Tuesday, January 8, 2008



I was reading this article in New York Magazine. They LOVE writing about rich people in NY Mag, it's all about fetishizing wealth, putting it on a pedestal where they admire it and despise it simultaneously. I sympathize with that reaction; I have it frequently and it's called "approach-avoidant" by psychologists. You admire something and covet it even as you resent the means by which it had to be attained. I feel this way when surrounded by ostentatious wealth and ostentatious beauty (of the tan/boob job/designer clothes/highlights variety).

Just like New York Magazine, I feel like money is on my mind a little too much. I'm not so much into fantasizing about what I could buy if I had unlimited wealth, or even focused on attaining wealth. I think I'm fascinated by the transformative power of wealth (and its inverse, poverty). I'm interested to what happens when people get rich or poor, and how people act when they are encumbered with the burden of millions and the burden of no money.

Living in New York, I'm experiencing wealth in a way I have never seen before. The majority of the wealthiest people in the United States live here, and you can tell. Amidst the hot dog stands and dirty homeless people, town cars whisk people around to dinners where the check easily equals my monthly rent. For work, I sometimes go to dinners like these, the 'expense account' dinners with clients. I can't help but think, this dinner is X amount of my paycheck. I could buy Y with the price of this steak, and the dinner left on my plate that I couldn't finish because of all the appetizers and wine, well that is Z dollars. In the garbage. It sickens and fascinates me.

Of course all the people around me, all my friends, all have different amounts of wealth and experience and talk about their privilege in different ways. I don't care to go into that here. Not yet.

The New York Magazine article talked about wealth as creating its own pathologies, just as poverty creates its own pathologies. I've always wondered whether it would be better to be relatively wealthy or absolutely wealthy. If you live in Hicksville and your mother/father is a doctor, you're golden. You can afford nicer things than your friends, you're probably secure (or a snobby bitch) about your standing in the community. If you're in New York City and your parent is a middling doctor, let's say, who can afford to send kids to 40k private schools with billionaires in them--well you're going to feel the same way the trailer park kids feel in Oklahoma. I could imagine people in those kinds of situations feeling guilty for having so much but still being envious...but really, especially if you've been raised Christian, it's all about thanking God for giving you every single gift and taking nothing for granted (tangent...) So anyway: relative vs. absolute wealth. I guess this subject holds my curiousity since as a child my family moved a few times, and also experienced a big career transition, so I've experienced changes in relative and absolute wealth. It matters.

Again, the pathologies of the trust fund. I haven't been around enough trust funders to really draw conclusions based on these behaviors, and I'm skeptical having money still means you can have every behavior under the sun--it just means you might be more likely to have some traits than others. I do have some relatives who inherited money and chose not to work because of their inheritence. Reading the New York Magazine article, some of the things pointed out (being cheap because your money becomes less and less, odd behavior coming out of feelings of uselessness, the disdain of those around you because you don't work, the trust funder resenting everyone around them thinking they want them for their money) I can check off that list. I do think using a trust fund in that way, as your sole means of support, can imprison you more so than corrupt you. But really, it's what you make of it, and having a strong character I think is the most important. Growing up, I always had these romantic notions of some of my eccentric relatives (whose wealth really was modest and has dissipated in just a couple generations). I loved that I had a homey, stuffing-from-a-box side of the family and a crazy eccentric you-read-memoirs-about family. It mixed things up. However, as the years have worn on, I've learned about skeletons in the closet, and unexpected normalcies, and I think I've deromanticized everything.

Still, my favorite story:

My great-Uncle Aubrey ended up living in an old house filled with clutter from his dead parents, that he would wrap and give as Christmas gifts to relatives every year. He would go to three course prix fixe meals and come back a week later for the dessert. He graduated from the University of Chicago.

He only worked a day in his life: He joined his father's company, and convinced all the workers to go on strike.

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