Good Narrative Principles

The Phil Stories: The Allure of Stuff


IMG_7622Phil was one of those rare souls who didn’t care about competitive buying. When he wanted something, he simply made the purchase. Here’s what he didn’t do: he didn’t wait for the sale, he didn’t drive ten miles out of his way to shop at the outlet known for deep discounts, and he most certainly refused to waste his time navigating from one site to the next, hoping to squeeze every last penny from the deal.

Which is not to say that Phil didn’t love a bargain. But the calculus of his wheeling and dealing centered on people, not things, specifically, women. Phil, a serial monogamist, fell in love with women who had a weakness for things.

It started, as all good habits begin, with his Mom. Growing up on a failing farm in the middle of Maryland, Phil’s Mom dreamed of another life, one that included a dishwasher, luxurious house plants and properly fitting shoes. At night, his Mom whispered her fondest wishes, not necessarily to him, but maybe to her God, who bore a close affinity to Monty Hall on “Let’s Make a Deal”. Evenings at home were punctuated by the satisfying crash of Dad’s beer bottle hitting its mark on the pile of empties outside and Mom complaining as she washed the dishes in cold water to save money. She spoke wistfully of her friend Muriel who just purchased a new Amana washing machine. Its powerful spin cycle left clothes nearly dry.

Phil was good with numbers. Not the kind served up in school where simple profit and loss was obscured by aimless questions that left him bored. He didn’t care about the trajectory of a ball or bullet as it arced through the air and fell in some fictitious landscape charted on an x and y axis. What he cared about was the why, when and how of turning a profit.

In middle school, he’d buy a chocolate candy bar, wrap each square in wax paper and sell it to his classmates during recess. After being busted by his Math teacher who didn’t buy his sales pitch about the value of applied mathematics, Phil decided that he would happily work some variation of this scam for the rest of his life. After the school dissolved his business, Phil took his shoebox of nickels, dimes and quarters and bought Cindy Lou Johnson an enameled daisy ring, which she wore until the base of her finger was encircled with a fine green line.

The pleasure of buying Cindy Lou a gift and the good will generated through this purchase, the stolen kisses, the secret confidences she shared with him as she twirled the ring round and round her finger during their nightly calls, left a big impression on Phil.

Some people, the lucky ones, find their calling early in life. Phil, intuiting the ebb and flow of numbers and that the way to a woman’s heart was through stuff, was doubly blessed.

But, like all seemingly sturdy systems, his had a fatal flaw that proved wanting just as he hit his stride in his early forties.

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