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The Vagabond

By Michael J. Halberstam

Vag bounded up to the Sanctum, leaving small puffs of dust behind him on the steps. The familiar smell of old books, old dust, and old beer rolled out as he opened the doors. Inside, paper cups and half empty bottles on a base of old newspapers covered the floor. The managing editor was asleep on a coach. "Nothing ever changes," thought Vag, and started his search.

He was still looking, burrowing among the complete set of Scott in the never used library, when the managing editor awoke. He was a pleasant young man whom Vag had met at the graduate dinner, and so Vag nodded and said, "Hello."

"What 're you looking for?" said the young man.

"A book," said Vag.

"Lose it?"

"No--I left it here a couple of years ago."

"How come you're looking for it now?"

"I'm leaving town next week. Interning in New York."

"Eight years, huh?"

"That's right," Vag said, "eight years."

The managing editor got off the couch and started fumbling for his tie. "How does it feel?" he said.

"How does what feel?" Vag said.

"Leaving here. Eight years and all that."

"Know what?" Vag said. "It'll be a pleasure."

"After eight years? No regrets."

"No regrets" Vag said, viciously drop-kicking a beer can out the window and onto Plympton Street. "Eight years in this town and you're dead. Make that six years. It's the same thing. The same thing happens. This place is just like any small town in Kansas. The same people belong to the Country Club as belong to the Kiwanis and the Thursday Evening" Literary Society. Spend a couple of years in a place like that and you think you're really king of the rock. You know everyone in town and everyone knows you and you think you're really something. Every place you go people know you. You forget that they're just the same people."

"Cambridge is the same thing. You can't even go to the movies without meeting some old roommate or something. Every year you're here you know more and more people, because nobody goes away--they just pile up. Pretty soon you can't help thinking that you know everyone worth knowing, you've heard everything worth hearing, done everything worth doing. And because you keep meeting the same people in different places doing different things, you don't have to be very good in whatever you're doing--there'll always be someone around who's met you somewhere else.

"How come New York is different," said the managing editor.

"It's too big. New York's not a one-university town, it's a no-university city. You meet one group of people where you work and another where you live and another at the theatre, and nobody cares how many other Merit Badges you have so long as you can produce in the area where they know you. The City breaks up complacency and this place breeds it."

The managing editor broke in. "This the book you're looking for?" he asked. He was holding a copy of "Not to Eat, Not for Love."

"That's it," Vag said.

"You sound bitter," the managing editor said.

"I'm not bitter. I used to like to here, but it's just been too long." Vag picked up his coat and started for the stairs.

"Don't forget the book," the managing editor said.

"I'll leave it," Vag said. "It's a book about Harvard and it's very good. Let someone else read it. Besides, you never can tell. I may be back."

Downstairs the teletype machine was going, though there was no paper the next day and no one to read it. Nothing ever changes, Vag thought, and left.

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