I am a TARP wife.
In keeping with the unwritten code of this new sisterhood, I have taken a vow of financial abstinence. I returned the presents my husband gave me for Christmas (but didn’t tell him, since he’s already awash in gloom) and am using my credit balances at all the major department stores for important gifts and other necessities.
I haven’t even looked at spring clothes; God forbid someone catches me out in something new. Keeping up with fashion seems somehow decadent in this new era, like getting Botox injections or catered dinners. Like so many others, I’m shopping in my closet. I’ve bought exactly two things this year—makeup and panty hose. 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.
As you can see, being a TARP wife means, in short, making decisions according to a complex algorithm: balancing the need to look like your world hasn’t crumbled beneath you—let’s not alarm the investors!—with the need to appear duly repentant for your subprime sins. It also means we’re part of the community of more than 400 companies that have received government bailout funds, whose fall from grace has been swifter and harsher than any since Mao frog-marched intellectuals into China’s countryside.
Hitting the perfect note isn’t always easy. For instance, for the past 15 years or so, I have thrown my husband a birthday party. We traditionally celebrate with about 30 friends, mostly New York pals we’ve known for decades. We’re not talking an end-of-an-era Stephen Schwarzman-type $10 million blowout. Ours is a pretty sedate affair.
This year, of course, entertaining our crowd at our usual multi-star Michelin hotspots would simply not do. Extravagant is out; conservative is in. But not hosting a birthday dinner would have spurred rumors that we were broke, not a welcome thought either. Juggling these conflicting impulses, I decided on a slimmed-down 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. Naturally, every restaurant I contacted was willing to meet my reduced budget; now that Wall Street firms are no longer entertaining clients or hosting events, New York eateries are struggling.