Monday, June 9, 2014

Two Questions You Should Never Ask Most People You Know, Much Less a Stranger

A sightseer from Arizona ambushed me on Sixth Avenue during evening rush hour last week, asking for directions to “the pier.” I asked which one. She didn’t care. Realizing this was someone who mostly wanted to stand around in the hustle and the bustle (and the heat) to chat about anything, I pointed westward and told her to walk in a straight line until she hit the river.

The “walk in a straight line” business could explain why she then confessed she’d just had two glasses of wine. I’m glad she came clean about the drinking (and yes, Virginia, there really are people who get bombed from 2 weak drinks) because it made me more patient. Until she asked how much rent I pay.

Whenever someone I’m not extremely close to asks: (1) how much rent I pay; or (2) how much money I make, I tell myself the next time it happens, I’ll chuckle it off and say, “We don’t talk about money, darling.” But I always end up blurting out the exact dollar amount, forever taken aback by either question when it comes.

She needed to know what I do for a living, which is such a Northeast Corridor thing to ask someone you’ve known for less than 5 minutes. When I said I was an editor, she lit up.

“For who?” she asked, and I told her that too.

“Never heard of it,” she answered, in a tone and with a frown suggesting it was my fault she hasn’t heard of it. Which, given one of my many job duties, it very well might be. Knowing the salary question was up next, I gave her a big smile, wished her luck, and walked a little faster toward my humble (in terms of everything but price) abode.


  1. I must admit that I have never been asked how much I make; however, questions about how much rent I pay are rather frequent and predictable. This is because I live in an old, tenement-style building (c. 1900). Usually it goes something like this:

    "Wow, this is a really old building. You must be rent stabilized."

    "Well, actually I am rent controlled."

    "No, no, you mean rent stabilized."

    "No, I mean rent CONTROLLED."

    "But how is that possible?"

    "Well, it could have something to do with the fact that my husband and I have lived here almost half a century."

    "Well, uh . . . (leaning forward conspiratorially) . . . how much rent do you pay?"

    Whether or not I answer the question depends on the person and what mood I'm in that day.

    But the kicker is that one time I called the Rent Stabilization Agency--which is in charge of both rent stabilization and rent control--with a question.

    I started out by saying, "I have a rent controlled apartment."

    "No," the lady said. "You have a rent stabilized apartment."

    "Well, no--it's rent CONTROLLED."

    "When did you start living in the apartment?"


    Long pause . . .

    "Gee, I've never talked with anyone with a rent controlled apartment before. You're the first one."