From The Kenyon Review, Summer 1966, Vol. XXVIII, No. 3
The bitterness and urgency of today’s rebellious youth . . . tender and lyrical . . . A social document of aimless teenagers seeking their identity . . . evocative and bittersweet . . . the tragic boomerang of adolescent passions . . . A visual treat . . . somewhat controversial.
— The Times
It is Fifth Avenue in late afternoon in autumn and the shadows darken the street. The boy wears a heavy sweater and desert boots. He has long hair. The girl is pretty. She is wearing a heavy sweater. It is Fifth Avenue or Grosvenor Square. She has lovely eyes. They look in the shop windows. Mannequins in fur and diamonds. Ladies’ shoes atop red velvet. An eight million dollar necklace. She whirls and pirouettes, dreaming of inaugural balls or being presented to the Queen. A few middle-aged people stare at her and shake their heads. What is the world coming to. She giggles and takes the boy’s hand and they skip away to the park. They walk in the park. Leaves are falling. It is that golden time of day. There are boats on the lake. The sun is going down behind the Dakota Apartments or the London Hilton and she chases a squirrel across the grass in the soft darkening afternoon. Then they are drinking wine. They are in his small room drinking wine. Her eyes are lovely. The boy is talking. He is being bitter about something. Eventually it becomes clear. It’s the world. He is being bitter about the world. He chain-smokes and drinks a lot of wine. It is Greenwich Village or the West Side. It is either of those or it is Soho or it is Montmartre. After a while she does a little pirouette and he gets up and stands in front of the bathroom mirror and makes funny faces in the mirror. Then they make funny faces together. He kisses her. She becomes pregnant. She is pregnant and they talk to an abortionist. The abortionist’s office is cold and sterile. Everything in the office is white. The boy and girl are nervous but the abortionist’s nurse is not nervous. The nurse has hooded eyes. She smokes a cigarette. The abortionist is smooth and very much to the point. He’s been through this scene thousands of times. He has a moustache and long, elegant fingers. He tells them to come back next Tuesday. They leave the office. The boy puts his arm around the girl. They are not on Fifth Avenue. They are near the waterfront. A drunk is sleeping in a doorway. They are trying to decide what to do. The girl writes a letter to her mother in the suburbs and then tears it up. The boy runs from one end of Chicago to the other. Then he looks for a job to get the money for the abortion. He is interviewed by a series of tall men with elegant fingers and they all tell him that they’ll let him know if anything turns up. He insults one of the men, an old school chum of his father’s who is the president of a management consultant firm and cannot understand why the boy did not finish college. The boy insults him beautifully. The man is so out of it that he is not even sure he has been insulted. Then the boy and girl go to a store in San Francisco or Toronto or Liverpool. They steal some groceries. They leave the store laughing with the groceries under their heavy sweaters. Then the boy stops at a flower stand and steals a flower for the girl. Then they go home and she cries. Then they go to a party. Everybody at the party is a phony except for one guy who’s a West Indian or an American Negro or a French Canadian. This guy tells them that they don’t know the first thing about being bitter. They have no right to be bitter. He tells them a thing or two about life and death. Everybody else is doing the freddy and this guy is telling them about real suffering, real pain. Telling it like it is. Then he rolls up his sleeve and shows them how he was wounded in Vietnam or Mississippi. Meanwhile everybody is doing the freddy and talking about Andy Warhol or the Animals. The boy and girl go home again. The Vietnam or Mississippi thing has put their troubles in a truer perspective. They play hide-and-seek under the covers of his tiny bed. Then they take turns feeling the girl’s belly. They go to the Louvre and the girl sticks out her tongue at the Mona Lisa. Some middle-aged people shake their heads. The next day the girl gets up early and goes to school and the boy sits around smoking and looking in the mirror. Then he steals a car. He drives past all the ancient monuments of Rome or Athens. He sees his father come out of a hotel with a woman who is not his mother. He slumps down low in the driver’s seat and watches. His father talks to the woman for a few seconds and then kisses her and they walk off in different directions. The boy just sits there. He sits there. Cars are piling up behind him and horns are blowing. Then he is standing on a bridge above the Thames. Leaves and garbage float by. He goes home and sees that the flower he had stolen for the girl is dead. He throws the flower away so she won’t see it when she gets home from school. Then she gets home and tells him to return the stolen car. He gives her a hard time, saying basically that nothing means anything so why bother. She says if that’s your concept of life I don’t want to see you anymore. So she goes home to the suburbs. She has roast beef and mashed potatoes with her mother and father and older sister. Dessert is chocolate cake. Her mother wants to know why she’s failing Civics and Arithmetic and where she’s been the last three days and nights. The girl tries to be nice. Things are different now, mom. It’s not like when you were growing up. The father makes an attempt at paternal understanding. Takes the positive approach. Compliments her on the fine job she’s been doing in English Lit. Says he likes the Beatles. Then the older sister’s date shows up. He has a crew-cut and wears a button-down shirt. He makes a lot of comments about the junior chamber of commerce and the local country club. He’s in the executive training program of a huge management consultant firm. He’s also a lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve. Brags about the fact that his country club just admitted its first Jew. The girl wants to know why they didn’t do it twenty years ago. Older sister gets mad and tells her to go to her room. In her room she looks in the mirror. Then she feels her belly for a few minutes and repacks her suitcase. The boy stands in front of a movie theater looking at a poster of Jean Paul Belmondo. He goes to a bar. The place is full of hookers and pimps. Derelicts slip from their bar stools and lie in the saw- dust. The juke is playing mean, lowdown jazz. The bartender is fat and ugly. A very clean-cut man comes up to the boy and arrests him. The boy’s father visits him in jail and they have an argument. The boy doesn’t want to mention the strange woman he had seen with his father but in the heat of the argument it slips out. The father is ashamed. He offers to foot all the bills if the boy would only go to the Sorbonne or Michigan State. The boy calls this gesture a moral bribe and he laughs sardonically. Then he is released in the custody of his father and he goes back to his small flat in Chelsea and looks in the mirror. His parole officer tries to talk some sense into him. The parole officer is a nice guy. He has kids of his own, same age as the boy. The boy goes to his room and plays the guitar. He runs through the mad Los Angeles night. Then the girl comes in with her suitcase and they live together. Both of them wear heavy sweaters and blue jeans and desert boots. The girl whirls and pirouettes. She is not too good-looking but she has lovely eyes. They go to Coney Island or Brighton. They ride on the roller coaster and the carousel and they look at themselves in the distorted mirrors. He is nine feet tall and very skinny. She is short and squat and it reminds her that she is pregnant. They think of the abortionist. She feels her belly and smiles. They are going to have the baby. Then he chases her along the beach. Seagulls slant across the dying afternoon. They go behind a sand-dune and kiss. They go home. He kills a roach. They see what their life together is going to be like.