UNITED STATES—February 3, 1975. . . 7:53 a.m. EST. I’ve hurled myself at approximate 8 a.m. this Monday into the smutty white void. The speed of the vertical plummet is petrifying, scraping hard against by skin comically kneaded by the muscular wind. My black fedora floated off and is bouncing around the gibbous clouds. I who still answer to the name Max E. White become a pod of blood, sinew and bone, in the biosphere and the intruder into this jet flight to planet nowhere, the hard crust of it slamming and burgeoning upward.
Without warning I think of all the books I haven’t returned and won’t return. Big Fat books I’ll never read, chosen for their heft, Gibbon’s “Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire” and “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” There’s a catch. Benny Zantz loaned me a dog-eared copy of Dale Carnegie’s, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Thorndyke Perelman’s “A Nebbish Guide to Finding Your Tough Core…as added ballast. I feel so bad for Thornie, who always let me win at golf. The hurt of remembered loaned books that Rega wouldn’t know anything about (or maybe she would), not being able to live up to being a mensch and getting these books back to their owners.
The gulp and poignance and disappointment of it all. I was no thief, I was a mad of my word. An acute twinge here on the unruly hinge of time and space…The market is going up, there’s been a rally on the latest unemployment numbers. Fords doing good riding on the coattails of the Nixon prosperity. I am oddly aware, hyper aware, that my hat will never be relocated—or it will be found by a Puerto Rican window washer who has the same size head as me (a Stefano rabbit fur felt fedora that caters to orthodox Jews, black, made in Spain the land of the Inquisitors), where or where is my Inquisitor now—only a riverrush of cascading waterfall drowns my hearing, the riotous hubbub as the city vanishes in the vanishing.
(I’m here, my son, delighting in your thought, not wanting to whisper as my faintest sigh is equal to all the energy and skyline of Manhattan.)
I am not a thief, or a liar. I’ve got all your books that I’ve borrowed in the hopes of improving Max E. White, one of America’s top CEOs and a somewhat flawed rendition of humanity. Dora Herscholt wrote her name in my copy of a book loaned to me, inscribed shall we say with a Flair pen, real egghead stuff that she said would help me understand Rega better. It’s her way of saying, Max, this book is mine and you better remember to give it back…And now I wonder it wasn’t cravenness to have leapt out of the hole in the 55th floor window, with mt leaden briefcase, to avoid calling Meyer Horowitz, my personal attorney, about going through the preliminaries of a divorce. But when you’re of my tribe, you don’t leap of buildings, do you, not on a Monday or any day, do you. And you most certainly don’t file for divorce.
Oh L-rd, for you it must be a sin, a theft of any degree. If I steal a Baby Ruth bar from Sam Steinberg, is it any less theft in magnitude than the zillions Wall Street extorts from the hopes and dreams of mesmerized saps. I was a decent enough rabbi and that filled me, but there had to be more, for my family, my community. I was a good leader in business. I saw value where it was undervalued, same as people. Like that little printing company in Flatbush that specialized in making brightly colored banana labels. I could provide.
It did it for Rega for sure, it got her mink or chinchilla or sable or whatever the heck fur it was people were wearing at Lincoln Center or when she dragged me to Broadway. Kicking and screaming to a revival of “My Fair Lady.” Who’s got time for crying out loud? I was a busy guy, a wheel, one of the top guys in mergers and acquisitions. Hey, Big Fella up there, what’s going on?
(You know me, Max, I can slow time, speed it up, change the numbers on dice, splice destinies, obliterate solar systems)
You’re rubbing it in. How are you making it possible, even as I plummet to Park Avenue, to soak in and shive with recognition of the unimaginable poignance of each and every powerful and crappy life that dwells in the 55-floors of the Pan-Am Building. You’re tearing me apart, oh L-rd!
To be continued…
Grady is the Wizard of Fiction.