By Addison De Witt
There is a word in German-besserwisser—which translates as “know-it-all”, “wiseacre,” and “pompous ass.” In The Bunker, his perceptive book about the last days of the Third Reich, James O´Donnel shows Adolf Hitler as a classic example of the besserwisser. Late at night, to a paralyzing bored captive audience of the faithful, an amphetamine-charged Fuhrer would sound off on such diverse topics as the fidelity of Arctic dogs, Greek architecture, and the ancestry of Eleanor Roosevelt, subjects on which he was equipped with a vast fund of ignorance.
My own besserwisser from hell was an individual I’ll call Reed. I first encountered him in Acapulco in the early 90’s. At the time, I was launching my career as a writer, church-mouse poor. I was breaking in by submitting material to what were then two hungry markets: exposé and men´s adventure. (Wincing, I still recall some of the tiles of my published articles—Veracruz–Steaming Port of Call (Girls), The Day They Smeared Hitler´s Massacre Battalion, When They Rocked in the Pad of the Marquis de Sade, I Am the Love Slave of a Voodoo Priestess.)
Reed in those days was a traveling salesman for a text-book publisher. Since his schedule was geared to that of colleges and universities, he had summers off. I soon learned that Reed himself had writing ambitions. I also re-call the lofty condescension with which he viewed my then literary efforts. Never would he degrade himself by writing for Confidential or True Adventures. He was going to publish a lapidary masterpiece, a pastiche of war experience days in Paris, New York and Tangier, and philosophical insights into our culture and society that would put him in the Hemingway-Fitzgerald-Mailer-Jones category of leading writers to come out of world wars.
Now many years have elapsed –and Reed has not published his novel, nor a novella, nor an article, nor a short story, nor as much as a joke. His next published script will be his first. Yet — in spite of this spectacular record of lack of success, his arrogance and superciliousness have not diminished an iota.
To be fair, Reed has distinguished himself in another sphere — one involving such familiar movements as pouring liquid into a glass, bending an elbow, and raising the glass to one´s lips. If empty bottles were published manuscripts, Reed would match Georges Simenon, listed In the Guiness Book of Records as the most prolific of twentieth century writers.
Reed´s credentials as a literary light are matched only by his alcohol-fueled venom against writers who are, with varying degrees of success, making the creative effort. Is there a cure for the Reeds of this world? Will the day come when Reed realizes that the enemy is not writers who exceed him in industry and ability but his own lack of character and self-discipline? Will he one day acquire the modesty befitting a man with so much to be modest about? Frankly, I doubt it. Looking into Reed´s future, I see it adumbrated by these lines from the Bard: “Tomorrow, tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps on this pretty pace…”