Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hey, Happy. I've had a whirlwind five days and don't quite know where to begin recounting them, so let me share with you the impressions gleaned from a weekend spent visiting The-Other-Halfville.

Ok, backstory: we have been close friends forever with David and Millie (not their real names, obvy), who now live on the West Coast. My Beloved went to high school with David and we've been couples friends for decades and get along wonderfully. They married the same year we did and have kids the same ages as ours. David and Millie try to fly out to NYC at least once a year to visit family, including their daughter, who lives in Manhattan and works for Conde Nast. So.....

Now, Millie's brother and sister-in-law, Roy and Laura, are multi-millionaires. I am talking the kind of money where you can and do spend and spend and never feel the pain. Roy was in the same high school class with MB and David, although until recently he and MB hadn't had any contact since the 70s. But as David and Millie would be spending some time at Roy's home outside the city, the plan evolved that MB and I would visit there with them, MB would reunite with Roy, and we'd have a grand time.

And we did, for the most part. Let me say at the outset that Roy and Laura could not be nicer, friendlier, or more gracious and generous people, and there is not a trace of the kind of arrogance, self-importance, or snootiness that might accrue to one's status as monied and privileged.

That said, the contrast between their world (and how it operates ) and our current unemployed, uninsured reality could not be starker. And the freedom that financial abundance allows flows out into every aspect, large and small, of their lives. Here's what I observed and experienced:

First of all: two maids, a live-in nanny (they've had one since their first kid was born 18 years ago), at least one gardener, and a pool man. Two high-powered careers in finance: Laura's last BONUS was (don't choke on your iced tea): $1,300,000. Yes, that's 1.3 MILLION dollars. For a bonus. Clearly that won't be happening THIS year, and who knows if ever again, but remember that that number has been inching - sometimes hurtling - upwards annually for a couple of decades. The house is large and expensively furnished, although not particularly tastefully, but whatever. The gorgeous pool is lagoon-shaped, with its own waterfall (turned on and off with a switch!), and its surrounding landscaping beautifully maintained. The basement level of the house is finished off and a family of four could live there comfortably. The kitchen was recently remodeled with lots and lots of granite and dark hardwood. Giant recessed TVs abound.

All three kids will spend two weeks at their respective camps this summer AFTER a trip to Texas, but BEFORE two weeks in Hawaii, which will be followed by a stay in California on their way home. Europe is on the agenda (again) for next year.....oh, I forgot to mention an upcoming cruise at some point before year's end.

Laura is very type-A, with a high-powered, high-pressure job in the city with a bank that's had two bailouts so far. In constant motion and seemingly unable to relax and spend time with her guests, so we barely got to converse at all, which was disappointing.

In classic fashion, the oldest kid, a young man I'll call Mark, is the troubled, acting-out son of rich people, who fancies himself a misunderstood, dark, sardonic poet. My impression: I felt bad for him, as the parents clearly cannot relate to him (story of my life), but on the other hand, my attempt to engage him in conversation was met with barely-concealed hostility. Feh.

The true delight of our time there was 10-year-old Ali, their wonderful younger daughter (another girl is 14). So smart, unaffected, completely at ease speaking with adults, truly charming and engaging in every way. Sophisticated in an unpretentious way. It was a genuine treat to interact with her and I hope our paths cross again.

Here's one of my biggest take-aways from those two days, though: When you arrive at that level of wealth and comfort, your life becomes an ongoing struggle to maintain it. Look, don't get me wrong, that's probably a trade-off I would be more than willing to make at this stage of my life, and having lived on the financial edge for all my life, with the dark cloud of insolvency always looming on the horizon. I'm simply observing and certainly not passing judgment.

Now I'm back in the cold grip of my own reality. I'm going to go clip coupons.

There's more to this story, by the way, but not to be sent out into the ethernets. I'll do that over coffee with you next time.

Peace Out,

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