Always happy to wag the tail of another shaggy dog story, Professor LUX recently promised us a tale starting out with footsteps on the platform of a train station and ending up full circle with the same footsteps on the same platform, but heading in the other direction. Round trip for the buffoon, you might say. Lonesome whistle, night train, clackety clack. All the way to the end of the line. Take me right back to the shack, Jack.
It started at the beginning, and what better starting point, when he set out to find something, but without the least pretense of knowing just what it was he was looking for. Well, other than looking for Giselda, but he’s always looking for Giselda. Seek and you shall find, they always said that, though until he met her he never knew what it was that he was looking for. Nevertheless, he has learned from experience that except in matters of love, nothing much matters, the act of seeking in and of itself is almost guaranteed to unearth something interesting. You’ll know once you find it, that’s the motto.
Not surprisingly, Professor LUX’s resonant footsteps led to the library. One never knows what clues may be hidden there. He mounted the stairs to the stacks, where he bumped into none other than the ghost of Manny Farber (1917 – 2008), a hard-boiled scribbler who once referred to the Professor as a sentimentalist, a deep thinker, a hooey vaudevillian, and an expedient short-cut artist. A good sign indeed. Another chance encounter left him breathless, a note left surreptitiously for him by an unknown agent, somebody who had somehow anticipated by years the Professor’s arrival. He contemplated the note, rubbing his lip and muttering small talk at the wall, wondering what it might mean that he is only an image and should say more about himself. Mysterious indeed.
Never sure when a red herring might turn out to be the real MacGuffin, he pocketed the anonymous missive and took it back to the office. He packed a pipe and sat down to interview his brain. He tried his best to parse the hidden message. Nothing turned for him, he just kept going in circles. He took out his Royal typewriter, the one with the French keyboard, given to him by Giselda a few years before (on which he immediately sat down to write “J’en suis très content”, followed by “Je cherche en même temps l’éternel et l’éphémère”) and started transcribing the anonymous note, but only approximately, -pete and repeat being the method of his madness on this occasion. The results were far from being a scholarly study and certainly don’t do justice to Wieland, but this is what he arrived at.
There was something about it, something to do with deferred gratification perhaps. But he decided to save that for later. This really wasn’t easy, in fact it was almost getting hard – which often happens where Giselda is concerned – but he decided it was better to save that for later as well. Best to try another approach, something less ridiculous, a little more sublime. Knowing the note would most likely have been written by an educated person, Professor LUX couldn’t help but wonder if the extraneous apostrophe had been slipped in as a clue, another small, almost hidden pointing gesture. He thought about it for a while, then he checked the manual – style is everything – he copied a few lines of this and that, in his usual meandering way, tracing out a few lines of approach, circling in. Circling, and not circling.
‘ is the apostrophe punctuation mark.
‘ may also refer to:
Acute accent, ´
Comment (computer programming)
Ejective consonant or modifier letter apostrophe, ʼ
Grave accent, `
Prime (symbol), ′
Minute of arc
Quotation mark, ‘ or ’
Spiritus lenis, ᾿
He decided to try reading it aloud, he does that sometimes, sitting in his office. His mouth said “The disambiguation of the apostrophe punctuation mark may also refer to an acute accent or comment in computer programming, an ejective consonant or modifier letter apostrophe with a grave accent on an ʻokina, a prime symbol, a one-foot unit, one minute of an arc, or a minute quotation mark or spiritus lenis putting the stress on linguistics,” but his eyes said “I don’t know what I’m doing.” He had no further comments, but then again, he was largely without any initial aspiration in the first place. It still seemed pretty ambiguous, so he decided to look elsewhere. He left the office, leaving everything behind in a blurry mess.
