Thomas Poole (executive director, Deep Dish TV; independent producer);
Pamela Little (coordinator, Literacy Assistance Center); Niger (5); Senque (2)
Income (combined) $75,000 (1999)
Health Insurance covered by employer
“My mother always said I had the capacity to make a million dollars,” says Tom Poole, 36, sitting in the Deep Dish TV office with a lot of lopsided furniture that leans “to the left,” as Poole puts it. “My mother saw the salesman in me and tried to get me into Amway in high school. Amway sells things that clean your house. This guy gave a presentation in our apartment. Then my aunt had me trying to sell Dick Gregory’s Bahamian Diet Powder to drugstores. Every time there’s an opportunity to sell something, somebody wants me to do it.”
More recently, Poole has been using his forte in sales to promote social justice. In 1990, he started Black Planet Productions, which produced the public access show Not Channel Zero, dealing with political and social issues from the black and Latino perspectives. For two years he has headed up Deep Dish TV, a 15-year-old not-for-profit that distributes progressive program- ming via satellite to public access stations. Poole held up a videotape, Showdown in Seattle—”coverage of the World Trade Organization protest by activists, our blockbuster hit of ’99.”
Poole, who went to Hunter College, grew up in a writerly, artistic family. “One aunt published Encore; an uncle was a jazz musician.” His father, a lawyer, died young. His mother, a writer, raised Poole and his sister in a Mitchell-Lama apartment on 97th Street.
In 1992, Pamela Little came with a friend to his New Year’s Eve party. “I reluctantly went,” she says. Eleven months later, Poole saw her on the subway. “He was wearing this ugly yellow jacket and a porkpie hat and a bad earring,” Little says. But charm being his strong point, he convinced her to see him again. Now they have two young boys, live in a rent-stabilized apartment in Washington Heights—Little’s mother lives with them—and spend a lot of their free time talking about their financial future. Should Little, who has a graduate degree from Sarah Lawrence, do better-paying commercial projects instead of community work? Should Poole “stop being a hippie” and “concentrate on one full-time job that pays well,” instead of various production jobs? Little calls her husband “Mr. Half Full because he’s so optimistic—one of those who think the jar is always half full,” and he calls her “Madam Half Empty.” Then they dine together.
Both were skeptical when it came to the person who recently approached them about an offshore banking investment opportunity, Poole says. “It was like Amway, like if you come in, the recruiter gets a piece. Our friend said, ‘You can get your house down payment in 18 months.’ She was promising things that were unbelievable. Put down $3000, it will turn into $85,000 by the end of the year. But I have a philosophy: People who have something so sure and unbelievable are usually not trying to tell everybody.
“Plus, we didn’t know exactly what we’d be investing in. We have some social consciousness,” Poole says. “It’s not like ‘OK, I am going to invest in the arms trade.’ ” Or, as Little says, ” ‘Sure, let’s clear a few rainforests in South America, then we’ll have a house.’ Evil and seductive.”
So the discussion goes on. How will they afford a $30,000 down payment for a Harlem brownstone? Or private school tuition when “first grade costs $20,000”? Those trips to the planetarium! “Two adults, two children, 60 dollars,” Poole says. “And the youngest was scared. I said, ‘For $11.25 you better start looking at that moon rock.’ Then his shoelace got caught in the escalator.”