I remember seeing a cartoon with a two-part panel.
In the first panel, a young man who has obviously struck it rich is talking to his unkempt parents outside their tiny, falling-down shack in some hillbilly enclave. Now, he tells them with a proud smile, he can buy them the home of their dreams.
The second panel shows him returning, to be confronted with the same falling-down shack, built 100 times bigger.
There's a message in that, and the recent legal problems of Atlanta Falcons' quarterback Michael Vick provides yet another. Both speak to one of the more enduring beliefs in our society, that having lots of money automatically makes you a different (and, theoretically, better) person.
Sure, it happens. Unfortunately, though, most of the evidence is stacked to the contrary. The history of lotteries in this country is full of sad stories about people who won millions, then burned through it in short order.
Athletes provide a particular cautionary tale here in the 21st century. Many of them come from grim inner city neighborhoods or hardscrabble rural areas. Why? Because those settings toughened them, and allowed them to take their natural athletic ability up a notch. Moreover, many come to see their their future as a stark choice between athletic success or poverty.
As a football coach once told me: "The kid from the suburbs would like to make the first team. The kid from the slums has to make the first team."
Again, there are exceptions, but Vick isn't one of them. He grew up in a marginally rough section of Newport News and was defined early on by his athletic ability. He struggled academically at Virginia Tech, and has never come across as a particularly articulate or educated individual. A regular guy, in other words, who happens to possess otherworldly physical talents.
Eventually, those talents earned him multi-millions, but he's still the same person. Is he going to join one of Atlanta's elite social clubs? Is he going to suddenly start hanging around with college presidents and bankers and software savants? Probably not, because he has nothing in common with those people beyond his bank balance, and perhaps their adoration of him.
So who does he choose for friends? The guys he grew up with. Some pro athletes actually transplant their pals from the old neighborhood to wherever they happen to be performing. That's a sweet deal for members of the "entourage," and the party is usually on their old buddy who's made good.
Except that when the jock in question has roots in a rough subculture, that entourage can get out of hand. As in the case of Baltimore Ravens' linebacker Ray Lewis, who nearly spent the rest of his life behind bars after one or more of his "friends" stabbed two men to death outside a nightclub. Or Tennessee Titans' defensive back Adam "Pac Man" Jones, two years removed from West Virginia University, who caught some of the blowback when a bouncer at a Las Vegas strip club was shot and paralyzed by an entourage member.
The rest of us feast on such lurid tales. We love it when an actor or a rock star or a quarterback turns out to have feet of clay and a rap sheet.
What we should be thinking about, though, is our generally skewed perspective on money in general.
We can fantasize, as most of us do, that one day we'll win the lottery or be gifted by a forgotten rich relative or (in the case of many newspaper reporters) write the novel that will become a cash cow.
It's good to dream, but we need to realize that even if our ship does come in, we'll still be who we are. And if we're not ready to properly receive it, our good fortune is apt to fly away.
Especially if that ship turns out to be full of pirates.