This was beginning to seem like a bad idea. To drag your mother out of a warm bed on a cold winter’s morning—and on a false pretext—was childish and silly. Sweetness grimaced. She had told her mother that she wanted to get some background for her film from someone who had been to Coney Island back in the day of its heyday. Sweetness said a god must have whispered in her ear when she realized her mother fit the job description to a tee. This was too good an omen to be wasted—and this was true so far as it went—but Sweetness had other fish to fry. What she didn’t tell her mother was that she, Mrs. Molasses, was the true subject of her film, not Coney Island. This was why she had brought the film crew with her, the Charlie Chaplin Camera Company (the CCCC) who Sweetness had first met at Yale. Despite their name, the CCCC was from Japan and they were supposed to be the best in the business. Their job was to record everything they could without being seen by Mrs. Molasses: the visible comes from the invisible.
Sweetness found her mother standing in front of one of those fun house mirrors, that was still in place long after Steeplechase Park had been torn down. You know the kind. It had bends and curves built right into the mirror so when you looked at it, it reflected a false image of the world. If, for example, you were to see yourself by looking in one of those mirrors, one minute you would look short and fat, the next long and narrow. You might have an exceedingly long nose and no ears. Mrs. Molasses was completely captivated, oblivious of her surroundings. She was making tiny movements with her body, little flourishes, shifting her chin or flexing her eyebrows, screwing her face up like a contortionist. Sweetness hoped her camera crew had been able get some good shots of her face. Mrs. Molasses, Sweetness knew, was playing the game Abattoir. It involved a strange and disproportionate creature that Mrs. Molasses had invented when Sweetness was still a little girl. Her mother had made up the abattoir name as a kind of joke (an abattoir is a fancy name for a slaughterhouse). It was a scary creature and invented so that Sweetness could study and learn to tame it by looking in the mirror. But Mrs. Molasses’ whimsey had quickly become a game that all the neighborhood kids played. The name got changed to ‘Alice in Chains’ which Mrs. Molasses thought referred to either (1) the grunge band, or (2) to Lewis Carol, or (3)it was an unusual way of referring to Plato’s Analogy of the Cave, where, you’ll remember, the inhabitance of the cave were all chained in place so they could not get free easily. They emerged only rarely to look at the sun, which would burn their eyes and blind them. The rules of the Abattoir game required that you turn yourself into a troglodyte-like person by using a mirror only found in circuses and amusement parks. The Abattoir started out a monster, but it quickly became a secret angel, a means to see who you really were. Sweetness smiled. At least it worked that way for six-year-olds. You see, to win at Abattoir you had to make up a name for the creature you invented in the mirror—a name that ordinary people would call it, if they could see it, like Dracula. What (almost) no one realized was that the secret name was always ‘abattoir’.
Sweetness knew there was a Nathans Famous on the next block, so she steered her mother in that direction—though it was clear Mrs. Molasses would rather finish her game of Abattoir. When they entered Nathans Famous they were assaulted by the reek of sauerkraut. Nathans Famous was famous for its hot dogs, and you always put sauerkraut and mustard on your dog, did you not? Sweetness, though it was contrary to her nature (after all she was called Sweetness, not Sauerkraut) bought a couple of dogs, piled the kraut on, and lead her mother to a booth where they could see what remained of the old Steeplechase Park. Not much. Yet it loomed darkly amidst urban shadows.
It wasn’t until Sweetness had sat down that she noticed the camera secreted into the curtains. Oh, they were good, the CCCC, they were really good. They were able to figure out where Sweetness and her mother would sit and plant a camera in the booth. No wonder they had drawn such big crowds when performing at Yale.
Sweetness started her formal interview by asking a question she thought, while it was an obvious question, might present difficulties for her mother to come up with a good answer. Sweetness thought she probably did not know the real answer—but Sweetness did—and it would have been a good index of her mother’s veracity. The question was, What was a steeplechase? It sounded like an easy fact, but really it was a strange story of history and architecture. But a little thought would bring all the relevant saliences to the fore, Sweetness thought.
