Vera Saverino (professor; writer)
Income $27,000 (1999)
Health Insurance $270/mo.
“My father says, ‘Vera, every time you buy something, it’s one more hour that you live in this house.’ ” English professor Vera Saverino, 29, is standing in the living room of her parents’ one-story house, in Richmondtown, Staten Island. “I should have moved out years ago, but money is a problem.” Near the white brocade sofa is a pile of 27 shoe boxes. “Let me show you the real shoes.” She walks into a room that a person can hardly get inside because it is so filled. “Over there are probably 250 pairs of shoes—very expensive shoes. I just bought these boots, 500 bucks—I’m out of my mind. Over there, the clothes rack collapsed. On one side are pants, the other is suits. I don’t even get to wear them because if I try to get something, the rack falls on me. I’d say there are at least 150 pairs of pants. Probably about 50 white T-shirts. There are actually 18 purple storage tubs stuffed with Louis Vuitton bags. I have an obsessive-compulsive shopping disorder. It’s a big problem.”
Saverino, who is foremost a passionate college teacher, explains her shopping preoccupation. “Material items always have been an issue for me. I always went to wealthy Catholic schools, but I’m from a middle-class family. My parents would spend money without a second thought, but it was always on things that really mattered—school, braces. My father was a transit worker, always worked two jobs. But my best friend grew up very wealthy. She got Gucci bags and diamonds, 60 gifts at Christmas. I thought, ‘Why can’t I have these things?’ So I got my first job at 14, Country Doughnuts, $4 an hour plus tips. Then I moved on to Roy Rogers, then I crossed the street and went to Thom McAn and started my quiet shoe career. I moved on to Nordstrom, managed private shoe stores. I spent money on whatever I wanted. One of my biggest purchases was a $450 Fendi bag. It was a joyous occasion, in senior year of high school.
“I worked and worked. I was a fitness instructor at three gyms. Until recently, I managed Angelina’s restaurant part-time. I’ve never held less than three, five jobs at a time.”
Saverino got her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the College of Staten Island. She walked into class one day, and “there was this teacher. As soon as he opened his mouth, he changed my life. Though once he said to me, ‘You know, Vera, you never wear the same thing twice.’ I said, ‘Really.’ He said, ‘If you spent less time in the stores, you’d spend more time becoming the writer and poet you are.’
“I’ve concluded I will never be able to not do this, this buying clothes. It’s part of how I survive. Though I can’t do department stores. I have anxiety attacks in Barneys. I prefer boutiques. I have the store put the clothes on hangers for me. I can’t come home and hang up 18 items. You know, the buying has almost nothing to do with money. It’s about wanting the clothes and manipulating how to get them. The success is the high. I have no attachment to money.”
Over the past seven years, Saverino has taught English and writing at Pace and at CUNY schools, including the College of Staten Island, where she earns about $5000 a semester teaching two classes. “I’ve taught in many CUNY schools” where the adjuncts outnumber the full-time teachers. “As an adjunct, you’re just a mailbox, no benefits. I’ve got no time to be part of the protest, but I think it’s disgraceful. But I’m so madly in love with what I do. Though a Ph.D. is not in my future. I’m an awesome teacher but a shitty scholar. I’m getting another master’s, in publishing, at Pace. I love writing. I want to work at a magazine, celebrity magazine, maybe like In Style.”