The Millionaire Next Door
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
Finally managing to break free of his family, Tom made his way into the gymnasium where the graduates were supposed to wait until the beginning of the ceremony. Entering the gymnasium, he spotted Dan and walked over to where his friend was waiting.
He took one look at his friend and said, “Jesus, you look like shit.”
“Thanks,” Dan said. He still hurt all over, but was able to move around a little more naturally. Standing around in the black robe in the hot sun had nearly killed him. At least they hadn’t had to wait outside for too long. He said, “Sorry about last night.”
“No problem. I called over at your house, and your mother told me you were down for the count. Seeing you now, I can understand why,” Tom said. He had never seen anyone look that bad.
“I’ll get used to it,” Dan said feeling as if there wasn’t a choice in the matter. He had decided that his sister was right. One did get used to the demands of a job.
Shaking his head, Tom said, “Dude, anything that makes you look like that, isn’t worth getting used to.”
“I don’t have a choice,” Dan said looking away.
“Sure you do. You just haven’t found it yet,” Tom said feeling bad for Dan. Anyone else who had worked as hard to graduate high school would have been class valedictorian. He knew it wasn’t fair, but there was nothing he could do about it.
The Principal of the school called for everyone to get in line. Dan looked over at Tom and said, “I guess it’s time for us to get in line.”
“That can wait. What is he going to do? Give us a detention?” Tom said with a grin. He knew that Dan would keep him from getting into too much trouble. Dan was the steady careful one. Tom sometimes lacked the discipline to keep from going overboard at times.
Dan laughed at the comment. Tom had never been particularly impressed by authority figures. Considering that Tom was smarter than most of them, it was understandable why he didn’t respect them. He said, “They can hold our diplomas over our heads.”
“That true,” Tom said. He was about to make a glib comment about it not meaning much, but he held back because it meant a lot.
Knowing that he was going to have to sit beside Kim through the whole ceremony, Dan wasn’t in a hurry to get into line. He asked, “Are you free tomorrow?”
“No. All of our visitors are leaving tomorrow during the day. I’ve got to hang around the house to say goodbye to them, and I have to work tomorrow night,” Tom said.
Knowing Tom’s family as well as he did, Dan knew that visiting his friend would be a waste of time. Every conversation would be interrupted by a well meaning relative wanting to let Tom know that he had achieved something important.
He said, “I understand.”
Seeing the look of disappointment on Dan’s face, Tom said, “I’ll try to swing by your house after work.”
“That would be great. It looks like they are getting ready for us to march into the auditorium. Let’s get in line,” Dan said seeing that they would be the last to get there.
When Dan arrived at his place in the line, Kim Parker took one look at him and said, “Oh, God! I have to walk the stage behind a freak of nature. Not only is he stupid, but he looks like a pimento stuffed in a black olive.”
“Shut up,” Dan said feeling miserable enough.
“Don’t tell me to shut up,” Kim said. She looked down at Dan’s hands and saw that they were red as well. Guessing that his arms were sunburned as well, she slapped him on the arm.
Dan felt the slap. It was like a jolt of electricity had shot through his body. He had to fight to keep from acting on the desire to send Kim to the hospital. He looked over at the guy standing in front of him and, barely able to control his anger, he said, “O’Neal, let’s swap places.”
“We can’t do that,” Mike said looking over in the direction of the Principal. The last thing that he wanted was to get in trouble that day. When he looked back at Dan’s face he realized that having Dan and Kim sitting together was liable to ruin the entire ceremony. He looked over at Kim thinking that sitting between Kim and Dan might be better than watching a fight break out.
“Sure we can,” Dan said moving in front of Mike. He wasn’t going to take no for an answer. He added, “We’ll swap back when we are at the stage. No one will even notice.”
For years the very attractive Kim Parker had been the subject of Mike’s masturbatory fantasies. Thinking that this would be his last chance to sit next to her, Mike said, “I guess it wouldn’t hurt.”
They agreed on the swap just as the procession into the auditorium began. Dan shuffled through the slow stately march. Each step was another experience in pain and he was relieved when he finally reached his seat. Sitting down, he looked around at the families gathered to watch their children graduate high school.
