The photo above is all-original content. I snapped it this morning at the gas station on my way to work. It has not been Photoshopped, although I think I used the Mayfair Instagram filter. I’m such a cheater.
In our house, when my wife and I find money, or get an unexpected check in the mail, or realize that our bank was kind enough to reverse one of our overdraft charges, we call it a Christmas Miracle. Like in that O. Henry story where the husband gives the wife a brush after she cuts all her hair off. Well, maybe that’s not the right metaphor, but you get the picture.
Both our cars’ gas tanks are almost on empty. My gas light is on. My wife’s gas light is always on because the gauge has been broken for about three years. So my wife did we did what she always does in situations like this. She checked all the pants’ pockets on the floor of our 9-year-old son’s bedroom.
And guess what? It was another Christmas Miracle. She found a wadded, forgotten five-dollar bill. Finding that money, we felt like Ernest Shackleton wandering into the village in Antarctica after living in a cave on whale blubber for a year. Our villagers looked up from their Honey Nut Cheerios, frightened by our tattered sealskin overcoat and our smoke-blackened noses when we crawled downstairs, pretending to be slightly humpbacked (because that’s how you get when you have to survive on whale blubber for a year. It’s the scurvy) and holding up the found money, wailed, “I am Shackleton! ” in unison, as milk dripped from their chins.
No, we didn’t. But we totally thought it. Because these are the peanut butter days. The steak and ice cream days were about three weeks ago. Payday is nigh. That five dollar bill was probably a birthday gift from an auntie or grandmother. No matter. In our house, we stick together. Whatever resources we gather in the wild, dangerous world outside our hut, we place them humbly into the family pot. And let’s face it; what nine-year-old kid will miss a crumpled-up Abe Lincoln?
That money, combined with some loose change on the bathroom floor, put gas in both our cars. It was like we won the Powerball.
We read daily about voluntary simplicity. I’m just here to remind you of involuntary simplicity. I’m not writing this to make you feel sorry for me. I’ve written about my first-world problems elsewhere. I’m just writing to say that poverty can be fun. Really. Going to the laundromat because your dryer has been broken for two months can be cathartic. You meet some really interesting people, catch up on The Bachelorette, and on quiet nights you can peacefully sip your iced tea, update your blog, and get a fair amount of pleasure reading done.
Try this little experiment. Buy your toilet paper one roll at a time. When you run out, wait like a day or two before you buy more, using whatever scraps of recycled tree products you find around the house in the meantime. I’m not saying that’s what we do. This is just a fun game to play when you’re bored. Buying your toilet paper one roll at time is what it feels like to live on the edge. Theoretically speaking, of course.
I suppose most people are getting by just fine, thank you very much. Outwardly, folks scurry about cheerfully, exchanging pleasantries in line at the grocery store. That’s as it should be. That’s how society works. Chatter and pleasantries are the glue that holds it all together. If, when asked the question we are all asked twenty times a day, “How are you doing?” we actually gave honest answers, civilized society would come to a screeching, burning, smoking halt. I was passing by someone at work a few months ago, someone who works in another department and who I barely know, and asked him, “How are you doing?” He replied, perhaps a little too forcefully, “Probably not as good as you.” And you know what? He was right.
As Thoreau said, surely joy is the condition of life. Yes, but.
The noonday demon stalks us all. Or at least me. Our bank calls us on Sundays. Or at least mine does. It can’t all be as perfectly wrapped with a bow on top and ribbon-that-curls-when-you-zip-it-along-the-edge-of-a-scissors-to-make-the-curlicue thingies as it seems, can it?
We all have issues. At least I think we do. I just choose to write about mine. And this is today’s.
Because in our house, when we find money in our children’s discarded clothing, we don’t throw it into the overflowing funny-money bowl on the kitchen counter.
We take that motherfucker straight to the Puffin Stop.