The Benevolent Tatership 

A look into the gift horse's mouth

I have about a ton of stuff I want to bequeath to the state of Idaho. For starts... two old lawn mowers. One of them is missing a wheel and the other doesn't have an engine anymore. But listen, with a little work, they'll still cut grass. And as you know, that new place the governor just got has plenty of grass to cut.

And J.R.'s ... er, s'cuse me ... the guv's house is bound to need a painting sooner or later, and brother, do I have the paint. It takes up a whole shelf in my garage. It's in a lot of different cans--none of which are over a third full--and it comes in a lot of different colors. But since the governor's mansion came with no strings attached--I'm sure--so does my paint.

Let's see, what else? Oh! Mulching material! I have mulching material running out my ears. A fortune in mulching material. I suppose you could call me a billionaire in mulching materials. Rotting leaves piled up in the corners of the yard, dried-up summer flowers that haven't been jerked up by their roots yet and scads of dog poop. If the state sends a crew over to my place in one of those yellow dump trucks, I'll show them where it is. All they have to do is rake it together, haul it off, and Idaho will have all the mulching material they'll need to keep our new governor's mansion in tiptop gardening shape. It's the least I can do, blest as I am in mulching materials, to give part of it back.

If I could, I'd donate my home too. If I were a real billionaire--you know, like in dollars instead of mulching material--I'd have another house or two, and I could move into one of them so's the governor could have a Meridian mansion and a Boise one. But I'm not quite that blest. The reality is, I still need a place to live.

Lucky billionaires. They don't have to worry about reality as you and I know it. They need not bother themselves with piddling concerns such as 30-year mortgages, groceries, who does the cooking and who cleans the dishes ... whether they should go to the mall for a new bowling ball or buy one off eBay. So they have all this extra time to dream up new ways to make reality more to their liking. And if they don't feel like dreaming, they can always pay someone to do it for them. Sweet, eh?

That's why we hundredaires and thousandaires are so fascinated with billionaires: that power they have over their own reality. It's not because they're so good looking, and it's certainly not because they have such pleasing personalities. Just try to imagine Donald Trump without all his money, and basically we'd be talking about a guy who couldn't pick up a drunk hooker at a Holiday Inn happy hour.

Or take J.R., our homeboy billionaire... were he not dripping with all that spud dough, he'd be just another old feller telling his stories to an empty room.

But when billionaires speak, people pay attention. I could call a press conference, and I'm not even confident my wife would come. But if Simplot shows up at a McDonalds and supersizes his fries, it's a half-page feature in the Statesman.

If I'm sounding a little jealous, it's not what you think. I don't envy billionaires for all that money. I don't even envy them for all the nifty things such money can buy. Let's face it, even if I could afford a Rolls, I'd probably burn a cigarette hole in the Moroccan leather before I got it out of the driveway. And then how happy would I be?

No, if I'm jealous, it's because billionaires are like, well ... they're like hippies in a way, aren't they? Hippies with Lear jets. People that rich sort of float above the normal flow of human events, hovering over a sea of trails and tribulations and bad credit ratings without ever getting wet. That's it, they're like hovercraft. Hippy hovercraft.

Or better yet (as long as I'm enjoying some windfall profits in similes here) ... it's like they live in a dimension of their own where common-folks physics don't apply. For example, you and I might go into hock up to our nipples just to spend five days at Sandals in Jamaica. A billionaire can buy his own island and ship in Jamaicans to feed him.

You and I might compensate for the rising price of gasoline by not going out as much. A billionaire can merge with a petroleum company and gain control of the market.

You and I might go to the polls and vote. A billionaire can take the winner on a moose hunting junket to his private county in Montana.

See what I mean? It's almost magical, isn't it? You and I might decide Idaho can get by without a governor's mansion until other, more important concerns are attended to--like deteriorating school facilities and a healthy infrastructure and proper medical care for the working poor and ... oh, so many other important things. A billionaire can simply decide you and I obviously don't know what's important, and then get that governor buddy of his a mansion whether you and I like it or not.

But it's possible that last example is just an Idaho billionaire thing.

Because, try as I might, I can't picture Trump giving up his digs for the governor of New York, can you? Would Ted Turner move into a downtown Atlanta condo so Georgia's chief exec has a fancier place to live? Would the new governor of Washington--whomever that turns out to be--accept the keys to Bill Gates' estate?

Hardly seems likely, does it? And even if that sort of thing were common, I suspect the people in other states (less cozy, less unquestioning states than ours) might complain there was something slightly conflicted with such a gift. Some cynics might even argue that if the people (or their elected representatives) had decided a mansion was something their governor needed so damn bad, he'd already have one.

So, can Idaho's favorite billionaire be that much more generous than all the other states' billionaires? And are Idaho's people that much more unquestioning?

Ah, I suppose we shouldn't examine our good fortune too closely. After all, this munificent bequeathal of J.R.'s is likely nothing more than a symbolic acknowledgment of the warm, cozy relationship we Idahoans enjoy between our economic kings and our political princes. Yup, I'm sure that's it ... just a cozy relationship.

And things will no doubt stay that way. At least, until a distinct possibility becomes an ironic reality, and a certain local billionaire's ex-son-in-law is elected governor and moves his Caldwell cowboy boots into his ex-dad's ex-house. Heh heh, then we'll see how cozy things stay.

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