Thursday, April 26, 2007

Tom Wolfe Takes on the Hedge-Fund Pirates of Greenwich

Sort of in keeping with the tail end of that last post about the spoiled and conspicuously wealthy… I know that resentment doesn’t sell too well on a blog, at least with healthy-minded folks, but I recently heard that author Tom Wolfe had written a scathing essay called The Pirate Pose on the noveau-riche, hedge-fund elite living in places like Greenwich CT, and I though I’d throw a little bit of it out there.

Is it class warfare? I don’t know. Maybe yes, maybe no. I always remember what Al Franken said about class warfare, and I think it’s pretty good:
Anytime a liberal points out that the wealthy are disproportionately benefiting from Bush's tax policies, Republicans shout, "class warfare!"

In her book, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century, Barbara Tuchman writes about a peasant revolt in 1358 that began in the village of St. Leu and spread throughout the Oise Valley. At one estate, the serfs sacked the manor house, killed the knight, and roasted him on a spit in front of his wife and kids. Then, after ten or twelve peasants violated the lady, with his children watching, they forced her to eat the roasted flesh of her husband and then killed her.

That is class warfare.

Arguing over the optimum marginal tax rate for the top one percent is not.
Anyhow, here’s an excerpt from the essay. Does any of this seem familiar?

While fathers all over America tend to become overzealous, even violent, these days in trying to turn their children into little sports superstars, in Greenwich a father who is one of these people will try to take control of every element in a game: his child’s teammates, their coach, the opposing team’s coach, its players, and most definitely the referees. In a famous instance, one of these people came to watch his teenage daughter play in an ice hockey game against a team from neighboring Port Chester, New York, a town known in Greenwich as the place where one’s plumbers, electricians, computer swamis, roofers, glaziers, air-conditioning mechanics, wall-to-wall-carpet humpers, and household servants live. The man began bellowing so loudly, nobody at the rink could shut out the sound. He upbraided the referees for their poor eyesight and worse judgment. He told his daughter’s coach how to play her and all her teammates and kept him abreast of his mistakes in strategy. He scolded the Port Chester coach and the players for their incessant cheating and malicious roughness. Finally a Port Chester player, a big girl, an Amazon on ice, skated to the stands, charged up the stairs on her skates, and accosted the Mouth, putting her gloved fist six inches from his face and saying, “If you don’t shut the f*** up, I’m gonna come back and beat the s*** outta you!” He shut up.

The tales are endless: the hedge fund founder desperate to get his son into one of Greenwich’s socially swell private schools who clips a six-figure check to the first page of the application, witlessly forcing the school to reject both his son and his check or lose all credibility—

The lone-wolf entrepreneur who keeps an old-money matron and charity fundraiser waiting outside his office in Greenwich for an hour, remains reared back in his chair with his feet propped up on top of his desk as she comes in, listens to her pitch with his feet on top of his desk, utters a sum total of two words, “Not interested,” with his feet up on top of his desk, and offers no farewell, not even a Godspeed tap-tap of the shoes on his feet up on top of the desk—

The many of these people who spend entire meetings with eyes cast down at their BlackBerrys, thumbing out text messages to God-knows-what-people elsewhere—

The hedge fund manager who, during a 40-minute meeting, takes four telephone calls from his wife on the subject of a dinner party they’re planning, down to the level of who should sit next to whom, whether to serve the champagne in the new flutes or the art deco bowl-and-stem glasses, whether or not endive works as an hors d’oeuvre or is it a little too bitter?—

The hedge fund managers who hold meetings with their shirttails hanging outside their jeans, like college boys—

The former manager of Tremont Capital Group who came to meetings with the fund’s investors barefoot—

The twinkie wives of these people who arrive at real estate offices seeking to-die-for houses and apartments wearing jeans and stiletto-heel boots, with gotta-be-blond hair streaming down to their shoulder blades, holding a baby on a cocked hip with one hand and a cell phone to the ear with the other while a limousine waits outside, motor running—

The twinkies who have their eggs fertilized by their husbands’ sperm in a laboratory, creating embryos for implantation in the wombs of surrogate mothers who are paid to manufacture children for delivery in nine months, since why on earth should any wife whose husband is worth a billion or even $500 million have to endure the distended belly, bilious mornings, back cramps, not to mention a cramped social life, to end up with her perfect personal-trainer-sculpted boy-with-breasts body she has spent thousands of sweaty hours attaining, ruined … tempting her husband to survey all the little man-eaters out there, including those former wives who used to meet regularly at the Boxing Cat Grill until it burned down, whereas the current wives leave their husbands catatonic before the plasma TV and meet three or four times a week at one local bar or another and drive home in their Hummers and bobtail Mercedes S.U.V.’s, bombed out of their minds, while waiting for the baby to come from the factory—

Whenever such rich gossip is re-peated, somebody invariably says, “Who are these people?”

Tom Ashbrook hosts a discussion on the essay on WBUR's On-Point - Tom Wolfe on the Super-Rich

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