The Billfold

My Summer As a Housekeeper

The summer I was 18, I worked at an amusement park hotel as a housekeeper. The system worked something like this: every morning, we picked up our clipboards from the front desk with our list of rooms for the day, color-coded by what kind of service they needed. Pink was for occupied rooms that just needed a little spiffing, or “makes,” and green for just-vacated rooms that had to be cleaned for guests the following day, or “turnovers."

I liked to see a nice long sheet of green—a turnover meant that everyone’s crap was gone and I could haul out soaking wet towels and twisted-up sheets and vacuum and [...]


"I Stopped Carrying a Wallet When I Became Homeless"

Maybe I should start carrying a wallet again. Maybe a nice, grown-up wallet would act as a talisman, attracting wealth and prosperity. The pink vinyl change purse I got at Target seems to only attract change. It’s not big enough to hold more than several bills and cards. Maybe a nice, leather upwardly mobile billfold would change my luck.

Since I was old enough to carry my own lunch money to school, I have had a wallet. Usually, I carried them until they fell apart, transferring them daily into whatever handbag matched that day’s outfit. Having a wallet felt like being a grown-up.

My father carried a wallet. Having lived [...]


Every Job I’ve Had: Indoor Bouncy House, Defense Contractor, Traveling Nerd

Front Desk at Surprisingly Sketchy Kids Indoor Bouncy House, 2007, $8.50/hour

My first and most colorful job. Also the only time I’ve ever been fired. I remember my mom dropping me off to fill out the application while she waited in the car. I’m pretty sure I was wearing a three-piece suit at the time, because that’s totally what you do for job interviews, right? Anyway, they were looking for people and I guess I looked eager enough.

Every weekday I walked about two miles round-trip in the Southwest desert heat for my never-more-than-four-hour shift. I liked hanging out with the families and kids even though I always ended up [...]


AirBnb Ruined Our Lives and Turned Us Into Entitled City Dwellers

It's every big city lover's dream: to live in a nice apartment—sans roaches, caved-in ceilings, or a 45-year-old roommate who smokes in the kitchen—without paying top-dollar rent. For most of us (who likely inhabit such ill-famed apartments in neighborhoods such as Brooklyn's South Williamsburg), it is a pipe dream; others simply work all the time so they can pay rent to live someplace decent, even if that leaves little time to focus on other passions.

If you live in New York, you've probably seen the subway ads for AirBnb. They display hosts who have made serious money through the tech company—the king of the "sharing economy." AirBnb has recently won [...]


The Cost of Throwing a Pony Party for Your Seven-Year-Old Daughter Who's Really Into Horses

As much as I hope my children will come into their own as individuals, there’s something just overwhelmingly adorable about watching my kids be "into" the typical milestones of childhood. So while I very much dream my daughter will one day be some sort of hip-yet-together hybrid of Kate Bush and that woman who flaks GoldiBlox, there is just something irrepressibly cute about her obsession with all things horses and ponies.

To be clear, her horse obsession is the thing of I-Can-Read novels and made-for-cable movies. Though we live in a somewhat rural area, my wife and I are about as far from horse people as you get—not even [...]


A Room in an Elderly Stranger's House, and Other Places I've Lived

August 2010-December 2010, May 2011-December 2011 Orren Street NW, Washington, D.C., $700-$735/mo.

Besides me, David Sedaris is the only American I know of who spent a big part of his early 20s rooming with an elderly stranger. He describes this time, during which he took up residence in a Chapel Hill boarding house out of some vague, misplaced nostalgia for an erstwhile age, in his 2007 essay "This Old House." But the four months I spent with C.C. were a little different. This was no humble matriarch whose living quarters provided a rustic escape from modern-day campus life. No, C.C. was instead a 60-something globetrotter in the international medical [...]


A Summer Interning at a Center for Performing Arts

I worked at the Center for Performing Arts in my hometown of Rhinebeck, New York for two summers. It’s now a big red barn, set off Route 308, that we pass on the way home from the train station, but that first summer, it was a big white tent. We were loosely interested in musical theater then, only because there was little else to do, and it was the thing that everyone else was doing, so the job was perfect. That summer, we put on an especially inspired performance of Bells Are Ringing. On closing night, Natalie Merchant was in the audience, and if you watch the performance, immortalized [...]


An Interview With a Friend Who Got Bedbugs The First (And Last) Time She Used VRBO

So, what have you been up to?

I went to Big Bear Lake, California for a bachelorette party. Twelve of us stayed at The Moose Lodge at 209 Elgin Road, which another friend had found on VRBO. It looked great—cute cabin, moose stuff everywhere, very rustic, close to the lake… And full of bedbugs.


I went to sleep earlier than the other girls on Friday night, and I could hear them hanging out in the other room, so I slept with my right arm under my pillow and put another pillow over the left side of my face. One of my friends shared the bed with me and [...]


Every Job I've Had: Four Coffee Shops and Job Training in French Lick

As a 34-year-old woman with a college degree and a solid history of being promoted and beloved by supervisors, it’s a little sobering to look back and realize how little of my job history is fulfilling work designed for grownup people. Temp jobs not included.

Dairy Queen: There was a convenient bus line from this location to downtown Portland, Oregon, so a 15-year-old me could IN THEORY say she was going to work, go downtown to meet boys from other schools, come back, and then call her parents to pick her up. A "no visible hickeys" rule had to be implemented. This was not entirely my fault.

Small Movie Theater [...]


The Costs of Living in Kazakhstan

The costs of moving to Kazakhstan were considerably more than the general costs of living in Kazakhstan. It's easy to live comfortably here in Astana. Though, I'm happy to have savings from my last job so that I can travel/easily escape.

