THIS IS A DRAFT
It'll change. It'll get better. So read it kindly.
It is copyright (c) David Weinberger 2002. Because it's a draft, you don't have permission to quote from it without asking my permission first. But I do encourage you to discuss it on the discussion boards listed on the home page. My email address is [email protected] Let me know what you think.
- David Weinberger
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It wasn't unheard of for me, Mimi and Ari to go into the city by ourselves. Unusual but not unheard of. And scary enough to my parents that they gave me the usual lectures about being wary of strangers and calling if we need help. Then, just as I was leaving, my father put a five dollar bill in my hand. "Put that in a safe place, just in case of emergencies." I thanked him, shoved it into my pocket, and left.
It's not like the city is that big a place to begin with. But compared to the other towns in the area, it definitely deserved the title "city." It had its own subway system, homeless people on the street, and a section called "The Red Zone" where kids our age get really uncomfortable with what's on the movie marquees.
I had agreed to pick up Mimi on my way to the train station even though it was in the wrong direction because I had a special mission. As I stood outside my house, I checked the contents of the envelope again. It was a plain brown envelope. I'd wrapped the bills inside with some of the special pink yarn my mother was using to knit a cap for Maddie. It had flecks of green and purple in it, but it's what was handy. I licked the flap and made sure it sealed, and carefully zipped the envelope inside my coat. I didn't want $20,000 in thousand dollar bills to fall out into the street as I biked, even if Mimi's address was clearly marked on the envelope.
I approached Mimi's house carefully, and snuck up to her mailbox, checking to see if anyone was looking. I put the envelope in and closed the lid trying not to make a sound. Then I knocked in Mimi's door, probably louder than usual.
Mimi came out dressed in a green t shirt, darker green shorts, green sneakers, and pink socks. You couldn't get much spring-ier than that. "Hi," she said as she stepped past me on the stoop in front of her door. Then, as if remembering something she'd forgotten, she turned back and flipped up the lid of the mailbox. She took out the envelope, looked at it, said, "Odd. No stamp," opened her front door, and put it on the mail table. We headed off to the station. I was relieved. I didn't want to tell Mimi about the gift until after her parents got it because I thought she might object. But I also didn't want her to hear about it from her parents instead of from me. Some time today I figured I'd have a chance to tell her without Ari being around.
Now was not to be that time. Ari came scooting up on his bike, lightly crashed into Mimi's porch rail, and turned around so that together we could ride the six blocks to the train station.
* * *
It's a quick trip to the city. And so long as you don't go during rush hour, it's fun. We sat and talked for the entire 35 minute trip, except for ten minutes when we went to the refreshments car where we sat, talked and ate terrible muffins. Mainly we talked about how we were going to spend money in the city. That was our mission. Away from our parents and other friends, there would be no questions asked about where we got the money. We could at last just be plain old rich kids.
The city is the last stop the train makes, which I think is one reason our parents let us take it: it's hard to get off at the wrong place. We emerged into the daylight like people waking up. The air had a little bite of cold to it, making the city seem even more filled with straight lines and corners than usual.
"Where to first?" I asked, patting my front pockets, each of which held a ridiculous amount of money. I'd split the cash up, figuring I wouldn't get pickpocketed in both pockets.
"The Planetarium!" said Ari without hesitation. Mimi and I looked at each other. Why not?
"It's this way," said Mimi, heading up the street. She was by far the best oriented of the three of us.
"Walking?" I said in mock shock. "Never!" I stepped to the curb and waved my hand. A taxi pulled up.
Now, there are some things about being a kid with money that you're not ready for. I was expecting the cab driver to look at us as if we were spoiled brats. And since we were in the city in order to act like spoiled brats, we deserved that look. After all, the driver was working hard all day in order to make the sort of money that we were just throwing around. But I wasn't ready for how hard it is to tip. I knew that you usually tip 15% of the cost of the ride. And I could do the math. The problem is that it's just plain embarrassing to give someone a tip. It's not so bad when you can leave it on a table, but when you have to actually hand it to someone, they get to see if you're a big tipper or a little tipper.
