other life changes, we were slow to test the new Lamy Crystal fountain pen inks to see how they would handle ultraviolet light and aging on paper. Luckily, we were able to start our three-month test this July. We actually let the test run about 3 and a half months.

To run our test, we used two sheets of Rhodia paper. Each of the 10 inks was first written on to the margin with a wet-writing glass dip nib. Then a swatch was drawn with a Q-tip with the intention of having a thick patch of ink and a thinned out portion so we could see the effects of UV light. One of the sheets was saved in a cool, dark, dry place. The other sheet  was posted in the sunniest window of our office. The inks tested were called: Obsidian, Azurite, Ruby, Topaz, Amazonite, Beryl, Benitoite, Agate, Peridot and Rhodonite.

For nearly 3 and a half months, we tested the left sheet of paper with 10 Lamy Crystal inks in the direct sunlight to see how much they would or wouldn’t fade.

Here are the results. If you click the photo, you will see a larger version of the photo. It is surprising how much some of the inks change and others do not change.

To the relief of many, the Lamy Crystal Obsidian black ink holds fast. It only fades a little, unlike a suprising number of black inks. Yet, the purplish blue “Azurite” fades heavily to a reddish color that looks like if you dipped your finger in merlot and wiped it on a piece of paper.

Ruby and Topaz both held their red and sepia-brown colors very well during their time in the sun.

Peridot landed right in the middle. If the green was laid down thickly, it held. If it was thin, it faded.

Benitoite might also have a middle grade for its time in the sun. It was the only color that got darker! Benitoite is a blue-black. It lost most of its blue in the transition, but its black got stronger.

Amazonite is an odd color change. To me, it is one of the two most beautiful colors when laid down fresh. It is a very vibrant green-blue. And when set thickly on the page, it remains dark after time in the sun. Yet, the odd part is that the green gets lost in the sun and a faded blue remains. Normally, blue is the color we’ve seen disappear.

Beryl is my other favorite color when fresh. It is a lovely purply pink. Yet, after 3 months of sunlight, it completely changed to a very faded red. Even the thick/dark parts of the ink faded to a red, which itself is a faded color though remained darker.

The two colors that faded the most were Agate and Rhodonite. Rhodonite starts a beautiful reddish-pink and faded to a barely visible pink. The Agate was a light grey that actually turned light brown also fading to nearly invisible.

Hopefully, this information helps you with your ink obsession. Happy writing!

Decameron 2020: The Hit Business

The Hit Business
By Art Cerf

Here’s a tufted titmouse on my roof. It has nothing to do with this story, but I love these little songbirds.

Elliot Myers was a second-rate song writer and a third-rate musician.

On the dark side of 30, he lived in his mother’s basement and had no job other than the occasional gig with his band, the Misfits, (No, not those Misfits…he only wished…and was about 40 years too late.) playing at high school dances and old people’s homes. Seldom were they ever offered a return gig.

Elliot wrote voraciously…songs like “Cat, Man Do!,” “The Red Light that Stopped My Heart,” and his favorite, “I Married a Giant Squid” which started, “I’m as happy as can be when she wraps her arms around me.”

Not surprisingly, no record labels were interested. No one bought his home-recorded music over the internet. And the only thing streaming was his tears.

One night in despair, he penned “Dancin’ with the Covid Blues.”  He posted it online for free. It was truly terrible and tasteless…and people started to listen to it. Lots of people. So many people that a  record company offered to buy it and give him a percentage of the profits. That’s when it really took off.

Soon it was on the Billboard 100. Then in the Top Ten…and finally, number one for 12 weeks!

Elliot was on fire. His other creations were recorded, and while they weren’t quite as awful at the Covid hit, they fattened his bank account even more.

Soon he became a TV celebrity, dated women way out of his league and even got a cover on “The Rolling Stone.”

(Now I know how you readers are looking ahead, predicting he’ll get Covid and die. You are wrong. Instead he was crossing the street with his headphones on, listening to his favorite tunes and while not paying attention, was hit by a bus!)

Decameron 2020: Where did Janey Go?

There are so many beautiful scenes to photograph in Connecticut in the fall…especially a stone wall leading to oblivion.

“Wheee!,” cheered Jane, clapping her hands for encouragement. “Look at that little girl run.”

Vick looked up from the papers he was grading and smiled at his mother-in-law. “She’s adorable.”

