Thursday, August 17, 2006

At the beginning of the day I’m writing about (some months ago) I had about five bucks to my name: two one-dollar bills and about 3 bucks in change. Now, understand that I could have used this money for anything: food, cigarettes, gas, you name it. It’s a heady feeling of power to have money in your pocket. I thought it might be instructive to hear where it went.

I drove to the place where I am occasionally employed and wrangled a free parking pass, otherwise that would have shot three bucks right there. While I was there, I began to get really hungry because I hadn’t eaten anything, so I spent 50 cents to buy a packet of crackers with a cheese-like substance between them out of a vending machine. This item was chosen with some care, because I wanted to maximize the nutritional value of whatever I bought, and this item was the best of a very bad lot. Not so yummy, but then that wasn’t the point.

After I left work, I drove to a coffee shop to meet an old friend of mine that I hadn’t seen for quite a while. This appointment had been on my social calendar for quite a while (the only thing, unfortunately), and part of the reason I had five bucks at all was because I had hoarded it to be able to buy myself a cup of coffee on this occasion. I spent $2.40 (with tax) on a small latte, which I felt was a bargain, and my friend and I sat and gabbed for an hour and a half or so. Just in passing, when I bought the latte I paid the guy at the counter in coins, which he thanked me for, as he needed the change. “Good,” I thought to myself. I still want to have two dollar bills in my wallet when I leave here.”

After I left the coffee shop, I made a beeline to McDonalds and bought a double cheeseburger for $1.08 (with tax) from their dollar menu. This was my dinner, and I was feeling damn lucky to have it. I was pretty sick of rice and beans at that point. So I had about a buck left, and that was excellent. If I needed to, I could use that to buy a small amount of gas, but I had a quarter of a tank, so I was okay without it.

The thing is, it was a good day: I had enough coffee left at home to make half a pot the following morning; the cat had enough food for the day; I was able to get out briefly and meet a friend; I even had store-bought cigarettes. I caught myself thinking, “Yeah, live it up today, sucker, because tomorrow is really going to suck.” The reason I thought this is because tomorrow the cat would have no food, I would be eating the last of the rice and beans, and the coffee would have run out.

But I also know that tomorrow, I’d be grateful that I still had some cigarettes, and a quarter tank of gas, and a car that still ran, and a phone that was working, and electricity that was still on. The day after that, well, we’ll see.

I’m writing this, not because I’m trying to make out like I’m some sort of saint who’s constantly thankful for little things, but because I believe that anyone in my position would feel the same level of gratitude. When you’re in survival mode, these things aren’t little things, they’re huge things. And besides, I still had a buck left. Call me Bill Gates.

- Hulles

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