Opinion » Maxed Out

When money talks in Tiny Town



"The rich are different from you and me."

- F. Scott Fitzgerald

Yes, yes they are. I'm not entirely sure why but I believe feedback loops come in to play somewhere. Wealth breeds an expectation of deference, if not outright obsequience. Deference given reinforces that expectation. Queue the Diderot Effect and you have an ever upward spiralling feedback loop.

It's not hard to find examples of this expectation in Tiny Town. Ask anybody who works a front-line job; they've all got plenty of stories of overwrought expectations, unreasonable demands, behaviour that would seem cheap and/or delusional if it came from the proletariat, but is just part of the mindset of those for whom money has ceased to have any real meaning, requesting — in a demanding sort of way — not only entry but comp entry into a long sold-out event... and getting it, of course.

Such behaviour is so ubiquitous the occasional exceptions stand out in a meaningful way. While the story may be apocryphal, it came to me by way of someone who experienced it directly and I suspect was telling the truth. It seems, some years ago, actor Jack Nicholson was visiting Tiny Town. Told by whoever was arranging such matters for him to head over to a nearby WB rental location to pick up ski gear, he was surprised when the tech fitting him out told him there was no charge. The exchange went something like this.

Jack: "Whaddya mean, no charge?"

Tech: "It's been comped."

Jack: "Who did that?"

Tech: "Don't know... but it's been taken care of."

Jack: "Well, I can afford to rent my own skis. Give these to someone who can't."

Not being certain he wouldn't catch heck for it, but not being stupid enough to argue with Jack Nicholson, the tech — who was the guy telling me the story — rang up the rental and charged Jack as demanded.

In an earlier time, there was a concept of noblesse oblige, the notion rich people were supposed to act generously and nobly toward those less privileged. It informed Jack's actions.

As late as the 1960s, child psychiatrist and Harvard professor, Robert Coles, found this trait among children of the wealthy. Many laboured under a belief they had to do good towards others, show generosity, develop humility.

Others working in the social sciences, noted this was not a trait generally shared by the nouveau riche, who tended more towards the brash, vulgar and demanding end of the continuum.

One of the latter steamed into where I was working one weekend day and demanded to speak to my superior. I looked around and informed him I was as superior as it got at that moment. He was outraged at his experience with breakfast on the mountain. I don't remember what the complaint was specifically, but as a gesture of goodwill I offered him another chance or a refund of his cost. Not good enough. He wanted a refund of the breakfast, his lift ticket for the day — it being mid afternoon when he made this demand — and another free lift ticket for the next day.

Upon being told that was a remedy far in excess of the damage suffered, he blew up. Nothing I could say calmed him. He finally shouted, "I'll have your job!"

Never being one to pass up a career-limiting opportunity, I responded, "You wouldn't want my job. For starters, it doesn't pay enough. More importantly, you have to deal with people like you."

He stormed out. I didn't get fired.

"Money can't buy happiness."

True. Trite, but true. Money can't buy happiness. On the other hand, poverty can't buy diddly. But it's always a shock, not to mention a little hard to believe, how miserable and downright ornery so many rich people are. The gentleman labouring under the delusion he wanted my job was but one.

It seemed whenever there was a blow up in that former job it inevitably turned out to be someone with more money than manners, outrageous expectations and a low opinion of people perceived to be inferior for no other reason than it was their job to cater to others' whims. People without wealth could be obnoxious as well, but as a rule, they were more tolerant, more understanding, more empathetic. Perhaps it was because they too had to deal with rich people.

"Money talks; bullshit walks."

Which brings us to this week's question: Just what kind of whores are we?

Sorry, I don't mean to offend and I certainly have nothing against sex-trade workers. But it seems to me there have been way too many high-profile instances in the past several years where the RMOW has exhibited a marked tendency to treat the rich like sycophants. To turn a blind eye, bend or ignore the rules and generally give the impression there is nothing they won't allow if perpetrated by the rich and/or famous.

Most recently, it was announced they would extend Maxx Fish's liquor licence to 4 a.m. on the night of June 4. Municipal governments have the power to do that and in Tiny Town, our government will do that when there are extraordinary benefits to the community. In the past these have included public events aligned with a festival going on in town or some other similar circumstance.

The event at Maxx Fish is a private, invitation-only — and I haven't received mine yet — wedding after-party for some high rollers in the film industry. At least two councillors failed to see any extraordinary community benefit. I concur.

But staff, the manager of resort experience and five councillors are sufficiently impressed by the guest list to see it the other way. Money, power, prestige, exposure?

So the question arises, exactly what are the muni's guidelines when it comes to catering to the rich and powerful? Will any wedding reception of 150 people be enough to bestow this honour? If not, who qualifies? How much prestige do you have to promise Tiny Town to get council to look the other way? How rich do you have to be?

We already know the RMOW will happily look the other way when it comes to zoning issues if there's enough money behind the transgression. "Oh, that illegal tunnel between your two houses... no problem." "What, you're building 3,000 square feet more than your lot size allows? Oh, some of it's slightly below grade — no problem."

And now they're selling liquor-licence extensions to the highest rollers. Well, I can live with that; I'd just like to know how pricey a hooker I am, er, we are.

I'll give George Bernard Shaw the last word: "What is the matter with the poor is Poverty; what is the matter with the rich is Uselessness."