My name is Harold Hart Crane. I am alone in my hotel room.
It is Christmas Eve, in the Year of Our Lord 1941. I will not lose
The Herr Doktor told me to repeat things like this,
when the “peak” of the drug happens, whenever that is. Time
has turned to rubber. The clocks have melted down.
The gods have all gone home. There's only us. The typer. And me.
My name is Harold Hart Crane. I will not lose my mind.
A thousand years ago, I got that package this afternoon
from that quaint little bearded Kraut Dr. Rinkel at Boston
Psychopathic Hospital. The stuff’s an alkaloid that acts on
several chemicals already in the brain. He orders it in micro-
grammes, do you believe that, at the most exorbitant rates from
Sandoz Labs, in Chur, Switzerland.
Or did, a thousand years ago. Before the clock melted on the
wall, and the trip to the store did not end. This room is tired.
The velvet wallpaper spirals up into patterns of patterns toward
the ceiling, beanstalks I have no heart to climb. I am too fasci-
nated by where I’ve gotten to down here on Earth, this warm
radiator and the radio on just sub-audibly, a mad caterwauling
counterpoint to the juke-joint Jezebels below.
A wall of silence rings my Moroccan portable typer in this
restless one-night cheap room. Just beyond, I hear the blessed
Andrews Sisters belting out “Bein Mir Bist Du Schoen” from
the hotel bar while rhumba drums beat mad macumba, animal
jungle rhythms of Science, Commerce and the Holy Ghost
jitterbugging with my Lucky Strike Green that jitterbugs all by
herself in the flying-saucer-shaped ash tray on my desk.
I, with them, want to dance my legs down to the knees at
the sight of what I see my cigarette smoke doing, bending light
around the strange typer that is harp and altar of my fury fused.
I started writing the thing I was working on before, an essay
on the sub-genre phenomenon that Will Jenkins at Amazing
Stories calls ‘sidewise-history.’
I was thinking of a few fanciful examples of this ‘flash-in-
the-pan’: the Great War never happening, the South being
given modern fusion technology during the Civil War, a dozen
As fast as I wrote and replaced scenarios on the page, the
three framed photographs I’ve hung above the Burroughs
cybernetical typer changed again, image shuttling past image
like a Tarot hand drawn by a riverboat gambler.
The pictures are all wrong, now. I can’t slot-machine them
back to what’s supposed to be there. And it’s the typer.... Me....
That’s doing it? I grab for my Lucky and smoke half of it off at
one drag, never enough, never enough.
My typewriter. Mine. It did that. I have no tangible explana-
tion for what I’ve just seen, and barely the capacity to describe
it. The page went blank just as I started to come up on this
LSD-25, and then....
I need to slow down. My God, how did I not see that I got
into the wrong racket when I started publishing Scientifiction? I
should have stayed a poet!
But then there’d never be this moment now, the right sound of
the right keystroke twanging the strings of the cosmic harp in
such and such a way that it might ripple back, and change
the shape of Not Quite All?
What the hell is History, anyway? And who writes it? How
do we know we’re not, at this very moment, living someone
else’s parallel world?
What does it matter what we do now? I could go rob a bank,
assassinate anyone, sleep with anyone, abuse any drug, commit
any crime, and then come back here, sit down at my desk, and
write it out of existence, and it would have never....
There it is. I know I’ll remember this in the morning. Damn
it all, we should all just stop working and start doing what we
want to do. Then Society would have to change. We could do
it. We didn’t give away all our power after the Great War. Not
all of it.
Did we? I don’t know. I can’t think about much, except the
images hanging on the wall above my desk.
I will write my way through this, too. Dear Bill Burroughs
tells me the gods smile on me when I’m in my element.
But this isn’t my element, Bill. I’m somewhere else on the
Periodic Table, tonight, in my sordid rooms at the Chelsea Hotel
where I sit in front of my Aladdin Portable at the mirror and try
not to fall apart....
I once told Bill my secret dream-job, when we were walking
in Times Square and sucking on Italian sodas, stoned to the
gills on Mexican brown ditchweed through the water-pipe back
at Huncke’s squat.
Bill slapped me on the back, looking like a preacher in his
loose, floppy gray suit, and said “Kid, poetry isn’t a career as
much as it is a chronic condition. In your case, Campbell’s boys
have rooted it out to a ganglion, but usually it’s terminal....”
Poets extrapolate. So do I. The sounds in my head fade down
now to zazen silence. Outside my window, the gray, dappled
belly of pregnant sky threatens snow. There’s nothing for me
now but that blank page in the typer, healed to be broken again.
My hesitation melts away like the frost on my window as the
radiator clanks into life once more. If my watch is even right. I
have gone mad. I must have gone mad.
It happened like this:
I stopped cutting my latest serial, Chaplinesque, when I felt
my pupils get big and my mouth get electric and came all the
way up, staring stupidly at the wall behind my desk. What was
hanging there were formerly been two photographs, one en
The one that caught my eye used to be a framed photo
of Harry S. Truman grinning at the camera like a baboon.
