the museum of americana

a literary review

Gallery of America: Our Lesser Icons—Humor by Chris Sumberg

John “The Toddler” Doe. Despite hitting .563 across 17 seasons with the then-Akron Yankees, it’s unremarkable that “The Toddler,” batting between George Herman “The Babe” Ruth and Ted “The Kid” Williams, was, like so many middle children, somewhat lost in the crowd. Following his uncelebrated retirement from the later-Brooklyn Giants, Doe opened a popular bakery on Bleeker Street, Doe Means Dough, noted for its signature Upstate fruit pie, the Apple Toddler.

Dorothy “The Sinkable Polly” Bowen. Socialite Bowen was infamous for her aloofness, refusing, for example, to shake hands with Gustav Mahler on his 1908 visit to the United States (to conduct at the New York Symphony Orchestra) – an incident considered an early driver in Europe’s inexorable slide into the First World War. Beyond Bowen’s extreme snarkiness, though, was an even more pronounced sexual repression. (She is alleged to have taken her daily baths only in her estate’s “panic folly,” situated on an island in the main garden’s central pond – and then, only while wearing her full complement of highly absorbent petticoats.) Asked, grudgingly, during the early hours of April 15, 1912 if she wished to join the other ladies on Titanic Lifeboat No. 1, Bowen chose instead to glare at the waiting cabin boy (widening her eyes in “a feral manner,” as he later described it); to scream “Away, feeble lad;” and to lock herself in her stateroom’s water closet. The cabin boy, Edward “Ed Those Legs” Larch, well-known for his lucrative shorebound “trade” in The City of New York’s charming Bowery neighborhood, took the opportunity to slip into some of Bowen’s backup petticoats and to tie a large bonnet around his head, later successfully boarding Lifeboat No. 1 in her place.

Steve “Hemingway” Luttrell was the very first of, as of this date, 320 million aspiring writers dubbed “Hemingway” by their unread drinking buddies (if that’s not redundant). Luttrell was noted for his high literary standards, running through 20 pencil erasers per writing “session.” He died unpublished having spent his life as a freelance tire retreader in Tooele, Utah, just outside the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Clarence Ignatius Edward “C. I. E.” Clevinger – a.k.a. “Except Before C, Clevinger,” to the semi-literate grammar school bullies of his youth – ended up showing them all! Clevinger’s volunteer proofreading, based on his own self-devised methodology, remains unrecognized by media organizations to this day, perhaps because Clevinger self-deprecatingly termed his unsolicited editing contributions as “something of an utter madness within me,” a view not countered by the beneficiaries of his genius. Or, perhaps, because he never mailed his searing article edits to any newspapers. In any event, it was C. I. E. Clevinger who introduced the initial comma that was then paired with the second, or serial, or so-called Oxford comma – the “Clevi-comma,” as he termed it. He also introduced the “Clevi-tricomma,” used in a series of four items. Clevinger was working on a system that required the use of five or more semicolons, the Cleviquint-Oxfordshire semicolon, the pressure of which is said to have contributed to his early death by crushing. (While traveling on a self-financed Cleviquint-Oxfordshire semicolon promotional tour, worn from his research and distracted by an improperly punctuated “Caution; Falling Rock’s” road sign, he failed to observe a falling boulder.)

Wayne “The Georgia Resident” Dumar. As legend has it, Dumar lived quietly in Georgia his entire life. Although he enjoyed the flavor of peaches –and while he once grew a hybrid tree in a pot on his patio that, in fact, did eventually produce a small, inedible “peach” – Dumar had no connection to Ty “The Georgia Peach” Cobb, and, in fact, considered the sports icon “a cranky little turd.”

Nicolai “Stubble Nick” Lamotta. The hirsute but fair-skinned speakeasy owner, instantly recognizable from the half-dozen dabs of toilet paper stuck all over his face, was a known associate of Rockford, Illinois, forger Al “Papercuts” Malone, but he is best remembered today, if remembered at all, as the impresario/high priest behind 51st Street’s legendary avant-Dixieland scene. While bebop was making its perhaps historically overdocumented way just one street over in post-war New York, Lamotta was launching the careers of such luminaries as Roxy “Lady Lay” Day, Fritzie Mulligan, and clarinetist Charles “The Owl” Parkhurst (after whom, of course, Lamotta’s club, Owl-ville, was named). Lamotta was found floating in the East River in 1963. When asked why he was floating there, he noted the thin margins of the “Dixieland game,” stating that he couldn’t afford a sensory deprivation tank.

Ernst “The Professor” Hemingzvee, dubbed so by his drinking buddies for his unnatural interest in at least one other thing than beer and prostitution, grew up in Pennsylvania’s freeveeling Dutch Country. He attempted to make a name for himself with an ill-advised and highly impromptu (beer) barrel plunge off the Poconos’ Li’l Reichenbach Falls. That said, according to medical testimony at his sentencing, his blood alcohol level “hadda be some kind of record.”  

Ed “The Man of Aluminum” Stokes. Ed Stokes was perhaps the most successful aluminum siding salesman in the post-war “Rubber Capital of the World,” Akron, Ohio. He personally closed deals on over 1,456 home remodels spanning what should have been an illustrious, decades-long career. Unfortunately, Stokes worked – toiled, really – at a family-owned business (Fisk Gould & Associates, LLC), and the magnate’s son was a greedy prick who stole all the credit. Anyway, he was never recognized in his lifetime, or even after his lifetime, or at least, he hasn’t been recognized to date. It’s said, though, that during full moons Stokes’ miserable screams resonate from the dented siding panels that fall like shattered souls into the potholes of Akron’s shadier side streets.

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CS-MuseumAmericanaChris Sumberg’s writing has been published in AHOY Comics’ Happy Hour (6) and Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Death (2). His novella/self-help hybrid, 500k/MO!! as EPIC-POET! by Vincent “Vinnie The Weasel” Vulpikonek – Introduction by Mister C.N. Sumbvert (Mentor-Helpmeet-Editor-At-Largess™) – with Chris Sumberg (side-kick, gofer), was published in January 2022.

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