The Fundamentals of Play

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Overview

Caitlin Macy's remarkable first novel is an evocation of a time and a place in which those things that were always so dependable--money, class, family--are threatened on all sides.

Narrated by George Lenhart, scion of a family who lost their fortune but not their good name, The Fundamentals of Play follows five friends from prep school as they enter adult life in New York City in the aimless, early nineties, before the internet explosion. They work entry-level jobs at investment...

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Overview

Caitlin Macy's remarkable first novel is an evocation of a time and a place in which those things that were always so dependable--money, class, family--are threatened on all sides.

Narrated by George Lenhart, scion of a family who lost their fortune but not their good name, The Fundamentals of Play follows five friends from prep school as they enter adult life in New York City in the aimless, early nineties, before the internet explosion. They work entry-level jobs at investment banks, spend weekends in the Hamptons. At their center is the fickle, elusive Kate Goodenow. Everyone is in love with Kate and only George understands her heart was captured long ago, and for good.

Hailed as a Great Gatsby for the end of the twentieth century--The Fundamentals of Play introduces a brilliant new Lost Generation longing to live careless lives, while the situations around them are increasingly fraught with importance--and the world threatens to leave them behind.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A marvel-a thrillingly intelligent, witty and tragic look at love and class in Manhattan.”–Newsweek

“Brilliantly portrays the onset of a new age and its ideals.... Realistic both in its vibrancy and loneliness.”–Chicago Tribune

“Macy [is] an ambitious and graceful writer...her eye for the sparks that fly when her honed and not so honed sensibilities rub together is nearly unerring.”–The New Yorker

