Neither Dr. SJ nor I had much in our youth. She would make pot holders and I would take any job that I could, from shoveling snow to washing windows to being a warm body at a nuclear reactor. Somehow, we both figured out that hard work, education and goal orientation would serve us better than complaining about what we didn’t have.
By the time we married, we were first clawing our way to financial independence, which seemed like a wise choice given that nobody else was going to finance dinner every night. Over the years, we worked, saved and never lived beyond our means. But Jimmy was a different story. He bought a fancy condo on a good street that cost far more than he could possibly afford. He drove a fancy car, and got a new one every three years. He wore the best suits. Where I went to Brancrofts to look respectable, he went bespoke.
The problem was the bill collectors. Jimmy was always hiding from them, and they were always looking for Jimmy. He had no money in the bank, but he looked like a million bucks. When I asked him why, he told me life was short and he was going to enjoy every moment of it, living the best he could get away with. They might take away his car or his apartment, but they couldn’t take back the good times he had.
Dr. SJ and I talked about this. Were we wrong? Was our belief in our bourgeois values misguided. We would ponder whether any “extravagance” was worth it, and almost always decided it wasn’t. We would never let a bill go unpaid. Heck, we would never buy anything we couldn’t afford. Sure, we wanted stuff, like anyone else, but we wanted to be able to sleep at night too, secure in the knowledge that we wouldn’t have a bill collector knocking at our door in the morning.
It turned out that our frugality worked pretty well. We were able to save, and invest, and accumulate enough money to enjoy a pretty darned good life. Then we began to realize there was a down side to sacrificing immediate gratification for long-term security. This hit hard when our kids went to college and we had to fill out the FAFSA, realizing that had we pissed away our income for disposable toys, somebody else would pay our children’s tuition. You would, perhaps, but we wouldn’t have to because we enjoyed the good life we couldn’t afford rather than putting money in the bank.
Now it’s going to come back to bite us with a vengeance. Living in New York, the limitations on federal deduction for property tax, among other things, turned our plans upside down. It wasn’t that New York wasn’t a high tax state that was being financed by people in Nebraska, but that it was a fixed understanding of how taxes worked, and so we could plan ahead. Mind you, New York being a high-tax state didn’t really do much for me personally, as it’s mostly money pissed away with the best of intentions and the worst of executions.
Did New York State come to the realization that it wouldn’t be profligate anymore? Don’t be silly.
After weeks of intraparty bickering, the New York State Legislature and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo agreed to a $175 billion budget early Sunday morning, packed with a bevy of progressive programs, including changes to the cash bail system, a new tax on high-end homes and a novel plan to charge motorists to drive into Manhattan’s busiest stretches.
Who else to tax but the rich to transfer wealth to the poor, because the poor are poor and the rich are rich? You know who won’t get taxed? Jimmy. You know who will? Dr. SJ and I. You know why? It’s not about being rich, which is what Bezos is, but about having sacrificed and struggled to live within our means, to not piss away money on disposal crap but to invest it, to be as frugal as our circumstances demanded if we were going to sleep well at night.
Maybe Jimmy saw this coming, that some day the woke would decide that he had saved too much, sacrificed too much, worked too hard, and decide that the people who didn’t needed it more. Maybe Jimmy is going to end up enjoying what I suffered to accumulate, because he chose to live fast and loose rather than knit pot holders to pay for dinner at Lutece.
I’m informed by humanities majors on twitter that I don’t deserve the success I enjoy, that it’s just my privilege. And I can’t deny that I enjoyed a great deal of luck along the way, from being born white to living in the United States, where a kid without a pot to piss in could make something of himself.
Then again, not all white guys are millionaires. Not all of us chose to stay home on a Friday night to study rather than go to a party and get smashed. Not all of us chose to forego a fancy car to show the Jonses we were just as fabulously in debt as they were. Not all of us had to work as a towel boy in a club on 44th Street that paid cash at the end of every shift so we could eat our three-fishstick dinner during law school.
I have no regrets about the choices I made to get where I am today, even if the kids tell me us boomers are all greedy jerks who destroyed everything good in the world, the planet included. Maybe we are. Maybe we did. Maybe we would have done better to follow Jimmy’s example, because there doesn’t seem to be any respect for the choices we made.