Saturday, February 20, 2010

Light ’em up

These days I’m reading Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World. He wrote it for impecunious retards like myself who read little more than the Calvin & Hobbes strip in the papers and consequently don’t understand the world of money—either how to make it or where to put it. I want this book. I need this book.

I’m only halfway through, but have already learned much from it: It’s a thorough exposé of the awesome intelligence of the super-talented Niall Ferguson who also, annoyingly enough, happens to be quite hot. And it is filled with stunning insights like the fact that you can only hope to write ten heavily researched brick-like books by the time you’re forty-six, in between teaching at Harvard and doing television programmes and flying around the world being dazzling, if you don’t sleep and stare into space quite as much as I do.

Books like this are completely life-changing. This one caused me to stare into space furiously pondering the whole idea of productivity, which according to the book is somehow related to the making of money, until it was time to take a nap; and when I woke up I went right back to staring into space and pondering productivity, while smoking.

Speaking of which, while a couple of things remain fuzzy to me—banking, the bond market, the whole company thing—I, too, had a college education, and there are some things I’m quick to understand. One of them is that a lot of the money that I could be doing clever, historically informed things with, I spend on cigarettes instead. I sit there, hour after hour, diligently sending my money up in smoke. And just to make things worse, the price just went up.

I also get the fact that cigarettes are bad for you. I don’t totally get it, else I wouldn’t be smoking, but there’s plenty of ambient reinforcement for me to lean on. My five-year-old niece happened upon me smoking the other day and said crabbily, “Why do you want to make yourself DIE.” I could only hang my head and mutter something about a bad habit and how she should never do it. Not that the words needed speaking: she is as determined never to smoke as I was at her age, when I used to hunt out my parents’ cigarettes and shred them in the wastepaper basket as ostentatiously as possible.

I get that smoking grays your hair, wrinkles your skin, enlarges your pores, blackens your lips and yellows your fingnails. I get that it smells really bad. I get that it makes your throat raw and your sinusus jam up like peak hour traffic. I get that it abets macular degeneration and robs your sense of smell. I get that it promises a range of unpleasant cancers, stomach ailments, respiratory trouble, and cardiac problems.

But while all this information has penetrated my rock-plated skull, it appears to just be floating around in the cranial fluid and biding its time, because it certainly hasn’t yet percolated down to my brain. My brain is still hung up on the pleasures of the post-prandial smoke, the reading smoke, the sudden spring shower smoke, the glass of wine smoke, the great song smoke, the hanging around waiting for something smoke, the column-writing smoke, the morning tea smoke, and the post-[censored] smoke.

But I have great, totally baseless hopes for my own development. I figure I’ll quit at some point, because that’s what educated, intelligent, middle-aged people with a looming sense of mortality do. On the other hand, the same people apparently also understand what a discounted bill of exchange is. I’m still working on that.

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