Tasha Robinson
Caitlin Macy's debut novel, The Fundamentals Of Play, is a historical romance for an era barely past, a soulful lament for the simpler lifestyle of about a week ago. Like Scarlett O'Hara watching Atlanta burn, Macy's twentysomething Ivy Leaguers watch as their brittle, guarded world of privilege is infected with cell phones, the Internet, and the most nouveau of the nouveau riche: tech-geek venture capitalists. Narrator George Lenhart is a despairing first-year Wall Street analyst, speeding his life away with 100-hour work weeks so he can comfortably "wake up old." Most of the color in his world comes from the casually snobbish rich kids he befriended in prep school and at Dartmouth--particularly Kate Goodenow, a breezy bon vivant who was "made to be indulged." Her offhand boyfriend, Chat Wethers, is too artfully disengaged to express jealousy for her other suitors, including his ex-roommate Harry Lombardi, a puppy-eager, hopelessly crass computer savant. Lenhart's coterie doesn't understand the significance of the "browser" Lombardi is developing for some upcoming "web" of computers, but they understand his sudden wealth and power. Goodenow's choice between Lombardi's sloppy, new-money lifestyle and Wethers' old-money primness is further complicated by two other prospects: Lenhart himself, who has an acceptable lineage but no money, and childhood sweetheart Nick Beale, who has no breeding, no cash, and absolute freedom. Macy practically reduces the birth of a new American class structure to an animal-husbandry issue: Which of the four available bull studs is best fit to breed the next generation? But she cattily doubles back on her own allegory so often that it's hard to distinguish conscious satire from outright narrative chaos, particularly when she finally descends into hopeless romance-novel bathos and Lenhart himself decries the story as a cliché. It's hard to divine a single honest intention on Macy's part. She tells a solid, mostly compelling story while openly mocking it, evokes nostalgia for a lifestyle she portrays as unbearably shallow, and dryly filters current events through literary conventions more often reserved for gushy Civil War romances. As a book, The Fundamentals Of Play is alternately brilliant and embarrassingly juvenile, but as a cultural artifact, it's a sizzling nugget of black irony that can only be safely read with the detached amusement its central characters value above all other things.
Onion AV Club
Publishers Weekly
"The words never matter, in books or on dates," says George Lenhart, the bemused narrator of Macy's clever and thoroughly entertaining debut novel. "[I]t is the tone that survives." Long after the final page, Macy's tone, elegant and ironic, does survive, but so do her vibrant characters and their youthful hijinks. Set in the early '80s, just after the Pam Am Building became the MetLife, Macy's novel follows a small set of Ivy Leaguers as they make their way in New York City. At the heart of this set is Kate Goodenow, the anorexic rich girl whose sharpest critical word is "un-fun." Though suspect in other women's eyes, Kate is deeply alluring to men, from George to his college roommate Chatland Wethers to Harry Lombardi, the middle-class Dartmouth dropout who surprises everyone by making it big as a high-tech venture capitalist. George, whose family has lost its money but not its good name, seems to know that Kate will always remain beyond his reach. Indeed, wealthy, upper-crust Chat is unofficially engaged to her when the novel opens. Kate, however, somehow falls for Harry, who is short and stout and possesses a Long Island accent. If Harry's courtship of Kate turns her clubbish set on its head, it also rocks Harry's hometown buddy, Cara McLean, the girl who taught him how to smoke when they were in junior high, and she does her best to upset the relationship. The recurrent trope is play (playing roles, playing Hearts, simply playing), and the novel turns on just who is playing for keeps. While the shadow of Fitzgerald falls across this novel, Macy has the good sense to gently mock the congenitally wealthy and to allow hardworking Harry his financial success. The author's wit is sharp, her word play is keen and even as she lets George play one last bittersweet hand with Kate, Macy never betrays her clear-sighted recognition that old money is simply that: old. 6-city author tour. Film rights to Scott Rudin. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
In the tradition of 1930s fiction, a crowd of wealthy, WASPy prep-school friends descend on New York City after college to drink vast quantities of alcohol and "have fun" until middle age overtakes them. The center of this crowd is Kate Goodenow, who sets the standard for the group. Enter outsider Harry Lombardi, an ambitious (and therefore contemptible) social-climbing boor, who also happens to be a Catholic and a computer genius. He is on the brink of launching an Internet browser that will make him wealthy. Kate takes up with Harry for the novelty and shock value of it, going so far as to agree to marry him. Fate intervenes in the form of Cara, who announces that she is carrying Harry's baby. In the inevitable scene when Kate tries to "buy off" Cara, tragedy strikes, rearranging the whole cast of characters and their plans. Macy writes masterfully, creating vivid and unflattering pictures of these vapid lives. She tries too hard to create intrigue, hinting at but withholding for too long the resolution of the tragedy, but overall this is a very readable novel.--Joanna M. Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Coll. of Continuing Education Lib., Providence Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Yahlin Chang
… a marvel - a thrillingly intelligent, witty and tragic look at love and class in Manhattan.
Newsweek
The New Yorker
Macy [is] an ambitious and graceful writer...her eye for the sparks that fly when her honed and not so honed sensibilties rub together is nearly unnerring...
Maureen Howard
Caitlin Macy has written a beguiling and serious novel of manners. She is a brilliant observer of the guilded young and of their ironic posturing in a contemporary scene of more than plenty. The Fundamentals of Play is an elegy for lost innocence, haunted by the moral import of The Great Gatsby.
Elizabeth Strout
Immensely enjoyable. Whether or not you are familiar with world of wealth and priviledge, the touching, distinctive voice of this narrator will draw you into a universal tale of good and bad conduct, loss, and desire.
Kirkus Reviews
A witty and sophisticated tragicomedy of errors that echoes the melancholic delight of The Great Gatsby. Protected by the careless elegance of old-money wealth, a small group of Manhattan friends attempt to preserve the irresponsible ease and glory of their prep-school days. George, the likable, sincere, if slightly plodding narrator, recalls the not so distant past, when each of the five was trying for a profitable career or marriage. Chat, George's friend at Dartmouth, is prissy and complaining in that endearing, hard-drinking Noel Coward kind of way. Aside from shared history and jokes, it is their mutual admiration of Kate Goodenow that holds them together. Patrician and flippant, Kate is the very definition of good breeding and the universal object of desire. Into the cozy trio stumbles Harry Lombardi, who lacks what is prized most—good manners and a good name—and possesses in great abundance what is ubiquitously scorned: ambition. A computer whiz from Jersey, he quit Dartmouth after a year to pursue high finance. Although a legend on Wall Street, he is nonetheless ridiculed by the clique for his jittery enthusiasm and bumbling etiquette. And he won't quit harping on his new financial venture—some kind of World Wide Web that will change the world. To the horror of George and Chat, Harry in his naive impertinence aims for Kate, and they are soon engaged. Sweeping back and forth from their prep-school days to the forced, aimless pursuit of pleasure that occupies their present, the narrative effortlessly builds a collection of scenes that serve to perfectly reveal the ragged edges beneath the characters' glossy veneers. More an exposé than a plot-drivenwork,the tangled fates of Harry, Kate, George, and Chat are thrown for a loop when a couple of very real ghosts from the past threaten to ruin their fun. A winning debut: traditional in all aspects and remarkably adept.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385721127
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/17/2001
  • Edition description: 1 ANCHOR
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,396,247
  • Product dimensions: 5.17 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Caitlin Macy graduated from Yale and received her MFA in creative writing from Columbia. She has been published in The New York Times Magazine and Slate. She lives in New York.
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Read an Excerpt



