A story of struggle, and manipulation from (a few) wealthy San Franciscans, in the style of Niccolò Machiavelli
In case you don’t remember your world history, Niccolò Machiavelli was a 16th century Renaissance man who wrote The Prince as an attempt to legitimize his credentials and loyalty to the new incumbent “Prince” taking over.
He wanted the new guy not to chop his head off or throw him in jail….kind of like Tyrion Lannister did the entire time in Game of Thrones. He was smart, and knew how to talk with conviction, and convince people to keep him as an advisor. Because, well, he’s awesome and smart. Duh. He just told you!
You’ve heard of him, whether or not you know it. Here are some of his famous quotes:
It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.
Men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, for everyone can see and few can feel. Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are.
So here, this is me sharing a story in a Machiavellian style, but also trying to tell you to hire me for something…anything. There are many things I do. I am not a business person, but I’m trying; any advice is also helpful. I do not think I should have to drop out of my PhD program to make ends meet. I have not worked so hard, surpassed expectations in a very difficult field, earned multiple degrees in the sciences, for nothing.
A lot of my friends make bank and I’m happy for them. They are amazing and deserve it all. However, some of them wouldn’t dream of trying to do the work I’ve been doing to get by; and I have learned to be okay with this. My pride has flown out the window, I just want to live, dance and finish my PhD with a clear conscience and without having to eat Hot Pockets every day.
I can’t begin to tell you the hell I’ve been through, and how hard it is to stay a float in San Francisco on a PhD stipend in the hard sciences, while trying to pursue my passion and my therapy: aerial dance.
Read on for more of my crazy adventures of recent months. Please forgive my tendencies to go on tangents!
Not sure where to start, honestly. I’ve been working at least part-time since I was 13 years old. My first job was at Pilar’s Café, a Mexican restaurant in Oxnard, California. I was a waitress that was bilingual — a rare commodity. This restaurant hired under the table, and the other waitresses with broken English and more life experience, talked me into giving them my tips. You know, because it was the “right” thing to do. I eventually found another job at the Heritage Square Historical Foundation down the street at 14, and worked there going forward.
I got my boyfriend at the time a job with me (I’m a two birds, one stone kind of gal), and he began stealing money from the register. And yet everyone blamed me for it. It’s easier to think the brown girl stole instead of the boy that looks like Rivers Cuomo, maybe.
I lost that job and began working at Century 16 Movie Theaters in Ventura at age 15. I have been unemployed a grand total of four months since I was 13.
Fast forward to now. A divorce from a faux-woke-ally- Google employee (where I got enough money to cover my spur of the moment move out/move-in fees) who still stalks my social media and wants so badly to be friends without doing any of the work, a Master’s degree and a year into a PhD later….I find myself in a weird funk. I used to think working really hard meant you would be so successful, that whole American Dream thing, but it really isn’t like that.
It’s 2019 in San Francisco, California and I’m trying to hustle and be creative, as I have always been, to make ends meet. I want to have a life where I have time and space to breathe, enjoy my time with my better half, and see my family.
Living solely on a PhD stipend from UC Santa Cruz in the Bay area (SF or SC) is ludicrous. It is basically a joke. After taxes it comes to about 28,000 a year, making us ineligible for food stamps. Most students either worked in industry beforehand, saved up money, have rich families, or hustle, like I do for side money.
To make matters harder, my hobby (hobby is almost an insult-) my passion in this life, dance, is so expensive (but worth every penny). Paying for dance classes, studio time, private lessons are my biggest expense after my rent, helping out my family (I have other essays about what it’s like being from a poor, immigrant background), and credit card bills. Shout out to one of my many phenomenal dance teachers, who works with me, so I may still do private dance sessions, Margaret Elyse (ig@movewith_me). If you want to learn dance moves, she is one of the teachers you ought to train with. I got all the recommendations, given that I had no background in sports or dance previous to April 2018.
I found Aerial Dance/Dance at one of the BEST jobs I ever had at San Francisco Pole and Dance. The boss extraordinaire, Amy Bond (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSAYPVCupuc), paid me well, had perks and treated me like a person — with respect and appreciation. I learned a lot about business and customer service there in addition to my entrance into this magical world of artistry and talent, where everyone is kind, fun and encouraging.
I digress. If I learned anything from my ex-husband ( I learned a lot) is that a lot of rich, tech people are down and willing pay someone else to do mundane tasks like chores and organizing, errand running, especially if they can save money.
I took this to heart and looked at Craigslist for folks who needed extra help around the house. I then looked at cleaning agencies, Task Rabbit et al, and priced my services less than that but still more than I’d make working retail-based jobs.
Among my fees: $55 flat rate for a 1 bedroom Air BnB unit, $25 an hour for light cleaning (dishes, trash, laundry), and $40 an hour for deep cleaning and organization (and companionship? — more on that later).
