For those of you who have followed my exploits, my header, until recently, read:
“WHAT?” asked my friend who has 7 or so 50″ flat screen TVs including one over the tub. “He’s only going to earn FIFTY?? Are you going to earn THREE HUNDRED?” We both laughed. A little. I would not. So here’s how it goes: How a spoiled family of 5 attempts to survive on 50 grand in a princely town near NYC.
Things have changed, and so has my byline, because here’s the new truth: we are now making a bit more. I’m rich!! Woohoo! Time to dump the pay-as-you-go brick from the last century that does nothing but send and receive calls and buy an iPhone 4S!! And, dare I truly dream, a subscription to the New Yorker!! Maybe even a pair of Hunter boots for these endlessly rainy days! (in hunter green, please. I so covet the hunter green ones).
(You might note my dreams are small. They are not filled with a house with 2 bathrooms or a future that includes sleepover camp for all 3 kids while I romp around Europe or South America).
(OK, 2 bathrooms would be dreamy, but so dreamy that such a dream is beyond my dreams. But oh–ah–a day of not slipping on one of the boys’ pee . . .)
(I’ll survive. Thank you, Chlorox wipes.)
(We won’t even talk about the romping phantasy so phantastic it requires a psychological spelling to give it full poignancy. . . oh . . . sob. . . .).
(I digress. Back to this new double income buying power that makes could eliminate the name “Poor Princess” forever).
But NO, we’re still poor. Oddly, poorer. I don’t know if it’s because that Your Money or Your Life book was actually right (I confess I disagreed quite vehemently!); what I do know is that somehow we are worse off, financially, than we were just 3 months ago. By the 14th of every month–the day both credit card payments come off our bank account–we are down to anywhere from $2 to $296 (this is a verifiable fact, not a made-for-blog fiction!). Problematically, there are still several things that must be paid: the water/sewage, the gas/electric, and LL’s school tuition. And then there are the random outstanding checks: a football draft, a school fundraiser, an oil change, my art class. And cash needed: we have a nanny who watches Baby MoFo once to twice a week (and does laundry and cleans), the eyebrow threader doesn’t take credit cards, and sometimes we can’t get through a day without a cup of caffeine (or maybe we could survive, but it’s that the folks at Starbucks or Panera or that cute little café on campus won’t appreciate us hunkered down at one of their best tables with our laptops working for 5-6 hours without ordering anything). Even if we eliminate the truly superfluous (which of these is “truly” superfluous is up for debate! I am a princess after all!), $2 can’t cover us for 16-17 days of the month. Period.
Last week, The Chronicle of Higher Education posted this shocker: Bootstrapping My Way into the Ivory Tower. In the article, Rachel Wagner begins with what seemed to me a suspect motive: that everyone thinks professors are “living it up,” but that she will prove to them otherwise (as a teacher of writing, I both encourage students to think about standard beliefs and then how to overturn them, and am suspicious of anything called standard beliefs, because they’re often not–“Most people believe that Hamlet is a love story. I will argue, however, that it is not.” Straw motive, anyone?). Wagner’s story of food stamps, shut-off notices, and months of eating peanut butter, however, is quite moving (and makes me feel a little spoiled) while not being unrealistic. It is hard to live off a professor’s salary.
But maybe people don’t realize that. Maybe Wagner’s motive is not suspect. Maybe my grandmother, who called me her באָרוועסר פּראָפעסאָר, had an Old-World insight that the New World lacks. Indeed, it would seem that people so believe that professors are living it up that moves are being made to cut them down. In the state of New Jersey, here are some of the moves:
And maybe these people, who think it important to reduce what little faculty now get, have met my colleague, Southern Man, who has a big apartment on the Upper East Side and owns a beautiful house in East Hampton; or maybe they’ve met π-Carat-Sized Diamond Ring Girl from my graduate school cohort, who used to show up to class in the Valentino gown she had found lying on her floor from the previous evening’s opera, paired with a ripped jean jacket and unwashed hair (que bobo!); or maybe they have been fooled by your average faculty member who never, as Wagner points out in her article, mentions her poverty, a most taboo of subjects in this profession. And maybe they don’t realize that Southern Man’s boyfriend is in the pharmaceutical industry (lucky bastard), or that π was Rockefeller’s granddaughter, or that the average faculty member just smiles and hands over her debit or credit card and hopes it will not be rejected (like so many of her manuscripts??).
The poor pay and the poorer forecast for faculty don’t seem to be going away. This is very distressing, especially to those of us who believed, foolishly, that one day, one possibly far-off but surely real day, we would make enough money to not panic on the 15th of the month, the day we’ve come to dread more desperately.
On the upside, Lucky Magazine’s recent issue listed the best Christmas presents of ’11–and what do you know? Turns out, in our poverty, we are hipsters of the 1st degree. The phone to buy he-who-has-it-all? The “world’s most simple phone”: the one that does nothing but send and receive calls.