C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

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The Sum of Me by Robert Chazz Chute

This is the short piece I’ll read at the Canwrite welcome gala. It’s five minutes and I can perform it rather than just read it, so I hope it will go over well. Enjoy.

Stay-at-home dad.



This is not the future I failed to plan. The future I thought would somehow would take care of itself, is not taking care of itself. Squeegee kids aren’t broke like me. They aren’t still paying for a shirt they bought last Christmas. Credit card debt is kicking my ass. Worse, Dad knows.

My father learned his financial skills counting pennies into a mason jar every night. He says in the Depression, he learned how to “live for a month off a greased rag,” He now gambles his ample retirement fund with various Vegas casinos and heart by-pass specialists. Dad owned three men’s clothing stores in dusty Okanogan towns. Early each morning he went off to work freshly shaved and optimistic. Each night he shambled home miserable but resolved that tomorrow would be better. The tomorrow he was thinking about was the long tomorrow, that arthritic future in which he’s a rich widower limping along a Floridian beach.

Retirement is not in my future. I have dreams of being a writer, the same mirage I saw on the distant horizon when I was eight years old. In moments of clarity, I compose eagerly. Then I turn on the TV and a quick break becomes another hour that slides away. I am not a bestselling author whose book is soon to be a major motion picture. I’m not even a grown-up yet. I am smack in the middle of middle age on the brink of last chances and halfway between those early promises and the sum of me.

Dad invites us to Miami. I make excuses why I can’t load the whole family in a jet so he can see his grandsons. Then I let slip that I can’t come because of credit card bills. I say too damn much.

My debt gnawed at my father through the night so he called back at seven the next morning. Why don’t I have call display on the phone by my bed?  “Time you got up, boy! I suppose Cecilia was at work an hour ago!” Dad’s not big on preambles.

I don’t tell him I was up writing until three. That would just be another admission to bring up at Christmas. “Is that book done yet? How much will you be paid? How much, boy? That doesn’t sound like much. Pass the cranberries.”

Merry fuckin-Christmas.

I consider telling him the kids are painting each other with Elmer’s glue again and hanging up quick. Instead, I listen because he’s talking about giving me money. His generous offer is an interest-free loan to kill my debt. I won’t have to pay VISA any more interest at 30%.

I’ll owe him.



If my boys want the latest robot dinosaur—and, of course, they will–will my card be maxed out this time? Will my kids remember me as The Guy Who Always Said No We Can’t Afford That? There is the soul of shame’s pain.

Each New Year’s Eve, Cecilia and I say this will be the year we “get some breathing room.” We’ll save money…somehow. We’ll win the lottery or I’ll sell my novel or…something. What’s likely to change since we aren’t doing anything different? This is a secret we both know but, like a magic curse, we never dare say aloud for fear it will be made true in the speaking.

 “How much do you owe exactly?” Dad’s asking.

“$10,000.” There is a short silence in which my organs are skinned with rusty carrot scrapers. Ten-thousand is actually only half of it, but that’s the most help from him I can bear to take.

“Okay. But promise you’ll cut up your credit cards? You really need to cut those fuckers up.”

The next startled pause is mine. From the bed, I stare up at the ceiling’s brown, spreading stain. How much will new eaves troughs cost? Do roofers even take credit cards?

“Can you stop sucking that poison tit?” Dad says.

“Yes,” I say. I could try to explain what my real life is like. That’s definitely what I should do, but he will never understand why I will never cut up my credit cards. I’ve got to have that safety net for emergencies, even if it hangs me

“Um, Dad?”



I hang up the phone. My wife won’t be back for awhile. The kids are watching SpongeBob. I could steal a nap. Instead, I sit down. I dream big.

I write.

Copyright © Robert Chute, 2010. All rights reserved.


Filed under: My fiction, , ,

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