For instance, I can tell you that Bill Slattery’s real name is William. It is in fact William Henry, William Henry Slattery, and I can further relate that he never wanted to be a banker, which he did become and is, but would have preferred the life of a stuntman in the traveling circus that went through his town, which I can tell you is somewhere in northern Florida, when he was but nine years old. And I can relate in good faith that Billy, or Billy Boy, as he was known then, was enamored with the motorcyclist extraordinaire, the Frenchman Guy de Motorcrosse.
What I know about Guy de Motorcrosse – King of the Death Globe and the only man to jump thirty busses without breaking his tailbone – from various sources I would classify as reliable is that he never wanted to become a motorcyclist extraordinaire but in fact wanted to be a chef. His father had taken him to a fancy restaurant one day when he was but nine years old and, as his father knew the owner, they were able to tour the kitchen. Young Guy became fascinated by the man in the tall white hat barking orders at his sous chefs, who scrambled about like the inferiors they were. Who is that? asked Guy. That, said his father, is Chef Raphael Grigolini.
Chef Raphael Grigolini, of course, never wanted to be a chef, but, from what I’ve read, would rather have become an opera singer. When he was but nine years of age, yes, a small boy of only nine, I have it on good authority that he was able to sneak into the Teatro alla Scala, where he witnessed (before being removed from the premises) the indomitable Dmitri Velosov, the famous Ukrainian tenor, and from that moment on, he wanted nothing more than to be an opera singer.
Alas, I know nothing, or nearly nothing, about Dmitri Velosov. I can tell you little about the man. But I can tell you this. Once I was in a bar, in a far off part of the world I’d never been to and would never go back to. It had been a long dusty day, but in the afternoon came the onset of a severe thunderstorm. I needed a drink, and to escape the rain, I entered the nearest watering hole, a place called The Stinging Nettle. It was packed to the gills. As I attempted to reach the bar proper, a man, obviously drunk, jumped atop a nearby table, whistled for attention, and seemed set to begin some sort of auditory performance. The room quieted and the man assumed an expression of utter gravity. But before he could utter a single word, a brown beer bottle flew across the room and knocked him broadside, sending him careening into the crowd. With that, a melee broke out and chaos ensued. I was able to remain on the periphery of the ruckus and order a strawberry daiquiri. As I took my first sip, a man, bloodied and bruised, crawled from under the writhing mass of violence three feet before me. It was the drunk, the would-be orator. On the verge of expiration, he pressed a torn and tattered note into my hand and fell, breathing a last tormented breath before entering the next world. Dismayed, I unfolded the note. It read but one line.