There was nobody else in the living room.

Since before they moved into this fully restored, 3-story Queen Anne home in New Haven, Jane had been seeing people who just weren’t there.

Jane had early onset Alzheimer’s and was nearing the end of the line. This little girl she had been seeing since they moved into the house likely was a series of happy memories about Vick’s wife when she was a little girl.

Jane was happy and comfortable, and that was all that mattered to Vick.

Getting this tenured professorship at an Ivy League school was a dream come true for Vick. His wife Sue was an architect who was in high demand, and she could usually work from home, traveling when she needed to. She was 100% supportive of this move, and they both agreed their newly renovated home was the best home in which either had ever lived.

They took great care with the interior design. Each room was unique, creating its own ambiance. The living room was tastefully elegant in a rich 1890s Victorian motif to restore the home to some of its original state. Dark woods, red cushions and wall coverings. House plants helped fill the room with life. Ferns and vines threatened to overtake the windows and furniture. The walls had paintings or bookshelves tastefully arranged. It was Vick’s favorite room.

Sue came in and asked, “You didn’t happen to take a bath and forget to empty the tub, did you? There are watery footprints all over the floor.”

Vick gave a subtle head shake no, and they both looked to Jane, who was bare-footed, and playing patty cake by herself and giggling.

Sue sighed, “I’ll go drain the tub and clean up the floor.”

“That’s alright. I can do it,” Vick offered.

“No, you’re busy. I got it.”

Keeping tabs on Jane was easily a 2-person job. Jane always meant well, but she had virtually no short-term memory. Frequently, she’d wander off and do household chores or yard work. It sounded great on the surface…until they discovered she never used dish soap and stacked wet, dirty dishes in the cabinets, without any regard for the contents of the cabinets and drawers in which she placed them. The pantry was forever being reorganized.

It was easier when their kids were home, but their two girls were off at college. For now, Vick and Sue tag-teamed watching Jane or cleaning up after her. The hardest part was that Jane preferred to be busy. You couldn’t just plunk her in front of a T.V. Jane preferred mowing, raking or pruning to watching T.V. Yet, to set her loose on her own would be trouble. When they gave her a trowel to weed the garden and left her alone, she forgot to weed and dug a 4-foot deep hole instead.

Neither Vick nor Sue blamed Jane. It was the disease.

During the week, a caretaker came to look after Jane. On the weekends, it was just Vick and Sue. They didn’t mind. They had set some boundaries for defining the moment they would need to find a nursing home, but they enjoyed Jane’s company and knew how much she’d hate a nursing home in her present state of mind.

They were content to give Jane as many good years, months or days as they could in their happy home.

•••

Imagine being buried in red and orange leaves.

The advantage to having kids off at college was sleeping in on Sundays and rediscovering each other.

Sue and Vick were as flirty as teenagers while making pancakes and bacon in the kitchen. Vick was nibbling Sue’s ear when Jane rushed in, out of breath and wearing nothing but a bathrobe.

“Have you seen that little girl?” she asked. “I tried to chase her, but she’s faster than me.”

“No,” Sue said, putting down the mixing bowl full of batter that she was stirring. “You want some breakfast? I’ve got some strawberries and whip cream for your pancakes. I know you like that.”

Jane looked confused. “Not right now. I really need to find that little girl.”

Jane left the kitchen on her quest, and Sue sighed and shrugged. “I guess playtime is over, now that she’s up.”

Vick gave her a kiss. “To be continued.”

She gave him her naughtiest smile, then Jane came running back into the kitchen.

Jane was pale and trembling. Panic was in her eyes.

“There’s a man in the house,” she said.

“What?” Vick asked. “Where?”

“I don’t like him,” Jane’s voice was a tremor. “Make him go away.”

“It’s okay,” Sue soothed, as she embraced her mother.

“What did he look like? Where is he?” Vick questioned, grabbing a long, sharp kitchen knife.

Vick was a pudgy college professor, not a knife fighter, but he figured something was better than nothing.

Jane was at a loss for words  and just pointed out the kitchen entrance she came in.

“Be careful,” Sue cautioned.

Searching the first floor, Vick saw no trace of anybody. No broken windows. No disturbed furniture. No stolen items.

He was surprised to find the front door unlocked. Opening the front door, a package was waiting for his wife on the porch.