Chapter One

It was the year they changed the name on the building that ruins the view down Park Avenue. My firm was midtown-Fordyce, Farley-and I was that lowest form of post-undergraduate life: the first-year analyst. We worked hundred-hour weeks in fabric-upholstered cubicles of four feet by six. The guy in the one next to mine didn't so much as acknowledge me till one morning when he came in late and was compelled to share the latest outrage. "They changed the name!" I was indignantly informed. "They went and changed the name!"

I remember I told Robbins not to worry, that everyone would go on calling it the PanAm Building. I was wrong. Everyone started calling it the MetLife Building. This isn't really important-I certainly never heard anyone try to make a metaphor of it (the change in the city's most visible corporation from airplanes to insurance)-but it stuck in my mind, and it is from that point which I always date my arrival in the city.

I was like any other foolishly young face in pinstripes. I lived on the barren top of the Upper East Side in one of those high-rise dormitories called the Something Arms. My roommate was Geoff Toff-Will Toff's brother, whom I'd known at Dartmouth. Geoff was paralegaling as a means of getting into law school. We didn't live together so much as run into one another in the apartment every couple of weeks. When we did, Geoff was amiable, aggressively amiable, agreeing with my opinions before I had fully uttered them.

"I really think this whole mess about the Long Island-"

"Yeah, yeah, I know-me, too."

The television was Toff's. So was the sofabed, and a large fake-leatherreclining chair from which he affected an ironic distance that I didn't quite believe. I had the stereo and a glass coffee table and hung three prints of the Seine on the wall.

In my bedroom (the smaller of the two; I lost the coin toss) as in the living room the floor was carpeted blue. I slept on a mattress on the floor which I planned to upgrade to a bed. The night I moved in we made spaghetti and jar sauce, and that was the last time either of us opened a kitchen cabinet.

The other day I was depressed to read in the Times that the idea of catching up on sleep is a myth. Nevertheless, I'm planning my Rip-Van-Winkle revenge. I took a poll of some friends of mine, and we all agreed the last time we were well-rested was in 1982. I remember one particular morning that first spring at Fordyce when I discovered myself lying on a stretch of the blue carpet, the ell-shaped inlet which joined my bedroom to the hall. I did not know how long I had been lying there. I believe that I was having a breakdown, from pulling two or three all-nighters in a row, but I don't know-maybe I was upset about something. Eventually I stood up and went to work. It seemed funny to me, in the cab downtown.

But then, everything seemed funny. The money-or the idea of money, for I had none yet-and the hundred-hour work weeks gave the year a wired, comic tinge. It was all such a ruse. One pretended to be an adult and did adult-like things: one had the Journal delivered; one had a morning coffee order. The coffee order-order-was everything. If you imposed enough order on your life you would wake up your boss, you would wake up old, the imposition would no longer be necessary because the habits would be fully acquired. And in our generation we wanted to be old. Not all of us, of course, but among those of us who went to Wall Street, it was a prevalent posture. I personally looked forward to the day when I could creak around in threadbare seersucker and indulge in my baffling idiosyncrasies; when I would be chastised by my wife for sneaking out to the local diner for an old-school, high-cholesterol breakfast. My parents were a little older than most parents with kids my age-closer to World War Two than Vietnam-and I was one of a number of my peers who believed that their generation had gotten it right. And perhaps the habits had stuck all the more in our family because they were all we had been able to hold onto. I hadn't come to Wall Street for nothing.

