Bonfire of the Vanities: Chapters 12-13

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Chapter 12: The Last of the Great Smokers

At work early in the morning, Sherman calls his buyer in Paris. Bernard is willing to buy the Giscard bonds, but at a lower price that would mean a six million dollar loss for Pierce & Pierce. Sherman can’t believe what he is hearing. He says he’ll get back to Bernard, then goes to the bathroom to read The City Light. His heart jumps when he reads that there is now a list of 124 vehicles fitting the description. He decides to see his lawyer immediately.

 

Sherman’s lawyer, Freddy Button, is his father’s colleague at Dunning Sponget & Leach. Suave and effeminate, Freddy irritates Sherman with his smoking tricks, but still Sherman spills his story, eager to confess to someone. Freddy listens, and warns Sherman that when push comes to shove, Maria might try to place the blame on him. He recommends Sherman go to see a tough Irish criminal lawyer named Tommy Killian.       

 

Back at the office, Sherman is in trouble for having taken off in the middle of the day. Bernard Levy in Paris has left a message—his last offer was final.

 

Chapter 13: The Day-Glo Eel

Kramer and the two detectives, Martin and Goldberg, arrive at the Edgar Allan Poe projects in Harlem to see Reverend Bacon’s demonstration. Under pressure from Weiss, the cops have been ordered to check all 124 cars. Now Weiss has sent them to the demonstration to see if they can find any witnesses to the hit-and-run. As they arrive in the projects, Martin, the tough Irish cop, chases off a young African-American man who is fixing a hubcap and steals his parking spot. Kramer envies Martin’s Irish machismo.

 

The so-called “protest” is pathetically small, consisting of a handful of Bacon’s people (led by Buck, the bodyguard with the gold earring), a dozen white communist college students, and a gay and lesbian group called the “Gay Fist Task Force.” Peter Fallow shows up, sick with a hangover and remembering in horrified flashes some humiliation at Leicester’s the night before. Soon Channel 1 News is on the scene. Bacon has promised them an exclusive. The television reporter, Robert Corso, seems eager to find out from Fallow that the story is legitimate; he doesn’t trust the “outrageous” and “manipulative” Bacon. Fallow, having created the myth of the honor student, hypocritically assures him the story is absolutely real.

 

Fallow wonders where all the crowds are, but then the television crew puts up its telescoping remote transmitter. The telescope, wrapped with a bright orange cable that looks like a “Day-Glo eel,” draws a crowd of curious onlookers. These rubberneckers, entranced by the idea of being on television, will serve as Reverend Bacon’s outraged masses. Kramer notes picket signs saying “weiss justice is white justice” and “quit stalling, abe!” and imagines District Attorney Abe Weiss’s panic when he sees this on television.

Once everything is in place, Reverend Bacon makes his grand entrance with Annie Lamb, and the show begins.

 

Sherman McCoy is at home, admiring a clay rabbit sculpture his daughter Campbell has made, when he sees the protest on the news, accompanied by a description of the car the police are seeking. His wife, Judy, remarks that their Mercedes has a license plate that begins with RF. She’s merely surprised at the coincidence, and Sherman decides not to confess anything.

 

Analysis of Chapters 12–13

The Giscard deal is definitely blown, and Sherman has lost $6 million for the company. Of course, this is a drop in the bucket for Pierce & Pierce; earlier Sherman had helped them net $3 million in one afternoon. But it’s disastrous for Sherman personally, who needed the money to pay off his crippling home loan. Meanwhile, Sherman’s world is changing. Freddy Button, the suave, debonair lawyer to socialites, can no longer help him. Now he is a criminal, and needs a criminal lawyer. Unwilling to admit this yet, Sherman resists calling Killian.

 

The “protest” set up by Reverend Bacon is of course completely phony, staged for the media. Wolfe gleefully satirizes the type of white liberals (a handful of crunchy-granola communists and activist gays and lesbians) who normally attend such a rally and the contempt felt for them by commie-hating, homophobic macho men like Martin and Goldberg. Continuing the “fish” analogy of Chapter 7, the “Day-Glo eel” on the TV telescope is like a fishing lure that draws people in, creating the illusion, on camera, of these rubberneckers as part of the protest. 

 

Fallow, suffering from a punishing hangover at the rally, has a faint but haunting memory of Caroline using the photocopier the night before. It’s not clear what she did, but it seems she may have photocopied his privates while he was in a drunken stupor and distributed them to the Leicester’s crowd so that everyone could have a laugh at his expense. This might be another significance of the chapter title, “The Day-Glo Eel.” The half-remembered incident further characterizes Fallow as a pathetic character whom nobody respects.

 

Campbell’s primitive sculpture of a startled bunny rabbit is symbolic of her innocence, her faith in the basic goodness of the world, which is about to be shattered when her father is taken away to jail.

 

 

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