Today’s Defendant: Dean Lesher, 1902-1993
Statement of the Grand Inquisitor: We have said that most humans are not worthy of damnation. The life of Dean Lesher is a dramatic demonstration that even outsized American lives leave nothing worthy of Hell, that a hundred tons of compost is still only compost, and that the Greatest Generation was a convention of smug, dull-witted bores.
Dean Lesher exists now only as a name on various public buildings in the suburbs of the Bay Area. He is one of those people things are named after.
Lesher began in the approved manner, as a manic hick of the sort Americans are required to admire. He dabbled in sports, law and found a way to bother large numbers of people by interfering in local newspapers. Moving to California with the WW II, he grasped the simple rules of success in that boom state: schmoozing and real estate; and combined these by starting a newspaper, the Contra Costa Times, which practiced news by, for and of the suburban dormitories on the hot side of the hills. Lesher was among the first to see the suburban newspaper as a sedative-laced sales brochure rather than a news source, and with this business model he conquered. He grew with the burbs and became what passed for a great figure in that Lilliputian landscape, and championed fellow schmoozers who had benefited from California’s boom, notably Ronald Reagan, who gave him an award. By this time he was extremely rich, and used his money to promote the deification of wealth. When his first wife dropped away like a spent booster rocket, he married a cocktail waitress named Margaret who settled into the Lesher fortune and soon began to indulge in epiphanies. One such epiphany informed her that the Deity wanted her to fly to Manila to shore up the crumbling dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Margaret Lesher followed the divine bidding, and published a series of hagiographic accounts of Saint Marcos, which were published in her husband’s newspaper a few weeks before Marcos was driven from office.
Around this time, Dean Lesher finally died. No one noticed; he was an absurdly old man and had become disgustingly ugly, resembling in his latter years a hybrid of J. Edgar Hoover and a Cane Toad. The momentum of his fatuous riches had already passed to Margaret, who did her job in the traditional manner by selling the Lesher “empire” for $360 million, which in those pre-W. days was actually a substantial sum. Margaret proceeded to cement the Lesher slide into slimy slapstick quite literally, by succumbing to a fatal infatuation for Collin “T. C.” Thorstenson, a professional rodeo cowboy whose schtick was riding a tame buffalo.
Six months after T. C. accepted the sixty-five year old Margaret’s offer of marriage, her body was found at the bottom of an artificial lake in Arizona. T. C. explained that his beloved bride, twenty years his senior, had unwisely chosen to take a solo night swim after a night of heavy drinking. The local authorities, after considerable squinting and scratching of beltlines, declined to press charges. T. C. is now happily remarried to a much younger Margaret of his own, riding his buffalo at various Mormon-centric “family” events throughout the West, and is on record as saying that he loved Margaret very much.
And somewhere, in a suburban cemetery, or crematorium, or columbarium, or other provincial euphemistic corpse dump, lies the body, or the ashes, or the legal remains of Dean Lesher, go-getter, donor of gymnasia, Hearst of Soporifia. He is not damned, he is simply dead. A thousand tons of compost is simply compost; it will not combust to soul though it be piled higher than Attila’s hecatomb.
The life of Dean Lesher may serve as an illustration of the reason American Protestants affect to fear Hell and Judgment so much: because they know they are not worthy of Hell, and that no self-respecting deity will so much as touch the compost they leave behind them. For these people, for the vast majority of humans, Hell is a vain fantasy. Hell must be earned.
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