THE BALLAD OF LEO ELLIS

by Edward Wilkinson Latham

Published in FLUX Magazine as Uncle Leo

Dear Delilah,

It was such a surprise to get your letter and to discover your connection to our family tree. And you found all of this out from the Internet? Well I don’t have one of those but I do have plenty of information for you on the Jacobsen side of the family that you asked for.

Leo Jacobsen married Trixie Knott in the summer of 1949, two weeks after they met each other in Coney Island. He was there with his friends Sam Korngold and Giles Fenkle. Giles was Leo’s second cousin on his father’s side; had a birthmark on his neck the shape of a banana and suffered with what was known at the time as ‘delicate skin’. Leo met Trixie outside the cabanas and for a day he, Sol and Giles followed her and her friends at a distance. I think its called stalking these days. Leo was usually so nervous around women, especially ones with large torsos shall we say, but the sand and sun can do strange things to young lust. When he finally plucked up the courage to talk to Trixie he introduced himself for some reason as the son of a wealthy plumbing tycoon from New Jersey.

The truth was he worked at a navy supply depot in Long Island and still lived at home with his mother Irene. She knew, that just like the rest of the family that Leo’s fictions could often get the better of him, but when Trixie suddenly proposed he couldn’t say no. She thought she was marrying the heir to a fortune, which is strange because he was so tight with money and dressed like an animal, but she never saw through his lies until he confessed on the morning of their wedding day. Well, it was a shock to say the least. She told the Rabbi that he wasn’t even her type, but for some reason, and to Leo’s surprise, she went through with it.

As the years went by the navy hardened Leo, but a spiteful wife and two heart attacks had humbled him as well. His emotions bounced between these two poles, never settling on one for any particular length of time. Trixie used to quite happily tell people that Leo’s strange mood swings started in the summer of 1950, just after the Korean War broke out. He still had hair then. Leo was so petrified that he would be sent to war that he started to fake a nervous twitch, flicking his head to the side. He admitted to Trixie that he was doing it because he feared the humidity of Asia would play havoc with his sweat glands, which is probably true, but the truth was she said that he was a coward. Leo carried on with that head flicking for two years and was indeed excused overseas duty. He was also given a series of free massage treatments and was terribly upset when Miss Lee, the navy’s masseuse, said she no longer wanted to treat him.

Then on the night the Giants beat the Eagles in the NFL, Leo made a sudden and celebratory recovery, jumping up and down, before throwing off his neck brace. Unfortunately this didn’t alter his mood swings, which actually got worse and more peculiar. Then Trixie would tell people that it was the fake twitch that was responsible; a catalyst of sorts, like God punishing those who mock the afflicted. The rest of the family did not share her theory because we all knew he had been odd since birth. I remember as children when we used to play, he always insisted on wanting to be the butcher. Not a doctor or a fireman but a butcher. He used to take his mother’s chopping knife and go hunting for fresh road kill. He would chop the animals up and wrap the bits in sheets of newspaper. As he was the biggest of the cousins, he made the rest of us queue up and we each had to ring a little bell he had stolen from next door’s Christmas tree. Then we each had to ask for some of this week’s special steaks. It was ridiculous, but thankfully he did keep his counter tops impeccably clean.

One of Leo’s most memorable performances that I remember was at Gideon Gold’s bar mitzvah, when he petrified a young Polish couple staying with us at the time. Without introduction Leo rose from his seat singing, ‘I Did It My Way’ pausing in the middle to everyone’s momentary relief, only then to break down in tears and shout incoherently at his family sitting round the table. Then he suddenly regained his composure, whipped his face with the tablecloth (he was sweating like a bull in those days), and finished the chorus. Thank God it was while the band was playing and all the young ones were dancing.

Trixie then began to refer to Leo’s episodes as ‘the quots’ and became convinced that eating red meat was responsible. We had fillet steaks at that bar mitzvah if I’m not mistaken. Delicious, very tender, very tender indeed. Trixie would always carry a Satsuma in her handbag and if she saw Leo getting excited or starting to get the meat sweats, she could peel it in seconds before reaching over and sometimes even throwing a segment of citrus fruit across the table and into Leo’s open mouth. She believed it would cut through the red meat enzymes and calm him down.

