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Archive for December, 2009

#79 - Black Credit Cards

#79 - Black Credit Cards

Black Credit Cards
Price: Compulsive Spending

Every month Americans buy a few thousand dollars worth of toys ranging from plasma TVs to designer handbags. These are important to the average person because they symbolize another step towards achieving their five year plan one luxury item at a time. Thanks to the magic of financing and low APRs, these same people pay only a small percentage of what they charged to their credit card, roll over the remainder and promise themselves that they will pay off the balance next month. That might be true if it weren’t for the semi-annual sale at Neiman Marcus or the twenty dollar Crate & Barrel gift card that morphed into a new couch, throw, cushions, coffee table and rug for 40% off, justified by the personal promise to take lunch to work and only drinking one latte a day for the next six months! As a result the average household carries about $8,000 in credit card debt. For the rich, things are a little different. A black, invite-only credit card is a subtle, yet effective, plastic symbol of status and success and like they say, “once you go black you’ll never go back.”

Depending on the card, the wealthy consumer elite are invited to apply for a black, sometimes carbon woven, card that offers numerous benefits that an average Visa, MasterCard or American Express just can’t provide. These include concierge services, personal assistants, financial solutions, airline and hotel upgrades, personal shopping services and while you won’t find it listed in the Benefits Booklet, using a Visa Black Card or American Express Centurion card in any retail establishment means rich people are greeted with “I want to know you” eyes by stunning men and women who would gladly accompany them to the Waldorf for lunch. Ultimately, this is why exclusive, invite-only cards were created. They are the 21st century equivalent of smoking cigars indoors and wearing jewel encrusted pinky rings and tie clips. For rich people, the concurrent introduction of anti-smoking legislation and the ability to flash exclusive credit cards meant not having to accessorize their outfits to showcase their outlandish wealth although ascots remain remarkably popular.

For the average person, there isn’t a hope in hell that they will ever meet the criteria for garnering such an exclusive piece of hologram embossed ABS plastic card. For starters, only 1% of Americans have a black card and the Centurion, as an example, requires spending in the range of $250,000 per year after the $5,000 one-time fee and $2,500 annual fee! Fortunately, there are numerous ways to creatively clear these hurdles; the simplest solution is the DIY method. Materials required; one can transparent black spray paint, one credit card, one roll transparent tape and one copy of the Wall Street Journal although any daily newspaper will suffice. Lay the card on top of the paper and spray one coat of paint every thirty minutes until your card appears invite-only black. Flip card, apply tape to the magnetic strip and signature area and repeat. In no time you will be using your homemade black card and well on your way to impressing your wealthy friends. As a warning, if you plan to use your new black card as a retail pick-up line, check the return policy before  impressing the well proportioned clerk at Saks by purchasing that Rolex and asking her to dinner. While membership does have its privileges, faking it will do in a pinch!

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#78 - Opera

#78 - Opera

Opera
Price: Miniature Binoculars

Does being confined to a chair in a dark room, unable to eat, drink or speak while angry people berate you in a language you do not understand sound like an ideal night out? For most, this sounds like the worst vacation ever and one reason that visiting Afghanistan, Venezuela and Guantanamo Bay rank low on Condé Nast Traveler’s list of dream destinations. For rich people, this is called opera and the biggie sized German or Italian woman wearing the Viking helmet is a Diva rather than an interrogator.

The love of opera runs deep. Rich people love to talk about the architecture of the opera house, exotic sets, magnificent costumes, vocal size and range, Puccini, Strauss, Verdi and of course Mozart. A rich person from a good family can wax poetic for hours on the bittersweet tragedy of La Bohème, the comedic genius of Così Fan Tutte and the scandal of I Pagliacci. Given their knowledge and deep love of opera, you may wonder how the rich manage to grasp the plot and subtleties of productions conducted in a foreign language they neither speak nor understand. The simple answer is they don’t! The performance is a thinly veiled prelude to the most important part of any opera, the intermissions. Intermission is the perfect opportunity to enjoy a full meal, champagne and allow sycophants to compliment a rich person’s refinement, class, taste and sophistication. Watching this can prove more entertaining than the opera itself.

