Chris started working at the Greenwood residence the following Wednesday afternoon and he worked on Sundays after church giving him only about twelve or fourteen hours a week on duty. He opted to be a maid rather than houseboy because he really liked the uniform even though it required more time to prep and change into before clocking in. Missy was so delighted that he agreed to help as the subject of her presentation; she gave him the corset she had lent him. Bob had left the decision about Chris’s uniform up to Missy, which was a mistake. But he had authorized her to make the decision and even though he disagreed with her choice, he felt he had to respect her authority once he had delegated it to her. Also, he viewed this particular decision, like most of the hundreds decisions we make each day as inconsequential.
Learning to differentiate important decisions from the inconsequential ones was a skill he wanted to impart to her. That skill could be the difference between being happy and unhappy. Once you recognize how unimportant most decisions are in the grand scheme of things you gain freedom from trivial matters, greatly reducing the stress in your life.
Chris was surprised at the list of tasks required to keep the household running smoothly, everything from polishing silverware, some of it as often as once a month, to dusting inside the kitchen cabinets once every six months. There were massive amounts of glass in the house that had to be cleaned on a regular basis, not even counting the exterior windows, the cleaning of which was outsourced. All doors had transoms and the glass in the library bookshelves alone would take a full day once a year to clean. Chris could image holding the ladder for Missy in her cute little dress as she cleans the glass in the transoms. Then again, it would more likely be him on the ladder and suddenly the heels and cute maid uniform seemed less practical. Missy had a spreadsheet that had been handed down and updated continuously through the years with all the tasks and target dates on it. There was an old one from 1915 rolled up in a drawer listing tasks for a full staff of servants that had over the decades been replaced by labor saving devices. The most recent versions are on a computer but a hardcopy is posted in the butler’s pantry for all to see. She quickly put Chris in charge of the spreadsheet, undoubtedly training him to take over after she graduated. For him it would mean a pay increase, and free room and board starting next semester and beyond. While the idea of losing his friend distressed him, he tried not to dwell on it. He would just try to enjoy her company while he could. She had said what a great boss Bob was, and Chris was finding that out for himself. Bob treats everyone with respect unless they have demonstrated that they don’t deserve it. Even then he’s polite to them out of self respect. He’s never condescending to young people like some of the instructors at school. Bob says the thing about young people is that you never know who or what they will become. The kid bagging your groceries today could be your doctor in ten years. And your maid could be the governor of the state one day. The golden rule says to treat everyone with respect and if that’s not enough for you, with kids, do it out of self interest. Chris had become increasingly comfortable with his job at the Greenwoods and with his feminine persona. He and Missy had gone shopping several times and he delighted in his ability to fit in unnoticed. He had tried on and bought the “date dress” she had him pick out the day they met, and it held a special meaning for him as a reminder of that day. Now he had a much nicer, but still modest wardrobe, including a regular maid uniform that he never wore. The French maid uniform was the only outfit he really wore, so he didn’t need more.
Classes were going well and he was allowed to use the Greenwood’s library to study. He might also pick up a few extra hours of work while there and out of uniform. He enjoyed the occasional conversations if Bob showed up and felt like talking. Bob had such a well rounded education that conversations with him were a treat. For Bob, any topic was fair game and would be addressed with logic, good manners, and an encyclopedic background of knowledge.
Unlike the bullies in his poly-sci class who are certain of the righteousness of their positions and have no need for other points of view, Bob always starts out with the assumption that he could be wrong. Perhaps that’s why he wants to hear other opinions. He will change his mind if new facts came to light, but the basic principles, the absolutes that are applied to those facts to formulate an opinion, are rock solid and he can easily defend them down to the last detail.
Chris’s class had just discussed a “wealth tax” and he just had to ask what Bob thought. “Do you mean a tax on the rich?” Bob said. “It won’t happen. It’s just a way to play on people’s greed and envy. Personally, I don’t think greed and envy are a good basis for public policy, but before you decide one way or the other, consider historical and philosophical points.
Remember George Santayana’s famous quote, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Historically, every time we try to soak the rich, the middle class gets drenched. The telephone tax was to pay for the Spanish American War in 1898 when only rich people had phones, but soon everyone had a phone and everyone was paying the tax. The income tax in 1913 was intended only for the top 1%. The same is true of corporate income tax that disproportionally hurts the poor who pay a higher percentage of their income for necessities when these taxes are passed along to consumers. Also it makes our products less competitive in world markets so factories close and middle class people lose jobs. The Alternative Minimum Tax quickly worked its way down to the middle class. Then the luxury tax in the 1990’s targeting the rich devastated the US marine industry, boat yards closed, workers were laid off and the US never recovered leadership in that industry. Given a choice between paying high taxes on a yacht built and maintained in the US and having it built, flagged and kept in a Caribbean paradise, the rich chose paradise. Who didn’t see that coming? Those examples don’t invalidate a wealth tax, just the notion that you are going tax only the rich.