So, I sat during the entire the drive worrying about the moment of truth. As we got close to the planetarium, it was clear that the ride was going to cost $6.00. Fifteen percent is ten percent plus half of ten percent. Ten percent of $6.00 is 60 cents. Half of that is 30 cents. Add 'em up and you get 90 cents. Round it up to a dollar. Total cost of ride, including tip: $7.00. Easy. But the smallest bill I had was a ten. So, I'd give him the ten and ask for three back. But what's $3 to the world's richest boy? I should just say, "Keep the change," but then I would really seem like a spoiled rich kid. But the driver wouldn't care: I may be spoiled, but I tip well. Those three dollars would mean something to the driver. On the other hand, I could give him a twenty dollar bill and tell him to keep the change and it wouldn't make the slightest bit of difference to me. But he'd look at the twenty and ask me if I meant to give him a ten. "No, no, keep the change, my good man," I'd say. No, giving him a twenty would draw out the entire interchange. I could give him the twenty and then run away, but suppose he started chasing me, waving the $20 bill and yelling "Hey, Spoiled Rich Kid, you gave me too much money!" Embarrassing beyond belief.
So, I sat there, quietly, chewing my lip, dreading the moment when I'd have to pay. It was not a fun trip, and my anxiety was clearly bothering Mimi and Ari also.
The cab pulled to the curb. "Six dollars even," said the taxi driver.
"You did a very nice job," I said, handing him a twenty dollar bill. "Keep the change."
He looked at it carefully, nodded once and drove off without looking back.
I had gotten through the day's first crisis.
* * *
The planetarium was fun. It always is. Even if you don't care about the universe - although, if you don't care about the universe, what's left to care about? - it's just such a cool place. It's darker than dark, and then the stars come out, and a big voice comes over the loudspeakers from all directions at once. Plus, they always have some show biz touch. This time it was a race through the solar system at 100 times the speed of light, taking a left around Jupiter and a couple of spins around Neptune.
We went to the museum's gift store but didn't want to get anything too expensive so we wouldn't have to explain anything to our parents, but I got a good selection of little things: some polished gems, a light-up pen, and a foam "moon rock."
Next it was on to the Mystery Arcade, the largest electronic game place in the city. The three of us had put in plenty of hours at the Quarter Time arcade in our town, but this was like switching from scissors to a power mower. Quarter Time was a single room in the mall with machines lining its walls. The Mystery Arcade had rooms that opened up into other rooms. You left the electronic fighting machine room and you entered the electronic fake sports room which was to the left of the electronic pinball room. And that was just on the first floor. The three of us stood in awe, frozen in the entry way, for about five seconds. And then I headed for the change machine.
Do you know how much $50 in quarters weighs? More than you think. But after I divided it into threes (Ari and Mimi each got an extra), they didn't feel heavy, just comforting. We played and played, sometimes together, sometimes apart, until our brains were booping with electronic beeps and our fingers were flicking without our even wanting them to.
Even after we'd sat on the bench outside for ten minutes, we could still feel the ringing in our brains. "Where to?" I asked.
Mimi looked hesitant. "What is it?" I asked.
"I sort of read about an exhibit at the Museum of Art that sounded sort of cool. Would you be sort of interested in going?"
"Sort of," I replied. "What is it?"
"Well, it's this woman who takes pictures of everyday things really close up so you can see their textures."
"Whatever!" Ari said enthusiastically.
"Taxi!" I called.
* * *
Why do museums have such large doors? What sort of giants do they think are going to be visiting?
Before stepping through them, we decided to have a snack. Rather than waiting in a restaurant, we decided to eat from the food carts in front of the museum: roasted chestnuts, hot sugared cashews, a Super Sluggo ice cream bar and sodas all around. It was more than we could eat. In fact, it was more than we could hold. We sat on a bench, leaning forward to avoid the dripping ice cream, and ate until we were full. Then we closed up the bags of cashews and chucked the rest into a waste bin where a squirrel was making a meal of what we humans had thrown away.
The line into the museum was short, and we had barely wiped our hands on the napkins before it was our turn. And immediately I was facing another crisis, for the sign at the booth said
Donate whatever you want
(Suggestion: $7.00 for adults and $2 for children under 12)
"Wow, it's free!" said Ari.
