Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Laughter of the Doomed

A few days ago I was at Vivace, the only decent restaurant within walking distance of my place. I'd ordered one of their Happy Hour margherita pizzas; I was sitting alone in a booth for two, not far from the bar, watching a Giants game.

At the bar itself two men, one of them about my age, the other at least a decade older, were laughing, talking, drinking. Their laughter made them impossible to ignore. Also I found the face of the older man intriguing. He had dyed his graying hair black; it was swept away from his fleshy, gleaming forehead—away from his nose, too, which dominated his little eyes, his thin mouth, his recessed chin. It was a tremendous, beautiful nose: the nose of a character from Bellow.

I quickly discerned that the two men were talking about money.

The older man was turned toward the younger man as if flirting with him. I envied their laughter—their camaraderie.

At one point the older man acted like he was pushing a button on bar. "$10,000!" Dink. "$10,000!" Dink. Again the laughter. A bit too cliche, I thought.

The younger man said, "They ask me what I do, I say, 'I provide liquidity to the markets.'" [Laughter.] "I provide liquidity to the markets!" The older man, holding his gin & tonic, nearly fell out of his chair.

After wiping his eyes the older man said, "Get up, push a button, back to bed!" More laughter. It went on like that for a while, and only stopped when the Giants scored, which the two men celebrated—this behavior, at least, I recognized—as if they'd scored the Giants' runs themselves.

Anyway, when I was leaving I took some consolation in the fact that they seemed to find their lives—their money—as absurd as I did.


Wendell Berry has written an essential essay—the essay of the year, an essay for our time.

"It All Turns on Affection," which takes its title from Howard's End (a novel I've never read), argues that the fundamental orientation of our civic and economic lives must change, that we're doomed if it doesn't. Yet Berry manages to make this argument with the same generosity, resolve, and transcendent tranquility that has defined his writing—his sensibility—for decades. "It All Turns on Affection" offers hope for the rest of us—not least for the discouraged man, still hungry after eating his little pizza, who stepped from Vivace's luxurious bar into Belmont's early evening sunlight and headed for the place he's supposed to call home.

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