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King Alfred

In 1771, King Adolf Frederick of Sweden died after eating a meal of caviar, lobster, sauerkraut and champagne, along with 14 helpings of dessert.

There are several lessons to be learned. First, Adolf, don’t make the bakery break into a whole new box. One dozen should have been enough.

Second, mixing caviar and sauerkraut would always be a mistake.

Third, if caviar and sauerkraut are the sort of things rich people eat, then I thank the Lord I’m a peasant. Seriously. One of the best meals I ever had was chicken cooked on a grill made of an old brake drum, behind a church in Oracabessa, Jamaica. A close second might be half of a scallop I plucked off the tip of paring knife, held by old fisherman in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Topping everything would be a beer and a brat, in the shade of a maple tree I planted, with a smelly Newfoundland watching eagerly for the scraps that seemed to accumulate under the chairs of my grandchildren. Caviar served from gold dishes just isn’t in the same category.

But the biggest lesson to be learned is that everybody needs someone to tell them, “No.”

Or maybe, “No. Stop it. You’re being an idiot.”

If you think about most of the real misery in the world, it’s mostly caused by someone who’s rich and powerful acting without restraint. Sure, there’s anguish that comes from earthquakes and tidal waves, rabid skunks and rusty nails, but most of the really bad stuff in the world is caused by some jackass with more money and power than brains.

Actually, that’s not true. A lot of real misery is caused by very smart people, people who just ooze brains and achievements. It’s not a coincidence. The richer you become, the more achievements you have, the more powerful your connections are, the less likely you are to have someone in your life willing to tell you when you’re out of bounds.

Robert Caro is one of my favorite writers. He’s made a career of writing about powerful people, how they became powerful and what they did with that power. One of his conclusions is that the old phrase, “power corrupts,” isn’t necessarily true. Sometimes it corrupts, sometimes it purifies, but what it always does is reveal. When you feel you’re beyond consequences, you act according to your true nature. Rich people commit the pettiest of crimes, powerful politicians cheat on their spouses, athletes and entertainers act abominably and often get away with it, at least for a while.

There’s a legend that a couple of thousand years ago when the emperor of the Roman empire was parading through town, a slave was assigned to whisper in his ear, “Remember, you, too are mortal.” I’m guessing he had to whisper quite loudly, what with the cheering crowds, but at least he was there. These days, we don’t even have that much.

From what I’ve read, Alfred Frederick wasn’t much of a king, so my guess is Sweden didn’t miss him too much after he died.

But he really didn’t have to go out that way – choking on his 14th helping of cake.

Thanks Alfred...solid tip. I’ll try to keep myself under control, and if I don’t, there are no end of people willing to tell me I’m being a jackass.

I’ll try to appear grateful.

Copyright 2021 Brent Olson

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