Rent is due and I can’t pay it. My last check was pathetic. Over the last two weeks I worked a couple hours a day setting up a new cafe. There was no service, so there were no tips. When you work in a high volume cafe, the money you make from tips is substantial. You need them to survive.
Tips add another 6-8 dollars an hour to your hourly wage. It’s the difference between eating well and going to bed hungry. I’ve been eating one big meal in the afternoon to save money. Or sometimes I have two small meals, one in the morning and one before bed. For much of the day I’m tired, foggy, and weak. I don’t go to the gym or workout anymore.
I don’t go because I hate the gym, for one thing. For another, it would be a waste of time even if I enjoyed it. I have no strength, no energy, and no focus. There’s no fuel. I don’t eat or sleep well enough to do anything productive with my body.
Finally, going to the gym is another expense. Everything is an expense, and I’m not a master of saving and scrounging. I don’t have a box of coupons or a costco membership. I’ve taken uber rides to work because I overslept, and I’ve ordered delivery because I didn’t want to walk a mile to a restaurant or grocery store.
My poverty is a combination of circumstance and bad decisions. On one hand I’ve made been making less money while living in one of the most expensive cities in the US, and on the other I haven’t been smart with what I’ve made.
I could eat nothing but coco puffs bought in bulk. Wake up early enough to take the early morning negro bus to work every single day. Donate my blood, plasma and sperm as often as possible. Every day selling a new fluid for bus fare and flavored noodles.
I could pick up another job. Two more jobs. I wouldn’t be the first person in this country to work themselves into a gnarled nub for the privilege of not sleeping on a park bench.
Except I’ve never been able to balance more than one job at a time. I burn out. When I was working two jobs, I made enough to pay rent and eat full meals. But I had no time for anything else and I rarely slept.
Money or sleep. Food or hobbies. Clock time or free time. These are the exclusive disjunctions that make up a life of poverty. One or the other. But always solitude. Whether I have money or not, I’m alone. At best, I’m talking to loved ones on the phone. The bloodless, cold consolation of texting and writing. Keeping up a virtual facsimile of friendship.
When we tell people to stay in touch, we indulge in poetic license. Moving 800 miles away means there will be no more touching. We need more than another person’s words pressed through a digital medium. A spectral signal bouncing off satellites and into our ears is a poor replacement for presence.
We need physical closeness. We need to not only hear the words of loved ones, we need to see them speaking to us. There is no substitute for physical closeness for as long as we remain warm blooded mammals designed to thrive in small, hierarchical groups.
All these academic, inadequate definitions of man. A rational animal, an economic animal. A calculating individual, a war of all against all, a noble savage born free but living everywhere in chains. A creator of values.
Almost always an individual first. If we don’t glorify the individual, we sanction mindless conformity. Man is either a free spirt or an unthinking insect swept up in the swarm. If I don’t flesh out my idiosyncrasies, I might disappear in a faceless mass.
Many thinkers begin by misunderstanding the social dimension of human life. Social behavior isn’t a byproduct or accident of the individual. There’s no such thing as an individual without essential links to others. The existence of one person presupposes the existence of at least two others. We are born into a world already structured by relationships, with responsibilities and roles awaiting us. And our development hinges on our fulfillment of these responsibilities and roles.
So obvious and yet so easy to overlook. So easy to forget the physical foundation of our well being, our need for touch, closeness and belonging. Insisting on individuality at all costs gives rise to a host of pathologies. Weaker links between individuals create weaker individuals. And weaker individuals give in to pressure and negative stimuli much more readily.
Think of depression and addiction. When a person withdraws from society, their buffer against hardship is reduced. Their physical body begins to break down and their personality shrinks. Compulsions reinforce the isolation, and the isolation feeds back into the compulsions.
Not that I know what any of this is like from experience or anything. I’m just living the dream here in DC, waiting for another slick service gig so I can guide a transient population with disposable income to their perfect drink. That’s what we all need.
I remember thinking how fun it would be to live on my own and answer to no one. But I missed the moment for it and now I’m too old to be this poor and alone. Maybe it works when you’re twenty, but I don’t want to live this way anymore. I need roots, family, stability and security. Touch and warmth. Now I only have fingertips on a keypad.