By Matt Gordon
The other night someone came to our door with a battering ram. At least that was how it sounded. I have never heard such a pounding, so I was surprised to look out the glass and see a smiling face, with ravenous eyes. I joined the stranger out in the inferno.
“I’m Tiger Hoods,” the pudgy man said.
I laughed. I didn’t think it was funny. I thought it was maybe inappropriate. But he laughed in a way that said I had better think it funny. So we just laughed and laughed and laughed—worked up a good lather, out in the heat, with all that laughing.
Turns out, he wasn’t Tiger Hoods. Once we finished guffawing, he told me his real name along with his story. He was part of a program. For every sale he made, he got points, and if he got enough points he’d be promoted to regional manager and start earning “good money.”
He asked me what I did for a living. I said I worked for a mortgage company. He asked if I was really into, “The thing where you run all the Black people out of places and then fix everything up for the white people to come in and then keep the Black people out.” And then he laughed and laughed. So I laughed and laughed.
“We don’t do that, by the way,” I added after all the hilarity had subsided.
“What?” he asked.
“The thing with the Black people and white people and stuff,” I stammered.
He looked at me like it had been my idea. I was confused and very, very hot.
“When I get promoted, I’m going to save up and I plan to start my own mortgage company,” he said.
“Maybe you can hire me?” I answered, hoping to get in on the jokes.
He did not laugh. So I stopped laughing. He would not be hiring me ever, it seemed.
“Well, um, what can I do for you?” I asked. I was confused and very, very hot. And this poor man was in jeans and a polo.
“You can help me get out of poverty, save my family, and do your part,” he said, the last three words with a point at my chest.
To me it seemed like a lot. It was Wednesday, after all, and night-time—this sort of seemed like an early-bird-gets-the-worm scenario.
He showed me a picture of his family. He wasn’t in the picture, but he assured me it was his family.
We had been out there for going on ten minutes by this point, and I was no less confused and, again, quite, quite hot.
“Well, um, what can I do for you?” I repeated.
“Haven’t you been listening?” he scolded me. Then laughed.
So I laughed too.
“Who’s that?” he asked, looking into my house and cutting off the laugh as if it hadn’t even been real.
“That is my father-in-law.”
“So your daddy,” he corrected.
“Well, my father-in-law,” I repeated.
“Your daddy,” he repeated.
“That’s my daddy,” I agreed.
“Hey, Daddy, come here!” he yelled at my father-in-law/daddy.
Daddy sidled on over but was wise enough to stay in the semi-cool of the house.
“You look just like Rick Ross!” the man yelled through the glass door at my father-in-law.
He doesn’t. Pretty much the opposite in most ways, I’d say. But what do I know? Maybe Rick Ross used to look more like a gray-haired, sixty-seven-year-old white man in his younger days? I didn’t know Mr. Ross then. Who am I to assume?
“Yeah, you look like Rick Ross.”
My father-in-law smiled and walked away, confused but not hot. I was so very hot.
“Well, um, what can I do for you? I mean besides the poverty and family stuff you mentioned.”
“You can buy this,” he shoved a piece of paper into my hand.
On the paper was a bunch of stuff about magazines and some sort of point system.
“How much is it?” I asked, looking at it, confused and hot.
“No, man! You don’t buy the paper. You buy what’s on the paper.”
“Magazines?” I read the paper.
Okay, now we were getting somewhere. One step closer to poverty alleviation, familial renewal, and all the rest.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“Books, man. Not magazines. Books.”
“So not magazines at all then?”
“No, books!” he shoved a laminated packet depicting books into my hand. “You buy a book I get sixty points.”
“How many points do you need?” I asked.
“Seems like a lot of points.” It did seem like a lot of points.
“I only need sixty more,” he grinned. “You are my last stop.”
I felt honored. I would get this man the points he would need to earn the promotion to a new job, save his family, and set him on the path of starting a mortgage company of his own! It all seemed too good to be true.
“Yeah, your neighbors have been buying up all these books and I only need sixty more points now.”
