“I like money.”
This obvious statement is uttered by one of the many stupid characters in last year’s wildly unsuccessful movie Idiocracy. While saying “I like money” is obviously obvious – everyone likes money – I think that’s why it’s funny. Idiocracy got terrible reviews (like, almost straight-to-DVD bad), so there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of it, but I actually thought it was pretty good; so allow me to give a quick summary that will put the quote about money in context. Luke Wilson stars as an Army librarian who is considered to be the most average person in the entire military, and because of this distinction he is selected to participate in a top-secret experiment (he is frozen for a year). Through a series of unforseen events, he remains frozen for a bit longer (500 years) and when he finally thaws out (in the year 2505) he discovers that humans have become exponentially dumber and he is now the smartest person in the world. When he is forced to interact with the idiots who now make up the world’s population, he resorts to the most basic of all human motivators, bribery. He offers a man named Frito (yes, like the corn chips) several billions of dollars to help him (remember that with inflation this isn’t much money). It’s at this point that Frito utters the obvious response, “I like money.”
To me, this is funny, but maybe you have to see the movie to see the humor (view the trailer here). Regardless of whether or not you like stupid comedies, I’m quite sure you like money. If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent much of our life trying to find ways to make, save or somehow obtain enough money for an endless list of reasons.
I have been a full-time grad student for the last two years, and I’ve been only “partially-employed” during this time. As you might expect, taking loans and stealing money from my savings to pay for tuition, rent, gas, food and insurance kind of forces a person to develop an attitude about money that is much different than at other “fully-employed” stages of life. I have been living a very simple/no-frills lifestyle for the last two years. I graduated last spring and am now closing in on full-time employment (with benefits, hopefully), so I’m already getting excited about a life with a little extra coin to throw around, you know, stimulate the economy a little bit. I’ve been carefully determining how to put money aside for my next big purchase; a new computer (I’m waiting for the new macbooks to be released, which is rumored to be Oct. 14).
I saved some of the money I made teaching at the seminary this summer, I’ll hide the money I get for coaching at basketball tryouts recently, and since I already paid the deposit for my new apartment I’m going to save the money I get back from the deposit at my old apartment. I’m even considering going back to my old “job” of donating plasma twice a week (don’t laugh, it pays well and it’s really easy). Making big purchases is never an easy decision, especially when you’re just barely making enough to pay your monthly expenses, but having a good and trustworthy computer is about as important a possession as there is in my daily life (second probably only to my car). I would probably consider my computer a necessity (when I’m away from my computer, or somewhere without wireless, I feel like something is missing. I hope I’m not the only one who feels this way about their computers) – so of all the things I could buy that cost more than a pair of jeans, I can justify buying a new computer more than anything else. I actually think the reason Apple has become so popular and successful is because they help create/inspire feelings of dependence and euphoria within their customers, about their products. So you could actually argue that in buying a mac I’m actually joining a cult (for more on this argument, read Douglas Atkin’s book The Culting of Brands).
Sorry for all the tangents, I promise there’s a point to this, stick with me if you can.
I was hanging out with my sister at her house yesterday (by the way, her health is continuing to improve…thanks for all the comments and emails in response to what I shared last week). While at her house, I decided to look through some of the boxes of my stuff that have been stored in her basement ever since I lived there a few years ago. While looking for something else, I found a large collection of my old CDs, some of them from when I had my first CD player as a little guy in 6th grade. I was overwhelmed with memories looking through albums by some of my favorite artists from my earlier years. I found albums by Boyz II Men, Blind Melon and even Coolio. It was a lot of fun thinking back on the memories represented by all this music. I mean seriously, who doesn’t smile thinking about middle school and the ackward slow dances while “On Bended Knee” was playing, or watching that little girl running around dressed like a bumble bee in the video for “No Rain”, and how awesome was “Fantastic Voyage”?
