…A well-known line from Fiddler on the Roof, and a thought most people turn over in their head at one point or another.
Yesterday, my son was humming this first line of the song, over and over. We were in his kitchen talking about stuff: life, college tuition for his children, what home improvements to do next. In high school, many years ago, he had had a part in his school’s staging of the Broadway musical and the tune was escaping his lips like a reminder of an earlier and more carefree life. Not that he has it too hard right now, or that he’d like it to be any different. No, that’s not the point.
As we got in the car to drive home, night and silence filled the space between my wife and I, and I allowed myself to drift into that esoteric domain where imagination takes over and the dream of boundless wealth becomes eerily tangible, almost reality. As if ready to take off into the starry night, I pressed the accelerator with renewed vigor, changed a few lanes and passed a few fast-moving cars. My wife touched my arm. “Slow down, tiger.”
She was right to stop me. At this point in our lives, we don’t have to hurry anywhere. There is little that unlimited wealth could contribute to make us more content. We’ve been together for forty-five years. We have loving, healthy children and grandchildren. We travel. We have this and that and the other. Our friends respect us for who we are, not for what we have or might have if we were to suddenly win the lottery. I don’t want an ostrich jacket valued a sixteen thousand dollars — to use an example from current events. And I have no interest in shooting elephants in Africa, climbing Kilimanjaro, or sailing the world in a 150 ft private yacht with gilded faucets. I don’t need a castle on the Loire, or a penthouse on Fifth Avenue in New York City — although a place in a decent area of Manhattan would be nice during the Broadway season.
If I were a rich man I might collect art. I might start a charitable organization and join forces with decent super rich people like Gates and Buffet. I might become a democratic donor. I would go to see tennis matches at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows. For sure, I would buy a renowned publishing house, accept my own novels and promote them vigorously (I’d be convinced they are worthy).
The other day we flew from my daughter’s house in Denver, Colorado (where we helped for a few weeks with their five-month old baby girl, as I wrote in my previous blog) to our condo in San Diego, to spend two weeks with my son and his family. After that we fly back to Maryland, where we live, go see Hamilton at the Kennedy Center, and start preparing for autumn and our October cruise on the Mediterranean. And because of all this flying, there is one thing I would really like to be able to afford, if I were a very rich man.
I would always fly first class, especially internationally. It’s not a lot to ask, if you think about it, and it would make such a difference. Not only are you more comfortable and can sleep during the flight, but you are treated differently. You don’t fight the crowds and you feel like you belong to an elite group of people.
When I started flying, in the early seventies, getting on a plane was considered glamorous. People dressed up to fly. Food and drinks were served on most routes, and I remember a time when bringing home little gin and vodka bottles and tiny packages of salt, pepper and sugar was amusing and still a novelty. The cabin was hardly full, and people in couch had room to relax, stretch out and strike up conversations. But things have changed.
Sitting in coach, I rub shoulders with strangers, smell their onions in the footlong Subway sandwiches and build up my courage to wake up snoring fellow passengers to go to the bathroom, where I wait my turn for minutes on end while the frowning attendant tries to squeeze by me with a tray full of pretzels. Since I am not a midget or a Cirque du Soleil acrobat, I end up with muscle spasms, a frozen neck and swollen legs from the long hours of flying. I land at overcrowded airports that look like Grand Central Station at the end of a holiday weekend, and try to find my bags while hurried travelers hit me with their luggage as they maneuver heavy, look-alike suitcases off the baggage carousel.
A friend of ours, who travels more than I do, dreamed about flying by private jet and be whisked in and out of private airports by his chauffeur driven limo. That would be great, of course, but I don’t think I have to go that far. Traveling business class to Europe and Asia is the top of my ambitions. How nice it would be — refined five course meals, broad arm rests, silk pillow cases, large TV screens, wine and cognac.
If I were a rich man…
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