What Money Cures

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"Antiques Road Show" is a popular program where ordinary people often discover that their possessions are far from ordinary. Most are surprised by their good fortune, and some ecstatic, but I have never seen anyone behave as if they had just won gobs of money on some competitive game show. There is no gnashing of teeth, either, when would-be treasures turn out not to be worth the gas money it cost to get them there - at least, none that is obvious.

On this particular evening, a middle-aged, unprepossessing man presented a collection of five carved rhino horn libation vessels from China, all from around 1700. When asked why he had collected these odd cups, he said he just liked them. While he didn't appear to be a plutocrat, he had willingly forked out quite a bit for each one, about $5,000 in all. He had acquired one cup while vacationing in England, and sheepishly said that while it had put a crimp in his travel plans, he hadn't thought twice about it. It was a hobby of his and no more than that. When the expert informed him that his hobby was probably worth, probably at auction, between $1,000,000 and $1,500,000, he was surprised and naturally delighted. Now he wouldn't have to rely on his social security check. He added that at the moment he could use an inhaler.

Now, I take no pride in saying I often have a mixed reaction to another's good fortune, but in this case, my joy was unreserved. This wasn't someone willing to murder to possess a Maltese Falcon. Here was someone who at least appeared to be an ordinary person, an amateur, doing something he liked and, incidentally, reaping a fortune from it, not harming anyone else. I can connect with this approach to life.

On the flip side, I cannot connect with con artists in "black comedies," so-called. "So-called" because the harm these glorified lowlifes do is widespread and not funny at all. And while I might envy them their wealth, that's not something that warms my heart.

As Samuel Johnson said, "Money cures only one thing. Poverty."


With a Perspective, I'm Richard Friedlander.

Richard Friedlander is a mediator. He lives in the East Bay.