Secrets of the Lottery Winner
CHAPTER 18: THE AMERICAN CAPITALIST
Larry Lefton amazed Gari. He carped when Gari announced he was taking a vacation immediately. Larry said no doubt Gari deserved a vacation and time with his lovely family. He’d never seen anyone work as hard benefiting the agency as Gari had over the past several months. But in doing so, Gari had become the agency’s linchpin, gearbox; no, the camshaft (Larry was the engine, of course!) of the business’ newfound productivity. Without him, feared Larry, the joint would deteriorate into what it had been, a mere backwater in the Chicago creative community, a brackish pool of cruddy near-thought, and a cesspool of mediocrity.
Actually, these weren’t quite Larry’s words, but they were the sense gleaned by the wonderfully inflated Gari. In truth, Larry had said Gari was an important member of the management team and Victor Lubeck might not appreciate his key account person flitting off on short notice. But he acknowledged Gari had been grinding hard and probably deserved a break.
The following week cold winds blew and early snow signaled a long, hard winter for Chicago and Mundelein. Gari and family left for O’Hare warm and cozy in a black stretch limousine, which didn’t seem at all like an extravagance to Emily, who over the past several months had handily shut up her penchant for frugality in a little closet deep in her mind and tossed the key clear across to the other side of her cerebellum.
“This will be a first-class vacation,” had intoned Gari, when he’d presented his plans to the assembled family in the ubiquitous—and ubiquitously dreaded—family meeting. To which the assembled replied in unison, “What’s there to do in Jamaica?”
“Nothing but lounge and enjoy the sunny weather and the beautiful blue sea,” was his response, delivered causally, as if the superb logic of a restful, peaceful vacation was readily apparent to anybody with half a brain.
The boys answered empathically, “We want to go to Disney World.”
Emily added, “Disney World has beaches. I saw them in a brochure.”
Oh, what a pedestrian bunch he had there, he lamented in his cups; and then launched into effusive praise of the island and its charms. Bicycling on the winding, quaint roads; tooling around in serried pink Jeeps; shopping in the local bazaars; swimming in the pools at the grand and luxurious Hilton. He mounted his soapbox and issued continuous disquisition, ceasing only after they’d boarded the colorful Air Jamaica jet, and a tall, lean black woman closed and secured the cabin door, and this same ebony beauty began expounding in a British lilt on the virtues of the airplane, including its wondrous—in the unlikely event of a water-landing—flotation features.
After a stop off in Ft. Lauderdale—where the boys got the notion but none of the satisfaction of the family shooting up to Disney World, taking in the Magic Kingdom, and returning in time to catch their flight—the Garibaldi family disembarked at Norman Manley Airport. They instantly liked Jamaica, for unlike home it was warm. Not simply warm but a balmy eighty degrees—the blazing heat of a Chicago summer, and here it was winter. Gari vowed he could move here and live the rest of his life. He speculated to himself about shoe accounts on the island and wished he’d consulted the Agency Redbook before he left. Much better than L.A. and smaller too. He counted this as good, as he felt he was less likely to get himself into a jam in a small town.
Small country. Small city. No car necessary. Which is why the Garibaldi family rocked and rolled, steamed and sweated, argued and cussed during the twenty-seven-mile jaunt from the airport to the Hilton Kingston in downtown. (When he’d booked their rooms, he’d suffered an attack of fear chills. Was he fatally attracted to Hilton Hotels? Were they inevitably fatal to him? This would be the test. Make it a week in the Hilton Kingston and he’d be free of whatever curse had befallen him. It was a safe bet; he would be with his family.)
His first question when they’d pulled away from Manley was: Where are the quaint and winding roads? They bounced into town in a sedan pleading for shocks on a four-lane highway that could have been Lake-Cook Road, if it weren’t for the palm trees and the heat and the ruts. His second question, when they arrived in town, was: Where did this city come from? Emily’s response was, “It’s Kingston, Gari. It’s not Kingstown, you know.” He was tempted to demolish her remark with a smart aleck rejoinder; but they were on vacation, and, anyway, he was a blank, startled mindless by the mini-metropolis.
The Hilton wasn’t quite opulent; but it was big and delighted the boys who wanted to explore and get at it the second their little toes touched down on the grounds.
