Sunday, October 9, 2011

You remember money, right? I think ABBA wrote something about it once.

Last weekend I catered brunch at what I can only describe to other people as "my lottery dream".
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.


feisty said...

"These days, having a semi-secure job that you actually enjoy is a rarity- ".

Amen to that. We are lucky. I do still wonder what it would be like to have more money and not have to work....I'd imagine one could fill a day quite easily. Maybe not productively though....

Brooke said...

they don't get it. i have been friends with more than a few girls who grew up "privileged." not like the compound you describe, but they didn't have to work in high school, let alone college, never paid for their own cars, cell phones, carried a credit card paid for by their parents. over the years, i had to let them go, because as i liked to say "they'll never understand my hustle."

basic things like "i can't do sushi this weekend because things are tight" to bigger things like "no, i cannot skip work tomorrow to go to miami" never made sense to them.

i'm tired. good to hear from you.

will said...

Wealthy people don't understand? Just look at all the good things Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne do for us commoners. Are you still mad because Jeb Clampett won't return your calls?

John D. said...

Everyone likes nice things, but money only buys comfort, not happiness. I personally don't think it's a good thing for us to have all the material things we think we want. Got good health? Somebody to love and loves you? A comfortable home? A few bucks? Then you have a blessed life. — You know that. : )

Chris said...

I saw a PBS special a couple of years ago called "Class in America" that says everything I could say on this subject, only better. I remember hearing Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous guy one time say that we couldn't imagine how different their lives our from ours. I'm sure the converse is true. The only thing that galls me is those who don't realize how lucky they are to be born that way, but I suppose that's one of the differences.

McGone said...

I'm sure you've watched an episode of the Kardashians by this point? No, obviously, the rich don't get it.

And if Kim ever paid less than full-price for boots, her shrill banshee of a mother would make sure there would be an interview with Ryan Seacrest the very next morning, a spread in US Magazine and at least 45 minutes of E! News to inform the "commoners" of the sacrifices Kim makes in this economy.

Christ, there needs to be one of those Occupy Wall Street rallies at their house.

SkylersDad said...

The rich will never, ever understand what a tough choice is like you described. Rent or groceries? Gas or the gas bill? And go to work when you feel like you are going to die from the flu, because if you don't show up, you don't get a days pay.

Guacaholic said...

"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?"

Generally speaking, I think it would be boring. It would be wonderful to not worry, but I also think most of us who didn't grow up that way would turn into insufferable, boring dullards.

The people I know who did grow up with unlimited resources are ridiculously boring as well. Which is why I've gotten plastered at some of my husband's employer's holiday parties. A table full of Ivy League trust funders who have matching Land Rovers, talk about art while wearing sour facial expressions and have nothing interesting to say about interesting topics? Pass the vodka.

180360 said...

At the end of the day, I'd rather be happy than rich. As long as I'm doing what I love, surrounded by the people I love, then all is well in my world. Of course, I can still dream about being a famous photographer that jet-sets across the world... but I would still want to do everything by myself. Integrity, determination, creativity from suffering, working hard for what you want -- those things can't be handed to you on a silver platter!

The irony is, the people that were born into extreme wealth don't "GET" a lot of the normal things that make life so much more interesting.

PS. Go back and take photos of your dream spot for me!

Johnson said...

My butler just read your blog post out loud to me and I simply had to have my assistant take dictation for a response.

Rich people totally understand the plight of the common folk. It's like I was telling my driver the other day, "Look at that squeegee kid," I said. "Give him one of the twenties from the change dish so that he doesn't touch the Benz with his filthy hands."

You see? We get it. Get the grapes Martha. End of dictation.

Glennis said...

Your commenters are way funnier than I could be.

But I get what you're saying. My husband has to fundraise, so we are often invited to homes of donors. Some, you can just tell, are self-made folks who remember what their early days were like - that's why they give. Others are just giving because they want to be in the "club."

The worst was a creepy, LA software/security industry exec. Trying to get on the board of my husband's non-profit, he invited the other board members to a reception at his home.

When we entered his ostentatious MegaMcMansion, dropped our car at the valet, we were escorted into the house PAST the living room - which had twin grand pianos facing one another. We were ushered into a stone tile floored room off the patio, and served white wine and cheese and crackers there.

Yes, only white wine. You see, the stone tiles were white, and they were worried that someone might spill red wine which would stain them.

