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Quasi-Stoics Lounge

Life's Lessons Learned

January 7, 2015 by Somebody Else

As the old Todd Rundgren song goes, “Hello, it’s me.” Although it may seem that I’ve been away for a good long while, the truth is that I’ve actually been around the area for the last several months. But I’ve been lying low, and I’ve had my reasons. I could have submitted something to the website for some time now, because I’ve had more than enough free time on my hands, but quite honestly, I’ve been too depressed to hardly even get out of bed. My days have been spent looking at the slowly advancing calendar on the wall, taking in a lot of Netflix streaming videos, eating frozen dinners that I heat up in my microwave, and watching my little bit of remaining money evaporate. I’ve got maybe one or two more months before it all runs out and I have to either find a job or seek out some longsuffering relative or friend to give me a couch to sleep on.

How did it all come to this? That’s a good question. I myself am still struggling to discover the answer. You’ll recall that our Editor-in-Chief, Somebody, explained back in March of 2014 that I’d gotten a settlement of seven million dollars from the British royal family for abuse that I’d received at the hands of government thugs during my efforts to interview William and Kate -- hush money, if you want to call it that. I neither choose to affirm or deny those reasons. But I do indeed admit that I got about seven million dollars, give or take a few hundred thousand after all applicable deductions and adjustments for taxes.

I distinctly remember one particular moment while in custody when one of the palace guards who had come in to grab a coffee saw the massive bruise on my left cheek and asked me what had happened. I briefly told him that I had been trying to interview the royal couple, and that when arrested I had been smacked in the face even though I had made no effort to resist arrest. He very solemnly took a photo of my abused face and remarked that it was his official duty to report such incidents. When one of the interrogating officers tried to confiscate his phone, he angrily replied that he was prepared to take the matter all the way to the top if necessary, and left the room with his evidence firmly tucked away. I may very well have his stalwart belief in transparent government and impartial justice to thank for the massive load of cash I got from the English monarchy in an evident effort to sweep the whole unfortunate incident under the rug. But again, I neither will affirm nor deny this, since doing so would be in violation of a certain highly confidential document I signed whose specific nature I am not at liberty to disclose.

Some of you might be wondering if I’ve let the cat out of the bag by writing this article. Maybe so -- but at this point I quite honestly don’t care anymore. And at any rate, let’s say I went straight to the offices of CNN and told them my story. Would anyone buy it? Look, if they even went to the trouble to contact official government sources in England, they’d just be told that I’m some kind of a delusional crank. Let me get right to the point. I have no credibility whatsoever. I’m just some nobody, some unemployed guy living in an efficiency apartment in some nondescript American town. So what the heck, I don’t think there’s any real chance that anything is ever going to come of it. Nobody except my website boss seems to believe me, and even he finds the whole account hard to swallow. And once more, like I said, neither have I affirmed nor denied anything. You know, just in case.

Well, I’m not going to lie. When I found out the money was coming in, I was absolutely elated and ecstatic. I thought that from that moment on, my life was going to be absolute paradise until they lowered me into my grave. I know that such a crass attitude goes completely against everything I had ever stood for up to that moment, but what can I say, since as Cyndi Lauper puts it, money does indeed change everything. And boy, let me tell you, it sure did change me. Practically overnight, I turned into somebody else, and I mean without the capital letters, if you take my meaning.

At first, after I had signed and sent back the papers, and during the week or so that I was waiting for the electronic transfer of funds to my checking account, I found it hard to fully believe that I was about to become a multimillionaire. I thought that maybe the whole thing would somehow fall apart at the last minute. So, I held on to my job at Majik Market, and outwardly everything continued on as before. But when I one day finally checked my balance and saw that the transfer had been completed as promised, I at last realized that it had really and truly happened.

The first thing I did was to withdraw ten thousand dollars in cash, walk to Wal-Mart, buy the largest flat screen TV they had and a twenty-four pack of Heinekens, then call a taxi to take me to my apartment. The next day I was rottenly hung over, and I had a seven a.m. shift, but I slept until eleven a.m. I straggled in to work at noon, and my boss Rajnish was there, but he didn’t say anything to me, so I don’t know if he even noticed that I had missed most of my shift.

