Who, exactly, is it in those stretch limos, looking out at us from smoked glass windows as they turn past the Giuliani barricades? Whose bored eyes trace the gray water flying off the tires to bespatter our legs?
While skittering around the Internet the other day, I chanced to come across information which throws a small ray of light on that subject.
It is a filing in Los Angeles Superior Court by one Richard S. Parker Jr., a.k.a. Parker Stevenson, in connection with his divorce from Kirstie Alley, the actress. What led to this estimable couple’s rending their marriage asunder need not detain us here. What catches the eye is that these two people, as revealed in Mr. Parker’s court filings, are of the stretch limo subset.
He tells the court in his declaration that they have been frequent visitors to our city, where it has been their custom to stay at a $2,000-a-night suite at the Pierre and drive around town in those big stretch limos. It’s not that they don’t have an automobile of their own. By his count, they owned 13.
Mr. Parker says it was their way to get off the plane and limo directly to F.A.O. Schwarz, which kept the store open after business hours so they could shop in privacy for their two offspring, who must be among the world’s most spoiled children. “In addition to giving Lillie a life-size baby giraffe rocking horse, at a cost of $10,000, we built True (the male whelp) The Little Homer , a downscaled exact replica of the Down Homer , a working lobster boat,” Mr. Parker informs the court.
He goes on to describe “our annual Halloween parties at the Encino property [as distinguished from their other properties] hosting up to 200 guests, [at which] we hired a 150-piece marching band and six cavalrymen on horseback shooting blanks from guns to commence the festivities. The parties would last approximately six hours and in the past have included petting zoos, camels, ponies, chimps and performers. Formal tables would be set up for the children, including formal [sic] crystal place settings. After the marching band and six horsemen entered the one-acre circular driveway of the Encino residence, we had a traditional ‘rope-cutting’ ceremony to commence the festivities, and all the guests would scurry for the food and other gifts which were hidden on the property for them to find. The Halloween parties cost approximately $20,000 to $25,000 each.” At Christmas, Mr. Parker says, wherever they might be, they would fly in a person called the “Santa Claus to the Stars.”
Before its breakup, this was a three-swimming-pool family, one each to be found on the grounds of their homes in southern California, Oregon and Maine. The Encino place, which contains a 2,000-square-foot aviary, was kept up and going by “an estate manager, two full-time housekeepers, live-in security, often one or two chefs, plus two nannies … a full-time animal caretaker to feed our menagerie of 30-50 exotic animals … a separate service also maintained our three ponds, a koi pond, a goldfish pond and a goose pond.” He doesn’t explain how the geese were kept out of the other two ponds and/or from crapping in the swimming pool, but, presumably, if you have enough people on your payroll, you might be able to dam the Atlantic Ocean.
Other full-time staffs were kept at the Maine and Oregon establishments, including a horse trainer and an assistant horse trainer for their 12 trusty steeds. Sometimes they found themselves in places without the koi pond and other sights and sounds of home, but never fear, they were able to meet the attendant exigencies. “When we traveled to Florida,” Mr. Parker writes, “we did not rely simply on luxurious hotels, but rather ‘personalized’ our accommodations. Kirstie was never satisfied with any accommodation or rental property ‘as is.’ Rather, she historically [sic] refurbished and relandscaped the houses we leased, even on a short-term basis, and in Florida we leased two adjacent properties. During our travels, we maintained our own personal chefs and full-time housekeepers.”
Whatever one may think about the Parker-Alley family standard of living, the truth is two such persons can flit around the better ZIP codes of New York and Los Angeles without being singled out or commented upon. These people with their camp followers of masseuses, personal trainers, tennis pros, interior decorators and bodyguards are anything but a rarity in these precincts.
There could be 5,000 or 10,000 people in this city who would consider the Alley-Parkers as a more-or-less average middle-class American family that has to watch its millions carefully. Mr. Parker puts the combined value of their three residences at about $7.5 million. Doubtless, there are hundreds, if not several thousand, apartments in Manhattan that would sell for that and more.
The prevalence of so many staggeringly rich people accounts for the city’s besetting social and political deformities. In New York State-we don’t have a breakout for the city alone-families in the top 20 percent of wage earners pull in almost $20 to every dollar earned by the bottom 20 percent. The ratio would be at least 40 to 1 if we had the data for the city alone. And it would be even higher if the counting were done differently. Only the first $100,000 of salaries are reflected in these numbers so the income of people making a million or two million is undercounted. Also, capital gains and other forms of unearned income are not included in these calculations. If they were, the ratio of disparity between the top and the bottom might well jump to 100 to 1.
That there are such great disparities between rich and poor isn’t in and of itself an argument for leveling. This is enough of a mass society as it is to do away with any desire to make people yet more the same. In every other aspect of life except the making and spending of money, we are pushed toward accepting an undifferentiated, pasty sameness.
We don’t need fewer rich people, we need better rich people. The ones we have don’t give a shit about anything or anybody else but themselves. If they did, New York City would look more like Florence than the dump it does. Here is this small army of billionaires who live here, indifferent to the ugliness piled up around them. Instead of the displays of splendor of 21st-century Medicis vying with each other, trying to outdo each other in magnificent and humane enterprises, we get the splash and buzz of more Nike and more Disney as New York City, with all its inert, useless plutocrats, day by day comes closer to resembling Akron, Ohio, or Tulsa, Okla.
A hundred years ago, the rich in this city and others banded together to use their money power to bring off a constellation of changes and reformations of our political institutions. In the history books, this work of what was then called “the better sort” is called the Progressive Movement. So a century has gone by, and the need for a new fumigation has long since passed. Yet the worthless rich will neither put up monuments nor pull down the least democratic and worst-run political system in the United States.
No good will come from confiscating their money-at least not just yet. But they do occasionally step out from behind their smoked glass windows, if only to get from their limousines through Barneys’ front doors, and whenever they are caught for a minute in the sun’s hygienic light, boo, hiss and shame them.