So, I basically built up a ridiculous amount of credit card debt when I moved to the city a few years ago and had to intern for six months earning next to nothing. I’ve been sloooowly paying it all down, but I have a credit card payment of $250-ish due, well, tomorrow, and I don’t have enough money to pay it. I literally have $1.10 in my checking account. However, I get paid by direct deposit to my checking account late this week. I don’t have anybody I can ask to borrow $250-ish from unfortunately. What in the world am I supposed to do? I don’t want to pay late—my biggest fear is getting thrown into the penalty interest rate pit of despair!
Former Intern, Currently Overworked
Beverly Gologorsky is a novelist who grew up in the South Bronx during Vietnam, and so grew up witnessing many of her neighbors, friends, love interests, and family members go off to and come back from war. War was a part of life. Her first novel was about Vietnam war vets returning home, and her second novel is “permeated with a shadowy sense of what the Iraq and Afghan wars have done to us.”
People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask.
Went to the Herald Square DMV this morning at 9:45 to get a NY state ID. Walked out w/ all the paperwork done at 2:40pm. It took FIVE HOURS.
— Dana Stevens (@thehighsign) November 20, 2013
[Ed. note from Mike: See! I was not kidding around.]
Dana! So what happened here?
Some backstory is probably in order before I get into the details of what went down. Let’s start with the fact that I’ve survived the past 15 years as a New York State resident without any form of state ID. During that period, I’ve spent more time flashing my passport at people than Casablanca’s Victor Laszlo.
I’ve tried to obtain a New York ID at least twice since moving here, but since I also had no valid ID from the last state I’d lived in, California (let’s skip that chapter of the backstory), it wasn’t easy. The first time, my application was rejected because my passport had no middle name on it. (I guess the day I was applying for it I didn’t feel like writing my middle name, which I’ve never liked, so I left that line blank. Big mistake, past me.) On my second DMV run, armed with a Sephora bag full of old university library cards, utility bills, and canceled checks with my address on them, I was told that I should mail a request for a paper copy of my birth certificate to my birth city of Minot, North Dakota. So back home I went, and back to the drawing board.
When that piece of paper arrived in the mail from the northern plains last summer it was a punch-the-air moment: At last I was only one DMV trip away from tucking that hologram-watermarked holy grail into my wallet. But, of course, it takes months to figure out how to schedule a DMV trip, because you have to set aside a whole morning—or, as turned out to be the case in my particular bogus journey, a whole DAY. So one Wednesday when I had no specific writing deadline to meet, I set out for the Herald Square DMV, arriving at around 9:45, swearing before God that I would not leave its dingy environs until I was clutching that state ID (or a piece of paper guaranteeing it was on its way) in my bloodied fist. (“From a certain point there is no turning back,” Kafka writes in The Trial. “That is the point that must be reached.”) READ MORE
In the most random pairing of all time, Al Roker has a delightful little interview with the second-best website in the world, Modern Farmer — home to the lambcam — where he talks mostly about eating lamb but also about his short-lived career as a line-cook:
MF: You’ve written a series of mystery novels with the chef as the main character, and starred in and produced a series of shows about food. In another life, would you have gone for a career in food?
AR: Yeah, maybe, I think so. Well, but also, my oldest girl is a chef at a very high-end restaurant here in Manhattan and she works like a dog. I don’t think I have the work ethic for it, to be particularly honest.
MF: But, I mean, what time do you get up to do the morning weather?
AR: Well, I get up at 3 a.m., but it’s a different lifestyle. One of the scariest evenings of my life was spent working as a line chef, pre-theater dinner, on a Friday night at Daniel. I’m just shocked that there aren’t bodies coming out of there on a regular basis. You’re literally in a knife fight. There’s pressure to produce an exquisite meal in a certain amount of time. And look, when people have an expectation of what’s supposed to come out that door, brought out by that waiter, you darn well better meet that expectation or you’re not gonna last very long and that’s a lot of pressure. And it doesn’t let up, that’s the thing. You come back, and the next day, and you do it all over again. That’s why I don’t know if I could do that.
