It Doesn’t Always Pay To Be Fancy

In which Citizen Jim’s future plans are dashed when he learns that he’s not the bankable fictional character he thought he was.

On Sunday I was up before seven and hard at work within half an hour.

By noon Miss Crabtree and Marmaduke were both gone for the day, leaving only one of our four boarders sharing the house with me. It was nice to be almost completely alone for a few hours, but it was delicious to realize I was entirely alone by three o’clock. I didn’t even know how to act or what to do.

It would have been exciting to strip off my clothes and run around the house puffing on marijuana cigarettes and swilling from a split of champagne. However, I decided that the next best thing to either of those ideas was lying on the couch in the living room listening to a marathon of Robert Powell-narrated documentaries on the Military Channel until I fell asleep.

As I stood in front of the TV, remote control poised to turn on the power, pillow and blankets ready for solo nap-time snuggling, I heard a car horn playing the first few chords of “Money” by Pink Floyd. There was a black Denali parked in our driveway with the rims still spinning even as Citizen Jim was being helped out of the backseat by a man in a gray tuxedo and a gray hat.

Jim reached into the pocket of his trousers and peeled a bill from a wad of cash as thick as a corned beef sandwich from Mary Ann’s Deli. He offered the money to the driver – it might have been a tip; I wasn’t sure – but snatched it away at the last second, smelling it then kissing it and shoving it into his other pocket.

He then snapped his fingers and pointed at the car, saying something I couldn’t hear to the driver. A moment later, the driver handed Jim a bullhorn which he immediately used to say – for all the neighborhood to hear – “Chicken Sheets, you getcher ass out here! I know you’re in there getting drunk on peach brandy and watching ‘Angels Touch Us Everywhere’ and prank calling your old girlfriends!”

I thought about locking the front door and calling the police, but at that moment I was too happy to see Citizen Jim to have him sent to jail, and I loved him too much to shoot him for trespassing.

It probably wouldn’t last long, my excitement at his visit, so I would try to enjoy it. As soon as the doorbell rang, I tossed the remote control onto the couch and raced down the stairs to the front door.

My delight at having the house to myself disappeared as soon as I saw Citizen Jim. He was decked out in black from the ten-gallon Stetson on his head to the pointy-toed leather boots that instantly made me pray this would not be a day for kicking – in my case, being kicked; in Jim’s case, being the kicker.

Before I could even speak, Jim held out his palm. “Do not talk to the hand,” he said. “I’m in a terrible hurry.”

“Then why are you here?” I asked.

“I’m here to collect my royalties,” he told me. “We agreed – for real, in the real world, outside these stories – that I would get half of everything you made off the sale of Citizen Jim stories on the Kindle.”

“Well…” I started. “Come in and let’s talk about it.”

Citizen Jim shook his head. “I’m not here to talk. I’m here to get my money.”

“Yeah, okay. But – “

“Either I’m getting my money or you’re getting my foot up your ass,” he said.

I stole another nervous look at those boots he was wearing and quaked inside. “Jim, I can’t split the royalties with you because there’s no way to hand you seventeen and a half cents.”

I thought I would feel better once I said it, but I didn’t. And I knew I would soon regret it.

Jim took off his hat and stood with it covering the center of his chest. “I’m sorry – did you say seventeen and a half cents? As in, seventeen and a half cents is my half of the royalties for your Kindle sales?”

“That’s what I said.”

“So that times two is…” He stuck out his tongue to increase his concentration and stared at his hands while frantically wagging his fingers. “Twenty-three cents?”

“Thirty-five cents,” I corrected him. “I’ve made thirty-five cents. After ********* bought a copy on the first day of release, sales kind of dried up. I would gladly, happily, ecstatically share that thirty-five cents with you, as you know. However…”

Jim gingerly placed his hat back on his head. “I don’t know what to say, Stimpy. I really thought you’d’ve made a couple hundred thousand dollars by now,” he said, then whistled through his teeth. “Actually, I kind of thought it’d be closer to half a million – but. Could you hold this thought? I need to make a call. One phone call.”

“Okay,” I said,” so thankful that he wasn’t accusing me of lying or insisting that I was trying to cheat him out of his share.

I heard Jim say, “I don’t care of she’s on line two with the ghost of Hamlet’s father! …Hamlet is a play by – hey, I need to talk to my wife…She is so my wife…Oh, I’ll wait, don’t worry!”

A few seconds later, he said (in a much nicer tone of voice), “Hey, baby…It is, yeah…Look, did you sign those documents at the bank?” he asked, then held the phone away from his head and pretended to be smashing it against the banister. “What about Mr. Spumanti? Did you give him the credit card number for the villa?” A second later Jim opened his mouth to simulate a howl, but no sound came from him. “Yes, dear. Home by five tomorrow.”

He flipped his phone closed and blinked very rapidly, swaying a little on his feet.

“What’s wrong, Precious Lamb? Bad news?” I asked.

“I need air!” he shouted, pushing past me and stepping outside onto the porch. He started fanning himself with his cowboy hat, exclaiming, “WHOOOO! WHOOOOO! OH MY GOD! WHOOOO! OH GOD!”

I steered him toward a lawn chair and he collapsed into it with a groan. “Oh, Stimpy! This is terrible! WHOOO! Oh my God!” he said, still fanning himself.

“What?” I asked.

“The new house in Point Clear! The Italy trip! That car and the chauffeur,” he said, pointing at the driveway.

“What about them?”

“Bought with loans to be paid off with cash from the sale of your Citizen Jim books,” he said, then began sobbing. “I’m broke! Flat-busted! Oh God!”

His crying was all that was keeping him from chasing me around the yard with a shovel, threatening to smash my face. But the tears would slow and then dry up. After that, my life was in grave danger.

“What about all that cash I saw you holding earlier?” I asked.

He pulled out the money I’d seen him flashing around half an hour before and handed it to me. A twenty dollar bill was visible, but I discovered that most of the other sixty or seventy bills were ones, and that some of them were just pieces of notebook paper cut to the size of dollar bills.

“That’s not even enough to get us out of this county in that gas-guzzling shit heap of a fancy car!” he moaned, holding his head in his hands.

I shook my head. “It doesn’t always pay to be fancy,” I said.

“Or positive,” Jim said.

“Or hopeful,” I added. “Maybe that’s where I went wrong with selling the Citizen Jim books.”

“Too fancy?” Jim asked, dabbing at his eyes with a monogrammed silk handkerchief.

I nodded. “And too positive and too hopeful.”

Before I knew what was happening, Jim leaped up and had me in a choke hold. “If fancy’s what got us into this mess, then you’d better unfancy everything before your fancy ass winds up in a fancy hospital because I had to kick the fancy right out of you!” he said.

I glanced at his feet, still not wanting to experience the toes of those boots in any shape or form.

“No more fancy,” I agreed in a small croak of a voice, and he released me. “No more fancy, no more hopeful.”

“All right, then. Look, you need to distract old Jertzy over there,” Citizen Jim said, pointing at the driver standing as still as a soldier at attention. “Once you get him away from the car I’ll hafta take off without him.”

It was a shame to feel like I owed Citizen Jim this favor. But I did.