The City of Lights and Medicine

Denizens of the 21st century complain of how super-specialized the practice of medicine has become. Few modern medical students aim to be generalists – even the discipline now known as Family Practice is a specialty – as most aim for many additional years of training to become expert in scientific minutiae.

It would appear, however, that our world has nothing on 19th century Paris.

The City of Lights in the epoch between Napoleon and the Franco-Prussian War was an epicenter of medical study, one reason being that French citizens were entitled to free medical care by royal decree. Students and young doctors flocked there from all over the continent, and from across the Atlantic, because of the amazing proliferation of facilities dedicated to very specific conditions and illnesses. No where else could doctors-in-training see so much pathology at the sides of renowned clinicians all in the same place.

Obstetrical complications? That would be Hôpital de la Maternité, with no fewer than a dozen births per day. Gravely sick children? The largest such hospice in the country was Hôpital des Enfants-Malades, sadly filled to capacity. Venereal diseases? There were two: for the women, Hôpital Lourcine, and for the men, Hôpital du Midi – the former being a house of tertiary-staged horrors, and the latter, while equally ghastly, mandating in the earliest years the additional ‘treatment’ of public whippings to teach patients to stay away from strumpets and keep their trousers on.

Lunatic women of childbearing years, idiots and imbeciles and morons of both genders, the terminally ill, the deaf, the blind, the dumb… all had their own specific destinations in the capital. There was a hospital for elderly married couples who wanted to die together in the same room (they could bring their own furniture and effects, the price of admission in part being bequeathment to the facility on joint passing of all personal property).

Lepers, however, were not welcomed, and instead were shipped out of the city limits should any show up at the front doors.

There was even Hôpital des Enfants-Trouvés for homeless children (distinct from an orphanage, as Enfants-Trouvés had physicians on staff to tend to the lesser ailments of the abandoned whose sicknesses didn’t quite require admission to Enfants-Malades). Some of the arrivals were orphaned when their mothers died at la Maternité (1:50), while others were voluntarily surrendered by caretakers unable to provide for their special needs. When these youngsters were deemed medically stable, they were offered for public adoption, though without surprise, many stayed at Enfants-Trouvés until they reached majority and were turned back to the streets by the hundreds.

Enfants-Trouvés had an anonymous drop-zone called le tour d’abandon (‘the desertion tower’) where sliding doors and a small bell would herald to the nurses within the arrival of a new human deposit. The citizens of Paris were encouraged to mark their children so they could potentially be reclaimed, though very few were ever later sought.

The American doctors in town, however, were most astonished by École Pratique d’Anatomie. While not a hospital per se – it was more of a pathology foundation – it allowed any physician, for the equivalent of $6, to access his own personal cadaver for dissection (no doubt many of whom were unfortunate former patients of Paris’ other healing institutions). In the early 19th century, human dissection remained illegal in the U.S., and many practitioners there had to resort to grave robbing to obtain specimens. In Paris, for a modest fee, cadavers were plentiful for the taking.

There was one small catch. The stuffy and warm dissection room often contained two dozen physicians whittling away on unpreserved corpses. The smell was said to be overpowering, and at the end of the day, leftover chunks of the deceased were tossed to packs of snarling street dogs who waited out back.

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

[From The Medical Records Dept] Kakorrhaphiophobia

[Originally published two years ago, I have reposted and added an addendum from this weekend past]

Psychological literature classifies kakorrhaphiophobia broadly as the ‘abnormal fear of failure,’ but it takes many nuanced forms. It can be seen in the pursuit of relationships, especially first dates. It sometimes rears its head in job interviews and requests for raises or promotions. It may prove the bane of academic pursuits. And in the entrepreneurial world, its presence can render one a hopeless fundraiser, a useless solicitor, or a wholly inept seller of Girl Scout cookies or encyclopedias.

In more serious cases, it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy. Those afflicted can be insecure, less-assertive, and easily manipulated due to the pathological desire to please and avoid conflict. The feared failure is, in fact, the usual outcome. Consequently, severe kakorrhaphiophobia can be crippling regarding even simple life activities.

I suffer, but in my case, it’s nothing that serious; it’s more an annoyance, stemming from my intense dislike of retail negotiating – haggling or bartering, if you will – and the desire to avoid looking foolish and being duped in the process. As a matter of fact, the only such ‘negotiating’ I enjoy is that of or eBay’s ‘Make an Offer,’ probably because they’re anonymous and done online – with no face-saving needed in such a venue.

I am the sort who detests buying new cars, making offers directly to owners at estate sales, or visiting native bazaars in Third World countries. I just want to learn the cost and then figure out if I can afford the item or not. I’ve been known to pay the damned price just ‘to make it all go away.’ No theatrics. No gamesmanship. Just the facts, ma’am.

My late father, who enjoyed what I deem tortuous, is spinning in his grave. Thus, imagine my chagrin at feeling as though I wear a sign, visible to all but me, that boldly proclaims, ‘Easy Mark.’

Case in point: my second child recently turned 18, and I promised her a father-daughter trip somewhere as a belated celebration. She was excited for a long weekend jaunt to NYC, complete with a Broadway show and all of the usual tourist activities.

Then she dropped the bomb: “I want to look for some knock-off designer stuff!”

I could see it coming.

The recent Saturday afternoon in question found the two of us near Mulberry and Canal Streets in lower Manhattan. We enjoyed a delicious sushi lunch and then spent time wandering up and down the avenues looking at the exotic wares, tourist schlock, and – more interesting for me as a psychiatrist – the humanity flocking the area. But paradoxically, there wasn’t a single brand-name rip-off to be seen anywhere.

I’ve spent time in Italy in years past, and I recall the Senegalese street merchants in both Florence and Rome with their counterfeit goods spread on the sidewalk on blankets (to make it easier to pack up and depart quickly when lookouts announced the approach of the Carabinieri). These hucksters were totally out-in-the-open until the cops arrived. One didn’t have to go looking in Italy, as they always found you. In droves.

But apparently that’s not so in this part of NYC. Everyone appeared – dare I say? – above-board.

