The Richest Man In Babylon

“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.”
Matthew 6:34

Fifteen years ago, when I was in college, my dad sent me a little book about personal finances. “I don’t know very much about money,” he told me. “But maybe you can avoid the same mistakes I made and start thinking about this stuff now. Don’t forget, the fortune-making years are from between the ages of 18 and 30.”

Frankly, I think where my dad went wrong was exposing me to science and culture all the time as a kid. I mean, who needs it? Money, on the other hand, was never mentioned, except when there wasn’t any – which, to be fair, was quite often. He tried to rectify all those years of useless schooling and daydreaming though, by sending me that book. But by then it was too late. I was already a confused, pseudo-intellectual stoner, and that’s not something that a boring-looking book about personal finances can just up and turn around at the age of 19. So I didn’t read it. I had plenty of fortune-making years left anyway I figured.

Then, a couple years past my thirtieth birthday, with no savings to my name, I finally got around to reading that book (A nice long subway commute will do wonders for your literacy levels). And it was actually pretty good. It’s written in a biblical style:  “A Portion Of All The Gold You Earn Is Yours To Keep,” is the commandment that stuck with me. And luckily, at about the time I finished it, I finally began making enough money to allow me to follow that commandment and put a little away at the end of the month, while treating myself to a few luxuries too, like coffee in the mornings.

I was buying a cup of coffee this very morning in fact, when the Yemeni guy behind the counter started yelling to another customer, “Nobody got money these days! Show me somebody got money! Only people got money is teachers.” He turned and smiled at me as he handed me my change. I made a half-hearted chuckle, grabbed my precious quarter and left. I was late.

There’s no crosswalk in front of our building so I have to make a pretty dangerous dash across four lanes of traffic and then I have to cross an even more dangerous stream of students as they make their way to the student entrance on the side of the building. I had just made it through all of that, entered the outer gate, and was walking down the path to the main entrance, when I heard a disturbance of shuffling feet behind me. I turned around to see a wide-bodied kid with long hair extending from under a blue Yankees cap lunge at a another boy and punch him hard in eye. It made the same sound that smacking the back of your hand makes. The smaller boy’s head snapped to the side and bounced off the iron gate surrounding the school. At first his eyes were wide open because of the adrenaline. But then the pain hit and he grimaced and pressed his hand against his face and leaned heavily on the gate.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” I thought as I watched Yankee cap just keep on walking like he’d done nothing more than discard a gum wrapper on the street. I looked around for a safety agent but there weren’t any. Then I looked back at the victim. He was sobbing now.

Then a skinny kid in a red hat came out from the stream of kids, leaped in the air and cocked his fist back as far as it could go. When his feet landed, he brought the full weight of his body into a punch to the back of the boy’s head. Then he jogged to catch up with Yankees cap and they walked casually toward the entrance together.

Then another kid – a known asshole – ran right past the victim with long purposeful strides and came to a stop in front of the punchers, blocking their path. He was bouncing up and down on his toes with his fists up as he yelled, “YO! WHY YOU DID THAT!” Before they could answer, he took a jab at Yankees Cap. Yankees Cap jumped back, avoiding contact. “Shit, this is about to get crazy,” I thought. “WHY YOU DID THAT!” The boy yelled again, but another kid pulled him away. I found out later that the victim’s father had approached this bruiser at the beginning of the year and asked him to look out for his son. And that’s what he was doing. Still, when I interviewed him later he made it very clear that he would not serve as a witness in the case. He also made it very clear in the interview that he was not a very nice person, although I already knew that. Still, it was pretty badass how he confronted those bullies. I have to hand it to him.

I didn’t have a radio on me and I was still quite a ways from the entrance, so I wasn’t sure what I should do. Should I run in and alert security or just get the victim to safety and try to find these other kids later? I was pretty sure I would be able to recognize them if I saw them again, and me running up to them on the street with no radio and no staff in sight as they brawled with this other kid was definitely not a good option. So I walked over to the victim to check on him. He looked up at me with red, swollen eyes. I took a sip of my coffee and jerked my head in the direction of the building. The universal symbol for “follow me”. It was 8:30 am. I would need to remember that for my report.

As soon as we got inside, the kid looked at me and said pleadingly, “Martinez.” It’s the name of our Spanish speaking dean. “Do you speak English?” I asked. He shook his head. “Okay, swipe your card here, go through the metal detector and then go up to the dean’s office. Room 2 – 2 – 0. Okay? 2 – 2 – 0!”

I was getting a anxious now because the first period bell was about to ring and I had a class. I didn’t have time to go find the suspects at scanning so I told Dean Martinez that I would look through the picture book while I taught my class and I would call her when made a positive ID.

Walking to my class I saw the Head of Security, Mr Green, in the hall.

“Hey,” he motioned for me to come closer and then he leaned in and whispered, “Theah’s a meeting with the biggest of the big-wigs right next to your room right now. So make shoah ya have yoah kids in doin work in groups and be on your P’s and Q’s.”