He apparently felt the entire board - his fellow donors - weren't civilized enough to sip wine in his living room.

Mnmom said...

I've always wondered the same things. What the hell is that LIKE? To not even know, or care, when payday is. To never having to pump just $10 of gas cuz that's all you have. To clip coupons and eat bagged cereal. To never EVER worry about losing your health insurance.

But then again, because I've always lived on the poorer side of things, I enjoy the little things so much more. A cup of coffee on the deck, a good meal with friends, a full tank of gas. I doesn't take boo-shit-diddley to make me happy.

HoosierHerm said...

I Really enjoyed this Post, and all the clever and insightful comments.
Like You, I grew up poor-but-not-poverty-stricken, and much like you, I spent my working life at the Country Clubs and lakeside Resorts, and later on, Catering to the wealthier of that same clientele. In my experience, most of those peep's didn't have any idea what my life was like, while I got to know their's very well.
The "Old Money" people were usually the ones who made their kids do chores for their allowance, and later to help pay for their College by at least working for folks like me at the Bars and Restaurants around Bloomington Indiana.
On the other hand, the "nouveau riche" were the self-indulgent ones, who spoiled their kids, rationalized all their faults, and ended up with middle-aged, obese drunks and drug-addicts who Never left the Nest !
So, I tend to agree with the commentors who, like you, have a comfortable life, with a Job you Love, someone who Loves You, and are Grateful for what they have earned in life. Again, Great Post !

Angela said...

I was on a luxury cruise in the Mediterranean -- I know! It sounds like I'm rich! But no. After my dad died, my mom's very wealthy boss/friend treated my mom, my brother, and me to a two-week Mediterranean vacation so we could spend time together. (never. again.)

But at one point on the cruise, we rescued an ailing tiny vessel full of Algerians trying to make their way to Italy (think: Cubans to Florida). It was a huge deal, and very moving, actually, to witness the rescue.

The next day, the young Dutch ship captain made an announcement, addressing those wealthy patrons who had expressed to him their concern for their own wellbeing and safety after we took the Algerians on board. He described the steps that were taken to keep us all "safe."

Then he laid into the rich bastages. Basically: "You think you have what you have and you are on this luxury cruise ship because of your own hard work? Think again. 99% of what you have and who you are is based on one thing: Where you are born. And you had the good fortune to be born in the U.S. Don't pat yourself on the back for having achieved so much, because if you'd been born in Algeria, the most you ever may have achieved would be an attempt to make it to greater opportunities via a rickety boat on an unpredictable sea."

It was one ginormous "SUCK IT!" And it was awesome. I stood up and applauded, as did quite a few other (mostly younger, it was a geezer cruise) people!

Angela said...

I will say, I know quite a few uber wealthy people thanks to my mom's boss/friend. Wealth as in... last I knew, mom's friend was worth about $200M. And we're from Iowa. Imagine that kind of money in Iowa!

And they are the *nicest* people, because they DID start out poor. R's wife and their daughter cleaned the office and restrooms every night when the business was new because he couldn't afford to hire cleaning staff. They maintained that humility and down-to-earthness their whole lives.

So I think there's a big difference between people who start out poor or middle class and work to become wealthy, and people who are born to it.

LegalMist said...

Heck, even the middle class folks who were born middle class sometimes just don't "get it" about the choices the lower middle class must make re: rent or gas, much less the choices the truly poor must make re: food or electricity, or even, "food for the kids or food for me?" I've got one friend who truly believes the homeowner's deduction, child care deduction, and other middle class perks should remain intact, but other than that we should have a flat tax rate so the working poor can pay their "fair share" of taxes, and she can quit paying for all their welfare.

Uh, yeah.... Because then the working poor (not generally on welfare, actually) will actually pay a higher tax rate, since they won't benefit from that mortgage deduction or the child care credits because they can't afford to buy houses or pay for child care... Yeah, that seems fair...

I doubt very seriously that those who are born uber-wealthy ever truly understand. They may sympathize or even think they "get it." But they don't.

Nana said...

Cousin was stationed in a most impressive Manor House in England prior to D-Day. [the government had taken over the house...think Downton Manor] Fifty years later, he and his wife returned. The current Lord / Duke was delighted to welcome them ... took them on a tour of the (still private) house and said "aren't we just so lucky!"

Cousin was moved to see that someone literally 'to the manor born' was aware that only an accident of birth had brought him all this good life.

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