Places I’ve Lived: Behind Ben Folds, Two Capitol Hills, and a D.C. Fixer-upper to Call Our Own

Where have you lived, Shilpi Paul?

Tiny House Behind the “Ben Folds” house, Chapel Hill, N.C., $300, 2003-2005
Uncertain what to do with my newly minted degrees in Anthropology and Psychology, I decided to keep on living in Chapel Hill and pay relatively little in rent while I figured out how to move forward.

A friend had a house in town, located in a neighborhood made famous by former resident Ben Folds, who wrote “Whatever and Ever Amen” in a house right behind hers. The mini house, which measured out at about 600 square feet, had a second bedroom with just enough room for a twin-sized bed and a desk. I moved my things in and embarked on a circuitous goal-finding path that involved reading novels, teaching SAT and GRE classes, traveling to India, taking endless runs around town, visiting more than one coffee shop per day and almost always one bar at night, publishing an article based on an experience I had in India, more reading teaching running coffee wine, and then securing an internship at the NPR station in town based on my article. Finally, I had found a jumping off point for a career and an adult life.

Every room in that non-air conditioned house was painted a different primary color. Though I painted my room a soothing neutral, the energy of the kitchen, living room and bathroom and of my lovely housemate kept my spirits up in what could have been a very lost time.


Friend’s bedroom, Capitol Hill, Seattle, Wash. September – November 2005
Since I had had two languorous years to figure things out and my boyfriend was graduating from law school, it seemed like a natural time to consider packing up and moving away from dreamy Chapel Hill, perhaps to a big city. We narrowed our choices to cities that seemed good for our respective fields and where we had friends who could help us settle in, and decided on Seattle. Leaving Chapel Hill after six years felt like trapeze-ing without a safety net, but we said some tearful goodbyes, abandoned most of our scant belongings, packed up everything we could fit into a Honda Civic, and made our way west.



Donkeys in Detroit? DNC Considers Motor City for 2016

The Democratic National Committee asked fifteen cities to submit proposals to host its 2016 convention, and among the obvious contenders one is raising eyebrows: Detroit, Mich.

Conventions bring more than passionate partisans in funny hats. When delegates descend, they bring with them millions of dollars in revenue. (And occasionally some really awful pick up lines. A GOP delegate in New York tried to get me excited by saying, “Ester? That’s an old-fashioned name. I like old-fashioned women.”) Sometimes they revitalize the local sex industry! It can be a big deal to a struggling metropolis.



Homes Are Still Where Our Financial Hearts Are

Gallup’s Economy and Personal Finances poll asked Americans to choose the best option for long-term investments and they went with real estate, followed by gold, and then stocks and mutual funds (which should be the answer!), and then savings accounts and bonds. Lower-income Americans earning less than $30K were most likely to choose gold as a long-term investment.

At The Washington Post, Catherine Rampell says, “huh?”



I Found Out My Male Colleague Made More Than Me

Here is a fun WWYD:

I’ve been temping at Company X, a large company in Chicago, since the beginning of last August. I started temping here because I’d heard it was a good way to get hired on full time, and I liked the company. While I was here, my boss fought to get me hired, but she was turned down. I decided to change careers and go back to grad school.

My last day is this Friday. I start school in June. I will probably never live in this town again, not to mention never work in this industry.

When I started out here, I was making $12 an hour. I clearly remember the interview at the temp agency — I said that I really wanted to work at Company X, and I had made about $40K in past jobs. The first, last, and only time I’d temped, it had been for $14/hour, and I expected something similar. (I had knowingly taken a pay cut, and decided to temp, in order to change careers).

“We really can’t do that,” said the woman interviewing me, “but we can start you out at $12. Would that be ok?” She did that passive/aggressive thing where she made it my choice to say yes or no, but also made it clear that being considered to temp at Company X was contingent on taking a huge pay cut. I conceded.

A couple months into temping at Company X, I was talking to a friend and fellow temp who had been brought on at the same time as me. Let’s call him George. “I just can’t take another week of this $14 per hour,” he said. “I need a raise.”

“$14 per hour?” I said. “Excuse me?”