First of all, you can’t chase a steeple; a steeple does not move; it sits on the top of the church and stays there. Even the two most prominent steeples in all literature, in Marcel Proust’s The Search for Lost time, the steeples that young Marcel uses as a kind of built-in slide rule when he took the train down to Combray, did not move. In fact, their very stability is what made them useful. They appear to change places, but they do not. It all comes down to perspective, and Marcel knows this.
So, what about that ‘chase’? What is being chased here? Hold on, I know what you’re thinking, it’s a misprint born of history, a spelling error that was carried down through the centuries. It wasn’t the steeple that was chased, it was a fair maiden in the steeple who was ‘chaste’. But don’t go there; there is nothing ‘chaste’ about an amusement park or a steeple. You have to be a little more prosaic here. Think about building an apartment building or even a church. When you design it you have to leave a direct path from the basement to the top floor, a path that will allow all the floors to have something they all need, hot and cold water. You need a path through the building and that path is called a ‘chase’. Voilà. So, when in the good old days they needed some point to end a race that everyone could see they tended to use the most prominent, tallest marker they could find. A steeple. And they cut a chase through the country side for the horses to race and run.
Mrs. Molasses plainly did not know this archaic fact, who would? She hated it when Sweetness developed that little smirk in her voice. Mrs. Molasses was about to be dumped on, and she knew it.
Sweetness asked her simply (always a bad sign). What has a race got to do with a church steeple? like it was a riddle. Mrs. Molasses felt like she was being asked to explain, one more time, why it’s possible for molasses to go uphill—even in January. What is a steeplechase? Well, she was sure it was a horse race, and she was pretty sure they jumped over obstacles like fences and hedges. Mrs. Molasses thought it was probably derived from fox hunting. The obstacles were called steeples, indicating that they were pretty steep. Sweetness smiled an inner smile. She knew it didn’t really make sense.
So did Mrs. Molasses. Why should they name an amusement park in Brooklyn after a horse race in Ireland? There was no place inside the park for horse races right? Or chases?
Mrs. Molasses suddenly felt free. As is she was seeking higher ground. She would take. Sweetness across the street and into the park and show her the chase for the horses to run through, never mind that the great portion of the mostly wooden structure had burnt to the ground.
Sweetness didn’t know everything. It was time to tackle the main event. She peremptorily got up from the table. Nathans Famous faded in history. Sweetness knew that look on her mother’s face. She had a coupe brewing. A coupe of tea. As they went across the street and into the darkness, they began to see the old dowager herself, Steeplechase Park appear. Just a few paces… and fifty years… and they would be there. For though in truth Steeplechase Park was long gone, the mystery and the magic remained. The space involved was a wind blown parking lot, now transformed, rebuilt, and so present that no appeal to everyday reality would convince them. Let’s follow Mrs. Molasses across the street. She has an important discovery to make.
They went into the park. It was closed and empty. But the rides were all ready and waiting for generations of kids (yes, of all ages) to arrive. The spun cotton candy was spinning. There were boxes of Cracker Jacks, with the prize inside, stacked and ready to go. And up on the roof Mrs. Molasses could see, and she pointed them out to Sweetness was a row of brightly painted wooden merry-go-round horses polished and ready for as yet another generation of would be jockeys ready to ride on tracks around on the roof—a real chase. How’s that for a chase, sweetness? Mrs. Molasses wandered off. She went up the stairs (in January!) and soon was on a large platform, looking down on a large wooden slide. Sweetness suddenly noticed there was a young boy up there with her. A little stocky, he had flat top haircut, and wore a sweatshirt that had a logo from Texas A&M in front. He was cute. He and Mrs. Molasses were having quite an intense conversation. Until Mrs. Molasses turned and—did she jump or was she pushed?—came sliding down the slide. The boy apparently followed, but he seemed to disappear into the folds of wood, as if it was one of those mirrors Mrs. Molasses had been playing with earlier this morning. The visible comes from the invisible. She looked like she’d seen a ghost. Sweetness hoped the CCCC had gotten this on film. Mrs. Molasses was laughing and crying both; pretty soon Sweetness was too.
