Victory City


The Man From Victory City

By Bob McKay, Ohio Magazine, October 1985

He removes his hat, loosens the muffler around his neck and steps into the elevator, noting with approval that it is an Otis. Orville has a saying: "Life is more fun when you allow adventure to take place." The life of excitement does not include the man smoking a pipe in the confines of the car. It constitutes pollution. He gets out on the second floor, and Orville breathes a combination sigh of relief and snort of disapproval, not loud enough, of course, to be heard by anyone but himself. Adventure should be courted but not rudely declared.

Orville is perfectly aware of his appearance, of an overall plumb softness, of cleanness, his face closely shaven and scrubbed, with the sideburns cut well above the top of his ears. Two buttons of his jacket are fastened. His eyes are alert, mischievous. His nails are beautifully clipped. His one distinguishing feature is his nose, which is like Bob Hope's famous ski slope with a few extra moguls thrown in at the end. His pants are long enough to cover his white socks, which he continues to wear because they are cheap and practical, even though his friends make fun of them.

And his personality matches his fussy look: He is a modern-day Prufrock, distressed over every decision, eating the peach, wearing the trousers rolled. Analysis is his game; he thinks everything out until it is too late to act. But a certain amount of the look is affectation, a role he has created and enjoys and has grown into over the years. "I may look innocuous, but I'm very determined," Orville says.

He exits on the fourth floor. An oak banister winds grandly to the fifth floor on the right; to the left is the receptionist's desk. Behind her stretch four rows of large wooden bankers' desks, orderly, well-spaced rows; neat, well-organized desks. The fourth floor is unnaturally quiet, even though everyone appears to be busy. This is the trust department, quiet money, old money. Deep waters run still.

There is thick dark green carpet on the floor. The walls are dark green. The wood is mahogany. The receptionist's face is a blank. "Orville Simpson the Second," Orville says to the receptionist, hat in hand. "To see Mr. Dan Clark." The woman rings Mr. Clark. To her it is business as usual. To Orville Simpson the Second, it is "history in the making."

Mr. Dan Clark comes forward to meet him, and the two of them swim back through the thick warm pudding of the trust funds to his desk, which he says is messy but looks like all the rest. "I don't know how to begin," Orville says. "Maybe I should just give you this." Orville hands Mr. Clark three sheets of paper covered with single-spaced typing. Mr. Clark is a young man, new to the trust department and new to Mr. Simpson. He doesn't realize it yet, but Mr. Simpson has just handed him his life on those three pages. They contain a proposal to set up a foundation in the event of Mr. Simpson's demise, a foundation to insure the construction of Victory City, which is Orville Simpson the Second's contribution to history.

Mr. Clark spends a few minutes in confusion. Orville expected that, of course. People meet him, and they ask him: Well, what do you do? "I'm an independent operator," Orville always says. "I'm designing the city of the future." Very quietly, he savors the reactions he gets. He usually gets a good reaction.


"Yes. Victory City. Would you like to see some pictures?" He had given the former trust officer in charge of his estate, now retired, a book on Victory City. The man kept it for over a year, and then he read four pages and said he fell asleep over it. Orville didn't know what to make of that. With the new man he is attempting a more direct approach.

Mr. Clark scans a few lines and says: "What, uh, what is this?" He feels the vague unease of the radar operator who hears a blip on a clear day.

Orville smiles. He's happy. Mr. Clark is interested. He can see that. "It's my pet project," he says. "I've been thinking about it all my life. Well, since I was thirteen. I've spent the last twenty-two years putting it down on paper. Would you like to see some pictures?"

"Uh, sure," Mr. Clark says, as Orville knew he would.

Orville fishes for the pictures and lays them on the desk. Mr. Clark is trying to concentrate on the typed pages. He looks up. "What, uh, do you want me to do with this?" he says, with a friendly but nervous edge in his voice. Mr. Clark works at a desk that was there before he was and will be there long after he is gone.

