Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Money in Context: Notes from a Dinner Party

1. There are three people under 30 and four people over 50 sitting around my parents' dinner table; it is Passover; we are a motley mix of Jews, half-Jews, half-Jews-half-Catholics, lapsed Catholics, practicing Catholics, and one lone nondenominational Protestant turned self-identified heretic, who has made the brisket and kugel and laid the seder table (my mother). We are talking about the pretty brownstones in Harlem. K mentions that if it were enough, he'd cash out his Roth for a down payment. M, a guest of the over-50 persuasion, says, "That's what I have, a Roth." M looks over at K and says, "You know, I don't mean to be condescending, but if you've got a Roth at your age, you're doing great."

K says, "I'm older than I look."

After guessing K's age correctly, M proceeds to explain that he never thought seriously about retirement until he was nearly forty.

C pipes up, "Well, we can't exactly count on Social Security, you know?"

This fact is universally acknowledged by all.

2. P and M had been together since I was a kid. P worked with my dad, and they were close. I've socialized, traveled, and in various other ways grown up with P and M--they've been a kind and loving presence in my life for nearly 15 years. In September, P, who was only 56, died suddenly of a heart attack. This loss hit a lot of people very hard--P had more friends than almost anyone I've ever met--but of course, it has been devastating to M, who held him as he died on the couch of their country home, waiting for the ambulance.

Here's where the money comes in: P and M are both men, which means that M has just been hit with an enormous tax bill upon inheriting, among other things, P's half of their beloved country home in Pennsylvania in which together they hosted parties, fixed up couples, offered acting coaching to their friends' children, and worked tirelessly on a particularly beautiful garden.

It's unconscionable, that right after this sudden and tragic loss, M has to contend with these exorbitant tax consequences in order to keep a home in which he's spent happy time with his partner for years. It makes me furious, and sad, and it underlines the need for recognition of gay partnerships.