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The Richest Man in Babylon

The Richest Man in Babylon is a book written almost 100 years ago by a fellow named George Samuel Clason.

You can see the Wikipedia description here: The Richest Man in Babylon – Wikipedia.

To save you valuable time, however, I will give you a quick synopsis. It is a “how to acquire and grow wealth” book, and like every worthwhile book on this subject, it basically says, (1) Work Hard, (2) Live Frugally, (3) Save Aggressively, (4) Invest in Something You Understand.

I’ve often thought about writing an investment book of my own.

It would be about 2 to 3 inches thick.

On page one of the text, it would have those four bullet points listed above with perhaps a few (no more than three per) sentences of elaboration. The rest of the pages would be glued together with a rectangular, dollar-size cutout; the elaboration for Bullet Point (3) would tell the reader to store $100 bills in the hidden compartment until proceeding to step (4).

If I really got carried away, it might include a step (5):

(5) Now, don’t buy any more “how to get rich” books and go to work.

I can feel your excitement from here.  Please place your orders online or via our 800 number at locations that I will (never) get around to creating.

But the thing about the title “The Richest Man…” is that I have a friend, since about age 12, I think, who often calls me “The Richest Man in Polk County.” In addition to being facetious, he is also perhaps the crudest man I know with the deepest reservoir of non-repeatable, but please forgive me, the funniest jokes around. We will skip over the crudest designation today except to say that when you’ve been friends for a lifetime, been through thick and thin together, seen each other at best and worst, had spats minor and serious, but still the binding love of friendship outweighs all, and you can accept some things as beyond your paygrade to worry over.

One of my children did say one time, though, “Dad, Uncle so-and-so (this in the Southern tradition of designating non-blood relations yet close heart-relations as “Uncle” and “Aunt”)…Uncle so-and-so sure has a mouth on him.” I replied, “Yes, and you are to respect him and not speak ill of him, but you are not to model his behavior nor respect that language.”  My parenting had some confusing messages; you will not be surprised to hear.

So anyway, I decided this month to start counting and see if I was really the richest person (“man” being used previously in an outdated context) in Polk County.

I started at the top; where else would I start?  The Publix heirs have a couple of billionaires, so depending upon market fluctuations related to my 200 shares of Apple, I’m probably behind them. Next, I began to count the people I know personally with a high net worth, which turned out to be really hard. It’s a lot like counting goldfish. Those suckers will move around on you rather quickly.

Giving up on that approach, I found some data from 2010 indicating the average net worth in our county to be at $153,000 per household. (Center for Rural Entrepreneurship) A full 40% of the country’s population has a net worth of $50,000 or less, with about the same number of households in the $50K to $250K range. That leaves 20% in the $250,000 and above range. Clearly, Polk County, like the rest of the state and the country, is top-heavy. This information should not come as a surprise. Why do the rich get richer, and the poor stay poor?  While there are many factors at work, the biggest contributor is that human beings exhibit human nature, and we all tend to keep doing the things we’ve done before.

But this is not the point.

I have told you all about this so I could tell you about last Tuesday, or at least one Tuesday in the previous month.

I was driving to work just before 8 am (yes, that does happen, but it is rare at this point in life), and my cell phone rang, and I immediately thought, “Oh no, I hope it is not X. I can’t take him this morning. He always calls this early, and today I don’t have the energy.”  It wasn’t X. It was my buddy from Salt Lake City. I can talk hands-free through the radio system, so I answered. He was calling to tell me that the night before, he had read the story of me greeting a friend at church with, “Hello, Genuine Leather.”

This launched my friend into discussing how successful it might be to try to write jokes using Artificial Intelligence. He went on to talk about a course he will teach using a mathematics system of thinking for problem-solving and how AI might use it. Remember your standardized tests back in high school had sections for Mathematical Computation and Mathematical Concepts?

This is the concept we are talking about.

It was a really interesting conversation. With my friend, I don’t necessarily have to interject much; this was a “Lorin listens” conversation. Mind you; he can say the same in reverse when we have a “Lorin rants” conversation. But I do have to listen carefully and ask the occasional question because sometimes these concepts are a little hard to get my mind around. However, the interesting thing about this for today’s purpose is that I left Salt Lake City as my home base 30 years ago. I still talk to my buddy at least once a month.

Once I got to the office on that Tuesday, my friend, the lawyer, called to talk a little business.

I’ve known Mr. Lawyer since grade school, lost touch for about 20 years, and reconnected about 20 years ago when I reached out because I needed some legal help. I have always looked up to this guy as a kind extra “big brother” – I already have two that are of the blood relation kind that I talk to weekly along with our sister, the baby in the family. Mom and Dad liked Ruth best, but you would too if you knew her.

My lawyer friend is such a good friend and sounding board. He says he appreciates my “sardonic and acerbic wit.”  Thanks be to God that somebody does. My friend is a tough lawyer who is very compassionate and empathetic; he reminds me to be the same. I need that, but you knew that about me already, too.

After that phone call, my oldest sibling (Bill) dropped into my office, and we had a 15-minutes comparing notes for summer plans and the upcoming travel plans to our niece’s north Georgia wedding. He is a steady rock in the family and keeps me grounded (rock – grounded…there’s a joke there, but I’ll have to get back to you next month on that). Having a “big brother” never changes for me; he is always the guy I look up to for greater wisdom and maturity than I carry around daily.

Soon after, the brother of my lawyer friend called to talk about investments as well.

We will refer to him as Pastor Man. Since Pastor Man is five years older than me and went away to college and then distant lands to be a Unitarian minister, I dropped out of touch with him until my lawyer friend said, “Call Lorin; he’ll help you with any investment questions you have.” He did, and we talked for an hour when he called – some of it was even about investments

We have talked often since then; it is a great joy. A quick story: On that first call, he spoke to me about the need for us to become kinder people and better listeners as we grow, and he shared some of the de

tails of his journey toward that maturity. I told him that while I am constantly working on being nicer to people, more encouraging, and more supportive of them, I sometimes am forced to “bust out with an ‘oh, you’re too stupid to live.’” He laughed and said, “That is SO Lorin!!!” Much like my friend with the mouth, ain’t it good to have people that really know you and love you in spite of it?!

And finally, later that day, I got a text from my friend Ferqie (say “perky”) telling me he and his friend would be at my house in about 30 minutes. He had the day wrong, but fortunately, my wife was flexible and met them at the door before I got home, introduced herself, and entertained them for half an hour. I met Ferqie the first day I arrived at Clemson as an immediately homesick 18-year-old.

He’s been my friend ever since.

The shocking thing about this visit was that he reminded me we had not seen each other for 40 years. I thought this absurd, but upon reflection, he was right.

We stayed in touch via telephone, texts, and, more recently, Facebook, but we hadn’t seen each other in four decades.

This visit was like

we picked up from a week ago. We talked for five hours non-stop with so many tears of laughter and a few of sadness as we remembered friends gone too soon. Fergie has changed his lifestyle since I last saw him – he now has a male friend that is his partner, something he hid from the world and denied to himself for the first 50 years of his life. It doesn’t matter about our relationship; he’s a good and kind soul and my friend forever.

And that was my Tuesday.

It was followed (eventually) by a Father’s Day lunch with daughters and grandkids and a very loud game of Twister.

I watched.

So, yes, I think. My friend is right. I am, after all, The Richest Man in Polk County.

I hope you are well-invested and rich beyond measure too. If you need a reminder, this is it. Pick up the phone and reap the joys of life.

July 2023

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