Tricky Businessby Dave Barry
The Extravaganza of the Seas is a five-thousand-ton cash cow, a top-heavy tub whose sole function is to carry gamblers three miles from the Florida coast, take their money, then bring them back so they can find more money. In the middle of a tropical storm one night, these characters are among the passengers it carries: Fay Benton, a single mom and cocktail
The Extravaganza of the Seas is a five-thousand-ton cash cow, a top-heavy tub whose sole function is to carry gamblers three miles from the Florida coast, take their money, then bring them back so they can find more money. In the middle of a tropical storm one night, these characters are among the passengers it carries: Fay Benton, a single mom and cocktail waitress desperate for something to go right for once; Johnny and the Contusions, a ship's band with so little talent they are . . . well, the ship's band; Arnold and Phil, two refugees from the Beaux Arts Senior Center; Lou Tarant, a wide, bald man who has killed nine people, though none recently; and an assortment of uglies whose job it is to facilitate the ship's true business, which is money-laundering or drug-smuggling or . . . something.
The problem with fiction is that it’s really, really hard to make up stuff as stupid as the real-life lunacy Barry routinely exposes in his humor columns. But he gives it a good try. The main targets are crumb-ball floating gambling casinos and local TV news. The Extravaganza of the Seas, a highly profitable commercial venture owned by entrepreneur Bobby Kemp, steams daily into international waters to accommodate the deep-seated need of low-income Americans to get rid of the little money they have as quickly as possible. Skippered by a reformed cocaine junky, the Extravaganza features: a free buffet that nobody touches because it’s always the same "food"; hard-luck waitresses; an evil croupier who reports to the local crime boss rather than the hapless owner; and a never-made-it rock band with orders not to distract the gamblers. And the ship has a second mission. Every now and then it heaves to on the open seas to off-load lots of cash and on-load lots of drugs, a task assigned by crime boss Lou Tarant and deeply resented by Bobby Kemp, who doesn’t make a cent on the sideline. Tarant’s relentless greed sends the ship and its load of nitwits, crooks, musicians, and slot-machine–obsessed Cuban grandmas into the teeth of hurricane Hector for an especially large pharmaceutical transaction complicated by a double-crossing coke shipper, his gang of hard-puking seasick cutthroats, a giant latex conch, a couple of wisecracking escapees from a senior center, and the deep longing of the band’s lead guitar for Fay, the pretty, long-legged, single mum waitress who ismore than she appears to be. Louder than the increasing winds are the hysterical TV weather-ravings of NewsPlex Nine.
Low humor that will appeal to all those guys who keep America moving slightly off-course and to the women who love them.
- Penguin Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 4.25(w) x 6.90(h) x 1.00(d)
- Age Range:
- 18 Years
Read an Excerpt
The captain punched in a number and held the phone to his ear. He looked out over Biscayne Bay, which was choppy, toward the sky over the Atlantic, which was dark.
"What," said a voice in the phone.
"It's me," said the captain.
"Have you looked out the window?" said the captain.
"What about it?"
"It's getting worse," said the captain. "It's a tropical storm now. Tropical Storm Hector. They're forecasting..."
"I don't give a rat's ass what they're forecasting. I don't care if it's Hurricane Shaquille O'Neal, you understand? I told you that last night."
"I know," said the captain, "but I'm just wondering if we could do this another..."
"No. It's set up for tonight. We do it on the night it's set up for, like always."
The captain took a deep breath. "The thing is," he said, "these winds, it's gonna be rough out there. Somebody could fall, a customer could get hurt."
"That's why we got insurance. Plus, weather like this, probably won't be no customers."
"That's where you're wrong," said the captain. "If we go out, we got customers. These people, they're crazy. They don't care about weather, they don't care about anything. They just want to get out there."
"Then we're giving them what they want."
"I don't like it," said the captain. "I mean, it's my ship; I'm responsible."
"Number one, it ain't your boat. Number two, you wanna keep working, you do what I tell you."
The captain gripped the phone, but said nothing.
"Besides," said the voice, "that's a big boat."
And the captain thought: So was the Titanic.
Wally Hartley awoke to the sound of his mother's knock, followed by the sound of his mother's voice through the bedroom door.
"Wally," she said, "it's your mother."
She always told him this, as if somehow, during the night, he might have forgotten.
"Hi Mom," he said, trying not to sound tired and annoyed, both of which he was. He looked at the clock radio. It was 8:15 A.M. Wally had gone to bed at 5 A.M.
