What I learned by living on 25 dollars in nine days.
It was nearly five years ago. I had 1700 dollars in my checking account and 25 dollars in my pocket. This felt like a lot of money to me because it is a lot of money when you’re a moron.
Then I received a medical bill for 1700 dollars, exactly. My paycheck wasn’t coming for nine days, so initially, I figured I’d wait until it did before paying the bill.
However, for a reason I cannot recall, I paid the bill that night. Knowing me, it was probably for the same reason I take cold showers, run hill sprints, and chug tequila until my poop smells like Tijuana—I don’t feel manly unless I’m hurting myself.
Also, I love the part in Les Miserables when Marius goes for months living on scraps, eating only bread and beans. He could have easily asked his aristocratic grandfather for a palace, but he had the urge within him to make it on his own. Guys understand this; meanwhile, chicks want to be princesses. Hence inequality.
So as is fitting for a guy who takes 19th Century literature as guidance, I was left with little more than 25 dollars to live on for the next nine days.
The first thought on my mind was food. To be fair, though, food would have been my first thought if I was sitting on the treasure of Monte Cristo.
My mind furiously fluttered over how to keep myself from starving. Since I’m a bro, it landed on eggs. I could eat a dozen eggs per day for nine days and be fine. Better than fine. I’d maintain muscle while maybe popping a few stomach veins. I get super gay for myself when my lower abdomen is vascular. This rarely happens though because of the aforementioned tequila chugging.
Except where could I get nine dozen eggs for less than 25 dollars? This was California, not Fresno (which, culturally, needs to be its own state).
Then I remembered the farmer’s market, and all its glory of negotiation. The next day was a Saturday, so I got up early to shower and shave. It’s important to look presentable and smell clean if you plan on doing some bilking.
With an empty stomach and full spirit, I followed the smell of patchouli to the nearest farmer’s market, which was only a few blocks away. California has as many farmer’s markets as they have pretentious white people, which is no coincidence.
An old man in overalls was selling eggs. I talked him into giving me nine dozen eggs for 20 dollars. He just gave me ten dozen. Thank you, parted hair. I took the remaining five dollars and bought two pounds of butter. This also required some negotiation. Good thing the butter lady was Asian and old. I never feel more confident than I do when I’m around old, Asian ladies.
I walked home with my rations, satisfied by practicality.
I had eggs.
The first few days were grueling. I kept thinking about what I didn’t have. I kept thinking about where I couldn’t go. And I kept thinking about what I couldn’t buy.
I would drive by a restaurant and think, “I would get kicked out of there.” This thought would be immediately followed by panic, “Wait, am I homeless?” I’d respond soothingly, “No Mark, you’re not homeless, but not by much.” Forget restaurants. Those five-pound tubes of ground chuck look pretty good when you cannot afford them.
This strain, like all strains, ended up being a blessing in disguise. My only refuge from the misery of poverty was focus—focus on what I could control.
Eggs, I could control eggs, and yes, I could control my abs, but there was something else I could control that I was neglecting. The fuel of masculinity. The only sanctuary from horniness.
I had eggs. I had work.
Poverty made the penalty of distraction unbearable. I had to focus, because there was nothing else. There was work, there was eggs, and then there was the nothingness of pain and hunger of doubt.
Remembering this, the last seven days went by in a blur of work and eggs. I’d wake up in the morning before work and fill blank word documents. Then I’d go to work and fill blank word documents. Then I’d come home and fill blank word documents. Then I’d eat eggs until I was full, and then butter to remind myself eating food can sometimes be stupid. I think I may have ran out of soap but who cares? It doesn’t matter if I don’t remember.
Filling blank word documents came to feel even better than going out to eat, even better than smelling clean, even better than buying a five-pound tube of ground chuck.
It became clear to me around day five that life wasn’t going to get any better than eating cholesterol and doing work. I could have 50 million dollars and not feel any better. I could be wrapped in lingerie models and not feel any better. I may have only felt better if I was doing wheelies in a Countach, but not by much.
When you’re poor and stupid, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking something needs to happen for you to become rich and smart. But during my time of work and eggs, I learned pain carried with it the seeds of its own destruction. I learned everything that was going to happen already had happened. It comes from my decision. It comes from my thought. It comes from my ability to find a way where there is no way.
Marius had to live like a peasant to feel like an aristocrat. I understood that when I first read Les Miserables in college, but I never felt it until my week of work and eggs—the best week of my life.