Monday, June 22, 2009

Confessions of a TARP Wife

Attention, angry mobs. The wife of the CEO of a company that was one of TARP's biggest recipients, penned a piece in Portfolio magazine's May issue. This downturn has affected her too.

I'm late to the party, as this has already made its way across the internets and back. My first reaction upon reading it was that it had to be satire. Alas, no. The anonymous author has been outed as Liz Peek, wife of Jeffrey Peek, the CEO of CIT Group that accepted $2.33 billion from the government last year.

Consider how Liz's life has changed, then ask yourself if we aren't so very different:

1. She has had to modify her behavior.
I haven’t even looked at spring clothes; God forbid someone catches me out in something new... If I buy a present for someone, I have the package sent to their home. I don’t want to be spotted climbing into a taxi, laden with Bergdorf Goodman shopping bags.

We’ve picked up new habits, like making donations anonymously and sneaking in late to black-tie galas after society photographer Patrick McMullan has packed up his camera and gone home.
2. She is living the Cultural Revolution.
We’re part of the community... whose fall from grace has been swifter and harsher than any since Mao frog-marched intellectuals into China’s countryside.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that what happened to Chinese intellectuals in the countryside was a tad worse than someone whose primary hardship is "hang[ing] on to some remnant of our former lifestyle."

3. She had to exercise tremendous restraint in choosing a venue to host her husband's birthday party:
Choosing Versailles to host World War I peace negotiations could not have been more complicated than my attempt to select the perfect spot for our annual dinner... At the end of the day, it came down to a choice between an especially accommodating (and well-known) high-end restaurant and a less expensive, clubbier spot. We ultimately picked the cozier restaurant... because our chosen place is distinctly low-profile and rarely mentioned in the press... Really, not even President Obama spends this much time looking after his image.
4. She has learned to enjoy simpler things.
Staying home and watching Law & Order reruns has become our new guilty pleasure. It’s a far cry from opening night at the Metropolitan Opera, but it’s not bad.
Bring on the Jerry Orbach / Bryn Terfel grudge match. My money's on Orbach.

5. She has made necessary sacrifices.
Needless to say, we fly commercial. Using the company plane is now out of bounds; we’ve heard there are reporters staking out the private airports.
6. She is reflective, and finds compassion in the process.
On some level, I feel I’m being punished for too many thoughtless years of assuming that the trappings of success were earned and not given. I’m constantly knocking on wood or offering little good-citizen sacrifices, like manically recycling or chatting with telemarketers.
7. The psychological stress is taking its toll. Her husband is experiencing low self-esteem for the first time in his life:
For a person whose life has been punctuated mainly by success—from perennial class president and high-school sports star to Ivy League MBA—failure is the worst of all nightmares. He seems off balance, as though self-confidence were a physical ballast that he is slowly losing.
8. She is hopeful. These recriminations cannot last. (Perhaps she's right):
The good news is that Americans have short attention spans. Before long, some other group will come along to absorb all the frustration and anger. Meanwhile, I’m off to the tailors to get some clothes altered.

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