VAG AT THE CROSSROADS
Vag was striding up and down in front of the fireplace, glowing pipe in hand. His somewhat forlorn frame was suitably encased in baggy tweeds. There was a brandy-snifter on the mantelpiece with a thin film of amber curving along the bottom. Vag decided that he cut a pretty smooth figure in front of the fire, especially when the tiny yellow flames spurted and gave his face a ruddy gleam easily mistaken, he thought, for the flush of ambition of a young man about to graduate from Harvard. "But what do you want to be?" came the quiet voice from the huge chair in the gloom beyond the firelight. Vag shuddered. That question again. His classmates who were set on being doctors or lawyers were certainly lucky. So were the future business men, the Detur possessors about to be section men, the drifters in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. These things were not for Vag, with his C-plus average his mind completely devoid of a legalistic or scientific or even business tendency. Well, that was one thing to his credit--he knew what he didn't want to be, anyway. Yes sir. No musty old legal tomes for Vag, why he wouldn't. . .
"You've got to be something, you know," said the ice-cold voice from the shadows. Its funereal tones brightened, then, a trific. "Food, shelter, and clothing," it chanted derisively. Vag cringed. He knew that in three months Commencement would take place; it was going to seem like a great armored door shutting behind him when he left college finally. Have to get a job doing something. Well, then, he'd be free to salvage civilization. Young man; no responsibilities. Political work, newspaper campaigns, social work with Vag as the driving force behind it all. Food, shelter, clothing? A sandwich, his garret, his leather-elbowed jacket. Life was going to be far above a grubby, materialistic plane. This time the voice was cutting. "And the wife and kids?" it sneered almost viciously. Oh. Vag had forgotten. Yes, there was the Wellesley apparition to be considered, loved, fed, and--he winced as he recalled her Dache millinery--perhaps even clothed. Kids? They do come, but you don't have to have 'em. Of course, the perfect mate, as she was going to be, would never mind living in tatters if civilization and humanity were to be served. But then, it was possible that she wouldn't look as well in rags as she did in her Cashmere sweater and Trimingham's sport skirt. For a wild moment Vag wondered what was the quickest way to the fame and fortune which were certain to come his way sooner or later. A job with the Times, a year or so of brilliant dispatches filed from Bucharest, and then--Vag, freelance writer; Vag, special adviser to the State Department; Vag's best-selling memoris. After a little while he noticed his pipe had gone out.
The pipe, damn it, was almost a symbol; he knocked out its ashes vehemently. Vag turned toward the easy chair and was ready to parrot back that you've got to be something, you know; the wife and kids; food, shelter, clothing; life in a groove. But the voice had changed for the better. It was a kindly voice Vag heard. "By the way, son, if they all turn you down, you might even come in with me down at the office. Start as a runner, of course at fifteen per." Even though he had heard that speech before, Vag didn't think it sounded so bad. After all, a man has to eat, doesn't he?