Long have I hesitated, waiting for the most opportune moment. That today
at last I appear on the stage does not mean that moment has come.
Though they say hope springs eternal, mine lay down and died long ago. With no fanfares, no famous last words, no prepaid safety nets. In short I have come to realize that we millionaires will never have many supporters in this country.
Like moles we live deep in the ground; we know very little about one another. But this has been going on for too long! We have a desperate need to draw air into our lungs, to run about freely in the streets, to burst into joyful laughter!
What it needs is for someone to declare this on behalf of us all. And this someone will have to be me. Not that I stand to gain anything by it; indeed, I may stand to lose. But it needs to be done because… because… we are just like the rest of you. There, I've said it.
Sometimes we're happy, sometimes we're sad. We're full of bold plans, yet we worry about that sandblaster we bought; is it not a bit superfluous to our needs? Like everyone else we're as sharp as a knife, as thick as a plank, we fly cut-price and last-minute, we party with old friends, we go on diets, and we have a household budget which sometimes we exceed.
A couple of months back I and a colleague (also a millionaire) were in Moscow, where we dined in a Georgian restaurant. The meal was plain but tasty, and it set us back thirteen thousand. As we were paying I had to agree with my rich friend: you only live once and we weren't going to have our evening spoiled by the Russian government's stupid embargo on Georgian wine when the Italian Barolo was only a little more expensive.
It's the way of the world; one man's a baker, another paints pictures with a hand hot with love, another happens to be a millionaire. The communists made a bold, no doubt creditable attempt to change this system, and we all know how that turned out: before you could say Jack Robinson the most noble-minded paupers were sucked into the merciless pump of history and spewed out at its other end in the villas of their millionaire predecessors.
But things have changed since then, haven't they? So why is it still impossible for us rich to echo Mozart in declaring to the world that our Czechs understand us?
But the fault is not on your side only; we millionaires, too, have some improvements to make. After all, what do you ordinary folk actually know about us?
In the belief that you nourish your view of millionaires on kitsch images of runaway sons bent on evildoing and leering, drug-addled idiots, I am not surprised at the aversion you feel.
But as Lenin knew before us, it's never too late to make amends.
So let us cry, good and loud a splendid „Heave ho!“, thereby joining forces to lift the barrier that divides us. In the incredible event of our success, I would ask you to stay on your own side; your reward, a treasury of tales from the lives of your richer compatriots, will appear in this space every Tuesday. And I can promise the occasional excursion into philosophy. (Even millionaires sometimes feel the need to slam the brakes on the Audi and meditate on life.)
I've decided to open wide my window on the world to give you a clear view in close-up of the life of a rich Czech at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
So fingers crossed that this unprecedented experiment works out. Next time we'll get stuck into our subject good and proper.
When you're a millionaire, flying is unavoidable. To begin with most of the
flying you do is for business. Later you fly because zooming about the world
with no clear object in mind is a good way of spending lots of money.
There's something quite interesting about my own experience of all this, which I would like to share with you. When I still had to work at making my millions (‚work‘ in the sense of having to do anything at all in their service), I used to find the cool blue heights a wee bit intimidating. I'm hardly the hysterical type – and you meet a fair few of those in the air – but the fact remains that a number of aeroplanes on which I have travelled bear in their armrests an exact cast of my palms and fingers. If the whole business surrounding take-off and landing were a little less frantic, I'd be absolutely fine; these people just overdo the speed thing. Once during take-off I placed a request with the stewardess that they take it more slowly, but she refused to convey this to the captain. Snooty cow. I would struggle, too, to get over the firm conviction that the very plane I was travelling in was destined to fall to earth. I still remember my first experiences of turbulence, how I began to compile a mental list of all the people I'd ever wronged prior to asking their forgiveness. At the very top of that list was Eva Novotná, who was forced to perform the cha-cha-cha with me three times in the dance classes.
It's interesting, too, that as soon as I began to fly out of sheer boredom, everything came right as if by the wave of a magic wand. Not long ago I was sitting in an Aeroflot airbus during a heavy storm. Just before we were due to reach Moscow the plane dropped forty metres (my somewhat terror-stricken colleague, also a millionaire, claims it was a least two hundred). I laughed like a drain and joyfully adjusted the sick-bags under the chins of my fellow passengers. In the last few years I've learned to say „It'll be all right“ in eight world languages and in more drastic cases I'm able to perform the last rites in English and Italian. I've become something of a Rider of the Heavens, a fact that was brought home to me on a recent return flight from San Francisco.
The flight was proceeding more or less smoothly… a fall suffered by a stewardess who tripped over the leg of one of the passengers notwithstanding. (The flight down a narrow aisle of a well-endowed, six-foot-tall figure is a sight to see. The great machine withstood it with but the slightest tremor.) But when shortly afterwards there appeared alongside us, on both sides, fighter planes whose wings bore the national emblem of China, most of the passengers became visibly agitated.
