The other night a wealthy friend invited me to dinner with a small group at a popular suburban restaurant. After dinner, she asked her invited guests to "chip in for the tip." This sounded reasonable, so I threw in a $5 bill for my $21 entrée.
My hostess told me that wasn't enough. "Put in a ten," she said. "The wait staff works hard."
A $10 tip was roughly half the cost of my dinner, way over the classic, expected 15 to 20% gratuity. As it was, the server got a huge $50 tip for the table's $100 tab.
I'm not cheap. I give to homeless people. I help out a much younger friend by buying him soda and lunch several times a week. But when someone invites me to dinner in a restaurant, shouldn't it be up to me to decide what sort of tip I leave?
"You need to adopt the prosperity mentality," my friend told me. "If you fear for every dollar you spend, money won't come to you. If you spend money freely, let it go in and out, money will come to you— easily!"
The Hindu mantra
I've heard this New Age sauerkraut before, first from Napoleon Hill, the author of Think and Grow Rich. But even Hill admits that the fear of poverty is the most destructive of fears and the most difficult of any fear to master.
Years ago I delved into Indian and New Age philosophies whose underlying teaching was: "Thoughts are things." Somewhere along the way I even purchased a small statue of Kubera, the Hindu god of Wealth, and learned to recite one of the 108 mantras guaranteed to improve my finances.
"Om Yakshyaya Kuberaya Vaishravanaaya Dhanadhanyadi Padayeth," goes one line. This harmless chant is supposed to possess power, but I could never stick to prayers or chants engineered just to acquire money. Having grown up Catholic, I view money and spirituality as being on two different planes. Didn't Christ upset the tables of the moneychangers in the temple?
Patron saint of wealth
Even amid all the modernizing upheavals of Vatican II, Catholicism never came up with a patron saint of money. Most Catholic saints were known for their poverty or suffering. Or they walked away from great wealth, like Philadelphia's own Saint Katharine Drexel.
The closest you get to a "money saint" for intercessory prayers in the Catholic Church is the 16th Century Saint Cajetan of Thiene, patron saint of the unemployed, job-seekers and gamblers, who worked as a diplomat for Pope Julius II before his ordination to the priesthood.
(Yes, yes— I know: Catholicism historically comforted the poor, not the rich. When poor Catholics made money, they usually gravitated to Episcopalianism— a religion designed to comfort the rich.)
The junk collector's tale
I still believe that "thoughts are things" to a large extent. But money is a different ball game. Wealth doesn't flow to you just because you project positive thoughts or because you visualize an overflowing bank account.
My friend insists that I suffer from a poverty mentality because I always think of my checking account balance before I spend anything. This reminds me of a Dominican gentleman who pushes a shopping cart in my Port Richmond neighborhood.
"Sam" collects aluminum cans and throwaway appliances that he then cashes in at the local bone yard. Two years ago he won a $65,000 insurance claim and proceeded to spend the money in the carefree manner urged upon me by my friend. "Sam" is now homeless.
A sudden worry
After ironing out our respective theories on money, my friend offered to drive her daughter and me to Johnny Brenda's on Girard Avenue in Fishtown for an after-dinner drink and "anything you want to eat in there," which struck me as odd, since we just had dinner. Presumably she wanted to sooth her guilt over the dinner-tip issue.
As we cruised down the avenue, she suddenly began worrying about finding a parking space. In fact, she was holding that worry inside her head in a tightly controlled manner— the same way I get when it comes to spending cash.
I saw my opportunity.
"What about prosperity parking?" I said. "Don't hold it in, open up! Let it flow! Make a U-turn, drive anywhere, the universe will provide: prosperity parking! Om Yakshyaya Kuberaya …"
She gave me a cross look. But then something happened. Within two minutes we found a suitable parking space without any effort at all. Had I unknowingly tapped into an ancient truth while thinking I was making a joke?
I'm still holding onto my money, thank you.