Bill's new hobby, copying a full-sized dictionary word for word, has been met
with first curiosity and then ridicule from his better half. To her, Bill is
losing sight of his career. "What if you live to 100 and know every word under
the sun, but run out of money before you die?" Amy sometimes would mock. In her
mind, running out of money, anytime, is absolutely the worst thing that could
happen and time is best invested in one's trade.
That's what she has been doing all these years. She has zero interest in reading
but if a book could help her pass an exam and grow income, she would be the most
diligent student. The fear of want has always been there to push her. Thanks to
her single-minded persistence, she has excelled at her job and long out-earned Bill.
Educated to the nineth, Bill himself went through countless exams. Outside the
academia, however, he was hopelessly inept. It took him six tries to get a driver's
license in Canada and later four more in the US. There was a pattern: he had to
make all the mistakes there were to make, sometimes more than once, in order to
learn something. He eventually passed because he had to. On the other hand, after
four job interviews with Google, he told their recruiters to stop bothering him. He
lost the drive in middle age.
These days, toiling for a corporation feels more like voluntary slavery and
striving for a higher pay a bottomless pit. The idea often reminds him of one
of his favorite dialogues in the movie Chinatown
"How much are you worth?"
Cross (shrugs, then defensively)
"I have no idea. How much do you want?"
"No. I just want to know what you're worth--over ten million?"
Cross (chuckles slightly)
"Oh, my, yes."
"Why are you doing this? How much better can you eat?
What can you buy that you cannot already afford?"
Cross (without missing a beat)
"The future, Mr. Gittes. The future."
Amy's question is real, however, and Bill is no less serious about penury. That
is why he watches his portfolio like a hawk. But more to the point, he has been
naive enough to believe it's possible to lead a life style that needs little
money, as one grows old.
He exercises daily, keeps a tight rein on his one-meal-a-day diet, scrutinizes
any physical discomfort his body experiences, and adjusts his habits constantly.
He figures that the best thing is to stay healthy and strong in old age. In this
sense, he's no less greedy than the most up-and-coming corporate employees
except that while they work hard to get more, he toils to need less.
He drives a 12-year-old beat-up honda hatchback, sticks to his dumb phone, and
rarely goes on a vacation. A killjoy to boot, he has lost most of his fun-loving,
hard-working, and highly-paid programmer friends since he chose to live in a
decrepit house. In a year, he probably would dine out two or three times only
to be social. His hobbies are cheap. Reading the dictionary, e.g., doesn't cost
him a dime.
His stinginess has puzzled some of his friends. "What do you save money for?"
one asked "The more you leave to your kid, the less he would strive by himself
and the more likely end up a failure." Bill has no answer to that question.
It only recently has started to bother him.