The door opened. Wally squinted his eyes against the light, saw his mom in the doorway. She was dressed and had fixed her hair, as if she had somewhere to go, which she never did, unless you counted the supermarket. She'd gotten up, as always, at 5:30.
"Did you want some waffles?" she asked.
"No thanks, Mom," he said, as he had every morning since he had, in shame and desperation, at age 29-29, for God's sake-moved back in with his mother. Wally did not eat breakfast, but he had given up on trying to explain this to his mother. She'd gotten it into her head that she would make waffles for her son. She was not one to give up easily.
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"I'm sure, Mom," he said. "Thanks."
Wally waited for her to tell him that she had made some fresh.
"I made some fresh," she said.
"Mom, thanks, but really, no."
Now it was time for her to tell him that she hated to see them go to waste.
"I hate to see them go to waste," she said.
"I'm sorry, Mom," said Wally, because it would do no good to yell, IF YOU DON'T WANT TO WASTE THE DAMN WAFFLES, THEN DON'T MAKE THE DAMN WAFFLES.
"OK," she said. "I'll save them for later, in case." And she would. She would wrap them in aluminum foil and put them in the refrigerator. Later today, when she was cleaning the kitchen for the fourth time, she would take them out of the refrigerator, throw them away, fold the aluminum foil (she had pieces of aluminum foil dating back to the first Bush administration), and save it in a drawer, for tomorrow's waffles.
"I'm sorry, Mom," said Wally, again.
She sniffed the air in his room. Wally hated that, his mom sniffing his room, his b.o.
"It smells musty in here," she said. Everything always smelled musty to his mother; everything looked dirty. Show her Michelangelo's David, and she'd want to get after it with some Spic and Span.
"It's fine, Mom," he said.
"I'm gonna vacuum in here," she said. She vacuumed his room every day. Some days she vacuumed it twice. She also did his laundry and straightened up his belongings. She folded his underwear. Wally had to keep his pot in his car, or she'd find it.
"Mom, you don't need to clean my room," he said.
"It has a musty smell," she said. "I'm gonna vacuum."
Wally lay back on his bed and closed his eyes, hoping his mom would close the door, let him drift back to sleep. But no, she'd been up for more than two hours, and she'd had two cups of coffee, and there was nobody else for her to talk to, and Regis did not come on for another hour. It was time for the weather report.
"Bob Soper said there's a storm coming," she said. Bob Soper was a Miami TV weatherman, her favorite. She'd seen him at the Publix supermarket on Miami Beach once, at the deli counter, and she'd said hello, and-as she always said when recounting this historic event-he couldn't have been nicer. This was one of the highlights of her life since her husband, Wally's father, had died.
"Tropical Storm Hector," she said. "Bob Soper said it could be fifty-five-mile-an-hour winds. Very rough seas, he said."
"Huh," said Wally, keeping his eyes closed.
"So the boat won't go out, right?" she said. "You won't go out in that?"
"I dunno, Mom," Wally said. "Probably not. I have to call. But not now. I'm gonna sleep some more now, OK? I got in kind of late." He turned his body away from the light, from his mother's silhouette.
"Fifty-five miles an hour," she said. "They won't go out in that."
Wally said nothing.
"I saw him at Publix that time," she said. "Bob Soper."
Wally said nothing.
"He was at the deli, waiting just like everybody else," she said. "He couldn't have been nicer."
Wally said nothing.
"He got the honey-baked ham, a half pound," she said. "Boar's Head."
Wally said nothing. Ten seconds passed; he could feel her standing there.
"I just thought you might want some waffles," she said.
Another ten seconds.
"I'm definitely gonna vacuum in here," she said, and closed the door.
Wally, now totally awake, rolled onto his back, stared at the ceiling, and thought, as he did pretty much every waking minute that he spent in his mother's house, I have got to get out of here. He willed his brain to think about how he was going to get out of there, and his brain, having been through this many times, responded with: despair.
Wally was broke. His only assets, other than his clothes, were his guitar, an Ernie Ball Music Man Axis worth maybe $800 if he sold it, which he never would; and his car, a 1986 Nissan Sentra that ran but was probably not salable, as its body was riddled with some kind of car leprosy. As a professional musician, Wally was currently making $50 a day, playing with the band on the ship, but that was only on days that the ship went out, and that money was usually gone within hours for the necessities of Wally's life: food, gas, a cell phone, and pot.
