Washed up at 35

Early one morning, a sharply dressed lawyer ducked discreetly into the faux-Oriental Park Avenue offices of Dr. Bruce Nadler, who advertises himself in the Yellow Pages as an anti-aging specialist. The young attorney was a successful, well-paid senior associate at a prominent New York firm. But he had a problem. He was 34 and feeling a little old.

“The guy told me he was going for partner,” Nadler says, “but was afraid if he couldn’t maintain the appearance of youth, he might not make it.”

Not to worry. Two hours and $5,000 later, this old-feeling lawyer was feeling a whole lot younger. After a weeklong “vacation,” he would return to his firm sporting a set of spanking-new twentysomething eyelids and a jaunty spring in his Bally-toed step.

He’s not alone. “I’ve seen younger and younger people coming in, and more men lately,” Nadler says, “and it’s because of work-related reasons more than social reasons, which were the typical reasons people used to have plastic surgery.

“I see people from all professions, people in the mid-range of the hierarchy who want to move higher. Someone who’s maybe 33 and wants to better his position at work might get his eyelids done. He might get some chin work, to firm up the jawline. Liposuction is very common. They’re all worried about growing old. They say that companies now demand a very youthful image, and if they can’t fit it, they’re not going to get the promotion. They might not even keep their job. “We’re even talking people in their late twenties,” he adds.

Turns out you’re not alone if “old” is suddenly starting to seem a whole lot younger. At the dawn of the Net-and-nasdaq-intoxicated new millennium, youth has become an increasingly valuable commodity. From Wall Street to Madison Avenue, the Manhattan career landscape has become noticeably younger – there’s a whole generation of hyperambitious overachievers propelled by manic energy, technological savvy, and an almost scary sense of entitlement.

“It’s a race,” explains John McDonald, 31. “Things are moving ten times faster than they used to. You think, I gotta do it now. It’s a very short window.”

As a generation, these bright young things have never known cold war, diminished expectations, or cloudy horizons. And as they have risen, they have blithely swept away decades-old career assumptions – biding your time, waiting your turn, dressing for success have become as quaint as the Apple IIc. The Instant Score is the new theology. Like Peter Pan, the kids know that all you have to do is believe.

If you’re old enough to remember music on vinyl and teenagers in jeans that fit, but not so old that you remember, say, Maxwell Smart in prime time, then all of this is a bit eerie: In its flashier, more careeristic quarters, at least, the city has started to feel a little like the seventies sci-fi film Logan’s Run, about a futuristic civilization in which citizens, even those as comely as Farrah Fawcett, are sent for “renewal” – that is, execution – upon turning 30. For the generation that came of age during George Bush’s recession, it’s as if the rules got changed in the middle of the game. Who wouldn’t feel a little paranoid?

“When I graduated from college, I didn’t think I was going to get a job,” says one downtown advertising executive, 31. “Everyone was always saying we were going to be the first generation in America to live worse than our parents. We were spoon-fed that all through college. But now I’ve got two younger brothers, and they’re like, ‘I think I’ll get my first job at 60 grand.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ It’s a harsh reality for me. But they turn around and do it. They’re like, ‘Yeah, I just got a job at an Internet company, and I’ve got 30,000 shares of stock options. I’m just going, ‘What? I’m four years older than you.’ What did I do wrong?”

It’s one thing to know that you weren’t going to do as well as Mom and Dad. But no one ever mentioned that you were also going to do worse than your little brother.

Turning 35, of course, has never been without its complications. Halfway to 70, we’re nearly halfway to death, at least in terms of America’s mean life expectancy of 76. But now grafted onto the traditional anxieties are a whole set of new ones – immediate, cultural, economic.

“The basic issues around this age are still the same,” says Gail Sheehy, author of the seminal midlife-crisis guidebook Passages. “By 35, you’ve paid your dues, you’ve proven you’re competent, but you become dissatisfied by the confines of your life. It’s natural to feel restless. But now this restlessness is exaggerated. It comes from thinking, ‘My God, if I don’t become a Web zillionaire in a year or two, the kids are going to come and take it all away from me.’ “

The strange thing is that these anxieties are percolating at precisely the moment that there appears to be little reason for them: Even after its recent cool-off, the stock market is still plenty warm, the job market is historically tight, and few are actually put out to pasture at 36. Still, when you talk to people in their thirties, you get a sense of vague, growing panic.

When are you going to pop?

Today? Tomorrow? Never?