I looked around. None of my neighbors were in sight. The place had become a ghost town. I think I saw some thistle roll by. Maybe they were all inside reading their new books?
He shoved another piece of paper into my sweaty chest. On it were about a hundred names, the quantity of books they had ordered, and then, for some reason, their motivation for making said purchase. To do my part, said the Andersons. The Smiths had bought an ungodly amount of children’s books and added: Just want to make the world better. The Thompsons were all about Saving a family. I know people with those names—I assume everyone does. But I didn’t know they lived in my neighborhood. I tried to find the names of the neighbors’ I did know on the list, but he snatched it away.
“How many you want?” he asked, taking a pen and paper out.
“Magazines?” I sputtered.
“Books,” he spat. He shoved the laminated packet back into my chest. “The top row are educational.”
“Yeah, it looks like it,” I said as I read titles like, Educational Book for Kids and An ABC Education for Children.
“Uh, I’m not sure?” I looked for something I have heard of so I could make my purchase and go find some ice to lie upon.
“If you don’t want the books, I can donate them for you.”
“Well, if you really want to do your part, you order the books and then I’ll deliver them to the charity of your choice. I can take them to Big Brothers and Sisters at no extra charge to you.”
“So I won’t actually get any books then, yes?”
“Yeah, I’ll donate them to House of Hope for you. Now how many? A lot of people have been doing five and ten book bundles.”
“I see. That sounds pretty good. A bundle. I like that. How much is it?”
“Well, a book.”
He looked at me like I was confused. I was confused. Also, hot.
“Sixty.” he said.
“Points?” I asked.
“Bucks,” he said.
“So sixty dollars per book?”
“Yes, but you can bundle a bunch together. And it saves my family and gets me my promotion, remember?”
“So how many?”
“Books?” I asked to buy time.
“Bundles,” he answered. My tactic had failed. His seemed to be working, though.
“Sixty is a lot,” I said.
“Points?” he asked.
“Bucks,” I answered.
“How many?” his pen readied on a little piece of paper on a makeshift clipboard he had conjured.
“Well, can you come back at a later date? I need to think about it.”
“About getting me out of poverty or about helping my family?”
“Mostly about the bucks.”
“This is my last stop. You buy a book, I get the points.”
It was now or never. The moment of truth. His life hung in my cheap, sweaty hands.
“I think I better wait. Maybe if you could come back sometime.”
“This. Is. My. Last. Stop.”
I laughed, trying to get some of that old rat-a-tat magic Tiger Hoods and I used to have. He did not laugh. He tapped his pen to his pad.
“I don’t feel comfortable giving my credit card information to a stranger like this.” BAM! Just like that, I had saved it. This is sensible. I could finally go inside.
“Credit cards ain’t the only way.”
“I don’t carry cash.”
“Do you Venmo?”
“So you want me to buy some very pricey books that I’ll never get to see and just Venmo you money for them right now?”
“This is my last stop.”
We went ahead and bundled up some young adult fare with some childrens’ educational offerings. Got a spicy combo of an educational treatise on dinosaurs and an Educational First Bible. Thought that would give some kids down at the shelter or wherever he was taking the books some nuance, allow them to sort out some worldview complexities at a young age.
It felt good to know I did so much good, saving a family and ending some poverty and getting those points. Supplying educational literature for those in need is just a bonus. I probably would have written something like that under the Anderson, Smith, and Thompson entries on the order sheet. But after taking my time and money, Tiger hurried off before I had the chance. I don’t blame him—he had promotions to take and businesses to start, and what with his family waiting and all. No, I don’t blame him at all for darting off. I was his last stop, and he had taken the points and run. Good for him.
As I watched him dash away, I thought about how heroic I am, and it made me feel pretty good. To know I’m doing my part and educating the world, to see my own courage on display—well, it is pretty fulfilling. I’m glad, too, that I got to donate those books, but part of me does wish I could have spent some time with them first. No matter our age and robust courage, we all always could use a little education. The world can be a confusing place.
I wiped the sweat from my face and went back into the coolness of the house, just doing my part.
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