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I learned a lesson from the disaster of the Terwilliger Spoon. In fact, I learned a few lessons. First, Ari is hopeless. Why did he think he had a chance with Amanda? Amanda was hanging out with a kid three years older than her who confused muscles with personality. And what does that say about Amanda? She’d ditch Roger for a cardboard cutout of a guy with more muscles and it’d take her two weeks to find out that he wasn’t real.
Second, I learned that this is just a plain stupid way to spend my money. Thanks to the three thousand dollars I spent, there now existed a perfect copy of a really ugly spoon. Ari wasn’t happier. I wasn’t happier. The world wasn’t happier. There had to be a better way to use the money I’d been given.
Third, I learned that working in a restaurant is really hard.
* * *
I was lying in bed the next Saturday, thinking happily about all the things I could buy and then thinking unhappily about how I couldn’t buy them without lying to my parents. A new guitar? I’d been through that. A Segway scooter? Where would I keep it and where would I ride it? Expensive old baseball cards? My parents would probably never find out, but I don’t care about expensive old baseball cards. A riding lawn mower? A swimming pool? A pony? Diamond cufflinks? I don’t have even cuffs.
The phone rang.
“It’s for you,” my mother yelled up the stairs.
“Hello, Ari,” I said since he’s the only one who would call me that early on a Saturday morning.
“It’s not Ari,” said the voice.
“Yes, it’s your forgotten pal, Mimi.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I was going to come over and see you today. Really. I’ve been wrapped up with Ari.”
“How’d that go.”
“It went. It’s gone. It was stupid.”
“Can I come over?”
“Yeah. Right now.”
“You don’t sound so good.”
“Can I come over?” she insisted.
“Sure. I’ll get dressed and everything.”
It took Mimi less than five minutes to get here, a new record. I met her downstairs and we went to the swing set in my backyard. I’m too big for it, but that’s sort of why I like it. I feel my real age in it.
“Why the rush?” I asked as Mimi pumped her legs and got some height on the swings.
“I just wanted to get out of my house.”
“What’s going on?”
I knew that wasn’t true.
Mimi let go of the swing at its highest, sailed through the air, and landed on our lawn. That was going to leave a nasty grass stain on her butt.
“So, what do you want to do?” I asked.
“My mom and dad are fighting,” she said.
“That stinks. What about?”
“My mom wants to get a job and my dad doesn’t want her to.”
“I thought your mom works at the Sunny Day Care Center.”
“She does. Part time.”
“That name always bothered me,” I said, stupidly interrupting Mimi’s flow. “I mean, is it a sunny day for the care center or is it sunny at the day care center? Shouldn’t it really be the Sunny Day Day-Care Center?”
“Anyway,” Mimi said with a point on it.
“Anyway,” I said, acknowledging that I’m an idiot.
“She’s been working there four days a week for a few hours while I’m at a school, but now Betty Freed’s mom wants to hire my mom to work in her office. As an office manager.”
“So, what’s the problem?”
“It’s freaked my dad out. He says it’s really just a fancy name for a secretary and that my mom wouldn’t like it as much as working at the day care and she’d just be doing it for the money.”
“So why does your mom want to do it?”
“I think because we need the money. That’s the part that’s freaking me out. I think my dad’s worried about getting fired. He’s had that job forever.”
“He works at Dunn Industries, doesn’t he?” I asked. I never really paid too much attention to what jobs my friends’ parents had. After all, when you hear the parents talking about work, they’re almost always complaining about people you’ve never met. My dad’s different, but that’s because he’s a newspaper editor which means he covers interesting things. Or maybe it’s just because he’s my dad.
“Yeah. He’s a manager now. But he sounds like he thinks the company’s going to be firing a whole bunch of people.”
“That would stink.” Dunn Industries was the biggest company in town. I was never sure exactly what they made, but whatever it was, it took a big factory. My father once explained that Dunn Industries makes parts for other factories: machines that build other machines. I of course immediately started to wonder who makes Dunn Industries’ machines, which would be machines that build other machines for other machines. And then who made those machines? And so on until you found the factory that makes the machines that make all the other machines for building factories. That’s where I’d want to work.
“Hey,” I said, “Want to go to the skateboard park?”
“Yeah!” said Mimi. “Oh,” she added, the light going out of her eyes, “I don’t think I can.”
“I’m supposed to be watching my money.” It cost $4 to skateboard for an hour.
