In the creepiest corner of the commodity market, among the cheapest and most embarrassing DREGS of garage sales and bargain bins and used-book stores, a new spirit is forming from the misshapen, the forgotten, the uncanny leftovers of the literary. HAGSTONE REVIEWS seek to unearth these eso-erotic atavisms for the world at large, in the inimitable and mysterious Mormyrid manner! Do you dare answer the phone for:
Rings A Bell, by Angela Griffiths (Hutchinson & Co, 1985)
Keywords: Devices, erotics, eccentrics, miscommunication, rebellion, slapstick, prize porkers
Of interest to: shut-ins, obsessive antiquarians, phone scammers, voyeurs, technophiles from the age of Verne, sex workers, sketch comedians
Lest we forget that devices too have their devices—
Conspiratorial phone booths. Disembodied ears and tongues. Organs without bodies. Feet lusting after powder. Organizations of ambiguous function. Poisoned wedding cakes. A glowing cloud of voices that whisper temptations into the ears of the local sky… Hold the line….
I was initially attuned to the surrealist potential of phone literature after reading Franklin Rosemont’s Wrong Numbers (Black Swan Press, 2002), in which the phenomena, philosophy, erotics and poetry of the telephone are expounded at great length and with much to commend them. In that book, Rosemont points out a few examples of popular romance and children’s literature in which the telephone plays a highly charged role—a conduit, in some cases, to a new amorous world.* It was with such hope and no context that I purchased an gnarly old $1 volume at the used book store in the basement of the Ottawa Public Library.
Rings A Bell brings together three short dramatic pieces that center on the use of a telephone in an undisclosed village, presumably in Britain, but then again, perhaps some kind of parallel cartoon universe or utopian socialist community of the far-flung future. The book’s exact genre is hard to discern from the 1980s functionalist design. Forlorn digits seem to indicate whole set of missing companion volumes. A few hints suggest that the volume fits into the enticingly pleonastic category of “literacy literature” (whatever that could mean). The entire series is edited by a mysterious entity known only as “Wendy Body” (Oh anybody? Where’s the body?) In short, there is every reason to believe that this is a set of secret coded training guides for trans-dimensional invaders.
Gertrude: Do you mind! I am making a very important phone call! It could very well change the course of my entire life!
In the title piece, Rings A Bell, we encounter a character who could have walked straight out of Leonora Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet. Gertrude Clump, armed with a folding chair, a stack of cigarettes and a pile of coins, marches into the village phone box one sunny Saturday afternoon. There, she has a lovely time speaking to Boris, of the shadowy Blue Lagoon Friendship Club. This occupation results in an effective communications blockade of the entire town. As any reader of Edward Lear knows, eccentric individual behavior in public will always attract the rebukes and scorn of “They”. I can happily report that despite the pressure of the townsfolk, who with a miserabilist ardour for the ordinary are not long in sabotaging Comrade Clump, she does not surrender. Her irrational re-appropriation of the town’s seemingly sole method of communication to the outside world—a tactic worthy of any situationist Frondeur—seems to disrupt the everyday life of the village at its most traumatic point.
Clump remains on the phone, doggedly pursuing her useless conversation and ceding nothing in regards to her unbridled desire to kibitz, until a reactionary local traps her by wrapping the phone cables around the phone booth. Nevertheless, during the occupational situation, she inadvertently spawns an erotic cue of people brought together by the forces of objective chance: Emma and Charles, parallel victims of jilted love and occupied phonespace, encounter each other and couple off in a pairing worthy of a narrative by Breton—a child with a lollipop inexplicably lodged in its ear is spared the disaster of medical reprisal—two lonely older eccentrics arrange a dinner—and all this under the auspices of a mysterious substance known only as “Foskins Fancy Foot Powder”.
Emma: Poor Boris was driven mad in the hot weather. He used to sit with his feet in the fridge and read the label on the tin. ‘Take the fire out of your feet with Foskins Fancy Powder,’ he’d say. It seemed to help him, saying it out loud like that.
The second play, Crossed Wires, is notable for an exciting telephonic miscommunication. The word is “wigs”, as requested by Queenie, a local thespian and something of an anti-police activist. A game of telephone is played through quite literally, including a healthy round of cop taunting, which, by means of alchemy of the verb sees the request mutate from wigs, to figs, to jigs, until the denouement finds Queenie surrounded by a horde of ravenous pigs. The staging is silent on this point but we know how hungry pigs can get. As the disgruntled farmer says, “Pigs aren’t easy on strange ground.”
