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The Bonfire of the Vanities

Wolfe, Tom | Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1987


p. 59

He heard the stories while he was still at Yale—“how. . .Frederick Jackson Turner, William Lyons Phelps, Samuel Flagg Bermis, and the other three-name giants of American scholarship, how these inheritors of the lux and the veritas now flocked to Wall Street and to the bond trading room of Pierce and Pierce! How the stories circulated on every campus! If you weren’t making $250,000 a year within five years, than you were either grossly stupid or grossly lazy. That was the word. By age 30, $500,000–and that sum had the taint of the mediocre. By age forty you were either making a million a year or you were timid and incompetent. Make it now! That motto burned in every heart, like myocarditis. Boys on Wall Street, mere boys, with smooth jaw lines and clean arteries, boys still able to blush, were buying three-million-dollar apartments on Park and Fifth. (Why wait?) They were buying thirty-room, four-acre summer places in Southampton, places built in the 1920s and written off in the 1950s as white elephants, places with decaying servants’ wings, and they were doing over the servants’ wings, too, and had carnival rides trucked in and installed on the great green lawns for their children’s birthday parties, complete with teams of carnival workers to operate them. (A thriving little industry.)”