Monthly Archives: October 2011

Borges for October 31st

From the master, an excerpt from a review of “Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book”.

The preface contains this beautiful anecdote: Two ladies are sharing a railway compartment. “I don’t believe in ghosts,” says one to the other. “Oh really?” the other replies, and vanishes.

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DeVeronymous, Defonymous: the venomous, the defamous, the ridiculous

Ron Rosenbaum and shakespeareauthorship.com have already done enough good work on the Shakespearism related to and brought up by this film.

I’ll only add this small point: if context is sufficient to bring up the possibility of a concealed identity for a writer, in the case of Shakespeare’s – the lack of sufficient education, the writing about a variety of subjects and persons he did not have first-hand knowledge of, a lack of contemporary mention, the contxt of political intrigue – then I think conspiracists have a far better candidate for this sort of mystery in Daniel DeFoe. His education was university level but not Oxbridge, almost no portraits were made of him during his lifetime, he had far less repute or fame during his lifetime than Shakespeare, he wrote during a time of far greater turmoil – the English Civil War, the execution of Charles I, the rise of William and Mary – than the Elizabethean stability of the bard’s time, and finally, his writing from so many perspectives, though he was an ardent Puritan, and so many experiences – a prostitute and transported american colonist, solitary castaway, fighter during a the war in Spain – of which he bore no direct witness.

I point this out to make clear that a contextual basis for questioning a writer’s identity is a more uncertain business than these conspiracists assume, and that the obscurity of many writers’ lives, far more obscure than Shakespeare’s who was famous and well-known in his lifetime, allow for this speculation to be made.

I quote a few relevant sections of The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Daniel DeFoe by Richard West, a book praised by Allan Massie, Peter Ackroyd, and my humble self.

On his prodigious output, some of which he might be the possible – I will reclaim a word – birther, but whose authorship still remains unsettled:

During the five years between the accession of George I and the publication of Robinson Crusoe in 1719 Defoe wrote lives of Peter the Great of Russia and Charles XII of Sweden, stories of pirates and murderers, bogus memoirs of soldiers and sailors, a history of the Church of Scotland, a manual of Christian family living, as well as dozens of short books and pamphlets. Defoe scholars still cannot agree on which of the hundreds of titles are really his. Occasionally one finds attributions that are inaccurate: the style is not Defoe’s, but more often, he is indeed the author – as in the case of what seems an unlikely candidate, a book published in 1718 entitled A Continuation of Letters written by a Turkish Spy at Paris, Giving an Impartial Account to the Diva at Constantinople of the most remarkable transactions of Europe, and discovering several Intrigues and Secrets of the Christian Courts, especially of that of Paris, continuous from the year 1687 to the year 1693. Written in Arabic, Translated from Italian, and from thence into English. However, the account in ‘Mohamed’s’ third letter of why Louis XIV in 1688 failed to stop a revolt by the ‘malcontents’ of England is pure Defoe in style and quotes one of his favourite maxims, comparing the French and English armies: ‘(viz.) that of the French, if the soldiers will but follow, the officers will always lead; and that of the English, if the officers will but lead, the soldiers will always follow’.

To modern readers, accustomed to thinking of books as either ‘fiction’ or ‘non-fiction’, it may seem odd that Defoe should pose as ‘Mohamed’, a Turkish spy at the court of Louis XIV. The preface to one edition of A Journal of the Plague Year denounces Defoe as a liar for his literary pretence. We like to make a distinction between what we think of as real and imagined, fact and fiction, true and false, news and propaganda. For Defoe the distinction was less clear cut. Just as his works of fiction, such as Moll Flanders, are based on fact, so his ostensibly factual Tour is full of amazing fibs and flights of imagination.

On his contemporary obscurity:

It is only at this late stage, when Defoe is nearing sixty and embarking on his great career as an author, that little by little we start to learn something about his private life and his family. We do not learn much, since almost nothing remains of his private correspondence. With Defoe, we face the problem that no contemporaries seem to have found him worthy of note. In all the letters and journals of prominent men and women of the early eighteenth century we look in vain for a mention of him. Even the hostile lampoonists, who vilified Defoe as a turncoat and devil, never ascribed to him any particular personal characteristic. From The Lives of the Poets we gain an intimate knowledge of Dryden, Addison, Steele, Prior, Pope and Richard Savage, but even if he had wished to, Dr. Johnson could not have filled a page on the character of Defoe.

On a possible reason for the this obscurity:

As a Dissenter from the trading class, Defoe may have felt an outsider even before his bankruptcy in 1692, but it was this that most probably turned him into a loner. Like all chronic debtors, Defoe was obliged to withdraw from the feasts and receptions of his liveried company, from his favourite coffee house or club, from the ‘treats’ of colleagues and even the dinner tables of friends and neighbours. He would not accept hospitality that he could not return.

His bankruptcy could even have meant excommunication by the Presbyterian Church, which equated financial failure with sin.

One last quote on Defoe, which gives an idea of a writer’s gifts for simulacrum, that he is able to fool even those who were there at the event, that, yes, he had known what it was like to be there, when he was nowhere near the place at the time. It is an anecdote that is a useful remedy in our era, when the only authenticity considered possible is autobiography, when in fact the gifts of writers and actors lie with creating whole truths and images, out of things partially known or heard of second hand.

In 1728, Defoe wrote Memoirs of an English Officer, purporting to be by Captain George Carleton, who is said to have gone to Spain with the Earl of Peterborough’s expedition in 1705.

Much of The Memoirs of an English Officer concerns the Spanish campaign which began with the capture of Barcelona and then pushed south to Valencia.

Captain Carleton is wounded and spends three years in ‘Sainte Clemente de la Mancha, rendered famous by Cervantes’, which enables Defoe to air his views on Don Quixote as well as on bull-fighting, nunneries and many other aspects of Spanish life.

Defoe’s Memoirs of an English Officer fooled even Dr. Johnson, who prided himself on detecting literary forgers, such as James Macpherson, the author of bogus translations from the Gaelic. On Sunday 27 June 1784 Boswell and Johnson dined at Sir Joshua Reynolds’s home in the company of Lord Eliot, whose tutor had also instructed the family of Lord Peterborough. Boswell records that Johnson asked Eliot:

‘Pray, my Lord, do you recollect any particulars that he told you of Lord Peterborough? He is a favourite of mine, and is not enough known; his character has been only ventilated in party pamphlets.’ Lord Eliot said, if Dr. Johnson would be so good as to ask him any questions, he would tell what he could recollect. Accordingly some things were mentioned. ‘But (said his Lordship) the best account of Lord Peterborough that I have happened to meet with, is in Captain Carleton’s Memoirs. Carleton was descended from an ancestor who had distinguished himself at the siege of Derry.’

The editor of this 1887 edition of Boswell’s Life of Johnson, George Birbeck Hill, adds a puzzled footnote on Lord Eliot’s remarks: ‘Carleton, according to the Memoirs, made his first service in the navy in 1672 – seventeen years before the siege of Derry. There is no mention of the siege in the book.’ Defoe’s authorship of the book was not revealed until the twentieth century.

Lord Eliot had obviously not questioned the authenticity of the Memoirs, and nor, as we now discover, had Johnson, for Boswell’s account continues: ‘Johnson said he had never heard of the book. Lord Eliot had it at Port Eliot; but, after a good deal of enquiry, procured a copy in London, and sent it to Johnson, who told Sir Joshua Reynolds that he was going to bed when it came, but was so much pleased with it, that he sat up till he had read it through, and found in it such an air of truth, that he could not doubt of its authenticity…’

Defoe never travelled to Spain and had no involvement in the military campaign there.

A coda on Shakespeare as Shakespeare, from David Mamet’s Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama, quoted in turn from David Aaronovitch’s useful poison antidote, Voodoo Histories (I believe this would fall under “#8. The Snobbery” in Rosenbaum’s list),

The purpose of the [conspiracy theorists], and by extension the purpose of their readers, is somehow to make themselves greater than even the greatest poet, partly, of course, by making him lesser. In this, says Mamet,

they invert the megalomaniacal equation and make themselves not the elect, but the superior of the elect…They…consign the (falsely named) creator to oblivion and turn to the adulation of the crowd for their deed of discovery and insight…They appoint themselves as “eternity” – the force that shall pass on all things…The anti-Stratfordian, like the flat-earther and the creationist, elects himself God – possessed of the power to supervene in the natural order – and the most deeply hidden but pervasive fantasy of the above is the ultimate delusion of godhead: I made the world.

They also understand what everybody else doesn’t, what everybody else would most like to deny. They are the lonely custodians of the truth, and they got there through the quality of their minds – and by being brave enough to read a book.

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Opium Notes

Via one of the best sites on the web, longform, I came across this old but very good piece by Nick Tosches on his search for opium, but not just opium, an opium den, but not these things either maybe, but a refuge from words, a refuge from the future, a place in the past, but a past of only memories. Of all things, it made me think of Once Upon A Time in America, which begins and ends in an opium den, where Noodles (Robert De Niro) moves through a vast pool of memories, an escape from a present which tightens tighter and tighter around him. Tosches starts off his journey in a world burdened with too many words, “cassis”, “melange”, “violets”, “vanilla”, he is reduced to one word, ya-p’iàn in Cantonese, a word that lies between a pian and a phian in Cambodian, and finally, none at all:

We lie back and smoke; and now, wordlessly, we understand each other perfectly in the eloquence of a silence that not only contains all that has ever been and all that ever will be said, but also drosses the vast babel of it, leaving only the ethereal purity of that wordless poetry that only the greatest of poets have glimpsed in epiphany.

As always with Tosches, his writing shames me that I eat too narrowly and taste too little. However, the best piece of description here is not gustatory, but the vividness of a thing before it’s eaten.

Later, amid the crowded stalls of the night market, we watch as an elderly Chinese man hands over a small fortune in cash to another elderly man, a snake seller much esteemed for the rarity and richness of poison of his stock. The snake man pockets the money, narrows his eyes, and with a studied suddenness withdraws a long, writhing serpent from a cage of bamboo. Holding it high, his grasp directly below its inflated venom glands, its mouth open, its fangs extended, he slashes it with a razor-sharp knife from gullet to midsection, the movement of the blade in his hand following with precise rapidity the velocity of the creature’s powerful whiplashings, which send its gushing blood splattering wildly. Laying down the blade, the snake man reaches his blood-drenched hand with medical exactitude into the open serpent, withdraws its still-living bladder, drops it into the eager hands of his customer, who, with gore dripping from between his fingers onto his shirt, raises the pulsing bloody organ to his open mouth, gulps it down, and wipes and licks away the blood that runs down his chin.

For Tosches, opium and opium dens are very difficult to find in the eastern Asia – China, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Thailand – of today. He may have had better fortune in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

From The Ayatollah Begs To Differ, by Hooman Majd, a very good travelogue, history, and essential book for a closer sense of the country.

Shir’ e is made from the charred remnants of previously smoked opium and is the preferred method of drug taking among the hardest of hard-core opium addicts in Iran, who number in the hundreds of thousands. Boiling the burned opium in water, removing the scum, and then straining the gooey residue results in an opiate perhaps tens of times more potent than fresh, raw opium, itself by far the most popular drug in Iran. Always plentiful and almost a part of Iran’s heritage (and widely used in the courts of previous dynasties), opium under the fanatically pro-Western and anti-traditionalist Shah was mainly used by provincial Iranians, the lower classes, and a handful of the landed gentry who stubbornly clung to the past and the seductive habit inherited from their forefathers. The modernism the Shah promoted in the 1960s and ’70s (along with a huge increase in tourist and student travel to Europe and the United States) meant that among the young at least, Western, and therefore cool, drugs such as marijuana and cocaine replaced the backward, and now plebeian, domestic high. In my maternal grandfather’s house in the 1960s, as traditional a household as there could be in Tehran, I had witnessed my great-grandmother, well over ninety years old, eating, yes, eating, her daily dose of opium. Her dementia, quite advanced as far as I was concerned since she never seemed to recognize me, not even a few minutes after I told her whose child I was, was noticeably improved after she swallowed the little brown pellets, although I now think it may have been more because she was just too high to be a nuisance to anyone. My mother used to tell me she was taking her medicine, but I heard enough about her taryak, “opium” in Farsi, to know better.

