IBID, page 13
19. “This is my brother Lyndon.” Clara’s younger brother Lyndon Tosch Gleason was equally literary and best known for his Fork Creek Collection, (Redding, California: Di Prisco Press, 1955), taking as its inspiration, Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology. The work, originally mistaken for parody, was, in fact, a sincere effort to tell the encapsulated stories of the inmates of a large state institution for the intellectually challenged. Exhibiting the cruel insensitivity of its day, the asylum was officially known as the Illinois State Institution for Imbeciles, Idiots, Cretins, and Morons, and more informally as “Dummy House.” The book sold few copies, for it was nearly unreadable. An example follows:
I got porridge! Yum. Mumyum. Porridge!
I like porridge. Sugar it. Sugar it. Yum.
More more porridge!
Hey Timmy, get porridge!
Now Timmy got porridge!
In the mouth, Timmy! In the mouth!
Timmy got porridge hair.
Yee yee yee yee.
Hey, hey, hey, hey!
20. On April 20, 1930 Clara and I were married by a justice of the peace in Reno, Nevada. Jonathan Blashette to Andrew Bloor, AnB.
21. “So, you’re finally tying the knot at the boyish age of forty-two!” Bloor knew that he would not approve of Clara when they finally met. His intuition was confirmed on a visit to New York two months later. Bloor wrote in his journal that “as suspected, I found her to be totally lacking in charm and grace,” and “a regular foghorn with hips.” Still, it doesn’t appear that he ever revealed his true feelings to Jonathan, apparently aware that when the relationship finally soured (as Bloor was sure it inevitably would) he would not wish to be among those dancing the “I-told-you-so shuffle”—a dance which, Bloor noted, is never flattering and often “puts one at risk of being removed from the dance floor altogether.” Bloor’s ostensible (but privately grudging) approval of Jonathan’s wife seemed, however, to endear Jonathan to his mentor all the more, the two growing even closer, their correspondence much more frequent and illuminating of their emotional lives during this period. Andrew Bloor to Jonathan Blashette, 27 April1930, JBP.
22. Jonathan kept his Greenwich Village brownstone as a pied-à-terre. It was an ideal arrangement. The old farm house in Wallywaycong, New Jersey, was large enough to hold Clara, her family and hangers-on and all her creatures great and small. The house in the city served as the perfect “get-away” when Jonathan needed a quiet break from the “Clarathrong.”
23. “What do I do with my arboreal stepson?” Jonathan’s Diary, 18 July1930. Granted, it seemed that half the boys in North America were going for the national tree-sitting record in 1930, but fourteen-year-old Hunter’s choice of Wallywaycong’s venerated Founder’s Oak, which stood on the front lawn of the county courthouse, was a controversial choice. Even when following the crazes of the day, Jonathan’s stepson had a taste for rebellion that placed him in a category by himself. Climbing the oak may have looked to some like a simple act of youthful mischief, but to others it represented a disturbing offensive against tradition and authority.
I have found wildly conflicting accounts of the events surrounding town historian Fitzhugh Dowdy’s hospitalization for nervous exhaustion on the day that Hunter was finally “de-treed.” I am more inclined to believe Dowdy’s own—albeit heavily embroidered—account, passed down to us through his dairy (Dowdy Family Papers). If nothing else, the entries pertaining to the tree-sitting episode shed some light on the man’s fragile mental state at the time.
