The Well-Ordered Estate
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Like most Americans, I like to believe that capitalism operates with a kind of heavenly logic: that it ultimately makes sense for the whole society, and that the people at the top are not robber barons, but the guarantors of social order. I want to feel that their relentless efforts create not just prosperity, but a logical mansion in which we can all dwell at peace.
Americans may pretend to be democrats, small "d," or republicans, small "r," but most of us don't trust the masses. Even the tea-partiers, for all their noise about democracy, ultimately trust only the rich to organize society...I mean, probably only the rich are organized enough.
Like everyone, of course, my confidence was shaken last year. For a short cheerless season, it seemed that maybe our captains of finance were not the authors of order, but chaos. That their great financial structures, along with their large mansions, were just elaborate illusions.
Fortunately, that season seems to be passing, and our captains of finance are re-asserting control of government and industry.
Tonight, the Urban Man finds himself in North Beverly Hills, enjoying dinner at the actual mansion of a big-time financier. All evening, I look for evidence that the world is making sense again.
Sure enough, over Ahi steaks, the conversation turns to good news at Goldman Sachs. I do not comprehend this news, but the sound of it is soothing as I let my eyes pass across thick velvet drapes and over-sized wall sconces.
As always, in these houses, it's not the luxury I enjoy, not the original art or oriental carpets — it's the hush and the organization. I love to witness direct evidence that mere mortal beings, dust to dust, are capable of maintaining large estates where everything is well made, well kept, lawns well clipped, gaudy Chinese vases well dusted.
It doesn't matter if, like so much in Beverly Hills, the whole thing has been built in hideous taste. That there are, for-heaven's-sake, porcelain shepherds on the mantel and a fake Greek statue at the end of the room. I don't really care if my hosts have failed to make the transition from old-world extravagance to postmodern chic. Personally, I prefer old-world extravagance among financiers — it's way more comforting.
Over coffee, I excuse myself to go looking for a pink marble bathroom. I'm sure a pink marble bathroom exists somewhere here, and I'm eager to encounter a little pile of neatly folded hand towels.
At the top of the stair, I pause to hear my host's baritone, rising up from the dining room, where he seems to be giving advice on leveraged assets, and I feel as giddy as the impoverished visitor in one of those feel-good depression-era films.
On the landing I find the necessary antique lacquer cabinet from Japan and the necessary huge 19th century oil of chubby cherubs. The door of the master bedroom has been left ajar, and I pause to appreciate not just the size of the bed, but the way it has been layered with embroidered shams.
And I think yes, this should be the true goal of wealth: that the eye should never fall upon uncertainty, and that certainty should trickle down to the rest of us through industries and institutions.
After a quick glance over my shoulder, I stroll right into the master bedroom: I'm sorry, but on behalf of my fellow citizens, I have to find out if maybe it really is all just an illusion.
Maybe, I think, like Wall Street, this mansion hides a secret chaos. I look under the bed, but I find no stray socks. I open the door to the huge walk-in closet, and I thrill to see the shoes of my host and hostess laid neatly in rows, 10 pairs to a shelf, three shelves high. Tears come to the eyes of the Urban Man, and I think: Surely, the system still works. Surely, these folks still have it together.
Copyright © 2010 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved. Circumstances have been altered to protect the author.
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