Old Nicks Guide to Happiness Book One

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And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer. There was so much to read, for one thing, and so much fine health to be pulled down out of the young breath-giving air. I bought a dozen volumes on banking and credit and investment securities, and they stood on my shelf in red and gold like new money from the mint, promising to unfold the shining secrets that only Midas and Morgan and Maecenas knew.

And I had the high intention of reading many other books besides. It was a matter of chance that I should have rented a house in one of the strangest communities in North America. It was on that slender riotous island which extends itself due east of New York — and where there are, among other natural curiosities, two unusual formations of land. Twenty miles from the city a pair of enormous eggs, identical in contour and separated only by a courtesy bay, jut out into the most domesticated body of salt water in the Western hemisphere, the great wet barnyard of Long Island Sound.

They are not perfect ovals — like the egg in the Columbus story, they are both crushed flat at the contact end — but their physical resemblance must be a source of perpetual confusion to the gulls that fly overhead. To the wingless a more arresting phenomenon is their dissimilarity in every particular except shape and size. I lived at West Egg, the — well, the less fashionable of the two, though this is a most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them.

My house was at the very tip of the egg, only fifty yards from the Sound, and squeezed between two huge places that rented for twelve or fifteen thousand a season. The one on my right was a colossal affair by any standard — it was a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden. Gatsby, it was a mansion inhabited by a gentleman of that name. Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water, and the history of the summer really begins on the evening I drove over there to have dinner with the Tom Buchanans.

And just after the war I spent two days with them in Chicago. Her husband, among various physical accomplishments, had been one of the most powerful ends that ever played football at New Haven — a national figure in a way, one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of anti-climax.

It was hard to realize that a man in my own generation was wealthy enough to do that. They had spent a year in France for no particular reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together. And so it happened that on a warm windy evening I drove over to East Egg to see two old friends whom I scarcely knew at all.

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Their house was even more elaborate than I expected, a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens — finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run.

The front was broken by a line of French windows, glowing now with reflected gold and wide open to the warm windy afternoon, and Tom Buchanan in riding clothes was standing with his legs apart on the front porch. He had changed since his New Haven years. Now he was a sturdy straw-haired man of thirty with a rather hard mouth and a supercilious manner.

Two shining arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body — he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing, and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage — a cruel body. His speaking voice, a gruff husky tenor, added to the impression of fractiousness he conveyed.

There was a touch of paternal contempt in it, even toward people he liked — and there were men at New Haven who had hated his guts.

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Turning me around by one arm, he moved a broad flat hand along the front vista, including in its sweep a sunken Italian garden, a half acre of deep, pungent roses, and a snub-nosed motor-boat that bumped the tide offshore. We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house.

A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.

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The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.

The younger of the two was a stranger to me. She was extended full length at her end of the divan, completely motionless, and with her chin raised a little, as if she were balancing something on it which was quite likely to fall. If she saw me out of the corner of her eyes she gave no hint of it — indeed, I was almost surprised into murmuring an apology for having disturbed her by coming in. The other girl, Daisy, made an attempt to rise — she leaned slightly forward with a conscientious expression — then she laughed, an absurd, charming little laugh, and I laughed too and came forward into the room.

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That was a way she had. She hinted in a murmur that the surname of the balancing girl was Baker. Again a sort of apology arose to my lips. Almost any exhibition of complete self-sufficiency draws a stunned tribute from me. I looked back at my cousin, who began to ask me questions in her low, thrilling voice. It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again.

I told her how I had stopped off in Chicago for a day on my way East, and how a dozen people had sent their love through me. Tom Buchanan, who had been hovering restlessly about the room, stopped and rested his hand on my shoulder. Evidently it surprised her as much as it did me, for she yawned and with a series of rapid, deft movements stood up into the room. She was a slender, small-breasted girl, with an erect carriage, which she accentuated by throwing her body backward at the shoulders like a young cadet. Her gray sun-strained eyes looked back at me with polite reciprocal curiosity out of a wan, charming, discontented face.

It occurred to me now that I had seen her, or a picture of her, somewhere before. Before I could reply that he was my neighbor dinner was announced; wedging his tense arm imperatively under mine, Tom Buchanan compelled me from the room as though he were moving a checker to another square. Slenderly, languidly, their hands set lightly on their hips, the two young women preceded us out onto a rosy-colored porch, open toward the sunset, where four candles flickered on the table in the diminished wind.

