INJURIES AND DAMAGES
North American Review 281.4
America West September 1996
The first thing that occurred to Willy and me when we saw those big chunks of plaster all over Willy's bed and the exposed wooden lathes in the ceiling was, wow, what a piece of luck that it happened when nobody was home and not when Willy was in the bed either copping Zs or engaged in a carnal encounter with his new wife, the sweet Rowena, because the ceiling falling in on them like that, the entire damn ceiling of their East 9th Street tenement apartment bedroom coming loose like that, could have done them serious harm and cost them a considerable sum for medical attention, money they didn't have at the moment even for far happier purposes.
The second thing that occurred to us was, boy, if Willy and/or Rowena had happened to be in bed at the time of the ceiling collapse, and if they survived the event (which was, after all, highly likely), then, boy, would they have some case against the vicious, venal, wholly unprincipled landlord who kept his buildings in such appalling condition while undoubtedly sucking up single malt scotches and wolfing down pink slabs of rare roast beef in pricey East side boites surrounded by fawning chorus girls. The idea blossomed like a giant flower. Jesus, what a lawsuit! Struggling artist and bride, nascent Michelangelo and consort, struck down by treacherous ceiling, grievous wounds, future fear of ceilings, many fruitful avenues of legal attack, huge sums in settlement!
The third thing we thought of was, wow, it was really too bad in a way, almost bad luck in a sense, that neither Willy nor the sweet Rowena was in bed at the time, not that Willy would have wished the slightest harm upon the sweet etc., not in a million years. But if they had happened to be in bed at the exact moment when the ceiling declared its independence, (and God knows they were certainly putting in the sack time, the marriage being only a few months old), why then they could very probably have turned a good scare and some mild bruising into something splendid like a million dollar judgment that would have kept Willy in burnt sienna and rose madder for a lifetime, while also providing the leisure to apply them.
And the fourth thing that occurred to us was this: no one knew whether Willy and/or the sweet etc. happened to be in that bed or not when the ceiling decided to take a dive.
Okay, so the fifth thing was pretty obvious. The fifth thing was, hey, why not just say Willy was in the bed at the time, and this was followed quickly by the sixth thing, actually a cluster of thoughts around the realization that to go after the kind of settlement Willy had in mind, to build a strong, credible case, it was going to be necessary to...well...to bang Willy around some. `No pain, no gain' was the essence of number six, and I have to tell you it caused Willy some noticeable anxiety even though he agreed with the logic and rational supporting this particular number.
The seventh thing was kind of a debate or negotiation between Willy and me, really a question of degrees, with Willy as you would expect opting for less banging around and me for a tad more, though God knows I took no pleasure at the prospect of wounding my good buddy, whom I cherished. (Okay — total truth now — there was that time a year or so ago when I was chatting up a certified American Beauty Rose at the Old Reliable Bar, blasting every charm bolt I had at this heart stopping honey while entertaining dark bestial thoughts in the back corridors of my mind. I excused myself to hit the head, where I ran into a small line, and by the time I got back Willy had slithered up next to her like a snake in heat and damn near snatched away her affections in their entirety).
But this historical reflection I include for the record. It did not affect my judgment, I assure you, which was colored by questions of realism, medical veracity, and size of potential settlement, and eventually Willy and I agreed on the eighth thing, which was an approach to the requisite infliction of injuries whereby he was to lie on the floor on his stomach with his shirt off and I was to mount an adjacent step ladder carrying chunks of the actual fallen plaster and bombard him with these until we achieved some sort of visible results.
The ninth thing was nothing I wish to dwell on — a short, ugly piece of business featuring me flinging megachunks of jagged plaster down on the naked back of my best buddy and him bellowing "OW, OW, OW, OW, OW!" the while.
But only a very short while, for this ill advised and incipiently criminal undertaking was interrupted and indeed curtailed completely by the tenth thing, to wit, the arrival of the sweet Rowena, who walked in on this scene with a facial expression that cannot be described, and once she understood that Willy and I were not engaged in some bizarre and hitherto unsuspected perversion, she moved with unswerving wifely instinct to protect her husband from further assault while simultaneously delivering a spirited diatribe on the felonious nature of fraudulent lawsuits and the limited availability of proper natural light for painting in most prison environments, the latter being a consideration that hadn't even occurred to Willy or me.
Willy healed up within a few days, by which time Rowena professed to see genuine humor in the event.
And I discovered I had finally forgiven Willy completely for his egregious behavior that night at the Old Reliable, that night when we both met that sweet Rowena for the first time.