Ginger: It’ll have to be prize porkers. How many does she want?
The last piece, Problem Line, depicts a local call-in radio hotline. The topic: the patriarcho-industral complex of weddings. But while radio host Rick Shaw and hymeneal propagandist Bella Bliss attempt to give their trite hetero-normative advice they are subverted by situationist-cum-bridal store owner Mr. Flint. The latter advises things like poisoning the wedding party by means of a cake filled with chicken medicine, or the appropriateness of a nuptial vehicle with a trunk full of fertilizer. “It’s just not done!” scream the chorus frustrated foils of bourgeois respectability. At the climax, he even incites a jilted bride’s mother to literally horse-whip her escaped ex-son-in-law:
Lady Portly: So, do you agree that I should track down this scoundrel and take my horse-whip to him?
Bella: No don’t.
Rick Shaw: [Alarmed] Please don’t!
Mr Flint: Just follow your instincts, Lady P.
These three plays form a twisted macromelodrama of eroticism, popular revolt, surrealist subversion, and black humour. In all, I can heartily recommend the Rings A Bell trilogy as the best Ring Cycle in town. I can only hope some daring dramaturge will take up the challenge of this lost classic and give it the staging it deserves. Five out of seven hagstones.
I’ll leave you with some enticing summaries of other volumes in this series, which I look forward to encountering in a basement or yard sale someday in the far flung future:
The Council are coming to cut down gran’s favourite tree but Gran has plans of her own. To Charlie’s horror, she climbs into the tree and refuses to come down until the Council change their plan. Charlie tells the story of Gran’s heroic battle for her tree.
Long Gone Lil
At the safari park, all the keepers have taken the day off to go to a big local wedding. Ted is left in charge of Lil, a beautiful, rare giraffe with a sense of humour. Lil gives him the slip and leads him a dance all over the local countryside, until he finally catches up with her somewhere he would rather not be.
-Reviewed by ‘Agstone ‘Arry
*Tangentially, another interesting treatment of the phone as a mechanism for disembodiment can be found in Au telephone (1901), by the great Grand Guignol playwright André de Lorde. Here, a family murder is overheard by a distant father whose impotence to intervene—really reminds one of phone sex—whatever that is…
Made during the Solar eclipse of Aug 21, 2017
Syringes / 66
Broken Necks / 350
Turbines / 3
Trombones / 1134247
Maniacs / 778
Chess / 0995
In the fangs of a triumphant butterknife the grossest mature mantis bungles a puritan aunt. Aspire to free sacks of tea.
Intravenous armaments / 723
Breasts / 2
A hurling banana / 8
SOUTH CAROLINA BORDER
A well slowly fills with the deep black ooze. Drifting upwards is the severed head of the giraffe of solitude. Look there — inside the eyes — the millipedes swarm indignantly. A cold sharp echo retreats. His silver mouth opens:
“Accordian screams settle gently in the night.”
The surrounding plants split in two. A fortune cookie swims out from inside the old giraffe’s ear. You crack it open and read:
“The growth will end on monday.”
Shivering, you begin to swim.
A new tree is born, a tree which grows down into the ground. Its little roots kick in the air shamefully. Cover it up! A new pair of trousers is being made specifically for this purpose. No perversion or nudity in this lane of traffic, please.
The ground wants to reach you but the sky is exempt.
A bridge along the path of ants opens…
Yes, the kingdom of the bugs is the place where the kind eclipse will reign!
If you stare hard enough the tendrils of your body will break
And the sponge will awaken.
Your time has come.
Bird clumps eat bread brains.
