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I have a vivid memory of reading this in a compendium of short stories possibly in my middle school library (I remember a dull-covered "100 Fantasy and Science Fiction Stories" or something similar - I would have read it in the early 90s, but it was an older book than that), but my Google-Fu is not up to the task, so:

The main character, a man, summons the devil (not necessarily The Devil) with whom he had already made a deal for "happiness". It is established both by the trappings of his desk and office and in the conversation with the devil that he has wealth, power, fame, and a loving family, literally everything materially associated with happiness, but he argues that the letter of the contract hasn't been fulfilled because he's not happy, because for all that, everything is dull.

The devil offers him a new deal - he'll make the man a masochist, so that as he loses all of these things, the fall will be even more glorious to him than the rise was. The man accepts the deal.

I think that in the closing text, it's revealed that the office in question is the Oval Office and the man is the President of the United States, but I may be conflating that with a different story.

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    This is a Spider Robinson story; the president in question is Richard Nixon, but I don't recall the title and don't have time to search for it at the moment.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Feb 13 at 20:24
  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. Can you be more specific about approximately what year you read this? Do you recall the cover of the book?
    – DavidW
    Commented Feb 13 at 20:24
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    @ZeissIkon - It makes perfect sense that this would be a Spider Robinson story. I've read pretty much everything he's written.
    – jdunlop
    Commented Feb 13 at 20:26

1 Answer 1

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Props to Zeiss Ikon for the clue; you're describing "Apogee" by Spider Robinson, originally published in Antinomy (1978) and reprinted in By Any Other Name.

He has everything and wants more:

He glared at it, his jowls quivering. "I'm bored, dammit. There's nothing left to achieve."

"It's your own fault," said the demon. "You insisted on having everything right away, and so you ran out of dreams too fast." It sneered at him. "Greedy."

"I don't care," he snapped. "You made a deal and I want satisfaction. Literally."

The demon's solution is to enjoy the fall:

"I'll turn you into a masochist, and let the whole job come down around your ears." The demon smiled. "Take a big bite out of my work load."

"Are you out of your mind?" he exploded.

"Think about it," it said reasonably. "There's nowhere to go from here but back downhill, and you could enjoy that as much as the ride up. Don't you understand? You'd be a masochist. You'll lose everything I've ever given you with just as much joy as you experienced in receiving it, only this time you'll be doing it all yourself, through your own natural ineptitude. All I'll do is help you appreciate it."

The reveal at the end:

Picking up the special phone, he made two calls, then dialed his unlisted home number. "Hello, Pat? Dick. Sorry I'm late, dear. I'll be sleeping here tonight. I have to meet early tomorrow with Ron and Gordon about some plumbers. Yes, I'll see you tomorrow night. What? No, dear, nothing's wrong. Everything is fine. Everything is just fine. Good night, dear."

He hung up and looked across the room at the presidential seal over the door. He began to laugh, and then he cried, and continued to cry for months thereafter.

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    That's the one! If I had remembered "jowls quivering", I could've definitively called it as being Nixon. Though it's possible I read it early enough that I didn't make the connection myself.
    – jdunlop
    Commented Feb 13 at 20:47

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