There have been plenty of times in my life when i've skated the fine line between squalor and success. I moved to Eugene in 2001 dealing with little money, a boyfriend who didn't really want me staying in his house for too long, and a job market that was dismal, even for the skilled convenience store clerk with the Ph.D. I delivered phone books for a time, before the greenhouse 20 miles out of town noticed me for my Spanish skills and put me on their planting crew. I discovered that even being employed did not mean there would be money for anything but rent and a little gas for the tank. I ate ramen and cheese sandwiches, carpooled with the other planters, and let my previously-somewhat-hip wardrobe piddle down to torn, topsoil-stained rags.
Then a couple months later the resume i'd dropped off at a downtown brew pub bore fruit, when the lesbian assistant manager remembered the cute way i'd (unconsciously) flirted with her when i'd come to look for a job. I had to scrape together enough suitable server's clothing by donating plasma, so i could pass muster before the fat waitress tips started rolling in.
I also traveled in Asia with less money than i would have wanted, when my Chinese bosses started imagining that i might not be worth the 100 rmb they were paying me to show up at English corner. We had a falling out, and i broke the news about my leaving to some of my favorite students when they showed up for a class that would no longer be in session. I set out on the road. I still ate well, since my palate was not so refined and a bowl of egg fried rice suited me just fine. I saw many of the sights i'd wanted to, but if there was a chance to skip the hotel for the night, i would most certainly skate on the side of squalor and shiver in a cold bus terminal to save some cash.
Then when i moved back to Oregon, i was gainfully employed, but newly single, in need of child care nine hours a day, and strapped from the move so many miles from where i'd come from. Winco Foods became my best friend. The warehouse-style grocery store has all manner of regular sundries, but it also has a bulk section which allowed me to stock up without devastating my funds. Every day i'd bring a sack lunch of crackers, a few slices of cheese, a piece of fruit, and a snack mix for mid-evening, poured from that row of bulk foods. I slowly slid away from that squalor when my sister showed up and she and her husband started helping me with the rent.
Now as i try to conserve my cash for tougher times to come, the taste of that oriental snack mix is again rolling across my tongue.
It's funny how certain smells or tastes bring back the sensations of a time long past.
And this time, that oriental snack mix is bringing back these desperate sensations of squalor, barely staved off; the feeling that one false stride and you'll fall, skates still spinning, bruises forming, a groan of pain and embarassment falling out the mouth, and the knowledge that the only thing you can do is hope for another phone book delivery gig to come around, so you can keep rolling...