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Excerpts From ‘Less Than Zero’

People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles. This is the first thing I hear when I come back to the city. Blair picks me up from LAX and mutters this under her breath as her car drives up the onramp. “People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles.” Though that sentence shouldn’t bother me, it stays in my mind for an uncomfortably long time. Nothing else seems to matter. Not the fact that I’m eighteen and it’s December and the ride on the plane had been rough and the couple from Santa Barbara, who were sitting across from me in first class, had gotten pretty drunk. . . . Not the warm winds, which seem to propel the car down the empty asphalt freeway, or the faded smell of marijuana which still faintly permeates Blair’s car. All it comes down to is that I’m a boy coming home for a month and meeting someone whom I haven’t seen for four months and people are afraid to merge.

It’s Christmas morning and I’m high on coke, and one of my sisters has given me this pretty expensive leatherbound datebook, the pages are big and white and the dates elegantly printed on top of them, in gold and silver lettering. I thank her and kiss her and all that and she smiles and pours herself another glass of champagne. I tried to keep a datebook one summer, but it didn’t work out. I’d get confused and write down things just to write them down and I came to this realization that I didn’t do enough things to keep a datebook. . . . My sisters open their gifts casually, indifferent. My father looks neat and hard and is writing out checks for my sisters and me and I wonder why he couldn’t have written them out before, but I forget about it and look out the window; at the hot wind blowing through the yard. The water in the pool ripples.

“What’s right?” (Rip asks.) “If you want something, you have the right to take it. If you want to do something, you have the right to do it.”. . .

“But you don’t need anything. You have everything,” I tell him.

Rip looks at me. “No. I don’t.”

“What?”

“No, I don’t.”

There’s a pause and then I ask, ". . . Rip, what don’t you have?”

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“I don’t have anything to lose.”

From “Less Than Zero,” by Bret Easton Ellis (Simon & Schuster, May, 1985).


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