19 December 2012

Local Lear

My father has a friend, Pat, who worked for the fire department, but who also was an actor and even ran his own theatre for several years. He found a cheap place, fixed it up, lived upstairs and put on whatever plays he wanted to in the theatre on the ground level. He did modern classics, old plays and even one of his own, which was a funny and entertaining piece of work.

Pat is a gruff, macho Irish guy with a square face, short nose and contrastingly soft brown eyes. His voice, gravely from whisky and cigarettes, was straight out of film noir. He made some money doing commercials where he played a version of the George C. Scott version of General Patton. He, of course, made more money from those commercials that only played in a few local markets than he ever did as a theatre owner.

He liked to smoke Mores -- long, dark cigarettes, and he was a helluva a performer. Pat acted brilliantly, and acted as well as anyone I've seen, off or on the New York stage.

His personal life was less accomplished. I didn't even know he had children until a few months ago. He had been married, to a woman he'd met later in life, and who was younger that him. She committed suicide a few years ago.

(Goriot on his death bed)

Then he suffered a stroke. On what he thought might be his deathbed, he told his son and his daughter that he had a lot of gold coins stashed around his home, and he told them where they were. The coins add up to $400,000 or so, depending on the market.

His daughter hasn't been able to find work for two years. He's helped her, but only so much. His son has a government job. Decent money, but you know how that goes.

He recovered from the stroke, but they had him committed. They found a so-so retirement home. In one wing of the home, they keep the lunatics, the demented and the non compos menti in locked rooms.

So Pat found himself there, locked down, among the insane. He tried to convince the staff that he was, in fact, sane. As would any person suffering from insanity.

Proving your sanity is quite difficult. Especially when you're old, have a bad temper and are coming out of a near-debilitating stroke. It doesn't help when your two children, seemingly caring and concerned, insist that you desperately need psychiatric care

What the officials didn't know was that the children rifled the stash of gold coins. Kind of a pre-inheritance bounty

Back in the ward, Pat made some desperate calls to old friends whenever he had a chance. Finally, some old firefighters got together  -- for safety, just in case -- and paid him a visit. To their surprise, Pat was lucid.

"No crazeir'n he ever was," was how one of them put it.

Now Pat's lawyered up. He's taken his children to court to get himself released and some money back so he can finish his days with some comfort.

When you look at the literary and historical evidence, it's obvious that inheritances cause more trouble than they're worth. At the same time, you have an overpowering craving to build something up -- wealth, connections, experience -- that you can pass along.

Just now, I have safely avoided the dangers of passing along any level of wealth to my children. I have, and will continue to remove any temptations from them. They won't have much from me, other than my blessing and whatever advice they ask for.

It's probably better for all of us that way.

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