States can have a wealth tax because states have more leeway to tax. When creating the federal government the states were stingy with taxing power requiring any federal tax to be apportioned under Article 1 of the Constitution, so it the opposite of a progressive tax. The Income Tax is the only exception due to Amendment 16, but a wealth tax cannot be targeted like an income tax! That is its fatal flaw. It would hit the poor states most and as Florida found it’s easily circumvented, so they dropped it. It would be fun to watch though.”
Bob, didn’t care one way or the other. For him, it was an intellectual exercise, because he felt any revenue gained would be lost from other taxes as the effects reverberated through the economy, making it revenue neutral. He doesn’t worry about events he can’t influence. But, he was now in teacher mode. “Forget the tax and look at basic concepts. If you earn money and buy something durable such as a house or common stock - that is wealth. Or, if you have the talent to create something like a manufacturing company or a beautiful painting, whatever you create is your property until you sell it. We tax that transaction with the income and other taxes which are justified under our power to “regulate commerce”. But, there is no authority under our system to seize private property of a law abiding citizen.
The philosophical basis for our government is that it derives its powers from “We the people”. I lack the right to take your property, so a government that derives its powers from me can’t assume a power I don’t have. That’s tyranny. Such theft violates the golden rule, the 8th Commandment and the 4th and 5th Amendments in the Bill of Rights as well. Worse yet, it leads people to think there is a source of revenue that doesn’t really exist. Compared to government, the rich don’t have that much money either. They already pay most income taxes. But, if we ever steal from those whom we envy, the wealth will just leave the country. The curse of democracy is that all the people get what the majority deserves.”
For Bob, such conversations were purely academic. He was far more concerned about the thought process used to arrive at an opinion than the opinion itself. He wanted Chris to always frame issues in the broadest context, not just seeing them a means to a desired outcome. That’s how you avoid unintended consequences. His opinions on tax policy are irrelevant, but developing the ability to make good decisions in life are an important skill Chris must learn.
Chris admired Bob’s arguments saying. “Few of those arguments were presented in class.”
“That’s a shame. It doesn’t sound like you had a very rigorous debate. A university is where you should be able to discuss any subject with civility and without recrimination. Speaking of the university, I’m told that tomorrow is Missy’s big day. I’m sure you will both do well. I’ve made reservations for the three of us at the best restaurant in town to celebrate what is basically a final exam for her. I’ll meet you two here about 6:30 for the start of our big weekend. OK?”
Missy’s big day came and Chris showed up at the art school to serve as her model for her show called “Beauty and the Beast”. First, she turned him into a science fiction monster and then back into Chris. Then she did her well practiced beauty make up and wardrobe change turning a regular guy into a fairly pretty girl in the dress Chris had picked out that first day. He thought he would be embarrassed standing in front of thirty people while he was in women’s underwear and being laced into the corset, but nobody in the room seemed to care a whit or even consider that it as anything out of the ordinary. It wasn’t about him. They were there to see a demonstration of Missy’s skill and talent.
Chris would be sorry to see her leave town, but Mr. Greenwood had connections in Hollywood and she already had a good job lined up with a production company out there. At the end of her presentation she grabbed Chris by the hand and raised their arms triumphantly announcing to the class that she has a date with this pretty girl, so she would see them all on Monday, and the two of them walked out of class arm in arm. It was a great exit. Her demonstration earned an A from the professor and applause from the other students and teachers present. She has already arranged for a classmate to put everything away and clean up and Chris grabbed his street clothes and shoes as they left.
That evening Bob, Missy and Chris walked to, what Bob called the city’s finest restaurant. It was very stylish, occupying the top of the tallest building in the city. Exterior glass elevators whisked them to the dining area where the tables are located around the periphery of a large circular glass walled room. The tables are mounted on a circular platform that rotates once per hour like a giant “lazy susan” affording a panoramic view of the whole city while you eat. Chris admired the way the food and staff could enter from a room at the center, half a floor below the dining area picking the food off of dumbwaiters coordinated with the table location at that specific time, and delivering it to the tables. He marveled at the efficiency. He was impressed by the tables by the windows, with the great view but that’s not where they were going to eat.
They arrived just in time to see the sunset glistening off the golden Capitol dome and were seated in a private dining room at the very center of the restaurant. It is half a floor above all the other tables, does not rotate and lights in that room could be dimmed with the windows affording a 360 degree view of the city and a glass ceiling giving a view of the stars above after sunset. Chris wondered what it would be like to be up there in a lightning storm.
The food was great, and when the chef came up to greet them, kissed Missy and sat down at the table to talk, it was obvious that Missy and Bob knew him well. He was the household chef from whom Missy had learned so much and he lamented that she was going to Hollywood instead of coming to work for him. It turned out that Bob had staked him to start this restaurant.
Bob is like an onion with many layers. He isn’t one of these people who will try to impress you. He knows most people don’t care, but mostly it’s because his self image doesn’t depend on others. He is quiet and modest, but he is a genuinely nice person who uses his wealth to help those whom he feels deserve and are willing to accept help. Who and how he helps is a matter of personal prerogative, not obligation. Unless Chris had been there he wouldn’t know about the restaurant, just as he would have never known of the Hollywood connection helping Missy. Chris respected the idea of helping people out of public view. It was nobody else’s business. Chris is now cynical about flashy acts of charity that are little more than cheesy PR stunts. Dinner was followed by an evening of dancing and a moderate amount of drinking. At least it was moderate on Bob’s part. Chris was too young to legally drink but old enough to vote on who can launch ten thousand nuclear weapons. Where’s the consistency in that? Chris could not order a drink, but there was nothing stopping him from sampling what was on the table. Bob wouldn’t order drinks for him, but Missy would, knowing it would end up on Bob’s tab anyhow.
