Failures at greed

March 3, 2012

The rewards of greed. Money. And the respect of your peers. Fun. Cars and suits that fit. Fine dining. Or at least expensive dining. A lovely piece of furniture on your arm, named Amy. But its all superficial. You say. But who turns it down? You’ve got to measure your life somehow. What better way than money. Do you think that if Mitt Romney was a school teacher that he’d be running for P. of the USA. Isn’t that what Jesus does? Rewards the good with a large bank account. And why should they give any of it up for the poor. Who must be poor for a reason. Who must be failures. Failures at greed.Failures like me.




Mr. and Mrs. Kowalski. On their magazine subscription. Woman’s Daily News. On their Christmas cards. Written in golden ink. On white satin. They were an odd couple. Old and odd. She was short. And round. Like a pear on toothpicks. With small squinty eyes. Something forsaken. Like she’d been staring. For a long time. Out at the ocean. For her true love to be returning. Sorrow. With big feet. Like pillows. She loved to dance. Light on her feet, elegant on the dance floor. Like an elephant. On tip toes.

He. Was estranged. Tall, more than a foot taller than his wife. Maybe two. And skinny. Like a flag pole. With the flag at half-mast. He was bald. Wisps of grey hair swept back on the sides like wings. And from his eyebrows. Like he was constantly facing down wind. He loved to play golf. A hook in his drive. His iron shots all sliced to the right. But his putting was neat. Tidy. Right in the middle of the hole. As were his affections. For Mrs. Kowalski. Or so he advertised. In the locker room. Or the ninetenth hole. Or down at the corner. Rub and tug.

The Kowalskis were always together. Sometimes they would bring their own chairs. To the plaza. Sit outside the hardware store. Watching the coming and goings. They would bring a small radio. Battery operated. And listen to the ball game. Mrs. Kowalski was a big Blue Jay fan. Mr. Kowalski liked to meditate over the great questions of life. Like. Why didn’t the plaza provide benches to sit on? The consensus was that old man Mr. G., who owned the plaza, didn’t want the extra expense. Next, they’ll be asking for bicycle stands, he was heard to utter. By several witnesses. At different times. Who didn’t know each other. But could have collaborated on their answers.

Besides sitting in their own lawn chairs. In front of Bob and Tom’s Hardware Store. And listening to the ball game. Drinking sodas. And soft ice cream. The Kowalskis bought lottery tickets. They would spend a considerable part of their day scratching the cards. Sitting in their chairs. Scratching away. Usually they lost. Sometimes they won. Small sums. Just enough to buy more tickets. And they always laughed when one of them scratched a card and won some small sum. Mr. Kowalski shook. Mrs. Kowalski jiggled. Said they go out and buy that dream home. If they won. The big one. Or go on that cruise they had always promised themselves.

Ah, they were in love. That’s what everyone said.

“Forty five years,” Mr. Kowalski would brag. Saying 45 years to anyone who passed them and pointing at himself and his wife. With his thumb. Like they were in the plaza hitching a ride.

“Forty seven years,” his wife corrected him. She didn’t bother to point. Her hands were busy scratching the lottery tickets. Or scoring the ball game. Or tugging at her green dress. Which kept riding up on her pudgy knees.

“Three lovely children,” Mr. Kowalksi would say then turn to his wife. “It was three, wasn’t it?”

“A lawyer, a school teacher, and an artist,” Mrs. Kowalski added. “And twelve grandchildren.” She gestured toward her husband. With a cock of her head. “The artist comes from his side of the family.”

Mr. Kowalski shrugged his shoulders. He did not like his family to be referred to as the artists. Thought his wife was just getting back at him for the painting his aunt Thelma had given them. Singing Stream, it was called. Streams don’t sing, Mrs. Kowalski argued.

“Just like your brother Ernie, he is.” Mr. Kowalski said referring to his son, Peter. Who he loved. In a resentful sort of fashion. Why would any man go into fashion design? Mr. Kowalski blamed his wife for Peter’s sexual depravity. Which neither of them dared to discuss. Or admit to each other.