Orville smiles back. "Read it," he says.

Mr. Clark continues reluctantly. He's already seen enough. Then he draws a breath carefully, as if the air were made up of one-hundred-dollar bills and he had to count them one by one. "I'll have to show this to some other people," he says. He laughs nervously. Orville joins him, laughing happily. "It sounds as if it's going to be unusual." Unusual is out of place on the fourth floor of the bank in the trust department pudding. Unusual doesn't below there. Unusual might be something like a tie that's too wide or a striped shirt. Rarely is there every anything unusual, and if there is, it's not there long.

Orville considers that a compliment. "Oh, it is," he says. Orville likes being unusual. And yet he looks to be the essence of normality, pure uncut white bread. He is a "conservative progressive Republican," also an agnostic, "in line with the scientists of the world." That means that Orville believes in God, whom he calls "the sum total of all causes."

Orville's cause is Victory City. It includes plans for self-contained living units, the largest of which is 102 stories high, 4 miles long and 3 miles wide. Its occupancy would be 2.5 million people, and it would cost well up into the trillions. Orville has models, drawings and ample cost analysis for the project. He has a floor plan that includes closets, beds, bathrooms, sofas, televisions, dressers, chairs and 6,500 WaterPik installations throughout.

Orville decides it might be helpful if he showed the young man some additional documentation. From a used envelope, he extracts two folded sheets of paper, each one a letter with pencil calculations on the back. Orville always uses both sides of a piece of paper. He detests waste. When there is a sale on orange crystals or tissue paper, he will stockpile the items to save money. He will gladly pick up a penny on the street. He saves the tins from TV dinners, hoards paper clips and rubber bands. He admits that he is tight. "I have been a miser. I'm stingy. I'm tight as — what's the tightest thing you can think of? That's how tight I am." Orville started planning for the future when he was six. "I had my piggy bank hidden in the basement, by a pipe, in a hole in the wall. One day I came home, and it was on my mother's bed. She said it had fallen and almost hit a plumber in the head. I had saved $25 in pennies, quite a sum for the Depression."

One of the pages he hands Mr. Clark is Orville's latest financial statement of net worth. It is on the back of a letter from a cable company informing the Occupant that his installation will be delayed. Orville's latest financial statement is already four days old; it is time to figure anew. The figures are broken up into stocks, municipal bonds and liquid assets in the form of his Cash Management Account. […]

He came from a family of millionaires, but that's not why he has money, not entirely. The Simpsons thought that their son, his father, married beneath him, and that caused friction. Orville's grandmother was friendly to him, his mother was not. His father was a distant figure. He invented a machine that sifted flour, baking powder, sand, gunpowder. Orville's mother died in 1948, and her family moved in. "Things got worse," Orville says. He and his father were not talking by that time. They communicated through notes. One day Orville got a note requesting that he please leave the house, for good. Another day he got a note informing him that he had been fired from the company. A third note let him know that he was virtually disinherited.

Orville did not lose heart. He still collected a small yearly stipend, and he set about looking for suitable employ. He tried everything — clerk, typist, salesman (low pressure sales, of course) — but nothing worked. Orville keeps incredibly detailed records of everything, and his work history is no exception. The jobs are listed on the left side of a notebook page, in pencil, with the wage in the middle and the outcome on the right. The column on the right reads: Fired, fired, fired, fired, laid off, fired, fired, quit (not profitable), fired, fired, fired. "I come from a family of rugged individuals," Orville says, adjusting the knot of his tie. "We're not employees. I can't function as an employee."

Orville pooled his money and bought a small apartment building, which became two, and so on, the way of MONOPOLY. He is now an investor in stocks and bonds. He favors blue chip stocks and municipal bonds to avoid tax. He lives off his earnings, which he recalculates every few days, but he says: "My policy is to use my income to promote Victory City." He likes to refer to the irony of using money gained from old-style cities, which he calls obsolete museums, to fuel his idea for the pattern of life in the future. "It's like mushrooms growing out of a decaying stump," he says.

