I'm in New York this week and have been commuting back and forth from Los Angeles because Tony has a job in New York. Our center of gravity has shifted coasts and we've decided to sell our house in L.A. and move back to New York. It's the right decision -- I'm from Manhattan, both our daughters are living on the East Coast, Tony keeps getting jobs here, my sister Lynne lives in Boston, we have our house on Martha's Vineyard, and most of all, it's time for a change. I'm not that sentimental about leaving the house where we have lived for 23 years and raised our kids. Nostalgia requires memory and I have so little memory these days.
We're looking for a place to buy in Manhattan and there is nothing that makes you think more about money than house hunting. I admit it, I'm spoiled. We've lived in Hollywood in a great big house with a pool and a guest house. But when we started looking for a home in Manhattan, we realized that L.A. is cheap compared to freezing, filthy, funky New York. A two-bedroom, fifth-floor walk-up apartment in New York sells for as much as what our five-bedroom, 4,000-square-foot, 1922 Italianate -- what's the word? ... MANSION ... is now selling for in L.A.
Money has always been a complete mystery to me. When I worked as a waitress in my teens I felt just as rich with the cash in my pocket from tips as I felt earning serious money for the mini-series "Lace" when I was in my 30s. For better or worse, the cost of things has always seemed completely arbitrary to me.
One time I was in a store and I picked up this beautiful hand-painted glass ornament. I really wanted it but it had three, zero, zero written on it. Did that mean $3.00 or $300? I couldn't tell. I stood there turning it over in my hands, struggling to divine its worth. Finally, too embarrassed to ask, I just plopped down my credit card. At this point, if you're anything like my sister, Lynne, you'll want to know how much the ornament actually cost. The answer is, I don't remember. Not just because I have no memory but also because, for me, the cost had no meaning.
In fact, I've realized there are no absolutes where value or money is concerned. It's all relative. I try to rationalize my cluelessness with this concept. But that doesn't change the fact that a lot of people can't have a decent life because they don't make enough money even working two jobs. Or that money has become the bottom line for the corporations in this country trumping kindness, compassion and intelligence. (Hence, the horrific possibility of Trump becoming president.)
I feel guilty for having as much as I have and for not understanding its value. I have plenty of friends with families who live on less than $50,000 a year. I couldn't possibly tell these friends what we spend a year. For one thing I can't remember, but I do remember being really shocked (REALLY SHOCKED) when our accountant told me what it was.
If we spend that much, how can people live on what the average person earns these days? I know they somehow spend less on the essentials because friends will brag to me about the price they paid for a gallon of organic milk. I act impressed but I haven't got a clue what a gallon of any kind of milk costs. I know enough to act horrified by how much things cost at Whole Foods and to love a good buy at Loehmann's but I'm faking it. I'd been thinking about this stuff and finding it kind of disturbing, when out of the blue, I found myself in Morocco.
Of course, I know I'm lucky because most people can't afford to go on trips to Morocco on the spur of the moment. Or bring back so much crap from Tangier. But that's not my point. Suddenly, I (clueless about money and actual value) was in Morocco and Morocco is where the game "What Is It really Worth?" was invented. Seriously, the national pastime in Morocco is haggling.
All the guidebooks say that in Morocco you HAVE TO negotiate. Even my Moroccan friends tell me. "They will come in so high on the first price you have to counter with an absurdly low offer. Half of what they originally say would be too much."
Armed with this knowledge and advice, I enter a shop. I see a beautiful inlaid, carved box. The shopkeeper approaches and the game begins. He quotes a price (in Dirham) and I counter with half as many Dirhams.
"Madame, please you insult me with this price."
I am determined. "Do you think I am a fool that will pay whatever you ask"?
"Believe me, Madame, I am telling you a good price, I will not make one Dirham at this price."
I start to walk away. He lowers the price a little and I come up a little.
"Madame you are going to argue over 100 Dirham?"
I stand firm, but what I want to say is "I don't even know how much 100 Dirham is."
In the end I realized I couldn't play this game of chicken because it's too brutal for me. I found myself calling these sweet Moroccan salesmen "highway robbers" for asking $5 for a hand-embroidered silk shawl. The whole experience was too upsetting. I mean I'm fortunate. I can afford to pay 100 Dirhams too much. And Lynne, in case you're wondering, that's about $15.