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Thread: A Game and Amusement of Mankind

  1. #1
    Registered User 108 fountains's Avatar
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    Apr 2013
    Falls Church, Virginia

    A Game and Amusement of Mankind

    A Game and Amusement of Mankind*

    “How was your day?”

    “Oh, like always. Nothing much ever changes at the office,” he answered as he arranged his London Fog on the hanger in the closet next to the front door.

    His wife went back into the bedroom where she had been doing some online reading.

    He slipped off his shoes, untied his tie, and followed her into the bedroom. “I’ve got to tell her today,” he said to himself. “I can’t put it off any longer.”

    He glanced over at her sitting in front of the computer reading the political news. She was exceedingly liberal in her views. He was moderate, perhaps somewhat conservative.

    “I can’t believe you don’t support that Immigration Bill,” she with something that resembled a sneer.

    As he opened the bedroom closet to put his shoes away, he replied, “I just said that for people who came here legally, who waited their turn, it seems to me that they would not be supportive of amnesty for illegals.”

    “What about the children who have been here and are going to school? What? Are you going to send their parents back? Leave them here? Break up families?”

    He carefully folded his tie and placed it in the drawer. He decided it was best not to answer. Such topics - abstract politics that did not affect his life directly - had actually seemed important to him a month ago. Had it really been a month already? Sometimes it seemed as though it had only been a few days; at other times it seemed like it had already been ages. She cast a scalding look in his direction and he heard her mutter, “I can’t talk to you.” Yes, he decided it was best not to answer. As for that other thing, well, he decided he would wait to tell her after dinner.

    Dinner came and went. The TV was on. They sat, transfixed by a reality show that neither paid attention to. “Did you hear from either of the boys today?” he ventured to ask during a commercial break.

    “No. Nothing. The longer they are gone, the less I hear from them. I hope they are studying. Did you get the tickets for them to come home at Christmas?”

    “No, I forgot,” he replied. Both of his children were away at college, the youngest having just started three months ago. “The tickets!” he thought to himself. “That will cost nearly 1400 dollars. Where am I going to come up with that now?” Then, out loud to his wife, he said, “I’ll get them tomorrow.”

    “How many days have I been reminding you now?” she asked with a scornful laugh. “What’s wrong with you? You’ve been walking around like you’re in a trance.”

    “I’ll get them tomorrow,” he repeated. He looked at her. “No, this isn’t the time,” he thought to himself. “I’ll tell her in the morning.”

    In the morning, he smeared peanut butter over two pieces of toast, ate a French Butter pear, and sipped a cup of coffee with a dash of two percent milk. She handed him a paper bag containing a chicken salad sandwich and another pear. “I’m going to cut you down to a half of a sandwich unless you start to exercise more,” she said. “What happened? You were doing better, but the past month or so you haven’t gone out to the gym even once.”

    “I’ve just been a little tired,” he answered.

    “That’s no excuse,” she rejoined. “You’re getting older. You need to exercise more. If you exercised, you wouldn’t feel so tired all the time. You’re getting fat!” The last remark was accompanied by a contemptuous glare.

    He looked up at her meekly and finished his coffee without answering. He said to himself, “No, not now. I’ll tell her when I get back home.”

    He took his London Fog out from the closet. “Don’t you want your scarf?” she asked. “It’s getting colder out.”

    “I’ll be alright,” he said.

    “Have a nice day,” she said mechanically as she closed the door after him. After three steps toward the car, he stopped, hesitated, but then continued. “I’ll tell her when I get back home,” he said. “I’ve got to tell her today. I can’t put it off any longer.”

    He drove by the ancient two-story Apostle Island brownstone building where he had worked for the past twenty-two years. He drove another twenty minutes and pulled into an empty parking lot at Cambridge Woods Park next to the river. Here he got out of the car, buttoned his London Fog, as it was indeed turning colder, put his lunch in his pocket and began walking a crimson, gold and sienna trail.

    He was still in a state of shock. It was nearly five weeks now, but he was still in a state of shock. All that he remembered of the long and difficult conversation was the hollow sound of his boss’s voice as he said, “I’m sorry, but we are just going to have to let you go.” He didn’t hear any of the discussion about his pension; he forgot to go down to the Human Resources office to fill out the forms.

    He had gone back to his office, picked up his few personal belongings, put them neatly into his briefcase, and walked out. He hadn’t argued, he hadn’t made excuses, he hadn’t begged – he just walked out.

