THANK you very, very much. I really just don’t believe this is happening. I mean, this is what, the third time I’ve been up here tonight: Best Actor, Best Director, and now Best Picture. How am I going to carry all these awards home? In a truck? Ha ha.
Let me take a moment here because, like I said, I really didn’t think this was going to happen. I’ve spent a great deal of timewishing it would happen but to have it actually take place is, ha ha, just a little overwhelming.
As I mentioned earlier this evening, while receiving my Academy Award for best actor I arrived here in Los Angeles, California, almost a year ago with no experience whatsoever. I’d never acted or directed or produced a thing in my life. I was just a guy from Cumberland County, North Carolina a man with a dream.
“What’s going on here?” you’re probably asking yourselves.
“Here this Don, this dreamer, never acted a day in his life and yet there he is sweeping the Academy Awards. How did he do it? What’s so special about him?”
Well, that’s what my movie,Don’s Story, is all about. It’s all right there: from my dropping out of high school at age seventeen to my packing for Hollywood at age thirty-six. I imagine it’s what’s not in the movie that probably interests you right now.
“How did he do it? This nobody, this dreamer.”
Well, like I said, I left Cumberland almost a year ago on a Greyhound bus with a small bag of potato chips, eight dollars, and a dream. I stretched out and took two seats until somewhere outside Gatlinburg, when I was forced to surrender one of them to a woman by the name of Mrs. Patricia Toni. Mrs. Toni was headed to Encino, California.
“What’s in Encino?” I asked, trying to be a good neighbor.
It turned out that Mrs. Toni’s daughter was in Encino, in a hospital suffering from exhaustion. I don’t know much about exhaustion, but I imagine it must be very tiring, so I said, “Oh, that’s terrible.” And she unfolded her newspaper and said, “You’re darn right it’s terrible.”
At every stop along the way Mrs. Toni would buy the local newspaper and discuss the stories about crime and murder.
“Listen here where it says this man walked into a gas station and shot four people. Didn’t even get gas or rob the place Just opened fire and killed four people. That’s a low deed in my opinion. I think that’s really terrible. If I was on that jury I’d convict him so fast it would make his head spin. I wouldn’t waste time eating up the taxpayers’ money. I’d just fire up the gas chamber and move on to the next case. The son of a bitch. It says here where he shot a five-year-old boy right through the neck. Bullet went in one side and out the other. I think that’s terrible, don’t you?”
Well, I didn’t know the gunman. For all I know he might have had a pretty good reason to do what he did, but to make things easier I agreed and said I thought it was terrible.
“You’re darn right it’s terrible. Right through the neck. The neck is a very sensitive area. Everyone knows that. This is just terrible. I thought it was terrible the other day when that crack-pot in Little Rock stabbed his mother’s collie to death. Stabbed it seventeen times, a beautiful collie named Moxie. The mother cried and cried. Seventeen times he stabbed that dog. Once or twice would have done the job, but he did it seventeen times and I think that’s terrible. Don’t you?”
Crimes happen all across this country and Mrs. Toni made note of them day and night all the way to Reno, where she slept through our stop and missed her opportunity to buy a fresh newspaper. At this point, after having spent almost three days together, she finally asked me my name and where I was going and why, and I told her that my name was Don and that I was going to the Los Angeles area to make a name for myself in the motion picture industry, and she looked at me and said, “You’ve got to be kidding You?” Then she turned to the man across the aisle and pointed at me and said, “This one thinks he’s going to be some kind of a movie star.” And she put her hands on her stomach and bent over laughing and I just sort of. . punched her. I jabbed her real quick with the bathroom key I’d gotten at the last station. I just sort of. . poked her with it just real. . quick and, ha ha, she made just the biggest stink about it. She made the bus driver pull over and she lifted her sweater and showed everybody the little mark on her side just a little nick, and she was pointing at me and saying, “I think this is terrible. I mean it. Here I get on this bus to visit my daughter who is clinically exhausted and I’m practically stabbed to death in broad daylight. This is the sort of thing that makes the papers as far as I’m concerned. ‘Woman Stabbed on Bus.’ This is terrible.”
So the bus driver threw me off onto the dusty highway. No refund or anything, just tossed me out. By this time I had only two dollars left so I stuck out my thumb and was picked up by a man named Enrique Moldonato and tonight, standing onstage here at the Academy Awards, I would like to thank him publicly. As luck would have it he was going all the way to Los Angeles and dropped me off at a Laundromat close to his home. Luckily, the Laundromat had a phone book and I had a quarter so I put two and two together and phoned Paramount Pictures. When the receptionist answered I said, “Let me speak to the per-son in charge there.”
She said, “One moment, please.”
Then, in the background I heard her say, “Mr. Tartikoff, you have a phone call.”
And I heard him say, “Oh, good.”
He came to the phone and I said, “Mr. Tartikoff, my name is Don Singleton and I’d like to make a motion picture.”
He said, “Hmmmm. A motion picture about what?”
And I looked over and saw someone empty the lint tray from one of the dryers and I said, “A motion picture about my life.”
“I’m all ears, Don,” Mr. Tartikoff said.
Just then the operator came on the line and told me to deposit more coins and Mr. Tartikoff said, “Don, are you calling from a pay phone?”
I confessed that I was and he asked if there was some way we might talk in person, so I gave him the address and shortly thereafter a big limo pulled up and Mr. Tartikoff entered and put his hands to his mouth and yelled, “Is there a Don Singleton here?” and I said, “Yes, that’s me.”
We shook hands and he looked around and he said, “Say, Don, this place is really damp. What do you say we go some-place else?”
