Eldon began the search on his own; at parties, at bars, at ball games. During the next few years, he wrote his sister with bits of fugitive matter he’d picked up. And he got quite a specialized knowledge of local TV shows, kid’s show clowns, Shock Theater hosts, and eclectic local programming of the early 1950s, throughout these United States.
June 25, 1979
Dear Eldon —
Sorry it took so long to get this letter off to you, but I’ve been busy at work, and helping with the Fund Drive, and I also think I’m onto something. I’ve just run across stuff that indicates there was some kind of medical outfit that used radio in the late ’40s and early ’50s.
Hope you can come home for Christmas this time. Mom’s getting along in years, you know. I know you had your troubles with her (I’m the one to talk) but she really misses you. As Bill Cosby says, she’s an old person trying to get into Heaven now. She’s trying to be good the second thirty years of her life …
Will write you again as soon as I find out more about these quacks.
Your little sister,Irene
August 14, 1979
Dear Big Brother:
Well, it’s depressing here. The lead I had turned out to be a bust, and I could just about cry, since I thought this might be it, since they broadcast on both shortwave and FM (like Aunt Joanie’s set received) but this probably wasn’t it, either.
It was called Drown Radio Therapy (there’s something poetic about the name, but not the operation). It was named for Dr. Ruth Drown, she was a real osteopath. Sometime before the War, she and a technocrat started working with a low-power broadcast device. By War’s end, she was claiming she could treat disease at a distance, and set up a small broadcast station behind her Chicago suburb office. Patients came in, were diagnosed, and given a schedule of broadcast times they were supposed to tune in. (The broadcasts were directly to each patient, supposedly, two or three times a day.) By the late ’40s, she’d also gone into TV, which is of course FM (the radio stuff being short-wave). That’s where I’d hoped I’d found someone broadcasting at the same time on both bands.
But probably no go. She franchised the machines out to other doctors, mostly naturopaths and cancer quacks. It’s possible that one was operating near Aunt Joanie’s somewhere, but probably not, and anyway, a committee of docs investigated her stuff. What they found was that the equipment was so low-powered it could only broadcast a dozen miles (not counting random skipping, bouncing off the Heaviside layer, which it wouldn’t have been able to reach). Essentially they ruled the equipment worthless.
And, the thing that got to me, there was no picture transmission on the FM (TV) portion; just the same type of random signals that went out on short-wave, on the same schedule, every day. Even if you had a rogue cancer specialist, the FCC said the stuff couldn’t broadcast a visual signal, not with the technology of the time. (The engineer at the station here looked at the specs and said “even if they had access to video orthicon tubes, the signal wouldn’t have gotten across the room,” unless it was on cable, which it wasn’t.)
I’ve gone on too long. It’s not it.
Sorry to disappoint you (again). But I’m still going through back files of Variety and BNJ and everything put out by the networks in those years. And, maybe a mother-lode, a friend’s got a friend who knows where all the Dumont records (except Gleason’s) are stored.
We’ll find out yet, brother. I’ve heard stories of people waiting twenty, thirty, forty years to clear things like this up. There was a guy who kept insisting he’d read a serialized novel in a newspaper, about the fall of civilization, in the early 1920s. Pre-bomb, pre-almost everything. He was only a kid when he read it. Ten years ago he mentioned it to someone who had a friend who recognized it, not from a newspaper, but as a book called Darkness and the Dawn. It was in three parts, and serial rights were sold, on the first part only, to, like three newspapers in the whole U.S. And the man, now in his sixties, had read it in one of them.
Things like that do happen, kiddo.
Write me when you can.
Sept. 12, 1982
I’m ready to give up on this. It’s running me crazy — not crazy, but to distraction, if I had anything else to be distracted from.
I can’t see any way out of this except to join the Welcome Space Brothers Club, which I refuse to do.
That would be the easy way out, give up, go over to the Cheesy Side of the Force. You and me saw a travelog, a See-It-Now of the Planets, hosted by an interstellar Walter Cronkite on a Nipkov disk TV in 1953. We’re the only people in the world who did. No one else.
But that’s why CE3K and the others have made so many millions of dollars. People want to believe, but they want to believe for other people, not themselves. They don’t want to be the ones. They want someone else to be the one. And then they want everybody to believe. But it’s not their ass out there saying: the Space Brothers are here; I can’t prove it, take my word for it, it’s real. Believe me as a person.
I’m not that person, and neither are you; OR there has to be some other answer. One, or the other, but not both; and not neither.
I don’t now what to do anymore; whatever it is, it’s not this. It’s quit being fun. It’s quit being something I do aside from life as we know it. It is my life, and yours, and it’s all I’ve got.
I know what Mr. Goober was trying to tell us, and there was more, but the sound was off.
I’m tired. I’ll write you next week when I can call my life my own again.
Cops called from Irene’s town the next week.
After the funeral, and the stay at his mother’s, and the inevitable fights, with his stepfather trying to stay out of it, he came home and found one more letter, postmarked the same day as the police had called him.
Dear Eldon —Remember this, and don’t think less of me: What we saw was real.
Evidently, too real for me.
Find out what we saw.
So you’ll be sitting in the bar, there’ll be the low hum and thump of noise as the band sets up, and over in the corner, two people will be talking. You’ll hear the word “Lucy” which could be many things — a girlfriend, a TV show, a late President’s daughter, a 4-million-year-old ape-child. Then you’ll hear “M-Squad” or “Untouchables” and there’ll be more talk, and you’ll hear distinctly, during a noise-level drop, “ … and I don’t mean Johnny-fucking-Jupiter either…”
And in a few minutes he’ll leave, because the band will have started, and conversation, except at the 100-decibel level, is over for the night.
But he’ll be back tomorrow night. And the night after.
And all the star-filled nights that follow that one.
Photo illustration by Robert K. J. Killheffer
©1998 by Howard Waldrop. First published in OMNI Internet March 1998