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Most Outrageous - Introduction by Bob Levin Print
Article Index
Most Outrageous - Introduction by Bob Levin
Page 2

Ellen Tinsley lived with Mike Campbell and three dogs in Jefferson Parish, twenty minutes outside the French Quarter. The living room, with its stacks of CDs — Robert Johnson and Emmylou Harris and John Prine — and its bookshelves filled with the accumulations of decades — Dorothy Parker and W.H. Auden and a warts-and-boils biography of J. Edgar Hoover — would not have looked out of place on our block.

Mike, who is one size short of leading sweeps for the Dallas Cowboys, had a shaved head and Fu Manchu mustache. A former inspector for the Texas Food and Drug Administration, he had decided in his mid-forties to become a Delta blues musician. Now he played in front of the courthouse on Royal Street. When tourists give Mojo, one of the dogs, a dollar, he put it in Mike’s hat. Ellen, a handsome, red-haired woman from the Smokey Mountain region of North Carolina, wore a washed-out tank top, black jeans and sandals. She had come out of the University of Connecticut in the late 1960s to work with multiply handicapped children in the Detroit ghetto. Her father, a Lt. Commander in the Navy, was descended from Harry Morgan, the pirate, and Charles Kingsley, co-founder of the Christian Socialist movement. Her mother’s family had followed The Mayflower into port; and, later, the process of “civilizing” the natives had brought some Cherokee genes into her mix. She was a Daughter of the Republic, a Daughter of the Confederacy, and a former Miss Country Club, who describes herself, with a wicked smile, as someone who could be “a perfect lady in public, but, then, close the door…”

Ellen was neither the mother of the daughter who had brought the charges against Dwaine, nor the woman to whom he had been married when the offenses were said to have occurred. But she had been married to him the last five years of his life; and she fervently believed him the innocent victim of a vengeful, drug-addled young woman, a politically ambitious district attorney, and the lynch-mob mentality of an ultra-conservative community. She had attempted, unsuccessfully, to interest other writers in Dwaine’s story and, when that failed, to write it herself. Now a mammogram had revealed a lump upon which a biopsy had been inconclusive. “You have made my Monday,” she had said when I called.

Ellen had sent me twenty-five pages she had written, so I knew she considered Dwaine to have been a wonderful husband, a fine father to his two other daughters, and a masterful satiric artist, who had lifted himself, through extraordinary effort, from dire poverty to a professional peak. He was also “an enormously complex man,” “a non-stop talker, [who] in a five minute conversation could tell you a truly awful joke, discuss Monet’s use of light, dispense ‘Uncle Dwaine’ advice, and give you the latest in political intrigue,” someone who “mixed a massive vocabulary with a gutter mouth,” who “read everything from cereal boxes to Sartre,” who “laughed as easily as he cried,” who was “quick to anger and to admit mistakes,” who had friends “from every ethnic background, all different colors, sexual orientations, economic groups, and social classes,” who was “as comfortable with auto mechanics as he was with movie stars.” Now she asked why I was interested in him.

I told her about cartoonists with extreme visions and extreme lives.

She and Mike waited for something more.

“I don’t have an agenda,” I said. “This will be a lot easier to write if I believe he didn’t do it; but, right now, I don’t know. All I can promise you is an open mind.”

Ellen answered my questions for two hours. Then she asked us to dinner. Mike had smoked a turkey. Ellen had made red beans and rice. After dinner, she invited us into the garage. When we left, we took away two storage boxes filled with Dwaine’s case documents and personal papers. Back in our motel, two items caught my eye. One was a picture of Dwaine and his daughter. She is in her teens, when the abuse was supposedly raging. She is seated behind him on a rock. Both her arms are thrown around him and her chin rests on his right shoulder. She has a broad smile and he a light one. She appears totally relaxed, totally at ease, totally trusting. The other was a shot of Dwaine and Ellen. He is nuzzling her neck from behind.Both his arms embrace her and she holds one of his hands. Deep affection fills both their eyes. “This is a man who desires women,” Adele said, “not little girls.”

I was happy to hear that. However it turned out though — whatever madness or perversion explained the behavior at the story’s core — it could not be treated with my accustomed style. Whether I was to meet a bestial father or deranged daughter — whether I was to find doubloons in the storage boxes or Pandora’s demons — I saw pain and tragedy dripping from this tale like Spanish moss. I heard shrieks and moans and skeletons rattling and garments rending. I saw no place for humor — no room to layer in effrontery. I felt terribly excited. I felt the thrill of entering the realm of the taboo. I felt like a character in a Hitchcock movie, drawn into a plot over which he has no control, headed for a destination he cannot foretell.

Across the room, the frog grinned through its formaldehyde cloud.

Featured books by Bob Levin (click covers for complete product details)

Most Outrageous: The Trials and Trespasses of Dwaine Tinsley and Chester the Molester
Most Outrageous: The Trials and Trespasses of Dwaine Tinsley and Chester the Molester
Price: $19.99

All books by Bob Levin

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