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Wednesday, March 2, 2011


This friend of mine has been making a ton of money. So much so that even he has no idea how much it is exactly. He owns a number of different companies, and each and every single one of them is tightly bound to the others like they're all part of some kind of jealous, many-legged beast. For example: company A makes loans to company B, company B exploits company C, company C skillfully double-crosses company D... you get the picture. So no matter what he tries, he just can't figure out the combined earnings of his businesses.

His accountant, a man who resembles Yoda wearing thick spectacles, would come along once a week. He'd punch away at the computer keyboard, write down a series of numbers with his fine ball-point pen, draw out some intricate line graphs, and run through the business records.

"I'm transferring these funds over to there," said the accountant.
"Uh huh," said my friend.
"But this is just on paper."
"Uh huh."
"Well, it's just on paper but transferring the money gives us an issue with taxes."
"Uh huh."
"But if we don't transfer it, the discrepancy in revenue between the last fiscal year and the current one looks too artificial."
"Uh huh."
"So we'll tabulate our reported net income at the same time that we transfer the money."
"Uh huh."

And that's how it goes. It's like running around hitting trees in the forest with a stick. In the end, you can't tell the trees you've hit from the ones you haven't. Even so, he still makes a profit.

No one knew how he had become so wealthy. He wasn't a remarkable man, and his grades weren't that good by any means. It wasn't like he was gifted with incredible foresight or quick thinking either. His character wasn't that exceptional. In fact, it was next to nothing. 

So nobody could believe it when they heard that he had gotten rich. No matter how hard they tried to wrap their heads around it, it seemed like a bad joke.

"You're kidding me," said one friend. "If that guy's rich, then I can fly."

But facts are facts. He's making more money than any of us... no, more than all of us put together.

"A long time ago, I saw this comedy western movie," my rich friend told me one day. "What was it called... It had this train that was being chased by Indians. And so the people on the train are burning as much coal as they can to try and get away. But they've used up more than half of it, so they're running out of fuel as they go."


He and I had met for the first time in years, completely by chance at the bar of some hotel. I had just come from someone's wedding ceremony (I can't recall who now), and he was returning from a company party.

"Once the coal runs out, they start throwing stuff like the seats and sections of the roof into the furnace chamber. And when all the seats and roofing have been used up, they take off their clothes and burn them too."

"I see."

"It's like a slapstick movie. You know what I mean."


"So, everyone burns their clothes. And after that, there's nearly nothing left. But the Indians are still in pursuit. There's no way out."

"Seems that way."

"Well, there's still one piece of luggage remaining. It turns out that it's filled with money. Right there in the train is the whole of the army's salary, packed away in bundles of cash. These bills could've filled Santa's sack five times over."

"So they had an easy time burning it?"

He nodded impassively. "Money's no substitute for staying alive."

"You're right about that."

"Well, it doesn't really matter. It's just a movie after all." He held a cigarette up to his mouth and the bartender swiftly lit it with a lighter. "The thing is, it's the way they go about burning it."

"How do they do it?"

"Well, basically they scoop the bills into the furnace with shovels. They shovel it in huge heaps right into the middle of the flames. Just try to imagine the sight of it. The fire's not important, but the shoveling itself!"

"I'm imagining it."

"How does it make you feel?" 

"I don't feel anything at all."

He slid his empty glass about 10 centimeters forward, and 20 seconds later a new glass with a fresh drink in it was placed down in front of him with a satisfying clink.

"What's your annual income?" he asked me.

I told him the honest amount.

"Before or after taxes?"

"Before," I said.

"It's really that little?"

"Yes," I admitted. It was a frank question, but for some reason I wasn't that put off by it.

"Aren't you a writer though?"

"I am according to my tax agent."

"Why is your income so little then?"

"Well, it's just a job that's not very financially rewarding." 

"It seems that way," he said, sounding bored. He looked to me like a golf singles player who just found out that he had been teamed up with a beginner. I almost felt like apologizing.

"Scooping up money with a shovel: when I think about it, it's almost like I finally understand it all," my rich friend said. 

"And how does it feel?"

"I feel like I'm being chased by Indians!"


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