The dissolute life that could have been …
Reggie Jackson was asked by a reporter of my acquaintance what would have happened if a particular game-winning hit had not gone his way. It was a stupid question, asked by someone who, while he was a very decent human being, just wasn’t too bright.
Reggie’s forbearance was admirable. The hit did go his way; there was nothing else to be said.
But the reporter persisted, “but, Reggie, what if …?”
Reggie’s patience finally evaporated. “If? If don’t mean shit. If the Pilgrims had eaten a cat instead of a turkey, then we’d all have pussy for Thanksgiving!”
Reggie’s point was succinct. What’s the point of pondering what never was?
I generally adhere to Reggie’s point of view, but still, like the rest of us, I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if only history had meandered along a different course.
I was brought up in a working-class home, but I should have been a rich kid. I don’t say that in the sense of, Well, gee, I shoulda been a rich kid. I mean, I really should have been a rich kid. My father was a rich kid. Unfortunately, he was also an orphan. His mother was carried off during the 1918 influenza pandemic. His father died just a couple of years later.
His parents were wealthy. My dad’s sisters had ponies for pets.
His father and his brothers were principles in a high-end furniture manufacturing and retail business. They sold their furnishings to very discriminating, wealthy customers. After his father died, my dad became the ward of his very rich uncle, who was president of no less than three interrelated companies centered in New York City and Boston. My dad was sent off to an expensive Catholic boarding school.
But alas, his millionaire guardian was a skinflint – the kind who tossed nickels around like they were manhole covers. He used to tell of writing to his uncle for spending money because the other kids at school enjoyed sweets and going to the movies. His uncle wrote back, stating sweets were bad for his health, and watching movies in the dark was bad for his eyes.
So my dad said he needed a new suit. His uncle had him go to Brooks Brothers in Boston and order up a suit on his account. My dad got the suit, then promptly took it down to the next street corner and sold it, and that’s how he got his spending money.
Then came the Crash of ’29 and the ensuing Great Depression. My dad had inherited stocks that, while at the time had a good piece of their value knocked out of them, nevertheless recovered. The companies that issued them survived the rough times and continue today in one form or another. But his uncle persuaded him to sign them over to him during the downturn, in the belief they would rebound quickly. They didn’t rebound quick enough. His uncle died in his room at the elegant National Republican Club in midtown Manhattan, across from Bryant Park. A will was read, but creditors pounced like locusts. My parents found themselves in the midst of the Depression dead broke, except for a couple of hundred bucks.
Throughout his life, during which he worked hard as a construction laborer, my dad amused himself by tracking his lost stocks, chuckling that we’d all be rich if only he hadn’t listened to his uncle and held on to them.
Ah, what might have been.
I like to think of myself sometimes as a dissolute scion, a playboy. Sports cars and trophy chicks sunning themselves naked on my private yacht. A one-percenter, perhaps blowing scads of dough on visits to exclusive sex clubs, in pursuit of the next shocking level of debauchery. A well-heeled, licentious libertine: Let them eat cake; I’m having my cake and I’m eating her too.
Ah, but then, would money alone make my tastes any more extravagant? This is a guy who gets sweaty and uncomfortable in fancy restaurants. Not that I frequent many of those.
Nah, I’m too pedestrian, too damned catholic (yeah, with a small c). You can only spend so much money in a lifetime. I’ll be satisfied with enough to get me to the finish line.
Still, it’s fun to imagine keeping a stable of pony girls. Nah … forget I even brought that up.