The information concerning Mr. Simpson's estate is not news to Mr. Clark. A quick check of the computer enabled him to roughly assess Mr. Simpson's worth before he ever shook his hand. But the second page contains information not available to the bank's impressive computers. It is the revised calculation, in pencil, on the back of a letter to Occupant announcing a furniture sale, of Mr. Simpson's projected net worth in 300 years. Orville patiently explains that it's revised because a friend found an error in the last calculation, a tiny one that didn't really affect the final total, but it was something that had to be corrected. "All of this has to be continually revised and updated," Orville says. "Corrected, amended, modified; new things always come up."

"Yes," Mr. Clark says, nodding his head. He's staring at the penciled figures. […]

"Uh, yes," the trust officer says. He is a young man in a gray suit, the jacket unbuttoned and the vest buttoned, and his hair is prematurely silver and gray. Prematurely gray hair is not unusual in a banker; in fact it is desirable. Then nothing shows. It is like a blank face on a receptionist. But Mr. Clark licks his lips. He wants to start at the beginning. He tries to recall everything he knows about tact and delicacy. "What—?" he tries. "How—?" he begins again. Then he has it.

"What—motivated you—to do this?" the trust officer says, haltingly. Curiosity is getting the better of tact.

"Oh, it hasn't happened yet," Orville says. "It may not happen in my lifetime. I used to say it would begin in ten years, but I had to keep setting it back, revisions, additions, updates, so now I call it a floating ten years."

"No, I mean what gave you the idea of building a community like this?" the young trust officer says, determined at last to get at the bottom of it.

"I've had it since I was thirteen," Orville says, skirting the question and then turning the tables. "What do you think?"

"To tell you the truth, I don't know offhand if—" Mr. Clark says, floundering. "You might—I tell you what. I'll go up the ladder and run it by my supervisor. See what he says. In other words, I can't give you an answer right now."

Orville smiles. That's something; it's a start. "That would be all right," he says, and Mr. Clark smiles. The pressure is off.

"I have to say I've never seen anything like this," Mr. Clark says. Orville beams. "It's the most unusual request I've ever had." Orville, for the moment, belongs to Mr. Clark, who presses his advantage. They are like old friends now, sharing this much. "May I ask where you intend to build this? Here? Or—? Outside Columbus?"

"Oh, it wouldn't be associated with any existing city," Orville says, and he informs Mr. Clark that the cities he knows are merely the remnants of the semi-socialistic patchwork system, inefficient, ugly, brutal.

"So it would be—?"

"All over the world," Orville says, blushing a little at the grandness. "The land would have to be flat, of course, and on a solid rock strata. The availability of water. So many—"

"Of course," Mr. Clark says. He's retreated again, gone back to scanning the three typewritten pages. "When you relate the release of funds to the percentage of the world population, uh, right here, ah, I don't know how realistic, uh, practical, that is, practical a figure—"

"Well, I don't expect this to be a final draft," Orville says.

"An initial proposal, sort of, huh?"

"I don't know," Orville says. "A first step. What would you call it?"

Mr. Clark has not the slightest idea what to call it. "A—a—a—a—a letter. A letter."

"A statement?" Orville counters. Letter sounds ordinary."

"Well, a statement or a letter. Are you an architect?" Mr. Clark has, at long last, picked up the pictures on his desk. "An artist?"

"I'm an amateur architect. Amateur artist, amateur city planner," Orville says.

Mr. Clark is examining the drawing of the latest version of the Victory City cafeteria, although he doesn't know that. The natural history mosaics on the wall are almost too finely drawn to be seen. He squints at it. "This certainly is—" he says. "Intriguing—"

"You could come over and see the entire plan, a model I had built," Orville says eagerly. He loves to show his plans and drawings.

"OK," Mr. Clark says.

"How about tonight?"