He said he’d been invited to a big celebrity party and asked would I like to come along and I thought about it for about, ha ha, two seconds and said sure. Then his driver opened the door and we got into the limousine and on the way to the party Mr. Tartikoff, Brandon, asked me questions about my life.
He poured us each a glass of scotch from the bar and studied me and said, “What are you, Don about thirty-five years old?”
“Have you ever worked?”
I told him I’d worked almost four years as a dishwasher at the KandW Cafeteria. I worked there from the age of seventeen until I was twenty-one, when I got fired for spitting in the food.
“They fired you forthat?” Brandon said. “That’s crazy. Why, everyone I know spits in things all the time.” He spit into his glass and drank it. “That’s no reason tofire anyone for God’s sake.”
Then I spit on my fingers and leaned over and rubbed it into the driver’s neck.
Brandon looked at me then and said, “I’ve got a feeling about you, Don a good one,” and we chinked our glasses in a toast.
At about this time, the limousine turned off the road and we headed up a long tree-lined driveway, up to a big mansion with white columns and stained-glass windows and a shallow moat filled with swans and turtles and someone came and opened the limo door and I looked up and saw Barbara Streisand and she was wearing. . well, the exact same thing she’s wearing tonight as a matter of fact. She and Brandon embraced and then she turned to me and raised her eyebrows like, “Who the heck is this?” Brandon told Barbara Streisand that my name was Don and that I used to wash dishes at KandW Cafeteria and, ha ha, I tell you, Barbara Streisand just couldn’t ask enough questions.
“A dishwasher! Tell me, was it a conveyor run-through Waste King Jet System or a double hot sink layout? What detergents did you use? At what temperature does a drinking glass become quote unquote ‘clean’?” She took my arm and led me into the house, which was just absolutely teeming with celebrities: Joey Bishop, Faye Dunaway, Shari Lewis, Kevin Costner, Gene Rayburn, Tatum O’Neal, Tom Cruise, Cathy Lee Crosby, Carol Charming, Buddy Ebsen the list goes on and on and on. Barbara Streisand handed me a champagne cocktail and introduced me around and, ha ha, I felt like giving a press conference, so many people asking questions about my life.
“What did you do after you lost your job at the cafeteria?” Chastity Bono asked.
And I said, “Nothing, just sort of hung around the house.”
Michael Douglas asked what my parents had to say about that, and I said, “Well, you know my parents.” And then I realized that no, these celebritiesdidn’t know my parents. In my movie,Don’s Story, my parents are played by Charles Bronson and Don Rickles. I think they both did a fantastic job especially Don Rickles, who played the part of my mother. Quite a few actresses were eager for that role, but as director I chose Don Rickles not because my mother is funny far from it and not to boost Mr. Rickles’s career, but because, ha ha, you put a wig on that guy and he looks just exactly like her. Ha ha. And Charles Bronson what can I say? He’s one of the best in the business. And that’s the funny thing about show business, that it’s a constant learning experience. . for everybody. Last year when those celebrities asked what my parents were like, I had a hard time coming up with the words.
I lost my job at the KandW at the age of twenty-one and for the next fourteen years my parents never, for one moment, let up on me. They were all the time trying to make me feel bad for being myself and not working. If I had a nickel for every time they pounded on my bedroom door screaming, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN THERE?” I’d have several million dollars. Well, ha ha, I guess now I do have several million dollars but I would have had it a lot sooner.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN THERE?”
And I’d say that I was planning to take Hollywood by storm and they’d yell, “YOU’RE OUT OF YOUR MIND. YOU’RE INSANE. DO YOU UNDERSTAND? INSANE. COME OUT OF THAT ROOM AND GET A JOB. YOUR BROTHER HAS A JOB AND HE’S MISSING HIS LEFT HAND IF HE CAN WORK SO CAN YOU. DO YOU HEAR ME? COME OUT OF THAT BEDROOM.”
“That must have been very difficult for you,” Dr. Joyce Brothers said. And I admitted that, yes, it was. Then someone asked what kind of a lock I had on my bedroom door and Brandon Tartikoff caught my eye and made a cutting gesture against his throat and, ha ha, even though I’d been in Hollywood for less than two hours I knew what that meant, which probably has a lot to do with why I’ve walked away with tonight’s Best Director award. “Cut!” Thanks, Brandon.
I hated saying goodbye to all of my wonderful new show business friends but it was time to go so Brandon led me out the door to our waiting limo. And just as I was settling into the backseat I saw Barbara Streisand turn to Vincent Price and say, “I like that kid. He’s a survivor.”
So are you, Barbara. So are you.
We left the party and went to a restaurant named Spago, where Brandon and I spent the next several hours talking and eating spaghetti. He seemed so interested in every aspect of my life and was full of questions.
“So tell me, Don, after you left the cafeteria you mean to say you did absolutelynothing for the next fourteen years? God, that’s fascinating.”
I noticed people at the surrounding tables perk up and try to listen in on our conversation so Brandon had us moved to a private booth.
“What was your day like? When would you wake up?”
I told him I’d usually open my eyes at around one-thirty or two but wouldn’t get out of bed until two forty-five, when my mother put on her fluorescent vest and left the house to do volunteer crosswalk service at Brooks Elementary. Then I’d go downstairs and root around the kitchen and watch TV until around four o’clock, when her car would pull up in the drive-way, at which point I’d go back to my room and lock the door and stare at my hands until around five-thirty.
“I noticed your hands,” Brandon said. “They’re really special. When was the last time you trimmed your fingernails?”
“Nineteen eighty-three, eighty-four.”
