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, 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.
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.
Good morning, Vietnam
The tropical heat was a staggering surprise as we stumbled, dazed, out of the plane and onto the tarmac at Cam Ranh Air Base. Dragging our duffels, we were herded across the ramp to a large Quonset where an Army staff sergeant was impatiently tapping a pointer on a desk at the front of a long room of folding chairs.
“Sit down, gentlemen. First, I wanna be clear. I’m not a REMF.” He pronounced this as a word. A few of our group nodded; most looked perplexed. “REMF is rear echelon mother-fucker. I’ve seen more action and wasted more gooks than any of you are likely to see in your lifetime. I’m here to tell you what it’s gonna be like.” At this point the aggressiveness went out of him and he launched into a thirty-minute briefing, delivered on autopilot. There was something in there about respect for local traditions; the ARVN were our partners; an assassin lurked behind every bush and beaded curtain; we were fighting for democracy and freedom; and then I think I dozed off as did many of the others.
The Defense Department’s attention to the hazards of cultural insensitivity didn’t end with the briefing. We were handed a pamphlet which informed us that we were there at the invitation of a freedom loving government ‘for the deeply serious business of helping a brave nation repel Communist aggression.’ There were some tips on culture, a few phrases in Vietnamese, and, since Vietnam was on the metric system, charts for converting miles to kilometers and gallons to liters. Thus armed, we sallied forth to win the hearts and minds of our hosts.
Between Two Worlds
- J. Gill, 2014
War was not like the movies. The USAF pilots lived a starkly bifurcated existence. You were either in Little America – specifically at the country club – or some asshole in black pajamas was trying to kill you.
The fighting part was all too real. We heard about 105 and F-4 flights that might lose one-fourth of the planes trying to take out a single target. The survivors would look around the debriefing room and confirm their fears: not everyone had made it back. Then, the next morning they’d head out to the flight line, saddle up, and take off toward the same Goddamned target.
The rest of the war was surreal. A swimming pool, Officers’ Club, air conditioned hooches – many with a bar, videotapes flown in from the US to ensure no one missed an episode of Bonanza, and other comforts of home that made you wonder – but not forget – how you could’ve been peeing in your pants two hours earlier.
Pages 37, 38