Money to Burn

by Dave Sokolowski



The Japanese chef in the funky, round hat slices the red fish in front of me and I have no idea what to do next. I watch him use his knife with precision that only years of training can bring; he is focused, he is an artist.

I don’t know what that means — I’m not an artist, and I’m certainly not focused. I’m no one, really. If you walked past me on the street, you probably wouldn’t even notice. Even if you had, you would have already forgotten.

There are more important things than me.

For one, there’s the $23 million I just won.

That’s right: $23 million. I don’t have any friends, any family, anyone to even talk to about it.

But I’ve got the money.

And to think that just last week I was thinking of killing myself because I couldn’t think of a reason to exist. Trust me: when you go through your life as no one, as just an empty vacuum of consciousness, as someone the bullies didn’t even pick on because they didn’t notice, then after thirty or so years you begin to wonder if it’s even worth it.

I’m still not sure it is.

At least I’ve got lots of money, though. The woman on the phone, with the funny Southern accent that made her “As” sound like “Ahs,” she said I’m going to have to wait a couple weeks for the first check to clear, and that I should probably get myself an accountant and a lawyer, because people like me, who win so much money, always suddenly have all sorts of people knocking at their doors. She then asked me to spell my name, apologizing because she couldn’t remember it although I had already told her four times.

“It’s no problem,” I said, understanding. “People forget my name all the time.”

She doesn’t realize that no one will come knocking at my door because no one knows that I exist.

I am nothing. No one.


I didn’t even call my boss to tell him I quit, because he won’t notice I’m not there. Sure, there might be a moment or two where he wonders how he’s going to get someone to help glue the cabinets together, someone who doesn’t mind sniffing harmful chemicals all day for $4.50 an hour, but once he puts out an ad in the paper he’ll forget I even worked for him.

And so I watch the sushi chef cut meat, roll rice and seaweed together, smile and say “Hiy!” every time I ask for more fish.

I like sushi, and so I sit and eat as much as I can. I could never afford food so fresh before, never could eat more than noodles and cereal and maybe waffles and soup if I wanted a variation. But even that’s not much of a variation. Like my TV — if I wanted a variation from the two channels (PBS and FOX) I get on the small, black-and-white TV I bought at garage sale on Valencia for $12 (my 25th birthday present to myself from myself), I had to pick up the old magazines (mostly Good Housekeeping and Reader’s Digest — I get them for free at Bob’s Laundromat) from the folding wooden chair (that looks and wobbles like its 50 years old) and stack them carefully on the floor, careful so I don’t spill them and knock over other stacks, then stand on the chair and hold the two wire clothes hangers in my teeth (which grits like nails on a chalkboard and then sometimes I drop the hangers and have to start over) while I open up the top of the window, stick in the hangers, and close the window so now I can see the local WBN affiliate and watch Star Trek: Voyager, but only if I’m bored with everything else.

So I never imagined life or food or fish came in so many colors. The fish is beautiful and I eat anything the man in the funny hat hands me. Some of it is squishy, like butter, and other is chewy, like leather. I like the red tuna the best. It melts in my mouth. It’s the only fish I know the name of, and that’s just because I asked.

Now I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want. Which I do, until I’m full. Full of seaweed and rice and fish. Full and filled right to the top.

I leave the sushi shop unsure of my future. I don’t even pay; once I left my chair they forgot I was there. I’m quite used to it at this point.

But maybe everything will change now. Maybe things will be different. I light a cigarette and think about it some more, some of these possibilities.

What would it be like to have conversations? Would I need to make up things to say? I don’t need all my money. Maybe I should give it all away — that would certainly get me friends. I could give it all to a charity. That would be nice. I’m sure they would appreciate it, would lavish me with praises. They would want to take my pictures and all that. Then I’d be in the paper and everyone would want more money, but I would have already given it all away.

On this street, out here in the city, there is trash in the gutter. What if I gave the city money to keep the city clean? I could buy them enough to sweep the streets every day, keep the streets sparkling clean, so no one would ever complain about the dirt. Of course, there are all these homeless people, and they’re pretty dirty. Maybe I could set up some showers for all the homeless people. They could come and get a hot shower every day. They could keep clean.

Then there are always those weird, screwed up homeless people. You know the kind — with their dirty faces and clothes and pushing their shopping carts full of junk down the middle of the street shouting “I don’t know if you want what?! Hey! Mind the bottles that care!! Push the down cart forward! Christmas tree police on the run!” And other such nonsense.

No, the homeless people-thing wouldn’t work. They’re just too unpredictable.

What if I just gave my money to cancer research or something? Anonymously, so they wouldn’t know who I was. They would scream and shout and say that my money made it possible to save thousands of people’s lives every day, but I could just sit in the back and smile and know I helped people.

Wait. That’s no good. The point here is to make friends. To make people notice. To finally have someone notice me.

I hear that women like men with money. How does one go about finding them? Do I even want to meet women? I have more money than most people now, I think. But do I really want someone to love me for my money?

I finish my cigarette and flick the butt away, which tumbles through the night air, spinning in slow motion so I can see it turn around and around and follow its path through the air, over and over until it lands on the blue car sitting at the gas station and in a second I realize what I’ve done as the butt bounces up and hits the old man pumping gas squarely in the chest of his green sweater with white lines that’s pushed up on his arms and I can see the freckles and gray hairs and wrinkles, then he looks at the butt but it’s too late because the flame is there, burning, growing, faster and faster and I back up quickly, just as the flame moves over the man and into the car and the pump and everything in one fell swoop is burning, burning, burning, so, so hot.

I stand and watch the people run, screaming, before the whole thing just blows up. Right there in front of my face.

So much fire. So many flames.

So hot.

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