Friday, April 1, 2011

Chasing the dollar

I wrote this a number of years ago and it had never found its way to this blog.

Chasing the dollar

By Bobby Neal Winters

Before I begin this story, I have to make it absolutely clear that my Aunt Vidalia was always a good Baptist. By this I mean to say that she loved God, loved her neighbor, and took care of those in need.

On the other hand, she never let anything as abstract as the Church Covenant get in the way of her taking a couple of trips to Vegas per year and availing herself of the facilities while she was there.

Vegas and Aunt Vidalia were made for each other. In Vegas, you have a city built in a desert with grand edifices creating a beautiful illusion. With Aunt Vidalia, there was a tall hairdo, fake cherry-sucker red finger nails, and enough costume jewelry to have a yard sale.

The difference between Vegas and Aunt Vidalia is that if bulldozers were to push down Vegas there would only be desert underneath, while there is a very real person at the heart of Aunt Vidalia.

Vidalia’s husband died some years back and after a period of grieving, she took up with a man called “Bum.” This is a case where the name Bum is deceiving. Bum is short for bumpkin and is a name that was stuck on him when he first entered the army out of the deep Oklahoma backwoods. Bum took to the military like a duck takes to water and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel, and with the name Bum glued to him all through is career.

Bum retired early so that he could spend time with his wife and this turned out to be a good thing because after about ten years she passed away. He’d love her and this had left him lonely.

He met Aunt Vidalia and immediately recognized her as a person of worth in spite of the surface accoutrements that others might’ve taken as signs of shallowness. While she was in many ways the opposite of his late wife, who was reserved and understated in her choice of clothing, he discovered that Vidalia had the same inner strength in her that had enabled him to rise from an Okie in the backwoods to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Little did he realize that this commonality they share would lead to a loss of domestic tranquility.

The occasion of this loss of tranquility was a party in the nicer part of Shawnee, Oklahoma. There would be those who’d deny that such a place exists, yet “nicer’ is a relative term and I will stand by it. Bum had been invited to this party by an old high school friend of his who’d gone into the oil business and made good of it.

It was one of those parties where liquor flowed rather freely. I don’t want to leave the impression that anyone was incapacitated in a noticeable way, but there came a stage of the party when many of those present were not in total possession of their better judgment.

It is at this point that a new character enters the picture. He was the son of the party’s host and I will refer to him as Jack. Jack was a graduate student who was majoring in math and was visiting his parents over the weekend.

My Aunt Vidalia is a friendly sort and struck up a conversation with him.

“What are you learning in school?” she asked. “Is it all just faster ways to multiply and divide?”

“I’m studying Game Theory,” he said.

By this time there were other people listening in on the conversation.

“Game theory,” Aunt Vidalia asked, ‘what’s that?”

“It’s just what it sounds like,” he said. “We study games.”

Aunt Vidalia was skeptical. She’d grown up poor and had to work all the time so she didn’t see much use in that.

“Studying games?” she asked. “What good is that?”

“Let me show you,” he said as he reached in his pocket and pulling out a dollar. “I can sell this dollar and make money on it. I’ll auction it off to the highest bidder. The only thing different from a regular auction is that both the highest bidder and the second highest bidder pay. Who will start the bidding at one penny?”

Aunt Vidalia likes games and the notion of getting a dollar for a penny was more than she could pass up.

“I’ll bid a penny for that,” she said.

Unfortunately for her, that sounded like a good idea to other folks at the party too. There were bids of 2 cents, 3 cents, and a nickel in quick succession.

Aunt Vidalia chimed in at 10 cents and again at a quarter.

Had she been paying closer attention, she would have noticed that people where dropping out of the bidding. She didn’t notice until she bid 50 cents that she and Bum were the only folks left bidding.

The slower pace of bidding gave her time to think. She would only be making 50 cents now if she got the dollar, but if she came in second she would lose 50 cents. If only Bum would drop out she would be all right.

“Fifty-one cents,” Bum said. He smiled and took another sip of the scotch and soda he’d been working on.

Clearly Bum was having a good time, but she wanted the dollar now. She looked him square in the eye.

“Ninety-nine cents,” she said and took a swallow of the Bloody Mary in her hand. She thought that she’d get her dollar, make a penny for her trouble, and Bum would get stuck holding the bag.

Now it was Bum’s turn to look her in the eye.

“One dollar,” he said.

If looks could kill, he would have dropped dead, but they can’t so he didn’t.

Bum and Vidalia were so busy looking at each other, they didn’t see the look on Jack’s face or anybody else’s. Jack was grinning like a possum, and everyone else was as well. If Aunt Vidalia had seen the way Jack was smiling, she might have smile herself and let laughter end the game.

As it was, she didn’t.

“One-dollar and fifty cents,” she said without batting an eye.

“Are you crazy?” Bum asked. “You are paying a dollar and fifty cents for a dollar?”

“No,” she said, “I’m paying 50 cents to stick you for a dollar.”

He paused just long enough to internalize that.

“Two dollars,” he said.

They fifty-cented back and forth until Bum bid $10.50. Then Aunt Vidalia remembered she only had 10 dollars in her purse.

“You can have the damn thing,” she said.

Bum gave Jack the ten-fifty, Aunt Vidalia gave him ten, and Jack gratefully accepted and handed the dollar to Bum. Bum offered it to Aunt Vidalia, and she told him where to go.

“I think it’s time to go home,” Bum said. So they did.

In silence.

It’s been about a week now, and they haven’t spoke again. I hope it all turns out all right.

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