The Humor and Life, in Particular Web site
author:  Margie Culbertson

February/March 2006 Humor Contest Winner
Best Very Short Humor!

My Son, the Bookkeeper


Vincent G. Johnson

Born with a shovel in his hand . . .

My father worried about the direction my life wouldtake. He kept asking me if I knew where I was going.After seeing my report cards he realized that I wasnot going into Law or Medicine. "Where are you going,son?" he asked me. "What will you do?"

An old trick used by fathers in his generation was tohand a boy a tool such as a paintbrush or a shovel andsee what he'd do with it. When I was eight Dad handedme a hammer. "Carpentry is a fine profession," he toldme.

Unknown to Dad my Uncle Ernie, who made his fortune ingold mining, had told me that gold could be foundinside rocks. I leaped into action. It took me all dayto take that hammer and break up every rock in theback yard. I was starting in on the foundation of thehouse when Dad, although commending my zeal, took backthe hammer. "Not carpentry," he said.

Next he thought maybe my future lay in professionalsports. He handed me a baseball and took me out backto size up my pitching arm. "Blaze it in there, son,"he told me. We spent a couple days on that before oneof my pitches bounced up and hit him on the nose. Myarm had given out by then anyway.

What Dad didn't understand was I didn't want to make adecision that would stick me in some rut for life. Iwanted to be something interesting, like a lionhunter. Perhaps I would find myself in Africa. At thisnews, Dad bought me a Red Ryder lever action BB gunthat cost $2.50.

Here was something I could really get into. I quicklybecame a dead shot. I could ride my bike no hands andping those BBs off stop signs like nobody's business.I even got into a BB gun war with the rich Winshipbrothers who lived in the ritzy Crescent Park sectionon the other side of San Francisquito Creek. TheWinships carried those expensive Benjamin pumps($3.75). Didn't matter to me; I went into guerrillawarfare and they didn't know where the next shot wascoming from. I got them to settle for a Mexicanstandoff.

"You've got to find yourself, son," Dad told me. Hehanded me a shovel and waited to see what I would dowith that. I promptly set out to undermine the house.Encouraged by this demonstration of talent for civilengineering, he hustled down to the library and got mesome books on tunnel digging.

Son," he prophesied, rubbing his hands, "one of thesedays they're going to dig a tunnel under the EnglishChannel, and you could be just the little digger to doit."

This dream failed when he assigned me the task ofsolving the tunnel digger's eternal problem—what todo with all the dirt you dig out. Like so many youngtunnelers before me, and since, I couldn't find aconvenient place to put the dirt. A moment's thoughtpresented the usual solution. I would dig anotherhole. This is the kind of thing that drives tunneldiggers mad.

My future, Dad said, did not lie in engineering.

Next Dad noted my fascination with games involvingnumbers — games like pool which is played withnumbered balls, and poker, which is played withnumbered cards — Dad seized upon the hope that myfuture lay in the pure science of numbers. Numerologywas very hot in those days. Dad said you could figureout anything with numbers, even the future.

He rushed in the house to tell Mom that he had finallyfigured out which way my twig was bent. "That kid's aborn bookkeeper," he told her.

Over the next weeks he taught me a lot about keepingbooks, how those columns of figures added up interrible, irrefutable logic to The Bottom Line,showing profit or loss. He even told me stories aboutthe high drama of keeping books. It seems there was anembezzler who got caught with his books $310,000short. "Where are your substantiating documents?" thepolice asked him. He had lost all the money on fastwomen and slow horses and couldn't come up with anysubstantiating documents. The police love to ask forsubstantiating documents. They nail everybody withthat one.

The problem was I never could see the use of Dad'sinstruction. What I wanted to know was, where he gotall those figures he was teaching me to add up.

"Oh, that's another story," he told me. "Now you'retalking about paper trails, which is accounting. Youdon't want to know all that."

I knew one thing — I didn't want anything to do with aprofession that required substantiating documentsevery time you turned around. If Dad had seen thoselove notes I stuffed in Jean West's inkwell he wouldhave known for sure I was no bookkeeper and that mytalent lay in writing flaming prose.

Many years later, raising a family, I finally saw thereason for bookkeeping. It is used to find out wherethe money went.

Today, being an old hand at keeping track of mychecking account — by guess and by gosh — I knowvery well how embezzlers get started. First they getimpatient with documenting everything. They devise ascheme to eliminate those troublesome documents, sothey can engage in what they call dynamic executiveaction.