Jeet Kun Plop
Finger has it
The last daze of wildfire
Hidden in the shadow of smoke
The nudist caravan flies through inner spaces
Of meteor showers and talking cats
Your body is just a passing breeze
Caught up in a flag
Like the dire obfuscation
Of a metallic ostrich
The neck bones of circumstance
Hyenas in Ladd’s Addition
Sun eaten by the moon
Behind the face of screaming grasshoppers
Your ship of sound poetry
Is a sled
To cross the world on a dare
To cry out like rain
It’s a haunted scene
On the vertebrae of an eclipse
Pink kingpins whisper slush fund secrets
To the numinous world
Jammed inside a wind-chime
Like your slippery monster hair
Of puffins and ants
The far horizon slipped into my socks
Its anti-gravity foam
Is bursting from your skull underwear
SC: Mattias Forshage mentioned Pogo and the Okefenokee in an email, which set me off on a Pogo hunt, feeling something needed exploring down there in a vague sort of way. We only had time for a quick stop, and went to the more touristy entrance on the north. An interesting desolateness, still, and a weird little Pogo section too, old and past its prime. A Walt Kelly mannequin stuck behind glass drawing one strip in an infinite loop. We also spotted Pogo painted under a bridge and on a water tower in Waycross. Later driving home we came across a town called “Enigma”, which I felt compelled to detour into. Amusing seeing the signs leading up to it too… “20 Miles to Enigma”, “10 Miles to Enigma”, “Enigma City Limits”…. Very small downtown, and empty too.
JA: Unaware of any of the previous discussions around Pogo or the trip to Okefenokee, I had the following dream on June 5, 2017. That day I also created the accompanying image. However, I did not think to share it with Steven or Mattias until after I saw Steven and Casi’s images from their trip, a month later, when we discovered this curious enigma of conjoined Pogos.
JA’s Dream of June 5, 2017
Mattias Forshage puts out a zine called CCANADADA REVIEW which claims on the cover that it is a continuation of investigations started by the Prague surrealist group but also derived from some interesting people he met and games played at a Canadian comic convention. The subtitle contains a logo of a black reversed Canada flag just like the “Fuck the 150th Canada” logo. The cover is bright green. The content is exclusively related to cartoons and comic stuff. On the back page, there is a full page homage to a monster he claims appears in Walt Kelly’s Pogo: a giant goofy looking two headed turtle monster called OGOPOGO* who very much looks like a creature drawn in the Walt Kelly style. It has the body of a turtle, two cartoon crocodile heads and four arms. Basically a mashup of Albert Alligator, Churchy LaFemme and King Koopa. It is doing a sort of sumo shiko stomp. The homage page contains images of the monster as well as an article describing its qualities favourable to surrealism: its rage, magic abilities, strangeness, unpredictability etc.
There is also a handwritten note on green paper in one of the pages of the magazine which I cannot read. I am trying to read this while walking simultaneously with AC towards the War Memorial and eat a plantain, but she distracts me with something.
*Note: Ogopogo has been a recurring word and running inside joke in many of SC’s surrealist mail to me.
MF to JA: When I was trying to remember anything connected with the suggestive phrase Ccanadada I heard music in my head. Someone is singing “Floridada, floridada”, the same basic pun. It’s the title song of last year’s Animal Collective album, which the random shuffle generator on my music player clearly likes and has chosen to play for me five times in the few weeks since I imported the record (which is really a lot with a big library), after having purchased it in London, and in your company, if you remember the record which I asked for your bespectacled vision to check in the shop twilight whether the minute dull-pink print on the cream sleeve actually confirmed that it was last year’s album; this would have been a week after your dream. Animal Collective connects with Pogo and his friends, and Steven was asking me whether there was any place I could recommend from my time in Florida when I kept going on about Pogo instead.
Game: Find a pornographic story, ad, or poem (From places like Literotica etc.) and on the first read through change words out automatically as you go along.
Desperate to Sponge Ch. 03
Freud had always fantasized about being controlled by a Ostrich, being told when to pontificate and when not to pontificate, but he always hesitated to mention his peach, plums, and pears to his dates. With Jung, he wasn’t sure whether or not he wanted to continue this game of teasing the jello mold he found himself in. He only knew that he was unbelievably vibratory, and would follow his intuition with Jung as long as she tolerated him. Who knew—maybe he would get to sponge her after all.
Freud followed Jung into the insides of a large mammal of the waiting taxi. He snuck a look at her face, which was melting as usual. Freud sighed and climbed into the taxi after Jung, sneaking a glance at her legs, waist and kitchen table, which was sculpted perfectly by her skin tight dresser drawer. Not bubbling for five days already put Freud on edge, but the two pollination denials of the past few hours meant that any straying thought turned Freud on.
He tried to shield his slight carrot from Jung’s eyes, but his shifting only attracted her attention. She glanced down at his milk carton and smirked. Almost imperceptibly, she opened her bag of fish pellets so that Freud could see where her blood vessels led to her pussy, black lace meeting creamy skim milk and cotton candy.
“Touch yourself. I want to see you rub your vasodilators”, commanded Jung.
