A many-splendored thing

Quick! What do you think about most of the time, want more of, and envy everybody who has more of it than you do? Admit it! Money.

Money! There are lots of love songs, adorably sweet and sentimental. Love is a many-splendored thing, love makes the world go round, and tho' Gibraltar may crumble, our love is here to stay. And songs about money -- well, they're a little more tough-minded. "Money honey, if you wanta get along with me ... ," "Diamonds are a girl's best friend," "And he's cute/And he keeps his pockets full of spending loot."

We yearn wistfully for love, but we lust for money. We play the lottery, we drive up to Cripple Creek, we go back to school to learn new skills, we sign up for self-improvement seminars, not for love, but for money.

Why? Beyond simply paying the bills, beyond being comfortably middle-class, there are the larger dreams that drive our capitalist society. We dream of becoming rich. Not just retiring at 65 with a nice pension, a paid-for house and a few hundred thousand in savings, but really rich: $100 million, $500 million, a cool billion -- real money!

According to the prevailing mythology, such fantasies are not only commendable but, with hard work and a little bit of luck, eminently achievable. Hence the myth of the hard-charging, brilliantly gifted, relentlessly workaholic CEO, whose vast abilities ought to be compensated accordingly -- say by being paid, regardless of actual performance, 400 or 500 times as much as an ordinary company worker. And hence the myth of entrepreneur, the man or woman who risks all, and works for peanuts until, thanks to his/her vision, the company explodes into success. Microsoft! Starbucks! Nike! People just like you and me, who made it big!

And how wonderful it must be, to be really, really rich! Judging from the omnipresent "joy of money" stories in every kind of media, we love the rich, and we'd love to be rich. Last week, the New York Times ran a feature about an "environmentally sensitive" house recently built in the Sonoran desert near Tucson. It was an extraordinarily beautiful, impeccably tasteful little 6,000-square-foot pied--terre. It also had a very large swimming pool -- a nice environmentalist touch in the arid West, don't you think? Discreetly enough, the owners declined to say how much the place cost. In the same issue, another Times writer slightingly referred to the "gold, crystal, and marble" in Donald Trump's penthouse apartment -- meaning, I guess, that it's OK to be an over-the-top richie, as long as you're tasteful about it!

But is being rich really so great? Maybe it's not. Maybe being mega-rich is like being morbidly obese, or having a chronic disease. Because, for most people, big money's like herpes -- you can't get rid of it. According to yet another story in the Times, the 400 highest-income taxpayers (average income: $174 million) gave about 10 percent of their income to charity. At first glance, that seems commendable. But such gifts have little or no impact on their lifestyle -- $6K from someone making $60K is a lot more than $20 million from someone making $200 million.

It'd be interesting to know just how many of our fellow Springsites fall into the mega-rich category ($100 million-plus net worth). I know of six or eight, and I'd suspect that there are another 25 or 30 out there in the tall grass. Like tigers in the jungle, they're shy and secretive, but not impossible to track. Someone owns the private jets parked at the airport; someone buys the multimillion-dollar homes in the Broadmoor; someone spends the winter in Maui.

But although their possessions are everywhere in evidence, the wealthy among us are not particularly charitable -- at least here at home, as evidenced in a recent Pikes Peak Community Foundation study. Look around; foundations and small-to-medium donors power every nonprofit in the city. For whatever reason, our resident richies are pretty tightfisted, unlike their predecessors. Consider General Palmer (Palmer Park, Monument Valley Park), Charles Perkins (The Garden of the Gods), and Alice Bemis Taylor (The Fine Arts Center). The local philanthropy of the past has virtually disappeared, replaced by cautious, risk-averse foundations, whose giving policies are as dull and predictable as the city budget.

So what do we need? How about a flamboyantly generous, egomaniacal, super-rich guy who wants to leave his name attached to every worthwhile thing in the city. I know just the guy!

The Trump Auditorium ...The Trump Arts Center ...The Garden of the Trumps!



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