Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Upper Class

I’m already going broke on a million dollars a year! The appalling figures came popping up into his brain. Last year his income had been $980,000. But he had to pay out $21,000 a month for the $1.8 million loan he had taken out to buy the apartment. What was $21,000 a month to someone making a million a year? That was the way he had thought of it at the time—and in fact, it was merely a crushing, grinding burden—that was all! It came to $252,000 a year, none of it deductible, because it was a personal loan, not a mortgage. (The cooperative boards in Good Park Avenue Buildings like his didn’t allow you to take out a mortgage on your apartment.) So, considering the taxes, it required $420,000 in income to pay the $252,000. Of the $560,000 remaining of his income last year, $44,400 was required for the apartment’s monthly maintenance fees; $116,000 for the house on Old Drover’s Mooring Lane in Southampton ($84,000 for mortgage payment and interest, $18,000 for heat, utilities, insurance, and repairs, $6,000 for lawn and hedge cutting, $8,000 for taxes). Entertaining at home and in restaurants had come to $37,000. This was a modest sum compared to what other people spent; for example, Campbell’s birthday party in Southampton had had only one carnival ride (plus, of course, the obligatory ponies and the magician) and had cost less than $4,000. The Taliaferro School, including the bus service, cost $9,400 for the year. The tab for furniture and clothes had come to about $65,000; and there was little hope of reducing that, since Judy was, after all, a decorator and had to keep things up to par. The servants (Bonita, Miss Lyons, Lucille the cleaning woman, and Hobie the handyman in Southampton) came to $62,000 a year. That left only $226,200, or $18,850 a month, for additional taxes and this and that, including insurance payments (nearly a thousand a month, if averaged out), garage rent for two cars ($840 a month), household food ($1,500 a month), club dues (about $250 a month)—the abysmal truth was that he had spent more than $980,000 last year. Well, obviously he could cut down here and there—but not nearly enough—if the Worst happened! There was no getting out from under the $1.8 million loan, the crushing $21,000-a-month nut, without paying it off or selling the apartment and moving into one far smaller and more modest—an impossibility!

There was no turning back! Once you had lived in a $2.6 million apartment on Park Avenue-it was impossible to live in a $1 million apartment! Naturally, there was no way to explain this to a living soul. Unless you were a complete fool, you couldn’t even make the words come out of your mouth Nevertheless—it was so! It was . . . an impossibility! Why, his building was one of the great ones built just before the First World War! Back then it was still not entirely proper for a good family to live in an apartment (instead of a house). So the apartments were built like mansions, with eleven-, twelve-, thirteen-foot ceilings, vast entry galleries, staircases, servants’ wings, herringbone-parquet floors, interior walls a foot thick, exterior walls as thick as a fort’s, and fireplaces, fireplaces, fireplaces, even though the buildings were all built with central heating. A mansion!—except that you arrived at the front door via an elevator (opening upon your own private vestibule) instead of the street. That was what you got for $2.6 million, and anyone who put one foot in the entry gallery of the McCoy duplex on the tenth floor knew he was in…one of those fabled apartments that the world, le monde, died for! And what did a million get you today? At most, at most, at most: a three-bedroom apartment—no servants’ rooms, no guest rooms, let alone dressing rooms and a sunroom—in a white-brick high-rise built east of Park Avenue in the 1960s with 8½-foot ceilings, a dining room but no library, an entry gallery the size of a closet, no fireplace, skimpy lumberyard moldings, if any, plasterboard walls that transmit whispers, and no private elevator stop. Oh no; instead, a mean windowless elevator hall with at least five pathetically plain bile-beige metal-sheathed doors, each protected by two or more ugly drop locks, opening upon it, one of these morbid portals being yours. Patently . . . an impossibility!

He sat with his $600 New & Lingwood shoes pulled up against the cold white bowl of the toilet and the newspaper rustling in his trembling hands, envisioning Campbell, her eyes brimming with tears, leaving the marbled entry hail on the tenth floor for the last time, commencing her descent into the lower depths. Since I’ve foreseen it, God, you can’t let it happen, can you?

- Tom Wolfe

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