There are two archetypes of the charming idler.  One, rather like myself, is likely to be unemployed de métier.  The other drifts in and out of employment, trading on social connections, borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, pandering, dealing cocaine, walking dogs, selling Impressionist pictures, joining the Foreign Legion, working on a perpetuum mobile, discovering America.  One shies away from moneymaking as though it were more dismal than direst poverty, and is apparently less disposed to suffer the rigors of compromise than the pangs of embarrassment, to say nothing of ordinary hunger.  The other plays with remunerative labor as though it were a toy, exciting when new but quickly lost, forgotten, or broken, without bothering to formulate an ideological taboo or to come up with an explicative doctrine.

My great-great-uncle was a very pure version of the first type—so pure, in fact, that he ever ranges through my mind as a kind of urban myth or improbable invention, a six-foot alligator on the prowl in the sewers or a twin-engine aircraft that folds into one’s pocket.  Uncle Serge spent his entire life in a café in Warsaw, where he died a happy exile just before the Great War.  He had inherited some money, but only a little, just enough to sit all day long in that café of his.  He did not want to do anything except to watch the world go by, and he never did.  In the morning, he would dress, wax his mustache, insert a fresh buttonhole in his coat, and make way to his usual table as the doors opened.  Then he would stay there, glance at the newspapers, play the occasional game of cards or chess, have a drink or a coffee, consider the prospect of lunch, or yield to the temptation of dinner.  When the café shut for the night, he went home to sleep.

As I say, Uncle Serge’s was a very pure case.  His extreme idleness was really a vocation, a metropolitan form of lay monasticism.  Naturally, he had no more time for women than he had for friends, for books, or, for that matter, for skiing or yachting, if only because he had no resources whatsoever to spare and only a hard and narrow bed, in what must have been a suitably cloistral cell of a cheap boarding house, to sleep in.  Yet his obsession with that café of his did not fall short of the much-sung ideal of love and loyalty that is believed to reverberate in the heart of every desirable woman.  Had it turned itself upon an animate subject, it might have given the world another Aida.

If Uncle Serge is a specimen of settled indolence, my close friend Alec is an almost pharmaceutically refined sample of the other species of idler, which may be called the nomad.  There have been times when I wanted to write a full-length biography of him, complete with childhood joys and the later disappointments of adolescence, entitled Things I Never Owned but Tried to Sell and Failed.  On one occasion, he tried to sell a carpet, which once belonged to the last shah of Iran and had 12,000 carats of precious gems woven into it, to a Bond Street jeweler, who asked him to cut out the stones and bring them in for a valuation.  I asked him how he planned to put the gems back in the carpet.  “Back in the carpet?” he muttered.  “I’ve never even seen it.”

At some point, Alec realized that everybody with money has something to sell or something to buy, and that the key to a life of numinous leisure was the commission he could charge for matching up the sellers with the buyers.  His life became a fantastic kaleidoscope of practical-looking delusions, rendered only more colorful by the occasional success of one of his ventures.  Thus, on his way to Hampstead to see an Azeri businessman about petroleum contracts, he might remember that he had a luncheon appointment with an Old Masters dealer in Albemarle Street to whom he had promised to show the photograph of a Madonna and Child supposedly stolen from the Museo Mandralisca in Cefalù.  But, because of course the photograph was actually only a postcard, and the Madonna was just where it had always been, bathing the rare Sicilian visitor in the benignity of her gaze, and because it was already two o’clock and he was quite hungry, he decided to drop in on a French girl with whom he had, on one occasion, danced in St. Moritz.

She was living in Chelsea now.  At some point later that evening, the girl telephoned her mother in Neuilly, to tell her how blissfully happy she was.  It is quite irrelevant, in the scope of this character sketch, to recount how much, or indeed whether, either of these women saw Alec in weeks to come.

Settled or nomadic, the charming idler is above all the master of his day, with ample time on his hands to cultivate an infatuation, bring it to fruition, and husband it watchfully thereafter.  It can hardly be otherwise, as witness the biblical account of the Fall, a locus classicus if there ever was one.  Who can dispute that the original tragedy of mankind would not have taken place, and man would not have needed to cry peccavi forever thence, had Adam not taken that ridiculous job of gardener in Eden?  For experience shows that, in life as in roulette, one must call the bet before the ball drops.  A fisherman or a fisher of men?  A husband to the vine or of the woman?

As it was, Adam had divided loyalties from the outset.  Six mornings a week, like so many of his descendants down to the present day, he would pack his lunchbox and go off to work, sometimes having to travel to some outlying part of the garden and stay there, planting and pruning, until it was dusk, for the sun sets early in hot southern climes.  But even if he was on the job from nine to five, figuring another couple of hours to get there and back, the cumulative length of his absences, adjusted for modern life expectancy, would have been equivalent to something like 30 years in the slammer—the kind of stretch a person is expected to do nowadays for multiple homicide.

Meanwhile, Eve was alone.  Occupation, waiting.  Like so many of her descendants, she was neglected and felt it.    €