All That Glitters

Wealth is a strange phenomenon. How much am I making and is it more than that twerp who sat in front of me in math class and went on to become the multi-millionaire head of the bank that bankrupted America? We’re always measuring ourselves against somebody or something. Do I make more than my father did when he was my age? Yeah, then how come he was able to buy a new car every other year and I’m still driving a ten-year-old minivan that has the front bumper wired on like a deranged orthodontic patient? How come I still have an analog TV that takes five minutes to change channels and my paperboy has a flat screen HDTV that gets movies in 3-D from Singapore and Dancing With The Stars in 4-D from Alpha Centauri? How come the neighbors get to go out for dinner at the Ritz and I’m home using hot dog helper to stretch my Tofutti dogs? When do I get mine?

In the old days, the measure of a man was how much land he had, and how many crops he was able to grow. Nowadays we pride ourselves in how green and weed-free our lawns are, and whether or not we’ve successfully wiped out all species of beetle, aphid and dandelion anywhere within 50 feet of the patio. We’ve substituted green grass for green money. We also like to showcase the fantastic equipment that we use to take care of our green, and ride like cowboys on the biggest horsepower lawnmowers, or have a squadron of armed landscapers wearing noise-suppressing headphones come in with an arsenal of mowers, blowers and trimmers to mow it down and blow it all away.

Even environmentalists try to impress people by trying to out-green them. We make less impact on the Earth than a dung beetle. Our footprint is so small even Cinderella couldn’t fit into our tiny green slippers. We recycle our toothpicks and Post-It notes. Our children not only eat everything on their plates, but they’re only too happy to finish all the leftovers in the fridge before they go bad because they know that their future is totally dependent on eating those leftovers. They don’t want to have to grow up to someday inherit a blighted planet and have their parents remind them repeatedly, “You know it didn’t have to be like this. If only you’d eaten that leftover tuna noodle casserole and broccoli there might still be ladybugs and honeybees. Oh well, this synthesized dirt-protein shake isn’t really so bad, now that they’ve perfected the chemical flavorings. Yeah, it’s really not any worse than the Kool-Aid we used to drink when I was a kid.”

In olden times, kings and others of the royal mafia not only were huge landholders, but also supplemented their wealth by pillaging, plundering and hoarding gold, silver and jewels. This sort of portable wealth made it easier to vacation on the Riviera or Crusade down in the Holy Land. It was certainly much easier than trying to get everything you wanted by trading beans and turnips. “I’d like to buy a pair of those boots in a size 10. How much are they? Two gold pieces? Well, I don’t have any change on me, how about ten bushels of rutabagas, instead?”

Nowadays we’ve substituted gold cards for gold. It’s no longer how much you have that counts, but how much you can borrow. This has worked out for the fairly brief period of history since we’ve invented these cards and given them out to everyone with a paycheck, or bank account, or a pulse, and then watched as they went on wild shopping sprees, buying everything their hearts desire with the intention of paying for it all later, with some as-yet-unknown bonanza of cash that they will receive after they figure out how to unload their bumper crop of ruta-blogs.

Unfortunately for everyone who lent this money out, the value of ruta-blogs has plummeted, as has the value of all the tangible assets that we’ve bought with our gold cards. The houses and furnishings are all on the foreclosure sale market at pennies on the dollar. eBay is the biggest seller in the country, specializing in items that even pawn shops won’t touch. There’s a yard sale on every block filled with the detritus of lives gone awry. City governments are broke while state governments are trying to weasel out of paying pensions to workers who served the public for 30 or 40 years.

Maybe all those gold cards and green lawns weren’t such a great idea after all. Maybe the real wealth of a man is in his ability to harmonize with his surroundings, and learn how to appreciate the simple things in life, instead of always striving for more and more glitter. Perhaps it’s time to dig up those lawns and plant a nice crop of tomatoes, and cucumbers, and — why not – rutabagas. They may look funny, and sound funny, but they make a delicious soup. There’s nothing that makes a man feel as wealthy as filling his belly with homecooked food he’s grown in his own yard. And who knows, when you’re digging up your roots you may even run across the treasure chest that your old miserly, tax-cheating uncle is rumored to have buried in the garden so long ago.

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