Who will tell you stories then?

John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark. 1778, oil paint, 6' x 7'6". Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.

A friend of mine in Hollywood once built a twenty-foot waterfall in his backyard to ward off his dire premonitions, which were bound up with his bad marriage and a terrible case of the shakes. He became convinced that something awful would happen.

In the morning, he would take up his position at a picnic table outside his house in the Hollywood Hills and supervise the work of a team of Mexican laborers from beneath the shade of a folding table umbrella. At the end of the day, he dragged out a fat roll of bills from his pocket and paid the men who lugged and cemented large stones according to his plan, which he wrote out by hand on a legal pad and changed with the position of the sun in the sky, or the day of the week, or some other less explicable factor. His wad of cash diminished over time, until one night three men broke into his house and pressed a gun to his head and took the rest.

My friend decided that the best response to this shocking turn of events was to keep quiet, and so the stones sat in a pile in his backyard along with the remaining bags of cement. A week later, after he failed to call the police, the men showed up for work and finished the job. It pays sometimes to keep your mouth shut.

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