Laz entered his apartment and, as usual, saw his roommate Brad planted in front of the computer.
"Hey, Laz, whattaya think? Should I go with Williams or Houshmandzadeh on Sunday?"
"What the fuck is a hooshmanzada?"
"A wide receiver for the Seahawks. I gotta get my lineup set for fantasy football this week."
Fantasy Football was Brad's latest addiction. He roamed the Internet for hours trying to get a leg up on his opponents. Laz, however, couldn't care less about football.
"I couldn't care less about football," said Laz. "Here's your motorcycle helmet. Thanks for letting me borrow the Harley."
"No sweat. How'd it go with the ankle-biters?" Brad was referring to Laz's day as a substitute teacher.
"Oh, it was a blast. This mucus stain is never coming out."
Laz picked up the pile of mail that Brad had left on the kitchen counter and took it into his bedroom. A few bills, a grocery store flyer, and what looked like a birthday card from his parents. He opened the envelope, and read the inscription on the card.
We hope you have a wonderful birthday. As always, we sent a donation in your name to the Special Olympics. Take care of yourself.
Mom and Dad
The donation in lieu of a gift was a Lazlo-imposed birthday tradition. When Laz was a child his parents, Preston and Janet, gave him everything his heart desired. The newest electronic games, fancy stereo equipment, spending money. Preston Riddle was a partner at the Riddle, Redd, Reiden and Hood advertising agency, pulling in well over seven figures a year, and he was more than happy to throw money at his only child.
When he was a kid, Lazlo loved being a modern-day Richie Rich. But as he grew older, he started to realize that Daddy's generosity came with a few strings. "This is the private high school you're going to, Lazlo." "This is the kind of car I want you to drive, Lazlo." "Here's the well-to-do cheerleader that you're going to date, lose your virginity to, and get dumped by, Lazlo." Laz wanted to make some choices for himself, but Preston wouldn't hear of it. "Trust me, I know what's best for you," was simply, to Laz's ears, "Fuck you, son."
By his third year in college, at a university he never would have considered attending (it was Harvard, but still, the kid had a point), Laz decided that he was done being a cardigan-sweatered puppet controlled by his father. The last straw came in November, when Laz received a check from his father for a thousand bucks. The check was accompanied by a letter strongly hinting that Lazlo was expected to fly back to California and spend the four-day Thanksgiving weekend at home with his parents. I sure could use your help building the new deck, the letter read.
Laz had already made plans to take his girlfriend Angela to New York for Thanksgiving. Since Angie was not a Preston-approved companion, Laz couldn't very well explain the situation to his father. They argued on the phone for an hour, and finally Lazlo relented. He cancelled his plans with Angie (leading to the first of several break-ups in their touch-and-go relationship) and did what his father wanted. Again.
On the flight from Boston to Los Angeles, Laz made himself a promise.
The day after Thanksgiving, while they were working on the deck, Laz explained, "Dad, here's the deal. I don't want any more of your money. I appreciate everything you've done for me, but I'm a nobody. I've never had to worry about things, never had to work . . . "
"Yeah, you poor thing."
"Dad, c'mon. My life's been easy, but it's not MY life. Your gifts always have a catch, and I haven't been able to say no to you because I don't want to seem ungrateful. So the only thing I can do is to say thanks, and tell you that I don't want anything else from you."
"That's not gonna happen, Lazlo. I'm your father. I'm not going to sit back and watch you struggle, see you with the wrong crowd, or have you disgrace the family. You'll have everything you need, and you'll listen to what I tell you."
Although Laz hated being under his father's thumb, he had always used Preston's money for the purposes it was intended. Tuition money went for tuition, not his bar tab. In order to move on, Laz decided to give his dad an ultimatum.
"Okay, I'll tell you what. Every time you send me money, I'm spending it on drugs, booze, and whores. That's a promise."
A week later, back at Harvard, Laz received a Christmas card from his parents. The card read:
I know you weren't serious about the money. Please use this check to buy yourself something nice for your apartment and a few Italian suits. Dress to impress, son.
Mom and Dad
The check was for ten thousand dollars.
Two days before Christmas, Preston Riddle received a card from his son. It was a picture of Lazlo standing in front of a Christmas tree. The tree was decorated with beer cans and miniature liquor bottles. The branches were frosted with cocaine. Laz was dressed in a Santa Claus outfit, surrounded by eight hookers wearing reindeer antlers and strategically-placed jingle bells. Scrawled on the back of the card was simply:
Ho. Ho. Ho.
Preston didn't send any more checks.