Once and Again...Once Again
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Summary of Ozymandias 2.0
by Angela Stockton
edited by Elizabeth Angela
In Rick's apartment, Eli and Rick are spending an evening in yet another squabble about the SAT. Their argument descends into silliness when blond Eli calls standardized tests racist, and Rick, while conceding that the SAT measures test-taking skill rather than knowledge, still urges Eli to retake it. "I want the scores to match the kid I know," he insists.
"What if they already do?" Eli suggests.
"I know what you can do. I can see things that you don't," Rick replies.
"Dad-O-Vision," Eli scoffs. "Knows all, sees all," Rick agrees.
Another day, another argument: while Rick and David are in a coffee shop, they come to verbal blows over Miles Drentell. David points out that Miles hasn't paid them since May, and he's infuriated by the naive excuses that Rick makes for him. He demands that Rick give Miles an ultimatum, and threatens to do it himself if Rick won't.
Upon returning to their office, they know by the presence of a Drentell assistant, who has stationed herself and her laptop by the door, that Miles has arrived. "You know what she has in there, don't you? The launch codes," David jokes grimly.
[David explains to the unseen interviewer, "Everybody tells me I need to work on my people skills. I think I'm being direct, they say I'm a pain in the ass."]
They find Miles in a conference room, examining their rendering and scale model of his building. While his aides shift office furniture, Miles points out that models and renderings don't show "context." He complains that the wrong context -- for instance, a nail salon next door -- could diminish his building. "You need to adjust your mind to a new scale," he tells Rick and David. "Otherwise my building will seem out of place."
"The building's appropriate to the context, Miles," Rick protests.
"The context is about to change," Miles intones.
[David continues, "It's like he's the ultimate alpha male and everyone's supposed to urinate submissively in his presence. And I simply refuse to squat, and he knows that."]
To Rick and "young David" (as he invariably calls him), Miles outlines his vision of a future world dominated by giant corporations rather than superpower nations, and asks what Rick and David know about "Atlantor." To Miles, Atlantor is one of the giant corporations poised to rule the world; it's also one of his clients. He tells Rick and David that Atlantor is planning to create a new headquarters "from the seed of this building."
"How big?" David asks.
For answer Miles unrolls, in the space cleared by his aides, a sheet of paper the length of the entire office and says, "Big enough to lift its designer to a very high, very exclusive plateau."
"Why would an outfit like that be interested in us?" David asks skeptically.
"Because I am," Miles replies. He proposes to introduce Rick to a group of Atlantor executives the following Saturday over dinner -- not in a restaurant, but in the Sammler & Cassilli office suite. He promises to make all the arrangements, and asks of Rick only that he bring Lily to the dinner.
Rick dutifully calls Lily and extends Miles' "invitation." "Who's he bringing?" she asks. "Madeleine Albright or Madonna, it depends on who's in town," he replies flippantly. Lily confesses that she's intimidated, but game.
Once Rick hangs up, David declares, "I don't like this."
"Don't come," Rick suggests.
"I didn't hear anyone invite me," David grumbles. "I took it for granted he'd have two guys with sunglasses and no necks to keep me out." David adds that Rick will be more comfortable without him there: it's Rick whom Miles really wants to show off, and unlike David, Rick will enjoy being the "golden boy."
Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of more Drentell assistants with measuring tape. "He probably had them stashed in a van up the street," David surmises. A female aide leads Rick away for what she cryptically describes as an errand for Miles.
Rick is pleasantly surprised to find himself in a very upscale tailor's shop, where the tailor baffles Rick by asking "whether you dress to the right or the left." Since Rick has never owned a suit tailored to such exacting specifications, at first he doesn't understand the question. When he finally catches on, he admits that he has never noticed, but finally decides "to the left. That would be balanced -- I'm right-handed." The bemused tailor says only "I see" while he continues taking measurements.
