Ibid, p.19

IBID, page 19

 

IBID
 


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  15

  SETTING SUN

  1. Beauaeuregard Taylor called the meeting to order. The name of the new director of the Blashette Foundation is spelled correctly. Sybil Rowan notes in her book, ‘Tis Better to Give, that the spelling of Taylor’s first name was a “personal frustration” and he wished on hundreds of occasions that his father hadn’t been “potted on corn squeeze” the day the birth certificate was filled out. After spelling his name aloud for a college registrar, Beauaeuregard Taylor was instantly accused of being a “wiseguy” and slapped across the face by the man’s glove. Why the registrar was in possession of a single, pearl-studded opera glove was never explained.

  2. He was also an established author. Rowan, ’Tis Better to Give, 278. This was actually Taylor’s fourth novel. He had previously written Hedgehog’s Ball, Dancing with my Shadow, and No Prayer for Suzie.

  3. Jonathan stopped going to Café Ennui, complaining that the service was too slow. Harvey Freeman, “Jonathan Blashette; Inside the Man,” Body Fresh Magazine, 24, No. 7 (1972): 22-38.

  4. “They are the pretty twinkle stars of my twilight years.” Jonathan’s Diary, 2 September 1958. Among the female companions who brightened Jonathan’s final years was Venetia House. Not only was the young woman a self-described “jigsaw junkie,” but she also shared Jonathan’s love of dogs. In fact, it was one canine in particular that played an important role in Venetia’s strong religious faith. For many years, including those during which she knew Jonathan, Venetia was an active member of a small Christian sect that believed that Jesus Christ, as lover of both man and beast, had a pet collie, which accompanied Him during His last months on earth. Among Jonathan’s uncatalogued effects I chanced upon a book published by Venetia’s denomination, which includes illustrations of the dog being fed table scraps by Jesus at the Last Supper, dog-paddling behind Jesus as he walked upon the waters of the Sea of Galilee, and howling plaintively at the foot of the cross.

  I also came across a letter from Venetia to Jonathan in which she apparently addresses his skepticism. The book referenced below is apparently the one I discovered.

  Dear Jonny,

  I know you think it foolish for me to believe that Jesus had a collie. I know that collies come from Scotland. But is it really inconceivable that the dog could have made his way down to the Holy Land to be with our Lord and Savior? Collies have covered far greater distances, I assure you. And who is to say that Jesus did not, himself, go to Scotland, and find the dog among the heather? The Mormons believe that Jesus crossed the Atlantic Ocean to spend time in the American west, so to me it is entirely believable that He could easily have found Ruggles in the Scottish highlands and brought him down to the land of milk and honey.

  I find the pictures in the book very moving. I agree that there are perhaps a couple that should not have been included. I don’t think that Jesus knew lawn bowling; I think the author and illustrator should have devoted themselves only to known events from the life of Christ. And I still believe that on the day that Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes, there were no gnaw-bones in that basket. It was not customary in that day for people to take their dogs to public events. But these are minor objections. Our Holy Savior and His Dog is a good book and I would recommend it to anyone.

  People who do not understand our faith sometimes laugh. I recall that you could not hold back a chuckle when you saw the picture of Ruggles licking the face of Lazarus to help Jesus wake him from the dead. But let me assure you, that for someone who believes as strongly as I do in Jesus’s canine companion, it is no laughing matter.

  It is all a matter of faith, as you can understand.

  Yours,

  Venetia

  5. Other bizarre friendships enlivened his retirement. Author’s interview with Odger Blashette. Among those within that small subset of friends who didn’t happen to be seeking philanthropic or entrepreneurial sponsorship from Jonathan was Roger Tierney, an inmate at Washington State Correctional Center. Tierney had originally written Jonathan in error, thinking he was setting up a long-term pen-pal exchange with a Jacqueline Blasset (Not to confused with the actress Jacqueline Bisset who would have been much too young at the time to be corresponding with an incarcerated felon.) Jonathan courteously redirected the letter, but this kindness only prompted Tierney to begin corresponding with Jonathan as well, especially when he learned that his inadvertent pen pal had overcome a disability to become a leader in the male deodorant industry, and did so without breaking any laws.

