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Golden Boy laments the sorry state of his tarnished checking account

By Dan Golden

I've always been money-conscious--that is, I've always been aware that I don't have any. And the ability to acquire a significant amount of it has so far eluded me.

Money never seemed to matter much to my parents, however. After my sister and I were born, my family moved to Ajijic, a small fishing village in Mexico. We lived as the locals did, simply and cheaply. From there it was onto a Southern California commune called the "Land Church," where everyone shared everything, ran around naked and really dug transcendental meditation.

Only after my father took us to visit his rich brother in the wealthy enclave of Encino in the San Fernando Valley did I truly realize what I had been missing. In Encino--home of television stars and swimming pools--the seduction proved to be quick and thorough. I soon found myself with a taste for the finer things in life, like smoked salmon and rum balls. I suspected that I had been the subject of a cruel joke--I was surely the son of my uncle the millionaire, not this Bohemian nomad who claimed to be my father.

The subsequent 20 years have been a blur of neuroses, anxiety and occasional therapy.

Which brings me to about a month ago, when I first watched Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, the new ABC gameshow-cum-apocalypse marker, hosted by the sweet yet curmudgeonly Regis Philbin.

For those who have not yet seen the program (by chance do you answer to "Gilligan," "Skipper," "Professor," "Lovey"--come to think of it, what about "Millionaire"?), let me fill you in. It's the show that gives you the opportunity to go from the poorhouse to beachfront property in Malibu overnight. All you have to do is answer a series of questions, ranging from the painfully obvious to the purposely confounding, and who knows, you could walk away with a cool mil. Here's a sample question:

According to the popular children's rhyme, why did Jack and Jill go up the hill?

a) to fool around.

b) to bury O.J.'s knife.

c) to fetch a pail of water.

d) to survey the land on which they plan to build condos.

If you answered c), you just won $100. If you used all three of your life-lines to do so, you should be taken outside and shot.

I'd like to say that I spend my free time (of course, as an artist, all I have is free time) reading Sontag and listening to jazz, but the truth is I don't have the attention span for those sorts of things. Television is a lot more fun, and with shows like Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, more lucrative as well.

But let's be realistic. A million dollars doesn't cut it anymore. Once you go on the requisite game-show winning celebration/drug and alcohol binge, what are you left with? Twenty-eight bucks and some nice memories. Nowadays, you need to be a multimillionaire.

So where does that leave someone like me, who doesn't know what HTML stands for, and whose only foreseeable money-making skill is drawing crude pictures with (subjectively) funny captions?

My final answer is . . .

If I never get on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, there's always bank robbery and pornography.

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From the March 6, 2000 issue of the Metropolitan.

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