"That's so unfair," said Mimi at the same time.
"Because you have to decide whether you're going to be a cheapskate."
"That's why they have the suggestion," I said.
"But it's just a suggestion."
"But that's what they expect you to pay."
"No it's not. That's why they call it a suggestion."
I turned to the woman in the booth. "Excuse me, but do most people pay the $7?"
She had been listening to our discussion and smiled. "About half do."
"And does the other half go in for free?" asked Ari, a little too eagerly?
"Some do. Some people put in more. Some put in a few dollars, depending on what they can afford."
"Thank you," I said and stepped out of the line so that other people, less confused than we were, could pay and enter. The three of us stood next to a giant statue of a man, a woman and a child made entirely out of nails.
"So, let's pay our money and go in," Mimi said.
"You heard her," I said. "Some people pay less depending on what they can afford, and some people pay more."
"So?" asked Ari.
"Do you know what I could afford?"
"So pay $10 each and let's go in," said Ari.
"Because it's more and it's not $11.37."
"What's wrong with $11.37?"
"It's not round. No one gives un-round numbers, unless they're putting in all their change."
"So why not $20?"
"Ok, $20," Ari said. "Let's go in."
I shook my head. "I don't know how to figure this out."
Mimi put her hand on my shoulder and said, "There's nothing to figure. There are no rules. You're the world's richest boy. You're an exception to the rules about money."
"So, what do I do?"
"Put in a thousand dollars."
"What?!" Ari said, in shock. "A thousand dollars? Why?!"
"Because he can without even noticing it. You brought that much, didn't you?"
"Plenty more than that," I said, feeling both front pockets to reassure myself that the money was still there.
"So, a thousand dollars is nice round number."
"So why not two thousand?"
"Because, well, that's too much," Mimi said with such decisiveness that it ended the conversation.
I turned away so I could count out a thousand dollars without attracting attention, folded the bills up so it wouldn't look like I was stuffing a piñata, and strolled casually back to the booth. As if I were just dropping in a couple of bucks, I carefully put the money into the slot and walked in. Mimi and Ari each put in a $10 bill I'd given them.
No one noticed. No one knew. No one thanked me. I found myself hoping that the wad of bills I'd shoved in stayed together so when they counted the money up that evening, they'd know that someone had been unusually generous. "Hey, Myrtle," I imagined them saying, "It looks like someone put a thousand dollars in today. That's one generous person!"
Of course, I'd never know.
* * *
We stepped out into the light with a half day left. The museum had been a museum: walls and walls of stuff I didn't care about with occasional items that held me like a crumb being washed down a drain. The rooms with the photo exhibit were good. Because the photographer had taken pictures of things in extreme closeup, you had to stand back from the wall to see what they were but as you got closer and closer, the textures of the thing became more interesting. So, like everyone else there, we walked backwards and forwards in front of each photo as if we were on a rubber band.
When we got outside, we realized how hungry we were. I opened up the tourist information I'd gotten from the Web. "Le Grande Fleur," I said, pointing at the entry. "That's where we're going to have lunch. Taxi!"
The tourist guide said that Le Grande Fleur was the finest restaurant in town, featuring French menu items that I couldn't have pronounced even if I'd had my jaw hinges oiled. The service was reported to be perfect, with waiters in white gloves attending to your every need. The décor - the insides - was described as opulent and elegant, which I figured meant that they didn't have photos of the owner's nieces and nephews on the wall. But it didn't matter because Le Grande Fleur was full. No amount of money was going to empty the place any sooner.
"You want to wait or find somewhere else?" I asked.
"I'm hungry," said Ari.
So, we looked in the guide again. "The Salzburg Grille" was ranked almost as high as Le Grande Fleur and it was only a couple of blocks away. It was a beautiful day and spending money on a cab to go two blocks didn't even feel like fun, so we walked.
