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It's Not the Money

3/24/09

"Are you a MexiCAN or a MexiCAN'T??"--Sands, "Once Upon a Time in Mexico"

It's one of my favorite movie lines of all, really...although the Robert Rodriguez action sequel to "Desperado" was an overall disappointment, that line, uttered by the Johnny Depp character, always makes me laugh.  Really--in the face of a great challenge, who are you?  What do you really want out of a situation, the easy way or the hard way?

I have referenced the line a lot lately as we weather a difficult time in this country, at least, relatively speaking.  You have probably been hearing about the terrible economy, mass layoffs every week and disastrous 401(k) plans.  You probably have also noticed--at least, if you DON'T live in downtown Washington, DC--that home prices have been dropping in many markets, that every major retailer is offering huge sales (if they are still in business), and that you should be liquidating the supply of gold in your home stash for big money online.

(Fact:  by any conservative estimate, 85-90% of eligible-to-work Americans are working and fully employed.  That number rises 2-5% for those with a college education working in "white collar" positions, depending on regional job market.)

Flipping things around, though, has been a point of emphasis here at Casa de Booch (Bell/Cooch); it has also led me to the brink of frustration when people complain about money.  No, not those who have recently been laid off/fired...no, not even the ones who work at GM or Ford and are waiting for THAT phone call.  I'm talking about smart, educated, employed people who, even at the age of thirty-XXXX, are still trying to blow by me by playing the money card.

JUSTIN, SERIOUSLY, RIGHT NOW, THINGS ARE REALLY TIGHT...I JUST DON'T HAVE THE MONEY TO--

Stop.  Stop it right there.  When it comes to money, it's important to highlight a couple of things.  The first thing that stands out?  Everyone, EVERYONE, does what is most important to them.  That's key, right?  Everyone has priorities, and generally within reason, everyone always is able to do what's most important to them.  So, if you really want to buy dinner, or take a trip, or justify that new LCD television, you will find a way.  When I was making $35,000 a year way back when, I somehow magically found a way to go to Prague for a week; when I didn't have a job and ultimately didn't have consistent full-time work for over a year in San Francisco, somehow, I made it work.  I'm not special, but whenever I thought I couldn't afford something, I didn't make any excuses...I just said no.  Politely, of course, like "Hey man, thanks for the offer...I can't make it."  A reason why isn't important.

Second, assume that everyone you know is smarter than you, and will think through both why they are asking you if you would like to join for an activity, and how it's possible that money could be a problem for you in committing to the activity.

This is vital.  Using this as your mode of thinking, your first thought should be "Wow, why is XXXX asking me to go to Iceland?  They must think I can afford it, and they must like me enough to want to ask me to attend a trip of this magnitude.  But, I fucking hate XXXX...how can I get out of this?  Maybe I'll cite money."  Bad idea...because of the second half of this equation.

A smart person will probably have run the numbers.  On everything, or at least enough to make an educated guess.  Like, they may be able to make a guess at what your combined household income looks like.  Or, that you drive a car that says BMW, Lexus, Infiniti or Mercedes-Benz on the back, and not Kia, Honda, Ford or Hyundai on the back.  Or, that you live in a high-end condo.  Or flipping it around, that you just bought a house, and are cash-strapped due to a hefty down payment.  Or, that you have kids, and they just got dropped into daycare.  Or, that you just came back from a three-week trip to France.  Or, that you take classes at night at the local community college.

Knowing all of the above, I asked a friend the other day to dinner (total spend: about $50), and the response that came back from her was literally

"Wow, that sounds pretty cool...that sounds kind of expensive for the budget right now.  Let me know the next time you guys grab food nearby!"

Now, it's possible that Betty's budget is tight right now.  Then, I thought about it more critically.  Betty is married (no kids); between the two of them, a conservative estimate puts their income at $150,000/year.  After taxes, maybe that gives them $90,000 a year in take-home pay.  Per month, that gives them about $7,500.  This couple hosts nice dinner parties, regularly ask me to go out with them to nice dinners, social events, comedy shows, clubs.  They appear to have a handsome disposable income, and they rent in Virginia, generally a bit cheaper than downtown DC prices.

So, is it really the money?

Maybe...but, I think it was Betty's gut reaction to the question that made her claim it was money.  Is it the cycle of fear around money in America these days that forced that answer?  Maybe just the nicest way to say no thank you?  Did she think I would feel sorry for her claiming that money was the problem?  Could also be the best way for Betty to slowly begin phasing me out of her life, too, I guess.  But, all of it made me question why so many people I know or read stories about always cop to the money problem, especially when they ARE FULLY EMPLOYED AND HAVE NO PROBLEMS WITH MONEY.

It's got to be bigger than that, right?  Why don't people ever just say what's on their mind?  Are they afraid to kill people with kindness, or in some cases, honesty?  Isn't "directly" the only way to answer a question?  When did we as a people get so soft we couldn't say no because of the real reason?

"Justin, I don't want to go with you because I really hate Irish bars."

"Justin, I can't make it to the club tonight because I've got a bead on this ridiculously hot Japanese woman coming to a party later."

"Justin, I'm not interested in getting a beach house with you for one simple reason...Don't pass this along, but I freakin' hate Sally and I know she's planning on going with you."

"Justin, full disclosure--my couch is more comfortable.  Have a good time without me."

All good!  Just be honest in the moment and no one will have an issue with you!  Why is it that almost no one gets that???

I've decided that starting in April, I'm just going to call out everyone who tries to blow by me because of money.  The second I hear/read the "yeah, listen, the thing about the cost is...", I'm going to stop you, call you out and then ask you to try again with a more honest approach.  Hey, maybe it really is money, but my guess is that it's something else.

People and their commitment to their word have really been interesting in the TXT age we live in...I've been amazed at how people say no now, not that they say no, because we all make choices that force an answer.  It's also been fun for hard-working people I know to make excuses for things they could do with their eyes closed, as if we could really believe that these overachievers suddenly can't, say, cold-call 25 people a day or chip in their share at dinner at Chili's and then drive their $800-a-month Range Rover home, or even walking six minutes down the street to the store instead of driving there because they're too lazy.

It's like a friend of mine told me way back in college about time...I used to always cop to saying things like "Yeah, I just didn't have the time to support your cause", blah blah blah.  Now, after getting called out by this friend a few times, I try to remember to go with "I have the time to support your cause, but I just chose not to..." instead.  Sure, it's a quiet, simple, minimal change to the language, but it's accurate now, and not a bald-faced lie.  Face up, people!
 

Random Bellviews, courtesy of Bell & Longer Community Trust:

  • Not one, but two arm sleeves on college hoops players:  Opening Weekend

  • Watching DeJuan Blair grab rebounds:  $9.50 Show

  • Listening to Verne and The Raft work their magic...but, not getting them for the Final Four:  Matinee

  • The Sweet 16 games in this year's tourney:  Rental

  • What's his name as the new UVA men's hoops coach:  Hard Vice

 

justin@bellviewmovies.com


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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 03/30/09