“Count Lipschitz is on the phone,” Sue yelled. There was an unsaid “again” in her voice. He is becoming a pest, always calling just as I’m going out the door or just when dinner is ready. It’s uncanny how he knows exactly when I shut the door to the bathroom. He never wants anything, he just wants to chat about what he and Lady Lipschitz did last night — usually something I’m not interested in, like a masquerade ball or a dog show or a single-malt scotch tasting.
Count Lipschitz is not royalty; that’s just his first name. His parents had the wisdom to realize that with a name like that, he could get preferential treatment his whole life. Sure enough, he got into the most exclusive private kindergarten in his hometown of Newark, N.J. without having to supply seven character references and tons of financial statements like the other kids. They even gave him a scholarship. He can call the most popular, exclusive restaurant in the world and get a reservation instantly. Sometimes he doesn’t even have to pay. People fawn over him as if he were Pippa Middleton in a thong. He’s never had a job, yet he never goes hungry.
I suppose his parents could have named him Doctor Lipschitz or Cardinal Lipschitz or General Lipschitz and gotten some of the same effects — the instantly returned phone calls, the not-so-subtle sucking up, the feeling that when people ask “How can I help you?” they actually mean it.
But Doctor, Cardinal or General wouldn’t have worked like Count did at private schools. Besides, those names all come with baggage: At some point, people will expect the people with those titles to show some expertise in something. For example, Doctor Lipschitz would be expected to look at that mole on the maitre d’s cheek to see if it might be melanoma, whereas no one expects Count Lipschitz to know that — or anything else. If Doctor Lipschitz botched the Heimlich maneuver on a fellow diner, he’d be banned from the restaurant. Count Lipschitz could continue eating for free while customers all around him turned blue. The staff might even apologize to him for the inconvenience of it all. Cardinal Lipschitz would stop getting special treatment the first time he showed up with a date, yet if Count showed up with a woman who was not his wife, no one would say a word. It might even be expected. After all, counts will be counts. General Lipschitz would have to be decisive. He can’t ask what is better, the fish or the fowl — he has to pretend he knows. Yet Count and Lady Lipschitz can pester the servers, endlessly asking for things that aren’t on the menu and then not eating them because that’s what everyone expects of them.
Everyone knows that Colonel Sanders wasn’t really an Army colonel, but did that hurt him? No. He wasn’t ever really a private, either, but if you’re going to fluff up the resume, you’ve got to get the balance just right. General Sanders would be too much, Private Sanders too little. Naming your child Professor doesn’t work, because it won’t get him a table at a good restaurant. Sir Lipschitz sounds pretentious. Other people can call you sir, but it’s not really something you call yourself.
Some say Count’s parents were wrong to give him that name — after all, he hadn’t deserved the title. As if real counts did something to earn theirs. Unlike Count, Lady Lipschitz’ parents were not planning that she be mistaken for royalty; they just thought Ladybird Johnson’s name was wonderful and unique. It got shortened to Lady on the first day of kindergarten. She hasn’t forgotten how cruel children can be in 50 years.
Count Lipschitz was calling to find out if he could borrow a cup of money. No, just kidding. He was going out of state to visit his brother Duke and wanted to know if I’d take care of his dog.
“Can’t you leave him in a kennel for a few days?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “They don’t take royalty.”
(Jim Mullen’s newest book, “How to Lose Money in Your Spare Time — At Home,” is available at amazon.com. You can follow him on Pinterest at pinterest.com/jimmullen.