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My problem is that I hate rich people. I hate them but I am surrounded by them and have to get along with them. In fact I – and my future success – depend on them. But I despise them.
The worst part is, I hate them and yet, I sort of want to be one of them, at least financially.
I’m starting my own business. I just celebrated the one-year mark. Running your own business is hard. I shed tears weekly, and lately, as things have become tighter, daily.
My shop is in a wealthy neighborhood in one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Every day wealthy people come into my store. Their expectations are incredible – they want free samples, and never just one – they want multiple samples for their multiple children because little Monticello and Ariel may get in a fight if they have to share. Then of course both kids throw their samples on the floor because my product is clearly one only adults are going to like, something their rich-bitch mom should have realized before she asked for separate samples.
I hate the overly nice way they talk, I hate the self-congratulatory niceness. “Oh thank you so much,” they say when you give their brats a sample. “Kids, What do you say?” they demand sweetly. And I am forced to stand there with a smile plastered on my face while these kids look at me with knowing eyes and indifferently drop their samples on the floor and ignore their mother’s cajoling “Say thank you, Monty, can’t you say thank you to the nice lady?”
You can always tell when a kid has a rich parent, because that’s the kid who puts his hands all over the glass display cases, attempts multiple times to touch the product, and picks up anything that isn’t nailed down. I find myself flying around trying to stop them from destroying anything while waiting on the other rich customers who look annoyed that I am not giving them my full attention. Usually at this point I just want to yell “Fuck all y’all!” and close up shop for the day. But I need their sales, so I don’t.
The worst part is when people pretend to be nice and show an interest, because it’s a shallow niceness and a shallow interest that doesn’t have anything to do with actually caring or wanting to help. I’ve never been one to wish for other people’s stuff but when I think of all the security these women have, and they ask me in their never-been-rushed voices, “Oh, how did you ever decide to come up with this business? One year is so awesome! Good luck to you!”
I don’t need their luck or their niceness – I need their money! I need them to either buy the damn product they want to endlessly sample and photograph for social media, or invest in the business they call their “weekly addiction.”
Why do so many of them think I want to hear about their vacations? “Oh we’re going to be in France for three weeks!” and “We’ll be in Spain the entire summer.” They yak endlessly about their kids’ private schools and even tell me how much it cost. So there I am, pursuing some 5-year-old brat with three samples clutched in his hand, knowing that he is attending a $30,000-a-year preschool (this is not an exaggeration, this is an actual FACT), knowing that when his mom leaves the store, it will likely be without a purchase: How am I supposed to not scream and go crazy?
Most of them don’t work, but sit on the boards of nonprofits and plan charitable events where they ask everyone to donate goods and time so they can pat themselves on the back for raising huge amounts of money. A particularly influential woman who has talked about investing in my business for a long time now came to me with an “opportunity” – she wanted me to provide her with free product for an event because it would be “great exposure.”
At first I agreed, thinking I was just providing her with a couple of hundred units. But then she asked for them to be individually packaged, and delivered at a special time. This opportunity for “exposure” ended up costing me about $2,000 that I do not have to spare, and of course I did not get a single order out of it, or even a phone call, though lots of people exclaimed to me how great my product is.
Meanwhile the woman I provided all the free stuff to has an actual Renoir hanging on her wall. A real one, not a print. She can write a check for the entire 200 units – heck she can write a check to the nonprofit and enable all the renovation they so badly need with just a swipe of her pen.
But instead she is creating this huge event where tons of rich people will get together and pay $500 per plate for fancy food and my fancy product and they will pat themselves on the back for how generous and good they are, when in fact they are just spending exorbitant amounts of money on a fancy meal prepared just for them by a five-star chef. There isn’t really any generosity in this act of eating an overpriced meal, but you’d think the organizer was goddam Mother Teresa listening to her complain about how hard it is to raise all of this money from her super wealthy friends.
Cary, I work 75 to 100 hours a week. I can barely look these women in the eye sometimes, I find myself resenting them so much. They ask me how my business is going and I tell them great, because I have no desire to tell them about the hard work and the anxiety of not getting paid for more than a year, and being responsible for the paycheck of so many other people, and managing the taxes and the utility costs that I discover are 4 times higher than the average, so I have to call PG&E to address the issue … they will never understand. They are constitutionally incapable of understanding.
I need a way to manage my feelings around these women (it’s men sometimes too, but mostly women). I can’t burn up with hatred every time I hear their soft, slow, super-polite accents! I don’t want to roll my eyes – not outwardly and not inwardly – when they dicker for discounts. I don’t want to hate their children. I just want to join their ranks, for the security, yes, but also to do actual good with actual money, once I have some.
How do I keep my sanity while I try to keep my business, by keeping people I hate as customers?
