Secrets of the Lottery Winner
CHAPTER 5: NEWLY MINTED MAN
Should he or shouldn’t he? He didn’t have to, never again; but then his plan of independence required he do so. His commitment to his plan brought Gari back to Lefton & Associates intending to toil until five, or toil as best he was able with the scent, taste, and sensation of Catherine Lourdes, Private Banker to the rich man, on and in him, along with neap guilt.
Perhaps he’d been manning his desk for five minutes when Larry Lefton’s head loomed over his cube wall and startled him like the trolling devil himself. Except this version of the demon sported a pasty white complexion and an agitated demeanor that, from experience, Gari knew presaged a presidential tantrum. Gari attempted to defuse the impending explosion with the incomplete truth.
“Sorry, lunch ran long. I was with somebody from Mid-Con.” Gari’s idea was to give Larry the impression he was on the trail of a prospective client, when, in fact, he should have realized his commander-in-chief knew Mid-Continental Trust Company was out of the agency’s league, having nothing to do with shoe leather, tires, autos, or sundries.
Larry said, “Stop the bullshit, Garibaldi. In my office, now.”
Gari leapt, used to responding like a lapdog. He shuffled behind Larry into the president’s office. During the familiar journey, he questioned the very nature of his relationship with Larry Lefton and the agency, which was easily summarized as, “Larry says jump. I leap very high.” Gari wondered why the hell he was hunched and following like a railroad coolie. He was more than Larry Lefton’s equal that afternoon and for every afternoon thereafter. These fulminations didn’t prevent him from following; but they did result in Gari pulling himself erect.
In the office with the door closed, Larry castigated him.
“While you were out doing whatever it was you were doing, Victor Lubeck called about the ad in today’s Sun-Times. You’ll never guess his complaint.”
“Typo,” Gari responded, boldly adding, “missed again by our crack creative squad.” He squared his shoulders and remarked to himself how satisfying forthright dialogue between an employee and his boss could be.
Larry regarded him with disbelief, as if Gari was a rare creature of the type confined in a zoo, or preserved by taxidermy in a museum or hunter’s collection. It was the insolence, a shade of Gari that had never presented itself. “Your typo, Garibaldi. Lubeck’s is your client, so you’re responsible for everything we do for him.”
“Please, Larry, if I were responsible, we wouldn’t do what we do for him.”
Larry scrutinized Gari. “What’s gotten into you, Garibaldi? You’re late returning from lunch. And now …” Not able to characterize Gari’s behavior, he let the comment drift.
“What I’m saying, Larry, is that if our crack creative crew did better work for Lubeck, he wouldn’t be bitchin’ all the time about a typo here and there. Typos happen and they don’t seem such a big deal when the general body of work is good. No, when it’s excellent.”
“Look here, Garibaldi, our creative product is excellent. Best in the city for retail. And if you don’t believe it’s good enough, well, it’s your fault. You’re the account manager.”
“They do it because they know they can get away with it, Mr. President.”
“What the hell’s gotten into you, Garibaldi? You got a case of indigestion?”
What’s gotten into me, Larry, is a boatload of money. This is what banged desperately at the back of his teeth for release. But he kept the white gates locked because there was the plan, which he realized he was jeopardizing. If he hung around, he might really let lose, feeling, as he was, unbound, uncaged, like a wild animal again free and on the prowl for fresh meat. There was only one way out of this.
“You’re right, Larry, I got some bad food at lunch. Probably food poisoning. It’s laying me low here. I think I need to head home.”
Well, Gari did look different to Larry; perhaps not like a man ready to drop from ptomaine, but certainly unlike himself. He wondered if Gari’s aliment was contagious. “If you’re not well,” he said, “going home’s the best thing. You can handle this on Monday. I’m sure Victor will understand.”
Gari moved quickly to the door to disguise his look of utter surprise. Given his assertiveness, he fully expected Larry to pitch him out the door, maybe out the window. Gari had never known the man to allow a subordinate—that was the right word, as this precisely described Larry’s view of those he employed—to address him as Gari had. But upon reflection, he concluded the situation was more like no one addressed Larry as he had for fear of an overwhelmingly horrid response. Gari, on his way out the door, out of the agency, and onto the street, speculated this was Larry’s strategy: Keep them off guard with expectations of the worst, and in this manner protect and perhaps strengthen your authority. Indeed, he thought on his way to catch the train to Mundelein, perception is everything, or at least close to it.