I pasted Truman’s portrait over a picture of the mushroom
cloud he unleashed on Tokyo, and scrawled in the Missourian’s
own words below it, ‘THE ONLY THING NEW UNDER THE
SUN IS THE HISTORY WE DON’T KNOW.’
Right next to Truman was, was a picture of another young-
old fascist, Howard Hughes, behind the tiller of his Lockheed 14
after that first trans-global flight. I just final-drafted a very diffi-
cult novel called Meet Me in St. Louis, see, tying Truman and
Hughes to the assassination of President-For-Life MacArthur.
My fictional Doug MacArthur as Prexy is clearly modeled after
our current, actual Caesar.
I gave the manuscript a slap and sent her onward just three
weeks ago. It’s a fine old vaudeville comedy of errors set in
the Kremlin and the Oval Office as America and the NATO
allies plunge hell-bent, headlong and breakneck into the Sino-
Vietnamese Conflict, the bloodiest war in human history, a
hypothetical Big Three.
My God, it was meant as a joke, like ‘A Modest Proposal’,
just something to get people off their butts and thinking. I never
meant.... That is....
Black Mountain College just published Meet Me in St. Louis
as a mythopoetic curiosity. Their senior editor Bob Lowell
compared me to the homespun Scientifiction Grand Master
himself, Stephen Vincent Benét.
Bob also introduced me to Will Jenkins, who lives two floors
up from me now and lets me bounce my stories off that fertile
brain. Will’s got a fine turn of phrase himself, especially in his
newer epic works like ‘Doomsday Deferred’ or ‘To the White
Sea’, where he talks about his experiences as a bomber pilot
during the Berlin Siege in ’47.
Will is riotously heterosexual, but somehow we hit it off
anyway. The first advance for Meet Me in St. Louis came
yesterday morning. After I got back from the bank, Will and I
did some heroic drinking at Capote’s little walkup in the East
Truman was fit to be tied. We were up gossiping like a couple
of high-school girls until dawn. Truman could set me straight
on this now.
Catch is, I’m not afraid that Capote won’t see the difference
in the photos.
I’m afraid he will.
Or Edward will, that columnist from Vanity Fair, infuri-
ating Edward with the broken shift key on his typewriter, for
whom Gay is just the captivating cognomen of some nerdy girl
at Cambridge who didn’t like going to the monkey house to
Edward Estlin Cummings if you please understands me,
though, which makes him all the more infuriating. He called my
first novel, The Bridge, “a true portal to someplace I’ve never
traveled, gladly beyond any experience.”
But this morning, the wall above my desk and typer has
quietly informed me that I have lost my natural mind and trav-
eled someplace beyond. I like to have photographs of my subjects
while I’m working, always did.
Truman (Harry S., not my dear Holly G from the Village) and
Howard Hughes were the models for my villains.
Until a few minutes ago, the only art upon the wall above my
desk was, ipso facto, the late Citizen Hughes, with his smarmy
prep-school good looks, gone down in his Hercules somewhere
off the California coast; and Give ’Em Hell Harry looking old
and broken after he dropped The Bomb, the year before they
found him hanging in the Oval Office.
I framed the Truman photo. Hughes just got masking-
tape. That three feet of wall Harry and Howard occupied was
reserved for photos pertinent to whatever story I was working
on, currently a kind of altar to the unquiet dead. But behind the
glass of the cheap frame just now is...was....
General Dwight David Eisenhower, out of uniform, wearing
a black suit with a thin black tie, in a Lincoln limo with the top
down, surrounded by Secret Servicemen (and...—women?) The
picture of Ike’s motorcade in Tiananmen Square is on grainy
new color stock.
Saluting him from a ceremonial throne at the other end of
the shot is a skinny man with a mustache and an overbite, with
shining diamond-coal eyes. Chiang Kai-shek, garbed in the
robes of a Han Emperor, leading a Komodo dragon on a gold
Where Howard Hughes just was, there’s now an 81⁄2 x 11''
glossy of a blonde tomboy with rakish good looks and a bomber
jacket that’s to die for, standing on a weed-choked runway beside
a Fokker F-7. The woman looks all-in, and is supported on either
side by what are clearly G-men in identical suits, leading her to
the 1932 Packard touring car just out of frame.
“Amelia Earhart,” I mutter, able to think of nothing but my
first internationally published short story, ‘Atlantis Regained’.
In the story, Amelia was the first pilot to fly around the globe
instead of Hughes, because of....
“Because of that weird fuel tank Amelia designed, the one
she never got to use, the one she called the three-hump camel....”
Then I stop muttering to myself. The picture is no collage.
Where the masking-tape has peeled back on the upper right
corner, I pull the picture further away from the wall and behold
only the Op-Ed page of the Times for March Fourth, 19....
“...Thirty-two.” I feel very cold. “Six years before Howard
Hughes flew around the globe.”
I’m not leaving my room now. Now it’s dark, and I’m lying
down, with a cold cloth on my forehead. I don’t want to look at
those pictures again.
I have to get out of this room. I’ll leave, come back in and
everything’ll be hunky-dory and hucky-fucking-duck, just
as it was, nice vanilla bread-and-butter missionary 1941....
