It begins when a young man, working his way up in the plastic industry, is sent to fire a man well above him in the pecking order. What he sees at the man's apartment embarrasses the man who manages to pull himself together and then fires Johnny as a witness to his disgrace. Johnny is very given to feeling sorry for himself, is estranged from his mother, and somewhat at odds with most everyone. Now struggling to keep up his life-style, he robs his next door neighbor of his wallet. He does this at night while they are sleeping in the same room as the wallet.
Johnny thinks a lot about money, about his privileged childhood, about the unfairness of what's happened to him. When his birthday comes and his children give him a ladder, he immediately ties it into his being a second-story man although of course, the kids don't know about that. His poor behavior sparks a fight with his wife. The story ends with his returning the money and almost getting caught by a police car.
Now there is a lot more to it than this but so much of it is interior thoughts it is hard to sum up. Some of it is amusing and some of it is pathetic. It is both a defense and a critique of the banlieue. Cheever is a master of the literary short story.
"Shady Hill, as I say a banlieue, and open to criticism by city planners, adventurers and lyric poets, but if you work in the city and have children to raise, I can't think of a better place."
Banlieue is the French word for suburb.