I don’t consider myself naïve re: human nature, especially given two decades in penal and related forensic circles. But it took my college-age daughter – who had never been to Manhattan before – to opine the obvious:

“Maybe we have to ask someone for it?”

That seems reasonable in retrospect, but I was still remembering Italy and didn’t think any New York shopkeepers would say, “What’s that? You want some of my illegal stuff? Well, right this way….”

Nevertheless, my daughter boldly approached the closest merchant while I hung back. She asked him something. His eyes darted around. He answered her. I couldn’t hear their words, but he gestured for her to follow him. I quickly hurried to catch up, not wanting to lose her in the labyrinthine alleyways as she disappeared from sight.

The three of us snaked our way through the narrow streets for several blocks and then entered a second shop, at which time words were exchanged in a hushed foreign tongue. Quickly a large laminated card was produced. It was folded in half lengthwise and had pictures on it. From a few yards’ distance, it looked like a restaurant menu, while on closer examination, it displayed color photos of numerous ‘designer’ goods, all grouped by (purported) manufacturer, and all fake as a $3 bill.



Our guide into the seamy underbelly of retail then told us that the items were kept off-site, but we could choose a few and he would go and get them for our examination.

My daughter was delighted with the options, and pointed to two Louis Vuitton handbags. The slippery dude nodded and disappeared out the door. He was gone for at least ten minutes while we cooled our heels. Finally, carrying a non-descript shopping bag, he reappeared and gestured for us to approach. I went to peer inside the bag and lift out the contents, but he quickly grasped my arm and pulled me closer behind the counter – apparently he thought the bag was still visible from the door and he didn’t want passers-by to see what was being shown.

Inside were two lovely Vuitton-looking bags. They were surprisingly well-constructed. The metal grommets and small bits of hardware were heavy and nicely formed. The interior was lined with fabric and leather of the appropriate style, and all of the trademarks were in place. The bags were wrapped in Vuitton tissue. Even the paper tags that were attached to each item were written in French and looked entirely correct.

My spawn didn’t appear disturbed by potential ethical or legal issues in the least. Like a true consumer, she immediately attached to the brown one, at which time I asked the seller the price.

He quoted X. I countered with Y (in cash). He parried with X-$30. I suggested Y+$10. He shook his head gravely and offered X-$40. I caved and said okay. For me, making two counter-offers during a negotiation was about the limit of my tolerance, and besides, the bag appeared of above-average quality and my daughter really liked it. I wasn’t about to quibble (or was it merely my kakorrhaphiophobia kicking in?)

Still, poor girl, she violated the primary tenet of such transactions before the hour was up. Even I knew better than that.

Riding back to our mid-town hotel on the 6-train, we were talking about our afternoon when an Irish couple standing near us overheard the conversation. They gestured to a bag the woman was carrying – a Michael Kors, apparently one recently obtained and of dubious provenance. Broad and knowing smiles were exchanged along with some shouted pleasantries over the background din of screeching rails as we hurtled through the dark tunnels.

And then, as only Europeans and ill-bred Americans can do, they asked the question: “what did you pay for it?”

Before I could deflect, my excited companion blurted out X-$40.

The Irish couple looked surprised and quoted a price almost half of our figure. Granted, theirs was a mere Kors, but the message was unmistakable.

“You were had.”

I am now looking for kakorrhaphiophobic support groups in the area.

– – – – – –

Predictably, my youngest daughter, Anna Maria, decided that she, too, wanted to go to NYC to experience the Big Apple… and find some knock-off designer haute couture and accessories. To be fair, we headed to Manhattan this weekend past to have a three-day stint of Broadway, museums, and support of illegal trademark infringement, two years to the week since my last delve into the dark side.

She worried all the way on the plane: “what if we can’t find anything there? I mean, Suzanne seemed to know where to go, but what if there’s nothing for us to purchase?”

I assured her that, as Newcastle is to coals and Eskimos are to ice cubes, we would find that for which she was looking.

We landed at LaGuardia, took a shuttle to our hotel in Times Square, and then hailed a taxi to Canal Street to get some good Chinese food for lunch and scratch AM’s itch.

As we were disembarking from the cab, I turned to pay the driver, and an elderly Asian woman approached AM and said, “you like Chanel?”

AM turned to me with a look both incredulous and confused.

“Talk to her.”

“Do you have any Louis Vuitton?”

“Of course.”

Photographs were produced on the street corner before I had even completed tipping our cabbie. A purse was selected, and out of a doorway materialized the product, wrapped naturellement in plain brown paper.

AM was delighted. But Suzanne was annoyed when she heard of this later.

“I had to work hard to find mine. AM didn’t have to do anything.”

I guess business is slow in Chinatown these days.

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

The Mojave Phone Booth

Just as my generation never knew of the automat except in cultural history books, the current crop of young adults likely has no first-hand experience with public coin-operated telephones. Given that cellphones are ubiquitous, who now would ever need to drive around town looking for [one of the very few extant] coin-op examples on which to make a call? Were it not for Maxwell Smart reruns, Bill & Ted, retro Superman comics, and Dr Who, I doubt anyone younger than 40 would even know that payphones and their booths once existed @ drug stores, bus stations, libraries, and street corners nationwide.

As I prepare for my own relocation to a far-away desert location in coming months, two observations are unavoidable. First, truth really is stranger than fiction. And second, the American Southwest is a very odd place.

the Mojave Phone Booth

the Mojave Phone Booth

Enter the Mojave phone booth.

California instituted a network of what were called ‘policy stations’ after WWII in an attempt to bring infrastructure – in this case, telephone service – to remote parts of the state. A public phone booth was installed in 1948 not far from the Cima Cinder Mine in eastern San Bernadino County. This was done at the behest of one Emerson Ray, owner of the mine, in order to provide payphone service to the (very few) local employees in the area. The phone booth was located at the intersection of two remote dirt roads – 35° 16′ 40” North, 115° 43′ 53” West, to be exact – eight miles from the nearest pavement, and fifteen miles from the nearest numbered road.

