Just Call Me Jean
Total Black: -$124.84
Total Red: $269,947.64
I noted in Pocket Full of Change that I was a bit short on cash this week due to ironing out the kinks in getting set up on a budget. What I didn’t note there—or in similar posts—is that in the past I’ve sometimes had to subsist on borrowed bread during these times of lean. But I’m no Jean Valjean, stealing a loaf of bread. Or am I?
I thought I had discussed this in prior posts, but after running a few searches, I was surprised to see that it looks like I’ve not mentioned it before. I hinted at this in A Cold Blustery Walk Home when I noted that I hadn’t had breakfast or lunch because I was short on cash. And in B(l)ack in the Red Again I wrote about eating a can of Spaghetti-Os for lunch because that was all I could afford. What I didn’t note, however, was that in those days of scarcity I often supplemented my spartan meals with any “available” foods in the common areas at my jobs.
Most temporary attorney staffing agencies stock their refrigerators with cartons and cartons of milk for coffee. And a variety at that: whole milk, 2% milk, 1% milk, skim milk, and even half-and-half. With upwards of four or more cartons of each type milk, and a grumbling tummy, and no money for lunch, well . . . I’d take a glass. Or two. Or three. Spread out over the day, of course. The milk would quiet my stomach. And occasionally, if a project had ended, and some food items were left behind . . . well, I’d eat them. I’d have noticed an unopened bottle of juice that for days or weeks no one moved. Or a box of crackers in the cabinet, for example. Or perhaps the refrigerator needed cleaning. Seems at every place I’ve worked, no one cares about having a clean refrigerator. I’ve tossed juice that was months old. Milk that had curdled. Mold with only specs of fruit left on it. In cleaning out the refrigerator, I’d come across unopened, uneaten food that was still good. If it were still there a few days later, I’d take it. Why not? It would have spoiled otherwise, right? Rather than waste food, I’d eat it. I don’t know if I would have cared so much if I hadn’t been living paycheck to paycheck, but that certainly helped inspire my concern for wastefulness. Today flashed me back to those same shenanigans.
The refrigerator in chambers got to stinkin’. And, as before, no one but me seemed to care. Others just opened the refrigerator door then complained about the rotten smell that permeated the office and lingered for hours thereafter. Each time the door opened, a new whiff would waft out and hang around. So I started tossing outdated food. But I also noticed a few items that were still good. A loaf of bread, for example, and those quasi-cheese slices from Kraft. That turned into lunch for a few days. Toast with cheese on it. Yesterday, for example, I spotted three bagels. Co-Clerk has been out since last week, and Officemate is out this week, so I figured those items might spoil. Well not the Kraft cheese, I suppose. That mess lives for eons. Those bagels supplied both breakfast and lunch yesterday.
I was about to go scrounging for food again this morning when the comments to Pocket Full of Change and rereading A Cold Blustery Walk Home brought me crashing back to those times in New York. Life in New York was rough. I truly lived hand-to-mouth for many of those years, especially those final few. Images of a frightened man, chugging a large glass of milk before anyone could spot him flash back to me. I didn’t want to get caught with more than my “share.” I think I may have even done that while an associate in the law firm. One temp actually did call me on my glasses o’ milk back in the days when I was Working on Wall Street. He didn’t care but noted that someone else might if she saw me taking such a large quantity of the office milk. On that assignment I worked inside the law firm. The real employees are always policing the supplies from the theiving temps. And once again, yesterday, like some scurrying mouse, there I was sneaking bit of butter for my stolen bread and scampering back to my desk with it. Immediately the French epic Les Misérables by Victor Hugo flashed before my eyes. I am kinda like Jean Valjean.
Valjean spent nineteen years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread for his family. No one is about to toss me in prison for a few glasses of milk or for eating leftover food. I’m not stealing, per se. At worst I’m guilty of taking more than my share. But I was cautious and considerate—perhaps disturbingly so—making sure any food items I took had truly been abandonded. I never ate someone’s lunch, for example. Something I’ve heard happen. Nevertheless, is what I did still wrong? Is it unethical? A slippery slope I need to scour, lest its slickness slides me away?
It’s important that we stop bad practices before they turn into habits. As Mohandas Gandhi is reported to have said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.” I certainly do not want my values to become those of scarcity or want. And I do not want that to be my destiny. I’m not sure why I’ve not valued food sufficiently to provide it for myself, resulting in situations like these. Buying coffee or paying my credit cards have been higher priorities than buying groceries. That’s one theme that comes through fairly loudly in these electronic pages.
It’s time to stop this madness. It’s time I put my health and well-being ahead of that of my debtors’. Budgeting will certainly help.
Total black is in the red again. At least on paper I have a negative balance. That’s because the check to the New York doctor, referenced back in Oops . . . I Did It Again, finally posted today. Unfortunately, it posted a few days shy of when the transfer from Bank of St. Croix is scheduled to hit my account at Bank of America. I could’ve sworn I scheduled that transfer last week but when I double-checked yesterday, it wasn’t pending. Takes three business days to transfer. Of course, the check had to post today. Looks like the bank will honor it, but with a $35.00 insufficient funds fee, of course. I can’t wait for these final death-throws of my life in New York to end.
Also today I received an email from Sublettor, telling me that his job is moving him to Washington, D.C. now and so he wants to be able to sub-sublet my apartment. Or find a new tenant entirely. This could be good if he finds a replacement tenant. I’d get my security deposit back sooner than October!
New York certainly is a jealous lover who doesn’t easily let you go.