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#84 - Designer Cupcakes

#84 - Designer Cupcakes

Designer Cupcakes
Price: $36 a dozen

Prevailing wisdom dictates that little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Spend some time in a trendy shopping district and you will soon find that this is largely due to designer cupcakes, emphasis on the sugar and light on the nice. Thankfully, for the financially endowed, they need venture no further than around the corner in their hybrid SUV to satisfy a craving that used to take their private chef as much as an hour to whip up. Designer cupcake shops are becoming so popular, they are threatening to supplant Starbucks as the storefront voted most likely to replace a former tenant, although Vietnamese nail salons run a close third.

While common people may purchase these single serving delights at the supermarket, this could never satisfy the sophisticated sweet tooth of a high net worth individual. For starters, store bought icing isn’t rich enough; cupcake shops appear to have cracked the age old problem of condensing a full pound of butter into a half pound of icing. Second, buying a dozen chocolate cupcakes is blasé; the baked pleasures of the wealthy deserve creative names like “Tickled Pink”, “Lady Baltimore” or “Dirty Blonde”, the latter may also describe one’s third wife. Finally, the creativity doesn’t end with naming cupcakes, rich people love to fawn over the playful shop names where they purchased these heavenly indulgences; think Babycakes, Buttercup and Flour Girls for starters; I adore the t-shirts from Babycakes in NYC.

While many quirks of the wealthy are out of reach of the common man, a love of rich desserts is a human condition that knows no economic boundaries. With this in mind, impressing the wealthy is simple when done by the dozen. Discussing your favorite cupcake shop will certainly do in a pinch but it is the gift of cupcakes that will truly impress. The elegance and tastefulness of ribbon wrapped sugary goodness will have your hosts beaming at your thoughtfulness and once it comes to naming these savory delights, they will figuratively if not literally be eating out of your hand. An excellent conversation starter, your affection for cupcakes will win hearts, minds and stapled stomachs. Be sure to save the “Sexy Red Velvet” for the beautiful heiress you’ve been watching and she may turn out to be your sweet temptation!

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#83 - Flying First Class

#83 - Flying First Class

Flying First Class
Price: Your First Born, Their Pocket Change

Flying isn’t natural. As they say, “If God had meant you to fly he would have given you wings”, Icarus learned this the hard way. Of course, when they said this, they were probably referring to economy class where the masses are crammed into uncomfortable seats with sweaty, broad shouldered, obese individuals who want to talk to you about their 2-star vacation or persistent skin rash that is likely contagious. If this situation is the bookend to your holiday or business trip, you are probably inclined to agree that mankind is better off on terra firma. While the rich certainly prefer the comforts of a private jet, when push comes to shove, a lie-flat seat with noise-reducing headphones, personal media players, fine dining, full bar and a curtain to separate you from the plebs makes commercial flights tolerable.

For the masses that feel they have won the lottery because they managed to “score” a seat in an emergency exit row, there is a belief that the seats on the other side of the curtain are prohibitively expensive because of the roominess and luxury. Rich people know that, while 40” of seat pitch is comfortable, the real reason to sit in first class is that one does not have to associate with people that can’t afford the finer things in life. After all, the food, personalized service and comfort are table stakes in the lives of the wealthy. First class seating is one of the few places that legitimize class segregation, making it extremely attractive to the rich. Having a boarding pass that reads 2B with a flute of champagne in hand is a wonderful reminder that while money can’t buy happiness, it can help you choose your misery which does not include spending time with individuals who think a timeshare is a good investment.

Naturally, if you want to make good with the wealthy the first option is to secure yourself a seat in first class. This can be done in a few ways; buck up for the extra few thousand dollars every time you fly, try to sweet talk the ticketing agent into upgrading you on every flight or start sleeping with a flight attendant. Of course, if you could pull off the latter two options with any level of consistency, you would likely already be on the road to success and riches and able to execute on option A. As back-up,the art of conversation to kick start a discussion with your wealthy counterpart will work wonders. Give your new friend an opportunity to dazzle you with their in-flight experience. Use informed inquiry about flying Emirates or United’s P.S. service while jet setting between the left and right coast and sit back and listen. Make this work and you may never have to hear the question “fish or chicken” again. Enjoy the friendly skies!

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#82 - Going To Harvard

#82 - Going To Harvard

Going To Harvard
Price: Developing a “Yahd” Accent

There is nothing rich people value more than higher education, right after money, jewelry and status. In most American households, the dream is to send at least one child to college. For the rich, they know that their children are destined for Ivy League institutions and for many, only Harvard will do. Among the myths that enshroud this venerable institution is that “Harvard is only for geniuses.” Upon meeting some of the “legacy family” undergrads you quickly dismiss this mistruth and realize that a family member with a Harvard degree from 1948 in Sociology may be more important that an outstanding SAT score when it comes to getting into Harvard, even if it is on the third or fourth admission review.

While the academic merits of America’s oldest university are clear to most, they are secondary to why rich people love Harvard; nothing says success like dropping the H-Bomb at cocktail parties. Yale is nice, and Brown used to be impressive but Harvard immediately implies that you have a great job, boatloads of cash and more class than anyone else in the room. In fact, rich people are so hyper aware of this perception that they will talk about graduating from their alma mater as though they accomplished something other worldly like smoking dope with the pope or going for a jog with Stephen Hawking.

