Pluto Walks the Earth, Chapter 5
Hello, Pulpiteers. Following is the fifth chapter of Pluto Walks the Earth, the picaresque social satire I’m serializing here over the next 60-some weeks. In these early chapters, we meet a number of eccentric inhabitants of Pluto World, as we slowly absorb the milieu for the mysterious death that ultimately gets our hero accused of murder. Along the way, we get glimpses of American culture as it manifests in crime, celebrity, politics, entertainment media, journalism and DIY spirituality.
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Do you know anything about estate planning? I’ve learned a lot about that over the past few years. Turns out, there are two basic ways for rich old people to pass along wealth to their heirs, successors and assignees. One is an irrevocable living trust, which means more or less what it sounds like. The owner of the assets — let’s say, my dad — designates a beneficiary (me), and upon his death the provisions of the trust kick in. Another option is a revocable trust, which also lays out the distribution of the deceased’s assets, but can be changed at any time before he croaks. You won’t be surprised that there are far more tax advantages in the here-and-now for the rich guy with an irrevocable trust. So you also won’t be surprised that Jeremiah McDowell Sr., Zen master of finance, built his estate irrevocably. So you wonder, how did he disinherit me?
Well, there’s a loophole. Even an irrevocable trust can be voided with the permission of the beneficiary, which would be me. The reason the Delaware Valley went all gaga that bizarre May, is that I happily and instantly agreed to renounce my inheritance. Money corrupts, and McDowell money corrupts absolutely. (Not my line. It was in one of the articles.) But here’s the twist. You know how my father pulled all sorts of strings to get me into Haverford College? Well, 13 years earlier, he had done the same thing to get me into The Society of Friends kindergarten at the age of 4. He assumed I was another McDowell prodigy and would cruise through school all the way to Columbia and become a tycoon and then, I suppose, president of the United States. Point is, when I graduated from the Haverford School, I was only 17 and therefore too young for my signature to be legally binding. Couldn’t do the paperwork until my birthday on June 26. Now my trustee could have done that for me, and by my trustee I mean Dad’s lawyer, R. Jamison Biddle of Biddle, Biddle & Stevens. Possibly you recognize that name. Uncle Jamie is the one who, under the influence of probably four Manhattans, leaned out of his super box at Citizens Bank Park to catch a $2 T-shirt from the Phillie Phanatic T-shirt gun and plummeted to his death in the lower deck. This was one week before I left town. Nobody could sign for me. So even though I was sleeping on Gus’s sofa above a smoke shop for $300 a month, technically I was still super rich. That figures into my story.
So does Gus.
Speaking of … lemme ask you another question. Let’s say you run into a woman friend you haven’t seen in a while, and she’s got some crazy ugly haircut. You want to ignore it, but there it is, screaming at you. “SHITTY HAIRCUT!” It’s not just an elephant in the room, it’s a pachyderm (vocab, ahem) stampede. It takes over your brain. You can’t take your eyes off of it. Do you just keep your big trap shut? You should, but you don’t. You say, “Hey, I love the new do.” Human nature, right? She feels good. You feel generous. The subject has been addressed. No harm, no foul.
OK, another example. Instead of a woman friend, say you’re meeting a stranger for the first time. And say the guy — this time it’s a guy — has a tattoo of a throbbing p**** all over his forehead. I mean, eye level, five feet in front of you, a three-color p**** tat. Show me the person who just lets that go by. This guy’s obviously proud of the thing. It’s in the middle of his forehead. You can’t ignore it. You don’t figure someone goes all vagina-face for private satisfaction. It’s a statement, right? Saying nothing would almost be an insult.
OK, that’s not a hypothetical. That’s what happens to me when I go to Chakra ’n’ Awe to meet Master Gus. The owner, my new friend Mary Lou, had said he’d be a perfect spirit guide for my MacGyver Energetics Journey. But for some reason he gets all triggered when I thumbs-up his tattoo, which I didn’t realize was not a beaver shot but some sort of cocoon. So he right away jams on a baseball cap and pulls the visor over his face and says, “Why don’t you just suck my d***?”