The questions hang heavily in the air, in Silicon Alley, on Wall Street, seemingly everywhere. The clock is ticking. Thanks to the IPO-options bonanza, the economy has started to resemble a vast Ponzi scheme. And anybody knows that in a pyramid game, you’d best cash out early. Even if you’re only 30, it’s not hard to feel that you have only a few short years to score.

“It’s all about maximizing,” explains an artfully unshaven John McDonald, looking groovily polyester in his candy-striped Paul Smith shirt and trim blue Sansabelt-ish slacks. Surrounded by leggy models and bulbous, Kubrickian orange chairs that constitute the major design trope of his new SoHo restaurant, Canteen, McDonald is explaining his theories on life, or at least business, and the need for the eighteen-hour workday.

McDonald opened the moody, model-filled Merc Bar when he was 24, just a couple of years out of Columbia. He followed it with a Merc Bar in Phoenix and two fashion-oriented glossy magazines, CITY NY and CITY AZ. Just this year, he made the jump into the McNally Leagues, opening the superhot – and, at 5,000 square feet, ambitiously vast – boîte Canteen on Mercer Street. He is 31 years old. “I only have three years left,” he wails, just a little ironically. “Three years before I’m burned out!”

Given his breakneck schedule, that might be a hopeful assessment. “It’s a race,” he explains. “Things are moving five, ten times faster than they used to. So you think, I gotta do it now, because every day you pick up the newspaper and so many people are doing so much, they’re creating and winning. Everyone’s jockeying to position themselves. That’s the goal. But you have this very short window, if you are going to brand yourself.”

Harry’s at Hanover Square is a Wall Street institution, a clubby, mahogany-paneled Gilded Age haunt where smug self-satisfaction has long permeated the place like cigar smoke. But not long after trading hours on a chilly Tuesday, the mood is a bit somber, even at a corner table where five young, rich, white people are sipping at light beers.

“You’re still going to use older people to sell airlines and soap,” says a 27-year-old adman. “I mean, someone has to write the tampon ads.”

One is a 30-year-old trading-floor supervisor, a nattily dressed man with a meaty, middle-linebacker build and a hefty income. Five years ago, he would have been considered a budding master of the universe. But in the age of the Internet, he feels like just another six-figure wage slave. “The twentysomethings on the Street, they swing for the fences,” he observes, sounding slightly envious. “I’m an older investor. I don’t need the dot-coms. I don’t need that kind of risk. There’s a difference between us and guys out of B-school. They think they should just have it given to them. It’s an entitlement. I had to work hard to get where I am. When I graduated, I was just damn happy to have a job. The kids – they’d be bored to death with what I do.”

Across the table, a petite blonde woman drags deeply on a needle-thin cigarette and nods sympathetically. She’s a saleswoman – corporate bonds – at a prominent investment house. She’s 29.

“Absolutely, there’s a generation gap,” she says. “Look at the kids who come in to interview from Ivy League schools. The first question they ask is ‘Do you dress down every day?’ It’s almost offensive, even though we do dress down. It’s like, Is that all they’re worried about? When I was their age, all I wanted to do was get onto the trading floor. I just wanted to get to the show. But,” she adds with a shrug, “I’m old. I’m in the 30-year-old range.”

Next to her sits a steely-eyed young man in a pale-green poplin suit, a tech-focused instructor for new recruits at one of the country’s leading investment banks.

“There is definitely a premium on youth on Wall Street,” he says thoughtfully. “It’s because so much of finance is suddenly based on high tech, and high tech is all based on skills. And today’s skill set is only taught now; it wasn’t taught three years ago. In the old economy, the assumption used to be: Twenty, 30 years would give you the experience you need to do this job. But technology is an industry where you learn what you need to know in school. Experience doesn’t mean anything. It just means your skills are old. In high tech, even at 25, four years out of school, your skills are four years old. You’re still programming HTML, but we’re not HTML – we’re VRML, and we’re pushing past VRML to C++ and beyond. If you’re 25 years old in Silicon Valley, you’d better have made your money, because you’re done. I’m 27, and I’ve been in this business seven years. I’m a dinosaur.

The first trader cuts in: “Technology is so new that no one’s an expert,” he says. These kids on the way up think, My idea is as good as the one from the guy who’s been around for 30 years.” “Nobody ever wants to pay you for what happened yesterday,” the green-suited man interjects. “You gotta tell me what’s going to happen tomorrow. If you don’t know that, we might as well get rid of you.”

