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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Why I Now Get to Wear a Hat Like Uncle Pennybags

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a millionaire.  The word "millionaire" was always spoken with a certain respect, as in "He's a millionaire," or "He might grow up to be a millionaire."  The only millionaires I knew personally were Thurston Howell III, Jed Clampett, and Uncle Pennybags, the top-hatted, mustachioed man from Monopoly.  Oh, and how could I forget, Gomez Addams.

Thurston Howell, living as he did on a deserted island, did not have many of the accouterments of millionaire-hood, but that's exactly what made him so fascinating.  In spite of having no greater material wealth than the other castaways, he comported himself with an enviable sang-froid, a natural air of privilege that even the Skipper respected.  The lesson was, being a millionaire wasn't something you had, it was something you carried with you.

Jed Clampett was a millionaire of a different sort; if money liberates you from common worry, he was liberated from worry about money.  Living in a mansion did not mean he ever had to change his values or, evidently, even his clothes.  He listened to Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs instead of the symphony or whatever was hip or trendy at the time.  In their posh mansion, with its "concrete pond" (swimming pool) he permitted Ellie to keep a menagerie of "critters," including various barn animals.

Uncle Pennybags - I betcha didn't know that was his name, didja? - always seemed to dress like the little man on the wedding cake.  Usually on the yellow Community Chest cards or orange "Chance" cards, the hat was flying off his head as he was being kicked out of, or sent into jail, or else receiving a bonus of two hundred dollars through a bank-teller's window, but the top hat was almost always present.  In our family, the Top Hat was the most coveted among the playing pieces; no one willingly played with the Cannon or the Mounted Cowboy - but nor would any of us have dreamt of wearing a top hat.  You didn't wear a top hat any more than you wore a crown, and nor could you earn it, the way you might earn a mortarboard or a hardhat; a top hat was bestowed by the gracious hand of fate.

My last and most favorite was Gomez.  A millionaire and a mad man, the perfect combination.  Jed was never entirely comfortable in his fortune and Thurston was snooty, but Gomez was absolutely at ease and himself.  You just knew money had been in that family for generations.  No family gets that peculiar without plenty of time to percolate.  Best of all though, in addition to the fact that whenever he needed money he just reached into a drawer and found it stuffed with greenbacks, was his wife.  Beautiful Morticia, as mad and exotic as he was, his perfect match, who could make him froth passion with a casual remark in High School French.

When I daydreamed about millionaire-hood, it was drawn from these images.  I would have a swimming pool, but also "critters."  I imagined having my own private film libary so I could watch Duck Soup or The Pink Panther any time I wished.  I wanted a two-way wrist radio like Dick Tracy - this I knew would never really happen - and a Visio-Phone like on the Jetsons, so I could see as well as hear who I was talking to, another thing I knew would remain in the realm of fantasy, and a rotating treadmill like George Jetson walked his dog on.

And dear Lord, dear sweet Lord, I made it.  In the afternoons, I walk past my pool - "a vinyl pond" instead or concrete, to feed my chickens and collect their eggs.  I usually wear a panama hat, not unlike Thurston's.  My television has on offer a plethora of viewing choices, more than I could ever want, and I have a mobile phone that makes Dick Tracy's gizmo look like a Cracker Jack toy.  And my iPod, I can't even begin to say how marvelous that is.  In the evenings I go into the YMCA to run on a treadmill.

And best of all, oh, best, best of all - My wife, beautiful and completely mad in her way as I am mad in mine, who still makes me wild.

I'm ready for my top hat.

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