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Subject:  Re: Poll: The Middle Class Date:  4/21/2008  12:46 PM
Author:  TMFPMarti Number:  12920 of 20788

I've met about the same number of 18th- as 20th/21st-century socialites

I have met one, and it's one of my favorite memories of my tax collector days. The setting: Chicago, early 1970's. The socialite: an elderly woman whose surname is on one prominent Chicago institution and countless plaques in the metropolitan area. This family is "old money" by New York standards. Think along the line of Brooke Astor.

My assignment was to resolve a $39,000 penalty and interest bill on a quarterly gift tax return. To avoid going into tax law, take my word for it that we were talking about beaucoups bucks being given away, and not to charity. As was SOP when four notices had left the bill unresolved, I called unannounced at her Gold Coast apartment.

The doorman wasn't about to let me go up unannounced, so he rang. He kept trying to tell the person on the other end of the line my business, but finally gave up with, "She says come right up." I was greeted in the elevator lobby by an old Swedish woman who had, evidently, been a longtime family retainer. I didn't even have a chance to show her my identification before she was ushering me through the apartment to a rear room, where the taxpayer awaited.

"There it is," she said, pointing to an Electrolux vacuum cleaner lying in the middle of the floor. I managed to piece together that they had been expecting a repair man, not a tax collector. When I identified myself and we got things straightened out, she was the one who was embarrassed and apologetic. Since she knew nothing of her financial affairs she got on the phone and arranged a next-day appointment for us with "Henry," a partner in a Big Eight firm.

At the appointed hour I was slogging through knee-deep carpeting in Henry's office in my cheap suit and in obvious need of a haircut. It quickly became clear that Henry was responsible for the delinquency, but he kept doubletalking, and I couldn't just come out and say, "He's hosing you." She may have been old, but she was far from addled. Shortly after I caught on she did and, interrupting Henry, said to me "How much do I owe?" I gave her the figure, and she said, "You'll have it this afternoon. Now, if there's nothing else, I'd like a few words alone with Henry." I hauled patootie.

She called later to tell me the check was on its way by messenger and to thank me. She had suspected that Henry wasn't doing everything he was supposed to, but it was my contact that had given her confirmation.

Now that's noblesse oblige.

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