Meanwhile, Lily is at the bookstore, sharing with Judy what little she knows about the dinner and confessing that she doesn't understand why she was invited. "You're the trophy," Judy answers. Reminded by Lily of Miles' reputation as the shaper of corporate images, Judy is impressed that he is taking such an active interest in Rick's career, and tells Lily she should be flattered that Miles wants to meet her.
[In black-and-white, Rick laments that at some point in a man's life, he has to face the fact that "it" isn't going to happen for him: "He ran out of time, or didn't get the breaks, or he's not as special as he thought." As he speaks, he holds up a clenched fist which he slowly relaxes as he admits to wondering if the universe hasn't been waiting for him to open his fist and let the dream drop into his hand.] While Rick muses about what might have been and what may yet be, he basks in surroundings so luxurious that, while choosing an expensive shirt and tie to go with his new suit, he is offered a drink of water in a crystal goblet.
On Saturday night, while Rick is dressing, Eli admires the suit and tells Rick, "You'd make a really cool bad guy in a James Bond movie with a suit like this." "Look out for the cyanide cuff buttons," Rick quips.
Since Eli has no plans for the evening, Rick suggests that he use the time to study. Brushing aside Eli's protest that it's Saturday night, Rick reminds him, "You have to make an extra effort if you want to get the things you want."
"You seem to have a pretty clear idea of what I want," Eli snaps resentfully. "Maybe you can print me out a list sometime."
At her house, Lily is also dressing. Seeing her jewel-necked black gown, Zoe comments, "That doesn't look very sexy," until she notices that the dress has a V-back plunging to Lily's waist. "Never mind," she sighs.
Bursting into Lily's room, Grace exults, "Mom, you gotta see this!" "This" is Rick in the foyer, wearing his new suit. "Wow!" Lily breathes, and whistles appreciatively.
"I don't know if I'm wearing it or just helping it move through the world," Rick answers sheepishly. He tells Lily and the girls that the suit was a gift from Miles.
As Zoe watches Rick escort Lily out, she asks Grace if it's all right for a man to buy clothes for another man. "I think it's okay, as long as it's not like underwear," Grace answers. "Yuck!" Zoe comments.
Rick and Lily arrive at his office and are welcomed by an aide who bears a striking resemblance to the no-neck security guard of David's imagination. Lily is introduced to Miles and his date, Dr. Camille Nardo, whom Miles identifies as the surgeon who performed his triple bypass. When Miles takes Rick aside, Lily and Dr. Nardo find themselves swept into a group of other women. [In black-and-white, Lily rolls her eyes as she wonders why the sexes are still separated at social gatherings.]
Rick and Miles move into the conference room, which has been cleared of all furnishings except a table which holds the scale model of Miles' building. When Miles asks if he has any ideas for filling the space around the building, Rick becomes alarmed, realizing that his selection as Atlantor's architect is not a certainty and that this is not merely a get-acquainted dinner. Asked if he's apprehensive, Rick counters, "What's the thing just below apprehension?" "Lesser apprehension," Miles replies dryly.
From a safe distance, Miles gives Rick a sotto voce introduction to the Atlantor troika: Warren Wyler, the founder, whose business philosophy is "somewhere between manifest destiny and Mein Kampf"; Todd Munroe, a "confirmed bachelor" whose date is a supermodel named Greta; and Sybil Testamonte, "who eats Harvard MBAs for breakfast" and is conspicuously pregnant.
Rick gulps, and Miles doesn't bolster his confidence by pointing out that he seems "clenched." Nor does Rick share Miles' conviction that being on edge is constructive.
Wyler, Munroe, and Testamonte join them and take their measure of Rick, deducing quickly that he's never designed anything like the Atlantor project. "That's why it won't look like someone else's work," Miles shrewdly answers on Rick's behalf. But under direct questioning, Rick resembles a car on marshy ground, wheels spinning. He desperately tries to improvise a presentation but can utter only generalities.
