616, 616 East Lincoln Avenue, Ducats, Duckets, Dukets, Family, Food Insecurity, Gold Coins, Maurice Eugene Washington, Rainmaker, Scrambling, Stepfather, Welfare Poverty
For a while at least, my parental guardians actually saw me as some sort of rainmaker. It was around the spring of 1985 when my idiot stepfather started calling me “Duckets.” Especially when it came to anything he said that wasn’t about ordering me to do things, I ignored him. I assumed “Duckets” (or really, “Ducketts” as I spelled it out in my head) was just him making fun of me, like every other kid did in those days. The ones so corny and wack in their coolness, calling me “Donald Duck” or “Ronald McDonald” upon learning my name.
One Sunday that May, after somehow wrangling $120 out of my dad despite him being on a spring-long drinking binge, Maurice called me “Duckets” again. I had just come home from breaking off some of my Jimme money to wash clothes at the local laundromat for the eight of us and going to C-Town for food when he called me this. And he saw my face, the look I had. I was tired, pissed at doing work for his lazy ass and for my younger siblings and for my mom, and insulted at his joke.
Then, the abusive asshole did something he rarely did. He actually explained himself.
“Duckets is a compliment,” he said. “They’re Dutch coins made of pure gold. That’s who you are. You make Duckets come out of nowhere.”
I was gobsmacked. Really, you think I’m making money come to me by having to drag my dad out of bars every other weekend? Spending half of the money I get by helping to take care of your stinkin’ ass and my mom and your kids? Seriously? That’s approximately what I would have thought in that moment (now, a few f-bombs would have dropped, too). But I also thought exactly this: What’s he up to? Is he trying to get on my good side now?
Yes, Maurice was. But life is full of both-hands, and even evil abusers can be complimentary and right about aspects of people they otherwise refuse to get to know well. I was bringing in income when I technically wasn’t drawing a paycheck, and had in fact been doing so for nearly two and a half years by then. Even my older brother Darren was dependent on me to either get my dad to give him money or to find work to get us both paid.
I had to. I couldn’t just take $50, $60, $100, or $200 from my dad, go back home to 616, and sit there eating Wise Cheez Doodles or preemo chocolate donuts from Clover Donuts or those bomb brownies from the eatery in Wakefield. All while Sarai, my two-year-old sister with sickle cell anemia, couldn’t have an occasional bottle because my mom didn’t have enough WIC to buy formula for two (my brother Eri was barely one in May 1985). All while even with food stamps and the elder Maurice gone about half the time, we still could go anywhere between three and 10 days without food in the house every single month. If we had had a well-muscled dog like my dog Jacobi back then, believe me, that dog would have become a roasted dinner or a stew back then. And our 616 neighbors would never have asked about it afterward.
Maurice continued his “Duckets” campaign with me until he and my mom finally separated in June 1989. Since he was the only person to call me this weird nickname, I didn’t do much to research it. I still hated the man. If Skull Island’s King Kong had reached down his mouth and pulled on Maurice’s tongue hard enough to rip out all his innards, I would’ve laughed and cried happy tears. A suffering death still wouldn’t have been enough for me (even now, a part of me still lingers a few seconds too long on this thought — this is why a commitment to forgiveness is a daily chore!).
It was pretty easy to bring in “cash money” back in the day, though, even once I started working in jobs not dependent on my dad’s cashflow or his connections to backbreaking work. When no one has work, I’m going to look like a rainmaker by comparison, making $3.40, then $3.65, then $4.15, then $5.50, then $5.90, then $7.70 an hour in the years between 1986 and 1990. I was averaging $6,000 a year in part-time or summer full-time income, and between 20 and 30 percent of it was going to 616.
Whether Ducats, Dukets, or Duckets, or the Guilder or the Florin, gold coins are all signs of wealth, of colonial, imperialist national pride in such wealth, of good fortune and truly good luck. At least to those who have such coinage. But I am no Scrooge McDuck, and I’m certainly not made of money. My times of unemployment in 1988 and with homelessness too, of even a few weeks of unemployment in 1993 and 1997, and underemployment from 1997 to 1999 and from the end of 2008 off and on through 2011 are proof of this.
If taken symbolically, then the Ducat is a symbol of goldenness, of one’s ability to shine and grow and prosper, even if that isn’t mere financial growth. We have managed even when my income dropped like a rock because of the economy and the feast and famine nature of consulting work. I have continued to find ways to generate income, finding some doors ajar even as folks have slammed others in my face. (I do have a tendency to make difficult, even seemingly impossible things happen in my life, but that tends to happen in a virulently racist and classist country like the US.) My nemeses and enemies still attempt to steal from me and my work, even as they refuse to credit me for the creative I am. (It’s a weird-ass compliment, though, when people plagiarize me. Wow, you are that unoriginal and lack that much imagination!, at least that’s what I think about these assholes).
But don’t get it twisted, and do not call my Duckets or Ducats or Duck or Donald Duck or Ronald McDonald. I will block you on social media and drop you faster than I can drop a 450ºF panhandle. I can actually make it rain sometimes. It takes years to make this happen, through patience, prayer, perseverance, and understanding the nature of living life in deserts.