“I Don’t Believe in Owing”: How James McBride Does Money

Anna Sale’s podcast Death, Sex, and Money is short, at roughly half an hour per episode, and yet manages to cover a tremendous amount of ground. In each show, a different subject talks candidly with her about real life subjects we often shy away from as taboo. The end result feels startlingly intimate and, often, inspiring. We’d all probably do ourselves a favor if we implemented Ellen Burstyn’s occasional “should-less days.”

This week National Book Award-winning and bestselling author James McBride (The Color of Water, The Good Lord Bird) riffed in a frank and meaningful way on the topic of money. About quitting a good, stable job to become a musician when he turned 30, to the horror of his mother, who raised him in the projects. About getting cleaned out in his divorce. About loss and grief and consumerism and success and how long winning a significant professional award will make you happy (about a day). The episode is worth listening to several times over but here are some choice quotes:

I knew I was rich when I said I wanted a pair of jeans and I went to the store and I said, give me two of them. Give me two of them. And I want those sneakers that my brother Hunter has too. Those red ones with those stripes on the side, you know. So I did that for a while, and then after a while, I just totally lost interest in it.

Is there something that you look back and you’re like, I can’t believe I bought that?

A BMW. Yeah. I bought a BMW one time and I drove the car and I was killing. I loved it.

What color was it?

It was gray, and I bought it brand new. I had a Ford — this is the thing that killed me, I had a Mercury Marquis, it was a big green car, a floater, it looked like a police car. Never got stopped, grooving. It was just like daddy’s car, like one of them grandfather cars. And you would just float down the highway and you wouldn’t feel nothing, it was just great. And I traded that beautiful car in, and I got a BMW. I wrote a check for 20 grand. I don’t know what they, I remember that. Anyway, I drove away in that car. Woo. Thing was slick.

I’m like, now, I drive a Toyota — 2002 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck. 5 speed. That’s the car I drive all the time. And it drives just as nice now as that BMW did when I drove it off the lot and gave up all my hard money. So yeah that was a stupid thing to do, but you know, I’m allowed to make silly mistakes like that I guess. What’s money if your mind is empty, really. And I hope that I haven’t, if I’ve given you the impression that I’ve been talking about money, that money is on my mind all the time, it’s not. I have plenty, what do I need, you know?

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