Authors: Ethan Mordden
Praise for Ethan Mordden
“A deliberately funny book, laced with laughs and irony, that sometimes makes one cry…ingenious and sophisticated.”
The Los Angeles Times
I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in Kansas Anymore
“Mordden explores a tricky moral universe in which emotional loyalty is exalted but sexual fidelity is not assumed… There is a real sense of pain amid the zingers.”
The New York Times
Some Men Are Lookers
“Ethan Mordden is a master craftsman. His style combines the satirical urbanity of Juvenal, the wit of Oscar Wilde, the intelligence and drawing-room sophistication of Jane Austen.”
Everybody Loves You
“Combining literary wit with vivid characters…his vigorous prose could be as easily compared to parts of
as to Wilde’s aphorisms.”
(starred review) on
Some Men Are Lookers
“Epic, lively, entertaining…Mordden’s big book full of feeling and humor is going to keep a lot of readers happy.”
Washington Post Book World
How Long Has This been Going On?
THE PASSIONATE ATTENTION
AN INTERESTING MAN
A Novella and Four Stories
Copyright (c) 2012 by Ethan Mordden
Magnus Books, an imprint of Riverdale Avenue Books
PO Box 1849
New York, NY 10025
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Library of Congress Cataloging-In-Publication Data available. Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper.
Edited by: Don Weise
Cover by: Linda
Kosarin, The Art Department
Cover photo by: Rob Lang/
Interior layout by
Table of Contents
Lloyd’s first piece for the paper discussed the “gourmet” salad bar in the food shop in the new mall. Or, more precisely, what Lloyd discussed was the behavior of its customers as they interacted with the platters of chicken fingers and tortellini and each other. Lloyd’s second piece toured the remodeling of the gym two doors down from the food shop and his third the gym’s grand opening and how the genders inspected each other. He entitled it “Cruising.”
Then came Lloyd’s fourth piece, on the town’s spoiled rich kids—
rich, the heirs and heiresses who seemed to know each other and no one else. Lloyd wrote of their lingo, attitudes, and rituals as if they were his, too. Instantly, Lloyd became a man of local note, recognized and invited. More important, the reading of his column,
What State Am I In
? went to the top of everybody’s daily activity sheet. Lloyd had to turn his report on rich kids into a series, and he found himself with something rare in the life of a freelance writer: job security.
Lloyd’s editor found Lloyd’s topics perplexing nonetheless. Gyms are something you belong to, not something you read about.
“They’re all alike,” the editor said. “Bicycles and yoga classes, no?”
are alike,” Lloyd told him. “The clientele varies. When they’re keyed up and playful, they put a place into spin.”
Lloyd’s ease in the tossing of language made him not only the journalist of the moment but agreeably provincial: a booster of local endeavors. Folks enjoyed hearing that the food shop in their mall rivaled those in your conceited eastern metropolises, or that their gym could pass in California. Lloyd knew how to flatter while maintaining high standards, which was both friendly and impressive of him, and, as his editor had to admit, Lloyd knew How To Be Where. It was while hanging out in Avatar that he got the idea for the series he called “Bon Ton Brats.” And, thanks to Lloyd, Avatar became, overnight, the trendiest bar in town.
At thirty-six, Lloyd was a bit senior for the ambiance; rumor held that no one over a certain age could get in at all. But Lloyd was handsome and fit, and he had a great smile, with the teeth of a Steinway. Anyway, on Lloyd thirty-six played as twenty-nine: because he dressed young and slanged young. In fact, his first column on the culture of gilded youth treated almost nothing but their lingo, which Lloyd spoke with the deadpan flair of a native. To tire of something was
to spat with it
, as in “I have
spat with Lady Antebellum.” To get rid of someone—especially a boy or girl friend—was
him or her. This could be expanded to the outside world, as in “voters toasted the incumbent on election day.” Even if—as Lloyd noted in his column—“There is very little outside world in these kids’ lives.”
On rare occasions, something, somehow, impinged upon their liberty, as when a disapproving parent grounded them. This was known as
. Yet in fact there were no parents to speak of in the world of the bon ton brat, it seemed. They were rich kids so densely spoiled that one could more exactly think of them as autonomous twenty-two-year-olds with unmaxable plastic and the civic spirit of a motorcycle gang. It was summer, so they were on vacation: from what? The particular group that Lloyd met in Avatar—the kids on whom he based his articles—had just been graduated from college, yet they appeared to entertain no career plans. The boys looked forward to inheriting fortunes and the girls to spending them. Portia was engaged (or promised, or something) to Clark, for instance. Yet they didn’t act like fiancés. She was too busy stealing kisses from her best friend, Annamarie. And Clark flirted obsessively with
best friend, Junior.
