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Featured Artist Stories - Fiction

Faith, Love, Hope
July 1, 2001

Love's on a downward trend

by Tod Goldberg   PrintEasy

Susie leaves me after three years. Am I ugly? Are my lips too big? What I believe: Nobody likes me for me. My best quality is probably my car.

Email to a FriendI call Dan and ask him to meet me for lunch.

'Can't do it,' he says. 'Gotta real job now.'

'What does that mean?'

'No more lunches where we sit around and talk about the future,' he says. 'My future is in high gear. I don't want you to bring me down.'

'Oh,' I say.

Dan makes a snorting noise.

'Are we still friends?' I ask.

'Sure,' Dan says.

'You know Susie left me.'

'No idea,' Dan says.

'Yeah,' I say.

'All right,' Dan says. 'I'm gonna let you go.'

I sit in Jerry's Deli with a yellow legal pad and prepare to make a list of things Text BiteI need to change in my life in order to become really happy. While Susie cleaned out her drawers, she was kind enough to land some parting shots in my direction. She told me that nobody thought I was much fun anymore, that even my sister had confided in her that my loyalties have always rested with money and not people, and that, finally, I needed to learn how to give more of myself.

'Fine,' I said to Susie. 'Why don't we take a vacation. Go to Peru or something.'

'See,' Susie said, stuffing a handful of socks into a green garbage bag, 'you just think you can buy your way out of this. It's not about vacations.'

I separate my legal pad into two columns: Things I Like About Myself and Things I Don't Like About Myself.

I attack the positive first:

  1. Make wise investments.
  2. Sold AOL stock when it hit $120 a share.
  3. Don't eat a lot sweets.
  4. Service my car every 3,000 miles.
  5. Never have to go into an office.
  6. Am actually using my MBA in Finance.
  7. Have never 'chatted' on the Internet.
  8. Still own my vinyl records.
  9. Donated money to several charities, received nice tax break.
  10. Miss my girlfriend.

I stare at number ten for a long time and wonder why I deem that a positive quality. Isn't that just a normal response to sorrow? I mean, do I miss Susie or do I miss the 'idea' of Susie? I'll have to think about that. Either way, it seems positive.

The negative:

  1. Didn't listen to my uncle when he told me about Starbucks stock.
  2. Only scored in the 75th percentile on the GMAT.
  3. Don't know how to change a tire.
  4. Don't own a dog.
  5. Made Susie hate me.
  6. Never call my mother.
  7. Have poor taste in friends.
  8. Don't eat enough fiber.
  9. Eat a lot of red meat.
  10. Am always making stupid lists and charts.

Number ten of the negatives seems a lot more honest than number ten on the positive, so I switch them. It gives both lists a sense of balance, I think.

I review my twenty attributes while I drink a cup of coffee and munch on a corned beef sandwich. Everything seems fine. There's a distinct yin and yang. Maybe there's even feng-shui.

'Looks like you've got some bad karma working.'

I look up and see that a waitress is reading my list over my shoulder.

'This is personal,' I say and turn my pad over.

'Do you ever meditate or anything?'

'No,' I say.

'You should,' she says. 'More coffee?'

'No thank you,' I say.

The waitress reaches down and flips my pad back over. 'Hmm,' she says, running her finger down the page.

'What?'

'I tanked the GMAT,' she says, and then takes my coffee cup and empty plate.

At home, I look up the word karma in the dictionary. I know what Text Bitethe word means, but I've never really known what it meant. I decide I don't want to believe in karma. It doesn't matter anyway. If I believe in it, then whatever I've done in the past has already helped me or hurt me. If I don't believe in it and it still exists, well, then I'm working with a higher power that I just can't quantify.

I call Dan again.

'Listen,' Dan says. 'My time is used up.'

'I need help with something,' I say.

'Buy, sell, trade,' Dan says. 'Does that help?'

'Do you believe in karma?'

'Good karma or bad karma?'

'Is there a difference?'

Dan is silent.

'You still there?' I ask.

'I'm thinking,' Dan says and is silent again.