The Salzburg Grille has a gold-colored awning with its name written in dark blue script. "There it is," I said, and we walked more quickly because we were all really hungry by then. Two doors before it was a jewelry store that had gone out of business. The lights were off and the store was empty. Sitting on a blanket in its doorway were a homeless woman and a man and a little dog. A sign written on a crinkled flap of an old cardboard box said "Homeless and hungry. Give a hand?" Probably because we were kids, they didn't look at us as we approached. "Oh, look at the dog," said Mimi, giving me a wide-eyed tender gaze.
"I don't know," I said, panicked, in a soft voice. I didn't want to be forced into a decision right away. "Stay away," I said, "and we'll talk about it at lunch."
"Please," I said urgently. "I don't want to talk in front of them."
We waved and passed by. "Cute dog," Mimi said to them. They smiled back at her.
The restaurant was beautiful, all brick and brass and plants. The waiter who seated us only looked at us funny for a moment, and then must have figured that our parents had sent us here with money. His hair was slicked back, he wore a white shirt that was so clean and white it would probably have stayed lit even if the lights went out, and he walked so straight it was as if he was strapped to a coat rack. "Right this way," he said, leading us to a table near the window looking out on the homeless couple.
"I don't feel good about this," said Mimi. "Those people are hungry and here we are..." We looked at the menus silently. Even the appetizers cost more than ten dollars. I did the math and figured we'd be spending about $150 here. Although that wasn't even a drop in my bucket, it was still a lot of money to spend on a lunch for three.
"Ok, Mimi, I don't feel good about it either. But whatever we do, it doesn't have to affect our lunch. It's not like I have $150 that I can spend either on lunch or on them. So, let's order a nice lunch. I'm totally famished."
"Me, too," said Ari, tearing a roll into pieces before eating half of it all at once.
The waiter came right over - the same one who had seated us - said that his name was James and it was going to be his pleasure to serve us this afternoon. It turns out that the Salzburg Grille is a grill, and grills feature meat, making it tough to order an all-vegetarian. But we managed: French fries, salads, grilled cheese, fried mozzarella sticks, onion rings, a portabella mushroom sandwich, ginger broccoli stir fry, garlic bread, stuffed potatoes and brownie sundaes for dessert.
As we waited for the food to arrive, Mimi tapped out a rhythm with a breadstick. "So what are we going to do for those nice people?" she asked.
"How do you know they're nice?" asked Ari.
"Because they smiled when I complimented their doggie. Besides, the doggie looks happy and friendly, so they must take good care of it, which can't be easy when you're homeless and begging on the streets."
"He didn't look that happy to me."
"I can tell," said Mimi.
"You think you can tell."
"It doesn't matter if the dog is nice," I interrupted.
"You're going to give them money anyway?" asked Ari.
"Yes. Maybe. I don't know yet." I was thinking about what "Beech" Sadler had told me: I should know who they are instead of just dropping money in their lap.
When the waiter brought our food, I ordered three hamburgers to go, except they of course don't call them "hamburgers" in a place like the Salzburg Grill. No, they were "ground porterhouse," and you had to ask special to get ketchup.
"We don't generally prepare take-out meals," the waiter said. "I'm so sorry."
No he wasn't.
As he was about to turn away, I said, "Ok. Do you do doggie bags if we can't finish our lunch?"
"You mean for whatever portion of your meal you might want to take with you? Yes, certainly, sir."
"In that case, I'd like three hamburgers to eat now because I'm really really hungry. And if I can't finish them, I'll ask you to pack them up for me in a doggy bag."
"Why don't I just put them in a carry-away carton for you and have it ready for you when you're done with your meal?"
"Good idea! Thank you."
And when we were done, there was our waiter with the bill. I sensed he was surprised that we were actually able to pay for the meal. Only then did he hand over the bag with the three hamburger lunches in it. "Thank you," I said, leaving a $100 tip. No, I didn't like him very much, but he was working hard.
* * *
I still wasn't sure how much I was going to give the homeless couple when Mimi approached and began petting their dog. The dog got all excited the way little dogs do, skittering about on his little dog feet as if the sidewalk were just too hot to stand still on. "What's his name?" she asked.
"Spunky," said the man,
"Short for Spunkalator," explained the woman.
"He's adorable," Mimi said.
"He's a good dog," confirmed the man.
