Dateland: The Practical Heiress


I’ve always loved the screwball comedies of the 1930s, even though the plot of most of the films is basically the same. They all play out as follows: madcapped heiress charms colorful cast of characters into a crazy scheme. Hilarity ensues.

Ever since I was a girl, I patterned myself after these zany role models. I mastered the madcapped part easily, but aging relatives stubbornly refused to ink me into their wills, so I never achieved heiress status. And you really need that part of the equation to make it work. Because without a well-padded bank account, “madcap” translates as “crazy.”

Recently, though, I’ve come into a bit of an inheritance. As executor of my parents’ estate (doesn’t “estate” make it seem so grand?!) I learned that they left me enough money to behave in a delightfully erratic fashion for a very short period of time.

“I’m a multi-thousandaire!” I proclaimed to my girlfriend after the reading of the will. “Let’s get a butler.” I’ve always wanted a butler. For years I’ve led a quiet fantasy life accompanied by an imaginary butler, who scolds me sternly, but only because he has my best interests at heart. In my fantasy, my butler serves as my inner Greek chorus, tsking in disapproval at my antics and wisely offering life lessons while he prepares my milk bath.

My girlfriend glanced around our 1,000 square-foot cottage. “Where would we put a butler.”

“We’ll get a trundle bed and put it in our bedroom. That way he’ll be right there if we need a drink of seltzer in the middle of the night.”

“Since when do you drink seltzer?”

“Since now! No more plain water for me! That’s for poor people.”

She sighed and retired to the bedroom, leaving me on the back porch to plan my first adventure. “I’ll go to Morocco,” was my first thought.

But after reflecting a moment, I realized that taking off to an exotic locale is more suited for a young heiresses with little life-experience. It’s not really for a middle-aged woman with suburban sensibilities and a 9 p.m. bedtime. Yes, I long to be a madcap! But it needs to be in a locale with decent plumbing and a low crime rate. “Maybe a weekend at a nice bed-and-breakfast in Duluth,” I reasoned.

Next, I cast about on the Internet for foolish ways to spend my fortune. I found all kinds of great ideas. I could give it to that Nigerian prince who keeps sending me emails. However, just as I was about to divert a chunk of my inheritance to a ranch for orphaned sloths, my inner butler (who, at the moment, sounded suspiciously like my father) suggested it might be wiser to bank the funds in my retirement account. “There will be plenty of time to be madcap when you’re 65,” he noted sagely.

After following the imaginary butler’s advice, I realized that I hadn’t even put aside enough money to buy a seltzer, let alone waste foolishly on a new madcapped lifestyle. The entire inheritance was now sensibly stored in a tax-deferred account. Just the phrase “tax-deferred” put me in a funk. All these years I thought the only thing keeping me from being truly madcap was money. Now I realized that my real inheritance from my parents is my damned work ethic, deeply ingrained pragmatism, and an inability to be frivolous.

But I slowly perked up when I remembered my second favorite movie genre: film noir. Now that I’m an heiress, surely someone is plotting to kill me! I glanced darkly at the bedroom, where my girlfriend lay waiting for me in a black negligee. Had I already told her that she is my beneficiary?

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