Gari, acting like the rich man he’d suddenly become, had booked them a two-bedroom suite. It cost a fortune and he knew, regardless of his lottery annuity and his greatly increased salary, paying the bill at the end of the week would hurt; but seeing Emily weep with joy and the boys careening around the miniature apartment like pint-size dervishes convinced him the outlandish expense was worth it. The place was loaded with restaurants, meeting rooms, and a large swimming pool. Emily said, “It’s got everything, Gari. We don’t have to leave here if we don’t want to.” The boys squealed that the hotel was great and they didn’t ever want to leave, and why couldn’t they have something like this at home. Gari thought, Disney World indeed!
On the dawn of their first day, wanderlust seized the family. We’re here, they agreed, so why not take in the place, though the boys yelped adventuring was okay as long as they returned in the afternoon to play in the pool. They visited Emancipation Park, quickly cruised around the Royal Botanic Gardens, and popped in and out of shops, where Emily and the boys bought two bags of souvenirs and gifts for family, friends, and mere acquaintances. Here was a woman gone wild—with money and sex. The first night, after tucking in the boys, she called room service for a bottle of champagne and finger food. She insisted they consume the goodies in bed in the all together, interspersed with vigorous lovemaking. He begged off the second night, claiming the day had exhausted him, which was the truth. The third day they rented a car and drove to Ocho Rios. He took the boys snorkeling. She excused herself from this activity because she didn’t care for the water, especially disliked salt water, and wasn’t a skilled swimmer, or any manner of swimmer for that matter; she was a pool floater.
By the fourth day, he truly was exhausted. He might have been less of a slacker since good fortune had smiled on him, but still he wasn’t much of a family vacation guy. Staring into blackness the third night, he calculated he’d taken three full vacations since their marriage, all of them before the birth of Teddy. After Teddy, it was a long weekend here and there. He’d been a slacker who liked doing his slacking at the office and in the city, away from his family. Now here he was a workaholic on the longest vacation of his life stranded on an island with his family, just at the halfway point, and yearning for a little isolation.
At breakfast, he said, “You know, Larry can be an SOB.”
“Sure. You’ve told me. What he’d do this time?” asked Emily.
“He wasn’t happy with me taking a vacation. Of course, he agreed I needed it. I deserved it. But he couldn’t spare me.”
“Well, Gari, it is nice to be wanted.”
“Vital,” he corrected. “I’m not complaining, Emily. Not about that. But that Larry, he had the audacity to suggest I take some time to check out the shoe business here in Jamaica.”
“They have a shoe business here? I thought it was tourism. People like us dropping American dollars like paper clippings. And aluminum. I think I read they do something with aluminum down here.”
“Shoe stores. He thought I might take a morning, an afternoon, something like that to see if they have a shoe chain like Lubeck’s.”
“You’re pulling my leg, right?”
“Come on. You know Larry. Doesn’t it sound just like him?”
She munched thoughtfully on mango she scooped from her breakfast fruit bowl. Gari found everything about her eating irritating—the way the juice dripped from the spoon, how she gripped the spoon, her habit of masticating the fruit by squeezing in her mouth, contorting her face sourly. He hadn’t paid much attention to these mannerisms before this breakfast, but suddenly he itched as he watched her consume her meal. What an herbivore she’d become!
“Well?” he prompted, a bit of irritation creeping in.
“I guess,” she finally acknowledged. He thought she gave him a squirrelly look.
“It’ll only be today. Christ, it’s work that’s paying for this.” He waved a hand to indicate the breakfast, the hotel, the trip, her upkeep. “You can lounge at the pool. You deserve the rest. Hey, isn’t that what a vacation’s about? The boys will love it.”
After signing for breakfast, Gari busted free for several hours, maybe an entire day, of aloneness from what had begun feeling like the yoke of his life. He suppressed that notion in favor of one more agreeable and to his mind more the truth: He loved his family, and he loved his wife, but for the sake of his sanity he had to get away occasionally.
He strolled over to downtown directly after breakfast and was parading down Spanish Town Road by ten, and was grasping for something to occupy him by ten-fifteen, and by eleven he planted himself on a bench, forlorn, considering flagging a taxi, returning to the hotel, and camping at the pool with the family. Maybe two hours was all a man could endure. Maybe he was more married, more tied to the rhythm of family living than he’d supposed? Or perhaps he needed somebody like Catherine or Loretta in old Kingston town to enliven his vacation?
