Players on the Playa: The Economics of Burning Man

burns so goodNo vendors, no logos, and still, the annual anarchic festival that is Burning Man sure puts the green in Black Rock City.

“Every single seat we have coming into this airport the weekend before will be filled and every single seat we have leaving on the departure weekend will be filled,” Kulpin says. He estimates that the airport reaps $10 million a year from Burning Man-bound flyers. “How could we not embrace that?” he asks. …

These pit stops, hotel stays and last-minute purchases equal $35 million spent by Burning Man participants—“Burners,” for the uninitiated—in Nevada each year. Sixty-six percent of respondents in the 2013 Burning Man census (yes, it has a census) reported spending more than $250 in the state on their way to and from the event. Eighteen percent spent more than $1,000. In putting the event on, the Burning Man organization adds to this stream, from $301,660 given to local law enforcement agencies in 2013 to $4.5 million spent on Bureau of Land Management and other usage fees. “This event has a huge, month-long, positive impact on our local economy,” says John Slaughter, county manager for Washoe, which includes everything from Reno to the closest towns to the event, the 200-person-each desert settlements of Gerlach and Empire. “Our stores, restaurants, gas stations, and car washes see an incredible influx of traffic, providing a great boost to the Northern Nevada economy.”

My sister-in-law is on the Playa right now! She started saving at least six months ago while nannying for two separate families. That’s commitment. Back when I was at liberty, I was more of a folk festival person (Falcon Ridge, heyyyy) but I totally get the appeal of spending — even extreme spending — to be in isolation among like-minded companions.

“‘Burning Man is like a big family picnic,’ he told me. ‘Would you sell things to one another at a family picnic? No, you’d share things.’”


Working When You Have No Sleep, A Guide

2574081242_b68d4d92ea_zNew York Mag’s The Science of Us published a servicey guide to surviving the work day when you didn’t get any sleep the night before. There are no quick fixes — ain’t that the way? — but lots of coping strategies. Among them: don’t hit the snooze button, get outside in the daylight without sunglasses on as soon as you can, eat a healthy breakfast and a healthy lunch, do the hard work right away and save the busy work for the afternoon, when you are truly ready to die. True, true, and true.

However, reality: oversleep, drag yourself into work, eat an egg and cheese sandwich at your desk, gchat everyone telling them you want to die, beg a coworker to make you coffee, lie on the floor of your office, shouting, “I HAVE NO SLEEEEEEP.” Leave for lunch, get what you think is a second wind. Come back to your desk, send a few ill-conceived emails. Think you might die again. Chat everyone that you might be dying. Someone, a work friend, suggests you head home early. “No, no, I’m fine, I have to finish this thing.” Stare at the thing. Promise yourself that you will always go to bed by 11 every night forever, from here on out. Ask a coworker if they want to go for a walk and get an iced coffee. While waiting for the coffee, lay your face on the brick wall of the coffeeshop and pretend to fall over. Proclaim that you hate “everything.” Listen to your coworker talk about his or her crumbling romantic relationship for a few minutes, then tell them you really need to get back to your desk and finish a thing. READ MORE


How Wizards Do Money: Draco Malfoy


Draco knows that people with as much money as the Malfoy family generally don’t think about it too much; instead, they hire people to think about their money for them.

But Draco does a lot of thinking.

The Malfoy family fortune is not properly his, in that if he truly wanted to take the majority of the funds and rebuild Hogwarts—which was on his mind, a decade ago—he would have to go through nests of executors and conclaves of relatives.

And Hogwarts got rebuilt anyway.



An Important Conversation about Choices and Business

tempted by the fruit of anotherrrrr

Meredith: Yay, a chat!

Michelle: I think this is a really great idea for our first day!

Meredith: Heartily cosign. The world needs more us talking to each other.

Michelle: Seriously. So we just had a really important business meeting last Wednesday to discuss big editorial things for this week…and I’m trying to remember everything we talked about because rosé…

Meredith: We definitely talked a bunch of rosé, but I’m pretty sure we also touched on important business topics, like boys, what the problem with boys was, how we could fix the problem with boys…

Michelle: Yeah, I’m really surprised more hot babes weren’t hitting on us at the Belgian wine bar/small plates bistro we met at while discussing Millennial dudes and their emotions

Meredith: I don’t remember our waiter or waitress but I am pretty sure he and or she found us delightful? It was probably the screeching that clinched it. And the lying about how we would order food but then just ordering rosé and taking up a table. But I know at one point I said, “that’s a good idea, write that down!” and then drunkenly spilled some wine.

