“I don’t see why everybody’s so down on Congress,” said Cousin Fran. “What have they done wrong?”

“I don’t think it’s what Congress did,” I said. “It’s what they didn’t do. Between the Tea Party types wanting to liquidate the government altogether, and the liberals pushing for more government—gun controls, regulation of the environment, higher taxes for the wealthy—you’ve got gridlock.”

Cousin Fran waggled her fork at me, splashing around bits of chicken croquette. “That’s just what I mean. If you’re smart and work hard, why shouldn’t you make a lot of money? Why should the government stick you with higher taxes just because you’ve done well?”

I tested a French fry. “Fran, the idea is that the people who take the most out of the economy ought to put the most back in. Regrettably, Congress doesn’t always see it that way.” I’d had to go out to Centerville yet once more to persuade the town fathers to let Uncle Clifford stay in his own home. “I’ll see that he doesn’t do it again,” I had promised, although how I was going to mange that I was not sure. “It was only because one of his old army buddies sent him a bottle of Jack Daniels. I don’t know where he got the Roman candles. We’ll pay for the mayor’s windows. Just send me the bill.”

Whatever the true story, lunch with Cousin Fran was mandatory. We met at the Soup Spoon as usual. I’d pushed for a place where the French fries had been cooked fairly recently, possibly even on the same day, but Fran had been adamant. “They always gyp you in those other places.”

I had decided not to argue. We continued. “Fran, at least part of the problem is that a lot of wealthy people like to think that Congress belongs to them.”

“Why shouldn’t they own Congress?” Fran said, returning her fork to her croquettes. “They paid for it.”

“I don’t believe that was exactly what Madison and Washington had in mind when they were writing the Constitution.”

Fran jabbed her fork vehemently into a fry. “What have those guys got to do with it?”

“Well, given that the whole fracas with the British started because the Americans thought that the Brits were taxing them unfairly, the Founding Fathers naturally took some interest in taxes. They figured that if the government couldn’t raise money somehow, it couldn’t do anything else—build bridges and roads, fight off invaders, dig canals, whatever.”

“Sure, but why take it out on rich people?”

“Because they’re the ones who have money. There’s no use taxing the poor because they don’t have any money. The rich don’t like giving away money anymore than anyone else does. They make donations to elected officials expecting to get something in return. That’s why we have reduced taxes for capital gains, breaks for depreciation, and so forth. You have to have a good tax accountant to work your way around the complexities of the tax regulations. Most people can’t afford tax accountants. The wealthy can and they know how to take advantage of the loopholes.”

“If they can’t afford it, they shouldn’t complain,” Fran said. “You don’t see me complaining.”

“True, Fran.” I paused, looking for a way to speak tactfully. “But many people don’t have a sizeable trust fund to manage.”

“Believe me,” she said, shaking her fork again, “It’s a good thing Aunt Adele left me in charge of it. There wouldn’t be anything left by now if I hadn’t been handling it.”

“As a matter of curiosity, how much of it is left?”

“Oh,” she said, looking vaguely around the room. “There’s enough to last him.”

I eyed her. “But not beyond.”

“He has a lot of expenses. Believe me, it isn’t easy keeping track of everything. He’s very sly. I have to watch him like a hawk. Turn my back and he’s on the phone to the liquor store. Or ordering dirty books from the internet.”

My curiosity got the best of me. “What sort of dirty books?”

“Oh, you know what they’re like. Hemingway and Lolita and those.”

“Yes, reading Hemingway is a bad idea, especially for a writer. You end up feeling that you have as long way to go. But surely, The Sun Also Rises isn’t likely to corrupt Uncle Clifford. It’s mostly about bull fighting.”

“I don’t care what it’s about. I didn’t think the post office was allowed to handle stuff like that.”

“Postal clerks can hardly inspect every parcel to check for curiosities.”

“Whatever they do,” said Cousin Fran crossly. “Uncle Clifford shouldn’t be throwing his money away on stuff like that. He’s going to need it. Who knows how long he might live.”

“Yes,” I murmured. “His mother lived to be ninety-five, as I remember. I can see where that might be a problem for you.”

“He better not, is all I can say.”

The direction of the conversation was growing perilous and I decided to return to an earlier subject. “There’s one thing that can be said for Congress. If it hadn’t been for the current inheritance laws, most of Uncle Clifford’s trust fund would belong to the U.S. government by now, regardless of what Aunt Adele wanted.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying all along. What right has the government to tell people how much money they can have? That’s the whole idea of America: anyone can be rich if they try hard enough.”

For more humor by the author see his ebook, Popular Disasters: A Glancing Blow at Life, at Search for James Lincoln Collier.

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