Daniel has wanted to be a writer ever since he was in elementary school.He has published stories and articles in such magazines as Slipstream, Black Petals, Spindrift, Zygote in my Coffee, and Leading Edge Science Fiction. He has written four books: The Sage and the Scarecrow (a novel), the Lexical Funk (a short story collection), Reejecttion (short story/ essay collection), and The Ghosts of Nagasaki (a novel).
The Novel in Short:
Dustin is a 22-year-old college graduate with a problem. After years of running his own businesses in university, where he dealt in the business of human fulfillment, he now finds himself faced with the “real world.” This real world has the usual problems -- how to stay employed, how to find a girl, how to be happy, how to take care of your rich friend’s monkey, avoid vampires and ninjas, all while sorting out some serious family shit. Is this just a novel? Of course not, it’s also your guide to life after graduation.
Chapter 15- The Art of the Hustle; or Ducking the Ninja, Part 1
#15: Generally Good Advice for the Hustler: Ingenuity is the greatest of things. Redefining the self is essential to any hustler’s repertoire. Convincing a southern businessman that you’re an Asian servant named Hoshi, well, that’s a task worthy of the hustler gods.
#15a: Socks and pants, then shoes.
Was I going after Cronon, or was I just going to stay low for a while? If I was going to stay low, how was I going to shake off the huge bounty on my head? More importantly, how was I going to duck the ninja?
I don’t know. This was all new to me. But if there is anything I’m good at, it’s adjusting to a new situation. Scientifically speaking, it’s always the animals with the most generalist attributes that survive. And there’s no animal more generalist than the bohemian/trickster/hustler, or in other words, me.
So what do I do? Do I go on a vacation? Do I get lost in public spaces? Do I go to a small town? Is there any answer that’s better than the other? I do the most random thing I can think of: I get on a train going North. I hook myself up with one of my many alter egos: I’m Pedro Martinez the second, from New Jersey.
“Pedro,” I practice in my best Spanish accent and adjust my mustache. “Pedro. I am Pedro. You are not Pedro, nor is he Pedro, but I, I am Pedro.” It sounds good.
I don’t know what’s North, but North is Away, North is ambiguous. Better that I don’t know where I’m going. This is good enough for the moment. I’ve never been on a train before, and I like it.
I log on to my wireless account, and browse a little while. I wonder if people can track internet connections. I notice that there is a two million dollar bounty on my head, and that the notice is posted on a lot of sites, including my own. I make a mental note to tell J.P. to be more discriminant about who he sells advertising space to. I check my account: on second thought, I think, it’s better that I have the money. After all, they’ll never catch me. Besides, none of the people I know or my costumers would ever turn on me. Would they?
Two million dollars. I almost want to turn myself in.
I’m sitting next to this girl who is just staring at me. Is she on to me? Does she know who I am?
“Is something wrong?” I say.
“Nothing’s wrong. You just look nervous. And your mustache is falling off.”
She’s young and cute.
“Oh,” I say.
She’s looking at me and smiling. “You want to talk?” she asks. “We have a long trip, and it’s just you and me in this compartment.”
“Sure,” I say. “What do you want to talk about?”
“What’s your name?”
“Pedro…errrr, Rutherford,” I say. “Rutherford Jones.”
“It’s nice meeting you, Rutherford. I’m Gen Mickels. What do you do, Rutherford?”
“I deal in human satisfaction: importing, exporting, entertainment services, a little bit of movie production. I also provide special services. I guess you could say I’m an entrepreneur of sorts. ”
“Wow, the way you say it, it almost sounds like you’re either a pimp or a drug dealer.”
I laugh nervously, and try to look slightly offended.
“I’m sorry, that was rude. So you’re self-employed.”
I count out my employees on my fingers: “Ummmm, three full-time employees, one part-time, and a monkey. Oh, and more if you count the law firm I own.”
She’s eyeing me suspiciously. “Are you for real?”
She’s silent for a little bit.
“So what do you do, Gen?”
“I’m a bum,” she answers, then smiles. “I guess I’m a student. At least I hope to be next year. I applied to Graduate School in Boston. I want to get my PhD in Classical Studies, you know, learn all those dead languages, and read books by people who’ve been dead for two thousand years. I don’t think it’s going to happen, though.”
“In the Classics, that’s awesome. I was a Classic’s minor.”
“Oh, all right.” We high five, and then shoot the shit about dead authors.
“So why aren’t you going to be able to go to graduate school?”
“The usual reason: money. I have some fellowship money, but expenses in Boston are high, and I have a dad who is terminally ill. My husband wants to pay for the expenses, but it really is going to put a strain on our living arrangements. It just…it isn’t going to work out. But, whatever, I’m on the train, and I’m going to Boston to see if I can finagle my way into a little extra money. It’s stupid, I know, but I think if I can talk to them face to face, they might let me have it.”
“How much are we talking about?”
“Ten thousand dollars, about. You know, just to supplement what my husband is already paying.”
