Naomi Renek (coordinator, catalog company)
Income $48,000 (2000)
Health Insurance $42/mo.
“I grew up thinking people in management are idiots, which is not conducive to making money,” says Naomi Renek, 36, from her rent-stabilized Chelsea studio, where she has lived for eight years with a 15-year-old television set, a hanging plant, her mother’s abstract paintings, her father’s books, and her sister’s photos of Coney Island.
“I’m against all bosses. I really like Latrell Sprewell because he tried to choke his boss. I think that’s everybody’s fantasy. I’ve worked at a lot of small companies where I saw the profits they were making and I was not getting paid well enough and it bothered me.” Still, Renek says she likes her job at the catalog company where she has worked for seven months, supervising photo shoots of upscale toys.
“I make OK money now. But for years I was temping, doing all kinds of jobs for $20,000, $30,000 a year. But not getting paid as much as I like over the years hasn’t pushed me to pursue a higher-level career. It should, because I’m so deeply in debt. I got in debt from graduate school. I let all my loans default. I was so mortified. I didn’t want to deal with the bureaucracy. My credit cards will be paid off in three years, my college loans—$48,000—by the time I’m 65. I’m really bothered by how available credit is, especially to college students: ‘Sign up and we’ll give you a T-shirt or a water bottle.’ I’m paying about $500 a month now in loan payments; $300 goes to therapy.
“I went to graduate school at NYU in public administration. I tried to find a job when I got out, but Cuomo and Dinkins got booted out of office the same time I got my degree. The job market was flooded with public employees. I studied finance, budgeting, management in the public sector, New York fiscal history. I’m interested in budget decisions, the relationships between budget committees and contractors and the formulas of how money gets distributed to different programs, especially in education. I’m interested in equity, in justice. The increasing disparity between rich and poor bothers me. I listen to NPR while I clean the house.
“A lot of my ideas about money come from my upbringing. My parents are leftists, old-fashioned New York liberals. My mother is a social worker and an artist. They’re real boho. Though they probably aren’t as antiauthority as I perceive them to be. I remember seeing those signs around New York in the ’60s or ’70s: ‘Forbes—Capitalist Tool.’ I didn’t understand that, because I thought capitalist was a pejorative.
“I’ve always been interested in money and class. In 1970, my father wrote a best-selling book, Siam Miami, about a singer. We moved from the Dyckman Houses in upper Manhattan to a three-bedroom ranch house in Pound Ridge. I said, ‘Why do we have to live here? Why can’t we live on Long Island?’ Two Rockefeller girls went to my grammar school. Everybody had a canopy bed. My parents moved there for the school system. We ended up living in an affluent place without the lifestyle of the affluent. Living in Westchester is cruel and unusual punishment.
“I’m hopeful about my future. I would like to do more writing, make more money in the interactive world, though they’re firing people now. Initially, I had thought I should do content for a dotcom. Then I was reading about the mass firings. I think dotcoms are overvalued in the stock market. Of course, I’m always rooting for the stock market to plummet.”