The following is an excerpt from John Updike’s gem-studded collection of completely imagined, highly imaginative interviews with characters we’ve all met, but never knew as well as we should have. This interview was with "The Bankrupt Man"
. . .
Q: When did you first know that you were bankrupt?
A: I think from birth I intuited I was headed that way. I didn’t cry, like other infants.
Q: Do you see any possibility for yourself of ever being non-bankrupt?
A: The instant bankruptcy is declared, laws on the federal, state, and local levels work in harmony to erode the condition. Some assets are exempted, others are sheltered. In order to maintain bankruptcy, fresh investments must be undertaken, and opportunities seized as they arise. A sharp eye on economic indicators must be kept lest the whole package slips back into the black. Being bankrupt is not a lazy man’s game.
Q: Have you any word of advice for those of us who are not bankrupt?
A [with that twinkle]: Eat your hearts out.
. . .
This galls us. We wish to destroy him, this clown of legerity, who bounces higher and higher off the net of laws that would enmesh us, who weightlessly spiders up the rigging to the dizzying spotlit tip of the tent-space and stands there in a glittering trapeze suit, all white, like the chalk-daubed clown who among the Australian aborigines moves in and out of the sacred ceremonial, mocking it. We spread ugly rumors, we mutter that he is not bankrupt at all, that he is as sound as the pound, as the dollar, that his bankruptcy is a sham. He hears of the rumor and in a note, on one-hundred-percent-rag stationery, with embossed letterhead, he challenges us to meet him on West Main Street, by the corner of the Corn Exchange, under the iron statue of Cyrus Shenanigan, the great Civil War profiteer. We accept the challenge. We experience butterflies in the stomach. We go look at our face in the mirror. It is craven and shriveled, embittered by ungenerous thoughts.
Comes the dawn. Without parked cars, West Main Street seems immensely wide. The bankrupt man’s shoulders eclipse the sun. He takes his paces, turns, swiftly reaches down and pulls out the lining of both pants pockets. Verily, they are empty.
. . .
He ascends because he transcends. He deals from the bottom of the deck. He builds castles in the air. He makes America grow. His interests ramify. He is in close touch with Arabian oil. With Jamaican bauxite. With Antarctic refrigeration. He creates employment for squads of lawyers. He gets on his motorcycle. He tugs a thousand creditors in his wake, taking them over horizons they had never dreamt of hitherto.
He proves there is an afterlife.