The Recession may not be as scary as some of the things the city has faced recently – which is not by any means to understate its effect on our lives. There’s some comfort, however, in the fact that we’re not in this alone. Not that one need have total sympathy for all of the victims as New York’s culture of wealth – and often, frankly, of excess – collides with stark economic realities. In New York’s recession, there’s a hierarchy of pain. Does giving up your trainer count as suffering? Selling your country house? Taking your kids out of private school? Postponing your wedding? Moving out of town? Turning down the heat so you can afford to pay your bills? These are hard times, as hard as this generation has seen. And everyone (except, perhaps, Mike Bloomberg) will have to give up something.
“Today was a confidence-building day,” says Emily, 28. She’s just returned from her first job interview since she was let go from one of the city’s top-ten law firms a month ago. “I left an hour and fifteen minutes to get there because I had no idea how long the bus would take. I was 40 minutes early!” she says, flopping down on her couch and biting into a slice of pizza, her first meal of the day even though it is 5 p.m. “I went and got coffee, walked around. Finally, I just showed up and apologized.”
One of the reasons she became a lawyer in the first place was so things like this wouldn’t happen. ” ‘Be a doctor or lawyer,’ I always heard, ‘and you won’t get fired.’ ” During her four years at the firm, recruiters were constantly calling. Dot-coms were still luring colleagues with stock options, but the firm’s many incentives made Emily stay put.
While the prospect of being laid off never occurred to her, she was acutely aware that it was her $150,000 salary plus $45,000 bonus that allowed her and her husband, Michael, to live a New York life they could not have afforded otherwise. His salary as a cardiology fellow will stay at about $43,000 for the next three years. “We have a lot of loans, two undergraduate plus medical school and law school,” she says. Dinners out were their main weekend activity; now they’ve opted to meet friends for drinks and order dinner in. She is trying to restrain herself from sample sales. The Katayone Adeli cashmere dress she’s wearing was $80, down from $450. “See these boots?” she asks, sticking out a knee-high suede number with a stiletto heel. “My friend who works in fashion gave me three pairs!”
Their winter vacation is cancelled. “My severance ends in January. I’ve been put in the position where my time to look for jobs is over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, when no one is hiring, so if early January is my first real shot at looking for a job, how can I leave?”
Their bad luck in real estate turned out to be a blessing. Last summer, the $615,000 bid they made on a SoHo loft was rejected. “Thank God!” she says. Shortly after, they were pressured by the hospital to give up their $2,700-a-month one-bedroom in TriBeCa in favor of decidedly less chic Upper East Side doctors’ housing ($1,400 for two bedrooms). Their moving date? September 11.
She’s noticed that the tragedy has affected her response to being laid off. “A lot of my emotions have become extreme since all of that. If I’m having a really happy day, it’s extreme. If I’m feeling sad or anxious, it gets heightened also. With this job stuff, it’s the same thing. You just feel it all a little harder than you might have.” She is quiet for a minute. “There are days when I think that nobody wants me. Then there are days when I feel like I will totally get a job. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t get a fantastic job. Then I go back to thinking I’ll be lucky if I get a job, period. I’ll be lucky if I get into a firm that I wouldn’t have even looked at a few years ago.”
“When you go to work, it’s like showtime,” says Sal Marciante, 43, a twenty-year veteran of the Tall Ships Bar & Grill in the former Marriott World Trade Center. “I didn’t even feel like a bartender. You know what I felt like? The commissioner of tourism. Like Mr. Bloomberg should give me a call and offer me a job because I’ve been bringing people back here for years and I did it without a title.”
He brought home $1,000 a week with tips, which supported his wife and 3-year-old daughter. “She knows Dada lost his job.” Every day he picks her up at pre-K across the street. “That gives me something to do,” he says. “I was trying to get her started on the computer – they’re learning that now. But it was 900 bucks. That’s the thing, what about her future? What about a college fund? Now the money might have to start going in different directions. Like survival.”