There was dancing and a band downstairs. Chris had always avoided dancing due to a fear of failure, but tonight he was spared the burden of asking. He was the girl. Bob danced with each of them and sometimes Missy danced with Chris. She led, and it was great fun. Now he regretted all the times he was afraid to dance in high school. They walked home and Chris noticed the local police keeping an eye on them the whole way. Bob knew each of them by name. This was his town.
Missy couldn’t believe that Chris made it all evening in heels. Chris spent the night in a guest room. The next morning Bob was up before the girls, had breakfast prepared and served them in the dining room. After breakfast, it was the fun Saturday he had promised and they were going to the zoo and botanic garden – by car this time. Missy had warned Chris that there would be drinking on Friday and told him to bring change of clothes in case he didn’t make it home. He wouldn’t want to wear his nice dress all day Saturday so he bought day dress.
At the botanic garden Chris noticed something. He remembered Missy saying that she never would have been exposed the quality furniture, the fine China or the gourmet food if she hadn’t worked for Bob. Chris was changing too. If he had seen the gardens before he would have been awestruck. They were really beautiful, but after the Greenwood’s private courtyard he saw it differently. It was full of people, just like his dad’s fraternal club back home where people would gather for parties. The club was for people with modest houses that couldn’t hold more than fifteen or so people. Bob could entertain two hundred people in his home and not even see them if he chose. Bob, the economics wonk, would be the first to admit that his house was “beyond the point of diminishing returns”, kept more to preserve a family legacy than to meet his needs, but he would quickly add that he was fortunate to have the freedom to “misallocate his resources as he chooses”. They are after all his resources. The lifestyle Chris was seeing was so different from his prior experience that it amazed him.
Bob is carefree. Does he balance his check book? Why should he? The bank’s computer does that. People balance checkbooks so they don’t have an overdraft and have to pay a service charge. He keeps track to prevent fraud, but as long as there is more money in the account than the check he writes, why concern himself with such trivia? He doesn’t clip coupons either. His wealth means he doesn’t have to sweat the small stuff that dominates the lives of poor people freeing him to tackle other things from business ventures to just thinking about the human condition. The Greenwoods live on a different plane of existence. Chris could either resent it or aspire to it. The choice was his.
The bullies in his Poly-sci class would hate Bob. The fact that he is a nice person who helps others wouldn’t matter. They would hate him out of jealousy and call it “white privilege” but he isn’t rich because he is white. It was actually “smart privilege”. He’s rich because someone built textile mills a hundred and fifty years ago providing hundreds jobs and then invested the profits wisely creating more jobs for more people and more goods and services that people wanted to buy. Then they not only passed their money down to loved ones, they passed down the skill to keep it going. Every dime Bob has was freely given to him in exchange for goods and services that people wanted as compared to governments that can take money by force. They got back to the house and the big Saturday was over. All three of them cooked supper, and once again ate in the dining room. They both thanked Bob for his hospitality.
Thanksgiving was coming and Rachael arrived home from school out of state on Tuesday evening. There was a warm spell and on Wednesday afternoon the swimming pool beckoned.
Chris showed up for work that afternoon and quickly changed into his uniform. Checking his computer generated “Things to Do List”, he started cleaning the dining room getting it ready for tomorrow’s feast and decided to check and clean the pool house outside bathroom if needed before waxing the tables in the parlors. As he walked past the pool he noticed a pretty girl buck naked sunbathing on a chaise lounge. He couldn’t resist the temptation to get a good look. He especially admired the small of her back and her lovely round bottom.
He had cleaned the pool house and finished cleaning the bathroom and began his return trip across the courtyard. In the intervening time, Rachael had rolled over and was now on her back basking in the sun. Once again Chris couldn’t resist feasting his eyes and admiring her exquisite breasts and flat tummy. Missy was right; he was a tummy man. No doubt about it.
Unbeknownst to Chris, Bob and Missy were in the study watching him. The click click of Chris’s heels woke Rachael slightly and she called out. “Missy, could you bring me some ice tea please?” To which Chris responded, “Yes Miss. Sweetened or unsweetened?” But, his voice was less feminine than his attire or the sound of his heels implied. Alerted to something out of the ordinary she awoke and sat up grabbing a towel.
Collecting her wits and having secured in the towel she answered, “Sweet tea please” and Chris replied “Very well, Miss.” He turned and walked away, click, click, click. Clearly that was not Missy and once Rachael figured out what had happened, she laughed at the boy in the frilly petticoat, dress, and high heels. But, that didn’t diminish her embarrassment from being caught naked by this strange boy. Bob and Missy were upstairs laughing hysterically having forgotten to warn either Chris or Rachael of the other’s presence.
There would be consequence.