ALSO BY Bret Easton Ellis
The Rules of Attraction
Less Than Zero
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, incidents, and dialogue, except for incidental references to public figures, products, or services, are imaginary and are not intended to refer to any living persons or to disparage any company’s products or services.
for Bruce Taylor
Both the author of these Notes and the Notes themselves are, of course, fictional. Nevertheless, such persons as the composer of these Notes not only exist in our society, but indeed must exist, considering the circumstances under which our society has generally been formed. I have wished to bring before the public, somewhat more distinctly than usual, one of the characters of our recent past. He represents a generation that is still living out its days among us. In the fragment entitled “Underground” this personage describes himself and his views and attempts, as it were, to clarify the reasons why he appeared and was bound to appear in our midst. The subsequent fragment will consist of the actual “notes,” concerning certain events in his life.
Notes from Underground
One of the major mistakes people make is that they think manners are only the expression of happy ideas. There’s a whole range of behavior that can be expressed in a mannerly way. That’s what civilization is all about—doing it in a mannerly and not an antagonistic way. One of the places we went wrong was the naturalistic Rousseauean movement of the Sixties in which people said, “Why can’t you just say what’s on your mind?” In civilization there have to be some restraints. If we followed every impulse, we’d be killing one another.
Miss Manners (Judith Martin)
And as things fell apart
Nobody paid much attention
ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE is scrawled in blood red lettering on the side of the Chemical Bank near the corner of Eleventh and First and is in print large enough to be seen from the backseat of the cab as it lurches forward in the traffic leaving Wall Street and just as Timothy Price notices the words a bus pulls up, the advertisement for Les Misérables on its side blocking his view, but Price who is with Pierce & Pierce and twenty-six doesn’t seem to care because he tells the driver he will give him five dollars to turn up the radio, “Be My Baby” on WYNN, and the driver, black, not American, does so.
“I’m resourceful,” Price is saying. “I’m creative, I’m young, unscrupulous, highly motivated, highly skilled. In essence what I’m saying is that society cannot afford to lose me. I’m an asset.” Price calms down, continues to stare out the cab’s dirty window, probably at the word FEAR sprayed in red graffiti on the side of a McDonald’s on Fourth and Seventh. “I mean the fact remains that no one gives a shit about their work, everybody hates their job, I hate my job, you’ve told me you hate yours. What do I do? Go back to Los Angeles? Not an alternative. I didn’t transfer from UCLA to Stanford to put up with this. I mean am I alone in thinking we’re not making enough money?” Like in a movie another bus appears, another poster for Les Misérables replaces the word—not the same bus because someone has written the word DYKE over Eponine’s face. Tim blurts out, “I have a co-op here. I have a place in the Hamptons, for Christ sakes.”
“Parents’, guy. It’s the parents’.”
“I’m buying it from them. Will you fucking turn this up?” he snaps but distractedly at the driver, the Crystals still blaring from the radio.
“It don’t go up no higher,” maybe the driver says.
Timothy ignores him and irritably continues. “I could stay living in this city if they just installed Blaupunkts in the cabs. Maybe the ODM III or ORC II dynamic tuning systems?” His voice softens here. “Either one. Hip my friend, very hip.”
He takes off the expensive-looking Walkman from around his neck, still complaining. “I hate to complain—I really do—about the trash, the garbage, the disease, about how filthy this city really is and you know and I know that it is a sty.…” He continues talking as he opens his new Tumi calfskin attaché case he bought at D. F. Sanders. He places the Walkman in the case alongside a Panasonic wallet-size cordless portable folding Easa-phone (he used to own the NEC 9000 Porta portable) and pulls out today’s newspaper. “In one issue—in one issue—let’s see here … strangled models, babies thrown from tenement rooftops, kids killed in the subway, a Communist rally, Mafia boss wiped out, Nazis”—he flips through the pages excitedly—“baseball players with AIDS, more Mafia shit, gridlock, the homeless, various maniacs, faggots dropping like flies in the streets, surrogate mothers, the cancellation of a soap opera, kids who broke into a zoo and tortured and burned various animals alive, more Nazis … and the joke is, the punch line is, it’s all in this city—nowhere else, just here, it sucks, whoa wait, more Nazis, gridlock, gridlock, baby-sellers, black-market babies, AIDS babies, baby junkies, building collapses on baby, maniac baby, gridlock, bridge collapses—” His voice stops, he takes in a breath and then quietly says, his eyes fixed on a beggar at the corner of Second and Fifth, “That’s the twenty-fourth one I’ve seen today. I’ve kept count;” Then asks without looking over, “Why aren’t you wearing the worsted navy blue blazer with the gray pants?” Price is wearing a six-button wool and silk suit by Ermenegildo Zegna, a cotton shirt with French cuffs by Ike Behar, a Ralph Lauren silk tie and leather wing tips by Fratelli Rossetti. Pan down to the Post. There is a moderately interesting story concerning two people who disappeared at a party aboard the yacht of a semi-noted New York socialite while the boat was circling the island. A residue of spattered blood and three smashed champagne glasses are the only clues. Foul play is suspected and police think that perhaps a machete was the killer’s weapon because of certain grooves and indentations found on the deck. No bodies have been found. There are no suspects. 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. Price will not shut up.
