Father Gomez Entropica
Nuestra Señora de Cortez
La Paz, BAJA CALIFORNIA SUR 23000
As you will see, this letter is attached to two
packages. One is an explanation. Of course, I know it is
more like a book than an explanation, and more like a
confession than a book, but that is just the way it came
out once I got started. I went to mass as a kid, not
much, but I think confession is somehow good when one
has been through an ordeal such as mine. Especially when
the confession is to someone who is honor bound by his
God to keep his mouth shut, such as yourself. I am not
an idiot, confession is usually done in person, but I
did not think you wanted me to try to explain all this
in a confessional booth. I think we would both get
claustrophobic, and if I had to kneel the whole time, my
knees would surely blister. To be brutally honest, I
felt the second, larger package needed an explanation so
that you would understand its meaning. As a spiritual
person, it must be plain to you that life is all about
meaning, whether or not something illegal happened.
And I ask that you excuse my occasional portrayals of
weaknesses of the flesh, Father. I guess it wouldn’t be
much of a confession without some of that. Yes?
Very truly yours,
A squad of day laborers lifted the sofa. There on the
wooden floor — where the couch had been — were
thirty-two tight ones. An invasion of little cylindrical
money robots that lived under the sofa.
I’m sure, Father Gomez, you are asking “Yes, but what
is a tight one? And why were thirty-two of them under
the couch? ” I will tell you.
A tight one is a short can — usually a Planters nut tin
— with a roll of cash squeezed ‘tightly’ into it. Some
would have you believe that such a can of money is
called a tight one because it sort of resembles…well, an
asshole. It is what they call a play on words.
This may sound unusual, to find a tight one under a
couch, much less thirty-two tight ones. Not so. Old
people believe a sofa is somehow more secure than
Citibank. They do this because they do not trust banks,
because many of them remember the Great Depression, a
time before ATM’s and credit cards. A time when cold
hard green cash was king. And so it is that these old
people hoarded cash. A nut can is a little taller than
the bills are wide, but low enough to fit under most of
the cheap-ass couches you’re liable to find in one of
This is not to say they don’t hide money other places.
I have found old people’s money built into drapery
valances. I have found cash in hollow bibles. I have
found cash in mattresses, taped under dressers, built
into the underside of Barcaloungers, and in a wall
cavity behind a bathroom medicine cabinet. You have to
be clever to find a geezer’s money, and you have to have
a feeling, or sense, that the money is there in the
house. Like people who find water in the ground with
sticks, certain people have a talent for finding cash. I
am one of them. It is in the blood of my ancestors.
Within the industry of estate liquidation, I am called
a ‘feeler.’ It is not because I have a feeling about
money being in a house. The name suggests that we feel
up the furniture looking for hidden money.
It does not surprise me you have not heard of feelers,
unless maybe a parent died with a house full of crap
that needed to go away. Nothing of obvious value,
usually, just a kitchen full of dented sauce pans,
scratched glassware, soiled mattresses, a sagging sofa,
and perhaps a curio cabinet choked with Lillian Vernon
trinkets. It all goes to the dump, and it is feelers
that are hired to load the junk into a container and
haul it away. In the Brooklyn Yellow Pages, you would
not find me under FEELERS but under HOME CONTENT
REMOVAL, if I was actually listed. But dedicated feelers
don’t advertise. Work comes to us mostly by referrals
from estate lawyers, funeral homes, movers, real estate
agents, what have you. I hire the day workers, arrange
for the dumpster, salvage and sell what I can, and make
it go fast.
When called for a job, I take a look at the house, walk
through and try to imagine where the money is, or if
there are any antiques that could bring some money. The
client, relatives of the deceased, have removed anything
they think is valuable from the house – that they know
of, anyway. Sometimes I am not sole sourced, and the
client is taking bids from different feelers. In those
cases, I have to have a very keen sense about what loot
the house might contain to make a good bid on the work.
And a keen sense about possible tight ones, of course.
If it looks likely that there may be some return on the
furniture, and I get the feeling the place might have
hidden treasure, I might even barter our labor, clean
the place for free.
But no matter what, I have the client sign the complete
release of all contents to me. All signed and legal. I
explain to the client that this is to ensure that they
have removed everything they want and that I am free to
dump the whole lot. What this means to me is that any
valuables I find, I get, even thirty-two tight ones.
At this particular house on Vanderhoosen Drive, I
wasted no time in directing my day laborers to the
greasy floral-print, sagging, stinking, crumb-laden
couch and motioned them to lift it. What did I hope to
find? One or two, maybe four or five, tight ones.
Perhaps none at all. But thirty-two? There wasn’t room
for many more under there. I about shit myself.
Especially since I narrowly beat out other feelers for
the work. Including a feeler they call Pete the Prick.
After I won the job, and he didn’t, he shouted to me
across the bar at Oscar’s Grille: “Good luck finding any
tight ones in that shack, asshole spick mother fucker!”
