The Search for Alaby Blivet
It’s 11:37 p.m. on Homecoming night, and Alaby Blivet is nowhere to be found.
Blivet, BS ’63—world traveler, political candidate, inventor, memoirist, ex-convict, adulterer, rare animal breeder, alien abductee, and self-proclaimed biscuit baron—is among the most notable (some would say notorious) alumni of the University of Oregon. Over the past 43 years, readers of this magazine and its predecessor, Old Oregon, have followed his life story in at least 121 class notes. As with most such submissions, editors accepted them at face value, rarely giving them the scrutiny articles receive. In hindsight, one may wonder if Blivet may have occasionally been less than forthright. So I jumped at the chance to get the real story.
At Blivet’s request, I’m sitting in Rennie’s Landing, a popular bar on the edge of campus, nursing a beer. Just as he insisted, I’m dressed from head to toe in green and yellow, wearing a hat that resembles the head of a duck. I did panic a little when I arrived and found six or seven other guys dressed identically, but luckily, I was the only one sitting alone at the bar, nonchalantly paging through the latest issue of OQ, precisely as Blivet had instructed. But now he’s seven minutes late.
No editor of this magazine has had the opportunity to interview Blivet. Sure, he showed up briefly at former editor Guy Maynard’s retirement party, but before anyone had a chance to ask a single question, Blivet, a baked goods magnate, made loud, disparaging remarks about the cake being served at the party. Advertising director Susi Thelen then took Blivet down to the parking lot “to teach him some manners.” No one on the OQ staff has ever seen him again. Until, maybe, now.
A couple of days earlier, I had received a voice mail message from an unfamiliar Utah phone number. The connection was bad, and the cover band playing in the background was worse, but a caller identifying himself as Alaby Blivet asked for a meeting during the time he and his wife, Sara Lee Cake, BS ’45, were on campus for Homecoming and Cake’s 70th class reunion. In the message he said, “We’re flying in on Phil’s plane. We should really get together.” (Note: another editor listened to the voice mail and questions this account. She thinks the message was, “We’re trying again on Bill’s stain.” We’ve agreed to disagree.)
I returned Blivet’s call and spoke to a person with an accent I couldn’t place. She answered every question with, “I don’t know.” So I asked her to have Blivet call me and hoped for the best. All during Homecoming, I hurried from event to event, hoping to encounter Blivet or Cake. Finally, while trundling across the bridge from Autzen after the football game, I got a text. “Can’t tlk now. Off to see a man about a Duk. Meet U @ 11:30 @ that bar near campus. Rennie’s? Taylor’s? Whatever. AB.”
There are, of course, bars adjacent to campus with both these names. So I headed for Rennie’s, and assigned our intern, Chloe Huckins, to Taylor’s. She asked for a physical description of Blivet, so I told her that all through the ’90s, after the publication of his memoir Stop and Smell the Flour, Blivet was trying to sell the movie rights to his life story. At various times, Warren Beatty, Kevin Costner, Pee-wee Herman, Tom Cruise, George Clooney, and Leonardo DiCaprio were shortlisted to star. “So maybe he looks like one of them,” I offered. Huckins rolled her eyes and asked, “Is Warren Beatty even still alive?”
A face-to-face interview with Blivet would be a major scoop for this magazine. After all, he has been alternately delighting and annoying fellow Ducks for more than four decades. His notes have appeared regularly in the magazine since his first contribution in the Autumn 1972 issue, and his updates were even the subject of a feature story in the March 25, 1987, issue of the Oregonian. Over the years, he has shared many entertaining misadventures, including his quest to find opals in Australia in the early ’80s and his failed attempt to open an ice cream stand in Baghdad during the lead-up to the US invasion of Iraq in the summer of 2004. He has sometimes drawn unwanted attention, such as when readers complained about the ubiquity of his notes during the late 1990s, or just two years ago, when some readers were offended by his flip remarks about the Kennedy assassination. I have no idea why he has chosen this moment to meet in person. Perhaps he has major news to share, a new cookie to promote, or a complaint about our use of the serial comma.
While I’m waiting at Rennie’s, Huckins keeps texting me selfies taken next to handsome young men in tight T-shirts from Taylor’s. “Could this be Alaby?” she texts. “How about this one?”
Eventually the bartender comes over. “You’re the guy from Oregon Quarterly, right?” He hands me a slip of paper. “Some old guy was in here earlier. He told me to give you this.” On the paper is scrawled the address of what turns out to be a rundown pizza joint called the Dough Spreader. I head over there and find two young men, each wide as a Honda Fit. One wears an apron stained with something red, but it’s definitely not tomato sauce. The other wears jeans and a T-shirt that reads, “This guy likes fistfights.” Too late, I wonder if Blivet can be trusted.
In the 1970s, Blivet was convicted of both draft evasion and consumer fraud, while Cake did time at the Utah Women’s Reformatory. Blivet has been the subject of investigations by the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, Ralph Nader, and a congressional subcommittee looking into the mortgage lending practices of a bank of which he was president. At least twice he claimed to be president of South American countries that have since vanished off the face of the earth. Which leaves me hoping a similar fate is not in store for me.
Worse still, Blivet has an unfortunate tendency to show up in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. In 1976, he was hospitalized after standing too close to an exploding Bicentennial cake. He was spotted celebrating with Lance Armstrong after the 2005 Tour de France, when Armstrong won the last of seven titles that would later be stripped during a doping scandal. In a 1988 class note—the only one that mentions a classmate by name—Blivet refutes a National Enquirer report that he and then-Governor Neil Goldschmidt, BA ’63, behaved inappropriately at the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority house during Homecoming. This note was published 16 years before Goldschmidt’s involvement in a sexual assault scandal.
So of all the pizza joints in the world, did I really want to walk into this one?
Before I can say a word, one of the guys behind the counter says the kitchen is closing and the other asks if I want something to go. So I quickly tell them about Alaby Blivet and the phone calls and the note and the mystery that I might never solve. I beg them for any clues they can share. Silently, they lead me to a table in the back.
“I’m afraid they just left,” says one. “He said something about ‘visiting Marcus in Nashville.’”
“Or maybe it was, ‘posting about Spartacus on Mashable.’ We’re not sure,” adds the other.
The table is littered with dirty dishes, including a plate piled high with abandoned pizza crusts. “That’s a lot of dough,” I say.
“That was Alaby’s plate,” says the guy in the apron. “He said he’s cutting down on carbs.”
Jonathan Graham is managing editor of this magazine and has a thing for biscuits.