I have 75 cents: a quarter, four dimes, two nickels, and some pennies, but they don’t count. I don’t just have 75 cents. Seventy-five cents is all I have.
I don’t get paid for another six days. I want a cup of coffee. I’ll want one tomorrow too, but right now, I want one today. I decide to borrow the dollar that’s been resting in an empty bottle on top of the fridge for a couple months. I’ll pay my roommates back later.
I turn the bottle upside-down; the neck is too narrow. The bill is rolled up, but won’t slide down far enough for me to grab with my stubby pinky finger. I dig and slide it around. This is humiliating, even though no one’s around to see. I grab a pen and poke at the dollar. I manage to pin it against the side and drag it down until a corner of it is within reach. I pinch it between finger-nails and pull it out.
I’ve been poor. As a kid, after my parents divorce, I watched nearly every “necessity” of life slip away. The car, the house, toilet paper. My Christmas list to relatives consisted of small appliances—toasters, hair driers, one of those mini-vacuums that are little more than a DustBuster on a stick—or money to help get our phone service turned back on. On more than one occasion our dinner plates contained only a mass of dense, chalky Bisquik biscuits.
All of that is true, though I’m uncomfortable with the bleak picture it presents. Because I never felt destitute. Sure, I couldn’t buy or do everything I wanted, and I was sharply aware of the socioeconomic disparity between me and my classmates, but—biscuit dinners notwithstanding—I never went hungry (well, never more than a day or two). I don’t feel as if I missed out on key adolescent experiences due to lack of funds (though I may have for other reasons). I suppose the credit for that should go to my mother, but instead I’ll claim it for myself, citing my perseverance and indefatigable optimism.
Now, years later and after a period of (credit-card-and-student-loan-induced) upper-lower class living, I find myself again, as they say in France, piss-poor. It doesn’t help that I live in one of the most expensive cities in America.
There are loads of irony piled on top of me here, and I’m painfully aware of it. If not for the hundreds of dollars I owe each month on my thousands of dollars in credit card debt, I’d be (relatively) swimming in cash. Another groin-kicking irony is the fact that, except once out of necessity, I haven’t used a credit card in six months. But the late fees and finance charges add up to overlimit fees, becoming more late fees, under which I suffocate and choke.
But pretty soon I’ll have a real job, and I’ll be rich. Right?
I don’t really only have 75 cents right now. But I started writing this during a time when I did only have 75 cents, so it counts.