Sunday, March 22

I am fiddling with my bike. The front derailer1 has been refusing to push the chain over onto the outside chainring, prompting me (genius that I am) to crank way too hard on the shift lever and bend the derailer. In addition to its failure to shift, it now catches on the chainring itself and makes a horrible grinding sound. I have less mechanical aptitude than your average six year old kid, so I'm pretty sure I'm going to wreck something before I even start. Somehow I manage to disconnect the cable, remove and clean the derailer, and re-attach it slightly higher up the tube. After much riding back and forth on a nearby path, I even get the stop screw for the high gear adjusted. Suddenly I am much faster.

No doubt I will have forgotten something. Perhaps I will throw a chain in the middle of traffic and die flailing beneath the wheels of a family SUV driven by a horrified mother of two.2

 

In the meantime, I've got wheels again. I'm trying not to drive before Wednesday, because I have $10 in the bank until then and gasoline costs money.

If that sounds like the usual sort of complaint about being broke, it's not. In fact, whatever kind of shitstorm is going on in the broader economy, I'm personally as well off as I have been since I moved out of my parents house. I have a job that ranges between tolerable and I cannot believe how awesome this place is. It pays better than all of the ones I ever hated.

I'm not even close to wealthy by American standards (let alone in Boulder County terms), but it's not clear that those standards are very useful. The only reason I'm temporarily broke is that I just spent hundreds of dollars on basically unnecessary travel. This is the kind of thing you only get to do if you have more money than you need or a good plan for cadging resources at the other end.

I'm not sure how to feel about this state of affairs.

On one hand, I'm not interested in romanticizing being broke. There's a lot of cultural noise about the interconnectedness of poverty, youth, and freedom. There's some truth in these ideas; it isn't hard to notice that standard modes of accumulating wealth and security involve a laundry list of compromises and resignations. There's a reason that when you're being a worthless, drunken layabout of a student, piling up debt and earnestly misunderstanding everything on a diet of bar specials, you will meet these guys 10 years out of school with a pretty wife, a couple kids, and $65 or $100k a year who tell you that these are the best years of your life. There's also a lot of candy-coated bullshit. I've never been genuinely poor, but I've spent enough time struggling to make rent to notice that money stress is a fundamental corrosive of human happiness, sanity, and relationships. In a society built on the cash nexus, money stress is everywhere when you haven't got the stuff. Food, fuel, shelter, healthcare, transportation.

All else being equal, I'd rather have some money.

On the other hand, it seems like a bad idea to get used to this. If I get too comfortable with new clothes and well-stocked shelves and full gas tanks, I might just lose whatever edge I've got left. As it stands, I need all the help I can get. And shouldn't I be getting up to something else anyway?

 

1 Well, the quasi-French version is harder to spell anyway.

2 She'd be on her way home from a yoga session, having just stopped to pick the kids up from their private kindgergarten. John couldn't do it because he had to work late all this week. Something about getting his presentation ready for the big conference. In the back of her mind she wonders about that, but the emotional trauma of running me down would distract her for weeks afterwards, deferring the moment when all of John's guilty glances at his iPhone and unnecessarily evasive responses when she tries to make small-talk about the trivialities of his day suddenly gel into the shattering realization that he's been cheating on her for months.

It would be a fitting end, I suppose.