Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Career Best

by Nathaniel Ward

We all agreed it was an overreaction, the rage irrational. Not that anyone was surprised by the impulse, no, everyone at the conference empathized. Maybe even envied the momentary surrender, the abandonment of carefully orchestrated professional interaction in favor of simple, primal being. But for those of us habituated to these social rituals of suppression—forced smiles and awkwardly tripping over the ends of one another’s sentences—actually losing control was unthinkable.

Bloated, vituperative Olivier; drunken, swooning Olivier; Monday-morning Olivier never remembering what Saturday-night Olivier had said, or to whom. Toward the end he even began writing out of his head, and his halfwit editor, scared to death of his paper’s declining sales, let the old man bully him into sending whatever tripe he came up with to press. Somebody was bound to take it too personally. If calling it “too personally” is even fair. I kind of think he deserved it.

“What wouldn’t you pay?” Colombe asked me, after the fact, when I visited him in jail. “What wouldn’t you give for a moment’s release, to become the it rather than the bloody I for once?” “This is the animal kingdom” he said. “Critics enrage, punish, and the rest learn not to bait the tiger, no? His stock and trade was anger and petty revenge, I suspect he would have been disappointed not to be stabbed in the throat by a disgruntled author.”

I remember watching him walk across the room with the fork in his hand, just sort of hanging there, almost forgotten, the way people carry their car keys. Olivier barreling on, oblivious, the rest of us uncomfortable, and the son of a bitch too self-absorbed to understand all the anger he had generated over the years was ricocheting back toward him in that moment. We all came from good homes, went to good schools, none of us had ever seen blood like that before.

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