  Tierney’s notoriety, was, in fact, well known to Jonathan. Twenty years earlier the felon had kidnapped several contract-bridge-playing residents of the Setting Sun Senior Center in Bellingham and removed them all to a remote logging camp in British Columbia. Here the eight women were forced to participate in a grueling birling competition to the delight of Tierney and his logging buddies. The muscle-sore senior citizens were rescued by Canadian Mounties within a couple of days, and returned home safe and sound, but the crime drew Tierney stiff sentences from both the Canadian and American judicial systems, following jurisdictional wrangling that ended in joint penal custody. “It was worth it, though,” Tierney once admitted to Jonathan, “seeing them old ladies spinning those logs like the jacks do. I even noticed a smile on a couple of their rosy faces. ’Bet they never thought they’d be coming up on the end of their lives and get to roll themselves a danged log!”

  6. Jonathan began to see more of Helga and less of Venetia. Author’s interview with Helga Houston. Helga was the sister of Maylene Houston Carmichael, who spent much of her adult life trying to discredit the “Refrigerator Mother” theory of autism put forth by psychologist Bruno Bettelheim and embraced by most of the members of the American psychiatric community in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. Considered by Maylene and her supporters to be yet another misogyny-motivated attack on motherhood, Bettelheim’s belief that autistic children were created by cold and unloving mothers was never recanted by the famous psychologist and was only slowly (and one imagines, mostly reluctantly) surrendered by his colleagues. Maylene’s frustration (she was the mother of an autistic son) and rage against Bettelheim knew no bounds, and resulted in one particularly unpleasant incident in which she mailed mice feces to the him at his office at the University of Chicago’s Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School for Disturbed Children, disguised as a giftpack of gourmet peppercorns. It is not known if Bettelheim ingested them.

  7. Davison often turned up in the strangest of places. There isn’t much doubt in my mind as to the identity of the older man hurling the large rock in the foreground of the photograph. The question, though, is what Davison was doing among the Peruvian demonstrators who had taken to pelting Vice President Nixon’s car with stones during his 1958 Good Will Tour gone bad. Davison’s diary is frustratingly silent on the whole episode. None of the correspondence I have examined from the period indicates why he took the side trip from Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he was scheduled to attend a meeting with South American patent officials on Jonathan’s behalf. In fact, there is no indication from any of the sources I have consulted for this period just how Davison felt about the U.S. vice president at that moment, although two years later during the 1960 presidential election he remarked that Nixon reminded him of a druggist he once knew who used to chase teenaged pocket thieves out onto the sidewalk with an extended grocer’s claw and who was also thought to have a lifelong addiction to Carter’s Pills.

  8. “Her name is Charette. Jonny, I actually think she’s the one.” Harlan Davison to Jonathan Blashette, 14 May 1958.

  9. “Sorry. My mistake. She isn’t the one.” Harlan Davison to Jonathan Blashette, 15 May 1958.

  10. Charette was a cruel mother. According to Griswold Lanham’s article “Harlan Davison” in Entrepreneurial History (13, 1990, 25-42), Davison’s girlfriend purchased a Betsy McCall doll for her daughter’s birthday in June 1958, then refused to buy it clothes. “Betsy lives in a nudist colony,” Charette told Da
vison in a voice that reminded him of an overly peckish Eve Arden, “and by the way, it ain’t really none of your beeswax.”

  Feeling sorry for young Vicki, Davison bought a wardrobe for the doll himself and delivered it to the little girl at her grammar school. Vicki’s second-grade teacher, a Miss Wingfield, thinking the clothes were for Vicki, chastised Davison in front of the class for not knowing the girl’s size. Vicki came to the defense of Davison, whom she had begun to fantasize as war hero, fireman, and/or possibly even her birth father. Having forgotten the name of the naked birthday doll, she pretended that the clothes were, indeed, intended for her. When she attempted to pull one of the little dresses over her head; it became snagged about the forehead. “I’ve made a real mess of things here,” Davison is reported to have apologized. “Come on, Vicki. Let’s go get some ice cream.” With avuncular tenderness, Davison took the little girl by the hand and guided her to the door, respecting the fact that the Betsy McCall dress draping her head partially obscured her vision. The result was a bit of stumbling that to some of the children resembled a funny dance. Davison and Vicki were blocked at the door by Miss Wingfield, who proceeded to blow her recess whistle painfully close to Davison’s left ear. Amidst a wash of playground-minded elementary school children flooding out of their respective classrooms and into the hallways, followed by angry teachers glaring at Wingfield, harumphing, and tapping their watches, Harlan was escorted to the principal’s office by two officious safety patrol boys. He was held there until police arrived to book him for attempted kidnapping. In the confusion Vicki disappeared and was later found alone, seated on the down end of a stationary teeter-totter, clutching tightly to her chest the doll clothes Davison had given her and singing softly and wistfully a song she had made up about ponies.

