When Dian Fossey first set up camp in the African wilderness, hoping the surrounding mountain gorillas would eventually become habituated to her presence, she made one key mistake. The first behavior she set out to imitate in an attempt to integrate into the gorilla culture was chest beating. Fossey worked hard to imitate the animals' rhythmic signals by pounding on her own thighs. Eventually, she got it down, but the gorillas didn't warm to her. Finally, the answer came: Chest beating is a sign of alarm, not friendship.
I made a similar mistake, and my faux pas also involved a chest—my own. I wanted something that would introduce the subject of $30,000 millionaires subtly. My first overzealous tracking expedition, to the Ghostbar atop the W and the Living Room Bar on the hotel's main floor, had revealed little other than the fact that the Ghostbar's guest list is still a joke. Unless, that is, your idea of a swanky, exclusive club involves middle-aged women in mom jeans juggling cosmopolitans and Brighton purses, plus a whole lot of dudes in pleated Dockers.
Just as valets and velvet ropes attract Homo sapiens douchebagus, there are certain things guaranteed to repel them. Pleated Dockers and middle-aged women are on this list. What would catch the $30,000 millionaire's attention? What would make him laugh? What would get the conversation started? Why, a sexy tank top with "I $30k Millionaires" splashed across the front, of course. I would turn myself into live bait.
I visited Armhole, the perennially trendy T-shirt boutique in the Mondrian building on Blackburn Street, right in the center of the $30,000 millionaire breeding grounds. In less than an hour, I had both an enlightening conversation with the shop owner and a tight, cheeky tank top.
"We get those types in here sometimes," the tattooed owner told me, as she affixed little yellow letters to my shirt. "They pull up in a Mercedes, walk in and ask for a job application." She laughed. "You drive a Mercedes, but you want a job application?"
It is a fine example of the sad state of $30,000 millionaires' financial affairs. Bottle service at any local ultra lounge starts in the hundreds of dollars for one night of partying. Add that to a car payment—figure at least $300 to lease a low-end BMW—and $650 in rent on the smallest available Uptown or Knox-Henderson studio apartment. Pile on designer clothes, and the expenses go up. You might be able to get away with one or two pairs of $150 jeans, but even shirts from Banana Republic or Diesel, if the $30k-er is slumming it, will run $50 each. And he'll need several.
That's thousands of dollars a month in clothes, booze and flash. The catch: Anyone who can be seen partying five, six or seven nights a week, as Homo sapiens douchebagus is known to do, can't possibly maintain the kind of 9-to-5 job necessary to cover those expenses. How do they do it?
"We're not talking three or four credit cards," debt counselor Bettye Banks tells me, when I go to her to find out how these exorbitant lifestyles are funded. "We're talking five or six credit cards." Banks is the senior vice president for education at Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Dallas, and if anyone can confirm the existence of debt-plagued Homo sapiens douchebagus, it's her.
"They are the reason I have a job," Banks says, a sad smile on her face. Dallas-Fort Worth consistently ranks among the lowest nationally when it comes to credit scores. Experian, a company that tracks credit, estimates DFW's average score to be 667 as of October. The national average is 692. Texas' average, 666, is the lowest in the country. We are maxed out.
Banks calls credit cards "C-4," as in plastic explosive.
"It's that bling-bling attitude" that makes credit cards so tempting and dangerous, she says. "Everything's got to be shiny. That's the millionaire outlook, only on a $30,000-per-year income."
Being a $30,000 millionaire is a high-stress job in itself. Debt collectors call every day, but the pressure to act like you're shitting cash doesn't go away. No wonder these guys can't stop bragging about their cars and their clothes—it's all they have to go on, as I learned when I took my "I $30k Millionaires" shirt out for a spin.
Time: 11:30 p.m. Friday
Location: Wish Ultra Lounge, off Knox-Henderson
Research team members: Two faithful co-workers, self
Target: Blond guy in a faux-hawk and black sport coat
Wish skews younger than other ultra lounges, toward the college set, but this guy is older than most in the crowd.
"Hello, love," he whispers in my ear. I've been left alone with my tank top by my co-workers in hope that I might seem more approachable. He's half-drunk, and his British accent is as faux as his faux-hawk.