playing fair is one luxury the privileged can’t afford
AS A LOYAL READER OF THIS BLOG, YOU will of course be aware that I’ve previously come out as favoring rubies.
Let’s be absolutely sure we’re on the same page, here: I’m talking great, honking, shameless clusters of square-cut rubies with lots and lots of nice, big diamonds.
And I know what you’re thinking:
Total! NO! BRAINER!!
But I have to confess I’m also rather fond of oodles and oodles of cabochon-cut turquoise with blue sapphire and diamond accents mounted in 18K yellow gold, by Van Cleef & Arpels, see left.
Now there’s something a girl could make sacrifices for, once a girl has figured out just exactly what there is left of herself that hasn’t already been sacrificed.
What can I say? Like any other eligible piece of daddy-tail between the age of sixty and death, je suis tellement fatigué. I’m not always up to squeezing me, the toothpaste, back into the crinkled, overworked tube of my Fortuny gown, slapping on forty carats of ruby and diamond cuff, retail value $1,229,540.74, then heading to the corner store flanked by twelve Mounties in full regalia just because I fancy a couple of butter tarts and some commemorative postage.
And, frankly, I need to hold back for my fans’ sake, keep just a hint of mystery:
“Who is that distinguished, solitary gentleman? How young he looks when backlit, at dawn!”
Honestly? I just want to slum it, sometimes. OK, OK, like, busted! You got me!
But hear me out, Murgatroyd McGraw, because being rich is not just all about the gold ingots and heirloom silver and Old Masters and crisp, bundled banknotes piled up to the ceiling in your second-best ballroom with the rococo panelling.
It’s also all about the jaw-dropping savings: At $135,000, this timeless, elegant piece of clumps of polished gravel works out cheaper than rubies, making this the more sensible extravagance. And it leaves me more moolah in my Cayman Islands bank account for calling up Uber Eats and ordering a foie gras BLT and a Cherry Coke teased into significance with a spritz of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. (My signature cocktail, the “Power Drill,” great for trepanning yourself the morning after a fun yet overly-demanding night out).
Buying oodles of turquoise instead of bushels of rubies, my little sycophants, is true sacrifice. Let me express this in terms you can understand: It’s like buying a can of No-Name tomatoes instead of the ones you really want: A clamshell of grape tomatoes, each one clutching its affidavit of organic provenance, that just flew into town First Class from Mexico. Maybe Van Cleef & Arpels should make jewelry outta those!
How do you think people get as rich and obnoxious as me?
That’s right. The more you spend, the more you save! We get rich by driving our petro-swilling SUV right through the plate-glass windows of your sad little local hardware store, leaving behind the crushed bodies of Fred Helply, the rosy-cheeked proprietor, and his cheery staff, and right up to the loading bay of Walmart, where we pick up bottled tap water by the pallet, gallons of Dijon mustard, two thousand rolls of quilted toilet tissue.
And we get obnoxious by tearing a strip off the radicalized environmentalists and panda-fuckers who think that’s wasteful: “Two thousand year-old trees? Try wiping your ass with a giant sequoia, then give us a call!”
Also, we rich people get rich primarily by inheriting our wealth.
In other words, we get and stay rich through the sheer randomness of the birth lottery, which determines whether we’re lying in a Blue Almonds baby basket on a sand dune in East Hampton, tiny mouths clamped onto a silver spoon first used by Queen Anne, or lying on a sand dune in Sudan, crawling with flies, arms and legs like matchsticks, and bellies swollen with malnutrition as we await our wretched, imminent death from starvation.
This is problematic. We’d prefer to believe we’re in East Hampton not through sheer randomness but because—well, because of all that we’ve achieved.
Like being born in East Hampton and inheriting our wealth.
Once we’ve taken care of our patrician roots, we can relax, even more than we do already. We multiply and preserve our wealth through economies of scale (which the poor can’t access because their cars have been repossessed, leaving them surviving on canned creamed corn and jujubes from the local bodega); and by pinching those pennies so hard they squeal louder than Ann Coulter in tit clamps.
Speaking as the sissy-boy who shared a chambre communicante plus bidet with Ann while we were both Broadway hopefuls, making rounds all afternoon, eatin’ in a greasy spoon to save on our dough-oh—and yes, Sondheim gave me permission—I can assure you those squeals are a decibel or two hundred off the charts.
Ann! I told you! Never spramp your bleedywunquet with hot water—you’ll come up like a Shoppers Drug Mart hemorrhoid cushion! My flushing the toilet at just the wrong moment thereby appropriating all the cold had nothing to do with it!
Thriftiness is a virtue, especially when we’re asked to pay for some homeless person’s heart bypass or motel housing, instead of setting up another trust fund. This is when we say, “Running a bit low, sorry, and charity begins at home!” When a stagnant economy forces us to live within our means, give me stinking rich any day!
Extravagant, money-leaking poor people soon find the alternative, parasitic lifestyle that seemed so alluring when they read “Oliver Twist” is shockingly expensive. You’ve got no choice but to live in some trailer park where the landlord charges you usurious interest rates on your overdue rent, and you can’t even threaten shopkeepers with taking your business elsewhere, because there’s only one shop within walking distance, therefore no elsewhere.
Why someone would choose to live like that, with not a single elsewhere to relieve the monotony—well, it just boggles my mind.
It’s verging on—somebody has to say it, and here goes Mr. Straight-Talkin’ Unpopular—irresponsible.
The week drew to a close, as I lounged in my bower of white Vanda orchids, with the revelation that rich people—TV stars, and food processing magnates and jewelry designers and more TV stars and dentists and even superstar lawyers (!)— had botched their bribery of posh private colleges. Instead of sticking with the traditional signing of a million-dollar cheque for a new library and presenting it to the bursar while the cameras flashed and hands were shaken and, in an examination hall nearby, little Ziggy struggled with his entrance essay—then waiting until someone on the Board of Directors saw the check, and Ziggy’s essay, and put two and two together—some genius decided to change the M.O.
