Original text is an excerpt from Richard Kirshenbaum’s new book, “Isn’t That Rich?: Life Among the 1 Percent.” June 9, 2015.
Very few people know how to throw a good party, let alone ever host one. Or even know how to entertain.
I learned the basics when I was my fraternity’s social chairman in college and came to understand how much hard work and planning go into a memorable evening. Social Powerhouse’s party in the Hamptons was among the summer’s best.
I was standing under a festooned big top, conversing with Big Brother (the famous adman/TV host), with whom I have a close, long-standing relationship, when the twentysomething son of an acquaintance interrupted our conversation, as if we were peers.
“How do you two . . .” He made the hand motion indicating knowing each other.
“No, we worked together,” Big Brother said graciously.
“No, I worked for you, but that’s kind.” I laughed. “And before that I was a receptionist.”
The young person looked at me in wide-eyed horror.
He trailed me to the bar. “Richard, why do you let people know that you were a receptionist?”
“Working your way up is respectable,” I said. “The most successful people in Hollywood worked their way up in the CAA mailroom, as an example.”
“Maybe,” the be-Rolexed millennial said. “But I’d rather work my way up from the top.”
There is a rampant disease today that goes beyond borders. Entitlement is a contagious, insidious state of mind that has infected a whole generation of young people who feel they deserve things based on who they think they are or who their parents are. Or who they’ve been told they are.
Entitlement also affects adults, who feel they should have or get things based on their friends having them or just feeling worthy. It’s hard to pinpoint the derivation of where and when the disease started, but it’s an epidemic.
“Mr. Kirchenbaum, I am very disappointed that you do not have a position for me,” proclaimed the e-mail from a friend-of-a-friend’s daughter, whom I did the favor of meeting for an informational interview. Besides misspelling my name, she wrote she found it discouraging that I let her know trying to secure an internship or job is best done in December, not two weeks before college graduation . . . that most internships had been filled six months earlier (as was ours) and that, since masses of graduating college seniors would be seeking jobs, it was not exactly the most ideal or opportune time. She picked up her Balenciaga bag at the news and left in a huff.
The next day the imperious e-mail arrived, my friend cc’d as if to apply further pressure. Poor, long-suffering Carol, my assistant, has put up with years of rude and demanding behavior from “the children of” . . . with calls like “I’m in town and can meet him this week at three,” or parents who call about an internship status grilling, “Does Richard KNOW that Bettina has not heard back yet?” “Don’t they KNOW who SHE IS?” or “who WE ARE?”
I do like helping and encouraging young people. There is often a jewel who redeems the process, along with some well-raised and respectful children. That said, the majority do not send thank-you notes, even upon securing a coveted internship or job per my recommendation. “The parents of,” who can solve their children’s every problem, desire, and whim with a black card, often do not know that entry-level jobs are a rarity and internship programs at large agencies have been cut for budgetary reasons. I have Carol send each parent who asks this favor a WSJ article titled “Where Did All the Entry Level Jobs Go?” to give them a sense of reality and a preliminary education.
Unless of course the parents buy an internship at a school or charity auction. I often see the progeny of the rich nonchalantly rattle off working for the world’s most famous movie producers and couturiers like they went to Friendly’s for a Fribble. “Yeah”—the high school junior cracks his gum—“last summer I was an assistant director for [world-famous Academy Award–winning director].” I have seen and heard it all. I particularly enjoy it when interns flee their posts for Saint-Tropez, thus bailing on their final presentations.
“I have, therefore I am owed,” BFF therapist revealed over dinner at the Palm. This childhood bestie and I bemoan the sad state of affairs over creamed spinach and hash brown potatoes. “Money and privilege are often a catalyst for this sprouting,” she noted.
“How so?” I asked, eyeing the delectable fried onion rings.
“Take the whole trophy culture,” she said. “The programs we send our children to are so expensive they all get a trophy just for being there. Kids expect ongoing trophy treatment, trophy lives.” She sliced the strip steak.
“Not to mention trophy wives. Is it an issue in your practice?” I cut the glistening chicken Milanese.
“Yes, it’s just another social ill like bullying or stealing.”
“It’s often a mask for insecurity, anxiety, uncertainty. It may be a Band-Aid for hopelessness, loss of control, or just a temporary elixir for fleeting happiness. The source differs from person to person but can be borne out of a parent’s need to please. No is not a part of the vernacular. This may be a result of newfound wealth or parents who resolved never to say no to their children. The idea being that the more one says yes, the better the parent is.”
“And what happens?”
“The outcome can be disastrous . . . Those whose needs are not met can become depressed, rageful, and often turn to substances.”
“Or one can turn to food. Do you think our needs would be met if we ordered the Lyonnaise potatoes?”
