We are a nation consumed with record-setting. Much is made of being fastest, tallest, smartest and numerous other “ultimates.” Show me a country whose people will shovel down as many hotdogs as possible in a dozen minutes of munching, and I’ll show you one with fouled up priorities.

Admit it. On our canvas of competition, paint Americans blue and gold — the preferred colors for award ribbons and medals, respectively.

Football fans at the University of Kansas had a couple of “golds” in mind until Jayhawk gridmen were derailed by Missouri. KU lost out on being “fustest” for the national title, but remains a “shoo-in” for “mostest.” Surely Kansas has the “most cubic feet” of football coach…

Sometimes we work in reverse. At least one guy — the one sitting in a dental chair — kidded his dentist. “You’ve really got a racket,” he said, “charging $100 for pulling a tooth, and it only takes you about 15 seconds.”

“I can pull it much more slowly if you’d like,” the dentist smiled.

Then there is the testimony of the snail, the only witness at an intersection where turtles collided. “My memory is a blur,” the snail said, “Things were happening so fast…”

It is in the context of painful slowness — and in many cases, no movement at all—on which this week’s epistle settles. It is the dizzying pursuit that has millions of Americans screaming “calf rope.”

It is an exercise in which none of us expects to participate, but in short order, most Americans are hip deep in the financial mire.

I’m talkin’ the proliferation of credit cards…

They became a national force in 1966, the year my wife and I married. She was immediately attracted to them.

A few years back, she got mad at me when I decided not to report her lost card. “Whoever has it now is spending only a third as much as you,” I reasoned…

In the early years, though, issuing card companies insisted on financial accountability.

Nowadays, all that’s needed to get most cards is a pulse.

I heard of one that will issue a temporary card just as long as your heart starts beating again in the next 30 days…

Truth be known, some folks enter debtor status claiming “biblical correctness.” One guy said, “I know the Lord figured we’d hit bumps in the road financially, so that’s why He talked about forgivin’ debtors.”

Look at the numbers: Average household credit card balances this year passed the $10,000 mark, never mind that the average credit card purchase is 12 percent more than cash. Recent targets are college students, whose average line of credit now exceeds $6,000.

With Christmas bearing down, look for credit card charges to reach $475 billion. Here’s the bottom line: If the bill is paid off at month’s end, no problem. But this usually is NOT the case…

What’s in your bulging wallet? Probably too many credit cards. If what formerly was one card has become a deck, you’re running a great risk of being the sucker born in your minute of birth. You know, the one Mark Twain and others referenced.

Why so many cards? Charge the successful temptations of promotions, discounts, cash back, and assorted other incentives.

And rarely do we consider the virtual impossibility of canceling our cards, even if everything is in order…

I recently bought a couple of sets of tires, “saving” $100 by paying for them on a new credit card, “Car Care One.”

When payment was completed, I spent most of one day getting the card canceled. I was reminded a few dozen times that “my calls are valued, but agents are busy assisting other customers.”

“You probably got minimum wage for the time expended opting out of the card,” my wife kidded…

She was right — as usual. If you don’t “speak dollars,” listen to those who do. Credit card pitfalls are great, and they get deeper quickly if the monthly payment is a nanosecond late.

The credit fine print gets even finer, and offenders slouch into the “sock it to me” mode for additional charges.

Shakespeare’s admonition in Hamlet, four centuries ago, warrants re-visiting. “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” He was at least half right. Leading the world in personal debt is a dubious distinction indeed…

Don Newbury is a speaker and author whose weekly column appears in 125 newspapers in six states. He welcomes comments and inquiries. Call him at (817) 447-3872, or send e-mail to newbury@speakerdoc.com His Web site is www.speakerdoc.com.