The Cost of Dating And Prom: A Friday Chat

It's polite to blur out your date's face when you're posting Prom pics to The Billfold. Also, that dress totally looks like Tina Fey's.

It’s polite to blur out your date’s face when you’re posting Prom pics to The Billfold. Also, that dress totally looks like Tina Fey’s.

Ester: Hello!

Nicole: Hi! It’s Friday once again!

Ester: It sure is, and I have to ask the question that’s on everyone’s mind: have you indeed met any young men through those classes and events?

Nicole: Well, which definition of “met” are we talking about here? If it’s the one that means “trumpets sounded and true love was announced,” no. If it was the one that means “well, maybe we agreed to go out sometime,” still no. If it means “hey, I talked to some people that I probably wouldn’t have talked to if I had stayed indoors, but the conversation was completely platonic and mostly about ‘Game of Thrones,’” absolutely.

Ester: Hee! Yeah, that sounds great. I realized relatively recently — when Ben and I went on one of the two dates we’ve managed to have in 2015 — that I’ve inadvertently saved lots of money by meeting a guy and getting married young. And he’s saved so much money too, since a straight guy is more often on the hook for impressing his young lady of choice and buying her stuff. We were playing ping pong at a crappy bar on Flatbush and I was like, “Yeah, you wouldn’t be able to get away with taking a date here ’til date three or four at least, right? You’d have to buy some fancier dinners first.” That adds up.

Nicole: The unspoken dating rule—I mean, it’s pretty clearly spoken on “how to do OKCupid” sites—is that the first few dates should always be low-cost, though. Coffee, one drink, maybe a cookie. Because online dating is about volume: you are supposed to meet as many people as possible in order to figure out if any of these people merit a second date.

Ester: And that flies, in Seattle? In “Sex and the City” they were always going out to real places with tablecloths and stuff.

Nicole: Oh, absolutely. You can always tell who just joined the site because they will ask you out to dinner right away. And you can tell who’s been there for six months or more because they’re all “what if we spent 20 minutes together at a Starbucks to see if there are any sparks?” READ MORE


What Are We Suing Our Colleges Over Today?

Judge Joe BrownBoth of my parents are lawyers, so I grew up on stories of hearings and motions, trials and briefs. Romantic it was not. One time when my dad was in court in New Mexico, the judge got word that someone had brought in a gun. His Honor made an announcement: “All right, everyone, we know that feelings are running high around this case. Why don’t we take a break and all of us who might have brought in a weapon can rethink whether we wanted to have done that and maybe go back to our trucks and leave the weapons there.” The way my dad told it, half the courtroom emptied out and returned from the parking lot looking sheepish.

Incidents like that aside, though, my parents made clear that the law is 60% tedium, 30% paperwork, and 10% bombast. Like any system made up of people — many of them well-meaning, others less so — the legal system often fails. When something happened to me at a job straight out of college, and educated folks told me I had grounds to or should sue, I was able to draw on my knowledge that lawsuits are expensive, drawn-out, difficult procedures with uncertain outcomes. My injury wasn’t so extensive that I needed restitution; I settled for an apology from the malefactors in question and walked away.

I’m intrigued, then, when and why people in similar situations make different choices. After all, it’s one thing to sue a hospital for damages when medical malpractice scars your child for life. It’s another to sue a school when your college experience doesn’t meet expectations. Which is what seems to be happening right now at Columbia.



The Box Builder

2015-04-22 14.19.33

508 West 24th Street, Penthouse South
$9,250,000; common charges: $4,246; taxes: $2,041
3 bedroom; 3.5 bathrooms
Interior: 3,018 square feet; exterior: 600 square feet


There are three penthouses in architect and developer Cary Tamarkin’s newest West Chelsea building, on West 24th Street. Penthouse North is already under contract. All of the other units in the building have been sold as well, and the ground floor retail space—sold to an investor—has been leased. Tamarkin’s buildings, with their boxy, post-industrial outlines, are scattered across the West Village and Chelsea, where many less graceful imitations have sprung up as well. Tamarkin “is widely credited with having reintroduced the fashion for raw-space loft development in New York,” the Times wrote in 2001.

