Monthly Archives: February 2011

My son, the Marshmallow Millionaire

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You see this round brown thing on my wall?

Look closely. Here’s another one. It looks silvery-gray under its tape wrapping:

And from a broader perspective, here’s one more:

The pictures are not clear, but I can tell you they’re not stink bugs. The first one’s a penny. Then you’re looking at a couple of quarters. And if you walk around my house, you’ll find more money.

You might come from the kind of house where money is not talked about. You might even come from the kind of house where money is practically invisible–maybe your mother or grandmother kept it in the back of a drawer or under the mattress (or, like my grandmother, in a little nylon footie, of the single-use variety you get when you try on shoes at the store, safety-pinned to the inside of her brassiere)–and now you find yourself following her lead. If that’s the case, you might find it surprising that in our house, we make sure our money is as visible as possible.

Actually, the reason we have coins taped all over our house is because that’s where LL put them. LL is saving up for a number of things: Lego, Lego, and Lego. Also, he wants a copy of Revenge of the Sith, the only movie of the Star Wars enterprise we don’t own. And presents for Cool J, who has humbly requested a Darth Maul costume, a Darth Maul Lego, and a Darth Maul lightsaber (has anyone ever noticed that kids are seriously obsessive? Like when they get into a character? Or a book? Anyone else know The Gruffalo off by heart? Come on—say it with me: A mouse took a stroll through a deep dark wood . . .). LL figures that if the coins are right there on the wall, they are saved and safe (or that’s my theory, anyway; based on their placements, primarily on door frames, The Scientist is quite sure that we are witnessing the secularization/profanation of the mezuzah: Money! The mezuzah of Modern America!).

If my leash were looser, you would find me drinking skinny cinnamon dolce lattes daily, popping into Anthropologie for a cute swingy summery dress, and ordering Netflix for those nights when Glee and How I Met Your Mother aren’t on and I can’t do anything but lie on the sofa in the fetal position and stuff my mouth with popcorn doused in spray butter and Kernels salt and vinegar powder. I would not say I’m spendthrift, but I’m nothing like my husband, who can happily continue to wear all the clothes his mother bought for him when he was in high school or on our year abroad (Not that I would consider it reasonable to throw out his tattered-to-shreds, yellow-underarmed t-shirts from youth, when, after all, “Harvard,” “New York Yankees,” “Pearl Jam,” and let’s not forget “Beavis and Butthead,” written in Hebrew, are so much cooler than their English equivalents). Also, he can keep a strict diet of Wonderbread and hot dogs, with the occasional Kraft single on a Lender’s bagel for variety. I will confess that when he married me, The Scientist had as much in savings as I had in debt. We were both grad students. I’m thinking that LL might one day even put The Scientist to shame (Oh, I know the kind of Jewish mother I sound like: “Help! Help! My son the millionaire is drowning!” But read on).

I first began to conceive of my eldest born as a money maverick a little over a year ago when I read about and tried the Marshmallow Test on LL. The Marshmallow Test was conceived by the eminent psychologist, Dr. Walter Mischel, and it proceeds as follows: Offer your 4-year old a marshmallow. But before he eats it, tell him that if he waits 20 minutes, he can have 2 marshmallows.

Here is what we are supposed to learn from the results:

The genius/future CEO of a Fortune 500 child: waits

The loser/college dropout/must have had fetal alcohol syndrome child: can’t wait

Here is what my child did:

First, he turned his body away from the marshmallow that I positioned very carefully in the center of his plate, inches from his body, so to be as tempting as possible. He looked right at the clock on the oven and began to read out the numbers. I marched over and re-positioned the plate so that it sat between him and the clock. He steadfastly looked past it.

Twenty minutes went by. Out loud.

At the end of it, I immediately produced his reward: a second marshmallow. Which he refused.

“Mama, I’m going to wait another 20 minutes. I want three marshmallows.”

That’s LL.

The good thing is that I don’t think he’ll end up an unemployed academic who has to decide between summer camp for his child or blond highlights (well, perhaps that won’t be the dilemma in question for other reasons). The bad thing is that I just can’t get him to think like his peers.

