Inversion: The Relativity of Wealth
Copyrighted, June 11, 2016
All rights reserved
Countries are defined by borders, currency and, by themselves anyway, constitutions. Those documents over the ages have been written on paper, stone, papyrus and, in the case of very small countries, the hearts and minds of the citizens. Such was the Country of Hartunia, a once sprawling 18th Century Carrebean island of several hundred runaway slaves, as many free-capitalist pirates and a handful of displaced English Lords who negotiated sales of good with the mainland. In the 19th Century, the spirit of Revolution drove the Hartunians away from the island, but a few returned. Those that did hosted Confederate sugar planters who knew as much about planting crops as they did about how to whip the Yankees into surrendering to the Stars and Bars. After the crops failed, the rains came, then the winds, then a hurricane that established Mama Nature as the real boss of Hartunia.
The next wave of human settlers to the island were Hippies who tried to establish a Commune just like Cuba, but with a more tolerant policy towards human rights and without requiring their Presidents to wear military fatigues and beards. For that purposea they imported a philosopher-king. His name was Rikona, a highly-educated and well-traveled East Indian Monk who took the throne in the year of Most Everyone’s Lord 1970, at the tender age of 20. Rikona was not only a pillar of old wisdom in his young body, but an effective negotiator with the outside world. His ability to get the son of a high level American Diplomat out of a Mexican jail, and into Buddhism rather than a Satanic cult after his release, resulted in a string of calling in favors that got the General Assembly of the UN to recognize Hartunia as a sovereign and independent nation.
Rikona’s ability to use White Man’s guilt to extract money from their wallets resulted in Hartunia getting foreign aid from countries on both sides of the Iron Curtain, with no strings attached. None that were pulled anyway. Rikona initiated a strict policy on Hartnia that whatever is earned, is spent, and where barter was valued more than dollars, rupples or drachmas. Indeed, each citizen of Hartunia gave according to their abilities, and took according to their needs, and when those needs exceeded what they could barter with, a portion of the Hartunian treasury was given to them. The sum of the grant was known only to Rikona and the grateful recipient on the island that grew its own food, built its own houses and even created its own music, though none of the tunes composed by Hartunians ever made it to the Top Forty charts, anywhere.
But alas, the American expatriate Hippies who were officially Rikona’s subjects grew up to become Yuppies. They eventually left the island, particularly when their girlfreinds on the mainland got pregnant, or their boyfriends got rich selling Peace and Love paraphenalia on the stock market then becoming stay-at-home CEOs of the companies that made them rich. By the turn of the 21st century, the Utopian Paradise of Hartunia was forgotten by the world, as well as the last white-haired hippie readers of the Very Last Whole Earth Catalog. Rikona grew older and wiser, remaining on the island after most everyone else left.
Rikona didn’t need human company to give him purpose, or pleasure. But he did need someone to take care of food, shelter and other biological necessities, as the aging Rikona still needed a body to come back to after astral projecting into Nirvana on good days, and parallel universes of lesser virtue on bad ones. And that once-strong body had grown old, weak and frail, in need of someone to feed it, shelter it, and force medicines down its throat when it got sick.
Providing such services was Carlos, 40 years-tired jack of all mechanical trades (and master of non-metaphysically) who had lingered on as Rikona’s assistant in his ‘temporary’ position for nearly a decade. Such suited Carlos on most days, as it beat mowing lawns for 21st century ‘green is great’ yuppies in Miami. Or working for his know-it-all Pharmacist uncle in Mexico City as an assistant manager in one of his many chain stores. And it certainly beat living through even the best of days with his ex-wife in Houston, who, thanks to Hartunia not having an extradiction agreement for alimony payments, couldn’t milk him dryer than she already had, economically or psychologically.
It was just another Tuesday morning on Hartnia, population two, though which day of the week it was didn’t seem to matter. Every day was one of work and play. Nature had seen fit to allow everything to grow on the island to sustain human life, and this day was no exception. The multicolored flag featuring a black and white field mouse flew freely and unabtrusibley on the pole in front of Rikona’s hut, the largest still-standing roofed structure in the country. The other fully functional building consisted of a house built more according to standards of he mainland. Though it was more solid than the hut, Carlos’ house seemed less impressive than the hut from the outside. Both were powered by a generator that the hippies left behind and Carlos maintained, run by a mixture of solar power from the sun and gas from the mainland. That generator powered two television sets, a satellite dish, and two computers. One of those computers Carlos mostly used to try to find an online mate who could deal with who he was in real life. The other in Rikona’s private temple behind his living quarters, which the Old Master utilized from time to time to download esoteric texts about the ancient world and mathematical physics journals from the evolving one, aas well as to check on world news, most particularly how well the Indian Soccer team was doing.
