dream (il)logic

by Megan Abbott

Now and again, I go through phases—frequently as a result of poor (yet legitimately pharmaceutical) choices—of bad dreams.

I am in the middle of such a phase (including an especially terrifying one involving angry squirrels). And it’s a real drag right now because I’m revisiting one of my favorite true crime books, the highly contested Black Dahlia Avenger by Steve Hodel. A retired LA cop, Hodel  devotes hundreds of pages to proving that his father, George Hodel, is not only the killer of Elizabeth Short, AKA “The Black Dahlia,” but possibly scores of other women in Los Angeles in the 1940s (and earlier, and later).

I have conversations with folks about this book at least every few weeks. It seems there are many of us who are haunted by its particular blend of truthiness, utter throw-the-book-across-the-room implausibility and the humming ring of real, and deeply haunting, truth.

Going back to bad dreams, though—well, this book gives me very bad dreams. It’s a disturbing, exotic and strange world George Hodel lived in—doctor, lothario, friend to surrealists, decadent. And Steve Hodel renders it well.  (Do read Craig McDonald‘s wonderful Toros and Torsos novel and the book Exquisite Corpse: Surrealism and the Black Dahlia Murder for more on this world.)

The point is, I cannot possibly read this book before I go to sleep.  Instead, I am watching Larry Sanders, or reading The Believer’s first-rate film issue (more on that in the days to come). But it reminds of conversations Sara and I have had about the possibility of “directing” our own dreams (and about lucid dreaming). Can one “will” bad dreams away—or more pointedly set the stage for good ones?

This is all a long (sleepless) way of saying, speaking of surrealism, I got a postcard in the mail from my dad:

The caption is “Gadget Dance, 1936,”  and it’s Depression-era timestamp is significant. But the main thing is, I smiled very widely when I got it, and have placed it above my computer.

This picture, like so many of those Busby Berkeley musical numbers from the 30s, are sometimes what we think of when we think of dreamscapes. So my goal tonight, is to dream my way into this.

Personally, I want to be the washing machine girl in the back, with the balloon bubbles. (Who can tell me what the girl behind the oven and next to the radio is supposed to be? Jack, I’m asking you!).

26 Comments to “dream (il)logic”

  1. I’m sorry to hear of your sleeplessness and squirrel nightmares. Those goddamn tree vermin are evil incarnate (they’ve eaten through my phone lines twice, among other things). I hope that your nights take a turn back toward the peaceful soon.

    Re: the model – I want to say she’s a radiator of some kind but I’m not sure they looked like that back then.

  2. Those squirrels!
    Oh, a radiator! or a space heater maybe? I’m sure that shield thing she’s wearing is a clue!

  3. oh boy….I’m waving my imaginary good dreams wand from over here, i’m in Sweden in a sleepless zone myself, no evil rodents or George Hodel here tho…more like WWII weirdness, I look at the rooftops and they look….old, German, complicit in something huge and historical, spared from a bombing run

    Got a new laptop before I left NYC, and in transferring over my pictures I found a photo of me at the Hodel house circa 2004. Why is this subject soooooooo fascinating? That story contains multitudes. Layer after layer. I think about Tamar Hodel a lot.

    Since I’m underslept too as I read your post, and the scan of the postcard from your father didn’t come through on my phone, I had no idea what you were talking about here in this last paragraph :

    “Who can tell me what the girl behind the oven and next to the radio is supposed to be? Jack, I’m asking you!”

    AND IT SCARED THE SHIT OUT OF ME! Take it out of context and I had this vibe like one of the scariest Lynch-moments I can think of, I think it’s in FIRE WALK W ME, when Laura goes into her room and the camera is panning around and slooooowly “Bob” comes rising up from behind her bed

    Here in the dark I put this phrase into the circa 1900 rooms I’m in, our gothic-y apt. over here, where we have these huge decorative ceramic “ovens” that were once used to heat the house….

    “The girl behind the oven and next to the radio that no one else can see, who is she supposed to be?”

  4. Nathan! Sorry for you infecting you with my creepy dreams! I promise, the picture is just as sunny as can be! (But your riff on it is kinda spectacular–that last sentence, a riff on my own, seems straight outta Lynch!).
    We must speak more about that Hodel house. I wonder how many of us there are out there that are haunted by it?

