Do the rich have feelings too? In the latest issue of Vanity Fair, Tom Wolfe, who famously chronicled the buyout kings of the 1980s in The Bonfire Of The Vanities, seems to suggest the rich do, in fact feel emotions -- but only after they've been forced to fly coach.
Wolfe assumes the voice of a commodities trader who laments the loss of his company's prized private jets. Rhapsodizing about pre-Bailout era, the narrator salutes his CEO Robert J. McCorkle ("Corky"), who led offsites that were, well, memorable:
"One of the sweetest sounds in the world was Corky making the rounds up here on the executive floor, saying in his laid-back voice, "I feel like boffing some bimbos in the Caribbean. Anybody like to come along?"
In typical Wolfeian fashion, the narrator's prone to wide-ranging references. Nietzche's "tarantulas" make an appearance, as do the former CEOs of the Big Three automakers. Here's more from Wolfe:
"At the risk of sounding condescending, we should point out that ordinary people haven't the faintest conception of the strain we had to endure daily. How many ordinary people have ever done anything remotely like betting $7.4 billion--bango!--just so!--that the price of energy will rise sharply 14 months from a certain date?"It almost tugs on your heart strings. But not quite...Read the entire piece at Vanity Fair.
The Rich Have Feelings, Too
Losing billions is stressful, and the brave financiers who risk other people’s money need a way to cool out—hopping on the GV, say, for a bimbo-boffing weekend in the Bahamas. Thanks to the bailout, that’s history. The author imagines one fictional highflier’s shock as he rejoins the commercial-aviation herd.
By Tom Wolfe
Up until the tarantulas arrived late last year waving their billions in “bailout” money before our faces, there were ten of us, including the two Harvard algorithm swamis, who could use the Gulfstream V, the Falcon, and the three Learjets pretty much anytime we needed them.
The vast majority of the flights—let’s get this straight before anyone starts clucking and fuming—were strictly business, but we also used the planes to “maintain an even strain,” as our C.E.O., Robert J. (Corky) McCorkle, liked to put it.
At the risk of sounding condescending, we should point out that ordinary people haven’t the faintest conception of the strain we had to endure daily. How many ordinary people have ever done anything remotely like betting $7.4 billion—bango!—just so!—that the price of energy will rise sharply 14 months from a certain date? How many of them ever had the animal spirits to go for it on the say-so of a young never-been-wrong-yet meteorology swami from M.I.T. who was convinced that, after a five-year lull in the cycle, a series of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes would pulverize the Gulf of Mexico, obliterating all offshore drilling operations, possibly shutting them down for years? How many ordinary people have woken up in the middle of the night, eyes popped open—swock!—like a pair of umbrellas, stark raving terrified by the possibility that they have just blown $7.4 billion on … a weather forecast? How many of them have ever sat for three days, 72 hours straight, in front of a gigantic plasma TV watching the Weather Channel as if it were the Super Bowl as Hurricane Enrique dithers, dawdles, malingers, messes around off the coast of Fort Lauderdale? How many ordinary people have been reduced finally, by sheer fear, to yelling at the screen, “Come on, Enrique, you pathetic wuss! Move your fat eye, you lazy worthless bitch! Be a man! Move inland! Cut straight across the Everglades, tear ‘em up by the roots and just let the greenies wail! Set your eye on the freaking Gulf! Take your goddamn steroids! Show some rage, you pussy! Barrel into those goddamn oil rigs! Destroy ‘em! Obliterate ‘em!”? How many ordinary people have finally sunk to their knees, hands clasped in prayer before a plasma-TV screen, imploring it, begging it, beseeching it … to save them?
God knows we deserved every chance we could get to even out the strain.
One of the sweetest sounds in the world was Corky making the rounds up here on the executive floor, saying in his laid-back voice, “I feel like boffing some bimbos in the Caribbean. Anybody like to come along?”
We never had to deal with airports like O’Hare or J.F.K. and their intestines of roadways looping over and under one another on the way to terminals teeming with the aforementioned ordinary people. No, we always left from small general-aviation airports.
In the U.S. the term “general aviation” means its exact opposite, the way “public school” does in England. An English public school is private and, on top of that, exclusive. Likewise, general-aviation airports in the U.S. are for everyone but the general public. They exist exclusively for people or businesses with the money to buy and maintain private planes. The fields are usually so small our driver can take us out onto the tarmac and stop right beside our jet. Now, here comes the part a man has to love.
Who is it who puts our luggage into the plane’s baggage compartment, including golf bags weighed down by the steel shanks of every club that a bunch of rich golfers with handicaps of 19 or more have ever heard of? Who hoists all this unbelievable stuff and stows it?
The captain and the co-captain!
Yeah! And they don’t talk like any flight commanders, either! They have the polite, deferential, as-instructed cheeriness of bellboys. They weren’t working for United Airlines or Delta or JetBlue or the F.A.A. or the air force. They were ours. They were our servants, our chauffeurs, and they were expected to act that way.
