Wednesday, May 2, 2018
Hold the presses! Update!
I had to include this masterpiece from Rob (above). His best video yet. It’s magical. And it’s the cat’s meow!
Sheiks and Shebas, welcome back to Jazz Age Wednesdays. This episode concludes Chapter 5 of the new series, Hullaba Lulu. I seem to have a lot to say about Valentino’s train in this “diesel-punk” fantasy.
Some of you will remember that early in my novella, The Three Things Serial Story, I imagined the voice of Lucille Ball narrating those tales. I wanted Hullaba Lulu to have a much different “voice” or tone. However, no narrator sprang to mind. I imagine Lulu being genuine, slightly crass, and lovably snarky, sort of like a female version of Seth Meyers. (See Late Night with Seth Meyers.) I toyed with the idea of narrating a snippet but… I got shy. Oh, what the hell. Why not…
Happily we have more beautiful artwork from Rob Goldstein to punctuate this chapter. I’m finally writing about the “three things” Rob sent for it. The characters are now on that amazing train.
A word of warning — this episode is a little longer than usual (1,790 words or so). Here’s the rest of what started last week.
Previously with Hullaba Lulu
Last time Lulu overheard a strange conversation between her grand father and Valentino. It sounded like they’d known each other since before she was born — but Valentino was too young for that. Lulu kept the puzzling exchange to herself.
Mysterious gifts were sent to Rose, probably from that shady journalist, Tom Driberg. It prompted Valentino to say Rose wasn’t safe. Valentino offered to take the girls away. To Lulu’s astonishment, her Gramps demanded to go along.
Automat, Cheeseburger, Tilt-a-Whirl
Valentino strolled down the railroad tracks. He started playing that trumpet of his as he walked. There was something about the music… I couldn’t explain it, but the notes were more than just a tune. My skin prickled with goosebumps. I gave an involuntary shudder. My grandfather glanced down at me.
The tension between Gramps and Valentino was out of character for him. Gramps was usually easy going. He never put any restrictions on me about revealing frocks or bobbed hair. He said discipline should be saved for more important things. So, his comment surprised me.
“Lulu, are you sure that dress is what you want to wear to travel?” my grandfather asked, but he turned away to answer a remark from Rose before I could say anything.
Pearl had changed into a printed dress of soft cream and gold with a wide sash at the dropped waist. With her light blond hair, it made a classy monotone combination. Rose wore a Chanel suit that I expected was one of the gifts from Tom Driberg. I still didn’t understand what was going on with that situation, but I figured I’d find out eventually.
Anyway, when I looked down at my own clothes, I realized Gramps had a point. However, it was too late for me to change.
The last notes of the melody Valentino played on his trumpet echoed in the tunnels of the abandoned section of the subway. I heard a sound like an engine, but it didn’t sound like an ordinary train. Then came the chugging of the wheels turning. That sounded more like a train. In a moment the sleek machine stood at the old station.
The train looked like something from the cover of “Science and Invention,” all sleek and polished. When we boarded, I saw that the inside was even more fantastical than the outside. The engine’s controls were unlike anything I had ever seen, even in scientifiction* stories.
I saw my Ouija board on the console and my temper flared.
Bushwa! It was still mine, no matter what anybody said. It had been mine for as long as I could remember. I was feeling possessive and put upon. I didn’t appreciate Gramps telling me that it belonged to Valentino, any more than I liked the sheik taking over it.
Sputtering and pouting, I watched in silence as the enigmatic man hooked the wooden board to the control panel of his train.
“Stop growling, would you please, Lulu,” Valentino muttered. “If we’re to go anywhere I need to use the Ouija board.”
Okay, so I wasn’t completely silent, but it was only a little growl.
Valentino picked up my Ouija board and carried it to what at first appeared to be an Art Deco angel sculpture, but then I saw that it was part of the controls for the train. He attached the Ouija board to the statue.
Something he touched sparked and popped. Valentino jumped back with a muffled exclamation, shaking his hand as if he’d been stung. I admit it was gratifying, but I swear I didn’t smirk. Well, maybe a little. Okay, I looked like a cat with a bowl of cream, but I put a neutral expression on my face before he turned around.
When I looked at the angel statue again, for a moment I could have sworn it winked at me! I shook my head and blinked my eyes. I couldn’t be zozzled. I hadn’t had a drop of giggle water all day. I moved to the angel, inspecting it closely. Nothing moved, and it was cold to the touch, and still as a statue should be, not warm, living, and able to wink.
I hopped up onto the console of his Orthophonic Victrola and crossed my legs. I leaned my head against its horn. He made a face and cleared his throat as a hint. When I wouldn’t take the hint, he motioned for me to move my gams out of the way.
“Be careful of the pavilion,” he cautioned. “You might move the settings. You wouldn’t want us to head down the garden path, would you?”
“The pavilion? Oh, the horn? So grumpy. Do those pointy toed dog kennels hurt your feet or something?” I said just to poke him.
Valentino held a glass tube capped with metal on each end. He was already a hotsy-totsy and being so intense with the scientific stuff ― that was so sexy!
I reminded myself that I didn’t want to feel that way and focused on the strange tube. It was filled with glowing green liquid. Valentino ignored me as he bent to touch the console, where a smooth brass plate bore an engraving of music symbols. He pressed the plate and it opened to reveal the shining trumpet he played earlier.
Then he leaned over me to reach the Victrola. When he removed the record I saw another of the glowing liquid filled tubes. Valentino placed the tube he carried next to the one in the Victrola. Then he put the trumpet to his lips and played a series of notes. Harmonic sounds emanated from the tubes.