  5. thanks Megan! But infecting others with creepy dreams is kind of our calling, right? So in this sense you’re simply doing your job, successfully!

    Haunted by a house….I think I told you I snuck around back (it’s really lame from the back, I don’t know if it was an addition or what but it looks very ’80s), big windows, saw several rooms with sort of dirty white carpet, completely full of large plants, like full to the point where the rooms were useless. Hmm. It didn’t seem like anybody lived there really.

  6. That’s quite right, Nathan!
    I remember you telling me about sneaking around back—when was that?

  7. The sneaking or me tellin u about it? The sneaking, like 2003-4? Me telling you about it at the lovely East Harlem Cafe….

  8. The sneaking! That makes sense because I *think* I heard someone’s living it now. I’ll run a check on it!

  9. That’s fascinating, I wonder if I caught them mid-reno because it seemed like the plants were just being stored there…ugh. Lord, look at photo # 3, the “bar”…yikes!! Looks like a designer hotel or a Lenny Kravitz video. Why does all “modern” stuff like this vibe 90s to me?? And wow no idea they used it in THE AVIATOR, guess I was too busy cringing at Di Caprio…I liked Cate’s Kate Hepburn though. Great pants she had through the whole film.

  10. Up there, in it’s own way, is the Ennis House (a Frank Lloyd Wright design) that’s got a pretty wide film pedigree.

    By the way, Megan, searching the “caption” of your postcard, ran across this poem that references the title, “Gadget Dance, 1936,” and certainly seems inspired by the snap: http://www.unsplendid.com/3-1/3-1_mchugh_inpraise_frames.htm

  11. Megan: The journalist in me got a bit out of control figuring this one out (it appears to be a waffle iron). Here’s a version of your postcard with the devices labeled: http://www.jitterbuzz.com/apsho/appliance_girls_lg.jpg

    That can be found at the bottom of a larger post on a 1930s-era appliance show here: http://www.jitterbuzz.com/aplsho.html

  12. Waffle iron! That explains the shield. Craig, you astound–somehow I feel this will prove the dream elixir!

  13. I think it’s a vacuum cleaner.

  14. By the way, this reminds me of a L’il Abner continuity where a fashion designer asks Abner what he thinks are the ugliest things extant. He then creates women’s dresses based on these answers.

  15. Megan, those dancing appliance girls made a guest appearance in MY dream last night–not in a bad way, they just sort of flitted through. I suggest no more reading scary stuff before bed for you! Oh, that Hodel book–Fauna I and Fauna II! Nathan, I gather you went to the house, yikes…

  16. Oh, Sara, I never, EVER read scary stuff before bed! And I am actually *hoping* for the appliance girls to come to my dreams. I somehow thought I could make it so by writing about it. Maybe I sent them to you instead!

  17. Craig you’re a genius! A freakin waffle iron? I was gonna say like a thermometer … And I hadn’t heard of that other Wright house nearby, looks amazing….

    Sara yeah I’ve been to the house (twice)…like I say it helps to go around back cos it’s so lame and not scary around back, from the front it’s like what the fuck kind of Cthulhu madness is this

    xo! N

  18. For those interested in an important update that potentially connects physical evidence from my father’s Sowden/Franklin House to the actual Dahlia crime scene you can check out my blogs on it below. This info is recent so not found in either my original book, or the updated new chapters in BDA which contain the DA transcripts and George Hodel taped confession.

    Best Regards,

    Steve Hodel
    Los Angeles

    • Mr. Hodel, what a pleasure!! thanks so much! As you can tell, I’m completely fixated on your book–much thanks for sending these links!

  19. I wish I could remember more, Megan. Seems to me a fire hydrant, a dresser, and maybe a mail box.

  20. Megan and friends:

    My pleasure. But, for those that are subject to wary of “things that go bump in the night” be warned.
    Idt’s pretty damn scary stuff. My own personal memories of the Franklin house growing up were pure
    MAGIC. Now, not so much.


    • Wow, Steve, good to meet. Fascinated by your book (clearly, here we are) and your ongoing story. Hope all is well, and look forward to digging deeper into this new info you provide here. All warmest from NYC

  21. Megan & friends:


    Here is another link to a Franklin House blog I wrote on the interesting connections of the house to a number of classic films shot there such as: L.A. Confidential and Aviator. ART IMITATING LIFE.


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