Ibid a life, p.1
IBID: A Life, page 1
a novel in footnotes by
ebook ISBN: 978-1-59692-965-4
Look for more great titles from:
M P Publishing Limited
12 Strathallan Crescent
Isle of Man
Telephone: +44 (0)1624 618672
email: [email protected]
155 Sansome Street, Suite 550
San Francisco, CA 94104
Copyright © 2004 by Mark Dunn.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Dunn, Mark, 1956 –
Ibid: a life / by Mark Dunn
ISBN 1-931561-65-6 (hardcover : alk. paper)
1. Biography as a literary form–Fiction
2. Abnormalities, Human–Fiction. 3. Cosmetics industry
–Fiction. 4. Philanthropists–Fiction. 5. Carnivals–Fiction.
Book and jacket design by Dorothy Carico Smith.
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictiticously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
For my wife Mary
who rocks my world
Thanks for all the years of love and support,
and for rescuing me from the Young Republicans
“Footnotes let us hear the missteps of biases,
and hear pathos,
subtle decisions, scandal and anger.”
The Devil’s Details
“The author may, therefore,
include in the notes such things
as lists, poems, and discursive adjuncts to the text.”
—The Chicago Manual of Style
“I just love footnotes, don’t you?”
The Outlandish Companion
February 18, 2003
155 Sansome Street
San Francisco, California 94104
Greetings to you and all my other friends in the City by the Bay. I have just completed my latest book project, a biography of Jonathan Blashette, the child circus sideshow performer who later made his fortune in male deodorants before engaging in philanthropy and other high profile hobbies. Blashette, for all his accomplishments, is best remembered for having three legs.
Please find the manuscript enclosed. I am in the process of completing the book’s extensive endnotes and will send these along shortly. If you choose to consider the manuscript for publication, I ask only one favor: please take care not to lose it, as it is my only copy. I had a second copy, but it was accidentally shredded along with other typescripts given to my friend Ellen Zeisler. I was curious to see how her new shredding machine worked.
I look forward to hearing if another one of my offerings might find its way into the venerable MacAdam/Cage catalogue.
With all best wishes,
February 26, 2003
P.O. Box 40
Old Chelsea Station
New York NY 10011
Please brace yourself. Perhaps you should even sit down. I have some bad news.
Your manuscript has been accidentally—and tragically—destroyed.
Remembering that it was your only copy, I thought that I should make a xerox before leaving work yesterday evening, but I did not. I was simply too excited to get home and get into it, a decision I shall rue forever.
As you, and a precious few others know, I do all my editing in my bathtub. I find the fragrant bath-powdered waters conducive to exploring story arc, character development, correcting noun-verb disagreement, and discouraging the overuse of the passive voice. I had set your manuscript carefully upon the rounded edge of my ancient claw-foot, and went into the other room to find CDs for setting an appropriate editorial mood. (To accompany your book, I selected Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Blue Oyster Cult’s “Agents of Fortune,” and the soundtrack to Streets of Fire.)
While I was poking about in my music library and letting the tub run, my three-year-old son, Jack, who only moments earlier had been quietly contenting himself with seeing how far he could stick his finger into a ripe pear, decided to venture into the master bath in search, I like to think, of his father. Not finding me there, he turned his attention to your manuscript, and promptly deposited the loose pages into the rapidly filling tub.
I returned mere seconds later, but too late—sad to say—to rescue the manuscript. The agitation of the water pouring into the tub had quickly turned your paper to soggy pulp and the ink to purple broth.
I am completely at fault, something I am loath to admit (ask my wife). I trust that you will find it somewhere in your heart to forgive me. In the meantime, may I know if there is any chance you can recreate the book from notes or memory? We’ll happily send out one of our many hardworking interns to assist (perhaps the one who keeps leaving his lattes on my slush pile; I don’t like him anyway). Failing that, may I at least see the endnotes?
Call me. I know you never use the phone, fearing electrical shock. Perhaps you could make an exception, considering the circumstances.
Your editor, still…I think,
March 3, 2003
155 Sansome Street
San Francisco, California 94104
I am still reeling. It is hard for me to write, let alone pick up the phone and form coherent sentences. I forgive you, I do. But this is a blow.
I do not see myself rewriting the book. The original task took two years.
Per your request, I have enclosed the completed endnotes. Knock yourself out. I’m going into retirement.
March 11, 2003
c/o InSouth Bank
6141 Walnut Grove Rd.
Memphis, TN 38120
Dear brother Clay,
My editor, Pat Walsh, has just made an offer to publish the endnotes that accompanied my now tragically water-pulped biography of businessman Jonathan Blashette.