“Do you everwash your hands?” he asked.
“Maybe,” I said. “Maybe not.” I wasn’t being difficult just mysterious.
Just then the waiter delivered our check and he said, “I noticed your hands the moment you walked in. They’re fascinating. Hands tell so much about a person. I think you should get a job here!”
“Back off,” Brandon said. “I think Don’s had enough restaurant work to last him the rest of his life.”
When we got back to the limo Brandon asked if I had a place to stay and when I confessed that I did not he used his car phone and made a reservation at the Beverly Wilshire hotel. Then he said, “So, all right, Don, say it’s five-thirty and you’ve spent the late afternoon looking at your hands. Then what?”
I told him that then my father would come home, from work and, ha ha, Oh, Lord, I could hear him all the way upstairs. “WHERE IS HE? WHAT’S HE DONE TODAY? WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU HAVEN’T SEEN HIM?” Then he’d look in the refrigerator and start yelling, “GODDAMN HIM. WHERE THE HELL IS THAT LEFTOVER STUFFING FROM LAST NIGHT? GODDAMN IT. HEY YOU UP THERE I’M TALKING TO YOU.”
“That’s a very funny impersonation,” Brandon said. “I mean, I don’t know the man from Adam, but I can picture him perfectly. Do more, please.”
“WHAT THE HELL IS YOUR PROBLEM? HERE I’VE GOT A FULL-GROWN SON WHO WON’T FIND A JOB WON’T EVEN LEAVE THE GODDAMNED HOUSE AND COMES DOWN HERE WHEN MY BACK IS TURNED AND EATS MY STUFFING. I WORKED HARD FOR THAT STUFFING. DO YOU HEAR ME? FROM NOW ON THIS KITCHEN IS OFF-LIMITS TO YOU, MISTER. NO MORE FOOD FOR YOU. YOU’LL BE EATING THE INSULATION OUT OF YOUR WALLS BY THE TIME I’M FINISHED WITH YOU, GODDAMN YOU.”
Then he’d come pounding on my door and I’d put on my headphones and listen to records in order to drown him out.
“Did you have a big music library?” Brandon asked.
I told him that I had two records, Uriah Heap’s “Look at Yourself” and “Don’t Look Down” by The Ozark Mountain Daredevils both records I had bought while working at the cafeteria.
“Those are really great records,” Brandon said. We arrived at the hotel and checked in to the room, which was, ha ha, really big, with a living room and a bedroom and curtains and a coffee table. I just couldn’t get over it. Brandon went over to the bar and poured us a nightcap and said, “All right, Don, so you listen to your records then what?”
I explained that I’d listen to the records until after my parents fell asleep, usually around eleven-thirty or twelve, and then I’d go downstairs and see what I could find for supper. After about 1986 my parents would just cook enough food for the two of them, but I could always find a little something. Sometimes it might be just a couple handfuls of raw macaroni or a half-stick of butter, but it was always something. Then I’d root around for change in my mother’s purse or under the sofa cushions.
“Every night, and over the years it really, ha ha, added up. Then I’d watch TV until the regular programming went off the air and the pattern shows came on. I’d watch maybe a few hours of the pattern to clear my mind and then I’d go to bed and start all over again the next day.”
Brandon offered me a lit cigarette and looked down at his nightcap, asking, “Why did you leave, Don? Why?”
I told him I left the day after my father put padlocks on the refrigerator and all the kitchen cabinets. At that point I counted my change, scratched and ripped up every piece of furniture in the house, and walked out the door to meet my destiny.
Brandon shook his head and said, “Don, this story has every thing. “
And I signed a contract that very night. It was just that simple just the way I always thought it would be.
And I’d like to thank Brandon for recognizing my abilities and giving me complete artistic control from casting right on up. I’d like to thank Uriah Heap and The Ozark Mountain Daredevils for providing the musical score. I’d like to thank all the members of the academy for their votes but, most of all I’d like to thank the citizens of this country for making Don’s story the number-one top box office draw that it is because, let me tell you, academy or no academy, it is your continuing support, loyalty, and devotion that make this award so heavy and meaningful. Certain people might be watching this broadcast with rage and jealousy certain people who have mistreated and underestimated me are probably wishing they had the chance to take it all back and start over again with a fresh slate but I’m afraid it’s too late for that. It’s something I wouldn’t mind talking about but I see our host off to the side of the stage pointing to his watch and so I’ll take that as a hint and say good night, thank you, I love you.
SEASON’S GREETINGS TO OUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY!!!
MANY of you, our friends and family, are probably taken aback by this, our annual holiday newsletter. You’ve read of our recent tragedy in the newspapers and were no doubt thinking that, what with all of their sudden legal woes and “hassles,” the Dunbar clan might just stick their heads in the sand and avoid this up-coming holiday season altogether!!
You’re saying, “There’s no way the Dunbar family can grieve their terrible lossand carry on the traditions of the season. No family isthat strong,” you’re thinking to yourselves.
Well, think again!!!!!!!!!!!!
While this past year has certainly dealt our family a heavy hand of sorrow and tribulation, we have (so far!) weathered the storm and shall continue to do so! Our tree is standing tall in the living room, the stockings are hung, and we are eagerly awaiting the arrival of a certain portly gentleman who goes by the name “Saint Nick”!!!!!!!!!!!!
Our trusty PC printed out our wish lists weeks ago and now we’re cranking it up again to wish you and yours The Merriest of Christmas Seasons from the entire Dunbar family: Clifford, Jocelyn, Kevin, Jacki, Kyle, and Khe Sahn!!
