Monday, August 20, 2007

The Queen of Mean Is No More

No, gentle reader, do not jump to the conclusion that Leona Helmsley has reformed her character and become Little Miss Sunshine. Rather, she has shuffled off this mortal coil, and is no doubt having a heart-to-heart chat with St. Peter at this very moment. It would be interesting to be a fly on a nearby cloud listening to this conversation, but such is not permitted to mortal ears. And flies are mortal, too; as the Psalmist put it in his elegant mixed metaphor, all flesh is grass. (David obviously never played "Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral".)

She died here in Greenwich, at the age of 87. Your scribe is certain that she will have a roaring send-off from the community, for she was not ungenerous around Town. The Helmsley Wing of the Greenwich Hospital is now the main entrance, having replaced the historic Benedict Building which was torn down to make room for the new construction. Your faithful reporter well remembers the day the new wing was dedicated, when for perhaps the first and only time a pet dog was allowed into the hospital. The dog, of course, was Trouble; but she spent most of her time in Leona's arms and did nothing to live up to her name.

If the radio report is correct, however, Ms. Helmsley did not die at the hospital but at her estate on Round Hill Road. As is well known locally, this property, formerly known as the Topping Estate, has had a long and unhappy history. Some say it bears a curse. Certainly none of the owners has lived a quiet and happy life: one was murdered by his wife (OK, she claimed she was shooting an intruder, but people continued to wonder); various divorces and forced sales have diminished the original acreage; and of course Leona herself did hard time for tax evasion.

Nonetheless, she has enriched the language with her pithy apothegm: "We [the super-rich] don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes." Even though she was called to account by the IRS for business-expensing every nickel she spent on her house and her wardrobe, your scribe feels we are all in Leona's debt for her astute summing-up of the Way Things Work in America. Maybe if she'd been a little nicer to people, she could have gotten away with it like everyone else she knew.

Local lore loves to recount the Tale of the Disappearing Driveway. Tight as a tick, Leona habitually stiffed the tradesmen in the grand tradition of an English nobleman of the old school. Your scribe heard the story straight from the pavior himself of the new driveway that was put in, but never paid for. One day, said pavior arrived with his crew at the mansion and began to tear up the driveway. Leona's secretary came running out of the house, screaming and caterwauling and demanding an immediate cessation to the outrage. The pavior calmly presented his bill (for the umpteenth time), and was told he would get a check immediately.

Not good enough, he said. Cash or certified bank check only. The minion screeched, and the paving crew kept digging up the pavement. Finally, the pavior was handed a bank check, and he told his men to stop work. They got into their trucks and started to drive off. "Wait!" shouted the secretary. "Aren't you going to fix this mess?"

"That will cost extra," replied the pavior, as he and his men rode off into the sunset. To this day, he is probably the only person in the Town of Greenwich who actually got the better of Leona Helmsley.

Well, having seen Leona only in her public persona as generous philanthropist. your scribe doesn't know what he would do if he were in St. Peter's place. On the one hand, Leona made a lot of people miserable, and broke the laws of the United States. On the other, she paid her debt to society, got bitten back in karmic fashion by the pavior, made it into Bartlett's, and significantly improved and enlarged Greenwich Hospital. Oh, yes, and she was kind to her small dog, Trouble.

Maybe that last bit will weigh in her favor at the Last Trumpet.


Blogger Vicki said...

The brick paver was great!

It's funny to me, that as a whole we heard of the things that she did to try and not pay taxes. And of things that were not considered friendly by any means. What we never heard about was the things like giving to the hospital and perhaps helping her town.

Then again, maybe living in that house caused her to be who she was and act the way she did.

August 21, 2007 11:21 AM  
Blogger Bill Clark said...

Yeah, Vicki, I think she and Harry were a bit reckless to try to beat the curse of Dunellen Hall - as it turned out, it applied to them as well.

But I think Leona probably needed a personality transplant long before she bought the house in Greenwich...

August 21, 2007 12:14 PM  
Blogger ERiCA said...

your scribe feels we are all in Leona's debt for her astute summing-up of the Way Things Work in America

LOL. Great driveway story! =)

August 21, 2007 12:30 PM  
Blogger ERiCA said...

FWIW, I agree with Patrick that "Your scribe" is FPPOV, because the "I" in this case is the writer and the "you" is the reader.

I know, totally OT. Just thought I'd weigh in. =)

August 23, 2007 1:49 PM  
Blogger Bill Clark said...

Actually, I'm glad you did!

I didn't want to bug Diana by emailing her past posts to support Patrick's and my point of view (as it were) that the scribal POV is a variant of FPPOV, but that's how I've always thought of it.

Can you come up with some great and elegant term for this device? My onomatopoetic "FPTP" 1st/3rd mishmash leaves room for improvement.

Perhaps SFP - Scribal First Person?

August 23, 2007 2:47 PM  
Blogger Vicki said...

Happy Thursday! I thought I linked to your blog today on my T-13 :)

And I like SFP.

August 23, 2007 4:47 PM  
Blogger Bill Clark said...

Thanks for the link and the great comments, Vicki!

Glad that SFP works for you, too!

August 24, 2007 9:49 AM  

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