Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Low rent and white curtains

I woke up to white curtains of rain-snow and mist. I got up early to meet with my pet-sitting client in town. She was handing over some things I’d left at her place accidentally--and my pay.

I had just enough time to bake my weekly loaf of bread but not enough time to eat any. I also had just enough time to check that my auto insurance was current, and to make a cup of coffee, which I took with me. I was meeting her at a coffee shop, but I didn’t plan on buying anything there.

As I drove down the hill toward town I realized I had forgotten to brush my teeth. But then I remembered I didn’t have any toothpaste anyway.

I had stayed at her place for a total of 36 days; at $15/day this came to $540. I still have to make the rent on my own cabin. Her house had two bedrooms and two and a half baths. Heated floors and a heated garage.  Washer/dryer and a dishwasher. Two showers and an extra large bathtub.  Two dogs and a cat. I was surprised to see the check was made out for $625. She said she was happy with the way her house and her pets looked when she came home.

I thanked her and walked the check across the parking lot to my landlord’s credit union. They deposited the check, made out to me, into his savings account. I have an account at a different credit union, but unlike banks, credit unions “talk” to one another—without charging you a fee. That was handy, because it was snowing heavily just then. And I was fresh out of fee money.

$625 down, $75 to go. I texted my landlord.

I thought about driving to the supermarket. I had meant to bring my propane tank for a refill, but in my haste I’d forgotten to load it in the car.  Toothpaste, a battery for my kitchen clock, tea. That and propane would come to about $25. Oh, and eggs: $29. But I knew if I went to the supermarket I would end up buying things on my wish list: Ziploc bags. Vanilla extract. Cardamom. Flaxseed oil. Sigh. Out of sight is out of mind. After the credit union, I went up the hill to the University greenhouse to water what’s left of my germination experiments.

Two more years of grad school. $52,000 in my IRA account. $16,500 student loan debt. Should I just cash in the IRA to pay off the loan and live off the rest until I graduate? I had been talked into hiring a broker for $39 a month to help me get back on track. It seemed just the thing to do two weeks ago, sitting in the well-designed home-office of the house I was house-sitting, petting the cat to keep her from swiping the cell phone out of my hand with one lethal paw. I sent him a spreadsheet of all my expenses and assets.  We talked about my financial and personal goals. Where do you see yourself in three to five years, he asked. I see myself as a post-doc working at a university somewhere, I told him. I see myself traveling to visit family and friends. I thought to myself, would anyone want to hire/date a 58 to 60 year old post-doc? I might have gray hair by then. People/potential boyfriends would assume I’m a professor/loser and think I’m too expensive/old.  They might take one look at me and think: there are so many post-docs/women out there with less miles on them. Do I really want to hire/have sex with this old lady? What’s she doing being a post-doc/single woman at her age anyway?

Why do I assume nobody wants me? The truth? I never wanted me either. Once I realized that life is all about taking care of yourself because nobody really cares about anything else, I thought: raw deal, so much work, why bother? And yet, the body wants to breathe, the heart wants to pump. What can you do? I get up each morning a mindless blob, and gradually evolve into a human over the first cup of coffee.  Two and a half hours later, I’m ready to march out the door: Look out world, here I come again!!

I used to have a handle on things. I used to be able to buy any kind of grocery I wanted. Anything! Now I have to fork over a month’s pay to pay a month’s rent. I have to go without eggs, and add baking soda to a sliced-open tube of no-more toothpaste.  In three to five years will I be a jobless homeless toothless post-doc runnerup holding a cardboard sign just outside the parking lot at Fred Meyers?

How the hell did life get so low-rent? All I wanted was to be a scientist, but I find myself worrying more about my daily finances than about my dissertation. Did I make the wrong decision?  Should I have stayed an office worker? I would have maybe stayed employed. I would maybe have savings. I would maybe be able to take vacations, see my family--pay my medical bills. Maybe I could buy new clothes, nice wine.  All these things I could maybe do in my spare time if I had stayed in the workforce and survived layoffs. The rest of my time? I would be bored to tears clicking away in some cubicle. If I still had a job.