Saturday, September 15, 2007

Gatsy and Me

have a house on a strange road. The house is a modest-sized 60s ranch and when we bought it, unrenovated, seven years ago there were other, still-more-modest houses down the way. One had been built by its owner, a room at a time, with recycled material from the dump. According to neighborhood lore, no two windows were alike. At the far end of the road were a few big places– at least we thought they were big then -- but nothing that could qualify as a trophy house. Our little road was low-profile and that’s how everyone liked it. One neighbor was outraged when the Highway Department painted a white stripe down the center. She said it was inappropriate for something that’s more country lane than actual road.

But the road fronts on a beautiful view, and over time many of the funkier houses were torn down and replaced by new, much larger places. Still, the people who lived in them seemed to like the low-key character of the road, so the tone didn’t change much.

Then Jay Gatsby moved in. The parallels between our new neighbor and Fitzgerald’s character are striking, from the extreme wealth to the spectacular soirees. A single man in his 30s, he built himself a mansion three times bigger than any of the other houses that we had considered to be mansions.

For his housewarming party, he planned a lavish extravaganza: the party to end all parties (we hoped.) Some 600 people were invited -- attended by a staff of 200. It was to be an Arabian Nights costume party, a surprising theme, I thought, given the conflagrations taking place in that region. The rented tents were not much smaller than the house. For entertainment, there was one contingent of circus performers and another of lightly clad party facilitators whose job was to break the ice. An entire taxi fleet was hired to ferry guests to and from the party. It was said that the whole thing cost nearly $1 million.

Nosy person that I am, on the night of the party I walked down the road to check out the scene. It was interesting. The parking attendants were dressed like shepherds in a school Christmas pageant, and the arriving female guests wore I-Dream-of Jeannie get-ups. There were enough earpiece-wearing security men on hand to guard the President.

I wasn’t happy that such flashy doings had come to our once-quiet road -- especially when the sound blaring from the outdoor speakers rattled our house. But this unabashed display of wealth also ignited a fantasy. Our hedge fund manager neighbor takes in around $60 million a year, so I heard. What might I do if had that kind of income? Give $10 million to a good cause and you’d still have $50 million left (there are no taxes in my fantasy.)

Turns out I can think of a few things. One would be my version of the extravagant party. I’d buy a deserted town out west and turn it into a refuge and eventual retirement community for my friends. Second, I’d build myself a moat. I’ve always dreamed of a house with a moat for swimming. I love to swim but have a low boredom threshold and never like to go back the way I came. So a moat would be perfect. I can picture it–there would be tunnels and grottos and waterfalls and I would swim around it every day.

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