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June 22, 2009


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Fitzgerald is an interesting example, because he wasn't against riches per say. He liked money, too. What he thought caused all the moral rot was when people didn't work for their money - when they lived off their riches and other people's efforts, rather than doing something constructive for themselves.

I tend to agree with Fitzgerald. Many years ago, I worked as a receptionist for a venture capital firm. (I know, I know - can you imagine ME there?) All of the partners were rich - I mean, rich! - it's a rich person's game. As I encountered many very wealthy folks, I began to realize something. It wasn't the dollar amount in the bank account of the person that seemed to define their personalities - it was their attitude towards their money. It was when the person had a sense of entitlement because of their wealth - when they felt the rest of the world existed for their benefit because they had a bigger bank balance than most people - that they turned into something rather unsavory. I used to joke that if one particular partner ever lost his money, he'd be in big trouble, because he'd never had to do anything for himself. He didn't even know his own wife's work phone number - why bother to memorize it when he had me or one of the other secretaries to dial it for him? And don't get me started about the time his poor (probably undocumented) Guatemalan housekeeper accidentally bought the wrong toilet paper and called us in hysterics (Chuck liked a specific kind that was found in the executive bathrooms of a very tony Baltimore department store). Once I spent a miserable two days typing up his family history back to Martha Washington's cousin, from whom apparently he was descended (it contained numerous side notes about what fine people they all were; I was never so happy to be riffraff). Most of his "working" time was spent on the phone buying antiques and berating his domestic staff. He was the caricature of the spoiled son of the idle rich, and being around him for more than five minutes turned me into a raging Marxist.

The other partners weren't like this. They were all rich as Croesus, but they worked hard and knew their wives' phone numbers and frankly weren't that concerned about the toilet paper issue. In fact, they found Chuck as annoying as we did and used to run interference for us when he got too high-and-mighty.

I'm no economist (I can't even balance my checkbook) and I know this is oversimplifying, but it seems to me that a lot of what happened in the September crash came from a system that rewarded people not for work, but for playing a kind of game with other folks' money. Maybe the last part of the quote should be "if the crash of last September taught us anything, it's that our parents were right. You can't get something for nothing. If you build an economy on the principle that you can, eventually the whole system will collapse around you like so much sand."

I, on the other hand, am a poet and a teacher, and so have no money at all, but lots of moral fiber to comfort me in the cold winter.'s how quickly fortunes fail.
(by that I intend all fortune's meanings)

If the crash of last September taught me anything, it's that I need, next time, to marry UP.

I'm not even kidding.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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This Way Out

by T.P.Winch

Ringfinger was nervous
Pinky terrified
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.



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