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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rich Man, Poor Man -- Rationales of a Bride’s Father

Before his daughter H.'s beautiful wedding, B., probably in an attempt to appear debonair and relaxed about the whole thing, had suggested that, though normally he is on the stingy side, for this event he had just closed his eyes and written checks.   But that is a pretty good trick, and when we finally played some chess a couple of weeks later I wanted to ask him how much the thing had cost.   But for a lot of reasons, I restrained myself.

Prompted by having just gone to the bank to take care of having accidentally overdrawn his account, B. made money the subject of the day anyway, and, pulling what I think is a huge and even an astronomical figure out of what I thought was the thin air, he asked me what I thought that amount means to a rich man and what it means to a poor man.

I was at a loss, because minutes earlier he had already answered that question to his own satisfaction, which was that that sum would mean only as much as about $5 to a rich man, while it would mean at least double its face value to a poor man.

 Not feeling like dealing with any contention except on the chessboard, I just went along,  though, having deliberately never tried to imagine what it’s like to be rich, just on principle, my actual feeling was that a rich man’s and a poor man’s idea of that very serious amount would be pretty much identical.   To illustrate, it struck me as being enough to buy a decent car, unless I am behind the times farther than I thought -- and unless we are talking about the Don Drapers of the world.

(In the hit TV series "Mad Men," Don Draper, the main character, buys a gleaming new Cadillac Coup de Ville. The year is 1962 and this is THE car of the times, and everybody in his agency is deeply impressed.  It is a sure sign that he has reached the top of the heap.  The car cost $6,500.

In 1963 I bought a gleaming new Volkswagen Bug, fresh off the boat from Germany.    It cost $1,800.

Today, almost 50 years later, we have a 2002 Cadillac Coup de Ville sitting in our driveway here at our residence on a Virginia dirt road.   My wife inherited it from her mother.   She had, as does my wife, certain little concealed pretensions that she enjoyed.   The car still looks brand new, but I have never driven it.   I much prefer my little 22-year-old Isuzu pickup truck, though it is of absolutely no monetary value to anyone except me.   I don’t know how much that Caddy cost.)

A little later B. got on the subject of his daughter’s wedding.   He asked me what I thought the purpose of it was.  That, as was to be expected, was only a lead-in to him expounding on what he thought.

In the end B. seemed to be saying that the main purpose, aside from the obvious ones involving the happiness of his daughter, her new husband, and their relatives and friends, was that the wedding was a redistribution of the wealth.   Among other things, he had furnished an afternoon of well-paid employment and other fiscal gain for a large number of his friends and the children of his friends.  And that's laudable.

Funny, though.   By then we were in the company of our wives, and B. revealed that that large figure that he had seemingly plucked out of the air earlier, for rhetorical purposes, was just what he had paid out for the wedding, though the total cost was even higher, because his daughter and her imminent spouse contributed a somewhat smaller but still substantial amount -- enough, for instance, to put a new roof on a sizable house.

B. said it was all to the good, but now he will go back to being stingy again.  Stiil, I would be surprised if he isn’t still battling through the cobweb – brought on by the wedding --  of deciding whether he is a rich man or a poor man.  He may, however, not know or concede that that is what he’s doing.

During this discussion, B, insisted that he isn’t a rich man at all, but if you ask me, he deeply enjoyed spending all that money on that wedding just as if he were rich – and getting away with it.


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