“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” — Kurt Vonnegut
Born May 12, 1956, Roy David Bloom spent his formative years in a provincial, middle class suburb of Cleveland. The only child of Harry and Ethel Bloom—both only children as well—Roy had no brothers, sisters, aunts, or uncles. Forced from an early age to rely exclusively on his own view of life in the Bloom household, Roy was left to wonder if his perception of his parents told the full story. While the scarcity of family members made holidays low-key affairs, it also deprived Roy of any alternative view of Harry and Ethel—leaving him to see them as unhappy, difficult, mismatched people with whom he shared a house.
Harry Bloom worked as an accountant at Bloom & Hannerty, a small, exclusive firm. Ethel Bloom, in accordance with the ethos of the time, was a stay-at-home mom. Harry spent most of his waking hours at the office, working late most evenings and often spending entire weekends at his desk. Many believed Harry a workaholic. In truth, his absence from the home was a survival technique. Life with Ethel was tough. Demanding and demeaning, his wife was almost always unpleasant. Harry swore she hadn’t been that way when he married her, but he wasn’t so sure anymore. With Harry largely missing from Roy’s life, Ethel was in charge of child rearing. This proved disastrous for both of them. From Ethel’s perspective, Roy was stubborn, disobedient, and arrogant. From Roy’s, Ethel was overbearing, misguided, and clueless.
Life changed immeasurably for Roy when he was nine. Harry—an above average accountant with below average ambition—was offered a lucrative position with a big-eight accounting firm in New York City. Harry could easily have passed on the opportunity, but at Ethel’s insistence, he accepted. The Blooms moved to Scarsdale, New York, an upscale bedroom community within easy reach of the city. Roy went along for the ride. The Blooms traded their midwestern credentials for life in the sophisticated upper middle class, where keeping up with the Joneses was a daily activity. Roy’s efforts to conform to an unfamiliar culture met with limited success, creating problems from which he never fully recovered.
Roy attended a prestigious public school, excelling in academics, but otherwise leading an apparently uneventful life. Perceived by others as shy and unassuming, Roy, despite early efforts to fit in, had simply chosen to remain apart from the crowd. His parents and teachers worried that Roy had few friends and fewer interests. Neither was the case. He had friends; he just didn’t bring them home, believing—quite correctly—that his parents would disapprove of his associates. Many were older than Roy, some frequently in trouble with the authorities. And, since they were not school chums, his teachers had no knowledge of their existence. As for Roy’s interests, he kept them to himself.
He was especially careful not to discuss his ambition to be a writer, worried that he lacked the necessary talent. It wasn’t until his senior year that Roy began to write for the school newspaper. To his genuine surprise, most readers loved his work and Roy basked in the accolades it brought him. However, the editor-in-chief—a humorless, prudish sycophant—soon began to reject most of his submissions. She considered his style far too acerbic for their youthful readership. Easily discouraged, he put his literary dreams on hold and headed to college.
Roy began his higher education without a plan and finished much the same way. His father would have been greatly distressed had he not died of a massive heart attack the summer before Roy’s first semester. Roy assumed life with Ethel had killed him, ignoring the fact that Harry smoked three packs of cigarettes a day.
Often restless, Roy dropped out of college regularly—taking six years to complete a Bachelor of Arts degree from Cornell. He always returned to school, though, believing that without a degree he would be at a competitive disadvantage— especially since he felt he lacked any distinguishing talent that might otherwise bankroll his life. Taking easy courses, studying little, and partying hard, Roy stumbled through college on autopilot and a healthy dose of common sense. Learning little in his time on campus, he achieved his degree in English Literature almost by default. Along with many in his generation, he squandered his undergraduate years in a haze of sex, drugs, and rock and roll—minus the sex. Roy was a late bloomer. Unfortunately, it left him with a chip on his shoulder and an unhealthy sense of inadequacy.
After an unfocused college career, Roy began a chaotic and directionless professional life. Having purposely avoided on-campus corporate interviews, no employment prospects waited for him upon graduation, and Roy was forced to live at home. This meant contending on a regular basis with his mother—a most unfortunate development. With her previous sparring partner dead, Ethel would often cast Roy in that role—much to his dismay.
“I told you to apply yourself, Roy,” Ethel chided him. “But, no, you knew better. You always knew better. Your father, God rest his soul, would be sadly disappointed.”
No more disappointed than he was with you Roy had wanted to say, but didn’t.
