Millionaire Football Players and Eight Year Old Boots


With the breathless anticipation of the impasse between the millionaire football players and billionaire owners nearing an end, I’d like to share a little story about my experience with the former — and how, my darling daughter Lauren, in DC now on an internship, is a chip off the scrappy block.

NFLPA headquarters

Media camped outside NFLPA headquarters, D.C.

I was a video producer for a creative agency until three weeks ago and I had the great fortune (I mean this sincerely) of working on one of the most high-profile accounts in the house – the NFL Players Association. Let me tell you something – I loved those guys. I have never met a more cordial, professional, respectful group of men in my life. I credit their mamas and a decade of two-a-days.

While they were demanding, (anyone who works in creative knows clients are demanding)  at least I got to rub elbows with NFL athletes and attend high-powered meetings with some of the most impressive labor minds in the country, which appealed to my political sensitivities, with my late brother Don being the President of a teachers’ union and me being a press secretary to two Democrats. The  meetings in DC, though, in the midst of this ginormous labor dispute, were at a whole new level. Fortunately, my background as a broadcast journalist and political consultant provided me with confidence at the table.

But holy shit, you should have seen what it took to get me there.

As a single mom, with two kids still in college, and still trying to recover from various and assorted rugs being pulled out from under me (you know, the normal stuff like divorce, downsizing, the child support check writer in the slammer) money is/was always tight. Unexpected things like stopped up sinks (always at least a buck and a quarter) would have to be managed through what I call “creative financing.” Lest you think I’m joking, hear me out.

So, I’ve flown into DC for a big-ass meeting with my client. I wanted to look really nice, so I bought a new black skirt, and got a steal on a cute red sweater for $14 at Macy’s and polished up my old black boots. It’s Thursday, pay day is tomorrow. I have $8 in my checking account, but I’ve got my company issued AmEx for expenses, so I’ve got it made.

Back home, the kitchen sink is stopped up, BUT the plumber is coming today and Lauren can write him a check which won’t be deposited until tomorrow. Everything is figured out. I hop in a cab — with just enough time to get there and check my look in the ladies’ room, when the driver says, “No credit card, only cash.” Except of course, I don’t have any.

“Don’t worry, I drive you to ATM machine,” he offers. Except, of course, that won’t do me any good. I start dialing for dollars. I reach Lauren in St. Louis. “Honey, I need you to, quick as a bunny, stick some money in my account so I can pay this cab driver.” She does not even question. Thank GOD she was home, and she actually had $50 in her checking account, normally she just has cash, since she’s waitressing her way through college and thank goodness we both bank at the same bank and pass money back and forth like carnies at the ring toss game on the midway.

I tell the guy to look for a Bank of America ATM while Lauren transfers the money. He pulls up, I run to the machine, it’s there! I grab the cash, jump back in the cab, get to the building with about two minutes to spare. I’m ushered up to the 8th floor, inside the glass-enclosed conference room, with the huge glass conference table and the highly paid staffers for the most highly paid athletes on the planet and I’m cool as a cucumber,  until I look down and see that the heel of my boot is hanging on by a thread. I’m nodding and taking notes and thinking, “they have no earthly idea what it takes to get me here” and silently grateful that I’m leaving by myself,and all I have to do is make a graceful exit to the elevator. And I can limp to a cab in private, where  thanks to Lauren, I can lean my head back, and then toss the eight-year-old boot when I get back to my hotel room, where I will collapse in a heap on the bed.

Lauren goes through this every day in DC now, well, not broken heels on high-heeled boots, more like getting lost, going the wrong way on Pennsylvania Ave. because she is walking back to her dorm from the Capitol to save money. I’m not real thrilled about this, but she is a head-strong 23-year-old. I used a chunk of my tax return this year to fund her internship in DC because I thought it would be a once-in-a-lifetime, formative experience. The rest of said tax return is bank rolling my little formative experience. Lauren had to save her tip money for expenses while she is there, aided by her father, who has been out of the clink for two years now and is once again helping as much as he can. We both appreciate it. To make her limited dollars stretch further, she’s been packing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day for lunch, and walks home instead of taking the metro.

Thai Roma

I took her out to eat while I was there, Thai Roma…a new kind of fusion?

As much as I wish I could give her more money, to be able to “do it up right,” I can’t. She’s there, she’s enjoying it, she’s learning new things. She is able to experience what it feels like to be a young woman, on her own in Washington, D.C., albeit a young women in DC living on a campus with kids who come from very affluent families, seeing how the other half lives.

We’re driving to get milk the other night, and Lord knows, I need more quarters for the damn meter in front of her dorm and Lauren’s venting, not complaining. Everybody vents. It’s not like she wants to be one of “those kids,” she finds the excess fairly galling.

“My friend lives in that building,” she points. “His dad sent him five-thousand bucks last week, because he was running low on cash. All I can say is, thank God the museums are free!”

“I know honey, we’re like “The Beverly Hillbillies Do D.C.”,  I say, since, of course, I’m sleeping in her dorm room to save money on a hotel. It’s always been this way for us, creative financing.

She runs into the store to get the milk. I sit in the car, with Libby in the back seat.

Libby and Restaurants

Every place we ate had to be outside, so we could include Libby. Hot dog.

A homeless man passes on my left, crosses the street and comes to the trash can directly in front of me. He pokes around, picking out three aluminum cans, pours out the dribs and drabs of fluid, puts the cans in his bag. He finds a 32-ounce Slurpee cup, pops off the plastic lid and straw. Smells it. Drinks what’s left. Throws the Styrofoam cup back in the trash. No money in Styrofoam these days.

How instructive these glimpses of how the other half lives.

About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

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  1. Thanks for reminding us about, uh, life… all the time. We need to remember… :-)

  2. Alysa Salzberg says:

    So, so true. There’s that old but great expression about complaining about not having shoes until you see the man who has no feet. I also attended a college where most of the kids were filthy rich, whereas I, like your daughter, had to do some “creative financing” (like that term) and cut back on things to get by. Ultimately, I think it’s good because it teaches you how to live no matter how much you have, and to accept not having much. A few years ago, I got to go on a trip to Tokyo quite unexpectedly. The travel and hotel were free, but everything else had to come out of my pocket. I got really nervous about how I could afford food, entertainment, and transportation in a reputedly super-expensive city. Then, one of my friends from my college days said, “Alysa, you’ll figure it out – you’re good at being poor.” She was absolutely right. Your daughter must be having a great time, and she’s learning more than just what academics and an internship can provide her with.

    • Hi Alysa in Paris!
      “You’re good at being poor” my new credo. Oh, honey, thank you for this! This is such fortuitous timing –I’ve been wanting to write about the day we got “King Louie” The Stubby Tyrant — our “new” dog, (which I’m sure Libby objects to then being relegated to “old” dog status) Louie’s at home with Seannie, his human soul mate and damn near clone – in looks and behavior. Look for a post as soon as I can whip it good. You are my “muse, du jour.” Thank you, mon cherie. Is that inappropriate, “mon cherie?”

  3. So nice to see pics of Lovely Lauren, and Vive la Creative Financing, I say! We in the Jansen household live by the concept, too. And as my dear, departed, Grandma Edna used to say, “There is no shame in being poor, as long as your underwear is clean”.