local_cafe A Magic Mouse, A Stringless Yo-Yo, and Job

by Stefene Russell

Published in Issue No. 10 ~ January, 1998

I can’t deny my life. But I don’t regret it. And I’m aware that I’ve created a life that is a little bit stranger than fiction.

– Job Matusow

The first time I met Job Matusow was on the set of “Touched By an Angel.” I’d expected an old bald man with a Mother Teresa morphology, a guy with Santa Claus hands and a voice like the Taos hum. But the guy who poked his head out of the trailer door marked “Old Fisherman, No. 2,” was not like that at all.

This is what I knew about Job: that he’d brought down the McCarthy regime single-handedly by working as a double agent for both the Communist Party and the CIA; that he’d been in Lewisburg prison for lying to Congress; that they’d stuck him in a cell next to Wilhelm Reich’s, and had been with Reich the night of his death. I knew Job lived in Glenwood, Utah, managing the local public access TV channel, and producing his own television program, “Magic Mouse Magazine,” a kid’s show about peace, which had once featured a guest appearance by the Dalai Lama. I also knew he ran the “Ghandi Peace Centre,” which sponsored all sorts of projects dedicated to pacifism. For example: he made bells out of melted-down bullets and old munitions shells, combining the mixture with tin cans and other metals to get different tones (his “recipes for bells”). I also knew he had a little dog named Honey, who would jump into his shirt when he whistled to her.

But this Job who poked his fuzzy head out of a trailer didn’t seem to fit all that, although I couldn’t put my finger on why. My lucidity was definitely clouded by the fact that I’d already decided he was a psychedelic Ghandi. As such, he just couldn’t be leering at me, standing there in my shorty-shorts with a forty-pound tape recorder and a shotgun mike. He was just a nice old man, and whatever I was interpreting as non-saintly behavior was due to the watusi-ing specters of my own suspicious little brain.

So when he told me an hour later that I should get my things and ride with him down to Glenwood and spend the weekend at his house, “really getting a sense of the work we do at the Centre,” I got a greenish hiccup of dread in my stomach. I tried to ignore it, write it off as paranoia. After all, he’d just charmed me with stories of Magic Mouse and his plans to take corn to the Hopi reservation. He told me he’d been too broke to buy anything until he’d got down on his knees to pray, and heard the phone ring seconds later. It was the casting director of “Touched By An Angel,” calling to tell him he’d just scored the part of “Old Fisherman No. 2” – a gig which would just about pay for that corn.

“What? What in the hell do you think you’re doing? You’ve know this guy for an hour!” my one-and-only yelled when I told him I was going to truck down to Glenwood in Job’s car.

“Uh, he’s a nice old man,” I said.

“No he’s not,” said my one-and-only. “He’s a dirty old man.”

“But he’s over seventy years old,” I said.

“Yeah. That’s exactly what I mean.”

“But he’s Alex’s friend. Alex wouldn’t have a dirty old man as a friend.”

(I later called Alex and found out that he’d only known Job for about a month, and couldn’t make any claims as to the purity of his motives.)

I was supposed to rendezvous with Job in the park at 7 pm, after he’d finished his “Old Fisherman No. 2,” scenes. Instead, I blew him off. I went to Fred Myer’s and bought lamb chops and ingredients for mashed potatoes and forgot about the whole thing. Until, that is, I discovered my tape recorder was broken and that my entire interview with him was recorded on 75 rpm’s and sounded as if magic mice had narrated it.

I made plans to drive to Glenwood with Alex and do the whole interview over again.

Two months later, I woke up early on a Sunday and borrowed my roommate’s car, a Mercury with a persnickety, organic disposition, and rattled down to Glenwood. It was a good five-hour trip, but ended up taking five and a half because we had to stop to ask for directions at the local Catholic Church.

“Just turn right at the Kentucky Fried Chicken in Richfield and keep going straight,” a Sunday-School teacher told us.

“I waited for two hours for you after we finished shooting that day,” was the first thing Job said to me. “You never showed up. Do you know how late it was when I finally made it back here?” He stood out in front of his small yellow house with his five small dogs, including “Honey,” who I discovered was actually named “Mabel Muldoon.” His next move was suggesting an excursion to the local hot springs, which became a suggestion for a skinny-dipping excursion after I told him I’d forgotten to bring my swimming suit. I avoided this little jaunt by passive-aggressively ignoring his suggestions and pulling a newly purchased tape recorder out of my pocket and making a new suggestion: that we get down to brass tacks. I followed him around back, where I spied a ratty tipi and a white school bus, which he told me was the SCAT (Sevier County Access Television) Studios.

“Our motto is, ‘It’s not Hollywood, it’s Glenwood,” Job said as he led Alex and I onto the bus. Stepping over wild leviathan government surplus TV equipment and plastic chairs, we sorted ourselves out. I turned on my tape recorder.

