A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 29 – Counterfeit Money by Charles Baudelaire

Sunflower

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 29 – Counterfeit Money by Charles Baudelaire
Read it online here:
Counterfeit Money by Charles Baudelaire

We encountered a poor man who held out his cap with a trembling hand‹I know nothing more disquieting than the mute eloquence of those supplicating eyes that contain at once, for the sensitive man who knows how to read them, so much humility and so much reproach. He finds there something close to the depth of complicated feeling one sees in the tear-filled eyes of a dog being beaten.
—-Charles Baudelaire, Counterfeit Money

It’s later than I thought and I’m more tired that I like, so it will be a piece of flash fiction tonight.

Again, like yesterday, we have a short story based around giving alms to a beggar.

In today’s world, giving money to homeless panhandlers is problematic. I, myself, subscribe to the idea of not contributing – in a modern urban setting you will inexorably meet “professional” beggars and money given to them is undoubtedly enabling and will go for drugs, alcohol, or waste, making their plight even more miserable. I do feel pangs of guilt and the suspicion that my carefully-reasoned excuse may be more about selfishness than I can admit to myself.

I would not stoop to the level of the devil in today’s short piece, however.

Baudelaire is best known for his poetry – I keep a translation of Les Fleurs du mal around to read whenever life is too pedestrian to stand. However, he was a pioneer in what has now come to be called “Flash Fiction” – which he referred to as “Poems in Prose.” And what a cool idea – short little snippets that are actually poems without rhyme or rhythm – simply carefully selected words.

Charles Baudelaire:

Be always drunken. Nothing else matters: that is the only question. If you would not feel the horrible burden of Time weighing on your shoulders and crushing you to the earth, be drunken continually.

Drunken with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will. But be drunken.

And it sometimes, on the stairs of a palace, or on the green side of a ditch, or in the dreary solitude of your own room, you should awaken and the drunkenness be half or wholly slipped away from you, ask of the wind, or of the wave, or of the star, or of the bird, or of the clock, of whatever flies, or sighs, or rocks, or sings, or speaks, ask what hour it is; and the wind, wave, star, bird, clock, will answer you: “It is the hour to be drunken! Be drunken, if you would not be martyred slaves of Time; be drunken continually! With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will.
—-Be Drunken

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A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 28 – The Model Millionaire by Oscar Wilde

Downtown Dallas, Texas

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 28 – The Model Millionaire by Oscar Wilde
Read it online here:
The Model Millionaire by Oscar Wilde

Unless one is wealthy there is no use in being a charming fellow. Romance is the privilege of the rich, not the profession of the unemployed. The poor should be practical and prosaic. It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating. These are the great truths of modern life which Hughie Erskine never realized. Poor Hughie! Intellectually, we must admit, he was not of much importance. He never said a brilliant or even an ill-natured thing in his life. But then he was wonderfully good-looking, with his crisp brown hair, his clear-cut profile, and his grey eyes. He was as popular with men as he was with women, and he had every accomplishment except that of making money.
—-Oscar Wilde, The Model Millionaire

Today’s story is a simple one – a man, not necessarily a great or charitable man, makes a great and charitable gesture, and suffers the consequences.

There is nobody better at writing aphorisms than Oscar Wilde. Even his fiction is generously sprinkled with entertaining pithy tidbits of wisdom that can be extracted and stand on their own. Finding these not-so-hidden jewels embedded in the text is one of the joys of reading Wilde.

Dorothy Parker said in a 1927 issue of Life:

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

A short list of Oscar Wilde Aphorisms (there are many, many more):

  1. I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability.
  2. The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.
  3. Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.
  4. It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.
  5. The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself.
  6. Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
  7. What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
  8. A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.
  9. When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is.
  10. There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.
  11. Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us.
  12. Woman begins by resisting a man`s advances and ends by blocking his retreat.
  13. Beware of women who do not hide their age. A woman who reveals her age is capable of anything.
  14. A thing is not necessarily right because a man dies for it.
  15. Art is the most intense form of individualism that the world has known.
  16. I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects. A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.
  17. Work is the curse of the drinking classes.
  18. Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.
  19. True friends stab you in the front.
  20. Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.
  21. Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.
  22. I never put off till tomorrow what I can do the day after.
  23. Action is the last refuge of those who cannot dream.
  24. I can resist everything except temptation.
  25. I like persons better than principles, and I like persons with no principles better than anything else in the world.
  26. The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.
  27. Men marry because they are tired; women because they are curious. Both are disappointed.
  28. Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.
  29. There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
  30. Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.
  31. How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being?
  32. A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally.
  33. The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything.
  34. I like men who have a future and women who have a past.
  35. Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.

