Monthly Archives: April 2011

Return of the Prodigal Princess

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The Princess on Nancy Botwin’s hand

The Princess has returned to the Princess. It has been a long time coming. Such melodrama when it was gone–I cried, I moped, I fell back in a swoon, I declared, “I will never have anything beautiful again!” I was convinced (by The Scientist) that the insurance company would never give us money for it, that they would find some reason not to–we were traveling, we had moved, we had warned them we were moving (how convenient it would seem to lose the most expensive thing we own days before canceling our insurance policy!)–and that I could just say goodbye to that small gleam of glamor that briefly graced my otherwise plebeian, unpolished finger.

I’ll confess that in the moments that I was sure The Scientist was wrong, I scoured the Tiffany website–just in case. I grew quite fond of the Tiffany Legacy–

–which was similar to, but different enough from, my Princess.

I knew, however, knew as I switched back and forth between the Legacy and the Soleste, the Soleste and the Square Step, weighing their merits against each other, that The Scientist wasn’t wrong: whether or not the insurance policy was willing to pay out, it was likely the end of the diamond era for the Poor Princess. Even if the insurance were to send us a big old check with many zeroes on it, how much could we use that chunk of change? For food, for housing, for daycare? And how little for a (in the grand scheme of things) valueless rock which would do nothing more than suggest a wealth that we entirely lack?

[The evil Gagool in King Solomon’s Mines: “There are the bright stones that ye love, white men, as many as ye will; take them, run them through your fingers, eat of them, hee! hee; drink of them, ha! ha!” And then she traps them in the cave, and they realize it, these imperialist white guys who think they’ve put one over on the foolish African hag–she’s got them by the cojones. If only those diamonds were water, were bread, a tank of oxygen. Wise witch was she!!

This is a map to the mines, in case you’re a fortune-seeker. Or perhaps it’s a picture of an upside naked woman with her legs and head cut off?]

Now–to begin at the beginning:

Picture it: a sunny, but windy day in a southern state on the Atlantic–

“Harry’s coming over! Pick up all the Lego!” The phone had rung a minute earlier and suddenly my mother is flying past me in her beachfront condo where I’ve been staying for about an eternity, clad in nightie and half-pulled-up pants. She’s grabbing the breakfast plates off the table with the hand not holding up her pants, she’s kicking Lego into a corner of the living room, she’s yelling at my father to do twelve other things–“Hurry up! Harry’s coming! He’s going to take our extra modem so that he can get internet in his condo, too” (this is how old people think) “–so tidy up! Tidy up!”

I retreat into my bedroom with the boys. We need to get ready for Shabbos lunch at Babi and Zaidy Frummy’s, and I know if I stay in the common area, I’ll end up getting into an argument about how internet works. Or maybe I’m just too lazy to help clean.

After the arrival and departure of Harry, followed by the second arrival and departure of Harry (the borrowed modem didn’t suddenly bring internet into Harry’s home), I emerge with LL, Cool J, and Baby MoFo, just about ready to be off. All I need is my rings. I look on the kitchen table, where I had, the previous evening, slipped off my rings before bed. The table was bare.

“Where are my rings?”

The hunt begins. We look on the table. We look under the table. The bedrooms. The bathrooms. The kitchen. Between couch cushions. Under the couch. In the box of Legos. In drawers. In the baby’s poo.

My rings are gone.

I am baffled. Laughing, I ask, “What–did you shake out the tablecloth on the balcony when Harry said he was coming over?”

It didn’t actually occur to me that she did.

My parents’ condo is on the 21st floor.

My mother turns white.

And so the hunt changes course. We search on the balcony. We search on the neighbors’ balconies. We search on the awning, in the garden, on the driveway, on the road. We search and we search. But we find nothing.

The rings had disappeared.

We searched until we collapsed. We searched until day day turned to night. We were scratched up from the thorns in the garden, we were dirty from digging through the soil with our fingers, and we were dispirited. As I stepped into my room that night, I turned back to look at my parents–I was devastated, they were devastated–and I said, “Well, they’re gone. There’s nothing more to do.”

The story should end here.

