Monday, February 18, 2008

The Association of Baron Biháry's Creditors

    So one of our members has died again: old Pollitzer, you know, the one who sold typewriters (may God grant him eternal glory), true, he was over eighty years old, but he could have lived longer yet; poor fellow, he so liked our little Tuesday meetings. If we had known that he would leave us so soon, we would have invited him to be our chairman--not that he was one of the larger creditors, he only had a few thousand loaned to the baron--but to give the old man some joy.

    What sort of association is this? It's like this: a man lived in Prague, this Baron Biháry, a tall and noble man, hair jet-black and eyes like--well, the women went crazy for him. He had a leased villa in Bubenec, two cars, and as for lovers, according to our accounts there were seven, such vainglory, but he was chivalrous, this baron. He had an estate in Slovakia, a forest preserve somewhere near Jasina, a pulp mill, glassworks, and oil rig somewhere near Antalovec; fantastic property, in short. You have no conception how many tractors, machines, office equipment, checks, typewriters, valuables and flowers it all required. It is true such property involves a lot of overhead, but the baron liked to show off, he liked to do everything on a grand scale--you couldn't take your eyes off of him. Then it came out that there was no pulp mill, no oil, no forest preserve and no estate; just the glassworks, but the baron had sold everything in it long ago. Then it came out that Baron Biháry was no baron at all, but some Chaim Roth from somewhere near Perečin. They were going to bring him up on charges, for fraud and the like, but when a few of the creditors met they realized that they wouldn't get much out of him by prosecuting. No one would take out the few carpets and perfume from the villa, it stands to reason. If they lock up the baron, we'll lose everything, said the creditors, but maybe the poor bastard will come up with some money; he is a rascal, with a fine face. Maybe he'll marry rich for us or something--at least in that case he would be able to pay us something back. We cannot bring him down now or we will never see our money again. So they called off all the investigations and we created the creditors' association. There were about a hundred and seventy of us. We were kind of like the Rotary Club, someone from every profession. Car dealers, headwaiters, bankers, tailors, jewelers, florists, an architect, a horseman, a perfumer, a couturier, a few lawyers, a prostitute and who else, together it was about sixteen or seventeen million. So we met and talked about how to save the baron from going under. We had to keep his head above water so he could try his luck here and there, cautiously, of course, so that he wouldn't get up to anything that would ruin the whole deal. Once we let him out of our sight for a day, and he committed some fraud and we had to quietly straighten things out. Yes, sir, they were exciting times. The baron was addicted to cards, and always cheating and cheating. Or he wanted to be a spy, it was supposed to be wonderful money. One of us always had to be looking after him, but that's overstating it. The baron was a terribly kind companion, he would always treat us fantastically and then tell us: "Pay, and add it to my account." What could we do? We had never lived so well as we did with the Baron. And we got used to it, too, but understood each other deeply--we were just elderly, discreet, experienced people who only wanted to see some of the money we had sunk in the Baron.

    And then the baron disappeared on us. They say he fled to America, to Hollywood or somewhere like that. Well, him, he won't lose his way. It's possible he'll make a lot of money once again--and who knows, he might come back to us in a few years. You know, we creditors, we're really used to that, but we miss the baron terribly, but we would miss it more if we stopped meeting weekly. We always had such lively discussions about economic affairs, you know, the vicissitudes and vexations of life, and nothing reliable in business any more, the way there used to be; we also swapped war stories from our various fields. Where else could one of our members hear about how it is with cars or at a florist's--but among us, in our association, we had every field under one roof, so to speak. And finally we said to hell with our baron. At least we met each other, and we can continue on ourselves. Period. So we keep meeting every Tuesday these last ten years; we always remember how our baron, how he's wandering around America, poor man, but then we talk about how terrible the times are. It really cheers a man up, and you can have a really decent conversation about our various ailments. Twelve of us have even gone to our maker already. We will deeply miss old Mr. Pollitzer. It's a shame you never met Baron Biháry; he was such a charming man, and if you had you could have joined our association.

Kmen Almanac, Spring 1937

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