Unnamed Protagonist 24

“Have you ever considered getting an MBA?” he asks. He has taken you to a steakhouse off Seventh Avenue, a smoky place favoured by Times reporters and other heavy drinkers. He is dropping ashes on his steak, which lies cold and untouched. Already he has informed you that it is impossible to get a good steak anymore. Beef isn’t what it used to be; they force feed the cattle and inject them with hormones. He is on his third vodka martini. You are trying to stretch your second.

“I’m not saying necessarily go into business. But write about it. That’s the subject now. The guys who understand business are going to write the new literature. Wally Stevens said money is a kind of poetry, but he didn’t follow his own advice.” He tells you there was a golden age of Papa and Fitzgerald and Faulkner, then a silver age in which he played a modest role. He thinks we’re now in a bronze age, and that fiction has nowhere to go. It can’t run but it can hide. The new writing will be about technology, the global economy, the electronic ebb and flow of wealth. “You’re a smart boy,” he says. “Don’t be seduced by all the craps about garrets and art.”

He flags down two more martinis, even though your second has yet to run dry.

“I envy you,” he says. “What are you – twenty-one?”


“Twenty-four. Your whole life ahead of you. You’re single, right?”

First you say no, and then yes. “Yes. Single.”

“You got it made,” he says, although he has just informed you that the world you are going to inherit will have neither good beef nor good writing. “My liver’s shot,” he adds. “My liver’s gone to hell and I’ve got emphysema.”