The Vagabond

The Interview

During the holiday the Vagabond planned to take a motor trip from New York to Washington. Now despite his numerous roamings and rovings, the Vagabond has long been the victim of two middle-aged tyrants, called parents by facetious sociologists and naive maiden aunts, who are cruelly solicitous for the health of his molars as well as the cyst beneath his right shoulder blade. These two, who conceal their despotism under a jacket of social charm and kindness (so that all but himself considers them as unusually fine specimens of humanity), ruffled their feathers in immediate response to the Vagabond's scheme of adventure. No, they said in one grave and discreet voice, it would be too dangerous; he might even be killed. No, it would not do; look at the ice, at the Highway Department--which was so slow to sand the roads, at the number of drivers who skidded into telephone poles on Christmas eve.

At last Circumstance came to the aid of the Vagabond in the form of an insurance agent; he was a friend of the family and, like most agents, he wanted to protect the lives and property of all his relatives. He suggested in his bland, almost unctuous way that the Vagabond be provided with an accident insurance policy; thus, when he got hurt or killed, there would be money to cover the situation. It was a brilliant idea, worthy of the high ideals of material civilization; the family embraced it quickly, and the Vagabond was bundled off to be examined by a doctor. It was a principle of the insurance company that an individual be sound in body before he receive a policy.

The doctor's office overlooked Central Park at a height of seventeen elevator seconds from the imitation marble floor. It resembled the attic of a mechanically-and-chemically-inclined household; his secretary had the look of a woman who had taken one look at the attic and refused, on practical grounds to tidy it. The doctor opened his mouth in a smile and pointed out a chair. Assuming that he was offering a seat, the Vagabond sat down. No, the doctor said, I want to know if you can see that chair; this is my own preliminary eyesight test.

But forget that, he continued, and sit down. You will answer these questions as I ask them: name and address? occupation? name of each parent? Then he leaned forward. What are their ages? Realizing that this was an important question, the Vagabond only lied by seven years for the sake of his mother. Where were you born? The Vagabond responded: Hopeville. Oh, Hopeville, he said. Yes, the Vagabond said, Hopeville. Well, well, he commented.

Have you had, he squinted his eyebrows, haemophilia, haematolysis, haemotysis, sternutation, syringitis, szopelka, ectopia? You don't have to answer; I will put down "no" to each. Have you ever felt dizzy; have you ever swooned, fainted, lost consciousness? No, the doctor said; and he wrote "no". Have you had any bone injuries, major operations, children's diseases, diseases, or social diseases? No, he said; and he wrote no.


Well, he said with an air of finality, that's all the writing. Now stand up and look straight at me. I'm sorry I haven't a better face to look at, but it will have to do. There. Open your mouth, please; don't say "Ah!"; just keep it open, Good! Your eyes seem perfect to me. Now, if you will sign your name three times--here and here and here, we are through.

The Vagabond closed the door of the doctor's office gently, his mouth puckered from his last glimpse of the secretary. He went home in a reflective mood and told his parents, in a voice that sounded like Baer speaking to Louis, he thought he would be gosh-darned if he would drive to Washington under the stigma of any accident policy.