4 AM Saturday 17 March 2012 Nunhead

This is the time of year I start putting up the money for my Edinburgh Fringe shows in August. As usual, I suffer from cash flow problems this time of year. I suffer from cash flow problems every time of year. The problem is that cash flows only away from me. What do you call a broke Jew? Lewis Schaffer.

My relationship with money is not a good one: I inherited it from my father.

My father would regularly borrow money from his mother-in-law, my grandmother. He borrowed for the deposit on the house in Great Neck, for new cars, and even for my Bar Mitzvah. I am not sure he ever paid it back. Like son like father.

This would have been bad enough if Bubby were rich. She was just the wife, and then the widow, of a letter carrier – a postman.

My father’s father – my grandfather – worked in clothing factory sewing shirts in New York’s garment district.  Jews did those kind of jobs before World War Two. The English would call them “working class”.  After the war, the Federal Government under the GI Bill paid for their children to learn to be lawyers. My father became a patent and trademark lawyer in New York. It was rumored that this type of lawyer was extremely well compensated. I didn’t see it.

The English might call our nuclear family “middle class”. Perhaps an English person reading this is thinking that my family didn’t know how to deal with our rise into a higher class. That’s rubbish.

My family had a hard time dealing with money no matter how many shekels they had in their pocket – and not just because shekels aren’t a valid currency anywhere in the world. My grandfathers had trouble paying their bills when they were working, too, and their expenses were lower. [It has been pointed out to me that shekels are legal tender in Israel. See, what do I know about money?]

Second, there are no classes in America; just people with different amounts of money. There is a quip often ascribed to a meeting of Ernest Hemmingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald which goes “The rich are different than you and me. They have more money.” I say: In America, you can’t be posh without the dosh – how brilliant is that! It is all about the money, money, money.

In England, class isn’t about money. Here a person can be “middle class” yet be a billionaire owner of a greedy supermarket chain.  In America, that person is just “filthy rich”, the highest level of the American pyramid. In England, due to my education and my parents’ occupations, I’m considered middle class. In America, I am just a “loser”. That is why I love England.

Back to my point. Friday noon it occurs to me I don’t have a gig for Friday night, or for Saturday night, for that matter. My calendar is filling up but there are still gaps. Okay, I’m not working half of the weekends and I’m having doubts about telling you, the reader. On stage we can suspend reality: It’s comedy! With the written word it’s very serious. Anyway, working half the weekends is still better than where I was in comedy just a few years ago. I was dead in the water.

Weekends for comics are like weekends for footballers: A time to get wankered, start a punch-up, nail your best mate’s bird and make a few quid.  And do you see how easily I can slip into the Queen’s English?

No matter how busy I am for most of the week – busy worrying about my radio show, busy worrying about my live shows in Soho, and busy just plain worrying – I feel I should be working every Friday and Saturday night.

If I were working every weekend I wouldn’t be having cash flow problems. If I were working every weekend I wouldn’t be panicking on Fridays or worrying about funding my Edinburgh shows.

Come to think of it, yes I would.


Listen to Lewis Schaffer on the Radio.
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7 thoughts on “I am having a bad relationship with money – or why I panic on Fridays

  1. We certainly do think about class differently here. When I was in the States with work year, before last, I caught a couple of political ads on TV and the two guys were promising to do “more for the middle classes”. My first thought was, woah, that would not work in the UK. In the UK, the middle class are sorted. That’s why they’re in the middle. Why would we vote for people who were going to give more stuff to the people who have stuff?

    But the kind of people pushed forward as examples were office staff and lower status professionals. Not all of them would be middle class by UK standards, they’d be working class, some of them edging into the middle class bracket by their level of education and ‘respectability’ of the profession. Like, when I was a teacher, my mom used to tell everyone what I did for a living. Then I left to work in an office above a factory, and she stopped bragging about me. Still had my qualifications and everything, but my status was gone. She’d been working class all her life and was a bit ashamed of that, and thought she could vicariously improve her status through me, and as a teacher, that worked, because everyone knew only good, posh kids get to grow up to be teachers.

    But then it gets complex… I can’t help also feeling that I may be nudging into the middle class bracket… but that’s not where I’ve come from, and I kind of don’t want to be thought of as middle class either. Okay, so I buy from specialist cheese shops and listen to Radio 4, but who doesn’t like cheese? I want people to know my sketchy knowledge of Middle English was hard-earned, not the result of privilege. For example, when Melibee says “I conseille yow that ye accorde with youre adversaries and that ye have pees with hem”, I know she’s not telling her what to have for tea. But then I do say ‘tea’ – and that’s the meal you have at 6 or 7 o’clock. This makes me very working class.

    Basically, I think when Americans say “we’re middle class” they mean they’re not workshy scum, and when Brits say “we’re working class” they mean the same with an added inference of “we’re not privileged either”.

  2. In the States, you can be a lazy middle class person if you have a middle class-sized income. In America, I am poor. It is all about the money, money, money. It’s all about the money, money, money. In England, I am middle class because my parents were uni educated lawyer and teacher and I went to uni myself. I raised my class just by moving here.

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