Friday, January 25, 2013

COLUMN: Fiscal Status

It's a bad time for my Uncle Mitch. He's spent the better part of the week yelling at us through cyberspace that America is, quite literally, going to hell for re-electing a Kenyan-born Socialist Muslim president intent on destroying our society and taking away his guns. It's riveting stuff -- by which I mean I want to put rivets through my brain every time I log on Facebook.

I suppose if our President really IS hiding a secret socialist agenda, it'd probably be bad for the world at large... but what about yours truly? I barely have a political bone in my body, but I keep hearing that one of the principal components of socialism involves the redistribution of wealth -- and as long as that wealth gets redistributed MY way, I'm cool with it.

I'm not complaining. I've got a job that I'm excited to get to every day, and that's more than many folks can say. I'm got a house, a car, a seemingly endless supply of cat food, and a well-used Netflix subscription. As far as I'm concerned, I'm living high on the hog. That said, if you're the kind of person who's less concerned with job satisfaction and more focused on a lifestyle that requires narration by Robin Leach, journalism might not be the career path for you.

Truth is, as grateful as I am for my current fiscal status, I've watched some of my best friends work their way up to the champagne wishes and caviar dreams of the 1% club. I know I'm not supposed to get jealous -- in fact, I think I'm supposed to sit on their lawns and hold protest signs against their very nature -- but occasionally I get a twinge.

Last weekend, I went to a concert at a casino in Chicago with one of my closest friends from college -- let's call him Phineas J. Moneypants, Esquire. Once upon a time, we were broke dorm-dwellers fighting over spare change in the cracks of couch cushions. Today, he's a successful divorce attorney with a thriving practice, a staff of employees, and I presume a golden mattress lined with hundred dollar bills ripped directly from the pockets of big city love gone wrong. It's okay, I occasionally sleep on money, too -- just the other day I was taking a morning shower when no less than seven cents fell off my thigh. Score!

Phineas suggested that we all meet up at the casino steakhouse for a quick bite to eat before the gig. Sounded good to me, until I decided to check out the steakhouse's online menu in advance.

They had a impressive array of steak, that's for sure -- the cheapest of which was $32. And their signature steak? "Grass-fed American Wagyu" for the low price of $59. Now, I don't know what a "wagyu" is, but for 59 bucks, it had better be on the endangered species list, come when I call it, and stuff itself with rubies before serving. Sorry, but I simply refuse to pay sixty bucks for anything that goes in one end and out the other. And did I mention that Phineas is a VEGETARIAN?!

And that was JUST the steak, mind you. Side dishes are to be ordered separately and priced individually. "Corn," for instance, was an additional $7. Not fancy-schmancy corn-ala-something-French. Just corn, presumably in a bowl. Last I checked, seven bucks buys you 27 ears of corn at the farmer's market. This better be wagyu corn. Heck, it better be the world's rarest corn, grown in the enchanted forests of Narnia and harvested by overpaid fairies only on a full moon during Leap Day. It had better taste like magic. I'll tell you one thing it better NOT taste like, though: corn, because I know what corn tastes like, and it sure doesn't taste like seven bucks plus tax and tip.

Is that what the wealthy do these days? Pay three times the normal price for stuff just for fun? If that's the case, I'm gonna move to Chicago and open up the world's first Wagyu gas station, "for the gasoline conoisseur." Yes, we realize that it's $9 a gallon, sir, but this is GOURMET fuel.

I'd already maxed my budget on ticket and travel expenses, so I put the kibash on the triple-digit meal and told Phineas I'd meet him at the show. I was embarassed to admit I couldn't afford the grass-fed finer side of life, and Phineas was embarassed to have assumed that I could.
I thought we'd put our fiscal differences behind us -- until AFTER the show. That's when Phineas decided he was up for a little post-concert gambling. As we walked through the casino, we were reminiscing about concerts and bands and girlfriends and dormitories and it was ALMOST enough fun for me NOT to notice when he walked up to an ATM and withdrew ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS -- you know, "fun money."

I cannot, in good or bad conscience, withdraw $1000 from the ATM. For starters, I would sincerely hope that my bank would forbid it and/or immediately call to report suspicious activity on my account. But that's beside the point, because there isn't enough money in my account to even make it a possibility. If I take out more than $20, I usually have to stand there and do long division to make sure it's even feasible.

"Dude, have fun. Relax. Gamble for a few minutes."

"Okay," I said. I reached into my pocket, grabbed my remaining $5, stuck it into a slot machine, pulled the handle five times, and lost all my soda pop money for the ride home. "There. That was super fun, you're right."

I give Phineas too much grief. If I made his moolah, I'd probably waste it all on poker and fancy food, too. If it wasn't for the 1%, the rest of us 99% would have nothing to protest, the Kardashians would be really boring people, and none of us would be able to experience the priceless entertainment of Donald Trump's Twitter account.

Besides, if I really want Phineas' kind of money, it should be getting redistributed my way any day now. Just ask Uncle Mitch.

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