People of my generation stayed away from opium or, if they indulged, preferred to keep it private lest they be viewed by their ganja-smoking friends as hopelessly square. The Islamic Revolution, which inverted class distinctions and frowned upon anything Western, changed things a bit when it inadvertently caused a resurgence in the use of opium as a recreational activity, perhaps because of the ban on alcohol and the ready availability of opium (although illegal) as a substitute, but also perhaps because the old-fashioned, and particularly Iranian, customs were now in vogue. Drug use in general, though, has escalated dramatically since the revolution first intentionally created a modern republic without bars, pubs, or real public entertainment, and unintentionally a birthrate that has produced far more employable youths than the economy can provide jobs for. And although opium tops the list in terms of favored drugs, heroin, crack, and even crystal meth, known as sbeesbeh, or “glass” are becoming commonplace among the working and middle classes.

Lying on the floor, one smokes shir’e upside down: unless you’re an expert, you need an assistant to guide the inverted pipe to the open flame. One puff and your head starts floating, pain now an adversary that appears vulnerable to conquest; two or three puffs and you experience a high that is serenely beautiful: problems fade completely away, anxiety and pain surrender, and nothing, you think, can take away the beauty. Not even a full-scale invasion by the U.S. military.

When it was my turn at the pipe, I lay down on the carpet and rested my head on a dirty pillow. The voiceless man painstakingly prepared
the makeshift pipe by kneading and twisting a thick paste on its tip over and over, softening the shir’ e by bringing it close to the Bame
and then quickly pulling it away several times. A gentle prod was my signal that the pipe was ready: I drew the smoke in short inhales until
it completely filled my lungs, and then exhaled slowly. The cooler had been switched off to avoid any twentieth-century interference with the
purity of the occasion, and although the heat in the room was now the equivalent of a turned-up sauna, I felt surprisingly comfortable. I
begged off a third drag and instead moved away and sat up on the carpet, mumbling profuse thank-yous. I tried unsuccessfully to cross my legs, but they were happier stretched out, so I leaned on a big pillow and slowly drank a cup of tea with a few sugar cubes, sugar that I knew would be the only guarantee that I wouldn’t throw up, for opium, like heroin, dramatically lowers the blood sugar level-perhaps the one side effect that can diminish the seductiveness of the drug.

When I returned to the house after washing my hands under a faucet by the pond, I could infer from the conversations all around me
that another guest was due any minute. I sat down on the carpet again and lit a cigarette to keep myself awake. When the curtain was swept
aside just a short while later, a tall young mullah walked into the room. He quietly removed his turban and abba, or “cloak” and sat down to a steaming-hot glass of tea quickly delivered by the twelve-year-old boy. My astonishment at his presence, for al the Ayatollahs agree that opium and other drugs are haram, “forbidden” by Islam, grew to amazement as I watched him finish his tea and go over to the pipe and burner.

He calmly spent the next hour puffing away, drinking tea, fingering his beads, and occasionally answering questions of religious philosophy,
none of which I fully understood. And while he was busy pontificating, the other men, one by one, took the opportunity to perform their
afternoon prayers: facing Mecca, they bowed and kneeled in the cramped room, carefully avoiding my outstretched limbs, and mumbled verses from the Koran as PMC blared the latest Iranian pop hit, the cleric calmly smoked away, and I continued to struggle to stay fully awake.

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Forgiveness for You, Vengeance for Us

From Andrew Sullivan`s blog, this post, which references a review of Inglourious Basterds by Daniel Mendelsohn (author of The Lost) reminded me of a moment in Philip Gourevitch’s excellent We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families.

First, this passage during a meeting between Gourevitch and the future president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, many of whose fellow Tutsi were killed in the genocide in that country, gives context.

Once when we were talking about the genocide and the world’s response to it, General [Paul] Kagame said, “Some people even think we should not be affected. They think we are like animals, when you’ve lost some family, you can be consoled, given some bread and tea – and forget about it.” He chuckled. “Sometimes I think this is contempt for us. I used to quarrel with these Europeans who used to come, giving us cookies, telling us, ‘You should not do this, you don’t do this, do this.’ I said, ‘Don’t you have feelings?’ These feelings have affected people.”

Then, this simple description of watching two movies on the way to a blood-stained country, which I have never forgotten, and which gets called to mind again and again.

The first in-flight movie on my second-to-last trip to Rwanda, in February of 1997, was A Time to Kill. It is set in Mississippi, in the atmosphere Faulkner celebrated as “miasmic”. A couple of worthless white-trash rednecks are out drinking and driving. They abduct a young black girl, rape her, torture her, and leave her corpse in a field. They get caught and thrown in jail. The girl’s father doesn’t trust the local judiciary to do adequate justice, so he waits for the men to be brought in chains to the courthouse, steps out of the shadows with a shotgun, and blows them away. He is arrested for first-degree murder and put on trial. His culpability is never in question, but a clever young white lawyer – risking his reputation, his marriage, his life and that of his children – appeals to the jury’s sentiment, and the girl’s father is set free. That was the movie. It was pitched as a tale of racial and social healing. Triumph for the protagonists, and catharsis for the audience, and with the acquittal of the vigilante killer, whose action was understood by a jury of his peers to have achieved a higher degree of justice than he could have expected from the law.

The second in-flight movie was Sleepers. It is set in New York, in tough midtown neighbourhood of Hell’s Kitchen. Four kids play a prank that results in the accidental death of a passerby. They are sent to a reform school, where they are repeatedly gang-raped by the wardens. Then they are released. Years pass. One day, two of the original quartet encounter the warden who had been their chief tormenter in reform school, so they draw their handguns and blow him away. They are arrested. To the viewer, their culpability is never in question. But in court they deny everything, they say they were in church at the time of the murder. This alibi requires the testimony of a priest, who is also an alumnus of the terrible reform school. The priest is a man of great honesty. Before testifying, he swears on the Bible that he will tell the truth. Then he lies. The men are acquitted and released. It was another tale of the triumph of justice over the law; the priest’s lie was understood to have been an act of service to a higher truth.

Both movies had been quite popular in America – seen by millions of citizens. Apparently, the questions they raised struck a chord with their audience: What about you? Can you condemn these vigilante killers after such violations? Can you grieve for the scum they killed? Might not you do the same? These are fine issues to ponder. Still, I was troubled by the premise that the two movies shared: that the law and the courts are so incapable of fairly adjudicating the cases in question that it wasn’t worth bothering with them.

From earlier in the book, just prior to the description, a quote that stands out.

[Paul Kagame] had spent his life in central Africa, not fighting against what used to be called the “civilized world”, but fighting to join it.

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Quickness

From the chapter “Quickness”, in Italo Calvino’s excellent Six Memos For the Next Millenium.

The novella is a horse, a means of transport with its own pace, a trot or a gallop according to the distance and the ground it has to travel over; but the speed Boccaccio is talking about is a mental speed. The listed defects of the clumsy storyteller are above all offenses against rhythm, as well as being defects of style, because he does not use the expressions appropriate either to the characters or to the events. In other words, even correctness of style is a question of quick adjustment, of agility of both thought and expression.

The horse as an emblem of speed, even speed of the mind, runs through the whole history of literature, heralding the entire problematics of our own technological viewpoint. The age of speed, in transport as in information, opens with one of the finest essays in English literature, Thomas De Quincey’s “The English Mail-Coach.” In 1849 he already understood everything we now know about the motorized highway world, including death-dealing high-speed crashes.

In the section called “The Vision of Sudden Death,” De Quincey describes a night journey on the box of an express mail coach with a gigantic coachman who is fast asleep. The technical perfection of the vehicle, and the transformation of the driver into a blind inanimate object, puts the traveler at the mercy of the mechanical inexorability of a machine. In the clarity of perception brought on by a dose of laudanum, De Quincey becomes aware that the horses are running uncontrollably at thirteen miles an hour on the wrong side of the road. This means certain disaster, not for the swift, sturdy mail coach but for the first unfortunate carriage to come along that road in the opposite direction. In fact, at the end of the straight, tree-lined avenue, which looks like a “Gothic aisle,” he sees a “frail reedy gig” in which a young couple are approaching at one mile an hour. “Between them and eternity, to all human calculation, there is but a minute and a-half.” De Quincey gives a shout: “Mine had been the first step; the second was for the young man; the third was for God.” The account of these few seconds has not been bettered even in an age in which the experience of high speeds has become a basic fact of life.

De Quincey succeeds in conveying a sense of an extremely short period of time that nonetheless contains both the calculation of the technical inevitability of the crash and the imponderable— God’s part in the matter—in virtue of which the two vehicles do not collide.

An excerpt from “Pacific Distances”, in Joan Didion’s excellent After Henry.

A good part of any day in Los Angeles is spent driving, alone, through streets devoid of meaning to the driver, which is one reason the place exhilarates some people, and floods others with an amorphous unease. There is about hours spent in transit a seductive unconnectedness. Conventional information is missing. Context clues are missing.

Such tranced hours are, for many people who live in Los Angeles, the dead center of being there, but there is nothing in them to encourage the normal impulse toward “recognition”, or narrative connection.

There are, in the pages of the Los Angeles newspapers, no Crack Queens, no Coma Moms or Terror Tots. Events may be lurid, but are rarely personalized.

A Redondo Beach woman apologized to her 7-year-old daughter, then apparently tried to take both their lives by driving over a cliff in the Malibu area Tuesday morning, authourities said. The mother, identified by the county coroner’s office as Susan Sinclaie, 29, was killed, but the child survived without serious injury. “I’m sorry I have to do this,” the woman is quoted as telling the child just before she suddenly swerved off Malibu Canyon Road, about 2 1/2 miles north of Pacific Coast Highway.

When I first moved to Los Angeles from New York, in 1964, I found the absence of narrative a deprivation. At the end of ten years I realized (quite suddenly alone one morning in a car) that I had come to find narrative sentimental.

Again, Calvino:

If during a certain period of my career as a writer I was attracted by folktales and fairytales, this was not the result of loyalty to an ethnic tradition (seeing that my roots are planted in an entirely modern and cosmopolitan Italy), nor the result of nostalgia for things I read as a child (in my family, a child could read only educational books, particularly those with some scientific basis). It was rather because of my interest in style and structure, in the economy, rhythm, and hard logic with which they are told.

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Five Reasons Why #OWS Will Work

In news from a past age, a week and a half ago, Daniel Indiviglio of The Atlantic provided helpful prescient advice, “Five Reasons Why Occupy Wall Street Won’t Work”.

We have a straw man opening.

It’s easy to hate Wall Street. In movies, bankers are portrayed as heartless, greed-driven jerks. Some people blame the recent financial crisis and the recession that followed on Wall Street duping Americans into signing up for predatory mortgages. Others say that these rich bankers, traders, and investors don’t pay enough money in taxes. These and other anti-Wall Street attitudes have led to a protest in Lower Manhattan that continues to grow.

The assumption is that those who engage in these protests are a dumb animal herd, a crowd unable to assess or think, but possess dumb simple hates, because a character in a movie with slicked back hair and suspenders tried to corner the market in silver and held Jessica Biel hostage.

Let us take two simple, very legitimate reasons for why the protesters may be there.

That financial institutions have an outsize influence on the american political system, described acutely by Simon Johnson in Thirteen Bankers:

Between 1974 and 1990, the cost of a seat in the House of Representatives—the average expenses of an election winner—grew from $56,500 to $410,000; from 1990 to 2006, it tripled to $1,250,000 (more than doubling even after accounting for inflation).

The financial sector was a central player in this evolution. The sector was the leading contributor to political campaigns throughout the past two decades. But campaign contributions from the financial sector (including finance, insurance, and real estate) grew much faster than contributions overall, more than quadrupling, from $61 million in 1990 to $260 million in 2006. (After excluding insurance and real estate, the sector still contributed over $150 million in 2006; the second-ranking industry group, health care, contributed only $100 million in 2006.) Over the same time period, contributions from the securities and investment industry sextupled from $12 million to $72 million, and that $72 million omits the millions of dollars in contributions from the law firms that served the securities industry. (According to one analysis, from 1998 to 2008, the financial sector spent $1.7 billion on campaign contributions and $3.4 billion on lobbying expenses; the securities industry alone spent $500 million on campaign contributions and $600 million on lobbying.) The largest commercial and investment banks, which stood to gain the most from deregulation and consolidation, were also the largest sources of campaign cash. In 1990, the companies in the banking sector that contributed the most money were Goldman Sachs, Salomon Brothers, Barnett Banks (the largest bank in Florida, bought by NationsBank in 1997), Citibank, J.P. Morgan, and Morgan Stanley; in 2006, they were Goldman, Citigroup, Bank of America, UBS, JPMorgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley.