“Well, Roy, you wasted your time in college. Now what? Any interviews? Any prospects?”
“Relax, Mom. I’m not going to hit you up for the money Pop left. I’ll find work sooner than you think.”
When exactly that would be was as much a mystery to Roy as it was to Ethel.
“I certainly hope so. I don’t plan on supporting you,” Ethel announced. “Did you ever bother to follow up on those contacts I gave you? Most of those people are close family friends, some highly successful. I’m sure they’d be happy to help.”
Roy knew, however, contacting Ethel’s “friends” would be an exercise in futility. But her persistence finally wore him down.
“So, did you call?”
He had, but had chosen not to share the results with Ethel in order not to antagonize her. Eventually, though, Roy opted for the truth. Hell, let her deal with it.
“I asked you a question. Did you call them?”
“And what did they say?”
Tuning out Ethel became a full time job for Roy. Six months had passed since graduation and she hadn’t let up for a minute. Do this, don’t do that. Roy was tired of it. Ethel’s life hadn’t turned out so great. Who was she to be giving him advice? While she had willingly accepted the role of housewife when she married Harry, she’d always been bitter (and vocal) about not having had a career. And her relationship with her husband had been superficial at best. Now, she and Roy were as estranged as mother and son could be and still live under the same roof.
That was fine with Roy if it meant he didn’t have to find work. Let Ethel feed him while he attempted to determine if he had any talent as a writer. But Ethel wouldn’t hear of it. She wanted him out of the house. Letting him hang around without a job would only confirm her worst fears—her son Roy was on the fast track to being a ne’er-do-well.
“Hey, Roy, why so glum? Still can’t find work?” Alan inquired, as they began a long evening of drinking. A former college roommate, Alan, tall, with bushy hair, a plump face, and large ears, was already on the path to a successful business career. Roy wasn’t interested in a successful business career. He just needed a job and in an effort to find one had reluctantly agreed to meet Alan at Flash Dance, a strip joint Roy hated but Alan loved.
“Yeah. Not much I’m qualified for that sounds interesting.”
“Well, I’ve mentioned it before, Roy, but there’s an opening for an entry-level insurance investigator at my agency. It doesn’t pay much to start, but it also doesn’t require any prior experience, only a BA. You still not interested?”
“I’m coming around,” Roy said, half-heartedly. “Yeah, I’m interested. I kind of have to be.”
“Hell of an attitude. That’ll take you far,” Alan said, not hiding his annoyance.
Even with no other prospects, the job still didn’t appeal to Roy. He had always had unrealistic expectations and even now—under significant pressure—he didn’t like lowering his standards. Playing by the rules had never been Roy’s strong suit. He wasn’t even sure he knew what the rules were. But Ethel did. After arriving home that night from his evening of drinking, Ethel greeted Roy at the door. The conversation was brief and one-sided. She gave him a week to find work and a month to clear out.
Despite Roy’s romantic notions about private investigators, the insurance job at Alan’s firm was a bust. Roy rarely got out in the field. When he did, writing up fender benders were his only assignments. He had foolishly expected serious cases, Double Indemnity type cases. Although often adept at deluding himself, Roy realized it might be years before a substantive case came his way, if ever. He wasn’t about to wait. He quit after only eighteen months, beginning a pattern that would come to define his professional career.
After Roy’s failed stint as an investigator, his jobs became more serious, if not more inspiring. He went on to work as an executive recruiter, an IT project director, an investment advisor, an e-commerce operations manager, and finally a senior financial executive—a position for which he was initially, and uniquely, unqualified. Despite an unfocused career, Roy had numerous opportunities for significant financial gain, but material success always proved elusive. His inability to control his deep-seated restlessness often resulted in abnormally short job tenures—even though his bosses were generally disappointed to see him go.
A valuable and dedicated worker, Roy had found it easy to move from situation to situation early in his professional life. Even well into his mid-fifties he’d managed to land important jobs that paid well, although he failed to save any money. Eventually, though, Roy’s erratic career caught up with him, as he knew it would. His résumé became a liability, lacking any sensible career trajectory. It was, however, the unexplained gaps—time off for exotic travel and personal exploration often lasting a year or more—that proved fatal. Roy enjoyed his time away from the daily grind, but potential employers weren’t impressed. More importantly, his network of contacts was now in serious decline as more and more associates became uneasy about recommending Roy, given his unpredictability.
