Friday, May 16, 2008

The trials of being rich

Think you've got it tough in Flint? Maybe your job disappeared and your neighborhood's turned into a crime incubator. And the Tigers, despite that big payroll, are in last place. Or perhaps you just miss those carefree days when you danced to the Thompson Twins at the Copa (or, perhaps, Glen Miller at the IMA). Well, things could be worse. My friend Novella Carpenter recently profiled a guy in sunny California who's got some real problems of his own. But when you're done reading, ask yourself what you'd do if you were in his shoes:

"In December of last year, a man we'll call Joel found himself skidding through a rough patch in life. He and his wife were remodeling their lovely Craftsman-style home in a tony neighborhood in Oakland when he suddenly started to feel guilty. Again. Guilty about having too much money. As a member of a wealthy family, it's something he has struggled with all of his 42 years.

"Joel told me about his troubles on the first day of spring while we sat in his backyard. A passionfruit vine snaked up the fence and his tow-headed son monitored the flames in the barbecue pit. A wooden play structure lurked in the corner, mostly forgotten now that the kids were older.

"'I started to ask myself: Aren't you getting a little too comfortable?' Joel narrowed his blue eyes. 'Do we really need to do this work on this house?' he said, gesturing at the backside of their home. 'I would spit out — in front of the kids — I hate this life!' Joel said, grimacing at the memory.

"'It was not good,' said his wife, a pretty, small-boned woman with sandy blond hair.

"He had struggled with his identity often over the years, but things had been fine for awhile. Why the latest outbreak of guilt? Joel thinks it might be linked to a mid-life crisis but he can't be sure. All he knows is he found himself struggling to find his 'authentic self.'

"Although many of us would be overjoyed to have his problem — too much money — Joel battles with complicated feelings about it. 'None of my material needs went unmet, and I've carried a lot of anxiety and dread around that,' he explained.

Care to read more about Joel's lamentable plight?


  1. i like novella carpenter. did she write about the lady that makes special sauce? or tri-tip or something?

  2. Yes, I like her work, too. Now, firedande, what would you do with all that money?

  3. ay aye aye...what a pity party that bbq was. There are a number of environmental causes that this guy could give his $ to that work to reverse the effects of the electric and oil industry, while assuaging his guilt. But, let's face it, he doesn't really want to give his money away. For someone who professes to be an environmentalist, he sure doesn't go to much effort to explain to his financial advisor/brother where he thinks it is most important for him to invest his $. I mean, seriously, how much convincing would that take? And he doesn't have to put it all there, he could invest some just for the symbolism.
    No, this guy wants to keep his wad, and he doesn’t want his kids to live at the edge of financial comfort either. That is what he is conflicted about…he likes where he is and doesn’t want to admit it.
    I would like think that if I had that type of money, I could live simply, buying only what I need and giving the rest away. But, like Joel, that would put me on the high trapeze without a net, and few of us are comfortable there.

    Kathy W.

  4. Kathy: I also thought the part about not being able to divest from the oil funds was a little far fetched. If he's got that much money, he could at least invest in something slightly less reprehensible and still make money. Although looking at the current oil profits, probably not as much as he's making now. But he could certainly take steps to be a bit more socially responsible without going broke.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at