Young, Smart and In Love

What was Erin thinking, marrying so young and outside her culture? Lofty thoughts apparently, as this young lady is pursuing her doctorate in social psychology, a field in which she also has a masters. Maybe Anthony, with his expertise is electrical engineering, rigged up an elaborate display of lights to ask her out and propose? Who knows? I’m just going with it. They are obviously happy with each other and feel that getting married is one of their smartest moves. We at the Latte Cafe tend to agree.

Cheers to them both!


OT: Don’t Enslave Your Daughters to the Kardashian Card

Mindless celebrity worship and personal finance are two great obsessions in American society right now, and they’ve just had a disastrous run in with each other in the form of the prepaid Kardashian card. Whether you follow celebrity news and gossip devotedly or write about business and finance, like Hubby and me, you have heard of this abomination.

As you can tell, I think this venture into capitalism is a horrible idea. Perhaps the Kardashians and their handlers thought it would be a good business move to introduce the concept of credit and money management to youngsters in baby steps, offering college women, high schoolers—and worse, teens—a prepaid and presumably re-loadable card that they can use to buy downscale, Made in China, knock off goods. Let me tell you why Hubby and I think that the target market for these cards is very unlikely to keep up with the Kardashians if they get themselves roped into this shameful money grab.

The card is loaded with endless fees, as this report from explains:

While regular bank debit cards are typically free and don’t charge any fees, a 12-month Kardashian Kard costs $99.95 just to own, including a card purchase fee of $9.95 and 12 monthly fees of $7.95. After the first year, consumers must continue to pay the $7.95 monthly fee.

On top of these initial fees, it costs Kardashian Kard users $1 every time they add money to their card, and it costs $1.50 to speak with a live operator. If they want to pay their bills automatically using the card, they’ll be charged $2 per transaction.

The fee schedule on this thing violates many sound rules of good money conduct. If a youngster does not understand the inner workings of the card and wants to get someone on the line to explain it, why should that ring up a fee? Someone needs to explain the difference between the $99.95 ownership fee and the $7.95 monthly ripoff to hold the card after the first year. It gets worse:

“The cards are touted as safer than cash and easier than a regular bank account, but in the end it’s going to cost more than a bank account and there is more risk assumed,” the story quotes Gail Hillebrand, a senior attorney at Consumers Union as saying.

That’s because, like the new Kardashian MasterCard, prepaid cards are loaded with charges — including activation fees as high as $40, monthly fees of up to $10, paper statement fees of as much as $5.95, inactivity fees up to $9.95 and customer service fees as high as $3.95.

And most prepaid cards don’t offer the same protections as debit and credit cards.

If fraudulent charges appear on your account or your card is lost or stolen, you might not be able to get your money back. And because your card is not associated with a bank account, your money is also less likely to be FDIC insured, meaning that there is no guarantee you will get your money back if your card issuer fails.

The Kardashian sisters might as well have taken one of their hands, manicured while avoiding any useful work that might benefit anyone, and slapped their future groupies/slaves—sorry, let me use my marketing language, “guests”—across the face. It’s not enough that these women have a mindless TV show. Now they’ve turned to using their popularity to do little more than separate the working masses from their assets.

Think I’m joking? Who do you think is more likely to sign up for one of these rhinestone encrusted silver-plated handcuffs? Will it be the daughter of parents who are financially savvy and can sit down with her and work out why the math does not work, or a young girl who probably idolizes this trio and doesn’t have that kind of financial education at home?

“Prepaid card issuers started out by targeting the lower income and under-banked, and now we’re seeing the teen market and college market being targeting,” said Hillebrand.

Gentle readers, you don’t need to be savvy about politics and the debate about the widening wealth gap in this country. One plain and simple way to avoid your daughter accruing thousands of dollars in every fee imaginable and having her credit tarnished from an early age is to bypass this silliness. Why should the Kardashian sisters profit at the expense of the working and middle class? Let them get respectable employment, already.

It’s a great deal for the Kardashians, who get a significant cut of the fee revenue generated from the cards and get to extend their name recognition.

“None of these celebrities are going to get rich off of these cards — they’re already rich to begin with,” said Ron Shevlin, a senior analyst at Aite Group. “For the most part, this is an absolutely incredible publicity play.”

If a mailer for the card comes in the mail, shred it without even opening it. Otherwise if your daughter or sister signs up for the card, she will face a fee for not using it enough, and yet another punch in the gut (sorry, fee) for canceling the card.

The Dinner Party

In about 24 hours, a lot of you will be gathering at the homes of family and friends for well-deserved long weekends, and an onslaught of richly prepared foods. If you are like my family, you’ll launch into a rollicking good time, loud enough for the neighbors to consider filing a noise complaint with the local authorities.

