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Anatomy of a Rich Person

Do you know people who can’t manage their money? Rich people or I should say, people who use to be rich? Allow me to explain. I have found in my experience there are three kinds of rich people.
– The Responsible Rich
– The Irresponsible, Thieving Rich
– The Newly Poor Rich

The Responsible Rich are either people who grew up with money but had parents that didn’t hand them everything or they earned their money through hard work. If their family had money, they had to work on the family business and didn’t get a trust fund dumped on them when they were eighteen. They know the value of a dollar, work hard for their money and treat people as they wish to be treated. The other version of the Responsible Rich are rich people who use to be poor. They know what it’s like to live on pasta and potatoes. They save for a rainy day, don’t blow all their money on cocaine, hookers and giant initial pendants covered in diamonds. They are generous but mindful of fiscal responsibility. This is how I wish all people would be regardless of their financial circumstances. They live within their means, save for a rainy day and don’t look down on people because they provide you a service (like cutting your grass or cleaning your house).

Then there are the Irresponsible Thieving Rich. These are the ones who make the tabloids. They usually run large corporations, screw people out of their life savings so they can get a seven figure year-end bonus and have no souls. We hear about them in the news and I wonder why more of them aren’t in jail instead of some idiot who was busted for growing pot in his basement. Then I realize – “Oh yeah, they’re rich!” The worst offenders in this category are the Irresponsible Hollywood Rich. When they aren’t flashing their mini-skirted “cash and prizes” in public, running people down with their SUVs or crying crocodile tears for breaking parole and not wanting to go to jail, they are stealing. It’s how the rich stay rich. How do I know? I’ve seen it.

Years ago when I was working for AIDS Project Los Angeles, we had a fashion show fundraiser with Gianni Versace. There were many “names” at that event. Not one, not two but at least two dozen of them that I saw were stealing anything that wasn’t nailed down. Ladies would walk in with tiny, thin handbags and would walk out with those same purses looking like chipmunk cheeks stuffed full of nuts. They had expensive gift bags for crying out loud but nooooo, they needed to take the hotels silverware, the Versace patterned napkins, mini-lamp shades and even a TABLE CLOTH! Yes, these are people you know and they are scum. Stealing from people with AIDS and to what end? Since Gianni needed these for his next show in Milan, our company would have to pay to replace them. Good going glitterati!

Who came to my rescue? Steven Seagal! I love that man more than words can say. I knew he was a friend of Gianni’s so I went up to him, told him what was happening and pointed out the worst offender as he was making his get away. I took great pleasure in seeing that very tall Mr. Seagal putting him up against a wall and literally shaking the stolen merchandise out from under his suit. He is exactly like he is in his movies. It was like watching “Under Siege” for real only without all the guns.

The last type of rich person to look at is the Newly Poor Rich. These are people who were raised rich or became rich and then lost their money. It can be through the crash or bad investments but usually through no direct fault of their own. Their problem is they have no idea how to be poor. I don’t mean how to beg for money with a cardboard sign. I mean, economize, budget, live within their means. They’ve never had an issue with spending money and don’t understand why you shouldn’t be buying lattes every day, why you should eat at home instead of eating out, why you should bring a sandwich to work, etc. They just don’t get it and are driving themselves more and more into debt in a desperate attempt to maintain a lifestyle they can no longer afford. Sad really.

So what can we do, besides print money for ourselves and wait for the day our Skynet overlords decide to take over the planet? I say we live by example. Be frugal, live within your means. You want a treat, fine! You want five treats? Think about that. When at all possible buy locally. I know it’s hard to restart the economy by buying American-made goods since we make so little now but supporting your local Mom and Pop stores is the next best thing. Discover the joys and cost savings of cooking at home instead of eating out. And let’s not forget the most important thing of all, remember the people who behave badly and use their behaviour as object lessons. There is nothing wrong with working hard, having nice things and spending that money. It’s all on the choices you make, either rich or poor. In the words of the immortal Stan Lee, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Expanding The Dream

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I agree and wish people would actually do this in the year of our paranoia 2011. To me a perfect world would be one where we didn’t have “Black History Month” or “White History Month” or “Purple History Month” because you wouldn’t need them. How about you teach kids in school about people, all people? Great people and their achievements no matter what color their skin is, what sex they are, where they live, what language they speak or who they love? How about that?

