Suburbia

By: Gregory McGrath-Goudie

This is the story of how Alexander Lawson won the lottery, and of what he did with those winnings.

It had been an otherwise usual morning. Alexander had promptly snapped awake at 6 AM and hopped into the shower to clean up for work. Outside of his crumbling bachelor apartment, the sun shone down upon the warbling pigeons and commuters beginning their daily grind. Alexander would soon join them.

The rest of his morning went something like this:

Alexander shaved his face and combed his wavy, brown hair into a poor semblance of the young, urban professional.

He put on his young, urban professional costume: a slightly wrinkled dress shirt, a tie, some generic black pants.

He shuffled groggily into the kitchen and brewed a cup of instant coffee, but not before he almost tripped on a mildewy linoleum kitchen tile that had been curling back for months.

He grabbed some preliminary notes and questions for an article he was working on, which was due later that day, and shoved them inside of his briefcase. Alexander was a journalist.

He was a reporter for The Daily Thing, a prominent newspaper in his prominent metropolitan city.

The Daily Thing’s headquarters were located downtown, about a 40 minute commute from Alexander’s shitty apartment. This is why he had to go outside and get into his car, which he did.

On the way to his car, which was parked behind his apartment complex, he passed a homeless person. Other people passed the homeless person too. They walked in a large U around the homeless person, so that they could pretend they didn’t hear him when he asked for change. Alexander walked up to the homeless person.

“Morning, John. Looks like a nice one,” began Alexander.

“Nice for you, maybe,” replied John, with a smirk.

“Why don’t you put some coffee in that cup of yours? Here’s a couple bucks.”

“Thanks, Alex.”

“Have a good one, John.”

“You as well.”

John was a middle-aged man who panhandled outside of Alexander’s apartment. He wore a tattered leather jacket and a grey toque. He was once a successful carpenter, but then he hurt his back when he fell from a scaffold. To make his back pain go away, a doctor prescribed him Oxycontin, an opiate notorious for causing dependency. John became so dependent on Oxycontin that he required it to feel normal. He lost his family, home, and job in pursuit of feeling normal.

That is how he wound up panhandling in front of Alexander’s apartment every morning.

Alexander slouched into his car, which was a kind of rusty but still functional Honda Civic. You know the type — it was a veritable Point-A-to-Point-B-mobile.

He pulled out of his apartment complex and drove towards the freeway, where he entered the swath of thousands of commuters heading from their shitty apartments to their respective places of employment.

Sometimes, when there were too many commuters, the highways got all jammed up with cars and everyone was forced to drive very slowly. This was one of those times. There was an accident further down the freeway, and everyone had to drive particularly slowly.

“Damn it,” said Alexander, “Hopefully I’m not late for work.”

To take his mind off of work, Alexander turned on the radio. The announcer spoke:

“Annnnd that concludes the top 10 before 10 playlist, brought to you by Ikea furniture. Looking for mediocre furniture you can actually afford? Ikea’s got you covered. We’ll be listening to Katy Perry’s hot new single after these messages.”

In the midst of the traffic jam, Alexander’s cellphone began vibrating, which meant someone was calling him. That someone happened to be his boss. He picked up the phone.

“Hello,” said Alexander.

“Lawson,” began Alexander’s boss, “I need that story by noon, but first I need you to drop by my office no later than 9. I’ve lined up an interview with the Chief of Police regarding the recent spike in petty theft, and I want you to cover it, but I need to talk with you about it first.”

“Will do,” said Alexander.

“No later than 9,” said Alexander’s boss.

Alexander glanced at the clock in his dash. It read 8:24 AM.

Traffic was hardly moving.

“Actually, sir,” began Alexander.

“What is it?”

“I may not be able to make it in by 9. Traffic is ridiculously slow this morning.”

“Damn it, Lawson. Well, come in as soon as you can.”

Alexander hung up the phone. The radio announcer spoke:

“Before we get to Katy Perry’s hot new single, we’re going to announce the winning numbers in this week’s $10 million dollar SuperLotto Jackpot. Here they are, folks: 13, 76, 42, 54, 28, 09.”