He gets $400 unemployment and $100 a week from the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Union. Taking a job at a non-hotel bar isn’t an attractive option. “I don’t want to start working down at Ludlow Street in one of the new dives they’ve opened. I’m a union man, and I’d like to get my pension some day. My plan is to wait until the hotel business starts to pick up again. Be an asset to someone who gets to scoop me up. Because they wouldn’t even have had a chance at me if the place didn’t blow up.”
After the 1993 bombing, it was easier. He found a post at the Barbizon Hotel until Tall Ships reopened. “This time most hotels have had layoffs already.
“I’ve been on a couple of wild-goose chases where you’re more qualified than the person that’s interviewing you,” he says with a sigh. “But they mean well. They can’t give you something they don’t have.”
Marciante has found it hard to scale back his habits. “Clients from the bar gave me tickets to the Knicks, Rangers, Yankees – any event in Manhattan, I could have tickets if I wanted to,” he says. “I never did anything cheap. I always did everything elaborate. Windows on the World. Smith & Wollensky. Maloney & Porcelli. Cité. Now I’ve started to cook at home – steaks, chops. How much Chinese food can you eat? They say, ‘Go out, don’t change your lifestyle, go shopping, spend money.’ Only so much you can do if you don’t have a job.”
If there’s an upscale Manhattan equivalent of the proverbial canary in a coal mine, it’s the catering business, a near-perfect barometer of the city’s mood and its spending power. Entertaining is part of New York’s essence, the marrow in its bones. The question isn’t whether to party, even in trying times, only how lavishly. Among those caterers, Peter and Diane rank in the upper echelons – a sort of mom-and-pop answer to Glorious Food. Their clients range from high-end department stores to trend-setting magazine editors and Park Avenue matrons.
But even Diane’s creativity (she once made perfume-scented ice pops for a designer launching a new fragrance) and Peter’s brass-knuckles business acumen haven’t managed to shield their business from recession. “Our sales were down 30 percent in the spring from the year before,” Peter reports. “We had a good August and September on the books; things were starting to pick up. And then the attack occurred.”
It killed any hope of recovery, and not just because the police put their TriBeCa kitchen and small café, blocks from the World Trade Center, off-limits for several weeks or because the rich stopped throwing parties. They didn’t. After a socially acceptable interval, they resumed. It just means that, in the name of fiscal responsibility, the customers now drive a harder bargain.
“There’s a lot of still-wealthy people in New York not affected by the recession,” Peter observes. “They’re still asking for expensive things – I still get asked for caviar – but for lower prices. I probably lost a few jobs because we’re still expensive.”
None of this would be so terrible if the couple were inclined to frugality in their personal lives. But part of their success lies in their ability to understand the aspirations of their clients – and, to some extent, embody them. They have two sons in school at a combined $40,000, an $850,000 home on the Brooklyn waterfront, and a jewel-box farmhouse, ready for its shelter-magazine close-up, on the North Fork of Long Island. Winter vacations in the Caribbean are de rigueur, along with summers sailing around the Greek islands or renting a villa in Provence.
Their cars include SUVs and Mercedes. And there isn’t much investment income to help out. Like many others, Peter got killed playing the stock market. Heavily invested in tech stocks, he watched the value of his portfolio plummet $100,000 – it now stands at $150,000. “I’ve never socked money away,” he admits. “It’s possible we may have to sell our country house. I know I should have sold that last year.” In the meantime, he’s cutting where he can. “I’m trying to cut fixed costs like health insurance,” he explains.
He’s also eliminated the first thing New Yorkers reluctantly do without when they find themselves in financial peril – his parking garage. “I’m saving $5,000 a year by parking it on the street,” he says.