Michelle: OMG yes we wrote things down!! Ok [opens up iphone notes]…Ok. I wrote down “Reality Bites – Meredith doesn’t like Ethan Hawke, but I feel weird for liking Ben Stiller cause I love that he plays the reggae version of “Baby, I Love Your Way” as make out music.” Also I wrote down “Summer turtlenecks” ??!!



Can Feminism and Breastfeeding Coexist, Take 2

If you have goats around, they might be fun for your babySeptember 11, 2012. Despite my best efforts to give birth on any day other than 9/11, a squalling Babygirl enters the world at noon and almost immediately settles down to breastfeed. I have two black eyes from labor and can’t see too well. Is she doing this weird getting-sustenance-from-my-body thing okay? No one tells me and I can’t tell. Later, once I’ve been transferred upstairs, a lactation consultant gives me some tips.

Late September. Babygirl is growing like a weed, tough and stringy and unstoppable, so I guess it’s going okay. Over my six weeks of (unpaid) maternity leave, I become an All-You-Can-Eat Breastaurant. Thank god for smartphones. I play a lot of Words with Friends while she nurses. At night, Ben reads to me. We make it through the first few books of Harry Potter and Babygirl absorbs Rowling with her mother’s milk. I think it improves her digestion.

October. In preparation for going back to work, I buy three pumps and use only one:

My pick is the light, user-friendly, tube-less, and affordable Ameda Purely Yours Electronic Pump ($160), which attaches nicely to the Simple Wishes Hands Free Bra ($25). Voila! You can express milk and write for the Billfold at the same time.

Besides the pumps, I have not spent any money on feeding the child beyond $5 for a used Boppy. My boobs, which I have lugged around for nearly twenty years, are finally pulling their weight. Thanks, ladies! Once I start pumping, I invest in storage bags and bottles. The costs are still minor. Back at work, I share an office with a 4o-year-old beatnik, so when it’s pumping time, I have to ask him for privacy. Early on, he cheerfully mansplains to me, “Don’t worry, someday your breasts will be fun again and not just functional.”

November. THRUSH. Burning pain, searing stabbing fire-type pain at every feeding. I grit my teeth in agony for weeks, including while traveling to see in-laws in North Carolina over Thanksgiving, because a) I expect it to go away on its own, and b) I have been indoctrinated into the cult of Exclusive Breastfeeding for Six Months No Matter What. Sure, French mommies have all switched to formula by this point, meaning their kids sleep through the night while the ladies get svelte and have their pelvic floors massaged for free by the state, but as we’ve established the French are quitters. I am determined to stay the course.

En route home from Thanksgiving, I have a massive anxiety attack. READ MORE


How a Chronically Ill Person Does Money


When I was 13, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract, and from that point on nearly all of my major life choices have been made with it in mind, including picking a college major that would result in a job with health insurance.

I’m the first person in my family to earn a college degree. I was a good student who took the advanced courses offered at my high school, but dealing with a chronic illness didn’t give me enough time or energy to reach the top of my class. I missed over 30 days of classes in one year, and the school district tried to force me into their home school program. Wanting to be able to live the same kind of life that any other teenager would live, I fought this and was allowed to return to school and work with my teachers to make up my work.

I made the decision to move out of my parents’ house for undergrad, but my choices were limited between two in-state schools due to financial and medical considerations. One school offered early admission, so I paid that single application fee and was accepted before the application deadline at the second school. My college was a two-hour drive from home—close enough to be easily accessible in an emergency, but far enough to have a decent go at spreading my wings. My middle class family wasn’t able to qualify for need-based programs, and my grades weren’t in the top percentage needed to win a lot of scholarships. I ended up taking on about $30,000 in student loans, which is an amount that is probably comparatively reasonable, but makes me want to barf when I think about it now. In high school I loved art and drama, but knew the life of a starving artist wasn’t compatible with a life of chronic illness. I needed a job with sick leave and health insurance, so I opted for a degree in graphic design. READ MORE


Time to Panic About Hazelnuts


There are more than 50 hazelnuts per 13-ounce jar of Nutella, and with 180 million kilograms of the chocolatey spread produced each year, that adds up to an insane number of hazelnuts. Right now, many confectioners are scrambling to secure hazelnuts: Hail storms and frost in March damaged the crop in Turkey, the world’s main growing area, causing prices to climb by as much as 60 percent this year.

Not to worry, via my old favorite Venessa Wong at Businessweek, Nutella owns 25% of the world’s supply of hazelnuts and has acquired Oltan Group, the leading supplier of hazelnuts. Nutella will be fine. They account for 70% of all U.S. sales of chocolate spreads and are, somehow, a 2.5 BILLION dollar company. That’s a lot of people studying abroad and then coming home feeling really cultured because they put Nutella on their toast now. (BEEN THERE.) But it’s the other guys, the little confectioners, that have to worry.