I turn on CNBC and watch the ticker. AOL is down to $102. Starbucks is up three points. Callard & Bowser, the company that makes Altoids, is up two points. Microsoft is even…

'Okay,' Dan says. 'I'm done.'

'What's your answer?'

'For you, yes, I believe in karma. For me it's a crap shoot.'

'Where's this new job you've got?' I ask.

'Kinko's,' Dan says. 'Managing the night shift.'

'Oh,' I say. Dan is still not using his MBA. 'You watching the ticker?'

'No. Springer.'

'So,' I start to say, but Dan interrupts me.

'The answer is bad karma,' he says.

'Any way to fix that?'

'Gotta give of yourself, my man,' Dan says. 'Maybe walk the Earth like that dude from Kung-Fu. Helping people and shit.'

'That seems a little too interactive,' I say.

'Suit yourself. Maybe you can make pie graphs for people. You've always been pretty good at that.'

'Susie didn't happen to call you, did she?'

'I'm gonna let you go now,' Dan says and hangs up.

I sit at my desk and make a flow chart that clearly delineates Text Bitehow many good things I have done in my life and the positive events that directly followed them. I use colored pencils to illustrate the difference between my personal and financial success stories. My companion chart shows any perceived negative actions and their subsequent results.

Susie calls just as I'm pinning the two charts to my cork board.

'I just wanted to see if you're all right,' she says.

'I'm fine,' I say. 'Perfect.'

'I know how you obsess,' Susie says, 'so don't think it's an appearance thing.'

'I wouldn't.'

'How was the market today?'

'Down,' I say.

'Look,' Susie says after a while. 'You and I just have different values. I mean, love is more than just sex and going to the movies and Thanksgiving with the family. There has to be some idea of hope.'

'For what?'

'Growth. Change. Anything really,' she says.

'And I don't have that?'

'Not right now.'

'Have you been talking to Dan?'

'He's a good friend to you,' she says. 'He told me you've been really upset.'

'I'm fine.' I pull my positive and negative flow charts off the cork board and crumple them into little balls.

'Do something constructive for a week or two,' Susie says, 'and then maybe we'll have lunch or something. Sort out whatever needs sorting out.'

'Like getting back together?'

'Whatever,' Susie says and then: 'I'd better let you go now.'

'Why?' I say, but she's already gone.

I start simply. I write down the name of a stock I think is going to blow up in the next week on a 3x5 card, along with its NYSE or NASDAQ abbreviation, some quick background information on the company, and a suggestion of how much to invest. I then stick the card into an envelope along with a self-addressed stamped postcard with the number of a P.O. Box I've rented, and leave it on a table at a restaurant or in the back seat of a taxi, anywhere where someone will find it. I leave these instructions inside:

Dear Person,

Enclosed please find an excellent investment tip. I have personally investigated this company and believe that you will see an awful lot of activity with its stock in the coming days. Please understand that this is a calculated gamble, but one that should pay off very well. If you choose to invest in this stock, please drop me a note using the enclosed post card. Good luck!

My intention is to garner enough praise from this act of charity that I will be able to present Susie with a wide cross-section of post cards that show what a kind and giving soul I am.

Text BiteI leave my first envelope on an empty table at the California Pizza Kitchen on San Vicente. I sit by myself, right next to the table, and watch people being seated, waiting for the person who will get my gift.

He is tall with red hair and freckles and is wearing khaki pants with a blue shirt and blue tie and a rather prominent Kinko's name tag. His name is Rusty. I think it must be a nickname. Here is someone who needs my help.

Rusty flips through the menu and finally orders a small BLT pizza and a diet 7-Up. He then stares out the window for a good ten minutes, never noticing the white envelope with some truly sound investment advice propped against the salt shaker.

'Can I borrow your salt?' I ask.

Rusty looks at me blankly.

'Your salt,' I say, pointing in its direction. 'Are you using it?'

Rusty shakes his head, like he's trying to loosen the moss, and then grabs the shaker and hands it to me. 'Sorry,' he says, almost sheepishly, 'I was just zoning out.'

'No problem,' I say. 'Smell of dittos always gave me a weird buzz when I was a kid, too.'

