Choose a size for the type: Large Medium Small
That’s what it said on the stationery I had ordered over the Internet. I picked up the carton at my new post office box and didn’t open it until I was back in my bedroom. The cream colored pages were heavy, and you could read the raised lettering with your fingers if you had to. It even smelled good, like fresh laundry. I hid the paper by putting it in the middle of the stack of reams of paper for my computer.
What a world: Print up some stationery and you have your own business. If I were really creating the Fordgythe Foundation, I’d probably have to do some stuff with a lawyer. But I was just going to give away money, and there’s no law against that. At least none that anyone ever told me about.
From downstairs came a “Grrrr.” If I hadn’t recognized my father’s voice, I might have thought a bear had moved in. Or possibly a large electric razor.
“What’s Dad grrrr-ing about?” I asked my mother. She was correcting papers her class had handed in. You usually don’t think about the teacher at home, sitting at a table grading while the rest of her life goes on around her.
“The Register has come out in favor of the state spending even more money advertising the lottery,” Mom said.
“Grrrr,” my father explained.
Even though my one experience with the state lottery was pretty good, to put it mildly, I still would have voted against the state having one. But it never was to me a tenth the big deal that it was to my father. It sure got my father mad. Worse, I had a good hunch that Mr. Dunn had made The Register endorse more lottery advertising just to make my father angry. And it had worked.
I went back upstairs and took some recent copies of The Gazette with me. I was looking for people who could use the helping hand of the Fordgythe Institute. After all, we are the Helping Hand People. About an hour later, I biked down to the bank and had a nice chat with Ms. Harrigan, the woman who opened the account for me when I first won the lottery. I’d grown to trust her. For example, here’s the conversation we had that afternoon.
Me: Hello, Ms. Harrigan.
Ms. Harrigan: Good afternoon, Jake! Such a pleasure to see you. Such a pleasure.
Met: Thank you. It’s nice seeing you, too.
Ms. Harrigan: What can I help you with this afternoon?
Me: Well, I had an idea.
Ms. Harrigan: Good. I like ideas. I like ideas.
Me: I had this stationery printed up.
Ms. Harrigan: Very nice! Very, very nice! Did you design this yourself?
Me: Yeah. Well, I sort of stole it from the Web. I found a template.
Ms. Harrigan: Was it for sale?
Me; Not really. They said you could use it for free.
Ms. Harrigan: Not really stealing then, is it? Not stealing at all. So, you’re starting a foundation. What an excellent idea! Excellent!
Me: Am I allowed to?
Ms. Harrigan: I don’t see why not. Are you going to cheat anyone? Defraud them? Trick them out of their money and their houses?
Me: No! I’m going to give them money that they really need.
Ms. Harrigan: Excellent. Excellent! That sounds like so much fun! Fun! And how much do you need this afternoon?
Me: I was thinking I’d start with $50,000.
Ms. Harrigan: In hundreds? Thousands?
Me: I think thousands would be best.
Ms. Harrigan: Excellent. Excellent. Could you just wait here for a minute and I’ll go get the forms and the cash? Just for a minute.
Me: Thank you.
Ms. Harrigan: No, thank you. And there’s a copy of People magazine there if you’d like to read it. People.
Three minutes later, she came back with an envelope with fifty $1,000 bills in it. I didn’t even count it because if you can’t trust Ms. Harrigan, then who can you trust? Who can you trust?
You can be sure that when I tucked that envelope into my backpack, I made double-sure the backpack was completely zipped up and that the straps weren’t going to break. I really didn’t want to have to explain why I was chasing thousand dollar bills blowing down the street.
When I got home, I closed my door and moved the money into the Fordgythe envelopes I’d had printed up, being sure that only a little of the money was exposed at any one time, just in case someone barged into my room. Once the money was sorted, I just as carefully tied each envelope with the pink and purple and green and sparkly yarn I’d snagged from my mother. I wanted the money to look festive, after all. Then I printed names out on my computer on sticky-backed labels and made sure I had the right names on the right envelopes. When I was done, I put the white envelopes back into the big envelope from the bank, and zipped it all up into my backpack.
I was ready.
My first stop was obvious. I bicycled past the front of Dunn Village three times, making sure that none of the people I had met there was in the front driveway or looking out the windows. I especially didn’t want to run into Mr. Beecher. I could picture him lassoing me off of my bike. But there were no signs of activity, so on my fourth pass, I stopped in front of their mailbox and shoved the envelope into it. Inside was a carefully typed letter telling them that the Fordgythe Foundation had awarded them $30,000 to be used for the betterment of the building and to provide services to those who use the building…I’d read up on how foundations talk. And I rode away quickly but calmly, I hoped. My heart was beating fast, but not from biking.
I was on my way to Ms. Floyd’s house when Ari flagged me down. I pulled up next to him on the street. “What’s up?” I asked. I could tell he was upset because he alternated between pulling up his pants and pushing back his glasses.
