Teaser 198: The Sucker’s Bet

Esperanza had stopped to gaze at me intently. “Good job, old man. Soon, you'll get to meet all the students who helped produce these documents for you.”

“I thought we were having lunch and I'd catch up with you this evening.”

“Oh, little boy, you're not getting off that easy,” Esperanza teased me with her mock pouting face. “You're spending the entire day with me, because if there's one thing you taught me early on, Gregory, it's this: I should treat every visit from you as though it was the last and take every advantage of it in that manner.”

“You have a lecture this afternoon, don't you?”

“I do.”

“So I do get to sit and audit one of your lectures for free!”

“You do,” Esperanza confirmed, her deep smile infectious and teasing…

We strolled across the campus grounds to the building with the Student Union facilities and the cafeteria catering campus-wide. “You'll enjoy this, Gregory,” Esperanza confided.

“Why? Is the food spectacular?”

“No. We'll sit at the largest open table we can find so we can watch the reaction. It's common knowledge you're due here any time to get those results. Just watch.”

It was still a little early for lunch, since it wasn't quite eleven-thirty yet. The large seating area of the cafeteria was still relatively sparse and once we slid our trays along and made our selections and the Professor paid for it all, we slipped over to a long table, actually three tables set lengthwise, completely unpopulated. This began, before we were through and stood up to leave almost an hour later, a continuous population of humanity, all manner of humanity, taking seats at these three tables, immediately engaging in conversation with one or both of us. Professors strolled in and strolled up to the tables, administrative types, students of all stripes, many of African descent, and the conversation was respectful but loud and boisterous at times. A couple students, expected at her lecture soon, advised me they now suspected who the mystery guest would be at the Professor's lecture, as she had hinted over the week. Even though it was a Saturday and one of the few classes scheduled, Professor Esperanza had the entire university's attention and she shamelessly used it.

“Gregory Hess is a very busy man. He has a lot on his plate, don't you think? He surely has neither the time nor the desire to indulge in attending a lecture of mine for ninety minutes.”

“You are enjoying this too much, Professor. Someone should pop your bubble,” I said loudly.

Amid the natural laughter Esperanza proclaimed, as she gently patted my cheek, “I don't think there's one here who could pop my bubble in that way, Gregory, especially when one considers how much one owes me.”

More laughter, all in smiles, and I took a quick perusal up and down the tables. “All of you are enjoying this too much. You are all shameless!”

A young male student sitting across from me three seats away loudly stated, “Welcome to Northridge, Mister Hess. We have a reputation for egalitarianism here. We'll knock anyone down a few pegs when they deserve it.”

Almost the entire cafeteria was in an uproar. I smiled, glanced to Esperanza, who was almost in rapture, and fixed my focus on the male student as the reaction subsided. “That is an attitude you better hold onto like it's the most precious of all for it will serve you well throughout your entire lifetime, young man, and use it to knock down those who assume a throne without the corresponding humility which must always accompany it. Those who think otherwise deserve to be knocked down.” Of all the places where I had received applause, most as I stood on a stage in ten different cities, I received a long and thunderous round of applause for this speech, and many shouted, “Bravo!” Once it died down, I added, “And for your gracious and warm reception, should I ever have any wish to complete my studies for my bachelors, I would certainly consider Northridge...but I won't!” There were many groans. “I've got plenty to tackle and, heck, you're all welcome to come along for the ride. I promise you it will be a ride you'll never forget.”

Back to her office to grab all her materials for her lecture and Esperanza and I walked to the lecture hall, arriving with five minutes to spare. The entire room seemed completely full, though there was one seat in the first row at the very end. I whispered as she walked to the front, “I'm going to sit in that first row seat. I know it's being a goody-goody, but I do want a front-row seat for this, my love.”

Esperanza was well-prepared. I was confident she had rehearsed. “I'm certain you all know now who my guest is for today's lecture,” Esperanza announced with her right arm sweeping toward me, “Oscar-winning screenwriter, Gregory Hess, who asked to sit in on this lecture with the promise he would keep his famous outbursts to a bare minimum.” I had stood to nod politely around the room and smiled when she said the last bit.

“I believe it was accompanied by your assurance that failure would result in, let's see, how did you phrase it, 'pain of death?'”

She waited for the ruckus to ease. “No, Gregory, I believe I phrased it that, due to the possibility of reincarnation, it would result in the pain of multiple deaths.” I waved in surrender to the room, sat down with a brimming smile, and proceeded to be enthralled with the Professor's lecture and presentation. I was now in Esperanza's element, Esperanza's world, and she commanded it brilliantly. She wove the topic of the day's lecture: botanical research, study, preparation and application dependent upon the results of the three previous activities undertaken in the proper and required phases, and stopped.

“At this point in the lecture, I'm going to ask for assistance from one of my students.” Esperanza gazed straight to me and fixed her gaze steadily.

“Not me,” I protested. “I'm not one of your students. Not only have I never been admitted, I haven't even paid for the privilege of being embarrassed by one of the professors!” It created a humorous response.

“Nevertheless, Mister Hess,” Esperanza insisted, “you are studying somewhat under my tutelage, you have some very appropriate items which you have learned which will help enlighten the rest of my students, and I am only asking you to help me by presenting it. I will not embarrass you.” She gently motioned for me to come before the room with her. I stood up and walked to the front of the room to stand beside her, with my hands clasped behind my back. “Now, Mister Hess, I believe you are engaged in an environmental experiment to take place in Africa?”

“Africa, yes.”

“And you have been concerned from the start about what you can reasonably grow under the current constraints of the environment, water, sun, soil, etcetera, is that fair to state?”

“Yes. All true.”

“So why not do what everybody else does? Just throw more fertilizer at the problem. It's a given, doesn't it seem so, Mister Hess, that no matter what the conditions, if you throw enough fertilizer at the problem, all other problems fade away? Doesn't it seem reasonable to state?”

“You had this all planned, didn't you, Professor?”

“I didn't earn my doctorate by winging it, Mister Hess, like some others.” I knew she meant me.

I turned to face the audience, students of Professor Esperanza, all in rapt attention. “Students, you better be taking notes, so note this. I owe a lot to this fine human being standing at the front next to me and this is intended to make up for some of the debt I owe her and you are my witnesses.” I stepped close to Esperanza and lightly grasped her arm above the elbow. “Which allows me, therefor, to pay down this debt to nothing by, I imagine, some time tonight.” I watched Esperanza gaze to the ceiling while gritting her teeth, but I turned to her and asked, “Do I have permission to use your eraserboard, Professor?” I moved toward the board and Esperanza tossed me the black marker in her hand, which I caught. “So, the Professor made a very astute inquiry. Why not just throw fertilizer at the problem? I could simply pay my way out of the problem, so my question to all of you is: what common, commercial fertilizer could I buy to make my problem go away?”

From many voices came the answer I expected and at this point I was well into it. This was Esperanza's expectation all along and she stepped around to the front of her desk, leaned against it and smiled all around the room. “Nitrates!” I wrote the word “Nitrates” on the eraserboard.

“Now, let's assume I decide that path to take, buy all the nitrates I need to fertilize any barren piece of cropland. Seems simple enough. Nitrates are in ready supply. Why bother trying to balance anything in a less than ideal environment? I simply buy all the nitrates I need, because there's no down side to this strategy, right? Isn't it true?”

Some started shouting answers and here's where the Professor stepped in to keep order, and the learning which should accompany it, on the right path. “Please raise your hands, as you have all been instructed, and I will choose one of you,” Esperanza shouted over the din, calmly I should add.

Esperanza pointed to a young woman in the first row. The young woman's response was, “The down side is that nitrates do not occur naturally in any environment, so they must be manufactured and processed.”

“What down side is that?” I countered. “Many things must be manufactured and processed with a veritable plethora of up side. What down side is there to manufacturing and processing nitrates?”

Many hands went up and Esperanza now chose a young man in the middle of the rows and seats of the hall. “It takes too much energy to manufacture and process nitrates, because it does not occur naturally in any environment except at an extremely small scale.”

“So what? We've got plenty of energy all around us. Why, we wake up every day greeted by the biggest energy furnace in the known solar system, the sun. Can't we use the sun to pick up any lack of energy balance?”

Another hand chosen. “We can't efficiently use the sun to counter all our energy deficiencies today. How are we going to expect the sun to pick up this deficiency alone?”

“Good point. How are we—when you consider truthfully that the energy used to produce nitrates can never be equaled by the energy to be reaped by any crop produced through the use of nitrates—how are we ever going to balance this constant negative reduction of energy? How are we ever going to balance this negative impact on energy requirements? Oh, wait! We'll burn more fossil fuel. On this Earth alone we've received the gift of unlimited fossil fuel. It will last forever with no consequences to the environment, right?”

You can see where I was taking this. Esperanza knew I would. She had structured her lecture with my attendance in mind. When I finished my presentation and was ready to turn it back to Esperanza, I had most on the right path of understanding. Since we are all human beings, though, there were some who were not convinced. Once I had completed my share of the lecture, I asked for any final comments or questions. There was one, provided by a cocky, bulked-up hunk with a smug appearance. Bring it, big boy.

“You said it yourself, Mister Hess. We have an abundant supply of nitrates, the purchase of which helps every economy involved, and it results in the success of the planted crop, without the unintended consequence of essential slavery of all those naive enough to work for you during your experiment in producing said crops without the abundant resource, my emphasis, of nitrates, so isn't this yet another example of foolhardy idealism without regard to consequences that any and all others will suffer due to your inability to consider all possibilities? That you, Mister Hess, are essentially leading fools down a path of their own destruction? Would you care to comment on that?”

I smiled widely. Welcome to my world, big boy. Let the battle begin. “I would love nothing more than to comment on that supposition, for it is a supposition, since you linked many points all strewn together to make your real intention somewhat obscured and your entire discourse more thoughtful. So let me address your points, one at a time. As for your suggestion about essential slavery, are you going to suggest that you are not an essential slave, to this Earth? That should this Earth immediately surrounding you turn hostile, you have your little space ship at the ready to zoom you from harm's way? Oh, but don't forget, once you get up there in deep outer space you still have to deal with constant, relentless deep space radiation, a subject which every movie I have ever seen conveniently skips over like it can be ignored and it will go away, so relentless, that should you drift to Mars over six months, set down for a relaxing vacation. Mars! The vacation of your dreams! Spend a week on the surface of the red planet and leave with a lifetime of memories! Except you're not coming back, you little dreamer, because you'll be dead from the accumulation of that relentless deep space radiation before you hit the Earth's atmosphere! You're not a slave now? You don't know Jack, son!

“Economies! All the economies involved will benefit! Of course they will, when you limit the transactions to such a small number, the equivalent of examination under a microscope. All of the transactions involved result in a profit and everyone involved benefits. Only a moron would think differently, unless you extrapolate and expand this small number of transactions to benefit huge economies as a whole. Microscopic examination? We shall apply it to everything! Oh, that's not making a large presumption. Oh, no! Let's bring that back to the same scope, young man. Something of a relatively microscopic economic scale, like Easter Island. Easter Island? What does that have to do with economics? Well, it so happens that at one time there were large numbers of people living on Easter Island and they had an economy, they produced transactions. Granted, most of those transactions did not involve the transfer of some currency, some token to represent wealth, but they were transactions nevertheless, and that is the basis of any economy.” I turned to Esperanza, who I noted was simply lost in following my discourse. “They do teach in economic theory here transactions do not require a transfer of currency, do they not, Professor?” It snapped her out of it.

“Yes, Gregory, they do teach it, that it does not require money.”

“Brilliant! A step forward! I would hope they emphasize it, too! So, back to Easter Island. They had an economy. Transactions were conducted, and some of those transactions included, cut this tree down and you shall be rewarded, for we will use this tree to move my statue to its rightful place to ensure my mojo, because I have enormous mojo, as demonstrated in this enormous statue, and it will stand next to dad's mojo, and granddad's mojo, and great-granddad's mojo, until we run out of, no! Trees? Time to move! Time to pick up stakes, oh, wait, we don't have any more since we have no more trees! But we have to leave. Can't live here any more. So now we'll expand it to the world at large, as you implied, and realize, crap! We have nowhere to go because the Earth is our home. It's the only home we have and if we don't take care of it, preserving its resources, there's nowhere else for us to go, Nimrod!

“But I'm sure you never consider yourself a slave to the economic conditions which prevail, do you, son? Of course not. Mommy and Daddy taught you. If you find a specialty, son, where you can carve your niche in society, you will never be someone's slave. You will always be able to make your way successfully, with your wits, your talents, and your energy and drive. You are the master of your own fate, son. There will never be a time when you're caught with your proverbial investment pants around your ankles, when a few scumbags connive entire financial markets to invest in their flimsy derivatives, to then yank the blanket of illusion covering the table to walk away with trillions of stolen money, with no repercussions, and, of course, your mommy and daddy escaped unscathed from the financial events of 2008, isn't that true, young man?” I watched him hang his head since I knew virtually everyone lost money in that debacle. “No, you and yours are not slaves!”

I strolled over to the seats directly in front of him. “You can believe what you want to believe, young man. I can't convince you until you're ready to be convinced. Nothing I say will change it, that you must be ready to be convinced. Yours is a delusion, however, for you live in a house of delusion, which will crumble before your very eyes at some point in the future. It is inescapable. You cannot produce fertilizer at a constant net loss of energy and sustain billions indefinitely. The bill will eventually come due. Granted, the bill will come due long after I'm gone. I'll never face it, but you might! Unfortunately for you, when the bill comes due, you won't have the luxury any more by paying for it with money. You will pay for it with human lives. When that day comes, young man, you will instantly remember this lecture, your question about would I care to comment on that, and my response, and should you have the strength left to continue on after that self-examination, you will attempt to make up for all your failings in those interceding years, and may those above us take pity on you, because you not only will require their pity, you'll need every bit of their help to keep the calamity from swamping everyone and everything, including your meager existence!” The young man was stuck in a constant state of glancing around, because wherever his focus briefly fixed, the look returned was a bit more than he wanted to confront. I turned to Esperanza and asked, “Professor?”

