The Millionaire Next Door
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
Tom was lounging on the bed reading all of Dan’s notes on starting the restaurant. He had just finished looking over the list of items that had to be purchased, along with their estimated prices. Dan was seated at his desk watching his friend settle into his old routine when looking over his work. Tom looked up from the stack of papers and said, “This is really impressive. You’ve done an amazing job with this.”
“Thanks. I’m still working on it,” Dan said. He knew that if Tom had found an error that he would have said something about it.
Shaking his head, Tom said, “I think that you’re almost ready to go.”
“I won’t be ready until this time next year,” Dan said shrugging his shoulders.
“Why then? It looks to me like you have everything laid out,” Tom said. He had been really surprised by the fact that Dan had gone to the Small Business Administration to get help in planning the business.
Dan answered, “There are a couple of reasons, but the biggest one is I don’t have any credit. Mr. Harrison said that I’ll have to establish a credit rating before I go to the bank to ask for so much money. That’s going to take at least a year.”
“Oh, I didn’t think of that,” Tom said.
“I have never borrowed any money. I just have a gas credit card and a regular credit card. I’ve got to use them for a while and pay off the balances every month. That will help me establish a credit rating,” Dan said.
“I’ve had a gas card for a couple of years,” Tom said.
“You’ll need to get another one sometime soon,” Dan said.
It seemed to Tom that his friend had learned a lot over the past few months. He said, “I’m really impressed that you took a college course. That must have been very hard for you to do.”
“The material wasn’t that hard,” Dan said shrugging his shoulders.
“I don’t mean the course itself. I know that you can handle that; you’re a smart guy. I meant signing up for it in the first place,” Tom said. He had laid in that bed watching Dan struggle to get through his classes in high school. There were a lot of times when it seemed to him like Dan would have given up if it hadn’t been for his help.
“It was a little tough, but I was just auditing it. That made it a lot easier for me to sign up for it,” Dan said. He was silent for a moment and then added, “The article on taking control of your life helped a lot. Having laid out my goals made it a whole lot easier to decide what I should do.”
“I know what you mean. I had my choice between a job on campus in the chemistry lab and a job in a print shop across from the school. The job at the print shop paid more, but I asked myself which one took me closer to my goal. That’s why I chose to be the chief bottle washer for the chemistry department,” Tom said with a smile. He was already becoming friends with many of the professors who taught chemistry.
“I suppose a lot of people would have taken the higher paying job,” Dan said.
“That’s right,” Tom said. His roommate had thought that he was crazy. Of course, his roommate had also gone out and applied for the job at the print shop when he heard that Tom wasn’t going to take it. He smiled and said, “I bet a lot of people were surprised that you took a job as a busboy.”
“Yeah, but Professor Harrison really put it into perspective. She said that I took a job that paid in a currency other than cash,” Dan said.
“Wow, I like how that sounds,” Tom said nodding his head. He was going to remember that line. He reached over and grabbed the mug of root beer.
“Yes, she said it was the kind of payment that was untaxed and earned dividends for a lifetime,” Dan said.
Tom took a sip of the root beer. He said, “I like the frosty mug. Are you going to serve root beer in a frosty mug?”
“You bet,” Dan answered. He grinned at his friend and said, “I figured that as much as you hate my cooking, it would be the only way to get you to stop in the shop.”
Tom laughed and said, “That’s right, buddy. Remember that.”
“I will,” Dan said.
Tom was silent for a moment as he looked over the stack of papers that Dan had shown him. He said, “You know, they taught us a bunch of shit in high school. They didn’t teach us the important things.”
“I know what you mean. They should have taught us the Facts of Life, at a minimum,” Dan said. To him, that was one of the most important things that he had learned since leaving high school.
“To tell the truth, I think a lot of their lessons contradicted the Facts of Life. It was like they were arguing that life was supposed to be fair; that if we took care of ourselves that we’d never die; and that we could do anything even if it was beyond our capacity,” Tom said.
“It’s criminal,” Dan said nodding his head in agreement. He said, “My life has been so much better once I realized that I was responsible for my happiness.”
“I know what you mean. I stopped looking to others for my happiness and had to find it within myself. Of course, that article on the Pursuit of Happiness helped define what happiness meant for me,” Tom said.
“I think it was the section about always having a choice that affected me the most. It seemed to me like I had never had choices, but that was because I hadn’t ever considered all of the options,” Dan said. Having a choice wasn’t always between good and bad. Sometimes one had to choose between bad and worse, but there was comfort in knowing that he had the choice of which bad consequence he was willing to accept.
“I think that makes some of the bad times tolerable,” Tom said. He looked over at Dan and asked, “How are things with Alison?”
“They are good. We are friends, but I feel like the intimacy that we shared is dissipating. I doubt we’ll sleep together when she returns from school next visit,” Dan said with a casual shrug of his shoulders.
“Accept the relationships as they are offered and don’t force them to be more than that,” Tom said with a knowing nod of his head. He took another sip of his root beer and sighed appreciatively.
“Yes. She’s trying to find out if any of the women that I know are interested in offering benefits,” Dan said.
“You’re kidding?” Tom asked sitting up in the bed.
“Nope. She figures that a few good words from her might convince one of the ladies I know that sharing benefits would be a good thing,” Dan said shaking his head.
“I’ll never figure out the female mind,” Tom said. His relationship with Susan had come to an abrupt end. She had found a new boyfriend a few days after arriving at her school and sent him a Dear John e-mail. He had called her upon returning home only to be told that she didn’t think it would be a good idea if they saw each other. He didn’t exactly appreciate that kind of treatment. He had thought they could remain friends.
