Client payouts were coming in. Finally, finally, I had financial breathing room. I was paying William a competitive salary, renting the small office space and my own apartment, and trying to build up my savings account to a somewhat respectable amount—I dreamt of it being five figures, and laughed at the thought of achieving this as I rounded 30. How far off it had felt since moving here. And finally, finally, I felt like an actual adult, like what I always thought I would feel at 25, and what a lot of my 30-year-old friends would have to wait another 10 years to feel. I was perfectly happy without money for many years, but how nice to finally get a taste of graduation, of security and good fortune.
On the other end of the money spectrum, a jobless Peter was feeling the pinch. “I’ve got a decent cushion,” he assured me. “But it’s not like I’m in a hurry to burn through it. Trying to live off unemployment money really sucks, and it’s killing my dating life.” “Just say you’re a publishing consultant or something,” I told him. “Fake it. Everyone else is stretching the truth, too. I once dated a guy who said he was a merchandiser at Macy’s, and it took me four dates and two penetrations to realize he just kept the Herald Square bedding stocked.” Peter laughed: “And I bet you wouldn’t have dated him upfront if you knew he was a retail cashier,” he posited. “Totally false,” I said. “You’ll recall that others took a chance on me when I was less presentable on paper…and in real life.” “Yeah right, I can’t fathom you bringing some retail pup to the premiere of a J.J. Abrams movie. Status is important to everyone here, which is why I feel like shit.”
Until recently, I had only just gotten by in New York. Any raise I received got me something small: a couple guilt-free taxis home at 3am, slightly higher payments on my credit card, or keeping up with any rent increases. A raise doesn’t make you richer, it makes you less desperate. I’ve always seen New York as a game where I’m competing with wealthy people like Simon. Not for jobs, but for housing and quality of life. My incremental steps ahead were never steps ahead at all; they only meant I was falling behind less rapidly than I was the day prior, because the richest people—paired with the sheer volume of all the city’s residents—kept driving up the cost of living. I could always swap my solo apartment in Prospect Heights for a shared bedroom in Bushwick if I truly wanted to save money. But a fruitful, gratifying life for most New Yorkers has little to do with how well you save money. Instead, it’s got everything to do with how smartly and you spend it.
I wondered what would change most quickly now that I had some extra income. I didn’t want to upgrade my wardrobe or hire a personal trainer or go to a trendier barbershop. Instead, I fantasized about all the conveniences I would start using—things like grocery deliveries, laundry drop-offs, and (yet again) more frequent late-night taxis. All of these would make my life easier and just… save time. That’s how I saw it: I could spend money to save time. No more picking up my take-out food at 11pm; I would pay for delivery fees. I would abandon the piece-of-shit R train and take a hiked-fare Uber if it meant getting home without stress or strain. I wouldn’t miss the two-hour shifts at Laundry City as I waited for my clothes to wash and dry; I would hire that out, too. Instead of dollar signs in my eyes, I had little hourglasses, and I could see them turning over to give me added hours in each week—for sleeping or television or reading or scratching my butt. It all seemed like a victorious, lavish upgrade, and money smartly spent.
Bart and Tyler were discussing moving in together in April. Bart was spending most of his evenings at Tyler’s Chelsea apartment (where Tyler lived alone), and it made sense to consolidate. Peter and I were sad that he would likely leave Brooklyn for the city, and Bart himself was especially torn: “Life is so good here. I wish Tyler could move to Brooklyn, and so does he, but his call times for work are so early or they wrap so late, you know? And I get out of work so late. It just… seems smart to live closer to it all. And to save time lost on commuting to see each other. God, six months ago I’d have laughed if you told me I’d ever be in this predicament.” Then, under his breath: “It’s really just about money, to try and get ahead of my debt, maybe save some pennies so I don’t have to rely on my 22-year-old sugar daddy in other departments.”
For my entire life, the idea of investing money seemed like an obvious measure, yet it was a foreign language. If I knew how to gamble my extra dollars for guaranteed returns, I would certainly do so. My major hurdle was the often-said “you need to have money to make money,” which didn’t exactly apply to me. “Don’t worry, Eric,” Dad told me. “Mom and I put some away, and I’m still saving more. You’ll get it after I die.” I felt bad that Dad automatically assigned his earnings to benefit me and not him. I asked him to instead just teach me how to invest. “I’d be honored, buddy. But it doesn’t change the fact that you’re getting my money one day. I don’t need it.” In a weird way, I felt like my father had crossed some sort of line: of course I would inherit his earnings when he was gone. But it felt like charity how he phrased it, as if I didn’t need to be aggressive and responsible, because I had some sort of safety net for any fall. I blocked it from my mind: no cushions below me, only concrete.