“I lost the whole interview,” I told him. “We have to start from scratch.”

“I’ve got a better idea,” he said. “I’ll show you the stringless yo-yo. It’s an invention of mine. It’s also a film I made.”

If you’ve ever seen those little doohickeys they called “Wheel-O’s,” that were very popular during the seventies, you’ve seen Job’s stringless yo-yo. It’s a little metal track that spins a bobbin back and forth in perpetual motion. It’s a lot like Job – a novelty-shop miracle that’s both sweet and perplexing. Sometimes very perplexing. Ditto for the film, which shows Job going head-to-head with McCarthy in Congressional hearings, taunting him, finally pulling out the stringless yo-yo during the middle of it all. Incidentally, McCarthy didn’t find it very amusing. But Job is a coyote; in this antique news footage, you see him doing everything he can to keep from laughing in the face of members of the Un-American Activities Committee.

“I was just a kid from the Bronx,” he explained to me. “I grew up running numbers. All I knew was the street. I was hanging out in Greenwich Village with all the bohemians, and so I got involved with the Communist Party. Couldn’t stay, though, because I couldn’t be a part of an organization that forbids me to worship my God. So when these CIA guys showed up and offered me a big house and big bucks to spy on labor unions and Communists and finger people, of course I did it. When you grow up in the street like I did, the only moral system you’ve got is based on your own survival.”

Part of that survival was his baptism into the Mormon Church more than forty years ago. Job had the idea that he’d move to a small town in Utah and marry a nice Mormon wife. In 1992, he got the small town in Utah part, but it’s been a wily and lengthy road getting there. It’s not so bad, though; Job’s bishop knows he was born a Jew, and allows him to wear his yarmulke and prayer shawl into the local wardhouse, especially on the anniversary of Job’s mother’s death, when Job recites the Kaddish.

The first thing that stymied Job on his dream of Utah was the more than 100 days he spent fingering 233 people as commies. After leaving Washington, Job wrote a book about the whole experience, “False Witness,” in which he admitted to making those accusations up, since the CIA was paying him “per pinko.” As result, Congress saw fit to send him to Lewisburg Prison for perjury, where Job celled next to Wilhelm Reich and became captain of the tennis team.

“Magic Mouse was born in Lewisburg,” Job told me. “On Christmas morning, 1956, my first Christmas in prison. On Christmas Eve, someone stole the associate warden’s tree from in front of his house. By some miracle, the tree ended up inside the walls of the pen, and by prisoner count time on Christmas morning, the tree had been cut into 1200 pieces, and every man doing time got a piece of the warden’s tree.

“When the warden sent his snitches out to find out how his tree got inside the wall, he was told a magic mouse had brought it in.”

So Job adapted Magic Mouse, using it first as the name of a theater company and then as the title of his TV show. It’s a euphemism for the Holy Ghost, and Mouse is absentee host of “Magic Mouse Magazine.”

“Mouse is so small as to never to be seen, and no one can tell if Mouse is a boy or a girl,” Job explained. And then he popped a tape into the VCR so we could watch a couple of the episodes. It ran the gamut from keen-eyed kids singing the Tibetan mantra, “Om Mani Padre Hum,” to “Doggie Machine,” which is Job following his dogs around the yard with a camcorder. The finale was a video montage of Job dressed up as Cockyboo the Clown (his Magic Mouse Magazine character), superimposed over a fish tank while a song about a truck driver crashing his rig and going to heaven played in the background.

“Cockyboo is a homeless, toothless clown,” Job told me as I watched the tape. “I take out my dentures when I play him, and dress in clothes that suggest wealth, but are shabby because they’re so old. After I’d created Cockyboo, someone told me it was slang for ‘shit.’ And then I realized that SCAT is slang for shit, too,” he cackled. He then informed me that I needed a copy of “The Stringless Yo-Yo,” video tape and his two audio tapes, “Peace Bells,” and “Magic Mouse of Angelville,” to do my story properly, and that I could have them for a generous “love offering.”

I ended up giving him seventy bucks.

After showing me some of the other programming he runs on SCAT, which included light-fantastic computer graphics combined with new-age music that the mayor of Glenwood reported he found “very relaxing in the evening,” Job asked me about photos. It was then I realized I’d forgotten to bring a camera. Job got a little testy and then offered a solution.

“I’ll call Mike,” he said. “You should meet Mike anyway. He was the one that put together all this studio equipment together for me.”
Mike is a gentle, balding man, an idiot savant who is an electronics and photography genius. He is also Job’s best friend. While we waited for Mike to come over, I asked Job about what Wilhelm Reich was like. Job said he wasn’t really a hipster when he was in prison, and just thought of Reich as the guy who was in the clink for contempt of Court.

