Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wastebasket for a bottom-feeder

AS I SIT  in my office reading the various reports of the epidemic Ponzi schemes and other forms of high-level  executive excesses inspired by Louis XIV,  I fixate on John Thain's $1,400 parchment wastebasket. You doubtless have read the horrifying "office enhancement"  list of  the former Merrill Lynch  CEO  John Thain, a free-market man who took George Bush's urging to heart  and shopped in behalf of the economy -  but, really, mostly for himself.   Thain's wastebasket led me to my own:  a scuffed black metal cylinder that is at least 40 years old that sits under my desk and is often mistreated. My perfectly functional basket, which is about 18" tall,  has a faded poster on it of Benjamin Franklin's "The Art of Making Money Plenty".   It is written in script with various symbolic figures of bumblebees, birds, human eyes and whatever else Franklin, a frugal and witty man,  chose to enhance  the flow of the writing. I've tried at times to decode the little illustrations without success.  I have even tried Google, but have turned up little more than countless printmakers  who want to sell me another one.  

Still , for all of my basket's abject appearance, I have never considered replacing it with a parchment wastebasket.  Mine, worth no more now than a few pennies at a garage sale, has been the generous recipient of countless false starts on columns and articles, pistachio  shells, candy wrappers and copies of nasty letters to the editor I never sent.  What a story the basket could tell!  In many ways it would be the inside story of my professional life.  

I think the Feds who are tracking down the Ponzis and free spenders (of our money) ought to send some of Ben Franklin's essays to these disreputable  people.  charging them, oh, $10 million a copy until they run out of public money, and then $20 million per copy until they run out of their own money.   While they sat at the top of their trade and were too often honored for for their successes,  they were actually bottom-feeders  sucking the blood out of our economy. It probably will do no good to ask, but I will anyway:  Why did it take so long to flush them out?

1 comment:

Lipwak said...

My father had that same wastebasket, now my brother does. I was feeling nostalgic and so went looking for images of it on the net and found a bunch of good ones but also found the rebus decoded! http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2007677078/

It was apparently from a book of children's rebuses he wrote: The Art of Making Money Plenty, in Every Man’s Pocket by Dr Franklin (London: Darton, Harvey & Darton, 1817) it is described as 8 pages of illustrated rebuses keyed to popular maxims for children.
http://www.childlit.com/battledore/shop/index.php?productID=36

Great stuff.

And I enjoyed your post on Thain's expensive tastes too!