Mimi looked at me and said to the couple, "We were wondering if you and Spunky would like some hamburgers from that restaurant." I stepped forward with the bag.
"From the Grille? Why, yes, that sounds might good."
I handed the bag to him and he carefully laid out its contents: fat hamburgers on hard rolls, a container of ketchup, a large bag of French fries (or, as the Grille called them, "Fried Juliennes of New Potatoes"), thick paper napkins and three heavy-weight forks as if anyone would use silverware to eat French fries and hamburgers. He pulled at one meat patty until a large chunk came off and gave it to Spunky. It was gone in two shakes of a small dog's tail.
"Oh, he likes that," said the woman.
"This is a very nice thing you've done," said the man. "This is our regular spot, and I've wondered what the food's like in a place like that."
"It's good," said Ari. He had really enjoyed our meal.
The man took a bite. "Hmm, yes it is. It's very good."
"Do you want some?" the woman asked.
"Oh no," Mimi said. "We just ate. Thanks though."
"So," said Ari as the three of them ate their hamburgers, "How'd you end up here?"
It's good to have Ari with you if you want something blurted out.
"Not that you're 'ending up' here,'" said Mimi, awkwardly.
"No, no," said the man. "That's a fair question. And the answer is pretty simple."
"I'm schizophrenic," said the woman. "My name is Caroline."
"I'm Philip," said the man, and we introduced ourselves to him.
"Yes," said Philip, "Caroline is schizophrenic. Do you know what that means?"
"She thinks she's different people," Ari said with all the confidence that ignorance gives a person.
"No, that's what it means on TV. But in real life, a schizophrenic is, well, a crazy person. Caroline sometimes hears voices that aren't there."
"Not in a while."
"Not in a couple of days," Philip said. "And when she hears voices, she talks back to them. But no one else can hear them."
"Yeah, I'm nuts," Caroline said. "It scares me."
"Can't they do anything about it?"
"Not much," said Caroline. "You know the Carlton Center?" I nodded because I'd heard of it. "I was there for a couple of years. And then the state stopped paying so they kicked me out."
"They just put you on the street?"
"They tried to help. I was supposed to come in every week or every two weeks or something, but I kept getting confused. Never made it back. But then I met Philip and Spunky."
"I was living on the street," Philip said. "And it's easy to tell you how I got there: drugs. I was a heroin addict. I probably still am."
"What do you mean 'probably'?" asked Ari. "Don't you know?"
"I'm not using now, but I may be tomorrow. That's the truth. That's the sad truth. Can't get a job and couldn't keep one if I did. I've tried and I always end up back using. It's a bad thing, but I guess they teach you that in school."
"Yeah, we did a whole unit on it in Health," Ari said a tad too cheerfully. I looked harshly at him to keep him from describing the report he'd done. It was in the form of a skit.
"So now you both live on the street and live on what people give you?" I asked.
"That's it," Philip said. "We sleep in the shelters when it's cold or raining so hard that it blows under the roof of the Chapel or the Shoe Barn. Those are too of the best places to bed down."
"And sometimes we save enough money to get ourselves little treat."
"Mainly we just drink up the extra money, to tell you the truth."
"That's not true, Philly. We got this sweater for me with money we saved."
"That was over a year ago," Philip said gently.
"So," I asked, "What would you do if you won the lottery?"
"Well, that'd be too much to drink," said Philip.
"I'd stay in a hotel and get room service," said Caroline.
"I'd invite our friends. Have a party."
"Fun!" said Caroline.
"Would you do with it anything that would maybe get you off the streets for more than a few nights?" Mimi asked.
Philip paused and rubbed his chin. He pulled Spunky into his lap and stroked his head and back. "That'd be the smart thing to do. Of course, I didn't get here by doing smart things."
"Oh, don't say that," said Caroline.
"Hard to say anything else," Philip replied. "So, what would get me off the street? I could get myself cleaned up with that type of money. Some new clothes, not look like a bum. We could rent a little place. Maybe I could get a job if I didn't look like a homeless bum."
"A lot of it is the clothing," Caroline confided.
"But I haven't been good at holding jobs," he continued. "It's hard not to come home and drink, or go out with the guys for a few. I don't know."