I think about things for a little bit.
“How are your English skills?”
“Your English skills, how are they?”
“Excellent, I’d say. I mean, I had to write a lot of papers in school.”
“You want to do some freelance work for me?”
“What kind of work?”
“Basically, writing papers for illiterate business students, forming a couple of solid contacts with potential costumers. Oh, and you can proofread my novel.”
“Are you joking?”
“Not at all. I’ll guarantee that I’ll find you the money: I’ll start with grants, and scholarship opportunities, work my way to non-profit organizations, and if all else fails, I’ll simply front the money myself. But you have to hold up your part of the deal. Seven to eight papers of five to eight pages or so, which I promise to keep anonymous, three to four contacts with people who have, oh, let us say, fastidious needs and who can keep a secret, and you can proofread my novel.”
“You can’t be serious? What is all this? You want me to write papers for college students, make…what did you say: three to four contacts with people who have…”
“Fastidious needs, you know, robust tastes, ‘special needs,’ they want hard to get things, need a special service, that kind of thing. And you have to proofread my novel. Me grammar no good.”
She’s looking at me strangely. “Are you for real?”
“I’m as Real as it gets. Listen, if I can’t produce, then you don’t owe me anything.”
She seems pensive, like she’s bargaining with the devil.
“Is your novel any good?”
“No,” I say, and she laughs.
She doesn’t trust me, but it’s a long trip and she warms up to me. I tell her anecdotes about J.P., my adventures with Ron Jeremy and the Vampires, and of course, I talk about agent McFadden and Suzie.
“Do I have to sign a contract?”
“No,” I say. “I trust you. And if you don’t fulfill your part of the bargain, I won’t send an assassin after you or anything, I just won’t renew your contract. And if you do get your extra grant money, then you can forget you ever met me.”
“Oh, I think it’s going to be hard to do that.”
We talk some more about the Classics and life in general. I ask her if there is some advice she wants me to include in the book.
“You see, it’s also a guide for people who have graduated and are going into the Real world.”
“Wow, this is one ambitious book. You don’t do anything small, do you?”
“No,” I say. “I don’t think people were meant to live small. I think that’s another way of being dead. I think you should do something all the way or not do it at all.” I think about that. Hmmmmm, that could be a good suggestion.
“I know: socks and pants, then shoes.”
“Words to live by,” I reply.
She thinks I’m funny, but she doesn’t think I’m serious and she doesn’t know that the wheels are already turning. That my task force of three ex-homeless people and a monkey is already scouting foundations, making contacts, and by the time we’re done, she already has a letter being sent to her by a foundation in Washington, D.C., and I tell her not to forget our conversation. I give her my website and contact information and tell her that if she ever needs anything…
“You’re one interesting fellow, Rutherford Jones.”
After wandering around Boston for a few days, I call up a friend I know from college and we hang out. This is a complete drag, so I spend my time hanging around a pier where they have charter yachts, and after trading some weed for a place to stay on some guy’s boat, he hooks me up with a job working on this rich guy’s super-yacht.
It’s all cash and no questions asked. This seems like a good way to keep ahead, to stay alive. So I work the yacht. Mr. Sedaris, the rich mofo who owns the bitch, thinks I’m a hard worker. And that I have a real future as a service hand on yachts. I’ve managed to convince him that my name is Hoshi, and that I’m an Asian immigrant who knows little English.
I respond in: Yessirs, and Nosirs, squint my eyes, and try to keep my head down, and my back tan.
One day I’m on the deck serving Martinis and he says to me: “You’re a career proletariat, Hoshi, do you know that?” he says. “There are two kinds of people in this world, Hoshi: the workers and the hustlers. And I can tell just from looking at you that you’re a career proletariat.”
“You got that quote from Cocktail.”
“Well, when did you get so mouthy...and when did you learn such good English?”
This is the first complete sentence I’ve said since coming on board. I should have said, “Yessir” and nodded my head--it’s what Mr. Sedaris wants, but I can’t stand plagiarism. I’m convinced that Mr. Sedaris is slightly retarded.
“Well, now that you do talk, why don’t you sit down and shoot the bull a little while?”
The gig is up, so I say “Sure” and sit down.
“It sure is a nice night, Hoshi.” He is staring up at the stars in a kind of dreamy nonchalance. “You ever wonder just how those stars above conspire to put people in the places they are?”
“I don’t catch your meaning, sir.”
“Well, what I mean, my English-speaking Asian friend is that…well, how the hell do you find yourself working for me for fifty dollars a day, and me, well I’m the richest son of a bitch this side of the Atlantic coast, you see? Why the difference? Is my race just so much better than yours? Am I just a better person than you, Hoshi?”
“Me so sorry, sir. I only ignorant worker. You want more wine?”
“Yeah, yeah, I guess I would.”
I get him some more wine. What a retard.