“You come back the next day and you do it all over again” — yep, that’s a job. He goes on to point out that at least “no one sends back the weather” but you know we would if we could, Al.
Photo: Jim Greenhill
The latest issue of Lapham’s Quarterly is out, and the theme is Death. Hooray! You can read Brent Cunningham’s wildly fascinating essay about the last meals of the soon to be executed online, and I would highly recommend it, if you are into that sort of thing. Or aren’t into that sort of thing at ALL, but still can’t help but be fascinated by the fact that Timothy McVeigh’s last meal was two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream. This is how it opens:
In January 1985, Pizza Hut aired a commercial in South Carolina that featured a condemned prisoner ordering delivery for his last meal. Two weeks earlier, the state had carried out its first execution in twenty-two years, electrocuting a man named Joseph Carl Shaw. Shaw’s last-meal request had been pizza, although not from Pizza Hut. Complaints came quickly; the spot was pulled, and a company official claimed the ad was never intended to run in South Carolina.
Pizza Hut! Yow. Also this:
In America, where the death rows—like the prisons generally—are largely filled with men from the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder, last-meal requests are dominated by the country’s mass-market comfort foods: fries, soda, fried chicken, pie. Sprinkled in this mix is a lot of what social scientists call “status foods”—steak, lobster, shrimp—the kinds of foods that in popular culture conjure up the image of affluence. Every once in a while, though, a request harkens back to what, in the Judeo-Christian West, is the original last meal—the Last Supper, when Jesus Christ, foreseeing his death on the cross, dined one final time with his disciples. Jonathan Wayne Nobles, who was executed in Texas in 1998 for stabbing to death two young women, requested the Eucharist sacrament.
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The story of my first credit card is dead boring. Nonetheless, I’d appreciate it if you read on, because my dad deserves his kudos. And besides, when it comes to money, boring can get you very, very far.
One of the paradoxes of writing about money is that unless you’ve won the lottery or founded a million dollar startup, your best bet at interesting copy is a hard luck story: Fortunes squandered; sky-high student loans signed with trembling hands; mountain ranges of debt. These make for great tales, and it’s important and necessary to pull back the curtain on our financial lives. But it’s better not to have a story at all. The reason my first credit card didn’t end as cautionary tale is because of my dad’s advice.
Midway through college, likely during one of the patented forty-five second phone calls my dad and I often had, he said something along the lines of, “You should probably have a credit history by now. Get a credit card. Don’t use it much.”
Jeff Steinberg had a maroon and white lacrosse jersey that he wore for years. It said “Denver Lacrosse” on the front and had his number, 5, on the back.
Then, one day, he cleaned out his closet and took the shirt to a Goodwill store in Miami. He figured that was the end of it. But some months after that, Steinberg found himself in Sierra Leone for work. He was walking down the street, and he saw a guy selling ice cream and cold drinks, wearing a Denver Lacrosse jersey.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is pretty crazy,’ ” Steinberg says. Then he looked at the back of the shirt — and saw the number 5. His number. Steinberg tried to talk to the guy about the shirt, but he didn’t speak much English and they couldn’t really communicate.
Planet Money is done making their T-shirt (mine is in the mail somewhere!), and is continuing its reporting about the lifecycle of the clothes we wear, including what happens to them when they get donated. Charities like Goodwill receive a lot of clothes, and some of it gets sold and shipped off to used clothing markets in sub-Saharan Africa. Some of the XL shirts are cutup and sewn into smaller items and then resold:
One recent day he bought an extra-large Motorhead shirt and, in a few minutes, turned it into a slim, custom shirt with a blue collar and canary-yellow sleeves. The Motorhead shirt was imported to Kenya for 15 cents. It was resold and sold again for 45 cents. Then someone got 12 cents to cut it up, 18 cents to tailor it and 14 cents to wash and iron the shirt. Then a vendor bought it for $1.20, with plans to sell it for $2 to $3.
Also amazing: Planet Money saw this shirt with a specific Bat Mitzvah date on it in Africa and asked their readers to track down the former owner, which they were able to do!
