My grandfather was a man of simple taste. This was because of his income rather than his inclination. During the Depression, he developed a theory about the relationship between money and health.
To put it succinctly. "There is nothing wrong with most people that can't be cured by rubbing dollar bills all over their bodies."
He was a man before his time. I thought of him while reading an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. My grandfather, a sage of medical economics, never heard of the Vietnamese practice of cao gio, but he would have loved it.
Cao gio, according to the journal, is the practice of massaging the skin with coins in order to cure anything from the common cold to seasickness.
The authors had surveyed 50 Vietnamese in this country. Every one of them "claimed to feel better after treatments and none knew of anyone who had been harmed by the procedure."
The article, however, had not been written to praise cao gio but to chastise American doctors. It was time, the authors said sternly, for them to stop crticizing this "folk practice." They called for "better understanding and acceptance by the physician."
I was shocked to find any member of the American Medical Association accused of not understanding or accepting money cures.
How different, after all, are the American and Vietnamese "folk practices?" In their culture, the doctor rubs coins on the patient. In ours, the patient rubs coins on the doctor. Each has its own beliefs.
But the story seemed a perfect footnote and maybe even an antidote to 1980. This has been the year of the sick economy.
In the last 12 months, the prime rate went up and business went down and we were introduced to the weirdest concept of my economic life: the cost of money.
In 1980, money became too expensive to buy -- that is, borrow.
Who among us in those wonderful yester-years when we saved up for bicycles and Elvis Presley records would ever have expected that one day we would not be able to afford to buy money? Who wanted to buy money in the first place, let alone sell it?
But now we are grown-ups in a world where a company pays as much for dollars as it makes with them. We have friends who can't buy a house, not because of the price of the house but of the money. We are parents trying to teach our children about the value of the value of the dollar, explaining why we can no longer afford to buy money.
All this is enough to bring on a double-digit depression if not a Depression.
The only healthy people in this economy are those who can run their 7 percent mortgages all over their bodies. The only solvent ones are those who can wipe their cost-of-living contracts across their harried brows.
When will it all end? You ask. I don't have the foggiest idea. After all, the use of money to buy and sell goods is a modern folk practice.
Dollars are our wampum, and if we can't afford them, we may be headed straight back to barter.
If so, I have a great plan for the leftover green stuff. What we should do is shred it into strips and use it to briskly, perhaps even brutally, massage the backs of our national economists.
This updated cao gio may not cure blindness, fuzzy thinking and massive contradictions. But I know that my grandfather would look on approvingly.