Karl Taro Greenfeld: “Fun Won”
06/12/2012 § 2 Comments
Originally published in Harper’s, June 2012.
“The Cold War ended,” I told him.
“Thank God! Mark said. “Who won?”
“Fun,” I said. “Fun won.”
It didn’t, though, or if it did, then to extend the metaphor to America’s current post-Cold War status, it soon imploded. Such is the threat looming over Greenfeld’s story, which begins with a cautionary first-person narrator looking back on her marriage: “So in a way I was lucky that I met Mark. It could have been much worse.” Yes, comparatively she’s better off than her peers who got married in the Nineties, to “white and boring” people, not like the “hybrids” of the modern era who is “more defined by his hobby of riding fixed-gear bicycles or some intense and very particular food enthusiasm” than by his safe, high-earning job. After all, she married Mark, a sound engineer, not some banker: “I was impressed that he knew how to do something concrete, how to operate this equipment, this software, to manipulate and control. He was as close to blue-collar as any boy I had ever known.” And yet, that’s not the whole truth: yes, she breaks up with Gordon, a speculative real-estate investor, ostensibly for “a boy instead of a man. Not literally a boy, but someone fun and youthful. Men were boring and serious.” But after dating Mark, she realizes “how serious I was about the relationship,” and pressures Mark into one of Gordon’s syndicates, molding him into exactly the type of “man” she’d wanted to avoid, and leading the story to its careful-what-you-wish-for conclusion: “What I thought as I watched him, handsome, soft-spoken, and communicating a hip sort of reliability, was that I had somehow steered Mark to a place where he would be wealthy enough to marry me.” And in that world, there is no fun.
At least, not the sort of fun that Karl spends the majority of his story detailing: a well-written account (and I emphasize well-written, as The Adventures of Socialites generally bore and/or disgust me) of one crazy, pot-smoking night shared between our hero, an editor for a chic “Conde Nast title that didn’t survive very long in the digital age”; her younger brother, Ed, a sixth-year collegiate stoner; her “school friend, not after-school friend” and famous fashion editor colleague Marni Saltzwell; and Marni’s assistant/slave, Klara. While they’re expensing a fancy dinner (“egg-noodle pasta with a light sauce of cream and caviar were brought over, and Giuseppe shaved generous slices of truffle onto each of our plates”), hobnobbing with a famous, unnamed photographer, and, oh, Naomi Campbell, the group make a pact that fun will last forever. “What could ruin the fun?” asks Ed. And here’s the killer transition, the point at which the story shifts:
“Kids,” Klara said in a small voice. “When people have kids, they seem to have less fun.”
Then I met the man with whom I would have kids.
Damn, that’s good. Fun, which was “winning” the night before has made her bedroom look “like a murder scene. My sheets were stained colors I had never previously considered part of the sexual palette,” all courtesy of her brother and the much older Marni. This, presumably, is the impetus for our narrator’s quest for a “boy” of her own, a way to squash the jealousy she feels toward those people like her brother who can so casually embrace “fun.” And we know from the constant foreshadowing (shades of regret) where this is heading: marriage, children, the death of that which was pursued (fun). Talk about a Pyrrhic victory! Talk about a deceptively entertaining/depressing short story!