It all made Harris dizzy. From his long-ago days on the Newburgh Messenger until this past fall, when Oldcastle had moved the company a few blocks up from its old quarters and into the gleaming new Graybar, Harris had always climbed a single flight of stairs to reach his job. Now every morning and evening his stomach endured the fast jumps and drops of the Graybar's elevator, the trip made worse if he happened to be sharing the car with Jimmy Gordon, who'd be on his way to and from the Graybar's fanciest floorreserved by Condé Nast even before the building went up, thus exciting Oldcastle's competitive relocation.
Harris took a gulp of the countess's hooch and opened up the Evening Graphic to a cartoon panel above the "Aviation News" column, a few square inches he liked to settle into for a moment or two each evening as the clouds began turning pink outside his skyscraping aerie. TonightJanuary 13, 1928"New York's Gas Lit Life" featured the sketch of a buxom "stagestruck damsel," a young Lillian Russell type, auditioning for a well-fed theatrical manager. Little more than her parasol and bloomers shielded her ample virtues.
Harris sighed, recalling the days of his youth, the long-ago eighties and nineties, an era before big trenchermen had ever heard of exercise and before bosoms had deflated to the pitiful boyish protuberances on modern girls like Hazel Snow. He closed his eyes and, for a few seconds, took himself back to summer nights alive with the tootlings of oompah bands instead of the discordant, mystifying notes of jazz; to the orating politician's thrilling cry for free silver instead of Everyman's current pursuit of ubiquitous easy money.
Harris was sixty years old and, in truth, as much a throwback to the age of McKinley as the old Bandbox had been. But in order to sustain his reanimating magic, he had to keep current with all the flat chests and blues singers and tennis champions driving this frantic new age into which he'd outlived himself. If only he could bring himself to leave the game, gracefully conclude his career by editing Knife and Fork, Oldcastle's food magazine, for a couple of years. All he'd have to do for each month's cover was find a good-looking pork chop or strawberry cake, neither of which, unlike Waldo Lindstrom, would have a cocaine habit.
Excerpted from Bandbox by Thomas Mallon Copyright© 2004 by Thomas Mallon. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, 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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