Sunday, May 19, 2019

"Kant Is Just a Four-Letter Word"

The first of the month, and so as usual Gerry Goldsmith (known as “the Brain” to all the other regulars at Bob’s Bowery Bar) arrived at the offices of Goldstein, Goldberg, and Gold bright and early to pick up his allotment of fifty dollars. Bright and early for the Brain was not what it was for the rest of the world, and so the time was 11:45 am.

He went right over to Gladys’s desk at reception. Gladys always had his money for him, in fives and singles, in a plain envelope.

“And good morning to you, Gladys. How’s the family?”

“A continuing heartache, Mr. Goldsmith, but what are you going to do?”

“What can one do but soldier on?”

She handed him the envelope and Gerry put it away in the inner pocket of his old tweed suit, worn under his even older camel’s hair chesterfield, with its velvet collar which had been royal purple once but was now a faded ashy blue.

“Mr. Goldstein asked me to ask you to see him in his office when you came in.”

“Oh dear. Did he say why?”

“Nope. Just asked me to ask you to see him when you came in. You can go right in, Mr. Goldsmith.”

Gerry’s heart seemed to fall two inches beneath the flab of his his chest. Had his annuity run out, or been canceled in some way? Did his grandmother not leave enough of the ready in her will to last beyond these twenty-seven years during which these monthly payments of fifty dollars had been his sole source of income?

Like a condemned man, Gerry opened the well-worn waist-high wooden gate, went through the reception area and down the hall to Mr. Goldstein’s office. He had only spoken with Mr. Goldstein perhaps a dozen times in all these years.

The door was open, and there was old Mr. Goldstein sitting at his cluttered desk.

Gerry stood in the doorway.

“Mr. Goldstein?”

“Ah, Mr. Goldsmith. Please come in, and take a seat, sir.”

On legs of rubber Gerry staggered over and took a seat in one of the two ancient arm chairs in front of the desk.

“Please don’t spare me, Mr. Goldstein. Just give it to me straight. If my remittances are to be ended with the new year I’ll just have to find paying work of some sort. Perhaps I could be a night watchman? Or, I don’t know, if you might have an opening for a minor clerical position here, or even a messenger’s job, I am quite familiar with the city’s public transformation system. The Goldsmiths have always been an enterprising clan, and maybe it’s best that I start to make my own way in the world.”

“Relax, Mr. Goldsmith. Your monthly remittances will remain the same, fifty dollars a month, probably up until the day you die, which let us hope will not be for many years. It’s about your late Aunt Edna.”

Aunt Edna. Gerry’s mother’s sister, whom he hadn’t seen since he graduated from Harvard. He had belatedly gotten word of her demise last year, but of course his circumstances had made it impossible for him to attend the obsequies all the way down in Florida.

“It seems the lady remembered you in her will, Mr. Goldsmith.”

“She what?”

“She remembered you. To the tune of one thousand dollars.”

If before Gerry’s heart had descended two inches, now it seemed to rise four inches. His mouth opened, but no words escaped.

A thousand dollars.

It was December the first, 1954, he was forty-eight years of age, and tears came to Gerry’s eyes.

“Would you like a glass of water, Mr. Goldsmith?”

“What? No, no, it’s quite all right, but tell me, do I get it all at once, or what?”

“If you like we could give you a check right now.”

“But I don’t have a bank account,” said Gerry, in a mild panic. “I’ve never had a bank account!”

“Again I say, ‘Relax, Mr. Goldsmith.’ With the check it would be easy as pie to start up a bank account, and within a few days you could start withdrawing cash whenever you like.”

“Oh, but that all sounds so complicated. Couldn’t you keep the money for me, and I could just come in and get some of it now and then?”

“Certainly, Mr. Goldsmith. If you like we could even put the money in savings bonds for you, and you could make a little interest on it.”

“I don’t understand these things. I don’t even know what a savings bond is, but I like the idea of earning interest, so, sure.”

“Leave it to us, Mr. Goldsmith. You would just have to let us know how much money you would like us to keep available for you at any given time.”

“How about if you kept, say, fifty dollars available for me?”

“You’ve become used to the sum of fifty dollars.”

“Yes, I suppose I have.”

“We could do that, Mr. Goldsmith. Any time you should need some cash, just drop by the office, and we’ll make sure always to have at least fifty dollars in the kitty for you.”

“Oh, that would be splendid. I wonder, could I have a little of it now?”

“We always have a small sum in the petty cash box, Mr. Goldsmith. How much would you like?”

“I need twelve ninety-nine.”

“Twelve ninety-nine?”

“Yes, to get my typewriter out of hock.”

“I see. You’re writing a book, aren’t you?”

“Yes, a book of philosophical reflections, and now I can finally get my typewriter out of the pawn shop and start typing it up, so all I need is twelve ninety-nine.”

“You’ll need some typewriter paper. And you should probably invest in an extra typewriter ribbon or two.”

“I hadn’t thought of that. Yes. Do you think I should take out fifteen dollars?”

“Why not make it an even twenty?”

“Sure, twenty it is then. Thank you, Mr. Goldstein.”

“You’re quite welcome, Mr. Goldsmith. And please keep me apprised on the progress of your book.”

“Oh, I will!”

“Do you have a title for it yet?”

“Y’know, Mr. Goldstein, I’ve gone through many titles for it over the years, but just on the way over here I had the idea to call it Kant Is Just a Four-Letter Word.”

“Ha ha. Delightful, Mr. Goldsmith.”

Mr. Goldstein gave Gerry a chit for the twenty dollars, Gerry thanked him again, profusely, and glided from the office with the paper in his hand to give to Gladys out at the front desk.

Mr. Goldstein sighed.

Who knew, perhaps this strange fellow Gerard Goldsmith was the next Kant?

Kant is Just a Four-Letter Word, and Other Fables of Our Time, by Horace P. Sternwall, an Ace Books paperback original, 1955; out of print.

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