I thought of calling Kate-of course I thought of calling her-but the time was never right. Monday was too early in the week and Wednesday was too late. The daytime seemed too casual for the initial call, the evenings much too formal. The weekends were impossible. Chat Wethers would know where to find her, but I didn't want to go through him. And in the back of my mind, I cherished the idea of running into her. I had envisioned various settings, each triter than the next-crossing Grand Central, hailing a cab up Park on a rainy night. Then one evening she materialized, right where you would expect her to, at the Town Club, on Sixty-Second Street.


The partner in a deal I worked on took us there the night the company went public. It was the partner and I, a director and two associates, shooting endless after dinner pool in an inner sanctum three or four flights up. My direct boss was the associate Daniels. He was the kind of man who buys the Harvard Business School sweatshirt, the Harvard Business School key chain, and any number of Harvard Business School bumper stickers. He got drunk and said more and more loudly, "You're having a good time now, eh, Lenhart? First time at the Town Club, eh, Lenhart?" Eventually he picked a fight with me over a shot I didn't call, and looking for an excuse to escape the work scene, I volunteered to put him into a cab.

I intended to head home myself, but after hesitating a moment outside, I let myself back into the foyer of the Club. It was well-lit; standing just inside the door you could see up a wide marble staircase which rose for several steps, split in two, curved around a gold bust and rejoined in time to deposit the climber onto a brief mezzanine. Like all stairways, it gave the best view coming down, but the ascending prospect was more enticing because it was in looking up that one anticipated-and correctly-the rewards which lay beyond the mezzanine: ballrooms, there were, and bars.

Contrary to what Daniels had said, it was not my first time at the Club. My grandfather had been a member, and I had childhood memories of drinking Tom Collinses "without the Tom" in the men's bar upstairs. And looking back now on that evening, I'm sure I returned to seek some evidence of our residual belonging: his name on a roster; a face staring out from the photograph of a men's dinner half a century ago; or perhaps his old Chesterfield hanging still in the coat check, the claim forgotten after a particularly raucous night.


But of course there was no coat. My mother wore it now. And as I stood there, looking up the stairs toward a muted, urbane din, the source of which the mezzanine concealed, my disconcerting childhood seemed to creep up and surround me: we didn't, for instance, own our own house. My father ran a tiny pre-adolescent boarding school in western Massachusetts called the Rectory, for sixth through eighth grade boys, of the kind which the last thirty years had nearly wiped out, and so the school provided a house. My grandfather's apartment had been sold years ago, to settle some of his debts. There is a whole host of recuperative fantasies which someone like me swears by, growing up, and even, reflexively, now: I was going to buy back 1100 Madison.... ! Buy back Nantucket... ! And I suppose the Town Club figured in there somewhere as well. In the meantime the running joke between my sister and me was that we had the only kind of money that was respectable these days-the kind that was all gone. <br><p><br>I am not sure how long I had lingered there, just inside the door (with no particular ambition to go forward or back but, rather, simply to be allowed to stay), when upstairs, I heard a loud party come down from dinner and take over the main bar. Then over the sound of men's voices, I heard a girl laugh. "I'll see if I know anyone," I thought. When I got to the top of the stairs, I turned to see if I could tell who it was laughing. There were a couple of others who were passing with me, and they paused, as well, and turned to look. It was impossible not to follow that laugh to its source.

A group of men her father's age with big old fashioned glasses in their hands were standing in a circle around my old friend Kate Goodenow. I remember, in the moment before she saw me, I had a dread that Kate wouldn't recognize me, and it seemed to me it took her face an instant too long to change. Then she cried my name.

"George!"

All fears washed away, I stepped forward to embrace her.

"Why, it's the most fun possible," Kate murmured gravely into my ear.

With us both there, the men seemed to remember themselves, or their collective age, and rather than be introduced they turned in a single motion toward the bar.

She was all grown-up in a navy suit with a sprout of scarf blossoming out from the neck. The cut of the suit was too severe to be becoming, but then Kate had never been stylish, really-I judged I could say that having seen Paris. Like a lot of thin girls, the clothes tended to wear her.


"I've been looking all over town for you," I said.

