There sure are a lot of big houses around here. And big cars. And big swimming pools. And big horse stables and tennis courts. Even big sheds. Vermont used to be in scale, as I remember. Everybody had a small to medium sized house and a small to medium sized car that they parked in a small to medium sized garage. The town doctor and town lawyer’s houses had a better paint job and pruned trees with one or two special features in the house, like a real stone fireplace or a sky light, but we didn’t think much about it.
We were all townsfolk with a lot in common. We kids all went to the same school, the same restaurants, the same summer dances. We played with the same toys. Everyone’s swing set was the same, as were our bicycles and sneakers.
The first really big house I ever saw was in a Boston Suburb. I thought it was a hotel because it looked like The Middlebury Inn. Then I saw a bunch of bigger houses scattered about on acres of sculpted gardens, and considered that the houses were part of an institution. When I spotted two sweaty people in white, playing tennis behind one house, and two more people, also in white, playing croquet, I thought it might be a mental institution with the medical staff in recess.
I have since learned otherwise, but I still see the connection to mental institutions. Why someone has to have a five story, sixteen bedroom building and a four car garage with a family of four is beyond me. Maybe they do a lot of entertaining, or have grandchildren. Maybe it’s a really a brothel or an orphanage. Even then, sixteen bedrooms demand several serious visits to Bed, Bath and Beyond. That adds up to a lot of consumer goods, many of which are plastic, for example, the sixteen electric toothbrush holders.
I spent a few years in Newport, Rhode Island and came upon a lot of people who had recently built enormous houses in an effort to look like they belonged in Newport. They didn’t feel any more comfortable in the houses than I did. It was a necessary monstrosity brought about by their insecure status as nouveau riche, but in Newport, it was expected. It was encouraged. It was considered chic. Is it considered chic in Vermont? Must be….
Old Money, and there’s a lot of Old Money in Newport, is a different beast altogether. These people lived in enormous castles on Bellevue Avenue, but spent most of their time either in the kitchen or a small alcove where they would eat pizza off TV trays and watch CNN. The various wings of the mansion were roped off, unused and unheated. The enormity of the castle was a headache they said, and you believed them because otherwise, these people appeared to be hard up. They drove old cars, wore slightly frayed clothing and Timex watches. They went to Dunkin Donuts instead of Starbucks.
When at home, they would cheerfully demand that the “help” say the caretaker or cleaning lady, sit down and have a drink before they started home. These eccentrics seemed status blind, maybe because they’d had money in the family for so long. Money was not an indication of a person’s worth or station.
Let me brag. I sang at Doris Duke’s birthday party, and she insisted that we, the band, sit at her table for dinner. She was much more down to earth than the cling-ons who had hosted the party. In fact, those society slobs never paid me. I was going to send an invoice to Doris, but she died.
I don’t see a lot of Old Money in Vermont but that’s the point, you don’t SEE Old Money, so it fits into the Vermont landscape and our way of life with a measure of dignity and class. For example, If the Old Money Vermonters live in a castle, it is usually hidden at the end of a long dirt road. Again, a Ford station wagon, circa 1978 is parked in the drive-way.
What I do see, more and more, are immaculate people in L.L. Bean ascots and Rolex’s. They have very white teeth and wear pinkish lipstick. Most of the time their fingernail polish matches the lipstick. The men have perfectly coordinated khaki garb, with some leather sash sewn on somewhere. They motor through town in mammoth Mercedes SUV’s which are very shiny. There is usually a bumper sticker on the SUV that says MV, a VPR sticker, and some prep school stickers. I can tell by the high cheekbones and blinding diamond rings that the women are headed for one of those obscene McMansions in Cornwall, Shoreham or Shelburne. They’ve been grocery shopping at the Co-op where they bought sixteen organic candles for the sixteen bedroom night stands.
Don’t these people feel ridiculous living in Vermont? A state that prides itself like no other on environmental reverence and a simple lifestyle based on common sense? I mean, I can see them in New Hampshire or the wilds of Massachusetts, or Colorado, but Vermont? Can you imagine them on a Vermont Life calendar, a picture of them trying unsuccessfully to parallel park or collect sap? They are just too thin in fat cars, too perfect in fine linen and clogs, as they stroll through Ben Franklin looking for trinkets or go slumming at the A&W.
Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be one of them! They are fast becoming the rule not the exception in these parts. Soon, in order to be considered a viable part of this community I will have to clean up my act and ingratiate myself into their lives. I must meet these people and sell them something they think they need on a steady basis. I must ass kiss until they allow their good fortune to trickle down to my cause. You can’t beat them. You’d best join them or move to Upstate New York. See you at the opening. Ciao. Ta,Ta.