15 March 2016
Note: Dennis Holder, a former humor writer for 713 Magazine, Ultra, and other publications, may have stretched the facts just a little for this interview.
Where do you live?
I live in Kents Store. Understand, though, that my home is not in downtown metropolitan Kents Store but on the outskirts. I live in a house that I built with my own hands using nothing but matchsticks. There are more than 300 million matchsticks and it took me 17 weeks just to count them. When the wind blows, I live in my car. I own 300,000 acres of fertile Fluvanna County farmland that I won in a poker game a couple of years ago. Except for a small kumquat orchard, this land is planted entirely in radishes. I am the largest radish grower in Virginia. Most of the others are dwarves.
How long have you lived in Fluvanna? What brought you here?
I came to Fluvanna County rather hurriedly in 2001. My first ex-wife’s next husband was a Greek sailor with a typical Mediterranean temper. He became enraged when my ex told him that I hated retsina. My former father-in-law called to say that the Greek had a gun and was looking for me. I decided to get out of Dallas, where I lived at the time. I knew the sailor did not speak English, and a little research showed there was no Greek word for Fluvanna, so I figured he could never find me here. What actually brought me to Fluvanna, however, was a rented Penske bobtail truck. I stowed away in a crate marked “Fragile!”
Tell us about your family.
I came from a show business family. My mother was the bearded lady in the famous J.W. Peterson’s Traveling Episcopalian Tent Revival and Cavalcade of God’s Mistakes. She also sang bass in a Polish barbershop quartet. My father played the harp in a marching band and gave private lessons on the ukulele. I had two brothers, both younger. One was a professional tennis player who one day charged the net too hard and strained himself. The other also was athletic, but he wound up singing soprano with the Atlanta opera after a pole vaulting accident.
Currently, I live with my delusional girlfriend, Helvetica, who steadfastly believes she is Phyllis Diller. She has a cat, Pajamas, an ocelot from Trinidad. I have a dog, Brobdingnag, an Abyssinian Beaverhound that we rescued from a sausage factory near Seattle. We also have 16 penguins who live in a refrigerated room in the basement.
What do you do for a living?
I am a professional cattle rustler. Most of my clients are ranchers who want to lose their herds to collect the insurance. For myself, I make a lot of pot roasts. To earn a little extra money, I also am a rodeo cowboy. My specialties are riding, roping and bullslinging. I was the Oklahoma state barrel racing champion in 1959.
What is one of your pet peeves?
I love my pets and rarely become peeved with them. I suppose I was a little annoyed when the dog ate my antique roll-top desk. And the cat’s habit of eviscerating various neighbors’ pets has created a bit of friction from time to time. Mostly, though, they behave as long as I remember to feed them a side of beef once a week. Penguins can sometimes be a pain in the ice.
What do you do in your spare time?
I really don’t know. I usually am asleep during my spare time and have little awareness of what I may be doing. I once was arrested for sleepwalking down the middle of La Cienega Boulevard in Hollywood, California, while wearing a ballerina’s tutu, but I think that was because the ballerina complained that I purloined her costume while she was wearing it. I also once had a run in with a restaurant manager because I was sleeping at the table with my face in a plate of spaghetti marinara. I suspect the cheap chianti this so-called Italian joint served may have had something to do with that.
What pivotal decision helped to shape your life?
Probably the decision that most affected my life was my decision to be born. I was quite comfortable and content in my mother’s womb, but unlike my brother who stayed in there for more than 11 months, I chose to emerge and get on with it. I suppose I would have scampered back inside if I had seen my shadow, but I didn’t know about Punxatawny Phil at the time. I thought it would be interesting to watch “I Love Lucy” and experience the heartbreak of psoriasis. When I read Dibakar Baura’s extraordinary volume of poetry, “The Womb or Memory,” I realize how much happiness and wonder I missed in my quest for broader horizons. There can be no question, however, that being born shaped my life.
Tell us about a way you have changed over the years.
I remember being about six years old. I was a blond-haired, tow-headed kid slightly on the chubby side. I had a little red wagon that provided infinite entertainment. I liked to race it down a long hill near our Atlanta apartment and crash into a tree at the bottom. Each time, my thrilling ride was followed by an extended period of blissful unconsciousness. My mother always raced to my side and laughed and laughed. It was the epitome of childhood contentment. I still enjoy steering my little red wagon down hills and crashing into trees, but I no longer am a blond-haired, tow-headed kid. I remain a bit chubby.
What has surprised you about your life?
Perhaps the most surprising thing about my life is how ordinary it has been. As a child, I always expected to do unusual things like playing center for the Harlem Globetrotters or setting the Guinness world record for tying yellow ribbons around old oak trees. I thought I would learn to recite the Gettysburg address in Yiddish and play “The Star Spangled Banner” on the jaw harp. I imagined being elected president of the macramé workers’ union and finding an antidote for the sting of poisonous jellyfish. But no. The modest achievements I have mentioned in this interview are so bland and commonplace that I am embarrassed to report them. It is surprising to me that I did not, at very least, cross the Atlantic in the opposite direction on the raft called Kon Tiki.
What’s one thing you hope to accomplish before you die?
Before I die, I hope to achieve a ripe old age. Some people may argue that I already have accomplished that. However, I check myself often and I do not believe I am yet ripe.
Tell us about one of your regrets.
Among my biggest regrets is that I did not move aggressively to copyright and syndicate my cartoon idea, Doonesbury. Because I was a bit torpid, my idea was stolen by some guy named Trudeau, who recently became Prime Minister of Canada. It’s true that this interloper modified my ideas just a bit. For example, I had named my strip Dunesberry and my main character was a Russian Orthodox priest who ministered to an all-too-often ignored group of needy souls, orphans over 65 years old. Still, most of our characters were identical. I first came up with the hippie, the foreign correspondent, the one-legged parrot and the flying horse. I also had a character based on Hunter S. Thompson. Mine was a duck. Trudeau took that basic concept, added glasses and called his character “Duke.”
What quote or saying do you connect with most? Why do you like it?
My favorite quote comes from the King James Bible, Genesis 27:11. It says, “Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man.” To me, this passage sums up the yin and yang of mundane existence. It describes the constant tug of war between good and evil, happiness and sadness, hairy and smooth. Whenever I hit a rough patch in life in which nothing makes sense and the world seems arrayed against me, I think of this single sentence. It lifts me up and puts a smile on my face.
My second favorite quote comes from E.B. White in a caption he wrote for a New Yorker cartoon. I mention it because it provides a great way to end this interview. The quotation: “I say it’s spinach and I say to hell with it.”