The day after that I think I was supposed to work, but I didn’t show up just because I was binge watching Saturday Night Live episodes from the 1970’s on Netflix all day. The following morning I came in three hours late and this time Ted was there and he griped about having to wait until I showed up since he couldn’t leave the store unattended. I was hung over again and I snapped at him and told him he should have just locked up and left when his shift was up. So, Ted said something like, what’s gotten into you? And right then and there I kind of had one of those epiphanous moments, and realized that I didn’t care about Majik Market anymore because I didn’t need it. I told Ted to have a good morning, and right after he left I checked to make sure nobody was in the store, then I locked up and left because I had better things to do with my day, such as going to shop for a new high-end tuxedo, and looking for an upscale house to rent in the ritziest section of town.

After that I kind of lost track of my schedule at the store and just showed up to work every now and then when I got bored of playing with my expensive new toys and hanging out with all the brand new “friends” that I’d met on my many visits to Club Godzilla. I say “friends” between quotation marks, because later on I realized that they weren’t real friends at all. More on that later.

In hindsight, it seems to me that my sporadic visits back to the Majik Market may have been a subconscious part of me that was still trying to hold on to the stability and tranquility that the store sort of represented for me on some level or another. Now, let me be clear, the place is just a crummy convenience store where you get paid awful wages with no benefits, and at any moment some desperate and homicidal drug-addicted idiot can come barging in with a gun to clean out the cash register and maybe splatter your brains all over the wall in the process. But all of that aside, I had to admit that I’d had some good times there talking to the people who came in, and occasionally hanging out with my coworkers Ted, Marquis, Crystal, and Nick. And I must confess that I did really enjoy watching Rajnish light the incense in front of his figurine of his Hindu prosperity goddess. I had to wonder whether or not the blessings of Lakshmi had suddenly and unbidden come to me in a massive fire-hose torrent. Not that I’m ever going to become a Hindu, but still you have to ask yourself about those kinds of things.

Lakshmi the prosperity goddess

Well, one day I decided to make a trip to Tahiti with three girls I’d met at Club Godzilla, and what was supposed to be a mere weekend visit turned into a two-week drunken island adventure during which I stayed in the penthouses of every major hotel there. I made a deliberate point of doing that, maybe just so that I could have the bragging rights for it later. One night I organized a party for which I hired Electric Light Orchestra, who just happened to be there with lead singer Jeff Lynne to take a well needed break from touring. I really forked over a truckload of money for that one, but it was really worth it when they did “Turning to Stone,” “Living Thing,” and “Mr. Blue Sky,” among other classic hit tunes. Plus, I had the whole event professionally catered in the main ballroom of the hotel. Everyone was invited, and, after paying a massive bribe to the human resources manager, I rounded up the housekeepers on the night shift and made sure that they also got out on the dance floor with everyone else. Afterwards, I convinced many of those attending to go swimming in the hotel pool fully clothed with martini drinks in hand. It was a grand time indeed. I got so carried away I offered this guy one hundred grand for his BMW just so I could drive it right off the beach and into the ocean waves. I’d always wanted to do that. It was so awesome to watch the seawater stream in through the cracks of that luxury car while “96 Tears” by Question Mark and the Mysterians played on satellite radio and my new Japanese girlfriend nibbled on my right earlobe.

After all of that, I felt strangely disoriented, as if I wasn’t exactly sure of whom I was anymore. Oddly, the idea of going back to Majik Market seemed somehow appealing, and I put on my khakis, official company shirt, and nametag, and went in at seven a.m. as I had always done before. But when I got there, there was some newly hired teenaged dude named Chris who said he was working that shift, and that nobody was scheduled to join him. So, I checked the monthly schedule on the back wall, and my name wasn’t anywhere on it. That’s when I realized that I’d been let go. I can’t say I was fired exactly. I finally checked my phone messages on my answering machine, which I had neglected to do for a few weeks, and heard Rajnish’s voice on a few, asking in his usual gentle and impartial voice if I was planning to come to work. Well, I can’t say I blame him for hiring Chris to replace me.

When I got all of the money, my longtime girlfriend Kathy and I had not been communicating with each other very much since I had asked her to marry me a month earlier, and she had responded that she didn’t think I was ready to make that kind of a commitment. When I asked for a clarification on what exactly she meant by that, she flippantly remarked that I should just take a good, honest, hard look at myself, so I said, what the hell is that supposed to mean, and she got up and stormed out of the room. Two days later I called her to apologize, and she blurted out, do you have a ring, and I said, I can’t really afford one right now, and she just grumbled, you’re pathetic, and hung up on me.

So, you can understand that when the money rolled in for me, it didn’t even cross my mind to contact Kathy. Quite honestly, I had had it up to here with her self-righteous attitude. When I started hanging out with other girls at Club Godzilla, I hadn’t even bothered to bring my relationship with Kathy to an official close. I just didn’t really care to go through with it.