Snorting a small laugh, he put together the pieces of the puzzle.

He took the package back to Sue and asked Jane, “Did you see the delivery man? Is that who scared you?”

“What man?” Jane asked, confused.

Sue exhaled in relief.

“I’ll check the rest of the house,” Vick said. “But, I think we found our culprit.”

“Thanks,” Sue agreed, as she took the package.

Nothing was amiss as Vick explored from low to high. The only thing out of place was that the 2nd floor bath tub was full, again. Muttering to himself, Vick drained the tub and sopped up the mess on the floor with a towel.

•••

Not sure there is anything more beautiful than maple leaves at peak color.

Raking the last of the front yard leaves into a huge three-foot pile, Sue and Jane were dressed in gloves and heavy sweaters.

It was a crisp, late-October day.

“Watch that little girl play in the leaves,” Jane said, resting on her rake.

“I don’t know about any little girl,” Sue smiled mischievously. “I think you want to play in the leaves.”

“Noooo,” Jane protested. “I’m too old. What will the neighbors say?”

“They’ll say, ‘Look at the old lady having fun. Maybe she’ll let me play, too.’ Go on. Have fun.”

Jane jumped into the leaves with reckless abandon. Sue picked up a pile of leaves and dropped them on her. Then she fell into the leaves next to her mother.

They both laughed like they did when Sue was a little girl.

When they tired of laughing and throwing leaves at one another, they lay quietly staring at the cold, grey sky through the nearly naked branches of an old oak tree.

“I don’t think I’ve got another winter left in me, Sue.”

Sue was shocked by the sudden return of dementia-free clarity.

“Of course you do, Mom. You’re a skiier.”

“Not any more.” Jane was silent a moment before continuing. “I really want to thank you and Vick for how well you are taking care of me, but I want you to know that it is okay…whatever it is you need to do to take care of me.”

Tears welled in Sue’s eyes, as she took in the full permission of what her mother was granting her.

“I love you, Susie.”

“I love you, too, Mama,” Sue said, hugging her tightly and crying. “I miss you so much.”

They cried and hugged some more, and before either of them was ready, the dementia returned.

“Why are you crying?” Jane innocently asked, oblivious to her own cheeks wet with tears.

Sue tried hard to compose herself quickly. “Nothing. Nothing, Mama. How about some hot cocoa?”

“Only if my little friend here can have a cup, too,” she said, climbing out of the leaves and on to her feet.

“Of course,” she agreed, absently wiping her nose on her sleeve.

•••

Later  that night, just down the hall from her loving daughter and son-in-law, comfy and warm in her bed, Jane passed away peacefully.

On October 30th, a small grave-side service was held for Jane. Her granddaughters came in from their respective colleges. Nobody in New Haven knew Jane, but a couple of Sue and Vick’s colleagues came to offer their support. The girls were upset. Sue and Vick had far more complex feelings. They were sorrowful for Jane’s passing. She died too young from a disease that deprived her of her memories and personality. Yet, being her constant caretakers had taken a toll on them, too, and they felt guilty for feeling some relief.

At midnight Vick was awakened by a small hand gently patting his shoulder. He groggily thought it was one of his daughters, momentarily forgetting they were now grown women.

Through his bleary eyes he saw a 9-year-old girl patiently standing next to his bed. She had curly hair like Shirley Temple and was wearing a 1940s’ dungaree jumper.

Coming to his senses, he gasped and sat up in bed—scooting backward until his back was against the headboard.

“Who are you?”

Sensing his fear, the little girl took a step backward and asked,  “Where did Janey go? I haven’t seen her for a couple of days.”

Sue started to stir next to him.

“What?” Vick asked. “How did you get in here?”

The girl smiled like he was being silly.

“You know me,” she explained. “I’m Janey’s friend. You called me adorable once when we were playing in the drawing room.”

Sue was coming to her senses and trying to understand what a little girl was doing in their bedroom.

Vick tried to explain gently to someone whom he wasn’t sure existed, “Umm. Jane died several days ago.”

She looked at him quizzically, as if she didn’t quite understand.

Then a soft familiar voice playfully called from down the hall.

“Evvvvelynnnn. Come out, come out wherever you are.”

“Mama?” Sue whispered, confused.

“Oh! There she is,” said the little girl, perking up. Then her eyes widened and fear shown on her face. “I forgot to warn her about the man with the bloody arms in the bathtub!”