I, on the other hand, had the feeling that my time had come. I hastened to unfasten my safety belt and stepped over the spread-eagled stewardess; wearing the smile of a soon-to-be victor I rushed onwards. Calmly I opened the door to the cockpit, inclined my head by way of greeting (time was at a premium), and said:
„Let us pray, chaps.“
The first pilot tightened his grip on the joystick. Then the three of us intoned:
„Our Father, which art in Heaven…“
I was woken by a gentle bumping, produced by the plane on its soft landing on the runway of Munich's Franz Josef Strauss Airport. No praise is too high for this Hypnogen stuff! I stretched, opened wide, gave my oral microflora a good squirt of Healthy Mouth, and began to look forward to the next wonderful flight.
He comes but once a year and he spends exactly two days with me. Never any
longer, but nor does he ever miss – that's my Uncle Karel from Krnov. Uncle
Karel's „church calendar“ includes a visit to the only millionaire
in our extended family just as it contains Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
The spiritual ground plan of a visit hasn't changed for many years. In the floweriest of language my uncle praises to the skies my perceived ability to earn money and I dispute this. I try to explain to him – every year, practically in the same words – that I was inundated with money by chance; every year my uncle chuckles and tells me what a wag I am. Assuring myself it was ever thus and ever thus shall be, I soon become mellow… and assume the role demanded of me, that of a proper millionaire.
Uncle Karel finds money terribly exciting, and that's why you have to assume an air of indifference towards it, as if handling lottery tickets that are no longer valid and haven't been for ages. It's not about how much of it you spend. The important thing when paying up is how you draw it from the back pocket of your shabby old jeans, toss the crumpled notes on the table and stare at it for a moment or two as if you're not quite sure what to do with it. Then you use two fingers to fish out a five-hundred, much in the way you'd pluck a pickled gherkin from a jar, and after this you siphon out a twenty-three-crown gratuity. By now patently bored by the whole transaction you grunt at the waiter, „That's fine, thanks“; his good-natured features luminous, Uncle Karel chirrups that he's been looking forward to this all year. Quite simply, my uncle from the north likes to see a rich man putting himself through his paces. Sometimes I get the strong impression he's fighting back the desire to ask me for my autograph.
Needless to say there was a time when he was persistent in his attempts to get me up to Krnov, claiming the need to repay my hospitality. But it was clear to me from the beginning that what he really wanted was to lead me around the town's pubs like some kind of dancing bear and show me off to his friends. So every time he asked I declined politely. He found this difficult to take until he came to understand that my permanent preoccupation with the earning of more and more millions was on the one hand perfectly excusable, on the other a splendid source of stories – or fibs – that he could work on ad infinitum. Before long these trips to Brno and dinners with a millionaire became an object of myth beside which a private audience with the Pope was a mere bagatelle. Interesting; the less I performed the bolder became my uncle's flights of fancy.
The funniest thing about all this is that Uncle Karel is ever less heedful of the prototype out of which his fable has evolved. With the result that I learn every year about my many achievements of previous years, the hands I shook, the sums I spent and what wonder I wrought by my actions. The mind boggles at some of these stories. Once or twice I've even caught myself thinking what a pleasure it would be to dine with such a marvellous chap…
Thanks to my Krnov uncle I lead an extra life, and this explains why I have stuck with him for all these years. This millionaire of his is a pretty good guy.
Some people lack the courage to enter a brothel, others stay away because
they lack the money for adventures of this sort. Among millionaires, of course,
visits to the knocking shop are a favourite pastime, so it was pretty clear that
sooner or later certain friends of mine would draw me into their depraved
company. I held them off for as long as I could – until the recent
birthday of a press magnate who shall remain anonymous. And then I lived
through my calvary of eroticism, to which I shall now bear witness.
As a Czech literary classic Karel Poláček would have it, there were five of us. No sooner were we through the door than our path was blocked by a mountain of not-too-bright flesh, so it was hard to believe we entering the gates of Paradise. Seated downstairs in the spectral light of the stroboscope were three women in red satin, who ten years earlier had been dismissed from their jobs on a building site for „unsightliness“. The fact that they were hanging around in their underwear in this small subterranean space I ascribed to some unfavourable combination of circumstances. I wasted no time in asking my more experienced friends when the young lady tarts would appear. I learned in no uncertain terms that I was an idiot, that the tarts were the persons I have just described – what had I been expecting, then? I thought it best to avoid the subject. Without further ado – on the verge of tears and with a fistful of small change – I headed for those poor creatures parked there in the corner like three small tractors. Two of them looked so apathetic their engines might have been borne away for an overhaul. The third was a little more welcoming: she showed me her crooked teeth and coughed – like a miner hawking coal dust after his shift. Then to my astonishment one of the less lively ones stood up and swept away to a nearby podium, where she took hold of a pole.
