In the misfortune of our best friends we often find something that is not displeasing.
La Rochefoucauld wrote that in 1665, and, aside from the fact I am suspicious of anyone whose first name is La, I find a lot of wisdom there.
La Rochefoucauld (pronounced: Gesundheit) was part of a group of spiffy young men and women who liked to sit around French salons and come up with witty epigrams.
"We give nothing more generously than advice," La Rochefoucauld used to say, no doubt taking a dip of snuff or two. "Quarrels would not last long if the fault were only on one side."
Neither of which is bad, but his line about not being displeased by the misfortune of our best friends is something we can all relate to.
I am not talking about feeling good if a safe should fall on one of our friends' heads.
But when the friend who always brags about how he gets away with murder on his income taxes suddenly tells you that the IRS is auditing him, you do get a little tingle of pleasure.
Take my friend B.
B drives a Jaguar. A Jaguar with more cylinders than I have sets of underwear.
B loves that car. It is midnight blue with tan leather seats, and it always smells new inside. I suspect that B sprays it with new car smell spray. I also suspect that when he is alone he wears those dorky leather driving gloves with the holes cut out for the knuckles.
We friends of B are very, very happy that he has a Jaguar. Not a note of jealousy creeps into our voices when we say: "How much does it cost you to get a new muffler? About $500?"
No, we are not like that. Which is why I took it so well when B told me recently that his Jaguar had been booted.
B lives in Washington, D.C., where they slap a Denver boot on you for looking cross-eyed at a parking meter.
"I had two tickets," B is moaning to me. "Two. I go on vacation and . . ."
On vacation to Nantucket, I point out.
"What difference does that make?" B says.
Oh, nothing, I say. Guy drives a Jaguar. Vacations on Nantucket. Has a Sub-Zero refrigerator.
"What the hell does my refrigerator have to do with this?" B asks.
L That was an aside, I say. You weren't supposed to hear that.
How can I tell him the truth? That there is no bigger thrill than seeing a Jaguar with a Denver boot, unless it's a Mercedes with a Denver boot.
Go ahead with the story, I tell him. You had two tickets.
"And they send me the notice when I am on vacation, and I come back from vacation and read it, and that night they boot the Jag!"
And then what?
"Then I had to go down and pay $50 for each ticket and $50 to have the boot removed," B says.
And that's it? I ask. They didn't rough you up any? No nightsticks? No electrodes?
"Of course not!" B says.
Oh, I say. And I think to myself: Maybe next time.
A, another friend of mine, interrupts B to relate what happened to her the last time she called B's car phone from her car phone.
Did I mention that many of my friends have car phones? If La Rochefoucauld were alive today, he would say: "Friends who have car phones should be beaten with sticks."
Or something like that.
Anyway, my friend A is driving in her car talking to B in his car.
I do not believe, by the way, the phoney-baloney surveys the car phone people put out saying that car phones do not contribute to accidents. It is my experience that most people cannot drive with two hands on the wheel, let alone one.
"I was talking to B on my car phone, and I sort of float through this stop sign," A says.
Float through? I ask.
"Yeah," she says, "a rolling stop. And this cop stops me and not only gives me one ticket for going through the stop sign, but gives me another ticket for not paying attention because I was on a car phone!"
Gee, I say. How awful.
"You know what ticks me off?" A says. "There are murderers out there . . ."
And robbers, I say.
"And deviates," she says.
And people with Jaguars and car phones, I want to say.
But I don't. I am too upset at the misfortunes of my friends.