The Rich Are Different


December 2050. As he punched in the security code that snowy night at the armed entrance of the gated community, Ricketts Glen, at the corner of Clark and Addison in Chicago, the wind was so cold that his hands felt as if he had plunged them in fire. The vacant, snow flake stares of the street people cowering in front of the Hyatt and Best Buy across the street were making her nervous, so he hurried to punch in the code. And he kept chattering. “You know there used to be a baseball stadium here. They called it Wrigley Field.”

“No way!” she said, shaking her long blonde hair back from her face and shivering all in one move. Her blue eyes wide. “I had heard there was like a church or something here?” He loved how most everything she said sounded like a question. Questions he pretty much knew the answers to. Maybe tonight would turn out better than he thought.

“Actually. . .” be began. He was being extra careful to try and sound smart. She had told him in the bar that she liked guys with big ah. . .brains; was the way she put it. That’s when she tossed off that killer smile. And he pretty much forgot everything after that. Except to try and sound smart. So he was trying to get the, ‘yeah, I’m older and that means I know stuff, kinda like a college professor’ kind of thing going. Starting sentences with words like “actually” seemed to fit. What he did not see was how her eyes zeroed in on his Ricketts Glen ID card when he pulled it out and signaled for another round of drinks. “Actually,” he said, “There was a church here. That was a really long time ago. A seminary. They trained ministers here. But the Clark Street bars got a little wild. That’s when they built the baseball park. Wrigley Field they called it. It was here until they tore it down to build Ricketts Glen.”

The security code took, he heard the buzzer, the green iron door whooshed open and he saw the man in the glass booth holding the Chinese made automatic weapon nod at him. He nodded back and then watched as she immediately unbuttoned her coat in the climate-controlled air. “Oh my God. It is like what, 69 in here or something?”

“To be precise, it’s kept at a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit.” He said authoritatively. “So you like our little corner of the world?”

“I had like seen stories about places like this, but I’d never actually like been in one? So like, who is Ricketts?”

“Oh they were the family that owned the stadium and the baseball team.”

“So what happened? I mean look at this place,” she said, taking in the sweeping green grass lawns lit by artificial light designed to lower blood pressure, each of the homes with their own green space, gardens, streams sprinkling through the community all encased inside a translucent bubble thin as a microchip yet capable of deflecting a nuclear attack. “I mean this place is like heaven! These Ricketts people, they must have been like geniuses or something, right?”

“Well, depends on how you read history I guess,” I said like someone who should be smoking a pipe and wearing a faded corduroy blazer with patches on the elbow.

“The Ricketts kids bought the baseball team and the stadium for the same reason any of us would have. It was a toy. And their Daddy had the money, so why not?”

“Mmm,” she said, as we walked through the artificial summer air to my house.

“They wanted to fix up the stadium. So they did what any of the wealthy folks of that era would do. They went looking for other people’s money to pay for it.”

“So they like really did that back then?”

“Oh but of course my dear,” I said punching in the security code for my front door. As we walked in, the size of the rooms, the décor, maybe the music I’m not sure, made her eyes go wide again. “This place is something!” she whispered as she tossed her coat on a chair and begin to take it all in.

“C’mon” I said, the elevator is this way. I’ll show you my Tower Room.” Or, as some people called it, I thought, my bedroom.

“OK,’ she said, for some reason now a bit meekly. She then got a quizzical look on her face, “But wait, she said, these Ricketts people?” Why couldn’t they get other people’s money?”

“Oh, that’s the interesting part. I mean they really tried. The first place they went was of course to the government. That was back when the way the government worked was that if the politicians and the business people who owned them said something the right way, they could make anybody believe anything.”

“Huh?”

“Well the Ricketts tried to get tax money, bonds, to pay to fix up their stadium. And in those days people actually believed that the more money flowed to the rich people, the better life would be for poor people.”

“What? People like believed that? No way!”