“No problem. I think I’ve got some extra,” I said.
Off we went, talking about everything except Mimi’s parents.
* * *
“What’s going on with Dunn Industries?” I asked my Dad as we sat in the living room before dinner.
“What do you mean?”
“I heard they’re going to fire a bunch of people.”
“I don’t know. What’s a layoff?”
“When a company fires a bunch of people,” Dad said, looking up from his magazine. “Well, that’s interesting.”
“Wouldn’t that be bad for the town?”
“It sure wouldn’t be good. Dunn employs about fifteen percent of the people in this town. If the factory has a layoff, there’ll be a lot of people who have no salary any more. And there aren’t that many open jobs for people to get here.”
“So what do people do?”
“They get unemployment insurance for a few months to carry them over. But, ultimately, people either find a job or they have to move somewhere else.”
“It’s bad for everyone. It’s bad for the people. And it’s bad for the town. When a town gets smaller, there are fewer people paying taxes, so the town has less money to spend and so it has to cut back on programs also. There’s less money for schools, for parks, for the library, to fix the roads…”
We sat for a moment, thinking about what we might lose. I was thinking mainly about Mimi. I would hate it if she moved. It would change the town so much for me that it would be like we moved.
“Where’d you hear about this?” Dad asked.
“I don’t know.”
“It must have been somewhere.”
“I don’t feel right about telling you. The person who told me didn’t say it was ok to tell anyone, especially the editor of the local paper.”
“Protecting your sources? That’s the first thing a good newspaper person learns to do. But I’m going to look into it.”
I must have looked worried.
“Don’t worry. I won’t let anyone know I heard the rumor from you.”
Although I couldn’t buy anything my parents would notice, there were ways of spending money that they wouldn’t know about. For example, I now got dessert almost every day at lunch. And my tropical fish tank was getting crowded with new citizens, including three I nicknamed “Secret,” “Lee” and “Rich.”
That afternoon, I had gone to the games store and bought a couple of new video games. I paid cash, of course. And even though the amount it cost me was less than my money earned in ten minutes by just sitting in the bank, it seemed wrong. I could afford it, but it still felt like a waste. I almost walked out of the store without buying anything when I decided that having $100,000,000 and being too chicken-hearted to buy even a stupid video game or two was an even bigger waste. So, I bought them and went to Ari’s to play them. “That’s a new game,” Ari’s mother said, surprising me. I don’t think my parents know what games I have.
“It’s Jake’s,” said Ari, perfectly truthfully.
It turned out that both games were actually pretty dumb, unless you can find yourself surprised when the same troll jumps out from behind the same rock every time you’re forced to re-start a level, or if your idea of fun is moving down a mountain on jet-powered skis that tend to crash into trees no matter how carefully you steer them. I left the games with Ari and headed home.
It was a Friday night and it seemed as if the entire town was relaxed and looking forward to the weekend. The sky was turning that deep shade of blue that is the color I see in my mind right before I fall asleep. There was enough of a breeze to make soup a possibility but not enough to slow down my bike. I’m not one to notice the weather much, but that night was an exception.
Because it was a Friday, my father was home with a copy of his newspaper. He had been “on press” all day and seemed tired but not annoyed. I glanced at the headline and nearly blew my bubblegum out my nose: “Dunn Industries Threatens Lay Offs.”
“Dad,” I said, “How could you?”
“How could I what, Jake?” he said like someone who was looking forward to relaxing only to face accusations from his son. Which is exactly what he was.
“I told you about the Dunn Industry lay offs in private.”
“Yes, you did. And I respected that.”
“How can you say that? Look at this headline!”
“Now, Jake, I didn’t use anything you told me. I went out and gathered my own information. And it confirmed the rumor you’d told me.”
“What information? How did you find out?”
“I can’t tell you that because then I’d be revealing my sources and I can’t do that just like you didn’t reveal your source. But, I called some people I know at Dunn Industries, and they talked to me off the record.”
“What’s that mean?” I asked as if there couldn’t be any possible sense to such a stupid phrase. I was so angry that I was willing to set myself up to look really dumb.
“That means that they agreed to talk with me only if I promised not to reveal who they are. And I won’t. But they’re good sources and I think the story is true. And I think you did a good thing telling me about it. It’s good for the town to know what Dunn is up to.”
I didn’t feel good about it. And I didn’t feel any better about it on Saturday when Mimi called to tell me that her father had been fired.