At first, the phone inside the booth was a hand-cranked magneto, but that was replaced by a rotary coin-op in the 1960s, and then a touch-tone model in the 1970s.

The only problem? The mine closed.

The phone and booth remained.

In the late 1990s, the nascent Internet took notice of the isolated booth, located inside what had since become the Mojave National Preserve. A hiker from Los Angeles spied a ‘telephone icon’ on his map of the expanse and, in disbelief, decided to visit the site. Yes, there it was. He made note of the phone’s number, and when he got back to LA, wrote an article for an underground paper telling of his adventure and publishing the number. Before long, a reader created a website dedicated to the phone, and soon fans were calling the number. Others went to see the phone and to answer any incoming calls; a reporter from the Los Angeles Times visited and found a man camped there who had been at the site for a month and had answered over 500 incomings, including one from an individual who identified himself as “Sergeant Zeno at the Pentagon.”

The booth, in the middle of nowhere, became covered in graffiti, and detritus of the visitors from all around the world littered the site. Its days were numbered. PacBell removed it on 17 May 2000 at the request of the National Park Service, largely because of vocal environmentalists unhappy with the effects of all of the increased traffic.

PacBell is said to have destroyed the booth. A headstone-like plaque was installed on the empty site, but that was later removed by the park service as well… but not before an eponymous indy rock back, short film (Dead Line), documentary (Mojave Mirage), full-length movie (Mojave Phone Booth), and extensive coverage by National Public Radio guaranteed the phone’s pop-cultural apotheosis.

All is not lost. The phone booth’s number is no longer owned by PacBell, instead having been acquired by a small regional provider. And that number now rings into a conference call, sometimes. The idea is that strangers can once again connect just as when the phone booth was still active. But if there is no one else on the line, it’s often just static.

BTW, the number is (760) 733-9969. And if you get through, ask for Sergeant Zeno.

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

The House Of The Rising Sun


There is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God I know I’m one

I have always loved The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun, a haunting rock ballad that was released in this country in 1964, and went to the top of the Billboard chart in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Sweden, and Finland in short order. Interestingly, this version known to most Americans today – the first British Invasion #1 not connected to the Beatles, and one currently listed amongst the 500 greatest arrangements of all time by both Rolling Stone and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame – was performed in one (unpracticed) take on May 18th of that year in a London studio, and was not re-recorded a single time before release.

The Animals' Album

The Animals’ Album

Having spent time in New Orleans at Charity Hospital as a resident, and being quite familiar with the seedier side of The Big Easy, I have long believed that the song lamented a young man ruined by a life spent in the song’s namesake house of ill repute. Except now, it appears that such is not the case.

The score and lyrics have also been known as the Rising Sun Blues before The Animals’ best known release. It’s had a long and storied existence on both sides of the Atlantic. The earliest known version of the song in this country was recorded by Appalachian folk artist Tom Ashley in 1934. When asked about it, Ashley merely noted that he had learned the song from his late father, and he had no idea from where his father had learned it. The tune has been covered by Georgia Turner (1937), Woody Guthrie (1941), Josh White (1947), Lead Belly (1948), Pete Seeger (1958), Frankie Laine (1959), Andy Griffith (1959), Joan Baez (1960), Mirian Makeba (1960), Bob Dylan (1961), Nina Simone (1962), the Chamber Brothers (1967), Frijid Pink (1969), Jody Miller (1973), Dolly Parton (1981), and Five Finger Death Punch (2014), to name only some; the gender of the song’s subject varies by the artist, suggesting either a ruined man or fallen woman. And there is even a Spanish language version released by Los Speakers (1965).

Paradoxically, Dylan – who arguably attained greater lasting fame – stopped playing the song in concert after The Animals’ smash hit because he was tired of being accused of plagiarism even though he did it first!

A persistent urban legend exists that both The Doors and Led Zeppelin covered the song as well, but as of this writing, no such recordings from either group are known.

Musicologists have opined that the song’s authorship is murky at best, and that it is derived from 18th century folk ballads such as The Unfortunate Rake, about a prodigal son dying of syphilis. These musical scholars suggest that the song was only adapted to a Louisiana setting after crossing the Atlantic with early immigrants.

To further muddy the (Mississippi) waters,
• Alan Price of The Animals has said in at least one interview that he was told the song was about a now-defunct Soho brothel, but he wasn’t entirely certain; he claimed that he first heard it when touring with Chuck Berry, and decided to incorporate it into their repertoire “because it was distinctive.”
• Extant records from Orleans Parish do not document any bawdy houses of the late 18th through early 20th centuries – yes, they were usually licensed and recorded back then – by the name of Rising Sun. There was, however, a small hotel thus named on Conti Street in the French Quarter that burned down in 1822 (sidebar: archaeologists have found a large number of cosmetic containers at this site). There was a coffee house with the title next to the Quarter in the 1860 census. There was a Rising Sun on Decatur Street in the late 1860s that has been variously described as a restaurant, a café, or a saloon. And there was a dance hall with the moniker in the Carrollton district of the city in the 1890s. Whether any of these businesses offered a secondary line of services upstairs is not entirely clear.
• Maybe the reference isn’t to a brothel at all, but to a proprietor of same? There was a suspected bordello at 1614 Esplanade Avenue from 1862-74 that was owned by one Madam Marianne LeSoleil Levant, her name being French for “Rising Sun.”
• And the reference to “ball and chain” in the fifth stanza suggest that the house in question may, in fact, be a jail. The front door of the old Orleans Parish Women’s Prison is said to have had a rising sun motif on the cornice. That noted, the phrase is often used as a euphemism for the bonds of holy matrimony, leading credence once again to the (frustrated husband in the) brothel angle.

Not everyone believes that there necessarily even exists a discoverable American historical antecedent to the song, especially given its apparently murky roots in Old Country folklore. Pamela Arceneaux, a librarian working at the Williams Research Center in New Orleans, has been quoted as saying, “to paraphrase Freud, sometimes lyrics are just lyrics.”

