Monday, March 7, 2011

A Blessing in Disguise (Fiction)

(I wrote this piece about a year and a half ago [September 2009], but I lost it for the longest time. A few weeks ago, as I was rummaging through a file cabinet, I finally found one of my earlier [and better] creative writing assignments for an English class at the time. The following is a 95% reproduction of that original piece, with some slight editorial marks I've since made to elucidate my storyline. Enjoy.)

During the evening twilight, I stepped into a local restaurant and onto the crowded, smelly, wooden patio overlooking the Cooper River. Scores of people, adorned in decorative, floral attire were gathered around tiny tables, enjoying that day's catch. As I walked around, trying to find a vacant seat, I noticed an old, wealthy man sitting by himself, sifting through the skeletal remains of a hollow lobster. I asked the man if I could sit opposite from him at the table; he obliged, and I took a seat, not knowing what to expect from this strange man.

He appeared no more retired than anyone else on the deck that day. He left the top two buttons on his elegant, white shirt unbuttoned. His skin was remarkably smooth for his age, to the point where the sun's rays illuminated no creases on his face. The Van Dyke beard he had grown was meticuously styled and groomed, as if he were trying to look professional while eating at a casual restaurant. The brand of his sunglasses, EckĊ, reverberated this man's fine taste in contemporary designer labels. I also noticed something that I missed at first glance: a gold Rolex watch. Like a jealous neighbor, I grew envious of this man's overwhelming wealth. Finally, I got up the courage to ask him, "Where'd you get that overpriced watch?"

"Oh, this old thing?" he said in a nonchalant tone. "I got this as a retirement present from all my colleagues about five years ago." He took his time choosing his words, as if not to rub me the wrong way. "I was a record producer for Atlantic Records. I helped get a little-known band by the name of Hootie & the Blowfish into the national spotlight. I dabbled a little bit with Bette Midler and Foreigner, but helping Hootie win a Grammy for Best New Artist in '96 was my magnum opus."

Meanwhile, I noticed that he occasionally looked down when he was talking. He seemed rather embarrassed to talk about his success, which he tried to keep underneath his perfectly woven straw hat. His voice was soft-spoken and his demeanor calm, which was hard to decipher on such a noisy, polluted place. When he did look up at me, the moderate tint of his hazel-brown shades masked his eyes, like he pretended to be blind to my question. I felt he was trying to hide something from me, so I delved a little deeper.

"So, what are you doing here in Charleston," I asked. "Why aren't you in some affluent, sleepless town like New York City or Los Angeles?"

"Young man, there comes a time in life where you can choose to work yourself to death, grasping for materialistic gains like a kid in a candy store, or you can accept the fact that there is more to life than success in the work force. What you see is not a man who wants to flaunt his wealth, but a man who wants to enjoy the niceties in life. Believe me, I don't go around town hoping that someone will appreciate me for how I look. That's not my style. Besides, you're one of the first to notice the brand of my watch."

"So, what you're wearing doesn't make you think twice about your riches?"

"No, why should it?"

That brief, yet profoundly deep, question he posed left the two of us in awkward silence. As we sat, almost in disbelief, hypnotic tiki music continued to fill the air, while waiters breezed past tables and customers with graceful agility. The old man devoured the last few morsels of coleslaw, as if he was finishing up his last meal. I picked up a nearby menu, gazing at the vast array of seafood selections the restaurant had to offer. After sitting there for a minute, the man finally spoke up.

"Listen, I don't mean to chastise you for your beliefs on social acceptance. The truth is, I could care less about what I wear to some local restaurant off the coast. There's more to life than being accepted based on appearances. Just let your work do the talking, and you'll go far. Remember that, kid."

He shook my hand, left forty bucks on the table, and I never saw him again. I was perplexed to see such a successful man live in a humble manner. It was almost refreshing to think that anyone could live in leisure and not be motivated by constant greed. He seemed too good to be true. Then I realized the money he left on the table was real.

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