Saturday, July 19, 1930. I rise and hurry to the courthouse to find that the monkey is still there—still ensconced in that tree, desecrating it by his very presence, with the three-legged monkey stepfather doing nothing whatsoever to remove the child. Nor do any of the county commissioners seem alarmed by his presence. Damn them all. No tree—but especially this, the most cherished in our city—deserves such a fouling. I have a dunker and coffee while glowering up at the intruder. The dunker and coffee are too much for my weak constitution. As I stand retching without product, I watch the boy through rage-filled eyes. Between undulating body heaves I rail and remonstrate and command the vile man-cub through the most easily decipherable gesticulation to remove himself. Yet he does not. Moreover, he taunts me, audaciously asking me with mischievous gloat to catch the bag containing his evacuants, because his chum Mikey has yet to arrive to cart the foul-smelling effluents off. I find that I am having trouble standing erect from the enormity of it all, and I crumple beneath the tree and weep for its spoiled beauty and I weep for the rich history it represents that the boy has besmirched and I pinch my nose from the stench of the bagged evacuants that the boy dangles with most cruel malice over my exposed head. It is the darkest morning I can ever remember with the exception of that in which Poppy threw me into the river with all the kittens I had sought to save.
Sunday, July 20, 1930. I rise and rush with a tripping, stumbling gait to the Founder’s Oak only to find that the devil boy is still there, with father nowhere in sight and no one but me exercising any concern whatsoever for all that the beautiful tree represents. The sheer weight of this most horrible realization is simply too much for me. Suddenly the world darkens and recedes and I feel my whole body slipping into the abyss of unconsciousness. When I awake I am in a hospital bed taking an injection in the buttocks by a nurse who says it will calm me. Soon I feel a soft solace enfolding me. Shortly thereafter I am visited by Mr. Blashette who assures me the boy will be down by the end of the day. And I rejoice with tears and strange hula-like movement of the arms which I seem to do spontaneously and to my intense mortification.
24. Clara’s literary circle continued to expand. Figel, research notes from Clara! The Musical. A frequent visitor with adjunct status was poet Davy Kreis who several years later, inspired by the free verse epic Paterson by William Carlos Williams, wrote the three-volume nearly unreadable Bayonne. It received the 1949 Mrs. Delwood Dandle Poetaster Prize. I sought a copy of the encyclopedia-length poem to excerpt, but was unsuccessful. The New York Public Library’s Rare Books Division reportedly had a set in the early 1950s. It vanished at some point during the intervening years. It is hard to know the exact date of its disappearance, since it was never requested. Librarian John Rathe remembers that the volumes had at one point been used as improvised stepladder to assist diminutive researchers in reaching the division’s water fountain.
A side note: Mrs. Delwood Dandle is considered by some to be the world’s worst published poet. It has been surmised that her only book of poems was given a limited printing by Caven-Mulgrove Publishing to satisfy publisher Brennan Mulgrove’s gambling debts. Delwood (also known as “Squeaks”), a loan shark of the Damon Runyon school, worked out a deal to prevent Mulgrove, with his well-documented weakness for long shots at Belmont, from getting his legs broken.
A selection from her poem, “Little Birdy” follows.
Little birdy, why doth thou sing
So sweet thy song of mirth?
The sunny morning smileth.
Is that not enough?
Thy song is gilding
to a lily white.
Little Birdy, banish night.
You maka me hum.
Sweeta little birdya.
Mrs. Dandle never explains why her narrator suddenly lapses into a harlequin Italian accent. Equally inexplicable is Dandle’s decision to illustrate the poems with pictures from the children’s book The Five Chinese Brothers.
25. “The Cossacks’ names were Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, and Dwight D. Eisenhower.” Luddy Greco’s Diary, 28 July1932. Jonathan had arrived at the Bonus Expeditionary Force’s encampment in Washington, D.C. only hours before the World War I veterans who had gathered there to demand early payment of the soldier’s bonus due them in 1945, were routed by force
Jonathan promptly returned to New York, writing in his own diary the next day only the words, “Dark day for America.”
Luddy, scarred by memory of that day, became a Communist, and eventually moved to the Soviet Union.
Delehanty remained silent.
MacArthur and his majors Patton and Eisenhower went on to serve their fellow citizens with distinction in the Second World War, their part in the brutal Bonus Army pogrom all but forgotten.