Esperanza leaned forward to stand upright but before she could engage the room again, the young woman in the first row who was the first student Esperanza chose when I started, stood clapping and would not take her eyes off me as I walked slowly to the first row seat. The woman next to her instantly stood and she applauded. In moments the entire auditorium was ringing with applause and shouts. I stopped dead in my tracks and was truly touched. I smiled, trying to keep my sense of propriety, and finally bowed. When I rose again I saw the big boy, my so-called nemesis, was applauding, too, even smiling as he was being nudged playfully by the person to his right. When it finally rescinded, at Esperanza's continual insistence, and was reasonably quiet, Esperanza turned to me. “Quite a performance, Mister Hess, and they wouldn't nominate you for an acting award for, what was it?”

“I'm not pretty enough, Professor,” I instantly responded.

“Oh, yes, now I recall,” Esperanza said amid more laughter.

“If I may indulge upon your time for a minute or more, Professor...” I waited until Esperanza nodded. “It will dismay me, young man, should you leave this lecture hall today and think I picked on you, that I turned your legitimate question into a personal grudge match, because I never intended to make you a target. If I did, I apologize now, but I hear reservations like yours constantly, sometimes from supposedly gigantic intellects, who prefer to ignore the facts of business as usual because it is merely convenient to do so, since the alternative requires radical restructuring of everything in society. So we delay and delay and delay our actions for resolution and keep passing it back to the next generation, and the next, and the next. You, young man, are a representative of the newest generation, and it may very well fall into your hands to have to do something about it because the bill just came due and you can't push it onto the next generation, since members of your generation are dying all around you. If you wait that long your options are far fewer, drastic even, and you're getting clues already, because people have already started fighting and dying for food. Soon, people will be fighting and dying for water. What do you think all of humanity will do when the only option left is fighting and dying...for one meal...one drink of water? Is it really the wisest course to wait and push it off to the next generation?

“Young man, you probably have some idea about economics since you brought it up, correct?” I was looking only to him and watched him nod. “Essentially, economics is the study of money, though they make concessions to transactions, as I stated, which bypass money altogether. I raised the point of transactions for a very important reason. You must all understand money is a token, just as a word is a token, that a letter like A or B is a token. Tokens represent other things, they mean something else. If we were to remove the tokens for words and symbols, the very essence of human communication, of understanding, would come crashing down. All of humanity would plummet back beyond the stone age. In this vein economics and financial advocates will try to convince you the same thing will occur should you remove the token of money, therefor destroying what it represents and destroying ourselves in the process, except they ignore one very important fact. Human beings in the past organized themselves in tribes whose members worked together and did so successfully without tokens to represent some other tangible property. Follow me so far?”

I looked around the room and noted the many nods of appreciation, fascination. “So here's your ancestors' history in a nutshell. First came words, those tokens, then came successful organization, the token of money came last! And here's the kick in their ass! Any self-respecting student of economics and finances understands this very basic principle. When you can go straight to the source, you typically get a better price for the item you want. It simply means, cut out the middle man, get a better price. Anyone want to argue this basic principle? I can assure you when I was your age, when I bought a lid from some guy, I paid a higher price for that ounce of weed, than when I went to his supplier and bought a kilo from that guy, but I'm sure none of you have ever thought about that, huh?” That brought some laughter and Esperanza, though quiet and attentive, shook her head. “I can't smoke that stuff any more because it makes me physically ill, believe it or not, but I digress. Everyone knows, cut out the middle man, get a better price. There's a middle man in economics, in finances. It's the money lenders, those who own the capital, who have a lot of money. When you throw money at any problem, you benefit them. Cut them out, you get what you want at a better price. What's the problem with this approach? The greatest, hugest, most gigantic restructuring of our human organization ever conducted. Gargantuan. And those money-lenders are going to constantly remind you of the task you're considering, that is whoppingly huge. They won't tell you the dirty little secret. You don't have to restructure everything at once. You take small steps, like the greatest advice from the movie Contact. 'Small steps, Ellie. Just take small steps.' So, what is an example of taking a small step? Instead of throwing money at the problem with fertilizer, you do something different. Instead of trying to solve any problem with a very convenient token, creating a token exchange, instead you throw your heart, mind, body and soul into the form of an elbow grease exchange. And you, then, create a value which had nothing to do with money, with that token, and you cut out the middle man, until years and years later, all of human organization has been restructured and the money lenders have died a merciful death and you're no longer slaves to money. Small steps, ladies and gentlemen, that's all it takes, but if you won't even take those first baby steps, the one small step to begin your journey, I won't bet on your future, because it's a sucker's bet.”

- Just Desserts, Segment Twenty-FourBack in the USA” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021

contact me, as always: schussprose@gmail.com