Dateline: NEW YORK CITY—A connoisseur of self-help books has died alone and impoverished after having spent years locked in his apartment, practicing to be a better person.
Albert Dunderhead had an impressive collection of self-help manuals, as attested by the landlord who found Albert’s body. “Albert once showed me his library,” said the landlord, “and he boasted he was learning everything there is to know about techniques for increasing your confidence, winning friends and succeeding in business and romance.
“‘One day,’ Albert told me, ‘I’ll have learned enough to put my knowledge into practice, to apply the lessons in real life. And then nothing will stop me. I’ll finally have a job and a family and a life I can be proud of. Until then, I’ve got to keep hitting the books.’”
Albert’s body was found in front of a mirror, his hand on an open book turned to a passage about mastering your fears by reciting mantras in front of a mirror.
Having no friends or family, living on a small inheritance from his grandmother, Albert ventured out of his apartment only to purchase groceries and to peruse the self-help section of bookstores.
Albert’s neighbours sometimes complained about the noise from his apartment, when Albert practiced his lessons by holding conversations with imaginary employers, coworkers, and romantic prospects.
“The conversations went on for hours on end,” said one neighbour, “but it wasn’t the volume that bothered me so much as the annoying repetition. He tried out every conceivable variation on a job interview, for example, playing both parts himself.
“Or he’d imagine he was trying to pick up a girl at a grocery store, and he’d say, ‘I see you’re interested in avocados.’ ‘Why, yes I am,’ he’d say in response. And then he’d launch into a disquisition about the merits of different recipes for guacamole.
“But that wasn’t the end of it—not by a long shot. He’d carry on the same conversation over and over again, but switching from avocados to bananas, and then to spinach and watermelons and every other fruit or vegetable in turn. It was really, really annoying having to hear that blather through the wall throughout the evening and night.”
Albert received a posthumous award for “Most Ironic Life” from the Irony Association of America.
“Ironically,” said the Association’s founder, “our awards have no cash value, nor do we publicize them. Had Mr. Dunderhead been alive, he wouldn’t have been eligible for the award, since his life would have been ongoing. But even if he would have been eligible, he wouldn’t have known he’d won, because no one would have told him. And even if he found out about us and our awards, he may not have cared, because, as I said, our awards have zero prestige. There’s nothing to them, not even a little statue or anything.
“All we do is whisper about the winner for a while, maybe writing up a certificate and then quickly burning it so as not to spoil the irony of the self-effacing honours.”