Rusty gives me a look that says, 'Fuck off, Mr. Tag Heuer Watch and Gucci Loafers,' so I just get busy with my cold food and watch him out of the corner of my eye. He finally notices the envelope, toys with it for a couple of minutes, then shoves it into his breast pocket, checks around the room to see if anyone has noticed, eats his BLT pizza and leaves.

I call Dan that night. Susie answers the phone.

'What are you doing there?' I ask.

'I brought over a list of things I wanted Dan to get from the apartment for me,' she says.

'Why are you answering his phone?'

'He's brushing his teeth.'

I'm standing in my kitchen running scenarios: They've been sleeping together for years. She just needed someone to talk to. He's been sleeping with my girlfriend and claiming to be my best friend, all the while scheming to get rid of me. She's used me for investment purposes…

'Are you still there?' Susie asks.

'Yes,' I say.

'Whatever you're doing,' Susie says, 'just stop right now, all right?'

'Sure,' I say.

'I came by to give him a list of things, that's all,' she says. 'We've never slept together, we've never plotted against you, we've never done anything you are currently obsessing over.'

'Okay. But how do I know that?'

'It's Dan. Give me some credit.'

I don't say anything because I'm really thinking about this one.

'Listen,' Susie says, 'Dan is done brushing his teeth, do you want to talk to him or do you just want to hang up and call back in five minutes when I'm gone?'

'You could come get your stuff yourself,' I say. 'I won't bite.'

'I really don't want to sit around and cry with you,' she says.

'I understand that. I've started doing some constructive things, you know, like you said.'

'That's good.'

'I want you to know that I miss you,' I say.

Nothing.

'And that I've made a few lists and graphs and things,' I say, 'and they all seem to show that we're just going through a downward trend. But, see, it's just a trend, and I'm doing some real positive things in the market to help massage the trend back into more of an upward slope.'

Nothing.

'So, yes, it looks real good,' I say. 'Another rebound time for California-based products.'

'I have to go,' Susie says, and before I can say anything Dan is on the phone telling me that some crazy shit happened to a day-shift employee at his Kinko's.

'The kicker,' Dan says, 'is the kid called his dad, borrowed $100 and turned it into $500! Can you believe that?' Dan is speaking with a zest that's been missing since our first year in the MBA program at USC. 'Made me want to put on a suit and tie again!'

'That's great,' I say.

'No,' Dan says, suddenly himself again, 'it's sick. I went forty grand in debt so that I could pull that kinda shit off everyday, and this kid just walks into it.'

'I'm gonna let you go now,' I say.

After a week, I have nine postcards in my P.O. Box. I take them home and lay them out on my kitchen table and read each one carefully. They seem to follow a certain pattern, depending on the success of the stock, and the amount invested. I've marked each postcard with a number that corresponds with a chart I'm keeping that clearly outlines where I've left envelopes.

Here is a sampling of my returns:

Dear Asshole,

You're a fucking sick bastard.

(I check and note that this envelope was left in the men's room of my gym.)

Dear Friend,

Thank you for the tip. Luckily, I've turned my life to Jesus Christ and no longer need material riches. However, I forwarded your message to my sister who invested $200 in Callard & Bowser and made a handsome return. May God's love shine upon you!

(Left at a bus stop on the corner of Wilshire and 26th Street.)

To Whom it May Concern,

I found your envelope and thought it was some kind of practical joke, but then I watched how the stock performed over two days and found that your prediction was correct. Thanks so much…

(Left taped inside an elevator at 1920 Century Park East, Century City.)

And so on. According to my records, I left thirty-six envelopes in various places over the last seven days, with a net return of nine responses. I deem this result well within my projected turnout.

Rusty didn't send me a postcard, but I feel like I don't really need one anyway.

For the second week, I decide to place an additional forty bits of financial advice around the city, including some areas that are more financially depressed than my general service area.

Dan calls me early Friday morning during week two of my experiment/plan to impress Susie and asks if I'll meet him for corn dogs on the Santa Monica Pier. I agree.

Text BiteWe walk along the pier eating our dogs and I can tell something is terribly wrong with Dan. For one thing, he's wearing a shirt that looks ironed. Of course, there's also the obvious fact that he called me and asked if I'd meet him for corn dogs on the Santa Monica Pier.

