It wasn’t until the 9 billion dollars had been deposited into my accounts, a packet of gleaming new checks awaiting me—personalized, but with my name misspelled as Bne—it wasn’t until I was poised to embark on a lifetime of consumeristic excess that I lost all desire for possessions, for travel, for anything. I sat in my apartment daydreaming of total divestment, and calculated the only interest I had: at 4% per annum, the 9 billion dollars, just sitting there like me, would earn $366,673,886, which averaged to $7,051,420 a week. That’s a decent wage, I thought.
I did that for four or five solid days, alternating between the mathematical calculations and wandering semi-dazed around the apartment eating blueberry scones and drinking Evian. I lay on the hardwood floor late at night, into the early morning, and thought I saw the bills being wrapped and stacked neatly in a private vault for my convenience. I thought I could hear the bank manager greeting me ever more smarmily as my fortune accrued coextensively with his capacity to lend money at rates higher than what he was giving me.
Accountants, who’d read about my windfall in the newspapers, called and called, offering me their services. After a day of that I turned the ringer off and changed the voicemail message to: “You’ve reached Ben at 555-2652, but I can’t come to the phone right now because I’ve got my leg stuck under a stack of hundreds”.
They were interested in a take, though, and not dissuaded by the sarcasm. They left messages anyway, self-righteous about their financial knowledge and obsequious over the (unstated) prospect of their percentage.
“Ben. Jeremy Palama here. If I might be frank and informal with you … The reports have said that you’ve deposited the sum into interest-bearing accounts, but I’d love to advise you on how you might maximize your earnings with a well thought out program of investments in a diversified portfolio of …”
The voicemail was the first thing to go in my not at all thought out program of divestment. I gave away every single thing in the apartment except for enough clothes to get me out the door civilly. I rented a pristine condo on the 59th floor of a building downtown, the penthouse with views of the city in all directions. It felt hermetic, hermitic, but not enclosed. Safe, but free.
My campaign of assholish behavior—but not without some redeeming societal benefit—began with a visit to the God’s Will Bible Supply. It was spotless and neatly organized but smelled of something I couldn’t positively identify, perhaps like surplices that were not drycleaned enough.
“May I be of some assistance, sir?”
“Yes, please, I’m looking for a Bible, one with—”
“We have a wide range of Bibles in stock, sir,” she interrupted. “Is there a particular version you were interested in?”
“Yes,” I said. “I want one with all the weird parts taken out.”
She looked up at me, and then at the door, as if she were expecting an accomplice to blast in and make some violent sense of this bad joke.
“Excuse me, sir?” she said.
“Without the weird parts,” I said. “You know, all the violence and sexism and homophobia and general moral conservatism. All that. Can you show me one with all that taken out?”
“I’ll give you a million dollars if you will give me a copy of the Revised Standard Version with all the offending passages crossed out.”
“Sir, I am going to have to ask you to leave if—”
“Ten million dollars. I’ll give you ten million dollars if you will personally cross out these passages from”—I handed her my typed list, and looked around—”from that copy there.”
I handed her $100,000 in cash and was poised with my pen over check 001. The poor woman was shaking. She looked at me sadly and seemed about to cry.
“Listen: take the money,” I said. “I’ll come back on Friday with a check for ten million, and if you’ve got the crossed-out copy and will sell me every other Bible in your store so that only the crossed-out one is left for sale—well, the money is yours.”
She acquiesced, and on Friday she accepted the check. I asked her to box up the other Bibles and have them delivered to my condo.
“God help me” was all she ever said.
I spent the next few months on similar projects. I sent packets of cash to various pop cultural annoyances, and promised even more if they would simply promise (and sign a contract) to stop doing what they did. Céline Dion, Howard Stern, Stephen King. I offered O.J. 200 million if he’d confess. I offered Oprah a full 2 billion dollars if she’d shut down the show and the book club as soon as possible.
I entertained myself with smaller projects, too. After a late-night meal of the driest and blandest fish and chips at Peckton’s Family Restaurant (“Welcome home to Peckton’s”), I launched a suit over their policy of serving the Oreo Ice Cream Surprise only to children under 12.
“Pure age discrimination,” I told my lawyer.
Back in my apartment, I still owned nothing. That felt good, as did the fact that the money was all in one place and not sensibly diversified. On my way here, in the grimy subway car, a woman looked up from the Holy Bible draped over her thigh and smiled at me. That was good, too.