As Porphyry writes poetry, it as if
the words were cut deep in to stone. He
Writes so that you will listen and remember
that he is an old man, saved by trees, saved by
the land as if it were an island suspiciously placed —
it is a home to him, an igloo in the snow,
an oasis in the sand, a cave to protect him
from wolves and snakes and all the forces.
that wound our world with terror.
That Porphyry is awed by these words .
will be easily seen by you who live in the future,
even if you are not saved by the past
even if you are not saved by islands.
The stones glow, that is enough.
A hollow head
Left like a little fellow
And left standing
At attention and alone—
A simple iteration
That lights use to keep
What some call belief
And others call solace
Alive in the snow,
As winter’s peacocks, ferns,
And teeth take turns to feed
the ducks until nothing is left,
Except for a solemn presentation;
sunlight as a gaudy, old man.
Mr. Molasses stepped out onto the stage. He was standing alone at the very altar Baron Frankenstein had used to create his huge but hideous and nameless monster. Mr. Molasses, who had his own monster and who thought it compared pretty well to the Boris Karloff version, looked lovingly over at his at the manikin he called Kong. If he played his cards right, he would have time to get Kong outside and up on the roof before the predicted storm broke; he should be able to get some great shots of lightening striking his rod.
But first he had to wait for James Whale. He wanted some input from him concerning the proscenium stage. This was to be the set for ‘The Merchant of Vengeance’, the first production of Cumberbatch, Sweetness, & Molasses. As Mr. Molasses envisioned it, they would circle around the Shakespeare play; it would be the slow cinema version. Ever since he had discovered the slowness in his own body, he had been interested in the slow, repetitive movements that build the earth. This was his first chance to show the world what he knew.
So, while it was going to ultimately be a film about the Shakespeare play, The Merchant of Venice, he wanted to focus in on the vengeance; surely it was of the most repetitive actions that mankind ever precipitated. In this film, they weren’t going to start with the Shakespeare play, not at all; it was Mr. Molasses’ idea to start the film with a little nod in the direction of the great leviathan in the horror movie world. They were going to start with Frankenstein., the film version of Mary Shelly’s1 book, the one directed by James Whale. And don’t you go telling him how much better the Mary Shelly book is than the film. He knows that. But the James Whale reinterpretation of the book has a certain charm that is just not in the novel. And it was already a film.
Let’s compare it to the Sherlock Holmes story, The Hound of the Baskervilles. The fog and mist, how it spread across the meadows and bogs of Baskerville when Sherlock Holmes was on the case. In the story, Sherlock searches for something he only half believes in, the titular hound. It’s why Mr. Molasses needed a deer stalker cap, and a real one, not some cheap plastic wrap like Mrs. Molasses wore in the rain. Besides he needed to get control of the Sherlock that was living in part of Mr. Molasses’ brain. He could be a pain about that damned cap. ,
And the proscenium stage? Why would you need a performance space that Shakespeare knew nothing about? The Globe was not a proscenium stage; the globe was the world; it was more like a theater in the round.
Think back to the movie Frankenstein. The movie starts with a figure slipping through the curtain to talk to the audience. He is warning the crowd that this is going to be one scary movie. This is straight out of vaudeville. Take for instance the movie Yankee Doodle Dandy starring Jimmy Cagney; the early part of the movie takes place on the vaudeville stage. When George M. Cohan comes out at the end of his stage performance—and boy, couldn’t the young Jimmy Cagney dance—to thank the audience, he steps, as it were—through an invisible barrier, made visible by the curtain:
My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sisters thank you and I thank you.
Mr. Molasses’ reverie was interrupted by the arrival of the legendary James Whale. As Mr. Whale moved out onto the stage, one of his people announced, James Whale is “in the house”, (Mr. Molasses loved that phrase). Everyone grew silent. Mr. Molasses almost backed into the freezer bag and turned it over. This was what he had used to carry his brain around with him. Mr. Molasses didn’t know why James Whale wanted a fresh brain, but he was ready to film it.
