Michael Gurnow



A Rich Man’s Tale:  The Case of Van S. Dollard

For Latham Hunter

“ . . . because easy is getting harder every day . . .”

¾Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation

I am a rather elderly man.  The nature of my avocations, for the last thirty years, has brought me into more than ordinary contact with what would seem an interesting and somewhat singular set of men, the psychotically rich.  I have known very many of them, professionally and privately, and, if I pleased, could relate various histories at which good-natured gentlemen might smile and sentimental souls might weep.  But I waive the biographies of all other of the monetarily gifted for a few passages in the life of one Dollard, who was such a man, the strangest I ever saw or heard of. 

Now when I say “psychotically rich,” I do not mean that as an insult, far from it, because my livelihood depends upon such men¾for I am a licensed psychologist.  The catch is that I only work with the rich whose fortunes have created various complexes, psychoses, and other mental and physical illnesses as a consequence of their overbearing wealth. 

            It was an ordinary day when I received Mr. Van S. Dollard for the first time.  Finely dressed, impeccable appearance, grace, style, charm, charisma¾all the things that money can buy (or buy the appearance of).  This patient seemed to be my average affluent crack-up:  invincibly perfect on the outside, but inside, suffering infinite amounts of pain and suffering that, try as he may, could not find a way of which to rid himself.

            Mr. Dollard hadn’t always been rolling in dough.  No, he was one of those one-in-a-million cases, literally.  He was a lottery winner.  So his case was indeed special.  He hadn’t grown up in wealth with servants at his beck and call, private schooling, fine cuisines, and a puppy that never shed.  No, Dollard grew up in middle-class white suburbia.  He had spent his childhood and adolescent years with his mother, never having known his father.  He had maintained a job since the age of 13 at a local diner, while attending high school and later community college.  This was far from your picture-perfect Cleaver household, no less the Winston Banks’s of the Fresh Prince mansion.  No, instead of having caviar served by Geoffrey to little Dollard after tennis practice at the club, he was outside shooting hoops with Geoffrey and the other neighborhood kids while Mom made ham and cheese sandwiches.

            He told me of how everything in his life had been a chore.  He spoke of how he was forced to get up, go to school, go to work, mow the lawn, walk the dog, do homework, and then go to bed before starting again at step one the next morning.  Then, later in life he was forced to work more.  Research for class, paying taxes, repairing the car, and mowing the lawn had produced the pre-affluent Dollard.  He remarked that he merely was working his way to death.

            So came, right at the peak of three o’clock, yet another rich, depressed, frustrated mental case like a thousand others.  He introduced himself and began list his ailments.  He seemed to be my typical patient, pretty on the outside, ugly on the inside.  Now, what I’m about to disclose might seem a bit odd, but keep in mind that the life and lifestyle of the rich differs quite a bit from that to which you and I am accustomed.  They live completely different lives, lives that consist of different experiences, pains, pleasures¾literally everything¾from what you and I have come to know and understand to be life, so bear with me.

            My typical patient will speak of how his tea wasn’t brewed correctly at brunch and how it threw off his one o’clock with the head of the club, or how the tailors had used Pochumpalli instead of Oraganza in last month’s supply of silk boxers.  These are the dilemmas that pose the day-to-day struggles for such people.  Such people are allowed to worry and fret over things that you and I would be more than glad to bitch and moan about.  Just remember, the starving person would loved to have had that Big Mac that wasn’t supposed to have pickles on it, the one that you and I tossed into the trash at lunch today.  But keep in mind, these are very serious issues for the excessively rich, just as a severed limb or the loss of a child is serious for the minimum wage slave who placed the pickles on the burger. 

            It seems as if, in view of the circumstances, the existence of not just a problem, but rather any problem was Dollard’s problem.  You see, even before winning the lottery, Dollard’s dream was to create a utopian world for himself in which he wouldn’t have to bother with things that plagued him as it did as a blue-collared dishwasher.  After dropping out of junior college, his mother’s death and no other family or friends to turn to, Dollard started playing his chances.  He didn’t see that he had anything to lose except his routine and what little change accompanied the lint in his pocket.  And as his luck would have it, the chances turned out in his favor.

            Well, this “no-worries” existence that Dollard had sketched out in his mind, the one he had plotted ever since early childhood, was . . . how shall I say this . . . fanciful to say the least.  When he first told me his plan I had to pause for a moment, anticipating the grin, as people with too much time and money are apt to make such crude jokes not knowing any better.  And, in some cases, without really being aware of it, the result of such people not having anything better to do with their time.  But, regrettably, this was not the case for Dollard. 

            Immediately going from Bartles and James to sparkling white wine, Dollard set out to fulfill his “no obligations” mission.  He did the things that most of us would think would alleviate the perpetual burden of the routine labeled life:  He quit his job, bought a new car paid in full, a new house paid in full, all the things to make life simple, the things that the average person works an entire lifetime for, in order to¾at the very end of life¾enjoy for a few fleeting moments.  He even hired a part-time accountant to take care of his finances.  Well, it seems that as the ease of life got easier, Dollard had to constantly rethink his Lotusian philosophy of being because, to his surprise, his life was getting, ironically enough, inversely tougher. 