Some of you are probably reading this and scratching your heads over the name “Khe Sahn.” “That certainly doesn’t fit with the rest of the family names,” you’re saying to yourself. “What, did those crazy Dunbars get themselves a Siamese cat?”
To those of you who live in a cave and haven’t heard the news, allow us to introduce Khe Sahn Dunbar who, at the age of twenty-two, happens to be the newest member of our family.
JOIN THE CLUB!!!!!!!
It appears that Clifford, husband of yours truly and father to our three natural children, accidentally planted the seeds for Khe Sahn twenty-two years ago during his stint in. . where else?
This was, of course, years before Clifford and I were married. At the time of his enlistment we were pre-engaged and the long period of separation took its toll on both of us. I corresponded regularly. (I wrote him every single day, even when I couldn’t think of anything interesting. His letters were much less frequent but I saved all four of them!)
While I had both the time and inclination to put my feelings into envelopes, Clifford, along with thousands of other American soldiers, had no such luxury. While the rest of us were watching the evening news in our safe and comfortable homes, he wasmaking the evening news, standing waist high in a stagnant foxhole. The hazards and the torments of war are some-thing that, luckily, most of us cannot begin to imagine and, for that, we should all count our blessings.
Clifford Dunbar, twenty-two years ago, a young man in a war-torn country, made a mistake. A terrible, heinous mistake. A stupid, thoughtless, permanent mistake with dreadful, haunt-ing consequences.
But who are you, who are any of us, to judge him for it? Especially now, with Christmas at our heels. Who are we to judge?
When his tour of duty ended Clifford returned home, where, after making the second biggest mistake of his life (I am referring to his brief eight-month “marriage” to Doll Babcock), he and I were reunited. We lived, you might remember, in that tiny apartment over on Halsey Street. Clifford had just begun his satisfying career at Sampson Interlock and I was working part-time, accounting for Hershel Beck when. . along came the children!!!!!! We struggled and saved and eventually (finally!!) bought our house on Tiffany Circle, number 714, where the Dunbar clan remains nested to this very day!!!!
It was here, 714 Tiffany Circle, where I first encountered Khe Sahn, who arrived at our door on (as fate would have it) Halloween!!!
I recall mistaking her for a Trick-or-Treater! She wore, I re-member, a skirt the size of a beer cozy, a short, furry jacket, and, on her face, enough rouge, eye shadow, and lipstick to paint our entire house, inside and out. She’s a very small person and I mistook her for a child, a child masquerading as a prostitute. I handed her a fistful of chocolate nougats, hoping that, like the other children, she would quickly move on to the next house.
But Khe Satin was no Trick-or-Treater.
I started to close the door but was interrupted by her interpreter, a very feminine-looking man carrying an attachZ case. He introduced himself in English and then turned to Khe Sahn, speaking a language I have sadly come to recognize as Vietnamese. While our language flows from our mouths, the Vietnamese language sounds as though it is being forced from the speaker by a series of heavy and merciless blows to the stomach. The words themselves are the sounds of pain. Khe Sahn responded to the interpreter, her voice as high-pitched and relentless as a car alarm. The two of them stood on my doorstep, screeching away in Vietnamese while I stood by, frightened and confused.
I am still, to this day, frightened and confused. Very much so. It is frightening that, after all this time, a full-grown bastard (I use that word technically) can cross the seas and make herself comfortable in my home, all with the blessing of our government. Twenty-two years ago Uncle Sam couldn’t stand the Vietnamese. Now he’s dressing them like prostitutes and moving them into our houses!!!! Out of nowhere this young woman has entered our lives with the force and mystery of the Swine Flu and there appears to be nothing we can do about it. Out of nowhere this land mine knocks upon our door and we are expected to recognize her as our child!!!!????????
Clifford likes to say that the Dunbar children inherited their mother’s looks and their father’s brains. It’s true: Kevin, Jackelyn, and Kyle are all just as good-looking as they can possibly be! And smart? Well, they’re smart enough, smart like their father, with the exception of our oldest son, Kevin. After graduating Moody High with honors, Kevin is currently enrolled in his third year at Feeny State, majoring in chemical engineering. He’s made the honor roll every semester and there seems to be no stopping him!!! A year and a half left to go and already the job offers are pouring in!
We love you, Kevin!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We sometimes like to joke that when God handed out brains to the Dunbar kids He saw Kevin standing first in line and awarded him the whole sack!!! What the other children lack in brains they seem to make up for in one way or another. They have qualities and personalities and make observations, unlike Khe Sahn, who seems to believe she can coast through life on her looks alone!! She hasn’t got the ambition God gave a sparrow! She arrived in this house six weeks ago speaking only the words “Daddy,” “Shiny,” and “Five dollar now.”
Quite a vocabulary!!!!!!!!!!
While an industrious person might buckle down and seriously study the language of her newly adopted country, Khe Sahn appeared to be in no hurry whatsoever. When asked a simple question such as, “Why don’t you go back where you came from?” she would touch my hand and launch into a spasm of Vietnamese drivel as if I were the outsider, expected to learnher language! We were visited several times by Lonnie Tipit, that “interpreter,” that “man” who accompanied Khe Sahn on her first visit. Mr. Tipit seemed to feel that the Dunbar door was open for him anytime, day or night. He’d drop by (most often during the supper hours) and, between helpings of my home cooked meals (thank you very much), “touch base” with his “friend,” Khe Sahn. “I don’t think she’s getting enough exposure to the community,” he would say. “Why don’t you start taking her around town, to church get-togethers and local events?” Well, that was easy forhim to say! I told him, I said, “You try taking a girl in a halter top to a confirmation class. You take her to the Autumn Craft Caravan and watch her snatch every shiny object that catches her eye. I’ve learned my lesson already.” Then he and Khe Sahn would confer in Vietnamese and he would listen, his eyes fixed upon me as if I were a witch he had once read about in books but did not recognize without a smoldering kettle and a broom. Oh, I knew that look!
