Take it slow, because whatever numbers you and your fiance have come up with will be quickly obliterated.
In 2011, when I arrive at my parents’ house in Pittsburgh for the last time before they move across the country, I find wardrobe boxes in my old bedroom. In the kitchen, new appliances (toaster, faucet) have appeared, and the second floor bathrooms—tiny sinks; fifties tile—long ago merged into one spacious room, whose shower doesn’t take a year to heat up in winter. It’s as though the house knows my parents are leaving, and is shedding evidence of their presence plate by plate, wall-hanging by wall-hanging.
When you give money to a cause you know a person would hate, and you do it in their name.
In an essay that you’ve probably already read, this is where the writer segues into the costs of buying gifts, of the debt that accumulates at this time of year. In that essay, the writer details the fact that American retailers depend on the holiday season to turn enough of a profit for the year.
This is not that essay.
I’ve gotten a 100 percent raise. Not as a reward for hard work or long-term loyalty to my employer, but as a gift of timing. This windfall isn’t a one-off like a bonus, nor is it evenly spaced like paychecks after a promotion. I get richer at random. Almost every time I visit the ATM, what I take out is a smaller slice of what I make than it was the time before. I’m paid in dollars, but I live in Russia, where the currency is currently collapsing; as the ruble loses value, I effectively get a raise. This week alone, at the time of this writing, my salary’s worth has increased by 20%. It’d be a gross simplification, but you could say my raise comes courtesy of Vladimir Putin.
In sixth grade, my math teacher assigned us a project: We were supposed to pick a job, find out how much it paid per hour, and then calculate how many hours of work it would take to buy a few fantasy items. The teacher told us to ignore little details like taxes and living expenses. At the end, we made posters with pictures of the things we fake-bought.
Here’s how long it’s been since I last lived in these United States: When I left, gas in my upstate New York hometown was 99 cents a gallon. Keep the change! Since my return at the beginning of this year, people who know how long I’ve lived away often ask me what I find remarkable about this American life. All kinds of things have surprised me, but nothing makes me feel so foreign than opening my wallet to pay for stuff that I’ve never dreamed of paying for anywhere else in the world.
I have never been good at not comparing myself to others. It is one of my favorite activities—something I do in between work emails and the lull between episodes of Parenthood loading on Netflix. A simple glance at Twitter or a mindless scroll through Facebook reveals the various successes, personal and professional, of friends, people from high school, old roommates. They are all seemingly doing things. Big things. And here I sit, on my couch, doing smaller things, like watching TV, working and conducting consumer research on duvet covers or televisions. My mind starts to wander. “I should be doing better,” a voice says, insistent and grating. “I should be doing more.” This voice is the worst. It is career suicide.The correct response to this: “Keep your eyes on your own paper.”
Listen, I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve been skulking around gray office hellscapes for a few years now, a full-fledged member of the white-collar workplace. And whether it’s a slick downtown hellscape or a suburban campus hellscape, there’s one thing that remains as consistent as awkward kitchen small talk and IT issues: horrifically misused, utterly disgusting shared bathrooms.
If you were an anthropologist and you observed my mother’s last months, you would inevitably conclude that spending sprees are essential to the dying process. About six hours after she died, my father and I stood together at the kitchen sink, unwrapping individual pieces of silverware with shiny mocha-colored resin handles and dropping them into a large bowl of soapy water. It was a job because there were two tiny rubber bands securing the wrapping to each piece. There was similar set with ivory-colored handles in the pantry, customarily used on holidays and other special occasions.