My graduation party consisted of aunts and uncles sitting around the basement, drinking too much, smoking incessantly and playing cards. There were no class differences here. These were hard-working lower class folks who in many instances had endured a hard-scrabble life, made plenty of mistakes and still hadn’t grasped the importance of education. It was what it was. Welcome to 1961.
I went to two graduations several weeks ago. How times have changed.
The first was on grandpa’s farm. It consisted of pulled pork, craft beers, little smoking and less card playing. At first the graduate was going to take a gap year before she decided what to do with the rest of her life. Then there was talk of a tech school. We all smiled and wished her well. What else is there to say?
The second graduation the next day was in a banquet facility not that far away. It had craft beers, good food and no card-playing. The graduate was going off to college and then moving to Montana. We all congratulated her on her accomplishments and wished her well in college.
The biggest difference in these graduations was not only the time-element; approximately fifty-four years since mine but the socioeconomic income disparities among the invited guests. Not entirely surprising when you factor in the tremendous economic growth many folks have benefited from over the last fifty years.
That’s normally not an issue. We all smile at one another. We all know who has the money and who doesn’t. We all know who is generous with their income and who is saving every last dime. There is no need for pretense. Yet what always amazes and amuses me is the presence of the King and Queen of Lilly Pond at many of these events.
Palm Springs has a boatload of them. They all sit around Starbucks in Indian Wells (average income 1.2 million dollars). They’re dressed in their crisp white tennis attire or golf duds. Their Ferraris and Bentleys are parked in front. BMWs, Mercedes, and Lexus are relegated to the back parking lot. They glad-hand one another and are all smiles. The lessor among us just focus on our iPads and ignore their empty banter.
The local rag sheet is rife with tales of their philanthropic endeavors which are actually quite generous. Traced back to their home of origin these couples and widows come from generations of moneyed stock. The Coachella Valley is their playground and they play it well.
I’ve been at a few events where the aire was rarified and the tone elevated. It’s a wonderful mind-expanding opportunity to observe the rich and famous…at arm’s length.
Usually it’s the woman who makes the grand gestures with her bright white smile.
Her second just peruses the crowd for anyone worthy of his time and vocal cords. But it doesn’t take long to know their place in the socioeconomic strata of the people involved. They have arrived and no amount of pleasantries can hide their own self-induced sense of superiority.
Their demeanor is not necessarily nefarious nor meant to project an aire of superiority. But their true intent is always wallowing just below the surface of their bronze skin and a façade of interest in what the other person is saying.
Back home at those graduations, family obligations brought the king and queen out. But their judgment of the rest of us was seldom hidden. The reasons are obvious.
We haven’t learned the social etiquette of the pinkie-up tea drinker. Our bookshelves don’t reflect the latest New York Times best sellers. Our investments, if any, aren’t as exotic and worldwide. And celebrities don't attend our graduation parties.
Most of us are just hard working folks, some luckier than others. But we’re comfortable in our own skin and don’t mind mixing with the masses. We know where we came from and what it took to get there.
That doesn’t make us better than those who haven’t; just more fortunate. I’ve walked in their boots. I don’t want to do it again but I haven’t forgotten those miles traveled either.
Kings and Queens have short memories but still feel a sense of superiority that belies their real accomplishments. Yet beyond their found money there is really little difference between their mukluks and mine.