Martha My Fear

 Josh Shelov (freelance writer and director for TV, film, and theater)

Income: about $30,000 (last year)
Health Insurance: none
Rent: $750/mo.
Utilities: $30/mo.
Phone: $100/mo.
Food: $200/mo.
Transportation: $50/mo.

I'm so horrific with money. I'm the most fiscally irresponsible person I know," Josh Shelov, 26, said. "My phone gets shut off. My bills slide."

Shelov graduated from Yale in 1993, and by 1996 he was earning almost $50,000 doing comedy and sports writing for HBO and ESPN. Last year, he temporarily left TV to write a short film and then a play about two goldfish reading the newspaper and his income dropped to $30,000. This year he expects to come in at $15,000. But rich or poor, he said that his fiscal behavior remains the same.

"Why would having money make it more urgent to pay the bills? I deeply believe bills are just an annoyance. Maybe some day I will be so irresponsible that somebody I love suffers greatly because I didn't pay a bill. But until then my attitude is just atrocious."

Maybe one day he will be so rich—when his play with the goldfish outgrosses The Lion King—that he can afford to hire someone to pay his bills.

"It would be the greatest Hanukkah present in the world."

Of course, he might find it too annoying to pay the bill-payer.

"He or she would have to have actual access to my bank account."

What if the bill-payer took some of his money?

"I would grant that person a passable level of embezzlement, a 5 percent skim every month."

What if the bill-payer took all his money?

"I'd need to hire somebody else to check, some type of ex-cop."

Who is going to pay the ex-cop?

"I don't know, the mob . . . ."

Though Shelov maintains his fiscal irresponsibility, it is not as though he is tearing up $20,000-a-night suites at the Plaza. He shares the $1500-a-month rent on a one-bedroom apartment in the West 30s with his sister, a TV producer. He is moving to Brooklyn soon to cut his rent to $500. His debts are so small, he said, "I'm not even in the world of credit. I have one credit card where I'm sustaining maybe a three-digit payment, minimal compared to people I know who have paralyzing debts. I have, like, these petty debts unresolved in perpetuity. They are kind of sustained until people are banging down the door." Which happened recently—but his doorman fought them off. A Con Edison man came to shut off Shelov's electrical power and it was nearly fisticuffs in the lobby. "I moved into this doorman building when I was making more in TV. The doorman and I became friends."

Shelov grew up in Scarsdale. His father is head of pediatrics at Maimomides Hospital and his mother has a private psychology practice in Fishkill. Coming from such a golden and progressive background, Shelov knows he can never really feel on the edge. "I'm not going to starve. I can always go home. That puts me in a very fortunate position. It's also one of the things that allows me to take more risks with my career."

Which he did when he went to work in the mail room of Martha Stewart Living. Is it as terrifying as some say to work for Martha Stewart? Does she make people's teeth chatter?

"It should be absolutely noted that Martha Stewart instills fear in her employees. She has them thinking that she's around every corner. I was reading a magazine once, I would say 40 feet deep into the mail room, virtually invisible. I was told in no uncertain terms that if I was spotted by Martha, I would be fired without negotiation."

Did the mail room experience build character? "It gives you a greater urgency to get out of there."

 
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