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 a security team of 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, keep just a hint of mystery:
“Who is that distinguished gentleman, how young he looks when backlit, at dawn!”
To be honest, I just want to slum it sometimes. OK, OK, like, busted! I get it!
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, leaving me more moolah for calling up Uber Eats and purchasing container loads of Kraft Dinner, which I like to garnish with foie gras; and President’s Choice frozen fruit punch with hundred percent all-natural flavors, enlivened 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).
This, my little sycophants, is true sacrifice—like buying a can of tomatoes instead of the ones I really want: Some of the grape tomatoes, each one clutching its affidavit of organic provenance, that just flew into town First Class from Mexico. Van Cleef & Arpels should make necklaces 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 windows of your sad little local hardware provider, over the crushed bodies of Fred Helply, the proprietor, and his cheery staff, right up to the loading bay of Walmart and picking up bottled glacial water by the pallet, gallons of Dijon mustard, two thousand rolls of quilted toilet tissue.
And we get obnoxious by saying to 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 get rich mainly by inheriting most of 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 Martha Stewart Moses 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 sub-Saharan Africa, crawling with flies, arms and legs like matchsticks, and bellies swollen from imminent starvation, though 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 getting born in East Hampton and inheriting our wealth.
Once we’ve taken care of our patrician roots, we can relax, even more than we are 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!
As I was saying:
Thriftiness is a virtue, especially when we’re asked to pay for some homeless person’s bypass instead of setting up another trust fund, and virtue gives us clout. This makes stinking rich the obvious choice when a stagnant economy forces us to live within our means.
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 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—waiting until someone on the Board of Directors saw the check, then Ziggy’s essay, and put two and two together—some genius decided to change the M.O.
Suddenly it was skulduggery and 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 breaks wind 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 perspective.)
Moneyed, moronic, Olympic-level vulgarity, not to mention autopsy instruments, speak louder than merit, be it a question of buying American elections, getting your nerdy, asthmatic, straight-C’s son on the Harvard football team as quarterback, or simply getting a window seat at Canoe and the best fixed prices for your pharmaceuticals.
And let’s not pretend we’re shocked. There’s nothing we love more than wallowing in the schadenfreude-masking-secret-envy of the fake, just-throw-money-at-them problems of our quasi-royalty who 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: All you need is dosh and if we can get dosh, anybody can.
Someone invents a geegaw no one in their right mind needs, until the marketers tell us we do, and we’re lobbing fistfuls of our hard-earned money at the visionary entrepreneur. But let a public servant come up with a new way to tackle poverty, regulate worker safety, lower our carbon emissions or improve public transit? She’s a wastrel, an enemy of freedom, stealing our same hard-earned dollars, but for the benefit of the undeserving—the undeserving being anyone except the already wealthy.
North Americans are not a subtle cohort. We were born raising barns and smashing stained glass. We like stark choices and paternal voices. We forget that even robber barons built libraries, out of the nagging sense that they’d amassed more than was seemly. Life is hard, and meant to be lived unadorned: 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; culture would prove we’ve got ideas above our station, too much unproductive time on our hands.
We are in thrall to carnival barkers with cures for baldness and hatchet-wielding temperance gals in gingham dresses breathing hellfire. Everybody hustle!
Capitalism for the masses: Your success (merit!) necessitates my failure (sorry, bud, it’s nature’s way).
But socialism for the moneyed vulgarians: Scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours (capitalism is so… middle-class!).
Dogs in diamond collars when we’ve run out of places on ourselves.