“Amanda and Roger broke up!”
Oh no, I thought. “Hey, that’s great,” I said.
“Lydia told me. She said I should make my move.”
I could imagine Lydia’s sarcastic tone of voice.
“She really meant it,” Ari said, as if reading my mind. I was impressed. He usually wasn’t that aware of what people were thinking. “She said she’d help me.”
“Why would she help you?”
“Because she’s angry at Amanda.”
“Really?” I asked. I think my left eyebrow probably went up. It does that sometimes.
“Yeah. Roger broke up with Amanda so he could start going with Balia.” Balia was a pretty girl in class who wasn’t a complete jerk. Now I had a little less respect for her.
“So why does she want you to move in on Amanda? That doesn’t make sense.”
“Yes it does. It’s because….Ok, so no it doesn’t. But who cares? She wants to help me. She’s going to meet me in half an hour. Can you come?”
“Yeah, sure. I just have to drop this off at Ms. Floyd’s.”
“Ms. Floyd’s getting a Fordgythe grant?”
“Yeah. I think she’s a good teacher.”
“So, grant city here she comes!”
I don’t know why I got embarrassed. “Some. Doesn’t matter.”
Ari rode with me over to Ms. Floyd’s apartment. The building was nothing special, but I liked that it was an apartment because it meant that anybody watching couldn’t tell exactly which mailbox I put the envelope into. As we left, I turned to see the tip of the white envelope visible through the slot. I hoped it made her a little happy.
Lydia was waiting for us in a booth at the Soda Squirt. The table was piled with books and notebooks, as if Lydia were studying simultaneously for nine exams. This was not the “Who cares? Whatever!” Lydia I had grown to know and dislike.
“Hey, Lydia,” I said, but before the words were out of my mouth, she was telling us to take all the books from our backpacks.
“Look like you’re tutoring me or something,” she whispered urgently. And then I understood why she had all her study materials on display: she didn’t want anyone to think she was actually having a social meeting with low-lifes like Ari and me. We were just too unpopular to be seen with.
We took out some books. As I pretended to be looking something up in my geology textbook and Ari was doing some cross-referencing in his Spanish book, I said, “So, why do you want to help Ari with Amanda?”
“It’s just so annoying!” she said. She sighed once, heavily. “Amanda obviously has to have another boyfriend, immediamento.”
“She can’t be seen as a loser. Ari here is out of the question, of course.”
Ari looked up from his Spanish book. He’d been looking up “immediamento.” I could have told him that it wasn’t in there.
“At least as a long-term boyfriend,” Lydia added. “But there’s a gala at the Dunn Fairways golf course this weekend and Amanda has to go. And Mr. Dunn liked something about Ari when he met him at his house. He said to her, ‘How about that short boy with the funny hair? He seemed to like you.’ She said no, but finally Mr. Dunn got his way. So, it looks like Ari gets his shot.”
“Really?” he said, pleased. Clearly all the bad things Lydia had said along the way hadn’t registered. To him, it was like the end of a four-day drive to Disneyworld, when the sight of the Magic Castle erases the tortures of sitting in the back, strapped in next to your annoying sister Maddie.
“Yeah,” Lydia said. Then, turning to me, she added, “Can you clean him up?”
“I showered yesterday!” Ari protested.
“Can you help us?” I asked. “I’m not really sure what Amanda looks for in a cleaned-up boy.”
“Yeah. I guess,” Lydia said, putting a couple of packets of fake sugar into her pocketbook. We agreed to go into the city together after school on Wednesday.
Lydia stayed in the Soda Squirt while Ari and I left so she wouldn’t be caught exiting a public place with the likes of us. Charming.
We were just turning the corner when we saw Mimi looking in the window of Charms ‘n Gold, a jewelry store.
“Are you ok?”
“Fine,” she said, continuing to stare in the window. I doubted that the charm bracelets and ankle bracelets really interested her that much.
Rather than asking her again whether she was ok, I said, “Jewelry shopping? I didn’t think you wear jewelry.”
She turned to look at me. “My father got his job back.”
“Hey,” said Ari, positively.
“Yeah, it’s great,” Mimi said without enthusiasm.
“What’s wrong, Mimi? You don’t sound happy about it.”
“I’m happy he got his job back. But …”
“It was nice of you to try to help him out, I guess. But it really messed him up.”
“It did? How?”
“It was so out of the blue. He was confused. Where did it come from? Why him? Was it a trick by Mr. Dunn? Was it legal? Was someone trying to trap him? And when he didn’t think it was a trick, his pride was hurt. He’s never taken charity before.”
“I didn’t …”
“I know. But he was already upset about being fired. He wouldn’t spend a penny of it.”
“And then he got his job back, so he put the money into the bank. And he gave me $50 to buy myself something here. And, no, I don’t like jewelry, but it looks like I’ll have to get something.”
