Cover image for Chump change
Chump change
Eddie, David, 1961-
Personal Author:
First Riverhead trade paperback edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Riverhead Books, 1999.
Physical Description:
230 pages ; 21 cm
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David Henry, a young man in New York City bent on literary stardom, finds himself a complete failure and must decide how low he will sink when the opportunity to make some big money presents itself. A first novel. Original. Tour.

Author Notes

David Eddie lives with his near-perfect wife Pam and their three sons under the age of six. He is the author of the novel Chump Change , as well as a down-and-dirty dad, Renaissance husband, reluctant housekeeper, and all-around regular guy. With Housebroken , his shocking true story, at last, can be told.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

This is a Henry Milleresque tale about a young writer (the author's alter ego, David Henry) who quits his job as a letter clerk at Newsweek and decamps New York for the friendlier environs of Toronto. There, amidst various escapades and seductions, he obtains a freelance job writing an observation piece about Toronto for Canada's premier political/cultural journal. This leads to a job as a newswriter for the CBC, which, in a gratuitous salute to Miller, the author dubs the Cosmodemonic Broadcast Corporation. Unfortunately, Toronto is not Paris, nor is the author's style as lively or as cynical as Miller's, though some of his protagonist's observations about modern civilization and the rise and decline of the written word are interesting. Eventually the protagonist's self-destructive urges, so clearly laid out at the outset of the novel, get the better of him, and he finds himself in that "fallen" state of freedom to which he has aspired all along--a rejuvenation of the Milleresque happy-go-lucky character. --Frank Caso

Publisher's Weekly Review

It's hard to claim literary burnout after a brief stint as a glorified filing clerk at Newsweek, but the slacker protagonist of Eddie's debut novel, 28-year-old, double-M.A., would-be writer David Henry is at least singed enough to flee New York for hometown Toronto. Arriving at the airport with only a pocketful of change, David embarks on a spiral of awful jobs and unsuitable girlfriends as he tries to fake an adult life and dodge tuition loan officers. At least he doesn't have to live with his parents, and his first roommate is the erstwhile object of his unrequited college love, Leslie Lawson. Roommate she remains, though, and his first Toronto girlfriend is a persistent Korean with a penchant for Les Miserables and white pumps. Careerwise, David fails as a freelance magazine writer, movie extra and an assistant to an administrative assistant, but strangely enough, it is success, in the form of a $40,000-a-year job as newswriter for the CBC (aka Cosmodemonic Broadcast Corporation) and a luscious 19-year-old bartender girlfriend, that finally causes him to hit rock bottom. Eddie mines his charmingly self-absorbed antihero's pratfalling career for all it's worth, but despite the novel's willingness to amuse, the humor is hit-or-miss. The half-ironic, half-sentimental tone owes something to Jay McInerney and Douglas Coupland, and Eddie proves an amusing writer who here fails to probe deeper than his conventional bildungsroman theme. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One MAN OF LETTERS I am a failure.     Don't get me wrong, I say this without bitterness, without self-hatred, without irony. Also without pride, in case you're wondering about that. I state it as a fact merely, without editorial comment. It happens, that's my attitude. Nature tosses out all kinds of variants and crazy experiments to try their luck in the planetary battle for survival. Some succeed, some fail. The ones who fail die off or, at least, become bachelors-for-life, their branch of the evolutionary tree withers and dies, and they are never heard from again. The ones who succeed, on the other hand, establish an ecological niche dropping out of trees on unsuspecting birds, snaring fish in their poisonous tendrils, or, in the case of our own species, practicing law. They feather their nests and pass the genetic torch off to healthy, robust offspring.     What's the secret of their success? In other words, what's the secret of success on planet Earth?     It is the ability to adapt.     