A lesson in finance
Sept. 10, 2012
by Ivan Raconteur

There are people who can hang on to their money, and there are those who can’t.

I was reminded of this recently while watching a television program in which a young man tried unsuccessfully to put the bite on his financial advisor for a loan to pay off a debt incurred as the result of misplaced optimism at an equestrian event.

The story reminded me of a scene from my younger days.

A few of the lads and I were standing at the bar of the local tavern, holding down the brass rail while slaking our thirst with some fermented beverages.

A bit removed from the group was our comrade, Karl Krause.

Although holding himself aloof, he was always willing to accept drinks, but drew the line at buying any.

When his turn came to buy a round, Karl invariably disappeared into the restroom for extended periods, or remembered an urgent call he had to make from the pay phone in the hall.

Once the beverages had been delivered and the account settled, he would magically reappear.

I did see him pry open his wallet once. I was having a conversation with the lads when I heard a sound like a gate swinging on a rusty hinge. I turned in time to see a flock of moths escape from the depths of his bulging wallet and wing it for the horizon.

Karl spent a few moments peering at the contents of the wallet, and we held our breath, wondering if he was actually planning to liberate one of the antique banknotes contained within.

Karl regarded his wallet as a sort of safe harbor for currency, and once a bill floated into his protective custody, it seldom emerged.

After what seemed like an eternity, he slowly and carefully extracted a scrap of paper. It was not one of his ancient sawbucks, but a folded document that turned out to be a “buy one, get one free” drink coupon, which he handed to the fellow next to him, generously noting that the fellow could have the coupon as long as he, Karl, received the free drink.

Anyway, on the day in question, we were assembled at the bar in our usual positions, when Kenny Babbage entered through the front door. He scanned the room, then set a direct course for old Karl.

We elbowed each other and settled in for a show, feeling that we were about to witness something good.

Kenny was new to the area, and therefore, not yet familiar with how things worked.

We knew he was on the borrow, because he had tried to separate each of us from $50 earlier in the week. The fact that he was heading straight for Karl could mean only one thing.

To call Kenny a schemer might be too strong a word, but there is no doubt he came up with his share of elaborate (and consistently unsuccessful) money-making ideas, which generally left him short of funds.

When he reached Karl, he greeted him like a long-lost brother, and immediately began his pitch. He solicitously rubbed Karl’s shoulder while laying out the reasons he urgently needed cash.

Karl eyed him with a sad sort of pity, and silently held up his hand to stop Kenny in mid-pitch.

Taking a sip of beer, Karl cleared his throat, and in a strong voice imparted Lord Polonius’ advice to Laertes, borrowing material from the old gentleman’s speech as his son prepared to leave for Paris.

We were a bit taken aback, because Karl didn’t strike us as the sort of guy who read Shakespeare. In fact, I don’t remember ever seeing him open a book.

It was obvious he had opened this one, however, because he exhibited an uncanny familiarity with the material.

Karl’s oratory was a thing to behold, like one of those impassioned soliloquies delivered on PBS by some distinguished classically-trained actor.

He touched upon all of the points of Polonius’ speech, placing special emphasis on the reasons why one should be neither a borrower nor a lender.

Karl then demonstrated that, in addition to Shakespeare, he had studied the work of Benjamin Franklin, by gravely sharing that famous observation from “Poor Richard’s Almanac” about creditors having better memories than debtors.

Karl deftly drained the last of the beer in his glass, and patted Kenny on the back. He assured Kenny that he had the utmost respect for him, and valued their friendship far too much to jeopardize it by burdening him with a financial obligation. He impressed upon Kenny that this was for his own good, and someday, Kenny would thank him for it.

With that, Karl turned and strode briskly out the front door, leaving Kenny standing open-mouthed in his wake.

The assembly burst into laughter at this, then gathered around Kenny and bought him a drink. We admired his recklessness for trying to touch old Karl for $50, but no one present, apart from Kenny, was surprised by the outcome.

Money always ran through Kenny’s fingers like water through a sieve, while Karl hung onto his banknotes like a drowning man gripping a buoy. Their encounter at the tavern provided another example of how some people can preserve their money, and others are forever chasing it.

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