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Are the rich different? Check out their closets

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POSTED February 20, 2013 1:18 a.m.

“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” - a line written by Scott Fitzgerald in the 1926 short story, The Rich Boy


Ever wonder what those CEOs of publicly traded firms do with the $10 million a year they receive plus the $30 million annual bonus they get for driving the value of stock in your retirement portfolio into the ground?

Look no further than your closet.

A typical closet for American peasants is about 10 square feet. For walk-in closets in master suites, it pushes 120 square feet.

It is now the rage with the folks who have collapsed jobs and sent them overseas to maximize their take to spend a minimum of $100,000 when remodeling to create closets.

The Wall Street Journal – in its real estate section aptly dubbed “Mansion” – examined the latest trend to impress of those who partake in tax credits and tax loopholes.

What do you get for $100,000? Not much.

Rochelle Maize of Beverly Hills got 400 square feet. It only included a refrigerator for champagne, a flat screen TV, white cabinets with silver etchings and a crystal chandelier.

The real closets are a bit less pedestrian. A home of a financier in Alpine, New Jersey has a master suite closet covering 1,300 square feet. That includes a “his” closet with 800 square feet complete with Makassar ebony wood closets and wet bar. The “hers” closet has 500 square feet and a jewelry vault.

The cost was a more impressive $500,000.

My house at 960 square feet could almost fit into the “his” closet.

So what do you need a closet large enough to fit a 50-bed homeless shelter inside?

For starters, you have to have room for the five dozen suits. These aren’t off the rack from JC Penney or even bought at Men’s Warehouse. They’re custom tailored by Italian craftsmen.

Ask any self-respecting CEO-type that toils finding ways to manipulate stocks and merge companies to maximize profits by cutting jobs and they’ll tell you that you can’t buy a decent set of threads these days unless you shell out $7,000.

Fortunately, when they go out of style and you donate them to charity your buddies in Congress make sure you get a tax deduction equivalent to what American peasants get for their mortgage deduction.

If your territory is the “hers” closet you have room for shoe collections that would make Imelda Marcos jealous. Hey, you have two feet so having 300 pairs of shoes isn’t unreasonable.

Fitzgerald supposedly generated “the rich” line from a conversation that Ernest Hemingway relayed to him from an encounter with Irish literary critic and author Mary Colum. It reportedly went like this:

Hemingway: “I’m getting to know the rich.”

Colum: “I think you’ll find the only difference between the rich and other people is that the rich have more money.”

How true.

Except for the fact most of us don’t get what money we have by using other people’s money via stock investments to pillage and loot companies while downsizing so we can pillage and loot even more to cover that six-week vacation on the Italian Rivera. We still tend to consume a bit more than we really need.

A few years back while doing a story on a home being sold on Mission Ridge Drive here in Manteca, the real estate agent said photos might be a bit of a challenge as the clients tended to collect things.

The home was jammed with furniture and knickknacks in what seemed like every conceivable inch of space. He added the storage areas lining three sides of the garage were impressive but couldn’t be photographed but he still wanted to show me so I could get an idea.

The reason they couldn’t be shot was obvious. Much of the open space in the garage was stacked with neat boxes seven feet high.

There were also two storage sheds in the backyard.

When I asked the stupid question – why didn’t they just rent storage units? – the agent said they did and that they had four of them.

Closets have gotten bigger in American homes. Think of homes built in the 1950s where the main bedrooms had closets half the size of those in secondary bedrooms built in today’s McMansions.

And how many of us use garages as storage units as opposed to 50 years ago when most people adhered to the quaint practice of actually parking vehicles in them?

Could it be that part of our collective sense of economic malaise has something to do with the fact we are no longer driven by basic needs, instead by an all consuming desire to satisfy wants first and foremost?

Fitzgerald’s line crafted to sell a story had it wrong. Colum, though, was dead on. The only difference between most of us and the vilified One Percent is the fact they have more money.

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.

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