“Go on, quit your kidding,” said Babbitt feebly, but at this tribute from Gunch, himself a man of no mean oratorical fame, he expanded with delight and wondered how, before his vacation, he could have questioned the joys of being a solid citizen.
His march to greatness was not without disastrous stumbling.
Fame did not bring the social advancement which the Babbitts deserved. They were not asked to join the Tonawanda Country Club nor invited to the dances at the Union. Himself, Babbitt fretted, he didn’t “care a fat hoot for all these highrollers, but the wife would kind of like to be Among Those Present.” He nervously awaited his university class-dinner and an evening of furious intimacy with such social leaders as Charles McKelvey the millionaire contractor, Max Kruger the banker, Irving Tate the tool-manufacturer, and Adelbert Dobson the fashionable interior decorator. Theoretically he was their friend, as he had been in college, and when he encountered them they still called him “Georgie,” but he didn’t seem to encounter them often, and they never invited him to dinner (with champagne and a butler) at their houses on Royal Ridge.
All the week before the class-dinner he thought of them. “No reason why we shouldn’t become real chummy now!”
Like all true American diversions and spiritual outpourings, the dinner of the men of the Class of 1896 was thoroughly organized. The dinner-committee hammered like a sales-corporation. Once a week they sent out reminders:
Old man, are you going to be with us at the livest Friendship Feed the alumni of the good old U have ever known? The alumnae of ’08 turned out 60% strong. Are we boys going to be beaten by a bunch of skirts? Come on, fellows, let’s work up some real genuine enthusiasm and all boost together for the snappiest dinner yet! Elegant eats, short ginger-talks, and memories shared together of the brightest, gladdest days of life.
The dinner was held in a private room at the Union Club. The club was a dingy building, three pretentious old dwellings knocked together, and the entrance-hall resembled a potato cellar, yet the Babbitt who was free of the magnificence of the Athletic Club entered with embarrassment. He nodded to the doorman, an ancient proud negro with brass buttons and a blue tail-coat, and paraded through the hall, trying to look like a member.
Sixty men had come to the dinner. They made islands and eddies in the hall; they packed the elevator and the corners of the private dining-room. They tried to be intimate and enthusiastic. They appeared to one another exactly as they had in college—as raw youngsters whose present mustaches, baldnesses, paunches, and wrinkles were but jovial disguises put on for the evening. “You haven’t changed a particle!” they marveled. The men whom they could not recall they addressed, “Well, well, great to see you again, old man. What are you—Still doing the same thing?”