Oh mother tell your children
Not to do what I have done
Spend your lives in sin and misery
In the House of the Rising Sun

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

What’s In A Name?

There are the names of certain American warships that even the minimally-versed will immediately recognize – Arizona, Maine, Intrepid, Missouri, Bonhomme Richard. And when you find a good name, you stick with it, right? A number of vessels have been christened with these monikers more than once since the U.S. Navy was founded in the late 18th century.

One source maintains that there are over 1400 ships’ names that our nation has used at least twice in the past two centuries; 470 used at least three times; 182 used at least four times; 83 used at least five times; and 30 used at least six times. The titles Enterprise, Hornet, Niagara, and Washington have each been used eight times. Wasp has been used nine times, and Ranger comes in at ten.

What about Chesapeake? It’s a rather all-American name. There’s a reason, though, that you won’t be seeing that nomenclature employed very often or anytime soon.

President Washington asked that the first six frigates of our embryonic navy be named patriotically but generically, in ways that wouldn’t inflame any regional rivalries. His directive resulted in USS Constitution, USS United States, USS President, USS Congress, and USS Constellation. Leave it to Sec’y of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert, though, to stir the bucket and name the sixth frigate, once Washington was out of office, USS Chesapeake (for my foreign readers, that is the name of this country’s largest estuary, located entirely within the boundaries of Virginia and Maryland, the latter being Stoddert’s home state).

Going against the wishes of the Father of the Country proved an inauspicious start; the ship was saddled with bad luck almost from its launch.

Chesapeake was a 40-gun heavy frigate. She was supposed to have 44-guns, but material shortages and budget overruns necessitated last minute changes. After some initial success – capturing in 1801 the privateer La Jeune Creole during the undeclared war with the French being the most significant – she was decommissioned and put into reserve because of a shortage of crew. Once tempers flared with the Barbary Pirates, though, she was re-commissioned and sent to the Mediterranean, arriving off Gibraltar just as her main mast split and her bowsprit was noted to be rotting. The ship remained laid-up in Malta for months while repairs were undertaken. Seeing no action against the pirates, Chesapeake returned to the U.S. in 1803 and was once more put into mothballs. The ship’s captain, Richard Morris, was then court-martialed for his relative inactivity; it seems he brought his wife along on the voyage – derisively referenced as ‘the Commodoress’ by the crew – and allegations that the ship remained at Malta far longer than necessary for repairs while the couple conceived another of their growing brood onboard were never satisfactorily explained to the subsequent board of inquiry.

In 1807, the ship was re-re-commissioned but needed lengthy repairs because of her long period of inactivity. Sailing finally from Norfolk VA in June of that year, she was almost immediately intercepted by HMS Leopard, which demanded to search onboard for Royal Navy deserters. The captain, James Barron, refused, the British let loose a devastating broadside, and Chesapeake struck her colors after only a single harmless retaliatory shot. The Royal Navy was apparently unimpressed with the vanquished, refusing to even take her as a prize, and instead carting off four suspected deserters and leaving behind three dead and eighteen wounded Americans.

Barron was court martialed for this embarrassing outcome, the second of Chesapeake’s commanding officers to suffer the indignity in less than four years.

The ignominy of the Chesapeake-Leopard affair contributed to the United States’ decision to declare war on Britain five years later. Chesapeake set sail for the Mediterranean, and during the first few months of 1813, did in fact capture six British merchantmen. But the crew became restive, wanting prize money, and mutiny was whispered. The captain paid cash out of his own pocket to keep everyone happy.

Shortly thereafter, off Boston, Chesapeake was confronted by the similarly-sized HMS Shannon. The battle-hardened crew of Shannon, however, was vastly superior to the disgruntled hodgepodge on board the American ship. Broadsides were exchanged, riggings, masts, and gun crews were decimated, and when the smoked cleared, the American captain lay mortally wounded, uttering his now-famous words, “Don’t Give Up The Ship!” That was not to be; the British this time did take the frigate as a prize, heading to Halifax in Nova Scotia and imprisoning the surviving Americans until the War of 1812 was over.

The hapless warship was repaired and became HMS Chesapeake. But before she could rejoin the fight against her country-of-origin, the war ended and the British, still unimpressed with her design and construction, decided to put the colonists’ frigate up for sale. A Portsmouth UK timber broker purchased her for £500, totally dismantling her and making a tidy profit when he resold her timbers to a Hampshire merchant, one Joshua Holmes, for £3,450. Chesapeake’s blood stained and bullet-ridden flag, kept by descendants of the British captain, was eventually sold at auction in London in 1908 and now resides at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. And several of Chesapeake’s cannons now guard Province House, that of the legislature of Nova Scotia.

The Chesapeake Mill

The Chesapeake Mill

And the timbers? They were used by Holmes to build what he called the Chesapeake Mill in Wickham, a small town southwest of London. After a long and productive industrial life, the grainery went out of business in the 1970s, and is now an antique shop. It sells overpriced tchotchkes, mostly to American tourists, those likely clueless of the history of the heavy wooden beams overhead.

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

Deadly Burgers

[Today’s post is sponsored by longtime reader and fan Carole Ann Thomas of Greenville NC]

It was just after midnight on New Years Day when the Cadillac crossed the Tennessee state line and pulled up to the all-night diner. The driver, a college kid named Charles Carr who had been pressed at that last minute into this job, asked the sole occupant of the back seat if he wanted anything to eat. That occupant, who had not been feeling well for several hours prior, is said to have declined the offer. The driver went inside, got a sack of burgers, and returned to the idling car to continue the arduous and icy all-night journey to Canton OH.

By the time the duo had passed Mount Hope and reached the outskirts of Oak Hill WV, sometime after 3:00 a.m., the driver noticed in the rearview mirror that the blanket had fallen off the seemingly resting passenger. He stopped to rearrange the cover given the bitterly cold night, only to find that his compadre’s hand was as cold as the ambient temperature. Yup, the man in the back was deader than yesterday’s fish by that point.