Alexander glanced up at the SuperLotto ticket he had taped to the rearview mirror above his dash. He had made this a weekly ritual since journalism began making him sad. Journalism began making him sad a year prior to this morning’s commute to work.

The numbers on his ticket read 13, 76, 42, 54, 28, 09.

No, thought Alexander.

The next few minutes, where he had to listen to Katy Perry’s hot new single, happened to be the most excruciating few minutes of his life. He wanted to hear those numbers again.

The radio announcer delivered:

“For those that missed it, the winning numbers in this week’s $10 million dollar SuperLotto Jackpot are 13, 76, 42, 54, 28, 09.”

Alexander didn’t say anything. He picked up the phone and called his boss.

“Hello, Mr. McLean?”

“Yes, what is it Lawson?”

“I quit.”

Alexander hung up the phone. So much for being a journalist.

Alexander didn’t know what to do. He began sweating. Traffic was still moving slow. He wanted to drive very, very fast. Instead, he looked up the SuperLotto Prize Centre, the place where he could claim his absurd amount of money.

After about ten minutes of sweaty disbelief, Alexander made it to the exit that would deliver him to his prize.

He took this exit. Within a few minutes, he was inside of the SuperLotto Prize Centre. He had to fill out paperwork, prove who he was with a government issued identification card, and he was even interviewed by a rather nice young lady to further prove that he was, indeed, entitled to the money he had just won.

In the end, he was entitled to the money.

He drove back to his apartment with $10 million dollars in his bank account. The traffic had since cleared up, and he was able to drive very, very fast like he had wanted to earlier. When he arrived home, he simply sat down in his apartment and looked around.

There was the musty, indistinctly brown couch that he sat on after work every night. The old television with a film of dust over its screen. In the kitchen, there was the warped linoleum floor and the kitchen cabinets with fake wood grain painted onto them. His bedroom was small, and barely housed his clothes and twin sized bed. He had a black curtain for a sheet in his bedroom, held up by thumb tacks.

This will simply no longer do, he thought.

He opened his laptop and began looking at new houses. He wanted to live in one of those two million dollar suburban houses that was far closer to the city than it appeared to be. You know the type — two door garage, five bedrooms, an acre of property, all within a proverbial stone’s throw of the downtown core.

He found one that matched his criteria, and phoned a realtor.

“Hello, this is Mrs. Andrews, what may I do for you?”

“Hi Mrs. Andrews. This is Alexander Lawson. I’m interested in buying the house listed on Sunny Maple crescent. Can I arrange a viewing?”

“You certainly can, Mr. Lawson. When would you like to book an appointment? The earliest I can arrange a viewing is tomorrow at 3 PM.”

“That works fine for me. I’ll see you then.”

“Sounds good, Mr. Lawson. Bye for now.”

“Goodbye.”

Alexander spent the rest of the day wondering what he could do with all of his money, and contemplating what he might do about his career. He had once loved journalism and what it was supposed to represent. People did things that were unjust. He went into his career with the hope of exposing the wrongdoings of others, so that the greater population could become aware of these wrongdoings and stop them, and thereby improve society for everyone.

Alexander hadn’t felt passionate about his career for an entire year now. He was only 27, but he had seen enough of journalism to know that it rarely addressed the root cause of any issue.

Take, for example, the story on petty crime that he was supposed cover. Over the last couple years, as his local economy went through a mild recession, the most vulnerable people had to begin stealing to get by. Financial insecurity stressed people out, so they also began leaning more heavily on drugs and things of that type to feel normal. Many of them wound up like John, the man outside of Alexander’s apartment.

The article that would be expected of him, however, would be an interview with the city’s Chief of Police, where the chief would promise to crack down on petty criminals so that the shopkeepers and people with money could feel safe. It would not address the root issue — that there were not enough well-paying jobs to get by in a city that grew increasingly expensive to live in.

This is why people held on tightly to what they had, and did things like walk in large Us around the homeless people that they saw.

