There was just enough caffeine in Frankie’s iced mocha to keep her alert enough to teach her last class of the Spring semester at Columbia University – Calculus II. Comprised of mostly high achieving eighteen year old’s who completed AP Calculus in high school, the class was full at fifty today as everyone seemed to show up to review for the final. Not considered the most inspiring of teaching assistants, the material seemed so basic and simplistic that she had little empathy for the kids who she knew had been granted large financial aid packages and were struggling – a racket just like any other, her father warned her, just at the federal level, even Murder, Incorporated doesn’t get this much juice…
“That’s five thousand dollars you just wasted on an incomplete! Do you know how long you have to work and save to pay off seven thousand dollars after years of compound student loan interest, less taxes? Maybe you’re not cut out for pre-med,” she would yell at a student matter-of-factly, her nickname, “Atila the Hun” having preceded her. She thought she was telling it to them straight, she thought she was doing them a favor, teaching them something valuable – inside knowledge. The loan system was “gaffed up” to fuck them. I’m going to teach you all the gaffs in the world so you can avoid them – the secret knowledge – her father told her – the world, the system ain’t set up to do you no favors, remember that, you make your own magic…at least if you know how something is gaffed up, you gotta chance to beat it…
No one took numbers or money more seriously than Francesca ”Frankie” Giovanna Jones aka The Pool Hustler’s Daughter. Not only had she experienced first-hand the blood, sweat and tears that it took to acquire money, but she also knew the agony of student loan debt. This was technically her ninth year at Columbia University, she was taking her orals in ten days to defend her PHD dissertation on the Mobius Strip, and she was almost two hundred thousand dollars in student loan debt. A promising career as an attractive yet curmudgeonly Ivy League Math Professor would do very little to eliminate those debts. This debt pounded loudly under the floorboards of her dark, Poe tortured mind. How would she ever pay it off?
She had already tried her hand at high finance through a summer internship at a Wall Street clearing house. She liked the pace of the number crunching and the dividends her skill set could provide for her in expensive New York City, however, the cat calls and endless inappropriate touching from male “colleagues” that came to a head – literally – under the table at a reserved celebratory dinner for an eighty year old partner named “Chip” at the Union League was the last straw. Frankie promptly ended her career the next day after spiking her sexual assailant/mentor’s coffee with ex-lax and locking the door to the men’s bathroom, an old pool room stunt her father had once told her about. Yes, she was vengeful, she was half-Sicilian after all and she felt her blood boil on occasions like this one. This “mentor” was lucky he had gotten off so easily, as it would only take one phone call to her father’s childhood friend The General to have him wiped off the face of the earth. In fact, she couldn’t even talk about this incident in front of him, The General was so proactive in protecting her, just like she was his own daughter, that she never wanted to get his blood boiling unless it was an absolute emergency. Yes, it was much safer to handle situations like this one all by herself. Didn’t growing up a Pool Hustler’s Daughter arm her with the ammunition to do so?
The only way Frankie had seen six figures cash come to fruition was from gambling – on the ponies, on the pool table, over cards. She didn’t even like to gamble. Even though she was naturally talented at it as a near-math genius, it was excruciating for her. This didn’t stop her father, however, to take her on a tour of the casinos in Las Vegas, under the guise of a special trip for her eighteenth birthday, to capitalize on her ability to count cards. Little did her students know that her image was on every computer security database at Casinos across the country after her and her father’s little “tour” ended. They were lucky enough to have had The General negotiate a deal to give the cash back as long as she didn’t gamble in a casino again, which she was more than happy to agree to. Yes, you only want to bring The General in when you really need him.
That was the last time Frankie had spent any significant time with her father and instead buried her head in books and rarely left campus in that little enclave of upper north west Manhattan, except to borrow clothes from her glamorous and well-taken-care -by-a-sugar daddy-former model-mother. Every three months or so she would have thrilling, flirtatious, sexually inspiring yet chaste and confusing lunches with her “square” ex-boyfriend from undergrad who always wanted to “check in” on her when he came to town. Even though he’d moved on from her and her desperate and dangerous subterranean society - she thought she still made him happy – she hoped she still made him happy. No one ever smiled at her with their eyes before him. No one ever made her blood boil – that way – but him.
Frankie had been walking around like a zombie most days from lack of sleep prepping for her orals. She had a slump around three in the afternoon and required something sweet. Summer came early to New York City and the temperature hit the mid-eighties in the last weeks of May, so she armed herself with an iced mocha. In the winter months, she would order peppermint mocha – hot. Her father, a pool hustler, was a nocturnal athlete and had to stay up for days gambling. When he was younger, in the seventies, he took amphetamines, or would drink ten cups of Greek coffee shop coffee and then power nap. In fact, she had never known her father to be able to sleep longer than three hours at a time.
Frankie tried to nap, and she did once in a while. Her Aunts called her father narcoleptic as he could fall asleep at the drop of a hat. Bombs could be exploding, sirens wailing, horns honking, phones ringing and he would not be woken. Frankie could be at a nightclub and the same thing. Boom, Boom, Boom the music blasted out of speakers and at the snap of fingers, she would be in a near coma, drooling on a cocktail table, her face covered in her mass of thick, honey hair.
Frankie was only twenty-six years old and therefore, not much older than her students in the class. She tried to appear mature and dressed accordingly, masking her curves, dirty blonde hair and David Bowie eyes by no cleavage, her hair in a bun and thick glasses. She needed them to know she was the leader, the Alpha, the leader of the Pride…She had to finish and complete tasks. It might have been her OCD pushing her to do so, but it was her father who had beaten this into her head on many an occasion. She never discussed her goals with anyone. She only talked about something she had achieved after she completed it. When asked by friends and colleagues what she was up to, she always answered, “You know, being productive.” She would never say “busy.” Busy was for losers, her father taught her, you’re productive.
Hustlers received no points for trying or for level of effort. The pool room was a results based economy. You had to win at something (a game of some sort) or pick a winner to get paid. That’s it – cut and dry math. This paradigm replicated itself in Frankie when it came to her academic career. No breaks to travel, just more classes after her father’s card counting fiasco. School was expensive and her responsibilities cost her money. Everything cost money from rent to her iced mochas – everything had a monetary value. Her time was valuable.
At age ten her father asked her to explain the value of a fifty dollar jean jacket that she wanted, tell me the value, he asked. If Frankie could prove her sincere, deep desire for said jacket, he would buy it right then, right there, on the spot. If she could not convince him of her passion for that jacket, she would leave the store empty handed. Remember, Frankie, even though I’m your father, I’m technically you’re backer. You need to be 100% invested or I’m not backing you. Okay, you’re my daughter, and not a pool player, so I’ll lower that standard to 90 percent…when you want something baby girl, be committed, he would press her, be relentless…
A Pool Hustler's Daughter grows up in subterranean America. She dreams big, hustles daily and loves her Daddy. With empathy, fascination and grace she navigates and inhabits every tier of society; sees beauty and hope and magic in all things; respects and lives by the "mitzvah."
A Pool Hustler's Daughter calculates the trifecta payout at the racetrack, hides money on three parts of her body, has an arsenal of "Uncles," and keeps a baseball bat by the front door. She values friendship, loyalty and experiences over "things." Like her father, she seeks to learn "The secrets of the universe" and believes "Life ain't on the square." She applauds the self-made and those who learn to "overcome" their circumstances. Her door is always open for a sofa to sleep on, a hot meal, or an eager listener for a life story.
Sunday, August 2, 2015
"Tell me, the dream , again..." "Well, it's night, and New York is particularly quiet. It's not necessarily late at...