WHEN a review copy of the newest Tom Wolfe book, Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, arrived here at 14 Plympton Street a few weeks ago, Mike was the first to get his hands on it. Though only momentarily. Fresh from an especially argumentative seminar, I hit the building a few minutes later, immediately noticed the book, headed over to claim possession.
"The new Wolfe book! I've been just waiting for it to come in!"
Sure, the look in Mike's eyes said, I suppose your existence, what you might choose to call your reason for living, precisely what's been keeping you from plunging the dagger into your throbbing heart, is the publication of this meager little book . . . this little 153-page book that's hardly worth the $5.95 they expect you to pay for it . . . and you've been waiting for it . . as if to pretend you didn't already read half of it in one of the summer issues of New York.
Mike grabbed the book from my eager hands, panic now in his eyes. "Look," he shouted, his voice rising to break, oh so pain-ful-ly you almost felt guilty of some primeval injustice- you almost felt you were cheating Esau out of his damn birth-right. "Look," Mike shouted, "I've already had to fight off Garrett . . . and Scott . . . and you're not . . ."
"But I always do Wolfe," I objected, in the most reasonable of hysterical tones. . . .
And meanwhile Ryan wandered in, casually lifted the book out of both our hands, saying, "Is this the new Wolfe book? How'd you like me to review it?"
No!, our voices in unison. Enter Frank, who figured out what was going on and reached for the book himself. "We don't fight over these things," he chided. "As ed. chairman, I'll decide who reviews it."
Scared to death that Frank would want it for himself, we quickly quieted down.
And though none of us could have explained exactly why we wanted to review Wolfe's book, any more than we could have explained exactly why we slavishly read the Times and Post each day, pay for our summers through the Newspaper Fund, intern at Newsday or the Post, speak derisively of Reston and Broder and Evans and Novak, absolutely exult in drinking with King or Lucas or Halberstam, the moment did seem just the kind of thing for which we were perpetually waiting.
"I don't care who reviews it," Frank continued judiciously. "As long as whoever it is doesn't like it!"
"But, that's exactly what I intend to do. . ."
Michael shot around to stare at me, the accusation Traitor! burning through his eyes: "But, a few weeks ago you were saying how much you liked it?"
"Well, I like it," I recovered, "but I think it has real . . . problems. "
"Well, Gloria Steinem and Pete Hamill didn't like it. And, besides, if you like the book, there's no story." And with that Frank ended the dispute.
It was the kind of moment Wolfe himself would have treasured. And, allowing for certain variations, it had undoubtedly been repeated many times over during the past few months, by other people, in other places.