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Louis Roney

Columnist Louis Roney

Cheapskate: "A stingy person," who combines cheap (for penurious) with the slang usage of "skate" for a contemptible individual.

Today a guy we call "El Cheapo" is simply a cheapskate with Tabasco sauce.

When I encounter a "cheapskate" or "el cheapo," my mind produces an image of several miserly people I have known.

Genuine highbrows do not countenance the self-serving rationalizations of cheapos, whose standards do not pass muster.

At dinner in a New York restaurant, a renowned actress friend of ours told us this story: She had performed on a national tour of "My Fair Lady" opposite a famous movie star who was, to-boot, a well-known Broadway leading man. On tour, she often dined with him in restaurants near theaters. Inevitably, our B'way tightwad, "El Cheapo," paid his dinner check, but never left a tip of any amount. Our actress friend was so embarrassed that she left her tip alongside an identical tip for him — who was simply acting in the way he had acted all his stingy life.

There are certain human qualities, which are despicable to people of discriminating niveau. These qualities may not be crimes, or even sins damning enough to condemn the miscreant to the everlasting bonfire.

Thinking back, I can't recall anyone calling me "el cheapo."

Had anyone done so, I would have redoubled my attention to remunerating the person who was providing me a service.

When I was in my mid-teens, I worked summer evenings in an Atlanta ice cream parlor, and I learned how the waiter profession relates to those they serve.

I wondered where the word "tip" originated. I learned that "tip" is short for "to insure promptness," a quality, which I assumed, was part and parcel of a waiter's job. There is, then, a contractual overtone to the gratuity left by the patron. Concomitantly, the contract implies that no tip need be left if service is not satisfactory. Few people have the courage to leave less than 20 percent these days, although I have, myself, left less than 20 percent for less than satisfactory service — a practice common in Europe.

"El cheapo" is a colorful description of a guy who deals in quasi-cheating other people in ways that skate as close as possible to being dishonest. He is, at heart, a cheat.

Extreme stinginess can be a very useful attribute when a dramatist is creating outsize characters for a stage or screen work. This particular quality in drama proves very useful in Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew", in Dickens' "Scrooge," as well as "David Cooperfield" and "Oliver Twist." Such dramas feature unlikeable penny pinchers as contrasts to more generous characters.

W.C. Fields was great as the tightest guy in town.

Jack Benny made many millions, and created many smiles with his miserly character — whose attitude was very much in contrast to the real Jack, who was famously generous.

Stinginess is, of course, not necessarily confined to coveting money and material goods.

Giving of oneself costs one nothing, and yet is the essence of The Golden Rule.