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Sunday, May 17, 2009

An Embarrassment of Riches

"It is an unfortunate human failing that a full pocketbook often groans more loudly than an empty stomach." ~ Franklin Delano Roosevelt


I don't know what it is exactly about my particular malady of the moment, but despite the fact that I cannot seem to stay awake for more than an hour or two during the day, at night I have these vivid, crazy dreams or my mind is awake and filled with essays and far-flung ideas that all seem to connect, as if I have a high fever. But I'm not feverish at all. My head hurts and I can't put my mind to rest after dark. I'm becoming a creature of the night.

After tossing and turning for over an hour, plus it's quite warm here now (75º at 12:42am as I write this), I've decided to just write write write until I can go back to sleep again.

***frieze above the Villa Taverna, Hotaling Place
a private club where only being rich makes you worthy

I'm thinking a lot about having money, about not having money, and what having an extreme amount of money does to atrophy the human heart. For the past thirteen years, I've been working for and around extremely wealthy people, mostly women. I've been culling these snippets and observations for such a long time now, at first fascinated by a world that most of us will never have entree to, and now have left it for good, with a reserve of disgust built up by what I've seen. It's a specific segment of the ruling class, and by no means a statement on those philanthropists who use their wealth to improve lives, but to those petty lesser nobles whose only cares run the gamut of designer shops, country clubs, spas, bridge games and gossip.

I think about this now, as my iPhone beeps daily with little sweet messages from K and the kids over the past week: Aunty Julie, we LOVE you. Get well soon! Aunty Julie, we miss you! BIG hugs!!!

I miss them, too.

I am so fortunate. I cannot think of a single wealthy woman I've ever met (except with one brilliant and generous exception) who would have helped K. In fact, those who have been in a position to help in a profound way have completely ignored my story.

Most of these women (and again, I haven't much experience with the husbands, just the wives) are obsessed with their appearance and are deathly afraid of aging (is that the precursor to losing the husband who pays all the bills?). Plastic surgery aside, getting facials, manicures, pedicures, eyelash tinting, eyelash extensions, hair color, blowouts, massages, fat reduction ... all of these sometimes weekly activities, not counting the endless hours of private designer trunk shows at Neimans, Saks and Chanel, tea parties, socials and the like... a life so unexamined leaves little time for anything of substance. In fact, it renders many helpless, if not downright ignorant (why learn to use a computer if you can have someone use it for you? Or even possess the skill to write a complete sentence, for that matter?). Of course a staff is needed to cook and clean and maintain the home so it looks like a perfect hotel, not to mention the retinue of gardeners that are on site five days a week.

One employer who begrudged me a measly $2 hourly increase in pay and never failed to mention it with a sigh ("I never paid my previous assistant as much as I pay you"), as if I was robbing her blind, as I filed her numerous bank statements, each account holding monies well into the millions, had three closets. One contained only shoes from floor to ceiling, the cheapest pair starting at around $400, and many of them unworn because her bunions were too painful. How many trips did I make to the shoe repair man to have these perfect shoes stretched to accommodate growing bunions? And still she made a hobby of buying expensive shoes she couldn't wear.

Again, I am fortunate. That sort of wealth without the heart or mind to claim some common sense and decency instead creates a prison of the soul. These people are so afraid of not having money that they're probably worse off than people who really are impoverished. Not having money means not having the right friends, power and position in "society." It sounds very Jane Austen-ish, and it is. Nothing much has changed in that regard where position and money rule. At one time, I thought I'd write my own version of The Nanny Diaries, and capitalize on the inanity I've been exposed to, but when I think about it now, I realize these people just aren't worthy of my attention any longer. I am grateful for that.

I am looking forward to feeling better soon (!) so I can see my little family of friends again. This week Aunty Julie will be ready for them, BIG hugs having been stored up for days on end.

Full of riches that don't cost a cent but that still can't be bought at any price.


Anonymous May 17, 2009 at 1:50 AM  

you have many thoughts that's why you can't fall asleep, try to have warm bath or warm milk it will make you feel better.

i hope you get well soon.. :->

Cynthia May 17, 2009 at 4:53 AM  

Hi Julie,
I hope you're feeling well soon. I can't imagine the work environment you have been in...such a contrast to ordinary life.

People are selfish for many reasons, not only because they have too much but also because they have too little. There is a selfish quality that motivates criminal behavior, descrimination and racism, too. Many issues such as the war with the south in the 1860's had a strong economic base...a fear of financial ruin that ran through but also provided the base for cruel behavior.