The girl faded away as she looked like she was going to run out of the room.

Seconds later Jane screamed from the middle of the hallway.

“Mama!” Sue shouted, as she and Vick ran down the hall to the bathroom. Moments later they were joined by their daughters.

They stood silently watching the lit bathroom. Nobody else was in the hall or bathroom, but the tub was full and wet footprints led to the hallway and vanished.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN

Decameron 2020: The Pickerel Witch

Here’s a Fowler’s toad lurking in the grass…or is it? Enjoy our modern fairytale.

Ilke and Streusel were walking through Germany’s dark, primeval Black Forest. They had been lost and wandering for days.

“Ilke,” her little brother called. “I’m hungry. Why did our evil step-mother send us on this horrible quest to find dingleberries in the forest?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “But even if we find this dingleberry bush, I do not think we can find our way back to our loving-but-easily-duped father and have a dingleberry pie.”

They trudged on, weak and trembling.

“Remember our friends, Hansel and Gretel?” Streusel asked.

“Of course.”

“Well, just last week I heard that they found a cabin made of candy,” he said. “Maybe it is still here somewhere close to us.”

“I hope not,” Ilke shivered. “I heard they met a witch who tried to eat them.”

“Yeah, but they pushed her into an oven and killed her. That means there should be plenty of fresh candy waiting for us.”

“I think we’d be better off avoiding witches.”

Eventually they came to a swampy clearing. They rested their weary little bottoms on a log.

“I’m so hungry,” Streusel exclaimed. “I could eat a frog.”

Here’s a real Pickerel frog?

Just like that a splotchy, warty Pickerel frog hopped up between them on the log.

With the last of his strength, Streusel caught the frog and held it gently in his hands as he contemplated eating it raw.

“Don’t hurt it,” Ilke commanded. “It never did anything to you. You have no right to take its life.”

Streusel cried with guilt for ever thinking of killing a living creature, and he cried because he was hungry. He carefully set the plump little amphibian down.

It looked at him and ribbeted, “Thanks.” Next there was a flash and poof.

The children screamed as a beautiful woman with thick, shoulder-length blonde hair appeared wearing a long, black dress, black hobnail boots and a wide-brimmed black pointy hat.

She produced a compact from her black-satin dress and powdered her nose. Then she gave a toss of her golden locks, just for effect before closing her compact.

“Hi there,” she greeted the children. “My name is Madison, but you can call me Maddie.”

The children looked at her and trembled in terror.

“Oh, you little lambs must be starving,” she said and handed each child a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crusts cut off, just they way they liked.

“Our step-mother says never to take food from strangers,” Ilke declared.

In a sweet and sardonic voice, Maddie asked, “The same step-mother who intentionally left you in the forest to die so she could have lots of sex with your dim-witted father and raise her spawn in your place?”

“Ohhhh,” the kids sighed, thought about it and devoured their sandwiches.

Feeling better, Streusel asked, “Are you going to eat us now?”

Madison laughed with impish delight.

“No, Sweetie. That was Hildegarde, who Hansel and Gretel did in so nicely. She was old skool. Very conservative and traditional,” Maddie explained. “I’m with the more progressive Witchs’ Welfare League. We love good little girls and boys and think it is unfair to prey on them when they are already such easy and undeserving targets.”

The siblings nodded appreciatively.

“So what are you going to do with us?” Ilke asked apprehensively.

“Nothing, dear child,” Madison said. “The real question is, ‘What are you going to do to help me?’”

“What do you mean?” Ilke asked.

Madison pinched Ilke’s ribs and said, “Well, it feels to me as if you haven’t had any meat in ages.”

“No, we haven’t,” Streusel told her.

“How about you guys help me chop up your step-mother and eat her for dinner, and then you can live happily ever after with your loving father.”

“Yay!” cheered the kids, as they clasped Maddie’s hands, hopped off the log and skipped all the way back home to cannibalize their most-deserving, wicked step-mother.

T
H
END

Decameron 2020: Halloween Movie Night

Autumn is our favorite time of year. Even if you can’t party or trick ‘r treat this Halloween, you can still curl up with some good horror movies.

Pandemic Halloween totally sucks! Halloween is easily one of my favorite holidays. It captures all of the romance of autumn, along with all of the primal frights of life and death. Plus, there’s candy!