And I have failed to adapt: to my milieu, to my culture, and most of all, to my century. Everything about this century frightens me. World wars, nuclear weapons, concentration camps, global warming, desertification, the hole in the ozone layer, the Internet, Madonna, computers, credit cards. Sometimes I wish I'd been born in an earlier, simpler time. Of course, I wouldn't want to go too far back, to the Middle Ages, for example, when everyone's hair was alive with lice and they died at thirty and had sex with all their clothes on. No, I'd only want to go back a hundred years or so, say to late nineteenth-century England. That sounds like my kind of time and place; gas lamps, horsedrawn hansoms, twice-daily mail service. Naturally, I'd have to have been born into a wealthy, titled family. Oh, yes, that goes without saying. The poor had it rough in the nineteenth century, and the only serfing I ever want to do is high atop a gnarly wave off the coast of Cali or Oahu--not in a loincloth, following an ox down a furrow on some feudal estate, shagging my ass back to the lean-to and my little serfin' girl.     "Lord Davington." "Lord Davington of Fleet." That has a nice ring to it, don't you think? Your morning coffee, Lord Davington. Why thank you, Cheevers, just set it on the settee. Oh, and Cheevers? Yes, m'lud? Will you set out my punting clothes? I have a date on the Cam this aft with the Countess Veuve-Clicquot. But those are just pipe dreams, cloudy figments in the crystal ball of my imagination. I had such high hopes for myself, too. Wanted to be a writer and all that. After spending an inordinate amount of time in school--getting not one but two master's degrees in an orgy of academic overkill, my old man practically in a barrel--I finally emerged at age twenty-seven, heavily in debt, and headed to Manhattan to realize my grandiose dreams of literary superstardom.     My plan was simple. Shack up with my grad-school sweetheart Ruth, get a job, write on the side, and through a combination of luck, talent, and personal charm, soar to the top of the literary heap. I gave myself two, three years tops; after that, I would be toasted, I would be feted, I would ride everywhere in a limousine, starlet on either side of me, laughing and spilling champagne as we rode through the bumpy streets of the West Village on our way to the latest club or black-tie gala. On a typical day, dawn would find me half-asleep in a fountain in my tux, a half-full bottle of champagne bobbing in the water at my elbow. By noon I'd be brunching with my publisher in some chic uptown restaurant, discussing international rights and screenplay options. At dusk, I'd collect my tux from the cleaners and begin the whole round of celebrity-crammed parties all over again.     Needless to say, it didn't work out that way. In Manhattan, I was burned, but never toasted; I was fetid, but never feted. I didn't realize my dreams in New York, but life was dreamlike. Wandering alone in a mob of strangers, pursued by some nameless dread, when all of a sudden someone surges out of the crowd brandishing a pair of shoes, a fork, a piece of cheese on the end of a stick. What do you want? you want to ask, but no words emerge from your lips. Later you wake up in a cold sweat. Oh, you realize, he wanted to sell that to me.     Like Madonna, I got off the bus at Times Square with about fifty dollars in my pocket, big ambitions, and no talent or marketable skills. Unlike Madonna, though, I didn't become one of the most famous people in the world. Instead, I sank like a stone straight to the bottom of society. In Manhattan, the streets have teeth, and obviously with only fifty dollars between me and them, I needed a job prontissimo. My third day in the city, I got one, in the letters department at Newsweek magazine. Writing letters back to people who write in to the magazine, according to the card on the journalism-school job board. Well, I can handle that, I thought. It's not quite getting published, but at least it involves actual writing. In those days I looked at everything in terms of how my future biographers would view it, and this seemed like a good fit: "Upon arriving in Manhattan, David Henry took a lowly job as a letter writer for Newsweek magazine. Little did anyone realize that during these years he would develop the epistolary style for which he would later become so famous."     The card on the job board said the job title was "Letters Correspondent," but that wasn't quite true, either. I'll never forget my first day. A little wall-eyed elf named Donna--a ten-year Newsweek veteran--is showing me the ropes, taking me around to see the various points of interest, including the largest bank of filing cabinets I've ever seen. There must be five hundred drawers.     "Damn, that's a lot of filing cabinets," I say.     "Yes," she says thoughtfully, almost to herself. "There's quite a bit of filing on the job, more than most of us would like to admit, really. Hence the `clerk' in the tittle, I guess."     "Clerk? What do you mean?"     "That's your job tittle, didn't you know? Letters clerk."     So it's come to this, I thought. After all my teen cheese dreams of champagne-soaked limo rides and cocaine-dusted parties, this is the reality: I am a clerk. I may even have muttered it to myself to see how it sounded: "I am a clerk."     Oh, well, I said to myself. I won't stay long at this job. Just a few weeks, until I get on my feet.     I stayed nearly a year and a half. The job didn't have much to do with writing letters, either. Even in that humble expectation I was cruelly deceived. There were twelve of us in the letters department, all with advanced degrees, all sitting in two rows of desks in a room on the seventh floor of the world-famous Newsweek building on Madison Avenue, and what we mostly did all day was type addresses on postcards.     Newsweek gets about a thousand letters a week, from all over the world. A few VIPs--former astronauts, congresspersons, presidents of large countries or corporations--received personalized replies to their letters. These were drafted by one of us, the letters clerks, then edited and approved by Madeleine Edmonds, the letters editor. People with unusual comments or requests received one of Newsweek 's dizzying array of form letters, designed to cover almost any occasion, from requests for information to racist rants to letters written only in hieroglyphs to requests for money (and you'd be surprised how many of these there were, mostly from deluded Third World students who thought Newsweek would pay their tuition and book costs). These were filed alphanumerically in one of the cabinets along the wall.     But by far the vast bulk of our mail, general comments from the general population, received in reply a special preprinted postcard, called a "CU" for some reason lost in the mists of time. Our job was to check the return address on the reader's letter, type it on the CU, put the CU in the "out" basket, and file the reader's letter.     By the end of a year I was so bored I was paying the guy sitting behind me, Marek Waldorf, to do my job for me, while I loafed around my desk, reading the paper or a novel, talking on the phone, and eating junk food. When I'm bored, I eat. Every day I made four or five trips down the elevator to the newsstand on the first floor, returning each time loaded down with chips, cheesies, chocolate bars, ice-cream bars, and a diet Coke. When I began at Newsweek I weighed 185 pounds. After a year I weighed 225.     It started with bets.     "What's the capital of Peru?" I'd ask.     "Lima," Marek would say.     "Bullshit, it's something else."     "I'll bet you a one-inch stack of CUs it's Lima."     "You're on."     But Marek went to Harvard, he never lost. Eventually it wound up I just paid him to do all my letters. I paid him by the inch. So much for a one-inch stack of CUs, so much for a two-inch stack, and so on. I paid him well--I'm not one to exploit my employees--and Marek flourished at this piecework, so much so that after a while I realized I was actually paying him more than I was earning myself. In other words, I was losing money every day I dragged my ass into the office.     So I set about getting myself fired. I started coming in later and later, leaving earlier and earlier, taking longer and longer lunches, making longer and longer long-distance phone calls. I went on shopping sprees in the middle of the day--shopping safaris, they were really. It usually started with me running around the corner to Saks at lunch, then taking a cab uptown to Bloomingdale's. Several hours later, in a haze of guilt, I'd be sifting through the bargain bins on Canal Street, thinking, This is crazy, I should be getting back.     I now realize these shopping safaris were symptoms of my malaise; like my country itself (I was born in the U.S. but moved to Canada when I was twelve), I consumed instead of produced. I substituted the cheap high of a new shirt or whatever for the deep satisfaction of a life's work, solidly begun and persistently pursued.     As the late afternoon sun slanted through the venetian blinds of the letters department, I would return to my desk with an armload of logo-emblazoned bags from various uptown and downtown emporia, and wait for the ax to fall.     