The car was a 1949 Cadillac Series 62 convertible. The corpse was that of 29 year old Hank Williams, Sr., Hall of Fame and Grand Old Opry star, and arguably one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, with eleven Billboard country-western #1 hits then to his credit.

Hank Williams Sr

Hank Williams Sr

Williams was a known substance abuser, and over the previous twelve hours, is documented to have been drinking and taking the sedative chloral hydrate and possibly other prescription meds to assist him in sleep. His (not helpful) doctor in Knoxville had also given him a dose of morphine on top of all else before Williams started on the drive.

An autopsy documented the cause of death as myocardial infarction complicating preexisting congestive failure and severe substance abuse. But there were unexplained bruises on the body of indeterminate age, and for a while, suspicion fell on Carr, though no charges were ever filed. The matter was laid to rest amongst all but the hardest-core conspiracists.

And the burgers?

The Burger Bar

The Burger Bar

Carr said that Williams had declined his offer to eat when they pulled up to the Burger Bar in downtown Bristol VA just after midnight. But Carr did buy a sack-full, and whether Williams later partook of the snacks driving out of town is known only to Carr. In short, no one is sure if the Bristol burgers tipped an already-sick Williams over the edge into eternity.

But that possibility hasn’t hurt business any. I recently took my daughter to college in Tennessee, and on the way back, went through Bristol where we once lived. The Burger Bar is in full swing, capitalizing on its dubious connection to Hank Williams (if not exactly advertising the fact that the burgers might have killed him).

I’m a sucker for any roadside dive with history. The burgers are just as greasy and gooey as you’d expect from a grill of this age. If in town, don’t miss them… unless you’re on chloral hydrate.

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

The Rolling Stones!

Age is a cruel taskmaster indeed.

I attended the College of William and Mary for my undergraduate education. Back then, as a Phi Beta Kappa history major with a biology minor, I studied a lot. There were no girls’ schools nearby. I didn’t do drugs or drink to excess. It was difficult to get into too much trouble in that small picturesque tourist-laden town. So opportunities to road-trip and have some ‘real fun’ were not only few and far between, but much desired.

It was December of 1981, my second year in college half-over. Grades were on-track. It was starting to feel more relaxed. I breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps it was not too late to start having some real fun.

Then the news hit. The Rolling Stones were playing the Hampton Coliseum on the final stop of their ‘Tattoo You’ tour on the 18th and 19th of that month, just after exams were finished. Unfortunately, to get to Hampton required a car… something that I didn’t have in college. One of the fellows across the hall in my dormitory did have a car, though, and the next thing I knew, he had landed six tickets to see the Stones, and I was offered one of them.

I was excited! The Rolling Stones, always the bad boys to the (initially clean cut) Beatles and Elvis, had by then outlasted the Fab Four and the late-King on the live concert circuit by twelve and four years respectively. The Stones were the premier act of the British Invasion still going strong. This was an opportunity not to be missed!

But fate had other ideas. Most college students wind up getting the sniffles around exam period, the effects of long hours, poor diet, and intermittent sleep. Some get it worse than others. I came down with a bad upper respiratory infection in the days prior to the concert. I even had to go to student health, something we all tried to avoid because of the long wait times. Needless to say, I felt awful when the day of the concert rolled around, and with great regret had to let someone else take my coveted place.

Med school and residency. Marriage. Children. Dogs, Relocations. Re-marriages. Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. They all intervened. That missed gig in Tidewater was the only opportunity for me to see the Stones conveniently from that time… until this month.

I was at work three months ago when a fellow psychiatrist texted me that she had gotten tickets to see the Stones at Carter-Finley (the 58,000-seat NCSU football stadium here in Raleigh) in early July, and did I want a pair of the tickets that she had snagged? I had a flashback to 1981, and told my thoughtful friend that my wife and I would be thrilled to go with her and her group!

There was an inauspicious start to this plan, though. I excitedly texted the missus and told her I had tickets to see the Rolling Stones! She texted back that she was happy… and would have to Google ‘Rolling Stones’ to see if she knew any of their music.

Google the Stones?!?!

[sidebar: in her defense, she only emigrated to this country in 1994, but still, the Stones are known the world over. The Iron Curtain wasn’t THAT impermeable, was it?!?]

I planned on taking the day off work so that I wouldn’t have to worry about missing the concert in the early evening commute/ traffic jam. I read all that I could about parking and routes by which to approach the stadium. I had planned on scanning eBay for some Stones’ paraphernalia to wear on the big day. I showed the missus a t-shirt I wanted to buy, one with the large red ‘lips and tongue’ logo that the Stones have been using since at least the mid-1960s. She asked me why I wanted to buy a KISS t-shirt?

[sidebar: this wasn’t looking too good; even my ‘golden oldies’-knowledgeable teenage stepdaughter rolled her eyes when her mother made such comments, and she wasn’t even BORN when I missed the Stones in Tidewater!]

Last night was the event. We left on time, got to the stadium parking without difficulty, and found a decent spot (though it was far from the exit, which, I knew, would make egress a nightmare when the concert was over). Everyone was tailgating. Grills. Cooking meats. Ice chests with libations. Though the youngsters were there in force, there was an equally large contingent of folks who, like myself, sported more than a few grey hair. I kept thinking of that line from Don Henley’s ‘Boys Of Summer’ about having seen a Dead Head sticker on a Cadillac.

I found my friend’s car. She and several others were standing around drinking and eating snacks at the rear hatchback. Talk turned to work. And kids. And our various physical ailments. Really, you had surgery? How much did you lose on that diet? So-and-so retired/ died? I don’t remember you wearing those glasses? Then it was time to head to the stadium entrance.

The hill was long. I was sweating by the time I reached the gate. I was starting to feel sore. I asked my friend about the quality of the seats. She looked sheepish, and said that, though she had been made a special offer through her credit card company to buy these tickets in advance, one of our party had decided to come at the last minute, had bought his ticket only that afternoon, and had apparently scored a much better seat than did the rest of us (he bid us farewell as he veered off for the seats nearer the stage, while we hiked up into the section requiring supplemental oxygen).

