Wednesday, May 11, 2011


When I was in my 20s, I lived in this really cool warehouse on the 'wrong' side of the tracks in Atlanta. It was sort of a commune experiment. We all had our own loft spaces but outside was the group gathering spot. A Le Jardin Industrial Park vibe. A deep south Algonquin round table. A lot of big ideas were fueled by too much hooch but hey. That's what you do in your 20s.

Out front a tall chain link fence revealed a loud and dismal view of MARTA tracks beyond, and there we grew a big garden where we all contributed, some as growers and some as cooks. In the middle was a deck platform with a long hand made picnic bench where everyone gathered at the end of day to drink beer or cop wine from a neighbor. You get it this time, I'll get it next. A convenience store across the street that we called Mr. Lee's---where most of us ran a tab, had all of our needs. Charcoal. Big bottles of red. A turn the other cheek attitude about Sunday liquor "sales". We were musicians, photographers, art curators, yogis, hippies, a speech writer, a Canadian comedian, artists of all types (real and imagined) advertising writers, a few resident loonies, about 18 Weber grills and lots and lots of dogs.

Our leader was the eccentric, lovable, maddening, hallucinating Henry. He wore house slippers, camp pants and a North Face fleece jacket 342 days a year. He ate mushrooms of un-culinary pedigree and enjoyed a breakfast of wheat germ and wild blueberries washed down with Rolling Rock. He was from Arkansas but spent his summers in Montana. He had a funny voice. The strong capable hands of a finish carpenter and the mind of a five year old. He said things like, "Bring me my beer I'm in the tubby..." and "let's have some eggie sandwiches for lunch...". He would smoke "duck titty" in the Big Green Egg after hunting in the Ozarks. He would call the automatic gate system the "clicker thingie" and was generally unpredictable of mood. I loved him.

The best part about Henry was that he owned this development. Lots of them actually. The Loft boom of the 90s made him a rich man. But he still hung out with the rest of us who were living paycheck to paycheck. Like, when we had paychecks. The money helped fuel his businesses, but it didn't change his lifestyle much. He had enough. None of us ever talked about money. It was moot. We were all freelance. We were all single. Living creatively. Poor, but in it together. The deck was a great way to have our independence but not feel so desperately, cabin fevery, alone. That deck was Enough. Abundance, even.

Fifteen years later, I wonder what happened to a lot of us. I miss that spirit of We Have All that We Need Right Here.  Suddenly everyone is talking about their No Money. The Poor Mouthing trend. Suddenly it's in vogue to talk about 'hard' times. Even if you're doing just fine. I heard a renter complaining about The Housing Bubble. Um, that doesn't affect you, hon. I hear conversations that sound like share croppers from The Great Depression..."Gotta pay the needs a pair of leg braces...savin' for that Polio vaccine..." they nearly echo each other over designer coffees and smart phones about who's got it tougher. A woman apologized the other day to me for her lousy cell reception. "Well, you know, I still have the first generation iPhone. I'm saving up for the new one..." Like she was sending me a message in a bottle. It's like we're mad that we aren't rich. Not thankful to be getting by, or even comfortable with roof over head and food in belly---but genuinely pissed that it's not raining chocolate coins in our marbled showers.

Earlier today I talked to my dearly deported Calixto from a GoPhone in Guatemala. He's making $10/day clearing land with a machete and laying rocks for roads. He sleeps at the job site in a tent. He says it's pretty good work because they give them chicken and tortillas once a day. He'd call again next week when he got paid. How were my chickens. How was my mama. How was I. Did I have a boyfriend yet. Would I wait for him. We don't talk about how "poor" he is. No hay ni un papa! he used to say and pull out his empty pockets. (I don't have even one peso/dollar/potato) which didn't really matter because he didn't really consume anything. He used to shower mostly with the water off to lather. I felt so indulgent standing there waiting for my two minute hair conditioner while the water ran down the drain. Ugh.

I know, this may not be your reality and frankly you are lucky if it's not. But do you ever stop to think, How Much Is Enough? Is it possible, um, that you are already there? That you have TOO much, even? Have we confused our needs and wants?

The Economic Downturn affected some of us, but not everyone. If you still have your job, you're not allowed to file bankruptcy or foreclose on your house making the rest of our houses worth HALF.  If you're comparing prices of organic apples at Whole Foods? You're doing alright. And if you have a G4 anything or a steam setting on your dryer? You're good. And the housing bubble? It mainly affected the construction industry, and most of them are going back to Mexico anyway. If you're still spending money to cut a lawn instead of growing something edible on it? You're just living under a rock.

Yes, we gotta pay the bills. But as one of those old Warehouse sage dudes told me once..."it's not how much you MAKE it's how much you KEEP..." So lower your overhead already you big baby. Most people act like it never occurred to them that they don't need 345 channels and something to record it on.  Have $50 bottles of designer gin in the house. Get their car washed, their hair done, their antidepressants refilled. Luxuries, all.

I'm calling Bullshit. The vast majority of us have Enough. So quit acting like you're soaking beans for dinner again and burning leaves in a barrel to stay warm. Perhaps a trip to Haiti for perspective would help? Living within your means is spending what you have on what you need. New cars, high speed anything, organic cat treats, highlights, a cool $1mil for a fixer upper, dog walkers, good views, private schools...those are all really nice and it's okay to have things you like when you have the money to buy them. You're not "broke" if you don't have a plasma screen in the wine cellar, any more than I'm poor because I can't afford a full time pool boy. Disappointed, maybe. But not poor.

Having money and acting like you don't is the new buying everything on credit. Posing.