Saturday, July 28, 2007

Friends with Money.

Back in 2001, my News Corporation subsidiary employer collapsed our office and laid off a large percentage of the staff, including myself. (That was in January. Boy, what a great New York year lay ahead!)

I got decent severance and set out to support myself in Manhattan for the first time since acquiring my sturdy Murdoch paycheck four years previously. It wasn't pretty: My rent got jacked up, so I had to leave my Upper Upper West Side apartment and move into one half the size down in Murray Hill. Then I proceeded to face a string of either freelance or staff jobs that paid just barely enough and, frankly, sucked. Unable to pay for my nights out anymore, but unwilling to give them up, I started to carry a credit-card balance for the first time.

During this time, I would hear about fellow ex-employees. One was spotted lounging at a Greenwich Village cafe with friends. Did he have a job yet? A year later, no. Another one was splitting his time between New York and Florida, where he had just bought a house. Then there was the Fabulous Couple: Friends of my cousin and just over 30, like me, they owned a gorgeous loft apartment and eventually moved to Australia to attend cooking school together, despite the fact that they seemed to be available at all hours of the day and spoke of no employment.

Having been brought up to believe that there are no free lunches, and as a corollary, that you should never order the most expensive thing on the menu, I was flummoxed by these people, and secretly fascinated by them. It drove me crazy that their financial status went unexplained, and that no one in the vicinity saw fit to broach the topic. How, how, how did they do it? Trust funds? Savings? Drug-dealing? A clandestine business? A sugar daddy (I grew up reading Cosmopolitan, I know about these things)?

Now, in San Francisco, I'm facing an even more financially mysterious breed: the culinary career-changer. Unlike my New York friends of leisure, these people are not dot-commers, so far as I know. They talk of previous careers in marketing, recruiting and biochem. Somehow, they have escaped these careers, attended culinary school, and are now volunteering on farms, teaching cooking classes and demonstrating recipes. And, just as in New York, I am too afraid to ask: How are you paying your bills?

The cost of culinary school, as compared to the income you make when you get out, has been well documented in the press lately: One six-month program I am interested in costs close to $20K, yet most cooking jobs I see advertised top out at $14 an hour. What am I missing?

Right now I am fortunate to have a partner who a) makes more than I do and b) is generously letting me explore my options right now. But I still feel like shit about it, and wonder how I could pay for some kind of education without coming out in the red and screwing both of us over. It makes me skeptical that I can withstand one more sunny kitchen conversation without finally buttonholing someone and asking the offensive questions.

Have you ever known someone who mystified you financially?

5 Comments:

Anonymous KPC said...

I'm constantly in the same position -- at home and at work. At home, I think these people must just earn outrageous salaries. They all have summer homes (on Block Island, the Cape, Newport or in the Berkshires). We are hardly poor, but a summer home is not in our five year plan!

At work, I realize that people just have oodles of debt. I know their salaries, and they live well beyond their means. One man has a large house in a nice town, leases two expensive cars and buys Paul Stuart suits regularly. I have a small house in a nice town and own one Subaru. He earns $75,000 less than we do. Debt is a big part of his lifestyle.

9:56 AM  
Anonymous adam said...

I just read about 50% of your blog while studiously avoiding important work. I laughed my ass off. In a good way. Thank you.

4:48 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Wow, Adam, that comment makes my day. Thank you.

I like the quote, "debt is a big part of his lifestyle," kpc. It sort of sums it up, doesn't it?

11:58 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

when you find out please let me know. I just got rid of my car which I though might make me feel a little bit richer, but already I seemed to have mopped up the savings of not having it into who knows were?

I have a good job which pays pretty well I think (but this could be where I am being pulled a fast one) and dreams of cooking school, but no understanding of how that could actually be possible. I live pay check to pay check, still rent and have the exact same questions you do...

I look at all the houses in SF and always think to myself - "who are these people that can afford to biuy these? Where did i go wrong?"

1:33 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I unsubtly got at least one person to tell me that their Tante Marie cooking school education was being paid for by loans from parents. That made me feel a little "better," though I'm not sure why.

I do the same thing with the houses, Sam, as I used to in New York. There are just... so many of them.

11:08 AM  

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