He is thinking mostly of himself as he turns left off Jackson and onto Lake Shore Drive. The first selection of the playlist is finishing and the one for which he was waiting begins. He has waited many years for this song to start in the context he has created today; a particular piece of music, an expensive German sedan, the drive north along the lake, his liberation from the need to work. It is also a warm spring day with bright clear sky.
The tune is instrumental jazz, about 20 years old, heavily synthesized, very rhythmic. It is apropos to this moment, detached, subtle, cool, even ethereal. It is a very personal piece, not just because of this realized fantasy but because of his inability to convince anyone of how important a work it was. It is to his mind comparable in structure and emotion to Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata, not just a clever bit of new age jazz. This failure made it his.
It is a perfect morning. Unlike the first warm days of March to which everyone overreacts, the April warmth has grab, depth. The grass in the park is turning an actual green and the elms are beginning to bud. The sun reflects off the steel and glass buildings that wall off the park and even the old stone building glow brightly.
With the exception of his relationship with Natalie, which was relentless vague and inconclusive, he has eliminated almost every issue and detail of a whole life, his previous life, on a matter of days. He now owes nothing and owns little. The knowledge of that, the gentle cadence that begins the song and the comfortable surge of the car edge him to a peaceful state. Yet he remains sensate, open. . Listening carefully he cant tell if an organ or a bass begins the song, but it gives weight and seems to have a latin percussiveness. A distant and dreamy echo of a melody suggests a soft torpor.
He slept for almost two days after the deal closed. The deal almost didn’t close with a churn of last minute legal and financial complications. None of the involved parties had as much to lose in the deal as he did and his adrenaline levels were still adjusting. He felt a comforting hollowness, a lack of responsibility, commitment, agenda. It is still peculiar to not be reacting to an environment.
He has spent all 45 years of his life here but he can contemplate leaving and never returning. He will likely never take this drive again and certainly not in this context. He will never hear this song this way again as well. He smirks at his melodramatic turn but then convinces himself it is simply fact. The music will cease to have meaning and he will slough it off. It is obscure enough that he cant imagine hearing it randomly in Asia or Latin America. It existed for so long to fulfill this experience.
I made him try to get devote himself even more strongly to this instant.
The lake is on his right and is so bright that even with sunglasses he can hardly look at it. There are sailboats and farther out what must be a large yacht. Other boats are docked but the slips are still mostly empty, waiting for the season to begin. The drive curves to the around an escarpment of buildings. The blue of the sky seems unusually saturated. The guitar beads plaintive notes into a melody but a synthesizer gives it a the tone of an ocarina or the top end of an accordion played without the bellows. It evokes France and he smirks again at a memory he doesn’t have yet.
Moments before he driven down Jackson past the offices where the search for arbitrage and leverage hummed along without him Natalie’s husband Paul was there, like the others, seduced by the myth of their own will. Paul was a partner, a role he had aspired to and recently, a guy for whom the saying, “but in the end I always get what I want” was a funny line that everyone laughed at. He never figured out how Nat could have ended up with someone like him. He was a widower with two children when they met and maybe that gave him a sympathetic gravity that she responded to. There was something romantic about it. But he knew Paul and beneath his facetious glibness there was an unremitting hardness. He was tenacious in his self interest. He found himself alternately between hoping she knew this and hoping she would find it out.
Because of the electronic effect, the notes could not be fast and instead were drawn out in groups of two or three, giving a languorous feel. The drive turns back to the left passing Oak Street beach where he spent many summer days as a teenager. On the other side were high rises mixed with converted mansions, buildings that he once dreamed of living in and now were possible if that was his desire.
He guesses without knowing enough to be sure the sighs and murmurs of the song were in a minor key and he was struck with a new appreciation of the sadness of the song.
He wondered what the guys at the fund thought of him now. The sense was they considered him insane. Paul had brought him in as a consultant, sort of a trial to see if he belonged in private equity. He saw the potential in EBB and, because he was only a consultant, wasn’t constrained with investing his own money in the business. They had negative cash flow but it had a patent protected food safety product that just needed regulatory approval. With that ruling they would dominate the market. They all sat in the meeting with FDA. Only he saw the regulatory change as inevitable. So he bought as much equity as they would sell him and because of the cash flow issues he was able to get an excellent price. He took all of his savings and refinanced his house. His actions, particularly if they failed, would reduce any chance he had to work for the fund. His nickname became kamikaze and it wasn’t particularly affectionate and then the ruling came. He walked with just south of $2 million after taxes.
In their minds, he got lucky. Whereas they were trying to increase leverage, he increased his exposure. He did bet lucky but for not the reason they thought. He got lucky because of what he realized. Others confronted with the windfall might think the success was deserved, that they had special intelligence, unique insight, mastery of the marketplace, sheer will or most stupidly, a gift for hunches. If he stayed in the business, maybe he would have one of those guys laughing about always getting what they wanted. Maybe he would have gotten offered a partnership. The guys a the top appreciated audacity. He’d join the inner-circle, buy a place on the drive, a boat and even more expensive car. Maybe he wouldn’t perform and would slowly than all at once find himself broke. When you are on top, you believe it is because you deserve it. That’s the myth. If you got it, you must have deserved it, But he knew, it was the result of unique circumstance, conditions that wouldn’t be repeated. And he wouldn’t go chasing after more.