Oscar Wilde:

Upon the other hand, whenever a community or a powerful section of a community, or a government of any kind, attempts to dictate to the artist what he is to do, Art either entirely vanishes, or becomes stereotyped, or degenerates into a low and ignoble form of craft. A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. Its beauty comes from the fact that the author is what he is. It has nothing to do with the fact that other people want what they want. Indeed, the moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist, and becomes a dull or an amusing craftsman, an honest or a dishonest tradesman. He has no further claim to be considered as an artist. Art is the most intense mode of Individualism that the world has known. I am inclined to say that it is the only real mode of Individualism that the world has known. Crime, which, under certain conditions, may seem to have created Individualism, must take cognizance of other people and interfere with them. It belongs to the sphere of action. But alone, without any reference to his neighbors, without any interference, the artist can fashion a beautiful thing; and if he does not do it solely for his own pleasure, he is not an artist at all.
—-from The Soul of Man under Socialism

Rising cloud over the Hyatt, downtown Dallas, Texas

Kayak in the River

“Maybe freedom really is nothing left to lose. You had it once in childhood, when it was okay to climb a tree, to paint a crazy picture and wipe out on your bike, to get hurt. The spirit of risk gradually takes its leave. It follows the wild cries of joy and pain down the wind, through the hedgerow, growing ever fainter. What was that sound? A dog barking far off? That was our life calling to us, the one that was vigorous and undefended and curious.”
― Peter Heller, Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet’s Tsangpo River

A while back, on my trip to New Orleans, my son Lee and I were in Crescent Park, hanging out for a few minutes, looking at the giant muddy expanse of the Mississippi River and the ships, tugs, and barges cruising past. A guy in an open-water kayak paddled by, going downstream, and I snapped a photo, wishing I had my longer lens. Other than the familiar automatic action of raising my camera and pushing the shutter, I didn’t think any more about it.

Ryan Caruso in his kayak, Mississippi River, New Orleans

Now, back home, I’m looking over the photos I took on my trip. I checked out the kayak zoomed in a bit closer and noticed it was covered in sponsor’s signs – including one for “Operation Smile.”

Ryan Caruso in his kayak, Mississippi River, New Orleans

It didn’t take much internet searching to learn that this was Ryan Caruso, kayaking a thousand miles from South Padre Island Texas, to Panama City Beach Florida, to raise money for Operation Smile – a charity to provide needed surgeries to children around the world.

He tracked his route here, and kept a blog of the trip. Lee and I saw him on Saturday, July 15 right at 12 noon – here’s his blog entry for the day:

JULY 15: Day 23

By 8 in the morning, my sailboat friend, which I finally learned his name but I will call him whom I’m calling “Military Man,” caught me up. We talked for a moment before he passed me once again. A half-hour later, I had entered the industrial harbor of New Orleans. For 5 miles, I passed barge push boats (no barges just the boat), sitting along the channel being fixed or repainted or pulled from the water to inspect the haul.

I radioed to the Harvey Locks letting them know I was five minutes away and slide in almost immediately into the lock. The guys running the lock were very interested in the voyage, and I explained as I always do what I was doing and why – it’s all for Operation Smile. They told me to make sure I updated New Orleans Traffic Control when I got onto the Mississippi. The lock filled with water and only my kayak, as the lock was empty besides for me, rose 6 feet so as to be level with the mighty Mississippi before the lock doors opened. One of the gentlemen of the lock lowered down two cold water bottles with the caps tied to a rope. The key to my heart – well, two keys to be precise.

“New Orleans Traffic Control, this is 18-foot white kayak entering the Mississippi from the Harvey locks and will be following the eastern bank to the industrial locks. Just giving you guys a heads up.”

“18 foot … what kind of boat?”

“A kayak, sir.”

“Kayak?” A chuckle. “Kayak, this is Traffic Control. Thank you for the update. We will ensure traffic knows you are out there.”

For the next hour, I left the radio on to channel 12 so I could listen to water traffic on the Mississippi. I heard a lot of the barges talking about the “kayaker.” They must have had a hard time seeing me because other boats would always have to update different boats of my location. I was asked to wait while a ferry boat started up and took of into the center of the river but after awhile I safely entered the inlet for the industrial lock.

A barge with chemicals was currently entering the lock and since no other boats can accompany barges with dangerous chemicals I was forced to wait. My sailboat friend was there, and the lock had told me to enter behind him. Military Man had been waiting for an hour and together we had to wait another one.

I pulled off the ICW after only 26 miles. I found a spot where the wake barrier rocks had fallen away and I slid into the main land. These rocks make landing impossible if I don’t want to destroy the haul of my boat. Yanking the boat through thick marsh and tall grass, didn’t take long and soon I was walking the 15 minutes to the main road. Upon reaching the main road, I only had to wait a minute or two before my Uber arrived to take me to Walmart. I feasted on Taco Bell across the street – since there was no Cajun restaurants near me – and then made my way to Walmart.

As I waited for the Uber back to my kayak, rain came down like I hadn’t seen in days. I dove into the passenger seat as the rain hammered the window. By the time we made it back to my hidden kayak, the rain had stopped and I slowly made my way back down the old forgotten gravel path. After arranging the food into dry bags, I realized I may have bought too much. I guess I will know tomorrow when I pack the kayak in the morning.

I leave the safety of the ICW for the next 5 days, tomorrow. Hoping for calm winds and no stories to write about.

So when Lee and I saw him, he was following the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. He had entered the Mississippi at the Harvey Locks a bit upstream, and was paddling down the river past us until he reached the Industrial Canal Locks only a bit farther. At that point he would leave the river and enter the channels of the Intracoastal Waterway again (and stop to take an Uber to Walmart for supplies).

What an amazing thing. First, his kayak voyage – an impressive feat. Add to that the fact I, from only a glimpse of a kayak on the river, could track down the whole story while sitting here at my laptop.