Here's another special piece I did for the great folks at the Aussie site The Cud. This time it's about the brilliantly funny Brian G. Hughes.
"A Priest, A Rabbi, and A Minister Walk Into a Bar–"
What? You've heard that one? How about: "There once was a man from Nantucket–"
That one too? What about: "Yer Momma is so–"
Well, here's one who probably haven't ever heard, the one that starts: "There was this guy, named Brian G. Hughes..."
There was this guy, named Brian G. Hughes. He was an Einstein, a Salk, a Beethoven, a da Vinci – but he wasn't a physicist, a doctor, a composer, or a painter. He was, according to the society pages, a rather wealthy box manufacturer and a banker. But his genus wasn't in cardboard or playing the market.
New York around the turn of the previous century was a pretty dull berg, full of overly stuffed shirts and far-too-puffed-out egos. It was a dull place, a humorless place, a terribly stiff place – a city, and a society, that Brian G. Hughes saw as needing to be seriously goosed.
And goose it he did: with a flare and a flamboyance that shook New York from Battery Park to Queens. Take for instance the time he donated a plot of valuable Brooklyn real estate to the city, to be made into a public park. Great gesture, right? Fine civic spirit, correct? That's what the Board of Aldermen thought – until they actually took the time to check it out. See, the plot of land Brian G. Hughes had donated was only a two-by-six foot plot. Hey, he never said it would make a big park ...
Then there was the time he donated a mansion to a few well-respectable historical societies, one he claimed the Marquis de Lafayette had lived in during the War of Independence. "Wow" went the Ladies of those Historical Societies, "What a find." Until they checked out the real estate and discovered the mansion was actually a dilapidated flophouse in the Bronx. Seriously lacking in the giggle department, the ladies tried to have him committed. Now there was a hearing worth attending.
But real estate wasn't the only thing Hughes used in his pranks. For instance, he would routinely hang out in front of Tiffany's and drop boxes of fake jewels – just to watch people scramble to snatch up the supposed treasures. Another time he left a set of burglar tools out in front of a building. Nothing special in that, right? Well, the building was the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which prompted the – no doubt humorless – curator to close the entire landmark to frantically search for any missing paintings.
Love cats? Well, Mr. Hughes did – though he hated the pomposity of cat shows. One time he entered what he claimed was a spectacularly rare species. The whole of New York was buzzing about this feline masterpiece, and it even won a ribbon, though later on it was revealed that the cat, "Nicodemus, by Broomstick out of Dustpan by Sweeper, the last of the exotic Brindle breed," had actually been a common stray bought from a hobo.
Love horses? Well, Mr. Hughes ... I think you know where this might be going. His "Orphan Puldeca, out of Metropolitan by Electricity" thoroughly impressed the horse show crowd, until one sharper-than-average person figured out that "Orphan Puldeca" meant "Often Pulled the Car" and Hughes admitted that his entry was a noble example of a simple trolley horse.
Say you happened to be in a downtown establishment during, alas, a totally unexpected downpour. Why, look over there: a lovely – and apparently unclaimed – umbrella. It wouldn't be theft, you argue with yourself. You'll bring it right back, you conclude. Except that the instant you opened the umbrella, one of hundreds placed around the city, a banner would unfurl proclaiming that the bumbershoot had been STOLEN FROM BRIAN G. HUGHES.
While Mr. Hughes was, no doubt, a charming person to know it was best not to accept tickets from him as he was known to (tee-hee-hee) print up hundreds different ones to all kinds of events – which never existed.
Then, perhaps the capper to a wonderfully colorful career keeping the too-well-heeled on their toes and putting pepper up the noses of the upper-crusts, he announced that he – at considerable expense and at tremendous personal risk – would embark on an expedition to deepest and no-doubt darkest South American in pursuit of the elusive reetsa.
For weeks New York was on the edge of its manicured toes, gasping in excitement into its perfumed handkerchiefs, as word of the Hughes expedition was leaked out until, just as high society feared they could take no more, it was announced that Hughes would be returning to the island – with a living, breathing resets!
The city was aghast, the city was amazed, the city was riveted. By the thousands they came down to the docks to watch Hughes return, triumphant, from his perilous journey. Then, those crowds frozen in suspense, the ship arrived and Hughes made his triumphant appearance – with is captured reetsa...
There was this guy, named Brian G. Hughes, who convinced all of New York City that he'd traveled to South America to capture the mysterious reetsa – that turned out to be a simple farm animal, which he led down the gangplank backwards. Reetsa, naturally being "a steer" spelled backwards.
Here’s to you, Brian G. Hughes: the man who made an island laugh, a whole city giggle, who brought practical jokes to a whole new, and gloriously special, level: truly the last of a very special exotic brindle breed.