Tommy Wilhelm descends from the twenty-third floor of the Gloriana Hotel and enters the lobby in search of his father. At the reception desk he collects the mail, buys a newspaper, and is told that his father, Dr. Adler, is already in the dining room having breakfast. Tommy braces himself to meet his father; a host of recollections bursting upon him. He is painfully aware of his father’s contempt for him. The old man—now in his seventies—considers Tommy a failure.
In his middle forties, his marriage on the rocks, Tommy does not consider himself a failure, although his personal life is in shambles. Besides walking out on his wife, he lost his job at Rojax, is running into debt, and is learning about alimony payments. Tommy understands, vaguely, that part of his problem is that he is a dreamer, a man who trusts too many people and who has too little common sense.
He remembers his first failure, that of trying to be an actor in Hollywood. He trusted a so-called talent scout named Maurice Valence. He dropped out of college and went off to California on Valence’s prompting. Tommy should have known that Valence was too anxious to assert his legitimacy, and that, far from having a connection with the film business, he was just a fast-talking con artist who organized a ring of call girls. This first failure—one of many Tommy is to endure over the years—was the beginning of his father’s low opinion of him.
His father, Dr. Adler, is having breakfast with a man named Perls, and Tommy suspects that the old man is trying to avoid him or to avoid being alone with him. Adler introduces Tommy to Perls and the conversation eventually centers on Tommy. His father is bragging about Tommy being an important man at Rojax, and Tommy suddenly realizes that his father is trying to promote himself as a father rather than praise Tommy as a son. Tommy is aggrieved as he hears himself reviewing his life story to this stranger. He is especially sensitive to Perls’s and Adler’s suspicions about Tommy’s association with Dr. Tamkin. Tamkin, they declare, is either crazy or a crook, and Tommy is foolish for even talking to him, much less trusting the fellow. Tommy defends Tamkin, but in his heart he fears he has blundered in giving Tamkin power of attorney over his funds.
(The entire section is 945 words.)