When Mimi started to cry, I figured it wasn’t because she was being forced to buy jewelry. It must have been so hard to live in her house over the past week, and my gift had made it harder. I felt terrible. “I only wanted to help,” I said.
“I know. It’s not your fault. I shouldn’t have been angry. But you could have asked me first.”
“I was afraid you’d say no.”
A few minutes later, Mimi, Ari and I walked out of the store with a gold necklace with a gold dolphin hanging from it that Mimi liked even though she went into the store determined not to like anything. I had to pay an extra $29 for it because $50 turned out not to be enough.
“I’ll pay you back,” said Mimi.
“Oh, Mimi, please don’t.” I knew she was saying that because she was still angry at me. I started to figure out how long it takes me to earn $29 in interest, but stopped since that wasn’t the point at all.
* * *
“My father’s paper is in trouble,” I said as we walked home. “Advertising is down. Mr. Dunn has been lowering the price of advertising in The Register.”
“Well, we could make up more ads,” Mimi suggested. “That’d help replace the advertisers who go with The Register instead.”
When we got to my house, Ari asked, “Can I do the first one? I have a really good idea. It’ll just take me three minutes.”
Half an hour later, Mimi and I paused our video game and checked back in. (I was happy to have an excuse to stop because Mimi was kicking my butt. I have the reflexes of a tired amoeba.) “Almost done,” Ari said. “Another three minutes.”
When we came up next time, he was printing out what he’d written. In bold black print it said: “Go Grangers! We Love Ya!” The Grangers are our high school’s baseball team. Underneath there was a drawing of a bowling ball knocking down some pins. “That’s the only picture I could find,” Ari said.
“Well, that’s a start,” Mimi said.
“Aren’t people going to wonder who placed the ad?” I asked.
“They’ll just figure it was some school group.”
We quickly printed out another three ads supporting local teams, local charities, and the Selma Todd Day celebrations when everyone in town is supposed to plant a flower. None said anything about who was donating the money for the ads.
“You know, there are only so many public service announcements we can run,” I said. “We need to come up with something that sounds like a business but that no one can check on.”
We sat for about thirty seconds before Ari said, “We could pretend to be opening a bank.”
“But what happens when someone goes to the pretend bank and finds there’s nothing there?”
Another 30 seconds.
“We could run an ad for a real bank.”
“I think they’d be touchy about that. They’d come to my father, wanting to know who placed the ad.”
We waited 45 seconds.
Ari snapped his fingers. “We could make up companies. Like the Ace Flower Shop and Nose Repair.”
“And what happens when someone reads the ad and wants to buy something from there?” I said.
At just about the same time, Mimi said, “What the heck is nose repair?”
“If you break your nose,” Ari said defensively.
“Their motto could be, ‘The place to come if you don’t smell so good,’” Mimi said.
“The one good thing about that idea,” I said, “is that no one would go to the store.”
“Why would that be good?” Ari asked.
“Because there’s no such store,” Mimi reminded him.
“Ex-Post, the store for used fence posts,” I said. “Nobody wants used fence posts.”
Two cars outside seemed to be engaged in a honking contest. We sat. I rooted for the one that made a Braaaaaat sound like a whoopee cushion.
“Horning In,” I said, “We’ll replace your car’s honk with whatever you record.”
“So your car horn will be you yelling some rude remark? That sounds like a good idea,” said Mimi.
“Then we can’t use it.”
“How about Third Grade Masterpieces: copies of famous paintings by third graders. And we could write in small print that it was the stuff that their own parents didn’t want,” Mimi suggested.
“Refrigerator Organizers: We’ll come to your house and organize the stuff stuck on your refrigerator with magnets,” Ari said.
“How about Acme Photo Fresh Cement?” suggested Mimi. “The place to take your pictures of fresh cement. We specialize so you’re guaranteed the best fresh cement photos anywhere.”
Ari interrupted the a few seconds of silence excitedly: “Cow Chip Cookies!”
“Aren’t cow chips what cows leave in the field” Mimi asked.
“Yeah! That’s why no one will want them!”
“I bet we’d get some orders from practical jokers. People are just crazy,” Mimi said. “It’s got to be something that absolutely no one would want.”
“Freddy’s Cow Chip String,” said Ari.
“That doesn’t even mean anything,” Mimi said. She was drawing circles on her blue jeans. They’d probably come out in the wash.
“They’re string for stringing together cow chips, and they come from Freddy,” Ari said defensively.
“This isn’t working,” I finally said.
“Nope,” said Mimi, agreeing. (That’s one of the few times when “Nope” means you agree.)
“We just need to think harder,” said Ari.
“No we don’t. We need to give up,” I said.
“Acme Bird Wrappers?” Ari asked.
Mimi and I looked at each other, sighed, and gave up.