Bart and Helen are a successful couple in their late 30s. They met at Boalt Hall, where Helen was an editor of law review and Bart was the informal captain of the winning moot court team. Their competitiveness toward fellow students drew them together. They formed a working couple early in their 3 years at BH and solidified the union some 6 months after graduation.
Bart grew up in a small town in the Berkshires. His father ran a gas station/repair garage. Helen grew up in Santa Clara, the child of two two professors at a small college there. They had different childhoods as a result, but both of them learned envy at an early age and both of them knew, from only a few years of holding onto that envy, that they would be powerful adults. Because they had to be.
Bart focused on money. Helen focused on interpersonal power.
Throughout his youth, Bart was the first of his peers to have a job, by several years. In high school he worked 3 jobs and slept only 4 hours a night. By the time he arrived at Cornell on scholarship (academic, perpetual 4.0) he looked to be 30 years old not 18. But he was driven and he had a fixed goal in mind.
Helen's childhood was the stuff of liberal fantasy. Being the child of two academics, her dinner table discussions were finer than anything heard on NPR or watched on PBS. The Experts were always on parade in those discussions. Religion was disdained, but great reverence expressed for such brilliant thinkers as George Lakoff or Noam Chomsky. Helen never set foot inside a church, temple, chapel, shrine, mosque, or house of worship -- her parents essentially forbade it. Their house, said the parents, was a place of reverence toward intellectual and social progress.
Five years after marriage Helen's mind drifted frequently toward the question of children. She wanted her own children to have childhoods superior to her own -- and distinctly unlike the one Bart had. Bart's childhood was somewhat terrifying for Helen to imagine. How can people live in such primitive conditions? A father who smelt constantly of gasoline, oil, brake cleaning solvent and bearing grease, whose hands were never clean? A mother who hadn't earned a PhD? Households without 455 channels of teevee or T1 internet connection? And Bart hadn't ever played on a PlayStation and didn't have his own cell phone until just 10 years ago.
The idea was horror.
He never had a fine cheese or exquisite wine until Boalt Hall. And Helen had to show him these things.
All he cared about was money. But didn't he realize that holding a superior social status was the path to greater sums than he presently imagined possible?
She would have to enlighten him.
Bart watched as his male peers began fathering children. My childhood wasn't so great, he'd say to himself, so why would I want to bring some other human into the world who'd have to suffer a bad childhood like me?
The idea of coaching his son to hit a baseball, throw a football, kick a soccer ball, shoot a basketball seemed vaguely appealing, but Bart lacked the lifetime of athletic experience that would make such efforts come naturally. The idea of teaching anything athletic to a child terrified him.
He would have to settle for teaching his child how to ignore teasing and how to keep himself busy and distracted with work and building a big bank account. And this would happen in quick, 2-minute, mandate-heavy lectures done at breakfast once a month.
Five years later, Bart and Helen have two children.
A five year old girl.
And a 4 year old boy.
Brilliant, both of them. They seem prodigious in their abilities. Everything seems to come from a place of ancient wisdom and experience.
Karma has smiled upon Bart and Helen, and upon Chloe and Landon.
Eight years later now.
Helen's practice has been built on mortgage activity in the subprime markets. Her clients were ballooning so quickly that they squeezed out every other kind of client in her portfolio. Her practice had been nothing but second and third tier lender work for 7 years.
And it blew up.
Literally, not in the slang sense.
Helen decided it was time to become a more concerned mother. Work from home. ("Work" meaning, mulling over how naive greed caused her to forget about long-term portfolio diversity and how that caused her practice to disappear with the off-taste mortgage market.)
The problem was, Helen Bart Chloe Landon lived in a way that assumed each of Helen and Bart would make large sums of income.
And now 56% of that income was gone.
But the costs of the lifestyle remained.
And they're a proud family.
Bart and Helen now have to decide what they're going to trim from their annual expenses.
But the world is growing so scary. Reactionaries everywhere they look when they turn on the teevee or check out their favorite internet political discussion sites or turn on the radio while driving somewhere. The Christers have taken over, it seems, and intellectual discourse has been forgotten, as have formal manners.
...mused Bart as he cut off a driver, harried and late for some obligation, always late for something, always having to be in a hurry. Why's this fucker driving so slow during rush hour?
Cut spending? How the fuck am I gonna cut spending when the new iPhone is poised for release, there's a new Garmin hands-free GPS for my Cayenne, I saw an automated lawn-watering system that runs on solar instead of PG&E bills, my Cayenne needs new wheels & tires because I saw some on Top Gear, I could probably hop up the engine some too I'll talk to Gerhard about that on Friday, and then there's that new tennis racket I've been eyeing, as well as the new home entertainment center that is just about perfect right now with the kids being teenagers I can have everyone over to watch the Big Game.