(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Ed Wolfe is a loan officer whose aggressiveness in collecting bills for Cornucopia Finance Company (“Can you cope?” is Wolfe’s sardonic rechristening) verges on the maniacal. On the day the story opens, he is fired for doing his job too well: His zeal has transformed into a practice of vicious harassment of delinquent clients, and he is accused by his boss, La Meck, of having degenerated into a gangster. As the story’s title suggests, Ed Wolfe is exclusively self-absorbed, a champion of detachment and a heartlessly efficient operator.

Receiving his severance pay initiates a bizarre ritual of dispossession, as though Ed Wolfe, a man obsessed by his orphanhood, has chosen to quit the world rather than accept its dismissal of him. So begins a wildly comic personal liquidation sale: He sells his car and his furniture, he closes his savings account, cancels his insurance policy, pawns his clothes, and disconnects his telephone. He sells himself off with single-minded fervor, melting himself down into dollars, orphaning himself as completely as possible. When he has nothing left to sell—he imagines that his senses, his very skin, have been exchanged—he inventories his worth: $2,479.03. This is the sum total of his accumulated past and his ransomed future, as translated into cash flow.

It is also the measure of his distance from death. The exhilaration of freedom sours quickly as Ed Wolfe realizes that he cannot stave off the inexorable...

(The entire section is 456 words.)