“People don’t really want to be rich,” I told myself as I looked around the empty conference room of this Sheraton in San Diego’s Seaport Village.
It didn’t matter to me.
My mom and I were excited for the seminar to begin.
We waited for the speaker to take center stage, and with every minute that passed, we felt our wallets grow fatter like a phantom limb sensation but in reverse. Our commitment to the ever-providing universe was filling our wallets with money we never had - spiritually at first, of course.
We didn’t need to say it out loud.
This was why we moved to the United States , to learn the secrets of the rich cheaply sold by these generous and trustworthy organizations.
Some Republicans want to build a wall to stop the constant immigration influx. To them, I say, drop pamphlets filled with these secrets over gang-plagued, poverty-stricken areas and watch how quickly immigration concerns become a policy contention of the past.
The speaker finally took the stage.
He wasn’t dressed in a way that made an impression on me. After presenting himself, he addressed this issue by saying that “wealthy people don’t dress up.”
This tip resonated with the audience because we didn’t dress up, except for my mom, who always dresses up.
The speaker pulled his worn-out brown leather wallet out of his jacket. The wallet was so thick with bills that it looked like it had eaten other wallets for breakfast before getting on the road with the speaker to come to this presentation.
From it, the speaker pulled a $100 bill.
It was impressive.
I would later have more than one of those in my hand after discovering the wonders of paycheck advances, but at that exact moment, I had never had an entire $100 bill in my pocket.
He made a show of telling us the wallet was loaded with other similar denomination bills. From where I was standing, it was hard to see whether the bills were real bills, monopoly bills, or dimensionally accurate newspaper cutouts made to resemble bills.
I couldn’t dwell on that.
When someone tells me they can make me rich, I ignore all red flags.
The speaker raised the bill and asked us if we wanted it.
We knew we had to be excited about craving money to be rich, so we responded with a resounding “Yes!” that shook the walls of the entire hotel.
The speaker dropped the bill on the floor and asked if we still wanted it. We still wanted it, so we said yes, understanding this was a lesson on money’s intrinsic value.
It didn’t matter how much you demean money; money was money regardless of where it had been or the emotional abuse it had to sustain.
The speaker picked the bill up and crumbled it. He asked again if we wanted the bill, to which we responded again that we did.
He did magic tricks with it, and we said we wanted it.
He made farting sounds with it, and we said we wanted it.
He licked Franklin’s face, and we said we wanted it.
He made ‘your-mom-is-so-fat’ jokes to the bill, and we said we wanted it.
He went through six more iterations of this exercise. Honestly, at this point, it felt like he was just bragging he had a $100 bill to his name.
I saw one of the participants standing up.
I thought this person was leaving because this exercise was becoming repetitive. I was with him - ten more variations, and I might’ve started thinking about going, too.
But this participant didn’t walk away from the stage but towards it.
He was probably going to check if the speaker was in physiological distress or was going to slap him silly out of the trance.
Instead, he pulled the $100 bill out of the speaker’s hand.
My co-audience member had enough of the charades, and pulling the $100 bill out of the speaker’s hand was his way of saying, “It’s time to move on, Buster. I paid $500 to be here, and I’m done with this.”
But then the speaker said in his booming voice, “There you go, the only person who really wanted the $100 bill.”
“He was the only one that came to get it,” the speaker admonished us, “Now ask yourself why you kept saying you wanted the bill, but you didn’t come for it.”
The exercise proved that, more often than not, human beings are decent. We don’t get up and take money away from people’s hands. We come up with elaborate ruses to do so.
In the audience’s mind, the speaker had established that poor people say things they don’t mean. This was a crucial point because next up the menu were two things he needed people to do.
He needed people to get on the phone with their credit card companies while on the seminar and expand their credit limits. Then, use such credit limit to buy the next course on the ladder–the $10,000 golden platinum best-of-the-line course.
This was the course where they would share the secrets of how to time the market, any market: the real estate market, the futures markets, the Dauchsand’s race market.
That was the real deal.
If rich people knew they were giving these secrets away, there would be hell to pay.
These short introductory seminars were just hors d’oeuvres, an amuse-bouche to amuse our poor people’s mouths. And the next course was the gold caviar reserved only for the ones truly committed to letting the universe make them rich.
Unfortunately, that was the end of the road for me.
I was going to community college and working two jobs to stay afloat, and my mom’s credit card didn’t have that much credit yet.
I would have to wait to pay this benevolent community to tell me what to do with my money.
The makings of a friendship and a coffee shop during the pandemic View from Grand Central Coffee Shop. Petaluma, CA. Photo by author. No Latino in the history of humanity has ever pulled an ascot....