The Vice President’s Daughter

Constructed Indentities 1 and 3
Alix Smith, Constructed Indentities 1, 2003 and Constructed Identities 3, 2004. Courtesy of the artist.

It was just at the point when things were finally cracking up for me that I saw Lauren and her father on Madison Avenue. Jillian, my fiancée, was visiting her family in California and I—I had raced down from Boston to see Arielle, my ex-girlfriend. My life, or the life I had then, was slipping away, and in my unhappiness, my frenzy, my sense of injury, I had developed the notion that if I could have just one night with Arielle, some piece that had been dislodged from the order of the universe might fall back into place, and the track upon which I’d been moving with such dazzling speed would correct itself, and I would make it. I would hold onto Jillian, and I would last until the next election, and then we’d see. On this night I had no backup sleeping arrangements, I had burned my sleeping-over ships, so that if we got drunk and Arielle decided against taking me home, I’d have to sleep in the car. But not yet.

We were walking west along Sixty-sixth toward the park and about to cross Madison when I first recognized Lauren and then, without bodyguards and without ceremony, her father. I had seen him at campaign stops, I had written and thought about him almost without interruption for an entire year of my life, but I’d never been this close, and he’d never been so alone. Lauren looked happy, flushed, a walking advertisement for so many of the good things, while he wore his beard, his infamous beard, and I was surprised by how substantial he looked, how physically powerful. I wanted to say to Lauren, “I’m sorry,” though she didn’t look like she needed it, and “I wish you were President,” to her father, who looked like he did. I saw him flinch from us a little—from the way I froze on the sidewalk he must have thought I was another ill-wisher, another nut—but soon it was all over: Lauren looked at Arielle, I looked at the former Vice President, and we all paused for a moment while I kissed the Vice President’s daughter on the cheek, she assured me they were in a terrible hurry though it was nice to see me, and they crossed northward while we waited for the light.

“Someone you know?” Arielle asked in her teasing Arielle way, as if she were mock impressed and mock resentful that walking down the street of a city in which I didn’t even live, I could still kiss well-dressed women on the cheek.

“Wait,” I said. “Did you not see who that was?”

“Who was it?”

I told her and she laughed.

“Figures,” she said.

“No, no, it was Ferdinand,” I said. “My roommate. “

“Ferdinand? Why not you?”

“Because it was Ferdinand. It was pretty serious for a while. We had—” I stopped. We were on Sixty-sixth Street, on the interminable block between Madison and the park, the windows on the long, long apartment building across the street shut and dark against us, and something moved me then. I was touched. On Sixty-sixth and Madison I was touched by sorrow. “We had big plans for them,” I said. “Or I did, anyway.”

Arielle, blithe Arielle, my high school girlfriend with, still, her long soft hair—nothing in my tone had registered with her. “I’ll bet,” was all she said. And then: “Come on. It’s getting dark. We don’t want to get murdered in the Central Park Zoo.”

More from Issue 2

Issue 2 Happiness

Novelists said again and again they would never represent happiness.

Issue 2 Happiness

The two grand abdications: one occurred in academic philosophy departments, the other in American fiction.

Issue 2 Happiness

A reading is like a bedside visit. The audience extends a giant moist hand and strokes the poor reader’s hair.

Issue 2 Happiness

As soon as you hear, “We’re all writers here, what’s to disagree about?” you know we’re sunk, intellectually.

Issue 2 Happiness

I am depressed. Things are worse here than I thought. It’s a mess and what’s more it’s a provincial mess.

Issue 2 Happiness
Among the Believers
Issue 2 Happiness

A curse is a formula that becomes a doom. The two-party system is the curse of American political life.

Issue 2 Happiness
Babel in California
Issue 2 Happiness
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Issue 2 Happiness

In this gentle and permissive way we were enjoined to get high on pot and take up oral sex, but not do any favors for Philip Morris.

Issue 2 Happiness
Trends in Network Television Comedy
Issue 2 Happiness
The Reaper
Issue 2 Happiness
The Concept of Experience
Issue 2 Happiness
Three Poems
Issue 2 Happiness

Diana slides out of bed naked, feeling as if she has learned something about Coetzee in her sleep.

Issue 2 Happiness
At the 2003 International Security Conference
Issue 2 Happiness

Hitchens might want to insist, contrarily, that although he has changed his allies, he has not changed his opinions.

Issue 2 Happiness

For people stunned by the Seattle demonstrations, Klein’s book was a field guide; for people inspired by them, it was a bible.

Issue 2 Happiness

What a strange book Philip Roth has written.

Issue 2 Happiness

A German friend asked me if graphic novels were erotic. I said, “No, they’re neurotic.”

Issue 2 Happiness

The growing influence of the Italian philosopher’s work seems in many respects to depend on his remarkable sense of taste.

Issue 2 Happiness

Keith Gessen replies: The genital flag?

More by this Author

March 25, 2013

If you were shaking down a vegetable stand in 1990, you are probably not in the State Duma in 2013.

July 28, 2010

Then the next review, it’s gone down one or two. Eventually, it approaches their personality.

October 5, 2007

If the Rangers can get their lines clicking, that’s the team to beat. Solid defense, and three offensive lines.

March 22, 2012
Regrets at Fordham
September 1, 2004

I told you, it’s not a hip crowd. It’s not a cutting-edge crowd. These people do not want the new edgy, cutting-edge.

Issue 24 New Age

The question needs to become, which truth are they telling, and for whom?