[Here’s something to disorient regular readers. Over dinner recently the family and I decided it would be fun to write short stories and share them with each other. This is the result of my efforts.]
Many fail greatness in both its forms, neither achieving it by their own efforts nor having it thrust upon them by others. From first cry to final words their lives are wrapped in anonymity, their deeds unremembered, their deaths unremarked. This has been the fate of most. And yet, down the ages certain nondescripts have in parting moments of inspiration attained a posthumous celebrity. Such was the case with Oswald Snodgrass. Is it possible that any living person today, from the icy Bering shores to the sand-piles of the Namib, is ignorant of the Glorious Ozzie Snodgrass Foundation and its venerable begetter?
It used to be that only the wealthiest saw themselves in grand enough terms to burden their descendants with the management of institutions dedicated to their memory. The Vanderhoofs, the Mearshalls, the Griffin-Asquiths of yore – robber barons, oil tycoons, or the heirs thereof – had all their pet causes and philanthropies. Jocelyn Peabody Ginzer, for example, though she cared little for human suffering, found in the index of miseries visited upon supernumerary puppies and abandoned grimalkins a perfect grief to occupy her idle hours. And all her hours were idle. She set aside a considerable share of her estate for their aid and The Peabody Ginzer Animal Welfare Foundation – with a board of one-hundred-twenty, chaired by her eighth-great-granddaughter – is a noble cenotaph to its foundress’s passion.
The peculiar genius of Ozzie Snodgrass was to take a cue from his social betters, like Mrs Ginzer, and craft a memorial to himself of equal durability on rather less capital. It may be asked how a pizza shop owner of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, with limited income, no social connections whatever, and lacking even a high school diploma, was able to achieve such immortality. The answer, of course, is real estate.
Mr Snodgrass at the age of twenty-five purchased the home at the corner of Jefferson and Figueroa which still constitutes the sanctum sanctorum of the sprawling GOSF campus. By age thirty-two he purchased a second home nearby, which he converted to a rental. He bought at a time when property values were, by present standards, abyssal. Snodgrass never once failed to make a payment and by the time he was near to embracing his proverbial golden years, the proprietor of Papa Snod’s Pizza Parlor was shocked to discover the degree to which his fiscal resources exceeded the necessities of his personal maintenance.
What to do with all his money? Snodgrass put the question in all innocence to his temperamental but keenly perceptive fox terrier, Lincoln, who cocked an ear in response. The Grim Reaper, Ozzie suspected, would not overlook him. But he had no children on whom to rain largess, nor had he ever married, and there were no brothers or sisters, nephews or nieces of whom he was even slightly fond. The friends of his youth had fled his irascibility years ago; many, indeed, were already dead. He was a member of no church, and though he had once been a Rotarian, he felt the old fraternal organizations had lost something of their vigor down the years.
According to the GOSF’s founding myth, Snodgrass, while puzzling over these things, flipped idly through the channels of his television. From his perch on his master’s lap, Lincoln erupted with an ear-splitting yap just as a Public Broadcasting Service announcer named a local family foundation as sponsor of the evening’s programming. Ozzie took the hint. He mentally surveyed the technology mecca that had grown up around the old neighborhood. Here was the cause of the astronomical increase in property values of which he was a beneficiary. He saw what the tech moguls of the younger generation were doing – establishing family trusts and foundations in their own names for no apparent reason but vanity. Upon consultation with an accountant and a lawyer the next day, therefore, he drafted the original trust establishing the GOSF.
When Ozzie died miserably of pancreatic cancer some months later, a third-cousin whom Ozzie had never met (and toward whom he therefore harbored no ill-feelings) was surprised to learn that he had been named Director of The Glorious Ozzie Snodgrass Foundation and gifted the hereditary title and sinecure which his descendants still hold as keepers of the Snodgrass flame. In accord with the stipulations of the trust, Ozzie’s investment property was sold and the little house near Jefferson and Figueroa where he himself lived was converted to a shrine commemorating the person of Papa Snod for the consideration of posterity.
All the memorabilia of a life spent grumbling at fate and watching The Tonight Show was put on display. Ozzie’s barcalounger was patched up. His favorite hat – a checkerboard beanie – was preserved for ceremonial use, as was his favorite television remote. Ozzie’s birth certificate, sophomore-year grade report, Social Security Card and documents such as utility bills and bank statements were framed and hung in the bathroom and down the length of the hall. The three (only three!) existing photographs of Ozzie Snodgrass were given pride of place on the hearth in the wall-papered living room, above the electric fireplace. His library of dog-eared mass-market Louis Lamour and James Michener titles was set behind bullet-proof glass, though its contents were made available by appointment to credentialed scholars.
