ANONYMOUS (copywriter; singer-songwriter)
Income $32,000 (1999)
Health Insurance covered by employer
Utilities included with rent
Anonymous, 33, cannot reveal his name in keeping with the rules of Debtors Anonymous.
The days would go like this, he says. He would get up at 8:30, say goodbye to his boyfriend, who went off to head up an ad agency, sit down in the living room of their modest Upper West Side apartment decorated with muted rose and green (kind of 1930s) colors and two stuffed flea-market turkeys. And, while their part pug, part Chihuahua dog stared at him and yipped, he’d “pour wine in a glass, roll a big, fat joint, and puff away. That would go on all day, every day. I’d get out my guitar and write down song lyrics and think I was being an artist, but I was not productive. I wouldn’t go in to work. I’m a copywriter at my boyfriend’s ad agency. I was home, just incurring debt. I would get cash advances and buy more pot and more wine.
“This went on for a whole summer, one of two major binges three years ago. I got sober, went back to work. Last spring, I was working with this career coach on the phone and she picked up I was going mental with seven different credit cards. I’d gone into debt for $25,000 for the second time in five years. Aside from the pot, a lot of debt came from producing my two CDs.”
He put one credit card inside a coffee cup full of water, let it turn to ice next to the blueberries in the freezer, chopped up the rest of his cards, and consolidated seven credit card debts into three. “I looked out for cards that offered to transfer your balance to a lower APR. Then I called my creditors and did that broken-record technique: ‘I have an offer from another company for a lower rate. If you can’t give it to me, I’m not going to stick with you.’ I know people who do it who don’t have a real offer in front of them. Of course, some creditors say go shit in your hat. Two months ago, I joined Debtors Anonymous. My debt is down to $17,000. I’m doing a DA meeting every day—the big one is downtown, Friday nights, 150 people, 12 West 12th Street—plus three AA meetings a week. This is really a heavy period. I’ve been in AA since 1986.
“Growing up, I didn’t really want for anything. My father owned a supermarket in Boston, a big old-fashioned one, a whole aisle of Campbell’s soup. I had a price clicker, an apron. I worked in the deli and made huge vats of macaroni salad and I’d be high and miserable. I’ve been smoking pot since I was 11. North of Boston is kind of a drunken pothead kind of place.
“My dad’s always helped me out with money. To him, money is love. But he’s a very controlling guy. Entrepreneurial spirit is not encouraged. It’s like, stay in the family business, don’t get beyond us. He’d say, ‘Who do you think you are to try to get work somewhere else? Who’s going to hire you?’ I just felt worthless.
“I got a scholarship to Sarah Lawrence. Sophomore year I had an anxiety attack and just quit. I graduated University of Western Mass in anthropology, moved to New York six years ago.” He met his boyfriend on Fire Island and has worked for his agency for the last five years, most recently writing jingles for mattresses. “It seems I’m living with another family business. I’ve always been indebted to someone to get by. Though I just gave notice. I want to do it on my own now. My boyfriend’s not happy about my leaving his firm. Though normally my money situation is not an issue with him. He says, ‘I don’t care what you make or don’t make.’ But I feel the only reason I can afford to live in New York is because of my boyfriend. I want to know I can do it on my own.
“I’ve been out since high school but my family never cut me off because of it. My family loves my boyfriend. In fact, my aunt always slips him a ten spot when he comes over.”