Sunday, September 19, 2010

If I Had a Million Dollars With an "M" or How to Make a Million Feel Like a Billion

For the past several months I've had that stupid song in my head where the guy whines about how he wants to be a billionaire so freakin' bad. The first time I ever heard that song my first thought was, wow, inflation. Used to be that all people wished for was a million dollars. Now they want to be billionaires.

Back in 1992, the Barenaked Ladies recorded "If I Had a Million Dollars" and the whole song consisted of all kinds of great things they could do with a million dollars, and they were talking about Canadian money, so I guess their million might not have gone as far as ours. Still, they wanted macaroni and cheese with ketchup on it, a green dress for a girl, a monkey and an ottoman and a house to put it all in. They also mention a car and a limo and a refrigerator. The Barenaked Ladies were getting a lot for their Canadian money back in '92 and I really think their list was pretty practical and humble, except for the elephant man's bones.

Like I said, things have changed. At least where I live, here in South Florida, your million dollars wouldn't go very far. There'd be no way you could get a house, a car, a monkey etc. and if you did, you wouldn't be getting good quality stuff and you'd certainly be relegated to eating nothing but mac and cheese from a box when you were done shopping, because you'd be broke. I guess that's why Travie McCoy wants to be a billionaire instead.

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night with an aching back and insomnia and because I still had that damned song in my head, I began thinking about what I'd do with a good old fashioned million dollars. 

In South Florida, people can waste a million dollars in minutes flat. People down here regularly write out million dollar checks to Ponzi schemers. They spend it on the down payments for boats or blow it all on drugs and hookers. Shoot, you could drop a million easily if you shopped at Bal Harbor, had dinner at Nobu and decided to shack up at the Delano a few times too many.

I wouldn't do any of that. I can't stand Nobu with their overpriced teeny portions anyway.

I'd buy a summer house.

I'd like to be a snowbird. That's what we Floridians call the people who live up north all summer and come down here to enjoy our mild, citrusy winters.

I wouldn't waste my million in Newport, Cape Cod or any of the Hamptons. I wouldn't even get waterfront property and I'd avoid the beach because the prices are so overblown and you can just drive to the beach. I want a country house somewhere on the Eastern Shore - Maryland or Delaware, though I'd prefer the no sales tax Delaware side and I'd be closer to Rehoboth and my relatives.  This is about family for me and rural quiet. It's about farm stands and running from horseflies.

I don't need a fancy house. I see it as a farmhouse on a country road that doesn't even have a name. It's surrounded by fields edged in forests. At night you can see all the stars from your bedroom window.  It definitely has a porch. This house will cost me a couple hundred thousand of my million at the most. I'll reserve a bit for repairs, because it's old and will need them. Cosmetic work is less important and so is furniture. Summer homes aren't model homes. Their floors are for tracking in sand and it doesn't matter if you drip red strawberry juice out of your bowl of shortcake and all over the couch. In the summer house, you can relax. A little shabby disarray becomes character.  This isn't a house for worrying about. It's a house with a picnic table where we can spread out newspapers and dump out a full steamer of crabs and afterward we can gather up the whole lot, toss it in the trash and get out a deck of cards.

The yard is full of clover.  At night the raccoons clamor around in the trash cans outside. I'd set up a clothesline if there wasn't one already, because there is nothing like the smell of sheets dried outside all day. A small garden would be nice too, but isn't necessary.

This house is a place for memories. I wouldn't be spending my money on the house per se, but rather the experiences that the house could provide. The million dollars would give me a way to be closer to my family. The house is for my daughter, so that she may know the joy of picking Queen Anne's Lace, of watching the martens swinging through the twilight after mosquitoes and of winking fireflies. It is so she can play with her cousins and know her great-grandmothers and that they can know her. It is also for me, so that I can stay up all night laughing with my cousins and so that we can all pile into the car with a bucket of chicken and a cooler that we'll take to the beach, where we'll sit and blister ourselves in the sun while retelling the same old stories.

I haven't spent all of my million dollars, but I'm satisfied already. It's not about things. It's about people. I'll set aside a good amount of money. The house is old so things will fall apart from time to time. It will need repairs and I have to be prepared. But what to do with the rest? Give it away?

Money is a fluid energy. It likes to move and keep moving. You can't stash all of it away. But how is it best used?

