8.08 / August 2013


Petri Wine presents the New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Presents radio theater, presents wooden blocks clopped together like horses’ hooves, presents the detective Holmes and the doctor Watson on cassette tape. Presents the past, the archived, the defunct. The once and future artifact. A tape: magnetism, portability, smooth running slip-sheet. A boxed set of 64 episodes, 32 cassettes, and 6 booklets, 4 cassettes per booklet, 2 episodes per cassette. Presents the reel still looped round, wound and rewound, Penelope’s shroud, not yet unspooled.

The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a voice announces, starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Dr. Watson. From 1939 to 1947, the show aired Monday nights at 8:30 on the Mutual Broadcasting System. Imagine gathering around the Capehart Panamuse radio. Imagine tuning in. A girl huddles in the corner of the couch, feet pulled up, arms wrapped around knees; a boy lies belly down, elbows on rug, fists under chin, calves kicking the air. Of the 220 original episodes in the New Adventures, only a collector’s set of 64 or so remain, most starring Rathbone and Bruce, the definitive preferable pair. A few more float around online, others still to be found on records at swap meets or garage sales. As if an endangered species, these episodes have been boxed and held in cherished captivity. But unlike a species, they are unable to breed, to propagate.

Presents tuning in. Presents a cold night, past midnight, a darkened bedroom. Presents a child, inching and then scampering out of bed, turning on the bookcase lamp, weighing each booklet of the boxed set. The booklets differently colored, each color, like the episodes themselves, a variation on a theme, an altered iteration—blue, black, red, olive, ultramarine, burgundy. Slide the booklet out from its case, muse the cassettes, slip one out from its shell. The edges of the booklet mashed in so that the white of its binding shows, its spine, like some book read jammed against a kitchen table. Remember whether the thumb rests against Side A or Side B. Presents the child scurrying back to bed, sliding back under the covers, the tape held in hand, outstretched, out of the covers, as if it is something one must keep clear of the water.

In lieu of advertisements, the New Adventures had sponsors: Bromo Quinine (cold tablets); Kreml Hair Tonic for Men (dandruff and itchy scalps); Parker Pen (gold ballpoints); Clipper Craft (menswear); and Petri Wine.

The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes presents Petri Wine. Presents California vineyards, grapes nuzzled by Pacific breezes, fields in the heart of wine country. Petri took time to bring you good wine. The perfection you find in Petri Wine is the result of a skill which has been handed down, from father to son, for three generations. The success you find in Petri, the success that once made it the largest domestic producer of wine in the United States, is the result of keg and bulk distribution, the result of erratic grape prices and a favorable contract with Allied Grape Growers, the result of the Asti plant in Sonoma and the Shewan Jones plant in Lodi, the result of bottling facilities in Chicago and Newark. Everything tastes better with Petri Wine. Try Petri Wine tonight: Petri sauterne with fish and fowl; sherry when folks drop in; claret with pork and game; port with cheese and after dinner; burgundy with steaks and chops; pale dry sherry before dinner; muscatel with desserts. And remember—Petri took time to bring you good wine.

Presents the child, lying in bed. Presents insulation, sheathed surroundings, a mummy wrapped in down. Presents parents on other side of bedroom door, city night on other side of window. The window cracked open, wind whistling through, cold air diffused, cold foot rubbing cold foot’s sole, cold hand reaching behind itself to the tape deck. The tape deck expectant, hung open like a jaw. The child knows exactly where the tape goes. He knows where all the buttons are, can feel them with his wrist twisted round, their alignment, the give to expect when he pushes down. Play/pause, eject; rewind, fast-forward. And then the one he never pushes: record. Slip the tape in. Close the mouth. Press the button.

Harry Bartell presents Petri Wines. That is, Harry Bartell, character actor and chameleon of old time radio shows, announcer and host of the New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. He plays himself. But when he does not play himself, he plays: Ronald Dawson in The Second Class Passenger; Doc Holliday on Gunsmoke; Archie Goodwin in The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe; and Peyton Farquar in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. Remember this occurrence. Harry Bartell speaks and his voice makes one imagine a youthful man. But the voice on the other end is not the man. Harry Bartell the man is incompatible with Harry Bartell the voice: the man grayed by the age of thirty. He plays himself and he plays against self. Or it is a question of self—which we talk about when all we possess is a voice, when that voice, in turn, possesses our imagination.

