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The Affluent Doomed
I rolled over in bed as sunlight streamed in through the window. 9:30 already. I knew I should to get to work soon, but it didn’t really matter, since it was my own company. I reached over to the phone and called my assistant.
“Mr. Harris, what’s going on at the office?” I asked.
“Nothing really, Mr. Wilson. All our investments look solid and…”
“What do you mean ‘nothing really’? Why is there nothing going on? There should always be work to do in my office. I expect a full summary on all of our investments by the time I arrive!”
“Yes sir, I’ll work on it.”
“Get it done!” I shouted, tossing the phone across the bed. I was sick of these idiots at my investment firm. Every one of them was lazy, and not a single worker knew a thing about stocks. I basically ran the entire business by myself. Harris was the only one with even the slightest concept of investing. The rest of them were oblivious. All they did was contact customers, but I was the only one smart enough to make a decent investment. Those idiots didn’t know and ounce about hard work. Who does “nothing really” at the office? When I get to work, I’m constantly busy. How could they be doing nothing? That comment only reaffirmed my superiority to these lazy, worthless employees.
Frustrated, I took a quick shower, brushed my teeth, and grabbed a suit out of my closet. Harris and I had a meeting with a client today, and I’d try to convince him to invest a large sum of money with our company. I knew that with that money, we could make some big profits in the booming tech industry.
I snatched a banana for breakfast and walked out to the garage. I drove the Rolls Royce yesterday, and the Bentley needed gas, so I climbed into the Lamborghini. As always, it was in pristine condition. As I backed out of the garage and onto my elegant driveway, the silver car glittered in the sunlight. Tossing it into first gear, I pulled onto the road, and the engine screamed as I sped down the palm-tree-lined boulevard.
As usual, the Palm Springs weather was perfect. Clear blue skies met the mountains surrounding the valley, a perfect backdrop for Madison Club’s pristine golf course. My house sat above the 14th green, overlooking a glistening lake that held the reflection of the mountains beyond.
After driving through the gate and out of the neighborhood, it took me about ten minutes to reach the office. As I strode into the air-conditioned room, I saw Harris standing by the front desk with a green folder.
“The summary, I assume?” I said, snatching it out of his hands.
“Come on, let’s get to that meeting. I’ll meet you at the country club in 15 minutes. Make sure you have all the information for the client.”
As I walked back to the car, I flipped through the investment summary; everything looked normal. Our stocks were up for the day, and their consistent performances should convince our client to invest more money. Tossing the folder on the passenger seat, I pulled the Lamborghini onto the main road, accelerating well above the speed limit. I glanced back down at the investment summary, and when I looked up at the road, a car was pulling in front of me. I slammed on the brakes, but it was too late. The Lamborghini caught the tail end of the car and spun to the side of the road.
“You idiot,” I screamed as I climbed out of the car, lucky to be unharmed. I looked over to the other car, which had toppled off the side of the road. It had flipped over the guardrail and now sat sideways with its windows shattered.
“No one’s moving inside the car!” I heard someone shout from behind me.
“Call 911!” someone else exclaimed. I had no time for this debacle. My meeting was in 10 minutes, and I couldn’t afford to be late. I grabbed my cell phone and called Harris.
“Harris, get over to the intersection 11th and 14th. Some idiot pulled out in front of me and wrecked my car.”
“I’ll go as fast as I can, sir.”
“Just hurry up, would you?”
I hung up and tossed the phone into my car. The front right part of the Lamborghini was severely damaged. The headlight was destroyed and the front fender was crushed. Debris was scattered about the area. The repair would be expensive, but more importantly, I needed to get to the meeting.
“Hey, are you okay?” a woman asked me.
“I’m fine; can’t you see?” I snapped.
“That man in the other car looks pretty bad. Could you help take care of him before the ambulance gets here?”
“Does it really look like I have time for that? I have a meeting to go to, and I can’t waste my time helping the idiot that wrecked my car.”
Just then, Harris arrived. His black car pulled up by my Lamborghini.
“Are you alright, Mr. Wilson?”
“Fine. Let’s go.” I climbed into the passenger seat and he pulled away.
“Get Jimenez on the phone at the office,” I said.
“Here he is.” Harris handed me the phone after dialing the number.
“Jimenez, my car got hit at the intersection of 11th and 14th. Go take care of it for me, and contact the dealership to fix it.”
“Can you send someone else to do it? I’m working on a…”
“I asked you to do it, and I want you to take care of it! Don’t question me, just do you job!”
I handed the phone back to Harris as we pulled through the gate and into the country club. I got out of the car, straightened my suit, and walked into the clubhouse. Harris followed close behind me carrying a few folders. In the dining room, I spotted our client by the window. He was a short, chubby man with balding gray hair and a clean-shaven face. He was the owner of a large real estate company and an important investor in my firm. Seeing us, he stood up and shook hands with Harris and me.
“Nice to see you, Mr. Anderson,” I said.
“I hope the investments have been going well,” he said as we sat down.