I am quite torn over what to do. These notes, while extensive, are still, by definition, subordinate to the lost text—a text which I do not wish to invest another two years of my life attempting to reconstruct. While the notes illuminate the dusty, crepuscular corners of this man’s life, they tell its story only through sidebar and discursion. The book, therefore, becomes a biography by inference.
I should confess that over the last two years I’ve grown fond of both Blashette and the odd cast of characters that formed the retinue of his colorful existence. I wished that I had given more attention in the text to each of his girlfriends—the high-spirited childhood sweetheart Mildred; the former prostitute and Blashette’s odd soulmate Great Jane; homefront heartthrob Lucile; the spitfire bohemienne Winny; and Clara, his wife and mother to his only child; as well as to Blashette’s bumbling right-hand man Davison, and life mentor Andrew Bloor. Publishing these notes by themselves allows me the opportunity to examine the role that each played in the man’s life, in ways that I could not in the original text. There is a certai
On the other hand, can the cloth of a man’s life truly be defined by its embroidery?
What do you think? What would you do? How are things with you? How’s the ol’ back?
March 14, 2003
P.O. Box 40
Old Chelsea Station
New York NY 10011
Dear twin brother Mark,
My back is better. Thank you for asking. I think you should do it. Why not?
P.S. I don’t know what the word crepuscular means.
Epigraph Grover Bramblett, The Quotable Sanford and Son (New York: Ebony and Ebony Press, 1984), 215.
LITTLE JONNY SPARE LEG
1. “’Turned out that womb of his mother’s wasn’t barren at all. A right healthy little fellow grew inside her, grew big and strong and popped right out on March 17, 1888. Interview with Jonathan’s first cousin Odger Blashette.
2. Barnum’s Dead; At least write to Pulitzer and Hearst. Nowhere could I find documented proof that William Randolph Hearst ever accepted Addicus’s invitation to come to Pettiville, Arkansas to see the “amazing quintuple-limbed child,” but there is ample evidence of Joseph Pulitzer’s visit, followed by a series of sensationalist articles in the New York World somewhat bizarrely illustrated by Richard F. Outcault, who gave Jonathan both the oversized ears and gap-toothed smile that would later characterize his “Yellow Kid.” Pulitzer never got to see the illustrations, however. A. Candell Moseley in his biography of the publisher, Pulitzer’s World (Chicago, Prather Press, 1968) notes that at this point in his life the publisher was almost totally blind. He also possessed a debilitating hypersensitivity to sound. His first words upon arriving at the Blashette house were, “Bring the baby to me. I want to feel that third leg. Spread sawdust upon the lane while I am here. I require almost total silence. And a cup of hot tea. With lemon. And a little nutmeg. Strange request, yes, but that’s me. Ah, there’s the leg. Fully formed. With all his toes. He shall have music wherever he goes. Waltzes. Teach the boy to waltz. He should be a natural.”
3. Doctors were baffled. The third doctor to attend the child in his first weeks, Able Stanton, agreed with the other physicians that the extra appendage should pose few physiological difficulties for the boy. However, he differed with his colleagues on another point, writing in his unpublished memoir Three-legged Boys and Birdbeaked Spinsters: Fifty Years of Doctoring Freaks:
“It was my early estimation that young Jonathan would probably be walking much sooner than other children his age because the third leg would have a helpful stabilizing effect on the young man, much as a three-legged stool stands better than a two-legged one.”
4. Challenges presented themselves. Jonathan Blashette writes in his Early Memories of an argument between his mother and a local cobbler over the cost of making three shoes, Emmaline contending that she should only have to pay half again more than what she would pay for a pair. The cobbler, however, deemed the request a “special order” and tacked on a surcharge. Jonathan continues:
“Mother threatened to take her business elsewhere, only to discover that all the cobblers in town were related by blood and had somewhat of a rudimentary price-setting system in place, one which put her at a decided negotiatory disadvantage. In the end, Mother and the shoemaker reached a compromise. She bought me a pair of handsome boy’s lace shoes and the cobbler threw in, at only a nominal additional charge, an orphaned remnant from the previous year’s Thanksgiving pageant—a shiny black-buckled Pilgrim’s shoe which didn’t match the others by any stretch of the imagination but nonetheless had a certain historically evocative charm about it.”
5. And yet on the whole, Jonathan was generally well-regarded and with the help of friends and family adjusted easily to his unique anatomical circumstances. Several years were to pass before Thaddeus Grund arrived with his invitation for Jonathan to join his traveling circus and wild west show. This relatively quiet interstitial period in the boy’s life was disrupted only on those rare occasions in which a visitor to town might gasp or emit an unguarded, “Dear me! Three!” The only concrete exception to this “era of good feeling” for the boy came when Emmaline and Addicus were asked by indelicate roustabouts, many of whom Addicus would bring home for Sunday dinner, “If that’s where the third leg goes, where the hell’s the pup’s little willy?” Upon such occasions Emmaline would usually sweep Jonathan up in her arms and fly indignantly from the room while Addicus was left to explain to his uncouth guests that his son’s third leg branched off the left leg like the limb of a tree, “the willy hanging free like wisteria.”
