Written sometime before 1990
by C. S. Wyatt
This story was written as a tribute to Ambrose Bierce, a noted San Francisco newspaper columnist and satirist. Writing from about 1866 until 1908, Bierce spent most of his time attacking his own class: he had married a debutante and even lived briefly in England. Many people purchased the San Francisco Examiner only to read Bierce’s diatribes against the popular and wealthy. Bierce is best known for The Devil’s Dictionary... which I suggest everyone read. Unfortunately, Bierce is presumed to have died in 1914, while in Mexico to observe the revolution.
money (noun) A blessing that is of no advantage to us excepting when we part with it.
Michael Spears was rich. This character flaw was entirely his own fault, having been born to middle-class parents from somewhere beyond the borders of America. From his parents’ most humble beginnings, Spears grew overweight, indulgent, and basically embraced the American dream of stepping on the less fortunate. In all aspects of the word, he was a success.
Everything Spears did was centered around business, and Saturday night was no exception. His presence at the annual Homeless Charity Ball, a genuine misnomer, since the event not only had a home, but the homeless were not invited, was a business decision. To be seen as charitable, especially when the ball was held at the mayor’s estate, made it easier to receive building permits and inspection papers.
The charity ball, an event where the rich prove that not only can they take $25 from the working man, but they can give $1 back during a fit of conscience. The fact that the people in attendance had made the homeless homeless was not important. The rich were here, after all, to assist the oppressed peoples of San Francisco, donating their $1500 each to a planned shelter, to be built by Houses of the Heart, a non-profit entity founded by the generous Spears. The mayor's wife was, of course, fund-raising chair.
That any one of the gentlemen in attendance could have built a neighborhood worth of houses with spare change found in their pockets before the laundry is done — and don’t think for one moment that servants would ever steal such pocket change — was insignificant. The media, those scoundrels who consider themselves representatives of the working men as they move to houses in Orinda, are present at such balls, not when papers are signed in a city hall office doing actual good. Ask any reporter if they have to wear a tuxedo as part of their job, or a suit and tie. If the answer is yes, then you have found the truth out about reporters. They enjoy the illusion of being part of the establishment, and some eventually become parts of the establishment and are as essential at charity balls as those who paid to attend.
(A certain columnist in this fair city of Saint Francisco indulges in these events quite often, to the point where he is considered to be above even the wealthy of the city. Show the gent a vodka bottle and a lady in an evening gown and he will diligently pursue a column. He was in attendance at the event which is the setting for this tale, but he is truly unessential to the story.)
Spears, gentleman that he is, arrived at precisely 8:30 p.m., one half hour after the affair had started. Tardiness is the fashion, it has been stated, if one has any sense of fashion. Explain this to one of those wealthy men employing you some morning and learn just how unfashionable being tardy truly is. Anyway, Spears was greeted as a hero, the provider of shelter for the poor — though he was admittedly building more homes in Oakland than in the city — by the mayor’s wife. How she adored his new imported-wool suit. Was it tailored locally? And, oh, was he losing weight? Spears looked marvelous. The rich usually do, someone had forgotten to remind the mayor’s wife.
To say the least, Spears was one of the few men rich enough not to wear a tuxedo. He wore a perfectly tailored suit, charcoal grey, single breasted, and simply perfect. One cannot use the word perfect enough. It has, after all, been rendered perfectly meaningless by the rich who use it to describe every aspect of each other. Perfection does not really exist, unless there is a God, and if He is truly perfect, than his life must be rather boring. Then again, many rich people lead dull lives; they might be perfect, for all the rest of us know. Spears was, regardless, well-dressed, properly mannered, and in his realm.
The mayor’s wife did her duly appointed duty and introduced Spears to the guests. He knew them all, but saw them seldom. He exchanged the normal greeting. “Why what a pleasant surprise. It's been ages. You look perfectly divine.” Finally, mayor’s wife reached her destination target, with Spear in arm. Patricia Aliyse Witherton, a debutante (or spoiled brat, for those readers unfamiliar with the pretentiousness of the term), who spent her parents money on looking her best. The mayor’s wife clearly intended to do society a favor and match the best consumer she knew with the best collector of money in all San Francisco. What an admirable task was this. Spears, was after all, only a 36 year old bachelor, with money to invest in a wife, and Witherton was 21, beautiful, and too annoying for anyone humble to tolerate.
The orchestra, a sub-set of the San Francisco Philharmonic, was playing the opening notes of a waltz (Does anyone alive enjoy such organized rituals as a waltz?) This conveniently provided the mayor’s wife with a prompt. “Why don’t you two dance? You would look so very perfect together.” So, of course, Spears did as a gentleman must do: he asked the beautiful young lady to dance.
After a first dance, Spears escorted the young miss to the refreshment table. He properly poured her a glass of punch, lifted a hors d’oeuvres plate from the table for her to select a cold cut, and then asked her to dance with him again. The mayor’s wife, who was standing next to her husband in a corner of the room being shown off as wives of the rich are, stole a glance and smiled. The reason the rich marry is so that they can eventually force their friends to marry. This may be a form of revenge, since marriage is a masochistic venture based on self-humiliation. Marriage is a series of vows taken to guarantee one has a reason to exist. The mayor's wife was simply trying to do Spears a favor all women do for their male friends: imprison him.
On the dance floor, Spears was as smooth as a man of his breadth can be. He moved well, guiding his younger partner with ease. The ball room, with its beautiful inlaid wood floor and high ceiling adorned with gold leaf, was pretentious enough without the presence of the dancers, but they added to the opulence. The homeless would have been pleased just to have such a place to sleep; there was enough room on the floor for several hundred people. But the floor was meant for Spears, not the common people he was here to assist.
While he circled about the floor, Spears briefly forgot about business, he was enjoying himself, strangely enough. But he quickly came to his senses, as all in his class do so easily, and wondered how much his companion’s father must be worth. The plans to expand his enterprises where forming in his mind when Spears committed a social blunder of the worst kind. He dropped dead.
The mayor’s wife screamed, as the mayor and several other men ran to the middle of the floor to inquire of Spear's health. “Call an ambulance,” someone important ordered. Then again, they were all important people, so who yelled the order was not really that special to comment upon. But it was obvious, especially to the beautiful Witherton, who fell under her partner’s weight and was presently trapped beneath his mass. The rich are great consumers, and Witherton was currently all too aware of how much Spears had consumed in his life. The poor lass was having a most troublesome time breathing. It didn’t help her situation that she was in a state of shock at having witnessed a death.
The charity ball, of course, was abruptly halted, though the orchestra was not informed of this fact; they kept playing Blue Danube while the local Democratic boss did his best to roll Spears off of his dance partner. This feat being accomplished, just as the orchestra reached a brilliant climax in the music, proper concern was shown to Witherton by the ladies, while the men tried desperately to revive Spears. But reviving Spears was as unlikely as Spears’ last will and testament leaving all his money to his tenants.
The funeral for Spears was a pure celebration of wealth, not that the rich really need any reason to celebrate their status. It is assumed that for the cost of Spears seven-foot by four-foot underground apartment, including the grand opening ceremonies, several blocks of reasonably decent apartments might have been built to shelter the people he died assisting. Of course, the charity ball did raise $150,000 for the homeless of San Francisco, and Spears found a new home, as well. All-in-all, the charity ball was a great success.
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Last Updated: 04 September 1998