From Chapter 2 : The Saddlebags
Almost exactly thirty-six hours later, which is to say, at 7:30 a.m., Monday, it was one of those brutally bright April mornings you sometimes get in Atlanta. Even up here on the thirty-second floor of the Planners Banc Tower, behind a sealed inch-thick thermoplate glass wall, with a ten-ton HVAC system chundering cold air down from the ceiling, you could sense the heat that would soon oppress the city. The conference room faced east, making the glare from the sun unbearable. There was nothing in front of all that plate glass to reduce it, either, no curtains, no blinds, no screens, not one shred, not one slat. Oh no; the whole thing had been carefully thought out, and everybody at the Planners Banc end of the table knew exactly what the game was.
Everybody, not just the senior loan officer Raymond Peepgass, knew this breakfast meeting was an elaborate practical joke, starting with the word "breakfast." Peepgass had made sure the whole lot of them had been advised that if they wanted breakfast, they had better attend to it before they got here. And that they had done, apparently. Nobody was even looking at the "breakfast." They were all settling back and eyeing the mark, the quarry, the prey, or whatever you should call the butt of a practical joke involving half a billion dollars. It was the old man at the other end of the table, the Croker Global Corporation's end. To Peepgass, who was a mere forty-six, any man sixty years old was an old man, even a man as burly and physically intimidating as Charlie Croker was.
Obviously Croker did not realize he was it. He was reared back confidently in his chair with his suit jacket thrown open. The fool seemed to think he was still one of those real estate developers who own the city of Atlanta. He was grinning at the underlings on either side of him, his lawyers, financial officers, division heads, his aging Banking Relations preppies, and his so-called executive assistants, who were a couple of real numbers with skirts up to . . . here . . .
From where he was sitting, he should have been able to look out through the plate-glass wall and seen much of Midtown Atlanta . . . the IBM tower, the GLG Grande, Promenade One, Promenade Two, the Campanile, the Southern Bell Center, Colony Square, and three of his own buildings, the Phoenix Center, the MossCo Tower, and the TransEx Palladium. But he couldn't . . . It was the glare. He and his contingent had been seated so that they had to look straight into it.
Oh, everything about this room was cunningly seedy and unpleasant. The conference table itself was a vast thing, a regular aircraft carrier, but it was put together in modular sections that didn't quite jibe where they met, and its surface was not wood but some sort of veal-gray plastic laminate. On the table, in front of each of the two dozen people present, was a pathetic setting of paperware, a paper cup for the orange juice, a paper mug with foldout handles for the coffee, which gave off an odor of incinerated PVC cables, and a paper plate with a huge, cold, sticky, cheesy, cowpie-like cinnamon-Cheddar coffee bun that struck terror into the heart of every man in the room who had ever read an article about arterial plaque or free radicals. That, in its entirety, was the breakfast meeting's breakfast.
On second thought, Peepgass decided, to say that Croker or any other shithead actually noticed all these things at first was probably overstating the case. At first they merely sensed them, stimulus by stimulus, through their antennae, through the hair on their arms. It was the central nervous system that finally informed the tycoons that they had descended to the status of shithead at Planners Banc.
Shithead was the actual term used at the bank and throughout the industry. Bank officers said "shithead" in the same matter-of-fact way they said "mortgagee," "co-signer," or "debtor," which was the polite form of "shithead," since no borrower was referred to as a debtor until he defaulted. Why did bankers turn so quickly to scatology when loans went bad? Peepgass didn't know, but that was the way they were. At the Harvard Business School, back in the 1970s, he had taken a course called Structural Ethics in Corporate Culture, in which the teacher, a Professor Pelfner, had talked about Freud's theory of money and excrement . . . How did it go? . . . Dr. Freud, Dr. Freud . . . He couldn't remember . . . When people at the bank now referred to Croker as a shithead, they truly meant it. They truly felt it. His botching things was malfeasance. It made them look so goddamned bad! Half a billion! Now his heedless deadbeat squandering was making them all look like fools! suckers! patsies! And he, Raymond Peepgass, was one of the patsies who had signed off on those foolish loans!
Copyright ©1998 Tom Wolfe
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