Dateline: Downtown

Dateline: Downtown

Dateline: Downtown

Dan Roche

My old man, before he passed away, worked as an independent contractor. It can be a cherry situation if you manage matters correctly, contracting- you’re your own boss, with all the good and bad this entails. It can turn into a nightmare if you don’t keep up on your taxes though, and he accrued a $10,000 debt before the flop of life beat him from the table. He came to me one night and said, Look, I’ve gotta use your name on my tax forms. If I don’t, they’re going to take everything I own, he tells me. It seemed like an urgent enough reason at the time- I hadn’t thought about the fact that, well, he didn’t have much worth taking at that point. Don’t worry, he says, I’ll pay it off and everything will be OK. Sure, Dad, whatever you say.

…Years later. Here I am with this onerous IRS situation, for which I just recently hired a lawyer. In addition, I’m racking up student debt. Spare a dime? How about 100,000 of them? I’m a lot more fiscally responsible than I used to be. I get free matches from the store when burning money now instead of paying for a lighter. My five-year plan is to pay off the taxman, pay off my student loans, eating sawdust and lentils in the interim. Still, despite my thrifty

Yankee fingers, calloused as an inherited trait from generations of penny-pinchers (on my Mom’s side), money passes through me like a sieve. I’m great for the economy- my money spends money. I’ll head into work with a $20, determined to stretch it for five days. Then maybe I’ll drop five bucks on my friend James, a homeless guy downtown. He’s a good man, he deserves it. I’ll eat decently, grab a cup of coffee, and pow- tapped out. I can’t help it; it’s society’s fault.

Yeah. Society. If only it would make me stop spending money. I’m not going to plead poormouth. Poor people don’t go to college, don’t have jobs or opportunity. As long as you’ve got resources at your disposal, you’re lucky. A lot of the time, when people talk about how poor they are, they’re really talking about how poor their spending habits are. You can always buy bulk and cut unnecessary items out of your budget. Do you need that CD? Do you need to drive your car everywhere, when a bike or the T is so much cheaper? Do you need to go out every weekend?

Fitzgerald is lying, the rich are no different that you or me- they’ve only, in some cases, had more opportunity, and in others, made better decisions. If you’re fit and smart there’s always something out there for you. So there are two ways of going about it. You can talk about how society is screwing you, how poor you are, and give up and tank out. Or you can put your shoulder to the wheel and work your ass off to better your lot. It’s up to you.

Actually, I lied. There’s a third way. A bit more about the Buddhadharma; it also reminds us that everything passes. You may, in fact, grow very rich. Wealth can be a blessing. But, it’s a corollary to happiness-in itself, it’s not causative. You may fill your maw with more more more, but any happiness you buy, you’ll grow tired of and move on. It’s just how we operate, we want the newest freshest with the mostest, we get it and then it’s yesterday’s news.

You have to find something lasting.

Dan Roche is the Opinion editor for the Mass Media. Email him at [email protected]