Less than 24 hours after Patrick, 45, got a raise, he was fired. As far as he and his co-workers knew, the telecommunications company in New Jersey where he’d worked as an electrical engineer was churning out record profits. Apparently, the parent company did not have the same balance sheet. A conference call broke the news. “We timed it,” says Patrick. “Three minutes to say, ‘Well, the effects on the telecommunications industry finally caught up with us and we have to do some layoffs. Sorry for it and I thank you for all the hard effort you put in. You’ll be contacted by a manager.’ It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. that they came around and tapped me. I actually thought I’d gotten away with it.” He sort of laughs. “I felt betrayed. I felt like my soul was ripped out. As soon as the announcement was made, my e-mail account was shut down.”
The loss of his $60,000-a-year job couldn’t have come at a worse time for Patrick. He’d asked Marie, 42, a public-relations manager, to marry him in September after a whirlwind year of dating, emptying out the five-figure balance in his bank account to buy her a three-carat diamond ring. They’d already earmarked his year-end bonus, which he estimated would be about $10,000, to help pay for their wedding next summer. And then there’s the house. He was halfway through moving into the $400,000 five-bedroom Victorian, the first house he’d ever bought. In addition to a $3,000 monthly mortgage, the house has come with unexpected expenses, like the $1,600 they just shelled out to fix the alarm system. He’s estimating heating bills will be a minimum of $65 a month. “Right now I’m wearing a turtleneck and sweater,” he says. “It’s probably mid-sixties in here because I just don’t want to crank the heat up.” They drained the twelve-foot fish tank, which was too expensive to maintain, and canceled the gardener retained by the previous owners. “One good thing about winter,” says Patrick, “grass doesn’t grow.”
With two months of severance, Patrick feels as if he’s working against the clock. “You immediately start to figure, Okay, what can I not spend money on? No dry cleaning. No cable TV.”
The mental stress is also taking its toll. He has yet to tell his family that he was laid off. “I didn’t think about it until now, but I’ve lost sixteen pounds,” he admits. All of which has prompted Marie to begin a desperate campaign to restore his spirits. “It’s funny,” she says, laughing. “What do you do when you’re laid off? You spend money. I took him to Peter Luger’s. He’d never been there before. I called up that day and said, ‘Do you have any reservations?’ They said, ‘No, I’m sorry.’ I said, ‘Okay, listen to me – my fiancé just got laid off …’ I told the woman the whole story. She got us in at 4:45 p.m., then we went to see that play I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.”
Perhaps inevitably, the uncertainty is straining the couple’s enviably sunny relationship. Says Marie: “One friend whose husband was laid off said to me, ‘I’ll tell you right now it’s much harder on us than the person laid off. You will want to give all the advice and they have to do it themselves and you have to keep your mouth shut.’ Of course, I didn’t listen.” Her strategy would have been to tell everyone. Give your résumé to people on the bus. Answer every newspaper ad. “Last week, we were out to dinner at a cheap little place,” Marie recalls. “Two guys next to us were talking engineering. I was about to say, ‘Hi, I lost my job. Do you know of anything?’ Then I saw the look of horror on Patrick’s face.” His trip to the employment office – Marie called up and impersonated him – was both annoying and humiliating. As Patrick has repeatedly explained, he needs to handle his job search in his own way, which means calling industry acquaintances and headhunters.
Marie had suggested a modified wedding, but Patrick will have none of it. The deposit is staying on the band, the photographer, and the banquet hall. “To go to a justice of the peace and make it a purely functional thing rips my heart out,” he says. What to do with the house is a bigger issue. “I’ve begged Marie not to talk about it because basically I uprooted everything I was familiar with. My job is gone. There’s nothing about my life that has a sense of continuity or routine to it anymore. The only thing I can count on right now is that I’ve planted my roots down into this house, and I’d like to make a stand here.”
In August 2000, Sara left Chicago for New York to work at Razorfish as a writer for $60,000 a year. They even tossed in $2,000 to cover her moving expenses. She found a bright one-bedroom in Park Slope for $1,375 and was ready to get used to her new (and rather comfortable) life as a New Yorker.
Then the spring of 2001 rolled around, and the Internet bubble began to deflate. “I survived three rounds of layoffs before they got me in May,” Sara, 28, now jokes. “I was actually fine with not working there. I had planned to quit anyway, because I came to New York to write for magazines, but they were paying me so damn well that I kept putting it off.”