That the majority of revenues of these banks does not involve anything that would bring about jobs, capital investment, or anything else of public good. It is simple gambling, and when that gambling goes horribly awry, the public is asked to handle these losses, while the bettor, whatever his losses may be (and it is almost always a he), gets a multimillion compensation for his leave-taking, a sort of failure bonus.

This was best expressed by John Cassidy in “What Good is Wall Street?”

When the banking system behaves the way it is supposed to…it is akin to a power utility, distributing money (power) to where it is needed and keeping an account of how it is used. Just like power utilities, the big banks have a commanding position in the market, which they can use for the benefit of their customers and the economy at large. But when banks seek to exploit their position and make a quick killing, they can cause enormous damage.

The other important role of the banking industry, historically, has been to finance the growth of vital industries, including railroads, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, and entertainment.

Yet Wall Street’s role in financing new businesses is a small portion of what it does. The market for initial public offerings (I.P.O.s) of stock by U.S. companies never fully recovered from the tech bust. During the third quarter of 2010, just thirty-three U.S. companies went public, and they raised a paltry five billion dollars. Most people on Wall Street aren’t finding the next Apple or promoting a green rival to Exxon. They are buying and selling securities that are tied to existing firms and capital projects, or to something less concrete, such as the price of a stock or the level of an exchange rate. During the past two decades, trading volumes have risen exponentially across many markets: stocks, bonds, currencies, commodities, and all manner of derivative securities. In the first nine months of this year, sales and trading accounted for thirty-six per cent of Morgan Stanley’s revenues and a much higher proportion of profits. Traditional investment banking—the business of raising money for companies and advising them on deals—contributed less than fifteen per cent of the firm’s revenue. Goldman Sachs is even more reliant on trading. Between July and September of this year, trading accounted for sixty-three per cent of its revenue, and corporate finance just thirteen per cent.

In effect, many of the big banks have turned themselves from businesses whose profits rose and fell with the capital-raising needs of their clients into immense trading houses whose fortunes depend on their ability to exploit day-to-day movements in the markets. Because trading has become so central to their business, the big banks are forever trying to invent new financial products that they can sell but that their competitors, at least for the moment, cannot. Some recent innovations, such as tradable pollution rights and catastrophe bonds, have provided a public benefit. But it’s easy to point to other innovations that serve little purpose or that blew up and caused a lot of collateral damage, such as auction-rate securities and collateralized debt obligations.

Then Mr. Indiviglio gives his reasons for the looming failure.

Its Goals Are Unclear

Any protest that hopes to accomplish some goal needs, well, a goal. If a demonstration like this lacks concrete objectives, then its purpose will be limited at best and nonexistent at worst. At this time, all the protest really appears to stand for is a general dislike of Wall Street. But what does that mean?

#OWS has two possible sound, specific objectives that I’ve already mentioned. That many #OWS complaints can be grouped under these two does not make them vague.

Wall Street Doesn’t Care

There’s a key difference between the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party movement. The Tea Partiers’ anger is directed squarely at the U.S. government. It began due to dismay at the bailouts and the massive Obama stimulus package. The Tea Party wanted less government interference in the economy.

But the Occupy Wall Street movement’s anger is directed at bankers. Here’s the problem: they really don’t care. These protesters are not Wall Street’s customers. In many cases they aren’t even their customers’ customers.

I do think there is an interesting contradiction here. The #OWS is somehow, cursed by vagueness. It cannot work because it is aimed vaguely at “Wall Street”, and one of its goals, less influence in government by financial institutions, is too vague. On the other hand, the Tea Party was effective, because its protest was aimed “squarely” at the vast behemoth of government, and they wanted the precise, not vague at all goal, of less government.

Mr. Indiviglio then makes the error that somehow the institution protested against is the one that must “care”. When the embassy of a particularly despicable regime is protested, there’s no expectation that the regime of Burma, Libya, South Africa, Syria, Yemen will “care”. The purpose is to force attention on the infamies of that regime and to pressure their own government to either cut ties with those regimes or force them to reform. In the past, money from Libya or South Africa to a congressman would be considered tainted, and he would be shamed into returning it. Given the absense of any attempt at financial reform in the political or media class, perhaps this will be the first step by which financial institutions will lose the influence which dwarfs that of any citizen: their election funds will now be a scarlet letter.

The Protesters Can’t Sway Congress

The Tea Party accomplished something very key: it helped to significantly alter the makeup of Congress through the 2010 election. It had a goal — to put out of power the big government candidates — and it accomplished that goal. The Occupy Wall Street cannot hope for any result as significant.

As mentioned, it doesn’t have a clear set of objectives. But let’s say, for argument’s sake, that it has some general fringe-left goals. Some that have been suggested include new taxes on Wall Street and much stronger financial regulation. The problem is that these views aren’t likely to catch on in Congress: even when the mix was much further to the left in 2009 through 2010, a relatively mild financial regulation bill was passed and even the Bush tax cuts remained intact.

The reality is that the U.S. is a center-right nation, and Congress reflects that. While some cities are farther to the left than others, they already have very progressive representatives. Meanwhile, the message of Occupy Wall Street isn’t likely to catch on and affect any change in more center-right regions like the Tea Party did.

Mr. Indiviglio, a past enemy of vagueness, writes rather vaguely here. The american people are “center right”, the Congress reflects this center rightness, and therefore, this revolt is quixotic. He writes, naively, that financial reform was mild because of the country’s “center rightness”, as if the collective will of the people were a magnetic field that bent legislation one way or another.

Congresspeople are now almost always constantly fund-raising. They require vast amounts of campaign cash. Again, using Mr. Johnson’s figures, the financial industry spent over five billion dollars in lobbying from 1998 to 2008. Does Mr. Indiviglio believe that such funds had no influence whatsoever on the political process, that it was entirely the people’s will that guided legislation?

Their Timing Is Off

Even if the U.S. were to embrace the message of these protests, Congress would not act. The bailouts were hugely unpopular with voters, but they occurred anyway. That’s because there are times when Washington just needs to be practical. When unemployment is stuck above 9% is such a time. (my emphasis)

I believe this part gives the game away. Earlier in this piece, it has been stressed that the protests cannot work because they are too vague, unlike the vague messages of the Tea Party. They cannot work, because they go against the immutable “center right” will of the american people. Whatever the american people feel is irrelevant. There are times when Congress must act practically, when unemployment is at 9%, but also when unemployment is below 9%, banks have grievously wounded themselves, and need help. A question a feeble minded man like myself asks is: practical for whom?

Mr. Indiviglio has straight up admitted it. The will of the american people is irrelevant in the face of what banks and their client politicos want and will do.

Enacting new financial transaction taxes or even more burdensome regulation will not be good for the economy in the short-run. Even many Democrats are worried that such aggressive actions threaten the recovery. That’s the main reason why the Bush tax cuts were extended.

A small note: these would be the same Bush tax cuts which were cited in S&P’s report downgrading US securities. The Bush tax cuts must be preserved because aggressive actions would threaten the economy, even through aggressive actions that threaten the economy.

Banking is a Vital Institution — Especially to the U.S.

Hating banks is counterproductive. You simply can’t live without banks in a modern, sophisticated economy. Wall Street investment firms are equally essential. Capital markets and debt markets allow businesses to function smoothly. Without them, growth and progress would be much slower.

But the U.S., in particular, needs to maintain its healthy, vibrant banking system. During the financial regulation battle least year, a lawyer I know who works with banks and investors lamented the effort. He worried that Congress would go to far. Banking is one of the few industries the U.S. has left where we’re a global leader, he said. He is absolutely right.

It seems we are in all or nothing land. I may either have financial institutions that engage in large-scale dangerous financial gambling, or I may buy my food with shiny beads.

A small short effective counterpoint to Mr. Indiviglio’s rosy vision is found here (“How Lobbyists Are Undermining Dodd-Frank: A Case Study”), which describes the ways in which Dodd-Frank is being altered by lobbyists to allow for oil speculation.

On October 18 the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) will vote on a proposed rule to limit the percentage of contracts in a given commodity that any individual trader can own.

Proponents of tight position limits argue that excessive speculation in a market means prices will generally be both higher and more volatile. The consequences of higher prices are easy to understand—for example, a Goldman Sachs report in April estimated that the speculative premium on a barrel of oil was then between $21.40 and $26.75 a barrel, roughly a sixth of the total price at that time.As Marcus Stanley of Americans for Financial Reform told me, all sorts of people rely on predictable commodity markets for their business: gas stations, businesses that supply heating oil, enterprises that order food in bulk such as confectioners, and so on. Higher volatility often ends up being passed on to businesses as a higher cost on their balance sheet, with predictable consequences.

Moreover, even if the rule passes, it faces serious questions about whether a very active lobbying process will have rendered it effectively meaningless. The position-limits rule, in particular, has been subjected to a fierce lobbying effort, especially by big financial institutions. The Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates for transparency in government, counted over 13,000 comment letters to the CFTC concerning the rule, with groups from airlines to investors pressing their case. Gary Gensler, the chair of the CFTC, has stated that “large institutions” have an “outsized interest” in the rules and that there’s a “little imbalance” in how much access they’ve gotten to the commission. Gensler has estimated the CFTC has held 1,000 meetings to hear comments relating to the rule, and that the “vast majority are from large financial institutions.”

My simple brain is curious how an economy is made more modern, more sophisticated, more smoothly functioning through more expensive oil.

For all of these reasons, we aren’t likely to see the Occupy Wall Street effort accomplish much. It doesn’t have a clear focus, and practical realities will prevent it from achieving any vague objectives it might have. Those angry with Wall Street should seek more effective means of affecting change than this.

Whatever takes place next, the passions shown so far will not simply dissipate.

Again, this was written a week and a half ago, an age in our modern times. I am not familiar with all of Mr. Indiviglio’s work. Perhaps two weeks ago he wrote that Libya would be ruled by Muammar Qaddafi forever.

Tagged

American Psycho Part Four: Last Thoughts

(though none of the book’s explicit sections are quoted here, some of the language will be very offensive to some)

Intro
I. Patrick Bateman
II. Timothy Price
III. Blackmail: Paul Owen, the Fisher Account, Evelyn, the cab driver, etc.
IV. A few last thoughts: Robert Hall, tanning, etc.

A few quick last notes.

Robert Hall

A character from the past who I think was in a relationship with Bateman while they were at university. Before he goes to a meal with Bethany, a woman he knew from the same time, we have this quick reference:

God, I’m thinking to myself as I walk into Vanities, only fifteen minutes late, I hope she hasn’t ended up with Robert Hall, that dumb asshole.

During the meal:

She smiles, pleased with herself, and still looking down, admits, with incomparable clarity, “Well, yes, I have a boyfriend and–”

“Who?”

“What?” She looks up.

“Who is he? What’s his name?”

“Robert Hall. Why?”

We expect him to say, Robert Hall, back from when we were at school? But instead we have a long period of him both pretending not to know who Hall was, and being very angry that she’s going to marry him.

“With Salomon Brothers?”

“No, he’s a chef.”

“With Salomon Brothers?”

“Patrick, he’s a chef. And co-owner of a restaurant.”

“Does it matter?”

“No, really, which one?” I ask, then under my breath, “I want to cross it out of my Zagat guide.”

“Its called Dorsia,” she says, then, “Patrick, are you okay?”

Yes, my brain does explode and my stomach bursts open inwardly – a spastic, acidic, gastric reaction; stars and planets, whole galaxies made up entirely of little white chef hats, race over the film of my vision. I choke out another question.

“Why Robert Hall?” I ask. “Why him?”

“I want to have children.”

“With Robert Hall?” I ask, incredulous. “You might as well do it with Captain Lou Albano, for Christ sakes. I just don’t get you. Bethany.”

She touches her napkin, looking down and then out onto the sidewalk, where waiters are setting up tables for dinner. I watch them too. “Why do I sense hostility on your part, Patrick?” she asks softly, then sips her wine.

“Maybe because I’m hostile,” I spit out. “Maybe because you sense this.”

“Jesus, Patrick,” she says, searching my face, genuinely upset. “I thought you and Robert were friends.”

Now, for some strange reason he pretends not to know who Hall was.

I pause, doubtful. “Were we?”

“Yes, Patrick, you were.”

“Robert Hall, Robert Hall, Robert Hall,” I mutter to myself, trying to remember. “Scholarship student? President of our senior class?” I think about it a second longer, then add, “Weak chin?”

“No, Patrick,” she says. “The other Robert Hall.”

“I’m confusing him with the other Robert Hall?” I ask.

“Yes, Patrick,” she says, exasperated.

Inwardly cringing, I close my eyes and sigh. “Robert Hall. Not the one whose parents own half of, like, Washington? Not the one who was” – I gulp – “captain of the crew team? Six feet?”

