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I was re-reading a book a while ago, actually the first book that I bought when I moved to Providence.  I had to buy this book because it was Memorial Day Weekend when I arrived, and the libraries weren’t open.  So for the first time (possible ever), I went into Borders and purchased two hardcovers.  I then brought them home, and sat and read in my giant, nearly furnitureless apartment.

In the book, a recent college graduate struggles to find a well-paying job, lives in a hovel in NYC with three other girls, and scrimps along “borrowing” toilet paper and canned goods from her parents.  The message that she is poor is insisted upon over and over and over to the point that it is just distracting.

When I started my job at URI, my boss lectured me on how to survive on the pittance that they pay me (I was just so thrilled that it paid my out-of-state tuition, I barely looked at the hourly rate).  “What I did was take out all the student loans I could, pre-paid my rent for the year, bought the things that I knew I would want right away, and lived as frugally as possible.”  Then he told me a story about how once upon a time he had $.85 to last him a week and a half.  At the end of the week and a half, he still had the $.85 because you can’t buy anything for $.85.

I listened to this story thinking that it was not all that impressive– certainly I wasn’t as blown away by it as he expected me to be and as I pretended to be.  If I didn’t have to commute (which he didn’t– he walks everywhere), I could go a month (recent evidence is contrary to this, but I still maintain that it’s true) without spending anything aside from paying bills.  Also, I’ve never been in a situation where I had to suffer for a certain amount of time eagerly waiting to be paid, because I’ve had a credit card since I was sixteen and I always have a savings account.

Sure, I’ve been broke.  I’m broke right now and staring directly in the face of a summer of underemployment and another layoff– but I’ve never been so broke that I haven’t had food, or any money at all.  I’ve never been as broke as people who are actually broke.

When you hit a period of extreme cash poorness, you eat all of the food that you’d already bought and really didn’t like, but you couldn’t bear to throw away– the oatmeal, ramen, and disappointing pasta that was really on sale.  If you have to buy things, you use that jar of change in your bedroom, or you just don’t buy things.  The thing, I think that bothers me the most about these two stories is that they are based on choices.  The girl in the book had a job interview, but decided midway through that she really didn’t want it despite the fact that it was well-paying.  My boss is in his early 60s and has no credit cards, health insurance, or savings– retirement or regular, but has spent a lot of time telling me how much money he used to make.  I’m not saying that I always make the right choices, but it seems that these situations were exacerbated by short-sightedness.

When my friend Map Fleece was in a period of utter destitution, she finally ate this jug of pre-made tomato soup that her mom gave her that she had been moving from apartment to apartment for more than a year, and it was just as gross as she expected it to be.  I scam free meals every chance I get, and will take on every extra job that comes my way regardless of whether or not I actually have time for it (which reminds me I should get back to my data entry…)  I guess my point is this– none of this is real  poverty, it’s a setback or a temporary period of destitution.  Perhaps I’m just as guilty since I talk about this stuff all the time, but I rarely complain about my circumstances, I just talk about them.  If I had tried harder, I’m sure I could have gotten a real job with my MFA, but I wanted to be a librarian, so here I am.  I made a choice.

I could insert all manner of pithy quotes here, but that’s obnoxious, and I have a saying that’s all my own– if you don’t like your situation, either change it or learn to deal with it.  It’s all about attitude.

If anyone has and ideas for free or nearly free fun for this the summer of underemployment– let me know, I’ll have a lot of time on my hands.

I don’t know if it’s just the documentary I recently watched on Tupperware, or my obsession with Nancy Drew books and pencil skirts, but my impending unemployment has me longing for a 50’s housewife existence that I never sought out before.  I want to contribute to my household by earning money here and there, saving tremendously with coupons and savings schemes, and taking care of myself physically and mentally through working out and learning stuff.  With all those demands, I’m not sure I’ll have time for a real job.

Perhaps this is just me making the best of the bad situation that is seeking employment in the non-profit sector during a recession, or me being overwhelmed by school/work/internship/commuting, but I long to spend time at home with my cat preparing delicious home-cooked meals and listening to the radio.  After I eat the delicious home-cooked meal, I’ll wash the dishes and do some light clean-up, then relax in my chair with a novel and a glass of red wine.

I imagine this delightful existence will last about one week before I’m bored out of my mind, binge-eating almonds and cheez-its, and wondering how the hell I’m going to pay rent–but it’s a nice little dream.

Yesterday, I was at work, doing cataloging and putting spine labels on books when my boss came in and told me they would have to lay me off.

I immediately felt like a factory worker.

As I explained to Theatre MILF’s husband after she and I had a lovely dinner (which is kind of an odd thing to do after being told that someone is going to stop paying you, but the plans were already made), “It’s a non-profit, times are tough, they need to cut the fat– and I am that fat.”

Already this experience has made me start using phrases that I never thought I would, and also made me feel oddly introspective.

Everyone kept asking me, before I left, if I would ever come back to visit.  “Well, I have a book checked out.” I told them, “So I’ll have to come back in about three weeks.”  That made everyone relax.

It’s kind of funny because I’m not really upset.  My boss (a different one than the one who let me go) was very worried that I’d wind up starving in the streets until I told her that my real job pays me enough to keep me alive.  This was just my extra job, my fun job, my job where there is usually free food, and the paycheck that is very handy, but is not the thing in my life that stops me from turning to prostitution.  It’s still weird to be told not to come back to a job when you haven’t done anything wrong.

I feel like I should be re-evaluating things, and learning to live a different way or something– making head-cheese, sewing up holes in my patchwork clothing– but that’s unlikely to happen.