Today is my birthday and as a special treat to myself (and you), all this week I’m proud to present a string of Trail Baboon Guest Bloggers! A group so congenial and talented should (and will) regularly share the space here at the top of the entry. If you’d like to have your name put on the list for future guest blog opportunities, drop me a line at email@example.com.
Guest Blog by Steve from Saint Paul
In the 1960s my parents had the extraordinary luck of purchasing an inexpensive shoreline property in a posh area of Lake Minnetonka. Their bargain little cottage looked silly, stuck as it was between two haughty estates. The property on the north was particularly grand. That compound included a mansion, guest house, servants’ dormitory, two utility sheds and a five-car garage.
The guest home, which sat just north of my parents’ fence, was occupied each summer by four fun-loving folks I will call the “Hopkins family.” Their one great accomplishment in life was to choose their ancestors well. They were distant heirs of a robber baron who had accumulated a fortune back before this country had an income tax. The Hopkins family inherited more money than they could have spent in a lifetime of serious dissipation. That wasn’t going to happen, as they weren’t serious about anything, even dissipation.
As a young college student just being introduced to great art and important ideas, I wanted to look down my nose at the Hopkins family. But I couldn’t. While they had the intellectual heft of fruit bats, somehow they made being superficial look great. They were as innocent and irresistible as a basket full of puppies.
When I was home from college on summer break, I could hardly take my eyes off our neighbors. The two barefoot teenaged girls wore swimsuits every day, and the older girl was as pretty as a model. And yet what fascinated me was the spectacle of four people who could make a fulltime job of goofing around.
Ernest Hemmingway is supposed to have said, “The rich are not like you or me. They have more money.” I concluded that the very rich are also different because they might be a little drunker than you or me. My mother once told Mrs. Hopkins that she was getting creaky with age and finding it harder to get going in the morning. “That’s no problem, sweetie,” said Mrs. Hopkins with her deep, smoker’s voice. “I just have a cigarette and two bloody Marys and I’m good to go.”
I was watching the next-door gang one night when their party became more boisterous than usual. The four of them got into a shoving match at the end of their dock. After sneaking behind their father, the girls bounced him into the lake in his street clothes. All four, including the soggy victim, howled with glee at this. A few nights later, they did the very same thing.
One day the Hopkins family invited me over for supper. I was delighted to accept. This would be my first contact with extremely wealthy folks, and I meant to study them like a young anthropologist. Having just read Fitzgerald’s classic novel, I thought of myself as Nick Carraway observing the decadent glitterati of the The Great Gatsby.
It was a pleasant late summer evening. The cooks from “the big house” prepared a tasty meal that we ate in a screened porch overlooking the lake. As usual, everyone was in bubbly high spirits.
Just before dusk we were horsing around at the end of the dock when I suddenly got a clear, blinding vision of what was required. This was the moment when I was supposed to throw Mr. Hopkins in the lake. That was what these people did. That was obviously what they expected me, their honored guest, to do. I’m not an aggressive guy, and yet I didn’t want to let this family down after they had been so nice to me.
I scooped up Mr. Hopkins, which was easy because he was a little guy. After spinning in a circle like a shot putter I pitched him high and far out over the lake. I hadn’t known I could do that, and I was impressed with myself. He really flew.
Mr. Hopkins was still high in the air, his arms and legs windmilling, when I realized how badly I had screwed up. My first clue was the look of terror on his face. It occurred to me (too late, too late!) that Mr. Hopkins didn’t usually go in the drink wearing alligator shoes, prescription glasses, a cashmere sweater and that massive gold Rolex. A silent pall fell over the party as Mr. Hopkins came up spitting lake water and began dog-paddling for shore. Back on the dock, the anxious way he examined his sodden wallet and money clip was my clue that he probably left them in the house on those evenings when he anticipated that the girls would push him in the lake. My unprovoked attack had surprised him almost as much as it shocked me.
These folks had rules for their games, I concluded ruefully, rules that I in my colossal ignorance had violated.
I was never invited back to finish my anthropological studies.
Have you ever tried too hard to fit in? Have you done something silly because you wanted to please people you didn’t know well?