Hot People Support Inequality (Because They Are Better)

Ever had a good hair day that made you feel like the world was a just place and everyone inferior to you deserved their lot?

For Quartz,
Elizabeth MacBride shares a study
from Stanford Business School that confirms we are monsters. More specifically: how we feel about ourselves is very dynamic, and how we feel about inequality is dynamic, too. That is, when we think we look good, we tend to feel on top and support the hierarchies that put us there. Whoops:

If you believe you are attractive, you tend to think you belong in a higher social class yourself and believe, accordingly, that hierarchies are a legitimate way for organizing people and groups. You also are more likely to believe people lower down in a hierarchy are there because they deserve to be. The research also showed that self-perceived physical attractiveness mattered more to people’s perception of their social rank than their self-perceived goodness — qualities like empathy and integrity — did.

Many people “see the social world as fundamentally stratified not only on the basis of who has wealth, education, and occupational prestige, but also on the basis of who is beautiful and attractive,” Neale and Belmi wrote.

Hot tip from the article: next time you have to advocate for yourself in the workplace, “imagine a time you felt really attractive.” So sad, so real.


The Best Time Eve Went Camping



How Much Do You Pay Someone To Risk Their Life For You on Mt. Everest?

Thirteen Sherpas, or professional specialized mountain guides, died this week in an avalanche on Mount Everest, while another three remain unaccounted for, and the rest of the Nepalese Sherpa community has decided to close out the season early:

The accident underscored the huge risks faced by Sherpas who maintain and prepare the icy slopes for climbers and trek the routes carrying equipment for their clients. In a season, Sherpas can earn from $3,000 to $6,000 (2,171 – 4,342 euros), which is about 10 times the average annual pay in Nepal.

On Tuesday, Nepal’s Tourism Ministry announced an agreement to establish a relief fund for guides killed or injured while climbing the mountain, one of the key concessions demanded by the Sherpas following last week’s disaster. Funding is thought to be well below that requested by the guides.

Minimum insurance cover for Sherpas on the mountain, the government said, would be raised by 50-percent to around $15,000.



‘Gold Diggers’ 2005/1933

In the summer of 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” hit the radio waves. I was 14 and didn’t know how to help, but I had some money saved so I sent it along. There was a collection box in the school cafeteria the week I started ninth grade, and a big poster board chart on the wall tracked how much the school had raised using columns made of crepe paper. Soon I learned on the national news that the Red Cross wasn’t doing much with the money. Nobody had planned for that kind of disaster.

“Gold Digger” was a chart-topper, spending 10 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. I heard it on the radio, in the hallways, and it was still playing at prom four years later, by which time Katrina and the City of New Orleans had disappeared from the conversation in Worcester, Mass., the city where I grew up. Worcester still believes itself to be very far from the Deep South. Summer is not so hard on us.

Winters are worse, or were then. At school, the classroom windows never seemed to close, and every now and then a ceiling tile would come crashing down in the middle of a lesson. All the girls wore tights under their jeans on the days the temperature dropped below 10 degrees, and I once got frostbite on the mile-long walk to school.

On December 9, 2008, the sky spit rain. I remember because it got dark so early, and I went for a walk anyway. I came home with my collar wet, my neck freezing. The next morning the trees were glazed with ice, and school closed for three weeks. A million people were without power in the Northeast, hundreds were sleeping in temporary Red Cross shelters, and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency, as if it weren’t already evident.



Making Money From a Kick in the Head

Jared Frank was in Peru and taking a selfie of himself when a train passed behind him and a person kicked him in the head.

According to the CBC, Frank’s 11-second video has become such a viral sensation that he could possibly make anywhere from $30,000 to $250,000 off of it (“he was told his video could earn in the range of $2 to $16 per 1,000 views and he would get a 70 per cent share”).

Brb, walking around recording videos of myself until something interesting happens (JK, becoming a viral meme is my nightmare).


Alert: Terrible And Somehow Legal Private Student Loan Provision

Well this is very uncool, via the NYT: “Student Loans Can Suddenly Come Due When Co-Signers Die, a Report Finds.”

