Friday, July 10, 2009

Riding into the sunset, a guide to real social status

Written on the plane this morning.

I read Chicago Social, but I laugh when I do. Real socialites, the ones who control the media, the governments and the distribution of wealth in the top echelon of society would never want their pictures taken or their names released to the public.

Yet many of them are out and about, just like every day people. I'm not talking about the millionaires who live like paupers, I'm talking about the billionaires who live like billionaires.

It's a world that seems like fantasy to some. There aren't movies that make fictional documentaries of this world, there aren't books or magazines or stories to be told outside of the circle of power and distrust that enslaves the members and ostracizes those unable to join or attend.

I've had lovers join me at some truly ridiculous social galas, even a friend or two has attended as my date. They always ask "How do you get invited to these shindigs?" It's not money, I am not a wealthy bloke by any means. It's not family, I don't have a name that rings attention when I enter the door and have my name called out. It's not business always, when I attend I am always "Sane, the writer."

Instead, it is a membership that I joined mostly by mistake, starting very young in life. As a teenager, I didn't feel connected to other teens at my high school or in my social class. I wasn't interested in high school sports, teenage girls were boring and deceitful, I failed classes more than I passed, I wasn't into leather jackets and stone-washed jeans. Instead I was a fan of the arts, of culture.

At a young age, I started visiting some of the art museums in the city, and would ask questions to staff about how I could get invited to some of the private showing and showcases of art exhibits that came through the gallery but weren't mentioned to the public. With a little needling and prodding, I learned that contributors to these museums were invited to various events that the public wasn't aware of.

My first membership was to a famous museum in the city that I still love to this day. I asked to speak to the director of contributions, and she sat me down and inquired what I was looking to get. "Access to things normally unseen or unheard." She smiled and asked what I knew. I spilled the beans, mentioned what I had only heard stories of from clients. She asked my age and I told her, shocking her that I was trying to infiltrate a society that people twice my age had no knowledge of.

At the rip age of 16, I paid $1000 a year to the museum. They put my name on the wall in brass, my name entered the public directory as a contributor, and she gave me a huge packet of tickets, invites and special gathering information. There was an upcoming "Dinner with the Curator" as well as a ton of previews of exhibits. The comical part of donating was that this inner circle of people was actually CALLED The Circle. It is still prominent on their website.

That year was only 1 of 2 years where I contributed with my name. Googling me still pulls up those 2 years of those contributions, and now I donate anonymously. The price of membership to that museum has gone up $5000 per year, $10,000 if you want to have dinner with one of the wealthiest men in Chicago (once per year). Still, $5000 isn't as much as people think, since what you can get from networking in that clique pays itself tenfold.

Going to dinners as a young teenager felt weird. I was the youngest one in the room by a decade, and even those in their 20s were in short supply. It was the best move I could have ever made. Since I was young, and since I attended every gala, banquet, dinner and event, people knew me as "The Young Sane." I met and considered myself an acquaintance of some of the wealthiest people in Chicago, some who actually hooked me up with work early in my career.

After a year of rubbing elbows with Chicago's elite (and hitting the social rags), I found myself invited to other events outside of the museum. When I attempted to RSVP for these events, I was saddened that I wasn't a member of other clubs and groups that were required to just get an invitation. The next year, I joined 2 more groups, spending almost 5 figures (which was a HUGE chunk of my income!) to join. Within a year, my income had doubled, thanks to membership to the group that was considered the next step up.

My young age, plus my confident nature, combined with the fact that I was financing these contributions on my own (I was making more than both my parents combined by the age of 19) led me to getting some stardom amongst the blue-hair set. My "friends" at these events were always in their 60s or older, which was always a surprise when I brought a date.

As I grew older and wiser, I starting finding that some of these events led to private parties at private homes. We'd go to an exhibit preview and catch a glimpse at a $5 million painting by Pollock or Kandinsky that the public would never hear about, but then there would be a quiet invite to retreat to a Gold Coast home to see $10 million paintings hung in a foyer or a Champagne room. That's when the doors blew open: there's a public high society, and a private one.

Business was booming for me, but I decided to cut back. I am not money-greedy, I just like good jobs that pay well and leave me time to travel, write, date, and have fun. Instead of trying to be the best in my trade, I wanted to be known as the guy that is hardest to land. That was a wise move as well.

One summer, I went to a breakfast gala at a large museum in the city. A good friend of mine worked at the museum and when I told her, she said "There's no such event, I work there!" She was wrong. The breakfast was over in 2 hours, and we all shuffled to our cars or limos to head for the marina, where we boarded a yacht 20 times bigger than my apartment. As the day progressed, people were talking about another party tomorrow in another state. I whittled myself an invite (verbal), zipped to the airport to find an airplane ticket, and found myself in the middle of nowhere just 14 hours after leaving the boat party. What I witnessed there blew my mind. I felt like a spy venturing into a private gathering of the heads of state in Monaco. I was definitely a fly on the wall, not sure if I should even be there.

But I had fun. I made connections, I didn't have to explain myself or my attire or my long hair. I was still one of the younger ones in the gathering of the elite. I laugh now thinking that I make in one year what some of those people make in a day, just on their investment income. Still, the super powerful need servants, and I am happy to serve.

Throughout the years, I have kept up my anonymous contributions to the museums, the festivals, the social groups and welfare organizations. I don't attend as many events as I used to, but I still like to rub elbows and meet the powerful whose names don't even come up on Google to show anything more than a wealthy patron of the arts or sciences or the poor and unfortunate.

As I get older, I still push younger men and women to make their way to these events. For me, it was a better investment than any college degree or job. No one talks education or job portfolio, they go by word of mouth. There are no favors given or freebies granted, you earn your position based on your value to their society, not to real society.

For more than half my life, I have met and known names that even I won't share with others. They're not actors or musicians (although they are known to visit), they aren't politicians or entrepreneurs. Their pictures don't appear in magazines or websites, the gossip rags don't mention them or the mentioner will find themselves unemployed and blacklisted.

These are the powerful, the ones who live just over the horizon where the sun sets. If you squint closely, you'll see their long shadows creeping from the edge of the earth, casting only a soft darkness over the lives of the people who are more impressed by the power of the sun millions of miles away than from the shadow-casters just over the ridge.

If you're young and want a glimpse at the powerful, it will require a HUGE undertaking. Get a second job and put that money aside for next year's contributions. I would recommend a minimum of $15,000 spent at a total of 3-4 museums or welfare groups. That's about $60 a day of income extra you'll need. It isn't cheap, but just cutting back on eating out, Starbucks, extra useless clothes and knick-knacks, it's doable. Try it on for one year only, and you may be surprised at what doors open to you.

Some day, I will no longer be part of the parties and galas, the events and cruises, the conversations and discussions on who they are dominating and puppetmastering. For me, it's almost a joke because I really don't care. I do it for financial stability, I do it to entertain myself at their expense. It's just one more thing that keeps me Sane.