How to Make Money the Old-Fashioned Way
In response to a previous blog entry, “Gemstone” suggested that I get to know Suzette Houlton better. I’ll admit, I was having a hard time understanding her. She is this enormous volcano of a woman, garish and overdone in neon-floral muumuus and peacock-gaudy makeup that has to be applied by a certified grounds crew, and she serves the town’s economic needs in two decidedly different ways. By day, she is the Economic Development Director, which as near as I could tell means that she spends about two hours a day in chain-smoking, vermouth-sucking meetings with anyone she could convince to sit down for that long. By night, she is the town’s mechanical bull, committing mattress-cide with anyone willing to pay her marked-down-from-the-already-discounted-special-Islander Rate. I figured that her day job derives incentive from her after-hours position; the more she can promote the town’s economic underpinnings, the more she can collect by removing her own underpinnings.
Still, the difference between meeting around a conference table and meeting on a conference table seemed like an unusual gulf to cross, so I stopped by her office to have a chat. I guessed that given her fabled appetite, my best plan was to offer to buy her breakfast. If she already had a leftover date-muffin, I was sure she would say so.
Her office was open. (Did it ever close?) I stuck my head through the door of the small office that was the headquarters of the GSI Economic Development Office, and there was Suzette behind the desk. After waiting a respectable amount of time to make sure there was no one under the desk, I walked in and sat down.
Suzette wore a tight-fitting dress that amplified her ample chest and did little to hide the rolls of flesh that shimmered along her torso like rodents under a taut blanket. The dress was a bright, shiny, shocking shade of maroon, like a cross between the color of sunrise and the color of blood. She smiled, her tobacco-stained teeth offering a pleasant contrasting hue to the boldness of her clothing.
“Hi, honey,” she grinned. “Sit down and let’s have a talk.”
I hadn’t indicated that I wanted a talk. For all she knew, I needed directions to the men’s room. But in fact, a talk is exactly what I was after, so I sat on one of the two folding chairs pulled up to the guest side of her desk.
The talk began there, and then it wandered over to The Larboard for breakfast, and then it meandered back to the GSI-EDO, and then it tottered off to The Larboard for lunch. Along about mid-afternoon, the talk began to get seriously tired and at last excused itself so it could go home for a nap.
During that long and winding load, I learned a great deal about Suzette Houlton. And I learned to respect her more than I thought I would.
For one thing, she raised Floyd by herself. Floyd’s father was a fisherman, and/or a tourist, and/or a high-ranking member of the GSI Government. Suzette wasn’t sure. In fact, the only way she could estimate how many men she had slept with was by checking the Grand Seal Island census.
“I look at the total number of males, subtract ten percent for the homosexuals, and knock another fifteen percent off for the unduly righteous,” she said with a grin. “The remainder is pretty close to the truth.”
With apologies to Sherlock Holmes: eliminate the impossible, and whatever left — however improbable —has got to be Suzette’s client list.
So Floyd was born father-less — or maybe overly father-full — and the uptight little townsfolk of Grand Seal Island were atwitter with vicious gossip about the fallen woman among them. They tried to drive her off the island by refusing to serve her at the stores, by insisting that the pumps had just run dry whenever she needed gas, by taking two extra weeks to fix her power lines in the aftermath of the regular storms that sweep in from the ocean. But she held on anyway, raising Floyd as best she could between trips to the welfare office in Eastport and trips to various pillars of the community in the darkness of the night. Floyd, she knew, wasn’t growing up happy. She knew that he was mean to animals. That he was a bully at school. That he was sullen and distant and vindictive. But he was alive and living in Grand Seal Island. That, to her, was pure triumph over the self-important Puritans who tried to run her out.
And then the State of Maine, perhaps in an effort to wrest the island away from New Brunswick, offered a grant for the establishment of an Economic Development Office. Rex announced the news over his radio shows several times a day, and applications for the position of Director were accepted at the Mayor’s office.
Trouble was, no one knew what an Economic Development Director was. Or what that person did all day. Or who that person would have to answer to. When the deadline for applications arrived, only one manila envelope lay in the Mayor’s bin. So Suzette “Community Chest” Houlton vaulted from being the town’s source of sexual stimulus to being the town’s source of economic stimulus. Or straddled, anyway — she never really left her former profession.
“It’s not like citizenship,” Suzette laughed during a mouthful of meatloaf at The Larboard. “You have to give up one passport to get another, but no one says you can’t keep one job while holding down the next. As long as you do both jobs well, that is. And I do both jobs exquisitely well!”
When the interview was finally over, I realized that I had just taken half a day of Suzette’s time. I wondered briefly whether I should pay her something. She does, after all, charge by the hour. But then I decided that talking with a reporter fell under the category of economic development, so I left with just a handshake and a promise to call on her again.
“A handshake and a promise?” she chuckled. “Now where have I seen that before?”
— Donovan Graham, “The Shadowless Writer”
Comment — Gemstone: That’s the idea, Van. Now don’t stop. Keep on looking at the depth behind the surface. You’ll be surprised at what you find —and what you don’t find.
Read previous blog entries in the Island Wars story by clicking here.