“Don’t talk about Ernie. He’s had some bad luck. Anyone can have bad luck. Not that a good woman. Couldn’t change.” Mrs. Kowalski was always defending her brother. Who turned out to be a postal employee. An honorable enough career, except to the Kowalski’s. Who lived for a short period of time in New York during the reign of the Son of Sam. And were marked forever by the experience. To this day, Mrs. Kowalski would not open the door to the postman if a package was delivered that demanded a signature.

And then it happened. By the mail box. Outside the drug store. They hadn’t as yet made their way up to their customary space in front of the hardware store.

“What did you do with the card?” Mrs. Kowalski asked. She was carrying a bag of oranges that had wrapped itself around her wrist. Her fingers were growing numb.

“What card?” Mr. Kowalski responded.

“What do you mean what card? The one you were…” Mrs. Kowalski’s mouth dropped. “You won!”

“I…” Mr. Kowalski responded but did not finish his sentence. Sweat rolled down his back. His shorts began to tighten.

“Hand it over!” Mrs. Kowalski insisted, ready to swing the oranges at her husband’s head. If she could have reached it. But there were other targets.

Mr. Kowalski was silent. Biting down on his lip. His eyes on the sky. Anywhere but on the mouth of his wife.

“You won big!” Mrs. Kowalski howled.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, dear.”

“You know very well what I’m talking about, Stanley. I want to see that card. And I want to see it now.”

Mr. Kowalski bit down on his lip. That turned blue. His ears began to plug up with wax.



“It’s my card. I bought it. I should be entitled to the earnings.”

“That much! You won that much!”

“What’s the amount got to do with it?” Mr. Kowalski responded.

Mrs. Kowalski placed her hands on her hips. The bag of oranges swung by her side. Like she was holding a head. By the hair.

“If you don’t give me that ticket right now, I’m going to rip… something very personal off your body.”

Mr. Kowalski looked around. The timber of his wife’s voice had attracted the attention of the other customers walking through the plaza. He looked down at his wife.

“You don’t have to use that kind of language, Estelle.”

Mrs. Kowalski held out her hand and waited.

Sheepishly Mr. Kowalski reached into his pocket and pulled out the ticket. He handed it to his wife. She looked at the ticket. And then kicked her husband in the shin. Mr. Kowalski cried out as he danced around in a circle, holding his leg.

“This is only five thousand dollars,” she screamed. “I thought it was the big one.”

“It’s more than we’ve won before,” her husband muttered through his pain.

“Holding out on me for five thousand dollars.” Mrs. Kowalski shook her head. “I’m disappointed, Stanley. I think I’m worth more than that.”

With that she turned and walked back into the drug store. With the lottery ticket. To cash it. Mr. Kowalski limped behind.

“It’s too large, Estelle. They won’t cash it here.”

“They’ll cash it!” Mrs. Kowalski insisted.

She was wrong. They would not. They would have to make a journey downtown to the main lottery office.

“I’m not going all the way downtown for a measly 5 thousand dollars,” Mrs. Kowalski declared.

“We’ve got to cash it,” Mr. Kowalski said.

“You go!” his wife insisted.

“Why do I have to go?” Mr. Kowalski cried.

“Because you bought the ticket,” Mrs. Kowalski argued. “It’s your responsibility.”

“I…” Mr. Kowalski was struck dumb for a moment. He tried to think. “I bought the ticket. You should have to cash it.”

Mrs. Kowalski, hands on her hips, stared at her husband for several moments. Then she sighed. Mr. Kowalski knew he had won. She grabbed the ticket out of her husband’s hand.

“I’ll be back in a couple of hours,” she said and walked out of the drug store.

Mr. Kowalski picked up the two lounge chairs and headed home. Just as he was about to leave the plaza. He began to laugh. Reached into his pocket. And pulled out the real winning ticket.


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