UNITED STATES—RE: February 3, 1975
Are there photos? Does anyone have photos of the ghastly sequence of events surrounding the last hours of Max E. White?
Yes, I am told that on the black market some rare prints, made from a much degraded negative, were leaked out of the files of the New York City coroners’ office. “The New York Post” made quite a scandal about the fact that death scene photos of the famous and the infamous were being bought and sold. Dubbed the “gore lords,” by the Gotham’s yellow press, it was quite a profitable sideline for clever and ambitious young men, drop-outs from my old Alma Mater, Columbia University, on the west side, not the best side. I saw a bit of myself in them.
“You’re going to Colombia,” said our excited neighbor, Mrs. Rose. “I always wanted to travel to an exotic foreign country.” Eerie, no? Kind of a foreshadowing…
This is a deposition, of sorts. Please answer only the question asked. Did you graduate?
As I later told officials at the university, upon receipt of my honorary doctorate, on the steps of Lowe Library, which isn’t a library, “I owe your institution all the rejections in my life that made me who I am. I didn’t get to be a sports reporter at the Daily Spectator, my poems didn’t convince the literary journal, my acting ambitions never got off the ground. After one audition for an Inge play at Barnard, I gave up. Through this thing called life—l’chaim—I learned the value of rejection and what it is to pick yourself up and start all over again.
I fail to see the relevance…
Let me enjoy myself, OK. This is not a nice time for me OK.
Go on, Mr. White. . .
Well, I concluded with a crowd-pleaser the day I got my honorary doctorate, “Now that I’m Dr. White, please don’t go asking me for any free medical advice. You’ll have to call my office and get an appointment. just like everyone else.”
What made you turn to business?
After all that rejection, I turned to the only path open to me, which turned out to be business. I got into a brokerage, started at the low end of the totem pole, cold calling poor saps who dreamed of overnight riches. Rejection—I ate it up. It was easy as making three times more calls than anyone else, and I’d catch these guys at dinner time, when they were a little off-kilter, they’d say wait, “I’m in the middle of dinner,” and pretty soon I had them on the line and the missus was barking at ‘em, and I had ‘em eating out of my hand: these guys would ask for a callback, in the quiet sanctum of their own wage labor the next day.
So what made you commit this, shall we say, murder?
My wife, Rega, was a very good artist. Way ahead of her time. In the late 60s, she went overnight from painting petunias, like those that filled my office, to doing a whole series of the businessman in a black London Fog overcoat, dancing the contorted the dance of dollars, against a mercilessly vacant white sky, a vehemently black silhouette contorting and twisting and the air whistling in my eardrums. Like hotcakes they sold. Black and white in her large-scale canvases that eventually found a way into the Met. I’m sorry, Rega, wherever you are. But them getting your paintings at the Met was none of my doings, despite the other shenanigans that came out. See, I was on the board of Trustees before plopping, in full view of the pigeons and horrified motorists on the northbound lane of the Park Avenue Viaduct. A lifeless mass—forty feet away, my briefcase landed in the roof of a yellow Checker cab and the papers blew all to hell. Thank G*d nobody got hurt. Rega always got after me for not cleaning that briefcase out, but I was so busy I never had time to clean my briefcase and it got heavier and heavier.
Go on, please. What more do you remember?
Hushed utterances of “Oh my G*d” came out, blotted soon by sirens. The shocked pigeons swooped away. A rill of blood came out of my ears. That was the end of a Titan of Wall Street, Max E. White, born in the month of Nisan, the year 5682, and brought to New York as a child by my parents who, bless them evermore, got out of Poland when the getting was good. I thank them eternally, I who began life as Menashe Elihu Woytowitz; some Ellis Island poet conformed it into Max E. White. But before, G*d, I shall ever be Menashe, which in Hebrew means both overly ambitious and deathly afraid of failure.
To be continued…
Graydon Miller is the Wizard of Fiction.