Money, Part 5- a Bright New Career


Mike and I did go ’round and visit Waverly that next night and Mike did bring the party favors. My growing love affair with marijuana was progressing nicely and the skunky smelling weed made Waverly’s expensive scotch go down even more smoothly. I was immediately taken with Waverly. He was an incorrigible name dropper and Mike often called him on it. During that first evening I would have guessed that I had heard about every famous person he had ever met. (Many a subsequent cocktail drenched evening would prove me wrong.) At some point in the evening, after a few highballs and quite a few puffs, I expressed my undying loyalty and eternal friendship to Waverly. “Well, we may become friends Jeff, but you could never be the friend to me that Cousin Mike has!” Somehow liquor and weed seemed to quiet Mike and Waverly’s verbal sparring and they began referring to each other affectionately as “cousin.” I immediately set out to earn that title myself. I’m not sure what it was that made me want so badly to be accepted by Waverly. Perhaps it was the names he dropped, perhaps it was the way his home was so finely furnished with antiques. I loved his rapier wit and his genteel manner. We used Hadley pottery ashtrays, gifts of the Fitzgeralds (yes, those) and drank from sterling silver cups that had been party favors from a watermelon cutting at Lady Bird Johnson’s.

Waverly had traveled the world and clearly knew a lot about literature. He did the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle in ink. Now that was something to admire. I begged Mike to take me back again soon and then again until I felt like I could swing an invitation on my own. When I started stopping by on my own for visits our friendship deepened. I loved the conversation but I loved the liquor more. By this point liquor was no longer a diversion, it was a necessity and the high-interest credit card bills more than ate up every bit of what I was making waiting tables at Red Lobster. From the minute I would walk in the door at Waverly’s place, the liquor flowed freely and that’s what I needed my liquor to be: free!

Ultimately, Mike and I did not last but Waverly and I did. So many things were going wrong in my life, it just felt good to walk into his place and sit in that parlor where my intelligence was clearly appreciated and I could at least pretend that I belonged on those expensive Oriental rugs and propping my drinks on those marble top tables. This was a life I could get used to.

As I said before, this part of my life is in many ways a blur. After our first year in that apartment my childhood friend “Smooch” and I had debted so heavily to furnish, we decided to part ways as roommates. I’m sure he’d sort of lost patience with my newfound “frat daddy” attitude anyway. I moved into an apartment with two men who were to soon supposed to become my Phi Psi brothers but when I didn’t make my grades for a second semester, those friendships and that living arrangement dissolved. I rented a sparse basement apartment with cinder block walls. I don’t even remember how I found that place. I had one torchiere lamp to light the whole place. It had one of those yellow bug lightbulbs in it. My car was broken down in the parking lot and my parents were tired of sending me money so it just sat there. I ate mustard and ketchup sandwiches and slept on a waterbed that didn’t have a heater. I remember my brother coming to visit me in that apartment one time. He later told me he cried after he left. How could I have sunk so low so fast? I had such I hopes of changing my life, becoming someone new. I began to wonder if there wasn’t just something in my DNA, if I just wasn’t “poor white trash” who would never be able to improve his social standing.

Going to Waverly’s helped me to escape all this. At Waverly’s I could pretend I was rich. At Waverly’s I drank from silver cups.

I eventually lost my job at Red Lobster when I was too drunk to show up at work one day. Soon I was even unable to pay the cheap rent on the basement apartment. I came home to find a padlock on the door and an eviction notice. That doesn’t seem right or legal now that I look back but I was so disempowered by this point I simply slithered away in shame. I crashed at the apartment of a couple of exchange students I’d met at the restaurant until one night in a drunken blackout, I got into a fistfight with the Nicaraguan who bit into my face Tyson style. I showed up at Waverly’s in pitiful shape. “Oh those goddamned Sandinistas!” he said, “He’s probably come here to suckle the American teat! You’ll stay here of course!” and he drove me back to the apartment to gather my things. I crawled in through the window to avoid seeing the exchange students. I grabbed some clothes and stuffed them into a garbage bag and left under the dark of night.

Back at Waverly’s I stilled my nerves with a few dry martinis and about a pack of cigarettes. Through blurred vision I looked around the room at the thousands of dollars worth of furniture and decoration. Yeah, things might have gotten pretty shitty but I was sleeping here tonight. Maybe things were about to turn around.

When it got time for us to go to bed, I made my way toward the guest bedroom. I saw Waverly’s frail frame silhouetted in his bedroom door against the light of the bedside table. “Oh no, you’ll sleep in here with me Cousin Jeff!”

I crawled into bed, so far to my side that I hugged the edge of the mattress to keep from falling off. Waverly was in the bathroom finishing his nightly toilette. I hadn’t prayed in years but I said a little prayer right then. I prayed that my suspicions might be wrong, that I was overreacting, that what I feared was going to be the price of lodging was not what I thought it might be. “I hope you like to snuggle!” Waverly said as he crept into bed.

My heart sank as I heard the sound of his false teeth hit the bottom of the glass.

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