4. desember

The gloom was right. The presence of the baby nurse had made him and Rhoda acutely aware of what a dump they lived in. This entire apartment, known as a 3 -room in New York real-estate parlance, had been created out of what had once been a pleasant but by no means huge bedroom on the third floor of a town house, with three windows overlooking the street. The so-called room he now stood in was really nothing more than a slot that had been created by inserting a plasterboard wall. The slot had one of the windows. What was left of the original room was now called a living room, and it had the other two windows. Back by the door to the hallway were were two more slots, one for a kitchen two people couldn't pass each other in, and the other for a bathroom. Neither had a window. The place was like one of those little ant colonies you can buy, but it cost them $888 a month, rent-stabilized. If it hadn't been for the rent-stabilization law, it would have cost probably $1,500, which would be out of the question. And they had been happy to find it! My God, there were college graduates his age, thirty-two, all over New York who were dying to find an apartment like this, a 3 , with a view, in a town house, with high ceilings, rent-stabilized, in the West Seventies! Truly pathetic, wasn't it? They could barely afford it when they were both working and their combined salaries had been $56,000 a year, $41,000 after deductions. The plan had been that Rhoda's mother would give them the money as a sort of baby present to hire a baby nurse for four weeks, while Rhoda got back on her feet and went back to work. In the meantime, they would fin an au pair girl to live in and look after the baby in return for room and board. Rhoda's mother had come through with her part of the plan, but it was already obvious that this au pair girl who was willing to seep on a convertible couch in the living room in an ant colony on the West Side did not exist. Rhoda would not be able to go back to work. They were going to have to get by on his $25,000-after-taxes, and the yearly rent here in this dump, even with the help of rent stabilization, was $10,656.

Well, at least these morbid considerations had restored his bathrobe to a decent shape. So he emerged from the bedroom.

"Good morning, Glenda," he said.

"Oh, good morning, Mr. Kramer," said the baby nurse.

Very cool and British, this voice of hers. Kramer was convinced he really couldn't care less about British accents or the Brits themselves. In fact, they intimidated him, the Brits and their accents. In the baby nurse's oh, a mere oh, he detected a whiff of Finally getting up, are you?

A plump, fiftyish woman, she was already efficiently turned out in her white uniform. Her hair was pulled back into a perfect bun. She had already closed up the convertible couch and put the cushions back in place, so that it had resumed its daytime mode as a dingy yellow, synthetic-linen-covered piece of parlor furniture. She sat on the edge of the thing, her back perfectly straight, drinking a cup of tea. The baby was lying on his back in his crib, perfectly content. Perfectly was the woman's middle name. they had found her through the Gough Agency, which an article in the Home section of the Times had listed as one of the best and most fashionable. So they were paying the fashionable price of $525 a week for an English baby nurse. From time to time she mentioned other places where she had worked. Always it was Park Avenue, Fifth Avenue, Sutton Place ... Well, too bad! Now you're getting an eyeful of a jack-legged walkup on the West Side! They called her Glenda. She called them Mr. Kramer and Mrs. Kramer, instead of Larry and Rhoda. Everything was upside down. Glenda was the very picture of gentility, having tea, while Mr. Kramer, lord of the ant colony, came tramping through the bathroom barefooted, bare-legged, tousle-headed, wearing a tattered old plaid bathrobe. Over in the corner, under an extremely dusty Dracanea fragrans plant, the TV set was on. A commercial flared to an end, and some smiling heads began talking on the Today show. But the sound was not on. She wouldn't be so imperfect as to have the TV blaring. What on earth was she really thinking, this British arbiter sitting in judgment (on an appalling fold-out sofa) upon the squalor of chez Kramer?

As for the mistress of the household, Mrs. Kramer, she was just emerging from the bathroom, still in her bathrobe and slippers.

"Larry," she said, "look at my fuh-head. I think theh's something theh, like a rash. I sawr it in the mirror."

Still foggy, Kramer tried to look at her fuh-head.

"It's nothing Rhoda. It's like the beginning of a pimple."

That was another thing. Since the baby nurse had arrived, Kramer had also become acutely aware of the way his wife talked. He had never noticed it before, or hardly. She was a graduate of New York University. For the past four years she had been an editor at Waverly Place Books. She was an intellectual, or at least she seemed to be reading a lot of the poetry of John Ashbery and Gary Snyder when he first met her, and she had a lot to say about South Africa and Nicaragua. Nevertheless, a forehead was a fuh-head, and there had no r at the end, but saw did.