In what became his final significant position, chief financial officer for a television production company, Roy had the thankless job of ushering the business into bankruptcy. After that, fewer and fewer people returned his calls, believing he was partly responsible for the company’s demise. At sixty years of age, with no formal training or education in finance and a black mark on his CV, Roy begrudgingly took what he could find. Although still quite capable, he was lucky to even be offered a position at Three Partners Realty, a property management firm with a small real estate brokerage operation on the side. Roy was one of just five sales agents.
Fortunately, the company’s owners didn’t care about Roy’s background. They saw a salesman—good-looking, affable, a smooth talker. They believed Roy had promise as an agent. And, despite Roy’s concern about escorting disagreeable strangers through an endless array of Manhattan apartments, he knew this might be an opportunity to make some real money—something Roy badly needed.
Hosting an open house in a sterile, over-priced Harlem apartment was one of those annoying chores agents had to endure in order to earn more financially rewarding opportunities. This open house, however, came with a small bonus—Alison Meier. Despite her late arrival, Roy had happily showed her the unit and reviewed her rental application. Realizing Alison wouldn’t meet the co-op board’s requirements for a subtenant, he suggested she revise her application—an ill-advised idea.
At the open house Alison had appeared unreceptive to Roy’s advice, but later that evening called him. After innocently inquiring as to his marital status, Alison suggested a drink to discuss her situation. Roy accepted without hesitation. Not in the mood to travel, however, he recommended a bar around the corner from his apartment. As an alternative, Alison proposed meeting at her parents’ apartment, where she was now the sole resident. Although surprised, Roy was intrigued.
The apartment was on the top floor of a dilapidated five-story walk-up on the Lower East Side. The stairwell was narrow, with peeling paint and bare light bulbs. The apartment wasn’t much better. Small rooms. Few windows. Cracked ceiling. Outdated kitchen. Threadbare furnishings. The place resembled an old lady’s apartment more than the home Alison’s parents might have occupied. A tough unit to rent, Roy imagined. He had assumed, without basis, that Alison’s parents had money. Apparently, they hadn’t. Even if they were alive, they might not have qualified as guarantors.
“What would you like to drink?” Alison asked, after Roy had awkwardly shaken her hand as he entered the apartment. “There’s everything you could imagine. My parents were big drinkers.”
“So you told me.”
“Right. I forgot.”
“What are you having?”
“Fine by me.”
A different Alison had greeted Roy. Not the quiet, awkward Alison from the open house. Instead, she appeared self-assured, brash almost. Having put on make-up and changed her clothes, she looked even more enticing than earlier, but still razor thin. Her tight-fitting cashmere sweater accentuated her small breasts. Roy thought she looked great.
As Alison made their drinks, Roy wandered around the living room. On a sideboard he noticed some miniature works of art, tiny sculptures—unique and quite intricate. Roy assumed someone in the family had good taste.
“Nice little collection you have here,” Roy commented admiringly.
“You mean all the small sculptures? Yeah, they’re great,” Alison mumbled, busy trying to remove an ice cube tray from a freezer compartment that appeared never to have been defrosted.
Roy continued his tour of the living room, but avoided sitting down. He felt uncomfortable and was afraid it showed. He suspected what was coming and it made him nervous, even if he’d made the forty-minute subway ride half expecting it. Despite Alison’s attempt at subtlety on the phone, there was little doubt about her intentions. After handing Roy his drink, she wasted little time getting to the point.
“Was it inappropriate of me to invite you over?”
“Why would it be inappropriate?”
“No reason. Just asking. Would you have preferred a bar?”
“How long we’re going to stand around here being coy.”
“Why? Do you think my plan is to seduce you?”
“If it is, I’m not objecting.”
“Tell me you didn’t expect this. You can’t be surprised. Why else would I invite you here rather than a bar?”
“You tell me.”
Roy stared at Alison. He hadn’t been surprised, but he was unprepared for the speed at which events were unfolding. She was thirty-five. He was sixty and out of practice. She’d invited him over because she wanted to get laid—by someone old enough to be her father no less—and seemed willing to dispense with any formal preliminaries. Roy was a bit panicked. The ball was in his court and he was uncertain about what to do. Alison wasn’t.
“Or maybe you’d rather discuss re-working the numbers on my rental application?”
“I don’t think so.”
With that, Alison picked up their drinks and walked into the bedroom. Roy followed cautiously. Pessimistic as usual, Roy hoped he was up to the task. If not, he was, at least, consoled by the notion that humiliation went down easier with age.
…to be continued…
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