26. Caldwell wasn’t mathematically gifted Reinhold, The Story of Dandy-de-odor-o, 202-205. Dandy-D’s chief financial officer’s oft-repeated claim that he had “no head for numbers” was a constant source of frustration for Jonathan who worked hard to convince shareholders and the business press that Caldwell loved nothing more than pulling the public leg. My research has revealed that Caldwell’s lack of confidence in his own numerical abilities can be traced to an incident in the summer of 1934 during a family vacation trip to Atlantic City. As the C.F.O dozed on the beach, one Vivienne Falconi (a vacationer from Newark) accidentally dropped a copy of Anthony Adverse upon his head. Caldwell lay hospitalized and comatose for two days. (Hearing of the unfortunate occurrence, the 1,224-page best seller’s author Hervey Allen sent a get-well card that read, “Perhaps I should have written the thing in installments.”)
Regaining consciousness, Caldwell came to the horrible realization that he had forgotten the number between six and eight. Asked to count to ten by the attending physician, he would either leave out the number seven entirely, or replace it with one of many nonsense words, e.g.: “four, five, six, fish-twaddle, eight.” Eventually Caldwell and the number seven were reacquainted and he came to utilize it just as extensively as he had before the accident. But a happy ease and total comfort around numbers for one of Jonathan’s most trusted lieutenants was never to return. Jonathan didn’t seem to mind. The following exchange from 1937 is recounted by a window washer who happened to be conveniently stationed within earshot. Buddy Browar, Eavesdropping on the Captains of Industry: Thirty years of Soap and Corporate Dope (Cincinnati: Mayer Z. Oats Publishing, 1946), 129-132.
“Your mistakes notwithstanding, Caldy, we’re still in the black. That’s all that matters. Hey, maybe I ought to drop a few books on some other heads around here. Lately, Dougherty has been cruising for a big ol’ head-butt with Margaret Mitchell.”
To which Caldwell jocularly responded, “All one thousand thirty—”
“Seven,” Jonathan inserted, helpfully.
“Yes. Seven. Pages of it. You thought I was going to say ‘fish twaddle,’ didn’t you?”
A nod. A chuckle. An affectionate cuff under the chin for President Blashette’s odd little C.F.O.
It is here that my presence was detected and the blinds hastily drawn.
27. Dingleberry also proved to a problem. Reinhold, The Story of Dandy-de-odor-o, 218-19.
28. The antisocial behavior continued, then abated. Ibid., 219. However, on occasion, something would set off Dandy-de-odor-o’s director of personnel, and he would return to the periphery of his early sociopathic behavior. As late as March1975, Dingleberry was roughly escorted from a suburban multiplex theatre after hurling a boot at the screen upon which the critically panned film musical Mame was being projected. Although he quickly retrieved the boot and apologized to those nearby who felt threatened by it, Dingleberry’s continued mumbled imprecations against Gene Saks and Lucille Ball for ’this protracted cinematic fart,” clearly showed that the man continued to live on the narrow brink of rage.
29. There was little doubt that Jonathan was snubbing Nelson Rockefeller. Diary entries and correspondence detail the reason for Jonathan’s refusal to shake the young businessman’s hand at the gala. Jonathan, though no fan of Lenin, felt that Rockefeller’s “baby with the bathwater” approach to resolving the issue of whether Diego Rivera should be allowed to include the image of the Soviet dictator within the massive Rockefeller Center mural, was pure aestheticide. It set a dangerous precedent, opening the way for the destruction of any art with which those in positions of power did not agree, the end result being the loss of artistic freedom for all.
Winny had taught him well.
An important postscript to this story: The day the sledgehammers came out, Jonathan called Rivera and offered to commission the Mexican artist to paint a mural for the corporate offices of Dandy-de-odor-o. Rivera politely declined, but did eventually accept a financial contribution from Jonathan, which compensated him in part for work he did on another mural: a brazen reaction in colorful fresco to the Rockefeller Center debacle. A small private library in Harlem had the honor of Rivera’s gifted services. “You Americans view all states outside your own Capitalist-strangled system as imperfect, while you blind yourselves to your own blemished history,” Rivera is said to have screeded (in Spanish) as he embarked upon this new commission. “Perhaps it is time to remind you how far your nation has to go in reaching that pinnacle of perfection to which you smugly think you have already ascended.”