But it doesn’t. Because about 28 hours after they were flung from the tablecloth’s edge off the 21st-story balcony, my rings reappeared. My dad, who saw his little girl, her eyes full of tears, her lips atremble, her sighs audible, and who, therefore, could not, no matter what, give up, was making slowly widening concentric circles around his building when he spied this:

What’s that? You can’t see anything? Have a closer look:

And if one lost ring could be found, surely–

There it was, in two pieces. The prodigal princess.

My gleam of glamor!

Gagool, you will laugh at me, but I’m quite pleased with this story’s end. 28 hours to find, 3 months to repair, and here it is.

Now, I just have to keep it away from balconies (and toilets and garbage disposals and Baby MoFo . . .).

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Living to Make a Living

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In a recent post, I wrote about a financial planning book called Your Money or Your Life. My main complaint against the book is that it misses a key reason people work: because they actually enjoy it. Clearly the author, who was very keen on his coined phrase “to make a dying,” was not so keen on his own job.

Soon I will be back in the working world. There is much to look forward to, and much to dread. All those things I take for granted now–like curling up on sofa with a giant salad I’ve put together with everything I can find in my house that seems fair game (without being game–ick!) while watching Victor piss off Nicky yet again (maybe you should take to the bottle, Nicky? there’s a novel idea); Sharon throw away her family for the man who kidnapped her child, told her it was dead, and gave it to her ex-father-in-law and his young wifey; and Sheila Carter rise from the dead once more (it’s only a matter of time)–will be over. Lunches with ladies and babies? Long mornings at the gym? Sitting in the playground at Cool J’s preschool for hours while Cool J and his friends Phoenix and Elvis run around with plastic boats and shovels and watering cans, call them guns, and shoot at each other? These moments will soon be history, distant memories of my carefree days–my days when I was young and restless.

In other words, I went for my interview.

I had my lipstick; I had my job talks. I was good to go.

Admittedly, despite my new coat of lipstick, I lacked a coat of the other variety. (What do you think of a ski jacket over a suit–kind of hip in a I’m-too-cool-to-try-to-look-cool kind of way??). I do own one coat that is theoretically interview material. Unfortunately, it has a lining that looks like it was attacked by feral cats, a missing button, and pockets that allow me to slide my hands right through (you know, just in case I have to pull my wedgie out–very convenient). Imagine, if you will, that threadbare, shameful excuse of a garment, covered in the melon rinds people flung out of their casements, that Akaky was convinced to surrender in The Overcoat? (at lot of good that did him).

Mom: “Just go to Walmart and buy one.”

Me, bristling: “I don’t DO Walmart.”

Mom: “You can return it the next day.”

Me: “Mom, there’s a word for that.”

Mom: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Me: “You do.”

Mom: “Listen, just because you don’t–“

Me: “Steal?”

Mom: “You know our friends, The Cheaps? They buy beautiful orchids from Costco and fill their whole condo with it. Then when the orchids die, they take them all back to Costco and return them, complaining they got dead flowers.”

Me: “There’s a word for that.”

Mom: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s called working the system. They know how to work the system.”

Me: “That’s not working . . . .”

My mother thinks I have a goyishe kop. Which, believe me, does not say good things about the yiddishe kop.

I wore the shabby coat.

But I digress. I went for my interview, and it went well. I talked. I answered questions. I asked questions. I met intelligent people who were interesting and engaging, even though none of them had ever been locked in a cage for months, buried alive, had multiple babies stolen from them, or pretended to die but had really moved to Australia to hide being gay. It was great.

And there was something else. As much as I love sitting in the playground and watching sand toys turned into weapons of mass destruction, there is something to be said about being out there in the workaday world.

Switching trains on the way home from my interview, I was bone tired. Satisfied, but exhausted. I was ready to be semi-prone on my couch, in sweats, with a big bowl of popcorn and Glee (instead, I would face, upon arrival in my house, hungry, cranky kids and a husband who was itching to get work done, which he had not been able to do during my long absence. But I was yet to know that). I had only about five minutes to wait, but I could barely stand it. I shuffled my weight from my left foot to my right and back, slid my fingers through my pocket-holes to pull on my skirt, and I looked around.

A little to the side and in front of me, facing the tracks, were a young man and a young woman. I couldn’t see their faces, but their bodies seemed young. Their clothes seemed young. She wore a big Afro, 70s style, and he wore both baseball cap and hood. His jeans sunk low. In their ears, they had ear pods. I could see the white wires coming out of their pockets and disappearing into their ears.

