BACK AFTER A TWO YEAR HAITUS...
They stride into the coffee shop and he’s practically yelling, as if to negate any retort to the argument, “Your father’s a surgeon! He’s got money!” I thought it was a plot out of some James Cain story: the malleable, soft-spoken, innocent girl; the overbearing, one-sighted boyfriend. Does he want to murder the girls’ father and run off with her and the old man’s war chest?
You’re probably wondering what he looks like, but the best way to sum him up is thusly: he asks for the student discount - 10% off his $2 cup of coffee, then inexplicably pays a 25 cent surcharge because he’s using his debit card. I can hear the excuse now…. “Well, I don’t have any REAL money….” Other than that: well-coiffed hair, with an attempt to look slovenly. Cuffs on his skinny jeans, scruffy beard, turtle shell glasses - his best Allen Ginsberg impression.
He is totally preoccupied with daddy’s profession. Her low murmur is hard to hear, but his carries clear across the coffee shop. From the back of the line to the front table where they sit on display for every passerby to see, it’s obvious that he has a problem with her family’s station in life.
The only thing more glaringly obvious is that she wants to change the subject. She mumbles, stares at her hands, plays with the rim of her coffee cup, sings along with the music.
“Sweetheart, Baby…” building an empathy that is counter to the one-sided conversation. “Every five years your parents come up with another million dollars.”
“No,” with a smirk, hoping he will get the point. No.
Every denial brings with it an attempt to educate her on her own life.
“Yes. They both make six figures, not including the assets they already have…. You can’t minimalize this…. Coming from nothing, and understanding wealth, I know….”
Yes, he’s poor, to be sure, but he knows more about money than the wealthy, cause all poor people do.
She goes on muttering coy denials. She either doesn’t want to talk about it, or is avoiding the subject, but he’s plowing through it. If ever there was a one-sided conversation, this is it. With each denial, his baseless assertions become more obscene.
“They easily have 25 million dollars between them… The reason you don’t know is because your parents don’t live ostentatiously. But you can’t explain why your mother goes out and buys $1,000 elephants…. 'Why get a new car if you don’t need it?' That’s how your parents think. It doesn’t mean they don’t have money, it just means they know how to use it.”
She thinks the $25 million estimate is far-fetched.
“Yes you said that, (name redacted), you have. I’m not even fucking with you. I wouldn’t just pull that number out of my ass.”
She tries to fight back, her weak jabs causing no damage.
“They’re so cheap though.”
“Yeah, on the outside. But they have no problem spending it on things they want. Your mother has no problem coming out and spending $5,000 on a coat.”
“But they took out a loan on their apartment.”
“That because it helps their credit score...Your father supports your brother.”
“If they had that kind of money, they would have their name on a gallery or something.”
“Twenty-five million is not a lot of money,” says the poor kid. “Your father’s a genius; your mothers an academic.”
“How long's your father had his own practice. How many times have they gone to Paris?”
“My mother does that for work, she gets paid to do that.”
She tries to change the subject, yet again. This time to summer vacation. “This summer they’re going to Paris, Mumbai, Prague,… (thinking where else).”
“Listen to that sentence and tell me you’re not well off.”
(Awkward Pause in the conversation)
“(Name redacted), you’ve also told me you have stocks. Those are investments. They have stocks for you. They have stocks for (brother-redacted)…All you’re saying is that you don’t understand it.”
“Yes, I understand it.”
“No, you don’t understand the perspective of it. It’s just the life you live… The fact that they have a house in Michigan...”
“They bought it cheap.”
“Yeah, they probably bought it for 10, and now it’s worth 90. You live in a historic district; you live in Hyde Park…”
And then, after all of these right-hand leads, setting up his sparring partner, he drops the uppercut, and the heart of the matter emerges.
“You’re part of the one percent.”
(Insert Pause for Dramatic Effect)
“And you know you’re part of the one percent.”
Her denials remain curt.
“No I’m not.”
“Yeah. And you just gotta be realistic.”
“I will be realistic.”
Silence. Then she changes the subject. “The next shuttle (back to campus) is in six minutes.”
“You choose. Which one would you like to do?” Obviously, it’s always her choice.
But her choice is to say nothing. Those two trendy words have hit a nerve.
“What is that face for?”
“What is that face for?” It reeks of sarcasm; he’s feigning interest in her feelings. As if ten minutes of railroading her in public can be wiped away with a quick word of false sincerity.
She idly plays with the lid of her coffee cup while he tries one last hook to the temple.
“I’ll never be rich. They’re filthy rich. I’ll never be that.”
She goes back to singing along with the back ground music –The Beatles – Ticket to Ride.
“She don’t care.” He repeats her words.
“You can feel wealth but it.. (unintelligible.).”
Another vain attempt to change the subject. She asks, “You want to try my scarf?” She goes so far as to take the thing off. The virginal white hangs precariously in open air. He gets so much as a hand on it, then changes his tune.
Instead of saying no, he says, “I mean, I’m already wearing cashmere… “
This is the point where I start to laugh, then shuffle through my iPod acting like it was something funny I heard. The fact that she has chosen to wear cashmere, the fabric of the 99 Percent, only highlights her disconnect with her family’s outrageous wealth! I mean, cashmere? What would her father, the millionaire doctor, say if he saw her cavorting with the cashmere-wearing poor in the slums of Bronxville? INCONCEIVABLE!
Anyways, they hold hands across the small wooden table, four hands locked in a bridge with the helpless coffee passing underneath. They disengage, and the conversation dies in favor of - smartphones. Some government program I've not heard of? Has Obama stopped giving cheese to the poor in favor of high-end smartphones?
After a few minute he stops checking the emails on his iPhone (or whatever it is poor people do with smartphones), takes both her hands, suddenly intent on finding out what she is thinking.
His voice increases in pitch while he stares at her.
"Whhhhaaat?,” as he jiggles her hands in a prissy attempt to shake the answer out of her.
She says nothing, and after another minute of awkward silence, they get up and leave, and I start laughing out loud.
I look behind me, to the only other occupied table.
“Hey, I don’t know if you know this, but her parents are worth $25 Million Dollars.”
“Oh, is that what they were arguing about.”
“Wasn’t really an argument, but yeah. Every five years, her parents take in another million.”
“God I hate people.”
I go back to my coffee, feeling like I just had more of a productive conversation with a complete stranger than Allen Ginsberg did with his sweetheart.