that is, sensitive to what other people thought of him.
he had a strong sense of his own importance and a stronger sense of grievance.
he knew enough to try to make these qualities not too obvious.
the greatest burden of his life was that he had gone to the university of pennsylvania.
he now wished he had gone to penn state - although his mother and his aunt daphne would not have approved, uncle sidney might have intervened on his behalf - when it became apparent that he could not get into princeton or yale.
true, he had avoided the fate aunt daphne - the family matriarch and purse-string holder and a great social reformer- had envisioned for him, to go to nyu - with a lot of jews! - but the penn state men - among whom he spent much of his life - tended to look down on penn men as sissies, though they could hardly have taken issue with a man's going to princeton or yale.
how norton wished he could tie his ties with the easy mastery of a princeton man, or hold a scotch and soda in his hand with the effortless insouciance of a penn state man!
norton's life had reached a turning point.
he was twenty-seven years old and not married.
mister talbot, the elderly head of the firm, liked his employees to be married. it was almost impossible to be promoted unless one's seriousness and dependability had been demonstrated in this time-honored way.
norton's mother and his aunt ellen had been trying to find him a suitable girl - such things were beneath aunt daphne, who believed that old-fashioned matchmaking went out with the model t and kerosene lamps - and his sister paula had made a few half hearted attempts to help out.
norton made a sincere attempt to appreciate their efforts on his behalf -
but could they really find a girl that would not excite the secret - or maybe not so secret when norton was not in the room - amusement of fellows like phil packer and dennis clevenger, the leaders of norton's group?
who themselves were determined to remain bachelors until they were thirty at least.
neither of them had to worry about a mister talbot, as phil packer had his own law practice, and dennis clevenger did not work regular hours at all but just played the market.
as for the idea that norton might find and win a suitable girl on his own...
norton stood before a fireplace on a cold january evening, at phil packer's apartment on the south side.
light snow was falling outside.
phil was still sporting the vestiges of a black eye he had received on new year's eve, when he had added to his legend by getting arrested and spending five hours in jail on the busy night before his bail could be processed.
but that was already ancient history and an old joke. dennis , and phil's girl samantha winston, the only persons who had been allowed to twit phil about it , had moved on.
it had been a dull night. phil was not in the best humor.
strangely, neither dennis nor samantha were making much effort to cheer him up.
norton and bill meriweather were the only other persons left.
fat bill meriweather was totally tanked, and had a strange smirk on his face, as if he expected something amusing to happen at any minute.
norton wondered if he should make his excuses and leave.
with almost nobody left he could not slip out without being noticed, and if he announced he was leaving might that not look as if he, norton, was not pleased to be in phil's company?
suddenly the phone rang.
after a couple of rings samantha picked it up.
"hello? helen! " samantha listened for a few seconds. "sure, come on over. i'll tell the doorman to let you in." pause. "all right, i'll go down and be there myself."
samantha headed for the door of the apartment.
norton wondered if this might not be time for him to leave.
apparently reading his mind, bill meriweather leered at him. "can't leave now, old man. this helen might be a hot number, ha ha!"
and then dennis clevenger was in front of norton, taking his glass from him. "here, let me freshen that up."
norton was trapped. he started to lean back against the fireplace, then decided to find a chair.
phil got up and began poking at the fire, making it blaze up.
samantha arrived with helen, who was surprisingly ugly. skinny, with a muddy complexion and a nose that was way too long.
norton immediately deduced that she must have lots of money. lots of money. phil and dennis would never be in the same room with such a girl unless she had enough money to load the queen mary with gold bullion and sink it.
samantha was acting ecstatic at seeing helen. phil stood up and seemed quite happy to see her, as did dennis after getting norton his new drink.
phil himself was making the introductions.
"helen, this is bill meriweather. he doesn't look like much, but he's got enough money to burn a wet mule."
"charmed, i'm sure," helen rasped in a rough voice.
"likewise." bill made a half hearted attempted to get up from the soft couch he was slumped in, but gave it up.
norton stood up. "and this is norton." phil gave norton a slap on the back that would have knocked him over if he had not been expecting it. "he's a bit of a pansy, but one thing about him, he can hold his liquor. isn't that right, nort?"
what could norton say? "i try," he laughed.
"nort!" cried helen. "nort the sport! pleased to meet you, nort the sport!" norton realized helen was already quite drunk. "and he tries!" she turned around to bill, dennis and samantha. "what can we all do but try?"
"i know! " cried samantha. "i know what we can do."
"and what's that, sweetie?" asked helen.
"let's get drunk!"
"we get drunk every night," drawled bill meriweather.
"i mean really drunk this time!"
"great idea!" dennis chimed in.
"and let's get out of here," samantha shouted. "it's too damned hot in here!"
norton was climbing a long flight of dark stairs. it kept getting longer and longer.
he started crawling on his hands and knees.
he heard voices, loud confused voices.
suddenly something hit him in the face, blinding him.
something ice cold!
and waking him up. he was suddenly awake, lying on his side. on the sidewalk, in a couple of inches of snow. with a puddle of cold water forming under his face.
he tried to get up but could not. there was something tied to his back, preventing him from sitting up.
and there was something else on his head and falling into his eyes. he reached for it. it felt like - a wig of some kind?
now he was aware of laughter. very loud laughter from in front of a bar across the street.
he recognized it as the 262 club, where he had tagged along after phil and dennis on their slumming expeditions a couple of times before.
phil, dennis, and helen were standing on the sidewalk and laughing to beat the band and pointing at him.
then norton heard other laughter behind him. more like the laughter of children.
he turned and saw a couple of little boys. one of then was very dark - was he actually a negro? - and holding a pail in his hand.
"they paid me, mister, " the little negro boy said, still laughing. "it was your friends over there, they paid me to do it."
norton tried to right himself again but could not. what was stuck to his back?
he heard another voice.
"william harrison, you get away from that man!"
a negro woman in a heavy overcoat and with a red kerchief on her head appeared in norton's sight.
"what mischief are you up to now?" she cried.
william harrison dropped the pail with a clang and he and his lighter skinned friend ran off into the darkness. the pail rolled around in the snow.
"and you, sir!" the negro woman shook her finger at norton. "a grown man up to such nonsense! dressing up like a chicken! and it's not even new year's eve. new years was two weeks ago!"
"help me," norton begged her.
"hey, jasper! "
jasper looked up from his typewriter. flossie flanagan was standing in front of his tiny desk with her hands on her hips.
"think you can tear yourself away from the great american novel long enough to do a little work for the good old federal-democrat?"
jasper didn't bother explaining he was only writing a short story. "i did some work this morning."
"well, your uncle seems to think you can do some more. he specifically wants you to go with me on this story."