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Remaking Mr. Jones : Robert Shushan Had a Theory: Changing the Appearance of the Developmentally Disabled Could Transform Their Lives. And With James Jones, Who Was Ridiculed as 'the Wolfman,' He Put His Theory to the Test.

October 06, 1991|ANNE C. ROARK | Anne C. Roark is a a Times staff writer who reports on science and medicine.

"It's like promising to give a little kid a bike," Roman says wearily. "You can't tell them that something more important came up. You have to do what you said you would do."

ORDINARILY, BROWN WEARS KNIT SHIRTS AND CASUAL PANTS TO THE OFFICE. But today is April 16, and he has on a coat and tie. "Look at him in that Richard Gere suit," jokes one of his colleagues.

Brown is in no mood for joking. It's the biggest day of Jones' life and the young man is late. Brown has begun to wonder whether Jones will show up at all. "He's very self-destructive sometimes. Very self-destructive," Brown mutters half to himself.

"We've got the appointment with Dr. Roman at 10. Then we've got to go to the tailor's. (The sleeves of Jones' dress shirt have shrunk in the wash, and Shushan wants to have the coat sleeves altered to match.)

"Then, we go to the hairdresser's," Brown continues. "In the afternoon, we have to go by Dr. Shuken's. And then we have to be back here at 3 or 4 for a party."

A two-man video crew hired by Shushan will follow along, documenting the final stages of the transformation.

At last, Jones saunters in. He is wearing a light-blue shirt and a matching tie. Hanging over the tie is a huge silver cross, and showing through the back of the shirt is a brightly colored T-shirt with a big red heart on it. "I Love Jesus," it proclaims.

"Are you ready for today?" Brown asks. "This is a big day in your life, Jaime."

Jones grins. "I'm ready."

"But what about your future, James? What would you like to do when this is all over?"

"Get my own place and have a family reunion," Jones says.

For some months, Brown has been talking with Jones about the idea of moving into a place of his own. Maybe not quite yet, Brown keeps saying, but someday soon Jones will be ready.

And what about his desk job, Jones wants to know.

"You'd hate it, Jaime. You need to move around," Brown insists.

Wasn't it enough, he says, that Shushan had gotten him a desk from the secondhand store?

"Oh, hell, I like to continue working here," Jones agrees.

"James, James, watch your language. There's a lady here."

Quickly recovering his best manners, Jones rephrases his thought: "I certainly would like to continue working here. I'm a busy man. But," he adds, "I'd like my next promotion to be a manager."

"Well, right now we've got to manage your day," Brown says as gets ready to take Jones to the Valley.

When they arrive at the prosthodontist's office, Jones is ushered in without waiting. Roman is in a good mood: His fiancee miraculously recovered and the two have been married.

Now, seven months and 16 days after the first operation, Roman is screwing in Jones' final set of teeth, the ones he will wear for the rest of his life--assuming nothing out of the ordinary happens.

A receptionist, a nurse, a photographer--all stand staring in amazement. As the final tooth goes into place, Jones doesn't have to look in a mirror to see what has happened to him: It is reflected in the faces of the people around him. A grin spreads across his face.

Shushan meets Jones and the video crew at the tailor's shop shortly before noon. There, Jones changes into the white Pierre Cardin shirt and the red silk tie. With Shushan hovering and fussing, the tailor makes the final adjustments on Jones' navy-blue suit.

At the hairstylist's, Shushan is oddly quiet as he watches Jones getting his hair cut, his fingernails manicured and his beard trimmed. Shushan notices a copy of Gentlemen's Quarterly sitting on a table.

"I'll miss his old walk," he says, admitting that he, too, may be becoming overly protective.

When Jones' hair is cut and styled and his manicure is complete, Shushan helps Jones slip on his jacket, opens the door and watches as Jones walks out to the sidewalk and across the street.

When Jones reaches the other side of Ventura Boulevard, he glances at his reflection in a tall window of a bank building. He turns his head first one way and then another. He seems utterly dazzled by what he sees: a handsome young man in a well-tailored business suit.

He laughs one last time, turns from the window and slips his hand into the pocket of his suit. He begins walking down the busy sidewalk.

And no one even notices.

NEARLY SIX MONTHS HAVE passed since the formal phase of James Jones' transformation came to an end. The dentists are delighted with their patient's appearance. Shushan is pleased, too. Had he the time and opportunity, he would undertake transformations on other clients. As it is, Shushan will soon have an edited video, which he hopes will inspire professionals and parents to do for other developmentally disabled people at least some of what he has tried to do for Jones. Such efforts, he acknowledges, are more costly and labor-intensive than most people can afford. Moreover, it's unlikely that there will be miracles along the way. Yet, Shushan contends, some improvement, however small, is better than none.

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