Professor LUX found himself once again at the library, this time he wound his way down to the basement, where he came across information about many individuals and families including: Joseph Avard, Hon. Charles F. Allison, Atkinson men, Thomas Anderson, Thomas Ayer, Barnes family, William Black, Senator A. E. Botsford, Amos Botsford, Judge William Botsford, Edward Bowes, Thomas Bowser, George Bulmer, Michael Burk, Jonathan Burnham, John R. Cahill, Ronald Campbell, Thomas Carter, William Carnforth, Squire Rufus Cole, Col. Joshua Chandler, Hon. William Crane, George and Richard Dobson, Charles Dixon, Estabrooks, Captain Evander Evans, Fawcett Brothers, Fisher, Harper, Thomas Herritt, Hicks, Humphrey, Lawrence, Ogden, Mark Patton, Eliphalet Reed, Rogers brothers, Charles Seaman, James Smith, Elizabeth Smith, Richard Thompson, Tolar and John Thompson, Upham family, Jonathan Ward, Captain Richard Wilson and the Wood family. Throughout the library, people heard the sound of his report.
His head reeling from too many microreels, Professor LUX decided to come up for air. Just as he did when so instructed on that day long ago when he came to the last page of the internet, Professor LUX turned off the machine and went outside, hoping to clear his head. Little did he know. He wandered down to the end of Bridge Street, where at least he solved the riddle of the street’s name, confirming his suspicion that some of his informants had been misleading him – whether deliberately and with malicious intent or out of plain old bloody-mindedness he has yet to determine – by suggesting there was no bridge there. There was indeed a bridge there, or there was once. The tide was low but he felt slightly high, and he soon learned why when on his way back into town he glanced up into a tree outside the undertaker’s and spotted a large Cheshire mushroom grinning down at him. The undertaker’s name is Mr. Jones, and so the Professor knew something was happening there, but he didn’t know what it was.
Things were getting curiouser and curiouser. He took it as a sign of the time to check in with the Q Sisters in the Curiosity Shoppe. As usual, they had another case, one which proved worthy enough of his curiosity to take his mind somewhere else. He was reminded of the time when Phil “Son of Preacher Man” Secord (an old cohort from the pre-Institute days who can frame anybody and anything and who is the backbeat of an underground scene in a dirty old town on the east coast) assured him that the feeling of losing one’s mind was only a minor peril, the natural result of taking it to so many different and interesting places, some of which they went to together, one or the other picking up the tabs along the way. In any case, the Q Sisters handed the Professor another case, this one made out of cardboard, its lid having an ingenious hold-down system of folding metal tabs protruding through slots at either end, though the tabs had disappeared long ago. In other words, another case easy enough to open, but as to its closure, well, that’s another story.
The box contained a pair of spectacles, which had clearly seen better days, and whose owner had probably seen better days, and had probably seen better in those better days. Curious as to the identity of the previously perspicacious previous owner, the Professor donned his own eponymous spectacles to examine the two small papers that were inside the box. The owner’s name appeared plain as day on the first document he unfolded, a Mrs. Arthur Thurston, who must at one time have been quite satisfied to be the holder of the certificate made out in her name, a guarantee to certify that her prescription had been filled with the genuine IMPERIAL CORECTAL KRYPTOK BIFOCALS, which moreover were the finest in material and workmanship, dated April 23, 1950 by Dr. E.M. Copp. All very well and good, thought the Professor, but he couldn’t help but wonder if the fancy guarantee for the peculiarly named spectacles was worth the paper it was printed on.
Ever resourceful, the Professor turned the paper over, thinking to himself there are two sides to every story. Indeed, this flippant thought was verified, though he was only somewhat reassured to read that what he held in his hands was an example of the finest bifocal of its type, Canadian made and recommended and distributed only by the leaders in the Optical Profession. For some reason, Marcel Duchamp came to mind as he looked at the paper with one eye, close to, for almost an hour.
