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How the Other 1% Lives

Image by Gabriel Held

The smell of fine colognes, smoked salmon and Bellinis is powerful stuff. Luckily, it quickly rises up to the 100-foot-high, gilded and chandeliered ceiling of the restaurant near Grand Central Terminal. That I’m at an event of money-transferring magnitude is belied by the black ties and gowns, as well as by the video crew that shadows an infamous media mogul who stands near the entrance like an Executive centurion. UN representatives, diplomats, the publisher of our local conservative tabloid, and the executive officers of some of the largest corporations in the country mill about, picking morsels off silver trays. The benefit will fund some fellowships, and of course, it also circulates social and political fellowship within the upper echelons.

As I pass through finely coutured ladies and groomed gentlemen, I hear bits of conversation about Dick Grasso and the situation at the stock exchange. At the hors d’ oeuvres table, ubiquitous white-jacketed servers offer you with filet mignon cubes and roasted asparagus. Basically, I get the impression that you can have anything you want just by asking.

It has taken wrangling of epic proportions to bring the CEOs together. The serving and aesthetic protocols sent by some of the CEO helpers have produced negotiations of minutiae that can only come with power and money. For example, one CEO, according to an acolyte, does not like the color green and so the flower stems at his table became an issue. Because a huge multinational beverage corporation was a major patron, it was expected that the bottled water served with dinner would be company product. Unfortunately, that company’s major bottled water product looks cheap and comes in plastic bottles. The crisis was settled by using a French bottled water that one arm of the behemoth distributes.

When all are sitting, the infamous media mogul speaks and praises a certain, distant Anglophone country for being there with the United States from the beginning in the war against terrorism and the quest for international security. The US Marines Color Guard bandies about and soon does a ritualized number while two perky ladies sing the American National Anthem. Everybody stands. The CEO of the huge beverage corporation then goes on about globalization and how "it must succeed." In fact, "Globalization must continue!" The emphasis seems strange, because these are the things you would think go without saying in this context.

After the speeches I get the sensation of looking at a flock of loons taking off from a beach as the legions of white-jacketed servers emerge from the stone depths and file in every direction, conducting a skilled serpentine through the tables. Entertainment then comes in the form of the recent winners of American Idol, who have flown here at the media mogul’s request. Many, including myself, take the opportunity to visit the palatial bathroom. There I have a clichéd conversation about women with the old black man who squeezes soap for you and hands you thick towels.

Need I tell you about a recent report showing that the gulf between the top 1% of Americans and the bottom 40% is the largest it has ever been? Or about the recent census data showing that close to 17% of all American children live in poverty? No. I’ll just leave you with one quintessential impression: at least in the part of our city where the 1%ers convene, you can have anything you ask for.


Williams Cole


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2003

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