On first glance, I’m really a loser. I’ve got bad credit, I’m fat, I’m solidly middle aged and I always laugh at my own jokes. But like some weird reverse body dysmorphia, deep inside of me I’ll always feel that I am 20. Because in 1988, my dance moves were always awesome, my hair was usually flawless and I had more fun than anyone. I was the person who made it look easy, but of course when I was younger it really was easier. In my late teens and early 20’s, I would see my unhappy friends lugging around their 17 lbs of school books from the library to their crappy jobs while I worked some low stress job , planned themed parties, spent leisurely afternoons scouring thrift stores for go-go boots and looking for cool graffiti on the tame but still urban streets of Columbus, Ohio— you know, good-life stuff. Not exactly upper crust but cool enough. Midwestern cool.
I remember watching with detached interest as my friends all started to graduate from college in the very early 90’s and wondering why they all seemed to be working so much. Why would anyone do that? Who was going to grab a afternoon coffee with me? All of that responsibility put a serious damper on their afterparty attendance. It was hard enough to get my newly college graduated buddies out on the weekends let alone to Wednesday night Straight Night at Wall Street (one of Columbus’ great gay dance clubs). “Wednesday nights I’m in bed by 11” Jesus, I didn’t even shower to go out until 10:30. Stupid adulthood, Stupid work. I mean my God, they didn’t even know any of the bartenders anymore! I’m sure that I looked like a big idiot to many of my friends but I loathed full time employment and I couldn’t tolerate sitting in a classroom. It cut into my lifestyle in an unsettling way. I didn’t need money because although Urban Outfitters would try to tell you otherwise, you can’t buy cool.
I found that time was way more useful than money. There was no store that sold the type of old, worn men’s clothing and 1950’s ladies lingerie that I considered everyday wear. I was once in a car accident in Hocking County after a late night party at Ohio University and I had to explain to the State Trooper why I locked up my breaks instead of hitting the deer that jumped in front of my car wile wearing a torn up white v-necked t-shirt, black strapless bra, a red crinoline and black high topped Chuck Taylor converse shoes (which I did buy at Sears for $12). My aesthetic was cheap but exclusive. Back in the day, if you wanted blue hair you couldn’t get it at Supercuts, we used kool aid as dye and accessorized with jewelry made from speaker wire , old dog chains and fishing lures. I never stooped to steal kool aide but I did raid my dad’s tackle box. so I could accessorize. See? Super cheap. Why spend cash to rent an apartment when you could live in an old schoolhouse that had been technically condemned for a fraction of the price? [By the way, this is a real place, the Milo artist collective in Columbus, Ohio http://miloarts.com/.] Want to feel really alive? Nothing beats a cold shower in a converted janitor’s closet. That, my friends is living usually reserved for prisoners or people backpacking in primitive camping areas.
I was living a big city squatter’s existence with midwestern comforts. Maybe not quite as exciting as New York but it was much easier for a kid to survive. I had a car, I could still go to my mom’s and do laundry and if I really needed to, and as a last resort I could have probably chucked my shabby chic life for a job as a secretary in an insurance company. Crap jobs were everywhere and back in the day when tattoos and body piercings were taboo, we cloistered ourselves working in mail sorting businesses or making phone calls for market research firms out of public view. I had dropped out of Ohio State after two years, my job was never a career, always just a means to an end. I called myself an artist because I performed with a local improv troupe and hosted karaoke for groceries but the truth is that I was drifting. I spent way too much time in bars, and made the drift over to total degenerate more than I should have. I never wanted the party to end even when my smarter friends all went home.
I wasn’t bright enough to figure out a way to make it go on and since I had not solidified a life plan, one was presented to me in the form of twin baby girls. Although parenthood is a nifty time suck and truly a wonderful vocation, being a slacker really made buying stuff a challenge. Nice thing about babies is that they have really low standards. Babies don’t spend a lot of time shopping online or sitting in quite jealously of other babies’ designer onesies. Babies are cool like that. But I became increasingly worried about food, transportation and health care. I was miles away from college savings plans, summer camps or retirement and I was pretty focused on making it through each day. One of my daughters was born with a vision disorder and also is intellectually disabled and eventually was diagnosed with autism. So in addition to taking care of children, I also ended up becoming a human development specialists, which in and of itself was a full time job. It was a rewarding job but the pay blows.
SO , this is pretty much what I was doing to survive, just surviving. I did manage to finish my bachelor’s degree and work part time but full time work while facilitating therapy programs and maintaining services for my daughter was elusive. I did work two full time jobs and both times left coworkers and bosses baffled and confused by my needs at home. Only when my kids aged out of my house did my life get easier. Maybe it’s my situation or maybe I’m just a big fuck up. You would think that after 22 years of being a mommy I would have settled a bit, have a nest egg or something. Nope. I literally have less than 2,000 saved for my retirement. A Girl in Trouble as it turns out is NOT a temporary thing. Curse you Romeo Void! You lied!
I would love to bitch about my poor financial situation but when I look around at all of my friends from back in the day, all of my buddies who skipped the afterhours , I suddenly am not the only person with no cash. I have to admit, part of me is really glad that I didn’t work my ass for years and years. When I talk with some of my friends who are now underwater on their mortgages and stuck in a lease agreement on a car that is just sucking money away, my tiny house and 11 year old car don’t seem so bad.
Obviously, money is pretty important because you can buy stuff with it. I have had a seriously limited life experience because of my money/children situation but so what? I was not partnered for a few years and know the public assistance offices pretty well. It wasn’t a fun place to go but the parking lot in the mall sucks way more, trust me. I’m glad that I have a husband now who is learning to tolerate my lazy attitude toward money and took me with my bad credit and manages to still love me.
I tell my kids that we are the New Pioneers. We are treading territory that is filled with uncertainty and promise and the occasional loose zoo animal. It’s great to have enough money and maybe enough left over to get out of town occasionally. If you want a fancy car or a nose job, ok. At the end of the day, I have to own my bad debt and my fat and still somehow manage to be happy while I work on making it better. It’s not easy but I ‘m fairly certain that it would be hard even if I was a size 0 and flush with cash. Maybe? New Pioneers can’t ask these questions, we’ve got way too much to do.