Monthly Archives: April 2009


Mike checks the calendar. It’s almost May. The weather’s been nice the past couple of weeks. The other day, he helped Robert pull weeds from the garden in his backyard. In just a few months, there will be tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. After working the garden, Robert made tuna sandwich for lunch to go along with a cold wheat beer. They talked small talk.

“Still writing your story?” Robert asked.

“Yep,” Mike replied. The tuna sandwich was tasty. The beer, cold and tart, paired well.

“How’s the money situation?” Robert asked.

“I think I can pay a couple more months of rent, but I probably should look for some kind of work soon,” Mike said.

“Doing what?”

“Don’t know. Definitely not design stuff,” Mike said.

Robert suggested tutoring or working at some store, but Mike knew he’d feel miserable doing such work. The truth was that he barely had enough to last through the end of the month. Rent money would have to come from selling all of his stock holdings, a small amount that he hadn’t touched in years. He knew that as a worst case scenario, he could temporarily move in with Robert. Robert lived in a spacious 4-bedroom house by himself and could use extra help in keeping the place tidy. But Mike doesn’t want it to come to this.

Mike feels the urgent need to make money. He can’t focus on his writing. It was this sort of stress, the constant obsessing and desire to make money, that made him leave his business. He thought that by moving out here, where the cost of living would be lower, money would be less of an issue. The freedom he sought was only temporary. The savings, nothing much to begin with, had quickly vanished.

He doesn’t need much. Rent is only $550 a month. He spends less than $150 on food each month. Bills and his lingering student loans total up to $300. A thousand dollars would be enough. Not a penny more.

His monthly income stands at zero. It’s been six months since he last collected a check, the check he wrote himself after liquidating all the assets – the office furniture, the extra computers, the supplies in the closet, the artwork on the walls. His business partner Julia had quickly found employment elsewhere, perhaps more lucrative and secure. He was glad for her, but a bit sad that she had found it so easy to move on. They had made a good team, but they always struggled to make big money, the kind of money that others seemed to make with ease.

He paces around his apartment. Dozens of ideas zip through his mind. He is tempted to call up a couple of old clients and offer freelance work. But he resists. That road will only take him back to his old ways. He thinks about a guy from college he talked to every once in a while. A chubby Chinese guy named Greg. Outgoing and always optimistic, Greg had started a company that sold pet supplies online. The twist was that all pet supplies – the bowls, leashes, bags, collars, etc. – were environmentally friendly. Either organic, all-natural, and/or biodegradable. Mike was skeptical about the business since there were scores of online vendors selling all kinds of things. But Greg persevered and grew the business to a fairly large size. Just a few months ago, he had sold it to a big corporate vendor for millions of dollars. Such great fortune, such business acumen. Mike felt worlds apart from such tales of success.

Finally. An idea strikes him. He’s not sure it’s any good, but thinks it’s worth a try. He calls Robert.

“Hey, can I come over? Need to look up a few things online,” he says.

“Sure,” Robert replies.

He packs his laptop, hops on his bike, and rides quickly.


It’s times like tonight that torment him. Almost 4AM and he is far from sleep. The routine he has set up for himself will be shot the next day. He will wake up later than usual, and he won’t get to writing until at least noon. He blames himself for the lack of discipline. For failing to move on with things.

On this particular night, he thinks about how much he misses what he has lost. The nights he came home late from work, he would quickly brush his teeth, wash his face, change his clothes, and jump into bed next to Olivia, already sound alseep under the comforter. It was even better in cold weather, the bed pre-warmed and Olivia’s soft, warm skin radiating additional warmth. He would lean over to her side and give her a light kiss on the cheek. Most of the time, this would be enough to stir her momentarily. She would roll over towards him and tuck her head right between his arm and chest, squeezing herself tightly against his body. This would take no more than thirty seconds and she would quickly roll back to her side and doze off right away. He would soon follow her, reassured and all warmed up.

He drinks a glass of water and sits at his kitchen table, numb and unfocused. There are ways to fall asleep. A pour of bourbon, masturbation, reading a novel – the last two things being possible in bed. But he doesn’t find the motivation and lets the time pass.

