Pulse: Chatter: Society: Dirty Sexy Money

Secrets are nothing new to the Main Line, except the one that many residents are trying to keep: They’re broke


I’m a supposedly prosperous middle-aged man living on the Main Line. I’m also busted. Seriously. As in, underwater. What I didn’t realize until recently was that a lot of my neighbors are in leaky boats right along with me. They’re keeping a dirty little secret: They’re moonlighting.

Not all of us in Bryn Mawr and Gladwyne live in McMansions; some of us live in the faded ranchers and tired Capes (otherwise known as “the ones they haven’t torn down yet”) next door. We co-exist with the Haves, like them sending our kids to good schools as we sip skinny chai lattes. Then we close our doors and scramble frantically to find ways to cover our exorbitant bills.

“I can’t work fast enough to pay for summer camps and travel soccer and horseback-riding lessons,” says Kate, a mom living in Wynnewood. “I tell my kids they need to pick poor-people sports.” She writes on the side, taking any assignment that will bring in “quick, fast money — my three favorite words.”

I do, too (you’re reading this, aren’t you?), but it’s still not enough. “You know what you should do?” my friend Heather says one day. “You should be an SAT tutor. They make a lot of money.” Some tutors get $200 an hour exploiting the darkest fear of the Monied Class: Their kids will end up at Penn State.

Heather is a nurse, and for a time she spent weekends baby-sitting the children of a wealthy family, one so well-to-do they insisted on having two R.N.s, round the clock, on nanny duty. “I used that money to buy a Mercedes,” she says. “And a bassoon.” Her husband Jim is an urban planner who gives tennis lessons at night. His friend works for a design firm in the city, and does landscaping on the weekends. My friend Elaine’s sister has three part-time jobs. Come to think of it, so does Elaine. There’s the accountant who’s a “wine associate” at a liquor outlet, the restaurant owner who teaches surfing, the lab scientist who’s a belly dancer.

Are we embarrassed? Well, yes. But admitting we have no business living here among the swells would be worse. And at least we save face with our side jobs. Imagine the horror if we worked nights at the deli in the Paoli Acme — and little Avery’s Class Mother was holding #38.

My friend John contends that moonlighting is a noble tradition. Wasn’t Frank Lloyd Wright fired for moonlighting? The rest is architectural history. That’s nice, I say, as we sip $12 martinis. But what should I do if I want to keep these $12 martinis coming? He’s quiet for a moment. Then he says, “You might want to think about crystal meth.”

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