Orrison Brown works in the offices of a newsweekly. He is asked by his boss to take Louis Trimble out to lunch as there are many things he wishes to see. Trimble tells Brown that his last recollection of the city were as the Empire State building was being erected. He is curious as to why Trimble has "missed" the last decade. Brown speculates that Trimble will have seen much more interesting things, as he tries to work out what Trimble had been doing and where.
Trimble wants to eat where he can people-watch. He seems familiar with the popular restaurants, but has no urge to visit them. Orrison notes an expression of curiosity on Trimble’s face, as if he were familiar with more primitive and hostile environments. Trimble is cautious of traffic, but fascinated by the crepe ties he sees in the haberdasher’s window.
When Trimble is asked what he would most like to see as they dine, Brown is thinking in terms of a view. Trimble wants to see "the backs of people’s necks" and hear the rhythms of conversation. He delights in "the weight of spoons." When he says that he knows the waiter, Orrison says it is not surprising that he has forgotten Trimble after ten years. When Trimble tells him that he ate there ‘"ast May," Orrison is confused.
Orrison points out the new architectural developments in the city, and Trimble then tells him that he designed the Armistead building. He finally reveals where he was for the last decade: drunk. He says that what he wants to experience now is people, how they walk and what they wear. He asks Orrison to shake his hand. They will be meeting back at the building, but the handshake is more for the experience than the signal of goodbye.
Trimble’s explanation makes Orrison more aware of himself and his own senses. He feels "the texture of his own coat" and presses the granite of the building.
This excellent and very short story gives an evocative portrayal of a man's loss of time. In just a few pages, we are introduced to a mystery and see it solved. In the process, both Orrison and the reader are taught to better appreciate their ability to experience the world around them.
The story gives a sensual lesson in the effects of alcohol, in emphasizing how much Trimble has lost in his decade of drunkenness. Orrison has several theories of Trimble’s absence, but does not suspect the truth. Trimble appears to have been out of civilization completely, as the things he wishes to observe are stunningly normal. Trimble is an ordinary man, made extraordinary by his absence from his own consciousness.
Notable is Orrison's tact in not directly asking how Trimble spent the last decade. Much of the pacing and drama of the short story is gleaned from this tact, as Orrison speculates and alludes rather than prying into Trimble's affairs. To a modern reader, accustomed to a lower level of privacy in daily life, Orrison's unwillingness to question Trimble is even more remarkable.
The story is poignant when it becomes obvious that Trimble has seen and done some of the things he does with Orrison, but he has not experienced them. He inspires Orrison, and hopefully the reader, to appreciate more closely the detail and sensations of everyday life. Most notably, the sense of touch is highlighted in the story, which adds richness to the description beyond the obvious aural and visual detail.