It is, of course, the dot-com explosion that is most responsible for the concentric circles of age anxiety spinning out across the cultural landscape. “People definitely try to exploit youth. I don’t know if it’s the most important factor when a client is trying to choose a firm to do Web work for them, but it is a factor,” claims Jeremy Donelson, 27, the founder of the Web design firm moonrover.com. “You have to make sure you look young so people will believe you understand the newest technology. You see older people – not old, by any means – but older people who dye their hair and get nose rings. They’ll be in their mid-thirties with bright-blue hair and really, really measured ‘casual’ clothes. They’re trying to look young because that’s the image that sells.”

Just ask Chip Hall, the 29-year-old chief executive officer of Fluid, Inc., a burgeoning San Francisco-based Web company that’s just opened an office in New York. “In the Net world, energy is essential,” he says. “But as I approach 30, my energy levels are dropping. I can’t put in the same kind of hours I used to,” he says. “The fact is, if you’re really going to go balls-to-the-wall, you have to be willing to give up your life. You can’t be married. You can’t have kids. When you’re out of school, or in your twenties, you’re willing to do that. Your company is your passion. When you talk about selling youth as a commodity, that’s what gets sold. And what gets recruited.”

In time, the outside-the-box ethos of the Net infected even the stodgiest corners of Wall Street. The move toward Casual Every Day was instituted by Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, and others largely to keep even more brokers from defecting to Silicon Alley. A business that long used its Brooks Brothers conservatism as a selling point now increasingly heaps rewards on the cowboys, the ones who take on the biggest risks. “People who are younger don’t have the baggage of the seventies, when the market was bad, and they don’t have 1987 Crash baggage,” says hedge-fund manager, TheStreet.com founder, and new New York “Bottom Line” columnist James Cramer. “Now, let me be very clear: That may turn out to be tragic, but in the interim, they’ve made a ton of money. History has not made you a lot of money in this market. Irony has not made you a lot of money.”

New technologies are even starting to eat away at the once-rigid hierarchies on the Street. “Wall Street has always given young people lots of responsibility, but it’s going even younger now,” says a 29-year-old trader at a top investment bank. “The plain-vanilla business we do is being commoditized. The way the Street will make money in the future is to handle more structured transactions, more complex derivative transactions, many of which have been developed only in the last few years.

“No one’s going to pay a guy a million bucks to sell bonds anymore, because the job he’s doing can partly be done by a computer and partly by someone just out of B-school making $150,000 a year. My generation – guys who came in with me – have been in business five to seven years. We saw the technology boom coming and knew where things were going. It’s the people a few years beyond us, guys around 35, who feel the pressure.”

The ripples of the youthquake are now being felt even in some of the fustiest domains of midtown – white-shoe law firms, which, like everybody else, are racing to get a piece of the Internet action. “In general in law firms, partners are responsible for bringing in business, and the associates just take care of it,” says June Raegner of June Raegner Legal Search, a top legal headhunter. “Even two years ago, a lot of partners didn’t even know how to read e-mail. It was the really, really junior associates who knew the Internet, who understood the Internet, and had connections to people in the Internet. They were the ones who could call their friends from high school or college who were now working at Internet firms. There’s much more rainmaking by very young attorneys. They’re the ones who actually know the Internet billionaires. And they’re all 25 years old.”

But ultimately, the E-revolution is just one factor in the marginalization of the Tabitha Soren generation. Just as significant is a demographic revolution – one that can best be explained in terms of numbers. The baby boom exploded between 1946 and 1964 and numbered 76.8 million. So-called Generation X, born between 1965 and 1978, accounted for 52.4 million. The unimaginatively monikered “Generation Y,” however, began arriving in 1979 and is still rolling, having already added 77.6 million ‘N Sync fans to the American landscape.

This vast, increasingly affluent sea of kids has increasingly become the target market for pop culture, and it’s started to radically transform the various culture-related industries – magazines, advertising, movies, television, P.R. – that are a cornerstone of the city’s economy. Just as the Internet revolution rewarded people who could understand the new technology, the demographic shift has persuaded the culture industry to seek out employees who can best speak to and, more important, sell to the kids. Not surprisingly, they have tended to be pretty young themselves. “The baby-boomers have defined everything over the last four decades because we had the critical mass,” says Donny Deutsch, chairman of the downtown ad agency Deutsch Inc. “The reason Generation X wasn’t able to push us out of the way – they didn’t even have a name, they were called ‘X’ – was that they didn’t have the numbers. But now you have this entire group coming up that does. Generation Y has all the buying power.”

