IBID, page 7
Dr. Bloor would be sorely disappointed to hear what has become of me.
4. “Izzie and Moe still won’t give me a raise. I am going to look for work elsewhere.” Ibid., 15 October, 1909.
5. “Are you a hairy man?” Jonathan noted in his diary (19 October1909) that the interview for assembly line relief man at Pettiville’s Sure-Fry Lard Works was one of the strangest encounters he’d ever had. He took pains to transcribe to the best of his recollection nearly the whole exchange.
JENKINS: Have a seat. Fritter biscuit?
JONATHAN: No thank you.
JENKINS: Crunkle cake, fresh from the vat?
JONATHAN: Thanks, but I’m not all that hungry.
JENKINS: Deep fried crackle crisp?
JONATHAN: I’m not sure I know what that is.
JENKINS: Shall we get down to business?
JENKINS: I don’t beat around the proverbial bush. When I want to know something, I simply ask it.
JONATHAN: Go right ahead.
JENKINS: Are you a hairy man?
JONATHAN: Am I what?
JENKINS: A hairy man.
JONATHAN: Well, I—
JENKINS: I note a minimum of carpeting on your forearms. Does this indicate a lack of same upon other regions of your epidermis?
JONATHAN: I would suppose so.
JENKINS: That is unfortunate.
JONATHAN: I beg your pardon?
JENKINS: The fact that you are effeminately hairless.
JONATHAN: Perhaps I will grow more hair as I age. I am, after all, only twenty-one.
JENKINS: Yes. Hmm. There is that possibility. Though I must tell you, Mr. Blashette, that my preference is for the men who join this operation to have sufficient, well-established body hair.
JONATHAN: My father is somewhat hairy. Perhaps in time—
JENKINS: I’m afraid I need this position filled next week. (A pause.) There are, of course, ways for one to stimulate the growth of hair.
JENKINS: One proven method comes to mind. But there is a downside. On occasion, the hair growth is limited to the palms of the hands. And in some exceptional cases, one goes blind.
JONATHAN: I wouldn’t want that, no.
JENKINS: Tripping and bumping into things. I’d have to keep you far away from the rendering room.
JONATHAN: I do think I would make a good employee, Mr. Jenkins, if only you could see your way to dismissing the fact that I am not an overly hairy man.
JENKINS: I’m sorry, Mr. Blashette, but that would be difficult. This is a factory of hirsute men and one Mrs. Beebe who joined us following a failed Rutgers pituitary experiment. You would not be happy among these people. You would inevitably be teased, taunted, perhaps even roughed up. And here I’m speaking only of Mrs. Beebe. It simply wouldn’t be safe for you here.
JONATHAN: Could you not simply forbid your employees to go after me?
JENKINS: Lard men, Mr. Blashette, are hard men.
JONATHAN: Then, I assume this interview is over.
JENKINS: You assume correctly. By the way, would you know of someone with the requisite qualifications who might wish to apply for the position?
Jonathan’s friend Toby “the Monkey Boy” Brancato was hired the very next day.
6. Halley’s hysteria was widespread. Jonathan’s exasperation over the paranoia that gripped Wilkinson County residents in the weeks leading up to the May, 1910, fly-over by Halley’s Comet is evident in this letter which Jonathan wrote to Great Jane on “the eve of the Great Apocalypse, May 17.” (JBP.) I include it here in its entirety. It reflects Jonathan’s growing impatience with “those trammeled by their own timidity” but also indicates Jonathan’s growing bitterness and dissatisfaction with his own life.
May 17, 1910
Dear Great Jane,
The citizens of this jerkwater Mongolian hamlet have decided that the world is about to end. It is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. In the face of all reason, they gather to make all right with God, to tearfully kiss their babies and hug their grannies good-bye, to sing their favorite hymns and eat up the best preserves from the fruit cellar, and I can’t get anyone to wait on me at the five and dime because selling a tin of shoe polish means nothing compared to the destruction of this planet by poisonous cometic gases—sufficient reason, it would seem, to try to drink as many ice cream sodas as the human digestive tract can hold while customers in need of shoe polish who don’t happen to believe that God is arriving tomorrow morning on the 6:07 must fend totally for themselves like I don’t have better things to do with my time than walk through a store and claim items for myself without clerical assistance! I would be fired for treating my customers at Izzie and Moe’s the way these apocalypse-obsessed imbecilic sales clerks treated me.
