Happy Friday, everyone! I’ve been in the process of shifting my writing studio, and the craziest part of it all is my many, many, MANY (!!!) unpublished manuscripts I’ve unearthed. Novel manuscripts, short stories, countless articles. So many. So many I’ve forgotten about, actually. What to do with them all? Mind boggling. ANYWAYS, I ran across a humor piece I’d written a number of years ago that seems fitting at this time of year, what with Thanksgiving coming up and all. So here it is, excavated from the dusty piles of paper in my office, and ne’er before seen (I know, exciting, right?):
I am NOT Complaining, But…
By Marie Lamba
I am soaking in money from my book advance. Oh yes.
I know what you are thinking. That gloating skank. And I know what you are imagining. Me, naked, rolling around in a room full of $100 bills. Perhaps I have the fan on to make the money flutter like it does in those 30-second grab-what-you-can booths on TV quiz shows. You hate me, right?
Well, don’t be hating. I am naked. But that’s because I’m in a tub in a brand new bathroom funded by my book advance. And the new bathroom wasn’t some luxury. Some, “Oh, I always wanted one” decadent purchase. It was a necessity. It was “just my luck.”
See, I am a living breathing example of “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” The very day that I signed my contract for my first novel (giveth), I went down to my kitchen to nuke some tea, and found the microwave mysteriously full of water (taketh). So I called the plumber, who ripped up the wall in the bathroom above the kitchen, but couldn’t find the leak (taketh, taketh). He ripped up the floor around the toilet and found it all rotted away, and two hours later decided that the leak might be beneath the tile floor, involving the tub line. But he wasn’t sure. One thing was for sure, I needed a completely new bathroom, and my check for my book was just about the right amount (supreme taketh, combined with evil laughter).
My whole life has been like this. And, I know, I should be grateful. Whenever something major has come up, there has been a freelance job or timely tax return that pays just the right amount. I suppose I should view the bathtub (or the microwave) as half full.
And I should be used to this. See, there are the Haves and the Have Nots, and then there’s my family, the “Have Barely Enoughers.” I come from a long exhausted line of them, starting with my grandmother who went from riches to rags during the Depression, yet managed to scrape through. Then my parents, who dealt with unemployment during my father’s middle age, and tottered for years on the edge of ruin.
In elementary school, I became a Have Barely Enougher in training. When the charitable Lion’s Club truck delivered a Thanksgiving dinner to our door, there was turkey and those tasty little heat-in-the-oven rolls, but no cranberry sauce, and no pie. At Christmas they brought me wrapped presents, including a sweater that was too big, and pants that were too small. But they also give me the game Payday (which, I’m sure, was someone’s good-natured way of teaching me about fiscal responsibility). By junior high, I was tough enough to survive the daily embarrassment of handing over a state-provided meal ticket to the sneering cafeteria lady. In exchange for this humiliation, I was rewarded with a hot lunch featuring some variety of gray mystery meat. I’d like to say I was grateful.
I couldn’t help but wonder, why me? Why my family? None of us were lazy. None of us were fiscally irresponsible. I guess we just had bad luck. Medical and employment catastrophes dogged us. Yet, through it all, we worked as hard as we could, and never lost our house, or our sense of humor.
By the time I had reached my 20’s, I was an accomplished Have Barely Enougher. My expectations were low, my skin thick. Therefore, it was no huge surprise to me when, after I got my first real job and put down the deposit on my first apartment, the publishing company I was working for abruptly closed. Also not a shocker: the day my insurance from that job ran out, I broke my leg.
Sure, there was a lot of taketh, but how could I complain? The Lord provideth the unemployment office, unto which I could hobble and collect the money that almost covered my most basic bills. And the Good Lord leadeth me unto the library where I could enjoy all the free books I wanted. He gaveth me all the TV I ever hoped to watch (until my apartment was broken into and my TV, along with most of my clothes, were stolen). I discovered I could even enjoy day trips to Atlantic City. As long as I could scrape together enough money for a casino bus fee, they’d refund it in quarters, plus $5 in additional quarters. Hell, if I only ate a $1 hot dog there, I was vacationing AND making money. Amen to that, sister.
I have been lucky in a way. I’m in my 40’s now, and I’ve gotten by. My whole family has. KNOCK ON TONS OF WOOD. Why tempt fate? Why ask for more? We don’t have money, but so what? If our “luck” continues to hold, we’ll always make it through. Endure. Soldier on and all that crap. Just think of the Have Nots who have all the hardships and never have just what they need to survive, never mind bus fare to AC. I mean, wah wah. Why am I such a whiner?
And yet I can’t help but think, what if God skipped a few takeths, just once in a while? Imagine if the money that never seems to rest in my account for more than a month, actually got to stick around long enough to accumulate interest? The amount of cash my husband and I have earned and had to immediately spend over the past 25 years is staggering. What if there had never been a leaking roof (and rotted rafters), or zapped out electrical panel from a freak storm, or totaled car (not my fault), or emergency double root canal?
I imagine myself like those people, the Haves, whose cars are bigger than my living room, and whose dogs get more expensive haircuts than my whole family combined. Who never have to limit their shopping to end-of-season clearance racks and who wouldn’t give reduced bruised produce even a glance.
Hm. Somehow I don’t think I’d ever quite be like that. If I were literally rolling in dough, wouldn’t I still drive a little car and be scandalized by overpriced jeans? Penny pinching is in my blood. But it would be nice to have money for my children’s college, and to not have to worry about meeting all the bills, and to take a dream vacation without a gripping terror that I am crashing into bankruptcy. I guess my luck could get worse (God forbid), but couldn’t it also get better?
Soon my novel will be out. Will it sell well enough to change things? Will it undo the generations of struggle and transform my family from Have Barely Enoughers to the best sort of Haves? The kind of Haves that wisely use their money to improve the environment and find a cure for cancer? (Are you listening, God?)
Actually, I KNOW the book will sell. How can I be so sure? Well, let me put it this way…there are some wet spots blooming on my ceiling, the heater is acting up, there is a strange mold in my bedroom closet, and my tooth is just beginning to throb.