“Yes,” she says. “That Robert Hall.”

Then the punchline.

“Yes? But what?” She seems prepared to wait for an answer.

“But he was a fag,” I blurt out.

“No, he was not, Patrick,” she says, clearly offended.

I’m positive he was a fag.” I start nodding my head.

Why are you so positive?” she asks, not amused.

Well, he can’t tell her the real reason, so he makes up a few things which are very funny, though there may be a partial truth there.

“Because he used to let frat guys – not the ones in my house – like, you know, gang bang him at parties and tie him up and stuff. At least, you know, that’s what I’ve heard,” I say sincerely, and then, more humiliated than I have ever been in my entire life, I confess,Listen, Bethany, he offered me a… you know, a blow job once. In the, um, civics section of the library.

“Oh my god,” she gasps, disgusted. “Where’s the check?”

“Didn’t Robert Hall get kicked out for doing his thesis on Babar? Or something like Babar?” I ask. “Babar the elephant? The, oh Jesus, French elephant?”

After:

I try to smile. “Robert Hall’s not a fag–”

“I can assure you of that,” she says a tad too smugly. How can anyone get indignant over Robert Hall? Instead of saying “Oh yeah, you dumb sorry bitch” I say soothingly, “I’m sure you can,” then, “Tell me about him. I want to know how things stand with the two of you,” and then, smiling, furious, full of rage, I apologize. “I’m sorry.”

Later, right before he fantasises a brutal murder of her, this is what he says, this is what is so important for him, that makes him so angry.

“I said, what in the fuck are you doing with Robert Hall?” I whisper.

“What did you say?” As if in slow motion, like in a movie, she turns around.

I wait until she’s seen the nail gun and the gloved hands to scream, “What the fuck are you doing with Robert Hall?”

Tanning

Bateman constantly tans. I don’t think this is purely cosmetic. It’s to hide signs of his illness.

“Actually, where do you go, Bateman?” Van Patten asks. “For a tan.”

“Yeah, Bateman. Where do you go?” McDermott seems genuinely intrigued.

“Read my lips,” I say, “a tanning salon,” then irritably, “like everyone else.”

Bateman, though he has such a deep and constant tan that everyone notices, does not want to stand out.

At a meal with Bethany, there’s something that makes him very upset.

“Gosh, Patrick,” she says, looking at every part of my face.

“What?” I panic, immediately touching my hair. “Too much mousse? You don’t like the Kingsmen?”

“No.” She laughs. “I just don’t remember you being so tan back at school.

At dinner with Sean, the meeting ends like this:

Damien. You’re Damien,” I think I hear Sean mutter.

“What did you say?” I ask, looking up. “I didn’t hear you.”

Nice tan,” he sighs. “I said nice tan.”

I believe Sean knows that his brother is ill and continuing to have sex without telling anyone.

Hardbodies

A desirable woman is always referred to as a “hardbody”. It’s a strange label, that the quality most coveted in a woman is the hard firmness of a man.

Pierce and Pierce

The company Bateman works for. The play on words may have to do with murder. But it’s also two men’s names paired up.

Cigars

There are at least rhree references to cigars that I think are intended as obvious phallic jokes.

At the start of the meal with Bethany, we have:

“Didn’t you smoke at Harvard?” is the first thing she says.

Cigars,” I say. “Only cigars.”

“Oh,” she says.

But I quit that,” I lie, breathing in hard, squeezing my hands together.

After he has tortured Bethany close to death, we have:

Later, when she briefly regains consciousness, I put on a porkpie hat I was given by one of my girlfriends freshman year at Harvard.

“Remember this?” I shout, towering over her. “And look at this!” I scream triumphantly, holding up a cigar. “I still smoke cigars. Ha. See? A cigar.”

Towards the end of the break-up dinner with Evelyn.

“Tell me, Patrick, where are you going?”

I’ve placed a cigar on the table. She’s too upset to even comment. “I’m just leaving,” I say simply.

In the last scene, Price, who is sick with AIDS has this gesture:

“I just don’t get how someone, anyone, can appear that way yet be involved in such total shit,” Price says, ignoring Craig, averting his eyes from Farrell. He takes out a cigar and studies it sadly. To me it still looks like there’s a smudge on Price’s forehead.

Price looks sadly at this, since he can’t have sex with his illness.

The Book Tries To Tell Us What Kind of Book It Is

There are two moments which may be the book hinting at its double meaning.

A dinner with Evelyn, where he mentions a photo that has two captions.

“All I can think about is this poster I saw in the subway station the other night before I killed those two black kids – a photo of a baby calf, its head turned toward the camera, its eyes caught wide and staring by the flash, and its body seemed like it was boxed into some kind of crate, and in big, black letters below the photo it read, ‘Question: Why Can’t This Veal Calf Walk?’ Then, ‘Answer: Because It Only Has Two Legs.’ But then I saw another one, the same exact photo, the same exact calf, yet beneath it, this one read, ‘Stay Out of Publishing.’ “

A description of a conversation in the last scene could apply to the strange events of the book.

The conversation follows its own rolling accord – no real structure or topic or internal logic or feeling; except, of course, for its own hidden, conspiratorial one.

The Movie Version

I have seen the movie of this book only once, and have a poor memory of it. I don’t remember if it hinted at this subtext – if it even exists. I don’t see how a movie version could convey it, without letting the veil completely fall. We would see the actions in the book, the world as Bateman wants to see it, and then in the last ten minutes, just like in Fight Club we would see various in-between scenes giving a true sense of what took place – Carruthers and Bateman hooking up, Denton and Bateman hooking up, Evelyn explicitly blackmailing Timothy, Bateman having sex with Owen then blackmailing him over it, the romance with Robert Hall, the wanted poster downtown which says that Bateman has AIDS, the women he tortured and killed, still alive and well.

Intro
I. Patrick Bateman>
II. Timothy Price
III. Blackmail: Paul Owen, the Fisher Account, Evelyn, the cab driver, etc.
IV. A few last thoughts: Robert Hall, tanning, etc.

Tagged , ,

American Psycho Part Three: Blackmail

(though none of the book’s explicit sections are quoted here, some of the language will be very offensive to some)

Intro
I. Patrick Bateman
II. Timothy Price
III. Blackmail: Paul Owen, the Fisher Account, Evelyn, the cab driver, etc.
IV. A few last notes: Robert Hall, tanning, etc.

Meredith Powell

In American Psycho, blackmail plays a large role, with several men paying money that their secrets aren’t revealed. That Evelyn may have gotten the keys to the Hampton house through this method has already been mentioned.

There is also Meredith Powell, an almost invisible figure, who is dating Timothy Price.

Price makes this statement about her:

“Meredith’s a fag hag,” Price explains, unfazed, “that’s why I’m dumping her.”

At the dinner at the start of the book, Bateman notices that Meredith isn’t there.

“J&B rocks,” I tell him, suddenly thinking it’s strange that Meredith wasn’t invited.

Perhaps because Evelyn knows her purpose is purely ceremonial. Evelyn hates Meredith, again, for reasons Bateman does not reveal.

Instead of mentioning this and have her bore me silly with inane denials, I ask about Tim’s girlfriend, Meredith, whom Evelyn despises for reasons never made quite clear to me.

Perhaps because the men Meredith exploits, Evelyn is unable to. Perhaps because though both Evelyn and Meredith are exploiting Timothy Price, Evelyn doesn’t consider what she’s doing blackmail, and so she considers what Meredith is doing utterly cruel.

There is this conversation between Price and Bateman, where possibly what the women are paid for are different things, one for sex, the other for appearing to be a girlfriend.

“Might as well hire someone from an escort service,” he shouts bitterly, almost without thinking.

“Why?” I shout.

“Because she’s gonna cost you a lot more to get laid.”

“No way,” I scream.

“Listen, I put up with it too,” Price shouts, lightly shaking his glass. Ice cubes clank loudly, surprising me. “Meredith’s the same way. She expects to be paid. They all do.

Later, Meredith is dating someone else prominent.

“How is Meredith?” I ask, trying to mask my void of disinterest.

“Oh god She’s dating Richard Cunningham.” Evelyn moans. “He’s at First Boston. If you can believe it.”

Then Van Patten.

“But there’s a limit,” Van Patten is saying. “The point is, I mean, I don’t want to spend the evening with the Cookie Monster.”

“But you’re still dating Meredith so, uh, what’s the difference?” I ask. Naturally he doesn’t hear.

Meredith makes only a brief appearance in the book at the Christmas party, where she’s now with Paul Owen.

Meredith is wearing a beaded wool gabardine dress and bolero by Geoffrey Beene from Barney’s, diamond and gold earrings by James Savitt ($13,000), gloves by Geoffrey Beene for Portolano products, and she says, “Yes boys? What are you two talking about? Making up Christmas lists?”

“The sea urchins at Le Bernardin, darling,” Owen says.

“My favorite topic.” Meredith drapes an arm over my shoulder, while she confides to me as an aside, ‘”They’re fabulous.”

“Delectable.” I cough nervously.

So she has a very rich outfit, and for some reason, when she starts talking to Bateman, he gets worried.

When Paul Owen disappears, we find out in the conversation with the detective that she’s dating someone else, and she believes Owen still has money to pay her.

“Listen, like I said, I was just hired by Meredith.” He sighs, closing his book.

Tentatively, I ask, “Did you know that Meredith Powell is dating Brock Thompson?”

He shrugs, sighs. “I don’t know about that. All I know is that Paul Owen owes her supposedly a lot of money.”

She appears one last time, seemingly indifferent to the disappearance of her ex.

I also run into Meredith Powell later this week, on Friday night, at Ereze with Brock Thompson, and though we talk for ten minutes, mostly about why neither one of us is in the Hamptons, with Brock glaring at me the entire time, she doesn’t mention Paul Owen once.

So, among the men that Meredith acts as a beard for are Price, Owen, Van Patten, Cunningham, and Thompson. In a book where all the men often look the same, where two of the most aggressively male, Bateman and Price, are gay, this raises the possibility of a larger prank – that all the male executives in the book are secretly gay, though not all of them are aware of these secret identities.

Paul Owen and the Fisher Account

Meredith is with Paul Owen for a while, and it is Paul Owen who is also involved in blackmailing various men in turn, though it is not revealed explicitly as such. He is instead connected with the Fisher account, which Bateman is obsessed with for a considerable while, constantly wondering how Owen obtained it, and which he describes as “mysterious” for reasons he never says. Then, suddenly, with the disappearance of Owen, all talk of the importance of the Fisher account ends. The Fisher account is a very lucrative prize obtained through this blackmail.

This is how Owen and the Fisher account first show up in the book.

Price began his spiel today over lunch and then brought it up again during the squash game and continued ranting over drinks at Harry’s where he had gone on, over three J&Bs and water, much more interestingly about the Fisher account that Paul Owen is handling.

Preston slurs that he obtained the Fisher account not through Owen’s own merits, but the usual suspect, jewish connections.

Owen stands at the bar wearing a double-breasted wool suit.

“He’s handling the Fisher account,” someone says.

“Lucky bastard,” someone else murmurs.

“Lucky Jew bastard,” Preston says.

“Oh Jesus, Preston,” I say. “What does that have to do with anything?”

He’s someone Bateman is frightened of.

“No. Oh no,” Van Patten says ominously. “He hasn’t spotted us yet.”

“Victor Powell? Paul Owen?” I say, suddenly scared.

I look over at Paul Owen, sitting in a booth with three other guys – one of whom could be Jeff Duvall, suspenders, slicked-back hair, horn-rimmed glasses, all of them drinking champagne – and I lazily wonder about how Owen got the Fisher account.

The only long conversation between them.

“How have you been?” Owen asks.

“I’ve been great,” I say. “And you?”

“Oh terrific,” he says. “How’s the Hawkins account going?”

“It’s…” I stall and then continue, faltering momentarily, “It’s… all right.”

“Really?” he asks, vaguely concerned. “That’s interesting,” he says, smiling, hands clasped together behind his back. “Not great?”

“Oh well,” I say. “You… know.”

“And how’s Marcia?” he asks, still smiling, looking over the room, not really listening to me. “She’s a great girl.”

“Oh yes,” I say, shaken. “I’m… lucky.”

