The scientist yammered at his computer screen, while his opposite number did the same. Back and forth they went on the video call, exchanging “great ideas”. And then, abruptly, the scientist brought both of them up short.
“All this is wonderful! Have you got any money to make this happen?”
“No”, his opposite responded. “I was hoping you had some.”
“Not I” was the rejoinder. “We’re having the wrong conversation here. This call doesn’t need us scientists. We need somebody who can provide the funds to get this done!”
“Well, maybe”, the other man replied doubtfully. “We have a couple folk in the tech transfer office to whom we could talk. Do you think that would help? Right? Right? … hello?”
Alas, the scientist wasn’t listening any more. He had wandered far, far away …
In the first full year that Gerald Ford stumbled his way through the Presidency of the United States of America, Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba traveled to the flagship University of the Emerald City to begin studying for his Ph.D. Said flagship University offered him a stipend, good for the next five years and intended to cover both his educational and his living expenses. He had compared that offer to another that he had received, plus offers that others had described, and declared that it was Good.
Two years later, inflation, fee increases, and a series of events that demonstrated to all but YFNA himself (who had a prejudiced view of the matter) that he had no business being a live amoeba, never mind an amoeba living (if you could call it that) in graduate school, had shrunk the stipend to the vanishing point. Supplemental income … hell, an income … was needed, and fast. (He learned later, and well after it was too late, that while he was trying to work out where his next meal was coming from, his graduate school colleagues were buying and selling houses on the side. They belonged. He didn’t.)
The Amoeba considered his options, and then decided to pull a page from his prehistory. He got on the bus and headed to one of the local country clubs, and hired himself out as a caddie. Cash economy, no bosses, no tax paperwork, no time clock. Might even leave a few minutes a week for the research that YFNA was supposed to be doing.
The country club that YFNA chose to frequent had a reputation for being the choice of the Emerald City’s “old” money. Which, to the caddie trying to pay the rent, meant that the golfers paid less per round of golf than at the other club. But, the golfers at this club were more likely to hire caddies, whereas, at the other, caddies were rapidly, and permanently, being replaced by carts. Steady work at a lower rate was more likely to keep YFNA off the streets during the Emerald City Rain Festival (September to May). So, it was to the “old money” club that YFNA went. And, in due course, he started getting hired regularly, and declared that, all things considered, it was Good.
Then, one fine summer’s day, a golfer who had hired YFNA for the morning’s round happened to ask after his caddie’s welfare, and was profoundly surprised to find that the fellow lugging his clubs was someone Working For Better Things, rather than just trying to get the bread for that night’s drunk. (There were several of those in that caddie shack. Another time.) This fellow, it turned out, was a senior Vice President of a big company working in a Great Sandstone Building next to the University, he needed a gardener, and would YFNA be interested? To an Amoeba working for a Ph.D. in Botany, and with prior experience working grounds, gardening seemed a far better opportunity than risking fights with drunken fellow caddies every weekend. Not just for the money, but, y’know, given how well graduate school had been panning out for him so far, for The Money. Y’know, maybe the Great Sandstone Building had a place for him, yeah? So he agreed.
He started the next day (or the day after, or whenever it was, certainly not long after that round of golf). The gentleman took YFNA to his house, a fine but surprisingly modest property, and showed him around, told him what needed doing and how he wished it done, and then left YFNA to putter and poke. Which he proceeded to do for the next several hours, apparently to the gentleman’s satisfaction. The events of the day left no impression.
At least on this particular day, the humans in this gentleman’s household were the gentleman himself, his wife, and his daughter, a young woman in the general vicinity of eighteen years of age. The Amoeba has no clear remembrance of what the daughter looked like (or, for that matter, what her father or mother looked like), but her voice is burned into his brain like a botched tattoo.
Celebrating her horses and viciously slamming the inadequacies of her parents and everyone and everything else. Pridefully taking her wealth for granted and profoundly insulted that everything wasn’t ten times better than it was, at her say-so. The hit song “Material Girl” was seven years in the future at this point. Madonna could have used this young lady as her model, after tuning down the attitude several notches. The Amoeba sat in the garden, pulling weeds and taking in this performance, and realized that, here was a family that had Money but didn’t have a clue.
Quitting time. The wife and daughter accept the chore of taking YFNA home – actually, to a convenient drop-off point not far from where YFNA was actually residing. Small talk happened while they were in the car. Then, they reached their destination. The wife stopped the car, turned, and said to YFNA, “We’re really glad you were able to be with us today. We hope you’ll be our regular gardener now.”
To which the daughter responded, “Yes, we’d like that.”
Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba thinks he excused himself politely and walked off sedately. What he’s afraid he might have done was slam the car door in their faces and run away in sheer unmitigated terror.
What is certain is that he never went back to the gentleman’s house, and he did go back to caddying. He met the gentleman a few weeks later, at the club, and they exchanged pleasantries and regrets that it didn’t work out.
What is also certain is that, prior to this episode, YFNA’s feelings towards the wealthy were more or less neutral.
Some years later, YFNA was in a meeting with members of the Board of Directors of the company for which he now works. People who had Money, and whose conversations in YFNA’s presence were all about Money, and the ways of life that Money takes for granted. Conversations in which YFNA participated reluctantly, even nervously.
For he realized that he had nothing to say to these people. And they had nothing to say to him. There were no points of contact, no shared experiences, nothing in the Little people’s lives that could possibly matter to the Big people. And vice versa.
And this was never going to change.