Sunday, October 5, 2008

Freddy Van Osburgh

Henry James

Freddy Van Osburgh

“The dinginess, the crudity
of the average sector of
young American manhood…
such sallow-faced boys and
young men, cross-eyed and
pin-headed with stupidity”
—Edith Wharton,
The House of Mirth

Ah yes, the Emporium Hotel. And the fascinating Mrs. Norma Hatch. That’s how I found out all about the rich young men of the Gilded Age. Like Freddy Van Osburgh— the small slim heir of the Van Osburgh millions…

I got a good bird’s eye view of Mrs. Norma Hatch and how she and her company of greedy grasping sycophants did business in the Big Apple fast lane back then during the Gilded Age.

How they “cultivated” that cute helpless empty-headed but rather well-endowed young man, just barely out of college. And heir to simply millions & millions of dollars—simply oodles & oodles of New York City real estate fortunes growing like crazy back then.

Ah yes, Freddy Van Osburgh. Freddy is the type that stirs the Feminine Imagination!!! Money is how things work. The scam they laid on poor Freddy Van Osburgh… Making him think he was the one cultivating a poor helpless innocent divorcee like Norma Hatch. That’s like training a cobra how to bite—or a spider how to catch a fly.

How did I end up the Emporium Hotel? Hired as personal secretary to wealthy recently divorced Mrs. Norma Hatch? Wealthy, yes—but not wealthy enough.

Not wealthy enough to support her bon vivant lifestyle—and pay for all the parasites buzzing around her day and night looking for a piece of the action. Crumbs, spare change, a pearl or two thrown to swine…

That’s why I was there too. Mrs. Peniston’s lousy allowance just wasn’t enough to cover my $10,000 debt. So the things Lily and girls like me have to go thru to make some money. It’s hard being an honest working-class bottom-fish these days—with so many greedy snarky sharks gliding around overhead.

Freddy was cute. My feminine imagination definitely got stimulated each morning—when I showed up for work. There were letters to write and important correspondence to take care of with Mrs. Hatch’s various and sundry affairs. Bills to pay, bills not to pay, bills to be paid in trade, bills to take care of whatever needed to be done, bills to be paid before the snarkery could start, bills that came out of the past and needed to be hushed up—yes the Finances of an ambitious Gilded Age Ho were endless, my dears…

There would be young cute Freddy—nude in Norma’s enormous bed in the morning. With a huge hangover—and an even more enormous you know what. They say it ran in the Van Osburgh family tree—so very gnarly, naughty and far from niggardly when it came to coming. Did I say that?

What would Madame PENISton say? If she only knew—what I knew about the Gilded Age rich and famous? It wasn’t pretty—in fact it was rather tacky and sad. Freddy’s blackened bedroom eyes—staring at me with a simply huge hangover. The first thing I did was clean him up and get some strong coffee inside that poor college kid. Talk about a poor little helpless Princeton prick. Freddy was a mess…

Norma Hatch had one thing on her mind—getting married to Freddy Van Osburgh and getting her clammy greedy hands on the Family Fortune. But first she had to get her hands on the Family Jewels—and beat off all the tiresome bothersome competition hovering like flies around that cute young little honey-pot of teenage Love.

Scattered around Norma’s bedroom were her insidious accoutrement of sin, seduction and downfall for the young male of the species. Freddy didn’t have a chance—like so many other doomed young heirs to Gilded Age fortunes. Freddy Van Osburgh wouldn’t be the first sucker—taken for a ride. That’s why his mother’s spies were always snooping around—smelling the kid’s armpits, smelling his clothes, sizing up how much should be left in the Family Will to another Fallen Angel lost to Black Widow and Wasp Woman greed & seduction…

Expensive French champagne, hookahs from Marrakech, opium pipes from Hong Kong, rare powders, herbs and aphrodisiacs—all of it strewn around Norma’s bedroom in disarray. Some of it in various escritoires, cabinets and cubbyholes—but most of it a moveable feast circling Norma’s huge Louis XIV enticing lotus-eater’s Bed just waiting to get into Freddy’s body and fuck up his brain real good.

Norma had lots of help—all sorts of nefarious characters from the Village and the Bowery—only too willing to share with her the secrets of cosmopolitan guile and smarmy chicanery. The only reason Norma needed me—was somebody fairly honest to keep track of the money-flow and who was getting what. The important thing was that young naïve little piece of collegiate manhood—and keeping it dumb and naïve as possible for marital intrigue.
It was rather startling—the vast Van Osburgh fortune and proud old New York brains concentrated down there in one place. Yes, all those millions of dollars down there between Freddy Van Osburgh’s young strong rich eager legs—along with what was left of the poor kid’s brains.

And there was Mrs. Hatch with her usual retinue of nelly hairdressers, gossiping manicurists, chattering health doctors, overly-interested fag-hags, ambitious-eyed trainers, curious hanger-on’s looking for crumbs that might fall from the banquet table…

I felt skipping the Chapter about Freddy and Madame Hatch. She was short, rich, helpless—in need of a good secretary and companion: the very subject for my experienced handwriting and expertise in delicate matters. This idea of being a cultural companion and mentor to a wealthy woman of society—it all sounds rather fascinating doesn’t it.

But believe you me—it was a drag. Cleaning up the mess—after Norma got done with Freddy. Apparently Freddy was getting a “vague presentment” about Norma—but she’d always get him fucked up before he could wake up and smell the coffee. Freddy was doomed—sucked dry every night by a fleet of Dracula’s Daughters in heat.

I really felt sorry for Freddy Van Osburgh—the small slim heir of the Van Osburgh millions. He said he wanted to marry me instead of Norma—I should have agreed. But Freddy, barely out of college, had already risen above my horizon and eclipse, and it came as no surprise what an effulgence he shed on the outer twilight of Mrs. Hatch’s existence.

This, then, was one of the things that young men “got sucked into” for when released from the official social routine, there were those waiting to step in and take over. Any kind of “previous engagement” was quickly ended—so as not to disappoint the hopes of anxious hostesses.

At first, I found Mrs. Hatch’s soirees interesting—after the usual boring “irony of conventions” elsewhere. Norma Hatch was serious about tableaux vivant—she posed Freddy in ways very much like decadent French artists I shan’t name. Her favorite tableaux vivant—was the suffering and slow demise of Saint Sebastian in a Parisian back alley behind the opera house. Ah, the slings and arrows of martyred young manhood—everybody wanting to get their hands on it.

I liked this phrase: “the vast gilded void” of Mrs. Hatch’s existence. It wasn’t Mrs. Hatch’s “irreproachableness”—her offences were always more against good taste rather than conduct. What does that mean? Well, just look at what happened to poor Freddy Van Osburgh…

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