Owen has mistaken me for Marcus Halberstam (even though Marcus is dating Cecelia Wagner) but for some reason it really doesn’t matter and it seems a logical faux pas since Marcus works at P & P also, in fact does the same exact thing I do, and he also has a penchant for Valentino suits and clear prescription glasses and we share the same barber at the same place, the Pierre Hotel, so it seems understandable; it doesn’t irk me. But Paul Denton keeps staring at me, or trying not to, as if he knows something, as if he’s not quite sure if he recognizes me or not, and it makes me wonder if maybe he was on that cruise a long time ago, one night last March. If that’s the case, I’m thinking, I should get his telephone number or, better yet, his address.

Bateman is very nervous talking to this man, and wants to say as little as possible to him out of fear. The bolded text on Halberstam, I think, carries a double meaning – he knows Halberstam is in the closet as well. The scene also includes the strange brief appearance of Denton.

The next time Owen shows up is at the U2 concert. There is the very unusual moment where Bateman watches Bono and is incredibly turned on. It is after this that he suddenly has an incredible need to ask Owen about the Fisher account.

And then everyone, the audience, the band, reappears and the music slowly swells up and Bono turns away and I’m left tingling, my face flushed, an aching erection pulsing against my thigh, my hands clenched in fists of tension. But suddenly everything stops, as if a switch has been turned off, the backdrop flashes back to white. Bono is on the other side of the stage now and everything, the feeling in my heart, the sensation combing my brain, vanishes and now more than ever I need to know about the Fisher account that Owen is handling and this information seems vital, more pertinent than the bond I feel I have with Bono, who is now dissolving and remote.

I don’t think this a jape at a banker whose every feeling moves him towards money and business. It’s the fact that his attraction to Bono on stage and the Fisher account are connected.

During the concert, he manages to talk to Owen about it.

“Are you still handling the Fisher account?” I shout back.

“Yeah,” he screams. “Lucked out, huh, Marcus?”

“You sure did,” I scream. “How did you get it?”

“Well, I had the Ransom account and things just fell into place.” He shrugs helplessly, the smooth bastard. “You know?”

My bold.

Bateman, at Christmas, is still obsessed with the account:

I wanted [Jean] to find out as much as she could about the Fisher account that Paul Owen is handling.

My priorities before Christmas include the following:

(3) to find out as much as humanly possible about Paul Owen’s mysterious Fisher account

They go out for dinner. Bateman picks a place where they won’t be seen.

I choose Texarkana because I know that a lot of people I have dealings with are not going to be eating there tonight.

Bateman keeps trying to find out about the Fisher account at dinner.

When I press for information about the Fisher account he offers useless statistical data that I already knew about: how Rothschild was originally handling the account, how Owen came to acquire it. And though I had Jean gather this information for my files months ago, I keep nodding, pretending that this primitive info is revelatory and saying things like “This is enlightening” while at the same time telling him “I’m utterly insane” and “I like to dissect girls.” Every time I attempt to steer the conversation back to the mysterious Fisher account, he infuriatingly changes the topic back to either tanning salons or brands of cigars or certain health clubs or the best places to jog in Manhattan and he keeps guffawing, which I find totally upsetting.

The conversation as presented, is completely inscrutable. Bateman never makes clear what he’s trying to find out about the account, what makes it so mysterious, or why Owen is so resistant. The conversational detours Owen makes, however, in not answering the question – tanning salons, certain health clubs, best places to jog – all could be considered places to pick up gay men.

Next, a drunk Owen ends up at Bateman’s apartment. It’s here that Bateman fantasizes murdering the man. I don’t think this happens at all. I believe they have sex, Bateman blackmails Owen, who is then forced to leave for London. Bateman, who constantly resorts to violent fantasy as a cover for his gay life does so here. The Fisher account is never brought up again – except in the last scene when an unknown voice asks who’s handling it, though an answer is never given.

The hint given that Owen and Bateman have had sex is subtle, but there in the detective interview.

“Well.” I cough, swallowing two Nuprin, dry. “I didn’t know him that well.”

“How well did you know him?” he asks.

“I’m… at a loss,” I tell him, somewhat truthfully. “He was part of that whole… Yale thing, you know.”

“Yale thing?” he asks, confused.

I pause, having no idea what I’m talking about. “Yeah . . Yale thing.”

“What do you mean… Yale thing?” Now he’s intrigued.

I pause again – what do I mean? “Well, I think, for one, that he was probably a closet homosexual.” I have no idea; doubt it, considering his taste in babes.

He doubts it, though Owen dates Meredith who’s already been described as a “fag hag”. Owen also dated Laurie Kennedy, and Bateman has as well. The Yale Club bathroom is the scene of the first prolonged encounter with Carruthers.

Also,

I’m sensing frustration on Kimball’s part and he asks, “What kind of man was he? Besides” – he falters, tries to smile – “the information you’ve just given.”

How could I describe Paul Owen to this guy? Boasting, arrogant, cheerful dickhead who constantly weaseled his way out of checks at Nell’s? That I’m heir to the unfortunate information that his penis had a name and that name was Michael? No. Calmer, Bateman. I think that I’m smiling.

Although it’s very subtle, and I’m unsure of it, I think Bateman is very nervous during the interview with the private investigator for a reason that has nothing to do with his fantasy of killing Owen.

The door to the office opens and I wave in the detective, who is surprisingly young, maybe my age, wearing a linen Armani suit not unlike mine, though his is slightly disheveled in a hip way, which worries me.

I think about it, then feebly announce, “We were both seven in 1969.”

Kimball smiles. “So was I.”

The investigator is the same age as Bateman and Owen. He dresses like Bateman, but in a way that’s more hip, which for the strangest reason frightens him. He suspects that the investigator is gay, but openly gay, and that he can tell that Bateman is as well, but hiding it.

The Cabdriver

The last instance of blackmail in the novel involves an entirely new character, the cabdriver, and it is the second to last scene. The cabdriver sees Bateman, knows he’s wanted for something, then threatens to tell unless his valuables are handed over. In the context of Bateman as serial killer, it makes no sense. The cabdriver is not frightened of the man at all. He shows no interest in calling the police or killing Bateman, though as a cabbie, he no doubt has been threatened with the possibility of violent crime. Though his photo ID is there in the cab, he points a gun at Bateman, then takes his watch, cash, and sunglasses with impunity as if he knows that Bateman will never ever try to identify him. It is not a fantasy of Bateman’s, since he neither kills the cabbie or the old woman who taunts him afterwards.

It does however, make sense in a differet context.

The chapter opens like this:

Another broken scene in what passes for my life occurs on Wednesday, seemingly pointing to someone’s fault, though whose I can’t be sure.

The scene is broken, we are only getting the partial story. Someone else, another identity is to blame for what happens next. I don’t think the next few quotes require much elaboration.

“Hey, don’t I know you?” he asks in a thick, barely penetrable accent that could easily be either New Jersey or Mediterranean.

“No.” I start putting the Walkman back on.

“You look familiar,” he says. “What’s your name?”

“I’ve seen your face somewhere.”

Finally, exasperated, I ask, trying to appear casual, “You have? Really? Interesting. Just watch the road, Abdullah.”

There’s a long, scary pause while he stares at me in the rearview mirror and the grim smile fades. His face is blank. He says, “I know. Man, I know who you are,” and he’s nodding, his mouth drawn tight.

“You’re the guy who kill Solly.” His face is locked into a determined grimace. As with everything else, the following happens very quickly, though it feels like an endurance test.

I swallow, lower my sunglasses and tell him to slow down before asking, “Who, may I ask, is Sally?”

Man, your face is on a wanted poster downtown,” he says, unflinching.

“I think I would like to stop here,” I manage to croak out.

“You’re the guy, right?” He’s looking at me like I’m some kind of viper.

The wanted poster is not one put up for someone wanted for murder. It’s a poster put up in a community identifying someone as having AIDS who continues to have sex without informing his partners.

“You kill Solly,” he says, definitely recognizing me from somewhere, cutting another denial on my part by growling, “You son-of-a-bitch.”

How do you know I’m not going to call you in and get your license revoked?” I ask, handing over a knife I just found in my pocket that looks as if it was dipped into a bowl of blood and hair.

Because you’re guilty,” he says, and then, “Get that away from me,” waving the gun at the stained knife.

“How do you know I’m guilty?” I can’t believe I’m asking this patiently.

Look what you’re doing, asshole,” he says.

Bateman’s last line in the scene:

While walking back to the highway I stop, choke back a sob, my throat tightens. “I just want to…” Facing the skyline, through all the baby talk, I murmur, “keep the game going.”

Continued…

Intro
I. Patrick Bateman
II. Timothy Price
III. Blackmail: Paul Owen, the Fisher Account, Evelyn, the cab driver, etc.
IV. A few last notes: Robert Hall, tanning, etc.

Tagged , ,

American Psycho Part Two: Timothy Price

(though none of the book’s explicit sections are quoted here, some of the language will be very offensive to some)

Intro
I. Patrick Bateman
II. Timothy Price
III. Blackmail: Paul Owen, the Fisher Account, Evelyn, the cab driver, etc.
IV. A few last notes: Robert Hall, tanning, etc.

Timothy Price shows up as an aggressive, obnoxious presence in the first part of the book serving almost as a model for Bateman, then disappears for most of it for reasons that are never clear, then re-appears towards the end as a much sadder, more forlorn figure.

Like Bateman, Price is aggressive in asserting that he does not like gays.

“Did you read about the host from that game show on TV? He killed two teenage boys? Depraved faggot. Droll, really droll.”

Price turns back to me and, after running a hand over his stiff, slicked-back hair, seems to relent. “I guess you’re right,” and then he raises his voice, “that is, if the faggot in the next stall thinks it’s okay.”

“Ah,” Price exclaims. “One of those young British faggots serving internship at…?”

“How do you know he’s a faggot?” I ask him.

“They’re all faggots.” Price shrugs. “The British.”

Well, perhaps there’s another reason he knows that.

In the first part of the book, Price is almost always violently angry, again serving almost as an ideal for the violent anger Bateman expresses later. Though he is such an aggressively straightforward character, his scenes are filled with ambiguous moments.

For instance, in the opening scene, he runs into men who he may know, but who he cannot acknowledge. Someone who might be Carruthers:

Outside this cab, on the sidewalks, black and bloated pigeons fight over scraps of hot dogs in front of a Gray’s Papaya while transvestites idly look on and a police car cruises silently the wrong way down a one?way street and the sky is low and gray and in a cab that’s stopped in traffic across from this one, a guy who looks a lot like Luis Carruthers waves over at Timothy and when Timothy doesn’t return the wave the guy – slicked-back hair, suspenders, horn-rimmed glasses – realizes it’s not who he thought it was and looks back at his copy of USA Today.

A figure with slicked-back hair and horn-rimmed glasses approaches in the distance, wearing a beige double-breasted wool-gabardine Cerruti 1881 suit and carrying the same Tumi leather attaché case from D. F. Sanders that Price has, and Timothy wonders aloud, “Is it Victor Powell? It can’t be.”

The man passes under the fluorescent glare of a streetlamp with a troubled look on his face that momentarily curls his lips into a slight smile and he glances at Price almost as if they were acquainted but just as quickly he realizes that he doesn’t know Price and just as quickly Price realizes it’s not Victor Powell and the man moves on.

Powell is mentioned again at Evelyn’s during the dinner scene at the beginning, one of those men like Denton, Owen, and Carruthers that Patrick Bateman is very scared of, no reason given.

I move toward the refrigerator anyway. Staring darkly, Price reenters the kitchen and says, “Who in the hell is in the living room?”

Evelyn feigns ignorance. “Oh who is that?”

Courtney warns, “Ev-el-yn. You did tell them, I hope.”

“Who is it?” I ask, suddenly scared. “Victor Powell?”

A later moment, during a lunch:

“No. Oh no,” Van Patten says ominously. “He hasn’t spotted us yet.”

“Victor Powell? Paul Owen?” I say, suddenly scared.

Powell never otherwise shows up in the book.

There is then this strange moment at Evelyn’s. Evelyn wants to talk to Timothy, Timothy is very angry at Evelyn, but we are never told why.

“I have to talk to you,” Evelyn says.

“What about?” I come up to her.

“No,” she says and then pointing at Tim, “to Price.”

Tim still glares at her fiercely. I say nothing and stare at Tim’s drink.

They return, no explanation given. What Timothy is about to reveal is not, I believe, that he is having an affair with Evelyn. There is possibly a humorous subtext to Evelyn’s line here.

Evelyn and Timothy come back perhaps twenty minutes after we’ve seated ourselves and Evelyn looks only slightly flushed. Tim glares at me as he takes the seat next to mine, a fresh drink in hand, and he leans over toward me, about to say, to admit something, when suddenly Evelyn interrupts, “Not there, Timothy,” then, barely a whisper, “Boy girl, boy girl.”

