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When Did My Salary Become Your Business?

One midlife man is fed up with people asking how much he makes

By Kevin Kusinitz

A couple of years ago, when starting to work more or less regularly as a background actor — formerly known as an extra — I was kind of proud of myself. Four years after being laid off and getting nowhere trying to land “traditional” employment, I finally found work that didn't focus solely on younger people. (Except when producers were casting for scenes in, say, high school, raves or hip-hop concerts, all of which I was happy to be unqualified for.)

Credit: Adobe Stock

For the first time in a long while, when asked “What's new?” I finally had a positive response: “Well, I'm working a background actor.” And if I was lucky, I could add something like, “In fact, I'm going to be a lawyer on the set of Bull for the next three days.”

Proud of My Reinvention

Kind of interesting, right? A 60-year-old man with absolutely no show biz experience, now working, sometimes literally, side-by-side with TV stars. A nice example of someone reinventing himself in the third act of his life, wouldn't you say?

Ham that I am, I was ready for friends and acquaintances to ask something like: “Wow, how did you get into that?” or “What shows have you been on so far?” And sometimes they did. But more often than not, their first question would be: “How much do you get paid?"

Really? That's what you're interested in — my salary?

Mind you, these weren't people wondering if they could maintain their lifestyles by making a similar career jump. Nor were they envious of my work hours, like waking up at 3:00 in the morning to make a 5:00 call time in the outer reaches of Queens or Brooklyn. No, these folks are doing very well for themselves, either with their careers or investments.

When Your Salary Was Off Limit

In my day — a phrase I find myself using with distressing frequency — there were certain topics that were off limits because they were personal. Politics. Religion. Your favorite Beatle. And yes, your salary.

But it appears that, at some point during my lifetime, being obliged to share personal information became all the rage.

Perhaps it coincided with the rise in social media, where Twitter allowed you to tell the world that you were currently doing your laundry. Or Facebook, where you no longer had to be the drunk at the end of the bar in order to mouth off about current events (and threaten anybody who didn't agree with you)

Privacy apparently has become as archaic as buggy whips, cassette tapes and free TV. Especially free TV.

Caving In

I resented sharing my salary. And yet, I found myself caving in, at least obliquely, when the subject came up. Put it down to a lifetime of allowing myself to be intimidated by anyone who asked me any question or pushed me around.

A curious kid when growing up, I was continually rebuffed when I wanted to know why I wasn't allowed to ask questions about why my parents behaved as they did, why an older sibling was strangely violent or why my feelings regarding these things were wrong.

I had to accept the way life was, and if I didn't, well, there was always my dad being restrained from throwing a telephone at my skull. And I'm talking about those old, heavy landlin

Over time — and I take the blame for this — I gave up standing up for myself. This is what you want to know or how you want me to behave? Fine, whatever you want. Remnants of this behavior stuck around to this day.

Growing Resentment

However, as people persisted in asking how much I made, my resentment grew, especially when questions went from nosy to insulting. Like: "Do you get paid for that?" or "So what do they give you, $25 and food?"


The folks asking these things aren't idiots in the classic sense of the word. They're what are called “professionals” who went to grad school to get where they are. You know, smart.

A vague sense of contempt crept into their voices. How cute of you, little man, that you found this so-called job.

There was no point in regaling them with stories about how I got to shake Tea Leoni's hand in one scene of Madam Secretary or appear with Gilbert Gottfried in the Amazon series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Or even the fabulous free meals that often come with the job.

Nope. It was all about the dough — if, as they implied, if I made any at all.

My Chance to Unleash Hell

Enough of this nonsense! The next time somebody asked me what I made, I decided, I was going to give them what for.

I had various replies lined up, all ripe for the picking. Why do you feel you have the right to ask me that? Or, Do I ask you how much you make? Or, You look like a smart person, I'm sure you could find out. Or, my favorite, the direct None of your damn business, numbskull!

Yes, that last one would be my go-to answer. And, one day, I finally had the chance to unleash hell once and for all.

It didn't matter how it would affect my relationship with this man. In fact, if pushed, I'd be happy to invite him to do something physically impossible with himself (and I don't mean walking 100 miles on the tip of his nose).

Unfortunately, the person asking me was my personal money manager. The guy who more or less held my future in his hands.

Unleashing hell would have to wait for another day

Oh, and to answer your question, my favorite Beatle was Paul.

Damn, I did it again!

Kevin Kusinitz is a writer living in New York with his wife. To his shock, he won three Promax Awards for his network promos at the turn of the 21st century. His cynically humorous outlook on life, culture and politics can be read at Read More
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