The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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Ionel Talpazan

October 5th, 2015 · 1 Comment


I was saddened to hear of the death of Ionel Talpazan, who died on September 21 of a stroke, complicated by diabetes. When he was a boy in Romania, Talpazan had an encounter with a blue light, which left him with a lifelong fascination with UFOs. He painted and sculpted them obsessively, often intending them as working diagrams for NASA. He sold his paintings on the street, which was a hard way to make a living. Eventually, his work found its way into major museums and galleries, but he still often took to the street, to his galleries’ dismay. He was never happy with the cut the galleries took, but had no luck selling his work at gallery prices from a card table on the street.

Anthony Matt and I once visited him in his apartment in Harlem. It was almost empty, except for his artwork and a shrine to a beloved pet dove that had recently died. He indicated his obvious poverty, and told us, “I suffer for my art.”

I last saw him at a UFO conference in lower Manhattan a couple of years ago; he was frustrated that none of the UFO buffs were buying his work.

He did have an audience for his work, though. He received obituaries from NPR and the New York Times, among others. According to the Times, not long before he died, he became an American citizen and changed his name to Adrian DaVinci. He was only 60; he had more to do.

Here are a couple of the paintings that I bought from him on the street. What a funny, sweet, driven man he was. I’m sorry I won’t get to see him again.




(Posted by Doug Skinner. Thanks to Mamie Caton for the photos.)

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Children’s Card Games (219)

September 28th, 2015 · 1 Comment


Fairchild came out with “Cities” in 1945. Each city formed a three card set, which players competed, no doubt hotly, to complete. The cities were all in the U.S., and each was worth a different number of points: New York City (12), Chicago (11), Philadelphia (10), Detroit (9), Los Angeles (8), Baltimore (7), Cleveland (6), St. Louis (5), Washington (4), Boston (3), San Francisco (2), and Pittsburgh (1). I have no idea how the ranking was established, but it must have upset those who lived in the lower ones. The box is particularly attractive (and you can click on it to enlarge it).


(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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W. O. Saunders and the Swan Publishing Co.

September 21st, 2015 · 1 Comment

I recently picked up a packet of bawdy ephemera in an antique store: flyers, pamphlets, booklets, and sheets of sexual and scatological jokes and verses, all apparently from the 1930s.

Eleven of them were published by the Swan Publishing Co., in Elizabeth City, N. C. An internet search turned up nothing about it. However, one of the pamphlets was by a certain W. O. Saunders, and credited to the newspaper The Independent. Another booklet in the lot was written by Saunders and published by The Independent.

William Oscar Saunders (1880-1940) founded and edited The Independent in Elizabeth City, N. C., in 1907. He used the paper to crusade against creationism, child labor, lynching, political corruption, and the death penalty. One his most memorable campaigns was against the evangelist Mordecai Ham (Billy Graham’s mentor). Ham’s sermons were viciously antisemitic; when he accused the President of Sears Roebuck, Julius Rosenwald, of running brothels where white women serviced black men, Saunders went after him. Saunders collected letters from businessmen and ministers defending Rosenwald and condemning Ham, and published them in a booklet called The Book of Ham. Ham was forced to leave North Carolina.

Although I found nothing online linking Saunders to the Swan Publishing Co., I suspect he was behind it. I don’t think it’s likely that there was another press in the small town of Elizabeth City, especially one reprinting material from The Independent.

Most of the Swan publications are scatological, and affirm the eternal American craving for outhouse humor.


“Uncle Sam Goes Specialist” is the largest and longest of them, a collection of outhouse jokes, verses, and cartoons inspired by the Civil Works Administration. The title, of course, is inspired by Chic Sales’s famous little book about an outhouse builder, The Specialist. It was published by The Independent in 1935, with an introduction by Saunders. Half of its 32 pages are devoted to mock ads for outhouse supplies (deodorants, laxatives, lighting, toilet paper, seats, etc.).


Benjamin Franklin’s “Advice to a Young Man in Love” praises older women; Mark Twain’s “1601” is a parody of Elizabethan literature, in which Queen Elizabeth and her court discuss farting. Both were frequently printed in private editions over the years.


Eugene Field’s “Little Willie” (appropriately water damaged) was another popular piece of privately circulated jokelore. Perhaps as a respite from the sentimental children’s poems that made him famous, Field enjoyed writing remarkably obscene verse. “Little Willie” is rather mild: a nostalgic evocation of a child’s bed-wetting. Saunders’s “The Corn Cob” is a defense of corn cobs against modern toilet paper.


“Prospectus of the Aromatic Muffled Bean Co., Ltd.” is a mock prospectus for beans that produce perfumed farts. “The Art of Making Saltpetre” contains two poems, purportedly from the Civil War, about using young women’s urine to make explosives.


“Do You Know Your Own Ass?” is an extended double entendre on the word “ass” (not too extended; it’s only two small pages). The Mayor’s wife has a beautiful ass, people enjoy patting it, etc. “One Dam Can of Paint” is a poem in French dialect, in which a man complains that his painted toilet won’t dry. It’s credited to G. K. Gilmore, about whom I know nothing.


These two are more sexual: “The Tale of a Persian Cat” is a poem about a pampered cat who runs off with a tomcat, and “Service” is a joke comparing horses mating to “what the Standard Oil Co. had been doing to the general public for the past thirty years.”


“Runt: The Tale of a Piddlin’ Pup” is credited to Dr. Cy Thompson. Its hero is a dog who can piddle more than all the others because he has diabetes.

