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Class Struggle on Park Avenue

The Upper East Side is where those on the way up -- bidding up real estate, wearing too much jewelry -- are in constant conflict with those on the way down. A new chapter in the age-old war between new money and shabby gentility.

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Ann recently overheard her daughters playing "Barbies" and was shocked. Ken wasn't encouraging Barbie to engage in inappropriate physical contact. It was even worse than that -- especially for someone like Ann, who was raised during the sixties on the quaint and hopelessly outdated notion, at least if you live in Manhattan, that there are more important things in life than money.

"They named the dad Moonves, after the president of CBS," she recalls. "And they made him an investment banker. When I was their age, I'd never even heard of investment bankers."

Her children's choice of role models shouldn't come as a surprise. Half of the dads at their school seem to be investment bankers, and their kids are the ones flying off to the Caribbean for the weekend and throwing the best birthday parties. What's especially poignant and perhaps a little depressing to Ann is the realization of how far her own fortunes have tumbled relative to those of many of the people with whom she socializes.

When she was growing up, Ann, who's a psychologist, made the trip from her parents' Fifth Avenue triplex to school in a chauffeur-driven station wagon, but only because she was too embarrassed to be seen in the family Rolls. Today, her daughters attend the same tony private girls' school, but just about everything else in their life has changed, and not for the better.

Ann's parents divorced, and when her father died, he left his estate not to Ann's mother but to his next wife. The triplex, a magnificent apartment with terraces and gardens, is gone -- sold for a song during the seventies -- and Ann; her husband David, a teacher; and their children now live in a warren of small rooms in a rented Carnegie Hill walk-up.

"Little did I know when my parents sold their triplex it would be the last time I'd set foot in one," says Ann, whose sense of irony may be her saving grace as the walls literally close in around her. (To give the girls their own rooms, the family divided what were small rooms into even tinier ones.) "I literally don't own anything."

She's even given herself and her friends in similarly straightened circumstances an acronym -- DUMPIES. "It means downwardly and unhappily mobile professionals," she explains over lunch at Demarchelier on a recent afternoon. "Notice young is no longer in it, either."

The world doesn't feel sorry for Ann, nor should it. The family's combined annual income is "way over" $100,000, according to David. Their children enjoy the best education money can buy. They have a weekend house in the Hamptons, albeit not on the beach like most of their children's friends do. And they spent spring break in the Bahamas.

But relative to almost everyone else they know, relative to the freshly minted multimillionaires and billionaires Ann rubs shoulders with at school functions, she feels impoverished.

"It sounds almost comical to be in the upper 2 percent of earners in the nation and to find it's difficult to live in Manhattan," says David, who ticks off $200,000 a year in "fixed" expenses -- including $60,000 for rent, $60,000 for tuitions, and $15,000 for a baby-sitter. "You can't save money, and you go into debt. We know some people who are really quite bitter about it."


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