“You know, it’s getting harder and harder to feel rich these days”, complained Justin Latimer, as he rested on the golf cart under a shade tree on the fourteenth hole one April morning in 1999. At 52, He was in fairly good shape for his age. Tall, blond, average build with only a small paunch, he liked to think he was living the life he had worked hard for until he was in his mid-30s. Now, he was troubled by the changes he saw all around him.
“Isn’t that the truth. I just jetted in from a month’s stay in Bali last week and would you believe, there were actual working class Americans on holiday there!” agreed Bing Carlton as he shaded his eyes to study the layout of the next hole. His medium length red hair and light blue eyes would have made him attractive if he hadn’t been somewhat overweight for his five and a half feet. “It practically ruined our vacation. You just can’t get away from them!”
“Not only that, but they’re everywhere we go here in the States too. The highways are jammed during the workdays when they’re supposed to be at work and out of our hair. They drive late model BMWs, Mercedes, and other even nicer cars,” Justin added, taking a sip of his drink that he always rewarded himself with whenever he played golf.
Bing walked over to the shade. He was sweating profusely and his score in the game was abysmal despite the golf lessons he had recently taken, so he found this conversation more to his interest. “And how about the way they’re hiring maids, getting massages, retiring early, eating in fine restaurants? Pretty soon, there won’t be any way to tell who has money and who doesn’t. Look at me. I have millions in the bank, real estate, and stocks, wear the most expensive clothes that are comfortable, drive a Porsche, live in the right area, and play golf, tennis, and don’t have to work for a living. But there are so many people who either don’t come from money and haven’t really become successful who actually still work for a living, and seem to have everything I’ve got – except that they aren’t all fully retired at thirty-five”
“Yeah! And what about the fact that when you give five or ten thousand to the local charities, they’re appreciative, but they don’t treat you like a god anymore. What’s the point of giving to charities if they aren’t going to fall all over themselves in gratitude for your gift?” Justin was beginning to feel very upset by this conversation, even though he was the one who had brought it up. He knew these things were going on but he hadn’t talked about his feelings to anyone else just yet.
“The worst part about it is that I know I’ve got more money than I ever had, but if other people can live the good life without having a lot of money, what does that make us? Are we fools because we got our money early in life by struggling, fighting, and doing just about anything it took to make a buck? The whole point of money is not what I can have by having money, its what I can have that others can’t have because they don’t have as much money as I do! I enjoy my money because it sets me apart and shows that I’ve made it -except not any more! My wealth validates and vindicates my life choices. How does that work when every Tom, Dick, and Harry can afford maids, exotic vacations, fancy cars, good clothes, golf, several big houses, all the great stuff and early retirement? I definitely feel gypped.” Bing had just about given up finishing this game. No loss. He had decided he would go back to the club house and have a couple of drinks to calm his nerves.
They sat for a couple of minutes, each embroiled in his thoughts about the terrible injustices of the world. Justin finally spoke softly and said, “Do you think there’s anything we can do to set this right? Go back to the way it used to be, when people knew who had money and respected them for it? When having money meant more than just having money – it meant having power? When people with less money knew the order of things and knew their place?”
“I don’t know,” said Bing, staring at the ground in disgust. “Nobody ever thought it would be this hard being rich. Being rich was supposed to be Easy Street. No worries, everyone admiring you, doing pretty much whatever you pleased without worrying about what people thought because you had lawyers to take care of pesky laws and so forth.
Now, every time I turn around, I’m accused of being insensitive to the plight of the poor and downtrodden or of being a tree killer. Doesn’t anybody understand? What else is money for, but to feel superior and we can’t feel superior if everybody can do the same things as us without being rich? I can tell you this. If there were any politician who could change things, who could see things from our perspective, he’d get my vote. “
“I’m with you there, Bing. Let’s go to the clubhouse and have a drink. I’ve had enough golf for today.”
* * *
Later, at the clubhouse, they resumed the conversation. As they continued to drink, the conversation got louder. A slender, well-dressed gentleman sitting near them cleared his throat to get their attention. “Excuse me gentlemen,” he said in a smooth Southern accent, “but I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation. I know just how you feel about the middle class getting out of hand. You’re not alone in being upset by what’s been going on. In fact, people I know have been discussing ways to do something about it. Legally, of course.”
Both Bing and Justin suddenly became alert. Who was this guy? Why was he so interested in what they were saying? Why was he butting into their business? Could he really do anything about the problem with the middle class?
When Justin asked, the Southern gentleman just said, “Let’s just say that I’m someone who doesn’t like seeing our privileges eroded by the upstart yuppies who think they have a right to elbow their way into polite society. I also happen to know some people who are going to be very influential in the next ten years. When that fornicating hillbilly gets tossed out of office next year, we have a pretty good shot at setting things straight. When our people get into office, we’ll make middle class money scarcer than hen’s teeth.”
Bing said, “I like what your saying and I want to believe your friends can do all that, but no politician is that powerful. Why, it would take more than just politicians to turn all the problems around.”
The Southerner said, “That would be true in normal times. I have a feeling that we won’t be operating in normal times in the coming administration. Who knows, maybe the U.S. will be at war somewhere and the President will need everybody to give up some rights and pledge their loyalty to a strong America. Maybe threats to our security will scare enough people so they won’t pay attention to what’s happening to their money. Anyone who speaks up just might be disloyal. And we can always count on football, baseball, and movies to keep people satisfied and keep them out of our way. And if we were at war, I bet we could get the military on board if we increased their pay and gave them nice, new toys to play with.”
Justin was skeptical. “And who’s to say that your man will be in office? Everything I’ve heard is that the race is just about at a dead heat. Your man could even lose!”
“Could he?”, the Southerner was almost amused by this. “Somehow, I really doubt that, but you’re welcome to wait and see.”
“Yes, but we’re still left with all those middle class people with their high paying jobs, along with the perks. They just have too much money!” Justin was really worked up now. Why was this old gentleman so sure of himself?
“Well now, jobs can go away – perhaps overseas where people are more appreciative and don’t ask for much money or benefits. Banks can become unstable. Real estate and stocks don’t always hold their value. We really will have a lot more power than you might think. I’ll leave you with one last thought, gentlemen,” he said as he got up to leave, “you aren’t going to even recognize this country in just ten years from now.”
Both Bing and Justin sat silently for a few minutes, thinking about what they had heard.
Bing was the first to break the silence. “Do you think he knew what he was talking about?”
Justin was pensive. “I don’t know how he could be so sure of himself or the future. He’s probably just some crackpot who thinks he knows more than he does. The stuff he’s talking about – well, it just isn’t that easy.” He got up to leave. “Thanks for the great game of golf,” he chuckled. “Don’t work too hard. See you next week.”
Bing got up to leave. He was shaking slightly, feeling a little nauseous, maybe it was just the heat of the game.