And here again is another rewrite. According to all my teachers, writing is 80% rewrite!
After I was laid off from my six-figure job, I became a maid. I’d spent the prior years as a consultant, lunching and dining at Plouf, Hawthorne Lane, and Bix. To celebrate the startup’s official launch, we went on an all-expense paid cruise to Cancun—over fifty of us. I remember laughing with my boyfriend—also a co-worker—while he twirled me under the moonlight on the ship’s deck. I loved the rich, full like that we led. 20% bonuses were still kicking in until September 11, 2001 when the dot-com bubble became a dot-com bust. The CEO handed me a pink slip along with his highest recommendation. I forced a smile. I couldn’t help thinking I’d still be employed had it not been for the extravagance.
As a maid, I cleaned for one of the nouveaux riche—a young single options trader for the Pacific Stock Exchange. Corey had submitted a personal ad on Craigslist disguised as a job posting: “Looking for cute maid to clean my loft.” He grimaced during the interview when I answered that I had a boyfriend, but he hired me anyway, thinking he’d charm me into becoming his girlfriend. Once a week conveniently timed during Corey’s trading hours, I cleaned his tri-level Potrero Hill home.
Seven months into the gig, I walked in, surprised at a pile of shopping bags on the dining room table. They were from high-end boutiques in the city, their contents wrapped in pastel-colored tissue paper. I ran upstairs to collect the laundry, but stopped suddenly. There was a head of smooth shiny black hair peeking out from the top of the blanket. Corey had a girl in his bed. It was 10:30am. Didn’t she have to work?
I descended the stairs quietly.
“Hello there. Are you the cleaning lady?” She called out.
I mumbled yes.
She came down in one of Corey’s extra-large Hanes t-shirts. She was petite, but looked tall even with bare feet. She had perfect posture. Her straight black hair swept her shoulders as she walked towards me. I felt like I was staring in a mirror.
“Hi I’m Julie. I’ll get out of your way in a second, but I need to show you a few things.” She pointed out the mildew in the shower and the yellow rings circling the inside of the toilet bowl. “I’ll be on my way now.” Julie said. “More shopping to do. I think the shopping here is so much better than Hong Kong.” Julie was a trust fund baby—zig-zagging the world and living a magazine lifestyle thanks to her rich father, a roller coaster designer in Japan.
I left Corey’s loft feeling like I was living Cinderella’s fairy tale life, but in reverse. Instead of wining and dining, I listened as someone my age told me where to mop and scrub.
Corey didn’t need a maid anymore than I needed to be a maid. Back then, the tech world didn’t need another dot-com anymore than today’s housing market needs another residential home builder. But everything ultimately unwinds itself. The Pacific Stock Exchange has been replaced by an Equinox fitness club. Corey moved back home to Boston to work in the family publishing business. Julie’s dad made her get a job, ringing up the cash register at Banana Republic. The dot com boom went bust just like today’s housing bubble goes pop. And I determinedly found myself huddled in the basement of a graduate school library, studying the economics of it all.
I used the degree to land a career in the banking industry. Exactly one decade from my first days at the long-gone startup, I am directly embroiled in the financial crisis as a spokesperson for one of the last banks standing. The headlines scream ‘recession, depression, government intervention.’ I see flashes of red on the Bloomberg terminal indicating our stock’s decline from yesterday’s closing price. My phone’s ring tone seems to get louder and louder as I make a determination on whose voicemails need to be returned, and whose I can get by with not calling back. I brace myself for the anger: “What the hell is going on with the stock? It’s in free fall.” Or the toughest calls: “My retirement’s in your stock. I’m 78 years old. Catherine, what am I going to do?” I groan that psychology course work would have benefitted me more than finance.
How did I end up in the industry that caused this recession? I couldn’t have known how bad it would get in banking or that my job is now in jeopardy. All I knew was that it’s exactly what I wanted to do—despite its current challenges.
One of the hot debates in financial services is the concept of mark-to-market accounting. How do you value an asset when there is no market for it? After living out the dot-com era and now the recession, I will forever be curious about the true value of anything whether a salary, a home, or an asset. Because you can’t assign a value to a feeling that you are being overpaid or your house can’t possibly be worth that much. It’s just a gut feeling of irrational exuberance. So you do what you can to safeguard your well-being by going back to school, socking more money away into savings, keeping your resume updated, and scouring job postings. Because in good times and bad, there are always the Craigslist ads.