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Class Struggle on Park Avenue


"These people were awful," she claims. "You can quote me by name. They wore all their jewelry to pick up their children. They had no manners, no class. Just a huge amount of money.

"The nannies are nice," she continues. "Now I wonder whether I've slipped so far out of the middle class that I relate more to them than what would seem to be my peers."

Not that she's completely thrown in the towel. She's discovered that her long legs still pass for currency of a sort. "It's why I stay thin," she confides. "It's the one thing I've got. Sex is a great leveler. It's class-free. It's just DNA, and my DNA looks good. I like to have their husbands flirt with me and make their wives eat their liver."

Handling one's fall from social grace wouldn't be so painful were it not for the children. Not because their soaring tuitions could be better spent reupholstering the couch, throwing dinner parties, and keeping up appearances. But because it's hard to explain to a child why their classmates have so much more than they do and why you made the misguided, albeit idealistic, financially unrewarding career choices you did.

"She's invited to all the same bar and bas mitzvahs as all the other kids, and she can't buy the same presents and buy a new dress for every occasion," Ann says. "She borrows clothes from the rich kids. Her friends are sympathetic to her like she's got some serious handicap. She definitely feels left out that she's not part of the dominant crowd.

"Some of these kids have regulations where they can wear their diamond necklaces," she adds. "This is the kind of thing that's being negotiated at their houses, as opposed to our home where we're negotiating whether or not they need to buy new shorts at the Gap."

"Our car embarrasses them," Ann's husband, David, says. "It's a ten-year-old car we park on the street. They don't want to give their friends rides out to the country."

Wendy considers the Gap a godsend, about the only social equalizer she sees. "Everyone goes to the Gap," she says cheerfully. "Even people who could afford to go anywhere go to the Gap."

Unfortunately, it takes more than a new pair of khakis to make the average 12-year-old feel good about herself. "My older daughter was trying to figure out why people had more money and were they better -- because she definitely likes us," Wendy says. "I explained that Dad and I were interested in poetry and literature and pursued advanced degrees that weren't lucrative. I don't want the children to feel insecure. I want them to know you choose your life."

Once upon a time, you could at least take solace in the notion that the best-paying jobs -- those in banking, finance, and real estate -- also seemed to be the most boring. But these days, the people making the big bucks also seem to be having the most fun.

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