Making conversation with Mrs. Wyler, Dr. Nardo, and Greta, Lily finds herself trying to clarify the nature of her relationship with Rick and his children; being patronized by Mrs. Wyler, who says, "Well, we know what you do all day," under the erroneous impression that Lily is a full-time homemaker; and listening to Greta's inane misconceptions about female anatomy. Bored with the hen-party chatter, Lily excuses herself and walks over to Rick, Miles, and the Atlantor executives, who are all talking business. Everyone ignores her except Rick, and even his greeting is lukewarm.
"When are you due?" Lily asks Testamonte.
"Two weeks and not a day later," the executive replies.
"Your first?" Lily persists.
"No," Testamonte answers brusquely and without elaboration. This amuses the men but humiliates Lily, who quickly excuses herself and returns to the women.
Meanwhile, Eli is in his room, doing homework and casting longing glances at his guitar. Finally he yields to temptation, throwing aside the books and picking up the instrument.
During dinner, Rick continues to flounder in a conversational marsh. He claims that Miles first noticed his firm because, "We're anxious to help people -- clients certainly, but the public in general -- to see things a different way, beyond the conventional."
Munroe and Testamonte pounce on this, declaring that people like the conventional, which Munroe defines as "the new thing they've seen before." Testamonte adds, "The public doesn't really decide anything. Our goal is to keep them thinking they do."
To Lily, the cynical remarks of Wyler, Munroe and Testamonte reflect disdain for individuals whom they consider less intelligent, driven and imaginative than themselves, i. e., most people. She's shocked and can't resist saying that their attitude is "close to eugenics." Across the table, Miles rolls his eyes in warning at Rick, who immediately shoots Lily a repressive glare that silences her in mid-sentence. To defuse the tension, Miles says lightly, "How fortunate for all of us that politics has been rendered irrelevant," evoking chuckles from everyone but Lily.
Out of nowhere, Rick suddenly finds traction. Springing to his feet, he seizes a marker, places Miles' scale model on a drafting table, and rapidly sketches around it his vision of an office and retail complex so vast that he calls it "a new urban valley." So caught up are the Atlantor people in his enthusiasm that even the dim Mrs. Wyler and Greta draw closer.
"I like it," Wyler says.
"You could see it from space," Munroe adds.
"It will become the perception of the city itself," Testamonte predicts.
The only persons not enthralled are Lily, who, still smarting over Rick's reprimand, remains seated at the dinner table; and Miles, who calmly pours Lily more wine and watches Rick with the satisfaction of a coach who expects a gold-medal effort from his prize athlete and is seeing him deliver.
At the same time, Eli is strumming his guitar, spurred on by a creative impulse as intense as his father's.
When Rick drives Lily home, the atmosphere in his car is strained. She rejects his offer to walk her to her door, and they stiffly say good-bye without kissing. As Rick is about to restart the car, Lily suddenly appears at his open window and orders him, "Don't ever give me that look again."
"What look?" Rick asks, but when his bluff only infuriates her, he backs down. Disarmed by his quick apology, Lily kisses him and invites him inside, but he begs off. As she again turns toward her door, Rick follows her, apologizing once more for "the look." He admits that even as he did it, he knew he was acting like a father, but that the evening was so important to him, he couldn't help himself. He promises that it won't happen again. Mollified, Lily says a wistful, affectionate good-night.
Rick returns home to find Eli on the phone, ranting about the SAT. As he signals Eli to hang up, Rick is astonished to learn that his son is talking to "that Drentell guy -- he's pretty cool."
When Rick takes the phone, Miles tells him, "My plan was to call and commend you on the evening."
Rick hears his unspoken "but..." and is crushed. "I did the best I could," he answers feebly, sinking onto his sofa.
"That was my plan, but I just finished talking with our pals at Atlantor. They...are...on...board," Miles announces, savoring every word.
Overwhelmed, Rick paces the living room while trying to absorb this news. "Don't they have to check with somebody?" he asks warily.
"They are the people with whom others check," Miles reminds him. "You've done us both proud." He hangs up after avuncularly counseling Rick to spend the weekend bonding with Eli.