Yeah, Gus. Nice to meet you, too. Pretty awkward. So I’m all, “No, really. Super cool,” which he doesn’t seem to be buying for some reason, so I change the subject and tell him I’m friends with Mary Lou and Candy, and how I’d already assisted in a psychic surgery, and we talk a little bit about what I came to Santa Fe for, and Earth energy entering the body through the soles of the feet, etc. etc. I remember him staring at my feet for quite a while for some reason. Anyway, we actually talk for like a half an hour, until the store opens, and I find out about his financial troubles since he got laid off from his MRI tech job at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center. He was having trouble making his alimony and next thing you know, because he needs cash and I have some, not only are we Master and disciple, we’re roommates.
We actually bond pretty well, considering how we’d gotten off on such the wrong foot. (Such on the wrong foot? The wrong such foot?) And by the way, one of the things I notice about Gus right away is that he does this weight shifting thing. Back in the day, at Biltmore Boys Camp in the Poconos, my counselor Uncle Skip used to do it, too. Spreading his legs apart and constantly rocking back-to-forward, forward-to-back, from his heels to the balls of his feet usually with his hands behind his back. It projects authority, I guess. So Gus does it, too. And it makes me feel kind of warmly toward him, partly because Uncle Skip was a great counselor, especially in woodworking, and partly because it makes me feel I have his attention. You know what I mean? And he shares a lot of stuff, considering he cursed at me in the first minute. It turns out that we have some things in common, including, unfortunately, that five years after my brother Jeremiah died, Gus lost a child, his little girl Dayna, to leukemia. She was a (fraternal) twin and the other one, Alexandra, is fine. But the stress destroyed his marriage. He takes the blame. He withdrew and got super depressed and couldn’t function and drank and was not there for Lexie or his wife. And it hurt him in his new career, too. It was all he could do to drag himself out of bed and go to St. Vincent’s and image patients, all of whom he grew to hate because they were all freaked out about whatever and they were mostly perfectly healthy. Plus, like, 100% of the time they asked him in various ways to sneak them the results of the tests, even though he explained from the beginning that he was just the tech and the radiologist is the only one who can interpret the films. And then they all said exactly the same sentence: “But do I need to be worried?” Every day, 10 times a day, for 13 years. “But do I need to be worried?” Then, one day, around 2010 I think, he hit his limit. Some young guy says to him, “But do I need to be worried?” and Master Gus says, “No. You’re alive. My daughter is dead.” I told you he was laid off, but I guess it was really more of a firing situation. To add insult to injury, the young guy he mouthed off to had an aggressive tumor on his pancreas that killed him in three weeks.
This was right after his divorce. Santa Fe being small as it is, there aren’t a whole lot of imaging centers to find work at, and his name was pretty run down in MRI circles anyway. So he latched on at Mary Lou’s. And it’s kind of a perfect match, because he’d already begun putting two and two together about magnetic resonance imaging and the natural resonance of the high-desert geology and realizing that his hospital work was just harnessing the energy resources of Mother Earth. Pretty soon he founded the Shamanic Energy Co-op, and turned his work, spiritual path and body-art passion in a holistic healing direction.
Another thing we have in common is Honey Nut Cheerios. He ate almost a whole box every day and it’s also my favorite cereal. Another thing we have in common is Shawshank.
That said, there’s still a weird, I dunno, strange kind of distance there? Master Gus is always sending out a vibe that he really doesn’t trust me. An example: He wears a lot of silver and turquoise jewelry, which he takes off at home but never ever leaves out. I found out he actually has a safe in his room and locks it in there every night. Another thing: His daughter, Alexandra, comes over for dinner on Sundays. But every time she’s due, he says to me: “OK, Pluto. Clear out.” I can’t come back ’til 11. That’s how I wind up spending so much time at Burrito Rapido (bottomless quesadillas, free Wi-Fi) and where I met Manuel and, you know, the whole nine yards.
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