Bonfire of the Vanities: Chapters 20-21

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Chapter 20: Calls from Above

Gene Lopwitz, head of Pierce & Pierce, calls Sherman into his office for a talking-to about Sherman’s recent costly flubs on the United Fragrance and Giscard deals. While Sherman sits there uncomfortably, Lopwitz takes phone calls from his decorator and from Bobby Shaflett, the “Golden Hillbilly” of an opera singer to whom he’s thrilled to have lent his private jet. It’s not the money, Lopwitz says—though clearly it is. He’s concerned about Sherman. Is he having trouble at home?

 

Just then, Tommy Killian calls for Sherman with an urgent message. Sherman apologizes, then walks out of Gene’s office, leaving his boss stunned. Funny, his job seems so pointless now—everyone fighting over golden crumbs.

 

Killian’s message is that Sherman will be arrested the next morning. It’s not normal procedure—they should first put him before a grand jury to determine if there’s enough evidence for an indictment—but Weiss needs a quick arrest to get the press off his back. “Weiss is an animal,” Killian apologizes, “and he’s a whore for the press.” Killian reassures him it won’t be as bad as he fears; he’s got a promise from Bernie. He reminds Sherman not to talk to anyone outside his family about the case. Sherman’s heart sinks. How will he tell Judy and Campbell?

 

Before going home, Sherman returns to the office to explain everything to his boss. Lopwitz recommends a good lawyer and suggests he take a leave of absence until the whole thing is resolved. Then he takes another call from the Golden Hillbilly, who is calling from Lopwitz’s airplane. Lopwitz is pleased as punch to be honored with a call, and Sherman sits watching as Lopwitz grins and chuckles away.

 

Chapter 21: The Fabulous Koala

Sherman goes to the bank to withdraw the $10,000 he needs for bail, then goes to see his father in his office. The former chief executive of Dunning Sponget & Leach, John Campbell once had a grand corner suite overlooking New York Harbor. Now, his glory faded, the erstwhile “Lion of Dunning Sponget” occupies a modest office with an unimpressive view of the building across the street.

 

Sherman breaks the shocking news that he’s to be arrested the next day. He explains what happened that night in the Bronx, lying that Maria was just a flirtation, someone he barely knew. Sherman’s father is bewildered and hurt not only by the news that his son will be arrested, but that he didn’t come to him earlier. He says he’ll call two federal judges he knows and get their advice. Sherman knows these men are old, nearly retired—they wouldn’t be able to offer help against a media-savvy district attorney like Weiss and a Harlem rabble-rouser like Bacon. He feels sad for his father, who has grown old and is out of the game, but who still heaves on his old armor in a last battle to protect his son.

 

Back home, Sherman breaks the news to Judy. He lies that he never even kissed Maria—she was just a flirtation—there was no affair. Judy is stunned and feels deceived; she can’t believe he’s said nothing the whole time—not while the demonstration was on TV, not when the police came, not after he sat next to Maria at the dinner party. She’ll help Sherman in any way she can, but she can’t offer him any of the love and tenderness he’ll need to get through this. 

 

Sherman finds Campbell in her room writing a story about a koala. In the childish tale, a koala comes to New York City. Trying to escape a big, scary dog, he jumps into a window, setting off an alarm by mistake. The police come zooming by, and the koala is finally caught and put into the zoo. Sherman is stunned; the story seems to be about him. He too set off an alarm by mistake and has the police after him. Will he, too, end up in a cage?

 

He explains to Campbell that bad people are saying he hit a boy with his car, but it isn’t true. Even if she sees it on television, she shouldn’t believe it. Seeing the despair in his face, Campbell says, “Don’t worry, Daddy. I love you.” Sherman holds his daughter, doing his best to hide his tears.

 

Analysis of Chapters 20–21

Gene Lopwitz, Sherman’s boss, is the cartoonishly heartless Wall Street honcho. He’s pretentious, status-conscious, and fawns on celebrities. Absurdly, he tries to affect the air of an English baron with his choice of décor, though he has none of the class. Lopwitz is ready to cut Sherman loose the moment he fails to perform.

 

Sherman’s father, the august and respected lawyer, is a completely different sort of man from Lopwitz. Though he has his faults, the Lion of Dunning Sponget is twice the man Lopwitz is, and a greater man by far than his son. The visit with his father is a touching one, as Sherman realizes how his father has aged.

 

Also touching is Sherman’s visit with his daughter. He knows that from now on, Campbell will no longer have the same innocent trust in the goodness of the world. As for his wife, Judy, she is too deceived to give him any support. Sherman realizes too late that he has not valued the people who truly cared about him and could support him, placing all of his energies in his work—a place where he was not really a Master of the Universe, after all, but just one of many young hotshots, easily replaced.

 

 

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