Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A tale of two citizens

Until recently, the wealthiest man in town dropped in for lunch every day. He ordered the identical lunch every day. His regular employee companion ordered that same lunch. Every day. Once a different (perhaps unindoctrinated) minion ordered something different. We never saw that employee again. Coincidence? Who knows?

The businessman was a gentleman. Always left a big tip, treated the waitstaff with courtesy, forgave of the foibles and gaffes of a new waitress. Sometimes he brought family in the evenings. Whatever his reputation in business dealings, he was consistently kind to us.

Once, two months after I had moved back into a professional career, I encountered him and that same employee companion on a commuter flight. I greeted them both with a wink and a good morning, calling them by name. The businessman's greeting was genuinely charming and even effusive. His employee companion, whom I had served an equal number of times, asked, "Who is she?" The boss explained.

As one of the cooks noted, "He takes notice of the people around him."

Class act.

In contrast, a member of the board of regents of a huge state university system occasionally dined with two college-age nephews.

It was apparent that the three felt as if they were to the manor born. Never did they make eye contact; their manner was inconsiderate and brutish. I once served the young relatives their iced teas first, and before I could even place the second glass on the table, the man barked, "Where's my beer?"

Then he proceeded to entertain the young men (by design), another customer across the room and me (by accident of being within earshot) about how a woman, whom he named, "was a mess," and once "groped him under the table" at a formal banquet. Then he segued to regaling us in graphic detail and with heavy use of the vernacular of the configuration of a college football player's genitals, which he had apparently viewed in the team's locker room after a game.

Apparently this man gives his own spin to an F. Scott Fitzgerald observation, "The very rich are different from you and me." And apparently are bound by a very different set of rules.

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