Housing is covered by the library where I work, which is a relief because when I researched rental prices, they averaged about $700-800 for a modest one-bedroom apartment. I wouldn't have been able to afford that on my salary, which is about half of what I made at my last job in Vancouver, Canada.

I share an apartment with another international librarian. The apartment is much nicer than [...]


The Best Things in Life Are Free (Food)

1. Holiday-themed cookies, Diet Coke, chicken, store-baked French bread, beer, donuts

My first real job is at an Albertsons grocery store. I'm fifteen, but I lie on my application and say I was born in 1989 so I can work 5-to-10 shifts as a cashier. When school gets out for the summer, I score an extra eight hours a week of overtime. I'm saving up for a month-long debate camp in Austin, and every time I deposit my paycheck, I store the carbon copy of the deposit slip in an envelope on my desk, as though I'll need them someday for reference.

My coworkers are great: a couple of high [...]


Producing a Beyoncé-themed Burlesque Show on a Budget

Part one of a series, wherein the author attempts to answer the question, "Can I produce A NYC burlesque show without losing my shirt?"

It wasn't long after I became friends with burlesque star and producer Calamity Chang through freelance work that I came up with the idea for Beylesque, a Beyoncé burlesque show to take place on or around the pop diva's 33rd birthday. "It could be huge!" I said. "It's underground meets mainstream pop. You could serve birthday cupcakes and have a dance-off/twerkout during intermission."

See, I'm great at coming up with ideas that I absolutely, 100% guaranteed will never follow through with — TV commercials, reality [...]


My Life as a Magnolia Bakery Cupcake Bouncer

There is something strange about the way people wait in lines in New York City for food: the bleary-eyed standing out the door during rush hour at Café Grumpy in Park Slope when they could easily get their caffeine fix cheaper and quicker across the street at the diner; the Shake Shack types that check the “Shack Cam” to see just how long the line to get a hot dog is; the drunken masses that will pass out in line waiting for a single slice of pizza on MacDougal.

People gladly stand outside of Dominique Ansel Bakery, which promises, “if you arrive prior to 7:00 am on a week [...]


The Cost of Getting a Green Card

We've been hearing much news of a migration crisis lately, as wave after wave of undocumented immigrants, especially children, come across the United States' southern border. Of course, immigration, both legal and illegal, is not new, and whatever the mode and motivation for entry, when people want or need to stay here permanently, it comes down to getting a green card. It will not surprise you to learn that this can be a difficult and costly process.

A green card, which may or may not actually be green, is a Permanent Resident Card. To have one is to be able to remain in the United States indefinitely and, [...]


Visiting Hogwarts When You're Broke

I'm a young freelance costume designer living and working in NYC, which means my default money situation is “LOL.” It's been a thin summer, with lots of traveling and no luck finding a subletter, and my most recent paycheck is a few weeks late. It's on the way, and my bills are paid, but I have under $100 in the bank this week, a small credit card debt, and no savings. LOL!

I'm in Sarasota, Florida, for a few weeks for a project that includes transportation and housing. I haven't worked at this theatre for awhile, and I'm glad to be back, not least because my high-femme [...]


The True Value of One Banana (In a Country Without Running Water)

When I accepted a position to teach English in Georgia, my life was ideal on paper. I had friends and a full time job in a city I didn’t mind, with a Chipotle right around the corner from my reasonably priced apartment. Everything was fairly good, but there was no sparkle. I refused to settle. I had a healthy savings account and the teaching position provided room, board, transportation, a monthly stipend, and the opportunity to gain teaching experience to the benefit of my career. I threw caution and reason to the wind and embarked on my adventure, fearless, naïve, and blissfully happy.

A week into the program, I [...]


The Cost of Five Days on Fire Island

The first time I went to Fire Island, it was on a whim. A friend told me that some friends of a friend had a room open in their house in Fair Harbor, and that it would be cheap. The promise of sitting by the ocean without having to carry everything I owned on the subway for an hour was all the convincing I needed. We spent three days swimming in the ocean and cooking dinner with a glass of wine in one hand. I met new people, got very tan in a short amount of time, and spent the equivalent of a cheap plane ticket to California in one [...]


The Cost of Bringing a Person Into The World Via C-Section

The claims section for my personal account on my health insurance provider's website gives me great anxiety lately. This is why. CLAIM ONE: $24,254.25 $14,489.90 Allowable I OWE: $500 Copay

A few notes:

Did I go to the emergency room ($500)? I did not! I went to triage in Labor & Delivery, which is I hope what they mean. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, though I have no idea why I would do that.

Did I get an ultrasound ($480)? Okay I did but it was for like two seconds in triage when they checked to make sure he was still head down. That [...]


The Cost of Climbing

I have been known to joke (repeatedly, like a dad who’s come across his favorite pun) that when you cross the border into California you are issued your choice of the following: hiking boots, a surfboard, or climbing shoes. When I moved to California two years ago I picked the third option and never looked back. It's gotten expensive.

This is what rock climbing has given me: a place to direct my over-analytic, grad-school-fried brain instead of ripping my own hair out and/or developing a drinking problem; mad shoulder and back muscles that look pretty great underneath my back tattoo; the ability to open any jar, no matter how stubborn. [...]


The Cost of a False Sense of Security: One $95 Earthquake Kit

When a small earthquake passed through New York on a hot afternoon in August 2011, I was home from work, reading a novel in bed. The bookshelf above my feet rattled, and for a few seconds the building went liquid. The rattle I immediately attributed to my roommate’s sex life, but when the walls seemed to slide my annoyance turned to fear. Our landlord was a former building inspector, which we understood to mean our apartment had never been officially evaluated. “Is the building collapsing?” my roommate called out from the living room. “I think so!” I replied. We ran out into the street and stood on the sidewalk [...]