PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Oh for the life where the biggest worry is stopping the endless flow of skewered Brazilian style meats.
"I forgot to flip my card to red," Carol Fleisher squeals, showing the delight of a schoolgirl one fourth her age.
Leave your card green side up on the table at the Frenchman's Creek beach club and the lamb shanks, lobster rolls, bacon-wrapped scallops, prime rib right off the bone ... keeps coming. And coming.
There are no limits, no price list, really no nos, period at this ultra exclusive members only spot. The very rich are just like the rest of us — only their $1,000 pants are threatened by constant expansion.
"My son says that if he stays here for two days, he'll gain two to three pounds," Fleisher said. "And that if he's here for a week, he could put on 10 pounds."
True high living means never experiencing the slightest stomach gurgle, let alone (gasp!) grumble. And you thought it was all about having top notch golf courses at your beck and call?
Please, that's just the bow of the backyard yacht at a place like Frenchman's Creek. Ever wonder what it's like to live in the kind of gated golf community that the heads of Fortune 500 companies and self-made mega tycoons call home? Or at least call second or third or fourth home.
Well, speculate no more. I'm here to let you inside the reinforced gate, past the ninjas in the bushes (yes, Frenchman's has its own ninja security patrol) and up the long drives. For the first time ever, Frenchman's Creek let a golf writer in to live in its plush community for a week and it was yours truly -- bad swing, unkempt manners, three Macys suits to his name me.
Move over Borat. There's a new ridiculous rube in town.
"It's fantasyland," Michael O'Brien, a retired Buffalo cop turned one-time self-admitted golf hustler said as we watched the parade of luxury cars get driven up to the main clubhouse by fresh-faced valets one beautiful Florida night.
O'Brien is another average guy who gets regular looks inside because his wife Kathy is Frenchman's beloved real estate guru/ambassador/trouble shooter.
"It's a great place if you've got 20 or 30 million," O'Brien continues as a Mercedes is followed by a Jaguar and a Rolls Royce.
Up pulls the 11-year-old Honda Accord that is serving as my wheels this trip.
"Your car, Mr. Baldwin."
To say that no one worries about anything at Frenchman's Creek qualifies as a gross understatement. Achal Goswami worries about everything. Goswami is the Ritz Carlton-trained executive director of the community that competes with other mega elite fantasylands like Tiger Woods' Isleworth. It's Goswami's job to keep 600 "triple type-A personalities" -- in the words of community president Robert Habush -- happy.
Goswami would look like he came from the pages of GQ, if the guys in GQ could dress as well as he does. He knows how to play to the rich and powerful. Every time Goswami hits a good golf shot -- which is several times most holes -- he mutters an almost apologetic, "Just a fluke." That's almost apologetic.
He once turned down a million-dollar-a-year job offer from Steve Wynn to run a lavish casino resort in Macau, according to several Frenchman's members who'd know. Yet Achal Goswami is confounded by some raggedy bushes.
At least raggedy by Frenchman's Creek standards.
"Sometimes we fail," Goswami said solemnly one night, drink in hand. "We failed with the bushes."
A few Frenchman's members complained about the bushes outside the fence they'd see on one of the approaches to the community. Goswami's done everything he can to make those bushes great. Still ...
"They look like bonsai trees," Goswami said disdainfully. "You'd think we'd tried to plant bonsai trees for how they turned out."
You half want to wrap Goswami up in a hug. That's how despondent he seems over the bonsai bush disaster. Really.
It turns out the true measure of wealth isn't the media centers with leather chairs, steel cupholders and 92-inch high definition theater TVs that would make your average AMC goer faint. No, being filthy rich means getting to outsource your worries.
Goswami handles the complaint worries. Former military personnel like Rob Shore and Al Camperlengo ensure that all of Frenchman's Creek's millionaires sleep easy. Shore and Camperlengo are part of what Frenchman members dubbed "the Ninjas".
This paramilitary security force dresses in all black, hides in bushes near the edges of the complex and drives around in high-tech GEM carts (styling enclosed golf carts with speed) equipped with thermal imaging technology. This is a cousin to the same type of system Marines have in Iraq. It picks out body heat in the darkness.
On a ride along with Camperlengo, I clearly saw a raccoon hiding in the brush on the thermal imaging screen. Just imagine how easy it is to pick out a human would-be predator.
"This property is basically on lock down," Shore said, pistol on his hip. "It's a warm prison for everyone. It's one of the most protected communities anywhere in the world. Residents can walk around like, 'I'm in Disneyland' because we're in the bushes."
If you cannot sleep sound at Frenchman's, you need to see your priest immediately.
This protective pampering cocoon makes for some very relaxed senior citizen business barons.
"I like to swim in the nude," said Norman Wain, a 79-year-old radio station mogul playing the Frenchman's South Course. "I hate bathing suits. Here I can and nobody will ever notice."
Way too much information doesn't even begin to describe it. Hey, no one ever promised everything inside the gates is pretty. Wain seems like one happy hacker though.
I'd love to ruminate on the meaning of this. But there's a guest house bigger than my regular house with a gleaming boat tied to the backyard dock I have to get back to. Who needs the real world?
"It can be a shock to the system when you leave Frenchman's and go to even another private club, like my golf club in Chicago," Richard Fleisher said.
Imagine that. How do you think I'm going to feel? Though they did wash the Accord.
February 6, 2007