“He’d stand out in the prison yard, looking directly into the sun, and say, ‘They’re coming, can’t you see them, they’re coming..’ To the cons, he was the sex box man or the flying saucer man. The night he died, he said his friends were coming for him. And they did.”

After Mike arrived, Job introduced us to three homeless hitchhikers he’d picked up off the highway while he was tooling around in his sedan. Mike took their pictures standing next to Job, and then one of the homeless guys took a photo of Mike and Job together, and then they all went back into the tipi.

“I had a free chiropractic clinic and vegetarian café for the homeless when I lived in Arizona. It was the project of my wife Emily and I. Emily was a minister – she passed away a few years ago. There were a bunch of upscale boutiques around the café, and they all complained about us, saying the transients were hassling people, panhandling and making a nuisance of themselves, when in reality it was all about money and ‘there goes the neighborhood.'”

Job ran “Hooker Haven,” when he still lived in New York, an underground railway for prostitutes fleeing their pimps. He also established various “villages,” for the homeless, so they wouldn’t have to be subjected to the humiliation that the non-profit sector doles out to those who are down on their luck. With a name like Job, you trust that he knows what it’s like to suffer.

“I was born Harvey Marshall Matusow,” Job said, cradling Mabel in his shirt and jostling her around a little, “but the day I found out I was going to prison, I lost my job, my wife left me – and I sat down on the bed and re-named myself Job.”

After the photo shoot, Job suggested we all go out to dinner, so everyone, including Mike, piled into Job’s car and we drove to the local JB’s, where Job ordered a veggie burger before falling into a heated discussion about the Dalai Lama with Alex.

“I think he’s a huckster,” Alex said. “I don’t buy his act.”

Job asserted that the Dalai Lama was really God, and Alex replied that no, he was a big con-artist. This went on for a nearly thirty minutes, whereupon the bill came and Job informed us that neither he nor Mike had any money. As we drove back to Job’s house to pick up the Merc (so that Alex and I could go home), Job told us how he’d talked the Dalai Lama into making an appearance on Magic Mouse Magazine: he’d staked him out when he gave a talk at the Tucson Holiday Inn. Dressing up as Cockyboo the Clown, he then waited outside the men’s room until the Dalai Lama had to pee. When His Holiness exited the facilities, Job jumped out in front of him.

“He doubled over laughing,” Job said, pulling up the sleeves of his scratchy little cardigan sweater, “and pointed at my big red nose and made this nose-honking motion and laughed some more. After that, it was no problem asking him to come on the show.”

Job tried to talk Alex and I into staying the night, which neither of us really wanted to do. I had to get the car back, for one, which almost didn’t happen; it broke down on the side of the road and we had to get a jump-start from a kid in a monster truck. The last time I talked to Job, I was nearly asleep. He rang me up on the phone.

“Hi, dear,” said a fuzzy-wuzzy, but not altogether trustworthy voice on the other end of the line. Job never says “hello.” It’s a Calvinist thing – it means, “Well greetings, because you’re probably going to hell.” At least that’s what Job tells me, and insists I use “hi,” when talking to him. Or at least any other salutation other than “hello.”

“This is Job. Remember me?” What he meant, of course was, “How could you forget me, sweetheart?”

“Uh, yeah,” I mumbled into the phone, and sat up in bed, accidentally knocking my cat onto the floor.

“I was just praying, and God suggested this wonderful idea to me. I’m writing my autobiography, you know, and He suggested that we work on it together. As a matter of fact, I thought of the perfect job for you. You can track down all of my ex-wives and interview them. It’d be great. I know they don’t all have good things to say about me, and that way, the book will be balanced. You know, the good, bad and the ugly. The readers will get the whole picture. I want you to interview them, and they can really let me have it.”

I am wishy-washy. I told Job yes. I probably don’t need to tell you that I flaked out on him again.

“That sounds like a terrific idea,” I said to him, leaning on one elbow and feeling a scary little gargoyle burp in my gut again. “Yeah, that’s a great thing. Sure, sure.”

“Well, I can tell that you’re probably tired,” he said. “Get some sleep, dear, and God bless.” And that’s the last thing he said to me, at least as of this writing.

Job himself says, “I have been horrid and weird and have probably made more enemies than friends.” He says, “People never forget it when you do something bad. You spend the rest of your life making up for it.” He says, “One factor that runs through everything I’ve done was service to others.” It is all true. And to tell you the truth, I think this makes Job more admirable than any pallid saint put to death with stilettos at the hands of his disciples, or any suffering martyr with their eyeballs rolling around on a pewter plate. Like the first Job said to God, “For truly my words are not false; one who is perfect in knowledge is with you.” And I say to you, Job, verily, verily – God Bless.

Read Job’s autobiography in progress

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Stefene Russell is a writer and editor who lives in the Midwest. She also plays in a samba/world percussion band, and still uses a manual typewriter from time to time, including as a percussion instrument.