I spend three more days on Mr. Sedaris’s Yacht. I serve cocktails and appetizers. I scrub the decks, and I sleep in a room with ten other servants. It’s a very simple life, and I love it. I get lots of sun and get plenty of sleep. In my off hours, I work on my novel. But I scribble on a cheap notepad, because I don’t want the other workers and Mr. Sedaris knowing that I am fluent in English and have a sweet laptop with wireless internet.
“Hoshi, do you believe in life after death?”
“So sorry, sir. I am just poor ignorant Asian servant and do not know of your superior religion,” I say.
“That’s okay, my stupid Asian friend. Maybe it’s better that you don’t understand the deeper moral import of living in a Christian world. Not to understand things like sin. And guilt.” It’s at this point that Mr. Sedaris starts to cry.
“What wrong, Mr. Sedaris? You no like wine I bring?”
“Hoshi, I’ve done bad things in my lifetime. I’m old, and I’ve done bad things. Worse things than most men. Drug smuggling, political bribes…hell, I’ve done some things I don’t even want to put in words, they’re so bad. You know what it’s like to wear the sin of the world on your shoulders? I’ve done it for too long, Hoshi.” It’s at this moment that I notice he has a revolver in his hand.
“What you do with that, Mr. Sedaris? You going to execute poor Hoshi?”
“No, Hoshi. I’m going to shoot myself, and ain’t nobody going to stop me.” He puts the gun in his mouth, and I say, “Okay, me watch out and make sure no one stop you.”
I’m looking out for people trying to stop him, when I realize he hasn’t fired.
“Well, aren’t you going to stop me, Hoshi?”
He slips a twenty into my pocket--a strong hint that he’s willing to reimburse me further for my trouble. What the fuck.
“Dude, what the hell are you doing?”
“Why Hoshi, there’s that speech irregularity again.”
“It’s no speech irregularity, Mr. Sedaris. I’m not Asian, and my name is not Hoshi. I’m just one white boy from Florida with a serious tan. Yeah, as you might have guessed, I’m on your yacht because my neighbor has put a bounty on my head, and I’m ducking the ninja assassin she has sent to kill me.”
“Goddamn, boy. A ninja assassin. Like I don’t got enough of those already on my head.” He looks me over as if for the first time. “You’re awfully young to be having ninja assassins after ya’. Why I was twenty-eight before I had the first ninja assassin after me. And how old are you?”
“Well, aren’t you an ambitious son of a bitch?”
We sit there awkwardly for a little bit.
“Well, no damn Asians to stop me this time, Bill. Better do the job this time.” He put the gun back in his mouth.
I have this weird gurgling in my stomach. Indigestion? No wait: conscience? I thought about my dad. How he ended it. Suicide. Just one more way of avoiding the Real of desire. “No, wait. Really, think about this for a little bit. You’re just going to kill yourself. Isn’t that just a cop-out? I mean, isn’t that just another way of quitting?”
“Well, yeah. I think that’s the point.”
“What I mean to say is: wouldn’t you rather try to rectify all the wrongs you’ve done in your life? Isn’t that a much more mature way to go about doing something?”
“Mature?! Boy, what are you talking about? You think this old man knows a lick about maturity? You know the only reason Tom tried to eat Jerry is because Jerry tried to reason with him. You don’t reason with a cat with razor sharp teeth, unless he’s slightly retarded like Tom is. But that’s a different story.”
“What? What are you talking about? What do Tom and Jerry have to do with suicide?”
“What does Tom and Jerry have to do with suicide?! What do Tom and Jerry have to do with suicide?! Boy have you ever tried to reason with a drunk Texan, it’s almost as bad as trying to reason with a slightly retarded cat. Anyway, I got to die now. Don’t try to stop me.”
No one will miss Bill Sedaris. Maybe in a few years, no one will miss my dad. Helping Mr. Sedaris won’t nullify my dad’s suicide. But I can’t help it, I stop him anyway.
“Stop! You must have something to live for?”
“I told you Hoshi not to try to stop me.”
“What, I already told you, my name is not Hoshi. Damn, we’ve been over this.”
“Well, you see, I’ve got the memory problems. Anyway, what was I doing?”
“You were about to give the gun to me to put away for the evening.”
“Oh yeah, thank you, Hoshi.”
He gives me the gun.
“So what were we talking about?” he asks.
“You were telling me how you were going to start giving money to charity. Lots of it. You said you were going to let the lawyers at Frake’s Law firm take care of it. Then you were saying how you were planning a radical new initiative for the relief of the hungry in the Boston area. You wanted me to put this in your daily planner so you don’t forget.”
“Oh yeah, yeah. That sounds like something I would say. Well, I’m going to turn in for the evening. Good night, Hoshi.” He starts to walk to his cabin. “Oh Hoshi, I just want you to know, because…well, I got to tell someone -- I’ve done bad things in my lifetime.”
“I know, sir. But don’t worry I’m going to make things better.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he waves his hand. “I think I liked you more when you weren’t so mouthy.”