  Eleven years passed before Davison saw Vicki again. Now a young woman, she visited him at his home in Levittown during spring break from her studies as sophomore at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “You’re the closest thing to a father, war hero and/or fireman I’ve ever known,” she confessed, kissing the old man affectionately on the cheek. “By the way, I’m so sorry I’m late. I had trouble finding the house.” Then she volunteered to rake up all the leaves in his yard. Touched by her offer and even more so by the visit itself, he replied, “You didn’t come all this way just to rake my leaves. But if you like…maybe you could clip the hedge.” Together Davison and Vicki spent the afternoon doing yard work and rekindling a friendship.

  The two stayed in touch for the remainder of Davison’s life. Although he had never gotten himself a wife, Harlan Davison had, in a way, found himself a daughter.

  11. “I Took a Spill.” Jonathan Blashette to Andrew Bloor, 4 February 1959. An excerpt from the letter follows.

  “You know, Dr. Bloor—I never thought I’d be one of those old farts who go and break their hip as soon as they turn seventy. (In my case, I suppose I got a seven-month grace period!) When did these bones get so brittle? How is it that you, several years my senior, haven’t had an equally difficult time with the ravages of advanced years?

  I have had to do what I never thought I’d do and that is hire a live-in valet or nurse or what have you. A gentleman was recommended to me by the name of Uriah Hensley—a good man, very active in the Negro equality movement. I commend his efforts and those of his son Zachary who is quite a mover and shaker in Civil Rights.

  Still, I have never been comfortable with servants except for Miss Cook. I suppose I am basically too much the egalitarian. And how be you these days, sir?”

  12. “I, too, took a spill.” Andrew Bloor to Jonathan Blashette, 8 February 1959. An excerpt from Bloor’s response follows.

  “Were we, Jonny, at one point joined at the hip? A very frangible hip, I might add. Yes, I also took a spill, and am likewise incapacitated. You are right. It is a depressing development (although Evetta is taking good care of me), serving only to remind me of my easily verifiable mortality.

  For goodness sake, man—if you must have a manservant, don’t spend your days apologizing to the gentleman. He expects to be treated as employee and expects you to comfortably assume the role of employer. Anything less will throw the whole universe out of balance.

  And speaking of the universe, have you figured out your place in it, yet?

  Just curious.”

  13. Zachary Hensley’s commitment to civil rights was undisputed. Zachary’s involvement in the Freedom March from Selma to Montgomery and his participation in other historic moments of the Civil Rights movement of the fifties and sixties were complemented by his instigation of the Taylorville, North Carolina, Barbecue Pig Hut sit-in of March 3, 1960. Inspired by the sit-in at the Greensboro Woolworth lunch counter a month before, Zachary and five college compatriots settled themselves down at the whites-only service counter of the barbecue establishment only to be instantly threatened and harassed by the regulars. Hensley’s quick thinking turned what might have been a violent, unilateral food-fight into a strong statement for racial tolerance. Learning that one of their number had a white grandmother, Hensley negotiated a service stance for the young woman next to her stool with one hand permitted to touch the counter and the other hanging at her side. For a young man who was half-black and half-Asian, successful bargaining from Hensley resulted in the man being allowed to sit on the stool in alternate three-minute segments. Another young woman, one quarter Cherokee, was allowed to stand behind her half-Asian Freedom-fighting comrade and be fed by him in small modest bites, each followed by understated chewing. Hensley did not fare as well when it came to his own requested allowance. He left the restaurant wearing a headdress of barbecue sauce. Parker Noell, Claiming our Stools: History-making Sit Ins of the Civil Rights Movement (Los Angeles: Locklear Kun and Sons, 1988), 88-98.

