Almost Zero

Almost ZeroThir­ty-plus years ago, at my count, the teenaged daugh­ter of a friend came home one day, demand­ing that her moth­er buy her a cer­tain thing—an arti­cle of cloth­ing? a music sys­tem? a tele­vi­sion for her room?—I can’t remem­ber. What­ev­er the item, the teen insist­ed she need­ed it, and point­ed­ly informed her par­ent that said par­ent had to sup­ply the item because, well, that’s what moth­ers are for. To my friend’s cred­it, her head did not explode, nor did her voice, or her hack­les, rise, nei­ther did she scream or shout. Instead, she did a very slow sim­mer, nod­ded her head and said some­thing like, “I see. Let me give that some thought.”

The next day, while her daugh­ter was at school, my friend removed almost every stitch of cloth­ing her daugh­ter owned from her room, as well as pret­ty much every­thing else—posters, radio, music albums, etc, etc, etc. What remained was one school uni­form and, I think, under­wear and a night­gown. When her daugh­ter ran scream­ing through the house, my friend explained that, as the par­ent, she was respon­si­ble for pro­vid­ing her child with food, basic cloth­ing, and a roof over her head. Every­thing else was extra!

Now, that’s what I call poet­ic justice!

I’m will­ing to wager her daugh­ter nev­er for­got this les­son, and nei­ther did I. In fact, I remem­ber fil­ing this inci­dent away in my mind, and think­ing, “One of these days, I’m going to use this in a story.”

Sev­er­al years ago, I found myself bemoan­ing the rise of enti­tle­ment in our soci­ety, but most espe­cial­ly among our young. Oth­ers noticed and fre­quent­ly com­ment­ed on the mat­ter as well. That was my sig­nal to tack­le the top­ic, and I began sketch­ing out a draft for Almost Zero: A Dya­monde Daniel Book. 

In the orig­i­nal draft, Dya­monde orders her mom to buy her an expen­sive pair of high-top sneak­ers. After her moth­er responds by tak­ing away almost all of Dya­mon­de’s cloth­ing, Dya­monde schemes to get them back. Some of her schemes were pret­ty fun­ny, I thought, but my edi­tor felt there need­ed to be more to the sto­ry so I put my think­ing cap back on, and won­dered what Dya­monde would do if she encoun­tered some­one who, for some rea­son, owned even few­er clothes than Dya­monde had left in her clos­et. That ques­tion led me to a sec­ondary sto­ry about a class­mate whose fam­i­ly los­es every­thing in a fire, to which Dya­monde responds by orga­niz­ing a cloth­ing drive.

In the end, I was glad my edi­tor had pushed me to expand my orig­i­nal sto­ry. The final ver­sion was rich­er and deep­er by far. Almost Zero went on to win great reviews, as well as the Horace Mann Upstanders Award.

I’ll leave you with excerpts from one of my favorite pas­sages in the book. It pos­es the key ques­tion we all should ask when we rec­og­nize a need in our com­mu­ni­ty or in our world: What can I do?

“Class,” said Mrs. Cordell, look­ing up now. “Some of you may have noticed that Isabel isn’t here today. Last night, there was a ter­ri­ble fire in the apart­ment house where her fam­i­ly lives, and their apart­ment was destroyed. Every­one got out safe­ly, thank God, but the fam­i­ly lost every­thing they owned….” 

“Is there gonna be a clothes dri­ve or some­thing?” asked Dya­monde… 

“Well, Dya­monde, the school can’t do any­thing officially…Of course, you’re always free to do some­thing on your own, if you like.”

What can I do? Dya­monde asked her­self. I don’t have any mon­ey. Then it hit her. But I do have clothes! Somewhere…


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