Slowly I turn, inch by inch, step by step, to the cracked
Motorola radio on the end-table by the window, and
turn on its warm, comforting little console-light
and the tinny squawk of WRNY News.
“...Hughes ToolCo formally disbanded today, on
the anniversary of the former President’s impeach-
ment hearings. President Albin Barkley, who himself
gained plenty from the impeachment, was strangely
temperate in his criticism of former President Hughes’
mad, short-lived term in office. ‘Howard Hughes de-
segregated the military,’ Barkley eulogized at a press
conference on the West Lawn of the White House this
Saturday past. ‘He put our Liberty satellite into space
at the private level way ahead of the Rooshians, and
helped us put Al Boyd and Bud Anderson on the Moon
seven years later. I knew Howard for many years, and I
can tell you...his heart was in the right place. America
has lost one of her true visionaries....’
“Protest marchers in Washington, D.C. said differ-
ently, however. At four o’clock this afternoon, Your
Reporter caught up with Carolyn Cassady, ringleader
I reach up and shut off the radio. Barkley was a fool with
no vision who did what he was told and very little else. Never
President! Never! I never voted for him, I voted for Adlai Ste-
venson, who won, and— But they just said—
Someone’s putting me on. We have yet to reach the Moon.
Howard Hughes, too, has never been President of any United
States where I lived, worked, grew up.... Neither, for that matter,
I mean, come on! Eisenhower was blown to bits at Normandy
just like every other Kraut or Yank who was at Ground Zero
when the Niebelung Device detonated! I’ve tried to write my
way out of all my nervous breakdowns, with some success,
but.... Who the hell is Carolyn Cassady? I—
I look out the window, then, the dark, cold hotel window with
its slight gray tint, its old pine sill marked with the ashes and
energies of every lonely Beat mendicant who ever sat in it and
watched the Manhattan neon and the cars on a cold night or
morning. I wipe off the condensation, peering out like a child.
Then I forget how to blink.
Snow tumbles down out there through the grey-blue light,
like stars seen traveling close to the speed of c, scribbling frosty
sagas on my eyes, the gleaming cantos of unvanquished Space.
It’s been a long time since I heard such stillness dumping down
in sheets as it is now, a million stars, a million dreams, a storm
of ticker-tape just for me, an endless sky you could sled in, one
that tastes as fresh and immediate as a nosebleed.
The sound makes me look down. The car bumbles around the
turn, its tyres higher and thinner than I’d consider trustworthy.
It’s metallic blue from stem to stern, and looks like a teardrop
or a diving-bell with elaborate finned fenders, low-slung and
gleaming with purpose, humming like bees in a lion’s skull.
MILBURN-STUDEBAKER Bateau, it reads across its hood
in raked-back silver letters.
There is no exhaust pipe. Only that hum, hum, hummm-
mmmm.... The old lady steering the contraption is having the
time of her life doing spins in the snow. (That ‘Milburn’s’ elec-
tric motor is apparently strong enough to climb a damn tree.)
She sees me, and raises a silver hip-flask. I wave back, hoping
for her sake that the cops don’t come.
Her round of “dough-nuts” (as we called such manoeuvres
when I was an under-grad) is done now. She turns away, driving
out of sight.
Merry dough-nuts to all, and to all a good drunk. Her license
plate reads NYC. I wonder if that is a new boro of Nieuw
Amsterdam, perhaps somewhere close to this one. Either way,
the plate is too large, and done up in the wrong colors.
Where did I put that Scotch? By the phone across the room,
right where I left it. Nothing’s changed, not even the....
Numbers on the dial. The words dry up in my mind. The
phone-shaped thing has more buttons than the squeezebox end
of an accordion.
All this was my fault. Somehow. I wrote this into being. Me,
me, Hart Crane, the most frustrated writer in New York since
Joe Gould! Hard to imagine me as....
I go back to the window, watch the snow listen down inside,
to the secret self who finds the words in a simple declarative,
Then I go sit in front of the typer again, awash in the melted
Italian soda of neon from the street outside, cold and sweet and
rare. Flakes of snowy silver sentence scroll down past my still-
open window with the crocus luster of stars.
Rage, blow, thou sermons’ flashing roar, scattered chapters
of living glyph! TAP. TAP. RATTATATATTATATATTATA—
But I write ‘sidewise-history’! If I do this right, I WILL PUT
MYSELF OUT OF WORK!!!
Yet all my fine collapses weren’t ever lies. My frosted eyes
raise altars, and silent answers stutter back across the stars. This
game enforces breakdowns, but I have seen the moon in lonely
alleys. I can still love the world, and sidestep the worst of it with
a fatal smirk.
Who can end up blaming me if my heart lives on, completes
the dark confessions spelled out in my every cell, and closes
round the jewel of this instant with its floating lotus flower?
This fabulous shadow could not be quenched by any sea.
My name is Harold Hart Crane. I am alone in my hotel room.
It is Christmas Eve, in the Year of Our Lord 1941. I will not lose
FOR PAUL DI FILIPPO.
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the short story
the short story
by Konstantine Paradias
on the FREEZINE of
Fantasy and Science