green envy

mossy fence

Someone somewhere seems to have made a little brown-haired, pear-shaped voodoo doll. If my life this year is any evidence, this someone-something has decided to stick me with pins, small ones, but regularly—each week another prick. I know many other people in the world have life much worse. Being a North American, I still have life pretty easy—potable water from an indoor tap, electric heat at the turn of a knob, a variety of clothing (even if secondhand), legumes and grains in jars on the shelf, vegetables in the fridge (even if at discount), a cellular phone (though not a smart phone), no chickens or pigs wandering through my house, no malarial mosquitos, no laundering down by the river, and so on.

So why am I complaining? Suck it up already. Even the rich get cancer, die in small-engine plane crashes, find out their husbands have been paying for whores, et cetera. Life isn't easy. Nobody gets out alive.

But it was really bad fiscal timing for my computer to die two nights ago. One minute I was watching Weeds on Netflix, and the next, when I moved my laptop into another room to check e-mail (wait, there's another perk: a house with multiple rooms), poof, a blank screen. (Prick.)

Hoping for a relatively cheap fix, say a new $150 battery, since mine had fizzled years ago and always needed to be plugged into a wall, I hopped on the bus Saturday afternoon in the rain, after spending a few hours unpacking (which only made me wish I had actually moved). Because I had no Internet with the computer down, I had called my sister in Idaho to look up the bus schedule. Such are the wonders of modern technology. But alas, the guy at the Mac Store said, based on his experience with such symptoms, my laptop would probably cost $500 to repair, and he wouldn't advise me to put that much money into a computer that old—six years, ancient of days in the tech world. He admitted my MacBook had lasted longer than most. He said he was sorry. He seemed sorry. I left with my computer's brain encased in a $35 gray plastic shell whose contents can be accessed via USB by another Mac—but only by another Mac.

I'm writing this post on a six-year-old desktop Mac that is my roommate's. He doesn't have Microsoft Office for Macs, though, so I can't access my journal or most other files. Good thing I'm not job hunting right now. Good thing blogging is journaling, my guts spilled across the World Wide Web. But theoretically my computer is still alive, sort of like those rich people who are having their heads frozen for future repair.

My choices now are to a) go computer-less, scrounging for computer time at work and the library (the worst option), b) use a friend or family member's old computer out of charity (not ideal), c) pay $200 for a new, cheap Chinese PC, or d) go into debt for a new or refurbished Mac at around $1000, more or less. Feel free to vote in the comments section.

In the 2006 Nicole Holofcener filmFriends with Money, Jennifer Aniston plays a former teacher who is cleaning houses while her well-off friends spout clueless clich├ęs. I've been thinking about that concept lately, money, or its lack, as it affects friendships, though I don't remember what happens in the film itself. It's no coincidence the friend without money is a teacher, though in Hollywoodland, surely all ends well. Most days I fight the ogre of jealousy about my own friends with money, the ones who have mortgages and husbands and kids and never glance at their grocery bills. My best friend in college bristled once when I called her "rich" because she'd grown up with a nanny in a huge house and I grew up in a mobile home with occasional babysitters on date nights that didn't work to keep my parents together. But my friend's family were the poor mice in a much wealthier hotelier family, so all is relative.

A line from an old Billie Holiday song has also been running through my head, off and on, for weeks:
Them that's got shall have / Them that's not shall lose / So the Bible says / And it still is news / Mama may have, Papa may have / But God bless the child that's got his own.
In the song, it is best to have enough money to rely on no one. For some of us, that's easier said than done, though I'm not precisely sure why. The most interesting people I know are the ones who tend to struggle with money and other things, battles within themselves mostly, over the demons of their past. They also tend to be the ones who most question our overarching systems, who peek behind curtains at the puppeteers pulling the strings, who believe the game is rigged, or those who have artistic bents.

On top of my computer dying, I woke up this morning with the nose and throat tickle that means I'm getting sick again, the second time in a month, because of working with children, those roving germ factories. (Prick.) My immune system hasn't yet been buttressed against all the newly evolved bugs.

In 12-step, they say instead of wallowing in self-pity to draft a gratitude list, focusing on the positive. Okay then, I'm grateful for the energy to have made a pot of oniony, garlicky, lemon-and-cumin-infused lentil-vegetable soup this morning, which should last for a couple days and feels soothing going down my throat. I'm grateful for hot green tea. I'm grateful for my roommate's old, extra computer and his willingness to lend. I'm grateful for a washer and dryer in the basement, rather than having to do laundry at a laundromat or riverbank. I'm grateful for a vacuum cleaner rather than having to beat my carpets out in the backyard. I'm grateful for rain boots that allow me to plow through puddles without soaking my feet. I'm grateful for the few friends I have who know what it feels like to have $42 in the bank until payday. I'm grateful to have a payday. And I'm grateful for the friends who trust that eventually I will figure myself out, rather than butting in and telling me how to run my life, who give me the respect of sympathy without unasked-for advice—a courtesy I should more fully emulate.

