Friday, January 30, 2009

Better days

I’ve seen things at bars. Things that should really keep me from ordering drinks. I’ve watched bar backs transport in old trashcans the ice they use to cool your drink. I’ve stared into the pool of brown-gray water, glimpsed the pulp-covered, beer-soaked brush they use to clean the glasses. I’ve stuck my nose into a pint glass to take a gulp and thought, this smells very wrong. This smells like the underwear you wore to the gym that’s still damp in your bag days later. My own disgust should be reason enough to keep my money cozy in my wallet instead of in the hands of some unhappy bartender who acts I’m hitting on him just by ordering a drink.

But the real reason I shouldn’t be ordering my third not-delicious drink when I have to wake up at 7am is this: I’m broke. Or at least I like to say I’m broke. And it feels almost disrespectful to the friends listening to me whine to chase my money rants with another Blue Moon.

What does it really mean to be broke? I don’t think I know. I know that a couple months ago, I had what I thought to be a healthy pile of money. Then I broke the lease on my crappy apartment. Then I went on a two week trip to Europe. Then I signed up for a $700 Magazine Writing class. There may have been some leather boots involved. My choices were decadent. And my checking account decayed.

But pan out a little. If the guy I was listening to the NPR this morning is right, we’re on the brink of economic collapse. And it’s reaching every community, even the college-educated, steady-jobbed, parents-to-ask-for-money-if-we’re-really-
in-trouble crowd I find myself part of. The people we hated for getting well-paid consulting jobs right out of college are losing them. The banks where we opened our first personal accounts are closing. We’re watching “Cash-for-Gold” commercials during our superbowl parties.

I’m not broke because the economy is crumbling. And right next to my dwindling checking account is a savings account managed with discipline. So why have I made a hobby out of broadcasting my financial woes? I came up with two explanations. The first is less self-damning. Maybe we’re feeling the recession like we’d feel any national tragedy, like it’s the assassination of MLK or JFK or like it’s 9/11. Maybe we’re dealing (by “we” I mean “I”) with the panic we feel from watching the news by curling up in community. If I feel broke just like you feel broke, we can comfort each other with our empty hands.

The second is embarrassing. Think of that girl whose dad died in the sixth grade, the one who lived on your block, the one you’d gone to school with since kindergarten and never invited to your birthday party. Remember those days she was out of school? You couldn’t help telling the story about the way her dog yelped you tried to make it listen to your walkman, or the confetti cake her mom made for the block party cake walk. There’s power in tragedy, and you wanted a piece of it.

So I’ve been talking about how broke I am, and whether I’m doing it because I want community for my untethered panic or because I just want attention is not the point. The point is, drink at home. You’ll be less broke than you would have been. And your glasses won’t smell like dirty underwear.


  1. And you won't drink three martinis on an empty stomach and then try to hold your new friend's hand in the car ride home.

  2. beer, boots and breaks. the three things that put me in the hole too. i hear ya sister.