Take this mom-and-child argument:

PP: “OK, listen. We’re moving to the States, and I need to figure out if it’s reasonable for us to live in the City, which would mean you have to do your ERB testing. I know you have no idea what I’m talking about, but I’m going to give you this little quiz from the ERB website. Are you ready?”

LL: “Ready.”

PP: “OK, let’s start with an easy one. What’s money for?”

LL (very eager, hand up in the air): “To save.”

PP: “WRONG answer! Try again.”

LL (hand up again): “To put in the bank.”

PP: “This is AMERICA. NOT CANADA! AMERICA! Where people SPEND! They don’t SAVE! Little boy, YOU ARE AMERICAN. Now think like one! Americans don’t put money in the bank!!” (PP begins jumping up and down). “Try again! WRONG ANSWER.”

Silence. Hand down.

PP: “Forget it. You’ll never get into a decent school. We’re not moving to the City.”

*          *          *            *           *          *             *             *

Recently, a sweet 11-year-old boy who takes the school bus with LL (and whom my friend Anna Oh might consider a white devil selling his white devil wares) gave my son 10 Hershey kisses. Ten! A boon! LL was over the moon. He clambered into the car, shared the news of his bonanza, and then, as is his nature, he carefully organized his treats. Three he doled out to his younger brother (because Cool J is 3). One he ate. Six he saved. He’s turning six in four months, and he’s decided he wants to eat them on his sixth birthday. He put his little silver pile in the fridge when we got home, and every so often he sticks his head in to make sure it’s still there. Which it is. For now.

So there you have it—a little American boy who refuses to play the role his nationality calls for (how many more of him would the country have needed, grown up, to have avoided the housing market collapse?), and things that look like stink bugs on my walls and door frames. And, happily, a secret stash for my “chocolate time of the month.”

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Return of the Snow Day

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It wasn’t really a Snow Day. It was Faux President’s Day. A random day where schools and preschools decide to close for no apparent reason–just like half of those January Snow Days (which I think would be a nice name for a poem, but is a hellish thing to experience). We had finished watching the first three Star Wars (or last three, I don’t know what to call them—all I know is that LL cried when Darth Vader turned nice because the bad guy always turns nice in the end which meant it was the end, and I had promised him there were 3 more DVDs to go). The air popper was developing a bad smell of burnt something. And a few sparks had flown out of it. Patience was wearing very thin. Everyone’s. Around 4:30, I sent the kids upstairs to “play nicely.” When the Scientist got home from his stimulating day of Rocket Science or Brain Surgery or whatever intellectually engaging pursuit he had come here for, he found me, the frazzled hausfrau (Stay-at-Home-Professor?) shoveling a spoon piled high with applesauce into Baby MoFo’s mouth again and again in a robotic motion.

“Where are the kids?” asked the Scientist.

“Playing nicely upstairs,” I responded.

“Oh.” Pause.  “But someone’s crying,” he replied, stating the obvious. I glared at him. “Someone”—or the other “someone”—had been crying pretty much constantly for the last 45 minutes. The Scientist went up to investigate.

Baby MoFo was showing no signs of getting full when the Scientist called me upstairs to the boys’ room. Grunting and pouring half the box of Cheerios onto Baby MoFo’s food tray to keep him occupied, I pushed back my chair (loudly) and stomped upstairs. “What? I. Am. Busy.”

Both boys were crying. Cool J had blood pouring out of his nose, around and into his mouth and under his chin. It was dripping onto the floor. LL, meanwhile, was less than contrite. In fact, he was busy reporting all the wrongs that Cool J had committed to make him deserve such a fate. The long day had just gotten longer. . .

That was Friday. Then came Monday—Real President’s Day (kill me now, and do it quickly!!). On Monday, I had a stroke of genius (actually, The Scientist will claim it was his, but that’s besides the point). You see, there are high-end perks when you live in a high-end town, even if you yourself happen to be pretty, you know, low end.