If you are more interested in life imitating art than the art itself, opera provides ample opportunities to mirror your own hopes and dreams. The annals of operatic discourse are rife with tales of sugar daddies fawning over young women and beautiful countesses falling for dashing men with ambition and optimism lacking only social status. If you are an aspiring sugar baby, male or female, your work is cut out for you. A conversational knowledge of Tristan and Isolde or The Barber of Seville that extends beyond Bugs Bunny or Seinfeld plus the ability to bat ones eyelashes should suffice. Either of these love stories may ingratiate you with your cultured courtier and with luck you’ll be enjoying lump crab cakes, roasted filet of beef and amaretto cheesecake at the Grand Tier restaurant faster than you can say “in te ravviso il sogno ch’io vorrei sempre sognar!” loosely translated as “I see in you the fulfillment of all my dreams!” Fitting isn’t it?

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#77- Pearl Necklaces

#77- Pearl Necklaces

Pearl Necklaces
Price: Strangers Staring at Her Chest

Pearl necklaces mean different things to different people. To some they are an expensive sphere pulled from the slimy innards of an ocean pearl, to others they are a timeless gift of class and elegance while a minority of pranksters perceives a pearl necklace as a rite of passage that simultaneously impresses their mates and ensures they never have another date with the recipient of their unwelcome endowment. Regardless of one’s leanings when it comes to this social Rorschach test, it is undeniable that rich people love pearl necklaces, Mikimoto or otherwise.

To understand what the rich love about pearls, it is imperative that one understands how they little treasures are formed. A pearl begins its life as a grain of sand or other irritant that finds its way into a pearl oyster. Over the next few years, the oyster coats the irritant with iridescent layers, transforming it into a beautiful gem ready to be harvested with the hopes that it will be destined for Fifth Avenue, Bond Street or Place Vendome due to superior upbringing and strength of lineage. This journey is subconsciously reminiscent of a rich person’s own childhood path. Humble beginnings as an irritant in their parent’s lives, handed off to a nanny for upbringing before being shipped off to boarding school from which they will emerge as an Ivy League scholar and eventual investment banker, hedge fund magnate, corporate lawyer in one of the country’s finest firms or possibly a guest of the American penal system for three to five years with time off for good behavior. If the latter is avoided, they will then meet a proper girl that mother approves of and replay this cycle of life.

Typically, this is when pearls of wisdom are shared around befriending the wealthy. In the case of pearl necklaces, it is best to steer clear of these as a means to make friends. There is simply too much danger of drumming up suppressed psychological scars. You may as well chain a chaise lounge to your leg and ask them to tell you about their feelings. That said, if you have the patience, by all means feel free to open Pandora’s Box. You can fill the role of therapist and in the event that you lack ethics and believe J. Edgar Hoover was simply diligent in remembering details, you will have enough ammo to ensure that young Cornelius puts your name forward as a suitable candidate to secure membership at his club, but like an oyster you will be seen as a slime ball beneath a hard and rough exterior rather than naturally cultured!

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#76 - Tartan Print Pants

#76 - Tartan Print Pants

Tartan Print Pants
Price: Wool Itch Where You Want It Least 

If eggnog, mistletoe, tinsel, Grandma’s flask and the lingering scent of pine needles sounds familiar, you know the holiday season is upon us. In many households, Dad’s tattered and occasionally revealing terrycloth robe has contributed to psychological trauma during the holidays, in other homes it is Mom’s “blackened” turkey that has scarred the children’s memories. For the children of rich people, the ghost of holiday trauma manifests itself as the donning of tartan print pants. These holiday favorites are thought to strike the perfect balance between formal and festive but in fact walk the line between hideous and ridiculous, more so for families without a hint of Scotsman in their storied lineage. 

