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

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

A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day Six – The Semplica-Girl Diaries

The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. 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.

Today’s story, for day six – The Semplica-Girl Diaries, by George Saunders

Read it online here:

The Semplica-Girl Diaries

All my life I have had neighbors that take better care of their lawns and other landscaping than I do. They are always out there, doing battle against the natural increase in entropy. I have seen grown men crawling around on their hands and knees on a hot Texas afternoon all over their lawn pulling out individual stems or blades of diverse species of plants (weeds) one by one. They must have that bright-green, carpet-like monoculture of their carefully-chosen cultivar covering the entire sward.

It seems like insanity to me. I say I am going for the more environmentally-friendly method of allowing nature to take its natural course… as much as the neighborhood association (Nazis) and the City Inspectors (more Nazis) will allow. That is, of course, bullshit – I am simply lazy.

What is going on here? Is it a way to fight back the inevitable advance of death, chaos, and decay? (suburban life is singularly dedicated to concealing the inevitable march and ultimate victory of death, chaos, and decay) Or is it a “keeping up with the Joneses” thing? (artificial tokens of wealth are again, totally unknown to my way of thinking) Or is it simply a way to pass the time? Or maybe a habit, born of generations of suburban life?

Or all of the above.

Todays story, another long one (but very worth reading, trust me) takes all this to an extreme. It is a set of diary entries by a family man, a father of children, that is struggling and failing to keep up with the Joneses. (It’s always especially tough when the Joneses have kids that hang out with yours) He is in debt, his car is a wreck “Kids got in, Eva (middle child) asked what was meaning of ‘junkorama.’ At that moment, bumper fell off.” and his lawn is bereft of ornament.

He writes one evening, after attending the birthday party at his daughter’s friend’s place.

Do not really like rich people, as they make us poor people feel dopey and inadequate. Not that we are poor. I would say we are middle. We are very, very lucky. I know that. But still, it is not right that rich people make us middle people feel dopey and inadequate.

Am writing this still drunk and it is getting late and tomorrow is Monday, which means work.

Work, work, work. Stupid work. Am so tired of work.

Good night.

And that brings us to the concept of the Semplica-Girls. When I first read the story, it took me a while to grasp the concept (it is so horrifying) and then I had to re-read the thing before I figured out what SG stood for. (Semplica-Girl, of course). To make things easier for you, I’ll explain. Semplica-Girls are living lawn ornaments – desperate young women from the poorest countries that sign a contract agreeing to perform on a rich person’s property. They are strung together on wires run through their brains (a micro-line run through a pathway burned by a very fine laser – it doesn’t even hurt) and hoisted up into the air as decorations.

The story is written more as a comedy than as a cruel dystopia. Somehow, that makes the horror worse.

The father-diarist wins some money in a scratch-off lottery and decides to blow the cash on an extravagant party for his oldest daughter, plus a lawn make-over, complete with four SGs(Semplica Girls) strung together, wafting in the breeze, quietly chatting with each other, four feet off the ground.

Everyone is happy. Everyone except Eva – the father’s most sensitive daughter. She is upset.

I’m pretty sure the SG are not happy, either.

Things do not end well… Actually, maybe they do. I guess they end the way that everything always ends.

Arcady

“In the beginning, God created the earth, and he looked upon it in his cosmic loneliness.

And God said, “Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can see what We have done.” And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak. God leaned close to mud as man sat, looked around, and spoke. “What is the purpose of all this?” he asked politely.

“Everything must have a purpose?” asked God.

“Certainly,” said man.

“Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this,” said God.

And He went away.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

4320 Arcady, Highland Park, Texas - a few months ago

4320 Arcady, Highland Park, Texas – a few months ago

Candy and I sometimes like to go to estate sales. Midweek we receive emails with lists of various sales throughout the city and, if I have time, I’ll go through the list, looking for interesting sales.

I don’t go to the sales so much to buy anything other than the occasional art object (I have enough useless crap already) – I go for the stories. You see, an estate sale – especially one where the owner has passed away after a long and interesting life – is a mirror into the past. It’s a museum displaying a person’s… a complete stranger’s entire collection of heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. These timeless treasures are arranged and papertagged with a string and a price so the slouching horde can shuffle through, pawing at the lot.

It’s an afternoon’s entertainment.

A few months ago, I was clicking through the emails, looking at the collections of photos, trying to find something a little more curious and compelling than the ordinary run-of-the-mill when a certain address caught my eye.

4320 Arcady

I knew where Arcady street was. That’s the heart of the most expensive neighborhood in the most expensive town in the Metroplex – Highland Park. That’s where the rich and famous cavort in their multi-million dollar mansions. Plus, it is mostly old money – the rarefied world of the bloated upscale opulent set – a world I will never see, a life I will never lead. Maybe a glimpse.

I printed a map.

When we arrived, the place was not quite what I expected. The house was beautiful, an old Mediterranean Style two story with a red tile roof. And it was old. For Dallas, it was very old. It was like stepping back into a time machine.

There wasn’t much for sale and that was ancient and worn out. Still, I loved the old house, loved the high ceilings, loved the original windows – opened by metal hand-cranks with cracked ropes leading to sash weights inside the walls, loved the tiny white hexagonal tile in the bathrooms and kitchen (sometimes called “Dallas Tile”) loved the formal staircase, loved the deep wood of the floors… I even loved the thick old dust that coated everything like a blanket of compressed time. I wanted to find out more, so I headed to the huge bookcase that lined one wall of the living room.

There were University of Texas Yearbooks from 1942 and 1943. There were a couple of scrapbooks filled with old cartoons clipped from magazines in the 1950’s along with jokes written in a careful, elegant script (the kind everyone used to write in). Now, I wish I had bought the scrapbooks, but I put them back. Nothing else gave a clue.

I went out to the garage to talk to the person putting on the sale. He said, “The house has already been sold, I heard it was for three million. After this sale, it’s going to be torn down. The buyer is going to put up a new house on the lot.”

That made me sad. I looked down the street at the rows of fake Gothic mansions – all intended to look like English Manor homes shrunk down a little and plopped down right next to each other in the blistering heat of Texas. They all looked the same.

Now, I understand a little. The Arcady house had a tiny kitchen, and only a couple of miniscule bathrooms. That would never do. But it could be saved… a cleverly designed addition… a modern attached kitchen….

No, it would never work. People that live on Arcady street in Highland Park don’t understand uniqueness or preservation. It is an exclusive club they desperately want to join and to fit in you have to live in the proper house.

At home I did some searching. I found that the property had been bought by a builder and he had a replacement already designed by an architect named Wilson Fuqua. Ok.

I also found out who had lived in the house. It was a woman named Catherine Duls. Her father was a well-known Harvard educated attorney named William H Duls. I believe he built the house and moved his family there when his daughter was three. She lived there her entire life until she passed away at the age of 89.

Catherine played tennis at the University of Texas and worked at the SMU law library. Her friends called her Kitty. In her obituary, someone wrote, “ I loved her beautiful voice and Southern drawl, her gorgeous hair and complexion, and her fabulous sense of humor. She was complicated, intelligent, and wise. I appreciated her so very much. She will truly be missed.”

The other day, I had some work not too far away and because the traffic was lighter than I thought, arrived early enough to take a short detour down Arcady.

The house is now a vacant lot.

4320 Arcady, now

4320 Arcady, now