I have found no visual record of Rivera’s anti-American library mural, which was inadvertently painted over in the seventies. (The wall now depicts a cavalcade of American presidents up to Gerald Ford as imagined with African-American features.) However, I have read descriptions of some of the images incorporated by Rivera into his mural in Geraldo Rivera’s controversial The Story of My Grandfather Diego. Together they form a frightening indictment of an America rejecting the very ideals upon which it was built:
American soldiers issuing Small Pox-infected blankets to Indians in the 1870s. (Interestingly, Rivera had touched upon one of the world’s first acts of bio-terrorism!)
The U.S. Supreme Court declaring unconstitutional in 1918 the nation’s first federal child labor law. (Rivera supposedly has the justices using the backs of young babies for footstools.)
The racially motivated attack on off-duty Black Union officers by citizens of Zanesville, Ohio, near the end of the Civil War.
There was also an unflattering picture of a snoozing, pot-bellied J.P. Morgan, his nose painted the size of a cantaloupe, and another of Andrew Carnegie building libraries with the bones of steel workers who had unfortunately gotten within firing range of the philanthropist’s hired strikebreakers.
And finally, for no reason other than, perhaps, mischief, an image of Frida Kahlo seated before her vanity mirror, grooming her famous eyebrow.
Incidentally, a Ms. Ruby Towers, whom I met in Harlem, tells me that she has a photograph of the lost mural in her possession but would not let me see it unless I helped her “honey-voiced” granddaughter Shauneequa get on the television program American Idol. This I could not do.
30. In time Jonathan and Hunter grew closer. Jonathan’s improved relationship with his stepson is demonstrated by this letter home from summer camp. Hunter Gleason to Jonathan Blashette, July 51934, JBL.
Greetings from Camp Chaubunagungamaug! Camp Chaubunagungamaug is everything that you said it would be! Thank you so much for sending me here! Everyday I go swimming in Lake Chaubunagungamaug or me and the other fellows go hiking in the Chaubunagungamaug Forest and look for nuts or trail markers left by the Chaubunagungamaug Indians who lived here in days of old. It is a swell place and I am making many new friends here. I hope that you send me back to Camp Chaubunagungamaug next year. Oh well. Time to go fishing. You guessed it. Lake Chaubunagungamaug. I hope I catch a big one!
Give my love to Mom.
Your stepson, Hunter
PS. Tomorrow the Chaubunagungamaug Forest rangers are going to let some of us fellows go up to the top of the Chaubunagungamaug Forest lookout t
31. Davison was dubious midwife at the birth. I cannot substantiate Harlan Davison’s claim that he was present at the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous. True, Jonathan’s trusted Man Friday was in Akron on a Dandy-D business call the very same night in 1935 in which William Griffith Wilson and Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith brainstormed together until dawn, but neither Wilson nor Smith mentions his presence in their personal accounts. Still, among Davison’s papers I have found what might have been his ultimately unsuccessful contribution to the evening’s session, “Twelve Steps to Sobriety.” The two pages are coffee-stained. (Legend has it that Wilson and Smith each drank fourteen cups of coffee that night, could not sleep for days, and surgeon Smith, in particular, was so jittery as a result that he allegedly had difficulty the next morning placing a patient’s rejected gall bladder into the organ pan). If the document is authentic, it is easy to see why it was dismissed by the two founders, since it incorporates none of Wilson and Smith’s dependence upon the power of religious faith, and at times the spiritually untethered Davison rejects divine assistance altogether. I have found no mention of either the document or Davison’s possible participation in the birth of AA within Jonathan’s papers, nor in any of Davison’s correspondence. Therefore, I draw no conclusions and submit the following document in its entirety without further conjecture or commentary.