Magnificent Mammon

Damon Runyon

This punk, maybe he was fourteen, fifteen years old, said he wanted to get my best advice to the youth of the land. I said, are you kidding, son? I said you would not take my best or even my worst advice if I gave it to you—you or any other kid.

I said I would not take it myself if I was your age.

He said, well give it to me, anyway. The teacher said you have been around since Noah built the ark and you ought to have something interesting to say, only make it short because I want to go to the football game.

I said all right, my boy, I will give you my best advice in three words:

Get the money.

I said that is my advice. Get the money.

Get it honestly, son, I said. The hazards and inconveniences of dishonest dough are too numerous to make it worth while. You not only run the risk of going to the can but there is the matter of conscience that produces sleepless nights and waking hours of fear and brooding like an income tax return full of lies.

I said, then, there is the economic phase of dishonest jack, what with the fences and the mouthpieces and the other protection and assistance getting the most of the swag. Son, I said, if you had been a reader of my column in the old days you would often have read that I think honesty the best policy. Not so much from a moral standpoint but as an economic proposition.

Get the money by hard work and application, if necessary, though I am not opposed to getting it in a soft berth that requires little effort if you can find such a spot. I mean I am no booster for the old rags-to-riches routine if you can locate an easier path.

But get the money.

Son, I said, I am not even opposed to marrying for it. I said I do not approve of youth marrying rich old valises just for their money, though much of the money of this nation is in the hands of the V.P.’s left them by their late ever-loving husbands, and we ought to devise some means of jarring them loose from it.

But, I said, since arranged marriages with a dowry going with the dame have been in vogue in many countries and among many peoples for hundreds of years, I propose nothing sinful nor extraordinary in advising you, my boy, to fall in love with an heiress, if you must fall in love, and vice versa to the girls.

In any event, get the money.

You will hear that money is not everything, and that is true enough. It is only 99 per cent of everything, and if you do not believe that there are millions of elderly persons in this nation that you can ask.

Get the money. Get rich if possible, my boy. It is my observation that the rich have all the best of it in this nation and my studies of American History fail to disclose any time when this same situation did not prevail.

Calamities seldom befall the rich, or at least not in the same proportion that they do the poor or the worse-than-the-poor, the in-betweens, Mr. and Mrs. Mugg. The rich do not stand in line. They do not serve in the ranks. Son, I said, if you cannot get rich get as close to being rich as you can.

Get the money, I said.

Yes, I know the good book states that “Love of money is the root of all evil,” but it also says “Money is a defense,” and that is what I am talking about, money as a defense—a defense in youth against that irksome love in an attic or a housing project in middle age against the petty laws and regulations that annoy Mr. and Mrs. Mugg, and in old age against fear and disrespect.

Son, I said, get the money.

I must hurry to the football game, the punk announced.