One night she came unannounced to my old apartment. She had with her a bottle of white wine and some smoked salmon, both of which she knows I love. She’d done this before many times, treated me like crap and then tried to patch things up when she got lonely and needed to have me around again. But someone else was living there, because I’d already moved into my new rented house. Kathy texted me and got my new address, and drove over to my new place right away.

When she got there my new multicolored psychedelic strobe light was flashing, and techno music was pulsing at full volume, while a crowd of women that I picked up at Club Godzilla was dancing with me. She knocked on the door for ten minutes until someone finally heard her and let her in to join the party. When she came into the living room and saw what was going on, she reacted by smashing the bottle of white wine through the glass coffee table and throwing the package of smoked salmon in my face. Then, she shouted out that all of the women there were a bunch of, well, you can imagine. They just laughed at her and said, come on honey, dance with us, to which she gave all of them the finger.

Before she walked out the door, she told me as a parting shot that I was acting just like Henry Miller and Picasso, which didn’t really hurt my feelings exactly, but I did take it to mean that our relationship was officially history. Later on, I got a text from her asking me where the hell did I get the money to rent that house, to which I cryptically responded, wouldn’t you like to know.

Then I started to think about what happened and began to feel a bit remorseful and tried to call her a few times to explain myself and even left a few voice messages, but she never answered or called back. Website Editor-in-Chief Somebody told me recently that he’d run into her, and learned from her that she’d been dating some guy named Delvin, and that she’d asked Somebody to tell me to stop trying to contact her. Alright then, all I can say is good riddance, Kathy. Maybe things will work out between you and Delvin and you can have a happy life, the kind you evidently doubted I could ever give you. I wish you the best.

Even though all of those developments were certainly depressing, I didn’t allow myself to dwell on them very much at the time. I just continued spending money as if my bank account was a bottomless well of funds, and drinking pricey imported beer and fine French wine like tap water. All the days and nights blurred into one. It seemed like there was always someone around claiming to be my best buddy for life, and every morning I woke up there were at least half a dozen people passed out somewhere in my house that I had no memory of ever having met. A lot of my newly acquired stuff went missing: my collection of custom-tailored Italian leather jackets, my vintage Stratocaster guitar signed by Jimi Hendrix, my Lamborghini, but that one was kind of my fault because I did leave the keys in it overnight. And I spent a lot of time in airplanes.

Once, I somehow got talked into renting a private Lear jet, and ended up at the airport in Mumbai, India. I have no idea who told the pilot to fly us all there. As soon as we got out of the plane, my girlfriend at the time, Tracy, who recently won the solo dancing category for the boogie on down contest at Club Godzilla, decided to take charge, and convinced me to rent a private bus to drive us up through the mountain passes of Kashmir into Tibet so that we could all meet the Dalai Lama, since she’s a big fan. So, it was a big shock to her when the bus driver informed us that there was no chance of us passing the heavily guarded border between Kashmir and Tibet, and that in any case, His Holiness has been in exile from his home country since 1959. You should have seen the tears stream down Tracy’s face when she heard that, it was quite tragic. She went straight back to the bus’s mini bar and emptied half a bottle of Cognac in thirty minutes and passed out, poor thing.

However, the bus driver, who went by the name of Buddy, but whose real name was actually Ahmad, did agree to take us as far as Kashmir. I only have fragmented memories of the bus ride because we were all drinking like fish the whole way up into the Himalayas. Finally, the road ran out somewhere way up there, and we were in some odd kind of town where there were a bunch of pack animals everywhere. Ahmad made arrangements for me to rent a whole caravan of those hardy beasts, along with the riders and the tents and food and cooks, and off we went into the majestic mountainous wilderness to see what we could see. It was bitterly cold at night, and I snuggled up with Tracy under stinky yak hide blankets on the floor of our tent. Everyone drank some pungent fermented home brew that our guides cooked up, which I suppose is an acquired taste that I’ll never acquire. Once we thought we saw the Yeti as we were moving through a snowy mountain pass, but upon closer inspection it turned out to be a large black rock sticking out of the snow. But for a moment there we had the scare of our lives.

