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
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
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,
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?