I met Luz waiting at the bus stop. She normally didn’t work this late (it was around 7:20) and was curious about the bus schedule. It turned out she is practically a neighbor, living within a couple blocks of our house, so I was able to tell her of the many different routs to get home.
Luz had worked late because her boss, an actress, was in the hospital giving birth to her second child. The nanny for her first child needed to leave early, and so Luz stayed until the grandmother could make it over.
Then Luz started telling me about the household in which she worked.
Luz is one of millions of middle aged Hispanic women one finds in this town. They all speak English to one degree or another, with a Spanish accent, and they all seem to wear a taciturn face in public, and yet are cheerful if spoken to politely. She had gray hair pushing out about an inch into her short red died curls. As I’ve learned from an older neighbor, hair dye is not cheep, and so one often meets 60 somethings who carefully cover up their roots until the next time they can dye their own hair.
Luz told me of the many presents sent to the household to herald the coming of a new baby. She was careful to unwrap them, and place them in the baby’s room to be eventually gone over by her mother. The mother, worried and tired from giving birth had other ideas. “Take the extra gifts, Luz, and place them in a couple of hefty green trash bags. The nanny will take them to the charity tomorrow.”
Luz could simply not understand such extravagance; giving away these gifts, unseen, and unappreciated, was simply more than her frugal upbringing could bare. She must have told me this story 8 times in the 30 minutes we traveled together. Each time telling me more and more about the household in which she worked, about the money poured out the door each day. “She never shops,” she said. “They bring the groceries to the house each day.” She told me of fresh fruit by the pound being thrown away because it was old, of fresh bagels delivered each morning only to go untouched, of fancy diners, expensive hair cuts (two stylists show up at the house, each is paid over $300, and they are also fed well). She was simply shocked at the huge disparity of wealth between herself and her employer.
Luz was also very careful to say she was thankful she had work, and was also careful to not mentioned whom she worked for. She was not angry at her employer, she simply came from a different world in which one never gave away expensive and unused treadmills, let alone pounds of fresh fruit.
And right there in the midst of her angst is the crux of the issue. It is almost impossible to understand wealth over a certain amount above what one is used to. Just like it is almost impossible to understand that everyone else is not at your level of wealth.
Since I’ve been freelancing, our income as slowly increased. Each additional chunk of money was incrementally larger, but never arrived in one piece, instead it was slipped into the midst of our regular financial chaos. It was like the water level in a fish tank slowly rising, and we fish are almost completely oblivious to its change. That is until we come face to face with a fish from a MUCH larger tank. Then we are dumbfounded at the disparity in size. We know how a 12 gallon tank with three fish works when filled to the top, but are ignorant to the point of naivety when suddenly confronted with a 60 gallon tank.
The last week we were out visiting the in-laws, we got into a discussion about money. It was surprising because Teri or I casually mentioned how much money I make on most days I work. The amount was so different than what her mother or her brother are used to that they were actually shocked. Neither Teri or I think of ourselves as wealthy. Sure we make money, but we spent it in proportion to its arrival (don’t we all?) and we don’t think of ourselves as “big spenders”. In fact, we are rather thrifty. And yet there was still a financial wall that separated our household from her parent’s or her brother’s. I think this disturbed us as much as it shocked them. We were raised to be egalitarian by nature, and like to view ourselves that way, so being shown that we are actually wealthy is rather hard to fathom. Much like a fish from a 12 gallon tank suddenly confronted with living in a 60 gallon tank. The water is similar enough to seem natural, but the space, well that’s another thing all together.