The perk I was going to check out was at a particular high-end supermarket, where all the produce is unnaturally shiny and uniform in color, and the cheeses span 3 aisles. Neither of those interested me. What did interest me was the playroom. For no fee at all (but for that built into the price of every star fruit, Cab Sauv, and lugano olive you could purchase there), your children can be dropped off to “play” (i.e., color or watch episodes of “Franklin”). Which is exactly what I did. I marched straight up to the playroom, filled out their paperwork as quickly as possible, said “Bu-bye” to LL and Cool J, stuck a bottle in Baby MoFo’s mouth, and headed for the elevator. Upstairs offered a spacious, quiet space filled with about 3 dozens tables and only a couple of patrons. Screw grocery shopping—I had free time! I pulled out my novel—Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs (what’s with all the Jane Eyre references? Where is this story headed? Is her boyfriend really Brazilian? Isn’t the whole I’m a half-Jew, you’re a half-Jew business gratuitous? What’s up with the Christmas hamentaschen—is that Moore’s idea of a culinary mixed marriage?)—put my feet up, and relaxed.

Later, I bought the overpriced avocados. They were worth it.

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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (repeat): Channeling Anna Oh

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Yesterday, LL was cleaning up his room and putting the laundry in the hamper when he picked up the diaper Cool J had worn to bed the previous night. “This doesn’t go into the hamper!” LL declared, laughing hysterically at his almost-action of throwing in the diaper with the PJs. I laughed with him. Then he stopped laughing. He turned to face me. His concerned, inquisitive 5.5-year-old eyes bored into mine. “Why don’t we wash diapers? Why do they get used once and thrown away? Mama, that’s a waste.”

I know why we have children. Pun unavoidable, children are born to make their mothers feel like crap. I know because I do it to my mother all the time (“Are you seriously wearing that shirt?” “What happened to your hair?”). Why don’t I buy cloth diapers? I’m pretty sure there’s an answer here: I don’t really feel like scrubbing poo on a daily basis. What I mean is, I don’t feel like scrubbing more poo. I already clean poo off Baby MoFo, sometimes all the way up to his neck, off of his shirts and pants, and on an exciting day, his socks. And Cool J is only toilet-trained insofar as he can go to the toilet by himself (in the daytime, anyway), but when it comes to wiping, the 3-year-old tyrant’s demand can be heard echoing throughout the house: “COME! WIPE! MY! BUM!” When I go into the bathroom, there he is, in downward-facing dog, dirty stinky bum high in the air, waiting for his chamber-pot maid (I would include a picture, but that seems cruel to both him and you).

Of course, the question of why I don’t use cloth diapers is related to the question of why I don’t compost (is “Worms are icky” an acceptable answer?) and why don’t I have a wonderful family tradition of re-sending the same birthday card for decades? (I’m way too lazy to send cards? On the other hand, e-cards don’t use any paper!).

“Anna Oh”—pretty close to her real name—is a friend of mine who was born about 20 minutes south of where I live today, but is on the other side of the continent now, and not likely to visit soon since one flight is probably worse than owning a Hummer (although somehow not as bad as owning a toy Hummer—can you imagine what lessons this toy teaches your kids:

?!)

Anna Oh is the Queen of Hippy Chic. She wraps herself in flowing organic cotton from a local overpriced good-to-the-earth designer and a baby or a toddler or a child and ornaments herself in chunky ethnic jewelry. She devotes herself to scrubbing poo from cloth diapers, making granola (the crunchy kind), and flying a carbon-dioxide-free helicopter over her children at all times to ensure that no white devil is trying to get near her children (by which I mean sugar—she’s generally OK with white people).

She’s also an engineer.

Anna Oh is the kind of person I would want to be if I had endless time, endless energy, a garden, and the sneakiness to wait until after my children are in bed to bake and devour chocolate molten lava cakes (made with organic, fair-trade chocolate, of course).