James Whale had single handedly invented the modern monster movie, as we know it: go see The Night of the Living Dead; go see The Silence of the Lambs; go see The Blair Witch Project and you can see Frankenstein living in the ice below, frozen, and as meancing as you would ever hope to find. Go even to see,the great Nosferatu and search for the Golems that lived in the shtetls throughout eastern Europe; that came out of a haunted Poland—and you can see how Frankenstein and the Bride of Frankenstein have altered your perceptions. Evil lives in a trancedental Transylvania, as it were
No matter. James Whale was in the house, and he’d finally spotted Mr. Molasses. As he ambled over, a huge smile dancing on his face, Mr. Molasses got a chance to study him carefully. Dressed in an impecably tailored white gabardine suit, he carried a riding crop. It was as if he expected a pony, fully caparisoned, to fall from the sky. Mr. Molasses hadn’t realized how old James Whale was. Why, he must be near 100.
But he was all business. After the formalities and introductions were concluded, after the niceties were discussed as to whom was filming whom and who was directing who, he brought up the brain. He reminded Mr. Molasses that it was the brain that got ‘Victor’ into trouble. ‘Victor’ was what James Whale called Baron Frankenstein, no one knew why. James Whale was also something of a Nietzsche acolyte. Not a philosopher by any means, he had latched on to a few key ideas, like amor fati. (a love of one’s fate.) It was a deep concept, one that could only be practiced in past perfect tense.
In the past prefect. Whew!
Mr. Molasses noticed something strange about James Whale. He seemed to be continuously disappearing and contagiously reappearing at the fringes of his existence. It was as if his life was slowly devouring him, and his self was biting back—as if in his life he had lived in a separate ocean.
James Whale did not mince words. He wanted his brain and he wanted it now. Mr. Molasses was reminded of Dracula. He was surprised. What had Vlad the Impaler to do with The Merchant of Venice? Still, he motioned to his camera crew to move in; he wanted a good close up of James Whale’s face as he looked in on the electrical patterns generated by the human brain.
The Leviathan stirred. He sang. He growled.
Father Paul had expected maybe five or six people to attend his lectures on St. Paramours. He got twenty-five Which was amazing. This was going to work. Over the next few weeks, he was giving peripatetic lectures on the cross-shape nave, the frescoes on the ceiling and of course the huge stained-glass window that dominated the building now known as St. Paramour. Hula-hula hallelujah! He felt, like he was the big fisherman.
But Father Paul missed Mrs. Molasses. She had promised to come to all of his classes. She had professed great interest in these lectures. As long as she could exercise her perambulatory capabilities to stretch her bad leg now and then—peripatetic or not—she was ‘down’ to tour the ‘heights’ of this particular outpost of Christianity with him. But so far, she hadn’t attended a single lecture.
As a young priest Father Paul had expected to be encouraged to toe the line in his first parish and nothing more. So, he was a little concerned when the Bishop asked to see his notes. Father Paul thought he was in deep shit (well, ‘trouble’). but no, the Bishop was totally into it: he suggested Father Paul might need a good ladder; with it, he could climb to the upper reaches of the Church, and see what was going on up there. According to the Bishop, there were supposed to be exotic alcoves that no one had seen since the church had been built over a hundred years ago. There were frescoes up there and sculptures that rivaled anything the Vatican had. Father Paul doubted this. One Caravaggio could go a long way. You would need a forger’s fortune to pay for such a long voyage, over wide waters without sound, and to get anything like a Michangelo out of Italy and on to a sailing ship you would need a get out of jail free card from the pope. He would be happy to find a hand carved rosery or an antique chalice somewhere in the hinterlands of St. Paramour. Finding the Holy Grail would be cool too.
So, to start, he decided to address the question: Why would anyone build a church with gargoyles that no one could see? Why would they put marble statues where you could only guess at who they represented? And to do that, he had to find said paintings and sculptures.
The Bishop had a frayed edition of ‘St. Paramour Misterioso.’ He gave it to Father Paul. It seemed there was a lot of arcane knowledge surrounding the [i]construction of the church which almost no one knew about. For example:
Around the time of the winter solstice, a single sprig of light finds its way past ‘the Gaudian wall’ (named after the legendary Antoni Gaudi?) the light enters the recesses that make up the hidden vestibules of the ‘floating world‘, (a reference to Japanese metaphysics?) A single stone shaped like an egg which was meant to fill the stained-glass windows with a powerful burst of its own light. A rainbow would form next, and finally a cross. Some even claim to see the figure of the Christ writhing in pain in the shadows. (But this is Christmas season. Not Easter.)