If there was no stewardess aboard, the captain or the co-captain would come back into the passenger cabin and ask us what we’d like to drink. We would be lounging lushly in what was designed as a living room, not an airplane cabin. There were mahogany, walnut, and amboyna inlays all over the place … You never had to sit next to anybody. You had your own virtual easy chair and all the legroom in the world … and cantilevered tabletops made of the same rich, spectacularly grained woods.
Ahhhh … here comes the captain, returning with your drink upon a little tray, primly placing it on your tabletop, along with a little linen cocktail napkin. Bent over in a half-bow, like any good butler, he asks you if you’d like anything else … and please don’t hesitate to use the call button …
The captain we’re talking about! The co-captain! We could already feel the strain evening out, and we hadn’t even reached Boffingland yet!
Whenever the captain informed us we were descending for landing, Corky always cupped his hands about his mouth megaphone-style and announced in a loud voice, as if over the intercom: “Please return all seats, tray tables, and stewardesses to their original upright and locked positions.”
That always cracked us up. On the Gulfstream V he’d pull that one right in the face of the two stewardesses. Of course, by now the politically correct nomenclature was “flight attendants.” So sometimes Corky would have his fun by referring to them as “flight attendesses.” The girls? They had no choice but to giggle, as if heartily amused. After all, they worked for us. They were our geisha girls in the sky.
But there was a subtler side to it. Corky’s gag mimicked the landing instructions a captain or a flight attendant gives on a commercial airliner—except that on a commercial airliner they aren’t instructions. They’re orders, as one quickly discovers if he ignores them.
On our boffing flights, instructions by a captain or a flight attendess were no more than well-intended advice … or suggestions. They didn’t dare utter them with so much as a faint hum of authority. We owned the very livelihood, if not the hides, of these, our servants …
… and then …
All right, so we did blow the $7.4 billion when oil dropped from $145 a barrel last July to less than half that—$70—in October and less than half of that—$34.60—four months later. And we did have a total of almost a trillion dollars’ worth of bets out on the board when the market crashed. And we were foolish enough to feel it was a miracle when the Treasury Department dangled its billions before us.
Had we but known … Had we but known … we wouldn’t have touched a dime of it. It would have been more honorable just to crash and burn and take bankruptcy like a man. For the tarantulas had arrived—only, we didn’t know that yet. The “bailout” was their Trojan horse. Fools that we were, we welcomed them!
We should have read the writing on the crime-scene tape as early as November 18 of last year, when Rick Wagoner of General Motors, Robert Nardelli of Chrysler, and Alan Mulally of Ford flew from Detroit to Washington in their corporate jets to ask Congress for $25 billion in bailout money. They appeared before the House Financial Services Committee, and that was all the congressmen would talk about, the airplanes. Such resentment! Such scorn! They asked the three men to raise their hands to show their willingness to give up their jets as a precondition before asking for the money. The beggars at least had enough pride and testosterone left to refrain from raising their hands in unison and saying, “Yassuh, massuh.”
A congressman from New York, Gary Ackerman, upon hearing that this impudent trio had treated themselves to private planes to come to ask for the American taxpayer’s money, said his constituents would be appalled, shocked to the point of disbelief: “It’s almost like seeing a guy show up at the soup kitchen in a high hat and a tuxedo. Couldn’t you all have downgraded to first class or jet-pooled or something to get here?”
We couldn’t believe it! It strained the brain! We failed to realize that congressmen themselves had become the first inflamers, provocateurs, mob leaders of every tarantula in the country!
When the three men returned to Washington on December 3, they traveled by car. It took them almost half a day. The congressmen scoffed at it as a cynical stunt or else a phony act of contrition. Why hadn’t they come by commercial airline? That would have atoned for the sin of private-plane pride perfectly well … and they could have made the trip in one hour rather than half a day.
But we were about to find out that these three C.E.O.’s were being anything but cynical, phony, or contrite. Today we can assure you this was no stunt. Amid the swarms of tarantulas stirred up by rabble-rousers in high places, it was the only way.
“Tarantulas” was the term the late-19th-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche—steady … steady … some of us rich people went to college, too—used for those who are consumed by resentment. Unable themselves to be great men, they burn with a feverish fervor, expressed as righteous anger, to tear down the reputations of those who are. Nietzsche regarded it as one of the human beast’s deepest, darkest motivations.
Every fool who lets himself be “bailed out,” i.e., given hundreds of millions of rehab money by the government, learns that lesson the hardest possible way. He lives it.
The government bureaucrats assigned to your “case” seem to have but one mission: cutting rich people down to size. When they go over the corporation’s books, they understand practically none of it. That doesn’t seem to disturb them in the slightest—since they only have eyes for you … and your perks, with the Gulfstream V, the Falcon, and the three Learjets heading the list.
They creep about our office like silverfish. We call them “the spooks.” The purpose of their lives seems to be to make sure we can’t use the five jets … They don’t say that in so many words, of course. All they say is that we can’t use them to go anyplace that can be reached via commercial aviation … and no place, period, outside of the U.S.
So what does that leave? Maybe East Jesus, Montana? Malaria, Mississippi? Coralsnake Sands, Arizona? As for maintaining an even strain and boffing bimbos in the Caribbean—don’t even reminisce about such things.
