“KTVU Channel 2 Fox News for the entire Bay Area starts right now,” the energetic voice announces, triple underscore for those last two words as a peppy, synthesized intro blared as the screen zooms in on a glowing San Francisco skyline.
“Good evening, I’m Frank Somerville. In breaking new, a story that is equally tragic and bizarre – mauling, mayhem and an out-of-control Orangutan at one of Nob Hill’s toniest addresses.”
Suddenly there is a shot of five shrouded gurneys pulling lifeless bodies from the entrance of an elegant Beaux Arts building.
“It may have been made tragically iconic in the film Vertigo, but tonight San Francisco’s Brocklebank Apartments building was the scene of a tense tragedy that even Hitchcock could not have dreamed up. Details are still sketchy, but it appears five visiting Japanese exchange students were the victims of a mauling by a 400 pound Orangutan kept illegally as a domestic pet by one of the Bay Area’s most eccentric trust fund heirs.”
An obese man with a bad dark red come over shakes in a wheel chair, his shirt covered in blood, as he glares at the camera, bawling: “They killed her! They killed my little Lulu. She never did anything like this. She wouldn’t hurt a fly. She was the only creature on this planet that truly loved me.”
“The primate’s owner, Leonard Psychedenia VII, has long been one of the largest contributors to Grace Cathedral, the Deyoung Museum, the California Academy of Sciences and various nature and wildlife preservation charities,” Somerville explained. “He also is a co-owner of Steamworks in Berkeley and holds a majority share in the San Francisco Center as well as other significant real estate holdings and is a retired professor at the University of San Francisco. His mother, Agnes Livingstone Psychedenia, offered this observation about her son:
“I always told Leonard that monkey was nuthin’ but trouble,” says a tiny, elegant woman seated in a maroon suede wingback chair. “Now look what’s happened. I just wonder what the Commodore would think about all of this.”
Somerville continues, “We’ll be hearing from KTVU legal analyst Marjorie Knoller later in the broadcast for her observations on this tragedy, but first we take you to California Pacific Medical Center where a sixth victim is clinging to life and is in critical condition, and Sal Castaneda is standing by. Sal, what can you tell us about this victim and what might have the motivated the attacks?”
“Frank, it appears that the Orangutan had an entire tropical habitat that Psychedenia had installed and took up the entire ninth floor of the Brocklebank that adjoined his apartment that takes up the seventh and eighth floors of this historic structure. The exact nature of the attacks is still unclear, but apparently it involved a scuffle between the Orangutan and the exchange students over Sanrio paraphernalia of which she was especially fond and protective.”
Sanrio, indeed. And now, my dear readers, I ask you to move your attention away from this television report for it is my duty to share the real story as your guide into the world of Leonard Psychedenia VII, a man whose connection to me I may choose to reveal in more detail at some point or may decide to keep a secret, and that, alas, is part of the story itself.
First, let me say that there had been warning signs long before this tragic incident.
Lulu was not exactly living beneath the radar. Leonard had hundreds of baby doll night gowns made for her and sun bonnets. He painted her finger and toenails and powdered her nose. They were frequently spotted throughout the city, Leonard pushing her in a wheelchair and introducing her as “Aunt Mildred from Tuscaloosa.” “She doesn’t talk much,” Leonard would explain, “but she loves to meet people.” Leonard, who by now weighs close to 375 pounds, has over 2,500 Hawaiian shirts that he always wears over his herringbone wool bespoke slacks with an elastic waistband added in for his burgeoning body and cobalt blue cowboy boots.
One of the first signs of possible trouble happened during Easter communion at Grace Cathedral. When Leonard wheeled Lulu down the aisle to the priest, she grabbed the entire loaf of bread, snatched the chalice and drank all of the remaining wine. She then let out a loud burp and turned to look back at the congregation, shooting a mischievous, self-satisfied smile and shooting the bird to the priest.
No one among the clergy complained, of course, since Leonard is a seven figure donor to the cathedral.
Leonard’s checkbook also led to no action last winter when Lulu jumped onto the stage of Davies Music Hall, grabbed Michael Tilson Thomas’ baton during the 2nd movement of Mahler’s 6th Symphony and started spanking his butt. Leonard, after all, was the largest contributor to the Conductor’s Circle Society.
By this summer, Leonard’s extreme weight and type two diabetes made it impossible for him to continue pushing Lulu in her wheel chair, so he had an auto body shop on South Van Ness connect his wheel chair to hers. Their tandem wheelchairs were a terror on BART as they barreled into cars with Leonard shouting, “Make way for two disabled seniors!”
It was one of their favorite weekend activities to come speeding down Grant Street and watching tourists and elderly Chinese women scurry into shops or the streets to avoid catastrophe.
Leonard and Lulu greatly enjoyed sharing three or four bottles of merlot with their dinner. Leonard was well aware that alcohol is a depressant, so he had bowls Paxil, Zoloft and Prozac throughout their apartments that they grabbed handfuls of over the course of the day or any time they felt the slightest bit blue.
Leonard dearly loved living in the Brockelbank. Typical of his pattern of confusing and mixing facts, he would say, “Living there makes me feel just like Tippi Hedron in Psycho.”
Lulu came into Leonard’s life five years ago after he was fired from the University of San Francisco where he taught graduate courses in environmental science and two undergraduate biology classes. Leonard did his dissertation on primates in the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
There had been numerous complaints from students about erratic behavior that were generally ignored. Though Agnes made moderate donations to an endowed chair in the department in honor of her grandmother Lewellyn Bradford Livingstone, it was her influence in town that carried more weight. When approached about the fund, she blushed and giggled, “I just keep having this image of a Chippendale arm chair that is…well, endowed.”
