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Work of Art — $33 million an obscene amount

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By Art Trujillo

An experiment years ago on how children perceive worth yielded some interesting results — results based almost solely on the children’s economic status.

Here’s how it went: Children in the intermediate grades were asked to estimate the size of various coins, using a device that projected an image on a screen. The students were to adjust the aperture of the device, much in the same way a camera lens reduces and enlarges.

Is it any surprise that the kids from lower socio-economic backgrounds perceived the coins as larger than did those children whose families were better off financially? The lesson revealed, among other things, that money was dearer to the poorer kids.

But before we go too far into this numismatic foray, let me provide some disclosures: In my years in a parochial school, I resented those kids, usually from the more opulent parts of town, who flaunted their status; I seldom went to school with even a single coin in my pocket, even though I didn’t hesitate to ask Dad for “spare change” as I left for school; and finally, to me, money was worth so much more in those days.

Disclosure concluded, let me mention two more money instances, which I have covered in previous columns: Once when I spotted a loose dollar bill on the ground, while riding bikes with my friend, Alfred, I felt rich; I was unable to contain my zeal, telling Alfred of my discovery, only to have him say he’d also seen it on the ground and was “just turning my bike around.” He allowed me to split the fortune with him.

Another time I found a small coin purse on the ground, while on my way to church; it contained a dollar bill and about 50 cents in nickels and pennies. I practically planned to build my retirement cottage, what with the largesse I’d come across.

All right! So we all know that the price of things has gone up in some cases by a factor of 20; a nickel candy bar now sets us back a buck. A classmate who married right out of high school said he paid $35 in rent for several years. Is there a similar apartment nowadays that doesn’t rent for 10 times that amount?

Inflation — a topic about which I admittedly know little — keeps increasing; wages don’t ever seem to go up as fast, unless you’re someone like Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod), whom we’ll get to now.    

It’s difficult to make precise comparisons on A-Rod’s years of service in Major League Baseball, as even contracts he signed only a few years ago need to be adjusted for inflation. One Internet source shows that he signed a $252 million, 10-year contract with the Texas Rangers in December 2000. That inflation-adjusted amount would be more than $335 million in today’s dollars.

We can continue to tally the pennies, but the point is clear: Many people today could live comfortably for the rest of their lives on only one million. The astronomical figures A-Rod and other athletic superstars earn are extremely difficult to fathom. Some team owners even minimize the headline-causing deal signed by Deion Sanders, with one of five professional football teams he played for.

The story goes that the club owner made an offer. “Would you take 15 million? Twenty million?” Sanders replied “both!”
Of course, Sanders gave up football a couple of decades ago, and that $35 million ought also be “adjusted for inflation” to give an estimate of how much that would be worth in today’s dollars. But let’s not go there.

A-Rod’s suspension, for the illicit use of performance-enhancing drugs, runs for more than 200 days. Other major league players suffered only 50-game suspensions. Deservedly so.

It’s depressing that whereas many struggle with the minimum wage, A-Rod signed a contract that pays him $33 million. (That’s 33 followed by six zeros).

Babe Ruth, not necessarily a pauper, set a homerun record in 1927 that lasted 34 years. He earned $80,000 playing for the Yankees, which in today’s dollars would total about $911,000.

And today, the average salary for a major league baseball player is about $3 million. Each team plays 162 games, so a player who takes part in every game earns at least $18,500 per game.

How many full-time employees, subsisting on minimum wage, earn that much in a year? The math is complicated, the amounts incomprehensible and the totals obscene.

As for me, I’m still thinking of that dollar bill I split with my friend, Alfred.

• • •

The message board, sponsored by the Las Vegas Lodgers Tax, near the Better Stop, is a simple structure. Each letter needs to be applied with a suction cup attached to a telescoping rod. It’s a low-tech version of today’s modern, electronic signs. For a few years, I performed the unpaid job of placing letters on the board, relying on instructions from a representative of the Chamber of Commerce.

One day, when there wasn’t much going on in town, the chamber secretary told me, “Just put up, ‘Welcome to Historic Las Vegas.’” I did, but as I drove away, I noticed I’d placed letters that read exactly the same as the neatly painted letters already there. I changed it.

Today, however, it must be déjà vu all over again, as the identical message appears on the south side of the sign. It goes to show that anything worth saying is worth saying twice.  

 Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to art@rezio.net or atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.