Traditionally, tartan prints have bound clans and identified kinsmen to one another through the intricate patterns designed exclusively for their family name. As the Scottish boast an unrivaled history of war, the tartan played an integral role in identifying the unrecognizable fallen warriors of battle. Today, far from the vaunted lochs and moors of Culloden and Bannockburn these same tartans, as pants not kilts, represent cliché advertisements and the mark of a healthy net worth. For the wealthy it is a subconscious announcement that they are loud, proud and can make any item fashionable by spending excessively. In fact, there are fashion historians who believe the grunge movement in Seattle and today’s explosion of plaid prints at leading American clothiers can be traced back to a tartan cummerbund worn during holiday festivities hosted by the Vanderbilt family on December 19, 1872. This brash display spawned a “fashion” revolution despite the underlying rationale; young Alistair chose tartan over haggis following a lost wager to a member of the MacLean family. 

Nonetheless, tartan prints are an excellent means to kick start a wealthy friendship. While purists would recommend honing your ability to identify the more than 13,000 tartan patterns, this is time consuming and frivolous. It is highly unlikely that your plaid sporting friend’s knowledge of Scotland extends beyond Braveheart, whisky and the Loch Ness Monster and could not identify the tartan they are wearing even if you could. In fact, it would make them uncomfortable if you asked them anything about the history of their woven cloth given their ignorance of the topic. Instead, draw on the strength and power that a tartan represents. Asking if wearing such a print reminds them of their own success and prowess in life could be magnificent. You will be tiptoeing through the DMZ that separates blatant brown nosing and world class flattery but when it works it really works! Fine tune this skill and you’ll be sipping single malt with the upper crust, otherwise you will face the social guillotine without the historical significance attributed to Mary Queen of Scots. Tha mo bhàta-foluaimein loma-làn easgannan! 

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#75 - Prenuptial Agreements

#75 - Prenuptial Agreements

Prenuptial Agreements
Price: Ask Tiger Woods

If you find yourself entering a state of eternal bliss with the man or woman you will forever love, life is rose petals and champagne kisses. Should you find yourself sitting across from that same person in a room full of divorce lawyers and bankers you know what marriage looks like after it has been beaten with the ugly stick. That is, unless you entered the union with a little insurance policy called a prenuptial agreement.  Rich people love prenuptial agreements even more than they love custom shoes and trophy wives because it kills two birds with one stone; first they can rest assured that their fortune is safe in the event that their union “goes south” and upon their untimely demise their remaining fotune will pass to the Swiss accounts of their heirs.

For many people, the thought of a prenuptial is despicable since love conquers all. Knowing that divorce is Latin for bludgeoning a man with his own wallet, there are a few problems with this train of thought. First, people who think this way likely don’t have any assets, think their Rock & Republic jeans are an asset and despite living their lives by the wise words of Deep Purple, have forgotten that all is fair in love, war and banking. For those that do know how far the smitten can fall when the heart grows absent, there is nothing wrong with asking the love of one’s life to sign on the X, initial here, initial here and sign there. With a few strokes of the pen, both man and wife have shown that their love transcends money and that they truly have fallen for each other’s hearts rather than their numbered accounts.

The most successful way to befriend the wealthy when it comes to prenuptials is to indicate that you asked your mate to sign one, have signed one yourself or share a story about calling off an engagement when your true love was incensed at the thought of drawing up such an agreement. This works on many levels, most important it shows that you have a fine head on your shoulders and have amassed enough wealth that a prenuptial is sensible. If possible, poke fun at the one person in the room without such an agreement in place by offering them half a cigar or half a drink. Expect chortles and mumbled guffaws as most rich people have forgotten how to laugh or their Botox treatment restricts smiling. From here you can engage in scintillating conversation around custom tailoring, an analysis of intertemporal tradeoffs in macroeconomic policy or which model of Maserati is most appropriate for the children leaving for boarding school.

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