Alexander began to pack his meagre set of belongings. He had his clothes, books, pots, pans, and utensils packed by the afternoon. He would later rent a truck to pack his larger belongings. He grabbed several empty bottles of whiskey, which he himself had relied on lately to feel normal, and went to the liquor store down the street to return them.

On his way back, he gave the change to John, chatted with him for a minute, and went back inside. He ordered a pizza. It was now 5 PM, and he had been so busy that he had forgotten to eat that day.

He tipped the young lady that delivered his pizza $100. This is when he had his idea.

***

The following afternoon, he drove to Sunny Maple crescent. The neighbourhood was exactly what he was looking for: well-manicured lawns, happy families, the essence of the privileged life. He pulled into the drive of his soon-to-be-home, and Mrs. Andrews stepped outside to greet him.

“May I help you?” said Mrs. Andrews.

“Yes, I’m here to view the house. I’m Alexander Lawson, we spoke yesterday.”

“Oh,” she replied, staring at Alexander’s rusty but still functional Honda Civic. “Y-yes, of course. Right this way.”

She showed Alexander the house. It had a large basement with a pool table, a large deck overlooking the backyard, a kitchen with an island and one of those fancy, overhead pot-hanging contraptions; it had marble countertops.

“I’ll take it.”

“Are you sure, Mr. Lawson? You know you have to pay a down payment worth 5% of the house’s value, don’t you?”

She was thinking of Alexander’s car when she said that.

“Yes, that is quite possible, Mrs. Andrews. When will I be able to move in?”

“Well, you are lucky in this case. The family that lived here recently moved to Italy and simply put the house on the market to sell at a later date. You can move in as soon as we finalize some documents.”

Over the next couple of days, Alexander finalized documents, and paid the $90,000 down payment for his new house. As he was moving his things out of his apartment and into the U Haul truck he had rented, John spoke to him.

“Moving up in the world, I see.”

“That’s the idea, John. How are you doing today?”

“You know, struggling onward, the usual.”

“I’d like to talk to you about that struggling part.”

“Oh, would you?”

“Yes, I would. You see, I just came into some money. I have four months left on my apartment’s contract.”

Alexander tossed John the keys to his apartment, and handed him $10,000 cash.

“You don’t have to be homeless anymore. You can sublet my place, clean yourself up, and get your life back on track.”

John looked at him, dumbfounded.

“Call me if you need anything. Here’s my phone number.”

With that, John hopped into the U Haul and drove onward to Sunny Maple crescent. He was ready to bring his idea to life.

After moving his belongings in, John went out and bought some groceries before retiring to his front step and drinking a beer.

His neighbour pulled into the driveway next to his. She looked over at John curiously. Her name was Alice, a middle aged mother four, a surgeon, and a wife to a very successful attorney.

“Excuse me, young man,” began Alice. “Are you lost?”

She too was thrown off by the rusty but still functional Honda Civic.

“Not at all,” replied Alexander. “I just moved into this house. My name is Alexander Lawson.”

“Oh,” replied Alice, “Then I suppose we are neighbours. My name is Alice Dawson.”

“Nice to meet you, Alex,” she went on, “You will have to come over for dinner sometime.”

“Sounds lovely,” replied Alex. “I am free anytime.”

“Well, how about tomorrow night at six? My husband and children will be back from their camping trip by then.”

“I’ll see you all then, Alice.”

Alex spent the rest of his evening drinking beer and organizing the belongings he had just moved in. The house was overwhelmingly empty. The following evening, he went over to the Dawson’s house.

They ate prime rib, roasted vegetables and pilaf rice. It was the best meal Alexander had eaten in years. Dinner was finished with a glass of port for the adults and artisan hot chocolate for the teenaged children.

The discussion over dinner had gone something like this:

“So what is it that you do, Alex?” asked Mr. Dawson.

“Well, I was a journalist, but I’m in the midst of a career change,” replied Alexander.

“I have no doubts about that,” replied Mr. Dawson, “especially since you just moved onto Sunny Maple crescent.”

Alexander smiled.

