Ron recalls a day from his childhood in 1952, when a spiteful teacher called him stupid and forced him to stand tiptoed against a wall until his legs cramped and tears ran down his face. He hated that teacher for a long time after that, but now, in 1978, he wishes she could see him driving a Mercedes convertible onto an airstrip, where a private jet has been sent to take himself and three paintings worth $1 million from Texas to New York to attend a socialite’s luncheon.
This characterizes Ron as a wealthy man running in elite circles. It is significant that Ron is a rags-to-riches type of person, someone who earned his wealth rather than being born to it, since it both informs Ron’s personal prejudices and foreshadows Denver’s own development from a poor homeless man with seemingly nothing to offer to a wealthy, sought-after speaker and preacher.
As the jet takes off, Ron looks at Fort Worth stretching out below, noting the massive amounts of renovation occurring in the city, secretly glad that such work will push the homeless population further away.
Ron’s own humble beginnings likely contribute to his disdain for the poor; they represent a fate that he could have found himself in, and which many of his peers expected of him.
Ron keeps such elitist feelings secret from his wife, Deborah. He is still new to the world of the wealthy—only nine years before, Ron sold Campbell’s soup for a living, making $450 a month. After secretly buying his first painting with his wife’s stock investments—a graduation gift from her parents—Ron rocketed into wealth and success. He credits God for giving him “two good eyes: one for art and the other for a bargain.” Ron and Deborah started living in the world of the wealthy, traveling around Europe, staying at island resorts, and wearing Armani suits. Ron loves this lifestyle, but Deborah is unimpressed. When Ron trades a painting for a lavish Rolls Royce, Deborah shoots down his excitement over the new luxury, saying she’d be embarrassed even to be seen with it in their driveway.
The contrast between Ron and Deborah’ moral character is immediately apparent. Ron is dishonest, conniving, and materialistic; Deborah is simple and honest, unimpressed by Ron’s success or his material possessions. Again, Ron’s rise from lower-middle-class to wealth both informs his disdain for the poor as well as making it seem more abhorrent. Although Ron was never homeless, he knows what it is like to struggle and to labor. Now that he has risen through the social ranks, it seems he has turned his back on those who haven’t been as fortunate. This suggests Ron is egotistical and lacking in empathy for others.
In the same year that Ron trades a painting for the Rolls Royce, he opens an art gallery in an expensive Fort Worth neighborhood. Each day, several homeless vagrants wander in to warm up or “case the place.” Ron notes that most are black people, and assumes that all of them are addicts or alcoholics. One day, a pair of them robs the gallery, running down the street with a bag full of “cash and artisan jewelry” and spilling it all across ten blocks as they flee. This experience cements the image in Ron’s mind of homeless people as a “ragtag army of ants bent on ruining decent people’s picnics.”
This scene depicts Ron as a prejudiced man, though, notably, his prejudice is born from real experience. By describing where his prejudice originates from, Ron demonstrates that, although those prejudices are bad and inaccurate—as the rest of the book will prove—such prejudice is often formed by real experiences, and thus can only be counteracted by real experiences as well.