6. Jonathan did not even seem to mind his “only child” status. According to Blashette’s cousin Odger, the boy made friendships quite easily. He was an outgoing child and had a healthy curiosity about the world unveiling itself all around him. By the age of three Jonathan was cantering eagerly behind Pettiville’s one-eyed blacksmith, Cletus Meeker, who took an instant liking to the boy whom he felt had “all the stuff, a spiffin’ smithy to make.” Odger recalls the story of the one exceptional morning in which Cletus showed Jonathan an uncharacteristic lack of respect: the blacksmith arrived for work in a bilious humor following a long night of binging after catching his wife sandwiched in bed between the Bellamy twins, bright-witted Henry and doltish Benry. That day he found fault with everything Jonathan did, and eventually hung an oat bag around the boy’s neck and deposited him beneath an active rainspout. As Odger tells it, Jonathan responded by looking up at the irritable blacksmith and inquiring in a tiny, tearful voice, “You don’t really mean to be doing this, do you, Mr. Horsy-shoe Man?” Meeker, stabbed by sudden shame and contrition, gently pulled the boy from the miniature cataract. Embracing him tightly, he blubbered, “Never again the oat bag! Never again the rainspout! Oh Jonathan, this foolish momentary lapse, please forgive!”
And Jonathan apparently did.
Later, a four- or five-year-old Jonathan joined milkman Roddy Chalmers on his early morning rounds. In an interview with Roddy’s great granddaughter, former exotic dancer Trixie Twirl, I learned that Roddy quickly developed a paternal fondness for Jonathan and sought to hire him even at this young age as milkman’s apprentice to spare the boy a life of exploitation at the hands of unscrupulous carnival sideshow proprietors “just waiting in the wings for the lad to reach an age at which he might be put on permanent tour and display.” Following my interview with Ms. Twirl, she sent me several pages of additional material on her great-grandfather who she claimed invented low-fat chocolate milk. Her thoughts are excerpted below:
“I know that the story of my great grandfather will constitute only the slightest of footnotes in your book, but I do want the record to show that there was someone early in the young child’s life who demonstrated a genuine and selfless concern for his well being. The fact that he did not succeed in preventing little Jonny from being swept into the demoralizing carnival life is no reflection upon the efforts my great grandfather made on the boy’s behalf. I have met few men in my life who have demonstrated such concern and compassion for a fellow human being. With only two exceptions, I believe that most men are snorting, rooting swine. The exceptions would be the following: my dentist who treats my mouth as a temple, and Harvey Spools, the man to whom I bore five beautiful babies before I boarded up my womb and moved to the convent.”
7. He sat on eggs like young Thomas Edison. Matthias Huber, Jonny of the Circus, Great Americans Every Child Should Know, vol. 32 (Chicago: Pete the Patriot Publications, 1968), 14. Huber reports that a full dozen eggs were crushed. Odger believes the figure to be closer to a dozen and a half. In any event, young Jonathan carried a mash of yolk and feathers on the seat of his trousers for the entire afternoon.
Jonathan has been looking forward to being a little man and placing the order for our weekly supplies for some time now. He takes the responsibility very seriously. So please do not let any of Claiborne’s mischievous spawn poke fun at him or, Heaven forbid, make light of his little extra leg. If he does a good job, or even if he doesn’t but shows conscientiousness in the task, please allow him to have some stick candy.
Here is the list. I have made a second copy for Jonny with pictures. Step back and do not interfere unless he makes a mistake that we cannot afford. You may exercise your good judgment here.
This week’s home needs:
1 lb. fatback
2 lbs. sausage
2 cans peaches in syrup
5 lbs. lard
10 lbs. flour
5 lbs. sugar
1 box Uneeda Biscuits
Small bag of ginger snaps (make sure they are not stale)
3 oz. nutmeg
3 oz. cinnamon (Xmas will be upon us soon and I need to be well stocked!)Bowel-stopper (paregoric)
Laudanum (If Mrs. Claiborne waits on you, she will make a jest, I predict it: “Lawdy!, Lawdy! Why would a tyke need laudanum?” I have asked Jonny not to respond with, “Because you are a pain in the bottom, Mrs. C!”)
Don’t forget your carpenter’s nails—I don’t remember which penny you are out of.
Can you do without chewing tobacco FOREVER?
by Mark Dunn / Fiction / Humor / Young Adult have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes