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Money Can't Buy Happiness

The friends who came to see him at the Michaelangelo Hotel in New York City had been instructed by the concierge that he was indisposed for a moment and would be down shortly. A formally uniformed waiter rushed to their side, offering cocktails and antipasti courtesy of the their host. The concierge just sniffed and tried to avoid looking these people in the eyes; he could tell that of the bunch, perhaps only one appeared as if he could possibly afford to enjoy the myriad luxuries to be found in every corner of this bastion of excess.

Long experience had taught him that despite how snobby and despicable it was, he was behooved to apologize to the concierge and manager for the very casual attire worn by his friends. He'd intentionally removed his tie in order to make the casually-dressed group feel more comfortable.

A decision had to be made. At the top of mind was the concern that if whisked upstairs, offense might be taken by his guests. This for two reasons; because they were being removed from the public eye, and also that perhaps they'd think he was showing off. He voiced his concern about ostentation, and agreement was reached. Thankfully, they concurred that they wanted to see more of the building, and the suite, out of pure curiosity. Their beverages of choice arrived at the door shortly after they were shown in by the guard who accompanied them upstairs. They were impressed; he was disgusted. The hotel's management had acceded to let him ascend on his own after he pooh-poohed the need for security in the elevator and public spaces. (The guard was there this time because the hotel was probably dubious about his guests.)

The sheer luxury of the suite was beyond what any of them had imagined it would be. The server who arrived with beverages (and a complimentary platter of cold hors d'oeuvres) entered quietly through the suite's service door and startled some of them when he showed up, seemingly out of nowhere, from the suite's pantry.

Hours were spent in conversation (lubricated by a lot of premium liquor). The books on the bookshelves in the living room were studied, and approved of by the rag-tag group; all of whom were avid readers. Nearly all in attendance excused themselves to the bathroom not once, but twice, in order to get a look at both bathrooms.

That evening, a stretch limousine was hired, not for luxury's sake, but merely to move the eight persons about at the same time. Dinner was taken at one restaurant, and after-dinner cocktails were taken at another. All returned from the trip safe and sound, and said goodbyes in the Michelangelo's lobby. A valet brought the half-dozen rather threadbare compact cars to the door.

He returned to the empty room. A half-hour's television watching failed to dispatch him to sleep. He called downstairs and a cognac was brought up promptly. Perhaps by Divine intervention, (for the server's sake) his attempt at conversation with the server was cut short because of language differences. He was frustrated by the fact that he couldn't communicate. The Internet yielded nearly as unsuccessful results. An online chat revealed a person of dubious gender who wanted to perform fellatio; there was no absorbing conversation there. He snapped off the computer and decided to go to bed.

He shouted an expletive, out loud, to nobody in particular. He was damning his lonely state of mind.

A mere eight months later he was alone when he entered a different, opulent mahogany-panelled lobby. The draperies resembled those he'd seen in Newport - a hundred coats could be crafted from this fabric. The thought crossed his mind that a bar would be very appropriate. There was no bar. Not here, not within a mile or so.

After he showed identification and signed in with the cheerful security guard, he proceeded through the glass doors. Shortly before he reached out his hand to push the door, a discreet "click" came from the locking mechanism.

The decor went down hill from there. The decorator wallpaper was replaced with something ostensibly innocuous but obviously easily scrubbed with disinfectant. He smiled a forced smile at the few individuals in their wheelchairs (some motorized) who'd suffered severe head injury.

After what seemed an eternity, he arrived at his destination. He was greeted by the man in the bed with a big smile.

No concierge, Maitre d', limousine driver nor any other of the people upon whom he depended to take care of him ever did, nor ever would, smile at him so genuinely. It made him feel a little bit better.

The smile was blissfully ignorant. The man who smiled at him had not the slightest idea the fate that would eventually befall him. That at that moment, the cancer was spreading, unabated by the chemotherapy that had been dismissed as too dangerous. But he knew.

The visit went well. The man in the bed had enough energy for a (wow!) forty-minute conversation before he drifted off to sleep.

He walked back past the draperies, the conference rooms, the other sumptuous appointments (including fresh flowers) without even paying attention. When he started his car, he cursed the chimes that politely, yet assertively warned him to fasten his seatbelt, and the beeper that guided him out of his parking space. He backed into a streetlamp with a "BANG" that woke him up. The back-up warning that had gone unheeded was now effectively destroyed. He didn't bother to tell anyone inside; the scratch on the light-pole was negligible. It wasn't his car that bothered him, it was the entirety of the situation, and at that moment, he began blubbering. A bout of weeping followed this, and endured longer than he thought it would, although he didn't bother to look at the clock. The impact and resultant indentation in the back of the rental car was his wake-up call.