Though she was forced to cash out of her 401(k) ($4,000), things weren’t so dismal. A week later she found a job writing and editing at a start-up weekly magazine. Soon enough she was pulling in a comfortable $5,400 a month. However, when fall came so did September 11, and suddenly New York was a very different city. In October, Sara was told that, due to financial strain, she’d have to be cut back to three days a week. “That’s when I knew I had to get out of Park Slope,” she says. “I’m moving to Cobble Hill, where I’ll be paying $1,000.”
She’s also taken a part-time night job, making $10 an hour writing TV-trivia questions for a Website, which has cut into her social life considerably. So far she hasn’t been able to bring herself to cancel her cell phone or cable, which total about $80 a month. “But I’m much more exacting with money these days,” she says, sighing. “I’ve become that person who pays only for what I ordered when I go out to eat with people. Nobody likes that person – and now it’s me.”
“We’ve been on fumes before,” Julie says courageously. As musicians, she and her husband, Jack, were familiar with the unemployment office. But that was a good decade ago, before Jack threw in the towel and became an investment banker. The intervening years have been good ones. He earns in the vicinity of $400,000 a year, they bought a $500,000 house, amassed a handsome stock portfolio, started a college fund for their sons, and finally felt they had a little breathing room.
“A couple of years ago, we were feeling really flush,” Julie remembers. “There was a sense we had a cushion – we’d sell the stock and we’d have all this money.”
Unfortunately, their six-figure portfolio has lost three-quarters of its value. “Jack’s looking at, ‘I’m going to have to do this job which I hate for another ten years,’ ” Julie says.
If he’s lucky, that is. He switched firms last year, and the company has started to let people go. “It’s very anxiety-producing,” Julie acknowledges. “Everybody is under pressure to produce.”
Thus far, the pressure has affected Jack worse than it has his wife. “He’s the one who’s not sleeping,” she says. “He knows the actual numbers.”
Jack has already sold his vintage Thunderbird, which Julie, whose sense of humor serves as the family’s missile-defense shield, refers to as “this penis on wheels.” The car brought $15,000. “He had to sell it. This is extra insurance – some thousands of dollars we could use.”
Julie is making sacrifices, too, but thus far only around the edges. She let her cleaning lady go, cut back on Halloween decorations, orders more frugally when she gets the family Chinese takeout for dinner, and has stopped impulse-shopping at the Gap.
She also informed her children, and Jack, that Christmas may be slightly less merry this year. She remembers the good old days when her husband spent hundreds of dollars on a set of state-of-the-art kitchen knives and pots and pans. “What do you need this shit for?” she says. “You need one good knife. You don’t need the whole Food Network set. I said we’re going to have to really watch what we’re doing. Jack tends to overdo it at Christmas.
“I don’t believe in hiding that stuff,” she continues, referring to her children. “They sense it anyway. We have to be sensible and make choices.”
Eventually one of those choices may be to forsake private school. Their kids’ tuitions cost more than $40,000 a year. “You start looking at the cost-benefit of everything,” Julie says. “If your child has a crappy teacher, you say, ‘We could have a crappy teacher at a public school.’ “
And Julie, a Seven Sisters graduate who hasn’t held a real job in years (“I once worked in an office, and the fluorescent lights alone almost killed me”), is seriously thinking about getting a job, or at least starting to look for one. “I think making money would be a bold move,” she says. “It would also take some pressure off Jack.”
In the meantime, she’s drinking more than she used to. “Gin is an investment of sorts,” she says. “You can always use those bottles for water or as flotation devices. I’m taking the bimbo, hysterical, laugh-at-it-all approach. The other one is too upsetting.”
