Long before the word “oligarch” became a substitute for major Russian crooks and fraudsters, and a decade before Tom Wolfe invented masters of the universe, we had Wall Street Croesuses posing as gentlemen in Scottish moors. I remember it as if it were yesterday. Clay Felker, my editor at Esquire magazine, assigned me to write about this new breed of American multimillionaires who were busy shooting down everything that flew, and lots of things that didn’t. I did as I was told and rang up my friend Peter Salm, an Austrian-American aristocrat whose property near Southampton, Long Island, was famous for its shoot. The Bonfire of the Van... Best Price: $2.08 Buy New $13.29 (as of 07:10 EST - Details)
Peter is no longer with us, and his lovely “Port of Missing Men” estate has been sold to a master of the universe, as it happens, but he clued me in rather well. Until the late 1970s, American nouveaux riches did not bother with shooting birds. A trip to Miami and a winter suntan were enough to distinguish themselves from the rest of us. Some went even far enough as to go skiing in Canada or Austria, but God’s flying creatures were left alone. Then it happened: Some wise-guy Englishman took an upwardly mobile visiting Wall Streeter for a shoot on a Fire Tablet with Alexa... Best Price: $25.56 (as of 08:20 EST - Details) weekend, a shoot that included all sorts of dukes and earls and other such British species that “blew” the Wall Streeter’s mind. Upon his return he talked at length about his recent acquaintances, and presto, the northeastern seaboard of America had discovered a new way to infiltrate the British aristocracy. By killing everything that flies.
Mind you, it wasn’t as simple as I make it sound. There is etiquette involved in shooting birds, especially in Britain, so Esquire deemed it necessary to publish an article by Alistair Horne, an English historian, explaining the lingo. For example, shooting verbiage includes words such as “pricked,” “running cocks,” and “Did you have a good bag today?” Such words would easily have American ladies blushing until it was explained that the lexicon meant no harm. “Don’t go running to the doctor when a running cock is mentioned” had many a man feel silent relief. Ditto for the words “bag” and “pricked,” no blushing or punching necessary.