Saturday, January 07, 2006

Rich Company

The story about the gated community within the gated community set me thinking. I am fortunate to be wealthier than 99+ percent of the people who have ever lived, and yet I keep getting these reminders that I don't know anything about truly rich company.

The celebrity profiles, big numbers (Bill Gates, $51 billion net worth) and statistics (the net worth of the Forbes 400 climbed $125 billion, to $1.13 trillion last year) don't properly convey how the rich are very different from you and me.

It's the small details of wealth that bring it home to me. Like the way a former girl friend described the lifestyle in her circle back in Texas. You all hopped in daddy's plane for a shopping trip to Dallas, then returned for dinner to find a place set with a pack of your brand of cigarettes and matches embossed with your name.

Or the man who told of an AA meeting he attended in LA where the chauffers came in first and put business cards on the chairs to reserve seats for their bosses.

Another friend noted his business once bid on varnishing the wood in a closet for a super-rich household. Not to build the closet or install the fixtures — just to finish the surface. The bid: $100,000. The closet: 4,000 square feet.

I once interviewed a writer who showed me a sample of a beautiful brochure describing a luxury yacht. ("Brochure" understates the opulence of the photography, paper and printing. And "yacht" makes it sound like a boat. Think instead floating Park Avenue mansion.)

Were they renting it out, I asked? No, this was for guests, so they could appreciate ahead of time where they were going. And, presumably, to realize they could leave their foul weather slickers at home.

My comfortable life is as far from them as a mildewed trailer park is from me. To a family in Darfur, the trailer might be a palace.

And to a Congressman in America, it's still time to stimulate the economy by cutting taxes on the rich and programs for the poor.


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