Ah, day jobs. I’ve gotten a few comments addressing my last one. Yes, Veronica, there is more to be said about this particular job. As I mentioned last week, I only endured this job for one year – maybe a month shy of a year, in fact. On my pathetically small part-time salary, I finally worked out a budget (my net was $317 a week, after taxes) and deducted out rent, groceries, pharmaceuticals (depressingly mild ones), etc., and realized that I had $60 a week left over for food, entertainment, and transportation. Now, we don’t need cars in New York, which was good; it was also good that I was able to walk to work. The office was across Central Park and 12 blocks down from my apartment, which meant that a brisk 25-minute walk got me door to door. The brisk walk was lovely when the weather was lovely; when it was freezing cold, not so much. And I was working afternoons, so when I finished at 5 pm in the dead of winter, it was dark and it’s just not the best idea to traipse through Central Park alone in the dark. The paths are well lit, but still. I solved this problem by walking in the street, pretty much. There are a few cross-streets that traverse the Park, and one of them has a sidewalk running along its side. Was this safe? Probably not. But with $60 a week for food, entertainment, and transportation, this “not so safe” was still safer than the going-through-the-dark Park “not so safe,” and the rest didn’t necessarily enter into my computations.
I was young, just out of college, and pretty naïve about money. But this was nothing compared to Jane. She was incredibly extravagant and incredibly cheap at the same time. This was the woman who was withdrawing $1000 to $2000 in cash, daily, and making credit card charges on top; since she had sold her apartment, she was staying for weeks on end (six weeks was the longest) at a high-end hotel, for a bill of more than $15,000 at a shot; she was the woman who promised $35,000 to the Met Opera, on top of buying high-end seats for the season, for an additional $35,000. (She had a box, you see, and back then each seat in the eight-seat box was $250. And she was out of town most of the time! I got about $8000 of free opera seats that season, and it was terrific. The only actual perk of that job. Now when I go and have to sit in the nosebleed “Family Circle” I remember the box and sigh.) Am I getting too specific, and therefore indiscreet? I hope not. I’ll just sum up this part and say, I always had an image of someone standing on top of a building and throwing money into the air.
Once we helped hold a big charitable event—we cohosted it with her favorite charity. After it was over, the charity had to store things from the event in our office. Somehow we ended up with fistfuls of pens. Jane looked at these pens like they were gold. A rep of the charity came to our office to pick up the larger items, and Jane mouthed to me, “Hide the pens!” I didn’t—I wouldn’t even have stolen them for myself, on $317 a week—but the charity woman still left without them. Afterward Jane laughed: “I was so worried she was going to take the pens!”
Best guess as to the total cost of these pens: $3.
These “cheap” moments are actually pretty few and far between. I think it’s because she hadn’t figured out how actually to be cheap. I was pretty good at it then (and I’m an expert, now), so I would give the occasional tip. She got an enormous tax refund after I had been there a few months—enormous, as in twice my current gross salary—and needed to figure out what to do with it. She wanted to invest it in the stock market. “What stocks should I buy, Kathy?” I am not making that question up. I told her she needed to find a financial adviser. “Who should I call, Kathy?” (She also had a thing for saying first names in all sentences. Whereas if I were looking right at someone, I might not say their first name with every last exchange, she did.) Now, on $317 a week I wasn’t employing any financial advisers, so I didn’t know. I got my taxes done at H&R Block, for crying out loud. “So what should I do with this money, Kathy?”
I told her to pay off her credit cards. At that point, she had 4 and each one of them had a balance north of $13,000. “Look at the interest,” I said. I pointed out how much she was getting charged each month on each card, and she was shocked. (What was it, $400? $500? I don’t remember.) “How can they do that, Kathy?” she asked.
“It’s interest,” I responded. “There’s an agreement you sign, saying you’ll pay interest on outstanding balances.” She nodded. Maybe she even understood. (“SERIOUSLY?” you’re saying. “SHE DIDN’T KNOW WHAT INTEREST WAS?” And I think she actually did, but this was the first time she had seen it, had it affect her.) And she said that paying them off, now that she knew she was paying interest, was a great idea.
I took her tax refund check to the Private Banking building in Chase (there’s a separate room where you go make deposits; none of this ATM crap for the rich! Or, more specifically, their assistants), and three days later wrote out checks paying off all the balances. I actually felt relieved, as if part of the burden were mine.
Two weeks later she decided she had to buy another season in the box at the Met. $35,000, due by the end of the month. As I said in the last entry, she decided to divide that up among 3 cards, 2 payments per card. Except both payments went on all 3 cards in one month, so in a month she’d gone from zero to $35,000 all over again. And had no intentions of paying it off any time soon.
She went to her high-priced dentist shortly after that to get her teeth bleached. She paid $1000 for this—a full day’s cash withdrawal!—and was angry that she’d been taken to the non-teeth cleaners. She was in her mid-sixties, so her teeth were, you know, in their mid-fifties. I’m sure she had taken good care of them, but they didn’t look great. She came back from her bleaching session and was just angry: they were not white. “Come here and tell me if they look different to you,” she said. We went to the window and she made me study her teeth at close range. For way too long. It may have been a minute, it may have been thirty seconds—or ten—but it was way too long. Her teeth were gross. Any teeth are gross at close range (apologies to my periodontist brother. He sees something that I don’t, obviously. And makes more money doing it, or will as soon as his practice revs up, which it will do, shortly. Hi, Bill.) and the most I want to do is a quick, “No, you don’t have anything stuck.” But here we were at the window, me with a screwed-up face and Jane showing her teeth to me like a horse. Sigh. And for the record: still completely yellow.
So as I said, I made it nearly a year. Walking out of that place was one of the happiest feelings of my life, even though I didn’t have a job lined up, and obviously I didn’t have savings. But it was sweet freedom, at last.
A few weeks after I quit Jane’s establishment, I was waiting in line for an ATM at my local Chase. An older man was standing at one of the ATMs, cursing. “I can’t do this G—D—thing…” he grumbled. He turned around. “Anyone care to tell me how to figure this out?”
He really did look lost. So I walked up to him and showed him where to put the card. He was not grateful. “Now what?” he demanded.
“What’s your PIN?” I asked.
“It’s a special number that allows you to make withdrawals.”
“I don’t know anything about a G—D—PIN,” he said. “I just need my money.”
Suddenly I knew exactly the kind of person I was dealing with. He had money—somewhere!—but how to get it? Where was his assistant? Why wouldn’t this stupid girl here just HELP HIM? I smiled, knowing how angry he was.
“They won’t let you take out money without your PIN,” I said.
“I don’t have one!”
“Then you don’t get your money.” And I turned and walked out the door.
I saw his face as I turned, the frustration. Utter helplessness caused by years of dependence on everyone else. I saw Jane. And when I looked out the door, again I saw freedom.
Of course, I continued to be an assistant.....