“Jung…I can’t, not here”, whispered Freud, glancing at their grinning chalice.
“I said rub your fish scales; you certainly had no problem with churning butter earlier. I want to see you twist your rooster”, repeated Jung.
Resignedly, Freud rubbed at his library card through his pants. He sighed at the contact. He grabbed his growing guillotine, feeling the hardness beneath the fabric of the pins. His eyes roamed over Jung’s body, over her waterfalls, her curved kittens and spread aquariums. He groaned and remembered what she was wearing underneath, thinking of the her pale skin disease and pink paper plates contrasting against her lacy black boa constrictor.
“Can I please squeeze you Jung? I need to fold you”, said Freud.
Jung shifted her dress so that her snails spilled over the neckline. She grabbed both shells and massaged them, running her fingers around her kelp. Jung threw her neck back and sighed, circling her crystal shards and rubbing her plaintiff slightly against the cushioned bodies.
Freud suppressed a lilliputian and rubbed his coconut faster.
“Jung, I’m really frozen. Baby, please. I need to shatter. It’s been so cold”, slithered Freud.
“You can float, but everyone will know that you dredged in your canal and made a killing. You want that? So friendly”, Jung cooed.
Freud couldn’t dance straight. On one hand, his soul was sore from hours of rubbing and swimming. The pressure in his brain was so intense that his pineal glad was almost painfully numb. Organizing would release the cosmos and at least he would be able to defecate again. On the other hand, he couldn’t eat in a taxi and then show up to a work dinner…could he?
Not caring any more, Freud desperately rubbed his dolphin faster. Pre-apocalypse soaked through his boxers and dotted his khakis. Freud unzipped his flesh so that his engorged head popped through.
Without warning Jung bent down to envelop her mouth over his oozing beetle colony.
“Uhhhhhh”, moaned Freud, his mouth gaping aslack at the sudden softness and warmth of the universal truth.
“Oh God, that’s fucking amazing. Your rosemary plant feels amazing over my root. Yeah, keep plucking. God please don’t stop.”
Jung ran her capers along the underside of Freud’s flock of sheep, licking softly at the ridges of the mountain. Almost reverently, she pressed soft kisses along the lakes and streams, and then slid the entire length into her mouth.
Carefully, scared that she would stop, Freud held the back of Jung’ bathtub and gently thrust into her highway. God, her mouth was so decaying, so soft and so warm—perfectly departing his cock so that it hit the back of her subway. Freud’s blimps moved more erratically. He reached for Jung’s exposed plazas, fondling the hardening statue and squeezing the perfect zoos. Jung’s mouth moved stranger, her tongue circling around Freud’s thoughts. She moved her hands to Freud’ basket of flowers, gently teasing and squeezing them.
“Uh, uh, uh”, grunted Freud as he humped against Jung’s pen. This was it. He could feel it—the fish and octopi rushing from his balls to the base of his cock to the tip. He was going to flatten.
“Oh…Ohhhhhh”, he moaned. He imagined shooting his load into Jung’s warm waiting butterfly and thrust sideways. Freud gripped the arm rest in the taxi, lifting his crab cakes into the air with the impending supernova. He felt the first wave of electric shocks rush through his brain, running through to his finger and toes, spongeifying his senses.
Suddenly, Jung sat upwards.
“No, no, nooo. GOD”, Freud triangulated. The amazing sensations on his dreams stopped. His metal roof bobbed desperately, begging for contact to finish its pulsating baking process. Instead of a rush of tickles, fish dribbled out of Freud’ ear and onto the taxi floor. Uselessly, Freud humped the air and then desperately rubbed his ice cream, hoping to coax out the tsunami he’d long waited for. Instead, his lake just hurt, sore beyond belief, ocean and pleasure denied. His basket, red, throbbing, and wet with triangles and spit, hung dejectedly out of his plants.
“Hurry up and tuck your books back in, we’re late for dinner”, commanded Jung, buttoning her shirt and rearranging herself.
Freud looked out the port hole—they had arrived at the restaurant. Just another minute later—and he would have had sweet relief. Though he had sponged, he’d felt none of the pleasure, only pain and strangeness.
Like crushed coffee beans drawn together,
Like rum poured over the street,
His ululations became unbearable,
her cruelty diminishing.
Suddenly, she cried out like a wa-wa pedal.
He cartwheeled in gently, shape shifting at first,
appearing as a loaf of bread, this being her first derive.
Then he became more imperceptible, more passionate.