Anna Oh is like my parents: she needs less stuff. And she is inventive as only my parents are—for entirely and fundamentally different reasons. At first glance, this comparison is implausible. My parents’ attitude toward environmentalism is this: the earth is fine now, global warming means more time to swim, and if our grandchildren inherit a lousy place to live in, they should fix it themselves (after all, everything we have we earned for ourselves). Anna’s is something like this: I have a car, but it’s as fuel efficient as a car that can seat three children could be and I’m mortified that I own it and ride my bike or cross-country ski everywhere I can, and most of my possessions are made out of bamboo because it can be harvested within 5 years and re-grows on the same plant over and over again. But their point of intersection lies in their abilities to have little and do much. My parents do so because they can’t understand why anyone would buy paper towels and coffee filters when one could easily substitute for the other (Anna, of course, would buy neither, as reusable filters and a shmata—definitely not her word!—would do), or who would actually spend money on garbage bags when plastic grocery bags (which, again, Anna would never take from the store) make perfectly serviceable ones, or in fact, why it is necessary to buy a trash can for those garbage bags when gift baskets can easily be transformed into trash receptacles (here, they might have Anna beat).

On long road trips, mostly to the mountains for vigorous hikes, or even at home, during “quiet time” (an ingenious daily event that allows mom to do the unthinkables—read a book! Call a friend! Take a nap!), Anna Oh always came up with wonderful toys for her children to play with. Like aluminum foil (think of the possibilities! It’s a cat! Now it’s a boat! Now it’s wrapping paper for Christmas presents!). A baggy (re-used and re-usable) filled with rice (from the organic grain and nut co-op) and hidden (wooden) toys as a makeshift I Spy. And if she’s feeling very wasteful: a roll of masking tape.

Don’t get me wrong. Anna doesn’t give her kids foil and tape because she’s cheap. Anna spends more on “toys” than I did on my car, but her kids’ toys are all about being healthy and enjoying the fresh air and getting exercise; she buys “toys” like aluminum-frame bikes with hydraulic disk brakes, and full spring suspension, or a Chariot cross country ski kit (which is a pretty cool toy for the whole family, especially if you’re the kind of family who spends their vacations going to fancy lodges like Skoki which has neither electricity nor running water, and which is a 5-hour x-country ski-in from the parking lot–a favorite accommodation, in other words, for the rich and hardy). Bikes, skis, a bag of rice, a promise of a trip without a shower—what more could these kids ask for? Why buy crappy plastic toxic made-in-China crap that will break in minutes?

Then there’s my kids. “Can I have Craniac?” “I really really want Squidman’s pitstop.” “I have to have my own Skull Twins because LL won’t share with me!!!” “I want a Transformer!” “I want General Grievous’s double lightsaber!” When it comes to diapers, I am that ugly bad guy (but not Darth Maul, because Cool J idolizes him). When it comes to Lego (of which they have more than the whole of Denmark) or other buildable/movable/fightable toys, forget about reduce, reuse, and recycle. New and more, repeat. New and more, repeat. New and more, repeat.

And my responses? Do I counsel them on the good they could do for this world? Do I talk of landfills, carbon footprints, pollution, the end of life on our planet? Do I hand them a roll of tape or a bag of rice? Nope. It’s more like: “Sure.” “Yes.” “On your birthday.” “For Chanukah.” “Ask Bubby and Zaidy.” The word “no” never comes out of my mouth. I just defer, deflect, and delay. I treat these treats as inevitable. I am the worst Tiger Mom.

I guess if a point has to go to me, though, I don’t secretly buy Lego and build it after I tuck the kids in.

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Magic Money Part III: Conclusion

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So how, you might ask, did I keep up with the Canadian Chiquitas in the Big Apple? Was I secretly:

Only a few years older and on the other coast?

Nah. I wasn’t brave enough for such illicit thrills. If I were like Angel here, I wouldn’t be writing a blog. I’d be publishing a scandalous and titillating memoir worth millions.

So how did I do it?

It’s time for the magician to reveal her tricks.

Here goes.

Are you ready?

Whenever I needed money, it appeared. There was no trick. The money was actually magic. Like Jack’s beans or Snow White’s mirror. Like manna.

