LA JOLLA, CA—Since several shrewd investments in software start-ups pushed his net worth over the $1 billion mark last fall, Mark Stern has been attempting to cultivate eccentricities commensurate with his new wealth, the venture capitalist said Monday.
"When you have $975 million, you're just like everyone else," said Stern, 41, from the bow of Excelsior, a 58-person canoe that he commissioned for a world-record paddle around the world. "But I'm a billionaire now. People expect me to use my money to feed my ego to the point of borderline insanity."
The often-caped Stern, previously an affable and soft-spoken man who kept a relatively low public profile aside from some philanthropic work, said his new status forced him to rethink his legacy.
"I was being referred to as 'California billionaire Mark Stern,' or simply 'billionaire Mark Stern,' and it lacked impact," the mogul said. "So I vowed not to rest until every mention of my name is prefaced with 'eccentric California billionaire.'"
Stern added: "And just to be clear, there's no way I'm settling for 'colorful California billionaire.'"
Though Stern said he is "beginning to get the hang of" billionaire life, he admitted to a few false starts while developing his bizarre idiosyncrasies, citing his easygoing, essentially rational nature as a major obstacle.
"I did try the Howard Hughes thing of stockpiling urine in jars and wearing Kleenex boxes on my feet, but it was so depressing and lonely," Stern said. "Plus, I realized that it's not eccentric to copy someone else's eccentricities."
Stern knows he has a long way to go before realizing his long-term goal of transforming himself into a full-blown, self-made eccentric, complete with a half-baked social philosophy of his own invention and an extremely expensive collection of worthless art.
After abandoning plans to live permanently in a dirigible-lofted mansion in the sky, Stern decided to "start over at square one."
"I started doing stuff like recoiling from shaking people's hands, smelling everything I picked up, and referring to myself as 'the anointed one,'" Stern said. "Nothing too out-there or grandiose, just some basic weirdness to keep up appearances while I tried to come up with the really original oddities."
"I did retain some of the more esoteric affectations, though," added Stern, brandishing a pure ivory cane topped with a crystal sphere containing a lock of his recently deceased mother's hair.
Though he now houses five of the world's 40 remaining albino alligators in his custom-made lucite dining room table, Stern had until recently been noted for his frugal tastes.
"Mark drove a 1999 Toyota Corolla, and he used to pride himself on shopping at the Men's Wearhouse even though he could afford much nicer things," longtime friend Thomas Bowen said. "Now he only wears jumpsuits made of some space-age micro- fiber paper that he incinerates after one use, and all I ever hear about is his hydrogen- powered rocket sled that he's taking to Antarctica to break the sound barrier or something."
Continued Bowen: "The worst thing, though, is how he's always asking everybody 'Is this eccentric enough? Is that eccentric enough?' It's getting really annoying."
Stern said some of his recent lifestyle changes have taken their toll on him. Last Thursday, his divorce from his third Ukrainian contortionist-performance artist wife in as many months became final. And La Jolla police continue to question Stern after several members of a cult he claims he dissolved in February were arrested on charges of stalking the deputy governor of California.
"I've made a lot of sacrifices," Stern said. "Do you think I love sleeping nude in a hyperbaric chamber pumped with pure circulating oxygen, or only eating foods that are white? The sad truth is, you can't always do what you want when you're a billionaire."
"That's just something I'll have to live with until my bones are interred in the moon's Clavius crater," Stern added.