Other publications are advertised in the back of some of these: “The Old Backhouse,” by James Whitcomb Riley (another popular outhouse poem), “The House Amongst the Lilacs,” “Alma Mater Song, University of Krapperville,” and “Heard on Main Street” (“being a collection of racy arguments on life, religion, politics, economics, sex, social and customs and whatnot as viewed by The Bank Clerk and The Soda Jerker”).

As I said, I suspect Saunders was responsible for Swan Publishing. If so, good for him.

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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Children’s Card Games (218)

September 14th, 2015 · No Comments


“Frank Buck’s Bring ‘Em Back Alive Game” was published by Fairchild in 1937. Frank Buck had a long career as an animal collector, with ancillary forays into writing and acting. He collected animals for circuses and zoos, his motto being “bring ’em back alive.” This deck has striking illustrations of animals, to be collected in groups of three. (You can click the image for a larger leopard.)


Naturally, the backs of the cards show the dashing Buck, in his requisite pith helmet.


(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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The Blaireau Affair

September 1st, 2015 · No Comments


The Blaireau Affair is now available from Black Scat Books!

Alphonse Allais’s only novel, first published in 1899, has never been out of print in France, and has inspired four movies. It’s summer in the provinces, and Blaireau, the local poacher, is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. There are futile political squabbles, a memorably obtuse constable, a couple of charming but ridiculous love stories, too much bad champagne, and innocence is rewarded in the end. It’s the most extended fiction by Allais, the seminal absurdist who inspired Jarry, Duchamp, the Pataphysical College, and Oulipo. Doug Skinner has translated and annotated this delicious tale for its first appearance in English; it’s available from Black Scat Books in a handsome edition designed by Norman Conquest.

“An Alphonse Allais universe this little tender disordered universe of an intense and unalloyed logic” — Jacques Prévert

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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Memorable Magazines (4): The Hollow Hassle

August 25th, 2015 · No Comments

The Hollow Hassle was a newsletter devoted to the idea that the earth is hollow, published by Mary J. Martin in the 1970s and ’80s. I don’t know how long it lasted, but I note that a collection has been published. There weren’t many hollow earth newsletters; it’s a fascinating glimpse of a curious subculture.

This third issue (September 1972) is four pages; it contains names and addresses of readers, thoughts on subterranean UFOs from Commander J. Strauss of the Brazilian Navy, a description of Jules Verne’s tomb, information on other newsletters (Polewatchers and Meeting Place), discussions of news stories, and reproductions of “sky gods” from a Mayan manuscript. The first page mentions that that there have been “unfavorable reports” about Ray Palmer, editor of many magazines (Fate, Mystic, Search, Other Worlds, Flying Saucers), and Richard Shaver’s collaborator on the “Shaver Mystery” in Amazing Stories. It’s not clear if Palmer was ill, or had simply been unfavorable to The Hollow Hassle. Click to read the first page.


(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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Bulletin (33)

August 17th, 2015 · 1 Comment

There will be a book launch for my translation of The Zombie of Great Peru, by Pierre-Corneille Blessebois, published by Black Scat Books. It will take place at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, Thursday, August 20, at 8 pm. The museum is at 424 Third Ave. I’ll talk about Blessebois — murderer, arsonist, pornographer, mercenary, deserter, gigolo, galley slave, and man of letters — and read some juicy parts. There will be cold drinks as well.

I’ve finished my translation of Alphonse Allais’s only novel, The Blaireau Affair, which will be published by Black Scat Books sometime in the fall. Norman Conquest writes about his cover design at his new blog, over here.

My ever popular ukulele classes will resume at the Jalopy Theater on Monday, September 21. There are two levels (known officially as I and II); each class is eight weeks and is limited to eight students.

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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Children’s Card Games (217)

July 27th, 2015 · No Comments


“L’Histoire de France Jouée par les Enfants” (The History of France Played by Children) was a “loto historique” that promised “Grands Faits — Petits Résumés” (Great Actions — Short Descriptions”). The one I have is the second part, which covers 1800 (Napoleon crossing the Alps) to 1919 (Foch, Joffre, and Pétain). It was published by Fernand Nathan, probably around 1920. As in any lotto, the players fill a board with the proper cards. There are 36 cards, each bearing a scene from French history on one side, and a brief description on the other. The one above shows the death of Napoleon. The history is, perhaps not surprisingly, selective: there’s plenty about Napoleon, but no mention of the 1871 Commune or the Dreyfus Affair.

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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The Doug Skinner Dossier

July 8th, 2015 · No Comments


The Doug Skinner Dossier is now available from Black Scat Books! This blessed compendium features articles, short stories, verses, columns, literary essays, alphabets, metrical translations, monologues, talks, cartoons, rounds, lipogrammatic smut, a puppet show, a ventriloquism routine, and a one-act play.  248 pages of pure, unadulterated Skinner. Holy cow!

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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101 Plots Used and Abused

July 1st, 2015 · 4 Comments


101 Plots Used and Abused, a 1946 writer’s manual by James N. Young, is one of my favorite books. Young, an editor at Collier’s, collected all of the tritest plots he knew, so that short story writers could avoid them. In this revised edition, there are actually 126 of them. They’re all here: the prisoner who tunnels out of his cell, only to emerge back in prison; the gullible sucker who turns out to be a swindler himself; the ransom check in invisible ink; the husband who has a fling with his wife in disguise; the woman who becomes disfigured, only to learn that her fiance has become blind; the driver who suspects a hitchhiker has stolen his watch, and takes it back, only to discover that he left it on the dresser. Although the short story market has largely evaporated, many of these plots can still be found in urban folklore. Forteans and folklorists should find it a useful resource. Unfortunately, used copies seem to be expensive; maybe somebody will reprint it. Here’s a sample page:


(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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