True story, more or less: On the morning of July 28, 1945, an errant B-25 bomber emerged from a thick fog hung low over midtown Manhattan and plunged into the Empire State Building’s seventy-ninth floor. The explosion expelled elevator-car-operator Betty Lou Oliver from her car and left her badly burned. After receiving preliminary first-aid she was placed by emergency-aid workers on the seventy-fifth floor into another elevator—whose shock-weakened cables promptly snapped and sent her on a nearly-eighty-floor plummet to the building’s sub-basement. She survived the fall.
—Still but okay: granting it’s maybe your basic meat-and-potatoes ethical dilemma, concedes Oscar Oliver, Torpedo-man, Third-Class. He swallows, resets his stein atop the single wet ring its base has deposited on the unvarnished teak. —What’s the difference? For me, ultimately. In terms of how I ultimately decide to act?
—Yeah. I mean, does it really matter whether these are not necessarily uncharted? In terms of as philosophical waters? I’m wondering.
—Does not matter. Matters absolutely nil, is exactly my point, O. Doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t matter whether it matters for you or anyone else whether it matters or if there’s a fucking difference between whatever you even just said. Ultimately. Cept to the one person on the planet who gives a shit what you decide. Just pick something and quit blowing what still strikes me as a potentially salvageable night out there on the town, as they, as they say in other parts … his over-the-shoulder gesture broadly indicates the bedlam just beyond the bar’s patio, the beachside thoroughfare like some vast kaleidoscope projecting patterns of raucous young men in lieu of colored light, the bands of land-hungry seafolk who troop the boulevard in search of native treats… —if you weren’t fucking set on spending the rest of it staring into your beer.
T-M,3C Richard Phurst shakes his head, vigorously rubs his nose, eyes a white-skirted waitress’s dark legs as she sways past into the noodle-bar’s deeper gloom. His stein is down to mostly suds.
—Look, says Phurst, —you want my advice? … Pretend you do. I say forget the whole thing. As in don’t think about it. Lose the memory.
Oliver shakes his head. —And what, he says, —just pretend nothing even happened?
Phurst’s hand goes up in a later era’s crossing-guard’s traffic-halting semaphore.
—Not pretend, man. Pretend’s got nothing to do with it. You don’t have to pretend shit. Pretend means you actively do something with your brain. What I’m saying is you’re already doing too much. He leans back, runs a finger down the robust jutting eminence of jaw—I’m proposing more like the opposite of that. Do less. Don’t think about this shit. You’re already thinking too much is the real problem.
—I don’t see how not thinking about it’s gonna—
—No need for that look, Oliver.
—What look? There’s no look.
—Okay, there’s no look. I’m experiencing, I’m getting fucking ecstatic visions of a certain facial expression—which is still on your face as I speak, by the way—okay now it’s gone. But that was, that was a fucking look on your face there, a second ago.
—A look conveying what, did it look like?
—How the fuck should I know, it was your look: you tell me. Hey, Miss? Excuse me, Ma’am?
The hostess, half-empty pint-glasses perched and tottering, tray borne on one open palm, currency flapping from a pocket of her apron, pivots, squints back into the light.
—Nother round, the same?
She nods. Phurst returns a nuanceless wink.
—No look! All I’m saying is, seems like your advice is just to act like this isn’t a problem that’s kind of important to me, cause maybe in your opinion it shouldn’t be, or it’s, well, it’s inconvenient. And you’re saying because it’s a problem with no easy solution I’m supposed to just give up or like quit trying to find one through the application of, of rigorous dialectic. Seems like an easy way out, you know?
—No. Wait, what? What I’m saying, it’s a stupid fucking problem that only a panty pisses his first night away of shore leave on, is what I’m saying. That you should fucking exercise discretion when deciding what’s important since let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die, which this is the fucking Bible, am I right?
Oliver smooshes his face between both hands, puffs out a half-belch/sigh. Phurst reaches across the table as if to grip his shoulder or execute some similar fraternal gesture, prematurely withdraws.
—Just remember this, though. Leaving aside the fact you seem to be kind of blatantly overlooking—i.e. there’s at least a decent chance she could leave you over this, right? This is something you’ve considered? And even if you work out some kind of understanding, the wife’ll, well she’ll be in a whole lot a hurt she isn’t feeling now—shit she has no reason to feel, ever—if you do decide to open your mouth—
—Yes, but I detest a lie.
—And this is from the book too?
—Well? Marlow’s got a lot of valid insights. Especially the further he gets up the riv—
—So you’re saying, what you’re saying is it’s more important to you that you not be stuck with the discomfort of telling a lie than it is for you to spare her, the woman you supposedly love a little pain that she only ever feels as a result of knowing about your fucking up. And this is, this is noble, O? You tell her what you did, she’s gonna hurt. The other hand, who hurts if you don’t tell her? Only you, right? One way to look at it.