Perhaps someone should have called the Emily Post enforcement division many years ago after an early spring dinner party that Hubby and I attended when we were still dating. Hubby’s friends, Hannah and Anwar, invited four couples to their charming duplex in an old Brooklyn brownstone to eat and mingle. The place was splendid, with its fireplaces, beautifully maintained woodwork, original pocket doors, and very high ceilings.

They were gracious hosts, but some of their guests were … they were … oddballs. Aside from us, three other couples showed up: Athena and her French husband Etienne.  There was also Lois, a NUT, with her mellow Dutch husband Peter. Hannah and Anwar served a yummy mix of Moroccan and American food (Anwar is from Morocco). I think about that dinner party occasionally, but not always fondly. The fact that this was a very diverse group of people, with every couple being mixed across cultural, racial or religious lines was a big plus. It meant we might be able to talk about our common experiences and just have a good time being around others like us. Except for Hannah’s marriage, every other couple was an interracial one involving a European or white American man and a black woman. I was the only “fully” black woman, as Athena and Lois were both biracial. I think that in Athena’s case, her mother was Haitian and her father Greek.

Oddball behavior overshadowed the obvious opportunity for us to “swap notes,” on our experiences.
As we all know, strange behavior afflicts individuals of all creeds, races and cultures. 
Let’s talk about Lois.  I forgot her real name, and it’s probably for the best, because she is one of those irksome women who turn motherhood into a blood sport. At one point I said that I saw the movie “Boys Don’t Cry,” and that I liked it. To which she replied: “Well, obviously you don’t have any kids.” That was true. I had no kids at the time, but that’s because I chose not to be a single mother. If someone can please show me the connection between having a child and enjoying a movie for grown-ups, I’ll take back every dirty look I shot that woman and every insult I muttered about her that evening.  I repent of the fantasies about keying her car and her longsuffering husband dragging her out the door by her hair. Poor man.

Aside from Hannah, Athena saved the party.  She seemed very down to earth, did not carry on and on about the glories and agonies of parenthood that only someone who has been pregnant could possibly understand.  She just made witty conversation. Her husband also seemed nice, not puffed up or standoffish in any way. In fact, of all the couples there, I wish we could have carved out Hannah and Anwar and Athena and Etienne and ditched the others.

Sorry ladies. Life is long, and interracial and cross-cultural marriages sometimes come fraught with complications. My thinking is that unless you make the journey a more comfortable one for me, you’ve got to go.

I hope everyone out there has a great time this Thanksgiving, and that my story amused you. Make the best of the families you have, choose your friends very carefully and enjoy the rest.


Stop the Presses!

This just in: Samantha and Colin got married on Saturday in a beautiful garden in the Bronx. You should have been there. It was so romantic, the joining of two media-savvy New Yorkers. I wasn’t there either, but can’t you imagine the hardy pansies, mums pruned trees and other flora decorating their ceremony? If they wish it, perhaps there will be follow-up news on this breaking development. The kind with ten fingers and ten toes that makes pitter-patter on their hardwood floors. Have a happy life, folks!

The Other M-Word

Traveling about the North Jersey/New York polyglot is not for the faint of heart, whether one is driving or using mass transit. I consider myself pretty thick-skinned about human foibles that unfold during rush hour, but something I heard on the train the other day impacted me like a slap in the face. A couple of friends were catching up after apparently not seeing each other in a while. Both seemed like well-educated professionals. The man was white and married, but his wife was not on the train with him. Judging by his comments about his wife, there is a good chance she was of Caribbean descent. Thanks to my marriage, I’ve almost developed a canine ear for giveaway phrases, like the ones he was using: “patois” and “dialect” and “sometimes can’t understand her aunts” and “all her cousins.” Come on, now! I think it is a safe bet that his in-laws are from one island or another.

The woman was clearly of Indian descent, with shoulder-length jet-back hair, a bejeweled bindi dot and a kameez top over jeans, instead of the more traditional salwar-kameez combination. Her mannerisms almost came across like a performance, with affected patrician inflections and the bawdy laughter at flat, nerdy jokes. I suppose that’s why their conversation pulled my attention away from my reading that morning.

The two were catching up about their children, and it became clear that the husband had a baby daughter. The woman asked: “Is she at daycare, or do you have a nanny for her—some warm kindly island mama?”

