Instead of Astor, why couldn't I have been born with a progressive-sounding last name such as Debs or Robeson?
I ask this at a time when financial bigwigs have made a mess of the U.S. economy. The deserved scorn heaped upon these greedy "masters of the universe" (aka "Astors of the universe") poses a problem for people with blue-blood monikers like mine. Will we be lumped with the rich rabble?
Making this even more frustrating is that I'm not a blue blood! I'm told my paternal grandfather arrived in America a century ago with an Eastern European last name (not Debsrobesonitz) and promptly got it anglicized. He went on to operate a modest bicycle shop in a section of Manhattan that had as many Anglo residents as ancient Rome had Huffington Post bloggers (three). His son -- my late father -- was a not-always-employed TV and radio repairman. As for myself, I'm so upscale that I got laid off last fall from my day job and haven't found a new one yet -- though I do know someone who knows someone who dreamed she had a job interview in 1994.
So when an underpaid cashier looks up from my credit card and asks if I'm one of THOSE Astors, I can honestly say no. I'm not a loathsome, materialistic hedge-fund bozo who tells his mistress "we'll always have Paris" as the bozo's financial victims say of him that "we'll always have parasite." I drive a five-year-old compact car, trim my weed-filled lawn with a manual push mower, and watch a small TV that has an antenna. (Yes, I'll switch my set from analog to dialog when I poke the corner of a $40 plastic converter coupon into my remote's stuck mute button.)
Maybe I should have taken my wife's last name when we married. She has a VERY nice last name (Cummins) that doesn't sound elitist -- though she and many of her family members are accomplished people. Actually, I did try to take her seven-letter last name, but it had dwindled to two letters after a bank bundled it with other last names and invested them in tricycles retrofitted with jet engines. (Corporations endanger our children's future in so many ways....) The bank got a $15-billion bailout last Christmas, but spent the federal money on three $5-billion fruitcakes.
I do go by "Dave" rather than "David" to slightly soften the aristocratic sound of my last name. But that's like being locked in a bank vault and trying to escape with a chisel made of cotton.
Remember the Titanic scene in which "Unsinkable" Molly Brown shouted "Hey, Astor!" to that John Jacob fellow? When I heard that back in 1997, I sank embarrassedly into my movie-theater seat. Twelve years later, I cringe even more at the recollection of actress Kathy Bates calling out such a highfalutin name. That's because the rotten economy has left me with less money to compensate for having a Gilded Age second name as the second Gilded Age ends.
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