Don Mauer: It’s a Great Life if You Don’t Weaken
We all have bad days commonly preceded by even worse nights. Troubled, restless, interrupted sleep. Late start for an important meeting. Tepid shower. Adult children still residing at home doing laundry or taking lengthy, inconsiderate, hot showers. Fresh out of deodorant. Favorite power suit at the cleaners. Dog throws up on recently cleaned carpet. Spouse already left for the day attending conference to save the African hairless mole rat and the dodo. The latter is extinct but your spouse doesn’t believe you.
Out of your favorite brand of coffee. Have to settle for decaf. Car’s cranky. Won’t turnover. Finally starts. Get caught behind several senior citizen buses. Traffic lights don’t work at major intersection. Unimaginable snarl. Uninhibited honking and impatient jockeying for passing position. Meeting’s started. Boss gives you the fish eye for being late as you bump the table spilling several coffee cups including his. Brought the wrong folder for your presentation … And so your day goes.
Well! You think your day was bad? How bout this for a lifetime?
He was the oldest of seven children. Named after a mythical Roman hunter accidentally killed by his lover the goddess Diana. Not very promising for a very prophetic odyssey.
First job was clerking for his father’s dry goods store. Even though he was the only worker, he was never nominated for employee of the month. A little slow making change when there was an infrequent customer. His father wasn’t any great shakes as a salesman either. Dry goods store goes under.
Heads for the bright lights of St. Louis seeking work as a journeyman printer. Lives Spartan life. Rises at dawn. Reads the bible. Diet of bread and water.
Returns home to assume family leadership when his father dies in 1851. Definitely not leadership material.
Sets up a printing shop publishing the Hannibal Journal. In one of his many thought provoking, insightful editorials he complains about dogs barking at night.
A journalist from another paper ridicules him in print about barking dog story. His kid brother cleverly refutes the journalist. Horrified at bold rejoinder, apologizes in print to insulted journalist. Displaying unusual initiative invites Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Homes to contribute essays for his journal at $5 bucks apiece. Never occurs to him he’s insulted these great men with such a paltry offer.
With usual faculty for ignoring his limitations he commits to a daily printing. With unerring timing he dismisses kid brother losing his invaluable contribution to the journal. Brother’s departure freezes him for an entire month. Hannibal Journal perishes.
In 1853 he moves to Muscatine, Iowa. Establishes the Muscatine Journal.
Two years later the journal folds. Moves to Keokuk, Iowa as a job printer. His wife Mollie is frantically sending out SOSs for family financial support. The unflappable stalwart sets up a Ben Franklin and Job Office: cards, circulars, posters .… printed.
Job Office is not a flaming success. Seriously considers one of his reoccurring fantasies. Joining the ministry. After some time he moves to Memphis setting up a law practice in 1859. Standards may have been more casual then, if a person of his ilk could practice law as easily as setting up a lemonade stand in front of his house. However, this decision inadvertently catalyses the most successful stage in a star crossed life.
Vigorously campaigns for Lincoln’s election. As a reward he’s appointed Secretary of the Nevada Territory, the second ranking official in Carson City, Nevada. Difficult to reconcile his past performances and lack of qualifications with responsibilities of this position.
This campaign promise underlines how poorly prepared and unqualified many people are drafted for political offices. This practice still thrives in state and federal goof ball appointments – thank you.
Characteristically inhibits political business as usual. Declines Governor’s obvious inclination to look the other way on some financial shenanigans. Becomes acting Territorial Governor during Governor’s frequent absences. From barely managing his father’s dry goods store he’s temporarily responsible for 110,000 square miles. Not to worry. Finds time to lecture kid brother about latter’s “dissipation.”
Mollie’s enjoying the good life never before or after provided by her husband. Urges him to run for re-election. On voting day he predictably and inexplicably declares opposition to consumption of alcohol in a region where booze is mother’s milk. Comes in second in balloting. Receiving no votes. Sic transit gloria mundi.
After brush with politics he returns east making another futile attempt at his first love – the pulpit. Writes draft sermons for kid brother’s review. Congregations not exactly lining up waiting for his ministry. In 1865 he receives $200,000 bid on family’s Tennessee real estate. Declines offer because the buyer will cultivate the property for grapes to be used for wine. See above. Drives rest of the family to drink.