"And where all over town did you expect to find me?" she replied steadily, with those eyes that were neither bored nor bright. She was as tranquil as she ever was, and I suppose I had known she would be. That was why it wouldn't have done any good to seek her out. One wasn't allowed to want things of Kate. I had meant to "catch up," for instance, and in a hurry, but against my intent was Kate's demeanor-denying that there was any catching up to be done.

"I've been in Paris, you know," I said, anyway-to establish myself somehow.


"Really? I've been right here every minute."

"Then it suits you to be home," I said.

For though Kate was not beautiful, it was a fresh face, to which you found yourself applying old adjectives-she had been called "game" for instance. "Attractive" wouldn't work, either. Attractive tells a slightly different story. The preternaturally pale boy who turned, presently, from the bar would not have gone around with "attractive" women. In the first place, he wouldn't have found them attractive. He had to squint at me through the wire-rims

"Lenhart! Christ almighty!"

-and then I was wringing hands with my college roommate, Chat Wethers.

"It's about time you turned up! I thought we'd lost you to the semi-demi-hemi-monde. Didn't I say, Kate, George'll shack up with some Frenchie, start wearing berets, heh-heh?"

Chat's bank had sent him to China for three months, but he was back in New York now. "Business school applications-they're hell, George! What am I supposed to write about a major setback I've encountered? You tell me. The time the Diesel died on the way to Vermont? But maybe I won't go next year. I don't know. See if my recommendations pan out. Otherwise do a third year-"


"I'll bet George wouldn't do a thing like that for a living," interrupted Kate, without raising her voice. "Would you, George?"

"I'm afraid so," I confessed.

Chat drained his glass. "They got you, too, Lenhart?"

I nodded. "Corporate finance. Fordyce, Farley."

"What about the ex-pat plan?"

"I just couldn't-I don't know," I started, struggling toward an articulation I myself had not quite formed.

But Chat nodded as if he understood. "I know exactly what you mean," he asserted. "You think Paris was tough. "

"No, not exactly-"

"Try China, George-Chengdu, China. Two western bars in the whole town."

"Yeah?" I couldn't picture it till Chat added, "One newsstand." Then an image came to mind of a tall, oblique scowl-on-legs trying to get hold of a Journal in a remote Eastern city, then settling grudgingly when by some miracle somebody produced a day-old Trib. He had always been bent on travel, yet travel without any wish for, or-my mistake-pretense of assimilation. I guess he was the old sort of American abroad.

I had stories to tell and was about to expand on my own travels, when Kate announced, looking pleased with herself: "If someone gave me the chance to go anywhere in the world, do you know where I'd choose?"


"Where?" said Chat and I.

"I'd choose Maine. I'd choose Cold Harbor, Maine. I'd choose it over France, Italy, Spain-" She ticked continental Europe off on her fingers. "Is that horrible of me? Is that the most horrible thing you've ever heard?" Her gray eyes looked happily from one to the other of us for confirmation.

"I'll drink to that," Chat said curtly.


"You?" Kate said, affecting scorn. "You were hardly up at all last summer. George, he was hardly up at all-can you believe that?"

"I work, Katie, remember?" Chat said, and gave me a burdened look that seemed to say: "Women!"

And yet from the inflection he put on the word I got the sense that the job remained a novelty. "Guess what, George?" he'd announced our senior spring, with the air of someone who has done something rather devilishly clever: "I got a job."

"Now who's having what?" Chat inquired kindly, rattling the ice in his glass. "George? What are you drinking now, straight Absinthe, heh-heh?"

Kate's patriotic provincialism-and Chat's cinematic picture of Paris, with men in berets drinking liquers-went down like a cool tonic after my sojourn across the pond.

We had settled on something, when Kate got a silly look on her face, like when she was going to tell a joke. "No, Chattie," she said. I have a better idea."

"Yes?"

"George will have a vodka and lemonade."

"Sorry?"

"A Popov and lemonade," Kate went on, making her voice silly and dreamy. "Dining hall lemonade. Dining hall lemonade mixed in an athletic department water bottle. "

"Oh, yes," I said warmly, catching on. She was referring to a habit of ten years earlier. Kate and I had gone to boarding school together; I had met Chat in college based on our mutual acquaintance. Or, to put it more precisely, our friendship there had been predicated on my knowing her.

