© PJ Hayward, New York 2008
First Published 2008 by Hold On Publications
Revised © PJ Hayward New York 2013


One Fall day back in the ’90s, a supremely ironic twist of fate entwined my life with a company whose image was everything I had reviled and despised for 40 years.

I was hired as a Temp at the offices of an elite Fifth Avenue luxury retailer in Manhattan.  In an even more bizarre and unlikely turn of events, aside from being a mother, this job became the best, most challenging and fulfilling job I ever had.

I am posting this story because I feel there is an important lesson to be learned from that experience, if only I can find the right words to express it here

My whole life long it seems as though I have been in rebellion against just about everything. Most particularly when I got older, I rebelled against structure, excessive wealth, right-wing conservatism and any or all expressions of those concepts.

With my lifelong view of complete disdain for all trappings of those notions and most especially for the people who retain great wealth, I finally had a chance to meet and observe first-hand, up close and personal, those objects of my contempt.

Since my return to New York from Hollywood, I had worked very hard honing, expanding and improving my administrative and secretarial skills.  Also I continued to apply all my street knowledge by observing people.  I watched their body language and paid close attention to the methods they employed to maneuver around the stiff structure of the corporate world.

My self-schooling must have made an impression on someone because after temping at this luxury retailer for a couple of months I was hired permanently.

Hard as it was for me to really grasp at first, my new position was Assistant to the Vice President.   Occasionally I would also perform back-up duties or special projects for the President & CEO.

From that lofty vantage point I was able to witness with crystal clarity some of those wealthy icons I had only read about before – those people who travel through the world of luxury the way you or I would drop into Rite-Aid.

Often I would have to field phone calls from those people and occasionally meet up with them for any variety of reasons.  If my boss was out of town and a delicate situation arose with an important client, I might be asked to step in and help in any number of ways.  This was how I received some education into the lives of the ultra wealthy.  Not to mention listening with interest to all the second-hand complaints and juicy gossip the sales people would love to slather all around the office behind the backs of their “preferred” clients.

What I discovered among many of the excessively rich was a complex world of arrogance, self indulgence, condescension and a complete lack of interest in or even a remote awareness of how 99 percent of the world lives.  Many of those ultra well-heeled people possess an enormous sense of entitlement.  Because of their wealth they believe it is their inherent right to be served first, provided for first, primped and preened first and granted huge discounts over any other people.  Also they seem to accept as perfectly proper, normal and almost even expected, that those waiting on them should drip and ooze with obsequious and shameless fawning.

I observed that for many of these people a great deal of time was consumed in organizing events in support of philanthropic causes.  To my disgust, it turned out that the fund-raising aspect of these events was in reality, a mere side effect.  The actual major purpose of these soirées was to allow the rich to see and be seen and to be photographed and interviewed by various media reporting on the wealthy and powerful.

My company was itself a very philanthropic entity – but you can believe that for each and every philanthropic dime they donated, three times that sum was devoted to publicity and media hype extolling their magnanimous donation.

Side by side with these arrogant rich I observed another group of what I guess is known as “old money” people. They are exceedingly wealthy people whose families have been that way for generations and generations.  I am grateful I had an opportunity to meet a few of those people, because I learned that the old saying is so true, “you can’t judge a book by its cover”.

These “old money” people are often very modestly but elegantly dressed, rarely if ever flaunting huge jewels.  Generally they adorn themselves only with simple, understated jewelry if they wear it at all.   More often than not you would find the younger set dressed in ordinary jeans or other every day clothing – looking like any average person anywhere.  Always they were polite, modest and forthright. Whatever their philanthropic endeavors, they were likely to be low key but constructive and seemingly genuine efforts.

The really frightening thing about working at this company was the fanatic enthusiasm so many of my fellow workers displayed for supporting the various promotional campaigns for the company products..  What was so bizarre was that at the end of the day these same enthusiastic co-workers would not step lightly into their chauffeur-driven, air conditioned, comfortable limo.  No, just like me they would trudge their way home to Queens or Brooklyn, stuffed like a sardine on a smelly, hot, noisy train or bus.  They would reach their home and it would be just like mine – a small apartment someplace in a not so great neighborhood – where there was never enough heat in winter and always too much heat in the summer.  They would open up their fridge and it would look just like mine: pretty bare.  Yet when they came to work the next day – there again would be that verve to hurry and prove to the world that they really NEEDED to rush out and buy our brand’s latest luxurious and extravagant design.

Never was I able to come to terms with that crazy juxtaposition of real life being injected daily into the fantasy world of wealth, power and plentitude.

Maybe it was like dangling the carrot in front of the horse – the possibility of someday attaining such wealth for themselves – that kept the enthusiasm alive in so many of my co-workers.  Maybe as a simple spectator on the periphery of riches and power, some need within them was fulfilled.

For me it really became a trial just to get through day after day of that.

I often thought about my son and took my cue from him, because he is always so smooth and has always had the ability to just deal with situations and not let the situation rule him.

Of any expectation I ever had of making a living, the last possible candidate for an employer would have been that icon of self indulgence, that beacon of arrogance and wealth I have just described where I stayed the longest of all the jobs in my working life.

I guess what I am trying to say is:  you can never rely on expectations – if you do you will often be caught by surprise.  

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