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I was now reading both The Gazette and The Register especially carefully. I took both upstairs as soon as they arrived and went through them article by article. I wasn’t only looking at which advertisers were sticking with my father. I was also checking to see who was in trouble and might benefit from a grant from the Fordgythe Foundation. And there were lots of candidates.
For example, the animal shelter was overstuffed and under-funded. They’d gone to the Town Council to get emergency money because they were out of room for stray animals, but the Town Council voted to give them only half of the money they needed, a measly $5,000. The poor little doggies looked so cute and sad in the photo the paper ran. The cats would have looked cute and sad if I cared about cats. I left that job to Mimi.
Then there was the Burnish Bob project. Some citizens were distressed that the big statue of Robert Melville in the triangular park at the center of town was black, green and white instead of the bright bronze it started out as. Some people had started a petition to get the statue scrubbed and restored, especially the white part which was, well, pigeon poop. Yes, apparently Robert Melville, founder of our town and the maker of fine cannons during the War of 1812, was also our pigeon population’s most appealing public restroom. Heck, sometimes I was tempted myself to … well, never mind.
I can’t say that the Burnish Bob project mattered very much to me. I’d let Bob wear his coat of white proudly if the money could instead go to help those cutey-wootey widdle puppies. Not that I’d ever talk that way.
I went ahead and dropped off a bundle of money at the animal shelter, neatly tied with my mother’s yarn and with a note on my expensive Fordgythe paper. But I couldn’t decide what to do about the stupid statue problem. It’s not a project I cared about, but apparently it meant a lot to other people. So why should I spend my money on it? Because, no matter how dumb it seemed to me, polishing Bob would make a bunch of people happier. Besides, in the time I spent thinking about it, I’d practically earned enough interest to pay for it. So, Bob got his $6,500.
But there were more projects just waiting to be pushed along. I contributed $30,000 to a scholarship fund so that the Corner Coop Pre-School could take in kids whose parents couldn’t afford to send them. Maddie had gone there when she was four and I’d always enjoyed going with my mother to pick her up because the library paste smelled so good. Also, Rachel the teacher was so enthusiastic about “opening up the minds of young people.”
And I read about an immigrant from Honduras who was going to be sent back because she didn’t fill in a form right even though she was taking care of her sick brother. So, I mailed her $10,000 so she could get a good lawyer and also get some help for her brother. I had no idea if that was enough or too much, but it seemed like a reasonable guess.
And then there was the School Summer Gala. It was on the verge of being cancelled. This was big enough news to make it onto the front page, although I didn’t notice it at first because the cutey-wootey-kazootie picture of the widdle-biddle puppy-wuppies distracted me.
The Summer Gala was a big deal. Every year, on the weekend that school ended, there’d be a huge picnic in the afternoon followed by an evening party for all grades, parents invited. And this wasn’t just a spread-out-a-tablecloth sort of picnic. This was free food and soda, pony rides, a magician wandering around, a dunk-the-teachers booth, and a cake big enough to feed the entire school with enough left over for throwing.
Normally the money was provided by local businesses who kicked into the school’s Activities Funds in return for a mention in the year book and a small sign strung up on the fence behind the basketball court where the beverages were served. This year, though, there’d been a big drop in contributions, probably because the whole town was going through a hard time when it came to money.
I, of course, was having a fabulously good year when it came to money. So the Summer Gala got the money it needed from a source it wasn’t expecting and had never heard of.
* * *
That night was the country club dance. I’d arranged for a limo to pick up Ari. But first it picked up me and Mimi a few blocks from Mimi’s house. From there the limo driver – a college student who was making some money on the weekends – went to pick up Ari in his new clothes. The driver let Mimi and me off at the country club and then went to pick up Amanda.
The country club was set back from the road a long way. Of course the lawn on either side of the road leading up to it was perfectly manicured. Of course attendants in silly uniforms opened the doors of the elegant cars for the elegant people inside. Of course the big gates were kept locked. Mimi and I sat halfway up the lawn, behind one of the few bushes.
“I bet he tugs on his underwear when he gets out of the car,” I said.
“No. Not even Ari would do that.”
“He does it every time he gets up from a seat. He’s got a permanent wedgie.”
We didn’t have to wait long to find out. The big, black limo pulled up. I knew it was Ari’s because the license plate was “HERNITE” which I at first thought was the name of some mineral but then I figured out it was actually supposed to be read as “her nite” as in “her nite out.” It came to a slow stop at the top of the gravel driveway. Immediately the attendants swarmed around it as if opening the car door were a matter of national urgency. Out poked the long legs of Amanda looking splendid in an organdy chenille dress. (Mimi told me what it was later.) And then came Ari, new shoes first, then carefully pressed new pants, followed by the complete Ari, looking pretty sharp. If you didn’t know it was Ari, you’d say he was a good dresser. The feet hit the ground, Ari shook his shoulders to straighten his coat, shot his arms forward to get them out of the cuffs, reached behind to his butt…and took out his wallet to tip the attendant.