The case was unfolding nicely so far, even if the glasses didn’t. He thought of Marcel Duchamp again, as he in fact often has occasion to do, hoping there were no oculist witnesses as he broke one of the temple arms, intending to try to see the world through the eyes of Mrs. Thurston. He wished he’d thought in advance of the broken arm that the glasses were as brittle as a cuttle-fish bone in a bird cage. He was glad that he hadn’t sneezed, who knows why not? These weren’t even rrose-coloured glasses. Deciding to continue with the unfolding theme, the Professor unfolded the other slip of paper that had been under the glasses. His hunch paid off, it was the original receipt from the doctor named on the certificate of guarantee, and he learned from this that the good name of this Dr. Copp also carried the letters M.D. Duchamp yet again, he was everywhere.
Professor LUX decided that he might turn up something interesting on Mrs. Thurston by following the trail of the doctor, who had after all left much more of a paper trail than Mrs. Thurston. Knowing only that his office and residence were on Bridge Street wasn’t much to go on. He decided to hit the road again, wondering if his hunch about the bridge on Bridge Street should lead him to suspect that the doctor was a cop. Sure it was a false analogy, but many doctors have been known to prescribed fake analgesics, just ask Lenny Bruce, who also knew that some cops are not above doctoring their reports. It’s a tospy turvy world, and the Professor was just about to bump into this head on.
His first clue that something was afoot was the snow on the yard of a stately white house not far from the main drag. None of the other houses had any snow on their yards. There hadn’t been any recorded snowfall yet that season, at least not of the measurable variety. Taking a closer look at the house, he noticed a bronze plaque and decided that he should investigate. Too easy, he thought, reading that the house was indeed the home and office of Dr. E.M Copp, whose career began as a general practice, and who delivered many a baby before a residency in New York city, after which he became an eye, ear, nose and throat specialist. All well and good, but something in this seemed designed to throw the Professor off the scent – there was a nose missing, and there’s nothing the Professor hates more than to lose by a nose, especially when he plays the horses. At the thought of horses he glanced back at the lawn and noticed the snow was gone. Something indeed was suspicious, the Professor has always had a nose for that sort of thing. Snow, eye, ear . . . aha, New York Eye and Ear Control, the 1964 film by Michael Snow, one of the few acquaintances of the Professor who’d actually met Marcel Duchamp. “Whaat the – ?”
Only then did Professor LUX see the sign which was hiding in plain sight on the front lawn. He’d been so absorbed following his nose that he hadn’t even noticed that he was on the front porch of The Savoy Arms, a four-star establishment whose name derives from Gilbert and Sullivan (though he would have preferred Gilbert & George), the highest rated bed and breakfast in town. He’d actually stayed in this same establishment on two previous investigations in this same town. It was even here where he stayed when he first opened the Free Man Detective Bureau before moving the office to Hogtown. Other operatives had also stopped here where they were given a few crumbs and a place to hide, namely Giselda “Minnie” Palooka and Winged Flyer’s sister Dorty (who’s now in Korea). The Professor’s topsy turvy day had brought him round full circle indeed. The Professor decided to knock on the front door and was not in the least surprised to be greeted by a familiar face, though the familiar face was surprised to see him. Nevertheless, the proprietor agreed to answer a few questions about the history of the building and its former owner.
As Young Bill (who preferred that we not reveal his one true name) explained what the professor already knew about Dr. Copp’s history and explained how the breakfast room once served as the doctor’s office, Professor LUX surreptitiously took this photo of the doctor’s monogram, sandblasted on the glass panel of the front door. While reasonably certain that Bill hadn’t noticed the Professor taking the picture, he did notice him getting his eye rather close to the large glass, so he explained that the initials stood for Edgar Maitland Copp. Then he went on to relate how when after the doctor vacated the premises a local lawyer operated it as a rooming house, the proceeds going to support the doctor’s son, who was in care in Dorchester. The Professor made a mental note of this latter indiscreet disclosure and, deciding that this circle was getting vicious enough, he bid the proprietor of the inn a fond farewell and continued on his merry way.
