Sasha and Sperry Are Gone

Sasha Davidson was a freelance art director who lived with his partner, writer Ralph Sperry, on Langdon Steet, just off Islington. Sperry had been ill with cancer for a long time and died a year ago on April 6th, 2007. Sasha, who also lost his father this past winter, died suddenly of the flu on March 18th. They had been minor characters around Portsmouth since the late 1970s at least and I’d guess they were about 60 or 65 years old when they died.

The two of them were avid collectors of art and antiques and oddites, and their taste in food and drink was just as exotic. Every visit or dinner made you feel like you had washed up at some time-passed-by sahib’s club in a forgotten third world colonial outpost. They’d traveled to Brazil and the Seychelles (and probably much more that I don’t know of), and Sasha had a business renting Jamaican vacation properties. Their home and menus and conversations were peppered with tidbits from far-away places. Their house was dark and mysterious, dense with exotic furniture, huge potted ferns blocking half the light, Art Nouveau and Deco accessories at every turn. Big original Pearlstein nudes on the walls. A full set of Manhattan glass, ashtrays from the Normandy, some bizarre little dolls from who knows where (but I wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen pins sticking out of them). A pristine set of those cocktail tumblers whose female figures lost their clothes when filled with liquid. They had hundreds of glass Xmas ornaments — three Xmas trees’ worth — that they would proudly show off each holiday season. Their backyard garden was just as beautifully exotic: a small stone terrace surrounded by dozens of rare hosta, all closed off from the outside world by towering dense greenery.

I met Sasha shortly after I moved here in 1980. At the time I was at 159 Middle with several housemates, (and Sasha and Sperry, as it turned out, lived across the street then). Sasha and Dan Fickett had an ad agency, The Penhallow Group, at the corner of Penhallow and Daniel Streets. Tom Walsh and some others worked there, too, and were maybe partners, I don’t recall. Anyway, I walked in, a totally naive kid with a shiny new portfolio. They were nice enough to look it over, and they all were generous with advice and encouragement for years afterward.

One of my earlier pen and ink drawings was of their building in fact. Here it is. (I included this one in the 1987 Portsmouth History Calendar.)

In the late 1970s, Sasha had helped Marjan Frank design the Cafe Petronella, which became a hangout for the oh-so-hip in the early 1980s. Here is a drawing I did of that place, and it was in the same calendar, too.

Cafe Petronella, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Sperry became locally minorly famous for his 1981 science fiction novel Status Quotient: The Carrier, and worked for years at Winebaum’s News. He wrote columns for local papers, and made a habit of collecting all sorts of items he found on the sidewalks while walking around town.

I can’t say that I knew them well, but we kept in touch every few months with a phone call or visit. I’m not really the right guy to write a proper history of those two — they have friends who were closer and knew them better — but they were an important part of my life and they gave this town some character and I’m sorry they are gone.

7 thoughts on “Sasha and Sperry Are Gone

  1. I stumbled onto your Web site and was fascinated to read about Ralph Sperry … I didn’t recognize the name until you mentioned “Status Quotient”. I’d picked that book up on a sale table once and have always been both puzzled and fascinated by it, perhaps because there is a uncertainty as to just what is happening, just what is real and whether the main character is hallucinating.

  2. Good question. I read at least some of that book about, I don’t know, 20-25 years ago, and don’t now recall too much about it. Except that not much was happening, and I don’t recall if I finished it. I am under the impression that Sperry received some minor fame or awards for it. But then again, the only person I ever discussed it with was Sperry, so I don’t have unbiased knowledge.
    –Bill Paarlberg

  3. Wow…your tribute to Sasha really brings back so many memories of that time in Portsmouth! Scott Jillson probably knows a lot about Sasha. What happened to Dan Fickett? I’ll bet Gene Brown & Buddy Haller from the Blue Strawbery know something about him too. Marguerite
    ps. Love all your illustrations….beautiful!

  4. Hi Marguerite, nice to hear from you. Thank you so much for your praise, it means a lot to me. I have heard from several people as a result of this post about Sasha and Sperry. Dan Fickett was one of them, and he is doing well in Florida. All the best to Pontine.

  5. WOW what a trip back in time… I came out of my closet in a big way in 1976, when I worked as a waiter at the HoJos at the circle. Tommy Walsh was another waiter. I even found a photo of him recently, from a party I had. I went to the Seaport Club around the corner from the ad agency. I remember Sasha and Dan Fickett, I name that I hadn’t thought of but recognized instantly. To my naive 18 year old eyes, they were all larger-than-life characters. (An ad agency, wow!) I can still remember seeing Tommy dance the hustle, the first time I saw it. Great times…. Wish I could tell them how well this dumb hick kid turned out… a published writer and now a film actor. They wouldn’t believe it. I remember them all like old aunties in a Truman Capote story!

  6. BILL GLAD TO SEE THAT YOU ARE STILL AROUND. I KNEW A GUY WHO WORKED AT THE RIVERSIDE AS A BOUNCER AND STOCK PERSON. HE WAS ONE OF THE BAD BOYS OF PORTSMOUTH AT THAT TIME. HE TALKED TO ME ABOUT YOU WHEN WE FIRST MET. HE SAID THAT YOU WERE A VERY TALENTED PERSON. HE LAUGHED ABOUT THE TIME HE SNUCK INTO THE WINDOW AT YOUR PLACE IN THE BIG HOUSE. HE WAS ALWAYS IN FIGHTS AND SUCH THINGS BUTT HE SAID YOU ALWAYS JUST SMILED AND WENT BACK TO YOUR DRINK. YOU TAKE CARE.MY FRIEND WILL BE MISSED. THANKS

  7. Do you view this post still? I am Sasha’s niece, as my biological brother (Sasha’s nephew) and I were adopted 12 years ago. I was looking for additional information in regards to my family; were you a very close friend of his? I remember growing up and visiting Uncle Sasha in Portsmouth, including very memorable Christmas’s at his house with Sperry. We would always have a competition on “finding the pickle” on the Christmas tree where the winner would win a glass canister of M&M’s.

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