The other day I was at a bar with a friend, sipping longnecks at the end of an otherwise empty table, conversating lazily about this, that and nothing really.
I know what you’re thinking. No, it wasn’t the Crawl On Inn, and no, I didn’t see Bubba®. This isn’t that kind of column.
Anyway, about halfway through the first beer, some feller gripping a bottle of Coors Light moseyed up, stood right next to our table and started talking to us. Never seen him before in our lives, but there he was, joining in our conversating without any invitation. He was pretty far ahead of us, and slurring a bit, so that may explain why he didn’t mind intruding, and why a few minutes later, without any prompting, he didn’t mind pulling up a stool.
And we didn’t mind, either, because the drinks in our hands were the last we paid for ourselves that night.
This feller was a very wealthy feller – too wealthy to be hanging out in the dive where we were, but he was there, and he fit in except for his money. Nice, generous, and totally unpretentious, not to mention a pretty good conversator in his own rate. He may be an exaggerator, or imposter, but he stole someone’s wallet and business cards if so.
Now, he didn’t say anything embarrassing, but to avoid embarrassing him on accident, I’ll just call him Rick.
Rick is in the oil business, at least peripherally, and his company made $58 million last year, $58 million last year, $58 million last year (his repetition, not mine). He won’t make nearly so much this year, maybe just $20 million, has met and done business with George W. Bush and knows Sam’s Club executives, naturally enough, through his investment banker.
But in manner and general concerns, he’s a very normal person, the kind of self-made millionaire comfortable calling himself a redneck that’s common to this area. He thinks anyone can do what he’s done if they work hard enough at it, even me, which is saying something about his optimism, or at least his sobriety at that point in the night.
He said a lot during the next two hours, but only one thing he said was actually insulting:
“I’m not rich.”
If someone asks and you want to just answer, “I’m doing well,” out of humility, fine and good, but double-digit millions is more than just doing well.
I understand what Rick meant, and to some degree he’s justified. We let people in the top 5 percent of income earners call themselves “middle class,” after all. No one wants to be rich.
Well, let’s not be stupid. Everyone wants more money. But as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The rich are different from you and me.”
Ernest Hemingway agreed to disagree. “Yes, they have more money.”
But more is more than enough to make a difference in shaping one’s concerns. It matters.
If you can, you’d rather think of yourself as “us,” not “them.” We want to be common (although for regular readers who were wondering, only 3 of the 46 voters on my poll thought they were dumber than the average newspaper reader).
We want to have advantages but still be thought of as the underdog. They’re somehow more virtuous than top dogs. You can’t blame victims.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor,” and good for them. He said, “It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man get to heaven,” ah, more’s the pity.
Almost makes me worry I’ll get a raise someday.