“Cool move!” I said.
“You were totally wrong, mister.”
“And never happier to be so.”
As Ari replaced the wallet, I could see that he was secretly working on removing the wedgie. But it was subtle, almost slick. The boy was going to be ok.
Mimi and I sat for a moment more, listening to the sound of the band drifting over the wall. Then we took a long walk to my house so she could kick my butt in video games.
Three hours later, Ari was knocking on our door. The knock alarmed my parents, but when my mother saw it was Ari, she only said “Eleven’s a little late, don’t you think, Ari?” But as Mimi and I flew down the stairs to meet him, I said to them, “Girl trouble. He wants to talk.” That probably alarmed them even more.
The three of us sat on the swing set in my yard. Ari didn’t speak. He didn’t swing. He just smiled.
“So, Ari, spill your guts!” I said.
“Yeah,” chimed in Mimi, “So what happened at your big dinner-dance date with the rich folk.” Then, remembering the size of my bank account, Mimi turned to me and said, “You’re not really a rich person. You’ve just got a lot of money.”
“Oh,” said Ari, coming back to the planet earth, “it was terrible. So bad it was funny.”
“Oh no! But was Amanda at least everything you hoped for?”
“Amanda?” he said, as if he were unfamiliar with the name, “She’s an idiot.”
“She dumped you?”
“Dumped me? No. She was never going with me. It turns out I was just a practical joke Lydia was playing on Amanda because after Amanda broke up with Roger, Amanda wouldn’t let Lydia go out with him. I was a revenge date.”
“That must have been so embarrassing!” said Mimi.
“No,” said Ari, surprised at the suggestion. “Well, if Amanda weren’t an idiot maybe it would have been. But it’s like getting rejected by a… a…”
“A garden gnome?” Mimi suggested.
“A fur ball?” I suggested.
“No, it’s like being rejected by this incredibly shallow, conceited, empty-headed…”
“Nasty…” Mimi added.
“Manipulative…” I added.
“Idiot,” Ari finished.
We sat silently contemplating what had happened: Ari had come to his senses. And I hadn’t known he even had senses to come to.
Mimi squeezed has hand. “She’s an idiot. You’re definitely not.”
Ari shook his head slightly, not convinced.
The moon poked out from behind the clouds, seeming to remind Ari of what he came over to tell us.
“But something really cool happened. I was sitting at Mr. Dunn’s table …”
“You were sitting at his table? You?”
“Yeah. He saw what was happening and I think he felt bad for me. So he called me over and I sat at his table for most of the night. He’s really not such a bad guy. I mean, it’s like he’s from another planet with how he treats people and what he worries about, but on his planet he’s probably considered a heck of a nice guy.”
“I doubt it.”
“No, it’s true. He let me sit there all night so I wouldn’t have to deal with his idiot daughter. Anyway, he talked with me a little, about sports and why being a financial analyst would be a good career for me, but mainly I just sat there listening to what he was talking about with everyone who came by. And everyone did come by. He knows everyone.”
“Well, everyone who goes to a country club dinner dance.”
“Anyway, he was talking with some guy in a tuxedo about the Fordgythe Foundation.”
“Yes he was.”
“What did he say?”
“Someone asked him if he’d heard about this new foundation that’s been dropping cash around, and he said he had, but I think he was just trying to sound smart.”
“Who was the guy who was talking with him?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Just a guy. Friendly with him. Anyhoo, Mr. Dunn asked the guy if he had any details. But the guy said just that it was always cash, and that the stationery looked phony.”
“Not at all, dear,” said Mimi, comforting me. But we both knew that the guy – whoever that guy was – was right. I’m not a grown up, professional designer, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Much.
“Anyhoo…” I prompted.
“That’s about it. Except Mr. Dunn said that he had someone at The Register looking into it.”
“Well, if he didn’t before, he does now.”
“Should we be worried?” Ari asked.
“Not until we do something wrong.”
But I was worried a little. I didn’t want anyone to find out who was behind the Fordgythe Institute’s money. And I didn’t want The Register to scoop my own father’s paper.
* * *
I needn’t have worried. The very next day when I came down to watch TV in the study, my father was on the phone, standing in his journalism pose. You know how when you’re in a crowd you turn your head if you hear your name mentioned even though you weren’t listening to the person who said it? I wasn’t paying attention to my father’s conversation until I heard him say, “Foundation?”
“Yes, definitely. Very interesting. I’ll check into it. Thanks for the tip.”
When he’d hung up, I said – all casual-like – “Who was that?”
“A source.” Obviously he wasn’t going to tell me who.
“Could be. An interesting story. It seems that some foundation no one ever heard of has been giving people money.”
“Don’t foundations do that all the time?”
“Yes, sure. But not cash. And not to people who haven’t applied for a grant.”
“I’m going to look into it.”
“If you need any help…” I began.
“Well, I’m sure you can get whatever help you need.”
I turned back to the TV. But I wasn’t really watching. I was thinking about whether I had covered my tracks well enough.