Screwing Up in Life is Easy. What You Do With It, Is Hard
Columbus Day is the perfect holiday. Most other holidays involve a family gathering or other self-destructive activity. Unlike these other days, Columbus Day does not involve ridiculous overeating, finger-removing explosions, or a dry tree decorated with combustibles. Like these other holidays, Columbus Day has an unbelievable fairy tale behind it. This tale tells of Columbus the visionary, the explorer, the brave. The real story is about a con-man who screwed up and still made a killing, literally.
It all started with a con
Columbus and his brother dreamed up the idea of bilking someone else for an around-the-world cruise back in Italy. It took them the better part of a decade and two countries before they found a mark. As with all scams, greed was the sales pitch. Faster travel to the Spice Islands and the prospect of undermining competitors dazzled the royal house of Spain. It is crucial to remember that finding a new route to the East Indies was Columbus’ mission.
Evidence shows that Columbus knew the world was larger than maps of his time showed. Even the ancient Greeks had calculated a pretty fair estimate of the Earth’s diameter. The only conclusion drawn is that the whole “Spice Islands” pitch was a ruse to get his hands on Spanish doubloons. Before he sailed, Columbus knew he was not getting to Java faster than anyone else, but he had months at sea to rehearse an excuse.
Even after screwing up Columbus had a job for life.
How did that conversation go down? Columbus convinced Queen Isabella to make him viceroy of the New World. That takes some smooth talking after totally screwing the pooch. I imagine Columbus had a “Mission Accomplished” banner nailed to the poop deck as he sailed back to Spain.
His audience with the queen was one of the best double-back, feet-shuffling, dance routines in history.
“And did you find our new route to the Spice Islands, Señor Columbus?”
“Well, you see Izzy, we didn’t quite get all the way to the Indies, but it wasn’t my fault. There was this giant land mass in our way. At first we thought we’d gotten there. We’re still going to call the islands the West Indies. Just because they are half a world away won’t stop us from covering our butts with that little linguistic trick.”
“So you have failed the mission assigned to you and paid for with our royal monies?”
“No. No. Oh, God no. I found something better. Now hear me out, Izzy. I found these new lands that none of your rivals know exist. They’re sparsely populated with half-naked heathens. I’m the guy that knows the way, but you can bet your tiara the rest of Europe will figure this out and soon. What you got to do is give me a butt-load more money and ships so we can go back, claim all the land for Spain and exploit the hell out of it before the others start showing up. Oh, and give me a few priests to convert the natives, just to ease your conscience.”
“And what riches and glory will this bring the Spanish crown?”
“Untold riches, Izzy. You’ll be rich beyond avarice. God knows what we’ll find, but He knows we’ll beat it out of the natives. This is a perfect set up. New lands, new riches and built-in slave labor to get at it. It’s a win-win except for those locals. But if it makes you feel any better, I don’t think they have souls. It’s not like they’re Christians or anything.”
“But our royal treasury runs low after your trip.”
“We’re talking minimal investment with maximum return potential, Izzy. I’ll pay my own way with a cut of the loot and you’ll have a war chest to kick some European ass here.”
“Very well. Via con Dios.”
What have we learned?
Columbus Day proves my theory that in life, as in comedy, timing is everything. Being in the right place at the right time will do more than all the education you can afford, all the life-experience you can rack up, or all the powerful connections you can make. Sometimes life is just dumb luck. Of course, a little education and planning can put you in the right place. Anticipating and recognizing the right time is the hard part.
So celebrate Columbus Day, not with a white sale or silly parade, but in its intended fashion. At its root, Columbus Day is a celebration of con-men, slackers and fast-talkers. Here are some suggested Columbus Day activities.
- Borrow a neighbor’s power tool and don’t return it. Call it God’s will.
- Erect a new fence 6 feet into your neighbor’s yard. Call it destiny.
- Take a trip, but stop half-way and return home. Call it a success.
- Con an old lady out of her life savings. Call it a capital investment.
- And for the out-of-the-box thinkers…enslave a population and infect them with new diseases. Call it progress.
Enjoy a day of true slackdom devoted to the ultimate screw-up, Christopher Columbus.