Raised Eyebrows

What does the term bamboozled mean to you? How much do you believe when you watch (or read) the news? How long will you ingest information before you become skeptical?

For someone to present something completely ludicrous as a benefit to a broken system raises eyebrows. It’s ludicrous when the solution to a problem is extreme—either far too easy or incredibly difficult. Here’s what happened.

For the first time in 18 months, I attended a training. This annual training was for one of the many volunteer boards I’ve been asked to sit on. In my community, non-profit boards are not as diverse as they could be. My role is not so much to represent the needs of the community, but to fulfill a commitment these non-profits are attempting to make to our community. In many cases, I sit and listen. The other veteran members of these boards don’t pay much attention to me as long as I don’t disrupt the flow of their procedures.

I can’t be certain of how they view me. They don’t ask me questions. As far as I know, they don’t much care about me. They might think that I have no idea of what’s going on. Occasionally, I remove the doubt. I’ll ask a question. They’ll politely engage me. My questions are rarely answered with commitment. Instead the responses are rushed. I feel stifled. I resist the urge to feel slighted, and I never walk away until the meeting is done.

On this day, something was different. A man who has nothing in common with me pulled me aside. He asked me discretely if I wanted to know how all this works. I raised an eyebrow. I looked at my wrist where I used to wear a watch (a bad habit of mine) and sighed.

He pulled me closer. He said, “spending.”

He gestured to his fingers that he rubbed together. “Money, my boy!”

As if he were crisping invisible dollar bills in one hand, he declared that he spends money on paper, but rarely has cash in hand.

“I buy cars. I’ve always loved cars. When I was in college, I took out student loans to buy project cars that I couldn’t afford. Even though I lived at home with my parents, I had a half dozen “oldies” scattered around town. Two on campus, one at my girlfriend’s apartment, one at a buddies house, and one that I drove. My parents resented that I had access to loan money as a student they they could not access as homeowners. I had no credit, no collateral, and a minimum wage job. But my earnings were enough to pay for my college classes. To this day, I still owe on student loans that I used as walk around money thirty years ago. It wasn’t smart, but it will never be repaid.”

“That’s interesting,” I whispered, pulling away from this man.

He asserted, “there’s more! Before I graduated from college, I volunteered as an intern for a non-profit community action agency. I witnessed the CEO live lavishly while his staff earned salaries below the poverty level. He bragged that the services that the agency provided were heavily relied upon by his staff. ‘As long as there is a need, the agency will remain in business.’”

“Spending, my boy! But that’s not all. When I graduated, that man gave me a job and paid me a little bit more. I stayed for a year. I noticed how discontent his staff was. Sadly, their discontent was not enough to motivate them to do much about their own circumstance. Instead, they processed the aid applications that will financially support others in their community. This agency was run by the people FOR the people. I left after a year for a better job.

“My subsequent jobs evolved into careers. Each one serving marginal populations. The managers lived well, but the workers managed a life barely above their means.

“Everyone either had high rent or a higher mortgage. They drove expensive cars that they leased or second-hand luxury cars that they owned. So I mimicked what I witnessed and I fit in just fine.”

“What’s this got to do with me?” I said.

“High overhead!” he mumbled

“Spend money that’s not yours! Run deficits. Live beyond your means.

“Here’s what I do: I apply for high interest loans and pay every month on time. I default on the low balance loans to keep my credit score low enough that no one will benefit. This way no one will steal my identity. Because my default judgements will never be more than 10% over my gross, and my salary rarely competes with the cost-of-living, my income is never fixed. I occasionally work a job on the side (that is off the books), so my head is above water. But I drive a nice car, I eat out on credit, and no one can see my empty pockets.

“I tip well and treat my friends better than they treat me. I keep their secrets but I don’t share my own. I give to charity, as long as it’s a charity that I’m fond of. You never know when things will go sour. Only burn the bridges where adversaries antagonize you. Forget about keeping your enemies close, because your life will be too boring for them to hang around.”

“Are you done?” I asked

He said, “No. I’m just getting started…”

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