Thursday, April 1, 2010

a path not taken

Kramer had that vision comfortably in place when just up ahead, from the swell-looking doorway of 44 West Seventy-seventh Street emerged a figure that startled him. It was a young man, almost babyish in appearance, with a round face and dark hair, neatly combed back. He was wearing a covert-cloth Chesterfield topcoat with a golden brown velvet collar and carrying one of those burgundy leather attaché cases that come from Mädler or T. Anthony on Park Avenue and have a buttery smoothness that announces: “I cost $500.” You could see part of the uniformed arm that held the door open for him. He was walking with brisk little steps under the canopy, across the sidewalk, toward an Audi sedan. There was a driver in the front seat. There was a number—271 in the rear side window; a private car service. And now the doorman was hurrying out, and the young man paused to let him catch up and open the sedan’s rear door.

And this young man was . . . Andy Heller! No doubt about it whatsoever. He had been in Kramer’s class at Columbia Law School—and how superior Kramer had felt when Andy, chubby bright little Andy, had done the usual thing, namely, gone to work Downtown, for Angstrom & Molner. Andy and hundreds like him would spend the next five or ten years humped over their desks checking commas, document citations, and block phrases to zip up and fortify the greed of mortgage brokers, health and beauty aid manufacturers, merger and acquisition arbitragers, and re-insurance discounters—while he, Kramer, would embrace life and wade up to his hips into the lives of the miserable and the damned and stand up on his feet in the courtrooms and fight, mano a mano, before the bar of justice.

And that was the way it had, in fact, turned out. Why, then, did Kramer now hold back? W1iy didn’t he march right up and sing out, “Hi, Andy”? He was no more than twenty feet from his old classmate. Instead, he stopped and turned his head toward the front of the building and put his hand to his face, as if he had something in his eye. He was damned if he felt like having Andy Heller—while his doorman held his car door open for him and his driver waited for the signal to depart—he was damned if he felt like having Andy Heller look him in the face and say, “Larry Kramer, how you doing!” and then, “What you doing?” And he would have to say, “Well, I’m an assistant district attorney up in the Bronx.” He wouldn’t even have to add, “Making $36,600 a year.” That was common knowledge. All the while, Andy Heller would be scanning his dirty raincoat, his old gray suit, which was too short in the pants, his Nike sneakers, his A&P shopping bag. Fuck that . . . Kramer stood there with his head turned, faking a piece of grit in his eye, until he heard the door of the Audi shut. It sounded like a safe closing. He turned around just in time to catch a nice fluffy little cloud of German-luxury-auto fumes in his face as Andy Heller departed for his office. Kramer didn’t even want to think about what the goddamned place probably looked like.

- Tom Wolfe

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