But eventually there comes a day of reckoning when allthat dynamic executive action comes under theauditor's eye. Auditors have no sympathy for dynamicexecutives. The first thing auditors always do isstart rummaging around looking for those blastedsubstantiating documents. It is just maddening!

I've seen it happen on a small scale. Years ago when Iwas managing an industrial cafeteria, the districtmanager dropped into my office and wanted to look overthe books. I was horrified to find that my petty cashwas ten dollars short. I told the district manager Ididn't know where it went.

"Oh," he said, "that's all right. Just put in a chitfor ten bucks."

I said, "But what do I use for a substantiatingdocument?"

"Huh?" he said. "Oh hell, just make out a chit sayingyou bought a sack of potatoes."

That's one example of bookkeeping.

When my first wife overdrew our checking account. Ileaped into action to demonstrate my profoundknowledge of bookkeeping.

"Listen, Bubblehead," I snapped, "according to myinfallible system of checks and balances we had plentyof money in the bank. What happened to it?"

"Household expenses," she replied airily.

I gave her my best Perry Mason smile and thundered outthe killer question:  "Where are your substantiatingdocuments?" When Perry hits ‘em with that questiontheir tissue of lies always falls apart. I sat backand waited for her to collapse and admit everything.

"I don't need any documents, Mr. Accountant," shereplied, "so you can just take that infallible systemof yours and stick it up your nose."

This sweet reason led me away from a life devoted tonumbers and into the slothful life of writing, where Idon't always have to be rummaging around looking for abunch of substantiating documents. Hah! If I need anyI just make ‘em up.

It was the last game of the season. Even though the sport was Pee–wee football, the fans wore expressions on their faces usually reserved for the tense moments of professional sporting events. The team on offense was down by one point and waiting to set up for a game–winning field goal. With just two seconds left on the clock, everyone knew that the next play would be the last of the game.

Before the kicker ran out on the field, he noticed his father on the sidelines, waving for his attention.

"Son, come here!" the man screamed.

The boy hurried over to his father who stood between two rough looking men the boy didn't recognize. "Dad, who are these guys?" the boy asked.

"Oh, these are your daddy's friends Nicky and Icepick," said his father. "But that's not important." The man knelt down so he was looking directly into the boy's eyes. "Son, I need you to listen to me very carefully. This has been a great game and You've done such a good job. In fact, I didn't think your team was going to cover the point spread…I mean, I didn't think they were going to win."

"Really?" asked the boy.

"Really," said his father. "In fact, I was so sure that they were going to lose that I told these guys here that I'd bet them five–hundred thousand dollars."

The boy was shocked. "But Dad, we don't have that much money."

The man laughed nervously. "I know that son. That is why I'm going to need you to hook this kick wide."

"But Dad we'll lose the game and everyone will hate me!" cried the boy."Hey, if you make the kick, these guys are going to kill me and your mother," said his father. "If we die, you're dead too.""What's that supposed to mean?" asked the boy.

"It means you'd be a ten year–old orphan," said his father. "And trust me, that's considered a dinosaur. Nobody wants to adopt a kid that old."

Before the boy could reply, his coach ran over to him. "Come on son, get in the game, the play clock's going to run out."

The boy put on his helmet and rushed onto the field. As he stood in formation awaiting the snap, he glanced over at his father. The old man was making a throat slashing gesture with his finger. Finally, the boy glanced back in time to see the snap. He rushed at the ball and gave it a swift boot. The ball sailed high and finally hooked to the left, missing the post by around ten yards.

As the other team celebrated, the boy walked off the field alone. Nobody wanted to talk to him, but deep inside he knew that his father couldn't be blamed. After all, some of his teammates had dads that would never show up to their games. The boy was finally realizing that his father cared about his life. In fact, the old man cared so much he was willing to bet money on the results. On the way home, the boy and his father laughed about what happened and even worked together on a good lie to explain to mommy why daddy had crap in his underwear.

Moral:  If your dad is involved with your life, who are you to tell him that he can't place a few bets here and there? Even if it's at your expense, I don't recall you complaining when he put food on the table.

©2006, Vincent G. Johnson

I'm a retired chef. I worked country clubs and hotelsaround Palo Alto and Los Angeles for 30 years and alsoworked several years as a camp cook in the wilds ofAlaska outside of Fairbanks and Nome. After quittingthat dodge I edited and wrote for "The TerritorialDispatch," a weekly published in Placer Co., Calif.,circ. 15,000.

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