Coffee heat rising

Freedom’s just another word…

In the “just another word for nothin’ left to lose” department, take a look at this excellent post by Curmudgeon at BripBlap. Aside from having delivered an awesome piece of writing here, Curmudgeon is dead center on target. You don’t want to lose what matters in the pursuit of money or career.

Some years ago I connected with an old acquaintance. She was an associate professor in the Speech Department when I was in graduate school. Shortly after I finished the degree, she disappeared from the scene. She started a business of her own, catering to large corporations: basically what she did was hire out to teach the subject matter she’d taught in the classroom, only tailored to employee development. Before long she expanded the business to D.C. By the time we touched base again, she had farmed out the Washington office to a partner and moved back to the desert, where she continued to direct the operation. When we met for lunch, she was wearing more on her back than my entire net worth.

Like Curmudgeon, she had undergone a life-threatening medical experience while she was hitting her stride as a young professor, one that forced her to think about whether she really wanted to keep on with her job. When this happened to her, she was tenured and set for a perfectly fine academic career at a time when academic jobs were hard to come by. Her decision? She thought not.

The insight she gained from a dangerous health crisis was much the same as Curmudgeon’s: trading off your health for money—or for a job that makes you unhappy, for whatever reason—isn’t worth it.

Interestingly, after my friend started doing what she wanted to do with her life, she started to mint money. She loved what she was doing, and people paid her well for it.

The money will take care of itself. You have to take care of yourself.

No Crash Here: Riches in the Department of What Matters

Spring has sprung in these parts. The weather—never bad this winter, really—has been spectacular for the past several weeks. Everything is in blossom. At this time of year, the citrus perfumes the air like frangipani in the South Pacific islands. It reminds us that our strange, abstract human constructs of “wealth” are so silly as to be meaningless. Does losing a quarter million bucks in real estate and the stock market really matter when far more believable riches surround us?

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Wonderful as flowers are, I’m planting a lot more vegetables in the garden. That chard borders the pool, and probably will grow there through the summer. Soon its neighbors, the beets and carrots, will be ready to harvest. Meanwhile, yesterday in a part of the yard that gets more sun I put in some cantaloupe and some butternut squash, which I hope will grow from grocery-scavenged seeds.As times grow even harder, food is going to be more expensive; possibly even scarce. So, the flowers will have to make way for things that can be eaten.

The yard already has plenty of that: I’ve been scarfing tree-ripened oranges for the past two and a half months, and now the oranges, lemon, and lime are all covered with new blossoms. Next winter will see another bumper crop of citrus, I think.

Those oranges are sweet as candy. Eat your heart out, Warren Buffett!

What’s a thing worth?

When M’hijito and I were buying appliances for the Renovation House, we picked up a nice but not gaudy gas stove at Sears for about $800. It occurred to me to wonder what really, in human terms, an $800 stove costs. Based on what we know people in various trades and professions earn, here’s an estimate:

  • About 4 hours, plus an LL.D. and 40 years of legal experience, of practicing law at Prestigious Southwestern Law Firm
  • About two days of house painting and plaster or drywall repair
  • About 29 hours, plus a Ph.D. and 30 years’ editorial experience, of deciphering cryptic English written by Chinese mathematicians and training graduate students to spend their lives doing the same
  • About 29 hours, plus a contractor’s license, bonding, and 30 years of experience in the trades, of tiling bathroom stalls and counters, demolition work, installing cabinetry, repairing lath & plaster, rebuilding foundations, installing toilets, installing glass shower doors, hauling trash, and undoing some other guy’s mess
  • About 47½ hours of talking on the telephone to distressed, pained, and enraged Vast Nationwide Insurance Company policy-holders
  • About five 14-hour days (no overtime paid) at the Great Desert University of grading illiterate, plagiarized papers scribbled by the sons and daughters of the American middle class
  • About 66 hours of scrubbing floors, cleaning bathrooms, dusting furniture, scouring kitchens, polishing windows, changing catboxes, changing and laundering sheets, dusting miniblinds, vacuuming carpets, mopping tile, and sweeping the front porch
  • About 80 hours — two endless 40-hour weeks — of chasing other people’s children around, changing diapers, feeding children junk food, listening to children scream, cleaning up baby barf, and wiping toddler bottoms
  • About 114 hours — that’s almost 2½ six-day or almost 3 five-day weeks, plus two weeks of walking across the Sonoran desert in 110-degree heat — of mowing lawns, trimming thorny shrubbery, digging ditches, and hauling trash
  • About 155 hours — almost four 40-hour weeks, plus two weeks of walking across the Sonoran desert in 110-degree heat — of lifting demented, stinking old men and women, of steeling yourself to their wails, of stuffing food and medication down their throats, of changing their diapers, of parking them in wheelchairs and rolling them into the shower and washing the sh** and the sweat and the barf off them, of changing their sheets and changing their clothes

So it goes. Every thing that we own has a human cost. These are just the costs to you and me and our fellow workers of buying a thing. They don’t count the human cost of digging the raw materials out of the ground to mill the steel required to make its parts or the gas required to operate it; they don’t count the time and effort human beings had to put in to building it and installing the infrastructure to make it work.

Each time we decide we want to buy an object, we should think about what the privilege of owning that object really costs.


4 Comments left on iWeb site


I love it.

Friday, May 30, 200810:46 AM


This is fabulous!

Saturday, May 31, 200803:03 PM


You don’t sound very happy about, nor do you sound well-suited for, working at a nursing home, or wherever you “lift stinking old men and women” around.

Someday, you’ll be there, too. I hope you receive morecompassionate care.

Monday, June 2, 200806:50 AM


I don’t work in a nursing home, thank God. But I watched my mother die in one. It was a horrible place. I watched the women who worked there, from the nurses to the drudges who had to do the most awful scutwork. Nurses are paid well, but drudges are not. The work is just hideous.

My mother did stink. The smell of cancer is not pleasant. Nor are the screams and moans of the desperately demented and the truly anguished.The “compassion” you get when you’re in an HMO and your disease cuts into the profit margin is negligible.

It’s easy to be self-righteous…but the truth is, a nursing home can be a dreadful place to work, and the labor is difficult and unpleasant.

Monday, June 2, 200807:06 AM