Scotty Hausman sits in the park, watching women jog past him. Some of them remind him of his ex-wife. Scotty reads an issue of SPIN magazine, and sees an article about Bennie Salazar. The two have fallen out of touch. After this a week passes, during which Scotty tries not to think about Bennie, but he suddenly can’t get his childhood friend off his mind. He writes a letter and then goes to Bennie’s office building on Park Avenue and fifty-Second Street. Scotty stands outside and looks up at it, wondering what floor the office is on. He drops the letter into the mailbox.
The disconnection between Scotty and Bennie, who were once good friends, becomes immediately apparent. Bennie’s imagine on the magazine establishes his fame, while Scotty’s life is in ruin after his divorce. The idea of disconnection is furthered by the image of the building. Scotty spends his time on park benches while Bennie sits at the top of a tower.
Five days later, a letter arrives in Scotty’s dented mailbox. It is from Bennie, and it says he still thinks of the days when they played in a band together. He asks if Scotty still plays the slide guitar. Scotty is working as a janitor and enjoys fishing in the East River. He notes that there is only a little bit of difference between being a janitor and working in a tall building on Park Avenue—maybe no difference at all.
Though Bennie has become a famous man, he still holds onto his fond memories. Scotty feels deeply insecure about his current situation, but reasons his way around the anxiety. He tries to argue that identity and authenticity have little to do with a person’s social standing. In this way, he attempts to level the disconnection between them.
The next day, Scotty goes fishing in the polluted East River. He catches an enormous striped bass, and brings it home under his arm. At home he puts on khaki pants and a jacket that he obsessively dry-cleans, and goes to visit Bennie. Scotty notes that the woman who works at the dry cleaners gets frustrated with him because he keeps bringing the jacket in even though it is still clean. At Bennie’s office, Scotty gets through security easily, and credits it to Bennie’s good luck rubbing off on him. He notes that his luck is not generally so bad, more neutral than anything else, but occasionally it edges toward bad. He wonders if his visiting might actually be lucky for Bennie, or if he might take all of Bennie’s luck away from him. If this is the case, Scotty wonders if he might keep Bennie’s good luck forever.
The East River stands as a symbol for ruin in the novel, but the fact that Scotty pulls a fish from it suggests his continued attempt to find redemption and hope in life. The suit also depicts this, as he keeps it obsessively clean in expectation that he will have a good reason to wear it. Scotty finds meaning in his ability to move through security. This kind of idea is a fundamental component of his character—he derives meaning from places where others may not see any. His hope for redemption is further depicted in his wondering about keeping Bennie’s luck.
The décor in Bennie’s office impresses Scotty. He puts his fish on the reception desk, and asks the receptionist (Sasha) to see Bennie. She calls Bennie, who tells her that he is in a meeting, but Scotty says he will wait. He sits in a very comfortable leather chair and feels like he could stay there forever, abandoning his East Sixth Street apartment. Scotty notes that he doesn’t leave his apartment much—he doesn’t need to in the “information age.” Each night he orders copious amounts of Hunan string beans and drinks Jägermeister while watching television.
Bennie’s office depicts the power associated with fame. The connection with Sasha helps establish that this story takes place before “The Gold Cure,” when Bennie is still at the top of his game. Scotty’s thought about living in Bennie’s waiting room depicts the sad state of his current situation. He is poor and isolated, though he finds some connection through technology.
Scotty ponders his theory about experience. He believes that since humans are information-processing machines, translating X’s and O’s into experience, he could technically take the information gathered on television and apply his artistry to shape that information into experience. Scotty once tested this theory by going to a gala fundraiser for heart disease. He stood outside of the building, and realized that the stone wall standing between him and those inside was made of atoms and molecules. Suddenly, he felt pain. He told himself that there was no such thing as “inside and outside,” that it all comes down to X’s and O’s that can be acquired in different ways, but he still felt like he was excluded, and this idea was painful.
Scotty believes that technology, such as television, allows him to live a life of broad experience, though his dissatisfaction with life and experience with the gala seems to negate his theory. He tries to prove that nothing stands between him and the people inside, that authenticity and personal meaning are not defined by external factors (such as stone walls), though he still feels the disconnection and associated pain these external factors cause. It becomes clear that his theory is an attempt to quell the insecurity around his current position in life.
A little while later, Scotty returns to Sasha’s desk and puts the fish, which is wrapped in newspaper, on it. He tells her that if Bennie doesn’t hurry up the fish will begin to stink. Eventually, Bennie comes out. Scotty observes Bennie’s body, noticing that he looks fit and wears expensive clothes that seem to glow. Bennie puts his arm about Scotty’s shoulder and leads him to his office.
The attention paid to Bennie’s body suggests time has been easier on him than Scotty, and his clothes further define his difference from his former friend.