The logo, through zoom lens

The logo, through zoom lens

Far removed from the days when big-name acts played small club venues, the organizers of today’s mega-concerts have developed a trick to fool those in the nosebleed seats. By putting up giant Jumbotron video screens around a site, one gets a clear picture of who is on stage, even though this is essentially like watching TV at home, only minus the comfort and nearby refrigerator. That was the case last night. I could clearly see the faces of the ants on the stage. But that was really the least of my concerns. The stadium bleachers were the most infernally uncomfortable seats I have ever experienced. Plus, much like flying coach on domestic airlines, the people were crammed in so tightly that it was a challenge to keep my knees out of the backs of those in front of me, or even stand to stretch (since it would be difficult to wedge myself back in the seat afterward).

It was hot and sticky. The crowd was loud. The wannabe warm up band blared in the background. My butt hurt. The concessions were highway robbery, and the band’s merchandise was outrageously expensive too. My cellphone had no reception. The restroom lines were unspeakable. But hey, I was going to see the Rolling Stones, right?

At 9:30 p.m., the lights dimmed, and then in a technicolor explosion, the Jumbotrons flashed the red ‘lips and tongue’ logo, and onto the stage strolled Ronnie Wood, Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, and Mick Jagger. Or at least that’s who the TV showed me was on the stage.

They launched into their first number. Someone had turned the volume WAY up since the warm-up act. The seats reverberated. My pacemaker vibrated. I strained to figure out the song. Was it ‘Tumbling Dice’? Or perhaps ‘Brown Sugar’? Maybe ‘Midnight Rambler’? After close to a minute, I figured out that it was ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash,’ but only because I recognized features of the beat, not because I could actually understand any of the lyrics.

By 11:00 p.m., the band was still going strong, but I was not. I couldn’t possibly be heard over the din to explain to my group that we were leaving, assuming that I could have even stretched over to yell in their ears. I told my wife we were going to do ‘the English departure’ (a former Soviet term for slipping out without saying goodbye to the hosts). I ‘went to the restroom,’ and she followed five minutes later. We made our way to the car. At least, I thought, we’ll avoid the total jam that will occur when all 58,000 fans head for the parking lot when the concert is finished.

Not exactly. Stiff and palsied, it still took us a while to exit – a lot of those formerly-referenced grey haired fans were making for the doors as well. And sadly, the sound quality was far superior in the parking lot, probably more than half a mile away from the stage. We should have saved the ticket price, paid for parking, and listened to the concert from outside!

Home by midnight, I fell fast asleep like the dead. I have no idea what time the concert ended, or what time those hold-out stalwarts actually made it home. But as I drifted off, I could not have cared less how many encores were played.

Thirty four years after Tidewater, Mick Jagger is right. You can’t always get what you want.

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They Are Different From You And Me

I was once of the mindset that paying for business class seats on an airline trip was frivolous lunacy. “The back of the plane arrives at the same time as the front of the plane!” I sniffed.

That was until a lost reservation and hurried apologies resulted in my last second upgrade from steerage to business class on a flight from Beijing to Shanghai in 2002. From that point forth, I was hooked. Money be damned, the front of the plane IS better, and I don’t care which end of the plane arrives first!

“My tastes are simple… I only desire the best.” ~Winston Churchill (attr.)

The same can apparently be said for all sorts of travel perks. Those of you who are already jet-setters, or who remember Geo Clooney’s 2009 film, ‘Up In The Air,’ will no doubt agree.

When my kids were younger and I would visit them in Texas, I stayed at the nearby Holiday Inn. It was inexpensive and conveniently located. While far from luxurious, it was predictable, much as is a McDonald’s hamburger when you’re really hungry and there are no other nearby options.

Over time, I accumulated a lot of Holiday Inn points. Unfortunately, those points earn me only an occasional free night at the hotel chain, and a lot of complimentary chocolate chip cookies and bottles of water at check-in.

Not so those who travel on a different strata.

“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.” ~Sophie Tucker

Take, for example, the missus. When she travels for work, her multinational company puts her in the better Marriott properties – definitely a grade above my mere Holiday Inn visits. She travels a lot, so while not at Clooney-grade, she racks up lots of points, rendering her Triple Platinum Status with added Diamond Clusters, or some other such moniker. And with her apotheosis to that exalted level comes more perks than my chocolate chip cookies.

The Paris Marriott

The Paris Marriott

Case in point: we were recently staying at the Marriott at 70 Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris, using my better half’s points. It is a grand residence indeed, built behind the historic fin de siècle façade of the former Louis Vuitton headquarters, just a few minutes’ stroll from the Arc de Triomphe, and with a breathtaking view of the Eiffel Tower soaring above the rooftops less than 2km away. My Houston-area Holiday Inns just do not compare. Anyway, it was late on a Sunday evening, and we developed a hankering for a bottle of good Bordeaux, perhaps a 2010 Leoville Barton St Julien. Being in Paris, and not the American Bible Belt, we assumed this would not be a difficult item to locate after dark on a Sunday.

Alas, the concierge told us, the wine shops along the Champs all close Sundays at 7:00 p.m., and at that time it was almost 8:00 p.m.

But no Parisian concierge worth his Clefs D’Or leaves a platinum and diamond encrusted guest in the lurch.

Whipping out his cellphone, he made several hurried calls en Francais, and then informed us that the proprietor of the best wine shop in the area had agreed to reopen for us, in order to procure the bottle we desired. Directions were jotted, and we headed off. Although the main boulevard was crowded with café patrons, the side streets were quiet and subdued. A block off the Champs, we came to a darkened store front that read simply ‘Vin.’ There we no lights inside. But we had been given a special knock for the front door. As assured, once the knock was administered to the heavy oaken door, it creaked open and we were admitted to the sanctum, filled with bottles. In fractured English, the owner apologized for not turning on the lights so as not to draw customers (i.e., commoners) to the shop.

