[Facebook essay: 28 August 2020]

On “LAST WORDS” (My Latest Plague Diversion, Leading To “Pub Faustian”) . . .I’ve been re-reading the works of playwright, George Bernard Shaw (GBS), and came across his last words: “Dying is easy, comedy is hard” — a phrase used many times since GBS’s death. (An actor-director here in Pittsburgh, Joe Warik — now writing a spoof of the musical, “Showboat,” — has a delightful opening number with a take on that title). In that same finding where I found GBS’s last words, were the last words of Shaw’s contemporary, Oscar Wilde: “The wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.”

All this got me interested in doing a “last words” search. (Not as morbid as I feared.) Here’s a sample. Humphrey Bogart: “I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis.” And this from Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (similar Bogart-boozed theme): “I’ve had 18 straight whiskies. I think that’s the record.” Sir Winston Churchill: “I’m bored with it all.” Birth control advocate Margaret Sanger’s last words were, “A party! Let’s have a party.” Poet Emily Dickinson: “I must go in, for the fog is rising.” Elvis Presley: “I’m going to the bathroom to read.” Sinatra: “I’m losing it.” And the tragic last words of pop singer Marvin Gaye (his father had shot him): “I got what I wanted. I couldn’t do it myself, so I had him do it. It’s good, I ran my race, there’s no more left in me.”

Some of these may be apocryphal. But they got me thinking: About writing a (let-us-hope) fun fable . . .that might take place in a new tony bar and bistro called “Pub Faustian,” in which, my protagonist — a very successful writer (a Woody Allen-type character? with gallows humor one liners) — and very, very, very obsessed with death (pen name, “River Styx”) — and downing martinis, and letting everyone in the room know of his death obsession. . .meets the new Pub’s maître d’, Mr. M. Charon—a very tall, thin chap, with guru presence, muted voice, and with one purple glass eye, and wearing a bible-black beret cap and form fitting elegant tuxedo. Mr. M.Charon—in some kind of a quid pro quo deal (to be developed) — tempts the writer to come up with new “last words” — for a year — one set a week — and if he does — writer River Styx “will live forever!” I have no idea where this could (or should) lead. But, at the least, I thought it might be interesting to dip my toe in the “last words” rapids and see what I could devise for the writer’s first “Last Words” entry for week #1. This is my best effort: “Damn! The delete key finally worked.”


But then, my friend Milton (about my age), a retired distinguished psychoanalyst who, late in life, turned to writing poetry (now widely published in poetry journals), sent me his latest poem,“THE END AT THE END OF THE ROAD.” He sent it to me in response to my Facebook posting last month about the 36-year anniversary of the 1984 San Ysidro, California, McDonald’s gun massacre. Milt thought his poem might cheer me up. (Guess what? It did.) And I’m now thinking that the last line of Milton’s poem might be a better start to my death-obsessed, writer-protagonist’s list. What do you think? Milt has given me permission to post the poem. Here it is.


by Milton P. Ehrlich

“I stumble forward—trudging along until I see my imagination-enriched view
of the end of the road.
But I see no Pearly Gates

or hand of God to greet me—
not even a Dead-End sign.
Just a pile of rocky rubble
With a graffiti-scribbled question: How have you managed to walk so far with your head up your ass?”

The Poem’s last line does seem to establish a better first “last words” weekly list-making absurd tone for the writer in my fable— pen name, “River Styx.” Yes. Off and running. First week “last words.” “How have you managed to walk so far with your head up your ass?” So I now add “Pub Faustian” to one of my plague diversion back burners. Thanks Milt. [And check out Milton’s prodigious oeuvre on http://www.milton.ehrlich.com]

And, while pursuing your own plague diversions, stay masked, stay safe and keep any “last words” at bay.

Photos: 1) George Bernard Shaw. 2) Humphrey Bogart. 3) Marvin Gaye.