Lonnie Tipit went so far as to suggest that we hire him as Khe Sahn’s English tutor at, get this, seventeen dollars an hour!!!!!!!!!! Seventeen dollars an hour so she can learn to lisp and twitter and flutter her hands like two small birds? NO, THANK YOU!!!!!!! Oh, I saw right through Lonnie Tipit. While he pretended to care for Khe Sahn I understood that his true interest was in my son Kyle. “How’s the schoolwork coming, Kyle? Working hard or hardly working?” and “Say, Kyle, what do you think about this new sister of yours? Is she the greatest or what?”
It wasn’t difficult to see through Lonnie Tipit. He wanted one thing and one thing only. “If not me, then I can suggest another tutor,” he said. Someone like who? Someone like him?
Regardless of who the English teacher was, I am not in the habit of throwing my money away. And that, my friends, is what it would have amounted to. Why not hire an expensive private tutor to teach the squirrels to speak in French! It would be no more ridiculous than teaching Khe Sahn English. A person has to want to learn. I know that. Apparently, back in Ho Chi Minh City, Her Majesty was treated like a queen and sees no reason to change her ways!!!! Her Highness rises at around noon, wolfs down a fish or two (all she eats is fish and chicken breasts), and settles herself before the makeup mirror, waiting for her father to return home from work. At the sound of his car in the drive-way she perks up and races to the door like a spaniel, panting and wagging her tail to beat the band! Suddenly she is eager to please and attempt conversation!! Well, I don’t know how they behave in Vietnam, but in the United States it is not customary for a half-dressed daughter to offer her father a five-dollar massage!!! After having spent an exhausting day attempting to communicate a list of simple chores, I would stand in amazement at Khe Sahn’s sudden grasp of English when faced with my husband.
“Daddy happy five dollar shiny now, OK?”
“You big feet friendly with ABC Khe Sahn. You Big Bird Daddy Grover.”
Apparently she had picked up a few words while watching “Sesame Street.”
“Daddy special special funky fresh jam party commercial free jam.”
She began listening to the radio.
Khe Sahn treats our youngest son, Kyle, with complete indifference, which is probably a blessing in disguise. This entire episode has been very difficult for Kyle, who, at age fifteen, tends to be the artistic loner of the family. He keeps to himself, spending many hours in his bedroom, where he burns incense, listens to music, and carves gnomes out of soap. Kyle is very good-looking and talented and we are looking forward to the day when he sets aside his jackknife and bar of Irish Spring and begins “carving out” a future rather than a shriveled troll! He is at that very difficult age but we pray he will grow out of it and follow his brother’s footsteps to success before it is too late. Hopefully, the disasters of his sister, Jackelyn, will open his eyes to the hazards of drugs, the calamity of a thoughtless, premature marriage, and the heartaches of parenthood!
We had, of course, warned our daughter against marrying Timothy Speaks. We warned, threatened, cautioned, advised, what have you but it did no good as a young girl, with all the evidence before her, sees only what she wants to see. The marriage was bad enough but the news of her pregnancy struck her father and me with the force of a hurricane.
Timothy Speaks, the father of our grandchild? How could it be????
Timothy Speaks, who had so many pierced holes in his ears you could have torn the lobe right off, effortlessly ripped it loose the same way you might separate a stamp from a sheet.
Timothy Speaks, who had his back and neck tattooed with brilliant flames. His neck!!!
We told Jacki, “One of these days he’s going to have to grow up and find a job, and when he does, those employers are going to wonder why he’s wearing a turtleneck under his business suit. People with tattooed necks do not, as a rule, hold down high-paying jobs,” we said.
She ran back to Timothy repeating our warning. . Lo and behold, two days later,she showed up with a tattooed neck as well!!!!! They even made plans to have their baby tattooed!!!! A tattoo, on an infant!!!!!!!!!!!
Timothy Speaks held our daughter in a web of madness that threatened to ensnare the entire Dunbar family. It was as if he held her under a perverse spell, convincing her, little by little, to destroy the lives of those around her.
The Jackelyn Dunbar-Speaks who lived with Timothy in that squalid “space” on West Vericose Avenue bore no resemblance to the beautiful girl pictured in our photo albums. The sensitive and considerate daughter we once knew became, under his fierce coaching, a mean-spirited, unreliable, and pregnant ghost who eventually gave birth to a ticking time bomb!!!!!
We, of course, saw it coming. The child, born September tenth under the influence of drugs, spent the first two months of his life in the critical care unit of St. Joe’s Hospital. (At a whopping cost and guess who paid the bill forthat one?) Faced with the concrete responsibility of fatherhood, Timothy Speaks abandoned his sick wife and child. Suddenly. Gone. Poof!
We saw it coming and are happy to report that, as of this writ-ing, we have no idea where he is or what he is up to. (We could guess, but why bother?)
We have all read the studies and understand that a drug-addicted baby faces a difficult, uphill battle in terms of living a normal life. This child, having been given the legal name “Satan Speaks” would, we felt, have a harder time than most. We were lucky enough to get Jacki into a fine treatment center on the condition that the child remain here with us until which time (if ever) she is able to assume responsibility for him. The child arrived at our home on November tenth and shortly thereafter; following her initial withdrawal, Jacki granted us permission to address it as “Don.” Don, a nice, simple name.