Often I'm wary of just giving people the cash. I prefer to reward a job well done instead. I think this is healthier for the recipient too, to know that they've earned something. It means more that way.  I'll tip generously. I'll hire out some jobs I could have probably done myself, to people who need the work. Yes, I'll give generously to local charities because I want the place to be a little better for my having moved there for part of the year, but really, I think it would mean more if I gave of my time than my cash. I could help the old ladies at my grandmother's church group. I'd cook for the chicken and dumpling fundraisers at the fire halls. Doesn't that mean more than writing a check?

There's my cousin and her little one with diabetes. She deserves some of this million more than anyone else I can think of. I could help ease her burden financially, but if I could be up near her in the summers when my teaching schedule affords me so much time off, I could take her daughter during the day when she works and spend time with her. It would be fun for all of us and my cousin wouldn't have to pay for her daughter's day care.

I think I still have money left over. I'll take my grandmother every week to her favorite lunch spot - the place with the extra-chunky cream of crab bisque. For my grandmother with the bad knee, I'll hire a cleaning service so her house can be as spotless as she used to make it. She'd complain at first, but secretly she'd be relieved. I'd drive her to church every Sunday and take her out to breakfast after the service ended. That would make her happier than anything I could buy.

Let's save the rest and see what happens. A second honeymoon? My husband deserves it. An education fund? A lot of people deserve that. Unexpected expenses? Stuff comes up all the time.

The truth is, it doesn't matter. I've made the million feel like a billion already.


Anonymous said...

Very lovely and well-written. You are a special lady.

Dyanne Loput said...

Beautifully written...

Anonymous said...

I decided last year:
If I ever come into some windfall or otherwise have to wrestle with these same types of questions

...I'm going to keep a stack of either $20 or $50 bills, and hand them out to people I see doing kind, courteous things. Examples include:

- Not just holding a door, but waiting for the next person, when it's socially acceptable to let the door close
- Picking up litter instead of walking by (e.g., in a parking lot)
- Bending down/reaching up and lifting/getting for someone else without being asked
- Volunteering the use of their frequent shoppers card
- Taking the cart back into the store instead of leaving it in the parking lot or corral

Basically, things at the intersection of common courtesy, little things, and choosing to not be lazy.

And I will tell them why I'm giving them this money - 1) to encourage them to keep this up 2) in hopes that they'll say "You'll never guess what happened to me today!" and so that other people will be encouraged to behave better.

Anonymous said...

This post reminded me of something that's been going on lately that you would probably enjoy immensely.

Basically, denizens of have been donating the fuck out of this campaign. I know that is poor, nonsensical grammar but I am so tired. Please forgive me. It's ok if you don't approve this comment to be seen, as long as you get the message. :)

kerry said...

Wow. Yeah. Sounds wonderful!

booda baby said...

The house you dream of is an awful lot like the house we live in (with the happy exception that we DON'T own it and so aren't battling the termites working tenaciously to drop it to its Victorian knees.)

It will be great fun if your million comes along; if it doesn't, you can build the house and paint your daughter's memories of it from the best material of all.

mcgrimus said...

As I was reading this, my 4-year-old daughter came in to ask me to rebuild "her house," which was a fort of pillows and blankets I'd made her this morning. It doesn't take a million dollars to make great memories, though I sometimes dream of living in a big old house. For now, I'll settle for this house-within-a-house that my daughter keeps tearing down.

JoeinVegas said...

Have you picked out who you will take on your second honeymoon? Didn't you have enough fun on the first one with that guy?

Laurie said...

You're describing the house of my dreams, and for all the same reasons. My house is beachy in and out, even though we're 15 minutes from the ocean here in NJ - it's the vibe that counts (the gathering of family and friends and the joy that comes from doing meaningful things for others) and you've described it beautifully. Baby Lawns is going to be a very lucky girl having you for her Mommy - you carry that vibe inside and will make that kind of home for your family no matter where you live. ♥

songbird said...

you totally just described my grandmother's house in Milford. Grew up there and Felton/Viola, DE area. Now living in Houston,TX and those summer nights with the stars and fireflies are one of the things I miss most.

Jess said...


If you're looking for a good place to have your money help (real or fictional) then I'd reccomend:

It's an organization that sends packages to deployed and wounded soldiers. They have an entire warehouse full but not enough funds to ship everything.

They also connect strangers to adopt a deployed soldier. (I've been doing it for the past six years!) Many times I've been told how much of a difference my letters and packages made in a person's life.

If that weren't enough they collect home-made blankets for wounded soldiers so they know their sacrifice has been appreciated.

The closest ones I love are military and it's just one small thing I can do for what my momma tells me is our big military family.

Best Wishes,

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