He'd always paid lip service to his good fortune, offering up the occasional "God's been good to me." The truth was that good fortune had found him via one part luck and four parts hard work. Money, though, could not assuage his feelings, now. But that moment he swore to Buddha, or God, or whomever was in charge, that he'd give every last penny he had just to be able to see, to touch; to talk with his father for a few more years.

Dear paraclete,

It was sad reading, this news. You have poured your heart and soul into medical school, denied yourself and led a cloistered existence for some greater good in your life.

You're disappointed and depressed by the news. Now it all seems so pointless. You hate failure, in others, but especially in yourself.

You hold yourself to a fearsomely high standard, a standard impossible to live up to, for most ordinary drones, but even for one as overabundantly talented as yourself. There is simply no room for failure in your life's worldview.

If I make it through today,
I'll know tomorrow not to leave my feelings out on display.
-- "It's a Shame About Ray," The Lemonheads

We've conversed many times via the miracle of instant messenger. You've convinced me that I'm not real, that I'm a mere collection of electrons with no real emotional stake in the game. We've shared dark moments, but you've also made me laugh. Despite your situation, you encouraged me when I was blue and helped me when I was down.

Now it's my turn, this mere collection of electrons to encourage you. I've done so privately, sure, but it's time to do so publicly. Hang in there, girl. It's pretty dark right now, but just hang on.

The plain and simple truth is that I - we - love you and grieve with you. Those who know you know how hard you've worked and how badly you've been crushed by this.

In the midst of this dark time, do not for one minute believe that you are alone in all this. It's a small lifeboat. We've all been there. We've all seen our hopes and desires get crushed by reality, fate, kismet... you choose the name of the grinding wheel. We know that ache, the grief, the loss of big dreams, and we grieve with you.

You matter to us. You've come to be a part of our lives. You are not alone. We carry a little bit of paraclete in each of our hearts. We cannot lose you because to lose you would be a little death for all of us.

Navy SEALs start their training at the West Coast facility during Basic Underwater Demolition School/SEALs (BUD/S), a 25 week course that is hell on earth. They repeatedly are ordered to march into 50 degree water for training exercises, a water temperature that shocks and enervates the system quickly. They tremble uncontrollably until they are ordered out, told to take hot showers to elevate their core body temperature to something approaching normal, and then are ordered back into the freezing cold water. It is a moment that makes the strongest men despair. Boat crews do this by linking arms and walking in together. A single person cannot do this, but a unit can. A tightly knit unit is always stronger than an individual.

Ms. Paraclete, you are part of a unit. You are part of something bigger than just you alone. Your friends here on E2 revel in your intelligence, your courage, your strength. We depend on you most of time. So won't you permit yourself to depend on us for just this short amount of time? Link arms with your friends here. We'll walk through the despair together. Together is always better. A tightly knit unit is always stronger than an individual.

We can offer you no words of consolation adequate to the situation at hand, other than the constant litany of: we love you, we love you, we love you... (repeat as needed).

Your internet friend,


I have no problem exploiting animals for my own (usually nutritional) gain. Can't get enough of them. Lamb, escargot, duck, venison - you name it, I've probably tried it. I have no problem keeping baby animals in cages to keep 'em tender. I have no problem with boiling animals alive to lock in their inherent moisture. I have no problem forgoing cooking altogether and just eating the damn stuff raw. But there's one animal that I just realized I have a problem with mucking about with, an animal that, even by my standards, has been horribly abused for the last, I dunno, probably millenia.


It just seems excessively cruel somehow. This animal, picked by the millions, dried out and used to rub expensive creams and exfolients and god knows what into the skin of the filthy, soaking up dirt and grime just to be rinsed out and reused over and over and over again, or used to rub the caked-on crap from last night's dinner out of a pan. It seems so much worse than just eating something.

Since I realized this, doing the dishes of an evening makes me decidedly uncomfortable. I'm sure that contemporary sponges are entirely artificial in nature, but the very concept upsets me just the tiniest bit.

Maybe I'll go live in a tree for the summer to better understand my relationship with nature.

Probably not.

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