Posts tagged ‘Rosalind Cohen’

 

This video has nothing whatever to do with the Futurians or their games, but it’s a great ghostly animation from 1933. (Sorry, it was the best we could do. —the blog team)

 
As mentioned earlier, when the Futurians held a party they were limited in program. There was music sometimes, borrowed from somebody’s record collection, but no dancing, because few of us males knew how. There was much drinking (but only of non-alcoholic beverages; the hard stuff came later) and quite a lot of eating, the materials for which were provided by the surplus from Roz Cohen’s mother’s business.

But what we mostly did was play games. And, although we did sometimes play board games like “Monopoly,” then just becoming a smash hit, we had other preferences. Since a majority of us were ambitious to spend our lives working with words — as writers, editors, crossword-puzzle creators, whatever — our favorite games were word games, mostly offshoots of that good old game of “Ghost.”

You know what that is, although you might have played it under a different name. Players form a circle. First player says a letter. Next player also says a letter, and you keep on doing that until the letters have formed a word. At that point the player the word ended on is out of the game and the one after him starts a letter of a new word.

There are very few rules, in fact really only one. After you have said a letter any other player can challenge you to name a word that begins with the string of letters so far in play. If you can’t produce such a word, you’re out of the game. If you can, he is.

It is tempting to form an additional rule defining what is an acceptable word, but I think it’s more fun to battle it out when a challenge has occurred.
That’s the classical “Ghost.”

 
Of course we quickly tired of playing what everyone else was playing, and began inventing improvements. The first of these was “Le Spectre,” which is the same as “Ghost,” except that it is played in French, This made the game particularly challenging, since at the time none of us spoke French.

The success of that game inspired us to try translating the game into German, Italian, Swedish and other tongues. Those however were not successful, due largely to the fact that we couldn’t even get started, as none of us knew what the word for ghosts was in any other language.

Clearly we had to try a different tack.

Our next success, then, was “Stsohg,” which is to say “Ghosts” played backward. “Stsohg” turned out to be complex enough to challenge us all. However, the Futurian motto was “Onward and Onward (Until You Fall Off the Edge),” so we persevered. I think it was Don Wollheim who came up with the ultimate word game. We called it “Djugashvili.”
 

It has been my custom to explain the rules of the games, but with Djugashvili that’s not possible. Some observers have concluded that this because the game itself lacked playing rules. But this is untrue.

Each player has a complete set of rules and playing instructions that cover almost every problem that can be encountered in play. However, the feature that sets Djugashvili apart from all others is that each player is required to generate his own set of rules, and forbidden to reveal them to anyone else.

The Battle of the Bulge left Dirk Wylie unable to hold a regular job, so we made him — and ultimately, me — into a literary agent.

The Battle of the Bulge left Dirk Wylie unable to hold a regular job, so we made him — and ultimately, me — into a literary agent.

After World War II had grabbed most of us Futurians by the scruff of the necks and flung us to various odd destinations in all sorts of unexpected parts of this planet of ours, it did, somehow get itself ended and there we were, civilians again, and back in New York. I had had a relatively undemanding war, ending up with doing public relations at the Mediterranean Theater of Operations in Caserta, Italy (with my spare time spent in a resort hotel on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius). Dirk Wylie, however, hadn’t had anywhere nearly as nice a war as I did.

Dirk’s war hit bottom in the early winter of 1944–45. That was when Hitler’s Wehrmacht made one last attempt to take back control of the western front in the Battle of the Bulge. It was a vicious and protracted fight, and Dirk, then an MP sergeant, was in the middle of it. This cost him. At one point, he jumped hastily out of a truck and landed in a very wrong way, doing something seriously bad to his spine.

That was the end of the war for Dirk, and the beginning of years of hospital stays and unremitting pain.

By the late 1940s, he was discharged from the New York-area Veterans Administration hospitals — not because he was cured but because there was nothing more they could do for him. Now Dirk was a civilian again, with one unanswerable question: What was he to do with the rest of his life? A normal nine-to-five job of any kind was pure fantasy. The only good part of the situation was that he didn’t need to make much money. The Veterans Administration had recognized their obligation to him and awarded him a substantial pension. But a living wage wasn’t the whole of Dirk’s needs. He was just barely out of his twenties, and didn’t like the prospect of doing nothing for the rest of his life.

I spent a lot of time with Dirk and his wife, Roz, discussing that question, and we came up with an idea that seemed worth pursuing. He could become a literary agent.

 
There are all kinds of literary agents. Some of them can do very good things for their clients, making sales for them that the writers would not have made by themselves and sometimes acting as story coaches to help their clients write more salable material. Others (as my mother used to say when totally exasperated) are not worth the powder to blow them to Hell.

So what made the difference between the saviors and the total wastes? One, a good agent needed to know the market. Two, s/he needed to know good work from bad. Three, s/he needed to be able to let clients know how to tell the difference between good and bad, too, and how to encourage them to get better.

Of course, Dirk didn’t have personal knowledge of all these things, although, as a Futurian, he had been exposed to a fair amount of shop talk over the years and had made a few sales himself. But what he did have was me.

Continue reading ‘How I Lost My Oldest Friend
(and Gained a Literary Agency)’ »