A story of two people

Image: Vincent Guth

I’m going to tell you a story about two different people (yes, these are real people from my life — their names, of course, I’m changing to protect the innocent)…

Person #1 — ‘Earl’

Earl is a man of about 75 years of age (give or take). He’s an obvious war veteran, judging by the medals on his hat and the various flair on his jacket.

As I’m standing in line at the local bakery/coffee shop with my daughter, Earl struts in and cuts in line. My position has just gone from fourth in line to fifth. No one says a thing — either because they can’t believe the audacity of what just happened or because they’re biting their tongue due to not wanting to run the risk of getting knocked out in front of their daughter by a man twice their age.

Earl gets to the cashier to order and immediately, he’s going with the shock-and-awe angle. His voice is gruff and he commands the nice young lady behind the counter to get him a goddamn breakfast sandwich (he’s appalled she just didn’t know what to give him, automatically). The whole time she places his order, he proceeds to correct the way she’s writing it down.

She’s nervous. But smiling and laughing through it. Oh, he’s that guy. 
Ugh…

Earl makes it to the point where he’s paying her. Instead of just waiting for his change, he tells her he’d, “Better get back,” x dollars and y cents (I couldn’t really hear). His tone matches that of someone robbing a bank, not someone who’s buying a breakfast sandwich.

The young lady is staggering now, fumbling for words, dropping change everywhere (yes, Earl paid in mostly coins) and trying to enter her own personal time warp to fast-forward to the next customer in line, but it isn’t working. Earl is on the offensive and he’s not backing down. He’s here to insert himself, and he’s not changing his mind.

She gives him the wrong change back. Ugh… I know where this is going. He growls at her and his posture is in full-on beast-mode. He’s offended. Now she’s the problem. His projections are justified. She’s fumbling more, but tries to defend herself by saying she actually gave him the right change. Nope, she didn’t. It’s like watching a train wreck. Earl is not letting this young whippersnapper short him out of seven cents. She finally realizes he’s right and gives him the loot. He struts away feeling annoyed and grumbling the entire time he’s munching on his ham and egg bagel.

When he gets done, I see him walk out to his brand new SUV, parked on the fire lane (handicap parking was just too far).

Person #2— ‘Dan’

Dan is about the same age as Earl and is a member of a very exclusive country club I once worked at. Dan was once a high-powered attorney for several of the companies you and your parents are very familiar with and still practices law (you know, just for the fun of it).

The club I’m taking you back to is in the northern suburbs of Chicago where they use caddies, not golf carts. It’s actually where Bill Murray grew up caddying and is the inspiration behind the best movie of all time, Caddyshack (no joke, many of the characters in the movie are still members/employees there). I happened to be the Caddymaster, dealing with the responsibility of pairing up members with their caddies.

Every single caddy wants to loop for Dan. See, the club is a no-tipping club. Members pay their caddy a fee but are not supposed to tip extra.

Dan doesn’t care about the rules and tips anyways. A lot.

But not only that — Dan is a nice guy. He knows every caddy by name and shows genuine interest in their lives. Instead of spending the round on his cell phone doing deals, he talks to them. Many of these caddies are from Mexico. They come up every spring and work for the season, then they head back home for the winter. He asks about their wives and kids. He’s even been said to have put a couple through college here in the states.

One day, I walk up to Dan when he’s alone, practicing his putting. I chuckle and tell him how the hardest part of my job is keeping caddies from fighting over him. I thank him for his generosity and he tells me a story. He tells me how, when he was a kid, he caddied at a neighboring club. Since his family was poor, he’d take the train up from the south side of Chicago. One time, his shoes got so worn out from caddying so much that his right toe poked through and was exposed. The member he was caddying for one day noticed this and bought him a new pair of shoes. He told him that, if he ever needed anything — anything — to just let him know. Eventually, this member put him through law school.

“I’m just buying shoes, Jonas,” Dan told me.

Around the club — whether from caddies on the course, waiters in the restaurant, lifeguards at the pool, or attendants in the locker room — Dan got the very best service. Many other members tipped just as much (if not far more) than Dan, but Dan genuinely cared about and took time to connect with these people who made his time away from the office so special.

Now, let’s compare…

Earl wants to be treated right. He’s sick of incompetent people. When he wants a breakfast sandwich, he wants a damn breakfast sandwich. And he wants it now.

I don’t know Earl, but I’m guessing he carries a sense of entitlement everywhere he goes. He believes the world owes him expedience and competence. And I can also guess that, in most of his dealings with the world, he gets screwed. His reservations probably always get messed up. He probably constantly gets overcharged. This is due to the vibration he emits to the world. It’s one of abrasion and force. He thinks he’s doing himself a service by being this way, but all he’s doing is pissing in everyone’s Cheerios and expecting prime rib in return.

I don’t know Dan very well either, but I can tell you, he’s not focused much on getting. His consciousness lies in giving. He is the steward of his world. He takes care of people. Even people who barely speak his language — those who most in his class look down on. That’s where Dan lives. Dan is abundantly-minded. Not just because he’s a wealthy high-powered attorney (I knew many others who were much wealthier than Dan, but who came across as the poorest hucksters around), but because his focus was on generosity. Everything he got in return was nice, but I could tell the great service he got in return was not what lit him up.

What lit him up was buying shoes.

I’m not sure about you, but I’ll take Dan as a model any day, even though, to the ego, it makes more sense to be Earl.


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