Press play. A minor organ spooks, and Harry Bartell speaks, presents Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Harry Bartell plugs Petri sherry. Because Petri sherry can make that time before dinner a high spot in your day. Its color? A deep amber, rich and inviting. Its flavor? Just swell. And if anyone in your family likes dry sherry, you know not sweet? Well, in that case, buy two bottles—Petri sherry and Petri pale dry sherry. The organ ascends to the major, now pastoral. The show is just beginning.

Petri wine presents layered narrative, presents the embedded. Harry Bartell walks up the stairs to Dr. Watson’s California beach house. He is no longer announcer, but character. Harry Bartell the character is the same as Harry Bartell the man—he is not acting, at least he does not pretend to be. Unlike Nigel Bruce, whose voice answers the door, whose voice is Dr. Watson’s. Harry Bartell is here to hear a story. Dr. Watson welcomes in his young friend. The two sit by the fire. It is the early 1940s. They talk about the weather, they talk about food, they talk about the dead seal Watson’s puppies found down by the beach. They talk about how much Harry Bartell the character enjoys a glass of Petri wine. Harry Bartell announces that Dr. Watson will tell us a story. That’s right, we are listening in. We believe we are there, believe Watson and Bartell are sitting side by side in easy chairs, because our ear has become disembodied, detached in time and space, seduced by narrative. It is simple, unfathomable; a miracle, a wormhole. But what does Watson have in store for us? He bumbles and rustles some papers, pulls a case out from his file—but then Watson becomes Nigel Bruce, clears his throat, stutters for a second, this is live, after all—and, back again, Dr. Watson begins.

Presents the 1890s. Presents Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson sitting in their apartment at 221 B. Baker Street. Presents a cold night outside—the fog curling, wind howling, rain lashing against the windowpane. In short, the same conditions as the child’s night in bed, here, one hundred years later. Presents a stranger’s voice on the street below, the closing of an umbrella, the stamping of boots, their thud as they walk up the seventeen steps to the second floor, a fist rapping against the door. Presents a mystery, presents clues, presents a case to be solved. Presents a transfer of thermal energy. Holmes and Watson forego sleep, swear off rest, journey out into the cold. And the child becomes warm, becomes drowsy, his feet curl, his arms form isosceles triangles underneath the pillow, and then—the rattle of a horse-drawn carriage fails to rouse—he is asleep.

Sherlock Holmes presents nonfiction, the detective uncovers and presents reality. Harry Bartell announces Sherlock Holmes, sponsors and spokespersons the fiction to be true. As is the case for many fictional characters, the people who love Sherlock Holmes believe that he is real. Believe he existed, that he still exists. Visit Reichenbach Falls, the site of Holmes’ fictional death in the Swiss Alps, and you will find a museum that recreates 221 B. Baker Street as faithfully as possible, down to the placement of detective’s pipe and doctor’s stethoscope. Not a reimagining, a recreating. The apartment is based on details in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, but the museum does not refer to these when presenting its process. It refers instead to Holmes’s actual life, treats him as a historical reality. A bronze plaque at Reichenbach Falls itself elegizes Holmes’ final battle with his archenemy Moriarty. The plaque, like the museum, pretends a real life, commemorates an event that never actually occurred. Even the fictional death is a fiction: readers so lamented Holmes’ demise, so lambasted Conan Doyle’s decision, that the author was forced to bring the detective back from the dead three years later. And so when Harry Bartell and Dr. Watson discuss Holmes’ cases in their present day, fifty years after the fact, they never refer to Holmes himself or his present state. They do not discuss aging: Nigel Bruce’s voice, much like Harry Bartell’s, stays the same, never changes, no matter that he plays a character whose age varies fifty years from one segment to the next. In its own way, the show allows us to believe Holmes still lives.

