Between Van Gogh and Volcker

After reading a column by Paul Volcker in Today’s New York Times on the need to regulate the financial system, I couldn’t help drifting to two incidents that took place this past week.

I should warn the readers that the two true stories they’re about to read are scary.

A student of mine walked in to my office last week to ask questions about a pesky homework assignment. (My class is just a requirement he has to take). Looking at the wall behind his professor and feeling an advantage to being  friendly with him, he asked:

–  “Did you paint these?”

– “No”, I said, trying to hide a perplexed look.

-“Oh, did your kids paint them?”. His eyes widened.

-“No”, I said this time,  trying to hide a clenched fist under my desk. “They’re Van Gogh’s and Monet’s, ‘Starry Nights’ and ‘Water Lilies’ “.

-“Oh”, he shrugged. If there was an embarrassment vibe emanating from him, I couldn’t feel it. 

Trying to wear the friendly hat myself (hiding an ulterior motive, of course), I asked:

-“So…how are you doing in your other classes?”

-“Mostly B’s, with some A’s”, he proudly announced. 

The second incident took place at the mall yesterday. I was taking advantage of one of the weekly “Last-Chance Super Sale” at the local department store. The cashier asked me if I wanted an in-store credit card and save even more.

-“I dont like to own more than one credit card”, I said  matter- of- factly. “With identity theft as rampant as it is and all”, I volunteered.  She looked pleasantly surprised and said:

-“You know, apart from identity theft, credit cards are bad habits. They encourage people to live beyond their means”. 

Feeling she got my interested look, she declared in  a giddy tone reserved for “Eureka!”  moments:

-“Why do you think the country is in such an economic mess? We American live beyond our means”.

Just to make sure I understood whom  she meant by “we American”, I asked:

-“You’re not saying that average folks with more than one credit card in their pockets have brought the world economy down on its knees, wiped out people’s life-time savings,  created endless lines of jobless people, and caused the worst economic crisis we have seen since the great depression, are you?”

The recent college grad part-timer, wasted no nanosecond:

-“That is exactly what I am saying. Furthermore, I wish our president stopped giving money away in the form of stimulus packages so people would stop spending”, she added triumphantly.

I  contented myself with the greatly reduced priced of the coat I bought  and exited the place as gracefully as I could.

Good luck to Paul Volcker and the president in  trying not to cut their ears while  attempting to lay out a lucid and sensible case to regulate derivatives to a society in which the two horror stories  above are not uncommon and they’re  not taken out of a Steven King novel either.

ekwaysan.

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