They danced. First her, then him. Backs to the crowd, listening to their hidden ipods (was it the same song? the same rhythm? how were they so beautifully in-tune with each other, so magically in sync?), they danced. They were incredible.

The woman beside me, an older woman with eggplant hair, tugged the sleeve of my ratty coat. I turned to her. She gestured at the young dancers and said something in Spanish. I have no idea what she said, but we both burst out in laughter.

I was on my way home from a potential future job. I was aching with exhaustion, but somehow, exhilarated. There is a world out there, and to work in it is to live in it. To make a living is not just about making a living. It’s about living.

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There are Six Degrees of Kosher Bacon (and 3 other things I learned from Facebook)

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1. There are 6 degrees of Kosher Bacon. Which is to say, if you are Jewish and within 5 years of me, and I don’t know you, I know your neighbor. Your brother. Your cousin. Your ex-boyfriend that you’re FB-stalking. I know your frickin’ dog (who by the way is on FB). I just know you. And if you don’t see, on FB, that we have friends in common, that’s not because we have no acquaintances in common, it’s only because–

2. People hated their childhoods. Yup, that’s what I’ve discovered through FB. I had no idea before the FB era. So if there was a guy called Jerry Sanders and everyone back in the day called him Terry Tanders (for no good or obvious reason), and he pops up on my sidewall as someone I may know, I’ll immediately friend him. And when he accepts, I’ll write on his wall: “OMG–it’s TERRY TANDERS!”–and then he’ll immediately defriend me. I don’t know why. Is “Terry Tanders” somehow offensive? Probably. It’s likely that he hated being called Terry Tanders every single day of his childhood, but finally put all that middle school horror behind him, then, an adult, gingerly dipped a toe into that vast, dangerous sea we call FB, was perfectly content to see old friends write, “Hi–what are you up to? Where do you live now? Do you have any kids?”, and all was going fine and dandy until some bitch came along and brought it all home to him–the torture, the pain, the constant, unending “Terry Tanders!” So, to return to 1, we both know Terry Tanders, it’s just that Terry Tanders is all grown up now and prefers to be called by his actual name, Jerry Sanders, and is therefore just pretending not to know me. But he knows me. And I know him (of course I do! he’s Terry Tanders!).

3. A mother does not want to hear from her friends that her daughter is walking around town 6 cm dilated. It’s true. My mother called me up one day last March to demand to know why her friends were talking about my cervix. Listen, I don’t know why her friends chose to friend me–and I’m really too polite to demur–but if they’re going to be my friends, they’re just going to have to hear about my cervix. I’m an open girl (oh yes–pun intended, Mom!).

4. Teachers and students don’t mix. I know this is an obvious one, especially if you follow the news (there are so many stories of teachers losing their jobs for saying nasty things about their students online–venting is ok, but not on the interwebz–those teachers need to return to the old ways of venting by going to a bar, drinking way too much, and regaling everyone with hilarious quotations from their students’ papers–as long, mind you, if no one in the bar has an iPhone). You could imagine that it would be fine to accept your students’ facebook friend requests if a) you limit what they can see (like your cervix deets) and/or b) you don’t mention things they shouldn’t see (like your cervix deets) and/or, at the very least, c) you wait until they are no longer your students.

Case in point: I had a student we’ll call Butt. In class, he was quiet and had irregular attendance. I might have barely noticed him, but he wrote spectacular essays. Brilliant, groundbreaking, unforgettable essays. Although, I admit, he rewarded my rewarding of his excellent, non-traditional writing by becoming a little too non-traditional for my prudish, teacherly taste (as in his last essay, which began with a brief but descriptive anecdote of him performing oral sex on a fellow student in the library, before moving into his argument about Frozen River and Thomas King’s “Borders”). He sent me a friend request early in the semester, which I ignored. But once the grades were in, I decided to accept the request. I figured, What’s the harm? I soon realized the harm. There were at least 3 reasons my acceptance was a mistake: a. His profile picture: His back is to the camera, with his head half-turned to offer a sideview, and he is wearing nothing but a white towel, draped around his right hip. On the other side, the towel dips down to expose his left butt cheek. I wonder if, considering profile pictures exist to allow others to identify individuals (Is that the Poor Princess who used to call me Terry Tanders? Or is it a different one?), his is a particularly useful one? (frighteningly, the answer might be yes). b. His comments. When I posted a great article on breastfeeding and then another very different great article on breastfeeding, he decided to put his 2 cents on my wall. I believe he said something like, “These are so interesting. But then, I am drawn to anything with the word ‘breasts’!” Hmmm. Awkward. Last of all, c. His friends. One of them posted on his wall: “Professor Princess, that BITCH, gave me a C in English!” I clicked “like.” Actually, maybe that was a reason to keep him on. But Butt immediately defriended me, just like Terry Tanders.

