A few months ago, I interviewed Dick Hendrickson, a local farmer who gives the official numbers to the National Weather Service about temperature, humidity and rainfall every morning from gauges he has in his backyard.
Hendrickson is old enough to remember the Great Depression that ensued for a decade after the Crash of ’29. Unlike other parts of the country, the East End survived pretty good. There was no Social Security, food stamps or unemployment insurance then. Nevertheless, people with farms gave away meat, dairy and vegetables to others without. The Town set up a clothing swap and also participated by giving jobs out to the unemployed. The downturn may be pretty bad this time around, but it was nothing like the pain that was suffered through the 1930s.
One of the highlights of this interview involved a gypsy moth count. There was lots of woods out here. Unemployed young men from elsewhere were sent out here on the railroad trains to do “work” on the East End, which was really sort of make-work.
“The federal government ran the program. The men built a camp in the woods. There were about 50 of them. And their job was to count the gypsy moths and report back. And for this they got paid a weekly check. They’d come into town on a bus they had out there and they’d buy stuff at the groceries. Nice young men. At least it was something for them to do.”
This work, or non-work, brings to mind a new kind of job that people can have. It was reported on in New York Magazine last week. It helps the economy. People get paid for showing up somewhere.
An A-list star can get $100,000 or more for showing up. The article lists as examples of who would receive this sum as Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Fergie. I think the antenna went up at New York Magazine when the editors heard last November that Kim Kardashian, who has not exhibited any talent for anything but is an A-list person nevertheless, was to be paid $153,000 for showing up at a horse race in Australia. The Post reported that she had to skip out to attend to her divorce matters.
I was visiting a local shopkeeper friend up in Springs the other day—dinner and sports—and also here for the occasion is a woman who works for the town, a hardware store owner and his wife and a clammer, and I pulled out this article and read from it. Our economic worries were over.
“B-List people get $25,000 for showing up,” I said. I read them what the magazine described as B-listers who did. Ashley Greene, Camilla Belle, Zoe Saldana, Leighton Meester, Lea Michele, Blake Lively.
“Upper Echelon ‘Real Housewives’ get $10,000 to show up,” I said. I listed some of the Housewives, from Beverly Hills and New York City. “It also says that Vanilla Ice would get $10,000.”
“Who would pay that kind of money?” my clammer friend asked.
“It says corporate events or nightclub owners, but the nightclubs would be in Ohio or Kansas or something.”
The next level down was $5,000. “Nineties sitcom stars such as Alfonso Ribeirio or Dennis Haskins and ’80s movie villains. They give the example of Billy Zabka, the villain in The Karate Kid.”
“Where do we fit into this?” the shopkeeper asked.
“There’s the $2,500 level. Celebrity mistresses. People like Joslyn James, Jamie Jungers and January Gessert.”
“I was one, once,” the town employee, a woman, said.
“Back then, people weren’t asking for money,” the clammer said.
“Shut up,” she replied. “Now we come to the $500 level,” I said. “That’s us,” the clammer said.
Maybe not. “$500 goes to Biggest Losers, Survivors and Amazing Racers.” There was a considerable amount of silence after that. “Also ‘long forgotten Real World cast members.”
“Who would pay these losers $500?”
“Like if you cut a grand opening ribbon at a new shopping mall or a car dealership. The people whose place it is pays.”
“So what do we get paid?”
“Well, we’ve made an appearance here at the home of our friend the hardware store owner for dinner and TV and thank you very much.”
“So he pays.”
“The way I figure it,” I said, “town employees get $50, potato farmers $100, newspapermen which is me $100 and clammers $200. All paid by our host and his wife.”
“Why do clammers get more?” asked our host.
“They’re a dying breed,” I said. “Look. It’s only money.”
“Why do I get $50?” the town employee asked. “You guys are a dime a dozen.”
“You free Thursday?” our host asked me.
“Thursday lets do this over again at your house.”
“Sounds fine,” say I. “The more the merrier. Every little bit helps.”