When it comes to figuring out how much something is worth, Karl Marx had the last word.
Something's value, said old Karl, is what people are willing to pay for it.
Oh sure, there's probably the relevance of supply and demand and other factors, but the bottom line on bottom lines is there is no bottom line.
Look at Ebay. It doesn't matter what's for sale - say it's pocket knives, all the same brand, model, and condition. One goes for $10, another for $20, and yet another for $35.
Or even weirder, people pay more for a used item than it costs new.
But that's Ebay, the Sotheby's of the downtown and the downtrodden. How about the upper crust, thems that live in The Big House and know the finer things in life? They've got to be more discriminating, right? Wrong.
You probably never heard of William Sokolin, and no loss if you haven't. He's a wine merchant who had a bottle of plonk from Thomas Jefferson's wine cellar - Chateau Margaux 1787, if you must know. He'd valued it at $500,000, but no matter, because when he took it to the Four Season Hotel, a waiter broke it. If the stuff was actually worth a half-mil, the least Sokolin could've done was lap it up off the plush carpeting though I'm sure he didn't.
Amazingly, some insurance company paid him $225,000.
So what was it really worth? Good question.
In the bottle it may have been worth a lot of money (though hardly in the six figures, sez I). But broke, it was worth about the same as Mad Dog 20-20, Wild Irish Rose or Night Train - maybe five bucks a quart. OK, so those wines are pure rotgut, but at least you can drink them, as opposed to slurping them off the floor.
One final example, this time demonstrating the astuteness of the literati. Jack Kerouac's original manuscript of On the Road was bought by Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts for $2,200,000. It's a great American icon, a bop Declaration of Independence, I guess. But two million dollars? There are a couple of ironies here. One is I can get a good reading copy of On the Road for $3.79, including postage, and I don't have to worry about losing it, dropping, it, or spilling coffee on it. The other is Kerouac died with a total estate of around $30,000.
So if all these priceless things hold no value to me, what does? Well, the age-old way to find that out is to ask yourself what you'd first haul out of your house if it was on fire. In my case, the answer's obvious. It'd be five things - my four pets and the only irreplaceable antique in my home me.
Truth is, I don't own anything of monetary worth. Any thief who breaks into my crib with dollar signs in his eyes stands a better chance of getting rich working part time at McDonald's.
But "actual" value aside, I've got many treasures. And what makes them treasures is only their sentimental value. One I value most is my pocket notebook.
Dopey's little helper
I've always carried a pocket notebook. It's invaluable for me as a writer because if I get an idea but don't write it down immediately, odds are I'll forget it.
But it's much more than a brainstorming tool. Mine is chockfull of all sorts of stuff - phone numbers and email addresses; jokes, anecdotes, astute sayings, oddball musings you name it. And in my usual fashion, it's in no clear order, so every time I look for something specific, like a phone number, it takes me minutes to find it. But it's an adventure, because while looking for one thing in the notebook I always find something else of interest.
As much as I value my notebooks, I never had a classy one. They always came from the dollar store until my pal Russell Sheffrin rose to the occasion.
Russell is now a headshrinker, but he has many other talents too. Little did I know one of them was leather crafting, until several years ago when he made me a notebook. It's the perfect size, and he engraved my initials as well as "Notebook" on it (the latter in case I lose my cookies so badly I forget its purpose, I guess).
Dropping by the wayside
I had it on me constantly and carried it everywhere, from the coffee enclaves of Seattle to the desert kingdom of Rajasthan. Then last year I lost it.
As opposed to losing other things, I realized what happened just after I discovered it missing. I'd bought food at the pet store and I took my notebook in the store, since I had my credit card in it. But in the chaos of opening my car, with keys in one hand, a 20-pound dog food bag in the other and two mutts trying to make a breakout, I put my notebook on the car roof. Then I drove off.
When I got home, I knew the notebook had fallen off somewhere between town and home, but that didn't seem too bad: All I had to do was retrace my route, I figured, and the notebook'd be somewhere in the street or on the side of the road. Unfortunately, it wasn't. And where it was was anyone's guess.
I checked and rechecked the road, by bike, by foot, by George and by Godbut never found the notebook. I told Russ and he made me another one. It was a generous gesture for sure, but it just wasn't the same. Somehow, I'd become emotionally attached to my old notebook not to mention all the stuff I'd had in it (the least of which was my credit card, which I had immediately cancelled). I had my name and phone number in it so I knew if someone found it they could find me. But they didn't.
and then a triumphant return
A year went by and of course I didn't think of the old notebook very much, but I hadn't forgotten it either. And then one morning a few weeks ago I got reminded of it Big Time.
The phone rang and when I answered a young gal's voice said, very tentatively, "Robert?"
Robert? Almost no one ever called me that but my eighth grade English teacher, Mrs. Wilson. And while I put nothing past her including calling me from The Great Beyond it wasn't her on the other end. For one thing, as I said, the voice was tentative - something Mrs. Wilson never was. It was also young, something else I don't think Mrs. Wilson was.
"Um did you lose a little leather notebook with a credit card in it?" said the voice.
To say the least, I was gobsmacked.
The caller was a named Charlene Marion and she explained that her boyfriend, Alex Curoux, had found my notebook on LaPan Highway a year ago. He put it somewhere safe but forgot about it till the day she called, when in the middle of a cleaning impulse, the notebook magically reappeared.
When we met a half-hour later, I thanked them profusely.
Then I gave Charlotte a ten spot for calling me.
Next I gave Alex a ten spot for being so honest.
I was not, however, about to give him all the moolah.
I believe honesty must always be rewarded. I also believe procrastination should always be its own punishment.