Present dreams. Present moment. Presents the reel in fast-forward. Basil Rathbone becomes Sherlock Holmes, merges, intertwines, inhabits. The child becomes you. This you falls asleep in your new home and wakes up in an old one, your true home, the only home you have ever really known. You know this because you wake up again as a child. You open the door, walk into your living room, and there, lying on the couch, his feet propped up on its arm, is a man. The stranger come in from the cold, here to present his mystery. He is asleep, but you know him, you have seen him in other dreams, you have seen him your whole life. The last time you ran into him on a beach, in the late afternoon, as the day was ending, as he was walking back home, as you were walking the other way. Now he wakes up, he has only been napping, he rises to life. You ask, how did you get here, should you really be here? He says I walked up the stairs, I knocked on the door, it’s raining outside. You say, I thought you had gone off somewhere else. He says, I came back home. You say, how do you feel? He says ok, just a little tired, just a little slow, just a little slur. You want to believe him, but you are on guard. You know what it means to suspend belief, to believe illusion. You have listened to Sherlock Holmes, you know these mysteries, you have been to Reichenbach Falls. In fact. In fact.

Petri Wine presents the return of the double-octave organ. It raises a racket. The child stirs. The show is over, the mystery has been solved. Holmes has found the emerald Moriarty hid in the bottle of green chartreuse, has revealed that the painter is colorblind and thus is the murderer—the man who cannot tell the difference between red and green, between a glass of port and crème de menthe. We are back in the 1940s. Petri wine presents the organ as instrument of transition. I would never mistake a glass of Petri port, Harry Bartell chirps. No, you wouldn’t, Watson agrees and then urges his listeners not to forget the boys in the Pacific, to buy war bonds, to remember that, even though the European front looks strong, we must still lick the Japanese. Harry Bartell asks what’s on tap for next week. Dr. Watson says he will tell a special story, The Singular Affair of the Baconian Cipher. They bid their listeners goodbye, the organ again, and then silence, a crackle, the loop unspools, the reel runs towards its end. It whines and then a pop, the play button still pinned down. The child must reach his hand out from under the pillow and press eject. And, with that, he is awake, he is up.

The child does not like to wake up like that. He does not like to miss out, does not like time to pass without his knowledge. Let it all pass, let it all funnel to an end or to a wormhole, only let him be aware of it. Let him press pause, let him toggle between fast-forward and rewind. When he was little, still able to be carried for long periods of time, his parents would pick him up and dance him around the room. Music would play, the Argentine and Brazilian records, and he would nod off. This was naptime. They tread lightly as he fell asleep; heavy footsteps would make the record skip. When his head lolled against their shoulders, they would walk over to the record player and lift the needle. The music would stop. They would hold him then, just hold him, rocking back and forth. They knew that, if the music did not begin in exactly the same place when he woke up, he would begin to scream and scream. They knew this because he had done it before, thrown these tantrums, become this terror, this character, this fact.

Petri wine presents a change in direction, missed direction, misdirection. Now, it is not the organ, but the phone that wakes you up in the night. It vibrates against the wooden table, suddenly possessed, horrific, as if a ghost had taken control of it. You pull yourself out of sleep, a bucket drawn from a well, hand over hand, raw on the rope. The bucket brims, you have drunk too much, your hand enfolds the phone, its vibration still, muted. You squint to see who is calling, though the name on the screen tells you nothing without the voice. The same voice playing all the different characters; all the different characters playing the same voice. Wine presents misdirection. No one is calling you. You have set your alarm for the middle of the night. And now, again, you are awake, it is past 2 a.m., you are up.

Presents insomnia, present insomnia. Presents the fact that drink knocks you out and then wakes you up, stranded, parched, the well run dry. Presents heartburn, indigestion, heartache. It is now you wish you had your New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, your Rathbone and Bruce, your soporific, your less than pills, less than opiates. Now, instead, there is the jolt a phone can give and a thought, a silly thought, that circles and circles in the air, watching if you will move. You wonder if someone did call you, if you just mistook the symbol on the screen, if you denied a voice from reaching you. You wonder who it would have been. Who it would have been, if it had been a ghost. Any old thing to keep you up most of the night.