“It starts as early as nursery school,” L’atrice confided at the Watermill beach soiree. “The money and favors just to get into a school — it gets worse with each grade.”
A bikini-clad waitress hovered, presenting a tray of charcoal-fired lamb chops, which my companion politely declined.
I was seated on a white leather couch on the beach (what constitutes a Hamptons picnic) conversing with the Silver Fox’s paramour, L’actrice. A formidable woman, she has raised substantial children and has been through the entire New York City private school process.
“You’re dealing with crazy behavior. Five-thousand-dollar bottle service tables in the tenth grade.” She shrugged.
“Don’t you think that’s a bit old nowadays, to start with bottle service?” I joked.
“When you don’t give your children limits and there are no boundaries, they will either end up in jail for white-collar crime or in rehab. My friend’s child is in rehab for the fourth time. When they have unlimited credit cards and access to everything, there is a reckoning.” A waiter in only a bathing suit walked over offering Caribbean shrimp, which we waved away.
I spied a married woman in a metallic bikini chatting it up with the model/actor/surfer/bartender behind the bar. “You can’t make your children’s lives perfect and clean up every mess. If you hand your children a life they haven’t earned, they think the rules don’t apply to them.”
“Salmon on the bar-b?” the waitress offered.
“Filet mignon skewers? Sliders with remoulade?” another cater waiter asked.
We both shook our heads no as my friend reached into her Dior for her BluePrintCleanse.
“There are people who want to give their children everything they didn’t have . . . to be their children’s friend or buy them popularity. Or they’re not around enough and bribe them with money.”
“Hot dogs? Lobster roll?”
“Sometimes you just have to say no.”
“The new money prefers to live in splendid isolation.” Jonny Van der Klump, who hails from a Midwest fortune, swept the blond lock off his forehead at the club his great-grandfather helped found.
“In my great-grandfather’s day, great wealth was largely commodity and manufacturing based. Because the workers and the tasks were physical there was interaction. I remember when I went to the company Christmas parties as a child. I saw how many people my family was responsible for. I was taught to have a middle-class perspective, which is why I’m so frugal.”
“Is that different today?” I tickled my martini’s green olive with the swizzle stick.
“Great fortunes are being created through technology and finance, and there is little or no contact with workers, customers. One isn’t held accountable for bad behavior. Many wealthy exist in a cosseted ether. They live protected lives in luxury and don’t have to come in contact with the average person, adding up to a sense of unreality, the idea that the world exists for them and owes them what they want when they want it.”
“And your children?”
“They have good manners. It starts with how one treats the wait- ress.”
“Or taking an ill-behaved child out of the restaurant.”
“Some parents have no control over the basics.”
“Did you feel entitled growing up?”
“I felt I had a responsibility to serve. Not to be served,” he said, thanking the waiter profusely.
“When someone under the age of eleven asks you if you are flying private or commercial, you know things are out of hand.”
“That cannot be true.” I coughed.
I was at Sant Ambroeus with Jannsen (not his real name), an art dealer who resides in Europe.
“But it is.” He sipped his Negroni. “It was a client’s son. He wanted to know how I was getting to Miami Art Basel. When I told him that I was on Delta, he said, ‘Catch a ride with us.’ I was floored. I am not used to being invited on a G-4 by someone who comes up to my belt loop. What’s next? Lighting up a Cuban in his Volcom hoodie? Very inappropriate.”
“Did you say that?” I asked him.
“Richard, these people are my clients. My parents brought us up to be seen and not heard. In those days, money had rules. One didn’t flash it around. Today it’s all about competitive cash. Anyone with a few dollars expects all the accoutrements because they can throw a few Benjies on the table. It’s total money anarchy.”
“And how many of these people are your clients?”
“Ninety percent,” he said wistfully. “But don’t print that unless you disguise me.”
I battled the traffic on 27 to make it on time to the fund-raiser in Southampton. A dear friend was being honored at one of the turn-of-the-century estates.
I respect his work ethic, big heart, good nature, and philanthropy and wanted to show up on time. I found him surrounded by his loving family and myriad others praising him on the honor.
As I gave him a hug and congratulated him, he mentioned his hardscrabble roots and how lucky he was to be able to give back.
“It’s due to your hard work, your vision, and your business ethic. And your amazing wife,” I offered.
“Thank you,” he mused. “So what’s your next article on, Richard?”
“I’m doing a piece on entitlement. Thoughts?”
“Yes,” he offered immediately. “I always say I wish I had my children’s upbringing, and I wish they had mine,” he said as he was called to the stage.
I couldn’t have agreed more as I thought of my own family. With that, the chocolate mousse was served.