The New Exceptional
There were once exceptional people among us out here. They had all made a fortune, sure, and were probably scoundrels in their own right. But they were people who worked hard, had vision, and seemed to matter in a way that could make you feel awe and envy for their intellect, wit, and wisdom. They could tell you stories that could scare the crap out of you. They could make you laugh weeks after a conversation when you were all alone. Now there are just people who make money. I went to a kid’s birthday party across the pond from our house, a quirky holdover from that era now considered a tear down. One after another, I met the unexceptional financiers who are buying up the place. Enraged by the middle class. Dedicated to a life of acquiring things. Optimistic about the future, yet scared of everything it may involve. I do the small talk thing, but they clearly can’t talk business directly. They keep it all hidden because their world is secret and simple even though they want it to be dazzling and complex. What they do talk about is their training regimen. They don’t work out or go jogging. They are in training. They set goals. They achieve quantifiably success with mind-boggling gear specifically designed to cheat the forces of gravity and time. In lieu of having anything interesting to say about themselves, they have gadgets to track, verify, and announce their every accomplishment. I imagine them huffing and puffing on the Schwinns from our garage. The rust increasing the degree of difficulty around these flat parts, making even a run to the market an interesting adventure with no sure outcome. I want to tell them my road stories, like the one with the feverish kid in one arm, a busted bike in the other, and a half-mile trudge back to the house. But sweat holds no value once it’s dry to these people, so I smile and nod at their screens. At the party, a Dad shows up full of bluster and rage. He tells the story of having to take the Jitney, which is apparently an affront to his very being. Adding to his misery is the fact that he hadn’t made a reservation. And here is where his rage becomes pride. He recalls the verbal jujitsu he deployed on the foreign kid with the list. How he barreled his way onto the bus, using his sensei-taught technique of simultaneously throwing a tantrum while lying. The guests egged him on, taking notes for their next encounter with a staffer somewhere, anywhere. Together, they scoff at the idea of having to get onto lists that just anyone could get on with a few clicks of a mouse. At least 2 partiers know the owner of the bus line, and can call—one phone call, it’ll take like 5 minutes—and that kid with the list will be putting shingles on a rooftops until November. Everyone is in agreement that the kid deserves it. A woman sidles up to me, with all the subtleness of a perfume sprayer, suddenly interested in the fact that I am in somehow connected to the house across the way. She asks me what I think of the party. I tell her I think at least half these people should be in jail. She laughs, and says she does too, because she and I are magically aligned. The truth is always funniest with people you can trust. Then she asks what school my kids go to. It’s one of the public ones, I say. “It is so brave of you,” she says, “to send your kids there. Aren’t you scared?” “Terrified.” I tell her.