Did she really just say that? What was that supposed to mean? Obviously, it was no big deal to her, because she made a smooth transition into the next comment. She even threw in a remark about his daughter being his “little Barack Obama.” Apparently, her friendship and familiarity with the man bred contempt for his wife’s cultural background. Her remark trivialized the experiences and hardships, of an entire class of domestic workers. That educated-sounding woman overlooked the obvious: The family hiring the nanny might project some cozy gauzy image of a “mama” onto her, because she is caring for young children in a home setting. But don’t forget that these Caribbean nannies often have their own kids. The house is a job site, and the family is an employer. This is a business arrangement in a dog-eat-dog world, where she is trying to support herself and probably sent remittances back to her own children in her native country—on tiny wages. Some of these nannies work for women who spend more money decorating their childrens’ rooms than they do on their annual salaries. For generations, black Caribbean and American women have toiled away, rearing the children of upper middle class women, some who worked and others who did not. They are not rotund cartoons from an antebellum picture book whose greatest calling in life is to run after other people’s broods for less money per year than one of the family cars. I doubt any of these workers would go along with a woman in a more privileged position making verbal sport of her situation. Painting her like some mammy. EcoSoul, a guest blogger at The Intersection|Madness & Reality, wonderfully articulated these sentiments, and more,  in this post last year.

Let’s assume that the male passenger and his wife actually preferred to hire a Caribbean nanny, as a way for the wife to anchor her child in her heritage. Certainly there is nothing wrong with them doing that. Nor would there be any particular shame for the nanny to work under those conditions, assuming they pay and treat her well. But I don’t get why women like the one on the train can’t find less pugnacious ways of expressing themselves. Certainly I don’t talk about any domestic workers that way, especially because my mother and aunts held those types of jobs. Their experiences are not ancient history or playthings for the upper middle class. The feelings and the memories are still fresh. It doesn’t matter if they happened years ago. Does that silly woman know just how far into American culture her friend’s wife is steeped? What if she speaks patois among family and friends after work? Cooks the food and still vacations on her native island sometimes? To others, it might seem like a joke, a light slip of the tongue, but I wonder if this woman would be just as candid were she at a dinner party at the wife’s house, and the aunts and cousins were present.

I made my way out of the station and onto Broadway, into the sunshine of another clear and mild fall day. Downtown Manhattan, with its historic churches, cobblestone streets and the New York Stock Exchange, looks majestic on days like that. Lots of Caribbean nannies were well into their workdays already, pushing their charges along in high-end strollers that glided along the sidewalks and park paths. Those women are majestic, too. When they do their jobs well, it gives their employers the peace of mind to function well as bankers, attorneys, real estate developers or whatever kind of Manhattan titan they happen to be.

It struck me that the Indian woman never asked her friend about his wife, and when he volunteered information about his wife, she deftly ignored it and changed the subject. To take such an interest in a child while overlooking the mother is weird to me. I don’t think it means she is racist. At the very least, she is careless, silly and out of touch with people who walk a different path in life her. I’m sure that makes dinner parties at the wife’s house interesting places to be, for all of them.

Vanessa and Jason

If you are a guy and you stumbled across this blog—and by that I mean you tripped, crashed into the pavement and rolled over a half-dozen times before skidding to a stop, mercifully—you might wonder what it is like to marry and live with a woman like Vanessa Williams. Just ask Jason Stevenson. He married his sweetie not too long ago, on November 6, according to the announcement in the Style section of last week’s New York Times. I think that if any high drama breaks out during the building of their marriage, they can engineer a solution. I love it!  Have a happily ever after, you all!

A Coronation/Diefication Gone Wrong

People who faithfully watch the Real Housewives of Atlanta are probably still shaking their heads over the recent spectacle known as Phaedra Parks’ baby shower. The woman came under heavy criticism for an event that some say was far too extravagant and tacky. I disagree. When a woman is named Phaedra and is married to man named Apollo, she owes it to the lowly masses, the mortals, to put on a show. In my humble and belated opinion, Phaedra did not go far enough. Here is the BravoTV take on the situation: The Real Housewives of Atlanta – Videos – Bonus Clips – Planning the Baby Shower | Bravo TV Official Site.

Here are my impressions of the splashy, showy baby shower that almost everyone who expressed an opinion seemed to hate. Baby Shower or Tasteless Free for All?

Crimson Hearts

It’s been a while since I’ve posted wedding announcements, which I can only chalk up to too much time spent updating old high school and neighborhood friends on Facebook. I might as well reestablish the practice by talking about Audrey and Trevor. I don’t know much about these people, except for what I’ve read in today’s Style section of The New York Times. They seem to be very lucky to have found each other. She’s pretty and brainy, while he’s inventive and not bad on the eyes either. They both love the arts. It all works! It’s not surprising that these two made a love connection at Harvard. As many of you have pointed out, interracial romances often happen among people who are educated, a bit more worldly and open-minded, and are therefore much less likely to agonize about following their hearts outside of their own cultures. I might have one tiny objection to this union, though. Aside from good looks, intellect and the inside track for admission to Harvard, their children will have killer dimples. Those are three insurmountable advantages over other kids! Oh well, what’s done is beautifully done. In any case, I hope Audrey and Trevor have many happy decades together. Cheers, guys!