On Money

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I prefer to write at home, but because it was sunny the other day, and sunny days are rare in winter in Berlin, I took a long walk with my laptop in my backpack and ended up at a café in Kreuzberg called Betahaus. Betahaus is a four-story workshare space and hub for startup companies, freelancers, programmers, graphic designers, videographers, bloggers, layabouts and so forth. I ordered a café crema and sat alone on a sofa chair in the back. Then I tried to write. I did write. I wrote the blog I posted three days ago, but not in its present form. I wrote a pale and sickly version of that, the precursor to several other pale and sickly versions, and sat there between sentences listening to some 20something American at the table across from me talking business with the two girls sitting by him. I could only hear dribs and drabs of the conversation. He was doing most of the talking. People have this notion, I heard him say a couple times. And, from a technical perspective. And, target market. I could tell he was quite intelligent, but there was something disappointing in his intellect. It seemed almost entirely constructed for and directed toward apprehending the obvious. Show him a painting by Hieronymus Bosch and he wouldn’t see it; play Mozart’s Turkish March for him and his eardrums would deflect it; read a poem by W.B. Yeats in his presence and risk being called a pansy.

I sat there listening as he prattled on. This is mission critical, he was saying. And I started to think about all the people in the world like him, super intelligent, but with personalities that got lost in the pursuit of money, knowing, as they did, that with money, that Protean Mephisto, came women, luxury, fancy meals, vacations, toys, status, reputation, approval, everything that was supposed to make a man happy, and did, sometimes, but when it came at the cost of your whole personality, usually not. The most miserable people I’ve ever encountered were the rich that came into my dad’s store to buy patio furniture. I worked for him in my late teens and early twenties, and have known ever since the ill-effects of too much wealth and too much reliance on the American Dream. Which is why I’m in Berlin now, happily poor.

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22 thoughts on “On Money

  1. You said it so rightly. Really sometime we have to pause for a moment and ask ourself this question every now and then : Does only money matters so much??
    Lovely post 😊😊

  2. O wow!! Look at that pic: I love all the books, I love seeing what people keep in their libraries (the money looks good too, honestly; also the shells) …my shyness fights with my pride, but my pride wins, so I’ll say it outright rather than modestly passing it over in silence: I really like how you put the Spinelessnesses there among all the spines! For a normal viewer, that might be a minor detail, but to me it’s the marvelous focal point of the image and I bow repeatedly during endless applause…

    P.S. I have at least 800 more words to say about your post, but my wife’s in the middle of buying a car at the moment (no joke) and I’m called away before I’ve finished rounding up my thoughts, so I’ll stop reluctantly at this acknowledgement and say “To be continued…”

    • [2 of 2, back after quibbling with a used-car dealer—no, not a meeting with our current U.S. president: I mean an actual used car-dealer]

      I apologize in advance for a garbled and windbag response, but I really did try my best—I was preoccupied, but I wanted to convey how much I appreciate this and the recent posts of yours…

      …So as I was saying: beautiful image! …And your writing is as soul-satisfying as ever… (One last note on your photo: seeing the name Flaubert at top right reminds me that your recent mentioning of his letters provoked me to re-attempt Madame Bovary, and this time the novel is striking me as ultra-magnetic: I almost can’t put it down; so now I’m blissfully mock-trapped between him and Turgenev, since as you know I’m also working on A Sportsman’s Notebook – it’s like the opposite of a Scylla-and-Charybdis impasse.) …I took a few days away from the online nightmare, just to focus my free time on reading – normally after enjoying such a period of “detoxification,” most of the writing that I encounter when I return to cyberspace seems unripe and tedious; BUT—and I wish there were a way to prove that I’m not saying this sycophantically—your own essays here always live up to the quality of the great books I’ve been reading in my offline hours. It must just be a part of your blood now, or like a muscle memory, a payoff after all those years writing on physical paper: whatever you compose gets imbued with cologne, as it were: an afterglow of authenticity. (I’m writing my general reaction after reading this current entry of yours and then re-reading the one that you link to, which you say you wrote elsewhere and then revised: they are beautiful both.) I can tell that you absorbed the vital stance of Montaigne: “I have set myself no goal but a domestic and private one… it is myself that I portray… I am myself the matter of my book…” This is not only satisfying to the soul, as I said, but I think that it’s the only way to go, in an age as topsy-turvy as our own.

