Saturday, August 09, 2008


A couple of days ago, my friend poet Christina Pacosz sent me an article entitled “Rich Begin Feeling the Pain in Down Economy.” It was written by Mark Jewell for the AP, and he got me thinking about rich people.

What always amazes me about rich people is how little contact they have with the rest of us.

I'm 60 years old, have lived in America most of my life, have been educated here in private and public schools, have a PhD from a major university, have taught in American universities for 35 years--and still I have never met a rich person, I mean a really rich person, somebody with a yacht or a jet and a personal assistant to manage his lunch dates.

Where do the rich keep themselves?

I've met unemployed people, farmers, doctors, artists, factory workers, peddlers, homeless folks, business people, writers, lower and middle class people by the thousands, but I have never met a rich person.

Where are they?

Do they live on special islands off the coast of America?

I sometimes suspect that may be true. One time I went to St. Mary's Island off the coast of Georgia for a vacation with Linda and some friends from Valdosta, and that island was connected to another island by a bridge. However, you couldn't get across that bridge unless you were one of the rich folks living on that island.

How do I know this?

There were armed guards (security professionals) stationed at the foot of the bridge. I asked one of them before he told me I couldn't go any farther.

Am I the only one who has never met a rich person?

I don't think so.

When I used to teach F. Scott Fitzgerald's THE GREAT GATSBY, the discussion in my class would sometimes turn to Fitzgerald's statement that the "rich are different from you and me," and I would ask my students at Eastern Illinois University if they had ever met a rich person. These students were pretty much a cross section of the population of Illinois with students from all over the state. So I always figured I would run into a student who had met a rich person. But that never happened.

Once in a while I would come across a student who had met someone who had met someone who had met a rich person, but pretty much most of the students hadn't met a rich person or met anybody who had.

So I guess Fitzgerald was right. The rich are different from you and me.

They are invisible.



Anonymous said...

I have never met a Gatsby-like rich person but am thinking corny thoughts about being rich--like I feel rich because I have money left over after paying the bills.

It's good to read your blog-- I hope you're feeling better after your shingles episode.

Manfred said...

I have known a few "wealthy" people whom I met more or less by accident and formed associations with. I think the rich speak a different langauge than the non-rich. They are an isolated tribe so I never mastered the dialect.

jsq said...

A rich person once told me (paraphrasing here):

with a million dollars, you never have to work again, if you're really frugal

with ten million dollars, you can buy a big house, and some horses

with 100 million dollars, you can buy the beach house, the mountain house, an apartment in NYC, and a yacht, and you'll have more money afterwards than when you started

with a billion dollars, you can buy an island, a building in Manhattan, a jet, and endow some buildings at universities

My summary of what he said: the rich are like 800 pound gorillas; they live where they want to.

Of course, like gorillas they need environmental support: food, communications, and, as you discovered, security.

You can find some in northern Virginia, Marin County, Atlanta, etc. if you know where to look. If you don't and you want to meet some, try going to conferences they attend, such as TED or maybe Pop!Tech. Get involved with a hobby they like. Get yourself on the development committee of a big university.

You may well have met a rich person and not known it. The biggest landowner east of the Mississippi is the Langdale Co. of Valdosta, Ga. If you hung around Valdosta very long and didn't meet at least one of the Langdale family, you must have talent.

Anonymous said...

Remember that slogan popular in the 1960's radical media: "Eat the rich!!"

Rich said...

Here's an interesting website I came across recently, which allows you to see how rich you are when compared to people globally:

Leslie said...

Just remember this: death and taxes get even the very, very, VERY rich. Okay...maybe not the taxes!

John Guzlowski said...

Dear Commenters,

Thank you for writing. One of the things I enjoy most about blogging is getting comments. I learn as much from them as from the blog writing.

Part of what I learn is that some of my assumptions need some tinkering. Several people wrote to tell me that I have in fact met wealthy people. And sure as shooting, I realized I had.

One fellow wrote in to tell me that I was a rich person and I'm not invisible enough!

I also especially liked to see comments posted and wish everybody posted.

To Manfred, I want to say, you're right. The rich do speak another sort of language, just the way the strong and the powerful and the beautiful and the brutal speak a different language. The people who are out of the ordinary are always different from, removed from, above the rest of us.

