BY JIM RAFTUS
I never envisioned Alec Baldwin and Nathan Lane would help change my views on really rich people.
I would describe my own political stance as slightly left of center, except in these divisionary days I have no idea where the center is, or if it still even exists. I do have concerns about the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, but my day with Baldwin, Lane and the supporters of the Hole In the Wall Gang Camp gave me a new perspective.
Just prior to the 2012 election, my wife and I attended a charity event at the camp in Ashford, Conn., as guests of the owner of the company I used to work for. Lane was the emcee of the wonderful talent show and Baldwin was the auctioneer for the fundraiser.
Lane began his stand-up routine with a series of Mitt Romney jokes. When the reception to his humor proved tepid, Lane lamented, “Am I going to be the first person ever heckled off the stage of a charity event?” The liberal-leaning actor now realized many in the audience were well-to-do residents of Fairfield County and the Upper East Side. He was “in the belly of the beast.” As a veteran performer, he smoothly segued into several Joe Biden slams.
Following Lane, we were thrilled by a short violin concert by Itzhak Perlman and captivated by several songs from young camp attendees, all of whom are dealing with serious health issues. Anyone who could have a dry eye after watching them perform should get his tear ducts examined.
After leaving the theater, all the attendees headed to the hall for dinner and the auction. There was an array of interesting silent auction items and fine food to keep one busy until Baldwin took the stage to conduct the live auction.
He did a remarkable job, using humor to prod, tease and cajole the bidders into making serious bids for the various items. These folks, surely part of the 1 percent group, were digging deep to help the camp reach its goals. One of the most hotly contested items was lunch for two in New York with Bradley Cooper, a red hot actor. A middle-aged gentleman bidder, prodded by his teenaged daughter sitting next to him, raised the bid to an astronomical $95,000. The much-maligned and mocked Baldwin responded, “If you make it an even $100,000, I’ll match your bid.” Apparently, Baldwin donates all the proceeds from his Capital One commercials to charities.
I know cynics are going to say it is all about tax write-offs. However, I know some of the tax implications. It is not quid pro quo. You do not get a $100,000 tax break for donating $100,000.
The well-heeled people at this event gave in remarkable numbers. A prime example happened after all the items had been auctioned. The camp director took over and reminded everyone that it cost $2,500 for each youngster to attend for one week. No families have to pay for their children. It all comes from donations.
The director asked people who wanted to sponsor to simply hold up their bidding paddles and call out the number of campers they wanted to pay for. My former boss’s paddle was one of the first in the air. He is modest, so I will not divulge how many children he and his wife paid for. I will tell you that there was a thicket of paddles raised, with some individuals pledging to support 50 campers. You do that math. It was heartwarming altruism at the highest level.
The divisiveness between “classes” in this country is truly troubling. This day was a cautionary tale to me personally to avoid the stereotyping, which can block one from seeing the gray areas that exist in all arguments.
And, in fact, these folks don’t take themselves so seriously. At the end of his performance, Nathan Lane asked a friend and veteran character actor, Ernie Sabella, to join him on stage. Lane and Sabella are the two voices who sang “Hakuna Matata” in the “Lion King” movie.
Just before starting the song Lane turned to Sabella and said, in a just loud enough stage whisper, “Sing slowly, Ernie, they’re Republicans.”
The house came down.
Jim Raftus (email@example.com) is a retired marketing executive who lives in Cumberland