    He had always been cautious with his clients’ investments. Most of them were elderly and were content with his guarded approach, with an eye toward protecting the wealth they already had rather than looking for quick gains. Municipal bonds. Financial stocks. Banking and insurance. Those were the safest bets. Three percent annual gain in stock price on average. Four percent dividends. That was a solid seven percent return – seven and a half when the dividends were reinvested. Cautious, solid performance is what he offered.

    The younger portfolio managers chided him. They all had their favorite sectors – computers, energy, mining, biotechnology… A seven percent return was far too timid, they said. Eleven percent, twelve percent, fifteen percent – that should be the target. He ignored them. He was doing alright. His boss did suggest he branch out a little further. Home mortgage companies perhaps, real estate.

    Then the crash came. Who would have thought? His mortgage companies bankrupt. Wachovia, the fourth largest bank holding company in America and his own largest single holding, bankrupt. Bank of America – Bank of America, by God! – ninety percent of its value gone, vanished. So much for caution.

    He lost half of his clients. Those that stayed with him lost half their financial assets. That was two years ago. Recently, he had been doing better. Nearly five percent return in the first nine months of this year. That’s why he was so shocked. Why now?

    He was fifty-two - too old to find other work; too young to retire. What was he going to do? He had two boys in college. Their tuition cost more than half his take-home pay. That, along with the mortgage and the monthly bills, had made it necessary for him to take out money from his savings just to make ends meet. And now this. He received his last paycheck two weeks ago. He had nothing left now but his savings. That might last six or seven years, but he couldn’t live like that. He didn’t know what to do. But he knew he had to tell his wife.

    He walked along the river until lunchtime as he had done now for nearly five weeks. The trees were beginning to lose their leaves and become bare. He alternated between feeling lost, useless, afraid and desperate. Always a bit of a nervous sort, he now experienced a perpetual upset stomach and pain in his lower back from the stress. He was still in a state of shock. Even then, he noticed the Horned Grebes and the Redheads swimming near to shore, stopping here – like himself – for a few short weeks during the migration season.

    He finished his lunch sitting on the roots of a bur oak, away from the river. Its leaves were dry and brown. He walked to the riverbank and, for just a moment, contemplated how it would feel to plunge in and allow the dark waters to close over his head.

    “Soon all the leaves will be gone,” he said to himself as he retraced his steps back toward the parking lot and his car.

    The day passed this way thus. At 5:30 p.m., he opened the front door.

    “How was your day?”

    “Oh, like always. Nothing much ever changes at the office,” he answered his wife as he arranged his London Fog on the hanger in the closet next to the front door.

    He slipped off his shoes and untied his tie and followed her into the bedroom. “I’ve got to tell her today,” he said to himself. “I can’t put it off any longer.”

    * The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind…

    Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Chapter 1
    A just conception of life is too large a thing to grasp during the short interval of passing through it.
    Thomas Hardy

  2. #2
    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    Oct 2010
    Near Chicago, Illinois USA
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    The story seemed very realistic. I enjoyed it. My wife would know should the auto-deposited paychecks stop arriving at the bank, but I can see how this could happen.

  3. #3
    Registered User Calidore's Avatar
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    Mar 2011
    This isn't really my style of story, so I can't offer much in the way of useful input, but it was well written.
    You must be the change you wish to see in the world. -- Mahatma Gandhi

  4. #4
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Sep 2009
    San Diego Calif.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Calidore View Post
    This isn't really my style of story, so I can't offer much in the way of useful input, but it was well written.

    There's nothing wrong with the story, but as for the title? Ah, there's the rub! Look at it as the first opportunity to hook the reader. It said so little to me I assumed you were a 'rank amateur' sir, a 'rank amateur', and therefore put off the reading. The title was so undecided. Hook us with the narrow point of a sharp title, will ya please?

  5. #5
    Registered User glennr25's Avatar
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    Sep 2013
    I liked it. Very realistic and chilling. This story actually resonates with me because my brother was one of those displaced mortgage brokers when the market crashed. He'd been doing pretty well for a 20 something year old--living it up in Miami with a sports car and hot wife. Then the crash came and it was like an avalanche, just took everything along with it. If you've seen A Wolf on Wall Street you can probably guess what happened to him, save for the whole jail thing and breaking the law. Thanks for sharing fountains.
    "When I understand my enemy well enough to defeat him, in that moment, I also love him." - Ender Wiggin

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