"Well, I, uh, no, I can't tonight, I'm afraid."


Orville calls his apartment "Victory City Land" or "The Worldwide Headquarters of Victory City." It is a sparsely furnished, four-room space, decorated largely by Orville's wall-sized original drawings of Victory City.

If Mr. Clark goes to Orville's apartment, he will see an eyeful. Orville will pull up the wooden chair he keeps for visitors and take out the Victory City book. It contains all of his documentation, revised thinking, latest modifications and pictures: Of the cafeteria, an external view of the physical plant, Victory City by moonlight, a view from the park. The pictures are ornamented by drawings of flowers and leaves and clouds.

There are also pictures of people. "People are so hard to draw," Orville sighs. People were necessary, he felt, to humanize his presentation, make it more appealing. "I wanted to make it look like people lived there," Orville says. "This is Doris McDonald here. Her family calls her Pudge. They shouldn't, because she doesn't like it, but they ignore what I tell them. This is Doris' son. This is Shelley when she was a little girl, this was the son of an electrician who worked in one of my apartments. This is a copy of a picture of my uncle. This is a man on the telephone book cover."

One person is especially prominent, a woman. "That is Irmgard Kersten, whom I met in the Second World War," Orville says. "She's totally irrelevant, but I put her in there to enhance the drawings." On the next page is an old black and white snapshot of the girl. She is beautiful, wavy dark hair bobbed in the style of the Forties framing a face of youthful innocence and loveliness. "Welcome to Victory City Land," the print reads next to her. "The land that dreams are made of."

Orville was a private in a tank destroyers' battalion. He rode on a half-track that was towing a three-inch gun. One night his unit was camped high on an open field in Normandy, waiting for word from Patton to advance. Orville was a private, lowliest of the low, and he was Orville besides, so easily ignored. The corporals and the sergeants lit fires, and though Orville questioned the wisdom of this, given their location, he said nothing, the Army being the Army and Orville being Orville. He woke up that night with bombs bursting and shrapnel in his leg, and he had to be taken to England.

Six months later he rejoined his outfit and five months later met Irmgard. She was from the wealthiest family in a small farm town. Orville's unit occupied her house. Her father was a German major; one of her uncles was a general. When Orville returned after the war, he wrote her. They corresponded for two years. She sent him the pictures, of her, of her and her dog, the vicious one the Russians had shot. Orville wrote her a letter, explaining in detail his intention to come over. But he had waited too long. He received a reply from Dr. Richard Kannitch, who teaches at the University of Hamburg. Dr. Kannitch explained that he and Irmgard were married, "that my visit would not be necessary, is what he meant," Orville says, turning the page, indicating the industrial section and the truck loading docks.

All of this lies ahead of Mr. Clark, should he accept Orville's invitation. But even now he has seen enough to glimpse the magnitude of this pet project. "Uh, this is very hard to absorb in one sitting, I can see that," he says, evading a direct appointment to visit.

"Oh, yes," Orville says. "But I plan to be around for another ten or twenty years. I'm in no hurry. We have time to arrange things."

Mr. Clark has resumed his study of the letter-statement. "You have here that you intend to set up a charitable organization for profit." Orville is a great believer in capitalism. "I'm, um, unsure of—"

"Well, of course this will have to be modified and revised," Orville says. "Updated. We may need enabling legislation." Mr. Clark's silver and gray head jerks up. Orville's eyes sparkle. He giggles a little. "Maybe some of the money could be used for lobbying," he says.

"Yes, well," Mr. Clark says, "Let me make photocopies of this material, and I'll run it by some people here."

When he returns and hands Orville the originals, Orville wants to know: "Did I present this in a clear and businesslike way?"

"Oh, yes," says Mr. Clark. "It's very intriguing. It will involve some close study."

