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THE LOST DECADE


by


F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)


Esquire (December 1939)



All sorts of people came into the offices of the news-weekly and
Orrison Brown had all sorts of relations with them.  Outside of
office hours he was "one of the editors"--during work time he was
simply a curly-haired man who a year before had edited the
Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern and was now only too glad to take the
undesirable assignments around the office, from straightening out
illegible copy to playing call boy without the title.

He had seen this visitor go into the editor's office--a pale, tall
man of forty with blond statuesque hair and a manner that was
neither shy nor timid, nor otherworldly like a monk, but something
of all three.  The name on his card, Louis Trimble, evoked some
vague memory, but having nothing to start on, Orrison did not
puzzle over it--until a buzzer sounded on his desk, and previous
experience warned him that Mr. Trimble was to be his first course
at lunch.

"Mr. Trimble--Mr. Brown," said the Source of all luncheon money.
"Orrison--Mr. Trimble's been away a long time.  Or he FEELS it's a
long time--almost twelve years.  Some people would consider
themselves lucky to've missed the last decade."

"That's so," said Orrison.

"I can't lunch today," continued his chief.  "Take him to Voisin or
21 or anywhere he'd like.  Mr. Trimble feels there're lots of
things he hasn't seen."

Trimble demurred politely.

"Oh, I can get around."

"I know it, old boy.  Nobody knew this place like you did once--and
if Brown tries to explain the horseless carriage just send him back
here to me.  And you'll be back yourself by four, won't you?"

Orrison got his hat.

"You've been away ten years?" he asked while they went down in the
elevator.

"They'd begun the Empire State Building," said Trimble.  "What does
that add up to?"

"About 1928.  But as the chief said, you've been lucky to miss a
lot."  As a feeler he added, "Probably had more interesting things
to look at."

"Can't say I have."

They reached the street and the way Trimble's face tightened at the
roar of traffic made Orrison take one more guess.

"You've been out of civilization?"

"In a sense."  The words were spoken in such a measured way that
Orrison concluded this man wouldn't talk unless he wanted to--and
simultaneously wondered if he could have possibly spent the
thirties in a prison or an insane asylum.

"This is the famous 21," he said.  "Do you think you'd rather eat
somewhere else?"

Trimble paused, looking carefully at the brownstone house.

"I can remember when the name 21 got to be famous," he said, "about
the same year as Moriarity's."  Then he continued almost
apologetically, "I thought we might walk up Fifth Avenue about five
minutes and eat wherever we happened to be.  Some place with young
people to look at."

Orrison gave him a quick glance and once again thought of bars and
gray walls and bars; he wondered if his duties included introducing
Mr. Trimble to complaisant girls.  But Mr. Trimble didn't look as
if that was in his mind--the dominant expression was of absolute
and deep-seated curiosity and Orrison attempted to connect the name
with Admiral Byrd's hideout at the South Pole or flyers lost in
Brazilian jungles.  He was, or he had been, quite a fellow--that
was obvious.  But the only definite clue to his environment--and to
Orrison the clue that led nowhere--was his countryman's obedience
to the traffic lights and his predilection for walking on the side
next to the shops and not the street.  Once he stopped and gazed
into a haberdasher's window.

"CrÍpe ties," he said.  "I haven't seen one since I left college."

"Where'd you go?"

"Massachusetts Tech."

"Great place."

"I'm going to take a look at it next week.  Let's eat somewhere
along here--"  They were in the upper Fifties "--you choose."

There was a good restaurant with a little awning just around the
corner.

"What do you want to see most?" Orrison asked, as they sat down.

Trimble considered.

"Well--the back of people's heads," he suggested.  "Their necks--
how their heads are joined to their bodies.  I'd like to hear what
those two little girls are saying to their father.  Not exactly
what they're saying but whether the words float or submerge, how
their mouths shut when they've finished speaking.  Just a matter of
rhythm--Cole Porter came back to the States in 1928 because he felt
that there were new rhythms around."

Orrison was sure he had his clue now, and with nice delicacy did
not pursue it by a millimeter--even suppressing a sudden desire to
say there was a fine concert in Carnegie Hall tonight.

"The weight of spoons," said Trimble, "so light.  A little bowl
with a stick attached.  The cast in that waiter's eye.  I knew him
once but he wouldn't remember me."

But as they left the restaurant the same waiter looked at Trimble
rather puzzled as if he almost knew him.  When they were outside
Orrison laughed:

"After ten years people will forget."

"Oh, I had dinner there last May--"  He broke off in an abrupt
manner.

It was all kind of nutsy, Orrison decided--and changed himself
suddenly into a guide.

"From here you get a good candid focus on Rockefeller Center," he
pointed out with spirit "--and the Chrysler Building and the
Armistead Building, the daddy of all the new ones."

"The Armistead Building," Trimble rubber-necked obediently.  "Yes--
I designed it."

Orrison shook his head cheerfully--he was used to going out with
all kinds of people.  But that stuff about having been in the
restaurant last May . . .

He paused by the brass entablature in the cornerstone of the
building.  "Erected 1928," it said.

Trimble nodded.

"But I was taken drunk that year--every-which-way drunk.  So I
never saw it before now."

"Oh."  Orrison hesitated.  "Like to go in now?"

"I've been in it--lots of times.  But I've never seen it.  And now
it isn't what I want to see.  I wouldn't ever be able to see it
now.  I simply want to see how people walk and what their clothes
and shoes and hats are made of.  And their eyes and hands.  Would
you mind shaking hands with me?"

"Not at all, sir."

"Thanks.  Thanks.  That's very kind.  I suppose it looks strange--
but people will think we're saying good-by.  I'm going to walk up
the avenue for awhile, so we WILL say good-by.  Tell your office
I'll be in at four."

Orrison looked after him when he started out, half expecting him to
turn into a bar.  But there was nothing about him that suggested or
ever had suggested drink.

"Jesus," he said to himself.  "Drunk for ten years."

He felt suddenly of the texture of his own coat and then he reached
out and pressed his thumb against the granite of the building by
his side.





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