Your were fortunate to see how people develop given too much. I wonder about the rare exception to this tendency to grasp and aquire. I think some people are not influenced (or not permanently) by having too much maybe because it doesn't relate to security. However, I have very little experience with this rare person.

I have more experience with those who have less and fear losing what they have...it makes them competitive,insincere, and at times corrupt.

I fight with the tendency to judge too harshly because I think we all can lose our self-control and focus on higher aims in life. How wonderful that your years as an assistant have created in you a desire to do more for those in need.

I look forward to the time when we all accept that everyone deserves to eat, have shelter and have health care- and be given educational opportunities.

Wouldn't you forgo a few pairs of 400.00 shoes to take care of more nieces and nephews...? I hope that these dollar-drugged wealthy women are one day suddenly made aware of their higher compassionate nature.

I have left an award for you at Oasis Writing Link, so that more people would come over here and be influenced by your project to help K and the kids. Please don't feel any obligation to do anything...

I hope your full health (in all ways) returns to you soon. <3

Char May 17, 2009 at 5:55 AM  

this is true

Bill Stankus May 17, 2009 at 7:12 AM  

Ignorance isn't defined by dollars but does make it more noticeable.

Marilyn Miller May 17, 2009 at 7:15 AM  

Bless you and get better! Your words touch me. Thanks for opening your heart to write them and to share your heart with K and her family.

~K May 17, 2009 at 7:50 AM  

I remember you telling me about these ladies and I agreed how stunted and vacant their lives are. Fortunately, not all wealthy people are like that. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are two that come to mind. The work their foundations are doing is amazing. Also the idea that Warren is not passing his fortune down to his family I think is interesting. Mainly I think he trying to prevent the corruption and the putrification of the soul you write about here

Mari May 17, 2009 at 8:31 AM  

I've had a similar experience through work, with wealthy people, but I can even see it in my own little world. I would love to go camping with my husband and kids this spring: no phone, no t.v., no computer (gasp!)

Elyse May 17, 2009 at 8:37 AM  

Wow, I am completely amazed that people actually live like that. I just mean, I thought it was just another thing Hollywood made up. But I am amazed...thank you so much for sharing, and I hope you feel better soon! =) Drink some tea and take care of yourself...

Anonymous May 17, 2009 at 8:55 AM  

This is so TRUE! Interesting tidbit from HAMO headquarters - when we sent out our personal plea to friends, family, and colleagues for our diaper drive - I STILL have not heard ONE word of personal encouragement (much less a donation of a $33 case of diapers or $25 wipes via amazon) from a per$on I know who is in a po$ition to give back to their community. This is someone whom I used to be in direct contact with on a daily basis and keep in touch with. Not a word of response or encouragement (e.g., "hey - what a great thing you guys are doing!"), not even after sending a follow up direct email. Weird, right? On the upside, the friend who has the least to give monetarily, has shown us the most amount of charity. She blogged about it in a guest post: http://helpamotherout.org/2009/05/14/wic-for-one-of-our-own/ I find it symbolic that day you were laid off from your job was the day you met and reached out to K and family. Money doesn't make you wealthy. The charity you show others does. Thx for being one of our inspirations. -Lisa

paris parfait May 17, 2009 at 10:38 AM  

I know quite a few women (and men) like the ones you mention and you're so right. Often the ones who have the fattest bank accounts seem the most impoverished of the soul. Very thoughtful post, Miss Parker. Hope you are soon feeling well enough to get out and about. xoxox

ArtSparker May 17, 2009 at 10:49 AM  

I used to do graphic design work for a society charity event. I was struck by how a lot of these women had a child-like quality, and seemed to wear their bride-price on their persons in the form of jewelery.

Andi May 17, 2009 at 1:09 PM  

Very poignant post, well done and thoughtful. My husband and I talk about this all the time. We don't understand how rich people "function" maybe they start out decent humans but somewhere along the line something happens and they are no longer certain who their real friends are or if they really have any. They must wonder if people only like them because they want something from them. I think this is very sad. Being rich must be very lonely and superficial. I would rather have no money and real friends than rich with a room full of people that I would never quite know....0

Elizabeth May 17, 2009 at 1:12 PM  

TangoBaby: Well it looks like you have come into the place of collision where one sees the great inequities. It is really something to see, and something I hope that you will write more about.
I did some radio pieces when we first lived here among the new rich of the tech industry..a different kind of clue-less, (sometimes I wished they would get a little makeup consultation...or at least use the effing fancy kitchen for some cooking.)
another story.
It is clear that you are stirred up for a reason...which will become clearer for sure.
P.S> We saw our daughter go through high-school, obsessed with shoes and brands...until she hauled herself of to India for an "adventure"...she certainly changed dramatically after that. Maybe we could send all those rich ladies over to India....Oh no, they would buy up all the stuff.