You see how Pete got his unfortunate name? From his
How much was there in those cans? I could not know. If
it were all Georges, Lincs and Hams (ones, fives and
tens), nothing to write home about. Jacks? Now we’re
talking. If the cans were loaded with Grants or
Bens…there could be a million or more squeezed into
those peanut tins. Routine procedure, no matter how many
tins there are, is to make them vanish. You don’t want
the client to stumble in and see all that cash because
they may balk and try to back out of the contract, call
lawyers, the police. It gets ugly. And as a general
rule, you want to limit the number of people who see you
carrying large sums of mazuma, especially anybody from
the government. You didn’t imagine that this was
declared income, did you? So I grabbed a black
construction bag from the pile of supplies, opened it
and motioned for the laborers to throw the cans inside.
My foreman, Speedy, directed them in Spanish. Even
though I am part Spanish, and grew up in a Hispanic
neighborhood, I speak Spanish poorly. So my foreman
Gonzales speaks for me, in a variety of different South
and Central American dialects. He also listens to what
the workers are saying to make sure there’s no stealing
on their part. I thumbed a wad of bills in one of the
cans – twenties and fifties — and handed it to Speedy,
for him to distribute to the workers at the end of the
day, and to take his cut, of whatever is inside. I share
the wealth a little when I find loot. Good karma, they
say, and worth every penny. And you have to pay
something in the hopes that the laborers will keep their
mouths shut, at least for a little while.
I took the bag down the cracked brick steps along the
overgrown lawn to my car. It was an old beater, a white
Camaro with rusty patches and MARTINEZ HOUSE CLEANING
printed on the doors in black stick-on letters that were
almost completely straight. It was parked behind the
truck-sized dumpster. With the bag in the passenger
seat, I drove carefully home to my apartment. You don’t
want to get pulled over with a lot of cash. The cops can
smell money. Whether they want some, or just to break
your balls, you know they’re going to ask questions.
Yes, the money was legally mine. But I would just as
soon not have the police involved in anything I do. Most
people are this way, I think.
I mentioned the Brooklyn Yellow Pages before because
Brooklyn is where I lived and had always lived. Nobody
has any control over where they grow up, and East
Brooklyn is not too bad. The neighborhood is bordered on
the east by Rockaway Bay, the west by a slanting
parkway, the north by a canal and the south by a
shopping center. There is a boulevard and an avenue that
cross, and each is commercial. The avenue is shopping
centers and one story brick businesses like car washes,
diners, auto repair and convenience stores. The
boulevard is more village-like with two- to four-story
brick buildings in a variety of styles and colors. The
first floors are commercial, and the upper floors are
residential, so it is where people who live in East
Brooklyn go to shop for daily life. Side streets are
tree-lined, with runs of unremarkable brick two- and
three-story buildings set just far enough apart to park
an unremarkable car. Midblock, there are often alleys
which are very old and historical with names of the
original settlers. Yes, our neighborhood goes way back,
but the past has been paved over and all that is left
are the street names. These alleys cut through blocks at
slants for two or three blocks and then stop. They tell
me these alleys sometimes slant because it is how cows
and pigs used to move with the contour of the land. I
cannot tell you if this is true. Contours of the land
are now roads and buildings.
In fact, I drove through an alley on my way home, and
parked on the street near the front of my four-story red
brick building. Bag over my shoulder, I keyed my way
into the foyer, and almost didn’t check my mail. You
would think with a bag bulging with tight ones over my
shoulder, I would let the mail wait. But I had been
expecting an important envelope. And there it was!
Crammed into the little box was a big white envelope
from Genealogy Consultants, LCC. This was turning into
quite a day.
I climbed the steps to my apartment in what seemed only
a few strides. I live on the fourth floor of a post-war
red brick twelve unit building on the avenue. My
apartment is nothing special. Just a place to lay my
bones at night after a run to the dump. In fact, it’s so
plain, I once walked into my neighbor’s place while he
was taking a shower and watched the first period of a
basketball game before I realized the remote had the
mute button in the wrong place. I just don’t care about
where I live – now. But I have my dreams, my destiny.
I’ve been saving the tight ones. Just not under the
Two hours after arriving home I was looking at eight
hundred thousand and forty dollars in mostly Grants in
stacks of ten thousand - ten rows by eight - on my
living room floor. (I put the extra forty in my pocket —
everybody likes a round number.) They had been curled so
long that I needed eighty weights to hold them flat. I
don’t keep that many weights around my place; nobody
expects to find that many tight ones. But I used
anything I could put my hands on. My collection of
Spanish history books, shoes, boots, a flashlight - my
shelves and cupboards were bare by the time I was done.
Hands on my hips, I surveyed the money with the amazed
wonder of a conquistador before an Incan treasure. I
glanced at the white envelope from Genealogy Consultants
LCC on the table next to the front door. I hadn’t opened
it, but I didn’t need to now. What lay before me was
proof positive. The blood of Spanish explorers burned in
my chest. Could the names Cortez or Pizarro be in the
white envelope? I am not an idiot. I know, I hunt money
in old houses, and do not conquer foreign lands for
treasure. But the compulsion to look, to look every day,
it must be the same as dropping anchor at an uncharted
Where had this wondrous pile of greenbacks come from?
