Pg. Seventeen, IV: The Final Chapter

I am now going to begin my story (said the old man), so please attend.

I picked up a few things I’d missed. The kid had a nickname, Obie. Probably from his middle name, since the initial was an O. Obadiah, possibly. Somehow, Obie Westphal sounded better than Henry Westphal. Maybe I’d use it that way after the lead; it would give the story an informal touch.

We were silent for a while and I knew that Obie, like me. was thinking of all the time spent in journalism schools and how little of it could be used when you worked on a Negro newspaper, and how rough it was — how damned nearly impossible — to get something on a daily paper.

In spite of the fact that my father had hidden $400 under the cash register, he was indicted for arson because of the $5,000 worth of insurance on his shop. He and my mother hired a Schrift relative recently out of law school to take the case. They were all convinced the charge was ridiculous. Why would an arsonist set such a small fire? All my father wanted was the $5,000 of stolen stock to be replaced. Because we didn’t have the money to raise the bail, he was taken to The Tombs. When I heard that word, I was convinced he was buried alive like my Zayda, so I was very surprised to see him alive at the trial.

The trial lasted one hundred and ninety days. Some hundred witnesses swore that the accused was Roger Charles Tichbourne–among them, four comrades-at-arms from the 6th Dragoons. Orton’s supporters steadfastly maintained that he was no impostor–had he been, they pointed out, he would surely have attempted to copy the juvenile portraits of his model. And besides, Lady Tichbourne had recognized and accepted him; clearly, in such matters, a mother does not err. All was going well, then–more or less–until an old sweetheart of Orton’s was called to testify. Not a muscle of Bogle’s face twitched at that perfidious maneuver by the “family”; he called for his black umbrella and his top hat and he went out into the decorous streets of London to seek a third inspiration. We shall never know whether he found it. Shortly before he came to Primrose Hill, he was struck by that terrible vehicle that had been pursuing him through all these years. Bogle saw it coming and managed to cry out, but he could not manage to save himself. He was thrown violently against the paving stones. The hack’s dizzying hooves cracked his skull open.

The countless tight squeezes you have been in during the course of your life, the desperate moments when you have felt an overpowering need to empty your bladder and no toilet is at hand, the times when you have found yourself stuck in traffic, for example, or sitting on a subway stalled between stations, and the pure agony of forcing yourself to hold it in. This is the universal dilemma that no one ever talks about, but everyone has been there at one time or another, everyone has lived through it, and while there is no other example of human suffering more comical than the bursting bladder, you tend not to laugh about these incidents until after you have relieved yourself–for what person over the age of three would want to wet his pants in public? That is why you will never forget these words, which were the last words spoken to one of your friends by his dying father: “Just remember, Charlie, he said, “never pass up an opportunity to piss.” And so the wisdom of the ages is handed down from one generation to the next.

All the spurious old father figures rush onstage.

Seven paragraphs from seven different page seventeens from seven different books, variously located.

Tales from the Arabian Nights, edited by Andrew Lang; The Deep End by Fredric Brown; One For New York by John A. Williams; Shelley: Also Known as Shirley, by Shelley Winters; The Improbable Impostor–Tom Castro, from A Universal History of Infamy, from Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges; Winter Journal by Paul Auster; The Place of Dead Roads by William Burroughs.

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