Not Rich Yet
Dear Not Rich Yet,
You’re going to hate what I say, so I’ll just say it and get it over with:
You need to befriend these women. You cannot run this business and live a happy life with this resentment eating you up.
You must befriend some of these thin, miserable women with their thin, miserable lives of privilege. You must conjure out of your vast reservoir of compassion some compassion for these poor, thin people whose poverty is hidden behind a veil of pearls. They deserve your pity and compassion, not your contempt. Do you honestly think anyone would live such brittle little lives of hollow-eyed pretense and lip-glossed lies if they actually knew any other way to be in the world, knew anything of dignity, of serenity? Don’t you think they long for connection in their cold, rattling, second-run Ionesco lives of wine-upmanship and crooked mah-jong?
I don’t even know what crooked mah-jong is.
Seriously, the rich are terrible, terrible people but they suffer just like you and me — well, maybe not just like you and me; they have better mayonnaise. But what do they dream at night? They dream of naked clowns pulling out all their teeth!
Right? It’s not just me, right?
In pure business terms, they are your bison. You have to know what spooks them and what attracts them or one day you will wake up and all the bison have walked away.
Or to be more prosaic: Your market is a thin slice of the American elite. You could try to find a different market but this is the market you’ve got so you need to get closer to it. Otherwise, they will walk away. And believe me, they can afford to. The sickening thing is the power imbalance. They don’t need you and they don’t need me. They can walk away and there’s nothing you or I can do. All we can do is lay out sugar cubes and hope they acclimate.
OK, sure, there are some of these women that you just cannot, as a matter of physics, get next to. I understand that. But I know in my heart there are also a few that are different, and you have to make an effort to befriend them.
Though they don’t look like it, these women actually are human beings. They may be thin, blonde and incredibly wealthy but inside they are just frightened children who have been hurt on the playground just like you and me and who have run crying to their mama just like you and me. Their mama may have had a nanny and a chef to deal with the trauma but still that only made it just a little bit worse in the end, because now they’ve got attachment disorders.
They have fears just like you and me. They care about their children. Sure, they show it differently–by buying small islands with tennis courts–but they care, and they care about the world, too — that thin, gleaming, incredibly good-smelling slice of it with which they are familiar.
So psyche yourself up and start befriending your market.
But how can you safely cross the retail curtain? How can you leap over that counter and collar them before they rush off to their nonprofit board meetings and spa treatments?
OK, here is what you do. First just observe. That is always the first step in any such perilous operation. Observe the women who come into the store and pay attention to how you feel about them. Sure, there are the bitches. But they can’t all be bitches. There isn’t enough bitchiness in the bitchquifer for them all to be bitches. (“Bitchquifer: The subterranean layer of porous rock where five-sevenths of the earth’s bitchiness is stored.”)
Observe carefully. You will see at least one woman who is rich but different. That’s the one you need to cull from the herd. She’s rich but she’s also brassy or sarcastic or unbelievably relaxed and nice. She’s interesting in some way. There is something about her. Even though she drives one of those cars that euros fly out of at high speeds and she’s pushing a stroller that looks like what Beyoncé arrived at the MTV Awards in, something tells you she is an outsider. Maybe she is Southern. Maybe she is working class. Not all rich women were born rich. Some just got hit over the head with it.
Approach her. Ask her name. Tell her you hate all the rich bitches who give you a hard time. Tell her you’d like to slap their kids and give them enemas. OK, don’t say that. But be yourself. Be genuine. Share. Give her extra freebies. Tell her you like her. Ask her to come by again when she has more time to chat. Friend her on Facebook. Learn her kids’ names.
You know how to do all this. You’ve done it before, only with people you like. It’s the same thing. You just have to do it before you know if you actually like the person.
It’s not lying. It’s sociological jujitsu. You are in charge here. It is, in part, a seduction.
Once you have gotten to know this customer, close the shop for 20 minutes so you and she can go out for coffee (no, it is not against the law in America to close your shop for 20 minutes and grab a cup of coffee). Learn as much as you can about her. Eventually you will talk about money. There will be a sign. She doesn’t have to tell you how much she has but somehow you will end up talking about money. Ask who her broker is.
You are in business! What else is there to talk about? It’s the American way!
This will get easier after you’ve done it once. That’s what all the prostitutes say.
Make it a practice with your other customers. Get below the surface. Engage them. If money is the elephant in the room, then talk about the elephant. Over time, doing this will not only change your attitude but it will help the business.
Some of these women will be interested in writing. Perhaps you can start a writing group with them. After all, Virginia Woolf didn’t just say you need a room of your own. She said you need a room of your own and money.
(p.s. Can you just imagine the kinds of things these women would write about? Can you just imagine?)