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Your Money or Your Life: Rid yourself of that pesky job, and with it, your cleaning person, childcare, new clothes, waxes, manicures, cars, vacations . . .

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According to the New York Times, which is now adding its own dent to our pocketbooks by letting me read this article, a new study on economic stability says “many jobs today are unlikely to cover fundamentals like housing, utilities and food.” The article notes: “The report compares its standards against national median incomes derived from the census, and finds that . . . workers who have only a high school diploma or only some college earn median wages that fall well below the amount needed to ensure economic security” compared to those with 4-year college degrees. Apparently, those with more than 4 years of college are also not doing so well economically. You know our income. Now let’s look at how much we’re supposed to be earning to cover basic annual household expenses:

(Lots to be said about this data, like the housing that costs $9852. If you are in the NY area, and you are renting, and you are paying $9852 for housing for the year, you should never ever ever leave your home, and if possible, you should will it to your children and their children and their children. And if you own, and your taxes alone are lower than this number, you must live in a secret home underground, like the Invisible Man.

In the other direction, it’s also interesting that transportation costs $12,228/year. I’m guessing mega-SUVs have become basic annual expenses. “Are you sure my check bounced? Hang on a sec. I might have some food stamps in my Escalade that will cover the cost.”)

How are WE doing? My own family of 5 is not on here (don’t they know that 3 is the new 2??), but let’s imagine the magic number for 2 working parents and 3 young children is somewhere above the $70K mark.

Oh, wait, LUCKY ME!, I’m unemployed. THIS chart is for WORKERS.

Maybe we would all have more money if we just stopped working.

It’s been a while since I last worked. By now, I should be rich!

After all, if I’m not working: I don’t need childcare (yay! I get to be with my kids 24/7! Yay! I even get company in the bathroom 99% of the time. A shower without a kid coming into our one bathroom to poo? How BORING). I don’t need a cleaning person (I’m so glad I spent a few hundred years working on my PhD! Maybe I can use my diploma as a shmata to scrub down my toilet). And I don’t need transportation (I’ll just stay home, jumping in and out of the shower to wipe poo, and then to scrub my toilet. By “I’ll stay home,” I guess I mean I’ll stay in my bathroom).

The New York Times isn’t quite saying that–but the classic personal finance book, Your Money or Your Life, is.

The premise of the book is that working rarely makes you much money, especially if you take into account all the costs involved in supporting a job, many of which are listed on the New York Times chart: transportation, childcare, clothing, grooming, housecleaning, lunches out, etc etc. The book, in fact, makes you calculate your “real” salary. Not only do you run your costs of working against your salary, but you also calculate your “real” hourly wage–in addition to the hours spent at work, you put in the hours spent commuting, the hours preparing, the hours buying appropriate clothes, worrying about a job issue, taking vacations because you’re stressed about work . . . When you do the math, you’re supposed to discover that your “real” number of hours of work per week is not 40 or 50 but 100 or 120 or more, your hourly wage is something like $4/hour if anything, and you are spending more money on the expenses of your job than you’re making at your (measly $4/hour) job. So: quit. Go do something you’re passionate about. Go hang out with your family. Paint. Cook gourmet food. Live on the beach. Read a few novels.

Literature! That’s my passion! I should pursue that. Oh wait. I did. That got me far!.

Admittedly, I haven’t finished the book. But that seems to be where Joe Dominguez–the author who retired at 31 (what did he do after that? other than scrub his toilet, of course)–is heading.

And I must tell you: I’m not convinced.


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