Last week, after taking a short walk down the street to send disc three of Gossip Girl‘s second season back to Netflix, I stood outside a Catholic church in a line of about a half-dozen people and waited to receive a bag of free groceries. To receive the groceries – which were staples such as a humongous box of corn flakes, apple juice, some random beans, and a box of milk – I merely had to show a photo ID. I put on my best “I’m sad and pitiful” face for good measure, which is a facial expression that I’ve been questioning in terms of effectiveness ever since I threw it up at my Dad and he replied, “You know, when you make that face it looks like you’re squeezing out a fart,” but I felt I had to present the guy taking my info with some back story as to how I could possibly be both starving and also dressed in head to toe American Apparel.
Not to rush you through the rest of the story, but the solution to that puzzle is: I’m a New Yorker. So anyway, with bag in hand, I turned to run back home real quick so I could file my new goodies away – and I was stressed about time because I had to be at work soon, and God knows that Soho is a bitch to navigate mid-day.
I’ve lived in New York now for about two years, and during them I’ve never had less than roughly 55 jobs at a time, and I’ve never had more than $20 in my pocket to spend on anything other than rent and the ability to illuminate my surroundings. Currently I work as a staff editor for a popular NYC based magazine, and also hold down a part-time job at a retail shop.
The people who I work with at the shop think it’s so cool and fancy that I also work for a magazine, but that’s only because I leave out the part about washing my underpants in a bucket each night because I can’t afford to do laundry, and the fact that the blocks of chocolate and sprinkling of almonds that had been put out near a display of face masks are now missing because I ate them.
I have no savings, I live paycheck to paycheck; should I happen to croak right this minute, I’d be found in sweatpants, with a cat next to me. This should make me want to go lay down in the street – but it doesn’t. It actually makes me feel really strong and secure for having made it this far. I’m alive, and I’ve only thought about robbing someone like once or twice. The longer I go without money, and the more creature comforts I have to eliminate, the more I feel, well, superior to pretty much every one around me.
Since transplanting myself from Chicago – where you never have to worry about affording food because you’re able to live in a normal sized apartment for a normal amount of money – to New York, I like to think of myself as a pirate of sorts. Pirate sounds much better than “potential white collar criminal.” In being resourceful, and trying to think up ways to keep myself in the lifestyle to which I’ve grown accustomed, I’ve realized that there are many ways to make ends meet.
“Fuck no I’m not gonna pay $7 for a family sized jar of Nutella,” I tell myself while shopping at a bodega owned by people who like to non-stop sexually harass me. As both a way of procuring the booty I desired (Nutella) and screwing the man (an Arabian youth whose favorite thing to do is run a finger down my palm while handing me my change) I simply found an item of lesser value and transplanted its price sticker onto the item I wanted.
Keeping a constant flow of expensive coffee beverages is easy, too. All I have to do is walk into a Starbucks and stand in the herd of people waiting for their drinks. Once I hear something good being called out, I just go “Oh yeah, that’s mine,” and walk out. Chances are, the person who actually paid for the drink was too busy yip-yappin on their iPhone to hear it being called out anyway. You snooze, you lose, Abercrombie face. And what are they gonna do anyway, chase me? Because I can’t afford to ride the subway, I’ve been walking the 30-minute trip to and from work for months now; I have legs of steel.
Advanced tactics I’m considering for the future include paying a homeless man in cigarettes to steal me a sandwich from the deli, and finding money in the street. I found $20 once and I’m sure it’s bound to happen again.
Lately it seems like such the norm to be poor in a near-death way. I can’t even be on the Internet for two minutes without reading something about a writing colleague sustaining herself on Taco Bell hot-sauce packets, or seeing a Paypal link being circulated to collect funds for someone’s cable bill. I think a lot of it has to do with being in a creative field, and how that somehow translates to “Yes, please work me to the bone and pay me little-to-no money. I can just print out my impressive resume and eat that instead of real people food.” But I have faith that, in the end, this will pay off for all of us, and especially for me.
I have a speech all planned out that I intend to voice to no one in particular, but to the world as a whole when I finally make it to the big time. And by “big time” I mean no longer having to call and ask my dad for money. The speech is inspired by Keanu Reeves’ speech in the film My Own Private Idaho. This is the one he gives after his father dies and he receives a bunch of money and doesn’t have to be a male hooker any more. In my fantasy, I’ll be giving this speech to the collective open ears of publications and fancy retail shops world wide, and it will go something like: “When I was poor, I relied on your free lunches during inventory day and leftover goodie bags that may or may not have a candy bar in them to get by. But now I can have pizza and burritos pretty much whenever I want to.” I can’t wait to see their faces.