Friday, September 21, 2012

Danny Ain't: The Mitt and Ann Romney Edition

My novel Danny Ain't was written in 1990 and published in 1992.  Some of my friends are claiming that I wrote it about the 2012 presidential election.

I can see their point.  Episode 14 gets to the heart of it:

"Danny?  Have you already eaten?  Or would you like to join us for dinner?”

“I might have a few bites,” I said.

I walked over the white carpet down the hallway, following the smell of steak and baked potatoes in the air.

As soon as I sit down I grab a glass of milk and pour it straight down my throat until it’s gone with a few drops dribbling down my chin.  Then I cut off a big hunk of steak and slam it into my mouth, and cut another and stuff it in there before I finish chewing the first one so my cheek bulges out and I can’t even close my lips, and I cut another and happen to look up and see that Mrs. Livermore was just sitting there with her fork halfway to her mouth, staring at me.

“Hungry, Danny?” she said.

“A little.  I — uh — I’m not used to eating so late.”

Mr. Livermore was looking at me, too.  Like he’d look at a big hairy spider.

I slowed down.  Mr. and Mrs. Livermore drank red wine with the meal, one whole bottle and half of another.  I drank two more glasses of milk, ate another slab of steak, and helped myself to one and a half baked potatoes.

Mrs. Livermore with the blonde hair and blue eyes, the diamond earrings, and fancy dress looked to me like a movie star.  She could’ve been dressed for the Oscars instead of just for dinner.  Mr. Livermore had dark hair and one of those faces that always look like they need a shave.  Next to her he looked old and tired and angry.  His shoulders slumped forward, and his jaw looked like concrete.

When Mr. Livermore finished eating, he leaned back in his chair.  “Well, Norma,” he said, “I spoke with that man Henry Hoggle, and he said he could begin work on the pool tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” Mrs. Livermore said.  “My, that’s quick.  Oh, this is excellent.”

Mr. Livermore nodded his head and said, “It’s a pleasure to speak to a man who’s eager to earn his money.”  He looked at me.  “Don’t you think so, young man?”

“Yes, sir,” I said.  “I mean, what other way is there to get money?”

“Some people,” Mr. Livermore said, “seem to think they can get money by whining for it.  There’s only one way to get ahead in this world, and that is to work for it.  Work hard.  It’s a choice you make.  You can choose to be poor, or you can choose to be rich.  You aren’t going to choose to be poor, are you, young man?”

“No, sir.  I’m not.”  Hear that?  I’m not.  Sitting at the Livermores’ table with Mrs. Livermore wearing diamond earrings under a sparkling chandelier, I could talk right.  It sounded right.  I said, “I’m not going to be poor.  I’m not going to make any more wrong choices.”

Mr. Livermore raised his eyebrows.  “You’ve made some already?”

“Well.  One,” I said.  A big one.  The first choice of my life.  If you believe that stuff.

Mrs. Livermore smiled.  “We’re all entitled to one mistake, Danny,” she said.  “But be careful.  There are a lot of temptations.  Sometimes it’s hard to stay focused on what you want.”

“I can stay focused,” I said.  “It’s not hard.”  Check it out: It’s not.  No more ain’t for me.  I was feeling like one classy dude.

Mr. Livermore sat leaning back in his chair, scowling.  He spoke, not to me but to his wife: “The main temptation of the poor,” he said, “is that they spend all their money as fast as they can get it.  They get paid, and they go directly to a tavern.  When I drive by that bar in town and I see all those decrepit old cars parked outside — and motorcycles — I can’t imagine what pleasure they see in there.”

“They meet their friends there,” I said.

“And spend all their money, no doubt,” Mr. Livermore said.

“Not really.  Pop goes there, and he doesn’t drink half as much as you do.”

Mr. Livermore winced. 

Mrs. Livermore said, “Danny, that’s not a nice thing to say.”

Mr. Livermore went back to scowling.  He leaned forward.  “Don’t mind what he says, Norma.  He’s just a little urchin.”

I’d seen urchins washed up on the beach.  They were purple with spiny things all over.  I didn’t know why he called me that.  But I didn’t like it.

“Well,” Mrs. Livermore said with a smile that seemed to take a lot of work, “tell me about this soccer game you’ve roped Law into playing tomorrow.  What is the name of your team?”

I coughed.

“What, Danny?”

“I forget.”

The funny thing was, I was taking a liking to Mrs. Livermore.  She meant well.  She could’ve brushed me off like a fly, but here she was feeding me dinner at her table and talking to me like she cared about me and encouraging Law to be friends with me, even though she didn’t know — she couldn’t even imagine — the way I live.  All she knew was that my clothes were raggedy and my skin was brown — two reasons for her to freeze me out of her life, if she wanted to.  But she didn’t.  The one who wanted to was Mr. Livermore, I think.  I guess that’s what he meant, calling me that name.

“Mr. Livermore,” I said, “about what you were saying — about earning money?  Could I ask you a question?”

“What is it, young man?”  He looked uneasy.

“How did you earn the money for that car?”

“Oh.  Well, you see, I was a Cee Eee Oh.  That means Chief Executive Officer.  I was the boss.  I ran a company.”

“You don’t anymore?”

“Well . . . no.  The company doesn’t exist anymore.”

“You mean you quit?”

“No.  The company quit.  It went bankrupt.”

“Bankrupt?  Doesn’t that mean it went broke?”


“That sounds like a dsh situation.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“How can you get rich if your company goes broke?”

Mr. Livermore frowned.  He didn’t answer.

Mrs. Livermore leaned forward and explained: “You see, Danny, he didn’t own the company.  He just ran it.”

“Norma,” Mr. Livermore said, “it is not necessary to explain — ”

“The boy wants to learn,” Mrs. Livermore said.  “You see, running a company is a very important job.  So they pay you a lot of money.”

“But if the company goes broke, doesn’t that mean you didn’t do your job right?  Isn’t it your job to keep the company from going broke?  Why would they pay you — ”

“That’s enough!” Mr. Livermore said.

“Yes, Nathan,” Mrs. Livermore said.

And they both poured themselves another glass of wine.

“So,” I said, “the way to get rich is to run a company that goes bankrupt.”

Mrs. Livermore shook her head, but she also smiled.  Mr. Livermore just scowled.

“Going bankrupt,” Mrs. Livermore said, “is very complicated.  I never understood it myself.”

“Then I guess I can’t, either.”

“Some day you will, Danny.  When you learn more about business.”

“That’s what I’m trying to do.”


“I’m going to work hard and earn a lot of money and buy a car just like yours.”

“Good, Danny.”  Mrs. Livermore looked pleased.  “We all should earn the money for the things we want.”

“What about you, Mrs. Livermore?  How did you earn the money for that car?”

“Me?  Oh, well, I married Nathan.”

“Is that like going bankrupt?”

Mr. Livermore pushed back his chair with a screech that made me wonder if he’d ripped the carpet.  Mrs. Livermore raised an eyebrow and watched him leave the table.

She never answered my question.

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