            After paying off all debts and obtaining any and all conveniences modern man could possibly have at his disposal, he discovered that the use of such time-, money-, and energy-saving items required work.  The fruit juicer demanded a person to insert an orange prior to producing the fresh, cool beverage.  The same went for the shiny car; it needed someone to wax it before it glistened.  This was remedied easily enough in Dollard hiring numerous waiters, servants, attendants, and workers.  He now had an estate keeper, a bar keep, a chef, even an on-call pedicurist.  At this point most people would think that this, indeed, was what a person would dub “The Life.”  However, for Dollard, it created yet another problem in which, for him to achieve his dream, must be confronted and resolved. 

            Several months down the line, Dollard recognized that to enjoy a book, he had to put forth the effort to read it.  The same went for the live bands that performed in his café every Thursday night and Saturday evenings:  He must pay attention and listen to the music in order to enjoy it.  He began by having his books read to him.  Then realizing that, as with the music, he had to participate, which meant expending energy, which was yet another unaccounted form of work, he cancelled the readings as well as the music.  Dollard thought he was finally reaching his low-maintenance life, a life, which, in every sense of the word, was anything but work. 

Dollard began thinking, constantly reevaluating his life in order to make sure he wasn’t wasting energy needlessly.  The effort required to enjoy music and reading, which he considered a type of recreation, was similar to the pleasures of eating and drinking.  Thus, he deduced, there was an obligation on behalf of the person eating to cut, scoop, lift, chew, and shallow throughout the course of a meal.  So he hired someone to feed him, since the chef was too preoccupied with three five-course meals a day to stop and serve the dishes.  But after further analysis, Dollard had realized he hadn’t come full circle:  He then had someone hire a full-time nurse to administer IV to him in order to eliminate the burden of consumption from his daily routine.

He realized that, at the opposite end of the food cycle, energy was being carelessly expended as well.  These life-draining outlets were taken care of by way of catheters and then, coming to the conclusion that a certain amount of energy was required in order to expel these waste products, an inventor was soon on the premises to devise a body vacuum.  The deduction on Dollard’s behalf was a welcome relief for those who worked in the same vicinity as the millionaire, for Dollard had ceased to burden himself with having to put on and take off articles of clothing each morning and every night, not to mention the wasted effort going back and forth to the bathroom during the course of the day.  He’d carried his philosophy as far as refusing to go to the restroom and began relieving himself wherever he might happen to be.  Of course, a full-time cleanup crew was not far behind with pooper-scupper and vacuum.

            Dollard was shortly living life in a voice-activated mobile wheelchair.  This worked well for Dollard until one of three resident philosophers pointed out that the act of speech, as well as that of thought, kept him from being completely efficient in achieving his goal.  Yes, a life in bed, being administered to intravenously, laced with morphine in order to slow down the body’s functions, thus creating a lack of need, desire, and¾at base¾activity, thus creating less of a demand and expenditure of energy, was how Dollard was now living his life.  Upon waking, a nurse would quickly issue another dose of the opiate instantaneously rendering Dollard unconscious until his next waking moment. 

            The philosophers, prior to Dollard’s bed-ridden state, proposed that he hire, with the approval of Dollard’s supervising council, someone to act for Dollard, in essence as Dollard, in order to relate the millionaire’s desires and wishes if any were to arise.  The actual Dollard, preparing for his upcoming barbiturate-laden existence, soon would not be accountable for any type of action or thought, which, in any case, would require energy to perform.  The council lived in the northwest wing of the Dollard estate, Dollard now staying in the southernmost wing at all times, upon the dietician’s report that the body’s absorption of minerals flowed much more efficiently the closer one was to the equator.  The communications dispatcher quickly sent the message, the council members assembled in an emergency meeting, and the answer came back a resounding Yes. 

            So, at this point I must admit, I have never met the actual Mr. Van S. Dollard.  The person from whom I have gathered this interesting tale has been appointed the facsimile Dollard.  This individual stated that he had come on the advice of his mistress, wife, and rotary club to get my professional opinion of the matter as a whole, whether or not the situation may be psychologically damaging, though he never stated if he were speaking in his own interests or those of Mr. Dollard.  (Though it is not as if the actual Dollard would know the difference.)  Nevertheless, he had come to inquire if it was in his best interests to be doing what he was, or rather, was not doing. 

In Dollard’s third session, which was only yesterday, we talked of the contents of the Dollard palace, aptly titled¾in honor of its owner¾the Elysian Fields.  This designation came by way of one of the recently rehired novel readers, employed once again in case my patient should find it beneficial to be read to once again.  My patient commented on the deep bass of one of the readers whom the counsel insisted that they, that is the counsel, be the guinea pigs for during the novel readers’ rehearsals that take place every Tuesday and Thursday after the post-dinner masseuse therapy sessions.  We further discussed, to a very exacting degree, the precise activities that occurred within the estate’s walls. 

As I sit here on the deck of the upper tier of the North Orchard wing of the Elysian estate, having just now settled into my suite in which I have begun my three-month evaluation of Mr. Dollard’s situation, I can’t help but revel in the thought of how lucky some people are, such people as Mr. Van S. Dollard, in which it was my great fortune to have become acquainted.  This, as I jocosely scribble in my journal, “Oh, the humanity of it all!” 



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