Tactics & Strategies

That evening of boredom, hunger and overdosing was decided long ago by others. I'd been warned about this. Years ago a co-worker suggested that her and I go to Europe for fun. At this point my mind was far from doing anything like that. However, she suggested in a couple of years we'd be prepared and it would be an easy reward. We had both expected to graduate. We had both expected to be able to quit our day jobs. We had both expected to be fit for the journey. We both had never been abroad and she explained that the trip would cost us a fair amount of money. She thought it best to finish school and save for a while and maybe a year or so after that we could go. In that I didn't agree because I felt I had a better understanding of money. She was a lot younger than me and I knew that someone her age would put great value on an amount. I always felt like a few thousand would suffice for a backpacking expedition wherein a younger person saves four summers for a $1000 piece of shit car. I encouraged her not to wait on things as I did and go when she was ready versus prepared. Damn, was she right about waiting, saving and seeing things for how they really were. I had spent so much money so fast I didn't even get a chance to take a picture of it and now it was all gone.

At our work I'd witnessed co-workers doing the darnest things to survive. I always packed a decent lunch or went out. I always had an hours break and my finances were never awful. My concept of broke was having less than $100 in the bank. So I could afford a $20 lunch a few times a week even between paydays. I always felt bad for people forced to eat ramen noodles or daily pb&j or strategizing a paid lunch. I thought it was gross to eat mall food and try to stretch a styrofoam box full of noodles or rice. I also thought it was unsafe to eat off the same sub two days in a row. Most days when I opened the break room fridge and saw a left over six inch I would fight the urge to throw it out. All I could think about was the wilted toppings mushed into condiments soaked into day old bread. Then I could smell the sulfur and onions infecting other foods. Somedays I'd leave my food out of the fridge just to avoid the interaction of smells. I never threw peoples stuff out because I knew how hard it was for them. I remember those days when you barely got twenty hours a week and you couldn't afford to even buy lunch. I remember lusting after a promotion and watching the big dogs go to CPK and Cheesecake Factory. But even then I had standards - I'd rather eat $1 popcorn than a day old sandwich. 

Now I was in Florence hovering over a Subway employee making sure everything was mounted ever so high. I was building this fortress so that it lasted for multiple days and provided me with protein, two meals and a misshapen salad. European Subways have premium toppings too and better meats. So I'm really branching out - fresh radishes, carrot shreds - the whole nine. I'm sitting on this lavish bed and picking up shards of carrots and putting them in my mouth. I'm really trying to bite and chew slowly to savor one of the few meals I'll have. Now I'm faced with re-wrapping this thing so I can eat off it later and tomorrow. She meanwhile ate her entire sub and I didn't know what her plans were. All I knew is I had some loose change and that was all. I could not get a hold of anyone to beg for more money. I was exactly where this girl had predicted - at zero. So now I was just counting the days. 

Now when it came to not being able to buy things - souvenirs, memorabilia or just things I wanted well that was different. The problem was even if I had the money I didn't have the room/space to carry anything back home. Then it was about the taxes and claiming things. Trust me there were so many things I wanted to bring back home with me. The reality is true shopping and hauling while abroad is a sport for the rich. It is a luxury that most people cannot afford. Either you a. leave with an empty suitcase b. can afford extra luggage fees and or c. you have the type of wealth where everything can be shipped. Frankly, even if I'd saved for years I would still not be able to do a. b. or c. So most days I had to eye something and come to the conclusion I could not afford to buy it in many ways than one. That is why she mostly stuck to clothes. That is why I always got the cheapest and smallest things like postcards. So it stung me hard to come across one of those fine paper shops. There were hand made stationary, invitations, cards etc. They even sold hand painted gift wrap and letter wax kits. The woman let us browse and we didn't say much. We sort of perused like children, touching the paper to see if it was real and looking at each other with big eyes. Then she had the nerve to sit down and begin the craft of drawing the paper out of a dish of marbled ink. It was to die for and we couldn't afford any of it - in more ways then one.

For the last year I have punished myself for not having the money to buy one roll of that paper. I could see myself wrapping Christmas gifts in it. I could see myself stunning people with anniversary gifts and personalized cards with a monogrammed wax seal. I could see myself being asked at dinner parties and literary events "my God where did you find such exquisite paper?" and me replying "oh from that one time in Firenze!". I thought maybe I could have taken it off the roll and folded it so it laid between shirts and pants. I thought maybe I could have just not eaten and spent all my money there. I just knew that woman was judging us for not buying her artisan paper. Well come to find out the damn place was apart of a Italy wide chain. She wasn't displaying some unique art passed down from her great grandmother. She wasn't coloring the inks by hand and milling the pulp herself. In essence she was receiving daily shipments from the DC and had a little display on the counter to pretend thats how it was done - by hand, by her, right there. I thought what a wonderful tactic for getting simple people to spend their money. Of course the art of colored paper is inherently Italian but it wasn't just some niche boutiques in Florence. There are six of those stores in Firenze alone and plenty of franchises world wide. 

So I may have been unable to buy a real meal two days in a row or take fancy paper back to the states. However, Subway subs are just fine two days in and that paper place has locations in both New York and Florida. So surely I should have saved my money for years as suggested. We both should have. In her case, the trip should have not been financed on debt. In my case, I should have eaten Subway the whole time. Do I feel guilty? Nope. I just learned the survival methods I should have learned long ago. I consider the whole thing preparation for whatever big show is ahead. I also learned how focused I could be without whatnots and snacks. I also learned the pleasures of fruit which I'd always despised. I also learned how not to be a tourist and how to be a traveler. Lets just say everyday I left that room and I found ways to amuse and challenge myself beyond food and tokens. I still do prefer my subs eaten in one seating and I still want some of that damn paper. Graduation. Money saving. Now that may be a while.

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