Worse, yet, for me is that this is my very first Halloween in New England…the primeval home of All Hallow’s Eve with its lore filled with witches, warlocks, devils and other medieval horrors imported from Europe.

So what do we do now that most reasonable people have called off trick ‘r treating to help protect the lives of our little ghouls and gobblins?

My top choice is turning out all of the lights, lighting a bajillion candles and reading Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” (Doing this around a fire pit is a good alternative.)

Yet, my second choice is diving into great horror movies. Pop some corn, grab a couple bags of your favorite candies and dive into spooky cinema. Everybody has their favorite, of course. And I firmly believe all kids should be exposed to the joys of the early Universal monster movies, such as “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” “The Mummy” and “The Wolf-Man.” You can never go wrong with “The Shining,” but, my goal with these movie nights is to avoid the usual go-to films. It is time to delve into great movies you might not be as familiar with.

Horror movies fall into two groups for me. There are the genuinely scary horror films, and then there are the campy horror films. I grew up in a horror movie household. My mom loves campy horror, and my dad loves the movies that will keep you up all night for a week. I got to see them all. And it is funny to me how much movies changed for me as I got older. I was genuinely terrified of the campy horror films as a little kid, but now I laugh at them as an adult.

The key to really enjoying any horror movie is to suspend all disbelief and fall into its world for about 90 minutes. With that said, let’s dive in.

THE BLOB (1958): In Steve McQueen’s first movie role, a meteor crashes to earth near a small town. Teenagers discover the space rock with an old guy. The rock splits open to reveal a small gooey blob that begins eating the old man alive! Rushing him to the doctor, the blob goes on a ravenous rampage, oozing under doors, through vents and anywhere it wants. Is there no way for these good-hearted teens to “extinguish” its hunger? True story: I watched this for the first time when I was about 9 and lived in terror of the film for another 15 years or so. When it came on TV in my 20s, while I was visiting my folks, I tried to get out of watching it with them. “We think it might be a little different than you remembered it at age 9.” Okay, I watched it again, and I laughed at myself and the movie for the rest of the night.

THE  TINGLER (1959): Vincent Price plays a scientist who discovers that each of us has a little creature living on our spines called a tingler. It feeds on fear and can kill you by crushing your spine if you don’t scream to release your fear. When he successfully captures a living tingler and it gets loose…well, all hell breaks loose. This was director William Castles’ classic B-movie where he rigged seats in movie theaters with buzzers to randomly scare the audience members. I don’t think this one ever scared me, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t loved it for all of my life.

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956): Mysterious, human-sized pea pods start showing up at people’s homes. And as people try to make sense of them, the pods create a human clone of the person it was delivered to. Not sure what to make of these clones, the humans are reluctant to do anything about them, but the clones have no compunction about killing their humans and taking over their lives. A fun psychological thriller that is undoubtedly campy at times, but it can give you the creeps if you really let yourself become one with the film.

WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953): H.G. Wells’ classic sci-fi horror story comes to life in amazing Technicolor with this blockbuster. The world’s best special effects were employed for this movie when it first came out. Sure, they look a little hokey now, but I still love the terror imposed by the seemingly unstoppable aliens. The biggest laughs come not from the effects but the blatant sexism and condescending patriarchal nature of the leading men and scientists.

THE CHANGELING (1980): George C. Scott plays a man struggling with the loss of his wife and daughter in a tragic car wreck. Moving to a new town for a change of scene, he rents an old mansion that is already inhabited. To this day, I will contend that this is the most frightening ghost story ever filmed. I love it! I’ve seen it a dozen times, and it still raises the hairs on the back of my neck.

Decameron 2020: Big Bad Ed

Big Bad Ed
By Art Cerf

From here to eternity. Autumn closes in on Covid for Big Bad Ed.

Ed Brevington was a big man, a hard man, a tough and loud man.

He spent his days in backbreaking labor as a roofer. He spent his nights in bars, looking for anyone who would take him on. Few did and always to their regret.

Then came the pandemic and Ed proclaimed he wouldn’t be wearing a mask. “Hell,” he’d say, “If the President won’t wear one, why should I?”

And he would march maskless into stores, even those that said “No Mask, No Service. Few were bold enough to challenge him. He’d grab what he wanted and then throw money down on the counter and stalk out.

