Biff America: Wisdom on a bar napkin
Special to the Daily
“Who steals my purse steals trash.”
It was a crumpled note, written about 15 years ago, on the back of a bar napkin. It was old and stained but on that day, it was a gift more precious than a Rolex. When I rediscovered the message, in the back of a desk drawer, my anger and frustration over a decade gone was recalled with clarity.
Many of the really funny people whom I’ve worked with over the years are slightly nuts. Perhaps emotional pain tends to give one a bizarre and comical perspective on life. Or maybe pretending to be happy, while feeling just the opposite, can drive you crazy.
If I were ever going to go mental due to obligatory humor, it would have been on that day. At the same time I was required to “be funny,” I had to face the fact that I was a crime victim.
A few months prior, my wife and I gave a man a considerable sum of money to perform a service. We did everything correctly as far as paperwork and due diligence goes. But somehow we got caught up in this person’s personal and professional problems, and it looked likely that we would take a huge financial hit.
Even at the time we knew that although we stood to lose some money, our lives would not change to a large degree.
Maybe that was the reason my mate wasn’t nearly as bothered as I was, or maybe it is because she is more enlightened.
Like a codependent spouse who feels the poor treatment he receives is somehow deserved, I felt a mix of anger, guilt and embarrassment — guilt because I was gullible, embarrassed that I could be so easily fooled. For Ellen this is not the case. She felt sorry for the guy who stole from us. While I ranted and left him threatening messages, she reminded me, “It must be stressful for him owing all that money. He might go to jail.” She added, “I feel sorry for his girlfriend. They seem like such a nice couple.” At the time I considered her naïve. Now I’m inclined to believe she was simply astute enough to be able to place compassion over cash.
I remember my mood that day clearly. Having agreed to work an event months earlier, I could not rescind. It was an easy job as far as that goes; I’d be on stage for about 40 minutes, “being funny” — which has always come easy for me. It’s easier to be funny when I’m happy, and, until that day, I was almost always happy.
Two minutes before I was handed the microphone I was on my phone with lawyers and detectives. After months of guarded optimism I had come to the conclusion that our situation was close to hopeless. We very likely had lost an amount of cash that it takes some people more than a year to earn.
Considering my frame of mind, I must say, I was fairly entertaining that day. The mood was good, the crowd gentle. But even while working I knew that as soon as I left the stage, my situation would be the same as it was when I began.
I didn’t see my wife in the crowd. Before I left home I told her how upset I was and that it might be better for her not to attend.
I walked off stage, picked up my briefcase and hoped to make a clean getaway.
I found a message written on a bar napkin stuffed in the handle of the case. It put my day and life in general in a beautiful perspective:
Honey, I snuck in to watch you. You were great. We are so lucky. Who cares about money when we have each other? Sorry I left the house a mess. I’ll clean tomorrow or next week. Could you pick up a bottle of red wine on your way home?
Looking back with more than a dozen years’ perspective, my anger certainly was not commensurate with the potential impact on my life. It is a sad state of affairs when we equate wealth with joy. My sin was having a mindset that allowed someone who stole my money to steal my happiness.
It took a few years but eventually we came out almost even.
I put that old note back in my desk in case I ever need reminding that it matters little whether you’re fortunate in finance as long as you’re lucky in love.
Contact Jeffrey Bergeron, aka Biff America, at firstname.lastname@example.org
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