The Creative Director
On top of everything, the baby-sitter quit. Not that Olivia could really blame her. Three months ago, she lost her $200,000-a-year job as a creative director at a large New York ad agency. She had only a few days to be depressed about it, because the following Tuesday was September 11. Olivia and her husband, an account executive at a stock-photo agency, had just dropped off their 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter at P.S. 234 in TriBeCa. They were outside debating which Democrat to vote for when the first plane hit.
“The good news was, I didn’t have to go to the office,” she says in her native London accent. “The bad news was, I didn’t have to go to the office. I was dealing with their school, community board meetings. It’s amazing how much was going on.” The two weeks after, she was in no mood to make phone calls about jobs, even though her severance was rapidly expiring. “It seemed so crass to call somebody and say, ‘Have you got any work?’ So I didn’t. Everybody felt like they were in limbo. I was sort of in double limbo.”
After making some calls, she managed to score a hard-to-come-by freelance job for a day rate of $1,000. Still, she and her husband have had to take another hard look at their finances – something they already did last year, when they decided to rent out their TriBeCa townhouse to offset the $7,000 mortgage and home-equity-loan payments. (They sublet a friend’s two-bedroom loft down the street.) That leaves their share of a weekend house on Fire Island ($350 a month), piano lessons for their son ($1,700 a year), and Chinese-dance classes for their daughter ($400 a year). But it’s child care that costs the most – $500 a week for full-time help. Cash. She told the family baby-sitter she might have to cut her hours. “In the meantime, she had been asking around and got offered a full-time job,” says Olivia. “I think she’s smart to take it because she needs it and her husband might get laid off and you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. She’s been with us five years,” she says. “The kids don’t know yet.”
They do know that Olivia lost her job. “Mommy got fired,” she says, imitating them. “They say it to anyone.” Now that “economode” has set in, there will be no taxis, no theater tickets and dinners out, other than the Odeon once in a while, the kids’ favorite. “I discovered Target the other day,” she says. Ironically, certain expenses have increased at the same time. There are networking lunches. The $86 American Girl doll she just bought her daughter. “One of the aftereffects of the World Trade Center thing is, if they seem to really want something, you give in much more easily now than you would have.”
Friends have been asking what her backup plan will be if a permanent job doesn’t materialize soon. “My God, it costs a lot of money to live here. Friends in England say, ‘Maybe you should come back to England.’ But no, that’s not how it works. Everything’s here: the school, friends. Our life is here. My optimistic theory is that January will be better than December. Next year everybody has to put their budgets back in order. You can’t go dark or stay out of peoples’ minds. If you want to come out of a recession with a strong position in the market, you have to advertise. I hope I’m right.”
The Sky Chef
By September 11, James Lockhart, 40, was a month into a job as a sky chef at JFK making $8 an hour – about $350 a week. “Simple meals, not big institutional cooking for thousands, which I’ve also done,” he says. “For Air India you’d have, let’s say, curried goat, curry chicken. Spicy food. But for Air Canada, chicken breast, maybe tater tots, a western omelette.” After a week of no passengers, the layoffs began: “They made this big announcement. Automatically, I knew I’m gone.”
Lockhart had just gotten his life on course. Since January, he’d been studying pastry-making at New York Restaurant School. Public assistance had been providing $215 of his $300 rent and $140 in cash toward the $68-a-month tuition and train fare; $120 in food stamps helped with the rest. He sent money to support his 10-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter. After he landed a job, the assistance ended, and, feeling flush, he even signed up for a $40-a-month cell-phone plan.
Now he is applying for public assistance again (his job tenure was too brief to qualify for unemployment) and cutting back on his expenses: “No movies. I rent videos from the library. Not many people know they have them.” He moved out of the one-bedroom in Jamaica he’d shared with his girlfriend and into a friend’s place in Bushwick.
Today, as he does every other day, he is taking the train to the Twin Towers job center in Jamaica to check out the “food and lodgings” postings. He misses being in the kitchen. “I find it calming,” he says. “For me it’s an accomplishment. Like in school when we had class projects, carrot cake with vanilla frosting, cherry pie, I’d pass it out and they’d say, ‘Oh, it looks beautiful.’ I thought about baking my kids something for the holidays. But my daughter, she’s weight-conscious, she says, ‘That’s too fattening.’ I’m trying to just get one check before Christmas so I can get them a little something. And explain that it will get better.”