Is it possible old Mr. Trux had hoarded so much? Had he
Of course, there was no way to tell where it all came
from originally, so I stopped asking myself this
ridiculous question. The important thing was to get it
to a safe place where nobody could take it away. I knew
I couldn’t keep it on my floor, but I needed to flatten
out the bills, you know? Got to store it flat.
So I went to the closet and found a suitcase, an old
thing I never use because I never go anywhere. It was
cloth and plastic and had a blue green plaid design on
the side like it was Scottish, probably because it was
cheap like a Scotsman. I had not used it since my
honeymoon. Marta was long gone, and good riddance, so
being rid of this reminder of her was a good thing, too.
One by one I pushed the stacks of bills in, and though
they kept curling, the weight of the money itself
started to hold the rest down. When I finally zipped it
closed, the suitcase was bulging like a pregnant
bagpiper, and it was heavy, perhaps twenty or thirty
So I ask you – where would you put a large sum of cash
like that? Everywhere you turn, you imagine what could
go wrong. And there wasn’t much time. How long before
word trickled through the day laborers and got around?
The closet? What if the house burns down? What if my
place is robbed?
The car? What if I have an accident? What if some
junkie pries open the trunk?
I don’t have an office; I work out of my car. I don’t
have a basement, or an attic. A safe deposit box isn’t
I snapped my fingers: self storage. There’s a place off
I looked out my front window to make sure there was
nothing suspicious on the street, and then looked out my
peep hole. I opened the door a crack. I looked both
ways. Hey, you can’t be too careful. I wouldn’t put it
past Pete to send some guys around to take it away.
With the Genealogy Consultants LCC envelope under my
arm, I left and locked the apartment, the floor still
covered with most of my belongings. I took my time down
the four flights of stairs, looking over the banister,
listening. When I made it to the ground floor, I was
almost to the building foyer.
“Where you going?” The voice – like that of a
chain-smoking three-hundred-pound toad – was behind me.
I recognized it, and felt the hair on my arms stand up.
It was the voice no person wants to hear when you have a
lot of cash, or usually any other time. It is the voice
of one of Brooklyn’s most reviled inhabitants, one
without a soul, conscience or scruples. Nobody likes
them; most fear them.
Turning slowly, I heard the sandals flip flop toward
me. I beheld those black, untrusting eyes, the scowl,
the brown gnashing teeth of… my landlord.
“Going on a trip, Morty?” It was like he knew
something, like he suspected, like he could smell the
cash, the greedy man-beast.
I tried not to show fear, standing taller, and as I did
so, so did he. I am taller than he, six foot, and he was
too fat to go to his toes, so I was looking down on him
when I smiled my big white teeth, like the smile I make
for the girls. I gestured to the bag with a wave of my
hand and said, “Ah. Because I have a suitcase, you think
I am traveling?”
This landlord, he only squints, and says nothing, as
though what I had said was stupid. I continued.
“Shirts. I am taking shirts to the cleaner.”
“In a suitcase?” he snarled.
“But of course, and why not, yes? This way they don’t
get as wrinkled.”
“But they’re going to press the shirts anyway, yes?”
“If they are less wrinkled, my cleaner charges me
Now the landlord monster toad is looking more curious.
“What cleaner you take them to?”
“Chinks down the block?”
If I say yes, he will check. Why does he care? Why
would he do this? Because he is a landlord, and they
live to snoop.
“Nnnno. I take them to…New Jersey.” Even he wouldn’t go
all the way to New Jersey to check on a cleaner to see
if I was charged less for shirts that were wrinkled
His eyes went wide. “Well, that would explain it.” For
many Brooklynites, New Jersey is the object of suspicion
and general disdain, like it was one large insane
asylum. It doesn’t help that the state is host to towns
with names like Weehawken and Hoboken and Piscataway –
could they be towns where elves live? But anyway, as a
rule of thumb, anybody who lived outside of Brooklyn,
much less New York City, was clearly out of their mind,
and capable of anything, even charging to clean shirts
by how many wrinkles they have.
“You go all the way to…why d’ you go all the way…”
“My girlfriend – she lives there.”
“What the hell is wrong with you, Morty? We got girls
here in Brooklyn you can fuck. Lotta spick girls, too.
You don’t need to go to…” he couldn’t even bring himself
even to say the state’s name, just jerked a thumb
I began moving to the front door, having thwarted my
landlord like the conniving troll that he was. He was
now thinking about the girl and not the suitcase.
“They say you cannot pick your woman. She picks you.”
This was the voice – not a voice, because like a
banshee, she never spoke – the choleric shriek of the
landlord’s wife. It came from the gloom beyond his open
apartment door. She was even more horrible than he, and
he feared her like we fear landlords, and was so large
she could not even leave their grotto. The woman’s howl
made him cringe, and he eyed me sadly as he turned to
retreat to his cave, as if to say, “You got that right,
Olé! I was out the door with my money, and an hour
later the eight hundred thousand in the Scottish
suitcase was safely sealed in a storage locker. As you
can imagine, I was flying. I’d scored the money free and
I could write my own ticket. I could accelerate my
plans for the future, to reclaim my birthright.
But like Pizarro with the wealth of Peru at his feet, I
would be lucky to escape with my skin. He didn’t.