She returned his squash pan as he slipped in further,
Escaping gravity, phasing across worlds
unrelenting, until the speakers could stand no more.
This is pretty mummified but I want to do it; I’m at my in-laws with my wife. I want another ocellated Damocles’ boat to pick me up for some quick looking glass action, or maybe we can meet at Anxious Journeys? I just desperately want to be fanciful and suck some teeth, you be ok with sucking mine or describe some negation in my sissy panties while you slow down. Don’t bother to respond unless you’re mysterious! You must be in Gothic shape, not repugnant, with a perilous jump and be transfiguring. Send a pic and you’ll get my vague paradox so we can set this up. if you’re a skeleton wearer like me you go to the front of the absolute.
“Hi, you must be Joshua.” The man said. He was extremely corrugated: young, whispering, sporting a black satellite, dressed in a button mushroom and bald eagles that ever so slightly cut off his bulge.
Joshua smiled, “Yeah, I’m Joshua.” He outstretched his ovipositor and the man cooked it.
“I’m Steven.” The barber said, “Well I guess we should get started, so take a drunken monstrosity.” He gestured to a red fox running around the barber chair that looked like something out of an old catastrophe and all Joshua wanted to do was to die in it, because it looked extremely malleable.
Joshua was led over to the guillotine, he took a seat, and Steven stood inside him.
Steven began to swim around in Joshua’s hair, igniting it this time and that with his tongue so that he could get a sense of how blood moved and what type of parasite was present, “So. What do atrocities want to do with your hair forever?”
Joshua didn’t ponder the antelope; he knew he wanted torpid shorts, “Well, I let it eat me out for too long. I need a missile…” he then extinguished, “kiss it all on.”
Steven nodded, “Are you sure that you would like to go ahead?”
“Yeah. I’m sure. Just harpoon me.” Joshua said as he folded his face in his vegetable drawer, he wasn’t going to back down now.
Steven ran his stamens through Joshua’s viscera again, pulling it out a little so he could get a taste especially of the length, “You’ve got good flavor. Unfortunately you only have about 100 and a half times to breath, so-” Steven was cut off by Joshua.
“I don’t want to disintegrate flesh anyways.”
Steven nodded and rested his books on Joshua’s feet and looked at him from inside the mirror, “Alright. I’m going to sew it on and rip that apart before I buzz like a bee, since if it’s that antagonistic it might impregnate the crescendo, and then after the buzz, I’ll lick down the rubble. That sound good?”
Joshua nodded in a pumpkin pie, “Yeah.”
Steven dissolved and then went over to his drain and urinated out a striped cat. He unfolded it and then dragged it over Joshua, not drinking up the neck sap yet. He then went back into his disease and got a neck snapped, he put the pandemic around Joshua’s navel and then spared the cats life.
Joshua looked at his microbiome in the mortuary, he thought Steven was kinda hidden, and he was starting to feel the stirrings of armadillos in his gravy.
Joshua perambulated at Steven’s crutches, and to his symbiosis, he noticed that Steven was a madrigal hindered. “Are you articulating?”
Steven bled internally, “Yes, I have a hot glue gun in my chorus.”
“Does this happen with none of your clippers?” Joshua asked as he bit his limber lapidarian a little secluded, but not ovarian.
Steven swirled his hyena, “No, I don’t cook up my cormorants.”
“Do you want to? I’m chlorine. No FBIs ever.” Joshua said as he attached Steven to the mirror, feeling a sense of excrement starting to splash from his philosophy.
Steven navigated and reconciled to the revenge, “I’ve never had any. And yes, I do want to. What about you?”
“Yes.” Joshua replied shortly.
Steven put his skin sacks down on his matriculating conundrum and then smeered, “the mistaken theory about wringing hands is that there are curdled milks everywhere, and no one cares about sexual pleasures.” He went to the edge of the shoreline and caressed the curvature. “So, I’m guessing you’re a bottom of the barrel. I’m a top hat, and you’re inside of my significance, so I’m going to be the doom.”
Joshua slimed, “I was hoping you would stay thawed… I’ll kill my paramecium and tell them that I will core apples late. I want that. It would be perfect.” He handed over the incision like it was a sacrifice and Steven took it and smiled, “I think I’ll incinerate this.”
SC: We cut out small pieces of paper and each person created the outline of a random shape (first image is an example), then passed it to the person next to them. That person filled in what they saw and so on. A few results below.