A young professional’s take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.

By Nina Pajak

When I was sixteen, my mother caught me giving my father an enormous amount of change that I’d amassed in exchange for paper bills. You see, he collected change. Not specific coins, no. Just…change. When my mom witnessed our transaction, she flipped out and began lecturing me on how:

a) Change is money

b) I don’t appreciate the value of money

So in an effort to teach me a valuable lesson, she came up with a neat little Hammurabian exercise. I was to take my brand new learner’s permit and drive myself to the A&P to buy a quart of milk. She knew, as moms know everything, that a quart of milk cost precisely, uh, I don’t remember. For argument’s sake, let’s say $1.19. I was to bring with me: my keys, my permit, and a plastic bag containing precisely $1.19 in dimes, nickels and pennies. So I went, being the dutiful daughter I was, despite having no understanding of what exactly this was all supposed to prove to me. When I got to the register and began to count out my tender, I immediately dropped the bag and watched as precious cents rolled away and fell into crevices from which they could never be retrieved. I don’t recall whether I was permitted to just take the damn milk with me or whether I was shown the door. I know there was a growing line of aggravated people behind me, and the cashier wanted to beat me over the head with the remaining contents of my baggie. I’m pretty sure I didn’t learn any lesson whatsoever other than not to let my mother see me disrespecting change. My concept of the value of money remained undisturbed, until I moved into Manhattan.

Then it went out the window altogether.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Council for Community and Economic Research released a report listing the country’s most and least expensive cities in which to live. No surprise, New York ranks number one (Manhattan). Oh, and two (Brooklyn). And, uh, five (Queens). Filling in the top five are also Honolulu and San Francisco, so quit your fantasizing, friends. Instead, try envisioning yourself in, say, Memphis, Tenn., Waco, Texas, or Ardmore, Okla., which are among the least expensive cities in the U.S.

Okay, maybe Waco doesn’t sound like such a party to you, but as it is our brains have been scrambled.

To me, my friends in Los Angeles are paying “nothing” in rent. My coworker who lives in Brooklyn frequently laments Midtown prices compared to how cheap everything is in Greenpoint. My brother out in Queens could be living in Waco, as far as I’m concerned. It certainly makes traveling fun. When I leave the New York area, I have no idea how to comport myself. I feel like I should buy six of everything just to take advantage of the value. Paying anything less than $14 for a salad feels like I’m on some sort of crime spree. I’m like the Japanese tourists who would come to Paris when I was studying abroad and load up on Louis Vuitton bags and Chanel suits because they were such a great value. Except instead of doing that, I just order an extra round of drinks. Oh, hell. I do that here too.

I willingly sprinkle my money all over the city because I can be convinced that pretty much anything at any price can be seen as “pretty reasonable,” or “a good deal. You know, considering.”

Considering, indeed.

When my cousin from Missouri saw my last apartment, he kept wandering from room to room asking questions like, “is this your only closet?” and “why is the bathroom in the kitchen?” and “you only have one fuse?” He told me he paid a fraction of our rent for his entire house in the middle of the country. I told him he didn’t understand and many people considered our apartment to be enviable, and I had never touched the fusebox in my life, okay? Leave me alone.

I will never move to Oklahoma.


Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

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Comments (4)
  1. Your mother says:

    That is total fiction. I never sent you to the supermarket with a bag of change!

    1. NinaPajak says:

      Kindly recant. It happened! It was a mostly cockeyed lesson which I won’t soon forget.

      1. Mom says:

        I have no such memory.

  2. BIG GAY AL says:


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