“Diseases!” he exclaims, his face tense with pain. “There’s this theory out now that if you can catch the AIDS virus through having sex with someone who is infected then you can also catch anything, whether it’s a virus per se or not—Alzheimer’s, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia, leukemia, anorexia, diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, dyslexia, for Christ sakes—you can get dyslexia from pussy—”
“I’m not sure, guy, but I don’t think dyslexia is a virus.”
“Oh, who knows? They don’t know that. Prove it.”
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. Panning down to the sidewalk there’s an ugly old homeless bag lady holding a whip and she cracks it at the pigeons who ignore it as they continue to peck and fight hungrily over the remains of the hot dogs and the police car disappears into an underground parking lot.
“But then, when you’ve just come to the point when your reaction to the times is one of total and sheer acceptance, when your body has become somehow tuned into the insanity and you reach that point where it all makes sen
se, when it clicks, we get some crazy fucking homeless nigger who actually wants—listen to me, Bateman—wants to be out on the streets, this, those streets, see, those”—he points—“and we have a mayor who won’t listen to her, a mayor who won’t let the bitch have her way—Holy Christ—let the fucking bitch freeze to death, put her out of her own goddamn self-made misery, and look, you’re back where you started, confused, fucked … Number twenty-four, nope, twenty-five … Who’s going to be at Evelyn’s? Wait, let me guess.” He holds up a hand attached to an impeccable manicure. “Ashley, Courtney, Muldwyn, Marina, Charles—am I right so far? Maybe one of Evelyn’s ‘artiste’ friends from ohmygod the ‘East’ Village. You know the type—the ones who ask Evelyn if she has a nice dry white chardonnay—” He slaps a hand over his forehead and shuts his eyes and now he mutters, jaw clenched, “I’m leaving. I’m dumping Meredith. She’s essentially daring me to like her. I’m gone. Why did it take me so long to realize that she has all the personality of a goddamn game-show host? … Twenty-six, twenty-seven … I mean I tell her I’m sensitive. I told her I was freaked out by the Challenger accident—what more does she want? I’m ethical, tolerant, I mean I’m extremely satisfied with my life, I’m optimistic about the future—I mean, aren’t you?”
“And all I get is shit from her.… Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, holy shit it’s a goddamn cluster of bums. I tell you—” He stops suddenly, as if exhausted, and turning away from another advertisement for Les Misérables, remembering something important, asks, “Did you read about the host from that game show on TV? He killed two teenage boys? Depraved faggot. Droll, really droll.” Price waits for a reaction. There is none. Suddenly: Upper West Side.
He tells the driver to stop on the corner of Eighty-first and Riverside since the street doesn’t go the right way.
“Don’t bother going arou—” Price begins.
“Maybe I go other way around,” the cabdriver says.
“Do not bother.” Then barely an aside, teeth gritted, unsmiling: “Fucking nitwit.”
The driver brings the cab to a stop. Two cabs behind this cab both blare their horns then move on.
“Should we bring flowers?”
“Nah. Hell, you’re banging her, Bateman. Why should we get Evelyn flowers? You better have change for a fifty,” he warns the driver, squinting at the red numbers on the meter. “Damnit. Steroids. Sorry I’m tense.”
“Thought you were off them.”
“Damn, damn, damned,” Price says as he opens the door. Coming out of the cab he eyes a beggar on the street—“Bingo: thirty”—wearing some sort of weird, tacky, filthy green jumpsuit, unshaven, dirty hair greased back, and jokingly Price holds the cab’s door open for him. The bum, confused and mumbling, eyes locked shamefully on the pavement, holds an empty Styrofoam coffee cup out to us, clutched in a tentative hand.
“I suppose he doesn’t want the cab,” Price snickers, slamming the cab door. “Ask him if he takes American Express.”
“Do you take Am Ex?”
The bum nods yes and moves away, shuffling slowly.
It’s cold for April and Price walks briskly down the street toward Evelyn’s brownstone, whistling “If I Were a Rich Man,” the heat from his mouth creating smoky plumes of steam, and swinging his Tumi leather attaché case. 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.
“Thank god,” Price mutters as he nears Evelyn’s.
“It looked a lot like him.”
“Powell and dinner at Evelyn’s? These two go together about as well as paisley and plaid.” Price rethinks this. “White socks with gray trousers.”
