Who's Who in America


First and foremost, gentlemen, thank you for this opportunity to tell you who I am, and enclosed please find a check in the amount of the requested nominal fee.  I must confess, I was a little surprised when asked to appear in this year's Who's Who in America, because not once in my eighty-three years has anyone—not even my wife, God rest her soul—bothered to ask, "Who are you, Charles Ellsworth?"  Well, it's about time I make some kind of attempt, if only for posterity's sake.
      For the record, I am a direct descendant on my mother's side of Colonel George Armstrong Custer's cousin.  When I was a kid, I delivered Al Capone's newspaper.
      For years I wanted to be a song-and-dance man, but I could neither sing nor dance.  I felt much resentment about this over the years, maybe still do.  I ended up a banker, a sit-and-press man.  One of my old jokes, sorry.
      I was cuckolded by my first wife, a moody snub-nosed Swede, and spent a few lost years trying to drink the heartache away.  I then married a second wife and took it out on her inadvertently, with snide remarks about her pot roasts and taste in romance novels.  Strange, but I can no longer remember that poor woman's face or voice.  When I was forty-two I met my third and final wife, a plain and practical woman whose loyalty might have saved me.
      I came to fatherhood late and one of the happiest times of my life was sitting on the porch one July evening, drinking a vodka-spiked Arnold Palmer and watching my little daughter, three years old, kicking in her Buster Browns through the yard, decimating the dandelions.  I remember thinking, Is this the peace I've been waiting for?
      Over the span of eight decades, I've put seven dogs to sleep.  There comes a point when you start measuring the remainder of your life not in years but dogs.  And then one day you realize:  this is the last, and he will probably outlive me.
      During a bank robbery in the seventies a man held a submachine gun to my head.  In the eighties I almost lost all my money investing in a vineyard.  In the nineties I survived a heart attack and waltzed away unscathed from three different car wrecks.
      I have sat next to Muhammad Ali, Henry Dean Stanton, and Terrence Cardinal Cooke on three different airplane flights.
      My last conversation with my wife was about bagels.  I told her, "I'm sorry, Marianne, but there's no such thing—absolutely no such thing!—as a blueberry bagel.  What you're talking about is a donut." When I returned from the bakery to the car the poor woman was dead.
      That was five years ago and to this day I still keep a list in my head of things to do before I shuffle off the mortal coil.  See the Great Wall of China.  Sail down the Amazon River.  Swim with a whale.  I must admit at this late date that very few of these things will likely happen.  Why, there are whole states I've never even passed through.
      Tonight as I write this I'm listening to one of my favorite Puccini operas on the record player.  I'm thankful that I have this much to do, because I don't have much social cachet these days.  I'm awaiting my Sunday call from my daughters, from whom I hear less and less since their mother passed.  They love me, I know, but I don't think they like me very much.  Besides, what is there to talk about?  Tomorrow I'll receive biopsy results for three lumps removed from my Irish Setter's axilla.  That's the big news around these parts.  Right now he's sniffing at my slippers under the kitchen table.  He looks aggrieved and betrayed that he's turned so suddenly old, as if maybe I'm to blame.
      Outside the kitchen window I can see snow falling in the floodlights, big brawny flakes that look like dandelion heads though it's mid July.  Call me crazy but I have the brief impulse to go outside and romp around.  Maybe I've had too much gin or maybe it's all the medication the oncologist has prescribed.  I suppose I'm rambling at this point and should stop while I'm ahead, except:  does anyone else ever get the sensation that there's a shadow falling over your back, but you're afraid to turn around because of what you might see?
      At any rate, gentlemen, feel free to take out whatever you like.  You can still keep the money.  
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