Thursday, November 04, 2004


As we enter the first days of the month, it is time to pay the bills. This is a monthly ritual that hardly anyone can avoid, unless they are fortunate enough to have a bookkeeper or a secretary. Lacking these, there is no getting around it. Sit down at the desk or table and prepare to kiss your money goodbye.

Cave dwellers did not have monthly bills. They lived rent free in their cubicles dug into the walls of cliffs. They did not have a home heating bill, but built warm fires in the centers of their caves, burning deadwood picked up in the forests. This fire provided light for the cave, too, as they tucked themselves in on their fur mats and slept. The fresh berries and roots from the woods and fields provided them with their veggie trays. And they ate meat lugged home from the hunt, using bows and arrows and billy clubs fashioned by hand, dressing their meat and cooking it on a roughhewn spit.

Our trouble with bills started when we first gained what is called "amenities". Yes, someone discovered electricity and fossil fuel and found that water ran freely through pipes. First thing you know, we're flushing toilets and switching on bulbs and driving cars....and paying bills. Now, a new "amenity" is invented almost daily, and we find ourselves unable to live without our televisions, our crockpots, our alarm clocks, our table saws, our computers. And with each new amenity comes another bill. So, at the first of every month, that pile of paper can look like a replica of Mt. Everest, a mountainous heap waiting to command your attention...and your money.

Some of us dream of shucking the niceties of civilization and living without all of these amenities. Well, you can't live in a cave any more....the neighbors would complain. But many people resort to a cabin in the boonies, deciding to live in the manner of rustic hermits, carrying water by the pail and trudging a path to the outhouse. But then they learn something the pioneers probably could have told them. Life without amenities is too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.
It's bugs and flies and mosquito bites. It's hard work.

So, unless you are really rugged and enjoy torture, you can't escape the bills. If you move, they follow you. If you ignore them, they keep growing in amount like the muscles of athletes on steroids. They come attached with things like "late fees". Pretty soon, the late fees have late fees. You have to pay, or they will hound you to death, like some grisly doppelgangers determined to devour you.

So, you pay your telephone bill, your light bill, your fuel bill, your insurance bill, your car payment, your house payment, your credit card payment, and all the other payments tucked in here and there to nibble away at your paycheck. Your money is disappearing, but you dream about your retirement. Ah, yes, when you retire, you will do this and that and life will be wonderful! It will be bliss!

You dream of visiting the Antibes and Australia and South America. Ah, yes! Even the Greek Isles...yet, you always wanted to visit the Parthenon! Whoopee! Free! No nine to five! No alarm clock! And just think, you can finally find time for those hobbies. Sailing. Golfing. Bowling. Ah, yes! Sheer bliss.

However, the bills keep coming! What is this? That mountain of paper is as big as it ever was, and there is less money to use! So, it usually boils down to your social excursions being reduced to a trip to the discount store once a week. And your vacations are spent staring at the paint flaking on your back fence.

And what about those hobbies? Well, almost all grandparents and great-grandparents have an engrossing hobby. It's called baby-sitting. You see, when you speak of retirement, your children's eyes light up like neon bulbs. Retirement, to them, is synonymous with AVAILABLE.

So, you sit with the tykes and tell them tales. Sure you love them. They have you wrapped around their fingers. Those piping little voices calling your name make life worthwhile. But are they a fitting exchange for the Parthenon? Well......, just maybe. On good days when they are behaving. And the sun is shining. And you have plenty of Band-Aids on hand.

So, you see, bills are a part of life you just can't escape, any more than you can escape your grandkids long enough to visit the Parthenon. If you do manage that trip, you spend most of your time buying souveniers to take back home to them. So just pay the bills and don't complain. After all, if you're going to enjoy amenities, you're going to have to pay for them. Nothing is free in this world......except grandparents that babysit.