She snapped them out with her fingers. I always watch for the longest day in the year and then miss it. Sometimes she and Miss Baker talked at once, unobtrusively and with a bantering inconsequence that was never quite chatter, that was as cool as their white dresses and their impersonal eyes in the absence of all desire. They were here, and they accepted Tom and me, making only a polite pleasant effort to entertain or to be entertained. They knew that presently dinner would be over and a little later the evening too would be over and casually put away.

It was sharply different from the West, where an evening was hurried from phase to phase toward its close, in a continually disappointed anticipation or else in sheer nervous dread of the moment itself. Do you see? There was something pathetic in his concentration, as if his complacency, more acute than of old, was not enough to him any more.

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When, almost immediately, the telephone rang inside and the butler left the porch Daisy seized upon the momentary interruption and leaned toward me. For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her glowing face; her voice compelled me forward breathlessly as I listened — then the glow faded, each light deserting her with lingering regret, like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk. As if his absence quickened something within her, Daisy leaned forward again, her voice glowing and singing.

You remind me of a — of a rose, an absolute rose. This was untrue.

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I am not even faintly like a rose. She was only extemporizing, but a stirring warmth flowed from her, as if her heart was trying to come out to you concealed in one of those breathless, thrilling words. Then suddenly she threw her napkin on the table and excused herself and went into the house. Miss Baker and I exchanged a short glance consciously devoid of meaning. A subdued impassioned murmur was audible in the room beyond, and Miss Baker leaned forward unashamed, trying to hear. And I was as addicted to her and her problems as I was ignoring my own. And so that moment shifted everything.

And for those that know me, that led me back to my now-wife, who was my estranged girlfriend. And I started placing a value on myself, just a little bit at that time. And so my book-the-ticket moment was actually making me part with that money again, but not like it was in the past.

I mean, come on. So, I finally built up this life where I had security and comfort and reserves. I thought that was just the gas tank on my Ferrari when it got below a certain level. And for me, I was sedating. Sedation is a fancy word for disconnecting, like ignoring your feelings. It could be porn, it could be food, it could be a lotta things. For me, it was alcohol.

So you can see where the fucking problem kinda, it was like a merry-go-round of insanity. And I let go of alcohol for the first time for me. So, for the first time in my life, I was just ready to just let it go. Just like with the money, you were making decisions around money for other people. Then you started making em for Nicole, Nevin, and Noah, your family, and the same thing with drinking. You were drinking, or not drinking, for other people. And now you decided to do that and get sober for yourself.

So literally, imagine that. The moment I was conceived, there was another heartbeat. And then, so I was connected with her in that way, and then we shared a room, and I have two brothers, and I shared with them, and then I had roommates and then got married. And alcohol actually allowed me to continue that barrier between who I was, and so I let it go. And I actually did two things at the same time. And I was a certified Warrior thinker. And I kept thinking about getting certified.

I mean, I just poured myself into the work. But I finally let go. And all these doors started to open up, massively. I launched my podcast and started having a tremendous amount of success with that. And my businesses, they were already doing great, they just somehow seemed to manifest even more. And then I come across this guy who was helping me with my podcast, and he invited me to this event. And this event was a curated audience. And curated is another fancy word for meaning hand-selected. And so they hand-selected the entire audience. You had to be picked.

You had to be invited to come to this event, and you had to pay a large sum of money to be there. And, I mean, the list goes on and on. And so I got the opportunity to come to this. And I was there, and I was sober. And so, again, the authentic me was starting to come through, and I was having genuine connection with people. And because I was there and I had this absence of sedation, I was able to connect with people on a very genuine, authentic level.

Much better looking, first of all. And in this room, I was very much that same way, but I just had nothing to hide.

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And so that, I feel, made me even more powerful than most of the people there. And would you say that one of the driving forces for drinking in the past was because you felt uncomfortable? But there and in that place, I was authentic. So I think I was always confident. One came from being authentic. The other came from alcohol. And he knew the movement that I was building and leading because he was listening to all my podcasts.

I live here in this, we call it the Orange Curtain, the Orange Bubble, whatever you want. Legacy is the word that drives me. And it was just raw, pure, no cellphone, just connected connection, authentic connection. I just felt like there was a calling there. Well, so this conversation took place on a Thursday. And so, I went to my wife. And he started telling me details about it. But his confidence and clarity, I just felt it. It was weird. It just came right through me and it just, I texted those exact words: put in an offer.

And building a business, as you know, is difficult, especially without any outside investors. I went two years without getting fucking paid. Two years. And it was all kinda tied up. There was some that was sitting in my bank account ready to fire off. Then most of it was in my investment accounts, you know? So I text him back a number. When would you say the specific book-the-ticket moment came a reality?

Was it when the offer was accepted?