Pockets To Let

     I’m not sure I’ve ever even met anybody who was rich.  Oh, I have chatted on a friendly basis with people who might admit they were successful, or well-to-do, or comfortably well-off.  But the ones who were willing to discuss the matter with me could always cite someone richer than they were, someone whose affluence was a distant mark to which they could only aspire.

     Mind you, I can’t say that everyone I ever knew felt this way.  There seem to be a lot of people who remember they have to rush to another appointment when you ask “Are you rich?”

     I think the question here is not one of some subjective term like “rich” but the more immediately understandable (if still subjective) concept of “having enough”.  People who are rich have enough money for anything they choose to buy, and nobody ever really has enough.  Postcard cartoonists have long understood that, and there was no way to raise a sympathetic chuckle like showing some poor bloke who just couldn’t scrape up the necessary.

     Carl Sandburg wrote of the sweet hellos and goodbyes people whispered to their money, and the cartoonist was willing to show that all affluence is fleeting, if not actually an illusion, as in the chap at the top of this column, who invested in a bunch of sure things.

     Having enough money is, of course, all a matter of luck, as some postcards found out to their sorrow.

     And although there were plenty of postcards advising you to get out and get under, to take arms against your troubles, and keep looking up, the cartoonists knew that the FIRST thing you need to do when you’re broke is complain about it.  This is one of a series of European postcards with almost-okay English captions which illustrate what would have been an amazing opera about being completely out of clover.

     I wish I could find the whole series dealing with these gentlemen who sing somehow while devoid of the dough-re-mi.

     These cards were embossed: the surfaces of the star of the picture were raised above the flat background, and liable to friction.  In this case, it helps: the loss of color gives their clothes a more threadbare look, lending a little more authenticity to their arias about their lack of substance.

     There are, of course, resources available to the low-income individual.  I feel this one, from the 1960s (if you couldn’t tell the clothes) is a tad bit harsh.  It probably appealed to those who were broke but not broke enough for government aid.

     But even in the nineteen-aughts, people knew there were ways out of financial difficulties, though these might involve still greater difficulties.  (Is there any truth to the story of one of my favorite authors who, it was said, would find himself broke and take all the first editions of his own books to the pawn shop, use the money to buy enough whiskey to help him write another book, and then go back to the pawnshop with the money from his publisher and buy all his books back?  Or did he make that one up himself?)

     In any case, there are always optimists who are willing to keep looking up even when reserves are down.  Remember this, broccolini waffle, when you have spent all your money at a book fair and can’t afford lunch.

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