On the train, though, the importance of reality struck him full force in the form of Catherine Lourdes and the restoration table. That had been very real and in moments he would confront another reality: Emily, his wife, the mother of his boys, the woman who since that spectacular Wednesday had done her mighty best to reenergize their marriage, and had even, certainly against her best judgment as Gari could not see her changing stripes entirely, loosened the purse strings, a sufficient amount to have put real money in his pocket, the very cash he used with banker Lourdes, the dollars that had helped put the young woman on her back on the table and him between her legs. This weighed him like Marley’s chained cashboxes.
“You’re home early,” Emily said, as he entered from the garage. It was one of those suburban habits he’d picked up, coming into the house every night through the garage, though he didn’t drive to and from the train. It seemed nobody in the suburbs used their front doors, except on those occasions when fundraisers visited, and he often wondered what purpose the front door served. Physically eliminating the front door seemed a sensible architectural progression, something like the disappearance of a vestigial organ. But then there was tradition to consider; after all, people liked the useless, as he well knew, it being his job to foist such stuff on the local populace in his role as advertising man.
She followed with, “Dinner won’t be ready for an hour, and the boys are at the playground with Candy and her boys.” She conveyed this last bit of information as she slid next to him and touched his hand.
His hand was okay, as he’d washed it several times between the museum and Mundelein; it was the rest of him that was in question, compromised as it was by his private banker. Questions raced through his mind as she traced the back of his hand with a finger and waited for a reply. Had the city and Metra worn away Catherine’s scents? He could explain them—I rode home next to a woman who obviously held a significant investment in Revlon. But the other scent was different. He recognized the drift of Emily’s maneuvers, a definite syllogistic pattern: no children, empty house, therefore ideal time to roll in the hay. A consequence of being a well-off and unconventional man was creating excuses at light speed.
He arranged his face in a big smiley countenance and gripped her hand in his two with enthusiasm. “I was with Victor Lubeck this afternoon with my new account guy squaring things away. Went okay, I guess, though I have to say Victor’s not entirely excited about sharing me. The new guy’s okay. His name’s …” He hesitated, but not long enough for Emily to suspect he was scouring the ethers for an appropriate name, a real ad guy moniker, which he read, miraculously, on siding of the neighbor’s house. “Brick Front’s his name.”
“What a peculiar name,” she cooed, on top of him, her head nestling his shoulder. Gari saw only her nostrils pucker slightly as she breathed in the musk of his earlier encounter. He could actually see her vacuuming in the molecules and sensed moisture rising in the valley of his back.
“Just one of several peculiarities,” he said, racing to the reason he might have the fragrance of bouquets about him. “His name’s actually John. He picked up Brick when he was a kid, since he lived in a brick house and his last name was Front. Get it: Brick-fronted house?”
She laughed politely and sucked in volumes of the fragrant frangipani nimbus he imagined surrounded him.
“But the thing about Brick is he wears too much cologne. I don’t know what it is about some guys these days. They think they have to shower in the stuff. Expensive stuff, too. Cabbing with him in this weather, well all I can say is nobody wanted to sit near me on the train.”
This engendered heavy breathing on Emily’s part, which made him worry his fabrication was over the edge.
“I don’t smell anything,” she said.
“You don’t?”He struggled to keep the surprised tone subdued.
She stared at him quizzically and shook her head. He detected the hint of suspicion in her widened eyes.
“Maybe it’s just me. You know, over reacting to Brick. You know, concerned he’ll do a good job with the Lubeck’s account.”
She nestled again, and he decided he was safe.
“Why don’t we take advantage of the situation?” she said. She demonstrated her eagerness by rubbing her head lightly against his neck.
“I’ll just jump in the shower first. I feel kind of grimy,” said Gari.
He undressed in the bathroom, where, as he unstuck his underwear from himself and muttered, “Ouch,” the scent of Catherine Lourdes suffused the warm air and chilled him. Perhaps he was simply over sensitive to the fragrance, as to his mind it pungently represented his betrayal and the dread of revelation. There was something else too and it was like an ice cube racing the length of his back, imparting the shivers that impelled him to crank the shower to hot, which in turn induced him to sweat and freeze simultaneously.