The Art Director
Susan had it all figured out. A single woman in her mid-forties, she’d socked away as much as 15 percent of her annual salary as a magazine art director – which reached $100,000 a year at its peak – since she was 30. Her savings, combined with a modest six-figure inheritance from her parents, would enable her to retire at 50 on $60,000 a year. But that was before the magazine she worked for folded in October and she lost her job.
“The way I feel right now,” she says, “is freelance for 2002 and see how things go. I also plan on taking a close look at what my investments and expenses are.” Susan bought her Upper West Side apartment for $190,000 a few years ago and pays a $625-a-month mortgage. She is taking drastic steps, from a baby-boomer point of view. “I’m going to have to give up my personal trainer,” she says, “and cut way back on my shrink.” Her personal trainer charged her $80 a session, her shrink $100. “I’m going to get rid of the trainer for sure. The therapist I’ve lived with the last 22 years. I don’t know if I could get rid of her.”
Most dramatically, she no longer eats out. “I’m eating at home, and I can’t cook,” she says. “I’d go out to dinner four nights a week and expense most of them.” And she wasn’t dining at Soup Burg, either. Her watering holes included Bolo and DB Bistro Moderne, Daniel Boulud’s restaurant on 44th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, home of the $27 foie gras hamburger, where dinner for three can easily cost $350. Now Susan relies on the kindness of a friend who’s an editor at a food magazine. “He asks me out to dinner a lot to taste things with him,” she says.
And while she admits to being a bit scared about the future, the scaled-back lifestyle also has its charm. “I feel the possibility of it being much better,” she says. “I won’t have to work my butt off. I don’t need to dress to impress anyone. I’ll be able to take advantage of galleries and concerts. I’m really looking forward to that, and catching up with friends. And I won’t have to get on that damned subway every morning.”
Christiana was ready to start her life as a bona fide adult. It was December of last year, and the 22-year-old had just graduated from New York University. Whereas most college grads coming to the city have to cope first with the near-impossible task of finding an affordable apartment, Christiana had one of the sweetest deals in town: For the past two years, she had been paying $500 a month for a sunny corner room in a 3,000-square-foot SoHo loft owned by a family that was hardly ever home. And having attended college here, she had many friends nearby, and a boyfriend of three years. All she needed now was work, preferably something in fashion, with an income around $30,000.
“But there was nothing,” she recalls. “I’d send my résumé out all over the place and then wait and wait.” After a few fruitless months, she was in need of cash and took a gig serving cocktails at BondSt, making a solid $300 a night, but not exactly feeling like she had “a real career.” Then, in July, she was hired by a small public-relations firm, with a salary of $42,000. “I was like, ‘Okay, finally I have a job,’ ” she says. “The people were great, and they worked in fashion. I saw myself working there for a while.”
Then came September 11. The firm lost projects and was forced to let Christiana go. On top of that, the family she lived with informed her that their daughter was moving back home and that she would have to move out by October. Then her boyfriend, an actor, landed a role in a movie and moved to Los Angeles.
With no income and no apartment, Christiana felt as if all her roots had been severed, so she made up her mind to go with her boyfriend, figuring she might as well be struggling in a (slightly) cheaper city. But then a job came her way: She’s assisting Kathleen Turner. It may not be fashion, but it’s certainly glamorous, pays well, and gives Christiana a sense that her life as a working adult is moving in a forward direction. She’s saving on rent by living with her parents in New Jersey, a bit of a drag for a twentysomething, but she plans on getting her own apartment soon. And while she used to spend $500 to $700 a week on “going out,” she’s cut her costs by half. “I pictured myself making a hundred grand and living in a TriBeCa loft by the time I was 25,” she says. “Now I know that’s not the case. Still, for the most part I just feel very, very lucky.”
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.