How I Made $3,200,000 from My Hobby

Jane Austen said it all comes down to love and money. In this, the first of the Max Brown tetralogy (+1), Max describes how he got both.

 

Maxwell Smythe Brown IV was a smart-ass by design. To counter the ridicule his fancy name attracted, as a child he became the point person in pranks, taunts, and mischief that kept him in hot water with teachers, principals, clerics and coaches. As he grew older, he added irreverence to mischievousness and his circle of victims and antagonists expanded to include military commanders, bosses and colleagues. When his clever speech and picaresque ways helped him win the hand of a stunningly beautiful woman, it goes wrong; she’s dismally unsuited for marriage and makes his life miserable. There are occasional bright spots: his disregard for authority and convention helped him survive the Vietnam war. But his inability to keep his mouth shut and his fly zipped cost him his university sinecure and he’s exiled to Dhaka, Bangladesh.

 

Three hundred years earlier the great Moghul Khan Shaista abruptly abandoned his post in the same city. The Khan’s youngest and favorite daughter had succumbed to disease and the grief stricken Khan fled the country, but not – it is believed – before burying a treasure as a memorial to her short life.

 

For three centuries fortune hunters have searched for the rumored treasure but Brown has an advantage. As an accessory to a pretentious name he’s taken on a pretentious hobby: collecting antiquarian maps. Initially unaware of the importance of the information on one of his maps, Brown sets in motion events that bring him closer to the treasure, but also attract the competitive attention of six brutal castoffs of an Indian intelligence service. Before the dust settles, two men have been beheaded, another skinned, a bystander strangled and two more fatally shot.

With wit and irreverence, the book chronicles the journey of a man whose outward self-assurance and brashness mask wavering self-regard. As Brown acknowledges, it’s a full time job keeping up appearances.

 

Throughout, Professor Brown is our acerbic guide to: an unholy war, college campuses in the 70’s, a university exhibiting signs of tenure-induced rigor mortis, a Thai brothel, the watering holes of Europe, and life in the bottom-most percentile of the third world.

 

1

 

Jane Austen said it all comes down to love and money. That sounds about right to me (I’ll introduce myself in a moment). One small clarification, Jane: Speaking on behalf of the 51.2 percent of the world’s population that’s male, from our perspective the love part has a significant physical component.

 

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The species would have sputtered out long ago had men not been driven to take insane risks to sow their seed far and wide and often. But that drive has outlived its usefulness. Humankind is now threatened by over- not under-reproduction. And yet men haven’t adapted. Are we that programmed? Of course we are. Even the noblest among us can’t keep his fly zipped.

 

- It’s disheartening to learn that Gandhi was a horn dog

and the saintly Nelson Mandela “was no saint” according

to the women in his life.

- Founding Father Thomas Jefferson fathered six children

with his slave, Sally Hemings.

- FDR went to Warm Springs to improve circulation to his crippled legs through some intimate physical exercise with

his secretary, Lucy Mercer.

 

You get the idea.

 

Money? Not as interesting to read – or write – about so we’ll hold it to one example: It’s been drilled into us from first grade onward that George Washington was honest to a fault. He was also a wealthy man and he declined the salary offered by the Continental Congress, asking only for reimbursement of personal expenses. What a noble and generous gesture! Actually, it wasn’t. He quickly ran up a bill of $449,261.51; that’s $4,250,000 in today’s money. His liquor tab alone often exceeded $9,000 a month in current dollars.

 

We can take two things from this sampling of the misbehavior of great men: 1) It’s getting harder every day to hold on to our heroes. And 2) Ms. Austen stands confirmed. Men are quick to set their principles aside in the pursuit of sex, and our pursuit of wealth never ends.

 

This is the story of how I got both.

 

Page 1

 

I’ll Fly Away

 - A. E. Brumley, 1932

It could get hairy and seemed destined to get hairier. Since nothing appeared to be slowing Charlie down, more ambitious targets were selected and the air war moved steadily northward where anti-aircraft defenses were better. Here’s an example. Okay, not typical; actually one of the worst days.

As I finished a photo shoot and banked hard left, afterburners belching flame to accelerate, my head swiveled looking for telltale signs of MiGs and SAMs. The SAM warning box started to rattle indicating SAM radar tracking was looking for a target. Worst fears confirmed: There was the signature mushrooming of yellow smoke on the ground that indicated a missile was on its way.

The SA-2 relies on radar to find its quarry and radio guidance to shoot us down, but there was a rumor that they’d recently been outfitted with heat-seeking sensors to improve their accuracy and overcome our countermeasures. If that was true our evasive measures would have to adapt.

You can twist and turn, but these dudes are pretty agile and they’ll track you until doomsday – literally. With perfect timing you can dodge out of the way, but you have to keep doing it and at some point your luck will run out. The best recourse is to get the missile interested in some other target.

I threw out chaff to confound the radar tracking system and, since it was a clear day, headed toward the biggest heat source of them all, the sun. This put the plane in an unsustainable 60 degree climb. As the airspeed approached stalling, I shoved the nose over and to further reduce my attractiveness to the SAM’s suspected heat sensor, shut both engines down. Now diving directly at the ground, the missile was coming up at me, and me down at it. There was enough airflow over the control surfaces to dodge, and the SAM passed 100 yards to my left. Wishing it a pleasant journey to the outer reaches of space, I was about to restart when another yellow mushroom blossomed directly below. I released more chaff.

Remember those high school algebra problems? Two trains leave distant cities, traveling at X and Y miles per hour. Where will they meet? This was the same problem, but with immediate practical implications. If I started the engines it might signal my presence to the SAM before it opted for the chaff or the sun. Patience. On the other hand, it takes time for the engines to light and spool up and there wasn’t a lot of air left between me and the ground. I would need room to pull out of the dive. Here’s the exam question:

Will the SAM accelerate quickly enough to get past before I went below the minimum altitude required to restart and pull out of the dive? Show all your work; there will be no partial credit awarded on this one.

Well, yes, obviously it did work out or you wouldn’t be reading this. But the larger lesson was that the war wasn’t getting any easier.

pigs 50, 51

 
 

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