He would say, "I'm sinking with it - do you know what the term means in financial circles, Chick?"
"Sinking fund? I have a rough idea."
Nobody in the days before he struck it rich had ever questioned Ravelstein's need for Armani suits or Vuitton luggage, for Cuban cigars, unobtainable in the U.S., for the Dunhill accessories, for solid-gold Mont Blanc pens or Baccarat or Lalique crystal to serve wine in-or to have it served. Ravelstein was one of those large men-large, not stout - whose hands shake when there are small chores to perform. The cause was not weakness but a tremendous eager energy that shook him when it was discharged.
Well, his friends, colleagues, pupils, and admirers no longer had to ante up in support of his luxurious habits. Thank God, he could now do without the elaborate trades among his academic pals in Jensen silver, or Spode or Quimper. All of that was a thing of the past. He was now very rich. He had gone public with his ideas. He had written a book - difficult but popular - a spirited, intelligent, warlike book, and it had sold and was still selling in both hemispheres and on both sides of the equator. The thing had been done quickly but in real earnest: no cheap concessions, no popularizing, no mental monkey business, no apologetics, no patrician airs. He had every right to look as he looked now, while the waiter set up our breakfast. His intellect had made a millionaire of him. It's no small matter to become rich and famous by saying exactly what you think - to say it in your own words, without compromise.
This morning Ravelstein wore a blue-and-white kimono. It had been presented to him in Japan when he lectured there last year. He had been asked what would particularly please him and he said he would like a kimono. This one, fit for a shogun, must have been a special order. He was very tall. He was not particularly graceful. The great garment was loosely belted and more than half open. His legs were unusually long, not shapely. His underpants were not securely pulled up.
"The waiter tells me that Michael Jackson won't eat the Crillon's food," he said. "His cook flies everywhere with him in the private jet. Anyhow, the Crillon chef's nose is out of joint. His cookery was good enough for Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, he says, and also a whole slew of shahs, kings, generals, and prime ministers. But this little glamour monkey refuses it. Isn't there something in the Bible about crippled kings living under the table of their conqueror-feeding on what falls to the floor?"
"I think there is. I recall that their thumbs had been cut off. But what's that got to do with the Crillon or Michael Jackson?"
Abe laughed and said he wasn't sure. It was only something that went through his head. Up here, the treble voices of the fans, Parisian adolescents - boys and girls shouting in unison - were added to the noises of buses, trucks, and taxis.
This historic show was our background. We were having a good time over our coffee. Ravelstein was in high spirits. Nevertheless, we kept our voices low because Nikki, Abe's companion, was still sleeping. It was Nikki's habit, back in the U.S., to watch kung fu films from his native Singapore until four o'clock in the morning. Here too he was up most of the night. The waiter had rolled shut the sliding doors so that Nikki's silken sleep should not be disturbed. I glanced through the window from time to time at his round arms and the long shifting layers of black hair reaching his glossy shoulders. In his early thirties, handsome Nikki was boyish still.
The waiter had entered with wild strawberries, brioches, jam jars, and small pots of what I had been brought up to call hotel silver. Ravelstein scribbled his name wildly on the check while bringing a bun to his mouth. I was the neater eater. Ravelstein when he was feeding and speaking made you feel that something biological was going on, that he was stoking his system and nourishing his ideas.
Reprinted from Ravelstein by Saul Bellow by permission of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright 2000, Saul Bellow. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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