Ebenezer Screwed


In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a scruffy miser named Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three Christmas ghosts who show him the high cost he pays among his fellow man for leading such a cruel and parsimonious life.

(At least that is the meaning  gleaned from the movies.  Trying to read the book is an exercise in futility.  Dickens wrote it in 1843, in dialectal nineteenth century slang.  That would be like, a hundred years from now, someone picking up The Life and Times of Chris Rock and trying to understand a word of it.  He will be reading his holo-book thinking, “what is a black-ass ho?” the same way I open up Dickens and go “what the hell is a bootjack?”)

In the end, Scrooge learns his lesson.  He gives Bob Cratchit a raise.  And he becomes “a second father” to Tiny Tim (who incidentally does not die), and “as good a friend, as good a master and as good a man as the good old city ever knew.”

Now, we will skip over the part where it’s 1843 and no matter how rich and generous Ebenezer Scrooge may be, they are still about a hundred and fifty years away from the modern medicine that can make a lick of difference to Tiny Tim’s long-term health.  No amount of extra heat or better nutrition is going to save the kid who needs titanium prosthetics and a kidney transplant.  Can you buy Tiny Tim a time-travelling phone booth, Mr. Scrooge?  No?  Then you are useless.

Instead of Tiny Tim, let’s focus on the real plot hole in this classic tale.  Ebenezer Scrooge is a rich man, with a large surplus of financial means.  He’s loaded.  I mean, this man has gold coins pouring out of his eyeballs.  How did he become rich?  According to Dickens, he gained his capital by being a “shrewd moneylender.”

But the Christmas ghosts demand that Scrooge learn to be kind and charitable toward his fellow man.  Ebenezer reacts to this lesson by waking up Christmas morning and going out into the streets of London giving his mattress funds to anyone who’ll take them.  He’s rich – so he should spend that money as charity for others.

Eventually, that pile of money is going to run out.  To give more charity he’s going to have to make more money.  And to make more money, he’s going to have to be that “shrewd moneylender” everyone hates so much.

The reality about the finance business is that, in order to be a successful financier, Ebenezer has to be a villain.  Because when a borrower comes to Scrooge’s office asking to skate on his mortgage payment, it is literally impossible for Scrooge to let this guy go without losing money.

To be kind, as the Christmas ghosts require, would be to let the guy go in his time of hardship.  But keep letting guys like this skate by and not only is Scrooge going to be out serious funds himself, but how is he going to be able to pay kindly Bob Cratchit?  What will happen to Tiny Tim then?

Scrooge has been put into an impossible position.  If he doesn’t become a man of kindness and charity, he will spend eternity dragging unbearably heavy chains he forged in life.  But he can’t be charitable without continuing to make a living…which he does by relentlessly taking other people’s money.

Of course, that is just a guess, because I don’t know what the hell “the blithest in his ears,” “a dig in the waistcoat” or “another coal-scuttle” means.

What Do You Do, Semantically Speaking?


What is the correct answer to this question:  “What do you do?”

Because the correct answer (apparently) is not “poop.”  Nor is it:  breathe, eat, sleep, wash my dishes after dinner, vacuum my house…poorly, shampoo the dog against his will, DVR new episodes of Big Bang Theory, or drive ten miles per hour above the speed limit.  It seems when you offer one of those answers people don’t ask, “Oh, how do you like it?”  They roll their eyes at you and flip you off as they walk away.

Any of the above answers are true and fitting when asked the simple question, “What do you do?”  People get pissed off because our cultural implication is they are actually asking “What do you do…for money?”  So the conversation usually goes something more like this:

  • “What do you do?”

   “I’m a trash man.”

  • “What do you do?”

   “I’m a police officer.”

  • “What do you do?”

   “I’m a hedge fund manager.”

Semantically, this is all wrong.  The latter doesn’t answer the former at all.  It would be like saying, “What do you eat?” and the answer being “I am Italian.”  In that scenario we would infer that the answerer probably eats a lot of pasta.  But what if he has Celiac’s disease and can’t eat pasta?  The inference has failed, and we still have no idea what this person eats.

On the other hand, if we actually answered the question “what do you do?” it is likely we would confuse the askers more than clarify our occupations for them:

  • “What do you do?”

