Yesterday evening at 5:30 the sun hadn’t yet sunk behind the buildings, and I found myself loosening the wool scarf I’ve automatically donned every day for the last five months. As I strolled from the East Village to Union Square I realized that people were ambling rather than charging to the subway, that the face-slicing wind was finally dormant, and that maybe spring will come after all. Though my original plan had been to hit up Barnes and Nobles, it seemed a shame to waste the daylight and the mild weather, and thus I parked myself on the steps of the park to listen to my music and watch the free show that is USP at rush hour.

In my winter hibernation, I’d forgotten just what a shitty idea this is. I was offered not one but two free hugs, as well as a tarot card reading – “no charge for such a pretty girl” (if these are my options, then I decree the best things in life are NOT free). A homeless man asked for my hand in marriage. A homely man told me I had dropped something – “your smile.” A hipster guitar player who was definitely not old enough to rent a car approached me and said: “Hey, kiddo – what do you want me to play for you? The Ramones?” I decided for the sake of the music not to ream him out for using such a pretentious moniker and told him: “I want you to play whatever makes you happy.” This did not please him, and he promptly changed his locale. So much for beatific buskers.

The one thing that stuck with me from this little excursion, besides the awareness that I will never again sit anywhere on or around 14th Street without an escort, was what the tarot card reader said: “Miss, I wanna give you a free reading because you look like you have just as much time and just as few places to go as I do.” It’s true – at this point in my life, my obligations take up about 20 hours of my week, including transport. I go to class for 4.5 hours. I have worked about 4 days in the last six weeks.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I’m idle. I’m a three.one mile run away from finishing the eight-week (nine-week, in my case) Couch to 5k program (next hurdle: 10k. Then a half marathon. Then I’ll start smoking again just to shake things up.) I hit up Yoga to the People one to three times a week. I shower, sometimes multiple times a day, just because I can. I read: Yesterday I finished The Confessions of Max Tivoli, tore through This is How You Lose Her, drunkenly speed-read Love Story and embarked upon Bright Lights, Big City for the ninth time. I cook. I tipple. I spend hours on the phone strengthening my already-fortified relationships with my friends (“I get it! He’s just not that into me! OMG OMG OMG!)

Indeed, throw in a few crazy nights with friends, daytime jaunts across the Williambsburg Bridge, bike rides, homework and other school-related endeavors, daily viewings of “Hide Yo Kids!” and the occasional popping of tags and you can see how I would have absolutely no time to work more than I already do.

Despite this being Exclusively My Problem, people are quite fond of asking: “Why don’t you get a job at a restaurant near where you live? It seems stupid to reverse commute.” I could ask a lot of questions back: “Why are you wearing Crocs? Why does the amount of time I spend in transit upset you so much? Why do you think I would ever want to work near my apartment?”

(On this note, a funny side story: A couple of weeks ago, I went to a club on the LES with a couple of friends. Drinks were imbibed, music was playing, I found the one non-mustachioed non-douche (which obvio means non-American) in the place and the inevitable club dancing occurred (a.k.a. my hips may have been swaying but tongues and hands were doing most of the bailando). It was a weekday, I was rolling off yet another bender, and, numbers exchanged, I decided to be civilized and go home. We had ascertained that we both live in the same neighborhood, and so my chivalrous new friend offered to walk me home. To my door. Which wasn’t creepy or inconvenient because it turned out he lives in the building directly across the street from me. That the bar whose window frame I balance my coffee on every morning when I fumble for my keys is his spot. Has been since high school. That I now have to put makeup on whenever I leave the damn apartment. This is why I want to work in Westchester.)

But I don’t begrudge their curiosity, since what they’re really asking is: “How do you afford to live like that?” “That” meaning in a way that is, to the outsider, indecipherable from the lives of the other twenty-somethings below 14th Street, the ones who either go to work fifty hours a week or are subsidized by relatives? In a moment of weak benevolence, I have decided to impart some of the knowledge I have accrued in my adult life of living beyond my means.

1) Live Abroad for 2 Years, Come Back Broke, Live and Work at Home
This is key. And when you’re living at home you have to work 75 hours a week and save up every dime you make. None of this is possible without step one.