As Father Paul climbed up the wall he thought about the fall of man, the fall of the angels from grace and the fall of Adam and Eve—and, oh yes, the ladder.
The ladder slipped. Father Paul hadn’t secured it properly. He reached out and caught the railing; but his whole body swung free, dangling maybe 20 feet off the ground. There was nothing for him to do but fall; his fingers pressed into a crack in the wall and—he had to let go. Father Paul tried to yell; it came out a croak. He just could not hold out any farther—when, miracle of miracles, the ladder was placed beneath his legs and Mrs. Molasses spoke to him firmly, calmly like an Old Testament sage. Mrs. Molasses commanded and he obeyed. He had to get his feet on the ladder; don’t let go. Not yet.
They sat in one of the pews until Father Paul got his breath back. He was scared, Mrs. Molasses could tell. She let him lean against her breast. What luck that she had come into the church when she had, and it had been a complete coincidence. Mrs. Molasses had merely gone out ‘to exercise her constitutional rights’—to take a walk—and It had been pure luck that she happened to walk to the Church at exactly the right time. You couldn’t plan that if you tried.
But what in god’s name had he been doing, scaling the walls of the church? As Father Paul tried to come up with an explanation for this obvious dumb-head project—and one that did not mention the Bishop, he looked up at the railing that could have cost him his life. But what was he looking at up there? A door had swung open; it looked old and dark and dirty—cobwebs, failed wet plaster, plain filth. But it was a door into a space behind the interior wall. Father Paul knew that right away. He had to go back up there. And right now. He climbed back up; Mrs. Molasses steadied the ladder. Hey, look at this place. Stairs ran both up and down. He could hear mice or rats in the distance. Father Paul did not relish going up the stairs. So, he went down; it got very black once you got away from the door. Some of the stairs wobbled. He thought he heard a woman cry. There was an eerie silence between the inner wall of St. Paramour and he outer world. Something wicked this way comes.
 Parenetical remarks are presumed to be Father Paul’s
Mrs. Molasses tasted the apple and it was good. Sweetness tasted the apple nd it was sweet. Mother and daughter agreed; honeydew was a far better apple than the pomegranates they were touting at Fisher’s Fresh Fruit. They were too seedy. Mrs. Molasses bought all her vegetables in the Garden of Arden. They had two rocking chairs on the front porch where you could sit all morning if you took a hankering to it. They rocked comfortably back and forth and talked about Mr. Molasses’ latest ‘blooming, buzzing confusion’, Cumberbatch, Sweetness and Molasses, while waiting for Mr. Molasses. He was getting a ‘surprise’ for Mrs. Molasses, and he was being cute, for everybody knew what the surprise was: a lemon meringue pie. Mrs. Molasses worshipped lemon meringue, and Arden made one of the best around. “If you have a lemon, go ahead and make lemonade. Buy your pie in the Arden Garden”.
Now if you are wondering about that ‘Sweetness’ that has suddenly appeared in what used to be Cumberbatch and Molasses, then I haven’t described Sweetness adequately to you.
The Molasses were meeting with Benedict in Johns in the East Village to firm up their agreement. Mrs. Molasses had brought The Deitchler Bank aboard to arrange the financing, and they were about to sign the contract—when Sweetness waltzed in. She was wearing those jeans that looked painted on and an old sweater which wonderfully highlighted her considerable cleavage. What a set up! Benedict nearly fell on the floor. He had heard stories about the remarkable Sweetness, but nothing duplicates the experience of actually meeting her. Sweetness can be very formal, she can be distant, she can be any number of things—and Benedict fell in love with all of them. Soft streams wended their way through her silken field, a ripening flower-filled landscape that smelled of sweetness. Yes, Sweetness. Sweetness, Sweetness. She is to imagination what waiting to be born is to most people. Sweetness attended Yale. Sweetness is writing her dissertation on the Poetics of Sweetness. And, yes, Sweetness could be part of the production team. Benedict would have made her CEO if she wanted it.
