International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Life Stories
Tragedy of the Spring-Breeze King
"All I wanted was to make people happy, to add an element of
luxury to hygeine, and this is the thanks I get?"
So asked Herb Bergandorffer
to Judge Pepper Corn in the Palm Beach District Court. Bergandorffer
was king of the Spring Breeze air-drying system, and at the moment,
his kingdom was crumbling. He was being sued for a billion dollars by
the family of Todd White, the biggest male star in the U.S.. White got
electrocuted and died when, stepping out of the shower one evening,
his Spring Breeze system malfunctioned. Investigators could not figure
exactly what happened, but there was no debating that the Spring Breeze
killed him. White's family decided on a billion because, at 20, he was
already commanding 25 million dollars per movie (with points, of course).
So if he worked for another 50 years, he could possibly have earned
The electrocution was 10 months ago. And Herb had had a bad 10 months.
He'd lost a lot of hair, almost the entire crown falling out in an apparant
mass follicle suicide. And I guess to balance the body out, he'd gained
a lot of weight. Nearly 50 pounds, which, on his 5 foot 7 frame, was
significant. He wasn't obese, but was definitely doing his best to bring
rotund back into everyday vocabulary.
His second wife, Ellie, was standing by him, but only to see how much
he was going to lose. And who could blame her? She had just turned 30,
and was too old to start over again. He was almost 70, and she had no
doubt that he was mature enough to understand.
But she was the least of what Herb was afraid of losing. In ascending
order, he'd miss Ellie, the Bentley, the Upper East Side Brownstone,
sex with Ellie, power, money. And above money and power was Palm Beach,
and the hacienda-style house that sat regally around a sparkling bluegrass.
He loved that house like a pet. He carried pictures of it in his wallet.
It was the only thing he'd ever fantasized about as a child since he
first heard the two words at at Jordan Ptashkin's eighth birthday party
back in Brooklyn. Palm Beach. The words were like a drug, endorphins
and seratonin flooding his body at the mere mention. Palm Beach. Sounded
like ... a spring breeze.
Several times throughout his failed inventions, as he toiled for more
than 20 years in a New York patent office making no more than a high
school assistant principle, the hope of Palm Beach was the only thing
that kept him going.
He didn't exactly steal the air-drying system from his former partner.
I mean, he was in the room when Jacob designed it. He couldn't be blamed
if Jacob didn't patent it right away. Herb kept a fond place for Jacob
in his heart, especially since he never had to share any of the profits
with him. He sent a lovely bouquet to Jacob's funeral.
Spring Breeze turned bathrooms into an airy heaven. When someone stepped
out of the shower, he or she had two knobs within arm's reach: one to
control the speed of the air, and one to control the temperature. Five
to nine air vents were positioned in the bathroom, depending on logisitics.
The typical Spring Breeze package had two vents by the legs, two by
the torso, and one above. As its tagline promised, Spring Breeze helped
people say goodbye to wet towels forever. It was installed around the
country. Because of the initial high cost, it was only found in the
homes of the rich. But after it appeared on the home renovation show,
"Break Down a Wall," orders came from all over, especially
from people who really couldn't afford the system but just had to have
it. And that was fine with Herb. He didn't care if the customer or Visa
paid the bill--as long as it got paid.
After Spring Breeze burst like firecrackers on its IPO, Bergandorffer
flew to Breakers Row, which was the Palm Beach of Palm Beach. Fortunately
for him, some bad investments helped make two properties for sale, and
he bought the first one he walked into.
He won over the community with free installations. He brunched at the
Palm Beach Country Club and, even though he was terrible, golfed three
times a week. He loved the nickname they hoisted upon him, Mr. Breeze,
and all the women wanted to dance with him to Summer Wind. He was in
the middle of a massage when he received word that his divorce to his
first wife, Gloria, was finalized. Ellie was there to give him a happy
And now this. Everything gone with Judge Corn's verdict. The White family
got it all. Herb was ruined. He didn't remember how he got home from
The worst part was, of course, losing the home. He did all he could
to stay, sellling every piece of furniture, art, and appliance but it
made no difference.
He found no welcome at the Country Club. Tee times were forever unavailable.
When he went in the ocean for a relaxing swim, it threw him back to
the shore, covered him in seaweed, and placed sharp shells in his path
to cut his feet. Nothing and nobody wanted him around.
The last night at Breakers Row, he sat on his bathroom floor, on the
tile. He sold the bathroom rug the day before for a cup of coffee and
half of a danish. His Spring Breeze was on high, blowing a comfortablef
78 degrees on him--not surprisingly, the "Palm Beach" setting--when
it shortened out the power. In the dark, just as the power unsuccessfully
tried to kick back on, he stilfed a sob.
© Daniel DiPrinzio Sept 21 2009
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