Both are very unhappy during dinner.

Price isn’t eating and neither is Evelyn; I suspect cocaine but it’s doubtful.

During the dinner, this small moment has a secondary meaning, I think.

Vanden tosses the copy of Deception next to Timothy and smirks in a wan, bitchy way

And again, Evelyn’s line here is humorous.

Everyone stays silent. Tim quickly looks over at me. I glance at Courtney, then back at Tim, then at Evelyn. Evelyn meets my glance, then worriedly looks over at Tim. I also look over at Tim, then at Courtney and then at Tim again, who looks at me once more before answering slowly, unsurely, “Cactus pear.”

Cactus fruit,” Evelyn corrects.

After dinner, Timothy, Patrick, and Evelyn are in a room together, where Evelyn and Timothy seem to flirt with each other – but not in a way of two people having an affair, but openly, as if nothing can come of the flirting.

Now Price is on his knees and he smells and sniffs at Evelyn’s bare legs and she’s laughing. I tense up.
“Oh god,” she moans loudly. “Get out of here.”
“You are orange.” He laughs, on his knees, his head in her lap. “You look orange.”
“I am not,” she says, her voice a low prolonged growl of pain, ecstasy. “Jerk.”
I lie on the bed watching the two of them. Timothy is in her lap trying to push his head under the Ralph Lauren robe. Evelyn’s head is thrown back with pleasure and she is trying to push him away, but playfully, and hitting him only lightly on his back with her Jan Hové brush. I am fairly sure that Timothy and Evelyn are having an affair. Timothy is the only interesting person I know.

The final scene with Timothy before he disappears is at the Tunnel club, a section full of unusual moments. This paragraph contains many of them:

I follow him as he rushes through the narrow corridor that runs parallel to the dance floor, then into the bar and finally into the Chandelier Room, which is jammed with guys from Drexel, from Lehman’s, from Kidder Peabody, from First Boston, from Morgan Stanley, from Rothschild, from Goldman, even from Citibank for Christ sakes, all of them wearing tuxedos, holding champagne flutes, and effortlessly, almost as if it were the same song, “New Sensation” segues into “The Devil Inside” and Price spots Ted Madison leaning against the railing in the back of the room, wearing a double-breasted wool tuxedo, a wing-collar cotton shirt from Paul Smith, a bow tie and cummerbund from Rainbow Neckwear, diamond studs from Trianon, patent-leather and grosgrain pumps by Ferragamo and an antique Hamilton watch from Saks; and past Madison, disappearing into darkness, are the twin train tracks which tonight are lit garishly in preppy greens and pinks and Price suddenly stops walking, stares past Ted, who smiles knowingly when he spots Timothy, and Price gazes longingly at the tracks as if they suggest some kind of freedom, embody an escape that Price has been searching for, but I shout out to him, “Hey, there’s Teddy,” and this breaks his gaze and he shakes his head as if to clear it, refocuses his gaze on Madison and shouts decisively, “No, that’s not Madison for Christ sakes, that’s Turnball,” and the guy who I thought was Madison is greeted by two other guys in tuxedos and he turns his back to us and suddenly, behind Price, Ebersol wraps an arm around Timothy’s neck and laughingly pretends to strangle him, then Price pushes the arm away, shakes Ebersol’s hand and says, “Hey Madison.”

There are no women in this club, only men wearing tuxedoes. The dress code is tuxedoes, but Price and Bateman are not wearing the proper recognisable uniform. Turnball has a knowing smile for Price, but we are not told why. Timothy is desperately looking for an escape, for some freedom that isn’t here. Ebersol pretends to choke Timothy, just as Bateman almost chokes Carruthers in the Yale Club. Price doesn’t want this intimacy, and gives a formal shake.

Madison, who I thought was Ebersol, is wearing a splendid double-breasted white linen jacket by Hackett of London from Bergdorf Goodman. He has a cigar that hasn’t been lit in one hand and a champagne glass, half full, in the other.

“Mr. Price,” shouts Madison. “Very good to see you, sir.”

“Madison,” Price cries back. “We need your services.”

“Looking for trouble?” Madison smiles.

“Something more immediate,” Price shouts back.

“Of course,” Madison shouts and then, coolly for some reason, nods at me, shouting, I think, “Bateman,” and then, “Nice tan.”

I believe what’s shown here is a hint that Madison occasionally provides Price with sex, and that Madison is cautious about Bateman, he doesn’t know if he can trust him with certain secrets.

Price is leaving; what exactly is he leaving?

“I’m leaving,” Price shouts. “I’m getting out.”

“Leaving what?” I shout back, confused.

This,” he shouts, referring to, I’m not sure but I think, his double Stoli.

“Don’t,” I tell him. “I’ll drink it.”

“Listen to me, Patrick,” he screams. “I’m leaving.”

“Where to?” I really am confused. “You want me to find Ricardo?”

“I’m leaving,” he screams. “I… am… leaving!”

I start laughing, not knowing what he means. “Well, where are you going to go?”

Away!” he shouts.

“Don’t tell me,” I shout back at him. “Merchant banking?”

“No, Bateman. I’m serious you dumb son-of-a-bitch. Leaving. Disappearing.”

“Where to?” I’m still laughing, stilt confused, still shouting. “Morgan Stanley? Rehab?What?”

He looks away from me, doesn’t answer, just keeps staring past the railings, trying to find the point where the tracks come to an end, find what lies behind the blackness.

Not banking, not rehab – there is something that Price wants very much to escape.

After he leaves, Evelyn wonders what happened to him.

She’s asking me about Tim. “Where do you think that rascal has been? Rumor is he’s at Sachs,” she says ominously.

“Rumor is,” I say, “he’s in rehab. This champagne isn’t cold enough.” I’m distracted. “Doesn’t he send you postcards?”

“Has he been sick?” she asks, with the slightest trepidation.

“Yes, I think so,” I say. “I think that’s what it is. You know, if you order a bottle of Cristal it should at least be, you know, cold.”

“Oh my god,” Evelyn says. “You think he might be sick?”

“Yes. He’s in a hospital. In Arizona,” I add. The word Arizona has a mysterious tinge to it and I say it again. “Arizona. I think.”

“Oh my god,” Evelyn exclaims, now truly alarmed, and she gulps down what little Cristal is left in her glass.

“Who knows?” I manage the slightest of shrugs.

“You don’t think…” She breathes in and puts her glass down. “You don’t think it’s” – and now she looks around the restaurant before leaning in, whispering – “AIDS?”

There are two points of interest here – that Evelyn’s first assumption of what Price might be suffering from is AIDS, since, as David Van Patten enthusiastically points out again and again,

“I have read this article I’ve Xeroxed,” Van Patten says, “and it says our chances of catching that are like zero zero zero zero point half a decimal percentage or something, and this no matter what kind of scumbag, slutbucket, horndog chick we end up boffing.”

and by “we”, he means straight men.

The other point is “Arizona”, which shows up again and again, a predictable code for something else.

In the bathroom of the Yale Club, after Carruthers confesses his feelings for Bateman, he says:

“You don’t know how long I’ve wanted it…” He’s sighing, rubbing my shoulders, trembling. “Ever since that Christmas party at Arizona 206. You know the one, you were wearing that red striped paisley Armani tie.”

In the last encounter with Carruthers, he says that he’ll be leaving this all behind.

“Anyway,” he says, once we’ve reached the other side of the store, where I pretend to look through a row of silk ties but everything’s blurry, “you’ll be glad to know that I’m transferring… out of state.”

Something rises off me and I’m able to ask, but still without looking at him, “Where?”

“Oh, a different branch,” he says, sounding remarkably relaxed, probably due to the fact that I actually inquired about the move. “In Arizona.”

And this is where Carruthers believes they can live together as a couple.

He’s not listening. Still on my haunches, I just stare at him in disbelief.

“Please, Patrick, please. Listen to me, I’ve figured it all out. I’m quitting P & P, you can too, and, and, and we’ll relocate to Arizona, and then–”

Until his return, Price is then almost never referred to in the book, except once, and I think it answers an earlier question.

The house we stayed at was actually Tim Price’s, which Evelyn had the keys to for some reason, but in my stupefied state I refused to ask for specifics.

Evelyn somehow has the keys to this vast house. Well, there’s the possibility that Bateman considers, which is that she and Price were having an affair. But Price has disappeared, they are no longer seeing each other, so she shouldn’t still have the keys. Besides, she should be far more worried for herself if she thought he had AIDS and she could have contracted it. So, perhaps it’s blackmail. Blackmail over his secret life. It was perhaps this that they discussed in private in the first scene which caused such tension between them.

Then, Price returns.

And, for the sake of form, Tim Price resurfaces, or at least I’m pretty sure he does. While I’m at my desk simultaneously crossing out the days in my calendar that have already passed and reading a new best seller about once management called Why It Works to Be a Jerk, Jean buzzes in, announcing that Tim Price wants to talk, and fearfully I say, “Send him… in.”…He sits down, across from me, on the other side of the Palazzetti glass-top desk. There’s a smudge on his forehead or at least that’s what I think I see. Aside from that he looks remarkably fit.

He’s become another man who Bateman is afraid of. He carries a mark of penitence, also of sickness, but for some reason:

While writing it down for him, I mention, “You’ve been gone, like, forever, Tim. What’s the story?” I ask, again noticing the smudge on his forehead, though I get the feeling that if I asked someone else if it was truly there, he (or she) would just say no.

Only Bateman believes he can see this mark, perhaps because he believes that only he can infer that Price is very sick. Price has AIDS.

As he leaves I’m wondering and not wondering what happens in the world of Tim Price, which is really the world of most of us: big ideas, guy stuff, boy meets the world, boy gets it.

There may be a secondary meaning there.

During their brief conversation in this scene between Bateman and Price, we have:

[Price] takes this in, remembers something. “Courtney?”

“She married Luis.”

“Grassgreen?”

“No. Carruthers.”

He takes this in too. “Do you have her number?”

He has never had any interest in Courtney, but he suddenly wants to contact her. It’s because she’s married to Carruthers, and he believes Carruthers has contracted AIDS as well, and she needs to be told before she gets infected herself.

Price shows up in the last scene, and once again, it’s full of ambiguity. He gets very upset while watching Ronald Reagan speak, though it’s implied the true cause is something else, that’s never made explicit.

On the screen now are scenes from President Bush’s inauguration early this year, then a speech from former President Reagan, while Patty delivers a hard-to-hear commentary. Soon a tiresome debate forms over whether he’s lying or not, even though we don’t, can’t, hear the words. The first and really only one to complain is Price, who, though I think he’s bothered by something else, uses this opportunity to vent his frustration, looks inappropriately stunned, asks, “How can he lie like that? How can he pull that shit?

Price looks away from the television screen, then at Craig, and he tries to hide his displeasure by asking me, waving at the TV, “I don’t believe it. He looks so… normal. He seems so… out of it. So… undangerous.

I just don’t get how someone, anyone, can appear that way yet be involved in such total shit,” Price says, ignoring Craig, averting his eyes from Farrell. He takes out a cigar and studies it sadly. To me it still looks like there’s a smudge on Price’s forehead.

“How can you be so fucking, I don’t know, cool about it?” Price, to whom something really eerie has obviously happened, sounds genuinely perplexed. Rumor has it that he was in rehab.

“Oh brother.” Price won’t let it die. “Look,” he starts, trying for a rational appraisal of the situation. “He presents himself as a harmless old codger. But inside…” He stops. My interest picks up, flickers briefly. “But inside…” Price can’t finish the sentence, can’t add the last two words he needs: doesn’t matter. I’m both disappointed and relieved for him.

The secret cause of Price’s anger is never exactly revealed. It is someone who is lying, doing something very dangerous, yet looks very normal on the surface. It’s perhaps someone who is in the closet, appears not to have AIDS, lies that he doesn’t, yet spreads the infection around. This could be many people. But it is Reagan on the television that makes Price so angry. Though Price doesn’t know yet it’s definitely this person, Reagan on the TV might cause the careful reader to connect this to a very strange moment in one of the first scnes of the book.

“No,” I start, hesitantly. “Well, we have to end apartheid for one. And slow down the nuclear arms race, stop terrorism and world hunger. Ensure a strong national defense, prevent the spread of communism in Central America, work for a Middle East peace settlement, prevent U.S. military involvement overseas. We have to ensure that America is a respected world power. Now that’s not to belittle our domestic problems, which are equally important, if not more. Better and more affordable long-term care for the elderly, control and find a cure for the AIDS epidemic, clean up environmental damage from toxic waste and pollution, improve the quality of primary and secondary education, strengthen laws to crack down on crime and illegal drugs. We also have to ensure that college education is affordable for the middle class and protect Social Security for senior citizens plus conserve natural resources and wilderness areas and reduce the influence of political action committees.”

