Monday, September 12, 2011

Major Donor

(for Sarah)

***Any similarities to any rich douches living or dead is WHOLLY unprovable***

There is only one thing anyone needs to know about Andrew Myrtle, and he will do you the honor of finding some way to work it into the conversation within five minutes of meeting you.

“My mom,” he’ll say, “oh, you might have heard of my mom? Sherry Myrtle? The founder of Sherry’s Craig Crab Shack?”

And then, you might grudgingly admit that you had heard of this successful national chain of upscale seafood joints, at which point he will go on to tell you an anecdote that relates, at best, tangentially to the famous entrepreneur-slash-restaurateur.

Which is not to say that his mother has anything to do with the one thing Andrew Myrtle requires you to know about him, except that she became, through her innovative take on fish and franchising, almost painfully wealthy, and that he, Andrew Myrtle himself, was her sole heir to her fortune. He intends for you to extrapolate from this that he is tremendously, shamelessly rich, and that he is always soliciting new applications for the position of sycophant. There is nothing, in Andrew Myrtle’s experience, that money cannot buy. There is no one, in his opinion, not honored to learn of his illustrious ancestry and, by association, not intrigued by his potential to reward ardent admirers.

Stacy Redford, regaled with Andrew Myrtle’s brief history on the smoking patio at the conservatory during the summer study meet and greet, feels neither honored nor intrigued as these facts filter through her understanding. She lets him tell his story, and then, because she is a little drunk, tells hers.

“My mom—you probably haven’t heard of her—her name is Bella Redford. She was a chronic alcoholic my entire life. She never had a job. We were always on government assistance. I’ve been on my own since I was fifteen. My mother never gave me a dime.”

She tugs the hand-me-down gown up her chest, helps herself to a cigarette from the pack he’d set on the brick wall, and flounces her long red hair. After an uncomfortable silence, Andrew shakes the ice cubes in his rocks glass and backs away.

It’s her third session of summer study, which is her vacation, her professional development, and her dream all rolled up in one; she won scholarships to attend the last two years, but scholarships are hard to come by, and no one could expect three in a row. Robin Dacha has provided, instead, a job in the front office this summer.

Now Robin leans against the wall, all hulking six-feet-two of him. “Andrew Myrtle made a nice donation,” he says, his voice low. “We need to take care of him.”

“He’s a douche,” she says.

Robin shrugs. “He’s a major donor, Stacy. Take care of him.”

But Andrew Mrytle doesn’t need her. Stuck in the office all summer, she sees him through the window, chatting up whoever buys his line.

Occasionally, she catches him wailing away on his saxophone in the alcove near the vending machines, as if he were the first person to discover its acoustic properties.

A few students complain that he’s out there at weird times of the night. All Robin does is compliment his enthusiasm and invite him over for dinner. Andrew throws a party for the popular students, not including, of course, Stacy, who works four hours a day, practices four hours a day, and spends six hours a day in class, plus attends three student recitals a week.

Stacy loves recitals, and she loves playing the grand piano in the big auditorium. Who is she kidding? She loves the old upright in her practice space. It’s nicer than her own piano at home, which she also loves, an even older upright, on which she is still making payments. The recitals are the real social hub of summer study anyway.

Because some of the new students are shy, Stacy takes one of the first slots. Robin gives her a big hug afterward, and a nice critique. “Your progress since last year is wonderful.” Andrew takes an early slot, too. He plays “Baker Street” with only a few sour notes. Afterward, Robin trips over himself to tell him how remarkable his interpretation was, how amazing that a first-year student should play so beautifully.

Stacy goes down to her practice room and tears apart some Chopin.

This helps. She is here for the music. During the year, she teaches elementary children to sing. The summers are hers, and she plays every moment she can.

One of her jobs in the office is to organize the recital schedule. Every student is supposed to sign up for one slot, but some of the more reticent kids have not performed yet. She goes around with the sign-up sheet, persuading them to take the plunge, then hangs it back on the wall.

She notices that Andrew has signed up for a second recital. She erases his name. He writes it back in. She erases it again. She catches him the third time.

“Every student gets one recital, Andrew.”

He taps the sheet. “There’s all these empty spaces.”

“Reserved for students who haven’t had a turn yet.”

“Robin said I was very good.”

She slides the pencil out from his fingers and lets it fall. It dangles on the end of the string that attaches it to the corkboard. “There are a lot of amazing musicians here. Some of them have been playing for twenty years, and some of them have just started. Everyone gets the same opportunity to perform.”

He tries to stare her down, but she stares him down instead, feeling suddenly very great and tall.

Later, Robin comes into the office. “Andrew Myrtle says you took his name off the recital schedule?”

She pretends to be involved in her data entry task. “Each student gets one recital,” she says.

“Couldn’t you make an exception? I’m really hoping he’ll make a large contribution at the end of the session.”

Stacy smiles to herself. “No.”

Robin shrugs.