One Handshake Away … from the Dark Side

I was delighted when Ann told me that her next theme for BigLittleMeals would be about the six degrees of separation –  aka the Six Handshakes Rule. This is the notion that all people are six, or fewer, social connections away from each other.

At last! She chose a theme that is inherently sociological and in my bailiwick. So when Ann challenged her readers to “try outdo someone with a game of I’m one handshake away from…” I couldn’t wait to see who she would list.

I confess that her caste of characters is daunting. Who could top one-handshake-removed heavy hitters like Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, Julia Child, Maya Rudolph, Natasha Lyonne, and (gasp) Bob Dylan?

Inspiration for Ann’s list?

Daunting though her list may be, I was struck by the fact that she emphasized celebrities whom we all can admire and respect. But this Pollyanna-ish selection process may be just a sugar-coating that obscures the darker “celebrities” lurking in her social network. Just ask her about Stephanie Clifford (aka “Stormy”) who puts Ann just one handshake from you-know-who!

After all, if the handshake rule is valid, then our lists should also include those “celebrities” who may not warrant our respect and admiration and indeed may repulse us. So, in the spirit of scientific objectivity, I take up Ann’s challenge and offer an un-Pollyanna-ish list of my top three one-hand-shake-away rogues.

First on my dark side list is Tom Horn. Here is a brief summary of his resume from Wikipedia:
Thomas Horn Jr. (November 21, 1860 – November 20, 1903) was an American scout, cowboy, soldier, range detective, and Pinkerton agent in the 19th-century and early 20th-century American Old West. Believed to have committed 17 killings as a hired gunman throughout the West, Horn was convicted in 1902 of the murder of 14-year-old Willie Nickell near Iron Mountain, Wyoming.Horn was executed by hanging in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Tom Horn braiding a horsehair rope.
Steve McQueen’s last movie.

Tom Horn earns his one handshake status through Gordon, an old friend of Ann’s family. Gordon, as a child got to know Horn when the gunman worked on Gordon’s parents’ ranch in Wyoming, purportedly hiding out from the law. As a Christmas gift Gordon gave us the below-pictured horsehair bridle which Horn made while hanging low (pun unintentional) on that ranch (Gordon’s gift tag is pictured below that).

Our horsehair horse bridle made by Tom Horn.
Gift card that came with the bridle.

The second one-handshake-away rogue on my list is David Duke. Here’s the scoop on him:

David Ernest Duke is an American white supremacist, far-right politician, convicted felon, and former grand wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. From 1989 to 1992, he was a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives. …The Anti-Defamation League has described Duke as “perhaps America’s most well-known racist and anti-Semite”.

David Duke decked out in his KKK outfit.

Other than that, what’s not to like about him? My one-handshake link is from colleagues at LSU who had him in their courses (he was a political science undergrad major I believe). Evidently, he was a well-known campus figure just prior to when I arrived. According to one source,He was often seen around campus in a Nazi uniform, and each week, he delivered impassioned speeches on racial superiority in LSU’s Free Speech Alley“.

David Duke working the crowd as a politician.

When Duke made a run for governor of Louisiana as a Republican in 1991, along with many other folks I volunteered to drive Democrat voters to the polls in Baton Rouge. He was running against three-time former governor Edwin Edwards who had his own questionable background. But Edward’s baggage was less odious than Duke’s. Bumper stickers and yard signs for Edwards popped up with the slogan “Vote for the Crook – It’s Important.” My favorite slogan was “vote for the lizard, not the wizard.”

Edwin Edwards after winning the Gubernatorial election.
Slogan supporting Edwin Edwards in the 1991 governor’s race.

I should add that in 2002 Edwin Edwards began serving a 10-year sentence for extorting payoffs to influence the awarding of state riverboat casino licenses. Still, it was better to have had the “lizard” than the “wizard” in office. Did I mention that I am one handshake from the lizard? Consider Edwards as lagniappe on my list.

My third dark sider, Peter Deseran, is not only one handshake away, but he was my great uncle (my father’s mother’s brother). He sponsored my father’s family when they immigrated to the U.S. from Belgium in 1920. Peter died in 1944 when I was just a year old, so I never had the pleasure of meeting him.

My parents said very little about him, but there was always the insinuation that Peter had done something bad in his life. I didn’t know just how bad until about 10 years ago when I inadvertently uncovered the family’s dark secret while doing an online search on the Deseran name (there are very few Deserans out there in cyberspace).

The below headlines pretty much tell the story. In 1931, in a fit of anger, he picked up a shotgun and shot his wife of 39 years and 21 year old daughter. The wife, Victoria, died the next day; his daughter, Mildred, survived. He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 8 to 10 years, which he served in San Quentin.

In all of my online searches I had never been able to find a photo of Peter. Then, just a couple of months ago our daughter Sara heard from a woman named Michelle who saw Sara’s Tacolicious cookbook and realized that she and Sara shared the same surname. Long story short, Michelle is the great granddaughter of Peter and Victoria. She sent us the haunting photo from around 1899 of Peter, Victoria, and their son William (Michelle’s grandfather) on a tandem bike.

Peter, his wife Victoria, and their son, William, circa 1899 (photo courtesy of Michele, great granddaughter of Peter and Victoria)

Although the photo of Sara and me (below) may not be haunting, there is an eerie similarity to how Peter and I are posed (although I think my outfit is much snappier than Peter’s and the sucker in my mouth adds some class).

Sara and I circa 1972 – Ann was not into bicycles

Of course my one-handshake social network is not populated only with villains and rogues. There are many upstanding and noteworthy folks connected to me through one handshake. But you have to admit that going to the dark side has its entertainment value.

Wouldn’t it be more fun to play my version of Ann’s game of I’m one handshake away from… by stipulating that you have to draw from the dark side? Any takers?

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