When my brother Fudge was five, he discovered money in a big way. "Hey, Pete," he said one night as
I was getting out of the shower. "How much would it cost to buy New York?"
"The city or the state?" I asked, as if it were a serious question.
"Which is bigger?"
"The state, but all the good stuff is in the city." People who don’t live in the city might disagree, but I’m a city kind of guy.
"We live in the city, right?" Fudge said. He was sitting on the open toilet seat in his pajamas.
"You’re not doing anything, are you?" I asked as I toweled myself dry.
"What do you mean, Pete?"
"I mean you’re sitting on the toilet, and you haven’t pulled down your pj’s."
He swung his feet and started laughing. "Don’t worry, Pete. Only Tootsie still poops in her pants." Tootsie is our little sister. She’ll be two in February.
Fudge watched as I combed my wet hair. "Are you going someplace?" he asked.
"Yeah, to bed." I got into clean boxers and pulled a T-shirt over my head.
"Then how come you’re getting dressed?"
"I’m not getting dressed. Starting tonight, this is what I wear instead of pajamas. And how come you’re still up?"
"I can’t go to sleep until you tell me, Pete."
"Tell you what?"
"How much it would cost to buy New York City."
"Well, the Dutch paid about twenty-four dollars for it back in the sixteen hundreds."
"Twenty-four dollars?" His eyes opened wide. "That’s all?"
"Yeah, it was a real bargain. But don’t get your hopes up. That’s not what it would cost today, even if it were for sale, which it’s not."
"How do you know, Pete?"
"Believe me, I know!"
"Listen, Fudge . . . by the time you’re twelve there’s a lot of stuff you know, and you don’t even know how you know it."
He repeated my line. "There’s a lot of stuff you know and you don’t even know how you know it!" Then he laughed like crazy. "That’s a tongue twister, Pete."
"No, that’s just the truth, Fudge."
The next day he was at it again. In the elevator he asked Sheila Tubman, "How much money do you have, Sheila?"
"That’s not a polite question, Fudgie," she told him. "Nice people don’t talk about their money, especially in these times." Sheila gave me a look like it was my fault my brother has no manners. I hope she’s not in my class this year. I hope that every year, and every year she’s there, like some kind of itch you can’t get rid of, no matter how hard you scratch.
"I’m nice," Fudge said, "and I like to talk about money. You want to know how much I have?"
"No," Sheila told him. "It’s nobody’s business but yours."
He told her anyway. I knew he would. "I have fourteen dollars and seventy-four cents. I mise my money every night before I go to sleep."
"You mise your money?" Sheila asked. Then she shook her head at me like it’s my fault he thinks mise is a word.
Henry, who runs the elevator in our building, laughed. "Nothing like having a miser in the family."
"You don’t have to be a miser, Fudge," Sheila said. "If you like counting money so much, you can work at a bank when you grow up."
"Yeah," Fudge said. "I can work at a bank and mise my money all day long."
Sheila sighed. "He doesn’t get it," she said to me.
"He’s only Þve," I reminded her.
"Almost six," he reminded me. Then he tugged Sheila’s arm. "Hey, Sheila . . . you know how much the Dude paid for New York City?"
"The Dude?" Sheila asked. "Is this some kind of joke?"
"Not the Dude," I told Fudge. "The Dutch."
"His name was Peter Minuit," Sheila said, like the know-it-all she is. "And he paid the Wappinger
Indian tribe in trinkets, not cash. Besides, the Indians thought they were going to share the land, not sell it."
"Sharing is good," Fudge said. "Except for money. I’ll never share my money. My money is all mine. I love my money!"
"That’s a disgusting thing to say," Sheila told him. "You’re not going to have any friends if you talk that way."
By then the elevator reached the lobby. "Your brother has no values," Sheila said as we walked to the door of our building. Outside, she turned and headed toward Broadway.
"How much do values cost?" Fudge asked me.
"Not everything’s for sale," I told him.
"It should be." Then he skipped down to the corner singing, "Money, money, money . . . I love money, money, money . . ."
That’s when I knew we were in big trouble.
"It’s just a stage," Mom told me later when I pointed out that Fudge is obsessed by money.
"Maybe, but it’s still embarrassing," I said. "You better do something before school starts."
But Mom didn’t take me seriously until that night at dinner when Dad said, "Please pass the salt, Fudge."
"How much will you give me for it?" Fudge asked. The saltshaker was sitting right in front of him.
"Excuse me," Dad said. "I’m asking for a favor, not hiring someone to do a job."
"If you hire me I’ll pass the salt," Fudge said. "How about a dollar?"
"How about nothing?" I said, reaching for the salt and passing it to Dad.
"No fair, Pete!" Fudge shouted. "He asked me, not you."
"Thank you, Peter," Dad said and he and Mom shared a look.
"I told you, didn’t I?" I said to them. "I told you we have a big problem."
"What problem?" Fudge asked.
"You!" I said.
"Foo!" Tootsie said from her baby seat, as she threw a handful of rice across the table.
"What’s the difference between dollars and bucks?" Fudge asked the next morning at breakfast. He was drawing dollar signs all over the Cheerios box with a red marker.
"Bucks is just another word for dollars," Mom told him, moving the cereal box out of his reach.
"Nobody says bucks anymore," I said. "Where’d you hear about bucks?"
"Grandma was reading me a story and the guy called his money bucks," Fudge said. "He had Þve bucks and he thought that was a lot. Is that funny or what?" He shoveled a handful of dry Cheerios into his mouth, then washed them down with a swig of milk. He refuses to mix his cereal and milk in a bowl like everyone else.
"Five dollars is nothing to sneeze at," Dad said, carrying Tootsie into the kitchen. "I remember saving for a model airplane that cost four dollars and ninety-nine cents, and in those days that was a lot." Dad sat Tootsie in her baby seat and doled out some Cheerios for her. "Somebody’s been decorating the cereal box," he said.
"Yeah . . . the miser’s learned to draw dollar signs," I said.
It wasn’t long before the miser started making his own money. "Fudge Bucks," he told us. "I’m going to make a hundred million trillion of them." And just like that, with one box of markers and a pack of colored paper, he was on his way. "Soon I’ll have enough Fudge Bucks to buy the whole world."
"Why don’t you start with something smaller,"
I suggested. "You don’t want to buy the whole world right off because then you won’t have anything to look forward to."
"Good idea, Pete. I’ll start with Toys ‘R’ Us."
"The kid has no values," I told my parents after Fudge went to bed. They looked at me like I was some kind of crazy. "Well, he doesn’t," I said. "He worships money."
"I wouldn’t go that far," Dad said. "It’s not unusual for young children to want things."
"I want things, too," I reminded Dad. "But I don’t go around obsessing about money."
"It’s just a phase," Mom said this time.
We could hear Fudge as he started to sing, "Oh, money, money, money . . . I love money, money,
money . . ."
As soon as he stopped, Uncle Feather, his myna bird, started. "Ooooo, money, money, money . . ."
Turtle, my dog, lifted his head and howled. He thinks he can sing.
Dad called, "Fudge . . . cover Uncle Feather’s cage and get to sleep."
"Uncle Feather’s mising his money," Fudge called back. "He’s not ready to go to sleep."
"How did this happen to us?" Mom asked. "We’ve always worked hard. We spend carefully. And we never talk about money in front of the children."
"Maybe that’s the problem," I told them.