Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The $5 Cardboard Donut ($20 When Adjusted for Inflation)

When I was a wee criplet, my mother paid $5 for a donut. And it wasn’t even edible because it was made of cardboard. The donut said Thank You on it and it hung by a string from the rearview mirror of our rust-riddled station wagon.

I was baffled. That was a helluva lot of money to pay for a donut you couldn’t even eat, especially for a family that drove around in a rust-riddled station wagon. That would be about $20 today. My mother explained to me that she didn’t get just a donut for her $5. She got much more. This was no ordinary donut. The $5, you see, went to support the people who lived at a village for the retarded, which is the word they used back then to describe the people who live in those villages run by nuns and such.

I still didn’t get it. Why would anyone pay that much for a donut? If it was edible and filled with delicious jelly, maybe. But cardboard? What was the point of a donut that you couldn't eat? That was like non-alcoholic beer.

It wasn’t until I became an adult trying to keep up with the hectic pace of life that I fully understood. When the people with the slotted cans who collected money for the village approached the driver’s window of my mother’s car as she waited for the light to change, what they were selling was peace of mind. Because we all have so much to worry about, so many people and things demanding our attention. It’s all so overwhelming. Everyone wants to be a sensitive person who takes the suffering of others to heart. But if you take the suffering of EVERYONE to heart, you’ll drive yourself nuts. You won’t have time or energy left for anything else. But when you purchase a $5 cardboard donut to help the people who live in those villages, you’ll experience the unique joy that comes from knowing you can cross them off your worry list. The nuns will take care of it.

This was a valuable lesson to learn and it will come in handy if I ever have to resort to begging. And hell, the way things are going with Social Security, you never know. I know one thing for sure. I won’t be one of those penny-ante beggars, selling chewed up pencils for whatever nickels and dimes passersby flip me. My chewed-up pencils will sell for $20 each. No haggling. Most people will scoff I’m sure. But many will see the true value of what I’m selling and they’ll consider $20 to be a bargain.

Maybe I’ll build a begging infrastructure as vast as the one assembled by the nuns, with any army of volunteer surrogate beggars doing my begging for me. And maybe I’ll make enough cash to buy myself my own little piece of a hedge fund somewhere. My only regret will be that I didn’t take up this begging business a lot sooner. Foolish pride.