After a jig and a jog Professor LUX found himself in front of a handsome building whose shingle identified the business occupant as a harness shop, so he decided to shuffle inside and smell the belts. There were belts, including one custom made to fit the sixty-four inch waist of a seventeen-year-old man, but which had been returned for a larger model. Just as he was over-reaching for a pun about the circle growing ever wider, the Professor was distracted by a small steel comb, and remembering that he had after all set out to tell a shaggy dog story, he was intrigued by what might turn out to be a utilitarian object in an otherwise useless tale. As well, the comb resembled Duchamp’s comb, though if it were to bear an inscription, which it didn’t, there wouldn’t be room for more than one or two drops of haughtiness, let along any savagery whatsoever. Perhaps, he thought, this is not a bad thing, and that, combined with a certain feeling of goodwill toward the proprietor of the establishment – a former long-time employee who purchased the building back in 1995, and who had taken the time to converse pleasantly with the Professor, who was clearly not the usual sort of customer to which he was accustomed – Professor LUX decided not to leave empty-handed, so he paid for the comb and made a quick exit.
None of this seemed to be getting the Professor anywhere fast, although he would have admitted to a mild feeling of being a man about town, for by now he had been uptown, downtown, all around the town. It didn’t really amount to much, you couldn’t exactly call it a movie. Though it had elements from the classics, things just didn’t add up to much more than the sum of the parts, though some of the parts were classic. The spectacles only needed a lighter with an identifying inscription to make a good couple, a regular Mr. and Mrs. MacGuffin that would have made Alfred proud. Suspending his disbelief for just a moment was all it took for him not to strike up a match, he didn’t need to as he always had those, as Bernie “He Shoots He Scores” (a peripheral associate of the bureau, a three- or four-toungued, double-talking punster with solid connections in Montreal, Paris and New York, and who knows how to rub two words together and make a spark) once pointed out, the Professor’s performance was usually “not without match”. But just then the Professor heard somebody step out of the dictionary and say, “You got zip to do with me and my kind, buddy,” and it reminded him that in his pocket he was holding the key. He pulled it out and found that it wasn’t a key at all, but the lighter he had been looking for all along.
Still, there was something missing. Sure there had been a woman on his mind all along – and she’s more than a woman to him – but as everybody knows, to make a movie you need more than a woman, you need a woman and a gun. Before you could say deus ex machina, the senator came by showing everyone his gun, which, for no good reason other than to help overcome a seemingly insolvable difficulty in the plot, he left for safekeeping with Professor LUX. It was a classic starter pistol which promised to get things moving in a hurry. Being unaccustomed to handling sidearms, the Professor was happy enough to begin with a starter pistol. In fact his experience was limited primarily to shooting himself in the foot on one or two occasions, and that with a cap gun which did little more than create a loud sound akin to a gunshot and a puff of smoke when the trigger was pulled (although there may have been a snicker or two, particularly from Mister Bee, who was quite familiar with those sort of antics, having cut off the branch on which he was sitting and painted himself into a corner on more than one occasion).
There didn’t seem to be any good reason for Professor LUX to be walking around town with a concealed weapon, so he went back to the office to think about what to do next. He sat down at his desk and reached the gun out of his pocket and held it like a pipe, then he put it on the desk. He got out his office bottle and poured himself a drink. He took a drink and let his self-respect ride its own race. He sat there drinking and staring for almost an hour, looking out with bleak eyes. He looked a lot more like a dead man than most dead men look. His thoughts were as grey as ashes; in a little while he too would be sleeping the big sleep. He didn’t care who knew it.
By now you’re probably thinking this blog is just a riff. So was the Professor. He stared out the window. A plane flew past trailing a banner reading, “Oh my god, am I here all alone?” He smiled wistfully and said out loud, to nobody in particular, least of all to himself, “Where’s that bus?” He wished he were back in the city, instead of this old bank of sand. Three trucks rolled slowly by outside in the rain. From across the duck pond the T-Can whined in the distance. There were train wheels running through the back of his memory. He packed his bags, meticulously and methodically, as if it were a show. Then he went out quickly, as any Daniel will do when he gets into the wrong den, leaving behind a ghost or two and some other obscure works.