A modest handheld light was produced, the vintage was secured and wrapped, Euros were exchanged, and in just a few minutes, we were on the sidewalk with our libation securely under arm.

Back in our room, overlooking the madding crowds below, we toasted on the balcony having interloped into circles of Parisian privilege, if only for an evening.

“Let me tell you about the rich. They are different from you and me.” ~F.Scott Fitzgerald, 1926

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

Death Takes A Holiday (XV)

to wit, a middle-aged peripatetic shrink undertakes the Great American Cross-Country Road Trip with help from little leaguers, German bikers, the King of Rock ‘n Roll, porn stars and an abandoned brothel, a flock of domesticated ducks, the Department of Homeland Security and the West Memphis police, a decommissioned atomic warhead, some dodgy motels… and a strange rider in the back of a 2013 Ford Fusion.




After hundreds upon hundreds of miles of driving across vast open spaces and through urban congestion, we finally crossed the Mississippi River on the Desoto Bridge (I-40) at West Memphis and entered the Blues City. The river looked brown and muddy, but the sky was blue and bright, and the day filled with promise of seeing the Mother Lode of Kitsch.

Memphis looked to have several interesting tourist sites, amongst them the pyramid on Mud Island, the Memphis Belle, Beale Street, Sun Studios, and the old city trolleys. We were, however, on a mission, and only one brief stop in advance could keep us from our appointed destination.

The Grim Reaper and I exited at N. 2d Street and followed it south for just a few blocks, coming to the Kooky Canuck Burger Emporium at the righthand corner of N. 2d and Union Avenue. We easily parked in front of the Kook – there wasn’t much foot or auto traffic despite being a weekday downtown – as what we really wanted was just across the street.

The present-day iteration of the Peabody Hotel was built in 1925 after its namesake, opened just after the Civil War, had burned to the ground 18 months earlier. The famous Italian Renaissance edifice is known to generations of southerners and Memphians alike, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places; sadly, it filed for bankruptcy in 1965. The building went through several subsequent corporate owners (e.g., Sheraton Hotels International) and a $25M renovation. Back in business, it now serves as a cornerstone and catalyst for downtown Memphis’ revival (the cartoonish Canuck across the street notwithstanding).

As elegant as are the accommodations, and as famous as have been some of its visitors (e.g., Tommy Dorsey, the Andrews Sisters, several U.S. Presidents), the Peabody is inarguably best known for its famous marching ducks. Although some claim the tradition of keeping mallards in the lobby fountain dates to the 1870s, it is more likely a residual of Frank Shutt’s hobby. Shutt, you see, was the general manager in the early 1930s, and an avid duck hunter. Every day that he wasn’t working, he was hunting. Some of his friends thought it would be funny to put a few of Shutt’s favorite quarry in the fountain to make his time at work seem less like, well, work. This was at the height of the Great Depression, and as the guests staying in the hotel at the time thought it was amusing to see ducks swimming in the fountain, Shutt perceived that what had started as a joke might actually be a good marketing ploy. A bellman was appointed to be Duckmaster, and he trained the ducks to waddle each morning from the elevators to their water-filled marble home on the main floor, and then back again each evening (their permanent quarters being up on the roof).

To this day, as they walk along the red carpet, Sousa’s King Cotton March is played overhead to the delight of bystanders.

Here’s a brief video that shows the daily ritual.

Much as celebrities are given the key to a grateful city, those famous who come through town are often anointed as Duckmaster for the Day; honorees have included Paula Deen, Joan Collins, Molly Ringwald, Kevin Bacon, Peter Frampton, Emeril Lagasse, the late Patrick Swayze, Oprah Winfrey, and Queen Noor of Jordan.

Watching the ducks is actually a bit of an anticlimax; I’d be more impressed if the ducks called for the elevator while still on the roof and pushed the ‘L’ button themselves, instead of being herded by an employee. But since it’s cultural history, it was fun to see once. Scratch another item off the bucket list.

I headed back to the car, checked on Boney, still covered in the back seat, and drove down state route 51, the name of which soon changes. In less than nine miles, we entered the Whitehaven district and what looks like any other non-descript commercial avenue in America. Until, to the left, we came upon 3764 Elvis Presley Boulevard.



Like a shining city on a hill, Graceland is a remnant of the time when the area was largely rural, the auto dealers and check-cashing businesses having then yet to arrive. In the spring of 1957, Elvis was completing his second Hollywood movie, Loving You, and his first movie soundtrack album. He had two studio albums and 48 singles already under his belt and two years of nearly nonstop live appearances behind him. The hardworking son of Gladys and Vernon Presley was already his family’s primary breadwinner by then, and looking, at the tender age of 22, to purchase them a new home. With a $1,000 cash deposit against a sale price of $102,500, Elvis agreed to purchase Graceland on 19 March 1957. Officially, Graceland was where Elvis, his parents and his grandmother Minnie Mae lived, but unofficially, it was also the home/ hotel/ clubhouse for the entire ‘Memphis Mafia,’ the ever-changing cast of childhood friends and sycophants who surrounded and often drew salaries from Elvis.

Today, Graceland – open to the public since 1982 and, like the Peabody Hotel, on the National Register of Historic Places – is preserved exactly as Elvis left it. It is the second-most visited residence in America, behind only 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and sometimes tied with the Biltmore Estate.

My calcified friend and I arrived and parked in the lot for visitors across the street. Covering the Bonemeister with my jacket once again, I went inside the visitors’ center to purchase a ticket. The lady behind the desk asked if I were military or law enforcement. I flashed my (very handy) DPS badge and got a 20% discount. I boarded the shuttle, and soon the pre-recorded tour guide was providing information as the vehicle lurched across the street and up a gentle hill to the front door.

Graceland is a large lovely structure, but not one so massive or ostentatious that it wouldn’t fit in many high-income residential gated communities today. What sets it apart is not the building itself – tan limestone, white columned portico with circular drive, twenty three rooms including eight bedrooms, commanding a gentle elevation – but the size of the lot, at almost 14 acres. Originally part of a working farm, the land was owned in the 1920s by S.C. Toof, a wealthy Memphian businessman. When he died, his daughter Grace inherited the mostly undeveloped fields which her father had named after her. Before long, she gifted the land to her niece, Ruth Moore, and it was Moore and her husband who in 1940 built the present Colonial Revival manse.