Times advertising columnist Stuart Elliot agrees. “In the past, pop culture, magazines, newspapers, and networks went after the Establishment, the people with the money, the economic clout, the connections, and they usually happened to be over 40. These days, everything is topsy-turvy. Now 22-year-olds are the new Establishment. And everyone’s falling over themselves to court them.”

Trapped between the two baby booms, Xers are already being shoved farther offstage. “Even though advertisers claim to target the 18-49 demographic, the real target is people in the 18-35 range,” says CBS’s chief audience researcher, David Poltrack. “And now you see a whole new focus on the younger half of that age group, more like 18 to 25. The WB phenomenon is directly related to the size and buying power of the baby boomlet.”

Advertisers, Poltrack says, are fixated on either the Viagra-popping boomers or the Clearasil-dabbing kids. Gen X? Forget them. “They just don’t have the numbers,” Poltrack says.

“You really feel the pressure when you’re working for a guy who’s like 25 and has like ten good commercials on his reel,” says one top copywriter, 28, at a major advertising agency. “That’s where you’re like, ‘Oh, fuck, man. I’ve spent my life dreaming about accomplishing that, and this kid’s already done it. That’s what makes you nuts. They probably make from $15,000 to $25,000 a shoot day, and that’s for young new directors, 25 and younger.

“But it’s not all bad news,” he says, suddenly brightening. “It’s like, if you’re doing a consumer-electronics campaign, maybe you want young people for that job. But you’re still going to use older people to sell airlines and soap. I mean, somebody’s got to write the tampon ads.”

The demographic pull of the Y generation is particularly noticeable in publishing, where in the past few years dozens of new magazines have been specifically targeted to emerging readers. A whole sorority of Tiger Beats is crowding into the territory: TeenStyle, TeenPeople, CosmoGirl, Vogue Girl, and, simply, Girl. The youth magazine New Moon has an editorial board of girls ages 8 to 14.

Even more mature titles are feeling the tremors. “When I first got hired, I was 27, and that was so young, says an editor at a major glossy. “People made fun of me. They were always saying, ‘Jackie O., do you know who that is?’ Now I feel like an underachiever because I’m not an editor-in-chief by the time I’m 32.”

And why not? The new editor of the New York Post, Xana Antunes, is, at 35, its youngest ever. Jon Meacham, the managing editor of Newsweek, just turned 30. The new Details editor, Dan Peres, is just 28. Compared with him, Kate Betts seems like a veteran. Last year, at 35, she was appointed editor of Harper’s Bazaar, the most august and traditionalist of fashion books, replacing Liz Tilberis, who died of ovarian cancer at age 51. Betts wasted no time scrapping the magazine’s 132-year-old logo, remaking the magazine in her own image. Last month, Bazaar unveiled an entire issue devoted to the Net. “My mandate was to shake things up,” she admits. “To reach out to younger readers.” But even Betts is sometimes surprised by the changing climate. One day, she was talking to a well-known designer in his fifties when the discussion turned to one of Betts’s hires for a top editorial position. “I said, ‘You know, this person is only 30 years old,’ ” Betts recalls. “The designer turned to me and said, ‘Well, Kate, 30 is not that young anymore.’ “

One night, struggling to be heard over the commotion at B Bar, a trim fashion editor at another major glossy, 31, leans over her frosty, delicate gimlet glass and confides: “I always feel like my boss would sell my seat in a second if (a) the famous young daughter of some New York billionaire wanted to work here or (b) some 24-year-old trend monster applied for it. It’s the sickest atmosphere. There have been more than a few firings of older people, and by ‘older,’ I literally mean people over 35; they’ve been replaced with youngsters. It’s like all these editrixes are trying to surround themselves with youth in order to stay sexy in the eyes of the people who control the purse strings.” She shakes her head.

“The problem is, these youthful little things come in and can’t write or edit worth a shit, and we old folks have to clean up their mess. But am I bitter? Not me.” She smiles. “The worst thing is that youngsters today are so presumptuous,” she says. “They expect big titles and big salaries, fresh off the boat. I’m always shocked about how soon after they’re hired as an assistant they’ll ask for a huge new title and raise. And the thing is, they get it!”