Winter biking in Minneapolis isn’t for the timid. It’s cold, the roads are both slippery and narrower than usual, and cars aren’t exactly friendly. But Minnesotans are nothing if not hardy, and proud of it. I’ve been biking to work this winter, and here’s what it has cost me:
Winter Tires: $65 each, $130 total. I decided to go with the Continental Winter II tires, because they’re nearly as grippy as studs, fit on the wheels I have, and they were in stock and relatively cheap.
Various bike service odds and ends: $59. I got the winter tires after riding in to work on my normal tires—on 4 inches of snow. When I took my bike in during lunch they also adjusted my brakes, fixed my fender, and replaced an inner tube.
“I think there’s something wrong with people not focusing their philanthropy on where it is going to do the most good,” said Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University (on the Million Dollar List 144 times) and author of “The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty.” “I think that giving to art museums and operas and galleries and so on, in the world as it is today, is not doing the most good. I think that there are better things they could be doing with money that they’re giving away.”
Everything has a critic, including generosity. We give money to the things that are important to us—to churches, to organizations that support the poor and homeless, to arts organizations—but researchers at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy have found that wealthy donors disproportionately choose to give money to top-tier colleges, and arts and culture organizations like museums and symphonies, according to Marketplace.
Gifts to elite universities, fine arts museums and symphonies, spur one group of critics to argue that wealthy Americans donate to causes that benefit or appeal mostly to other wealthy Americans. Put simply, it’s an argument that the American elite already live in their own world, and then they donate to it.
Of course, giving is better than not giving at all, and we make our own choices when faced with the options in front of us. With limited money to give, I’d choose to give that money to organizations helping poor children over my alma mater which calls me every year asking for a donation (sorry, college).
The Atlantic asked 41 reporters and economists from across the U.S. what the most important economic story of 2013 was according to data and graphs. Here’s Heidi Moore:
Here’s why I love this chart: it nails the issue with the inequality at the center of our economy right now. Corporate profits are our only consistently rising metric of economic success. Everything else that matters is bumping along the bottom. Job openings have only modest gains, and nowhere near what we had before the crash. Personal income is stagnant. Unemployment is still absurdly high. That leads to the policy question: is it our goal as a country to fuel only corporate profits? Or do we have some other responsibility to the citizenry?
And here’s Eddy Elfenbein from Crossing Wall Street:
Here’s the Medicals Costs portion of the CPI divided by the Core CPI. This trend has been rising for decades, but it’s slowed down recently. It’s still too early to call is a trend. But obviously, if healthcare inflation soon becomes like regular inflation, then it’s a game changer.
There’s a lot more and a lot of interesting data to think about here, but basically, the labor market has not been great, but the stock market and corporate profits did well in 2013.
Six-year-old Connor Johnson aspires to be an astronaut, and when he learned that Congress was considering cutting funding to our space program, he decide to donate $10.41—his entire piggy bank—to NASA. He then created a petition to keep NASA’s funding in place, but needs about 89,000 more signatures. [via]
Joyce Wadler, my new hero, shares via the NYT the kind of calculus she does when deciding whether to pop a $35 pill that will help her get to knockin’ boots:
The older woman’s cost of love: $880 a year. I am not the sort of person who would ever put a dollar value on intimacy, but $880 is a winter coat. Two nights in a Paris hotel. Dinner for two at the most expensive restaurant in New York, although that gave my companion such heartburn he couldn’t lie down until three in the morning and would have negated any love drug benefits, were we able to afford both and had that sort of relationship.
Happily, I am not one of those women who has to decide between cat food and hormones.
Also, after crunching the numbers, I realized things were not as bad as I had thought. Dividing the annual cost of product ($880) by estimated number of encounters (conservatively, twice a week or 104), I saw it would be only $8.46 per event. And if the guy surprises you with a trip to the Caribbean in February you could probably get it down to $7.
All I can think is 1. that’s a really nice coat, and 2. that we should all be so lucky to have sex (“conservatively”!!) twice a week when we are over 60 / me right now. Oh and 3. I want to be Joyce Wadler’s best friend.
Photo: See-ming Lee