In Recent News…

by Eli S. EVANS

Part 1.

In December of 2001 I went home to Milwaukee for the holidays. At the time I was six months out of a graduate program in Creative writing, living in Los Angeles, hopelessly single, and flat broke. My plan in going to Los Angeles in the first place—to make my fortune writing for TV or the movies (neither of which I watched with any great attention)—hadn’t been working out and so I landed in Milwaukee that winter with a new plan in mind. Some weeks earlier, while I was standing in line waiting to have one of the movie scripts I had written photocopied in order that I might mail it out to agents and managers who would surely find it lewd, off-putting, and utterly un-saleable, I started reading one of those how to get rich in five (or ten, or twenty—it really doesn’t matter) easy steps books that they sell at Kinko’s and other places frequented by unemployed people. For the most part, the book was about having a positive, can-do attitude—something that’s not easy when you’re twenty-five years old, broke, single and living in Los Angeles—and how if your attitude was positive and can-do enough it would be essentially impossible for you to fail (and if you were failing, by contrast, this failure should be taken as evidence that regardless of what you might have thought your attitude was in fact not positive or can-do enough). But there was one little pearl of wisdom lost amongst all that namby-pamby attitude talk that caught my attention: one should always think about making his fortune—advised the author—one dollar at a time. And it was with that advice in mind that I had devised my new plan: to keep asking people for a dollar until, one dollar at a time, I had at last amassed the kind of fortune that would allow me to live the kind of life I thought I wanted, and deserved, to be living.

During ten days in Milwaukee, December and on into January and the year 2002 (all of us putting the bad news of 2001 behind us), I carried out my new plan with great success. My father gave me a dollar, my mother gave me a dollar, my sister—who was still in college and really had no money of her own to speak of—gave me a dollar that somebody else surely must have given her in the first place, my grandmother gave me ten (I’d only asked for one but that’s my grandma for you), my Aunt Sue gave me a dollar and even her common-law husband Jeff gave me a dollar; my ancient Aunt Charlotte gave me a dollar and, after I had asked him four or five times, my notoriously flinty Uncle Sidney threw his hands in the air and then gave me a dollar, as well; even my parents’ friends Doug and Carol from down the block handed over a dollar apiece when they stopped by unannounced one evening for a visit. All in all I left Milwaukee with something like twenty-five dollars—not bad—and perhaps I would have kept going, all the way until I had the million or two or three or five million dollars I thought I needed to live the kind of life I wanted, and deserved, to live (one imagines that, like a horizon in receding, the number of dollar you think you need in order to live the way you think you deserve to live grows as you approach it), except that in the end shame, or foolish pride, got the best of me. I sat next to a nice lady on the airplane back to LA—her daughter was working on an MFA in photography at UCLA and her son, a college student, was studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain—and I kept telling myself that before we separated after landing I would ask her if she would mind giving me just one dollar. But the wheels hit the ground—after that awkward pause, the plane’s nose pointed up, that always precedes touchdown—and I still hadn’t found it in me to do it.

In spite of my failure to carry it out I remain convinced of the essential logic of that plan. In an essay entitled “Stein is Nice” writer Wayne Koestenbaum compares Gertrude Stein’s sentences to pennies: “They’re not worth anything,” Koestenbaum explains, but they “add up.” In this day and age a dollar is what a penny must have been when Koestenbaum was young—a sort of sheer value, capable of accumulating but on its own utterly without value. On the one hand there is no quantity of money that is fundamentally, qualitatively changed by the subtraction from it of a single dollar, and on the other a single dollar, all on its own, is worth so little that one might as well not have it at all. The only people who can reasonably deny a request for a dollar are people who literally do not have a single dollar to their name—people who do not have one to give away. For everyone else, the nature of the dollar is to be spare, leftover, a sum of money one can always do just as well without and therefore can never be justified in withholding.

It’s been a long time since December of 2001—six years out of my graduate program in Creative Writing I am still fairly broke, but fortunately neither single nor living in Los Angeles—but I am thinking again of that brief and hopeful moment in my life because of a recent news story out of Sacramento. According to the story, a local panhandler by the name of Audrey Jackson asked a fellow for a dollar while he was waiting for the bus. When he refused she took out a pistol and shot him. Just like that, in the middle of a crowd of people waiting for the bus, shot him right in the gut. The victim, Frank Perez—he has survived, it seems, so we are qualified to speak of him in the present tense—suffers from cerebral palsy and works for the state Water Resources Control board.

I am hardly defending the panhandler in this story—to shoot a disabled government employee because he has refused to give you a dollar is hardly reasonable. But then again, and as I have pointed out already, there is nothing reasonable about refusing to give somebody a dollar when she has asked your for it.

What goes around comes around and all that jazz.

Part 2.

From an article in a Louisville newspaper: “A Shelby County man and his wife said two doctors amputated the man’s penis without his consent, and have filed a lawsuit. According to the lawsuit Philip Seaton, 61, went to have a circumcision last October as part of a treatment for a medical condition. Seaton said when he woke up from the procedure, he realized his penis had been amputated.”

I don’t really have any follow-up for that. It is what it is, as they say these days—quite simply, one of the most horrifying things I have ever read. And now you have read it, too.

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