You’ve gotta be kidding me. Not today. Not after the way my morning just started.

“Are they really gonna be going into classes?” I asked.

He stood back and shrugged. “Ya never know.”

I went into my class room, put a few teacher words down on my chicken-scratch “lesson plan” to make it more in line with “what they’re looking for” and proceeded to try and get 35 screaming non-English speaking teenagers to clear their desks, quiet down, and take a quiz on Ecology so I could have some time to look at the ID book.

Just then, dean Martinez barged in.”I’ve been waiting for you,” She said impatiently. “I need to find those kids. NOW.”

“Okay, okay. Give me a second.”

There are only 2,800 kids in our school, so trying to identify ONE in the ID book, which contains grainy, poorly lit, one square inch pictures taken freshman year, can be challenging. Luckily, I have a good memory for faces, so it actually didn’t take me too long to find the first one. It also helped having Martinez looking over my shoulder helping me. “Turn the page,” she’d say. “There’s no Hispanics on that page.” Once I found the first one, Martinez knew who the other one was so she left to go find them.

I finished teaching 1st period, petrified the whole time that the big-wigs were going to come hold my eye-lids open and run tests on me, and now it was time for class number two. As it got under way, another dean knocked on my door and told me I had to go back down to the deans office and write my statement. He would watch my class for me. I told the kids not to tear the place apart and back down the stairs I went. I noticed that my heart was racing and it made me wonder if drinking that coffee on an empty stomach had been a mistake.

The victim was still in the office when I got there. He was holding an ice pack to his eye, which had now turned a rotten black, and he was still sobbing. The two punchers were clowning around on the other side of the office, which is separated by a door. I walked to that side to grab a pen when Yankee Cap interrupted his general yelling, to yell at me.

“Yo, mista! That ain’t right! He threatened us with gang threats! What we supposed to do when he threaten’ us with gang affililation?” As he spoke, I glanced at him and saw that his eyebrows had about 30 different lines shaved into them – a typical sign of gang affiliation. Ironic.

I looked away from him and said, “I’m not the investigator on this case. Tell the dean.”

“Oh, that’s cool! My mom’ll do the talkin’ when she get here! When I tell her what happen’ she’ll have plenty to say! Don’ worry bout dat!”

I turned to the secretary who looked back at me intensely and slowly mouthed, “They’re – giving – me – a – headache.” I nodded sympathetically, wrote my statement, and went back to my class.

I managed to get through class without any tests being administered on my body by strangers in suits and now it was time for hall-sweep duties. The administration inexplicably waited over a month after school started to start trying to clear the hallways of marauding bands of hooligans, and now, a week before the State Quality Review, and after essentially training the kids to cut class, they have me on the third floor, alone, with the task of directing every single kid who is in the hall after the bell down to an intake room on the second floor.

The third floor is huge. It has 14 stairway exits. So when the bell rings and the call goes out over the loudspeaker to lock all classroom doors, I suddenly feel like I’m standing on ice and every player in the NHL is taking a slapshot at me simultaneously.

Half way through the period, with the halls finally under control, I ducked back into the deans office to drink some more coffee, finish some paperwork, and call the parents of the ten kids who just told me to go fuck myself. The office was filled with safety agents. They stood in a circle around a 16 year old Mexican kid sitting in a chair. The Head of Security was shouting at him, “We know you’re a King!”

“I ain’t no King,” he scowled.

“Well yoah whole family are Latin Kings. All yoah cousins ahh.”

“Thass my cousins. Not me.”

“You already said yoah dad was King!”

“No I din’t. I nevah said my dad was King. I nevah said that.”

“Then what tha hell was goin’ on out theah?”

“They asked if I was King and I said, ‘No, but I bang wit them,’ so they wanted ta fight. An’ I’ll fight anybody. I don’t care. I’ll fight anybody, but I ain’t fightin’ no twenty people by myself!”

“And what happened aftah that? Because they said you almost had another fight ten minutes later.”

“Yo, he touched me. What I’m sposed to do? Let him touch me? He touched my shirt!”

“So what? People touch me all the time. I’m gonna fight everyone who touches me?”

“My dad told me if someone touches me I HAVE to fight them. I HAVE to fight.”

Then his parents showed up. His dad called him a liar and his mom said that he hits her. It went on like that for a while until it was time for the next hall-sweep.

I was paired with Dean Dave this time. We were making our final rounds when we saw Ahmed, one of the custodians, cleaning a chunky orange substance off the wall.

“What’s that, Ahmed? Vomit?”

He nodded and then held his nose and made an unhappy face.

“What flavor is it?” I laughed, but he didn’t respond.

Dave and I looked at each other. We both knew what they other one was thinking. We would HAPPILY mop up vomit all day instead doing the shit we do.

“Dude owns two apartment buildings,” said Dave. “Told me he makes a hundred thousand dollars a year.”

There goes the richest man in Babylon, my friends.

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