This is Bateman, talking like a presidential candidate. There is another scene, mentioned in the next post that also points to Bateman spreading the virus among many victims.

A quick detour back. There’s a very quick hint that someone else may be sick, direcly infected by Bateman, and that’s Carruthers.

From their last encounter:

You are sick,” I tell him.

“If I’m sick it’s because of you,” he says too casually, checking his nails. “Because of you I am sick and I will not get better.”

Carruthers is speaking of sentiment, but Bateman knows of another possibility here.

A quick turn back to one of the earliest scenes, with Evelyn that I think has a hidden significance:

“You know,” she says clearly, “Stash tested positive for the AIDS virus. And…” She pauses, something on the screen catching her interest; the volume goes slightly up and then is lowered. “And… I think he will probably sleep with Vanden tonight.”
“Good,” I say, biting lightly at her neck, one of my hands on a firm, cold breast.
“You’re evil,” she says, slightly excited, running her hands along my broad, hard shoulder.

Bateman’s pose is that of a vampire, biting into her neck, after Evelyn speaks of this other couple where the man has AIDS. The very thing that Stash is doing, Bateman is doing as well. This behaviour may be fatal for Stash’s girlfriend; it’s implied here that it will eventually kill off Evelyn as well, that her life will be sucked out of her by Bateman.

Finally, the last paragraph in the book.

Someone has already taken out a Minolta cellular phone and called for a car, and then, when I’m not really listening, watching instead someone <who looks remarkably like Marcus Halberstam paying a check, someone asks, simply, not in relation to anything, “Why?” and though I’m very proud that I have cold blood and that I can keep my nerve and do what I’m supposed to do, I catch something, then realize it: Why? and automatically answering, out of the blue, for no reason, just opening my mouth, words coming out, summarizing for the idiots: “Well, though I know I should have done that instead of not doing it, I’m twenty-seven for Christ sakes and this is, uh, how life presents itself in a bar or in a club in New York, maybe anywhere, at the end of the century and how people, you know, me, behave, and this is what being Patrick means to me, I guess, so, well, yup, uh…” and this is followed by a sigh, then a slight shrug and another sigh, and above one of the doors covered by red velvet drapes in Harry’s is a sign and on the sign in letters that match the drapes’ color are the words THIS IS NOT AN EXIT.

Patrick Bateman sees Marcus Halberstam, who he is constantly mistaken for, paying a check, or – paying a bill, Bateman will soon be paying a very heavy bill for what he’s done. The “why” asked, and the answer, have nothing to do with the fantasised serial killing, but with his own secret life. The “one thing” he could have done makes no sense in the context of the serial killing, but I believe it makes sense if the one thing was coming out of the closet or revealing that he has AIDS. It’s now too late. He is in hell, and he will never leave.

Continued…

Intro
I. Patrick Bateman
II. Timothy Price
III. Blackmail: Paul Owen, the Fisher Account, Evelyn, the cab driver, etc.
IV. A few last notes: Robert Hall, tanning, etc.

Tagged , ,

American Psycho Part One: Patrick Bateman

(though none of the book’s explicit sections are quoted here, some of the language will be very offensive to some)

Intro
I. Patrick Bateman
II. Timothy Price
III. Blackmail: Paul Owen, the Fisher Account, Evelyn, the cab driver, etc.
IV. A few last notes: Robert Hall, tanning, etc.

Let’s start with the book’s lead, Patrick Bateman. First, it should be emphasised that this is not someone comfortable about gay men:

I should probably be stretching first but if I do that I’ll have to wait in line – already some faggot is behind me, probably checking out my back, ass, leg muscles.

I finish twenty minutes on the Stairmaster and let the overmuscled, bleached-blond, middle-aged faggot behind me use it and I commence with stretching exercises.

“You reek,” I tell him. “You reek of… shit.” I’m still petting the dog, its eyes wide and wet and grateful. “Do you know that? Goddamnit, Al – look at me and stop crying like some kind of faggot,” I shout.

On the way to Wall Street this morning, due to gridlock I had to get out of the company car and was walking down Fifth Avenue to find a subway station when I passed what I thought was a Halloween parade, which was disorienting since I was fairly sure this was May. When I stopped on the corner of Sixteenth Street and made a closer inspection it turned out to be something called a “Gay Pride Parade,” which made my stomach turn. Homosexuals proudly marched down Fifth Avenue, pink triangles emblazoned on pastel?colored windbreakers, some even holding hands, most singing “Somewhere” out of key and in unison. I stood in front of Paul Smith and watched with a certain traumatized fascination, my mind reeling with the concept that a human being, a man, could feel pride over sodomizing another man, but when I began to receive fey catcalls from aging, overmuscled beachboys with walruslike mustaches in between the lines “There’s a place for us, Somewhere a place for us,” I sprinted over to Sixth Avenue, decided to be late for the office and took a cab back to my apartment where I put on a new suit (by Cerruti 1881), gave myself a pedicure and tortured to death a small dog I had bought earlier this week in a pet store on Lexington.

In the last quote, we have a recurring theme of the book – the fantasy of violence in order to deal with the perception, and more than just the perception, of being gay.

So, perhaps the first most blatant sign to something hidden in his character is when he goes to see U2, a band he doesn’t like and has no interest in, and Bono is on stage:

But when I sit down something strange on the stage catches my eye. Bono has now moved across the stage, following me to my seat, and he’s staring into my eyes, kneeling at the edge of the stage, wearing black jeans (maybe Gitano), sandals, a leather vest with no shirt beneath it. His body is white, covered with sweat, and it’s not worked out enough, there’s no muscle tone and what definition there might be is covered beneath a paltry amount of chest hair. He has a cowboy hat on and his hair is pulled back into a ponytail and he’s moaning some dirge – I catch the lyric “A hero is an insect in this world” – and he has a faint, barely noticeable but nonetheless intense smirk on his face and it grows, spreading across it confidently, and while his eyes blaze, the backdrop of the stage turns red and suddenly I get this tremendous surge of feeling, this rush of knowledge and my own heart beats faster because of this and it’s not impossible to believe that an invisible cord attached to Bono has now encircled me and now the audience disappears and the music slows down, gets softer, and it’s just Bono onstage – the stadium’s deserted, the band fades away…

And then everyone, the audience, the band, reappears and the music slowly swells up and Bono turns away and I’m left tingling, my face flushed, an aching erection pulsing against my thigh, my hands clenched in fists of tension. But suddenly everything stops, as if a switch has been turned off, the backdrop flashes back to white.

(my bolds)

A very small hint here, a glaring incongruity for a man who appears to hate gay men so much, in a quote which might embody the book itself, the datum there amidst the image of sexual violence that Bateman wants to project:

After more stretching exercises to cool down I take a quick hot shower and then head to the video store where I return two tapes I rented on Monday, She-Male Reformatory and Body Double, but I rerent Body Double because I want to watch it again tonight even though I know I won’t have enough time to masturbate over the scene where the woman is getting drilled to death by a power drill since I have a date with Courtney at seven-thirty at Café Luxembourg.

However, where I think the mask really falls off are in the encounters with Luis Carruthers. A superficial reading is that Luis, a secretly gay man, hits on Bateman, and Bateman, the alpha male banker rejects those advances, and despises him for his homosexuality. I believe something more complicated is going on. This is the first scene where Carruthers expresses an attraction for Bateman. It’s a strange one. They are both at the Yale Club. Carruthers goes to the bathroom. Bateman follows. I believe every time Bateman talks about killing, it’s a way of somehow insisting that he’s not gay, but a heterosexual. And so, Bateman follows Carruthers to the bathroom, where the urinal door is left ajar, and moves forward, he says, to strangle him:

In slow motion, my own heavy breathing blocking out all other sounds, my vision blurring slightly around the edges, my hands move up over the collar of his cashmere blazer and cotton flannel shirt, circling his neck until my thumbs meet at the nape and my index fingers touch each other just above Luis’s Adam’s apple. I start to squeeze, tightening my grip, but it’s loose enough to let Luis turn around – still in slow motion – so he can stand facing me, one hand over his wool and silk Polo sweater, the other hand reaching up. His eyelids flutter for an instant, then widen, which is exactly what I want. I want to see Luis’s face contort and turn purple and I want him to know who it is who is killing him. I want to be the last face, the last thing, that Luis sees before he dies and I want to cry out, “I’m fucking Courtney. Do you hear me? I’m fucking Courtney. Ha-ha-ha,” and have these be the last words, the last sounds he hears until his own gurglings, accompanied by the crunching of his trachea, drown everything else out. Luis stares at me and I tense the muscles in my arms, preparing myself for a struggle that, disappointingly, never comes.

Instead he looks down at my wrists and for a moment wavers, as if he’s undecided about something, and then he lowers ‘his head and… kisses my left wrist, and when he looks back up at me, shyly, it’s with an expression that’s… loving and only part awkward. His right hand reaches up and tenderly touches the side of my face. I stand there, frozen, my arms still stretched out in front of me, fingers still circled around Luis’s throat.

“God, Patrick,.. he whispers. “Why here?”

His hand is playing with my hair now. I look over at the side of the stall, where someone has scratched into the paint Edwin gives marvelous head, and I’m still paralyzed in this position and gazing at the words, confused, studying the frame surrounding the words as if that contained an answer, a truth. Edwin? Edwin who? I shake my head to clear it and look back at Luis, who has this horrible, love-struck grin plastered on his face, and I try to squeeze harder, my face twisted with exertion, but I can’t do it, my hands won’t tighten, and my arms, still stretched out, look ludicrous and useless in their fixed position.

(again, my bolds)

A little later:

“I want you,” he says in a low, faggoty whisper and when I slowly turn my head to glare at him, while hunched over the sink, seething, my eye contact radiating revulsion, he adds, “too.”

I storm out of the men’s room, bumping into Brewster Whipple, I think. I smile at the maître d’ and after shaking his hand I make a run for the closing elevator but I’m too late and I cry out, pounding a fist against the doors, cursing. Composing myself, I notice the maître d’ conferring with a waiter, the two of them looking my way questioningly, and so I straighten up, smile shyly and wave at them. Luis strides over calmly, still grinning, flushed, and I just stand there and let him walk up to me. He says nothing.

“What… is… it?” I finally hiss.

“Where are you going?” he whispers, bewildered.

“I… I’ve gotta…” Stumped, I look around the crowded dining room, then back at Luis’s quivering, yearning face. “I’ve gotta return some videotapes,” I say, jabbing at the elevator button, then, my patience shot, I start to walk away and head back toward my table.

“Patrick,” he calls out.

I whirl around. “What?”

He mouths “I’ll call you” with this expression on his face that lets me know, that assures me, my “secret” is safe with him.

I think for the person Bateman tries to project himself as, the person he wants to be, his whole behaviour during the episode appears far more timid than we expect. Luis completely enfeebles him by what he does. It’s after this scene that Bateman fantasises the killing of a stereotypical gay man and his dog, then the first of the book’s pornographically explicit sex scenes.

Next is the second encounter between Carruthers and Bateman that we see in the book. It is crucial to note that just as the episodes of extreme violence in the book are invented by Bateman, there are also huge pieces of missing time. In the first scenes, there are references to a jump cut and a dissolve; at another point we go from Christmas to suddenly the start of summer.

“Well well,” I say, shaking his hand. Luis’s grip is overly firm, yet horribly sensuous at the same time. “Excuse me, I have to purchase a tie.” I wave bye-bye to baby Glenn once more and move off to inspect the neckwear in the adjoining room, wiping my hand against a two?hundred-dollar bath towel that hangs on a marble rack.

Soon enough Luis wanders over and leans against the tie drawer, pretending to examine the ties like I’m doing.

“Patrick, why won’t you look at me?” Luis asks, sounding anguished. “Look at me.”

“Please, please leave me alone, Luis,” I say, my eyes closed, both fists clenched in anger.

“Come on, let’s have a drink at Sofi’s and talk about this,” he suggests, starting to plead.

“Talk about what?” I ask incredulously, opening my eyes.

“Well… about us.” He shrugs.

“Luis,” I say, forcing myself to make eye contact. “Please leave me alone. Go away.”

“Patrick,” he says. “I love you very much. I hope you realize this.”

