My friend Pat has been bending my ear for the last half hour on his daily struggle to make ends meet on a paltry $550,000 a year. “Call it inflation, call it what ever you want,” he says, “but the dollar just doesn’t go as far as it used to.”
His psychiatrist, his personal trainer, his dermatologist, his lawyer, his tailor, his accountant, his decorator, his hair stylist, his life coach and his tennis pro all agree, things are just too expensive.
“I know what you mean.” I said. “I had to let my life coach go months ago.”
“Because you’re unemployed?”
“I’m not unemployed. I’m a writer.”
“What’s the difference? You sit around in your pajamas all day and watch TV.” Pat is nothing if not competitive.
“I wrote something yesterday,” he said, “and it was better than anything you’ve written in a while.”
“What was that?
“But I’m not the one complaining about money – you are.”
“Well, being dirt poor didn’t bother me when I was single, but now that I have a wife and kids ... Do you know that Chardonnay is the poorest child at the Marie Antoinette High? One of her classmates brought a Rembrandt self-portrait for show-and-tell. Now, she stays home sick on Show-and-Tell day. She’s been traumatized by her poverty. She never brings any of her friends over to the house – she’s ashamed that we live on Park Avenue when everyone else in her class lives on Fifth.
“I try to tell her that being poor is nothing to be ashamed of. Hold your head up, girl, be proud of who you are. I didn’t inherit money like all your friend’s daddies did. No, I had to earn it the old-fashioned way, by selling ads on the Internet.”
“Have you thought about getting a second job?” I asked. “Micky D’s is always looking for bright, energetic people for the night shift.” It was as if I hadn’t said a word.
“It doesn’t matter how much I make, it’s never enough. The 20 grand a year we pay for tuition is nothing compared to what she has to spend on clothes. Her dry cleaning bill alone is $200 a week. I said to Hanna, ‘Why do we bother to send her clothes to the dry cleaners? She never wears them twice. Let’s just give them to the Salvation Army and take a tax deduction.’”
“Have you applied for food stamps, yet?” He ignored me.
“I don’t know how people like us, the working poor, are supposed to make it anymore.”
“Can’t you cut back?” I said. “Maybe you could take four two-week vacations a year instead of six? Maybe you could fly business class every now and then? Switch to salmon roe instead of caviar?” Pat shook his head.
“When you add on Hanna’s shrink, Chardonnay’s shrink – it’s no wonder I’m on Zoloft all the time. I read that it’s the most prescribed drug in the country. Do you know doctors have written over 250 million prescriptions for that stuff? No wonder I’m stressed out – if I hadn’t been on drugs, I might have had the brains to invest in whoever makes it. I could have been rich beyond my wildest dreams if I had only known how miserable everyone is.”
“Is everyone miserable?”
“Don’t you read the papers, man? Look at all the celebrity divorces, all the child stars suing their parents, rich kids on drugs. Look how miserable Lady Di was. She was, rich, beautiful and married to a prince. And she was miserable. Trust me, the more money you have, the unhappier you’ll be.”
“So why would you want more money.”
“I like being unhappy.”
Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2006, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.