The two spend a few minutes discussing a mutual acquaintance, a trust officer in a rival institution, the wife of one of Orville's tennis partners. Orville plays doubles when his ailments permit. He is plagued by arthritis, bursitis, calcium deposits and the hernia he got from moving all the furniture and painting all the rooms of his apartments by himself. In addition, he had hay fever and is, by his own reckoning, "allergic to everything but myself." Mr. Clark and Orville shake hands by the Otis elevator, Orville arranges his muffler, sets his hat on his head and steps on. The doors close on history-in-the-making, and things return to usual warm-pudding on the fourth floor.

Orville drives to lunch in his 1984 Cadillac Sedan Seville. He has a notebook on the car, listing the original purchase price and every expense since, including gas, oil, tires, repair, wash and wax, to the penny. Orville was called in for a tax audit once, and he awed them. That's what Orville says about it, smiling: "I astounded them." The IRS complimented him on his record keeping. He bought his car "because it was the best dollar value and the back seat was large enough to carry the full-sized Victory City exhibits."

When he arrives at his lunch spot, he parks far away from the building in a secluded place, to minimize the chance of anyone hitting the car. He prefers to walk long distances to protect it, even with the arthritis. And he wouldn't dream of parking at a meter.

Orville regularly eats at a restaurant that features a Senior's Plate, which is slightly more than half a portion for slightly less than half the cost. That way, Orville figures, he can afford to eat there twice a day. The food is served cafeteria-style, which has had some influence on Orville's plans for Victory City, and it takes longer than thirty seconds, but Orville doesn't seem to mind.

A group of regulars eats there every day, "the Oldies," Orville calls them, including himself in the bunch. "They're all like from out of Dickens," he says. There's bold and booming Tom, the pilot; boring Herman, who's always talking about people he doesn't know, who are dead now; Marge, Eleanor, Bill, Ruth and Fred. They are seated around a large circular table, and they shift to make room for Orville. Herman is talking about someone who died in 1956, but no one is listening to him. Bill is going to fly down to Florida in a week and he wants to avoid the Epcot Center, if at all possible.

"You'll be going down there, won't you?" Eleanor asks Orville. Naturally, everyone at the table knows all about Victory City.

"I was there already," he says. Orville never quits on Victory City. Every day he claims some new development, a modification, an update, maybe something he remembers from a dream. "Suppose," he says, "that Victory City is just what it takes to tip the balance in favor of the human race surviving over its collapse?" When asked about his interests, Orville will list — along with tennis and Oriental rugs — business, science, industry and trying to keep the human race going. That always gets a reaction. "It's a gargantuan task," he will say, smiling. "I do what I can." This is a man who carries a toothbrush with him in a pocket when he goes to the dentist, so he can stop in a building a block away and use the washroom to make sure his teeth are freshly cleaned. He tells the others briefly about his visit to the trust department. "I dropped the bombshell," he says.

Fred sits down and starts right in on his bad jokes. Tom tells bawdy jokes, even when the ladies are present, but Fred tells bad jokes. Fred looks a little like Scratch in The Devil and Daniel Webster, and you can't say anything around Fred but that he'll take it and twist it around into some kind of bad joke. "This water is all right," he says, "Except that it's all wet." Everyone at the table looks around. Fred gets a couple of groans, and he likes that. A little life in the old bunch. He points at Ruth's plate and says: "I was going to order that, but I thought it looked fishy." He looks across the table. "I can see Tom's hamming it up again." No one is groaning now, but he can feel them straining to ignore him, which is something.

"I'm Swedish, you know," Fred says. "That's why she calls me Sugar."

"I'm tired," Ruth says. Ruth is married to Fred.

"She's tired. I'm Fred," Fred says.

"What a pair," Tom says.

"Get us some more water, will you, Fred?" Ruth says, and Fred gets up. "Why did the dog cross the road?" he says as he goes, leaving everyone in suspense.

"Out of this world," Ruth says, shaking her head.

"Well," Orville says, smiling, attracting all eyes. Orville normally doesn't say much, except about Victory City. "Isn't everybody?"

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