Under the Sun
Spending money unwisely sometimes brings comfort
WHAT I know about economics and finances would probably fit in one of those glossy, tri-fold brochures that occasionally appears in my mailbox.
Stuck between magazines and bundles of catalogs tempting me to buy something I don't need, the pamphlets offer seminars, usually at some hotel ballroom, where some rich guy in a shiny suit will reveal his secrets for success. For free, of course. All you have to pay for are his exclusive market investment white papers, his books, his CDs and high-definition DVDs, so "Sign up now! Space is limited!"
Most people would figure out that the way this guy got rich was by suckering the gullible into buying his "wealth" products, but I have a few acquaintances who have taken the bait and lived to tell about it, though not without considerable embarrassment.
When I was younger, my roommate and I were lured to one of these snake-oil sessions. It was held in a college auditorium and drew about 50 people on a snowy evening.
She was selling flowers at a roadside stand -- really just a folding table covered with a gingham sheet of plastic -- to supplement a small trust fund that barely covered half of the rent. Like me, she was a college graduate, though her education was Ivy League and mine was state university.
It wasn't long into the presentation that we realized the whole thing was a ridiculous fraud, little more than a pyramid scheme. We stood up to leave, but at the door, a man who was introduced earlier as a "winning team" member -- the type with a big, toothy smile, crushing hand shake and really bad aftershave -- tried to talk us into staying. We walked, but he trailed us down the hallway, out into the icy parking lot, keeping up the aggressive chatter until we finally called him a crook and shut the car doors on him. He struck the windshield with his fist. We could hear him yelling nasties at us as we drove away.
In recollection, it sounds funny, but at the time, we were scared. I'm not sure why we had gone there since we were smart enough to know that get-rich-quick schemes don't pan out. But we worked at jobs that didn't pay a lot, earning enough to get by without much left over after bills, and we wanted more.
Trouble is wanting more can get you in deep, and over the years, experience and periodic bouts with short-term deficits have curbed the desire. Not that I don't have a stash of stuff for which I've paid dearly, but it's stuff that has some meaning or that reminds me of special places and seasons in life.
Maybe getting older stifles the desire for spending, shuffles out wants from needs, or maybe the buying bug isn't always a chronic infection. At any rate, when I see people in the malls shopping and acquiring, I wonder if there is some great pleasure I'm missing.
I do remember that after my roommate and I escaped the stinky shill, we headed for a W.T. Grant store. There we found comfort in blowing the cash set aside for our heating bill to get cheap, shag wigs. Mine was platinum blonde, hers midnight blue to cover her yellow hair. They kept our heads warm through the falling snow.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org