Originally posted February 4, 2011...
There’s this guy I’ll call Walter (though I’m not protecting his anonymity here, I really don’t know his name) who comes into our store at the same time every day and buys a five dollar lottery ticket. English is not his first language so, though he is animated and chatty with the cashiers who share his native tongue, with me he is friendly, but brief (which is how I like both my customers and sexual activities). His transaction is so routine that I often print out the lottery ticket before he gets to the till, so I can simply hand him the ticket and take his five dollars in one fell swoop. The first few times I did this, he was clearly delighted. “This guy!” he says, “He knows!” And if he’s ever buying anything in addition to his ticket, we take a moment to chat while I ring up his other stuff. We joke about his potential purchases based on the size of this week’s jackpot. “Only ten sports cars this week,” he says, pretend-sulking that he can’t buy more. When Walter leaves I usually toss out some variant of, “Now remember it was me who sold you this ticket. Remember me when you win!” and he laughs and says he will and I don’t see him until the next time I’m on shift. I’m sure he comes in every day because everybody knows when he comes in and what his standard ticket is. I don’t know how long he’s been doing this, but I asked a coworker who said that Walter was coming in every day back when she started, and that was five years ago. If that’s true, and Walter has purchased a five dollar lottery ticket every day for five years (taking ten days off a year for holidays/sick days/mudslides), he has spent nearly nine thousand dollars. Now I suppose all it takes is one winning ticket to recoup those losses, but what if that winning ticket never comes?
A lottery win would be sweet right now. I recently lost one of my two jobs. I wasn’t fired or laid-off or anything; the store closed and we were sent packing. I don’t miss the job and I love having only one schedule to work around instead of two, but I sure miss the paycheque (not that it was ever stellar, but it brought me much closer to buying one of those gross hairless cats than I am now). Anyway, I am lazily applying for other jobs (but mostly Dream Jobs like freelance writer or someone who inspects the abs of runway models for both muscularity and tautness), but in the meantime I have to cut way back on my expenditure. It’s tough, but leads to my new Dream.
Dream: Cut daily costs down significantly in order to maintain survival.
Goal: Achievable. We all have that stupid friend who lives very comfortably on nothing. Somehow all their second-hand belongings look vintage and hip, they don’t waste a thing to the point where you feel both extravagant and foolish, and they make their own soup out of water and rocks. So it can be done, but what’s the cost of living cheap?
Plan: Find ways to cheap out on necessities like:
Food. I wish I was one of those people who didn’t care what I ate. You know the type? Who just eat when they’re hungry and it doesn’t matter what they put in their mouths? They get the same satisfaction from prime rib or a bread sandwich (take one slice of bread, place between two slices of bread. Consume). I’m that terrible combination of food-enjoyer and lazy-ass. It means I eat out more than I should, and can only cook things that are really unhealthy because so little culinary skill is required (fried eggs, pasta, hog fat). Hear me out, but I see one major advantage of having an eating disorder. Sure you sacrifice your physical and mental health, you develop a poisonous lifelong relationship with food, and you do irreparable damage to yourself, but think of the grocery bills! If I only had to weakly traipse to Loblaws once a month for butter spray, artificial sweetener, and cigarettes (the eating disorder trifecta), I’d be living on Easy Street!
Booze. I’m not an alcoholic, but I can’t not drink. And I don’t drink to excess but in truth, I worry about the prevalence of liquor in my life. Maybe worry is a strong word; I question it. For as long as I’ve known Jon (five years last Wednesday), Fridays have involved a trip to the liquor store and sometime over the weekend we reap the benefits of that trip. We had very close friends in Saskatoon who don’t drink and we’d see them fairly often and while I can’t say I noticed the absence of alcohol in these get-togethers, if we saw them on a Friday, we’d drink on Saturday, or vice-versa. Is that weird? I genuinely ask because I am very fortunate to come from an immediate family with no problems with alcoholism whatsoever (as far as I know, anyway—maybe the dog is a lush). So I don’t have that weird frame of reference most people have where drinking was either strictly forbidden for so long that now it’s de rigueur to get absolutely smashed, or alcohol was such an issue in the past that it is completely eradicated in present day. Either way, I wonder if I should stop, or even if I could. I’m going to go with the notion that I shouldn’t but I could so as to not feel guilty tomorrow when I restock the freezer.
Entertainment. I shudder to think how much of my earnings get sucked into the movie theatre. I know its a really wasteful past time, going to the movies. It’s extremely expensive, even moreso on cheap nights (with the money I save on a Tuesday ticket, I buy a popcorn and drink, which is actually $700 American, and with the exchange—hoo boy!). And I will often go to movies by myself, which is probably pretty lame, but it can be such a satisfying experience. I don’t set out to go to a movie by myself, mind you, but if nobody’s around to go with, I kind of like it. Plus the movies I like are often so poorly attended that I feel a big shot in my own screening room. And there’s nobody there to compare notes with at the end of the movie, which can be good and bad. If the movie is lousy, I’m grateful I’ve gone by myself so nobody can go “Great pick, Ebert!” in that really condescending way people do. But if the movie is good, or in any way affecting, I need to talk it out. The other day I went solo to a screening of Another Year, this slow but really charming British movie about an old couple who goes planting in the spring, hosts a barbecue in the summer, attends a funeral in the fall, and covers their plants in the winter. Sounds exciting, I know, but it really was super good. So much so that at the end of the movie, I turned to one of the six other people that also came solo to the late show and said, “So what did you think?” And they were too miffed at my invading their privacy to answer, apparently. In any case, its an expensive habit that I should stop in order to save money, but what good’s money if you never spend it?
Case in point. Walter wasn’t in today, or yesterday, or Tuesday, or Monday. Not because he won the jackpot, but because he bought the farm. On Sunday, according to the neighbour who was kind enough to come in an tell us, Walter suddenly and with no apparent foreshadowing, dropped dead. He wasn’t sick, or if he was, we couldn’t tell. He was robust and active and chatty and youthful-looking, even though he was a senior. Not a senior-senior mind you, maybe 75, if that. I’m not one for co-opting grief. I don’t take someone else’s tragic circumstances and twist them to suit my own self-absorbed melodrama, like those people who hear about a poor dead police officer they never met and wail on tv about how they are shaken to their core. But I have to say Walter’s sudden death really got to me. Not because I’ll miss him so much (though I suppose I will, I saw him every day), but because of jackpot he will now never win. He was so happy to fantasize about his potential winnings, though, that I wonder if in the end, that was enough. We all want more money, but we may never get it, so what’s the point of scrimping and saving? It’s fine to be sensible, but being cheap is just cheap. I wonder if life itself is the lottery we all play every day; if it’s all just a big game. If it is, I hope we all do well, and that I’ll remember Walter when I win.