Twenty-Seven Degrees of Separation
My mother and I ground a sober shuffle into the treatment center’s accountant’s office (she shuffled, I more limped) to pay another’s room and board. After some small talk and paper slinging, the bald fact of the sequestration made itself completely hairless: “This is where I ask for the money, she said. I pulled out my wallet, And that is what is called a pregnant silence I said, and handed her twenty-seven hundred dollar bills. I hope you’re okay with cash.
We love cash, this tame little unweathered little mirror of my Mother was looking at me, but, she said half-joking, it still scares me. I had just had this conversation with the abovementioned mother in the lobby (cash, when it floats straight from the aether to someone else’s hand, is untaxed, so I had lubriciously withdrawn and subsequently handed over a wad of bills about half an inch thick). I had thought, walking into this office and somewhat anticipating this reaction, that I would say that I was a drug dealer, but given my surroundings had decided it might possibly be in poor taste.
I’m a big guy, I said instead, no one’s going to mug me. But still, My bank has a limit, she said, and I, to fill the next new pregnant silence said, It’s an online bank, they don’t care, thinking while I said it, albeit all true, that I still looked like a drug dealer, No, they echoed, comic relief smeared across the insides of their eyes, they don’t care do they?
I had said to the teller of my hometown bank, changing the ATM’s one hundred and thirty-five twenties into twenty-seven hundreds, that such a wad of small bills would make me look “too gangster”, and then, sensing that I had spoken too plainly about what exactly she was fearing in some small unspoken reptilian segment of her stem and cortex in that bored empty and remote far-west-side branch had said, Not that I’m not ‘Gangster.’ At which she laughed, and I, nuff said to semi-relax, finger-tapped and eye-shifted a half-polite deliberate space-out until she counted finally to one hundred and thirty-five for the policy-requisite third time.
I somehow still, unshaven, semi-slept, illegitimate as I was born and limping even, managed to make them — the mother and the treatment center accountant both — happy enough with what I had produced out of my wallet that they still took him in (forgive me for thinking cold hard cashmoney to be more compelling than a I.O.U. from my bank). She gave my mother a receipt. We stood up to walk out, everyone in the building again looking up and mistaking me for mother’s young lover or my brother’s young father, (where is the father by the way?) this place reeking of everything diagnosable including Oedipus.
‘Gesk-air-ee’, is that how you pronounce it? my mother asked, reading the woman’s name from the card as we left. Yes, the accountant said, it’s Flemish. Oh, my mother said, naming the only other Flemish thing she knew of, have you read The Girl With the Pearl Earring? No, the accountant said, writing the name down on a pad, are you a big reader? Yes, my mother said with too much pride, while I began to cringe, this comfort with naming one’s qualities an embarrassment of riches borne of another generation, so is he, she said, pointing to me. And then the coup de grace, And he’s a writer too. Bye I groaned as I shrank away.
She took the Dale Carnegie course when I was a kid, and has worn a permanent smile ever since, but I don’t think that’s what makes the difference between her incredibly open and my pretty closed. Maybe bootstraps to my gen-x moping, maybe one blinding red society-gluing twentieth century atomic fear to my hundreddozen twenty-ought-plus socio-sexual-political anxieties, maybe just the desperate loneliness of thirty years of marriage to another one desperately sick with loneliness has turned her into a “sharer”, whatever it is, I shudder to hear that loud voice call me without a trace of irony, to a stranger no less, a “writer,” so much so that I am compelled to shout provocatively from halfway down the hallway I’m really just rich as shit!
Partly it is the rule of supply and demand applied to works: publish and call yourself a writer because as you have seen, anyone can do it; it is nothing. Write unpublished and despise the word. Likewise make money and see it’s magic fade in relation to its abundance. But struggle in poverty and think poison darts into the driver of every Mercedes you cannot afford.
But mostly it’s the romance of the artist: to make money just means you were clever. But to write stories that are admired is to be loved for your ability to speak to the hearts of others. There is something in that worth more than many millions, and I don’t dare presume to have that value. At least not until it is proved.