For a while now I’ve been thinking about going through my old CDs and taking them to a store that buys used discs, if for no other reason, just to see how much I could get for them. Yesterday that idea came to life. I am usually a packrat. Nearly everything I’ve ever touched has sentimental meaning, which makes moving every year a real treat, but somehow yesterday I overcame my nostalgic nature and sorted through hundreds of CDs that included the songs that made up the soundtrack of my life as a teenager. It was quite an accomplishment for me, all things considered, and as I drove to the Cheapo Records near my sister’s house with a box full of CDs in the back seat of my car, my heart was filled with memories and in the back of my mind were plenty of reasons why I shouldn’t get rid of the discs that had brought all those memories back. You see, for me, getting rid of the source of a memory feels like losing the memory all together. I know this isn’t how it is in reality, but that’s still how it feels to me. I overcame these previews of regret by reminding myself that I haven’t listened to any of those CDs for years and, until that morning, hadn’t even known where they were stored. Plus I was going to get a fair amount of money for them that would go toward my new computer, so I drove on and dropped off the box, being told that it would take about 30 minutes to determine how much they could give me for my precious collection of classics.
During the time between dropping off the CDs and waiting to go back to hear the verdict, I tried to determine a dollar amount that would be enough to make me feel okay about selling them – as if you can place a value on memories – but my online research on how much to expect to get paid for used CDs was fairly inconclusive (every site said the same thing, “the price we pay is dependent on condition and demand”). I knew I probably paid between ten and fifteen bucks for each of the 125 CDs I brought in, they were all still in good condition and since I’m the one who bought them in the first place, I thought they were all pretty good, so I figured there should be other people who would pay for them. I drove back to Cheapo a few hours later to collect a small fortune for recycling my music. The guy working there fit the stereotype of a used record store employee to the T, complete with thick-black plastic frame glasses, floppy hair, old jeans and a ratty t-shirt that definitely could have been purchased at a local thrift store. I couldn’t see his shoes because he was standing behind a counter the whole time, but I’d bet he was wearing an old pair of New Balance. (Side note: I guarantee this guy reads Chuck Klosterman, or at least claims he does, and my internal jury is still out on whether he enjoys or is offended by Stuff White People Like.) Yep, this hipster found the perfect job to fit his lifestyle and personality, and now he was guy who would define the value of a large portion of my music collection. When I walked back into the store I saw my CDs on the counter in three stacks of nearly equal height. The previously described hipster recognized me as the guy who had brought in a box of old hip-hop and R&B CDs (I’m guessing he wasn’t impressed, although I guarantee that dude listened to Coolio back in the day), and without saying much, he unpeeled a post-it note from atop one of the stacks and explained that my discs fit into three different categories; some value, little value and nearly no value. He could give me $78 for the CDs in one of the stacks, $0.25 each for the CDs in another stack, and only $0.10 for each in the final stack. All together, my collection of musical memories was only worth $88. <insert curse words here> I froze for a minute as he let me think about what I wanted to do. It’s not that I thought I would get rich from this exchange, but the reality that my collection of Janet Jackson CDs for instance, were worth less than a dollar (combined) was a lot to take in all at once. So as it went, deflated, I walked back out to my car with an empty box in my hand and 88 bucks in my pocket.
Things had not played out as I had hoped, but as I’ve been reminded time and time again lately, such is life. I don’t mean to be cynical or cliche, but honestly, this is just how life is sometimes. I never thought I’d quit working in my mid-20s to pursue a master’s degree in theology, spending over half my savings in the process and taking on more school loans. My sister and her husband never thought they’d wait so long to get pregnant, and when they did finally conceive they never imagined it would result in so much pain and confusion (and no child). As a little boy, the guy working at Cheapo probably didn’t think he’d be stocking racks and making stacks of used CDs when he grew up, and Luke Wilson and the other people involved in Idiocracy could have never predicted it would do as poorly as it did, but they are still moving forward and trying to put it behind them. As one of the most influential poets of my generation (2Pac) shares on one of the CDs I no longer own, “life goes on.”
Life goes on even though our lives may not always result in memories that end up being worth as much as we had hoped or imagined, but there is still hope that things will one day get better. As a person of faith, I put my hope in Christ as the sign that God will fulfill the promise found in Revelation 21:5, “behold I make all things new.” I like new stuff, but it only takes one bad experience to realize that even new things can disappoint and fail to meet our expectations, but the “new” that God promises to bring will be better than anything we’ve ever imagined (even better than HDTV and new macbooks). This new creation will be the fulfillment of God’s ultimate will for the world, transforming things to be how they were always intended; perfect. In the meanwhile, Matthew 6:19-20 reminds us not to care so much about stuff.
“Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and rust will destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust will not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”