It is a struggle for my pen to form the words to describe what followed. My friends claim to this day it was an example of what is known as the ‚striptease‘. But from close up it looked like an overfed maggot boring its way into a shoulder of beef. Then Slippery Sam the barman insinuated his way to our table. He asked us if we wanted company, if we would be ordering cocktails for the ladies. In the general rush of tenderness I requested a teddy bear, but the barman just pulled a face and directed the lace cavalry and its drinks over to our table. The moment the women sat down I was reminded of the night I'd spent locked in a pantry as a punishment. Within half an hour I would come to consider the recollection of my claustrophobia one of the most beautiful of my childhood; at least no one spoke to me when I was in that pantry. The ladies' flesh was pushing me deeper and deeper into the cushions of despair.
Over the next hour various offers were made. I responded to each with a refrain of We Shall Overcome. The ladies were obviously amused by this. When some time later out of sheer desperation I declared myself to be homosexual, they embarked upon a giggling fit to burst a piston and all three of them wanted to take me to their room. In the face of such dismal odds, things as a whole ended reasonably well.
The birthday-boy and two more magnificent men went off with the ladies „to perform the act of love“ and I fell into a pleasant doze right there on the black faux-leather upholstery. Then we handed over a sum which might have bought us a moped and staggered out together to face early-morning Prague.
But there's no doubt it was worth the money. No moped, no matter how fast it is, has as much to tell of the hardships of being as this agreeable night-time panopticon.
I've got a great fondness for small children, perhaps because I have
none of my own. I'm well known for it – I play uncle for an hour for dozens
of my most fertile friends. Mostly they take this with a light smile on the face
but deep sorrow in the heart. I'm kidding, of course. When I'm with kids, the
kids feel like they're in heaven. Unlike me their parents don't hide behind fig
plants and pepper young bandits with gunfire, nor can they stuff four Smarties
up their nostrils, to say nothing of accompanying the shaman's dances of
their children by beating a wooden spoon against a tin drum.
Soon the hour is up and the time feels right to stop. I glance in the hallway mirror, smooth down my hair and hurry off to an all-night party at the Hunter's Rest, because, after all, I'm a popular guy there as well. The parents are left with an exceptionally playful little darling who long after I leave will consider any normal behaviour an act of aggression.
My flight tends to be as rapid as it is unflinching; I'm well aware that from a certain moment on every minute weighs a ton, that to spend a whole, unbroken half-day with any child is sheer torture.
Only once in my life have I made an exception to this. For reasons of personal gain I agreed to mind a six-year-old angel called Leonka. As her delectable mummy was heading through the door she assured me the girl was „no trouble at all“; then she went off to find harmony and orderly love at a Bernd Hellinger seminar.
I took a deep breath… then decided to begin with a kickabout. To my surprise Leonka seemed to be amused by this, but only until the first time I struck the ball against her head. Once I'd managed to quieten her monstrous bawling, it was time for us to move from the hall to her room. Leonka's child's instinct told her I wouldn't be doing the bossing for a while, so she announced that from now on we'd be playing only girls' games. We spent the next forty minutes preparing a talking doll for bed. While Leonka told it stories, the doll whimpered and whined…
Then I tried to hide myself in the toilet, but within two minutes Leonka was knocking at the door. It just wasn't the same thrill if I wasn't there with her. A pity I was given the role of mere spectator; whenever I tried to put one of my talents to use, Leonka shrieked as if I were dragging her around by the leg. All that was expected of me was to express delight at every stupid thing the brat thought up. So I cawed with enthusiasm (and rage) at the ‚princess‘ dress in which she looked like a scarecrow, I showered her wacky little dances with applause, I made a point of seeing a giraffe in an actually rather good picture of Mummy.
We ended up cooking in a plastic kitchen.
If our earlier games had suffered from a lack of imagination (and that's putting it mildly), in the role of cook no sacrifice was too small for Leonka. It took her about an hour to concoct a special „soup“, and after this it was up to me to taste it. To give you a clearer idea of what this „soup“ was like, here's how it is prepared. Take three bowls of water, one of which will end up on the carpet. Add two fistfuls of flour, two strips of plasticene and a large serving of potato crisps ground to a powder using the book Matthew and the Flying Elephant. Strain the mix thoroughly through the fingers before serving, then be on the alert to ensure that everybody eats it up.
Teddy ate and ate till it was coming out of his ears, and I was expected to keep up with him. Three times I was forced to swallow and show that my mouth was empty.
By the time Leonka's mummy got home I was as green as a week-old corpse. I took my leave as quickly as I could because I prefer to be sick in my own toilet.
„It was divine!“ I managed to honk as I passed through the door. „You were right, Leonka was no trouble at all.“
To my regret there was to be no hard-earned reward that evening.