That was like her mother, too.

Rhoda padded on by, and Kramer entered the bathroom slot. The bathroom was pure Tenement Life. There was laundry hanging all along the shower curtain rod. There was more laundry on a line that ran diagonally across the room, a baby's zip-up suit, two baby bibs, some bikini panties, several pairs of panty hose, and God knew what else, none of it the baby nurse's, of course. Kramer had to duck down to get to the toilet. A wet pair of panty hose slithered over his ear. It was revolting. There was a wet towel on the toilet seat. He looked around for some place to hang it. There was no place. He threw it on the floor.

After urinating, he moved twelve or fourteen inches to the sink and took off his bathrobe and his T-shirt and draped them over the toilet seat. Kramer liked to survey his face and his build in the mornings. What with his wide, flat features, his blunt nose, his big neck, nobody ever took him for Jewish at first. He might be Greek, Slavic, Italian, even Irish--in any event, something tough. He wasn't happy that he was balding on top, but in a way that made him look tough, too. He was balding the way a lot of professional football players were balding. And his build ... but this morning he lost heart. Those powerful deltoids, those massive sloping trapezii, those tightly bunched pectorals, those curving slabs of meat, his biceps--they looked deflated. He was fucking atrophying! He hadn?t been able to work out since the baby and the baby nurse arrived. He kept his weights in a carton behind the tub that held the dracaena plant, and he worked out between the plant and the couch--and there was no way in the world he could work out, could grunt and groan and strain and ventilate and take appreciative looks at himself in the mirror in front of the English baby nurse ... or the mythical au pair girl of the future, for that matter ... Let's face it! It's time to give up those childish dreams! You're an American workadaddy now! Nothing more.

When he left the bathroom, he found Rhoda sitting on the couch next to the English baby nurse, and both of them had their eyes pinned on the TV set, and the sound was up. It was the news segment of the Today show.

Rhoda looked up and said excitedly: "Look at this, Larry! It's the Mayor! There was a riot in Harlem last night. Someone threw a bottle at him!"

Kramer only barely noticed that she said meh-uh for mayor and boh-uhl for bottle. Astonishing news were happening on the screen. A stage--a melee--heaving bodies--and then a huge hand filled the screen and blotted out everything for an instant. More screams and grimaces and thrashing about, and then pure vertigo. To Kramer and Rhoda and the baby nurse it was as if the rioters were breaking through the screen and jumping onto the floor right beside little Joshua's crib. And this was the Today show, not the local news. This was what America was having for breakfast this morning, a snootful of the people of Harlem rising up in their righteous wrath and driving the white Mayor off the stage in a public hall. There goes the back of his head right there, burrowing for cover. Once he was the Mayor of New York City. Now he is the Mayor of White New York.

When it was over, the three of them looked at one another, and Glenda, the English baby nurse, spoke up, with considerable agitation.

"Well, I think that's perfectly disgusting. The colored don't know how good they've got it in this country, I can tell you that much. In Britain there's not so much as a colored in a police uniform, much less an important public official, the way they have here. Why, there was an article just the other day. There's more than two hundred coloreds who are mayors in this country. And they want to bash the Mayor of New York about. Some people don't know how well off they are, if you ask me."

She shook her head angrily.

Kramer and his wife looked at each other. He could tell she was thinking the same thing he was.

Thank God in heaven! What a relief! They could let their breaths out now. Miss Efficiency was a bigot. These days the thing about bigotry was, it was undignified. It was a sign of Low Rent origins, of inferior social status, of poor taste. So they were the superiors of their English baby nurse, after all. What a fucking relief.

-- Fra Tom Wolfe: "The Bonfire of the Vanities" (1987)

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ingermerete

ingermerete

35, Oslo

Inger Merete Hobbelstad (f. 1980) er kulturjournalist, teateranmelder og filmanmelder i Dagbladet og burde egentlig vre lut lei av skrive etter endt arbeidsdag. Men den gang ei. Jo, og s har jeg mastergrad i Litteraturvitenskap med en oppgave som handlet om Homers "Iliaden". Hvilket jeg altfor sjelden fr sprsml om. Og s ns jeg p imh@dagbladet.no.

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