Who knows how long that mind-blowing Kashmir adventure might have lasted? We’ll never find out, because Tracy sprained her ankle going to get water from a stream, and screamed and cried like a six-month-old baby. She refused to continue walking, saying it was too painful, and then a massive blizzard came in. We had to find shelter right away, and the wind was too strong for us to set up the tents. Under intense pressure from Tracy, I got Buddy to race ahead with one of the guides to the next small town, where there happened to be a cell phone tower, and he got in touch with a private helicopter company, which, for an unbelievably steep fee, agreed to airlift Tracy out of the remote mountain valley where she had injured herself. Then, everyone else in the group said they were ready to get out of the mountains as well, and convinced me to pay for several helicopter trips until everyone had their turn. After it was all done, I was presented with a bill that made my eyes bug out of my skull. I wired money in from my bank account, and perhaps for the first time it dawned on me that I might actually blow every last cent of my savings, and have absolutely nothing whatsoever to show for it.

I had gone through my fortune like a hot knife through butter. In the space of only a few months, I had blown four million dollars to the wind. But I still had three million in the bank.

One morning, after waking up with a blinding headache and finding my residence once again trashed and filled with strangers, I finally reached my breaking point, and started screaming and yelling at everyone, telling them to get the hell out. I decided that the time had come to clean house and get rid of my Club Godzilla “friends.” It finally dawned on me that all they had done was to flatter me, and lie to me, and steal from me, and beg from me, and take from me, and had given me absolutely nothing in return. I finally saw them all for what they really are, which is a swarm of bloodsucking leeches and opportunistic weasels. After a few minutes, the house was empty again, and immediately after a brief rush of satisfaction, a heavy and intolerable feeling of emptiness suddenly overwhelmed me.

So, I sat down to the computer and saw that I’d gotten this email message from some guy in Burkina Faso. He said that he’d been a very successful businessman in his country, and had millions of dollars in the bank, but his funds had been frozen because of political instability there. All he needed from me was some small assistance so that he could free up the money, and in return he was willing to give me a million dollars.

Well, I’ll be honest, when I read that email, it seemed like a real chance at redemption for me. By extending the guy a hand, I had a chance to recoup some of my losses. I followed up with him, and he instructed me to wire a few thousand dollars to an unnamed account. With this money, he expected that he would be able to free up his millions by paying a bribe to the right person. Since he was under pressure from the authorities, I could certainly understand his need for absolute secrecy in this matter. I waited expectantly for him to tell me that my cut of the money was on the way.

However, I was instead informed after a few days that the bribe had been deemed insufficient, and that more was required, actually, quite a lot more. When I asked how much, my Burkina Faso friend simply enquired, how much can you give? I figured that a cool one hundred grand ought to do the trick, and wired it over.

A few days passed. He then called me on my cell to tell me that I should wire him still more if I could, since the authorities had proven to be much more intransigent than he had hoped, but that in the interim, he had discovered that he might actually free up more than one billion dollars of his personal funds, and that if I could just come up with two million dollars for a bribe, he could instead give me fifty million dollars for my trouble.

Well, I must admit, the idea of surpassing my original seven million dollar settlement by such a wide margin was extremely enticing. Supremely confident of victory, I wired him the two million. Several days passed. Finally, he called on my cell to say that the bribe had been a success, and that I should fly to Burkina Faso to personally pick up my fifty million dollars, since he could not run the risk of wiring me the money, because the corrupt government was closely monitoring him. I immediately got a plane ticket and flew over. My instructions were to look for a guy named Walter who would be holding up a sign with my name once I got off the plane.

As promised, a cheerful and smiling Walter was there when I got off the plane, and I followed him to his car. He politely asked me to get in the back. As soon as I sat down, the guy next to me stuffed a chloroform rag in my face and I passed out. I woke up in a room somewhere with no windows where I was tied to a chair. I was interrogated for hours and asked to provide information on my family, how much money they had, how much they would be willing to pay to save my life, how much I still had left in my bank account, how to log on to my website and wire the rest over to them, and if I didn’t then they were going to kill anyone I cared about, and then they were going to kill me. I lied to them about everything while they beat me senseless. I lost two front teeth. I honestly thought I was going to die there.

Lucky me, though, because one of my captors fell asleep when he was supposed to be guarding me, and I got up off the floor and tiptoed out of the room. I was surprised to see that nobody else was in the unlocked residence, and I just quietly headed outside into the warm evening air. It was just a little apartment building in the middle of a city. I started walking and eventually worked up the nerve to ask someone on the street how to get to the airport, which turned out to only be a mile or two away. There, I explained that my ID had been taken away from me when I had been kidnapped. I had no idea how to explain to them where the interrogation apartment was. The next day, I was flying back to the United States, poorer but wiser. The next time you get an email like the one I got from that Burkina Faso guy, remember what happened to me and mark it as junk mail.