Yet still, I want more than this. There should be more to life than this. "Thou shalt not covet" is a stupid rule, like saying, Thou shalt not breathe. I'm so cranky and whiny lately. Maybe after cleaning my apartment while sick (because I can't afford a weekly housekeeper like my stay-at-home neighbor across the mossy fence), I should do some yoga, meditate on the Buddhist truth that life is suffering—and then eat some chocolate and take a nap.


going carless, part 2

image mirrored off the back of a Volvo station wagon

The universe decided (whatever that means) to force my hand about all this talk about bus riding. The car wouldn't start one Monday morning on the way to work, which I'd been worried about because for no obvious reason, it hadn't started one night the previous week, and I'd had to get a jump to make it home from a friend's house. So because the fear had been instilled and I'd already Googled and jotted down the TriMet bus numbers to get to work, I threw my keys into my bag, pulled out five dollars for a day pass, and stomped down the street to catch the first bus headed downtown, where I switched to a transfer bus back across the river to the Rose Quarter and then up and over to St. Johns. It's a winding route, full of stops, that towards the end of the trip meanders along the northwest river bluff past the University of Portland, overlooking Forest Park on the other side and an industrial shipyard, warehouses, and parking lots below. I was 40 minutes late to work that morning, missing a session with one student, when I usually arrive at work 15 minutes early. The rest of the bus-commute week went smoothly because intentional, though the bus takes three times as long as the car and I must now get up at five a.m., an hour earlier.

The car's original battery has since been changed and the Volvo's once again operational (though the check-engine light has since come on and off again, probably for another, incomprehensible sensor like the one replaced a few months ago for $230). At this point, I'm going to try to sell the car as is before dumping more money into the little fixes that aging, increasingly electrical, computerized vehicles now require. It's still a very nice car, perfect for hauling groceries—or a futon or chair or bale of straw—and I wouldn't be selling it at all if my income were double because, let's be honest, seat warmers are genius.

However, after two weeks now of riding the bus during commute hours, I've decided my stress level is lower on the way to work (less so on the way home because I'm usually hungry and cranky and just want to be home alone already). On the bus, I don't have to worry about running into the car in front of me or having to change exit lanes aggressively during bumper-to-bumper traffic. I don't have to worry about on-ramp traffic jams, getting a ticket, or watching the gas gauge drop, and I don't have to suppress any upwelling road rage about other people's driving. Instead, I get to stretch my legs a little during the five-minute walk to and from the bus stops, and I get to knit or read or close my eyes and rest if I'm still sleepy or stare out the window and plan my day or week, while someone else, a professional, does the driving. In a way, when you think about it, that's a luxury of the truly rich. (Of course, the rich never have to stand out in the rain for 15-30 minutes, waiting for a bus, or be driven halfway across town before doubling back in the desired direction.)

My car gets about 16 miles a gallon in town. (I know, I know. What was I thinking?) It's around 23 miles to and from work each day. The cheapest gas prices in Portland right now are about $3.87 a gallon, so that means I'm spending $5.56 a day on gas alone on the days I take the car to work, not including maintenance costs, insurance, or remaining payment on the car itself. By contrast, a 30-day TriMet pass is $100, or $3.33 a day, for unlimited train, bus, and streetcar rides, with no extra costs. That difference adds up when one is poor.

So I'm about to put the car up on Craigslist, but my feet have been dragging. The thought of fielding e-mail and phone inquiries, scheduling test drives, figuring out the paperwork, and judging whom to trust feels almost overwhelming, certainly draining. Plus, my landlord's having the apartment painted next week, which means I have to box up my whole metro-shelf kitchen and anything else not enclosed in a drawer or cupboard, taking myself and my cat to a friend's for several days. And to top it off, today the winter rains have begun, the gray drizzle more or less constant from now to July.

Damn, I haven't had to tote home my groceries on the bus since college. On the whole, WinCo's got the cheapest groceries around town, but it's all the way out on SE 82nd Avenue, servicing the city's lowest-income crowd on the fringes of town, two buses away. And sadly, Portland's new MAX (lightrail) line won't be coming through my neighborhood for another three years. Maybe I should move—that or, because there's a Cash & Carry restaurant-supply store within a 15-minute walk of my place, I could just open a restaurant.

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