I’ve written before about my father, the lazy alcoholic and his “get rich quick schemes” he was always thinking up, but I have been hesitant to share this particular story, as it is the most shameful one.
The universal irony that seems lost on all of these deadbeats is that they usually expend much more energy on their failed ventures than they would have if they had just went and got an honest job, like a regular person.
Case in point: one day my father wakes me up at 6:30 am with another “great idea” that he needs my help on. Now, you might think, “well, he got up at the crack of dawn because he was so eager to get started, that doesn’t sound like the work ethic of a drunken bum”, but what I should point out here is that he didn’t get up at 6:30, he stayed up til 6:30 drinking and doing drugs and ordering things on QVC with stolen credit card numbers.
The reason I had to wake up early and help him was he needed me to go with him to the construction site down the street where they were building a new Rite-Aid and steal some cinder blocks with him.
My protests were quickly drowned out by the sound of his belt cracking me in the keister and I leapt out of bed and dressed as quickly as I could.
I pushed the wheelbarrow we had “borrowed” from the neighbor’s garage because he couldn’t hold his bottle if he had to do it. It was a safety issue, I guess. The sun was just coming up as we piled the last blocks on top of each other, carefully placing them so as not to make any noise.
The return trip was much more difficult, for obvious reasons. Not only was the wheelbarrow much heavier with the blocks, my father’s early morning sobriety which had been the impetus for this whole idea was now gone in a haze of cheap bourbon and exhaustion.
He lumbered back home and I was provided a temporary respite when he passed out on the couch.
I awoke a few hours later to the sounds of raucous banging just outside my door. He kept yelling my name and I knew the only way to shut him up was to go help him.
I hadn’t bothered to ask what any of this was about, but as I walked into the living room, I saw what appeared to be a crude cylinder taking shape, made out of the cinder blocks we had stolen earlier.
“What the hell is that?” I asked.
“It’s a wishing well, dumbass!” was my father’s reply.
Of course! How could I be so stupid! A wishing well! That makes perfect sense!
My father explained that he was going to construct a wishing well right here in the living room and then invite people over to make wishes in it. For a fee, they could throw in some money and then their wish would come true because of the magic of the wishing well.
I picked the most obvious place to start.
“You’re going to charge people for the right to give you more money?” I asked.
“No, you idiot! I’m gonna charge them to throw money in the well and then have their wish granted!”
He didn’t seem to understand that most wishing wells were “free”, in that, there was no additional charge beyond whatever pennies or nickels you threw in to make your wish.
“Well how the hell am I supposed to make any money off of that, stupid? I ain’t gonna git rich from a bunch of pennies! I need cash money!” I could tell he was pissed off by how much spit would come out of his mouth as he yelled at me.
I gave up trying to argue, in part because I wanted to see how far he’d be willing to take this thing. He usually gave up halfway, leaving a huge mess. Then my mom would come yell at him, they’d get into a violent altercation and then make up with a weekend in Atlantic City. This left me and my brother to fend for ourselves which was much better than having those assholes around.
Well, Pa must have been pretty determined this time, because after six days of back-breaking manual labor, we finished that gosh darn wishing well, afterall.
It was quite a sight to behold, sitting there in our living room, in front of the couch, where the coffee table and our TV trays used to reside. To make it authentic, we had extended the well through a hole we made in the floor, down to the basement, which we then flooded with water. Believe me, this was the real thing!
Now all that was left was for my father to put out the “Free Wishing Well – Six Dollars” sign on our front lawn and let the suckers roll in with their bags of cash.
Of course, the suckers didn’t come. Not even our close friends and family were willing to part with their hard-earned money just to humor my father out of pity.
His violent, alcohol-fueled rages reached new heights. He had never worked so hard in his life and for things to pan out the way they did (or in this case, didn’t), he just wasn’t equipped with the proper life skills to deal with something like this.
In between him trying to beat up our whole family, he would break down and cry and confess to me that he always felt like a loser. It was the side of the comical drunk you don’t get to see all the time: the lonely, broken man, so vulnerable and scared.
“How come nobody wants to come to my wishing well, Eric?” He would ask me through his tears.
I again explained that most wishing wells didn’t charge you a fee.
He didn’t really believe this. He chose to blame the Jews, as was his way. He pointed to the fact that the wishing well outside of Cedars-Sinai was often loaded with shiny new quarters.
I told him that the wishing well wasn’t full of quarters because Jewish people were out to get him, but rather because the proceeds from that wishing well probably went to a charity and people felt more inclined to give to those than they were to some lazy asshole who didn’t feel like working.
I realized as I said this that I had made a huge mistake.
Sure enough, my father rushed outside to make changes to his sign. Within a few minutes, he had his first taker. Soon, there was a long line of cars in our driveway. People came from all around to donate to the Children’s Miraculous Foundation.
The Children’s Miraculous Foundation is, of course, a made-up charity invented by my father to make money. If you’re thinking that it sounds a lot like The Children’s Miracle Foundation, which is a real charity, you’re right.
Again, despicable as it is, that is pretty clever and it’s certainly a thousand times more clever than anything my father had ever done that didn’t involve ripping innocent people off who are just trying to help and make a difference in the world.
My father became kind of a cult celebrity in the community. How often does someone building a wishing well in the middle of their living room? He would give TV interviews where he would express his heartfelt wish to help all the children of the world and he would get all choked up as he said it. If not for his drinking problem, I bet he could be one of those big-time actors in Hollywood, he was that good.
Before we knew it, my father had amassed not only a small fortune, but the attention of the FBI. This meant only one thing: it was time to move again.
Under the cover of darkness, we helped my dad load his bags and bags of dirty money into our station wagon as my mother put duct tape over the brake lights.
We snuck out, just in time, like we always do. I tried to convince my parents that we should make a clean start. They could get regular jobs and maybe even enroll us in school like regular kids.
They just laughed and laughed and laughed.
Instead, we ended up in Texas, where they started some phony religious camp for retarded kids until the Feds got wind of that and then the whole thing started all over again.
OK, so maybe the phony religious camp for retards was the most shameful thing my father ever did, I don’t know. When you get to this level of depravity, it’s hard to keep track.