It’s very simple. As long as you keep putting yourself or others into boxes, you set them apart as different. As “not the same as you” instead of putting everyone together and judging people on their actions alone. Wow, what a concept! So simple and one that continues to elude us.

Last night I was thinking about someone to use as an example especially in light of the hate rhetoric that’s been coming from the Westboro “Church”. Perhaps it’s also because I am deep into writing about Disneyland at the moment. Today I wanted to talk about Howard Ashman.

For those of us who are creatively inclined, who enjoy Disney movies from “The Little Mermaid” forward, who appreciate creative talent in general, we owe Howard Ashman a debt of gratitude. He and his musical partner Alan Menken changed the way the world sees Disney films. They helped raise the animation department from the dead. There are parents the world over who praise Disney films, especially ones such as “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast” as decent children’s fare and the Disney company as a bastion of “family values”. Some of these people, I’m sure, have very strong feelings about homosexuals. Many of those feelings are negative.

Guess what people? If it wasn’t for a gay man, namely Howard Ashman, you wouldn’t have those movies. He and Menken were hired by Disney to fix their upcoming projects. Hot off Broadway from their campy success of “Little Shop of Horrors”, it was Menken’s music and Ashman’s words that introduced the “Musical style” into Disney films. Honestly, have you READ The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson? It’s DEPRESSING as are most of his stories. They were morality plays. In the story, the little mermaid, who is unable to kill the Prince in his sleep so she can become a mermaid again, allows him to live with his human Princess while she dies and becomes sea foam. She is taken pity on and allowed to be an angelic presence in the world due to her selfless act but still… yeah.

Beauty and the Beast? Have you read that story as well? Walt Disney had been wanting to animate this story for years and years but always hit the same wall. It’s boring. The main section of the book is “a story of two people eating dinner”. Yeah. Ashman and Menken transformed these stories. Howard’s drive and determination made these movies into gold. Beauty and the Beast is the only animated film ever to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Yes, a gay man. A homosexual gifted your children with beauty and grace and joy.

Howard Ashman died of AIDS in 1991. He never lived to see the finished film of Beauty and the Beast. He was shown a rough cut before he went blind. I was working at AIDS Project Los Angeles during that time. I can tell you, AIDS was very different then. You watched people you knew die around you all the time. You watched them grow splotchy lesions on their bodies, waste away to skeletons and die. The fine Disney studio contributed money. Under the table. In private. Like it was a dirty secret. A large percentage of Disney’s creative employees are gay. It wasn’t “fashionable” to support AIDS so much yet. Some people did. The brave ones. The ones who knew people, all people, need compassion. AIDS never cared what color your skin was. AIDS was an equal opportunity killer.

After Howard died and Beauty was nominated for Best Score and Best Song along with Best Picture. The studio didn’t want William Lauch, Howard’s longtime companion, to go to the podium with Menken to accept Howard’s Oscar if they won. God forbid the entire planet saw (a) the gay lover of a beloved creative genius there to accept an award on behalf of his partner, (b) see a gay man whose partner died of AIDS, and (c) put a public face on the contributions of gay people at Disney (the family studio) and a human face on the AIDS epidemic. Thank the Gods for Alan Menken who ignored this idiotic suggestion and made sure Lauch was on the podium as was his place. If he had been a woman accepting the award for her husband, no one would have cared. Thank the Gods there are still people in the World who are brave instead of hateful.

Some things have changed since then. People aren’t terrified of people with AIDS anymore. Not in the way it use to be when people wouldn’t even touch you or touch something you touched because they were terrified they would catch AIDS. Do you know they use to treat people with cancer that was as well? Well, as primitive, scared monkeys I suppose at least we are consistent.

Today we have a President in the White House who is part African American. Homosexuality is more accepted and main stream on television, in movies, in people’s lives. However there are still people who wouldn’t think twice of killing the President just because his skin is dark. There are still people who torture, murder and deny rights to people just because they love members of their own sex. There are still people who want to kill others because their religion is different from their own. There are still people who are the focus of violence and discrimination because they don’t have a penis. We have made many strides in fifty years. Will it take another fifty before we fail to see skin color, religious differences, gender or sexual orientation? Will it take that long before everyone has basic human rights and only your actions curtail your freedoms?

How long will it be before we are all judged not by the color of our skin, sex, nationality and religion but by the content of our character?