Fails second go at law coincidentally failing again to sell land in 1867.
Returns again to brighter lights of St. Louis seeking a type setting job. Bords with his mother before bringing Mollie from Keokuk. Adults living with their parents is not a new family dynamic.
Receives new offer of $50,000 for land in 1870. Blows the deal. Another bid of $30,000 is on the table. Kid brother urges acceptance. Bumbles and dithers. More interested in developing new type of drilling machine. Kid brother gets him a job editing a monthly circular American Publisher in Hartford Connecticut. Continues to work on drilling machine.
He’s fired from American Publisher. So what else is new? Becomes editorial director for Rutland Globe in Vermont 1872. Apparently nobody checked references then. Washes out faster than kid brother expected. Goes to New York seeking work as editor, proofreader or at least printer. Sets drilling machine aside tinkering with latest invention – a flying machine. Reading too much Leonardo de Vinci and Jules Verne. Becomes substitute proof reader at Evening Post in 1874 earning $2/day when he infrequently gets work.
Mollie borrows $2,000 from kid brother to finance farm in Keokuk. Informs brother everything spouse undertakes fails. He’s a lemon. Besides that he’s a loser. Warm vote of confidence from the most important person in his life. He’s still paying interest on Tennessee land. Grapples with roosters and hens in Keokuk. Kid brother deflects another hair-brained, land-investment scheme from him in 1875.
Writes some fiction. Sends drafts to kid brother for review. Latter can’t pass up opportunity to write his brother’s biography. Views him as prime fodder for satire. No one could be more inept.
Contemplates lecture series. Rails against the rising tide of Darwinian scientists and rationalists assailing Christian religion. Kid brother roasts him to his agent as failing business, realtor, publisher, politician, farmer, lawyer, and writer.
Predictable fall out with his Presbyterian brethren. Dismissed from church. His lectures supposedly support agnostic views of pro-Darwinians. Since he was such a staunch opponent of these views, his writings must have been incredibly confusing to alienate his fellow churchmen.
He’s still living off his kid brother’s largesse in 1880. Contemplates several titles for his life’s story: “The Autobiography of a Coward” or “Confessions of a Failed Business Man.” No self-esteem problems here huh? Kid brother drops his upper plate in the punch bowl. Initially encourages the manuscript. Relieves him of finishing his autobiography.
Solicits kid brother’s investment for installation of electric lights in Keokuk.
Guarantees success as he will manage the project. Oh yeah! Brother demands pledge from him to abstain from submitting any more business proposals or literary offerings through 1884.
Pleasantly surprised to be given honor reading the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1885 in Keokuk. Upstaged by more eloquent kid brother. He mistakenly swallows cleaning liquid with ammonia base. Mollie hustles him to pharmacy. Saves his life. Tells kid brother her spouse thought it was cough medicine. She doesn’t know how or why he does these things. But we do. Don’t we?
On December 11, 1898 he rises early. Builds a fire. Sits down to write out notes for court case. Still “practicing” law. Mollie finds him slumped forward, arms dangling. He leaves the building at 72.
Compare your bad day at the outset of this innocent’s less than lucky life. No contest. With some exaggeration the incidents presented herein are accurate. Would you really elect this man to office, trust him to manage your business, run your farm, represent you in court, serve as your investment broker, give sermons in your church, edit your newspaper, write copy for you … ? No. I didn’t think so.
All right history buffs. By now you may have guessed his identity. He was Orion, Mark Twains (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) oldest brother.
Orion was even more hapless than I’ve outlined here. While reading Ron Powers’ “Mark Twain a life” 2005, occasional references to Orion began to snowball for me so that I couldn’t wait for his next mishap, putting Inspector Clouseau to shame.
If Sam Clemens wasn’t deliberately humorous enough, Orion was unintentionally and spontaneously providing grist for the literary giant’s mill. Although Sam Clemens traveled globally for his inspiration, he always had Orion as a fall back position to stoke his satire.
How would you contend with an international literary figure in your family, finding you ever so amusing, aggressively dissing you in any number of polemics? So! Quit complaining. Enough of your bad day. DSS
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