UNITED STATES—Lead by curiosity. . . Really Sam’s story began when he had that $8000 burning a hole in his pocket, as they say. Due to his deep conviction that he was fated to make a name for himself, while wandering around the French quarter, he saw a dimly-lit alcove behind a muslin curtain billowing in the hot wet breeze. Fortunes Told, it said, and he lost a few of those shekels to her, and she looked at his hand and said, “Look at this lifeline. You’re going to have a long life. And you are going to live in a home with 18 Tuscan pillars. You will have everything you ever dreamed,” said the fortune teller, who added, “But you will have to work for it.”
It set off something in Sam. He felt defrauded, he who had come so far, from the Sholom Alechaim Russian-village world of mom and dad. Sam wanted his money back and he grabbed the fortune teller by her crystal balls, and he asked for a refund. “Anybody could have told me to work hard,” Sam said.
“But not everybody could have foretold the house with the 18 Tuscan columns,” she countered.
The fortune teller, who had babies crying in the back room, emptied out her bowl of coins and dollars onto the floor.
“Take it. Go ahead, it’s all I have to feed my family with,” she said.
Before she had finished, Sam the Banana Man, who was not yet a man, was on his hands and knees scooping up the harvest of gold and silver coins.
“But make me a promise,” the fortune-teller said to Sam. “When you come back to the old neighborhood and see Sadie, I want you to remember me.”
Sam was in too much of a hurry to grab the loot to hear her. He rose to his feet and scrambled off into the warm caress of the hot humid night.
A year passed—the years can be very spacious when you are 17 years old—and the $8000 was in its way to growing another zero. Sam had by now recruited another dozen or so boys to push his banana carts, and he rented a warehouse near Lafourche-Tulane Parish to store the overripe bananas that were Ham’s bread and butter. Sam knew now that most people are grateful to be told what to do. So in a way, Sam Delaney had evolved already from ‘Sam the Banana Man’ to Sam, the guy who tells other people what to do.
There was yet another discovery to be made for the young businessman. Not to be sentimental, but Sam did what any young man of his stature would do, after having a tailor make a fine chalk-stripe suit crowned by a smart bowler: he bought a brand-new house for Mama in Faubourg Marigny.
1900 was a new year and a new century. Sam Delaney, was in his last year of being a teen, and he was ready to make a bold move. During his time of pushing carts up and down the Crescent City, Ham became friendly with people from all walks of life. And he got to know people from Central America. One was even helping out in the banana warehouse, where all the cart-guys met before the crack of dawn. And he knew a dockyard laborer who liked to talk about business, politics and women. Ham was impressed with him because he had actually been a cabinet minister in his country, before the latest political upheaval.
“Miguel, why do your countries have so many problems. We’re too small to be independent and are swayed too easily by our bigger older siblings.”
Sam didn’t read too much, he listened, and the word siblings struck him as positively hilarious. He was back in old Russia for a few minutes. And it had been freezing cold, you could step outside for a few moments and be shocked into a statue, zapped by the cruel elements into immobility.
To be continued…
Graydon Miller is the Wizard of Fiction.