The name change enabled us to look upon the baby without having to consider the terrible specter of his father, Timothy Speaks. It made a difference, believe me.
While I could not describe him as being a “normal” baby, taking care of young Don gave me a great deal of pleasure. Terribly insistent, prone to hideous rashes, a twenty-four-hour round-the-clock screamer, he was our grandchild and we loved him. Knowing that he would physically grow to adulthood while maintaining the attention span of a common housefly did not, in the least bit, diminish our feelings for him.
Clifford would sometimes joke that Don was a “Crack Baby” because he woke us at the crack of dawn!
I would then take the opportunity to mention that Khe Sahn was something of a “Crack Baby” herself, wandering around our house all hours of the day and night wearing nothing but a pair of hot pants and a glorified sports bra. Most nights, the dinnertime napkin in her lap provided more coverage than she was accustomed to!!! Clifford suggested that I buy her a few decent dresses and a couple pairs of jeans and I tried, oh, how I tried! I sat with her, leafing through catalogs, and watched as she pawed the expensive designer outfits. I walked with her through Cut Throat’s and Discount Plus and watched as she turned up her nose at their sensibly priced clothing. I don’t know about you, but in this family the children are rewarded for hard work. Call me old-fashioned but if you want a fifty-dollar sweater you have to prove that you deserve it! If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times: “A family is not a charitable organization.” Khe Sahn wanted something for nothing and I buttoned my purse and said the most difficult word a parent can say, “No!” I made her several outfits, sewed them with my own hands, two floor-length dresses, beautiful burlap dresses, but did she wear them? Of course not!!!
She continued in her usual fashion, trotting about the house in her underwear! When the winter winds began to blow she took to draping herself in a bed blanket, huddling beside the fireplace. While her “Poor Little Match Girl” routine might win a Tony Award on Broadway it did nothing for this ticket holder!
She carried on, following at Clifford’s heels, until Thanks-giving Day, when she was introduced to our son Kevin, home for the holiday. One look at Kevin and it was “Clifford? Clifford who?” as far as Khe Sahn was concerned. One look at our handsome son and the “Shivering Victim” dropped her blanket and showed her true colors. It is a fact that she appeared at our Thanksgiving table wearing nothing but a string bikini!!!!!!!!!
“Not inmy house,” said yours truly! When I demanded she change into one of the dresses I had sewn for her, Khe Sahn frowned into her cranberry sauce, pretending not to understand. Clifford and Kevin tried to convince me that, in Vietnam, it is customary for the women to wear swimsuits on Thanksgiving Day but I still don’t believe a word of it. Since when do the Vietnamese observe Thanksgiving? What do those people have to be thankful for?
She ruined our holiday dinner with her giggling, coy games. She sat beside Kevin until, insisting she had seen a spider in her chair, she moved into his lap!! “You new funky master jam party mix silly fresh spider five dollar Big Bird.”
Those of you who know Kevin understand that, while he is an absolute whip at some things, he is terribly naive at others. Tall and good-looking, easy with a smile and a kind word, Kevin has been the target of many a huntress. He is both smart and foolish: it is his gift and his weakness, bound together, constantly struggling for control. He has always had more than his fair share of opportunists, both at Moody High and Feeny State. Always the gentleman, he treated the young ladies like glass, which, looking back, was appropriate because you could see through each and every one of them. When he asked to bring a date home for Thanksgiving I said I thought it was a bad idea as we were all under more than enough stress already. Looking back, I wish hehad brought a date, as it might have dampened the sky-high hopes and aspirations of Khe Sahn, his half-sister!!!!!!!!!!
“Me no big big potato spoon fork tomorrow? Kevin have big big shiny face like hand of chicken soon with funky crazy Sesame Street jammy jam.”
I could barely choke down my meal and found myself count-ing the minutes before Kevin, the greatest joy of our lives, called an end to the private English lesson he gave Khe Sahn in her bedroom, got into his car, and returned to Feeny State.
As I mentioned before, Kevin has always been a very caring person, always going out of his way to lend a hand or comfort a stranger. Being as that is his nature, he returned to school and, evidently, began phoning Khe Sahn, sometimes speaking with the aid of a Vietnamese student who acted as an interpreter. He was, in his own way, foolishly trying to make her feel welcome and adjust to life in her new, highly advanced country. He even went out of his way to drive all the way home in order to take her out and introduce her to the ways of nightlife in this, her adopted land. That is the Kevin we all know and love, always trying to help a person less intelligent than himself, bending over backwards to coax a smile!
Unfortunately, Khe Sahn misinterpreted his interest as a declaration of romantic concern. She took to “manning” the telephone twenty-four hours a day, hovering above it and regarding it as though it were a living creature. Whenever (God forbid!) someone called for Clifford, Kyle, or me, she would simply hang up!!!!
How’sthat for an answering service!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Eventually, recognizing that her behavior bordered on madness, I had a word with her.
“HE’S NOT FOR YOU,” I yelled. (I have been criticized for yelling, told that it doesn’t serve any real purpose when speaking to a foreigner, but at least it gets their attention!) “HE’S MY SON IN COLLEGE. MY SON ON THE DEAN’S LIST[NOT FOR YOU.”
She was perched beside the telephone with a curling iron in her hand. At the sound of my voice she instinctively turned her attention elsewhere.