2) Don’t Get Knocked Up, Married, or Otherwise Engaged
The single life is the simple life. I’m perfectly happy getting trashed by myself off a $7 bottle of mezcal that I bought in the Mexico City duty-free. People with boyfriends or daughters cannot (well, should not) do this. Cash must flow. And don’t kid yourself: Even if he’s paying for dinner, you’ve paid for the outfit, the subway, and the cell phone bill that enables the texting to happen. Hell, you may even be paying for the morning-after pill because you “thought he’d bring condoms” or “you didn’t plan on this happening” (pray tell, then, why are you shaved closer than a soldier on his first day of basic training?).

3) Don’t Join the Gym
I love when I’m talking to people about funds and they’re like: “I have no money! After my Crunch membership and my nail appointments and my keratin treatments and my Upper-of-the-Month Club dues, I’m barely scraping enough coins together to bring my laundry to the organic place that uses filtered water, and folds it with mint leaves between each shirt.” Running is as expensive as the sneakers you buy ($9.29 at K-Mart). Also, if you do less post-drink binge-eating you’ll be less fat and won’t have to go to the gym as often. I happen to have a sister who is a stylist, so that takes care of the hair, but my normally trembly hands convert into zen stone claws when holding a brush dipped in Wet and Wild’s “Everybody Loves Redmond.” I’m in the Upper-of-the-Week Club so I usually get a good deal.

4) Wash Your Own Damn Clothes
On the laundry note, when did young people stop going to the laundromat? You watch all these movies about people meeting in the laundromat and saying things like: “Your worn red thong would look even better once it’s been washed and put on and then thrown on my floor.” Yet I have never seen anyone under the age of fifty in there. I thought maybe I’d chosen the wrong mat, but I see plenty of hotties weighing their stuff and dropping it at the counter. Is it about theft? No one’s going to steal your stupid flannel shirts while we’re fucking upstairs. A generation of people used to having hired help? I’ll pour the soap in for you. Shit.

5) Stop Going to Whole Foods
Top Ramen: Learn It. Love It. Live It. It’s amazing what a few slices of shredded bologna and canned peas will do to spice up a 34 cent pack of noodles. Buy fruit on the street, despite questionable deals (I got eight onions for a dollar and three pounds of blueberries for five on Essex; don’t tell me that’s normal). Lie at the Self-Checkout. If you buy four rolls, stick it to the man and type in that you bought one. That’s 1.50 saved per week, which is six dollars a month, which is three classes at the donation-based yoga studio (based on average donation of two dollars). Use Groupon. Not for brazilian hair treatments or two for one shower radios or mani-pedis that are more expensive after the discount than most places are before, but for real things, like $30 month unlimited Bikram Yoga, or $50 for $100 at the American Apparel Factory Outlet. (Hey, I’m White! Whaddya want?)

6) Don’t Take Cabs
Seriously. What kind of a pussy takes a cab? Ask anyone who’s been out with me after four drinks: I WILL NOT TAKE A CAB. And on the note of being a pussy, stop drinking stupid-ass cocktails.

7) Be Entertained By Nothing
I can sit for hours in Tompkins Square Park watching the antics of that horrible-yet-kind-of-hot Honduranean homeless junkie (who grabbed my ass in the bodega the other night so we’re not on speaking terms anymore). Despite my refusing to accept free hugs, I find Union Square a veritable reel of continuous entertainment that could occupy hours of my time. Read in Barnes and Nobles – no one will stop you. They even have free ice water and if you coerce someone into giving you their receipt and empty coffee cup you can get a refill for 54 cents. Find new neighborhoods. See how long you can walk with your eyes closed.

The warm season’s coming, and in a month I’ll be complaining that I haven’t stopped working and I wish it were February. Until then, I’m just happy to carboload with dollar pasta, run alongside the river, and harass the virtual public with my rambling, loony thoughts.

Coming Soon: My Response to What’s Your Number?, a book about a woman who realizes that she’s had sex with NINETEEN GUYS (cue unimpressed music here) and sets off on a stupid quest

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