If you’re anything like The Scientist, you will pshaw this explanation. The Scientist will point out that there is always a logical explanation, even if we can’t always know what it is. He’s not big on the mystical and mysterious (his mother, Bubby Frummy, who gave birth to three boy-scientists, likes to say, with pride, as she watches my kids turn sticks into lightsabers and chairs into spaceships, that none of her kids ever engaged in make-believe play. I’m not sure if that statement is supposed to impress a woman who spent 13 years in higher education studying “make-believe.”). Woe to the sweet, innocent person in our house who might say, in confusion and frustration, “I don’t get science” (Confession: it’s me. If it weren’t the case, I would be the one applying to Sint Eustatius right now). A surefire way to drive The Scientist to distraction? Let’s say we’re back in our Western Canada home and all of a sudden my eyes start watering, and when I try to blink away my tears, my upper and lower lashes freeze together. In my overwrought, blinded state, I might yell, “CLOSE THE DOOR! YOU’RE LETTING IN ALL THE COLD AIR!” Oh boy would that set The Scientist off on a diatribe.

This picture was taken in May. Indoors.

Are you with The Scientist? Looking for a logical explanation for my magic money? Surely that “magic” was my trust fund (did I mention my father was a welder?). Or a side-job (have I mentioned I didn’t and don’t possess a green card?). Or something illegal? (I’m too boring. Was raised with that bourgeois morality of Jewish suburbia. See above re: no bravery).

Well, you’ll say, the obvious source was my parents who continued to spoil me. I will admit there is some truth in that. I would call them up and not beg for money or anything, but just casually mention that it turned out I didn’t have enough money to pay my credit card bill that month and so it seemed I would end up paying the 17 or 22 or 29% interest on my bill. Or was it all my bills?—since owning the credit card? Until eternity? I wasn’t quite sure, since of course I had never failed to pay my credit card in full, which was a given, since no one bearing our family name had ever failed to do such a thing. Boom. Money would show up in the joint account I had with my parents. (In an episode of “Ricki Lake” on mooching, from sometime in that fin-de-siècle, you can find the Poor Princess standing up in the audience to boast about what a mooch she is and how long she’s been one. [It was a dare, people!])

Actually, if we’re going to get all boringly factual, the beans of magic money that built my SoHo beanstock probably came from many sources. Once, I discovered I had been a(n, unbeknownst to me) plaintiff in a class action suit against my phone company, and I deserved money from them. Another time, there was a class action suit against my credit card. Sometimes my grandmother would send cash in the mail—$36 tucked into a Valentine’s Day card, $100 in a birthday card. A few dollars of interest on my security deposit showed up once a year. Old GICs and Canada Savings Bonds, bought from my Bat Mitzvah money and long forgotten, came due. And at seemingly random periods, my Canada Students Loans would be processed (worth, in American dollars, maybe 60% of their Canadian value if I was lucky) and deposited into my account.

So that’s it. There you have it. My fairy-taled single life with the gritty realism of a Zola novel. Minus the mines and deaths and riots and all that.

I miss living in a fairy tale, where you can rub on a brass lamp or wish on a star or ask a fairy godmother or open the mailbox–and your wish will come true. There’s not much in the way of magic money these days. Pity, maybe, but not magic. The other day, I lamented the loss of my favorite Lululemon headband that I had been wearing for five years—it slipped, silently, off my head as I walked home from the gym—and within the hour, my mother was at her local Lululemon buying me gift certificates that are worth about 20 headbands (“It’s your early birthday present,” she tells me). My in-laws, Bubby and Zaidie Frummy, also make me the beneficiary of their beneficence; my horseshoe jeans, jeans for all mankind, and Lulu yoga pants were all presents from them. But otherwise, I’m not in the habit of tripping over $100 bills.

And it’s too bad. After all, I will confess, it was never really the money that was magic. It was the age that was magic. Something about it makes you believe you are economically invincible (or at least, you could never be too financially f*&ed, you could never starve or have nowhere to live), which is probably the thing that makes you believe you are physically invincible (“Skydiving? Jumping out of an airplane? Awesome! SIGN ME UP!!”). But that kind of magic needs its series of mini-miracles to stay believable. . .

The other day I took Cool J to the Y, where he stared longingly at the pool and asked me, so nicely, if he could take swimming lessons. I wanted to say yes. He wasn’t asking for the Imperial Shuttle (again). And doesn’t the Torah only have one demand on parents: “A father is obligated to teach his son how to swim”? (Not even: a father must teach his son the Kaddish. Or a father must teach his son the Shema. Just to swim!). A 6-week session of swimming lessons at the Y costs $90. I wished for the return of magic.