Wally was more than $5,000 in debt to three credit-card companies; he did not know the exact amount, because he threw the statements away without opening them. Wally had gotten the credit cards a few months earlier when he'd gotten his first-ever real day job, a short-lived attempt to leave the gig-to-gig life of the bar musician. He'd gotten the job through his fiancŽe, Amanda, who had grown tired of paying most of the rent on the apartment they shared. Amanda had also grown tired of the band lifestyle.
"No offense," she'd said one night, "but I don't want to spend the rest of my life sitting at the bar getting hit on by creeps and listening to you play 'Brown Eyed Girl.'"
"I thought you liked 'Brown Eyed Girl,'" Wally said.
"I did," she said, "the first three million times."
"You think we need some new songs?" he said.
"I think you need a new job," she said. Lately this had become the theme of many of their conversations.
"You're almost thirty years old," Amanda said. "How're we supposed to get married on what you make? How're we supposed to raise a family if you're out all night all the time? Do you even want to get married?"
"Of course I want to get married," said Wally, who was not one million percent sure, but also was not stupid enough to express any reservations now. "But the band, I mean, those guys are my best friends. We've been through a lot."
"You've been through a lot of pot, is what you've been through," she said. This had also become a theme. She used to happily partake in the doobie-passing back when they started dating, when she liked the idea that her guy was a musician, an artist. But she didn't smoke weed anymore, didn't even drink beer. When she came to gigs, which she did less and less often, she drank Perrier and looked bored.
"What do you want me to do?" Wally asked her. He really meant it. She was changing, and he wasn't, and he didn't want to lose her, and it scared him that he didn't know what she wanted any more.
"Do you love me?" she asked.
"Yes," he said. "Of course I love you." I do love her. That's the truth. I love her, and I don't want to lose her.
"Then talk to Tom about the job," she said.
"OK," said Wally. "I'll talk to Tom."
Tom was Tom Recker, Amanda's new boss, who was starting a new company and was hiring. He'd hired Amanda away from her job as a secretary in a law firm to be his administrative assistant. As far as Wally could tell, administrative assistant was the same thing as secretary, but with more syllables.
Recker was 26 and had an MBA from Wharton, which he would let you know if you gave him an opening. He lifted weights and Rollerbladed and-although he did not tell people this-believed he looked like Keanu Reeves. His company was called Recker International; he was financing the startup (Amanda confided this to Wally) with $3 million he got from his father.
Wally's job interview consisted mostly of a lengthy explanation by Recker of what a great concept Recker International was. It had to do with investments, but Wally really didn't understand it because every other sentence Recker said had "paradigm" in it. Later on, Wally looked "paradigm" up in the dictionary, but that had not helped.
The actual interview part of the interview had been brief.
"So," Recker said. "Mandy tells me you play the guitar."
"Yeah," said Wally, thinking, Mandy?
"She says you're in a band," said Recker.
"Yeah," said Wally.
"What kind of music do you play?" asked Recker.
"Mostly covers," said Wally, "but we try to..."
Recker interrupted. "I used to fool around with the guitar," he said.
"Huh," said Wally. Sometimes it seemed like everybody he met used to fool around with the guitar.
"Tell you the truth, I wasn't bad," said Recker, making an air-guitar move that told Wally, in an instant, that Recker had been bad. "I wish I'd kept up with it, but I'm trying to run a business here. Not much time for fun, I'm afraid. Somebody's got to be the grownup."
Right, with Daddy's money, thought Wally.
"You have any business experience, Wally?" asked Recker.
"Well," said Wally, "I handle the bookings for the band."
Recker laughed out loud at that-a hearty, Wharton-man laugh.
"That's not exactly the kind of experience I'm looking for," he said, still chuckling at the thought-bookings for the band! "but I'm going to take a chance on you." He leaned forward and pressed his fingertips together, a 26-year-old Rollerblader talking to Wally like he was Wally's dad. "Mandy tells me you're a fast learner and a self-starter. Is that true, Wally? Would you call yourself a self-starter?"
"Yes, Tom, I would," said Wally, who, as Amanda well knew, rarely started anything, including breakfast, before 1 P.M.
"Welcome to the Recker International team," said Recker, reaching across his new desk to give Wally a manly handshake.
"Thanks," said Wally.
"Hey," said Recker, still shaking Wally's hand, gripping it a little too hard, "maybe you can bring your guitar and entertain us at the Christmas party, ha ha."
"Ha ha," said Wally. Asshole.