So … fools that we were … we decided we had no choice but to consent to commercial airline service … Service? Did we just say Service? We didn’t have the vaguest idea of what hellholes American airports have become, especially the major ones, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, J.F.K., Newark … Oh our God!—we couldn’t believe what we had to put up with just to reach the airplane.
Not only were we unable to schedule a flight for a time that suited us, we were required to be at the airport an hour ahead of the time they had decided we might depart. The airports themselves were immense … compared with those we remembered from way back whenever it was. Immense—and clogged with lines, lines of the human beast in all of his manifestations … tended by zookeepers, an endless succession of them, making what … $10 an hour? … who looked us up and down … warily, as if to say, “We’re on to your kind.”
The first line was outside, at curbside, where we checked our bags, having already had our girls in the office e-care of our tickets. But we couldn’t have our chauffeurs check the bags for us. Oh no, we had to stand in front of the porters ourselves and present our driver’s licenses and let the porters—the porters!—look us up and down and compare our faces with the faces shown on the licenses … Maybe that’s you, and maybe that’s not, saith … one’s very porters!
Inside the airport—a vast hippodrome … endless vistas … disembodied nasal voices issuing endless orders—orders!—to us!—over speakers from on high, somewhere up in the dome of the hippodrome, at a universally solvent pitch … do not leave your belongings unattended at any time or they will be removed … people in endless lines that folded back upon themselves like the lines at Disney World … do not accept luggage or any object from any stranger who asks you to carry it aboard a flight … endless lines of ordinary people who didn’t have girls to e-care of their tickets … notify authorities immediately of any such occurrence … and had to slide heavy bags along the floor, inch by inch, to reach a counter where they might check them as they bought their tickets … do not leave a vehicle at the curb unattended at any time, or it will be towed … and no one, not even we, could avoid a line where more $10-an-hour zookeepers asked us to identify ourselves again … do not attempt to carry any liquid container of more than three ounces aboard any aircraft … and inspected us up and down again before admitting us to what proved to be the inner coils of Hell … We found ourselves walking down a corridor with a disconcertingly slick surface made of some sort of synthetic concrete … After what seemed like a very long time we arrived at an open space—and the line from Inner Hell … It folded back upon itself, back upon itself, back upon itself, back upon itself so many times, it looked like Hell’s descending colon … The creatures! The creatures! Every sort on this earth, inching along, inching along, inching along, shafts of blue denim, inching along, blue denim legs, tight blue denim bottoms, blue denim buckled underneath ponderous guts, with T-shirts covering all but a bottommost bulge of tallow over the belt, denim pants ending midcalf with T-shirt to just above the knee with shirttail to mid-thigh with North Face jacket to just below the waist, miles of hurricane hair, so long it conceals the tiny texting keyboards held close to assisted breasts—to the tintinnabulation of aluminum walkers, the human tide carries us inch by inch toward a barrier of staggered metal detectors manned by a whole platoon of zookeepers whose word, we gather, is law … remove all metal objects and place them in the trays … The trays are lined up on bizarre metal slideways that feed into X-ray chambers … remove all shoes, coats, and jackets … and like a single huge, shaggy, colonial organism, the herd rummages about in a thousand pockets and starts removing 2,000 shoes … have your boarding passes with you as you pass through the detector … The damned shoes! Half of us have shoes custom-made in England … with old-fashioned shoestrings. As we struggle to untie and loosen the shoestrings, the denim people have shed their sandals, flip-flops, moccasins, boots, pumps, just like that … We can feel their huge impatient pressure building up behind us as we struggle … and all at once we find ourselves to all intents and purposes barefoot … with only socks on our feet … coatless … bereft … bereft … bereft of all dignity and authority … feeling naked before every sort of ordinary creature in the world … timorous and obedient, oh so obedient, holding our breaths just as ordinary creatures do, perhaps with prayers more profound, as our $10-an-hour keepers beckon us through a metal-detector frame meant to apprehend human malefactors. Then we had to walk barefoot across a black rubber carpet with rows of hard rubber studs that pressed like bullets into the soles of our feet …
As we walked across this bleak black rubberscape toward plastic chairs where we might renew our struggle … this time to put the shoes back on … we stopped as if a single startled creature … to witness a terrible sight. They had taken Corky, Corky McCorkle, our C.E.O. and spiritual boffer, off to the side. They had made him stand with his feet apart and his arms spread way out, as if he were in rehearsal for his own crucifixion. He was standing motionless, an obedient creature, a broken man … allowing a keeper to run a metal-detecting wand up the inseams of his pants … and he did not utter so much as a peep …
Not long afterward, the tarantulas in Washington ordered Corky McCorkle to resign, just as they had Rick Wagoner of General Motors … and Corky—Corky McCorkle!—did just that, resigned obediently, and he did not utter so much as a peep …
So the tarantulas had achieved the only real goal they had. They had destroyed the reputation of a great man. Their screams of resentment avenged must have been hideous to hear.
Need we wonder if even for a moment it ever occurred to them that rich people have feelings, too?