And lo and behold!—it came! When I got home that day, The King of Hearts, a friend from across the continent and over the border called to see if I could do him a small favor. His company was trying out new checks in the US, and would I be able to receive a couriered check for $100, take it to the bank, cash it, and then report on the process to him?

I could keep the money.

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Magic Money Part II: Friends

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DC, a girlfriend of mine who has lived in this country’s capital for years now, and moved to it from Canada, leaping right over NYC without ever tarrying there, worries that when she is old and senile, she will sit her grandchildren on her lap and tell them all about life in New York in the ’90s. “We had so much fun in those days,” she’ll say. “We used to hang out at Central Perk and get into all kinds of mischief. If it weren’t for Monica, we’d all have been eating Ramen noodles and KD. I don’t know what Chandler did, but Ross was happy to tell anyone and everyone he was a doctor–although really! it was not-that-kind-of-doctor–he was a paleontologist! Rachel had such pretty hair; everyone wanted to have hair like hers. And Phoebe? Oh, could Phoebe make us all laugh. What a kook! Joey . . . I wonder what happened to Joey? He moved to LA at some point . . .”

Ah, life in lower Manhattan, where a chef, an IT manager, a professor, a waitress, a rarely-employed actor, and a massage therapist can all live the same luxurious life with salon-blown hair, spacious apartments, and the hippest clothes. If it was true on TV, surely it’s true in life! Too bad I can’t convince The Scientist that it doesn’t matter that we’re only living off $50,000–it would be totally awesome for us to raise LL, Cool J, and Baby MoFo in an apartment just like the sweet 300-square-foot bachelorette pad I used to have in Soho. How fun it was! They can have little friends all around them just as I had not-so-little friends all around me (so what if the public schools generally suck, and private schools cost $30,000+/year and require a battery of IQ tests? It’s all good!).

Back in the last millennium, when I went to bed at 3am for reasons other than a puking child or a teething baby, I had my good friend, Chanda, in the building next door–

Chanda

A few blocks over in NoLiTa lived The Investment Banker, possibly the most sociable woman in the world who would finish work at midnight and be ready to go party (and who is still painting the town red—only the town is now almost 10,000 miles away)–

The Poor Princess and The Investment Banker at our joint 20-somethings birthday party at Idlewild in the LES.

There was also the Investment Banker’s sometimes-roommate, Mama Brasilia, another party girl; and to the west, near the Hudson, lived another 3 lovely ladies who were a part of our core group of Canadian Chiquitas in The Big Apple: Fashionista, The Kitten, and Prairie.

The Canadian Chiquitas had a blast. We went for dinner or drinks, shopped, hit the nightclubs (all south of 14th street), stayed on friends’ boats or in country houses in the Hamptons or the Jersey Shore, and cried over boys who had not ended our dates by kissing us (and were therefore clearly gay) or subsequently fingered us (the precursor to IM, remember? which, for you young’uns, we might call the precursor to texting)(get your mind out of the gutter!). Life was good.

I’m pretty sure I was supposed to be sharing a studio apartment and using milk crates for book cases. Dojo was supposed to be a fancy night out on the town (I did like their carrot-hummus dressing, I confess). Also, my friendships with people who earned 10x what I earned were not supposed to be seamless (although–apart from “The One with 5 Steaks and an Eggplant”–they were on Friends!). Perhaps I was supposed to behave the way a fellow from my cohort behaved when confronted with an investment-banker type–a little befuddled, a little pedantic, a little freeloading  . . .

Or maybe I’m being judgmental. To end today’s post, I offer you an alternative to my idea of happy coexistence despite salary inequity, based on an only somewhat imagined transcript of a date between the The Investment Banker and one of my colleagues (whom I confess I set up with each other for no better reason than they were both Jewish and single):

The setting: My “Cheers” (The Green Chair might be a good name for it)

The principal characters: The Investment Banker and GradJew

The Duration: Short

The Investment Banker: “So. You study English.”

GradJew: “Yes.”

Pause.

The Investment Banker: “Have you read Bridget Jones’s Diary?”

GradJew: “No.”

The Investment Banker: “I don’t have a lot of time to read, but that book made me laugh. You should try it!”