'Let me ask you something,' Dan says. 'How do you feel about the word love?'

'I think it's a good word,' I say.

Dan takes a bite out of his corn dog and chews it slowly, like he's chewing my response. There's a dollop of mustard on his chin.

'Something wrong, Dan?'

'I've just been thinking about life lately,' Dan says. 'You know, your mind can wander when all you do is make photocopies all night.'

'What does that have to do with love?'

'Well,' he says, 'I think I love your girlfriend and that's really fucking with my life right now. Can't eat, can't sleep, have trouble crapping, the whole nine. I feel like I'm walking around in a Neil Young song.'

Dan has this queer smile on his face. I don't want to hit him, I don't even want to stomp away and make a scene. I mostly just want to hug him.

'That's a problem all right,' I say eventually.

Dan just nods his head.

'Does she know this?' I feel like I'm talking about someone else's life, someone else's girlfriend, ex-girlfriend, whatever.

'Yeah. She feels the same way, I think.'

'Oh.'

We walk down towards the end of the pier, past the terrible Mexican restaurant that hangs over the ocean, and stop to watch an old Japanese man fish. He casts his line out and then mutters something under his breath. He repeats this same exact act five times in a row while Dan and I watch him.

'Are you mad?' Dan asks.

'I'm rather cross,' I say.

It would be nice if I didn't think Susie defined me. It would be nice if I believed my own press: That I know how to read any market. That I know the personality of markets. That I know how to kiss and snuggle a market, make it feel comfortable in my hands, and then exploit it until it runs higher and higher and higher. It would be nice if I didn't really love Susie, which I think I do.

'I can see how you might feel that way,' Dan says.

It's all gone, I think.

'I hope you two become very happy,' I say. 'Have loads of children and have a really nice CD collection and non-stick pans.'

The Japanese man shrieks loudly and both Dan and I turn to watch him reel in some kind of very large fish.

'I wonder if his ambition in life is to catch fish,' I say.

'Naw,' Dan says. 'His ambition is to eat the damn thing.'

I go to the bank and withdraw $1,000 in small bills. I go to Staples and buy twenty envelopes and twenty postcards. I go home and stuff envelopes with money. One person is going to get $200. Someone is going to get $10. Someone is going to get $31. You get the idea.

I call Susie's parents and ask if I may have their daughter's hand in marriage.

'I thought you two were broken up,' Susie's mother says. Her dad is also on the line.

'No,' I say. 'We're just taking a break.'

'The impression I got,' Susie's dad says, 'is that this was pretty final.'

'You're mistaken,' I say.

Nothing.

'In fact, as you well know, Mr. Klinger, with the success of the investments I've made for you, we are merely experiencing a slight drop-off in production right now. I believe that with a steady influx of capital, this relationship will prosper far into the future.'

'Son,' Susie's dad says, 'I think you need help.'

I stay up all night watching CNBC and planning where I will leave the money. I think about calling Susie and telling her that even if she loves Dan, and even if Dan loves her, I'm still doing something constructive. I think about calling her and telling her that even when we're not together I still exist. I still have feelings and still have fears and ambitions and karma - this fucking issue of karma - I still have that. You know, I think about telling her, I still fucking exist.

But what's the point?

The point is that somewhere deep inside all of my charts and graphs and lists I think there is still faith and hope. Not that I know how to apply those rather oblique concepts to my life, but I think if I could just get to them, something good would happen. There's no use lying about it now - not while I'm mapping out where I'm going to leave small bundles of money.

I'm losing my freaking mind. It feels pretty good.

It's been nineteen days since I started leaving money for people. I have liquidated an eighteen-month CD (causing me to incur a sizeable penalty) to finance this project. The Market has dropped 325 points over the last few days, which isn't exactly Black Tuesday because of the overall strength of the economy, but I'm aware that I should be dumping some stocks. AOL is down to ninety-two. Bill Gates just sold off a million shares of Microsoft stock. Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, keeps appearing on the news. We've got troops massing on three different fronts to fight various and sundry UN-sanctioned wars.

