Essays by Carl Nelson


 The Upstairs Bath

There is talk (in some halves) of having our upstairs bath redone.  Are there wives anywhere who are not thinking of refurbishing, restoring, remodeling, or refurnishing whatever home they inhabit?

My son, meanwhile, was talking over dinner about the shower he would like installed which pours down on you like a tropical rain.  He has been following a website which celebrates the way billionaires live.  Apparently he doesn’t want to be caught flat-footed when the money rolls in.

Myself, I had a fortune cookie which once said that I “would always have enough money”.  I have hung on those words.


There are two kinds of people.  (Didn’t you know this?)  One seeks freedom by acquiring as much money as possible.  The other seeks freedom by surviving on as little money as possible.  An example would be my identical twin brothers who are retired.  One travels the country in a bus which pencils out at about forty dollars per mile, (I believe he quoted me).  The other travels the Pacific in a sailboat.

One of my fascinations has always been visualizing the smallest possible accommodation in which I could live as cheaply as possible.  (I’m not alone.  A plethora of websites cover this.)  I’d always fantasized my chosen life would be as a modern Johnny Appleseed or wandering Country Western singer – a Woody Guthrie without the politics.  In a book of columns by Charles Krauthammer, the columnist writes about a mathematician named Paul Erdos who conducted all of his life from out of two suitcases.  One suitcase held the mathematical materials he was currently working on.  The other suitcase held his clothes and incidentals.  He would travel from friend to friend, visiting with other mathematicians, working theoretical problems and died having published 1500 collaborative papers.  Mathematicians would rank themselves in terms of degrees of separation from having published with Paul Erdos.  Ah, to be a living legend.

But with time I’ve realized this sort of life probably wouldn’t have made me happy.  I enjoy staying in one comfortable spot where routine smoothes incident and I’m left my time to dream.  And I need my companions: wife, son, dog and cat.  When the two of them are off shopping or otherwise occupied, I imagine myself without them versus with them.  There is no contest.

But with all of this comes expenditures.  Sigh.  And with expenditures comes debt.  And with debt comes the need for money.  And with the need to earn comes loss of time.  You get the drift.

One of my many daydreams is that I would have been good in business or at making money.  I spent most of my adult life in Seattle, Washington, where in the late 20th century start-up millionaires were hatching like baby chicks.  Tech money was condensing out of the air.  There were so many expensive cars motoring around the suburb of Redmond you no longer bothered to gawk.

I never attracted a dime of it.  Everyone around was pulling in their limit, and I couldn’t get a bite.  In retrospect, I think a major reason was probably because I never invested.  I never put my line in the water.  You don’t make any points if you’re not in the game.

And this is why we’ll probably redo our upstairs bath.

I don’t want to be left on the bench.

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