He remembers the nights when his feet were especially cold – the result of his habit of never wearing socks in the house. In bed, she would let him wedge them behind her knees, in between her calves and the back side of her thighs, as she faced the other way and continued to sleep. His feet got warmer in minutes, and he would thank her by squeezing her hand.

He reconsiders and takes out the bourbon. It’ll warm him up and send him to sleep.


On his way back from the supermarket about half a mile from his apartment, Mike picks up the local newspaper and scans the headlines. There big headline is about a scandal at an elementary school in a nearby town. A fifth grade teacher has been accused of improperly touching his students. A mugshot of the forty-five year-old shows a fit and clean-cut man with a sympathetic face.

Mike sticks the paper into his tote bag and starts to think about his own fifth grade teacher. Mr. Forkin was the first male teacher he ever had outside of gym class. He was of average height, athletically built, had curly dark hair and a large mustache, and wore glasses. He always wore striped shirts with white collars and bright ties – he could have worked at a bank. Although either in his late thirties or early forties, Mr. Forkin seemed to have little experience as a teacher and therefore lacked the strictness and penchant for discipline of the other teachers at the school. But the kids – mostly a mix of affluent Jews and middle-class Koreans – were well-behaved and easy to teach.

He remembers two distinct things about Mr. Forkin. The first was the dark circles under his armpits that would become more apparent by mid-morning each day. Kids snickered about “BO” and would wonder what caused their teacher to be so sweaty under his arms. Perhaps it was the stress of being a first-year teacher at a new school. The other was Mr. Forkin’s alma mater. It was Iona College. The reason Mike still remembered this was because of a cheesy thing Mr. Forkin had told the class once. “I went to Iona College,” he said. “No, I don’t own a college, but it’s called Iona College.” He then put the spelling on the board and told everyone the Who’s on First joke.

As he unpacks the groceries and starts to lay out the ingredients for dinner, Mike suddenly remembers the day he had to stay after school and have a talk with Mr. Forkin. It was March and Mike had been running an in-class NCAA pool. Years before people went online and participated in all kinds of pools, Mike had found a shareware program which allowed him to print out brackets and keep track of everyone’s results. He had recruited about twelve kids, collected five dollars from each, and set the prize at $50, netting himself $10 for administrative costs. He updated the participants with rankings and reports each week. Everyone had fun. And then one day, Mr. Forkin asked him to stay after school. They went to a small room at the end of the hallway where teachers usually went for private conversations. Mr. Forkin produced a sheet with the previous week’s rankings.

“Are you running this?” he asked.

“Yes,” Mike replied, a tremble in his voice.

“I heard there was money involved. Is that true?”

Mike nodded.

“That’s gambling, which is strictly forbidden in school,” Mr. Forkin said. “You shouldn’t be doing this.”

“I didn’t know that,” Mike said.

There was an awkward pause. Mr. Forkin’s face looked grave and disappointed. Mike, who had been prone to shedding tears in confrontations with adults, willed himself not to cry.

“Do your parents know about this?” he asked.

“No,” Mike said.

“Would they be happy to hear that you’re doing this?” Mr. Forkin asked.

“I don’t think they would care,” Mike said. Mike was telling the truth. As long as he brought home good grades and studied hard, his parents left him alone. His father might even have applauded his initiative in running the pool.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, you can call them if you like,” Mike replied, with a surge of confidence. “In fact, my mom is waiting for me in the car outside. Would you like me to get her?”

Mr. Forkin seemed taken aback by Mike’s different tone. He studied his student’s face for a moment.

“I don’t ever want to see you doing this in class again, you understand? Gambling is not a good thing,” he said.

“Okay, I understand,” Mike said.

“You can go now.”

Mike ran out the school door and ran to his mother, who sat impatiently in the car.

“What took you so long?” she asked, irritated.

“I had to talk to my teacher about something,” he said.

“Don’t make me wait here like this again,” she said.

Mike didn’t say anything. He thought about how he could continue the pool without getting caught. There was the Final Four that weekend and the championship game on Tuesday. He would just have to deal things outside of class. And no more handing out rankings and results to everyone. The kids would have to come to him to find out.

As the water boils and he empties a box of pasta, Mike realizes that he hasn’t seen a game of college basketball this year at all. He doesn’t even know who won the national title. He wonders if Mr. Forkin still teaches at the same school in the small town in Northern New Jersey.