GradJew: “I actually study literature.”

The Investment Banker: “Oh.”

Pause.

GradJew: “So. You’re a banker.”

The Investment Banker: “Yes.”

GradJew: “I don’t know much about modern banking. But did you know that Jules Verne was a stockbroker before he became a writer?”

The Investment Banker: “Uh–no.”

GradJew: “Of course most of what I know is about banking in 18th-century Britain. Both Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders practically read as accounting manuals. Defoe was a pioneer of economic journalism.”

The Investment Banker: “Huh.”

GradJew: “Surely you’re familiar with the line  ‘T’enjoy the World’s Conveniences … Fraud, Luxury, and Pride must live’–from The Grumbling Hive or, Knaves Turn’d Honest? I mean, clearly Mandeville‘s notion that ‘Private Vices … may be turned into Public Benefits’ preceded and gave rise to Smith’s economic theory that the pursuit of self-interest benefits society as a whole.”

The Investment Banker: “Oh.”

Server: “Here’s your check.”

Silence. Both wait, then both pull out their wallets. Here is when that class dance is supposed to ensue–he’ll go to pay, she’ll say they should split it, he’ll pshaw her idea, she’ll insist, he’ll insist . . .

GradJew: “Well, you make more money than I do. You can pay! Nice meeting you!”

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Magic Money Part I: City Living

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Whoever said you can’t do it all in the City that Never Sleeps on a salary of $11,000?

At the end of the last century, I lived in a fabulous one-bedroom apartment somewhere between Prince and Spring—in the center of Soho—in the city that’s the center of the universe. It was a real one bedroom, and it didn’t have a shower in the kitchen, it wasn’t secretly somebody’s walk-in closet, and the bed was not above the kitchen. Might I mention it was all my own! After living with a girl who consistently forgot to close (yes, close, forget about lock) the front door to our apartment (in the concrete jungle!), didn’t know that pots had to be cleaned before being returned to the cabinets (I swear!), and, hating me as deeply and as thoroughly as she did, emptied an entire 1-gallon container of milk over and into all the cracks of our parquet floor before moving out (aren’t I lucky to have an extra-strong sense of smell?), the all my own bit was key.

Outside the door of my apartment was everything a Princess on the Town could desire: a view down town of the Twin Towers; a little bar across the street my friend and neighbor, Chanda, and I deemed our “local” bar (à la Cheers, but filled with model-types); beside it, the best sandwich shop in town with a line down the block; and all around, celebrity-inhabitants, like Sandra Bullock and Richard Gere.

OK, so the apartment was not what you would call large. Yes, the whole thing would have fit into Nancy Botwin’s ensuite bathroom, but really, does anyone need a dresser, a sofa, a deep freezer, a desk, and a desktop computer in their bathroom? (I exaggerate a little . . . but only a little). In my sweet bachelorette pad, you shaved by sticking your leg out of the shower and resting it on the sink. It was convenient! Also, mirrors strategically placed throughout the apartment made it feel big and I could always see how my butt looked in my various outfits.

I admit there were other issues. Despite five windows, there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between day and night in there. Perhaps it was because the apartment was on the first floor and overlooked the courtyard (a word I thought adequately described the concrete rectangle below that housed the garbage and the entrance to the laundry room—until The Dentist and Nancy Botwin came to visit and told me they had envisioned a lush quad with sunlight filtering through elm trees) (have I mentioned they don’t leave Agrestic often?). Also, at the beginning of the current century, the apartment received unwanted visitors—as so many Gotham apartments do—but at that point, I was packing up to move on to my next adventure.

