A spoiled millionaire whose life has been one long series of extravagant distractions returns home to try to fill the gap his misspent decades have failed to paper over. His sudden return fuels gossip of scandal and is unwelcomed by a town now looking forward to a future of prosperity, fueled by the imminent commencement of multi-million dollar WPA flood control project. Has he returned to steal the spotlight or just to gum up the works by being his usual eccentric, irresponsible, and occasionally obnoxious self?
Ernest White was an odd duck from the day he was born. He was always indifferent to his parents' acts of kindness. He never played with the toys they bought him, and he told stories to himself – about himself – instead. He was nice enough to his mother, but when his father talked he acted like he didn't hear him, and even when his father punished him for his dreaminess or his laziness Ernest never cried and even laughed. He fulfilled none of his father's hopes for a productive and respectable son, and Ernest wasn't even three before his father had given up on him, handing the disappointment over to his mother and turning his attention to farming again.
From Otto's Journal, 1970
I used to work as his factotum years ago.
He called himself Mr. Perfect. He was semi-well-known to the famous and semi-famous in the whirlwind prewar world. His money had opened many doors and he had rubbed shoulders with the best and brightest of his day, and if you look at group photos of the cultural elite on the Left Bank or the salons of New York or the French Riviera you can often see his tanned bright visage in the background smiling much more genuinely than the rest, because unlike them he was free from the guilt of sponging off the honest man to pay the tab, and he was the only one in the photos who didn't think he was smarter than everyone else. He wore white suits and tried to affect a degree of European culture, and was just successful enough to fool the small-town people he'd grown up with, but probably not anybody else.
New York Times, August 13, 1939, page 48 B (beneath a lingerie ad):
World traveler, theosophist, amateur archaeologist and art patron known in the expatriate community as "Mr. Perfect" stopped in New York City yesterday on his way home to rural Oklahoma after 15 years as a citizen of the world. Perfect, whose given name is Ernest White, is perhaps best remembered for the off-Broadway run of his scathing verse-drama "Prometheus Fit To Be Tied!"
During his stay in the city Perfect made sizable donations to several local cultural institutions, donated a self portrait to the Museum of Non-Objective painting, then stopped by the World's Fair and put his foot through a television being displayed in the RCA building. His valet stayed behind to pay for the damages.
Perfect would not disclose his reasons for returning to the small town of his childhood. His valet said he needed some rest.
It was a hot August day and rumor had it that White was on the next train coming into town. A rusted red sign creaking beside the tracks read "Welcome to Blaze" though the town had recently changed its name to ‘Progress’ in anticipation of damn great things. It sat at the end of a spur of the AT&SF line, nestled against the first small foothills of the Ozarks. It had sleepily passed several decades farming and milling ore but recently had begun to house hundreds of WPA laborers drawn from all over the USA to help build the world's largest multi-arch dam, a milestone effort of flood control, rural electrification, and feverish government spending to try to end the Depression.
It was late afternoon and the sky was brown and hinting of a storm. The air was heavy with a sweet smell underneath the stale summer heat, and the distant sky showed rags of rain dragging beneath the clouds but not reaching the ground.
A small crowd of people was gathered at the depot to await the arrival of their town's most famous personage. A rumble from the approaching locomotive started then swelled and soon its weathered cars were pulling into the station. The engine sighed and the passengers slowly began to depart, dragged their disjointed baggage and bodies down the steps. Off came a handful of farm workers, some oily salesman, a mother pinching two children by their ears, a fat lady carrying a garish parrot in a cage. But then all was quiet.