On that soon-to-be-eventful Tuesday, Carlos gathered eggs from the chickens that feasted on the renewed vegetation that now covered most of the island. The size of the eggs were acceptable, even better than acceptable, with the exception of one which was half the size of the others. Carlos picked it up and shook it, to see if there was anything inside of it that wanted to come out. As he did, he heard a chicken cluck. “No babies, this time, Rosita,” Carlos said to the runty bird that usually laid eggs that rivaled her fellow avians in size. “But, I know, you’re tired, and as long as you make eggs for us, we won’t make chicken salad out of you.”
Rosita clucked out a protest to Carlos, or so it seemed to the overworked and, in his mind anyway, under-appreciated sole citizen that made up the Hartunian work force. The aging chicken clucked her way to his pocket.
“Alright,” Carlos said, pulling out the mango he was going to have for breakfast. “We’ll share it,” he said as he offered the hen a generous chunk from the top of the fruit, only to have her snatch the main body of the mango.
She ran away with it, hiding in the bush. Chasing her would be futile, today anyway. But, someday, when she outlived her usefulness, she would welcome being caught, decapitated and cooked. So Carlos thought about Rosita, himself, and Rikona, who sat on his open aired throne reading a newspaper from the mainland. And worrying about what he was reading this time. Carlos approached and read the headlines as he unloaded the eggs into the refrigerator, saving four of them to make breakfast for Rikona and himself.
“The National Debt on the mainland is rising again,” Carlos easily surmised from the headlines. “But everyone on the mainland who has money seems to be getting richer, while the poor, remain…underpaid or unpaid,” he strongly related. Carlos looked to Rikota for a response. He didn’t get one.
The Master was lost in a world of his own, far beyond the understanding of the Servant. Rikona put down his newspaper, but remained fixed by whatever he was looking at in what to Carlos was just empty space.
Carlos cracked the four largest eggs and scrambled them in a bowl, then scraped around the refrigerator for something that looked interesting and smelled editable enough to put into them. “The dollar, yen and Euro decreased in value today, again,” Carlos read .
“So what is increasing in value?” Carlos asked Philosopher King Rikona, who still remained distantly silent. Carlos loudly closed the refrigerator, then mixed the ingredients for the days’ breakfast in a thirty year old pot which, according to rumor anyway, was converted into utility by none other than John Lennon himself. . “And with this debt that every country seems to have….Who owes what and to who? Besides me owing you a tasty and nutritious ommlette and you owing me a trip to wherever you go between your ears?” Carlos gently blasted into the old man’s still distant eyes as he put on the two element hotplate and poured the mixture into a frying pan. When pan met heat, the first eminations of aroma emerged very quickly. Carlos pushed them towards Rikona’s still non-responsive face.
The mixture of pepper and wild basil broke through the Old Man’s trance. He smiled, then looked at his humble servant, and good friend, and after a deep breath, said to him, “Comrade Carlos, each gives according to his abilities, takes according to his needs. And as for money, it is a tool to get what you need. Just one of the tools.”
“Well, what if I need to have more money? And want to have money?” Carlos demanded to know.
“You have all you need, don’t you?” Rikona replied with an even wider and warmer smile made all the more profound by the wrinkles in his weather-beaten face. “Food, shelter, purpose, challenge, and, appreciation. From me, Rosita, the other hens, and every animal on this island. And every other living thing here bearing fur, scales or leaves.”
“But I need understanding,” Carlos pointed out, leaning in towards the Old Master.
A glow came over the old man’s tired, brown eyes, as he seemed to feel that the young man finally came up with the question that would give him all the answers he would need and want. A victory for the Old Man until the young man said, “I need to understand why I am not making any money here. And why everyone on the mainland is richer than me. AND you! I’ve seen how much is left in the National Treasury,” Carlos continued, pointing to the hole containing the treasure chest left by the original pirates who settled the island. “That chest is worth more than whatever dollars, pesos or shekles are in there!”
“I know,” Rikona sadly replied with a voice gone raspy and strained. “But at least we don’t owe anything to anyone, except to each other,” he smiled back between mild coughs.
“Yes, but…”Carlos shot back, as he looked at the shimmering shores of the American mainland to the West. “In Florida, there are rich people! Lots of them! Richer than we ever were, or will be! No matter how much they pay me to fix the plumbing at their resorts, build roofs on their casinos, or take them out for fishing trips with their mistresses! AND they can go to ANY doctor they want because they are RICHER than us!”
“Are they richer than us, or do they just have more money?” Rikona challenged, through another painful cough, looking at his frail, and once again shaking arms that he used to pick up the newspaper again and hide behind it. “Are they rich just because they have money?”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Carlos countered as he futily tried to get between the Old Man’s eyes and the newspaper. “Just like me working for all of them on the mainland, and them, ALL of them, owing ME money, doesn’t make any sense.”
