Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Acting Important

Once a year, I get to pretend I have a different career. Instead of the academic life, where I lounge around campus and watch the pretty girls walk by, I drive across the state and put my business face on. I head to a tall office building, ride the stainless steel elevator to the 13th floor and tell the person at the front desk that I am expected. I wait in comfy chairs until my financial manager walks in. We shake hands and exchange pleasantries, then wind our way through the cubicles to a small conference room, where we spend the next two hours talking about finance and going through various graphs, charts, and feasibility assessments.

It's a fun game. And it really does feel like a game, because we talk about how the money is working. What has the money been doing? What are the areas of concern, with regards to the money? I like my advisor, because he's a guy who will spend a ton of time trying to explain options to me, even though the total value of my portfolio is basically enough to buy a tasty second-class cheese wheel (the first-rate cheese being ENTIRELY too expensive, and quite frankly, more than a little dry).

I enjoy that day because it gives me the opportunity to escape from the life of a performance musician, for a bit. It allows me to enter the corporate world, where success can be measured out to five decimal places. One doesn't worry about the subtle dynamic shading of the fourth quarter stock prices. They simply are. And no one is too terribly concerned with morals. That may sound like a bad thing, but it makes the situation quite balanced. Some Good companies suffer, some bad ones profit, but it can quickly turn around so that the Good companies are on the rise while evil ones get over-bought and fall.

As much as I enjoy this posturing and make-believe, I find myself criticizing others who have the same secret desire. I mentally lashed out at a young woman I saw driving one of those giant black Cadillac Escalades. When she was getting in, she literally had to climb the side to get into her seat. Her head was slightly higher than the steering wheel. And she drove with such reckless abandon that I actually saw some of the wheels lifting as she cornered. She was one of many such women who live where I live. They're rich. How do I know? They wouldn't buy such gigantic cars or wear such ridiculous outfits if they weren't. Stuff that tacky always comes at a price premium from a fashion store. Notice: not a clothing store. One does not buy clothing. One buys fashions.

I know a woman whose husband gave her a fancy diamond ring. The diamond is large, I'll give her that. It's large enough that I believe she has to be always on her guard against supervillans who would steal it to power the laser they're trying to vaporize the moon with. But what does a diamond say? It is nothing more than a nugget of gold, which is to say that it represents money. Nothing else. Diamonds take money to acquire. Bigger diamonds take more.

This woman loves showing off the ring. She loves making jokes about how heavy it is. She makes sure to often make a show of trying to shake hands with her left hand (palm down), so that no one can miss it. She has denied my curiosity by voicing disgust when I asked if I could try cutting a mirror with it. I don't think it's fake; her husband makes enough money where I have no doubt it's real. I just like the physics applications of diamonds. But she believes it would cheapen the stone.

Cheapen the stone. I don't need to bring out physical diagrams to show you that almost nothing I could do to that stone would effect even a molecule of it. It's a big, expensive thing, though; it deserves to be respected because it costs a lot.

I don't want to come off as against diamonds exchanged between married couples. If you want diamonds, feel free. They're pretty, and they symbolically represent the strength of a marriage, just as the ring represents the unending circle of love formed by two people. But if you get a big ring, don't assume it's going to make me respect you more. Don't assume that I'll be appreciative of or awestruck by something I can't afford. I respect the story of the ring. I respect the history. I respect the meaning.

Not the "four C's."

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