Monday, May 23, 2005

I was in Manhattan a couple of weeks ago with my buddy D., who’d dragged me along to a birthday party in a cozy little gazillion dollar penthouse with a fabulous view of the backs of buildings with views of Central Park. A gazillion ain’t what it used to be. A view of the actual park will cost you at least a quadruple bijillion gazillion (roughly a googolplex). Even for the filthy rich, there are degrees of filth.

Penthouse reality (even the mere gazillion dollar variety) bears little resemblance to the life at street-level I’ve always known and rather loathed, truth be known, full of lopsided, self-consciously quirky, often unintentionally grotesque people who can't afford their own cigarettes, and who think of their lives as, at best would-be no-budget indie films, at worst some unwatchable pomo alt-funk version of Fear Factor. Here on the umpteenth floor amongst the glitterati it was more brutal, less amusing. But the drinks were on the house.

After kindly fetching me my third, D. smiled and said, “not so bad after all, eh?” Keep ‘em coming, I told him. After three drinks I didn’t hate everyone in the room anymore, but I still disliked the vast majority intensely. D. looked at me with a mixture of mild surprise and pity. “Mike,” he said, “you’re having rich rage.”

Suddenly I felt a flush of shame come over me. I had to admit I was on the verge. And it’s not the first time I’ve noticed this shameful creeping wealthism in me. Sometimes while I'm sitting on the Orange Line T on my way home from my slave-wage day job, my eye rests dreamily on one of those Mohegan Sun ads plastered all over the trains. You know the ones: the Duchess of Oysterland and her all-white entourage. I mean, where am I? South Africa circa 1979? Is this the express to Sun City? Miss Locked-and-loaded Buying Machine, Mr. A-Game, and the lady with the vibrating phone who only answers to “the noble touch of heated stones.” Do these people ride the T? Or is the point just to rub the rest of our noses in it?

I tried in vain to defend myself against charges of rich rage. After all, some of my best friends are rich, or at least upper middle class. D. wasn’t having it. “It’s not their fault,” he said. “They were born that way.” I tried political rhetoric, telling D.: “History calls those who fight for the poor heroes. Those who fight for the rich are mercenaries.” But it sounds so 1848. I mean, you can only stay angry at the rich for so long. Paris Hilton’s not really hurting anyone, is she?

Yes, the rich do suffer unduly from the burden of their status. And I’ve been guilty on occasion of prejudice against them. And though it pains me to admit it, while greed is often considered the worst of the seven sins, envy comes in a close second.

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