Pamphlets printed for the edification of visitors included a catalog of Papa Snod’s more pungent aphorisms and bon mots such as: “Parakeets ain’t for eatin’,” “Johnny Carson was the best comedian since Satan in the Garden,” and “Mop up the grease with a paper towel before serving the pepperoni.” A lock of the great man’s hair, clipped by his mother when Ozzie was a mere toddler, was preserved in a small jewelry box of glass, along with two of his baby teeth. The resources of the foundation were sufficient to pay the salary of two security guards who, between them, kept perpetual watch over the precious relics.
Visitors to the GOSF shrine were few at first, mostly curiosity seekers and neighbors who wanted a look at the old man’s home, into which they had never once been invited. It is a shock to us today to consider that the foundation’s world headquarters, now a site of pilgrimage for millions per annum, was in its first year visited by a mere twenty-six patrons, each of whom was gifted on their departure with a button made to look like a slice of combo and emblazoned with the declaration: “I visited the GOSF.”
Down the years the modest home of the Glorious Ozzie Snodgrass Foundation was improved upon and expanded until today it stands some two-hundred-and-eighty floors high above the city, a shining Snodgrassian beacon of memory to all the world. Visitors pay a nominal five-hundred dollar fee for entrance and are guided from exhibit to exhibit by robed attendants. After a three-days tour of the GOSF’s headquarters – from the top of the glass sky-tower to the lowest level of the subterranean chambers – visitors are deposited ten blocks north on Figueroa where Papa Snod’s Pizza Parlor is preserved just as its owner left it.
Oswald Snodgrass, who had never once in his earthly sojourn been hailed a leader of men or figure of fashion, was transformed by his death to become a standard-bearer of revolution. The immortality he achieved in the creation of The Glorious Ozzie Snodgrass Foundation, once properly appreciated, inspired thousands to create their own institutions of personal commemoration. These thousands, in turn, inspired tens of thousands until, as we see today, the city and indeed the earth itself has become a universal columbarium, governed, in all meaningful respects, by the interests of the dead.
Economies of entire nations are dependent now upon the establishment and maintenance of personal foundations, and the percentage of gross domestic product tied up in their endowments is such that the grand, boisterous wars of yesteryear are no longer supportable. Indeed, the ancient sporting rivalries of crowns and elected heads of state were eclipsed and replaced generations ago by rivalries of foundational allegiance. Larger, established foundations with their lesser client institutions launch guerilla skirmishes against one another and blood is spilt not infrequently in the cramped boulevards and browning remnants of city parks.
The Great Foundations of our present era each maintain their own traditions, their own priesthoods, their own mystical rites and liturgical calendars. And yet they revere in common that polestar of the year, Foundation Day – which commemorates the signing of the GOSF’s original charter. As philosophical descendants of the Snodgrass genius, each believes it has a legitimate claim on the global holiday, and each disputes the claims of all others. And so it is that Foundation Day has become a flashpoint of controversy, a scandal to all the world.
On Foundation Day the streets of the city are thronged by masses of celebrants in their competing processions. Like partisans of deceased Incan emperors, the Snodgrassian priests and votaries in their solemn checkered red-and-white tablecloth robes march down the boulevards chanting anthems and reciting vows of perpetual allegiance. Meanwhile, devotees of competing foundations approach from other compass points. Here come the virgins of Martinburger in their flowing yellow robes. Here is the third-degree diaconate of the Jepsonians, twirling their brilliant sabers. Here are the Gimlet-Pinklesteins blasting trumpets and bleeding from the sockets of their eyes after voluntarily blinding themselves.
There is never room enough in the street and the thousands massed beneath their various banners inevitably quarrel. The air is made thick with threat and shout as age-honored rights are proclaimed and resentments recalled. It’s never long, of course, before words are set aside for blades and bullets. So the annual slaughter commences.
From the crystalline tower at the summit of the GOSF’s headquarters, half a mile above the grid of streets, the poorly-taxidermied corpse of Lincoln, Ozzie Snodgrass’s fox terrier, stands sentinel over all. Fitted with mismatched doll eyes and wearing an ancient, yellowed “Papa Snod’s Pizza Parlor” bib, the beloved pooch stares down at the screaming marchers and streets washed in blood with the benevolent indulgence of a demented centenarian surveying his great-grandchildren at play.