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How much for the mannequin

Not trying to sound dramatic here, but by the end of this story I’ll be dead. At Cancer Twister, my father played young, he played twice, and at his second spin he hit both ‘’Generalized’’ and ‘’Terminal’’. By the time they plugged the plastic tubes into his nose, I was hesitating between a career in law or finance. But Dad owned shares of a company that has 3 chances out of 10 of having its logo on your car. So his demise made it real easy for me to figure out my path in life: I would become a person of independent means, i.e. a Rich Young Bastard. It took me every bit of willpower in me this afternoon to voice-open the iPhone 4S and ask it who was coming to tonight’s event. I heard my voice crack and realized I hadn’t actually spoken a sentence in days. I would have to domesticate speech again if I was to be around human beings tonight. I spread over the Louis Vuitton couch until my head reached the St. Geneve pillow and pulled the smartphone towards my face. A collective of corporate head-hunters and investment brokers had RSVP’d. Many girls, but none of them registered a hit in my sex-drive. I briefly considered staying in and smoking salvia alone in the Jacuzzi until I fell asleep. I flicked through profile pictures again. Huh. P. Diddy was going to be there. Fuck it, I’m going. As I got up to get prepared, I emitted a Nature Channel-worthy grunt. 1. Brush teeth (hadn’t done that in two days). 2. Shave (maybe a week). 3. Put on pants (can’t remember). The business of Rich Bastards (Young and Old alike) ignores the hierarchy found in lesser, actual professions. Instead it ranks its members based on the price and level of inaccessibility of the first food item they scorn. For instance, I’m still green in this game, yet you will never see me eat lobster. Lobster is below me. I associate this dish with middle managers trying to get the wife in the mood on Valentine’s Day weekend, and you should as well. Only what you earn in a year, I keep that in my wallet at all times, so you and I may encounter slight differences with our culinary referents. Like, I’ll admit I’ve always been curious to try white shark when I’m in Asia. White shark sushi. Whoo. Sounds exotic, right? See, the big guys, those who sold the stone on your wedding ring to Birks before Birks sold it to you, they laugh at white shark sushi. Too common for them. So when the ice business gets a little stressy, when they need to get a kick, they get the Lufthansa flown straight to Shanghai and they order panda meat in a restaurant where the bouncers carry loaded automatics. Look even higher on the totem pole: word on the street is, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia says that panda is for posers. I don’t know what that guy finds exotic anymore. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had access to BBQ’d pterodactyl with the kind of figures he holds. Or held. He keeled over last month of what 1

Wikipedia calls an unspecified illness, but the CFO of my company used to play golf with him, and really it’s a good ol’ heart attack. Consider this a proof that snobbish shit can kill you the same way a Big Mac does if you’re in need of a cheesy life lesson. And so it’s simple enough. The richer you get, the most exotic the food you snack on. You can visualize it as a kind of fucked up food chain if it’s any help. I guess what I’m saying is: I’m still climbing that ladder. Fast-forward through a two-hour long shower playing with myself and drinking Champagne by the magnum. Not the sparkling wine you call champagne. The real stuff. All that car money had made me rich, but you’ve heard before: there’s a big difference between rich and wealthy. I could gulp 6 shots of tequila and still back my Escalade in that difference without scratching any paint, no rear mirror. Tonight, that difference, I’m breezing through it as I make my way through the polished floor of Aspen Dinner Club, my radar set for a short-skirted corporate ambassador in whose young mouth to stick my tongue later on. Also, P. Diddy. I swooshed by men with enough 0’s on the sweet side of the 1 locked inside a Zurich private vault to Facebook-friend the real prince William. The difference between rich and wealthy. It’s easier if you think of it as the difference between smiling and displaying teeth. Between laughing and uttering ‘’ha’’ twice. The wealthy, they haven’t even got to try. By virtue of family (usually), investment (often enough) or celebrity (rarely, although a few examples here tonight), currency leaches itself to them. The wealthy, they breathe cash, an airborne pathogen the common man remains inoculated against for his entire life. My table neighbor on the fork side, I read in Forbes he inherited oil sand from his father. Only, we’re talking enough oil sand that he could throw a fistful of ten-dollar bills around at every single step he walked until mass production of the electric car, and still his net worth would keep increasing every year. That’s how much oil fucking sand. The top three buttons of his glossy shirt reached inches apart from their respective holes. I was busy figuring out whether his mustache would touch his ears if he shook his head violently enough when the maitre d escorted my neighbor on the knife side. She introduced herself as Stephany, and raising my head to meet her eyes I was instantly reminded of a painting. You know those medieval paintings of blonde angels with skin like fresh milk, smiling down benevolently at knights sitting on elegant horses? Stephany could have been one of the elegant horses. Anything above shoulder level, it had been done by Picasso, or any other painter whose work at first you don’t understand and then it scares you. Without going so far as saying her eyes didn’t give a fuck about one another, they were clearly beefing. The left one pointed in my direction, while the right one stayed stubbornly riveted to the thousand dollars worth of wine contained in the crystal glass I held on for dear life. 2

