Self-help guru Deepak Chopra once said , to paraphrase, “The only people who think more about money than the rich are the poor.” Meaning, of course, that while the rich are constantly scheming about how to hold onto their dough, the poor are obsessed with coming up with a little, somehow, some way. Years ago, in the late 70’s, when I was just starting out in radio, I was obsessed with making money. At the time, I was living in an upstairs apartment over a farm house just outside of Evansville, Indiana and working at some shithole radio station who’s call letters I have long since forgotten. (I once interviewed Bob Hope, in person, at that station. He was in a wheelchair and appeared to be nearly catatonic.) Evansville, just across the Ohio River from Owensboro, Kentucky, has the unique charm of being the hottest place on earth in the summer and the coldest place on earth during the winter. The farmhouse was without an air conditioner in the summer and if there was heat in the winter, I don’t recall it. The job paid $13 grand a year and I subsisted on the typical starchy poverty diet of Pillsbury Pop-and-Fresh dinner rolls, Campbell’s Chunky Soup, and Rice-a-Roni. I wore cheap polyester shirts that I bought at a roadside flea market for a dollar a piece. I drove a Pinto which wouldn’t start on cold mornings. It sucked.
It was at about this time that I began obsessing over get-rich-quick self-help theory. This was well before the emergence of modern day gurus like Chopra and Tony Robbins, so the gold standard in those days were the books and tapes of the pioneers: “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, “Think and Grow Rich” by Napolean Hill, and the motivational cassette tapes of the great Earl Nightingale. (I can close my eyes to this day, and still hear Nightingale’s rich baratone voice say “Why, if it’s money you want, it’s money you’ll have. And lots of it!”) Napolean Hill’s theory was some mumbo-jumbo about visualizing success. “You can’t concieve what you can’t achieve!” In other word, if you could imagine having lots of money, than you were perfectly capable of having lots of money. I had no trouble concieving of fabulous riches. While Liza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” could only imagine “a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air, with some enormous chair”, I was imagining a mansion on the hill and a Mercedes in the drive. Soon I was taping little pieces of paper on walls and mirrors all over the farm house. Written on the little pieces of paper was a dollar figure: $30,000, the anual salary I would need to be finally living in high clover.
And, lo and behold, within a year and by sheer coincidence, I was making 30 grand a year, then, before too long, $75,ooo a year, and then, by the late 80’s, $250,000 a year. I didn’t have a Mercedes, but I had a Corvette and garage full of motorcycles, and I lived in a comfortable 2-story brick home in suburban Chicago. I had managed to pull myself up by the proverbial bootstraps.
Now my income is $000,000.
None of this is to say that I’m about to start plastering my walls with Stick’ems again. Or even that I necessarily believe in any of the self-help hocus pocus. The biggest issue is that, when you’re 28 or 32 and have an ounce of wit, anything is possible. But it’s not so easy for the baby boomer. Just a fact of life. To get from that that $13,000 salary to that quarter million dollar salary, I zigzagged across the country a dozen times, from Indiana to Florida, from Florida to Michigan, out to Seattle, down to San Diego, across the country to Chicago, then back to San Diego again, living and working in towns that I’d never even heard of before arriving there. And radio in those days was local, staffed by performers doing live shows from 6 am to midnight. As recently as the mid 90’s, guys were still spinning 45 rpm records on a radio studio turntable. Today you can hear the same syndicated line-up of Dan Patrick, Rush Limbaugh, Jim Rome, Shawn Hannity, and Dr. Laura in every city, small and large, in the country. And the “live” afternoon drive music show in Oklahoma city probably originates from Miami or Los Angeles. In other words, as the hapless Willy Loman said in “Death of a Salesman” the territory has changed.
But then again, it’s changed for a lot of folks. I always think of the great I.T. hoax of the early 90’s, when thousands of men and women, laid of from factory jobs in the so-called “rust belt”, were told to enroll in business colleges and enter the exciting new world of internet technology, only to see those jobs shipped overseas 3 or 4 years later. What’s the I.T. career of 2010? My guess is bio-tech, but it’s only a guess.
Today is to be devoted to plumbing, not writing. I picked up a used dishwasher a week ago, hauled it in my truck back home, and elected to install it myself. A few years ago, I would have merely popped by the local Sears, purchased a new model, and waited for the installer to put it in, then put the whole thing on a credit card without flinching. Who knows? Maybe I can acquire the necessary skills this weekend to install appliances for other people for a small fee. At least it’s a job not likely to be turned over to syndication, or shipped overseas.