He lived in a town called Duckburg and his name was Scrooge McDuck and if you spent afternoons after school watching Disney’s Duck Tales you knew he was the richest duck in the world and for me that was enough convincing that there was no other being, dead or alive, more inspiring than that fine feathered coot.
Scrooge McDuck had money. Not just loads of it. Vaults of it. Fewer images have resonated more with me than that old duck swimming in his Money Bin. When I was one of those kids who sat too close to the TV, I longed to spend my empty feeling afternoons the way he did. The way he would trade his top hat and blue gold-buttoned frock coat for a striped one-piece swimsuit to go for his daily dive into his vault of dubiously-earned dollars incited a riot in my young heart unmatched by future first kisses or green participation ribbons.
McDuck’s stacks of cash grew out of mounds of gold coins and I marveled at his excitement every time his bulging eyes turned into over-sized Vegas slot machine dollar signs. As he backstroked his way through the cold hard coin, I’d sink into my sagging beanbag chair feeling warm with the dream of such a fortune. With one leg resting over the other, I sat back with my hands clasped behind my mussed head and wished for the day that the Monopoly money I’d spent collecting would be recognized as valid and legal tender.
Sometimes in the privacy of my bedroom I would gather my fake piecemeal fortune. I kept stacks of faded Monopoly money in a cigar box underneath my bed for safekeeping. I’d collected it from thrift stores, garage sales or negligent neighbors. Carefully handling the pastel currency, I formed stacks of the counterfeit on my Mickey Mouse bedspread. I’d sit Indian style, letting my open hands hover over it, my fingers tingling with anticipation and restraint before mixing them together and gathering it up into my arms to throw it above my head pretending that I shared McDuck’s financial rain cloud. I wanted it all, but I especially wanted to shoot cold coins out of my mouth without the risk of choking. I wanted to taste the end of the rainbow.
Maybe I was just ten years old and in need of a hero. A duck-billed role model would have to do. My dad wasn’t much of a businessman; his rainbows always led to pink slips and credit cards with limitless debts. He didn’t have webbed-feet or a pince-nez. Just a fungal foot infection and perfect vision. Every couple of years he lost his job and the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Blue Box Blues descended upon our household.
While watching Scrooge swan dive into his dough, I’d catch the sound of my mother God-damning the receiving end of the wall phone, smashing it into the cradle with enough force to satisfy her need for blame, but not enough to actually break it. Act One, Scene Two in the theatre of domestic unrest had her in the kitchen shaking and rattling the blue box. The macaroni would be the entrée accompanied by a side of golden tater tots. My mom didn’t need to tell me the news. All it took was the sound of the old cookie sheet screeching against the oven rack. Before I knew it the golden tots were flying through the air, hanging for a moment before falling across the floor in a crispy cascade. The cookie sheet hit the wall and then the floor. The metal on tile echoed. The sound of an empty vault. Whoever says money can’t buy you happiness hasn’t dodged hot trays of Ore-Ida tater tots.
When everyone went to bed, I’d reach under mine and pull out my old spaghetti sauce jars full of pennies. I’d change into my own swimming gear, a hot pink one-piece with a pilled-bottom. We’d all weathered better summers. In the bathroom with the door locked, I would place my saved pennies in the tub. They hardly covered half the length, but I stopped the drain with a washcloth scared to lose even a cent. There I put myself down, too shallow for any kind of diving, closed my eyes and briefly dreamed about swimming in my money as I wiggled my featherless body over the surface, puckering my lips as if spitting coins high into the vaulted heavens where pennies were supposed to come from.