I looked at Mimi. She nodded. "Ok, this is going to be hard to believe," I began, "but I want you to have this." I pulled an envelope out of each of my front pockets. "That's $10,000." I held it out to them. They didn't move. "It's for you. You can't tell anyone where you got it, but it's totally legal."
"He won the lottery. The big one," said Ari. "Really."
"Really I did. I won more money than anyone could spend in a lifetime. So, please take this. But only if you use it to try to get off the street."
Caroline took one envelope from my hand. Philip looked at her and then took the other envelope. They looked in them as if they were peering through a telescope at another world.
"I don't know what to say," said Philip.
"It's really awkward for all of us," I said.
"Not for me," said Caroline. "This is just fantastic. Thank you. Thank you."
"Thank you," said Philip. "We'll try to make this a new start."
"Spunky thanks you," said Caroline, waving the dog's tiny paw at us.
"Ok. You're welcome. And remember, you can't tell anyone where you got it."
"Won't tell a soul."
We were backing away when someone approached the blanket they were sitting on and dropped a $5 bill into the couple's cup. "Thanks, Martin," said Caroline.
"He's a regular. Everyday," explained Philip.
As Martin continued down the street, we saw that he had been our waiter at lunch.
* * *
"Well, I feel really weird about that," I said when we were a block away.
"About what?" Ari asked.
"About giving them the money."
"I know what you mean," said Mimi.
[sees waiter looking at them. Waiter walks by. Man says the waiter always gives him money.]
Homeless woman and man. Take them in to lunch. Here their story. She's psycho. Unstructured money no good? Some foundation helped them.s
Encounter a foundation. Miuseunm exhibit sponsored by a foundation? Or get stuck without money and have to be sent home by a travelers aid society.
[THE REST ARE NOTES. IGNORE.]
Help them record their memories. Make a book. Amanda's is two lines. Ari's old person needs money. Fail to leave it.
Next chapter: Wild trip to the city to try to spend money.
Bingo. Amanda wants to listen to her music.
[he leaves money around. Is caught and claims to have found it.]
A,lso discovers that Mr. Dunn is planning something nefarious. He's behind the Boyton Clounty Register. Is going to steal advertisers by letting them put in a coupon that he'll pay for that will show that the Register works better than the Gazette. The Gazette can't do that. Our hero can't pay for it either because he can't let his father know. Instead, creates charity coupons - redeemable for work by the school kids. Charity is fixing up the old age home
Or, creates fake company: the factor that makes the pieces for factories. Buys ads..
11. begins by saying that his first big expenditure did nbothing but only get them arrested. Hero buys ads for fictitious businesses to help his father. More and more ridiculous companies
12. Upgrades a school event. Hires a rock band for a fund raiser? Battle of the bands? Gourmet lunches?Rock band promoter tries to swindle him.
Foundation. Goes to bank manager to set it up. Creates a fake grownup identity. Delivers funds wrapped in a distinctive ribbon (yarn). That's how he proves he was the donor, not Dunn.
Helps Ari compete for Amanda by making Ari rich: flowers, etc. Presents it as a secret admirer. As Ari is about to take credit, Amanda discovers (how?) that it's hero's name on the bills so she thinks he's the secret admirer.
Running for president. Rather than offer better school lunches, offers charity campaign.
Last chapter: Father's Anti lottery debate. Comes clean.
To help ari compete with Roger, hero makes him like a rich guy. Flowers, gifts, etc.
Hero advertises real estate development to support father's paper. Hero hears from people in old age home looking for a new place becase amanda's father is talkingabot closing them down.
Roger runs for class president. W ants to have a lottery to raise money? Hero runs against him on a platform of community involvement?
Here's the James T. McArthur Fund on radi and decides to set up his own fund. Delivers cash to people, including to Ellen (little girlfriednd's) house because her father was laid off from Dunn Manufacturing. Ends up doing what Feuerstein did.
Tries to give grant to school for school trip but his class votes to give it away.
Spoends on himself by upgrading school events for everyone. Anonymously. People assume it was Mr. dunn.
Network folks are coming to hear his father's debate.
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