You Can´t Take It With You
“Hey Jeff, guess what I’m gonna do?”
“OK, Ricky. I’ll play your little game. What are you gonna do?”
“I’m gonna grow up and get rich and then I’m gonna put all my money in the bank before I die.”
Jeff wrinkled up his face and turned toward Ricky. They were both sitting on the front porch, relaxing with some ice-cold lemonade after a baseball game in the hot August sun. “Why the heck would you do that? You’re supposed to give it to your family. Or someplace that gives cancer to rabbits. Or your family.”
“You’re just sayin’ that ’cuz you want all my stuff if I die.”
“No, I’m sayin’ that ’cuz it’s true!. No one puts their money in the bank before they die. Unless you have a -- what d’ya call it? Oh yeah -- a Last Will and Testament.”
“You know, when you make a list of all your cool stuff and who you want to give it to when you die.” Jeff sucked an ice cube out of his lemonade and crushed it between his teeth.
“Do you have one?”
“No, stupid,” he said, spitting little bits of ice. “I’m only twelve. You have to be at least thirty-five before you can make one.”
“Oh.” Ricky tried to suck up an ice cube too, but it fell out of his mouth and splashed into the lemonade. “Do Mom and Dad have one?”
“Probably. All old people do.”
Neither of them said anything for awhile. Every few minutes a truck would whiz past their house on Route 49. The piercing buzz of locusts and the occasional sound of a bumble bee sucking pollen from a clover floated on the breeze.
“Where’d ya get that dumb idea anyway?” Jeff asked, taking a huge gulp of his lemonade and wiping his mouth on his sleeve.
“Johnny told me about it.”
“Told you about what?”
Ricky rolled his eyes. “This place to put your money in before you die!”
“Are you sure he wasn’t talkin’ about The United Way or somethin’?” Jeff coughed up some lemonade phlegm and spit a glob of it into the flower garden.
“Nope. He said it was this place where you put your money and you can’t get it out ’til twenty-three years after you die.”
“You’ve got to be kiddin’ me. What kind of idiot would do somethin’ like that? You can’t get your money out after you die!”
“Johnny’s dad said he’s gonna come back in his next life as a poor Vietnamese woman, but he’s not gonna be so poor ’cuz he’ll have a buncha money in the bank already.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Jeff said as he threw an ice cube at Ricky and hit his leg. Ricky picked it up and threw it back at him. He missed Jeff entirely and hit the railing of the porch. “Nice throw,” Jeff laughed. Ricky punched his arm. “How are they gonna know some poor Vietnamese woman used to be Johnny’s dad?”
“Easy. He’ll just tell them he used to have a dog named Sniper.”
“That’s it? That’s all he’ll have to say?”
Jeff mulled the whole idea over in his head for awhile. He started throwing his baseball up in the air and catching it in his glove. “That’s nuts, Ricky. Nobody would be dumb enough to do that. Not even Johnny’s dad.”
“He knows he’s gonna come back, ya know.”
“Oh yeah? Well how does he know that?”
“Some psychotic woman told him.”
Jeff stopped throwing the ball and looked at Ricky. “Don’t you mean psychic woman?”
“Whatever. Anyway, Johnny said he called one of those numbers he saw on TV and the woman said he’s gonna be a poor Vietnamese woman in his next life. Then she told him about the Wandering Soul’s Trust. She said he could put his money in there and he wouldn’t hafta worry ‘bout bein’ poor in his next life. All he hasta do is send it to some post office box.”
“Hold on a minute,” Jeff said. The baseball hit the edge of his glove and rolled down the front steps. He got up to chase it. “Johnny’s dad actually believes this?” He turned around and threw the ball to Ricky.
“Yup,” Ricky said, catching the ball in his glove. “He went to the library the other day and got a buncha books on Vietnam so he can start learnin’ his heritage.” He threw the ball back to Jeff.
“Ricky, he’s Italian. His last name is Graziano, for God’s sake.”
Ricky sighed loudly. “Well, he’s gonna be Vietnamese. He already started sellin’ some stuff to meet the minimum he can put in the Wandering Soul’s Trust.”
“How much is that?”
“A hundred and thirty thousand dollars.”
“What?” Jeff let the ball whiz by him and it bounced across the street. “That’s crazy!”
Ricky rolled his eyes. “Jeff, he’s gonna be real poor. He wants to be protected.”
“I can’t believe you actually believe this! I mean, you’re only nine, but don’t you have any common sense?” The ball had rolled into a ditch on the other side of the road, and Jeff had to wait for a large tractor trailer to go by before he could retrieve it.
“You’re the one who doesn’t have any common sense, Jeff,” Ricky yelled above the noise of the truck. “Johnny’s dad is bein’ practical. Would you want to be a poor Vietnamese woman if you could have a buncha money in the bank already?”
Jeff crossed the road and began to search through the tall grass for the ball. Suddenly he stood up straight and said, “Wait a minute. If he’s gonna be some poor woman in Vietnam, how the heck is he--”
“She, Jeff.” Ricky interrupted.
“Whatever! How is she supposed to get all the way back to the United States to get this money?”
“The psychic woman said he was gonna be a Vietnamese-American woman. The Wandering Soul’s Trust is right in Brooklyn. She said he’ll be born again in Queens. He won’t hafta go that far at all.”
“Jesus Christ,” Jeff muttered under his breath. He continued looking for the ball. “What does Johnny’s mom think about all this?”
“They’re gettin’ divorced,” Ricky said casually. He stuck his hand in his lemonade glass to get the last ice cube and wiped his sticky hand on his shorts. “She’s mad ’cuz he wanted to sell her engagement ring. He needs some more money.”
Jeff stood up again and looked at his brother. “Ricky, tell me you honestly don’t think this is OK.”
“Well, I don’t know,” Ricky said, kicking the dirt around the flower bed in front of the house. He disturbed an ant colony, and the little black insects scurried everywhere. Ricky started squishing them into the pavement with his dirty sneakers. “I was thinkin’ about callin’ to find out what I’m gonna be in my next life.”
Jeff found the ball and crossed the street again. “Do you know how much those calls cost? It’s like fifty dollars a minute or somethin’!”
“So?” Ricky said, still stomping ants. “Mom’ll pay for it. I’m sure she wants me to be OK in my next life.”
“Ricky, Mom’s not gonna pay for you to call a psychic who’s runnin’ a scam!”
“It’s not a scam!” Ricky grabbed the ball out of Jeff’s hand and started throwing it up in the air. “Johnny’s dad said he knows she’s right.”
“How?” Bored with playing catch, Jeff let Ricky have the ball. He picked up a basketball lying in the yard and bounced it in the driveway.
“’Cuz when he was nineteen Nixon was elected President and he stopped the draft for Vietnam right before his number came up. He said he always felt a little disappointed ’cuz he couldn’t go. Now he knows why. He wanted to return to his homeland.”
Jeff stopped bouncing the ball. “But Ricky! Vietnam is not his homeland! He was born in New York!”
“Well how come he always cries at the end of Good Morning, Vietnam then?”
“Everybody cries when they watch that movie. It’s about war, Ricky.”
“Well I haven’t seen it. But I don’t think I would cry.”
“How can you say that if you never saw it?”
“Because I’m not gonna be born again in Vietnam, stupid. I think I’m gonna be from the Planet Krypton. I always felt like I really knew Superman, ya know?”