Most of the night. Because even on the bad nights, the nights with those empty hours in the middle, there is sleep at the beginning and end. You tire yourself out. And that anguish, that exhaustion leads to its own reward, bestows its own gift—a deeper sleep in the dawn and, with that sleep, the lucidity of dreams, the rare ones that let you resolve the world, or let the world resolve you.

Presents Sherlock Holmes as alive and well. Or Sherlock Holmes as imagined, and so then not alive, but not dead. Imagined in the way you must imagine something you know exists but cannot see. The present, the object inside a box that rattles when you shake it. The rooms of a friend’s house you have not yet visited. The rooms of 221 B. Baker Street. Imagined the way you must imagine something you cannot feel. The feel of sex, the feel of a broken limb, the feel of an unclasped hand. Imagined the way you must imagine something you cannot hear. A voice on a call still to be answered. The 156 episodes of the New Adventures, the 220 minus 64 iterations of Holmes and Watson that have been left uncollected, that have not yet been lost but which can only be imagined as they shortwave somewhere, in the etherealized, unrealized air.

Petri Wine presents Basil Rathbone. Kreml Hair Tonic presents Tom Conway. Clipper Craft presents John Stanley. Rathbone as Holmes becomes Conway as Holmes becomes Stanley. Rathbone, tired of the detective, tired of the typecast, quit in 1947. The Singular Affair of the Baconian Cipher was his last case; a special case, indeed. Conway, then Stanley, took over the role. Presents momentary deception. Press play and hear Conway’s voice instead, the voice that impersonates or approximates Rathbone’s, more of a whine than a sharpness. The voice that remains when Rathbone’s has been all used up, a simulacrum, a transposition, all that’s left. Conway is not the Holmes, but he is still a Holmes. Because Holmes lives on. Because, like the people you love, you will accept him as a gift however he is presented, wherever you can find him, in whatever form he assumes.

Insomnia presents delight, presents one dream, presents one compensation. A present of the past. You are walking along the beach, a different one this time, it is early morning, you are holding your flip-flops in your left hand, you are holding someone else’s hand in your right. It is early morning, several hours later than the dawn in which you dream. Because it is early morning, sea and salt still hang in the air and you breathe spume. Mountains rise and fold ahead of you, stratus turned to cumulus turned to fog. Yet you can see through the fog, you can see to the green that is jungle. You can see everything in front of you as you walk, everything through a haze, the bathers, the umbrellas, the gulls. Except you cannot turn your head to see whose hand you are holding, you cannot hear the hand’s voice. Is it the man’s, the man asleep on the couch? No, it is too late for that, too close to morning, not the time he appears. You can feel the hand, cupped in yours, smaller, clammy, but warm like a sleeping bird, and you know it is a girl’s hand. And here is the thing: you cannot see the girl’s face, but because this is lucid, because you are both asleep and awake, you may decide whose face it is, you may fill the narrative gap, you may decide to continue dreaming. It is as simple and as unfathomable as that.

Remember the occurrence? Peyton Farquar, a Confederate supporter, is set to hang from Owl Creek Bridge during the Civil War. Instead, the rope snaps, Farquar falls into the water, swims to safety, and journeys through the woods to find his way home. In the woods, he begins to dream and hallucinate. But he wakes up, recovers his direction and, with his home in sight, is about to embrace his wife and child when the noose snaps again, breaking his neck this time. Farquar had imagined the whole escape in the time it took him to fall. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge presents Harry Bartell in the past tense.

Petri wine presents the present morning, the hangover, presents you fully, unalterably awake. Presents the phone in your hand, the call you make, presents your silent shout out and around distance. Presents another voice, not your own, that you are waiting to hear, that you must will to pick up, will to rise out of sleep, will to exist. Another voice that must imagine you as real, that sees your name on the phone saying nothing without your voice, that might say, when it picks up, what you say to the man in your dreams: you should let me know you were here. You should have let me known, this whole time, that you were here.

Thomas Mira y Lopez was born and raised in New York City and roots for the Mets. Now he lives in Tucson. Read other work of his at Green Briar Review and on Essay Daily.
8.08 / August 2013