  14. “Her name is Silvana. Jonny, I actually think she’s the one.” Harlan Davison to Jonathan Blashette, 22 March 1959.

  15. “So sorry. My mistake. She isn’t the one.” Harlan Davison to Jonathan Blashette, 23 March 1959.

  16. Davison saw very little of Silvana after that. Georgia Neilson, When Advice Columnists Go Bad (Los Angeles: Pepper Plum Publishing, 1975), 267-73. Despite widespread syndication throughout the U.S. and the inevitable comparison to popular advice columnists Ann Landers and her twin sister Abigail Van Buren, Silvana Lichtenstein was promptly dismissed and her column deep-sixed. Davison seems to have pounced on this opportunity to break up with the two-hundred-and-fifty-pound, sixty-two-year-old Jersey City native, confessing to Jonathan that the chemistry that he “had thought he felt there in the beginning was maybe never even there at all.” I tracked down a copy of what was to become Miss Lichtenstein’s final column for the Jacobson Syndicate. Much of the advice she dispensed that day seems fairly innocuous. It was the final “confidential” that appears to have been the career-killer.

  Confidential to Distressed in Detroit: The body behind the pool house and the other one beneath the gazebo are strong indicators that he may have buried carved-up corpses all over the bloomin’ property! You’d do best to get a steam shovel to help you decide if this is the kind of man you want for a husband and future father of your children. And I’d keep the cutlery on a high shelf when next he comes a’ callin’.

  17. This was followed by another death in the Dandy D family. Reinhold, The Story of Dandy-de-odor-o, 245-47. Sadly, Arnold Haverty died before he could even begin his retirement. Addicus Andrew, while trying not to dishonor his father’s venerable lieutenants by kicking them out the corporate door, nonetheless gave none-too-subtle nudgings here and there, sweetened by offers of enticing severance packages. Arnold took the bait, but never reached the fishing boat. As the company clown, he would be missed. His departure also signaled the commencement of a new era at Dandy D—one in which young turks would replace the old guard—a passing of the baton, as it were, that to many of the old-timers (most of them handpicked by Jonathan himself) seemed more like theft.

  18. He was waggish in life, impish in
death. Ibid. Arnold Haverty’s unique funeral wishes were honored by his wife Constance to the letter. Not only did they include a burial at sea, but Jonathan’s director of product planning had also requested that several hours prior to the ocean drop he be propped up in a deck chair, holding a good book. (“Give me something that’ll have ’em all slapping their sides, like maybe something by Camus. I also thought, Connie, that this might be a nice way to remind you of that great cruise we took to the Bahamas. I sat in my deck chair and slept like ol’ Van Winkle while you did the cha-cha-cha with that Caesar Romero look-alike from Tampa. You said you’ve never been happier.”) Constance kept her word, even whispering private comments to her Hawaiian-shirted exanimate husband as friends and family lined up to pay their respects, and only occasionally addressing mourners to say, “Please don’t shake his hand. It’s cold and stiff. You won’t like it.”

  19. Sacco missed the funeral. A false alarm had sent the Sacco family underground for two weeks. Dandy-de-odor-o’s Vice President for Packaging had taken a television civil defense test for the real thing. Thinking the U.S. was under nuclear attack, he had hurried wife Elsie and their three children into the backyard bomb shelter he’d built from a kit only a few months before. Here the nuclear family remained for the next thirteen days. While underground, they were totally cut off from the rest of the world, due in large part to the fact that Sandron Sacco had forgotten to put batteries in the shelter’s transistor radio. Neighbors, friends, and family debated over whether to inform them of their error. Except for one neighbor’s unsuccessful renegade attempt to end the needless entombment, the Saccos were left to discover their mistake on their own. Embarrassment, it was thought, would be ameliorated somewhat if their emergence went unmonitored. Perhaps this way they could move more rapidly toward getting their lives back to normal and this humiliating chapter behind them. Which is exactly what Sandron, Elsie and their three children attempted to do. For all the years that followed, the couple never once mentioned their two weeks in the family bunker (although oldest daughter Lucy was finally able to laugh about it years later in her “My Turn” submission to Newsweek.) Therefore, I considered myself quite fortunate to discover not only that Sandron Sacco had kept a “log,” but also that it was never destroyed. Lucy was happy to give me access. Selected entries follow.

 
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