This other thing was what the magazines and television ads called “performance.” Women—these were women in novels and the movies—they were usually forgiving of their men who, for one reason or another, couldn’t perform. Of course, that was pure fiction. Gari knew performance mattered, because it conveyed meaning beyond a good squirt and temporary relief to women, especially women who were wives. If the man couldn’t perform then something was wrong. If something was wrong then she had to understand the nature of the problem. This led to a discovery process described best by and probably the ideal definition of “agony.” And, having endured agonizing probing, as women liked to scrutinize every nook and cranny of a man’s psyche in relentless pursuit of the muck, then yet another problem presented itself. Women internalized the thing causing men to fail, taking it on as their fault, a failing in them, and some inadequacy of theirs. They were too fat or not sufficiently succulent in the right way. They were too intense or too lackadaisical, both intimating and deflating to the man. Or they were too worn, depriving him of that snug fit he craved, and that often transformed a three-minute experience into one, one and half if she was lucky. Or too dry, resulting in pain all around.
Rinsing off the lather, he came to the one on his mind. This was the big one, the really big one. Stated directly and simply, as no woman would unless very angry to the point where she’d lost control of her vocabulary, you can’t perform because you already shot your wad in another bitch. Yes, he could wash away the scents of Catherine Lourdes; but he could not restore the full load of seminal fluid she’d drained from him. And wives were not forgiving, understanding, or self-deprecating in the face of an empty hose as were new acquaintances, girlfriends, and mistresses.
He toweled off and devoted a minute to examining his limp and shriveled dick. He stroked it couple of times, hoping for a resurrection. But the damned effort … well, it just flopped. In this state, reduced mentally and physically, he entered Emily’s den, previously known as their bedroom.
As the pejoration of the old aphorism goes: Necessity is the mother of erection. Once in bed, in Emily’s arms, comforted by the knowledge that this woman who once loved and then fell out of love with him, this woman again seemed to love him and see him as more than a sad sack. She now beheld him as a man, a hunter who successfully tracked down the big game of an elevated position and increased income. And, he couldn’t explain this but definitely sensed it: Her mythologizing transformed him into the real man she desired. Catherine Lourdes efforts actually paid him dividends in bed with Emily, as the private banker had allotted him the time necessary to properly stimulate his wife and bring her to climax during coitus, a feat he hadn’t accomplished in … the years were lost.
Lying on his back, a fine sheen of sweat and Emily’s head resting on his chest in a light doze, he knew being a rich man was the best. Could things get any better?
* * *
Yes, indeed they could, and they did during the next week.
First and foremost was Emily and the new attitude she developed toward him. He was the man of the house, a knight, and she honored his new royalty with meals—real meals with an entrée and two side dishes and a salad and a bottle of beer, not a sandwich or a slapped together casserole, usually yellow tinged with brown. And the boys tucked in so they could talk like adults in adult volume. As a result, he didn’t have a single sore throat, not an instance of raspy voice, the entire week, where normally these conditions plagued him once, often twice a week. For some reason in their house the adults couldn’t, for the most part, help but carry on conversation with the boys in anything but high volume. In these post-lottery, post-ersatz promotion days, he often discovered his ears tinnitus from the silence.
Since the boys were in bed early, Emily and he were not exhausted by the time they retired. They had marvelous energy the entire evening, which they used to talk to each other, mostly about their past together—how they met, where, their wedding, friends from the city they never saw after they’d crossed the Chicago border, and the like—and he discovered he liked her, they still shared much, and she was in her matured and experienced way an attractive woman.
Then there was Larry Lefton who on Monday instead of tearing into Gari for his Friday performance greeted him civilly, and on a couple of occasions in meetings concerning the Lubeck’s account treated him deferentially. It was as if Larry knew Gari now possessed the wherewithal to leave the agency, and that, after all, he was an essential part of the Lubeck’s account, if as nothing else than as a deflective whipping boy.
Midweek Catherine Lourdes phoned. He froze for a second at the lilt of her voice, thinking she wanted to tryst with him. The downside of the week had been that his guilt over cheating on Emily—by Wednesday he was no longer terming it an indiscretion, or excusing it by claiming any red-blooded man would have done the same—had increased by a factor equal to her steadily improving treatment of him. Damn but he should have said no to Catherine. Fortunately, she wished nothing more than to inform that his first payment from the state had landed in his Mid-Con account. Hearing this, he felt like the real article—a rich and free man. It was a wonderful salve for his guilt.
So much so he accelerated his planning and booked his California trip.