One day he woke with a headache…just a hangover he thought. But on the job, he started having trouble breathing. And his temperature shot up.

Reluctantly, he went to the hospital where he was immediately diagnosed with Covid and slapped into isolation. He spent four long weeks there and when they finally sent him home, he was as weak as a newborn lamb.  Doctors told him to rest up and in a few weeks, he’d likely be back to normal.

A few weeks turned into a few months. He had no appetite and lost 50 of his 240 pounds. It was an effort to get out of bed to pee and shower. Then he’d need another nap.

Finally, he returned to the doctors who ran a series of tests on him. One proclaimed, “The virus not only damaged your lungs but your heart as well. You’ll never to able to return to hard labor but there are other, less strenuous things you could do…cashier, phone sales, greeter. You still could lead a full life.”

That life would last about six hours. He went home, collapsed for a nap and when he awoke, he walked up to his bedroom, removed a pistol from his bedside table and pressed it to his temple.

Ed Bevington…damned if he would wear a mask and damned because he didn’t.

Decameron 2020: From Zoom to Eternity

From Zoom to Eternity
By Art Cerf

What type of mushroom is this? We found it growing in a Connecticut forest. It has nothing to do with the story. We just like catching your eye with pictures we like.

In olden days, Henry Prichard might have been a traveling engineer or linguist. But now, he was a much-in-demand computer wiz.

He fell in love twice while majoring in computer science at Purdue. First to a gal named Sally, whom he met in an introduction to programming course. And then with programming. Some people are born to be great singers or great doctors. Some easily take to French or another language. Henry took to Java, Python, JavaScript, C, C# and SQL.

He married Sally and had three children that he adored. But he was seldom home. Henry didn’t sell computer systems, he custom made Fortune-500 and governmental computer programs tailored to his client’s needs and was on call for people all around the world. So he’d travel from Denver to Dubai, come home for some fresh clothing, kiss the wife and hug the kids and then it was off to San Francisco and Singapore.

As you might imagine, Henry became very prosperous only his marriage was falling apart. Too many missed birthdays, anniversaries and the like. But the final straw was when he was called out of town on Christmas Eve to remedy some problem in Berlin.

Sally filed for divorce and took the kids with her to her hometown of Lebanon, Ohio.

Every night, Henry would Zoom them to catch up on their school days, their new friends and interests but he saw less and less of Sally who apparently was dating the manager of a local supermarket and who was home every night.

Then came the pandemic. No more traveling for Henry…not even to his office. But he was able to still work from his home and through Zoom, able to circle the world to fix problems remotely.

The trouble of course was calls came in 24 hours a day…each more urgent than the last. He took to sleeping on the couch to be available whenever needed. That often meant three hours sleep here, an hour there.

And there was the problem of his eating. He ordered out most nights and made one run a week, Sunday mornings, to the grocery to pick up lunch meat, snacks, desserts and Diet Coke.

From March to September, he gained 40 pounds and looked as pale as a ghost. No time or interest in exercising.

He heard from the office once a week but one week, no one answered their call. They tried again the next day and the next.

Nada. So finally, they sent someone out to see him and through the window, they saw him slumped over his computer. An ambulance was called, but it was at least two days too late.

Officially, the coroner’s report gave a heart attack as the cause of death. In truth, the pandemic had racked up another casualty.

Decameron 2020: Death and Mrs. Brock

Death & Mrs. Brock
by Art Cerf

Who knows what lurks just outside your door? Could be death…or just a Fowler’s toad.

Matilda Brock, all of 90, sat in her nursing home room, enjoying the sunbeam coming through the window, as winter reluctantly gave way to spring.”

Suddenly at the door, hooded death appeared.

“Where the hell have you been?” screamed Mrs B.  “I’ve waited for you the past ten years in this pit. I’ve seen two roommates die and other slip into senility, but would you come and rescue me? No!”

Death stepped back a moment. He had heard people scream at his arrival, cry or barter for more time. But no one…no one had ever dared to scream at him over the centuries.

He asked her why.

“All my life,” Matilda said, “I was taught to be silent and submissive…first by my braying jackass of a father and then by my bullying and pompous husband. When he died 30 years ago, I thought finally I’m free and threw myself into community service. But soon, I became everyone’s mule.

“The church could use more flowers. Please take care of it Mildred.”

