It’s an ordinary mahogany bergere chair. What makes it special? The chair belonged to Napoleon during his exile in the 1800’s on St. Helena but there are hundreds of other items that would seem to be more interesting. After Napoleon was captured at Waterloo his possessions toured England. That’s right people lined up to see his gold tongue scraper and cashmere jockey shorts. Then when he died it’s likely that the priest called in to administer the last rights lopped off the royal John Thomas. His counterpart the English chaplain who tiptoed off with the royal arm chair seems tame by comparison.
So why am I fascinated with Napoleon’s chair? It’s the damage to the rattan on the right arm. Did Napoleon grip it in a sudden rage or did he gradually wear it away tapping his fingers in annoyance at the numerous acts of petty revenge inflicted on him by his captors? It brings the whole mad story of his last days on St. Helena into perspective. It’s the Fitzgerald nickel.
What’s the Fitzgerald nickel? I give a nickel to anyone that tells me they’re interested in writing. It’s confusing till I relay the dialog from The Last Tycoon where the writer learns why he’s a writer:
This is you. A girl comes in. She doesn't see you. She takes off her gloves. She opens her purse. She dumps it out on the table. You watch her. This is you. Now... She has two dimes, a matchbox and a nickel. She leaves the nickel on the table. She puts the two dimes back into her purse. She takes the gloves... they're black. Puts them into the stove. Lights a match. Suddenly, the telephone rings. She picks it up. She listens. She says, "l've never owned a pair of black gloves in my life." Hangs up. Kneels by the stove. Lights another match. Suddenly, you notice... ...there's another man in the room... watching every move the girl makes. What happens? l don't know. l was just making pictures. What was the nickel for? Jane, what was the nickel for? The nickel was for the movies. What do you pay me for? l don't understand the damn stuff. Yes, you do... or you wouldn't have asked about the nickel.
You’re a writer when you ask about the nickel. You’re a writer when you ask about the damaged arm on Napoleon’s chair. It’s all about the Fitzgerald nickel.