Reality Inspector, chapter 9

Copyright © 1982 John Caris

Leaving the star-bright night behind him, John stepped into the Rainbow Inn, which was dimly lit, ready for the chess game tonight. Most of the tables were occupied. John spotted Od and Hank sitting at their usual table. The previous game was a draw; and the one before that, when John had visited ZAC, had been won by the champion, who now led 2-1.

Od was in a heated discussion with Hank. Actually, Od was the heated one; wearing his Greek fisherman's cap, Hank sat there as calm as usual. When Hank became intense, he pushed his calmness out all around, expanding his range. Often, people within the circle of quietness were affected by it; they would vibrate to his slow and easy drumming. People usually became aware of his presence when he expanded it, and they usually enjoyed it. Hank indicated his displeasure by shutting off his presence so that only empty space existed around him. If one had ever experienced his presence, then its absence was quite noticeable. But Od had his own drum; and since the conversation centered on Od's main passion in life--economics--Hank's serenity only added fire to Od's enthusiasm. Economics was, in fact, his life and philosophy and religion.

Odysseus Tinker owned the Trading Shop, which was located on the east boundary of John's garden. It was a two story building; the ground floor was the Trading Shop, and the top floor was his residence. Toward the rear of the store, Od had built a door that opened onto John's garden so that he could enjoy it whenever he wished. For that privilege he had traded John a sprinkler system. John was pleased, both with the sprinkler and his neighbor's appreciation of the garden.

Od was a trader--by nature, by desire, and by profession. He was one of those people for whom a good trade was more exciting than a good fuck. Each had its own virtue, he asserted, and the virtue of each was excellent; but if he had to rank them, he would choose trading first.

Od traded objects, both antique and new; and he also traded services. If he did not have an item or a skill that someone wanted, he would put out a search for it. He was a member of the Bay Area Trading Community, a loosely knit group of trading associations. The BATC had a switchboard that all members would use whenever they were looking for a trade. The BATC also published a bi-weekly newsletter that contained articles of interest to traders and a classified section.

Odysseus Tinker was a life-long trader. He first tasted the passion of trading when his mother traded him a chocolate chip cookie for a dirty, old sock that he was chewing on. From then on, he was a confirmed trader.

As the people in the Rainbow Inn were awaiting the evening's chess game, Od was expounding on his pet belief that money was the root of all evil. John had heard the argument many times before, but there were always variations and new insights. So he leaned back in his chair, imitating Hank's calmness. No one, but Hank and John, was paying any attention to Od's argument.

The chess game began. Mary was playing white, and her opening move was P-Q4 (d4). This was the first time in the match that she had used that opening. The sound on the TV was turned off; only the visual was on. Chess sets had been placed on many tables so that the game could be followed intimately. Hank had put a chess set on their table, using it for distraction. John also was glad for the alternate focus.

"Get rid of money, and we'll be rid of all the greed of hollow people," Od was saying. He made a distinction between the greed of real people and of hollow people. Money was an abstraction, he argued. Greed for physical things--that was real. But money's worth was an abstraction. And greed for that non-entity showed the emptiness of modern times. Od's logic was simple. If Smith had something that Od wanted and if he had something that Smith wanted, perhaps they could make a trade. For Od that was the essence of human affairs.

"You can't eat money," Hank said, nodding his head in agreement. He played white's tenth move, BxKN (Bxf6).

According to Od's evolution of economic affairs, after Smith and he have been trading for awhile along comes Jones who wants some of the action. And before you know it, the whole neighborhood wants in. Here a complication enters. How is value weighed? What does a bushel of apples or a loaf of bread equal?

"You can eat bread with apple butter," Hank said as he played white's sixteenth move, R-B1 (Rc1).

Now Smith has a great idea. A standard medium of exchange is needed. Then he can use a currency to trade with. So if he does not have anything that Jones wants, he can still trade with him by using money. And everyone agrees with Smith--except for Od, who immediately sees the potential trap.

"You can catch food with traps," Hank commented as he played white's eighteenth move, Q-B1 (Qc1).