My parents are, thankfully, keeping their wits, although I can detect the occasional anxious thought percolating now and then, understandable when you consider that they are surrounded by men and women totally deficient in intelligence and possessed of not even the notochord of an embryonic mouse.
Yesterday I had the displeasure of talking seven men and women out of nailing themselves to crosses in a cotton field just north of town to wait Christ-like for what they believed would be the Second Coming, due to arrive in a cloud of comet dust. My exchange with these people went something like this:
ME: Hello there! What’s with the crosses?
A LARGE, FURRY AGRICULTURAL SORT WHOM THEY CALL TUB: Where you been, son? The end is near!
ME: Right. But what’s the reason for the crosses?
A TOOTHLESS AGRICULTURAL SORT WHOM THEY CALL LESTER: We will await our Lord and Savior in the manner in which He Himself was spirited to the arms of His Father.
ME: You’re going to nail yourselves to these things?
AN EARNEST APRON-BEDECKED WOMAN WHOM THEY CALL EITHER BESS OR BETH (SEVERAL HAD CONFUSING LISPS): Yes. That is the plan.
ME: What about these little crosses?
TUB: They are for the children.
ME: Where are the children?
TUB: They require a bit more coaxing.
ME: And the tiny cross there?
BESS: I have a cat named Mr. Pink.
ME: So who goes first?
A GRIZZLED OLD MAN WITH A HUMP WHO I LATER LEARN IS NAMED PAPPY: We’ve drawn straws to decide.
TUB: Unfortunately, we can’t tell which is the shortest of these two.
ME: Let me see. That was easy. Here’s your winner.
TUB: Lester, this three-legged gentleman says you got the shortest straw. Pappy, we best get the hammer and commence to crucifyin’.
ME: What happens if the comet comes and goes and Jesus doesn’t show up?
LESTER: If we’re still alive and kickin’, then I reckon we’d need someone to come get us all down. I also reckon the doctor would have to do himself some patchin’ about our hands and feet.
DOC: Yup, I reckon I would.
ME: Here’s a thought: maybe Jesus would prefer to find you all sitting quietly and without physical anguish in your parlors when He arrives.
BESS (nodding her head eagerly): That is a thought. Why, you know what? I could make Him lemonade. I couldn’t make Jesus lemonade if I’m hangin’ on that there cross, Lester.
LESTER: That’s a right good point. Maybe we could study on it a spell.
In the end, even the cat was spared.
7. Lucile Moritz entered Jonathan’s life through the peeled-back tarpaulin flap of a Chautauqua lecture tent. The lecture which brought Jonathan and Lucile together was delivered by a Professor Wilbert Wollensagen on the topic “Agronomy and Animal Husbandry in the Age of Industrial Encroachment” and included “a magic lantern slide show for illustration, and musical interludes provided by Judith Crevecoeur and her dwarf-harp.” So instantly enamored of each other were Lucile and Jonathan that neith
Traveling tent Chautauquas were popular vehicles in the early 20th century for exposing non-urban communities to culture, intellectual thought, and the more refined performing arts. They also provided—as Jonathan and his new girlfriend Lucile were probably well aware—the opportunity for young men and women in such communities to meet and mingle outside the auspices of church and the socially regimented workplace. Indeed, for many of Jonathan’s generation the word Chautauqua served as acronym for “Clever, handsome and unambiguously tantalizing adults under-canvas quietly uniting anatomies.” John B. Paperwhite, “Courting and Cavorting in Rural America,” Rustic Review 17 (1975): 12-17, 72-79
8. “We spend long hours together working jigsaw puzzles…and doing other things.” Jonathan took an instant liking to the recently invented jigsaw puzzle and shared this interest with the new love of his life. Jigsaws would remain a favorite form of entertainment for him. He even carried a box in his “ol’ kit bag” when he began his tour of duty for Uncle Sam in 1917. On those occasions during which things got quiet on the Western Front, Jonathan would pull out the box and try to scout a flat, clean surface upon which to reinstate the disassembled picture of a smiling Dutch school girl holding a bouquet of colorful tulips. He was rarely rewarded for his efforts; the pieces quickly became soiled and blood-blotted, a trench rat chewed a large hole in the box, and fellow doughboys made fun of him, calling him “Jigsaw Jugglehead.” “It was a stupid idea,” Jonathan later wrote to Lucile from the front, “but I did somehow finish those tulips.” Ibid., 17 June 1914.
