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The International Writers Magazine - Our 21st year: Life Stories Archive

The Tragedy of the Spring-Breeze King
Daniel DiPrinzio

"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 that.

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 ending.

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 courthouse.

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 2009

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