Why bother? you might be wondering. Why go to all this trouble to get yourself fired? Why not just quit? Well, it's easier said than done to quit your job in Manhattan. Psychologically, I mean. Everywhere you go are living, breathing reminders of how you could wind up if your luck runs out. They call Manhattan "the city that never sleeps," but everywhere you go, people are sleeping: on park benches, in doorways and cardboard boxes, sometimes flat-out, facedown on the sidewalk. And when a New Yorker sees a street person, they don't think: There but for the grace of God go I. No, they're too smart for that. They know no graceful God would put such festering suffering on such naked display just to provide a moment of Schadenfreude for the Yuppoisie. They think: There but for the grace of my boss, and a stacked-deck social system that allows bland, talentless people such as myself to succeed and prosper while others starve in the gutter, go I. And I'd better get going .     Every day, you emerge from your apartment and you see bums and limos, bums and limos. Which is it going to be, kid? There's no middle ground in Manhattan, no buffer, just the gutter, No buffer, just the gutter: that was my New York mantra, and I repeated it to myself every day as I hustled my butt to work. Finally, though, I did quit. I've always been a big believer in listening to your "little man," the voice in your head that tries to guide you. My little man had been practically screaming at me to quit my job for the last few months. Finally, he rented a plane and dragged one of those banners behind it, like you see at the beach. It said QUIT YOUR JOB NOW! As if in a trance I arose, walked over to Madeleine's office, and knocked on the door.     "Come in," said the voice from behind the door.     I entered. Madeleine was hunched over her desk, looking over a crossword puzzle through a pair of little half specs. I sat down across from her, and she looked at me over the tops of the half specs.     "How can I help you, David?"     "I don't know how to put this, Madeleine, I really like working here ... what I mean to say is, I appreciate you hiring me in the first place, but I'm afraid I have to quit."     "Why? What's the problem?"     "No problem--that is, I'm the problem, I guess, really."     And then it all came tumbling out. With my face on fire, staring at my shoes (in shocking shape, I suddenly noticed), I confessed all: Marek, the shopping safaris, the long-distance phone calls.     "So I guess you can see," I concluded, "I wouldn't really be doing you any favors by continuing to work here."     I looked up, to see how she was taking it all. To my surprise, she seemed almost not to be listening. She was gazing at an undefined point on her desk, preoccupied.     "Do you have another job lined up?" she asked, after a couple of moments.     "Uh, no--"     "What are you going to do?"     "Well, I've always wanted to write a novel."     "No, I meant, what are you going to do for money?"     "I don't know."     "Why don't you keep on working here, and write on the side?"     She still liked me, apparently, despite everything.     "I've tried, Madeleine. I try to wake up early and write before work, but I always wind up hitting the snooze button until the last minute. After work, I'm so wrung out I can hardly read, let alone write."     "It sounds as if you've made up your mind."     "I have. I'm sorry."     "I'm sorry, too, David. I always enjoyed your letters. They were very funny." She stood up and extended her hand. "Good luck."     "Thanks, Madeleine," I said as we shook hands.     On my way out, hand on the knob, I paused: "Say, Madeleine. Would you mind very much if I forgo the usual two-week waiting period and leave today?"     "Whatever suits you best, David."     "I won't be leaving you in the lurch?"     She laughed savagely, reaching over to her shelf to pull down a folder bulging with papers.     "These are the r‚sum‚s I've received in the last month alone. Let's see, here's a Ph.D. in medieval studies, here's an archaeologist. Here's a former mayor."     Man, I thought, times are tough. Well, you can have it. I'm outta here! I thanked her again, and left.     Outside, at my desk, I gathered up my papers, stuffed them into my bag, and looked around the room one last time. Everyone was typing away. No one looked up; they probably thought I was off on another extendo-lunch or shopping safari.     So long, suckers! I thought, but I didn't actually say goodbye to anyone. Why bother? I wouldn't miss them, they wouldn't miss me. Well, Marek might miss me. He would certainly miss the extra income. Copyright © 1999 David Eddie. All rights reserved.