“Oh, they’ve been growing as usual. We’ve been making excellent return on your current investments. Harris, show Mr. Anderson the reports.”
Harris fumbled through his folders and found the report. He leaned over and handed the paper to our client.
“You can see a steady growth in your investments. All the stocks are very secure, and you’ll be able to trust in a solid return on your money,” I explained.
“I certainly hope so. That’s why I’ve considered adding to my investment. I’ve appreciated your services so far, and I hope it stays this way.”
The waiter came, and we ordered drinks. I sipped on a glass of water while the conversation shifted toward more insignificant matters.
“So how’s your golf game, Mr. Wilson,” asked Mr. Anderson.
“I was just at the course yesterday, actually. Shot something in the eighties. I played pretty well, but my putter let me down on the last few holes.”
“Ah, that’s what always gets me. It takes me a while to get the right speed down.”
“I agree. I bought a new Scotty Cameron a few weeks ago. It’s helped a little, but it’ll take some more practice.”
“Too bad young Mr. Harris here doesn’t play much.”
“I’ve started practicing a little,” Harris said. “It takes a lot of time at the range.”
“That’s the weird thing about putting, though,” Mr. Anderson mentioned. “You could spend hours practicing and then miss every putt the next day. Even the most expensive putter can’t fix your problems.”
“I wouldn’t even think about playing a round of golf without the highest quality Scotty Cameron,” I said.
“It’s not always the man with the priciest equipment that wins the match,” Harris said.
“Hah! Says the man who picked up the game a year ago,” I said. “Harris, I think Mr. Anderson will agree with me that it’s very important to have the best equipment.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say that for certain. I actually have to agree with young Mr. Harris. Just because a man has expensive clubs does not make him the best golfer.”
Our meals arrived. Harris and Mr. Anderson both had hamburgers, while I went with a salad. The meal was fine, not great, but what irked me more was Harris’s comment about golf. His ideas were completely wrong; expensive equipment is vital in golf. Of course, how should he know? He could never afford the clubs I have. That worthless Harris. Why would he dare disagree with me in front of a client? Did he not know any better? I always kind of liked Harris, but today he made me, as well as my company, look ridiculous in front of a customer. And why would Anderson agree with him? He of all people should know the value of money. The best clothes, cars, houses, food, and drinks all require money. What could one amount to without wealth?
Two days after the meeting with Mr. Anderson, I sat in my office, researching investments when my cell phone began to vibrate.
“Mr. Anderson, nice to hear back from you! I hope you enjoyed our meeting the other day,” I said.
“I certainly appreciated it. That’s actually what I called to talk about. I wanted to say that, although I appreciate the performances my current investments, I’ve decided to hold off on any more investments. It’s nothing against your service, of course. I just had the feeling that now might not be the right time to invest.”
I clenched my fist and resisted an outburst.
“Oh, that’s fine. I can understand your reasoning, but if you ever decide to make another investment, you can trust my firm to take care of your money.”
“Thank you very much, Mr. Wilson. I appreciate your service.”
“No problem. Thanks for the call.” I tossed the phone onto the desk, knocking several papers to the floor. I opened the office door and called for Jimenez.
“Where’s Jimenez? Is my car fixed yet?”
“I think he’s off today,” Harris said as he walked past.
“Off? He should be taking care of my car! I put him in charge of one task, and he never gets it accomplished! Why do I even keep him around?”
“He was going to his son’s baseball game, I think.”
“A baseball game? He has work to do! What’s more important to him: his job or some kid’s baseball game?”
I slammed the door and plopped down into my chair. This day was already making me sick. I still couldn’t get over Harris’s disrespectful comment at the meeting with Anderson. What idiot would disagree with his boss? I had been thinking about promoting Harris, but there was no way I would let an immature, disrespectful employee like him take such a position. He was lucky he didn’t lose his job.
The next few hours dragged by until noon, when I left to get lunch. I walked out into the sunlight, squinting as I strode over to my Bentley and settled into the driver’s seat. I needed a quick lunch, and although I was repulsed by cheap food, I dragged myself to the nearest fast food restaurant. Pulling in, I quickly realized this was not my environment. My gold Bentley Mulsanne sat between a dilapidated, twenty-year-old truck with pealing paint and a dirty, cluttered van filled with bottles, old wrappers, and decaying food.
“Talk about lower class, I shouldn’t even be parking in the same vicinity as these people,” I muttered to myself as I walked into the restaurant. Inside, I ordered a sandwich and a milkshake. I carried my tray over to a table.
“I should never have to carry my own food,” I murmured, sliding into the booth. “People should be serving me.”
Over to my left, I saw a family of six. The children were playing with the kids’ meal toys, tossing the figurines across the table. What simple mindedness. They would never amount to anything.
