Easy Money
bathrooms, lifted food from the grocery store and Burlington socks from high-end department stores, cut his own hair, bought his designer clothes secondhand, and sneaked in for free at the gym when the receptionist wasn’t looking. He rented a room from a certain Mrs. Reuterskiöld—well, Putte, Fredrik, Nippe, and the other guys did know about that. Being a boarder was the only thing about his real situation that he hadn’t been able to hide. It was accepted somehow.
    JW became a pro at being cheap. He wore contacts only on the days he had to and used the one-month disposable kind much longer than recommended, until his eyes itched like hell. He always brought his own bags when he went grocery shopping to avoid the tiny bag fee, bought Euroshopper-brand food, poured budget vodka from Germany into Absolut bottles—miraculously, no one ever seemed to notice.
    JW lived like a rat when no one was watching. Big-time.
    He just barely earned enough to make it work. He got money courtesy of the welfare state: a student allowance, student loans, and housing assistance. But that didn’t go far with his habits. He found salvation in a part-time job—as a gypsy cabbie.
    Balancing the checkbook was hard. He easily dropped two thousand kronor on a night out with the boyz. With luck, he could pull in the same amount on a good night in the cab. His strengths as a driver: He was young, looked nice, and wasn’t an immigrant. Everybody would brave a ride with JW.
    The challenge of the game was becoming one of them, truly. He read etiquette books, learned the jargon, the rules, and the unwritten codes. Listened to the way they talked, the nasal sound of it, worked hard to eliminate his northern accent. He learned what slang to use and in which contexts, understood what clothes were
what ski resorts in the Alps were
which vacation destinations in Sweden were
The list wasn’t long: Torekov, Falsterbo, Smådalarö, et cetera. He knew the trick was always to spend with class. Buy a Rolex watch, buy a pair of Tod’s shoes, buy a Prada jacket, buy a Gucci folder in alligator skin for your lecture notes. He looked forward to the next step, buying a BMW cab in order to realize the last of the three
’s: backslick, beach tan, BMW.
    JW was good; it worked. High society took him in. He counted. He was considered fun, hot, and generous. But he knew they still noticed something. There were gaps in his story; they weren’t familiar with his parents, hadn’t heard of the place he went to school. And it was hard to keep the lies straight. Sometimes they wondered if he’d really been on a spring break trip to Saint Moritz. No one who’d been there at the time remembered having seen him. Had he really lived in Paris, pretty close to the Marais? His French wasn’t exactly super. They could feel it: Something was off, but they didn’t know what. JW recognized what his challenges were: to create effective camouflage, to fit in and seem genuine to the core. To be accepted.
    And why? He didn’t even know the answer. Not because he didn’t think about it—he knew he was driven by a desire for validation, to feel special. But he didn’t get why he’d chosen this particular way of doing it, which was the easiest route to humiliation. If he was found out, he might as well leave the city. Sometimes he thought maybe that’s exactly why he kept pushing it, because of some self-destructive desire to see how far he could take it. To be forced to deal with the shame of being found out. Deep down, he probably couldn’t have cared less about Stockholm. He wasn’t from there. Didn’t feel as though the city had anything profound to offer—other than attention, parties, chicks, the glamorous life, and money. Superficialities. It could be any city, really. But right now, the capital was where it was at.
    JW had a real story. He came from Robertsfors, a small town above Umeå, in the rural north, and moved to Stockholm when he was a junior

Similar Books

Faraway Places

Tom Spanbauer

Running with the Pack

Mark Rowlands

When Mum Went Funny

Jack Lasenby

God of the Rodeo

Daniel Bergner

Drop Everything Now

Alessandra Thomas