Leonard’s dismissal stemmed from an ad that he had run in the back pages of the Bay Area Reporter for years: “Free tutoring for undergrad male students in human biology. Complete discretion guaranteed.” No one had responded to the ad during its seven years in the paper until along came Alvin Scroggins, a 48-eight-year old auto mechanic from Antioch who was 50 pounds heavier and even more neurotic than Leonard. His complaint was that Leonard refused to provide the tutoring, saying, “Why you’re not even cute!”
Agnes, who visited Leonard and Lulu daily, lives in Seacliff, which she always refers to as “The Village at Seacliff” held Lulu in disdain from the beginning. Yet typical of her relationship with Leonard, she accommodated him by making key lime pie that she brought each day. Agnes had staff who cooked all of her meals, but she had been making key lime pies since her teenage years as a North Carolina tobacco heiress. Her recipe had been in the family since before the Civil War, and Leonard could put away two pies in one sitting. Lulu had such a voracious appetite that Agnes baked hers in wash tubs.
Leonard was prone to many repetitive behaviors. He watched the Clint Eastwood movie featuring an Orangutan Any Which Way But Loose six to eight times a week, clinking his wine glass against Lulu’s as Agnes glared at them. “Do we have to watch this wretched movie again,” she would ask.
“But Momma, it’s so darn funny,” Leonard respond. “And doesn’t Ruth Gordon remind you of yourself?”
“No, Leonard, I don’t look anything like that hideous woman. I wish you’d just get rid of that monkey!”
“She’s not a monkey, Mama, she’s an Orangutan!”
It was in this dynamic, that Lulu’s dysfunctions were brewing and Leonard was racing towards his own peril.
To really understand Leonard Psychedenia VII, we must step back to his namesake, Leonard Psychedenia I more commonly known as Commodore Psychedenia born in 1798 in Flinstshire County, Wales, and who came to the Port of New Orleans as a two year-old with his parents, Bledig and Cefni Psychedenia, a baker and his wife who established a modest muffin stall on Canal Street and soon opened a popular ale and meat pie shop that catered to the city’s small English and Welsh speaking population.
The Psychedenias then migrated west to the rough and tumble Republic of Texas where Bledig is said to have fought in the Battle of the Alamo and went on to establish the first rail line from Galveston to Austin and quickly amassed a fortune in rail, coal and petroleum before returning to Louisiana where in Lafayette he met Wilson Everett Chang from Hubei Province in China and with whom he established his most successful enterprise, Psychedenia Tea which the teenaged Leonard I took from a cottage trade to the official tea of Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army. It has only recently been revealed that the treaty between Lee and Grant at Appomattox was sealed over a steaming pot of Psychedenia Tea. Lee, legend has it, was apprehensive about signing the document of surrender until the wily Grant passed a cup of Psychedenia and with a feigned Virginia drawl asked, “One lump or two, General Lee” to which the regal man in gray replied “Oh, three, if you will be so kind to humor me.”
Chang, who provided the tea plants from his native Hubei Province that were the bedrock of the Psychedenia blend, would later sue the Commodore for giving him only a 2 per cent interest of the profits. Chang had little success in his increasingly obsessive court battles, eventually working as a bank clerk in Moline, Illinois, and dying from psoriasis of the liver at 34.
Leonard II, II and IV furthered the Psychedenia legacy as the tea, oil, rail and steel fortunes expanded. The family eventually settled back in New Orleans where Leonard was born in 1948, the peach of the eye of his grandfather, Leonard V, who adopted the name Commodore from his great-great-great grandfatherand was often credited with inspiring some of Leonard VII’s more eccentric behavior.
Leonard V considered himself a bit of a bohemian and palled around with the likes of Louis Armstrong, Tennessee Williams and Williams S. Burroughs with whom he co-owned a race horse name Bugwax. By the 1960s when he weighed in at 426 pounds, he was a staple on Louisiana late night TV peddling Psychedenia Tea wearing an elaborate white and gold uniform adorned with many medals and bangles.
“Hi there friends, Commodore Pyschedenia here, just sitting on the Veranda with my good friend Alice Coltrane and enjoying a delicious glass of Psychedenia ice tea. “
“Commodore, what is this amazing beverage? It’s so…cosmic.”
“Why, Alice, that’s Psychednia Tea – the natural high. It’s not psychedelic, it’s Psychedenic. Psycehenia Tea, available at fine retailers everywhere.”
Leonard VI was greatly embarrassed by his father and felt that he disgraced the family name. Thus he left the family nest early, earning an MBA at 19 and taking over the family’s modest oil operations and building them into an international empire before finally making an enormous profit when they were bought and merged with Chevron which brought the family to Danville, California, when Leonard was 19 during the Summer of Love. Leonard VI was a good friend of George and Barbara Bush, The Reverend Billy Graham, Paul Harvey, Wink Martindale and T. Boone Pickens.
Leonard VII was two when his family moved to Jakarta where he went to a prestigious English language primary school with other children of oil executives and the spoiled brats of the European embassies. Living in a walled and air-conditioned compound and never allowed to mix with locals, Agnes raised Leonard as if they were still in Texas. Further assignments came in Lagos, Quito, Abu Dhabi and Tripoli.
It was there in that north African metropolis that I first met 13-year-old Leonard who was crashing into puberty with his characteristic mania. It was the first day of the winter session at the Lewellyn Bradford Livingstone Boys School, in January of 1961 as our class wrote reports about President elect Kennedy. I’ll never forget him racing across the classroom that morning, his white shirt stained with green remnants of key lime pie. “Hi, there!” he said, extending a stubby paw. “Has anyone ever told you that you look just like a young Tab Hunter. I’d just love to walk barefoot through that hair of yours. My name is Leonard Psychedenia. Would you like to be my friend?”