Mr. Cornwall’s note: Justice Minotaur penned the following obituary for Virgil McTeague, who died 4 July 2002. It was originally published in the New Salem Trumpeting Beagle on 14 July of that year. While gargling this morning, Minotaur asked Mr. Cornwall to publish it “on the electrical newspaper.”
IN MEMORIAM VIRGIL MCTEAGUE
AKA “MAN OF ASSOCIATIONS”
MAY 31, 1930-JULY 4, 2002
These were the implements of his trade: an aged, basket-front tandem bicycle and several cottage-cheese tubs full of different sizes of elastic bands.
An ad he submitted to the local yellow pages for the 1960 edition formalized his entry into the world of work. The primary ad appeared under “Associations,” but he also paid for cross-listings under “Steering” and “Nurses.”
I MAKE CERTAIN ASSOCIATIONS
According to one of his meticulous journals, his first call was to the sprawling home of a physician who on the phone had requested help in drafting the papers to form a business association. “Either a close corporation or a general partnership, whichever would be more advantageous,” the doctor had explained. “Some friends think perhaps the former, because of the insulation from liability.”
Upon arriving at the home, the man of associations leaned his bicycle against a half-hatcheted totem pole and then stood at the door yelling the words that would become a calling card of sorts: “Open Sesame!”
“What are you doing riding a tandem bicycle alone?” the doctor said as he answered the door, not bothering with the usual courtesies.
“It symbolizes the hope for companionship.”
With a look half of bewilderment, half of ridicule, the doctor invited the man of associations into his home.
“Well, what is your business advice?” the doctor asked.
“I am a man of action, not words, if you will allow me to proceed.”
The man of associations snatched from the nearby sofa table a small framed photograph of a fragile-looking woman and, using a large elastic band he had extracted from the zipper pouch on one of his handmade shoes, strapped the photograph to the nearby bust of Neptune.
“That should do,” the man of associations said, then quickly retreated through the front door to escape the doctor’s ire.
Other early calls were also initially perceived as failures: he strapped a frozen dickey to a cardinal; three Bibles to the side of a breadbox; the queen from a Civil War–theme chess set to a thermos full of cobbler; a pacifier to a clay diorama of a dojo.
One day while watching a Clydesdale being shoed, he encountered the doctor. “I am in your debt,” the doctor gushed.
“What has transpired?”
“As you could no doubt tell, I was stupefied by your actions on that day. I had sought business help, not the strangeness you proffered. Nevertheless, because of the association of my wife—the woman in the photograph—with the mythical and inanimate, I came to perceive that I had treated my wife as a possession and as one fixed in time and space, and not as a living equal.”
“You deserve credit for making the association,” the man of associations replied.
“Do you mean to say that your pairing was willy-nilly?”
“In a sort of way. You see, I set the lock, but in you is the key. I had a hunch about you, about your wife. Frankly, though, most things paired together will yield an association—to those patient and perceptive, willing to fumble through a ring of keys.”
“Does the unlocking always lead to self-knowledge?”
“It may lead elsewhere, too—to amusement, appreciation, and such.”
Soon the man of associations had similar encounters with his other early customers, who uniformly praised him for his inspired pairings. Because of his associations, the woman with the cardinal started a pet clothing store; the man with the breadbox entered the ministry; the family with the thermos opened a café featuring historical dishes and decor; the couple with the diorama began an important new study of child-rearing in the age of the samurai.
The reputation of the man of associations grew quickly, and he was sought in villages and large cities, by those of all classes. Sometimes people thronged to him in the shops and streets, and he would render a dozen associations while waiting in line for buttermilk, or one or two while urinating against a wall. Delighted customers pressed coins into his hands—some thrust their daughters upon him—but he would take no such remuneration. He asked only a “sliver of remembrance” from each customer—the wet, blubbering kiss of a baby, a puff of hickory smoke, a swath of silk wiped in a woman’s wet, hairless armpit, a Polaroid of himself in a customer’s Daniel Webster costume.
Of all his pairings, the best known was made in 1976. In that season of life, the man of associations, though by now beloved by the general populace, was also under surveillance by police authorities, who could not fathom that a loner with such uncommon behavior could be innocent of malfeasance. One evening in the early spring of that year, the man of associations was making his rounds on bicycle, with the police and a local newspaper reporter secretly following. He steered his bicycle into a seedy part of town and entered a men’s club where women danced. The journalist and police gathered in shadows around the door where they knew he would eventually exit. They would expose him as a danger to society, and his business would be ruined.
He exited only moments after he entered, and in a most unexpected fashion. Sitting piggy-back on him, and bound to him by a giant elastic band, was one of the lady dancers, wrapped clumsily in a curtain. He meekly made his way to his bicycle through the surprised and dispersing crowd and, unstrapping his cargo, placed her gently on the rear seat. He rode her to a motel across town and helped her check into a room. He paid for six months of lodging in advance and later that night brought a sack of groceries by.
That spring and summer, he was often seen leaving various kinds of packages with her at the door to her room—a stack of books, fresh mangoes, fine paper and an expensive pen. He took her on the bicycle to the doctor and to church and to get her hair done. Occasionally she accompanied him on a customer visit, during which she would always be strapped to his back, just as everyone had seen in the papers that spring. Sometimes they were seen riding nowhere in particular, both smiling broadly, the light summer wind fanning their hair and carrying the sounds of their happy conversation into the tops of the trees.
When she died that October of cancer, he was strapped to her in her hospital bed. He paid for her burial, and then sought out her many creditors and repaid them. Then he was not seen again for a long season. People wondered what had transpired between this antihero and one who had been a common prostitute.
Finally, he reemerged. His work continued, and his fame grew.