We've been in Santa Fe observing the rich. There they are, in packs of two or three or five. They wear $3,000 cowboy boots and ski pants and fur hats. The waiters and waitresses wait on them hand and foot and I can see them spitting contemptuously when nobody's looking.
I totally hate their vibe. Here's the type of thing they do: You show up at the hotel at midnight and they take half an hour checking in. You've patiently waited. Then they come back and while you're talking to the front desk clerk, they interrupt.
It's very aggravating.
There is another group down here, a loosely connected underground. They call each other by made-up first names. They live outside, sometimes. They spend a long time talking to you about local history and ways and culture and the Green movement and ancient battles between Spanish Catholics and the Native Americans they tried to convert.
This group doesn't care about the time. They are mountain men and personal assistants and healers. Art dealers and cabdrivers who just "happened to" find this place on the way to somewhere else and never left.
Some have more money than others, true. All of them seem unbelievably rich in contentment.
They leave retail merchandise unsupervised, a lot. Can you imagine owning a store and walking away and hanging a sign that says, "Please pay for your merchandise up front."
I can't process this.
Wealth and money are clearly two different things. You can be poor and rich, and poor and poor.
One man who is clearly not wealthy tries to sell us stuff. Blankets, carpets, masks, things like that. He keeps repeating, "I need to move the merchandise, it's a slow day, I'll give you a good deal. Here, $50 off."
It's over and over again, too high pressure.
I buy some time, because the family is enjoying browsing.
"What do the masks mean?" There are a bunch of them but they all look similar.
"Which masks?" He looks annoyed.
"All of them, what do the masks mean? What is their significance?"
"Just pick one," my husband says. "He doesn't know what you're talking about."
"OK that one," I point to one of the masks. "Is it some kind of religious protection for the home?"
"Is it meant to scare people off?"
"There, right there in the middle, is that an evil eye protector?"
Those masks were about making money. Whatever I would have said, the answer would have been "yes." That man was poor, or struggling, and poor.
Five minutes later we're on the street and there are Native American craftspeople selling jewelry under an awning, by a monument. The monument is a tribute to fierce battle in the 1800s and at one point the language (which has been scratched out) called Native Americans "savages," There is an apologetic plaque on one side of the monument saying that the language is unfortunate and insensitive and hopefully prejudice will end.
It does not escape me that we invaded this country, fought the people who were already living here and appropriated their land, and now they are forced to sit on the floor and sell jewelry off of rugs to me.
I stop in front of one man and point to a necklace.
"That's beautiful," I say. "What does the price tag say, $1,600?" I feel bad as I say the words, because that couldn't possibly be the price for street jewelry and I know in my heart I'm being an asshole and making fun.
"Yes, $1600," he says.
Now, look. I know good and goddamn well that the piece was maybe $16.00, but I can't tell where the decimal point is.
And I also know that if he can get me to pay $1600, good for him, because from his perspective I'm a rich White woman making fun of him and the jewelry he sells and I deserve to be cheated a little bit.
The person sitting next to him is watching me. I have to say something.
"Wow, $1600. It's beautiful, but I work for the government, so it's a little out of my league."
The man selling the jewelry gives me such a dirty look I can't even describe it to you. Suffice it to say I shouldn't have used the word "government" in an excuse.
Then he starts going. "Handcrafted, and...." I stop listening as he starts to argue.
Later we go into a jewelry store and look at a ring. It's very nice, and the owner wants $35,000 for it.
Yes, $35K and the diamond is only one carat. I try it on and have to stop myself from saying something, like I can't believe what complete thievery. Oh the salesman is all smiles.
Look. At the end of the day you can make a lot of money selling whatever you want. But the truth is, getting rich easily turns you bad. It's so easy, so plentiful, so tempting, so gorgeous. I can easily see how people start to think that they, themselves, in some kind of act of ultimate brilliance, actually generated all this cash and can run all over other people because of it.
The point though is to see this darkness for what it is...to turn it into light by giving as much away as you can. The point is that this life we're living, this very short life is nothing but an optical illusion, a movie we wrote before we were ever born, with turning points planned that would give us the opportunity to make better choices than in the past.
I love money as much as the next person. It's fun. But it's only there as a test for the passing.
All opinions my own. Public domain photo via Wikimedia by Godot13 / Smithsonian Institution.