Scotty finds Bennie’s office awesome. The entire city seems laid out beyond his office window. He notes that the city looks like an easy thing to have from this perspective, even for a person like himself. Scotty puts the fish on Bennie’s desk. Bennie thanks him, but says the fish will go to waste in his office. Scotty tells him to take it home and eat it. Bennie tells Scotty to talk to him, suspecting Scotty has a demo tape he wants him to hear. Scotty realizes that he and Bennie are no longer friends, and never will be. Scotty senses that Bennie wants to get rid of him. He knew this would happen, and that was the very reason he came to see him.
Scotty attributes Bennie’s success to his location, whereas Bennie surely sees his location as the result of his success. Scotty’s offering of the fish is misunderstood, furthering the sense of disconnection between the two men. Bennie, as a famous cultural figure, is all business, as shown through his question about the demo tape. For Scotty this illuminates the truth about the distance between them.
Scotty is offended that Bennie thinks he came for a handout. Scotty says he wants to know what happened between A and B—meaning how did they go from being in a band as kids and chasing the same girl, to where they are now. Scotty brings up Alice, the girl they both chased as teenagers, and feels it was the correct move. Scotty ended up marrying her, which he views as a victory over Bennie, even though she divorced him. Bennie tells Scotty he worked hard for what he has. A strange pause ensues, during which Scotty grapples with the past and the loss of his friend. He imagines tearing Bennie’s head off.
Both Scotty and Bennie have different perspectives about what happened “between A and B.” Scotty has defined his identity around the fact that he “won” Alice, though this is undercut by the fact she divorced him. All of the steps toward success are embedded in the conversational pause as Scotty grapples with the truth. Bennie’s hard work and success puts Scotty’s failures in perspective, which enrages him and further distances him from his old friend.
Scotty goes to the window and closes his eyes. He can sense Bennie’s fear. Bennie asks Scotty if he is still playing music, and if he is married. Scotty tells him he divorced from Alice, but Bennie says he meant remarried. Bennie apologizes, and then tells Scotty that he is married with a three-month-old son. Scotty realizes that his theory of X’s and O’s does not apply in this situation, and he doesn’t have what Bennie has. He allows himself to think about Alice for a moment, and sees her standing in the sun, not angry or afraid, which is how he made her feel.
Bennie sharing about his marriage and child pushes Scotty to realize that the theories he uses to rationalize his own failures are bogus. He understands this as he imagines Alice, and in this moment he confronts the fact that he ruined the relationship by making her feel angry and afraid. This is a tragic moment, where it’s suggested that Scotty’s growing mental instability drove his wife away and started to ruin his life.
Scotty looks out the window and thinks that if he had this view he would have the energy and inspiration to conquer the world, but the people who need this view don’t have it. He wishes Bennie health and happiness, and smiles widely, revealing his broken teeth. Bennie looks shocked, and this makes Scotty feel strong, as if everything in the room belonged to him. Before he leaves, Bennie gives him a business card. He tells Scotty not to be a stranger, and to send him some of his music. Outside, Scotty realizes that he left his fish inside Bennie’s office, and laughs out loud. He hopes Bennie opens the newspaper and sees the fish, because it is shiny and beautiful.
Scotty’s musings on the view seem nonsensical, but are actually rather insightful in suggesting how success often reinforces itself, as does failure. Scotty’s broken teeth embody the brokenness and ruin in his life, and Bennie finds this shocking. Scotty then feels powerful again, having knocked Bennie off kilter, and He slips back into his belief that he is no different than Bennie. Leaving the fish is a minor step forward for Scotty, as it represents hope of his own redemption, and he believes Bennie will see the beauty of his hope in it.
The next day, Scotty goes fishing with two of his friends, Sammy and Dave. As the sun rises, he feels renewed, and feels the urge to jump into the river and swim. Scotty’s friends watch women jog along the river, and joke that one of the woman might be Scotty’s next wife, but Scotty doesn’t look. Later, he spots a couple he often sees who are addicted to heroin. He notices they look haggard and sexy, the way young people can before they get older and just look haggard. Scotty stops them and asks if they are musicians. The woman says her boyfriend is an awesome musician. Scotty says he believes them. He gives them Bennie’s card, telling them Bennie is his friend and they should call. They thank him and leave.
The sunrise, like the fish, signifies Scotty’s hope, and the fact that he does not look at the women suggests he is moving beyond his resentment toward Alice and is taking responsibility for the role he played in their breakup. Giving the couple Bennie’s card is a redemptive act for Scotty, suggesting he accepts that Bennie is no longer a part of his life and can do nothing for him.
Scotty walks home, noting the beauty of the spring in New York City. He looks forward to getting home and bringing his jacket to the dry cleaner. He hopes the young woman there will challenge him. He looks forward to telling her he has been somewhere while wearing it. He wants her to make it new again.
The spring, like the sunrise in the last section, signifies Scotty’s hope. The jacket operates the same way. Though the meeting with Bennie didn’t go well, he feels he has done something important.