On Tuesday, listing agents at 508 West 24th Street were holding an open house for brokers to see the two remaining penthouse apartments. One visitor had apparently been involved in a landmarking dispute with Tamarkin on the Upper East Side in the early aughts. Tamarkin’s initial proposal had called for a seventeen-story condominium building; the building plan that passed, two years later, was nine stories. “Tell her I hate her,” Tamarkin scoffed.

Tamarkin, who is from Long Island, studied architecture at Harvard and led his own firm, in Boston, for ten years, before moving back to New York in the early nineties to become a developer. “My whole life I had identified as an architect. That’s what I did since age twelve,” Tamarkin told me. “But I wasn’t prepared to be a starving artist my whole life.” In 1992, when he was thirty-five, he invested with a friend who, conveniently, had just gotten a job running the real estate fund at Oaktree Capital, in an abandoned warehouse in the West Village. A building at 140 Perry Street, which had been vacant for five years, Tamarkin said, cost 1.6 million dollars. “Even if the building made no money, I’d make twice as much money as if I’d just been hired as an architect, because I was also getting development fees,” he said. “In fact, the building sold out, and I made a million dollars. I had never seen a million dollars. So, this was definitely the right idea.”



Amazon Pays Kindle Unlimited Authors $1.33 For Every Book Read


When Amazon announced Kindle Unlimited, a $9.99/month subscription to the books and audiobooks in Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Select catalog along with popular, traditionally published titles such as The Hunger Games and Life of Pi, many self-published writers worried that they would lose money.

Why? Well, although self-published writers could still control how much a reader would pay for one of their Kindle titles, when a reader chose to borrow that title via Kindle Unlimited, Amazon would determine what payout the author received—and that number could, and would, change regularly.

Likewise, Amazon did not pay out every time a book was checked out of Kindle Unlimited; instead, Amazon only paid the writer if the book was read. (Amazon notes on its KDP website that for Kindle Unlimited purposes, “read” counts as finishing 10 percent of the book. I feel happy for KDP self-published writers, but sad that the bar for “having read a book” is set so low.)

I talked to a few self-published writers about Kindle Unlimited last August, in a piece I wrote for The Freelancer, and the authors I spoke to then said they were earning money from Kindle Unlimited and were, in general, happy with the KDP Select program.

But their payouts—which, remember, Amazon can change at will—have dropped significantly since last year.



How a College Student from an Affluent Native American Tribe Does Money

San Bernardino casino

Emily is a college sophomore living on the East Coast. She belongs to a prosperous Native American tribe in California.

Which tribe do you belong to?

My mom is from outside the reservation, but my dad is actually a part of two different tribes. He’s a part of San Manuel, and he’s also a part of Morongo.

We don’t really associate with Morongo—its reservation is extremely poor, not well-structured, and suffering a lot in comparison to the San Manuel reservation. That’s because the management of their casino has screwed the Indians out of a lot of their money, so it’s not really funding the Native Americans of Morongo. The proceeds from their casino have been seriously diminished in comparison to our own (San Manuel).

How is the money distributed?

Anybody who is blood of San Manuel will receive money from the proceeds of casino once they turn 18. It’s a monthly check.

We get much more money than a lot of tribes because we are actually still involved in the process of running it. It’s not that we don’t have any outside help; we get a lot of outside help. But we still have a committee made up of Native Americans that oversees the functions of the casino.

Do most people in the San Manuel tribe work, or is the check enough to support them?

It’s definitely enough. That’s the biggest issue with our tribe—we don’t see a lot of our members continuing on to secondary education or having a career. It’s gotten way better within the last 10 years because we totally revitalized our education department, so we’re getting a lot more Native Americans accepted into college. But it’s definitely an epidemic with the older generation. I don’t know a lot of people on the reservation that do work.

It’s also a little different with the even older generations, because the casino wasn’t making money. For example, my dad was 40 before he got the money, so he worked for a majority of his life—as a butcher, in the orange fields, so on—whereas the people that were born into the casino don’t need to work, so they don’t.

How much is it?

