Lifestyles of the Rich (or "How Much Does Mount Vesuvius Cost?")

I was at a dinner a few weeks ago attended by a couple dozen of the stars of the Saudi private sector. Millionaires and billionaires all. I was there because I too have a connection to millions and billions of dollars, in that I used to watch Scrooge McDuck on Duck Tales.

The host's sitting room was the size of my house, twice over. I felt painfully self-conscious in my JC Penny dress shirt and tie, and I realized with some degree of panic that I hadn't double-checked that evening to see if my socks matched. Also, I got my dress shoes at Goodwill. I was trying to blend in with the flaming orange, arabesque-patterned couch when a pristinely dressed, articulate Saudi sat next to me. He owned a lot of important things, like the polar ice caps and outer space. I wasn't sure what to say, because I doubted he would be interested in talking about 80s power ballads, a favored line of conversation for me lately.

American power lines. June 2012.
"What do you do?" he asked me politely.

I felt that, to make him like me, I should say my assets include Mount Vesuvius, but then I remembered how Mom used to tell me that if people don't like you for who you are, then they're ugly fat dumbheads and you should try to find ways to get them arrested. So I told the truth: I'm a rookie diplomat, and I like Taylor Swift. Just kidding, I didn't tell him I'm a diplomat.

We bantered in Arabic for a minute, and then he asked where I'd learned the language.

"University," I said.

"Oh, which one?" he inquired.

"Brigham Young University," I replied.

"The Mormon university?" he asked. I was impressed with his knowledge of the sponsorship of American higher education. "Yes, that's the one," I said.

"Are you Mormon?"

"Well, yes."

"How many wives do you have?"

Now, I've fielded this question many, many times in my day. Never from an unimaginably wealthy, American-educated Saudi aristocrat, but, still, a lot of times. But every single time I've been asked this question up to this point, the questioner had either known the answer before they asked and were just giving me a good-natured hard time, or they weren't interested in the answer, just in mocking my religion. But this guy, it was clear from his tone that he had never met a Mormon before, didn't know the answer to his question, and was sincerely interested in finding out.

After briefly answering his question, I quickly steered the conversation elsewhere, because you don't discuss Mormonism or any other non-Islamic faith in the Kingdom. But as I rode home after dinner in the warm early morning hours, I kind of wished I could go back in time and flag down my white-shirted missionary self on the country roads of eastern Ontario, Canada and say, "Listen, I've seen your future and it's awesome -- in thirteen or fourteen years you'll explain the church's long-standing support for monogamy to a super rich Saudi guy in a red-and-white checked headdress in a big mansion on the shores of the Red Sea. Oh, and also, if you're ever in Alabama and you stop to take a picture, don't drive away without checking the roof of the minivan because you left a $600 lens up there."

Then I'd turn to go back to the future and the younger me would be like, "Wait, do I end up marrying Jewel?" And I'd be like, "No." And my younger self would be like, "Dang." And I'd be like, "Don't worry, she turns out to be a country singer." And the younger me would be like, "Oh, well, I guess it all works out in the end." And I'd be like, "Sure does, little buddy. Sure does."