by Subrata Das
Robert Parker, CPA, an accountant in a large corporation, preferred peace and quiet above everything else. Every morning, he’d arrive at his office with his lunch box that he stocked himself with a sandwich, a banana and a can of soda, face his computer screen, keyboard and mouse, and immerse himself in his daily activities. He’d work straight through to the lunch hour, take a short bathroom break, and return to work while munching absent-mindedly on his sandwich.
His interactions with his co-workers were minimal and to the point. Once he passed up a chance to manage an entire project, as that would have called for him to deal with five employees who would have reported to him. He’d rather deal with his computer and its clever subtle programs than with a bunch of people who would ask for a raise, complain about the working conditions and report sick now and then.
Last summer, his wife Ann and their two young children Justine and Samantha, dragged him along to Disney World in Florida for a vacation. He walked around with his family in the amusement park, but never went on a ride, preferring always to observe his wife and children enjoying themselves and screaming their heads off in excitement.
One day last spring, as dawn broke on the horizon, rays of sunlight sneaked into Robert and Ann’s bedroom through the slats of their window shades. Robert could hear the blue jays chirping in the backyard garden. Ann was still asleep on her side of the bed. He tried to get up gently without waking her up. He felt dizzy. The room made a 360 degree turn in front of him. He was surprised and fell back on the pillow. After a few moments, he composed himself and attempted to stand up again. His head began to swirl once more. He sat quietly at the edge of the bed until the room stopped spinning. He slowly raised himself and walked to the attached bathroom. His face reflected in the bathroom mirror had an unfamiliar character to it. It was spotted with small blackish dots. He rubbed his face and touched his forehead with the back of his hand. It felt warm. There was little doubt about it now. He was an eyewitness to these symptoms weeks ago when one by one his two children came down with it. He had chickenpox.
Their pediatrician, Dr. Joshi, had warned him about it when he brought the children to his office in the Town Center Medical building. He said it was a trivial matter for the kids. They would get over it in no time. It may even be good for them as it provided them with lifetime immunity against future attacks. But he wanted to know if Robert and Ann had ever contracted this dreadful disease when they were young. Robert had no recollection of it. Ann also could not be sure about her childhood infections. Both of Robert’s parents passed away years ago. Ann’s mother was still alive, but she had Alzheimer’s disease and could barely remember her own name, let alone be trusted with her memory of Ann’s early medical history.
Dr. Joshi told them to be careful. He said this was a problem in this country. It was too clean. Antiseptic was the term he used. He said no one ever contracted anything here. But if someone ever did, they had a terrible time with it. In India, he went on, kids got sick early with all kinds of germs. By the time they were adults they were immune to everything on the face of this planet. Dr. Joshi came from India years ago as a student and then stayed on.
Robert rubbed his face once more with the palm of his hand and walked back to the bed. Ann was still asleep. He studied Ann’s face carefully but could not find any black splotches on her face. Somewhat reassured, he slipped back under the bedcovers again and gently pushed his wife, “Ann, wake up. I think I got chickenpox.”
Later that day, he paid a visit to their family physician, Dr. Stanley Silverman, who practiced in the same Town Center Medical building. The doctor had a round protruding stomach that he had acquired lately. It hung over his belt like a giant soccer ball.
He examined Robert, listened to his story about how his two children had chickenpox weeks ago, and wisely nodded his head with a faint smile. “We see it all the time,” he said. “The schools are nothing but germ factories. One kid gets it, the next day all other kids are infected, they bring it home, pretty soon the teachers and the parents are all sick, and our business keeps booming.” He laughed out loudly, setting off vibrations in his belly. Robert was not amused. He failed to see the humor in his own sickness.
When he returned home, he went straight to the den, which the Parkers used as a spare bedroom for their guests. Ann peeked in. “Well, what did Dr. Silverman say?” she asked.
“Just as I thought, I have chickenpox,” Robert said, “I’m under quarantine. I’m going to sleep here alone until I get over this. Stay away from me and be careful, Ann. If you never had it, you could come down with it too.”
For the next ten days, Robert went through some terrible times. The black spots spread all over his body. They slowly matured into a full-fledged oozing and itching mess. He had a high temperature and could not sleep at night. He lost his appetite as he felt his stomach was trying to digest something hard and solid, like a full-size brick. When he called up Dr. Silverman to complain, the doctor said he probably had those nasty itchy spots growing inside his stomach lining as well. The worst part was that there was no medication other than Aspirin and Tylenol to relieve the suffering only slightly. It was going to take its course and then he would slowly recover. He could try chicken soup if he felt like it.
