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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Thanks for the Memories I

Thanks for the Memories

Arthur Andrews sits on a divan near the mirrors as his father tries on a new suit at the upscale downtown department store. Arthur is nine years old, looks even younger, but talks like a seasoned Mafia enforcer. As he speaks to his father he balances this conversation by hurling threats and obscene vitriol into his cell phone headset.

“I already got me a suit, Arthur. The one I wear Sundays,” Mister Andrews said. His discomfort is audible.

“This is a business suit, dad. How many times do I have to tell you? You need it for your new job,” Arthur says to his father while into the phone he screams, “Cut him off. Do I have to do everything? He’s already down 3 Gs.”

“I don’t apprehend what’s wrong with my old job. I liked it. I was good at it.”

“We’ve been over this before, dad. Don’t be so resistant to advancement and self-improvement.”

“The other guys down at the shop see me wearing this to work, well, let me tell you, I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“Just get over the fact that you are leaving those proletarian slobs behind, dad. You’re moving into management.”

“I just wish I could go back to wearing my canvas work pants and boots like I been doing all this time. I don’t need to wear no suit, even in management, not at Al’s Appliance Superstore.”

Mr. Andrews had worked in the service department of Al’s Appliance for the past twelve years until Arthur decided that he wanted his father to move into the realm of white collar employment.

“It’s all about image, dad. You have to look like a leader,” Arthur said as he returned to chewing out whoever had the unenviable task of being on the other end of his cell phone conversation. Arthur Andrews was extremely interested in image these days, ever since he read about those punks in the British royal family in People Magazine.

“Look at what this thing costs. I paid less for my first car. You and me could go see the races every day for a year for the same money.”

“And no more NASCAR, dad. I want you to play golf—it’s more dignified.”

The overly-solicitous salesman was becoming less so with every country-accented word, malapropism, solecism, and grammar gaff that Arthur’s father uttered. “Perhaps you’d be more comfortable shopping in our discount store, sir. Of course, they don’t carry these brands.” The salesman turns to address Arthur, as it is obvious that the son is in charge of this outing.

Arthur cuts him off with a raised finger as he yells into his phone, “You, Slasher, Frankie One Eye, Ice Pick, Rat Face, and Peanut pick him up and use his head as a battering ram and throw him out. You got it?” Arthur turns off his cell phone and returns his attention to the salesman, “Listen, I’m sure what you make along with your store discount go farther over there at bargain world, but my dad can’t be seen in the kind of off-brand stuff you wear.”

Before the salesman has time to recover, Arthur is straightening his father’s new tie. “Shoot the cuffs, dad.” Mr. Andrews obeys and looks at himself approvingly in the mirror.

“He’ll take this one and the one in charcoal. Put it on this card.” Arthur dismisses the defeated clerk with the wave of a credit card. If Arthur’s father wondered how his son was going to pay for the clothing he was too afraid to ask him about it. Arthur was a little touchy lately, it was better just to let him have his way.

The Andrews has always been intimidated by their only child. Arthur had scored off the charts on any intelligence tests that he took and even as a baby he was peculiar. His mother would try to make him watch the Walt Disney cartoons like the other kids in the neighborhood enjoyed. Little Arthur would howl like a banshee until she took out “The Little Mermaid” and put in one of her husbands movies, preferably a gangster film.

When he was two little Arthur’s favorite movie was “Reservoir Dogs.” His parents were both proud and mortified that he could recite every line of dialogue by heart. The Andrew’s only heir especially loved to act out the scene where the cop gets his ear sliced off. After that you could put the happy little guy down for the night and he wouldn’t move until morning.

They were extremely proud of their son, although sometimes his high IQ was a burden to them. Arthur corrected his mother’s grammar so often that she quit talking altogether when he was about five.

“Daddy and me are going to put you in the college preparatory first grade class.”

“It’s ‘Daddy and I are going to put you in the college preparatory first grade class.’ I’m sure I’ll be bored to death.” Arthur’s mother wasn’t as thick-skinned as her inarticulate husband and soon resorted to communicating with her only child by whistling. She and her son quickly developed their own language completely free of the rules of grammar that had once so hindered their conversation.

The Andrews refused to let Arthur skip ahead several grades as school administrators had suggested. They wanted their son to have a normal life, as if that would be possible with Arthur’s freakishly high intelligence. Arthur quickly learned that he could do whatever he wanted in school, or not do whatever he chose not to do.

Any sort of discipline became impossible once he determined that he could hold the school ransom by refusing to take any standardized tests if they tried to punish him for any of his misdeeds. He single handedly raised the school’s test scores enough to keep them comfortably above minimum requirements. If Arthur were to fail a test purposefully it could mean that the entire district might have to sacrifice federal aid money.

Arthur seemed content to live out his childhood in a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” d├ętente between himself and the usual sources of authority for normal kids. Until one day when Arthur picked up that fateful copy of People Magazine in the office of his father’s realtor. Mr. Andrews had brought Arthur along with him so that his son could explain to the realtor the complicated refinancing scheme he had worked out for his parents. Normally Arthur wouldn’t be caught dead reading celebrity gossip trash, but People was all that was available. The magazine had a feature story with several photographs chronicling the life of the British royal family. There were pictures of young princes riding horse back, visiting chic European vacation destinations, and other activities of the leisure class. Arthur immediately compared their lives with his and saw that his own childhood was coming up short.

In fourth grade Arthur had begun an extensive study of childhood development. He had done extensive research on the traumatic effects of neglect in preadolescent children. Now Arthur was concerned that his lack of experience with summers spent of the French Riviera and black ties balls in the company of important and influential parents might one day come back to haunt him. It’s not that he thought that his own childhood could be described as unhappy in any way, but he felt that he should cover his bases by having experiences like the rich brats in the magazine.