“Yes, life recently became a little more profitable to me. I came into some money, and here I am.”

“Well, if you have money, you mustn’t forget about the less fortunate in our city,” began Alice.

“Myself and my husband, Jeremy, both donate regularly to The Salvation Army, and our children all volunteer at a local soup kitchen across the city once every month.”

The children rolled their eyes when Alice brought up the soup kitchen.

“How lovely,” replied Alex. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

After dinner, Alex returned to his new home and slept rather well.

***

The following morning, Alex went out and purchased supplies. He bought all of the ingredients he’d need to concoct an entire army’s worth of soup, and he dropped by his old apartment. He knocked on the door, and John answered.

“Alex!” beamed John, “What can I do for you?”

“I have a strange request, John. You know how you were recently homeless, but now have a home?”

“Yes,” replied John, “What are you getting at?”

“Well, I recently bought a large home in a well-to-do neighbourhood. I’d like to use it to give other people a home to live in.”

“What does that have to do with me?” queried John.

“Well, I don’t exactly know any homeless people, now that you have a home. Do you know any?”

“Yes, I know three others, Alex.”

“Perfect. Could you tell them to make their way to Sunny Maple Crescent, on the other side of the city? Also, tell them to bring along any other homeless people they might know.”

“I think I can arrange that. Anything else I can help you with?”

“That’s all for now, John. Thank you.”

“Take care, kid.”

And with that, John was on his way home to concoct a soup worthy of feeding an army. He cooked in his garage, with the doors open, and set out a large serving table with bowls and spoons.

He finished at 4 pm, and waited for the troops to arrive.

Around 6 pm, five rather scraggly looking individuals came walking up his driveway.

The tallest one, a bearded man around Alex’s age, opened the conversation.

“Our friend John told us to come here, and that someone might be able to help us out. Are you that someone?”

“Indeed I am,” replied Alexander. “Would you all like some soup?”

“Why not,” replied a middle aged woman.

And so it was. They all sat down and ate soup together.

When they were finished, Alexander introduced part of his plan to them.

“Listen everyone. I am turning this home into a soup kitchen of sorts, but it’s going to be more than that. I would like to help you all get back on your feet.”

“But why?” queried the bearded young man.

“Well, it’s hard to explain. In my old career as a journalist, I thought I might be helping people out. But journalism isn’t what people need when they are struggling to survive on the streets.”

“Well, what is it that you think we need?” asked the young man.

“Oh, I don’t know, a home and a second chance, maybe.”

“So listen, replied Alex. “I can house up to ten people at a time, including myself. We will need to do some work to my house to accommodate everyone. This is where you guys come in.”

“I’ll need you to tell others about what I’m doing here, and we’re all going feed people who need to be fed, and once a person who is living here can get back on their own feet, they will leave and let someone else take their place. Sound good?”

Everyone nodded in astonishment.

The next couple of weeks contained a lot of work and a lot of setbacks.

Julia, a young lady who showed up at Alexander’s house, smoked drugs in the garage.

Jamie, the young bearded man, stole all of Alexander’s beer and threw up on his lawn.

Alexander did not kick them out, however. He put everyone to work. They built make-shift beds out of two by fours and divided the house into ten sleeping areas. Everyone worked together making soup and feeding it to the growing stream of homeless people showing up at Alexander’s house.

Slowly, the group that stayed in Alexander’s house grew accustomed to the project. They laboured hard in helping one another out. The addicts gradually became sober and the depressed ones gradually became less melancholy. Up to 50 homeless people dropped by every day.

Alexander bought his house guests new clothes and helped them put together resumes. After a month, Jamie had found a job with a construction company. Three weeks later, he found an apartment. Someone else took his place, and the cycle continued.

Meanwhile, Alexander’s neighbours grew increasingly frustrated.

Alice had stopped talking to Alexander when she learned that he was harboring homeless people. Sometimes, when Alexander’s house was at full capacity, several homeless people would sleep on his lawn.

Alice did not like this. No one in the neighbourhood liked this.

