I'm fascinated by rich people. Fascinated by, and terrified of. It's something about having always been on the "have not" side of things...one of my biggest dreams as a child was to live someplace that had stairs inside. I swore I'd never make my kids drink powdered milk, or have to live somewhere infested with cockroaches, or have to miss their equivalent of a New Kids on the Block concert. As I grew older and the indicators of my family's poverty became clearer, I went through various stages of anger, resentment, depression, and have finally reached a place of extraordinary gratitude for the sacrifices they made for me, my relative freedom of scar tissue from the experience, and for everything I have - because I know there are people with much less.
When I was a kid I'd walk into friends' houses and be awed and terrified of breaking something or doing something wrong. You'd think over the years I'd outgrow that, but to this day it's the same awkward feeling anytime I enter a house (or a Pottery Barn, or a department store, or a suburb, etc.).
So what do I do about this fear? Pursue a career in fundraising, where I am required to interact with people with lots of money on a daily basis. ("Confront your fear!" Dan says. We'll see how it goes.)
Last night I attended a "friend"raiser for my organization at a country club in a well-to-do suburb. I'd never been to a country club before, and was sort of terrified at the prospect of being anywhere near one. What happens at those places? Would I have to give my name at the gate? Was it okay to wear khakis? What's "casual dress" to a millionaire?
It was strange from the get-go. Caterers walked around with silver trays of mini-hamburgers with a dollop of ketchup on mini-sesame seed buns, mini-crab salad pastries, mini-watercress sandwiches and (get this) crackers with peanut butter and BACON on them. (Apparently this is the life.) Many of the people in attendance, I was told, were "old" money, which I think means living off the interest and/or investments of their predecessors often with little or no need to work themselves. I mingled with these folks. I admired their wardrobes (which included loafers without socks and bright red pants with a loon belt) and smelled the heavy perfume of the women in attendence. Guests asked me about AP and I relayed information about our funding, our program, my excitement about my job. Stories about an actual student in our program warranted shaking heads and tsk-tsks that reeked of a lack of frame of reference.
"Where do we send the check?"
We gave them our address and left the country club grounds. And now I wait for the envelopes.