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Gordon Keith Goes Paycheck Peeking

The Ticket’s own Gordon Keith has an op-ed today in the Morning News (paywall) about the annual “What People Earn” issue of Parade and about our desire to know what our friends and neighbors and favorite quarterbacks make. Gordon leads his story with an anecdote involving me, Eric Celeste, and Adam McGill. Careful readers will recognize those last two names; they belong to guys who used to work at D Magazine. Here’s how Gordon spins it:

We were on the patio of a pub and the sun was sinking when my buddy brought up the matter of money.

“Let’s go around the table and every guy give his salary.”

I laughed in my beer at this gathering cloud of beautiful tension. Alcohol is an idiot’s truth serum and a daredevil’s fuel. So Eric went first, then Adam. Tim paused, pregnant with info guaranteed a complicated delivery. He and Adam had the same job at the same place. Tim announced a number several thousand richer than Adam’s.

Through our braying, Adam “figured as much” and assured us that it was “no big deal.” After the flurry, our excitement curdled and the table fell into a glassy regret. It was like the morning after for new swingers. Our version of “Wouldn’t it be great if we knew how much everyone made?” somehow didn’t feel great.

Gordon was kind enough to ask me ahead of time whether I minded if he used that anecdote. This scene went down more than a decade ago (I think at the time Eric was working at the Observer). I have only the faintest memory of it. And, anyway, Gordon had already checked with Adam, who said it was fine with him to have the story told. Adam, by the way, got out of the journalism game a few years ago and now has a respectable job that pays him a real wage. If we went around the table again, pretty sure he’d scoreboard me, which is why, when I go eat pizza at his house tonight, I’m not offering him a dime.

Anyway, all the preceding sets the table for Eric’s response to Gordon. (Side note: I don’t know what Eric earns these days, but the number is lower than it was a month ago, because CultureMap decreased the frequency of his column, called “Let Me Sum Up.” Used to be daily; now it’s semimonthly?) Gordon goes on in his News piece to mention “bloodshot eyes” that day we had our salary discussion. He’s using his literary license in a way that would rack up points in some states. As Eric puts it:

Like a Bob Woodward tale, the recounting is mostly true but at least part of the human dynamic is missing. First, we weren’t drunk. It was happy hour, and if we weren’t on our first beers, then we were on our second. It’s important to note that we don’t need to be soused to ball-bust each other in a manner that could lead to hard feelings. That can happen over breakfast.

Eric makes a good point about why friends should talk more frequently about money — if not about how much they earn, then at least about how they save and spend it. You should read the whole thing. Then email me your 2011 tax return. I promise I won’t share it with anyone.

Finally, Gordon ends his essay by pointing out that he was too savvy that day to tell us how much he made: “I had more sense than serum so I refused and was gently ribbed for their pleasure.” Yeah, whatever. He can pretend his friends are tosspots if that suits his storytelling needs, but the three of us know roughly what he makes. Before I was hired at D, I worked for Susquehanna, the company that once owned The Ticket. Using intel gathered during those years and data mined elsewhere, we’ve triangulated his number.

I really ought to keep it to myself, but according to Gordon, I get real share-y after a few beers. I’m scheduled to have happy hour with him this evening. Follow me on Twitter.