The homeless people would often get drunk, and Alexander’s lawn was painted with vomit on several evenings. There were often beer cans strewn about his property. Alexander didn’t mind. He actually bought the homeless people beer when they requested it. The project was messy, but it was slowly working. Within two months, six people had found apartments and were now employed.

This did not matter to the rest of the neighbourhood. The homeless people were a nuisance, an intrusion. They had worked their whole lives to separate themselves from the homeless, to keep them in the back of their minds. They only wanted to see homeless people at the soup kitchen across the city, where some of them donated an afternoon’s worth of time every month. To see them in their neighbourhood, where the tall maples shaded their well-manicured lawns, was not only a nuisance. It was unjust.

One evening, Alice phoned the police.

The police knocked on his door at around 11 pm, and Alexander stepped outside, where he was greeted by two police officers. Three homeless people were handcuffed and sitting on the curb in front of Alexander’s house.

“Hello Mr. Lawson,” said an officer, “We’ve detained three people for public intoxication and trespassing, and just wanted to let you know.”

“Why?” replied Alexander. “These people are entitled to drink and sleep on my lawn, until a spot in my house opens up for them.”

The police offers shot a bewildered look in Alexander’s direction.

“So, you don’t want us to remove these people from your property?”

“No thank you, officer. They can stay.”

And that was the last time Alexander heard from the police.

Alice, however, had a second plan.

She banded together with all of her neighbours, who were equally ashamed about the state of their neighbourhood, and came up with a plan. They were to buy Alexander out. They would collectively purchase his property and restore Sunny Maple crescent to its former dignity.

They initially offered $1.8 million dollars, which was the price Alexander paid for his house. He promptly declined their offer.

The weeks rolled on, and Alexander’s homeless rehabilitation program was a success. For every depressed, drug addicted, or otherwise incapacitated person who showed up, two more were leaving with money in their pockets and a glint in their eyes. His program involved compassion, a form of employment, and assistance with re-integration. If more people joined him and offered their own money, homelessness could likely become a thing of the past in his prominent metropolitan city.

His neighbours, however, wanted things to go back to how they were.

The distress of seeing homeless people in their prominent neighbourhood made them grow bitter. Many of them unconsciously ceased to volunteer at the soup kitchen across town, or ceased to donate to their charities of choice. They wanted Alex and his operation out of their neighbourhood.

They finally offered him 2.3 million dollars. Alex reluctantly accepted the offer.

The people living with him grew distraught, but he urged them not to worry.

“They think we’re going to leave the neighbourhood forever, stated Alex. But we’re only going to expand.”

Alexander had a goal in mind. He would profit off of upper class values.

***

One afternoon, roughly four months after his project began, Alexander received a phone call from John.

“Hello?” said Alex.

“Hello, Alex. I was wondering if I could ask for your help with something.”

“Sure thing, John. What is it?”

“Well, I still have quite a bit of money left, and I talked to the landlord, who is willing to let me live here on month-to-month basis.”

“That’s great, John.”

“I’ve also sobered up since living here. I bought myself some clothes. I go to the library, and I spent most of my days simply reading. But I haven’t been able to find a job. My back is in rough shape after all those years on the jobsite. Carpentry is all I know. I’m calling you because I’ve heard of all the great things you’ve done, and I thought you could help me in that regard.”

“Well,” said Alexander, “You were a foreman once, correct? Could you still run a jobsite without doing intense physical labour?”

“Yes, I definitely could. The trouble is I don’t have a company to work beneath me. I’m back at the bottom of the ladder.”

“I can help you out with that. There’s a vacant lot down the street where I’m living, and I plan on purchasing it this week and building a mansion on it. My current home had five bedrooms, but I’d like this one to have 10. Would you like to be in charge of the job?”

“Absolutely,” said John. “That would be amazing. When can I start?”

“Give me a week, John. I’ll call you back soon.”

With that, Alexander called the realtor who owned the property. The realtor worked and lived in the downtown core, and hadn’t heard anything of Alexander’s recent exploits.

Alexander purchased the property within a week, which was at the end of Sunny Maple crescent.

Business was booming.

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