“The thing that I like the most about Alison is that she is straight forward. I asked her what she had been doing at the restaurant and she told me. There are no games with her,” Dan said.
“You’re not going to find very many women like that,” Tom said.
Dan shrugged his shoulders and said, “I know. She’s an exceptional woman.”
“Pretty, too,” Tom said with a smile.
“Yes, she’s a beautiful woman,” Dan said.
The two young men were quiet as they sipped their mugs of root beer. Each was lost in his thoughts. Dan was wondering who would fill the void that would be left in his life when Alison left. Tom was thinking about the handful of women that had crossed their paths in the past couple of years. He said, “We’re not exactly having the women line up to date us.”
“I know,” Dan said.
Tom said, “You know, I was thinking about the Pursuit of Happiness article. It seems to me that if we find the kind of physical and social environments that we like, we’ll find women who share our ideals for happiness.”
“Are you trying to turn that article into a dating manual?” Dan asked with a laugh.
Tom frowned at Dan’s immediate dismissal of his comment. He was trying to make a real point and said, “I’m serious. Think about what it means to find a place where you are surrounded by the kind of physical and social environment in which you are most comfortable. Doesn’t it make sense that other people who like that same kind of environment are going to be the kind of people that you’ll like?”
“You have a point,” Dan said thoughtfully.
Tom said, “I haven’t found the right environment yet. To tell the truth, I’ve been too busy to look for it.”
The restaurant was pretty quiet on Christmas Eve. Dan walked into the back with a bag containing presents for everyone. He had brought a jazz CD for Jimmy; a gift certificate for art supplies for Sue; a phone card for Vicki, who liked to call her mother twice a week; a bottle of perfume for flirtatious Mary; and a little religious icon for Manuel. Everyone else was off for the night, so Dan figured that he’d bring their presents by the next night even though he wasn’t scheduled to work.
Alphonse Ferrara, the assistant manager for the evening shift, was working that night instead of Rob. Al said, “You’re Dan, right?”
“That’s right,” Dan answered. He had worked with Al a couple of times in the past when Rob was ill. Usually Dan and Rob had the same nights off, so he wasn’t all that familiar with the assistant manager.
“Rob left instructions that if things picked up around here that I was to let you help Jimmy in the kitchen,” Al said. Rob had also said that if it was too slow that he could let Jimmy go home early and have Dan run the kitchen. He wasn’t too thrilled about that prospect. If Dan didn’t know how to prepare some dish, then it would be up to him to help out.
“Okay, but I doubt that it’s going to get that busy. Mr. Rendell showed me the sales figures for Christmas Eve from last year. We only did two hundred dollars of business that night. Most of that business was between ten and midnight,” Dan said.
“He showed you that?” Al asked rather surprised to learn that one of the managers was sharing sales information with the busboy.
“Yes. We were going over the inventory preparing the food orders for this week. You have to use the data from the previous year to help estimate your requirements for this year,” Dan answered.
“Oh. What kind of growth factor do you use?” Al asked very surprised by Dan’s answer.
“Six percent is what he usually uses, but this week is a little different. According to the figures I saw, this week doesn’t reflect normal increases in business. We’re affected more by the seasonal retail sales figures, and they were down this year,” Dan answered.
Al hadn’t known that little piece of information and stared at Dan. Recovering, he said, “You might want to hand out your presents and then get to work.”
“Thanks,” Dan said.
Dan stopped by the kitchen where Jimmy was leaning against the counter looking bored. He handed the elderly black man the wrapped package and said, “Merry Christmas.”
Surprised, Jimmy looked down at the package and asked, “This is for me?”
“Yes,” Dan answered.
“Wow,” Jimmy said not knowing what to say. He felt a little bad about not having gotten anything for Dan.
Jimmy opened the present and stared at the CD. Shaking his head, he said, “You got Albert Ayler. How did you know that I liked his music?”
“You’ve mentioned him a time or two. I think you described him as the most primitive of the free jazz musicians of the sixties,” Dan answered with a smile.
“Primal. He was primal,” Jimmy said correcting Dan.
“I hope you enjoy it,” Dan said.
“I can’t wait to get home and listen to it,” Jimmy said deeply touched that Dan had gone to so much trouble.
Much to the amusement of Vicki and Mary, Sue started crying and ran off after Dan had given her the gift certificate for art supplies. Vicki said, “I don’t know how you do it, but you just keep turning her into a crying mess, Dan.”
“I don’t mean to,” Dan said staring at the door. He felt bad that he had made her cry.
Mary laughed at the expression on his face and said, “Men. Just when we’re about to give up on them, we meet a guy like you.”
Dan looked at her puzzled by her statement. He reached into the bag and pulled out his present for her. He handed it over to her and said, “Here’s your present.”
“You bought me a present, too?” Mary said. She hadn’t been surprised by the fact that he had bought Sue a present, but she hadn’t expected to receive one as well.
“Yes,” Dan said.
Mary opened the present and looked at the little perfume bottle. She said, “It’s so pretty. Thank you.”
“Merry Christmas,” Dan said.
Before he was able to react, Mary had wrapped her arms around him and delivered a kiss intended to knock his socks off. Before breaking off the kiss, her hands managed to wander to territories south of his belt. Stepping back, she smiled at him and said, “Merry Christmas.”
Stunned Dan watched her head to the front of the restaurant. Vicki was laughing at the expression on his face. She said, “You look like you were just hit by a truck.”
“I feel like it,” Dan said. He reached into the bag and pulled out the present for Vicki. He handed it to her.
Vicki opened the present and smiled. She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. She said, “If I wasn’t in a relationship right now I’d take you out back and screw your brains out. Thank you so much.”