Yet the family had a certain ineffable quality about them. The kids’ eyes seemed to glow, and their cheerful shouts inspired a strange feeling within me. Why were they happy? These cheap plastic toys seemed to them as the latest iPod. But maybe it wasn’t just the toys that brought this pleasure. Love and joy seemed to radiate from the entire family. But how could they be so happy? They had no money, wealth, or luxury. My Bentley alone probably cost more than the father made in ten years. It was as if they had something more than just material possessions. They possessed something within them. Harris had said that the golfer with the most expensive equipment didn’t always win the match. Could this be true? Did this family, although they couldn’t afford a single golf club, somehow win the match?
For some reason, I began to consider my own life. What match was I playing? My life, I had thought, was going wonderfully. I was winning the match! I had more money, better cars, a bigger house, and nicer clothes than this family. I lived in luxury; they probably struggled to meet each payment. Of course I was winning the match of life! I was Tiger Woods in the 2000 U. S. Open. I was dominating my competitors by fifteen strokes. Nobody was even in the same league as me. I had experienced wealth and luxury like few others. How could I not be winning the match?
This family presented something different. Of course, I had heard it in movies, read it in books: money can’t buy happiness. I always thought it did for me, but maybe I had not seen true happiness. Did I enjoy driving my Bentley as much as these children loved playing with their toys? Did love and joy radiate from me because of my wealth? Maybe happiness was not merely based on materialistic pleasures. Could it stem from something deeper? What did this family possess that I lacked?
I looked over once again to see the youngest child accidentally knock some ketchup on his father. It splattered all over the front of his shirt. If that were me, I would have berated the child, but the man only laughed and hugged his son. Was this what the family possessed: the ability to love and be blissful in any circumstance? Money and assets did not matter to these people. They found pleasure in something deeper than materials; they found it in companionship, love, and family. Had they won the match of life? Had they come out the happiest, the most successful? This family was as rich as royalty, and I as poor as a peasant.
I should’ve gone back to work, but I stayed an extra minute. What did it matter, anyways? I had worked all my life to achieve wealth and success, only to find myself in poverty and despair. I thought I had gained the whole world; in reality, I had gained nothing. A memory from ten years ago lingered in my mind.
It was the end of my third year of college at Yale. I sat in the library with no more studying to do. Finals had ended a week ago, and I was staying an extra week to finish some research with a professor. In the meantime, I had been reading Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. My English professor had raved about the excellence of this book, so I had decided to pick it up in my spare time.
I eased into a cushioned chair and flipped open the book. I was nearing the end of the novel, and I adored Jay Gatsby. He was a self-made, successful man who had emerged from a normal life to make himself great. He dictated his own future. He decided to be rich and then fulfilled this desire. The man had made himself a success, earning his wealth and luxury all on his own. All I wanted to do was to be like this man. I wanted a huge home and an expensive car. I wanted everyone to look at me and know that I had succeeded in life.
I wasn’t sure why the author was so critical of a life of luxury. He made wealth seem evil in this novel. This was completely incorrect! All my hopes focused on making money and being a success. What was wrong with this future?
I reached the chapter on Gatsby’s funeral. Why had nobody come? A man so successful and wealthy should have flocks of people at his funeral. Even those he called friends did not attend. It was on that day that I began to wonder: was money the most important thing in life? What would money do for me when I passed away?
Ten years later, that book now seemed so relevant. The day I finished The Great Gatsby it brought questions into my mind, but I quickly tossed these aside when I gained my own fortune. Now these doubts resurfaced. I had all the riches and luxury of Gatsby, but who would attend my funeral? Would anybody care that I was gone?
I had to do something, had to make a change, but how? I remembered the car accident the other day. I could have helped the driver in the other car, but my despicable self just walked away. I thought a meeting was more important than another human. What kind of heart must I have? I could have spent just a few minutes waiting for an ambulance, but I didn’t want to be late. What difference would it have made? My client would have understood, but at that moment, I was not merely worried about being on time. No, the issue lay deeper. At that moment, I was choosing a love for money and my concept of “success” over a love for other human beings. Now, rather than leaving even a minor impression on the world by helping out someone in need, I was leaving nothing. I had been too distracted by riches and “success” to even consider anyone else, and now, that regret was too much.
I left the restaurant, climbed into the Bentley and pulled out of the parking lot. There was a railroad crossing nearby, and a train was passing by as I pulled onto the road. There was no one in front of me, only the five-hundred-foot stretch of road between me and the train.
What value did I have? Money is only temporary, yet I had built a life upon it. I glanced around at my car, a mere materialistic possession. I consisted of only temporary assets.
The railroad tracks looked more inviting. I pressed down the gas, accelerating faster…faster…faster…
* * *
Ryan Harris inherited the position as president of the investment firm. On the day of Richard Wilson’s funeral, he was the only one in attendance. It seldom rained in the desert of Palm Springs, but today a light drizzle fell from the gray sky above. A few workers from the funeral home were burying the casket.
“Family member?” asked one of the men.
“No, just a coworker,” Harris responded.
“Were you friends?”
“No, but I think in his heart, he may have wanted to be friends. He never would have shown it, but I think deep inside of him, he desired more than just money.”
“It’s a pity nobody else came today.”
“He was an investor; he should’ve known—you can’t put everything you have into one stock.”