When Leo retired from the navy in 1983, they bought an apartment in a new waterfront retirement village in San Diego. Sea views, large windows, lots of ramps. Well a year later, it was the 12th August, or was it the 11th? Anyway Trixie was buffing the marble floors in the apartment with the polisher when the thing went berserk and dragged her across the dining room floor before crashing into the balcony windows and electrocuting her. The paramedics had to take her and the floor polisher together in the ambulance on account of her hands having bonded to the plastic handles. Leo told the police he had seen the entire thing from the sofa and explained that he hadn’t called 911 for twenty-four hours because he thought that, by the look of her, she was still potentially conductible. According to the police detectives though, Leo was the prime suspect because the following day he emptied their bank account and disappeared. None of us could believe it. The floor polisher was apparently still under warranty, but the inspector said there was some early forensics to support a suspicion that the polisher had been tampered with.

We heard nothing from Leo and as time went by our suspicions grew. Occasionally a letter from the real estate agents would arrive stating they were having difficulties selling the condo; something about bad juju. Well I told them on the phone that the president of the retirement complex, Berni Rosenthal, was acquitted of money laundering for the Medellín Cartel and that was certainly no reason to be anti-Semitic.

Another year went by when quite by chance an old friend of Trixie’s and mine called Dotty was visiting her boyfriend Max in LA. She used to have a lovely collection of very expensive high-end ginger wigs made in Italy and was married to a delightful, wealthy little Chinese gentleman called Mr. Woo, who tolerated Dotty’s friendships with other men. Max was living on a yacht at the time. He said it was better for his knees than a regular house, but most of all he fell in love with the on-board chemical toilet. He used to boast that it could dissolve a four-pound Christmas cake in twenty minutes. Not my taste really, but Max liked his wild on-board Hemingway life. It was on one of those weekends with Max that Dotty thought she saw Leo. They were both enjoying a much-needed carb and protein intake at the yacht club, on one of the rare occasions they left Max’s on-board boudoir, when Dotty pointed out a man on a thirty-foot yacht sailing out of the marina. Well, Dotty was so convinced it was Leo that they both sped back on their Segways to Max’s forty foot yacht as fast as they could.

I was told there were a lot of boats out on the water that day, but Max steered like a Commodore despite his two knee replacements and catheter bag. Dotty got up to the front of the boat to navigate and compensate for Max’s poor vision. She’s always had great eyes. Legs are a bit wobbly, but you can always rely on Eagle Eyes Ellis. Suddenly a fierce wind blew up. Sails were winched or lashed, I’m not sure which, but the weather turned nasty. Dotty was holding on for all she was worth, drenched with sea spray as the boat lunged through the rough waves. Somehow she managed to keep one hand on her wig and the other pointed out front in the direction of Leo’s boat, so that Max could keep a straight line of pursuit. There she was, like one of those figureheads on the front of an old ship, as Max caught another gust of wind in his sails and steered the boat closer. They came along side and at first Leo didn’t recognize Dotty, and rather impolitely waved her away for reckless sailing, but then he saw Max fumbling with a flare gun. Before he could steer his yacht away, Dotty lunged forward and grabbed one of Leo’s loose lines hanging from his sail. She swung through the air like a buccaneer, unfortunately loosing her wig in the process, before hitting Leo in the side of the head with her orthopedic Docksiders. She fell to the deck knocking Leo unconscious just as the flare gun that Max was holding went off by mistake and hit Leo’s sail, setting it on fire. In a panic Max tried to load another flare but the pistol went off and shot below deck on his own yacht, setting fire to the chemical toilet. A dirty bluish smoke started to billow out of the cabin and thankfully that’s what caught the eye of the coastguard from the shore. They were only in the water for fifteen minutes before help arrived to find three bald pensioners in life jackets quarrelling. They were all rushed to hospital and all made a full recovery.

Leo did not press charges against Dotty and Max for sinking his boat, although the police did hold Leo for questioning regarding Trixie’s death and his subsequent disappearance. He explained that since his wife’s death he had not been feeling his normal self. ‘On the contrary,’ he said, ‘I’ve never felt more at peace.’

Leo was found to have no involvement in Trixie’s death. It was a surprise to all of us. Instead the blame was firmly laid on the Fusion-matic 2000 floor polisher, which had been badly assembled in the factory. The manufacturers settled out of court with Leo and after the case he bought a new yacht named Born Again II. He currently resides in the Caribbean. Dotty went back to Mr. Woo after the accident and both are currently enjoying an OAP hedonists’ cruise around the world to rekindle their passion. And Max has channeled his loss by designing a leisure submarine with a chemical toilet that has the capability of dissolving Thanksgiving dinner and all the trimmings for ten people in an hour. He is still seeking funding.

If you want any more information on your new family just write and let me know.

Best regards.

Babs Jacobsen

EWL©