Biff America: You get what you pay for |

Biff America: You get what you pay for

My friend Patrick Wall can be very insulting.

Recently, he wrote, “Hey Vladimir, put down your bong, step away from your socialist group grope and read our Constitution. You lefties want to destroy the economy, open borders, raise my taxes and give benefits to folks who won’t work.”

I won’t lie; I took offense to Pat’s insults, partly because all of my favorite “socialist group gropes“ have been discontinued due to COVID-19.

Granted, Pat was responding to my last email where I wrote him, “Your problem, Attila, is you insist on thinking of it as your money. If you would put more effort in cultivating compassion and less time driving your coal-powered monster truck to seal clubbing festivals, you would be a happier person.”

Despite the rhetoric, Patrick and I were not discussing bongs, gropes or Attila the Hun. We were debating socialized health care. Between good-natured taunting, we went back and forth about the pros and cons of a single-payer health care system in America. Pat had lived in a country that did have socialized medicine and had some strong opinions. And I have had friends who were bankrupted by one serious illness.

A little background about Pat. I met him when we worked together in decades past in California. We lost touch for many years until he stumbled across a column of mine and wrote me to tell me I had my head up my butt. What followed was a long and enjoyable pen pal friendship.

Pat and I mostly disagree, but there is much about him I like and respect. He’s smart, kind and successful. He serves food at homeless shelters and volunteers at his church. He is also very conservative. I’m the exact opposite except for the homeless shelter part; I’ve eaten at a few.

It took Pat sitting on a pay toilet for us to finally see eye to eye.

Though there is a fair amount of good-natured heckling, that is a small part of our correspondence. When Pat and I aren’t teasing each other, we exchange our thoughts on books, movies and sports. I’m sure neither of us has changed the other’s mind politically, but speaking purely for myself, I have gained a heretofore unconsidered perspective on some of our debated issues.

Here is how we differ:

For one thing, I believe every American should be provided, free or at a low cost, the best preventive and lifesaving health care available. Pat believes the free market should reign, and private charities should provide for the disenfranchised — not the federal government. I believe the environment should always take precedence over commerce. Pat believes those social programs I support can be paid for only with a strong economy.

I won’t continue on with where the two of us diverge. Of course, I could articulate my feelings, but I won’t presume to articulate Pat’s, except to say he’s a smart dude.

One thing I will say is I immensely enjoy our exchanges because we can argue and insult without hurt feelings. We want the same thing for America but have vastly different ideas about how to get there.

I thought Pat and I were fated to be friends who would never agree on anything, other than the fact that we liked each other. But as luck would have it, we met in the middle on a pay toilet.

Pat’s wife is British, and they have a second home in York, England. According to Patrick, and much to his consternation, northern England and Scotland are a hotbed of pay toilets.

A few weeks ago, he wrote me a funny email about a gastronomical emergency causing the need for him to use a pay toilet that accepted only 50 pence coins. The problem was the smallest bill Pat had was a 10 pound note. With no stores or newsstands nearby to make change, he was forced to stop passersby and ask to borrow 50 pence. He was so desperate that he offered one guy 10 pounds for 50 pence. Finally, Pat ran into a guy who didn’t speak English. Through pantomime, jumping around on one leg and pointing, Pat got his point across, and the guy gave him 50 pence and would accept nothing in return.

Pat’s recount of the event was both clever and hysterical. He ended with, “In a great nation, no person should be denied relief due to their financial circumstance.”

I wrote Pat back with, “Finally, we agree!’” Though I knew only one of us was talking about toilets.

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