   “I throw refuse into the back of a truck I ride on.”

  • “What do you do?”

   “In between going to people’s houses to attempt to reason with loud, drunk people, I sit in my car most of the day and read people’s license plates.”

  • “What do you do?”

   “I steal people’s money and make it look like I don’t.”

This does give us a clearer image of what the answerer does on any given day, but as far as a job title goes, who could begin to guess?  For example, lots of people throw stuff into the back of a truck.  That is what trucks are for – to just toss shit in the back of them and then transport said shit from one location to another.  What this man does depends on the asker’s definition of “refuse.”  Some people actually throw manure into trucks, yet we don’t call them “trash men.”  And, after all, isn’t one man’s trash another man’s treasure?

Sometimes people ask me, “What do you do?” and I am inclined to say, “I am a writer.”  This would be both true and a lie at the same time.  Do I write?  Yes.  I’m writing right now.  That’s how these clever words got on this page.  And “writer” is on the list of acceptable answers, so I wouldn’t be scoffed at as though I’d said “shower.”

However, I am still misleading the asker because the inference is that I do this for a living.  “Writer” is only a fair answer to “what do you do?” if it would be followed by a question like, “do you make any money at it?”  To which, of course, I would laugh out loud until my eyes became blurred with tears and my sides hurt.

If someone really wants to know what your job is, without having to navigate the confusion of semantics or having to follow up with uncomfortable financial questions, wouldn’t the best question just be, “What is your job?”

Or, even more specifically, “What is the job you do that someone else pays you to do?”  Cause, you know, some people might answer the “What is your job?” question with something like, “Mowing my lawn.  And my partner does the laundry.”

No One Pays You Fifty Bucks Burning Out Your Retinas


Here is the thing about eyes – they’re multidirectional.  And where you direct your gaze, like everything else, is a subject of scrutiny.

Mostly, it is whether you cast your eyes up or down that cause most people to lay judgment upon you.  Take for example these lyrics from Cage the Elephant’s song, Shake Me Down:  “Plagued by constant misery, eyes cast down, fixed upon the ground, eyes cast down – I’ll keep my eyes upon the sun.”

The concept here, of course, is that casting one’s eyes down, to the ground, is a signal of defeat of some kind.  One is emotionally beaten into looking at the ground, rather than up at the sky, where things are hopeful and optimistic.  While on the other hand, looking upward suggests that one is taking life head-on, with a sense of vibrancy and self-assurance.

But to assume that focusing your eyes up or down will always mean you’re either aspiring to take on the world or slowly dying inside is an injudicious fallacy.  (You know – it’s stupid.)

First of all, I don’t think we even need to discuss what a bad idea it is to “keep your eyes upon the sun.”  The lens of your eye works just like a magnifying glass; it channels burning sunlight on your retina like a kid setting ants ablaze on those long summer days.  That is blinding optimism.  Literally.

Additionally,  my eyes are fixed upon the ground all the time – do you have any idea how much loose change I find?  I easily make fifty dollars a year just picking up coins in the parking lot, dropped by individuals too blinded by sunlight to realize they’ve lost it.

Yet we still find it easy to make judgments about people based on the direction of their eyes.  For example, when conversing, the path of one’s vision communicates more than you might mean to.  If someone is speaking to you and they are looking over you, that is insulting.  I mean, who does that guy think he is, anyway?  And if they are looking down, it is usually a sign of avoidance, maybe shame.  Perhaps you should ask them where they’ve been in the last 24 hours (and possibly what that smell is).

The truth of the matter, really, is that none of us should be looking up or down.  We should all be looking where we’re going – paying attention to what we’re doing.

As a person who looks down a lot, I can tell you that I walk into a lot of walls.  (Winner, right?)  And on more than one occasion, while sitting on a park bench, I have witnessed a person walking with their eyes gazing skyward…until they tripped over that stray dog and ended up with a face full of cobblestone.

So, I have a new suggestion for you Cage the Elephant.  Try these lyrics on for size:  “Because my eyes are sensory, I won’t cast down, fix upon the ground, or keep my eyes fixed on the sun.  Shake me down – I won’t walk into the people left around.”