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Class Struggle on Park Avenue


"It can be a really lonely life devoting yourself to earning money," Wendy says, then, realizing she's just repeating her generation's party line, amends her comments to reflect current reality: "I also know a lot of people who are happy with their incredibly lucrative jobs."

What's sad, though some would say it's a sign of maturity, is that the sixties values on which they were raised during the sixties and seventies -- a belief in the life of the mind, in public service, and that there are more important things than money -- have been replaced by remorse.

Ann's ailing mother may have put it best when she turned to David in the car one day and stated, apropos of nothing, "Money is life's report card."

"If you think of it in those terms, one can be pretty bitter living in New York," David observed.

Betsy, the costume designer, says she doesn't resent the family who bought her parents' Park Avenue apartment, or their kid who came up to her at a Christmas party and told her that her old bedroom, which he inherited, "is the best room in the place." Rather, she resents "the system that brought me up and didn't discuss money."

Wendy doesn't wish she married for money -- but she doesn't deny she might have given the matter more thought. "There was a certain person who was interested in me, but nobody pushed anything," she remembers. "I do sometimes think I could be a little more realistic."

Ann continues to be proud of the choices she's made -- "My parents' lives as rich people were emptier than mine," she states flatly. "But I worry about whether my values can be well communicated to my children in this atmosphere."

Part of the problem, apart from the ostentation all around them, is that Ann's life might not look that appealing to a kid. In fact, she spends so much time struggling to support her family that she has no time to pursue the lofty goals of helping the poor that attracted her to psychology in the first place. Ironically, she spends her days servicing the rich, the only people who can afford her rates, while they do more actual good than she does, if only by attending charity galas.

"Because of my financial struggle, I have less time to exercise my social conscience than these rich people," she admits. "I give less to charity and serve on fewer committees."

Nonetheless, she says she'd feel like a failure if her kids chose their careers based on their earning potential. "I hope their educations will give them some financial stability, but my sixties values still predominate," she insists. "I would love it if at least one of them was an artist."

On the other hand, it wouldn't kill her if one of the others joined Goldman, Sachs. "If they're interested in banking -- go for it," she says, adding, not entirely facetiously, "and I hope they can marry the brother of one of their well-heeled school friends."

But many in the next generation seem to have no desire to repeat the well-intentioned mistakes of the previous one. "Most of my students are extremely wealthy, and their ambition is to remain extremely wealthy," David says. "They talk about how rich they are relative to each other. That's all they think about. There's not a thought given to public service."


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