Or “Who should organize this year’s benefit for the children. Mildred can do it since she has time on her hands.”

“By the time I was 80, my son, Otis, told me I could no longer live alone and since I had given him power of attorney, he sold my home and put me in this place with indifferent food, sloppy nurses aides and fat administrators. There’s only one TV. The women watch it all day for those stupid ladies talk shows, and the men take over at night for either sports or right-wing commentators. My favorite granddaughter, Bess, used to bring me books from the library…murder mysteries were my favorite as I’d plot how to dispose of various folks around me. But then my vision started to go and I could no longer read.”

Death looked at her and in the blink of an eye, transformed into a handsome, well-dressed young man. He took her by the arm and led her out into the hallway.

“Hey, where are you two going,” one aide shouted.

“Out to lunch with my grandson,” Matilda answered.

“So where do you want to go?” asked Death.

“Some place Mexican with some hot and spicy food.”

And so they went and had a delicious lunch.

From there, they were ushered to Bess’ home. Matilda arrived alone and asked to see her new, six-week-old great, great granddaughter.

Bess was delighted to see her, if not uncertain how she arrived.  She brought the baby to Matilda and told her, “We named her Maddy, after you.”

Matilda held the baby like she was gold and tears came to her eyes.  Moments later, she said she had to go, she had a cab waiting.

After hugs and kisses, Matilda entered a cab. As it drove away, Bess could have sworn the driver was wearing a black hood.

Matilda died that night, as did 13 other residents of the nursing home. Authorities blamed Covid but in truth, Matilda had died of happiness.

 

(Editor’s note)  Death wants it made clear that this was a one-time only exception.

Decameron 2020: The God-like Surgeon

The God-like Surgeon
By Art Cerf

Here’s a photo of a barn before a rainstorm. It has nothing to do with the story. We just like to show off some photography.

Montgomery Vandergriff knew he wasn’t God, but he felt he’d make an excellent understudy. Excuse me. That’s Dr. Montgomery Vandergriff, internationally-renowned surgeon with enough newspaper, magazine and medical journal articles about him to decimate a forest.

The doctor never considered himself superior, just that everyone else were underlings. When he’d arrive at the hospital, doctors, nurses, administrators and custodians all would step aside and say, “Good morning, Doctor.”  To a special few, he acknowledge them with a slight nod. The rest would received a “Hmmm.”

Imagine his surprise when he tested positive for the corona virus. And his shock when he was rushed to the ER when he had trouble breathing. Soon, he was in intensive care on a ventilator. The next days he was in and out of consciousness, seeing only doctors and nurses in hazmat suits.

One evening, about a week later, he woke up in the middle of the night and saw a man in the shadows, sitting beside him.

“Ah, you woke up,” the man said, and then carried on a one-way conversation about the news, the Cubs, the latest Hollywood marriage or divorce. Normally, Dr. Vandergriff had no time for such nonsense but there was something about the man…his voice. Only the doctor couldn’t place it as he drifted back to sleep.

“Pete,” the doctor thought, Pete the garage man. Then he remembered how years ago, Pete’s 6-year-old daughter was dying of congenital heart disease. The doctors said there was only a 20% chance she’d survive an operation but no chance at all without one.  That’s when Dr. Vandergriff was called in. It was a grueling surgery but when it was over, the little girl survived and later grew into adulthood.

Pete, whatever his last name was, was eternally grateful and always made sure the doctor’s car was parked near the exit of the parking garage, alway in two spaces so it would’t get dinged or scratched by other drivers. He also washed the car once a week and saw to its polishing.

But Pete had retired, what, five-six years ago? And his personal service at the garage left with him.

Yet, here he was, keeping the doc company, night after night.

Finally, doctors removed Dr. Vandergriff’s ventilator tube, and he rested a few more days before being sent home to recuperate.

It would be three months before he was able to return to the hospital to work but when he did, he went straight to the personnel office. He asked Mildred Foster the name of the garage super named Pete who used to work at the hospital. Mildred had to be 75 but she remembered almost everyone who ever worked there.

“You’re thinking of Pete Porcelli,” she said. “Let’s see,” she said, pulling up his records. “He retired from here in November of 2015.”

“Do you have a home address for him,” the doctor asked.

Mildred paused for a moment. “I’m sorry, Doctor, but Pete passed away two years ago.”