After hanging up, Rick can't decide what to do first. He settles for a quick victory dance and a triumphant "Yessss!!"
When Rick walks into his office on Monday, David is glumly pitching paper clips into a wineglass left over from the party. He doesn't ask Rick about the dinner, and Rick is surprised and vexed that he has to prod David into talking about it. He's still euphoric, describing his mood as "Like the first time we got anything, only a million times better." He sarcastically suggests that David might like to let down his guard and enjoy the moment. "After all that, doing just Miles' building would have been a letdown," he says.
"Miles wouldn't have a building if it wasn't for those people," David answers flatly. He informs Rick that he spent the weekend talking to friends in financial circles and learned that Miles' financiers, a consortium of European bankers, changed their minds and withdrew their support the previous May. That, David reminds Rick, was when Miles suddenly stopped paying their firm's bills.
Skeptical at first, Rick demands to know why they had never heard this. "Apparently it's fairly common knowledge. It's just that we don't run into too many Luxembourgian bankers in the carpool lane," David replies.
"Last May," Rick repeats, stunned.
"He didn't invite Atlantor in -- without them he's nothing. You saved his ass the other night, and I'll bet you were the one who said 'thank you,'" David sneers.
Fuming, Rick goes to Miles' office to confront him. "You didn't have the money!" he shouts.
"In this day and age, what exactly does 'have' mean? What does 'money' mean?" Miles parries smoothly. He reminds Rick that designing the Atlantor complex is the fulfillment of a dream and asks what is troubling his conscience. When Rick accuses him of lying, Miles merely recalls how Rick "sculpted the air" at the dinner party and describes that presentation as a kind of lie.
"You manipulated me, Miles. You made me perform for those people, and I hated that!" Rick shouts again.
"No, you didn't. There was reluctance and fear, but not hate. And once the fear fell away, it was like nothing you ever felt before," Miles corrects him. He "offers" to release Rick from their contract if Rick has lost confidence in him, then excuses himself to answer his telephone, leaving Rick speechless.
Meanwhile, over coffee in her kitchen, Lily gives Judy a condensed account of the dinner party. Recalling Rick's bravura performance, she wonders if there's something about her that makes normal, well-adjusted men consumed with ambition, or if ambition lies dormant in every man and relationships bring it out "like a second puberty." Judy asks if this is a speed bump in her relationship with Rick, or something more substantial. "Good question," Lily answers uncertainly.
When Rick returns to his office, having made peace with Miles for the sake of his ambition, David asks point blank, "Do you trust him with this much of our city?" Since David so obviously doesn't, Rick invites him to "just hang around and watch my back."
"God knows somebody has to," David mutters.
Rick offers to bet that in a year's time, David will feel differently. David declines to take the bet, saying that he doesn't want to win.
When Rick arrives home to find Eli playing his guitar, he tells him he should be studying, saving the music as a treat to reward himself with. "This is my work too," Eli defends himself.
Rick looks around at the guitars, keyboard and CDs filling the room and, for the first time, grasps the depth of Eli's devotion to music. He asks if music is going to be Eli's career; Eli replies that he's good at it, but he doesn't want to plan out the rest of his life right away. Rick laments that men no longer have the luxury of taking time to decide their life's work, and advises Eli to start fighting for what he wants, or his life will be chosen for him.
[In black-and-white, Eli defines "Dad-O-Vision" as Rick's gift for seeing how things go together, both in relationships and in architecture. He thinks that his father gets angry with him because he doesn't have the same eye.]
On another day, Rick and Miles visit the Atlantor site. Although Rick warns that the rezoning of the neighborhood won't be easy, Miles is as imperturbable as ever. "The monument will be built," he predicts. "Monuments are what count. This I know, because I am closer to the end than I am to the beginning."
As they "pace off the kingdom" - - walking across the site -- Miles reminds Rick, "There remains the minor problem of young David. But I assume you can handle him."
"Yes. I can," Rick says firmly.
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