Monday, August 2, 2010




I had a problem with money.

I had a problem with money even when I didn’t know what money was.

Try as I might (which, of couse, I didn’t), I always have had it.

Every now and then I (surreptitiously) think: maybe mine is a solution with money, not a problem. But, usually I get convinced otherwise, because it is a solution that enough people consider a problem that I have begun to think I must have the problem, even when I do not. It just gives me a headache to think about money, mainly because it requires thinking in numbers, and I think in words.

But, hey, if you think you have a problem, you have a problem. Not so with a solution.

So, my problem is that I don’t care about money.

I admit that this sounds crazy, but I have always had a problem with, “crazy,” too. I think more people ought to look at, “crazy,” as the answer to their problem, not as their problem.

Whenever I needed some money to get access to a thing, or a place, or a reasonable facsimle of a thing or a place, I got it. I can’t explain it; I assume it’s just luck, but all the same, I got it. Maybe I wasn’t ambitious enough to be disappointed.

I remember drawing charcoal portraits of guy’s girfriends from their high school prom pictures and selling them on the idea that this would make a neat Christmas present for their girl.

I was 17 and a college freshman. I did it only because I needed $100 to live for three days in Washington D.C., in January,1964. Ten portraits at $10-a-piece covered it. Never did it again. I didn’t need it.

When I needed pizza and beer money at Marist College, I played guitar and sang with two friends every Friday and Saturday night for seven months at Foster’s Coach House Tavern in Rhinebeck, N.Y.

Hell, I sent money home.

I drove a Bungalow Bar Ice Cream Truck, worked in the freezer at Good Humor Ice Cream Corp., was a proofboy at Newsday, taught 7th grade English, and spent 40 years writing for newspapers.

I must have thought about money, worried a little now and then, but, never really cared about it.

So, I would imagine now, when life looks a little bleak, newspapers are struggling (all right, a little understatement there), I’m paralyzed on my right side, can’t pay attention to two things at the same time and only recently have sworn off falling on pavement, I should pay dearly for my fiscal negligence. I should suffer severely for my devil-may-care attitude towards my own financial well-being. I should be poised on a precipence over disaster from which I never can recover.

Check this out:

Whenever Newsday’s financial experts offered Newsday’s employees the opportunity to sock away more money for the distant future, I elected to do it. Not because I was prudent, because I wasn’t prudent. I figured, if I let you keep any of my pay away from me for my own good, don’t even tell me about it. Just do it.

In recent decades, various financal machinations have occurred way over my head that, unbeknownst to me, profited me for my not knowing I could have prevented them (and, lose my shirt).

Maybe 15 years ago, a couple of tectonic plates shifted that sent rumblings under even my sheets, and I started to try to understand what I knew I could not understand, and therefore worry and care about money, which I knew I could not ever do without driving off the road and into a tree.

Okay, so I’m now in my fifties and in the market for a, “financial advisor,” a role I’ve heard about a bazillion times and think of the way I used to think of an, “engineer.” He passes tests that I cannot decipher; he makes a lot of money; and I haven’t the vaguest idea what he does; let alone what he does with my money.

I pick a total stranger, recommended by an ex-colleage I rarely talk to but bump into one day. Big, impressive company; impressive, work ethic; impressive furniture; impressive secretary who calls and makes me feel cared for. I give him my money.

I tell a friend, an ex-math teacher and retired school administrator, who hears me out and says, “Good.” I don’t know he is a free-lance financial advisor. He doesn’t identify himself that way. He just says, “Good,” and because he majored in math and talks in numbers, I am comforted.

A few years later, my, “financial advisor,” whom I do not know, switches to another big, impressive company. He asks me—and, presumably, every other of his customers—to switch impressive companies with him.

I balk.

I don’t know this guy.

Now, the impressive company who used to employ my guy sends two (two?) strange guys to take me out to lunch to talk me into abandoning the first guy and staying with them.


I have three strange guys and two impressive companies wanting to take care of me.

I return to the friend to ask him what I should do. He looks at my papers, which I never look at, and he says my guy has been, “pretty good” to me.

I plead: “Look, save me. Even if my guy is pretty good, I don’t even know him.”

My friend takes over all my stuff. He explains that he’s putting more than half into an account that will earn something like 5 per cent, no matter what happens. He explains all kinds of other stuff I know I’ll never remember, but I am happy.

A few months go by. There’s a big recession. I am spared. Another year; I have a colossal stroke.

But, I can retire, if I want, because my money, which I had a problem with, is okay.

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