On the morning of the tenth day, the weather was nice and crisp. Robert’s temperature had subsided to a normal level last evening. His splotches were drying up. But he felt weak. He got up and headed for the hallway bathroom. The mirror reflected a man with a bearded face. He considered shaving but gave up when he could not control his trembling fingers. He went back to bed. Justine had picked up the New York Times from the front door and left it on the side table. He started to scan it absent-mindedly when all of a sudden, an idea hit him like a streak of lightning. The more he thought about it the more he was convinced that the idea was sound. None of the newspaper headlines had any connection to his idea, but he was truly excited.
“Ann,” he screamed, “Ann, I have a great idea.”
He could hardly wait for his wife to show up at the door. So, he walked a few steps and looked inside their bedroom where Ann was hurriedly putting on her dressing gown wondering if Robert had a new health crisis. But he said, “I want to set up an association for the past victims of chickenpox. I’ll call it Chickenpox Alumni Association of America, CPAAA for short. Easy for me to remember, you see, just adding two ‘A’-s after my CPA title!” He smiled with amusement at his own cleverness.
Ann clearly was not impressed. She nodded mildly and said, “What dear? A what association?”
Robert repeated his statement. Ann was not convinced. But her husband’s enthusiasm after such a long bout of illness could not help but touch her. “That would be nice, dear,” she finally said. “Are you sure you’re up to it now though? Perhaps you should wait for a few days and think it over.”
Robert was eager to start. He sat down with his pocket appointment book and made some entries. One, put an ad in the New York Times. Two, create an excel spreadsheet file in his computer to keep track of the contributions and the expenses. Three, buy a notebook to supplement the excel file when he was in a hurry to update the spreadsheet. Four, open a separate bank account for the CPAAA. Five, set up a P.O. Box at the local post office for all CPAAA correspondence. Lots of work to do. And not a moment to lose. He felt his energies surge back inside his arteries and veins. He got up, went back to the bathroom, and with determination, took out his shaving kit and started lathering up his face.
After a shave and a bath, he felt refreshed and invigorated. He had a light lunch with a BLT sandwich, a banana and a can of soda. Ann had already left for her teaching job. Samantha and Justine were away at school.
He dressed comfortably and stepped outside. Aha! He breathed in the cool breeze that blew across his fragrant garden. It was good to be alive, he thought. He was still on sick leave from his office. He got in the car and drove to the Katonah train station ten miles away. He parked his car and caught the next train to Grand Central. He took a cab from the Grand Central Station to the New York Times office building, arriving there at 12:35 in the afternoon.
Sun shone brightly through the canyons of skyscrapers in New York City. He looked up, pondered for a moment about his decision and walked inside. He had already memorized the ad he wanted to place:
CHICKENPOX ALUMNI ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA (CPAAA)
People from all walks of life are invited to join the CPAAA. Color, sex, nationality and age, no bar. Must have suffered from chickenpox at least once. Annual membership: $15.00, Benefactor $50.00, Sponsor $100.00, Grand Sponsor $500.00.
The clerk at the classified ad section looked him up and down a number of times. When Robert paid for the ad in cash, she was happy to oblige and printed out a receipt for him. The ad would appear in all editions of the New York Times for a period of one week, starting tomorrow, she advised Robert.
On his way back, he took care of other CPAAA tasks. He stopped by the post office to get himself a post box. He bought a notebook from a stationary store on Commerce Street. He opened a separate trust account at his local bank in the name of the CPAAA, using his own social security number. He would apply to the IRS for its tax-exempt status.
Three days went by. He saw his ad come out in the Times every day. It had a border around it that he had paid extra money for. He went to the post office in the morning regularly to check his mailbox. But it was always empty.
One day, there was just a flier from a local landscaper promoting his services. Robert was disappointed. Perhaps Ann was right after all. He took all this trouble and spent so much money for nothing.