So, after all of that insanity, I only had a million in my bank account. It’s a funny thing that I should say ONLY one million. Still, after having seven million, it didn’t seem like all that much. Six million dollars down the drain. I figured it was time for me to finally get serious and become an investor.

I called up Somebody and asked for his advice, but everything that he had to say was incredibly boring. He talked about indexed stock funds, and mutual accounts, and precious metals, and portfolios, and bonds, blah, blah, blah. Finally, losing patience with my indifferent attitude, he suggested that I simply call Merrill Lynch or Charles Schwab, and just send them all of my savings, and they’d manage everything for me so that I wouldn’t have to. Well, that sounded too much like my Burkina Faso misadventure, so I told him, no thanks, not for me.

Around that time, I got a call from Marquis at Majik Market, who told me that he had a cousin named Clyde who was looking to start up a combined restaurant and car wash. The idea was that you could eat your burger and fries while they washed your car. It sounded like a dynamite concept to me, so I followed up with Clyde, who came over to my house and shared his ideas in greater detail. I asked him if he had drawn up a formal proposal of some kind, but he said no, he was never much for writing things down, and that he found that he worked better just going with whatever he had in his head. The details for the whole project were kind of fuzzy, but after drinking several beers to clear our minds, Clyde looked at me with a serene smile on his face and said, seven hundred grand, and I’ll pay you back one point four million in five years. Why seven hundred, I asked. Because seven is my lucky number, my man, he replied. So that settled it.

I gave Clyde the money in cash with no contracts signed, and he promptly bought a prime piece of undeveloped real estate in a burgeoning business district nearby, and got construction started on the restaurant and car wash. They cleared off the land and laid down concrete foundations, but then stopped and nothing more happened. After only a few weeks Clyde came back to say that it wasn’t enough, and he was going to need more. So, I gave him another two hundred grand. Then, I didn’t hear from him for a long time, and he didn’t return my calls and texts. I asked Marquis what was going on, and he told me that Clyde had ended up in jail for dealing methamphetamines.

I visited him in jail, and he told me that he had been framed and that he expected to beat the rap soon. I told him that I was sorry for what had happened to him, but that I had gotten cold feet about the whole business venture, and wanted back my investment. He was very understanding, and said he totally knew where I was coming from, but that all he could offer me was the land he had bought with my money, because the rest had been misplaced, as he put it, without going into any detail.

So, I made arrangements for him to sign the land over to me, because it was in his name, but when I slid the document under the security window for him to sign, he gave me this cold look, then stared at the floor, and said, sorry, man, I gave it some thought, and I’ve changed my mind, I’m not going to sign that, I’ve got to have something when I get out of here. When I asked him to be fair, he looked up at me again, and just said, that land’s legally in my name, and I’m not signing it over. Look here, I’ll find another investor when I get out, and I’m going to get that restaurant and car wash going, and I’ll even name it after you, man, and then I swear to God I’ll pay you back for everything with one hundred percent interest, one point four million, just like we originally agreed. Nobody can say I never paid him back for anything because I’m a man of my word, etc. Then he got up and walked back to his cell.

If you’ve been doing the math, you might think that at this point I only had about a hundred grand. But I did other things to spend even more money, which I won’t bother to go into here, so that actually after my final interview with Clyde, I only had about thirty thousand. That was a few months ago. Two weeks ago, I was thrown out of my rented house after two months of not paying the rent. As luck would have it, my old apartment was once again available, so I moved back in as if nothing had ever happened. When I checked yesterday, I had about five thousand in my bank account.

So, what to do now? Well, Ted emailed me two days ago to tell me that Chris had quit at Majik Market because he decided he’d rather earn tips waiting tables at Olive Garden, and that Rajnish himself was now covering my old shift. So, Ted basically encouraged me to return, bless his soul. I’ll probably head on over in a few days to ask for my old job. I just hope Rajnish will take me back. I pray that the goddess Lakshmi grant my request.

It’s funny how everything comes around full circle, isn’t it? I’ve always thought that Crystal was really cute, but I’m wondering if I’m just too old for her, since I’m in my forties and she’s in her twenties. But I think I may ask her out one of these days anyway, because after all, what do I have to lose? But I’d definitely not take her out to Club Godzilla, because I don’t think I can stand to see any of those old “friends” ever again, or at least for a few more months.

"Won't you tell me where my country lies?" said the unifaun to his true love's eyes...