We had gathered on the rooftop of the Hotel Tour Eiffel Cambronne on a cold Wednesday afternoon in March 1967. My motivation for going to this meeting of curiosity seekers was two-fold: Miss Fox and as a diversion from my reading and review of Guy Davenport's naïve, yet poetic, The Cardiff Team.
Gladys Roth had brought along her dearest friends Mrs. Hazlitt and Miss Fox, the latter being related to George Fox, the famous Quaker. Another dozen persons observed this event. These salty souls were eccentrics and out-of-fashion intellectuals that I felt most comfortable around. The women were handsome, robust and inelegant, and could hold their own with the men in jousts of wit. Miss Fox wore flower-print dresses; her soft curls shoulder length; and usually cream-colored gloves. She was always smiling and seemed to be amused by life's daily doses of drama and intrigue. We were all expatriates in France, journeying to study her enticing culture, language and topography.
Of all these characters of my past, William McCarthy Moore should be mentioned. He was an inventor and theorist, compelled to come to Paris to study her great French minds entombed in The Panthéon. Hugo was his favorite. The Inventor, as we called William, came to know the once-popular writer and essayist Mary McCarthy and, yes, even took her last name as his own middle name. He just liked the sound of it, he told interviewers. The two had met at Vassar College where they became lovers - one of her many. He was of medium build and sported a waxed mustache which added to his mystery.
His lover, Mrs. McCarthy, was certainly the hottest topic of conversation among my circle at this time. By my brief conversations with William, I discovered that Mary was in the midst of writing about her Catholic-centered childhood, a memoir that would soon fascinate many inquiring readers. Mrs. Fox knew Mary to be a sharp-witted conversationalist with non-revealing retorts to inquiries about her sexual conquests. As time would soon reveal, she and the Inventor were about to split.
And so Mr. William McCarthy Moore's latest creation, a dental invention, was our reason for riding the old York elevator to the top of the hotel and climbing out on its tarred roof that day. With the Eiffel Tower watching from the near-distance, the Inventor and his faithful assistant - that day it was Mr. Goodson, an expat accountant - began their show. I should also note that the flyer mailed to us individually, and posted at the local coffeehouses, claimed that "a medical and dental marvel" would be revealed to "interested potential investors with no obligation or payment required for the demonstration of its soundness."
The dentures, William told us in his monotone introduction, were manufactured from cadavers' jaws. They integrated a patented "screw-lock design" that joined the bluish cadaver teeth to the patient's own gums. Mr. McCarthy Moore had paid a volunteer, Mr. Goodson, one hundred and fifty dollars to have his toothless gums fitted with two sets of cadaver teeth. Mr. Goodson grinned widely and walked about us to display his new mouth. His gums were red and swollen contrasted against the blue-gray teeth jammed onto them.
"My dentures are so strong and reliable one can bite through aluminum or porcelain plates. However, to show that they are durable, Mr. Goodson will be so good as to bite through this," the Inventor said while producing (almost dropping) an inflated and bowling-bag sized puffer fish, this species was a Diodontidae, he told us. With obvious hesitation, Mr. Goodson bit the spiny, still-squirming fish. Immediately, blood and gray gel oozed from the corners of his mouth. His eyes filled with tears as he continued to clamp down on the now-deflated fish. The poor puffer even lost its Sunday church hat, which had been added for an additional theatrical effect, being unseated by deflation or the biting wind. Neither the Inventor nor Mr. Goodson seemed inspired by the hired string section, which provided a rousing score to accompany this display. I looked away as Goodson wiped fish innards and blood from his face. As I did so, I noticed Miss Fox also had to look away and gripped Mrs. Hazlitt's arm. The conductor, unknown to us then and now, urged on the dedicated union musicians, mostly violinists and cellists, in a skin-tingling rendition of nearly five complete movements of Sergei Rachmaninov's All-Night Vigil. So moving in fact that I nearly forgot the Inventor's latest failing. After the dental display, a confusion and near-silence hung in the air as the orchestra paused between movements. The women whispered and the men stared at the Inventor, some walked towards the stairs. I stood and cherished the musicians' performance.
However, the music could not console the Inventor and he dropped his shoulders to meet the roof under his feet. Unceremoniously, he turned from facing Mr. Goodson, who was picking needles from inside his tortured mouth, and stepped off the building's edge. The musicians played on without incident.
Later, as I drank tea with Miss Fox and her lady friends at the Café de Flore, we learned that poor Mr. Goodson had gone into a deep coma, apparently from ingesting the fish's poison. That evening, I finished Davenport's book and my review of it for The Parisian Literary Review.
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- Timothy Jos. NelsonSend us your comments on this article