[Editor’s Note: This week’s column is a response to two letters to the editor published in the ‘Between the Lines’ section of the November 26, 2008, issue.]
To the Editor: All About ‘Eloise’ – Excess or Envy?
In regards to your November 12 cover story, “A Real Life Eloise:” I have to say that I am not only disturbed but I am also offended. As a paper that considers itself to be a voice for Princeton and the surrounding communities it seems as if you’ve forgotten one important tidbit of information: That the majority of us small business owners were not born with the proverbial silver spoon in our mouth such as Clearwater and Weaver.
As a non-biased media outlet you might be better served to focus on the businesses you target with your paper. You show up here every week and drop off issues of your elitist paper that I never asked for. Yet week after week you highlight the winners of the social lottery while America’s economy crumbles around you.
It’s people such as Clearwater who have very little grasp on what it means to be a real American citizen. You compare her to Eloise from a 1955 novel. While if you were to ask an average person on the street they might describe her as “out of touch,” “living in excess,” or “disillusioned.”
Has it occurred to you that while average people struggle to pay their bills and make mortgage payments these people continue to walk around like the world revolves around them?. All the while with blinders on, far removed from everyday normalcy.
But in reality the world doesn’t revolve around them. Money doesn’t make you better than someone else, nor does moving into an over-luxurious hotel. Clearwater gets to spend her day shopping and Joe Average has to bust his rump at two jobs to make ends meet. It seems that as the gap between the classes continues to widen and the anger and resentment continue to grow towards those who put themselves on a pedestal, your paper is right there on the bandwagon.
This story was the last straw for me. I’ve read many issues of your paper (although always more ads than substance) and can happily say as of today I won’t read it again. I will filter it into the trash when it’s left on one of my shelves (without anyone ever asking my permission to leave them in my work space in the first place).
I would hope that some of my fellow business owners would do the same as you have left us in the dust for greener pastures. You should not only be embarrassed but also ashamed that you forgot what it means to be a journalistic outlet. How is glorifying excess and class division journalism? You are only adding fuel to the flames of outrage and cynicism.
I am sure this letter will never see the light of day in print but I needed to voice my opinion because I have had enough.
Eloise’s Bad Timing
Exactly whose reality are you talking about? I am a recruiter whose clients are primarily on the Route 1 corridor in Princeton. I can tell you that the reality of so many people is much bleaker than that of Kim Clearwater and Jim Weaver. Success from hard work is certainly admirable, however the lifestyle of this rich and famous couple would have been more appropriately made public in another magazine/newspaper.
While some may read the article with envy, most are going to feel anger and hopelessness. I think you chose a very inappropriate time to announce Kim Clearwater’s boredom in life, i.e. where to shop, whom to invite to a lavish dinner party, which hors d’oeuvres to have room service deliver, whether to go to the spa for a massage or a mani-pedi, which country to visit next, where in Italy to live, where to go to lunch and with whom, etc.
With what I hear on a daily basis in my line of work, this real life Eloise rubbed me the wrong way.
From the Editor: When Money Talks
As Franklin D. Roosevelt said in the face of the Great Depression, “all we have to fear is fear itself.” Today he might have added a phrase: “All we have to fear is fear — and anger and resentment.”
Normally I don’t respond to criticism of our editorial point of view: We run our articles and don’t have rebuttals tacked on at the end of them. Letter writers, in turn, ought to be able to respond without us immediately counter-responding.
Two weeks ago we ran the cover story, entitled “A Real Life Eloise,” chronicling the lifestyle of the chef owner of Tre Piani restaurant, Jim Weaver, and his wife, Kim Clearwater, who have traded in their Princeton town home and apartment condo for a 1,750 square foot residence at the Heldrich Hotel in New Brunswick.
As the article suggested, it’s a good life: Access to room service and maid service (at an extra cost, of course), train trips to Manhattan, dinner parties with friends, and none of the usual suburban worries about maintenance, caring for the ecologically hazardous lawn, or whether or not the pipes will freeze in the winter.
As I read the article I also felt it was an exemplary lifestyle. Here we are preaching virtues of the new urbanism — housing with minimal carbon footprints, within walking distance of mass transit, in mixed use neighborhoods, and in this case helping to revitalize what had been a blighted urban area. (Weaver, incidentally, is a restaurateur with a social conscience: He’s a principal proponent of the “slow food” movement in central New Jersey and his restaurant annually participates in the “Taste of the Nation” food benefit.)
In fact, as I re-read the article, I see the Weaver-Clearwater lifestyle as frugal, relative to what most of our readers enjoy and probably compared to many of the patrons of their restaurant and wine bar in Princeton Forrestal Village. Frugal? Yes, frugal. Weaver’s prior house was in Princeton Landing, a townhouse development that is still an affordable enclave of housing. Clearwater had owned a condominium apartment — not a whole house — on Park Place, just down the street from where I live. With all due respect to Park Place, it’s not the lap of luxury. In Clearwater’s case she didn’t even have an overnight parking place.
As modest as those two properties are, you can easily imagine that the merging of equity would enable the couple to afford the $700,000+ unit at the Heldrich in New Brunswick. In addition, they got an incentive that would appeal to any bargain hunter: A property tax reduction because the property is in an urban redevelopment zone.
So much for the extravagant lifestyle. What about the work-style? Does Weaver have the world by the string, living the life of Riley while the rest of us toil away to make ends meet? Hardly. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that restaurants are suffering through unprecedented increases in food and energy costs, while revenue has decreased on average 20 percent.
Weaver has worked 30 years to achieve what some might now consider an “overnight success.” But even an established restaurant such as Weaver’s can’t take anything for granted. I checked with Weaver who confirmed my suspicion. In fact, to broaden his business base and make himself less vulnerable to the vagaries of discretionary spenders, Weaver is now running the corporate cafeteria at Novo Nordisk. That means he is now responsible for breakfasts, as well as lunch and dinners. Workdays for Weaver often begin at 6 a.m., but he is doing what he always wanted to do — no complaints.
That’s my take on Weaver’s lifestyle. But some readers obviously didn’t see it that way. Last week we received a short letter from a woman in Newtown questioning the appropriateness of the article and referring to the “Eloise” lifestyle as “vulgar.” Now we have the two letters that appear above, each reflecting resentment toward Weaver and Clearwater.
To me the letters are a revealing glimpse into the anguish people are feeling in these uncertain times. Niall Ferguson, the Harvard history professor whose new book is called “The Ascent of Money,” argues that our financial system is “the mirror of mankind, revealing the way we value ourselves and the resources of the world around us. It is not the fault of the mirror if it reflects our blemishes as well as our beauty.”
Here at U.S. 1 we have profiled many “rich and famous” members of our community — many far more affluent than Weaver and Clearwater. But we have never received letters such as the ones above. I am reminded of Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan’s comments back in 1996, in which he foresaw a rapid run-up in stock prices caused not by sound fundamentals but rather by “irrational exuberance.”
Today a similar warning might be sounded, about the perils of pessimism, fueled by irrational envy.