"The rich people. The Manhattanitesyou know who I mean."
"Yes," I said.
"You're supposed to be the saddest man in Manhattan," he said.
"Because of the astronaut who can't come home."
So, no surprise, Perkus was another one who knew me as Janice Trumbull's fiancé. My heart's distress was daily newspaper fodder. Yes, I loved Janice Trumbull, the American trapped in orbit with the Russians, the astronaut who couldn't come home. This, beyond my childhood TV stardom, was what anyone knew about me, though some, like Susan Eldred, were too polite to mention it.
"That's what everyone adores about you."
"I guess so."
"But I know your secret."
I was startled. Did I have a secret? If I did, it was one of the things I'd misplaced in the last few years. I couldn't remember how I'd gotten from there to here, made the decisions that led from my child stardom to harmlessly dissipated Manhattan celebrity, nor how it was that I deserved the brave astronaut's love. I had trouble clearly recalling Janice, that was part of my sorrow. The day she launched for the space station I must have undertaken to quit thinking of Janice, even while promising to keep a vigil for her here on earth. I never dared tell anyone this fact. So if I had a secret, it was that I had conspired to forget my secret.
Perkus eyed me slyly. Perhaps it was his policy to make this announcement to any new acquaintance, to see what they'd blurt out.
"Keep your eyes and ears open," he told me now. "You're in a position to learn things."
Excerpted from Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem Copyright © 2009 by Jonathan Lethem. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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