9. “I will not rest until I am sent to the front.” This letter is typical of the more than forty earnest yet politely couched appeals Jonathan sent to various public officials and army personnel in an attempt to overturn his disqualification from active duty in the First World War. The following, however, is a letter of a different sort, an unusual exception to the rule, submitted to demonstrate the degree of frustration Jonathan felt over not being able to pass muster for the muster. He later apologized for the harangue by sending its recipient a basket of fresh figs, following in the family tradition. JBP (carbon copy).
July 7, 1917
To Captain Reuben Milone
I beg you to reverse your decision regarding my suitability for service in the expeditionary force being assembled to fight in Europe. I was afforded not so much as an interview, receiving, as you must recall, the most cursory of visual inspections and a dismissal so preemptive that I was left brain-dazed from its celerity. In all my twenty-nine years I have never met a man so quick to prejudge another and so contemptuous of those who don’t fit neatly into one’s narrow concept of soldiering competency.
That very same day on which I was removed from any further consideration of my potential as infantryman, I learned that you had enthusiastically approved for active duty an obscenely obese baker with a maddening eye tic, three men wearing rouge and sequined pantlings, and a German-American youth who had just moments before his interview loudly professed his love for the Kaiser and his desire to sabotage whenever possible the efforts of the Allied armies to achieve victory and make the world safe for democracy. This was followed by a ditty that made my patriotic blood boil: “In my marrow I’m a Hun. Gonna have myself some fun. Shoot me a Yank, with a big ol’ tank. Turn a doughboy into a hot crossed bun!”
You had no difficulty approving any of the aforementioned candidates for service. Why you would not afford me the same consideration I do not know, although I am tempted to attribute the fact to simple stupidity, your mother being a simian creature far down the evolutionary ladder, perhaps a rung very near the bottom just above the introduction of opposable thumbs.
With all sincerity,
10. “Will somebody please enlist that courageous three-legged man before Colliers picks up the story and Pershing shits a brick?” Newton Baker to Tasker Bliss, 17 July, 1917U.S. Defense Department Archives.
11. “Now what do you want to go to that silly ol’ war for?” Lucile Moritz to Jonathan Blashette, 4 September1917, JBP.
12. “If you must go, I will be resigned, but I will miss you so.” Lucile Moritz to Jonathan Blashette, 15 September1917, JBP.
13. Each soldier was also provided a book of helpful French phrases. In Jonathan’s copy a few additional phrases have been scrawled on the blank last page. It is doubtful that he ever had the chance to use any of them. JBP, Ephemera Collection.
Monsieur le boucher, avez-vous un poulet qui n’est pas mort de la gale? Mr. Butcher, have you a chicken that didn’t die of poultry mange?
Excusez- moi, mon ami le fermier français, mais y a t’il des Boches morts dans votre grenier? Excuse me, my French farmer friend, but there are dead Boche in your hayloft.
Je n’ai pas demandé si votre fille étaìt une prostitutée; j’ai demandé si cette prostituée était votre fille. I didn’t ask if your daughter was a prostitute; I asked if this prostitute was your daughter. Pouvez-vous nous diriger vers le front? Nous sommes perdus et tres saouls et plutôt gênés. Can you direct us to the front? We are lost and very drunk and somewhat abashed.
Votre char est sur mon pied. Your tank is on my foot.
Quelque chose a pondu des oeufs dans vos cheveux. Something has laid eggs in your hair.
Est-ce la puenteur de la guerre que je sens ou êtes vous tous français? Is that the stench of war or are you all French?