The man who owns multiple Air BnB units told me that $55 flat rate including tip was “ a little high” when I knew damn well it was not. I then had to reply saying I’ve done my research, comparing my prices and justifying my rate.
The couple I’ll call Johnny and Caroline who placed an ad on Craigslist saying they can spend up to $75 per week for “light cleaning including laundry” when in fact they wanted me to do deep cleaning of toilets and bathtubs. And, they did not tip.
This couple who worked in tech and had a newborn, had a hyperactive medium-sized dog with tons of fur, picky requests for supplies (so I told them to supply everything), and the world’s worst yet expensive vacuum cleaner. Their laundry and trash was on the first floor, and they lived on the third floor, so I was constantly running around. In total, I was doing two hours straight of pure cardio, of hard labor, intense cleaning for $25/hour. They had me take out dirty diapers, and took a lot out of me time with demanding references, immunization proof and scheduling needs that they were not forthcoming about. They never tipped. I am still shook.
They have since updated this ad a multitude of times, and I regret not snapping a photo of previous iterations. Every time I reached out about something like the vacuum cleaner not working right, or schedule, etc. they’d go back and change it. It reminded me of when I was on Tinder and I’d go on a date with someone, then see they updated their dating profile after the date. Ouch.
Instead, here is a photo of the latest, after I sent them an email telling them how they had misled me, and it was shocking that they didn’t tip, nor did they realize how cheap I was.
The other client I had was a man in his mid-forties, named Chuck, who owned two large flats next to each other. He hired me to clean but what he really wanted, was companionship. He paid me $40 per hour and we spoke about everything from science, Star Trek, to politics. He really just wanted a friend. He would make up tasks like dush the fireplace, and he was not very nice. He liked to belittle me “Wow I can’t believe you’re a scientist and you don’t know how to get my TV dish to work” and push my boundaries, get really close to me.
Each visit I made more money, but it was equivalent to the level of which he pushed me each time. I made $230 in 1.5 hours the last time I saw him.
He would pay me more to take off my sweater and “turn around”. I felt uneasy and confused but I also used the cash to pay off my one of credit cards.
He would put the heater on high so I would be forced to take off my sweater. He would have me listen to his problems and offer feedback. He would have me watch parts of TV shows with him. He would tell me things like “You’d look killer in a maid outfit” to which I would reply “Yes, I would look good in a myriad of outfits. So what, let’s move on”.
I drew the line when he told me to show up in shorts and a bikini top. Looking back, I wonder if I made a mistake in rejecting that offer. Could I have paid the rest of my credit cards off?
I still have a lot of feelings about it. Society has raised me to believe that as a woman, the best I can offer is my physical appearance, yet there is shame and stigma associated with women who are smart and have tried to capitalize on this in some way, shape or form, despite that those who seek this commodity, are not stigmatized.
However, knowing that he liked to push boundaries, I think ultimately it was the right call. But maybe he was harmless? Such a gamble.
I think at that time, my self -esteem was also in a weird place. It is now at an all-time high since I have a loving, healthy partner, and through dance, I have learned to appreciate and love myself more.
Divorce will do that to you, especially when you had a partner who was open about his attraction to other women he had already dated; constantly prioritizing them over the relationship and fixing it.
The fact of the matter is that I have a sample size of three, which is very low. But I feel very dejected, to say the least. My hope in humanity, that people are good and kind is being tested. I am so tired. Each situation took a lot of time, scheduling, calls, references, carefully crafted emails and visits.
Only once was the pay good. The $55 flat rate guy for his 1.5 bedroom Air BNB told me he’d find someone cheaper at the last minute.
What percent of wealthier San Franciscans are this sneaky? Why would you undervalue an intelligent, kind, hard-working, educated woman of color who is trying to help you with hard, undesirable tasks so blatantly?
I wonder about what it is about some people, their socioeconomic status, and their pure ignorance that they believe they can undervalue another human being and the service they provide. I told them straight out I was a scientist, that I was 32, and that I was in a PhD program. Nothing about any of these statements screams “I’m a stupid pushover…do not tip me, please manipulate me”.
Maybe these are isolated incidents. Being a millennial raised partialy by the internet, I posted some of this in my Instagram story. Sometimes it’s nice to get confirmation that I’m not being unreasonable. As a woman, and especially as a woman of color, I doubt myself constantly. It’s called “imposter syndrome”. But I do a lot of work to overcome this as much as I can, and stand up for myself and what I think is right.
The responses from friends close and far helped validate that my pricing was beyond fair given where we live, the current time and my background of working so damn fucking hard. I do have a work ethic that I am proud of. I’m just so tired. This has all been so much more emotionally draining and anxiety-inducing that I could have imagined. I do not know, in this moment, where to go from here.
I often joke that the Good Lord blessed me with good genes so that the stress I have endured, the fruits of my labor (I work every damn day) do not age my body or face quite as fast as they should. This jokes usually get an awkward chuckle about ~42% of the time. The rest of the time I’m too exhausted to notice or care.