Jess Walter


The Financial Lives Of the Poets

© 2009

For Anne, always

Poets have to dream, and dreaming in America is no cinch.

– SAUL BELLOW


CHAPTER 1

Another 7/11

– HERE THEY ARE AGAIN-the bent boys, baked

and buzzed boys, wasted, red-eyed, dry-mouth

high boys, coursing narrow bright aisles

hunting food as fried as they are, twitchy

hands wadding bills they spill

on the counter, so pleased and so

proud, as if they’re the very

inventors of stoned-

And behind the counter, the ever-patient Rahjiv makes half-lidded eye contact with me as he rings up another patchouli-foul giggler-Reese’s Pieces, Pic-6 Lotto, Red Bull and a cheddar-jack tacquito-Rahjiv probably thinking: These kids, eh Matt-or maybe not, because Rahjiv doesn’t know my name and I don’t wear a nametag. I’m just the middle-aged guy who leaves my gunmetal sedan running when I come in after midnight. When I can’t sleep. And I’ve forgotten to get milk at a regular store. Milk for the kids’ cereal. In the morning. Before school.

The milk is like nine dollars a gallon.

For years, recent immigrants like Rahjiv have been a political Rorschach: see turban, think terrorist and you’re a Red ’Merican. Assume Indian neurosurgeon fluent in five languages, stuck serving morons at midnight for minimum wage, and you’re Blue, like me. Of course I have no more proof that Rahjiv was a doctor in Delhi than some Texas trucker does that he’s a bomber. Rahjiv may have jockeyed a 7/11 in India too for all we know-so impeccable is he with change, effortlessly plastic-bagging Hostess Sno Balls and Little Debbies, Power Bars and Mountain Dews-“No wait…dude. Chocolate milk! And pork rinds”-as yet another stoner reassesses the aisles-“And ooh, ooh! Cool Ranch Doritos!”



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