"Will you have one, too?" I asked quickly, flattered by her turning this into a landmark, and in front of Chat.


"Of course," she laughed.

"One quart you mean," I supplied.


"Yes! And if I drink too much-!"

"If we should get sick you mean-"

"Why, we'll go and vomit our guts out behind the science building!"

"I don't want to hear about you and George behind the science building!" Chat bawled. "Wouldn't surprise me if you did want vodka and lemonade!

"I'm telling you, George," he went on, petulant, gesturing with his empty glass, "I don't know what anyone drinks anymore. In China, it's one thing, get a little tropicallee-but I swear, the next corporate tool I hear order a 'Kamikaze,' I'll -"

"I want a Sex-on-the- Beach!" cried Kate. "I want an 'Orgasm'!"

"Don't say that word, Katie. I hate that word. You know I hate that word."

"Get me an Orgasm!" <br><p><br>"They should never have let women into the Town Club," said Chat gloomily.

"Oh, have they?" I said. I meant this to be ironic somehow-as if I would know the inner workings of the admissions policy-but the irony was lost on Kate.

"Well, not really," she said seriously. "Only till we're thirty. "

"Then what?"


"Then we have to marry in or we're out."

"Put out or shut out," they both said, and they both gave half a laugh.

Chat took himself off to the bar.

Alone with Kate, I was suddenly self-conscious, as if I had forgotten my lines in a play. Their particular brand of droll urbanity was not entirely new to me, but it was the first time I'd seen them in situ, as it were, and their casual indifference to the setting made me feel like a very young boy with shiny shoes and his hair slicked down, who has been allowed to make an appearance at the adults' party before going to bed.

I thought again that Kate and I might talk, for real, but she said, rather annoyed, "Did you hear Jess Brindle was engaged, George?"

"No, I hadn't," I said.


"Yes, but she broke it off."

"Oh, good," I said, glad of this, for some reason, though this was the first I had heard of the girl.


"Yes, bit of a ... random choice..."

Then Kate proceeded to give several more names I had never heard and to account for their whereabouts. Marnie Pall was in town, and her cousin Dick had married Loribelle Betz, up in Maine, and Granny had gotten drunk at the wedding-which was a rather elaborate affair-and Granny had said, "That girl is climbing as fast as she can, isn't she?" and it was very embarrassing....

I heard it said once, by whom I can't recall, that true beauty always has one flaw. As Kate went on, blithely chattering, I fell into the habit I had of looking for that flaw-the thin lip or the feature out of place-which might have meant her entry into that elite society. And yet, those frank good looks of hers had always seemed to suggest that there was something distasteful about beauty, something a little tacky about a quality that by its very nature draws attention to itself, like coming overdressed to a party, or throwing a black-tie wedding in the country. But Kate-Kate was what you wanted, somehow, in this infinitely ironic age. She was the kind of girl about whom other girls used to say, "All right, so she's thin but-" trying vainly to suss out the appeal. And even now, when her name comes up, and with it the sulky protest it invariably evokes-"She's not that great"-I do not feel compelled to argue in her defense. That was the whole point: she didn't have to be.

"You're not still with that one girl, are you?" she wanted to know.

"Hmm. What else do you want to know?"

Kate thought, frowning. "What you ate for breakfast."

"Poached eggs on toast," I lied, finally getting up to speed.

She liked it. "Where did you eat a poached egg? Where did you get a poached egg?"

"In my kitchen."

"You poached the egg yourself, George? How did you learn to poach eggs?"

"My mother taught me."

"She did? I wish my mother-"


"Come over some time; I'll make you one."

"Breakfast date?" she said curiously. "Do you think Chat would approve? You know he and I are supposed to be engaged," she added then, as if it were an afterthought, and she grinned.


"I lied," I admitted suddenly. "I didn't eat breakfast."

"You didn't?"

"No, I just had coffee. That's all I ever have."

"That truly disappoints me."

"I meant to say-best wishes."

"Oh, it's not ... official," she said. For some reason this made both of us laugh. There was no promise in Kate's laughter; in fact it was just the opposite note that seemed to resound, an expression of utmost faith in today, of total absorption in the moment as it passed. "You know, George, the main thing is to have fun," she asserted suddenly.