All in all, Dan found the ceremony boring. Susan Daniels was the class valedictorian, and gave a speech that was about facing an uncertain future. Dan thought he had a pretty certain future as a common laborer. The guest speaker, Mayor Doorman, talked about this being the first step on the way to becoming leaders for the next generation. He sat there thinking that common laborers were not future leaders. He listened as various folks talked about achieving success in the future and heard nothing that applied to him.
When the time finally came when it was time to walk across the stage, each row stood in turn and the students crossed the stage one at a time as their name was called out. When it was Tom’s turn, Tom’s family made so much noise that it was almost embarrassing. In addition to the shouts, claps and whistles, Tom’s father had brought a pressurized air horn. It was deafening inside the auditorium. Dan joined in and shouted, “Way to go, Tom!”
When it was time for Dan to walk across the stage, he heard far more cheering than he had expected. Tom and the rest of his family shouted, whistled, and clapped. The air horn had been confiscated, or else he would have heard that as well. His family was clapping. His sister screamed out, “You did it, Dan!”
Dan returned to his seat thinking that maybe, just maybe, he had accomplished something after all. He had a high school diploma and no one could take that away from him. He leaned forward and looked around Mike at Kim. He hoped that this was the last time in his life that he would ever have to see her.
After the ceremony, his father came over to him and shook his hand. Although he was concerned about his son’s future, he knew that Dan had worked hard to reach that point in his life. With pride evident in his voice, his father said, “I’m proud of you, Son. I know it wasn’t easy, but you made it.”
“Thanks, Dad,” Dan answered. He could hear the pride in his father’s voice, and that surprised him a little. He was even more surprised when his father pulled him in for a hug. The hug hurt, but it felt good at the same time.
After his father released him, his mother moved in and hugged him. Her hug didn’t hurt nearly as much, but it felt just as good. She said, “You’ve worked so hard. We’re so proud of you.”
“Thanks, Mom,” Dan said.
Probably more than anyone else, Diana admired her brother. She had grown up watching Dan working on his homework for hours every day. He had turned down opportunities to go to parties in order to study. She wondered if he would ever sit at his desk again. She went over to her brother and hugged him. With tears in her eyes, she said, “I’m so proud of you.”
“Thanks, Diana,” Dan said wondering why his sister was crying.
Returning home from the ceremony, Dan sat down on his bed and looked around his bedroom. It was a normal room for a teenage boy. A few posters of barely clad women graced the walls. His desk and chair was across the room from his bed. There was a chest of drawers beside his desk.
The roll of papers that Tom had given him caught his eye. They had been sitting there all week, and Dan hadn’t even glanced at them. Feeling a little guilty, Dan went over and picked up the papers. Sitting down, he looked at the top article. It was the one that was titled, “The Facts of Life.” Tom had written across the top that he was to read that one first. Getting out his red transparent sheet and a ruler, he began to read. It was a slow process, but the material was interesting and he found it easier to read than his homework.
Dan found the article far more fascinating than anything that he had ever read. Given the title he had thought it would be about sex, but it wasn’t. It was about life. It seemed to him that the material was presented in such a factual and candid manner that the truth of it was obvious.
The hours passed as he deciphered the text. Some parts went well while other parts were a little more difficult. The first section of the article was relatively short. It was about how the Facts of Life were facts and, as such, they couldn’t be violated. Any and all attempts to violate those facts were doomed to failure. It didn’t matter how clever one was, there was no way to violate those facts. Plans that required a fact of life to be suspended, even for a moment, were doomed to fail.
The obviousness of that section might seem trite, but Dan considered that section thoughtfully. He contrasted it against the kinds of facts that he had learned at school. Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 14 hundred and 92. There wasn’t much about Columbus, the ocean, or 1492 that one could consider trying to violate. It was also the kind of fact that didn’t mean much in day to day living. The facts presented in the article had a very different flavor to them. They were the kind of facts that one wanted to deny.
Although it was getting late, he continued to read the section about the first fact of life, namely that life wasn’t fair. After an hour, he sat back and thought about the matter. The article had pointed out something that he had never considered. Life might be unfair, but it was unfair to everyone equally. To spend all of one’s time complaining about the unfairness of some event was to ignore a basic fact of life.
For years Dan had hated the fact that he was dyslexic. It was impossible to count how many times he had cursed God for it. He had pictured a future that was bleak because his dyslexia would hold him back. Reading the article, he realized that even successful people encountered their share of unfairness. The difference between a successful person and a failure was that successful people didn’t let the unfairness of life keep them from succeeding.
