Ah, so many things promised today; let’s see if I get around to any of them.

It’s been a productive day, if you have a generous definition of productivity. I sat on the hill with Gnat after school while she read an entire Pokemon book; I can’t put a price on that. I did the Hewitt show, guided the dog around the perimeter of his urine- delineated world,  read more Steyn, and presided over the first dawn-to-dusk non-stop run of the water feature. The waterfall does not leak. I walked three blocks with a case of wine without dropping it, which counts for something. I went to my favorite antique store to see what was new, odd as that sounds, and picked up three soda cans, simply so I could show them to you. And you’re welcome!

Whoever collected the cans was active during the nightmare years of commercial design, the early-mid seventies. Poor soul. But I found two that eminated a shadow of a penumbra of the sixties:


Cragmont was the Safeway house brand. The one below was the product of the First National chain – which sounds like a bank that somehow, gradually, found itself selling corn and cereal, and never quite figured out how that had happened. At which point did we fire the security guard? Anyone remember? Ah, well, roll with it. Here’s the can:

Finast? It’s supposed to suggest “Finest,” I suppose, but it sounds like the product of an illiterate giant. DUH SMAL FATEST PEEPLES R THE FINAST TO EET.

Oh, right: Startling Tales! As I mentioned on Monday, this week’s graphics were taken from an issue of Startling Stories c. 1946. Here’s the cover, which is a mess:



Earle Bergey did the art. Here we see an ill-dressed lass beset by trees, and responding as any sensible person would: she shoots concentric rings into the ground, narrowly missing the only person around who could hack off the horrid grasping bark-arms. This is like an early version of Japanese tentacle-pr0n, I guess. Irish branch-pr0n, given the hue of the heroine's hair.

The art inside the book is cheaper, but still amusing: here’s a vision of New York in the fantastic far future – when women dress in their underwear, and Australian bushmen promenade about without shame!



Another vision of the future; women have 40s hairstyles and old-style bras, but they don’t wear shirts.



They do wear odd headgear, which might be picking up signals from Planet X48. (Or more likely Planet C38.) You can almost imagine the sighs from the readers, who were doubtlessly male, 20s or early 30s, and desperately interested in the future. If only I could live there now. If only I lived in an age of rockets and spacemen and ray guns and monsters. Of course, people still think this today. I thought this when I was growing up. The difference, however, is this: I had Star Trek. I’ve always had Star Trek. Someone who’s 12 today has a broad and satisfying range of sci-fi options. But what did someone in 1946 have?

This, and little else. Movies? No. TV shows? He’d have to wait three years for Captain Video. The UFO craze was was a year away, and while that must have given the pulp-eaters a buzz, it wasn’t the same as having the rest of the culture share your interest in what was out there; people were spazzing out over what might be down here, and engaging them on the subject of space travel and civilizations on other words and time-travel and all the other stuff that knocked around your head when you had a moment off from the job – well, forget it. If you got married, you knew enough to put these books away, or you’d get the business.

So this was all they had, for a while. And they still managed to form a community with inside jokes and references the rest of the world wouldn’t get. For exampl: This meant something to the readers:


It’s a line from the letters column, “The Ether Vibrates.” The author, Sergeant Saturn, jested with the letter-writers in a strange mixture of poetry and insults, liberally peppered with references to his sidekicks (Snaggletooth and Wart-Ears), and frequently refreshed himself with Xeno, which was some sort of futuristic spaceman hooch. Little details like this were anticipated by the readers; it made them feel part of it, the Club Of People Who Got the References. You can see the first page of the letters section here – gives you an idea how it went.

Every such community has to have a standout character, a member of the audience who gets elevated above the others, much like talk radio has regular callers. One letter runs down the ish, judging the various sections, and makes this plaintive cry about the content of the recent letters section:


Well, Ye Sarge obliges with the next letter:


It’s a long jokey letter from Joe Kennedy – not the bootlegger scion, but a fellow from New Jersey who apparently popped up frequently in the letters section.

Let’s pause. This was 61 years ago. This was the letters section of a sci-fi pulp mag. What are the chances we can find traces of Joe today?

Well, I think you know the answer to that one. Here’s his website.

Seems he was just 17 when he wrote those letters. He went on to make a name for himself as an early fanzine publisher, then turned to poetry. Said the New York Times Book Review:

"X. J. Kennedy belongs to that class of uncompromising formalists that includes Richard Wilbur, Anthony Hecht, Donald Justice and W. D. Snodgrass ... Widely regarded, and occasionally disregarded, as a practitioner of light verse ... he serves his light with a healthy dose of darkness; his best work is a tug of war between levity and gravity."

You can find one of his poems here. Part one and two of his long meditation on sci-fi fandom in the 40s is here, and here.

It’s a wonderful thing, this internet, and I imagine it makes Joe happy: we didn’t get the silvery spaceships or ray guns or mostly-naked redheads in peril from escapees from the Wizard of Oz apple-forest set, but we got this, and it’s pretty cool. Snaggletooth, uncork a new barrel! We need to toast Joe. Stand by for Xeno!

(In case you’re wondering how I know it’s the same fellow – the letter is signed “John Kennedy, Dover NJ,” which coincides with the bio of the poet; there’s some other evidence as well I’ve left out. I emailed Mr. Kennedy – if I’m right or wrong, we’ll know next week, perhaps. )


Bad news: the other promised things will have to wait, as usual. I'm in too good a mood to get exercized at the moment. Good news: the Diner is weekly again, if you haven't noticed. This one takes place in 1957, as we continue to jump back in time every 33 minutes. I did not plan the last five minutes; as usual I talked myself into a corner, and then, while paging through the iTunes 50s playlist, I got an idea, and that saved my bacon. The MP3 link is here; the slim, compact version with embedded art is here, and I provide the link in the hopes you'll subscribe to the iTunes feed, which helps my stats. Somehow. Here's the non-portable Veoh version:

Enjoy, if you wish, and thanks for the visit. Have a grand weekend, and I hope I earned your patronage. (New Quirk, of course. Like I have to remind you!) (Everyone visit the page! Lots of hits help in these tension-filled downsizing times, you know.) (Not that you should feel guilty if I'm canned. No, I'll handle that part.)

-- Lileks