Money, or, as Karl Marx’s mother puts it, “If Karl, instead of writing a lot about capital, had made a lot of it . . . it would have been much better.”

“The only thing that’s keeping us going is inertia,” Skip says. “Money used to be worth something. Gold coin. Today it’s just a symbol — and twice removed at that. We don’t even have anything to back up the currency.”

If half of those who say they can’t afford the fifty cents for THE SUN are telling the truth, the economy is in much worse shape than the President is letting on.

Poverty, of course, is relative. Back in New York, my friends who earn twenty or thirty thousand dollars a year are always saying they’re broke. In fact the more people earn the more they complain.

In the Village Voice, Joe Flaherty puts it this way:

“How many nights have I sat in front of the tube and watched some coiffured frump lament that on two nights each week her family was forced to eat a casserole or a meat loaf? Or that a family could now only cavort two nights a week, making such abstinence sound like the worldly renouncement of a Trappist monk . . . So one wishes the middle class would bite the meat loaf and shut up. They are not on the bread lines or mounting the flatbed trucks . . .”

During the last four years, the Navy spent nearly $400,000 on a scientific study of the flight characteristics of the Frisbee to see if it could be used as a weapon. The Navy finally gave up.

“It’s kind of cosmic stuff,” Judith says. “It’s a way of exchanging energy with people. For myself, I never worry about money. It’s always being provided for me. It comes . . .

“It’s important not to be too proud to ask, to borrow, to receive. People look down on clinics, or food stamps, or thrift stores because they don’t want to think of themselves as poor. Then they end up with less. They look down on poverty as sinful rather than the natural ebb of economic flow.

My father must earn thousands of dollars more than I do, but his style of living is not that much better than mine, and he has a lot less free time than I do. The more you earn the more likely you are to hire people to do things for you, like paint or babysit, instead of getting together with friends to do it.”

Pharoah Sanders puts it this way:

“I feel I’m closest to Hell when I’m thinking about money.”

I was panhandled twice today. One man said he’d pay me back next week. The other was indignant I didn’t give him more than a quarter. Begging, too, takes on all the syrupy trickery and mock disappointment of any business. We seem less and less able to tell a truth, or a lie, with­out embellishments. For weeks, I’ve been chasing one of our advertisers for the money he owes us; he knows I know he’s lying when he promises me the cash in a day or two. He seems incapable of simply admitting he doesn’t have it. But maybe he’s only deceiving himself. It’s hard not to believe in tomorrow in a culture that sells out so completely to the future. We who rush to get to meditation class on time or slave at socially corrupting jobs for that one month vacation in the vanishing wilderness are victims of the same twisted logic.

“How about money valued for how it looks?” Skip asks. The wedding of art and the marketplace; money tailored to the individual. “How much would a Rembrandt bill be worth,” he wonders, “compared to a Monet or a Warhol?”

When I lived with Ken and Cindy we called money white sugar. Money is a symbol — for security or a good time, a downpayment on the land or a month’s rent on a townhouse. We decide. To me, the enduring message of the ’60s was that we don’t have to sell out. Work that is personal and social rather than a job that is neither — that’s the measure of freedom.

In “The Seven Laws of Money,” Michael Phillips puts it this way:

“The most difficult thing for people to understand about money is that money will come to you if you are doing the right thing. Money is secondary to what you are doing.”

William Morris puts it this way:

“A society based on cash and self interest is not a society at all, but a state of war.”

“It’s the second house,” Stephen says. “It’s Taurus. Money is a symbolic representation of material reality. It represents the result of spirit and energy. The second step, rather than the first, which is pure spirit and energy, unfettered.

“It’s the involvement with the material universe that gives you your credibility, your material worth.

“Even though some get too caught up in it it’s totally relevant. Even though it’s a symbol it’s a valid symbol, not something to disdain or run away from. In a very fundamental way money is the actualization of spirit, as we ourselves are the actualization of spirit. Otherwise, fuck it, we’d all be air. If you understand the nature of it and the place it occupies in a larger scheme of things, then it doesn’t matter what the prices are, because your spirit is dealing with the spirit of that food on the shelf, that material reality. Either you allow yourself to receive it or you keep yourself from it.

“The forms that spirit produces aren’t always thought of as beautiful. Money, misused, produces a lot of ugliness. But any endeavor can be put into form, transmuted into money.

“We’ve lost track of what the symbol is. Money is a precious thing, a sacred thing.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it this way:

“Money, which represents the prose of life, and which is hardly spoken of in parlors without an apology, is in its effects and laws, as beautiful as roses.”

Willie Sutton puts it this way:

“It is a rather pleasant experience to be alone in a bank at night.”

“It’s a way of quantifying labor, of making power concrete,” Jeff explains. “The danger of it is that you can count it. Then you begin to have faith that it means something in and of itself.

“But it’s impossible to put any quantification on thought, or reading. There’s no sense of that adding to the culture, and therefore it produces very little money.

“The work with heart will produce enough money for one to live on — in the same way the diet with heart will put one at his correct weight. But money paid for despairing labor can never make enough to satisfy the soul, no matter how much it is.”

Over at Town Hall the other day, I watched money changing hands, at the bar, at the deli, sad faces in the shadows, the smell of stale beer over it all like a sour and unchanging expression. Town Hall was envisaged as a meeting place where other appetites could be satisfied — as a political forum, a market for craftsmen. The name, Town Hall, grandiose, implausible, evokes the idea precisely. Its evolution has been a disappointment and it’s tempting, considering its location at the very heart of town, to see it as our own Times Square, an embarrassment, rather than a showpiece. But it’s unfair to single out Town Hall. Few Chapel Hill businesses demonstrate much community spirit. There are exceptions, surely. But by and large, from the clothing stores that offer up some crippled version of hip and call it fashion to the arid commercial innerspace of the University Mall, from the greedy restauranteurs to the money hungry realtors, we witness the crude exploitation of a generation too smart by half and not yet wise enough to see its own face in the mirror. New styles that begin in response to genuine need soon become commercialized. Even health and conservation are sold with the same oily business know-how as cars and deodorants.

Calvin Coolidge puts it this way:

“The business of America is business.”

A realtor showing a friend of mine some land puts it this way:

“There’s about $8,000 worth of timber on this property. You got fifty year old timber, you got some money.”

In a recent Gourmet magazine there was an ad for the $33,500 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud. The ad emphasized that the Silver Cloud uses regular rather than premium gasoline, calling this a “happy economy.”

Groucho Marx puts it this way:

“Do you know what the country needs today? A seven-cent nickel. . . . If it works out, next year we could have an eight-cent nickel . . . You could go back to the newsstand, buy a three-cent newspaper and get the same nickel back again. One nickel carefully used would last a family a lifetime.”