JBP, Ephemera Collection
14. “I’m going to kill my sister.” Lucile had absolutely no control over her younger sister; Beryl would continue to write to Jonathan pretending to be Lucile until the end of the war. Jonathan got fairly good at distinguishing the counterfeit correspondence penned by Beryl from the legitimate letters written by Lucile, and even came to look forward to them as humorous diversion. What follows is one of Beryl’s more obvious efforts at deception. JBP.
April 17, 1918
My dearest Jonathan,
I miss you so deeply that the pain of your absence has manifest itself in a palpable ache in the abdomen that results in frequent bouts of crumpled cramping. You would not wish to see me right now.
Toddy asked me again last night to accompany him to the new Arline Pretty/Douglas Fairbanks picture. I confess that this time I succumbed and accepted his offer. I know that you would object strenuously to the liberties he took with me in the darkened theatre, yet I hunger so much these days for the touch of a man—any man, for that matter—including, but not limited to Mr. Pamida the unkempt ragman and his daft assistant Squib, and the offensive line of Devanter College’s varsity football team.
I left the theatre on Toddy’s arm, not because of any abiding affection for the gentleman but because I was undone. He had explored my body with his hands and mouth without intermission, finally leaving my bodice and undergarments in shameful dishabille. He then proceeded to take me to his lodgings on the outskirts of town where I was further disrobed and disgraced and where I do most grievously confess I came close to having my virtue fully compromised.
I must say, dearest Jonathan, that I am a woman whom you would do best to scorn and dismiss, having degraded myself not only with Toddy but with all manner of men, including, but not limited to, Teaseman the manure vendor and his grime-caked, toothless apprentice Happy, and the Wilkinson County Volunteer Fire Brigade.
I do not deserve you.
I suggest that you call on my beautiful and chaste sister Beryl when you return from war service. Beryl has never so much as been touched by a man save one accidental brushing of the hand by Mr. Withers who is forgiven on account of his blindness.
Yes, Beryl is the girl for you, my love. I will the bear the pain of the loss even as I continue to shamefully proclaim my hungry female body open to all comers.
With all sincerity,
When Beryl realized that she was losing the battle to steal Jonathan from her sister, her tactics became even more inventive. She stopped pretending to be Lucile and wrote to Jonathan under her own name. In the letter that follows, she makes one last desperate sortie to win the heart of her sister’s boyfriend through pity alone.
October 14, 1918
Dear, dear Jonathan,
The doctor tells me I have only a few weeks to live. I have now gotten the dreaded Spanish flu not once or even twice but three wretched times. I am taxed to exhaustion and have lost weight, for I can keep nothing down but rice pudding and then only if the rice is removed. As I waste away to near invisibility I can only think of how much your presence at my bedside would rally me. If only I could look into your beautiful hazel eyes and be told that you cherish me with a love that far exceeds any love you have ever had for my libertine sister Lucile who as I write this is off with one among a host of young slacker suitors (for she so admires the ingenuity of those who dodge service to their country through feigned illness or pacifistic mollycoddledry).
Perhaps I will see you one last time before the veil is pulled permanently across my young life. Or I shall pray for a miracle—that your mere presence will snatch me from the abyss and my strength be restored in the warmth of your blazing smile. Soon, I pray, I will be gamboling about like a frisky fawn—gamboling with you, my love, with health returned and eternal happiness assured. A miracle it would surely be. And so I live on hope even as life slips out of me like sand from a splintered hourglass.
Get home safe.
15. “After a Chaplin one reeler came news from the front, followed by a two-hanky Gish blubbertale, interrupted by the spiel of one of those dreadful four minute men.” In his letter to Jonathan, dated 16 October1918 (JBP), former college chum and fervent socialist activist Findley Sanders described the theatre’s four minute man’s pitch for war bonds as “absolute spread-eagle lunacy.” Sanders, who, incidentally, would be arrested only one week later for his antiwar activities, reported that the war booster also urged his audience to give up hamburgers for the “duration” and send all the town dachshunds (“dog-huns”) to the local abattoir. Sanders added with undisguised relish that one woman, an obvious inveterate dachshund-owner, made her opinion of this idea known by hurling a box of Cracker Jacks at the man, nearly putting his eye out. She was discourteously escorted from the theatre, and, no doubt, charged with “disloyalty and sedition.”