But she didn’t. She would work as a humble assistant to her father. Sweetness smiled at Benedict.
The waiters in John’s are known for their tact. They could tell when the business part of dinner was over—generally conducted over the antipasto—which was one of the best the city had to offer—and a nice light Chianti—then onto the serious business of eating. Mr. Molasses knew he shouldn’t over-do it. He had gained almost ten pounds in the last month, and he had not recovered from the loss of his finger. He had lost a lot of blood—and he didn’t want to replace blood with sugar; but the cannoli in John’s were world famous, and justly so. And they were celebrating the creation of a new partnership. Besides, he just felt like eating…
But—Oh Lord—it was tough getting home that night. Mr. Molasses trudged down the steps in Penn Station as if he were as big as the Stay Puff ghost in Ghost Busters; he could barely move; he felt like he was a garbage barge moving slowly up stream in February; the ice flows that circled around him were like falcons turning and spinning in the night.
Sweetness had a late-night date. She was meeting ‘somebody’—she wouldn’t say who. Sweetness was generally reticent about her boyfriends. All she would say is, there are no real contenders at the moment. Sweetness would have married Harold Bloom in a thrice—if he hadn’t been 60 years older than she, and happily married. Oh, there were rumors about him when he had been a young scholar on the make, but Sweetness didn’t believe them. Harold called Sweetness ‘my dear’, and she was—but then Harold called the garbagemen ‘my dear’. He called the kid who delivered the morning paper, ‘my dear’. The only person he didn’t call, ‘my dear’ was his wife, and he called her Mrs. Bloom.
Benedict volunteered to walk Sweetness across town, but Sweetness turned him down. Sweetness was going to meet someone who called himself the New Nostradamus. She didn’t know too much about him except what a fellow graduate student, Demonté Pierce told her. She had to do something with the pound of flesh she had found in the crisper; she was pretty sure that her father had put it there; he didn’t seem to have much interest in it, however. Sweetness was full of speculation. She thought it was a woman’s breast but time and decay had rendered this uncertain, maybe even ridiculous; her father was not that kind of man. That it was a woman’s breast, one that had been surgically removed, was just an intuition. But it looked like the work of a skilled plastic surgeon and it was beautiful. She figured she could get 500 dollars for it easy.
The new Nostradamus looked like the old Nostradamus. He had a neatly trimmed beard and wild eyebrows. According to the website she had looked at, the first Nostradamus has predicted everything from the assignation of Vladimir Putin to the collapse of the stock market. He had even predicted that there would be a new Pope. And look at this one:
The great plague of the city will not cease until there be avenged the death of the just blood, condemned for a price without crime, Of the great lady outraged by pretense. Brothers and sisters captive in diverse places.
The old Nostradamus lived in the first half of the 16th century. He had preceded Shakespeare by some 50 years, a mere drop in the bucket of time. Sweetness knew that in Prejudice 101, Mr. Molasses argued that the prejudices that came to prominence in the 19th and 20th centuries were nascent in the 15th and 16th centuries. Mr. Molasses had blamed the skepticism that had manifested itself so predominantly in the writings of Descartes for the mental climate that resulted in the treatment of the slaves in the U.S. in the 19th Century and mass murder of the Jews in the 20th century.
Sweetness agreed with him in so far as he went, but Sweetness also wanted to look at the European conquest of the new world, the great genocide that had led to the killing of 90 percent of the indigenous population of North, Central and South America in the 15th century.
Sweetness had expected eccentricity from the New Nostradamus, she had expected slovenliness, and a pseudo-hipness that most street people affected, but not brains. He got ‘the pound of flesh’ thing right away. He got the Merchant of Vengeance thing right away. Sweetness felt an odd attraction to him. He seemed vulnerable. He seemed peaceful. He seemed sweet. And he was willing to buy the beast right now (And, yes, he had said ‘beast’). Sight unseen. He offered her a human brain and two free tickets to see the new production of Frankenstein. It was in a limited run at the Public Theater, and it starring Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch. Had she heard of him?