Personally? I throw away hazelnuts, even when hungry. Give me a cashew, a pecan, a pistachio any day before this nut. I will even take the lowly peanut, the most basic of legumes, before I even LOOK at a hazelnut. READ MORE


Magic Words That Will Save You $$$

Jake Halpern’s noir-ish story in the NYT Magazine about debt collection is scarier than Sin City. Poor Theresa! (We are all Theresa.)

there was little that Theresa could do; she had paid off her debt to the wrong collectors and had fallen into the debt underworld. If anyone was going to help her, it wouldn’t be the state attorney general, or the Better Business Bureau, or the F.T.C., or even the police, but the former banker and the former armed-robber who bought her debt.

The most valuable takeaway from the piece, as underlined by an interview Halpern gives Ira Glass on “This American Life,” though, is that a few magic words can make the whole nightmare go away.

Jake Halpern: [The lawyer] said, oh, well, when a consumer actually shows up in court and says the magic words, then these cases basically evaporate. And I say, the magic words? He says, yeah. Show me the evidence.

Ira Glass: Show me the evidence. In other words, show me where you got this number, $3,762.20. The Georgia Legal Services lawyer told Jake that if you’re standing before a judge and you say, OK, I don’t recognize this amount that you say I owe, and I want to see some documentation, I want to see account statements or whatever, because I have no way to know with certainty that this debt is really mine, the judge will usually turn to the other side and ask for the evidence. And in all likelihood, they’ll have no documentation and they’ll drop the case. And this is true not just in Georgia, but elsewhere. Because the way this business works, Jake says, when credit card companies sell these IOUs to debt collection companies, they usually don’t give them any documentation. Usually they just give them a spreadsheet with a long list of people who owe money on their credit cards and their addresses and the last payment and how much they owe, and not a whole lot more than that.

Amazing!! You have the right to remain silent, America, or to use the magic words that will set you free. Think you’ve got it down? Test your skills by playing the game!


Producing a Beyoncé-themed Burlesque Show on a Budget


Part one of a series, wherein the author attempts to answer the question, “Can I produce A NYC burlesque show without losing my shirt?”

It wasn’t long after I became friends with burlesque star and producer Calamity Chang through freelance work that I came up with the idea for Beylesque, a Beyoncé burlesque show to take place on or around the pop diva’s 33rd birthday. “It could be huge!” I said. “It’s underground meets mainstream pop. You could serve birthday cupcakes and have a dance-off/twerkout during intermission.”

See, I’m great at coming up with ideas that I absolutely, 100% guaranteed will never follow through with — TV commercials, reality shows, a jewelry line — and then pushing said ideas onto people who might actually be able to pull them off.

Calamity wasn’t sold on my Beyoncé burlesque idea at first, but that didn’t keep me from suggesting it a few more times. And then she said, “Okay, we’re doing it.” We? I haven’t planned an event involving more than a handful of friends since my debauchery-free, free pizza-ful days as a college RA.

Long story short, Beylesque is now a real thing and it’s happening Saturday, September 6, at 11 pm! Here’s how we’re pulling it off, so far. READ MORE


Let’s All Buy JD Salinger’s Old House, Have a Kegger

Ebenezer Maxwell HouseOK here’s a great idea: let’s all pitch in some cash, not too much, whatever we happen to have lying around, and buy the rural New Hampshire house where famous American hermit J.D. Salinger lived for a while. It’s for sale, according to Curbed, for less than $700,000, and it is super pretty.

As reported by the Valley News, Salinger purchased the place in 1953 after separating from his first wife, by which time he had achieved both critical and commercial success with the 1951 publication of The Catcher in the Rye. He made the move to Cornish from his apartment in Manhattan (300 57th Street), and it’s in the small New Hampshire town where his reputation as a recluse solidified, but according to a 2010 article in the New York Times, Salinger was a relatively active member of the community.

Salinger, who sold the house in the ’60s but stayed in town, is said to have voted in elections, attended town meetings at the Cornish Elementary School, and been a mainstay at $12 roast beef dinners at First Congregational Church in nearby Hartland, Vermont. Locals, embodying what one resident once described to the New York Times as “the code of the hills,” have boasted since his death in 2010 of misdirecting the throngs of eager English majors that came looking for their resident writer. According to the owner of a local general store, just how far these misdirections took Salinger pilgrims “depended on how arrogant they were.”