“All of them?” Rikona asked, putting down his newspaper, genuinely surprised.
“ALL of them!” Carlos barked back. “Which is why I don’t own a single shirt that doesn’t have holes in it,” he said as he demonstrated his claim with the over-worn garment covering his well-conditioned but still aching body. “Why I’m cooking eggs for YOUR breakfast instead of steak and sausages,” he continued, smelling the same morning meal he had cooked for himself and Rikona, day in and day out, for the last 5 years. “And why we both live in huts instead of houses like the rich people on the mainland do!” he barked as a burst of wind blew three strands of straw into the ommlette.
“They aren’t strong enough to live as we do, Carlos,” Rikona said as he took the smaller portion of the ommlette for himself,.
“And we’re supposed to be smart enough to live the way THEY do!” Carlos barked back. “I deserve more! And so do you!” he continued, giving the old man most of his own breakfast.
Rikona smiled, then laughed. Then coughed, blood coming out of his mouth this time.
On most days, Carlos would run to Rikona’s aid, giving him something to ease his pain, But on this day, it was time or the old Sage to get a dose of his own medicine, by mouth. “You laugh, and even though you’re dying, the way YOU want to die, you still keep me as the poorest citizen in MY country!”
“Forgive me,” Rikona said, spooning out the lion’s portion of the ommlette onto Carlos’ plate, taking care to give him the portions that didn’t contain the manure-stained straw.
“I don’t want what’s yours, just what’s rightfully mine!” Carlos shot back. “And what’s rightfully mine, and yours, from them, on the Mainland! And particularly on this day which marks…a, well…it doesn’t matter anymore,” Carlos continued as he picked up his tool belt and boxes. He headed towards a single boat tied to a single peer on the only remaining harbour on the island just down the hill from Hartunia’s capital ‘city’.
“You do deserve something more than a bigger share of the ommlette for breakfast on your birthday, Carlos,” Rikona said just as the servant. “You only turn forty once.”
“Thankfully!” Carlos barked out as he loaded up the weather-beaten but never sea-defeated modified mini-Viking longship which was the laughing stock of every fisherman, the source of quaint pictures from the tourists on the mainland, and the envy of every University trained small craft designer who saw it. “I’m going to work now,” he grumbled. “On the mainland. Where I get paid in dollars instead of proverbs”
“Not without this!” Rikona blasted out. With a voice that sounded as if it came from a proud young lion rather than an old, aging dinosaur.
Carlos wondered if maybe Rikona had indeed finally transcended, returning to this life as a Herclean ghost who walked the earth like superman. Until Carlos saw the old man hobble to the dock waving a fistful of papers.
“With this, you will transform the world, and yourself,” the old man said to the young one with a sense of affirmation, and finality.
“Another one of the manuscripts willed to you by your guru in India, or that you want to will to me?” Carlos sneered.
“Just shut up, read then, and deliver them, to the five people they are addressed to,” Rikona said. “Due today. Final notice. No excuses, or there will be international repercussions.” he continued, taking out a stamp from his pocket, pressing each of them with ink with more boldness than Carlos had ever seen from the Old Philosopher King. “Time for them and others to finally learn a valuable lesson!” he proclaimed.
“By making them pay me for fixing their toilet, repairing their roof, patching up their boat, driving their mistresses to the airport, and—-”
“Demand payment for it today. In cash. No credit cards or checks,”
“And if they want to pay me in chickens, who lay bigger eggs than Rosita, and shit out less farts that I have to clean up? Or maybe renting me one of their mistresses, or wives, for a few hours?” Carlos asked, with a warm smile.
“Cash. To YOU and YOU only. By the end of business day today! No exceptions, or—”
“—I know,” Carlos said, looking at the invoices. “The severest of economic and international consequences. From the country of—”
“Hartunia!” the old man proclaimed, sounding like a young one. But hobbling like an old one as he sung the National Anthem that was once the pride of his island kingdom on the way to his throne, where he sat down and waved Carlos off to the mainland.
Like every other Tuesday, or any other day of the week for that matter, Carlos had to be content with the old man’s advise. Though Rikona was at this point a deluded old fart half way to his next incarnation, he always did mean well. And, truth be told, he was the only friend Carlos had left in the world. Yet, a friend who still had more money than he did, and therefore, a boss. Not because he had any army to back him up, or police force to exert his authority, but because he had more money than Carlos had. Until, perhaps Carlos could collect on the debts the Old Man threatened to exert on the mainland. A small gift for Carlos’ 40th birthday, but it beat a peck at the ankles from Rosita and her fellow hens, or a shit delivered onto the head by a seagull flying over him just as he hit the open water.