It was Portia who first brought Lloyd into this circle, approaching him in Avatar with a boldness that told Lloyd—as he reported to his readers—that the traditional usages of gender
behavior were over. Portia was on her way back to her friends from the ladies’ room when, passing Lloyd, she slowed, smiled, and then stopped to ask him, “Now, what is such an impressive piece of merchandise doing all alone in a social club? If I may ask, my dear sir.”
Lloyd had scarcely started speaking when Portia took his hand and gently pulled him along to meet her friends. She was extremely pretty, beautifully made in all particulars with light auburn hair.
light, Lloyd thought, in that incredibly appealing silky wonder that no man fails to respond to. And she wasn’t really forward, just…game.
, you might say. A charmingly independent young woman. Lloyd was used to scoring, but guys usually had to work for it, had to listen and invent, setting off firecrackers of poetry and courtship.
Not here. Portia and her crew didn’t waste time on preludes. Once among them, Lloyd found that he was the one being scored. Portia and
Annamarie and Clark and Junior were confident and curious and they moved in on you quickly. They loved that Lloyd was a writer, that he was with the paper, that he would quote them. “Set me down in your paragraphs,” Portia promised, “and I’ll fuck you crippled.”
She said this sweetly, even innocently; girls were so different nowadays. Lloyd could get a column or two out of
, he thought, looking around Avatar at its new American version of Bright Young Things grouping, dissolving, regrouping. Grandstanding and confiding. Exploiting youth and looks as the tools of performance art. Some worked in modes so new they had yet to be described while others were as square as a malted with two straws, sweethearts sipping to some retro tune. Yes, the "Theme from
A Summer Place
." Dancing the stroll and wearing each other's clothing, his tie and her scarf. But four of these kids—Lloyd’s four—were style setters and clearly in the core clique.
It turned out that they had known one another from preschool
playdates on and were as egosyntonic as a commedia dell’arte troupe. Was it rehearsed when Portia and Annamarie put their heads together, literally, to say the same thing in the same words at the same time while Clark leaned in to attend and Junior caressed the back of Clark’s neck?
So they were showoffs, ideal for Lloyd’s agenda: good copy. They’d photograph well, too, both of the girls really quite fetching and the boys muscled pups. Pulling out his pad and pen, Lloyd took dictation as the kids posed and quoted away. They told Lloyd of intricate rituals in the maintenance of status, of diplomacy with grownups, of recognizing one’s peers and discouraging moochers.
“Does that pad come with spell check?” Clark asked Lloyd.
“How old are you?” said Annamarie. “Emotionally.”
“Who’s prettier,” Junior wanted to know, “Clark or me?”
“But how much money is there in journalism?” Portia asked. “They tell of fortunes paid for celebrity gossip. Could you be tattler to the stars?”
Lloyd said, “Newcomer in town takes notes on definitive local youngsters, only to discover that he finds them too charming to exploit.”
Junior preened as Clark asked, “What is that—the talking you just did? Is it Hollywood?”
Lloyd nodded. “It’s called a ‘log line.’”
“Is that how they pitch a new idea?”
“No,” Lloyd answered. “The pitch markets the ware. The log line analyzes it. Here…The
Wizard of Oz
. A heroine enjoys marvelous adventures, only to discover that all she really needs is a home filled with love.”
“Now me,” said Clark—but Junior cut in with “
Clark: The Movie
. A hero thinks he’s the most winning specimen on the planet, but most girls find him—“
“You have to use ‘only to discover,’” Lloyd explained, as Clark aimed a warning finger at Junior. “The log line states an irony, and ‘only to discover’ is the listener’s warning ramp.”
Portia said, “My parents plan a wedding so white it must be held during a blizzard, only to discover that I’ve had carnal knowledge of every hottie in town. The eligible ones, of course. Exclusively.”
“Everyone except Junior,” Clark added.
Here Portia and Junior exchanged the briefest of glances. But Clark caught them.
“What?” he cried, turning accusingly on Junior, who held his ground, half-smiling. “You two
? Do I have to set detectives on you?”
“I had Junior first,”
Annamarie told Lloyd, nodding at his pad. “Write it down, mister.”
“My goodness,” said Lloyd, in
-naïve, stretching out the vowels so they'd know he was jesting. “The conspiracies around here.”