In any case, size or varmint or size of varmint hardly mattered in a place where that age-old real estate adage could not be more true—

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

SoHo, in the day, was that perfect combination of quaintness and chicness, full of buildings that did not overpower you with their size even as they overwhelmed you with the style of their wares. It was not the poor bohemian artist’s home in the 1990s. It was trendy and touristy, sumptuous and luxurious, even as mom and pop shops abounded, and deals could be easily found. Videos, at the local rental place, cost $2.75. The guy pulled out your card—a piece of paper on which he put his rubber stamp with your due date—and then he put a matching stamp on your video, just as the old-school libraries did.  If we didn’t want to wait in line at Tomo sushi, another Japanese restaurant up the street offered 2 pieces for a dollar. Many places were cash-only. There was little of that jostle and frenzy that dominated midtown, and a genuine friendliness extended from Mary, the elderly woman who lived with her elbows in her windowsill in the front unit of my building, to the workers who always paused to say hello, to the well-dressed poodles that politely shared the sidewalk. Despite the area’s popularity, Sunday mornings offered the meditative calm of a vinyasa yoga class. SoHo was on the rise—Prada opened its flagship store, as did Apple; The SoHo Grand had just been built, and an old Astor building was converted into the The Mercer (Hotel and Kitchen); reservations for Blue Ribbon Sushi had to be made long in advance—but it was not quite as big-boxed out as it is today, complete with Old Navy, Crate and Barrel, and Bloomingdales. In short, it was perfect. And I was a part of it.

Ah, Gotham living below 14th. Dinner at Nobu, Cristal at Cipriani, an endless book supply from the Strand, food delivered from Gourmet Garage. There was no place like home.

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On Saying Goodbye

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My grandmother (top row), never got to say goodbye to her two nieces (bottom row) who were killed in the Holocaust, so she made sure all goodbyes to us were loving and memorable.

Conversations with my grandmother often seemed rushed because she worried terribly about the cost of long distance, whether she was calling me or I was calling her, and despite the fact that I explained several times about my flat rate plan. Nonetheless, no amount of time would be spared when it came to goodbyes. “I love you,” she always said at the end, “Zei gezunt.” And then I would probably repeat the zei gezunt, and then she would probably repeat it, and so on, in what seemed an endless cycle that allowed us to forget about the distance between us and the cost of the call.

Similarly, phone conversations with The Scientist often seem rushed, as we each try to share the (unequal) excitement of our days with each other–until we get to the end. Because at that point, we both remember our sad state of affairs, and, as with my grandmother, there is a drawn-out refrain.

A call to his Google Voice goes something like this:

Me: “How’s your day going?”

The Scientist: “Great! We had an amazing lab meeting. There were so many interesting ideas bandied about. Then there was a guest speaker from Columbia who gave a really engaging talk, and he cited several of my papers. Afterward, we chatted for about an hour, and we came up with all kinds of experiments we’re going to collaborate on. Also–“

Me: “Must be nice.”

The Scientist: “How are things at home?”

Me: “Well, Baby MoFo is sweet. I mean literally. He dumped a bowl of yogurt on his head today. Someone should really bathe him.”

The Scientist: “Oh. When–“

Me: “Yeah, and Cool J’s teacher, Mora G called me in to class when I went to pick him. He was very disruptive today. And he ate glue.”

The Scientist: “Well, we should probably talk–“

Me: “And LL is not listening to me. He insists on sitting on a different-numbered seat on the school bus every day even though he told me #16 doesn’t have a seatbelt. Can’t he just skip 16? Also, apparently we keep doing his homework wrong. We might be in some trouble with his teacher. I don’t know. All I know is that right now there is a light saber war going on but the real war is about who gets to be Darth Vader. I’m actually hiding in our bedroom pretending there’s no mama here. I think it’s working. . . Oh crap, they heard me. Shhhhhh!”

The Scientist: “Oh.” (Whispers): “Sorry. Um . . . I’ll be home soon . . .ish . . . Just another five hours or so. Maybe earlier. I’m pretty hungry. I forgot to bring a lunch.”

Me (forgetting to whisper): “OK, well, don’t spend money!”

The Scientist (forgetting to whisper): “You neither!”

Me (getting louder): “OK! And you neither—not even on tea!”

The Scientist: “And you!! No surprise Amazon orders! You haven’t even opened your labeler yet, and you got it a week ago!”

Me: “OK! And make your lunch tomorrow!”

The Scientist: “OK! And no sneak-lattés when you take the kids to the library.”

Me: “OK! I won’t spend money!”

The Scientist: “OK! Me neither!”

Hmmm. Zei Gezunt seems much more loving.


I LOVE YOU, HUSBAND! ZEI GEZUNT AND HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

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