“Everything is in tune now,” he commented in a pleased tone.
He fiddled with knobs and switches, contentedly humming a tune I didn’t recognize. The man was completely absorbed in his work. I grew bored and left Valentino to his inventions.
Pearl and Rose surprised me when they seemed to be happy that my grandfather was coming with us. They made quite a fuss over him. The three of them went to the dining car. I probably should have gone with them, especially since I was feeling peckish. Instead, I went off on my own to explore the strange train. I was used to having plenty of alone time. I wasn’t sure how much I would like being confined on a train with five other people, all the way to Atlantic City.
My heels clicked on a mosaic tile floor when I entered the next car. The room was wall-to-wall chrome and glass.
“Holy Hannah! An automat!” I exclaimed, but nobody was there to share my glee.
It had everything from a hot cup of noodle juice to porterhouse steaks to jiggly gelatin in ritzy molds. My stomach rumbled and my mouth watered. I opened a little glass door and removed a plate of exotic Hawaiian pineapple upside-down cake. I’d never tasted pineapple. (Recipe and history here*.)
I felt a soft bump as the train traveled. It wasn’t even enough to make me stumble. It could have been from anything. Then one of the compartment doors of the automat opened. A newspaper fell out. I bent to pick it up. On the front page was an article by Tom Driberg about the society swells called the Bright Young Things. Interestingly, the next story was not by Driberg, but about him. There was no byline, but the writer insinuated that Tom was a spy working for the Russian government.
Bushwa! Does Rose really have a history with that guy?
She hadn’t admitted it, but I had become sure that Rose recognized him that night outside the speakeasy when Driberg was looking for someone named Margosha. Plus, I had feeling that they were more than ships that pass in the night.
A leaflet fell out of the cubby where the newspaper had been. It was an advertisement for a fortune reader on the boardwalk. There was an image of a heart pierced by three swords. The image was powerful. It made me think of betrayal.
I gazed out the window as I thought. There was nothing to see, the train was inside a tunnel. There were large metal plates in the walls in the part we had been running through the last few minutes. I could see a distorted reflection of the train in the metal.
For a second I thought I saw men hunched over a handcar that was right behind the train.
No, that would be impossible! There’s way a hand car could keep up with the train.
The reflection was blurred and wavy. I blinked hard and looked again. However, the train had quickly left that part of the tunnel. The shiny metal plates were replaced by brick walls.
Licking my fingers for the last sticky cake crumb, I was even hungrier than before. A rattling sound caused me to turn to the other side of the automat. Against that wall stood a long table. A hatch door in the wall lifted, showing a conveyor belt. It started cranking out plates holding cheeseburgers.
Warm cheddar oozed from the steaming buns. As the aroma drifted to my nose, my belly growled anew. I had eaten three of the burgers before I realized I had even finished one.
Suddenly lights began to flash. Electric loudspeakers that were installed in every car of the train began blaring part of the song Don’t Bring Lulu! Rose and Pearl had harnessed me with my nickname, Hullaba Lulu, because of that blasted song.
The sound of running feet preceded the appearance of pointy toed patent leather shoes. Valentino skidded into the automat. He looked from me to the empty plates in astonishment.
The loudspeaker shouted, “Don’t bring cash honey. You pay in cheeseburgers!”
“Lulu…” he began but seemed at a loss for words. “We needed those cheeseburgers for Atlantic City.”
“There’s plenty to eat there,” I mumbled around the last bite of burger.
“Cheeseburgers are as good as money where we’re going. It’s not the Atlantic City that you know,” he told me.
“Huh?” I replied as I swallowed.
I burped, but I had the decency to blush.
Sunlight flooded the car. The train had left the tunnel. I moved to the window expecting to see pasture land. We couldn’t be there yet.
I was wrong. In the distance ahead, I could make out bits of the boardwalk. I saw the great Ferris wheel and the tallest hills of the old Loop the Loop*.
“Hold on a minute!” I exclaimed. “Atlantic City took down the Loop the Loop in 1912. I’ve only seen it in photographs.”
I twisted around to Valentino, but he was gone. When I turned back to the window, the train was much closer to the boardwalk. I could see the bathhouse, the Love’s Nest and the Shimmy Auto.
Goosebumps rose on my arms. A disturbing sensation went through me and I shuddered, just like I did a moment before the train arrived at the station. Flashing lights drew my eyes farther into the amusement park.
In the midst of the strange lights, the tilt-a-whirl spun wildly.
So, what’s the deal with that tilt-a-whirl? And what did Valentino mean by It’s not the Atlantic City that you know? Not to mention the reflection Lulu saw in the tunnel — had there really been a handcar behind the train?
Don’t forget to visit Rob’s blog. You’ll find more fabulous images there, and insightful posts too.
Real World Notes
Science and Invention was the name during the 1920s and 1930s of a popular technology magazine founded by Hugo Gernsback and edited by him until 1929. The magazine also ran science fiction stories.
Scientifiction: In 1929 the term science fiction was used (first attested in advertisements for “Air Wonder Stories” magazine), though there is an isolated use from 1851; abbreviated form sci-fi is from 1955. Earlier in same sense scientifiction (1916) was used.
Loop the Loop: The rollercoaster opened in 1901 and operated until 1912. It was one of the earliest looping roller coasters in the United States.
Thanks for visiting. You’re the kitten’s ankles!
Now for that obligatory shameless self-promotion, here are my other 1920s books — the original “three things” stories about Paisley Idelle Peabody, aka Pip, and her friends.
This is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.
Artwork Copyright © 2018 by Rob Goldstein
Copyright © 2018 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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