A slow dissolve and Price is bounding up the steps outside the brownstone Evelyn’s father bought her, grumbling about how he forgot to return the tapes he rented last night to Video Haven. He rings the bell. At the brownstone next to Evelyn’s, a woman—high heels, great ass—leaves without locking her door. Price follows her with his gaze and when he hears footsteps from inside coming down the hallway toward us he turns around and straightens his Versace tie ready to face whoever. Courtney opens the door and she’s wearing a Krizia cream silk blouse, a Krizia rust tweed skirt and silk-satin d’Orsay pumps from Manolo Blahnik.
I shiver and hand her my black wool Giorgio Armani overcoat and she takes it from me, carefully airkissing my right cheek, then she performs the same exact movements on Price while taking his Armani overcoat. The new Talking Heads on CD plays softly in the living room.
“A bit late, aren’t we, boys?” Courtney asks, smiling naughtily.
“Inept Haitian cabbie,” Price mutters, airkissing Courtney back. “Do we have reservations somewhere and please don’t tell me Pastels at nine.”
Courtney smiles, hanging up both coats in the hall closet. “Eating in tonight, darlings. I’m sorry, I know, I know, I tried to talk Evelyn out of it but we’re having … sushi.”
Tim moves past her and down the foyer toward the kitchen. “Evelyn? Where are you, Evelyn?” he calls out in a singsong voice. “We have to talk.”
“It’s good to see you,” I tell Courtney. “You look very pretty tonight. Your face has a … youthful glow.”
“You really know how to charm the ladies, Bateman.” There is no sarcasm in Courtney’s voice. “Should I tell Evelyn you feel this way?” she asks flirtatiously.
“No,” I say. “But I bet you’d like to.”
“Come on,” she says, taking my hands off her waist and placing her hands on my shoulders, steering me down the hall in the direction of the kitchen. “We have to save Evelyn. She’s been rearranging the sushi for the past hour. She’s trying to spell your initials—the P in yellowtail, the B in tuna—but she thinks the tuna looks too pale—”
“—and she doesn’t have enough yellowtail to finish the B”—Courtney breathes in—“and so I think she’s going to spell Tim’s initials instead. Do you mind?” she asks, only a bit worried. Courtney is Luis Carruthers’ girlfriend.
“I’m terribly jealous and I think I better talk to Evelyn,” I say, letting Courtney gently push me into the kitchen.
Evelyn stands by a blond wood counter wearing a Krizia cream silk blouse, a Krizia rust tweed skirt and the same pair of silk-satin d’Orsay pumps Courtney has on. Her long blond hair is pinned back into a rather severe-looking bun and she acknowledges me without looking up from the oval Wilton stainless-steel platter on which she has artfully arranged the sushi. “Oh honey, I’m sorry. I wanted to go to this darling little new Salvadorian bistro on the Lower East Side—”
Price groans audibly.
“—but we couldn’t get reservations. Timothy, don’t groan.” She picks up a piece of the yellowtail and places it cautiously near the top of the platter, completing what looks like a capital T. She stands back from the platter and inspects it. “I don’t know. Oh, I’m so unsure.”
“I told you to keep Finlandia in this place,” Tim mutters, looking through the bottles—most of them magnums—at the bar.
“She never has Finlandia,” he says to no one, to all of us.
“Oh god, Timothy. Can’t handle Absolut?” Evelyn asks and then contemplatively to Courtney, “The California roll should circle the rim of the plate, no?”
“Bateman. Drink?” Price sighs.
“J&B rocks,” I tell him, suddenly thinking it’s strange that Meredith wasn’t invited.
“Oh god. It’s a mess,” Evelyn gasps. “I swear I’m going to cry.”
“The sushi looks marvelous,” I tell her soothingly.
“Oh it’s a mess,” she wails. “It’s a mess.”
“No, no, the sushi looks marvelous,” I tell her and in an attempt to be as consoling as possible I pick up a piece of the fluke and pop it in my mouth, groaning with inward pleasure, and hug Evelyn from behind; my mouth still full, I manage to say “Delicious.”
She slaps at me in a playful way, obviously pleased with my reaction, and finally, carefully, airkisses my cheek and then turns back to Courtney. Price hands me a drink and walks toward the living room while trying to remove something invisible from his blazer. “Evelyn, do you have a lint brush?”
I would rather have watched the baseball game or gone to the gym and worked out or tried that Salvadorian restaurant that got a couple of pretty good reviews, one in New York magazine, the other in the Times, than have dinner here but there is one good thing about dinner at Evelyn’s: it’s close to my place.
“Is it okay if the soy sauce isn’t exactly at room temperature?” Courtney is asking. “I think there’s ice in one of the dishes.”
Evelyn is placing strips of pale orange ginger delicately in a pile next to a small porcelain dish filled with soy sauce. “No, it’s not okay. Now Patrick, could you be a dear and get the Kirin out of the refrigerator?” Then, seemingly harassed by the ginger, she throws the clump down on the platter. “Oh forget it. I’ll do it.”