Once Arthur had decided to focus his mental gifts on making money it didn’t take him long to get going, and his love of gangster films directed him to a life of crime as the quickest path to instant wealth. He started a casino and employed his group of unsavory friends to staff it—if “unsavory” is an appropriate term to use when describing fifth graders.

Arthur’s classmates or not, they gave Mrs. Andrews the creeps. She wasn’t concerned that they would have a bad influence on Arthur. Arthur had been above any influence from his peers and it was pretty obvious he was the ringleader of his little group, and it was Arthur, after all, who had given all of them those dreadful nicknames. She just wished that Arthur could have cute little friends that she could fuss over. Lord knows she could never fuss over Arthur himself; he was the least needy child on the planet. Arthur rarely even took meals at home these days. He was spending more and more of his time at that Boys Club.

The Boys Club was a front for Arthur’s gambling operation. He had rented a warehouse a few blocks from his house for what would soon become the most successful criminal venture in the city’s history. Arthur kept it simple, he wasn’t about to overestimate the abilities of his staff. He had three blackjack tables, a roulette wheel, a craps table, but his biggest earner was the sports book.

As gifted as Arthur was in academics, his true genius was in picking winners in professional football. He had beaten the Las Vegas bookies on four out of the last five regular season NFL games. He picked all of the winners and covered the spread in the first two rounds of the playoffs. His odds for the two division championship games were in stark contrast to the Las Vegas numbers. If his luck lasted this week he would be a very wealthy fifth grader.

It would be difficult to believe it from his appearance but Arthur wasn’t really interested in the money. Ever since he saw that issue of People he had become obsessed with acquiring his own collection of happy childhood memories. When he noticed that all the rich kids’ parents drove big off-road vehicles he leased the biggest one he could find for his mother. She couldn’t drive it very well and was completely terrified of the thing, but Arthur was more comfortable with the image it portrayed. It was a miracle that his mother had not killed anyone so far. She would often get home and find a tricycle stuck in the wheel well or streaks of paint on the bumpers.

Arthur was never very interested in playing sports but he felt that they were probably part of a happy childhood. He joined a youth soccer league although he rarely played—most of the time he sat on the sidelines furiously pecking on his laptop or shouting instructions into his cell phone. Although if you pressed him, Arthur probably couldn’t tell you which team he played for, he always seemed to make the winning goal, week after week.

The same scenario suspiciously unfolded at each game. The score would be tied with less than a minute to go. Arthur would put down his laptop and phone and come off the sideline. He would get the pass and dribble in front of the goal just as the goalie tripped over his own feet. Arthur would kick the ball in for the winning goal. Sometimes he would miss and they’d have to repeat the pantomime. You can’t put a price tag on childhood memories like those but if, just for the sake of argument, you were looking for a price, it would be somewhere around $50 for every player, coach, and referee. This doesn’t include the photographer’s salary. Priceless memories need good pictures.

Arthur insisted that his mother drive him to soccer. He could just as easily take a cab like he did for school every day (the bus was too noisy and slow) but that’s what kids’ mothers were supposed to do. When Arthur’s father offered to drive him one day Arthur screamed at him that there were no such things as soccer dads. Dads are too busy to drive their kids to soccer. His teammates would think that Mr. Andrews had nothing better to do. So Arthur’s mom continued to drive him even thought she wasn’t getting the hang of driving the monster truck he had forced on her. She would have had an easier time controlling a rampaging elephant.

Arthur’s plans for his perfect childhood were moving along nicely. He picked both winners in the division playoff games and the other operations at the casino are all highly profitable. Things are going so well that the gives his boys a day off and invites them over to his house. As much of a tyrant that he is in business Arthur also understands the value of positive motivation. All they needed was for the entertainment to arrive. “Hey Arthur, you have two women here to see you,” his father said through the locked bedroom door.

“Some of the guys are falling behind so I got them these math tutors,” Arthur explained as he led the two scantily-clad young women back to the party in his bedroom. Mr. Andrews was about to comment that they didn’t have any books with them before he thought better of it and returned to his TV show. Like so many other things dealing with Arthur’s personal life, Mr. Andrews knew that it didn’t pay to jump to conclusions. After a couple of hours of hooting and hollering from Andrew’s bedroom, the two “tutors” let themselves out the front door while counting fistfuls of bills. Mr. Andrews thought that lots of tutors probably get paid in small bills and dress like round card girls at a prize fight.

Mr. Andrews noticed that his son was becoming increasingly irritated. Arthur was on edge, no doubt about it. The other day at breakfast Mr. Andrews was commenting on an article in the paper about a kid being tried as an adult when Arthur when into a half hour tirade on America’s immoral judicial system that unfairly targets youthful offenders. Mr. Andrews thought that his son was fairly obsessed with that issue. While other kids were doing oral reports on whether or not chocolate milk should be served in the cafeteria, Arthur was lecturing anyone who would listen on recent Supreme Court rulings against minors.

Not that Arthur’s growing empire had much of a risk running afoul of the law; the rank and file members of the local police force were some of his best customers. Arthur wasn’t even bothered by payoffs, as most of the cops were so far in debt to him that he was considering a direct deposit system. He had convinced everyone in the town that his untaxed casino was not only a victimless crime but a public service. Arthur had achieved a status for gambling that was the envy of organized crime. Arthur should have realized from the Mafia films that he so admired that gangsters have their own way of dealing with envy.

to be continued...

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