Some 30 years ago, I was a High School Jr. living in Mansfield Texas. At that time Mansfield was still a small town of several thousand people, mostly spread about the surrounding countryside. There was an old downtown area at the corner of Main and Broad with a few ramshackle store-fronts that had seen much better times decades before. In one of the buildings on Main St., across from the hardware store, there was a pool hall that looked like something out of an old western. It was a long and narrow space with a beat up and dusty wood floor, a jukebox and five pool tables lined up parallel. On the walls were the house cues, racks and chalk. I don't recall a sign out front, but the proprietor's name was Fred, and everybody called this place Fred's Pool Hall.
Fred was a crusty old guy of indeterminate age, maybe 70, maybe 80. He was about 5' 2" tall, and I would guess around 250 lbs. Every time I ever saw him, he was wearing the same pair of worn out blue denim bib overalls, a lumberjack shirt and work boots. In his mouth was a moist and chewy cigar, that he pulled out when he growled and mumbled his largely unintelligible speech. He smelled like tobacco smoke and the sweat of a working man. Old Fred was like a bull-dog watching over this pool hall, snapping at anybody who got out of line and generally keeping the order. That was his job and he took it very seriously.
It was normally on evenings or weekends when my friends and I would stop in. I was no pool player, and being of modest means, I simply did not have money to spare to drop into the slot. I was mostly there to hang out with the guys, and crack wise. From my description of Fred, you can probably guess that he was not too keen on wisecracks or wiseguys in general. In fact he commonly ran somebody off for some minor irritation or infraction of his rules. As you can imagine, being a wiseguy, I was inclined to live on the edge; I wanted to push the envelope, but stop short of getting banished from the hall. On one such occasion, I happened to have an extra dollar to play pool, so I called Fred over to our table. He walked over with his smell and his grumpy attitude, snatched my dollar out of my hand, and began the routine of making change. I remember the stack of money in the wallet was especially impressive this day. There was more money in there than I had ever seen. So, I reached out my hand with pointed finger, touched the bills inside the fat wallet and said something genius like, "Wow look at all that; You're Rich!" That was when Fred smacked me up side of the head with his smelly cigar hand and snarled "GIT OUTTA MY MONEY!" My friends were falling about the place laughing as I put on a stupid comic's grin. Fred coolly laid my four quarters on the table and walked off chewing his cigar. His expression didn't give away much emotion, but the twinkle in his eye and the fact he didn't run me off told me he got a kick out of the episode. I think old Fred got this one right; He had worked hard for that money and I had no business in it.
I had not thought of this story in many years until recently when I heard of President Obama's plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest 2% of Americans. According to him, the wealthiest Americans are those couples who make more than $250,000 per year, and he and his minions are poised to milk the politics of envy for everything its worth. Though we do not yet fall into this vaunted category as defined by Obama, my wife and I worked our way through college, and have shown up to work every day to put ourselves into the position where that number is within our reach in the near future. We have worked for it our entire lives. We have a nice home with a hefty mortgage, modest 401K plans, and late model cars. It may look to a goofy high school kid or others with limited perspective that we have a lot, but believe me, every penny is spoken for in debt. While we may be approaching the upper percentages among workers and wage earners, we are by no means rich or among the wealthiest 2% of Americans.
When I think of a bureaucrat greedily eying the fruits of my labor, and coveting the money I have worked for all my life, I see myself sort of like crusty old Fred. I don't wear the same clothes every day like he did, I don't chew cigars, and I can communicate tolerably well. However, don't let this semi-polished and civilized exterior fool you. I am a working man, I pay my bills, I take care of my obligations, and I watch my money. Bureaucrats beware as you ogle the size of my wallet, and make plans to reach inside. Like Fred, my instinct is to slap a knot on your head and growl, "GIT OUTTA MY MONEY!"