success, that ol’ grand dame of lies.

When I lived in and around New York, I wanted control. The people I know who do well in Manhattan share the ability to envision, accumulate and value power, and I know I honed it as well. Convincing an employer to hire or promote you, convincing weirdos on the train not to eat you, when only moments before you were convincing men at a bar that they should eat you, convincing yourself to leave your apartment and join the bedlam every morning, knowing you may not return for another eighteen hours, all take power.

The ability to control is more valuable than inherent good looks or wealth, because it is customizable, whereas inherent traits are not. Controlling life in NYC simply requires organization, caffeine, and a brisk pace. Classes, therapy, doctor’s visits, and trips to the gym are tucked in before and during office hours. After work there’s no time to go home, you have to meet friends for dinner, have a drink or three, go to a show or a club. Eventually, you buy a million dollar home in Westchester or Jersey and pay other people to care for your children, pets, yard and house, while you get up and do it all over again.

The last time I lived in New Jersey, several months ago, my brother and I rented a condo nestled amongst some of those million dollar homes. Watching the happy, relaxed “poor folk” take care of the lives the livers of said lives didn’t have time to live, I realized that the power we nine to fivers cultivate is not the mastery over our circumstances we believe.

The hardworking businessperson surrounds him or herself with assistance: personal assistants, nannies, cooks, housekeepers, landscapers, handymen, massage therapists, therapist therapists, ad infinitum. The more property you own, the longer it takes to maintain that property. The higher your position, the longer you spend every day worrying about how to maintain that position. You gain something, you also gain its upkeep. If you also want to continue gaining, you then need help with the things you already gained. Are you lost yet? Good. Because so is most of America, especially the wealthy bits on both coasts. There is no sign that the average person earning a six figure salary, not counting celebrities, notices that he or she spends more time earning that salary than they do spending it. They spend more time maintaining, or telling others how to maintain, what they did spend that salary on, than they do relaxing. There is no time for ease.

There is no control. There is only learning how to let the most powerful forces in your world control you, instead of the smallest. The lowliest custodian may live under the dominion of the building owner, while a CEO lives under the dominion of market forces. It’s a question of scale. But ultimately, they both deal on a daily basis with chance. Neither custodian nor CEO will know, when they wake up in the morning, whether their child will have suddenly pierced their nose and run off to Bolivia, whether the roof is leaking after the heavy rain, or whether the price of gas has raised to five dollars a gallon. One may have a thicker financial cushion than the other. But in terms of quality of life, there is little difference between a gypsy’s trained bear and the bear in Barnum & Bailey’s show. They both answer to the whip.

1 Response

  1. glenda

    Very heady post, Palmer! Reminds me of the Bob Dylan song, “You’re Gonna Serve Somebody” from years back. I’ve been away from your blog for a week or so and am just now catching up. Can’t tell you how much enjoyment they provide me, getting to live through your eyes in a foreign country. Is there international journalism in your future?

    Like

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