My retail job led me down a no through road and my dreams of becoming a writer didn’t seem promising. I was riding shotgun with a ghost driver and drinking more than usual. “Why the fuck can’t I see you, man?” I asked him. He didn’t respond. I took a shot from my whiskey bottle. He was driving reckless and heading north on I-90 towards downtown Chicago. “Slow it down some, man. What the fuck is wrong with you?” I asked. No reply. I took a longer shot of the whiskey, wiped my mouth, rolled the window down and yelled at the sky. “I was fucked from day one, you fuck! Take. Me. Now!”
I opened my eyes, popped up with a sense of urgency, looked around, and then looked in my rearview mirror and saw the street sweeper truck approaching. I checked to see if I had a parking ticket on my windshield. No ticket. “You lucky fuck,” I said to myself. The bottle of whiskey I had from the night before was still between my legs, empty, and my writing pad was on the arm rest. I had been working on a short story and drinking all night. I threw the bottle and pad on the passenger floor and drove off.
I pulled into a shopping plaza that was home to a grocery store and several businesses. I parked and checked the clock. 7:20 AM. I rolled the window down and lit a cigarette.
The grocery store was open, but the other businesses were closed. There weren’t many cars. “I can’t believe I drank that entire bottle,” I said to myself. “Where is my life headed?” I thought. The day before, I was a told by my boss that I was to be laid off after nine years, how it could come any day. He suggested I take the rest of that day off and enjoy the weekend. I left work and drove to the nearest liquor store.
I looked over towards the passenger seat, my phone was ringing.
“Hey baby boy. What are you up to?”
I wasn’t always the best son for my mother. Our relationship had been up and down throughout the years, mainly due to my inconsistencies and foolish decisions. I loved my mother. She meant the world to me. Despite my crazy ways, I’m sure I was perfect in her eyes. We had been doing better and I didn’t want to disappoint her. So I decided to respond with a fib to keep her heart at ease. “Just sitting on the porch drinking coffee.”
“Now who’s the coffee drinker?”
“Guilty as charged,” I giggled.
“I’ve got one of your good friends with me. She wants to say good morning. Hold on.”
“Good morning, daddy!”
“Hello princess! What are you and grandma up to?”
“We’re on our way to Goody Goody for brekfiss,” she said.
Goody Goody Diner was St. Louis, Missouri’s version of Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, but had been established twenty years earlier.
“Mmm… What does daddy always say?” I asked
“Make sure I eat all my food.”
“That’s right. Will you save daddy a plate?”
“I’ll think about it,” she giggled, “Are you still writing your stories? Have you written one about me? Do you write books, daddy?”
“I’ve written many stories about you, princess. Daddy writes every day. I hope to provide many books for you to read some day.”
“Ok, pops!” she giggled.
“Ok, dahling,” I laughed, “You make sure to be a queen for your grandmother and protect her, ok?”
“I love you princess. Call me later and tell me how breakfast went.”
“Love you. Bye.”
“Yes, I’m here. You know this girl just hands me the phone. She never hangs up.”
“You doing alright, son?”
“I’m fine, why do you ask?”
“You sound down. I know you. What’s going on?”
“All is good, mom. No worries here.”
“Yes ma’am. All is good. You two enjoy your breakfast and be sure to grab me a to-go plate.”
“I’m sure Pearl will eat it before you do.”
“She’s her father’s daughter.”
“Alright baby boy. I’ll talk to you later. Love you. Bye.”
“Love you too mom.”
Before Pearl was born, I’d left St. Louis to seek a better life. Her mother Kim and I split before learning she was pregnant. Kim’s initial plan was to raise Pearl on her own. When times grew rough as a single parent, Kim reached out to me. I learned about Pearl just before her first birthday. Kim mysteriously passed away just before Pearl’s third birthday. After Kim’s untimely death, it became clear why she was adamant about adding me to Pearl’s birth certificate. When Pearl and I met, Kim could see the love Pearl and I had for each other. My daughter and I had a strong bond and Kim wanted that for Pearl.
My cell phone rang.
“Thank you for calling Van’s Funeral Home. How can we bury you?”
“Hello?! I’m sorry. I was looking for Van.”
“We think he got left at the cemetery yesterday.”
“Oh my God. I’m sorry. Left?”
“I’m just ruffling your feathers. Who is this and why are you calling me private?”
“Darnit! I forgot to turn that off.”
“Turn what off?”
“My caller ID block.”
“Why are you hiding yourself?”
“I was playing a joke on my brother, so I hid my number,” he laughed
“Was the prank successful?”
“Yes and no. He started getting very upset. The joke wasn’t well planned on my part.”
“I’ll say. So what’s your name and what can I do for you, sir?”
“My name is Richard Goldfarb.”
“Gold-Money you say?”
“Not all Jewish are wealthy, ya know?”
“Do you personally know a poor Jew?”
“So from now on your new name is Gold-Money.”
“Now, state your business Gold-Money.”
“I’m an attorney. We have a mutual friend, Trenton Newsome.”
“Jesus, Gold-Money. Is it good?”
“Sorry. I don’t mean to chew in your ear. Anyways, I saw Trenton recently and he spoke highly of you. He also shared some of your writings. I must say, I was impressed. I’d never read stuff like that before. I’ve traveled many places, met many personalities and can’t say I’ve ever known anyone to express themselves like you do. I don’t know much about the book business, but I’m willing to learn, and publish your work.”