I find both the remarks of Carruthers and Bateman very strange; he speaks about himself and Bateman, “us”, as if they were a couple, when the last time we saw them was in the scene in the Yale Club bathroom. Equally strange is Carruthers talking about “loving” him – why has Carruthers suddenly developed such an intense attraction? The point in the reader’s mind is that Carruthers is an utter lunatic, and you expect Bateman to say this, but it never happens. At the end of this scene, we have an almost comic assertion by Bateman that yes, he is indeed straight through sex and violence:

Outside I try to wave down a cab on Fifth Avenue. Luis hurries out of the store after me.

“Patrick, we’ve got to talk,” he calls out over the roar of traffic. He runs up to me, grabbing my coat sleeve. I whirl around, my switchblade already open, and I jab it threateningly, warning Luis to stay back. People move out of our way, continue walking.
“Hey, whoa, Patrick,” he says, holding his hands up, backing off. “Patrick…”

I hiss at him, still holding out the knife until a cab I flag down skids to a stop. Luis tries to get near me, his hands still up, and I keep the knife aimed at him, slicing the air with it, while I open the door to the cab and back in, still hissing, then I close the door and tell the driver to head over to Gramercy Park, to Pooncakes.

The third encounter, where again, Bateman’s reactions are very strange for the image he projects. He is very, very frightened of Luis. Crucially, he views Luis here not as a nuisance, but a threat to his existence in the city.

At first it’s only a sense of vague uneasiness and I’m unsure of its cause, but then it feels, though I can’t be positive, as if I’m being followed, as if someone has been tracking me throughout Barney’s.

Luis Carruthers is, I suppose, incognito. He’s wearing some kind of jaguar-print silk evening jacket, deerskin gloves, a felt hat, aviator sunglasses, and he’s hiding behind a column, pretending to inspect a row of ties, and, gracelessly, he gives me a sidelong glance. Leaning down, I sign something, a bill I think, and fleetingly Luis’s presence forces me to consider that maybe a life connected to this city, to Manhattan, to my job, is not a good idea, and suddenly I imagine Luis at some horrible party, drinking a nice dry rosé, fags clustered around a baby grand, show tunes, now he’s holding a flower, now he has a feather boa draped around his neck, now the pianist bangs out something from Les Miz, darling.

I don’t think Bateman’s fear makes any sense without this hidden context. That a straight man would have to leave the city because of a gay co-worker who is in love with him makes no sense; what does make sense is if Bateman were secretly gay, had had sex with Carruthers, and felt his existence threatened if this secret came out.

“Patrick? Is that you?” I hear a tentative voice inquire.

Like a smash cut from a horror movie – a jump zoom – Luis Carruthers appears, suddenly, without warning, from behind his column, slinking and jumping at the same time, if that’s’ possible. I smile at the salesgirl, then awkwardly move away from him and over to a display case of suspenders, in dire need of a Xanax, a Valium, a Halcion, a Frozfruit, anything.

Later:

“You have distorted this obsession of yours way out of proportion. Way, way out of proportion,” I say, then move over to another aisle.

“But I know you have the same feelings I do,” Luis says, trailing me. “And I know that just because…” He lowers his voice and shrugs. “Just because you won’t admit… certain feelings you have doesn’t mean you don’t have them.”

“What are you trying to say?” I hiss.

“That I know you feel the same way I do.” Dramatically, he whips off his sunglasses, as if to prove a point.

“You have reached… an inaccurate conclusion,” I choke. “You are… obviously unsound.”

I picture Bateman filled with emotion – that he’s holding back great feeling in this encounter. I find this puzzling, if Carruthers is just a stalker, that the emotional stakes are so high.

Later:

At the same time I ask Luis to “Go away” he sobs, “Oh god, Patrick, why don’t you like me?” and then, unfortunately, he falls to the floor at my feet.

“Get up,” I mutter, standing there. “Get up.”

“Why can’t we be together?” he sobs, pounding his fist on the floor.

“Because I… don’t” – I look around the store quickly to make sure no one is listening; he reaches for my knee, I brush his hand away – “find you… sexually attractive,” I whisper loudly, staring down at him. “I can’t believe I actually said that,” I mumble to myself, to no one, and then shake my head, trying to clear it, things reaching a level of confusion that I’m incapable of registering. I tell Luis, “Leave me alone, please,” and I start to walk away.

Again, I’m befuddled by Bateman’s reaction here – that he speaks of sexual attraction. The line you expect from Bateman, a heterosexual alpha male, or any heterosexual male for that matter, is quite clearly “Because I’m not gay”. But this is not what he says – perhaps because Luis would be able to state clearly that it’s not true. And, again, the intensity of the moment – that there is such a level of confusion.

Finally, there are two men who show up mutely in the book for apparently no reason at all, though they make sense given the context of Bateman’s secret life.

There is this encounter with Paul Denton at Harry’s Bar. There is no mention of him before or after this scene, and no explanation is ever offered of his behaviour. I don’t think the quotes require any further elaboration.

“Hello, men,” Owen says and he introduces the two guys he’s with, Trent Moore and someone named Paul Denton.

But Paul Denton keeps staring at me, or trying not to, as if he knows something, as if he’s not quite sure if he recognizes me or not, and it makes me wonder if maybe he was on that cruise a long time ago, one night last March. If that’s the case, I’m thinking, I should get his telephone number or, better yet, his address.

Before they leave, Denton looks over at our table, at me, one last time, and he seems panicked, convinced of something by my presence, as if he recognized me from somewhere, and this, in turn, freaks me out.

A briefly glimpsed older man named George Levanter in one of the last scenes in the book, where he breaks up with Evelyn, which is preceded by a reference to the ’80s “Silence = Death” public service campaign on AIDS.

“What are all these T-shirts I’ve been seeing?” she asks. “All over the city? Have you seen them? Silkience Equals Death? Are people having problems with their conditioners or something? Am I missing something? What were we talking about?”

“No, that’s absolutely wrong. It’s Science Equals Death.” I sigh, close my eyes.

“Jesus, Evelyn, only you could confuse that and a hair product.” I have no idea what the hell I’m saying but I nod, waving to someone at the bar, an older man, his face covered in shadow, someone I only half know, actually, but he manages to raise his champagne glass my way and smile back, which is a relief.

“Who’s that?” I hear Evelyn asking.

“He’s a friend of mine,” I say.

“I don’t recognize him,” she says. “P & P?”

“Forget it,” I sigh.

“Who is it, Patrick?” she asks, more interested in my reluctance than in an actual name.

“Why?” I ask back.

“Who is it?” she asks. “Tell me.”

“A friend of mine,” I say, teeth gritted.

“Who, Patrick?” she asks, then, squinting, “Wasn’t he at my Christmas party?”

“No, he was not,” I say, my hands drumming the tabletop.

“Isn’t it… Michael J. Fox?” she asks, still squinting. “The actor?”

“Hardly,” I say, then, fed up, “Oh for Christ sakes, his name is George Levanter and no, he didn’t star in The Secret of My Success.”

One last, possibly relevant, detail – Bateman appears to be so used to having sex with a condom without spermicide, so used to it that he doesn’t have any when he has sex with Courtney – this would be expected if he were most frequently partnering with men. The Evian, I think, is the old reliable phallic symbol. The language here is very explicit.

“Yeah,” I say, moving on top of her, sliding my dick gracefully into her cunt, kissing her on the mouth hard, pushing into her with long fast strokes, my cock, my hips crazed, moving on their own desirous momentum, already my orgasm builds from the base of my balls, my asshole, coming up through my cock so stiff that it aches – but then in mid?kiss I lift my head up, leaving her tongue hanging out of her mouth starting to lick her own red swollen lips, and while still humping but lightly now I realize there… is… a… problem of sorts but I cannot think of what it is right now… but then it hits me while I’m staring at the half-empty bottle of Evian water on the nightstand and I gasp “Oh shit” and pull out.

“What?” Courtney moans. “Did you forget something?”

“Patrick what are you doing?” she calls from the bedroom.

“I’m looking for the water-soluble spermicidal lubricant,” I call back.

“Oh my god,” she cries out. “You didn’t have any on?”

“Courtney,” I call back, noticing a small razor nick above my lip. “Where is it?”

“What do you mean – where is it?” she calls out. “Didn’t you have it with you?”

He is so unused to using spermicide that he doesn’t have the right condom for it:

“Wait,” she gasps.

“What?” I moan, puzzled but almost there.

“Luis is a despicable twit,” she gasps, trying to push me out of her.

“Yes,” I say, leaning on top of her, tonguing her ear. “Luis is a despicable twit. I hate him too,” and now, spurred on by her disgust for her wimp boyfriend, I start moving faster, my climax approaching.

“No, you idiot,” she groans. “I said Is it a receptacle tip? Not ‘Is Luis a despicable twit.’ Is it a receptacle tip? Get off me.”

“Is what a what?” I moan.

“Pull out,” she groans, struggling.

I reach over and flip on the halogen Tensor.

“It’s a plain end, see?” I say. “So?”

“Take it off,” she says curtly.

“Why?” I ask.

“Because you have to leave half an inch at the tip,” she says, covering her breasts with the Hermès comforter, her voice rising, her patience shot, “to catch the force of the ejaculate!”

The scene ends with this telling line:

“I want to fuck you again,” I tell her, “but I don’t want to wear a condom because I don’t feel anything,” and she says calmly, taking her mouth off my limp shrunken dick, glaring at me, “If you don’t use one you’re not going to feel anything anyway.”

Bateman never has satisfying sexual relations with women – except in his fantasies, where they have the rote step by step quality of pornography.

With Evelyn at the beginning:

“You’re evil,” she says, slightly excited, running her hands along my broad, hard shoulder.

“No,” I sigh. “Just your fiancé.”

After attempting to have sex with her for around fifteen minutes, I decide not to continue trying.

Describing what happens when they are at Price’s house:

I really tried to make things work the weeks we were out there. Evelyn and I rode bicycles and jogged and played tennis. We talked about going to the south of France or to Scotland; we talked about driving through Germany and visiting unspoiled opera houses. We went windsurfing. We talked about only romantic things: the light on eastern Long Island, the moonrise in October over the hills of the Virginia hunt country. We took baths together in the big marble tubs. We had breakfast in bed, snuggling beneath cashmere blankets after I’d poured imported coffee from a Melior pot into Hermès cups. I woke her up with fresh flowers. I put notes in her Louis Vuitton carry bag before she left for her weekly facials in Manhattan. I bought her a puppy, a small black chow, which she named NutraSweet and fed dietetic chocolate trues to. I read long passages aloud from Doctor Zhivago and A Farewell to Arms (my favorite Hemingway). I rented movies in town that Price didn’t own, mostly comedies from the 1930s, and played them on one of the many VCRs, our favorite being Roman Holiday, which we watched twice. We listened to Frank Sinatra (only his 1950s period) and Nat King Cole’s After Midnight, which Tim had on CD. I bought her expensive lingerie, which sometimes she wore.

After skinny-dipping in the ocean late at night, we would come into the house, shivering, draped in huge Ralph Lauren towels, and we’d make omelets and noodles tossed with olive oil and truffles and porcini mushrooms; we’d make soufflés with poached pears and cinnamon fruit salads, grilled polenta with peppered salmon, apple and berry sorbet, mascarpone, red beans with arrozo wrapped in romaine lettuce, bowls of salsa and skate poached in balsamic vinegar, chilled tomato soup and risottos flavored with beets and lime and asparagus and mint, and we drank lemonade or champagne or well-aged bottles of Château Margaux.

There seems just one strange absense of a young couple together in this setting – he never mentions once them making love.

For no reason given, it all goes wrong:

But soon we stopped lifting weights together and wing laps and Evelyn would eat only the dietetic chocolate trues that NutraSweet hadn’t eaten, complaining about weight she hadn’t gained. Some nights I would find my self roaming the beaches, digging up baby crabs and eating handfuls of sand – this was in the middle of the night when the sky was so clear I could see the entire solar system and the sand, lit by it, seemed almost lunar in scale. I even dragged a beached jellyfish back to the house and microwaved it early one morning, predawn, while Evelyn slept, and what I didn’t eat of it I fed to the chow.

Evelyn soon started talking only about spas and cosmetic surgery and then she hired a masseur, some scary faggot who lived down the road with a famous book publisher and who flirted openly with me.

Other aspects of Bateman’s life overlap with the next few posts.

Continued…

Intro
I. Patrick Bateman
II. Timothy Price
III. Blackmail: Paul Owen, the Fisher Account, Evelyn, the cab driver, etc.
IV. A few last notes: Robert Hall, tanning, etc.

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