Living with the Fishes

There’s a lot of wealth in New York.  Poverty, too – but let’s concentrate on the money.  F. Scott Fitzgerald once said “the very rich aren’t like you and me.”  It’s true.  They aren’t like you and me.  They’re more like tropical fish.

…because I’m a raging alcoholic.

Here’s how.

Narrow Zone

You may think that having a lot of money would expand your horizons.  Well, yes and no.  Money removes barriers, but it puts others in place.  It lets you fly from a 5-star hotel in Paris to a lovely seaside spa in Tahiti, but it raises more obstacles than it removes.  Like tropical fish, the very wealthy can only stand a certain narrow temperature range.  If it’s too crazy, too dirty, too improvisational, too rough-and-tumble roll-up-your-sleeves, they can’t handle it.

Handle with care and with a large, highly-trained staff.

No touchy

Like tropical fish, the wealthy don’t like to be startled or handled.  This is understandable.  You are surrounded by people who want something from you.  Each and every time someone tries to speak to you, it isn’t just to see if you want to play checkers in the park.  Everyone you have contact with has an agenda.  This somewhat lessens a spirit of adventure in checking out your fellow humans.  You start seeing sharks everywhere.  If someone suggests you meet for coffee, it isn’t just meeting for coffee.  There’s no such thing.  You need to find out what the agenda is – and you need an entourage to protect yourself.  When you are a broke bohemian, no one wants anything from you, and it’s easy to find people who simply enjoy your personality.  No one feels any need to hide the fact they hate your guts, and life is easier.

Sure, you have no heat — but no one’s trying to fleece you, either.

Glass Walls

The very rich are fairly obvious, due to their bright coloration and the many objects that surround them.  Note:  don’t confuse fame with wealth.  Fame has its own problems, and I imagine that fame without wealth would be a horrible fate.  Kind of like immortality without youth.  Anonymous wealth gives power, but also an increasingly visible lifestyle in a

Somehow, I get the feeling we’re being watched.

shrinking aquarium.  You may think that, to the very wealthy, the whole world is their oyster.  This is not the case.  Command of resources doesn’t equate to breadth of experience.  Think of the Sun King living in Versailles, the original gated community.  He was famous for throwing parties where the rich and royal could dress up like a peasant and pretend to be shepherds.  This was attractive to the king, because he had no clue how a real peasant lived:  they could see him, but he couldn’t see them.  This blissful state of ignorance continued for several more years until the real peasants chopped off everyone’s head.

Just a simple peasant — not the Queen of France at all.

High Stress Lifestyle

You may be humming “if I were a rich man” right now, thinking your life would be a stress-free idyllic smorgasbord where you could buy everything you ever wanted and never worry about the bills. Ummmm, no.  For every stress that money removes, others are added that you can’t imagine.   Large pots of money require all your time and energy to manage.  On the flip side, lack of stress about paying for rent and food tends to remove the fire-in-the-belly that you see in the young and hungry,  entrepreneurs and MacArthur genius award winners.

Lots of Varieties

There isn’t just one type of tropical fish.   Some are nice, some are nasty, some are pretty, some are bottom feeders.  Same for people.  Maybe you think the rich are carefree bon-vivants?  Yeah, there are a few of those in every economic strata.  Heartless arrogant entitled dicks?  Again, those come with a whole range of bank accounts.  A clear-eyed, kind-hearted, intelligent mensch?  About as rare among the rich as  among the general population.  In short, the measure of a human still depends on the respect they grant to other humans, and there’s no connection between that and money.  Humans come in a lot of varieties, and the rich are no different.

Subsistence farming – not so bad when you get used to it?

High Maintenance

Like tropical fish, the very rich enjoy a specific comfort zone that is only possible with highly-trained, specialized, hands-on staff.  Out in the wild, small changes in the environment wipe out their habitat.  Another half a degree of ocean temperature, and the great barrier reef coral will die, taking free-range tropical fish with them.  Same for the rich:  if the market goes south wiping out all their assets, where are they going to go?  How are they going to live?  It’s easy for everyone else to say “they’ll live like me, it’s not so bad!”  When YOUR income gets divided by 25, and you learn how to live by selling aluminum cans and practicing subsistence farming, come talk to me.

Uncertain Forecast for the progeny

Out in the wild, unwary children are in constant danger of being eaten by barracudas.  Ditto for the very rich:  their innocent progeny are laid open to every con you’ve ever heard of, including the very real risk of being kidnapped and held for ransom.  Most scams are more voluntary, however, and if your kid is rich there are lots of folks who can help them spend pots of money.  A really nice night out on the town costs about ten thousand dollars a pop, for example, and your kid will want to do that 3 or 4 times a week.

Have I got an investment opportunity for you!

There’s a rule of thumb that it only takes three generations to wipe out even the largest estate.  The unwary heir who unwittingly squanders the family fortune is a standard plot device in every Victorian novel and, by the way, every HBO series too.  Then, too, the grandchildren usually start fighting like a bunch of moray eels over the best hidey-hole as soon as the founder of the wealth goes belly up.  It’s a rare family that cheerfully divides the wealth between the grandchildren of the first wife, the children of the current wife, and everyone else who feels they should be getting some of the caviar.  Often, only the barracudas benefit.


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