Suddenly it was skulduggery and cryptic emails and entrance exams taken three times in two different states, images with their kids’ heads Photoshopped onto the bodies of volleyball players—and, I like to imagine, two A.M. trysts in the quadrangle.
Our ever-intrepid parents of the privileged tiptoed across ancient lawns under pitch black, moonless skies until someone hissed, “Hey, over here!”—which so distracted mom and dad that their Ferragamo shoes got stuck in the roots of a three-hundred year old oak tree, and they fell, faces and cheque books first, into the arms of an athletics coach who just happened to be passing by.
And if you can believe it, thanks to the appalling negligence of the groundskeepers, this happened fifty times! You’d think they’d have at least devised a warning sign— perhaps a silhouette of Barbara Hutton tripping over some tree roots, with maybe a lightning bolt pointing at her feet to indicate something painful, then a great, big X through everything to make it clear that this was not a desirable outcome. You’d think, at least!
The revelation that shameless, entitled rich people had bought their kids advantages they didn’t in any way deserve, just more blatantly than last week, was barely news, and certainly not “the end of meritocracy!”
Calm down! This is no end to meritocracy. It’s just another pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! Oz has spoken! type of socially awkward event where we’re all in cahoots, but have to pretend we’re not, like when Granny Rockefeller farts in church, or when Egbert uses the crème brulée spoon for the fish course. One of those moments when we admit there’s a big charade going on, look at each other, laugh ruefully, oh, that Egbert! He’s just incorrigible! then go right on charading.
There is a kind of meritocracy at work, just not the overly-literal, humorless, taking-itself-seriously meritocracy that insists on, well, merit. What’s that po-faced fucktardery all about? Think Kardashians, Hiltons, Trumps, gold medallists in the Olympics of Vulgar, oligarchs of the moronic moneyed.
(Or think Koch brothers, DeVos, the Republican party and the Progressive Conservatives at prayer: Sleazy deals and dark Webs; Deep States and French-kissing Godfathers; dissident journalists dismembered in embassies. Whether that’s unspeakable horror or all in a day’s work depends on your job description.)
Merit has always been required, but the trick is to define merit so that it’s in plentiful supply and available to our de facto kings and queens. WASP lineage? Merit will be an IQ test, to keep out Jews. Ineffective? Jews turned out to be annoyingly smart, and SAT’s were born.
The privileged class, rather than staking its claim based on true merit—skill, intelligence, integrity—even once, has cleverly devised barriers that screen out whatever they don’t have, leaving them with one attribute they could all agree on. Money is the best merit money can buy, and the American crown princes, those scions of food packaging empires and hedge fund dynasties, deserve nothing less.
Our quasi-royalty of the republic don’t need to be interesting, trustworthy, ethical or talented, or even know how to pronounce noblesse oblige. Their louder-than-a-Lily-Pulitzer-pantsuit message is: If we can get dosh, anybody can. All you need to do is stoop low enough, preferably while taking a selfie for Instagram.
Someone invents an electronic toy that no one needs, until the marketers and influencers tell us we do—think Apple Watch and thousand-dollar iPhones; gigantic “Smart” TVs that hijack our living rooms; robot sidekicks that might delight an unsophisticated three-year-old; Bluetooth headsets that turn their wearers into obtuse, self-styled celebrities broadcasting their delusions of grandeur at our backs—and we’re lobbing fistfuls of our hard-earned money at the “visionary entrepreneur.”
But let a public servant come up with a way to tackle poverty, deliver healthcare, regulate worker safety, lower our carbon emissions or improve public transit? She’s a wastrel, an enemy of liberty, a socialist.
She’d allocate far less of our hard-earned money for better results and greater good, but we’re sold on the idea that taxation is theft; and the only theft we countenance is the covert type. Covert theft plays out as everyday low prices, subsidized by subsistence-level wages for employees; CEO’s paid three hundred times the wages of a secretary, taxpayer-funded mortgage relief.
Even the robber barons, once reviled but looking more and more like modern-day saints, donated Carnegie libraries, built whole towns of factory-worker housing, gave out a paternalistic scuttle of coal and a turkey at Christmas, out of the nagging sense that they’d amassed more than was seemly.
(Is it socialism when the tax exemption on inherited wealth is increased to eleven million from five point five million, as it was in 2018, in the U.S.? Under these new guidelines, there are currently only two thousand people in the United States who would be liable for estate tax.
(Is it socialism when the corporate tax breaks, which we were assured would be invested in higher wages, new products, job creation or lower prices, were used by companies almost exclusively to buy back their own stock, for the benefit of shareholders?)
North Americans, we proles without the silver spoons, are not a smart or subtle cohort. We are descended from barn-raisers and smashers of stained glass. Life is hard, and meant to be lived unadorned. We work long hours and crawl into bed early, our minds numbed and distracted by Netflix. We don’t throw our hats in the air at the unveiling of a Henry Moore or cram the doorways of Massey Hall to hear Beethoven’s latest, or celebrate Alice Munro Day; we’re too busy paying obscene rent and being gouged for wireless and paying fees to our banks so they can invest our money and reward us with wooden nickels.
We’re just plain folks; culture would prove we’ve got ideas above our station, too much unproductive time on our hands.
We are in thrall to charlatans: carnival barkers with cures for baldness and hatchet-wielding temperance gals in gingham dresses breathing hellfire. Everybody hustle!
Capitalism for the masses: Your success necessitates my failure.
But socialism for the moneyed vulgarians: Scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
Dogs in diamond collars when we’ve run out of places on ourselves.