Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Gravy Train

Today I found out that I am eligible for food stamps! Woo-hoo! Congratulations to me, I'm officially poor! And now that I'm spending less on food, I'll be able to do something extravagent every now and then, like buy gas for my car. (I drive a Daewoo Lanos, which I think is an adorable. The Daewoo company, however, is not known for making cars, which it stopped doing a while back, since it wasn't particularly good at it, but microwaves. They make a mean microwave. The cars, however, get a little puny when the gas tank gets under a quarter full, and it coughs and sputters and tells me in no uncertain terms how unhappy it is. When it does this, I try talking to it soothingly and telling it what a good little Daewoo it is and how it makes me so happy when it runs, but it usually doesn't shut up until I give it some gas. I try to keep it happy though, because, having seen the old Disney version of Herbie when I was a child, I believe, despite all knowledge to the contrary, that someday the Daewoo and I will be in serious trouble and the Daewoo, out of love and affection for me will putter on against all odds. On a side note, I once heard a girl talking about how she went on vacation and she reserved a rental car, but when she got there, the only car they had available was a Daewoo Lanos, which she refused to drive. I like to think that the Daewoo, a sensitive car, would have refused to carry her.)

Having qualified for food stamps, however, I don't know that I'm going to use them. There are two reasons for this. First, I'm not sure if I can buy the foods that I am accustomed to. The food stamp literature says that food stamps are for nutritious foods such as breads, cereals, fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry and dairy. I did not see Oreos anywhere on that list. The food stamp people would probably try to tell me that Oreos are not nutritious and therefore are not vital to life, but I would disagree. I find that Oreos are an inspiration. When it's midnight and I'm writing the last line of the second page of a twenty-five page seminar paper, it's not fruits or vegetables that keep me going. It's Oreos. That and Vanilla Pepsi. Which is getting increasingly hard to find. The benefits that these foods give me cannot be measured in mere nutrients. In a time of crisis, these foods speak directly to my soul, and they tell me that life is still good and that everything will be OK. Fruits and vegetables don't do that. Where Oreos and Pepsi are like a nuturing aunt, fruits and vegetables are like a middle school gym coach. They tell me to try harder, to be a better person, to do more than I think I can. And while I appreciate this message, sometimes you really just need an Oreo.

The second reason that I don't know if I'll follow through on this whole food stamps thing is that I don't want to be hitting the emergency button this early in my life. I have no problem admitting that I have no money, that every dollar of every paycheck is accounted for to cover daily life, even before I get the money. Ask my friends. "I can't afford it" is a common refrain, and any money spent on a magazine or a fun new hair product is prefaced with, "I should NOT be doing this." None of this is a problem, because I work hard for what I have, and I like what I do, at least on some days. The problem is that I feel that foodstamps is something you turn to when all efforts to do it on your own have failed, and in a life where everything is so delicately balanced that it wouldn't take much for things to take a sharp and sudden turn for the worst, I want to be able to think that there's still one thing that I haven't done, one last resort ready for when things get really bad. It's like when you're sick, and it would probably make you feel better to take a big dose of Nyquil and go lay on your couch and watch trashy daytime TV that you never get to watch until you fall asleep, but you put off doing this for as long as you can, because you know that if Nyquil and a nap on the couch DON'T make you feel better, then there's nothing that will make you feel better. If there's still some measure you haven't resorted to, you can put up with a lot more, because you know two things: you're not as bad off as you could be, and you know that if things become unbearable, you have the power to change your situation. As soon as you turn to that emergency life-line, however, you know that if things get worse, there may not be anything that can make them better. I like to think that things will only get better from here on out, that I will travel off over the horizon, sun shining off my Daewoo as we drive to meet a destiny full of Oreos and Premium Unleaded, but I also want to know that if the Daewoo loses the will to sputter and unforseen expenses start popping up, I still have a last resort.

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