      You say “I prefer to write at home” – I do too, but I’m always wondering how my efforts might improve, and how it might give variety to what’s written, if I leave my familiar zone; so I followed with sympathy and interest your account of venturing to write in an alien environment. For myself, I could add the adjectives “alarming” or “forbidding” – I don’t know if you yourself get THAT shaken, but for me it’s no joke; tho I hate to think that my ability to compose depends so severely upon habit, since I rank that notion almost as an obscenity – I say, at least speaking from the standpoint of a writer who needs to get some words down on paper, I could call such a place even “petrifying” which you label a café (Betahaus). You also say it’s “four-story workshare space” – that’s so wild and weird to my hermit-mind: I think of a café as a small cozy place (of course terrifying as hell to me, but yet “intimate”) of just one room, let alone one single story!

      I realize that what I’m saying is mostly tangential to your post’s main theme… While trying to give my thoughts in reaction, I keep sidetracking myself: Don’t take this as a bad thing; it means that I find outlets around every detail which invite further wondering. Now I hope it’s not straying too far to mention that my M.C. Escher-esque understanding of the space that you were in, this multi-storied café, reminds me of a moment in Werner Herzog’s film (which we’ve talked about before) The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser: Every Man for Himself and God Against All (1974) – I remember the schoolmaster showing Hauser the tower where he was once kept in a cell, and Hauser reasons that the inside of the tower is larger than the outside, because, when in his old cell, he could turn around and look in any direction, and all he could see is the environs of the cell itself, whereas, after leaving the cell and then facing the tower that contains it, Hauser need only turn aside and gaze in another direction for the tower to vanish from his sight. Here he calls the cell a “room”:

      “Wherever I look in the room: to the right, to the left, frontwards, backwards – there is only room. But when I look at the tower, then turn around, the tower is gone! Therefore the room is bigger than the tower.”

      Sorry, again, this reply is out in left field, I know it. Blame my stressful situation. I wish I could say that my words here are an example of how fuzzily I write when away from home, but the truth is I’m even at my Comfort Desk, but I FEEL uneasy because I’ve been communicating back and forth with these sleazy auto dealers.

      Anyway! – that conversation that you overheard “between sentences” is enticing, now that you redeemed it: it’s funny because I’m sure I would’ve been annoyed by the shallowness of their incompetent entrepreneurialisms, if I were to witness them in person as you did, yet to read their huddle as fragments in your essay-tale is just what it needs to “get it up on its feet” (as the insurance agent Walter Neff hypothesizes “a little rum” might do for the iced tea that he has been given by his client Mrs. Dietrichson during a house-call, in the 1944 film Double Indemnity) – your capture lures me to want to go to public places with an audio-recording device concealed in my holster. And this activity checks out with the Golden Rule because I’d LOVE to find that I myself was the subject of some stranger’s documented espionage. I welcome eavesdroppers: I always try to spice up my public-private speeches, keep them pleasantly unhinged, even philosophical. …In real life, I end up all-too-familiar with the talk of guys like the one that you say was dominating the conversation there, tho not via cafes or restaurants – I hear about them through my manager’s constant laments: he’s always having either to labor alongside of such characters or, worse, FOR them.

      That phrase “apprehending the obvious” is apt. And I love how you follow up on it. It reminds me of Blake’s famous outburst: “What is grand is necessarily obscure to weak men. That which can be made explicit to the idiot is not worth my care.” …Yes & the conclusion you draw, about miserably rich vs. happily poor—I agree fully. I always say: I’d rather have nothing and imagine everything than to have everything and imagine nothing. And yet I’ll never stop hoping that someday humankind will awake and implement a better system, which will give a fairer compensation for genius; because it’s wrong that our greatest artists, who pragmatically constitute the reason this life is worth living, must make peace with penury. (So, when I get my chance to rule the world, all poets will be billionaires.)

