Back in the day my pal Johnny ran a high stakes poker game in Chicago.
Of course, he wasn’t my pal then. I was just a punk on a waiting list for about six months to get into this game. Got called to substitute a couple of times before finally someone died and I got a regular seat. We became pals sometime later.
Johnny ran the game out of his elegant Lincoln Park apartment and, other than cigarette smoke, cash and cards I never knew what to expect. One night he had lines strung all over with strips of raw meat hanging from them. Thousands of strips of raw meat. On another the lines were back up and chili peppers were hung to dry. Thousands of chili peppers.
That led into a discussion about who made the best chili. Since we hadn’t tasted each other’s chili and since no one else at the table had tasted both chilies, it was a waste of time. No reason for that to get in the way of arguing about it.
Finally, I said “Johnny, if you can tell me the very first step you take to make your chili I can tell you if it is any good.”
“I cut the peppers,” he said.
“Ah,” I said, “No chili can be any good starting like that.”
“No wait. I select the meats I’ll be using.”
“Ah, better you should start with cutting the peppers, still no good.”
Back and forth we went. What an asshole I was in those days. Exasperated he said: “OK asshole, what is your first step?”
“First,” I said, “you start building your compost pile. If you do it right, five or six years later you’ll be ready to plant the peppers you’ll use in the chili.”
Of course I personally did no such thing. I bought mine at the local Jewel Food Store. It’s amazing that he still talks to me. Good thing too, his chili as it turned out is better than mine.
One day Johnny won the “little lotto.” After taxes he netted around $180,000 or so. He promptly quit his job and moved to Paris to learn French from beautiful French girls like the one who tutored me back in college.
Some French Tutors, maybe
Had he asked, I would have advised him to make this windfall his F-you Money. He didn’t ask. He was on a plane to France as soon as he could dump his apartment and pack.
Several months later my wife and I had a wedding to attend in England. We’d never been to Paris and, seeing as it was so close, we decided to pop over and visit Johnny. If you ever want to visit Paris, have a grand and obscenely expensive time and spend most of your days sitting in outdoor cafes drinking champagne over lunches that last well into the evening; go when Johnny’s there to show you around. I’m still recovering. We were only there a few days. Johnny didn’t come back for over a year.
He was broke when he did. He told me some of the money got burned up in bad loans and investments, but I prefer to think it mostly went to high living.
He struggled for a while. His high-buck advertising career was derailed and he went thru several “exploratory” jobs. Finally he headed out to New Mexico and wound up in the movie business. He’s got a daytime time job; he’s doing alright. As they say about Harry: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xo-J1wf2KHc
He’s certainly not the fiscal conservative I am and he hasn’t exactly followed the simple path to wealth. But as individuals we only have one obligation to society: To make sure we, and our children, are not a burden to others. The rest is our choice and guys like Johnny make the world a far more interesting place.
I’ll drink champagne in Parisian cafes with you anytime, pal.