How Noblesse Obliged

Once upon a time there lived a very rich man named Bridge who wanted to be known as a philanthropist. Having gotten his money the old-fashioned way by inheriting it, he’d turned a paltry 10 million into megabucks through the art of the deal. He was as close to being a Medici in Manhattan as one could get without being poisoned, and you couldn’t go anywhere in town without seeing his name on office buildings, luxury apartments or on in neon on casinos down on the Boardwalk.

The press was always hounding him, wanting to know what he was really all about. In more innocent times, he’d said,” I want to own everything,” but somehow that sounded too self-serving, even if he knew he was the center of the mighty megatropolis; everyone said so. Besides owning the world’s largest yacht, the most fabulous jewels decorated his equally fabulous wife while politicians big and small wanted to bend his ear. But although he had pots of money, he still had trouble penetrating the upper echelons of wealth and power where it was taken for granted that money had its own obligations.

One had to have social consciousness along with the big money, he knew. Noblesse had to oblige, and one’s duty was to give to charity or the arts, and to the right kind of causes too. (The Liposuction Institute, his wife’s favorite, was right out.) But all his money couldn’t buy him class, and he was never asked to head any of the really important committees for benefits because… well, he was so nouveau. Which really ticked him off, especially when he could buy and sell the lot of them. No matter who he knew or had dinner with, or outright bought like a pound of lox, somehow he could only be an associate member of the Portico Club, despite the fact he owned the lease.

One day while motoring down from Westchester in the limo, his driver made a detour on 155th Street to avoid a bottleneck on the Drive, and they exited into Harlem, then awash in abandoned buildings, crack dens, and despair. Nothing could be done, he was told, because it would have taken an army to protect the builders and none of the politicians knew where to find a builder with guts and resources. Rolling down the tinted glass, Bridge stared open mouthed, the lease purchase agreements for the Bridge Tower of London Hotel lying unread on his lap. By the time he reached his office suite overlooking the city he almost owned his musings had grown into a master plan.

After closeting himself with his advisors, he flew down to Atlantic City to preside over the opening of yet another grand hotel while his press agents worked overtime, and within hours everyone in town knew something was up.

Two weeks later he appeared before the press and public to the accompaniment of klieg lights and motorized Nikons and announced:

“Ladies and Gentlemen of the press and my fellow citizens. As you know I have a commitment to making this city the greatest in the world. Wealth, besides inspiring youth, must lead and indeed, great wealth such as I have amassed, ought to give something back not only to this city, but to this great country of ours…” The press was getting restive, audible coughs were heard above the din. He went on: “The problems of Harlem have weighed heavily on my sense of social responsibility. Accordingly this morning I want to unveil a new bold solution to those problems which I humbly offer to the people of this great city as a gift bearing my name.”

With a flourish, Dan Bridge unveiled from under a power blue shroud an architect’s rendering of the Bridge Harlem Towers, a 40 story glass and chrome luxury apartment complex with studios starting at $275,000, with higher floors offering spectacular views of Central Park North. A gasp arose from the Fourth Estate, but as if on cue there was thunderous applause after which they tore into the free coffee and croissants kindly provided by the Bridge Organization.

The following morning’s editions all trumpeted the virtues of Bridge’s good works, but even with this significant gesture, his wife still wasn’t asked to serve on the Board of the Woman’s Auxiliary at the Portico Club.

MORAL: You can’t teach a new dog old tricks.

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