If your parents didn’t have the foresight to graduate from Harvard and you had to slum it at a lesser known institution, fear not, you can still befriend the wealthy. Knowing that many trust fund recipients didn’t score a 1,400 on their SAT there is no need to engage in pseudo-academic discourse as they may not have made it to class anyway. Instead, learn the simplest facts about campus life. Ask about the COOP where you can pick up textbooks and a latte or mention cheeseburgers at Charlie’s Kitchen, which was probably the last time they stooped to eat a cheeseburger, but college is for experimenting. These two traditions should have your wealthy counterpart falling over themselves to share their experience with you and allowing you to form the next best thing to rooming with them. A word of warning, give a Harvard alum with a guilty admission complex too many drinks and you’ll be listening to their horror stories of growing up with Harvard armchairs and midevening calls from Harvard students looking for donations. It’s not easy being Crimson!

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#81 - Being Aghast

#81 - Being Aghast

Being Aghast
Price: Insufferable Indignation

Everyone knows that the world is full of tidbits that are surprising and unusual. Most of these fall under the category of things that you would never do; these include wearing a t-shirt to a job interview emblazoned with the slogan “You don’t buy beer, you rent it”, streaking and tattooing one’s face. When an average person is told that this happened, they will respond by looking up from their laptop long enough to lazily say “sounds like an idiot” or “what a douche bag”. Such a reaction is not enough for the rich. They are bound by a secret oath to become incensed at the indignity of such acts, cover their mouth, open their eyes wide and proclaim “well I never”. When you see this reaction, you will recognize it as a rich person being aghast

This melodramatic reaction dates back to the 13th century and literally means to be struck with terror, amazement or horror. While the rich typically suppress all emotions, being aghast is a special exception to the status quo and is closely aligned with getting insanely angry when their chef overcooks their egg yolk. As rich people “know better” than the common man and woman, they will use this display of astonishment to convey the seriousness of the cultural digression they have witnessed. Certain situations may call for the addition of a full gasp but typically the rich believe that quiet disapproval alone sends a subtle yet poignant message to the offending party thereby changing them for the better. Unfortunately, regular people never notice such passive displays because the way that they deal with something offensive includes speaking up or starting a fistfight…sometimes both!

Despite the surprising ineffectiveness of changing the world by appearing shocked, the power of being aghast is significant. Should you succeed in mastering the art of conveying indignation towards everyday occurrences you will surely succeed in making friends with the “other half”. While appearing surprised may seem easy, knowing what should astonish is the true talent. Peruse this short list; unjust war, wearing gloves lined with baby seal pelt, buying day-old roses and American states with no minimum wage laws. If you were aghast at buying day-old roses, you are a natural. The rest make for interesting small talk but will not raise eyebrows among the upper crust. For a top shelf display of this art, visit a rare book dealer and tell them that you ran over a puppy on the way to their store. Now tell them you know of a first-run Tennyson stored at 73°F and see which illicit a stronger reaction.  Am I mad, that I should cherish that which bears but bitter fruit?

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#80 - Rare Books

#80 - Rare Books

Rare Books
Price: Disdain For Big Bookstores

James Bryce, nineteenth century British politician, diplomat and historian, said “The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it.” Bryce was referring to knowledge, ideas and imagination. These are all well and good if you are a card-carrying member of the public library but to the rich, books represent culture, sophistication and a civilized acquisition. Visit homes of the wealthy and you will discover beautiful libraries that prominently display first edition classics bound in leather, steeped in tradition and occasionally encased in glass. To the uninformed it may appear that the rich are voracious readers, but the books are too valuable to read. So they must be great investments, but they mean too much to sell. What then is the rationale for books you can’t open and objects you won’t part with?

Rare books reflect an owner’s interests and measure how stimulating one’s host is without having to engage in conversations that may betray their depth of literary understanding. Guests are expected to unquestionably accept that rare book collections accurately represent an owner’s knowledge and taste. Shelves displaying Twain, Verne, London and Kipling show a sense of adventure that may manifest itself through sailing or drinking tap water while abroad. Libraries housing biographies of NASCAR drivers and paperbacks made into Hollywood films likewise speak volumes about your host. Think of this like perusing your friend’s iPod and finding nothing but Yanni, Vanilla Ice and John Tesh or looking through your boyfriend’s DVD collection and discovering Mariah Carey concerts and Patrick Dempsey films…it says a lot about them; they will never be in charge of entertainment and likely require therapy.

To capitalize on rich people’s love of rare books requires little more than the ability to act impressed with their collection. The trick is to let them do all the talking which will leave them feeling that you are an exceptional conversationalist. Starting their monologue is as simple as saying, “This is an extraordinary collection, which book is your favorite?” By nodding attentively and occasionally interjecting a well-timed “how fascinating”, your host will impart a surface level knowledge of their collected literary works of genius. As a warning, the worst thing you can do in this situation is to flex your own literary muscle as a means to impress. Asking their thoughts on “Hemmingway’s unique ability to convey themes through a succinct writing style that mirrors life” is more likely to result in the sound of crickets than an invitation to join them for an afternoon on the yacht. Likewise, mentioning that your father has collected every copy of Soldier of Fortune magazine published since 1987 is also unlikely to impress and may be perceived as a veiled threat culminating in an introduction to Rambo, their personal protection German Shepherd. Should you make it past the aforementioned hurdles, rare books are outstanding cocktail banter and an opportunity to tantalize and arouse those with literary leanings; little is as stimulating to book lovers as discussing the rising action, climax and denouement of a classic novel. Good luck and Godspeed!

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#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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