To JSQ, I have in fact met a Langdale--in fact, I had dinner with him at a Democratic fund raiser in Valdosta, Georgia. He was a lot of fun, warm, open, human. I didn't have to stretch my imagination to imagine him a friend of mine.

To Anonymous, I can't say I remember "Eat the Rich" as a 60s battle cry. I remember "up against the wall, motherf*cker" and "Let's do it in the road" and "Don't tell me, I don't give a damn, next stop is Vietnam" and "'nuff said," but I don't remember "Eat the Rich."

To Rich: thank you for Gobalrichlist. I now see that I am the 86,086,957 richest person in the world, and am amazed by that fact. I'm in the top 2% of the wealthest people on earth!

To Leslie, I just want to say, thank you for reminding me that -- as Charles Foster Kane discovered -- Death comes to all men (and women).

PA said...

I'm in the top 2% of the wealthest people on earth!

Heh. Your costs of living are probably in the top 2% too. :-)

Oma J said...

I would prefer measuring wealth in things that are not material. However, given my job in philanthropy, I can say I have truly met rich people . . . . REALLY rich people with planes, houses, assistants, etc. Because of my job, I have met the ones that are truly giving people. They have made change occur in their part of the world that is amazing. Therefore, my life has been blessed. Oh, and I find they still have family issues, put their pants on the same way, and worry about many of the things the rest of us do.

Jen said...

Great blog. I've never met anyone rich either, although my brother used to spray Donald Rumsfield's property for mosquitoes. The secret service had to let him in.

Laurel Johnson said...

Interesting blog and comments. Like you, most of the comments I get from my blog come in the form of private emails.

I've met many rich people in various parts of the country. Not a one of them was identifiably rich. One I remember in particular wore an old torn tee shirt and chinos stained with dirt, grass, and manure. Another wore old faded overalls and was in the process of paying cash for a restaurant that had treated him shabbily. He subseqently fired everyone on staff and had the restaurant torn down.

I come from poor German-Polish-Irish peasant stock so have no personal concept of what it might be like to be financially rich.

macon d said...

Thanks John, great post. I especially like the comments here that correct common American ideas about wealth. I sometimes ask Americans if they're rich. They always say no, until I point out that most people in the world live for an entire day on less than what they toss away on a cup of coffee.

I did know a conventionally "rich" person once. I remember how when he came home each day, he would toss his pocket change into the trash. He also ate watermelon on a plate with a fork, mostly so he could pick out the seeds instead of spitting them out.

John Guzlowski said...

Dear Jen, Laurel, Macon D,

Thank you for your stories about rich and famous people.

I sometimes wonder what they are like, and your stories tell me they are like the rest of us: human and kind of crazy.

I love the story about the rich guy who comes home and throws his pocket change into the trash.

I'm going to steal that and use it in a poem. It is definitely what TS Eliot called an "objective correlative."

macon d said...

excellent, I'm glad you'll convert that image to art someday. it does have an o.c. resonance to it.

I think, however, that the rich, they're actually different from you and I.

Anonymous said...

I heard a country song yesterday that included the line: "happiness isn't just for overachievers." Matt

Anonymous said...

they live in Europe. They all live in Europe. I see them all the time with their Lamborghinis and Gucci clothing.

Anonymous said...

I am a rich person indeed, I have a 9 million pound yatch and I own a 25 million house in Montecarlo. But please, dont look at rich people as if they where selfish people because we are not. In fact, most of us were born in a poor family. The way to be rich is to risk, doesn't matter how many years you spend saving money, you will never have as much money as if you bet or invert your money.

Eg. If in a South Hampton vs Chelsea match you get 1,45 pounds for every pound you bet for Chelsea and you bet 800 pounds, if Chelsea wins (which is almost certain) you win 1160 pounds.

Take my advice and try it, and most important of all educate your children in this way if you want them to be rich.

Anonymous said...

maybe you have not met a rich person because there are so few of them and they are busy doing the things that get them that rich. I also see your point, they are kinda separated from the normal people.

Anonymous said...

He had many keepers. We had to pass background checks, and someone on staff got in trouble because the rich guy forgot to comb his own hair. High profile academics sat around the conference table unable to speak his “language”. Additional directives included: walk behind him, not alongside……and speak only when spoken to. The room’s energy spiked when he walked in-where everyone was already seated. He rocked back and forth in his chair, and had a rather high pitched voice. Today, he enriches the world.