UNITED STATES—Can you reconstruct the events of the morning of February 3, 1975?
I didn’t sleep very well. Usually sleep flushed out all the disagreeable sediment that accumulated the day before. But my dear daughter was stressed out. Sometimes she asks me for help with schoolwork. This time she was stressed out about a book report due. It was a story called “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” That’s a silly name, but of course I remember it, since it has bananas in the title. I offered to help, but she slammed the door in my face and it unnerved me. I thought I could help, you know, my life has revolved around mitzvahs. But Maxine wasn’t having it.
Then my wife was talking about looking at a third house in Saddle Creek. It was an irritant in what the press had depicted as a worry-free life, and we already had a place in Montawk for weekends and holidays. I grew up different, on the lower East Side. Mom and Dad were from the old country and I was taught to thank G*d for one hat, and be happy with it till it was tatters, since I was only born with one head. So. . . I was already on edge, there’s so much I don’t talk about. Usually things have a way of working out, and everything has a solution. So I live by S.I.S. There’s a nice polished rock on my desk with the letters S.I.S. carved in a black diamond that they say is from outer space. S.I.S. stands for my motto: Suffer in silence.
You know there’s professional help for this kind of thing?
It’s really looked down on in executive circles. If ya can’t take the heat. Get out of Hell’s kitchen. Of course Rega and the fru fru art world, those guys are all into analysis, all that head-shrinker nonsense. Talking about their dreams and so forth. Well, I’m a businessman. Dogs go where the heat is. Business men go where the money is.
You seem very touchy on the subject. . .
Well, I am your honor. Word gets out that the head of Allied Brands is going to a head shrink, you know our stock would go down the toilet in a heartbeat. And my analyst might get ahold of some trade secrets. New York is a very small place, let me tell you. It’s the biggest small town in the world.
Let’s get back to February 3, 1975, Mr. White, with all due respect. What day of the week was it?
Your telling me to guess? ME?
Give it a shot.
So you don’t know everything?
Are you kidding? I have to keep my eye on the big picture, Mr. White. . .
(At this point in the interview Mr. White broke out into the most hysterical spontaneous laughter, of which we can include only a representative portion: ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha….
If he had been laughing all the way down from the 55th floor, a tad shy of 8 a.m. in the morning, Eastern Time, it would have looked rather like this:
(The laughter was infectious: Max E. White had made his inquisitor laugh.)
I’ll go to my grave with a good feeling in my belly. . .
Where were we? Oh yeah, reconstructing February 3rd. . .
The chauffeur came the usual time, at 7:37. We had it all calibrated out. It would get me from the new Park Ave. apartment and to the Pan Am Building and into my office with five minutes to spare, before 8 o’clock. I zoomed up to the elevator and got off on the 55th floor, just under the VIP garden. I slipped into the washroom and the strangest thing happened that triggered this massive weight that had been building up in me. You know even the day before I got the doctor to check me out, and I got a clean bill of health. Say, if I’d gotten a diagnosis of lupus or scabies, I might of felt more attached and ready to trudge onward. In my state, with the burden of state secrets on my shoulders, a clean bill of health was so depressing. The mess was so much more palpable.
You know my hands were dripping wet from the stream of faucet water. I turned from the basin and for the first time regarded the air-hand dryer with indifference, ratified by the conclusion that rose, suddenly to awareness, the air hand dryers are more trouble than they’re worth. Even if it is a money saver in paper or laundering, and I’m such a chronic bean-counter. Golly, Rega chewed me out when I hand a hand blower installed Good on the pocketbook and the environment, too, but what about the people environment? For a split second I thought of issuing an order throughout the Allied Brands to get rid of all the hot-air hand dryers; they’re demeaning. Aren’t they?
I can see why some of your friends and colleagues have called you visionary?
Then at the exit of my personal private washroom to be seized by dread that window washers coming down the north face of the Pan-Am Building could witness my hand’s heretical wetness. The sudden aversion to another pair of eyes that might see my dripping wet hands clashed with my defiance toward hot-air blowers. I didn’t want anyone to think I was crazy. . .
To be continued…
Graydon Miller is the Wizard of Fiction.