Even the relatively tweedy book-publishing industry has become a world where hard-charging prodigies like Rob Weisbach can be handed their own imprint at 30, only to see it vanish before they’re 34. “It’s brutal,” complains a 34-year-old former book editor at a major publishing house. “Everyone says, ‘Look around – you don’t see any editors in their forties, do you?’ More and more people are being fired in their early or mid-forties.”

“In part, it’s because what editors do is so unimportant these days. It used to be the editor was the person who did line editing and shaping. No one edits books anymore, so young people without experience fill the role just fine. Right now, all they’re paid for is enthusiasm. The people who are running around, going out to the parties, sucking up to everyone in sight, signing new authors, are the kids. They think whatever they’re working on is the greatest stuff ever. They’re cheerleaders. This,” he sighs, sadly, “is why I’m an ex-book editor.”

Not everyone bemoans the change. Lizzie Grubman, 29, has built up her million-dollar P.R. firm largely because of her success in reaching this budding junior elite. “All the editors, the journalists, all the people that I work with – they’re my age, whereas when I first got into the business, they were twenty years older, at least,” she says. “I freak out all the time now. I’m like, ‘I just turned 29!’ I used to always be the youngest. Now all of a sudden there are kids younger than me who are doing really well. Jake Spitz at Network P.R. is 25 or 26. Now I’m middle-aged,” she titters.

Grubman, the daughter of music-industry lawyer Allen Grubman, wasn’t even in business four years ago; now her clients include everyone from AOL to Britney Spears. Last month, she announced a merger with one of P.R.’s most potent figures, the fiftysomething Peggy Siegal, who’s been in the business for 25 years. In the P.R. world, the merger was the equivalent of AOL’s buying Time Warner. But speculation about who held the upper hand was quickly quelled when the women unveiled their company’s new name. The firm is now called Lizzie Grubman Public Relations/Peggy Siegal Company.

Variety editor Peter Bart says the sudden commodification of youth is particularly evident in the new Hollywood. “The age anxieties you see in Hollywood are exacerbated by the fact that the bright young guys are being offered jobs by the Internet start-ups, which causes inevitable tension with their elders, who don’t tend to be offered those jobs,” he says. Bart also points out that fewer and fewer projects are getting green-lighted, and many of the ones that do are squarely aimed at the Scream 3 demographic.

Thanks to the IPO bonanza, the economy has begun to resemble a vast Ponzi scheme. And everyone knows that in a pyramid game, you’d best cash out early.

“The William Morris office recently laid off two or three of their brightest senior agents in New York,” Bart says. “They’re replacing them with very young people. The young guys are cheaper, and the agency wants the young clients. Older agents tend to represent older clients.”

“I’ve been going to Sundance for years, but this year was different,” wails a 32-year-old film-industry executive in New York. “It was like a big frat party. Kids everywhere, moving in packs from condo to condo, and leaving lots of vomit in the snow outside.”

It’s true that the directors who are suddenly becoming the most influential, stylistically, in Hollywood, tend to be in their late twenties and early thirties. Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich) is 30; Wes Anderson (Rushmore) is 31. Ben Younger (Boiler Room), whose name itself is almost a taunt to older would-be auteurs, is 27. “There is a definite ageism in Hollywood,” Younger says. “Especially if you’re pitching an idea. That’s where age plays a big role. If you’re pitching a high-school story, a youth-oriented movie, they’re just naturally going to believe that a 21-year-old can pull it off better than a 51-year-old, even if a 51-year-old can do it better. Because you’re not really talking about substance. It’s about the sell. It’s about getting studio executives excited.”

Younger himself is hardly immune to watching, from the corner of his eye, the sand pour through the hourglass. “I gave myself a number, an age that I’d get my movie made by. I said 26,” says Younger. “So I actually came in a little late.”

“It’s like this,” says Stephen Chbosky, 30, a novelist and screenwriter who lives in Brooklyn and wrote eight episodes for the WB Network teen show Brutally Normal, which debuted last year. “We’ve had fashion magazines, and a culture, that has made us very aware of how fat we are. Now billions have been made by making people really unhappy with the fact that they’re five pounds overweight. Now it’s the same thing with youth. But you can lose five pounds. You can’t get younger. It’s this vicious, weird merry-go-round.”