“BOTH MY SON AND MY HUSBAND ARE OFF-LIMITS AS FAR AS YOU’RE CONCERNED, DO YOU UNDERSTAND? THEY ARE EACH RELATED TO YOU IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER AND THAT MAKES IT WRONG. AUTOMATICALLY WRONG. BAD, BAD, WRONG! WRONG AND BAD TOGETHER FOR THE KHE SAHN TO BE WITH JOCELYN’S SON OR HUS-BAND. BAD AND WRONG. DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT I AM SAYING NOW?”
She looked up for a moment or two before returning her attention to the electrical cord.
I gave up. Trying to explain moral principles to Khe Sahn was like reviewing a standard 1040 tax form with a house cat! She understands only what she chooses to understand. Say the word “shopping” and, quicker than you can blink, she’s sitting in the front seat of the car! Try a more complicated word such as “sweep” or “iron” and she shrugs her shoulders and retreats to the bedroom.
“VACUUM,” I would say. “VACUUM THE CARPET.”
In response she would jangle her bracelet or observe her fingernails.
In a desperate attempt to make myself understood I would pull out the vacuum cleaner and demonstrate.
“LOOK AT JOCELYN. JOCELYN VACUUMS THE CARPET LA LA LA!! IT IS MUCH FUN TO VACUUM. IT IS AN ENJOYMENT AND A PLEASURE TO CLEAN MY HOME WITH A VACUUM. LA LA LA!!”
I tried to convey it as a rewarding exercise but, by the time I finally sparked her interest I was finished with the job.
As I said earlier, Khe Sahn understands only what she wants to understand. Looking back, I suppose I had no valid reason to trust her sudden willingness to lend a hand but, on the day in question, I was nearing the end of my rope.
We were approaching Christmas, December sixteenth, when I made the thoughtless mistake of asking her to watch the child while I ran some errands. With a needy, shriveled newborn baby, a teenaged son, and a twenty-two-year-old, half-dressed “step-daughter” in my house, my hands were full from one moment to the next, twenty-eight hours a day!!!! It was nine days before Christmas and, busy as I was, I hadn’t bought a single gift. (Santa, where are you????????)
On that early afternoon Kyle was in school, Clifford was at the office, and Khe Sahn was seated beside the telephone, pick-ing at a leftover baked fish with her bare hands.
“WATCH THE BABY,” I said. “WATCH DON, THE BABY, WHILE I GO OUT.”
She considered her greasy fingers.
“YOU WATCH BABY DON WHILE JOCELYN GOES SHOPPING FOR SPECIAL PRESENT FOR THE KHE SAHN!” I said. “HO, HO, HO, SPECIAL CHRISTMAS FOR THE KHE SAHN. HO, HO!”
At the mention of the word “shopping” she perked up and gave me her full attention. Having heard the radio and watched TV, she understood Christmas as an opportunity to receive gifts and was in the habit of poring over the mail-order catalogs and expressing her desires with the words “Ho, Ho, Ho.”
I clearly remember my choice of words on that cold and cloudy December afternoon. I did not say “babysit,” fearing that she might take me at my word and literally sit upon the baby.
“WATCH THE BABY,” I said to that twenty-two-year-old adult on the afternoon of December sixteenth.
“WATCH THE BABY,” I said as we climbed the stairs to-ward the bedroom that she and Don shared. Khe Sahn had been sleeping in Kevin’s vacant bedroom until, following her Thanksgiving high jinks, I decided to move her into the nursery with Don.
“WATCH THE BABY,” I repeated as we stood over the crib and observed the wailing infant. I picked him up and rocked him gently as he struggled in my arms. “WATCH BABY.”
“Watch Baby,” Khe Sahn responded, holding out her arms to accept him. “Watch Baby for Jocelyn get shop special HO, HO, HO, Khe Sahn fresh shiny.”
“Exactly,” I said, laying a hand on her shoulder.
How foolish I was to have honestly believed that she was finally catching on! I was, at that moment in time, convinced of her sincerity. I was big enough to set aside all of the trouble she had visited upon our household and give her another chance! “That is all behind us now,” I said to myself, watching her cradle the wailing child.
Oh, what a fool I was!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Leaving the house and driving toward White Paw Center I felt a sense of relief I had not known in quite a while. This was the first time in weeks I had allowed myself a moment alone and, with six Dunbar wish lists burning a hole in my pocket, intended to make the most of it!!!
I can’t account for every moment of my afternoon. Never did it occur to me that I would one day be called upon to do so but, that being the case, I will report what I remember. I can comfortably testify that, on the afternoon of December sixteenth, I visited the White Paw Shopping Center, where I spent a brief amount of time in The Slack Heap, searching for a gift for Kyle. I found what he wanted but not in his size. I then left The Slack Heap and walked over to — and — , where I bought a — for my daughter Jacki. (I’m not going to ruin anyone’s Christmas surprises here. Why should I?) I stuck my head inside Turtleneck Crossing and searched for candles at Wax and Wane. I bought a gift for Clifford at — , and I suppose I browsed. There are close to a hundred shops at the White Paw Center and you’ll have to forgive me if I can’t provide a detailed list of how long I spent in this or that store. I shopped until I grew wary of the time. On the way home I stopped at The Food Carnival and bought a few items. It was getting dark, perhaps four-thirty, when I pulled into the driveway of our home on Tiffany Circle. I collected my packages from the car and entered my home, where I was immediately struck by the eerie silence. “This doesn’t feel right to me,” I remember saying to myself. It was an intuition, a mother’s intuition, that unexplainable language of the senses. I laid down my bags and was startled by the sound they made the crisp noise of paper bags settling against the floor. The problem was that I could hear the sound at all! Normally I would have heard nothing over the chronic bleating of Baby Don and the incessant blaring radio of Khe Sahn.