He was pitched forward staring at his shoes possessed by these ramblings and cooking in the sun, when a shadow descended over him. He looked up to see if a cloud had blocked the Jamaican sun. It would have been a first since their arrival and, he imagined, a big story on an island where nothing much seemed to happen that he could see, though the local news in the Daily Gleaner was pretty much like back home, with the added spice of revolutionaries lurking about on the island.
Lifting his head, he glimpsed bare feet, the shade of dark chocolate, dressed in spiked sandals, pink and very bright against the skin. His eyes drifted up over shapely legs, and a bright pink sundress suspended on strings tied in bows over lovely broad shoulders. The little pink dress draped over small, firm breasts, which, from politeness, he didn’t linger on, though this was truly his desire. He shifted quickly to the face. It was pleasantly ovoid and the features generous but in balance with their setting—mouth slightly too wide but offset by fullness; nose long but daintily flared at the nostrils; eyes large but housed in linear sockets; and crowned with glorious, causally curled red hair that looked almost natural. He settled his gaze on the eyes. They were rich green, nearly emerald in quality, bright, matching the island flora.
“Excuse me,” she said, “but are you American?” Her voice was British and only slightly corrupted with Jamaican patois.
“Yes,” he said, consciously suppressing his natural tendency to utter a sloppy yeah. “I’m American.”
“An important American businessman?”
“I’m an American businessman, sure, but I don’t know how important I am.” He praised himself for the deprecation. “Why do you ask?”
“I’m a student attending the University of the West Indies.”
She could be, he conceded. She was young, no more than twenty he guessed.
“What are you studying?” Perhaps the male anatomy?
“Oh, business. I studied business in college.”
“No, American Capitalism. Are you an American capitalist? You have the appearance of one.”
“What’s an American capitalist supposed to look like?”
“Like you. Your little belly,” she said, ogling his mid-section, “says you’re well-fed, happy.”
He rubbed his stomach involuntarily. It was getting out of hand, and he’d have to do something about it, maybe after vacation. “That’s bad?”
“Only when you eat all the food, use all the energy, and rape the world to keep yourself fat and happy. You Americans have raped Jamaica, you know.”
“We have? I thought the British did all the raping in these parts.”
“You’re making a joke. But I am not laughing.”
“Sorry,” he said, trying to impress her as meek and properly castigated. “Obviously, you haven’t studied the tourist industry.” He blew it, but he couldn’t help himself. Next thing she’ll tell me, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro were saints.
“Oink, oink,” she snorted. From her with a British twist, the piggy imitation was comical, and he struggled to push the urge to laugh down his throat. It tickled like hell.
“Lots of American kids would agree with you.” He wondered why he was continuing this conversation. But he knew: green eyes, chocolate skin, hot pink. She was irresistible and a conscious blocker. Catherine, Loretta, guilt, all was forgotten.
“I have a project involving American Capitalism. I am writing a report for my class and I must interview an American capitalist.”
“You want to interview me?”
“If you’re a big American capitalist.”
Gari emitted a smirking laugh. “They don’t get much bigger than me. You know, I’m in the business that gave American Capitalism its reputation. I mean, mine’s the business that puts a happy face on American Capitalism.”
“You’re an American solicitor? A lawyer?”
“Please, just because you don’t like American Capitalism, you don’t have to insult me, now do you?”
“I despise American Capitalism, and I can do as I please.”
“Okay, sure thing, if you say so. You’re still interested?”
“Yes,” she said impatiently. “I have a mission.”
“The mission is my report,” she said smoothly and with a grace she hadn’t exhibited since she’d approached him. “What is your job?”
“I’m an advertising executive.”
She smiled. “You are an American capitalist. You make people buy junk they don’t need.”
“Quite an indictment. We prefer to think of it as making people aware of products that will enrich their lives.” But the truth of it was she was pretty much correct. After all, who needed two or three pairs of cheap Lubeck’s Shoes? Not many. Not anybody, really. But they thought they did, because of him. Damn, he did feel good about it. He was doing his job, and doing it very well indeed, regardless of what this chocolate morsel thought with her American Capitalism attitude.
After harrumphing him, she said, “You will be perfect.”
“I’m happy,” he said, truly happy.