Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Rich Are Different Then You and I... tales from the Not Quite Rich

F. Scott (as in Fitzegerald, natch), who I like to model myself after (caustic observations of the wealthy, check; gay love affair with raiffish Hemingway-esque character [i'm still working on Andrew Coyne]; writer of great American novel, writer of great Village blog) wrote the above line in his 1926 short story, the Rich Boy. In actuality the original quotation is slightly different, but the infamous and wildly used quote, is as per the above.

I had a reason to contemplate Scott's intentions of late while flaneuring my way through the Village lifestyle.

While traveling across the pond (birthright summer Vacay in Europe) - I found myself walking through Harrods when I randomly ran into an old friend, Oscar. Oscar, a private schooled Old Boy, is working in private wealth management for a large European bank. This should be no surprise for anyone who knows anything about London - the entire city is filled with investment bankers and hedge fund workers; its sorta like trying to find a lawyer in Faux Hill. Chances are you either are one, you’re schtupping one, or your dating someone in law school.

"Hows your job?" I asked as we snacked on chocolate samples from the food hall.

"I hate it." He answered. This came as a complete surprise. Oscar, throughout our friendship, had always dreamed about being a banker. And really is there more fitting of an ending for a WASP old boy?

I realized Oscar's problem though - on one hand he managed hundreds of millions of dollars for oil-rich sheiks from the UAE, yet at the end of the day, he was about as well regarded as their cleaning lady. Your personal wealth manager may wear a Hugo Boss suit and have a Prada wallet, but at the end of the day he’s still paid to count someone else’s money.

Such a story leads, like all roads, back to the Village where I sat with a friend at the Burger Shack - the defacto greasy spoon for the Faux Hillary set - even if the Shack is the antithesis of the actual Village - there ain't no Spa Salad here.

Topic turned to a father of a mutual friend, who was recently deposed from his position as VP of some private equity company. No malice was intended when he was let go; in today’s terminology “Bruce” wasn’t really fired. He was paid to leave. Bruce had reached that stage in his career when the company board had decided it was easiest to offer up stock options and a buy out to thank his years of servitude.

The Faux Hill gossip train was, however, very much concerned as to how much money said father had received as per the buy-out and more importantly how much money the family needed to sustain the all important lifestyle. When we started bandying about figures - we realized, as wealthy as the family was - this was not the start of a Weston-esque family dynasty. The buy-out was "here and now" money to cap a very successful career. What was going to be left for the children? Well... I'll leave you with a riddle: pray the housing market doesn't cut out...

A similar situation has befallen the Whiterock household. The parents, flush from selling their successful company, had gone on an art-buying spree, even as their only son was scrambling to put together a down payment on his first house. To quote their son Ben, "the way my parents spend money - there will be none left for me." Pish posh talk at the Rosh Hashana dinner table, right? How can we cry for someone who is set to inherit a centre-hall Georgian on a sought after street in the lower village? However, Ben's right - there won't be anything left over for him or for most of us. And that's the thing about most of my contemporaries - we are children of The Not Quite Rich. Who are the Not Quite Rich? The Not Quite Rich are baby boomers who have worked their way up the corporate ladder, successfully, pulling in six figures and are statistically in the top ten percent of Canadian families in terms of wealth. [A statistical background, the average household income in the Faux is over $180,000.00, while the Canadian average household income is just over $60,000.00. According to Statistics Canada the top 5% of Canadian wage earners make $89,000+ while only 1% of Canadians earn an income of $181,000+ ; so I’m not exactly talking about a poverty stricken postal code]. But the Not Quite Rich, for all of our money and affordable luxury purchases are poseurs. We’re just like Oscar – we’re the working wealthy, which is, as ever an important distinction. And more importantly – the working wealthy, are only as good as their last pay-cheque, hence the fear of future generations, who can be heard crying about their lack of inheritence…

This of course brings me to lunch with my dear friend LV. Those are her actual initials, and although a child of the Village – she shockingly owns nothing with her own monogram on it, “it is sorta weird,” she once admitted, “I guess I just prefer Gucci.” LV and I had a lovely catch-up lunch at Holt’s CafĂ© the other day and as she described her wedding preparations, (vintage cut 2 carat diamond, FYI), she told me that while her wedding, to be held at one of the nicest church’s with the reception at one of the city’s best hotels, was going to be lovely, it would pale in comparison to her best friends wedding. Her best friends bi-national wedding (vows in France, reception in Toronto for 440 people) was a whole other kettle of fish. (As for who I’m talking about, I’ll give you a veiled hint, he’s the scion of a retail dynasty and she’s the progeny of a shoe empire… do a Google) Bottom line: when you’re Not Quite Rich, you can’t really compete when you’re your father is ONLY a Senior VP at Bell Canada Enterprises but your best friend’s father is the majority shareholder of Rogers. Know what I mean?

The plight, if you will, of the Not Quite Rich, is really at the heart of the Village. One of Canada’s wealthiest zip codes, yet in actuality divided by an aspirational class of high-income baby boomers (upper level management) and their children and a landed gentry whose wealth is so astronomically larger that it makes the rest of us look downright dowdy in comparison. Welcome the generation of the Not Quite Rich, don’t cry for us, though we still make more money then 95% of the Canadian population… Ok… ok… single tear.

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