I couldn’t give you an exact amount, because I’m an exception. (Note: Emily is adopted.) I’m a limbo stage, because I’m considered a tribal citizen, but because I’m not blood, I don’t get a check from the casino. I think it’s about $50,000 a month. READ MORE


The Cost of My Relationships

meg ryan you've got mail

It is Relationships Month here at The Billfold, and—with just one week left—I decided I would share a bit about the costs of my own relationships.

Dating: The act of dating, or, more specifically, the act of finding and communicating with various prospective dates across a variety of online dating services, continues to take up a significant amount of my time—maybe an hour a day, because I am both hopeful and persistent, and because I know that new men open accounts on these online dating sites every evening.

The actual dates—and I do go on a decent number of actual dates—rarely cost me anything but time. I feel awkward about not paying. I’d prefer to split the check. There are things I want men to do for me, but they’re mostly along the lines of “communicating honestly” and “not pulling that line about how you just got so into whatever you were doing that you forgot I existed.” I don’t want men to pay for me, but they nearly always do.

Right now I only use the free dating services, but I also pay to attend events or take classes where I might simultaneously educate myself while being exposed to eligible men, as if eligible men were a rash you could catch by going out in public. In April, I paid $91.87 for these events/classes.

Friendships: I continue to invest in my friendships, mostly through the cost of travel and of buying food/drink. I did buy a friend a one-way gift this month, although it feels less like me saying “look, here is a unidirectional token of our friendship” and more like, well, just being friends.



Say Goodbye To Your Little Friend (Avocado)

Pineapple_and_Cucumber_Guacamole-8-1024x681First they came for the almonds, and I did not speak out, because I did not like almonds. Then they came for the avocados, and I said, “Excuse me, what?”

Backing up: as you’ve perhaps heard, California is in the midst of a serious, no-end-in-sight kind of drought. The state waded into denial for as long as it could but it has now begun, at last, with the eye-rolling and foot-dragging of a three year old, to make some lifestyle adjustments. As numerous know-it-alls have pointed out, though, the biggest water hogs are not people or even golf courses, but agricultural products — like almonds.

California needs to reconsider whether it is the best place for almonds to be grown in the face of the state’s water crisis, said the head of one of the world’s largest agricultural businesses.

“It’s almonds versus people,” said David MacLennan, the chief executive of Cargill, when asked at the FT Commodities Global Summit in Lausanne whether almonds would still be produced in California by 2020.

The US state accounts for 80 per cent of global almond supplies and the industry is facing a backlash amid the worst drought in decades.

You can almost hear the trailer now: “In a world where the sun is hot and water is scarce, survival comes down to competition. When nature goes up against humanity, who will emerge victorious? Coming this summer to theaters near you, it’s the thriller that hits so close to home, it may as well be showing in your kitchen: Almonds Versus People. Rated G for everyone, because everyone will suffer.”  READ MORE


The Curious Case of $2 Bills in Ecuador


It’s my last night in Ecuador and I’m leaving a bar with some friends when one of the bartenders runs out after us.

“Are you the guy who exchanges $2 bills?”


He pulls out a ten. “I’ll take five.”

Fifteen years after Ecuador adopted the U.S. dollar as its official currency, the issue still stirs debate. Dollarization was so unpopular when it was first announced that protesters took over the capital and the government collapsed. The replacement government stuck with the plan—there wasn’t much choice. The Sucre, Ecuador’s native currency, was in the midst of a decade of hyper-inflation which was destroying the economy.

In 1990 $1 would have bought you 900 Sucres. At the final official exchange rate in 2000 every citizen was forced to trade 25,000 Sucres for each dollar. Whatever savings anyone had was mostly wiped out.

Today the country’s economy is doing much better. GDP is growing, poverty is down and inflation has dropped significantly. A curious thing happened on the way to economic stability: a growing devotion to the $2 bill. READ MORE


Friday Estimate

cat in a bookstoreGood morning on this chilly Friday! Let’s do some estimations.

Tonight I’m meeting up with a bunch of old grad school friends for dinner at a restaurant downtown; we’ll likely order a few bottles of wine. This weekend is also a friend’s baby shower, and although I’ve already purchased things off their registry, I still need to drop by the bookstore and get a children’s book. I’ve also got a mound of laundry to deal with. My estimate for the weekend is $130.

What are your estimates?

Photo: Sarah Stierch