If he were walking around the streets today, the richest man I ever knew might be mistakenly thought to be homeless. His clothes were well-worn, almost threadbare, the leather on his shoes was cracked, and he wore no jewellery. The man who accompanied him might be mistaken for a carer of some sort, except that this man was always wearing a tailored suit with fashionable leather shoes, carried a literal bag of money, and he was never without the aid of a reliable and recognisable timepiece. This sharp dressed man was, of course, was the personal assistant to Mr. Phipps, the bedraggled banker he served quietly and with great decorum.
This PA (let’s call him Johnson, because I never had any idea what his name was) saw to the messy details of Mr. Phipp’s life such as paying for services, food, and the few material items Mr. Phipps might require. Mr. Johnson had an easy job, as Mr. Phipps was as gentle as he was austere. Mr. Phipps also knew that money was about the filthiest thing you could touch, so he never touched it unless it was fresh from the mint. Any previously used money was handled strictly by Mr. Johnson, who took his chances with the germ-ridden currency, but still saw to wash his hands frequently.
I had a fairly intimate relationship with Mr. Phipps myself. At least I guess it was more intimate that what most of the local 12-year-old boys had with him—I shined his shoes. The leather was old and cracked, as I said, but I did my best to restore it and bring the shine back. He always seemed grateful for my efforts, and he’d have Mr. Johnson reward my labor handsomely by the standards of a 12-year-old shine boy.
I think of him every time I hear a salesperson brag about the ability to size up potential customers as soon as they walk through the door. “I can tell right off,” they’ll say, “whether someone is ready to spend money. Or even has any money to spend.” The snap judgement and dismissive following behaviour serve only to fulfil the bigoted prophesy. But I suppose our days are filled with nothing but minor miscalculations. We trip over our own feet constantly but usually carry on to walk again.