The Upper East Siders
If anyone would seem immune to the recession, it's the Millers. They own a family business that generates a high income, a million-dollar duplex, a healthy stock portfolio, and 60 acres of prime Connecticut real estate.
Barbara, her husband, and their son and daughter are booked on a three-week vacation to Africa in mid-December, and Barbara recently spent $5,000 at the Prada store on Madison Avenue. For the record, her purchases included two dresses and a bag. From there she proceeded to the Sergio Rossi boutique, also on Madison, and bought "a beautiful pair of sexy, high black boots" for $800. "I really feel I'm not going to let these terrorists change my life and my city as long as I have control of it," she says. But just in case, she has an overnight bag packed with a couple of changes of underwear and $1,000 in cash. ("You never know if you're going to have to pay someone to get out," she explains.)
But even she isn't untouched by the recession. She feels it through her son, Josh, who's about to graduate from college. Like other wealthy Upper East Side children who grew up under Wall Street's magical spell, he was planning to become an investment banker and ride the bull-market tsunami to his own personal fortune before he turned 30. In the past few months, his plans have been shattered, all those summers he spent interning at places like Morgan Stanley and Bear, Stearns for naught. They're not hiring.
"I really do feel sorry for the kids," Barbara says. "When they grew up, it was the eighties and nineties, when everything was amazing. They thought that's what they were going to have. Wall Street was unbelievable. Why wouldn't they think it was going to last? We certainly weren't telling them it wasn't."
While Barbara, who beat a life-threatening illness a few years back (and purchased a $5,000 Hermès Kelly handbag to celebrate the occasion), refuses to be cowed by terrorists, what seems to have had a more sobering effect on her was a recent parents' weekend at her son's small liberal-arts college. "I don't think I've ever seen him as scared as after attending the career-counseling seminar for seniors," she says.
"It sort of reminds me of the way it was when I graduated from college in '74," Barbara recalls. She says Josh's advisers suggested he consider working for a nonprofit, or pursuing a career in teaching, an estimable idea that would undoubtedly have gone down better in the tie-dyed seventies than in the chalk-striped 2000s. "This generation is totally different. They just want money, big money, and they want it fast."
"Maybe before, I was too driven," Josh admits, "or too excited about capitalism." His expectation, at least until the past few months, was that he'd land an entry-level investment-banking job that demanded 100-hour work weeks and paid $60,000 to start, plus a $100,000 bonus. "The next year, it shoots up a lot," the senior explains, a little wistfully.
One of the options he's considering, though perhaps not all that strenuously, his mother hopes, is serving his country. "To tell you the truth," he says, "a number of my friends who were very interested in finance are thinking of shifting toward working for the military. Some of my friends are thinking of entering the Marines."
Other, less adventurous sorts are taking the LSATs and applying to law school. And then there's a third option for the well-to-do recent college graduate: Josh is giving some thought to, if not quite joining a commune, at least setting out to see the world. "One option I'm exploring, and I think a lot of other people are, is taking off and exploring the West Coast or Europe and the world," he says. "A couple of years ago, I don't know how much my parents would have encouraged me to do that. But I think parents are a lot more open to that idea. They think it's a good opportunity -- to find out more stuff about other parts of the country and the world. It's a good use of my time during this recession."
If you've been watching Seinfeld at 11 p.m. lately, you've probably seen Kelly Deadmon. She plays the Jennifer Jason Leigh look-alike in the Chock Full o' Nuts commercial that typically bookends the show's reruns on weekday nights. Sipping coffee in the living room of her Upper West Side one-bedroom, she notes that the thrill of watching herself on the small screen is long gone -- at this point, she's been at it twelve years. "Mostly I'm just thinking, Oh, yeah, some more money!"
Right now, every airing -- and every ensuing residual check -- is cause for celebration. The past year has been a financial challenge for Deadmon, 34, and her husband of ten months, fellow actor Victer Verhaeghe, 37, who has just left for the Times Square theater where they've been producing a sketch-comedy show. Deadmon, the breadwinner for the time being, makes most of her money from commercial jobs. Last winter during the commercial strike, she ratcheted up her credit-card debt to nearly $11,000. To pay the mortgage and maintenance on their brownstone apartment, she dipped into her mutual fund. "I bought this apartment when work was really good, in 1997, and I was making six figures. It was the smartest thing I've ever done," she says, looking around her cozy country living room. "Now I really need to do some renovations. With each job, I think, If I get this one -- blinds! Or a new bathroom! My neighbor just renovated. Her apartment looks beautiful. I feel like I'm the trailer park of the building."
Commercial bookings were starting to improve again at the end of the summer. Then September 11 happened. Aside from ad budgets' being slashed, commercials in the can weren't even making it on the air. "The thing is, we've already tried to cut out everything because of the strike, so there's not that much more to cut," she says. Their February wedding cost only $1,200. "I found that headband on eBay," she says, pointing to a wedding photo. "The white-rabbit stole I got at a flea market. I told the guy I'd never wear this again and he said to bring it back afterwards and trade it in!" She laughs. "But I got sentimental."
Some amenities are arguably business expenses. The most striking thing about Deadmon is her perfectly platinum-blonde hair, which is cut into a kind of jagged bob. She still goes to the tony Oscar Blandi salon for her cut by Oscar ($275) and color from celebrity colorist Kyle White ($200). "I thought about going to someone cheaper, but I said, 'I can't! I won't!' I just believe that when you think you look good, you feel a lot better," she says. "I did splurge on a $98 Banana Republic orange corduroy jacket. It looks good on camera, so I wear it to all my auditions. But I saw it today -- and now it's $40! I'm totally bringing it back. I won't shop at stores that don't have good return policies."
While she talks, she is getting ready to meet her husband at the theater. She heads down the stairs lugging a tote bag stuffed with props and wonders if she should hail a cab instead of taking the B train. Her brow wrinkles. Then there's a buzzing from the Louis Vuitton Speedy bag she just scored on eBay for $100. She fishes out her beeper and squints at the number. "I got a call back from Midol!" she shouts, smiling again, as she heads toward Columbus Avenue, and a taxi.
Some names and identifying details have been changed.
Additional reporting by David Amsden.