Saturday night I attended a formal dinner to help out a friend who needed a buffer at her company’s Christmas party. She’s fairly new to Austin, doesn’t know a lot of people thanks to her demanding work schedule and because of improv and my overbearing insistence that we become friends; I was the one person she thought of to invite. Apparently, at last year’s party she had been somewhat shunned and she wanted to avoid that by inviting someone fun. Still, she chose me. (Well, I can be fun if catty is fun, and if catty is indeed fun, I’m a laugh riot.) She promised that I would see how the 1% live.
I’ve worked in non-profits long enough that I’m not easily awed or impressed by the 1%. When I see them glad-handing about, I only see philanthropic marks; future donors who should consider a few planned giving options along with becoming major donors. They make me hungry to return to the non-profit world with some data mining tools so I can sniff out their potential giving ability.
We arrive at the museum they’ve rented for the evening. There are several caviar and sushi tables set-up that I can’t quite negotiate my way to, but I do see tons of people gobbling them down. I curse myself a bit, because snacking on free stinky and salty fish eggs seems like a fun thing to have on my list of life experiences. I vow that next time I’ll partake as I’m shuttled around to shake hands with tons of people whose names I forget as they’re spoken.
The company has flown people in from around the country to attend this event, so I get to meet several people from Los Angeles and Chicago. I also get to enjoy the old, “I’m trying to hear your accent”. A phrase you often hear from non-Texans. It’s followed by a delighted giggle and a, “oh, there it is.” I smile indulgently, the same smile you would bestow on a three year old who has placed all of the blocks into the correct box and is applauding himself – the patented “bless your heart” smile. She then declares, “we really don’t have an accent in Chicago, it’s such a shame.” And I have to correct her with, “yes, you actually do – it’s ok though, it’s a common misconception Midwesterners have.” Well, they do and really, it takes some balls to treat the natives as charming little sideshows thanks to their accents. I also endure one polite sleight about my outfit. I am told my “sweater”, which it was not, is “so very delightful and festive” in that way that you’re fairly certain the word she is searching for is “quaint”. I narrow my eyes and smiled while saying, “thank you” and hold back a, “your face is delightful and festive!” (It’s my standard childish retort to remarks I find exceptionally disagreeable.) Aside from those two encounters, everyone else is perfectly lovely.
We get to our tables and find that all of the women at the party have little bags that say “Pucci”. The name doesn’t register with me at all and I mistakenly think this is some sad Gucci knock-off brand. We open up the gift bags and inside are purses and scarves. One of the husbands leans over and laughs, “you women and your purses, you can never have enough”. Let me stop here and say that I have maybe a handful of purses to my name. One is my every day purse, the other is my “we’re going to a festival I need this to go across my body” purse, and the third is my “I hope I find something that goes with this because it’s cool” purse. Oh, and I suppose there’s the purse that I recently made. I live in jeans, t-shirts and a pair of Clarks that I love. I’m not a girly-girl. The last pedicure I had involved a healthy amount of blood, so those are avoided like the plague. My one adventure in fake nails lasted about three days and I removed them by hand, leaving away something quite scary in the way of nail beds. I don’t know name brands outside of the bigger fashion houses and I haven’t a clue what anyone else is wearing beyond the broader labels of “dress” or “shoes”. Pretty much, everyone should just be thankful I get dressed and brush my hair daily.
The women around me begin cooing as they pull out their purses to admire them. I leave mine in the bag, because I see the others and they look like purses. I know what purses look like – handles, flaps, fasteners with maybe some pockets on the inside. Purse. My friend leans over and cajoles me into pulling mine out, so I indulge her as to not appear to be rude. The whole while I’m thinking, “yes, here is my knock-off Gucci purse – it has grommets and metal hoops – looks like a purse – oooh, and a hideous little scarf, too”. As soon as possible, I dump the purse back in the bag and set it under the table. The women around me continue to coo and other women come over to show off their purse treasures. I try to adopt the demeanor of the overly excited women around me, “oo, yours is brown! Oh, did you see? Hers is multi-colored!” I die a little on the inside.
About that time, the company’s execs start handing out the company awards for best little achievers during the year and those awards include multiple cars. My jaw drops as they call each person up to bestow “a Mercedes Benz” or “a Porche 911”. My friend leans over and whispers that a few of her co-workers received multiple-million dollar bonuses that year. My jaw continues to sit on the floor and I start wondering about this knock-off purse and dopey looking scarf I have, although I’m still not properly impressed by it.
At the end of the night, after the lobster salad amuse-bouche “on a Trisket” as my friend declared and four courses of food with expensively paired wines that I will never be able to afford on my own I’ve gone from “I can’t be impressed” to “holy fucking shit”. Suddenly the bag of candies my supervisor handed out for Christmas and the store-bought cupcakes at the office Christmas party seem like incredibly insulting crap.
The evening finishes with dancing – women in their finest couture gyrating to rap music with their husbands dressed in their tuxedos and cowboy hats trying to emulate their idea of Texans. (For the record, a true Texas gentleman will remove his hat before entering a building.) It made for quite the sight – images forever burned into my brain.
I drop her off at her place and that’s where she shares, “that’s a $3,000 purse.” What?!? I had just carelessly tossed it in the trunk and it had been rolling around back there for a bit. “Mine is around $6,000.” Let me clear that up a bit, because I had to look it up once I got home. The retail value of my purse is actually $1,500 and hers is $2,000, which is still holy shit are you kidding me expensive, but not quite “it can feed a whole 3rd world country” shocking. I mean, it’s just a purse. Granted the leather is really nice and there’s lots of chain mail on it, and I guess nothing says class like chain mail, but still. I also learned that Pucci isn’t a clever knock-off name for Gucci. Who knew? Well, aside from all of the purse hounds seated around me. And to think this company gave one of these to every single woman who attended the event.
I have to say my range of emotions runs from shocked to completely appalled at the decadence. It’s just a purse. I mean, do you carry it or do you need to put it under glass and invite visitors over to view it? And I can’t help but think that there are people out there who are cold and starving, and here I have a stupidly expensive purse that I got just for being a guest at a dinner. How are people ok with living like that? We won’t even talk about the scarf which is more expensive than the Christmas budget I allotted myself this year.
So, let me say wow, I’m blown away that this is how the 1% live. Such a completely alien universe.