Lordy, lordy, lordy do I love money. It is a character flaw, no doubt, one that springs from a panicked childhood in which I always felt as if our family was only a couple missed child support payments from being tossed onto the pitiless streets of our suburban New Jersey town. Since those years, the accumulation and hoarding of money has been one of my life's great joys. Nothing is more satisfying to me than sitting in a dank room, hunched over a single flickering candle like Ebenezer Scrooge, and watching my ledgers fill themselves with ink.
So I have a certain amount of empathy for Mitt Romney, that lantern-jawed money man, steely-eyed capitalist, master of the leveraged buyout. Money attaches itself to him the way Fonzie attracted girls. Yes, Mitt Romney is the Fonzie of money. He merely has to snap his fingers and all the money in the room will fly through the room and into his wallet, snug in his chinos against that sweet Romney ass. Oh, to be a man like that!
How I wish I had his talent. Wish I could, through my own financial prestidigitation, transform a dollar bill into two, or two million. It is an awesome and mysterious skill. And I do not resent him for it, any more than I resent Derek Jeter his talents, even though I, too, would love to hit .320.
Where my admiration for Mitt Romney ends is at Owen Roberts International Airport, located about two miles southeast of George Town, the picturesque capital of Grand Cayman Island. It is on this island where Mitt Romney has secreted at least thirty million dollars. The first time I heard about the Grand Cayman Islands was while reading John Grisham's breakout novel The Firm, the story of a corrupt law firm that hides its ill-gotten gains in offshore accounts there. In fact, Grand Cayman Island is usually the place people mentally picture when they hear the term "offshore accounts."
Because I am not a lawyer or accountant or expert on anything more mentally arduous than fart jokes, I cannot explain to you exactly what an offshore account is, other than to say it is a place wealthy people deposit their money to avoid paying taxes. Money is sent to Grand Cayman to lounge about and sip pina coladas until it is called upon for some more strenuous purpose, such as using complicated "blocker" corporations, which indirectly invest in American companies in order to avoid paying the vague-sounding "Unrelated Business Income Tax."
In other words, American money is sent to the Caymans, where it is hidden, alchemized into foreign money, then brought back to the U.S. where it can now be taxed at a much lower rate than if it had been invested here in the first place. Not illegal, but smelling kind of like a conch fritter that has been left in the Caribbean sun a couple days too long.
This kind of financial wheedling is unknown to most Americans, and unique among presidential candidates. There is something unnerving about a man who wants to be the president of the United States of America who does not even keep his money in America, preferring the sunnier climes of Grand Cayman Island and Bermuda and the snowy peaks of Switzerland. On his 2010 tax return, the only one he has released in full to the public, 55 pages are "devoted to reporting his transactions with foreign entities," according to Vanity Fair; it is the kind of head-spinning tax return one would expect a Bond villain to file.
When Mitt Romney boasts "I pay all the taxes that are legally required, not a dollar more," I'm sure he is telling the truth. He has learned how to game the system in such a way that he can pay the absolute minimum required at a rate lower than most Americans enjoy. Good for him. But the whole greasy machinery that allows him to slide his money from one offshore tax haven to another feels -- I know no other word for it -- wrong.
Yes, I wish I had Mitt Romney's millions, just as I wish I had Derek Jeter's ability with a glove and bat. But the reason I love Derek Jeter and dislike Mitt Romney is because Jeter plays the game hard, but he plays it with class, and unlike so many others, he plays it clean.
And Fonzie got The Clap.
--MICHAEL IAN BLACK
This essay originally ran as part of 90 Days, 90 Reasons. For more essays, written by people such as Judd Apatow, Marilynne Robinson, Moby, Paul Simon, Jonathan Franzen, and Michael Stipe, go to 90days90reasons.com.