Kate Wendleton is close enough to the carousel to hear the calliope. Wendleton is the president of the Five O’Clock Club, a career-counseling-cum-networking organization that meets in midtown three nights a week. Lurking beneath the frenzied e-commerce jargon and the laser-surgery analyses of résumés of lawyers, brokers, salesmen, and publicists, many in their thirties, there’s a nicely therapeutic vibe at the meetings, which can function a little like a twelve-step program for the midlife-crisis set. And these days, to survey the Five O’Clock Club landscape, the bar is getting lowered as to just who is allowed to have a little midlife career crisis.

“The competition is fast and furious, and its people in their thirties who are feeling left behind,” Wendleton says. She herself is in her early fifties and a veteran of more than a few boom-and-bust cycles. She’s a little mystified by the panic: “Everybody’s scurrying around, and these days it’s the young people who are doing most of the scurrying, as if they don’t have a whole life in front of them.”

A clear-eyed look at the employment market tells her a very different story, however. The city, through Wendleton’s prism, is full of opportunity right now. Too much opportunity, perhaps. Enough to make people greedy. Enough to make them drunk. “One guy we had in recently had made $3 million in the last three months, and he still felt like he was being left behind,” she says, shaking her head. “He came in for counseling, asking, ‘Should I leave my job?’ I just told him how sick he was.” Wendleton laughs.

The good news, she adds, is that plenty of thirtysomethings – to say nothing of fortysomethings and fiftysomethings – are seeking “renewal” in an encouragingly un-Logan’s Run sense. The Internet may be a big part of the problem. But increasingly, it’s becoming part of the solution. Every week, Wendleton sees lawyers, brokers, and writers turn Silicon Alley into less a symbol of their own obsolescence than a symbol of rebirth.

“We’re seeing people in their early thirties who want to get in on the Internet action, wondering if it’s too late,” Wendleton says. “But these Internet companies, at least the ones who are in it for the long term, can’t have kids going out calling on GTE. They need adults for that. These companies are also saying, ‘Jeez, we need some management. We need experience.’ You’re even seeing the same thing on the ‘content’ side. There are many opportunities for older people now.” Even outside the cozy walls of the Five O’Clock Club, there are inklings of a backlash, an emergent countertrend that is gaining steam, ironically, in Silicon Alley.

Indeed, Silicon Alley firms – at least the ones that are little more than a pipe dream and an IPO – are starting to find out what Corporate America, as well as a few B-school surveys, spent the past five years learning the hard way: Seasoned workers are better than Bright Young Things in a number of crucial areas.

One dot-com editor, 33, concurs: “I think the new story in Silicon Alley could almost be called the Shock of the Old. I mean, look what happened to the guys at theglobe.com.” Two months ago, Silicon Alley legends Stephan Paternot, 25, and Todd Krizelman, 26, stepped down as co-CEOs from the Web company they founded just a few years ago in a Cornell dorm room. They saw a 606 percent runup in share value the day of their IPO in late 1998, and have seen that value slide precipitously ever since.

“They were just out of school,” says the editor. “They weren’t ready to run a company. Even dot-coms are starting to realize that they need graybeards.”

As the recent NASDAQ nosedive make clear, the circumstances that have made new York a virtual playground for postpubescent powerhouses will not last forever. One needle to the tender skin of the bubble, and bang, the whole subgeneration of battle-tested 37-year-olds might actually learn to appreciate the psychic scar tissue acquired from all those recessions and dimmed horizons. Think of it as a Darwinian advantage. If you’ve never known anything but up, that is, going down can seem like one hell of a long fall. As Sheehy says, “It’s very important to fail early on in your life.”

“There will be a sense of entitlement among the young as long as the bubble lasts,” the cultural critic Todd Gitlin predicts. “If we had been looking at twentysomethings in 1928, we might very well have said, ‘These are the darling children, the children of entitlement.’ “

That may be some consolation to one 38-year-old old-media type, an art director at a small advertising firm who watched queasily outside John McDonald’s Canteen one recent evening as a half-dozen cell-phone-toting 20-year-olds disembarked from a champagne-colored Mercedes and made their way to a table inside.

“I was standing out there, desperately trying to find a cab back to my studio apartment, thinking I had to get up early the next day and go to my lousy job, and they were all chattering away about stock tips and options and their upcoming trip to St. Barts. Suddenly I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t find a cab, either. So I ended up walking the twenty blocks home and thinking about what I had done wrong to end up like this. It was kind of sick, this sick envy, this complete panic, this feeling that I was just completely washed up. Finally, I thought, You can’t beat up on yourself like this. I looked up in the sky and prayed. I thought, God, if you love me, just bring on the recession.

Washed up at 35