Money

Simon Rich is a writer for Saturday Night Live. He has contributed to The New Yorker, GQ, Mad, The Harvard Lampoon and other magazines. His first novel, Elliot Allagash, will be published by Serpent's Tail in August.

Smart kid at the end of the popularity list

My parents always took my side when I was a kid, no matter how much I screwed up. When I smashed my brand new Sega Genesis during a temper tantrum, they blamed the game "Sonic the Hedgehog" for getting me riled up. When I lost my passport at the airport, they blamed themselves for entrusting it to me. So when I told them what Elliot had done to me, I was pretty surprised by their reaction.

"Maybe it was an accident," my father said. "Accidents happen all the time."

"I don't think it was an accident," I said.

"Are you sure you didn't imagine it?" my mother asked. "You have such an amazing imagination... maybe it took over for a second?"

I struggled to resist the compliment.

"No," I said. "It wasn't my imagination. This thing definitely happened."

It was Monopoly night and even though my father had rolled a seven, he hadn't yet moved his wheelbarrow. It just sat there, on the wrong square, abandoned.

Eventually, both of my parents got up and went into the kitchen.

"Mom? Dad?"

They didn't respond but I could hear them murmuring to each other on the other side of the door.

"He pushed me down the stairs," I said, for what seemed like the hundredth time of the night. "He pushed me, on purpose, in front of a lot of people. It was really crazy."

Eventually, my parents returned to the table. I noticed that my father was holding a beer. I had only ever seen him drink at weddings and funerals and I was mildly shocked. They both hesitated for a moment, hoping the other one would do the talking.

"The thing about Elliot," my mother said finally, "Is that he's different from most boys."

I felt a sudden stab of guilt.

"Oh geez," I said. "Is he retarded?"

"No," my father said. "Not exactly."

"What is it then?" I asked. "What's different about him?"

My mother cleared her throat.

"He's rich," she said.

My father nodded.

"He's very rich."

My parents rarely asked me how school was going. It's not that they weren't interested: the stakes were just too high. Glendale wasn't particularly glitzy by Manhattan standards. It cost significantly less than those top tier prep schools that lined Central Park and dotted the hills of Riverdale. But it was still an expensive school – the most expensive one my parents could afford. They never mentioned money around me, but our apartment wasn't very large and if I stayed up late, I could hear them talking about their financial struggles through our shared bedroom wall, in the hushed, low tone they reserved for that subject alone. They were paying an incredible percentage of their income to send me to Glendale and I think they were both secretly terrified that their investment was coming to naught.

If my parents told me my tuition cost a hundred dollars or a million dollars, I probably would have believed them. Money was meaningless to me, until it was converted into rock candy. My father had recently begun to give me five bucks a week, to teach me the value of a dollar, but the five-dollar bill he handed me each week might as well have been a voucher with the words "good for one medium bag of rock candy" printed on it because that's the only thing I ever considered buying with it. When I tried to visualize the amount of money I was wasting by going to Glendale, I pictured myself wading through an entire roomful of rock candy, like Scrooge McDuck, scooping up the pieces and tossing them over my head. It felt that obscene.

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