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New York on $70 a Week

New YorkThink about the cost of living where you live. Think about what you actually need, financially, to live on. The bare minimum. Does it sound like $70 a week? Probably not. But I’ve done it three times—in New York City.

There was a time when I was very good with money. I still am, to a degree—I use a budget app, pay off my credit card almost monthly, regulate my spending, and prioritize saving. I’m conscious, if not exactly frugal; you learn to be when you’ve lived here flat broke.

2008

I attended Fordham University in the fall of 2008— a few months after the housing market bubble burst and sent my dad, a real estate developer who’d been making risky deals in the up market, into the financial red zone. “Poof” went the money that was supposed to help me get through college in the most expensive city in the country. Naive and a little spoiled, I had believed my dad when he told me I didn’t have to apply for financial aid or work study, that I would be taken care of, and that he “had me.” I thought that my meager waitressing savings would be pocket money, and most other expenses would be covered.

Then I was told, a few days before leaving for the Bronx, “Sorry, sweetie. You’re on your own.” I had $3,000 in my bank account and needed to make it work over nine months in New York.

“Fuck,” was all I could say.

“OK,” I thought. “So what do I need to live on?” Though I hadn’t yet experienced New York’s higher cost of living, I could imagine it. I sat in my dorm the first week and calculated a budget with an accountant’s precision. With $1,500 per semester, and after the cost of schoolbooks, holiday train tickets (I didn’t yet know about the Chinatown bus), and the fee for a new Blackberry (my trusty flip phone died, with perfect timing, one week into school), I was left with $70 per week to spend. I wrote every single thing I spent in a pocket Moleskine, then recorded the weekly totals, plus any other large needs, in a marble notebook; every Sunday, I subtracted and recalculated how long it would be until my money ran out.

“On the social web, the person who doesn’t share is subscribing to an outmoded identity and cannot be included in the new social space. If not off the grid, he or she simply is not on the grid that matters – he may have email, but is not on Facebook, or he is present but not using it enough. (The prevailing term for this is ‘lurker,’ an old online message board term, slightly pejorative, describing someone who reads the board but doesn’t post.) It is not uncommon to ask why a friend is on Twitter but rarely tweets, or why she often likes Facebook statuses but never posts her own. Why are they not busy accumulating social capital?#

The Real Estate Broker Who Got Priced Out

Welcome to Surreal Estate, a new column in which we will explore listings from the tumultuous New York City real estate market.

144 Carroll Street, #4
$2,300/month
1.5 Bedrooms, 1 Bath
650 square feet

On Tuesday, I took a short tour of Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens—which used to be considered part of Red Hook, and is still served by the same zip code, 11231—after a visit to one listing fell through. The broker, Realty Collective’s Josephine Ciliento, and I drove over to a $2,300/month, one-and-a-half bedroom fourth-floor walk-up down by the water, at 144 Summit Street. “This was called Carroll Gardens West. And then it was changed to Columbia Waterfront District,” Ciliento said. “Realtors like to rename neighborhoods.”

“What are they calling Ridgewood now?” she asked. “Bushwood?”

A Poem by Bruce Bond

Geppetto in Hell

Not the voices of the dead
wood I carved into a child.

No lie or license of the boy,
my son, who was not my son,

I know, though I talked to him
as blocks of wood talk to me

about their struggles and I listen.
Sometimes you find yourself

in hell, well, just because.
You, the puppet of your story.

Clark, "Flame Rave"


Clark’s Clark was one of my favorite records from last year so I am predisposed to enjoy this, but if you like your blippy with a high level of skree and krik-krik-krik to it you will probably enjoy this as well.

This Week's "American Icons"

Cookie Lyon from Empire

Johnny Cash

’71 Ford Bronco

Liberace

Frank Sinatra

Evel Knievel

John Wayne

Daytona International Speedway

Ralph Lauren

Malcolm X

The Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE: KO)

The Coca-Cola bottle

Oreos

Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima

Selena

The bald eagle

Vince Lombardi

Drew Barrymore

Check back next week for more American Icons!

Mac McCaughan, "Lost Again"

A spare and mellow approach to so many of the things that made/make Superchunk fun to listen to.

“Dang! Have you ever seen waves get so cold they turn to slurpee? We haven’t.#

I tend of late to take less joy in almost everything I encounter. Even the things that would have brought me great satisfaction only recently now provide me no pleasure and are often occasions to reflect on how empty and worthless so much of what steadily surrounds us truly turns out to be. Part of this is surely a function of aging and its concomitant inability to pretend that you haven’t seen it all before and don’t know how it’s all going to end up (I don’t want to ruin it for you if you are yourself a young person, but let me just give you this hint: No one walks out of it particularly pleased with anything. The good news is none of it matters anyway, but that is a lesson which does not offer a great deal of comfort. And that’s as good as it gets, news-wise. Sorry, young person.). Some of it may be a symptom of this profound and perpetual winter under which we have suffered seemingly forever. But the biggest part of it must be the sheer quantity and volume of mental noise blasted at all of us without end in our age of Everything All The Time. There is no quiet moment in which to pause and reflect, or even to just pause, fuck reflecting. It’s always on and always shouting and it has shaken the very ways in which our perception of time itself was once understood. Consider this: Christmas was two months ago. How many horrible lives have you lived in the nine weeks since Christmas? And yet what have you done with all that time? If you had planned something as simple as spending an evening in to read a magazine no sooner would you have turned the first couple of pages over to find that it was somehow nearly midnight and the lids of your eyes were growing heavy and insistent that you draw down the shades on the day. But at eight you had gotten yourself all settled in on your couch, fully prepared to devote all your attention to the issue at hand. What happened? How did you get distracted? Asked to account for your time in a court of law or before some other organ of judgment the best you could do would be to mutter under your breath about keeping up with the cultural conversation but you yourself would not even know nor could you accurately account for those hours. This relentless onslaught has reversed our very experience of life’s passing, in that we now live in a world where the days go by so quickly but the years take forever. It’s why I have to laugh when well-intentioned people tell me that life is short and I should savor every minute of it. Really? In what world? May is two months from now, and we will all die a thousand deaths between now and then and it probably won’t even get all that much warmer. Brevity is as illusory as the idea that there might ever be some respite from the chronic cacophony that floods through every crack and crevice of our existence. It’s always on and it is never quiet and it never lets you forget just how terrible everything is and how much worse it is all getting. And now they’re trying to tell me that, when the time comes where I finally approach my eternal reward, they might prolong my agony by sticking my head on a whole other body? What kind of nightmare world do we live in that would force multiple bodies to have to put up with my horrible head? Anyway, give all of that a good think before you tell me to cheer up again. Asshole.#