"I don't know," I said after a moment. I put my hands in my pockets and took them out again. "It's just New York, I guess. I'm still getting used to it."

"I understand completely," Kate said. "Isn't it dirty and awful?"

"Yes," I said.

"But it's fun," Kate continued. She had a way of making platitudes like that sound fresh. "It's so, so, so, so fun. You just go out and everyone's around and-and you don't have any homework. It's just so nice not having any homework."

"Oh, Kate."


"And you know, George," she murmured confidentially, "what else would we be doing? We have nothing better to do, do we? Or ... ? I should speak for myself, shouldn't I? I have nothing better to do." She said this very happily. "Do you?"

"Well, sometimes I work about a hundred hours a week," I said.


"Right," Kate replied. "Work-play-That's what I mean."

Presently Chat returned with the drinks.

"Cheers, then," I said, making an effort to rally. This was cardinal with Kate; one always "rallied." I think she had invented the word, at least in this context. She and Chat lived by certain imperatives, such as, "You have to rally," and "You never bail out on a scene" and the principle, when throwing parties, of never running out of tonic.


"To what?" said Chat, drinking off the top of his glass.


"Well-to our generation," I said. "Because we have nothing better to do."

Chat, good sport-best sport-laughed a little too hard.


**********


We stayed for two more. Waiting at the coat check, I cursed the middle of the week. There were not five minutes to turn into an hour to turn into a night out. "Get used to it, buddy," Chat advised. "I'm telling you. I did. All anybody did in China was drink and work."

"I'll bet," I said.


"Guys getting plastered-American guys-same goddamn two bars every night. Pure liver torture." He eyed me, seemingly on the brink of a confidence. Perhaps these many months apart were what made him hesitate. But, then, our friendship in college had been born not of late night intimations, but of certain fundamental agreements about how things ought to be done. "Tell you, Lenhart, it's different over there," Chat said finally

"What's different?"


"The drinking."

"Really"

"Same thing as here, same as school, but it's different." "Come on," I said, "a hangover's a hangover."


But he replied coldly, "No-I'm not talking about that."

"What, then?" I really couldn't guess what he was getting at.

"It's like-it's-well, you work so hard, you know, and you're all alone over there." Chat took off his glasses and polished them on his shirttails. "You end up hanging around with people you wouldn't hang around with here," he said.


"0h."

"Kind of ... random sometimes."

"Sure."


"I'll tell you who I ran into."

"Over there? Who?"

He hooked his glasses back on and ran a hand through the colorless strands. I remembered his saying in college, "See, some men thin and some men recede but my dad did both and so will I-I'm doubly fucked," and laughing then, too, because of his many vanities, physical beauty was not one, or if it was, he saw it as so far beneath himself he would no sooner indulge it than sleep off a hangover.

"Hell with it, I didn't just run into him," Chat said finally, looking me in the eye as if making a decision to come clean about a crime. "I'm not going to lie, why should I? Truth is, I spent time with him. I drank with him nearly every night." There was another fraction of a pause before he pronounced the name, a fraction of a pause during which Chat and I were alone in the foyer, waiting for Kate, in a kind of disgruntled sympathy that was the usual state of things between us. Then he said: "Lombardi."

"Harry Lombardi? My God."

It was the last person on earth I would have expected Chat to name, and I hardly knew how to react. But Chat seemed to take my remark for general derision, and he gave a harsh, approving laugh. "He surfaced, George! Reinvented himself as a venture fucking capitalist! Hi-tech venture cap. who would have thought? Ambitious, evidently."

"But-of course," I said. "We always knew that."

"We did? I didn't. I had no idea."

I had to think he was joking, but the long blank face was void of humor. The unbelievable, and sometimes delightful, thing about Chat's myopia was how astoundingly vast it was in scope. Rumors of Lombardi's success had reached me even in Paris.

"Guy had quit his job-was knocking around China for kicks, Lenhart-finds this electronics factory takes it over-By the time Broder sends me over he was king of the goddam hill! All these factory manager guys were like, No, Mis'Lombardi, Yes, Mis'Lombardi-"

"You mean you worked together?"

Chat nodded. "You know he'd been at Broder, too?"


