Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Friends with Other People's Money

It seems like this week's theme is "But Enough About Me..."
Here's a story about another pal of mine. Let's see, I think I will call her Bernadette. (I'm going to have to keep track of all these weird new names I give my friends-- Madame X needs a little black book!)

Bernadette's story is an unusual one. Her parents were both immigrants to the US who became citizens. They went through some boom and bust cycles-- running their own businesses, failing at those businesses, getting into debt. All in all, their financial position was never very secure. But they made a smart move early on-- they managed to get Bernadette into a very swanky private school as a scholarship student.

From that point on, Bernadette had an odd childhood, playing with kids from the projects one minute, and hobnobbing with the daughters of millionaires the next. She never really fit into either milieu very well, but ended up having a couple of good friends from among the rich schoolgirl set. While her family continued on its ne-er do well path, Bernadette worked hard at staying on the usual striver's path-- doing well in school, getting into an Ivy League college, and pursuing success in her career. But she found it hard to shake off the spell of her family. Once she was out of college, she had a lot of student loan debt, and then dug herself deeper by lending money to her family-- they always seemed to rely on her being the one who'd be able to take care of everything.

Meanwhile, Bernadette continued to somehow move in wealthy circles. She dated a couple of doctors, one of whom owned his own plane. Then she lived with a very successful lawyer for several years-- the lawyer had a lot of debt too, from law school, but they lived in a beautiful apartment on the Upper West Side, kept a nice car in an expensive nearby garage, and generally lived a bit beyond their means, until the lawyer chucked her job a year or two before she would have made partner and went back to school away from NYC, which eventually led to them breaking up.

By this time, Bernadette should have been well along in her career, but she'd never been able to settle on any one thing-- she tried different jobs for short periods of time, never moving much above entry level. She was savvy enough to make a good impression on people, and as some of her jobs were in high-paying finance-related companies, she kept collecting rich friends-- seriously rich friends, based on what I saw at a party or two she brought me to.

You probably think I'm going to tell you that she got herself into trouble by trying to keep up with these rich Joneses, but that's not really it. She wasn't especially smart about money, but she always knew where she stood in relation to the people around her and didn't pretend to be anything she wasn't. But her honesty, and considerable warmth and charm, seemed to attract all kinds of people to her, and inspire generosity in them. At one point, she was tutoring rich private school students on the Upper East Side to make extra money-- that led to some amazing stories: apparently most of these girls believe that "J. Crew is where poor people shop." But she discovered that if the parents of an under-achieving 14-year-old like the way you are tutoring their daughter, they'll lend you their car, they'll take you on vacation, they'll buy you nice presents, and even, once, let you hitch a ride on their private jet if you want to visit a friend. And she was lucky-- though some of these families were kind of neurotic and demanding of her time, it's not like she was living a scene out of the Nanny Diaries.

I've just always found Bernadette's life story to be full of fascinating contradictions, in many ways that I'm not even getting into in this post, but it's especially interesting to me that she always seems to have so much wealth around her when she has none of her own. I knew some rich people in college, but I guess my career path since then hasn't put me in the position to rub elbows with the kind of people she met on Wall Street and through her other friends.

Where is Bernadette now? She's running up more debt by going to grad school, tutoring more rich kids, and dating another lawyer. I'm as curious as you may now be to see how her life turns out.


Anonymous said...

Sorry about adding this as a comment, but I couldn't find how to email you.

Any chance you could make your posts more readable by using formatting like smaller paragraphs, bold, italics, etc.? Your articles look like great content, but I get lost in the HUGE blocks of text.

And pictures (properly licensed or attributed) really make a post pop!


Anonymous said...

I'd have to agree with the 1st anon. Interesting content is getting lost in the formatting.

Madame X said...

Sorry, I hadn't realized this one was such a run-on!

Anonymous said...

Madame X,
I like the formatting of your posts just fine. To me, the style is clean and simple and easy to read. I wouldn't mind bolded text, pictures etc. but not smaller paragraphs. That would require more scrolling. Just my two cents. Thanks for the enjoyable blog!

Dawn said...

I'm curious if she will have anything as she gets older or will she 'marry' into wealth?

I love your format, sure a picture would be cool now and again (I'm visual),'s your flippin' site!

Anonymous said...

Bronx chica reading your blog and your formatting is fine though it does run on...anyway I wonder what she is doing also

Anonymous said...

I found your dicussions of friends with/without money really interesting, as I have friends and family members who are both better off and worse off financially than me. They bring home the point that each of our financial situations is a result of our own actions and attitides, along with random circumstances and luck.

Anonymous said...

I have been out of contact with my older sisters for several years. Every time I think about getting back in touch I realize that ==> I am afraid that they will start asking me for money, because I'm the fix-it person in my family. Yes, I'm doing better than them, but that's partly because they are really bad at managing the financial resources they have.

Anonymous said...

"and generally lived a bit beyond their means, until the lawyer chucked her job a year or two before she would have made partner"

I'm confused-- is Bernadette bi?

Madame X said...

Bernadette has dated men and women, yes.