01/24/2013 09:40 am ET Updated Mar 26, 2013

The Worst Credit Card Story of All Time

"Do you know where I am?"

"It's three in the morning," croaks Son, his voice raspy from sleep.

"I make it ... twenty-two minutes after three ... London time." Dad is calm, his voice commanding. His accent hints of a childhood down south. He is standing outside on the street corner, cell phone in one ear, finger in the other as cabbies scrape and squeal for post-Broadway fares.

"Can't this wait? I have a test tomorrow morning."

"At that fine center for higher learning where I'm paying your tuition, right?"

Son thinks, Uh-oh. Stretching, rubbing his eyes, he is awake now. He says nothing, bracing himself for the downward spiral about to begin.

Dad says nothing either. They are two men separated by 3,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean, five hours of time zone, and thirty-two years in age. But the silence between them cannot be quantified. It is a vast, infinite gulf of dead air time.

Finally, Son returns to the beginning, to Dad's opening salvo. "I take it you're in New York?"

"Hosting a dinner for my biggest client. Which begs the question: why am I calling while your mother and two other people, who indirectly underwrite your tuition at the London School of Economics, are patiently waiting for me to return?"

Son returns Dad's sarcasm in kind. "The thought had crossed my mind."

"Let me ask you something. Did you have a good time in Germany?"


Last year when the New York Times reviewed The Trust, Janet Maslin described my novel as "beach-reading money porn."

I liked that. So much so that I googled "money porn" which, much to my dismay, generated a list of websites likely to leave your computer with gifts that keep giving. Know what I mean?

But I digress.

This story is pure money porn. I have taken some liberties with the dialogue and locations in order to protect the identities of Son and Dad. But the events are completely true, and I have written them as best as I remember what my friend said.


"Err ... Germany was okay." No more retaliatory sarcasm from Son. He knows this conversation will not end well. Not sure why.

"I take it you enjoyed Oktoberfest?"

"If you like that sort of thing," replies Son, attempting to sound contrite. Months ago he had reported to a friend, "Dude, it was the bomb."

"Your flight was okay?"


"So let me ask you something. Did you go with anyone?"

"Couple of the guys."

"Good," says Dad. "That's helpful. Now, while you and the guys were bouncing around the beer halls, is there any chance you had a few too many?"

"Not on purpose. It just kind of happens that way at Oktoberfest."

"Right. And when you returned to London, did you ever develop a strange feeling in the pit of your stomach that you had left something behind? Anything?"

Son replies, "No." But realizing he has spoken too quickly, he stretches the word into two syllables. "No" sounds somewhat southern, like his father's pronunciation. "No-oh?"

"Let's go back to the flight. 'Uneventful' if I recall correctly."

"Can you please tell me what's wrong?" Son glances at the woman in his bed. She is starting to stir. He hopes she does not wake and say something. No doubt Dad will hear.

"Can you remember how you and the guys got from the terminal to those beer halls?"

Son thinks. He really thinks.

Dad waits.

Suddenly, a vague recollection morphs into an uncomfortable, horrifying moment of eureka recollection. Son says, "Oh sh**."

"Right. Oh, sh**. I'm sitting here with your mother, my clients, and a restaurant bill I can't pay. And you know why? I'm maxed out on my credit card all because the rental company charged me for the BMW you never returned."

This is money porn gone bad.