He went to read the next section on the second fact of life. This fact was that no one was exempt from death. Initially, this section didn’t interest him nearly as much as the first section had. It wasn’t until he thought about it that he realized it was necessary to come to grips with the fact that one day he would die. It wasn’t that important immediately, but if he were to get married and have children it could be important. What would happen to them if he were to die?
That got him to thinking about his job. Between the present and his death, a lot of very unfair things could happen to him. He could get seriously hurt. He didn’t know if he had any kind of insurance. He wondered what would happen if he was to get injured on the job. Did they have insurance? What if he was disabled and unable to work? Thinking about it brought him to the realization that there could be very terrible consequences to ignoring the Facts of Life.
The terrible truth that he was going to die sometime in the future came crashing down on him. He only had a limited amount of time to experience all that life had to offer. Every day was important. It never occurred to him that it was very strange for someone who was nineteen years old to consider his mortality.
His thoughts were interrupted by a knock on his bedroom door. Turning to look at the door, he said, “Come in.”
His mother opened the door and was surprised to find him seated at his desk. It seemed to her that he had spent his whole life at that desk. She had thought that he wouldn’t ever want to sit there again. She said, “We want to take you out to dinner in celebration of your graduation.”
“Oh, that would be great,” Dan answered wondering if his sister had suggested it to his parents after their conversation earlier that morning. He glanced over at the paper and, deciding that he would really enjoy the evening, added, “Yes, that would be really great.”
“Get into some dress clothes, okay? We want to go to a real nice place tonight,” his mother said puzzled by the change in his tone of voice between the two statements.
“Sure,” Dan answered. The family very seldom ate out. That his mother was telling him to get into dress clothes meant they were probably going to the Golden Duck. That was the place where his parents went on their anniversary.
“We’ll leave in about half an hour,” his mother said with a worried smile. It seemed to her that Dan wasn’t as enthused about graduating high school as she had thought he should have been.
“I’ll get dressed,” Dan said looking over at his mother.
She glanced at his desk and, curiosity getting the better of her, asked, “What are you doing?”
“I’m reading an article that Tom gave me,” Dan answered lifting the article. It was still covered by the red transparency.
Recalling how he had spent the entire summer last year reading Watership Down, she asked, “What is it?”
“It’s an article on the Facts of Life,” Dan answered. He chuckled at the shocked expression on his mother’s face. He said, “Don’t worry, it’s not about sex. You know that Tom wouldn’t give me something like that to read.”
Realizing that Dan was right, she asked, “So what is it about?”
“It’s about the real Facts of Life. I’m finding it to be very interesting,” Dan answered.
“Tom is a good friend. You’re going to miss him when he goes off to college,” his mom said afraid of what was going to happen when Tom left. She had never understood why Tom had chosen to become friends with Dan, but she appreciated it. The friendship had come at a pivotal time in Dan’s life and had probably saved his life. Glancing over at the papers, Dan wondered if Tom was trying to give him a final bit of advice before leaving. It was the kind of thing that he would do.
Nodding his head in agreement, Dan said, “I’ll miss him. He’s a very good friend.”
“Here you go,” Dan said as he tossed Tom a can of root beer. Tom loved root beer and had classified every brand of root beer into a complex set of categories based on the head produced when poured into a frosty mug, the flavor, and the ideal temperature at which to drink it. Dan didn’t quite believe that Tom could distinguish between the various brands of root beer like that, but he accepted Tom’s word without asking for proof.
“One of my favorites,” Tom said looking at the can.
“Of course. They’re all your favorites,” Dan said with a laugh. The only reason they had any root beer in the house, was because of Tom. His mother made sure that there was always a cold six pack in the refrigerator.
Tom opened the can and took a long sip of root beer. He savored the flavor for a few seconds and then put the can down on the step beside him. He said, “Good root beer.”
“I’m glad you like it,” Dan said.
Deciding it was time to get a little more serious, Tom asked, “So have you started reading any of the material that I gave you?”
“Yes. It’s pretty interesting stuff,” Dan answered. He opened his can of root beer and took a sip. It tasted like any other root beer to him.
“Which article are you reading?” Tom asked pleased to learn that Dan was actually reading the material.
“The Facts of Life,” Dan answered.