“What is this, the sixties?” I asked
“I’m sorry. I don’t follow.”
“Meaning, no one takes chances on unknown writers in the 21st century. Do you know what type of capital that takes? The publishers you would be up against? Why are you playing on my phone, Gold-Money?”
“If it helps at all, I’m Jewish,” he laughed
“Ya don’t say, Gold-Money.”
“Shalom!” he laughed.
“Richard, you have the heaviest laugh, my friend.”
“My wife once joked that I would laugh at my own funeral,” he said.
“Cheers to her humor.”
“As I was saying, I would love to learn more about your work. Underground writers fascinate me. The content and fantasies you guys come with amazes me.”
“I don’t write fantasies, Gold-Money.”
“I know, I know. That’s what I loved about your writing. I felt like I was in the moment with you. Your words were extremely gritty.”
“In all seriousness, you seem like a stand-up guy, Richard. What do you want from me?”
“What do you need?”
“A place to stay, a steady paycheck, and cable.”
“I like to watch Real Time with Bill Maher.”
“You know he doesn’t believe in God, right?”
“Why is that my problem? He’s good at his job.
“Do you believe in God?” he asked.
“Are you calling to help an unknown writer or sell me indulgences?”
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to offend you.”
“No offense taken, Gold-Money.”
“Are you not working?”
“I’m currently unemployed.”
“Were you serious about the things you needed?”
“Do birds fly?”
“How would you feel about me providing you with a monthly retainer?”
“Why would you do that?”
“Pay money to a man who you’ve never met.”
“Because I believe in what I read.”
“Well, shit, Richard. Aren’t you a kind soul?”
Richard exploded with his heavy laugh. “I do what I can,” he said.
“What’s your cellphone number, Richard?”
“I’ll be in touch. Kol Tov.” I hung up and pulled in to a coffee shop that was in the shopping plaza.
Once I got inside, I opened my laptop and began working on a novel I started a few days ago.
Almost two weeks had passed. Every morning at 6am I was at a coffee shop that was a mile or so down the road, working on my novel. Fear can provide a foundation for success, I thought. I’d always shared my writings with friends, but never anyone who wasn’t a friend, let alone a large readership. I wasn’t quite sure how good my writing really was. I was confident in my work, “But would the world be?” I thought. My writings seemed to always give friends a chuckle, take them into deep thought, or question every aspect of my life. “How would I fare with the likes of those who came before me?” I thought.
My novel was edited and ready to go. I phoned Richard.
“Shalom! Where should I send this to?” I asked
“You’re done already?!”
“Can I read it?” he asked
“Absolutely! But I have some concerns.”
“What are your concerns?”
“I know I sound like a broken record, but you being a fancy Jewish-lawyer-guy and all; you’re not trying to get over on me are you? Shouldn’t we have something in writing about the publishing and so forth?”
“I’m glad you asked, Van, I’ve already got a contract typed up and ready to go. We can sit down and go over everything. I’d like to earn your trust.”
“Richard, do you know the story about the rap group NWA?”
“No, I don’t recall the name or acronym.”
“Well… it was a very popular rap group that was managed by a Jewish guy who screwed them over. The acronym stands for Niggaz Wit Attitudes. Now, I don’t want to make this conversation to get to weird for you but, if you fuck me over, I will pawn your kippah. Are we crystal?”
I meant absolutely no harm to Richard. My threat was a fairytale at best. Or was it? My writings were my heart. I just wanted him to understand what my work meant to me. Despite my rated-R threat, my instinct told me that it was ok to trust him.
“I hear you loud and clear!” he chuckled.
“Why are you always laughing, man?”
“I’m sorry. Would you rather me be down and out?”
“No. I love it actually. This is all just a blur, ya know? Keep that happiness going and get my words to the world. What’s your address? I will mail you a copy of the novel.”
After I hung up the phone with Richard I went to make a copy of my novel, “Pearl”. It was almost three hundred pages. Next stop, the post office.
The line was long and folks were complaining to the staff about getting someone to help with the customers. I was next on the number list.
“Number 33!” the service clerk yelled.
In conversation, you could always tell when I was excited or passionate about a subject. I would speak with my hands. My eyes would protrude from eyelids. At times I could be animated.
“Hello there,” I said, “I need something that will ship this in one piece.”
She pointed. “You see those flat rat boxes over there?” She said. “Look for the one that says padded flat rate envelope. That should fit all those papers you got there.”
I put the manuscript in the envelope, sealed it, and handed it to the clerk. She weighed my package; I paid her, and was out the door.
I was driving around Uptown, a town on the Northside of Chicago. It was late and I needed to find a safe place to park and sleep. I settled on Argyle St. and Marine Dr. It was near Lake Michigan and dark enough for me to take a piss behind a tree if needed.
My cellphone vibrated. It was a text message from Pearl. She used my mother’s cellphone to send goodnight messages.
“Wish you here daddy. Good night.”
I responded. “Rest well princess. Love you.”
I’d spoken to Richard once after I mailed him the manuscript. He called to ask where he could send my retainer. He also sent me a contract. We went over all the details of the agreement over the phone. He lived up to his end of the bargain. Not many took chances on the unknown. I was grateful.
Richard had a few obligations after reading “Pearl”, but shortly after we went on to publish The Contagious Heart of Pearl. “Van, your novel was gritty, real, and heartfelt,” he said in a conversation we had shortly after the release of the book. “Thank you, sir. So glad I didn’t have to 1-8-7 your ass.”