I once heard that if someone were to drop a penny off of the top of the Statue Of Liberty, it would sink seven and a half inches into someone’s skull. I wonder if that’s where the saying “a penny for your thoughts” comes from. Either way, that’s a saying that I never understood, and here’s why. Whenever someone wants to offer their thoughts during a conversation, they ask if they can “put in their two cents.” So let me get this straight. My thoughts are only worth one cent, but their thoughts are worth two cents? If that’s the case, they shouldn’t offer me a penny in the first place, or they should just say, “Look, I want to ask you something, but I’m probably not going to listen to you anyway because my thoughts are more expensive than yours.”
Let’s Talk Money
And now is a good time to mention that, very often, I charge more than a penny for my thoughts. It all depends what I’m thinking about at the time. For example, if someone were to ask me what my thoughts are on the mating habits of the Argentinian fruit fly, I could not, in good conscience, charge more than one penny, for I have no knowledge on that particular subject. On the other hand, I’ve been known to charge as much as seventeen dollars for my thoughts on history and politics. Keep in mind though that while I may charge up to seventeen dollars, that is not a flat fee. It all depends on what the subject is. For example, I’ll charge the full seventeen dollars if you were to ask me what my thoughts are on George W. Bush’s administration, but when Clinton was in office, I was a little younger and a little less politically aware, so the price drops a few dollars. It then drops even lower with George Bush Sr.’s administration, but then, interestingly, the price goes up a little bit (to around $11.25) when I start talking about Ronald Reagan. I was ten years old when he left office, but I’ve read a lot about him in recent years. That’s because, like the scene of a really horrible car accident that you’re driving past, you can’t help but to have a dark fascination with the horror that you’re witnessing. Iran Contra, Grenada, Ghadafi, an assassination attempt, Alzheimer’s Disease…come on! This is some interesting stuff! I only charge a dollar for my thoughts on Jimmy Carter, for two reasons: 1) Nothing happened in the world that was particularly interesting during his time in office, and 2) I was only a year old by the time that he left office. Now it’s a real pain in the ass when people walk up to me, hand me money, and ask me to tell them my thoughts on Gerald Ford. Luckily, that only happens two or three times a year, so it’s not that big of a deal. It’s a pain in the ass because, not only was I not born yet when he was president, but he was only in office for twenty-two months. On the other hand, he was shot at on two different occasions, and I happen to know a lot about political assassination attempts, so that raises the price a little bit. God, what a hassle! I’ve decided that, from now on, I’m just going to charge a flat $2.50 fee on any discussions that I have about Gerald Ford, regardless of where the conversation goes. Some people might not like that, but that’s too bad. I’ve read a lot about Richard Nixon, and I feel comfortable charging $9.63 for my thoughts on his presidency. However, because I wasn’t even alive during his presidency, I’ve found that people never want to pay more than $5.57. That’s unfair, but there’s nothing that I can do about it. Speaking of fairness, let me briefly explore the topic of ethics.
Here’s what I know about Venezuela. It is an oil-rich country that borders Columbia and Brazil. Its president is Hugo Chavez, a man who came into power after a 1992 coup. Ten years later, unknown gunmen shot opposistion protestors, and the military blamed Chavez and threw him in jail. Some other guy was sworn in as president, but Venezuelans were angered at the illegal power grab, so they violently protested, and Chavez was back in office two days later.
I think that that’s good, basic information, and I’m sure that I’m one of very few Americans who actually knows that stuff. However, a couple weeks ago I was at Down The Hatch, and some guy walked up to me, pulled out his wallet, and said, “Hey, Keith, give me your thoughts on Venezuela.” Keep in mind that, Owen, the bartender, is originally from Venezuela. At that moment, what was the ethical thing to do? The information that I could provide that person was worth, at the very most, around $2.00. Owen, on the other hand, could not only provide the customer with more detailed information, but he could also throw in personal, firsthand accounts of his time in Venezuela. Now it would’ve been very easy for me to justify taking the customer’s two dollars by saying to myself, “Look, I’m not doing anything wrong! I’m charging him a reasonable price, and I’m saving him a lot of money by having him not talk to Owen.” That, however, would be unethical. Not only is it unethical, but it’s illegal. The ethical, legal thing to do is to be completely honest with the customer: “Well, I could tell you what my thoughts are on Venezuela, but I don’t know much about that particular country, so I’ll only charge you two dollars. The bartender is actually from Venezuela though, so he’ll be able to tell you a lot more about it than I can. I’m guessing that you’re going to have to pay a lot more though.”
Do you see how ethically I handled that transaction? I warned him that Owen will charge a much higher price for his thoughts on Venezuela, but notice that I did not tell the customer a specific price. I also didn’t mention that “Venezuelan” Owen speaks with an English accent, which probably would’ve set off warning bells in the customer’s mind. In fact, I didn’t try to persuade the customer in any way to give me his business. I simply provided him with a choice. It turns out that in this particular situation, the customer opted to shell out a few extra bucks by talking to Owen.
Another point about ethics. People know that I’m an actor, and because of this, they often hand me anywhere between $10-$15 and start asking me about movies. For example, I was walking down 3rd Avenue the other day when a woman came up to me, handed me three five dollar bills, and asked me to provide her with a summer movie preview. I did the ethical thing by explaining to her that I’m not like most actors. “Most actors watch about twenty movies a week,” I said. “They watch those movies so that they can lie to themselves and pretend that they’re dedicated to their craft, even though they’ll very rarely pick up a script. That’s because most actors don’t know how to read, and they only become ‘artists’ because they don’t want to work for a living. But I digress. Anyway, I find that ninety percent of the films that Hollywood makes are pure garbage, and I’m proud to say that I don’t know a single thing about one movie that’s coming out this summer. Keep your money.”
Again, I handled that situation in an ethical manner. I did not pretend to be an expert on something that I had very little knowledge of.
Flaws In The System
The problem, of course, is that it’s somewhat rare that people give me money for specific thoughts. Usually, they just say, “Penny for your thoughts,” and then I tell them about my elaborate price system. At that moment, they have a choice as to whether or not they still want to know what I’m thinking about, and very often, they don’t.
Another problem is that most of the things that I think about are difficult to put a price on. For example, earlier today, I was wondering why, since there’s such a thing as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and since there’s also such a thing as the Federal Witness Protection Program, why don’t they have a Federal Jehovah’s Witness Protection Program? Later in the day, I was wondering if less people would watch the Channel 7 Accuweather Forecast if Sam Champion changed his name to Sam Loser. These kinds of thoughts enter my head approximately every six minutes, but I’m not sure how much money they’re worth. Very often, I think about how much fun it would be to have sex with Alyssa Milano. But should someone pay me their hard-earned money to know that?
I’ll let you decide. Caveat emptor.
May 26, 2005