First question, asks Od, what will we use as a standard currency?

Why, Smith answers, we'll just print up some money and distribute it equally.

How will we regulate or control the money? What will prevent someone from printing his own money and introducing it into the game? Od looks questioningly at Smith.

Oh, special ink, special paper, special printing process; and we'll only make a certain amount.

How will we decide the amount of money that is to be traded for anything? What is money's value; how do we measure it?

Easy enough, Smith says. We agree on a unit of measurement. Let's say one dollar equals one bushel of apples. And we've usually traded four leaves of bread for a bushel of apples, so a loaf of bread equals twenty-five cents. Next question.

Okay, That was last year. Now this year my apple crop did poorly. The rains came at the wrong time. I don't have as many apples this year. In fact, I harvested half as many, so I am going to charge two dollars a bushel.

Now wait, Od, you can't do that. You're changing the value of our money--and arbitrarily too. If we're going to change, everyone should agree.

Well, Smith, you can double the price for a loaf of bread and so we'll still be even. But I might not want to buy your bread at that price.

Nor I, your blasted apples!

What if I traded you a bushel of apples for four leaves of bread?

That sounds good, but I definitely won't pay you two dollars a bushel! No suree. Smith is adamant.

"Apple cider is awful good with bread and cheese," Hank said as he played white's twenty-second move, Q-B5 (Qc5).

Once neighborhoods begin trading with each other, a new level of complexity arises. Both Od and Smith agree that their currency should be on a par with those of other neighborhoods. Jones also agrees wholeheartedly. So much so, in fact, that he moves outside the neighborhood and prints his own money. But Od and Smith refuse to accept his money, even though Jones argues that his money is as good as the money of any other neighborhood.

Smith is now moving closer to Od's position. Maybe we should go back to trading where values are known, where wisdom is required for judging a thing's true worth. Od is happy to hear Smith make that statement.

"You can live by trading and helping and caring," Hank said as he played white's twenty-eighth move, R-R6 (Ra6).

Od now plays the second part of his attack. Besides, using money forces one to live in the future. Money is only credit for future use. Smith, what if I won't sell my apples to you?

So what, Od, I have my bread.

What if all your bread is moldy and you can't eat it?

I'd buy some food with money. I've a trunkful of it.

What if no one will sell you any food?

You can't do that Od; I'd starve to death.

But why should I take your money for my apples?

You can use the money to buy things you want.

But, Smith, what if other people won't accept money?

Now, Od, don't break up the game. The money game won't work if we don't all play according to the rules. Besides, with my trunkful of money I can loan some to those who need a little. Only a short time ago I loaned Jones ten dollars. I gave him nine dollars and he'll pay me back ten. So I make a dollar on the deal. That's a good trade.

Why does Jones need ten dollars?

Oh, he wants to buy some shoes wholesale and peddle them at the neighborhood fair. He hopes to make his ten dollars back and more.

And if he doesn't sell them, what then?

Jones appears, bedraggled, carrying ten pairs of shoes. No one wanted to give him money for his shoes, so he throws the shoes at Smith's feet. Here's your ten dollars back, Smith.

Dumbfounded, Smith stares at the shoes and then at Jones. You won't get away with this, Jones. I want my money back, not your old shoes. See, my shoes are in fine shape; besides, I have an extra pair.

Od is overjoyed; the game is now back to trading. He trades Jones a bushel of apples for a new pair of shoes.

But Smith is distraught; he wants his money. When he obtains some money, Jones remarks, he will give Smith the ten dollars. Smith is still dissatisfied. He asks Od Tinker to make a judgment on the situation.

Od naturally sides with Jones. Why sweat it, Smith; Jones will pay you back when he can. Besides, a trade is a trade.

What we need, argues Smith, is some means of enforcing Jones' obligation. We should call in the police.

What for, I'm not a criminal, shouts Jones.

You are too. As Smith hits Jones, Od decides that now is the time to call for the police. Money is only paper, but fists are hard.

"And the champion loses again," Hank announced. "Mary evens the match at two all." He played white's winning move, P-R3 (a3).

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