Elizabeth May 17, 2009 at 1:14 PM  

Love the comment from ArtSparker!

smith kaich jones May 17, 2009 at 2:53 PM  

Well, in my town we just call them those South Tyler women, and none of them earned their money. They were born into it, or they married into it, and usually both. And Dear God, it's a smallish town, so I get to hear gossip, and they lead the most empty lives. I went to an art show - and here I use the term very loosely - the other night, and there they were, overdressed as usual (I have seen them wear fur coats to a Lyle Lovett concert). And as thrilled as I would be to be able to not work, just paint, just write, I would never, ever want it in exhange for that kind of life.

I don't think it's just the money, though - I have friends just as rich who are wonderful, charitable folks, higher up the karma ladder than those socialites & their hubbies. I think the money just makes their yuckiness even more so.


Anonymous May 17, 2009 at 3:53 PM  

I enjoyed every second of reading this post Julie...

Get well again soon!

Ms. K @ Write On Thyme May 17, 2009 at 4:27 PM  

I spent one summer working as a nanny on Long Island--3 different families--and I was stunned at how very unhappy each one of these families 'with money' were. But how very invested in making it look perfect to the outside world. Loved Cynthia's 'dollar-drugged' phrase! But I just keep hoping for them that one day they will see the compassionate light!

robinbird May 17, 2009 at 4:29 PM  

i am glad to hear you might be feeling better enough to get up and out of that bed and into the sunshine soon!

namastenancy May 17, 2009 at 7:33 PM  

I see this every time we have an art show - people come into my studio who are wearing more on their feet than most of the pieces that I've worked so hard to paint. Yet, they either make an inane or clueless comment or tell me that they can't afford the piece.
Guess it depends on your values and you know what's really of value and they do not. Get well soon but don't stop sharing these insightful, thoughtful and funny posts with us.

poet May 17, 2009 at 9:01 PM  

Haven't had any experience with such people. I thought those one hears of are extreme cases... But I agree to what you say - it is a sad, sad truth that the fewer material cares a person has, the more that person becomes prone to fuss over unimportant troubles. This applies globally and locally... But while I can understand the wish to make the most of one's looks, the fear of aging (hello to my first wrinkles, and I'm only 22!) and the interest in worldly things like fashion (in the sense of a healthy enjoyment of beautiful things), I don't get how much money and effort people are willing to spend on this. The most expensive pair of shoes I ever bought cost a little below $100 and I felt bad about it... You know what, I think you should call that lady and suggest she have a shoe auction for K & the kids! I believe you could warm her heart to an extent that she would actually do it :) After all, people do want to feel like they are "a good person"!


Anonymous May 18, 2009 at 1:25 AM  

Fame and fortune can buy you almost anything at all except a conscience and a properly assembled list of priorities.

msHedgehog May 18, 2009 at 7:50 AM  

I'm considering how very, very little such women - poorly educated, no longer young, lacking in useful experience - could earn by their own efforts. Then the paralysing terror created by a Bernie Maddoff.

Have you heard the expression "WAGs"?

Christina May 18, 2009 at 11:17 AM  

I loved reading this, I appreciate it. I hope you were able to get some sleep.
I can't really say I have any money and if I did, all my loved ones would too. I am rich with love dear one, rich with love.
I love you!

Sarah May 18, 2009 at 11:34 AM  

Hi Julie,

My gosh, your blogs really make me think and reflect. I am thankful for that.

Working in the industry I do, I have met many 'rich' folks...Rich, of course, in dollars, but not in life or integrity. It's interesting that many of these folks only help when it gets their name in papers and on television to help with their PR. Sad, really.

Feel better! Focus on the positive pieces of this beautiful thing called life. Miracles are all around us. :)


Relyn May 24, 2009 at 1:41 PM  

Full of riches that don't cost a cent but that still can't be bought at any price.And that, my friend, is wisdom money can not buy. A loving heart, the greatest of riches. I can't help it. I think of Harry Bailey saying, "My brother. George Bailey, the richest man in town."

I'd say you're as rich as George.

smith kaich jones May 28, 2009 at 3:50 PM  

" . . . and seemed to wear their bride-price on their persons in the form of jewelry." I cannot get these words out of my head. Thay are influencing a painting I am working on - not on purpose, but it evolved last night & suddenly I was writing a story to go with it.

Thank you both, Julie & ArtSparker.

:) Debi