Short Story: “Untold Backstory”

The following story might be a lost voice-over for a History Channel program. Or (more likely) a demonstration of how we manage to make literally everything relate to everything else. We find connections between absolutely anything and anything else, no matter how disconnected and arbitrary these things might actually be. I’ll post my thoughts on this story, but first, you should read the thing without expectations. (Needless to say, all posts on this blog are copyrighted, and all rights are reserved.)


Untold Backstory

Last night, a good friend of mine, David Vivian, sent me an email asking after my sister, Joan Boyce, who lives in Eugene Oregon. Joan is the daughter in-law of Burke Boyce, a popular historical novelist of the 1950’s who specialized in the young George Washington.

Burke often complained to my sister of a review of his successful Man from Mount Vernon, in which Clive Etheridge, the reviewer, had claimed the curator of the Mount Vernon estate disputed some of the facts in Burke’s novel. This curator, a Mr. Frank Fellows, cited several historians, notably Delmar Weingarten, whose scholarly reputation is rarely in dispute.

According to Weingarten, the original groundskeeper at Mount Vernon was one Anthony Blaine (not to be confused with Anthony Wayne), and was the son-in-law of a well-known pre-revolutionary doctor named Phillip Dannerston. Dannerston was well liked, and widely known in the region for having saved the lives of the entire K. P. Bellows family, whose estate was frequented in the early 20th century by T. S. Elliot.

Todd Bakersfield, a little-known commentator on Elliot’s work, was nevertheless famous for quoting extensively from a book of essays by Morris Wellington, editor of the New England Review of Literature, popular until well into the 1940’s. Apart from his published editorials in the Review, Wellington’s other writings were thought to be virtually nil — but for the quotations in Bakersfield’s books; unfortunately, the provenance of the Bakersfield quotes was uncertain.

In 1949, Bakersfield’s nephew, Bill Bakersfield, claimed to have located the original source of his quotes, an unpublished manuscript found in his aunt’s attic alongside paintings attributed to Boxer and Blaugh, the infamous colonial-Boston pre-surrealists. Charles MacKenzie famously unmasked the Boxer and Blaugh paintings as a fraud, but his nemesis in art criticism was Paul M. Bowler, who surprised the art world by presenting plausible evidence that the Bostonians indeed might have pre-empted Salvador Dali by almost ten generations.

Paul Bowler’s secretary, a Miss Genevieve Delmonte, had mentioned his forthcoming foil to MacKenzie’s debunking, while riding the train from Boston to Wilmington Delaware to meet her fiance’s parents, Professor and Mrs. Frederik Yankzikov, recent immigrants from what is now Belarus. In that region of Eastern Europe, the Boxer and Blaugh controversy was entirely unknown, and the Yankzikovs took little interest in their future daughter-in-law’s office chatter.

However, Genevieve’s seat-mate on the train to Wilmington was none other than Dan Ringle, an up and coming publicist with dreams of starting his own publishing empire. Ringle was infatuated by a sense of vast sales potential in this pair of diametrically opposed art critics. Ringle’s father, James Haughton Ringle, having served 30 years, until his retirement, as editorial director at the University of Delaware’s closely-held printing venture, The Greenfield Press, encouraged his son Dan to seek publishing rights to Bowler’s riposte to MacKenzie’s attack on the Boston artists.

Dan Ringle contacted Bowler’s agent, Miss Brandy Thurston, at the Alfred P. Knopf company in New York, and set up a luncheon meeting at the Cottage Shop, a restaurant across the Hudson in Haverstraw. In his eagerness to launch, Dan Ringle was prepared to pay an extraordinary fee for the transfer of the Bowler rights to the Greenfield Press, where his father would then transfer them directly to Dan’s new venture, World Publishing International.

After lunch, Brandy Thurston returned to her employer with high expectations that an unprecedented deal was about to go through. Her boss, however, Mr. John J. Johnson, director of intellectual property rights at Knopf, felt that more market research was needed, and sent Brandy Thurston to Kendall McGuire, a freelance literary scholar often employed by Knopf in such matters. McGuire was, unknown to anyone at Knopf, the brother of Jane Kelly, a very famous dancer at the Copacabana, at that time still located on East 60th Street.

Jane’s costumer (Ginji Jean Jackson) had achieved momentary notoriety through her involvement with gangland celebrity Donny Moore, who often performed his comedy routine at the Copa, as well as at other less savory establishments in Little Italy. Donny’s preferred venue was Santo Luigi’s on Mulberry Street, known as a popular haunt of Pignose Barucci, a lesser-known Don of lower Manhattan, and putative heir to both the Zamboni fortune and a substantial portion of various Brooklyn waste management enterprises.

As it happened, Pignose Barucci had a cousin who ran a numbers racket out of Flatbush. The cousin, Antonio Sinofoli, was married to his third wife Bonitina (née Santorini) whose sister Drusella was involved in black market show business memorabilia, items stolen from wardrobe trucks and celebrity dressing-room trailers during location shoots around the Big Apple. When Drusella discovered that Donny’s girlfriend Ginji Jean Jackson handled costumes for the Copa, she immediately contacted Ginji Jean in the hopes of setting up a new source for her “showjack” enterprise. But Ginji Jean mentioned the call to Jane Kelly, who mentioned it to her brother Kendall McGuire, the literary scholar hired by Knopf.

Kendall advised his sister to tell her costumer a fabricated story about FBI involvement in surveillance of Pignose Barucci, in the hopes this would discourage Drusella from jeopardizing Kendall’s sister Jane’s costumer, and indirectly, Jane herself. The ruse apparently worked, for Ginji Jean jackson never again heard from Drusella Santorini. Kendall McGuire, however, became concerned that Pignose suspected someone connected to Bonitina had snitched to the FBI, and Kendall temporarily dropped out of sight.

Unable to obtain confirmation of Dan Ringle’s vision of Bowler’s manuscript, Brandy Thurston returned to Knopf’s John J. Johnson empty-handed. Johnson scuttled the project, and Dan Ringle’s dream of a quick publishing coup evaporated and World Publishing International never saw the light of day.

Shortly thereafter, Ringle relocated to Portland, Oregon, to set up an import business in Asian-made sneakers. While riding the Portland Light Rail into town from the suburbs, Ringle struck up a conversation with a visiting folding box mechanic from Providence, Rhode Island, who was in town to install a high-speed box fabrication machine made by Emmeci Corporation, an Italian company based in Torino, Italy.

Earlier that summer, one Jeff Corsiglia, originally from Lakewood New Jersey (not far from Lakehurst, site of the Hindenberg disaster), had been touring northern Italy in search of his ancestral home. Corsiglia, whose father had been a police officer in the 23rd Precinct in Manhattan, while chatting with a tour guide at the town of Corsiglia’s chamber of commerce, happened to mention an old college chum of his named David Vivian, who was in fact the very same Emmeci box-making machine installation engineer Dan Ringle would soon encounter during a morning commute into Portland.

Coincidence? You be the judge.


Postscript: This turned out, many years after this posting, to be a sketch for a much longer, fleshier short story, now called “Mobius Trip,” a much better title, don’t you think? It can be found in the book Brain Frieze under the original title.

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