I Owe You: Life's Balance Sheet

Having an inbox with over 200,000 emails in it and this second, 118,376 unread emails gives me a lot of material. I searched on the phrase “I owe you” to see who owes me and for what.

There were 71 results. 13 were me saying “I owe you” in an email to others. In about 10 instances of those 13 I paid back the “debt”.

In 2006, for instance, Barry Ritholz once suggested something I thought was ridiculous in an article he wrote at thestreet.com. I wrote that it was BS and I would owe him a dinner if I was wrong.

I wrote some software to test out his hypothesis and it turned out he was right. So I wrote an article on thestreet.com detailing the results and that I would treat him to whatever his favourite dish was at McDonalds, the most popular restaurant chain in the world. “I owe you a dinner,” I wrote to him.

He chose Mr. K’s instead. Perhaps the most expensive Chinese restaurant in NYC. It was a great dinner and despite our many differences over a decade, we’ve remained good friends. At the dinner he explained to me why the housing market was going to collapse. With pork-fried rice falling out of my mouth I laughed in his face. I was wrong again. Fortunately I didn’t say, “I’ll owe you a dinner if I was wrong” or we’d be eating at Masa by now ($200 for a maki roll).

Of the other 58, in only one circumstance was the “I owe you” returned. From Mike Smith, CEO of Forbes.com, the details not important. I highly recommend to Mike’s employees and extended family that they view the Richard Lewis indie movie, “Drunks” where Mike Smith makes an impressive appearance in the first five minutes of the movie.

When every other kid wanted to be an astronaut 30 years ago, my dream job was to be “Dear Abby.” I still want that dream job. It’s the only thing I can imagine I’d devote all day to, or at least half a day. If you ask me advice and I give it, you don’t owe me anything. It’s my pleasure. Maybe I can even try out that column idea here on this blog.

(The original “Dear Abby,” I read her every day as a kid.)

A lot of people (at least according to their emails) “owe me a dinner”, “a lunch,” “a beer,” “their heartfelt thanks” (if you say “I owe you thanks” is that the same as saying “thank you”? Maybe it is so I can remove them from this statistic.)

For some of the people who “owe me” it would be better if you never paid me. One person owes me “a head-lock” and another person owes me a “kick in the c!#?.” The latter was from a formerly close friend who happens to be female. For the record, I have male genitals. She hasn’t spoken to me since so hopefully that debt will remain unclaimed.

Another person owes me the story of how she “became a sociology professor.” I would very much like that story, please.

Another person wrote: “I owe you a scrabble game, I know.  I owe everybody a something at this point—so behind in life it’s absurd.”

So now she not only owes me something I’ve been missing (the “scrabble game”), but I also feel guilty about it and bad for her. So you’re off the hook, K, as long as I’m off the hook for harassing you about the scrabble game.

Another person wrote “I owe you a dinner. My treat next time!” but I failed to show up at her July 4 wedding in Hawaii in 2008. In fact, I failed to even respond to the invitation. That was very bad of me. I was going through a separation at the time but there’s no excuse. I owe her an apology.

(Maybe I would’ve run into the cast of “Lost” in Hawaii, where it was filmed.)

We start out on the planet owing nobody but our mother. She had to gain 70 lbs. over a nine month period, throw up occasionally, and squeeze our entire worthless bodies out of a tiny slit between her legs and then immediately afterwards spend the next two or three years dedicating her life to making sure we didn’t die.

After that it’s like the balance sheet of a company. Some people owe us, some people we owe. The balance sheet changes every day. It never ends and we all do the best we can. Sometimes we owe so much that the saying applies, “if you never want to see a person again, lend them some money.” I hope that never applies to me in either direction.

If anyone out there thinks I owe them something and I may have forgotten, please come collect, or call me. Don’t feel bad about reminding me. Today I’m going to look through the 3 emails where I owe someone. I see at least one email from 2005 where I “owe a response” and I never responded. Today I will. Doing things like that makes life four dimensional—connecting two far away points in time so that they intersect on the same day.  Miracles happen that way.

Follow me on Twitter please. Then I owe you.


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