After he purchased the then-seventeen year old structure, Elvis undertook renovations to suit his somewhat quirky tastes. The wrought iron gate at the front, shaped like a book of sheet music with notes worked into the design, is now as famous as is the property itself. The impressively 1970s-tacky Jungle Room is now world-famous. Still other improvements – the Meditation Garden out back where Elvis and members of his immediate family are now buried – are less immediately recognizable to all but obsessed devotees.

Walking through the house, I was struck immediately by the size of the rooms. They’re not big. The house’s floor plan may have a large footprint, but the corridors are narrow and the rooms cramped, in keeping with the age of its original construction. And while the interior of the abode has been slammed by critics – called alternately “fit for a brothel,” “nothing worth a dime,” “gaudy and garish,” and my fav, “tacky cast-off white trash haute couture” – I found it fascinating as a time capsule from an era in which shag carpeting, stained-glass peacocks, and floor-to-ceiling mirrors were still considered by some to be the height of fashion and opulent living.

The second floor of the residence is off-limits to tourists, though it should be noted that the bathroom in which Elvis expired is located directly overhead as one stands in the front entranceway.

After traversing the kitchen, the basement, and the Jungle Room, one exits to the backyard and passes Elvis’ shooting range (a converted smokehouse), the horse stable and grazing field, the pool, and the racquetball court, the latter which contains the so-called trophy room (constructed to house Elvis’ awards, memorabilia, and now a number of his sequined and gold lame suits and Priscilla’s wedding dress).

For those who are not Elvis’d-out by this point, taking the shuttle back across the street will allow them to see the King’s car collection (including his pink Cadillac) and both of his private jets, the Lisa Marie (a Convair 880) and the Hound Dog II (a Lockheed JetStar).

Not bad for a poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks who earned a ‘C’ and was told he had “no aptitude for singing” by his 9th grade teacher at Memphis’ Humes High School.

Still, visiting Ground Zero of American Pop Culture, as interesting as it is, left me with my own blues: sadness for premature loss, sadness for talent cut short, and most of all, sadness at how the American Dream can morph into a grotesque and garish parody of success, with all of the toadies and faux-friends that sudden wealth and fame always seem to generate.

Back at the car, Creaky was still covered up in the back seat, no worse for the wear. We had to hit the road, as there was still a long drive – the final leg of the trip – yet ahead of us.

[to be continued…]

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The Shepheard’s Hotel

Originally called the Hotel des Anglais upon opening in the early 1840s, the premiere inn of Cairo, Egypt, had been renamed the Shepheard’s Hotel after its then-owner, Englishman Samuel Shepheard, by the 1860s. It was famed for its grandeur and opulence, though a frequent complaint – one of its very few – was that its cuisine “le[ft] much to be desired.” Extensively renovated in 1891, 1899, 1904, 1909 and 1927, it survived both WWI and WWII – during the former, it served as the HQ of the British Near-East Command, while during the latter, it housed offices of the U.S. State Department and OSS, foreign press wire services, the Greek government-in-exile, and Gen’l Bernard Montgomery’s staff.

Many famous figures, including Lawrence of Arabia and Lord Kitchener, were frequent guests.

Shepheard's Hotel, c1925

Shepheard’s Hotel, c1925

An American official wrote this of the Shepheard’s after his visit in late 1943: “‘Famous’ is not adequate to describe all the unique wonders of the hotel. Its large front terraces where everyone met during the day for tea or cocktails faced the busiest street in Cairo, and it was oft-said that if you stayed on the terrace long enough you were bound to meet someone you knew. In the back of the hotel there was a beautiful flower garden filled with roses and exotic plants. Next to the garden, the Shepheard’s had its own little zoo. Of course, there was a camel or two, and several young Arabian horses… but the zoo director’s favorite animals were his gazelles. He had at least twelve of them and he claimed that they were the most elegant and graceful on earth. These gazelles were quite tame and a delight to children who petted and played with them…. [Also] outside your room’s door [or just down the hall] were [stationed attendants which] the British called the ‘Nubian slaves.’ They weren’t slaves at all, but usually very large [liveried] Africans [who performed as butlers and] gave you confidence in the security of the hotel. My Nubian… was named Ulysses and I never did find out how he got that name.”

[sidebar I: the Shepheard’s check-room was renowned for keeping personal items long after guests had left, assuming they’d come back eventually to retrieve. One tale, apparently true, is that Winston Churchill left a small package there in 1918, and retrieved it, dusty but unopened, in 1943]

[sidebar II: there was also the famous hotel bar, just off the lobby, at which was reportedly invented the S&B cocktail, favored by combat aircrews on leave. ‘S’ and ‘B’ purportedly stood for ‘Suffering Bastard,’ and it was claimed that three of the brandy-based drinks would make you forget entirely about the war and not give a damn about anything]

[sidebar III: the Grand Hotel des Bains on the Lido in Venice, standing in for the Shepheard’s, was the backdrop for at least one scene in The English Patient (1996) – this because the two hotels are of similar age and appearance]

Another visitor to the Shepheard’s, arguably less famous, was my father, then a captain and flight surgeon in the 34th bomb squadron, 17th bomb group, 15th Air Force. Dad was never much of a talker, so the details are long lost. But while stationed in either Tunisia or Sardinia with the USAAF, he was given the opportunity to go on R&R in Cairo, and he accordingly stayed at the Shepheard’s – room no. 61, to be exact.





I know the room number because he ‘forgot’ to return the room key when he checked out. Though the key itself is long lost, I still have its heavy brass fob. I’ve searched the Internet high and low, but have been unable to find anything similar. Given that the hotel and all of its contents were burned to the ground in anti-British riots in 1952, I suspect this fob may be one of few, if any others, extant today.

And no word if Dad had an S&B while a guest.

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