I'm in my car sitting in front of Mail Boxes Etc. waiting for the mail to come. I haven't shaved in over a week because I keep breaking into hives, which is fine. I'm not trying to impress anyone.

Last night, Dan called to ask if he could stop by and get the rest of Susie's stuff.

'Tonight's not good for me,' I said.

'What about tomorrow?'

'No,' I said. 'Tomorrow looks pretty bad.'

'When does it look good?'

'Next Thursday,' I said. 'Maybe Friday. Call me.'

Dan didn't respond so I just sat there and listened to him breath until he finally cleared his throat and started back up. 'I'd appreciate it if you'd stop calling here all the time,' he said. 'You're scaring both of us.'

'I don't know what you're talking about,' I said.

'It's getting to the point where we might have to call the police.'

I hung up the phone, yanked the chord from the wall, went to the drawer next to the sink where I keep the tools, found my ball peen hammer and smashed the phone to bits.

Text Bite'How do things end up this way?' I ask myself. One minute Susie and I were taking walks along the 3rd Street Promenade, working out the names of our unborn children, holding hands and kissing, and the next she thinks I may need to be incarcerated.

I go inside Mail Boxes Etc., nod at the clerk like I do everyday, and retrieve my booty.

Five samples from today's correspondence:

  1. I bought some dope stereo equipment with your $500. I ride the same bus every day, so just leave more money whenever you want…
  2. I'm a single woman, with nice hips and a round ass. Are you single? Call me at…
  3. You're an angel sent from Jesus…
  4. I saw you leave this. I know where you live. Bring another $1000 tomorrow or I'll kill you and your husband…
  5. This is the kindest gesture a person has ever made. Oprah should do a whole episode about you…

When I get home, Susie is standing in the kitchen packing silverware.

'I let myself in,' she says.

'That's fine,' I say. 'It's as much yours as it is mine.' She's staring at my satchel overflowing with post cards. 'I would have packed all of this up for you. All you had to do was ask.'

On the kitchen table is a stack of twenties and several hundred envelopes that need to go out.

'I didn't want to bother you,' Susie says.

'I've been busy,' I say, 'so maybe this is better.'

The phone is scattered in pieces across the kitchen floor.

'What's going on here?'

'I've been trying to do something constructive,' I say. 'I think I'm almost done. Are you ready for that lunch you promised?'

Susie sets the silverware down and picks up her car keys. 'Look,' she says, 'I got most of what I wanted. You can keep the silverware.'

'How are you and Dan doing?'

'Do you really want to know?'

'No,' I say. 'I see that you want to go, so that's fine. No time to discuss things.'

Susie's hair is longer than I remember it, and her make-up seems softer.

'You look nice,' I say. 'Like when we first started dating.'

'That was a long time ago,' Susie says.

We are both just standing in the kitchen, and I start to become aware that Susie looks out of place. She looks like a Barbie doll in a cage of lions.

'I've been helping people.'

'I see that,' Susie says, motioning to the wall where my top fifty postcards are taped up.

'Do you want to get something to eat with me?' I ask. 'I could hop into the shower and we could go walk down 3rd Street.'

'No. But thanks.'

She picks up a garbage bag at her feet and makes her way to the door.

'Well,' I say.

'I think you need to get some help.'

'Okay.'

'Whatever this is,' Susie says, 'it's not healthy.'

'I'll keep that in mind,' I say. I try to lean in towards Susie to kiss her on the cheek, just to let her know that I still care, but she pulls back quickly.

'Get help,' she says and is gone.

The Market falls another 200 points, then rebounds 175, then drops and drops and drops. It doesn't matter. I'm all about being liquid. I sell my computers, my 5 Series BMW, anything worth selling.

Susie took all of her investment information with her that night she came by, plus her parents'. I've called to let her know that she needs to sell what she has. Go liquid, I say into her answering machine. The Market is all about growth and change, I say, just like you always wanted.

I know you love me, I say. I know you've done this because you love me. I'd never have started divesting my money without you, I say. I'm almost done. I'm almost completely out of everything, I say, and I have documented proof that shows I'm making progress.

You can come home now.

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