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That spring, when I had a great deal of potential and no money at all, I took a job as a janitor.
This first line of James Alan McPherson’s “Gold Coast” contains a lot of promise or may be potential to use his own word – and it lives up to that promise.
Robert, the narrator, takes a job as a janitor in an apartment building around Harvard Square. A few hints let the reader know that he is a writer. He also tells his story and the stories around him with a sharp wit and an articulate depth.
Robert looks down on the previous janitor in the building possibly for not showing the kind of potential he, himself, has. But after a while, the older man reveals that there is more to him than one might immediately guess. While this breaking down of stereotypes may be one of the themes of “Gold Coast”, I think the loss of potential might be another one. Though we don’t know the outcome of Robert’s life, his optimism seems to say that he lives up to his potential – unlike his predecessor. And while this nice little line from towards the end of the story speaks to a specific time in the story, I think we could see the reference to summer and winter as indications of potential obtained or lost:
Everyone was restless for change, for August is the month when undone things must be finished or regretted all through the winter
“Gold Coast” is included in The Best Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike. I read it when I selected the Five of Clubs for Week 40 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.