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Henry Rollins: Money Talks

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Thu, Jun 19, 2014 at 3:45 AM
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[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.]
Recently I had some experiences that, days later, I am still tripping on.

A few days ago, I spent several hours at the Federal Reserve Bank in Los Angeles. As you can imagine, there is a lot of money in this place.

The staff who escorted me, the television crew and all of our gear were friendly and actually quite glad to have us there. At the same time, security was tight and the level of vigilance was high and unwavering.

At one point, I found myself standing in front of a massive vault that housed huge metal containers of American currency, bundled into bricks. The containers were stacked on top of each other. I couldn't help but laugh. I don't know what the funny part was, I think my laughter was some kind of default. I had simply never seen anything like that in my life. The smell of the money was overwhelming, at times almost nauseating.

Later, I was in a room watching men and women feed bundles of $20 bills into a machine that analyzes them for condition, and to make sure they are real. The fake counterfeit bills go to one place, while the real ones that are too beaten up to go back into circulation are shredded and vacuumed out of the machine by a tube. The rest go back out into the world. We shot footage in this room for several minutes, surrounded by unimaginable amounts of money. Outside the room, men and women pushed carts of cash up and down hallways, loaded it into rooms nonstop.

After a few hours, the place seemed like any other warehouse, and the money, mere inventory. It make me think about the ultra-wealthy and the American economy.

I am all for working hard and earning a lot of money. What I don't understand is what you do with it after you have billions of dollars in the bank. Particularly if, at that point, you still head into the office to make more and, beyond that, lobby elected officials to make it easier for you to make even more - and even then, seem to be so angry about everything.

Like these Koch guys. At least two of the three brothers are worth over $30 billion each. To listen to them, it's the end of the world, the days of tyranny are here and they are mad as hell. It's too bad that so much of their money just sits around, not doing anything. I wonder what the amount is that they need to cheer up. Once they hit it, what would they do with it?

Some people say America is broke. That's not true in the least. America is full of money, but a lot of it sits on the bench when it could be in the game. It's not all that hard an idea to get your head around. I don't think that's going to change.

Anyway, I saw a lot of money. It was an interesting visual and I found the sheer volume of it hilarious, absurd and slightly sad. But at no point was I impressed. Like these Koch guys - if you're just sitting on all that cash, you bore me.

With that kind of money, you could do some incredibly interesting and useful things. I am sure they know this. It's theirs and they can do whatever they want with it, but I think they are terminal lightweights. They look tired, unhappy and almost dead. I hope that never happens to me.

I was glad I was able to spend some time at the Federal Reserve Bank. Still, leaving the building, I was struck by how great it was to breathe air that didn't reek of money.

On a far more positive note, I spent a fair bit of time in the ocean becoming certified to scuba dive. The divers I have met all seem to be very cool; they remind me of the people I have met when I travel to very distant parts of the world. I met people half my age, and those who had several years on me, all excited to be swimming around through strands of kelp, checking out the marine scene.

Once you're in the water, you're ageless and school is definitely in.

Of course, being the land-dwelling type, I am only a visitor, and so I was very careful not to touch anything or leave any evidence of myself behind on the three dives I made that day. I was amazed at what I took to be the curiosity of the fish around me.

My favorite so far are the sheephead. They are large, big-eyed, and came right up to me and checked me out several times. On one of the dives, two sea lions swam up in front of me, put themselves together, chin to chin, and then ascended in a rapid, spiraling corkscrew and disappeared in a trail of bubbles. It was one of most incredible things I have ever seen.

This is a perfect environment, form following function and nothing going to waste. To be able to exist in it, on and off for a day was completely awe-inspiring. To check out other species and to be checked out by them, in such unfamiliar surroundings - I just don't have the ability to describe the feeling.

On the drive back to Los Angeles, it struck me how little I know, and how happy that made me. I would much rather be the student, eager for the next lesson, excited to see where it could take me and what will happen next, than the been-there-done-that type who claims so much is boring, when it is only they who are boring.

The only boring thing in the world are people who are bored.

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