      • Your words, Sir Bryan, tangential or not, are better than the post itself. Thank you. I appreciate your keen insight and quotes & references, etc. as much as ever. I also am happy that I set you on the Turgenev/Flaubert trail. If you’re going to detox from the net, they truly are the Scylla-and-Charybdis impasse, though in a good way. I have taken a few days off myself, and have just read two books I can’t give high enough praise to. Moravagine, by Blaise Cendrars, that great,pre-WW1 picaresque tale I mentioned to you before. I’m sure I’ll be reading it again. And, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze & Other Stories, by William Saroyan, who I’ve heard great things about for years, but had never read. I was blown away. Definitely one of the most underrated short story collections of the 20th century, and some stories I’d even put on a par with Turgenev. If you have a chance read the preface and the first page or two on Amazon.com and you’ll see what I mean.

        “my M.C. Escher-esque understanding of the space that you were in, this multi-storied café…” haha, that’s exactly what it was, in its own weird way, but I would’ve never thought of that. Wow. Anyway, there is something very distracting about writing in public. I am much better setting it down at home, but sometimes the prying yourself out of your hovel is worth it in retrospect if you come back with a good story. In the future, I am going to try to do it more, not just by going to cafes, but to bars and other strange places too. Well, we’ll see. I often say stuff like that and end up sitting at my desk for the next 6 months.

  3. So, you’re the one who was listening in on my conversation! 😄

    I often wonder how pretentious I must sound to other people…hopefully not as ridiculous as that guy! “This is mission critical” who says that? Someone with a whole lotta to prove and nothing to show for it!

    I’m with you on the money, I come from an old rich family who never appreciated what they had, then they lost nearly everything and wanted it back but couldn’t. Superficialities and objects don’t determine the richness of a life.

    • That’s one more similarity we have, MP. My family, while not being old rich, were well-off till I was about 14 and we moved to Florida. After that it was about 25 years of ups and downs struggling to get it back.

      p.s. mission critical. hahaha. it’s almost as bad as sea change or paradigm shift. do you use those terms for business?

      • I think we might the even be the same person in different dimensions! I’ve been referring to you as “the other MP”!😄 I had a really similar childhood, my parents were once rich, then they struggled with money pretty badly which led to a very unstable, nomadic life for me.

        I’m pretty laid back about these new age terms, I much prefer to hear someone use “literally” all the time or “paradigm shift” than say “make…anything…great again”. As much as people like bitch about yuppies, I’d rather have them than not have them! The world would be a joyless place without all these startups, probiotic wellness entrepreneurs, idealists and upstarts! Maybe I’m weird but the intonation and emotion behind the words are of crucial importance to me (usually more than the words themselves), if he said “mission critical” in a really asshole bombastic way then I would have to struggle to keep from laughing!!!

      • re: same person in different dimensions. is baecker your married last name? if not, i’m thinking we might be related. that would answer everything.

        i am with you in the preference for corporate jargon over any of the dumbness that goes into praising that orange buffoon and his shitty platform. i usually just laugh to myself when i hear people spouting terms like ‘core competency’ or ‘sustainability’ or ‘bricks-and-clicks,’ (couldn’t resist adding a few – haha). when i hear people trying to justify guns or lower taxes for the megarich in america, on the other hand…

      • You’ve got that jargon down! LMAO! 😂

        I am actually quite sad to write that “Baecker” is my married name! It would make sense if we were related! I was curious to do a gene test last year just for fun…I am not sure what heritage I have….but we still could be related if you have any Spanish or Filipino ancestry, or if the English last name “Benedict” is in your family. I actually plan to write more about my family history in the near future in a long story (perhaps broken up in different bits) called “Origins”.

      • I don’t have Spanish or Filipino ancestry, and no Benedicts in my tree, but I do have some English. Also Irish, German and Norwegian. Your ‘Origins’ idea sounds great. I would be interested in reading that, and so would my girlfriend, who’s a genealogist and just so happens to work for Ancestry.com here in Berlin. She’s dug up a ton on info on my family… just found out my great-great grandpa on my mother’s side murdered a guy and ended up in a mental instutution that stood on property that was donated by Charles Weber, a German relative of mine who founded Stockton, California. Gonna write something about that when I get a chance.

  4. Pingback: On Money — Sketches from Berlin – 100star

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