The guitar creates a field of sound that seems larger than the interior of the car. It is series of notes that are pained. He thinks of the word miasma and he doesn’t know why. He glances at the empty beaches. He considered for a few moments after the deal was done, doing nothing and sitting on the beach all summer, right there, reading, drinking too much, developing skin cancer, harassing young women.
A few years earlier, thoughts of women may have made life in the myth more appealing. It may have been central to his desire to leave the industry and join private equity. He actively dated women but pursued others of a type that eluded him: beautiful, jaded, languid, sophisticated. Confrotably sexual. And at firs the thought Natalie was one of them. But her calm, her self assurance came from a disregard for all the static, material and personal, that swirled around her. Because of her, life here with any such woman was no longer tenable. Even if she remained with Paul , she would be in this place and he could stand neither the loss nor the ongoing betrayal.
Monday morning, after she dropped the kids at school, she cam into the city. They made love during a loud thunderstorm, in between eating fruit and drinking mimosas. She was genuinely happy for him and he resisted the urge to ascribe that to any resentment of Paul. He came out fo the shower and was laying on her stomach eating honeydew and looking out at the rain. She chanted sing song. “So marco polo is going solo, going off to see the Duomo, perhaps to the pampas to get hit by a bolo.”
“You’ve been reading too much Dr. Seuss.”
“One can never read too much Dr. Seuss and actually I don’t read at all. Matthew is six and he is way to cool to be read to.”
“Well hi sister may have something to do with that. She is doing angst and alienation at 11.”
“That’s Wilmette my dear. Back on the southside we were too busy getting the shit kicked out of us to be alienated.”
“I know where you grew up and it wasn’t that bad.”
“You didn’t know the nuns I did. We weren’t poor but we were mean. You’ve heard of genteel poverty? Well this was the opposite of that. ”
The notes hit a crescendo and cascaded downward, receding in intensity. Again, he noticed loss that he hadn’t before
“So what’s you first stop Signore Polo?”
“I think Cuba. I think it would be special before it goes all first world. Argentina. Be a porteno for a while. Amazon and Andes. I’ve always wanted to check out Barranquilla since reading Love in the Time of Cholera. Do you think they’ll mistake me for a drug dealer?
“It doesn’t seem like the kind of book you would like”
“You’ve read it?”
“It’s one of my favorites.”
“You like the idea of a man waiting almost forever for the married woman he loves.”
“It would lose much of its charm if he travelled around the world sepndign a couple of million dollars while he waited.”
“A man has to have an occupation.”
“Take up smoking. That will keep you busy. There’s lots of things for a man to do, even a rich one. He doesn’t have to run away”
“Well I’m not really rich .”
“Only when compared to like ninety nine and ninety nine hundredths of people in the country. Not to mention the world.”
“You are absolutely right, I have a rare and unusual opportunity and I think I appreciate it. Both in terms of cash and freedom.”
She leaned over and kissed him, “Freedom is a good thing.” And after a moment she shrugged. He didn’t know what that meant. The made love again and she fell asleep. He was making lunch when she came out fully dressed , kissed him, pulled back and looked at him, smiled and said, “I will miss you so much.” And she left.
At once the melody changed, switching to more forceful tones. The guitar sounded like a trumpet, riffing fast like hot jazz. Still it was muted, evanescent, less melancholy than earlier but still striving.
It surprised and hurt him that Natalie did nit put up more of a fight. Of course the affair was only a few moths old. But they talked every day and saw each other whenever they could, which it the week since the deal closed had been more frequent. In the beginning she talked about hwo the concept of an affair bothered her. Maybe his leaving was the easiest way out. Not that she would ever run from any confrontation but she was also kind and naturally charitable.
He passes by Belmont Harbor, temporarily surrounded by water. The rhythm speeds up and the guitar shrieks and sighs. He thinks of the word velvet and then the word puncture. The song is reaching its climax. He is approaching the end of his experience. It occurs to him that he she is essentially along the same road and that all he would have to do is continue north for another 5 miles to be near her. The notes are fast, they feel fizzy but poignant. The cadence is stronger, more assertive. It seems to want to overcome the drama.
He asks himself is it possible to continue, to go to her and start the conversation they never allowed themselves to have? He knew he thought abut her constantly, wanted to be with her whenever possible, that every line of thinking ended with her. Could he ask her to leave children she has helped raise? The note are now a plaintive furor, almost out of control. Would he feel better knowing of her pain, seeing her cry? Was this something he felt he deserved.?
The midday traffic thins with the song. He feels alone with the buildings and the lake. AN echoing static winds down wit the beat. The sounds reverberate as if hollow, as if something has been excised. He feels stupid for actually missing emotions in the song before.
Could he go to the door and ask her? He smirks a final time as it occurs to him the name of the song, something he previously considered a non-sequitir. The song is “are you going with me?”