I can now account for those 70 pesos that were missing at midday yesterday. A pair of black, leather, fingerless driving gloves at 35 pesos. The balance was spillage–the odd pesos that spill out of one’s pocket here and there as one walks around. Reasonable spillage is a legitimate line item.
I have gone to such pains to account for my expenditures yesterday for a reason. Once again, I wish to highlight the slanderous nature of the statement so often repeated by so many, “Stephen is not good at managing his money.”
The injustice of that statement always cuts me and still cuts me.
Even in the bad old days I was good at managing my money. It was not as if I did not know what I was doing when I called for two successive rounds for the house. I knew exactly what I was doing and roughly what it would cost. Because I had done it before. If I ran up the tab for those rounds on a charge card, it was only because the charge card bank, from the very outset of our relationship, had begged for the privilege of fronting up money for me. Why not allow it to do so?
When the charge card statement came, the cost of two rounds for the house would be there in the amount expected. It was not as if I had no idea what the charge had been for or was shocked in any way at the amount. If I had sufficient of that useful fiction that we call “cash,” I would pay the charge card bill. If did not, I would not.
What more can be asked of a man in the area of money management? Babies were fed and clothed, child support was paid, and the I.R.S. was satisfied . . . eventually. Are not those things the acid test of skillful money management? Managing one’s money is not string theory, as some would have it.
Needless to say, my slanderers never stood mute, never conceded defeat in the face of my questions. Instead, they would slyly change the subject entirely to something called “financial planning,” an idea that flies so directly in the face of the chaos at work just under the surface of our existence, so directly in the face of the very uncertainty of life itself, as to be a totally spurious concept devoid of any utility whatsoever. Not to mention the irredeemable selfishness of the idea.
It is for that reason that I never wasted one iota of my valuable time or energy on “financial planning.” Nor will I waste any of your time discussing it further in the abstract here. Rather, I shall relate the instructive fable of The Cricket and the Ant.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The cricket and the ant had been friends in their youth. They remained friends although the accident of their disparate personalities had taken them in different directions in their lives.
The little ant was now a respected member of the ant family in this season of planting and cultivation. He labored ceaselessly until dusk tending to his crops, day in and day out, until the seventh day came. During the mornings and into the early afternoons of those seventh days, he joined fellow ants in spiritual renewal. Later, he would rest physically in preparations for the labors of the coming week.
Many times on his way to his fields in the early summer mornings, the ant would encounter his friend the cricket returning from a night of revelry in search of a shady spot in which to sleep. Even though he was in a hurry, the ant would pass the time of day for a minute with his friend the cricket.
The cricket was large, sleek, and pretty. He could sing beautifully, and therefore attracted other crickets who enjoyed his company to no end. He lived on the abundant low hanging fruit of the summer season. He drank of the cool waters of the many streams. The cricket sang and frolicked and entertained not a few lady crickets in the warm evenings.
The fall season came. The ant labored ever more diligently, harvesting and laying back his crops and storing fuel against the hard winter season to come. In short he was engaging in the ant version of financial planning with nary a note of song emanating from him.
For his part the cricket continued to sing during the warm fall days. The nights were becoming chilly, but nothing that could not be turned to pleasure by cuddling in the grass with a lady cricket who freely shared of her delightfully intense, female cricket body heat.
Inevitably, the winds and the snows of winter came. There was no more low hanging fruit. The cools streams were iced over. The cricket could no longer produce song when he rubbed his frigid legs together. There were no other crickets to be found, the absence of lady crickets being particularly striking. The cricket went hungry and became colder still until in extremity, he was starving and freezing. He went to call on his friend, the ant, to seek help.
When the ant answered his door in the night, the light and heat of his fire behind him, he beheld his friend the cricket, slapping his four arms across his chest, his breath visible, his body emaciated. (There is perhaps no more pathetic looking thing in nature than an emaciated cricket.) The cricket asked if he might warm himself by the ant’s fire and have some food and hot refreshment from the ant’s stores.
The ant frowned and proceeded to explain the concept of “moral hazard” to the cricket. The ant logically held forth that if the ant were to bail out our cricket in these circumstances, the cricket would have no incentive to amend his summer conduct. The cricket would always assume that he would be warmed and fed by the ant in winter instead of learning to secure those things for himself in the future with his own labors.
The little ant, full of himself now, concluded by saying, “Alas, I cannot provide you with warmth and food, my friend. It would be doing you a disservice. I must deny you these things in your own interest.”
Whereupon, the shivering cricket sighed, rolled his eyes, and ate the ant.