“Oh yeah,” I said. Back in those days, people voted against their own self interest all the time. Why I remember reading about when all this was going on. The Ricketts kids said they wanted tax money that would have gone to schools or firemen to pay for their baseball team. And at the very same time, their Daddy, the one that actually made the money the kids were given, actually made a video saying that he wanted smaller government.”

“But that like, I mean I know maybe I don’t like understand this stuff, but that makes no sense at all! How did they like pull that off?” she said as the elevator door swooshed open unto the tower room. A 360 degree view of the twinkling Chicago night, the stars blending in with the city lights.

Kicking off her heels, she ran past the bed to the window, “Oh. My. God! This is like beautiful! No wonder they wanted to like tear down the baseball stadium!”

“Actually they didn’t want to tear it down. They did everything they could to get the free money. The Ricketts kids never really understood. They thought they were owed the money to fix up their place.”

“Really? They thought people would just like PAY them? With taxes?”

“Oh they tossed off all the usual garbage talk about creating jobs and it being a good thing for the community and they threatened to leave and they got a few politicians to try and make it law. They skipped a few politicians too.”

“Which ones did they skip?”

“The smart ones.”

“So like, I am really having trouble getting this.”

“Here it is in one sentence. They were rich people. They thought this was their due. Even though what they were saying was, pay me to fix my house before you pay a fireman to be ready in case your house starts to burn.”

“Wow! I never knew rich people could be that dumb.”

“Oh they weren’t dumb. This is the way a lot of people thought back then. Sure, it was all a con game, this idea that making rich people richer helped poor people. But it was so well played that most of the poor people believed it too.”

“Well I’ll tell you one thing,” she said, dancing over to the bed and leaping into the middle then motioning me over with her finger.

“What’s that?” I said as she grabbed the front of my shirt and pulled me down beside her.”

“I’m sure glad that I didn’t live back when there was a yucky old baseball stadium here.”

“Me too. I said. Me too.”

Then no words. Only the snow. Falling on the bubble where there used to be a baseball park.

“His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

James Joyce.

“The Dead”

2 Responses to “The Rich Are Different”

  1. Paul Haider Says:

    Roger, it has occurred to me that the best kind of rich person is the one who has known poverty and struggle at some point in life; the Ricketts kids were born into wealth, and it is unfortunate for us that they are also Cubs fans. I just sent an idea to Rahm Emanuel on his website about how to improve the fate of the Cubs in their quest for a World Series championship. Ironically, it is only through the magic of a “rich man in a poor man’s shirt” that the Cubs will win it all. On his 2003 tour, Bruce Springsteen performed on August 13 in US Cellular Field (the White Sox won the World Series in 2005), August 16 in Pacific Bell Park (the Giants won the World Series this year), and on September 6 and 7 in Fenway Park (the Red Sox were rewarded with two World Series championships in 2004 and 2007). For the first and only time, Bruce and the E Street Band performed in Soldier Field on August 9, 1985. Does anybody remember the Bears’ record in the 1985 season? Yes, I enjoyed that Super Bowl championship as well. So, if the Ricketts are the problem, then Rahm and Bruce are the solution; these are two rich guys who aren’t so bad for Chicago. Wrigley Field isn’t going to change, but it’s sad that the pattern of the Cubs having clueless owners hasn’t changed much either. Now, regarding the summer concert series in Wrigley Field for 2011…Bruuuuuce!!!
    Paul Haider, Chicago

    P.S. Thank God that Mayor Emanuel is also a Springsteen fan!

  2. Ted Schneider Says:

    Roger,
    Great story, you could have made the title, “the rich and the politicians” are different since they are usually in bed together. In the year 2050 I will be 92 (if I’m lucky) and I really hope Wrigley isn’t a bubbled sub-division by then. I have to agree that I don’t get why the weathly (and the politicians) are always looking for more from others and usually from the ones that don’t have it to begin with. Powerful and sad commentary on the way some live their lives.
    Ted

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