So what are we worth?

By Alan S. Chartock | February 23, 2023

So what are we worth? Many of us inherit money from relatives who have accumulated a fortune from their businesses and their own relatives. There is always a question of what wealthy people do with their money. How do they spend it? Who do they give it to?

My family never had that much money. I do remember my parents struggling with their check books. My mother was a teacher and later a school-community coordinator, working for the New York City Board of Education. Her boss, the assistant superintendent, was Morris Finkle.

My family lived in fear that the phone would ring and that the man we called “Stinky Finky” would be on the other end, looking for my mother. My father always had jobs that paid him just adequately. At one point, he was the general manager of something called the Harmon Watch Company. I remember going to his workplace with him and watching him winding individual watches which he carefully put back in the safe where they were kept.

This all meant that our family could rent a six room apartment on 96th Street on the upper West Side of Manhattan. Between my parents’ two salaries, there really wasn’t that much money but there was enough for a large apartment, a house on Fire Island in the summer, a housekeeper who would clean the house and another cleaner who would come on Thursdays to do the heavy cleaning. Today that looks like a lot of help. Of course, in the early fifties it was possible to get that kind of people to help and many of them were immigrants from places like Ireland.

After a while the Fire Island thing got too expensive so my parents would rent out their house at the beach. My mother always worked three jobs. In the summer she started and then directed the Ocean Beach (Fire Island) Youth Group and would walk around with an ever present clipboard. She had some kind of an infirmity which made her walk very, very slowly. Now I know that I was nuts to be embarrassed about her slow walking but when you’re much younger, you don’t always think straight. Because my mother was responsible for hiring all the counselors who worked at the camp she directed, between that and her job in the city, she was considered a fairly influential figure both on the West Side of Manhattan and on Fire Island.

Somewhere along the line we learn from the jobs and clout that our parents had. We learn, for example, about power and the limitations that come living on the cusp of poverty. Since we had a six room apartment, my parents would rent out a room to a medical student from Mount Sinai Medical School across the park. Once they rented to a medical student and when he moved out, I found a large group of semi-clothed women in one of the books that he had left behind. Being a bit of a prude, I tore them all up and, of course, regretted that for years afterwards. Being a very loud mouthed twin, I can only imagine what a medical student trying to study was thinking as we were raising hell in our apartment. As I tell this story, I wonder why it is so important that it has remained in my mind all these years.

Of course, we all have memories that are embarrassing and still cause us discomfort so many years after an event took place. Many of the things that we remember with red faces are happening to our children and grandchildren right now.

The money we have in our bank accounts may not mean the same thing that it once did years ago. We can only hope that we have enough to allow us to live the way that we want to.


Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at [email protected].