The problem, described in a report released Tuesday by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, arises from a little-noticed provision in private loan contracts: If the co-signer dies or files for bankruptcy, the loan holder can demand complete repayment, even if the borrower’s record is spotless. If the loan is not repaid, it is declared to be in default, doing damage to a borrower’s credit record that can take years to repair.

The bureau said that after a co-signer’s death or bankruptcy, some borrowers are placed in default without ever receiving a demand for repayment. The agency did not accuse loan companies of doing anything illegal.

Rohit Chopra, the bureau’s student loan ombudsman, said that he did not know how common the practice was, but that a steady stream of consumer complaints indicated it was becoming more frequent. He also said companies appeared to be doing it more or less automatically, combing public records of deaths and bankruptcies, comparing them to loan records and generating repayment demands and default notices.

Sallie Mae, the largest provider of private and public student loans, did not respond for comment, if you can believe it.

According to the article, after you graduate and get a few years of credit history under your belt, you can get your co-signer removed from the loan and have it in your name only, or you can choose a new co-signer altogether. If you have private student loans co-signed by your parents, this is probably worth looking into.


Cheryl Strayed Talks Money

The latest issue of Scratch Mag is SO GOOD and filled with women I’m obsessed with. An excerpt from Beth Lisick’s book (the best essay in the book, I think)! An Ellen Willis essay! And this amazing interview between Manjula Martin and Cheryl Strayed, where Strayed shares her advances for her first novel and her bestselling memoir, Wild ($100k and $400k, respectively), talks about what it’s like to have money now, the kind of credit card debt she went into writing these books (MUCH), and the difference between poverty and poverty by choice.

You were raised working class. Have you switched classes now?

You know when I switched classes? When I was 18 and I went to college. I mean, I think you can go to college and stay working class, but I culture-hopped. Class is so complicated. We think it’s about money, but it’s about culture, too. After the experience of college, even though I was poor all those years, I occupied a different place in the culture than I had before. I had an education. I had a subscription to the New Yorker. I was friends with amazing people who were accomplished in all kinds of fields—essentially the elites of our world. And some of those people were poor and some were millionaires.

I haven’t actually changed in that regard at all since Wild’s success. The difference is, now, in that same tribe I’ve been in since I was 18, I’m one of the people who has money instead of one of the people who doesn’t.

The interview is free to read online if you create a login. WORTH IT.

Meanwhile in the Times, did you see that Elizabeth Gilbert is selling her house because every time she starts a new book she wants a new house? I am trying to imagine what made her think participating in this piece was a good idea, god bless her. All I can come up with is that she really wants to sell that Skybrary.

Photo: rowdykittens


Every Job I’ve Ever Had: Piano Teacher, Dog Walker, Booth Babe, Executive Assistant, Writer, and More

As should become immediately obvious, many of these jobs were held concurrently.

Middle school (1994–1996): Babysitter, newspaper reader at the nursing home, piano teacher’s assistant

I started working the summer I turned 13. Babysitter was an obvious job choice (remember how in the ’90s, 13-year-olds could still be babysitters?), and since my mom is a piano teacher, I got the job of “piano teacher’s assistant” without even having to do an interview.

The nursing home job was technically a volunteer position. Twice a week, I read the newspaper aloud to a nursing home resident who was blind. I also read books aloud to her. It was totally Jo March.


High school (1996–2000): Dishwasher, waitress, piano teacher, choral accompanist, church organist, music transcriptionist, retail worker

My entire family is musical, so it’s not at all surprising that I spent high school working as a piano teacher (having been promoted from “piano teacher’s assistant”) as well as a choral accompanist and church organist. I was a good piano teacher, a decent accompanist, and a terrible organist.

Music transcriptionist, in which a family friend gave me her handwritten music scores and I typed them note-by-note into an early music software program, was also a natural use of my talents.

Dishwasher, waitress, and retail worker were, of course, bog-standard teenage jobs of the 1990s. I quit the dishwashing job because it was miserable and I got bullied. I was still young enough to love waitressing. I was a reliable retail worker but I kept accidentally breaking the merchandise.