Water pushed through the pores of my neck as I frantically attempted to hold her eye line for the entirety of me enunciating all four syllables of my first name. That very second, how I hated my mother for not calling me John. Or Tim. If you’ve refrained from checking on your social profiles long enough to follow the story up to this point, you’ll recall I taught you that wealthy people swim in dough thanks either to Family, Investment, or Celebrity. Now, I couldn’t picture wealthy parents with an ounce of pride left in them not making it a provision in their will that their goblin of a daughter gets her face done-over by the same surgeons Los Angeles people work with before she was allowed her share of the cash. So that ruled out Family. And there was no fucking way the monster chewing on arowana filet beside me acted or sang, I mean, the idea bordered on the grotesquely comical. She could have been Guinness World Record Book-famous, but that didn’t pay nearly enough. So it wasn’t Celebrity. That left out Investment. By the end of the meal, I had almost achieved my objective of erasing her from my memory when she raised the inside of her elbow to her mouth and produced one unit of attention-seeking cough. Much to my chagrin, I deduced that the creature wished to speak. I think she was trying to cough like a lady and stay hygienic at the same time, and I’m guessing it might have worked if Audrey Hepburn had lived through the SARS scare, but with her it was more like Dracula hiding in his cape. I downed my 1961 Haut-Brion in one gulp and almost choked. ‘’…therefore, no need for a bodyguard. How did you survive the last few weeks?’’ I started to make a swan out of my napkin. Look anywhere but at her eyes. Suddenly I was growing convinced that the myth of Medusa had been written to teach Greek children how to survive catastrophic meetings with ugly chicks. ‘’What do you mean, survive?’’ I croaked, or ribbited, or whatever the hell’s the name of the sound a frog makes. ‘’The crash. The markets.’’ Her breath was growing warmer and I realized she was inching closer at every sentence. Or maybe it was just warm in here. Why the hell do rich people need so many fireplaces in their dining hall to start with? When’s the last time you’ve seen a majority shareholder roast a marshmallow? I backed away from her as if from a cliff. ‘’Oh.’’ I hadn’t opened a newspaper in month. How Family Rich of me. ‘’I’m pretty diversified, so…’’ I trailed off, assuming that my choice of adjective would suffice with someone Investment like her. Of course it wasn’t true. All my money was still at work building cars in countries with a view on the Pacific and people eating dogs. I was pretty sure we didn’t manufacture anything other than cars, I mean I usually played games on my phone during investor meetings so who knows. And really I was just desperately trying to crash land this bush plane of a conversation so who cared if I was really ‘’diversified’’ or not. By then waiters named Samuel were changing the tablecloth for 3

desert. Suddenly the gorgon’s middle finger and thumb were closing a ring around my elbow, and it was all I could do not to utilize my cake fork like a fly swatter on that thing. ‘’I want you to try something. I’m in Liquor. We’ve designed something to take Bailey’s out of the upper market. Only, rich people don’t show up at focus groups, so I have to run them myself. Informally.’’ Investment. I knew it. Call me a superficial prick all you want, you can’t deny I have a flair for this kind of stuff. She was practically sitting on my lap by now. Coffee appeared on the table, only I’m saying coffee so you understand what I’m talking about; Young Rich Bastards drink kopi luwak. Kindly note that for you to purchase a year’s worth of kopi luwak, you’d have to refinance your shitty bungalow. She produced an apple-sized bottle. ‘’We call it Amoranza, but that might change depending on how well baby-boomer millionaires react to a foreign-sounding name. We’re trying to keep things exotic, yet approachable. Here.’’ She poured it my kopi luwak. It made it match the tablecloth in a visually pleasing manner. Then again, anything would have pleased me visually after framing her facial features long enough to hold a conversation. I took a sip. It tasted like synthetic tropical islands. I sucked my tongue against the roof of my mouth. If that drink ever got a TV commercial, it would showcase girls wearing coconut bras and an out-of-work sitcom star playing the ukulele. Still, by the time I was done humming Gilligan’s Island theme in my head, my porcelain cup stood in its saucer, empty. Time for a long-overdue washroom break. As I stood, I noticed my field of vision had weird pixels in it and that my tongue felt covered in sand. Again, that animal of a woman did the claw thing around my arm. ‘’You’re not going to ask me why I look the way I look?,’’ she hiccupped, facing straight ahead. All pretenses shattered against the floor like expensive glass. Then slowly, she used the muscles of her neck to expose herself to my gaze, revolving her face inch by inch like an auction piece. Her pupils drilled double exit wounds in the back of my skull, the work of a sniper. She either smiled or pouted. That made her features even more Cubism-inspired. If I had had any saliva left in my mouth, it would have been a good time to swallow. During these five seconds, I wasn’t a shareholder or a millionaire: I was a 10-year old being forced to watch weird amputee porn by his evil big brother. ‘In 2010 my car’s steering wheel stopped responding and I swerved into the opposing lane. Well. I say my car, but really, they’re your cars, right?’’ She tilted her head to the left. Her hair followed gravity and touched her shoulder, exposing the remnants of what used to be an ear. Cooked hamburger meat. ‘’Let’s consider tonight my way to close the books on my past.’’ I turn around and start my way across the hall. Cement blocks tie themselves to the fabric of my dress pants and they pull me towards the ground. I’m panting like a St. Bernard and all my internal organs pulse to the rhythm of my heart. Nothing quite hurts yet, it’s more like a microwave vibration in my stomach. The lights of the Dinner Club 4

filter through the sweat that glues my eyes shut, flashing behind my pupils like incoming traffic. The orchestra just stopped playing. And now if you’ll excuse me this gentleman is going to put a knee on the oak parquet, but really he’s fine, he just had a little too much to drink tonight.


How much for the mannequin  

A short story.