“Something is wrong,” I said to myself. “Something is terribly, terribly wrong.”
Before calling out for Khe Sahn or checking on the baby I instinctively phoned the police. I then stood there, stock-still in the living room, staring at my shopping bags until they arrived (twenty-seven minutes later!!).
At the sound of the squad car in the driveway, Khe Sahn made an entrance, parading down the stairs in a black lace half-slip and a choker made from the cuff of Kevin’s old choir robe.
“WHERE IS THE BABY?” I asked her. “WHERE IS DON?”
Accompanied by the police we went upstairs into the nursery and stood beside the empty crib.
“WHERE IS MY GRANDCHILD, DON? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO THE BABY?”
Khe Sahn, of course, said nothing. It is part of her act to tug at her hemline and feign shyness when first confronted by strangers. We left her standing there while the police and I began our search. We combed the entire house, the officers and I, be-fore finally finding the helpless baby in the laundry room, warm but lifeless in the dryer.
The autopsy later revealed that Don had also been subjected to a wash cycle hot wash, cold rinse. He died long before the spin cycle, which is, I suppose, the only blessing to be had in this entire ugly episode. I am still, to this day, haunted by the mental picture of my grandchild undergoing such brutality. The relent-less pounding he received during his forty-five minutes in the dryer is something I would rather not think about. The thought of it visits me like a nightmare! It comes repeatedly to my mind and I put my hands to my head, desperately trying to drive it away. One wishes for an only grandchild to run and play, to graduate from college, to marry and succeed, not to. . (see, I can’t even say it!!!!!!).
The shock and horror that followed Don’s death are some-thing I would rather not recount: Calling our children to report the news, watching the baby’s body, small as a loaf of bread, as it was zipped into a heavy plastic bag these images have nothing to do with the merriment of Christmas, and I hope my mention of them will not dampen your spirits at this, the most special and glittering time of the year.
The evening of December sixteenth was a very dark hour for the Dunbar family. At least with Khe Sahn in police custody we could grieve privately, consoling ourselves with the belief that justice had been carried out.
How foolish we were!!!!!!!!!!!!
The bitter tears were still wet upon our faces when the police returned to Tiffany Circle, where they began their ruthless questioning of Yours Truly!!!!!!!!!!!! Through the aid of an interpreter, Khe Sahn had spent a sleepless night at police headquarters, constructing a story of unspeakable lies and betrayal! While I am not at liberty to discuss her exact testimony, allow me to voice my disappointment that anyone (let alone the police!) would eventhink of taking Khe Sahn’s word over my own. How could I have placed a helpless child in the washing machine? Even if I were cruel enough to do such a thing, when would I have found the time? I was out shopping.
You may have read that our so-called “neighbor” Cherise Clarmont-Shea reported that she witnessed me leaving my home at around one-fifteen on the afternoon of December sixteenth and then, twenty minutes later, allegedly park my car on the far corner of Tiffany and Papageorge and, in her words, “creep” through her backyard and in through my basement door!!!!!! Cherise Clarmont-Shea certainly understands the meaning of the wordcreep, doesn’t she? She’s been married to one for so long that she has turned into something of a creep herself!! How many times have I opened the door to Cherise, her face swollen and mustard-colored, suffering another of her husband’s violent slugfests! She’s been smacked in the face so many times she’s lucky if she can see anything through those swollen eyes of hers! If the makeup she applies is any indication of her vision, then I believe it is safe to say she can’t see two inches in front of her, much less testify to the identity of someone she might think she’s seen crossing her yard. She’s on pills, everyone knows that. She’s desperate for attention and I might pity her under different circumstances. I did not return home early and creep through the Shea’s unkept backyard, but even if I had, what possible motive would I have had? Why would I, as certain people have been suggesting, want to murder my own grandchild? This is madness, pure and simple. It reminds me of a recurring night-mare I often have wherein I am desperately trying to defend my-self against a heavily armed hand puppet. The grotesque puppet angrily accuses me of spray-painting slogans on his car. I have, of course, done no such thing. “This is insane, preposterous,” I think to myself. “This makes no sense,” I say, all the while eye-ing the loaded weapon in his small hands and praying for this nightmare to end. Cherise Clarmont-Shea has no more sense than a hand puppet. She has three names! And the others who have made statements against me, Chaz Staples and Vivian Taps, they were both at home during a weekday afternoon doing guess what while their spouses were hard at work. What are they hiding? I feel it is of utmost importance to consider the source.
These charges are ridiculous, yet I must take them seriously as my very life may be at stake! Listening to a taped translation of Khe Sahn’s police statement, the Dunbar family has come to fully understand the meaning of the words “controlling,” “vindictive,” “manipulative,” “greedy,” and, in a spiritual sense, “ugly.”
Not exactly the words one wishes to toss about during the Christmas season!!!!!!!!
A hearing has been set for December twenty-seventh and, knowing how disappointed you, our friends, might feel at being left out, I have included the time and address at the bottom of this letter. The hearing is an opportunity during which you might convey your belated Christmas spirit through deed and action. Given the opportunity to defend your character I would not hesitate and I know you must feel the exact same way to-ward me. That heartfelt concern, that desire to stand by your friends and family, is the very foundation upon which we celebrate the Christmas season, isn’t it?
While this year’s Dunbar Christmas will be seasoned with loss and sadness, we plan to proceed, as best we can, toward that day of days, December twenty-seventh 1:45P.M. at The White Paw County Courthouse, room 412.
I will be calling to remind you of that information and look forward to discussing the festive bounty of your holiday season. Until that time we wish the best to you and yours.