"God," I said, trying to get my head around it, "that's some crazy coincidence." I was only voicing the obvious, and yet this element of the encounter hardly seemed to have occurred to Chat.

"You think?" he said with a shrug. Then, seized by a fit of impatience, he drummed the coat check on the counter. "Gilberto! You dozing in there? We need our jackettos, guy!"


We shrugged into our overcoats. I'm sure I would have grilled him about Lombardi then and there if hadn't been another, much more pressing question I wanted answered. "How long have you and Kate been going out?" I asked, as if the answer would shed light on their relationship, as on any old couple's.


Chat guffawed. "Three months? Fifteen years? Hell, if I know! You think she deserves the ring?"

I was saved from answering when Kate herself emerged from the ladies' room, the long blond bob curving to her shoulders. Chat got her into her camel's hair with a neat toss and watched her button it up. The expression on his face-it wasn't affection, it wasn't remotely affection. It was the way I'd seem him, a thousand times, look at himself in the mirror after shaving-with approval, for a job done if not perfectly, then well enough. He approved of her, that was all.

I followed them through the revolving door. I felt as if my thoughts were spinning, too, trying to catch up with what I had learned. I wasn't so much crushed by Kate's announcement as I was conscious, again, of my own backwardness. Until then I hadn't been aware that people could-well, bore themselves into marriage engagements, was the way it struck me. Why now? When she had known Chat her whole life?

Outside it occurred to me that I had not asked Kate what she was doing.

She pretended to be offended. "I work, George."

"Oh, right-you and Meems and Annie Roth," Chat interrupted, chuckling, with a wink in my direction. "They're in the art business, George. They're all-"

"You're extremely funny tonight, Chat-"

"objets'd'art."

"I'm in American paintings, George, at Sotheby's."

"You work, Kate Goodenow," Chatland Wethers sententiously pronounced, "because you live in an age when it is considered appropriate for rich American girls to work."

He would get drunk and come out with things like that. But, also drunkenly, I felt that this made sense of the whole evening, much more so than their putative engagement.

We walked to the corner, and Chat hailed a cab going uptown. Most men would hold a taxi door for a girl but Chat knew better: he did the slide himself.


"We'll drop you off, George," offered Kate. "Chat? We'll drop George off."

"Sure, hop in."

"Oh, no," I said quickly, "I want to. Walk."

"Shoot yourself, Lenhart."

Kate cranked the window down. "Sure we can't take you somewhere?" she called. They were very polite, the two of them. They were always very polite. When I declined a second time, Kate said warningly, "You know, you won't be able to hide your mysterious double life from us forever!" and I forced a laugh, too late to hide the solemnity that had stolen across my face. I remember, as their cab sped off and I started on my solitary way uptown, a resolve I made to do better the next time. With Kate I was forever trying to live up to an ideal, but when you considered what that ideal was, it made no sense at all, my striving: it was an ideal of carelessness.

The next week at work I reached into my suit pocket and drew out a cocktail napkin with the Town Club logo crumpled across the front. I tossed it into the wastebasket, only to retrieve it, a moment later. I smoothed it out and stuck it in the top drawer of my desk. I think I kept it because it made me think of luck. They were the most conservative people I knew, and yet I walked home that evening thinking the two of them seemed to represent everything that was worthwhile in the city, everything that was respectable, solid, even hopeful.

Their lack of ambition struck me as wonderfully smart against the vulgar striving I witnessed by day. My own ambition for Kate suddenly seemed vulgar as well, like a bold, alcohol-induced comment that one would never make sober. How much better, it seemed, to have her taken, and to get the two of them in one package, so we could all have a lot of fun together. I wasn't exactly sure what she meant by fun, but I did know that I felt as if I had been running in a boring, drawn-out race called "New York"-until that evening-when my old friends stopped me and pointed out the rest of the fair. And if Chat and Kate said it would be more fun over there, then I believed them. They had grown up here, after all, whereas I had just arrived.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2001

    A must read for college students

    This book gives a great characterization of how college grads or young adults as the politically correct live their lives right out of college. I love the vivid details and the descriptions and dialogs. I really like the conversations that the characters have at the beginning of the book at the bars they goto. What is great about this book is that it is real, its reality, people really do act like this. Believe me, I was once like it, or I still might be.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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