We were in the old Chez Paree night club in Chicago one night, heaven knows how may years ago, when Joe E. Lewis was the headliner.
Joe was in his prime in those days, and the huge room was packed. As the booze flowed, voices rose to make themselves heard over the clatter of dishes. The chorus girls sang, the orchestra played with appropriate verve and loudness, and little waves of laughter rippled through the sea of sound.
Finally it was time for Joe to perform, and he began the repertoire that had endeared him to his public.All went well until, in the midst of "Sam, You Made The Pants Too Long," Lewis unaccountably paused.
Austin Mack, his longtime painist, looked at Lewis quizzically, then backed up a couple of bars and repeated the musical cue. There was no response. Lewis was lost in thought.
Conversations among the customers began to come to a halt. The noise level dropped perceptibly. Even the waiters and busboys stopped banging dishes together as everybody wondered why Joe E. Lewis wasn't singing.
When the room was finally quiet and Joe, had everybody's attention, he murmured. "Do you suppose a man with six million dollars can ever be as happy as a man with seven million dollars?"
Slowly, very slowly, the realization spread through the audience that it had been had. And as the laughter began to build, Joe grinned that sheepish grin of his, shrugged his shoulders, and went back to singing "Sam, You Made The Pants Too Long."
In the years that followed, Joe's philosophical one-liner often came to my mind. On many occasions I used it on friends who were "complaining with a loaf of bread under each arm."
Sophie Tucker used to say, "I've been rich and I've been poor, and believe me, rich is better." I have never considered myself either rich or poor, but I have associated with rich people and with poor people - and so help me, I think the poor ones are happier. The rich ones complain too much - much more than the poor ones. This is also trus of people who are "rich" or "poor" in the matter of health.
The fellow who doesn't have much is often keenly aware of the few blessings that he does have, and he is grateful for them. If he doesn't have much money, he is warmed by the love of his wife and children. If he has lost a lung, he says, "How fortunate I am that God gave me two. When he's asked to give to charity, he counts himself lucky to be the giver rather than the receiver.
It's the man with the six million who is in torment because somebody else has seven. He has no time to be thankful because he is preoccupied with his unfulfilled goals rather than with what he has already been given.
Staff writer Charles A. Krause was standing between two men when shooting broke out in Guyana this week. One bullet nicked Krause, causing a superficial wound. Two other bullets killed the men on either side of him. I dare say nobody will have to explain to Krause why he should be thankful on Thanksgiving Day.
Millions of us have also had close calls in our time - not as dramatic as Krause's experience, perhaps, but equally fortunate. Another inch and we'd have been involved in a highway crash, another minute and we'd have endured a calamitous turn of events or missed a golden opportunity. There are dozens of key moments in every person's life, and for those of us who are not yet in the cemetery the message is very clear: So far, we've been luck.
Yet it seldom occurs to some people to be grateful. Those whom fate has most bountifully blessed are sometimes the worst complainers.