And so Wally quit his band and joined Recker International, where his job title was assistant systems technician. What this meant was that he unpacked desktop computers and then helped the systems technician try, with sporadic success, to hook these up into a network. As far as Wally could tell, it didn't really matter whether the computers worked or not, because the other members of the Recker International team seemed to have no clear idea what they were doing. There was much wandering from cubicle to cubicle, long meetings about designing the web site, and a lot of talk about stock options. He never saw anybody do anything that seemed like actual work.
Except for Amanda. She was working all the time, many nights late, sometimes really late. He asked her what was going on, and she said a lot of things, and he asked her what kind of things, and she said complicated business financial stuff that she was too tired to talk about. He said he thought Recker was taking advantage of her, and she got mad and said she wanted to be part of this, this was important, this was going to be big, and Wally should be grateful to be part of a company run by somebody like Tommy, because he had vision.
And Wally thought, Tommy?
One night, out of loneliness, Wally went to a bar where his ex-bandmates were playing. Wally was pleased to note that the guitar player they'd replaced him with wasn't particularly good.
During the breaks, his old bandmates sat at his table and gave him a hard time about being a corporate sellout. He gave them a hard time about being stoner bar-band losers. Two breaks and some beers later, he told them what was going on with Amanda. They listened sympathetically-these were Wally's oldest and best friends-then assured him that Amanda's new boss was definitely porking her. Wally understood that they were just busting his balls. But when he left the bar, he drove to the Recker International offices.
He let himself in with his security card and closed the door quietly. It was dark in the lobby and in the main cubicle area. Recker's office door was closed; there was light shining through the bottom crack. Wally could hear talking in there, then silence for a while, then more talking. He decided the talking was a good sign. He thought about leaving, but instead went to a corner cubicle and sat down. He was there almost an hour, not really thinking about anything, suspended in a pure state of waiting.
Finally, Recker's office door opened. Amanda walked out, holding her purse. Recker was behind her. They were both fully dressed. Recker was holding some papers.
They'd been working.
"Thanks for tonight," Recker said. "See you tomorrow."
"OK," said Amanda.
"I'm afraid it's gonna be another long one," Recker said. "We got that stupid brokerage thing to deal with."
"I'll be here," said Amanda, and turned toward the lobby.
She was working late on financial stuff, just like she said, you jealous moron. You faithless jerk. You don't deserve her.
Wally shrunk down in the chair, praying they wouldn't notice him, off in the corner, in the dark. Amanda took a few steps.
"Hey, Mandy," said Recker.
She stopped. Wally's heart stopped.
"Come here," said Recker.
And she turned and went to him, and in a second they were locked together, mouth on mouth, and Wally knew this was not the first time. Recker reached down and pulled Amanda's skirt up over her hips, and she moaned. Wally moaned, too, but they didn't hear him, as they slid to the floor, groping each other frantically. Nor did they see Wally stand up, take a step toward them, then turn and walk out of the office, eyes burning, trying to get his mind around the fact that he had no fiancŽe, and no job, and nowhere to live.
A few hours later, he showed up at his mom's house, the house he grew up in, with all his stuff, which wasn't much, piled randomly into his Sentra. It was still dark, but his mom was up already.
"Mom," he said, "I need to stay here for a while."
His mom looked at him for a moment.
"I'll make you some waffles," she said.
from Tricky Business by Dave Barry, Copyright ©
Meet the Author
Dave Barry is a humor columnist. For 25 years he was a syndicated columnist whose work appeared in more than 500 newspapers in the United States and abroad. In 1988 he won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. Many people are still trying to figure out how this happened.
Dave has also written a total of 25 books, although virtually none of them contain useful information. Two of his books were used as the basis for the CBS TV sitcom "Dave's World," in which Harry Anderson played a much taller version of Dave.
Dave plays lead guitar in a literary rock band called the Rock Bottom Remainders, whose other members include Stephen King, Amy Tan, Ridley Pearson and Mitch Albom. They are not musically skilled, but they are extremely loud. Dave has also made many TV appearances, including one on the David Letterman show where he proved that it is possible to set fire to a pair of men's underpants with a Barbie doll.
In his spare time, Dave is a candidate for president of the United States. If elected, his highest priority will be to seek the death penalty for whoever is responsible for making Americans install low-flow toilets.
Dave lives in Miami, Florida, with his wife, Michelle, a sportswriter. He has a son, Rob, and a daughter, Sophie, neither of whom thinks he's funny.
- Miami, Florida
- Date of Birth:
- July 3, 1947
- Place of Birth:
- Armonk, New York
- B.A. in English, Haverford College, 1969
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >