One evening back in the very early 1980s, Pete and myself were at Graham's house doing whatever it is you do when you're fifteen, but doing it quietly because Graham's parents were downstairs trying to watch something soothing like Terry and June or perhaps Ask the Family. As it was the middle of the week I'm guessing we had convened in order to see one of the various BBC2 music shows whilst our respective parents stayed stubbornly tuned to other channels, and Graham being the only person we knew to live in a household blessed with more than one television set. This magical second television set was a portable which lived on the dressing table in Graham's parents' bedroom, and once Riverside or Something Else or whatever it was we were watching had finished, then came Dallas. None of us were regular viewers of the popular US soap about millionaire Texans, but we found the theme tune entertaining, and so as the titles began, all three of us went at it on the air drums. We each had our own imaginary kit, and we sat in a line at the foot of the bed pounding those notional snares, stamping away at incorporeal foot pedals, giving it some John Bonham. Graham's parents were of course delighted to hear what sounded like an unusually violent rugby match being played just three feet above their heads, and Mr. Pierce quickly came upstairs to congratulate us in person.
It seems peculiar to think that the millionaire Texan, once as remote an animal as any unicorn or talking elephant unwittingly dyed blue whilst playing with his mother's fountain pen, is now a beast which I encounter on an unfortunately regular basis; then again, I suppose it isn't at all peculiar given that no school age child can realistically be expected to know where they will be or what they will be doing by the time they hit forty.
This being said, the second graders at San Antonio Academy for Prestigious Children seem to have a few ideas in that direction. Bess and I had turned up to collect Junior one day last summer when we saw the project work proudly displayed on hall notice boards, our eight year old Texans responding to the question what do you want to be when you grow up? Some wanted to be attorneys, investment lawyers, or simply to take over dad's business as CEO. No-one harboured the desire to be an engine driver or an astronaut or a dinosaur tamer, or if they did I guess they understood such an answer would be more trouble than it was worth, inviting only further questions about how they might have come by such a dangerously liberal attitude.
It was profoundly depressing.
San Antonio Academy for Prestigious Children - as I'm calling it because these people didn't get rich through being nice - is the private school where the dwellers of the Bubble send their offspring in order to set them on the road towards becoming attorneys, lawyers, CEOs, persons of a certain standard. The Bubble is that part of San Antonio falling within the 78209 zip code settled by the conspicuously and unpleasantly wealthy, their colonial style ranch houses distinguished by lawns which remain perfect even when the summer heat soars into the hundreds, each formerly embellished with a tidy little warning which read not keep off the grass as you might anticipate, but no socialism. This was something to do with the election; you know - just in case.
I'm no stranger to the outrageously wealthy, and as a postman in East Dulwich I shot regular breezes with a surprising number of Lords, Ladies, a Baroness, and at least one Lady Asquith, who was lovely and still able to recall D.H. Lawrence dropping around for a cup of tea and a bun back when she was a girl - which was obviously exciting for me, what with my being a big fan of frowning David Herbert. As a rule, these representatives of the aristocracy were mostly pleasant and entirely lacking in ostentation. Regardless of the evils of the English class system, those inhabiting the upper reaches often seem unassuming and likeable, as tends to be the case with people who don't feel they have anything to prove. It's the ones busily screwing their way up the totem pole who are usually the arseholes, and this is as true here in America as it was back in England; except there's no such thing as aristocracy here, much as the Bubble beings might like to believe otherwise, but then these are people who never quite got the subtle distinction between class and just having too much money.
The 09ers, San Antonio's self-proclaimed elite define themselves by zip code; by raising pretentiously-titled children through the agency of nannies; and by sending little Winchester Jnr. IV or whatever the hell he's called to the most expensive school they can find, whereupon he will be guided along his course towards greatness, destiny, excellence and other slightly overused qualitative nouns by a Principal who oozes all the sincerity of a 1970s game-show host but compensates with portentous speeches delivered at school functions. The place costs so much it just has to be some classy shit, right? Plus they have them in those cute little uniforms saying yes sir and no ma'am like toy soldiers, which is somehow more important than the slightly weird statistic of such an establishment not actually requiring its teachers to hold any formal teaching qualification. Anyway, every few months the children assemble to sing seasonal medleys of show tunes prefixed by our edumacational ship's captain waving his hands and invoking Gahd - this being his pronunciation of God - in an implausible show of humility presupposing that the entire institution isn't just a stay-rich-quick scheme. The parents smile and struggle to recognise their own children from photographs supplied by the nanny, and feel duly secure in their status as the cultural elite, the movers and shakers. Those working in the medical profession attend such functions in their scrubs, fresh from performing unfeasibly expensive life-saving and Oscar-nominated operations because as you know, it takes many, many hours to change out of a green overall into civilian clothes, precious hours that could be better spent resurrecting the dead. We're not talking fucking bus drivers here. These are the people who matter.
Except they really don't; they just have too much money which is a different thing altogether, and that which they have taken to signify class - or at least a better standard of person as I recently heard one 09er define his kin without a trace of irony - amounts to face-lifts and surface and having a bigger swimming pool than anyone else. In fact I don't think I've ever seen quite so much surface expressed in a single demographic: cut one of them in half and you'll just find layer after layer of emergency surface held in reserve all the way down to the bottom. As a group, they don't seem to have quite grasped that riches beyond imagination make no difference if you're a selfish, lying, vacuous, lazy, alcoholic, gambling, adulterous, strip-joint patronising parasite with the emotional development of a six-year old and the personality of the turd that just won't be flushed. Neither do they seem to grasp that these unpleasant qualities are difficult to conceal through simple membership of a country club.
These are people who, like Donald Trump, seem to believe that gold-plated taps signify success, and whilst I have no doubt of Trump being a lovely guy, he's really not someone I'd want to hang out with for too long. These are people like Jon Thomas Ford, the 09er convicted of strangling his former girlfriend in 2012. It made national news, but no-one here was too surprised when he was sent down as guilty, and the consensus would seem to have it that he never once considered the possibility of not getting away with it, because that's how it works in the Bubble: money will find a way.
The 09ers, these Ewingistas are heirs to the fundamental mistake of American capitalism that a will equates to a way, that all is fair in business, and that being a ruthless bastard is a sign of character. It's money as more important than people taken to the extreme at which point the people and their money become the same thing regardless of whether one is buying or selling. This, I presume, accounts for no socialism warnings, most likely planted by the hired Mexican gardener as a statement against something the owner probably can't even spell, much less understand. The simple logic runs that those who have worked hard for their money should be entitled to keep as much of it as possible - socialism apparently being a threat to this - which would be fine but for the extremely loose definition of hard work which tends to apply in so many cases, and the basic evil of those who cram their mouths with cake for no reason other than to deny those who have none. Having been a postman for more than two decades, I feel confident of being able to recognise hard work when I see it, and the only ones in the Bubble doing anything of the sort are the Mexicans who tend the lawns and borders.
This is why I have as little to do with the 09ers as possible, although I share their postcode, and Junior has certain familial ties which oblige my wife and I to occasionally grit our teeth and shake a few hands. Many of them may be nice enough people in their own way, but not in any sense that necessarily sets them above any other social stratum; and having few real interests outside matters of wealth and status, they generally aren't that interesting as people, and their instances of generosity tend to be slightly predatory.
Dallas from what little I recall, was presented as a caricature, and had I given the matter serious thought, I probably would have concluded that such people could not be real. Three decades have passed and I now live in the same state as the fictitious Ewings, and I occasionally get invited to pool parties by people who resemble those characters, although maybe not quite so likeable in a few cases - thinking here of a repulsive octogenarian gambling millionaire with a trophy wife more than forty years his junior and their demonic third grade kid on a $200 a week allowance, which is probably another story in itself.
The difference is that now I've seen them with my own eyes, I know that these people aren't real.