On the fourth day, his sick days were over. He dressed in the morning with his regular office clothes, a white shirt, a pair of grey pants and a checkered tie. He prepared his usual lunch of a BLT sandwich, a banana and a soda. He got in the car and decided to take a detour to go by the post office on his way to work. He opened his mailbox. There were three envelopes. With fingers trembling in excitement, he opened the first one. It was from one Mrs. Jane Pomerantz in Albany, New York. She enclosed a check for $15.00 along with a short note wanting to join the CPAAA. The second envelope was from Mr. Joseph Peerless of Scranton, Pennsylvania and contained only a $15.00 check. The memo field said, “For annual CPAAA membership.” The third envelope had a lengthy letter written by Ms. Dorothy McGuire of Newark, New Jersey, describing her struggle with chickenpox five years ago, how she thought she would die of it and asking about the purpose of the CPAAA. It contained no money. Robert read the letter with interest and decided that he would start a separate folder, named “Clarifications,” in his home computer to handle such requests.
He deposited the two checks in the CPAAA account at his bank on his way to work and returned to office early so he could prepare a reply for Ms. McGuire. He explained how the association members would support each other, how they would get together every summer for a day of fun and picnic, and how they would have a website to share knowledge about chickenpox. He made a mental note about setting up a CPAAA website soon and also put it down in his reminder notebook. The association would encourage active research in the field of chickenpox virus immunology and provide comfort and solace to new sufferers, welcoming them as newly inducted members. He re-read the letter two times, ran it through the spell-checker and saved it in the “Clarifications” folder. He printed out a copy, but the hard copy looked too plain, like an ordinary letter. It had the name “Chickenpox Alumni Association,” centered across the top, followed by “of America (CPAAA)” also centered, both lines in big bold deep blue letters, but he felt it still lacked something. “We need a logo,” he finally mumbled softly, “an organization needs a logo that the members would be proud to display, say as a bumper sticker.” He would think about it and come up with a good logo design.
Next entry in his reminder notebook was “Logo design.” Samantha had a knack for graphics, perhaps she could help him out. For the moment, he decided to mail Ms. McGuire’s letter as is, without the CPAAA logo.
Next day on his way to work, he stopped by the post office again to check his mailbox. It had fifteen envelopes. There were notes, checks and money orders from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Ohio and even one from Nebraska. All the checks and money orders were for $15.00, except one which was for $50.00, the standard benefactor rate. Robert had a good feeling about it now. His CPAAA was going to be a success. He would make sure of it.
The third day at the post office in the morning, Robert’s eyes nearly popped out in disbelief, as he opened his mailbox. It was stuffed solid with envelopes of all sizes and colors. He closed the mailbox, walked two blocks to the corner deli and borrowed a plastic grocery bag from the owner whom he knew.
He would have to spread the name of his association on a global scale. He would place ads in the leading newspapers around the world: The London Times, Le Monde of Paris, Pravda in Moscow, China Daily, The Times of India, and many others. It’d be an international organization, called “Chickenpox Alumni Association International,” in short, CPAAI.
He went back to the post office, collected all the envelopes in the plastic bag and returned home, instead of going to his office. He emptied the contents of the plastic bag on the bed in the den. They formed a small mound, some sliding down to the floor, because there was not enough room on the bed. Ann took up more than half of the bed, sleeping uneasily at this odd hour, instead of going to her teaching job. Robert touched her forehead. It felt warm. He examined her face. It was dotted with black spots. She had come down with chickenpox, he concluded.
Ann stirred, opened her eyes and smiled weakly at Robert. “I don’t feel so good,” she said.
“Don’t worry. I’ll warm up a bowl of chicken soup for you. Dr. Silverman told me to have it when I was sick.”
“What about your office?”
“I’ll quit my job, honey. We’re already rich. People sent me money from everywhere. I’ll work full time on my association.”
“Are you sure?”
“Don’t you see, honey? Instead of a tax-deductible charity, I’ll incorporate it as a business and have an IPO at the New York Stock Exchange. That’ll raise millions.” Robert’s excitement knew no bounds.
On his way to the kitchen to get the chicken soup, he turned around. “I’ll offer an NFT too,” he added.
Ann looked at him blankly.
“You know, non-fungible tokens. That’s the latest quirk to exploit a product and a name.” Robert took one more step towards the kitchen, before stopping once again, “Samantha was right about the power of social media. She said the other day she’ll help me spread the word through her Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest accounts. Together with my postings in the newspapers, magazines and ezines, we’ll raise billions of dollars.” One more step towards the kitchen and one more idea, “There’ll be a CPAAI cryptocurrency as well.”
Ann was even more confused. “You’re so smart, honey. I love you,” she said.
“I love you too,” Robert said. “Hang on. I’ll be right back with the best medicine for the chickenpox, the chicken soup.”
© 2021 Subrata Das All rights reserved.