Smug Lilies

Written By: Fotis  Michael

Like most people and their dreams, I abandoned mine.

Although I once nearly succeeded in convincing the entire eighth grade that I was a European pop star by wearing—what could be most accurately described as—a burgundy-striped Versace nightgown, I never genuinely possessed the cadence for luxury.

As a twelve-year-old boy developing a provincial understanding of socioeconomics, (most would agree) I had a difficult time playing at the appearance of wealth. The single attempt did not flatter me and may have traumatized some members of the 2004 graduating class.

As a result, looking rich promptly fell off my radar of things to do when I grew up. Actually becoming rich also did not appeal to me, as I had intercepted rumors of it requiring hard work and other such nonsense. This I did not like.

Poverty, on the other hand, seemed so much more attainable.

It seemed uncomplicated and light. It seemed like a target I could aim for and hit with a stride of unparalleled confidence. In my eyes, low hanging fruit never tasted so sweet. In fact, many wise people—Jack Kerouac, a few anonymous Chinese, maybe even Zorba the Greek—have argued that the key to happiness in life is low expectations.

“I could do that,” I thought…be broke. Live out of a Subaru Outback and substitute coffee for meals. Maybe I could be a third-rate screenwriter eking out a living, or—better yet—a barista who blames his artistic shortcomings on nepotism and the volatility of a declining industry. I could sleep on futons and watch Jon Stewart among younger friends who wear socks with pot leaves embroidered on them. I imagined it all to be within my grasp. In this respect, not even my parents could fault me for lacking a vision, a future.

The allure of desperation bred wildly in me.

I romanticized the notion of living without means so much that I cringed at the idea of wealth. Rich people irked me, all with their sprawling yachts and perfectly manicured estates. Their bank accounts upward of triple digits. Those stupid white pants. Croquet. Private jet emojis. The Hamptons.

Oh, the freaking Hamptons.

It was all dirty to me.

Until I traded in the fantasies of my bereft literary heroes for an ironclad mortgage.

Until my dream deferred deferred, like so many before, tapering off quietly into tomorrow’s promises.

Until I needed money.

And so it happened.

I lugged my 2003 Honda CR-V on the great voyage beyond Riverhead and into the South Fork, shocking Dune Road with its middle-class vibe. Together we parted the narrow sea of abundance for the first time in a decade, Aston Martins and Porsches flanked left and BMWs and Mercedes starboard, en route to a necessary but regrettable job interview.

My cruiser landed safely among the highbrow. A batch of smug lilies greeted me upon entry. But even they wreaked of old money.

Pleasantries, pleasantries, pleasantries, and then:

“I have to ask,” Cameron blurted out after ushering me into her Sag Harbor office and closing the door behind us, “how do you feel about working around naked women?”

I hesitated. She noticed. Cameron was perceptive and quick to react.

“No, really, there’s a strong possibility you will see women’s breasts, and maybe other parts, too, and the women will be drunk often or on drugs or both,” she informed.

“I’ve turned down naked women before,” I quipped.

A cheeky response, sure, but one that garnered a summertime job as a houseman, the responsibilities of which eluded me. In fact, the East End eluded me. I had never been in a mansion, let alone worked in one. Expensive things exhausted my mind; expensive people burdened me with anxiety.

Yet this was my job, to cater to the rich…to deal with such circumstances.

Memorial Day weekend came and went.

Monday evening lapsed into Tuesday morning and the extravaganza subsided. I could go home, at last. I wanted to badly. Several back-to-back fourteen-hour shifts of menial work tended to evoke that feeling, of wanting to go home, to the home that dragged me there in the first place.

Instead, outside the gate, down the private pea gravel road that lead to multiple twenty million dollar estates, I lay on the hood of my car, staring at the clearest night sky imaginable. Every constellation visible, an expanse littered with clusters and specks of brightness.

Time stood still as a star bolted across the way—vanishing into oblivion.

I lingered, and so did a thought.