“Most things in this world and in others are rarely as they appear.”
Livingston Ashcroft Bellingus (1893 – )
Livingston Ashcroft Bellingus is my paternal grandfather. He was known as “Flip” to both family and close friends. He picked up that name in the early 1960s. There is nothing especially profound about the above quote. It is very much accepted in the world of physics and other worlds as well. Flip was known to cite this quote or variations of it from time to time. The last time I remember him saying it he was sitting quietly in restraints at a rest home in Melrose, Massachusetts.
In the early part of his adult life Flip was a respected professor of philosophy at Northeastern University on the Boston campus. Around the time his daughter Dolores married “the Castilian,” a Spanish diplomat and food supplier to the Army, Flip began working on a secret project in the basement. After months of working alone he unveiled what was later to be known as the flip top box – a handy little package that was eventually used for cigarettes.
There was no doubt about it, grandpa was a scatterbrain. With absolutely no mind for business or details for that matter, he took leave from the university and traveled the country visiting various corporate leaders trying to peddle his convenient invention. At best, he was laughed at and ridiculed. Finally, after more than two years on the road, he gave up and returned home. A much-changed man.
Flip Top Box Mania
About a year later Phillip Morris introduced the flip top box in several of their brand name cigarettes. It seems the husband of one of the receptionists he met in his travels filed for the patent, sold the idea to the tobacco conglomerate and received a huge pile of money up front and a tenth of a penny royalty on every box sold. Pretty nice.
Grandpa didn’t seem to notice that his idea had made it into the mainstream. After seeing grandpa’s invention on a cigarette commercial my grandmother began to call him “Flip,” usually in a mocking tone. The name stuck.
During his time on the road Flip visited Arizona. He told me of some interesting people he met there. One afternoon while waiting at the Greyhound bus station for a bus heading east he met some Indian fellows.
They gave him some dried green “mints.” He told me they were chewy and not very tasty but the guys said they would make his breath fresh and make him a wise man too. They turned out to be Peyote. Under the influence of the buttons grandpa wandered away from the bus station and met two men camping in the desert. He said that his senses were alive and his head was full of ideas. Geometric and mathematical equations were vividly swirling through the air before him. He told me that for once he was at peace with himself and with the world. He sat with the two men and told them of his journey trying to sell his invention.
They spoke of happiness and sadness, success and failure and the need for people to experience all feelings for a balanced life. After several days of long and deep discussions with the men Livingston said, “In life you can make yourself happy or you can make yourself miserable, each takes about the same amount of effort.”
Skid Row Aficionado
I later remember reading that very saying in one of the early books of the teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda. Could it be that old Flip was camping with a couple of wizards? With him anything is possible. Some years later Flip had taken to hanging out in dingy bars and drinking – not to excess necessarily, he just seemed to like the company. He told me this behavior was inspired by the movie “Barfly” with Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway.
He said that even though the movie was set in skid row and the characters were complete and total losers, he believed them to be two of the most honest people in the world. Talking about it would usually bring him to tears. I just thought it was the scatterbrain in him saying that stuff.
One day while drinking with some guys in a dive, Flip was chugging down a beer in an apparent contest with one of the other patrons. As he tilted his head backwards to down the beer, his stool slipped out from under him. He fell backwards and cracked his melon on a cast iron radiator. That’s how he ended up in the rest home with what the medical types called a traumatic brain injury. It was during this time that I often visited him. If he appeared to be spacey before the accident, he was really out there after it. In those days nurses would use whatever means possible to secure over-active patients.
Check My Girth!
There was a handrail attached to the wall around the corridor in the hospital and old Flip was usually sitting in a wheelchair with a towel or some kind of strap attached to the back of the chair and tied to the rail. He was famous for shouting out stuff like, “CHECK MY GIRTH, I’M A TROUT!” and “COME FOR ME NOW KIMO SABE” and GOD BLESS YOU, GEORGE BAILY!”
I remember visiting one day. Flip saw me approaching and in a sly, hushed tone he called me over. He squinted, looking from one side to the other and then shaded his mouth with a cupped palm and said, “Chet, that one,” pointing to the ward secretary, “something ain’t quite right with her.” In an attempt to humor him I said, “Good call, Flip. She’s simple minded, for sure.” He looked at me in wide-eyed amazement. “She is?” He placed a lot of emphasis on the word is, dragging it out. “Then what’s she doing working here, Chet?” By the way, my name isn’t Chet, but that’s what he’s been calling me since I was a small boy, only God knows why. I replied, “The doctors let her pretend to work here so they can keep an eye on her.”“Really,” he said. “That’s what they’re doing with me, you know.” But I’ve got news for you, Chet. Most things in this world and in others are rarely as they appear.”
Butterflies Are Free, Sort Of…
On another occasion I visited him while he sat alone in the hospital’s garden. He told me that a friend of his from the old days had visited earlier – a man named Mike McGinty. I knew this wasn’t so because a nurse had told me he hadn’t had visitors for the last few days. While we were talking he smiled and said, “There’s Mike now,” as he pointed to a rose bush. I looked in that direction but all I saw was a butterfly.
I told him that there was no one there. He pointed as he traced the path of the butterfly in flight and said, “Not many people know this Chet, but the souls of the recently departed sometimes inhabit the bodies of butterflies. Every so often they come back for short visits to see how family and friends are doing.” There wasn’t much I could say to that.
Me Crazy, Nah…
Shortly after his 87th birthday grandpa changed. He became completely lucid and asked to see his doctor. After a thorough examination, which included a battery of every physical and psychological test imaginable, he was deemed to be free from any effects of the brain injury or dementia. Three weeks later he was released into his own custody. Within a month he was in the Philippines courting a woman 60 years his junior. He wrote me a long letter saying that while he was in the rest home lawyers had been working to wrestle the flip top patent away from the interloper who had stolen it so many years before.
After much wrangling, the patent holder agreed to have Flip named as co-inventor. There was a large windfall that came with the settlement. Apparently, he’d been faking his craziness (though you couldn’t prove that by me) during his stay at the rest home and that it was his accident and eventual dependence on outside care that invoked sympathy in the jury, allowing him the patent infringement victory. Go figure, huh?
Really Old Dude
Today, at the age of 114 old Flip lives in the Philippines on San Pascual island with his new wife Estrillita and their four kids. (She thinks he’s 72) He’s as active as anyone I know. He raises Koi, orchids and butterflies. I guess that at his age, he might need a good supply of physical vehicles around in case any of his friends want to stop by and say hello before going to heaven. And it also appears he’s been right all this time. Most things in this world and in others are rarely as they appear.