Sunday, October 9, 2011
You remember money, right? I think ABBA wrote something about it once.
The place in question was located a little over an hour out of town, near a lovely little scenic community called Taylors Falls on the St. Croix river.
I wouldn't have looked twice driving by, as the weathered farmhouse visible from the main road hardly screamed "affluent", but after I snaked my little VW Rabbit along the private dirt road cut through the field and come upon what can only be described as a "compound", my jaw dropped. Various steel-roofed and architecturally-amazing out-buildings housing art studios and living spaces flanked the main house, which was a picture-perfect study in art, style, comfort and eccentricity. Art and style was everywhere- from the twin beige Barcelona chairs in the entryway, to the unassuming block glass ceiling in the dining room.
I was in love. And jealous. Seriously jealous.
I asked the host, the owner of the compound, if she "got" what an amazing little world she had. She (heiress to a newspaper/art fortune) only half-heard me as she had just gotten up and hadn't had her coffee yet, but she replied, "Um, yeah. It is nice, isn't it?"
Afterward, over afternoon drinks, I had the discussion with a few people as to whether or not people who are born into wealth can really, truly ever really "get" how charmed, exceptional, and very, very lucky they are. I mean, can you ever really understand what it means to be poor/broke when you've never had to decide which is more important: paying the rent on time (vs) filling your car up with gas so that you can get to the job that you don't make enough at to pay the rent on time?
I was just reading about that lengthy interview with Jacqueline Kennedy that has just been published. At one point, she discusses how JFK Jr. got mugged for his bike when he was 15. She said something along the lines of (totally paraphrased because I'm to lazy to look it up), "I asked the Secret Service following him to follow from even a further distance after that. I wanted to give him a sense of normalcy."
Um...OK. I hope she at least realized somewhere in the back of her head how...
...well, how ridiculous that sounds.
As I've mentioned before, I didn't exactly grow up affluent. Quite the opposite, actually. I know the struggle all too well- I've made the tough decisions, I've done without, I've felt the flush of shame that creeps onto your face when you can't hide "poor". I get it.
I've been lucky in my adult years. While my early 20's were definitely a struggle, I always managed to keep my head above water, a roof over my head, and I could occasionally splurge on something somewhat inappropriate to wear to 1st Avenue for "Danceteria". Now at 40, I have a very good-paying job, a lovely home, and occasionally having too much wine and buying full-priced (!!) boots online doesn't break the bank.
I'm lucky, I know. These days, having a semi-secure job that you actually enjoy is a rarity- I get that. I appreciate it all and I never let myself forget the flip side of things.
But I can't help wonder- what would it be like? You know, never ,ever, EVER having to worry? Not for a single second in your life? The bills always paid yet never having to actually work (and no- co-hosting charity fundraisers does not count as "work" unless you are an event planner and if that's the case then I'm not talking about you here anyways), vacations on a whim without having to clear it with HR first, having an entire weekend of parties and meals at your idyllic compound completely catered...
Don't get me wrong- I'm not begrudging anyone born into wealth. We are served our lot in life at birth, what we do with it after that is entirely up to us- I get that. It's just that I have to think that you really, truly can never grasp how hard things can really be if that's the case. You can travel to famine-torn countries on the brink of collapse, you can volunteer at a soup kitchen, and you can develop a wicked heroin addiction and be homeless for a while. Sure, you can do all that. But...if you're traveling mostly first-class to said third-world country, and if you leave the soup kitchen early because you have to have your driver drop you off for parent-teacher conferences at your child's very private school, and if your parents finally locate what alley you're living in and jet you off (again, first-class) to that ultra-private and exclusive rehab facility in California?
Yeah...not so much.
Not sure where I'm going with this today, it's just been on my mind all week. Maybe I'm tired of the term "class warfare" being bandied about when so many people don't even get what the various classes in the US are, or what it does to someone to be born into poverty (not that I was- we were poor, but we weren't poverty-stricken in the purest sense of the term). I wonder if there even is a middle ground, given how hard it is for either of the extremes to understand one another.
I wonder if things are only going to get worse.
Then I wonder if I'll remember to buy a lottery ticket this week. I can't say I can ever understand what it's like to never have to think/worry/freak out about money, but I'd sure like a chance to try.