Seventeen Million Words

Richard Poirier

  • The Inman Diary: A Public and Private Confession edited by Daniel Aaron
    Harvard, 1661 pp, £35.95, March 1986, ISBN 0 674 45445 6

On 5 December 1963, the day Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, a man in Boston named Arthur Inman, having made several earlier attempts on his own life, managed to put a bullet through his head. A variety of chronic ailments and complaints had made him an invalid for nearly all of his 68 years, and except for brief excursions in his ancient chauffeur-driven Cadillac, he had since 1919 confined himself to an apartment building in downtown Boston named Garrison Hall. For as many as sixteen hours of a normal day he would stay in bed, when not sitting or reading in the bathroom. The rooms he frequented were kept shaded for the same reason his car was painted a dull black: to protect his eyes from glare. He suffered periodically from nose bleeds, hay fever, arthritis, influenza, a slipping rib cage, migraine headaches, pain in the testicles, pains in the neck, collarbone and shoulder, chills, cold sweats, canker sores, skin rashes, trouble with his stomach, which required frequent pumping, trouble with his throat, which required ultra-violet treatments, trouble with his coccyx, which was ministered to by a succession of osteopaths. He was especially dependent on Dr Cyrus Pike, who much of the time was having an affair with his wife Evelyn.

Inman was visited daily by an assortment of doctors, nurses, prescribers and quacks, and by people off the street, easily a thousand of them over the years, who answered his advertisements in the newspaper for anyone willing for a fee to talk or read to him or otherwise make themselves useful. One such was Eddie Simms, chauffeur, manservant, confidant and raconteur, who claimed to have been a professional ice-skater, and a baseball-player, and to have driven for Diamond Jim Brady and Lillian Russell. Many of those who answered the advertisements became for periods of time a part of Inman’s extended household, charmed into telling their stories to a man who listened eagerly in the half-light, gave them straight forward advice, and was clearly in no position to be moralistic or condescending about anyone else’s confessed behaviour, however bizarre. Pubescent girls and young women particularly appealed to him. He took a shine to Alma Bush, for example, because ‘her feet, those subtle indicants of a woman’s character, were exquisitely kept.’ He would invite them to undress, admire their finer parts, fondle them and often as not cajole them into bed. Some nearby colleges did not approve, but his wife, who had attended Wellesley, not only befriended but recruited some of his female attendants.

Such a household required a sizeable yearly income, which was supplied, not without grumpy conditions, by his wealthy family in Atlanta, where he was born, and later by trust funds. It also required a lot of space. He rented five apartments in Garrison Hall, which, though run-down, was inexpensive, cosy, and with a generally tolerant management. One apartment was occupied by Evelyn, who, with her need for independent space and her taste for travel, often incensed him. She left on several occasions and came close to divorce, but remained his wife for forty years, until his death. Another was used by his secretaries and handy persons; and still another was occupied now and again by some favoured girl, like Kathleen Connor. He met Kathleen in 1958 when she was 16 and sometimes thought of adopting her. A fifth apartment, in addition to the one occupied by Inman himself, was rented and then sublet on the floor below to ensure quiet. He was hysterically sensitive to noise, which was a strong factor in his attempts at suicide. The horrendous noise, dirt, and certainty of disruption, became especially acute in the early Sixties with the construction of a building complex in the nearby Boston and Albany Railroad Yards. This spelled the end of the elaborately buttressed existence he had meticulously set up for himself, and like one of his heroes, Adolf Hitler, he took his life in his own ‘garrison’ as the enemy closed in.

Kathy was able to spend an hour alone with Inman’s open casket in the funeral home, and even though as an Irish girl from Charleston she had witnessed a number of wakes she was appalled at his appearance, as we learn from the editor’s coda to the diary:

‘Joseph, Mary and Jesus,’ she says she said, ‘what have they done to you?’ The Arthur who loathed perfume and powder and who more than once had ordered his girls to scrub the paint off their faces was gussied up with cosmetics, It made her laugh and cry. She told him he looked terrible. She reminded him of her promise not to abandon him – and straightened his tie. As she got ready to leave, she spied a bit of blood in his ear and removed it with a moistened corner of her dress.

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